My productivity secret weapon

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If you’re the sort of person who realizes that creative freedom comes from clarity and a calm assurance that you have a system to capture and then fulfill goals and obligations then you’re the sort of person who will enjoy what I’ve come to think of as my productivity secret weapon, the Rocket Book.

If you’re not familiar with Rocket Book here’s how the company describes the product:

The Rocketbook System is the combination of a special notebook and a free mobile app. Write notes and create designs in your notebook with a pen. Then, using patent-pending image capture technology, the Rocketbook app accurately and quickly captures and sends your notes to pre-configured cloud services

The beauty of the Rocket Book is it’s combination of (1) the tactile experience of writing handwritten notes, (2) a quick searchable way to digitize and store the notes in pre-selected locations, and (3) the ability to erase the notes and reuse the notebook’s pages infinitely.

Watch the video:

The possibilities for this product are amazing. I’ll be writing more on how I’m using this notebook in the near future.

Five ways to waste your weekend

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Webp.net-resizeimage (2)Weekends are precious so make sure you don’t waste yours

It’s been about a year since our family made the change to both Anna and I working full-time and out-of-the-house. The way we think about weekends has changed immensely! It’s challenging to find a sustainable pace.

Before that, either one or both of us had worked from home. There are some definite down-sides to working from home, but that kind of flexibility does make it way easier to get a full work day in and stay up on chores–especially if you’re able to avoid an hour in the car.

Over the last year I’ve made a number of mis-steps in managing the week which have led to wasted weekends. Here are five easy ways to waste your weekend and go back to work on Monday feeling robbed.


Do nothing but chores


The weekend won’t last forever.

Use every last ounce of energy to knock out every possible chore you could need to do during the week.

Fall into bed on Sunday night exhausted and then when the alarm goes off in the morning: hate your life.

Better alternative: try spacing out chores every night. Make a schedule and try to avoid all-or-nothing thinking.

Eat comfort food


You
 finally made it to the weekend.

You’re tired. You don’t want to cook.

Just grab a frozen pizza, fling it into a pre-heated oven and eat. 

Better alternative: Plan out some salads, fish, or other healthy meals so that you don’t have to make a decision in the moment.

Hibernate in the house


You get up early every morning and leave the house. You spend ours in the car each week fighting traffic. You deserve to stay on the couch all weekend watching sports.

Don’t you?

Better alternative: make time for rest and for exertion. If all you do is veg you’ll find yourself becoming lethargic. If all you do is exert, you’ll find yourself exhausted.

Say Yes to Everything


You only have one weekend. Try to pack a week’s worth of fun into it. 

There’s a lot going on.

Do. It. All.

Better alternative: designate part of your weekend solely for things that give you energy and that lift your spirit.

Burn the midnight oil

Sleep is for old people.

Young people.

The weak.

Make sure you wring every moment from the weekend by staying up late and getting up early. You’ll make up for it during the work week.


So. How do you waste your weekend?

[New Series] How to get stuff done for pastors – 1

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My first year on the senior staff team of a large church has been exhilarating and pretty challenging. One of the biggest challenges has been learning to coordinate ministry initiatives across the church. This coordination requires effective communication and often meetings form the starting point for that communication. In a given week I usually lead a departmental staff meeting and three to four one-on-one meetings with direct reports. I participate in our senior staff meeting which is led by our Senior Pastor/Head of Staff, which is a blend of strategic discussion and tactical planning. I also attend our weekly pastors’ meeting which covers a variety of topics related to pastoral care, worship, and the like. That’s a total of seven meetings not including bi-monthly session meetings, and other committee meetings.

In each of these meetings, I capture notes as well as actions that I am responsible for. Early on I realized that by the end of the week I had a bunch of legal pads with meeting notes and actions accumulating on my desk. A lot of times it seemed that the stack kept growing and that I was at my capacity to keep up with things using such an ad hoc system. In ministry, just as in business, people don’t like it when you drop balls or miss important details. It erodes trust, which is the currency of ministry.

Stress Man

I decided to revisit David Allen’s influential book Getting Things DoneIf you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and get a copy as soon as you can. Read it. Implement it. It will change your life.

Allen’s approach (GTD, for short) is a simple five step process that will enable you to externalize tasks so you don’t have to have them buzzing around in your head. Here’s a snapshot of the system:

  1. Capture—collect what has your attention
  2. Clarify—process what it means
  3. Organize—put it where it belongs
  4. Reflect—review frequently
  5. Engage—simply do

Consider this a GTD tutorial. You can learn the system and put it into practice by reading the five posts (of which this is the first).

Step One – Collect or capture what has your attention.

My Capture Tools: these are the places–physical and virtual–where I place “to dos.” They’re sort of like different buckets that I empty regularly into an orderly system for processing.

  1. Email Inbox: I get about fifty emails a day (at work, which is low). Most contain information and often an action. I process my inbox daily with a goal of getting to zero messages in my inbox.
  2. Office Phone Voicemail: I get relatively few phone messages. I usually listen to them and write brief notes on an index card and then throw that card into my physical inbox for processing later.
  3. Cell Phone Voicemail/Text: Same as #2.
  4. Office mail box: I process my office mail box several times a day, putting actionable items into my physical inbox.
  5. Levenger International Pocket Briefcase [Link]: I put receipts in my wallet, jot notes on index cards that are in the wallet, and process these into my physical inbox every time I return from outside of the office.

All of these capture tools end up moving action items either (1) into my physical inbox or (2) into a file in Outlook that I use to categorize and process emails into task manager.

inbox-zeroDavid Allen will tell you that the critical thing about collecting is that you have to collect everything. You’ve got to build trust in the system by using the system to handle all of your tasks or other data points that are taking your concentration or subconscious memory. And you have to discipline yourself to take one of five responses to something that comes across your desk (see the graphic to the left).

For all of these decisions (other than deleting) you have to have a system to help you to do things like:

  • Keep track of items delegated to others so that you can follow up on them.
  • Keep track of items deferred so that you’ll come back to them when the time is right.

It’s a big task especially in a profession where there are often unplanned major events (hospital visits and funerals) alongside a rigorous normal schedule of worship and work.

Next up: how to clarify!

Five things to do when leading in uncertainty

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The reason markets hate uncertainty is because people hate uncertainty. Each of us has a limited capacity—it varies from person-to-person—to live in a state of ambiguity. We need closure. Some of the most horrific suffering in this world is the product of unsolved crimes like child abduction. It can be paralyzing in the extreme.

Because of our dislike for uncertainty it is often difficult for leaders to be effective during a time of great ambiguity. For those who do lead effectively during a time of uncertainty, that leadership often comes with great personal cost.

I’ve witnessed this in the lives of my clergy colleagues in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The average membership of a PC(USA) congregation is around 180. 76% of PC(USA) churches are smaller than 200 members. On a given Sunday around half of the members of a church are present in worship.[i]

As pastoral leaders, how do we respond to these sorts of ambiguous situations? What do we do when we don’t know what to do? Or, when what we don’t know that what we’re about to do will help solve the problem we’re facing?

I’m currently reading Mary Beth O’Neill’s book Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with their Challenges. She writes,

By ambiguity, I mean the business situations that are by nature unclear and murky. It’s not like people have suddenly lost their intelligence of problem-solving ability. Rather, the issues never seem to sort themselves out.

Leaders often lose their bearings when confronted with lingering ambiguity. Like a pilot landing a plane in low visibility uses an instrument landing system (ILS) to guide the plane smoothly onto the runway, leaders can take five actions when confronted with ambiguity. These actions may not shift the fog of uncertainty, but they will provide a guiding framework to navigate through it.

GBAS - runway

Five things to do when leading in uncertainty:

  1. Acknowledge the ambiguity
  2. Distinguish for yourself where you are clear and where you are unclear about the situation
  3. Articulate to others the boundary between your clarity and your lack of clarity
  4. Say what you want to do, given the situation
  5. Tell others what you need from them

Acknowledge the ambiguity. Unnamed ambiguity hinders communication and also inhibits performance. It’s a manacle that makes a victim of leadership teams. Naming the ambiguity places it front and center and also helps the entire team to own it. The truth is—despite what our hearts often tell us—in 99% of situations, the ambiguity is no one’s fault. Letting go of the guilt will help a team to move forward.

Distinguish for yourself where you are clear and where you are unclear about the situation (internally). Surrounding an ambiguous situation there are often some places of clarity. In the case of a church with declining membership and attendance the place of ambiguity may be “how do we get more members?” Around this sticky issue there are places of clarity that should be named. For example, a congregation could discover that young families are living in the neighborhoods around the church, that they tend to be middle class. In other words, there are people that could come to this church—its not sitting in an island of farmland with no one around for miles. This kind of certainty helps leaders to identify other areas of certainty, which over time can build a better picture of the precise issue that is hindering the ministry or business.

Articulate to others the boundary between your clarity and your lack of clarity (externally). This is often best done simply by stating the problem you’re trying to solve and then listing your knowns. Then, spring-boarding from that into the listing as many unknown factors as you can. Putting all of this together should enable your team to (eventually) arrive at consensus about where the boundary is between certainty and ambiguity.

Say what you want to do, given the situation. The aim here is not finding the perfect solution. The goal is not finding absolute clarity. It is simply weighing all the evidence you currently have, identifying some ways forward and moving toward one of them. In the case of the declining church, it could be something as simple as deciding the leadership making the decision to actively engage neighbors in conversation with a view to more deeply understanding what life is like for those who live in the neighborhood. Even something that simple helps propel a team toward greater clarity.

Tell others what you need from them. Other members of the team need clarity about the project, lines of authority, and desired outcomes. As a team member it’s critical that this is stated explicitly so that everyone understands it or if there is haziness (beyond the problem itself) that it is acknowledged and then clarified.

Leading in uncertain times is very demanding. This template from Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart can provide a great way to step back from the problem and systematically edge forward into greater clarity rather than becoming disoriented and losing focus.

What do you do to navigate uncertainty?

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[i] Presbyterian Mission Agency, Presbyterian Church (USA). Available Online at: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/research/10faq/

Goals are no good without this…

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In ministry (or any other type of leadership) there are three horizons that must simultaneously be monitored: vision, people, and structures. Vision is the direction and purpose, communally discerned, towards which the church or organization is both pointing and traveling. People includes both those who are currently members, those who are in leadership, those who may soon be in leadership, and those who are not yet a part of the church. Structure is the organizational scaffold that unites people with vision. Structure is often one of the under-valued elements of effective leadership.

forget-setting-goals-focus-this-instead

Most pastors and church members care that the church be what God has intended it to become. Most pastors and church members love and care for one another, some even care about those who are not yet a part of the fellowship. Structure, however, can be viewed as the stepchild of leadership.

What’s true in organizational leadership is also true in self-leadership. Setting goals, by itself, is not enough to create the change you want to see in your life. Goals are good, but creating structures that support and propel you toward your goals is even better according to James Clear.

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

So what’s the difference between a goal and a structure? A goal is the desired outcome (the destination, if you will) and the structure is the path to that outcome (the road). Clear provides some helpful examples:

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.

If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.

If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.

If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Clear poses the question: could you ignore your goals and still achieve the same outcome simply by implementing new structures?

The answer is usually yes. For example, I lost sixty pounds not by dieting (per se) but exercising regularly (I started biking to work three days a week), drinking more water, and eating until I was full (and not beyond). My goal wasn’t to lose weight as much as to enjoy the experience of being on a bicycle, something I really enjoy.

I’d like to write a book, in fact I’m working on one. Slowly. On the other hand, in 2013 I wrote 163 blog posts that totaled about 98,000 words. Clear points out that the average book is 60,000-70,000 words. In other words, I could have written a book in 2013! I didn’t because I had a structure in place to write blog posts and had the accountability of being visible. I had no structure for writing my book.

Goals are important, but even more important is figuring out what system, process, or structure will enable you to achieve those goals. 

I recommend the article in it’s entirety: read it now.