Five Transformative Books

In a previous article, I addressed the power of finding clarity. I mentioned that a coach could have helped me find clarity, but for most of my life a coach wasn’t an option. Perhaps you are at a place in life where a coach isn’t an option. But what if coaches came in a variety forms? What if coaches weren’t limited to those we could see and talk to?

I have found mentors and coaches living over the past 1500 years. While I can’t talk to them, their thoughts and inspiration are archived in the writings they left behind.

Whether a 3rd century saint, or a 21st century productivity master, books contain vasts amounts of wisdom, direction, and information. Reading connects us to ancient wisdom as well as current tactics. As we read, we are changed.

While I love the writings of the saints who have provided me much direction in my spiritual growth, the following contemporary books have been instrumental in my pursuit of purpose, growth, and direction in navigating the busyness and fragmentation of life.

1) Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: Cal Newport contrasts deep work with shallow work. Shallow work is any task we can do without much thought. Deep work, on the other hand, requires concentration and focus. Most creative work is deep work. Even though deep work is needed now, our culture focuses on and encourages shallow work.

How the book helped: Deep Work helped me to be intentional and unashamed about the time I set aside for thought, study, and writing. Sermons are basically presentations. As a pastor, I present a sermon almost every week. I want my sermons to be creative, but also theologically sound. Such sermons take Deep Work to develop.

2) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity: David Allen’s book outlines a complete system for addressing our various tasks, requests, ideas, and projects. Tasks, requests, and responsibilities, can be dropped when we do not have have them in a system we trust. Allen’s concept of “mind like water”, being able to respond appropriately to whatever situation arises, has captured the attention and imagination of millions. Being able to get stuff “out of your head” and into a system you trust is a game changer.

How the book helped: My biggest takeaway was Allen’s concept of a brain dump and getting everything out of my head into a system I trust. When we have ideas, schedules, and tasks we need to do and remember rumbling around in our head, we are unable to focus. Instead, we are constantly distracted with monkey mind. Open-loops, whether tasks, requests, ideas, or projects, depletes energy and focus.

3) The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months: The 12 Week Year views a week as a month, collecting 12 weeks into a year. The system recognizes that with normal yearly planning, nothing may be done for months. Then, when October rolls around, frantic activity takes place to meet year-end deadlines. Focusing on a 12 week goal then determining the weekly tasks (tactics) which move us toward that goal enables us to reach our goals quicker than we think we believe. The 12 Week Year creates weekly movement toward our set goals.

How the book helped: I’ve been following Moran’s recommendations for about four months now. I’m finding increased focus and confidence of what I need to do daily in order to reach my goals. Each week there is a scorecard, so I know exactly what I’m doing and not doing. When I review the scorecard, I discover why I am or am not moving toward my goals, giving me an opportunity to adjust or recommit to my weekly tactics, ensuring I keep moving toward my goals.

4) Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: Culture bombards us with a lot of stuff. If there’s one thing we have, it’s options. Actually, we have too many options! Options bring stress. McKeown invites us to pursue less. The Essentialist recognizes that no one can “do it all.” McKeown writes,

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless. (pg 7)”

How the book helped: I have a lot of interests which become many pursuits and activities. McKeown helped me realize the power of focusing on what is essential. The focusing question, “Is this the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” brings clarity to the current moment. As McKeown says, Essentialism is a disciplined pursuit. Essentialism is not a program or a system. I must gain an understanding of what matters most and make it my pursuit.

5) The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal: Loehr and Schwartz recommend managing our energy rather than our time. Even when we manage our time well, we may not have the energy to perform the task, leaving the task undone. The book covers four areas of energy management: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The authors use a pyramid to indicate that each area builds on the one below, so that, if our physical energy is low (the bottom of the pyramid), our emotional energy will be low as well.

How the book helped: I related to having the time, but not the energy. Getting my energy “pyramid” in order, focusing on exercise and eating right, created a foundation for increasing my emotional, mental, and spiritual energy.

Personally, I would move spiritual to the bottom of the pyramid. For the authors, spiritual doesn’t refer to a specific religious proclivity or focus. Instead, spiritual refers to knowing your “why.” Or, in other words, your purpose. I believe that knowing your why can and does empower individuals to begin focusing on other areas of life, such as exercise and eating right bringing energy to the other areas. Knowing your “why” can be a powerful force, helping individuals get the other areas of their life in order.

PUTTING THEM TOGETHER: While powerful on their own terms, if these books are brought together, they can be transformative. When we have a system, such as Getting Things Done, to address all of the inputs coming to us, we are able to clear distractions and then focus. Adding the discipline of Essentialism helps us focus on what matters most. Once you have a sense of what matters most, The 12 week year can provide a road map of how to accomplish your most important goals. The Power of Full Engagement empowers us to pursue and fulfill our purpose. In order to become fully engaged, I must get the stuff out of my head into a system so I and that system must have a plan forward (The 12 week year), where I can focus (Essentialism) on what matters which fuels my Deep Work.

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