Why You Should Focus on Habits

Importance of Habits

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Author, philosopher, and historian, Will Durant

The past few years have brought an increased focus surrounding habits and habit formation and for good reason: Habits define us. As habits are formed, so is our behavior. A Duke University study reported that around 40% of actions are habitual. Our habits determine who we are, what we do, and set the course for our life.

Habits Save Mental Energy

When learning to drive, we thought about everything; hands at ten and two, the brake pedal, the gas pedal, our speed. As we gained experience and confidence, we no longer needed to concentrate on the specifics of driving. Instead, we just drove. Our actions were automatic.

When we drive somewhere new, a GPS helps, but even with a GPS, we are still cognizant of our surroundings. We may even turn down the radio to limit distractions so we can concentrate.

After taking the same route several times, we no longer turn down the radio, use a GPS, or think about the route. We may find that we made the trip and don’t even remember some of it.

Actions take energy. When we perform new actions the brain exerts energy to form pathways between neurons. Each time we repeat an action, the neuropathway becomes stronger. When an action becomes ingrained or habitual, our brain doesn’t work as hard because the neuropathways have become well-formed.

Strong neuropathways allow us to perform actions without exerting as much energy thinking about them. Not remembering whether you locked the door, or brushed your teeth is a result of strong neuropathways saving energy for other, more taxing, actions.

All Behavior is Rewarded

Habits can be good or bad. Flossing teeth is good. Eating a quart of ice cream every evening while binge watching Netflix is bad.

In the book Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results, authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith point out that all behavior is rewarded. If you want to change a behavior, you must look at the reward and change it.

Fully understanding habitual actions require exploring short-term and long-term rewards. Flossing provides a long-term reward. Eating ice cream and binge-watching TV provides a short-term reward. Habits usually provide one or the other, at least when they are first formed.

Getting a “fix”

Dopamine, the reward hormone in our brain, brings feelings of pleasure and thus an immediate reward. Studies suggest that actions like binge-watching TV or checking email give a shot of dopamine.

Bad habits tend to release dopamine. We perform the behavior, get a nice little shot of dopamine, and want to do it again. Good habits, on the other hand, may not release dopamine, but instead bring pain, at least initially.

Bad habits can happen by accident. After binge-watching TV one night, I may do so the next. A behavior that releases dopamine, makes me want to do it again and again. Instead of being intentional, the behavior just happens.

Good habits take intention. Getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise, especially at first, doesn’t bring many rewards. Good habits take work and effort.

No Pain. No Gain

The weightlifter’s mantra “No pain. No Gain” reflects the difficulty of fostering healthy actions. Activities such as flossing, eating right, and exercising, may not give a dopamine fix, so we must look elsewhere for our reward.

In lieu of dopamine, good habits require intention. Good habits don’t happen by accident. In order to cultivate a good habit, we may have to structure our lives differently. Removing obstacles to the good habit helps. In order to cultivate a habit of exercise, some people sleep in their exercise clothes because waking up already dressed helps them get out of bed and head to the gym.

Looking Forward

Good habits do bring rewards, but the rewards are long-term. Living a healthy lifestyle may not bring a dopamine fix, but reflecting on our future self can be rewarding. Cultivating a long-term view nurtures healthy living.

The Apostle Paul, among others, have pointed out that we reap what we sow. If we sow bad actions, we reap the results of those actions. A lifetime of eating junk produces a future of health-related issues. A healthy lifestyle produces a future of reduced pain and increased activity.

Reading, reflecting, eating healthy, nurturing relationships, exercising, etc., may not bring an immediate reward of dopamine, or anything other kinds of short-term reward, but over time, however, such activities bring richness and depth to life.

If We Do Not Give Up

Bad habits happen by accident. Good habits take intention. Since good habits provide long-term rewards, we may become weary in doing good. However, if we do not give up, we will reap a harvest of life.

Action Plan

  1. Categorize your habits as good, bad, long-term reward, or short-term reward.
  2. Stephen Covey encourages us to “Begin with the end in mind.” What kind of life do you ultimately want to have? Begin writing down your vision and goals.
  3. Create a list of “good actions” you would like to become habitual.
  4. Choose one item from your list and begin doing it. You may have to limit obstacles.
  5. Determine not to sacrifice future goals, with short-term rewards.

Five Powerful Reasons to Journal

Five Powerful Reasons to Keep a Journal

I love the idea of journaling, but struggle to do so. I started to journal many times, maybe even purchasing a special notebook. After a few days of consistency, I would miss a day, or two, which turned into a month and then I’d stop.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten more consistent. I find the practice helpful and, at times, transformative.

Maybe you’ve thought about journaling, but haven’t been convinced. Here are the top five reasons which helped me develop the habit.

1. A Journal Gets Stuff out of your Head

David Allen advocates “getting stuff out of your head” because if you don’t, focus becomes difficult. Ideas, projects, and commitments rumbling in our heads keep our minds busy. Getting things on paper moves us toward focused and clear thinking.

Journaling is an excellent practice to get stuff out of our head and down onto paper, thus clearing our minds.

2. A Journal Reveals Where You’ve Been

In an interview, Greg McKowen shared how his journal helped him remember things he would have forgotten. Looking through his journey brought back ideas, events, and activities he didn’t remember, keeping them from being lost.

Our days fly by and we usually don’t take time to reflect. A log of where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and what we’ve thought brings a sense of continuity. We can see themes, tendencies, and trends. A journal helps us examine our life.

3. A Journal Works Out Where you are Going

“What do I really want?” is not a simple question. We may feel like we know what we want, but when we drill down, we realize we don’t. What we think we want, or what we thought we wanted in the past, isn’t what we really want. What a dilemma!

Not only does a journal reveal themes, tendencies, and trends of the past, it creates clarity moving forward. Slowing down and writing out thoughts and feelings, helps us process. We may even find areas where we are conflicted and confused. A journal aids in working out what we really want out of life.

4. A Journal helps with Productivity

It’s a given that productivity is vital for our jobs and careers. What we may not realize is the effect productivity plays in spiritual practices.

The most frequent reason I’m given for not reading Scripture, praying daily, or attending worship services is “Lack of time”. A close second is, “I’m too busy”.

Yes, schedules are bursting at the seams, but some busyness and lack of time are caused by poor time management. In short, we waste a lot of time on activities that don’t matter, don’t help others, and don’t bring joy.

When we journal, we gain clarity about what’s truly valuable. Thinking through the day ahead, either in the evening, or the next morning, creates an opportunity to discern what brings value to life. A journal can capture tasks and projects that are important and truly matter.

5. A Journal Leaves Something Behind

I’ve left the most powerful reason to journal for last. During his interview, Greg McKowen also shared about the deaths of his grandfathers. He thought he knew both of them well, but at their funerals, he realized he didn’t know who their friends were, their hobbies, their hopes, or dreams. He really didn’t know them.

One of his grandfathers, however, kept a journal. He didn’t journal everyday, but would record a sentence every few days over fifty years. McKeown said that one sentence every few days over fifty years helped him know his grandfather.

When I heard this, I was attempting to journal every morning and every evening, but I didn’t always do it. I’ve tried to journal from time to time, but was never able to make the habit stick. Perhaps I never had a reason to, until know.

The thought that upon my death my family might find my journals used to scare me. After hearing McKeown talk about his grandfathers, my fear transitioned into desire. Thinking that my grandkids, or even great grandkids, might find my journals and get to know me inspires me to journal.

I do not have grandkids yet. One day I hope I do. I will probably have limited connection with them, but I can leaven something for them. My kids will know me better than my grandchildren and my grandchildren will know me better than my great grandchildren, and so on, unless I leave something behind.

Adding Value

I find consistently writing in a journal difficult, but given the benefit, I’ve made it a discipline. While I don’t write everyday, I’m getting close. Whether I write every day, or once every few days, I will continue to write because journaling adds value to life, both my life and, potentially, others’.

I doubt that anyone will write about my life, but I can write as my life is happening. My life isn’t all that interesting. I don’t go on many adventures. It would be great to know more about my great-great-great grandparents, their hopes, dreams, life, etc., but they didn’t leave anything behind.

Perhaps through my journal, I can not only work out what’s valuable in life, but potentially leave a gift to my family as well.

Steps for Pursuing Purpose

More Art than Science

If we were created for purpose, why do we struggle recognizing it?

Finding my purpose hasn’t been easy and I don’t think I’m completely there. Instead of knowing my purpose, I feel like I pursing it.

Many excellent resources are available both online and offline to help with purpose and values discovery. Some of the resources can be quite expensive, even offering retreat experiences. Other resources, such as blogs and online articles, are free. Coaches and gurus will help us as well.

Finding resources will only get us so far. Our environment plays a vital role as well. We can have the best resources, but being able to focus and limit distractions can make or break our ability to discern our purpose.

Here are some important steps which aid in our pursuit of purpose:

Find Time

We live in in a time compressed culture. Schedules burst at the seams with work, family, church, social gatherings, entertainment, and other activities. With so many opportunities given to us, saying no can be difficult.

When we don’t know our purpose, we say yes to too many activities, tasks, and appointments. An over-full schedule leaves no time for discovery. Not setting appropriate time inhibits uninterrupted time for thinking and reflection.

One challenge is finding time to step back from the busyness and get a broader view of life. We have to step aside, get off the merry-go-round, and set aside time to reflect and think. Our first purposeful exercise must be setting aside time.

Quiet the Noise

Blocks of uninterrupted time are essential because our minds are as full as our schedules. We are filled with so much noise, we have trouble listening. When we schedule large blocks of uninterrupted time, we are create space for thought, reflection, listening to our life, and discernment.

Voices, internal and external, swirl around us, telling us who we should be and what we should do. Our sense of purpose gets lost in the cacophony. With so many voices, we can’t hear the still small voice deep within us calling us to purpose.

Silencing our internal chatter brings clarity. We do not create silence, we enter into it. Entering into silence is simple, but not easy. Quieting internal noise is more difficult than quieting external noise. Our mind continues non-stop.

The only way to combat our inner voices is through focus. Once we notice that we have lost focus, we bring ourselves back to the task at hand; finding clarity about our purpose.

David Allen’s Six Horizons of Focus may be helpful in finding focus. We begin at the “runway” since runway issues are take most of our focus, and move through each level, ending with our ultimate question; Why are we here?

The Six Horizons of Focus

  • Runway: We are usually stuck on the runway. The “runway” is our current schedule and everything we have to get done. Feel free to write down anything that comes to mind while thinking at this level. One of David Allen’s principles is to get everything out of your head. Once runway projects are out of our head, their “chatter” stops bringing focus.
  • 10,000 Feet: The 10,000 foot level are projects. What must be finished? What are we working on? Again, writing these projects down, whether they are current projects or “someday/maybe” projects will help our focus at other levels.
  • 20,000 Feet: The 20,000 foot level is job responsibilities. What are we required to do right now? What is creating all our projects? Sometimes we have five, six, or more responsibilities. Our responsibilities feed our projects. Knowing our responsibilities gives us clarity in our job.
  • 30,000 Feet: The 30,0000 foot level is our future job or role. Over the next next year or two, how will our job and role change? Roles within our job change over time. Where are we going?
  • 40,000 Feet: The 40,000 foot level is address the industry or company. Culture changes. The climate where we operate changes. Where are things heading for our company or industry? Are changes needed today, to be prepared for the future?
  • 50,000 Feet: Finally, Allen describes the 50,000 foot level as your ultimate bigger picture. What are you on the earth to do? This, my friend, is your purpose.

This outline is only a brief overview. These horizons move us toward a bigger picture of our life. As we write down our tasks, projects, thoughts, and reflections, focus comes. Chatter quiets down and we begin seeing our purpose.

Pursue Your Purpose

Perhaps you are beginning to sense that discovering your purpose will take some time. Yes. Yes, it will.

We don’t end up at the 50,000 foot level by accident. We must be intentional and set aside time. Strategic questions can help (see below), but in order to answer these questions, we must have time to think and reflect.

I’m not convinced even sitting aside a weekend is enough time to gain clarity. Clarity comes over time. Finding purpose is a pursuit that we may never finish.

Live Your Purpose

One of my coaching goals is to help clients discover their “why” because knowing their why helps them to know their purpose. Sadly, many people go through life never knowing their why or even caring. When we don’t know our why, we don’t know what to do and what to leave undone. We react to life rather than prepare for life. If we don’t know what our purpose, there’s a good chance we are living a life of quiet desperation.

While I have focused on setting time aside for thinking and reflection, in the end, action moves us into our purpose. We think and reflect to see connections between our actions and our passions. We ask question such as, “I feel most alive when I…?” or, “If money wasn’t an issue and I could do anything, I would…”

Our actions are key indicators of our passion and values, both vital in discerning our “why”. Some may argue that doing is more important than reflection, however, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.”

Remaining Open

Clarity unfolds over time. After spending focused time in reflection, we may believe we have found our purpose and it will never change. We must remain open to new discoveries. Each experience we have shapes us and draws us further into purpose. We must not assume that after a day or two we know our unchanging purpose.

While I want a map that shows my purpose, I’m given a compass that points toward purpose. Bill George’s classic Discover Your True North discusses purpose as finding our “true north”. A map would be nice, but we don’t get one.

Creating space in our lives to think, reflect, and pray, we are able to discover and begin following our “True North.”

Questions

Here are some questions while pursuing purpose.

1) What excites me?
2) What brings me pleasure?
3) What makes me angry?
4) What am I willing to sacrifice for?
5) What can I do with my time that is important?
6) If I didn’t have a job, what would I do?
7) What was I passionate about as a child?

Action Steps

  • Take control of your schedule by creating space to pursue purpose.
  • Set aside time for the Six Horizons of Focus.
  • Do a search on the web for questions to help with finding purpose.
  • Schedule some time to _do_ your purpose.
  • Experiment.
  • Live life.

Why You Need Purpose in Your Life

Desperate Times

Most of the time, I simply live life. I thought living was enough. For me, living meant that I did what I thought needed to be done. I was too busy living to worry about my purpose and the “why” of life. Who needs reflection and thought when there’s so much to do?

Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” I can’t remember when I first read his statement, but it stuck with me. I had no idea what his point was. I was living an unexamined life and it wasn’t too bad. I was wrong.

David Henry Thoreau expresses a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Of course, we may not believe we live desperate lives, but more and more Americans and others in developed countries suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety than ever before. We may not want to admit to our desperation, but it is becoming harder to deny.

Livin’ Large without Purpose

I didn’t think I needed to examine life. I thought living was doing what came your way, dealing with challenges and opportunities. I was living a good life, but, unbeknownst to me, desperation was locked deep within me. My desperation didn’t cause much trouble. My desperation was quiet. But then depression hit and life came to a grinding stop.

I would do a lot of things, but I didn’t know why I was doing them. I did stuff. Sometimes I did stuff because people told me it was what I was supposed to do. Sometimes I did stuff because I believed it was expected. I always wanted to have the “right stuff” and do “the right stuff” but, unfortunately, I didn’t even know what the right stuff was.

I suffered from a purposeless life and didn’t even know it. I knew all the “God has a wonderful plan for your life” shtick, but lacked clarity. While I believed I had a reason to be on earth, I was fuzzy on what it was.

I see others suffering from the same malaise. As Thoreau points out, most people can put up with desperation, because desperation hides below the surface and may not cause much trouble. Quiet desperation describes the person who doesn’t know his or her purpose and, probably, doesn’t even care.

Purposeful Power

Not caring about our purpose is unfortunate.

Purpose brings power to our living and gives us reason to get up in the morning. Our purpose provides direction and clarity. Through purpose, we determine what to say “yes” to, but more importantly, what to say “no” to. We can finally feel good about the work we do, and the work we leave undone. Reflecting on our purpose empowers us to expand our capability and, ultimately, purpose brings us fulfillment.

Depression was part of my journey toward clarity and purpose. I’m not sure I would have embarked on a journey toward purpose if my “quiet” desperation hadn’t started screaming and shouting. Depression led me to finally examine my life.

My world was caving in, but there was also a gift. Without this time of “holy discontent” or, rather, “hell on earth” I wouldn’t have examined my life. Sure, I was forced into the examined life, but I could have chosen to deny the pain and continue to push it deeper.

The Deeper Gift of Purpose

I’m not sure where I would have ended up without going through this difficult time. As it is, I believe my time of depression has helped me end up in a much better place. Now I take time to reflect on my journey.

Purpose doesn’t come all at once. A flash of insight or understanding doesn’t come at once. A light bulb doesn’t go off showing us exactly what we are to do or become. Purpose comes over time and unfolds.

Depression isn’t necessarily required in order to find our “why”. There are much better ways. Ways I wish I could have found and followed. Because I didn’t find a better way, I was forced to take a difficult path.

Today, there are many resources online, in books, and classes that can help someone find their purpose. There are coaches who lead individuals to clarity by helping them understand where they are currently, where they really want to end up, and a path they can take.

Ends up that Socrates was right! In the next article, I will go through some steps for finding purpose and living an examined life.

How to Schedule Creative Work

In a previous post, I wrote about managing energy instead of time. This article addresses how we can schedule our day to maximize our creative work.

Maker and Manager Schedules

Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, venture capitalist, and extremely smart with degrees in philosophy and computer science from Cornell and Harvard. After reading his 2009 Article, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, I began to realize that energy wasn’t the only consideration when viewing my work and schedule.

In his article, Graham asserts that those who manage and those who make (create) view time and schedules differently. A manager’s schedule is a series of hour, half-an-hour, and sometimes even 15 minute time blocks. Such a schedule works well for a manager because meetings can easily fit within those time blocks.

Someone who creates (a maker) needs a different schedule, because creativity takes time and concentration. Most creatives need large blocks of time to create. Graham suggests a half day at least and a full day if possible.

The creative process cannot be divided up into hour long segments. Creatives who get into the ‘flow’ of the creative process don’t want to have to stop to attend a meeting. Such interruptions not only break their sense of flow, but bring their work to a complete stop.

A Ruined Day

Graham shared how morning meetings ruin his whole day. Managers reading his comment may not understand his point. Given their ability to do their work in hour time blocks, they may not see the necessity of having a full day free of distractions. The makers understand completely. When writing about afternoon meetings, Graham comments, “That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it…[A meeting] doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”

Having a meeting in the morning, or really, at any point during the creative process moves you from being a maker to a manager, creating tension. Even though the meeting might not be for another four hours, which seems like a long time, just having the appointment in mind and trying to remember it, takes mental and, perhaps, emotional energy. Such energy is important for the creative process, whether painting, writing, or creating a Power Point presentation.

A Maker in a Manager’s Court

After reading Graham’s article, I realize that I am a maker living in a manager’s world. You may feel the same. There are some pastors who are definitely more manager than maker. They can spend all day at the office taking calls, meeting people, and having important meetings. After such a day, they feel like they’ve accomplished much. They may not understand the maker pastor’s need to get out of the office in order to get work done.

In the past, I felt guilty for wanting to ‘hide out’ for a day or two while I worked on sermons, sermon series, articles, blog posts, or some other creative endeavor. I’d hear the more managerial types talk about pastors who were “never” in their office as if that equated to those pastors not working hard.

I believe I work much harder outside of the office than I do in the office. Creative work is hard. I get frustrated with the notion that work only happens in the office and those who spend less time in the office are working less, or even worse, shirking their responsibilities.

Time is not all the same. Not all work is the same. Creative work is hard work. For the maker, Graham writes, “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.” Yes! Hard work requires time. In order to be truly creative, time is required and an hour here or an hour there simply doesn’t cut it.

Give me a day without interruption and I feel like I’ve accomplished much. Such a day doesn’t happen by accident.

My Solution to Maximize Creative Work

As a pastor I don’t have the luxury of living by a pure maker’s schedule for creative work. Meetings, administration, phone calls, and other managerial work are required. In the past, I would allow my creative work to be interrupted by manager work. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be sure if I had accomplished anything. Sermons, articles, and other work felt unfinished and I felt defeated.

My solution for creative work has been to use a combination of maker and manager schedules, along with a concept called Time Blocking. I schedule one day a week as a study day. I set this day aside for creative work and study. For this one day I use a maker schedule and attempt to limit distractions. Two mornings a week, since my energy is highest in the morning, I use Time Blocking to focus on sermon prep which, for me, requires focus and concentration.

In the office, I operate by a manager schedule and focus on less creative work. I’ll make phone calls, meet with people, process emails, do paperwork, and other Manager type work. Since I have time set aside to do creative work, I can do manager work with full concentration.

I would rather have more maker days than manager days, but I’ll take what I can get. No profession is perfect, so we must each discover, determine, and follow the system that works best for us.

No Guilt. Only Results

In the past, I’ve felt guilty about not wanting to go into the office and now I know why. Knowing about maker and manager roles helps me structure my week so I can get my work done and feel good about it.

Thanks to Graham and his insight into different schedules, approaches, and types of work (maker, manager), I can be more focused on my work and less guilty about my schedule.

I hope a maker/manager scheduling system helps you too!

Action Steps

  • Take a look at Graham’s article.
  • Categorize your tasks as “Maker” or “Manager”.
  • Experiment with Time Blocking
  • Create a schedule that enables you to get your work done and feel good about it.

How to Produce Your Best Work

NOTE: This is part one of a series covering how to do our best work. This article addresses time and energy management. The next articles covers two scheduling concepts.

Hats Galore

As a pastor, I wear multiple roles or “hats” if you will. I am a communicator, preaching sermons and making presentations. I’m a teacher, a leader, a manager, a facilitator, a coach, and a follower. At times I encourage and at times I re-direct. I am a writer, both of sermons, newsletters, blogs, and studies. Sometimes I am a community organizer, a counselor, spiritual director, and a listening ear. I am also an administrator and a strategist. I’m a prayerful presence in a hospital room and a vocal presence for justice. I’m called on for my opinion in many different areas whether I am trained, educated, or familiar with those areas or not. My StrengthsFinder results tell me that I am always a learner. I’m also a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle and to some a friend.

For those who wonder what pastors do during the week, take your pick!

Continue reading “How to Produce Your Best Work”

Extend Your Coaching “Reach” with Video Conferencing

Extending Coaching’s Reach

Traditionally coaching has taken place face to face. Coaching face to face allows the coach to notice nuances of facial expression and body cues. In order to coach face to face, however, the client and coach must be within driving distance and that distance must be taken into account when scheduling other coaching sessions. Telephone has been another option which addresses some of the geographic challenges, but forfeits the ability to see non-verbal ques.

While coaching in person may be the best option, the introduction of video conferencing addresses geographical restrictions and allows the coach to notice facial and body ques. Coaching via video conference extends the reach of the coach, creating new possibilities for coaching both individuals and groups. This article will explore a few tools for long distance coaching.

Criteria

The criteria I used in choosing a video conferencing platform, in order of importance, were:

1) Video Quality: Let’s face it. Having video stutter and stall does not help coaching. Having audio go wacky and needing to tell your client to repeat something, or, worse yet, missing something they said, can make coaching less effective. Coaching focuses on listening and if you can’t hear, you can’t listen.

2) Cost: If the cost of the service is too high, I simply won’t be able to afford to coach. Another option would be to raise coaching fees, which may limit the people I could help.

3) Ease of Use for Client: I take the client’s ease of use seriously. If they have to download various apps, keep them updated, install new programs, or some other technical hurdle, I’m just asking for headaches. My goal is to use the technology the client already has.

4) Features: Having breakout rooms, static room names, webinars, and other features are nice, but my basic need is to connect with an individual or group. Sometimes feature-rich solutions can get in the way of my main goal.

So, with those criteria in mind, here are my musings.

Zoom.us

Zoom is the service I now pay for and use. I purchased an account even though one-on-one video conferencing is free. Since I am about to do some group coaching, I needed a pro account ($14.99). The free version does allow 40 minutes of group video conferencing, but 40 minutes wouldn’t be enough for our group session.

The pro account gives you some added administrative and scheduling features along with unlimited 1-1 and 1-group video conferencing. They also have some add-on features such as a static room name ($40). Most of the add-ons were cost prohibited for me.

Appear.in

I really liked Appear.in. I loved not having to download anything to use it. As long as you are using a web browser that supports HTML5 standards you simple go to the video conference URL. Other browsers need to download a small extension.

Appear.in doesn’t even require you to have an account! You can try it yourself. Here is a room http://appear.in/some-random-room-to-show-appear-is-cool. All I did to create the room was use “http://appear.in/” and then add a room name that, hopefully, wasn’t already being used.

If you are using Chrome there’s no download or account log in. You only have to give access to your camera and microphone and you are ready. Give the URL to anyone else and they can join the video conference (up to 8 for the free version) as well.

The Chrome web browser (which I recommend) simply works. There’s nothing to download. The client goes to the web address and is good to go! Fantastic!

I also liked Appear because it allows the creation of static rooms even on the free version. While you have to create an account to ‘claim’ a room, your account is free. Similar features cost $40/mo for Zoom. Having a static room is nice because users can simply “show up.” If someone goes into your room, you get notified. I don’t really need this feature. It might be nice for some uses, but most of the time not needed.

I almost went with Appear.In, but the video quality was not as good as my experience with Zoom. While there are many factors contributing to video/audio quality (broadband speed, network congestion, computer load), overall Zoom seemed to have better video and audio quality.

I still have an Appear.in room though. Why not since it’s free? A pro account costs $12 a month, which is competitive. Appear says that a paid account gets better video quality, but in my tests (not scientific by any means), Zoom still won in the quality arena.

Google Meet and Google Hangouts<

I’m hard pressed to tell much difference between Google Meet and Google Hangouts. Apparently, Google Meet is supposed to be the new direction for Google. I thought Google was going to get rid of Hangouts completely, but that does not seem to be the case.

I wasn’t a big Google Hangouts user, so I’m not sure of all of the previous features, or how those features changed. One of the major changes was splitting out the chat feature which, I’ve read, was a response to Slack.

After looking through the comparisons from Google, I think I would like a combination of the two services. Some report Meet having better video quality, but after using Meet a few times, I’m not sure I could tell. In just about every session I would have video pausing, audio stutter, and other issues.

Hangouts is free. Meet is included with Google G Suite which costs $5/mo for the basic plan. The business version costs $10/mo, increasing the 30 GB Google Drive space to one terabyte.

Join.me

I didn’t give Join.Me a fair trial because it required a download and the cost was more than Zoom and Appear.in. I decided those two things would keep me from using Join.me. While the required download wasn’t a deal breaker, the download, plus the $20 per month cost was.

Both Zoom and Join.me required downloads causing me to view Join.Me along the same lines as Zoom. Since Zoom was cheaper per month ($14.99), I decided to get a Zoom account instead.

Join.me also doesn’t seem to work on a Chromebook, which, for me, was a deal breaker. I want clients to use whatever technology they have at their disposal. I do not want to be limited by the technology, if at all possible. Finding a video conferencing service that works with all the major Operating Systems (Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Linux) was one of my criteria. Because of the lack of support for Chromebook and Linux, along with the required download and the more expensive cost, I didn’t spend too much time evaluating the service.

On the plus side, there is a free version that allows three person conferencing. From the screen shots, Join.me look more modern than the other services, utilizing round video windows rather than square or rectangle.

If you are interested, I suggest signing up for a free account. They offer a 14 day free trial of their pro version, then you revert to the free version.

Slack

I’m including Hipchat and Slack because both have video conferencing in their paid products. Hipchat is $3/mo per user and Slack is $12/mo per user. Both services offer similar features, which could be use in a coaching environment. The main advantage of these tools are asynchronous and synchronous communication and the possibility of building a community. Both services allow a free trial of their paid accounts.

I’m still thinking about how to use hipchat and slack for clients. I may write more about the possibilities at a later date.

Final Thoughts

I highly suggest signing up for the free version of the various services. It helps if you have a plan on how you will evaluate each service to make sure it works for your specific situation. There are various services because each one brings something different. Once you know what you want out of a video conference service, evaluation becomes easier. For my situation, right now, Zoom works the best. Appear.in was a close 2nd and I may still use Appear from time to time since their free version allows up to eight people to conference at a time.

I hope this article helped you in some way. If you know of other services, or have questions or comments, please leave them.

Action Plan

  • Create a list of criteria
  • Create a list of video conferencing options
  • Read reviews
  • Create a few accounts
  • Test each service in a variety of situations

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.
Continue reading “Five Transformative Books”

The Power of Clarity

Quiet Desperation

I wouldn’t say I had bad habits as a young pastor because I really didn’t have habits at all, at least not intentional habits. Instead, I had an image in mind of what good pastors did and tried to live up to that image, yet I was not consistent or intentional about my life. Clarity of purpose didn’t come easily.

Like many reading this, I didn’t have the luxury of a mentor or coach guiding me. Even though I went to seminary, that was for education, not direction. For the nitty gritty stuff of life, I was on my own. Instead of intentional living, I was living by trial and error and living by trial and error wears thin over time.
Continue reading “The Power of Clarity”