The Life-changing Magic of Deleting 200 Emails

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On the way home from an out-of-state roadtrip (family obligations, stop glaring at me, I’m quarantining now), I listened to a discussion Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness podcast had with Scott Soneshein about his book Joy at Work, which he cowrote with the Queen of Sparked Joy herself, Marie Kondo.

One of Soneshein’s suggestions for decluttering your digital life is to clean out your email inbox of things you keep around but don’t need. I don’t know about you, but this is an area where my pack-rat tendencies flare up.

I have a few different email accounts for personal use, including one just for advertisements, mailing lists, and newsletters–non-vital email, in other words. I subscribed to several newsletters, which may arrive every day to every month or so. They range from political analysis to creative advice to theology. I think they’re all pretty neat, and I’ve enjoyed reading them from time to time in the past. However, several months ago, I started collecting a backlog of emails I promised myself I’d get around to reading. The news-commentary emails are easier to delete in a more timely manner, but some of the other less-time-locked material was just sitting there in my inbox, like it was a little digital to-be-read shelf full of bite-sized goodness. If only I had the time!

Well, I took the time today–but used it to clear the deck. I pulled up the 250-300 emails, and went screen by screen, highlighted all 50 emails on each screen and selectively saving only the ones I decided I could read TODAY. And then hit “delete” at the bottom of each page, removing all the rest.

That inbox now has 36 emails in it. And I’m about to go through, read or skim each of the survivors, and file or delete as needed. The crazy thing is: I don’t even miss the 200+ other emails, because I have no idea what was in them. I’m sure they included good and useful content (I’m pretty selective about newsletter mailing lists), but that doesn’t matter.

Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to accept that I don’t have the time or ability to read everything or learn everything. I am finite. And that’s okay.

So here’s my suggestion, reader: if you’re collecting hundreds of emails that would be nice to go through if you had the time, but just aren’t vital to your life, perhaps consider flipping the script. Rather than asking whether or not you should delete each of those emails, assume you are going to, click that “select all” box, and then make each of those emails justify why they deserve your attention.

Be merciless. Be demanding. Don’t linger. Hit delete.

You probably* won’t miss them.

(*And if you do realize you just deleted something valuable, dig that one thing out of your “Trash” folder–but don’t go email dumpster diving!)

 

Friday Feed (7/23/2020)

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Happy Friday, readers! Here are some interesting finds from the last week:

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Happy weekend, friends. Do me a favor, if you will: take a moment over the next few days, and tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. They need to hear it more often, and it’s good for us to say it more often.

Also: remember that every day is a gift from God; remind yourself to receive it with thanksgiving and put it to good use.

I’ll be back next week with another Twilight Zone commentary (because I enjoy them, even if none of y’all read them!) and a few other fun things. See you then!

Through Another Dimension: Considering “Twilight Zone 2019” (Part 2) – Season 1, Episodes 1-5

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Hello again, readers! I’m back with a commentary/analysis of Episodes 1-5 of The Twilight Zone (2019) Season 1!

Rather than giving a deep-dive review of each episode, I’m just going to provide some initial thoughts and observations. Frankly, there are better blogs and podcasts out there who can give you deeper analysis, especially since I’ve only watched each of these episodes 1 time. What you’ll find below are my thoughts and observations, with some influence and insight from Tom Elliot and friends on The Twilight Zone Podcast. (Quick caveat: I’ve tried to note where an idea came from them and not originally from me, but if I miss any, let me know. Sometimes it’s hard to remember if I’m coming up with an observation or repeating it!)

Be forewarned: While each “premise” synopsis below will be spoiler-free, my subsequent comments on each episode will not be. Scroll accordingly!

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Episode 1.01 – “The Comedian”

The Premise: A struggling comedian meets a stranger in a bar who gives him some career-altering advice. But the comic finds out that success comes at a price–and there are some things you can’t get back once you give them away.

The Payoff: Okay, starting with one more disclaimer–I watched this episode when it was offered as a sneak preview for the series, over a year ago, so my recollection of finer details will be a bit fuzzy. But overall I thought this story was a good start to the season. Samir, the struggling comic (played by Kumail Nanjiani), is offered a kind of Faustian bargain by a mysterious stranger (played by Tracy Morgan) and begins to find fame after years with little success. Thematically, the story examines what you give up when you put increasingly more of yourself out there for public consumption, as Samir literally begins to lose people and relationships once they become fodder for his stand-up routine. Looking back over this season, I have to admit this episode is one that feels more like classic Twilight Zone in terms of style: a main character with a fatal flaw receives his comeuppance. The foul language felt a bit heavy-handed, but I assumed at the time that was due to the setting (turns out, that’s just the norm for the new show). All in all, a nice creepy tale to kick things off.

Episode 1.02 – “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”

The Premise: A journalist battleing PTSD boards a plane from Washington D.C. to Tel Aviv for an assignment, when he finds a strange mp3 player in the seat-back pocket. On it, he hears a podcast detailing the mysterious disappearance of his very own flight.

The Pay-off: This is the only episode of the season that is blatantly presented as a re-imagining of a classic episode (and one of the most famous) from the original series. Adam Scott plays Justin Sanderson with a slow-burn panic that keeps the tension high and makes his increasingly-erratic actions seem almost reasonable, at least at first. While we as the viewers can recognize how his actions appear more erratic and crazy over time, we’re allowed into his world enough to see the logic of his decisions. Throughout the episode, Adam tries to determine who will be responsible for the potential crash, with interludes from the podcast (read by the great Dan Carlin) providing a sort of real-time narration. As Tom and his guests noted in the TZP commentary, there is also a sort of Fight Club element with the character of “Joe,” whom Justin meets in the airport and talks to throughout the flight. I too found myself wondering if Joe was real or a figment of Justin’s stressed imagination. (Maybe because “Jack” first meets Tyler Durden on a plane in Fight Club?) This episode provided a fresh take on a familiar scenario for fans of the franchise and kept the tension high throughout. The coda at the end was unnecessary, but included a fun (and obvious) callback to the original episode and took is in a different direction (literally) than the previous iterations. All in all, great work.

Episode 1.03 – “Replay”

The Premise: On their way to freshman orientation, a mother and her son are menaced by a racist state trooper, just as she discovers her father’s old camcorder can reverse time. But can it prevent what feels inevitable?

The Payoff: This was the first episode of the season that wore its message squarely on its sleeve, but that didn’t prevent it from being a compelling story.

Nina Harrison is driving her son Dorian to school to study filmmaking, when they are harrassed by a shark-like state trooper, Officer Lasky. Thanks to the “magic” camcorder, Nina is able to rewind time and undo the escalating confrontation. However, no matter how Nina tries to change the timeline to avoid this threat, Lasky keeps finding them, with increasingly dangerous results. Ultimately, Nina realizes that the only way to alter the timeline is to take a detour and return to her childhood home to visit her estranged brother. He shepherds them through sewer tunnels and back alleys until they reach the university campus, but they can’t escape without one more encounter with Lasky and his men.

While it’s certainly possible for viewers to assume the message is “all cops are dangerous,” I think the theme is a bit more nuanced than that. While the presentation of the ever-present Lasky felt (to me) like something more fitting to the 60’s, setting it in the present emphasizes the idea that people of color still sometimes deal with discrimination and injustice from police. The inevitable encounters with Lasky represent racism as an ever-present threat that must be navigated but perhaps cannot be avoided. In the third act, Nina’s brother Neil acts as a sort of modern-day Harriet Tubman, at one point taking his family literally underground in their quest for Dorian to find “freedom” (via education). In the finale, they had to stand up to Lasky and his men, and they did so with a crowd of families at the university who all produced cellphones to record his behavior. While this episode premiered over a year ago, I watched it just weeks after George Floyd’s murder, and this moment felt particularly powerful and timely. All in all, this episode felt like the *right* way to lean hard into an issue in this format. (Later entries would not be so successful, in my mind.)

Episode 1.04 – “A. Traveller”

The Premise: Every Christmas Eve, the chief of police in a small Alaskan village “pardons” someone being held in their often-empty jail. This year, a mysterious stranger suddenly appears in one of the cells and asks to be the lucky recipient of the sheriff’s gesture.

The Pay-off: I gotta be honest–this was the first episode for me that didn’t quite “work”–at least on a script or story level. The technical elements and performances were excellent. The cinematography and editing were moody and ethereal, contrasting the dark, shadowy “underworld” of the cellblock with the tinny, red-lit Christmas party and the cool blue-black of the outside night sky. The acting was on-point, as it is throughout the entire first season, and the characters were interesting. It just felt like the story and theme were a bit muddy, as if the writers tried to pull together too many disparate threads. It was a story about hidden secrets being revealed, a fable about getting the thing you want and finding out it’s a trap, an allegory about manifest destiny and the erasure of indigenous culture (?). Honestly, the part that works best is the premise itself: a charming stranger in a suit and fedora appears suddenly in an underground prison cell of a snowy village on Christmas Eve, during the police station Christmas party. It had the intial markings of one of the sweeter episodes from the original series, like “Night of the Meek,” and could have taken a turn and become an interesting and heartwarming tale about “welcoming the stranger.” But rather than resolving with lessons learned amid the “magic of Christmas,” it devolves into a tale of people being awful to each other at the brink of an alien invasion. Throw in some cheap “hypocritical Christians” commentary, and it just turns a bit too bitter for my taste. I hear that this one improves with rewatches. Perhaps I’ll give it another try.

Episode 1.05 – “The Wunderkind”

The Premise: In the aftermath of an embarrassing campaign defeat, a young up-and-coming campaign manager finds a new candidate to champion in the next election cycle: a 10-year-old Youtube celebrity.

The Pay-off:  I thought this was one of the worst episodes of the season, and not for the obvious reasons. Let’s just get this out of the way: it’s about Trump. The boy-president is an avatar for Trump. That alone wouldn’t be enough to turn me off or irritate me (I’m certainly not a fan of the man). But the reason why I think this episode roundly fails is because the premise strained credulity so painfully that the satire turned into farce–and the worst kind of all, a boring farce. While some of the performances were solid (John Cho was a perfect lead), and there were some insights about the mercenary nature of presidential politics that they could have played with a bit more, the idea of everyone kowtowing to a 10-year-old boy (including his parents?!?) was just too much to work with. Obviously, they want to recall “It’s a Good Life” from the original series, but that’s one of the most fantastical episodes of the classic run. Taking the exaggerated dynamic of that episode and wedging it into a realistic setting just doesn’t work. I get it–you’re using a petulant child to represent the fickle and capricious nature of the current administration. Good for you. Now show me something interesting.

If they had instead aged up the candidate, made him (or her?) a Youtube influencer more like the Paul brothers or a similar personality, it might have been more effective, because you can bring in other ideas like the manipulation of an audience or office for financial gain (also a pertinent critique). You even could have made the child-president concept work better if you didn’t have his parents on board at some point (and perhaps having the president “disappear” them ominously, which would have been a better allusion to the previous iteration). All in all, this episode sunk into a bog of “huh-huh baby Trump” caricature, and it could have been so much better. (To quote an old meme: “I’m not mad, I’m just…disappointed.”)

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Five Season 1 episodes down, five to go! Do you agree with my takes? Disagree? Did I miss something? Comment below!

Next up: Episodes 6-10 of The Twilight Zone (2019) Season 1!

Through Another Dimension: Considering “Twilight Zone 2019” (Part 1)

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The After-Hours

My earliest memory of The Twilight Zone was from 7th or 8th grade, at my friend Adam’s house, staying up late watching an all-night marathon on a local TV station (aired on New Year’s Eve, as I recall). Much of my early exposure to The Twilight Zone was in that format: holiday marathons of the “top” 10 or 20 most popular episodes on late-night local TV or cable channels.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that I really hadn’t seen very many episodes of the classic series–certainly fewer than 50 out of the 120+ half-hour episodes. With the advent of Netflix streaming (and discovering online resources like Tom Elliot’s fantastic Twilight Zone Podcast–definitely check that out!), I not only started filling in the gaps of my Twilight Zone viewing, but I also became aware of an entire season I had missed because those episodes were made for an hour-long format and most stations never air those longer episodes as reruns.

Over the last 2 years, I have almost completely caught up on what has become one of my favorite television shows of all time. While not every episode is a masterpiece, each season was packed with inventive ideas and challenging storylines. Serling and his team didn’t shy away from tackling social issues and political viewpoints, but they often did so under the cover of allegory and genre storytelling so that the message became a little more palatable. Serling himself became a modern-day Aesop, often underlining the moral of the story in his closing narration.

When I heard in 2018 that CBS was developing an updated version of the series, with Jordan Peele producing and starring in the “narrator” role, I was cautiously optimistic. I had just recently watched Get Out and was struck by how deftly (even Serling-like) Peele had been able to weave social commentary into an otherwise straightforward horror story. Like so many other TZ fans, I kept thinking, Don’t mess it up. Please don’t mess it up.

So did the new Twilight Zone live up to the legend of the classic? It took me more than a year to find out, as it happens. Life got busy, as it so often does, and it wasn’t until I heard that Season 2 would be released in its entirety in late June that I decided to “step through the door.” The question remained, however: what exactly would I find on the other side?

In Praise of Peele (and the Production Team)

So far, I’ve watched all of the first season. I’ll provide a brief analysis of each episode in the next few posts in this series, but I wanted to give my initial (spoiler-free) impressions here.

Let’s start with Peele himself. Stepping into the black suit (sans cigarette, naturally) would be a daunting task for anyone, but Peele brings the requisite mystery and cool restraint to the role (except…when he doesn’t–we’ll get there). He isn’t trying to recreate Rod Serling (except…well, we’ll get there), but instead to honor his legacy by taking up the mantle of the enigmatic, omniscient Narrator. He’s the one taking us on this journey (except…you know), and he does a bang-up job helping this show really feel like The Twilight Zone.

The show is cinematic and gorgeous to look at. The music evokes the appropriate off-kilter vibe, even reusing the end credits music from the original series. The production design and cinematography are spot-on, even down to small details like the fonts and layout of the title screen and end credits text. While a little bit of the CGI is limited by a TV-show budget, the practical effects are on point. Almost every episode includes very subtle easter eggs and callbacks to the original series that will make longtime fans positively giddy but will rarely distract a casual fan who’s only interested in the current story.

As an anthology show, The Twilight Zone runs the gamut in tone and tension, with some episodes being strange and intriguing and others being downright squirm-eliciting and bone-chilling. The production elements are employed well to create the mood of each episode, helping to draw the viewer into the story effectively.

All of that being said, production values aren’t (often) what made the original series stand out. It was always first and foremost the story and themes that captured our imagination. Does the current iteration have the same magic?

A World of Difference

My best answer to that question is: sometimes? The writing is solid from a technical perspective. The dialogue pops, and the characters generally work. The issue I had at certain points during the season was with how this iteration of the show handled the themes and messaging of each episode.

The Twilight Zone has always been a political show. This is a fact I never really appreciated until I started listen to Tom Elliot’s Twilight Zone podcast (again, recommended if you’re a fan of the series!). Elliot often discusses how Serling and the original show’s writers would sometimes use the genres of sci-fi and horror to make serious and pointed social commentary. When done well, this approach to genre storytelling elevates the form to something timeless and resonant.

In other episodes, the original series would present a type of morality play. Characters with a fatal flaw (hubris, vanity, greed) would receive their comeuppance via a type of karmic justice–as if the Twilight Zone itself was balancing the scales. Down-on-their-luck innocents would finally (usually, fantastically) get their big break. Then there were the episodes that were just strange for their own sake–creepy campfire stories to tell in the dark, strange tales of unimaginable situations and dark ironies. The original series seemed to balance these storytelling approaches fairly well, but I think the first season of the 2019 version struggled in this regard.

Several of the episodes in Season 1 of the 2019 series keyed in on a particular social issue, almost to the point where you could reduce the descriptions of the episodes to “the gun one,” “the racism one,” “the immigration one,” “the toxic masculinity one.” In some cases, the episode was still masterfully written, so that the clear allegory didn’t detract from a compelling story. Other times, it felt like the message was driving the narrative beats, instead of vice versa. The political bent of the show is predictably to the left, but as an ideological conservative I can still find pleasure in an interesting story well-told, even if I disagree with the worldview being expressed. Unfortunately, there were a few times this season where the cliches were a bit too much to overcome.

The other problem I have with this series thusfar is the “mature-rating” content that is employed throughout. Because this new series is written in 2019, it carries with it 2019’s social mores, in terms of sexuality, profanity, and morality. The show is only available on CBS’s premium streaming platform, so they are not constrained by broadcast standards (even 2019’s comparatively relaxed rules). For example, while it wasn’t enough to stop me from finishing the first season, I found the level of profanity in every episode (especially “R-rated” profanity) to be tiresome and entirely unnecessary. There are also a few instances of sexual content sprinkled throughout that, while tame by streaming-TV standards, still didn’t add to the stories and could have been alluded to instead of shown. I recognize that this show is competing in the same market as Black Mirror, Stranger Things, and Dark, but my hope was that The Twilight Zone could find a way to be provocative without being salacious. Some may find that corny; I prefer the term “classic.”

All that to say, I would strongly advise my readers and friends to look into the specifics of what would warrant “parental advisory” or a “mature” rating for this show, and then use their discernment on whether or not to watch (and I definitely wouldn’t recommend any of it for the kiddos).

The New Exhibit

All of that said, I did enjoy the first season of the 2019 series and look forward to checking out Season 2 very soon. (Obviously I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered writing almost 1500 words about it!) I’ll follow up this post with some brief episode-by-episode analysis of both Seasons 1 and 2. (If you’ve made it this far, I assume that might interest you! If not, then thanks for scrolling!)

In summary, if you enjoyed the original Twilight Zone series and aren’t put off by the content issues I’ve addressed, the 2019 TZ might be worth checking out. If you do so (or if you have done so already), I’d be interested to hear your feedback in the comments below and the upcoming episode summary posts!

On the other hand, if the “modern” tone and tenor are enough to keep you away, I’d still recommend going back to the original series and giving it a(nother) watch. Even though some episodes definitely don’t hold up anymore, it’s still a fun ride to take (by yourself or even with the whole family) through a door to another dimension.

Coming Next Week: My thoughts on Twilight Zone 2019 Season 1, Episodes 1-5!

Friday Feed (7/10/2020)

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Hey y’all! Here are a few things I’ve found fun or interesting in recent weeks. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week with actual posts! Seriously!

 

“I don’t need your civil war…”

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How do you think about the people around you? How do you see them? How do you speak about them?

There’s been so much that’s gone on in the last month that has burdened and overwhelmed me. So much that I wanted to say but didn’t know how to–or whether or not my words would contribute anything useful or new. I’ve tried to stay out of the online hot-take business (with mixed success), but I think a lot of my thoughts lately are boiled down to this key issue:

When you stop seeing your ideological opponents as human beings worthy of dignity, it makes it a lot easier to justify treating them as sub-human in your speech and actions, both directly and indirectly.

People from my ideological/theological camp talk about the dignity of human life a lot, specifically when it comes to the life of the unborn. But I worry that much of that language is shown to be mere rhetoric when the way we speak to and about our enemies (either political or theological) is degrading, demeaning, and dismissive. (Depending on whom you ask, that makes me a squishy, raised-pinky, “nuance”-obsessed liberal, which is HILARIOUS.)

Labels and categories can sometimes provide a helpful shorthand in conversation, but I wonder if we lean so heavily on those that they start to become personas or avatars to absorb our attacks. It’s easy to make fun of “leftists” or “Trumpists” when you’re thinking about a generic stereotype instead of your parents or siblings. You can take shots, make jokes, dismiss their concerns. But when you start putting names and faces to the labels, it should become a bit harder to be so calloused and contemptuous.

“Should.” But we both know that with practice, we can become very comfortable labelling and smearing even the ones we purport to love with such invective.

“You’re just a…”

“Well of course you disagree, you….”

“Well, if you’d quit listen to all those…”

When Jesus said that in the end times, a person’s enemies would be the members of his or her own household, I don’t think the reason for this was supposed to be who’s on the national ballot or where we stand on cultural hot-button issues.

…I don’t have some great epiphany coming here. I hope you’re not expecting one.

Instead, can I just encourage you to take a few moments and run a mental audit of how you have spoken about people lately, including/especially those you disagree with? Ask yourself, “Am I able to disagree with this person/group while still treating them with dignity, as image-bearers?”

And don’t answer too quickly in the affirmative. I know that my knee-jerk reaction to this is, “Of course I do!” If it’s the same for you, maybe take a second and think carefully about it. If you’re feeling especially bold, ask someone close to you if you tend to speak of those you disagree with in minimizing or dismissive terms.

Perhaps one good step toward addressing some of the bitter divisiveness and tension in our homes and communities is by recognizing that we’re more than our political team-jersey–and the same is true of those on “the other side.”

Look, I’m not calling for some kind of kumbayah, let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Imagine sort of utopian dream, because that won’t ever happen, nor should it. There are serious issues than need to be discussed. There are divides and differences of belief that can’t be ignored or patched over. It’s right and good to disagree, even disagree strongly, about issues of first importance. But if we can’t at least look each other in the eye and say, “you matter,” I think it says a lot about our own hearts. And for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it may say something mortally serious that we just can’t ignore.

Planning Like a Monk: Monk Manual Planner Full Review!

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“IT’S ABOUT TIME, DAVE!” (I know, right?)

About 8 months ago, I wrote a review of my experience using the Monk Manual journal pages that were available for free from MonkManual.com, and promised at that time that if you readers would help me earn a free full journal, I’d come back with a full review. Well, your patience has paid off because here we are!

This review is long overdue, but I hope it will be helpful to you if you’re considering purchasing the Monk Manual journal (plus, I have a small discount code available, if that helps you decide!). So let’s get into it!

The Initial Experience

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First things first: the journal itself. The packaging is pristine, and just the experience of unboxing the journal is a delight. You can always tell when a company loves what they do, when they take care to make all the little details special. The MM folks have done that for sure.

The journal is well-constructed with a leather-like feel to the hardbound cover–smooth and cool to the touch with a green elastic band to hold it closed, similar to a Moleskine journal. The paper is a thick, acid-free stock, and the printing is clear, clean, and light but fully legible. (“Light” may not seem like a good thing, but the aesthetic of the journal lends itself toward subtlety, so from a design standpoint, it makes total sense.)

From a purely tactile standpoint, this journal is delightful to use. The Monk Manual crew have taken the time to make sure they are shipping a quality product. But as with many things, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

A Counter-Intuitive Solution to a Common Problem

The Monk Manual journal includes some introductory material explaining how you can use the different sections of the pages, and provides some prompts for how to make the journal work for you. But one of the things that sets the Monk Manual apart from other journals/planners is how the pages are arranged.

Typical planners are organized like a calendar: a monthly 1-2 page calender view, then the Week 1 view, followed by Days 1-7, with the pages laid out chronologically. At the end of the first 7 daily pages, you might have another weekly page, followed by the next set of days, and so on. But if you’re like me, this type of journal may only get half-filled, if you miss days, forget to fill things in, or get off track and come back later. The Monk Manual recognizes this problem and provides a unique solution.

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As you can see, the journal has 3 ribbon bookmarks attached to the binding. That’s because the pages are arranged into 3 sections: a section of Monthly Pages, a section of Weekly Pages, and a section of Daily Pages. At first, I was a little annoyed that I’d have to check 3 different sections from time to time, rather than just flip a few pages. However, time would provide the answer for why this type of design is brilliant.

The Monk Manual is advertised as a 3-month journal, but I’ve had mine for about 6 months and I still have lots of pages left to use. Rather than leaving dozens of blank pages for missed days, as I would in a typical journal, I was able to just pick up and start using the daily pages right where I left off. Plus, since the Monthly pages have about 6 weeks of “blanks,” I turned the last empty monthly page I had into a “June/July” section, so I could wring out every bit of usefulness from this journal.

 

 

The bottom-line is, the makers of Monk Manual understand that sometimes you miss some days, maybe some weeks, and rather than “penalize” you by forcing you to skip empty pages, you can just pick up where you left off with minimal effort. While there are some unfinished days scattered throughout my journal, I’ve been able to get back on track with using it in a fairly painless manner.

In a sense, I think that’s part of the philosophy behind the Monk Manual system: you aren’t aiming for perfection, but progress. This journal is designed to allow for those rough patches but still give you the opportunity to pick it up again and keep going.

My One Unresolved “Complaint”

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That brings me to the one unresolved complaint I have–the Monk Manual, for all of its pleasing design and well-thought-out organization, still doesn’t seem capable of doing the work for me. Those folks over at MM refused to include the self-discipline I needed when they sent me the box with my journal. That’s so frustrating!

Okay, joking aside, that’s really the only downside I can think of with this journal–I still have to do the work myself. As I noted previously, you get out of it what you put into it, and when I’ve been able to devote a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to plan and review my day, I’ve found it to be a helpful way to think through my schedule and priorities. And then, during those weeks and months when I didn’t make that time, the journal just sat there on the shelf, waiting for me to come back and pick up again.

When I was doing some cleaning in my home office last month, I found a box that contained at least 5 old journals/notebooks, each of which having no more than 20 pages of writing in them. The bulk of those journals were blank pages, because too often over the years, I’d start something, get distracted, and then never pick it up again.

I was worried that it would be the same with the Monk Manual–once it had been months since I filled out a page, I didn’t think I’d really be able to start again. But honestly, it was pretty simple to just turn the page and start fresh. And so I’ve been back to using it for about 2 weeks, and once I run through the last of my daily pages (because I have the highest percentage of those left), I’m going to pick up another Monk Manual and keep it going.

Is it Worth It? Can You Work It?

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Admittedly, the Monk Manual isn’t cheap. You could pick up a blank journal at the store or online for a fraction of the cost. Is it really worth more than $35 to get this particular journal?

In a word: yes. I think the Monk Manual is worth every penny.

The materials are quality, the book is well-constructed, and the finished product is pleasing to the touch. The organization of the pages and the question prompts that are provided are unlike anything I’ve seen in a typical dayplanner/organizer. I’ve benefitted from using this journal, and from being able to come back to it after a 4-month gap.

My only recommendation is that you try to break out of the “90-day planner” headspace when you use it. Yes, that’s how it’s marketed, but honestly, I think it may be helpful to fill out all 6-weeks of each monthly page, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll need a little bit of forgetfulness-margin so that you don’t run out of monthly pages with a ton of dailies left.

Interested in the Monk Manual? Here’s A Special Offer for my Readers…

The folks at Monk Manual have agreed to re-up my affiliate link for another month, so if you use the code DAVEM at checkout, you get 10% off your total purchase from Monk Manual, and I get a small percentage back to me.

If you’re on the fence about this, I would encourage you to give it a shot (and not just because I have the affiliate link there). It’s a really neat journal, and I’m enjoying using it myself.

Once more, if you’re ready to check it out, use this link to get your discount and to let the folks at MM know you heard it from me.

And if you DO order a journal, comment below and let me know what you think! Thanks!

A Different Kind of Low-Carb Diet.

 

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Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Sometimes, our words reveal more than we intend.

My work day yesterday was broken up by some family responsibilities (yay, working from home!), so when I logged in just before dinner time, I got a bit spooked by my task list. I asked my wife if I could disappear for the evening to try to catch up some things. Back in the pre-WFH days, I would usually do this once a week to stay caught up.

At the end of the evening, as my wife was getting ready to head upstairs to bed, she said, “I’m sorry you have to work so long tonight.” I responded, “Honestly, it’s about 60% have-to, and about 40% anxious-about-my-inbox.”

A few minutes after she went upstairs, the Holy Spirit brought a Bible verse to mind, and I knew I was busted.

A Worried Mind

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in this context, but I wrestle with fretfulness, specifically about the safety of my family. For me, going to sleep can be hard in a house that creaks and murmurs when the A/C kicks on. I have a semi-obsessive nightly routine of checking locks and alarms before bed, and if there’s even a bare question in my mind of whether I forgot one,  I will go back and do it all again.

One of my current favorite Psalms is Psalm 127, particularly the first verse. I have to remind myself, as my anxious mind races when my head hits the pillow, that unless the Lord is watching over me, all the locks and alarms in the world wouldn’t help. I have to trust in his protection, for “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).

But it was the second verse of Psalm 127 that came to mind last night, as my wife walked upstairs:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)

The imagery there resonates with me so much: I’m prone to be up too late at night, chewing over the stale loaves of anxious toil, instead of receiving the gift of sleep.

I realized I was condemned by my own words. I was gnawing on the crusts of worry-work and missing the feast.

Unfortunately, I had also just washed it down with a carafe of full-octane coffee, so the gift of sleep would be a bit…delayed.

An Unexpected Blessing

What to do, then, in my caffeinated condition at 11pm? Take the unplanned opportunity and change my “diet” for the evening. I closed the computer, with its anxious crumbs, and picked up true food.

I was able to enjoy the Scriptures for a while, supplementing my reading with part of a commentary on the section. I nibbled at a few other spiritually-encouraging books. In short, I tried to redeem the coffee buzz!

When my head FINALLY hit the pillow (and I quickly prayed through my nightly temptation to fret), I wasn’t mulling over to-do lists and missed deadlines. Instead, I was grateful for all that God had blessed me with, especially the dear ones sleeping under my roof.

I’m also thankful for the gentle reminder to go a little more “low-carb” in my work-life, so I can better enjoy the good gifts God has given me.

“Please think I’m cool.”

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Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Confession: That was the thought running like a background track in my head yesterday, as I took part in a group Zoom call with two authors/podcasters whose work I admire.

I’ve tried in various ways to get into their “club” in some way over the years (with some minor level of success), but this was the first time I’ve actually interacted with them face to (screen-mediated) face. I was able to get a few words in, but otherwise, I found myself just grinning foolishly and trying unsuccessfully not to embarrass myself.

I’m a grown man with a wife and kids. I’ve got my own stuff going on, such as it is. I should be fully out of middle-school-mode. But there are still people who I can’t help but see on another plane of coolness. And despite my very best efforts, I slip right into notice me, senpai mode. I hate it.

The call went fine. When put on the spot to perform a bit of dramatic reading (don’t ask, it’s a long story), I bungled some of my dialogue and felt like a goober. Then I tried too hard to be funny at the very end of the call, so that when it finally ended, I spent the next hour-plus kicking myself for being such an irredeemable dork.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. There’s another podcaster whose work I enjoyed for years, and when I was finally able to talk to him during a live call-in show, I got tongue-tied and said something stupid. For the months/years that followed, while I was active in the live chats during various broadcasts, I was never really recognized as a “regular” by the host or the chat group. Eventually, I dipped out and stopped listening/engaging with that show at all, not out of malice but really just disappointment that I couldn’t break into the circle.

What’s the point of all this? Shoot, I don’t know. I’m just talking here, gang.

Maybe what I’m getting at is this: it’s really easy to chase attention, recognition, and a sense of belonging among those we think are cool, talented, and more “together.” But maybe the thing we should be focusing on most is just doing our own thing and being content with that.

But, then again, you know how it is: about to hit 40, looking at the successes and accomplishments of your peers, comparing yourself to the people around you, second-guessing your life choices. Typical Wednesday.

That’s all I got. See ya later, space cowboy…

Go-Go-Gadget-Gamification

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I’m not much of a technology hound, nor much of a gadget guy. There have been times when I’ve felt the pull to collect peripherals for new hobbies, but when it comes to technology, I’m a super-late-adopter, mainly because I’m pretty cheap when it comes to devices.

On the other hand, I find I’m a bit of a sucker for gamification.

The place I see it most often in my life? Restaurant apps. Starbucks, Firehouse Subs, Chick-fil-a–if you provide me with enough freebies early on, I will start chasing “reward points” like an addict. While I tend to stick to the apps that provide a better-than-average rate of return on earning rewards, the scheme definitely gets in my head and can sometimes nudge me toward making a purchase I wouldn’t necessarily make. (Curse you, Starbucks, and your infernal stars!)

Right now, my greatest personal challenge is getting healthy. (Point of fact, I’ve needed to get healthy for a long time, as I’ve been obese or worse for about 20 years.) In the past, some of the periods when I’ve had the most consistency in working out or eating right are when I was able to turn fitness or diet into a trackable, gamified challenge.

Thus, my snazzy little device shown above — a Fitbit Inspire HR. It’s still on-sale as of this posting, if you’re at all interested in picking one up (#NotSponsored). My wife has one, and I’d been admiring it for a little while, so when I saw it was available for 30% off this week, we made a little room in the May budget so I could grab it. 

I’m excited about check out my new gadget’s various features, but there’s one feature that it still lacks — extra willpower.

The fact of the matter is that no gadget, no device, no app is going to upload the requisite internal commitment and discipline into my head and heart that I need to get my eating and physical activity where it needs to be. I know that–honestly, I do. That has to come from being honest about where I struggle most, putting my selfish, sinful flesh to death by seeking my true satisfaction in Jesus, and then making the commitment every day to make one good choice at a time for the sake of myself, my family, and my ministry.

And if this device helps me be more aware of how often (or not) I’m active, “tricks” me into taking more steps so that I get the little “hoorah” response at the end of the day, and allows me to monitor my heart rate and sleep patterns, then it’s worth the investment.

If you’re interested in my progress, let me know and I’ll post it from time to time. And hey, if you want to encourage me in the comments (without trying to sell me something, PLEASE), I’d appreciate that as well.

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Your Turn: Do you use gamification to encourage positive changes in your life? I’d be interested to hear about it in the comments!