Daily Rituals #1 – Working On A Maker’s Schedule

Over the summer I discovered a book entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work written by Mason Currey. It documents the daily life rhythms of “161 inspired, and inspiring, minds—among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians.” Each short chapter focuses on one person’s daily work. Some of the notable people profiled in Daily Rituals include Jane Austen, Mozart, Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Søren Kierkegaard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others. 

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Daily Rituals is a fascinating read to say the least. Having the daily lives of so many creative people described back to back allowed some interesting over-arching themes to emerge. In my observation, most of the people represented in the book had three main things in common. My first observation was the following: 

Daily work was generally done in routine and focused blocks of time with distractions kept to a minimum.

These time-blocks were generally in the 2-4 hour range with the shortest example being only 30 minutes per day. Many times, a given days work consisted only of one time-block. Of course there were the obsessive exceptions to this rule but this general rhythm was present more often than not. The rest of the day was spent doing other activities some of which I will unpack in the next few blog posts as I believe they are integral pieces of the overall creative process in their own right.

This practice of time-blocking seems to include a few underlying ideas.

  1. Create while your energy and interest level is high
  2. Work until you come to a stopping point – e.g. a self-imposed time limit or work quota
  3. Taking a break from the creative work helps and informs the creative work
  4. Don’t be afraid to walk away without a finished product

One example comes from the life of renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The author Mason Currey writes:

By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright from 1954 taken by New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A friend of Frank Lloyd Wright’s once observed that for as long as she had known him, the architect seemed to spend the day doing everything but actually working on his building designs. He held meetings, took phone calls, answered letters, supervised students—but was rarely seen at the drafting table. The friend wanted to know: When did Wright conceive the ideas and make the sketches for his buildings?

“Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning,” Wright told her. “I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4 and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.”

 

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule 

On a related note, I was recently reminded of an article written by Paul Graham entitled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. Written in July 2009, this simple 1100 word article has sparked a lot of dialog and rethinking about the way these two important but very different roles should interact. The basic idea behind the article is that the manager’s schedule is generally broken into hourly segments typically changing what you do every hour. In other words, a manager’s schedule is meeting based and meeting driven. The maker’s schedule tends to be based on focused units of at least a half day. You can see where the rub starts to come in. Paul’s company Y Combinator moved their entire infrastructure to this “maker’s schedule.”

The unique challenge of creative ministry

As a creative person, this practice of time-blocking rings true with my experience. Being a creative person that also serves on staff at a local church I know the tension that can exist between daily pastoral ministry and scheduling dedicated time to create, even when we are creating as an extension of God’s call on our lives.

I believe we can also see a similar tension at work in Acts 6:1-4.

6 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Represented here are two important ministry activities. One involves meeting a very practical physical need – the distribution of food to widows. The other involves attending to spiritual needs, giving time to hearing from God and distilling God’s word for the people – aligning our hearts with the very will of God in the process.

As I wrestle with walking out these ideas in my own life, I believe that we need to live in both of these worlds, making sure not to neglect one expression over the other. Both are important.

Creative work as an act of devotion

I think there is a very real connection in this practice of time-blocking our creative work to the spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, and study. When we give our energy toward writing a song, preparing a sermon, or any other creative work, there is an opportunity to turn our efforts into an act of devotion. Giving dedicated time to creative work is important for our own lives before God as well as for the people we serve. 

Question – How does this idea of time-blocking fit into your own experience?

Question – What restraints are currently in the way of giving dedicated time to your creative expression?

NEW SONG – Make Your Home Inside My Heart

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Sarah Brusco has an amazing story. A complication in dealing with an ovarian tumor resulted in the hardening of her vocal chords. She was told that she would never sing again. Sarah’s journey recently culminated in the release of her latest project “The Woven Whisper”.

I am honored to be a part of Sarah’s project with the inclusion of a song I co-wrote with Sarah’s husband, Eben. Sarah’s version is delicate and heartfelt and includes the beautifully haunting cello work of Sharon Gerber (Imogen Heap).

 

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The backstory

In the fall of last year we were going through a series entitled “God In Us” at Vineyard Anaheim. The idea of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can sometimes be under-emphasized perspective in certain corners of the church. A regular prayer of ours is “Come, Holy Spirit”. We talk quite a bit about the Kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven”. This idea is also very common in the language of many popular modern worship songs. I’m on board with this popular concept of the work and activity of the Holy Spirit. However, on the topic of “God in us” I just couldn’t find enough material.

I’ve learned that when I am struggling to find the right song to serve my current need, I’ve found a great opportunity to write a song. 

The initial spark

During a mid-week rehearsal, as we were working through the Bryan and Katie Torwalt song, “Holy Spirit” a melodic motif started to take shape. The original lyrics were “Hallelujah, oh my Lord”. For me, there is an x-factor that takes an idea from just “messing around” to being a potential song or “song seed”. I like to think of it as “the kiss of God”, that something special attached to a lyric, melody, and/or chord progression. This “Hallelujah, oh my Lord” idea had that “kiss of God” on it. Then the work began. 

Putting this melodic idea through the lens of “God is us” a new phrase came leaping to life – “make Your home inside my heart”. More forward motion. Here’s an iPhone demo of this initial idea in process from October of 2013:

 

 

More progress

A about a week later I had a Skype co-writing session with Eben where I played him this initial idea. Things were starting to take shape. Eben and I bounced ideas back and forth over the next few weeks. Then one Sunday night at Vineyard Anaheim I was free singing over an extended ministry time when a new melodic phrase emerged inspired by Psalm 139 – “search me, know me, make Your home within me”.  This eventually became the bridge and the capstone to the finished song. 

Here’s another iPhone demo with the raw bridge idea:

 

 

Some melodic tweaking to the bridge and lyrical work to fill out the verses and we were there. 

The finished song

I love what Sarah and Eben have done with the song.

Here’s a lyric video Eben put together recently:

 

 Sarah’s project is now available on iTunes by clicking here:

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How I lost 50 pounds in the last 7 months

When we moved back to California in the summer of 2013 I was coming off of 10+ years of a heavy travel schedule working for Vineyard Worship and I was tired. I was also the heaviest I’d ever been in my life weighing in at 245 pounds. I had made significant changes in my life moving back to California and going back into local church ministry at the Anaheim Vineyard. I knew that I needed to make even more changes especially when it came to my personal health and fitness.

 

50 pounds down

 

FINDING THE MOTIVATION

In January I went in for an initial visit with my new doctor. My blood work came back showing that my cholesterol numbers were too high. My doctor immediately wanted to put me on cholesterol medication. Not wanting to add another medication to my life, I found the motivation I needed to finally get up and get active again.

 

GETTING OUT MY FRONT DOOR 

My approach was simple and uncomplicated. I walked out my front door for 15 minutes and then another 15 minutes walking back. I tried to do this everyday except Sunday skipping the odd day for weather, sickness, or schedule complication. I also started diligently logging my food intake.

My walk took up the hill from my house and then down to the Hiltscher Park Trail – one many paths in the trail system in Fullerton, the town where we live. It took about 10 minutes to get to the trail head which left me only 5 minutes of trail walking before it was time to head back. I was walking about 2 miles a day during this stretch.

 

UPPING MY GAME

One morning In early July I decided to see where trail lead. This took me on a 5 mile journey looping back to my house – more than double my normal distance. Something happened when I took this longer route. I hit some sort tipping point where my desire to get out and walk was greater than the resistance to avoid it. At the same time, I also discovered the “Couch to 5k” running program. This stoked the growing fire within me to keep pressing forward.

I had started to add longer stretches of jogging into my routine and was unknowingly working “intervals” between my walking and jogging. I had no strategy whatsoever in how I was doing this interval training. I basically ran until I had to stop and walk. This generally left me with a feeling of failure as I could only manage to run about 2-3 minutes at a time. The “Couch to 5K” program gave me a real path forward and I was hooked. Now, I’m using this interval training approach to build up my stamina with the goal of actually running a 5K sometime in early 2015. This has opened a whole new world to me.

 

DISCOVERING THE “QUANTIFIED SELF”

Another discovery I made was in the area of what’s been called the “quantified self”. On top of apps that logged my food intake I also found apps that track my water intake, nutrients, exercise, and total daily steps (my current goal is 10,000 steps per day). One revelation from all of this activity tracking is that Sundays are my most physically active day of the week. Each Sunday I stand playing guitar and leading worship for a total of 4-5 hours due to the multiple services and rehearsal time involved. This reality helps me to feel better about making Sunday a bit of a “cheat day” in my new eating plan. With this, another piece of my new life rhythm is locks into place. I think this good news for musicians and worship leaders. :)

7 months in and I’ve lost 50 pounds so far. A quick check of my body mass index tells me that at the 208 pound mark I went from “obese” to “overweight”. Yikes!! I still have a ways to go. That said, my energy level is higher than it’s been in long time and I’m feeling great. Recently, I crossed under the 200 pound mark for the first time since I was in my 20s. As of this writing my current weight is 194 pounds.

 

MY NEW GOALS

1 – Add more strength training to my regimen.

My wife says she doesn’t want me looking scrawny. :)

2 – Run a 5K in early 2015.

I want to be able to run the entire 5K without walking.

So that’s my story. It’s still ongoing. I’ll post more along the way. It all started from a very simple place. I just decided to do what could with the time I had and with little to no money out of pocket. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for me to succeed.

 

MY APP LIST

Here are a few things that helped me along my way making things easier for me.

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1 – iTunes and Spotify
It’s not news that my iPhone allows me to carry my entire audio library with me. One of the ways I’ve been using this time in the morning is to discover lots of new music.

 

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2 – Apple’s podcast app – free
I’ve always been a podcast junkie. My new morning routine has allowed me to catch up on some old favorites as well as discover a whole new batch of new offerings in the podcast space. More on this in future posts. More great free content all the time!

 

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3 – MyPlate calorie tracker app – $.99
I’ve been using this app for a number of years. There are other apps out there but since this app was already on my iPhone I went with it. It does a solid job of tracking calories by meal, exercise, weight, and water consumption. Simple and easy to use.

 

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4 – Argus – free
I use Argus as both my pedometer and to map my walk/run each day. Its quirky interface sets it apart from other apps and it’s easy to use. I’m considering moving to a device such as the Fitbit Flex or the Nike FuelBand as these motion tracking apps on the iPhone are a battery life killer. The new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch also look pretty interesting when it comes to health and fitness tracking. I may just wait for the Apple Watch to be released. Any suggestions?

For now, Argus fits the bill.

 

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5 – Seconds – free
For the interval training I am using an app called seconds. It has a number of timer options and is easy to use. It does the job but I’m open to other suggestions. I use the free version as my needs are pretty straight forward. 

 

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6 – The Fullerton trail system – free
Less than a mile out my front door is the beginning of the Hiltscher Trail. The Fullerton trail system has been in place since the mid-20th century. It’s a country path in the middle of the suburban landscape. I love it. 

 

MY ROUTE

Here’s my regular route:

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Question: What does your exercise routine look like? What are your best practices here?

Question: If you don’t have a regular routine, what simple things can you do to get up and get active on a regular basis? Make it easy for yourself to say yes.

Sunday morning at 7 World Trade Center

In light of the anniversary of 9/11 I am reposting this blog from 2012. Since the writing of this blog the River has relocated to a high school in lower Manhattan. “From the sky to the streets” is how they’ve described the move. Same mission, different vantage point. 

 

 

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of leading worship at a church called the River that meets in lower Manhattan. I’ve known the leadership of this church for a number of years but I’ve never been to their Sunday gatherings.

They currently meet on the 40th floor of the newly rebuilt 7 World Trade Center in the main auditorium for the New York Academy of Sciences.

The River is a doing a wonderful work among the people of Manhattan and is thriving in a culture that is perhaps one of the most secular in the US.

Here’s their mission statement:

Planted in the heart of Manhattan, the River is a diverse church that welcomes New Yorkers of all backgrounds. Our goal is to create a warm & inviting space where we can connect to God and each other to pursue life in all its fullness.

Good stuff.

The views from their main auditorium are unbelievable. Out the window to the left looking from the stage you look uptown into the heart of Manhattan with the Empire State Building in center frame. Out of the window to the right you get the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, and on the horizon the blue rim of the Atlantic Ocean.

The views are breathtaking for sure but I was moved at a much deeper level. As we poured out our hearts to God I was struck by the power of what we were doing. We were literally inviting the Kingdom of God into the heart of New York City and asking for His Kingdom breakthrough over the city – literally while we overlook much of Manhattan.

Going a little deeper, the original 7 World Trade Center was destroyed in the events of 9/11 and when the new 7 World Trade Center was completed in 2006 it was the first tower rebuilt at Ground Zero after the attacks. On this site of incredible devastation, on what maybe the deepest wound in American spirit there is a community of faith that meets every week asking for the Kingdom of God to come and bring healing and mercy and make things right.

 

As I stood on the stage looking uptown at the Empire State building I was deeply moved by this reality. On this day of remembrance I remember my time on the 40th floor of 7 World Trade Center. I remember that “Mercy triumphs over Judgement” and I say a prayer of thanks for The River church as they weekly minister God’s healing power on the site of such tragedy. God bless their work!!

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I’m a sucker for a good documentary. Today I stumbled upon “Mile, Mile and a Half” on Netflix.

Growing up I spent large amounts of my summer in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve always had a deep love for the outdoors. “Mile, Mile and a Half” chronicles a team of artists as the hike the John Muir Trail traveling 211 miles in 25 days. Looks like I have another item for the bucket list. 

 

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Here’s the press synopsis:

“Just 250 miles from Los Angeles and fewer than 200 from San Francisco, the John Muir Trail (JMT) stretches 211 miles through some of the most beautiful and pristine wilderness in the world. 

In July of 2011, five friends and artisans set out on an epic 25-day journey on the JMT from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney to document the sights and sounds of the Sierra Nevada high country.

What began as an adventure to see – let’s be honest – if they could complete the trail, became the need to capture the experience in order to share the trail with others. For this is not the story of die-hard rugged athletes defying all odds to endure a harsh environment. It is the tale of five friends with passions in the arts and the outdoors that join with like-minded people and share an escapade like no other.

The unique visions of artists on the trail are exposed in video, photography, paint and music, as this unlikely group grows, creates art and gathers others along the way. Artisans are joined by teachers and students, seniors and preschoolers, families and a solo hiker from Japan, all becoming a trail family that together summits the highest point in the contiguous United States.

Take the trip of a lifetime with them as they face epic once in a generation snow conditions, capture the wild and pure alpine beauty of the mountains and create lasting friendships with the eclectic crew of characters they met along the way.

Come laugh, limp, sing and walk with us.”

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ABOUT THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL:

There’s a reason that “Backpacker Magazine” ranked California’s John Muir Trail as the best Hike in the World in it’s November 2010 issue.

Stretching 215 miles from Yosemite Valley to the summit of the contiguous United States’ highest peak, Mount Whitney, it rambles through some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery that the heart and mind could conceive. Most of your days are spent above 10,000 feet, where you’ll experience the High Sierras in all of it’s grandeur and beauty as you hike through: Yosemite, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Devils Postpile National Monument, John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks.

Some perspective on how far 211 miles is. (Give or take a few miles.) Think of walking from:

  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas (Make sure to look at the world’s largest thermometer in Baker)
  • New York To Boston (Figure out whether you prefer Manhattan or New England Chowder)
  • Chicago to Detroit (Not advised in winter)
  • Houston to Dallas (Not advised in summer, spring or fall)
  • London to Manchester (For our friends on the British Isles)
  • Paris to Antwerp (For our friends on the continent)
  • Rome to Bologna (For our friends on the boot)
  • Tokyo to Kyoto (For our 13th hiker)

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Clutter is taking a toll on both morale and productivity. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School studied the daily routines of more than 230 people who work on projects that require creativity. As might have been expected, she found that their ability to think creatively fell markedly if their working days were punctuated with meetings. They did far better if left to focus on their projects without interruption for a large chunk of the day, and had to collaborate with no more than one colleague.

via Signal v. Noise

 

Decluttering the Company (The Economist, 2014)