How many days do YOU have?

Do you know how many days you have been alive?

I’m on my second lap with the book 20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith. It is very thought-provoking and challenging. The basic premise is to celebrate each day that we have been given, to live with intention and purpose. Smith says “I know I will die, but I do not know how long I will live.” (p.13) Therefore, we should treat each day as a gift and use it to bless others, celebrate others and ourselves, and always be asking ourselves what’s most important right now.

We live in a culture that is often under the “Tyranny of the Urgent”, where urgent tasks get priority attention over important tasks. A good example is the ringing of the phone in the middle of a family dinner. The phone rings, loud and shrill, crying urgently and demanding our attention. It could be an important call, but usually it can wait. The family dinner is (hopefully) quiet and peaceful and enjoyable. A time of fellowship with loved ones. It’s not shrill or demanding. It’s not urgent. But it is inestimably important.

I found a website with a time calculator. At http://www.timeanddate.com you can plug in any two dates (like a birthday and today) and it will spit out the number of days in between. By the grace of God, I’ve been alive for over 17,000 days so far. But I don’t think I’ve “lived” all those days. Would that I could go back and have a second chance at some of those. Resolved today that I will truly live more of them going forward.

For your advantage,

Brian

PS–I appreciate you and the time you’ve invested reading this far. You are important, just because you exist. You are valuable and you have worth. Don’t underestimate yourself nor take for granted each day that you’ve been given.

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What drives your task list?

One of the questions that comes up time after time in job interviews is related to prioritizing tasks. It sounds something like this: “How do you organize and prioritize your tasks throughout the day?” Invariably this would come up with the subject of multitasking and/or trying to juggle between projects with coworkers versus demands from customers. I used to try to answer that by talking about my ongoing task list and numbering them the Franklin Covey way each morning, tagging top priority tasks with “A”, then the second level important tasks with “B” and then the remaining tasks with “C”. After that is numbering each of those categories so that you end up with A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.

But after one such interview, it occurred to me that there was a much deeper issue. Specifically, what determines which tasks get A’s and which ones get B’s or C’s? That’s when I realized that what drives the assignment of those labels is determined by our values. In other words, if timely customer response has a higher value than completing projects with coworkers, any tasks related to timely customer response is going to be placed higher on the priority chart. An “A” versus a “B” category.

In the same way, our daily personal task list is categorized by our values. Which brings me to the real topic today, which is that one of the habits I want to build this year is a daily time with God in Bible study and prayer. I want to make it a priority. Yesterday, our pastor talked about Revelation 2:1-7, which is a scolding from John (the author) to the church at Ephesus for leaving their “first love”, namely their love for Jesus Christ. They had become more concerned with the mechanics and rituals of “playing church” then they were about the heart and zeal for fellowship with Christ. As a result, they had become apathetic.

In a new devotional I just received from Grace to You called Remember and Return: Rekindling Your Love for the Savior, John MacArthur starts off on Day 1 by referencing the same passage in Revelation (insert creepy music from The Twilight Zone). Could it be a sign? A gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit that I’m supposed to be paying attention to this? Could be. If it is, then it worked because I will admit that I have become spiritually apathetic in these past couple of months.

And as I was reflecting on the goals and habits I wanted to achieve this year, I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the activities and people and “noise” vying for my attention and time and energy. And so where do I start? I start with the things I value most. And what I value most (or at least want to) is putting God first, seeking Him first, in all that I do. Whether that’s starting the day with meditation and prayer; or quietly asking for wisdom before a client meeting; or intentionally praying for guidance on a new project; I want to tap into His limitless power and wisdom and love and resources so that everything I do brings Him glory and is thus blessed by Him. Only then will the rest of my activities have any chance of being “successful”.

For your advantage,

Brian

What are your priorities, spiritual or otherwise? How do your values determine them?

 

Resolutions, Goals and Habits

It’s that time of year again–time to reflect on the accomplishments and misses of last year and set sights on new achievements this year.

For the past couple of months, I’ve had habits at the top of my mind. It occurred to me that many of the goals we set for ourselves won’t be realized if we don’t also have some habit modification. In other words, without changing our habits, we are destined to keep setting the same goals over and over. Part of what got me thinking along these lines was an excerpt from Sean Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It’s called “The Habit Poem”, I think, and it says this:

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do, you might just as well turn over to me,
and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men.
And, alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine.
Plus, the intelligence of a man.
You may run me for profit, or run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will put the world at your feet.
Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

I am a HABIT! 

Whether it’s losing weight or exercising more; eating less or better; saving more and spending less; checking our email less and focusing on productive work for longer stretches of time; all of these things require a change in our habits.

And so, as you embark on your resolutions and goals for this year, I challenge you to dig a little deeper and identify the habit(s) you need to change or drop in order to help you be more successful in realizing those goals.

For your advantage,

Brian

What are some habits you need to add, drop, or change, to help you reach your goals this year?

 

Got health goals?

It’s that time of year–time to look back, assess how we did this year with our goals, and reset and refocus for next year.

For most people, New Year’s resolutions will include some sort of fitness or health goals. According to Men’s Fitness magazine, 66% of Americans will set a fitness-related resolution this year. Sadly, 73% of those people will give up on their goals within 6 weeks. That’s approximately around Valentine’s Day (I have no reason for mentioning that other than to prove that I can do a little bit of math.)

Anyway, why do we give up so quickly on those goals? I think we would all agree that health and fitness should be a top priority in our lives. And setting a goal to lose weight, exercise more, eat less or eat “better” are certainly goals worth pursuing. So what’s the problem?

I think it is deeper than being motivated and/or disciplined to stick with it. We can all usually motivate and discipline ourselves to do something for a short period of time. But when the novelty wears off, then it becomes harder to maintain the motivation and discipline.

To make it stick, we need to make it a habit. This requires intentionality and discipline. Consistency and commitment. Maybe it’s getting out of bed in the morning and doing some push-ups and squats while we wait for the coffee to brew. Maybe it’s using the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Maybe it’s parking at the farthest edge of the parking lot to increase the walking distance to the office and back.

Whatever it is, start small so that you can have some quick, easy wins. With these wins will come the desire and excitement to increase the amount of time or the reps or the difficulty. And before you know it, maybe you’ll have lost 5-10 pounds and feel more energetic. And then your coworkers will be asking you why you always park so far away from the office. Maybe you’ll look at them with a blank look, and you’ll realize that you no longer consciously think about it. And you’ll say to them, “It’s just a habit.”

I have decided to be a “L.I.F.E.R.”

I has having coffee with a friend the other day and the subject of eternity came up. We were talking about how the Bible describes some of the things Christians will be doing in Heaven, like working and overseeing people and projects, etc. I had heard those concepts a couple times recently and it is fascinating to think about that and how that differs from the myths and stereotypes we have about Heaven, specifically those that imply that all we’ll be doing is floating around with wings and playing our harps, right?

Other images or assumptions that I’ve come across are those that imply that all we’ll be doing is laying prostrate in front of God and worshiping Him forever. So this new information of actually having lives with things to do and people to see and places to go is a new paradigm for me. It ties in with the belief and statement I’ve also heard which is that this life is just a dress rehearsal for eternity. In other words, what we are doing now is potentially preparing us for some of the things that we’ll be doing in Heaven.

He made a comment that has stuck with me. He mentioned an old quote that has been used to describe Christians at times. The saying is, “He is so heavenly-minded that he’s no earthly good.” Which is to say, I think, that Christian’s can be so wrapped up in the future that they we aren’t appreciating what’s happening now in the present. My friend said that he feels that the exact opposite of that is more in line with the truth, which is “We are no earthly good until we are Heavenly-minded.” In other words, until we recognize that we are eternal beings and that what we are doing has eternal ramifications, we aren’t going to be focused on the RIGHT things during our time here on Earth.

To try to capture this mindset, I’ve created an acronym with L.I.F.E.R., which is:

  • Living
  • Immediately (now)
  • For
  • Eternal
  • Reasons

Having a mindset like this reframes everything, at least for me. It truly brings new meaning to the phrase, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.”

There is only one question–one issue–that matters for eternity, and that is “What have you decided about the person, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” There is no other issue that matters, because your answer to that question alone will determine what your eternity looks like. It will either be an eternity with God or an eternity without Him. An eternity with riches and blessings and abundance and no more sickness or death. Or an eternity alone, with nothing. And being alone, without Him, ain’t going to be a picnic. Imagine being alone, in complete and total darkness–so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Just an empty void, with sensory deprivation. That’s what I believe is a partial description of life without God.

So, what does a L.I.F.E.R. do?

  • Strive to live each day in a way that brings glory to God;
  • Strive to live each day in a way that points others to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, so that they can be reconciled to Him and become L.I.F.E.R.s as well.

I’m not talking about being a “holier-than-thou, self-righteous, overbearing, in-your-face zealot” who feels qualified and called to judge everyone.

I’m talking about not getting caught up in the rat race, not worrying about winning the toy race, and not trying to keep up with the Joneses. Those are all distractions designed to take our eyes off of what matters for eternity. The only thing we will have with us after this life is our soul, our spirit. And we can decide now where and how we will live after this waystation we call life. And we can also decide who we want to try to bring with us, to live with after this waystation.

I’m going to strive to be a LIFER. I hope you’ll join me. And we’ll have the rest of eternity to hang out and talk about it.

For your advantage,

Brian

PS–Would love to hear from you on this. Please add your comments below. Also, feel free to forward this to anyone who you feel may benefit.

Oh, and one more thing…

That was Steve Jobs’ famous line at the end of a conference or product launch. It became his “coda.” And I thought it was appropriate today after my post about him yesterday. Because upon reflecting on last month and my reading projects, it occurred to me that I started the month with “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David Schwartz. But then, somehow, I got inspired to read the Jobs biography again and sorta put “The Magic of Thinking Big” aside. That was not my intention. I had intended to read “Magic” in the mornings, and “Jobs” at night before bed. But “Jobs” was so fascinating that soon I was reading it both morning AND night and anytime in between that I could squeeze in.

But I digress.

What occurred to me was that both books are somewhat related. “The Magic of Thinking Big” is about thinking big. And “Steve Jobs” is about a guy who was a big thinker! Isn’t that weird? When I picked up “Steve Jobs”, that correlation never crossed my mind.

But Steve Jobs was truly one of the biggest thinkers of our era. How else can you explain the iPod, iTunes store, iPhone and iPad?

Daniel Lyons, a writer for Newsweek, nailed it when he wrote this after the launch of the iPad: “My first thought, as I watched Jobs run through his demo, was that it seemed like no big deal. It’s a bigger version of the iPod Touch, right? Then I got a chance to use an iPad, and it hit me: I want one.” He continued with this realization: “[Jobs] has an uncanny ability to cook up gadgets that we didn’t know we needed, but then suddenly can’t live without.” (From Steve Jobs, p.496)

One of the best examples of Steve Jobs thinking big and forcing others to think big and, by extension achieving big, was when they were creating the iPhone. Jobs wanted a glass display screen, not just plastic or plexiglass. He met with the CEO of Corning Glass, Wendell Weeks, who told him about a glass that Corning had developed in the 1960’s that was incredibly strong. They called it “gorilla glass”, but they could never find a market for it so they quit making it. Once he explained the chemical process of making it to Jobs and the resulting product, Jobs said he wanted as much as they could make. Weeks said they don’t make it and couldn’t make it because none of their plants were set up to make it. Jobs told him they could do it. Weeks tried to explain that just saying that was so didn’t change the fact that there were several engineering hurdles and other challenges to overcome.

Jobs “stared at Weeks unblinking. ‘Yes, you can do it,’ he said. ‘Get your mind around it. You can do it.’ As Weeks retold this story, he shook his head in astonishment. ‘We did it in under six months,’ he said. ‘We produced a glass that had never been made. We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.'” (Jobs, p.472)

Sometimes, the difference between success and failure is just a matter of flipping the belief switch in our minds. Going from thinking small to thinking big. Getting our mind around it and making it work.

Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

For your advantage,

Brian

Steve Jobs: Fanatical

I just finished reading “Steve Jobs”, a biography by Walter Isaacson, for the second time. It is a fascinating story about the founder of Apple. I could not put the book down.

I wrote two posts about it the first time I went through it: Steve Jobs: Focused and Steve Jobs: Fearless

In addition to being focused and fearless, he was also fanatical in several ways about several things. He was fanatical about:

  1. Doing things “right”. To him, this was an integrity issue. His father taught him to care about every detail of a project, including things that wouldn’t be seen. For example, his father was building a fence and taught Steve to care about both sides of it, even the backside that no one would see. Steve carried that into the design of his products. With the first Macintosh, he cared about the inside circuit boards and how they were manufactured and installed, even though the customer would probably never see them. To him, the beauty of a product extended to EVERY part of the product. And by attending to every detail, he was able to take pride in every product his company produced because he knew it was beautiful all the way through.
  2. Design. He was fanatical about how products looked and felt. He spent hours on choosing the right shade of a color for the project. When the first iPhone was about to be completed and launched, he woke up in the middle of the night, came to work the next day and told his team that it was wrong. The glass screen was not sized right. This meant they had to practically start over to reengineer the whole thing to accommodate a new screen size. It delayed the project by several months and cost millions of dollars–something that most other companies would be averse to.
  3. His diet. He went through fads of eating one thing, like apples, for weeks at a time. Then he would switch to something else for a couple weeks. He would order things in restaurants that weren’t even on their menus.
  4. His personnel demands. He wanted “A” players on his team. He would not tolerate people who he deemed were “less than” when it came to performance or passion. And if you disagreed with him, you had better be able to back it up. At the same time, his demands seemed outrageous at first, but time after time he was able to push people beyond their own self-imposed limits to produce the results that he expected.

Steve Jobs was not role model when it comes to how to treat people. But there is a ton of things we can learn from him with regard to how to be fanatical in striving for:

  • perfection
  • our goals and dreams
  • working hard to do our best, and
  • expecting the best from others

For your advantage,

Brian

5 Steps to less thinking, more doing…

Thinking about doing stuff isn’t the same as actually doing stuff.

I struggle with analysis paralysis quite a bit. I’ve gotten better over the years, but my logical, analytical thought processes tend to delay me in taking action. I want to look at the situation from every angle and try to make sure that when I do finally take action, I am doing it in the most efficient and effective steps possible.

For example, we were planning to paint the family room in our new home and we purchased a paint sprayer. I’ve never used a sprayer before. This alone delayed me because I wanted to make sure I read the instructions and understood how to operate it correctly before starting. I also realized that more masking and coverage of floor and furniture would be required and so I started working on that. After I had painstakingly covered our windows, I still needed to cover the floors and furniture. And some DIY websites suggested masking the ceiling and ceiling fan, too. In my head, I knew that taking the time to do all that would result in time-savings by using the sprayer, but it started to seem like in the end, it wouldn’t really be much different time-wise than just using a roller and brush. After several days of prepping and thinking and thinking and prepping, I scrapped the sprayer and went back to roller and brush. And got the room painted in one day.

Would a sprayer have been faster? Maybe, at least with the painting portion. But I felt I still had at least a day of masking and covering everything before I even got the sprayer out. Possibly longer.

The point is that once I made the decision, I got it knocked out relatively quick. That probably would have been true for the sprayer too, had I just made the decision to use it instead of trying to weigh the pros and cons and being on the fence between it and the roller.

So, here are the five steps to less thinking, more doing.

  1. Determine the objective or outcome you want
  2. Determine the options or choices in front of you
  3. Determine the pros and cons of each
  4. Decide which option is the best for you and others involved and impacted
  5. Decide to act on that option–and then take action

Going through these steps can lead to being more decisive and, more importantly, getting more done.

For your advantage,

Brian

Gift rejection sucks…

When you give someone a gift, you hope they’ll like it and use it, right?

We are one week away from Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. And not just ANY shopping–shopping for gifts, for the most part. Gifts for our friends and loved ones, and the anticipation of seeing the look on their faces as they open the gift that you’ve selected for them. There is also a bit of anxiety on our part, hoping that they will like the gift and want it and be able to use it and enjoy it. How rewarding is it to see that look of joy and excitement, and hear them gush about it and how much they love it and then start using it as soon as possible?

And how much different and discouraging does it feel to see them open it and maybe hesitate, and then provide the obligatory thank-you with the fake smile as they gently set it aside and move on to the next gift?

I wonder if that’s how God feels when we aren’t using and enjoying the gifts He has given us. Certainly this would include material and tangible gifts like a car or home or even our family. But I think this applies to our talents and skills too–some that we have hard-wired into us at birth, and some that He allows us to acquire and develop throughout our lives.

For example, if you’re in a job or career that you aren’t enjoying or that you feel is not in your “wheelhouse” with regard to your skills and strengths, but you remain there stuck and apathetic because you’re too discouraged or disinterested in trying to make a move to do something different–is that like smiling politely at God, thanking Him unsincerely, and setting His gifts aside?

In the parable of the talents, the only servant who was chastised was the one who buried the talent he was given, the one who didn’t use what he was given to expand the wealth of the master. Even though the parable is talking about money, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the word “talent” is used. Therefore, could this scenario also apply to the non-material gifts and skills and talents with which we have been entrusted? And if so, what would that look like for you? What talents have you buried that could be better used for God’s glory and to better serve those around you, as well as bring you more joy and fulfillment?

Think about it.

For your advantage,

Brian

 

The Chatter In Here is Relentless…

I’ve been awakened to all the noise going on in my head and it’s very eye-opening! 

I’ve picked up The Magic of Thinking Big again, to reread for at least the third or fourth time, and the first chapter is a figurative punch in the mouth! I wrote about it yesterday–the part about the two foremen in our thought factory who are ready and willing to work at the snap of a finger. Mr. Triumph will be the positive, can-do cheerleader and solution provider. Mr. Defeat will be the negative, can’t do, naysayer and red-flag bearer. And they only work when summoned by us, even if only by the slightest signal.

For example, if we are faced with an opportunity and start to think about how we could take advantage of it, Mr. Triumph will step up and continue to build us up with the possibilities and our ability to tackle it and succeed. For as long as we allow him. Equally ready to discourage us is Mr. Defeat, who will step up and tell us all the reasons we shouldn’t do it and/or couldn’t succeed at it. IF we allow him.

Being reminded of this dynamic going on silently in my head has made me aware of how much back and forth there is (Yes, these are the voices in my head. Don’t judge me. You know you have them too). There are several opportunities on my radar right now and I’ve noticed that my tendency is to get excited about them and play out the possible scenarios and results on the plus side, but then I excuse Mr. Triumph and call Mr. Defeat into my mental “office” and start listening to him explain to me all the reasons I couldn’t possibly succeed. And then I slump back into my chair, which represents the status quo.

But now that I am aware of these two “employees”, I have tried to be more intentional about giving Mr. Triumph more air time. I want to strengthen him. I want to empower him. I want to give him more time to speak and listen more to what he has to say. I’m tired of listening to Mr. Defeat and being defeated. I have more to offer and more to achieve than what he has led me to believe up to this point in my life. I am more capable and more valuable than he has given me credit for. And so are you!

For your advantage,

Brian