Bill Pringle - Bill@BillPringle

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Using a Palm Pilot as a Ward Executive Secretary


I was ward executive secretary for several years, and used my Palm Pilot extensively during that period. It was so obvious, that when I was released, my replacement, who had been resisting PDAs, bought one before his first Sunday. Since that time, my Palm Pilot died and I switched to an iPod Touch. Although the terminology below is for a Palm Pilot, you can apply them to any PDA or cell phone. Unfortunately, the memo/notes application on the iPod Touch isn't as useful as the Palm Memo (can't order the notes, can't apply categories, etc.) You probably want to use a different note taking application. I use Documents to Go, which I had on my Palm Pilot and used for talks, etc. I would avoid web-based note taking programs like EverNote since you would be putting sensitive information on somebody else's server.

I don't claim that what I did was that great, or that you actually need a PDA, but I wanted to share what I did for those who are interested. What I did was with a Palm Pilot, but the same could apply to a Windows CE device, or an iPhone/iPod Touch which is what I now use since my Palm died. For that matter, you can easily adapt this approach to paper, if you are so inclined. As others will tell you, I don't do much with paper, but I can understand those who prefer paper. (My wife is one of them. :^)

Because of your calling as Ward Executive Secretary, you have access to information that is not generally available to other members of the ward. It is very important that you keep this in mind, especially if you are going to keep some of this information on your Palm Pilot. Because of this, make sure you don't beam any documents containing sensitive information. Also, be careful when reading sensitive information on your Palm Pilot and make sure that somebody next to you doesn't see something they shouldn't. Similarly, if you are keeping any sensitive information on your PC, make sure that other family members don't have access to it.

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Separate Memo Files

Each meeting was a separate memo. Each thing I did often was a separate memo (Interviews, Temple Recommends, Youth Interviews, etc.)

I created two memo categories: Bishopric and Archive. The latter is where I move older items. The Palm allows me to display memos either in manual mode or alphabetical. Alphabetical honors leading spaces, so I have my Interviews memo start with about five spaces. This pushes it to the very top of the list. I would do the same thing with the list of who needed their Temple Recommend interviews. The first line (or title) of memos for regularly scheduled meetings would have the name of the meeting followed by the date (e.g., Bishopric 01/06/02) For recent and upcoming meetings, I would add spaces in front of the name. This would push those meeting notes to the top of the list. As time would go on, I would remove those spaces for the older meetings, which would put it to the bottom of the list. The end result is that there were two groups of memos: the more recent ones towards the top of the list, and the older ones at the bottom. After a very long time (several months), I would move memos to the Archive category. This would allow me to quickly find notes from recent meetings, but still be able to go back to meetings from a while ago.

Experiment by putting different number of spaces at the front of the name so that the memos are grouped to suit your tastes. For example, my memos are ordered like this:

This is the memo I use to schedule interviews. It contains interview times for each remaining Sunday in the current month, plus the next month once we get more than half way into a month. For my Sunday Bishopric agenda, I copy the entries for the current day into the agenda.
This memo contains information on callings. It lists the callings that are open and need to be filled. It contains who is to be called and for what callings. It also contains who is to be set apart. Finally, it contains those people who need callings. <//d>
As people are identified for a given calling, I add their name and move it from the "To be filled" section to the "To be called". Once they are sustained in Sacrament Meeting, the entry is moved to the "To be set apart" section. Once they are set apart, I move them to the "Done" section. After they are sustained, I update the ward position information (MIS12).
People with Special Needs
This memo contains a list of those members of the ward that have special needs. This list can be grouped into "Single Parents", "Single Adults", and "Medical Issues". I often copy and paste this list into the agenda for Welfare meeting, and possibly Ward Council and Bishopric.
Temple Recommends
This memo contains a list of those people who need to have Temple Recommend interviews. It is divided into two major sections: Bishopric and Counsellors. Each section is ordered by the month the recommend expires, up to and including the next month, possibly two months. The Bishop's section also contains a list of those people whose temple recommend expired a while ago (and should be interviewed by him instead of a counsellor). This tends to give priority to those whose recommend has expired the longest.
I copy and paste this memo into the Sunday Bishopric agenda.
Youth Interviews
This memo contains a list of all the youth who should be interviewed. It is also divided into "Bishopric" and "Counsellor", and is sorted by date of interview up to the next month. I copy and paste the name and birthdate entry from the MIS241 report (e.g. Jones, John 04Jun1985). As the interviews are conducted, I move the names to the "Done" section.
Recent Meetings
Next follow a collection of memos for the recent meetings. This would be grouped: Bishopric, PEC, Ward Council, and Welfare. I keep at least one of each meeting type in this top group. I tend to keep several Bishopric entries, and then one or possibly two of the others. This allows me to quickly go back to previous meeting notes and find action items to be carried over into the new agenda. I move older entries to the bottom of the list by removing the leading spaces in the name (first line). When the list gets to be too long, I move the older entries to the Archive category.

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Probably the most time intensive activity is scheduling interviews with the Bishop.

Initial Setup

At the beginning of the year, I would create a template of interview times for a typical Sunday (before church, during Sunday School, and after Church). For example:
------- Temple  (Counsellor)
This list contains all the normal times for interviews for both the Bishop and his Counsellors (for Temple Recommends). (If you put a space after the time, it will make it easier for you when you go to add a name.)

Next, I would make up a blank list of interviews for the month. This would consist of five copies of the above list, preceeded by what Sunday of the month, and what meetings. For example, in our ward, we have the following meeting schedule:

1st Sunday
(the above list)

2nd Sunday
Ward Council, BYC
(the above list)

3rd Sunday
Welfare, PPIs
(the above list)

4th Sunday
Ward Council
(the above list)

5th Sunday
(the above list)

I would leave a blank line above each group, so that I could fill in the actual date when I copy it for the next month. For this template, I would also go through and remove the interview times for special Sundays. For example, BYC is held right after church, so there would be no interviews after Church that week. On the interview schedule for that week, BYC is scheduled.

Ongoing Activities

At this point, I have a blank template for an entire month. I would keep this template at the bottom of my "Interviews" memo. At the end of each Sunday, I would cut and paste the interviews for that Sunday into the memo "Past Interviews YYYY" in the "Archive" category. This would allow me to go back and see who the Bishop had interviewed recently. (A full year won't fit on a single memo, so I break it into two or three chunks. You might want to create an archive memo for each month.)

Towards the end of each month, I would copy the month template into the top part of the memo after the last Sunday of the current month. I would go through and add the dates for each Sunday, and remove the fifth Sunday entry if necessary.

People would come up to me or call me at various times and ask for an interview with the Bishop. By having the Interviews memo at the very top of the Bishopric category, it made it a lot easier to find an open time slot. I would tell them what times are open, fill their name in the appropriate slot, and I was done. By having the schedule for the next several weeks allowed me to schedule weeks in advance. (e.g., I can put you in late after church today, or first thing next week. You're not here next week? How about the week after?)

Of course, things didn't always go as smoothly as you would like. :^) People wouldn't show up, the Bishop would have additional people he wanted to see, etc. However, with the schedule right in front of me, I could easily make adjustments, adding new people or possibly rescheduling others. Here is where the "drag and drop" feature of EvEdit came in handy, since when I had to reschedule somebody, I could highlight their name and drag them to the appropriate new time slot.

For youth interviews, I had a list of who was to be interviewed each month. I kept this list in a separate memo. Whenever some extra time appeared in the Bishop's schedule, the first thing I would do is look in the Youth Interviews memo for somebody to fill in that slot. As youth were interviewed, I would move them from the 'to be interviewed' section of the list into the "Done" section at the bottom of the memo. That way I could tell if they had been interviewed instead of I forgot to put them on the list.

If there were no youth to be interviewed and time available, I had a list of people with expired recommends, and would try to get one of those in to see the Bishop with the hope that they could get their recommend up to date. This list might also include other people that the Bishop wanted to keep tabs on, such as those with special needs. By having that list handy, I could get them in to see the Bishop every so often.

Probably the most important trick is what I would refer to as "dynamic scheduling". I would change the schedule in a heartbeat if necessary. For example, if the Bishop is ready for an interview, and next person isn't there, but the person after that is ready, then they would go in now, and I would go looking for the missing person. This kept the Bishop interviewing people instead of waiting for me to find "Brother Johnson". If somebody unscheduled wanted to see the Bishop, I would tell them to hang out nearby, and if there is a gap, I would get them in. Another trick is to go find the next person as soon as somebody goes into the Bishop's office. As soon as somebody comes out of the office, you want someone else ready to go in.

You should always allow some "slop time" in your schedules. People seldom complain about getting in earlier, but they aren't as happy about having to wait longer than you told them. Also, the Bishop will probably give you a list of less active people who he wants to see the next time they are in church. As soon as you see one of them, ask them if they can see the Bishop. I try to get these people in as soon as possible, because they are less likely to wait around. If you have some extra time built into the schedule, this would probably impact at most one person. By having extra time in the schedule, you can handle all the surprise interviews your Bishop asks for.

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Temple Recommend Interviews

One of the more important duties is to help keep temple recommends up to date. Each week, I check the interview books for new entries, and update the MIS system (using MIS 265).

On a regular basis, I run the MIS262 report (sorted by expiration date) output to a floppy disk. When I get home, I copy and paste names into the "Temple Recommend" memo on my Palm Pilot. This memo is in date order: those whose recommends have expired recently, then those that will expire this month, then the next month, and the one after that. I generally keep the list separated into those who are to be interviewed by the Bishop, and those who can be interviewed by a Counsellor.

Remember, once they are interviewed by the Bishopric, they have to have a Stake Interview, which may not be scheduled all that often. As a result, you don't want to wait until somebody's recommend (almost) expires. If you are caught up to date, you should be scheduling people whose recommends expire at the end of the following month.

As people are interviewed, I drag their name to the "Done" section of the memo, to help remind me to check the book. You can't assume that just because somebody went into a Temple Recommend interview that they passed. Check the book before updating the MIS system. If somebody's name doesn't appear, it's none of your business why, but you might want to check with the Bishop to make sure you didn't simply miss the entry. If they didn't pass, I move their name to the "expired" section.

Every so often, I run the MIS263 (endowed members without a current recommend) report to a floppy disk and take it home. I then go through it looking for people who might be willing to go to a temple recommend interview. (This is also when I catch any entries that I missed.) I copy and paste these names to the "expired" section. I would keep this list handy so that whenever the Bishop has some free time, I can ask them to talk to the Bishop.

You have to be careful with people who move into the ward. Their temple recommend expiration date doesn't follow them. They will initially show up in this report, so ask them when their recommend expires and add the date to the MIS report (MIS265). This is also true of people who get their own endowments. You can't add an expiration date until Salt Lake has updated their record to indicate that they have been endowed. Once that happens, they show up on this report. If you aren't careful, your ward can look like it has more people with expired recommends than it actually has.

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Creating Agendas

One of the few formal duties of the Exec Sec is to create agendas for meetings. Some will create agendas using Word documents that create a nice looking agenda. I tend to favor function over form, so I would create an agenda as a memo for each specific meeting. I would then add the agenda items for that meeting, as well as some "standardized" content.

For example, for Bishopric meeting, I would copy the action items that were to be brought up at the previous meeting, and paste them into the agenda for the next meeting. Then I would include the following by copying and pasting from other memos:

For the other meetings (PEC, Welfare, Ward Correlation) I would include the list of upcoming events.

I would then print out copies of these notes for each person in attendance. I would simply use the Palm "Print Memo" option. If you want, you could past the memo into MS-Word and then format it to look nice, but I found that simply printing the memo was just fine.

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E-Mail Notes

During the meetings, I would add notes to the agenda on my Palm Pilot. I had been tempted to get a keyboard for my Palm, but got released before then. What I did, however, was to simply jot down a few keywords to capture what was discussed. I didn't want to write something like "Sr. Jones is having marital problems", but rather "Sr. Jones". That way, those who attended the meeting would be reminded of the issue, but if the notes got into the wrong hands, they wouldn't know what was discussed. (It could just as easily been that Sr. Jones bakes great brownies. :^)

When I got home from church that day, I would quickly review my notes, correct any typos, possibly expand abbreviations, add any other items that I didn't record, and then e-mail the notes to those who (should have) attended the meeting. I created e-mail aliases for each organization (LDS_Bishopric, LDS_EQ, LDS_HP, etc.) This alias would contain the e-mail address of the president, counsellors, or whoever else they wanted to get these notes.

I then created an e-mail alias for each type of meeting (e.g., for LDS_PEC, it would include LDS_Bishopric, LDS_EQ, LDS_HP, LDS_YM, and LDS_Miss). It would typically take less than five minutes to review the notes and e-mail them to the participants, but people kept telling me how much they appreciated this feedback.

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Ongoing Agendas

I would start an agenda for a new meeting as soon as something was to go onto the agenda. I would check to see if an agenda was already started. If not, I would create one; otherwise I would add the item. For example, we might be in Bishopric when a topic came up. The Bishop might then say he wants to discuss it at the next Ward Council meeting. I would create a memo if necessary for that meeting, and then add that agenda item. (That way I didn't have to remember to transfer that agenda item later.)

During the review of the notes, any action items that required follow-up I would copy to the agenda for the next meeting.

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Ward Calendar

Our Stake puts out a Stake Calendar each year. They use some kind of calendar program that creates nice looking calendars. Once again, I tend to prefer function over form, so I ask them to export this information into a text file. (Most calendar programs should allow you to do this.) Fortunately, the package they use creates a comma separated "Event List", which is a text file containing the information from the calendar in list form, each event on a separate line.

I import the CSV file into an Excel spreadsheet. I then use "Format Cells" to get things to look the way I want them. The most recent file contained three fields: the date, time, and description of the event. For example, the most recent file looked like this:

1/1/2002,,New Year's Day
1/3/2002,19:30,Stk Welfare Comm
1/3/2002,18:30,Stk Public Affairs
1/3/2002'18:30,Stk AP Comm Mtg
1/5/2002,,TEMPLE DAY
The year before, the file and starting and ending times. You will probably get something similar; the exact format doesn't matter, as long as it has the information you need.

Once you have the Stake Calendar in a spreadsheet, create a new (empty) worksheet for your Ward Calendar. Use "Format Cells" to format the columns the same as the Stake Calendar. Enter your ward events into this new worksheet. Once done, you have two work sheets: the first has Stake events, and the second has your Ward Events. The reason you want to keep these two separate is because the Stake might issue an updated Stake Calendar. If you mix your events in with the Stake events, this can create a nightmare trying to sort the two out. By keeping them separate, you can simply replace the old Stake worksheet with the new one.

Now what you want to do is combine the Stake and Ward events into a single (temporary) worksheet. Click on the upper left corner of the Stake spreadsheet to select the entire sheet. Then press Ctrl-C (or the Copy Icon) to make a copy of all the Stake events. Paste them into the new temporary worksheet that you created. Now do the same thing for the Ward events, copying and pasting them into the temporary worksheet. When done, you might want to use "Format Cells" so that the two sets of entries look the same. I'm not a big Excel expert (or fan, even), so I always have a problem merging the two calendars together because the copy & paste areas aren't the same size. If anyone knows the easy way to do that, please let me know.

Once you have the Stake and Ward events in the same sheet, you want to sort it by date to merge the two calendars. Click on the upper left corner to select the entire sheet. Select the "Data" menu item, and "Sort". Select to sort first on date, then on time. You now have a merged Stake and Ward calendar.

If you have the same calendar package that the Stake used, you should be able to export this merged sheet into a CSV file, then import it into your calendar program. You could then print nice looking calendars with both the Stake and Ward events merged into a single calendar. What I do is copy & past the merged spreadsheet into a text file. I then use makedocW to convert that text file into a Palm Pilot Doc file. I go through by hand to add bookmarks into the Doc file. You can do this by adding the bookmark text between angle braces and adding a line at the end of the file:

01/01/02                New Year's Day
01/03/02        6:30 PM Stk AP Comm Mtg
01/03/02        6:30 PM Stk Public Affairs
01/03/02        7:30 PM Stk Welfare Comm
[rest of file w/ a bookmark before each month]
[make sure you include the next line]

More recently, I wrote a program that will allow me to add new items into a database, and then extract this information into web pages. If you are interested in this, I can send it to you.

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WardList Program

The MIS system has been replaced by MLS. See my new program, MLSRPT for a replacement.

My Wardlist program helps me create DOC files that can be read on my Palm Pilot using any DOC reader. The files contain embedded bookmarks, so if you use a reader that supports bookmarks, you can easily skip to certain sections of the reports.

This program will also create CSV files, which you can use to import into a database or Excel spreadsheet. The database program that I use is ThinkDb, which has been renamed SmartList. Once you have the information in a database, you will be able to search, examine information, create views (such as YM, YW, Primary, etc.) Two files are created: one for families and one for individuals. The family table contains address, phone number, HT/VT history, etc. The individual table contains birthday, callings, etc. By linking the two together, you can look up a family, and then list the members of that family. You can also look up an individual, and get the address and phone number (and/or other family members.)

By the way, the church has several options within MIS designed for exporting data. The problem is, you have to be Level 3 to access them. As Executive Secretary, I am only level 2. Also, some of the info in the export files are sensitive (e.g., adult ages), so you have to be careful who you give the files to. The latest release of MIS supports the export to "Palm Device" which is actually a CSV file that can be imported into a Spread Sheet (e.g., Excel). Personally, I don't find that very useful for several reasons: (a) each entry is a single line, so you have to keep scolling across to look up fields, and (b) there are no bookmarks, so no easy way to find Sr. Jones without paging down or doing a search. You can import CSV files into MS-Access, where you can do queries and reports (assuming you know Access.)

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Helpful Programs

This section was written a long time ago, and Palm Pilot software has gotten much better. Some of these programs are not longer used and/or needed.

My Palm Pilot page lists a number of programs that I use often. In particular, the EvEdit program is very handy, because it allows me to drag text from one part of a memo to another. For example, for Youth Interviews, I am the person who gets the youth and escorts them to the Bishop's office. I then drag their name from the "to be interviewed" section to the "done" section. That way, I know that he actually saw the person, and I can quickly determine who he has seen recently.

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