Daily Gleanings: Freedom (7 November 2019)

Via a Chrome extension, Freedom adds support for Chrome OS and Linux devices.

Of course, for Linux users, the Chrome extension won’t allow Freedom to run a session that blocks sites in other browsers like Firefox.

But for instance, if you

have a Chromebook, an iPhone, and an Android tablet. You know each device offers its own set of tempting distractions.

Add those distractions to a blocklist on the Freedom dashboard, choose your devices, and with a single click of the “Start” button, all the selected devices are actively blocking the selected distractions.

For more information about Freedom of Chrome OS and Linux, see Freedom’s full blog post.

For more about using Freedom to support your priorities, see this post.

Daily Gleanings: White-listing (4 November 2019)

Freedom releases white-listing for Windows:

Whitelisting or Block All Except … allows you to block the entire internet except for the websites you add to your exceptions list.

Thus, with white-listing, you don’t need to positively identify what online distractions you want to avoid. You just need to identify what online you need to be productive.

For instructions about how to use white-listing on Windows, see Freedom’s original post.

For more about using Freedom to support your priorities, see this post.

How to Use Freedom to Support Your Priorities

If you struggle with online distractions, you don’t have to battle them by yourself.1 You can use Freedom to support your choice to focus on what matters most.

If you don’t struggle with online distractions, that’s wonderful. But distractions can involve more than the trivial things we might immediately think of in this category.

Even “productive” activities can be distractions when they pull us away from where we really should putting our attention.

For Example, Email

For me, it’s email. It’s been email for years.

And in the near future, I don’t see it being very likely that I’ll suddenly stop wanting to check email more than is helpful for other priorities.

Has that editor written back? Does a student need a response? Has a colleague sent a document? Has a committee discussion moved forward?

These questions and others like them are all good ones that can get answered in email. But if I’m repeatedly doing email “quick checks,” I find I accumulate quite a bit of “attention residue.”

As Cal Newport describes,

When you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task…. It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so…. But … [t]hat quick check introduces a new target for your attention.

Deep Work, pp. 42–43; italics original.

And because there’s a “new target” for my attention, my attention can’t be as fully where it should be—whether that’s writing, working on a class, or spending time with my family.

Your online distraction of choice might be different. But if this tune sounds familiar and your self-discipline against distraction could use a boost, read on.

I’ll share how I use Freedom to help me focus on what matters at the times when email shouldn’t. You can apply the same techniques to use Freedom to support your own unique priorities.

1. Repeating Scheduled Sessions

1.1 In the Morning

I’m normally in the office on weekdays 7:30 to 4:30. And I have a regular set of things I do to start the day from 7:30 to 8:30, including the daily Bible readings that go along with the classes I teach.

It’s sometimes been tempting to begin by checking email after I get up or to “take a break” from a tough sentence in the biblical text. So I’ve created a repeating Freedom session that runs from 5:30 to 8:30 every weekday.

Morning routine Freedom session screenshot

This session blocks more than just email and other things that would be distractions during this time. It also blocks these sites and services on the different devices I might have nearby.

1.2 In the Evening

When I’m not at the office, the main email temptation is my phone.

This is true even though I almost never reply to email from my phone since I’d much rather type on a real keyboard.

I tried removing the Gmail app but still found it too easy to open Chrome, type in “gmail.com,” and do a “quick check” there.

So I also made myself a recurring session to block Gmail just on my phone in the evenings and overnight.

(If our little one needs someone to get up with her during the night, it might be my turn. Do I really need to see an email I can’t respond to and that then keeps me awake thinking about it?)

Phone email Freedom session Screenshot

If I do need to do some email in the evening, I can still do that from an actual computer.

It just has to be a decision I own by being physically in front of a computer rather than a reflex I slip into when pulling out my phone.

2. Custom Sessions

For a while, I tried to use scheduled Freedom sessions during the day.

I already had my calendar time blocked. So setting up Freedom sessions to run along with these same time blocks seemed to make sense.

What I realized, though, was that my calendar changes far too frequently for this to work well for me. Instead of making a change to a given time block just on the calendar, I’d also need to change a scheduled Freedom session.

But normally once a day begins, the calendar is pretty well set. So instead of trying to use recurring Freedom sessions during the day, I added a step to my morning routine.

Now, as part of that time, I look at the day’s calendar and create whatever Freedom sessions look like they will be helpful for that day.

If I’m working on grading, preparing for class, or doing some writing, the whole day might be one Freedom session except for the time specifically set aside for clearing out my inbox.

Or if I need do different kinds of activities during the day, I might schedule two or three separate Freedom sessions with different block lists for the times of the day when I plan to work on those projects.

Conclusion

You may find different Freedom helpful in much different ways given how your days and weeks look.

But Freedom can be a powerful tool. It’s powerful because it extends our self discipline.

It allows us to set priorities for our time ahead of time when we’re thinking clearly about what’s most important. That way, we don’t need to re-make that decision constantly over against our favorite distractions or “quick checks” that might dilute our focus on those priorities.

So, if you don’t already use Freedom, give it a try. If you’re like me, you’ll find that it much more than pays for itself in the amount of attention it helps you put where you really want to have it.


  1. Header image provided by Freedom

Pro Tips for Busy Writers: Anthony Le Donne

To this continuing series on “Pro Tips for Busy Writers,” I’m pleased to welcome Anthony Le Donne, Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary.

Anthony has authored or edited thirteen books. He also serves as the executive editor for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.

By this point in your career, you’ve likely worked on several writing projects concurrently (e.g., articles, books). What’s a memorable example of a cluster of projects you worked on concurrently?

My most recent example is in 2017–2018. In that two-year span I published five books.

Two I wrote from start to finish in the span of a year. Two were projects that I had started a few years before. And one was a co-edited project with a few colleagues who did the heavy lifting for the project toward the end.

One reason for the cluster is that some books take forever to write or edit and others come together rather quickly.

Larger projects (e.g., a dissertation, a second monograph) can be more important but less urgent than others (e.g., conference papers, book reviews). How do you avoid letting good-but-less-important projects push out or cause you to procrastinate on those that are more important but less urgent?

I think it’s important to know yourself as a writer. If you know that writing a book review will take a full week of your life, think hard about whether you can devote this kind of time.

Of course, say no if you can to such projects. But if you know that you can read, process, and write a book review in a day (and that this will be a positive experience for you), it may be worth it.

I will say one more thing about priorities: don’t let anything get in the way of your dissertation. Work on it every day, even if its only writing a few words or formatting a footnote. Make it a daily habit to write.

This was advice I got from a mentor when I was a student and I’ve tried to take it seriously. I write (almost) every day.

Do you divide your process between research and writing? If so, how?

I usually research while I write. Sometimes this is messy, but I use writing my own thoughts to process what I’m reading.

I know really smart people who take meticulous notes as they read so that they can organize their thoughts before they begin writing. This seems like a good idea too, just not for me.

If I need to read an entire book, sometimes I trick myself into not being tempted by the keyboard. I’ll take the book somewhere (maybe to a park) and leave the computer and phone behind.

What closing advice (if any) would you offer to (post-)graduate students and new faculty as they try to become comfortable and competent for themselves in making progress concurrently on multiple writing projects?

My advice—and I don’t know if it’s good or bad—is to avoid publishing until you’ve got your PhD in hand. Give yourself time to grow into your scholarly voice. Everyone I’ve ever met who published their MA thesis (or parts of it) has come to regret it.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this interview?

Header image provided by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash

 

Daily Gleanings: Focus for Study (9 October 2019)

Freedom offers some advice about how to stay focused when studying:

Studying is tough. Whether you’re a veteran student getting a Ph.D. or someone starting high school, figuring out how to stay focused while studying is a challenge that we all face. Whether your biggest challenge is social media, procrastination, time management, or a combination of all three, we’ve got a variety of tools and techniques that can help minimize the stress of studying and keep you focused on what matters.

Ultimately, there’s no quick, one-size-fits-all solution to staying focused while studying. Different methods and tools will work better for some than others. However, with a little trial and error and the tools and techniques above, you can create a routine of focused studying that works best for you.

The individual techniques Freedom suggests are good. But the final point about being mindful of and doing what works for you is really the trump card. If something doesn’t help, don’t do it simply because it’s on some list of suggestions. On the other hand, if you find something different that you do find useful, by all means, make that a core part of your study routine.

For the ten particular techniques Freedom suggests, see their original post. To try Freedom, see their website.

On the importance of focused attention, see also this post.

Pro Tips for Busy Writers: Jason Maston

Jason Maston headshotTo this continuing series on “Pro Tips for Busy Writers,” I’m pleased to welcome Jason Maston, Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University.

Along with Ben Blackwell and John Goodrich, Jason co-edited the newly released Reading Revelation in Context: John and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan). In addition, Jason has co-edited another five volumes.

Jason’s other publications include Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul: A Comparative Approach (Mohr Siebeck, 2010) and a number of scholarly articles.

Jason blogs at Dunelm Road with Ben Blackwell (who has also contributed to this series of “Pro Tips”), John Goodrich, and Ed Kaneen.

By this point in your career, you’ve likely worked on several writing projects concurrently (e.g., articles, books). What’s a memorable example of a cluster of projects you worked on concurrently?

2014–2016 was a busy time with the publication of Reading Romans in Context and Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination, and Reading Mark in Context and Anthropology and New Testament Theology were well underway.

I was also working on a couple of articles and moved countries in December 2014 to start a new job. Keeping up with all the contributors and publishers was difficult, but each of these projects was meaningful to me.

Larger projects (e.g., a dissertation, a second monograph) can be more important but less urgent than others (e.g., conference papers, book reviews). How do you avoid letting good-but-less-important projects push out or cause you to procrastinate on those that are more important but less urgent?

Honestly, I’ve not done well here since I’ve not yet gotten a second monograph. In terms of publishing most of my energy has been on edited volumes and articles. At the same time, throughout my career I’ve had a heavy teaching load and significant administrative duties.

I do try to overlap projects when possible. If you are presenting somewhere, make it align with your current major work.

Don’t spend much time on book reviews, unless it is a serious critical review. Hiring committees are more interested in one serious article than ten book reviews. If you are doing reviews, only do them on books directly related to your current work or on books that you know will be relevant to you at some point.

When you’ve worked on multiple projects concurrently, what processes, principles, or practices have you used to be sure you’re making good progress on all fronts?

I try to coordinate projects with my teaching schedule. If I can teach on something I’m researching, then it saves me time and energy.

When I’m really busy with deadlines, I keep a schedule of due dates and set a schedule for when I want to have something completed.

I also try to get more than one publication out of a topic. For example I wrote several pieces on Pauline anthropology, one of which was put in Anthropology and New Testament Theology.

Do you divide your process between research and writing? If so, how?

The balance between research and writing is partially determined by how much I know about a topic.

If I’m working on something new (like my contribution to Reading Revelation in Context), then I will read some commentaries and articles to get a feel for the issues. I then sketch out what I think I want to argue. If I’m working on something familiar, then I start writing almost immediately.

For me, writing is necessary almost from the start of any project. It’s only when I begin to put words on paper that my thoughts start to come together. I then see the gaps in my own thinking or issues that I don’t think others have resolved.

What do you do to help you avoid overcommitting yourself either on timelines that are too short for their projects or on how many projects you take on? How do you avoid undercommitting?

Two thoughts come to mind here. First, I think one should only publish when there is a clear benefit to the academy or some other audience (e.g., students or the church). Not everything needs to be published, and I try to only publish things that are worthwhile (I’ll leave it to others to judge if I’ve been successful with this).

Second, I’m selfish with my publications. I don’t accept every offer that I get. When considering a project, I ask questions such as these: how will it help me personally (e.g., in my understanding of some topic, in my career)? If the project is not in my normal area, how much time will it take from me? How widely received will the publication be?

When working on multiple projects concurrently, what tools do you use (e.g., filing systems, project management tools, apps)?

I’m a huge fan of Zotero for all bibliography stuff. I don’t see any reason for making footnotes when Zotero will do it for me. There are other bibliography systems, but Zotero is free and links nicely with Word.

What are two or more projects you’re particularly excited about that you’re now working on concurrently?

I’m an associate editor for a new series in New Testament Theology being published by Cambridge University Press.

The previous series edited by James Dunn served the previous generation of scholarship admirably. However several of the volumes are now outdated.

Under the guidance of John Barclay, and along with Ben Blackwell and John Goodrich, we are issuing 19 new volumes over the next five years. I’m writing the volume on 1 Peter.

I’m also working on the way that Psalm 8 is interpreted in Hebrews. My goal is a short monograph.

What closing advice (if any) would you offer to (post-)graduate students and new faculty as they try to become comfortable and competent for themselves in making progress concurrently on multiple writing projects?

Be realistic. Many of us work at institutions that focus primarily on teaching, and administrative tasks are always increasing. A major monograph may not be possible as one adjusts to teaching new preps and completes administrative duties. Don’t compare yourself to others who may not have the same tasks as you.

Write for yourself. Every project should have some benefit for you.

Write what matters. Don’t assume that every thought you have needs to be published. Some of the best scholars in the world have only produced a few monographs over their careers. But these monographs are groundbreaking. They are the ones still read 30 years after their publication.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this interview?

Header image provided by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash