Team Hack #3: Organizing Your Life

Because my life includes a substantial amount of travel, I have learned some things about hotel rooms. I know that Orlando is still the best dollar for value city anywhere, with rooms in palatial buildings costing me $60-75 a night (thank the Lord for priceline – name your own price!). I know where in the hotel I don’t want to stay (the room next to or across from any exit point, (elevator or maintenance room). A third thing I know, as sure as I am breathing, is that organizing my room is the secret to a good trip. You may laugh, but I try to put my things in the exact same place in every room I stay. If I need something in the dark of a night, I can find it without turning on a light. My toiletries are placed in the same order (sounds OCD doesn’t it). But it helps.

The problem comes when I am traveling with my sweetheart, or my kids or colleagues. They move things. It can become the subject of some tension when I can’t find something that I reach for on my way out the door and haven’t left time to search around. One of the tips I took some time ago from leadership books was to try to organize my life. The life organizer Gina Trapani has written a number of articles on this.

Any team must decide where to keep the uniforms. In other words, we can’t build solid communication between us on detailed plans for next quarter if we can’t agree on where to recharge the cell phones in the office. We can’t use each other’s files if we all keep a different filing system (we will talk in another hack about organizing files in the computer later). We must agree on the “common space” and the “common needs”. In the school where I teach, each student has a bed and desk that belong to them for the year. In addition, they have some common areas. In the common areas the cleaning and the organizing becomes an issue each year, as the students must learn the principle of “Team Organization”.

The principle is this: “For the good of the team we must agree to maintain common areas and property by putting each item where we have predetermined it should go.” If everyone moves one thing and places it somewhere else in a dorm of twelve students or an office of five workers, all will be completely disorganized in one week.

There is a natural law of organization. All of us have experienced it. Have you ever put a flat surface (like a table, cabinet or dresser) next to an entry door? What happens? Within a short time, a pile forms of collected “stuff” on the surface. The natural law of organization is that we will put things in the easiest place to put them down, not in the easiest way to find them. In that way we make life easier on the front end, but harder on the back end. We don’t naturally place something according to the “finding point”. In a way, “we sabotage our future” (Trapani’s expression for it). She’s right!

Hack #3 is to organize all common space in the office according to two guidelines. First, what location for this item makes the most sense to the team (where will they naturally expect it to be). If we all decide each time we buy coffee where we will put it, we will spend an inordinate amount to time looking for it every time we go to make it. A simple discussion in the team on common space can eliminate any mystery when a sudden coffee urge overpowers us.

Second, how can we make that location easier to get to without intermediate points. If each team member has an inbox or “hotfile” (a wall mounted inbox outside or inside their office door), we don’t want to have a “general inbox” near the front door. If we did, we wouldn’t be sure if a new item went to our box or was still in the holding bin.

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised. In our homes and in our offices, common space needs to be defined by or for the team, refined over time and maintained. We have to agree to do it together, or someone will end up being the “mom” and doing it for us. Since most offices don’t have a “mom”, we probably need to do it for ourselves.

Team Hack #2: Preparing for You 2.0

It may seem a bit self serving to have a blog talk about blogs. Yet, I truly believe that this hack will be particularly helpful to my students. Get your own domain and begin a blog that becomes the “digital YOU”. There are some several reasons I want my students to pick up on this hack. At the stage of life that most of my students are (in their 20’s), it is important to look to the future and the exciting things that are in store for you. Because most of those things will require MONEY, you may want to consider how you are going to get a job in the future. Because a job is in your future, building a significant resume is in your present.

How can you distinguish yourself among your peers to make your God-given abilities and talents shine above others in the field by the time you seek that position you long for? In the old days I told students to write a book. It helped people look at you in a more serious way, and it showed that you: a) had cohesive thoughts you felt were worth recording; and b) you could finish a project your started. Now I offer different advice. I encourage every student to get a domain and blog. This transformation happened just recently, when a good friend helped me to see that my old school methods needed updating. Here are some rules worth considering:

Rule #1: Buy your name – the domain, that is. Life is moving quickly, and one of the only things you will always have is your name. If you begin to “brand” your name, you make yourself easily trackable to those you will meet along life’s journey. This won’t work if you are planning a great career in fund embezzling, but for the honest and hard working person, it will pay off. You need your friends a acquaintances, they weave the net of a social circle under you.

Rule#2: You can have a MySpace or FaceBook, but your blog should reflect the serious you that a potential employer will see. Collect your school articles here. Make this the digital portrait you want the world to see. Is that fair? Of course it is! Didn’t you ever see those “Glamour shots” pictures that some people have in their home. If done properly makeup isn’t a deception, it is accenting the best parts of your natural beauty. Use FaceBook to share your favs in mp3s. Use your blog for things that you will collect over a lifetime and hook your domain name to it. Think about the pictures you put on your blog. They will probably differ in character from those on your FaceBook.

Rule #3: Make the categories match your serious pursuits. Every employer asks the same question when hiring, “What makes this candidate a more serious contender than all the others.” In the interview, show them your blog at and help them to get a glimpse of who you have become. In the better companies and ministries, they already checked you out before you got there.

Rule #4: Never post anything online that you think is personal or hidden. Ten years from now, the stunt you pulled in the dorm with your buddies will be accessible to your future employer, insurance underwriter, and maybe even your child. Think about that. If it looks dumb now, it’ll really look dumb then! Remember, jackasses get the worst jobs – they carry the weight of the packs.

Team Hack #1: Communication requires some rules

 Email has turned out to be the greatest tool of communication in many team efforts that I know of. At the same time, most managers and leaders find that there are a number of hacks that new team members need to know in order to help the team. This hack is designed to keep us from making each other crazy with inbox dread. Everyone on the teams I have the privilege to lead has probably heard me say, “I can say anything, but when I email it, that is when it becomes real.” What I mean by that is I simply won’t try to make any serious decisions without an e-paper trail. I know my memory, and I know there is no way I will recall all the commitments I make without a bread crumb trail back home.

Because we have probably all experienced both inbox anxiety and its evil twin e-exhaustion, we need some team rules as to the use of email. This hack is to lay a foundation to our e-communication. Every team should take some time to form some basic policies and a script or short hand that will help the team communicate more smoothly. Here are rules I ask my students and team mates to utilize.

Rule #1: If the team sends you a communication, it is for one of three reasons: We have a question that you can address (Q); we have a request for you to attempt to fulfill (REQ); or we have information you will require (FYI or INF). These should be in the subject line of the email, such as: “INF Time and place of Friday staff mtg.” Please send out emails that reflect in the subject line what you expect of the team member.

Rule #2: Sometimes you will want to cc or bcc team members. If you do, the subject line cannot reflect what you want for each person on the cc list. In that case, put at the bottom of the email, after offering your information a list of those you cc’d and what you expect from each of us as follows:

“Staff meeting is at RJ Gators at noon this Friday. The team leader for each department is required to attend.

Cc: Matt REQ: Please have new budget reports copied for distribution.

Cc: Aaron REQ: Please have pics of last trip ready for selection for website.

Cc: Dave REQ: Please have list of calls made this week and responses.”

Rule #3: Email is not IM (instant messaging), but neither is it delivery by slow moving lame camels. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, we all know you aren’t managing your time properly. Generally, we will communicate the time schedule for any REQ we make from you. If you know you can’t get to the issue on the email, send a quick e and tell the team that you anticipate being tied up until __ . Everyone will know that you got the communication and are putting it into the schedule of “future you”.

Rule #4: Keep it as short and sweet as possible. Short means using numbered points (in that way responses can follow the same format without rewriting the Qs). Sweet means, “Be careful of the tone.” Please is a normal word we use to ask for something. Email is a curt communication, but we try very hard to be civil and project how much we appreciate being on the team with each other.

Leadership Lessons Distilled

As I continue to round out this site with things that I want my students to understand about both the Scriptures and life, I thought it was time to add another category or channel to The Wandering Shepherd. I am calling this category of articles “Team Hacks” in the classic blog tradition of life hackers, etc. A “hacker” is not simply a term for some subversive youth that seeks to break into the computers of the corporate in some sneaky Green Peace activity. A hacker is one who finds a solution to a problem, a key to access something closed before. A hacker is a problem solver. A “hack” is a solution.

I am convinced that we are living in a time desperate for problem solvers. I was standing in the Orlando Airport a short time ago. A young couple was standing near me at the beltway where we all awaited our incoming luggage. As the luggage came along the belt, one piece had obviously broken open. I watched as the couple began to discern that the loose articles of clothing coming down the beltway were, in fact, their clothes! The young man turned to his wife and began immediately to raise his voice, “I told you that suitcase wouldn’t make the journey!” She replied, “Did you put the strap on the case like I told you?” What ensured was an embarrassing and loud argument. Even the door guard began to pay attention.

What shocked me was not the argument. They were young, and they were both embarrassed. Yet, while they raised their voices at each other, neither collected the clumps of clothing strewn across the beltway. About thirty feet beyond the arguing couple, there she was, an elderly woman, seemingly unconnected to the loud couple, collecting the loose articles into a pile atop the broken luggage.

I moved closer as I heard someone say, “Ma’am, are these things yours?” “No!” she replied, “But they look too busy to take care of the problem!” I chuckled at her answer.

We can look for someone to blame because working together isn’t always easy, or we can look for a “hack” for the team – a solution to the trouble that keeps us from pressing ahead. Today, we are surrounded by issues that seemingly defy answers. Yet, I serve the Creator hacker, and He already knows a way to make things work. Moreover, I serve with a number of colleagues that I believe are master hackers in all things team. This category will address a few of the scraps I pick up along their trail…