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My Favorite Productivity Tip!

Rarely do productivity tips have such an impact on my life as one I picked up years ago from reading David Allen’s excellent book “Getting Things Done.” And rarely do tips I implement stick with me this long. But the tip I call “waiting for” is one I think so highly of, that today I elevate to a ministry resource. It is one of the handiest time stewardship tools I have, and I have found it invaluable in getting projects unstuck, helping co-workers/volunteers and me stay “on task”, and in general one of the only tips I’ve ever found that improves my mental health. It’s easy. Here is how it works…

Every time you ask somebody to do something (answer a question, complete a task, provide feedback, you name it), note in some kind of capture system (electronic or analog):

  1. what you asked/expect,
  2. of whom you asked it, and
  3. when you made the request.

So for instance, I ask one of my staff to email me their budget request for next year. I note the who, the what and the when of that encounter. Then at the end of each week, or more often as I have time, I review this “waiting for” list to clean up those “delegations” that have been completed, or take the opportunity to remind somebody of something I’m still waiting for.

My brain doesn’t have to try and remember the who, what and when. It just has to know I’ve captured it and will be able to review those things to circle back if necessary. One of my biggest sources of stress was always trying to remember not only when I made such a request, but even IF I had. I can’t tell you how many projects have become “unstuck” because I simply was able to return to a key moment that a request was made and others are in a holding pattern until something gets done. That “something” is now concrete, not just a fading memory that my brain churns and worries over unnecessarily.

The question I bet your asking, and perhaps the most enjoyable part of the tip, at least for me anyway is, where do you capture this stuff? Where is this magical “waiting for” list? Well that depends. For me, I’d say 90% of all the items on my list are captured within email. I like to use email because it is “in writing.” Perhaps more for my own sanity than anything else. I have to be clear, can use bulleted text, and can ultimately search it if necessary. What I’m “waiting for” isn’t always a return email, but that’s OK. I do have a record of the request at the very least, which, guess what…has the recipient, the time sent and the request itself in the body of the email. Perfect.

The mechanics of doing this in email is the point of my quick screencast below. But to whet your appetite, it’s super easy. By simply cc’ing yourself you can automate the tucking away of said email for future reference without you having to do anything more than hit send. See the video below for how to set this up in either Outlook or Gmail. It can easily be done in other email clients as well.

If it’s not an email, perhaps a verbal conversation (of all things!), a voicemail left, a post it note left on a desk, an instant message or text message, there are a myriad of options. If it’s digital at all, I use OneNote. I simply have a Notebook with a tab called “Waiting For”. I can take pictures with my phone, copy and paste text, even drag a voice mail. I can also jot down the relevant info with my finger on the phone app version. Sometimes I just leave a voice memo for myself right in OneNote. It is a super tool for this kind of stuff. As you can tell, I’m a big fan of OneNote, but any tool like this would serve you well (Apple Notes, Evernote, Google Keep, etc.). The key is to have as few “inboxes” as possible. For me I have my “waiting for” list in one email folder and one OneNote section. Anything beyond that would get a little complicated.

That is not to say that you couldn’t do this with pen and paper either. The trick is that it needs to be easy and always with you. For years, before I transitioned to the smartphone/OneNote approach, I used a wallet from David Allen called the TriFold Notetaker. Unfortunately it isn’t made anymore. However, for guys, any wallet with a small pad of paper and pen will do. Ladies, same thing. Just find a small notebook as your “capture” device. Then once you have those notes (remember who, what, when), you need a place to store those and then go through the contents each week to review all the week’s “waiting for” items. A file folder would work, but make sure it’s in plain site.

If you’d like to learn more about this “waiting for” list concept, just do a quick Google search on “getting things done waiting for list” and you’ll get hundreds of approaches as examples. You’ll find what works best for you. The important part of this “ministry resource” is to start capturing those “waiting for” items, keep stuff moving forward and comfort your brain that you’ve got things “under control!”

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Cloud Storage

Knowledge workers like our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers deal with “documents” pretty much everyday. They write sermons and Bible studies. They prepare reports and craft lesson plans. They write, collaborate and share. It’s just part of what they do. What they also do is try to keep all those documents organized, available and findable. Many would suggest that is no easy task.

Thankfully document management has come a long way these past few years due in no small part to cloud storage tools like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox and Box.com. If you haven’t considered bringing one of these tools into your workflow, you may want to reconsider. They offer many benefits, but also a few gotchas you should be aware of.

Benefits

  1. When using most cloud storage solutions you will have the ability to synchronize your files from device to device as well as online. Often we have workflows that include more than one device, perhaps a computer or tablet as well as a smartphone. There may even be occasions when you are away from your own devices and have to use a public one or someone else’s. No problem. Just log in to your cloud services and there are all your files.
  2. Most cloud services offer file “versioning.” With this feature collaboration on documents is safer because you can always revive a former version if something goes wrong. Even if you don’t collaborate with others, it is helpful to be able to go back through your own historical versions.
  3. Cloud services mean you may not have to spend the extra money on larger hard drives. Chances are you have many files you don’t need day to day, but may need “some day.” There is no reason to have those stored on a local hard drive. Just leave them on the cloud service, but don’t sync them. Cloud services have much better back up technologies than you do. Then when you need the file, simply sync or download it.
  4. As mentioned in number three backups are done for you. Companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple have server farms that are redundant and are designed to make sure you aren’t going to lose your files. That doesn’t mean you should have only the online copy of your files. It’s a good idea to occasionally make local copies of all the files you really can’t afford to lose. Invest in a cheap external hard drive and put a reminder on your calendar each month to update your copies.
  5. Finally, the cost of cloud storage is getting cheaper and cheaper. Competition is good and as the major cloud storage providers duke it out, the consumer enjoys very reasonable rates. Last year CNET wrote up a nice run down of the major providers and their prices.

Gotchas

Of course there are a few things you should be aware of when considering a cloud storage digital lifestyle.

  1. Be aware that someone else is holding your files so you need to trust your provider. While it’s unlikely that the major providers listed earlier will go under, there are other providers that have. Make sure you can fall back to your own copies of the files you know you will really need. Choose your service wisely.
  2. You need a stable and fairly fast internet connection. Clearly cloud based storage solutions assume you have pretty consistent access to the cloud. If you sync your files, you do have an advantage that allows offline access (another benefit not mentioned in the previous section), but if you have a need for a file that exists only in the cloud and you don’t have access to the cloud when you need it…well, that’s a problem.
  3. One thing that is often misunderstood about cloud storage solutions is that they are not replacements for backups. Most cloud syncing features only “synchronize” files. That means that if you change a file in a way you didn’t intend or accidently delete it, that will be synced too. There are cloud “backup” solutions out there like Backblaze and Carbonite. Keep in mind that they serve different purposes.

There are other benefits and gotchas, but those are more related to the actual service you choose. For instance, if you choose Apple iCloud, you can’t sync those files to a Windows machine or device. There are file size limits, and compatibility issues, etc. Just take time in picking a solution. Live with it for a few months to truly understand the goods and the bads. Then make a longer term commitment. Personally I use Google Drive and pay $2/month for 100 gigabytes for my personal files. That seems to be plenty for my usage, and Google seems to play pretty well on all systems and devices I use. Check out my brief screencast below for some of the features I find most valuable. Your mileage may vary.

In general I would recommend that knowledge workers and their organizations have more to gain than lose by using cloud services. They are mature and can greatly increase everybody’s productivity.

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17 Tips for Staying Productive

Every so often I come across a blog post that is just worth a read and re-read on a regular basis. One of those for me is one called 17 Tips for Staying Productive in Ministry by Pastor Rick Warren. There is nothing genius about any of the tips. It’s not super in depth on any one point or provide neat step by steps on calendar management or anything like that. These tips are just that. Short, useful, common sense oriented, easy to remember tips that have helped me quite a bit, and I think they can help anybody who has a lot of things to do…especially related to ministry. I encourage you to read the whole article, but here are my top five:

  1. Put your plans on paper. Write out what you want to accomplish. Spell it out. Dawson Trotman said, ”Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and the fingertips.” If I can say it and I can write it down, then it’s clear. If I haven’t written it down, then it’s vague. A lot of us go around with anxiety which is this free-floating, vague fear that I’m not getting it all accomplished. Just the very fact of putting it down, a lot of times, gives credence and relief to your mind and you’re able to focus on it.
  2. Remind yourself of the benefits of completing the job. Jesus did this. The Bible says in Hebrews, that Jesus endured the cross because He looked to the joy beyond it. He looked beyond the cross and saw the result of it.
  3. Do a small part of it right now. In other words, Get started. Do a small part of it right now. Don’t stall. Take it a bite at a time and give it five minutes.
  4. Know your energy patterns and take advantage of peak times. Some of you are morning people. Some of you are night people. Have you learned that at some points in the day, you are brighter than at other times? You’re more alert, you have more energy. There are times when you’re habitually at your best. The only people who are at their best all the time are mediocre people.
  5. Enlist a partner. If you’ve got a big task and it’s up to you, you’ll probably procrastinate. But if you’ve got somebody else and can say, “We’re going to meet and get this thing going”, you’re more likely to get it done.

As I said, these are just a few of my favorites. I’ve found all 17 to be useful at one time or another.

Related resources

Over the years we’ve talked a lot about productivity resources on the WELSTech Podcast. So I won’t relist them here, but recently we discussed the “Bullet Journal” which fits nicely with these tips, as well as a series of reviews of the excellent book by Matt Perman entitled “What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.” Check those out as a good place to start on your productivity journey.

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491 – Bullet Journals

You won’t want to miss this week’s WELTech discussion of an analog system (a.k.a., Martin’s favorite medium – paper!) for managing tasks and lots more. We turn back time to look at the first year of WELSTech podcasting, and we feature news from LastPass, Holy Week devotions from MLC, great content on WhatAboutJesus.com and a special Easter video featuring the art of Jason Jaspersen.

The interview and discussion:

BuJo for the analog win – Pastor Stephen Daley from St. Paul in South Haven, MI shares his bullet journaling experience with Martin and Sallie. Billed as the analog system for the digital age, Pastor Daley encourages those interested to try it for a month, and he says the key to success is regular review.

Countdown to episode 500:

On June 6, 2017, we plan to broadcast our 500th WELSTech episode. Look back at year 1, 2008, and episodes 1 to 52.

News in tech:

WELS now:

Picks of the week:

Ministry resources:

Top Reasons To Visit WhatAboutJesus.com

Featured video:

The newest addition on the WELSTech Artists YouTube playlist is The Good News of Christ from Motion Worship with artwork by Jason Jaspersen.

Coming up on WELSTech:

Episode 492 – The Social Media in Ministry series continues with tips on engaging online ambassadors.  Release date: Wednesday, April 12.

Get involved:

479 – Social Media in Ministry: YouTube

Your ministry likely has, or will have, video to share in 2017. Listen in on a WELSTech discussion of the whys, whats, whos, and hows of using YouTube to get your videos played, talked about, and shared. There’s also coverage of some of the “wow” of CES, a pulsing pick of the week, and an in-depth look at the Minneapolis Institute of Art Martin Luther exhibit.

The discussion:

All about YouTube – In this era of visual communication, the popularity of the video hosting platform YouTube has raised it to the status of the second most popular search engine. And while many may not realize YouTube has a social side to it’s personality, it can be a great place to connect and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

News in tech:

Picks of the week:

Ministry resources:

Featured video:

The newest addition on the WELSTech Presentation/Teaching YouTube playlist is Always With You featuring MLC Professor David Scharf from Your Time of Grace.

Coming up on WELSTech:

Episode 480 – Tim Plath, chairman of Area Lutheran High Schools Online, talks with Martin and Sallie about the online learning platform, plus we discuss tech backup strategy for the new year. Release date: Wednesday, January 18.

Get involved:

Productivity Tips from challies.com

Now that we’ve arrived at another new year, it’s appropriate to highlight an excellent blog that not only provides productivity focused articles, but from a ministry perspective. You can find it at http://www.challies.com.

During my time in the ministry and now consulting with many other pastors and teachers about productivity, it is clear to me that one of a called worker’s primary administrative challenges is time and task management. Within minutes their day can be turned upside down with a simple phone call, email, or after church/school conversation. They need to juggle hundreds of tasks and projects, all with real deadlines, and then be able to put everything on hold to address the many urgencies that ministry presents. As a result, they need a good productivity discipline that makes sense for them and their work.

I’ve been following Tim Challies for some time and found many of his articles helpful, if not productivity game changers. I’d say that nothing he writes on productivity (he writes about many other things as well) is “new” in the productivity world. You can see themes from people like David Allen who wrote “Getting Things Done,” and other sources. But he packages these ideas in meaningful bites and weaves them together that somebody in ministry can chew on and digest.

Here are some relevant links from his site:

If you are looking for a good place to start thinking about, or rethinking your productivity habits in 2017, you might want to start with a series of articles he wrote back in 2014 entitled How To Get Things Done. They are excellent.

One of my favorite productivity entries in the series is Using Your Calendar Effectively. He goes into some detail talking about what should and shouldn’t go on your calendar – an appropriate topic as you look at your 2017. Tim also clarifies the difference between three vital productivity tools: 1) Information Management, 2) Task Management, and 3) Calendar/Schedule Management. He makes a great case for three distinct tools and then walks through relevant examples of what goes where. Very helpful.

Related resources

Disclaimer: Ministry Resources identified on WELSTech do not all come from Lutheran sources or always adhere to WELS confessional statements. They are presented as resources that may provide value for your ministry, but assume appropriate and discerning usage.

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478 – 2017: Focus on Ministry Resources

WELSTech starts the new year with a resolution — more and better ministry resources! We kick of the new year with a Bible reading plan and morning routine resources. Join us for 2017 as we find intersections between technology and ministry.

The discussion:

WELSTechversary – Martin and Sallie discuss the milestone 9th anniversary of the weekly WELSTech podcast and share plans for in-depth Ministry Resource posts in 2017.

The interview:

Sphero, my hero – Mark Meyer, Technology Director at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Greenvile, WI, shares his experience introducing coding at the grade school level using Code.org and Sphero, a small robot which lets students have a ball!

WELS now:

New Interactive Faith webcasts start February 1 at 6 pm and 8 pm CST

  • Led by Rev. Randy Hunter from St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Madison, WI
  • A study on enriching marriages. Couples will have the opportunity to build their marriage on the gospel of Jesus through the study entitled “Mysterious Marriage.” This study will examine how the gospel gives you the power to be married and how marriage gives you a way to show the gospel.

Picks of the week:

Ministry resources:

Featured video:

Watch Immanuel is a Thankful Church!, shared by Mark Meyer and the newest addition to the WELSTech “Likes” list on Vimeo.

Coming up on WELSTech:

Episode 479 – Martin and Sallie take a deep dive into using YouTube for ministry. Release date: Wednesday, December 11.

Get involved:

The Miracle Morning

The start of a new year and hanging of a pristine new calendar, often stirs in us a desire to review our plans, goals, and personal productivity. Hal Elrod’s book, The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM), details one approach to invigorating and accelerating the goals you’ve adopted. The approach is simple … discipline yourself to wake up one hour earlier and use the time for focused concentration on important areas of your life. While Elrod’s motivation may be different than some, this short read can serve as a springboard to adopting a healthy early-morning habit.

Application/audience

This book and the concept of starting your day with Bible study, prayer, exercise, journaling, reading and planning are something everyone can consider. As Christians, we are called to work while it is day at the tasks the Lord has prepared for us. Many WELSTech-ers have calls in the public ministry while many others are dedicated volunteers and leaders in their congregations and schools. Why not consider adding an early morning routine to your day to find out if it helps you as you carry out your public and personal ministry.

Related resources

There’s no shortage of self-help/personal productivity books on the market. Elrod himself advocates for reading other authors during your designated 10 minute reading time and adapting your “Miracle Morning” regime based on things you uncover during your reading. Here are just a few possibilities to get you started.

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439 – The New Frontier in Productivity

The WELSTech discussion this week centers around the tools for personal productivity and why it may be time to make a switch. Sallie’s laced up her red shoelaces for a special day and there’s a brand new photo challenge for April. Tune in for the details!

The discussion:

So many great tools – Personal productivity, a favorite topic on WELSTech, is front and center as Martin and Sallie do a run down of the multitude of tools that enhance calendaring, task management, communication, collaboration and document storage. Is it the right time for a change?

News in tech:

Amazon Echo DotCNET review

WELS now:

Picks of the week:

Ministry resources:

Gospel Outreach With Media online conference

Featured video:

Featured in the Gospel Outreach With Media conference is an article from videographer Jonathan Witte where he shares ideas on Christian Media for a Non-Christian Audience. As an example, Jonathan shares one of his most popular videos, a parody which features the Martin Luther College Cafeteria – Singing in the Shower by Becky G – Caf Edition – and we’ve added it to our WELSTech Promo playlist.

Coming up on WELSTech:

Episode 440 – Martin and Sallie explore the online learning platform Moodle. Release date: Thursday, April 14

Get involved:

388 – Gospel-Driven

This week WELSTech marks the end of the What’s Best Next book series with a reflection on what we’ve learned along the way. There’s also discussion of an exciting opportunity for WELSTech Conference attendees, a favorite hymns survey, free fonts, the verse of the day, and much more. Join the conversation!

The discussion:

The EndSay Goodbye – Martin and Sallie discuss Part 7 of Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done and wrap up this season’s book discussion by reviewing the five takeaways in the book recap.

News in tech:

Google Education on Air – Free online conference, May 8-9

WELS now:

Picks of the week:

Community feedback:

Ministry resources:

Featured videos:

The newest addition to the WELSTech Instructional playlist on YouTube is Understanding Exposure: The Exposure Triangle with Mark Wallace

 

Coming up on WELSTech:

Episode 389 – We’ll take a look at the important task of worship planning and how technology can assist – 04/21/15 @ 4 pm Central – welstechlive.wels.net

Get involved: