Clear Your Desk, Open Your Heart

by Darrell Hershberger

Loving people: it’s the primary goal of every day and each interaction. But is love the opposite of getting things done? Darrell Hershberger offers a series of practices for honing our focus and protecting our attention so that we can love those around us without distraction.

This video contains excerpts from Darrell’s talk “Time Crunch.”

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Looking at the life of Jesus, interruptions [were] a big part of him fulfilling his mission, and if our mission is to love and serve people, it can be the same way for us. Interruptions can be thought of as God-sent adjustments to our schedule, which actually are going to help us do what he has in mind for us. They’re not frustrating. They’re not frustrating to our mission.

I had this day when the scales kind of fell away and I saw this, what I’ve been talking about, how that love is why I’m here. Interacting with love with my students, with every interaction. That’s what this is about, and that’s going to be life-changing for them as they experience me in that way. And if it’s not there, then no matter how effective I am in getting all my stuff done and accomplishing my to-do list, my life will be in vain if they don’t sense that love from me in every interaction.

I saw how much I missed people by being absent-minded. By choosing to think about the pressure of the moment rather than these wonderful, these made-in-God’s-image people right in front of me. And so I determined that it’s going to change and so, of course, we’re still working on it.

So does that mean if we adopt this new mindset that we’re going to lose all the sense of urgency for our to-do lists, and we’re going to just turn into this quivering blob of warm fuzziness? Well, let’s talk about focus.

Carefully manage one of your most valuable resources, your attention. First of all, single task. Multi-tasking used to be a buzz word. It’s not anymore. Some people can multi-task, I admit. I’m not one of them. But what they’re saying now is that nobody can multi-task very well. People think they can multi-task but they’re actually just single-tasking in rapid succession. Attention is a finite resource and we’ve got to manage our attention carefully. Be careful with your attention. You can’t control it as well as you think. So, manage your tasks.

Have a single inbox. Number two there. Have a system you can depend on. One of the things that keeps us from maximum productivity is having all these things floating around in our brain of things we said we would do, things we’re supposed to be doing. We’re trying to make sure we don’t miss anything, and if we don’t have a really good reliable system for keeping that stuff where it’s supposed to be, we’re never going to be at maximum productivity ’cause we’re always flustered and trying to make sure we don’t miss anything. So if we have a system that works, we’re going to have a mind that is free to function like it should. So single inbox: it just means that on your desk you have a place where all of your incoming papers go. Always. They always go to the same place, and anything, a bill, whatever, it’s always going right there and then you process out of that. So there’s not multiple places for incoming things.

You also need the single inbox idea for your to-do list. And that can be done different ways. If you have a smartphone with Google on it you can use Google reminders, just to set a reminder that you’re going to look at always. Whenever you sit down at your planner, you’re going to look at those incoming reminders and you’re going to transfer them to the right place in your plan. That way you’re going to make sure you have a system that works, and that could be different for different people.

Time-chunking, meaning that you do the same type of activities together. So, email, lots of opinions about email, but it has become a beast for a lot of people, just because it takes a lot of time. Do all your emails at one time, because if we’re always looking at our email all the time, it’s that attention thing again. Our mind is going to that email and then we forget what we were working on, and it takes a few seconds to get back to there and pick up where we left off. I advise turning off notifications for email. Why do you need to be notified when you get an email? That’s not the nature of email. You shouldn’t have to know when you got a email. You should be able to go to your email when you want to. When it suits you, look at it and respond. So chunk all your emailing time together.

Calling, you make phone calls, chunk them all in your schedule at one place, ’cause you kind of get in the mode of calling. It’s just like, I’m going to call this person, I’m going to call this person, I’m going to call this person. You don’t stop and agonize over every one, you just do it and then all your calls are out of the way. Your checking, if you’re a teacher. Try to do all of that at one time. These are ideals. I’m going to go back and try to implement them once again.

Time-boxing. Number four. If you have some tasks in front of you that aren’t particularly pleasant, then you time-box. What that means is you say, okay, I’m going to study for this class for 30 minutes, then I’m going to write these letters that I’ve been putting off and I’m working on those for 15 minutes. So you write these things in your schedule. You have a timer, you set it, you turn it on and then you start doing it. I mean, this is what you do for children, right? Well it works for me too. Sometimes you just can’t start doing something so you say, okay, I hate doing that but I’m going to do it for 15 minutes. And then you set your timer and you do it and then you actually find that once you get into it, you can actually keep going further than that once you get started. Now that’s something I’ve done quite a bit of.

Clean desk. Number five. There’s a statistic out there that if you have a clean desk, you can stick with a task 60% longer. And I believe it. Again, that’s back to attention. If your desk is messy you can’t focus. Well, people are different, I know some people say they like a messy desk and it expresses their amazing personality and all of that. I used to believe that too, actually. I’ve changed. I’ve become one of those really boring people, but it’s really helping me to get a few things done. So I’ve got my inbox over there, it might be kinda full, but at least I know where stuff is and my desk isn’t all cluttered with all this junk, I’m not sure what to start on first.

And then routines and rituals. One of the big things here is having an ideal week plan. This is just trying to schedule, this is what an ideal week would look like. This is when I do certain things. And you can see there’s a lot of space in here for variation, and of course the word ideal means that most of the time it’s not going to work out this way, but at least you have a plan. At this time of day, on this day, I do this thing.

Remember love. Love is the most important thing in every moment in every interaction. Then hone your focus. Your mission is not to everyone in the whole world. It’s limited to a place and a time and a group of people. Find that mission and then set yearly, quarterly, weekly, daily priorities. Chunk your tasks. Rule your email, don’t let it rule you. Establish routines in an ideal week. Then stay energized by balancing stress and recovery. Your life is a series of sprints, not a long marathon.

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CASBI 2018
Publication Date: March 8, 2018
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