The organized pastor. Somewhere in the back of all of our minds he exists, dressed in a sharply pressed suit, its pockets lined with date books, calendars, and "to do" pads. Arising at 6:00 A.M. for his personal worship, he plunges into the day with schedule
properly prioritized and minutes appropriately designated. Yet despite his crystal clear image in our minds, somehow the organized pastor always manages to elude us in reality. Bright new techniques for cleaning up our organizational act quickly become tarnished additions to the pile of unimplemented "plans" quietly accumulating in the corners of our studies.
So how does a minister--or any other "self-employed" professional--deal with the daily inundation of paper and problems? "Never let a piece of paper go through your hands twice," urge the efficiency sages. "Learn to delegate," demand the experts. Good advice? Perhaps. But I'm becoming convinced that some of these catch phrases of conventional efficiency wisdom are little more than nicely worded myths that can actually destroy organization and ham per overall effectiveness!
Have you ever heard these well-meaning bits of advice?
Myth No. 1: A cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. This one usually comes from some impeccable individual passing through your study in a flurry of exactness, taking in the whole aura of your workplace in one cynical sweep. The implication is that an inverse relationship exists between the amount of paper on your desk and the sense of order with which you organize your universe. Followed to its logical conclusion, such logic insists that the more barren and glistening the surface of your desk, the more control you have over your life.
The problem, of course, is that out ward order is not necessarily a sign of inward precision. For me, one of the simplest methods for assuring the accomplishment of any task is simply providing some type of visual reminder. If a book must be returned to the library, I'm more likely to get it there if I set it out on a desk rather than neatly sliding it into the bookcase. The same is true of any number of things. Right now I have on my desktop, in full view, material for a newspaper article I must write, an envelope to be stuffed and mailed, two pictures to be sent to my brother, a newspaper clipping advertising a meeting I'd like to attend, a check to be mailed, three notes reminding me of various projects to which I've committed myself, and a borrowed book entitled Placing the Guitar.
If I were to go through and "clean things up," I'd probably miss the dead line for the newspaper article, forget to send my envelope, keep my brother waiting on his pictures, never make it to an interesting meeting, be delinquent in paying my bills, overlook half of my latest commitments, and forever strike an "F" chord with a hollow twang on the guitar.
Myth No. 2: Accomplish major tasks first. Go back to the small things when you have the time.
The idea is that certain important things that must be accomplished require definite blocks of time. If you are forever dealing with trivia, your time will be frittered away. I've found, however, that deliberately postponing "little things" merely means that they never are done at all. If I receive something in the mail which must "eventually" be answered and stuff it in a drawer to await a more appropriate time, in all likelihood that time will never come. Even if I do remember to accomplish the task two weeks later, I haven't saved any time, and I have probably inconvenienced somebody somewhere by my delay. Before tackling any major project, I like to evaluate my workload and accomplish as many little things as I can, clearing my desk and mind for the larger focus.
Myth No. 3: All you can do when plagued with a "poor memory" is sigh and apologize a lot. How many times have you found yourself saying, "Sorry, I forgot that book again ..." or, "I meant to call about that earlier in the week ..." Don't keep lamenting a foggy brain connection! If tested strictly on recall in an objective setting, you would probably find yourself no less endowed with a good memory than others who always seem to be on top of things.
Forgetfulness is not usually related to a genetic gap, but rather to a lack of specific attention. Two sure methods can keep details from sliding into your mind's inactive file. Let's say you're asked unexpectedly to do something a week later. If you are in a situation where paper and pen are handy, jot yourself a note, and then hang onto the piece of paper until you can put it in full view on your desk. A note will do no good if it remains in the inside pocket of a suit jacket until the cleaner removes it.
If no paper and pencil are handy, you must resort to the second method. Focus on the task you've been asked to accomplish. "Fix" it in your brain by finding some hook on which to hang it. If you're at a picnic minus your date book and you agree to tell a children's story at church next week, picture yourself talking to a group of boys and girls; reinforce the mental image every time a child passes by. For final insurance, associate the image with your own children, so that telling them a bedtime story that evening will remind you to make a written note of your commitment.
Myth No. 4: Save everything. As soon as you throw something away you'll need it. The counterpart of "If something can go wrong, it will" is "Empty your wastebasket and you'll discover you need half its contents an hour after the garbageman comes." To ward off such a catastrophe, I slip envelopes into books, use surveys for scraps of paper, file fliers into drawers, and amass heaps of "To Whom It May Concern" potpourri. Anything to avoid coming up empty-handed when the lack of a certain piece of paper suddenly becomes life-threatening.
But saving 599 things just in case one becomes necessary tends to do no more than add confusion to life. Chances are that even when you have saved the desperately needed item, you won't be able to produce it when you need it! Wouldn't it be much more efficient to take a few minutes whenever any piece of paper comes into your life to decide whether or not it is worth saving? If it is, consciously decide where it belongs. Otherwise, get rid of it.
Myth No. 5: The best system is to file everything away so you'll be able to find anything you need at a moment's notice. A maxim that rings true more often is "out of sight, out of mind." Don't be so quick to put that sermon idea in a file. Leave it out on your desk for a couple of weeks. Allow the idea to develop in your consciousness. Hold on to that book review for a while. Once filed away, it will be lost in a maze of manila.
Myth No. 6: Having absorbed the information in this article, you will automatically be transformed into "the organized pastor." Just as a fad diet cannot substitute for careful and consistent dietary discretion, so a cursory reading of one article cannot take the place of serious planning and personal work at organization. This is particularly true if disorganization seems to have been handed you along with the tone of your voice and the size of your feet. Organization takes two things: commitment and practice. Why not start with this magazine? When you've finished reading it, what are you going to do with it?