A Routine Examination
By Michael K. Lake, Th.D.
I have been dealing with nontraditional theological education for over thirty years. During those years, I have seen students progress through their programs smoothly from start to finish, others do well for a while and then stall out, and finally others that never progress beyond opening the box of materials once they arrived in the mail. My heart has always been to move all of my students to the first category of smoothly moving through the materials from enrollment to graduation. In this process we have rewritten our materials, produced extensive audio lectures (which our students love), and finally begun filming on DVD. While the depth of insight into the Word of God and spiritual transformation has greatly increased for those that move smoothly through the courses, the overall percentage of completion has only increased by about 5%.
During the same period, I have become very interested in personal productivity. If you were aware of all of the various aspects of Biblical Life (our local congregation, the college & seminary, and publishing – whether in book form or video), you would understand why I am so involved with the concepts of productivity: both personally and professionally. Without the concepts of productivity that I have learned and implemented over the years, I could not have kept up with the seminary, much less a congregation and publishing ministry.
Observing from the viewpoint of being involved in education for over three decades and now productivity for a little over two, I am convinced that the difference between the students that move smoothly through the programs and those that don’t progress is the result of positive routines and habits.
You may be saying to yourself: “But you don’t know all that is happening in my life – all the demands and chaos.” The truth is that we are all swamped with demands, and (whether it is home life, ministry life, or the work place) chaos is usually status quo.
I recently finished a new book co-authored by someone that I respect in the field of productivity and the creative mind, Scott Belsky. His book entitled “Making Ideas Happen” has become the “go-to” book for those working in creative fields. His team at Behance developed a new book entitled, “Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind.” In this book, he made two very profound statements:[i]
"It’s time to stop blaming our surroundings and start taking responsibility. While no workplace is perfect, it turns out that our gravest challenges are a lot more primal and personal. Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than reactively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen."
"You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or, you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it."
Did you catch that? Let me repeat just one sentence from Scott’s forward to the book that is paramount to our decision: “Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it.”
So let’s rule out learning difficulties and extreme family emergencies regarding the studies of our students – which is a small percentage. The difference between those students that made progress and those that did not continue is their individual practices. I believe “individual practices” can be defined as our daily routines and habits.
Routines and habits may sound like the same thing, but they are not. Before I examine what routines are, I want to take a look at habits.
Habits can be defined as an action or series of actions that we do automatically. In other words, we have done them so many times that we now have to give little thought in their activation or completion. Some habits are good and others are bad. It is kind of alarming to realize that we can have habits that are bad for us that can activate without conscious thought and be carried out without our realizing it! One could compare bad habits to what gathers on the bottom of ships as they navigate the ocean: barnacles. As those barnacles increase on that which is unseen (the bottom of the ship in the water), it impedes progress on that which can be seen (the upper part of the ship above the water).
One of the great mysteries of life is how to get rid of bad habits? The truth is that you can’t. You can overwrite them with new habits. For many, trying to find a way of replacing bad habits with good ones is like playing the lottery: millions will play, but few win. At least that is the way it seems until you add another factor to the equation: routines.
Every single habit we have (good or bad) is the result of our environment and our reaction to it. A specific environment will trigger a habit response. The environmental trigger can activate habits of defeat, procrastination, distraction, etc., in our lives. Therefore, the first step in overcoming bad habits regarding our studies (or any other area) is to modify the environment through an examination of our routines.
I want to focus specifically on dealing with education in this article. So let’s look at what happens when a student attends a traditional college. The student is placed into an environment in which learning, studying, and completing assignments are the main focus. Everyone is going to classes, using the library, and spending their evenings in study and writing. The environment facilitates and reinforces good habits regarding learning.
Our challenge is to systematically modify the environment in our homes or pastoral offices that facilitate and reinforce good study habits, which produce marked results in moving through the programs you are taking at BLCS. This may seem overwhelming, but it can be simplified.
In the book I have already quoted from, “Managing Your Day-to-Day,” I discovered that many famous authors use routines and their environment as triggers for productivity in their given profession. Here is a list of what some of them would do as a part of their established routine to write:
1. Clear off the desk or table of everything, and then lay out only the things needed to write.
2. Listen to a particular song or album. (Always the same – to create a specific environment.)
3. Have a cup of coffee in a specific cup. Maybe include a cookie or something small and enjoyable.
4. Study and write for one to two hours.
If they wanted to study and write daily, they would go through this routine every single day without fail. If it was to write on Mondays and Thursdays, they did it every week and never missed.
At first, very little will happen. You go through the routine and stumble or get little done. Over time, the mind understands what you are after. Within is few weeks, the moment you start clearing off your desk or table, you will feel a switching to study and writing mode within your mind. You have established a new environment through a routine that activates a new habit of study.
This understanding has helped me greatly. I have always been about to study and development sermon/lecture notes. I struggled in the area of moving from developing outlines to writing. I guess I use different mental/spiritual muscles to develop outlines than I do in writing. For me, writing required some type of inspiration. A certain mood had to hit me before I could write. The problem was that sometimes the mood only hit me three or four times a year. The result was that I could write and do it well a few times a year.
While reading and meditating on the concept of using routines, the light finally came on. I do something similar every week with sermon preparation and delivery (funny thing about being a pastor – the congregation wants to hear something inspired, new, and anointed every week whether the mood hits me or not). I realized that I have little routines during the week that create the environment to hear from God. Then there are other little routines that help trigger the research and review. Finally, every single Saturday morning I am up by 6 AM to type out my sermon notes (which I will deliver at 10 AM that morning to my congregation). This is so strongly embedded in me that even when I travel to speak and have all of my lectures notes prepared beforehand, at 6 AM on Saturday I am up reviewing that morning’s session to see if God wants me to make any adjustments.
I now have some newly developed routines for writing. I have been working with them the same time, on the same days each week. The result is that I don’t have to wait for the mood to hit me; I am creating a new environment that triggers the mood or inspiration. In fact, I am kind of shocked at how quickly I have moved into a routine of writing. It is really exciting for me. I have already developed several new articles and begun outlining a new book. Some of the articles may never see the light of day. Others may be amalgamated into other projects. But the block is gone, and the creativity has begun to flow.
What routines have you developed that produce successful study times for your coursework from BLCS? Maybe you don’t have any, and that is the reason you are waiting for the mood to hit you to study and move forward. The good news is that through the power of routine, you can establish a new environment that facilitates good study habits.
Maybe it’s time for a routine examination in your life (i.e., examine your routines). If what you are currently trying isn’t working, change the environment and look for things that create the atmosphere for progress!
[i] Glei, Jocelyn – General Editor. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Amazon Publishing, Las Vegas, NV. Copyright 2013. Forward. Kindle Edition.
Michael K. Lake, Th.D.
Dr. Lake is the Chancellor and Founder of Biblical Life College and Seminary, the Director of Biblical Life Publishing, and the Senior Pastor of Biblical Life Assembly. He has been involved in the education of aspirants of ministry for over thirty years. He also serves on the International Board of Restoration Fellowship International.