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All Over the Place During Sermon Prep? You Need These 4 Keys to Focus

Preparing talks and sermons is one of my highest priorities as a pastor. I’ve often said that preparing a message feels much like writing a term paper, each week.

I even heard someone say that sermon preparation is like delivering a baby each week, and then on Monday realizing you are expecting again. It’s hard work and takes time.

Without sustained focus and attention, sermon prep can consume an inordinate amount of time. (See my post here about how long we should spend preparing a sermon).

To maximize my prep time, I’ve learned to focus my attention in these ways.

1. Visual gating

Visual gating simply means to block out other visual distractions.

In my office at church, I have two desks. One is the main one that faces the office area, which allows me to see out the window. Another one is around the corner in a nook. Only a bare wall stands behind my computer monitor. I use this one.

At my home office, I have my desk and monitor arranged in the same way. A bare wall stands behind them.

I also use the ‘focus’ mode on Microsoft Word. It blocks out all the other panes and programs that lie behind Word so that the only thing I see is my current document. If you don’t use Word, you can buy several other programs that do the same thing. One company even found that the best way they increased employee productivity was to get them large computer monitors.

2. Auditory blocking

Ambient sounds can definitely distract us from our prep.

I’ve used two techniques. I turn on a small fan that blocks most unwanted noise. However, if I really want to maximize concentration, I use my sound suppressing headphones and listen to the sound of rushing water with an iPhone app called Ambiance. You can get zillions of sounds through this app if rushing water does not work for you.

3. Dopamine enhancement

The neurotransmitter dopamine helps us maintain attention and is involved with reward in the brain.

We need dopamine to help us concentrate. Too little and we don’t focus. Too much and we get wired.

When we check off a task from our to do list, we get a tiny burst of dopamine. Chocolate can increase it (although I don’t recommend keeping a jar of M & M’s on your desk). And caffeine can boost it as well.

I don’t drink coffee or tea, the two main sources of caffeine. However, sometimes I will drink a diet coke or use 5-Hour Energy. I’ve found that this energy drink does not leave me with a crash when it wears off. I wrote a blog on energy drinks for the busy pastor here.

4. Minimized computer distractions

When I study, I turn off any email or social networking automatic reminders. Studies show that when social media and email interrupt us, it takes us several minutes to get back to the task.

What has helped you concentrate while preparing a talk or sermon? 

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As a pastor for over 43 years, Charles served as a lead pastor, associate pastor, and church planter in churches from 50 to over 1,000. He now coaches and equips pastors and teams to effectively navigate the unique challenges ministry brings. By blending biblical principles with cutting-edge brain-based practices he helps them enhance their leadership abilities, elevate their preaching/ teaching skills, and prioritize self-care. He has written 7 books, earned 5 degrees (including two doctorates) has been married for 43 years, and has 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. For more information and to follow his blogs, visit www.charlesstone.com