One big takeaway for me from 2017 was the idea that when building new habits, you have to start with quantity. Focusing on quality too early will impede progress.
As I started to increase my running last year, first for a half marathon and then training for a full one, I had to focus first on the total distance. I cannot run a fast half marathon before I can merely finish one consistently. Training has helped with this insight.
Experts recommend that you be consistently running 80 KM (50 miles) per week by the time you get to race day. In order to get to that point, I need to get comfortable running 15 KM at a time. And running 15 KM 3–4 times per week. As I build up my base endurance, I’m mostly running just to get the miles in. I’m not thinking about my speed at all.
Only as I get comfortable with these distances have I started to think at all about my time for a full marathon (for the record, anything under 3:30:00 will be a win).
The same thinking can apply to writing. Before you can write a good book, you have to learn to write a good 500 words. And before you can do that, you need to write 500 words consistently, period. And you have to learn to finish a book before you can focus on writing a good book.
As we’re right in the middle of the season of best intentions, I find this is a good reminder. For any habit I want to make stick in my life, I’m focusing merely on completing the activity. Quantity over quality, until it’s habit. Only then will I focus on improving how I perform the activities.
I won’t be running a marathon in under 3 hours in 2018. But I will finish the race.
My wife listens to a lot of shows on CBC radio (the Canadian equivalent of NPR). Over the holidays she was sharing some details from an interview Nora Young of Spark conducted with Alan Jacobs. It piqued my interest and led to me checking out Alan’s site.
And that led to this article here, one of the best pieces of writing I’ve found in recent years. The sub-heading to the article says it all:
Small steps to meet the challenge of hearing God in a technologically disruptive environment.
It’s a long read that touches on a lot of related topics. But it’s so very worth your time to give it a read, then some time to reflect on the ideas within. To give a taste, here are a few of the passages that stood out the most to me.
I am a living illustration of Technological Stockholm Syndrome: I have embraced my kidnapper. Or, to change the metaphor yet again, I have welcomed this disruptive ecosystem into my mental domicile and invited it to make a home for itself here—like those poor kids who let the Cat in the Hat in.
And the primary problem of this technological state we find ourselves in?
Our "ecosystem of interruption technologies" affects our spiritual and moral lives in every aspect. By our immersion in that ecosystem we are radically impeded from achieving a "right understanding of ourselves" and of God's disposition toward us. We will not understand ourselves as sinners, or as people made in God's image, or as people spiritually endangered by wandering far from God, or as people made to live in communion with God, or as people whom God has come to a far country in order to seek and to save, if we cannot cease for a few moments from an endless procession of stimuli that shock us out of thought.
A hearty amen to that!
My Favourite Reads From 2017
As we got closer to the end of the year, I wanted to take a moment to share the articles that inspired me the most. They cover a few of my favorite topics, ones that are discussed here regularly but are worth revisiting often.
Note: these are not all written in 2017, but it is when I read them
These are some articles I've revisited multiple times. Enjoy!
There are a few areas where I tend to keep an eye open for my next purchase. Notebooks. Pens. Bags. There are so. many. good. bags out there!
One recent item I picked up has been fantastic: the Lanier briefcase and pouch from Nock. I’ve had my eye on this for a long time and finally picked one up after my birthday this fall. It’s a high-quality item that I wanted to recommend.
If you’re not familiar with Nock, it’s the business of Brad Dowdy, formerly of Jet Pens and mastermind of the Pen Addict blog and podcast. There are two things I appreciate about Brad: he really cares about pen and paper tools and he believes in making things locally. So when you purchase a Nock product, you’re not buying a nicely designed item that is put together by low paid workers in China. Instead, you can enjoy your purchase knowing it was assembled and manufactured right in the US. And they use high quality materials.
So the Lanier itself. It’s the second item I’ve purchased from Nock (the first being the Hightower). I had my eye on it more because of the pouch than the briefcase. As a consistent user of notebooks, I’ve wanted something to carry my notebook along with the various Muji pens I use. I don’t like carrying a notebook around with a pen in hand as I’m always worried I’ll lose the pen.
The Lanier is a great solution to this as my notebook is always ready to take with me. I keep it along with a .38mm black or blue Muji, several colored Muji gel pens, my passport, business cards, my AirPods, and a small notepad all in the pouch.
If I want to go out and leave the laptop behind, I just grab the small pouch. If I need to work from a café, I take the entire Lanier with me, laptop included, and the pouch sits nicely alongside it in my bag.
Since I’m (currently) using a smaller messenger bag with very few pockets, the Lanier gives me a nice way to organize my stuff.
When I’m at a meeting or a café, I can quickly pull out the pouch itself without disturbing the stuff in my bag or digging through pockets to get what I need. So the usability, along with the nice fit & finish, make this an item I’d recommend for anyone who has this type of need.
Waiting on the Lord
Well, it’s been a year. Back in the fall of 2016, I made some big changes for my personal website and my weekly newsletter. The biggest was to more intentionally focus on helping Christians fight the good fight. What is that fight?
To master our will and hearts and minds and focus them on our reason for living. Our cause for joy. And the person for whom we have reason to celebrate this time of year (and all the year long).
My goal is to disciple Christians by encouraging depth & focus in the digital age. And to be discipled myself in like manner.
We started out this year talking about seeking God. But the truth is, sometimes we seek and do not find. At least, not right away. This leads me to the focus for the end of this year.
To Wait Upon The Lord
Waiting is so against our nature. And our culture. Seize the day!
There is a fierce battle being waged over something precious: our attention. The enemy wants nothing more than to keep our minds scattered and distracted, for us to give up on waiting. Heck, we so often never even get started on waiting.
But we must realize that truly seeking the divine presence will often require that we wait. And that is a big part of what the season of Advent is all about. It might be a repetitive message, one we hear year after year. But it bears repeating; it’s vital to our walk.
There are a lot of verses in Scripture that convey this tension where the saints of God eagerly and enduringly wait for his presence. Here are a few that come to mind.
Gen 49:18 where Jacob mentions waiting while giving his blessing to his sons. The Psalms are full of this type of language, but see 5:3, 42:5, and 130:5 specifically. Isaiah is also often mentioning this idea, the most famous being 40:31 and the most poignant is the short chapter 64. The minor prophets mention more of the same, Micah saying it best in 7:7. And Paul repeats it through his epistles.
But the two that caught my heart this past year are these. David knocks it out of the park in Psalm 62 (verses 5–7 shown here).
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
And Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who had the most externally miserable life we see in the Bible, speaks out light and truth and unshakeable hope in the midst of lamenting. Lamentations is not a book I quote often, but as I read through it this year, 3:25–26 jumped off the pages and grabbed me by the ears.
Here was a guy who was instructed to warn his people about their ways, had to watch them ignore him (like all the prophets before him), then had to watch foreign armies conquer their city and take much of the people away. He endured famine during the siege. He was accused of being a traitor trying to defect, then thrown into a well. He spent time in prison. When he counselled those left behind in Jerusalem to stay put, they took him prisoner and headed for Egypt. Through it all, he wept for his people and what he knew was to come.
In Lamentations, we see him crying out and recounting all that has happened to him and his people. These are not the words of a joyful man.
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.
But suddenly in chapter 3, he preaches a sermon. To himself. Likely to whoever would read these words. But mostly to himself.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Those last 2 lines have been with me this fall.
Many of these saints of old waited amidst persecution. They waited even while they knew they were being punished for the nation’s sins against their covenant keeping God.
Us? We try to wait before we allow ourselves to be distracted with the newest shiny bauble or app or productivity method. More than anything, I want 2018 to be a year of waiting. Like the author of Lamentations, I want to preach this reminder to myself again and again.
If we are his, (big s) Salvation is already attained by his work. But I want wait for his salvation in various circumstances. And most of all, I want to wait for his presence.
Ha, talk about my worlds colliding. Cal Newport covers the Bullet Journal system (aka BuJo) and suggests how it could be improved to better meet the demands of the modern day knowledge worker.
I thought it interesting that all his suggestions fit my own current usage:
I use weekly plans for my notebook, not the monthly log that BuJo suggests
My days are outlined in my calendar … not every hour of the day is there, but the major items get slotted in
He suggests keeping a deep work tally, which is exactly what I do with my monthly habit tracker for the things I’m working on including in my daily life
He also suggests augmenting the BuJo with a digital calendar and task list. That is a hybrid system that so many of us use already
Last, he suggests adding email to the mix. Hopefully, most of us are working with email in scheduled batch sessions and moving included tasks to our inbox of choice already (the recently released email option for Things is a nice option, although I do prefer the Things helper that allows the email to be linked to in the task itself)
Overall, it was fun to see Cal commenting on this system. And he nails why it’s so good:
First, I want to emphasize what I really like about the system. Its largely unstructured use of a blank notebook is a brilliant example of low-friction freestyle productivity. In my experience, these types of systems are much more likely to persist than those that require more involved constraints.
I agree. The Bullet Journal is a good place to start, but make it your own. Not every piece is going to fit how you work.