Too many ‘daily-habits’

We don’t often hear about successful people making mistakes. Few people admit the struggles they face, whilst they face them. Far be it from me to make this blog another example of someone who has it all together.

I’m going to do some thinking “out loud” in this post. See if it helps me come up with some solutions.

The Problem: I feel as though I have too many daily-habits and things that I expect of myself to achieve/get done. For some reason, perhaps because of being overwhelmed, or even because of a fear of being overwhelmed…I’m doing less than what I was previously. Even bed-rock habits (those I’ve been doing consistently for years) are being missed.

The Question: So what is it that I feel I have to achieve/get done on a daily basis? [Clarify – someone wise once said we ‘fear what we don’t understand’ – so let’s try and be specific]

  1. Bible Read Through (a book of the Bible a week/3-4 chapters/day, 20mins)
  2. Journaling (10-20mins)
  3. Exercise (45-60min 3/week)
  4. Running (60-90mins 2/week)
  5. Bible Study (around 30 mins)
  6. Other Study projects (Spurgeon‘s Lectures, Greek, Writing 45mins)
  7. Blogging (?…not enough experience, roughly 45mins/post)
  8. Book Work – Editing (45min chunks)
  9. Creating Resources (45mins)

In all that works out as: 220+90=310mins a day = 5+hours….on top of that I have a full time job and people I’m discipling/meeting with.

Okay, that is an unreasonable expectation.

The Next Question: Clarifying ‘why’ I “need” to do each of those a) so regularly b) at all.

  1. Bible Read Through (a book of the Bible a week/3-4 chapters/day, 20mins) Part of my dynamic relationship with God, a means by which I encourage others to pursue God’s heart through a resolved and deliberate attitude towards the church..
  2. Journaling (10-20mins) Part of my relationship with God and the foundation for how I carry out the various offices of my life.
  3. Exercise (45-60min 3/week) My life’s example to encourage and inspire others to pursue God’s heart + health reasons
  4. Running (60-90mins 2/week) Ibid.
  5. Bible Study (around 30 mins) Maintaining a posture of receptivity and learning, wise stewardship of the gifts God has given me including teaching, also part of my relationship with God.
  6. Other Study projects (Spurgeon‘s Lectures, Greek, Writing 45mins) Ibid
  7. Blogging (?…not enough experience, roughly 45mins/post) Stewardship, a posture of vulnerability, lays a foundation for future book work, practice writing skills
  8. Book Work – Editing (45min chunks) Ibid
  9. Creating Resources (45mins) Ibid

Not entirely helpful. But what I did notice is that there is a lot I am doing to teach others. Since aiming for more than I can handle is resulting in doing less than I can handle…I will reduce.

Work in progress – list:

  1. BRT
  2. Journaling
  3. Exercise/Running
  4. Bible Study
  5. Blogging
  6. Book Work

New total: 40+60+90+45=190+45=235 … still not convinced its realistic….

Blogging and Bible Study…What if, blogging becomes an evening activity “when I feel like it” and Bible Study is done intensely one-two slots each week? That sounds more workable.

So new total: 145mins roughly each day = roughly 2.5hrs…= totally manageable. I wake at 5, finished by 7.30.

Daily Habits: BRT – Journaling – Exercise/Running – Book work

And I can over invest in one of those tasks each day by half an hour or so, rather than try and cram in more.

Weekly Habits: Ad hoc blogging (sorry readers!) and 2/week intense Bible Study sessions.

Brilliant, the way is clear. Will review after a week.

Tuesday Tools – Evening Reading

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from John Maxwell about the rule of five. I written about it before (in fact it was one of the first posts on this blog).

In summary, the trick is to determine which five activities you can engage with every day in order to move closer towards a big goal. He uses the example of cutting a tree, if you hit it five times every day with an axe, eventually it will come down!

In a similar vein I’d like to promote another similar approach to tackling big goals. Reading before bed each night.

There are a lot of benefits to reading before bed: settles the mind, transitions out of the business of the day, no “white light”…etc.

But with 20 minutes or so of reading each day before bed, massive books can be read each year. This can be useful for large fiction series, for personal studying, or even the Bible in a year.

I’m currently working through the Wheel of Time series, (you can use my affiliate link if your interested in taking it up). For those who don’t know, it’s a book series made up of 13 or so books (each around 700/800 pages long). I’m sure I’ve recommended it loads before, I’m on book 3 at the moment. But it is an epic fantasy, like Lord of the Rings on steroids.

An excellent read, great bedtime reading!

Anyway, the habit of reading before bed is also one that’s recommended by John Piper. He did the maths and:

That’s 12 very substantial books [a year], all in 15 minutes a day for the average slow reader.

Tuesday Tools – Deep Work

Around January last year (according to my Goodreads account) I finished Cal Newport’s book: Deep Work. It’s a book that argues that we come up with the best ideas and most meaningful progress when we engage in focused, uninterrupted and undistracted work.

It claims that for “knowledge workers” deep work is becoming increasingly rare, with the deluge of immediate-response social media, attention-stealing technology and the demand to stay on top of e-mails and messages.

Since the ability to engage in deep work is rare, it is also becoming significantly valuable.

I jumped back into this audiobook during my exercise yesterday, to refresh my memory, and started with the beginning of Part 2.

In the chapter I listened to yesterday, he explained that we need to choose which “philosophy” fits our work best.

1. The Monastic Philosophy – this is where you take weeks and months apart from ordinary life to focus on deep work. He gave the example of an author going to a cabin in the woods for weeks to study. I think JK Rowling also did something similar when she wrote the last Harry Potter – checking into an expensive hotel for weeks until it was done!

2. The Bimodal Philosophy – this is where you take some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits of work. It could be Mondays and Tuesdays that you are “unreachable” and don’t answer the phone or e-mails. It could be using a week to focus on working deeply.

Suprisingly, most people will respect decisions to isolate for the sake of productivity at work, provided 1) the times of distance are well-advertised and well-defined and 2) you are available and able to complete other tasks the rest of the timme.

3. The Rhythmic Philosophy – This is where you set aside, say 90 minutes each day to pursue deep work. It is less about “getting away” and more about “setting apart” your time, consistently and habitually.

When it comes to implementing the Rhythmic Philosophy, you will find many of the tools for keeping up with other habits useful.

4. The Journalistic Philosophy – This is where you switch into deep work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Cal Newport warns that this is the most difficult, and few people can actually do this well. However, for some this is the only option available.

I personally have found options 2 & 3 useful. When it comes to writing the book I’m working on, I have taken a week off at a time work to write. Waking up early and finishing late, just focused on the single task of writing the book.

However for my 9-5 job with Cancer Research, I tend to use the Rhythmic Philosophy. Setting aside portions of my day when I turn Teams, Skype Chat, E-mails off and simply focus on work that pushes my cognitive abilities to their limit.

If you are interested in finding out more about deep work, (this post only really covers one chapter of the book!) and want to get the book please use my affiliate link below to support this blog:

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Thanks for reading!

Three Apps for Devotionals

I think most Christians struggle to maintain a discipline of daily time, set apart, with God. Reading the Bible, praying, memorising scripture, even sitting still in God’s presence trying to hear His gentle voice can be a catalyst for sleep!

Thankfully we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, who want to support us in our pursuit of God’s heart. Some of the members of this phenomenal Body, just so happen to be great at technology and programming. We are invited to be encouraged and empowered by the gifts God has given them.

In this post I want to share 3 amazing apps that I have used over the last year to keep me on track during those mornings when ‘I just don’t feel like it’.

Lectio365

https://www.24-7prayer.com/dailydevotional

I was recommended this app from a friend in America, who works closely with the 24/7 Prayer movement. It is an app inspired by Lectio Divina, a way of meditating on the Bible that has been used by Christians for centuries.

Each day you are guided through four steps Pause, Rejoice & Reflect, Ask and Yield. (Aka P.R.A.Y). Along the way you’ll be given a Psalm to use as a springboard for worship, and a Bible passage to spur reflection and guide your prayer.

Plus it comes with extended periods of silence, great music, and some weeks you get one South African reader who’s voice is like liquid-gold! #IzweNkosi

Inner Room

https://innerroom.app/

This app also has connections with 24-7 Prayer movement. However, unlike Lectio 365, it does not have a voice or script leading you through daily prayers. Instead you set your own prayer topics, set a timer and pray.

When you start you get some nice ambient music (although you can change between that and electric or acoustic backing track). I love using this on my walk to work, or sitting in the garden.

One of my favourite things about the app, is that halfway through the allotted time a little voice will come on and say “now listen to God”. The music will remain, and it’s such a helpful reminder that prayer is a conversation. It gives you a reminder to listen to God.

Verses

https://www.getverses.com/

I’ll put it out there first, you have to pay for this one. £10 a year. But in my opinion, it’s £10 well spent. You can trial it free for a month first.

Memorising Scripture is one of my weakest points. I love reading through the Bible, I know a fair amount of handy Bible verses throughout it’s pages by heart. But I rarely make the time to memorise large chunks of Scripture. (And I was working for the Navigators for three years – a group famous for the Topical Memory System!)

I’ve tried a couple of free apps, but this is my favourite.

It comes with 5/6 various “mini-games” to help you get to grips with a passage. You can focus on learning a whole chapter, or random verses, (there are even “playlists” to work through). You can create groups, and learn with friends.

According to the CMF website, five minutes a day will maintain 100 verses well in the memory, by reviewing 20 per day in succession. I’ve been working my way through memorising Romans. I’ve got most of chapters 1 & 8 down. But this app keeps me sharp, I’d like to get them all!

Conclusion

Let us not be afraid or slow to use the gifts God has provided the Church. Especially in our digital age. Look for resources on the App Store. We have a great opportunity to draw close to God, and meet Him, with so many advances and aids in our time.

With great power comes great responsibility

Tuesday Tools: Cull the Excess

For the last couple of months I’ve been constructing my own productivity theory. (Forgive me if someone has already beaten me to it!) It’s a cross between minimalism and the theory of diminishing returns!

The premise of this theory is that human beings are not good at handling excess, in fact we thrive in a sweet spot between having too much and having too little.

Before we begin, let’s think about the different areas in which we may find ourselves with an unhealthy surplus:

1) Time: it seems very few people in the western world claim to have an “excess of time”, rather it seems most people are busy – all the time. (All the time – people are busy!). But I don’t think that is true. I honestly don’t. I think for most people, they have an excess of time available and they spend it poorly. And soon wonder, “where’s all the time gone”. (If time was really as limited as we claim, I don’t think Netflix, YouTube or social media would be as popular as it is) – we’d all be too busy for it.

2) Money: again, few people will claim they have more money than they need. But apparently, if you earn £20K a year, you are in the richest (10%) of the global population. The truth is, you are more likely to have excess money, and spend it poorly than to not have enough. See for yourself in this online calculator: https://howrichami.givingwhatwecan.org/how-rich-am-i

3) Other areas might include, resources, space, material possessions, relationships and a surplus of movie choices. Apparently the affects of excess are felt even when you increase the amount of desktop monitors beyond 3 or 4.

Again, I reckon my theory is closely connected to the theory of diminishing returns as well as minimalism. However, I have always associated minimalism with possessions and having a clear house, whereas my theory is about time, money and other resources – for the specific purposes of productivity.

So why does the excess need culling? Is it so bad? Why can’t I keep it? You may be wondering these questions or similar ones. So let me unpack why it is so essential that we examine the excess in our lives and seek to “cull it”.

I) Excess hinders our creativity and therefore makes us sloppy. When we have more than we need, we don’t have to think of creative solutions to problems, we can just fix it with an inefficient, imprecise, expensive solution. Like using a sledgehammer to hit a nail into plywood.

For example, the other day I noticed my laptop was heating up, because I use it all day. My first thought was “I need to buy a laptop stand, to prop up the back and give the fans some room”. This is because I have excess money (though of course I don’t tell myself that). And after resisting the urge to impulse buy, a luxury not available to those without excess, I decided to simply fold a piece of cardboard up and wedge it under the back of my laptop. Problem solved.

II) Excess isn’t appreciated appropriately and therefore wasted. When we have more than we need, we don’t see the value of what we’ve got. We become flippant and wasteful in how we spend the resource (be it time or money). We forget the importance of optimisation.

III) Excess makes us ungrateful and therefore leads us to jealousy. Linked to the point above, when we have an unnecessary surplus we become ungrateful. A lack of gratitude soon spirals down into comparison games, jealousy and wishing we had what others have, instead of enjoying and appreciating the gifts we have come to take for granted. If you are struggling with envy, one of the best things you can do is look round and be grateful for what you already have.

In this post we have explored some of the areas we may find ourselves with surplus, and the damaging affects of excess. In Thursday’s post we will explore, what to do with our bounty and specifically ‘how do we cull?’

Let me end with a quote from Proverbs (a wisdom book in the Bible) to soak in your mind. It is a prayer of a wise man who is asking God for two things, it is the second that is of most interest to us:

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.

Tuesday Tools: Take the Initiative

I recently read through the Book of Jonah and one of the things that struck me was the complete lack of initiative on Jonah’s part. For those who don’t know, Jonah is the man who God told to go somewhere and preach, who then refused, got eaten by a fish and then spewed out and given another chance to obey God.

So where is Jonah’s lack of initiative? Firstly, it is God who tells him to preach. He doesn’t see the need, and if he does, he has been ignoring it til now. Secondly, in an attempt to flee God’s will he joins a ship heading in the opposite direction. A storm comes and all the sailors are trying to work out a solution. Jonah is burying his head in a pillow when they ask him to help.

Rather than immediately explain that the storms are probably here because he’s disobeying God, he lets the sailors draw lots (in the middle of a storm)…only then (when he is found out) does he explain. Even then its the minimum amount of information. At every point Jonah is hesitant and reluctant, every time he is waiting for someone or something to initiate for him. Be it God, a storm, a lot draw, a fish, a plant to be provided, an immature attitude to be corrected…

Thankfully, the Bible goes on to tell of a God who is not so reluctant, or stagnant, who does take the initiative to rescue us (- even while we were still sinners!)

I found this table produced by John Maxwell, it summarises why we fail to take initiative, perhaps you can relate (I know I can):

But initiative isn’t just a useful approach for living the Christian life. It is also a great benefit in many other areas.

1) Building Friendships – Over the last few weeks, I have taken the initiative to plan getaways with several groups of friends, and a couple of meet ups. I have been so surprised how eager people are for meeting. Likewise, another friend recently took the initiative for meeting with me. It is an amazing feeling when a friend makes the first move. It communicates value, both to me and to the friendship.

2) Exercise – One of the reasons I don’t struggle to exercise regularly is because I take the initiative. I don’t wait for motivation to strike, I just start lifting. Even when I don’t feel like it! Often, it is only when I have started that the mood actually “takes me”. This also applies to studying, reading, working, and lots of other areas. If we want something done, we need to take the initiative. We won’t be spoon fed.

3) Battling Sin – We are all tempted, each by certain things. Sin abounds in our human nature. But we don’t have to be passive about it in our life. If we struggle we lust, let’s take the initiative to put in place accountability procedures, remove trigger points as far as we can, learn to process and understand our unwanted behaviours. What battles do you face? Think of three things you can do today to take the initiative against it. For me, I recently realised how frequently I was buying things from Amazon on an impulse. So I took the initiative to uninstall the app on my phone.

What do you want to happen, what do you feel needs to happen, where would you like to be in five years time? Now take the initiative.

Tuesday Tools: Stretching

One of the tools I use to keep going in my daily habits, routines and disciplines is a concept I call: “Stretching”.

As most people who have tried implementing daily habits have noticed – consistency is a struggle. What starts out as a fun and rewarding activity (such as exercise, studying, writing, reading etc) can soon become an activity we resent, get bored of, forget to do, skip and ultimately quit doing. So how can we keep going? How can we keep engaging in these rewarding projects, routines and lifestyle decisions?

Habit is, after all, the means by which we can implement steady change and growth in our lives over time. They are encouraged in the Bible (see Psalm 1:2 habits of meditating on scripture, Luke 22:39 habits of prayer and Hebrews 10:25 habits of fellowship). They are also endorsed by most popular “self-help” authors (see The Power of Habit, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Atomic Habits)

So how do we fight against this “habit-fatigue”?

One solution is what I call “Stretching”. If we find ourselves doing the same activity over and over again we will undoubtedly get bored. So it is important to stretch ourselves in these areas. The following three ideas can help us stretch:

1) We can regularly set outselves higher goals. Often the reason we stop engaging in useful habits is because of a feeling of success, of having already “made it”. This is why it is argued that telling other people about our resolves isn’t always useful – it produces a feeling of success just by telling people what you intend to do. It’s a feeling that satisfies so much that we feel we have already “made it” and stop. When we reach the goal of being able to run 5K, we can give up. Instead we ought to stretch ourselves by setting new and harder goals, for example running 10K, running 5K in 30minutes, etc.

2) Some habits are implemented in order to achieve a specific target and so setting new goals is important. However, for other habits the goal is “infinite” and we will never get there. For example “closer relationship with God”, or “maintain healthy body”, in these cases our stretching may look different. We may instead need to stretch by switching it up. In exercise this is often called Muscle Confusion. Our muscles quickly get used to the routine we’ve set ourselves and so it is time for a switch – this is why workouts stop aching after a few weeks. We need to switch it up. For our prayer life, this may mean trying to write your prayers down in a journal, going for a prayer walk, inviting friends to pray with you or using pre-written prayers such as Lectio-365. By switching it up we can motivate ourselves to keep going in a specific direction, without necessarily having habits that have the same form.

3) A third way to stretch yourself in the habits you engage with is to teach it to others, or at least bring others alongside. Helping others to adopt the disciplines and habits of a live well-lived. This is often intimidating, especially if we don’t feel like an “expert”, but it is a crucial part of apprenticeship, discipleship and continuing in habits. It is why the last step in the Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 Step Program, is to carry the message to other alcoholics.

John Maxwell calls the concept of stretching: The Law of the Rubber Band. Just as a rubber band must be stretched in order to function properly, we too must continually seek to stretch ourselves in order to grow. Habits, naturally, are a great way to consolidate knowledge, skills and patterns in our lives. But our habits must not be static – seek to stretch your daily disciplines on a weekly/fortnightly basis in order to find the motivation to keep going.