Archives For LEARNING

The tools, tips, technology and insights that are helping me get more done and be more effective.

Focus

February 2, 2015 — 3 Comments

I have a hard time with focus sometimes. I’m sure I’m not the only one. We’ve all got a thousand things asking for our attention. I’ve recently made some strides toward some major goals that I have and I thought I’d share real quickly how I made that happen, in case it’s helpful for you.

Here it is:

I said NO to those thousand things. And then I said YES to these two:

  • I wrote the email and pushed “Send.”
  • I took my daughters to lunch and talked about their dreams, their friends and their future spouses.

See, one of my goals has been to gather a group of ministry friends together. The other goal has been to intentionally date my daughters and have meaningful moments with them. But all around those goals were other things screaming at me: plumbing issues, roof issues, trips, sermons to write, books to read, bills to pay, emails to answer, dishes to wash, bags to pack, a desk to clean, conversations to have, FB messages pinging, Twitter feed filling up, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. You get the point.

Focus it seems, is about saying NO. And then saying YES.

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Books that shaped me in 2014

December 30, 2014 — 1 Comment

creativityinc_coverSo this has become a bit of a favorite post every year for me. It’s my annual “here’s what I read” post. If you aren’t really a reader let me push you a bit to make 2015 the year that changes. Set a reasonable goal for yourself and get started. Maybe one or two of these will be interesting to you:

  1. 24/6 – Sleeth
  2. How to be Rich – Stanley
  3. Growth Hacker Marketing – Holiday
  4. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right hook – Vaynerchuk
  5. It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men – Cathy
  6. Worry Free Finances – Siebeling
  7. The Essential Wooden – Wooden
  8. Silos, Politics and Turf Wars – Lencioni
  9. Emotionally Healthy Church – Scazzerro
  10. Be Real – Bezet
  11. Unleash! – Noble
  12. Overwhelmed – Noble
  13. The Rise of the Nones – White
  14. Difference – Jiwa
  15. I like giving – Formsma
  16. Four Cups – Hodges
  17. Switch – Heath
  18. Creativity, Inc. – Catmull
  19. Moment Maker – Whittaker
  20. The Zimzum of love – Bell
  21. Cover Her – Hairston
  22. The Grace of God – Stanley
  23. The War of Art – Pressfield
  24. Die Empty – Henry
  25. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Lewis
  26. The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player – Maxwell

My favorite read this year would have to be Creativity, Inc by Catmull. It’s basically a behind the scenes look at the world of Pixar and their creative processes. I absolutely loved it. I loved the stories behind the stories – like how the movie UP was originally about a castle floating in the sky where a king lived with his two sons – each one trying to inherit the kingdom.

Another great read from this year was Andy Stanley’s The Grace of God. Honestly, if you’re looking for something to renew your faith or maybe you are exploring faith in general – you gotta read that book.

Looking over the list I see books covering marketing, leadership, finances, spiritual development, emotional health, marriage, and creativity. I’m thankful for the ways these authors shaped me this year and I believe I’m better because of them.

2015 already feels to me like a year where I want to return to some of my favorite books that birthed some of my biggest dreams. There are at least 3-4 books I can’t wait to re-read that moved me for the first time as many as 10 years ago.

How about you? What were your favorite reads from the last year? Anything you’d recommend for me?

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How to have a day off

January 20, 2014 — 7 Comments

Rest AreaI know it’s a little bit crazy to write a post called “How to have a day off.” I mean, how much direction does a person need to not work? Well, as it turns out, it is apparently harder than previously thought. My guess is that if you are like most people, you might have a hard time remembering the last time you had a day completely free of work. A day with no phone calls, no emails, no meetings, no “getting ahead”, no taking things home that you couldn’t finish at the office, literally no work. So let’s talk about how to not work. Here are a few steps you’ll need to take to make sure this becomes a reality for you.

1. Schedule it. Literally put it on your calendar. Block it out as a scheduled event. This is so important. If you have a meeting on Thursday, certain things happen. You prepare for that meeting. You do whatever you need to do to get ready for that meeting. If someone else wants a meeting with you during that time, you decline or reschedule because you already have a meeting. See how that works? So if you schedule a day off and put it on your calendar, then you aren’t available to anyone else when they want to book a meeting with you. You don’t need to tell anyone that you’re meeting with your couch. But put it on the calendar.

2. Prepare for it. So we touched on this in #1, but this is really important. If you want to really be off and keep that day off, then you’ll need to work your tail off all week. Yeah, that’s weird but it’s true. You have to work hard to have a day off. No more putting things off to that day so you can catch up. Work hard, go in early, stay a little late – whatever it takes to make sure that none of it spills over into your day off. But remember this – you’ll never finish everything on your list. There will ALWAYS be more that could be done. But having a day off means you say to yourself “I’m done even if I’m not.” 

 And guess what? If your day off is Saturday or Sunday (for example), then the most important day to prepare for that day off might be Monday. Get it done now and that day off will be easier to keep.

3. Unplug. This is maybe the hardest thing of all because our whole world revolves around our ability to be connected 24/7 no matter where we happen to be. But here’s the deal: If you look at your email on your day off, just to check that everything is ok real quick (see how we justify that?), then guess what? You’re not having a day off. Because you and I both know that the quick check of email turns into a quick response, which turns into 7 more emails, a phone call and a new crisis to deal with before the day is over. So this is so important – UNPLUG. Turn the phone off. Yeah I know, that sounds extreme. But turn it off. It’s the only way. The good news is that despite what we believe, the phone is not actually providing life support for us, so you will be able to breathe and eat and laugh and enjoy your day without it. You don’t need an app for that.

4. Repeat. Now go back to #1 and do it again.

 

Let me know how it goes!

photo by: Seabamirum
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Books I Read in 2013

December 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

book-decisive-265x440I like to keep track every year of what I’ve read. To me it’s sort of a personal history of how I’ve been growing and learning. I always look back and sort of lament the fact that I didn’t make much time for novels. But who has time for that when there’s so much I need to learn? Haha. Maybe 2014 will see more novels, but here’s the list from 2013:

  1. Victory over the darkness – Anderson
  2. Purple Cow – Godin (re-read)
  3. The meaning of marriage – Tim Keller
  4. Tribes – Godin (re-read)
  5. After you believe – Wright
  6. Quiet – Cain
  7. What we talk about when we talk about God – Bell
  8. The Catalyst Leader – Lomenick
  9. Make Every Day Count – Maxwell
  10. A New Kind of Christian – McLaren (re-read)
  11. Jesus is _______ – Smith
  12. The story we find ourselves in – McLaren (re-read)
  13. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – Lencioni (re-read)
  14. God of the Underdogs – Matt Keller
  15. One Question – Coleman
  16. The Tipping Point – Gladwell
  17. Decisive – Dan and Chip Heath
  18. Ready, Set, Grow – Wilson
  19. Read this before our next meeting – Pittampalli
  20. The Bondage Breaker – Anderson
  21. Be a people person – Maxwell
  22. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn – Maxwell
  23. Developing a theology of Planning – Morgan (ebook, short)
  24. Developing a theology of Leadership – Morgan (ebook, short)
  25. The Man Called Cash – Steve Turner
  26. A Horse and His Boy – Lewis
  27. Prince Caspian – Lewis
  28. Next Generation Leader – Stanley (re-read)
  29. Sacred Rhythms – Ruth Haley Barton
  30. David and Goliath – Gladwell

My favorite leadership book this year was “Decisive” – it’s a great read for learning to make better decisions or for someone who counsels others frequently. In spiritual development, I’d go with “Sacred Rhythms.” Gladwell’s “David and Goliath” was also a favorite fun read, inspiring me to look at seeming disadvantages differently. Finally, I’m a sucker for Johnny Cash stuff, so “The Man Called Cash” was really fun.

So that’s my year of reading! As usual, I’d expect some “I can’t believe you didn’t read….” or “this list is lame” (Jared Sumners), or whatever you’ve got. What should make my list for 2014?

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Restless – Part 4

November 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

This is part 4 of a larger conversation about what happens when I let my life get out of control and all the ways it impacts me. If you are anything like me, chaos creates a feeling of restlessness and a desire to disappear for a while. So this short series is just a way for me to share some of the things I’ve learned that I need in order to stay sane. So far we’ve talked about routine, about creativity, and about relationships. I’ll tell you right up front, I don’t want to write this next one. But here it is – one of the worst things that happens as a result of the chaos is that my health goes down the tube.

Poor health. When the seasons of chaos come, I lose motivation. Which usually means that I lose any kind of discipline. So my health is often one of the first things to go. I don’t eat well, I’m not sleeping enough, and I certainly don’t exercise. So the chaos is literally killing me. I’m too tired to think about exercise and my life is so busy that convenience food becomes my primary option. So I’m sluggish, I’m not thinking clearly, and I’m definitely not doing my best work. It’s a frustrating cycle that’s hard to break. The chaos of doing leads to laziness in my personal life.

What I’m doing about that:

So, like I said yesterday, it seems like every one of these things comes down to an ability to be disciplined, to say no to some things, and to be intentional with the time I do have. For me there are three parts to this:

  • Eating – I am admittedly a picky eater. I could live on Mexican food and cereal for probably the rest of my life. So I’m learning to change that. My wife blends up (juices?) all kinds of things that I would never eat. It tastes horrible. But the good news is that I don’t have to eat them. I can drink them. It’s not a magic cure-all, but it’s helping.
  • Sleeping – My wife and I were in bed before 10pm the other night for the first time in a long time. But we’re trying to make it happen more. By getting our family on a good schedule, we can be intentional with our evening times to play with them, read with them, put them to bed, spend some time talking together or watching TV, and then getting to bed. And that’s really important because of the next thing.
  • Exercising – So we realized that the only way this was going to happen was if we found time to exercise in an already busy schedule. We realized at some point that pretty much the only time we had free was time that we used to be asleep. So we’ve been getting up lately at 5am. I know, it’s crazy. But it’s working. We are able to get a full workout in BEFORE any kids wake up and before we start into our day.

As painful as it is to start doing these things, I can see that these habits have the potential to be life changing. There are obviously tons of studies about the link between eating, sleeping, exercising and our attitudes and overall life enjoyment. Most of us try to avoid this simple truth – I know I do. But if you find yourself in a funk or the chaos is killing you, it may be time to face the painful reality that the health of our physical bodies is directly tied to our emotional well being.

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Restless – Part 3

November 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

Today is part 3 of a short series. My goal is to share with you what happens when my life starts to get chaotic and I start to feel like running away from it all. So each day I’m trying to say “Here’s what happens to me” and then secondly “Here’s how I try and fix that.” (Part 1, Part 2)

So today I want to talk about one of the results of chaos in my life:

Shallow relationships. When chaos abounds, friendships and marriages and families suffer. You and I default into “DOING” rather than “BEING” and pretty soon we have forgotten that we are relational people and not machines. If all I’m doing is working or going to meetings (which aren’t relational times, let’s be honest), or meeting deadlines – then I start to suffer, and so do those around me. Relationships are like roots to a plant. The deeper they go, the more nourishment and life they provide. But if they stay shallow then pretty soon the plant starts to dry up. I find the same thing is true with me.

A couple thoughts on caring for relationships: 

  • First, my marriage: I don’t want a normal marriage. I want a crazy awesome, life-giving marriage. For my wife and I to have a great marriage, we need time together to be humans. Adult humans. We love our kids, but we loved each other first, and we’ll love each other after the kids are grown and gone. So that requires us to go on regular dates. Anything less than twice a month and I start to feel distant from her. We also know that about once a quarter or so we need to get away for at least a night together, without the kids. And at least once a year we want an extended vacation alone together.
  • Family: As a family we have gotten into the routine of Friday nights as our “Family Fun Nights.” It’s a celebrated routine in our family. We protect that time like crazy. It’s usually pizza, a movie and popcorn. But sometimes we get creative, we go out, or we just play games. But it’s vital to our family to connect. On Saturday we try not to schedule much either. It’s generally reserved for resting, doing not much around the house, or occasionally going on an adventure to a park or hike somewhere.
  • Friendships: If I go for very long without doing something with some friends just to laugh and eat and have fun – I start to become less than human. And I’ll confess, of these three types of relationships – friendship is the hardest one for me to make time for. It’s the one that usually gets cut first.

Usually when I find myself ready to run, all I have to do is look at how much time I’m giving to my relationships to see a primary source of my restlessness. It’s funny how each one of these things seems to come down to that whole routine / schedule thing. But it does. Spending time with my wife, with my kids, or with friends requires me to be intentional with my time. When my schedule is too chaotic, all these things suffer. Sometimes the greatest thing we can do for ourselves is to learn to say “no.” No to opportunities, to overtime, to invitations or anything else that takes away from our relationships.

Tomorrow, a word about health.

 

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Restless – Part 2

November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yesterday I confessed that I sometimes get in these weird seasons where I feel restless. In part 1 of this short series I talked about how routine can help us break free from the chaos that makes us want to quit. Today I want to talk about creativity.

I need to be creative. Just like I crave routine, I crave opportunities to create. If all I’m doing is playing catch up, or running from one meeting to the next, meeting one deadline after another, then I get frustrated and go into a funk. I need space in my life to think. Literally. I like to have time just to dream, to draw, to build something, to write or to play music. My soul needs these times. In Genesis it tells us that God made us in His image. And when it tells us that, the only thing we know about God at that point is that He is a Creator. I believe you and I were made to create. Whether it’s a pie, a symphony, a bookstand, a novel, a photobook, or a company – we were made to start things from scratch. Whenever my life is too busy to create – I want to run away and open a bait shop.

So here’s how this works out in my life:

As a teaching pastor, every 7 days I have to deliver a fresh, entertaining, compelling, inspiring, life-giving message. Unfortunately, those don’t drop out of the sky. Trust me, I’ve prayed for them and it never happens. So in my world, my particular vocation requires me to be creative. So part of my routine (again, see the “ideal week” from yesterday) is that every Monday I carve out time to be creative as it comes to my message. I have found that I have to be crazy regimented in this. I don’t even open email on Monday until after lunch. I don’t go to the office like normal. I go to places that inspire me. I think there’s a belief out there that creativity is something that happens on its own and that routine or structure stifles creativity. I believe that couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe that creativity thrives in constraints. It thrives with a deadline, with a budget and with a schedule. So creativity gets a slot in my weekly routine.

Now, outside of what I do vocationally, I have found that I need to be creative in other ways too. So for me that means an outlet like writing, or woodworking, or music or working outside. Those are probably more spontaneous in nature in that I leave myself room week to week decide what I want to fill my time with. But whenever I find myself feeling restless, one of my checkpoints is this creative outlet. Am I having time to think and dream? Am I crafting something, or giving birth to a new idea? Is there anything that is inspiring me? If the answer is no, it’s time for some changes.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Relationships and the impact they can have on our restlessness.

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Restless – Part 1

November 25, 2013 — 6 Comments

Sometimes I feel like running. Not really running, I almost never feel like actual running (people that do are borderline crazy). But sometimes I feel like getting away. And it’s not because there are problems I’m running away from or anything like that. It seems like I go through these weird seasons where I just get restless. I long for something, and I often don’t even know what it is. And in talking with others lately, I’ve seen that maybe I’m not the only one dealing with this. So over the next few days, I want to share a few ways I’ve learned to deal with the restlessness and how it impacts me most.

So the first thing I notice is this: I need routine.

When my life feels chaotic, even if it’s because there are so many opportunities coming my way, I feel like running. I crave routine. I’ve found that when my schedule is full of “extra” stuff, I lose the joy of the day to day. I know there are some that hate anything feeling routine – but for me, routine is somewhat of a safety net. Routine allows me to plan my week instead of my week happening to me. One thing that has helped me here is to design an “ideal week.” The ideal week is a calendar I’ve created on paper (written down!) that plans in times of focused work, times of meeting with people, and times of rest. Together with my wife and kids, we’ve determined how many nights a week I should be home in that ideal week as well as how we should spend my “off” time.

That sounds good, how do I do that? 

I’m glad you asked. A friend taught me to divide my week into 21 equal zones. The ideal week has at least seven zones that are free or open, with no work related obligations. Of those seven, at least three should be consecutive. So the 14 remaining zones can be (note, that doesn’t mean that all 14 HAVE to be) divided up for work related stuff. Within my ideal week I’ve got time set aside for my most important work, other time set aside for my most important recurring meetings, and still other time that is set aside as “open for appointments.” If you are married, make sure you work on this together with your spouse. Those seven zones away from work are really important times for family, for dates, and for whatever gives you life.

Do I always keep an “ideal” week? No. That’s why sometimes my life devolves into chaos. But I usually find that when life feels chaotic the first place I need to look is my calendar. Lately, that’s meant canceling plans, postponing meetings, or doing whatever I needed to do to reduce the noise and the chaos in my life.

 

So I start with routine. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about one aspect of that routine – practicing creativity.

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Strengths

November 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

There’s a fantastic resource out there called “Strengthfinders 2.0″ that helps a person to discover their God-given strengths. The theory is that you and I will get far more out of our day if we are functioning from a place of strength rather than trying to shore up an area of weakness.

Several years ago now, I used this resource and came up with the five strengths below. I show them here simply to demonstrate how discovering your strengths can help you to know yourself better and to do whatever you can to put yourself in an area of strength. If you know your strengths and live into them, it will help you to get the most enjoyment and the most production out of your day.

  1. Strategic – The strategic gift means that I like to figure out a plan for how to accomplish a task. People like me love games like “Risk,” or “Settlers of Catan” or other general nerd-like games. We love to solve puzzles. I’ve found that I thrive in finding the best solutions to problems. I like to think long term, to establish a goal, and to figure out how to get there.
  2. Learner – I love to learn. I always have. A person like me asks a lot of questions. If I have an opportunity to learn a new skill or to gain some knowledge in an area that I love, I become like a crazy person who can’t get enough. I read a ton of books. I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with some friends at Next Level Church in Ft. Myers, FL just soaking up everything they are doing as a church. I was able to learn about leadership, about church and staff development, and about organizational health. It was like crack for me. I seriously can’t get enough of that stuff (leadership, not crack – that stuff’s bad).
  3. Belief – This strength means that I have an underlying thought that “It’s going to be ok.” There’s a sense that I carry with me that God has a plan and that He ultimately is in control and I don’t really have to worry about it. Belief is the sense that everything happens for a reason. A person with belief should do what they can to speak hope into people who feel like the world is falling down around them.
  4. Relator – A relator is more comfortable with small groups or even one on one relationships. A relator is pretty happy with a few deep friendships. I know in my life when I’ve had those close friendships around me, I don’t really look for more. Relators are often introverts like me. Sometimes that means I get misunderstood because I don’t open up to a lot of people. I find my friends and then I’m good. I don’t mean to do it, but one of the results is that I can appear closed off to others. The upside though is that I don’t have many surface level relationships. If I’m going to be your friend I’d like to go deep in that relationship and hang on to it for years. It makes me pretty loyal as well.
  5. Activator – An activator gets things started. They are constantly asking “When can we get started?” An activator needs to be able to be in a position where he or she can start things. They don’t want a lot of red tape or hurdles in place. The downside of course is that someone like me has to be careful that I don’t jump from one thing to another. I have to be willing to stick to something and see it through. But it means that I am open and ready to make changes, to fix something, and to make those changes as soon as possible.

So anyway, there it is. That’s me. If you know me, maybe that helps you understand me a bit more. But my goal here is more to get you to think about who YOU are. If you’ve never done it, I’d encourage you to get the book and take the test as soon as you can. You may find that your job is sucking the life out of you. And it may be that you can either restructure your job to function more from your strengths, or maybe you can get that résumé ready to find a place where you’ll find the most significance, enjoyment, and productivity in the days and months to come.

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The Power of Choice

November 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

southwest

I was recently on an airplane. I happened to be one of the earlier boarding groups so I ended up in that awkward place where people are filing past me on their way to find the perfect seat. The longer this goes on, the more the tension builds. Most of us do everything we can to look busy, to avoid eye contact, and to fake a hacking cough (wait, you don’t do that?). Because there’s not much in life that’s more uncomfortable than sitting an inch and a half away from someone you’ve never met.

The truth is, most everyone on the plane is going to end up sitting next to someone. It’s usually inevitable.

So this is why what happened next was really amazing to me. There was a woman in the row ahead of me who seemed to have a different strategy altogether. It was almost as if she didn’t understand the way to play the game. She was actively looking. I assumed she must have been looking for a friend or family member for whom she was saving seats. But then she started asking questions – “Ma’am, are you traveling alone?” “Would you like to sit here?” She was clearly confused. The way to win at this game is to avoid, to delay, to look busy, to pretend you don’t notice. She, on the other hand was alert, making eye contact, speaking to the line. What was she thinking?

And then it occurred to me. This woman was actually a genius. Rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen and being stuck next to sweaty guy or sick lady or I’m-eating-an-onion-sandwich guy – this woman had decided she was going to CHOOSE who she sat next to before her opportunity to choose was gone. Brilliant. She was hand selecting her travel companion rather than leaving it up to chance.

As I’ve thought about that more I think there’s a principle for you and I in this. How many of us sit back and wait for life to happen to us? We avoid, we hope, we delay and yet inevitably the moment arrives. And most of the time we are simply stuck with a situation that at one time we had the ability to control. But not anymore – now it’s happened to us and we’re stuck with it. So we sit in the board room and hope the boss doesn’t assign the job to us, or we try and be invisible in the classroom avoiding eye contact with the professor. Or maybe we sit and watch our financial situation deteriorate, or we see the company laying people off and we try and look busy and hope that somehow we aren’t next.

But what would happen if we decided that the power of a choice was something so great that we wouldn’t want to pass it up? What if instead you and I volunteered for this job because we KNOW we can do it, even if it isn’t our favorite – because who knows what the next opportunity might be? Or what if we took action with our current financial situation while we still can rather than waiting until the inevitable happens and we’re left without options?

The thing is, maybe 1 in 10, or more like 1 in 50 end up with an empty seat next to them. The rest of us will end up with silent-fart dude. The choice is ours, and it’s a powerful choice.

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