Jenni Osborn

time management

5 Tips for Time Management in Youth Work

If you’re working with young people it’s likely that you’ll be working unusual hours. The life of 9to5 is not your average youth worker’s experience. Maybe you are a volunteer who does youth work on top of a 9to5 job, in which case, we salute you. You are worth your weight in gold!

I have not been an expert at managing my time well, although I am doing better now. I have had a tendency to say yes to a whole heap of stuff before really processing what it will mean to do all the things; I dislike not being productive at work in particular so I tend to start lots of things that it later transpires aren’t really necessary or helpful. However, I have learned one or two things that do help me when I remember to apply them!

1. Learn to say no

This is especially important if you’re a default ‘yes’ person. If you find an outright ‘no’ hard then use a phrase like ‘I’ll check my diary’ or ‘I’ll ask my significant other’ or something that gives you a little time to decide whether you do really have time to do the thing you’re being asked. It is likely you’ll need to be quite intentional about this for a few weeks before it becomes more of a habit.

2. Build in regular rest time.

It might be half a day in a week or perhaps a whole weekend in a month, block it out in your diary and practice saying ‘I’m not available for that meeting/service/conversation on that day’ It’s OK if all you do in your rest time is sleep, you might also go for a walk/bike ride/swim, watch a film, read a book, or knit/bake/be creative but the key thing is it must be restful. This can be hard in these pandemic times, it’s hard to rest when everything around us is uncertain and changing, it’s hard to rest when we are bored or lonely! But it is still good to do something that brings a smile to our faces or occupies our restless minds.

3. Have clear boundaries.

This will help with both the above! A good line manager ought to be able to help you with this: essentially this is about deciding what your job and what it is not. For example, it might be your job to organise the rota of leaders for a Friday night youth Zoom meeting, allocating roles etc. That does not mean it’s your job to call/text/otherwise cajole every member of the team to be there at the right time and in the right frame of mind. Another example might be that you’ve agreed to mentor one or two of your young people as part of your job, you might be expected to write up these discussions for your own records. This does not mean that other leaders in the church should be expecting to see those records, nor should that relationship be expected to make a certain change to that young person’s behaviour such as attending church on Sundays, whether that’s in person or via Zoom.

For more on boundaries take a look at Cloud & Townsend’s book available here

4. Planning is key.

Being spontaneous and creative is one thing and it’ll help you in many youth work contexts. However, if you want to manage your time so that you don’t crash and burn, then planning will help this. Start by looking at which topics you’ll cover, which team members you’ve got this year, which activities have worked or not previously, which new young people do you know are coming into your groups. All this knowledge will help. Planning anything at all is particularly tricky just now because of the changing circumstances and it can feel like a waste of energy but we are naturally people who want to have some idea of what could happen in the future and so it’s OK to plan, just recognise that the plan is likely to change!

5. Have good daily routines.

eating well

Irregular hours, plus furlough and the general ‘stay at home’ message that has become so ubiquitous this year can make it hard to do but managing your time well involves having regular routines that are healthy: try to wake up at the same time every day, even if you’ve been on a noisy Zoom call which didn’t go as well as you thought it might the night before. 

Be aware of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and plan in some time outdoors each day, within government guidelines, to try and blow those cobwebs away. Eat 3 meals a day and make sure they include greens and reds as well as yellows and browns! If you enjoy cooking then use some rest time to batch cook for the week ahead. Drink more water than coffee/tea, or at least as much water as caffeinated drinks (including the fizzy kind!). Make time to sit quietly, either praying/meditating, reading or just sitting. This need not be long for you extroverts, 10 mins will do, if you’re an introvert you might need more!


Are there any other tips you might give those working with young people?