Tag Archives: time

how far could you go to help?

Thinking about being helpful.

1. I got an email today about a post I wrote on Monday. I talked about making calendars. I gave a sample calendar page to play with. I asked for feedback.

Even as I was writing that post, I thought, “I’m assuming a lot of knowledge.”

And my friend wrote and said, “How do I do that?” What is second nature to me isn’t to him (and to 90% of you). In my rush to write a post, I didn’t think about actually helping people do what I was talking about.

2. I got another email today from another friend. He was asking a question in reply to an email I sent him.

As I looked at my original email, I thought, “This is the worst looking, most confusing email ever!” It led with an incredibly ambiguous question. It was followed with typos beyond belief.

Don’t believe me?



Was I offering a personal interview with Tim Keller? (No.) What was I asking, really?

In my rush to get out the email, I didn’t think about what a really busy person would need to know.

3. Nancy and I were talking about seminars and training sessions yesterday. She said, “do we ever change what we are doing because of them?” I think about all the seminars, all the traning, all the books, all the classes that I have taken, read, written or taught. And I’m not sure how to answer her question. Most of the time, we don’t change what we are doing because there isn’t any followup or follow through or accountability or encouragement. We don’t change because it’s too hard to work on the implementation and it is easier to take another seminar.

As I look at these three conversations, I realize again that it is not enough, as I have said before, to take the approach: when I have finished speaking I will have spoken (when I have finished asking I will have asked. When I have finished a post I will have posted.) That is a performance approach to communication rather than a helping people learn approach.

If it matters that you can make a calendar or listen to Tim Keller or have the tools to change how you think, then it matters that I do everything I can to help. And there is way more that I can do.

Even if it is as simple as proofreading my emails.


living to deadline

I’ll write quick and then get to my real project for the afternoon. I mean, I have to get an enewsletter written today, but I can do it. I work better under pressure.

That’s what I always say. There is something about the pressure that makes my brain work more creatively. That’s what I always say.  (Of course, it could be the coffee that I’m drinking as I get closer to the deadline). And that feeling of success when I walk to the precipice and then finish…it’s wonderful.

Doesn’t seem to make much difference what the project is. There is just something about getting it done just in time.

If you are nodding right now, I have a question for you, the same question that hit me this morning. Is it possible that you and I have confused the idea of goals with the idea of deadlines? That we have made meeting deadlines our goal?

Confused? Here’s what I mean. Goals are things that you want to accomplish. Goals are levels of performance that we want to achieve. Goals are measurable and specific and achievable and all that stuff. (If you want to be more precise, google “goals”.)

It is possible for some of us to establish as our goal ‘making deadline’. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, we go for the rush of making deadline. The problem with that approach is the first part of the sentence: “It doesn’t matter what the activity.”

In order for us to change the world, even the corner of the world that we are responsible for, our goal should be to do something more than just getting something done. Our goal should be to do the work of our calling, to do work in keeping with our calling. Our goal should be to do measurably better than we are doing now with whatever that is.

Getting done is PART of accomplishing goals. There needs to be a deadline for accountabilty purposes.


I’m afraid that some of may get hooked on the adrenline rush.

Does that make sense? Any of it? I mean, I could probably take the time to explain it better…but I’ve got a deadline to work on.

Time enough to change

Seconds and decades showed up in my brain last week.

I heard a report early in the week that at 6:59 pm (EST) on December 31, a second will be added to atomic clocks. This ‘leap second’ will account for the fact that the earth is slowing slightly.

I started thinking about seconds. I considered a post about what we could all do with our extra second. What would happen if everyone put their seconds together? Think of  the extra hours someone would have to  get something done before the end of the year.

I laughed. I would spend my extra second writing. Then I would ask you to give up that second and many more to read this silliness. So I didn’t write.

Last Thursday, I started reading about deliberate practice. (See Tim Walker’s collection of deliberate practice resources). This concept is from research into what makes experts experts. What seems more important than talent is intentional, planned, stretching, deliberate practice. Four things stand out right now:

  • It takes at least 10 years to become world class.
  • It takes daily action during that 10 years.
  • The focus of practice is technique more than outcome.
  • You have to commit.

I started thinking this weekend about what I want to be able to do well in 10 years. What do I want to be known for? What do I want to understand then–about myself, about God, about how to live one for the other–that I need to start considering now?

Many of us are looking at the past year, thinking about what we didn’t get done. We are looking at the next year and trying to plan what to do. I’m wondering whether I need to think smaller and larger.

How can I use today’s seconds to be who I want to be in a decade?

finish something

As you know if you’ve been reading here regularly, I took on the project of changing the boards on our deck. A couple weeks ago, I talked about the challenge of finishing.

It is difficult for me to take a project all the way to the end. I get distracted. I get tense. I get anxious to start something else.

I am pleased to report, however, that on Saturday, October 11, I put the last screw into the deck. Nearly 1000 screws. Parts of several evenings. Sore legs. But done.

I won’t tell you how close I came to shedding a tear when I finished. Or maybe it was that I finished.

I understand that many people would laugh at this feeling. Many people are actually remarkably organized, are great finishers. And I admire you. And on this one project on this one weekend, I’m one of you.


If you want to read a great collection of posts on productivity, follow this one link to Tim Walker’s blog for Hoover. He’s a Longhorn and a history student and has wonderful insights.

waiting here is not like waiting there

A former student of mine lives in Poland. He’s been there for a long time. A few years ago, he was back in this country visiting family. We talked for a bit.

Steve talked about a typical day: riding on the train, waiting in lines at the grocery, at government offices, for utilities. As he talked about the amount of time he spent on just living, I wondered how he got any working done. Everything was, to my ears, unproductive.

A friend of mine lived in Sierra Leone for several years. His work was translating. His time was spent fixing things, pulling people out of ditches, solving resource issues. As he talked about the amount of time he spent on just living, I wondered how he got anything done.

One day last week, I went to pick up food for the people I work with. Kim had tried faxing our order for 30 minutes, the time it took for me to get to the restaurant. I ended up having Kim read me the order over the phone as I repeated each item for the person at the counter. I then had to wait for the order to be prepared. My whole morning ended up shifting becaused o get food from that particular place.

I didn’t get frustrated with the waiting as I thought about the waiting that my two friends have done, the sheer volume of time spent in line at places offering little choice. I also realized that what I was doing was spending the time as a way of saying to the people in our office that people matter. For someone’s birthday, for the opportunity to choose this restaurant, offering my time seems to have been a very good thing to do.

I realized as well that my friends were spending all that time on living because they believe deeply that investing your time, your self, your life in offering people hope is a pretty good investment of time. For them, and for me for a few minutes last Thursday, the only productive way to demonstrate that you care is to not produce anything. It is to invest time.

It is to actually live love.

Maybe it is worth the waiting.

after hours

I sat waiting for pizza. It had just gone in the oven. It would be ready in 7 minutes.

So I sat on the couch.

I looked out the window. I took a picture. I realized that the hours were backwards. I realized that there were hours. I realized that the store wasn’t always open.

I realized that there was always a store here, where I was sitting. There was always an oven. There were always tables and chairs.

But for the good of me, the customer, there were hours. There are times when B Antonio’s isn’t open.

They need to clean. They need to rest. They need to build anticipation. They know that, while some of us eat cold pizza for breakfast, most of us don’t eat hot pizza so they don’t have to spend the money and energy keeping things open all the time.

Maybe I could learn something from a pizza place.

8 ways I could have been productive with the last half hour

1. I could have slept.

2. I could have written a couple emails to Lowell and others.

3. I could have read a chapter in a book I need to review.

4. I could have picked a name for a new blog project I want to start in January.

5. I could have meditated on one chapter from the book of psalms (111, more precisely).

6. I could have sorted out one of these piles.

7. I could have written a compelling post about the velcro sign.

8. I could have clarified my task list for the day.

In fact, I spent thirty minutes wandering, and all I got was this lousy post.

Unless, of course, it changes how I approach the next 30 minutes.

What’s in your next 30 minutes?

The problem with saying yes

The van in front of me was moving slowly. I finally saw that the vehicle in front of the van was a pickup with a trailerload of lumber and wallboard. We all had to take a detour. At the time the detour took us back to the road I wanted, I rejoiced that the van went straight. I was annoyed, however, when I saw that the trailer was on MY route.

I was annoyed because I was approximately 10 minutes into my 25 minute drive and was 1 minute from the scheduled arrival time.

And I realized that it wasn’t the pickup driver’s fault. It wasn’t the road crew’s fault. It wasn’t the fault of the person who called asking for attention right at the time I should have left. It wasn’t the fault of the person who gave me proofreading that I didn’t look at until 2 minutes after the time I should have left. It wasn’t the fault of the person who asked to talk with me an hour before departure time when I said, “let’s go look at the HVAC”. It also wasn’t his fault when I said, “Get me a ladder. Let’s try moving that.” It wasn’t the fault of the people whose posts I read on Google Reader, or the 5 minutes I spent on twitter. It wasn’t the fault of the people who have been wanting wifi in our building that I chose to spend time on testing using a router as an access point. It wasn’t the fault of any of the people I talked with this morning, or the people I didn’t.

I chose take on each of those unscheduled projects, conversations, fieldtrips, and on-line activities. I spent several blocks of 15 minutes this morning in ways I didn’t have to.

As a result, I spent a 25 minute car ride being very annoyed.  At myself.

I understand that there are often unavoidable reasons for being late. I understand that you cannot leave early enough for every possible road block. But I am also convinced, by my own behavior this morning, that I could have made sure I was at that conversation on time.

What makes this so convicting is that I read Seth Godin’s post about spending the next couple weeks working hard to finish projects. In “like your hair is on fire” Seth suggests that we take these last two weeks of August and, rather than slacking off at the end of summer, work hard on projects that must get done. Pretend that we are out of reach on vacation and put the focus on success.

I have a couple of those projects. I had decided to push hard this week. My lunch was related to those projects. And rather than working like my hair was on fire, I ran around in circles.

And now I’ve wasted fifteen more minutes telling you about my lack of focus.

But maybe you are like me. Maybe you say yes to way too many things. I’m not talking about huge project,  but 15-minute distractions on any given day. And maybe, like me, you are tired of creating your own lateness.

So join me in spending the next 15 minutes making the (short) list of (achievable) things that you will say “yes” to for the rest of the day. And then get ready to say “no”.

powerful empty space

Games have rules. Built into the rules of most games is the rule of randomness, the wild card. In Scrabble, this rule is the blank tile.

In Scrabble, you try to build words from letters. The words interlock, like the words on a crossword puzzle. Unlike a crossword, however, the words in each game aren’t predetermined. They emerge as players build them together.

In addition to all the tiles with letters on them are two tiles left blank. They can become any letter. For example, if you have  Q and need a U, a blank works.  In themselves, they have no value, no little number in the bottom corner. Their value lies in what they enable, what they can help you do that you couldn’t otherwise.

They are like a time-out in a basketball game or in an argument. They let you focus. They are like an appointment that was scheduled and then canceled by the other person-free time to accomplish something…or maybe nothing (if you needed a break). They are like a friend who asks you how you are doing…and then waits for the answer. They are like the five minutes you spend in the morning planning the rest of the day…even if the plan doesn’t work out.

The blank tile, however, is of no help if you don’t decide to use it.

What’s the blank tile in your tray right now?

time is hard to take

When I started blogging in earnest,  just over two years ago, I was talking about time:

What counts as Sabbath rest? For a pastor, it isn’t whatever it is thathappens on Sunday, since, while energizing, that certainly isn’t resting. But is in just “not going to the office”?

If I get a call from the office, does that mean that the whole day doesn’t count or only a part of it?

If I work on the insulation in the crawlspace which hasn’t been done for 3 years, does that violate sabbath or is that actually bringing a sense of rest to the “to do” list?

What about writing a blog entry, does that count or is that working as well?

If I try to pray and I fall asleep, is that a problem?

Obviously, the sabbath is about giving God time…and the silence people that I read would say that sleeping is okay, and time with family is okay. But what about the office call…when it helps get someone money for a funeral trip…but which could have been planned for…but which only took a few minutes on the phone…

And what about the writing?

I finally got the crawlspace insulation done, a couple months ago (which means it took me five years), but I’m still struggling with rest and work cycles, with keeping peace, with balancing listening and speaking.

Tonight has illustrated the challenge well for me. I had the opportunity to be quiet, after the meetings, after the conversations, after the emails. It’s the night before a potentially busy week, with plans for Saturday in flux. It’s been a weekend with two times of teaching (with the accompanying preparation). Tomorrow night I’ll be here for another meeting which, while wonderful (really), is still time. And so tonight, this quiet evening, should have been a perfect time for grabbing a book, grabbing a Bible, grabbing a cup of tea, and sitting and reading and listening.
Instead, it has been hard to take the time. I have in me, apparently, a drivenness. It is difficult to stop and listen, to be at peace.
Ironically, it is easier to confess to you my inability to stop than it is to just stop.
Is is possible that there is in the confession a desire to receive compassion, empathy, understanding…from you? I mean, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You are, as I am, a part of a culture which, whether inside or outside church, finds stopping difficult. We feel as though we must be productive in our work, in our rest, in our play, in our wasting of time. If we can’t do something, we must at least create the facade of busyness.
And it is true, as I said, inside the church and outside the church.
No wonder those inside the church wish that we were outside, where we didn’t have all these church activities and obligations for niceness and limits. No wonder those outside the church wish, at times, they were inside, believing in something that matters, no matter how delusional.
What if, however, God were to say, come here, weary friends, and I will give you rest? I mean, if God really were the creator of everything and if that God, who had the capacity to squish us like a bug (or zap us with lightening), actually said, just rest, wouldn’t that be reason to rest?
And if we could and did, wouldn’t that be, well, time well spent?
Two years of this and I’m still trying to understand.