Daily Gleanings (30 April 2019)

Reading time: < 1 minutes

In episode 173 of the Minimalists’ podcast, the Minimalists discuss digital clutter with Cal Newport based on his new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (Portfolio, 2019).

The discussion focuses a good deal on the negative impact of social media on our ability to focus on the work and relationships that matter most.

Recently, I mentioned a short interview between Matt D’Avella and Greg McKeown. There are apparently at least two more forms of this interview.

The mid-length interview of about 30 minutes is also openly available on YouTube. It contains some useful additional reflections on the importance of margin and Greg’s suggestions for how to use margin as a criterion for deciding what opportunities to welcome into your life or not.

Daily Gleanings (17 April 2019)

Reading time: < 1 minutes

From Greg McKeown via Twitter: “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

The extent to which we allow our attention to be drawn off from where it really should be is the extent to which we also become less effective in that area.

INTF has announced that a new print version of the Kurzgefasste Liste should become available in 2020.

Are You Free to Focus? (Part 2: Stopping)

Reading time: 3 minutes

This post is the second part of the review of some of the highlights of Michael Hyatt’s book Free to Focus.

If you missed this introduction, be sure to go back to read it for the context it provides on what we’re discussing this week.

Hyatt divides his advice in Free to Focus into three main elements. These are: stopping, cutting, and acting. Each of these elements subdivides further into three actions.

For Hyatt, these three actions come best in the sequence he gives. Only when we stop to discern what is truly a priority can we then appropriately cut what draws us away from that priority. And only when we cut what distracts us do we then have space to act and pursue that priority.

Here, we’ll focus on the first of these movements.

Part 1: Stop

Collected under the catchword “stop,” part 1 encourages us to create the space to discern what’s deserving of our attention. Until we know that, we don’t know what helps and what hurts our efforts to focus on these things.

Hyatt subdivides “stopping” into three discrete actions. First, he advises that we “formulate” where we want to go (27–44). Or, as Stephen Covey put it, we need to “begin with the end in mind” (Effective People, 102–53). At this stage, Hyatt encourages us to lay out for ourselves a concrete vision of “what … life could look like” if we were free to focus on what matters most (44).

Second, Hyatt recommends that we “evaluate” the best path to this goal (45–65). Here Hyatt develops a heuristic he names the “freedom compass” and suggests that, progressively over time, we work toward concentrating our efforts in the “desire zone” where our passions and proficiencies align.

Third, Hyatt advocates that we “rejuvenate” (67–90). There may be seasons where extra work is necessary. But it’s all too easy to let such “seasons” entrench themselves with a practical permanence. And when we allow this, we then surrender the space to unplug and gain fresh perspective on where we’re going and what we’re doing to get there.

What’s more, citing research conducted by Jack Nevison, Hyatt observes that when we “push past fifty hours of work in a week[,] there’s no productivity gain for the extra time. In fact,” the amount of useful work produced after this threshold actually “goes backwards” (68).

We might be tempted to balk at the discipline of rest. But this discipline remains key in restoring our ability to discern what matters most amid our often all-too-hectic schedules.1


As Hyatt describes them, these actions aren’t “one and done” deals. They form a cycle that you continuously go through as you seek to discern ever more carefully what is and isn’t really where you should be devoting yourself.

So, if you haven’t done so recently, set aside a bit of time at least to start formulating and evaluating.

If you find life especially hectic just now, you may need to prepare yourself to for this by taking a short walk or doing some other kind of rejuvenating or focusing activity. Or as Martin Luther—no stranger to intense work—is often quoted to have said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

But however you start, start. Begin laying the foundation for a more focused and intentional life by reflecting on what really matters most and how your current way of going through life matches up with this (or not).

  1. On this theme, particularly see also the helpful discussion in Greg McKeown, Essentialism, 91–102

Daily Gleanings (8 April 2019)

Reading time: < 1 minutesCharles Quarles’s Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator (P&R, 2013) is available this month for free from Logos Bible Software.

Cover of Quarles's "Theology of Matthew"

Matt D’Avella hosts a short (< 9 min) video with Greg McKeown that introduces some of the key lines of thinking around essentialism.

For additional discussion, see previous posts about essentialism.

A Conversation about Essentials

Reading time: 3 minutes

Some time ago, Michele Cushatt, Michael Hyatt, and Greg McKeown sat down to discuss “essentialism,” or “the disciplined pursuit of less but better.”

Unfortunately, the discussion recording has now been taken down.

More thoughts from Greg along these lines are available in his book Essentialism. But there were two points in particular that stood out to me from the discussion that aren’t brought out as clearly in the book.

1. The End Game Isn’t Saying “No”

Undertaking a “disciplined pursuit of less but better” requires saying “no” to certain things, sometimes things that are quite good in themselves. The point of doing so, however, isn’t saying “no.” The point isn’t withdrawal, isolation, or a reticence to be helpful.

Rather, it’s a matter of reckoning with the very real fact that the nature of human existence requires tradeoffs. The reality is that we can’t do everything. Whenever we say yes to something, we automatically say no to something else.

We are going to end up saying “no” to things personally, professionally, or both. The question is, “Have we made the space to reflect and ensure we’re saying yes to the right things, the most important things?”

If not, we’re in greater danger of failing to be present for others as well as we might otherwise do, whether that’s in a community organization, at a church, or in a family. We’re in greater danger of failing to contribute to the other people in our lives in the best way we can. We’re in danger of not saying “yes” to the most important things because we’ve allowed “yes” to be said for us in relation to any number of other less important things.

2. Try Having a Quarterly Review

Very practically, it’s good to schedule time once per quarter to think carefully about how we’re doing with the things in life that matter most.

Exactly what this “scheduled time” should entail will be different with different folks in different contexts. Think about what will help you best reflect on what has happened in the past quarter and assess that quarter against what is truly important. Then, you can strategize for the upcoming quarter depending on what went well or what didn’t.

If you haven’t had a quarterly review cycle yet and would like some tracks to run on, you can see Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever for his advice (pp. 219–22). You can then go from there in sorting out a quarterly review routine that works for you.

Of course, there’s nothing sacrosanct about a quarterly cycle. But, you probably want something long enough to take in multiple months and short enough to give you a place to pause and reorient when needed. If your life is already structured around a traditional three-semester academic calendar (fall, spring, summer), you might try scheduling a review for yourself at the transition points between each of those blocks.


Some things in life are much more important than others. But, the important things aren’t always the ones that bang on the door and demand the attention they should receive, as non-essentials often do. In such an environment, it’s up to us to ensure we prioritize what’s truly essential, rather than leaving that to the mercy of circumstances to conspire together or choose well for us.

What stands out to you in this conversation? What ideas does this video spark to help you ensure you attend to the essentials as you do life in biblical studies?

Inside “Yes” is “No”

Reading time: 3 minutes

We like to be able to say “yes,” whether it’s to a person, an organization, an activity, an object, or whatever. But, human experience works out such that inside any “yes” is also a “no.”

A bias toward “yes” isn’t inherently bad. It keeps us moving forward. Where we start running into trouble is when we neglect the fact that “yes” also costs us something.

This cost is sometimes described as an “opportunity cost.” Often, the concept is illustrated with economic examples. For instance, any dollar spent on a purchase is, by definition, not saved, given away, or spent on some other purchase.

Because dollars are interchangeable, this “opportunity cost” might not mean too much. But, the reality gains teeth when we also come up against the fact that the number of dollars anyone has access to is limited. Eventually, resources run out, even despite occasional efforts simply to go on pursuing more (see, e.g., Collins, How the Mighty Fall, 45–64).

The same principle applies with time and commitments. We can only fit a finite number of things into our attention at any moment. We can only pursue a finite number of actions in a given space of time.

And whatever we decide to put our attention on or to put into action then, by definition, squeezes out of that time and attention whatever else would otherwise have been there. So, for instance, time and attention spent studying can’t then also be spent in other ways.

But, investing time and attention in activities like study definitely can let us engage better with life as a result. To cite an often and variously quoted illustration:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!” (Covey, Effective People, 299)

Like anything, time spent “sharpening the saw” in study has its own opportunity cost that we need to be mindful of. But, it also pays dividends in making us sharper and better prepared as we continue moving forward serving and living life in biblical studies.

What encourages you to devote yourself to “sharpening the saw”?

Header image provided by Jon Tyson