Deep Work – Using Free Time Wisely

I just finished reading about Rule #3 in Deep Work by Cal Newport. Rule #3 is Quit Social Media. I won’t go into all of the reasons he mentions or some of his suggestions as to how. You can get a good idea from his TED talk  (or read his explanation in the book).

Instead, I want to focus on the last section of the chapter because I found it very motivating. His subheading is Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself and in this section, he refers often to Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.

We tend to think that distracted free time and wasting time after work is a recent phenomenon. Apparently it was also a problem in the early 20th century when Bennett wrote his book. I read Bennett’s book about ten years ago and found it very helpful and practical. Newport refers to it often and, in particular, focuses on two main points that Bennett made.

The first is Put more thought into your leisure time. Newport says,

It’s crucial, therefore, that you figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin. Structured hobbies provide good fodder for these hours, as they generate specific goals to fill your time. A set program of reading, a la Bennett, where you spend regular time each night making progress on a series of deliberately chosen books, is also a good option, as is, of course, exercise or the enjoyment of good (in-person) company. p. 213

He goes on to say that he spends his evenings reading, with his computer and phone tucked away.

The second point he pulls out from Bennett reminded me of Charlotte Mason, who suggested switching subjects often for children since changing to a fresh type of work helps our minds not become too fatigued. Bennett wrote,

One of the chief things which my typical man [or woman] has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want to change—not rest, except in sleep.

Newport goes on to confirm this,

If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing. p. 214

This section resonated with me. There are so many times that I am annoyed with myself for wasting time over too much time surfing the Web, but I am rarely dissatisfied with time spent reading a good book or writing or knitting or walking around the block. I am finding that I must actually plan for those things or it’s all too easy to waste time doing nothing. If I write down the things I want to accomplish, work or recreation, on my daily “to do” list, I am much more likely to do them than if I just float through my day. That may not be true for you, but try planning your free time this week. Or pick up Arnold Bennett’s book and see if he inspires you to give some structure to your recreation. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

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What is your focus today?

Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on.  And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies.  Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning?  Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?  Does this test not give the clue?  Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way.  Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter

Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.

How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.

A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter.  The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.

*To read the entire pamphlet, Focussed, go here.

Affirming my choice in thousands of ways

Daffodils April 3 2014

To be “saved” requires a severance from the former life as clean and sharp as though made by a knife. There must be a wall of separation between the old life and the new, a radical break. That means death—death to the old life, in order for the new to begin. “We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be the slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin” (Romans 6:6-7 NEB).

This wall of separation, this barrier, is the cross.

From earliest memory I understood that everybody ought to love Jesus. Then I began to hear that everybody ought to “receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior.” To the best of my understanding that is what I wanted to do, so I did it—I asked Him to come into my heart, as I was instructed to do. It was a once-for-all decision, and I believe He accepted the invitation and came in. So far so good. I was told that I was now “saved,” saved by grace. That was a gift, a free gift, from God. Amazing. Simply amazing that the Lord of the Universe, the One who is “the ruler over all authorities and the supreme head over all powers” (Colossians 2:10, JBP), “the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the One who lives in unapproachable light, the One whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16, JBP)—amazing that the same One bends His ear to the prayer of a child or of a sinner of any age and, if asked, comes in and makes His home with us. For His name is Immanuel, God with us.

How shall He be at home with us unless our lives are in harmony with His holy life? Unless He lives His very life in us and we live our lives “in company with Him’? Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.

So my decision to receive Him, although made only once, I must affirm in thousands of ways, through thousands of choices, for the rest of my life—my will or His, my life (the old one) or His (the new one). It is no to myself and yes to Him. This continual affirmation is usually made in small things, inconveniences, unselfish giving up of preferences, yielding gracefully to the wishes of others without playing the martyr, learning to close doors quietly and turn the volume down on the music we’d love to play loudly—sufferings they may be, but only small-sized ones. We may think of them as little “deaths.” –pp. 26-27 A Path through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

I am re-reading A Path through Suffering for the fourth or fifth time and was struck by this passage in light of our sermon yesterday about Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  Our pastor pointed out that the reality of many of us is that we often follow Jesus at a distance just as Peter followed Jesus and His accusers at a distance in Matthew 26:35 before denying that he knew Him.

It seems to me that the only way to be close to Jesus, to walk beside Him rather than follow at a distance is found in this passage from Elisabeth Elliot’s book.  The turning away from my own selfishness and fear and preferences and the turning towards Christ in humility and trust and desire for righteousness.

The God who sees

Amaryllis

When we are in difficult circumstances, we tend to cry out that the Lord doesn’t see or He is too busy to help us or He just doesn’t care what is going on in our lives.  Do not believe these lies that Satan loves to whisper in our minds.  Our Lord is sovereign and He is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).  He loves us more than we can ever know and His plans for us are good all of the time.  Just because we cannot see His salvation and restoration right now does not mean that He is powerless or is sitting idly by, watching us suffer.

Think about the story of the Exodus.  The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years.  If they thought of God at all, they must have questioned whether or not He cared about them.  They suffered, they worked hard, and then the Pharaoh even tried to kill their babies!  Where was God in all of this?  Despite the outward circumstances, God had a plan. First, He allowed Moses to be born and saved from the murderous Pharaoh.  Then, after Moses was a grown man, God spoke to him from a burning bush, and He said,

“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.  So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.  Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 

Despite what the Israelites thought, God did care.  He did hear their cries.  He had a plan to rescue them, which is what He did, bringing them out of Egypt in a miraculous way.

Or what about the time the people of Israel had been exiled to Babylon.  For 70 years, they wondered about God’s promises to them to establish His kingdom through the line of David forever.  What had happened?  Did God forget His promise?  Had He abandoned them?  No, after a time, He brought them back into their land and finally, He fulfilled His promises when Jesus, the Son of David, the Messiah was born in Bethlehem and with His coming, God’s promises to establish an everlasting king of Israel were fulfilled.

God has a plan for you as well.  He sees your suffering, your losses, your difficulties.  He hears your cries.  Just as He led the Israelites out of Egypt with gold and herds and many precious things, which had belonged to the Egyptians.  Just as He brought them back into Israel after the Babylonian exile. Just as He fulfilled all of His promises in Christ, who is our wisdom, our sanctification, our righteousness, and our redemption.  So He has a plan to save you, to draw you to Himself, to restore you.  Trust Him. He will restore the years that the locusts have eaten, as the prophet Joel wrote thousands of years ago and we shall “eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord our God”. (Exodus 3:7-10)

A wrench in the works

Have you ever had one of those days where you planned each hour and prepped for all of the activities, and then, in the space of ten minutes, the whole thing unraveled before your eyes which left you with a very different day than the one for which you prepared?  That is today for us.  Our new school term was supposed to start today but sickness and cancelled appointments have intervened so instead we have thermometers and ibuprofen and lots of fluids being brought to the sickbed.

In the past, I would rail against that kind of “wrench in the works” and try to make the child do school anyway or freak out over what wasn’t getting done.  However, the Lord was kind to me this morning and gave me the grace to stop, regroup, and cheerfully accept what I couldn’t change anyway.

I have been reading Secure in the Everlasting Arms by Elisabeth Elliot and this is what I read this morning:

“Almighty God, we bless and praise Thee that we have wakened to the light of another earthly day; and now we will think of what a day should be. Our days are Thine, let them be spent for Thee. Our days are few, let them be spent with care. There are dark days behind us, forgive their sinfulness; there may be dark days before us, strengthen us for their trials. We pray Thee to shine on this day—the day which we may call our own. Lord, we go to our daily work; help us to take pleasure therein. Show us clearly what our duty is; help us to be faithful doing it. Let all we do be well done, fit for Thine eye to see. Give us strength to do, patience to bear; let our courage never fail. When we cannot love our work, let us think of it as Thy task; and by our true love to Thee, make unlovely things shine in the light of Thy great love. Amen.”

—George Dawson, 1821-1876

What a comfort and encouragement for this unexpected day.  I hope it encourages you as well.

Lessons from a Domestic Disaster

Smashed china

This week, as I was packing up our china cabinet for an upcoming move, the cabinet detached from the wall and everything still in it fell out on the floor.  As you can see from the photo, there was a lot of china and glass smashed into little bits.  There is nothing quite as shocking as watching shelves full of breakable things fall in front of your eyes while you stand by, helplessly watching the destruction.

There were some things saved in the fall.  One was a set of four glasses that we received as a wedding present.  They were made of thick glass and although they were on the top shelf of the cabinet, they merely bounced and rolled when they hit the pile of debris.  What a great wedding present–something we can use for the duration of our marriage as these glasses are obviously going to endure!  They remind me of people who are able to stand without falling  through the trials of life.  They seem to be naturally strong and resilient like these glasses.

The other thing that did not break was my English teapot.  My parents bought it for me many years ago in England and I think of my mother, who is now with the Lord, every time I use it.  Amazed, I picked up the teapot and its lid, which had fallen in different spots on the mound of shards and inspected them.  There wasn’t a crack or even a chip in either of them.   How could this teapot have survived when the rest of my teapot collection had smashed to smithereens?!  How do  frail, weak people who we think will fall and be destroyed in difficult circumstances, stand strong and prevail?  The only possible explanation is that they, like my teapot,  are protected, saved by the hand of our Heavenly Father.   They are like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress who was saved from the City of Destruction.  They aren’t strong in themselves but the Lord is their Helper and Shield in the raging tide of life.

Another lesson I learned from this event was that it is necessary to separate the things I really need and love from the jumble of things that I own.  Every time I attempt to weed through my things, whether they are china and crystal or clothing or books, I struggle with knowing what to keep and what to give away.  So often I keep far too much.  This domestic disaster helped me to see that the Lord can sift through my material possessions and save the truly important (glasses that will have much use;  a much loved teapot) while ridding me of the rest, even family antiques which I’m sorry to lose.  He will also sift through my heart and my mind, ridding me of my chaff, my sins, and only saving the righteousness of Christ in me.

I’m sure that there will be more lessons learned from this breaking of precious things.  For now I will rejoice in what was saved and work on letting go of what I lost.

Alone with One’s Thoughts

Are you afraid to be alone with your thoughts?  Does the thought of being still and quiet with no outside distractions turn you off?  Are you bored when your cell phone dies while sitting at a doctor’s office?  When you are alone in the car, can you drive without the radio or phone or audiobook and just think?

According to a study done by a professor at University of Virginia, a large majority of Americans would prefer not to be distraction-free for even a few minutes.  Even more amazing is the fact that many of them would choose to give themselves an electric shock rather than be alone with just their thoughts to keep them company!

This amazed me because I yearn for time alone–to pray, to think, to write blog posts in my head, to simply be.  Part of the charm of gardening to me has always been that I am alone outside and don’t have any distractions (as long as the children don’t need me).  When I worked in a molecular biology lab, I used the many hours of running gels and preparing for experiments alone in a little room and used the time to memorize poetry, hymns, and Scripture.

My son and I discussed this study and wondered if the reason people these days seem to need constant stimulation is due to the fact that our culture, as a whole, is on the downswing and there is a lack of wholeness in our culture, our communities, our families, and our own person.  That lack of wholeness, of integrity, leads us to want to flee our thoughts because we don’t know what to think or how to think it anymore.  We also wondered if there was a difference in results between introverts and extroverts or if the results were spread evenly as they were in age group (although not in gender).

And yet, part of me understood these results.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I too am easily distracted these days– by outside noises, electronics, and busyness–and will often pick up a book rather than be completely still. I rarely stop and just think.

However when I do set that time aside, even for ten minutes, I am refreshed and enriched as I pray and ponder things in my heart.  I think there is a reason why the Bible exhorts us to pray and meditate.  Through prayer and meditation on truth and goodness and beauty, our hearts and minds are reminded of what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, of good virtue and praiseworthy.

I am slowly adding in time to write letters and journal.  I am finding that forcing myself to slow down and write with pen on paper allows my mind to dwell more deeply on what I am writing and thus meditate more on the truths I am copying or communicating.  Meditation and prayer time is a time to be alone with my thoughts and with God.  I believe that as my thoughts are more focused on the “things above“, my life will be fuller and more whole and richer for me and for all those around me.