Category Archives: discipline

how to foster sanctification through the use of the means of grace and application of Biblical wisdom

Oh, to be constant… in season and out of season

Consistency is one of the hardest nuts to crack.  We can all try and improve in small steps in different areas, but sticking to a particular plan with regularity for months and years is not easy.

Today, I read an eye-opening related article by Barry Hill* on “to-be lists”.  He explains the concept very nicely himself, though I summarise here for context:

Executive summary of “To-be lists”

It adds onto the familiar Todo list concept.  Items related to goals should firstly be listed.  (We forget easily!)  Secondly, prioritization of goal-oriented tasks should be significant.  For example: “spend quality time with my family” can be given a task such as “spend time one-on-one with each of my children every week”.

The problem: One Todo list to rule them all?

In my quest for competence and professional integrity, I admit I have fallen into the trap of being ruled by my Todo list at times.

My puzzle: how to both remind and motivate myself of all my commitments in a balanced way.

I’ve spent nearly two years logging into RTM on a daily basis.  (My Todo list tool of choice.)  With some personalised GTD implementation, of course – for those of you time-management geeks out there.

For the goals I had, I added them to my Todo list as repeating tasks.  Functionally, this reminded me on the correct day what needed to be done.  I prioritized liberally, processing thousands of reminders during my moving-country transition to only around fifty outstanding today.

And this worked.  It was good enough at the time.

What went wrong?  (Ahem… the D in GTD?)

Prioritization was, and is, fluid.  As a result, my regular goals could slip up or down a notch, relatively speaking.  Yes, I tried, and many days I checked them off faithfully.  But not every day.  Other high priority items could crowd them out and regular priorities could get de-emphasized.

Consider a one-off task with a deadline of today.  I’d push myself to get it done… but it is a lot harder to have the same motivation for a regular slot of chore-clearup, when I know I can always catch up the next day if neccessary.

Is there a better solution?

I have started using the don’t-break-the-chain system to help me keep track of tasks to be done regularly in order to satisfy a long term goal.  (These have tended to be forming new habits around my goals, or breaking bad habits that are preventing me from meeting my goals.)

Why does it work?  (The better-known benefits)

  • The satisfaction of crossing an item off the list
  • Consistently remembering that priority day after day adds up to a bigger achievement. The longer and stronger your habit gets, the bigger your motivation gets – in proportion – to avoid that break!

What makes it ideal for high level goals?  (Some bonus benefits)

It is insightful to be able to review your track record over time on that one specific task: answer questions like “Am I consistent only on weekdays?”, “Do I keep slipping up on one priority in particular, and need to have a mental refocus on it?”

As Bruce already recommended, Michael Hyatt has an additional useful podcast illustrating why incremental changes matter – they do add up!

So where can you start?

  1. I use I like the visually pleasing and functional interface: it gives a satisfying feeling to tick the days off.  (And sometimes the icons change after a week for an added feel-good feeling!)
  2. I add a chain for the next steps on my goals
  3. Each chain should be a Baby step. (As FLYlady reminds us!)  It has to be small enough to that you can do the whole thing the first day (no marathons, no heroics!) and every day after that, without making something else *POP* out of your schedule on the other side 🙂
  4. I keep around 4 chains live at any one time.
  5. Every month, add in a new chain for the next step on my goal.  They say it takes 28 days to form a new daily habit.  If this holds true, it is a reasonable schedule to cycle through new/next endevours, stepping ever closer to the end goals.
  6. As new habits become part of your regular life, put those chains at the end.  (You can still update them to make sure you’re not dropping anything, but by archiving these ones, you can focus on your latest set.)

The only drawback I’ve found with this technique, is that not every habit can or should occur on a daily schedule.  I’ve therefore redefined these tasks to work to their own schedule.

E.g. I always take Sundays off exercising. Rather than breaking the chain for this, I’ve defined my chain as “Excercise to my schedule”, so for days when I don’t exercise (deliberately), I still continue the chain.

Will it work for you?

Of course this is not a silver bullet.  (Chains do not replace a Todo list.)  It is yet another useful tool in our arsenal in striving for greater consistency in our lives.  With faithfulness, it can prove helpful.

And we need God’s grace to provide for us in even the most basic matters, providing us with the health and strength to do what we set ourselves to.  We can only do our best, with His blessing.

*Thanks again to Barry for his article!  While my system has been working well for the last month or so, his discussion helped me clarify my thinking on exactly why it is working.  It is helpful to have a distinction of terminology, and a clear boundary to help me decide what belongs in my Todo list, and what I need to chain.

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Posted by on Friday, April 6, 2012 in discipline


Grandiose Goals

Goal Posts

Photo thanks to Katie D, Flickr

Are you with me as one of the estimated majority who avoids making New Years Resolutions? I have found the tradition rather trite, but after a particularly relaxing time off work, I’ve found myself rethinking it.

There are reasons not to:

  • January is already a depressing month for other reasons (like having the long holidays behind you). The last thing you want is to pile on the guilt-trips.
  • There’s a notorious self-fulfilling-prophecy that New Years Resolutions are made to be broken.

This isn’t to say I don’t care about putting effort into positive change. For example, this past year, I worked pretty hard to figure out the “gluten question”. Which brings me to another reason I’ve avoided resolutions:

Having just one resolution is a bit lame, isn’t it?

Consider switching to a gluten-free diet. I’d like to suggest this is a pretty big deal. Just this one goal has presented challenges daily. And (for health reasons) there was no possibility of just taking a day off.

Here are just some of the challenges:

  • never eating a meal without paying close attention to the source of all ingredients.
  • logistical difficulty in attending a social function.
  • Showing true gratefulness and kindness whenever offered items of food that need to be refused

I have now been 100% gluten-free for four months and three weeks.

And I did everything wrong, as far as goal-setting goes.


  • When struggling two months into the research phase, I just went all out cold turkey – everyone knows that’s a recipe for letting yourself down.
  • I didn’t set a time-limit on the process
  • I didn’t even know if I had a problem with gluten when I started
  • According to my nutritionist, I was doing some of the medical tests back-to-front… but having got myself syched-up to do this, I still pressed on. (And to her credit, she is supporting me.)
  • I didn’t plan for it in advance: I took advantage of opportunities presenting themselves to me in my life, just then and there, that allowed for my progress to happen. God provided this all for me.

What am I trying to say with all this?

Fitting into the box of expectations isn’t the only way to succeed. If you feel you are not fitting that box – January 1 has already come and gone – and you haven’t decided on a resolution yet, that doesn’t mean it is too late for this year. You are not destined to waste time. You can be given an opportunity tomorrow to be grasped with both hands.

Isn’t there more to it?

Yes, you are right. I also want to encourage you that striving to make improvements in your life is a worthy cause. And diligently planning for it is not to be despised. Encouragement, that despite the drawbacks… despite the many ways we fallible humans can mess things up, setting goals can be a productive and worthwhile process to use to help ourselves improve.

As Proverbs so eloquently counseled “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”

That courage thing

It is easy to get discouraged. I know… This is often touted as one of the worst times of year. It is daunting to set goals, hoping for future strength, when you know you don’t have any right now. And that’s ok. No-one is saying you have to set goals. But neither is anyone saying you can’t. However small.

Maybe you have a setback like illness, where you must cut back on your efforts in order to allow yourself to recover. It is important to correctly budget this to avoid weighing yourself down by guilt or failure. Recognising a smaller goal in such an instance can help keep you going psychologically, all the more neccessary when your poor brain is getting that beating from your bodily weakness. Try something simple like drinking your set amount of water for the day.

Where next?

There are good, wise methods to help you support yourself in how to achieve goals. If you’d like to research it, I’d suggest exploring the concepts of S.M.A.R.T. objectives, a common industry-standard nowadays.

I would also commend to you a thoughful addition by Michael Hyatt: this gets the blood pumping in your veins, to help you see the vision behind what you are doing.

..and a Happy New Year 2012!

I hope you are enjoying every minute lived-out to the glory of God. Diligently planned by us, as best we can, but ultimately, alone planned by God. If the two should collide, there needs be no cause for regret. Pray for grace, because it is grace alone that can make us truly content.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Posted by on Friday, January 13, 2012 in discipline, encouragement


Fully plugged-in; or tuned out?

Beaded ipod headphones We had some animated complaints regarding changing social patterns during a recent study and discussion on God’s Technology. Someone commented on travelling a large distance to see some relatives “and all they did was sit on their laptops the whole time!”

Now, the geek in me just can’t help smiling a little. I mean, what is cooler than texting a private joke to your friend across the room? Having a little wink to relieve the boredom while sitting in impeccably polite silence. (Americans: its a Scottish thing!)

This gets old.

Do I have a problem with texting? No. Laptops? No. Ipods? No.

So what am I getting at?

Well, let me suggest a few ways that I have managed to upset people in my life:

  • Disappear for significant and solid chunks of a day/evening to “do stuff on the computer”.
  • Wear headphones while talking to someone.
  • Have a distant vacant stare as you mentally plan your next facebook status or twitter post
  • Respond instantly to an alert on phone/text/IM/etc
  • Look at your screen/ phone/ scroll through songs as you talk to someone.

I am not providing these as a list of Dont’s. That is demoralising and missing the point. It is not just black-and-white. There is a time and a season for different activities, and different choices about how time is spent.

But these situations demonstrate an aspect in common. There are other people in your life, who are spending their own precious time in your company and in your life.

They deserve some respect.

As I realised the impact on others, I have gradually begun to do less and less of the activities I mentioned above (well, I try!).  There are some underlying principles that have helped me rationalise why this is important:

  • Are you honouring the other person by your actions?

Example: Even if you switch off your music to reply to your Mum, having the headphones still on your head makes her not sure if you’ve heard what she said. It is frustrating for you when she repeats; and embarrassing for her when she doesn’t. Letting your body language show you have heard her is a way to demonstrate that you respect what she has to say.

  • Are you paying attention to the other person?

If you only half-listen without focusing on what she is saying, you stand a good chance of missing an important aspect of what she is saying.

  • Do you respond with your headspace in the real world?  Sometimes you just need to be there.

Example: If you are setting the table for your Mum, probability is, she needs to drip-feed you the next instruction every 1-2mins. That means an ongoing dialog with pauses. Not a song with Mum-overlays.

(Note to childhood self: remember the drip-feeding is because she is planning and deciding as she thinks, *not* because she’s trying to make life difficult for me.)

  • Are you communicating your social availability by your behaviours? I.e. Do you ever deliberately use the distraction to retreat from a social interaction?

Example: Using some entertainment to tune out for a while to give yourself a break. This isn’t neccessarily wrong, provided you send a clear message. If you need quiet alone time to recharge, you need to say so.

If you just “go online” same as you do other days when you do want to chat and share, it doesn’t help the people around you know when you’re open to interaction, or when you just need a little time to yourself.

None of these challenges are new with the advent of technology. It is the particular blend of pervasiveness, variety, time drains and concentration-engaging aspects of technology that come together to make these issues a daily dilemma. A bad habit.

So, in summary, my encouragement to you:

“Remember to love the people in your life more than your dearest technology.”


Posted by on Friday, December 23, 2011 in discipline