In this second post in a blog series on productivity, I want to talk about the importance of learning discipline.  I mentioned in the previous post on “Disguising Laziness,” that I struggled greatly with procrastination.  I tried to blame it on my wiring, but ultimately, I was simply succumbing to laziness.

My close call with an online Greek course in seminary caused me to make a shift, but it was specific to that course specifically.  After finishing my masters, I desired to pursue a doctorate degree and my responsibilities at church were increasing by the day.  I had to learn how to manage my procrastination and unorganized ways if I was going to succeed at anything in life.  I truly believed Jesus’s words:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. -Luke 12:48

God was giving me many opportunities and I didn’t want to waste the time (Eph. 5:15-16).

The Tension

A real change happened in me a couple of years after the Greek incident.  I was getting overwhelmed with my job and I didn’t know how to pull off what I was being asked to do.  It wasn’t easy.  It couldn’t be done by the end of the day.  Cramming before the final would not suffice.

With some additional responsibilities at church, I was trying to unify a ton of things for our body:

  1. I wanted to make our worship services more united in content.
  2. I wanted to unite different gatherings across age demographics.
  3. I wanted to pursue clarity and excellence in all we were doing.

We had many services and many ministries and I wanted to start the process of uniting some of these things.  Just the process of making every element in a worship service count can be come an obsessive, never-ending task.  I was overwhelmed.  I wanted to fly by the seat of my pants, but I couldn’t anymore.  Not if I was going to succeed at the challenges before me.

  • To adequately prepare volunteers, they needed more preparation time than getting their lessons the day before.
  • Worship leaders couldn’t give their best if I was handing out the music when everyone got to practice.
  • Leaders couldn’t lead from the overflow because we were often scrounging around trying to remember what was left undone.

My lack of discipline was hindering myself and others from fulfilling God’s call on our lives.

Once I realized that reality, I knew I had to change.  This undisciplined nature was more than just a personality defect and it was hindering more than just myself.  Something had to give.

Gamechanging Concept

As I began to do research on how to focus some of our ministries at church, I came across a book by Dave Ferguson called The Big Idea.  The book was very helpful in some logistical information.  We used some of it as a template and some of it sparked a way we could work better (but different) in our context.

Don’t get me wrong, the ideas in the book are great, but the gamechanger for me was an introductory side comment in chapter 6.  Here’s what he wrote:

“‘Wow, you guys must be really organized!’ is the comment I often hear when I tell people that we plan our Big Idea one year in advance.  I wish that were the case.  The creative chaos and last-minute scrambling that take place every week, as well as our love of anything new, tell the truth about us – we are not by nature a very organized group of leaders…

“So how do we do it?

We may not have an inclination for organization, but we have developed a culture of discipline.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes it this way: ‘When you put these two complementary forces together – a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship – you get a magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results'” (Good to Great, 95).

That page which served as an introduction to the main point of the chapter was a huge gamechanging concept for me.  It completely removed my greatest excuse from me.  I could no longer lament that I was simply unorganized.  The concept changed the way I thought.

I may not be organized, but I will be disciplined.

discipline

The Bible on Discipline

There is a type of discipline that we inflict on ourselves, and there is another type of discipline that is inflicted upon us when we fail to do it ourselves.  Let me show you what the Bible says about how we are to discipline ourselves:

  • Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.  -Prov. 12:1
  • But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.  -1 Cor. 9:27
  • But hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  -Titus 1:8
  • Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;  -1 Timothy 4:7
  • Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  -2 Timothy 2:15
  • A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.  -Proverbs 25:28
  • For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  -2 Timothy 1:7
  • Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness  -Jeremiah 48:10

And there are plenty of others, but I hope this sampling gets to the point.

God will discipline us if we don’t discipline ourselves.

And think about the word “discipline.”  It comes from the same root of “disciple.”  The concepts are closer that we realize!  The grace of God justifies us, but until that moment when he glorifies us, we use any method possible to sanctify us.  To be sanctified implies that we are being discipled.  To be discipled implies that we are being disciplined.

Grace doesn’t come by works (Eph. 2:9) but works should come from grace (Eph. 2:10).

In fact, Paul instructed Titus that the salvation we have in Christ should cause us to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

I am to be obsessive over how I can do more good works for the Kingdom with the time I have left.

But I cannot do it naturally.

There is nothing on all this sinful planet, when left on its own, gets more orderly.  -Tim Challies

How Do I Get Disciplined?

In these first two posts, we are using broad strokes.  We are talking big concepts.  We are about to get so practical and I am going to share some somewhat silly details that I use that help me.  But we have to start here with the big concepts.

The first step in becoming disciplined is identifying what needs attention.

I’m not only talking about those weak areas in your life.  Yes, you need to address those, but also, can you strengthen even more the strong areas in your life?  Don’t get complacent!

Every year (and sometimes a few times a year) I spend significant time evaluating not what I am doing but how I am doing it.  Here are some next steps for you:

  1. Find a place for a mind dump.  Whether it is a whiteboard, a notepad, a computer document, whatever it is, just find a place where you can write out everything that is about to come to your mind.
  2. Write down all the responsibilities in your life.  Yep, I mean all.  You may not write out “take out the trash,” but maybe you write out “house chores.”  Anything that comes to your mind, write it down.  You will actually find this process somewhat freeing because we often stay anxious worried we are going to forget something.  Get it out and write it down.
  3. Categorize your tasks into projects.  You will begin to notice that all those tasks lump together with other similar tasks.  Begin to organize them into projects.  They might be home chores, remodeling project, homeschooling, weekly work tasks, dream projects, volunteer group, etc.
  4. Evaluate your projects.  You might not be able to do as many God things as you want to because your schedule is filled with good things.  Is there anything you need to stop?  Quit?  Delegate?  Change?
  5. Identify the opportunities for improvement.  At this point, I am not asking you to change anything but to become honest with what needs changing.  I’ll be honest – I rarely look at a list like this and don’t think that all of it needs improving.  That’s not bad.  Right now, identify what needs improving and what would be successful before figuring out how to change.  Maybe improvement is “finish work weekly tasks faster.”  This is a goal and not a process yet.

Start here.  In the next post, we will begin to break these tasks down and how you begin to attack them.  For right now, the process of learning discipline must start with identifying what needs discipline and what success would look like in each of those areas.

Productivity Posts

  1. Disguising Laziness
  2. Learning Discipline
  3. Choosing Tools
  4. Organizing Projects
  5. Moderating Social Media
  6. Overcoming Email
Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.