Working with headphones in

I know, I know, it was only a couple of posts ago I was moaning about how much I listen to music. And how, this constant beratement of music in my life: on my walks, during work hours, with God in quiet times etc etc, was slowly numbing me to the power of music. I’m aware this is a total 180 turnaround.

Maybe life isn’t as black or white as a single permanent solution.

So today, in my lunch break, I write to tell you that working from home with headphones in has really helped me focus on work and “get in the zone”.

When working from home, the default when listening to music, is to have it blasting out from my phone. But there’s something more focused about listening through headphones.

  • Better sound
  • Cuts off outside noise
  • Clear break from work, as well as a clear entering into work-mode.
  • Also, a lot of headphones these days allow you to pause/play the next song, without actually picking up your phone and getting distracted by personal e-mails/messages.

That’s it. If you’re struggling to focus working from home, try using headphones for your music.

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

Not losing the Intimacy

It’s been an interesting transition the last few weeks, I’ve made a move to combine blogging with my walk with God. And there have been some great benefits to doing this:

  1. Consolidating my thoughts
  2. A mild form of accountability
  3. Future Benefits – I’m creating a resource to look back on and use later.
  4. Encouraging others – at least I hope so!

However one main concern has surfaced fairly quickly. I do not want to sacrifice the intimacy I have with God during my quiet times because my mind is elsewhere, thinking about how every thought and idea could be transposed into blog format!

It was an issue I found, as a teenager, when I decided to start a weekly gathering for other young guys at my Church. I would be churning through Bible readings, sermon podcasts and books to glean material for the next meeting.

This is not the point of reading the Bible, prayer or listening to sermons. I don’t read the Bible to become a “man of the word”, I don’t pray to become a “man of prayer”, I don’t listen to talks to regurgitate the latest insights. I engage in these activities to nurture my relationship with God, to become more like Jesus and to better equip myself to serve, encourage and love others.

So how do I fight for intimacy whilst at the same time seek to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others? How do I fight to keep my relationship with God from becoming a transactional encounter? What have I learned over the last couple of weeks?

  1. I journal my prayers – a few years ago I was having coffee with a mentor and he pulled out of his bag a proper looking leather bound journal. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings! He opened it up and told me to read one of his prayers, while he went to order another coffee. Just holding that journal was precious, and I could see later as he flicked through it that the pages were filled with numerous prayers. A few weeks later and I’d ordered my own. So what with note-taking, blogging and journaling, there is a lot of writing in my times with God. But this is helpful for me, it helps me to remember, to process and to express myself. It also helps my mind to focus when I’m talking to God, it’s difficult to write and think about breakfast (or fall asleep!) It also slows down my thinking, so that I can invite God to interrupt the chaos in my mind.

Journaling allows me to keep the intimacy in the midst of blogging, because it keeps a part of my relationship with God hidden and secretive.

  1. I take my time. Before I started seriously studying God’s word, my morning routine was packed with 4 main activities. Exercise, Time with God, Writing, and reading. I’d give about 45-60 minutes to each all before work started. Now, I’ve reduced my morning routine down to two items. 1) Running and Weightlifting, 2) Time with God. And so each morning I’m getting a solid chunk of time uninterrupted to study, to pray and to process God’s word. It has been so refreshing, and I think one of the most helpful things towards this is: that I have set aside the space so that I can take my time.

You’ll have also noticed I’m only publishing 3x study blogs a week. This means there is very little pressure to post every day what God’s teaching me. There is room, and time, to wrestle with God through private issues. And scope for me to spend mornings simply being with God. It’s so good! And I would highly recommend it.

  1. I listen to God’s Spirit. I believe it was He, who made me aware of the dangers of losing the Intimacy in the first place. He, who bought it to my attention so that I could counterbalance the dangers, and protect myself. It will be Him, who will guard my heart and mind and bring me to maturity.

May I continue to choose what is better, like Mary, and sit at Jesus’ feet. Rather than being distracted by all the “preparations”, the work, the ministry.