I like structure. Lists and tables (think excel not dining room) are the best. One of my favorite structure hacks is what I call “quadrant brainstorming”. It’s a marriage of brainstorming and mind mapping but with rules and guidelines.
I begin by drawing a circle in the middle of the page and then drawing two perpendicular lines to divide the circle into four quadrants (I would say it looks like a cross-hair but that’s no longer a fashionable term, so think of it as a pie with four pieces). I then draw four more circles, each connected by a line to one of the original circle’s quadrants. I finish by dividing the four circles into four quadrants also. Now I’m ready.
I use this process to think about a project I need to complete, people I need to meet or manage, a resource I need to create or my roles and responsibilities for a given week. I also use this method every week as part of my sermon preparation process.
Whatever I am trying to bring into focus, I begin by identifying the four big pieces. In a sermon, it’s the four movements I hope to work through. It might be four people who are my direct reports. It might be the four thematic goals (WIGs if you’re a Covey devotee) of a project I’m working on. I’m not sure why I like four so much. I have no science or magic to suggest that it is the perfect number, but I like the cross in the middle of the circle and four seems to be useful and flexible number. It’s large enough to include everything without being so small that something gets missed.
This Sunday, the four pieces of my sermon (I’m preaching on Nicodemus) are:
- The conversation behind the conversation
- The Kingdom of God
- New Birth
- Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
On Good Friday, we create an event called The Via Dolorosa. It is a prayer walk through the Upper Room, the Garden, and then through multiple stations to the foot of the cross. You might think of it as an evangelical remix of the Stations of the Cross. I used my quadrants to create our big picture plan for the event. The four primary categories of planning are:
All that to say this. Yesterday, while I was working out, I was thinking about the role of a pastor. Perhaps this is a reflection of my own neurosis, but I’m constantly trying to sharpen my own understanding of what I do so that I can do it better. I want to narrow my focus so I can focus on what is most important and beneficial. By defining the four quadrants of my life as a pastor I can evaluate my plans by asking questions like, “Where does this activity fit? Am I being balanced? What am I neglecting?”Here’s the four things I think I ought to be dealing with every day:
- People — Equipping the people of God to do the work of God
- Programs — Repeating events (usually weekly) such as Worship Gathering, discipleship groups, etc.
- Projects — One time activities, events or initiatives which enhance our ability to equip people and improve programs
- Problems — They happen. The buck stops with me. I have to address them and find solutions
The great benefit I experience from quadrant brainstorming is an escape from chaos. By creating guardrails for my thinking process, I am forced to sometimes make decisions about what is most important and what is nice but expendable. Clarity is a powerful force when harnessed. When I find it lacking, I draw a circle and two lines.