As part of the research for my book, I’ve been interviewing various Christian, non-profit, and marketplace leaders. Last week Tim Challies graciously agreed to do a written interview to serve the readers of the blog as well.
Many of you know Tim from his blog at Challies.com. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and the forthcoming The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (due out in April).
I’ve known Tim for a few years now and am very impressed with his productivity. So I’m glad to finally have had the chance to probe him a bit on how he gets everything done. I think you’ll find his answers here very helpful and insightful. I’m posting this interview in two parts — the first five questions today, and the next five questions tomorrow.
1. Tim, you seem to be one of the most productive people I know. For example, you write a substantial blog post every day. You started a new publishing company. You completed your second book last year. You are an elder at your church. You read a ton. And it seems that you preserve a good amount of family time. Do you ever get thrown off balance and, if so, what do you do to get back?
It is interesting that you see things that way. When I look at my life I am prone to see vast amounts of wasted time. I often struggle with finding joy amidst so many wasted opportunities.
If I am productive, I think it probably owes to my attempts to simplify my life. While it is true that I wear quite a few different hats during the week, I have tried to keep each area as simple as possible and as clearly defined as possible. I attempt to focus on large chunks of time, so that I will dedicate an entire day to one of those tasks and then dedicate the next day to a different task. Thus on Tuesdays I work in the church office and focus on church matters while on Wednesday I work in my home office and focus on my ongoing work with Ligonier Ministries. I have a wandering mind, so focusing on one task at a time seems to keep me on track.
2. How do you organize a typical day? When do you blog, read, pray, spend time with the family, and get your work done?
At present I have three different varieties of work days. Mondays I tend to take the morning off and spend it with my wife (all the kids are in school, giving us time to go on a date that doesn’t require paying for babysitting). Then I spend the afternoon working and preparing a few blog posts. Tuesdays and Fridays I typically spend in the church office; I tend to leave early in the morning to avoid traffic, so I head home by mid-afternoon. Wednesdays and Thursdays I dedicate to my work with Ligonier Ministries, working roughly 8 until 5.
Devotions come before the work day and family time comes after. I can’t say that I always get the balance right, but I certainly do try. It’s the rare day when my wife and I do not spend 8 PM until bed time just hanging out and spending time together, even if that just means we’re sprawled out on the coach together reading.
3. What type of planning do you do? For example, do you plan daily? Weekly? Do you find this to be a helpful practice?
My life is currently structured enough that I do not requite a ton of advance planning. The one thing my wife and I have found indispensable is to sync our calendars once a week. We do this on Sunday evenings. I open up iCal while she grabs a one-week paper calendar. We plot out the week to come, mostly focusing on our weekly tasks. We make sure that we don’t have any obvious overlaps. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference by helping to reduce unexpected surprises (such as finding out that we both need the car at the same time). As my pastoral responsibilities increase, I find more occasions where there are good and necessary interruptions to the routine. I am learning to adapt well.
4. Do you keep a to-do list and/or a projects list? If so, how do you use them and how often do you look at them?
At my best I use Things, a fantastic bit of software (Mac-only). I maintain lists of projects for home, blog, church and office and check in with it every day. Practically, though, I often forget and tend to find myself updating it in batches rather than regularly. I keep telling myself I’ll do better once they (finally) add cloud syncing. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go and this helps give me a place to go to reference lists of things to do. A recent addition is an Action Journal which I use in meetings; it helps me make sure that I leave a meeting with a list of action items. That has proven very, very useful.
5. Do you set goals? If so, how do you determine which goals should be a priority?
I do not tend to set goals. I don’t really know why this is, except that I may not have an organizational structure to make sure that I attain those goals.