Productive By Design: The Struggle is Real

One of my great challenges in life has always been focus and productivity.  I have always had grand illusions of grand accomplishments – deep, persuasive or important articles or books that stirred people to be better than they were before reading what I wrote.  I’m sure that there is at least a spoonful of pride in there…maybe a large dose, even (which is a subject for another post!).  Still, I’ve always wanted to be a difference-maker; always wanted to contribute, to encourage, and to motivate.

People have told me from through the years, “You’ve got a book in you.”  Even plagued by years of self-doubt, I started to believe them.  Several years ago, I actually started the process of writing one.  One summer, I even dedicated an entire month to little more than writing it.  I got almost eight chapters written out of a desired ten…then the summer ended and so did my focus on the book.  It’s been the same length now for two more summers.

Recently, I’ve had the desire to pick it up again and finish it with a brand new chapter in mind.  Of course, the problem I now face is having to essentially start over in the process of reviewing what I’ve written and getting back to the place that I know where I’m going because I know where I’ve been.  Hours later, I find myself exhausted from rehashing chapters written long ago, struggling to get to where I can finally write the new material I was earlier so excited to write.

This sums up my struggle pretty well.  It has been the pattern too much of my life has followed.  Because I have always been good at “cramming,” I relied on that rather than methodically following a well-crafted plan over the course of days or weeks.  I had the ability to write an adequately resourced, twenty page paper in less than 24 hours and get as good of a grade as those who had been working for weeks (truth be told, if really pushed I could do it in eight!).  That may sound impressive at first glance, but they learned something more valuable than I ever did: the ability to develop a plan, implement a strategy, and carry it out over the course of time.  As a result, I struggle even today.

Understanding that about myself, I have tried to develop systems of disciplines to aid my climb towards balance and productivity.  I have desired to best steward my God-given time, but have so often failed.

A few days ago, I came across an article while browsing Facebook (in one of those moments of deep focus on the important!), with the tagline, “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books.” That, alone, intrigued me since I have a great desire (and have made valiant attempts this summer) to read more books.  200, though?  I found it daunting to consider, but thought it worth checking out.  Doing the math, the author broke down the 200 books to average 417 hours of reading over the course of the year.  Still sounds like a lot until I considered the comparisons he made:  Americans spend on average 608 hours a year on social media and a whopping 1,642 hours on television.  That totals 2,250 hour spent on, as he rightly concludes, trash. Spent reading, that would be over 1,000 books per year.  Crazy!

So, that article pointed me to a book the author recommended.  It’s called Superhuman by Habit, by a guy named Tynan (don’t ask me his last name. Apparently, he doesn’t have one).  I bought it and plowed through it and must say, I was quite impressed.  Besides being well-written, it is fiercely practical.  I was able to glean basic strategies that will me move from the struggle to accomplish certain things into the category of “automated” or automatic habits.  Essentially, as you focus every day on key habits, they become a part of your lifestyle.  Common sense, yes, but if you don’t stop long enough to think it through and determine what habits you are missing, it can seem less than common.

One of the key passages that encourages me to give thought to the development of some key, positive habits is the understanding that it is difficult but possible to do just about anything important if we break it down, analyze it (importance and process), and begin moving forward:

“You can do just about anything if you break it down into habits and execute on them.  That’s not to say it’s easy, only that it’s possible.  The key is to be honest about what’s stopping you from success, take responsibility for it, and create new habits to correct it.”

I may not agree with his worldview on some things (sadly, he attributes the glory of nature to evolution), but his perspectives on overcoming barriers to growth are spot on.  Even this writing is an effort to move in a positive direction in an area I believe is important…certainly important to me.  It’s just one step, but it’s a step.  Maybe I will never be as focused or as motivated as I think I should, but I might just surprise myself and find that I can and will be more focussed than I thought I ever could for the glory of God.  That’s a journey worth taking!

5 Reasons You Should Keep A Journal

moleskineFor more than twenty years, I have kept a journal…on and off. Yeah, probably more off than on, but I have journaled and think you should, too. As a matter of fact, I have just recently purchased a new journal (my favorite is a Moleskine sketchbook, but use whatever works for you) and have enjoyed getting started on it more than at any other time in my life that I have engaged in the practice. I’ll tell you why in a minute. First I want to give you some reasons why you should do it:

    • Rarely do we stop long enough to think. If you doubt that, think of how many time people (including yourself!) have done things without thinking. That’s just in the small stuff. If we’re not careful, we can do our whole lives without thinking! Journaling gives you the opportunity and the means through which to stop and reflect on what is going on around you. Jot a thought. Write down an idea or a truth discovered. Any and all of these things prompt THINKING and that is a good thing.
    • Along with failing to take the time to think, in general, we too often fail to think about ourselves…I mean in a reflective sort of way that doesn’t involve the bathroom mirror. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” There is a lot of truth to that. Through the practice of journaling, I can examine my thoughts and actions and, over time, I can look back through my journals and find patterns of thought, attitudes and practices that I’m unhappy with (and even more than that, things in my life that don’t line up with the Scripture I claim to live according to!) Once I’ve identified those things and prayed through them, I can journal as I work through the change. It’s an incredibly cool process.
    • Journaling helps me live on purpose. I am more aware of my surroundings. I think about what I’m doing and why, especially since I will want something to write about later. When I’m actively journaling, I notice little things more. I listen more intently to conversations I’m apart of and I examine what I’m doing more carefully. In some ways, journaling is personal accountability. If I’m doing something or thinking something I wouldn’t want to see down on paper, I’m more likely to refrain.
    • I journal in order to see what God is doing in my life. Whenever I counsel someone, journaling is usually a part of the process. If someone asks for wisdom about direction for their lives, along with any hints I may provide, I encourage them to begin a journal, working out their thoughts on paper, writing out fears or hopes or dreams. If it’s marriage counseling, I will often encourage both spouse’s to journal in order to help identify the underlying issues. After a season of journaling, it often takes very little detective work to see areas of conviction, short-comings and attitudes. In my own life, I do this in order to see the results of God’s work in me as I change over time, often as a result of identifying those areas of conviction and molding.
    • Journaling is great for meditating. It’s a great time to grab a cup of coffee (though any time is a great time to grab a cup of coffee) sit for a while and be still. For the follower of Christ, it’s a great time to open the Word, read expectantly, being still and knowing He is God (Psalm 46:10) and then writing down what you hear. Jot down your prayers, your confessions (if you’re so bold), your heartache and needs. Sometimes, the journaling process helps you clarify what really is a need. There are times I look back at my requests and ask, “Would I answer that?” The answer is often a humbling “NO.”

There are probably many other reasons to journal including the simple act of chronicling a life (hopefully, well lived!). If you have some that I’ve left out, tell me. I’d love to hear them. The most important thing is to do it. It’s an incredible discipline and practice that, with a little bit of consistency, you can turn it into a lifestyle.

journalOK, I promised to tell you why I’m having so much fun with my most recent journal.  I love to travel.  Always have.  While traveling, I love to journal.  Travel journals are the most fun because you collect stuff along the way, tell about what you saw and reflect on what it meant to you.  There are pictures and ticket stubs and sketches and all sorts of little memories.  So I thought, you know, there is no greater journey than life itself.  Why not, then, take the same approach in my everyday journal that I do when I hit the road?  Now, that may not seem so radical of an approach, but it made the difference to me.

Now, every day is an adventure!

I look at it the same way I do when I’m traveling so that I have the same kind of fun which is the key.  Make it fun!  My journaling in the past has often been tedious and boring.  It doesn’t have to be.  It shouldn’t be. Make it what you want it to be, but give it a shot.  I think you’ll find yourself growing in ways you never thought imaginable.

If you decide to dive in, let me know.  I’d love to hear of your progress.

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