How I use a practical journal to define big rocks and focus

Several people have mentioned their need to find ways of being effective given their season of life and the time pinches they face. In this post, I’m going to describe in greater detail how I use a simple print journal to focus myself each day, in the context of the week and month.
I discovered the Bullet Journal format back in 2014, and I’ve been using it religiously since. Here’s how I go about it.
I have long used Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” analogy for how I handle my day. If you’ve not heard the Big Rocks analogy, see this brief article (like, half a page). Basically, “big rocks” are the key priorities of the day. If you do the “little things” first (sand), you’ll have no room to fit the “big rocks” of the day into the day.
First, at the start of the year, I have a single page in the journal which lists each month. This is a top-level macro view of the calendar. The biggest rocks of the month are noted here. Here’s what my page looks like.
For each month, I have a “3-page spread.” The first page is a daily calendar with the big rocks for the day. Page 2 are the priorities for the month – the big projects I am thinking about, working on, or think I should be working on. Page 3 is a “stock menu” – this is personal, for our family; basically I’ve found that by tracking some of the meals we like, it gives us ideas for the next month when we start building a menu and shopping for groceries (and then I don’t have the “what should we have on the menu this week” blank-paper-freeze). Page 4 is the beginning of the daily journal.
These 3 pages look like the following:
page 1
page 2
page 3
With these pages anchoring the month (and updated during the month), I then have a small daily entry following the Bullet Journal format. I often get a week of entries on 2 pages.
daily entry
Saturdays usually take a slightly different format: just an itemized list of things we might like to do. When Saturday is coming up, I look back at the LAST Saturday, and bring the list “forward.” During the week I might be taking note of things the family’s mentioned and add them to the next Saturday list. Then, when Saturday comes, and someone says, “What should we do”–I’ve got a list of possibilities (some chores, some fun).
Also, in the journal, I often take notes directly from things happening or research I’m doing. For example:
notes page
Some people have asked me why I do this over some kind of tech solution (like phone, or computer). I think the biggest parameter is: what will you use? This little journal goes with me just about everywhere (my kids have taken to calling it “Dad’s Brain”), and everyone knows if it’s written in the journal it’ll get done (eventually). It’s easy to scratch a note on a page, and you never have to worry about what key presses, key strokes, software crashes, or batteries running out will prevent you from writing down what you need.
Part of the value of journaling is to help me remember no day happens in isolation. There is a thread that runs through the days, and the journal lets me track it. It also lets me reflect back and see what I have gotten done (successes), what I have not gotten done repeatedly (is it really valuable?), and how much I can get done in a day. It reminds me that there’s only so much time. It needs to be used wisely and effectively.
My system might work for you. It might not. The important thing is to use a system, as an orientation device, a map, a discipline, a target – rather than to drift aimlessly, which is a sure way to get nowhere at all.

Fluid dynamics; or, water as a symbol of the spirit and the church

Water is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor for religious things.
In water systems, there are many elements:

  • standing water: pools, ponds, lakes
  • moving water: streams, rivers
  • water that moves in vast quantities from one region to another: waterfalls
  • water transferred by other systems and powers: rain
  • enormous bodies of water, whole other eco systems: oceans

There are many metaphors that can be found here:

  • churches as pools, ponds, and lakes. Standing bodies of water are incredibly important to the surrounding eco-systems: they are reserves of life-giving water, they house fish, they feed nearby plants, they bring water into the earth underneath (underground streams), etc. Lakes can also become stagnant swamps (which are important ecosystems on their own, I grant you, but not very nice to look at, live in, or smell). To avoid becoming stagnant, they need movement: feeding into streams, and having streams feeding into them (also, wind). Lakes in drought will evaporate; they need streams feeding in and rain to refill.
  • moving water (streams, rivers) are an important symbol in prophecy: ‘streams in the desert’ is the most common one. Moving water comes into new places, and fills up new lakes. This is a tremendous metaphor, obviously, for the missionary task of the church, and also our interconnectedness.
  • vast moving water (waterfalls): one of the symbols we use in cascading church planting movements is the massively reproducing movement that scales up until it fills the whole of an area, and then spills over into surrounding areas. Waterfalls are powerful images of this “filling up, spilling over” idea. They move water from one place where it is vastly impactful, into another (possibly entirely different) nearby system.
  • water transferred (rain): one of the greatest forces for water transfer is of course rain, and this is often the image of the spirit: it picks up water from one place and puts it in another. (Yes, that’s a simplification–we’re going for imagery here, not scientific precision). No local lake can do anything about rain, but it’s vital to the whole process. The biggest form of rain is a hurricane that forms over an ocean and then dumps enormous amounts of water inland.
  • enormous bodies of water (oceans): oceans are often an analogy of heaven, especially in quasi-Buddhist thinking. While not going for the whole Nirvana thing, think about the qualitative difference between an ocean and a desert. You can tell a desert that the hurricane bringing life-giving water comes from the ocean, but the desert creatures likely won’t understand what an ‘ocean’ is. The ocean – Heaven – is near to us, and impacting us daily – a huge factor in our environment – but for many of us, the ocean is very far away and hardly understood. Even those living in port cities right on the edge of the ocean often benefit from it, but don’t understand it.

Here’s a thought: how are churches ‘on the edge of heaven’ like cities on the edge of oceans–and how are they connected to far-inland deserts? What does it take to etch a new stream, a new river, a new path for water? What’s the role of dams, and trucking water inland, and pipes – and how are these metaphors for the work of missions, of the church, of the spirit? What does it take for our church not to be a stagnant pool, and what is the role of feeding into streams that migrate to distant lands?

Stop trying to persuade everyone to be a missionary

Not everyone is a missionary.
Ephesians 4 identifies roles in the church. My thoughts on roles:

  • Pastors maintain existing bodies of believers. Demographic growth is incredibly important: when Christian exceeds 60% of the population, most growth will be demographic (believers who marry believers and raise believing children). When demographic growth rates are significantly under those of the population around them (e.g. marriage rate falls, divorce rate spikes, reproductive rate falls, religious defection right rises) the church will shrink as a % of the population.
  • Evangelists seek growth through conversion of culturally similar non-Christians around the church community. Demographic growth + Conversion growth will nearly always exceed the growth rate of the country’s population and increase the church’s influence. But evangelists are not the same as pastors, since they are looking for a different kind of growth. Evangelists and pastors most often are (and I would argue should be) of the same culture as those being engaged by the church.
  • Missionaries (apostolic gifting) seek growth across a cultural boundary not commonly crossed by the pastor or the evangelist. This could be linguistic, cultural, caste, etc. Apostolic types are typically not like the church they may be found in, since they are predisposed to look outward to others. For apostles to be most effective while supported by the church, a local pastor will have to ‘make space’ for them, supporting and encouraging them.

We say “every member a missionary” but we don’t actually mean it. What we really mean:

  • “every member a witness” (ready to give testimony to what God has done in your life)
  • “every member an evangelist” (ready to share the Good News of salvation)
  • “every member a disciple maker” (who works deeply with people to help them grow in their obedience to Jesus).

But “missionary” means (a) sent (b) across a boundary to where the Gospel is not (c) to see a church planted (not just converts made) that (d) can reach everyone in that place without the missionary being present (through the work of witnesses, evangelists, pastors, etc).
A person gifted as a pastor or an evangelist or a missionary should not be persuaded, pressured or demanded to be something they are not.
We need every part of the Body, each to be involved in the work of the Kingdom, doing the thing we are made to do. If indeed we were all missionaries – who would pastor?

Quotes, 1

1. “Beautiful obsession is the predecessor of greatness.” and “The obsessed survive and thrive.” Leadership Freak.
2. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Scott Adams.
3. “When I give food to the poor, I am called a saint. But, when I question why the poor have no food, I am called a communist.” Quoted by Sony Kapoor.
4. “The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring info and skills.” John Maeda, accompanied by great list. “You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.”
5. “He that will not serve the Lord in the Sunday school at home, will not win children to Christ in China.” Charles Spurgeon. Because there’s nothing magical about airplane seatbelts.
6. “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” Edmund Burke.
7. “It’s not your dreams that determine your future, but your habits.” Dr. Calvin Chong.
8. “It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot.
9. “A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers.” Rich Mullins.
10. “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.” Larry Ellison.

Platform, Proclamation, Planting are not the same thing

Don’t confuse platform, proclamation and planting.
Everyone has a platform, by which they interact with the people around them.
Everyone is responsible to proclaim: to be a witness for what they have seen, to announce good news, to make disciples.
Everyone can be involved in some kind of planting: to help create the processes by which the Gospel is sustained over time.
These are three separate things, which are inextricably linked but are not identical.

Futures Perceived, 1

1. These 7 cities will be among the richest by 2025. CNN: Doha, Bergen, Trondheim, Asan, Rhine Rhur, Macau. Thus attracting diaspora, migrants, political power.
2. Asia’s fastest GDP growing cities, mostly in India, to 2019.
3. Ray Kurzweil’s predictions for the next 25 years. SingularityHub.
4. Protestant groups attracting believers across the North Caucasus. WindowOnEurasia: unconfirmed.
5. Ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia giving Taxi Apps a boost. WSJ: women are main customers for Uber, others.
6. Robots seem to be improving productivity, not costing jobs. HBR.
7. Why the Saudis are going solar. Atlantic.
8. Researchers in Israel have developed a palm size device that can wirelessly steal data from a nearby laptop based on radio waves leaked by its processor’s power use.
9. Is the world running out of food? Economist explains. By 2050, number of ‘food insecure’ people will rise by a third.
10. A chip that mimics human organs is the design of the year. Wired. Will enable better testing, decrease time and cost.

Current trends may not continue

One of the key phrases in any scenario is, “it’s possible,” or “it’s likely,” or “if current trends continue.”
Many scenarios of the future presently being bandied about project the decline of Christianity. They say, “if current trends continue, _x_ will happen by 2050.”
Remember that 2050 is 35 years off. That’s a generation and more. It’s plenty of time to make a difference. It’s plenty of time to make sure current trends don’t continue.
The future is not inevitable. It is chosen, and even the smallest person can make a difference.

Life among the Unreached: Nuba Mountains, Ladakh

1. A rain of bombs in the Nuba mountains. NYT. Beja, others.
2. Ladakh, atop the world. Roads & Kingdoms. Awesome photography.
3. Refugee: the story of one Afghan returnee’s struggle back home. Al Jazeera.

How I collect data and build community on social media

Dear Justin,
How do you get all the great links and items that you post on social media? Are your lists open, where I can see who you follow?
This was asked via Facebook, and I answered directly, then thought I’d post my social media strategy. It’s an evolving thing, and what I do a year from now may vary. For me, the key to social media has been to constantly test different approaches, as the media changes over time based on participation.
For data aggregation, I primarily use Twitter, so that’s what this post will be about. I use Facebook more for connecting with friends and patrons, and sharing news than for collecting it.
Social media can be a huge time sink. Used correctly, however, it can be a great tool for finding information, and for serendipitous discovery of things you didn’t know about.
I have several public lists on Twitter through which I aggregate news sources. For example, news-top5 are the news sources I use the most frequently. My news-intl list are the most highly rated or respected international news outlets in each country (this gives me a diversity of opinion). My news-breaking list is all of the major “breaking news” outlets (CNN, AP, Reuters, etc–each usually has its “Breaking News” specialist feed). My “agencies” list is all the mission agencies on Twitter. Anyone can subscribe to my public lists.
In addition, I have some private curated lists of people who are specialists in a particular area (“who-future”, “who-startup”, etc). I’ve built these by watching my main timeline and adding people to these lists who generally post about these topics, and removing them if they get too off-topic too frequently.
However, the key part of my social media strategy are my “a-” lists. These are private, but you can build your own using the exact same strategy I use.
“a-reshare” is a list of everyone on Twitter who regularly reshares the content I share – people who favorite, RT, Quote, etc. Resharing is a pretty strong signal they have common interests with me. (I don’t add accounts that are obviously spammers, who reshare “everything.”) Someone who reshares me also typically reshares others; and most of what they reshare from others is interesting to me. So, by following them, I discover content that I will be interested in as well, and I reshare it. You might call this a “reshare-fest” or more snidely an echo chamber, but in reality not everyone who follows me also follows these folks. Resharing amplifies content, builds community and spreads wisdom. You can build a similar list by watching Twitter Notifications for people who reshare your content, right click their names, and click to add them to your own internal list.
“A-patrons” is a list of everyone on Twitter who is a Patron of our work; this is another strong signal of shared interests. Not eveyone who gives to us is on Twitter, but those who are go on this list. I just cross-reference my donors with Twitter.
“A-charts” is my list of people I’ve discovered who share graphical charts. I’m always keen on charts of data. This is a pretty small list. When I see someone I follow consistently sharing charts, I add them to this list.
“A-longreads” is a list of people who regularly share longer analytical posts. I prefer “longreads” (e.g. articles of several thousand words that are deep dives on a subject); I don’t read them all, obviously, but with news items I’m far more likely to simply skim content.
“A-photos” is a list of people who regularly share photographs, especially of areas where the unreached are typically found. (This may be news photography feeds, or people who specialize in photos).
“A-convos” is my list of people who annotate, reply to, or talk with me on Twitter. This is an even stronger signal than resharing content, but people who are on a-reshare are also likely on a-convos. Again, this is a simple matter of watching notifications, replying to people, and then adding them to the list.
The point of these lists is to segment out “pools” of data that I can “fish in.” My “a-reshare” and “a-convos” lists are my two most frequently watched feeds, because these are kind of my “tribe” of people. They are far smaller: I follow 1,640 in my timeline, but just 85 in my reshare list. I can “dip my toe” into the firehose that is Twitter, while spending a far smaller amount of time with my tribe (because they don’t post as often). This allows me to manage my time and focus on people who are most passionate about the things I am passionate about. By creating these lists, you can follow a lot of people in your normal timeline (and analyze that with tools like Nuzzel or Flipboard) while still having a smaller list of people that you interact with.
How some other people do it
How Dave Verwer curates for iOS Dev Weekly
Robert Scoble’s excellent tips for using Facebook

To reach all, find one person

One of the things that showed up in our survey was: how can we be more effective, given our season of life, or given the time crunch we face, etc?
I’ve been facing this question a lot over the last few years. Recently, an HBR article on the Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs helped crystallize some of these things for me. One of the lessons was about Focus.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” [Jobs said]. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

I want to see places reached. However, I can be paralyzed thinking about the millions upon millions of people in a place. Reaching large numbers as an audience requires a large structure. I can’t do that (I have neither great administrative nor people skills, as many will tell you). So I don’t think about it.
Stop thinking about building an organization, or a large structure, or a church, or an empire.
Instead, I invert the equation.
I stop thinking about the individuals who need to be reached and start thinking about the people who will reach them.
Divide a large population into a few smaller pies and ask, how do we find the person who is passionate about that part of the job? What is the smallest ‘group’ required to start? Who can I find? Who has a passion to see the place reached? How do I find them? How do I serve them?
Thus, a simple plan has evolved and is often in the back of my head. It’s not perfect; it’s more of a “back of the envelope” sort of thing:
Take a place and its population. Perhaps get out a map of it.
FIRST, FIND ONE PERSON: who will say with John Knox, “Give me this place or I die.” This person is the one who champions the place and its people.
Such a champion must be:
1. Visionary: able to see the place, perceive it, desire it, plan for it
2. Community-builder: able to gather other people and motivate them toward the work
3. Doer: will be able to actually “do the work”
4. Learner: able to take risks, experiment, try, learn from failed experiments, persist
Such a champion must NOT be:
5. NOT AN EMPIRE BUILDER (“they must all join my org”)
6. NOT AN AUDIENCE BUILDER (most places, we can go down 3 levels of champions before we ever get to local pastors and evangelists)
7. NOT A RANK BUILDER (“they must all follow me”)
8. NOT A MONEY BUILDER (“we must have all the money to run our programs”–most Champions only deal with a handful of other champions, and don’t need a lot of $)
SECOND, having found that person, serve that person. Encourage them. Equip them. Help them. Get them to segment the place up, and in turn FIND ONE PERSON (a Champion) for each of the individual segments, who also say “Give me this _province/city/whatever_ lest I die.”
Champions must likewise be heart-motivated as servants not executives.
(Though at certain structural sizes they may need executive skills. This is not the same thing.)
Wash, rinse, repeat until you get down to manageable population sizes.
At some level far enough down, the Champion-finding process gives way to looking for local evangelists, pastors who can reach the lost, plant churches, launch new champions. This means the champion must also be able to work “cross-culturally” without “looking down on” non-champions.
90% of the work that will need to be done will not be done by champions or missionaries, but by evangelists and pastors who never go cross-cultural.
If you’re a champion-type, I’d love to hear from you.

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