Pastor, Here’s Why You Can’t Quit

If the stats are right, several pastors reading this are burned out and thinking of quitting… or at least wishing it could happen. The old joke about “writing your resignation letter every Monday” has a grain of truth. You’re burned out. Used up. Frustrated. In conflict. Spiritually drained. Unappreciated.

I don’t know if you’re one of those. I hope not. But odds are, someone reading this said under your breath, “That’s me.”

For the next few minutes, I’m talking to you.

For just the next few minutes, you are a boxer. The bell has rung, ending the round — just in time. Literally, saved by the bell. You stagger back to the corner, battered and bleeding. Collapsing onto the stool, you say, “I’m done. I can’t do it. I’ve got to quit.” A quick swipe of the towel, and I’m down in your face. Through clenched teeth, in a low growl, here’s what I’ve got to say:

“Jesus called you to suffer this.”

Not all pastors are called to blowout success. I don’t know the “Why of heaven” on this. But you know in your gut it’s true — there are too many godly & gifted men through history who didn’t see big numbers. If you see this as the calling of God to face the attack of the enemy, it makes a difference.

“This will not last forever.”

Don’t quit because of a season! You can outlast that critic. Those children will not always be so small. God will answer prayer. Someone will be changed. You will not always feel this alone. Your spouse will not always be sick.

“This is where you prove your grit.”

You must — you MUST. Watch this video. If you’re reading this post on my email list, click through to the blog, right now, and watch it.

Click to watch on Youtube: Facing the Giants VIDEO

“Heaven is worth this.”

I know you’re doubting it will ever be any different, and thinking that you have no more strength. But remember your brothers & sisters in Moslem countries. Remember those have lost eyes, hands, jobs… those who have been tied to stakes and flogged.

They found that Christ was worth the pain.  They found that He satisfies here on Earth, and they proved his supreme worth by what they suffered.  And when we arrive in heaven, whatever pain you’re experiencing will only produce greater glory when you’re in His All-Satisfying Presence.

“This is the price of Christian leadership.”

1 Corinthians 4:9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.
10 We are fools for Christ… We are weak… we are dishonored!
11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;
13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (NIV)

This is not new!  You think you’re better than Paul?  Or Stephen?  Or Jesus?

Get your head up. No, look up here. Look me in the eye.

Grit your teeth and say it: I will not quit.

No, don’t you mumble and drop your eyes. LOOK AT ME.

Say it.

SAY IT.

I WILL NOT QUIT.

I. WILL. NOT. QUIT.

Now, call a preacher friend or mentor and tell them you’re not going to quit. Email me and tell me you need prayer, but you’re not going to quit. I will stop and pray for you as soon as I get the email. We are in this thing together. We need you. No more men running for the safety of the rear lines while the shells of the enemy scream overhead!

Now, type I WILL NOT QUIT in the Comments below.

Then, go read this post about action steps you can take if you’re burned out and discouraged as a pastor!

How Living In the Urgent Can Kill Your Creativity

And how to reclaim your life from the stress...

If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s excellent book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you’re missing out.  Out of the many helpful things in the book, here’s one I have found most useful:  Covey’s distinction between URGENT things and IMPORTANT things.

  • Urgent things shout at you – flashing lights, ringing phones.
  • Important things will not – maintenance, relationships, planning.
  • Urgent and Important things must be done or things will fall apart immediately.
  • Important, not Urgent things must be done or things will fall apart eventually.
  • Urgent and Important things are like filling up with gas when you’re on empty.
  • Important things are like changing the oil after 3,000 miles.

He draws a matrix like this:

Quadrant 2 graphic

As you can see, Quadrant 1 is Urgent & Important.  Quadrant 2 is Important, but not Urgent.

Now, think about your life in terms of this diagram.

I think of Sunday as a Quadrant 1 day.   If you don’t lead worship, don’t preach… if you fail to do whatever your core activities are, there will be an immediate negative effect.  Some activities eventually change quadrants.  For instance, sermon prep is a Quadrant 2 activity, but Saturday night… it’s moved up.

Here’s why it’s better to do activities while they’re still in Quadrant 2:

1. Living in Quadrant 1 is exhausting.

Living your whole life in Quadrant 1 means you’ll be like Mario, leaping from crisis to crisis, barely escaping destruction at each turn, always inches from disaster.

It means not being able to sleep because of the stress of upcoming deadlines.

That’s exhausting.  Better to live in Quadrant 2, where you do important things before they move into Quadrant 1.

2. Relaxed thinking is better than crisis thinking.

You do better quality thinking when you’re relaxed.  Research is clear: You make better quality decisions when your stress is lower.

In his ground-breaking book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells of a study where college students were brought to a snack table, and offered a choice between healthy snacks (fruit, etc) and unhealthy snacks (cookies, cupcakes).  Half of the students were given a phone number to memorize and repeat back after the snack.  Those students were much more likely to choose the unhealthy snack.  Why?  They defaulted, under even that mild stress, to choosing what was immediately rewarding, instead of what was smarter.

3. Creativity flows better when you are not in urgent mode.

Ever think that your creativity goes up right before the deadline?  It doesn’t.  Your desperation does.  You may produce, but it’s not your creativity that gets your sermon finished!  It’s shame, and the potential embarrassment of having nothing to say.

It’s not more creative, it’s just… finished.

Instead, take time and focus early in the week to get in a creative flow.  (I’ll be writing more on this soon.)  You may not think of yourself as a particularly creative person, but I bet that you’re more creative when you aren’t “under the gun.”

4. Creativity is useless when you have no time left to execute.

In Quadrant 2, when you think of a really creative way to present a sermon, you can do it.  You can find that prop, create that Powerpoint, locate that great historical story, find that song that complements, think of that person whose testimony should be shared.

But in Quadrant 1, even if you think of it, you often don’t have enough time to do anything about it. I’ve been there too many times, finishing up a sermon on Sunday morning, when I realized – “You know what would be GREAT?!… ah, never mind, I don’t have time to do that this morning!”

Don’t do it.  Commit to living in the Important, not Urgent.

One final thought:

“What if I’m already overwhelmed?  How do I get into Quadrant 2 when Quadrant 1 is already so full?”

I’m glad you asked.  You can’t just stop doing Quadrant 1 activities.  Everything would fall apart, because they really ARE important!  There are only 2 places that you can find time to do Quadrant 2 activities at first: Quadrants 3 & 4.

Here’s what that might look like:

  • Turn off the phone.
  • Block Netflix.
  • Shut off talk radio.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Use Stayfocusd to keep off Facebook.
  • Get off Youtube.
  • Turn off your wireless access altogether for 3 hours.

And do something Quadrant 2.  Like this:

  • Prepare for NEXT week’s message.
  • Prep for a series that’s a month away on your sermon calendar.
  • Invest in a key relationship.
  • Learn something new.
  • Do that item you’ve been putting off.
  • Check your calendar for tomorrow.
  • Schedule lunch with someone.
  • Pray.

I think you’ll find that if you’ll do this for a week, Quadrant 1 will be slightly smaller, and Quadrant 2 will be slightly larger.

Now, imagine 6 months from now, if you did that every day!

Pastor, Go Be A Man

There’s a powerful story in Mark Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn.  Last year, I read this book to my children, and was so struck by this story, that I stopped to highlight it.

In a town Huck is visiting, an angry mob gathers, infuriated over the actions of a man named Sherburn.  Read on if you’re a real man:

Well, by and by somebody said Sherburn ought to be lynched. In about a minute everybody was saying it; so away they went, mad and yelling, and snatching down every clothes-line they come to to do the hanging with.  They swarmed up towards Sherburn’s house, a-whooping and raging… They swarmed up in front of Sherburn’s palings as thick as they could jam together, and you couldn’t hear yourself think for the noise. It was a little twenty-foot yard. Some sung out “Tear down the fence! tear down the fence!” Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in like a wave.

Just then Sherburn steps out onto the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca’m and deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wave sucked back. Sherburn never said a word—just stood there, looking down. The stillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to outgaze him, but they couldn’t; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky. Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed; not the pleasant kind, but the kind that makes you feel like when you are eating bread that’s got sand in it. Then he says, slow and scornful:

“The idea of you lynching anybody! It’s amusing. The idea of you thinking… you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man! Why, a man’s safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind—as long as it’s daytime and you’re not behind him.

“…I know you clear through. I was born and raised in the South, and I’ve lived in the North; so I know the average all around. The average man’s a coward… Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark—and it’s just what they would do.  So they always acquit; and then a man goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back, and lynches the rascal.

“Your mistake is, that you didn’t bring a man with you; that’s one mistake, and the other is that you didn’t come in the dark and fetch your masks. You brought part of a man—Buck Harkness, there—and if you hadn’t had him to start you, you’d ‘a’ [never come].

“You didn’t want to come. The average man don’t like trouble and danger. You don’t like trouble and danger. But if only half a man—like Buck Harkness, there—shouts ‘Lynch him! lynch him!’ you’re afraid to back down—afraid you’ll be found out to be what you are—cowards—and so you raise a yell, and hang yourselves onto that half-a-man’s coat-tail, and come raging up here, swearing what big things you’re going to do.

“The pitifulest thing out is a mob… But a mob without any man at the head of it is beneath pitifulness. Now the thing for you to do is to droop your tails and go home and crawl in a hole. If any real lynching’s going to be done it will be done in the dark… and when they come they’ll bring their masks, and fetch a man along. Now leave—and take your half-a-man with you”—tossing his gun up across his left arm and cocking it when he says this.

The crowd washed back sudden, and then broke all apart, and went tearing off every which way, and Buck Harkness he heeled it after them, looking tolerable cheap.

I could ‘a’ stayed if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to.

Isn’t that powerful??!

c22-189

A man can speak for himself.

Don’t join the mob just because they’re screaming loudly, and you don’t want to be taken for a coward.

A man takes responsibility for his actions.

A man feels the fear and walks toward the danger anyway.

A man can look his critics in the eye.

A man can take criticism without breaking, because he hears the Other Voice.

A man doesn’t have to run down his opponents.

A man doesn’t have to quit.

I don’t know what you’re facing, pastor.

It may be an angry mob.

It may be spiritual attack.

It may be the forces of hell lining up against you in temptation.

It may be criticism.

And frankly, if it’s one of these, it’s often ALL of them.

Whatever it is, you can face it.

Pastor, go be a man.

If you’re inspired to face your fear, share what it is you have to face in the comments below, and if you’re inspired… share this post!

9 Action Steps for Burned Out Pastors

Steps toward healing and recovery from pastoral burnout

Surveys say that most pastors have felt like quitting in the past 12 months. If you feel like you’re about to crack wide open, drop in your tracks, or get a Pez dispenser full of Tums to keep your stomach calm…You may be feeling as though God is angry with you, and would push you to keep going, do more, try harder… and you’re dead wrong.

Pastor burnout - 9 action steps you can take to recover and heal

Give me a chance to prove it: Check out how God responded to an exhausted prophet.

How to Build a Morning Routine – Part 2

How I Capture the Most Important Part of the Day

There isn’t one “right” morning routine.  It’s built on your values and realities.  My reality is self-employed (pastor) and 6 kids.  Yours might look totally different.  But for some ideas and encouragement, here’s a walkthru of my morning routine, from start to finish, with tips of what makes it work better for me.

If you want to read the first post I wrote on this, you’ll need to go here: How to Build a Morning Routine In 7 Steps.

First 90: Getting Started Right

How to Thrive In A Tough Season

I know that title is pretty broad — I can’t do anything about some of the frustrations in your life.  I can’t do anything about that guy whose trash blows in your yard.  Or the guy on the interstate who cuts you off with no blinker.  And you really can’t do much about it, either.  Just get over yourself and get over them. 🙂

But there are some larger, enduring frustrations that I’ve experienced that I bet you have too.  And THOSE, I can teach you something about.  It’s the frustration that comes with seasons in your life.

I know you’re familiar with the concept of seasons of the year, but you might not have thought of life in terms of seasons.

3 things you need to remember to keep from being frustrated about seasons:

1. Seasons come in a micro- and a macro- version.

Here are some examples of micro-seasons:

  • Recovery from a medical procedure.
  • Bouncing back from a very busy project
  • Adjusting to a new neighborhood after moving

Examples of macro-seasons:

  • Raising young children
  • Old age
  • Teenage years

For micro-seasons, you just need to wait them out, and take some short term actions — medication, rest, etc.

For macro-seasons, you’ll need to adjust your attitude, check your values, and engage in personal growth.

2. Seasons are not something you can control.

You can’t just decide you’re not going to participate in this season any more.  You can’t stop most seasons of life any more than you can stop spring or winter from coming.

So the solution to the frustration can’t be found in how to change the season… it’s got to be found in how I respond to it.

3. You can’t control seasons, but you can choose your attitude.

iStock_000004003533XLarge

The old saying “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what happens IN you,” applies here.  Author and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said,
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom….When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

So here are some ways that I have dealt with seasons, while trying to keep my attitude positive:

1. Watch your words.

Early in my ministry, when we were frustrated about a season we were facing, Liz and I would often say to each other, dramatially, “Well, in the grand scale of 30 years of ministry…”  It was usually good for a chuckle, but it did more.  It became a tagline that allowed us to “zoom out” and see the season from the larger perspective.

Be careful of your words.  They don’t just reveal your perspective — they help create it!  And your perspective helps create your reality… Create wisely.

2. Find the funny.

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Kids have been probably the defining season of this part our life.  I have a saying my wife and I have laughed over for the last few years: “Someday, I’m going to change the world, but right now I have to change this kid’s diaper.”  It helps me laugh, and remember the delicious irony of a young kid that thought he was going to change the world through his career in ministry — then had 6 kids, and discovered that he needed to change himself first.

3. Grow.

Sam Chand says, “A leader can only grow up to the level of his tolerance for pain.”  Seasons can be full of pain.

But they are also prime places for “the growth that happens before the growth.”  You know what I mean by that, right?  It’s what Steven Covey calls the “private victory” that always precedes “public victory.”

I know what it’s like to be dealing with a season while wishing to be out “kicking behind and taking names.”  But while you’re waiting, don’t waste the time.  This is captured beautifully in John Waller’s song “While I’m Waiting” from the movie Fireproof. Check it out if you need some encouragement:

These are some behind the scenes areas where you can grow during tough seasons:

  • Attitudes
  • Personal Discipline
  • Family habits
  • Reading
  • Personal devotional time
  • Working on a new skill
  • Improving an old skill
  • Investing in a relationship
  • Seeking out coaching
  • Developing teamwork in your church/family
  • Creating better systems
  • Creating morning and evening routines

Choose your attitude.  Watch your words.  Create your plan.  You’re going to get through this.

Who do you know that’s in a tough season right now?  Share this with them!

Why Your Pastor is Tempted to Quit

And how you can help...

“Pastor.”  The word may have lost some of its respect over the years, with high-profile scandals, Hollywood hit jobs, and TV cariacatures.  But the title still conjures up good things in many American minds.  A 2011 study by Rasmussen says 70% of Americans view pastors favorably.

But pastors, honestly, through all of their healing, restoring & guiding work, can live with a lot secret pain.

According to a survey by the New York Times in 2010,

  • about 1,500 pastors per month leave the ministry due to burnout, conflict or moral failure.
  • 45% of pastors say they’ve experienced enough burnout or depression to feel the need to take significant time away from ministry
  • 57% of pastors report that they would leave ministry if they thought there was somewhere else to go
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is a hazard to their families.

“Not my pastor.”

No, I hope not.  But some pastor friends of mine have reached these points.

I recently surveyed pastor across several denominations and asked them what was most frustrating in their ministry.  I gave them multiple options to choose from, as well as the ability to write their own answers.  Here’s what they told me about their greatest challenges:

The Pain Points of Pastors – Survey

Help me help you!

In the next few days, I’ll be posting a couple posts on the toughest things about being a pastor.  I’m doing a survey of all my readers who are pastors, to see what you say are the toughest things about your job.

If you’ve already taken the survey, thank you!

I’m working through the results now — and look forward to sharing them!  In the survey I asked a question… Maybe you can relate to some of these answers:

survey edited screenshot

Can you relate to the pain of any of those answers??  I certainly can!

What are YOUR greatest pain points?

If you haven’t taken the 8-question survey yet, please CLICK HERE.  I’d love to have YOUR INPUT!

 

What I’m doing with the results:  Creating Resources

One of the top 5 “pain points” was “not being able to follow up on guests.”  I can relate — for years, I felt the frustration of this one!

But about 3 years ago, I got frustrated enough to start designing a system that didn’t allow people to fall through the cracks.

  • It took months of designing and tweaking
  • Over 100 hours of labor to get it all together
  • Now, it’s humming along nicely
  • I have equipped volunteers to help
  • We have had 12 guests in the past 4 weeks
  • No one fell through the cracks.

I’m going to teach you how to build the system (and save you TONS of time in the process) on my webinar Friday and Saturday.  There are 3 time slots for you convenience… I plan to give away as many of my secrets as possible. 🙂

Register for the Webinar

 

How to Build a Morning Routine in 7 Steps

Mornings are crucial.  And they are fragile.  They can serve your greatest values, or they can feed your greatest weaknesses.  You can live your life getting up at the last possible second, racing around the house, speeding to work … or you can be intentional about mornings.

I think the single greatest, most impactful change I’ve made in the past 5 years in my life has been developing a routine for my mornings.  Here are the steps you need to build one for yourself.

Step 1: Identify how much sleep you need.

To have a good morning routine, you must start the night before.  A morning routines is not built on some sort of Spartan ability to sleep less and less.  It’s built on recognizing sleep as important, so you don’t stay up forever watching pointless late night TV or browsing the internet.

Your body needs sleep.  (I can’t get by on less than 7 hours for many days in a row.)  Your problem with mornings might not be self-discpline to get up when your alarm goes off — it might be to go to bed at a decent time!

3,000 years ago, Solomon wrote “do not love sleep or you will grow poor” (Prov. 20:13).  But in his day, people went to sleep soon after the sun went down, instead of staying up with electric lights and TV.  (Check out this chart of average sleep for Americans just since 1942.)

Step 2: Figure out which values you want to put up front.

Mark Twain quipped, “I can teach anyone to get what they want out of life; the problem is, I cannot find anyone who can tell me what they want.”  Do you know?  Do you have a time slot for things you value?  Is that time slot early in the day?

Here are the values that I base my morning routine on:

  • spiritual enrichment
  • blessing my wife
  • health and fitness
  • a thankful, positive attitude
  • leadership development
  • family values &
  • speaking into the lives of my kids
  • intentionality, mindfulness and productivity
Step 3: Draft a list of 5-minute-or-less ways to live those values.

Here’s why 5 minute ideas: Your mornings are not everlasting.  You don’t have hours before going to work.  So jot down ideas of how you might live out your values in a quick way.  For help in this area, try SJ Scott’s Kindle book, Habit Stacking.

Step 4: Identify how much time you have.

When do you have to leave for work?  What’s your get-up time?  What’s your go-to-bed time?  Which ones need to be adjusted?

Aim at a solid hour of routine.  If you can become efficient in that hour, you can put in a lot of  things that will make a difference in the person you will be in 10 years.

Step 5: Pick the best ideas, and write out your routine.
My morning routine in evernote

My morning routine in Evernote

Keep it somewhere that you can see, somewhere accessible through the morning.  After a while you won’t need to look.  But at first, you’ll need to see what’s next between every step.

For a long time, I kept mine in Evernote.  To avoid using all my phone battery looking at it, I emailed a copy to my Kindle.  You might want to print it out & post it on the fridge or coffeemaker.

Step 6: Set alarms & use a timer.

I use Morning Routine Alarm Clock for Android, which automates most of my timing through the morning.  But maybe all you want or need is an alarm clock.  But to make sure you’re moving foward, and not dragging, a timer is a great thing.

Step 7: Practice and tweak your routine.
Credit: Lightstock.com

Credit: Lightstock.com

I can assure you — It won’t work 100% right the first time.  Some mistake will come to light.  You’ll have too much time for one activity, and not enough for another.

That’s OK!  Tweak it and do it again tomorrow!

You will miss a day — no problem.  Do it again tomorrow!

A few hints:

Hint #1: Don’t forget commute time as part of your routine.  Can you listen to an audiobook?  Encourage someone?  Write a thank you note at a red light?  Pray and memorize a verse of Scripture?  Encourage yourself with some great music?

Hint #2: Find a way to fill “mindless time.”  There are some activities that don’t require a lot of mental energy and decision making.  You don’t have to think deeply to brush your teeth.  I hope. 🙂  So, can you fill that time with a growth habit that matches your values?  Personally, I listen to the NIV Dramatized Audio Bible for about 30 minutes each morning, while dressing, eating, starting laundry…

In the next post, I will share my own personal routine to give you some examples and share some things that have helped and inspired me along the way.

Who do you know that needs to read this? 🙂 Share it with them!

3 Systems That Are Working for Me Right Now (& the Tools I’m Using)

Building systems piece by piece

Building systems piece by piece

In this series on Systems in your work and life, I’ve talked about why you need systems, and then a simple plan for how to develop systems, and why you need to work with tools. So, here are 3 of the systems that are working in my life right now, and the tools that are helping:

System that’s working #1: To-Do List

Favorite tool: Todoist
Favorite tagline: “If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t exist.”

ToDoist App To-Do List Screenshot

My ToDoist App – to-do list

If you are not using a to-do list, I can almost guarantee you’re dropping things and stressing out more than you should.  I did it for years.  I had the stress of keeping everything in my short-term memory, & the humiliation of dropping things on a regular basis.  Don’t do this to yourself!  Use a to-do list. I tried paper for a while, but I’m absent-minded and tend to lay my list down and then spend time looking for it.  Not a good use of time.  🙂  Now it lives on my phone, which I never lose because it’s always in my hip holster. I’ve tried numerous to-do apps.  Nozbe was excellent, but too expensive.  Wunderlist was really nice and simple – and has a good free version.  Goals To Do was powerful and had a neat “refocus tool” but had no web platform, which I really needed. Google Tasks was simple, free, and had fantastic calendar/Gmail integration, but Google stopped development on it. Todoist is reasonably priced, very powerful, and easy to use.  Their Gmail integration is good, and their tools and filters are highly customizable.  Their “Karma” system allows productivity tracking over time. Bottom line: Whatever you do, don’t keep it all in your head.  Use a list!

Whether you’re a paper person or an app person, I recommend that you read David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  That’s the book that really took my to-do system to a new level.

System that’s working #2: Morning Routine

Favorite Tools: Evernote & Morning Routine Alarm Clock for Android

Evernote is where I create most of my systems.  I use the checklist feature to create a system that I can check off, then uncheck when it’s done. I keep the list on my phone, and until I have it ingrained into habit, it keeps me on track.  I tag them “commonly used” and put them on my home screen with Evernote Widget (or shortcuts on the desktop version), so the ones I use regularly are a click away, even if I haven’t edited them for a while. I was introduced to this morning routine idea by S.J. Scott’s neat little book Habit Stacking: 97 Life Changes that Take 5 Minutes or Less ($2.99 on Kindle)  I created an ideal morning (for me) checklist, and started working on living by that.

My morning routine in evernote

My morning routine in Evernote

It was really helpful, one of the single most life-changing things that I had done in several years.  Suddenly, I was accomplishing several things that I really KNEW would bring long-term benefits, but had no systematic time slot for in my life. But I wanted a tool to take this to the next level, something to help me AUTOMATE the values I had planned in my morning routine.  What I discovered (I can’t remember where) is Morning Routine Alarm Clock for Android.  You can choose what kind of alarm you want – button, scan or an automated sequence of barcodes, at a predetermined schedule.  This last is the option I have chosen.

Morning Routine Alarm Clock for Android

Morning Routine Alarm Clock for Android

I am going to spend more time on this routine in a future post. The short version is, I have a series of barcodes (QR codes) that I scan when the alarm starts going off.  I put them in the part of the house where the next activity of my routine takes place — bathroom, laundry, family room.  This keeps me moving forward quickly, and makes it less likely that I will stall on any portion of the routine. Unfortunately, Apple has too tight a control on their system to allow an alarm clock to do everything that my alarm will do… such as automatically open apps, etc.  But here’s a barcode alarm clock to comfort you poor iPhone users. 🙂

Now here’s the thing: I haven’t just NAILED this system. In a pastor’s life, things get crazy, and late nights or other interruptions happen.  I have sometimes gone for almost a month without doing it perfectly.

But I have done tons of laundry before my family gets up, written my wife dozens of love notes on sticky notes on her bathroom mirror, developed a pretty unshakable vitamin/supplement habit, have drunk dozens of glasses of water in the morning, worked out 4 of the last 6 mornings, and am writing this blog post because my morning routine alarm told me to write for 15 minutes.

My point?  Don’t let a lack of perfection on a system keep you from making one.  Aim high, and even if you don’t reach the stars, you won’t land in the mud.

System That’s Working #3 – Tracking my Habits

Favorite Tools: HabitBull

HabitBull Habit Tracker App Screenshot

HabitBull Habit Tracker App Screenshot

For a long time, I had no way of really knowing how well I was doing with new habits that I was forming. How often was I really getting up on time?  Was I really cutting carbs?  How often was I meeting my prayer goal?  Was I doing my morning routine?

Enter HabitBull.  Now, when my 9:45 PM alarm goes off (my evening routine alarm), I scan the barcode in my bathroom, & it automatically opens HabitBull.  Then, I take a moment to check off what I accomplished that day.  Over time, you can see:

  • whether you’re really getting it done
  • where your trouble spots are
  • what your longest streak is
  • the monthly view of each habit individually
  • the weekly overview of all habits (shown here)

One of the greatest things this does for me is what I call “mindfulness.”  In the rush of a busy life, nothing is more easily forgotten than one’s values.  Habit tracking continues to keep my values like spiritual depth, family, and “giving back” in front of me — it keeps me “mindful.”

In the rush of a busy life, nothing is more easily forgotten than one’s values.

A final word: Add 1-2 systems at a time.

Integrating systems into your life is rewarding in the long-term, but challenging in the short term.  It’s easy to decide “I have 22 systems I have to get going.”  And then your brain fries.

Frankly, you don’t have that much mental focus and willpower.  The prefrontal cortex of your brain can’t handle that much, it saps too much energy, which leaves you with no willpower. Instead, make a list of systems you need to add.  And unless they are really small, add them one at a time.  Small ones might only take 1-2 weeks to install.  Big ones might take 3 or 4 months.

In the end, though, you’ll find greater productivity, less stress and a better sense of control over the areas you succeed in “systematizing.”  If that’s a word.

Exit Question: What systems are working for you right now?  What is one you really need to install?  Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on my Facebook.