The Leader's Magic Hours


Photographers know that one of the essential aspects of great photography is great lighting. As one photographer put it, "If the light is wrong, nothing else will work!"[1]

Of course, that raises a question, "How does one get the best light?" The answer is found in the magic hour -- the thirty minutes after the sun creeps over the horizon in the morning and the thirty minutes before it crawls back to bed in the evening. It is an essential block of time that photographers need for their best work.

Leaders also require essential blocks of time to be at their best for God. I call these essential blocks of time the leader's magic hours!

What Does God Say?

When I search the pages of Scripture I catch glimpses of this concept:

  • Paul devoted time to reading While in prison, Paul requested "the books, and above all the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13). Why? I think Paul had a pattern of devoting an essential block of time--a study hour--to sharpen his mind and better engage his world. We see the outworking of that magic hour when we listen to him eloquently engage the people on Mars Hill in Acts 17.
  • Jesus devoted time to communing with Godthe Father Jesus rose "very early in the morning" to pray (Luke 1:35). Why? Jesus needed that essential block of time to commune with the Father. His devotion to that time is our constant reminder that we must do the same. As he reminds us, apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5)
  • Isaac devoted time to thinking and reflection Isaac "went out to meditate in the field toward evening" (Genesis 24:63). Why? Perhaps it was because he absolutely had to have time alone to think and reflect. Was this essential block of time a consistent pattern in his life? I imagine it was.
  • God commends the disciplined use of our time The book of Proverbs is one of the places God admonishes us to use our time well: The plans of the diligence lead to abundance. (Proverbs 21:5). Do your planning and prepare your fields before you build your house. (Proverbs 24:27 NLT) Planning takes focused time.

The Power Of Focused Priorities

The leader's magic hours harness the power of priorities. Productive people understand how important it is to devote set blocks of time to getting things done:

  • Jonathan Edwards devoted time to his study Edwards usually arose at four or five in the morning in order to spend thirteen hours in his study."[2]
  • Isaac Asimov devoted time to his writing Isaac Asimov "wrote and published more than 400 (!) books by typing non-stop 6 am to noon, every day for forty years."[3] Asimov's discipline is a trait shared with most writers. In My Reading Life, Pat Conroy, the author of The Great Zambini and The Prince of Tides, writes: "Since I am a man of ingrained habit, my life has fixed points of immovable behavior that can make my daily schedule seem neurotic to the point of inertia. To me, the writing life requires the tireless discipline of the ironclad routine."[4]
  • Michael Jordan devoted time to his game. The Nike ad shows a reflective Michael Jordan. He is sitting on a chair on the floor of the Berto Center, the practice facility for the Chicago Bulls. A basketball rests beneath him, a rack of balls awaits him. Behind the glass backboard four world championship banners are clearly visible. This is "Michael's house," the place where he has spent over 7,423 hours perfecting his craft. That's two and a half years of eight-hour workdays dribbling, shooting and rebounding.

Edwards, Asimov, Jordan and a host of others recognize the power of focused priorities. This takes discipline. Jim Rohn notes, 

We must all inevitably suffer one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. [5]

You are a leader. You have a role from God along with the necessary gifts and skills to perform it well (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11). You are also a manager or steward of the role and the gifts. Paul reminds us that it is "required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Understanding your magic hours will help you steward well what God has entrusted to you.

How Do I Determine My Magic Hours?

Here are four questions to help you determine your magic hours:

Question #1: What do you do well?

God reminds us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (Romans 12:3 ESV). Sober thinking is honestly assessing your strengths and weakness, your gifts and talents, to arrive at an understanding of what you do well. Like all assessments, it is only as good as we are honest. The question is not, "What do you want to do well?" but "What do you do well?"

When we think soberly we avoid two extremes: (1) Ain't I something! and (2) I ain't nothing! Both lines of thinking are dangerous. The former robs God of his glory, the latter devalues his work in our lives.

As I assess my life, I do three things fairly well: I teach well, write well, and lead well. I have lots and lots of room for improvement, but I know God has gifted me in these areas. I must focus on these areas with the time God has entrusted to me. Think soberly for a moment. Name three things that you do well.

  1. ________________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________________
  3. ________________________________________________

Question #2: What can you and only you do, that if done well will make a significant difference for your organization?

In the post, "Your Leadership Matters," I referenced A.G. Lafley, who wrote an article for Harvard Business Review entitled, "What Only The CEO Can Do." His point is this: As a leader, there are things that only you can do. Make sure you are focused on these pursuits. Give the rest to someone else. Brian Tracy, the author of Eat That Frog, calls those things that only you can do your key result areas:

Your job can be broken down into about five to seven key result areas, seldom more. These represent the results that you absolutely, positively have to get to fulfill your responsibilities and make your maximum contribution to your organization.

A key result area is defined as something for which you re completely responsible. If you don't do it, it doesn't get done. A key result area is an activity that is under your control. It produces an output that becomes an input or a contributing factor to the work of others.[6]

As I assess my role as a pastor, there are certain things I must do that cannot be delegated to someone else. For example, I must be the primary preacher/teacher for our church family. I must set the vision for our church in keeping with the Scriptures. I must establish the leadership development culture in or church.

Your role will look different than mine. If you are in sales, you will be responsible for establishing your client base. If you a team leader, it will be your job to constantly navigate the tension between the task that must be done, and building the relationships that make the task possible.

Take a moment to assess your key result areas. What are the things that only you can do?

  1. ___________________________________________________
  2. ___________________________________________________
  3. ___________________________________________________
  4. ___________________________________________________
  5. ___________________________________________________

Question 3: What essential blocks of time -- Magic Hours -- do you need to be at your best for God?

Magic hours are foundational blocks of time that ensure the walls and roof of your life don't crumble. You must have them to be at your best. Paul needed a study hour. Jesus--in his human nature--needed that hour of prayer. Isaac needed time to meditate. Asimov illustrates the importance of both identifying and being devoted to one of his magic hours: writing. What essential blocks of time do you need?

In my life, I need five magic hours:

  1. Quiet Time Hour: I need an hour to be with God in his Word and in prayer.
  2. Exercise Hour: I need an hour to exercise. I take long walks and devote some of my exercise time for push-ups and sit-ups.
  3. Reading Hour: Leaders are readers. Reading broadens my understanding, and provides a tremendous amount of background material for speaking and writing. It is the paint for my canvas.
  4. Thinking Hour: I need time to look ahead, anticipate problems, brainstorm resources, assess relationships, examine finances, consider possibilities, and dream about what successes can mean.
  5. Writing Hour: Writing provides an opportunity for me to connect with our church--outside of the Sunday sermon. It enables me to encourage and build into others using the voice of my pen (keyboard). I must have time to write.

These are my hours. I use them as an example of what I must have. Your hours will look different.

Perhaps you are thinking, "Five hours? There's no way!" While it does seem excessive, I remember the words of Dee Hock, the founder and former CEO of Visa: "It is management of self that should occupy 50% of our time and the best of our ability."[7]

We must also remember that these "hours" are blocks of time, not necessarily 60-minute segments. Let them serve you. You don't serve them. As you develop a rhythm for your magic hours, they will become the admonition of a persistent friend and not become the relentless hounding of a cruel taskmaster.

What are three key blocks of time you need to be at your best for God?

  1. ________________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________________
  3. ________________________________________________

Question #4: What must you stop doing to capture your magic hour?

Finding room for your magic hours in the midst of a crowded schedule will not be easy. You will have to say "No" to some good things to get the better things the magic hours will bring. Remember this: The secret to saying, "No" is to live with a bigger "Yes."

Jonathan Edwards illustrates that kind of resolve. Edwards, fully aware of his extraordinary mental capacities had to make some tough choices with respect to his time. Biographer George Marsden notes:

Edwards decided early on that he should serve God first with his best gifts. Accordingly, except in cases of sickness and emergencies, he declined to make pastoral calls on his parishioners as was usually expected of New England clergy . . . . Normally, however, he believed he could best exercise his extraordinary intellectual gifts as well as best serve his parishioners by staying in his study during the day."[8]

Edwards did not stop there. He ruthlessly evaluated his study habits and concluded: "My time is so short, that I have not time to perfect myself in all studies: wherefore resolved, to omit and put off, all but the most important and needful studies." [9]

What is your bigger "Yes"? What do you need to say "No" to in order to achieve it? Write down two things that come to mind:

  1. ________________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________________

It's Hard, But It's Worth It

Saying "Yes" to the magic hours pays big dividends in the long run but in the short run seems counterintuitive. Just try it. Take time for a thinking hour. Within minutes the internal voices or the chattering email ping will be screaming, "You must get busy!" Ignore that voice. Remember instead the wisdom of this story:

An old logger was out in the forest working feverishly to saw down a tree. A passerby who saw him noticed the logger was covered in sweat and breathing heavily.

"What are you doing?" the passerby asked.

"Can't you tell," the workman answered impatiently, "I'm sawing down this tree."

 "You look beat," the observer commented. "How long have you been working?"

 "Five hours," came the reply between heavy breaths. "I'm beat! This is hard work."

 "Well, why don't you take a little break to sharpen your saw? It sure would make your work go faster."

 "I can't do that," the man answered gruffly. "I'm too busy sawing!"[10]

Can you identify with the logger? Are you too busy to slow down? Devoting time to the magic hours is devoting time to sharpening your saw for God.

Paul knew the importance of this. He did not want his mental edge go dull. So even when chained up in a Roman prison, he took time to sharpen his mind with a reading hour: 

When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.
— (2 Timothy 4:13 NLT


God wants your life and your leadership to be a beautiful picture of servant leadership. But servant leadership, like great photography, doesn't happen by accident. It is formed in the magic hours. What are yours? What must you stop doing to start giving time to your magic hours.

The secret to saying, "No" is living with a bigger "Yes."

NOTE: Click here for The Secret To Staying Afloat. 



  1. Ron Bigelow, "The Magic Hour Times Two." Accessed on August 16, 2011 from
  2. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2003. Pages 133.
  3. Seth Godin, Poke The Box, page 19.
  4. Pat Conroy, My Reading Life. New York: Doubleday. 2010. Page 108.
  5. Jim Rohn
  6. Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways To Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Second Edition. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2007. Page 42.
  7. Dee Hock, quoted in Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2002.
  8. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Pages 134-135. Marsden notes the work of Samuel Hopkins, The Life and Character of the Late Reverend Mr. Jonathan Edwards (Boston, 1765). Page 49-50.
  9. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Page 95. Marsden quotes Edward's diary from September 22, 1723.
  10. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People (paperback), page 287.