On the Anniversary of My Blog Falling Silent

What “The Year of Rebooting” really meant

It’s been exactly one year since I posted anything to this site. A few weeks before that last post, I put up a post explaining that my theme for 2019 was the “Year of Rebooting”. I expected to follow up on that often over the course of the year with my thoughts on productivity and planning while I worked out a new system. It was to be a sort of proving ground for some grand ideas. Of course, that’s not what happened.

Instead, not long after that post I realized that I was in no shape to share what I knew about planning and productivity. In fact, I could barely motivate myself to take care of the basic requirements of my work and family life. It turned out that the reboot I needed was not for my productivity system, but for my soul.

So I didn’t write for my blog. I didn’t build a new system. Instead I began to work through why, for the first time in my life, I had fallen into depression. My depression was circumstantial and lasted for a season—a long season, over a year. But in the process of healing I discovered what went wrong. With the help of my wife, a great counselor, friends, and more than anyone Jesus, I came to understand and accept the place I found myself in. It wasn’t permanent, but it was real. And admitting it allowed me to address what had gone sideways, where I failed, and how I reacted when tossed around by circumstance.1

I discovered that the word “control” explains much of my desire to be productive, useful, prolific, and respected. I want to control everything. Of course for a Christian this should be no surprise. This desire for omnipotence grows from the same root that produced rebellion in the Garden of Eden: a desire to be like God. And recent history has demonstrated that I am, in fact, not god-like at all. So for me, healing began with letting some things go. Letting go of unrealistic plans. Letting go of envy. Admitting that my desires are often—though not always—to control, to rule, and to reign.

Which brings me to the point I sat down to make. Planning and systems are good things. They help us understand how to accomplish goals and how to achieve worthy ends. Learning how to successfully plan and execute work and personal responsibilities is critical to having a meaningful and (actually) productive life. But no amount of planning can guarantee it. No system, philosophy, or technique can deliver perfection. And yet that is what I (and I’m guessing some of you) really want. We want to be in control. We want things our way. Because then—we think—it would be perfect.

But we cannot control everything. And we cannot make all things right.

So, sitting here at the end of the “Year of Rebooting” I don’t have some grand new system. I don’t have a plan that I’m confident in. And that’s actually a very good thing.

Because what lies ahead is what Jesus won for me: a clean slate.

  1. This is only my experience. Every experience of depression is unique. I cannot explain anyone else’s experience, and mine should not be used to understand or define someone else’s. I’m making no generalizations, this is just my story. 

A Systemic Breakdown

Rebooting a whole life is hard, but when the systems break down there is no other choice.

This year I am going to make a clean restart of every area of my life. From my spiritual life, to my marriage, parenting, ministry, writing, academic, and personal responsibilities, I plan to spend the next year working through it all. I’m calling it the Year of Rebooting.

The trick is, that’s a lot to sort through and make sense of. When it comes to organizing our lives and living up to our responsibilities, each of us are wired in very different ways. For some, systems are overwhelming. A simple, effective list of priorities paired with a daily to-do list may be all that’s needed. For others, a detailed and thorough system is required to help them think through everything that is on their plate. Neither is right or wrong, it all depends on the way our minds think and the circumstances of our lives. But regardless of the what kind of system we have, or don’t have, everyone needs organizing principles for their life.

When it comes to systems, I am on the more complicated end of the spectrum. I need heavier, more detailed systems. I need daily routines, weekly lists of priorities, and a system to track the many projects I’m committed to. I don’t simply like having detailed systems in place, nor does it come naturally to me. But I need them to compensate for my shortcomings. My system has never flowed from my strength, but rather from my weakness.

And in the last year it has become clear that these systems are not working in most areas of my life right now. Simply put, they are no longer compensating for the right things. As a husband and parent of two very small children, my systems for ensuring they have enough of my time, attention, and care are no longer working. As a writer, my system is not protecting my writing and creative time. As a student my system… and on, and on, and on. Hence, the Year of Rebooting.

Unlike my previous annual planning, my approach this year is not heavily structured. I will build the airplane while it’s in the air, as it were. Starting this month I will inventory every area of my life, identify problem areas, and kill off any thing that needs to go. Soon I will post about how I’m doing this, but for now here are the areas I’m starting with (in rough priority):

  • Spiritual life
  • Marriage
  • Family life
  • Ministry
  • Writing
  • Academics

While I will certainly not be sharing all of the details, I do want to document and share how I go about rebooting my life this year. I’ll detail some of the ways I explore and evaluate these areas, and share some of the solutions I put in place.

Maybe this is interesting to you. Maybe you feel the same need, the same pull, to reboot and reframe your life and your systems. Maybe you’ve never even thought of systems in this way. As you can clearly see, I’m no guru. I’m a guy who developed a system years ago that worked really well to fight against my biggest areas of weakness. And now, I need to do it again.

I will keep writing about this stuff here as I go along, and maybe it’s interesting, or helpful to you. Or maybe it’s fun for you to watch people flail around. 😂 Whatever the reason, if you want to keep up with my process this year, you can subscribe to my email newsletter or subscribe to the RSS feed for this site in your RSS feedreader. 1

  1. Don’t have a feedreader? Try this one. Don’t know what RSS is? Check out this beginner’s guide. There is nothing I recommend more highly for people who want to read on the web than a good feed reader, full of your favorite writers. 

Year of Rebooting

It’s time for a clean start

My Annual Plan is a big deal. For years I’ve worked to develop and refine my own annual planning process. I set aside the month of January to reflect and plan. I would create a long document that contained all of my roles, goals, plans, and responsibilities. I had my wife and friends review it, and gave them permission to correct it, or add to it. Then, each year, I turned it into an actionable plan that I fed into my task management system. It’s been really valuable and worked for me.

Until it didn’t. This past year my January was interrupted with several big life events for our family. So the planning simply could not happen then. It took months to get back on track, and when I did, the process was really difficult. It was more time-consuming and ultimately unhelpful. For the first time in years the whole exercise felt forced, false even. What had once worked well was broken. That’s no surprise really, it’s the way of the world. But now it’s time to fix it.

One of my favorite podcasts is Cortex, a podcast that is marginally about productivity, but aimed at my particular kind of nerd. For the last several years on the show the hosts have used used the idea of yearly themes to organize and guide their plans for each year. On this year’s annual themes episode something in particular struck me. One of the hosts’s theme was the “Year of [Re]Order.” He recognized that his previous theme, “Year of Order”, was not successful and it needed to be readdressed. It was a simple and honest admission—one that regular listeners were surely not surprised by, and yet it struck me as profound and—in the limited sense of this subject—brave. It’s hard to admit it when things do not go as planned, especially for those who are planners. It’s even harder to admit it publicly when you have people that look to your for help on planning. Listening to CGPGrey’s analysis of his theme choice, I realized what my own theme needed to be. I need a clean break. I need a hard reset across several areas of life. I need to reboot.

There are many reasons that my annual planning failed, but a post-mortem to figure them out would not be helpful. The question that matters is, how do I get back on track? That’s the goal of the “Year of Rebooting.” I will inventory all areas of my life, examine and reflect on each one, and then do a hard restart of it. Like any good reboot, there are some processes that need to be killed for good, and there are others that require significant changes. But none should be left untouched.

The process starts this month, January 2019. I am in the process of making several hard decisions that lay the groundwork for the rest of the year. The first decision I made is to leave Facebook and Instagram because of privacy and social concerns I noted in another post. The second was to start writing on the web more, partially to document this journey. The next decision in front of me is how to approach my Year of Rebooting. It’s not an annual plan. It’s not what I have done in the past. It will be something new, and I will build it as I go. But I do know one thing, it’s a fresh start.

3 Reasons Why You Should Keep a Productivity Journal

Every day at 4pm, my phone dings with a reminder to write a journal entry. And (almost) every day I stop what I am doing and take a few moments to write about my day. It’s a simple act, but it is a crucial part of my productivity practice.

Unless you read all of the productivity nerd blogs like I do, you probably have no clue what a “productivity journal” is. I didn’t either until a few years ago, but in that time this practice has become deeply important to my growth and productivity.

While more explanation is warranted, a productivity journal is simply a collection of daily entries summarizing your priorities, accomplishments, failures, and struggles.

Why is keeping a productivity journal so important for me? Why do I think everyone who is interested in growth and productivity should keep one? It comes down to three benefits.

A journal maintains our focus on what matters most

I don’t know about you, but I often lose sight of what matters over the course of the day. Every morning I start with a review that keeps me current with all my various inboxes and sets my priorities for the day. And very often by 4pm I have either finished everything I needed to, or got pulled off course by distractions. Either way, I tend to end my days with a cloudier view of my priorities than when I started.

The actor of journaling resets my focus. Sitting down to record what happened, detailing successes and failures, and thinking through what’s next clarifies the day. It puts the activities of the day into perspective. Did I meet my goals? Did I fail my team? Do I need to change something in response? What is one key thing I must do tomorrow? The act of thinking through these questions helps to settle my mind and organize my thoughts.

A journal is raw material for reflection

Reflection is a major part of my approach to productivity. In fact, it is the thing that keeps me on track. Leaving the much larger subject of reflection for other posts, the salient point is that regular, honest reflection on our decisions and outcomes is crucial to successfully implementing productive practices.

The journal serves two specific functions in my approach. First, by keeping a journal, each day I take time to reflect on the day. This has a self-ordering effect of sorting the days actions and decisions into a few camps. I can reflect on what was successful and what wasn’t. I also contemplate how I sinned or struggled to love others well. And finally I start to grapple with what the next day will bring. These areas all inform my understanding of the day. They are an immediate touch point for me on what matters most.

Second, the permanent recording of these events and thoughts serve as grist for further reflection down the road. Reviewing a week, month, or even a year’s worth of journal entries reveals patterns of success and failure both. The raw data of each day’s thoughts can be used to construct a far more accurate view of my life and choices. It is the starting point for considering what changes need to be made so I can live a life that glorifies God.

A journal is a great transition out of your work day

The final reason I find journalling to be so important is that it helps me begin to unwind my mind from the daily tasks, issues, and frustrations of work. It sums up the day—for good or for bad—in a way that allows me to put work away and switch modes.

This frees me up to focus my thoughts on my wife and what she needs, or on personal projects that lie in wait at home. It helps me transition from one area of life to another cleanly. It sorts the mental debris of the day in an ordered way for the next day’s work. It’s cleans up the mental workbench, and shuts off the workshop lights.

The importance of journalling does not lie in the journal itself, but in the act of recording and reflecting each day. A small break at the end of the day to reflect has made an huge difference for me, and it may do the same for you.

Why Productivity Practices Matter for All Christians

Jesus was the most productive person ever. That might sound obvious to some, or trivial to others, but I believe that truth is incredibly important to believers living in the modern world.

What do I mean when I say that? What’s my point? It’s simple really:

Jesus always did the right thing, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way, always.

When we learn to do the right things, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way, we become more like Jesus. For the believer the end goal of improving our productivity is actually sanctification.

Of course, there are other results and purposes behind improving our productivity. I totally agree with Matt Perman when he asserts that our productivity is about doing all that we can, with all that we have, for the glory of God. Being more productive (in the sense that Jesus was productive), absolutely leads us to love our neighbors, families, churches, communities, and the world. It leads us to a greater impact for the kingdom of God. Being more productive is absolutely about glorifying God, as is all of life.

But, in the day-to-day mess—especially when it’s hard to be disciplined and organized—what drives me forward is this simple idea: becoming more productive means that I am becoming more like Jesus.

Three benefits I discovered in a morning routine

This year, I found a powerful ally in the battle to be productive. Routine. Last week I let my routine go, and the impact was not small.

I was quite sick, and it killed my morning routine. My wife can attest that I am a terrible patient. When I get sick it's as if the world is ending. I'm sluggish, cranky and very lethargic. It's not pretty, and I know it's a fault, but there it is. Last week I was particularly affected in the mornings. Usually by the afternoon I was able to focus on work and be somewhat normal. Before noon though? Forget about it.

The biggest casualty was my morning routine. Since the beginning of the year, I focused on building a consistent morning routine. For the last five weeks, on many more weekdays than not, my routine looked like this:
1. Get up
2. Turn on The Briefing podcast
2. Fix coffee
3. Make breakfast
4. Read the Bible
5. Write in my Day One journal
6. Work on one of my writing projects
7. Quick daily GTD review
8. Get ready for work

This all takes around two hours. If I am up between 5:30 - 6am, I can easily be done before work. While my adherence to an early wakeup time was not perfect, the results of the routine were very encouraging when I was. As a result, the lapse in my routine last week made its value even more clear.

I realized that my routine does three very important things for me, and I don't think I am unique. I bet a similar routine, based on your personal priorities, can bring you the same benefits.

1. Reinforced priorities

Every day, my priorities are: my relationship with God, my relationship with my wife, my writing and my work. While some are obvious (my time reading the Bible helps keep my relationship with God active), and others may not be (my GTD review ensures that any commitments I've made to my wife are on my radar first thing in the morning), every item on this list directly serves one or more of my priorities.

By starting the day with this routine, the rest of the day is already anchored in what matters most to me.

2. A clear and focused mind

The first week of the new routine was hard, but after several days I noticed that each day I executed the routine I was in a better mental position to start my day. With a good breakfast in my stomach, the Word of God bouncing around my head, and one more morning's worth of progress on a project that matters to me under my belt, the rest of the day almost seemed to be an easy coast downhill.

The value of a clear and focused mind cannot be overstated. We think and create best when our minds are free from distractions and worries. The effect this has on your productivity is essential.

3. Daily progress towards my goals

This is my main reason for establishing my morning routine. I realized that with everything I must accomplish, and the time and energy my daily commitments take, that sitting down in the evening to work on my writing was ineffective. If I could find the time and I was not too tired, my brain was usually stuffed full of baggage from the day and could not focus.

Making space for creativity first thing in the morning ensured two things. First, I would have the time to get the work done. Second, I would have a clear and rested mind to create from. This made all the difference in the world.

This week I will fight hard to get back into my routine as I get healthy again. While there is always a temptation for me to slide back into my old ways, the improvements I've seen over the last five weeks are more that enough motivation not to.

If you've never tried a consistent morning routine, you should consider it. I think you will be surprised by how much you like it.

Four things you can do to read more

A common refrain I hear from many of my friends is a desire to read more. I get it. I have a long list of unfinished books, and a longer list of those I want to read.

The fact is, that for any writer, aspiring or established, the importance of reading is paramount. A writer does not create out of nothing, but uses the material he knows as compost for growing new ideas. For this reason, I want to increase my reading time significantly. Over the last several months I have done so.

Do you feel the same way? Do you want to spend more time reading? If so, I think you can, with these four tips:

1. Pick your place(s) to read carefully, then stick to them

At home, I have a chair in the living room that I read my Bible in every morning. If I try to read it elsewhere it’s not the same. There is something about that chair in the quiet of the morning.

Find the places that work for you. For me, it’s that chair, my home office and my bed. In those locations my mind is used to reading, and this has a powerful reinforcing effect. Regardless of what makes a location great for you, find the few places that are, and read there consistently. Form a habit.

2. Reduce, or even better eliminate, distractions

If you see me at work, whether at home or in the office, I have my headphones in. I’m always listening to podcasts or music. To get anything done, I almost feel like I have to. But that doesn’t work for me when reading. It is too distracting.

Distractions go beyond sound, too. I now treat my reading time the same way I treat my writing. I reduce or eliminate as much input as I can. This means that when I sit down to read or write I do the following things:

  • Use a dedicated e-reader or the actual book. No tablets. The temptations and frequency of distraction is just too high
  • Turn off music and podcasts. If I need to block sound or I must listen to music, I only listen to music without words
  • Absolutely no TV
  • Put my phone on silent, or even the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode
  • If I am in my home office, I will quit the email and social media apps on my computer that have audible alerts
  • Have a glass of water, or cup of tea/coffee close at hand

Your list is probably different. But, the key question to ask when you consider the inputs around you while reading is this: will it pull me out of the words on the page and interrupt my thoughts? If the answer is yes, then get rid of it.

3. Have multiple options

I keep generally three to five books going at any given time. This kind of variety allows me to pick an option to suit my mood, and when I can do that I am less likely to pick up the TV remote or waste time on the Internet. It’s important to have a number of books available that you want to read, spread across genres. For some people this may mean simply having a list of what you want to read so you can move right on to a new one when you are ready.

Also, life is too short for bad books. If you don’t like what you are reading, then stop. Move on to something else. You will read more books and learn more things if you don’t let boring books and other people’s opinions drive what you read.

4. Have a plan, and make it a priority

This is most important point. If you really want to spend more time reading, then you have to make it a priority. If it is the last thing on your list for the day, it will more than likely not happen.

Having a plan and setting your reading time aside as a priority can help prevent these times from slipping away from you. Every reader will be different, but my plan is simple. For me, the Bible is first thing I read in the morning, and I always carve out time each evening for a least one chapter of one of the other books. Find your own rhythm and plan, but make it conscious. Write it down, or curate a small stack of book by your bed or reading chair. Be intentional about what you are reading.

Reading is a very personal habit, so not all of the details may be right for you. But, I do believe having set locations to read, reducing distractions, and having multiple options will help you read more. And, if all else fails, make it a priority.