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9 computer tricks to save you time and money

By Gavin Richardson

Often in ministry, the hours in the day are not enough to cover all the needs of a diverse congregation, especially in the realm of communications. Here are nine computer practices to help you save time and money.

1. Use Invisible Web Search: You need to start a new project and want some examples of others’ work in this area to use as a reference or starting point. Going from website to website or emailing a mass of people with the hope that they will respond to you in a timely manner is not an efficient use of time. Use an invisible web search on Google. Here’s an example. You want to develop a “Safe Sanctuaries” policy. Plug into the search box your topic or keywords and then put in ‘filetype:pdf.’ This will search for pdf files on the web that match your query that you can then download. You can exchange the file extension to any document type you want (xls, doc, ppt, psd, etc).

2. Social Media Management in One Spot: You repeatedly hear that the church needs to be using social media. You now have a Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel. What you don’t have is time to give to each of these entities. Don’t spend time at each space; plug them into one spot. Using a service, such as Hootsuite, can give you dominion over all your Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media profiles where you make updates and follow the streams in one place. Many of the services will let you schedule information blasts. If you have news to announce, and it is super early or late at night and you know no one will see it then, schedule that information to go out at a later, more opportune time.

3. Automate Wherever You Can: With technology tools today, you can set up all types of actions to happen automatically. Using an email system, such as MailChimp, gives you many automated options for communicating with the congregation – and it is free. If your church website has an RSS feed, you can set up a weekly email that goes out automatically with any news or event postings. You can automate “Happy Anniversary” or “Happy Birthday” emails to individuals to arrive on those special days.

Sites, such as Twitterfeed, will take an RSS feed and automatically send it through to your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. You can even use other trusted websites (such as United Methodist News Service) to promote activity to those social media portals without having to lift a finger. Mixing some personal activity with the automated strategies is a best practice, but using some automated communication elements shows activity and saves you the guilt of ignoring social media for the day.

4. Have a Submission System: You want to help people promote the events and news of the church. However, it is unproductive and inefficient if you are unable to gather information and must make a series of phone calls to finish a project. Start with a submission system for people to send their news. Use a content-submission form on your website with an easy url to send people to and place in your emails. You can use plug-ins such as Wufoo or Gravity Forms for a Wordpress-based site to create multi-page forms with file uploads and editable data forms to gather needed information on the front end. Here’s some information you might need to have submitted:

  • Name of news/event/project
  • Contact information
  • Date of news/event/project
  • Promotion needs/deadline
  • Logo/graphics/photos
  • Website or URL need
  • Paper publication needs
  • Video needs
  • Finish deadline
  • Tech/equipment needs

5. Use Keyboard Shortcuts: Shortcuts may only save a fraction of a second when done once, but, in the long term, they can shave hours off a week’s worth of work. Many people also use shortcuts to reduce wrist pain caused from overuse of the mouse and clicking. To use shortcuts:

  • Do a search on shortcuts for your specific browser or computer software. Example: “Shortcut keys for Firefox browser” Outlook, MSWord and Excel are good programs for which to know shortcuts.
  • In your programs’ drop down menus, look at the various shortcuts located to the right of each command and practice using them.
  • Print out your most common shortcuts and put them in front of you as a reminder until you have them all memorized.

6. Use Email Signatures to Write Quick Emails: Very often, you find yourself writing the same emails repeatedly. Save time and energy by using your email signature functions to create stock emails that only need minor edits before sending. You may want to develop messages regarding:

  • Email requests for directions to the church
  • Email requests for worship times
  • People offering their services
  • Requests for facility use
  • Upcoming event details

7. Close the Email: Being ruled by your email inbox is the worst productivity practice ever. One email that’s low on your priority list can sideline you for 10 minutes or longer. Those interactions generally lead to more and longer email conversations. Schedule blocks of time to check email. You can set up text-message alerts with applications, such as Outlook and Google Calendar, to alert you to start and stop tasks.

8. Keep Notes Handy: Fabulous ideas do not always happen during official office hours. Have some handy methods for keeping notes. A notepad and pen work great, but what if those aren’t available? Use dictation tools available on your cell phone to create notes. Applications, such as Evernote (#7 in the article Top 10 must-have mobile apps for church leaders), will record your thoughts and transcribe them into text format (some editing is needed). You can then email those notes to yourself, post them to a blog, send them as a text message and more.

9. Clean Up Computer Files: Organize and consolidate related files into relevant folders and delete old files you don’t use. Consider programs and files you open on a regular basis and create shortcuts to these on your desktop. You probably already do this to some extent, but sometimes a little reminder is helpful.