Lecture 10: The Efficient Administrator

Lecture 10: The Efficient Administrator

Does your desk glorify God? Can you glorify God in your administration? These are the questions we will be addressing in this chapter that deals with the problem of paper and data. Some pastors seem to think that the power of the Gospel stops at their office door! I want to show you that there is no area of life of which we can say to God, “No entry!” Matt Perman of whatsbestnext.com argues that administration is part of the good works we do to glorify God.

I. The Beauty of Organization

Question: Why should I worry about administration/organization?
We are used to thinking about mountains or lakes or Apple Macs when we think about beauty – but not about administration. But I believe orderly administration is beautiful because:

  • It portrays the image of God (Gen.1:27)
  • It obeys the mandate of God (Gen.1:28)
  • It gives pleasure to God (Gen.1:31)
  • It reflects the nature of God (1 Cor. 14:33, 40).

Sin, by way of contrast, is anomos, lawlessness, disorder and chaos.

II. The Benefits of Organization

Question: What are the benefits of being organized?
Efficient organization is not only beautiful; it is also beneficial.

  • Available time increases as we spend less time looking for things. Matt Perman quotes To do, doing done, “Clutter sucks creativity and energy from your brain.” [footnote]G. Lynne Snead, To Do, Doing, Done (Fireside, 97), 92.[/footnote]
  • Our peace increases because we are not always worrying if we missed something. We enjoy our work a lot more.
  • The effectiveness of our witness increases because if we fail to answer correspondence or keep appointments we lose credibility and people’s confidence.

You might say that the cultural mandate “Rule and be fruitful” begins with our offices. To help you, here’s a great series on How to set up your desk by Matt Perman.[footnote] Matt Perman, “How To Set Up Your Desk,” whatsbestext.com, accessed 5.21.14, http://whatsbestnext.com/2009/10/how-to-set-up-your-desk-an-introduction/[/footnote]

III. The Barriers to Organization

Question: What are some of the obstacles to getting organized?
As we would expect in this fallen world, anything beautiful or beneficial is not going to come easily. There are a number of obstacles to organization, not least of which are our own sinful hearts.

1. Our sinful hearts

Some people enjoy portraying themselves as Kings of their chaos. The monotonous drudgery of organizing puts some off, while others claim that a clean space would spoil their creativity! We do get attached to our things and resist getting rid of them. “It may be trash, but it’s my trash.”

2. The sins of others

Maybe we are married to chaotic people and we cannot get them to cooperate. Perhaps we have been given an impossible workload that prevents us ever doing anything well.

3. Changes

Sometimes we feel that we just get settled into a good routine when the next change comes along and all the balls we’ve been juggling fall to the floor again. Whenever we change computers, or have to get used to new software, our organizing is going to take a backward step. And any change in study or living location is obviously going to engulf our studies as well.

4. Storage

Sometimes our problem is simply that we do not have enough storage space, or it is not close enough for us to use it. Others, however, set up such a complex storage system that it just puts them off using it. We also need simple storage solutions for electronic information.

IV. The Blueprint for Organization

Question: Do you have any tips or systems to help me get organized?
I will deal first with personal administration, and then, briefly, with church administration.

1. Personal administration

Whenever you come across a piece of paper, try Bill Lawrence’s TRASH system.[footnote]Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring (Nelsons, 1999), 131[/footnote] This also works for the computer, which should be viewed as a cluttered and overstuffed filing cabinet with a mailbox (see this post on Nesters, Desktoppers, and Searchers for the main approaches to Computer filing systems.)

  • Throw it away: the first question we should ask is “Can I throw it away? (If so, do I need to shred it?)
  • Re-route it: does this piece of paper belong on my desk (or in my computer)? Should someone else have it?
  • Act on it: options for action include –
    • Do it (answer email, make phone call, order the book)
    • Put on to-do list (do today, do this week, do eventually)
    • Enter in diary (check your diary every day and sync with wife and family)
    • Enter in accounts
  • Save it: file it in a place you can retrieve it from
    • Correspondence tray
    • Nearby filing cabinet
    • Reading pile
    • Evernote for documents and scanned images
    • Diigo for websites
    • Dropbox for backup
  • Halt it: stop the sender sending it to you

Some of that is applicable to email, but let me add a few extra suggestions for efficient emailing.

  • Do not keep your email turned on and turn off notifications
  • Use filters to pre-sort incoming email
  • Process twice a day and slow down some responses (Matt Perman argues that the less you check, the less you’ll get! Grasshoppers and Email[footnote]Matt Perman, “Grasshoppers And Email, whatsbestnext.com, accessed 5.21.14, http://whatsbestnext.com/2009/10/on-grasshoppers-and-email/[/footnote])
    • Do: If you can answer in under 2 mins, do it
    • Delegate: offload as much as possible
    • Defer: Decide to deal with it later, later in the week, or just when you have time (the longer you delay the less email you will get and the lower people’s expectations will be), and maybe let people know you will get to it later
    • Delete: Don’t keep things just for the sake of it
    • File: Use tag system or file system
  • Use your less productive times
  • Set yourself time targets when dealing with email (e.g. I’m going to take no more than 30 mins)
  • Learn how to type fast and keep answers to minimum (short one sentence replies if poss – people don’t expect letter-writing pleasantries)
  • Number your points to improve chances of direct answers
  • Spell-check.

I also used to carry five small index cards with me when I was at the church or out visiting people (I use Wunderlist now) with the following subject areas.

  • People to visit – arrange at church
  • Questions to ask, delegated tasks, follow-ups, door-conversations
  • Intimations (notices) and announcements
  • Sermon ideas
  • To-do list (Day/Week)

2. Church Administration

I hope that all of you will end up at churches with good deacons who have all the administration up and running smoothly. However, it’s possible that you will either plant a church or enter a setup with little if any organization. In these situations, unfortunately, you will have to start from scratch.
The areas to focus on are:

  • Purchases
    • Order books with copy to treasurer each month
    • Designated payees/credit cards
    • Limits and levels for approval
  • Buildings
    • Protocol for using, booking, and paying for buildings
  • Church Computer
    • Membership records (make sure you are complying with Data protection laws)
    • Mailing lists
    • Accounting procedures (money counting/security and payment of bills)
    • Correspondence (who’s responsible for dealing with or delegating?)
    • Publications (which do you receive and who pays for them?)
    • Security (Passwords/Anti-virus/Firewall – vital if you are keeping personal details of people)
    • Backup
    • Website/Blog/Message Board
  • Library
    • Who decides which books to stock
    • Lending procedure/opening hours
  • Vestibule/porch/entrance/narthex.notice board
    • Vetting of literature/resources
    • Security of building during services

V. The Balance of Organization

Question: Are there any dangers to being over-organized?
My father used to say to me, “Show me a clean desk and I’ll show you someone who is getting nothing done.” There is such a thing as “clean desk syndrome” where the aim becomes a clean desk, but little to nothing ever gets done on it! A degree of mess is required for any productivity.
I like to think of three stages of organization:
1. Day to day (50% tidy): I aim to have my study 50% tidy at the end of each working day
2. Week to week (90% tidy): Once a week I want to tidy up most of what has been left over at the end of each week’s working day.
3. Monthly purge (100% tidy): Once a month I like to return my office to its pristine condition.
And just in case you think I’ve got a bad case of OCD, here’s a Daily Stat email on Messy Desks from the Harvard Business Review:

A recent study interviewed HR managers at a number of different companies, asking them how neatness of an employee’s desk affects their perception of that person’s professionalism. 65% said it “somewhat affects it”, while 18% said it “greatly affects it”, with only 17% saying it has no effect. It isn’t exactly fair, but it’s something to think about when you’re staring at your tornado of an office: you might want to tidy it up, if only to improve your reputation with your superiors.[footnote]“A Messy Desk Can Affect Your Personal Reputation,” roberthalf.com, accessed 5.21.14, http://officeteam.rhi.mediaroom.com/messydesk[/footnote]

Thus begins a new ministry, “Desk Evangelism!”

Further Reading

Biblical Productivity Series
8 Email Mistakes You Make