Tag Archives: Productivity

Growing Up: Mediations of a Midlife Adolescent

I have to grow up.  This is a startling realization for a fifty year old.  But it is an undeniable truth that I’ve come to recognize over the last several years.  I’ve bought into the cultural lie that the abundant life consists of youth and immaturity.  This hasn’t worked well for me.  Moreover, my commitment to this unspoken agenda has caused some difficulty in the lives of those whom I love.  So, it’s time to grow up!

This realization has slowly begun to dawn on me in the last five to seven years.  It began with a series of what turned out to be poor decisions that resulted in me leaving the pastorate and then, shortly after, leaving the missions agency that had accepted my wife and me as missionary candidates.  This pattern of decision making caused some of the trust that my wife put in me to erode.  It resulted in me launching out on a new career path and learning how to teach high school in my late forties.   You can imagine that this was a difficult time in our lives.  Thanks be to God, we are in a much better place now.  While I am grateful and content for where we have landed, I would never want to repeat those years.

One of the main things through this painful series of events was that I had invested my hopes and dreams in the power of an outside agency to bring them to reality.  As a young person, I imagined that I would walk into a fortuitous set of circumstances and everything that I had ever hoped for in life would happen.  Later, this fantasy took the form of believing that a mentor would arise who would take me by the hand and show me what it means to be a husband, a father, and a vocational success.  As a Christian, I believed that the Holy Spirit would step in and remove desires that are sinful and immature and work in my life so that life would not be a struggle anymore.

I don’t deny that sometimes people come into a set of fortuitous circumstances that are created for them completely outside of themselves.  And I have had mentors who have been quite instrumental in my life.  However, none of them have been “messiahs.”  And while I continue to believe, perhaps more fervently now, in the presence and reality and power of the Holy Spirit, I no longer believe that His role is to do the hard work that we are called to do in growing up.

So, my paradigm of maturity has changed.  Growing up physically just happens.  If you feed children, they will grow.  But growing up mentally, emotionally, and volitionally takes a great deal of effort on our part.  It’s an effort that is countercultural.  It means that we stop blaming our challenges and problems on our psychological makeup, our outward circumstances, or on other people.  It is stepping up and taking responsibility tor ourselves.  It is putting into practice the habits of life that are required to create a better future for ourselves, our loved ones, and those who are in our circle of influence.

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Renegotiating With Myself

Strewn all about my desk, I see the detritus of agreements that I have not kept with myself.  Books not read, articles not written, tasks not accomplished, meeting not set up.  What has taken their place?  Other tasks that have taken longer than expected, tiredness, escapism into food, television, reading mindless literature . . . What is to be done when all that is seen are evidences of ambitions not met, plans not carried out, and things that are not getting done.

It’s time to renegotiate with myself.  I made a number of agreements in good faith that I am not able to carry out at this time.  It’s time to declare the bankruptcy of good intentions and begin to edit my life ruthlessly.  As a creature, I can only do one thing at a time.  While I have twenty four hours in a day, it’s time to get down to the most essential tasks that will carry me through meeting the most fundamental commitments in my life.  Time to purge the Kindle, the RSS feeder and all of the other things that seem like good ideas at the time but take away time, focus, get down to the essentials, and move forward with them.

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I read an article today that I found on LifeHacker yesterday called “Why You Need Margin In Your Life (And How To Get It).  There were several great takeaways, but the one that resonated the most with me was “unfollow (on social media) the people you envy.”

This is powerful.  When I saw the word “envy,” I began to think of all of the ways that envy can ruin our lives.  Envy is the enemy of productive labor.  When we look at the accomplishments of people whom we envy, we say, “I’ll never be able to do _____  as well as he does, so why try.”  Envy is a big reason why books don’t get written, skills don’t get acquired, risks aren’t taken, new businesses aren’t started, and new habits aren’t formed.

Envy creates discontent.  God has given each of us unique abilities, opportunities, and resources.  It’s easy to forget that and look around and see others that appear to have superior abilities, opportunities, and resources, and to covet what they have, whether it be in the realm of talent, wealth, connections, or ambition.  When we do this, we put ourselves in a place where we cannot be content.  Our negative emotions are focused on what we don’t have and what we may never have.

Envy paralyzes.  In any creative endeavor, there is bound to be someone who has done what we are attempting to do better than we have done it.  The envy that this creates can keep us from getting started.  We may forget that our task is not to be the best, but to bring what we have been given to the particular audience or market that is ours.  When we become envious, we don’t even start to plant the seed that may yield fruit.

Along with this, envy is unproductive.  There are many models, stories, people, and examples that may encourage us and mentor us to produce.  However, there is a line that we can cross from being a learner to being a coveter and worshipper and placing our eyes upon a person rather than God.  This will surely lead us down the path of cynicism and idolatry, and stop us from “doing the next thing”.

What experiences have you had with this?  How have you been able to overcome envy in order to be more productive?


New Challenges

I’m taking on some new challenges this year and wanted to invite your thoughts on them:

Energy Management:  One of the difficulties I’ve had in the past is recruiting too much adrenaline and energy for routine tasks.  I am working to become more aware of myself in order that I might manage this better.  Deep breathing exercises, relaxation, and being mindful of energy flow as I attempt to take on new tasks is something that I’m working on right now.  While I tend to have an abundance of physical energy, I get depleted fairly quickly in terms of emotional energy.  Finding ways to recharge will be key to increasing productivity.

Getting Up Early:  This is perhaps the best way to seize the day and to put your stamp on it.  This is the action that enables you to take control, to assert that you will not be a bystander or a victim but that you will be an active moral agent, taking charge, making decisions, and carrying out actions.  In the past, I have been a fairly early riser.  Now, I’m taking it to a new level with working to get up by 5:30 5-6 days a week.  I decided on 5:30 because on Mondays and Wednesdays, I need to be up by 5:30 to be ready to teach.  It seemed wise to carry this to the other three days, instead of having an irregular sleep cycle.  This has also necessitated getting to be earlier, which I don’t mind.  I find that I’m not very useful past around 9:30 or 10:00 anyway so this has not been a problem.  If my older children are in town and I have the opportunity to hang out with them, I’ll make an exception.  But it seems best now to go with a deliberate plan.

Weight Loss:  I have started using the My Fitness Pal app, which allows you to record your food and counts your calories.  It’s amazing what recording your food intake will do to reduce it.

Finding My Voice:  I have read somewhere that you need to write at least 300 words a day on a regular basis to find your voice.  I’m taking up this challenge as well.

How about you?  What challenges are you taking up that you would like to share?  Feel free to post a comment!

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Numbering Our Days, (again)

As a follow up to “numbering our days,” I saw a book today by Robert D. Smith called 20,000 Days And Counting:  The Crash Course For Mastering Your Life Right Now.  He has a feature on his website where you can calculate the number of days you have been alive.  I found out that I have lived 18,530 days — a long time!!!  I suppose I will need to read his book to find out what I am to do with this information.  However, I was immediately intrigued because someone else had thought of this and recently published a book about it.


Reading Plan

I’m not posting this to say “can you top this?”  I decided to post what essentially is an individual exercise to encourage you in terms of your planning, and as an accountability measure for me. I’d be interested to hear what your strategies are for reading, learning, and personal growth.

I’ve always been a prolific reader.  But I’ve never done much planning to my reading.  Often, my reading lists have been somewhat predetermined, either by classes I teach, or sermon series that I preached.  However, I have come to believe that I will grow more and develop more variety in my reading and thinking than if I wander through it aimlessly deciding what to read next.  So, here’s my plan for the next 17-18 months.  These books are in addition to the ones that I will read/review for classes I teach.

Reading Plan 2013-14

 Christian Growth

  • John Owen, Psalm 130  (in progress)
  • John Owen, TBD
  • Derek Thomas,  Job Simply Explained
  • Edith Schaeffer, Tapestry

Health, Fitness, Nutrition

  • Jane Brody, Good Food Book

Biography and History

  • William Manchester and Paul Reid, Churchill: The Last Lion (in progress)
  • John Barry, Roger Williams (in progress
  •   Marshall Foster, The American Covenant
  • Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides
  •  Victor Davis Hanson, A War Like No Other
  •  Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order
  • Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind


  • Chris Guillebeau, The 100 Dollar Startup
  • Chris Guillebeau, 279 Days to Overnight Success
  •  Seth Godin, Linchpin


  • Paul Tripp, A Dangerous Calling
  •  Tim Keller, Center City Churches
  •  Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel

Life of the Mind

  •   Cicero
  • Werner Jaeger, Paideia
  • Greg Reynolds, The Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures


  • Tim Challies, The Next Story (in progress)
  • Nancy Pearcy, Saving Leonardo


  •  Michael Hyatt, Platform
  • At least one more book on writing
  • A book on blogging

Natural Law

  • One book


  • Moby Dick (in progress)
  • Back to Blood


  • The Wander Years
  • I’m sure I will get to other since this is one of my favorite genres


  • 1000 chapters


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More on Annual Plan

The annual plan will be ready to ship soon!  I’ll link to it in case some of you want to use it as a model.  I mention this because I did an internet search on “personal annual plan” and didn’t find much that was useful.

I do want to mention something that was helpful to me method-wise.  Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non Conformity advocates getting away from the world for a week or so to do annual planning.  I did that for doing annual plans for churches and found that the finished product didn’t bear much resemblance to what I felt were the result areas we most needed to work in.  What I’ve found helpful is to jot ideas down as they come to me (either the notepad feature on the iPhone or a junior size legal pad works for this), file them, and pull them out of the file in order to put the plan together.  This way, ideas have time to germinate and I’m not under the pressure to create something out of nothing.  This has been an immensely helpful modification to Guillebeau’s plan and has really moved me forward in this.


Annual Plan

I’m doing something for the first time ever — an annual plan.  I first got the idea from Chris Guillebeau at the Art of Non Conformity.  It seems like a no-brainer.  I mean, I’m an adult, I’m in charge of my life, and it’s up to me to make happen!  Plus, for the most part, I’m self-employed.

However, my past experience with goals and planning has given me a strong message that goal setting is something to be avoided at all costs.  After so many times of setting goals and not reaching them, goals = failure became part of my hard wiring.  It’s taking some new thinking and some hard work on my part to overcome this defeatist mindset.  So, here’s what I’m doing to conquer these fears.

1.  Have multiple possible successful outcomes.  If I set a goal to read thirty books this year and only read twenty-five, does that mean that I failed?  At one point in my life, I would have said “yes.”  It seems like a more mature response would be that twenty-five is many more than I may have read without the goal.

2.  Set goals that will require discipline and consistent activity, but not “miracles.”  I know that there are people who will tell you to “aim high” but as a realist, it doesn’t seem wise to me to set goals to work toward all year that are unachievable.

3.  Plan to do small actions consistently to build momentum.  So many activities are all about “momentum.”  Work on keeping up momentum rather than trying to block out time to complete each project.

4.  Remember that a general trend is to vastly overestimate what can be done in a day or a week and to vastly underestimate what can be done in a year or a decade.  In other words, the plan or the goal is not the ultimate end.  It’s a tool to unleash creativity and productivity over a longer period of time.

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