Friday, July 20, 2018

Alignment -> Synergy

Last week, I mentioned that I was making a distinction between alignment and focus. The idea of alignment and ministry first really captured me in the book Simple Church. The authors define alignment as "maximizing the energy of everyone." (The authors also distinguished between alignment and focus in that book.) As it relates to personal productivity, I am not concerned with the energy of everyone. Although others impact me and my efforts impact others, the alignment I seek revolves around what I need to accomplish and when.

Most who will read this blog will find themselves in a similar position to myself - busy. One of the keys to personal effectiveness is keeping oneself organized. Without a good system of organization, we lose track of our time, our responsibilities, and what we need to accomplish our work. I will cover aspects of each of these areas in the coming weeks, but for now, let me simply say that I have been experimenting over the past few years with a few approaches, and I believe a part of why I am more effective (i.e. productive) now is because I have narrowed down the best option FOR ME. Again, I will say more about this in my next few posts.

As for alignment, however, one of the ways I have managed myself over the past couple of years has been based upon how busy I was on a particular day of the week. If my Monday did not look particularly busy, and I realized I had a new task to complete, I would add it to Monday. Logically, this approach seems to make sense, particularly if, for instance, Tuesday and Wednesday were "filled" with tasks and/or meetings. And, for the most part, this approach was ok - at least until I hit a bit of a wall last Fall. But as I have been reading and contemplating over these past couple of months, one idea came to mind - my approach to completing my dissertation.
With all of the options we have in our lives,
we need to find a way to focus to find what approach
makes most sense for each of us as an individual.

When I first began working on my dissertation, I got distracted from my topic by researching the tangent of discipleship. Of course, discipleship is a broad term, but my dissertation was to focus on how a church's understanding of herself could impact the desire and ability to make disciples. But I lost focus because I was doing my research as I had time - a little each day - in addition to serving as a pastor, etc. But it wasn't until I created a physical space for me to work (my "dissertation station") that I began to excel. When I entered that area, I was not only focused on researching and writing my dissertation, I aligned myself mentally to the task as well.

This leads to the importance of alignment as I am using the term in this series of posts. Adding new tasks to a day without much work to do sounds logical, but for me it isn't the best approach if I have to mentally shift gears from one area of responsibility to another. Again, I serve as a full-time pastor, an adjunct professor, and have started a mission organization to teach pastors in under-privileged areas of the world. All three of these work-related areas are linked by the concept of teaching others, but the individual responsibilities within each vary greatly. For instance, pastoring has many responsibilities other than teaching and leading a small organization requires financial oversight, curriculum development, and developing a donor base, etc. Thus, to focus on a task was not enough. I needed to align my tasks by responsibility and then focus on the tasks at hand.

This has been a major breakthrough for me. While my specific approach is different than when I sat at the "dissertation station," aligning tasks by area of responsibility allows me to maintain a stream of thought, which creates a bit of synergy. So, instead of adding a task to a day which was less busy, I now seek to add the task in alignment with other tasks for that particular area of my life. In doing so, to alter the phrase of Rainer and Geiger I shared above, I am able to "maximize the energy of one." My "to-do list" may seem far more crowded on some days, but the synergy gained is allowing me to accomplish more as I focus on the aligned tasks at hand. (Certainly, this is not possible with every task nor on every day. Certain issues comes up and interruptions happen, but to follow this concept in principle is helping me a great deal.)

So, having generally discussed the benefits of alignment, next week, I will begin to share more specifically how I now approach each week. Again, my purpose in writing this series is in hopes that even one person might benefit. I have found a system that is beneficial to me. It is helping me to better fulfill my purpose as a child of God. You may need to tweak my system or come up with your own all together, but I pray the words I type here might be an encouragement for you to better fulfill your purpose as well.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Alignment, Intro

Over the last several months, I have mentioned my journey to regain a sense of focus, re-energize myself, and begin accomplishing the purpose I believe God has for me. Over the last couple of weeks, I believe I have begun moving in that direction again and feel good about the progress I have made. Along the way, I have promised I would share a few specific insights. In this post, I begin to share the importance of alignment which will be further detailed in subsequent posts. Overall, as I share these insights over the next several weeks, I do so with the intent that what I have learned may help someone else.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that my primary mantra for life is “When you stop learning, you start dying.” I believe this is true for several reasons, but one primary reason is that when we believe we know it all, we are unwilling to listen to others. When we stop listening to others, we no longer process new information – some of which may give us insights into improving our lives. I enjoy reading, but nearly all of the reading I do is to be encouraged or inspired. That is, I read books that will encourage me to grow in my ability to lead, to organize, to teach, etc. and to be inspired by seeing how the actions of others might help me better understand a situation or a person. This latter bit is usually through history and/or biographies (Currently, I am working my way through American history splitting time between biographies of the presidents (in order) while sprinkling in books about the society and wars during their terms.) So, my reading is meant to learn, which you might recall from my series on vision last year is an acrostic for my personal strategy.

Thus, it only makes sense that I would turn to books to help me move beyond my current rut. Last year, I read Matt Perman’s excellent book (“What’s Best Next”). I made it a goal to return to that book each year to make sure that my intentions were not slipping. The date set for that is July 1 of each year, so I am just now getting to it. But this Spring, his next book (“Unstuck”) was released and the timing of the release coincided with me beginning to seek answers to why I was stuck (although, that was not my word choice – I thought “distraction” was better at the time). But before Unstuck was released I began reading Duhigg’s instant classic on habit (The Power of Habit). And, because I had a fresh understanding of Duhigg’s work, I decided to begin his next book (Smarter, Faster, Better) immediately after finishing the first one. Then, finally, I turned to Unstuck. If I had to do it over, I would read Unstuck before Smarter, Faster, Better because you cannot move faster while you are stuck – you simply spin your wheels more. Nevertheless, having worked my way through these latter three books, and now reviewing What’s Best Next, I am no longer stuck, and a big part of that is alignment.

Alignment is the word I have ascribed to my current state. A couple of posts ago, I used the word “Focus” which is more common in society, and is prevalent in Unstuck, for instance. In fact, a couple of sentences from the latter third of the book speak to the idea of focus in a manner which has already benefited me.

“If you work with a low degree of focus, you will have to work a much longer time to get the same results. Conversely, if you work with a high degree of focus, you can do the same amount of work in much less time.”

– Matt Perman, Unstuck, p. 192

This statement is not from the pages of a book on rocket science. But sometimes getting unstuck is simply returning to principles we know to be true, but have forgotten to apply. Thus learning is only the first step...application must follow. And effective application of what is true is wisdom. So, for me it was a call to return to focusing on the right things. But as important as focus is, over these last two weeks, I have discovered that what I had considered to be focus, has actually become alignment. Focus is definitely a critical component of personal effectiveness, but focus is about the task at hand. For me, I needed to connect tasks from differing areas of my life into those specific areas. Connecting related ideas is known as alignment, and thus, while I agree wholeheartedly with the need to focus, it was not until I adopted an attitude of alignment that I truly began to move forward and accomplish what I need to accomplish.

Next week, I will share how I began to align my time.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Big “Mo” + Schedule Change

Note: Beginning next week, my regular posting day will be Friday.

If you have been reading for the last month or so, you know that I have been stuck in a couple of areas in my life. Both are administrative in nature, and have not reached a point of being critical – yet. But being stuck in these areas has led me to do some deeper thinking and reflection on other matters in my life and I altered the selection of books I would be reading to help me discover and, hopefully, unlock what was necessary to get moving again. In last week’s post, I mentioned that movement was taking place. This week, I can share that the movement has become momentum – I think.

Momentum is a fickle thing. We say we have momentum when things are going well, and perhaps we do. But momentum is not as real as we might think – at least not in all areas. In the realm of sports, momentum is discussed all the time, but really, it does not exist. One team may be doing well for awhile, but then the game shifts and the announcers say the “momentum” has shifted. Really, it is about one team making more (and better) plays than the other at any given moment. Certainly, a person’s or team’s confidence may be different, but momentum is a term from physics which measures mass and velocity. It does not measure confidence or performance. And, thus, to say that my movement has become momentum is likely not the right choice of terms.

But the movement that began is seemingly moving faster (an element of true momentum). As I evaluated some areas, I made some changes in my life and schedule and found that the movement over the first week has created even greater efficiency, and, more importantly, effectiveness over these last few days. Thus, I will hold to the idea of momentum being the right term.

That said, I do intend to provide some specific thoughts on this issue in the coming weeks. Instead I will close this post with an explanation of the initial sentence. As I have re-evaluated some aspects of my schedule, I have determined a few changes are in order. I have re-assigned certain activities to certain days and have added a few elements (through delegation) to make me more effective overall. One of those additions relates to this blog and the timing of it being posted each week. I considered moving other responsibilities to keep Thursday as the day for posting, but those changes will not work once my teaching schedule increases again in the Fall. So, the best approach for me is to change my posting day and make it Friday instead of Thursday.

The change will begin next week and I will then outline some of the ideas that have helped me and that may be of benefit to you as well.