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Over the Christmas break, I wrote down a few goals and plans for 2012. One of those goals was to read 50 books between January and December 2012.

Yesterday, I finished my 49th book. I am inches from reaching my goal. In fact, I should cross that line sometime tonight or Friday.

How did I do it?

First, as I wrote last week, you can gain a lot of momentum in your reading when you choose the RIGHT kind of books to read. For me, I read books on Theology, Philosophy, and Best Practices. This way I am making the most of my time and energy and avoiding books that might not stretch me mentally or professionally.

Secondly, at the outset of the year I listed about 30 books that I wanted to read. Some books on my list are ones that were published in years previously and some are books that I know will be published later this year. Some are books I have always wanted to read but have not had the opportunity. I have since edited and re-edited that list but I believe by laying out a plan and choosing individual titles to read it set me on the path to achieving my goal early. It took the guess work out of choosing my next book and it kept me from blindly groping for any book to read next.

I also make time to read DAILY. On Monday morning when I get to the office it is “all sermon prep, all the time” from the minute I sit down at my desk. This is the day I’m reading scripture, commentaries, articles, you name it in order to prepare for next Sunday’s message. I take a break from around 12-2pm for lunch and a mentoring call. I wrap up my sermon prep for the day and then I make sure to spend about another hour reading from my list. There once was a time when I would have said, “I’ve been reading all day” and I would have made an excuse that I had already “read” for the day. No more. My goal is to read no less than one hour a day. Monday is just an hour. Other days I can get in more. Each day brings with it it’s own troubles and obstacles. If you want to read more books that will develop you personally, intellectually, or spiritually you have to commit to reading each day. No matter what!

Next Steps
The point isn’t for you to read 50 books or 100 or whatever. Reading has impacted my life greatly and I want to see it make a difference in your life. One of my favorite quotes is from Charlie “Tremendous” Jones when he says, “Ten years from now you will be the same, except for the books you read and the people you meet. If you read one more book this year than you did last year you will be better for it and you will be better equipped to lead those around you. So, ready to set a reading goal? Here are some next steps you can take:

1) Today, make a list of the categories you would like to begin reading. Do you want to read more books on history, more literature, business books, foreign languages? There are thousands of books out there from a thousand different categories. Pick a handful of categories that will help you grow and that you will find enjoyable.

2) Next, list at least 5 books that you want to read in the categories you’ve chosen. Then begin reading from your lists. My list for this year is in Evernote. Next to each book I’ve chosen I have a check box and as I read each book, I check it off the list. Some books, after closer inspection, end up getting dropped from my list or moved down the list in order to make room for something that I need to read or is a better resource. Once your list is in place, you can stop worrying about what your going to read.

3) Pull out your calendar and find at least one hour a day in order to read from your lists. It doesn’t have to be all in one sitting. 30 minutes at lunch and 30 minutes before bedtime is manageable. Instead of watching that 3rd and 4th episode in a row of Diners, DriveIns, & Dives (guilty!), read. You have time to read- I promise. Get creative about making time. Make the hard decisions. Sacrifice the things you love in order to do the things you love more.

Don’t just sit there- get reading!

Question: What is one book you’ve read that you would recommend over and above any other book? (Leave your answer in the comments section.)

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Get Back 5- Life-Long Learning

I have a passion for learning. One of my core values is that Leaders are Learners and so I make sure that my daily actions are in line with this belief. Learning is a discipline and is strengthened through daily exercise.

We live in an day and age where each day offers you a new opportunity to grow in your calling. You can read a book, attend a conference, Skype with a mentor, or listen to a podcast. The possibilities are endless. All you have to do is make the choice to develop yourself, create a plan and stick with it.

My go-to form of development is Reading. Some may look at reading as merely a hobby. However, the truth is that while I love reading it is much more than a hobby for me. It is a necessity.

If I want to learn… I read.
If I need inspiration… I read.
If I need to understand the complexities of life… I read.
If I am hungry… I eat. (As amazing as reading is it can’t do everything.)

This year, I will read somewhere around 50 books.

I’m not chasing a number. I’m chasing wisdom.
I’m not after a trophy. I’m after knowledge.

Reading is essential for growth, development, inspiration, and focus. It is true in my life and it should be true in yours. As I’ve said before, you may believe that you do not have the time to read but the truth is you don’t time NOT to read. It is that important to your development as a leader. Growing organizations are led by growing leaders. If you aren’t growing… you’re dying.

I have had friends ask me how I read so much. Today’s post will give you a little insight into how I make the most of life-long learning through my reading.

I want share with you 3 simple ways to help you make reading an essential part of your life…

1) Choose the RIGHT BOOKS to read
There will be over 1 million new books published this year. You can’t possibly begin to try and read everything so the first step in making reading a essential part of your life is to read only the books that will have a direct impact on your leadership. I look for books in 3 categories:

a) Theology
As a pastor, I read books on theology in order to help me better understand God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Primarily this understanding comes directly through the Bible, God’s Word. I also read theologians like NT Wright, Walter Brueggemann, Miroslav Wolf, and Timothy Keller. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.” I want my mind stretched by the things of God so that I will be forever changed.

b) Philosophy
I read theology so that I can understand God. I read philosophy so I can understand man. I may read a book on Psychology and then read a biography/autobiography. I might read up on a particular time in history and then I might follow that up with reading a work of literature. Reading philosophy isn’t about reading Freud or Socrates. The whole point of reading books in this category is to understand how others think and what they believe about life and how it should be lived. Reading about competing world views and philosophies doesn’t make them all equal and valid. Understanding them though will aid in helping to connect them to Jesus Christ and his will for their lives.

c) Best Practices
Best Practices are the types of books that will help me in a practical areas of life and ministry. Books on leadership, small groups, marriage, and administration help me gain insight and develop skills that I need to succeed. I am currently in a season where I am devouring everything I can on communication so that I can develop my teaching and speaking skills.

Exit Question: What are the categories of books you need to read in order to grow and develop your area of leadership? Choose 3 categories right now.

2) Take NOTES on what you read
If you want to get the most from your reading you must take notes on what you are learning. I have two ways that I take notes on what I’m reading. First, I never go anywhere without my Rickshaw Moleskine Folio. When I’m reading I try and distill any thoughts or ideas down to one sentance. I also write out any quotes that strike me as important. I primarily use my moleskin to take notes if I am reading from my Kindle. If I have a physical copy of the book I write my notes inside the front cover and the quotes on the inside of the back cover. Find a way to take notes that matches your personality and learning style.

photo
(This a picture of my Rickshaw Moleskine Folio. I actually own more than one of these. The folio allows me to carry my notes, pens, and anything else I might need when I’m reading and writing. You can see the reflection of my Starbucks Gold Card there in the front. I love this product.)

3) TELL someone what you are reading
Telling someone about what you are reading will do 2 things for you. First, you will begin to understand and clarify for yourself what you’re learning. Teaching others is a great way to learn. Second, you will find that as you share with others your excitement and confidence will grow. You will begin to feel and see the fruit of all your hard work. This will in turn encourage you to keep reading. You will see, feel, and know that your learning is having a tangible impact on you and those around you!

When leaders stop learning they ultimately stop leading. Don’t let this be true of your life. Right now commit to growing in your leadership through reading. Over the weekend, choose a book that will help you in your calling, decide on a method for keeping track on what you’re learning, and tell a close friend about the book you’ve chosen. Then…

Get reading so you can get leading!

My Top Apps for Productivity

It is no secret that I love my iPhone and my iPad. I feel blessed to have two of the greatest pieces of technology in my possession. These aren’t simply toys and fashion accessories. They are tools for productivity and they enable me to get better at what I do each and every day. I am very selective about the apps I put on these devices and whatever does make the cut had better perform. Here are the apps that are currently making the grade and helping me get stuff done!

Evernote
I have a lot of notes laying around. I have notes from my last staff meeting, notes from that podcast I listened to yesterday, notes from a creative meeting last week, a recipe for some BBQ that I want to try out, a To-Do list for this week, a To-Do Vision list for the coming year, and even a list of lists!

Evernote helps me stay organized.

For example, I have to outline my class for Wednesday and I have ideas I’m collecting for a sermon series at the end of the Summer. Evernote allows me to compile all these notes, organize them by category (stacks) and have them accessible at all times on all my devices. Each note is stored in the cloud, searchable, and taggable. I can insert pictures, clips from the web, or documents. I can email notes to my Evernote account and I can share notes through email or social networks.

Michael Hyatt has written extensively about Evernote and how to maximize the effectiveness of this app. Check out his definitive posts on the greatness that is Evernote.

Wunderkit
The best To-Do, To-Collaborate, To-Plan, and To-Execute app out there. Wunderkit allows me to organize my life and achieve goals based on the different areas of focus in my life or projects. It also allows me to invite friends or colleagues to join me in those tasks. For example, the youth minister and I share a folder where we can assign tasks to one another, collaborate on notes, and communicate changes to one another. It has been a real asset in helping us come together on a shared agenda for weekly staff meetings.

Right now, Wunderkit is available on the iPhone and the Mac (you can get Wunderlist HD for the iPad. It is the best To-Do list I’ve used.)

Pulse
The app is all about helping you “take control” of all the information, news, blogs, and articles you read. With a clean and beautiful interface, I am about to gather all the blogs that I read in one place so I can read them offline when it is convenient for me. No more watching my RSS feed fill up and mock me with some ridiculous number of unread posts. With Pulse, I open it up, sync with the new content, and then read at my leisure. This app also allows me to post articles I like to Facebook or Twitter. I can even email posts to friends directly from this app.

Dropbox
Do you need to share documents and files between different computers or devices? I know I do. Often I don’t have a flash drive handy or I need to move something from my MacBook to my iPad. Dropbox is the solution.

Dropbox allows me to easily share files between devices or share files with friends. It is the easiest cloud-based digital firebox I have used. One of my favorite uses it a community file where you and your friends/team members can share files for better collaboration. I use this app almost every single day and twice on Sundays! I love it.

So what about you? What are your top apps for helping you get stuff dine? Share your Top Productivity Apps in the comment section.

Links of the Week

Here is a list of the best stories, articles, and various commentaries from the web this week:

Follow me on Twitter to get links like these each and every day: @michealfelker

 

What’s Your Rhythm?

In 2012, I made it a goal to communicate with my leadership team more consistently each week. One way that I have tried to accomplish this is through a weekly leadership email that I send out to the ministry staff, deacons, and shepherds. This month’s theme has been focused on Rhythm. It is my hope that this short message will be meaningful to you and your situation and that you may be encouraged. Enjoy.

The rhythms in our lives can strengthen us personally, professionally and spiritually.

The problem is that we struggle to balance the different rhythms that we are moving in. We must learn to live and work at a rhythm that is sustainable and life-giving. You don’t just stumble into this type of rhythm. Living life at the right pace takes intentional action and relentless focus. It is tough work but the pay off is incredible.

No doubt, two things happened this week that impacted your normal rhythm or routine- Daylight Savings Time and Spring Break.

With DST, the upside is that the sun is still out after dinner giving you and your family a few extra hours to bond, play, and spend time together. No complaining there! The downside, for me at least, is that I have really struggled to get going each morning because it is still dark at 7am.

While I am not a morning person, I have found that one of my rhythms is that I am more productive in the hours leading up to lunch time. I do my best administrative work and my best studying before noon. If I don’t get cracking first thing in the morning, I feel like my back gets put up against a wall. Struggling through the first two hours of the day this week has thrown me off my game a bit. Since I know that my sweet spot to be at my most productive is before lunch than I must fight to keep this rhythm going. That means choosing to go to bed a little earlier, laying out the night before everything I need for the next day, and dedicating those first few hours to getting things done. It has definitely not been easy this week to keep my rhythm going.

For some of you, your routine has been impacted this week because of the rhythm of the school year. That’s not always a bad thing. Weeks like Spring Break can provide an opportunity for us to unplug from our normal routine and reevaluate where our time is being spent, where we need a more sustainable rhythm, and can give us the energy to make the changes needed to start a brand new rhythm.

Next week, we will look at the elements that will make up a life-giving and sustainable life rhythm. Until then, here are some things to think through this week:

1) What does your normal day look like? Try and sketch out an hour by hour look at your day.

2) How much of you time is spent and work and at home? Do you have time built in for reflecting on your day? Do you have time set aside where you can plan the next day?

3) Is there any non-essential thing you are doing right now, that if you STOPPED doing it, would give you more time to accomplish the things you really need to do? How can you begin to move that task to your TO (NOT) DO list?

Prayer Resources

This past weekend, I wrapped up a four week series on Prayer that I called The Prayer Circle. God uses prayer to help grow our faith in him and prayer is transformative because it challenges us to realign our hearts and minds with the Father. I was initially inspired by the book, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson for this series. I used a good deal of Mark’s excellent material in week one and two in order to lay a foundation for the series. I would highly recommend that book as an excellent resource for you and your family. Be forewarned- it will rock the way you approach your prayer life from this point forward.

Below I’ve listed a handful of the resources I’ve found over the years that have positively impacted my prayer life. I hope that you can connect with one of the books and that you will continue to pursue a deep and meaningful relationship with the Father through prayer.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Prayer by Richard Foster
Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels
The Autobiography of George Muller by George Muller
Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
The Inner Life by Thomas a Kempis

Music To Move By

Two weeks ago I started training for something I have wanted to o for a few years now- a half marathon. I am planning on running the White Rock Half Marathon this December. That means I have 282 days to get fit and ready for race day. I am using the Run 10K app right now to get back into the rhythm of running on a consistent basis. One of the cool features of this app is that a “running coach” will speak to you and tell you when to walk, jog, or run. I love this app and it has really helped me stay focused and on track for my runs 3 times a week.

While the app is great and the “running coach” is a good tool, my energy and attitude are fueled by a great running music playlist. Today, I wanted to give you a peek into what beats are helping pump my legs and increase my heart rate.

Every workout play list I have has a mixture of genres and artist. There are a few songs that get added to my playlists consistently over time (the Main Stays) and there are also new songs that rotate in and out on a pretty frequent basis (the New Additions). Enjoy this week’s playlist.

Main Stays
All These Things I’ve Done by the Killers (Hot Fuss)
Live Your Life by T.I.-feat Rihanna (Paper Trail)
Working Man by Rush (Vault Edition)
Rise Above 1 by Bono, The Edge, & Reeve Carney (Spider-Man: The Musical)
Won’t Get Fooled Again by the Who (Who’s Next)
Surrender by Cheap Trick (Heaven Tonight)

New Additions
We Take Care of Our Own by Bruce Springsteen (Wrecking Ball)*
Call Your Girlfriend by Robyn (Body Talk)*
Comeback Kid by Sleigh Bells (Reign of Terror)
Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine (Ceremonials)*
What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) by Kelly Clarkson (Stronger)*
All of the Lights by Kanye West (Fantasy)
Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls) by Foster the People (Torches)

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my listening habits. Add these songs to your running mix and watch the miles add up!

*These songs have a great potential to graduate to Main Stay status very, very soon.

Why I Read

If you don’t read books, you don’t believe in love. Love is this idea of promoting growth in other people by sharing your intangibles. Reading books is a commitment- a several hundred page commitment to learn a complex idea and own it fully. Now, if you go out and you share knowledge with someone, what you will do is you will establish trust and respect and admiration. You are are an instant mentor because you are taking the time to learn complex ideas and to to teach them to others. Everybody that commits themselves to this can be a mentor. You have no excuse not to do this.” – Tim Sanders, author of Love is the Killer App

Clean Out

I’m spending a little time on the Black Friday to clean up and clear out my office up at the church building. The space where I work is often (most often) cluttered with notepads filled with ideas, post-it notes with reminders, articles I haven’t read yet, forms I have to filled out, catalogs, cups, pens, and other miscellaneous office-like things.

One of my favorite ministry management books is Youth Ministry Management Tools by Olsen, Elliot, and Work. I have consistently  come back to this book over and over in ministry in order to draft forms or plan events. The whole first half of the book is dedicated to Getting Organized so I am cleaning out the office based on some of their suggestions and tips. Here’s what I’m doing:

1) Sort the stuff in your office
Quickly sort everything into 4 boxes
  • Stuff to FILE: Fill this box with formsold picturespersonal notes, archivesanything “paper-ish” that you need.
  • Stuff to READ: Fill it with magazines, catalogs, brochures, fliers, event posters, conference brochures,  curriculum samples, and general ministry mail
  • Stuff to GIVE AWAY: In this box sort all your miscellaneous items, free stuff you’ll never read or use, old stufff you’ll never really need, pens, desk junk
  • Stuff to THROW AWAY: Anything you can’t put in the other 3 boxes. Ask, “Can I get this information somewhere else if I throw it away?”
2) Go through the boxes
  • FILE: label each item in the box with a Post-It note giving the name of the folder in which the item belongs. Then invite you assistant or a volunteer to file each one.
  • READ: Use Post-It Notes to identify any article you wish to save. Ask your assistant or a volunteer to rip out or photocopy necessary articles, toss the rest of the magazine, and then file the article.
  • GIVE AWAY: Give yourself 1 week to find  home for all your “good junk.” Then toss it in box 4!
  • THROW AWAY: Give it to the Trash gods ASAP!

In a little over 2 hours I was able to tame the chaos and regain control over my work space.

My next step will be to clear out and organize my file cabinet so that I can actually file the important things that I have uncovered today by cleaning my desk area. My hope to also utilize Evernote to digitally file everything where it is easily accessible and searchable.

I hope you found some of these tips helpful. Having a clean and usable work space is key to getting stuff done. We all have important work to do. Clear the clutter and get back to work! People are counting on us!

Reading to Lead

This is the 1,001 post for Kicking at the Darkness! To celebrate this milestone I want to pay tribute to the many great blogs and authors that I read each and every day.

I read quite a bit. I strongly believe that Leaders are Readers so I try and dedicate some part of each day to intentional reading and learning. Throughout the day I find time to read from a variety of sources- books, newspapers, blogs, magazines/journals, Twitter and Facebook.

Every day I have the opportunity to become a better leader. I have access to some of the greatest leaders in the world through blogs, Twitter, and publishing. You do too. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn by reading.

Here are a few of my favorites. Take some time today to invest in your leadership! Trust me: the ROI is crazy high!

Leadership
Michael Hyatt
Seth Godin
Jon Acuff
Brad Lomenick
Catalyst Space
One Question with Ken Coleman
Tim Schrader
Fast Company
Books @ Leadership Network

Christian Ministry
Mark Batterson
Perry Noble
Mike Breen
Tony Morgan
Neue
Leading Smart
Pastors.com
WithoutWax.tv
Don Miller

Family
Orange Parents
Doug Fields

News
Drudge Report
Mediaite
USA Today
Dallas News

Fun
Stuff Christians Like
Bryan Allain
U2 Sermons
@U2

Magazines/Journals
Leadership
Entertainment Weekly
Neue
Relevant
Wired

Twitter
@stevenfurtick
@andystanley
@RevRunWisdom
@MaxLucado
@JonAcuff

Current Books
Community by Brad House
Engage by Nelson Searcy
The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
Good to Great by Jim Collins (reread)
Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well by Billy Graham

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