A great journalling model: Morning Pages

Private journalling is more important to me than blogging and social media combined. Here is a great model:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Morning Pages

See also: This column will change your life: Morning Pages

Smartphones – the negatives

Here is what I see as unhelpful about smartphones (some of these points overlap):

  • They can cause you to be enslaved to every latest message/txt/facebook/tweet whatever.
  • They are addictive and hard to not glace at. Will your kids remember you as an absent  father playing with your phone all the time?
  • Your kids want to play on them all the time and suddenly you are no longer training children in patience and they are unable to ever sit still in worship or sit still anywhere. An awful curse of induced attention deficit disorder.
  • They give a false sense of control because you read messages quickly. However you can easily simply read messages then forget about processing them properly (according to a GTD style setup) or ever actioning them. They can make the non-urgent-and-non-important as significant as the urgent-and-important (and they do nothing to help with the non-urgent-and-important).
  • They distract you from reading real paper books and the Bible
  • They deceive you into thinking that an bible reading app or something else is going to help your spiritual disciplines – when all it is doing is making it easier to look at facebook.
  • They tempt you by making it easy to voyeur more into social media and what other people are saying about you.
  • It is very hard to install ad blocking and porn blocking software, and this creates a temptation. I cannot get opendns to work over the telstra mobile data network.
  • They make it easy to flood quick interactions with people when what is needed is a real phone call or a discussion over coffee.
  • The games and apps are a world of infinite distractions.
  • They make it hard for your brain to enjoy rest and meditation away from a screen of any sort.
  • They easily become a status symbol or an idol.
  • A minor quibble: They “app ecosystem” is not conducive to free software. Even though without linux and the rest of open source there wouldn’t be an Internet or Android phone. There are huge privacy problems and DRM dangers with such capable devices.


Smartphones – the positives

Here is what is good about smartphones (remember I’ve got Android in mind here):

  • they have beautiful typography (on anything with pixel density greater than 300 pixels per inch)
  • they make it easy to process emails that require a quick response
  • they make it easy to send short text messages
  • they make it easy to process emails that simply need to be read and archived. This helps significantly in keeping inboxes to zero – you can keep up with prayer letters while standing in a queue etc.
  • Google Maps is amazing and the navigation is very useful. Up to date, takes traffic congestion into account, accurate time estimates, all good. Google maps is great for holidays also.
  • Google Contacts (part of Gmail) is amazing, once you have gathered all the right data into it. Makes it very easy to get directions between someone’s house and a hospital for example. Great for a pastor doing alot of visiting.
  • They make it pleasant to make calls. I’m putting numbers for everyone I ever see into my Gmail contacts. As a pastor it makes it easier to use the phone quickly and effectively (especially combined with in-car bluetooth – see below).
  • The Android Gmail client is very nice. Works well for me because I use gmail and labels for my todo lists.
  • (Google calendar on the desktop and Android seems pretty awful – I’m still on an A4 week to a page paper diary.)
  • The instant messaging apps are a great alternative to SMS. I’m often using Android google chat to my wife on her gmail desktop (she is not a mobile phone user at all!).
  • Mobile data speeds are fantastic these days – I get 5-10Mbits on Telstra in Melbourne in most places.
  • Tethering via usb or wifi to my netbook helps to redeem time very well when stuck somewhere
  • They replace ipods and mp3 players – they make it really easy to listen to sermons and music.
  • Bluetooth is wonderful if you have it in your car – jump in, keep listening to the sermon, phone rings – sermon fades out – take the call – sermon fades in etc. Get bluetooth in your actual car stereo, don’t just buy a bluetooth unit as an add-on.
  • Battery life is no issue because you can get micro-usb (for Android) dongles in everyplace you are – home, car, work.
  • Smartphone camera and video are pretty good and the convenience is outstanding. Especially combined with dropbox auto upload.
  • Dropbox is a killer app – I can see all my files, all my photos any time from my phone – incredible.

Tomorrow I will post what is wrong with smartphones.

I’ve changed my mind on smartphones

For many years I’ve been a cynic about whether smartphones actually aid productivity. I was proud of my cheapie “phone only” phones. I lugged a little netbook everywhere.

However I’ve repented. I’ve been using using the latest and greatest Galaxy Nexus with Android ICS 4.0. Feels good to be on the top of the gadget hierarchy for five minutes.

My previous criticisms about smartphones have not gone away. They are over-hyped and they give a false sense of security and productivity. However I think if used very carefully they can give a modest productivity boost.

2010 Tech Tools I Can’t Live Without

Here is a dump of my most used tech or productivity tools in the last 12 months:


Google Docs

Ubuntu Linux


Google Chrome


Book Depository


Google Reader




Moleskine Plain Black Cahier Notebook

Fisher Space Pen – Trekker


Brother P-Touch Labeller

Bible Gateway (NIV 1984 online)

Biblical Productivity Series PDF

Good productivity wisdom for pastors.

Spanning more than four months on the blog, C.J.’s 17-part series on biblical productivity has finally concluded. Via email and in personal conversations many of you have requested that the series be provided as a single document to make it easier to print and read. And today we are making this entire series available as a single 36-page document.

via Biblical Productivity Series PDF.

Doing What’s In Front of You

From reports of the state funeral for Nancy Bird-Walton, I was fascinated by this quote of hers repeated by Archbishop Jensen:

‘You’ll never reach your greatest potential if you walk past the dish-washer without emptying it or leave your costume on the bathroom floor.’


Googling the term I found the quote with more context:

What do you think is the thing that you learned in your early life that stood you in best stead throughout the rest of it?

Enthusiasm, self-discipline … Let me think. Stop for a minute. Being prepared to do anything – not saying, ‘It’s not my job’. Being prepared to use your hands or your head and do something that has to be done. Getting in and doing something. Not walking past the job and saying, ‘Well that’s not for me’. I know I laugh at myself because once, when speaking to a school, the headmistress spoke about how they would all reach their greatest potential and so on, and when I finished my speech I said, ‘You’ll never reach your greatest potential if you walk past the dishwasher without emptying it or leave your costume on the bathroom floor‘. [Laughs] And that I think it’s as simple as that you know. People just drop their clothes and expect somebody else to pick them up and that happens in a family all the time. It’s I think that …

Doing what’s in front of you.

Doing what’s in front of you. That’s what it is. Doing what’s in front of you.

Nancy Bird – Walton – Interview Transcript tape 4

I think this is a good description of a core value that feeds personal productivity. Not leaving jobs undone. Taking responsibility. Doing what’s in front of you. That is why GTD creates a trusted system, of lots of smart lists, so that you basically have the right things ‘in front of you’.

Once you have the trusted system, you still need self-discipline and hard work, but effectiveness is found in simply doing what is in front of you.

Email Stress

Nielsen is the usability guru. The lesson is you must master your inbox or it gets hard to do any work at your pc without being worried if there is something critical in your email that you have forgotten about. It is a common reality of our current environment that we are all overwhelmed by inputs and demands.

Take control. Inbox zero today.

Website usability exists in a favorable environment, as users increasingly understand the predominant design conventions and continue to get better connectivity and larger screens. In contrast, email lives in an ever-more hostile environment — that is, in an ever-more crowded inbox. Users in our research were overwhelmed by their inboxes and increasingly felt pressured by unsolicited or fraudulent email.

Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).

GTD Metrics

In GTD one of the key metrics is not volume but age.

Imagine you had to choose one of the following two situations:

  1. Todo lists with hundreds of clearly defined actions and items, most of them less than 6 months old.
  2. Todo lists with dozens of ill defined actions, many of them over a year old

I would much prefer option 1.

The GTD outlook is to see task management as a martial art. There are lots of free flowing, quickly dating actions and items that you punch and kick through quickly and regularly.

The health of the system is not whether you have reduced todo lists to a small size, but that your lists are fresh and not stagnating.

So GTD is much more than “doing lists”. It is having a short/medium term memory that exists outside of your head. When the memory is ‘trusted’, you are free to focus on doing things creatively and energetically.

If your lists are full of items you are avoiding, it may be because they do not contain fresh “next actions” but stale reminders of projects that you aren’t yet clear on what the next action is.

Clearing Your Head

One of the principles of GTD is clearing your head of all naggy cruft.

Any annoying reminders, unfinished commitments or jobs, can all create “drag” on your creativity and clear thinking.

I’ve renewed my GTD effort in 2009. I’ve enjoyed regular weekly reviews, sweeping my mind of concerns that aren’t represented in my action or project lists, and putting them into the system. Everything  I need to remember, big or small, goes into the system.

It is a good feeling to have a clear head. I do feel a little overwhelmed by everything on my lists, and it is a busy and stressful time of year. I may not get everything done that I’m committed to. GTD can’t fix that, though permeating the process with prayer helps. It is a great feeling not having the stress of “is there something I’ve forgotten?” That kind of stress creates an unseen but large drag on personal effectiveness.

One fun little side effect of clearing my head this year was that I became more aware of an 80’s hip hop song that has been spinning around in my head for 20 years. I had it on a mix tape that I played a million times as a teenager. Growing up in the country near Ballarat, the only access to this kind of music was getting reception to a Melbourne alternative radio station (RRR) at the exact right time of week. This song was from my ‘gold’ mix tape.

For 20 years I had been thinking I should figure out what that song was but I’ve always had too much other cruft in my head to bother doing anything. This week with a bit of help from Google and the Wikipedia reference desk I discovered the song is called “Bad Young Brother” by the British artist “Derek B”. I won’t link to the embarrassing Youtube video clip.

How much of your brain capacity is clogged with naggy reminders or unresolved commitments?

I don’t like Google Calendar

I love Gmail. It is clearly the best email client bar none.

But Google Calendar is awful. Cumbersome. Slow. The event edit page is slow and ugly. I currently put reminders in it to be emailed to myself – it is a way of keeping my action lists from being drowned.

What Gmail really needs is an incubate feature. “Incubate this email for the next 1/7/n days” (ie: archive it for that time, then put it back in my inbox)

I could use a third party calendar site or some other todo list like service. I’m sure there are some great services out there, I’ve tried a few. But they rarely have streamlined user interfaces. When I am juggling lists and tasks, all these “workflow processing” type of actions need to be very very quick – two or three clicks away. Four clicks and it won’t happen. Ideally it happens from the keyboard with zero mouse interaction.

Thats why I hope it can all be done within gmail one day.

Book Review: David Allen, “Making It All Work”


Fortunately, as planned, my copy of MIAW arrived during my Jan holiday, allowing me to spend some quality time reflecting on my own leadership, control and perspective. This book is David Allen‘s long awaited follow up to “Getting Things Done“. (I’ve also read his smaller release “Ready for Anything”).

This book is really GTD without the nuts and bolts specifics, but goes into much more depth as to why GTD works, and why you need to work on the “horizons of focus” to gain perspective. Many GTD organised people, such as myself, love the system for the control it gives, but haven’t yet moved into the higher horizons of focus part of the model.

GTD is huge because it gives people control over their stuff, their inboxes, their commitments. For example, for 2 years now I’ve regularly had my email inbox at zero, and physical inboxes not far behind. All my committments go into a trusted system, I never leave stuff in my head. This feels great and works for me. But Allen argues that you need to take the next step and make sure you work on your areas of responsibility, 2-3 year goals, 5 year goals, and life vision and purpose.

It is a great refresher to the GTD principles, going into more depth as to why they work. If you are more a idealistic person, then you might like to read MIAW before the GTD book.

I’ve read somewhat widely in the area of personal organisation, of which for many years Stephen Covey has been king.  But something I loved in MIAW were David’s very humble observations as to why the traditional “top down” time organisation does not work. You simply cannot do a Covey top down, set life goals and roles (“big rocks”) and work to them weekly – if your inbox and diary and personal commitments are in chaos. The runway needs to be cleared. Allen does not gloat about this, but in my mind it is a huge breakthrough in this “science of productivity”. The (organisational) king is dead, long live the king.

As a Christian, I’ve always been a bit suspicious about the whole business vision/mission jargon religion, especially when it’s been imported into church life. But Allen has won me over, to an extent, that pastors and churches should not only be organised an in control of all their commitments, paper, inboxes, and so forth – they should also be constantly pushing their perspective to think ahead as to what God could and might be doing.

Prayer itself is a great perspective maker. As we pray we allow ourselves to implore God to do great things through our service of him, both now and in the future. And as we pray and read the Scriptures, God impresses on our hearts his sovereign power to do more than we can ask or imagine. And we are humbled as sinful people, that we need our Saviour’s blood to atone for our failures and omissions, as well as empower new service – John 15:4.

David Allen is not really pushing a worldview, as much as best practices. They are technologies he has built up through years of 1-1 helping executives get organised. They could be used by Nazi’s as well as CEO’s. I know some very organised Christian leaders who do GTD-type workflow management without ever having read the book, they don’t need it. Other Christian leaders are naturally driven, and therefore productive. But if you are naturally disorganised and lazy, like me, then it is well worth plundering this wisdom.


A Christian email suggests BUSY = “Being under Satan’s Yoke”

I know what they mean!

What is a Christian ethical response to Western busyness?

Is it slowing down the pace of life?

Or overloading with more Christian activities to cover the turf?

If you do the former you risk simply getting controlled by the tyranny of the urgent and demanding.

If you do the latter you haven’t really changed the paradigm.

Which way to go?