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Filtering by Category: Productivity

Are You a Master Of The "Almost?"

Mark Junkans

My life is "almost" 100% more awesome than it actually is. There are so many things I have almost done, or thought about doing, or just didn’t get to.

Many times when I am speaking with someone, and telling stories from my experience, I have to mentally differentiate between those things that I actually did and the things that I almost did. If I’m not careful, I will tell a story of almost as if it really happened.

Or, I tell a story about how I almost did or accomplished something with the same excitement as if I had actually done it.

Why is this?

Because I have mastered the art of almost.

In our minds, the gap between attempting something and actually accomplishing it isn’t very big. When we think about doing something, plan to do it, and start to do it, we have already reaped most of the emotional reward.

Our brains get a boost of dopamine when we start something new. It may be a new relationship, a new project, a job, etc. However, these things quickly lose that “new car smell” and we are quickly on the lookout for the next new thing to start while we still haven’t finished the last one.

We love to tell other people about the newest thing we’ve started like books, diets, training, workout regimen, etc. This is why people are forever starting things and never finishing them.

Finishing something that is difficult is, well...difficult. It takes determination, endurance, hard work and patience.

So how do you move away from the practice of Almost?

One way is to delay your brain’s release of those rewarding chemicals by NOT telling people what you are starting, but only what you are committed to finishing. Don’t allow yourself to celebrate until you finish something. That takes too long? Then split up the goal into milestones and celebrate those along the way.

But you can’t finish everything you start, nor should you.

You should always be trying to learn new skills, habits, etc. This doesn’t mean that everything you start you will finish. However, you should be able to determine those things that are worth seeing to completion, and those that were just good experiences.

If you’re like me, you learn by doing. That means you only learn if you want to do something or not when you actually start doing it. Also, by dabbling in several different activities, you find out what you have a talent for and can become a more well-rounded individual.
One strategy is to group your activities into Experiments and Commitments. In other words, categorize the things you are doing into those that are worth finishing, and the things that aren’t. This process is explained by Scott H Young in his post “How to Build the Habit of Finishing What You Start.” How to Build the Habit of Finishing What You Start

Sure, telling the story of how you almost did something is fun. But, how many “almosts” will it take until you finally finish something of significance? That story will be even better.

Be a master of the "Almost." Tell the story of all the hard work that it took and all the failed attempts to finally accmplish something great. Just don't fall into the trap of believing that Almost is good enough. It is just a step on the journey to accomplishing something great.

credit to Wilco for the inspiration for this blog title: I used to listen to this album almost everyday on my morning run. Wilco - Art of almost - YouTube

I've Got This Great Idea

Mark Junkans

That’s great, I have a hundred. Come back when you’ve done something with it.

In an interview with Rich Roll, Casey Neistat said that ideas are worthless. This is coming from a guy who makes insanely creative and engaging videos. He is full of ideas, but says he doesn’t value them until they actually get put into action.

It’s all those steps from idea to plan to production that are difficult. The thing is, not all ideas are supposed to be acted on because some are just unrealistic or impractical while others are just terrible. Some ideas, however, are gems that should be acted on.

How do you keep generating ideas and not get caught in the mindless trap of chasing everything down a rabbit hole, or driving other people crazy?

Here are the steps that I take.

  1. Write down every idea that comes into my mind into a notebook, (i use evernote).
  2. Wait.
  3. Wait.
  4. Wait some more
  5. Go think of some more ideas

Ok, so sometimes I actually choose to tell someone about the idea, especially if it seems to be a good one, or if it seems to apply to a certain situation. The point is that we only have so much energy to actually produce something, and starting too many things means we will probably let other things drop.

So why keep creating ideas?

Here’s the key, if you’re an idea person, that's what you do. It's your contribution to the world, and it gives you energy.

Idea people should keep creating new ideas because one in a thousand just might be awesome.

Write them all down...

...but act on very few of them if any at that moment.

I try to write down at least 10 new ideas a day, and find that really difficult to do.

Maybe your ideas are meant for someone else who needs it. Most of your ideas won’t be all that good or original, most ideas aren’t.

There is the occasional idea, however, that is pure genius. It won't become reality, however, until you or someone else has the time, energy and resources to actually carry it through.

The only truly great ideas are the ones that meet a real need, and that you or someone else can actually execute. Everything else is just an idea.


Busyness

Mark Junkans

busy-2.jpg

With so many things going on, I fall into the trap of thinking that busier is better.  Sometimes busy is necessary, but most of the time I'm just inventing new things to occupy my time.  At times, I need to concentrate on slowing my self down so I can think, plan, pray and just be.  I've read this piece often since I began in ministry as a reminder that busy isn't always better.  It's interesting that the author wrote this in 1945, talking about the pace of ministry.  What about today?  Oops, gotta run to a meeting.

Never was there a ministry so bustled and rushed and perspiring as ours is now.  If things stick, we devise yet another type of meeting, and when this additional wheel is spinning round with all the rest of the complex machinery, and a wind is blowing in our hot faces, we feel better, and have a comfortable sense that something is going on; are tired and stick, but happy engineers.

- Arthur John Gissup - Experience Worketh Hope (New Yord: Scribner's, 1945), pp 58

Here's a link to another article entitled "Busyness, Is The New Spirituality"

Goals - Size Does Matter!

Mark Junkans

Is there value in setting goals that are unachievable?  What is the correlation between the size of the goal and the time it takes to achieve it.  It all depends.  Friends and family members of "dreamers" probably get tired of hearing about all the lofty things that will be achieved.  Those who know and live with task oriented people eventually get tired of hearing an endless list of to-dos.  What I do know is that the bigger the goal, the longer it takes to achieve.  The longer it takes, the easier it is to become side-tracked by newer dreams and goals.  Also, the smaller we continue to think, the more we can lose sight of our bigger dreams.

Goals can be broken down into several categories:

  • God-sized life goals - These are humongous goals that are unachievable without some divine intervention.  Examples: Cure cancer, travel to every country in the world, begin a movement.  These types of goals are what give our life their ultimate purpose.  They guide us long-term and can become very powerful and determining forces for our decision-making over our whole lifespan.  These life-goals are like the top of a multi-story staircase and are often the crowing achievements of one's life.
  • Intermediate goals - These goals are often difficult to achieve, and can take years to accomplish.  Examples: Graduate from college, travel to Paris, purchase a house.  These types of goals get us from one place in life to another.  They are often not ends to themselves, but rather means to a bigger end.  Intermediate goals are like individual flights of stairs that get us one floor higher to the top.
  • Short-term goals - These goals can be accompished within days, weeks or a few months.  They are the little accomplishments that help us get our work and life done from week to week.  Examples: run 40 miles this week, balance my checkbook, finish reading a novel.  Many times, we don't even think of these as goals because they are so small.  They are usually made up of smaller tasks.  Even though they are small, some people like myself find that these are the most difficult goals to achieve.  I will take a big audacious goal any day over a small easy task.  Others are pros at knocking out small, short-term goals.

Even if you're not a "goal-oriented" person, you probably have several goals in your life.  The question is not whether you have goals, but rather, what size goals do you have and do you have a strategy for achieving different types of goals?  Even a professional couch-potato has a goal, which is, to stay on the couch as much as possible.  What makes some people strive to achieve greater things while others set their sights much lower?  I am not naturally a task-oriented goal setter, but here are some of the things that cause me to set goals. 

  • Past experience - some goals are set or not because of a positive or a negative experience in my life.  I look back and desire to experience something positive again, or to NOT experience something that was painful.
  • Ambition - human ambition can be an incredibly powerful force in peoples' lives for setting and achieving goals.  This can obviously be a good or a bad thing, depending on what boundaries are set to protect oneself and others.  Sometimes my ambition drives me to set unrealistic goals, simply because I want to be "the best."
  • Purpose - some people, like myself, don't set goal and achieve goals unless it ties to a greater purpose in their life.  Many a slacker has transformed into a single-minded workaholic when there is a purpose to work for.  I can spend all day doing trivial things, until I'm reminded of my God-given purpose in life.
  • Pride - For me to admit that I can't do something is very difficult.  Some goals that I set for myself are there simply to prove that "I can."

Life without challenge becomes boring, and a boring life is just, well, dull.  When I write or voice my goals to someone else, I am challenging myself to achieve something.  My sister Sarah and I both decided to sign up for an IronMan together.  Why?  Because we both need challenge, and by doing it together, neither one of us is likely to back out.  I told my wife I was going to run at least one marathon this next year.  Even though she doesn't quite understand why, she sees the excitement that it brings in my life to set a big goal and work towards it.

I have stated other bigger goals, sometimes without even believing that they are possible.  Will I achieve every goal that I set?  Maybe not in my lifetime, but I will die trying.  1Cor. 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 

What kind of goal setter are you?  Do you always think big, or do you go small?  I challenge you, and myself, to look at your strenghts and weaknesses in this area.  Whever you are strong, embrace it.  Whever you are weak, don't let that sabatoge achieving your purpose in life.  Also, collaborate with other who excel in areas of goals, tasks achievement where you don't.

Do it Tomorrow - Don't answer all those emails today.

Mark Junkans

Email Pile

Ever feel hopeless and depressed about your never-ending todo list?  If you are like me, you've found yourself in the trap of always responding and never producing.  Mark Foster addresses this issue in his book ‘Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management".  The main premise is that you don't have to do everything today that comes across your desk, or into your inbox.  There are some highly important items that can't wait, especially those items with a looming deadline.  It seems, however, that many of us have lost the ability to get things done because we don't know how to filter the immediate from the important.

The whole key is to create a buffer for yourself to work within, allowing you to concentrate on the things that you really need to get done, while blasting through similar tasks that can be "chunked" and done together.

Here is Mark Foster's solution to the never-ending stream of emails that need to be dealt with.

 

  1. Supposing you received 40 e-mails yesterday (once you’ve weeded out all the spam) – the first thing you do is move these 40 e-mails into a folder marked ‘action’. These are the only e-mails you are going to deal with today.
  2. Sit down and answer them all in one batch. Or at most, two or three concentrated bursts of effort
  3. Any e-mails that arrive in your inbox are collecting there for tomorrow – whatever you do, don’t get caught up in responding to them, or you will find yourself back in Sisyphus’ shoes, facing an endless task!

 

Remember, email is not instant messaging and shouldn't be used as such.  Do deal with your inbox, but don't let your inbox steal your productivity. 

When to Throw In The Towel On An Idea

Mark Junkans

BadIdeasFrontJohn had a great idea for a new church program that would reach new people and impact their lives.  He was going to do something new in a church that hadn't seen anything truly new happen in years.  He wanted to start a clothes closet to serve the needs of the poor and possibly even train some as volunteers/employees.

Over the course of a few months, he did his homework, talked to people about the idea, gauged interest level and planned the project.  He researched other similar projects in other churches and, based on best practices and examples, he designed a doable program that would fit both his congregation and the needs of the community.  It was an uphill battle to get people on board with his idea, but eventually his fellow church members agreed that a clothes closet was a good idea.  He got the green light to go ahead to recruit volunteers, rent a small space and advertise the need for donations.

Things began to really move forward as more people found out about the program.  People donated their clothing, so much so that he soon needed an additional storage space.  Little by little, people were coming from the community to shop as well.  While they never broke even on their expenses, they got a lot of attention.  Everyone believed that this was good thing.  After a year of operation, however, John was frustrated.  The store wasn't selling enough to keep up with expenses and donated clothing was also piling up.  He found himself running the store most of the time as volunteers weren't consistent.  The church was also beginning to think that this wasn't such a good idea, but was struggling for some time to figure out what to do about it.  They were still subsidizing part of the rental costs due to inadequate revenue.  An unspoken tension was growing between John and his supporters.

If you are an entrepreneurial type, then you know what this feels like.  You have probably started projects like this that sounded good but didn't achieve the expected results.  That time of uncertainty about a new business or a new program is a tough place to be in.

Entrepreneurial Traps

There are several traps that founders, entrepreneurs and funders fall into when a program begins to fail.

  1. Believing that the idea is too good to fail, and will eventually work if given more time.
  2. Believing that we can always just work harder to make this work.
  3. Believing that the problem is lack of promotion.  "We just need to sell this to more people."
  4. Getting stuck in the emotion of not wanting to pull the plug because of who is involved.
  5. Substituting antidotal stories for hard facts.

How to know when to throw in the towel?

Good Idea - Bad Implementation

Most people driven by an idea often believe that the idea itself is strong enough to carry the day, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Their passion for the idea/project is contagious and people who care about them don't want to crush their spirit by not supporting it.  Creators of good ideas aren't always the best process thinkers that can design a successful venture of program.

One important thing to remember is that good ideas don't normally work that well the first time around. Most ideas take several attempts before they actually work as expected.  Many times the idea isn't at fault, but the implementation of the idea.  If things aren't working as expected after a period of time, the plan should be evaluated and tweaked.  If results are still not there, the plan should be scrapped and a new one put in its place that allows for new leadership, systems, etc.

If the project still isn't working as expected, it may be time to pull the plug, regroup and retry in a different way.  New projects/ideas have a greater probability of failure than of success.  Remember that failure will happen, but it's best to fail as quickly and as cheaply as possible.  If it's still a good idea after failure, then go back to planning for another attempt when possible, but don't allow one failure to ruin the entrepreneurial spirit to keep flowing.

Bad Idea

As an entrepreneur or starter, one of the hardest things to discern is when an idea is actually good or not.  The idea must be then vetted by data, research and throwing it against enough walls to see where it sticks.  If you come to the conclusion that your idea is a bad one, it shouldn't be hard to let it go and throw in the towel.  Probably the hardest thing for an idea person to admit is that his/her idea wasn't a good one.  Remember that, no matter how far down the road you are in implementing a bad idea, it's never too late to quit.  The longer you run with a bad idea, the harder it will be pull the plug due to momentum.  If you don't pull the plug, you will delay spending your energy on implementing a good one.

Conclusion

Last week I saw a boxing trainer throw in the towel while his son was getting pummeled in the last round.  After the fight he had to spend some time calming down his son, who had never experienced defeat in the ring as a pro.  I'm sure his advice is pretty much the same as I would give.  There will always be another fight, but this one wasn't worth dying over.

4 tips for the easily distracted.

Mark Junkans

Distracted

I am the type of person who is easily distracted.  Put me in a room alone with a project to finish and a deadline, and I will find 100 other things to do.  I have tried everything from working in coffee shops, turning off the internet connection on my computer, keeping a task list in front of me, etc. but nothing seems to work... except a last minute deadline.  I can procrastinate until the last minute, but when there is an important deadline that is quickly looming my focus become laser-like.

There are several things that I have learned to do to cope with this tendency.

1.  Work through my task list with a timer.  In other words, when I have several things to do, I give each task a time limit.  This keeps my attention focused on the ONE THING I have to get done within the next 5 minutes.  I create an artificial sense of urgency in order to make my mind behave.

2.  Ignore incoming emails, tweets, etc. while working on tasks.  There is nothing more debilitating to an ADD person like my than the constant barrage of emails and social media messages.  Whenever I hear the beep, or see the pop-up that I received a new message, my attention gets diverted and my mouse clicks to see what shiny object might be waiting there in my inbox.  Don't become sabotaged by the tyranny of immediate gratification.

3.  Allow myself times of unadulterated chaos.  There are certain character traits that I possess that thrive in chaos.  My mind is able to process quickly and is actually stimulated by a dynamic situation.  Sometimes I get a lot of things done in this scenario, but I can't live there all the time.  Instead of self-flagellation about loving chaos, I make sure that I have ample opportunity to go there.

4.  Tell key individuals what I'm working on.  I try to let certain people know what I'm working on and when I expect to finish.  Even though I don't necessarily report to them, this simple act of sharing what I'm trying to do allows them to hold me somewhat accountable.

Now that I've finished this list, let me get back to what I was supposed to be working on before becoming distracted with my blog.

Using MarsEdit 3 for SquareSpace

Mark Junkans

NewImageI just started using MarsEdit by Red Sweater for my blogging, and I love it.  Though the $39.95 price tag seemed a little high for me at first for a blogging editor, I am glad that I did.

Setup

Setup was so easy.  Assuming you use a blogging platform that is supported by MarsEdit, all you have to do is input the URL to your blog, your username and password and presto!!!  The last 30 blog entries are instantly downloaded to your desktop application along with any media contained in it.  According to the website, MarsEdit works with WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Squarespace, TypePad, Movable Type and dozens more through standard MetaWeblog and AtomPub interfaces.

Speed

First of all, editing posts is not delayed by waiting for a web page to load.  Granted, most of us have high speed connections, but there is still a delay in loading java scripts, Ajax, images, etc.  The biggest pain in blogging besides writer's block is signing in, waiting, clicking, waiting, etc.  With a desktop app, the pain of waiting is taken away.

User Interface and Editing

The interface is great as well.  Well placed buttons and standard formatting keyboard shortcuts make it very quick to create and edit blog entries.  The application is very easy to get around in.  This program can even use my favorite HTML editor, Textwrangler, even though I have tried it.  I find that for most blog entries, the standard interface is sufficient since I don't do a lot of HTML editing in my blog anyway.  It's good to know that, if I want, the option is there.

Media

Tired of finding a good image on the web for your blog only to go through the process of downloading it and then uploading it to your blog entry?  Now, you just have to copy the image from the web and then paste it into your entry.  A dialogue instantly appears giving you the option of uploading it right then and there.  Media from any other source, including iphoto, local folders, flikr, etc is just as easy.

Glitches, improvements

I haven't found any serious glitches yet and haven't used it enough to suggest improvements.  I haven't found I am just so happy that I don't have to wait any more to blog on my SquareSpace account.