Category Archives: Productivity

Yard Sale

Self-Talk-Poster-2-15-13Self Talk.  I knew it would a good day today because I slept late and woke up with an attitude!  I don’t remember the last time that I did that.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it.  Typically, if I wake up at 8:30, my internal taskmaster screams at me with his loud voice, “YOU’RE BEHIND!”  But today, I’m talking back.  “Behind WHAT?”  “Behind WHO?”  Generally, if I wake up with that much of an attitude, it’s going to be a great day.
Today, what gives this self-talk credibility is that I am in a good place for being ready for next week.  Grading for the week is finished and posted.  Lesson plans still needed to be done and copies of quizzes and handouts still need to be made, and the “play chart” still needs to be made, but that only takes about 2-2.5 hours.  Domestic chores need to be done too, but again, the amount of work is far from overwhelming.
Daily Run.  I ran three miles today, continuing to listen to A Year of Reading Dangerously.  It’s still a compelling listen.  I love books about books, but it will truly do its job if it spurs me on to devote greater time and effort to reading.  However, heading south down the beach into the cold, driving rain, it may have been more enjoyable to listen to the cornucopia of sound provided by nature in the crashing of the waves against the shore, the swish-swish of my feet upon the sand, and the driving wind and pelting rain I headed out into.  Close call.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll opt for immersing myself in the echoes my surroundings instead of an audiobook.
Plato’s Republic.  The detailed reread of Plato’s Republic plus taking notes and outlining it is taking its toll on other books that I want to get to.  However, it’s well worth it as I’m getting much more out this read (I think it’s my eighth) than any previous reading.  Halfway through it and still going strong!
Paradise Lost.  I still need to make it through Paradise Lost with some degree of comprehension of the plot, structure, characters, allusions, and an informed opinion about what Milton is trying to do in this epic, which is no mean feat.  Right now, I’m having to trust our Puritan forebear with this.  I’m finding it the literary equivalent of finding a 32 oz. chateaubriand on my plate and being expected to at least make a dent in it to show gratitude to my host.  It’s about the richest work I’ve ever read outside of the Scriptures.  I feel like I’m missing so much every time I pick it up.  Maybe I need to think about what I’m taking away rather than what I’m missing.
What kind of self-talk do you give to yourself so that you can get through the day with “attitude”?  What are your strategies for getting through difficult tomes like Paradise Lost?
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Momentum, Processes, Goals, and Sisyphus

I steeled my will to go to the gym and spend an hour on the elliptical machine.  It wasn’t exactly quality cardio, but I did get it done.  Probably helped me to sleep and is building momentum toward more and better training.  I seem so far removed from even being able to think about getting fit for an ultra.  However, getting out and doing something every day is the first step.  Getting momentum going is what is key at this point, rather than a state of fitness at a future date.
I’m finding this is true in other disciplines as well.  Reading.  Writing.  Counseling.  The temptation is to think in terms of goals completed.  This can be depressing, as my thinking tends to drift toward how far away I am from the goal and how much effort it will take to get there.  Unfailingly, this turns out to be an exercise in self defeat,  as I ponder the Sisyphian labor involved in reaching this milestone.  It works much better for me to hold the goal loosely, and instead, work on the process that should move me toward that outcome, and every day continue to take the steps necessary to move toward the objective.  “Success” seems to be more of an exercise in taking disciplined steps to move things along on a number of fronts rather than arriving at a “Eureka”moment.  Momentum is key to continuing to be faithful in this discipline.  What you do when no one sees is what turns your endeavors from brainstorms or ideas into reality.  When momentum accrues, the labor no longer seems Sisyphian, and the process becomes the focus rather than the outcome.   496164907155199844_338ba033584f
I still shudder to think of some of the minimum objectives I need to achieve to keep the status quo.  I don’t know why the word “goal’ is such an intimidating word, why it screams “failure!”  It’s possible that in challenging oneself, there must be a strong possibility of failure.  Otherwise, the endeavor wouldn’t really be a challenge.  However, my slothful self doesn’t quite see it that way.  Even my wife hates it that the word “goal” is such a taunt to me.  I even felt this way when I was competing in cross-country and track in high school and college,  I surpassed a significant number of seasonal goals.  It’s probably the distance from starting the process to completing the process, only to do it all over again.  It can quickly get into the mentality of “can you top this?”  Such an equation puts a person under a great deal of pressure, because there comes a point when every achievement can’t be built upon, or the point of diminishing returns for one’s effort is reached, and it is folly to go beyond this point.
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Morning Routines

818kGmg0fFL._SL1500_I thought I would share my weekly routines and get some input as to what works from you.   Monday-Thursday.  I get up, write for a half hour or 45 minutes. Then, I read the Bible and pray.  Usually, at some point I’ll do a quick check on my favorite internet sites and email to make sure that nothing life-altering has happened overnight that will change my plans  After that, I get ready to do in and teach.  M-W I teach straight from 9-3.  T-Th I have a 3 hour break when I can get some things done:  grading, work that doesn’t require quiet or sustained attention.  at 3, it’s time to go home, go run, see how I can help with dinner, and eat dinner with my family.  I generally put in an hour and a half to two hours reading, writing, or planning content to teach.
I don’t teach Fridays, so I try to get myself ready to go on Monday morning.  If there are things to be read, studied, lesson planned, work that needs to be done on a sermon, or the like, it usually takes place on Fridays.  I try to keep Saturdays open, but generally I will need to put in a couple of hours on Saturday.
Sundays, I usually have church responsibilities, so I’ll get up early to prepare to lead worship and go over what I’m teaching.  Sunday afternoon and evening are generally when we “veg.”  I’ll often do some planning for the next week.
That’s how I usually roll.  I’d love for you to share what works for you!
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Internet Audio Recommendations

I’m a heavy consumer of audio.  I’ve always enjoyed radio, and much preferred it over visual media.  With podcasting, we are living in the golden age of audio.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a commute that is about 35 minutes each way I’ve gotten some good listening in over the past couple of years. Sometimes, I’ll listen to audio when I run, but generally not.   I listened to 11 books on Audible in the past year. As far as podcasts, I tend to  binge listen to certain podcasts rather than trying to staying up with the latest episode  Lately, it’s been Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and his series on World War I, “Blueprint for Armageddon.”  Others I listen to are:  This American Life:  Ira Glass and his cohorts are some of the best storytellers I have found.  The production is of the highest quality. When I’m in the right mood, it’s the best podcast ever!.  However, I notice the ironic, melancholy air sometimes tends to have a depressive effect, so usually switch to something else when I start to notice this.
The Christian Humanist:  Three College English professors tackle a theme each episode.  The themes are wide ranging and the discussion is edifying and enjoyable.  These guys really make you think and don’t talk down to you.
Startup:  Alex Bloomberg, formerly of Planet Money and a contributor to This American Life, narrates the story of starting up his own business.  Great storyteller.  Self depicting.  Hilarious blunders.  I’m not up to date on this but get the feeling he’s going to make it despite his mistakes.
Third Coast Audio Festival:   A podcast that curates audio from both terrestrial radio and the internet, this podcast is rather eclectic.  It has a sort of radio drama feel, and is rather eclectic.
What do you listen to?  I’d love to hear your recommendations!
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Small Things, Big Influence

The new year often brings out the belief that we ought to make sweeping changes in our lives.  Beginning a rigorous exercise regimen, losing a substantial amount of weight, living within our means, and disciplining ourselves to save for the future are common New Years Resolutions.  Some of us also serve in professions or capacities that continually pressure us to do the “new,” the “unexpected,” the “unprecedented,” and to be “innovative.”  All of these desires and expectations may seem a huge burden to us.

However, the small things, done day by day, have an incremental value that we often overlook.  We underestimate the impact of faithful habits, incorporated into our days.  Those who have deep influence are faithful in what we would consider the small tasks.  For me, one example is circulating among my students and greeting them, talking to them about how their day is going and other small talk, instead of having my head down and ignoring them because I have “significant projects.”  Will I have deeper influence in their lives because of how well I prepare my lessons, or how much I connect with my students?

There is some proportionality here as well.  We are not to ignore what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law” and be satisfied that we can check off the details.  This is the error of the Pharisees that Jesus condemns in Matthew 23,  However, Jesus is not advocating that we neglect the details and concentrate on the big picture only.

Faithful, daily tasks, as small as they may seem at the time, grow into something greater than the tasks themselves.  Consistent care of children usually results in more than a checklist completed of child care tasks, but children who are loving, well-behaved, and a pleasure to be around.  Sometimes it’s difficult to remember this.  But it’s encouraging when we do and are able to carry out this idea in specific ways.

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Why blog?

Why blog?  This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for the last couple of years.  If you follow this blog, you find out that the usual answer is, “there’s no reason to.”  And for the past several years, I’ve managed to marshal some reasons not to blog that sound like good arguments.

I don’t have anything to say.  In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t already been said.  Now, this form of thinking is one to which I am prone.  What I’ve discovered, however, is that there are new ways of saying what has been said, and new audiences who are looking for a fresh take.

I’m not that interesting.  Blogging is a good way to become interesting.  It’s good to have a driving force that will push me to be more engaging, develop new interests, and to pursue the interests that I have more wholeheartedly.

I’m not a narcissist.  While there is more than enough shallow, self-centered banality that sounds narcissistic, it doesn’t follow that anyone who wants to put their thoughts in public is a narcissist.  There are writers whom I read who stimulate me, challenge me, and edify me.  These are results that don’t come from navel-gazing narcissists.

I don’t write that well.  My self-evaluation of my writing has deterred me from sharing most of my writing with anyone.  But the opposing point of view says, “how am I going to improve?”  The path to improvement is regular writing, revising, and sharing what I write.

I don’t care about being famous.  There are bloggers whose readerships is in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.  Developing an audience and bringing dependable content to that audience sounds like pressure.  But building an audience is not easy.  It takes effort.  At this point, I’m writing as if I have an audience, but I’m far from being famous.

I’d rather teach than write.  Fair enough.  But won’t writing and editing and revising make me a better teacher?

I’d rather while away the hours in unproductive pursuits.  This is the honest truth.  But it’s one that I want to change.

What keeps you from blogging?  Why do you blog?  What motivates you to keep sharing and publishing content?  I’d love to hear from you!

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About Changing the Script

     I read an article a couple of weeks about changing one’s internal script with writing.  It was one of those self-help things that you read and say “meh”.  However, on greater reflection it’s been surprising helpful in thinking ahed toward 2015.  The idea that stuck with me is that through reading, reflection, and writing, It’s possible to change a person’s inner thinking, and as a consequence, change their story.  It’s possible to bring the best out of yourself instead of scraping through every day unthinkingly.
     This year’s 500 word challenge turned out to be a trial run at this.  While I didn’t follow through with it for the rest of the year after the 31 days, there was something powerful about it that began to change my internal script; that is, the instinctive and reflexive governing of my life that is so influential, and often so self-limiting.
     “Change the Script” is a powerful imperative, like “Take Permission”, my theme for 2014.  While I still need to follow through with the Take Permission imperative, something deeper needs to change within me to generate the boldness to Take Permission.  That’s where Change the Script comes in.
     To begin with, there are a couple of ways I want to work toward Changing the Script:
     Internally:   I want to generate optimism, positivity, and encouragement instead of cynicism and negativity.  My default script tends to be cynical, sarcastic, negative, and a sense of smarminess that “I know better”.  I find this repulsive when I see it in others but tolerate and advance it in myself.
     Move forward to initiate new habits:  I can take charge of myself.  I can initiate change with others, I can work to lead those within my sphere of influence to a preferable future.  While my sister tells me I’m “regimented,” this regimentation can be positively used to work toward being willing to experiment, to try new things, to take risks.
     What are you thinking in terms of changing your script?  I’d love to hear about your thoughts and plans!

2014 Annual Review

2014 Summary: For my wife and I, this was a year of many transitions. My wife’s beloved grandmother, who loved me like one of her own sons, was called home to glory this past summer at 96 years old.  Our oldest son got married in the summer, and our youngest son went off to college, leaving us as empty nesters. To “prepare us for this,” our daughter studied abroad in Great Britain.  My sister moved in with us as she needed more care later in the summer. I started to transition into a larger pastoral role in our church. Then it became apparent that the “puzzle” of my own desires, God’s call, our family’s interests, our educational nonprofit, and church fit together better with me in a smaller role in the church and a larger role at our nonprofit. In the aftermath of all these things, I experienced a significant episode of depression required medical care and a break from church responsibilities. So, there were a number of goal set for 2014 that were not achieved. A result of this is a re-evaluation of goal-setting and annual planning for 2015.

2014: What went well?

  • Completed 1 100 K run (Iron Horse, February, 19:18)
  • Completed 1 12 hour race (Azalea, November, 40 miles)
  • Completed 46 Books (7 more than in 2013):
  • Preached 20 times at our church
  • Taught a summer class at our church
  • Taught full time for 2013-14
  • Taught a seminar for our Tutor Training, “Teaching Like Jesus”
  • Taught half-time for the Fall of 2014, moving up to ¾ time in second semester 0f 2014-15.
  • Our nonprofit remained self-sufficient and was in the black. My wife continues to do an incredible job managing it.
  • We were able to go as a family to our oldest son’s college graduation in New York, along with Mom.
  • Went to Colorado for our oldest son’s wedding. My wife, with much help from our extended family and our in-laws, put on a rehearsal dinner for the happy coupe that was a smashing success. We acquired a daughter in law who is a great blessing to our son.
  • Our oldest son found full-time, professional employment and loves his job.
  • Our family was also able to go on vacation in Orlando
  • My wife, youngest son, and I attended a Teacher’s Conference in Orlando
  • I was able to obtain better medical care as a result of some health issues
  • We stayed out of debt and were able to live within our means.
  • We upped contributions to retirement by ten times our monthly while not going into debt. This may not be sustainable but it feels great to be overachieve this much on one of my goals.
  • My health has improved with blood pressure and cholesterol being managed well.
  • We went through a trial period at the church of me taking on many of our lead pastor’s responsibilities and our lead pastor cutting back. With the elders, we determined not to press forward with this arrangement. So my vocational situation is settled for the first time in a decade.
  • Our daughter continues to make progress toward college completion. She successfully completed study abroad, staying on track for four year graduation, and is looking at grad schools.
  • Our youngest has matriculated at college in New York City and has made a good adjustment.
  • I’m not having to work most evenings for the first time since we’ve started our educational nonprofit.

What didn’t go well?

  • Felt overextended with work, church responsibilities, and extended family.
  • My sister needed additional care because of the effects of cancer and moved in with us in September. Even while suffering greatly and losing much of her independence, she has been a blessing to us in many ways with her childlike faith, positive attitude, and joy in the midst of suffering.
  • My depressive episode in October/November was a big setback. However, it also brought about good medical care, counseling, and brought out the love of my family, our elders and church family.
  • Had as many DNFs in ultras (2) as I had finishes, but I learned a lot from both of them. Training was sporadic so this could have been expected.
  • My prayer and spiritual life was sporadic. Not what I would like.
  • It’s not that the trial period of assuming more responsibilities didn’t go well, but it became apparent that the “work/life” balance was unsustainable.

Bottom Line on evaluating 2014: In a year that felt like “failure,” there were an astounding number of successes. It’s important to keep “the big picture” in mind rather than to dwell on the negatives.

What went well with you in the past year?  What lessons did you learn?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Ideas For Writing Myself Out Of My Own Self-Preoccupied, Solipcistic, Navel-Gazing Corner

It’s Day Nine of My 500 Word challenge by Jeff Goins at goinswriter.com.  I have written myself into a self-proccupied, solipcistic, navel-gazing corner.  Here are some of the ideas that I’ve come up with to write myself out of it.

1.  Humor.  My humor tends to work pretty well.  But humor is difficult to write unless you and your audience share the same context.  On the other hand, I spend the majority of my hours at my day job with high school students.  It would be an understatement to say that there is a fair amount of absurdity in the high school world.  So there’s certainly some material there.

2.  Self-Improvement Kick.  Every January, I do some annual planning and set some goals.  While I reached about eighty percent of my goals last year, there is a certain folly in posting your own goals for public consumption, unless you are doing it for accountability and to show that any old schmo can make an annual plan, come up with some means to fulfill the plan, and improvise some checks and balances on the way to keep on track.

3.  The Folly of the Self-Improvement Kick.  This could be fun — and funny!

4.  Book reviews.  There are innumerable sites that write book reviews.  However, none write them for my audience, nor are they a combination of my tastes, interests, and personality.

What about you?  How do you write your way out of your own self-preoccupied, solipcistic, navel-gazing corners?

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Take Permission: Exercise

      I’m taking permission this year to exercise each day.  A couple of years ago, I made the commitment to exercise at least five days per week.  However, this is one of the disciplines that seems to erode when “crunch time” comes with work or family.  One of the things that I’ve learned over this time is that when I don’t take care of myself, somebody always pays — whether it’s me, my family, colleagues at work, or my students.  Rather than put myself in last place here, I’m going to put myself first.

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