Getting stuff done… 3 tools for a more productive/creative 2012

to live at our best we must knock out 'The Resistance'

“Most of us have two lives.  The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” Steven Pressfield

The words of Jesus percolate down into the soil of my heart:  “to whom much is given, much is required”.  I take stock of my health, education, access to clean water, abundance of shelter, opportunities for travel and global worldview, healthy marriage, great children, and material wealth.  “Yes” I say to myself, “that’s me”.  I’m part of the group of which much will be required because I’ve been given a great deal.  I’m not a fan of wealth guilt.  Rather, it’s vital that we recognize what we have and get on with stewarding it for God’s kingdom purposes.

The words of Gandalf ring in my ears: “What matters is what we do with the time we’ve been given” (my paraphrase, so no corrections please, from Tolkien geeks). I’m reminded because of the context (as Frodo is bemoaning the lot in life that’s fallen to him), that it’s also no good to complain about where I stand just now in life because there are seasons, for all of us, when we need to confront Mt. Doom head on so that God’s good reign can took root in our life, or family, or world, in some way.

And in the light of these two exhortations, I’m reminded how remarkably easy it is to allow my discretionary hours to fizzle away in trivialities, rather than using my time purposefully for what God’s called me to in this life as teacher, shepherd/leader, husband, father (see the last post for an explanation why knowing your roles is important).  The problem is that life is full to begin with, and then with the little  bit of time we have left, there are literally a million distractions which will keep us from ever pursuing the things that will make our life most meaningful and most joyful.  Live passively, and you’ll be swept down the river, drowning in the murky waters of trivialities, as you watch another rerun.   There’s a better way, but it requires swimming upstream.  It requires intentionality.  Here are my three favorite resources to help you retool for the new year.

1. Tadalist, which is the simplest to do list too available on the internet.  After spending good money (like $3, even $6) on other tools, I got frustrated with them because they were so complex that I stopped using them.  Tadalist is great because it allows you to consider to make a list for each of your roles, with things you need to do in each in order to help ‘move the ball down the field’.  So, for example, under the category of teacher, one of my goals is to write an article for a magazine.  Thus, under the ‘teacher’ to do list, I have some things I need to do (like, writing an article, and a query letter) that will help me reach that goal.  I review the list often, at least twice a day, and it becomes the basis for my MIT list, a trick I learned from

2. Zen to Done. This tiny book is about getting stuff done, and clearing the clutter out of your life.  The beauty of the book is in its simplicity.  Anyone who follows the principles Leo offers will end up with a less harried and more creative, productive life.  Don’t worry about the word Zen.  The fact is, most Buddhists I know take Jesus’ words, “don’t worry about tomorrow” more seriously than most Christians.  We’ve a thing or two to learn, if we’re humble.  But it’s not about Zen anyway; it’s about getting organized, cleaning the clutter from your mind, and your workspace (my desk at work is next!), and living intentionally so that you maximize each day.  He introduced me to the concept of MIT’s, which means “Most Important Things”, and I find it priceless.  Each morning, I create a new MIT for the day, asking the question:  “what are the most important things I need to get done today in light of my calling, my roles, and my particular world of work, marriage, family?”  This book has helped me keep track of my keys, by encouraging the habit of putting stuff away.   We all have areas in our lives in need of transformation so that we might live more purposeful, peaceful, and productive lives.  Zen to Done will help you get there.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a book written to artists.  The point of the book is simple.  Pressfield tackles the one giant obstacle that keeps us stuck, unsatisfied with our lives, yet unable to move forward.  That one thing (named “Resistance” in the book) is procrastination.  His words, though, are so much more profound than a simple railing against procrastination.  I could quote him for hours.  Here are a few gems:

The paradox seems to be..that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery, while those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern them.

There’s a concept) that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work.  This way of thinking is a form of resistance.

The most important thing about art is to work.  Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying, because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen.  A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid.  Unseen forces enlist in our cause…

Of course, it’s priceless to know what it is you’re sitting down to do.  You have gifts.  You have a calling.  You have a beautiful contribution to make to the canvass of the world.  And it’s precisely because of this potential, that all the forces of hell are dead set against you getting on with.  Overcoming this resistance is perhaps the most important thing you’ll ever do.  And if you think you’ll start tomorrow… you’ve lost already.

What’s your next step in overcoming the resistance?

(If you’re in Seattle, I’ll be preaching about ‘next steps’ on Sunday – normal service times in spite of the fact that it’s new years – see you then)


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  • I had no idea Pressfield was so balanced. I read gates of fire and loved it

  • Kristina Ponischil

    I read the The War of Art a few months ago and found it incredibly eye-opening and inspiring. I wrote a blog about my response towards resistance and really identified with Pressfield’s description of it:

    Looking forward to hearing about next steps tomorrow! Happy New Year!

  • jeb

    the ideas you presented in The War of Art make me think you would appreciate and gain from reading Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris. i think there is some profound stuff in it.