Why Simple Wins

On my recent vacation, I read Why Simple Wins: Escape the Complexity Trap and Get to Work That Matters by Lisa Bodell. Although it’s a book written primarily for businesses, I took away a number of lessons not just for my personal life, but also for the Seminary and congregation I labor in.

The book addresses the complexity of modern life that is generating so much frustration and stress. It analyzes why so much unproductive and meaningless work fills our ever-increasing working hours, pushing out valuable and essential tasks that makes work satisfying. It also proposes a number of do-able solutions.

The Necessity of Simplicity
In essence, Bodell argues that we must move away from a mindset of more and complexity to less and simplicity. By eliminating low-value and redundant work and spending more time doing things that matter, simplicity can become a huge competitive advantage and a tremendous boost to personal health and work satisfaction.

The Possibility of Simplicity
And if anyone objects that they are not in a position where they can pursue or produce simplicity, Bodell insists:

Simplification is one of the most underutilized skills out there, but it’s also a skill that any of us can cultivate and deploy. And we must cultivate it. In our age of complexity, simplicity is one of the most powerful ways to add value and stand above all the mediocrity and complacency.

The Barriers to Simplicity
The greatest barriers to simplicity, says Bodell, are: meetings, accountability structures, performance metrics and evaluation, red tape, federal regulations and compliance, legal caution, reports, and technology. It’s the last barrier that I’m especially interested in as part of my digital detox.

Although we were all promised that technology would make our lives so much easier, Bodell admits, “Instead of eliminating tedious tasks, technology winds up eliminating time to do important things.”

The Complexity of Technology
The book presents a range of stats to back that up, including:

  • The McKinsey Global Institute found that people typically devote over a quarter of their time— thirteen hours each week— to dealing with e-mails.
  • Researchers at Bain & Company found that when you combine all the ways that executives can receive communication— phone calls, e-mails, IMs, etc.— the number of incoming messages the average executive gets has grown from a thousand each year in the 1970s to more than thirty thousand per year today.
  • Each day, more than one hundred billion e-mails are sent and received, but fewer than a seventh of them are actually important.

The problem of complexity in general and technology’s contribution in particular is really summed up in this story:

Researchers at Bain & Company found that of the forty-seven hours the average mid-level manager or frontline employee works each week, twenty-one hours are spent in meetings with four or more people, and eleven hours are spent on e-mails and other electronic communication. Do the math: that leaves less than fifteen hours to get everything else done! Now subtract the unproductive time in between meetings and other obligations and you come to a startling conclusion: “The average manager has less than 6 ½ hours per week of uninterrupted time to get work done.” That’s less than one day per week.

And in case you think that multi-tasking can cure this, think again, because it’s part of the problem:

Studies have found that multitasking spurs the body to create more of the hormone Cortisol, and that an excess of Cortisol can impair your memory. In addition to all the other damage it does, complication actually makes the average employee more forgetful! Imagine the toll that levies on your average company.

Six Characteristics of a Simplifier
After challenging her readers with a range of questions that reveal whether we are complicators or simplifiers, Bodell provided six characteristics of a simplifier:

1. Courage: You are not afraid to challenge the status quo. You are comfortable with change and the unknown. You call people out who are being needlessly complex.

2. Minimalist Sensibility: You know the value of less. You seek to eliminate tasks or barriers that hold you back from doing more valuable work. You approach everything you do by asking, “Is this the simplest way to do this and still reach our goal?”

3. Results Orientation: Simplicity isn’t just about cutting costs for you. You do it because you want to get things done. You like clear outcomes and accountability.

4. Focus: You don’t give up. You stick with an effort that will help you reach your goals despite resistance. You see pushback as a way to get information and make your case stronger. You don’t let business as usual get in the way of simplifying things over the long term.

5. Personal Engagement: You “walk the walk.” You actively seek ways to simplify and you do it, while empowering others to do the same.

6. Decisiveness: You like to move things forward quickly. You don’t let a consensus-driven culture slow things down unnecessarily.

So how would a simplifier with such characteristics address the challenge and complexity of technology? Have a think about that and leave a comment if you have something helpful to share. Tomorrow, I’ll give you some ideas about how I’m trying to simplify email in particular.


Video Discussion About Digital Detox

Here’s the video from my recent Facebook Live session in which I discussed the why and how of digital detox.

If you click through to the post on Facebook, you’ll see many helpful comments about how to digitally detox from people who participated in the event or watched afterwards. Unfortunately, due to a glitch, I wasn’t able to see the comments and questions during the broadcast, but I hope to have that fixed for the next time I do a Facebook Live — probably later this week.

The App that I mentioned is called Freedom.

For more on this subject go to the Digital Detox Resources page.


Check out

Blogs

Thoughts on Christian Publishing
Ouch!

“The sad fact is that some of the best evangelical theology is being produced by people who can’t write, in books that will never be read…”

New Research Shows That Personalities Change
Not a surprise to Christians of course, but this is fairly big news in secular circles.

According to lead researcher Brent Roberts many “subscribe to the idea that once someone reaches adulthood their personality is set for life.” This is particularly true of individuals who are described as neurotic, who struggle with depressed moods, and feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and anxiety. The research found that individuals who were cared for with cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling or medical treatment over 24 weeks changed! Those who struggled with anxiety benefited the most.”

Wisdom for Reading the Proverbs
“Facing the difficulties of reading the Proverbs–while knowing that they are necessary for our spiritual growth in grace–here are seven tips on how to get the most out of reading Proverbs.”

Can Mental Health Practitioners Predict Future Violence?
“If we did a better job surrounding those with severe mental illness (and isolating them less) we would likely have less mental health induced violence.”

Fifty Years Ago, One Prescient Author Dared To Ask ‘Is College Worth it?’
An old book suggests questions that we should still be asking about further education.

Why Are Our Children So Anxious?
Sabrina is one of more than 6 million American teens grappling with an anxiety disorder of some kind. While not every child’s experience is as extreme as Sabrina’s, some experts believe this number is actually low, considering that many adolescents don’t always seek treatment. Further, it doesn’t take into account children under 12, whom therapists say are also increasingly facing anxiety that exceeds normal childhood fears and worries.

When the Darkness Closes In: A Christian’s Journey through Depression
Rachel Miller tells of her bout with depression and encourages us to look to God for deliverance from loneliness, abandonment, and disappointment.

Finding a Christian counselor, that is–one who is uncompromising on Biblical truths, while well-researched in mental health practices, is a life-giving experience to the hurting soul. Receiving counseling, especially within the Black community, is often seen as weakness. But in fact, there is strength in vulnerability. True strength is found in relying on Christ alone, while walking with others through the process.

Kindle Books

Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament $1.99.

Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth—and How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts $1.99.

Video

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator
Take some time to laugh at yourself.


One Click, I’m Free!

I’ll be sharing some of my own experience of digital detox over the coming weeks, but I’d also love to hear your own stories. If you’ve got a story that would challenge, encourage, teach, inspire or warn others, please send it to me using the little blue envelope icon to the right.

Here’s one from former student of mine, Ryan Hurd. Thanks for sharing, Ryan, and thanks for the tip about the Freedom App. I signed up yesterday and I’ll let you all know how it goes.  

Hope to see some of you for a Facebook Live on digital detox at 1pm ET today.

Also, here’s a page I’m developing that’s devoted to Digital Detox Resources.


At the beginning of last year I’d found myself facing a serious problem. As an editor, researcher, seminary student, et al., (and, dare I also say millennial?), I have been required to sit in front of a screen on average fourteen hours a day; sometimes, more like eighteen (yes, really). My stress had never been higher–and much of it was simply a consequence of being bound by technological dings and whistles. My mind, while previously OCD focused, had changed to being ADHD distracted. I’d hear a beep, and my heart rate would spike–not healthy or holy.

Starving the Addiction

That was when I decided to start purposely and precisely to deal with my problem. Much of it was a heart issue, which I trust the Lord is reworking in me yet today; but, as with all such things, “starving” an addictive appetite involves precisely that: not feeding it.

So I deleted Facebook. I turned off all bells and whistles of my email. My phone was straight up set to “do not disturb” until further notice. Youtube was blocked entirely. Blogs, ignored. Computer, left at the office. Internet, cancelled at home.

A Desperate Plunge

Lo and behold, I survived such a desperate plunge. However, while some things continued and do yet today–i.e., I still often leave my computer at the office, and I enjoy the sweet relief of walking in the door of my home with nothing but my (hardbound!) books to bother me–I soon realized that I needed extra help where I was weak. Besides, still sitting in front of a computer almost the same amount of time per day provided plenty of room for distraction.

One Click, I’m Free!

That was when I started my research for a solution. I tried many different things, concerning which details I won’t bore you, but quickly settled on freedom.to. It’s cheap, and does the job, and I use it every day, multiple times. You can set it very easily to do what you want: what apps you want blocked, or sites; what times you want them blocked, whether on a cycle (i.e., every day from 9:00 am to 10:00 am), or what I call a “session” (i.e., for the next two hours, I’m going to focus). You can set it to be able to be cancelled (mid-session); or, if you’re not strong enough, it can hold you to your decision with a “cannot cancel” button. And, best of all, on one screen of my laptop, in deciding every day how I want to use it, I can select all my devices: iPhone, iPad, and, yes, also my Mac (for you poor Window’s users, it works there too!!). One click. I’m free.

Program Your Heart

Any outside fix is by definition not an internal solution–you can program your time allowances, but you can’t program your heart. Thus, it doesn’t solve the issue in your soul. Go to God for that. However, a program like this can serve your sanctification, and, with the help of the Lord, be used to unleash you from your technological chains.

PS. The freedom.to promo code STAYFREE40 gets you 40% off a subscription. It’s only $29 annually, so that takes you down to $17.40 for a LOT of extra productivity.


Check out

Blogs

10 Things The Right Can Teach The Left About Accepting The Reality Of Trump
Mollie Hemingway is always worth reading.

Couples Who Stay Married Think Differently From Those Who Divorce
“What separates those who choose to stay married from those who don’t is attitude. Your attitude is the single most important determiner of your success in life, be it a job or a relationship. Life will throw you a thousand curve balls. So will marriage. But it isn’t the curve balls that matter—it’s what you do with those curve balls. And what you do stems from how you think.”

Mark Zuckerberg says he’s no longer an atheist, believes ‘religion is very important’
Let’s hope this is not the end of his journey:

Zuckerberg identified himself as an atheist for years, but on Facebook on Christmas he wrote back: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”

Reforming a Church
Mortification of Spin podcast with Dr Timothy Witmer on how to lead a congregation to Reformed theology.

How long should I preach?
Brian Croft says that the answer to this question largely depends on the kind of pastor you are, the quality of preacher you are, and the kind of congregation you serve. He offers three guidelines.

You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress
From a TV journalist writing in the Harvard Business Review:

Rewriting our response to stress can take time, but it is possible, and that effort can have a lasting effect on our success and happiness for the rest of our lives. For me, learning the skill of being cool under pressure helped me better navigate unexpected situations both on TV and off, and that has made all the difference in my life and my career.

The Remarkable Legacy of Charles Hodge
Thomas Kidd says that he finds Hodge’s example particularly useful and encouraging.

No one can really aspire to match the intellectual skills of a Jonathan Edwards, but all Christian thinkers can seek to pass on the historic faith to congregations, students, and readers in their place and time. Charles Hodge, in that sense, is one of the heroes of American Christian history.

The Pastor and Counseling: When to refer
I’d add some more but here are four indicators of when a pastor should refer:

Your congregation is unhealthy, the pastor is maxed out, and there are no other godly leaders willing to lend a hand with discipleship. You are spinning your wheels, and have tried to help the person for months without any perceived effect. There is a need for medical help. Obviously people should always get medical advice from a doctor, but sometimes people’s physiology is deeply disturbed in a way that can only be explained by a medical issue. You have to disclose information to protect people from abuse or deadly harm, such as a person who is threatening suicide, or confessing to abuse (119).

Friends Your Age Are Not Enough
You don’t need to a member of the “Family INtegrated Church” movement to agree that “Age should not build walls. Jesus should tear them down. When we put aside our preference for people just like us, we broadcast the beauty of our shared union with Christ.”

Kindle Books

Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul Tripp $4.99.

The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity by Barnabas Piper $2.99.

We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong by Al Mohler $1.99.

New Book

The Gospel of Jesus Christ by Paul Washer. This is a new evangelistic booklet that you can buy in packs of ten.

Video

Faculty Spotlight: Dr Michael Barrett
Here’s a neat little video profiling my colleague Dr. Michael Barrett. As a staunch non-reader of blogs, it’s a pity he’ll never see this!


Digital Detox Roundup

This week I started what I hope will be a major long-term series on the blog in 2017. The first two blog posts were 2017: A Year of Digital Detox and A Simple Exercise to Start Your Digital Detox.

The over-use and abuse of digital media has been a growing burden to me over the past few years and it’s all come to a head over the past six months or so with numerous counseling problems related to digital technology.

What really pushed me over the edge was knowing someone who had been struggling with porn and who was beginning to beat it. But that only created another problem as he simply replaced his obsession with porn with an obsession with social media. Porn was a symptom more than a cause. The deeper problem was simply an addiction to digital technology. He couldn’t leave his phone alone, day or night.

I was also increasingly frustrated with seeing students distracted by technology in the classroom. I’ll write more about this in the future, but last semester I banned all students from using technology in my classes. I’ve never enjoyed a semester of teaching so much in my life, with tremendous interaction and fellowship in almost every class. Thus far, student feedback has been positive too.

I’m 100% convinced that there’s nothing more important for individual Christians than to get digital technology under control. I really mean that. This is going to make or break our Christian lives and our churches for decades to come.

Comments

Judging from the comments and the emails I’ve received in the past few days, it looks like I’ve struck a chord. Here’s a sample:

Last summer I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts and cut way back on blogging. Best decision I’ve made in a long time! It was very liberating. Among other benefits my concentration has increased and stress level has decreased. (Diane Bucknell).

These are two benefits I also experienced on my recent vacation when I had something close to a digital fast.

I recently went back to a “dumb phone” because I was struck by seeing in my own life so much of what you stated above. It was eating away at my vitality, even while my own heart tried to “sell” me on all the ways that the tech was useful. For me, once I forced myself to soberly look at what was going on, the benefits could not hold a candle to the detriments. I struggle to get my family to realize the dangers inherent in technology in a loving and caring way – I usually end up teasing them about it so it doesn’t come across as heavy-handed. (Anonymous)

I sympathize with the difficulty in getting family onboard. Heavy-handed just drives it underground. Haven’t tried humor and teasing but maybe worth a try.

It’s also killing our churches. Many churches are losing that ‘up close and personal’ organic relational aspect, where we have real people in our lives during the week. I don’t know about you reader, but to me it feels like not having enough oxygen. I know of several good churches where people are leaving because of this … they may not put it in terms of the oxygen metaphor above, but these people are expiring because something essential to life in the body is missing. (David)

Yes, I should have added this to my first post. Digital technology is also killing our churches. I’m concerned at the number of people using smartphones as their church Bible or to take notes. Unless they use airplane mode, the temptation to check-in while worshipping God is way too much for most of us.

This has been weighing heavy on my mind as we start the new year. I think of how much time I waste on things like Facebook and Twitter and how much that takes away from the truly important things. I am not going to totally disconnect but I plan to severely restrict the amount of time I spend on social media. (Jeff Shealy)

Yes, Jeff. that’s my aim too. I’m not going to starve myself, but I am going to significantly reduce my data intake.

I would think this article would also speak to “gaming” & the amount of time it can consume in a person’s life. (Kathleen Peck)

Yes, gaming should also be included in the detox. It’s not something I’ve ever had a problem with. I confess, I can’t understand the fascination with video games — probably because I’m not very good at them.

A few people pointed out the irony of using digital media to call for a digital detox. I concede it’s somewhat paradoxical but I still believe that we can use digital media to ultimately reduce our digital intake.

Facebook Live

I thought I’d try a Facebook Live on the subject of digital detox. I haven’t done this before but I think it could be a good forum for answering questions, expanding the blog posts, and adding additional material. I’ll be online at 1pm ET. Hope to see you then.

Question

One person asked:

“How would you categorize nonvocational reading of books on a device? And the books I’m thinking about in the question are solid books. I’ll grant that reading tripe is a waste of time whether read in traditional book form or digitally.”

I’ll address this in more detail in a future post, but the research shows that while there are benefits to using an e-reader (cheaper books, easier to carry, etc), reading a real book results in greater recall and light-emitting e-readers spoil sleep.

I’ve swung back and forwards on this but I’m definitely moving more to books than ebooks for relaxation reading. I’ve given up trying to read eBooks on my iPad or iPhone because I just cannot concentrate with so many other Apps enticing me. I sometimes use a basic Kindle but I do find paper books put me in a different and better mental state compared to eBooks. For work purposes, I like to use the Kindle Desktop App as it not only allows me to copy and paste but also produces a decent footnote.

Blogs

Marshall McLuhan Can Save Us From Destroying Humanity With Tech
A look back at McLuhan’s penetrating and prophetic voice and what he’d say to us today.

Pyromaniacs: The End
Frank Turk explains why he’s heading over the horizon and turning his back on blogging. He’s too hard on himself, overstates his case, and paints with too broad a brush. But there’s much truth in what he says and I’ve certainly been carefully and prayerfully weighing his comments.

Social Media Resolutions for 2017
There’s much more that could be said but this is a good start.

The Right to Disconnect
France has passed laws giving employees the right to disconnect from work emails during certain hours.

Though ridiculed in some quarters as a ban on work-related email after hours, it is not quite that. But it is born of the enlightened view that it is actually beneficial for people not to work all the time, and that workers have the right to occasionally draw the line when their employer’s demands intrude on evenings at home, treasured vacations or Sundays with friends and family.

3 Things Parents Can Do to Keep Your Kids From Sexting
Did you know, sexting is the 6th largest major health concern among children.  According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, it ranks right below child abuse and of more concern that teen pregnancy and school violence.

Video

Millennials and Social Media
Simon Sinek is author of the best-selling Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In this video he speaks a about a range of issues relating to millennials. At 3.15, he addresses technology and social media use. In hard-hitting comments he argues that this has become a societal addiction and the main reason for poor self-esteem and shallow relationships.