Here’s a quick plea to folks who work in a “knowledge-work” industry or even just in an office environment: Recognize and try to minimize the time-cost of Zoom chats, in-person meetings, and phone calls.
Obviously I’m not the first to talk about this; I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve read from productivity and systems analyst types who address this idea. But I was reminded last week of how gallingly frustrating it is to be on the short-end of this situation.
In my line of work, I edit documents to meet certain specs and then send them back to “clients” to get feedback before finalization. Usually it’s pretty straightforward. Tracked-changes, in-line comments, easy. I was trying to finalize a project that needed to be expedited, and I sent the document to the client team, expecting a quick turnaround. When I didn’t hear from them for a couple of hours, I followed up by email and was told, “Oh, didn’t such-and-such reach out yet? She said she was going to call you. She said that it would probably be quicker than an email.“
Somehow, I doubted that.
Her colleague assured me she’d call me back directly, so I sat for a few minutes with the document open on my desktop, waiting for her to call. I knew that as soon as I started something else, I’d have to stop and change gears to deal with this. After 5 minutes, I sighed and opened a different document to pick up working on another task, only to hear my phone ring 30 seconds later.
Now that she had me on the line, my contact then proceeded to open up the document I had sent the day before and read over it, line by line, making occasional comments–including a five-minute excursis in which she realized she was confusing this document with another project and had to check her email to confirm she was thinking of the right one. As I sat on the line with her.
Just to be clear: there were maybe 10 questions in this document to answer, most of which required a YES/NO response.
It took us 15 minutes to work through the short document so I could get the information I needed from her. Information that she could have typed up in-line in the document and emailed to me, adding little to no additional time on her end but possibly saving me about 10 minutes on mine.
That doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that 5 or 6 such events burn an hour of work time.
I know I’ve done things like this in the past, so I’m trying to be mindful not to do this myself because I don’t want to be the guy whose name gets muttered through gritted teeth. No one wants to be that guy.
So here’s my plea, on behalf of the people you work with or interact with professionally: If that phone call or Zoom meeting or in-person meeting (if you are so blessed) is merely an information check-in that can be summarized by a 3-paragraph email or a notated document providing feedback, just send that to them and give those people back their time.
(Of course, then there’s the whole discussion about whether or not email itself is all that it’s cracked up to be, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)
Do you have any “quick phone call / meeting” horror stories? Leave them in the comments!
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!
Malcolm Gladwell uses Law and Order (the TV show) to suggest an interesting take on plot and storytelling. Granted, it could be complete nonsense, but I enjoyed hearing him try to create a sensible framework. (Warning: Very strong language, because he’s talking to Joe Rogan, who loves himself some profanity.)
I’m currently leading a Bible study at church through the Old Testament book of Amos (which will likely end up being a series of blog posts in the future!). If you’re not familiar with Amos, this podcast episode with Nancy Guthrie and Michael McKelvey gives you a wonderful overview of the book and its themes.
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
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.
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”
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?
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.
Hey y’all! Wanted to drop another short post here with some recommendations for podcasts I enjoyed through the month of December and am eager to keep enjoying into the new year! Here we go!
American Elections: Wicked Game— This podcast by Lindsey Graham (the creator behind the podcast Terms, not the congressman) begins with the question: Was there actually a “good ol’ days” before partisan rancor dominated American presidential politics? (In a word: no.) Each week, AE:WG explores the history of presidential elections, covering each election in order from 1789 to 2016 (leading right up to the week before the 2020 contest in November). I’m 4 or 5 episodes in, and I’m loving this. It’s well-produced, well-researched, and engaging. While I have to assume that there will be some perspective-shading when we get to the more modern elections (because there always is, no matter who’s writing it), I hope it’s this enjoyable all the way through. You can bet I’ll be eagerly listening to find out.
The Redeeming Productivity Show — Reagan Rose hosts this look at how our theology must necessarily guide our desire for productivity. In one of his earliest episodes, Rose details how even the most popular productivity and efficiency gurus today all have an ideological and even theological underpinning, and he encourages his listeners to consider that everything–even productivity–is shot through with theology. This podcast is quickly becoming a favorite. If you’re interested in the productivity/efficiency/creativity space like I am, put this one in your podcast feed.
The Twilight Zone Podcast— I’ve been a fan of The Twilight Zone since I was a kid, but it’s only been in the last year that I’ve gotten to enjoy Tom Elliott’s episode-by-episode recap and analysis. If you grew up watching TZ and want to revisit some favorites, I’d encourage you to check out Tom’s podcast and download those episodes. Not only is his soothing British accent a auditory pleasure, but he provides some thoughtful analysis and helpful behind-the-scenes research to enhance your appreciation of Rod Serling’s masterpiece. Tom’s just finished his analysis of Season 3, and is gearing up for the somewhat-controversial fourth season of TZ. I’m excited to hear what’s in store.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones Sermon Podcast— I was first exposed to Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones about 10 years ago, but it’s really been in the last year that I’ve come to appreciate The Doctor’s preaching. It’s sometimes described as “logic on fire,” and rightly so. While his delivery may seem stiff at times, especially at the beginnings of his sermons, his passion for the truth explodes in his preaching. What I most appreciate is that no matter when he preached the sermon (anytime from the 1950’s to the 70’s or later), he doesn’t use too many contemporary analogies or illustrations, and his messages thus become more timeless and applicable. I’m so thankful that the MLJ Trust has preserved this treasure-trove of audio teaching for later generations. It’s well worth your time to check it out.
Fiction Podcasts — Okay, this last one is a cheat, but I’ve just recently started listening to fiction podcasts again. This is essentially the resurrection of the old-time radio serials of the 1930s and ’40s, but in 21st-century form. There are some really fascinating audio dramas being produced and released for free (with commercials) in recent years. I’ve downloaded 3 or 4 podcasts to check out but not yet listened to enough to recommend any of them fully (like Welcome to Nightvale, Blood Ties, and Dust, a sci-fi anthology show). The podcast I mentioned earlier (Terms by Lindsay Graham on the Wondery Network) is an excellent bit of political intrigue that sadly has only seen one season produced–and was left on a cliffhanger! All that to say, if you haven’t yet checked out serialized story podcasts yet, you should look around for some. While there are sometimes content concerns for sensitive listeners, there’s a whole world of options out there for you to enjoy.
What podcasts are you enjoying most, as you head into 2020? Recommend your favorites in the comments!
[June 2020 Update: Full review of the entire journal available here!]
If you do much reading about productivity or personal/spiritual growth, keeping a journal or day-planner is often recommended for daily practice. Whether it’s bounded by 5-minute timeframes, uses bullets, helps you Get Things Done, or just records your prayers or Bible-reading insights, the practice of reflection and record-keeping can be very rewarding. So I was intrigued when I heard about the Monk Manual.
Let’s go ahead and address the name: Monk Manual?
Immediately, my suspicious mind asked, “What kind of monk?” Was this journal coming from a specific religious background? Would it lead the user into certain religious practices? The answer, as far as I have seen, is no–or at least, not necessarily. I get the sense that the creator of the journal, Steven Lawson (not that Steve Lawson), has in mind some sort of mystical monk tradition (and some of the language under the “Grow in” tab of the website sounds a bit New-Agey), but the journal itself reads much more generally than that. The daily and weekly pages I’ve used do not point to any specific religious practice, either, beyond giving a space to record “what God is teaching me” or “what I’m thankful for.” Folks like me who try to be discerning about spiritual subtext and teaching can rest easy, as far as I’m aware.
The designer’s idea here is to follow some of the reflective practices used by monks and apply them to a productivity and planning context. But (at least in terms of the daily and weekly pages) they aren’t presented in a way that encourages specific religious ideas or habits. The user would have to bring that to the table, in this context.
So what’s a Monk Manual? Will it train me to be a monk?
The Monk Manual is a journal/planner system based on the idea of the PAR Method (Prepare, Act, Reflect). However, instead of focusing solely on accomplishment of tasks, the Monk Manual points the user to some bigger-picture questions, like recognizing blessings, thinking about relationships, and considering how they are really doing internally.
I admit, writing it out that way sounds a bit hokey, but it’s actually pretty refreshing. There’s still an element of GTD in the Monk Manual, and it can be useful in that regard. But the journal is designed to help you step back a bit and think about who you are as much as what you do, which may be beneficial for those who are results-driven or who feel guilty for not doing enough in general.
The Monk Manual is divided into 3 sections: daily pages, weekly pages, and monthly pages. I have not seen the monthly pages yet, but I used the daily and weekly pages for two weeks, with only a day and a half missed–that itself being a minor miracle. Consistency in anything new is a struggle for me.
Taking Time to Reflect.
I found the daily and weekly pages to be a helpful and encouraging exercise because it encouraged me to consider not only what I was doing, but why. Merely the act of assigning a goal-habit and a theme for each week helped to reframe my actions and some of my decisions, so that I was able to look back on them in a slightly-different way.
The act of reflecting at the end of the day is a helpful practice that I don’t do often enough. Some of the end-of-day questions include writing down highlights of the day, times you were “at your best,” and times when you felt uneasy. Taking a few moments to consider my emotions/reactions helped me put some things in context and recognize how certain choices led to consequences I didn’t like. As someone who doesn’t really journal at all, doing that was a benefit that I want to keep going.
When it comes to spiritual matters, you get out of this journal what you put into it. As stated above, there are some vaguely spiritual prompts that a Christian can easily apply in their own worldview without concerns of syncretism. I was able to consider and track some of my personal spiritual disciplines in this journal in an effective way.
Final Thoughts: Like Any Tool, It’s Up to You to Use It.
That’s really what it comes down to: if you decide to use this tool to help improve your day-to-day life and keep you focused, it could be helpful–but it won’t “fix” you and it won’t do the work for you. There are no magical powers in the Monk Manual, and other than providing prompts for consideration, it’s paper and ink just like any other notebook. (Point of fact, I didn’t even use the actual journal that’s for sale–I printed out the free pages and popped those into a folder!)
Would I recommend using the Monk Manual? Sure, if you are interested in trying out a new type of journal and don’t already practice that daily reflection piece. If nothing else, it could encourage you develop a habit of taking a few moments to think about the day, plan for tomorrow, and pray for God’s grace in accomplishing what He’s set before you. That could be a help to you.
Here’s My Pitch
You can try the daily pages of the Monk Journal for free (as a downloadable PDF) from their website by signing up for their email list.
Thanks to a couple of folks who used my link via Twitter, I was able to “unlock” the weekly pages. If a few more folks use my link to sign up, I can “unlock” the monthly pages (and possibly even get a free journal myself!).
So, I’ll make a deal with you: If this sounds interesting, and you don’t mind signing up for MM’s mailing list and getting the free daily pages, once I hit the benchmark needed to get access to the monthly pages, I’ll check those out and then write a follow-up post to let you know what I think of them. Fair enough? You get to check out the daily pages, and you help me get to try out the monthly pages.
I hope it is a benefit to you. Please come back and let me know if you try it out.
11/30/2019 Update #1:
You beautiful lunatics. Somehow, out of nowhere, this post has become my most popular post of the year (upwards of 250-300 views in 2 months!). I hit the “free monthly” pages pretty quickly and then enough of you signed up to push me right through to the “free journal” tier.
Thank you. Sincerely. Thank you for reading and signing up. If you have been using the pages, I would love to hear what you think in the comments.
Thank you, Steve Lawson and Monk Manual. This is a cool program, and I appreciate the beautiful journal and top-notch packaging. (Like a dope, I didn’t take pics of the cool packaging. It was nice–no skimping here. That says a lot.)
I’m going to start using this beauty tomorrow. And I will most definitely report back.
Again, thank you all. Have a happy (belated) Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you soon.
01/28/2020 Update #2:
Hey friends! I have great news!
Your response to this post has been so amazing that I reached out to the Monk Manual team about it.
Thanks to their generosity, I have been given an affiliate link from Monk Manual, so that if you use my special code DAVEM when you check out, you’ll get 10% off your entire Monk Manual order, and I’ll get a small percentage of the sale as well! That’s definitely a win-win!
So if you’re ready to check out the full Monk Manual for yourself, just click on this link and use my special offer code DAVEM on the checkout page for 10% off (and help me out as well)!
I’ll have my review of the physical Monk Manual coming up next week. In the meantime, thank you so, so much for reading, and have a great day!
Jeremy Anderberg at AoM has 6 ideas for how to streamline your morning. I can attest that when I use these tips, it absolutely works. And yeah, they may seem obvious, but how often do we fail to do obvious, common-sense things?
Hope these were helpful. If you liked any of these links, I’d appreciate you leaving me a comment below (or hit me up on Twitter!) so I know what you find helpful.
Part of my day job involves creating, revising, and maintaining documents across different platforms, using a variety of templates. These templates often include a series of broken lines for signatures and dates.
One of my colleagues spent some time creating a specialized two-column template feature with specialized margins, lines as embedded objects, the whole nine–and plopped that into our template. It works great–as long as you don’t touch anything.
My preferred approach? Typing a line of underscores, tabbing over a couple times, and then typing a smaller line of underscores.
Sophisticated? Obviously not. But the simplified approach works for me because it’s easy to create, easy to explain, and easy to fix if you accidentally “break” it with some errant copying and pasting. I’ve lost quite a bit of time trying to un-break sophisticated template formatting over the years.
Obviously, if you have more sophisticated needs or complex procedures, you should use the tools and techniques that are appropriate. But too often, I think we assume that the most sophisticated and complex tool or approach is always the best choice for the task.
A question we should consider instead is: How complicated does this solution really need to be? And how simple could it be and still do the job I need it to do?
On weeks when I don’t have a themed #FridayFive, I’m going to start curating a list of interesting links or recommendations (in the spirit of the old “Cool Ten” series on one of my past blogs). Here we go!
Eric Davis over at The CrippleGate posted on “a new kind of Pharisee.” Todd Friel of Wretched Radio highlighted the post this week (which is how I became aware of it), and I think it’s something worth mulling over.
I shared this on Twitter earlier this week, but: if you subscribe to the idea of a “head-canon” (having a mental version of events in a popular series or film that fills in the gaps or corrects inconsistencies in the actual “texts” of the story), you’ll understand what I mean when I say that this fan-made version of the Vader/Obi-wan duel from “A New Hope” is now firmly placed in my Star Wars head-canon.
I really enjoyed Luis Mendez’s thoughtful retrospective on the 50-year history of the “King of All Monsters.” Even if you’re not a Godzilla fan, this is a cool overview of how a movie franchise is shaped by geopolitical and cultural changes.
Speaking of Godzilla, here’s a rockin track from the upcoming Gozilla: King of the Monsters soundtrack, featuring Serj Tankian from System of A Down.
I saw two really great movies last weekend: The Highwaymen, a Netflix original about the retired Texas Rangers who killed Bonnie and Clyde; and Stan and Ollie, a pitch-perfect biopic about the twilight years of Laurel and Hardy’s career together. Both films feature compelling acting performances by real pros. Don’t miss either one.
Finally, if you haven’t already used your 3 free premium articles from Medium this month, Mike Vardy’s 43 bullet-points on personal productivity are worth every second. (You may even want to copy some of them down into a file or program that won’t try to charge you $5 a month to access it later.)
If you enjoyed any of the links above, please let me know in the comments, and feel free to share your own cool finds as well! See you Monday!
Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!
The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.
The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.
How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You— Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.
I Want to Quit. Right Now.— Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)
There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.
May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!
Five Medium stories to check out as you cruise into your weekend!
I photographed the Charlotte protests. — Going through my old Medium bookmarks, I came across this series of photos from Sean Rayford, taken back in September 2016. The powerful and provocative images here, even this far outside their original context, serve to remind us that media narratives may be simple but reality is not.
The “Burner List” — In a day when everybody has a complex system for improving productivity, Jake Knapp simplifies things in a way that’s really helpful. You just need a piece of paper, a pen, and a basic knowledge of how kitchens work.
Stuck? Switch to Play Mode. — Another quick piece by Jake Knapp. This time, he suggests that the best way to break through mental blocks is to do something…fun? That’s crazy!