Posted in Moments of grace

Lessons on focus from little ones

Photo by Joe Smith on Unsplash

I got invited to a virtual tea party the other day. I joined my grandchildren in Texas for a few moments as I had a cup of coffee and they ate homemade cookies and drank some tea with plenty of milk and sugar. As I watched them enjoy their afternoon snack, I was impressed by how focused they were on the task at hand. 100% of their attention was focused on eating freshly baked snicker-doodles. I sipped my coffee, chatted with my daughter-in-law, took note of a message that popped up on my phone and tried to snap a few screen shots of our long distance time together. For the little ones, though, it was as if nothing else existed except those cookies.

I am jealous of their youthful ability to focus. I think I’ll enlist them to be my productivity coaches! My world is filled with distractions as I try to get things done. I’m often trying to do too many things at one time. I eat while watching TV, clean while listening to music, talk on the phone while watching the dog. Even though preschoolers can have a short attention span, I took away these lessons on focus from that occasion.

Just have one thing in front of you. They had nothing in front of them except two cookies on a paper towel and a cup of tea. No crayons, books or toys. Just the snack. And they enjoyed every bite. It wasn’t till after they were done that we chatted.

Set a time. The tea party was scheduled for 4:30 pm, so that’s what we did. Block out the time. Put your task on the calendar.

Have a goal. Know what you need to get accomplished. Eat two cookies. Drink one cup of tea. For me it might be writing a certain number of words or making a certain number of phone calls or making a lesson plan.

When you’re done, you’re done. When the cookies are gone, it’s time to play. Or color. Or build legos. Finish one task, then move on to the next.

Be in the moment. They savored every bite and sip. They had just one thing to do: enjoy the snack!

I don’t know how many articles and books I’ve read about focus and productivity. I’ve learned a lot from many sources. But lately, I’ve learned even more from the little people in my life!

Posted in productivity

Two projects

I believe that every homeowner like myself has an endless to-do list. Home ownership comes with plenty of maintenance, decorating, repair and remodeling projects which must be done in your spare time, when you aren’t working. I had a eureka moment the other day as I lamented that my list never seemed to get shorter.

I decided that I would set a goal of two projects per week, one inside and one outside. The projects would be in addition to weekly tasks like lawn work, cleaning or shopping. Each project would take less than two hours. Just imagine: if I did this for a whole year, I would get 104 projects done!

To do this, I would have to break some of my bigger projects into smaller chunks. I can’t paint every interior door in two hours, but I can finish two. I might not be able to make every garden look perfect, but I can spruce up one of them in a few hours. I can power wash the driveway or clean some windows or clean out the gutters. In the course of a week, I can always find a few hours to do something and thereby always feel like I am making progress.

My idea is not new, of course. It is my rendition of eating the elephant one bite at a time. But it is a newer approach for me. I won’t feel like I’m always working on projects. But I will also feel like I am getting something done. A win-win with myself!

Posted in Ministry, productivity

Do more or pray more?

There’s a fork in the road when ministry heats up and life gets busy. Either you do more, or “you pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37). Guess which one I do more often?

If you haven’t guessed, I confess that I conclude I need to do more. I need to spend more time helping more people using my gifts in the service of God. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. Spiritually, though, that’s not the path Christ blazed.

That’s the temptation, isn’t it? When you feel like you are in over your head, you should spend more time working harder to get more done and emulate those who do the same. Yeah, like those who brag that they work seventy or eighty hours a week.

Wait a minute. I’m not following them. I’m following Him. And when Jesus needed help, he enlisted the pray-ers around him. “You better pray that God sends some help.” He wasn’t going to put in overtime. He wasn’t going to make the ministry happen. Nope, his approach was different. “You guys better pray for some help.”

That’s my new mantra. When a can’t keep up, can’t carry the load, can’t possibly do it all, I’m going to come clean. “You guys better start praying for help.”

You know, it took me about thirty-five years of ministry to learn this lesson. I learned that I can do a lot. I can do more now than I could before. I can learn new skills, manage my time better, be more productive and optimize my time. But I’m also tired. I’m not the Christ. And not even he tried to do it all. He didn’t bear the burden of saying all the prayers.

Bottom line: “You guys better start praying for help.”

Posted in creativity, productivity

Creative moments

Photo by Danielle Dolson on Unsplash

A couple of times this morning, I had surprisingly creative moments. First, very early, while free writing after some scripture reading, the themes for my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day sermons popped into my head. Later, as I sat in my office to begin working on sermons for the next two Sundays, the themes and outlines fell into place in just a few hours.

After those few hours of door-closed, phone-in-airplane-mode, no distraction work, I paused to capture what made the morning so productive with what seemed like so little effort. You see, I want to be able to recreate such moments. As any writer, artist, composer or pastor knows, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes you close the door, turn off the distractions, pray, struggle, work and sweat, only to come up with nothing useful. Was there anything specific about today that I can replicate in the future?

One might suggest divine inspiration, and that may be a part of it. But there’s no way to predict when that might happen or turn it on like a faucet. God’s Spirit is like the wind. There’s no way to predict when you’ll feel the breeze. You just enjoy it when it blows.

I thought of a few things that might have contributed to an especially creative morning. First, I was as far away from Sunday as I could be. No pressure, no imminent deadline. I didn’t have to come up with any ideas. That reality freed my mind to wander, imagine, visualize and come up with all kinds of crazy ideas.

I’ve also begun drawing pictures in my journal, images that I find on the pages of my morning devotions. I’ll bet doing something artistic wakes up the right side of my brain, the creative side.

I believe reading helps, too. If I just read some devotional stuff, some fiction, a mystery, anything that takes me away in a story, and my mind begins to generate ideas. Out of nowhere. They just start to grow. Ten to fifteen minutes of reading opens a window into parts of my mind where really cool ideas otherwise lie hidden just out of sight.

I may not always be as productive as I was this morning. But I am going to try making every Monday morning such a creative time.

Posted in lessons, Life, Ministry, productivity

Doing less, doing more.

Businessman multitaskingIt’s counter-intuitive. At least it is for me. When I see a great opportunity, or when there is a need or when I just have the next great idea, my heart and soul tell me to get to work. When I am not getting the results I want, the logical response is to put more time and energy into that effort. Or when something needs to be done and I’ll be around it’s just too easy to say, “I’ll take care of it.”

More and more I realize that’s not the right response. It turns out that stepping in to do what needs to be done has some unpleasant side-effects. Doing more enables others to do less. Doing more allows me less time to focus on some of my primary tasks. Doing more doesn’t necessarily mean that I will get more done, either.

Want a couple of examples? I’ll try to limit it to a couple.

Our church choir needs men. Badly. Health, travel, and age have taken a toll on both tenors and basses. Last year, I thought, “I can sing. I can shore up the tenors until the next choir draft or we can call up some promising voices from the minors.” So I did. But without as much need for low voices, the recruiting process was put on the back burner. The distraction of having to be ready and in place for an anthem robbed me of some of the focus I needed for liturgy and preaching. By doing more, I enabled others to do less and cheated other worshipers out of some of what Jesus called “the one thing necessary.”

When we were in-between office managers, I filled in. With a volunteer to do answer the phone and duplicate materials, I could put together each week’s worship resources. It wasn’t until I hired a new talented office manager that I realized how much time I had been losing each week by doing dozens of little tasks. Within days, I had time to meet with people, visit and make phone calls. I was able to resume shepherding. By doing more, I was able to do less. I was cheating the congregation out of the care they needed. The return on investment of a good office manager has far exceeded expectations.

Some of my elders have recently stepped up to help me keep track of our church’s families, both with phone calls and visits. I’ve never had this much help before. By not trying to keep track of 200+ families alone, I can be more on top of what is going on with more of them. . When I tried to do more, I actually got less done.

Sometimes others don’t step up to meet a need until they see or experience that need. If I step in to the gap, the need goes away and so does their opportunity. But if I keep my nose out of it, someone takes it on and actually does a better job than me. And that helps me be a better me, too.

Posted in productivity

How I conquered interruptions to achieve amazing productivity

3446044909_5d2aeac881_bHow many articles have you read about eliminating interruptions and distractions in order to get important work done? Here’s another, although it might not be for everyone.

First, when you find yourself in the predicted cone of an approaching hurricane, stay put. Do not evacuate. Instead stock up on supplies, make sure your generator is working, prepare your home and hunker down.

Second, when the power, internet and cell coverage goes out, you’ll be good to go. Your phone will not buzz incessantly with useless notifications, no one will call you, no one will text and no one will stop by because they will all be home weathering the storm. Without Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or network TV, you will discover hours of free time to devote to important tasks.

This strategy will buy you about three days of uninterrupted time to get work done. The absence of some creature comforts like air conditioning, light and internet connectivity will be a small price to pay for amazing productivity!

Posted in Life, Ministry

A 90-minute plan

I’m always looking for better ways to manage my time and get things done. Tony Schwartz’s 90-Minute Plan for Personal Effectiveness is surprisingly simple and effective. I’ve actually only tried it once, but found it very productive. My office can be such a distraction-filled place that for this to work, though, I either need to shut the door and turn everything off (email, phone, windows), or get out of there altogether.