Of all the struggles and disciplines which surround preaching preparation, time management must surely rank highly. At times the duality of preaching and pastoring can feel like a conflicting pressure, pulling me in two directions - when I'm in the study I feel I should be doing visitation, and when I'm engaged in visitation I feel like I should be in the study - and at other times it simply feels like there is too much to be done in preparing three sermons per week to be delivered to the same people week on week with freshness, vitality and relevant application. A day of preparation can begin with the sense of being on an express train hurtling through engagement with the biblical text and commentaries with great ease; and end with the sensation of having climbed up a mountain on a three legged mule. Time may be relative, but sometimes it feels more like an enemy.
Undoubtedly mixed in among this is the spiritual struggle entailed in fulfilling the awesome privilege of serving Christ, His Word and His people - Satan always stands ready to distract, divert, and detour from keeping the main thing the main thing.
I've tried different strategies to domesticate time in the study (and would love to hear yours), but it almost always reverts to its feral ways, leaving me with an abiding sensation that I'm not achieving all that I could have, or that my mind has been too slow, or that I've focussed on one task to the exclusion of others. I've tried whole days in the study, but find that my tiny 3 kilo brain can't cope with that much concerted effort, and I've tried half-days (morning: preparation; afternoon: visitation) with varying degrees of success.
Recently, however, I've found much of this conflict resolved by a clockwork tomato...well a virtual clockwork tomato at any rate (this is not a wind-up). A good friend introduced me to what is known in time management circles as the 'pomodoro technique'. This is a strategy for managing time which breaks tasks into small units of time, punctuated by short periods of rest.
The tomato part comes in because the technique was originally pioneered using a wind up tomato cooking timer. The basic idea is that longer blocks of time can be divided into 25 minute blocks of intensive activity, followed by a strict 5-10 minute break, followed by another 25 minute block of intensive work activity. The effect that this has is to make one aware of how little time there is available, even in a full study day, and how much time is required. It also enforces rest periods which allow the brain to cool a little, before being reapplied to hard study. Eventually (or perhaps initially for some) tasks can be broken down into how many pomodoros are required to complete them - commentary reading for instance might entail 3 pomodoros, whereas personal exegesis of the text might require 5 pomodoros or more. Thus in a typical morning of work I might realise that there are only 4 pomodoros (25 minute blocks) available once rest periods are factored in, and that the afternoon might equal this amount. The blocks of time are inviolable as are the rest periods - in other words if a pomodoro is interrupted by a phone call or other distraction then the counter is zeroed and that unit must begin again (this is a great incentive for forgetting Facebook, and giving your answerphone message some quality time with your callers).
The humble ticking tomato has made me aware that a day/morning/afternoon/evening in the study is not an infinite amount of time to complete a long list of tasks, but a limited period in which I need to maximise the time available. The sound of this much loved member of the nightshade family has become the soundtrack for my study and reading, and I've been enriched by how much I can get done.
It might be eisegesis of the worst stripe to try to insinuate tomatoes into Paul's counsel to 'redeem the time', but this humble desktop app has become a great friend in helping me maximise one of the most valuable commodities that God has entrusted to me - time.
If you're interested in the Pomodoro technique the following links might be of interest to you:
The Pomodoro Technique Website
Tomighty Desktop Pomodoro
The Pomodairo Timer (runs on Adobe Air)
This blog post was brought to you courtesy of one dose of ticking tomato.