Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How I keep up with multiple opportunities

Once contact has been made with more than a church or two, it becomes difficult to simply remember what church is what, when you should follow up, etc. In fact, I doubt that most people could remember all of the details about even one church from start to finish, given that the process takes as long as it does. So how can a candidate keep track of what they have and haven't done with regard to their candidacy?

The system I currently use is fairly straightforward, though it assumes that other things are in place. I'll describe it here and in another post.

To begin with, I am committed to an organizational system called Getting Things Done (GTD), developed by David Allen, which is a comprehensive set of principles for keeping tasks and projects managed and running efficiently. I won't give details about the system here, but it has become very popular and there is a lot of good information on the web about it, including Merlin Mann's excellent summary Getting Started with Getting Things Done.

One of the key pieces of the puzzle for GTD, however, is what Allen calls a "tickler file" which is essentially a large set of file folders that are in regular use. With Allen's tickler file system, there is a folder designated for every single day of the coming month, plus one for each month itself and a few others. By rotating the folders in a systematic way, it is easy to plan when tasks will be handled, and they can effectively be forgotten about until then (assuming that the tickler file is used and updated consistently).

So my candidacy system works like this: when I make first contact with a new opportunity, I create a file folder specifically for that opportunity. (Up until first contact, any information I have on a given opportunity is in another folder labeled "Placement Starting Points" that I try to pull at least a couple of new opportunities from a week for attempted first contact.) I label the folder with the church name and its location by city and state.

No big deal so far. Here is where the key pieces fall into place. Because I use my tickler file system regularly, I don't have to keep track of that opportunity in my mind, in terms of what information I have or when I last contacted them. I put their folder in the appropriate day for follow-up, and I don't worry about it again until then. (I know what is the appropriate day for follow-up because I have a commitment to following up regularly, and that predicts the time frame for me.)

I have 16 different opportunities I'm exploring currently, and I probably couldn't tell you what information has passed hands beyond an educated guess. I don't need to-- my system keeps up with that for me.

A few other notes: my file labeled "Placement Starting Points" always lives in tomorrow's folder. When tomorrow comes, I'll put it in my inbox with the other work from the day, and at some point in the day I'll decide whether I will try to make first contact with any new opportunities. I either do so (and create a new folder for it if I'm successful) then put the Starting Points folder in tomorrow's folder, or I'll decide not to, and the file goes in immediately. Once again, I don't have to stress out about when I will get in touch with those new opportunities because they are constantly attended to.

Finally, when I do make first contact with a new opportunity I do one more thing in addition to building a new file for them: I note the church's name, city, state, and position in my prayer journal. I keep a running list of opportunities I'm in communication with there, so that I can be regularly in prayer for them and for their search.

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