How I Work: Office Edition

Thomas L. McDonald of God and the Machine recently invited fellow bloggers to post their own “How I Work” entry (modeled after the Lifehacker series of the same name) so I thought I would have a go. This week I’m featuring my work office; next week I’ll do the same for my home setup.

Location: Springfield, IL
Current Gig: director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
One word that best describes how you work: interrupted
Current mobile device: LG G3 running Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
Current computer: Acer Veriton running Windows 7

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
Google Calendar: I keep separate color-coded calenders for my diocesan responsibilities, family (shared with my wife so she can add events), the liturgical year, and project work. I have a horrible memory, so this system helps me keep track of all of my responsibilities at a glance. The one hitch occured when Google discontinued direct syncing support for Outlook (which our office use), but I’ve implemented some workarounds so my colleagues still see my full work calendar.
Dropbox: Come, children, and hear tales of the days when we had to use floppy disks to shuttle files back and forth!
Evernote: I use Evernote for a variety of tasks, including organizing travel documents, maintaining a digital filing cabinet, and storing recipes. Most recently I’ve started dumping meeting agendas into it so I can access them from my phone instead of printing a paper copy. (The Outlook plugin makes this a snap.)
GoToMeeting: Our diocese covers 28 counties, which makes gathering people for meetings/training/etc. difficult. One of the first things I did when I joined the office was push to implement online meetings. Most standing groups still meet in person at least once a year, but using GoToMeeting allows more people to participate without burdening them with a 2 hour drive.
LibraryThing: I’ve tried a few other book cataloging sites before, but I love LibraryThing because it was built by bibliophiles for bibliophiles. With it I can quickly browse books by subject, keep track of all my book reviews, and remind myself who I’ve lent books out to.

What’s your workspace setup like?
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This is my desk on a good day. Not pictured are my four bookcases and meeting table (see below).

desktop

(I hide all icons on my computer desktop, so there’s nothing to see expect the pretty pictures I use as wallpapers.)

LGScreen

My phone screen is dominated by Google Now, with a few apps I use the most.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Delegation. This is my first job where I’ve had a secretary and learning how to work with one well has been a huge boon to my productivity.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried a variety and left most for pen and paper. Right now I’m using Trello.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
On the hardware side I love my Wacom Intuos Pen Tablet. It’s completely replaced my mouse at work. I also use it during presentations to transform PowerPoint into a digital white board.

In terms of my office setup, I couldn’t get by without my big wooden meeting table:

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I inherited it from my predecessor and, given the number of staff members in my department that I’m blessed to work with, it’s invaluable for one-on-one chats, small task force meetings, and sitting down with folks from outside the curia.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m really good at identifying the heart of an problem — peeling away the secondary issues and getting at root causes. I’m not sure what the secret is to that, besides being able to mentally categorize the issues on the table and sort through them in a systematic way.

What do you listen to while you work?
Most days it’s either classical or jazz, although Johnny Cash sees pretty regular rotation.

What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions by Ann M. Garrido and Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Fesser.

What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
I often say that one of the joys of my job has been seeing good collaboration between the offices in my department and the fruits of those relationships. I used to take that for granted but, as a colleague likes to remind me, “Collaboration is hard work.” So I’m trying to be more intentional about how I communicate with the people I work with and ensuring that tasks and responsibilities are clearly understood by everyone in the room.

Designing a Great Catechetical Office

Our catechetical office recently learned that we will be moving into a new office suite in a few months. Our existing suite is being converted into new meeting spaces that will be larger and more convenient for people meeting at our pastoral center.

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With this move we have the opportunity to design our new offices (within some constraints, of course) and I’ve been giving some time to thinking about how to arrange and design this space to both maintain and build upon the great collaboration we currently enjoy.

Here are a few of the ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Increased artwork – Currently our walls are pretty bare. We have some small religious artwork and posters from past diocesan events, but nothing that really fills the space or inspires greatness. I was already considering purchasing some new art for the office; now I consider it a “must” for the new space.
  • Green plants – I’m a big believer that having living things around makes any space more welcoming and inviting. In fact, I just bought a fish for my office! With the move to a new space I’m looking at various office-friendly plants to add some green, help purify the air, and add a friendly atmosphere.
  • Comfy meeting space – One of the things I love about our office is the level of collaboration we’ve achieved, especially as an office that covers parish-based religious education, Catholic schools, and youth ministry. Having a large, open space with comfortable chairs encourages good collaboration and communication, both for internal meetings and when sitting down with DREs, pastors, principals, and others.

Those are some of the issues I’m wrestling with in our new space. Do you have any advice on creating a great office space?

Good Catechesis is Hard Work

The director of worship in our diocesan curia is fond of saying that “Good liturgy is hard work.” By that he doesn’t mean that liturgy is onerous or can only be done by professionals. Rather, he means that it takes time and effort to prepare good liturgy. One can’t simply show up and expect it to happen; everything from the training of ministers to the selection of songs must be properly attended to if the  liturgy  is flow naturally.

The same can be said for catechesis. Good catechesis is hard work. Everything from the formation of catechists to evaluating curriculum to lesson planning requires time and energy if it is to be done properly and not in a perfunctory manner.

This is another reason why a trained, full-time parish catechetical leader is the ideal. Good catechesis is about more than ordering textbooks and unlocking the doors on Wednesdays nights. Unfortunately most volunteers — who already have full-time jobs and families to care for — don’t have the time to devote to planning and most pastors are not willing to provide training and support to someone who is “only a volunteer.”

But the question remains:  If we aren’t willing to invest in someone, who will do the hard work of catechesis?

Episode 012 – The Catholic Briefcase

briefcaseMany Catholics experience a disconnect between their worship and prayer on Sunday and their “normal” lives the rest of the week. They may fail to see how their faith impacts how they live, or they may just not know how to integrate their spirituality into the rest of their lives. How can we help people live out their faith the other six days of the week — especially in the places where they spend the most time away from home, their jobs?

This month I had a conversation with Randy Hain, senior editor of the Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine, co-founder of the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference, and author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work. He talked about his book and about how the “average Catholic” can live the faith in the secular business world.

Click to Play – 012 – The-Catholic-Briefcase

Book Review: The Catholic Briefcase

How Catholics live their lives in the public square is one of the hot button issues in the Church. For evidence one need only look at the recent USCCB General Assembly, where issues of religious freedom and political pressure where at the forefront of the conversation. And while these macro-level conversations are vital for a Church that does so much public good, I sometimes wonder if we aren’t missing the boat by failing to talk about how the average Catholic lives their faith when they aren’t at Sunday Mass.

Fortunately, Randy Hain’s The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work seeks to start that conversation, at least as it pertains to Catholics and their work lives. In doing so he draws both from his own experience as an executive seeking to integrate his faith with his work, and on the experience of other Catholics (through interviews included in the book) living their faith in the workplace.

Of course there are many obstacles to being a person of faith in the modern business world, from concerns about policies (official or unofficial) against talking about faith in the workplace, to uncertainty about the best way to broach faith topics, to incongruities between faith and business culture. Hain acknowledges each of these and offers gentle suggestions and tips for overcoming them. He also offers practical advice for nurturing a spiritual life as a busy professional, reflections on the relationship between love and work behavior, examples of good stewardship in the business place, and advice for managers and executives on the Christian understanding of leadership.

Each chapter includes several reflection questions, which makes this an ideal book for a small faith community or gathering of Catholic professionals. Hain also includes an excellent series of appendices with additional resources including recommended books and web sites, a œDaily Examen for Busy Business People,  and even a blueprint for starting a local Catholic business group. These resources will help people put the material from the book into practice. (Personally, I’m already seeing if there would be interest in a Catholic business group in our area.)

I would recommend The Catholic Briefcase for any Catholic professional interested in deepening their spiritual life and looking to integrate a Christian outlook in the business world.

Disclaimer: I received a free manuscript of this book from Ligouri Publications.

Man and Machine

While it may seem that in the industrial process it is the machine that “works” and man merely supervises it, making it function and keeping it going in various ways, it is also true that for this very reason industrial development provides grounds for reproposing in new ways the question of human work. Both the original industrialization that gave rise to what is called the worker question and the subsequent industrial and post-industrial changes show in an eloquent manner that, even in the age of ever more mechanized “work”, the proper subject of work continues to be man.

– Bl. Pope John Paul II, Laborem exercens (n. 4)

On the Work to be Done

I’ve been out of the office the past two days on retreat with the DREs of the diocese. It was a wonderful, Spirit-filled retreat, and I’m grateful for the time “away” — until I get back to my office and see the pile of mail and paperwork on my desk!

It would be easy to grump about the work to be done “ signing bills, responding to voice mail, writing memos “ but this Lent I’ve been trying to re-adjust the way that I look at the interruptions and intrusions. Instead of rolling my eyes and sighing, I’ve been trying to see them as God might see them: not as detours from my work, but as the real work!

Both St. Mark and St. Luke record the story of Jairus, a synagogue official, asking Jesus to heal his dying daughter. On his way to Jairus’ house, a woman afflicted with hemorrhages touches Jesus’ clothes and is miraculously healed. Jesus could have paid her no mind and hurried on his way “ he had work to do! “ but instead he stops, addresses the woman, and assures her that “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

It’s easy to let surprises in our work tear us down and aggravate us. And I’m not suggesting that we should all be workaholics. (Even Jesus had to get away from the crowds at times!) But sometimes those interruptions are actually moments calling for grace, when God asks us put aside what we think is important in order to do his work.