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Keeping Things Focused: my top 4 productivity tools & why I love them

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Creativity, Ministry

Startup Stock Photo

Startup Stock Photo

I have a love-hate relationship with productivity tools.

There was a time in my life that you could accuse me of ‘dating’ to-do list management systems. Things, Toodledo, Wunderlist, and good, old-fashioned pen & paper… I’ve used all of these.

You know what I’ve discovered? There is no magic-bullet. There is no perfect system that eliminates my need to stop, identify what’s most important and create space to work on what’s most important.

Nothing eliminates my need to stop, target the important & create space to work on it. Click To Tweet

Now, there are certainly tools I use to help me manage the big & little ‘rocks’. But…. at the end of the day… it all boils down to actually using them.

There are seasons I use my tools well.

There are seasons I don’t.

When I don’t use my tools well, I ‘feel’ frantic. Like everything is spinning around me. I just can’t seem to grasp anything. The vortex of the latest & loudest is too great to overcome and I feel trapped and unable to focus on anything else.

When I do use my tools well, I end my day with a sense of satisfaction knowing that my time and energy were well invested. I can’t say that I feel ‘in control’ of what’s happening in my world. I think control is an illusion. But I am satisfied with where my time and focus are applied.

When I prioritize my time I'm satisfied w/ where my time & focus are applied. Click To Tweet


Here are list of tools I love to use to help me manage my day-to-day, week-to-week expectations. I’ve quit ‘dating’ these tools. I’m committed because they’ve made a huge difference in my ability to produce quality work.

I’m another Evernote fan. I keep everything possible in Evernote. From the kids’ school syllabi to team meeting notes. I love that I can access my Evernote files from my phone or any computer connected to the interwebs.

Evernote is a great bucket for research, documents, meeting notes and other things I need to hang on to for a while. Using the tag feature, notes and documents are easily searchable and categorized.

I used to use a paid subscription of Toodledo. I liked it. Used it for 3 years. But recently shifted to Wunderlist. I prefer the user experience of Wunderlist of Toodledo, yet both are great tools to help me manage and prioritize tasks.

This past year I participated in a GTD workshop. I’d read the book several years ago and loosely applied the principles. But they didn’t stick. The workshop was a huge benefit to me. I’ve incorporated about 60% of the system. And as I gain competency, I’ll incorporate more.

The aspects of the GTD system that I love are:

  • Email Inbox processing
    Action Folder: for emails that require an action for me.
    Read Now Folder: for emails I need to read for information and have a time frame attached.
    Read Later Folder: for emails I want to read but the clock isn’t ticking.
  • Physical Inbox processing – I’ve always had a physical inbox. And it was really just a place where papers piled up that I didn’t know what to do with OR simply didn’t want to deal with it! Now I have time scheduled each week where I clear out that Inbox. I do something with the document. Either I turn it into an Action, add it to a Project, Trash it or it goes into the Someday/Maybe file.
  • Someday/Maybe – This is a notebook in Evernote. It’s my home for all those things I’d love to do… but just don’t have the time, budget or margin to do right now. At least I have a home for it until margin is available.
  • Brain Dump – I think GTD has a different name for this. But I’ve dubbed the process ‘Brain Dump’. It’s intentional time carved out once a week where I just write out all the things that are on my mind. It’s crazy how freeing the exercise can be.
    This is one activity I don’t do consistently enough. I see a big difference in my creativity on the weeks that I’m faithful to Brain Dump. Creativity suffers the weeks I opt out of the Brain Dump.

Pomodoro Timer
I really love this tool. You can read about the technique here. But for someone like me who is EASILY distracted, this tool is pretty invaluable. It helps me to focus in concentrated bursts of time. When I know I need to get a project moved forward, using my Pomodoro Timer helps me to focus, produce, then intentionally take a break.

There are a variety of Pomodoro Timers available. I use the PomodoroPro app on my iPhone or Tomato Timer on my web browser.

From a productivity standpoint, these are the tools that I’ve found help me to manage the day-to-day crazy. But… at the end of the day… if I don’t use the tools, they don’t do me a bit of good. A tool is only helpful when you actually take it out of the toolbox and use it.

As we enter a new year, now is a great time to decide which tools you will use to help you focus on what’s most important in 2016.

What do you use to help you focus on the Big Rocks first?

This post Keeping Things Focused appeared originally on ginamcclain.com

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3 Steps to Manage Sticky Situations

Posted by on Oct 26, 2015 in Team Building


Have you ever found yourself in an unhealthy situation?

My earliest season in ministry was both fun and a little frustrating at the same time. It didn’t take long after joining the staff team at my church before I knew there was some dysfunction somewhere. Though it wasn’t obvious… something lurked under the surface.

Hints of mistrust.

Veiled conversations.

Sideways glances that suggested far more than what’s verbalized.

Disclaimer: I think it’s fair to say, everyone has bad seasons in their lives. No doubt there are plenty of people that could tell stories of the calamities of my leadership.  I don’t want to villainize this particular person. My desire is to paint a picture of what was in hopes that what I learned could help others.

The team I joined displayed unhealthy signs though I couldn’t figure out why. Everyone seemed to genuinely love each other. All my peers seemed to have an authentic desire to see the other person successful. I wish I could say that I remained respectfully above the fray. But I didn’t. I listened to the conversations, added my own conjecture and found myself mired in interpersonal funk that felt like inescapable quicksand.

John Maxwell is well-known for the statement,

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

In this circumstance, I was staring that truth in the face. Leadership (or the lack thereof) was the culprit.

The leader of this team was unhealthy. She had an agenda that appeared to align with the vision and strategy of the church. But it didn’t fully. And the longer she led, the more that came to light.

She held a perspective toward life that seemed to align with the perspectives held by her leadership. But not fully. And the longer she shepherded, the more the disparity surfaced.

The last 15 years of leading people have taught me that Time and Truth are our friends. Both have clarifying effects on the plans and intentions of others. Time and Truth reveal what isn’t obvious. They reveal what lies under the surface damaging what’s above.

Time & Truth reveal what isn't obvious... what lies under the surface damaging what's above. Click To Tweet

That’s exactly what happened in this circumstance. Over time this leader’s motivations and postures surfaced. In response, her direct leaders worked to guide her to a better place. Unfortunately she was not as gracefully responsive. In efforts to solidify her position, she worked to create alliances with her team. To define the circumstance as unhealthy is an understatement.

Navigating that situation was challenging. But (by God’s grace & some great mentoring) there are a few steps I took that helped me respond in life-giving, equity-building ways.

Step 1: Look for the fruit
When you find yourself in the midst of situations like these, it’s difficult to see things from the right perspective. You’re too close to it. It wasn’t until I confided in someone I trusted outside of the situation that my perspective changed. My friend challenged me to look for the fruit. Specifically the fruits of the Spirit.

Of all the people involved, who is displaying love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control? Who is speaking life into and through the situation?

This was an excellent starting point. These questions brought immediate clarity and relief. The angst over who was right and who was wrong diminished. Replaced by peace knowing that those who chose to be led by the Spirit would come to the right conclusions.

Step 2: Clarify Boundaries
Now… I had to move forward with creating boundaries. Though step #1 allowed me to see the situation more clearly, I still can’t control the actions of others. I can only control my own actions and the situations I allow myself to be in. I knew I had to have some hard conversations with my leader. So I mustered the courage to tell her that I no longer wanted to be her confidant. If her thoughts were not to be shared with her direct leaders, then I didn’t want her to share them with me either. I expressed my distinct value and honor for her position as my boss, but I simply wasn’t capable of being a ‘safe place’ for her to express her frustration any longer.

The whole thing felt like I was choosing sides. And I guess I was. I was choosing the side that was fruitful. The conversation itself seemed like climbing Mt Everest. But on the other side, it was the best move I could have made.

Step 3: Trust God
It sounds so cliche. But it’s true. I didn’t have all the information. There were major aspects about what was happening that I didn’t know. Things I didn’t need to know. I just needed to trust. Trust that the same God that’s at work in me is also at work in those around me. Trust that those who are yielded to Him will make the right decision for everyone involved.

Trusting God isn’t blind faith or dismissive abdication. It’s boldly choosing to leave the results in far more capable hands than your own.

Trusting God isn't dismissive abdication. It's leaving results in more capable hands than yours. Click To Tweet
Operating in the midst of unhealthy circumstances is difficult. But learning to Look for the Fruit, Clarifying Boundaries and Trusting God can help you build equity with those around you, not lose it.

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