The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Morning Routines

Drew and Joe from Whims That Work discussed their morning routines on the most recent episode. I greatly enjoyed the show despite the fact that there’s a tiring amount of advice in this category right now. You can’t look at Medium without seeing articles like 15 Steps For the Perfect Morning Routine That Will Lead You to the Promised Land. Seriously.

But the topic itself is one that interests me a lot. I love to see real world examples of how talented people structure their time. After listening to the episode, several thoughts came to mind.

Different times work for different people. There’s a lot of focus on the “perfect morning” in our culture right now and as a morning person I understand the allure. But some people simply find their energy at night. The exact time is not what’s important, but what we do with the slots of uninterrupted time in our schedule.

The same is true for the activities. There’s a lot of different things you can do with this time. Drew and Joe mention quite a few: reading, writing, meditation, morning pages, and just clearing your head. Planning for the day. All are healthy and helpful for helping us remember why we do what we do. And how we should be going about doing it.

These routines change with life seasons. Joe has kids, Drew does not. I also have kids, but they’re older than Joe’s. These details have an affect on when you take the time to do the kinds of things discussed on the show. And how long you have to do them. When my kids were all under 10, evenings were an option. Now that we have teens and tweens, they’re the ones staying up in the evening and I’m hitting the hay. Different seasons of life bring different rhythms.

This episode was an enjoyable listen. But I also was surprised as I listened. As the show unfolded, there was a big piece missing. More on that below…

There’s a person missing here

Back to the episode of Whims That Work I talked about in the opening of this email. There was one thing that really surprised me as I listened to the show during a run this week. In all the things Drew and Joe mentioned, there was no mention of Christ. No prayer, no communion. Joe mentioned meditation, but the focus was on a clear mind and improving the ability to focus.

I couldn’t help but wonder why this was not mentioned.

Now, not everyone shares the same faith. I get that. And even if you call yourself a Christian, there is a lot of diversity in how you express your faith, how you spend your time, and the liturgical rhythm of your life in a local church. However, when two Christians take the time to publicly share the details of how they spend their mornings, I tend to expect to hear details about how they spend time with Christ himself.

If a Christian meditates, should it be to stretch the ability to focus? To open the mind? Or should it be to fill our minds on Christ and his word? If a disciple of Christ has two hours in the morning to do the things — the most important things — that set up the rest of our day for success, should that time be spent seeking the presence of the Almighty and hearing how he wants us to spend our time? To know his will?

I had the chance to contact Drew and Joe and ask some of these questions. And that was slightly awkward — questions like these can be offensive and so easily taken the wrong way. Digital communication leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding. Thankfully, they were very gracious and we ended up having a good conversation.

My hope was to ask the questions without sounding preachy or judgemental. The reality is twofold:

  1. I struggle with these questions myself and
  2. I’m intensely curious about how Christians in our modern culture handle this aspect of their life

Many readers here have shared how this can be a struggle. So I often wonder how can help each other — even if only online and separated by distance — as we fight against the lust of the world and even the good things of this world to enjoy Christ more fully.

In the spirit of transparency, I’ll share my own habits.

  • Although things are shifting slightly as my children get older, I still tend to be an early riser. I’m usually up around 5 AM (with a range between 4:30–6 AM)
  • As the kids get older, my time of devotions (study, prayer, meditation, reflective thinking) can sometimes happen right before bed (which is usually a range of 9–10:30 PM)
  • My time tends to be spent mostly on reading the word, short prayers, and meditating on a passage of scripture
  • Some days I focus specifically on memorizing a text, but this also usually leads to meditation on the meaning of the text
  • If I happen to be getting close to teaching a Sunday school class, the morning time may be focused on that
  • Occasionally I’ll run in the morning and devotions come later
  • Some days, the duration of these activities is short and I start on my work day early. To me, short means 15–30 minutes.
  • Sadly, my prayer life is pretty stinky. I’m far more fond of studying the word than praying … the Lord knows this. We talk about it often 😀.
  • This reality is likely due to my thinking about prayer in the wrong way and it’s something I want to improve. I’m trying by learning to pray succinctly and sincerely and by memorizing a lot of Psalms and praying those instead of my own words and thoughts
  • Most important, I want to get better at “waiting on the Lord” because prayer is bidirectional and listening is just as important (or even more so) than speaking to God. I do this listening in the word, for I believe that is where he speaks to us

Anyway, I do go on. This is all what life is about for me. So that is exactly why I both enjoyed and was intrigued by this episode of Whims That Work.

How about you?

Would you be open to sharing your own habits in this area? It would be great to get a summary of what you folks think is most important, where you succeed, and where you struggle. We live in an interesting time where brothers and sisters in Christ can connect all across the world. And we’re all part of this body.

I’d love to hear how other parts are doing. Hit me up!


Better Defaults

Productivity in 2017: What we learned from analyzing 225 million hours of work time.

This article provided some interesting, yet not surprising, results from the RescueTime team for 2017. I love that they’re scrubbing the data they receive and combining the results. The thing I took away the most from the report was this:

Email rules our mornings, but never really leaves us alone

That’s something I’ve been working hard at the past couple of months. I’ve longed believed in the idea of batching email, but have struggled to adopt the practice. Back in late November, I signed up for Setapp and started switching my subscriptions there. One included app was Focus. And I’ve grown to love it.

It's a very simple premise in that it blocks certain websites (and comes with a pretty good default black list). But it also shuts down specific apps and has a schedule for "focus time" each day. I have it run from 8am–12pm every day (4 hours) and it blocks email and Twitter clients for me.

It's a simple thing and easy enough to just shut off the app itself. But the fact that I have chosen to have it run and have set this schedule has been enough for me to remind myself I want this change. And if you do try to shut it off, it gives a little prompt asking something akin to “Are you sure you want to do this? You set this schedule!” It’s just enough friction to keep me from making a change.

RescueTime also gives you the ability to focus, but it’s a backwards model. The default is that distracting apps and web sites are allowed and you have to start a focus session.

Focus is the opposite — it’s a set schedule for focus with the ability to take a break during the regular schedule (as recommended in Deep Work under Embrace Boredom, Don’t Take Breaks from Distractions. Instead Take Breaks From Focus). The fact that I don’t have to think about this at all is liberating.

As they say regarding productivity, create better defaults. Add friction to distracting activities. Make it easy to start the tasks that matter. Soon, habits will form.

One step for me is email. I'm not dealing with it until the afternoon each day.


Quality After Quantity

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.

That is my current focus.