New day in ministry with a virtual assistant

I have entered a new season of ministry here at First Church DSM. I went from being the family pastor to being the executive pastor of family and ministry operations. For the first time since I started in Full-Time ministry back in 1992, I feel a little out of it as I try to figure out what I am doing now and the best way to do it.

In comes, the greatest tool my church could have allowed me to have. What is that tool you ask? Her name is Laura, my virtual assistant from Belay. Take out the part of her not physically being in my office area at the church and not being able to run an errand or two, Laura has been the best ministry gift from my church to me in this new position.

It has only been 2 weeks so far but Laura and I have really started dialing in how we can work the best with one another. I’ll describe some of the tools and ways we are using them that would benefit anyone working with an admin, virtual or physical. Let’s begin.

Slack is where it all starts for us. We use slack instead of texting. Organize your team conversations in open channels. Make a channel for a project, a topic, a team, or anything—everyone has a transparent view of all that’s going on. For sensitive information, create private channels and invite a few team members. We use Direct Messages just like you would a text. Then in slack you can take a conversation from typing to face-to-face by starting a voice or video call in any Channel or Direct Message. Make one-on-one or group calls right from Slack without needing to open another app or share invite links.

Trello is where we put our projects as we work on them. A Trello board is a list of lists, filled with cards, used by Laura and I. It’s a lot more than that, though. Trello has everything you need to organize projects of any size.

Dropbox is where we will put all finished projects. For example, every year we run an Easter outreach. We will communicate with one another through slack, and add team members into that slack so we will have a one stop talk area for all things Easter that year. We will track all that communication over projects and due dates etc that we keep in an Easter Trello board. Once the budgets, ideas, checklist, vendor information, brochures created, and so much more we will take all of that and place it in our Drop Box Easter folder so that next year we will just go to the Easter folder and have a great starting point.

Evernote is more of our personal file cabinet.Big ideas, little details, and everything in between. Anything that matters to you can be captured in a note, ready for when you need it. Surfing the web and find a great article or blog that you enjoy, web clip to Evernote. get an email you want to file that is from an actual mailing list you want to be part of email it to your Evernote account. Take a picture of something you see that you want to remember later for a possible new stage design for your church, add into Evernote. Want the business card from the person you are meeting with but tired of having all these loose business cards or not having them ready to use when you need them, take a picture and add it into Evernote. Then have all of this and so much more available in real-time from any of your devices. That there is the real kicker for this tool. Available and searchable at any time even with pictures.

Lastly, Laura and I are finding that using doing a weekly zoom call to touch base “in person” keeps us in touch with the tone of what is going on for all week through slack, Trello, dropbox, and evernote. Belay has done a fantastic job of matching me with an assistant that works like I do. Even after they give you one they follow-up over the next couple weeks as well to make sure it is all going well. They interviewed me and found out my personality and made sure they gave me an admin that would fit.

Bottom line, it’s a new day in ministry with having a virtual assistant.

How time management is handled all wrong

I am a task management junkie who continues to strive to be a task management ninja.

One of the many struggles over the years for me has been handling the idea of keeping a separate to-do list apart from my calendar. If the items I would put on a to-do list are to be accomplished, would they not have to be added on the calendar? Yes they would!

This is exactly why I have stopped the madness of trying to keep a separate to-do list. It does mean I don’t get to play with other apps on my phone or in my web browser, but, that has meant more productivity. The simple act of scheduling tasks on your calendar instead of on a to-do list will increase performance. With most calendars., there are places to add notes, reminders etc. to aid in getting said task done, use them.

As this process takes off for you, it may become overwhelming because the first instinct is to fill every time slot with something. Having every time slot filled would look like your being productive, right? Wrong. To a skilled eye looking at someone’s filled calendar, it says they don’t know what they are doing yet. I know, seeing empty places can make you feel like you should be doing more, but resist. It is important to leave buffers in your day.

What’s a buffer? A buffer is a block of time that you schedule to do nothing scheduled. Take a nap, search the web for fun, read a book, take a walk, review notes from a previous meeting, relax. These scheduled buffer times will help you not run from meeting to meeting.

The CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, wrote a blog post describing how he blocks time on his calendar. He wrote:

“If you were to see my calendar, you’d probably notice a host of time slots greyed out but with no sign of what’s going on. There is no problem with my Outlook or printer. The grey sections show ‘buffers,’ or time periods I’ve purposely kept clear of meetings.

In aggregate, I schedule between 90 minutes and two hours of these buffers every day (broken down into 30- to 90-minute blocks). It’s a system I developed over the last several years in response to a schedule that was becoming so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time left to process what was going on around me or just think.

At first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have used the time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said “no” to. But over time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job.”

Here are a few suggestions for this week as you become more of the Task management Ninja that we all desire to be.

  • Move more to your calendar than on your separate to-do list.
  • Find a couple of times a day to put in place buffers. Try to make the buffers at least 10-15 minutes a piece.

Being Productive NOT for Dummies

not-for-dummies

It never stops amazing me when I meet people and ask them how do they stay productive and then to hear for the next 10 minutes of their very complicated methods and systems that they use.

This was the very reason I was an apple user before it was ever cool to be one. I enjoyed their complete all-inclusive “simple” ecosystem. One of the main draws of using Apple products was how well they worked with each other and made it so I didn’t have to go around to a bazillion other places to get what I needed to do what I wanted to. It felt seamless because everything you needed was already built-in; there was no need to download or install anything. It saved time, was easy and uncomplicated. Now I do understand this may not be as true today, which is why I used all past tense in my statements above. I sadly now watch Apple try to become everyone else instead of who they are. I will stop here as this is a whole other blog post rant that I would go on.

Successful task management (the task is used because I strongly believe no one but God can manage time only the task that happens within the time given) is putting into place systems and strategies that enable you to work at your highest capacity without losing sight of your personal identity or your calling in Christ. Here are some ways that help me manage my task and maximize my impact.

Use Technology. I know some of you once you read that you groaned, and started to tune me out. Please wait and finish reading before you do this. Some of you who read this would also be those who are just like those I started this post off describing, the over complicated system type. Hold in there with me and let’s see if we can’t simplify your system a bit.

“Technology is our friend”, go ahead and say it again. It is about finding the right technology tool for you. Below I will list some of the tools I use that you may want to start with and then branch out to find your own. Remember, K.I.S.S. is important here. Keep It Simple Silly.

Trello for group short project management. This is a free tool.

Evernote for all things filling and serves as my electronic brain. This is also free but can cost.

DropBox for my group collaboration projects that will need to be stored long-term. This can be free but cost.

Kindle app. I first buy a book electronically because they are cheaper and I can read them, highlight them and print all of my highlighted stuff off quickly for free. If the book is good enough then I will buy a paper version.

1Password. This does cost but it is well worth it to me as it stores, fills in and secures all passwords everywhere for me.

Unroll.Me is a web service and app that helps me to mark all email as keep, Unsubscribe or add to roll up. This is a free service.

Hootsuite is for all things social for me. It keeps all my accounts in one place for easy posting and reading.

doodle is for all group calendar setting. It allows me to pick some dates and times and then sends to those I’m trying to pick a scheduled appointment with. They will mar all that work for them and then I pick the one that can be attended by most. It then sends an email out telling of the agreed upon date and time. No more back and forth.

Closing, take a look and see how I don’t use a variety of tools for the same function.Try and keep it all very short and sweet. Staying simple is not really simple after all. If we are left to our own ways we will over complicate everything time after time. Now you have taken long enough reading this post, go and be productive.

The time between meetings is important as well

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My life can be filled with meeting after meeting after meeting and well, you get the idea. I can stay busy running from one type of meeting straight into the next meeting without getting any type of break.

This schedule had me thinking, is there a better way? Meetings are always going to be a large item in my daily agenda due to all the ministries I oversee. Being a family pastor opens up times where I could in any given day run between meetings like:
* Budget meetings
* School luncheons
* Pastoral luncheons
* Volunteer Trainings
* Staff meetings
* Webinars
* Marriage Counseling
* Parental Counseling
* School Assemblies
* Networking
* Coaching Video Calls
* Board meetings for ministries I sit on their advisory board
* Neighborhood association meetings as we build connections with our community

And again this is only the start of the types of meetings I meet on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. With so much of my time being invested in meetings, I wanted to make sure I stayed as productive as I could. I started to notice that my energy would get zapped quickly depending on meeting and how many I had that day.

What to do? I finally figured it out for myself when I ran across this poem by Judy Brown.

Fire.
What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire

grows

simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

Judy Brown

That was it. I needed to make sure I made space between the meetings. I stop and pause long enough to ask God for indifference. Asking God to help me be indifferent to every outcome except His will. I want nothing more or less than His desire for what was going to happen in the meeting that I was going to attend. I remind myself as I build this space, as I open myself to being indifferent to anything but the will of God. I am learning that the degree to which I am open to any outcome or answer from God is the degree to which I am ready to really hear what God has to say.

When I build between each meeting this kind of space, then I’m ready to engage in the next meeting. And to God be all the Glory as each meeting now profits more because of the space I chose to give between the meetings.

Two tools that help my email inbox

keyboard

It started with just one, and before I knew it, there were 8 of them. Eight of what, you ask? Email accounts of mine.

Really, it did start as a great idea and a way to handle more through a better system. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But, now I need all of them for a variety of reasons. I have done the usual with batching emails, answering only a couple of times of day, passing some accounts off to virtual assistants who answer all the ones that come into their email accounts that I have handed over to them and the list goes on and on of what I have tried to do to handle the amounts of emails.

There are 2 tools that I want to make sure you are aware of that have been a great help to me and feel it would do the same for you. Here are the two tools.

Unroll.me
Here is a tool that will collect all of my subscription emails or non-subscription emails that will fill up my inbox quickly. This tool sorts through and then gathers these emails and then will ask me once a day what I want to do with each of these emails. Your choices are, Keep in inbox, Unsubscribe, add to roll up. If you choose to unsubscribe, this tool will take care of that for you. If you choose to keep in inbox, well then, it stays in your inbox. If you want it added to roll up, then it adds it to this list that will be sent to you once a day or however often you choose to have it sent to you. You never miss a thing, except, a full inbox that is out of control.

The next tool is called Slack.
In Slack, what is called Channels, they Organize your team conversations in open channels. Make a channel for a project, a topic, a team, or anything—everyone has a transparent view of all that’s going on.
Then you have Private Channels for sensitive information, create private channels and invite a few team members. No one else can see or join your private channels. The lastly you have Direct Messages
to reach a colleague directly, send them a Direct Message. It’s completely private and secure.

Go and check these 2 resources out and see how it will free up your email box or boxes and allow you more time for your productivity.

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