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August 2006

A Great Weekend

My New York weekend is history and we had a grand time.  The trip to Yankee Stadium was interesting.  Traffic was so heavy that we arrived at the game in the second inning.  Fortunately, our seats were in the shade because it was 93 degrees at game time.  The Yankees lost 19-6, which is more of a football score than a baseball score. 

After the game we went down to Jersey City to visit with some Philipino leaders.  I will visit their church tonight to conduct a leadership seminar and we felt it best to have a face-to-face meeting before my session.  Then on Sunday, I spoke at Crossroads Community Church in Maywood, New Jersey, where I spoke on "We Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself."  I have attached my Powerpoing slides from that session below for your study and meditation.

Sunday night we went into New York to have dinner with Deborah, our daughter.  We went to a Brazilian restaurant, only to find it closed since the air conditioning was broken (It was close to 100 degrees in the city!).  So we proceeded to the meat packing district to eat the Market Cafe.  It wasn't half bad, but it was so hot in the restaurant that we sweat while we ate.  As I've said many times, having fun is hard work.

Now I have some one-on-one appointments before I visit Philadelphia on my way home to Pittsburgh.  I will be home until next Monday when I head out to The Pacific Institute in Seattle. 


Yankee Stadium

I am writing from northern New Jersey where I am working with my friend Bill von Husen in Maywood.  Bill founded Crossroads Community Church here five years ago, and is doing a great job.  Last night, we had leadership from eight churches come together to talk about the implications of the purpose message for church work and life today.  I thought it was a great session.

Today we visit Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to see the Yankees play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  I am not going to root for either team; I just want to see the game and say that I was there. I have been to Yankee Stadium once before and found it to be a spiritual experience of a different kind!  When you sit where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson once performed, you realize that you are really in a special place where baseball is concerned.

The weather is hot, so I have mixed feelings about sitting in 90-degree weather for three hours.  But that's the price you pay if you are a baseball fan.   I have plans to see three more games this summer in Washington DC, Seattle and Pittsburgh before I leave for Africa on August 22.  That means I will have seen six games in person this summer.  Not bad given my travel schedule and work load.

It takes some work and planning to do what you love but I have found it worth the effort.  How about you?  Are you working to have some fun?  Or are you waiting for those things to just happen?  They seldom do, so why not decide what you enjoy and then go for it!  I'd write more, but I don't want to miss the first pitch.  It's time to have fun!

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Before The Phone Rings

In the last post, I talked about how important it is to make the most of my down time, my time between phone calls that set up my travel schedule.  I found that especially hard when I first started my business in 2001, for I would never know when or how often the phone would ring.  So I was always trying to figure out whether I should aggressively pursue more business or wait for it to come to me.  If I waited, then I had to decide what to do in the meantime.

The first year of the business was especially challenging financially.  When I left the church I had been part of for 27 years, things didn't go well.  I lost any chance to capitalize on the relationships I had and was forced to develop a whole new set of contacts.  I can remember that money was tight in April, 2002 and I was feeling scared, depressed and lonely.  Suddenly the phone rang!  Someone wanted me to come and speak the following July.  I was so happy.  When I hung up, I wasn't scared or depressed any longer, my faith was pumped.  Then I started to reflect on what had happened.

It was April and the ministry wasn't until July.  That meant there wasn't any revenue from that phone call for three months and we needed help there and then!  Yet I felt better.  So this was how my thinking went.  "All it took was one phone call for me to be encouraged, for me to feel better.   I was encouraged because the phone rang, not because I got a check in the mail.  Therefore, if I felt better after one simple phone call, then why can't I decide to feel better before the phone calls ever come?" 

It was there and then that I decided to enjoy my business, the up and the down times.  I made the decision to be encouraged before the phone rang, to even be encouraged if the phone never rang.  I was no longer going to sit and fret; I was going to sit and have faith.  I was going to be happy!

You know what?  I have followed through on that decision the last four years..  I made the choice to trust the Lord and the decision I had made to start the business.  Don't get me wrong; I'm still happy and encouraged when the phone rings.  I'm also happy, however, when it doesn't ring, for I believe it will ring again.  And if it doesn't, then I trust that there is a reason why it isn't ringing. 

Think of how little it takes for you to be encouraged sometimes.  And if something that small can lift your spirits, why wait for those little things to come?   Live now as if those little things have already happened.  In other words, make a decision to be happy and to stop fretting.  Your fretting won't change a thing.  Instead it will rob you of the happiness that you were meant to have as you pursue the work and purpose that God has assigned to you.  And that would be a terrible waste, for joy is the very thing that will sustain you. 


When The Phone Doesn't Ring

When I began PurposeQuest International in 2001, I had no money, no bookings, four books I had written, the purpose message and some faith.  Things were tight at first, but I remember one day I received a call to come and speak at a church on the West Coast.  I was elated, to say the least, and immediately took steps to ship some books, book my flight, and identify exactly what my hosts wanted me to do. 

When I hung up the phone, I had this thought:  It's easy for me when the phone rings. That wasn't my challenge. My challenge was what to do when the phone wasn't ringing.  When the phone wasn't ringing, I had to face the available options of what to do and what not to do. 

Should I pray or rest?  Should I make phone calls to market my services?  Should I work on a new book or a new seminar?  Should I read a book or attend a seminar?  I soon realized that it wasn't what I would do when the phone rang that would make my business a success.  It was what I would do between phone calls that would be the difference between success and failure.

I would imagine that you face the same challenge as you seek to express your purpose and do what you were created to do.  What are you doing with your down time?  What do you do when your phone doesn't ring, so to speak?  You are the only one who can answer the questions I raise, just like I had to answer them for myself.  The fact that PurposeQuest is still going today indicates that I have answered those questions in ways that have enabled me to perform with excellence and effectiveness. 

What can you do today that will yield the greatest long-term benefits for you and your dream?  Whatever it is, I urge you not to put it off until tomorrow but rather to use this time when the phone isn't ringing to prepare for the day when it will ring off the hook. 


Foundations

I ran across a quote from Robert Schuller yesterday:  "Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation."  As I've studied leaders and reflected on my own life, this is so true.  I can remember when I was in Orlando, I watched a company build a building for a local television station that included a tall tower.  I drove by that construction site for nine months and never saw any progress.  Why?  They were digging underground, preparing the foundation.  The taller the building, the more time needs to be spent on the foundation.

Think of King David's life as described in the Old Testament.  He was a great king, who impacted his world and still impacts the world today by who he was and what he wrote.  Yet for many years he was doing nothing, pursued by his father-in-law and without a kingdom.  Even though he was anointed to be king and spectacular achievement was ahead for him, he had to go through a time of spectacular preparation.

I can remember hearing great sermons when I was younger about missions and travel.  I met authors and others who were doing what I wanted to do, what I felt called to do.  Yet I was doing none of it.  I would go home and cry, kneeling next to my bed.  I would almost always sense in my spirit, "John, that is for one day, but not yet.  Don't give up!"

Today, I write, travel and do everything that I love to do.  I can't think of the last day I had when I didn't do what I love.  But it wasn't always like that.

Are you willing and able to pay a price to have your foundations prepared for your future life?  Can you invest a few more months, years or even decades getting ready for the magnificent building that will be "house" your achievements?  If so, does this mean that you must go back to school, learn a new language, or work in obscurity or anonymity for a while longer?  Whatever the price, I urge you to pay it.  Let God dig and prepare your foundations so that you high tower won't tip over when it's finally complete.

I agonized during all my preparation years, but now I thank God for all of them.  They made me the man I am today.  Your preparations will do the same, so don't take shortcuts but learn all that there is to learn and become all that you were meant to become as you prepare for your spectacular achievement that lies ahead. 


Chunking

I had a great weekend as I continue to use my system of my old Palm Pilot and my new paper Franklin Planner.  I can't tell you what a difference chunking has made in my productivity.  When I say chunking, I mean breaking down my long-range, complex projects into bite-size chunks that can be done in shorter periods of time.  Rather than wait for the six hours to do the whole project, I break it down into six one-hour segments.  I completed five of six chunks for one writing project and have the sixth project on my list to finish tomorrow.

In the past, I mentioned my tendency to procrastinate, not starting a project because I didn't have enough time at one sitting to finish it.  I think I have finally overcome that habit.  I was actually able to start my next book last week, and have done something on it every day, even if it's only been 30 minutes of work.  Last night, I sat watching a baseball game on television while I played with the manuscript.  At the end of the game, I had done some serious work toward revising the structure and content.  I was very pleased.

What could you do if you began chunking more effectively?  I wrote my devotional book on Proverbs a few years ago by writing about 30 minutes almost every day for 15 months.  There's no reason why you can't do the same thing.  Don't wait for large amounts of time to come that probably never will.  Instead learn to use what you have to do what you want, and watch your productivity soar along with your self-esteem.


More Done

I mentioned in my last entry that I have begun using a Franklin Planner once again.  I am still using my Palm Pilot, but the paper planner has helped me make better prioritized lists for improved focus.  Here are the things I am doing to make my days more productive:

1.  I compile a list of everything I want to accomplish every day.  This list includes such basic things as prayer, reading, exercise, blogging and my Bible studies, along with other projects and activities.

2.  I prioritize by assigning a letter to everything on the list:  A (vital), B (important), and C (less important) activities.

3.  After I assign a letter, I number each activity to determine the order in which I will try to accomplish it. I then go through my A list first, then to the Bs and finally, if time permits, to the Cs.

4. I am not trying to finish every activity.  I am breaking my projects into "chunks." When I complete a chunk, I check it off as done and then reschedule the next chunk for a day or two later.

5.  I am taking a lot more short breaks during the day, allowing a certain amount of time for each chunk before I take a break and move on to the next event on my list.

Lately I had been procrastinating, not starting a project unless I had enough time to finish it--which wasn't very often.  Using the paper planner and "chunking" have been the most significant changes that have allowed me to obtain some breakthrough results recently.

Part of my incentive for doing this is that I haven't published a book in three years and I have a number of writing projects that I need to complete.  This new system and these new habits have made a big difference in my productivity over the last few weeks.  What changes do you need to make to become more productive?  This is so critical because when your productivity increases, so does your sense of well-being and self-esteem. 

Spend a little time reflecting on your work habits and see whether or not you can come up with some ideas that will enable you to be a little more productive in the coming days.  If I can help you, let me know.

Feel free to add your comments or questions to this entry by going to the site where it is posted.


What To Write?

I am sitting here trying to decide what to write.  It's not that I don't have any ideas.  I have so many ideas that I don't know which one to choose.  That is how creativity operates--once you honor and make room for it in your life, it just grows and grows.  It's kind of like a saying I heard when I lived in Alabama: "It's like turtle meat.  The more you chew it, the bigger it gets!"  I don't know if that's really true about turtle meat, but it sure applies to creativity.   The more I chew on my ideas, the more ideas I seem to have.

I made a decision last week to go back to using a paper Franklin Planner.  For the last five years, I have used my palm pilot as my organizer, and I still do.  But I found myself not being able to write down my ideas and to-do list efficiently.  I had too many lists on loose sheets of paper and I needed to pull everything together.  So I returned to a pocket-size Compass Planning System, which is a new format from Franklin Covey. I have already noticed a big difference these last two weeks in what I have been able to do. 

In addition to my Franklin Covey and palm pilot, I also have a journal in which I make regular entries.  While writing in that the last two weeks, I have mapped out the topics for my Monday Memos for the next six weeks and composed poetry, prayers and prose.  I am busy working on a new book or two and have a lot of other creative ideas, one of which is an Internet radio show.  I actually have a proposal from an Internet station before me for a weekly live broadcast that would then be archived for any and all to access.  All I need is the money.

So how is your creativity coming along?  For it to be all it can be, you first need to accept it and then find ways toexpress it; then you need to begin organizing it, just as I have done.  If you can do those three things--accept, express, organize--you will be on your way to a more puroseful and productive life.  If I can help you on the journey, let me know.

Feel free to post your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.

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David McCullough

David McCullough is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who focuses on American history.  I had already read his books on President Harry Truman, John Adams (the second American president and patriot) and 1776, the first year of the American Revolution.  I decided to wade into two of his other books recently, and those are the topic for this entry.

1. The Path Between the Seas:  The Creation of the Panama Canal (1870-1914).  I must admit,  I had no idea that France tried to build the Panama Canal prior to America's effort.  The French attempt was a dismal and humiliating failure from which the Americans learned a great deal.  McCullough is a master story-teller as a historian.  He weaves biographies, politics, world affairs and technical issues throughout, so much so that this book is 704 pages hardbound.  I listened to the abridged version, however, but it still took 10 hours to finish!  This book reminded me that creativity involves risk, and the Canal was a masterpiece fraught with adventure, tremendous challenges, setbacks and danger.  Yet the Canal stands as an engineering marvel even by today's standards and its completion changed the course of transportation and shipping forever.

2.  The Great Bridge:  The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  McCullough slacked off on this book since it was comprised of only 608 pages hardback.  This time he tells the story of the Roebling family, immigrants from Germany who started a metal wire company that provided the iron and steel wire and rope for many of America's bridges.  The Roeblings also designed and built some of those bridges.  The book tells the story of the high price they paid to build the Brooklyn Bridge.  John Roebling, who conceived and "sold" the idea of the Bridge, died as construction began and his son, Washington, ruined his health while serving as the chief engineer after his father's death.  Yet the son finished the Bridge, and it altered the New York area forever, bringing together two great cities, New York and Brooklyn.  Today thousands of people drive over that Bridge every day without a thought to what a magnificent creation it was and is, and what a price people paid to have it built..

Whenever I read books like these, I am inspired to do all that I can do to impact my world in my generation.  Both the Canal and the Bridge were controversial, imperfect and demanding projects, yet they both changed the course of history.  Can I expect to do the same without paying some price?  History would tell me that I cannot.  So I dream and plan against a backdrop of great men and women who dreamed dreams, gathered resources, answered their critics and kept building in spite of great obstacles and opposition.  Reading stories like these just makes me want to do the same.

Feel free to let me know what you are reading by posting your review on this site

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"Excuse me, sir."

If you have read any of my purpose material, you know that my purpose is to create order out of chaos.  I have often said that I never have to go looking for chaos; chaos comes looking for me.  This has often been humorously expressed as people all over the world ask me for directions.  I am usually as lost as they are, but somehow I am able to help them find what they are looking for.

I am in Dallas, Texas as I write and it is 110 degrees (43 degrees Celsius).  Yesterday I was sitting in Panera's restaurant drinking coffee and utlizing their free wireless internet service.  A man approached me (and there were 20 other people in the restaurant) and said, "Excuse me, sir.  Do you know if there is a Bank of America around here?"  I told him I did not know, since I'm not from around Dallas.  I was on the Internet, however, and had the thought to look it up for him.  He left, however, and I missed a chance to be a blessing to him.

Three minutes later, a woman approached me and asked, "Excuse me, sir.  Do you know if there is Kinko's copy shop around here?"  I asked her to find the zip code of the restaurant and, when she did, we looked up the closest location on my computer.  I figured God was giving me another chance to be a blessing.

What happens to you that you don't have to go looking for?  What opportunities seem to present themselves for your attention on a regular basis?  The answers to these questions can help you clarify your purpose.  No one has asked me directions yet today, but it's early.  I'm back in the same restaurant where I was yesterday, so I am ready and willing to dispense all the directions that anyone may need.  I don't need a sign to tell them I'm ready.  Somehow they just know.