Tag Archives: time management

’til We Meet Again??

Parting is such sweet sorrow…breaking up is hard to do…this isn’t goodbye, but until we meet again…

However you want to say it, the end of a relationship can be hard. I’m struggling with how I should feel as I end a relationship that has brought me a great deal of joy, but has devolved into stress.

A year ago, I met a new friend. He’s someone I had watched from afar for a long time, someone that I had tried to meet before, but the timing never seemed to work. Finally, on November 2nd, 2012, I mustered up all my courage and introduced myself to…

The Marginal Writer…

Our friendship grew quickly.  He was eager to share his thoughts, words tumbling effortlessly onto paper, expressing his emotions freely. He made me laugh with his humor…sometimes he was deeply thought provoking, other times he just made me smile. A couple of times, he even brought a tear to my eye. But he was never shy about sharing what was in his heart. The early months of our friendship were rich and rewarding.

But a few months into our relationship, I started to notice that something was wrong. He didn’t seem as open as he had once been. He stopped coming around as often. And when he did, he had trouble sharing like he had before. I tried to figure out what had changed, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He was…different.

I wondered if I had done something wrong. Was I becoming boring? Had I said or done the wrong thing? Was there someone else? I couldn’t figure it out. And as time went on, he became even more distant.

I started becoming stressed. I felt pressure to continue the relationship…to make it work. I started forcing myself to be who I thought he wanted me to be. And yet, as time went by, it became clear that my relationship with The Marginal Writer was over. So today I am breaking up with The Marginal Writer.

I’m not bitter…I’m actually relieved. When a relationship ends, the closure and the finality is painful, but it allows for a new start. And I am moving on. I know that I will write again in the future. But I will no longer impose a deadline that increases my stress level as I have done for the past year. I’m excited about some of the new opportunities that have presented themselves…I’m busy. I’m content.

I’m relieved.


Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Self-discipline, Uncategorized, Writing


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2 Keys to Higher Productivity

I wake up at 5:30 am. I sit on the edge of the bed, stretch, smile, and thank God for another day. As I bounce energetically into the shower, my mind is flooded with thoughts and ideas…blog topics dance through my head, things I need to add to my “to-do” list crowd my mind, and I can’t wait to get done with my shower so I can sit down and start my productive day. Hopping out of the shower, I hurriedly dry off, tiptoe quietly back into the bedroom-being quiet so I don’t wake my wife, and I get dressed.

Walking into the living room, I sit down in my favorite chair, pull my laptop in front of me, and move the mouse to wake my sleeping computer…

And all my focus melts away.

It’s my own fault. Last night, I failed to close out the programs on my computer. So as soon as my computer wakes up, it tells me about the e-mails I got during the night. The web browser tells me who won the presidential debate. And my sports feed makes sure to let me know that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the playoffs AGAIN.

I get distracted by information overload…and the ideas that have been dancing through my mind in the shower moments before fade away. And now, 9 hours later, I look back at my day and wonder…

“Where did all the time go?”

“What did I accomplish today?”

“Why do I feel unproductive and vaguely depressed?”

The answer is simple. I allowed myself to get distracted from my morning routine. I have allowed a new morning routine to creep in, one that is dictated by external forces, and it is killing my productivity.

In a recent podcast, NYT best-selling author Michael Hyatt discussed his morning “ritual.”  For some people, this word has a negative connotation. But Hyatt defines a ritual as “a prescribed procedure for achieving a specific result.” What a terrific definition!


Hyatt contends that we all have a morning ritual, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Whether our ritual is helping to accomplish our goals is a different story. And he’s right! When I take control of my morning and stick to my “proactive ritual,” I get so much done, and I feel GREAT for the rest of the day. But when I fall into my “reactive ritual,” my focus wanders, and, just like a ship that drifts a few degrees off-course, I look back at my day and wonder how I got so far from my intended destination.

Hyatt offers seven steps to designing a morning ritual. I encourage you to read his blog article and listen to the podcast. I want to highlight the first two steps, because they are so critical to finding your path to productivity:

Acknowledge that you already have a ritual.

  • Again, this is not a BAD thing. We all have rituals, whether it’s how we dry ourselves off when we get out of the shower, or the route we take when we drive to work. Acknowledge that you have rituals for the way that you do things and move on quickly to step number two.

Document your existing ritual.

  • This is where the rubber meets the road. If you want to become more productive, you must first identify your current practices so you can see where you may be losing

My proactive morning ritual looks like this:

  1. Sit up as soon as the alarm goes off, stretch, say a brief prayer of thanks, and hit the shower.
  2. Get dressed, make a protein shake or a cup of tea, and sit in my chair.
  3. Write in my private journal.
  4. Read my Bible and pray.
  5. Open my computer and begin to write.

My reactive morning ritual looks like this:

  1. Hit the snooze alarm
  2. Hit the snooze alarm again.
  3. Drag myself grumpily out of bed.
  4. Stumble into the shower.
  5. Stand under the hot water for at least 10 minutes, hoping it will wake me up.
  6. Get dressed, sit in my chair, and open my computer.
  7. Surf the web for an hour.

I think you get the point.


I have identified my keys to a productive (rather than reactive) morning ritual. And they actually begin the night before! I need to do two things in order to prepare myself to be in the best possible position for having a good start to my day.

  1. I need to go to bed at a reasonable time. I have found that going to bed by 9:30 is essential if I plan to be productive the next day.
  2. I need to close down all of my desktop applications, leaving open only MS Word, with a fresh new page to write on.

Seems simple enough. And it is…Now I just have to remember to do it tonight…

And every night.

Because our attitudes are so much more positive when we are productive. And we can’t accomplish all that we are meant to be in this life if we mope around all the time with a bad attitude.

So identify your morning ritual…look for ways to tweak it…and add to your productivity.


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When You Don’t Feel Like It…

I have a problem…You see, I’m a writer…and a writer is supposed to, well…WRITE. But I’m not feeling inspired to write at the moment…

That’s not exactly the problem. The problem is that, whether I feel INSPIRED or not, I need to write anyway.

And I haven’t been.

You can’t get away with that in most other professions.

For example, just because I don’t feel like teaching my class doesn’t mean that I don’t show up and do it anyway.

If people didn’t show up for work, society would fall apart. Patients would die while their doctors hit the golf course. Retailers would lock their doors because no one came to work to take care of their customers. The transportation system would grind to a halt as drivers and pilots took the day off.

So why do I stop writing when I don’t feel like it?

Is it because I somehow view my writing as less important? Do I think that what I have to say doesn’t matter?

Or is it because I am just undisciplined…

That’s a statement, not a question.

It also answers the question, “Why do I stop writing when I don’t feel like it?”

I’m undisciplined. My days blow by without a plan. And, as the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

In a recent blog, Michael Hyatt writes about the importance of getting a handle on his schedule. He even includes a link to an excel file that lays out his “ideal week.” I encourage you to read it. You will benefit immensely, believe me.

What tools are you using to become more productive? Have you ever laid out a picture of your “ideal” day, week, or month? Please feel free to share how you are maximizing your time more effectively.

Because I need all the help I can get.


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The Dark Side of Summer Vacation

It’s a shame to admit this, but if I were asked to write a cheesy essay called, “What I did on my summer vacation,” I would have to include the following sentence:

“I spent much of my summer vacation eagerly looking forward to going back to work.”

This is heresy to most people, and when my wife reads this, she may hit the roof. So I need to quickly clarify that the only time during my summer vacation that did not include thoughts of returning to work was the wonderful week I spent with my beautiful wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as we celebrated our 25th anniversary…I love you, Katie-Baby!

However, the rest of my vacation has been filled with thoughts of returning to “the grind.”

I have spent the morning reflecting on why I am eager to be done with my vacation. The irony is not lost on me that most students are just starting their vacation, and mine is drawing to a close. In fact, as I think about it, can I really call this a SUMMER vacation? I had a month off between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of summer school. But summer school starts on June 4th, and summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st. I guess I had a spring vacation…although everyone calls it a summer vacation.

Oh well, who cares? The point is this: I want to go back to work…

And I have figured out why.

I have developed a fairly stable daily, weekly, and monthly routine. It includes all aspects of my life:  physical, relational, professional, spiritual, and recreational. I have been working hard lead a more balanced life, and, although not perfect, I have managed to achieve some success. I am improving in ALL of these life areas as I live within my routine, and for the first time in my life, I am learning how to be content with who I am.

In the four weeks that I have been on vacation, my routine has been turned completely upside down. I have never been good at embracing change, and the sudden change in my routine in the midst of these life successes has derailed me. You see, with the exception of the week we spent in Tennessee, I have just been knocking around the house. I have had a great deal of time to write, but it has been hard to work on my writing with the kids around. As an example, I’m struggling mightily to concentrate right now, as my beautiful 8-year old daughter (who I would jump in front of a speeding train to protect) is banging away on the piano. She is legitimately practicing, not just horsing around. And yet, I cannot easily focus. I now realize that I need the solitude of my work office in order to work on non-work related activities.

Following my food “action plan” was difficult while I was in Tennessee. I don’t “diet.” I “dieted” for years with little to no success. The way that I have lost 90+ pounds has been by implementing an action plan that includes planning my meals ahead of time, writing down what I eat, weighing and measuring my portion sizes, and a regular exercise routine. Truthfully, I have not been disciplined about doing this since my vacation started, and now I am trying to get back into the habit. It will be easier to stay in the groove when I am going back into the office on a regular basis.

Of course, I recognize that all of these valid explanations for my struggles are not really valid at all…they are excuses to be undisciplined. And if there is one thing I have never been short on, it is excuses for not getting things done. The good news is that I am blessed with another day to start over and get it right…and I only need to get it right FOR TODAY. Tomorrow will take care of itself.


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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Focus, Motivation, Self-discipline


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Have you ever built anything? I’m not the most handy guy (just ask ANYONE). But I have managed to remodel a kitchen and bathroom, finish a basement, and even build a chicken mansion (think of a chicken coop on steroids…REALLY big chicken coop) over the past several years.

None of these creations will end up in the carpentry Hall-of-Fame…but they have served their purpose. Now I’m trying to build something else. I’m trying to build a platform.

I wish it was the kind of platform that needed some wood and nails. I think that might be easier. No, the kind of platform I am trying to build is defined perfectly by Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers) as “the means by which you connect with your existing and potential fans.”

I’m not hung up on the word “fans.” That feels too egocentric. I don’t think of anyone who reads my blogs or follows me on Twitter as a “fan.”  But I recognize that there are some people who like what I have to say. And I want to make a difference in the lives of as many people as possible. So I would define my platform as “the means by which I connect with the people in whose lives I have made, or will make, a difference.

Feels too wordy, but it gets to the heart of what I want to do: I want to help people. And in turn, I want those I have helped to be inspired and motivated to help others. I want to look back on my life in 40 years and smile, knowing that God used me to help as many people as possible.

In order to maximize the number of people I may help, I need a platform.


In the days before electricity, the way that an individual built their platform was much less broad. The local newspaper would carry information about the movers and shakers of the community, but the influence was localized. As technology grew, the ability to carry a message grew with it. Telephone and telegraph became a way to carry the message to more people. Eventually radio and television exponentially increased the numbers of people who could be influenced. Now we have the internet…and within the internet, the number of ways to reach people and establish a platform continues to grow, seemingly with no end in sight. The explosion of Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Squidoo, Google Reader, and RSS (just to name a few), has created a vast network of people, so it should be easy to connect with thousands of people at the click of a button…

But it isn’t. Not without a platform.

The beauty of a platform is that it is not a “one-size fits all” creation. A platform may include your Facebook, Linked In, or Twitter accounts. It might include pod-casting or YouTube videos. Perhaps you are a musician or an actor or a public speaker. If you are a writer, your platform may include newspaper, online articles, or a blog. It is likely that building a platform will require a combination of things in order to get yourself noticed.


Hyatt is releasing a book on May 22nd called (appropriately enough) “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.” I cannot wait to read this book, and I encourage all of you who are looking to be a voice in the world to order it too…BUT…

Do NOT order it yet! Hyatt is giving away an insane amount of free material for those people who buy the book during the week of May 21-25. In his own words, Michael writes, Here’s the deal: if you buy the book during the week of May 21–25, I will send you SEVEN FREE BONUSES worth $375.98.”

This is an incredible opportunity to learn from an expert how to build your platform and be heard above the clatter of our noisy world. I urge you to check it out. Details are available on Hyatt’s website.


I’m building a platform, one plank at a time…I’m doing it through speaking, coaching, teaching, and writing. We all want to make a difference in this world, so we all need a platform. How are you building yours?


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Redefining Myself


I have A.D.D.…It’s self-diagnosed, but I’m pretty sure I have it (My wife will tell you that I am a hypochondriac, but that’s a topic for another blog).

I can’t focus on anything for more than 4 or 5 minutes before my mind is racing off in another direction. It makes blogging extremely difficult. And, as badly as I want to write a book, I don’t know if I will ever be able to stay focused long enough to do so.

That’s a cop-out, and I know it. But it’s MY cop-out, and I’ll thank you not to judge me for it.

We all cop out on something. Either we lack confidence, or we lack encouragement, or we lack self-discipline, or we lack focus…

I have been using my (self-diagnosed) A.D.D to define myself, to give myself an excuse for not pursuing my passion to write. I start an article or blog post, but I run into a wall, so I give up. I want to be a writer, but I feel like I can’t get the words out that I want to say. I want to encourage people, and I have general ideas for how I want to help others, but when it comes to putting the words into print, I struggle.

I hate that.

I want to tell stories that offer hope. I want to share words that strengthen and encourage. I want to inspire others…to motivate people. I see a future that I love. I want to help others who do not love where they are…those who want to chase after their dreams, but are afraid to do so. So what am I afraid of?

I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to try something and not have it go well. Why is that?

I have become used to accepting failure as an identifier of who I am, instead of what I am doing. But the reality is that if I am not failing at something, it’s because I am not pursuing new adventures…I am not trying new things. I am sticking with the same old routine that got me where I am today-teaching math to people who don’t want to learn it, while gazing out the window, and feeling as if life is passing me by. Life doesn’t have to be that way.


We need to redefine failure in our society. Failure does not define who we are…it doesn’t even define what we did. Failure is a stepping stone on the road to success.

Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 models for the light bulb before he found the one that changed our world. He did not look at the first 9,999 attempts as failures. He considered that he had found 9,999 ways NOT to make the light bulb! And then he found the one way that worked. His success was made possible by the multiple failures he experienced along the way.

My blog is relatively new. I have written about 50 posts. And in every one of them, I can find something that I would change if I were to rewrite it. But each of them has been a learning experience. There are some that I didn’t want to publish. But I knew that I would be shrinking back from my passion if I did not put them out there to be read…to be critiqued…to be criticized.


Jeff Goins says that you are a writer when you decide to call yourself one…when you start believing it yourself. That’s hard for me. I have always identified myself as a math teacher. But I don’t love to teach math…I just love to TEACH. So I should call myself a teacher.

I also love to write. So I should call myself a writer. The beauty of being a writer is that even if no one reads it, I still wrote it. It’s not the same for a teacher.

To be a teacher, I have to have a student, a learner who is processing the knowledge. It’s like the age old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a noise?” If I teach something and there is no one to learn, have I really taught?

That’s not the case for a writer. I can write an epic novel, a short story, or just a sentence…

And even if no one else reads it…

I still wrote it.

I like that.

So I’m going to call myself a writer.

I’m even going to change my profile on Facebook to make it official…I am a writer.

And even if no one reads what I write…guess what?

I’m still a writer.


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Taking the Final

As I gaze out over my class, watching frantic students punch buttons on their calculator and glance furtively toward their neighbors to see how far they’ve gotten, I can’t help but think…

“I’m so glad that I don’t have to take a final exam…”

Students who have been preparing throughout the semester seem confident, but not cocky. They take their time…but, inevitably, they are the first ones to turn in their exams. They are not fearful…but they let out a sigh of relief that one more pressure point has been relieved from their lives…at least for the moment.

On the other hand, there are those who punch their calculators a bit more aggressively…those who glance toward their neighbors, perhaps not just to gauge their progress, but in hopes that they might catch a glimpse of an elusive answer that might give them the last few points they need in order to push them over the threshold from a C- to a C, the bare minimum necessary to receive credit.

These students are not confident or cocky…they are fearful.

The irony of this situation is that they have been confident-some of them even cocky-throughout the entire semester…until now. Even though it was detailed to them throughout the life of the course that their efforts were not going to accomplish their goals, they skipped class, failed to complete homework, did not seek assistance from those able to help them, and generally ignored their responsibilities to themselves and their future. And now, time is winding down at the end of the final exam, and they are unprepared.

That’s a lot like life, isn’t it?

I’m learning this now, in my 40’s. Throughout my life, I have ignored the doctor’s advice to lose weight and take care of my health. I have ignored those who have encouraged me to develop my leadership skills and public speaking ability. I have passed up chance after chance to pursue the goals that I want to achieve. I have been confident (sometimes even cocky) that I will eventually accomplish all that I have planned to accomplish.

And now, I find myself “punching the buttons” of life a bit more aggressively…glancing at those around me who have been preparing for their whole life, and hoping that I see something in them that might give me the “answer” I need to push me the last little way that I need to succeed.

Is it too late?

Just as my students should have been preparing throughout the semester, I should have been preparing throughout my life…

Why did I wait until I was in my 40’s to finally get serious about my health?

Why did I ignore the advice of the people I respected who told me that I had the relational skills to reach those in need?

Why did I waste all those years on frivolous stuff when I could have been preparing to more completely serve others?

Because I didn’t want to do the work…because I was focused on short-term satisfaction, rather than a lifetime of gratification…because I was lazy…

Just like my students.

And for my students, it is likely to late for them to bail out their grade…

But it’s not too late for me to make an impact on the world…By reaching out and serving others.

That’s what I hope to do…with my weight loss, with my speaking ability, with my relational skills…

And with this blog.

It’s not too late for you either. Are you still focused on yourself, as the world passes you by? It’s time to jump out of yourself and jump into the rest of the world…find someone who has a need…

And meet that need.

Serve others…give of yourself…use the talents and abilities that God gave you…

And give to someone else…

Because someday, we will all face the ultimate “final exam.”

And for me, I want to know that I prepared for it the best that I could.


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