An Outline of
Time Management for Missionaries

Time management for American missionaries is often difficult, because they live in two different worlds with different views of time: the internal world they take with them and the external world of the mission field.

American Time and Foreign Time

American Time

  1. Americans are obsessed with time.
  2. Time can be divided into discreet intervals and scheduled.
  3. Time is handled like a material: earned, spent, saved, wasted.
  4. Four American values about time:
    1. Time is valuable and should not be wasted.
    2. Time is a comodity that can be bought, sold, lost, made up, measured.
    3. The duration of time can be measured and must add up.
    4. Time has little depth for Americans (not very interested in the past).
  5. Americans are future oriented.
  6. Americans have a limited view of the future (5 or 10 years).
  7. A "long time" can be almost anything to an American.
  8. Four American isolates about time:
    1. The more urgent the need the more time seems to drag.
    2. People should not do more than one thing at a time.
    3. People must keep busy.
    4. Doing things without variety (the same things over and over again) is boring.

Other Time

  1. Among Pueblos, events happen when the time is right.
  2. Among Navajos, a poor gift now is better than a good one promised for the future.
  3. The Sioux have no words for "late" or "waiting".
  4. Time does not heal on the island of Turk.
  5. In the Middle East, appointments are not made more than a week in advance.
  6. In Latin America, people may do several things at one time.
  7. In Latin America, there is more tolerance for waiting.
  8. In many countries, there is not the American need for punctuality.

For further reading:
Edward T. Hall's The Silent Language

Time in the Bible

Two Greek words for time: chronos (time that passes) and kairos (the opportune time)

quiteness and rest: Psalm 46:10; Isa. 30:15

The items that follow fit American time management procedures. They must be used with care to maintain the missionary's productivity and sanity, but must not be used too much in public situations lest the missionary be culturally inappropriate and ineffective.

Things that Waste Time:

  1. Failure to Plan for the Next Day
  2. Interruptions, telephone calls, drop-in visitors, distractions.
  3. Leaving tasks unfinished and jumping from one thing to another.
  4. Doing routine tasks and being involved in too much trivia.
  5. Attempting too much at once and making unrealistic time estimates.
  6. Having a cluttered desk and office, being personally disorganized, and by misplacing items.
  7. Inefficiency (due to haste or carelessness, or lack of sleep), indecision, and tension.

Gordon McDonald's Four Laws of Unseized Time:

  1. Unseized Time Flows Toward My Weaknesses.
  2. Unseized Time Comes Under the Influence of Dominant People in My World.
  3. Unseized Time Surrenders to the Demands of All Emergencies (real and otherwise).
  4. Unseized Time Gets Invested in Things that Gain Public Acclamation.

Four Steps for the Discipline of Time:

  1. Set goals for your life.
  2. Establish priorities for these goals.
  3. Plan how to reach these goals.
  4. Schedule a procedure that will reach them.

Things to schedule first:

  1. Time with God
  2. Time for family (including some with extended family)
  3. Time for the family of God
  4. Time for oneself (free time)
  5. Time for others
  6. Time for planning
  7. Time for work

Schedule time according to your own rhythms (e.g. amount of sleep needed and when to prepare lessons).

To schedule time, one must begin with time, not with tasks. There is a finite amount of time, but an infinite number of tasks.

Keep a time log for a week once every six months.

Tools for Time Management:

  1. Yearly Calendar--long range planning
  2. Monthly Calendar--setting appointments
  3. Weekly and Daily Calendar--budgeting and scheduling time
    Break weekly calendar into 21 segments--don't schedule too much!
  4. Things to do list--priorize every morning.
  5. Other to do lists: routine, urgent, unpleasant
  6. Spend time filing and marking now to save time in the future.
  7. Learn how to delegate

Special Situations that can Waste Time

  1. Meetings
  2. Interruptions--"the appointment book of God" (Tom Olbricht)
  3. The telephone
  4. The daily mail
  5. The TV
  6. The personal computer--saver or waster?


  1. Set limits on appointments
  2. Budget time for study
  3. Schedule time for reading
  4. Set a day off once a week
  5. Divide big jobs up into small packages
  6. Preserve the fruits of study
  7. Don't spend too much time on breaks

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Last updated July 13, 1999.
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