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.”


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.

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.

Four Practices For Processing Email – Email Management Part 2

The last article covered the consequences of ineffective email management. This article discusses some best practices for processing email keeping it under control. Over the past few years, I’ve read many articles on how to effectively use email. I’ve boiled down the recommendations to my top four practices of those who use email effectively.

Those who use email effectively:

Practice 1: Don’t Use Email for Task Management

Continue reading “Four Practices For Processing Email – Email Management Part 2”

Effective Email Management Part One

This is the first part of a two part article on the challenges of email management. This article discusses some of the problems of not managing our email. The next article gives some practices of those who effectively manage their email.

Stolen Sanity

Email can be the bane of our days. Every hour a constant stream of emails accost us, demanding our attention. Message after message of information, requests, and advertisements pour into our inbox, overwhelming us. How we manage our email can help or hinder our day, our productivity, and our sanity.

Continue reading “Effective Email Management Part One”