Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Almost Famous

Perhaps happiness isn’t found in being noticed or liked, followed or admired. Here’s a paradox: what if joy can be found in diminishing?

John the Baptist’s story began with promise. He had an astounding birth story – angels, pronouncements, miracles. Rumours spread far and wide: “What kind of man will he become?” In his thirties, he appeared in the wilderness, dressed as a prophet (grasshopper soufflé anyone?), calling people to turn back to God. His job was to prepare them for the coming Messiah. People flocked from all over the Judean countryside to hear his message and be baptized by him in the Jordan. His popularity was on the rise. Everything was up-and-to-the-right.

Then Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John. And everything changed. Doesn’t it always, when Jesus shows up? Thus began the time of John’s diminishing popularity. Once John recognized who Jesus was, he began to nudge his followers toward the Messiah. After all, isn’t that what God called him to do? His popularity dwindled. There were fewer high-five’s and “atta-boys.”

During this time of diminishing, one of John’s people piped up and said, “Uh, Rabbi, not sure if you noticed, but we’re kind of bleeding followers. And what’s weird is that they all seem to be following that other guy. You know…the guy you endorsed the other day? The one you called, ‘the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the whole world?’ You know, the one you said, ‘would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire?’ It looks like everybody’s heading over his way.”

What he seemed to be insinuating was: “Teacher, aren’t you bothered by this? Doesn’t it get under your skin a little? You’re losing your fan-base. You’re taking a dip in the polls. This Jesus guy is getting more likes, more retweets, more visits. Your algorithm is shot. His platform is expanding, but yours is…well…diminishing.”

Diminishing.

Being forgotten. Overlooked. Abandoned. Fading away into obscurity. Who likes diminishing? Nobody likes diminishing, unless of course they’re on a diet plan. And yet John seemed to take it in stride.

As a matter of fact, while diminishing, John made this profound statement: “That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”

And this is why, among all the amazing men and women in Scripture, John the Baptist is one of my heroes. In a day of posturing, platform building, selfies, and Snapchat, John has something to teach us. That while our world is trying to get noticed, John was okay with blending into the background.

What is more, he was able to do it with JOY.

As I said already, perhaps the key to happiness isn’t found in being noticed or liked, followed or admired. Perhaps John gives us some clues about how joy can be found even while diminishing.

 

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Leadership, Personal Development

Reaching Zero Inbox

Clutter. We all love it, right? Well, no.

What if you could unclutter your email inbox? What if you could create a system and rhythms that will leave your inbox empty at the end of each day? I’ve been working at this for the past couple of years and I’ve discovered a system that works. I can’t take credit for any of it – my process is a synthesis of advice and techniques accumulated from other sources. So because “sharing is caring,” here goes:

Create a “#Backlog” folder.

You need to find a landing place for emails that you will follow up at a later date. I recommend creating a sub-folder in your inbox called “#Backlog.” I add the hashtag to ensure that this folder appears at the top of my list of sub-folders when they’re sorted alphabetically. I’ll explain how this folder gets used later.

Consolidate all your task lists.

As I explained in a previous post (“The Task List“), a fundamental key to getting the right things done, is to consolidate all your task lists into one. If you’re the kind of person who has multiple tasks lists (or sticky notes), you will be hard-pressed to implement the next few principles.

Track your emails through your task list.

Do you realize that your inbox is a task list? You need to somehow fold your emails into your consolidated task list. Otherwise, you’re back to having two task lists.

There are many ways to do this. You could do it through Outlook. Any email you flag will automatically be added to Outlook’s task manager list thingy. I’m personally not a fan of this task manager – it’s not a very versatile system. I like a system that allows start dates and deadlines for tasks. So I don’t recommend this option.

A second option is to manually add each email to your task list (e.g. Follow up Ronald’s email about wall removal in Berlin). There are two downsides to this approach. First, it takes time to manually enter this data into your task list. And if you receive over one-hundred emails a day, it could get tedious. Second, it will take time to search for the email when you decide to respond to it – even if you put it in a sub-folder. But hey, if you grew up loving Hide-and-Go-Seek or Kick-the-Bucket, have at it! The rest of us will spend our freed-up time spinning in our chairs and eating avocado toast.

The third option is to use an app that enables you to automatically insert emails into your task list. I personally recommend using Todoist because it can be installed as an add-on to Outlook and is also available over multiple platforms. At the click of a button, you can add any email to your task list, and then prioritize and date it for follow-up. Even if you move the email to another folder, Todoist will automatically search for and open the email when you click on the task item.

Create sub-folders for filing and automation.

To create breathing room, create sub-folders in your inbox. Some examples of my sub-folders include: banking, education, subscriptions, consulting, finance, reports, receipts, income tax, staffing, personal development, governance, etc. These sub-folders will vary, depending on your personal and organizational needs.

Sometimes I’ll receive an email that I need to read, but am not required to respond to. I’ll give the email a quick scan and then tuck it away in its respective sub-folder.

I also receive emails that I do not need to read, but may need to hold onto for future reference. Rather than having them clutter up my inbox, I automate these emails so that they get sent directly to their relevant subfolders. Both Outlook and Gmail allow you to create rules that automatically take care of this for you.

I will admit that it takes time to set up these sub-folders and to automate your emails. But if you take a couple of hours to get it done,  you will create more time for yourself in the future. Short term pain can lead to long term gain.

Cancel your subscriptions.

This requires a moment of honesty. How many subscription-based emails do you receive in any given week? You probably had good intentions when you signed up for these subscriptions. But now you’ve discovered that you rarely have the time to even look at them. Some of them are important to you, and you hope to eventually read them. But there are likely other subscriptions that you signed up for on a whim, maybe because you ate a bad burrito. You might even have subscriptions that unexplainably appeared in your inbox and you have no idea where they came from (maybe there is something to this spontaneous generation idea after all?).

So…honesty. Do you ever read those subscriptions? You probably don’t. So why clutter up your inbox? Why create unnecessary guilt for yourself every time you open your inbox? If it’s highly unlikely that you will read these subscriptions, you’d be better off unsubscribing yourself from them. Most email subscriptions have a link near the bottom of the page that says “unsubscribe.” It’s usually in small print. Just click the link and follow the steps and Voila! you’ve just liquid plumbered your inbox.

Now, you if you have an important subscription that you may read from time to time, then I recommend creating a “subscriptions” sub-folder as well as a rule that automatically sends the subscription to this folder. You might even create a recurring task item in your consolidated task list that reminds you to read your subscriptions (or create a recurring calendar event). The key is to get the subscription out of your inbox and into your task list.

Use the “Touch It Once” principle.

I’m not sure who originally came up with this principle, but it’s brilliant. The principle is  simple: do something with every email you open. Your only options include respond to it, delegate it, or save it for later. But you only touch it once and you never leave it in your inbox.

Can you write a response to the email in less than five minutes? Then do it. Get it done and out of the way. Should someone else be following up on the email instead of you? Then send it forward to the right person. If you answered ‘no’ to either of these questions, then drag the email to your “#Backlog” sub-folder, add it to your task list, and set a more appropriate time to respond to it.  You might also send a brief reply to the person who sent it, letting them know that you will be responding later. And because it’s in your consolidated task list, you won’t lost track of it.

For a helpful explanation of this principle, watch this video by Asian Efficiency.

Conclusion

I truly believe that obtaining zero inbox is possible for most people. If you receive hundreds of emails a day, throughout the day, zero inbox might only be possible for an hour or so. However, the principles I have shared will still help you have a less cluttered, more manageable inbox.

If you put these into practice, I’d like to hear about it. And if you have other suggestions for email efficiency, let me know!

Leadership, Personal Development

The Hour of Power

How do you calibrate your life so that you’re doing the things that matter most?

One of the personal development rhythms that I’ve tried to keep for the past two decades is what I affectionately call my weekly Hour of Power. To be honest, I’m not sure where the name came from. And no, it’s not a nod to Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. But it does sound like a throwback to the eighties – a decade of power suits, power ties, power metal bands, and power shoulder pads. But I digress…

During the hour of power (usually Sunday nights), I sit down and deliberately evaluate and plan my life. Sometimes it takes more than an hour – sometimes less. I first look back and assess my previous week, then look forward and direct my upcoming week. I also spend time doing some long-term planning, by looking months down the road. I’ve discovered that when I incorporate this weekly rhythm into my life, I excel at putting first things first, accomplishing my goals, and paying attention to the things I value most.

This weekly discipline is most effective if you have concrete personal goals and are guided by a strong personal compass (I’ll post more about these concepts later). If you only schedule events in your calendar, you may find yourself succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent, rather than focusing on what’s most important. Besides, how can you measure personal success by only looking at a calendar? You need higher principles and goals that govern what you put in your calendar. If you want to get your head around these concepts, I’d recommend the late Stephen Covey’s First Things First.

With my goals in hand (physical, spiritual, relational, emotional, intellectual), I evaluate my previous week. It’s important during this time that I pay attention to outcomes (productivity) and not just outputs (activity). If I only measure outputs, I’ll only be able to determine whether or not I was busy. This is again why personal goals are so important. During this evaluation time, I ask these questions: How did I do at reaching my personal goals? Did I have the right rhythms and habits in place to help me reach them? What can I celebrate? How can I thank God for this past week? Where do I need more grit? Where do I need to graciously cut myself some slack?

Next, I look forward and plan my week, in light of my personal goals and compass. I employ the principle, put first things first. The things that are most important get into my calendar first. Early morning workouts. An appointment with God. Time with my darling spouse and family. Study and reading. Sleep. Humans are creatures of habit, so I try to create a consistent weekly schedule, in order to develop rituals and habits. There’s plenty of brain science on the importance of forming these types of rhythms. If you’re looking for a good, inspiring read on this subject, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Want a more productive and focused life? Start incorporating this rhythm into your weekly grind. It’s the rhythm of all rhythms. One rhythm to rule them all, one rhythm to find them. One rhythm to bring them all, and in the hour bind them.

Try it out for a month. I’d love to hear how it’s working for you.

Since we’re talking about power, here’s a throwback video which ended the power decade. This is just for kicks. Got the power?

Books, Leadership, Personal Development

Book: The Power of Full Engagement

Time management is important. But don’t ignore energy management. This is the premise of The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Feeling flat at work? Tired all the time? Unfocused or down? You might want to check under the hood of your life to see what – if anything – is fuelling your engine.

As human beings, we are continually expending and replenishing our energy. What is energy? It’s your capacity to do life. You might be stellar at checking boxes on your task list, but if you aren’t managing your energy, you’ll tether your performance and may even set yourself up for a break down.

If you want to step up your game or pursue mastery, you need to keep your eye on your energy levels. “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance….Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy” (4-5).

Success in life means becoming fully engaged. Full engagement requires managing your energy. I appreciate the author’s four energy-management principles:

Principle 1: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Principle 2: Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Principle 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.

Principle 4: Positive energy rituals – highly specific routines for managing energy – are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

Here’s the bottom line. When you frequently lack energy, it can probably be traced to one of four diminishing sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Think of these as four large batteries. These batteries are special – they can be continually developed over time to hold a stronger charge, and last longer. You draw from these four batteries (sources), but you also need to build capacity in each. The more you do this, the more overall energy you will have. For example, if you develop your physical battery (diet, sleep, exercise), by applying stress and recovery (working out, hiding the Twinkies), you will increase your physical capacity. Over time, this will give you more physical energy to draw on. To increase any capacity, you must be willing to endure short-term discomfort for the sake of long-term reward. A large part of the book is focused on how to increase your capacity for each source.

From a faith perspective, energy management is not at odds with a Christian worldview. You were uniquely created by God – the pinnacle of his creation. You were made to bear his image in the world. You were fearfully and wonderfully made, with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual capacities. God’s care for you is wholistic – he cares for every part of you. He wants you to take care of yourself more than you do.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this book. So to get to the good stuff, you’ll have to dig deeper yourself.

Listen, engaging in life requires more than efficiently managing tasks. You need to manage your energy. And in case you’re wondering…no amount of excessive caffeine consumption, binge-watching, hurry, or self-obsession will build your energy capacity.

Personal Development

The Task List

Leadership begins with you. How are you leading yourself? I’ve been blessed to work with a number of bright, emerging, young leaders who are keen to sharpen their leadership saws. Over the years, I’ve passed on a bunch of personal development tips that I’ve picked up. I’ve decided to post them here because they keep coming up. If you’ve got your task list mastered, fast forward to the end of this post, or check out the next one.

Everyone has a task list. Whether you write it down or not, you’re still keeping track of the things that need to get done. You might have a mental list that plays in the back of your mind.  Maybe you’re one of those people who leaves items lying around the house as a reminder that, at some point, you need to “do something” with them. You might even have sticky-note reminders papered all over your desktop monitor, bathroom mirror, and kitchen refrigerator. Each of these is a way of keeping track of tasks. Arguably, they might not be the most efficient or productive means of tracking (after all, how would you prioritize them or take them with you?), but they are a means nonetheless.

If you’re going to be effective in leading others, you must first lead yourself. And so, its important to master your to-do-list, before it masters you. When I’m interviewing a potential job candidate, I often ask: “How do you track your tasks?” Their answer says a lot about their self-mastery.

The most common mistake I observe is having more than one task list. Some people have a task list for work, another for home, yet another for their spouse…and surprisingly, most people don’t realize that their pile of emails is yet another task list. This is confusing and makes keeping track difficult. Which task list do I start with? And should I do item 6 from List B before item 17 from List A? How do I keep track of that?

Another common mistake is related to prioritization. Will you prioritize or won’t you? How will you prioritize? Will you measure urgency, importance, or just what you prefer (this is why a lot of people have Netflix at the top of their list)? There are some helpful ways to prioritize, and I’ll address these in a future post.

The key to effectiveness starts with consolidating your task list. You need to find a way to track all of your tasks in one place. It doesn’t matter if you use paper or digital. If you want to stop forgetting tasks and missing opportunities, you need a consolidated list.

I’d also recommend that you find a task list that is portable, something that you can pull out and update in an instant. You might consider a journal, planner, or digital app.

Finally, I’d recommend that you have a way of prioritizing your list. You can use numbers, colors, or even hieroglyphics, if that’s what you’re in to. What matters most is that you understand how your system works and that you consistently follow it.  If you can put start dates and due dates on your tasks, even better. This way you can avoid the pressure and guilt that often accompany incomplete tasks.

So how do I keep track of my tasks? I’ve used different methods and tools over the years. A while back, I discovered a great tool called todoist. I like it because it’s available across different platforms. The smartphone app is easy to navigate, and you can attach it to any of your web browsers as an add-on. Your tasks can be prioritized by colour and number, and even be tracked by date. You can also create recurring task items like, “Get to the gym buddy!” If you’re an Outlook user, you can turn emails into task items at the click of a button. I try to reach ‘inbox zero’ every day (it’s a work in progress), and todoist has helped make this possible.

To sum, get a portable list that you can prioritize. In the end, prioritizing your list isn’t enough. How you prioritize your list needs to be governed by a higher set of values. More on that in a future post…

 

 

 

 

Books, Personal Development

Book: You Are What You Love

Are you looking for a biblical understanding of how people change? I recently re-explored James K.A. Smith’s bookYou Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. It might be what you’re looking for. But a forewarning: it’s not a quick-and-dirty self-help book, full of quippy mottos or chicken-soup anecdotes. It’s accessible to most readers, but it’s more a steak than a shake – you’ll have to chew a bit. The book is brilliantly written, and I appreciate Smith’s compelling logic and exegesis.

Smith’s key premise is simple: you are what you love. This differs from the more Cartesian assumption we’ve absorbed from the modern era: you are what you think. Smith argues that people are far more than thinking things – they are first, and foremost, lovers. You cannot, therefore, think your way toward becoming a more virtuous person. You need to train your loves. Ultimately, these are developed through habits: “Good moral habits are like internal dispositions to the good – they are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be compassionate, forgiving, and so forth” (16). In essence, the book is about how to train your loves and develop your virtues, by establishing habits, or what Smith refers to as liturgies.

Depending on your theological tradition, you might hit a few speed bumps across the book’s pages, particularly if you have an aversion to liturgy, or would prefer a greater emphasis on Spirit-empowered transformation. These shouldn’t deter you from taking Smith out for a spin!

I’m a firm believer in self-reflection. Stepping back from the book, I’ve come up with a few diagnostic questions: What kind a person do I want to become? What do my virtues and habits reveal about my loves? How might I train my loves by creating life-giving liturgies (rhythms and habits) and abandoning rival liturgies?

Get the book. Reflect deeply about it. Train your loves. Share the book.