Category Archives: Productivity

Rest

Busy. This word is on my lips everyday lately. Between work commitments and personal commitments this time of year is busy. At work we’re finishing our seasonal busyness, setting annual goals, finishing projects, and doing all the things that go with the end of the year. At home we’re preparing the house for relatives, finishing house projects, parenting, and keeping up with mail, trash and diapers. Sometimes I go from 6am to 7pm, moving from one meeting to the next. Once I get home I fall asleep sitting next to Lisa on the couch at 8, finally falling in bed exhausted. And, all with the feeling of accomplishing little. Busy at work. Busy at home.

If we’re honest, many of us tie our sense of worth to the number of tasks crossed off our lists. It’s easy to judge ourselves and those around us by the number of hours we work and willingness to arrive early and stay late. I see how I sometimes view my work as relating to my worth as a person. I tend to fill my days with bigger projects and more tasks than a person can complete in any reasonable time frame. Meanwhile, I feel guilty about the overwhelming number of commitments I’ve made clawing at my subconscious. In a vicious cycle, I feel worthless for failing to complete the insurmountable tasks I’ve determined justify my existence.

I just finished reading the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang. The idea that less work might somehow produce better results intrigued me. Pang gathers together in one place the world’s leading research on the critical role of rest on creativity, productivity, and a fulfilling life. Much of what he has to say runs against the way most of us operate. He shows how the most productive, accomplished, world class achievers take mid-day naps, exercise every day, sleep more hours, spent approximately four hours per day on their life’s work for which they’re known and take their evenings, weekends and regular sabbaticals seriously. Pang argues work and rest are not opposed forces, but rather two sides of the accomplishment coin.The book is filled with famous examples of people who have taken a rhythm of rest seriously. Charles Darwin woke early, took a walk and ate breakfast, worked 90 minutes, took a break to read mail and write letters, then worked another 90 minutes until noon, at which point he declared, “I’ve done a good day’s work!” In the remaining day he ate two more times, took two more walks, napped, studied for 90 minutes and spent the evening with his family. With this daily routine Darwin went down in history as one of the most productive and famous scientists who ever lived. Winston Churchill and Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas McArthur all took long mid-day naps of 1-2 hours during the height of World War II. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien both rose early, took long walks and afternoon naps, writing early to produce their great literary works. He gives many examples of CEO’s in Silicon Valley, scientists around the world, and others alive today whose lives illustrate major accomplishment and lives filled with waking early, afternoon naps, long walks, intense exercise, intentional vacations and regular sabbaticals.

Research shows it’s the combination of periods of intense effort and concentration combined with long breaks that has produced the great literary masterpieces, Olympic gold medals, and scientific breakthroughs we all know. The best rest is active and includes a significant dose of strenuous exercise to keep the body and mind fit for work. Rest includes what Pang calls Deep Play—a sport, playing a musical instrument, mountain climbing, writing, art—anything different than your main work requiring effort and skill. And rest includes sleep—lots of it. Over the last few years, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s become common knowledge mastery comes after 10 years, or 10,000 hours of intentional practice. But, less known, the study producing the 10,000 hour insight also revealed mastery and world class success came after 12,500 hours of deliberate rest and 30,000 of sleep. That’s more than 8 hours a day for 10 years! Deliberate rest stimulate and sustains creativity and problem solving.

The research surrounding rest is so counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, I have been thinking for days now about the results of a longitudinal study performed by researcher Bernie Eiduson. Eiduson followed top scientists at the beginning of their careers at top universities and tracked the progression of their success over 10 years. Those who published the most and achieved the highest positions, awards, and success all embraced rest and recreation as deeply connected and unified with hard work. In contrast, “Rather than discover the benefits of deep play, the less accomplished members of Eiduson’s cohort assumed that they would do better work by doing more work—and their careers suffered for it.” (220)

I am challenged to rethink the pace and schedule of my life. Like many people, I feel a constant need to do and to accomplish. I’m prone to take up the honorable badge of busyness to convince myself and others how successfully my life is going. The research says I have it all wrong. It is those who know how to unplug, pursue hobbies, nap, exercise, enjoy relationships, who not only achieve the most, but experience the fullest lives.This time of year is a fantastic time to take a moment and reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go. It’s a time to think about the life you want to live. I am setting aside time in the next few days to set my goals and plan for next year. I want to rearrange my life to nap more, play my bass and guitar more, exercise, spend more intentional time with friends and family and sleep more. I invite you to join me in finding a fuller life through more rest. Succeeding at any goal requires grit and resiliency.  The more of us who exchange busy lives for lives filled with rest, the easier it will be. And, the more we can all live lives filled with the things that matter.

2000 years ago Jesus offered us the rest we need, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28) Today, scientific research validates ancient wisdom about the nature of being human. May we all find the rest we need and seek.

I would love to hear about you—what do you do to rest?

Getting Done What Matters Most

stephen-leonard-david-holds-handI don’t want to miss out on the important stuff. Because life is busy, I set goals and review my priorities regularly.

I sat down the other day to review my goals for the year. I’ve been convicted recently that I need to grow in the ways I show love to the people in my life. I was thinking and praying and writing. Right at the moment I started getting into it, David walked up, reached out his right hand and rested it on my hand as he looked off into the distance. This is David’s way of asking to be picked up and held. I was busy, so I said hi to him, told him I couldn’t pick him up right now, removed his hand and continued working.

A couple of minutes went by. David came back and again placed his hand on mine—interrupting my writing this time. Again, I acknowledged him and sent him away.

A few minutes later the same thing happened again. David, standing in front of me. Hand on my hand, keeping me from writing down my thoughts and goals about living out a life that shows love better. I was annoyed.

That morning, I was focused on what I was doing. David was interrupting me. I was trying to get things done. I was working on something important. I didn’t have time to pick David up. I need time to focus so I could live the life God has called me to live.

Meanwhile, David kept coming back asking for attention. I told I love him. I told I saw him. But really I just wanted to get back to what I was working on and focus on my work again.

David persisted. And as I thought about my goals as a father, I thought about how one of my goals is for my children to know that I love them—that they are important to me. I want to spend time with them. And I began to think about the day I may not be able to hold him. I may not be able to hug him. So, I stopped. I stopped trying to figure out what my life is about and decided to live into the life I have. I stopped writing what I want to be and decided to be that person. At least in that one moment. I picked him up and held him. Nothing important got done. But we did the most important thing.

When have you almost missed the most important thing?

How to Communicate So You’re Heard

What_They_HearCommunication is what the other person hears.

Earlier this week I was on the receiving end of a customer service transaction that reminded me of one of my big lessons from 2013. Simply put, communication is what the other person hears. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that what I was trying to communicate was NOT what was being heard. The moment she heard what would make the transaction easier for her as the employee, she stopped communicating what would be easier for me as the customer.

A musician friend taught me the concept of musical dynamics this past summer (note: I am not a musician and so will surely get this at least partly wrong). Musical dynamics are the way a listener hears music. It’s why when you hear that high school band play they sound like a wall of muddy notes slipping down past your ears. Each band member plays his instrument like they’re the star of the show. The drummer plays louder and harder. The guitarist cranks her amp to be heard over the drums. The singer yells over the guitar and drums.

When a Beatles song comes on every person in the room wants to move to the beat. It’s crisp. Each person plays his role in the band—hitting each note, beat, and harmony with perfection. That’s musical dynamics. It can be fun for musicians to play for themselves like the high school band. But when musicians have great dynamics, it’s nearly magical for the listener.

Communication is what the other person hears. A band communicates through music. A preacher communicates through words and illustrations. Retailers communicate through marketing. People communicate by our words and behaviors.

To communicate well, we have to be other-focused. We have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes to hear what they hear, see what they see, and experience what they experience. It changes the dynamics of every interaction.

In your interactions this week, listen to yourself through the other person’s ears. Watch your face and your body language through the other person’s eyes.  Then ask, “Am I communicating to get my message out, or to have it received?”

I’d love to know—what have you found that helps you communicate well?

10 Ways to Live a Life Worth Living

10_Way_to_Live_a_Life_Worth_LivingI recently turned 40 and have been taking stock of my life—where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go. It’s been both challenging and energizing. Maybe you can relate? To be honest, I’m in process, but thought I would share my current thoughts about ways to live a life worth living. Here’s my list:

  1. Invest in the mundane. I tend to want to avoid things like doing dishes, changing diapers, taking out the trash, and helping to make dinner. But doing mundane tasks builds a character that’s other-focused and helpful.
  2. Read more. I heard recently that the typical college grad doesn’t read after college. Bill Gates never graduated, but carries (and constantly reads) three bags of books with him as he travels! Which one is better?
  3. Exercise regularly. I know everyone says this. But it’s true. Without being intentional, I sit in front of a computer all day long. I recently joined Gymnazo to be intentional about working out 3-4 times a week.
  4. Invest in people.  It’s easy to spend the day focused on getting tasks done. But I’ve noticed days where I make time to be with people and listen to them and hear their stories are better.
  5. Eat well.  I’m not a foody. I hate kale and kombucha. Still, I know that eating predominantly yellow—especially processed food (french fries, chips, cookies, pasta)—isn’t good for me. I need to eat foods that are green and blue and purple in much higher quantities than I prefer. So do you.
  6. Share. I’ve noticed the people I regard most highly are those who share kindness, contacts and knowledge most freely (for more see Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders).
  7. Commit to growth. If you think you avoid challenges, you think effort is a waste of time, or you take criticism personally, then you’re a lot like me—and many others! We want to prove ourselves. Read Mindset and let Stanford professor Carol Dweck inspire you to grow.
  8. Block out Sabbath time. We all need time to re-focus, rejuvenate, relax and re-energize. Schedule this time into your week. First.
  9. Work smarter not harder. Working hard is good, not enough. You need a team to help you—whether at work, or at home, or in your personal life. Life is a team sport. There’s a reason Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Eccl 4:9-10)
  10. Change your story. As Americans we live by a story where we make ourselves the star of the show. Its true that we face challenges, but through the pursuit of our dreams we can finally create the kind of life we always wanted. The Bible tells a different story. It says Jesus is the star of the show. We rebelled against him, but he is pursuing us to create the kind of life we really need—one that surpasses the life we always wanted. And it will last forever. This story humbles me, but it frees me (and you!) to join Him in a life worth living.

Question: What would make your list of ways to live a life worth living? You can leave a comment below.

Hitting Roadblocks

Churchill-painting-at-the-EaselEver find yourself trying to get momentum on a project only to be continually foiled by hitting roadblocks? I do. Lots of things can get in the way.

Fear

Procrastination

Laziness

Fear (of failure, of success, that there’s not enough money, that people will laugh)

Responsibilities

Distractions

Poor planning

Lack of skill

That voice that says you can’t do it

Did I mention fear yet?

I struggle with each of these demons. A recent issue for me is what I call bandwidth. I notice my ability to think shuts down long before my body does. When I was writing my dissertation it was difficult to do all the things I needed to do in the office. Right now, we’re in a busy season at the office. That makes it challenging to give myself to other parts of my life—family, my spiritual life, continued learning.

It’s a reminder to me of our limitations as human beings. I like having multiple irons in the fire and moving from one thing to another. I usually read multiple books simultaneously. I often have projects within my projects in each sphere of life I inhabit. The danger in all this is the potential failure to acknowledge the opportunity cost associated with taking on so much at one time. It’s obvious that time limits our ability to complete projects. We all know our skill, experience, education and talents affect what we can accomplish within a given time frame. What we often neglect to consider is the capacity of our bandwidth (you might call it your mental energy, ability to think, or other things) for a given type of task and overwhelm ourselves in one area. (I’ve heard that Winston Churchill liked to paint and do brickwork to relax and get a break from the meetings and reading and writing he did.)

I’m learning to re-prioritize my time such that I establish Sabbath time, priority time and response time each week. Honestly, this way of approaching my life is a new thing. But it’s revolutionary. I no longer feel guilty for taking the time I need to recharge and re-energize. I also don’t feel guilty for closing my door, turning off my email and working on the things that matter most—FIRST. Now, when I am in response-mode, I am free to give myself to others and their needs. This is new, but I’m excited and will keep you posted!

What do you do when you hit roadblocks?