Galvin and Associates


These are unofficial meetings where some of the board members feel a need to gather before or after the board meeting. These unofficial meetings can be reduced by holding executive sessions either at the beginning or end of each board meeting. An executive session is a short period of time when the organizational leader and any other staff are excused, and the board members can ask questions and sort out any concerns they may have.

In the spirit of being helpful, board members often offer advice to the organizational leader regarding operational details, solving a problem, or making a decision. But if a board offers advice, can an organizational leader ignore the advice? For a governing board that wants to delegate management of the organization, advice giving regarding operations is out of bounds. For a managing board that wants to operate at a high level, they either make the decision or delegate it. They also want to stay out of the weeds. In general, advice giving is a total waste of breath if the organizational leader is not asking for advice.

Some boards will want additional staff in the board meeting in case they have a question. Additional staff beyond the organizational leader makes it more difficult for the board to speak openly about organizational performance. It also blurs the single point of accountability a governing board usually wants with the organizational leader. A managing board may want additional staff in the meetings to more efficiently work together with the leadership. A governing board will want to avoid bringing in other staff because it will pull them into management discussions and decisions. If they do, they will schedule staff reports at the beginning of the meeting and excuse them when they are done. A navigating board may want other outside experts invited to meetings to gather expert opinions or to help them learn about changes in the relevant environment. Existing staff will tend to resist the kind of changes a navigating board is contemplating.

Governing boards need to discipline themselves to stay out of operations. Managing boards need to discipline themselves to function at the executive level when they meet. But anyone can derail an otherwise effective board by asking seemingly innocent questions. For example, someone may ask what brand of photocopy machine the staff is going to buy and what features it will have. Boards also get dragged into the weeds by an organizational leader who may want some input on a decision he or she needs to make. Many boards will respond by asking for more information, usually about operational details. Then they will debate the pros and cons of each option. While it might lead to an interesting discussion, it is not governing, and it is not making important decisions. It is merely giving advice on low level decisions.

Sometimes financial reports can be twenty pages long and staff activity reports can go on and on. In general, the board should decide what reports it wants to receive and what level of detail the reports will contain. Reports to the board should not be staff driven. In practice they often are because the staff is operating in a vacuum. Most boards don’t take the time to specify what reports they want to receive. For governing boards, too much reporting is about what is happening in the black box. While the board should be aware of how the organization is doing, it would be better for them to ask for reports about resources going into the box and results coming out the other side. Managing boards need more detail about what is happening inside the box, but they will want more high-level reporting and avoid asking too many questions about operational details. The board can ask for exception reporting from the organizational leader, so they are only informed about any irregularities occurring in operations.

Sometimes board members don’t listen well and over talk each other frequently. This does not lead to high-quality conversation. One of the roles of the board chair is to facilitate the conversations and manage the agenda so each item receives enough attention. But what if the board chair is weak in this area? One solution is to have the board chair appoint another board member with these skills to lead the meetings. The board chair is still in authority, but this allows him or her to participate in the discussion without worrying about facilitating it.

It is not unusual for evening board meetings of nonprofits to go late into the night. This is due to several factors, including long agendas, lack of preparation of board members, and board members delving into micromanaging. The board chair should be the person who manages the discussion and determines when some items should be pushed forward to the next meeting. It is possible to end meetings on time with a simple board policy that says something such as all board meetings will start at 7:00 and end promptly at 9:00, unless the board decides by unanimous vote to extend the meeting. Managing boards may also set a similar guideline and include it in their operations handbook. A firm start and stopping time will put pressure on the board chair to plan the agenda well and put the most pressing topics early in the meeting. It will also help board members know when any topic has been discussed thoroughly enough.

Bad behavior can exhibit itself in many forms. For example, using demeaning language, humiliating other board members, yelling, pounding on the table, swearing indignantly, or standing on a chair and calling other board members stupid. This kind of behavior persists because it is condoned by the rest of the board. No board member needs to tolerate this kind of verbal abuse. When it occurs, the board chair should halt the meeting and deal directly with the offensive behavior. If this does not happen, the board chair should meet with the offending person one-to-one or with a few other board members. If that does not correct the problem, then the entire board should discuss the unacceptable behavior at the beginning of its next board meeting. If that is not enough, then the board should follow its bylaws or board policies to remove the offending person from the board. Attempting to appease angry board members only rewards them for their bad behavior. Few boards can be truly effective with one or more board members who are behaving badly. Good board chairs will put a stop to it.

Boards work best when they are working together as a high-performing team. Yet some people tend to be highly political and love to pit “us” against “them.” They call individual board members between meetings to win them over to their side. In general, no board member should be representing any single constituency or position, but all board members should adopt the perspective that they represent all stakeholders and the entire organization. This leaves less room for divisiveness to fester. All board members should strive to be good team players.

Especially in larger boards, some board members will go through entire meetings without contributing any thoughts to the conversation. Obviously, they cannot make a significant contribution if they don’t speak up. Boards need to hear from everybody, not just the vocal few. A good board chair will take time to go around the room and make sure everybody has a chance to weigh in on important discussions. The board chair can also ask specific questions to individuals who may have useful information or opinions. He or she may also bring in a skilled facilitator for critical discussions when everybody needs to participate, including the board chair.

Rarely does a board have all the expertise it needs within itself to oversee the organization and chart a course for success. Navigating boards will tend to feel the greatest need for new information and expertise as they prepare to make major changes and venture out into new areas. Some boards can recruit new board members whenever needed to gain this expertise. If the bylaws will not allow that, then they can form new committees and recruit outside people to serve a temporary role to supply what they need. They can also invite guest presenters to a board meeting including clients, funders, or community leaders. Boards can also hire a consultant or coach to serve as a guide during unusual times.

Sometimes people serving on governing boards don’t want to read about how policy-based governance works. Sometimes people on managing boards don’t want to learn about what is changing for other organizations like theirs. Even if the organizational leader buys a book for everybody, they might not read it. Again, expectations are key. Board members should be committed to continuous improvement throughout the organization, including its own governance practices. Policy-based governance has a steep learning curve for new board members. In order to be the best board that they can be for the organization, all board members need to be open to learning and growing in their position.

Some board members may tire of being on the board, lose passion for the work, or fail to attend board meetings. Expectations should be clear that if any board member is ill, out of town, or otherwise not able to attend a board meeting, that board member should email, text, or call the board chair ahead of time. A board can also add a written policy or guideline that if any member has two unexcused absences during a term, he or she is automatically removed from the board. Board engagement can be enhanced by making sure the organization is recruiting high-quality board members and taking the necessary time to help them build strong relationships with each other. It can also be enhanced by working together on real challenges the organization is facing or may face soon.

Those selected for board service, or elected to the position, tend to be busy people. So, sometimes they struggle to review board materials sent ahead of time. Boards work best when all members arrive fully prepared. Expectations are key, so make sure board members know they are to prepare thoroughly for all board meetings. As much as possible, send all materials ahead of time by mail or email. The board as a group should decide how many days in advance that they prefer to receive this information. They should also specify what kind of reports they want and at what level of detail.

This can be intentional or unintentional. With an executive committee of the board, usually there is a lack of clarity regarding which issues will be decided by the committee and which should be brought to the entire board. For example, if a bid for routine building maintenance is quite expensive, should the executive committee approve it or bring it to the entire board for a vote? To resolve this, the board should write up clear guidelines or a board policy describing which decisions are made by the executive committee and which are made by the full board. Some organizations retain the executive committee but ask them to meet only during emergencies when the full board is unable to gather. This can be useful for national organizations that can appoint local board members to serve in this capacity.

Sometimes a new board chair gets elected who does not get along well with the organizational leader. Or perhaps a new board chair does not like the direction the organization is heading and wants to steer it a different way. Open conflict between the organizational leader and board chair during a board meeting is clearly dysfunctional. This can be dealt with by having the board chair and organizational leader talk ahead of time and build the agenda for the board meeting together. This allows them to preview the discussion items, so they are on the same page and neither is caught off guard in the meeting.

This is a common problem for governing boards. It is difficult for many individuals to stick with overseeing the organization and stay out of management.

Board members who are passionate about the organization want to help, and they often give advice regarding operational matters. Some board members are gifted at management, and they want to use their strengths on the board. When they hear about a problem in the organization, they want to drill down, get to root causes, and offer a fix. Other board members feel a need to “check in” with staff before a board meeting and investigate any complaints the staff may have. It often takes peer pressure from other board members to keep these people out of management issues.

Developing written policies and actively using them can help a governing board stick to governing. The board should also be able to clearly articulate what is board work and what is staff work. There is a fine line between monitoring and meddling. The general principle is for board members to “keep their nose in and their hands out.” Still, it is easy for many board members to jump into operational matters. Any board member should feel free to call a time out and ask if they are currently doing board work or staff work. The black box metaphor is useful for helping board members stick to a governing posture as well.

Some organizations have over 50 people serving on their board. At some point in the history of each of these organizations, somebody thought the board needed to add more members. The reasons for this vary. It could have been for broader representation. It could have been a result of inviting potential major donors on the board. But large boards tend to make governance less effective because it makes intelligent conversation and group decision-making more difficult.

As a workaround, many organizations form committees with an executive committee determining which issues are handled by them and which go to the full board. But this structure can unintentionally make people feel like the executive committee is flying in business class while the rest of the board is back in the economy section.

Some form a governance committee to care for board policies and recruit new board members. But these committees often fall into microgoverning mode or allow the full board to move into status quo governance mode. Other committees, such as HR, tend to get too involved in management issues.

One solution is to change the bylaws to reduce the number of members on the board. This can be done through attrition as board members term out, or by asking several board members to resign. For those institutions that use board membership as a cultivation tool for major donors, they might do better by creating a separate, affinity group or branded society that more effectively cultivates potential donors.

Nonprofit board members tend to think they have to figure out governance on their own. But any board can get paid or volunteer coaching from others with extensive experience. For example, a new board chair who would like some coaching on leading the board can find a former board chair or a professional coach. An organizational leader and a board chair not on the same page can find help to learn how to work together without getting in each other’s way. A board that wants to make a major transition can find someone who has led it before. Navigating boards especially should look for outside people who can lend them the expertise they need to forge a new strategic direction for their organization.

All boards should set aside time in their schedule and a line item in their budget for ongoing board education. One approach is to set a goal of reading one book a year together as a board. The book can be about governance or about the field in which they are serving. Another approach is to invite a community leader or nonprofit leader to a meeting to update the board regarding changes in the relevant environment. Some boards are reluctant to buy books or hire a resource person for fear of being accused of spending money on themselves. Some boards resist because they feel too busy. But a small investment in board education can enhance the ability of the board to make a significant contribution to the organization. Isn’t that what boards are supposed to do?

Some nonprofit boards mistakenly think they should keep their board members out of public scrutiny. But for many nonprofits, making known who is on your board can be a simple way to build trust. Major donors will be more willing to give if they have confidence in the board. Besides listing names on a website, more trust can be gained by sharing photos and human-interest details. For example, how did they get connected to the organization? What are they passionate about in life? What do they do for a living?

Members and clients might not be especially interested in who serves on the board or what the board does, but openness about the board can help build trust. Any organization can dedicate a page on their website with information about the board members. Organizations with buildings and regular gatherings can dedicate a wall to photos and information about current board members.

Every couple of years, a board would be wise to complete a comprehensive self-assessment (like the one in the appendix). These online or paper and pencil inventories allow boards to quickly identify their highest and lowest scoring areas. This will allow them to build on strengths and take corrective action regarding areas needing improvement. We have one we offer that includes a one-hour feedback and board coaching call.

An annual retreat is recommended for most boards. The retreat does not have to be off-site. It does not need to be overnight if all the participants are local. A full-day or multi-day retreat allows for building relationships and adequate time to think strategically together. Even small nonprofits might be able to secure a meeting room at a business at no cost for an all-day Saturday meeting.

Staying at a resort or retreat center can also serve as a thank you to board members who are generously donating their time and expertise. Managing boards can do their annual planning together with the organizational leader on a retreat. Governing boards can refine ends policies on a retreat. Navigating boards will have the time to explore new options together.

In order to properly oversee an organization, board members need to have a rudimentary understanding of the work it does. With some nonprofits, like a local church, board members have an opportunity to observe every week. With others, such as an international organization, it is costly to fly the entire board to see the work. Some nonprofits require board members to also serve in a volunteer role in the organization. But boards tend to neglect this because they don’t want to ask board members to take more time out of their already busy lives. Technology makes this practice easier than ever. Plus, personally observing what is happening may inspire board members to contribute more time, money, and energy to the organization.

Many of the problems that boards face are basically people problems. If a board does not take time to build relationships, foster teamwork, and establish trust, it will be more difficult for the group to work together productively. This is magnified with term limits and new board members continually joining the group.

An effective board will take time to build quality relationships between board members. Any board can take some time in a board meeting for personal sharing. For boards that require travel, the first evening can be dedicated to informal conversation with a purpose. Meals can be organized to break down barriers and allow people to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Boards that meet one evening per month can start an hour earlier with a shared meal.

Boards that do not take time to build relationships will tend to spend the time they saved solving problems and resolving unnecessary conflicts. This is so basic, but many boards miss it because they feel pressed for time during their meetings.

Succession planning is routinely ignored by boards of small and large organizations. Often, board members don’t want to offend the organizational leader by asking about retirement plans. Some abdicate their duty by letting the current leader pick the next one. Boards need two kinds of succession plans. An emergency succession plan details who would step in as acting organizational leader in the even the current leader was suddenly incapacitated for several months. A general succession plan identifies potential successors of the organizational leader and describes leadership development plans for these individuals. For larger organizations, the succession plan may be extended to cover a few other key staff positions, for example, director of development. The point of having a succession plan and reviewing it annually is to provide leadership continuity for the organization.

The organizational leader deserves to know how he or she is doing. Normal board feedback can feel ambiguous. But the process differs according to type of board.

Managing boards will conduct a performance appraisal like how it is done in well-managed businesses. The full board, or one of the board members, will meet with the organizational leader to establish expectations and performance standards or goals. The board will provide feedback along the way during the rest of the year. At the appointed time, the board will measure actual performance and compare this with the standards or goals. If done well, the board will ask the organizational leader to self-assess and then discuss where they agree or disagree. Together, they will come up with corrective measures and plans for moving forward. The goal is professional growth and performance improvement.

Governing boards have delegated management and do not want to supervise the organizational leader. Instead, they want to provide encouragement and accountability. Accordingly, governing boards do not focus on individual performance of the organizational leader, but on the performance of the organization. Specifically, they will want to know what progress has been made on organizational ends over the past year and what limitations policies have been exceeded. If annual goals were set together the year before, the board may review those as a part of the progress toward achieving organizational results. Some may also want to ensure that the organizational leader has a plan for professional development. They should not decide the plan or approve it. They should simply make sure a plan is in place and funding for it is in the budget.

Most boards can afford the time to do a short feedback session at the close of every meeting. A few self-assessment questions as a part of the typical agenda can be useful. They can simply ask what went well and what needs improvement. Or they can ask more specific questions like:

  • Did we treat each other with respect?
  • Did we listen to each other carefully and avoid overtalking?
  • Did we work together as a team?
  • Did we focus on the organization’s needs and not our own?
  • Did we stick to governing and stay out of managing?
  • Did we stay out of the weeds?
  • Does anyone want to offer an apology for anything?

As much as possible, most boards should strive to achieve consensus for all their decisions and official actions. But some misunderstand the meaning of consensus. It does not mean that everybody fully agrees. It means that while all are not in full agreement, the minority understands the reasoning behind the decision and can agree to support it outside the board meeting. This also makes it easier for the board to maintain confidentiality and to speak with one voice.

Striving for complete agreement can slow a board down to a crawl. Sometimes, complete agreement is just not possible. As a last resort, or when time is too short, the board chair should call for a simple vote to determine the matter and move on.

Use hand signals



Managing boards need to discipline themselves to avoid micromanaging the organization. Governing boards need to avoid managing as well as micromanaging. Some boards use red cards to pause discussion if the board is getting off track. If a board member holds up a red card, the entire board can decide if they are doing board work or staff work, then get themselves back on track.

Some boards use a stop sign attached to a small stick to do the same. A simple hand signal will also work, such as “throwing a T” for a brief timeout. This is an invaluable practice for boards transitioning from managing to governing. It is also useful for corralling new board members who are hooked on micromanaging.

Conduct surveys



A board can conduct a survey of any group in an organization without violating policy-based governance. The surveys can be done by telephone, using the Internet, or in person. This allows a board to keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. They can survey donors, staff, parents of children enrolled in a program, or other stakeholders. If they are only gathering information about the health of the organization, surveys are fine. Where boards get in trouble is taking that information and using it to micromanage the organizational leader or ordering program adjustments.

In business, a dashboard is a visual display of data with all the key indicators in one report. Nonprofit organizations can also create a dashboard of key indicators for their organization. The data can be displayed as bar charts, pie diagrams, or line charts. Some may also want to color code key indicators green, yellow, and red to show if they are on target. For example, a nonprofit can show a chart of income by month for the trailing twelve months. It can show income from a special event for a trailing five years. A visual display of data is more appealing to most board members than straining to read columns of numbers.

A consent agenda is a technique for officially receiving reports and approving routine reports that do not need to be discussed individually. The board chair will group these reports together and ask if any board member wishes to discuss any of them. After those reports are removed, the board votes to receive or approve the rest. Then the ones removed can be discussed as a board. Using the consent agenda technique can save a significant amount of time for boards.

An executive session during a board meeting is a closed discussion of just the board members. Some recommend this at the beginning of each board meeting, some at the end, and some at both beginning and end. Adding a regular executive session to every board meeting allows the board to speak freely without the organizational leader present and prevents the organizational leader from getting nervous. If a board does not make this a regular practice, then asks the organizational leader to be excused for an executive session, the leader may worry needlessly. Also, this reduces the need board members feel for a “meeting before the meeting” or a “parking lot meeting” afterwards. A board should hold an executive session every time they meet, whether they feel the need for it or not.

Often, board meetings run nonstop because there is too much material to cover in too little time. But taking breaks and offering refreshments can boost board effectiveness. Most adults appreciate a “bio break” every 90-120 minutes. Ignore this practice and people will be going in and out of the meeting at various intervals, sometimes disrupting discussion. For shorter board meetings, even offering coffee, tea, or water makes a positive difference for board members. Healthy snacks can provide a needed boost of energy during an early morning or evening meeting.

Pay attention to the room layout to allow for comfortable and healthy communication. A long, rectangular table does not allow for everyone to see each other. Someone sitting in the middle must lean forward and look both ways to address the group. If tables and chairs are moveable, a room layout with the tables in a circle, square, or horseshoe arrangement allows for better discussion. If audio-visual equipment will be used, make sure everyone will be able to comfortably view the presentation.

For board members to adequately prepare for meetings, all reports, handouts, and background reading should be mailed or emailed ahead of time. A governing board can specify how many days in advance in their board policy manual. The board members can then print the reports on their own or bring their electronic device to the meeting to access the documents. Some board members prefer to work with paper, and some prefer electronic access.

When an organizational leader distributes handouts in a meeting, or worse, compiles a binder filled with documents, board members will tend to become distracted and read the materials instead of listening to the organizational leader or participating in the discussion.

To avoid micromanaging, a managing board or a governing board can set up a schedule for routine monitoring. These monitoring reports can be spread out through the year. For example, the board may have a policy that the organization be adequately insured. They may ask to see evidence of this every summer. The organizational leader can inspect all the insurances, adjust coverage as needed, and write a monitoring report detailing all insurances, amounts, and due dates for renewal. With a monitoring schedule, the board avoids micromanaging and the organizational leader is not surprised by a sudden request for proof of compliance to a limitations policy.

As a part of the board policy manual, the board should have a calendar of topics to be addressed or work to be done each time they meet. For example, a board may want to ask for a budget narrative in September, a draft budget in October, and a final budget in November. A bylaw review can be scheduled for every June. A governing board will want to review a certain section of their board policy manual throughout the year.

This is useful for the board chair when combined with a typical agenda. The board chair takes the typical agenda and adds the appropriate items from the annual calendar, plus any other discussion items that have emerged. These tools keep the board on schedule and prevent the board from neglecting important agenda items when they meet.

Along with the job description, any other expectations should be written in a code of conduct document or included in the board policy manual. Expectations can spell out inappropriate behavior to be avoided in board meetings, keeping information and opinions confidential, who to notify if not able to attend a board meeting, attendance at special events, and their role in fundraising.

Rightful use of authority should also be made clear. Bob Andringa has written about the four hats board members may wear. The governance hat is worn when the board formally gathers for a meeting and a quorum is present. The authority of the board is held by the board as a group, not by individual board members. When the board meeting is over, the governance hat stays in the board room. The implementor hat is worn when one or more individuals is given work to do for the board. The authority for them to act is specifically given to them by the board. For example, a board member may be asked to negotiate a price for purchasing land or a building. When the task is complete the authority returns to the board as a group. The participant hat is worn when board members are asked to attend a special event. In this case, they are officially representing the board. The volunteer hat is worn any other time board members encounter the organization. They have no governing authority or responsibility apart from the board as a group. When they serve as a volunteer in the work, they report to a staff person and work under their authority.

Even if the main responsibilities of board members are listed in the bylaws, all board members will benefit from having a more detailed job description as a separate document or built into the governing policies. Besides the officers, at-large board members should have a written job description as well.

Good job descriptions include position title, a brief description of the role, main responsibilities, and a statement about what expenses are reimbursable.

Most new board members receive a skimpy orientation. They may feel unsure about their role and basically watch and learn during the first several meetings. Boards that do not provide any orientation assume that new board members will soon get the hang of it. It would be better if they were prepared to start contributing from their first meeting.

An orientation kit should include the organizational handbook or board policy manual, minutes from the past year or so, current promotional material, a short history of the organization, a job description and expectations, an organization chart, short bios of the other board members, a strategic plan or annual plan, and a book or a few articles explaining the governance type of this board.

The organization should also have a clear orientation process that specifies who meets with the new board member, whether there is a tour of the office or facility, and when the new board member will have an appointment with the organizational leader.

All too often, recruitment of new board members is handled casually. During a board meeting, the board chair asks for names of someone who would be a good fit for an open position. Then the organizational leader or a couple board members meet with the individual and ask him or her to serve. But the new board member may be unknown to the rest of the board and has usually not been properly vetted.

Nonprofits can avoid this by building a pipeline for new board members. For example, they can hold special donor gatherings and get to know people who are already genuinely committed to the organization. They can work side-by-side with volunteers or hold special appreciation events to get to know them. Boards can also create special task forces or committees, such as a fundraising committee or special event team, to observe which people have the best potential to serve on the board. Then they can compare these individuals with their list of desired capabilities or perspectives to make an informed decision.

Some boards have standing committees that meet at the same time as the full board or in between meetings. Sometimes the organization must make up work for the committees to do. When the committees report to the full board, sometimes their recommendations are overturned, or the discussion and decision is remade with the full board. If there is board work to be assigned, it is better to use ad hoc committees or temporary task force groups. When their assignment is accomplished, they no longer meet. Some boards retain their committee structure but simply stop meeting as committees and keep the entire board together for the full meeting.

Occasionally, a board will want to take a fresh look at how it operates and make some adjustments. The board can decide to right-size if they are too large for efficient functioning, or too small for an adequate range of perspectives. It can determine the ideal size range, number of meetings per year, and rethink length of terms and term limits. For example, a board may make the decision to transition from a managing board to a governing board. For some organizations, this will require a bylaw change and an approval from organizational members. Other boards can simply adjust their current bylaws and move to a more optimum structure.

With an increasing demand for accountability of nonprofits and their organizational leaders, it makes sense to make the organizational leader a member of the board ex officio, which means “from the office.” The organizational leader is automatically in the board meetings without having to be elected or approved by a vote.

The organizational leader can serve with or without a formal power to vote. People tend to feel strongly about this one way or the other. Some say the organizational leader should have a vote to help him or her feel legitimate and a true part of the board. Others feel the organizational leader should serve without vote to make clear he or she reports to the board. In practice, it does not matter whether the organizational leader has a vote if the board is striving for consensus anyway.

Some nonprofits have the organizational leader also serve as the board chair. In our post-Enron culture, most businesses are moving away from that practice. Similarly, more nonprofits are also separating the roles of organizational leader and board chair to increase the chances for a stronger level of accountability.

I just finished upgrading to a new computer, software, and services…and I’m exhausted. This was not a minor change for me. My current setup was over five years old and I was fearing major hardware issues. I hired a friend for three days to help me move from:

  • Old Dell desktop to new HP desktop
  • Windows 7 to Windows 10
  • Wired keyboard and mouse to wireless
  • Office 2013 to Office 365
  • Files stored on local hard drive to cloud sync
  • Old printer to new printer
  • Skype to Skype for Business
  • POP 3 email to Exchange Server
  • Few passwords to an online password manager


We experienced challenge after challenge getting everything downloaded and set up. After three days, I was traumatized. I was a victim of change overload. I took a whole day tech-free just trying to get emotionally restored. But it was worth it.


This major upgrade in everything was much needed. I was hampered in what I could and could not do on the road. My intent was to reduce the risk of a hardware failure (which would be highly inconvenient) and increase my capacity through new software and services to do more and better work for clients. This was an investment in my personal capacity.


Whether it involves learning a new skill, buying new equipment, or changing important habits, people rarely make these kinds of investments in themselves voluntarily. Why?


  1. Building personal capacity can be painful

Certain kinds of changes can take an emotional toll. Too much change at one time can wear you down. Being forced to learn new ways of doing things is not pleasant.


  1. Building personal capacity can cost money

Tuition is expensive. New clothing or tools can be expensive. You may have to hire a coach or tech help. The goal, of course, is for the new capacity to protect incomes and reduce expenses over time.


  1. Building personal capacity can take time

Finishing an online class can take months of evenings and weekends. Calling tech support to resolve a software issue can take hours. Learning new ways of doing things will take longer at first. Hopefully you will go slow at first in order to go faster later.


  1. Building personal capacity is easy to postpone

Because most of us feel we are busy, a big temptation is to postpone personal development and capacity building to a later date when, as we say, “we’ll have more time.” Scheduling these kinds of activities during seasonal slow times is a good idea, however.


  1. Building personal capacity is tempting to resist

Currently, there are a lot of PC users who are refusing to upgrade to Windows 10, even though it is free! (I should talk; I put if off as long as I could.) Some people have a deeply ingrained value of fully using up what they have before replacing anything. Some don’t feel a need to learn anything new.


Not every investment of time and money will effectively build your capacity, only those that relate to a core competency, a limiting factor, or represent a serious risk. Consider the landscaper who is struggling with the question of whether to buy a new zero turn mower or try to squeak out another mowing season with his old one. Consider the mother of two infants who wants to change her diet and exercise habits but doesn’t feel that she has any time. Consider the young manager who is wondering whether he should pursue an MBA now or wait a few years until he might be better able to afford the tuition. These are personal capacity building challenges.


What is a serious risk you need to mitigate? What is about to become a limiting factor for you? What core competence do you need to sharpen? What will it take for you to get started?


A staycation is a way of taking a vacation while remaining at home. Staycations are trending. The word was first used in print in 2003. It became popular after the financial crash of 2008. The word entered the dictionary in 2009, so I did not have to put quote marks around the word. So why are staycations suddenly so popular?

A traditional vacation is not always what it is cracked up to be. You often lose a day on each end to travel. People talk about the importance of a two-week break from work and then come back exhausted. They need two days to “recover” from vacation. If you choose to fly, airports can be a zoo during the summer months.

Staycations tend not to work for most people because they approach it like a long weekend. They typically have no plan. They have no goals. In their mind, they are staying home because they can’t afford a vacation right now.

Here is the secret to making a staycation work: Be intentional. What does that mean?

  1. 1. Approach your week like you are going somewhere you have never been before.

Block out the dates on your calendar like you would for a regular vacation. Get curious. What do you want to see? What do you want to do?

  1. 2. Research options for activities and sights to see.

Draw a circle on a map of what is within a comfortable driving distance for you. Make a list of tourist destinations you have never seen. What restaurants have you never been to? If you want to stay at home, create your own film festival. Visit different forest preserves every day.

  1. 3. Envision the vacation you want to experience.

What benefit do you want from your time away from work? What do you enjoy doing? Are you a beach person or would you like to binge read a new author? How would the ideal experience flow?

  1. 4. Plan your week like you would plan a trip.

Schedule each day. Eat out just like if you were traveling, if you like doing that. Get up early and get on the road. Research hours that sights are open and days they are closed.

  1. 5. Watch out for common traps.

Being at home, you may be tempted to work. Add an auto-responder to your email at work. You can make a rule of leaving the television off and not checking email for a week. Chores or errands will be calling your name, but you would not do them if you were gone. Make your staycation different than a typical weekend if you want the full benefit.

If you plan a staycation, you can get the benefits of a traditional vacation without the cost. Foregoing a hotel alone will save you about $1,000. Your staycation cannot be canceled or delayed by an airline. You will feel less drained because you will be doing less travel and sleeping in your own bed.

What activities and experiences would you include in the perfect staycation for you?

I’ve talked with several pastors recently who have admitted that they have not taken a day off in years. (I know…shocking!) In many ways, it is more difficult for a pastor to set aside a day of rest than most people. They work on Sundays, so that day is out. Unless they always finish their sermons on time, Saturday is out. Even if they find a weekday to stay out of the office, emergencies come up with little notice. The rest of us tend to have it easier.

Observing a Sabbath day of rest is one of the Ten Commandments. Accordingly, it was not given only for the Jews, but for all people. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for our benefit. It is a day when God says, “Come and hang out with me.” If we don’t stop working, we obviously can’t do that very easily.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study (reported in Christianity Today, June 2016), observing the Sabbath did not score highly. Here are the percentages of respondents who said that resting on the Sabbath was important:

  • 31% Highly Religious Evangelicals
  • 20% Highly Religious Catholics
  • 18% Highly Religious Mainline Protestants
  • 18% All Christians
  • 11% Nominal Evangelicals

In other words, 4 out of 5 Christians say resting on the Sabbath is not important.
In some ways, keeping the Sabbath is more difficult now than at any time in our lifetime. Here is why.

24/7 culture: We live in an “always on” society. Stores used to be closed on Sundays; now most are open. More people work weekend shifts. The culture doesn’t want to let us take a break.

Overloaded lives: Most of us are just plain too busy. We take on too many commitments and seldom take time to evaluate our commitments.

Invasive technology: The powerful pocket computers we call cell phones are keeping us connected with people and information, but it is difficult to turn it off for a day.

Pressure from others: Because most people do not think a Sabbath day of rest is important, our friends ask us to engage in unrestful activities.

Lack of teaching: Pastors tend not to teach about the Sabbath. It is highly counter-cultural. Some pastors want to avoid coming across as legalistic.

Doesn’t a day of rest each week sound appealing? Without getting legalistic, you can figure out your own day of rest. However, you have to be intentional. Here are some actions you can experiment with immediately:

  • You pretty much have to stop working for one day, sorry
  • Turn off your cell phone
  • Turn off the television and radio
  • Some special time with family and friends
  • Get out and experience nature
  • Read some books for pleasure

What are some simple changes you can implement that will make a day of rest more realistic and beneficial for you?

Content marketing really works, even on a small scale!

I had a couple of slow weeks in my consulting business in March so I decided to invest that time in writing three white papers to use for marketing purposes. After Easter, I emailed links for the articles to pastors and other organizational leaders who might be interested in them. A month later, I have received four times as many hits as emails I sent out. I sent X emails and I’ve gotten 4X response. My website has never seen this much traffic in a decade.

What happened? I offered something of value for free. I emailed people who would have an interest in the information. I encouraged them to share the link with their friends. They forwarded it to a few people who then forwarded it to a few more people.

Bam! Effective word of mouth on a small scale. (If you are curious, you can check it out the three white papers here:

Building a relationship with potential clients by offering free information is called content marketing. It can work on a small scale for you just as well as large marketing campaigns. Here are seven steps for launching a mini-campaign.

1. Decide what you want to accomplish
If you already offer a product or service for sale, this can be straightforward. Let’s say that you have a full-time job but wanted to offer tutoring in your free time to help people learn advanced features on Microsoft Word. It could be anything.

2. Identify a need
Determine who you want to reach and how you can help them. You can touch on an existing need or create a need by offering a new opportunity. The stronger they feel the need the better. With tutoring, you could focus on beginners struggling with the basic features or advanced users wanting help learning to write macros.

3. Create useful content
You can offer a free e-book, white paper, special report, tool, tip sheet, or checklist. The content should deliver real value in order for people to want to share it with others. With word processing tutoring, you could offer a pdf with 25 of the most useful keyboard shortcuts.

4. Email to people you know
You don’t need a big list for a mini-campaign. I recommend personally emailing the link for your free download to individuals. Personalize each email so they know it is coming from you.

5. Encourage them to share
In the free piece you are giving away, give specific permission for readers to pass along the link to others who might also want a free copy.

6. Describe how you can help
Briefly tell others what else you can do for them. For example, “By the way, I am now offering individualized tutoring for those who want to take their word processing skills to the next level.”

7. Invite them to respond
Include a clear call to action, whether that would be emailing you for a more detailed report or scheduling a phone call to discuss in more detail what they need.

Seriously, this will work with an email list of ten people, if they are the right people and you have a compelling offer. What kind of mini-campaign would benefit you?

Most of us have a bunch of small projects at work and at home that stubbornly cling to our list of projects. They sit there and won’t move. If they remain on the list more than a few months we may feel a twinge of guilt. After that, they tend to get stale and we struggle find the motivation to work on them.


As I write this, I’m looking up at a nail pop on my ceiling. I’ve been looking at it for seven years. It’s not that hard to fix. It’s a small project. I have all the tools I need in my basement. Sure, I’m busy, but it’s not a big project. Many of us can name a couple small projects like this that irritate us.


Why do big projects get done sooner than small projects? Why do we tend to have so many uncompleted small projects? Why is it so hard to complete small projects? Here are a number of possible reasons and solutions.


  1. We don’t write them down

I sometimes fail to add small projects to my projects list. Now I know why. Internally, I resist making the list any longer because it makes me feel like I’m going backwards. I want a shorter projects list not a longer one. Antidote: Capture small projects on your projects list.


  1. We bury them on our task list

I was frustrated with some tasks on my daily task list that kept sliding over to the next day for weeks at a time. I finally figured out that they were actually small projects and needed to be moved to my projects list. I had quite a few small projects buried in my task list. Antidote: Pry small projects off of your task list.


  1. We don’t review our projects list

Ideally, we should all review a projects list when we plan our week. I sometimes rush the process and skip the projects list because I don’t have enough time to work on anything that week. But I could identify a small project to work on. Antidote: Review your projects list weekly.


  1. We underestimate the steps

My small nail pop repair project will require a lot of steps and take more than one day as I wait for the wallboard compound to dry. As I get into it, I may want to touch up a few other walls around the house. With larger projects, I take the time to do some planning. With smaller projects, I try to do it all in my head and I don’t see all the steps. Antidote: Break it down and count the cost.


  1. We lack motivation

I have small projects on my list I don’t want to work on. I disciplined myself to write it down, but sometimes I can’t find the motivation to get started. If this happens to you, talk about your project with others. Ask for accountability or assistance. Antidote: Increase motivation with positive peer pressure.


  1. We have a key dependency

Sometimes I can’t start a small project because my wife is not around to confirm a detail, like color. Sometimes I can’t start because of the weather. Often, we have to wait until somebody else’s schedule is open. Antidote: Negotiate the help you need.


  1. We have other priorities

Sometimes small projects have to wait because other projects are more urgent or important. Many projects can safely be put off until next season or next year. I split my project list into active projects and inactive projects. They are still on my projects list but for various reasons I can let them hibernate for a while. Antidote: Start taking action now or move to inactive project status.


Small projects don’t have to remain trapped on your projects list. You can find the time to work on them and you can find the motivation. Simply use the same steps to plan a small project that you use to plan a larger project. Which antidote will be most useful for you?

A few years ago I went through an entire day without getting any email. Assuming something was broken, I checked my settings and connections. I got worried. I sent test messages from other devices. Everything worked fine. It just so happened that I didn’t get any email for one day!

Today, we are inundated with an onslaught of email each day. Often these email messages pile up in our inbox and increase our level of stress. It is natural to open a message and leave it in the inbox if you can’t answer it right away. But when those emails number over 100, the inbox becomes unmanageable. Fortunately, there are some simple changes you can make to get your inbox to zero every day.

Check for new messages at specific times
Limit yourself to checking email only 2-3 times per day, say first thing in the morning, before lunch, and before the end of the day. This means you will only open email when you have time to process the messages. Turn off notifications to avoid distraction when you are trying to work.

Use folders wisely
On the navigation pane, add new folders where you can store email messages you need to access later. Add a folder called @Actions for emails you want to process later. Add one called @Waiting for emails to track the shipment of a product to you. Add @Reading for the newsletters and blog posts you want to save until later.

Create rules to automate your inbox
After you have a folder in place called @Reading, or something like that, create a rule that will automatically move messages out of your inbox and to the reading folder. Simply right-click on the email and select “Rules.”

Use a task list to clear out the clutter
If you cannot immediately answer an email message, create a task noting the relevant email is at @Actions, then drag the email out of your inbox and into @Actions. This will help you to stop using your inbox like a task list.

Use these techniques to get your inbox to zero each day. You will feel less guilt and less pressure when you sit down to a blank screen and hit “Send/Receive.” Respond immediately to as many email messages as you can. Process the others and store them where you can easily find them. What will it take to make these regular habits for you?

Have you ever felt frustrated in a strategic planning meeting because people were struggling to talk together about the future? This is more common than we realize. For example, some people are motivated by setting goals, but most are not.

Just like people have differing leadership styles, recent research has uncovered differing planning styles. These four planning styles explain the frustration we often have when planning together.

Objectives-Oriented Planning
These are the people who easily think years into the future and tend to use results language with specific, measurable targets. They like to set quarterly, annual, and long-range goals for work and personal life. As an example, consider Joseph, who was dragged out of a dungeon and gave Pharaoh a 14-year agricultural strategy off the top of his head (Genesis 41:33).

Domain and Direction Planning
These are long-range thinkers who are good at spotting opportunities and moving into new territory. They don’t need hard targets in order to innovate and advance. Apart from work, they have ideas about new areas they want to explore. In the New Testament, Paul had plans to go to Asia, Rome, and Spain, but moved forward as paths opened up for him (Acts 16:6).

Task-Oriented Planning
These are the people who turn everything into projects. They want to know what “done” looks like and when it is due. They identify the steps and carefully track progress toward the goal. They typically have lists for everything at work and home. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he gathered the people and divided them into 41 teams to rebuild the wall around the city. He planned an elaborate ceremony to celebrate the completion of this huge project (Nehemiah 12:27).

Present-Oriented Planning
These are the “in the moment” people who are more like EMTs at work. They are calm during a crisis. They intuitively see the next steps in any emergency situation. Their natural planning horizon rarely extends to next week. The apostle Peter may be the poster child for this style. At Pentecost, he was the one who quickly reacted and told everyone, “Hey, these people aren’t drunk, it’s only 9:00 in the morning.” Then he preached a powerful sermon with no notes (Acts 2:15).

Here’s how this can help the next time you have a planning meeting. Some people are more visionary thinkers and others more detailed planners. If you or anyone else on the team is an objectives-oriented planner, you need to be patient with the rest of the team who are not wired that way. As you break down the long-range objectives into goals and projects, others on the team will make their contribution. Present-oriented planners dislike the blue sky conversations, but show them a draft of a strategic plan and they will quickly spot the aspects that won’t work on the ground.

People tend to have a primary style and secondary style. What is your planning style?

The days just before and after January 1 of each year lend themselves to taking a few days to look back on the past year and look forward to the coming year. Many of us have a few days off of work at that time. A brand new year puts some of us in the mindset of making resolutions and setting goals. In many ways, this is a natural planning time. Why not supercharge it? Here are some steps for conducting a yearend review.

What do you want to see happen next year? Either alone or together with your spouse, brainstorm a list of what you want or need. What major purchases will you need to make? What big projects do you want to tackle? What problems do you want to solve? Where do you want to be financially? What else do you want to have happen? Then select from this long list the ones you want to commit to and turn them into written goals for the year.

Bring your home budget up to date. Compare actual spending to the budget you set. Evaluate what went right and what went wrong. With your goals in hand, build your budget for next year. Make the hard decisions here. Repair the car rather than replace it? Put off a major purchase? Count on a “staycation” this summer?

Tax prep
Print any reports you will need for tax season. Gather all of your receipts for donations. Start a file to store all the tax forms that will start rolling in by February. Look up the new IRS mileage reimbursement rate.

Together with your spouse, block out dates next year for projects, trips, holidays, and family commitments. If you are uncertain about exact dates, such as getting approval for specific vacation dates from your employer, block a generous window of time that you can narrow down later.

Credit cards
Make a list of all of your credit cards with the name, number, and customer service telephone number. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, you will have all of the information you need at hand to cancel or replace your credit cards.

Photo inventory
Take a phone or digital camera and walk around your house taking photos of what you own for insurance purposes. Open drawers, closets, and boxes. Store the digital photos on your computer or on a CD. It only takes a few minutes. Hopefully you will never have to use it.

Capture all of the steps you took on a checklist that you can use next for your next yearend review. Improve your list each year you use it.

You can block out full days or half days for your yearend review and planning. How much time will you need? Which days will work out best for you this year?

Have you ever returned from a long trip feeling depleted and buried by the workload waiting for you? Do you dread going back to work the next day? There are some things you can do to prevent the typical “crash landing” when you get back from a trip. Here are some steps you can take while on the trip and your first day back home.

Email and voicemail
Find time in the early morning or at night to keep current on email and voicemail messages. Put off whatever can wait until you return and deal with the urgent items only on the road.

Task list
Keep a running list of things you need to do as you think of them on the trip. You can capture these on paper or an app. This clears you mind and reduces worry. Then, when you get home, sort through the tasks and put each item where it belongs in your planning system.

If you are flying home, drink water on the flight and when you land. Airplanes are dehydration machines. Drink more water than usual the first day back home.

Time zone
Get back into your normal time zone immediately. Stay up until bedtime and go to bed if you’re not that tired. Jet lag tends to be unpredictable. Living in the old time zone doesn’t help.

Schedule time to “dig out”
When you plan your trip, block out a chunk of time to catch up. You need time to sort out the tasks you collected on the trip, get your email back to zero, and deal with the backlog in your inbox. It will take a couple of hours to dig out. Be realistic and schedule this time before you leave on the trip.

You have probably already incorporated some of these practices into your routine for returning from a long trip. What else can you do to make your re-entry as painless as possible?

I was talking with a friend on the phone this summer and I asked what he was reading. He answered, “My reading focus this summer is metrics and outcomes measurement.” I was stunned. He had a focus and a list. He was reading with a purpose. His learning would be equivalent to taking a summer grad course on this topic.

Reading, or listening to audiobooks, is a key part of being a lifelong learner. This is also a key aspect of self-leadership. Nobody is going to make you learn new subjects and skills after your formal education is over. You have to take charge of your own learning after you graduate.

As I thought more about my friend’s focus for the summer, I thought back on other approaches to reading I have used in the past. Here are six different approaches. One of them must be right for you.

1. Exploratory List
When you want to wade into a new subject area you start with books that provide an overview. This is like a do-it-yourself college 101 course. You want to read books that will guide you through this new terrain as you explore for the first time.

2. Get Current List
When you need to catch up on the most significant new books in a topic area you are familiar with, you can make a list of the most recently published books. I did this when I jumped into organizational consulting full-time. I went to Barnes and Noble and drew an invisible square around the business and management bookshelves. Then I told myself that I had to get on top of all the books there. If I did not choose to read them, I had to know what they were about.

3. Deep Dive List
This is when you need to “skill up” and become expert in a specific subject area. For example, a marketing VP might decide to do a deep dive on email marketing with split A/B testing to better measure the impact of email messages. This is what my friend was doing by studying outcomes measurement.

4. Backburner List
We all have a long list of books in the back of our minds that we would like to read someday…when we have time. You can reach back and make a list of those books, decide which are still relevant, and get started reading what you have always wanted to but have been putting off.

5. Disagreeable List
This means reading the books you do not agree with in order to gain more insight into your opposition. For example, last year I listened to a few top books on New Age thinking while working out over the winter. It was fascinating to hear what some of these people actually believe because it was so bizarre, but it helped me to sharpen my thinking around the whole are of vision for life and ministry.

6. Intriguing List
Just go to Amazon or your e-book retailing site and order half a dozen books that look flat-out intriguing. They don’t have to be on the same topic, go deep, be related to your work, or even make sense on the same list. You are just following your gut instinct and picking up promising reads.

An important aspect of self-leadership is lifelong learning. A reading list can help you to read or listen to more books each year and help to sharpen your growing edge as a human being. What kind of reading list is right for you?

When I was working outside in the yard with Kathe recently, she screamed and told me to come over to the side of the house. In between us was a rather large snake. I assumed it was a harmless Gartner snake, which are common in Illinois, and walked over to pick it up and move it to the weeds. A thought ran through my head, “Hey honey, watch this!”

First red flag: It was larger than any Gartner snake I had seen before. I thought: Oh well, it must be an older one.

Second red flag: It moved much more quickly than a Gartner snake. I thought: Oh well, it must be scared.

Third red flag: It was brown and yellow instead of green and yellow. I thought: Oh well, it’s close enough to be one.

When I walked up to the snake, it was in a corner between a brick wall and the foundation of the house. I quickly reached down to grab it near the back of the head. It sprung faster than I expected, so I grabbed it too low. With its head free, it turned around and bit my knuckle.

For a split second, I felt like the apostle Paul who got bit and had the snake hanging off his hand while on the island of Malta (Acts 28:3-5). I instinctively slung it backwards into the weeds and the snake let go. With a puzzled look on my face, I told Kathe that Gartner snakes usually don’t bite. I looked down at the 6 or 8 small holes on my right hand that were starting to bleed and went in to wash my hands. Then I immediately went online to look up “snakes of Northern Illinois.”

As it turns out, this was a Western Fox Snake. They are not poisonous. They feed on mice and vols. They are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. They have small needle-like teeth, so my hand is fine.

Western Fox Snake

But how did I miss all the red flags? Why do all of us tend to miss very clear red flags once in a while? In this case, I just wanted to solve the problem quickly and get back to yard work. I also wanted my wife to think I was cool. So I did not pay attention to the red flags that were clamoring for my attention.

Here are some ways to help you notice the red flags in your life.

1. Pay attention to what is actually in front of you. If you ever have a problem finding something in the refrigerator or a drawer, then you are not seeing what is actually there. You have an image in your mind of what you are looking for, but you are not seeing what is actually there.

2. Pay attention to what people are really saying. Have you ever had someone say to you, “No, that’s not what I said!”? Instead of listening to what we want to hear, we need to listen to what they are actually saying and to what they really mean.

3. Pay attention to what is changing in your environment. It is easy to continue doing the same things the same way and hope it works better next time. If that is not working, then what is changing? Something is changing! Figure it out.

4. Slow down before you act fast. Acting fast is good. Acting fast without looking for red flags first is bad.

5. Consider other possibilities. You think you know what the problem is. You know how to solve it. Before you take action, might something else be causing the problem? Are there other important variables you should be looking for? Has every other alternative been eliminated?

We see red flags in life every day. They are free. If we notice them, they only take a few moments to process, but the payoff can be huge. What will remind you to stop being so impulsive and to pay attention to the red flags in your life?

Why not be as intentional about your free time as you are about your time spent working? This doesn’t mean you have to work hard at relaxing, but being intentional about how you spend this precious time. You don’t have much of it.

For those who work full-time, their time each day is typically rationed as eight hours of sleeping, eight hours of working, and eight hours of free time. But oops, commute time is deducted from free time. Exercise and meal preparation is deducted from free time. Paying bills is deducted from free time. Your free time can easily slip away from you.

Many people say that want work-life balance. But if they are intentional at work and impulsive at home, then they will never find that balance they desperately need. Here are some ways to get control over your other eight hours.

1. Plan your free time on the same calendar as your work time
Some people have a disciplined habit of scheduling meetings and tasks at work, then work off of slips of paper at home. Why not be as organized at home as at work? With shared work calendars, some people cannot put personal appointments on work calendars, so they will have to develop a home calendar solution.

2. Keep a personal project list
Keep all of your home, family, and personal projects on one list. It may feel overwhelming when you first put it all on paper. Don’t get discouraged. List everything that needs to get done. List everything you are committed to accomplishing. Then keep reviewing our list.

3. Engage others in your new approach to free time
Let the other significant people in your life know what you are trying to do. Plan the week with your spouse. Share your personal calendar online with significant others. They will then be able to help you spend your free time wisely.

4. Schedule time with friends
I regret that I haven’t been able to spend time with some dear friends of ours. But guess what? I didn’t schedule it and it didn’t happen all by itself. Are you intentional about spending time with certain other key people?

5. Establish set times for exercise
You can walk in the early morning, go to the gym at noon, or workout after getting off the train. If you embed these times in your schedule you will be more likely to get the exercise you need.

6. Pursue a hobby
You can dabble at something or buy supplies and never seem to be able to get time to do it. You can let everything else claim your free time, or you can claim it and structure some protected time to engage in something that taps into how God has wired you.

If you work full-time, you only get eight hours of free time a weekday and you have a crushing demand from others on how to use that time. Why not get intentional about how you use the other eight hours?

I’m bad at taking vacation time. In fact, if you pressed me, you would find out that I haven’t taken a traditional two-week vacation in over 16 years. In a recent study by Oxford Economics about how employees handle vacation time, the researchers found that 42% of Americans left some vacation days unused and the average was 8.1 days of unused time. I would probably measure up somewhat worse than average.

However, I stopped beating myself up over this embarrassing fact after I did some thinking about the purposes of a vacation. It turns out that there are at least 10 major purposes for taking a vacation that I can think of. Many of these can be combined. Let this list help you think through your reasons how you spend your time off.

Visiting relatives
If your parents live far away and you only have one time a year when they can see you and your family, odds are your decision about a vacation destination is pre-made for you.

Family time
If you have children, a vacation can be a time to build relationships and share new experiences together. It can be a time go camping together or give them an unforgettable experience like visiting the Grand Canyon or Disney World.

It takes two or three days to unwind. After that you can “trickle charge” your internal battery. Some people like the beach and others like the mountains or forests. You need a place where you can rest and relax and detox from stress at work.

Does mountain biking, whitewater rafting, or exploring caves, sound exciting? Would you prefer a golf or tennis vacation? Some people crave adventure.

If you like to drive or take the train, you will never run out of new cities to visit in the US. If you prefer international travel, make a list of all the places in the world you would like to see in order of priority.

Some people use vacation time to kick start a new way of eating or a new exercise routine. There are a lot of spa vacation packages available to assist you in living a healthier lifestyle.

We are all supposed to be lifelong learners, but some people crave learning something new. You can be introduced to a new hobby or indulge in educational travel sponsored by universities.

Why not consider a vacation with a purpose? Short-term mission trips can help you to do good while you are taking time off and putting yourself in a completely different environment.

Early in my career as a youth worker I would use my vacation time to shingle houses to help me pay my school bills. It was a break that paid for itself. Do you have a way to make some extra cash on your time off?

If you travel a lot for work, the thought of getting on a plane for a vacation does not feel right. Why not stay at home and focus on interesting day trips and eating out at places you have never had time to go? I’m going to be doing some house projects this summer.

Bottom line, figure out the combination of purposes that work for you and then try to maximize your vacation time. Forget about what other people do for their vacations. You need to do what works for you and your family at this time in your life.

Hooked on Email



Are you deluged by the number of email messages you receive every day? Do you have hundreds of unprocessed emails clogging your inbox? Does looking at your inbox make you feel stressed?

I remember when we first got email installed in our office years ago. Whenever a message came in, the computer would make a soft ding and I would stop what I was doing to respond to it. This was not a problem when I was getting less than ten emails a day. At ten per hour it does not make sense to answer them when they come in, but I still feel a strong pull to deal with them all right away.

Today, people expect to receive a response from you within hours. The computer seems to cry out to us if there are any unopened email messages. But you don’t have to be a victim to email. You can take charge of your inbox.

Here are six practices you can apply immediately.

Determine when: Choose two or three times during the day when you will process your email and don’t allow it to distract you at other times. Turn off the notification of new email messages arriving. Take charge. Don’t let email push you around.

Unsubscribe ruthlessly: If I receive an email message I don’t want, I immediately find the unsubscribe button and get off of that list. If a newsletter used to be helpful but no longer helps you, ditch it.

Create folders: In Outlook, create new folders in the left-hand column of your email screen to store messages you may need to refer to again. You can create folders for projects you are working on, key clients, or people you need to meet with. Here is a 45-second video about how to create folders.

Use rules: Create a folder titled something like “@Reading” and create rules to automatically route newsletters, blog posts, and other reading materials directly to this folder. It can cut down the number of messages in your inbox by half automatically. Here is another video that can show you how to use the rules feature in the first 45 seconds of the video.

Create @Actions: Create another folder titled @Actions (as David Allen recommends) or any other meaningful title. When you open an email that will require some work to answer, close it and drag it over to the @Actions folder. Immediately create a new task describing the work and where the email is located. Don’t use your inbox as another to do list.

Inbox to zero: Make it a habit to get your inbox to zero by the end of every day. Your @Reading pile of emails do not have to be read every day, only when you have time. Answer easy emails when you read them. Drag the longer ones over to @Actions and create a task or calendar entry for each of them.

Inbox to zero is a great way to live. Who can you ask to help hold you accountable for the changes you want to make?

A few weeks ago I was on the road and having dinner at a restaurant. When I got up to leave, I thought I heard something hit the floor. I looked around, but it was dark. I assumed it was the pen I used to sign the bill. Twenty-four hours later, at the airport, I noticed a credit card was missing from my wallet. Putting two and two together, I realized I probably left the card on the restaurant floor.

Immediately, I called Kathe. She looked up the emergency number and cancelled the card. She logged in to our account and verified that nobody had used the card. Then she called the restaurant and they confirmed that they were holding the card. She told them I would not be back to the restaurant and they should destroy the card. Easy.

Instead of one card, what if I had misplaced my entire wallet? What if somebody stole it? How would I remember which cards I had in there? How would Kathe be able to find the numbers to call?

How long would it take you to recover from a setback like this?

Here is a simple life hack. Create an emergency file and write down the credit card name, number, and emergency phone number.

Kathe and I take a couple minutes around the New Year weekend to document the cards in her purse, my wallet, and the frequent flyer cards in my backpack. If anything happens to our credit cards, we can go the red emergency file and have all the information we need at our fingertips. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it takes a half hour. And yes, we hope we never have to use it.

Wouldn’t it bring peace of mind to know you had all of your information documented in an emergency file? Schedule a time to work on it. Decide whether you want to store this information on your computer or in a file. Refresh your list once a year. Then pray you won’t have to use it.

Networking is good, but it doesn’t go far enough. Friends are essential, but they are usually reluctant to ask the tough questions. You need more than this to grow.

I was talking with a young pastor last week who wanted to know what he should be doing for his ongoing professional development. I suggested that he could simply do what I do; get together with a friend for an annual retreat to help each other grow. He was intrigued by my description of how I benefit from those retreats. I tried to describe what we do and it made me wonder, “Exactly what do we do anyway?”

During the course of a 3-4 day retreat, the two of us cover a wide range of topics. We check in on how each of us is doing personally and spiritually. We talk about how we are each doing as husbands and fathers. We are helping each other solve business problems. We read a book beforehand and discuss it together. We each bring a new consulting tool or technique to teach each other. We think aloud about the future. We watch intriguing DVDs in the evenings. We talk about balance in life and what we each aspire to accomplish while we are still living and breathing.

During the rest of the year, we schedule one-hour phone calls every two or three months to catch up on what we are accomplishing. Intentionally, we have created a natural environment for powerful accountability to occur.

Most of us do not have the level of accountability that we inwardly hope for. We do not have friends who will ask the hard questions. We do not have a “repair shop” where we can open up our lives and someone else can have a look around and help us fix some things and set some new goals.

Wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of group where you could talk about life and work and get help solving real problems? These kinds of gatherings are called “peer accountability groups” or “peer advisory boards.” These groups can be any size, but 2-5 members is optimal. You can meet once a year, once a quarter, or once a month. You can gather at a retreat center, at a restaurant, or in a home.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a group of true peers who could provide the level of accountability that would effectively help you achieve balance in life and help you identify and achieve your goals? Here is how you can launch your own group.

1. Decide what aspects of life you want to focus on (spiritual, self-leadership, family, business, or all of the above).
2. Find one or more true peers who have an interest in the same goals and topics.
3. Agree on the ideal schedule and location for your meetings.
4. Launch and let the level of accountability deepen naturally.

Here is a link to a free article about five levels of accountability.

Wouldn’t it be great to meet regularly with one or more people committed to helping you grow personally and professionally?

You are probably familiar with the statistic that only 8% of people successfully attain the goals they set at the beginning of the year. That means that 92% of us get sidetracked, lose focus, give up, or otherwise fail.

Though I have been successful at meeting many of my goals, it would have been so much easier if I had learned about this secret weapon when I was younger: Involve other people.

We are all a part of a larger social system. This invisible system of roles and relationships impacts our ability to make significant changes in life and attain our goals. Here is how you can reshape the system you are living in by involving other people.

1. Announce your goal to others
When you share your goal privately with others or publicly announce it, your level of commitment is automatically increased. Some of us don’t do this because it feels much safer to keep your goal to yourself if only to avoid embarrassment later.

2. Ask for assistance
You can ask others to encourage you verbally and pray for you. You can ask them to give you feedback when your behavior does not match the goals you are trying to achieve. Surprisingly, when you ask friends and co-workers to assist you, they will most likely agree.

3. Find someone to teach you
Sometimes significant change requires that you learn a new skill. Who do you know who could teach you? Who is highly knowledgeable who could share useful information with you? Who can provide you with informal coaching or mentoring?

4. Redefine normal
Call out the bad behaviors that used to be normal for you and get clear in your own mind what your new normal is going to look like. Then respectfully inform those around you who will have to get used to your new patterns of behavior.

5. Identify enablers
Some people make it easy for you to give up on your goal, or even ridicule you for wanting to change. With these individuals, you have to have a conversation explaining your goal and why it is important to you, and asking them to avoid specific behaviors that hinder your progress.

6. Orchestrate positive peer pressure
Next, do the opposite of dealing with enablers. Put yourself in places and with people where you will have lots of positive peer pressure. Identify role models you can watch and be inspired by. Find new friends who can help you.

Here is a fun and informative video from the Change Anything Labs describing why it is difficult to attain our goals and what we can do to be more successful. This 7:00 minute video is titled “Blind and Outnumbered.” Pay particular attention to the social layer, numbered 3 and 4 in their model.

Who do you need to talk to next about a goal you have set?

It is hard to overemphasize the usefulness of having a list or all of your projects on one sheet of paper. Some people, like me, like having all of the projects in life I’m committed to completing on the same list. Others like to have one list for work and another one for personal and home life.

I recently did some training with the staff of a nonprofit organization on personal effectiveness and I was surprised at how many times during the day I held up a list of projects and urged them to do the same.

In the terminology of Getting Things Done, a project is anything that will require more than one step to complete. Because they are each bigger than a task, they do not work well on your to regular do list. You need a separate list to help you keep track of them all. You need more than a calendar entry because they take more than one day to complete.

Some people resist tracking their projects because it makes them feel overwhelmed. I just had that happen to me a few weeks ago. I had over 40 projects on my list and simply looking at it felt draining. I realized that about 10 of these projects needed to be done in December, so I clumped these together. Everything suddenly felt more doable.

My project list now has three categories: Active Projects, December Projects, and Inactive Projects. Active or Current projects are the ones already in motion. December projects are the ones intended to activate in a particular month or season. Inactive projects (some would prefer the GTD term someday/maybe projects) are the ones that you are committed to launch at some point, but not right now. You won’t forget these because they are on your projects list, but you also won’t feel guilty that you have not started them yet. These three categories can help you breathe easier when you look at your list.

Here is all you have to do:
1. Compile a list of all of your projects (if are not currently doing so).
2. Organize your project list by time (as shown above).
3. Review your list of projects weekly to see what you can do on each current or active project.

Do this and you will be more likely to keep up on everything you have to do, no matter how many plates you have spinning, and you can look at your project list without feeling overwhelmed.

The problem with written, action plans is that they are often unclear. Either they are a bunch of words in short paragraphs or a bulleted list of tasks. Because they are not visual, they do not communicate key information powerfully.

One of the most often-used tools in my toolkit is an action planning diagram that looks like stair steps. It is concise, fits on one page, and communicates the key information visually. You can draw it on a piece of paper or a flip chart when working with your team. Here is how you draw it.

1. Place yourself or your team at the bottom, left-hand side of the page. State your goal in results language and place it in a box on the top, right-hand side of the page.

2. Draw a set of stair steps (up one inch, the right one inch) from where you are to where you want to be. List all the key steps, or what has to happen, just to the right of each stair step on the diagram. Take the time to determine all the key steps and place them in sequence.

3. If a step is too complex or feels too difficult, break it down into sub-steps.

4. Add deadlines to certain steps as appropriate. I usually put the deadline in parentheses next to the step.

5. Add reinforcements or rewards to difficult steps as needed. Sometimes the goal itself is so rewarding that no other rewards are necessary. At other times, celebrating key milestones will keep the team motivated or prevent you from procrastinating.

6. Add key relationships you need for information, assistance, or emotional support. Sometimes a person with experience can help you with one of the steps.

7. Add a first step that is so simple that there is no way that you could fail at it. This helps you to overcome inertia and begin feeling a sense of progress immediately. For example, if your goal is to walk two miles a day, make your first step buying a new pair of shoes.

You can use this for personal planning or when working with your team. You can use it at work and at home. Feel free to email me for an example.

This planning tool just works. A long list of tasks can be demotivational, while a stair step diagram clearly shows how you are making progress toward your goal. It can help you get the whole team on the same page-literally. This can turbocharge your action planning. On which small goal or project could you try this right now?

If you read a book or take a course on project management, one of the things they neglect to teach you is how to manage multiple projects at the same time while responding to email, answer phone calls, and getting distracted by incoming text messages. My guess is that you are probably juggling multiple projects with various deadlines at work right now. You may be feeling slightly overwhelmed and overloaded.

More than two decades ago, I was working in the publishing industry and managing more than a dozen publishing projects all at the same time. I signed a contract to produce two books for a publisher on a Friday and went home for the weekend. Somehow, I failed to add these two books to my list of projects on Monday. A full month later I realized that I had completely forgotten about the two books! I had unintentionally put the reputation of the entire organization at risk.

My so-called system had failed—miserably. I realized that I had to get more organized and develop a stronger system. Perhaps you do too. Here are some steps to building a better system for managing multiple projects and preventing things from slipping through the cracks.

1. Make a master list of all of your projects. Having them listed on one side of one sheet of paper simply helps you see everything that you have on your plate at work. If you take on yet another commitment, write it down!

2. Create a file for each project. Keep all papers in a file folder. Create email folders to store important email messages on your computer. Don’t file papers horizontally. Keep your desktop clear.

3. Develop a one-page checklist for each project. This is the control page of all the steps you have to do to complete the project. Always keep it stored as page one in your file.

4. Create a chart to track progress. Use a spreadsheet or project management software to develop a chart with bars showing the start date and deadline for each project. At a glance you can see which projects need to be completed when.

5. Review all projects each week. Open each file, check off completed steps, add new steps, and put new items on your task list for the week.

With a new, stronger system in place, you will be able to handle more projects with less stress and also find it easier to say no to “rush” projects when your plate is full.

Sitting more than 9 hours a day is a lethal activity. Have you ever added up how many hours you sit each day at work, in front of the computer, commuting, and watching television? The average American sits 9.3 hours a day and sleeps 7.7 hours per day. Over half of the population leads a sedentary lifestyle.

The World Health Organization has identified physical inactivity as the fourth largest killer in the world, just ahead of obesity. Yes, you read that right. Inactivity is a behavioral risk factor linked to high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer. Here is an interesting infographic about the unhealthy effects of sitting.

The good news is that all we have to do to reverse the negative health impact is to move. Moderate exercise 15 minutes a day can lengthen your life by three years or more and reduce the risk of death by 14 percent or more. Simply avoid sitting for long periods of time. Here are a few ideas to help you kick-start some new habits.

1. Park your car farther away
Ever notice how some people park in remote spaces far from the store entrance? Usually they are avoiding parking lot scratches, but some of them are parking there for free exercise. You can easily pick a new normal parking space at work.

2. Walk during your lunch break
You don’t have to even go outside. Simply walk from one side of the office building to the other for a drink of water or to drop off a report. Walk with purpose and nobody will even ask what you are doing.

3. Hold stand-up and walking meetings
Stand-up meetings tend to finish more quickly. Plus, participants tend to have more difficulty texting each other undetected when standing in a small circle. If it is nice outside, you can invite another on a 30-minute walking meeting.

4. Use a wireless headset for phone calls
A wireless headset frees you from your desk allowing you to stand, pace nervously, or stretch during a call. This can be a lifesaver for conference calls and Skype meetings. Here is the headset I recommend.

5. Take a break every 90 minutes
Make it a habit to get up from your desk and walk out of your office. Get some coffee, go to the bathroom, or check email on your phone standing up. This alone is enough to lessen the bad health effects of prolonged sitting.

6. Walk together
Because these small actions are fighting against deeply ingrained habits, arrange for some positive peer pressure. Ask a friend to hold you accountable to move more. Find a friend who will walk with you. These are not easy changes to make. To quote Isaac Newton, “A body at rest tends to remain at rest.”

What simple, easy changes can you make to your work habits to help you to get off your butt?

I recently stumbled onto a great productivity tip. List your projects on 3×5 cards and tape them to a wall.

My wife and I were independently storing up projects that we wanted to tackle sometime over the summer. When we sat down to combine our lists, we were overwhelmed. We had over 75 projects we wanted to complete before September—and the summer was almost half gone already!

Out of desperation, I printed the list with generous spacing and cut the paper to approximately the size of 3×5 cards. Then I took some blue painters’ tape and taped them to a wall. This helped us to see the enormity of the challenge. I soon noticed that some of the projects I could not do on my own, but required Kathe and me to work together. We moved those projects to the wall by her desk. These became the priority projects if we were both home at the same time. Either of us could independently tackle projects on the main wall.

Now we had two walls covered with tape and paper. Some projects were large (paint the bedroom) and some were small (spray silicone on squeaky wheels on suitcase). We started tackling projects and celebrating when we could peel another one off the wall and fling it in the garbage. After a month we had it down to fewer than 20 projects left. I hope we can get it down to zero in the next few weeks.

Why did this work so well?
Taping the projects on the wall facilitated communication between us. We could see at a glance everything we had left to do. It was more flexible than scheduling specific projects on a calendar because we could easily adapt due to weather or amount of time available. Most importantly, it was motivational. Both of us wanted to see a bare wall by the end of summer.

Will this work for you?
You can use this technique at home for your seasonal projects, at work with a unit or team that needs to self-organize, or at church for a clean-up day. One caution: This works best for tackling a pile of small projects in a specific period of time. Having pieces of paper taped to a wall for more than a year would be unpleasant. Here are some tips based on my experience.
• Bump up the font size. 12 point type is too small to read on the wall.
• For projects you want to tackle sooner, move the cards up or to the right.
• Use painters’ tape so you don’t leave a mark on the wall, or use a window.
• Don’t remove the card until the project is completed and tools are put away.
• Celebrate when you can peel another one off the wall.
What projects have you been putting off? How could this technique be useful to you?

Whenever someone comes to me to ask for advice about starting a new business, I have a standard answer. Launching a new business is a team sport. Whether you are starting a simple sole proprietorship or a formal corporation, you will need the support of seven key people. These can be friends who offer their help for free or professionals you pay for these services.

Lawyer: Should you set up a DBA (doing business as), LLC (limited liability corporation), or file with the state as an S Corporation? Do you need to develop a standard contract or a formal letter of agreement?

Accountant: Can your new company reimburse you for health insurance? Will you need any help filing taxes? Do you need to charge state sales tax? Will you do your own bookkeeping?

Banker: Will you have a separate checking and savings account for your business? Will you need a business loan for cash flow? Will you need financing for equipment acquisition?

Insurance: Do you have adequate health, life, and disability insurance? Will you need additional liability insurance for your business?

Consultant: What will be your business model? What is your launch strategy? How will you find new customers or clients? How can you mitigate risk?

IT Provider: Who will advise you on hardware and software purchases? Do you need a network? How will protect your data? Who will you call for computer support?

Designer: Do you need a logo? Do you need any other assistance with graphics? Who will help you develop your website? (Notice I didn’t ask whether or not you needed a website.)

Even though we are currently in tough economic conditions, there has never been a better time for individuals to launch a new business. You can set up a website for under $100. You can build your tribe using email and other social media tools for almost nothing.

Besides that, it’s fun! I launched Tenth Power Publishing last year. We’ve got three titles out now and three more being released this month. If you are curious, you can take a look at I’m having a blast helping people get their book in print.

If you could launch a new venture this year or next, what business or ministry would you want to start? How many of these key people do you already have in place?

Some of us struggle with workaholic tendencies. Taking a real day off is a personal challenge. In the Ten Commandments, one of them instructs us to take a day off of work.
Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. (Exodus 20:8-10)
Simple, but we have ingenious ways of discounting this day of rest. For example:
1. Don’t go in to work. Work from home, catch up on paperwork, get inbox to zero.
2. Don’t go in to work. Stay home and fill the day with chores and menial tasks.
3. Don’t go in to work. Go to church.
4. Don’t go in to work. Recharge in order to work harder the next six days.
Instead, why don’t we try this?
5. Don’t go in to work. Structure a day to be fully human and pursue delight.
The Sabbath is a day for immersing yourself in God’s Word, for reflection about your life, for leaning in towards God, for spending time with your family and friends, and for pursuing delight. Read a book. Take a walk in nature. Take up a new hobby. Why not, for one day, simply enjoy the life that God has given you?

In order to do this, we have to stop working for a day. It is also helpful to unplug electronically as much as possible, including television, computer, laptop, and mobile phone. If this sounds like an impossibility for you, consider whether your barriers to a day off are more internal or external.

You can choose any day of the week to be your Sabbath day, your real day off. What day will work best for you?

I made a mistake a few weeks ago and went into a conference tired and rundown. I needed a strategy to survive. On the way there, I took a blank piece of paper and wrote down some practical steps for survival so that I would maximize the benefit of the conference without returning home completely exhausted. Here are some of the tactics that worked well for me. Perhaps they will also help you.

1. Walk slowly
There’s no reason to walk fast in a crowded hotel hallway. When you walk slower, you can become more aware of your surroundings and connect with more people.

2. Ask questions and listen carefully
You can get a lot more out of a conference by listening well. Instead of telling people what you do, listen for what they need.

3. Connect with strangers
Instead of looking for all the people you already know, reach out and connect with someone new. You’re bound to have something in common with others there because you both signed up for the same conference.

4. Don’t schedule phone calls
Have you seen people leaving a session or going up to their room because they have a conference call? It’s impossible to be fully engaged at a conference if you’re on the phone.

5. Don’t attend every session
Conferences are over-programmed on purpose. Sessions are scheduled early in the morning and late at night to meet as many needs as possible. You shouldn’t feel guilty about tailoring your schedule to get the most out of the experience.

6. Go with the flow
As you take in your conference experience, live in the moment and appreciate all that is around you. Yes, you can change your mind at the last minute and attend a workshop different from the one you circled on your schedule.

7. Don’t eat bad food
Many conferences provide food during break times but the spread they layout can hardly be classified as clean-burning fuel. If you don’t eat it at home, don’t eat it at the conference.

8. Find short bursts of solitude
Being with people 16 hours a day or in sessions with loud music can be draining. Punctuate your day with 10 or 15-minute mini-retreats were you can step outside and be refreshed.

9. Get enough sleep
Try to keep your sleep pattern the same as you have at home. Usually this is not possible at conference. For you, this may mean leaving the evening meeting a bit early.

10. Schedule a recovery day
Before you leave for the conference, block out a day to catch up with e-mail, take care of other non-work tasks, and relax!

I survived the conference. You can survive your next one too and have a richer experience when you’re there. Use this list to customize your own conference survival strategy.

I carry a list of 10K Active Projects with me. (This is the 10,000 foot level in Getting Things Done terminology.) I usually print out a new list when I do my weekly review. Currently, I have 36 projects on my list. When I have some time waiting for an appointment, I list next actions for as many of the projects as possible.

Lately, I’ve been noticing that some of the projects aren’t moving forward. They’re stuck. A friend of mine and I brainstormed categories of stuckness.
1. Lack of knowledge or skill: “I don’t know how to do the next step.”
2. Unclear purpose/goal/benefit/outcome: “How valuable is this anyway?”
3. Defective strategy/approach/plan: “I’m afraid I’ve been going about this the wrong way.”
4. High cost in time/money: “I can’t afford to do this now.”
5. Dependency on others: “I can’t get the permission/help that I need to do this.”
6. Situational barriers: “I’m just going to have to wait for better conditions/weather/resources.”

Think of your 10K Projects list as a refrigerator, keeping your projects in one place ready to work on. But every once in a while, you need to clean out the fridge. Projects are perishable.

Don’t let yourself get discouraged when projects get stuck and your list gets too long. Give yourself a fresh start. Reassess your priorities, current conditions, and resources, and then clean out the fridge.

  • Dump projects that no longer make sense or have gone stale.
  • Postpone those that must wait and put them in the freezer (your 20K categories).
  • Add fresh projects that have recently emerged.
  • Reprint your list of 10K Projects.
  • List next actions for all of them and keep moving forward. Life is too short to work on stale projects.

    Do you ever feel overwhelmed by everything you have to get done? A number of years ago, I signed a contract with a publisher to develop two books. The deadline was months away and I knew I didn’t have to start immediately. I was so busy with other projects that I forgot about the signed contract with the publisher. When I came across a piece of paper a few weeks later and realized what had happened, I was mortified. My system for controlling multiple projects was breaking down and I felt overwhelmed.

    Do you feel stressed out? Do you have a lot to do? Do you feel like you’re falling behind? A simple solution is to create a list of all of your projects.

    A projects list is a page containing everything you’ve agreed to do, everything you have to do, and everything you want to do. I like to put all the projects in my life on the same page. Some people prefer keeping work projects separate from personal and home projects in order to maintain a clear boundary between work and personal life. Most people don’t bother to make a list of their projects, they just try to keep it all in their head. This is a big mistake.

    It doesn’t matter whether your projects list is electronic or paper. You can use Outlook and create a special category and color code tasks to represent your projects. You can use MS Word and make a simple list that you update weekly. You can make an Excel spreadsheet and add more details. You can rewrite it by hand every week. This list is not a To Do list. It also is not just a list of big projects. It should be a list of all the projects in your life listed on one side of one sheet of paper. I like to print mine out and carry it with me so that I can review it whenever I’m sitting and waiting with nothing to do.

    A friend of mine who is a pastor decided to try this to see if it would help him get more organized. He carefully compiled all the projects at church, at home, and his personal life. When he finished, the list was so long and he was felt so completely overwhelmed that he had to close his computer and walk away. He told me, “I had no idea I had made so many commitments. This is the reason why I’ve been feeling the way I have lately. It will be easier for me to say no to other people now.”

    Begin by sitting down and making a list of everything you have to do and want to do. Don’t be afraid to include smaller projects. For example, my list currently includes 33 projects. Here are a couple of examples of small projects on my list.

  • Purge filing cabinets in the office
  • Put air in spare tire
  • Buy two new towel racks and install
  • Build a checklist for book proposals
  • Once you’ve compiled your projects list you can review it once a week to generate next actions to get each project activated. If you have a project on your list and you take no action on it for several months you’ll have to assess your level of commitment and determine whether to take it off your list because conditions have changed, or knuckle down and break through the inertia.

    Find a good time in a quiet place to develop your initial projects list. For each project asked the question, “What is my next action?” Then pick a time in your schedule to review your projects list at least once a week. Then, send me a quick e-mail and let me know how your control page is immediately benefiting you.

    Do you sometimes feel you are not making progress on things that are important to you?

    As a part of my regular weekly review, I update my list of Current Projects. This list has everything I want to get done, including work, home, family, and personal projects. These projects represent commitments I’ve made to me and others. (David Allen calls this the 10,000 foot perspective.)

    A couple weeks ago I noticed I had several projects that were not moving forward. I was making no progress whatsoever for months. I took some time to look closely at each of these and what was holding me back. I discovered several different kinds of “stuckness.”

    Don’t have the money
    I was taking no action on several projects because I do not currently have the financial resources for them and I don’t want to borrow money for them. If you don’t either, then you have three alternatives. One is to search for other ways to find cash. Another is to look for cheaper alternatives or substitutes. If you have to wait in order to save money for the project, then postpone it by taking it off your current projects lists and putting onto a future projects list (the 20,000 foot perspective).

    Waiting on others
    Perhaps you can’t start a project because you’re waiting on other people for permission, to make a decision together, or for their assistance. Perhaps you haven’t connected because you’re busy and they’re busy. Your next step is to schedule a meeting or phone call so that you can get what you need in order to start the project.

    Timing is not right
    I have a couple bushes and need to be trimmed. I wanted to make sure I did it right, so I did some research online before proceeding. I found out that these particular bushes were best trimmed after they flower in the spring. That meant I could do nothing on this project for the next six months. I postponed it by moving it to my future projects list.

    Self-punishing task
    Perhaps one of your projects involves distasteful tasks for you. You know you need to do it but you still don’t do it, like getting a flu shot or bringing your car in for scheduled maintenance. If you’re having difficulty with motivation, your next step is to arrange for some positive reinforcements. This can be as simple as selecting a reward for completing the project or asking a friend to apply some positive peer pressure.

    No longer a priority
    Sometimes a project used to be a good idea but now more important projects have come on your list, or conditions have changed to a point where this project is a “nice to do” instead of a “need to do.” Either delete it or postpone it by moving it to your future projects list.

    Unsure what to do
    Sometimes a project stalls because you don’t know what to do. You may not even know how to get started. In this case your next step is to gather more information. You can do some research online, buy a book, or ask a knowledgeable friend for advice.

    If you don’t have one already, take an hour to make a list of all your current projects. Then for each project ask yourself, “What is my next step?” This is what helped me get unstuck recently. It might help you get moving on the things most important to you.

    I wanted to schedule a day for a personal and business planning retreat this summer and I never got around to it. Things got busy and I failed to make it happen. It’s not like I lacked motivation. I was craving some solitude to plan.

    Perhaps you also have good intentions about scheduling a personal retreat but you are finding it difficult to make it happen. Or maybe tend to feel a bit guilty about taking time away to plan. Here are some points that might help.

    Sharpen your focus
    Clarify what kind of planning you want to do. Is it work/life planning? Coordinating calendars with your spouse? A time for spiritual renewal? Generative thinking about an issue? Or, setting annual goals? Don’t settle for having a vague hope of doing some long-range planning.

    Determine your time frame
    Determine how far into the future you are looking. Is this seasonal planning (3 to 5 months ahead), annual planning (12-15 months ahead), or thinking about your next chapter in life? What kind of preparation do you need? Read a challenging book? Secure the soccer schedule for your kids? Look up future conference dates? What tools will you want to bring along? Don’t arrive underprepared.

    Get others involved
    Though your goal may be solitude with large chunks of time to think and plan, you can get others involved. You can bring along your spouse with the understanding that you will be alone during the day and together for dinner and evenings. You can invite one or two peers to the personal retreat. Each can read a book ahead of time to stimulate discussion and report on insights over meals as you plan individually. If you want to be truly alone, schedule a call with a friend so you can report on your personal retreat to build in some accountability. Use the positive peer pressure at your disposal.

    Take yourself off site
    You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a personal retreat day. You can find a quiet place in your local library or borrow a space at a different office or a different church. You can also stay at a moderately priced hotel or visit a camp with off-season rates. Your personal retreat can be a half day in length and still be productive. It can be a full day, overnight, or a long weekend. Don’t attempt a retreat at home or at your office unless you can secure a secret location there secure from interruptions.

    Make it fun
    Why not add some recreational opportunities to your retreat? Fresh ideas often hit while you exercise. You can take a long walk in the morning and another long walk in the afternoon. You can buy groceries and make all your meals where you are staying or eat out at fun restaurants. Build in positive reinforcements and meaningful rewards.

    If you could design the ideal personal retreat for you for in the next few months, what would it look like?

    Wouldn’t it feel great to be able to get your email inbox completely emptied every day? It would reduce your stress considerably and help you to think more clearly. So why do some of us have hundreds of email messages clogging our inbox?

    It is easy to get in the habit of working out of our inbox. It is the electronic equivalent of leaving piles of paper on your desktop so that you can see all the work you have to do. When you get a message and you don’t have time to answer it today, it is easy to leave it in the inbox. When you get a message asking you to call tomorrow, it is easy to leave the message there as a reminder. If you have meeting next week, you leave the message in the inbox in case you need to refer to it.

    After a few months, you can easily accumulate hundreds of opened and unopened email messages in your inbox. An easy solution that is built right into email software is to create folders. In Outlook, you simply right-click on any folder (in the Navigation bar on the left) and then click on “New Folder.” Here are some that I find useful.

    Projects: Create a folder called “Projects,” then create subfolders underneath for any project you are working on where you need quick access to past emails. I currently have 30 projects listed.

    Agenda: Create a folder called “Agenda,” then create subfolders for your boss, direct reports, or regular weekly meetings. If your boss steps into your office, you can quickly pull up the email messages you need to go over with him or her.
    Actions: Sometimes you receive an email and cannot answer it right away. Create a folder called “Actions” or “To Do” or any other title you like, and then click and drag the email message to that folder. Then create a task or write a note on your next action list as a reminder that you need to do the work specified by that email.

    Reading: Create a folder called “Reading” and then whenever you get a newsletter or blog post, you can create a rule so that new email messages are automatically routed to that folder. To create a rule in Outlook, simply right-click on an email message and select “Rules.” This alone could cut down traffic into your inbox by half.
    2013: Some of us have so many unopened email messages that we are afraid to delete the old ones. Be brave and hit delete. If you just can’t bring yourself to do that, create a folder called “Old” or “2013” and move all the old messages to that folder. Just drag them over.

    Unsubscribe: All of us receive ads or newsletters we no longer want. Get into the habit of unsubscribing immediately when those emails come to you and after a few weeks the flow of unwanted messages will subside.

    You can read more about this in the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

    With a customized set of folders and the discipline of creating rules and unsubscribing, you will be able to get your inbox to zero every day. Wouldn’t that feel great?

    About a decade ago I had lunch with two Christian leaders who were a study in contrasts. The first was a pastor who became ill and was forced to go on disability leave. His illness was the result of years of poor diet and neglect of his physical needs. While on disability, he was not allowed to do any ministry-related work. As we looked at our menus, he told me choosing what to eat was a challenge because he was still new at trying to eat healthier. This pastor was sidelined by self-neglect. The second was the leader of a local Christian ministry. He liked travel and spared no expense when a meal would be reimbursed by his organization. He was good at finding ways to make things benefit him personally. When we had lunch, I ordered a side salad. He then picked up the menu again to order something smaller and avoid embarrassing himself. This leader was a prisoner of self-absorption.

    Most of us struggle with one of these two patterns. Either we put others before ourselves and neglect our own needs, or we are heavily turned inward on ourselves and fail to even notice the needs of others. To make it worse, we are caught in a web of expectations, habits, and relationships that make behavior change difficult.

    The core issue is how we go about meeting our own needs. Aren’t we supposed to put others above ourselves? Aren’t we supposed to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice?

    The airlines give us a helpful analogy for thinking about this dilemma. “Please make sure your oxygen mask is correctly fitted before assisting others.” This only makes sense. You can’t help many people after you pass out from low oxygen. All you do is cause a burden by requiring other people to assist you. Worse, if you fall into the aisle, you actually get in the way of people trying to make a positive difference. Here are a couple Bible verses that speak to this issue.

    “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). This verse does not teach us to neglect our own needs. If we love ourselves in a very low level, does this mean we can get away with loving our neighbor at an equally low level?

    “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4). Again, this verse does not teach us to neglect our own needs. It does warn us to avoid being terminally selfish.

    “No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church” (Ephesians 5:29). Think about how much Jesus loves and cares for the Body of Christ, and how much he loves and cares about you and your needs.

    Self-neglect is just plain stupid. Why reduce your own ministry effectiveness? Why make yourself a ministry casualty? Why burden others when you eventually burn out?

    Striving for balance in life is problematic. We all have busy seasons, emergencies, holidays, and situations where we are called on to work overtime. A better solution is to pay attention to the ebb and flow of our lives. There is a time for putting out and a time for taking in. There is a time for serving others and a time for self-care. Paying attention to the ebb and flow means avoiding the tendency of self-neglect and also avoiding the trap of self-absorption. The life of Jesus gives us a good example.

    “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” Luke 5:15-16.

    So what do you need now? What would be a good way to address this need? What positive action could you take today as the first step?

    I’m at the end of a 10-week marathon of traveling and training. I’ve only had a couple days off during these 10 weeks and I’m feeling a deep, inner tiredness. I’ve been running on empty. (I know…this is not a good thing.)

    Perhaps you feel tired too. This depletion or inner exhaustion can sneak up on you. It’s like when the battery on your cell phone doesn’t have much juice left. The phone still works fine, but the green battery icon has turned to amber. The phone keeps working fine until it suddenly shuts down. When we’re feeling depleted, we need to find a way to get recharged to reduce the risk of burnout. If you sense that you are running on empty, here are four ways to recharge.

    Daily breaks
    Research on personal productivity is pretty clear that we work better in spurts than we do over long periods of time. We’re better off if our workday is a series of sprints rather than one long jog. Set up your day with 90-120 work segments punctuated with clean breaks. Step away from your desk, go outside, or find some refreshments. Use your breaks to recharge.

    Nightly sleep
    Some people can get by with very little sleep, but not me. I need a full eight hours of sleep each night or I start accumulating a sleep debt. How much sleep does your body need and what adjustments can you make to your schedule to make sure you get that rest each night?

    Weekly Sabbath
    A Sabbath rest is a time to completely detach from work and focus more on family, friends, and rest. You are free to take any day of the week and make it your Sabbath day. A few days ago I was able to take a Sabbath day for the first time in 10 weeks. I prefer to follow the traditional Sabbath time of sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. In the Chicago area on this weekend, it means beginning at 8:03 on Friday night until 9:15 on Saturday night. I completely unplug electronically and try to leave the day unscheduled. Which day of the week works best for your Sabbath rest?

    Annual vacation
    Short or long vacations give us time to unwind, regroup, and gain perspective on how we are living our life. Ironically, the first few days of vacation can feel excruciating. This happens when we become addicted to high-stress routines and electronic connections. Vacations are supposed to reduce stress, but sometimes we plan trips or activities that do not replenish us. What would a truly restful vacation look like for you?

    So I’m feeling depleted from this 10-week busy season. I’ve been getting enough sleep but I am a Sabbath breaker and need to repent of that. I’m really feeling the need for personal strategic review to map out the summer. If you are beginning to feel depleted, what one, simple change would help you recharge?

    So this all got started last year when my manuscript on leadership and followership was rejected by my top choice of publisher. I thought for sure they would take it. I was wide-eyed when I read the email rejection note. Instead of shopping it around to smaller publishers, I decided to self-publish.

    Instead of setting up a system only for my books, I saw an opportunity to build a lightweight company that could help other aspiring authors get their work available in print and online with trade-quality standards. We named the company Tenth Power Publishing. You can check it out here.

    Publishing is changing in chaotic ways right now. It’s a lot like the music industry during the days of Napster. Anybody can save a file in pdf format and upload it to several ebook distributors. The total financial cost to do so is zero.

    Have you ever considered writing a book?

    There are many good business reasons for having a book (think book as business card). It always leads to more speaking invitations and teaching opportunities if that is something you do. A book can also be useful for extending the ministry of a nonprofit or church.

    Figuring out how all of this works can be confusing and discouraging. That’s why many turn to companies called assisted self-publishers. Some of the leading Christian assisted self-publishers include:
    Believers Press (a division of Bethany)
    Westbow (a division of Thomas Nelson)

    Assisted self-publishers have a system and you have to fit into that system. They sell packages at various price points. But another kind of assisted self-publisher is emerging now. They provide coaching through the entire writing, publishing, marketing process and offer fully customizable services. I am aware of two or three other organizations starting up this kind of business. I expect to see more new startups soon.

    Tenth Power offers a total solution for a successful self-publishing experience. We design a customized publishing solution that is best for you or your ministry and help you avoid unnecessary expenses.

    Have you ever considered writing a book? What is holding you back?

    Most outstanding ministries have an intentional and written commitment to excellence. Excellent ministries tend to attract more loyal donors, retain quality staff, and see more ministry results.

    A commitment to ministry excellence, however, carries the seeds for its own demise. It can blind you to new trends in your relevant environment. It can make your team internally-focused instead of externally-focused. It can convince you that if you just pedal faster the organization can succeed.

    This is counter-intuitive. Most of us would want to be a part of an excellent congregation over a sub-par one. Most of us would want to volunteer in a service opportunity that was run with excellence rather than one that was in perpetual disarray. But without keeping an eye toward effectiveness, a commitment to excellence can lead us astray.

    Consider the award-winning preschool in a small city with a weak economy. Their enrollment is down 80%, yet they keep offering the same half-day classes and three-day-a-week schedule as when they opened 40 years ago. A telephone survey showed that what the community needed was daycare 5 days a week. The director simply said, “Daycare is not good for children developmentally. We focus on providing an educational environment of the highest quality. Mothers should stay at home with their young children.”

    Consider the denominational camp struggling to get members to sign up for a family camp that used to be a highlight of the summer and sold out months in advance. The director said, “We use to fill this place with families, high school youth, and young adults from all over the Midwest and West. In fact, it was one of the best places to meet your future spouse. The harder we focus on better social activities the less people come.”

    Consider the Bible quizzing ministry that, while hugely successful in the 1960’s, responded to dwindling interest by investing in a large scoreboard, lights, sound, and t-shirts for each team. The leaders were working hard at improving quality. “We just want to preserve this ministry that was so helpful to us growing up and to pass it on to the next generation.”

    Sometimes you have to stop doing the thing you do really well and start doing something that you do not as well but might be more effective.

    If you want to explore this further, I wrote an article recently for Excelerate magazine titled Avoiding the Downside of Excellence. You can download a free copy here.

    In your organization, where might your commitment to excellence be blinding everyone to the need to adjust course due to changing conditions in your ministry context?

    I’ve been busy developing a new workshop titled “Sharpening Organizational Strategy” that I’ll be presenting for the CLA conference May 1-3 in Anaheim, California. I’ve been pondering why organizational strategy is so challenging to certain nonprofits and often brings board members to exasperation.

    As I was working on the PowerPoint deck last week, I came to a sudden realization: nonprofit organizations need a different kind of strategy depending where they are on the nonprofit lifecycle.

    The nonprofit lifecycle is a normal curve that begins with birth, then growth, maturity, decline, and then finally closure. When you’re climbing the uphill side of the lifecycle you need a completely different strategy than when you’re riding the downhill side. Here the five types of strategies that I spotted.

    Launch strategies. When you’re in the birth or startup phase of an organization, you need a strategy that deals with identifying potential funding sources, prototyping new ministry models, and learning from quick failures.

    Growth strategies. When your ministry is experiencing a virtuous cycle of more donors bringing more ministry bringing more excitement bringing more donors, you need a growth strategy. Perhaps you are seeing a movement emerge. Growth strategies deal with capacity-building, increasing funding sources, increasing ministry sites, and developing new and better ways to minister to those you serve.

    Next-level strategies. Growth tends to happen in spurts. When your organization has plateaued or is in a phase of maturity, growth tactics tend not to work as well. Organizations in this part of the lifecycle often want to know where the next level is and how to get there. These strategies deal with continuous improvement and refining operations combined with looking for new breakthroughs.

    Turnaround strategies. When you’re riding the downhill side of the nonprofit lifecycle, trying harder tends not to work. You need a turnaround strategy when your donor base that is aging out, the ministry need has changed significantly, and your ministry model doesn’t work as well as it used to. These organizations need to accept that they are in decline and call for radical change. These strategies deal with cutting costs, looking for new opportunity, and going back to the foundations of why the ministry was started in the first place.

    Merger and acquisition strategies. These strategies deal with shutdown of the organization. Sometimes a weaker ministry can merge with a larger one productively. Sometimes building land or other assets can be donated to a stronger ministry with a similar mission or serving the same target audience.

    Consider an organization that is clearly in decline and they bring on some new hard-charging board members. The new board members want the organization to prospect for new donors, push to get more ministry happening, and set ambitious targets for growth. The board members become frustrated by the nonprofit leaders who don’t seem motivated to hit these targets. The nonprofit leaders become frustrated with board members who just don’t get it. Trying harder doesn’t overcome the problem of a ministry model that just doesn’t work anymore.

    So before you embark on your next round of strategic planning, figure out where you are on the nonprofit lifecycle, then select the appropriate type of strategy to help you move forward.

    The Apple iPad is often criticized for lacking multitasking capability, meaning, you can only run one app at a time. But this lack of computing power also brings certain advantages:
    • More stable platform
    • More consistent performance
    • Better user experience
    • Less battery drain
    Wouldn’t you like some of these same benefits for your life? Will your brain work better running only one app at a time?

    Multitasking is a technical term first used in 1965 by IBM to describe the capabilities of the IBM/360. The concept of multitasking has been applied to our work habits and viewed as a positive thing. Many even talk about multitasking like it were a virtue. But in reality, it’s impossible for your brain to think about two things at once. What we call multitasking is actually our brain rapidly switching back and forth paying attention to different goals, actions, or events.

    Now we can walk on the sidewalk and talk on a cell phone the same time, but our walking is automatic. We are not thinking about how to walk. We can fold laundry and hold an intelligent conversation at the same time because were not thinking about how to fold our underwear. When we multitask, we are using several areas of our brain at the same time and the executive function of our brain is shifting attention very rapidly between those areas. It’s physiologically impossible to pay attention to two different things at the same time.

    Multitasking makes us feel good because it seems like we are getting so much done. In reality, it impairs cognitive tasks. It reduces our output, increases errors, drains us physically, and negatively affects human happiness. But for many of us, multitasking is still addictive. It is mentally stimulating and makes us feel like we are being so productive.

    The antidote to multitasking is focus. You can improve your ability to focus by making some simple changes in your work environment. Here are five things you can do.

    Close multiple windows. Most of us use many different software programs during the day. We tend to have them all visible on our computer screen. Minimize any windows or programs you don’t need to avoid being distracted.

    De-clutter your desk. Your desk is meant to be a work surface. Some of us use our desk as a storage space for file folders, journals to read, staplers, scissors, highlighters, and so on. The ideal desk has nothing on it but the work you’re currently doing.

    Go to another room. When you really need to write that report or support letter and you’re having difficulty concentrating, go to another room. Unused meeting rooms can provide a great environment to focus. You can brainstorm the outline on a whiteboard and then sit across the table with your laptop and write without distractions.

    Block half days. If you’re working on a project and have to squeeze in an hour here and in an hour there, you’re probably not getting the sustained focus that you need. For important projects, block a full morning or a full afternoon with no other appointments, phone calls, or other tasks to interfere.

    Enlist social support. Explain to your coworkers how you’re trying to multitask less and focus more. Ask for their help and support. Get positive peer pressure working in your favor.

    Focus is the opposite of multitasking. Let your brain run just one app at a time. What will help you kick the multitasking habit?

    As you know my most recent book titled I’ve Got Your Back has been released and is available through Amazon and all major ebook distributors. I just saw the first blog post reviewing the book. I was blown away by the exceedingly positive review. Here is what John Pearson wrote:

    Leadership Is Still Messed Up
    When is the last time you’ve read a book on “follower abuse?” I’ll bet never.

    In this hot-off-the-press “leadership parable,” Jim Galvin, an organizational consultant specializing in strategy, effectiveness, and change, explores this elephant-in-the-room leadership sin with thoughtfulness, insight and creativity.

    Leadership—the God-honoring flavor—cannot be learned or practiced on a diet of tweets, blogs and business books. Jim reminds us that leadership began in the mind of God, but leaders are sinners too.

    So I have eight reasons why you must read his book, I’ve Got Your Back: A Leadership Parable — Biblical Principles for Leading and Following Well.
    Click on this link to see John Pearson’s eight reasons to read it!

    John Pearson’s Blog

    A lot of people use the New Year’s holiday to make a list of personal projects they would like to accomplish. For example, I have a house project that needs to happen in the first half of this year. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have been putting it off for four years now. I’ve wanted to work on it, but couldn’t quite find the time, didn’t have the help I needed at key points, and hadn’t talked in detail with Kathe about what she thought the final product should look like. I have really, really wanted to work on this but it hasn’t happened yet.

    We don’t procrastinate on personal projects because we don’t want to do them, we simply don’t have enough time. Other people in our life need us and rely on us. We have other pre-existing commitments in life that we must fulfill. We have too many demands, needs, and habits that grab for any free time we might have. Our weekly routine leaves us stuck in a rut.

    It takes more than good intentions to break through this inertia and get a personal project launched and completed. It also takes a pen and calendar. Research shows that those who write out their plans are 30% more likely to accomplish them then those who plan it in their head. Perhaps you also have a project that you’ve been putting off and this is the year you want to make it happen. If so, here are five steps to help you tackle your project.

    Visualize it
    Think about what your room or yard is going to look like when you’re all done. Envision it in detail and draw pictures of what it could look like. Use paint chips to explore color. Imagine how you want to feel when you see the finished product.

    Break it down
    Write out a detailed action plan with all the key steps and sub-steps listed. In general, the more steps you write down for your project the more likely you are to spot potential problems and experience success.

    Enroll others
    Talk to other people who will be impacted by your project. This may involve members of your family or even a group of friends who won’t be able to see you for a few Saturdays. Explain your plan to others and ask for their assistance on key steps. Those who get positive peer pressure working for them are more likely to accomplish their project.

    Calendarize it
    This is the hard part for me. Just making a firm commitment to work on the project over the winter is doomed to failure. I need to estimate the number of days this project will take, sit down with Kathe to talk it through, and block out specific afternoons months in advance. If your schedule is difficult to control because of your current conditions, block the time and feel free to move the blocks around as other things come up. Just don’t erase them.

    Expect problems
    As you work on your project you will experience setbacks. Because we live in a fallen world, almost no project goes perfectly smooth. A certain tool breaks when you need it or it rains on the day you are going to be outside. Simply make adjustments and keep working on other steps in the plan.

    As we begin this New Year, what key project do you really, really want to tackle?

    Last month I traveled to Jerusalem for a board meeting at the Caspari Center. My wife was free to join me on this trip and it was her first time in Israel. When we were packing she asked if she should bring her umbrella. I told her, “No, you won’t be needing that in Israel.” But November is the beginning of the rainy season in the Middle East. It rained several times each day for the first five days of our trip. So much for looking like a husband who knows what he’s doing.

    Then, Israel attacked Gaza and called up 75,000 reserves in preparation for a ground war. We were sitting in our hotel lobby the evening that Hamas shot a rocket over Jerusalem, a city previously thought to be out of range of rocket fire from Gaza. Nobody knew what to do when we heard the warning siren. We found out the next day the rocket overshot the city and narrowly missed an Arab village.

    We were scheduled to have some friends drive us to the Dead Sea the next day, which involves driving through the West Bank. That morning, we received a text message from them suggesting it would be wiser to cancel the trip given everything that was going on. Kathe and I had to figure out what to do with our suddenly free day. We were sitting in our hotel room watching CNN for a while. Because it was still the Sabbath, most of the shops were closed, the train was not running, and many residents of the city were at home.

    I had to figure out something else that we could do. We were within walking distance of the Old City. While most of the shops and tours would be closed, I knew the Muslim quarter would be open for business and bubbling with activity. So we dressed for a long walk.

    When we passed through the Damascus gate, I noticed a man with a videocam taking B-roll footage of a shopkeeper unlocking his shop. As we turned a corner and started walking down the street, Kathe tugged on my arm and said, “Look, isn’t that Christiane Amanpour next to you?” I turned to my right and recognized her immediately. She was walking slowly and talking to the open space in front of her. I look further ahead and saw the small film crew recording her news story. Kathe and I discreetly moved to the left to get out of the shot.

    Here is a photo that Kathe took a few minutes later.

    Christiane Amanpour

    I decided that there had to be some kind of life lesson in this experience. We had a choice that morning of sitting in our hotel room and watching the news or moving out into life and seeing the news being made. We all have the same fundamental choice as we go about living our life. Here are a couple of provocative thoughts that might be useful to you.

    Lean into the uncertainty
    Kathe and I could have stayed in our hotel room, watched CNN all day, and waited until nightfall when the city’s restaurants would reopen. I felt uncertain about what we should do. Staying at the hotel was certainly less risky, but we decided to venture into the Old City anyway.

    If you play it too safe in life you will miss many adventures. Is there any area of your life where you are currently playing it too safe?

    Move to where the action is
    Kathe and I had to leave our room and walk more than a mile to get to the part of the city that was open and alive. We moved toward the action. Sometimes I call this “playing in traffic.” It’s moving from where you are to a place with more opportunities and potential.

    What would it mean for you to “play in traffic” in your current context? Are you allowing yourself to remain stuck in a rut?

    Intently observe what is happening
    If Kathe hadn’t pointed it out, I would’ve cluelessly walked right past the CNN news reporter. As we stopped to watch the film crew do retakes of the news segment, we noticed that very few other people walking by noticed Christiane Amanpour or the film crew. It’s almost impossible to spot new opportunity if we are not paying attention to what is happening around us.

    What new things are happening around you? What is preventing you from paying closer attention to your environment?

    Have you ever been in a strategic planning meeting that got stuck on terminology or steps in the planning process? I hear way too many stories like these:
    * A governing board has a long discussion struggling to define the difference between mission and vision.
    * An ad hoc planning team spends their entire first meeting arguing whether goals are higher than objectives or objectives higher than goals.
    * An executive team endlessly refines their strategic planning documents but the organization continues to slide downhill
    Here is how to avoid getting bogged down when planning together with your leadership team or board.

    1. Keep it simple
    Don’t get tied up in knots when you meet together. Don’t agonize over definitions. Your brand is who you are. Your mission is what you do. Your vision is where you are going. Your strategy is how you will get there.

    2. Execute on your plan
    Ultimately, your plan has to degenerate into work for somebody. What has to change? What initiatives will you launch to effect that change? Who is in charge of each initiative? What has to happen in the next 90 days?

    3. Review progress regularly
    You need a regular, offsite strategic meeting with your team. Timing will vary depending on your context. For many ministry leaders, a quarterly meeting works well. If your schedule is tied to an academic calendar, a fall, spring, and summer meeting works better. Some ministries and churches get by with an annual strategic meeting. What is ideal for you?

    How is your organization doing these days?
    • Are you finding it harder and harder to raise the funding your organization needs?
    • Do you struggle to maintain the attention and loyalty of those you serve?
    • Are you keenly aware that your ministry model is not working as a well as it used to in the “good old days”?
    To respond effectively, you need to think like a strategist. Here are five key steps:
    1. Start seeing the bigger picture
    For the majority of us, our attention is drawn to what is happening inside of our organization. But all the threats and opportunities are outside of the organization. It’s not just that we should pay attention to the economy; we have to look outside of the organization to see how our relevant environment for ministry is shifting.
    2. Tune-up your position and direction
    In the field of branding, positioning is about how people view your organization. What mental category do people put your organization in, for example? Strategic direction is about where you’re heading. When you notice that your organization is beginning to ride the downhill side of the growth curve, then you need an intentional change in your strategic direction.
    3. Differentiate your organization from others like you
    If you look at websites for Christian colleges and universities, you will notice two basic approaches to how they describe who they are. Many websites seem to say, “Hey we are just as good or better than our competitors. We offer everything that they do.” Others highlight their distinctiveness and uniqueness. Their websites seem to scream, “We are way different than other places you are looking at.” Differentiate or continue to decline.
    4. Make key decisions and execute
    Sometimes leaders need to make hard choices. Often they need to launch new initiatives without the in-house talent to make it happen. It’s easy for leaders to put off these kinds of difficult changes. But effective leaders find a way to execute on their strategy.
    5. Adapt to your changing environment
    I don’t think any nonprofit church or ministry can say that their current environment is not much different than it was in 2007. In US, we have just experienced the Great Recession. For current leaders, this is probably the worst financial crisis they have experienced in their lifetime. So how has your organization adapted? Or is your organization simply hunkered down and waiting for the economy to improve?
    I recently read a helpful book that explains these five steps. It’s called The Strategy Book by Max McKeown, a British business writer, and just released in the US this year. One of the most valuable parts is “The Strategy Book tool kit” in the back which is a helpful summary of 28 of the most important theories and models for business strategy. You can find it on
    My next book will be released by Tenth Power Publishing in a few weeks. It is titled I’ve Got Your Back and offers a fictional story of four twenty-somethings struggling with bad bosses. The back section sums up the teaching points in the story by offering a concise theology of leadership and followership. Yup, you read that correctly. More information coming soon.

    There are four kinds of board policies and one of those is called Executive Limitations. These policies essentially proscribe what the board will not put up with. These describe the infractions of any staff member for which the Senior Executive will be held personally responsible.

    Executive Limitations policies define the out of bounds line for the CEO or Senior Pastor and staff. While the Ends Policies describe why the organization exists and what staff are supposed to do, the Limitations policies describe what the staff may not do.

    If the board does not set limits to authority then the board cannot be in control of the organization. In many organizations, the Senior Executive does have supreme authority in practice. This is because the board is weak or unskilled in governance.

    What should a board do when they have to reign in their Senior Executive? Consider what it takes to control a dog. There are two ways to keep a dog from running into the street chasing cars and scaring neighbors. One way is to manage the dog. Get a metal choke collar and a bag of treats. Attract the dog’s attention with the treat. Teach it some tricks. When it becomes distracted and runs toward a child or the street, yank back hard on the choke collar. The other way is to hire a contractor to install an invisible fence. When the dog learns where the fence is buried, it will steer clear of the street and stay within its limits. With the fence, you can sit on your front porch with your dog and be totally relaxed without worrying about the choke collar.

    Limitations policies are like an invisible fence. They set a clear boundary for the CEO or Senior Pastor and staff. If anyone exceeds the boundary the board is automatically informed. Limitations policies allow the board to delegate authority and to remain fully in control as the board governs the organization.

    The apostle Paul said that if anyone’s gift is leadership, “let him govern diligently” (Romans 12:8). Governing diligently is made much easier with Limitations policies that set clear boundaries for all.

    Atul Gawande is a surgeon who wanted to find a way to reduce mistakes and unnecessary deaths during surgeries. He created a simple 90-second checklist that reduced deaths and complications by more than one-third in eight hospitals around the world. You can read about it in his book The Checklist Manifesto.

    Pilots use checklists to prepare an airplane for a safe flight. Evaluation experts use checklists to structure their program evaluations. Contractors use checklists to build skyscrapers. The lowly checklist is responsible for preventing human error in many different kinds of businesses.

    I use a checklist to pack my suitcase. Yup. It has every possible item listed for whatever kind of trip I might be taking. When I pack for a trip, I pull out the checklist and work down the list to see what I will need and then pack each item. I never forget anything on a trip unless I neglect to use the list.

    On one driving trip to Michigan to work with a client, I forgot to pack dress socks. Not a problem. I drove over to a nearby store to buy a pair. When I got back to the hotel, I realized that I forgot to pack my dress belt as well. I didn’t use the checklist. Dumb.

    I have a checklist for conducting my regular weekly review to plan each week. It makes the weekly review go a lot smoother because I don’t have to think about how I am going to plan, I simply work through the 15 steps I have listed. It erases stress from my life.

    I am going to assist a client with strategic planning in a few weeks. I created a checklist of organizational aspects to consider for each one of their strategic priorities. This will help them to think through each more thoroughly. I will simply walk through the checklist with them. It will make my job easier as I lead them through the process.

    What checklist, if you took time to create it, would erase stress from your life? What checklist could you develop for your organization that will guard against human error and save real money?

    The problem with written strategic plans is that usually there is not much real strategy in them. This is true even of large ministry organizations with strong management. Some organizations have plans that are hopelessly out of date. Some have written strategic plans that nobody bothers to review. Others have detailed plans that are nothing more than a long list of goals and objectives. What is your strategy?

    Almost every organization uses a template to guide their strategic planning process. There are many different templates out there and they usually include items like:
    • Mission
    • Vision
    • Values
    • Key Result Areas/Key Initiatives
    • Measures/Targets
    • Goals/Objectives
    • Tasks/Activities/Projects

    And when a planning group is all done and the strategic plan is written, what exactly is the strategy? Can you briefly and simply explain your organizational strategy?

    The problem with strategic plans is that templates don’t work. Even the better ones have an empty space that is labeled “insert your strategy here.” But what if you are uncertain about what should be your strategy?

    A recent book by Richard P. Rumelt titled Good Strategy Bad Strategy suggests that every organization has to get the “kernel” of their strategy right before moving ahead with developing detailed plans. The kernel of any strategy must include:
    • Threats in the environment (to the organization or its mission)
    • Guiding policy (or strategic direction)
    • A coordinated set of key initiatives (to implement the policy)

    This kernel is the missing ingredient in most strategic plans. A strategy is a cohesive response to adapt to changing conditions in the relevant environment. If your plan already has a strategy clearly spelled out, good going! If not, pull a group of staff or board members together to start talking about it. Don’t stop meeting until you can articulate a clear strategy that makes sense to everyone.

    I see two different kinds of travelers sitting near me on airline flights. There are those who are trying to get a lot of work done and those who are basically consuming media. Some have their laptops open to either a spreadsheet or solitaire. Others have their eyes glued to whatever movie is being shown. A few are thumbing through thick file folders. Most arrive at their destination tired and drained.

    A seat on an airplane is cramped and uncomfortable. But there is also no Internet, no phone calls, no email, no voicemail, no text messages, and nobody stopping by wondering if you have minute to talk. An airplane is a lousy place to get work done. Travel is draining. You need more creative think time. Why not carve out this time for a personal mini retreat? Here’s how:

    Bring good food. The food for purchase on a plane usually contains a lot of bad carbs. Bring your own snacks. It’s easy to pack nuts or raisins or baby carrots in a small plastic bag.

    Bring reading material. Load up your e-reader before you leave or listen to an audiobook if you prefer. Print interesting articles ahead of time and keep them in a reading file. Avoid the in-flight entertainment.

    Bring blank paper. Leave your laptop closed and stored underneath the seat in front of you. Put your thoughts on paper using a pen. Draw a mind map of your life or a big project. Take one sheet and fold it in half as a To Do list to capture action items as they come to mind.

    Bring your goals. When you are literally thousands of feet in the air you have time to think at the 30K and 40K levels (to use David Allen’s Horizons of Focus terminology). Think about work-life balance issues. Pull out your life plan. I keep a planning file in my backpack so I have easy access to this material on any flight.

    The next time you fly you will have a rare opportunity to think creatively and strategically about life and work. Pack for a mini-retreat now. Why would you want to stay in a rut when you are up in the air?

    Do you know somebody who others describe as a “strong” leader? You know the type:
    • A board member who talks louder and louder until he gets his way
    • A CEO who verbally abuses staff with destructive criticism
    • A Director of Development who often has angry outbursts
    • A President who refuses any attempts at basic accountability
    • An able-bodied leader who uses a handicapped parking space near the front door as if it had her nameplate on it

    These people are not “strong” leaders. They are interpersonally challenged perhaps. Incapable of carrying on a normal conversation. Power-hungry. Let’s be more accurate and call this what it really is: narcissism.

    Narcissistic leaders tend to be arrogant and envious, often tearing others down to make themselves feel better. They feel entitled to perks and special treatment because they view themselves as special people. They see themselves as perfect and distort reality around them to reinforce their self-image. They exploit others without regard to their feelings or interests. They have boundary issues and cannot clearly distinguish other co-workers as separate from themselves. Narcissistic leadership is a common form of leadership.

    When a nonprofit is without a leader you can count on a narcissist to maneuver politically to find a way to take charge. Research shows that people who score high in narcissism tend to take control of leaderless groups.

    Organizational narcissism happens when a narcissist becomes a key leader and gathers a mix of co-dependents around him or her to support the narcissistic behavior. Narcissists claim to be committed to the organizational mission and passionate about the work, but they are really only committed to their own agendas. Narcissistic leaders make decisions based on their own interests instead of the interests of the organization, board, staff, or donors. Psychoanalysts suggest that one easy way to tell a healthy organization from one that is pathological is the organization’s ability to exclude narcissistic leaders from key leadership positions.

    If you confront narcissistic leaders directly or defy their will publically it can trigger narcissistic rage. Narcissists experience your lack of cooperation as a direct attack on their own self-esteem. They see themselves as always right and they are bewildered about what is wrong with you. Narcissistic rage can be mild or harsh. It ranges from acting aloof, to expressions of irritation or annoyance, to serious outbursts, and even to violent verbal abuse and physical attacks.

    King Saul was an example of a leader exhibiting narcissistic rage. He acted aloof. He was annoyed by David. He hurled his spear at him while he was serving the king in his court. Saul had no interest in changing his narcissistic leadership style either.

    Unfortunately, both staff and boards tend to make excuses for narcissistic leaders. Here some of the more common excuses I hear:
    • Yeah but…We need them in our current situation (co-dependency)
    • Yeah but…We don’t have anybody else to lead us (succession issue)
    • Yeah but…He/she is the founder of this ministry (founder’s syndrome)
    • Yeah but…Our donors love him/her (of course)
    • Yeah but…God is using him/her (you want to blame it on God now?)

    Healthy systems can prevent narcissistic leaders from taking over any key leadership positions. The first step to dealing with this problem is to acknowledge it. What else can we do about so-called strong leaders?
    1. If you are in a leadership position, don’t become one yourself. Ask for feedback and support from your co-workers and direct reports. They can help you in a powerful way.
    2. If you report to one, don’t remain co-dependent. Be careful so you avoid making yourself a target of abuse. Report bad behavior you observe to a board member. The board needs to know.
    3. If you serve on a board that has one as the CEO, acknowledge the issue, work on the problem directly, and fix the system that invited or allowed a narcissistic leader to take control.

    Do you struggle with setting and achieving goals in life? Is life balance elusive for you?

    In his book titled Making it All Work, David Allen sets forth a simple model he calls the Six Horizons of Focus. I have found this useful for my own planning and for teaching others planning skills. All of us have heard people talk about stepping back and “taking the 25,000 view” before. David Allen builds on this common phrase in a helpful way. He goes from the 50,000 foot level all the way down to the runway.

    Runway: Next Actions
    Next Actions are the tasks and steps you need to take complete open projects and fulfill all of your commitments. They include calendar items, phone calls to return, and daily task lists. Next Actions are the tasks or steps that you can do on a particular day without having to wait on other people. I find that knocking off a long list of Next Actions in a small block of time feels empowering.

    10,000 foot level: Current Projects
    This is simply a list of all the projects you are responsible for. He defines a project as anything you want to accomplish that requires more than one Next Action. This was a helpful definition for me. I currently have 16 open projects on my list. I keep home and family projects on the same list as work projects. You might choose to keep personal and work projects separate. The 10K level prevents big things from slipping through the cracks.

    20,000 foot level: Areas of Focus
    This level includes all aspects of your life where you have made commitments to yourself or others. Each of us needs to figure out our own categories at our current stage in life. My categories include self-leadership, home, family, business development, business operations, church, community, finances, and author. You might include a hobby that deserves its own category. Everybody needs to figure out their customized mix of categories that capture their whole life. I find that paying attention to the 20K level is the secret to maintaining balance in life.

    30,000 foot level: Goals and Objectives
    Everybody who is good at setting goals can simply plug them at the 30K level. For the rest of us, we need to take some time to figure out what big problems we want to solve each year or what goals we want to achieve. This level is reserved for quarterly and annual goals. I find that this level is the key to planning for about 15% of people and a useful exercise for about half the rest of us. Some of us just do better with a shorter, more immediate time frame. We are more problem solvers than goal setters. Yet some planning at this level a couple times a year can be helpful.

    40,000 foot level: Vision
    If you were wildly successful at accomplishing everything that you would like in the next 3-5 years, what would that look like? I like to suggest that individuals look towards their next life stage to anticipate upcoming transitions, such as no kids to two kids and working to retired. I’m shocked at how many leaders I’ve talked to who have no vision—zero—for what they will be doing after they leave their current ministry leadership position. They need to do some work at the 40K level.

    50,000 foot level: Purpose
    This is level the level for reflecting on life purpose and core values. We all have some understanding about how God has wired us and why he has put us here on this earth. You explore your multiple callings in life at the 50K level. A personal mission statement would fit here. What has God called you to do?

    Bottom Line
    Here is why I find this model so helpful. If I ever lack clarity about what I’m doing or why, then I need to set aside some planning time and move up one level. If I’m not sure what Next Actions are most important, I need to look at the project list. If I don’t have a hot clue as to what to write down for goals for the year, then I need to move up to the Vision level. If I don’t have a rough vision for my future, then I need to spend some time at the 50K level.

    Weekly Review, Quarterly Planning, and Annual Retreat
    I spend about two hours each week conducting a weekly review. Weekly reviews allow you to study the 20K and 10K levels to generate Next Actions. Every few months you may feel a need to take a look ahead further than the next week. This quarterly or semi-annual planning allows you to think about your goals and objectives. This planning time is useful for defining new projects that populate your 10K list. I do longer range planning between Christmas and New Year’s each year. This is a time to set goals for the year that will be more than mere New Year’s resolutions.

    What would be your ideal planning cycle? Give this simple framework a test-drive and see if it works for you.

    Kryptonite was the green ore from Superman’s home planet of Krypton. It could make him lose his super powers, become weak, and even kill him. Superman could do many things well but he became powerless around Kryptonite.
    So what is your Kryptonite? What drains you? What situations and tasks suck the life right out of you?
    We all have unique strengths and weaknesses. When we are operating in our strengths we are energized. When we are operating in areas of weakness we tend to feel drained.

    During a recent planning time, I made a list of things that drained me. My list included:
    • Entering transactions on QuickBooks
    • Going on back-to-back trips with no recovery day in between
    • Traveling with people who talk incessantly
    • Recruiting new board members
    • Playing phone tag with voicemail messages
    • Driving in unfamiliar cities
    • Dealing with issues related to software, hardware, or website
    What drains you? Find a piece of paper or open a favorite software program for capturing ideas. Make a mind map with a stick figure of you or the image of a low battery in the middle of the page. Around that image list everything you can think of that drains you. These can be situations, specific tasks, or certain individuals. Take enough time to make a long list. Then you will be able to deal with each of them one at a time. You have at least five options.
    Drop it. Is this something you can simply stop doing without any negative repercussions? Maybe someone else will feel strongly enough about it to take it on.
    Delegate it. Can you assign this responsibility to somebody else? Most people would probably do it better than you anyway.
    Alter it. Can you change the conditions or your thinking about it? With back-to-back trips, I now think of it as one long trip and pack accordingly. I also bought a GPS for driving in unfamiliar cities.
    Team it. Who can you get to help you? You can ask a friend to meet with you, ask your team to do it together, or hire a coach.
    Reward it. How can you bribe yourself to get it done? Pair the draining activity with another activity immediately afterward that is fun, rewarding, and energizing.
    What’s your Kryptonite? Take some time to figure it out and, like Superman, try to stay away from it!

    I have a diagnostic question I have been using with new clients lately. I simply ask, “What is your strategy?” I’m surprised by the large percentage of ministry leaders who struggle to answer it.

    Some leaders can articulate their strategy well. Some recite their mission statement and confuse that with having a strategy. Others express what I call a “default strategy.” An organization in default mode usually tells you what they do and then has some variation on this answer: we‘re going to do the same things in the same way except try harder this time.

    Sometimes an organization should do the same things the same way. At other times they need to make a strategic shift in order to increase effectiveness. The problem for ministry leaders is figuring out when to pivot and when to persevere.

    If you sense that your way of doing ministry is becoming increasingly ineffective, trying harder is the wrong solution. Here are seven signs that it is time to make a strategic shift:
     Attendance is in slow decline
     Budget is in slow decline
     Key donors stop supporting you
     Client needs change
     The culture shifts
     New technology disrupts
     Organizational culture has grown stale

    If you sense that your strategy is in default mode, then start asking questions. Hold strategic conversations with your staff, clients, donors and peers. Ask them what no longer works as well as it used to. Keep going until you have a fresh portfolio of strategic initiatives that will keep your organization moving forward.

    Have an open discussion with your board of directors about the potential benefits of dropping term limits. You are bound to hear responses like these:
    • We don’t want to end up with a good old boys club
    • We need fresh blood so the board doesn’t go stale
    • We want more diversity on our board
    • We don’t want the board to become out of touch with our constituency
    • Board members need a rest after serving so many years
    • We have always heard that good boards need term limits

    It’s curious that these same people would never advocate for term limits to the players on their favorite sports team. Can you imagine benching the star quarterback for a year during a promising season because he has already led the team to the playoffs three years in a row? “It’s time to give someone else a chance to be quarterback for a while. We don’t want the team to get stale you know.”

    If you swap out one-third of your players every year, then every year is going to be a building year.

    It is good for a board to have official terms of service. But term limits tend to cause more problems than they solve. Here are a few:

    Term limits cause an organizational learning disability. With new members rotating in continually the board has a weak institutional memory. They will tend to repeat the mistakes of the past. They will require board refresher training every 3-5 years because they keep forgetting how to govern.

    Term limits drain board talent. When you bench your best players they will be difficult to replace. Board recruitment and orientation are time-intensive activities. Maybe your best players will be picked up by another team.

    Term limits allow key donors to disengage. Retire a key donor? I suspect that term limits are often conveniently overlooked just prior to a major capital campaign.

    Term limits weaken governance. When you retire an exceptional board chair and replace him or her with someone who has little experience, the board does not suddenly step up its game and get better at governing.

    Term limits produce ineffective boards. Of course, some Executive Directors prefer it this way.
    If a board decides to proceed with no term limits, it must have another mechanism for ending poor service. Getting stuck with the wrong board chair long-term can be disastrous for the organization. Board members who attend meetings faithfully but make no meaningful contribution to the board are taking up space and using up resources. Low-performing board members must be removed for optimal board functioning.

    The solution involves short official terms, clear written expectations, and a robust board member assessment.

    The shorter the terms the better. One board has one-year terms and board members are either asked to serve another or thanked for their service. Another has two-year terms and an assessment every two years. An organization with three-year or four-year terms can still opt for annual assessments.

    This requires either a board chair or a governance committee with the courage to sit with each board member and have a heart-to-heart talk about their performance on the board. There is no way around this…and this is the real deal-breaker. Most boards are unable or unwilling to assess their own performance. We tend to be unwilling to speak the truth in love to one another.

    The default solution to this problem is term limits. They serve as a passive mechanism to end poor service on a board. But term limits do not:
    • Fix a failing board
    • Make a board stronger or wiser
    • Improve the ability to govern
    • Revive a stale board
    • Build cohesive teams
    • Produce new vision

    So would your board prefer an active mechanism of ending poor service using face-to-face performance reviews or a passive mechanism of term limits?

    You have probably heard the term “transformational leadership” before. It is usually contrasted to “transactional leadership.” Transactional leaders set the goal, make expectations clear, and reward positive volunteer behaviors. Transformational leaders do much more. They call volunteers to live at a higher moral level and to give time and energy to a cause beyond themselves. Why settle for transactional leadership when you can be a transformational leader? Good so far.

    Here is the problem: Almost all the books and articles on leading volunteers promote transactional leader behavior. Even the ubiquitous advice to thank them. Verbally thanking volunteers is a kind of reward and therefore transactional leadership.
    Here is a list of typical best practices you will find in most books:
    Typical Advice for Leading Volunteers
    • Clarify expectations about the work to be done
    • Ask for a specific commitment of time
    • Decide if open-ended or commitment with ending date
    • Let them know ahead of time of any additional duties
    • Tell the prospective volunteers what expenses to expect and how reimbursements will be handled
    • Tell them ahead of time of any pre-existing problems
    • Let them know what help, if any, they can expect from you
    • Check with them to see how they are getting along
    • Respect the prospective volunteer’s right to say “No“
    • Thank them sincerely and profusely.
    Now compare those behaviors to best practices for a transformational leader:
    Becoming More Transformational
    • Get to know the volunteers deeply as individuals, why they donate their precious time and what they are passionate about
    • Ask them for solutions to real ministry problems
    • Be positive and uplifting, eliminate sarcastic comments
    • Invite them to be a part of a cause outside of themselves
    • Tell stories about changed lives as a result of their work
    • Set challenging goals
    • Work to create a sense of shared vision
    • Mold the group of volunteers into a high-performing team
    • Be an example they can respect and learn from
    • Make sure you are living according to your values
    • Check to make sure you look and act like a leader.
    Volunteerism would function a lot better if we lead in a transactional way and added transformational leadership to it. Why not be a transformational leader?

    I was working with a board of a Christian camping ministry recently. They were doing well financially and in filling their camp, but they were always getting stuck when the conversation turned toward strategy. Some would say that they were being blessed by God and wanted to talk about what else God might have in mind for them. Others were saying they should stick to the mission and not get distracted by other ministry ventures. As we talked about their dilemma, we found that both sides were right. The board needed to govern the organization, but they also needed to steward the wider community (alumni, donors, parents) and leverage kingdom opportunities (helping other camps, launching new initiatives). We drew a diagram with two concentric circles. The innermost circle we labeled “governing the organization.” The next larger circle we labeled “stewarding the community.” Outside of the circles, we labeled the space as “leveraging kingdom opportunities.” This diagram gave the board a map that allowed them to explore new opportunities while keeping the camp and the mission at the core. Give it a try with your board and let me know how it works.

    If I had to pick only one book that I’ve read in the past several years that has had the biggest impact on my life then Getting Things Done would be at the top of my list. Most books on time management take a “top-down” approach starting with life purpose, long-range goals, annual goals, and how to block time in your calendar to work on them. GTD uses a “bottom-up” approach and starts with getting on top of the piles on your desk and getting your email inbox to zero everyday. I can get more done each day because I now have a system that captures everything I have to do. This allows me to focus on what I’m doing instead of trying to remember everything that I have to do. I have tweaked the settings on Microsoft Outlook so that it works the way I do. No need to buy any other expensive software or add-ins. I recommend the book for anyone who feels overloaded at work and struggling to find more balance in life.