Archives for posts with tag: organization

brazil junior youth group

A group of friends was discussing how a program grows in communities at varying stages of development, and the term “organic growth” came up and needed some clarifying.

In the beginning, growth is often a bit of a mess. Somebody tries something. Somebody else tries something else. Something catches on. Something else doesn’t. Maybe people talk to each other about what they’re doing, and maybe not. Patches of activity sputter to life and die out again. Conversations happen, or they don’t. Peopleusually individuals, but sometimes small groupsdo what they can, in whatever ways seem to open.

There’s not a problem with these initial messy efforts. It’s a beautiful mess, after all, seeing growth where there wasn’t any before. And it makes little sense to compare a community at this stage and feel terrible, comparing with more advanced communities that have all kinds of structures in place: teams focused on specific lines of action, coordinators for educational programs, committees thinking about quarterly cycles of activity, annual calendars, budgets, resources … all these things develop with effort and experience and time.

But sometimes, in an effort to avoid comparisons and feel better about where we are, we say things like “Well, we’re growing organically right now.” And that’s not necessarily accurate.

Organic growth, of course, isn’t the same thing as frenetic growth. It doesn’t mean the same thing as “without structure” or “without a plan.” Anyone who has ever gardened or taken regular walks in the woods has seen organic growth in action. A plant will absolutely adapt to the local environment as it sprouts and grows, taking advantage of light, moisture, space, and support wherever they may be found. But there is still a structure and an order to this growth. Stems grow before buds. Leaves appear at particular intervals in relation to one another regardless of the circumstances. Roots go down, stems up. Every individual is different, and yet they all follow a comprehensive plan. There is a framework for organic growth.

Why does this matter? Because if we conflate organic growth with frenetic growth, the opposite of organic becomes systematic. When it comes time to grow beyond one or two or five little hubs of activity we’re unable to step forward, because the next steps are what we have viewed as the antithesis of our strengths. We cling to freneticism in the name of naturalness, not understanding that growing into structure over time is also natural.

“Systematic,” in turn, doesn’t mean “rigid,” “hierarchical,” “forced,” or even “complex.”

“Systematic” can mean taking notes after your children’s class, so that a substitute can help fill in when you’re sick.

“Systematic” can mean you and a group of friends get together over dinner once a month to talk about what you’ve been doing and reflect on what you’ve learned.

“Systematic” can mean choosing your next steps on purpose, having looked at the needs and resources around you, rather than responding in the moment to real or perceived emergencies, or panicking about growing in all ways at all times regardless of your ability to address each area of growth effectively.

Sometimes, in learning to grow from beautiful mess to systematic growth, we forget the emergent and adaptive quality that is also at the heart of an organic approach.

We appoint someone to coordinate an activity when there is nothing yet to coordinate.

We push a particular line of action without stopping to consider whether there is a foundation that can be built upon.

We cut off an area of strength in order to adhere to an unhelpful conception of “balance.”

We insist on a single approach, rather than providing a framework and seeing what emerges.

If complacence keeps us stuck in the stage of beautiful messes, it’s impatience that drives us to the other extreme. Organic growth requires a calm sense of urgency that’s not particularly encouraged in today’s society. It’s something I struggle with on a personal level myself, often mentally swinging between “everything must happen now, and here is the exact method for achieving it” and “forget this, I’m just going to do what’s pleasant and convenient regardless of the need.” It’s consultation with others that helps keep me a little more focused and level. (Thanks, y’all.)

Organic growth is about creating an environment that challenges and encourages it. We weed, we water, we provide trellises or light or heat … and the plant grows. We know what roses or tomatoes or oak trees need, but the circumstances are always a bit different on the ground. Perhaps the soil here is more acidic, or the drainage is poor. This valley is prone to floods in May, this particular plant is prone to blight.

But the only way we learn these things about our local conditions is to get out there and start a garden. And if we’ve only read books about gardening n the past, it’s probably going to be a mess at first. Mud and tears and fits and starts.

It will be amazing when the whole world has gained so much experience that we can all move smoothly into true organic growth from the start. Until then, we’ll keep working through the stage of beautiful messes and into something appropriate and new, doing our best to help our gardens grow.



I read a fantastic book about octopus intelligence last year. In The Soul of the Octopus, (which is a great read, by the way), the author describes an octopus’ nervous system as extremely decentralized. Not feeling obligated to keep all their thinking surrounded by bone, a good portion of their cognitive activity actually goes on in their limbs. They essentially have nine brains. This means that two of their arms could be figuring out what you’re made of, two could be getting ready to scoot in the opposite direction, and one could be sneaking into your pocket for something to eat, all at once. And the octopus has no trouble concentrating on all of these tasks simultaneously, because each arm is basically doing its own thing.

When I first became a coordinator and realized what it entailed, my first thought was, I really wish I were an octopus. Nine brains would come in really handy, most days.


So I started looking around me. I know I’m not the only person in the world who is responsible for keeping track of many different people engaged in learning about many different processes in many different spaces. There are corporations with millions of employees out there, government agencies that track billions of dollars, scientists who examine complex ecosystems for tiny changes over time. So I knew I could figure this out.

And I tried a lot of different things. I worked different systems with my Google calendar. I tried Evernote, and pursued the Getting Things Done method doggedly for two months. I gave Asana a go. And they were all great, but all left me with two major issues:

  1. There were too many things in too many different places. The categories were supposed to be helpful, but they ended up making things too complicated.
  2. In the end, I don’t want to stare at my phone all day. I do better with paper, but all the planners I saw ran into problem #1 again with the overly rigid structure.

That’s when I discovered bullet journaling.

So yes, this is a post about my organizational methods as a coordinator. Not because I think the whole universe should find my daily schedule fascinating, but because I really wish I could have read a blog post just like this a year ago. To the future coordinators out there, welcome. We have a lot to chat about.

What ISN’T bullet journaling?

A lot of what you see online when you search for “bullet journal” or “bujo” isn’t necessarily bullet journaling. Whimsical calligraphy. Thematic monthly spreads. Sparkles and washi tape. All that is extra stuff that artsy people like to put in their journals because they’re artsy. Don’t worry about that for now, you can always bust out the crayons later if you feel so moved.

What is bullet journaling?

At its heart, bullet journaling is a system for rapid logging. Think about all the stuff you might want to write down during the day: Important meetings, tasks to be done, notes from phone calls, interesting ideas, information to look up when you have more time, topics to discuss with others. Instead of having a planner for events, a pad for to-dos, a diary for thoughts and reflections, and a random sticky note for that odd thought you had while in the middle of lunch, you put it all in one place.

In chronological order.

Totally jumbled together.

(I know, this sounds ridiculous. Stay with me.)

But it’s called bullet journaling, because each different type of information has a different bullet point next to it, indicating what it is. And you keep a key. There’s a traditional set to get you started, but most people end up changing and customizing them based on their own needs after a while. Here’s mine:


Yes, the “delegated” indicator should be closer to the top of the list. That’s life!

What does this look like on a daily basis?



Daily Log

You might be thinking it looks like a bit of a mess. It’s not perfectly printed in cute, even boxes. My Saturday takes up half a page, while my Sunday is quite short. The page starts on Friday. My handwriting is nothing more than adequate. There are smudges, and earlier logs are bleeding through.

But I can see at a glance when Feast was, and that I needed to plan a reflection, make a phone call, and roast a bunch of vegetables. I tracked what books I finished reading, pondered my sister’s birthday gift (I got her earrings that were little silver rhinoceroses, she loved them), and noted a meaningful hashtag. I also apparently missed doing laundry. Oops.

Now, there are other parts to bullet journaling that make it feasible as an organizational method. I’m not going to get into the Future Log or monthly logs, but the Bullet Journal website has great explanations for all this. The best part is, you don’t need any fancy equipment. You can do it with a 99 cent composition notebook and a free ballpoint pen you got from an insurance agent.

It’s a framework, within which there is the flexibility to adapt to individual conditions and needs and for creative expression as desired. Sound familiar?

Bonus stuff.

The other great thing about bullet journaling is that, since I’m carrying it everywhere and referencing it regularly, it’s also a great place for me to keep track of other things.

I have a habit tracker, where I make sure I remember to do things like floss, take at least 8,000 steps, and say my obligatory prayer.

I track the books that I’ve read in a month, because I like seeing them in one place.

I have a page for story ideas, and another page for things I’m thankful for.

I keep my skills of accompaniment close at hand, since I reference them all the time:


I also keep a list of the capacities I’m hoping to develop at the cluster level, handily color-coordinated (more on that in another post):


And sometimes, when I’m working on memorizing something and have a little extra space, I’ll even bust out my nearly-nonexistent artistic skills and try to pretty things up.

Path of Service

It’s not exactly Pinteresting, but my journal has saved me so much stress and anxiety. And that’s totally beautiful, in its own way.