Monday, March 5, 2012

Common Questions: A day in the life

I recently put a blog entry up about a common question I get asked. It had to do with my reading and writing habits. Another question I get asked frequently is what a normal day looks like for me. Why do people ask me this? I don't know, but I answer it fairly frequently. Just three days ago I was asked it again. At the risk of appearing ego-centric, I want to answer this question. I guess now I can just point them to this blog. If this is not of interest to you you can stop reading at this point and find something more interesting.

Well, normal is not very normal for me. I travel quite a bit (about 150,000 air miles every year). So I will just assume that the question is: When I am home, without any special events going on, what does a typical day look like? Here is what a typical day in my "normal" life looks like:

Dana gets up before me. She's a school teacher in LA and is usually out of the house before 6:30 with a 45 min drive in traffic to start her day. I talk about a missional life...she lives one (no joke). I get up shortly after her most days (depending on my jetlag). I let the dog out, get dressed and head out the door between 7-8 AM, though sometimes I watch Sports Center and check the top stories of CNN before I go. I usually hit a cafe and have a 4 shot 16 oz latte (no sugar or flavoring) and a light breakfast. When I am being good I walk to the cafe (about 3 miles round trip). Today I drove.

Three things I try to do every day (not in any particular order):

I read the paper. I get the LA Times because it has better international coverage than the local papers and that is important to me. I remember people asking President Reagan which part of the paper he reads first. He chose the funny pages first. Not me. I have found the comics these days have run out of original ideas so I don't read them at all. I start with the front page. Then the local stuff. I scan the  Business section just to keep up with what's going on there. I save the best for last: I like to read the Calendar (entertainment) section and the Sports page last. I must confess, I am more interested in the Sports page during the Lakers season than the rest of the year. I look for articles that interest me and I just scan the rest. Most who know me know that I am very interested in cinema so I read reviews and keep up on what's going on in "the business". I grew up in and around Hollywood (my dad was in the business of making movies and TV shows) so it is part of who I am. In fact, my family originally owned the land that is now called Hollywood, that's how tied in I am to the entertainment world.

I read my Bible. I read 20-30 chapters a week and try to read entire books of the Bible repetitively. I've been practicing this for over twenty years and it is the third smartest decision I ever made. #1 was choosing to follow Jesus. #2 was asking Dana to marry me. #3 was choosing to read large quantities of Scripture repetitively. I would say that having my kids would rank up there but the truth is they were not all an intentional plan on our part. But I thank God for the gift that they are every day!!!!

I journal. I have kept a daily journal since 1990. I do not journal for other people, I just record what is going on in my own soul and life for my own sake. I seriously doubt much of it is interesting at all. I rarely go back and read the entries, I think it is just a time for me to reflect on my own journey every day. When I do go back and read entries it is helpful and maybe one day soon I will take a weekend and read through them. I find that the best authors do keep journals, so if you are an aspiring writer I would suggest you start here. I also keep a sketchbook because the best artists do that, but I am way more regular in my journal than my sketchbook. I've filled dozens of journals in the past 10 years (avg 3-4/yr) and only three sketchbooks. I find that I like to write my entries in leather bound journals, in script...old school. Occasionally I will sketch in them, but I prefer lined paper in my journals so I do not draw in them often. Every day I write out the day of the week, the date and the city I am in. I may simply record what I did the day before. I may record a dream I had the night before. I may write out a prayer or observation from my devotional. Sometimes I write out my experiences or the feelings I am struggling through. A lot of times I just vent and leave it at that. Once it is on paper it is out of my system and that is always a relief.

It is wise to study the world, the Word and yourself and that is what those three daily disciplines are about.

I have a few other things I do regularly, though not necessarily daily.

I blog. But I do that when I am not under a pressing deadline for a book project. To be honest, if I've got nothing good to blog about I don't feel the pressure to post anything. As many of you can attest to, sometimes I do blog even when I have nothing good to say. This entry likely demonstrates as much. Sorry about that.

I write. At least once a year I am working on a book project. This year I have two. It usually takes me 3-4 months to write a book (well it actually takes all the years of my life to that point, but that's a whole other subject). I am also working on some fiction which is a new thing for me and it is on my own time, so that is taking longer to get done (2 years so far on one project). I wish I was the kind of writer that Steven King is. He goes up to his office and writes a certain amount every day in the morning. I am not that kind of artist. I need a deadline to be more creative, and that's always been true of me in any artistic medium. When I am flowing on a project I can't just stop either, I need to have a large block of time to devote to the writing.

I can journal or blog anywhere, but when I write a book I have to be in a new location. Its a weird quirky thing about me. If I try to write a new book in a location where I wrote a previous one I end up thinking about the other book and it distracts my creativity. Once the bulk of the work is put down, however, I can do additions and edits in my office just fine. To write a book, I need to isolate for hours and even days at a time, so a writing retreat is usually needed. Since I already travel a lot I try to keep it to 3 days of solid writing and that usually gets a bulk of the work done so that I can do the rest from home. I always think I will get a lot of writing done when I travel but that never seems to happen. When I am speaking or training it takes all the creative energy out of me so that I have nothing left for writing when I travel. The only exception is on the outbound flight to a place while I am fresh, I sometimes can write in that situation.

I have meetings. I have a discipleship meeting (Life Transformation Group) every week for about an hour. I coach a few church planters each month (1/mo meeting for each). I usually am coaching about 3-4 church planters at a time this way, though I am a mentor to many more than that. I have an APEST team meeting (Apostle, Prophet Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher) about once a month that is an all day and evening meeting without an agenda–except to pray and listen and talk about what seems important to us all (I have had this practice for at least 15 years now). Oh, and we have fun together...that's an important ingredient to any good leadership team. Often people come to town to visit as well and there are always some of those meetings in any given month. I have a church family that meets one night a week in my home, though they get together for lots of other things throughout the week as well.

I do chores. Whatever needs to get done: Run to the bank, pick up dry cleaning, do my laundry, fix something around the house that I have procrastinated on for too long. I pick up the dog crap, rake leaves, water the yard, take out the trash. Sometimes I put dishes away, sort the mail and clean kitty litter...just the usual stuff that life is made of.

I read. My reading practices are in another post, so I'll try to not repeat it. Suffice it to say I have many friends who are authors and they send me manuscripts prior to publication. So a lot of times I am reading books in that way. I also purchase and read about 5-10 books pertinent to whatever topic I am writing on each year. Beyond that I read a novel or three each year and read whatever is getting the buzz at the time. I also scan and read a few magazines quarterly.

Time management. I have a simple time management system. I put appointments in my calendar with an electronic alert. I use an iPhone. When I am in the midst of a busy season with many demands I use a post-it-note (2"/4") with lines to write a list of things that need to get done. I prioritize them and put a due date on each. I check things off and cross them out when they are done. I carry it with me and stick it in prominent view. I find that this works better than an app on my phone because it is tangible and visible when I need it. It's not complicated but simple and, in a way, elegant. It works.

I usually meet up with Dana for dinner in the afternoon. On occasion we may do some shopping together after dinner. Afterward we head home, relax and go to bed fairly early. Friday night is date night for Dana and I when I am in town. We are pretty religious about keeping that. Dana and I have been married for 29 years at the time of this posting. I love my life and my wife and am grateful every day. Thanks Jesus!

That's pretty much a typical day in my life. For those who didn't ask and don't give a rip...sorry about this. Please disregard.


Shaun said...

Hi Neil,

This was helpful, so thanks! I have one question: how do you stay motivated when reading lots of the Bible repetitively? Do you read with a certain mindset or with certain questions in mind? Do you read the particularly boring bits of the Old Testament through a lens that makes them more relevant?

I know Bible reading is important but struggle to do it, mainly because I don't feel I get as much out of it as reading other books.

Timothy said...

I enjoyed that. I am currently reading your Book Search and Rescue which I am enjoying. I'm devouring everything on Simple Church and Church Planting movements that I can get my hands on. I'll be reading more of your stuff.

I too have been journaling for many years, and consider it a great asset. Your description of how you journal closely resembles mine, except that I journal on a password protected computer program. That allows me to be brutally honest in my journal. I often use the journal to sort out my real motivations in decision making.