Monthly Archives: October 2012
Prisoners of Our Own Device
Overwhelmed? Overloaded? Overcommitted? Overworked? Overburdened?
Me, too. Or, should I say “I was living that way, too.” Until God broke the dam and gave me some great relief. Many of you have been following these strange posts on my Facebook page about “inbox = empty” and wondering either “who cares?”, “is it Christian to hate him?”, or “how can anyone get their inbox to empty so often and why is Aarron Pina taunting me?!”
Let me explain.
About 6 ot 7 years ago I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and implemented a good portion of it, experienced great success for a time, but eventually fell off the wagon enough times that I think I broke (and subsequently, lost) my spine. About 2-1/2 months ago, after reading over our family mission statement which includes part of Romans 12:2 (“…be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds”), I started listening to David Allen’s podcasts and re-implementing the GTD system.
Ever pray to God for a breakthrough and hear no response only to find out He was silent now because He’d already clearly told you something several times before? God had given me an answer, freely and without reproach, but this time He made me uncover it when I was so fed up with my own mess that I moved Heaven and earth to find His answer:
1. Track your commitments. (Wait, something fell through the cracks?!)
Every one of us has (at the 10,000 foot level) between 30 and 100 “projects” at any given time. (A project is any multiple step activity that when all the steps related to it are checked off, it can be considered “done” – closed-ended.) These commitments need to be tracked or they will “fall through the cracks”. Every one of us has (at the 20,000 foot level) between 10 and 15 categories of commitments, called “Areas of Responsibility” or “Areas of Focus” that cannot be completed because they are ongoing and open ended. Ex. “market research”, “bills”, “customer service”, “health”, “strategic planning”. These, too, must be tracked. Some people call this “getting organized”, but what I’m suggesting is a larger, richer, system of workflow management that includes “organize” as a component without being limited to just getting there.
2. Run the Prison, Don’t Let the Prisoners Run You
God is a god of order and He designed our minds to be like “steel traps”, capturing thoughts and storing them. But, most of us are very sloppy in the way we run the penitentiary of steel traps in our head. I was taught a long time ago that when it comes to lust, there’s no excuse for sloppy thinking. However, the verse above isn’t just limited to lustful thoughts. Yes, we need to get unruly, unwelcome visitors like lust out of the lobby, but we need to make sure the rest of the prison stays in control.
The “to make it obedient to Christ” part means, from a practical standpoint, identifying a thought as either godly or wicked. Here’s a simple question I’d been blowing off hundreds of times a day, resulting in towers of clutter on my desk: “What is this?” Every email, every memo, every assignment, every “note to self” can either be acted on or not. That’s helpful information. It’s either a prisoner, a prison worker, or a visitor. Unfinished business is like an extra inmate with no place to go – accumulate enough of them and the guards… the prison… will be overrun and out of control.
Identifying each thought (email, commitment, inspiration, project) is vital information to me now, because I know there are only four possible places something can go once identified:
- A. Do – if it’s something that I, and only I, can do and it’s less than two minutes (I have a sand timer on my desk called the “2-minute Nazi” to hold me to this) I’ll knock it out, immediately. If it’s something that requires other input from other people or that takes longer than two minutes it gets “Dated”.
- B. Date – I’m funny like this: if it’s on my calendar, it’s pretty likely to get done on the day it’s listed on my calendar. If the answer to “What is it?” is “something that cannot or should not be done right now, it goes into my “tickler” file (see below for definition) on the appropriate day or gets scheduled on my calendar in a “free” block, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks so easily. No stray prisoners allowed in the hallways!
- C. Delegate – If this is something that should be done or worked on until done but just doesn’t fit into my job description (Disciple – Grow – Promote), it must be delegated. This is like transferring a prisoner to another facility into someone else’s care until their sentence is served.
- D. Dump – Can I tell you about two of my newly favorite tools in my office? The trash can and the shredder. Love ’em. Now, I even know how to use them so well, they get emptied sometimes twice a week! How awesome is that? Talk about freedom. Get them out of the prison if they don’t belong there and you keep the prison clean!
3. Roll Call – the Glue that Keeps It Running
Every week, I now have a sacred hour or two on my calendar called “Weekly Review”. Read Getting Things Done and you’ll get a better feel for what it looks like or email me about our upcoming “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Work, and Life” workshop in January and I’ll get you more detail. Essentially, this is a time for me to clean out all of my inboxes (virtual and physical) update all of my “next actions” lists, get clean and clear on what commitments are still waiting for other peoples’ inputs, etc., and check off items that may have moved so fast I couldn’t track them in the moment – “Mom called, she’ll be coming for dinner on Sunday, at 5:30” – great, I don’t have to call Mom about that.
Freedom Found? Be Encouraged.
For me, staying on the GTD wagon for 9 weeks, the payoff wasn’t just increased productivity. I’ve never felt like I literally “found” two extra hours of time in a week before, but that wasn’t the payoff, either. It was an even cooler reward than I had imagined. Have you ever emptied out your sofa or even the back seat of an old car and found $20? A five? Okay, enough change to buy a #4 breakfast at the drive thru? It’s like all this STUFF was in the way covering a buried treasure.
My treasure was more than cash. It was an unexpected gift from God: once I had uncluttered my inbox, my “to do” list, and my “current commitments” pile, it was clear I had been making dozens of choices based on either fear of rejection or the approval of men. Idolatry no matter how I looked at it. That was a set of commitments I knew just what to do with: I wrote them on paper “fear of rejection” and “approval of man”, said a little prayer “Lord, you have set me free from these. Let me stay free, indeed”, rolled my chair to the shredder, and listened blissfully as is churned away.
Free at last, free at last…
Doing Two Things at Once… Have you ever been on the phone with someone while you were driving to work, get to work and think “Wow, how did I get here?”
There’s great brain science out there that explains this phenomenon. Without getting hyper-biological, let’s just say that God designed our brains to do really great things. One of those things our brain yearns to do is to embed familiar routines into the “auto-pilot” section of our brain. We’ve subconsciously trained ourselves how to get to work by storing “directions to work” in the routine-function section of our minds (also called the basal ganglia). When we shifted our “full” attention to the phone conversation, auto-pilot is what helped us arrive at work instead of Peru.
Much of what you and I have learned as children has been broken down into easily recalled “chunks” (how to go to the bathroom, how to lift a glass, what to say when someone gives you a toy, how to respond to someone who yells at you, etc.) and stored it in autopilot. This saves us from wasting time and energy rethinking the routine each time we have to do it.
The Old Testament teaching from Proverbs 22:6 is echoed in Jesus’ teaching “…but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)” Which, begs the question:
We’ve All Been Discipled by Someone
Many of my teachers growing up were contrary or marginally average examples of godly behavior. It took time in the Word and the Holy Spirit to expose to me the places where I’d learned wicked examples of auto pilot. Today, I was interviewing a mental health professional and he reminded me that when men and women are under great pressure they tend heavily to fall into default modes of thinking learned from their childhood/family of origin. The brain science I’m reading right now fully confirms this assertion: while we may have new ways of thinking and be a “new creation” in Christ, we don’t always let go of our old programming. Could this perhaps explain why some of the following passages appear in scripture:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.2a)”
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)”
All Things New?
When we come to faith in Christ, we do, indeed, become new creations, but this does not mean our most basic programming is completely erased. How much good would we be to God’s kingdom if our mind were erased, personality wiped clean, and we had to learn reading, writing, even potty training all over? We have been “trained up (Prov. 22:6)” for a reason. But, submission to God in all we do, abiding in Christ and walking by the Spirit, demands that we are constantly renewed in our minds. We have much to relearn and the Holy Spirit who is our teacher, but we must dedicate time and mental bandwidth to the process.
- Take an inventory of “pretension that set up against the knowledge of God” and pray – multiple times daily – that the Holy Spirit will renew those old, bad, faulty thought patterns, giving you a “new” auto pilot. But, make sure to do this on paper – soon, I’ll be posting on how your brain isn’t designed to hold too many important things in the forefront – there’s great practical value in getting things out of our heads and onto paper.
- Think on these things – don’t just say “I’m going to not do x.” There’s great truth to “garbage in, garbage out”. Ask God to fill you with new desires and that’s likely what you’ll get. We’re in charge of our minds and what we consciously let in. Memorize the fruits of the Spirit – (Gal 5.22-23) and Philippians 4:8 and actively pray that God leans you toward these new ways. Life in Christ is not about good behavior, rather a changed heart that puts out godly behavior. But, let’s at least have a Holy Spirit Wish List.
- Say “no” to self-condemnation when you “fall off the wagon”. Looking in any mirror can show any of us far more faults than we’d care to think about tackling. But, at least now, we’ve got a more exhaustive list of what to pray for. Remember that while you are imperfect, God is leading you to perfection that will only be complete in His Kingdom reign.While you will make mistakes, Christ already paid the price for them – no sense beating yourself up when Christ has already been beaten for you.
This January, I’ll be running a half day workshop called “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Your Work, and Your Life”, where we’ll be covering how this stuff is just as related to getting your inbox to “empty” as it is to sharing the gospel at work and loving your enemy while you’re under attack.
God wouldn’t have put this stuff in the Bible if He didn’t intend to help us on the journey.
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23.4)”
Did you make some big money betting on Apple stock with the new iPhone release? Dozens of prognosticators were telling people to jump on the band wagon. But, this isn’t new. Who doesn’t dream of investing in the next Microsoft before it becomes the next Microsoft? We all love a good forecast – sometimes to know where to put our money, other times to know when to cut and run, right?
But, what about a spiritual forecast? Does bad news on the horizon help you out at all? Just caught a glimpse of something in Josiah that may give us all a forecast out of the past:
Think about that – a prophet of God sends word to men that they need to make a course correction – they’ve put all their money in “Me, Inc.” and Jeremiah’s telling them, that stock is under investigation by the Lord. If they would just shift everything in their portfolio back to “God, Inc.” they could avoid total loss. You’d think the king, of all people, would be happy to know this.
In fact, he tears up the warning, piece by piece and has it thrown into the fire. “Jeremiah’s an idiot. My father built this deal from the ground up, and I know what I’m doing. No superstitious mumbo-jumbo is going to topple my empire.” We now know how the story went. But, isn’t even that news from the past a bit of a look forward? Look at what Paul tells the Corinthians centuries later:“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Cor 11:3)”
Every one of us can be misled – Eve was, King Jehoiakim was, you in Corinth have and can be, and today in 2012, you and I can be. Isn’t that great news? No? Okay, then let’s look at the remedy: “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” There we go. There’s the great news – the antidote for being led astray is just that: simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. What if Eve had been simple and pure in her devotion? Would Jehoiakim have repented like his father Josiah? What about us? What about you?
We’ve been given a great forecast – there will be trouble, wolves among the sheep, tares among the wheat, and all of them coordinated by an enemy who speaks spin as his native tongue – don’t buy any stock there. Go all in with Jesus and hold it for the long hall. The dividends can be sketchy, but the retirement payout is out of this world.