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October 17, 2014

I am now deep into this series on getting things done, but before I go any farther, I would like to pause for a quick review. I began this series by explaining what productivity is and why it matters [Part 1]. Then I had you look at your life from a high-level perspective so you could divide it into areas of responsibility [Part 2]. Once you defined those areas of responsibility, you listed specific roles and projects within each of them, and then you worked on some brief mission statements that define what you mean to accomplish in each of them [Part 3]. In the most recent article I explained the four categories of tools required for top productivity, and told you the ones I use [Part 4].

Today I want to explain and demonstrate what your areas of responsibility have to do with your tools (and why you will be missing out if you skip the hard work of defining those areas). As it happens, they have everything to do with one another. Your tools will only be as helpful as your understanding of your areas of responsibility and the duties and roles that fall within each of them. In other words, your tools function best when you combine them with a thorough understanding of your responsibilities.

Over this article and the ones that follow, I will help you use your tools to develop a system that will help ensure you give appropriate attention to each of your areas of responsibility. That word system may sound intimidating, so let me begin by distilling that fear factor.

Living in Systems

What is a system? I know it is considered bad form to quote a dictionary, but in this case the dictionary definition is very helpful. A system is “a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.” A system has multiple parts that work together toward a common goal.

Imagine that you were tasked with building a railroad to transport goods from your town to one twenty miles away. You would need to construct a system, and the system would need to involve all kinds of components: tracks, switches, locomotives, boxcars, mechanisms to load the trains, signals to control traffic flow, and on and on. This system would be comprised of a complex collection of parts, but once it was constructed, it would work and function as a whole. If it was constructed well, it would function smoothly and efficiently.

But you don’t need to build a railroad, you need to build a system that will allow you to be productive. A productivity system is a set of methods, procedures and routines that allow you to be most effective in knowing what to do and in actually doing it. An effective system involves identifying, deploying and relying on appropriate tools. When functioning together, these tools allow you to function smoothly and efficiently, dedicating appropriate time and attention to the most important tasks.

The fact is, to be productive, you need a system. You need to build it, use it, perfect it, and rely on it. Your system needs to gain your confidence so you can trust it to remember what needs to be remembered, to alert you to what is urgent, to direct you to what is important, and to direct you away from what is distracting.

An Organizing Principle

Our system will require tools, and in a moment we will begin setting up those tools.

First, though, I want to talk about an important organizing principle that will serve us on various levels. This principle extends to any area of life: A home for everything, and like goes with like. If you applied this all over your life (your home, your office, your computer) you’d never again find yourself scrambling to find your wallet, your keys, your passwords, or anything else.

When it comes to our productivity tools, we want to apply the very same principle: A home for everything, and like goes with like. This means that appointments need to go where appointments go, information needs to go where information goes, communications needs to go where communications go, and tasks need to go where tasks go. It means that communication and tasks should not be in the same place, and appointments and information should not be in the same place.

We can also get more specific with the principle. Information that is alike should be kept in the same place. Communications that are alike should be kept in the same place. This means that all of your information about one area of responsibility should be kept with the other information about that area of responsibility. All of your tasks related to one project should be kept with the other tasks related to that project.

Preparing the Tools

Last time we identified four different types of tool: Information tools, scheduling tools, communication tools, and task management tools. Now I want you to prepare those tools in light of your areas of responsibility. You will prepare them according to the same principle: A home for everything and like goes with like. We will focus particular attention on our information tool and task management tool.

October 17, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Forever by Paul Tripp ($2.99); Showing the Spirit by D.A. Carson ($3.99); God and the Gay Christian edited by Al Mohler ($0.99); Who Made God? by Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler ($3.99); Moments with You by Dennis & Barbara Rainey ($2.99).

Mandating Bible Reading For Your Kids - “Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?”

How To Die Beautifully - This is some good writing.

Mourning the Missing - Here is a touching photo gallery of people mourning loved ones who disappeared on flight MH370.

The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred - There is lots of wisdom and insight in this article.

3 Principles for Asking Forgiveness - It’s a skill we all need to grow in.

The Best Theological Label - Randy Alcorn tells us the best theological label.

We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. —William Gurnall

Gurnall

October 16, 2014

It is something I see again and again, and something that baffles me every time: People who expect unbelievers to act like believers. So often I see Christians acting surprised that their non-Christian friends or family members are acting like non-Christians. John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The book deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.

He begins by insisting that only Christians have the ability to put sin to death. Unbelievers may suppress sin, but they cannot kill it. “Unless a man be a believer—that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ—he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so. … There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.”

And again, “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”

If it is, indeed, the case that unbelievers cannot put sin to death, then they have a higher priority: conversion. “Mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work—the conversion of the whole soul—not the mortification of this or that particular lust. … Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, ‘looking on him whom they had pierced,’ humiliation and mortification will ensue.” There is a proper order to these things. First be saved, then put sin to death.

In reality, unbelievers who attempt to put sin to death actually go deeper into their sin. “This is the usual issue with persons attempting the mortification of sin without an interest in Christ first obtained. It deludes them, hardens them—destroys them.” And again, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where mean are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”

Owen anticipates the following objection: “Shall [unregenerate men] cease striving against sin, live dissolutely, give their lusts their swing, and be as bad as the worst of men?” If unbelievers cannot put sin to death, would it be wrong of us to tell them to stop sinning or even expect them to?

He answers the objection this way: “God forbid! It is to be looked on as a great issue of wisdom, goodness, and love of God, that by manifold ways and means he is pleased to restrain the sons of men from running forth into that compass of excess and riot which the depravity of their nature would carry them out unto with violence.” God dispenses his common grace to all men, and this grace keeps them from being as sinful as they otherwise would be. Sometimes God does convict unbelievers of sin and causes them to restrain that sin, yet without actually converting them.

So it becomes a matter of right priorities both for the person calling upon the unbelievers, and for the unbelievers themselves: “Let men know [that putting sin to death] is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy! Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin.” Don’t call upon unbelievers to stop sinning until you first call them to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Even if they do not turn to Christ they may still suppress a sin, but do not make it your main purpose to convince unbelievers not to sin; instead, make it your purpose to call upon them to become Christians. And do not be surprised when, as unbelievers, they continue to behave like unbelievers.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the eighth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

October 16, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: The Ministry Medical by Jonathan Griffiths ($2.99); Out of the Depths by Edgar Harrell ($3.99); Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne ($3.99); Diamonds in the Dust by Joni Eareckson Tada ($2.99); Herein Is Love: Leviticus by Nancy Ganz ($3.99).

Caring for Aging Parents - “What does Jesus’ example offer for his followers? It reminds us that honoring our parents isn’t simply payback for their care for us in childhood. It’s not a reward dependent on how well they parented us. Care for your parents is a reflection of what we believe about the gospel.” Amen!

Resisting Gossip - Westminster Books is having a great sale on the book Resisting Gossip (an excellent book on a way-too-common problem) and some helpful resources surrounding it. (Here is some video about the book.)

The YRR in the SBC - I appreciate Tim Brister’s comments on what happened to the Young, Restless, and Reformed in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mark Driscoll Resigns - Mark Driscoll has resigned from Mars Hill Church.

Benefits of a Challenging Teen - Mark Altrogge shows how God works all things for good—even a rebellious or difficult teen.

The Spirit Never Convicts - This makes a lot of sense. “In Christianese, the word is used anytime somebody feels guilty about something and wants to explain that the Holy Spirit was the source of their guilt.” But…

The sermon which does not lead to Christ … will make the devils in hell laugh, but make the angels of God weep. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

October 15, 2014

One of my lifelong struggles has been finding freedom in the most basic part of the Christian life—personal devotions. It’s not that I don’t do them, of course, but that they rarely seem to come easily and naturally. I want to wake up longing to read the Bible and eager to pray. I want to get up in the mornings thinking, “I just can’t wait to hear from God and speak to God.” But so often I find myself reading and praying out of simple obedience. That duty is too seldom joined by delight.

It isn’t always that way. There are times—times I love—where there is tremendous joy and freedom. For weeks now I have been in one of those periods, and it has been a joy and a delight to spend time in the Word and to pray. And in this time I’ve been drawn to parts of Scripture that rejoice in Scripture. I was recently transfixed by Psalm 19 and David’s sheer joy at this great gift of God. After listing so many of the benefits of God’s Word he says, 

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

David tells us that God’s Word is precious. David is king over his nation and has access to all of its wealth, yet he looks at it all and sees that it is nothing compared to the surpassing worth of God’s Word. Where other men’s desire is to enrich themselves with gold, David’s desire is to enrich himself with the wisdom of God through the Scriptures.

David tells us that God’s Word is pleasurable. I don’t think there is any natural substance more delicious than honey (though perhaps maple syrup could be a close contender), and yet David can proclaim that God’s Word is sweeter even than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. As honey brightens the eyes, God’s Word brightens the soul.

David tells us that God’s Word is protective. He knows that the wisdom of God revealed through his Word will warn him and protect him away from sin and its consequences. David can look at his life and see those times he did not heed the warnings and receive God’s protection, and now he knows: God protects us through his Word.

David tells us that God’s Word is profitable. The Word of God does not only warn, but it also profits. Those who heed God’s wisdom and obey his law receive all the benefits that come from walking with God. They receive the greatest reward of all: they are with God and in God today and every day.

God’s Word is precious, pleasurable, protective, and profitable. What a gift it is!

Photo credit: Shutterstock. Also, I have no recollection of where I found the 4 P’s of God’s Word or whether I came up with them on my own; I want to credit David Murray as it sounds like his doing…

October 15, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: You Lift Me Up by Albert Martin ($2.99); How Prayer Impacts Lives by Catherine MacKenzie ($2.99); The Ascension by Tim Chester & Jonny Woodrow ($2.99); The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur ($3.79); Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham ($0.99); Four Views on the Book of Revelation and Four Views on Hell by Various ($2.99); How to Help People Change by Jay Adams ($2.99); Preaching to a Shifting Culture by Various ($2.99). Every week Zondervan lets me choose one book to put on sale and this week I went with Christian Apologetics by Meister & Sweis ($4.99). Finally, if you’re into bargain hunting, check out today’s Gold Box deal from Amazon which has a great pair of headphones 76% off.

From the River to the Ends of the Earth - This is a free album from Matt Searles, and it is based on the Psalms. You need to input your email address to get it, but you won’t be put on the mailing list until you opt-in.

Compassion Without Compromise - Westminster Books has some good deals this week, including one that looks very promising and comes highly commended by Kevin DeYoung.

Only Themselves to Blame - This article looks at the recent battle over encrypting information and says, “Feds only have themselves to blame for Apple and Google’s smartphone encryption efforts.”

Rethinking Jephthah’s Foolish Vow - Here, from Gospel Coalition’s series on perplexing passages, is a look at Jephthah’s foolish vow.

Successful Ministry - This is an encouraging article for anyone who is sharing the gospel with others.

Houston, We Have a Constitution - Russell Moore responds to some alarming news from Houston.

Death is only a grim porter to let us into a stately palace. —Richard Sibbes

Sibbes

October 14, 2014

For the past couple of weeks I have been working on a series titled How To Get Things Done, and am continuing that series today [Part 1: How to Get Things Done, Part 2: Define Your Areas of Responsibility, Part 3: Time, Energy & Mission]. I have spent the first few installments of the series trying to lay a solid foundation. While it is always tempting to skip ahead to get straight to the fun stuff, true and lasting productivity will depend on taking those initial steps.

But today, at last, we get to one of the fun parts: choosing tools. Like any other work, the work of productivity requires tools.

When you are dependent on your tools, you need to make sure you are using the best tools. A doctor can probably do surgery with a utility knife if he needs to, but we’d all prefer that he cuts us open with a scalpel—and a very high-quality scalpel at that. You can go out in your backyard and cut down a tree with a crowbar, but you’ll get the job done better and faster if you use an axe. The point is, many people try to do their work with tools that are poorly suited to the task. To large degree, your productivity depends on identifying and using the best tools for the job, and then growing in your skill in deploying them.

As we look at productivity, there is a collection of tools that can help you a great deal.

  • Information tools. Information tools allow you to collect, archive and access important information.
  • Scheduling tools. Scheduling tools allow you to organize your time, and they alert you ahead of important events.
  • Communication tools. Communication tools allow you to communicate, and they allow to archive and access your previous communications.
  • Task management tools. Task management tools allow you to capture and organize your to-do items.

Almost all of these tools have both physical and electronic variants. For example, you can communicate via postal mail (the physical variant) or email (the electronic variant). My focus will be on the electronic side of things.

Information Tools

Information tools allow you to collect, archive and access important information. Not too long ago these were filing cabinets full of folders and pieces of paper. Today, however, the best information tools allow you to archive all (or most) of your information electronically. Using these tools, you may be able to join the paperless movement and eliminate your filing cabinets and all those annoying bits of paper altogether.

I rely on Evernote (evernote.com) as my information tool. Evernote is a powerful piece of software that allows you to capture almost every kind of information. Once information is captured, it is archived and indexed and ready for future use. Evernote installs on nearly every bit of computer equipment you own (Mac, PC, mobile phones, tablets, etc) and can be with you everywhere you go and whatever you do.

BulbTip: The organizing principle here, as in all of life is this: A home for everything, and like goes with like. I will say more about this soon.

Scheduling Tools

Scheduling tools allow you to organize your time, and they alert you ahead of important events. These tools (minus the alerts) used to be the calendars hanging on your wall, but today there are electronic calendars that are incredibly powerful.

I rely on Google Calendar (calendar.google.com) as my scheduling tool, though I actually access it through Sunrise (sunrise.am), a slick Mac-based program that imports and displays Google’s calendar. I do this for two reasons: First, it improves on Google’s web-based view and, second, I try to avoid using my browser as often as I can, since any time I open a browser I am tempting myself to waste time. I use this calendar to display all of the events in my life, and, through the alerts function, I use it to alert me of any pending meetings or appointments.

BulbTip: Begin every day by reviewing all appointments for that day and the next day, ensuring that appropriate alerts have been set.

Communication Tools

Communication tools allow you to communicate, and they allow to archive and access your previous communications. These can include a host of different tools such as email, text messaging, and good old-fashioned faxes or postal mail. My focus, though, is on the electronic which, unfortunately, means email. Email is a very poor tool in many ways, but one we are stuck with for the time being.

I use GMail (gmail.com) as my primary communication tool, though I access it through Apple Mail. Again, it improves on Google’s web-based view and keeps me from using my browser for anything but browsing, thus reducing a time-wasting temptation.

BulbTip: Unless you absolutely need to, close email except when you are actually writing emails or replying to them.

October 14, 2014

Here are some Kindle deals that may interest you: Unleashing the Word by Max McLean ($2.99); Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan ($2.99); Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore ($1.99); The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias ($2.99); When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography by Vicki Tiede (free).

Who Am I? - Cruciform Press has partnered with Christian Audio to give you a pretty good deal—a free download of Jerry Bridges’ Who Am I (read by Alistair Begg). And, if you so choose, 5 more books bundled together for $9.98.

Did Jesus Hang on a Pole? - Bill Mounce talks about another difficult translation.

Through a Western Lens - Elisha reflects on just one way that we tend to read the Bible through a distinctly Western lens.

Idiot’s Guide to the Bible - You’ve probably seen the Idiot’s Guide series before. Jim Hamilton writes about the new volume which is about the Bible. 

Support PrayerMate - I’ve written before about how PrayerMate has been a huge blessing to me. Andy Geers, who created the app, is now crowdfunding the next version of it.

5 Ways to Lead Your Wife - David Murray offers 5 ways God calls men to lead their wives.

As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst. —William Jenkyn

Jenkyn