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Posts by Gina

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

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Creativity, Ministry

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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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Leading Volunteers: A Conversation with #Kidmin Leaders

Posted by on Nov 20, 2015 in Community, Leadership, Ministry, Volunteers

This week I pulled together with some ministry leaders and had a Blab conversation about volunteers.

I could sit back & limit God in my ministry by saying 'no' for someone. @bekabullard Click To Tweet

If you’ve never blabbed before… it’s kind of fun. The video above shows the ‘Brady Bunch’ style format as each person video chats together. Check it out here.

The four leaders on this call lead in Children’s Ministry at multi-site churches in Ohio, Chicago & Tennessee. And though our multi-site contexts might look very different, our methodology in leading & building volunteer teams is remarkably similar.

The best indicator of a strong volunteer leader is that people follow them. @sjdinardo Click To Tweet

Listen in on the conversation and find out more about how these leaders navigate the world of leading volunteers. The conversation jumps right into the tricky world of social media and posting things we wish we hadn’t posted! Then see how the conversation progresses:

How do you recruit high-level volunteers? (7:53)

A strong volunteer leader is the person willing to ask hard questions. @debbyalbrecht Click To Tweet

How do you help a volunteer avoid burnout? (20:15)

A stretched volunteer may not say they need help. @bekahbullard Click To Tweet

How we empower volunteers & how we might hinder them? (27:00)

Can your volunteers make a decision w/o you? Have you given them the opportunity? @bekabullard Click To Tweet

Hear about our experience requiring parents to serve because they have kids in our ministry! (39:40)

Require parents to serve in #kidmin? Sure! I should fix your car b/c I own one. @debbyalbrecht Click To Tweet

And find out about one of the biggest personal mistake I’ve made in my 16 years of leading in ministry. (28:49)

Only elementary age kids can appreciate my dance moves. @gina_mcclain Click To Tweet

Here are the amazing people I got to chat with:

Debby Albrecht

Stacey DiNardo

Rebekah Bullard

Listen in about halfway and listen to our own confessions of how we care for ourselves!


Here are some helpful links mentioned in the video:

Jim Wideman – don’t be afraid to recruit busy people; shoulder tap successful, busy people

Are Your Sheep Okay? – We wrote an article together in Children’s Ministry Magazine on how and why we care for volunteers.

Not Normal – a book that wasn’t mentioned… but totally relevant to the discussion. A highly recommended read about leading volunteers

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Writing Better Goals Today

Posted by on Nov 18, 2015 in Leadership


‘Tis the season of goal writing.

The annual review of the past 12 months… the wins… the growth… the learning points.

The look ahead to the coming year when you ask yourself, where are we headed, where do we need to grow, and how do we get there?

Goal setting is a non-negotiable for leaders. Like mile-markers set out to guide us on our path, goals help to ensure we are focused on a prescribed destination. Goals ensure we focus on the right outcomes. Goals ensure that we steward our resources successfully.

Goals ensure that we steward our resources successfully. Click To Tweet

But goals are tricky to write.

I’ve led in ministry for 16 years and I’ve written goals every year.

Personal growth goals.

Professional growth goals.

Fitness goals.

Spiritual-discipline goals.

Leader-development goals.

All for the purpose of posturing myself to grow.

I’ve learned in recent years how to write more effective goals. Ones that are measurable and closely aligned with Organizational values so they truly advance us toward our mission.

Effective goals are measurable & closely aligned w/ Organizational values. Click To Tweet

But this past year, our team has refined our goal setting to a greater degree.

Like turning the dial up, the format we are using can increase focus and accountability 10-fold.

And it’s uncomfortably exciting.

Taken from the methodology taught by the Studer Group, goals are written in a very specific way.

They include:

  • an intentional action (i.e. Increase, Decrease or Maintain)
  • what you want to measure (i.e. team collaboration)
  • from (current performance; i.e. 5.3)
  • to (target performance; i.e. 7.5)
  • by what time period (i.e. weekly, monthly, annually)
  • by what measuring tool (i.e. Collaboration Survey)

Here’s an example of a completed goal statement:

Increase Employee Engagement from 5.3 to 7.5 by 4th Quarter 2016 as measured by Employee Engagement Survey.

The way in which the goal is stated is specific as to what I want to grow (Employee Engagement), by how much I want to grow (>2 points), when I want to achieve this (4th quarter next year), and how I plan to measure.

Here’s what I like about this format:

It’s so clear what I set out to achieve. There is no ambiguity. Time has taught me the value of clarity. In the past I preferred goals that left a lot of ‘wiggle’ room so I could adjust as the year progressed. But using language that creates ‘wiggle’ room can produce a goal that is so broad, you’re not sure you’ve achieved.

Language that offers 'wiggle' room produces a goal so broad, you're not sure if you achieve it. Click To Tweet

The goal targets the desired outcome without defining the process. I’m left with the freedom to maneuver and adjust as the year progresses. If one action doesn’t score points on the board, I have the freedom to adjust my tactics and try something different.

In the past, I’ve been known to make a tactic my goal. i.e. Increase brainstorming sessions with Creative Team. Yet tactics are intended to achieve a greater end (i.e. increasing collaboration among the team) which achieves a greater outcome… Engagement. And ultimately, it’s the greater outcome that I want to accomplish, not the tactic.

Understanding the difference between a goal and a tactic is where I’m still deep within the learning curve. But I’ve enjoyed this process, nonetheless.

How do you form your goal statements? And how effective have they been moving you closer to your mission?

Want to know how to turn the up on effectiveness? Check my next post on prioritizing your goals.

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Fostering Conversation: Keys to Parenting, Discipleship & Other Mysteries of Life

Posted by on Nov 6, 2015 in Parenting

In the early days of this blog I offered advice on parenting. At the time I had younger kids that were relatively compliant. Parenting in that season yielded challenges most parents encounter.

It seemed that daily we were addressing issues like irresponsibility, disobedience, or lack of respect for others. I wouldn’t suggest it was on a chronic scale. Just typical opportunities to teach our kids how to be responsible, how to care more about others, how to respect authority, etc, etc.

Today we parent teenagers.

You’ll notice I haven’t offered parenting advice on my blog in quite a while.

Maybe I will AFTER I’m done parenting teens. Then again, maybe not.

Parenting teens is different.

It’s kind of funny because when I review the list above, it isn’t as if you no longer address those issues. Actually, you lean into them more. The difference with parenting teens is you’re always navigating the relationship in such a way that you keep the door to their hearts open.

And that can be tough to do.

You see, we strive to raise adults who can make wise decisions for themselves no matter what they face in life. At some point they have to learn how to make decisions for themselves. And allowing them space to do that while they are still in our home is the best time. The stakes are lower right now. They can mess up and the consequences are not as severe.

But creating this culture within our home requires consistent conversation. And introducing conversation in the elementary years is the best way to establish that culture.

Spiritual development is not a singular event. It’s not a say-a-prayer, get-’em-dunked, one-and-done moment. It’s a series of conversations, moments, and experiences that help a child adopt a faith that impacts their every day life. An every day faith.

And an every day faith involves constant conversation.

Not a monologue.

Lord, have mercy. Don’t monologue! (I’ve tried… it doesn’t work.)

Talking implies an exchange. You talk, they listen AND they talk, you listen.

And you’ll be far more successful establishing a pattern of conversation with your teens if you start when they are in elementary school.

That’s why I really like Brian Dollar’s new book, Talk Now and Later.


Brian does a great job establishing why conversation is so critical to helping our kids grow into healthy adults. In fact, the book addresses some key conversations you want to have with your kids about hot topics like Sex, Self-Image, Divorce & Friendships.

These are tough conversations every parent is likely to encounter with their kid. Brian does a great job offering help to navigate them.

You can grab a copy of his book on Amazon or visit the book site here. You’ll find it’s a great resource for your parenting journey.

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Keeping Your Family Safe – Circle Makes It Easy

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in My Life, Parenting, Product Reviews

I’m a parent of 3 amazing kids: 16, 13 and 10 years old. The internet is a reality in my world. If I’m not thinking about what they might be exposed to on the internet, I’m thinking about how much time they’ve spent on their devices.

As a parent, I anticipated arguing with my kids over homework, chores or how late we let them stay up at night. I even figured there’d be some disagreement over how much TV time they had each day. But I really wasn’t prepared for the reality of a device that infiltrates every aspect of their life.

I wasn’t prepared for a device to become an extension of my child’s right hand.

The access my kids have to the internet is one I simply didn’t have as a teen. Avenues by which I could explore my curiosities looked dramatically different than my 13 year old today. Like carrying raw steak into a den of hungry lions, an innocent inquisitive search on the internet can yield something far more dangerous than intended.

From the time our oldest received his first device, we’ve used a variety of tools to manage usage and access. Some with greater success than others. In fact, we’ve found that we have to use a variety of tools (both software & hardware) to gain the level of control we want.


This is why I’m excited about Circle.

Circle is a smart device & app that allows you to manage all of your home’s connected devices. With Circle, I can filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in my home.

Where I’ve used 3 different sources (software or hardware) to manage the internet usage of my kids, Circle will allow me to reduce to a single device. That excites me.

In fact, I’m so excited I’m encouraging all my friends in the blogosphere to check it out.  Find out more here.

We’re all looking for great ways to keep our kids safe. Circle by Disney gives parents the level of control they want and need to create the safe place home should always be.

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