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.