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.

Priority Matrix and Mission

I’ve read my fair amount of productivity, motivation, self help, self-organisation books. I’ve listened to a fair amount of training. And one of the things that comes up frequently is the Priority Matrix:

I think it’s self explanatory, it’s a tool that helps you prioritise a busy schedule.

Well, yesterday I had a bit of a yahoo moment – as I made a connection in my mind: The Gospel Mission is both “urgent” and “important” .

The great commission, to make disciples of all nations, is urgent. We don’t know when Christ will return. We don’t know when our lives will end. But we do know that the time we have is short and so we need to make the most of every opportunity.

But the great commission, is also important. Souls are at stake. God’s Kingdom is so significant, requests for its eminence are top of list in the Lord’s Prayer. The fact that it comes post-resurrection, when all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Jesus, demonstrates it’s importance!

Why is it then that our whole lives do not orientate around the mission of God? Is it because we don’t think it is urgent, we don’t think it is important?

In my job, when I have a task that is both urgent and important, I tend to drop everything. My mind is filled with problem solving the job, I’m talking about it with others, brainstorming solutions. I’m even praying about it.

I understand there is a caveat. We don’t want to “burn out” by “over working”, and not stopping. His burden is light and His yoke is easy. We also shouldn’t worry about anything…etc. But on the other hand, why is it we are so okay to “burn out” and “over work” on other tasks, but not this one?

I wonder what it would look like if a group of five Christians took the Great Commission as the most urgent and most important task in their lives, for even a week? I have a feeling, with five Christians praying, brainstorming, dropping everything, and “doing it now” much ground would be advanced for the Kingdom of God.

A few questions to reflect:

  • What do I need to drop right now, to focus on the Mission of God
  • Who can I partner with in this Mission
  • What specific areas can I be praying for
  • What are my next steps

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out you own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good please.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fail in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Holding fast to the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Chirst that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain.

Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

Finally, for those who would like more understanding about what the Mission of God entails, I would highly recommend the textbook: The Mission of God’s People by Wright. To summarise in one sentence: the mission is: to be a blessing to the nations.

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!

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

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 2 God Provides, We Steward

The second thing that I’ve learnt from studying these 34 verses is that God provides. We mentioned it in the last post as one of God’s activities in Genesis 1. In the story God provides: breath, life, food, work and relationships. But there are two other subtle gifts that God has given.

These provisions will be explored in this post.

1. God Provides Authority

Notice the various words for authority in the passage: “Rule”, “Dominion”, “Subdue”.

The sun, moon and stars are told to ‘rule’ and govern the night and day, the light and darkness. Additionally, mankind is told to have ‘dominion’ over the animals and to ‘subdue’ the earth. In Hebrew these are three different words Rule, Dominion and Subdue (Mashal, Radah, Kabash).

One of the few significant things I have learned about leadership over the last few years, is that competent and confident leaders are not afraid to give away authority – or to delegate it. It is often because we fear being usurped, out-done or overshadowed that we are most tempted to “hoard” our power. So in delegating authority God reveals His confidence and competence.

We may be stingy with our authority is because we are scared of losing control. Giving it away to other people’s is a risk. In doing so we open up the opportunity for others to wreck havoc on our “master-plan”. God’s choice to give authority to His creation reveals His confidence in His own power and sovereignty. He knows that nothing is too far gone for Him to redeem – as in fact He will later do!

We see this same kind of faith extended towards humanity by Jesus, when He leaves the “keys of the kingdom” in the hands of a man who would soon deny Him three times! We see Jesus again, trusting man, when He commits the future of the Church to 11 unqualified fishermen, and one man who was the “worst of sinners” (Paul).

The fact that God provides authority to those He has created demonstrates His power and ability to save.

It also re-affirms the truth that ‘People are God’s Plan A’. In the book ‘How People Grow’, the authors argue that God’s number one plan for getting His people to move into maturity is through other people! God is less about “zapping” people to maturity and more about relationally nurturing them into it!

But God doesn’t just provide authority and power…

God provides Order(ed-time) in the midst of Chaos

One of the things the commentators picked up on, which I totally missed, was how God provides order. We see it in the layout of six days, the first three days are spent creating spaces, whilst the second three days are spent creating creatures to fill those places. We also see it when it says that the world was ‘formless and void’ and that ‘darkness was over the face of the deep’ – a state of chaos. The Hebrew words “Bohu” and “Tohu” are used. But God brings order when He speaks, light, form and purpose into the world.

The commentator of ‘The Message of Genesis’, went further to remind me that it didn’t have to be done this way. In fact God could have created a world of chaos. Where there would be no rules, no rationality, no patterns, in this kind of “contingency” science would not have been possible. However, science is possible and does exist because creation has been made in such a way that we can see patterns, logic and order.

It is because we can expect the law of gravity to work that we can map out black holes in the furthest reaches of the galaxy.

(In other words, it is because God has created a ‘cosmos of order’ that the theory of the Big Bang could even exist!) Mind-blowing!

This provision of order, is very clearly seen in the uses of stars, sun and moon to demonstrate ‘signs, seasons, days and years’. Time is possible because God made it so. He has provided time.

Taking this one step further: Not only has God provided chronological time (Greek: Chronos), He has also provided significant moments of time in which He moves (Greek: Kairos). The mention of the various lights to serve as ‘signs to mark sacred times’ implies these Kairos moments. These are instances when ‘God invests in our time, turning Chronos moments into Kairos moments’! This is a big concept to mention in a post on its own – forgive me! (I’m just making connections!)

“A Kairos moment is when God breaks into your circumstances” (Building a discipline culture – Breen)

God has Provided and therefore we need to Steward well

Since God has provided so much, including authority and ‘ordered-time’, it is our responsibility to steward these resources well. This is one way we can labour for others to pursue God’s heart.

In the Gospels, Jesus teaches through parables the importance of stewardship. What God has given us, He expects us to use, invest and manage wisely. This includes resources such as time and authority.

In my times with God this week I’ve been thinking about the various positions of authority I have, as well as the amount of time I have at my disposal. I want to make the most of the time God has given me and invest it well.

All this is to mention nothing of our responsibility to steward this planet well!