Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Tag: productivity

staying on top of things
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Staying on top of things

A few years ago, I was planning for an upcoming “boot camp” for new field leaders. Our boot camps are two full days of training but hardly “a place or undertaking that resembles a military boot camp especially by requiring one to endure intensive training or initiation”.1 Merriam Webster definition #3 for “boot camp. But then maybe we should ask the participants, not the trainer! In preparation, I asked these new field leaders and their directors what topics they would want us to cover. I gave them a list of topics we had covered in previous years. Someone suggested “how to stay on top of things”, something not on my list. In subsequent years, participants have almost always selected this topic as something they want to address at boot camp.

The difficulty of staying on top of things

This suggestion initially surprised me, but it immediately made sense. New field leaders have a steep learning curve as they move from front-line ministry into more administrative roles in missions. One of the challenges in this transition is how to manage the myriad of expectations, tasks and messages that come with their new role. See my recent blog post on the paradoxes of leadership. But regardless of whether you find yourself in a new leadership role or not, we all struggle to “stay on top of things”. As mission workers, we all end up wearing multiple hats, filling many different roles because of a shortage of personnel.

In this blog post, I want to briefly summarize what we talk about in this hour and a half session at boot camp. These are the principles and tools that have been most helpful for me to “stay on top of things”. I recognize that you will need to adjust my system to fit your personality and work style.

Learning to Work Deep: A review

We live in an inter-connected world, filled with collaborative tools and awash with information.  But we also live in a deeply-distracted world and this is the serious downside to the interconnectivity we enjoy. We live in a world where few people seem to have retained the ability to concentrate deeply on a single project. This is no less true of missionaries, or at least all missionaries that are connected to the Internet through their phones and computers on a fairly consistent basis.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport seeks to Deep Workconvince us of the importance of learning once again the skills of focused concentration and shows us some simple rules that he has learned to help him overcome this constant allure of distraction.

Newport is a professor of computer science (Georgetown) as well as a profilic author who writes about the impact of the technologies of the digital age on our life and work. The guidelines that he promotes in the book are ones that he has consistently practiced in his own life and work.  He gives multiple examples of how they have changed his own approach to work. One of the most attractive selling points of his approach is Newport’s testimony almost never works past 5:30 pm, nor does he work on weekends – while still teaching regularly in a prestigious university, writing multiple peer-reviewed articles each year, and publishing five books. Learning to do deep work is radically different that “drowning” in our work.

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