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5 Things That Keep Me Organized | The Productive Leader

Personalities and character traits play a huge role in whether a person thrives or struggles with personal organization. Some people, like myself, love this subject, and other people dread it. Regardless of what side of the spectrum you’re on, I believe that personal organization will directly impact the effectiveness of your ministry.

I'm launching a brand-new series today that’ll be filled with practical productivity tips to help you in your everyday ministry. I hope to give you some of the “why” behind productivity, but my main goal is to just be practical in my approach and add value to you. I’ll share with you the five things that keep me organized throughout my week. It may surprise you how simple they are.

None of us are perfect, but personal organization, or the lack thereof, impacts every one of us every day of our lives. And I want to dispel a misnomer as we get started. I have a high level of prudence and so my natural wiring is to be structured and organized most of the time.

However, if you feel that you struggle with personal organization, please take a deep breath right now and just relax. I want you to know up front that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be wired for organization to be organized enough.

Ephesians 5:15-17: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”

Notice in this scripture, it’s not about your internal wiring. It’s about deciding to walk circumspectly. It’s about deciding to redeem the time well. This scripture is telling us to be careful how we live. We must make the most of every opportunity the Lord gives us because the days are evil. It’s about being wise and deciding to fully understand the will of the Lord in your life.

We can be busy in the church. We can always be doing something, but that doesn’t mean that we’re accomplishing the Lord’s will. Our time is limited. So, we must be wise, and we must make sure that we’re doing what the Lord wants us to do. This is first and foremost.

The key to making this happen is to make the most of every opportunity we are afforded to grow and develop His church. We must reach as many people as we possibly can. And because we don’t have much time, we must attempt to be as organized and efficient as we reasonably can.

Let me repeat myself from earlier: How I organize my personal life is going to directly impact the success that I have in my ministry. Let me put it a little clearer to you. Your personal organization will have a direct effect on the people that you impact for eternity, and THAT is why personal organization is so important.

There’s a quote that I’ve quoted for years, and unfortunately, I have no idea who wrote it. It says, Tame today and you will transform tomorrow.” I know it’s simple, but it’s so powerful. Because if you’re willing to tame today, there’s no doubt that your tomorrow will be better. You don’t need to make today perfect. All you need to do today is tame it. Add a little organization to your day or allow others around you to help you add a little organization to your day. And over time, I promise it’ll change your future in a huge, huge way.

Now, we will get simple and practical for a moment. We’ll cover a few things today that has the potential to impact all our lives. Keep in mind that most of my suggestions are going to be electronic because I love my electronic world. I would assume that many of you do as well. If you don’t, you can just make the adjustment to whatever method you prefer. The principles still apply. We will start with to-dos.

1. To-dos

We must have a method of keeping up with all the massive number of things we do. It doesn’t matter if it’s personal, ministerial, business, or any other. We must have a method of just keeping up with the tasks that we’ve got to get done.

Some people have a phenomenal memory and can keep up with all of this in their heads. I’m not that fortunate, so I use an app that integrates with all my electronic devices. There’s a million of them out there, but I use an app called Todo Cloud. I’ve tried many apps, but this one is just a simple app that I can keep up with all the little things in my life. It also syncs to all my devices and is available any place I may go. Again, I don’t have the strongest of memories, and so this is an easy way I keep up with things that I don’t want to fall through the cracks. This is the best way that I can ensure that I remember everything needed.

I use Todo Cloud for things like remembering to pray for someone on a particular day, remembering to send someone a card next week after a major challenge in a person’s life, remembering to schedule an oil change for my car, or remembering that I must speak on a certain day for a certain event. Anything and everything from personal to ministry to whatever I must remember to do I can put it in this app and just forget it. I just schedule the todo item to come due on a certain day and forget it. I don’t have to spend the mental energy trying to make sure that I remember all the massive number of things I need to do.

The key is that I must work the system. If I fail to use the app and put the needed information into it, I find myself spending unnecessary mental energy trying to remember those things that I didn’t put in my todo system. And unfortunately, sometimes I’ll even forget them.

You may do better with a paper and pencil method or some other type of method. Do what’s most comfortable to you. The key is to remember to do what you need to do when you need to do it without letting important things slip through the cracks.

2. Miscellaneous Lists and Notes

The second topic that is necessary to discuss is how to keep up with miscellaneous lists, notes, and information. There’s a ton of different options, but for this I use a program called Evernote.

If you meet with certain people regularly, you may have a list of things that you need to discuss with them. You also may need to keep notes of a meeting to remember what was said for when you meet with that person again. If you’re working on a project, you may have a brainstorming list or a task list that you need record of. This is where an app like Evernote comes into use. And Evernote is available on all my electronic devices as well.

Within the Evernote app, I’ve established folders of all sorts depending on what I’m working on. I’ve got a folder for sermon thoughts, leader content, leadership coaching topics, personal vision notes, POA ministry notes, and the list goes on and on.

3. Filing Systems

Next, let’s talk about filing systems. This would include things that you need to store just because you may need to reference them one day.

Some of you may still have a three-drawer filing cabinet. Really, it really doesn’t matter what method you use to file. The most important aspect to understand about filing systems is just having a method that you will be able to retrieve what you have filed when you need it.

Over ten years ago, I scanned all my hard copy files. I got rid of the three-drawer filing cabinet, and I’ve moved to an all-electronic filing system. Today, I hardly ever keep paper. I simply scan it and file it on my computer. It really doesn’t matter whether you use an old metal filing cabinet, or you use an electronic method. The key is to just be able to retrieve what you want when you need it.

My personal filing cabinet is a program called Dropbox. Some people use Google Drive and there are many other cloud storage options, but Dropbox seems to work best for me. I can retrieve files from my computer, iPad, iPhone, or any other device that has an internet connection. If you’ve ever used a jump drive, cloud storage is very similar to that except it’s all online in the cloud. I create a simple nest of folders, and store things like documents and pictures and all sorts of files. The files then sync to the cloud, and they are available on any of my computers or devices wherever I may need them.

It’s amazing to think about the fact that I literally carry around my old 3-drawer filing cabinet in my little phone. I can literally access any of that information any time at any place. It’s amazing to me.

4. Email

Let’s move along to the email monster. Email can be very intimidating at times because we probably all get a ton of email throughout the week. I use one app for mail. For my needs, I use the apple mail app. This one app keeps all my email accounts in one place.

I could probably do an entire session on email, but here’s the main thing about email that’s important to share. I try to keep my email inbox as clear as possible. Unless I’m going to act on something later in the same day, I try to do something with every email that I read. If it’s a to-do item, I put it in my Todo Cloud app and delete the email. If it’s a calendar item, I put it in my calendar app and I delete the email. If it’s something I need to keep for reference later, I have a series of folders in my email to store those type emails for later. I occasionally even make the email into a PDF and store it in my Dropbox or Evernote for easy retrieval later.

The key to email is to just not continue to read the same email repeatedly before you delete it or act on it. It’s important to carve out some time every day to deal with your email. You may need to put it as an appointment on your calendar. Then, when you sit down to work on email, read it, act on it, and then delete it or store it. When I take the time to deal with email, my goal is to leave the end of the session with zero emails in my inbox. Amazingly, most of the time I’m successful in making that happen.

5. Calendar

The last thing I’ll mention is the calendar. If we can’t manage time, then there’s no way that we can be efficient. Unless you have a photographic memory, if you’re busy, then you should have a calendar and should look at it on a routine basis.

The primary key to time management is that we must control our priorities. You have probably heard of the “jar and the rocks” illustration. You must put the big rocks in first. As old and wore out as that illustration is, we must be intentional about making sure we schedule those big items, the most important items, in our lives first. You must ask your yourself what’s most important in my life. For me, it starts with God first, family second, and ministry or work-life third. What is most important in your life?

This is tough, but so true: If you don't stop spending your time on the least important things in your life, you’ll continue to get the least important results. We must get crystal clear on the priorities that make the greatest impact in our ministries and in our lives. When we get that clarity, we must schedule those things first.

I know myself well, and so I’ve strategically structured my schedule to build in time for meeting with people. However, as an introvert I must be intentional about scheduling down time in my office to work alone at key times throughout my day and week. If I don’t structure my time to best fit me, there’ll always be someone else who has a better thought of what I can do with my time. I don’t want that or need that. As much as I possibly can, I want to redeem my time the way I feel the Lord desires me to redeem it to be the most productive in His Kingdom.

There is many books, blogs, and classes that can help with the calendar, such as time blocking techniques and other methods of managing time. However, if you don’t figure out how to plan your time in advance with a calendar, the chances are great that you’ll never schedule time for all the most important things that need to get done.

So, there you have it. These are the methods and tools that keep me organized and productive throughout my week. I try to keep my personal organization methods as simple as possible. The simpler I can keep them the greater chance that I will continue to use them.

I would like to leave you with a challenge. If you're struggling with personal organization or even if you're not struggling, I would like to challenge you to simply raise your standards a notch. Raise the bar in your life. If you need a to-do app, get one this week and start using it. If you need to better organize your files so you can retrieve what you need when you need it, start it this week.

Ask yourself this question:

What’s one thing you can do to raise the personal organization bar in your life this week?

I promise it will make a tremendous difference in your effectiveness in the Kingdom of God. Tame today and you’ll transform tomorrow.

Copyright © 2021 Ryan Franklin. All rights reserved.

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