Priestly ministry has always faced many challenges: lapsed Catholics, disgruntled volunteers, Diocesan policy, the Devil…. But in the world of today, the biggest challenge can be multiple locations. Many priests are shared between two, three, even four parishes. In my case I split time between two offices. That can lead to lots of frustrations. Maybe you took down a name and phone number and promised, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” but the next day the note is siting at your other desk. Fortunately, there are lots of tools out there that can ease the struggle. Here are five that have helped me.
Some of my readers may remember the days before Google did email. I finally went to the Gmail web interface about 3 years ago when it evolved to the point that, for all practical purposes, it was just as powerful as Thunderbird or Outlook. All your contacts and emails are the same no matter where you are. It also includes calendar that I share with my secretaries and they share calendars with me. For the true power user, Gmail even offers keyboard shortcuts so you can pound through a full inbox without taking your hands off the keyboard. Powerful search features allow you to find that one Parish Council email you know is somewhere. Maybe this is why so many people have @gmail.com addresses.
Email is one thing — how about sharing documents? Most tekkies will suggest a “Network Drive”, but what happens when your computers are on different networks? Enter Dropbox. It creates a folder called on your hard drive called, creatively, “Dropbox.” Any files you save in that folder will appear on all your other computers that you linked to Dropbox. You can also share files or folders with other Dropbox users, or even outside of Dropbox. The office uses a folder named, creatively, “Shared folder”; any file dropped into the shared folder will appear on all our computers. It’s made sharing files quick and easy.
Dashlane stores passwords. You can install it on Windows, Mac, or smartphones. Through a browser plugin, it can automatically enter your passwords. There are easier ways to do this (syncing a Chrome browser), and more complicated methods (LastPass). Dashlane hits the sweet spot of being both powerful and user-friendly. It can store your credit card data securely too, so it’s really easy to purchase things online without letting the website remember your credit card number. And it keeps a receipt of purchases made this way. It will sync its data across multiple computers but only if you pay for the service. The free service can’t sync with other computers but it keeps your data on your own computer — a plus for those who worry about getting their data hacked. I’ve had a few issues with Dashlane plugins, and it inexplicably runs slower on one of my computers than the others, but it’s an elegant solution that automates password storage.
This is the newest addition to my collection. I tried and deleted Evernote twice in the past because it was complicated and cumbersome. I was testing a program called Wunderlist (it manages todo lists and reminders) and it proved so useful, I decided to try Evernote again. The interface is a little complicated. You have to think in terms of Notebook/Note. I have a notebook called ToDo for things I am working on, and I move them into the notebook called Done when I have finished them. I also have a notebook called “Call or Visit”. It collects the emails, phone messages, and notes that cross my desk into one simple, quick, cross-platform application. The beauty of Evernote is that notes can also act as reminders, giving you a message at a set date and time. It’s a notebook and todo list in one.
All the previous apps mentioned also run on smartphones (Android, iPhone). My smartphone lets check my calendar, look up a note about a visit, call a person I need to visit, and find their location on a map. Once I was on my way from one parish to another to celebrate a funeral. On the way there I got a call from a different funeral director who was meeting with a family and wanted to schedule another funeral. I pulled over, checked my calendar on my smartphone, and OK’d the funeral. Then I sent a text to my care minister notifying her. It’s like an office in your pocket. I can look up files stored in Dropbox and check my email on the Gmail app.
All of the above are just tools. Like any tool they have to be used wisely. Anything stored on the internet comes with privacy concerns and potential hacking. You have to weigh the benefits and risks of each solution. These have helped me. What do you use to stay productive?