Tag Archives: focus

3 words for 2010

I’ve done this before, in 2008 and 2009.

Picked three words, that is.

I identify three words that I want to shape what I do for the year. I got the idea from Chris. This year, he explained how to build plans on those words in a very helpful way (Wiring yourself for success).


As they went to Jerusalem every year, the Israelites sang travel songs. One of them, Psalm 123, tells us about a kind of focus:

As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress…

This year, I want that kind of intense focus, the kind of focus that allows you to anticipate needs from the tiniest hint.

What I now know about focus, however, is that it isn’t an abstract thing. I’ve spent the last year with it as one of my words, after all. There must be an awareness of where you are going to direct that focus

The image of being tuned in applies both to music (being in tune with, in harmony with) and to a radio frequency. Being attuned means being lined up with, tuning other things out, eliminating other noises. If you have ever listened to a piano tuner work, you know that there needs to be some quiet.

I’m not going to tell you now to whom I’ll be attuned. (I need to get more than one post out of this, right?) But you get the idea, I’m guessing.


jamaica shirt from hopeA couple years ago, Hope went to Jamaica on a missions trip. She brought me two souvenirs: a bag of coffee and a shirt. The bag of coffee is long gone. The shirt is hanging in my closet. It doesn’t fit.

It could be, of course, that “large” means something different in Jamaica than in the US. I’m pretty sure, however, that the size issue is not in the shirt.

I will wear that shirt this year.


I am a process person. I am an inductive thinker. I am constantly in draft mode. However, I have seen several times this year that when I stop and make a list or a video or some other concise, tangible, sharable product, other people can use it.

(The coolest one happened this week. I made a video about how we use time. I described how I made it. A Lutheran pastor in Estonia used the concept for his own video. In Estonian.  Sweet.)

I’ve started thinking about what I want to get done and make available once a week, once a month, once every three months. For person who is a starter, finishing is tough. It’s also helpful.

This post is, of course, mostly for me. It’s to be accountable, to invite others to know what I’m working on. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to trying to help you.

For now, happy new year.


starting to focus

blurred picture of andrew and allieI’m working on focus. I working on the questions that I need to ask myself about what I am doing, about whether, in fact, I am doing what I should be doing.

You know the feeling.

This is not asking about whether this is the right job or career or direction. Instead, this is about how to be more on target, more on task.

I’ve been reading two three books that are helping me this week to move toward focus. [Side note: between the time I started this post and the time I am finishing, a week later, I have forgotten what other book I was reading that was helping me focus.]

1.  Steve Farber tells a wonderful story, a leadership fable. And then, in the appendix, I found this sentence: “Love is your retention strategy.”  The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership.

Farber is talking about a variety of kinds of love, love of people, of an idea, of a vision. I need to focus it to people. But I realized when I read that sentence that for church, which is where I spend my time, love has to be the retention strategy. It’s core, it’s basic, it’s foundational.

2. Sometime before I read The Radical Leap, I was reading Sticky Church by Larry Osborne. Osborne is talking about how to close the back door for churches, to make them, as he says, sticky.

Basically, what we have done is to take most of the energy and resources we would have spent on special programming and front-door events and instead poured it into making our church more welcoming and sticky.

Once I gave up the dream of reaching everyone outside the church, I was suddenly free to focus on taking care of those who were already inside the church.

It sounds like Osborne is wanting to turn church into a club. That’s not the case. What he is wanting is to make them so loving that the word of mouth brings people in rather than huge marketing efforts.

Obviously, if I were writing reviews of these books, I would need to summarize more of their arguments and examples and systems. I’m not. I’m talking about focus. And from these two books come one focusing question to ask myself everyday:

“How did I close the back door by loving today?”

That is a focus that will actually make a difference. A quantifiable, justifiable, verifiable, life-changing difference.


taking some steps

What are you doing for the next month?

If you are a blogger, would you like to join me in a project with Darren Rowse called “31 days to build a better blog”?

Darren runs a site called Problogger. He talks a lot about how to be successful as a blogger. I’ve paid some attention, but I haven’t plunged into working hard at building a better blog.

And then I read a month ago that Darren is running this program. There will be daily emails. There will be daily homework. It will take some concentration.

So why am I doing this? Because of my three words for the year. One of them, singing, has nothing to do with this project. The other two, however, do. I’m wanting to focus this year, to learn to strip away what doesn’t matter and look at what does. And I’m working on deliberate practice, working on the weakest parts of my strengths.

As I look at my blogging, particularly the work I’m doing at 300wordsaday.com, I want to do the best work I can be doing, to make the most of the energy that is going into what I’m doing.

Though I write more to figure out what I’m thinking than to make a living from blogging (which is what Darren has done), I am fully aware that there are people who find value in what I write. Taking that trust seriously means that I need to look at how I can be more effective.

Darren is encouraging us to invite other people. So follow this link to sign up as a friend. (and maybe we can encourage each other).

And then, at the end of that month, I’ll be spending a couple days in Chicago at SOBcon 2009. I went last year with the strong encouragement of my friend from smallbizsurvival.com, Becky McCray. I’m going again for the same reason. What I’m looking forward to, in addition to the great face-to-face conversations with people I know screen-to-screen, is extension of the learning from the 31 day challenge.

As you look at what you are doing, whatever that is, what steps are you taking to do it more effectively, more responsibly, more delightfully?

walking away from success

Some of us humans are insecure.

Some of us humans like to hear praise from other people.

Some of us, when someone tells us that we are good at something, shift all our energy toward that thing.

Some of us, when we make that shift, are wrong.


Jesus is in his adopted hometown. He heals his best friend’s mother-in-law. After the sun goes down, the whole town gathers in front of the house. It probably wasn’t the whole town, just all the sick people and their families.

So Jesus healed a lot of them.

And then, sometime, he went to bed.

I’m guessing that a lot of the sick people camped out that night. I’m guessing that a lot more people showed up in the night.  Word of mouth is a wonderful thing. Word of mouth is something you can’t pay for. Word of mouth is the beginning of a movement.

So the next morning, when Peter looked out of his front window and saw a crowd waiting for his friend, he had to be excited.

He went to the guest bedroom and listened. No snoring. Maybe Jesus was a quiet sleeper. Peter waited awhile longer.

The noise was getting louder outside. Coughing and wheezing, moaning and groaning. Peter went to the guest bedroom again and listened. Nothing. He cleared his throat. No response. He risked a quiet, “Um, Jesus, would you like your breakfast fish grilled or fried?”



Peter looked in. And saw an empty bed.

Just then, a knock on the door and Andrew, Peter’s brother came in. And saw the look of panic on Peter’s face.

They started looking. The people outside started looking. Everyone was looking.

That’s what Simon told Jesus when they found him, anyway: “Everyone is looking for you.”

What they wanted to say was, “Whoa, Jesus. You got their attention. You got dugg. Everyone is following you. If we can harness this, you have it made. I’ll bet there’s a book deal in this. I’ll be you could get 3-4 books out of this one.”

The guys had it figured out. Jesus does back, heals a bunch of people and his career is set.

Jesus said no. Jesus said that they were going to other towns. Jesus said he had to preach to other people.

Although Jesus’ resume included “healer”, his business card did not. It probably said something like “telling people about the kingdom since we started it.”

(No wonder Simon Peter spent a lot of time on the road after that. He knew the size of the crowd in front of his house.)

But the challenge is a good one.

What success am I willing to walk away from for the sake of my purpose? What “could do” keeps me from my core “must do”?

And what about you?

From [Mark 1:29-39]


Oh yes. Where had Jesus been? Doing what he did regularly. He got up before sunrise to go away from the crowds. He needed the solitude. He needed to talk with his Dad. He needed to refresh his focus.

remembering three words 8 ways

Some of us created lists of three words at the beginning of the year. But how do you remember them? Because it’s Tuesday and February, I figured we could all use a reminder about reminding ourselves.  (See Chris Brogan’s post on three words for 2009 for background.)

1. Create a wordle (wordle.net) of the three words and other words that matter to you. If you type the three words multiple times, they show up bigger. If I were good, I’d provide a wordle tutorial, but I’m not that good. (Besides, there is this issue of focus that I’m working on).

2. Let other people know your three words. They can help you find material or ideas or accountability. For example, I have a guy in Texas feeding me ideas and asking how I’m doing. (Thanks, Tim).

3. Explore your three words regularly. I’m doing it here at the Levite Chronicles. In fact, if you look back through my posts this year, you will find regular links to focus and to deliberate practice. Singing is my own problem and I’m not writing about it.

4.  Find opportunities to talk about your words in other settings. For example, I had the opportunity to do some training. I had my choice of topic. Of course I picked deliberate practice. The more we become our own experts on our own words, the more likely we are to do what we wanted to do.

5. Be willing to change your words. So your three words for the year become your three words for six weeks and then two of them change. Big deal. You are adjusting.

6. Write summaries of your progress. Whether in your blog or in a journal or using a Sharpie on your bathroom mirror, let yourself know that you are working on this list. You’ll be more likely to trust yourself in the future if you are holding yourself accountable to yourself for encouragement as well as criticism.

7. Lighten up.

8. On your calendar for April 22, write “three words review.” That way, after Easter, after spring break, around the equinox, you’ll have a reminder to think through what you are doing.

So, do you remember your three words?

focus is picking

I have a stack of books to read. I have deadlines for some of them. I have personal learning needs for others of them.

I read several books at a time. I have them in every space I occupy. I carry them in my briefcase. I always have.

My problem is that by reading many, I seldom finish any. I sample and browse and skim and and lose track.

I’m realizing this week that if I want to meet my deadlines, I have to focus. I have to pick one book and finish it. And then pick another book. I’m trying to limit how many I carry with me.

I’m considering changing how I “always work” for the sake of getting something done.

So I’ll be reading The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller.

Then I’ll be reading Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them by Ed Stetzer (not published yet. That’s why I have it).

Then I’ll be reading … other books.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And I’m curious, does focus always mean one thing at a time?


Mark Forster describes the AutoFocus system which lists everything and has you pick one thing at a time. Feels friendlier to me, and less complicated, than David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

help yourself focus

One of my three words for the year is “focus.” In the post where I introduced the idea I asked, “What’s your focus? what do you want to make clear to others?” To answer the question, I started making calendars.

Some of you are thinking, “It’s about time Jon started using a calendar. He could use a watch while he’s at it.” But the calendars I’m making aren’t helping my time management much at all. They are helping my attention management.

The two words that we want to characterize our organization (a church) are “changed lives.” We use those words a lot, but I realized that we didn’t see them anywhere. And so I decided to make a calendar for January that had those two words. I made up a photo montage of faces (using the powerful photo editing capacity of … PowerPoint).

I put it on the top half of a page. I put a calendar of January on the bottom 3/5. And at the bottom I put part of the transcript of our pastor’s first sermon of the year where he talked about…changed lives. And I printed one for my office and one for home.

It was helpful.

I made a new one for February. By doing a new one each month, I have to think about the statement again. Twelve times a year I am committed to look at and for changed lives. This one has a bunch of our kids singing (including our daughter).

This one is now in our main office. It’s on the wall of a couple of our staff members. And I’m starting to look for the picture for March that will illustrate another part of our activity that is connected to changed lives.

I know that it’s no big deal. It’s just a calendar. That hangs by my desk. So that every time I need a date I look at it. And am reminded that I am wanting to focus this year.

It’s your turn. Follow the link in the picture to my flickr account where I’ve put a February and a March calendar. Download the calendar. Put your own picture on the top. Put your own passion statement or vision statement or three words on the bottom.

And focus.


By the way, if you actually make a calendar, let me know. I want to cheer.

accumulate or collect

I drink coffee. A lot. I have a coffee cup in my hand all the time at work.

In the process of drinking coffee, I’ve accumulated a lot of coffee mugs. People walk into my office. They look at the mugs on the shelves, on my desk, on the file cabinet. They say, “do you collect coffee mugs?” I say, “No, I accumulate them.”

Coffee Mug Collectors have grounds for confidence.

If I were a collector, I would keep track of my mugs. If I were a collector, I would know their value. I would pick a particular style. I would make sure I had one of every color, or style, or brand. I would gather all the different kinds of Starbucks mugs, for example. I would track the value on coffeemugvalue.info, if such a place existed.  Or, if I really cared, I would start a blog at coffeemugvalue.info that I could use to help other people figure out the value of their coffee mugs. And I would turn it into a whole side business.

On the other hand, as an accumulator, I pick them up wherever. I am not discriminating about where they come from. I certainly don’t worry much about how neatly I keep them, whether I wash them. I am very willing to use them even if it means the lettering wears off.

Collectors have purpose

The difference between the two may be a difference in intentionality. For the collector, there is a point to the collection, and there is a pursuit of that point.  For an accumulator, there is no point. A collector has discernment. An accumulator has none. A collector, particularly a serious collector, will ignore many replicas, many impostors, many duplicates, for the sake of the next piece in the collection. An accumulator will take whatever comes, whatever holds coffee. Or an accumulator will not pay attention to the many important coffee mugs going by.

I started thinking about about reading. Or about thinking. Or about writing. Or about wisdom. Or about understanding. Or about quality relationships. Or about anything else that matters.

I realized that I can read as an accumulator, just looking at whatever words come by my face. I can write as an accumulator, scattering words wherever. I can accumulate understanding as I wander along.

Or I could, I suppose, learn with the focus that a collector collects.

  • I could decide that I want to understand how the book of Matthew helps people follow Jesus or how world class performers become world class or how to be a life-long learner or ______________.
  • I could catalog what I know.
  • I could decide what pieces are missing from the collection of understanding in my head (and heart)
  • I could look for the people who know what is missing and ask them for help with knowing how to discern.
  • I could read books that help.
  • I could stop reading them when they don’t have what I thought they had.
  • I could write posts that raise questions that other people could answer.
  • I could ignore magazines that have nothing to do with what I’m trying to understand.
  • I could regularly admit that I don’t understand.
  • I could sell the things that don’t matter, that clutter my attention.
  • I could write summaries of what is known so far to help other people focus their efforts on what is not known.
  • I could step back and think carefully about what really matters. And then take that next step. And then step back again.
  • I could decide.

Or, I could just keep accumulating.

only if it’s my idea

I’m trying to learn to focus. It’s one of my words for the year.

Part of focusing is getting rid of distractions. I know this.  Even as I have multiple windows open, I know that I could close some. Even as I check email (again), as I take a moment with twitter, I know that these are, at the time, distractions.

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving home I thought, “What if I turn off the computer for the evening and don’t have that distraction?” It was a noble idea.

I got home, I went downstairs to check on what had come on our home email, and discovered that our Internet connection wasn’t working. I tried several things. I went back several times to find out if it had cleared. I called customer service to find out what the problem was. I waited. I finally found out that it was a problem in several places in Fort Wayne. I started getting twitchy about not being able to check on a couple things.

I didn’t remember my idea of turning off the computer for the evening until this morning.

I think I understand why I need to work on focus. It’s pretty much not a problem with what’s on the outside of my head.

every link costs something

Links, the internet kind, are easy to use. They are easy to find. They are easy to follow. They take us to information we never dreamed of. They help us learn and laugh and cry and have $2 million transferred to our bank account from Africa.

But they cost something.

I can tell you about a post I wrote about customer service this week, over at a great site called smallbizsurvival.com. You think, “If Jon wrote this, I can at least look at it.” But it will cost you. You will have to give attention. You will have to give time. You will run the risk of forgetting what you were going to do. You might get hungry. You might start thinking about your own customer service experiences.

I can tell you about a post I wrote about Hope helping a friend this week, over at a great site called gnmparents.com. You think, “this is another post about Jon and his kids. It will be sweet.” But it will cost you. It will cost you emotional energy as you think about Hope and then think about having kids or not having kids. It will cost you time. It will cost you focus.

I love reading. I love following your links. I’m honored when you follow mine. I know that there are horrible things people construct links to: things that are illegal, immoral, destructive.  I have internal and external filters for those. But there is this nagging little thing that I forget to bring to the front of my brain and then to my fingers.

“Am I willing to pay what this link will cost me?”