Inside “Yes” is “No”

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.”

AltWall, black, graffiti and sign by Jon Tyson

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”?

Technology and Distraction

Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, discusses at TED the interplay between technology, attention, and distraction.

For additional discussion of this TED talk, see Alexandra Dempsey’s post on the Freedom blog.

For additional discussion the significance of focus, the importance of guarding it, and a helpful tool to that end, see Focus—there’s an app for that. For more information or to try Freedom, see the Freedom website. For additional similar discussion and tools, see also

Ode to to-do lists

Kristina Malsberger discusses managing oneself and one’s commitments amid what can be a hectic whirlwind of incoming information and requests. According to Malsberger,

there’s a simple, centuries-old solution: the daily to-do list. Sure, checklists have their detractors—folks that claim they constrain creativity or induce undue guilt—but when done well, a to-do list functions like a trusty aide-de-camp, greatly improving your ability to remember, plan, and prioritize.

Malsberger then provides several practical recommendations about using and managing to-do lists. Among these are not “treating your to-do list like a junk drawer for all your ideas, wishes, and reminders.” Instead, a someday-maybe list that’s regularly culled for dead wood is much more helpful.

For the balance of Malsberger’s reflections, see her original post on the Dropbox blog. For discussion of someday-maybe and other types of helpful list ideas and workflows, see David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (rev. ed.; New York: Penguin, 2015). See also other discussion of productivity-related matters here.

Reading for writing

Cal Newport outlines the basics of how he reads when working on a project. According to Newport,

The key to my system is the pencil mark in the page corner. This allows me later to quickly leaf through a book and immediately identify the small but crucial subset of pages that contain passages that relate to whatever project I happen to be working on.

For the balance of Newport’s process, see his original post. For broader suggestions about effective and efficient reading, see for example Rick Ostrov’s Power Reading and James Sire’s How to Read Slowly.

Focus—there’s an app for that

For various reasons, focus can be difficult in a whole host of contexts—at work, at home, or during recreation. One contemporary culprit that can all too easily hamper efforts to “lose” oneself in the “play” of the real world are the digital devices and media with which some of us are constantly surrounded. As a helpful set of “training wheels” to foster better focus amid such distractions, enter Freedom.


For a quick overview of how to configure and begin using Freedom, see the clip below.


For additional discussion of the significance of focus and concentration, and (especially Internet-enabled) humans’ susceptibility to distraction, see Better attention than a goldfish, Eliminating distractions, Hyatt’s interview with Newport, Productivity assessment, Skills to cultivate for better work, Staying focused, Tips for better focus.

Staying focused

Over at the Evernote blog, Valerie Bisharat has some helpful reflections on “how to avoid focus-stealing traps.” One particularly interesting study that Bisharat cites is

from the University of Texas at Austin [and] suggests that having our cell phones within reach – even if they’re powered off– reduces cognitive capacity, or ability to concentrate.

The cognitive pull of our devices is something that can be difficult to recognize, present with us as they often are. But the possibly deleterious effects on concentration that derive from having too much access to novel stimuli is certainly something that bears careful consideration.

For the balance of Bisharat’s comments, see her original post on the Evernote blog. On the same theme, see also Michael Hyatt’s interview with Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central, 2016).

Toward not multitasking on the Dropbox blog

The Dropbox blog has a short essay on the downsides of trying to multitask. Rather than multitasking,

deep and singular focus is just what the doctor ordered, but in our hyper-connected world, it isn’t always easy…. You could chuck all your gadgets and move to the woods, but luckily you don’t need to get that drastic. Experts say you can begin to retrain your brain and take advantage of deep focus by concentrating on one thing at a time, managing your use of technology, and reframing the “instant-response” expectations of your colleagues—and yourself.

For the rest of the post and a handful of practical suggestions about taking steps in this direction, see the original post on the Dropbox blog.