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.

Counting my blessings

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One of the ways I have learned to feel the contentment I talked about the other day is to count my blessings.  No matter how difficult my circumstances have been, I can usually find at least one thing that warms my day.  I call them simple pleasures, and if you begin to look for them, you will find that your life is full of them.  You only need to develop the habit of noticing.

I would also sing the hymn Count Your Blessings as a way to remind myself to be thankful and content:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

—Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Today’s blessings are a cup of pistachio almond tea, a batch of homemade applesauce, loaves of oatmeal bread rising in the oven, a new Charles Todd mystery to read, and a rainy Saturday afternoon in which to enjoy them. 

What are your simple pleasures and blessings today?

A definition of contentment

 

I have been listening to Gateway to Joy with Elisabeth Elliot over the past few weeks over at BBN Radio.  When they did a repeat of last week’s episodes, I thought I’d poke around for another place to listen and happened upon a treasure trove of talks by Mrs. Elliot on YouTube.

Elisabeth Elliot is one of the women who has most influenced me in my walk with Christ.  Ever since I discovered her books in college, I have spent many hours reading her work, praying through her excellent counsel, listening to her talks in person and in recordings, and being continually challenged to give my all for Jesus Christ.

Who is Your Master? was a convicting way to start my day.  I especially loved her definition of contentment, so much so that I copied it into my planner as a reminder for the rest of my day:

Contentment does not lie in despising what you don’t have; contentment lies in gratitude for what you do have.  And contentment lies in receiving these things as gifts from God, knowing that, if they are gifts, the One who gave them can also take them away…We can hold these things, as it were, on an open palm, ‘Here, Lord, thank You, and any time You want to take them away, they’re Yours.’   –Elisabeth Elliot

A quote from Charles Spurgeon

If God gave us favours without constraining us to pray for them we should never know how poor we are, but a true prayer is an inventory of wants, a catalogue of necessities, a revelation of hidden poverty. While it is an application to divine wealth, it is a confession of human emptiness.
~~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Oct. 11

Summer Reading

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Every summer I usually have more time to read than I do during the school year.  I have several books I want to read for my own growth in various fields of study (history, literature, philosophy, theology, etc), I usually have three or four (sometimes more) that I want to pre-read or skim for the upcoming school year, I always have some for work (new best-sellers, genre fiction, and writing books), and then there are the books I read just for fun.  While on vacation last week, I read a new-to-me Georgette Heyer historical fiction novel, one of the Fairacre series by Miss Read, one of the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith, and a book about decorating my house.

This week I have started a book I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months:  Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith.  Anyone who knows me will tell you what a devoted Jane Austen fan I am.  I have read all of her books multiple times, have watched most of the film and TV adaptations (some of which irk me for various reasons as I’m finicky about adaptations actually being faithful to the book), and have even read a couple of biographies about Jane as well as some of her letters.

I have had mixed feelings about retellings and continuations.  P.D. James’ Death at Pemberley was only okay since she tried too hard, in my opinion, to protect Austen’s characters and it made the story kind of “wooden”.  Bridget Jones’ Diary, on the other hand, was hilarious and didn’t take itself too seriously so it worked.

I have only just started Emma, but I could tell almost immediately that I’m going to like it as a book, even if the retelling of Austen doesn’t work for me.  Here is a quote from the third page which has already pulled me in and told me that this is going to be a delightful read:

“‘My son,’ said his mother with a certain pride, ‘ is a valetudinarian.’

That sent her friends to the dictionary, which gave her additional satisfaction.  To dispatch one’s friends to a dictionary from time to time is one of the more sophisticated pleasures of life, but it is one that must be indulged in sparingly: to do it too often may result in accusations of having swallowed one’s own dictionary, which is not a compliment, whichever way one looks at it.”

The humor, as always, is gentle and understated, but appeals to me every time.  Alexander McCall Smith is also great at understanding and poking fun at our human failings.  I am just enough of a word snob that sending my friends to the dictionary on occasion would give me satisfaction, too, so I identified with this passage.

What about you?  What are you reading this summer?