I am sorry I haven’t been able to post much on preparing for the new year (definitely a very important productivity topic).
Perhaps the best inspiration for the new year, and best way to be equipped to navigate life well and handle whatever comes your way, is to have a good sense of Providence.
For this, as we enter into 2014, let me offer you a quote from what might first seem an unlikely source — Ronald Reagan. He seems like an unlikely source on this at first because he was not a preacher or pastor or other religious figure. However, he was a follower of Christ (as he stated on several occasions) and I would actually suggest that he is among the most qualified to speak from experience on God’s Providence, given the role he played in history and that, as he said often after the assassination attempt on his life, he consciously lived his life anew for God from that point on.
Here’s what he had to say in his autobiography:
I was raised to believe that God has a plan for everyone and that seemingly random twists of fate are all a part of His plan. My mother—a small woman with auburn hair and a sense of optimism that ran as deep as the cosmos—told me that everything in life happened for a purpose. She said all things were part of God’s Plan, even the most disheartening setbacks, and in the end, everything worked out for the best. If something went wrong, she said, you didn’t let it get you down: You stepped away from it, stepped over it, and moved on. Later on, she added, something good will happen and you’ll find yourself thinking—“If I hadn’t had that problem back then, then this better thing that did happen wouldn’t have happened to me.”
That’s an incredible thing to hear from an American president.
Religious leaders, it can often feel, are supposed to say these things. But Reagan didn’t have to. That’s what makes it stand out.
Here are some of the passages underpinning Reagan’s awesome, and correct, view of God’s involvement in human life:
…having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).
For from him, and through him, and to him are all things (Romans 11:36).
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stop his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ (Daniel 4:35).
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1).
The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
This is an excellent, insightful, enjoyable, and easy to follow slideshare from Gary Vaynerchuk.
Here are a few key points I took down:
Most marketers simply treat social media as a distribution channel—as another form of mass marketing. Big mistake! You lose all the benefits.
This forgets that what’s unique about social platforms is that they are a two-way conversation, not one-way. That’s what distinguishes them from mass marketing.
Social media is like a cocktail party. And a good cocktail party doesn’t come from talking about yourself the whole time (that’s one-way marketing), but from talking about others and interacting.
You bring value by engaging with users. That means replying to them—not just shooting stuff out there.
The trick is to learn the uniqueness of each platform and tell your story in a way that syncs with why and how people use that platform.
“Those who don’t learn how to tell their stories on today’s platforms are the ones who will go out of business.”
This has taken down some very smart, rich, and well-supported companies (for ex: Blackberry; AOL).
This is perhaps one of Seth Godin’s most difficult blog posts to grasp – but also one of the most important. Kudos to him for writing something that goes so deep.
At root, he’s talking about the difference between leadership and management. Management is about changing people one-on-one and is about individualizing; leadership is about groups and tapping in to what is universal.
That’s a broad brush, and the best leaders can individualize very well (and need to more and more, in our age — so you can’t ignore that). But it’s a critical distinction to keep in mind. Godin’s post helps.
Here’s where it leads: “To change the culture, change the conversation.” That is, culture change requires leadership, not just management.
Analytics are important and helpful, but they are a minor-league detail, not a major-league detail. The numbers can almost never tell you what is most important, and easily hide the fact that some of the most important interactions may result from smaller avenues that a bare look at the statistics would have told you to kill.
This is very, very well said by Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the best social media experts around, in his excellent book Crush It!: Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion:
I use analytics very rarely and I urge you not to rely too much on them either, especially if you’ve got good business instincts.
A lot of times the stats and percentages related to my business just don’t support what my instinct says is true, and I’ll trust my instincts over numbers every time. What if your analytics tell you that you’ve only had seven views on Break.com in two months? Are you going to stop posting to that platform? The data are telling you that you should probably drop it, but what you don’t know is that one of those seven viewers is a producer for The Today Show. There’s no reason to think that can’t happen.
The numbers can be a trap that changes your behavior. People see they’ve only gotten fifty viewers in a few weeks and decide they suck and they stop trying as hard. Or their video catches on and gets watched a thousand times and they think they’ve made it, and they stop trying as hard. Metrics can be useful, of course, but the effect of your online interactions and the excitement building toward your brand isn’t accurately reflected by the number of viewers you have.
It’s not about how many viewers you have, it’s about how passionate they are. If you must use them, analytics should be a minor-league detail. Focus the majority of your attention on your overall brand positioning.
This is a really good article over at 99U on overcoming the biggest obstacle to delegation. I love out how it starts out by nailing the exact difficulty that I find with delegation:
You’ve tried every productivity hack in the book and have reached your max capacity in terms of output. You know that you need outside help to bring the work to the next level… but you hesitate. On the one hand, the idea of not having to do everything yourself really appeals to you. On the other, you wonder if you can handle the management responsibilities on top of your already heavy workload.
Your concerns are valid. In order for people to help you, they need to know what you need and to receive feedback and direction along the way. Your workflow that was uniquely yours will now have to account for another person. With the right systems and communication, this process can run relatively smoothly. But without them, the people who were supposed to help can end up creating more work.
She then gives five very helpful strategies. It’s worth the read.
Brad Lomenick, president of Catalyst, has an excellent post on why he’s excited about the next generation of leaders — specifically, those in their 20′s and 30′s. He writes:
I love leaders. And especially next generation leaders. Specifically those leaders who are currently in their 20′s and 30′s. And I’m incredibly hopeful regarding this next wave of leaders. Incredibly excited and hopeful and expectant. Expectant that they are going to take the reins and move things forward like no other generation before them.
I agree. Here are the ten reasons Brad gives for why he’s excited about this generation of leaders and how they stand out from all generations before:
- Passion for God
- Willing to work together
- Don’t care who gets the credit
- Generosity and sharing are the new currencies
- They understand the holistic responsibility of influence
- Authenticity wins
- Not willing to wait
- See social justice as the norm
- Seeking wisdom and mentors
- A change the world mentality
Read the whole thing to see Brad’s comments on each of these ten points.
(Note: I think Brad is too modest not to include himself in this generation of leaders! He exemplifies all of these qualities and more, and he’s just barely out of his 30s, so technically, he’s still in this generation. Brad: we want to see your leadership continue for many more decades to come!)
I appreciated this post from Michael Hyatt today on how he’s had a low-productivity week. I can relate, because my week was the same! It’s frustrating.
I even did a sort of experiment this week. Normally this week I’m at ETS, the annual convention of the evangelical theological society. I didn’t go this year. So I thought it was a good opportunity to test this question: Do business trips decrease your tangible productivity?
As I’ve argued elsewhere on this blog, I believe that conferences are incredibly productive because of the relationships developed. In fact, I believe that everyone should go to every conference they can.
But the question I was experimenting with this week is: what does business travel do to the more tangible aspects of your productivity? Specifically, would I have a more productive week in terms of tangible output because of not taking that trip this week?
Unfortunately, I feel like I would have gotten just as much done on that front if I had gone to Baltimore this week for ETS as if I had stayed home. For if I had gone to Baltimore, I would have put in a good 12 hour day before leaving in order to get a bunch of stuff moved ahead, and would have had a plan for a bunch of reading and such in between sessions. There would have been also time on the plane for work, and on top of that the conference itself. As it was, I got some good stuff done this week, but not near what I had hoped or planned, and my energy flagged on several days.
It’s probably not always the case that you can get the same amount of tangible things done on a business trip as if don’t go, and there have been many times when I’ve had to skip out on a trip because of tight project deadlines. But I think we can conclude that at least on many occasions, business trips do not cut down on your tangible productivity, but sometimes even increase it.
The question of business trip productivity aside, all of us can relate to Hyatt’s point about having low productivity weeks. What should we think about those?
I actually think low productivity weeks are not always bad. One of the features you’ll see in my book when it comes out (the release is set for March) is that I rarely fall into the stereotypical thinking on productivity. I believe that the process of productivity and effectiveness is much less linear than we often think; there is often a three steps forward, two steps back component.
Which means we can be encouraged even in the midst of times when it doesn’t feel like we are being productive. That’s why in an earlier version of the book, I even had a box called “Seasons of Low Productivity Are Not Always Bad,” quoting Jason Fried from a great post on his blog a few years ago. (I had to cut the box for space reasons from the final version, unfortunately.)
So, for the encouragement of everyone who had a low productivity week this week (inlacing me!), here is that box from the original version of my book:
Seasons of Low Productivity Are Not Always Bad
Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals and author of Rework, from his blog:
“A few weeks ago, I was on fire. I was working on some designs for a prototype of a new software product, and the ideas were flowing as they hadn’t in months. Every day, I felt as if I were accomplishing two or three days’ worth of work. I was in the zone, and it felt fantastic.
“It lasted about three weeks. And then I found myself back at my old pace. Instead of being super productive, I was sort-of productive. Some days, I felt as if I barely accomplished anything.
“So what was wrong? Nothing at all.
“I believe it’s perfectly fine to spend some of your time, maybe even a lot of your time, not firing on all cylinders. Just like full employment isn’t necessarily good for an economy, full capacity isn’t always great for your mind.”
In my view, with this article Justin Taylor takes his place as one of the best young evangelical writers today, along with Matt Anderson (whom I previously mentioned in this regard). It is not only informative and helpful, but so well written.
This is characteristic of Justin’s writing, not just in his blog posts but in other articles and things he’s written that aren’t online as well.
(Hey Justin, get moving on writing some books!)
In August of 2012, I was blogging the Global Leadership Summit for the second time, and had to fly in from some other conference first. Then I had to head to Des Moines for a family reunion before heading back home to Minneapolis.
To save on airfare, I decided to take the Megabus from Chicago to Des Moines at the recommendation of a friend. I had never even heard of the Megabus before; other than trips in youth group back in high school, I don’t think I’ve ever even taken a bus anywhere at all. So I was a bit reluctant to do this, but decided to give it a try.
It was an absolute disaster! I tweeted some of the experience while it was happening in real time, and to top things off, my iPhone started giving me problems during the tweets.
A friend of mine who had also blogged the conference (and rented a car to get back when his flight was cancelled, in spite of my encouragement to him to join me in my journeys on the Megabus!), got a good laugh at my experience and posted the play-by-play at Storify. I came across this again the other day, and it still cracks me up. Now, here it is for everyone’s enjoyment.
The lesson: Friends don’t let friends take the Megabus!
I did not realize until the other day that Dorothy Sayers’s classic, foundational, and fantastic essay on work is online.
This is one of the most helpful articles on work that I’ve read. Keller and many others refer to it often as well.
And, we still need to fulfill the challenge she lays down in it. She says at one point “the Christian church desperately needs a theology of work.” We’ve been doing better in the last ten years (some fantastic efforts are listed below), but don’t let the existence of some great new books on this fool you. We still have a long way to go in actually working this these truths into our hearts and lives.
Here’s one of the best quotes from Sayers’ essay:
It is not right for the Church to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.”
Here are some of the best books that have begun to give us a much better, articulate, and biblically grounded doctrine of work in recent days:
- How then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, by Hugh Whelchel
- Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You Do Every Day, by Paul Rude
- Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, by Tim Keller
- Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, by Tom Nelson
And here are some websites that I highly recommend:
- The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and their blog, Creativity, Purpose, Freedom
- The Acton Institute and their blog.
- Work Matters
Question: What other books and websites would you suggest?