Category Archives: organization

How to become a world class note taker

From the Atlantic  Be OCD and draw pictures

4. Be OCD About Your Notes
The more OCD you are about organizing your notes, the better. The Journal of Reading compared different note-taking methods and found that the most rigorously structured-those with hierarchal ordering and numbered subsections-were of the highest quality and accuracy. A two-column method came in a close second; these notes were arranged such that the left column contained the information from the given event (i.e. the meeting, lecture or talk) and the right column was used later to fill out follow-up points and highlight key themes. Although these notes were significantly more precise than freestyle note-taking, there was little difference in the ability of the note-taker to recall the material.

5. Draw Pictures!
The British Journal of Educational Technology found mind-mapping to be significantly more effective than just writing out notes. Mind-mapping brings visual structure to notes, usually involving writing one word in the center and drawing offshoots from it with related ideas and phrases. Researchers studying two groups of note-takers, those using the SmartWisdom method (a popular alternative mind-mapping system) and those writing traditional notes found that although there was no difference in the accuracy of the notes, the mind-mappers were able to present the information back with more clarity and coherence than their counterparts.

Mustard Seed Sized Solutions

I was recently with the Inner City Council of Churches giving a presentation on homelessness.  It was a good time and at the end of the talk, there was a Q & A time where someone said, "While we all want to do something, we don’t have the resources or the expertise to do all of it.  We need to get behind and support those that do have the expertise."  It was a nice thought and I appreciate the encouragement and support of the churches in the inner city of Saskatoon.  They deal with the same clients that we do and have similar experiences.

Over the last week I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing (internally) about the system.  It’s a complicated system.  In Saskatchewan you have the Ministry of Social Services, the Ministry of Justice, Corrections Services of Canada (two half-way houses downtown), the City of Saskatoon police, Fire and Protective Services, the Friendship Inn, Catholic Family Services, the Salvation Army, the YWCA, Core Neighborhood Youth Co-op, Quint, Egadz, both school boards, White Buffalo Youth Lodge, Westside Clinic, Friendship Centre, Crocus, the Lighthouse, Saskatchewan Health Region, Mobile Crisis, Youth and Family Services (especially the 16-17 program) Crisis Management, Mental Health, CPAS, Sask Housing, the Bridge, and I am missing quite a few more organizations but those are the numbers on my call list this week.

It’s a complex inter-related system which is reliant on a lot of external factors.  Private sector funding, government funding (and in some cases three different levels of government and even within that, multiple government departments), the ability to hire staff, influx in population in need, facility space, and even the weather outside.  If one of those external factors changes, it affects the entire system.  I experience that first hand every day.  Where I work, we are the safety net for when other parts are overflowing, overwhelmed, or just not working.  That of course places burdens on us which reverberates back through the inter-connected system.

Churches are often outside of that system.  Part of it is the awkward relationship that conservative evangelicals have with the social gospel.  Part of it is that most larger churches are upper middle class by nature and full of people who chose to live in the suburbs to get away from the social problems of the core neighborhoods (who wouldn’t want to live where schools are better funded, skating rinks are actually maintained, there is less violence, and less property theft?) Other problems is that it isn’t just a financial problem that leads people to the streets but there are complex mental health issues that haven’t always been addressed and in some cases, the people refuse to address them.  Those issues take a lot of time and a physical presence to overcome and in case you haven’t noticed, in times of a tough economy, coming up with money to have a long term presence if you are not all committed to the cause, is a tough, tough sell.  Finally, too many churches see the problem and see themselves as the solution as opposed to being a small but important part of the solution.

I was reading offline article the other day about a Jewish congregation deciding to host community dinners aimed at building community ties between people.  They brought the food, invited community leaders, police, and other parties to a giant neighborhood party.  They made special invites to those involved in a city wide housing initiative with the intent to creating community roots and relationships.  Over a couple of years a lot of food was eaten but studies showed that those in that area enjoyed a more stable, less crime, and used less city resources then those in other areas.  The reason was the relationships built not only between the congregation and the community but between the community itself.  When I think of the resources needed to host a dinner/bbq a couple times a year, I was amazed at the dividend that investment in the community made.  The most interesting part of it was that wasn’t the Jewish congregations first idea, their first idea was to provide blankets for the homeless but the city asked them to stop because it was enabling people to sleep outside when there were the resources for housing for them.  They reoriented and have made a big difference in a local community and from the article, it seemed to fit their core competencies really well.  It’s a mustard seed solution which has paid off for the men and women in that community.

One of the reasons why I am cynical about political rhetoric when it comes to homelessness is that it tends to focus on too big of a picture while ignoring the incredible complexity of the problem.  Generations of bad parenting, low incomes, institutional racism (think of the impact that redlining had on the development of inner city black and Latino communities), substance abuse, child abuse, residential schools, or even being the victim of the domestic violence that I see way too often now.  Many guys that I work with really struggle with living in a community, they struggle with basic instructions, many don’t have basic literacy skills, others have socialization problems.  Whatever the cause, they can’t function in the system very well.  So we can talk about visionary big picture expensive ideas all day but in some ways I am starting to see that small solutions work well because the problems are so very individualized. 

Today one of the readers of this blog dropped off a bunch of winter work gloves, gear and socks to the shelter that had been collected by his work.  People have been doing it all winter.   He was gone 10 minutes when a couple of guys came in and asked if we had some winter gear because they had outside instant labor jobs tomorrow.  Most of the guys who come to the shelter get jobs at day labor places.  It’s tough work but often they get hired on full time someplace if they work hard.  I can’t tell the future but it is safe to say that in an economy that is shedding 250,000 jobs, more than a couple of jobs will be found by guys who benefit from that donation.  Over the last two years many of you have dropped off a jacket at a shelter of at a depot like Sleep Country and Mark’s Work Warehouse is running.  You have no idea how many people have been overwhelmed by a free winter jacket this winter.  We have them hanging in our lobby at the hostel.  Every time I think we will run out, more appear.  In Saskatchewan you don’t really take warmth for granted (Wendy is from Guyana, she starts complaining about the weather in September and doesn’t stop until May) but I have to admit I don’t think a lot about frostbite.  Yet for a lot of people across the country, they never had to worry about it either which is a big deal.

We were working through the budget the other day at work.  It was a good process and as we finished up, I spent some time discussing a scenario of what we would do differently if we had the resources to build an ultimate shelter from scratch, We had a good discussion about it and after deciding we needed one of these in it (I am also trying to talk Wendy into allowing me to have one as well), we agreed that while a bigger facility would allow more people to be housed (which is a good thing) but it would also need to be a space where people can take small steps to whatever help they will need.  For everyone that is different.

I am a red-Tory which means that I grew up being indoctrinated with the idea that says, if you work hard you will prosper.  Even people living on sidewalk believe it. It’s not true for everybody. Some people need help. Some need a lot of help. Some people are damaged in a way that they are not going to recover from and need to be taken care of. Others can get reconnected but it’ll take time and money.

Skid Row That’s where it gets tough.  Where is the best place to connect?  Sam Slovick talks about informed philanthropy during his films of Skid Row.  It is is investing the underlying causes of a disenfranchised community that is at the bottom rung of our society.  I am biased but I think the Salvation Army Community Centre does an excellent job is helping provide emergency housing for men (and soon women) who are in crisis and need safe housing.  At the same time we are dealing with the result and not the cause of the problem.  The Core Neighborhood Youth Cooperative and the Bridge are twp of my favorites because of their involvement with teens.  Right in the back of our building is a Saskatoon Board of Education program called SAGE (I can’t believe it’s not online) which works with a lot of teens as well.

Invest in the kids (youth groups, after school programs) and invest in the parents (support drop in centres, CHEP community gardens), and invest in things that tie local communities together (inner city sports, the arts, the new Station 20 West), perhaps most importantly is invest in to invest in the gaps.  Passion has to play a factor in this.  What is your church really good at?  What do you care about:  Domestic violence?  Community involvement?  Literacy?  Job creation?  Teens?  Single mothers? 

There isn’t a fix to homlessness and poverty in Canada.  It won’t come from the government, there are very few cities in North America who have the political will to do anything about it.  Instead of waiting for the meta fix, there are a lot of opportunities to support something existing or help form something new.  Start small, see what happen, those mustard seeds start to add up.

Training for today

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend who is in leadership in his local seminary.  While some seminaries are theologically focus, this one is a pastor factory whose primary mission is to produce pastors.  Years ago if you remember, I talked about a Personal MDiv and I was asked for some feedback.  I didn’t have that much to add to the conversation but I offered this up.

  • An understanding of how communities work:  The church can be a prophetic voice in a neighborhood or city but unless it is a big box mega church outside of town, it is often a neighbor and therefore has an impact on how that neighborhood interacts with it and each other.   Some churches are amazing neighbors while others can be jerks.   Each neighborhood has a different vibe and feel to it.  I walk the 15 blocks to work quite a bit and just by walking through Mayfair, Caswell Hill, and Riversdale and I can feel the differences.  Jane Jacobs may be the best pick to start with if you are talking about an urban context but there needs to be a framework for understanding the ebb and flow of a local neighborhood and community.  I am not sure how we missed this but I imagine that for long the church was the centre of the neighborhood that we haven’t adjusted to being ignored or looked down on by the neighborhood.  As Darryl Dash wrote in Christian Week, at one time being near a church meant a higher property value.  That isn’t the case today.
  • How to start something: After reading Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, you realize that many of the missional examples are not churches but are businesses, NGO’s, or non-profits.  Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks.  How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire.  Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere.  I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum and he may be right.  If it isn’t a part of a formal education, make it readily available to those that do need those skills.  Guy Kawasaki and Garage used to do a Bootcamp for Startups.  Perhaps something like that offered occasionally from a denominational perspective would be helpful.
  • Ethics: A lot of church leaders I know of have odd ethics.  Maybe it is just me that finds it odd but hiding money from the taxman, lying to avoid conflict or accountability, a love of money, or just going through the motions is considered okay.  When I worked at Lakeview Church, we posted the full script transcripts of sermons there.  Friday the site was busy but on Saturday it was even busier.  Most of the traffic was from outside Saskatoon and it was all browsing and downloading sermons.  A friend of mine used to joke that if you wanted him to preach better sermons, Max Lucado had to preach better sermons.  It isn’t just out of the way pulpits where this happens.  I listened to one speaker who has written on leadership and integrity steal a litany from Len Sweet without credit.  Although to his defense, he probably never wrote the talk himself or his books.  My point is that ethics seems to have been lost along the way.  Either that or we are doing a horrible job of vetting clergy.
  • Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy or accept the fact that only the wealthy or the heavily indebted will be able to enter pastoral ministry.  Tom Sine has talked about this for years and he is right.   The impact will be that only affluent congregations will be able to hire seminary educated clergy and smaller rural, inner city, missionary organizations will be priced out of the market.
  • Common Sense: A friend of mine wanted to plant an inner city church yet decided to move into a middle upper class neighborhood.  Does this strike anyone else as idiotic.  He wanted to be their pastor but not live around them.  (yeah, I just realize that I offended some of you)   I hesitate to add this because

I am oversimplifying the issues quite a bit and these were real simple off the top of my head answers but I thought some of you may find them interesting.

I am sure you have your own opinions.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Getting Things Done with Palm Desktop

My Palm Desktop experiment in office organization has lasted a couple of weeks and I have to admit, it working quite well for me which is weird because it generally has failed in the past.  A couple of things are different now.

I have to track far more information then I ever had to do at Lakeland or Lakeview Church.  There are social workers, government agencies, NGOs, politicians, other agencies, and co-workers who need to be kept track of.  Each of them has an e-mail address, fax number, address, cell phone, home and work numbers that may need to be called.  While e-mail address books do a great job of tracking e-mail addresses, I find with many agencies, the fax still rules and I joke that there is still carrier pigeons in use.  At work I have high speed Internet and a quick Windows XP based computer on a well built network.

I need to access the information from more places.  Of course my office is used quite often but also while I am in other areas of the building (which is a lot) and I am on call 24 hours a day.  While there is not a lot of calls at home, there are several calls a week and some of them require information.

Palm Desktop ScreenshopThe information is in two places.  The Palm Desktop keeps my calendar, contacts, to-do list, and notes all in one place and generates alarms for things that are urgent.  Most of that information is entered while in my office.  As I get my voice mail off my phone, it is easy to enter much of the information needed into the Palm Desktop for future use.

Whenever I feel like it but always once a day, I sync my data with my ancient Sony Clie PEG-SL10 (which is a new case on a Palm III)  This works well because part of every day I am working in the front desk area or am taking calls in other areas of the building.  Also it travels home with me where I enjoy having it to add things once in a while to my to-do list.

I know a lot of people see a Moleskine and a PDA in the context of either/or but I tend to use them in conjunction.  Using a PDA to keep notes in during a meeting is a pain and a notebook and pen still work pretty well.  At the same time I enjoy having access to the information that my PDA gives me, especially the calendar and contacts.  After any meetings, my notebook makes it way back to the desk and the relevant data is transferred back to the Palm Desktop or added to another program.

Sony Clie PEG-10I know people have told me that an iPod Touch would do all of it but as a friend has proven to me, you can’t always get a wifi connection and the iPod Touch is not a great note taking machine, especially when compared to a pen and notebook.

All of this helps create a system where I can move tasks out of the mind by recording them somewhere.  According to David Allen and the GTD theory, my limited is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing those tasks.  The Palm Desktop (and a massive filing cabinet) is my way of dealing with the information.

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I finished Founders at Work today. It was worth the money I paid to get it and I enjoyed reading it. One thing that was a recurring theme in the book and in the stories of these companies that changed how we work and think is how hard it is to manage the relationship with investors who have a different vision than the founders. Paul Graham (who is featured in the book) has a Unified Theory of VC Suckage which probably explains a lot of why founders hate VCs. Phillip Greenspun has a good essay on how he got booted from ArsDigita

As I read the theory and reflected on the book, it explains why VCs are so evil but I was also thinking about the funding of church plants and how that can go so bad so often. In the case of VC funding, it is the need for a large and quick return on investment but funding for churches is similar but different.

Similar in the need for success to justify the spending so they can get more funding. People and churches like to give to success. Successful churches, successful colleges, successful ministries. They spend money but also attract even more money. In that way it is like business and the temptation is to fund “what works”. Of course in the church, “what works” is equated with being “right”. You know, the whole blessing/success thing.

It is different in another area and that is the preservation of a story dating back to the denominations or thought leaders founder. Methodists fund Methodist church plants. Purpose Driven churches want to see more Purpose Driven churches. WillowWorld ™ churches want to see other WillowWorld ™ churches started. Baptists plant Republican churches, etc, etc. It comes down to the idea that we know we are right and we want to see more of that in the world and all will be better.

As I was reading this, it reminded me of something I wrote earlier this year about ecclessial mercenaries and the need for funding. The problem is that you could find yourself caught in the middle of those two worlds. Being hit with the need to be successful and to conform to validate a model. If you look back at the illustrious history of “church within a church”, those two things nailed more coffins closed then anything else. The need for success to justify existence and funding and also the conflict that happens if the values are unaligned, kind of like when a teenager starts to exert his or her independence.

Paul Graham wrote this in the forward to Founders…

Apparently sprinters reach their highest speed right out of the blocks, and spend the rest of the race slowing down. The winners slow down the least. It’s that way with most startups too. The earliest phase is usually the most productive. That’s when they have the really big ideas. Imagine what Apple was like when 100% of its employees were either Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak.

The striking thing about this phase is that it’s completely different from most people’s idea of what business is like. If you looked in people’s heads (or stock photo collections) for images representing “business,” you’d get images of people dressed up in suits, groups sitting around conference tables looking serious, Powerpoint presentations, people producing thick reports for one another to read. Early stage startups are the exact opposite of this. And yet they’re probably the most productive part of the whole economy.

Why the disconnect? I think there’s a general principle at work here: the less energy people expend on performance, the more they expend on appearances to compensate. More often than not the energy they expend on seeming impressive makes their actual performance worse. A few years ago I read an article in which a car magazine modified the “sports” model of some production car to get the fastest possible standing quarter mile. You know how they did it? They cut off all the crap the manufacturer had bolted onto the car to make it look fast.

I like the last part. What if we started giving new ideas in the church, the permission to be the church instead of expecting them to look like the church before we believe in them.