4 Simple Decisions that Can Boost Personal Productivity

Our church is growing and as we grow, our staff faces greater demands on their time. So, we must work smarter. Since I’m trying to build a learning culture here at West Park Church, I asked myself, “How can I help our staff work smarter?” I’ve adapted and used the Getting Things Done process for years, but sometimes it seems cumbersome. Recently, however, I discovered insights from a Microsoft employee who wrote the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (I highly recommend it) It’s a simple process that helps improve personal productivity. I’ve summarized below the 4 simple decisions he suggests that can help boost our productivity. I’m beginning to apply them and they really work.

Production has really picked up since we installed coffee pots.

THE FOUR DECISIONS

  1. Monday vision: every Monday look at your week and determine the top three things you hope to accomplish. Write them down.
  2. Daily Outcomes: every day determine the top three things you want to accomplish. Write them down.
  3. Rule of Three: as you might have guessed it, practice the rule of three. That is, keep your high priority daily and weekly task/project lists to three items.
  4. Friday Reflection: on Friday look at what you accomplished, what you learned, and what you hope to do differently the following week.

This seems so simple that it seems simplistic. But, that’s it’s beauty.

Less is often more. Simple is often better.

 In his book he expands upon these principles, and many more.

Here’s how we’re trying to incorporate this insight thus far.

  • Each week we read 2-3 chapters of the book.
  • When we meet in our weekly staff meeting we discuss our learnings.
  • I created four posters reflecting the four key insights above and as a reminder I taped them to our conference room wall where we meet.

This author is quite unselfish. He offers a 30-day free plan here where he takes one key insight and expands it each day for 30 days.

As I seek to boost my productivity, while keeping healthy margins, I’m reminded that the Bible even tells us to use our time wisely.

  • Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5.16, ESV)
  • So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90.12, ESV)

How can you boost your productivity this week?

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What Makes a Great Staff Meeting? This May Surprise You.

Staff meetings…a necessary part of the ministry and the workplace. I’ve led hundreds. Some went well. Some, well, didn’t. My friend Tim Stevens just wrote a great book to help leaders not only lead great staff meetings, but become better leaders as well. It’s called Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace. I highly recommend it. He graciously offered to write today’s guest post to share his insight on what makes a great staff meeting. He calls this snippet from his book, the 3 S’s of a great meeting. You’ll appreciate his insight.

FairnessIsOverrated[1]

The 3 S’s

If I were only allowed to give one reason why the organization where I served for twenty years was often described as having a healthy culture, it would certainly be a decision we made many years ago to meet together on a weekly basis.

You might be saying, “Uh, you have a staff meeting? Congratulations. Every organization has staff meetings.” But this was different, and let me explain why.

This was a meeting we had every week that was for the distinct and single purpose of creating culture. We called it our weekly “SWAT” meeting—which is a cheesy acronym for “Staff Working As Team,” but within this title is the purpose of the gathering.

This wasn’t a meeting to make decisions; it was not a meeting to share prayer requests or worship (I know you think church leaders do this at every gathering); and it was not a meeting to fix things that were going wrong. None of those are bad, and they all help create culture to some degree. But instead, we focused solely on three areas we believed were the most effective at creating a healthy culture.

Stories

We spent the first fifteen to twenty minutes of every gathering sharing stories. We began the conversation by saying, “Where have you seen God at work in and through the church in the past seven days?” And then it was an open floor. We heard about changed lives inside and outside our walls. We heard stories from student ministry, small groups, and children’s ministry. We found out about the person in Canada who wrote in after watching an online service. We heard about the experiences of people who attended for the first time, and the baptism of someone who had been away from church for decades. We learned about the woman who walked into the building lonely and afraid on a Monday afternoon, and who left having found encouragement and hope. We heard about the guy who was delivered a box of food in last year’s food drive, and who came to help others receive food this year.

You can’t underestimate the power of a story. It is so easy for people to get caught up in the micro-purpose of what they do: cleaning floors, organizing small groups, rehearsing lyrics, or preparing to teach kids. And sometimes you can work week after week and never see any tangible results from your work. But when you have an opportunity to gather every week and hear stories from your area and others, it does three things:

  1. It keeps you from a silo mentality, or thinking you are the only one getting anything done.
  2. It gives you a reason to celebrate what is happening all across the organization.
  3. It gives you hope and reenergizes your vision when your team may be going through a tough season.

If I were running a company, I would do exactly the same thing. I would orient the story-telling segment of the meeting to share reports of great customer interactions or feedback. What are our customers saying? Where is our product helping better people’s lives?

Spotlight

Following stories, we spent time putting one individual in the spotlight. With no warning ahead of time, we asked someone to sit up front and field questions from the rest of the team. We found out about his or her childhood, likes and dislikes, faith journey, spouse, hobbies, and history. This gave us an opportunity to get to know someone on a level we never did before. It took us out of the subculture of our individual departments, and it communicated that we were all on the same team, caring for one another as individuals.

Following the Q&A, we stopped and said, “Now let’s tell [Jill] why we are so glad to have her on the team.” And one after another we told her how her life added joy and meaning to the rest of us. People who were very close to her got to voice in front of others how significant she was to the team. The executive leaders got to communicate the value she brought to the entire organization. People who barely knew Jill got to tell her how they had been encouraged by her presence, smile, or attitude.

Stuff

The final segment in our meeting was used for sharing inside information. It added value to the team when they knew stuff ahead of time. Sometimes we talked about upcoming events; other times we were throwing concepts out that hadn’t been decided on but that needed input from the team. They had ownership when they knew stuff before others, and it equipped them to answer questions and carry the vision.

Occasionally our “stuff ” section consisted of one of the leaders talking about vision, teaching values, or sharing a spiritual lesson. These tended to be unprocessed thoughts. They felt more as if the leader was sharing off the top of his or her heart rather than delivering a prepared talk. Sometimes it was a bit raw, as it hadn’t been written for a larger audience, but the staff really appreciated the authentic nature of being able to hear from their leaders as they were learning—not when it was all finished and packaged.

These weekly gatherings kept everyone on the team energized and focused. We realized, It’s not just about me or my department; I’m part of something bigger. Even if we were having a tough week, for a few minutes we were pulled above that and realized again why it mattered. By the way, I would start this even if my business were brand-new with only one or two paid staff. And in the church setting, this would be fabulous to do regularly with a room full of volunteers. So I’ll say it again: if I were going to do one thing to create a positive culture, I would start with a weekly gathering and the three Ss. With our team at Granger, this ritual was hugely effective in keeping us focused in the same direction.

Tim Stevens is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.

Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

Learn more about his new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

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8 Reasons Why Our Elder Board Works so Well

I just passed my one year anniversary at the church were I serve as lead pastor, West Park Church in London, Ontario, having served my entire ministry in the U.S. prior to my move to Canada. One of my greatest joys has been working with our current elder board. I’ve never worked with a board that has accomplished so much with so much unanimity and harmony. I believe these 8 reasons explain why this board works so well together.

board of directors 2
  1. PRAYER: We always begin our meetings with a focus on God’s Word and prayer. And our prayers are not the perfunctory prayer-ettes. We often pray for an extended time for the needs in the church. This keeps us focused on our shepherding role.
  2. PREPARATION: I meet with the chair and vice-chair a few weeks prior to plan our meetings. We prepare an agenda that we email to the entire team before the meeting. They know what to expect.
  3. NO TIE BREAKERS: Although I’m an elder, I don’t have a vote on the board. When the board has to approve some significant issue, I give my perspective, but I’m never in a position to be a deciding a vote. Most of the decisions the board has made have been unanimous or near unanimous.
  4. UNITY IN DISAGREEMENT: Our meetings are not filled with all happy talk. We’ve had serious discussions and shared different perspectives on issues. But we agree that when we leave the board room, we speak as one.
  5. LISTENING PERSPECTIVE: Every one on the board truly listens to everyone else’s perspectives. When we disagree, we do so with respect having first truly listened to each other.
  6. BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: No church is perfect and neither is ours. Before I arrived the board had invested extremely long hours dealing with significant issues the church faced. They have invested much and don’t sit in an ivory tower apart from the day in and day out tough stuff in every church. They have ‘paid their dues,’ so to speak, and want what’s best for the church.
  7. FOCUSED MEETINGS: We meet twice a month and just recently decided to give each meeting a  unique slant. Our first meeting of the month deals with tactical matters and the second meeting of the month deals with strategic issues. During the strategic meeting we set aside time to discuss usually only one key issue.
  8. APPRECIATION: Often I hear different board members share words of appreciation to each for a member’s unique contributions. I also often thank and appreciate the board members for their service.

It’s a joy serving on a board that works through tough stuff, but does so with grace and intention.

What keys have made your board work well?

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The Moody Leader: 4 Reasons NOT to be One

Churches, non-profits, and businesses require emotionally healthy and aware leaders. While competency, good management skills, and vision casting ability certainly matter, research now shows that emotional intelligence (EQ) profoundly impacts leadership effectiveness as well. One aspect of EQ, knowing our emotions, reinforces the idea that leaders must never be moody ones. Neuroscience gives us four reasons why.

Range of Emotions - Mad to Happy

Before I list the reasons why leaders should never be moody, here’s how I describe a moody leader.

  • Employes and followers aren’t sure what kind of mood he will bring to work.
  • When he feels anxious, which is often, he’s short with others and demanding.
  • He thrives on drama in the workplace.
  • He lacks self-awareness of how he comes across when he’s emotional.

So, here’s how neuroscience informs us about the downsides of moody leaders.

  1. Emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is the term that describes how others catch our emotions. If a leader is often moody, sour, or negative, that attitude will permeate that organization or church. I was once treated very rudely when I ordered a hamburger and fries at a hamburger joint. A few minutes later the cook yelled at the person who waited on me. At that point I realized who actually waited on me, the owner of the restaurant. His employees had ‘caught’ his bad attitude. I never returned.
  2. Uncertainty. Our brains don’t like uncertainty. When we sense it (“I wonder what kind of mood the boss will be in today?”), it sets up an avoidance response in us. Or flight-fight-freeze-appease center (the limbic system) ratchets up which results in fear, less team cooperation, and less creativity in the workplace. Moody leaders infuse uncertainty into the workplace. (My blog here describes our brain’s 3 leadership systems we should be aware of.)
  3. Mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a specialized group of brain cells that cause us to mimic goal directed behavior. For example, when we see someone yawn or smile, we tend to subconsciously yawn or smile. But such behavior is not limited to yawns and smiles. If a leader constantly frowns or furrows his brow in a disapproving way, it sets a negative tone in the workplace or the church. Yet, genuine smiles can do the opposite by encouraging a positive, productive work setting.
  4. Theory of mind. Theory of mind is a concept that says our minds can somewhat intuit what others are thinking and feeling. Although not mind reading, the process called mentalizing, helps us understand another’s mental states. Mentalizing helps us imagine and interpret their needs, desires, feelings, and goals. When a leader brings moodiness into relationships, he inadvertently leads others to intuit negative intents, purposes, or desires which that leader probably does not want his followers or employees to think or believe.

So you can see that moody leadership does not contribute to healthy teams, trust, creativity, leadership effectiveness, or cooperation.

If you think you may be a moody leader, ask someone who truly cares about you to gently remind you when you start acting moody.

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The Dumbest Mistake I Ever Made as a Pastor

On the whole, I believe pastors are a pretty smart bunch. We earn advanced degrees, study biblical languages, go to conferences to learn, and constantly challenge our brains when we prepare messages and talks. I’ve earned two theology degrees and consider myself a relatively smart guy. But, brain smarts won’t guarantee ministry fruitfulness. Our walk with Christ fundamentally matters. And how we manage relationships probably ranks second in influence. As I look back over my 34 years in ministry, I realize I repeatedly made this one really dumb mistake in the relationship area.

Smart Vs Dumb - Choose Intelligence Over Ignorance

I hid out.

I don’t mean that I intentionally hid from people. But I isolated myself too much from staff and people in the church. I didn’t make myself visible enough.

  • In one church my office was the furtherest away from everybody else. And I stayed in it way too long during work hours. I seldom came out of the office.
  • In that same church I didn’t emerge from my office until three minutes before the Sunday service.
  • In another church as a low level associate, I would never meet with anyone unless they made an appointment several days in advance. This practice certainly may be necessary for the lead pastor of a large church, but not for my role at the time, my first full time position.

Since those early years, I think I’ve grown up and become much wiser. Most church people (and staff) recognize that lead pastors are busy. Yet, they want to feel they have some connection to him or her. They don’t want to feel we are always in a rush to be somewhere else.

I now recognize that my visible presence matters greatly. And I don’t mean that we should make ourselves 24/7 accessible. We, too, must keep healthy margins. But, church people and staff need relational touches. Even small ones matter.

Here are changes I’ve made to help me be less of a ‘hider.’

  1. When I’m not preaching on a Sunday, I visit the kid’s areas, poke my head in each classroom, and thank the leaders. I don’t just sit in my office and read (which I enjoy doing).
  2. Before each Sunday service I intentionally finish my prayer time with an elder 10-15 minutes prior to the service start time so I can shake people’s hands and chat.
  3. I ask an elder to close out each service in prayer and just prior to that as I share some final comments, I explain that I will be at the welcome center after the service and would like to meet new people.
  4. I more often manage staff using the MBWA technique, Management By Walking Around. Although I still keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, I intentionally break throughout the day and wander around to touch base with staff.
  5. When I talk to a staff person during the week or a church person on Sundays, I try to give them my full presence through eye contact and genuine listening. Even a minute or two ‘fully present’ interaction can make a positive deposit into the souls of others.

I’m much wiser now and hope that going forward I won’t make as many dumb mistakes as I did when I was younger.

What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve every made as a pastor?

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