(This is the first post in what will be a regular Tuesday column. Each Tuesday, I will post tips and advice on how to be more productive or how to improve yourself in general. The posts will be general enough for everyone, but geared towards ministers.)
The biggest challenge I face as a minister is finding stretches of undistracted time to work on my lessons and sermons. I get several calls everday. Students stop by to chat or hang out. Everyday I get an email or two that requires me to do more work. And there is always someone I could call or email, or an event that needs planning.
And ministry is not unique in this challenge. Most jobs require the worker to churn out regular work but involves a work environment where distractions are constant. It can be quite a challenge to get things finished in a timely manner.
My two biggest distractions are:
- People stopping by my office or calling,
- Being distracted by my computer.
The computer is one of the most persistent distractions I face. Whenever I am stuck in my lesson preparation, I nearly always check my email or search the internet for other ministers’ thoughts on the subject I am writing on. (Sometimes I read online articles or blogs that give advice to ministers preparing sermons or lessons.)
Computers make it very easy to be distracted when you hit a problem in your lesson preparation that requires hard thinking. A few mouse clicks and you are responding to a long email or reading an interesting and helpful article.
Recently, I have discovered a fix for this that is working for me. It is not, however, a good solution for ministers that are not skilled with computers. Here are the three steps I take to help me avoid distractions when writing.
1. Get Away
First, I go work somewhere I won’t be distracted by office visitors or by the temptation to talk on the phone. For me, this means I go work in a coffee shop. The students in my ministry normally do not spend a lot of time at our local coffee house, so I am typically not disturbed. Also, it is almost impossible for me to talk on the phone due to the noise. So I usually won’t answer the phone, or if I do I am forced to make it quick. I am still left with the distractions of surfing the web when I hit a difficult spot in my lesson preparation.
You might not be able to get away from the office. You have to stay there. So you’ll have to be more creative. Can you work in an unused office at the end of the hall no one has any reason to go to? Or you can saw off an inch from the front two legs of the office chairs you have for visitors. This makes it uncomfortable for them to sit there, so it makes it less likely someone will stick around for a long time chatting.
2. Using the Linux Console and vim to Write Lessons
Second, I have recently begun writing all my lessons, sermons, and blog posts on my Asus netbook. This has made an enormous difference in my productivity. Why? Because I have Linux installed on my netbook, and I boot into the Linux console, which is nothing but text.
I write my lesson in Vim, a text editor that is difficult to learn to use but powerful once you do learn it.
Even better, there are not programs to distract me. Even better, there are not Internet browsers to surf the web with. To surf the web, I have to (1) save my work, (2) run my Desktop Manager (think Windows or Mac user interface), and (3) wait for it to load. It’s a lot of work to surf the web, so this effectively prevents me from being distracted by the internet.
3. Using Lynx for Quick Internet Research
Third, there are times, though, when the Internet is useful (even essential) in writing my lessons. For example, the other day I was writing a lesson on Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones. I wanted to learn a little about the historical background of Ezekiel. This is where the internet is helpful. One quick search puts me in touch with a lot of little summaries about the historical backgroup of Ezekiel. So how do I get internet capabilities without the temptation to browse? One word: Lynx.
Lynx is a text-based browser. I can surf the web, but all I will see is text. No images. It’s remarkably boring to browse the web when it’s just line after line of text on a black background. I can find the answers I need without being tempted to spend time browsing the web. It’s a quick web browser too, since it doesn’t render images.
These three tips have vastly increased my productivity. I might be ADD, but I don’t think my struggles to stay focused to churn out lesson after lesson is unique to me. Other ministers and other workers could certainly use these tips to increase their productivity.