My Single Most Effective Office Organization Tool

A recent article on the "Dumb Little Man" blog (don't laugh; it's a real thing) began thus:
We’ve all heard the saying, “a clear space, a clear mind”.

But what does it actually mean?

Well, it’s quite simple – the more cluttered the space around you is, the more you have to think (or worry) about.

This can apply to your personal or your working life.
Well, they had me at "a clear space, a clear mind." Because I'm a firm believer in that simple principle. I have severe troubles concentrating and producing amid clutter and distraction.

The article, by Louise Clarke, went on to list four helpful tips for office organization. But it didn't mention my single most effective office organization tool: a "bring-up" file.

What is that, you say?

I'm glad you asked. A "bring-up" file--also called a "tickler file" by some time management folks--is a simple but helpful collection of forty-three file folders.

Twelve are labeled with the months of the year, and the other thirty-one are numbered, 1-31, for the maximum days in a month.

When a bill comes in the mail, I open it, note the due date, and then put it in the "bring-up" for seven days before it's due. That way I never miss a payment.

If there is something--like a birthday, perhaps, or an estimated tax payment--I want to remember three months from now, I may record in my desktop calendar...but I will also put a note, card, or payment voucher in that month's folder.

If I have a restaurant coupon to use on my next "date night" with my wife, I'll simply put the coupon in that date's "bring-up" folder.

Articles to be read, maps and reservation forms for upcoming trips, reminders of goals I want to meet, seasonal reminders (like when to order mulch or change furnace filters), etc. all go in the "bring-up."

And, perhaps most importantly, at the end of a workday, I simply take all the papers and forms from my desk and put them in the next workday's folder.

I've often recommended this system to friends--even helped some set it up, though it's so very simple, just forty-three labeled folders! And I've mentioned it often at speaking engagements, to writers and pastors. And I'm frequently surprised at how many people have never heard of or used such a simple tool. But I have, for nearly forty years now, and even as I've added technological helps like alerts and "reminders" on my digital calendar and iPhone, I continue to rely heavily on my "bring-up" system to maintain "a clear space" and "a clear mind."

What about you? What's your most effective office organization tool?

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 21)

The pastor's desk pictured above is the desk of Captain Tim Sheehan, The Salvation Army's corps commanding officer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Church of the Week: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, San Juan, PR

The sun was setting a few weeks ago as the lovely Robin and I walked by the beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on (appropriately enough) Calle del Cristo in the heart of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was not a planned stop on our whirlwind walking tour of Old San Juan, but I let the rest of our tiny group keep walking while I stopped for a few quick photos.
I ducked inside, and boy, am I glad I did. The cathedral is considered one of the most important landmarks on the island of Puerto Rico. The original construction of straw and wood began in 1521, and (due to storms and fires) was repeatedly rebuilt over the years. The current structure, which dates to 1584, blends Gothic and neoclassical architecture. It has been the final resting place of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León since 1836, when his remains were transferred here from the nearby San Jose Church.

The cathedral is considered to be the second oldest church in the Americas.

One Blazing Fire

Today's reading in my devotional book drawn from Samuel Logan Brengle's writings, Take Time to Be Holy, is one of my favorites. It is titled, "One Blazing Fire":
One of the blessed things about a holy life is its supernatural, constant, and often unconscious influence for good. A holy person does not have to resolve and struggle to be a blessing. Without conscious effort, his or her life and talk and looks inspire the fainthearted, encourage the timid, instruct the ignorant, feed the hungry, and rebuke the proud, selfish, and wayward. A holy person blesses others in all sorts of ways, and is often surprised to learn of it.

Luke says of Jesus that “All the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19). Just so, virtue goes out from holy people, as perfume floats from a rose, or warmth from fire.

After the overthrow of Sisera, Deborah and Barak sang a song of triumph and thanksgiving, and closed it with these words: “Let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might” (Judges 5:31, NASB). Think of it! How mighty the sun is! How it floods the world with light! How it warms the whole earth and quickens and gladdens every living thing! None can stop the sun in its course, and such is God’s plan for holy men and women.
The book is available in hardcover and ebook via Amazon,, and quality Christian bookstores everywhere. Proceeds from every book benefit the work of The Salvation Army.

52 Ways to Preach Better

Scot McKnight is one of the bloggers I read regularly, and a few days ago he posted a wonderful piece titled, "Preaching Better--Practice and Exercises." It is a review of Daniel Overdorf’s One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills.

The fifty-two exercises Overdorf suggests are right on the money. A few, of course, are things I have done for years in my preaching and speaking. Others I have fairly harped on to friends and colleagues. Some I have developed recently. And, I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear, a number are practices I want to learn more about or plan to incorporate asap&awap (as soon as possible and as well as possible). Want to know what they are? Of course you do. Here is the list McKnight posted:

1. Commission a Sermon Prayer Group
2. Balance Your Biblical Diet
3. Speak to Three Listening Styles
4. Remember the Fundamentals
5. Seek Illustrations at Home
6. Show, Don’t Tell
7. Read the Text Well
8. Have Listeners Evaluate You
9. Listen to a Storyteller
10. Tell a Story
11. People Watch
12. Polish Your Thesis
13. Utilize the Five Senses
14. Exegete Before Sermonizing
15. Develop Need in the Introduction
16. Assemble a Feed-Forward Group
17. Write in E-Prime
18. Plan for Effective Delivery
19. Collaborate With Other Preachers
20. Apply Specifically
21. Preach with Women in Mind
22. Pray for Your Listeners
23. Assemble a Feedback Group
24. Minimize Notes
25. Talk to an Artist
26. Try a Different Sermon Form
27. Explore the Original Context
28. Hang the Sermon on an Image
29. Expand Your Multicultural Awareness
30. Design Careful Transitions
31. Encourage Texting During Your Sermon
32. Assign Biographies to Children
33. Craft Evocative Words
34. Consider the Text’s Literary Form
35. Include Immediate Application
36. Teach Preaching to High Schoolers
37. Analyze a Movie
38. Swap Pulpits
39. Illustrate with Video
40. Conduct E-Interviews
41. Go to Work with a Church Member
42. Employ Purposeful Humor
43. Preach in Dialogue
44. Pray Through Your Sermon
45. Make a Bee-Line to the Cross
46. Illustrate Specifically
47. Land Smoothly in the Conclusion
48. Interweave Preaching and Worship
49. Write for the Ear
50. Preach with Men in Mind
51. Read Fiction
52. Critique a Video of Yourself

Every pastor or preacher must pray and work to get better. And Overdorf's book (as well as McKnight's blog, for that matter) promises to be a giant step--or fifty-two of them--in the right direction.

What about you? Do any of these intrigue you? Challenge you? Inspire you? Or reflect your practice? Please comment and let me know.

Feed the Desperate Pastor

It is gratifying to watch the Desperate Pastor's readers growing nicely month by month, and to see that many of you visit here regularly. However, a small percentage of you are subscribers. Did you know you can subscribe to the blogs you read regularly?

I read dozens of blogs daily, using Feedly (that's a screenshot of my Feedly feed in the photo). All I do is go to my account on my web browser, and it automatically tells me how many (and which) blogs have new posts to read. It's easy.

The easiest way to subscribe to a blog is to set up a Feedly account, click "add content" on your page, and subscribe to RSS feeds. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary (of course, the acronym can be explained in many other creative ways), and it allows you to automatically receive updates from web sites. If you subscribe to an RSS feed, you get only what you want. If you tell the feed reader to stop collecting a site's feed, it will stop. And there's no spam. No spam!

To subscribe to Desperate Pastor, just click on the second item in the column at right, where it says, "Subscribe to Desperate Pastor," and choose one of the "news aggregators" or select "Atom" and then copy the url it takes you to and paste that url into your Feedly (or another similar service).

Oh, and you can also subscribe via email, too; just locate the third item in the column at right on the Desperate Pastor homepage, where it says, "Follow by Email." Enter your email in the box and you will receive posts in your inbox. It really is that simple.

And, while you're at it, feel free to recommend The Desperate Pastor to your friends. And enemies. Because Jesus said to love 'em all.

Church of the Week: San Jose Church, San Juan, PR

While I didn't get to enter the historic San Jose Church in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I did get to see it on a recent visit to Puerto Rico.
Originally known as the Iglesia de Santo Tomás de Aquino, this church structure is considered by many scholars to be among the finest and oldest examples of Gothic-influenced religious architecture built by the Spanish in the New World. Juan Ponce de León, the first governor of Puerto Rico, was buried in the crypt of the church from 1559 to 1836, when his remains were exhumed and later transferred to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. His grandson, Juan Ponce de León II, is still buried in the crypt beneath the sanctuary floor.

From the World Monuments Fund website:
Dominican friars built the church, beginning in 1532, as a temple to the adjoining sanctuary building within Puerto Rico’s walled city of San Juan. The church was designed as a longitudinal temple with side chapels and was located on the highest point of the Isleta of San Juan on a site donated by Juan Ponce de León. 
In 1858, the church passed from the Dominican friars to the Jesuit Order and was renamed the Church of San Juan. Under this new leadership, the church was transformed. The interior design, decoration, and furnishings changed significantly to reflect the fashionable neoclassical style. In 1887, the church was again transferred, this time to the Vicentian Fathers (Padres Paules), who redecorated the interior of the church for the third time in the building’s history. 
By the mid-20th century, political, technological, and economic factors had taken a toll on the historic church, and its survival was in question.
So I guess I shouldn't be too bitter that the current restoration project, funded by Puerto Rico's National Endowment for the Humanities, prevented me from seeing more. Still, they should have been notified that I was coming, so arrangements could be made. Good thing I'm a forgiving sort. 

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 20)

The pastor's desk pictured above belongs to Tom Cox, Pastor of Malvern Hills Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Asheville, North Carolina. Nice touch: Episode 6 of this blog's "The Pastor's Desk" feature pictured on the computer screen.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Hazards of Pastoring

Pastoring has many hazards, from church-supper-induced-food-poisoning to drowning-by-jittery-baptismal-candidate. Add this to the list, from the Dog Shaming website:

Preach It, Sister

This short message excerpt by Jen Hatmaker is excellent. Well worth thirteen minutes of your time.

Church of the Week: St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, NY

A January visit to New York City gave the lovely Robin and me the opportunity to visit the venerable and influential St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets. We were disappointed to see the church wrapped in scaffolding for a major renovation project...but then, it is a good thing that the church is undergoing a major renovation. According to the church website, "The funds necessary to complete the first two phases of work have been raised totaling over $75 million dollars. The phases include the interior and exterior of the Cathedral from 5th Avenue to the high altar. Key scopes of work in these phases are the restoration of the gallery organ, the Cathedral’s pews, stained glass windows, exterior stonework, altar niches and ceiling plasterwork. Efforts are underway to secure the additional funding for the remainder of the work on the Cathedral campus, including the high altar and Lady Chapel, a new heating and cooling system and the Cathedral garden."
More than five million people visit St. Pat's every year. Many come as tourists, of course, but others come to worship and pray (in fact, more than one million prayer candles are lit there every year).
We entered just as some of the faithful were gathering for noon mass on Saturday. We signed the electronic guest book (pretty cool!), and wandered around for awhile. Numerous side chapels and altars line both sides of the church. The striking baptistery, below, stands opposite the North Transept. 
The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was laid in 1858 and the doors opened the following year. At the time, the cathedral's location was considered to be too far outside the city. Today, of course, the beautiful Gothic structure is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. Dubbed "America’s Parish Church," St. Patrick’s is the "seat" of the Archbishop of New York, His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 19)

The pastor's desk above is that of Tom Brown, pastor at Gallant First Baptist Church in Gallant, Alabama (which is better than being a pastor in Goofus, Alabama...a quip that only former readers of Highlights Magazine will get). Tom says, "This is the normal 'mess' on my desk at any given time. I normally clean up about every two months. Believe it or not...I can normally find 'stuff' on my desk!" Well, yes, Pastor Tom; "stuff" seems to be all over the place. But you didn't say you can find specific stuff, now, did you?

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)