Toggl: A Tool for Pastors and Other Busy People

One of the presenters at CREDO a couple of weeks ago talked about Jim Collins, the business consultant and author of Good to Great, who breaks down his work week in the following way:

53% Creative
28% Teaching
19% Other

I don’t remember the presenter’s point any more; I just remember scoffing at the percentages. “Must be nice,” I thought to myself. In parish ministry, what with committee structures and aging buildings and never-ending communications tasks, the administrative load is considerable. (And the emails never end.)

The next night at CREDO I received the results of the Clergy Vocational Profile, which is a 93-question survey that 10 members of Tiny Church filled out.The profile asked them to rate me in terms of various skills and activities, but also how important they considered those skills and activities. I filled out the same profile for myself. There were two free-form questions at the end: what does this person do well, and what does she need to work on.

I learned a couple things from the CVP. One, and not surprising, I am much harder on myself than others are on me. But that’s not what this post is about.

Two is that, while administration was not unimportant to the respondents, when it came to the free-form question, nobody affirmed the way that I put the Sunday School schedule together. Instead they affirmed gifts in preaching, worship, teaching, communication, spiritual guidance, and visionary leadership.

By the end of the week I had come back around to Jim Collins’s ratios. I began to wonder whether I’d been letting my schedule happen to me, rather than trying to create a schedule that matched my skills and the things that the people at Tiny Church value about me.

The other thing I claimed while at CREDO is that I am a creative person, who needs to spend time doing creative tasks in order to feel fulfilled and whole. (This realization came after the “play with art supplies” evening, when I asked to take home some stuff so I could make a book of my CREDO experience over the remaining days. Ahem.)

So! Given all this, I created a goal: to re-balance my schedule to reflect the following ratios as much as possible:

50% Creative: sermon prep, order of worship prep, reading, writing, vision work
25-30% Connecting: pastoral care, teaching, mentoring leaders, meetings
20-25% Logistics: paperwork, email, right-hand-left-hand stuff

I have a number of steps in place to make progress on this goal. One of them is to use Toggl to keep track of what I do with my time.

What is Toggl? Toggl is an application (web, desktop and smartphone) that lets you track how long you spend doing various things. You can use it in two ways:

  • Live: Say you’re working on the bulletin. You type “bulletin” into the window, select a project (mine would be “Creative”) and hit Start. When you’re done, hit Stop. That’s it.
  • After the fact: Say you’re visiting someone in the hospital. You can manually enter in the time you spent with that person afterwards.

Toggl also lets you generate pie graphs to show how long you worked on various things. So I can look at my ministry activities and see whether creative really does take up half the “plate.”

Insert standard caveats here about how ministry does not conform to easy categories. And there is a sense in which ministry is by nature reactive. If the building floods, as it did at my friend Eric’s church this week, the “logistics” piece of pie is going to be huge.

But still, let’s be honest. We clergy often use the unpredictability of ministry as an excuse, letting our time be taken up with the low-hanging fruit that makes us feel busy but that doesn’t actually transform lives for the sake of the gospel.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone… but I’m hoping that, with a better sense of how I spend my time, I can improve.

Now the question is, where does Facebook fit into the pie…

17 thoughts on “Toggl: A Tool for Pastors and Other Busy People

  1. anne

    how do you deal w/ the duality of things—that email is connective as much as it is logistical, and can be creative as well? and is it possible that the time you invest in keeping all of these stats might drive you to distraction rather than actually help you become more effective? is it possible that keeping stats on just a few things that matter most might be even more helpful?

  2. MaryAnn

    Wow, this barrage of questions stressed me out more than the exercise of tracking does! 😉

    I deal with all of these things by holding myself and the tools lightly. I’m not interested in a minute-by-minute accounting. I’m interested in being more mindful about where my time goes.

    The technological tools now available to us makes the task of tracking things easier and less time-consuming, not harder. I was never able to lose weight and keep it off until I had a tool that allowed me to track. That doesn’t mean I log every last pat of butter.

  3. Deb

    This looks like a fascinating tool. I’m wondering if it also might help my young adult with ADHD who still struggles with time management. Or, for that matter, her dad with the same issues. 🙂

    1. MaryAnn

      I have wondered whether tools like this favor those already inclined to think in organized ways about their lives. I’m a strong J on the Myers-Briggs, so of course I gravitate to Toggl and MyFitnessPal and other stuff like that. The real test is whether a strong P would find them useful. Know what I mean?

      1. Rachel Heslin

        I’ll let you know. I actually have an immediate need for *exactly* this type of tracking, so thank you so much!

      2. Deb

        Oh yes. I do. Both of our ADHD family members are Ps. They happily make lists (which they lose) or plan (unrealistically). What I like about this one is that it might help with some reality checking. I did download and will see what I think after using it a while.

  4. Robert Braxton

    The tool and method has a strong attraction for me. One higher education U Va board member criticized the (new) president that her reports to the board were simply log of activities (I doubt very much the veracity); however, my view is that without the kind of concrete and factual tracking MA is suggesting, what people say they spend their time on is more likely to fall into the category of Romnesia.

    1. MaryAnn

      Yes… although you can also game the system with Toggl and just not log certain activities you don’t want a record of. Time-wasters and such. Not that I do that… *cough*

      1. Rachel

        I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment here about “time wasters.” I think I might start trying to log my time doing those sort of things, just to capture the data. That way, goofing around online becomes a conscious choice, rather than simply something that “happens.” Once it becomes a choice, I am hoping it becomes easier to assess my choices: do I *really* want to play this game, or, since I know that it tends to take 25 minutes for the session, do I want to do something else? The point is to release judgment in favor of thoughtful assessment and deliberate choices.

  5. Michael Tobin

    Hi MaryAnn,
    I have used Toggl before but change to use Icedeep Worktracker lately. I love the reports auto-generated by Icedeep Worktracker more. And also the screensnapshot function. You will love it, I believe. Give it a try someday.

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