This is no surprise: I am a huge fan of Michael Hyatt’s products. They’ve become central to how I organise myself as a pastor. They are undeniably expensive here in the UK (especially when import duties apply as well as shipping), but the planners themselves justify it, I think. At least, I am still using the basic old-school planners – the new ones (with bold colours, or leather covers) are out of my league.
This is not a review (I’ve done that here), but a how-to. I do get asked how I work it with ministry, so let’s have a look.
I’m going to tread carefully: I am not going to break any copyright issues, I hope, so I’m not going to post images. I respect the work that’s gone into creating this planner, and it’s not fair to give it away for nothing. And part of the cleverness of the system is not just the individual steps, but the fact that it is bound in one unit that you take everwhere; this makes it superbly workable and useful. But not free.
So first of all, how the thing works. The Full Focus Planner is a hardback book, roughly the same size, and double the thickness, of a Moleskine or Leuchtturm 1997. It’s a planner. Yes, it’s a paper planner, but I have been persuaded that some combination of digital and physical is the way to go. We’ll come back to that.
Where do you start? I think there are four places.
Every day asks you to identify you ‘Daily big three’; the doable, smallest steps towards your big goals.
Every week asks you to identify your ‘Weekly big three’: usually tasks which are too large or complex to achieve in one day, but might take several sittings to get there. Again, aligned with your biggest goals. That’s the climax of a ‘What went well/even better if’ kind of review of the week; those are my words, but you get the drift. I call this ‘My weekly staff meeting with me’, which is a chance to catch my breath, sort out the tasks and emails, look ahead with the calendar and reset the compass.
So, preparing for preaching on Sunday is easily a Weekly Big Three. It will drive the week. And the preaching itself will be one of the Daily Big Three for the Sunday, because it’s important, and draining. ‘Translate the Greek of the passage’ is a Daily. So is ‘Read the relevant commentaries’ (it might take more than one, of course!)
Those two are the lowest level entry points, and most people seem to start with getting the habit of a Weekly Preview under their belt
Third, each quarter ends (or begins) with a similar, thorough ‘WWW/EBI’ Preview, but on a much larger canvas. Again, an excellent place to start, but remember that this comes at the end of the planner, not its opening pages. If your starting out, I’d suggest copying those pages and working on them first, then get used to the planner, and then wrap the quarter up.
And finally, the Planner assumes you’ll do a proper annual review, running and evaluating a life plan, setting goals and so forth. Hyatt’s books and podcasts all make this simple, on his system. Other patterns are available (Matt Perman’s, What’s Best Next? is a good alternative start. It’s explicitly Christian in its approach).
And it works, trust me.
So, how do I use it as a pastor?
Fisrt of all, I have to make myself forget the cost, and its prettiness. This is a tool. So dive in, make mistakes, don’t be dismayed by those users who put pretty covers on it, or have lovely handwriting and gorgeous artwork in the margins. It’s just a thing. If helps, spill a cup of coffee over a couple of pages.
I find that taking 48 hours off-grid is a brilliant thing to do. For me, December is dominated by Christmas, and New Year comes too quickly, so I do it in mid-July, as the first half of the year slows down. (September, by the way, is the other January – you’ve found that out, haven’t you?).
There are lots of resources to help you do one of those, and I find the chance to review, and then look 18 months ahead is essential. You can block in regular stuff, like teaching courses, but also consider the major goals and trajectories.
So here’s the first consideration. Are you happy making goals for ministry? I am, with precautions. God is sovereign, of coursed and we are his subjects. But as subjects, we are also his vice-gerents and stewards, with delegated authority. So long as I don’t trample on his rulership (for example, I cannot make or count converts), I think it’s right to stretch and direct myself, the team, and the church. Read 1 Cor. 16:5-9, and you’ll see that Paul has sketched in his travel plans for the year, and probably beyond. Yes, they could and would be changed, but the planning and intentions (goals) were there.
And Michael Hyatt himself is a Christian and this planner assumes that worldview without making it explicit.
So be explicit if you need to. Start each goal with the words, ‘I aim to bring God glory by…’, but then write each one down, with crystal clarity.
So yes, 7-10 annual goals. Now I tweak Hyatt here: I think annual goals often need two or three quarterly goals to reach them, so there is a bit of fiddling with the maths. But it’s clarifying.
We will preach an informed series on Ezekiel in the Spring, finishing on the week before Good Friday
In order to reach that series, I will identify and read through two major commentaries on Ezekiel in the previous three months.
By next summer we will have held three events designed to make it easy for people to bring non-Christians to, and will have resourced them appropriately. (That’s part of a bigger goal to raise the invitational temperature at church)
No week is ever the ideal, but Hyatt encourages to think through what it would look like so we have a template to measure ourselves against.
I find this helpful for three reasons.
First, it helps me to balance the week. I know that Tuesday has a lot of staff meetings, so identifying that as a Team Day, means I know I won’t get frustrated when I don’t get any sermon prep done. When is the best time to visit folk, or run a course? And across the week, I can see how the necessary hours for a sermon would ideally occur. They don’t all occur on Saturday evening, believe me! So in that ideal week, when would the various elements happen. I’ve learnt, for instance, not only how many hours it takes to produce a sermon, but what the constituent units are, how long they take, and how they need to be spaced.
Second, it helps balance my energy. In general, I will study harder in the morning, and chat more easily in the afternoon. Greek or Hebrew? Morning. Blue sky thinking? Afternoon.
Third, it helps me balance my life. We have duties that are, literally, never ending. We’re not unique in this, so I’m not being self-pitying, but there is a sense in which there are aways more people we could have seen, books we could have read, opportunities we could have followed up. With the in mind, it’s good to stand back and, looking at our age and life stage, consider what is a fitting week. When do we see our families? When do we take time for a round of golf or to mow the lawn, without guilt? Does the gym get a look in? Or a hobby?
And that Ideal week can be shared with other members of the team, or a secretary if you’re lucky enough to have one, so that they can plan with your personal preferences.
I love these, because it helps me be realistic.
When and how do you choose to start your day? With a run, or making school lunches, or a Quiet Time? Are you a lark or an owl?
The cleverness is this: if I’m not careful I hit 9:00am with the following thoughts- I ought to have had a run, and a quiet time, and done the school run, and chatted to my family, and done some Greek, and Hebrew, and read something heavy, and walked the dog, and I ought to have done it by 8:30, half an hour ago.
What the daily rituals forces me to do is list, with time allocations, what I would like to have done, in what order, by 9:00. Quiet Time or run? Choose – and then live without the guilt. Put the other thing somewhere else in the diary.
Likewise the ritual of starting the work day (a quiet time isn’t work, is it? And you don’t read your emails and give away your best and freshest concentration do you?). If you want to read 10 pages of something worthwhile each day, so that you can read a ton of books without spending your life in a library, put it in the ritual.
And how, and when, do you finish your ministry day? I like to get to inbox zero, and a look over tomorrow’s calendar. By when? Well…
A while before bedtime. I like the idea that our screens get up after us and go to bed before us. And I’ve learnt the hard way that the battle for the morning is won the night before. So plan what happens in the last hour before bed, whether it’s reading, or clearing the kitchen, or a bit of a stretch. Honestly, this is the bit of the system I find hardest to plan and to implement.
For me, this the essential part of the system; nothing happens without this driving it and then, seen days later, holding me to account.
My frustration is that as a pastor, it’s the point at which I fight the system. The planner is designed for most people, who have weekends, and do their planning in that time. It’s printed as a weekend activity, with the days working towards it.
That really doesn’t work for me. Sundays are a big day, without the relaxed and reflecting sense of ‘job done, so let’s consider the week ahead’. So I do it late Thursday afternoon. And I’ve given up fighting the preprinted week, so I go through with Tippex or something similar, and just change the day. I’d be writing in the date anyway, so it’s not much more work.
I love these – I get an easy snapshot of the next 18 months. Just the big blocks – Easter and Christmas, preaching series and family holidays, courses and speaking engagements. It makes it super easy to know whether or not I can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a request.
And these are the ages I customise the most. There are drudgery jobs I must do each month, like my expenses. I make a box each month, and tick it when it’s done. I allow myself two external speaking events per quarter; when those boxes are filled, it’s gone. I don’t have a neat colour system for the planner (some do, I know), but for these pages it’s rally helpful to have broad, visible marks for time away, or deep thinking.
Digital and physical.
How do you do that? Two ways.
First, this is a planner but not a project planner, and certainly not a team project planner. So I use Asana for that, with some others, and that works well. We can all collaborate, but I can still identify what I need to do, on particular days. The complex and fluid stuff happens online, but the actual actions for me happen in the planner, each day.
Second, my real diary is online, to which my assistant has access as well. Stuff goes in, comes out, keeps changing. But each week as I look ahead, and each day as I check, there’s a real sense of ownership, deliberation and knowledge, as I have to write it in by hand, and consider the implications.
The result is a greater sense of ownership and calm. Yes, I have the flexibility to plan, change and update. My phone can have all the hyperlinks and travel connections it can carry. It’s brilliant. But I have a plan by which I can see, without distractions, my day and my week.
Is calm unChristian? I don’t think so. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing when the alternative is digital frazzle, distraction, alerts and pings. I’ve lived there, and it’s not fun. It’s living inside a can of coke.
Quarterly Preview: see above.
It starts and ends the quarter, and makes your goals for these months visible.
- Which big book do I intend to finish reading this quarter? And so what would I need to achieve each week, and day, to achieve that?
- How many home groups do I intend to visit, and when?
- When’s our regular date night?
So there you go. I find the Full Focus Planner works really well to keep me focussed in ministry. Any questions? Pile in!