How to Work Without an Office – The Tools

For two years now, myself and the rest of the staff at New Vintage Church have worked with essentially no offices. While that may seem like a dream to many (it did to some of us at first), it certainly has it’s challenges. This is especially for those of us that are extroverts and/or have younger kids in the house–thus rendering the home a subpar work environment.

I was an office guy. I loved having bookshelves, a desk, a coffee pot nearby and others to work with. But, starting a church is all about adapting. So, we’ve had to make do…and will continue to do so until God provides us with some offices. Some of you may loathe the office and have the freedom to go elsewhere. Hopefully, this post will help you be productive away from the office, as well.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned a lot about my work style. I’ve had to struggle to learn how to start and lead a church out my attaché bag, as well as the three held by my three partners on staff. Make no mistake, having offices generally makes a staff more productive than not having them. I know some of us want to believe that’s not the case. But, it is–generally. I found that it takes a great amount of effort to be productive without an office…but it can be done. It took me about 6 months to find my groove.

You can still be productive, but you’ll have to adapt.

Ultimately, your ability to be productive will depend on your ability to understand your own life rhythms and maximizing your use of good tools and alternative work environments.

Here is how I’ve learned to be productive without many of the productivity tools and office provides. My hope is this mini-series of posts might be helpful to anyone who spends time away from the desk as well.

Necessary tools:

  • A smartphone you can really handle at a black-belt level. You need to be able to make calls, send texts and emails, manage tasks and calendar–quickly. All four of us have smart phones and tablets (I have a Windows Phone 8, which I love–the rest have iPhones. Tablets are a plus, only the phone is necessary.
  • A laptop that is smaller, lighter, and easy to shut down/hibernate. I used to use a MacBook Pro 13-inch. You’ll be carrying this thing everywhere, so really think carefully about how big of a screen you really need. 2 of the 4 New Vintage Staff use Mac, and 2 use touchscreen Windows 8 laptops.
  • 4 workspaces: 1 that’s hopping, alive and fun. 1 that’s quiet where you can focus. Hint: this is not Starbucks…it fits the first category. Think library. Your home in the evening or early morning can be space 3, and you’ll also need 1 outdoor space you love being where you can reflect. Here in Southern California, so we can use the outdoors year-round. If you live in Texas or Nova Scotia, find somewhere you can see outside through large windows. Or, I can send you a post-card to look at 🙂 I use home, a local coffee shop, a seminary library and some hills I can hike into with picnic benches about 1.5 miles in. I use other spaces, but those are the main four. Now, we’ve added a fifth–one large “war room” fully equipped with white boards, and other stuff for team-building and strategy sessions (located at our current facility–we still have no individual offices). I try not to change venues more than I must. Sermon prep days are at the seminary. Admin days are in the other venues. The smartphone allows me to do admin nearly anywhere.
  • Key applications. If you’re broke (or just cheap), the Google apps can get you almost all the way home. GMail, Google Calendar, Google+ (for hangouts), and tasks can do almost everything you’ll need and sync across platforms. Google Tasks is the weakest of the Google apps. I recommend Evernote for Task Management and overall data management. If you can master Evernote, you have productivity Jedi potential. I’m at only about a yellow-belt or brown-belt level, and Evernote is indispensable to me. For tasks, I use Nozbe. Dropbox, Sky Drive or Google Drive is also a must for cloud based file sharing/management.
If you have your phone, laptop, apps, and workspaces chosen, you’re almost ready. From there, it’s all about leveraging time.
Any tools, apps, or spaces I’m missing? Or, any of those you would echo as a must?
Note: this post is revised and updated from a previous post.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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