The Most Helpful Book on Productivity

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I am a big fan of being more productive, organizing your life for effectiveness and I’m always on the lookout for a helpful book in this area. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman is one of the best books on this topic.

What sets this book apart from others on productivity:

  1. Its emphasis on understanding how the gospel impacts productivity.
  2. How the gospel frees us to be productive.
  3. It also brings together some of the best ideas from other books on productivity to show a better system that combines the strengths of different systems.

If I had one criticism about the book, it would be how much time he spent convincing the reader that it is biblical to be productive. I know why he did this and the reasoning is sad: Christians seem to think productivity, organization or systems are unbiblical and have no place in the church. Sadly, this is why most churches are ineffective and why business leaders often feel like they don’t fit in churches.

One of the best reminders I took from this book and it immediately changed my stress level was planning my day in advance. I tried doing this the night before, but I then laid in bed thinking about the coming day. I now spend my first 5-10 minutes each morning at my desk, praying through and thinking through what I need to accomplish and list what is most important and remove everything else from my calendar or to-do list for that day.

If productivity is a struggle for you, or if you want to take your productivity to the next level, I’d highly recommend checking out this book. You won’t regret it.

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How to Find the Right Boss

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The church I lead is hiring 2 new staff members right now and while I’ve learned a ton about hiring (a post coming soon), I have also learned a lot about how to pick a boss. Often, when someone talks about finding a job or a career, we simply look at the company, the perks, the pay, location and the values and mission of the church or organization and decide on that. Yet, studies show people leave jobs more because of their boss than anything else. In fact, people will take less money to stay with a boss they love. One of the questions I ask each person we interview is this: Tell me about your ideal lead pastor. What can he do to help you succeed? What things can he do to hamper your growth? These questions tell me a few things: do they know what they are looking for in a boss? Do they know themselves well enough to know what they need to succeed?

I believe, one of the reasons we don’t succeed or move forward in life is because we aren’t sure what that looks like.

If I was telling someone looking for a job who would not be the boss, but would have a boss I would tell you a few things:

  1. Know who you are. This means that you need to understand your gifts, talents, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. This may seem like an obvious thing, but many are unsure of how they are wired. If you aren’t sure how you are wired, you won’t know how will you fit with a boss or a culture. Do you like teamwork, working alone? Do you want a strict office or more laid back policies? Each church has a different culture based on its leaders, city and history and you need to understand this. I was on staff at a good church in Wisconsin and it was a terrible cultural fit. They wanted high extroverts who wanted a casual business dress with regular office hours. Doing student ministry at the time, this was not a good fit for me. Others would have loved it.
  2. Know what you need to succeed. This follows closely with the first one, but know what environment and kind of boss you need to succeed. Do you want a micro manager who one who is hands off? How much say do you want in the vision and culture of the church? What things are non-negotiable things for you and what are more open handed issues and beliefs? These questions will help you determine if someone or a church is a good fit. Otherwise, you will choose on location, style and pay and those are not always the best reasons to choose a job.
  3. Find someone worth following. If you are not the CEO, Lead Pastor or lead whatever, one of your main concerns is finding a leader you want to follow. That leader will decide so much about your career, livelihood, excitement, passion and happiness in your life that finding the wrong can be devastating. It adds stress, disappointment, hurt, possibly abuse and pain. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to spend time figuring out the kind of leader you want to follow, if the person you are interviewing with or working for right now is the leader you want to follow and make a choice. I think more leaders who not be the lead pastor need to spend more time thinking about the kind of person they are working for or following instead of judging a job based on salary and perks.

In the end, finding the right boss can be just as important as finding the right job. When you find the right boss, I would encourage you to think hard before you go looking for a new one. They aren’t easy to find, as anyone who has worked for the wrong boss can attest.

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5 Things Productive People do in the Morning

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Productivity is something everyone would like to raise in their life. To accomplish more is a goal most people have. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on time management, productivity, cutting things out of your life and how to step your game up. It seems like productive people accomplish more than everyone else and it isn’t because their life is easier or they have more hours in the day. They do specific things that everyone does not do.

Here are 5 things productive people do in the morning:

  1. Make their bed. I came across this from Admiral William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who commanded the operation to capture Osama Bin Laden. He says, “Start every day making your bed, which was the first task of the day at SEAL training. If you do so, it will mean that the first thing you do in the morning is to accomplish something, which sets the tone for the day, encourages you to accomplish more, and reinforces that little things in life matter. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made–that you made,” McRaven said, “and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
  2. Read. Productive people read in the morning. It might be the bible, a leadership book, but something that will grow them. This is pouring into themselves so they have more to give to others. In this time, they don’t check their email. It seems the most productive people check their email either at lunch or a few hours into work. You’ll see why in #5.
  3. Eat breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and starts thing off well. Productive people not only eat breakfast, but they eat a high protein breakfast. That means, no cereal. You will be hungry in an hour and then spend the day snacking, which will hurt your health and you’ll end up eating too much sugar and you’ll feel it in the middle of the afternoon.
  4. Exercise. I could also say they get a good night sleep, but that isn’t necessarily a morning thing. Productive people do get better and more sleep than unproductive people. They go to bed at a decent time (usually the same time each night) and get up at the same time each morning so their life is more routine. By getting up early enough, they exercise. This helps to clear your head, get your blood flowing and get ready for the day. It also allows you to make sure exercise happens as it is easy for the day to get away from you or your evening to be busy.
  5. Plan your day. All of us have known the feeling of our day getting away from us. That doesn’t happen to productive people. They don’t waste time. They don’t sit in meetings they shouldn’t be in, they check their email on their time table, not someone else’s. The first thing I do after reading in the morning is list the 2-3 most important things I need to accomplish in a day and then strive to do those things.

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How to be More Productive

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Everyone wants to be more productive. We want to accomplish more in less time, be more organized, have less email to answer, less meetings, more effectiveness. Yet, no matter how many books we read, we feel more stressed out about it.

Here is one tip that everyone I’ve ever talked to who is productive, organized and accomplishes a lot.

They all do this.

Ready?

Plan your day. 

Sound simple right?

Most people simply let their day come at them. They might have things they need to get done: take the kids to school, go to work, write a sermon, attend a meeting, go to a bible study, answer emails, but they haven’t thought about what they need to accomplish and if it is that important.

Now, some people advocate planning their day at night and if that works for you, great. I can’t do that. If I plan my day the night before, I tend to lay in bed and think about the upcoming day and struggle to fall asleep. Instead, after I eat breakfast and after I’ve had some coffee and read my bible I sit down and lay out my day.

Here are some helpful questions:

  1. What has to get done today? A lot of what you are going to do today, you don’t have to do or someone else could do. This gets back to your goals for life. What do you hope to be or do? Often, we simply respond to fire or things that urgently appear on our calendars. Instead, plan what is important and accomplish that.
  2. What if I accomplished it, would make today feel like a success? This is a crucial question and sometimes the answer is only one thing, not many. Sometimes it is 3 things. Each day if you can answer this question and accomplish the answer to this question, it will go so far to reaching your goals for your life and accomplishing what God put you on earth to do.
  3. Do I need to be in that meeting? Have you ever sat in a meeting and thought, “Do I have to be here?” If so, you didn’t plan your day, you let someone else plan your day. Now, I know you have to be in some meetings because you get paid to be there, but you could talk to your boss about better ways to do meetings. Many times we have meetings simply to have meetings. Churches are notorious for this. Don’t do something just to do something.
  4. Give everything important a minute. Everything that is important or that gets done has a time attached to it. If something matters, it gets put on the calendar. Whether that is soccer practice, family dinner, writing a sermon, date night, exercise, reading a book or taking a nap. Everything that gets accomplished gets a minute. People ask how I exercise or read. The answer is that I schedule it. When that time rolls around, it is time to do crossfit, it is time to read. This helps me decide what I want to do and then do it. Too many people simply allow their lives to happen and then they end up tired, watching too much TV or letting someone else plan their life. By giving a minute to one thing, you are keeping a minute from something else.
  5. How can I add value to others today? One of the best ways to not waste your day and be productive is to help others, serve others and benefit others. Yes, this will take time and maybe away from something else, but you will not waste time when you help others.

The bottom line is your day will go to something, someone will plan your day. You can either take an active role in that planning or a passive role. I think you’ll agree, the ones who are productive, less stressed and more fulfilled are the ones who take an active role and plan their day. 

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How to Know You’re Too Busy

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I was talking with some pastors the other day and the topic of burnout, being too busy and doing too much came up. This seems to be a common thread among people, no matter what they do.

Here are some of the things they asked:

  • How do you know if you are close?
  • Are there warning signs that you are getting too busy?
  • How do you know that your busyness is not just a season, but becoming a way of life?

I know in my life, there are warning signs when I am doing too much or taking too much on. Sometimes I adhere to them and make changes, other times I bulldoze through and pay the price.

Here are some warning signs to be aware of:

  1. What is normally easy is now hard. This is one of the first things that happens. For me, it centers on preaching, sermon prep, reading leadership books. Whenever I find myself not feeling motivated in one or all of these areas, I know I am past the point of running too fast in life. To combat this, I take periodic breaks from preaching (I try to not preach more than 10 weeks in a row) and I work in books that have nothing to do with sermon prep or church ministry to give my brain a break.
  2. Sleep is hard to come by. For many Americans, sleep is hard as it is. We go to bed too late, we don’t take enough naps, spend too much time on technology and get worked up. I try to get to bed by 10:30, I try to not look at social media or texts after 8pm so that my brain is able to take a break. I’ve read studies about how using a smartphone after 9pm can be harmful to sleep and productivity. If you have to take sleeping pills, watch TV to fall asleep or find yourself going to bed at midnight or staring at the clock at midnight, you need to work on your sleep.
  3. It is hard to get going in the morning. Some people are morning people and can’t wait to get going, others are not. I’m not a morning person. But, when I find myself having a hard time getting going in the morning, needing multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or to focus, that’s a warning sign. Think about this morning, how hard was it to get out of bed? The harder it was, the closer you are to burning out.
  4. Motivation is hard to come by. It is true that you are more motivated and alert at certain parts of the day. For me, it is first thing in the morning, which is why I reserve that for sermon prep and not meetings. It is when I am most creative and I need to give that mental time to the most important part of my job: preaching. When I find that motivation not there, I know I have a problem.
  5. You get angry fast. When you are tired, you tend to get angry fast. Your fuse is shorter with those closest to you: family, friends, coworkers.
  6. You use things to calm down. This might be food, sex, porn, exercise, drugs, smoking, alcohol. While these things calm you down and all of these are not necessarily sins, when used to calm us down or help us relax or sleep or “take the edge off” we have a problem. If you think, “I just need ____ to calm down or feel better” you have a problem.
  7. You don’t laugh as much or have fun. This is connected to what we’ve already said, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed and had fun, that’s a problem. When you are tired, the last thing you have energy for is fun or community.
  8. You have pulled back from community. When you are tired, especially if you are an introvert, the last thing you want is to be around people. Ironically, one of the things that can be the most helpful to warding off burnout and helping to bring you out of unhealthy patterns is community, being around people who care about you.

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Balance is a Pipedream

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As the holidays get closer, schedules get busier. There are parties to attend, pageants to go to, rehearsals for Christmas shows, tree lightings, decorations to buy and hang, presents to buy and wrap, food to prepare and all the while, still keeping up with everything else you do.

December 26th will roll around and most people will want to fall over in a heap of exhaustion, but there’s no time. We have to return clothes that don’t fit, clothes that are ugly, buy things that are on sale and get Christmas cards and decorations for next year because they are on sale for 80% off.

Over the next several weeks, people will quietly vent about all that they are doing and will do to friends and family, they will make resolutions in January about slowing down, eating better, working less, checking Facebook and email less, and signing their kids up for less activities. Only to find in February that they can’t wait for summer to hit so they can take a week off and sit around.

But we all know how summer goes.

In these conversations about pace, tiredness, doing too much, working too much, sleeping too little, an interesting work and concept comes up.

Balance.

Whenever someone says they are tired or doing too much, a friend with good intentions will respond, “You need to get balance in your life.” We talk about work life balance. Balancing schedules, checkbooks, planners, and activities.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, balance is a pipedream.

The next time someone tells you that you need to have more balance in your life, ask him or her what that means or looks like. You’ll get blank stares.

No one seems to know.

Yet, everyone is going for it.

Here’s a better way to think about life, work, kids, money, sleep, food and anything else you try to get balance in.

Every time you say yes to something you say no to something else.

Think about it like this. Whenever you say yes to staying up too late watching TV and eating ice cream you say no to a good night sleep, more sleep and a trimmer waist line.

Whenever you say yes to sign your child up for everyone team and activity you can throw at them, you say no to a sustainable pace, family dinners and overall health.

Whenever you say yes to work late you may say yes to a promotion and more money, but you also say no to family time, relaxing, time with friends and unwinding with a good book.

When you say yes to going into debt, you say no to peace in your life and bank account.

When you say yes to that extra piece of pie over the holidays, you say no to health.

Remember, balance is a pipe dream.

Are all these examples wrong? Not at all. You should eat some good dessert over the holidays. You should sign your kids up for fun things. You should buy nice things you can afford and bless others with nice presents. All of those are great things.

Take a minute though and remember last December, last January and February. What did you feel? Exhaustion, a longing for a break and rest that never came.

Now, the question isn’t should I do these things, it is more about, and what do you want to say yes to and say no to. Because, every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else. Every time.

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Why is E-mail so Tempting?

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The psychologist B. F. Skinner came up with the idea of random reinforcement, where you give a rat a lever and every hundred times it presses the lever, it gets a piece of food. For the rat, that is exciting. But if the number is a random number—any number between one and one hundred—it actually ends up being more exciting. And the rat keeps on working much, much more, even if you take the reward away altogether. I think that e-mail and social networks are a great example of random reinforcement. Usually, when we pull the lever to check our e-mail, it’s not that interesting. But, from time to time, it’s exciting. And that excitement, which happens at random intervals, keeps us coming back to check our e-mail all the time. -Dan Ariely, Manage Your Day to Day

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