Posts in Work/Life Balance
The Eight Elements of a Digital Sabbath

You’re at the grocery store and what do you see?  People on their smartphones, walking down the aisles.  You go to the restaurant and what do you see?  Whole families sitting near one another but not really being present to each other.  Even at church, with just a few spare minutes before services, you’ll see smartphones pulled out of pockets and purses.  Just in case I miss something...

The smartphone cometh and has taken us to places we never imagined.

Consider the following:

  • Did you know that, according to Pew Research, only 15% of teens do not have a smartphone?  That means that the kid next door to the kid next door to the kid next door... all using smartphones.  I can remember just a few years ago when smartphones were kind of a luxury.  Today, not so much.
  • There's more- the average person, according to AOL News, unlocks their phone 80 times per day.  Think about that for a moment.  We unlock (and then use) our phones 80 times per day.  What else do you do 80 times per day? I can't think of anything if I'm honest.

When I first read that last stat, I didn't believe it.  Then, I tested out an app called Moment.  I realized that I was picking up my phone way more than I realized.  Dozens of times per day to be exact.

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Can you relate to all of this?  Do you pick up your phone more than you’d like, feeling tempted to check it even in the thinnest moments of your day?  

What can you do if you are starting to feel as if your phone is taking over your life?  I suggest one simple thing and it’s called The Digital Sabbath.  

The Digital Sabbath is a technique borrowed from ancient Judaism and Christianity whereby believers would take a day out of their week to rest.  The concept was deeply baked into the DNA of adherents: no work, just rest, play, enjoyment and renewal.  That sounds good, doesn't it?

To most of us, this idea sounds cute.  I used to think this too until I started to take it seriously. I figured I had nothing to lose so I picked Sunday as my day of the week.  Since I’m a Catholic Christian, this also made lots of sense.  Sunday would be the day when I would try not to use my phone.

After doing this experiment for several months, I’ve found the following to be eight key elements of a successful digital sabbath:

  1. Define what “digital” means to you.  To me, it’s mostly my phone + Twitter + Facebook.  I don’t feel tempted to check Instagram or LinkedIN any more so those didn’t make the cut.
  2. Decide why you want to do the sabbath in the first place.  For me, it’s a break, a breather and a barrier.  I need rest from digital usage.  I want to breath a different pace of life and finally, I want to gradually create a healthy barrier between me and my technology.  A day off helps me to do that.
  3. Don’t beat yourself up.  If you mess up and suddenly check your phone at a point in the day, be gentle with yourself.  Put it down and get back to whatever you were doing.  It’s ok.
  4. When with others, keep gadgets out of sight.  Fight the urge to place the phone between you and your partner when you’re eating a meal or having a conversation.
  5. When watching TV or a movie, keep gadgets far enough away that you’re not tempted to reach for them.  This might apply to a tablet or your phone or your laptop.
  6. Pick up a book. Grab one that you really enjoy and have been looking forward to reading.  Give yourself permission to read something analogue (a book, newspaper, etc.).
  7. Include nature or leisure.  By going outdoors or to a museum or street fair, you’ll “trick” your brain and distract yourself.  To the degree that you can divert your attention to truly beautiful things (art, music, nature, etc.), all the better.
  8. Celebrate the end of the sabbath.  It’s ok to enjoy checking Facebook or email at the end of the day.  Like breaking a fast, this is when you can reconnect with whomever you need to online.

These eight elements can make for a happy and productive digital sabbath.  Why not schedule your next digital sabbath?  When can you put down the phone and take a day for yourself to unplug?

FOMO and What You Can Do About It

FOMO, or the “fear of missing out” is more pervasive than we’d like to admit.  While the internet certainly enhances our vulnerability to FOMO, I can remember being in college and wondering what others were doing on a Friday night.

What if, my thinking went, other students are doing something more fun than what I am doing? 

I was left with a feeling of not only being left out but maybe that I wasn't as valuable as others.  

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Social media makes FOMO more of a reality than ever before and you might not be aware of its effects on your psyche. If you're consuming large amounts of social media, it may be impacting you more than you realize. 

  • A recent BBC article detailed the experiences of British teens who accepted the challenge to lay off social media for a week.  (Source)

It didn’t go so well.  The students struggled mightily during the week to stay off Facebook and Snapchat.  They actually felt as if they were missing out on life while staying off the internet.

  • This NPR piece explored the effect of too much Facebook on a young woman’s desire to be happy.  She explained that Facebook allowed her to post the good and the beautiful and avoid the ugly aspects of life.

Talking about the view outside of her home, she put it this way, “If you looked only from the porch, you could see mountains straight, but if you looked to the left, you could see this huge factory. But, of course, I didn't take pictures of the factory because why would you do that?”  

The result of Rachel’s savvy use of social media revealed an awareness of its inherent bias towards posting only what’s good.  Beyond that, she realized that she didn’t want to be posting everything for the world to see.  Sure, life is good when it’s good but sometimes things can go south, like when Rachel’s marriage fell apart.  She didn't feel like posting much of that aspect of her life.

FOMO increases anxiety.  We feel somehow “less” than the others we see online, especially if what they're posting looks exciting.

The good news?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  First, from a posture of how you use social media.  I suggest using it in the way that you want it.  There are no set rules to how often you should post to Facebook.  If you feel like posting, go for it but never feel pressure to stay up to speed each and every day.

Related to this, if you feel like social media has been getting the best of you, take permission to ditch it altogether.  

After all, the world won’t stop if…

  • you don’t post to Instagram
  • you don’t check Facebook for a week
  • you miss someone’s new pin board on Pinterest
  • you can’t stay on top of everyone in your Twitter feed
  • you go "off the grid" for a week or two

It’s ok.  Put the phone down. Look around and be with those that you are with.  As Jim Eliot famously said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

If Noise is a Problem, Does That Mean That I Have to Become a Monk?

It's a fact that more interruptions hinder our work.  They take us off track and this causes us to lose momentum and focus.  

Interruptions are a form of "noise" in the workplace.

At home, or wherever it is that you pray, noise can also be a problem.  Instead of interruptions though, noise comes in other forms when it comes to prayer.

For me, I'm often distracted by my surroundings.  Churches have lots of people and I can't help but look around.  

  • Don't I know that guy over there?  
  • Is that kid cute or what?  
  • Will I have to step around that person when it's time for communion?

Silly as these may sound, they form the noise that's in my head when I'm trying to pray in public.

In private, it's slightly better.  I like mornings on my porch for praying. It's just me and my Bible and my journal.  This is less distracting but there can still be noise- the kids waking  up, the lure of social media (just for a quick check), or even the preoccupations of my mind.  

So you're battling noise at work (who isn't!) or at home or even in church, does this mean that you should leave it all behind and become a monk?

For a very small percentage of us, the answer is yes.  This is a noble calling and one that I admire very much.

For the rest of us, "monkhood" is not an option.  We are called to manage our noise and put it in its place.  

This requires bravery, discipline and simplicity.  And, and here's the good news, it's very doable.  I know of many people who are choosing to dial back the noise around them in order to pray more fervently and live a quieter life.  

If you're looking for a first (or even a next one) step, I suggest the Digital Sabbath.  The Digital Sabbath is one day per week where you leave your phone aside and try to go "off line" for a day.  Before you list the many reasons why this is impossible, I simply invite you to try it.  One taste and you'll see that it's more practical than you might think.  

Be Honest- How Much Work Really Gets Done at Work?

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his job in the city.  His office was big.  His title was impressive.  His salary was more than enough for him and his family to live on.

What led to his leaving a cozy job?

It wasn't the money nor the responsibilities he had at work.  Rather, it was the soul-sucking nature of living in the burbs and having to drag his butt into the city each and every day.

He had had enough.  After prayer and more than a few long talks with his wife, he decided he was going to leave and pursue something very different.  

He hasn't looked back since.

Jealous?  I was when I first heard and then, with a smile, I congratulated him and admired his bravery.  If only others had the guts to do the same, I told myself.

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What Steve realized, long before he quit his job, was that he wasn't actually getting getting that much work done when he was at work.  

Be honest- how much work do you get done when you're at work?  I suspect that, if your job is anything like Steve's was, your day is full of any of the following time thieves:

-commuting to and from work (30-90 minutes)
-meetings (30-60 minutes)
-chit-chat (15-30 minutes)
-lunch (30-60 minutes)

A worse-case scenario could rob you of 150 minutes of your day- that's over two hours!  Tack on to the lost time of 150 minutes is the hard-to-measure moments that you lost due to distractions and being interrupted.  

That's not ok.

It's exactly why my friend Steve decided that he had had enough.  He's now doing work that allows him to focus, enjoy fewer meetings and work at his strengths.  Oh, and not having to commute into the city- that's the cherry on top.

If you're tired of these time thieves (as I am!), I suggest the following as an antidote to the problems of the modern workplace:

1. Attend as few meetings as possible.
2. Cultivate time, each day, to think deeply and focus, without interruption.  
3. Find quiet spaces during the day to do work.  
4. Create a personal workspace that you enjoy and look forward to.
5. Have as short a commute as possible.
6. Explore the possibility of working from home, 1-2 days per week.

I'm not saying that it's that simple.  But, it kind of is.  It takes humility to realize that and guts to stick to the simplicity of the whole thing.

Try any one of these six action-steps this coming week and let me know which one makes a difference in your time management and work.  I'd love to hear from you!

7 Surprising Attributes of Patient People 

Do you think of yourself as a patient person?  Do others give you feedback about your patience, or lack thereof?

This might look like a friend making a casual comment like, "As if you'd wait in line!" Or, your family might laugh when you tell them that you're patient.  

Family is good like that, sort of a built-in polishing of the stone.  There's no flaw that doesn't go unnoticed.  

My family has been telling me for years that I'm not very patient.  I wore it around my neck as an odd badge of honor.  You see, my father is not very patient and I just figured that was how it was supposed to be as a "St. Pierre man".  Add in the cultural myth that leaders are classically impatient and there I was- impatient as all get out.

Something inside me told me that this might not be a good thing after all.  What if patience was actually better than impatience?  What kinds of opportunities might open up if I could become more patient?

I chose Lent as the time of year to begin to study this further.  During a chat with a local priest, he asked me which one thing I could do to show God that I was more grateful.  It immediately came to me- I had to work on my patience.   

Since then, just before Easter, I've done just that. It's been work to flex my patience muscle and pause my impatience enough to grow and learn. I've realized that I was pretty much a zero in the patience department. 

It didn't feel good.  Something needed to change. 

After a few months, here's what I've found about learning to be more patient:

  1. Listening is part of patience.  To the degree that you can look someone in the eye and not just be waiting to say something is an act of patience.
  2. In between-spaces are part of patience.  Think of line waiting, etc.  
  3. Silence is part of patience.  How hard is silence for you?  For many people, it's terrifying.  Just closing your eyes, listening and doing nothing... this is an aspect of patience.  You're just "there".  For me, as a person of faith, this is integrated into my daily time of prayer.  
  4. Daydreaming is part of patience.  When was the last time you looked out a window and let your mind daydream?  Patient people, I've learned, enjoy a good daydream from time to time.  They're not in a rush to get to the next thing.
  5. Humility is part of patience.  To put someone else above yourself is an act of humility.  Thomas Merton, the Catholic Trappist monk, once said that the simple act of reading is a gesture of humility.  Just as it takes patience to read, it takes humility to be patient.
  6. Focus is part of patience.  A patient person can focus on thing at a time, whether it's a work task or a conversation.
  7. Contentment is part of patience.  If you can be happy doing one thing at a time, you're flexing your patience muscle.  

Patience is a rare virtue.  Our workplaces expect a lot out of us and bosses are typically impatient. As high performers, we demand a lot out of ourselves, always pushing towards excellence.

Through it all, we would do well to practice patience, with ourselves, with one another and with our work. 

One Clever Way to Chart Your Personal Growth

Productivity expert Carson Tate uses a wonderful tool to categorize folks according to their personal style of working.  

The Arranger

The Planner

The Visualizer

The Prioritizer

You can take the test here.  The book is even better as each chapter lets you just zoom in on the strategies that match your particular style.  As an avid book scanner, it was nice to be able to breeze through each chapter, not feeling guilty about it.

I'm a Planner first and a Visualizer second. My wife is an Arranger to the max.

Typically, when you take any assessment like Tate's (or Disc or Myers Briggs, etc.) it just gets filed and you move on.  I decided to do something different this time around.  I wanted to savor the assessment and link it to other measurements like Disc, Meyers Briggs and Enneagram.  

What if I could design a personal growth "tool" of sorts?  And, what if I could make it look nice?

The latter part was important to me.  Yes, I've written (in the past) my goals and posted them on my office wall.  Yes, it's worked.  What didn't work was the utilitarian vibe- I needed something stylish, something with some class.  


I use Canva daily (yes, daily) for reports, flyers, brochures, social media graphics and anything else in between.  It's nearly free and makes even the most basic designer look like a pro.  What if I could take my productivity style, along with a few other growth metrics, and create something out of it for my office?  Using Canva, I finally could.

Step two was to find a template in Canva that matched my office's aesthetic.  I chose a "resume" design- very simple and easy to manipulate.

Step three became more difficult as I had to limit the information to one page. The temptation in these things is to make it complicated.  Not this time, I told myself...

The final product included the following:  

  • Mission statement
  • Productivity style
  • Myers Briggs indicator
  • Disc rating
  • Enneagram rating
  • Quarterly goals
  • Spiritual growth target
  • Audacious career goal

Here's what the final product looks like in my office:


The value of this process was twofold.  First, it memorialized what I'm working on right now.  Second, it made personal growth much more than just a few ideas on a scrap of paper.  When you make something look nice, it gives it dignity and a proper place.  

Think- Baron Fig notebook as opposed to a cheap $1 version.

You can do this too.  It's that easy.  I've created a template for you to use for yourself.  It will save you about 15 minutes.  If you're familiar with Canva and want to do it on your own, that's ok too.  

Here's the download:

Free Personal Growth Template

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The real question is this: how are you capturing and honoring your own growth goals?