What are the basic tools for living a calm, meaningful, and productive life? Consider Newport’s Four Keys

I listen to Cal Newport’s Deep Life Podcast. In Episode 272, Cal begins the show by identifying four foundational tools for productivity. Watch the first ten to fifteen minutes. What are these tools?

  • Calendar
  • Obligation/Status List (More than a to-do list, could be mangaged with a project board like Trello.)
  • Multi-scale Planning Documents (Daily, weekly, and quarterly outlooks, and a review framework like you find in David Allen’s Getting Things Done.)
  • Core Systems Document (A snapshot of how you work and the tools you use.)

These tools are applicable to your job but can be useful in other dimensions of life. They can help you manage your household, lead your family, pursue your hobbies, priortize your volunteer pursuits, or practice your craft. They can help you be a better student if you are in school. How? These tools help you organize your time (calendar), capture your tasks and ideas (obligation list), methodically complete projects (timelined planning documents that interact constructively with your obligations and calendar), and focus your approach to accomplishing your goals (core systems reflect your process–you know how you do it).

When students ask me for advice on ordering or stewarding their life as a follower of Christ, I talk to them about calling, vision, giftings, discerned commitments, and time. Reflection in those areas defines the framework for moving forward. Then, calendar, tasks, pace, and process become tools that can serve us in working out the call, living into the vision, faithfully sharing our gifts, keeping our commitments, and ordering our days as servants of God.

These tools are not only useful for doing more things more efficiently in our jobs, they are also useful for the keeping of time and space to contemplate great truths, rest in God, pursue leisure, find renewal through practices such as retreat and Sabbath, involving oneself in a community of faith, appreciating the riches of human culture expressed in music, art, theatre, and film, and building meaningful friendships and relationships through the intentional cultivation of and participation in community.

Proverbs 6:6-11 says:

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.

How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
    When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

And Proverbs 21:5 says:

The plans of the diligent lead to profit
    as surely as haste leads to poverty.

The diligent person approaches their life deliberately and with wisdom. They learn how life works, how the world works, and come to an understanding of matters human and divine. They develop a vision of human flourishing, which in the Christian worldview, includes reconciliation with God and ambassadorship in Christ’s kingdom, not only as bearers of a message, but as witnesses to a redeemed, restored, and renewed way of life.

The outworking of this life finds expression, then, in our families, workplaces, churches, and our broader community, whether city, county, state, nation, or across the globe. We have agency and responsibility. There is an element of life that must be worked out, and faith, in this respect, is not only something we have but something we exercise and learn. We order our lives, not so that we can produce more, though we may, but so that our lives might be used as God would intend, toward the end of blessing our neighbors and, ultimately, the glorification of God (Matthew 5:16).

During the Crisis, Establish a Rule

Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

In 516 A. D., Benedict of Nursia developed a rule of life for monks who were living together in community. It’s known as The Rule of St. Benedict. This idea has been applied to our moment in books like Ken Shigematsu’s God in my Everything and Justin Earley’s The Common Rule.

Our rhythms have been disrupted. We’re out of routine. This presents a chance to evaluate our commitments, to adjust our priorities, and to develop a new structure. Blake Sherman had this to say about utilizing a rule during the pandemic. What practices could you establish? What habits can you build in that could sustain and strengthen your life with God?

Are you structuring your days differently because of the coronavirus? How so? And are you giving attention to how you direct your energies toward your life with God? What are you discovering?