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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ask the Matriarch: Keeping Track

This week's question comes from one of our Matriarchs, Sharon, who blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy. She writes:

I am beginning a new call with a congregation soon, and I want to figure out how to keep records of the content of appointments, meetings, phone calls, and other interactions.  I know how to keep track of information regarding appointment times (phone), member records (church office computer), official actions of regular meetings (meeting minutes), and the like.  What I want to know is how to keep a record of what happens in a day -- for example -- when the church leader came to talk about church things and a family crisis, I met with my mentor, took three phone calls, made two pastoral visits, and got chewed out by the custodian.  Three months later, or three years, any of those might have developed into something with a history that I wish I could remember and, sometimes, take further action on.  Does anyone else try to keep track of things like this? If so, how?

Sharon, congratulations and blessings on your new call!

The Vicar of Hogsmeade offers our first answer this week:

I haven't tracked my hours in years so all I have is an "old school" answer with a name brand answer.

I used Daytimer one-page per day. I used the monthly view calendar in the back to schedule appointments and used the additional calendar supplements as necessary. For each day, on the daily page I tracked what happened during the day with notes including names and phone numbers or addresses. If I needed more room, the notes referred me to the place where I could find the details, i.e., verbatim filed in Learning Covenant file year 2 or see mileage report. I then kept those calendars as if they were journals. (NOT in the church pastor's office to which half the church had a key!)

I'm sure there's a way to do something similar with newer technology. I just don't currently keep those kind of detailed notes. You might try Google calendar but don't share it with anyone.

Thanks, Vicar! And here's a late addition from kathrynzj:

I use my email as a journal. I keep just about all correspondance in its own folder and when I send a response by email i put the sent message in the folder labeled by the persons name.

I also email myself. For instance, through the year I see positives and challenges in the staff here. I email my notes to myself and then put that email in a folder with that staff person's name. Now when I go to write those reviews, I have the folder to look up stuff I might not remember sitting cold in front of the computer.

If you're concerned about privacy, use your personal email. If you don't have an email just for personal use - get one!

If you have a suggestion for Sharon, please share it in the comments. I'm guessing some of our readers who are both tech-savvy and organized will have more ideas.

And please keep our Matriarch, Muthah+, and her dear friend, Judy, in your prayers, as Judy finishes a course of chemotherapy. Those of us who attended BE 3.0 had the chance to meet both of them.


  1. Like the Vicar, I use a paper DayTimer (mine's actually Franklin Covey because I like their themes and details of layout better, but same idea). However, I use the two-page per day layout, which lets me list my activities on the right-hand page (it's a two-page-per day layout in the illustration). I can record phone numbers/emails from voice mail, and basic details of meetings. Because we are trying to increase my hours, I am keeping track of them as well (meeting 2 hours, office hours 8 hours, etc.) I also keep a journal--private and pass-word protected on my personal laptop--and if I need to record more details I have a symbol I use in my Daytimer to remind myself that there's more to the conversation/meeting/email than that I had it, and it can be found in my journal. At the end of every month I record all meetings, weddings, funerals, crucial conversations, etc. on the list provided in the DayTimer daily pages. My daily pages go in a separate binder at the end of the month (kept at home; I keep 2-3 years). I also try to review the last week each week (usually Monday or Tuesday when I'm planning for the upcoming week) and each month as I record those important dates of the last month, which alerts me (usually) to events, conversations, etc in need of follow-up. I review both my private journal and my Daytimer.
    All of this results in a daily journal that is innocuous enough to be left on my office desk but connects to more private thoughts, reminders, etc. It sounds more complicated than it really is--and it's part of my routine now, so I had to actually think about how I do it!
    Hope this long-winded response helps!

  2. wow, you are much more organized than I ever was...I used to keep a desk-calendar in which I wrote down what had to be done and when, appointments, etc. -- and a plain lined bound notebook in which I wrote down every cotton-picking thing that happened -- phone numbers, gists of phone calls, locations of meetings,

    I didn't always keep it up faithfully, but it did help.

    And both calendar and "workbook" were on my person...

    when I was teaching at the University I used to keep the daily records in an elementary teacher's coil bound class could be adapted to pastoral/ministerial work too, I think. Lots of ROOM.

  3. I've converted all of my notes to my computer. I sync my notes from my iphone to my laptop and they are date and person tagged. Since I always have my phone (and not my calendar) it works for m.e.


  4. Thank you all for the very helpful responses! I am inspired!

    RP ~~ I like the idea of indicating on a calendar that more info is to be found in another place.

    CR ~~ I'm totally impressed by your faithfulness to record things. I've never been really consistent in keeping that kind of information but have seen that it could be very helpful.

    Deb ~~ I have an iPhone and a MacBook laptop. What program(s) do you use on each for those notes?

    Anyone else? I'm also open to suggestions about what is -- and what is not -- important info to keep about "encounters" of different kinds.

    Thanks so much!

  5. Not a pastor, but what's turned out to work for me is to keep a series of little notebooks (half-sized) with sturdy covers. I amuse myself with cute cover designs. In them, I take notes from every meeting and I jot down every person I speak with and every call I make or take.

    This way, when someone asks me about October 2, I can go back and see it.

    Danger: If that notebook gets lost, I'm toast.

  6. I am also interested in Deb's electronic way of doing things!

    I understand the value of a chronological list, and I'm currently filling notebooks with my daily notes, but I worry that I won't be able to find what I need after paging through my notebooks (e.g., "When did I get that phone call about the Trustees?"). How do you all index things?

    Diane/La Peregrina

  7. Diane, I'm also interested in what program or app Deb uses because those tags she talks about are what enables the finding that you are talking about. You can tag an entry with multiple tags like "trustees" "bathroom renovation" "phone call" and then find things that fit any (or all?) of those categories.

    So, Deb, I hope you see this, and that you will please let us know what program or app you are using for that.

  8. I have never been consistent in doing this, and all these ideas sound great! Think I will get started... not just with appointments, but with keeping a "daily log."

    I love the idea of doing it via computer, but a little confused about the examples posted...

  9. Hmmmm...

    Two apps you should have:
    1) DropBox
    2) EverNote

    Evernote allows you to tag and store files, images, pdfs, photos, etc.

    DropBox lets you easily share files. (You can set up a password or a specific secure log in).

    When I'm in a hurry, I just use the "notes" function on my iPhone (also the same app on my husband's iPad). It comes with the date set on it. I add a few notes (name is either coded or First Name and last initial). For projects, I have a folder.

    Use the "dropbox" feature more to send files to a central place. I have folders for my notes.

    I'm not sure this is the most advanced way to do this? Maybe someone has a spouse or beloved who is the total tech geek and can enlighten us! I'm sure I'm not using my tools to their highest potential...

  10. Thanks for the electronic helps. I am still a troglodyte when it comes to my iphone. Those of us who were born before computers do not have very nimble thumbs. 8>D

  11. I keep a paper notebook on a daily basis noting meetings, phone calls, reason(s) for the call/meeting and including time and the names of other people involved and notes if necessary and appropriate. At day's end, I use this to make to-do and follow-up lists as well as an email to me that lists everything for that day. When it comes to confidential, confrontational, or personal items, I try to be as brief and impersonal as possible in describing those items in the notebook; I do not enter them electronically. Although this sounds extreme, from experience, I am very careful about what I commit to electronic format because it is almost ALL discoverable in the event of legal proceedings (such as a divorce or legal suit against a former employer by a parishioner or...well...anything). Even the password-protected stuff on a personal computer. Info stored on your phone can be subpoenaed through your service provider; if your phone service is provided by your congregation, congregational leadership can request it from the supplier without any preliminary legal action and without your permission. If you have information that can be used in a civil or criminal case, then you may be asked to "decode" under oath the names/initials/symbols you have used. I had the "privilege" of serving on a denominational committee investigating allocations against a fellow minister and all of this happened. Fortunately for church and society but unfortunately for him, he had committed w-a-y too much information to electronic formats. Unfortunately for some of his parishioners, information which should have remained confidential and which really had no bearing on the charges against him became quite public. So now I will keep a record that I had a conversation and maybe, in general, what the topic of conversation was, but if there is anything personal/confidential or that should not enjoy wide distribution, I do not record it electronically.

    Don't mean to be a scaredy-cat, but electronic information can be as big a hazard as it is a help.

  12. Anonymous, I have the *opposite* concern --- I want to know what I need to do to protect myself from false allegations (I have seen this happen to other pastors). The advice I had gotten was to keep *detailed* notes and clear records, in case there is a later dispute.

    I have been keeping track of all notes from meetings (individual or group) on a legal pad. Then when I get home I tear them out and file them into the appropriate folder (e.g., worship) after adding the relevant information to my to-do lists. I love being able to find everything easily (instead of going, hmmm... when did I talk to the worship leader?), but I worry that if something happens (e.g., the worship leader accuses me of inappropriate behavior), then how will I be able to prove that I didn't fabricate my notes after the fact? It seems like keeping things in a legal pad/notebook that is clearly dated would be better in disputes, but I would prefer to have easy organization/access as long as I'm not in a major dispute with someone...

  13. Late on this one, because I hadn't thought much about the need to do this. When I saw this question, I realized that this was a "Good Idea", so I've started myself. I happen to own an iPhone, and use it to keep track of my appointments. As I was looking at the calendar entry screen, I realized that there is a spot on the bottom for notes. I went into this and entered the notes of conversations, etc. I wanted to keep. I normally sync with my computer once a week, and have password locks on both the iPhone and the computer, so I think I'm pretty safe in keeping this confidential.


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