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Learning to be Intentional

I’ve spent the last several months reevaluating my intentionalness (is that even a word?) around several areas in my life: reading, listening, praying, meditating, and learning.

I’m what you could call a distracted skimmer. As I would do any activity, I would look / listen for key parts and then move on, always looking for the shiny nuggets that mattered for me to get something done. It makes for great productivity, but lousy growth. I could read book, but not fully engage in it. I could participate in a conversation, but not fully be there. I could read scripture, but not hear God speaking. You can see what this would do to someone’s prayer life, bible reading, and relationships.

While reading two books, things started crystallizing for me that there was a problem. Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and Albert Mohler’s Conviction to Lead started to resonate deeply with me. I won’t get into a review of each book, but the main things I walked away with from both books were the importance of meditation, how time continues to tick away, and how I should be intentionally engaging my mind with challenging things. Recognizing that God would have better things for me in my walk with Him, I’ve set out to slowly change things.

  1. I’ve started reading books on a non-tablet device, a Kindle Paperwhite. That part about being easily distracted is huge for me. While iPads and tablets are great doing it all together on one device; at least for me, they make for lousy ways to get alone with God and my thoughts.
  2. I’m forcing myself to read a lot slower. I’ve found I have to intentionally tell myself, sometimes multiple times on a single page, “slow down, reread that, don’t skip sentences”. This has been very difficult, but so worthwhile. I’m retaining more of what I read and feel like I’m much more engaged in the story.
  3. I’ve started honing in on a particular area of scripture I’m reading and really concentrating on it – sometimes 15 – 30 minutes at a time, asking Gospel-centered questions about the text. In short, I’m learning to meditate and it is glorious!
  4. Last week I deleted my Facebook and Instragram accounts. I started with just removing them the apps from my iPhone, and decided to fully commit last week. Again, distraction – not just visiting Facebook, but feeling the desire to share everything about what I’m doing, reading, not being where I’m at. I finally realized that I could not come up any good reason to stay on Facebook. In the end, it was a time-sink that offered nothing back. All the people I need to stay in contact with are either are at church, work, or a phone call away. I still have my Twitter account, but no longer have the app on any of my mobile devices. I find Twitter to be very beneficial, although it, too, can get out of control if not managed.
  5. I’ve started writing out my prayers in a journal that the kids got me for Father’s Day several years ago. I can’t describe how intensely personal this is. It has become some of the richest times I’ve spent with God.
  6. We took the TV out of our bedroom. Instead of clicking on CNN or ESPN, I’m pulling out my Kindle, talking with Kathi, or getting to sleep on time.

These basic changes are creating calm in my soul. They are slowing me down. They are helping me to also become a better listener, both with people and with God. I’m a work-in-progress, and I’m thankful God knows that.

 

How To Avoid Going to the Gym at 5:00 am

I shared on Facebook the other day that my pants called and said they wanted their old belly back.

It’s true. I’ve perfected the art of avoiding going to the gym at 5:00 am and thought I’d share my insights with everyone:

1. Convince yourself that you really didn’t get enough sleep that night and the extra hour would make all the difference

2. When the alarm goes off, open up the Weather app on your iPhone and take a look at the temperature. 23 degrees is enough to keep anyone in bed

3. Remember that you’ve missed the previous four days and you wouldn’t want to mess up a good thing. If it happens to be Monday, remind yourself that Mondays are never a good day to do anything unusual. The need to prepare for the unexpected is paramount.

4. Forget to set the coffee schedule the night before. Trust me – you’ll remember that there is no coffee when that alarm goes off

5. Begin your Read Through the Bible in a Year schedule. It’ll buy you a good 30 days before you’ll need to employ another tactic

6. Plan on going at 3:00 pm instead when things are quieter at the gym and you are more awake

7. Convince yourself that you “need” some quiet time all to yourself to think and reflect

8. Stay up late the night before trying to get three stars and a new high score in Angry Birds

9. Convince yourself that your tummy ache really is real

10. Write a blog post at 5:00 am about how to avoid going to the gym at 5:00 am

On Reading, Distractions, iPads and Kindles

I have a love / hate relationship with reading. I love books, but I rarely finish them. I don’t exactly know why, except that I do know I get distracted easily. I also like to “get to the point” and end up frustrated with authors who take forever to say “Jesus loves us and He died for our sins”. I don’t need to read a doctoral thesis to understand that. So, I tend to skim rather than read, and I end up missing most of the beauty the author was trying to sketch out for me.

Recognizing what I’ve been missing out on, I’ve been making an earnest effort to change those habits. Here are some things I’m doing to cultivate a love for reading:

  • I really like eBooks. I like having easy access to any of my books wherever I am or the ability to buy a book at-will. eBooks have helped lure me back to the written word.
  • I love the iPad and I’ve been a huge fan of the Kindle app for the iPad. However, I’ve found that the iPad is not conducive to “getting lost in a story”. There are too many temptations to flip over to my email app, browse the tech news, check my twitter feeds, etc. It doesn’t take too long after beginning a chapter that I find my mind beginning to wander.
  • I’ve recently switched to a dedicated eBook reader – the Amazon Kindle 3. I like the single-focus aspect of a dedicated eBook reader. No bleeps, no twitter, no browser – just regular old reading.
  • On Saturday’s or Sunday’s, I like to go outside and read. Due to the heat and the screen glare, the iPad is horrible for that. The Kindle, however, is perfect for that.
  • I’ve never been good about looking up references the author includes inline, and I’ve been poorer as a result. I’ve found that when I take the time to look up a verse that the author references, it really enhances what I’m reading / studying and the Lord often shows me something totally new as a result.
  • I don’t read well when there is too much going on around me. I do my best reading and studying early in the morning (like 4 am) or late at night. A cup of coffee and a comfy recliner at 4 am is where I long to be these days.
  • I’ve tried audio books, but I just don’t retain the information like I do when I’m reading. Occasionally I’ll listen to an audio book while riding a bike or running, but I’ve really come to appreciate the silence of those activities more. That said, I’ve found the gym to be the perfect place to catch up on reading. A book is a great way to keep your eyes from visible “distractions” that are wondering the gym floor or on the TV.
  • Most of the books I read are non-fiction: theology, writing, mercy ministry, stream-of-thought, etc. I wouldn’t mind reading fiction books by people who happen to be Christians, I just don’t want to read Christian fiction. I’ve heard it said that the worst place in Christendom is the Christian Book Store, and I believe that isn’t too far from the truth.
  • When reading a chapter, I’m being intentional about not skipping paragraphs. In fact, I’m forcing myself to go back and re-read paragraphs to make sure I understand what the author is trying to communicate. I’m also going back and re-reading entire chapters. By doing those things, I find myself getting into the author’s world more frequently.
  • Note-taking while reading is a skill I’m just now beginning to develop. Keeping some small moleskine notebooks around helps a lot.

Tracking Those Blasted Tasks

Managing time and tasks while being mobile can be extremely difficult. Phone calls come in, emails get exchanged, commitments get made, and tasks have been worked on. As the brain begins to unwind on the way home, reality hits and the heart palpitations begin to go off: I just gave my life away and I have no idea who I gave it to and what I’m supposed to be doing.

How do you track these things while living mobile? It is a problem I’ve been working through for many years. I’m not sure I’ve completely solved it, but I’m making progress.

Here are some tools I use:

  • toodledo.com – it is a web-based service that collects to-do’s organized by folder. Tasks can be emailed in, they can be created using a browser-plugin, and they have an iPhone / iPad.
  • Pocket Informant – they have an iPhone and iPad app that integrates into the toodledo platform and Google’s calendar for a complete overview of your appointments and tasks.
  • Evernote.com – access to all your notes from wherever you are and on whatever mobile device you happen to be working on. They have apps for every platform out there: mac, pc, ipad, iphone, android, blackberry and web
  • Google’s Gmail / Google Apps for Domains – access to my email from wherever I am and from whatever device I’m working on

Here are some ways I use the above services:

  • email comes that I need to create a task for: I forward it on to my Toodledo email address and it creates a task using a date and folder name I specify in the subject line
  • I’m on the phone and need to create a task: I click a Toodledo Create Task button in my browser and I’m done
  • I need to record time spent on a task – I set it in the length field for the task in Toodledo
  • I’m on my iPad and need to access those same tasks: I open up PocketInformant, it syncs all my tasks, and there they are
  • I’m reading an email and I only need a portion of that email for task creation purposes: select the sentence, right click it and choose Toodleo This
  • I’m meeting with a client and using my iPad to append some notes to a client folder. I open up Evernote, access the client notebook and begin taking notes. I’m already online, so when I close the app, the note gets synced and is available to me to read my notebook when I get back to the office or from my phone if I find myself stuck in traffic.
  • Email comes in that I need to follow-up on later in the day or tomorrow: star it using gmail.
  • Email comes with attachments that I need to access later while offline – I forward it to my Evernote email address so I can access it through Evernote on whatever device, while either offline or online
  • Before the day gets going, I’ll review all my emails that are starred, follow-up and archive, or forward to my Toodledo email address to create a task.

What do you do, why do you do it, and how do you do it?

What To Do?

Staying on top of tasks is crucial to keeping work and family life separated. I’ve missed enough  important deadlines to know that making them up on a weekend is a sure-fire way to an unhappy home. The opposite is also true: if things are not being taken care of at home, your boss will not be drawing a smiley face on your next performance review. What to do?

I’d love to throw a technology solution at this one (and I will in a later article), but I’ve found in my own life that a majority of my task management problems is a result of pure laziness and a discontent spirit. I hate to admit it, but I end up causing most of my own problems by avoiding what needs to be done, doing what I want to do instead, and then paying the consequences later by pulling an all-weekender. The coolest MoleSkine and the greatest iPad ToDo app isn’t going to fix that problem. It’s time to find out what’s really going on.

If the above seems eerily familiar to you, ask yourself some of these questions that I’ve asked myself:

1) What desire am I trying to fulfill rather than do what I’ve committed to doing?

2) Why am I discontent with the work I’ve been given, only to seek satisfaction elsewhere? Is this evident in other areas of my life?

3) Am I viewing myself above the people I’ve been called to serve?

4) Have I over committed myself and am now in a state of paralysis?

5) If I have over committed myself, why did I do it? Am I seeking the approval of man or the “promise” of what money can buy? Am I living in fear of not being provided for?

When I’ve been honest with myself and gotten down to the root of those questions, I’ve found that my heart is sinful, ultimately desiring sugar-coated promises rather than enjoying what Christ has already given me.  Thankfully, I’ve found Grace and Forgiveness by seeking God with a heart desiring to destroy that rationalization to sin.

A good tool can certainly help wade through and manage the nastiest of project lists, but it’ll do nothing but gather dust if the ultimate problem lies within the heart.

Stillness

It is in the stillness of the morning that our ears are most tuned to listening.

A good cup of coffee certainly doesn’t hurt, either.