The Importance of Starting Well (1/2)

Some exciting personal news: I recently became a dad! I’m not sure how often I’ll be writing given that reality. However, I have some pockets of free time during my paternity leave, so I thought I’d jot down some lessons I’ve learned as a single/married person without kids to serve as a launching-off point for this new stage of life I’m entering.

I’ve found that the most accurate predictor of how my day will go is how I start the day. When I start well, I can approach my responsibilities with a sense of calm and intention. I’m more likely to adhere to other systems and strategies I’ve put into place, which allows me to better maintain focus. Conversely, when I start poorly, I often never recover. Even when I try to get back on track, I’ll feel continually restless and distracted.

Why does how we start the day have such an outsized impact on the the rest of our productivity?

Rolling into Momentum vs. Digging Out of Inertia

“Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.”

In his article, “The Physics of Productivity: Newton’s Law of Getting Stuff Done”, author James Clear creatively applies Isaac Newton’s first law of motion to our productivity. Clear explains: “When it comes to being productive, this means one thing: the most important thing is to find a way to get started. Once you get started, it is much easier to stay in motion.”

It makes sense, then, why it’s worthwhile to focus our efforts on beginning each day with healthy habits and priority tasks. These decisions may feel costly as we battle through bleary-eyed grogginess, but they make each subsequent step easier. They set us in motion down the right path.

On the other hand, the longer we delay getting started, the more difficult it becomes to get ourselves going. Each choice to indulge in procrastination is like shoveling a handful of dirt beneath our feet. Rather than coasting on momentum we’ve built, we must spend precious energy digging ourselves out of a hole of our own making.

Giving Distraction a Foothold

Our morning choices set the direction for the rest of our days. Here’s the problem: morning time is often when we’re least prepared to make wise decisions. All we want is to hit the snooze button and succumb to the whispers of sleep. When we do manage to roll out of bed, we’re susceptible to the onslaught of distraction from our devices.

I’ve written in the past about the pull of infinity pools — that is, how YouTube and other social media apps are designed to capture our attention and hold it hostage. We are especially vulnerable to those temptations when we first wake up. What begins as “Let me watch this video or check social media for a few minutes” quickly stretches to 15-minutes, a half-hour, or more of wasted time. This has several harmful effects that bleed into the rest of the day:

First, by granting distraction a foothold to start the day, we make it more difficult to battle distraction throughout the day. When talking to other brothers about the battle for purity, a common refrain is that the temptation for lust doesn’t subside once you give in; it only intensifies. In a similar vein, once we allow distraction in, our willpower to resist it grows weaker and weaker. Even if we’re able to get back on track, we will likely face increased temptation to relapse into laziness later on.

Second, beginning the day with distraction usually means beginning the day behind. By the time we emerge from our social media stupor, we are often frantically playing catch-up. This triggers a poisonous cycle of procrastination: (1) We’re behind on our responsibilities, (2) we feel guilty, frustrated, or overwhelmed at all we have to do, (3) unable to process those negative emotions, we turn back to distractions.

Passing the First Test

Recently, I listened to a short podcast (which somehow combines basketball and productivity) which helpfully captures how we should approach the crossroads we find ourselves at each morning:

“This practice is what I call passing the first test. When you first wake up, the first test of your discipline is… to not take your phone out of airplane mode until you’ve done your first major task of that day… What happens when you do this, is it’s this little bicep curl for your discipline muscle first thing that activates it. The rest of the day, when the choice comes up to be disciplined and do the thing you know you need to do, or go soft and eat the junk food or skip the work out, you’re going to have that muscle already pre-activated.

What I suggest is extending this to the rest of the day. See if you can notice times throughout the day, where there are these little tests. You have a choice whether you can maintain discipline and do the thing you know is right to do, or lapse into this softness and do the thing that impulsively you want to do. See if you can pass as many of those tests as possible.

Let’s endeavor to “pass the first test” and start our mornings with discipline rather tan distraction. In the next post, I’ll share some practical considerations on how we can start well.


It’s Never Too Late (3/3)

This is the final post in a 3-part series on depending on grace constantly. In this post, I want to talk about how it’s never too late to turn back to our Heavenly Father for grace and strength.

For an overview of the larger series, see the road map introduction post.

Let’s revisit the situation from our previous post: you have the whole day in front of you and a laundry lists of tasks you need to get done. With excitement, you resolve to yourself: I’m going to be productive today.

But you fail. Against your better judgment, you fritter away hours on trivial distractions. When the end of the day rolls around, you have nothing to show for it. Sadly, it isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s an all-too-familiar pattern.

You feel miserable. You hate how you’ve made this mistake so many times before and yet feel powerless to change. You berate yourself for being so foolish and short-sighted.

At the same time, you’re tempted to spiral down deeper into the hole of procrastination. Succumbing to distraction is the path of least resistance and allows you to avoid facing your frustration with yourself. You think to yourself: “I’ve already wasted the day, so I might as well waste some more time.”

“It’s never too late”

Over the years, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of this simple phrase when I’m tempted to spiral further into bad habits after a rough day. It helps me to pause and snap out of the stupor of self-sabotaging procrastination.

It’s never too late…

  • to turn back to God for forgiveness
  • to ask God for help
  • to take a few small steps with the time left in the day
  • for God to redeem this day for good
  • for God to use my for his glory despite my many failures.

I am often lazy, fearful, and a poor steward who lacks sober-mindedness. I am like the prodigal son, squandering the precious time given to me by my gracious Heavenly Father.

But the solution is not to beat myself up and will myself to do better next time. Productivity is a cruel master when I seek to justify myself through accomplishments and self-discipline. Yes, by all means, I should get in the lab. I should be proactive in identifying patterns of failure and strategic in planning for the future.

But first, I need to come to my senses and take the quick road back to my Father’s house. Praise God that it’s never too late to come home. Praise God that because of Christ, I am welcomed not as a slave, but as a son. Praise God that he waits for me with arms wide open, with forgiveness for sin and provision for weakness.

That’s it for my first series of posts on this blog. It’s not the best writing, but in this season, it’s better for me to prioritize consistency over perfectionism. In case you missed a few of the posts, here’s a breakdown of the entire series:

One Foot Forward, One Day’s Grace
Road Map

One Foot Forward – Take small steps consistently

One Day’s Grace – Depend on grace constantly

Grace to Get Started (2/3)

This is the second in a set of 3 posts on how we can depend on grace constantly. Previously, I wrote about building habits of dependence. In this post, I want to talk about the grace to get started — how God’s grace can help us confront the heart issues behind procrastination.

For an overview of the larger series, see the road map introduction post

Ah, the age-old problem of procrastination: we know what we need to do and have the time to do it (or at least get started). We tell ourselves we’re going to finish such and such task by such and such time. And then we blink and find ourselves at the end of the day, having squandered away precious hours on distraction and trivialities.

Why do we procrastinate? The most common explanation is that we’re lazy and lack discipline. The solution that follows is we simply need to try harder, discipline our minds, and focus. While this explanation accounts for part of our problem, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

In her New York Times’ article, titled “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)”, author, Charlotte Lieberman, writes:

“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”

This quote resonated with me. Yes, laziness and lack of discipline are certainly struggles of mine, but the real struggle is learning to confronting the challenging emotions and negative moods she describes. I’ve returned often to another article, entitled “The Complicated Lives of Lazy Boys”, which delves into how these difficult emotions can plunge young men, in particular, into long cycles of laziness and procrastination.

These articles remind us that procrastination can be a complex heart issue. What we feel about a task often points to more deeply-rooted fears about the future, and frustrations and insecurities about ourselves.

And if procrastination is a heart issue, we should not take a brute-force willpower approach. Rather, we should ask God for strengthening grace.

How Can We Rely on Grace To Help Us Get Started?

This is far from exhaustive, but here are 4 steps that make sense to me.

#1: Catch Yourself

The first step is learning to realize when we’re procrastinating. Many of us have bad habits established by years of procrastination. We turn to these habitual coping mechanisms without thinking and by the time we come to our senses, it’s too late.

We need to better understand our patterns of procrastination: the excuses we make, the distractions we turn to, and the common reasons why we distract ourselves. So, when we feel our focus teetering, we can realize what is happening and catch ourselves before bad habits take over.

#2: Clarify Negative Emotions and Moods

The second step is clarify why we find certain tasks “aversive” — that is, why they cause a strong dislike or disinclination in us; a visceral negative response.

Instead of letting feelings of restlessness or anxiety hover over you unexplained, try articulating exactly why you want to procrastinate in a journal or a note-taking app.

Sometimes the reason will be simple: “I don’t want to do this assignment because it’s boring and tedious.” Other times, the truth will cut deeper: “I don’t want to face this responsibility, because everyone else seems like they’ve figured life out, but I feel incompetent and immature.” Whatever the reason, by putting negative feelings into words, we bring them into the light.

#3: Commit Struggles to God and Ask for His Help

Once these emotions are out in the open, we can bring them to God.

Say a short prayer confessing how you’re struggling and ask for strength to focus. Remind yourself of simple truths, like how Christ loves us, has promised to never forsake us, and is with us even in moments like these. Here is where it is helpful to have established habits of dependence, so you can draw on fresh manna from your time spent with God.

#4: Get Started with Small Steps

Then, get started. Getting started is the hardest part. But once you’re able to get over the initial hump, focusing becomes easier. You’re able to build momentum as you slowly make progress.

A helpful strategy: try the Pomodoro technique. Write down a manageable task for a 25 minute session, begin, rest, and repeat. Prioritize process over results. You don’t have to face the stress of finishing everything; just focus on a single step.

A word of caution: be vigilant about sticking to your allotted break time. I’ve found when I’m fatigued after a Pomodoro session, breaks are tempting windows to fall back into the cycle of procrastination. If you sense that temptation, start back from step #1.

Lastly, it’s helpful to have a system to organize your work and break it down into manageable chunks. So when you’re ready to get started, you won’t have to waste time or energy figuring out what to do.

I hope this was insightful and gave you some practical strategies for battling procrastination with God’s help. Until next time!

Habits of Dependence (1/3)

Previously, we looked at three ways to take small steps consistently: 1) Set Goals, 2) Have a System, and 3) Get in the Lab. In the next three posts, we’ll be exploring practical ways to depend on grace constantly. 


In this post, I want to talk about building habits of dependence. I’ll be highlighting two such habits in particular: prayer and reading God’s Word.

These practices go by many names, each emphasizing a different aspect of why they’re beneficial for our souls. For example:

  • “Devotions” emphasizes how these practices express our devotion to God and cultivate our relationship with him.
  • “Spiritual Disciplines” emphasize how consistent time with God produces steady growth in our faith and character.
  • “Means of Grace” emphasizes how these practices are channels by which we receive God’s sustaining, empowering grace.

What does calling these practices “habits of dependence” emphasize? That the habits of prayer and bible-reading are ways for us to daily rely on God for strength, provision, and guidance. 


“Our Father in Heaven…Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:9, 11)

Daily prayer humbles us before our Heavenly Father. We often become inflated in our own eyes, but the Lord’s prayer remind us that God is big and majestic and we are small and dependent. Life is about his glory and kingdom, not ours.

Prayer not only reminds us that we are dependent creatures. Through prayer, we actively depend on God. We ask him for daily provision of our needs, forgiveness, and help to battle against sin.

Bible Intake

“Man shall not live by bread alone” (Lk 4:4)

Through prayer, we refocus our hearts on God and lift our needs to him. Through his Word, we hear his voice. God’s Word teaches us about who he is and what he has done for us. It gives us practical principles on how we can live our lives in response to the Gospel and in obedience to God.

This is why I placed “habits of dependence” in the first stage of the 3 stages of productivity — because prayer and bible intake shape everything else we do.

Why We Need Habits of Dependence

This is nothing new or groundbreaking; we know the importance of the spiritual disciplines as Christians. But why are these practices important from a productivity perspective?

Habits of dependence guard us from pride and self-reliance.

Many of us struggle mightily with productivity. It is one of the main areas where we feel an active, pressing need to depend on God.

But what would happen if we became productive? If we put efficient systems in place and built up our self-discipline, to the point where no longer struggled with managing our time or getting work done?

Would we find we no longer need God? Would we trust in our ability to accomplish whatever we want through ingenuity and hard work? Habits of dependence guard us from that temptation.

Our first step in pursuing productivity must be to build the habit of daily asking God for help. So that when we do become productive, we will not be proud. Rather, we will give thanks to the One who provides us with past and present strength (1 Tim 1:12).

Habits of dependence remind us we never outgrow our need for God

If we were only seeking to manage our time well, perhaps we could be productive without God. But true productivity, the kind that honors God and serves our neighbors, always requires his help:

  • We pray because only God can bring a lost soul to see the beauty of Jesus
  • We pray because only God can comfort a fellow believer struggling through a painful season..
  • We read because without daily reminders we’ll lose sight of God’s promises and become distracted by worldly pleasures.


There will be many times when the habits of dependence feel unproductive because they don’t produce immediate, tangible results. It is easy to feel like we have more pressing matters to attend to.

But habits of dependence are the most productive habits we can build. Why? Because we can only see clearly and live wisely when we are dependent on God’s grace and humble before him.

I hope to write more about the practical details of reading God’s Word and praying in the future. Stay tuned!

Get in the Lab (3/3)

This is the final post in a set of 3 posts on how we can take small steps consistently. Today, I want to talk about getting “in the lab”, which I’d define as embracing a mindset of experimentation.

The phrase “get in the lab” comes from one of my favorite YouTube channels by basketball trainer, Devin Williams. He uses it to teach his players the right response to adversity and failure—don’t give up. Learn, practice, and problem solve.

The same should apply to our productivity. We will struggle and fail, but our response should be to get in the lab.

Why We Need to Get in the Lab

#1: Getting in the lab promotes a “growth mindset” over a “fixed mindset.”

Those with fixed mindsets views themselves as having set or “fixed” characteristics. For these people, failure reinforces their belief that they can’t change. Because of that, they have a hard time pursuing or improving in areas which don’t come naturally to them.

Those with growth mindsets believe it’s possible to grow through consistency, diligence, and hard work. Failure is difficult, but it also presents an opportunity to learn. Individuals with growth mindsets have a more hopeful view of change.

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with having a fixed mindset. I tend to stay in my comfort zone and shy away from areas I don’t feel confident in. Getting “in the lab” is my way of trying to develop more of a growth mindset.

#2: Getting in the lab allows you to adjust for your specific situation and struggles

Even if you had the best productivity advice on the planet, you’re not going to be productive on your first try. Why not? Because no one knows your particular struggles with productivity except you. It’s up to you to test various strategies and tinker with them to fit your specific needs.


Some Strategies Going Forward

Commit to a Strategy –

Do some initial research and reflection, and settle on a strategy that makes sense to you. Brainstorm and plan for potential obstacles as much as possible. Then, jump in and get started.

Observe Patterns of Failure –

As part of your initial strategy, build in mechanisms into your task-management system that allow you to consistently review your progress. As you track how you’re doing, observe patterns of failure—for example, excuses you use to neglect a habit or distractions which cause you to procrastinate.

Experiment with Adjustments –

As you observe these patterns of failure, brainstorm adjustments that will help you the next time you encounter that particular difficulty. Implement it and repeat the cycle from the beginning.

Learn to Enjoy the Process –

Doing this over and over again is how we grow in productivity over time. It’s slow progress and it can be difficult to see repeated cycles of failure. But, as we become comfortable “in the lab”, we will begin to enjoy the process of steady, incremental improvement.