Chris Savage, co-founder of Wistia, shares a little about how he had to change how he approached his own work. As their business grew, his time became more scarce as more and more things filled it up. And that was a problem:
There comes a point when your effectiveness falters, though, when you’re no longer focusing on the right things or doing your best work. In fact, you may have already passed that point, but you didn’t realize because your busy schedule made you feel successful.
His solution? To go on a holiday. While there, he had the “a ha” moment that feels so good. As he was not in meetings or answering emails, his mind turned to the bigger questions for their team.
It began to dawn on me that in some strange way by not “working,” I was starting to do some of my best work again.
I’d suggest this applies to all knowledge workers, not only CEOs. We all need to step away from the desk to do our best work.
Faith and the Workplace: Created for Good Works
It’s been 8 years since I developed the habit of getting up long before the rest of the house. There is something about those early morning hours; the blessed stillness before the bustle of a family of 6 begins their day. I’ve long treasured the opportunity that this time offers, the ability to get the day started in whatever way suits me best.
And it’s these times where I develop most as a person. Whether it’s time spent in prayer, meditation, studying the Word, or writing and creating in any capacity, these morning sessions have led to the person I am today. These moments provide the anvil where I shape my ideas and beliefs about what my life should look like, and how to get there.
The problem I have is how to meld these moments to the rest of my day. Once the caffeine kicks in, the household awakes and gets moving, how do I ensure the convictions of the quiet time are on the front of my mind when the whirlwind comes at me?
What were we created for?
If I look to the Bible to answer this question, I find one consistent theme: good works. If you're a Christian, God himself has chosen you and prepared you to do good works. To bear good fruit.
For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
Eph 2:10 NET (emphasis mine)
This theme is stressed through the Bible in different ways. OT prophets (Micah 6:8) would state it simply, the Psalmist(s) would summarize the internal motivations required (Psalm 51), and Jesus himself used many illustrations to express the same idea (Matt 7:15–20 and 24:14–46, John 15:1–17).
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts this way:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
But what is the result of this? How does man glorify God?
What are good works?
I confess that a big part of this issue for me is how I have defined “good works” in the past. What does this phrase entail? For me, I would read that and think good works entails serving as a missionary overseas, running a shelter for the homeless, or any other super spiritual acts of serving others. But is that truly what it means?
It’s only been the past 2 years that I’ve started to this in a different light. And it may be best summed up in this verse:
And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Perhaps these good works entail all that we do.
My service in my church and any mission I support, for sure. But also taking care of my home. How I treat my wife and children. Welcoming the neighbourhood children into our home. All the way down to the mundane, things like chopping wood to keep our house warm, or helping with the dishes and housecleaning.
And even my job.
Matt Perman nicely outlines this concept in What’s Best Next. With chapters like “Does God Care about Getting Things Done?” and “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matter”, Perman builds a case for this mentality. And he starts with the words of Christ:
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matt 5:16 NKJV
And these good works include all that we do. Perman puts it this way:
The things that we are doing every day when we are being productive — answering emails, going to meetings, making supper for the family — are not just things we are doing. They are good works.
It's very easy to gloss over the mundane and focus on more overt forms of service. But that would contradict what we see in Scripture. And Perman goes on to state that these good works are for the benefit of all:
Hence, being productive is not just about getting things done. It's about being a useful person, making a contribution, and leaving things better than you found them.
Of course, I must stop to explicitly state the central idea of the Christian faith: these good works do not save us. Christ himself and his completed work is what saves me from my sin. Any good works I do, big or small, are a result of my salvation, not the cause.
But that’s a topic for another day :)
How to incorporate this to the every day
Back to the struggle. How do we tie this into our daily lives? I know that once I open the laptop, allow in the floodgates of communication (email, Slack, and the rest), all of the above starts to slip from my mind. And I don’t seem to be alone in this. Here are a few thoughts some of you shared in my reader survey earlier this fall, which well sum up the reality:
Busy-ness … makes the spiritual aspects of life hard
I get so caught up with my daily tasks … I’ll forget to read my Bible
I must confess, this has been one of my biggest struggles as a believer. Not that I forget to read my Bible, do wrong things when working, or become a different person. It’s just … so easy to lose my kingdom perspective. To remember what is truly important when the flurry of activity that is my work day begins.
But, I have finally started to find some small victories. If you desire the same, I’d like to share a few ideas that have helped me, as well as some advice from those who have come before.
Practice “being still”
Stillness is the opposite of busyness. Being still means being centered, having the ability to focus.
There is every reason not to be still in our time. But that is not a new struggle. There’s a reason why we see exhortations in Scripture to do just this. Humans have struggled with keeping their eyes on God from the very beginning.
However, in our current time of “always on” connectedness, making time to seek stillness is going against the culture. How exactly does one achieve this stillness? Here’s a couple verses that come to mind.
Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
Psalm 4:4 NKJV
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
Isa 26:3 NLT
Do note that stillness does not necessarily equate to (fn)inactivity. One can be still in the midst of performing any number of tasks. But attempting to do a number of tasks at the same time (the misnamed multitasking) is a sure way to achieve the opposite affect, to experience a lack of peace.
During the fall, I was preparing to teach a class on the “peace of God” and came across this great thought from Wayne Grudem:
Furthermore, although God is a God of peace, he is also the one who "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). He is the God who is continually working (John 5:17). And even though heaven is a place of peace, it is a place also of continual praise to God and service for him. Thus, God's peace can be defined as follows: God's peace means that in God's being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.
Of course, we are not infinite, omnipresent, nor all powerful. So we cannot be continually active in simultaneous actions. However, I feel it is important to be mindful that stillness and our work can go hand in hand. We can enjoy the peace of God while giving our best to our vocation and the responsibilities of our lives.
Taking a little time each day to seek a stillness in mind and spirit goes a long way. And practice is required!
Give it your all, but with a different motivation
If we can remember, moment to moment, that we exist to glorify God rather than ourselves, then we’ll improve at keeping our faith in focus while we work. But that is so much easier to say than do.
But I can tell you this is an area that has improved in my time as a Christian. In my early years after recognizing my need for following God’s ways instead of my own, it was a natural tendency to focus on how I should live and act. That’s a mistake, with legalism the end result. But it’s an easy one to make and experienced by many of us.
But as I matured, through the work of the Spirit, I learned to focus less on what I should do and more on Christ himself. On what He did (not on what I try to do), on how wonderful and graceful and altogether lovely He is. In the Scriptures, verses speaking to the heart of God started to grab my attention, rather than exhortations on how to live. Both are important, but if you don’t start with the former, your focus is on the wrong person (you).
Now, my motivations are less from what I know I should do, and more from what I want to do.
Keep a record
As I’ve talked about recently, keeping a journal is a great habit to adopt. The record is good for reference in the moment, but you also keep yourself accountable when missing days.
Like any new habit we try to form, if you're serious about it, you need to keep it in mind. And when it comes to following Christ, keeping his words close to you is a great way to ensure you bring about change.
In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you.
Finding verses that remind you of who are you in Christ and committing them to memory is one way to keep your focus amidst the busy. This is essentially the heart of Moses’s command about how God’s people should remind themselves in Deut 6:8,9:
You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorframes of your houses and gates.
How can one keep what’s important close to heart and mind without revisiting what’s most important to you? When the busyness of the day comes, unless you frequently revisit the important, it will get lost in the shuffle.
This does not apply only to believers struggling to keep Christ in mind during their workdays. People of all walks and beliefs struggle with this type of mentality in our work. This is why Corbett Barr (from Fizzle) suggests the following technique for managing your time: reconnect with your why. In his words:
Sometimes we put our heads down and focus with such intensity that when we finally take a moment to look up and take in our surrounding, we discover we’ve gone way off track. It is in these moments, when you’re struggling with self-doubt and making decisions only to second guess them moments later that you should reconnect with your “why”.
As a child of God created for good works, this is an important truth.
Build good habits and routines
The end results of our lives are built on the little things we do with regularity. If you want to improve this aspect of your life, be sure that you’ve instilled a healthy set of activities that will enable it to occur.
You’re not going to develop a kingdom focus if you do not read scripture each day. You will not look to God for wisdom in making decisions each day if you rarely pray to him. And you will never pause in the whirlwind of your day to reflect on how you're using your time if you never learn to seek stillness.
If that last paragraph describes you, choose of the suggestions in this article — just one — and try it for a week. Then stop and reflect on how it changed your days. As Shawn Blanc states:
Doing a little bit on a regular basis is far more powerful than doing a whole lot at once. It’s also far more sustainable.
Or, as John Maxwell puts it:
You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.
Think of these habits and routines like building blocks. You won’t end up with anything grand in the end without doing well at the little things.
Last suggestion, one that could be applied to any issue a Christian struggles with. I almost hesitate to add it here, except that I know many of us feel that we don’t pray enough. And we don’t! I’m very guilty of this myself.
And this is a chicken and egg scenario. Do you pray first so that you can think kingdom-ly during your work day? Or do you build the habit of focusing on Christ, which then results in increased prayer? The truth is a little of both.
But a good start is to simply pray to God and ask him to help you focus on him through your day
Again, I confess this is an area where I’ve struggled, and where I struggle still. And it’s one where I desire to see growth. My aim is to say, as David does in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me.”
Sanctification is a journey, not a destination. Sharing in Christ’s glory is the destination, but the process here in this world is a long, tough slog. But it's also so very worth the struggle!
It's no secret that I think a bit lot about how people work. That's one reason why I enjoyed Shawn Blanc's Focus Course so much and why I've talked about it so much over the last 18 months. And so I'm also excited for his upcoming Focus Summit.
What is it?
An online summit featuring candid and powerful video conversations with some of the world's best creative entrepreneurs.
I was flattered to have Shawn invite me to be involved. And now that it's almost here, I feel unworthy to be included with the likes of Jocelyn Glei, Mike Vardy, Paul Jarvis, and Jeff Sheldon. But if you're interested in hearing more about how I think about work and focus, sign up for the summit. For no cost!
Basecamp 3 is Rocking My Socks
I’ve never been a big fan of Basecamp. There have been seasons where I’ve used it, with one team or another, or several projects on their own. And there have been times where I spent a couple of months using other apps from the company-previously-known-as-37signals. But Basecamp was never a huge part of my workday.
I think that may be changing.
At Wildbit, as a remote team, we’ve often struggled like so many others. Where do we store all of our stuff? And what goes where? Which pieces of information and which discussions need to be stored for the long term? Which do not? What is temporary and safe to be tossed away?
We have used a combination of tools for various purposes. And we have enjoyed some new tools (Dropbox Paper) and some we most definitely have not (Honey). But we have continued searching for the right mix to get everything just so.
The overall goal is to have a nicely organized collection of resources, one where a new team member could be pointed to and they would be able to spend their first week reading in order come away with familiarity of our collective organizational knowledge and a good sense of the culture of our team.
That’s a big goal!
Enter Basecamp 3
As the Basecamp team rolled out this new version, I watched with interest. Their focus on how teams work is second to none. The features they’ve built appear to be targeted at exactly what remote teams need, in ways that enable them to do their best work.
After a couple of weeks of using it, I’m very much enjoying the latest iteration of this service.
The biggest overall need we had as a remote team is “talking with each other”. Discussing ideas and efforts. Communicating.
If you’ve worked remotely, you know how hard this can be. At any given time, for any given piece of information or idea, there can be a hesitation of how to share it with others on your team.
Who needs to know this? How many people need to know this? Is this better in a group chat? Or a longer, more permanent discussion? If there will be some back and forth, will email fit the bill? Or should the discussion happen somewhere more permanent (email is not permanent on a group level) like a wiki? These are all the types of questions that go through your head.
Basecamp does a nice job in that it provides all the necessary message types in version 3. Projects or teams can have Messages, a place to have threaded discussion that is stored for the long term. You have all the necessary formatting tools for the original post and comments added afterwards.
As well, you can have the Chat tool included on any team or project. This allows discussions to happen at any time, but to be focused on the topic that fits where you're having it.
And last, Basecamp 3 has an account wide private message tool called Pings. You can include multiple people in these messages, so it’s like a private DM in Slack.
What has been great about this is the ability to search for a specific discussion all in one place. Using Basecamp to its fullness, I would never have to ask myself, “That comment so-and-so made … was that in Honey? Email? Slack?”
We haven’t fully jumped into all those options; we still use Slack as our primary chat service. However, I can see why Basecamp went in this direction (same with Metalab and Flow).
Last, what we liked about Honey was that individuals chose what groups they wanted to belong to. As the person publishing something, you had only to choose the groups that fit what you were talking about. You never had to worry about “who needs to know about this?” Basecamp has not quite solved that, but the benefits around communication have been worth any small pain we feel there.
Staying on top of things
The second most important aspect of Basecamp for me is awareness. Finding the right balance of being on top of what helps you do your job, yet without constant interruption, is hard. But vital.
Basecamp excels here as well. There are in-app notifications (using the native iOS and Mac apps), as well as emails. You can choose how often emails come your way. And when you need time to focus, snoozing notifications, or turning them off completely, is an easy step (same as DND in Slack).
Apart from that, another account wide feature is Hey. It lights up when there is something you should be notified about (replies to a message you posted, tasks assigned to you, the completion of tasks you assigned to someone else … these types of things).
Last, there is the “Latest activity” view for an account. Click there and you see everything that has happened, across all the teams and projects you belong to.
And Basecamp being the company they are, you have some great options. Work can wait is a setting that ensures you do not get any emails or notifications during the hours you specify.
So my setup is that I have notifications disabled on my Mac, and work can wait is set to 7am–4pm, Monday–Friday. When I want to see what’s going on, I watch for the Hey to light up or check Latest Activity.
It’s been peaceful!
This could also fall under “staying on top of things”. But for me, it’s an excellent way to stay on top of who’s doing things. As one who guides our Customer Success team on what we’re doing proactively, I’ve often struggled to get a clear picture of what everyone has on their plate.
We used Trello previously. And while I could filter cards based on people and labels, I never felt comfortable with the end picture. With Basecamp, I save a bookmark for the Reports page, one for each of our team members (myself included). If I have a new tasks to assign, I can quickly review who has a very full plate already and who does not.
There are several default reports, all well thought out.
Again, I’ve never been one of those people you know who have been using the different iterations of Basecamp over the past 10 years. But something clicked with this version. It’s very solid and well thought out … like the past 15 years honing the previous versions helped the Basecamp team identify exactly how Basecamp should have worked all along. And how remote teams get things done together.
I have once or twice been caught in a situation where my Apple Watch is off my person or dead, and I have been discouraged to exercise, knowing that none of the data will be tracked.
When the tools become the focus, we’re off target. I have to be mindful of this myself; there is a balance with these types of tools. The past several months, I’ve used a combination of Gyroscope, Moves, Rescuetime, and Apple’s Health app to track a lot of things. I’ve recently started using Headspace as well (not to empty my mind, but to focus it on Christ).
All of these can be good tools that add insight. But it so very easy to give myself another reason to open my phone and check stats … the very opposite of why I use these tools in the first place.
In It for the Long Haul: The Habit of Bible Journaling
He was one of our regulars for leading the congregation in a time of prayer. After many years of service, some things become second nature. He’d get to the front, open his Bible, and share a passage and a few thoughts in his lilting Irish accent (still around decades after moving to Canada). Then, he prays.
This particular day, he made a passing reference that made me sit up a little straighter. As he shared about the passage he’d read (a Psalm, if memory serves), he casually mentioned it. His journal. That word always gets my attention, but even more so when it coincides with a time of prayer, devotion, and studying the word. This man, a lot thinner now and a little less hale than in years past, using a journal to record decades of time spent with his God.
I needed to know more.
I’ve only recently begun to fully appreciate the habit of journalling. Day One, like Timehop and Facebook, started to bring older journal entries to your attention each day. It’s been a pleasure to read through my thoughts from 3,4 years past. I went through a period of regular journalling, but it's not been a habit that stuck. I’ve long had a struggle with regularly keeping a journal, but this feature has sold me on the value. Enough to kickstart the habit once again.
The value of a journal (or diary) has been touted for a long time. Franz Kafka put it this way:
In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.
But even more intriguing is the idea of having the same resource available for one’s personal Bible study and devotional time. My habits of study over the years have been very consistent, but I don’t have much to show for it. Ok, growth, maturity, and changes in my thinking are all results of consistency in my devotional time. But I want something I can dig into, to review and feel afresh how I’ve been changed by God’s Word.
And so the concept of Bible journalling is a fascinating one for me. And I don’t think I’m alone here.
If there's a theme that is popular in recent years, it's reading the journals & diaries of famous people of the past. Many of us enjoy the insight we get from reading the private and personal thoughts of people like Anne Frank, C.S. Lewis, and Mozart. And for Christ-followers, the same is likely true for theologians of centuries past.
One great example is the diary of Jonathan Edwards. As one of the most influential theologians on the North American church, Edwards was a prolific writer. And one whose thoughts often started in his personal journal. His well known 70 resolutions were jotted down first in his diary, as a young man.
Reading through his entries, you can see the man forming on the page in front of you. His convictions, captured on paper, were honed and shaped as he let the thoughts come out through the pen. As Edwards steeped his days in Scripture and meditated on what he found, his journal captured the effects of his focus.
How sweet it must have been in his later years to look back on the most formative time of his life.
Let's define this thing
How do you actually adopt journalling into your devotional time? If you look online, a quick search will result in plenty of people who adopt the practice of sketching or drawing in their Bibles as a part of their devotional process. In fact, you can even purchase Bibles made for that express purpose.
However, although that can be a healthy practice for some and results in some beautiful artwork, I would not call it Bible journalling. If we look at the definition of journal, it's strictly used as a noun, not a verb. But the act of keeping a journal is this:
A daily record of news and events of a personal nature; a diary
As such, let's define the habit of Bible journalling as recording the thoughts and events of one's devotional time. Where as this current modern habit involves creating art, or at the very least, creating artful highlights of passages that resonate with the reader, I define Bible journalling as writing. Period.
Even when you stick with the diaristic written form, there is room for variety. Let's consider a few different ways to approach this.
The simple diary
This would be the most basic form, the easiest to get started with. During your time of devotion, you could write down the passage(s) you're reading, note any verses that jumped out at you in your reading, record questions that come to your mind, and list out the things and people you're praying for.
I myself have adopted this practice in 2016. I tend to write my journal entry at the end of my devotion. For those who enjoy such things, here is my exact process:
I keep a separate journal in Day One titled Bible study
each new entry is stored there from my morning or evening devotions
I record the passage(s) of Scripture I read for the day
when a specific verse resonates, I add it as a blockquote, copying and pasting it directly from my Bible app if I'm reading on my phone, or using the iOS share sheet (even when I'm reading one of my physical Bibles, I'll tend to highlight important verses on my phone, then bring them over to Day One)
I'll note any topics that caused me to pause and meditate (while a lot will go on in my head, I merely make a note of the fact and list the bare details)
last, I'll often note specific prayers that came to mind, specific people or ministries that were on my mind
This is a very simple practice and, again, easy to get started. From here, one could build on the habit if desired.
Another approach to take is to have some very high level questions to consider as one enters into the presence of the Divine. They may look like this:
what does this passage tell me about God Himself?
what does this passage tell me about myself?
how will this affect how I live today?
Fold in the every day
Combine the act of journalling your Bible study with your every day life. Record the events of your day(s) and what you're studying with the express purpose of identifying how the Word is shaping the way you live, the way you react to different situations and people in your life.
This approach could take more time. A lot more. But reflection is usually worth the effort.
Build a reference system as you go
Another great aspect of this habit is what you build when doing it. A journal for your devotional time could be a simple stream-of-consciousness diary. Or, it could be a reference system that build as you go, a resource for your studies.
Using a digital tool like Day One, a person could use tags to build up a reference system of notes based on passages of Scripture and various theological topics. Of course, if you're a pastor you would likely already use Logos or something of the like. But for many of us, that’s overkill.
As I mentioned before, I use the Bible Study app from Olive Tree. And while it’s great for reading, highlighting passages, and storing commentaries, dictionaries, and multiple translations, it’s system of notes and tags leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve thought more than once about using Day One for this use.
No matter the tool, a little planning and systematization added to your devotional time could result in a resource that you can continue to use as you walk with Christ.
Why would I do this?
John Calvin, in his preface to his tome Institutes of the Christian Religion, said this:
I count myself to be among those who write as they learn and learn as they write.
That’s it right there. Writing is one of the highest forms of human effort. It shapes our thinking, sharpens our thoughts. It gives you a far greater awareness of self, which leads to a more successful life (a big statement, but a true one).
The benefits of writing are multifaceted and long lasting. As well, due to our nature, we tend to remember the best about the past rather than the worst. Nothing beats having deeply buried memories brought back to the surface. This is the highest value of any type of journal. How much more one that tracks our journey of faith?
It’s easy to get down about your relationship with God. We never do enough to be considered right and holy (thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to meet that unreachable standard) and we often focus on the lack of progress. But although the road of sanctification can be slow and painful, we do progress. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of where we were, so we can feel good about where we are, and even more so, where we’re going.