Cold Showers

Every morning for as long as he could, my grandfather slid out of bed before the sun rose and took a cold shower. Now, granted, he lived in the warm climes of southern Alabama, and the waves of heat there appear more like tsunamis of heat. But let me tell you, cold showers in the early morning of southern Alabama feel pretty much the same as cold showers anywhere else. They’re cold.

Every evening, my grandfather came back to a house without air conditioning. He did prop a fan in the window, but that seemed more like a concession to his wimpy family than anything he needed. In a house he’d built himself that had little insulation and a tin roof, the fan pretty much blew hot air around.

But he just made it work. These inconveniences weren’t a challenge; they were opportunities. No water heater? Take cold showers. Three channels on TV? Talk when nothing’s on. No clothes dryer? Hang them up on a line. No phone? Go to your daughter’s house and use hers (though I can’t remember him ever doing so). Something breaks? Don’t buy a new one; fix it.

When I pull myself away from my iPhone, I’m sometimes struck with how different my life is. There’s never a drop of cold water anywhere near my shower. My first instinct is to buy what I need, never to make it. In the evenings, I have to force my mind to stay present on my family instead of drifting away to what important social media updates I’m missing.

But it’s not really the technology differences that hit the hardest. You see, there was a depth to my grandfather that I’ve found much harder to emulate. I’m often too distracted to get there. He just moved and breathed faith; it naturally flowed from his character. Yet I struggle to stay afloat in an ocean of distractions.

Perhaps those cold showers really would do me some good.

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Reaching Inbox Bliss

[This is a reprint of an article published last year.]

On a given day, my five email inboxes fill up with around 100 emails. The urge to read, respond, sort, and delete often proves overwhelming. I have to get the number back to zero before I can move on. I confess—it’s almost a compulsion.

Unlike traditional mail, email is cheap and instant. You can whisk out dozens of them without spending a cent, and the recipients have the digital bits nearly as soon as you press the send button. Of course, the same is true in reverse. With a good percentage of the population clacking away at their keyboards, the avalanche of emails often buries ministry leaders.

But you can get your email to work for you instead of being enslaved by it with a few simple steps.

Multiple Email Addresses

Cut down on the email time warp with more email addresses? That might sound crazy, but consider who exactly has your email address. Often, you have to give your address to online sites to purchase items, establish new accounts, and register for giveaways. If you set up an email address specifically to give to such sites, you’ll know that most emails you get on that account are low priority or promotional.

Reserve your main email address for friends, family, or professional contacts. If you have limited time, you can focus on that address for the more important missives.

A program like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook can easily handle all your accounts (they gather your mail from Exchange, Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo! Mail, and other accounts). Setting them up is easier than you may think.

The When

Resist the urge to check your email more than once or twice per day. If you leave your email program or site open, you’ll constantly check as soon as a new piece of mail pops into existence.

In fact, be careful about checking first thing when you sit down to work. If you do, you’ll likely spend most of your time deleting and typing instead of working on the project you meant to tackle. Could you miss something urgent? Perhaps. But if it’s really important, you’ll likely get a phone call or text message instead.

Plan your time carefully. Open up your mail, work through what you can, and get out when time’s up.

Inbox Zero

Do something with every email you receive instead of letting it taunt you from the inbox. Respond to the most urgent ones and then either delete or archive. If some have information you’ll need later, put them in a folder or archive. For messages that need a response later, move them to folders based on the date or timeframe you need to write back. After that, go through the folder for today’s date and either respond or move them.

Mastering email means being intentional. If you try to simply handle it as you can, you’ll likely end up frustrated with a bloated inbox. Put a system in place and stick with it.

The Day Without a Computer

The title of this post sounds like a horror movie. But maybe not the way you think.

My first thought when I don’t have some piece of “essential” information (e.g., where can I buy Cheerwine?) always involves silicon and a screen. In fact, my life has gotten to the point that it orbits some sort of technology all the time.

And that’s where I find some horror. If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that most days computers see my face more than my family. That bothers me—a lot.

Granted, most of my work involves hunching over a keyboard, pounding out words. I love words, love how they can make much beauty out of something so simple as letters fitted together.

But I love my family more.

So, I’ve started taking a day off the computer each week (usually Sunday). I really can’t take credit for this stroke of obvious genius, since my wife started it, but the impact has been amazing. For one thing, my stress level plummets when I’m not under the purview of my computer-master. If I don’t take a day off, I notice my irritability rising—probably because my inbox is never zero.

Also, I savor the days when I’m not caught in the endless Wikipedia link-loop (you know what I mean). Time passes much more slowly. Considering how quickly my girls grow up, I’ll take all the time I can get with them.

No computer means a focused connection with my wife—rather than the 7 billion other people on Facebook and Twitter. I love social media, but sometimes I just want to focus on her.

Finally, I’ve found that just about anything can take my eyes off God. Being able to put something aside for a day without being reduced to withdrawal symptoms shows me that He still takes priority. (Frankly, not using a computer can challenge me here, as the temptation to dive back in is pretty strong.)

Take a day off each week. You’ll enjoy the break.