Archives For LEARNING

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

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.



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.


The Power of Choice

November 11, 2013 — Leave a comment


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.


What are you learning?

October 25, 2013 — 8 Comments

Seriously, just a simple question. What’s one thing you have been learning in the past week or two? Share it!


Making art

January 16, 2013 — 7 Comments

bookCreating something is a process full of fear. There are constant doubts and struggles and questions that haunt. Whether you are starting a business, writing a song, or preaching a sermon – there comes a moment when the thing you have created has to be shared. And then the doubts and questions get louder. Because once it’s out there – it’s open to criticism. It’s open to opinion. Some may reject it. Some may not like it at all. Some may receive it in a way that is different than you offered it.

I know that for me the 24 hours or so after I preach a sermon is a very critical time. I often walk off the stage and want to crawl right in a hole. Making eye contact is painful. It’s as though I’ve just ripped off a scab and now it’s open to the elements. I think that’s pretty normal. I’ve heard similar things from other pastors or musicians or artists. Creating something and then putting it out there is a terrifying ordeal. The artist pours herself into her craft. It’s her heart and her soul that is on display. She has shared something that is deeply personal and very much a part of her.

Whether it’s a pie you baked from scratch, the way you decorate your living room, or the new business venture you’ve just announced – those first moments when you share it with the world are critical moments. If we’re not careful, we can easily let the response of others deter us from ever trying again.

But it’s what we do. We create. We make art. We start things. When Genesis tells us that we were made in the image of God, the only thing we know of God at that point is that He’s a Creator. It’s who we are. It’s in our nature.

I believe that you have something to offer the world. You have an idea. You have a killer recipe. You have a song. You have an online business idea. There’s a blanket that needs knitting. There’s a child that needs mentoring. There’s a garden to be planted.

My guess is that somewhere along the line you tried something and you failed. You put an idea out there and it got shot down. You painted a picture and it was picked apart. You wrote a blog post and no one read it. You planted roses and they died. And so you stopped. You decided not to try again. You withdrew into a safer world.

I believe that when you and I aren’t creating we aren’t living the kind of lives that God intended for us. I believe it’s woven into your soul to create. To initiate. To start something.

So I want to encourage you to create something today. And then do it again tomorrow. And the next day. Start drawing again. Push “publish” on the blog. Make the pie. Paint the living room. Start the business.

Oh yeah, and that picture above? That’s a book I’m writing. And it scares me to death to say that. Because at some point I’ll put it out there. And then I won’t be able to make eye contact with anyone for a week. Maybe longer.



2012 Reading List

December 31, 2012 — 2 Comments

I am convinced that if a person isn’t learning and growing they either aren’t having an impact at all or their impact will be short lived. So every year I set some goals for myself in terms of reading and learning. This year my goal was to read 36 books. Well, it’s time to pay the piper. While I didn’t quite reach my goal, I didn’t do too shabby either. Here’s the list:

  1. Money, Eternity, and Possessions – Alcorn
  2. The Cloak –  Gogol  // Master and Man – Tolstoy
  3. Pujols: More than the game – Ellsworth
  4. Built to Last – Collins
  5. Big churches getting bigger – Morgan
  6. Courageous Leadership – Hybels
  7. Gracism – Anderson
  8. Developing the Leader within you – Maxwell
  9. The Advantage – Lencioni
  10. Velvet Elvis – Bell
  11. The Fred Factor – Sanborn
  12. Simply Jesus – NT Wright
  13. IT – Groeschel
  14. Platform – Hyatt
  15. The New Traditional Church – Tony Morgan
  16. Real Marriage – Driscoll
  17. The Measure of our Success – Lovejoy
  18. The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make – Finzel
  19. You are a Writer – Goins
  20. Creating Innovators – Wagner
  21. A million miles in a thousand years – Miller
  22. The myth of a Christian nation – Boyd
  23. Greater – Furtick
  24. Fresh Air – Hodges
  25. God’s Politics – Wallis
  26. Deep and Wide – Stanley
  27. Love Does – Goff
  28. It’s Personal: surviving and thriving on the journey of planting a church – Bloye
  29. The 5 Levels of Leadership – Maxwell

Somewhere during the year I made the transition to mostly digital books. While I sometimes miss the feel of a book in my hands, I don’t regret it. I now have all my books right there in my kindle app and all of my highlights and notes are synced across all my platforms through Evernote. That means no more searching and wondering where that one line of that one book was (or was it the other book?) ever again. Everything is now searchable instantly.

I also learned that this much reading was a bit too much for me. Along with doing a reading plan to read through the bible this year, I found myself sometimes reading simply to check it off a list and get on to the next one – after all there was a rather aggressive goal to reach. I need to spend more time digesting what I’m reading and trying to take one or two key concepts or thoughts away from what I read instead of the “drink from a firehose” technique.

It’s hard to say what the “best” book I read this year was, mainly because I read many of them for different reasons. Some were for sermon preparation, others for spiritual growth, others for personal development. But I think the one or two books that I will come back to again and again are “Courageous Leadership” by Hybels, “Deep and Wide” by Stanley, and probably the one that will continue to shape me the most was “The 5 Levels of Leadership” by Maxwell.

So I’m already forming a reading list for 2013. Many of the titles on that list are re-reads. I want to go back to some of the books that shaped me the most and revisit them. What about you? What should have made my list this year? What would you recommend I get to in 2013?




August 28, 2012 — 3 Comments

I'm with youWhen my wife and I had our third child, we went through a really difficult adjustment time. It took us probably anywhere from 3-6 months to find our groove again as a family. During that time a friend reminded me of something pretty obvious – our lives had changed. (I know, I said it was obvious.) The two child family had been forever replaced by the three child family. And so we were in a period of not only a great gain, but a significant loss. You know what? He was right. Our new reality, as awesome as it was, also included a significant loss.

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photo by: rosmary

I’m always on the lookout for things that will help me be more productive. If there’s a new way to do something better and more efficiently, I usually want to know where I can get my hands on it. So here’s a few things that have helped me lately:

  1. Evernote – If you aren’t using this tool yet, why not? Evernote is a web based software with desktop / iphone / ipad versions that keeps all of your thoughts, ideas, and things to remember organized. You can write notes, capture things with pictures, load documents, forward yourself emails, and lots more. Everything is organized, searchable, tag-able, and easy to access from every platform.
  2. Whiteboards – Ok, so this isn’t very high tech, but for me it’s one of my favorite things about my new office. I have lots of whiteboards covering most of my walls. I’m a person that needs to see things big. I like to be able to put up my thoughts, organize, see the big picture all at once. AND, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Home Depot sells whiteboard type material (I think it’s used for bathrooms somewhere) that you can buy for about $13 for a 4′ x 8′ section. I bought two and had them cut one in half. So I now have two 4′ x 4′ squares, and one full 4′ x 8′ whiteboard hanging on my walls. I hung them with Command wall hanging strips – so when it is time to move, there are no nails, screws, or any other marks that will be left on the walls. So whatever works for you, find a way to make it happen. For me there was a need to see things large. I found a cheap way to do it and it has changed everything for me.
  3. 30/30 app – Ok, so my newest and most favorite thing is this app. It is available for iphone and ipad. I use it primarily on ipad in my office. It is a totally customizable timer app that will run in the background even if you switch to other apps (which I am doing frequently). At the beginning of my day I start with my to-do list. With the app, I create timed events for each project I want to work on. I have found that I can work for 45 minutes to an hour on one single project before I need a change of pace. So I set up my projects, press play, and get to work. An alarm sounds when time is up and it’s time to move on to the next thing on my list. I don’t know what it is, but setting a timer on myself has REVOLUTIONIZED my work. I get way more done. I make decisions on things quicker. I don’t get bogged down on one thing, and it eliminates distractions for me. I know that I have 30 minutes scheduled later on for email, so I can turn it off right now and get to work on whatever is pressing.

One bonus thought:

I recently got an office outside of my home. I had no idea how distracted I was at home until I got here and was able to completely control my space and time. I estimate that I get 2-3 times more done now that I am outside of my home. AND while my kids miss me during the day, I think I am way more present with them when I get home. The line between working and being dad was always pretty fuzzy when they would see me throughout the day. In the evenings I found it easy to slip back into the office and answer another round of emails. Now, there’s a clear definitive line between work and home and my work and family life have benefited a ton.

Does any of this help you? What are you doing that makes your life work better? What is keeping you from getting more out of your day?