21 Tips for Being the Busiest Person You Know

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been asked several times how I do everything I do. My answer has been, I don’t know, I just get stuff done. The truth is, the more I’ve thought about it, I really love productivity hacks.

I’ve blogged about it at times. I think I talked to one of our ExCos once about the productivity hacks I use. Let me share a couple with you. First, I am a huge fan of Evernote. It’s this program that lets me keep everything in one place. It’s like my digital brain, synced to all of my devices. Second, I love Siri and Reminders. Siri sends me reminders all the time that keep me on track. Third, I love the idea of Inbox Zero. I work hard to keep my inbox empty as much as possible. I don’t like the digital clutter to build up. Fourth, I am careful about how I manage my To Do List. When I am prioritizing all the stuff on my list, I ask myself “When I get in bed tonight, what are the things that will let me sleep well if I’ve gotten them done?” Those are things I put at the top of my list every day. Read More…

$#!+ My Therapist Says

Trigger warning: this post contains words that some people may find offensive or inappropriate.


Several weeks ago, Vanessa and I started seeing a therapist. We are not in couples counseling. We are a couple in counseling. Sometimes we talk about our marriage. Often we talk about our anxieties. We talk about our growing up years. We talk about things like work and what we did over the past week.   Read More…

Hi. I’m Robb. And I May Have Had a Nervous Breakdown.

About ten days ago, I just about had a nervous breakdown.

I’ve written before that I’ve suffered through a few panic attacks in my life. It’s a not a fun experience. I’ve been able to reduce a lot of the anxiety that led to those panic attacks by eliminating most caffeine from my diet. I now drink a lot less coffee, and most of the coffee I do drink now is either half-caf or decaf.

But what I experienced on that Friday morning had nothing to do with how much coffee I drank. “Nervous breakdown” are about the best words I can use to describe it.   Read More…

I Wouldn’t Change a Word: writing with self-doubt

Two weeks ago, I put the finishing touches on the manuscript of my book, attached it to an email, and sent it off to my publisher with a profound sense of accomplishment. I smiled – internally and externally – and exuded an “I did it” kind of confidence. I have had this book idea for years and have worked on it off and on for two years. And suddenly it was done. And it felt good.
After writing, the next step in the process is editing. I joked with a couple of friends that I was hoping that the editor would read the manuscript and declare, “I wouldn’t change a word.” I joked, knowing that this wouldn’t be the case. But secretly I hoped.
I am not a writer. I am a preacher. These are different things that require different skills. I have written a few magazine articles over the years and have been edited then. But for the most part, I don’t get edited very much. I blog without an editor. I preach without an editor. I live without an editor. Editing feels to me like a strange and unwelcome intrusion into my life.
On Mother’s Day, in the evening, I got an email from my editor asking me to call him. The kids were getting ready for bed at the time, so I let Vanessa handle them while I nervously found his contact information in my phone. 
He didn’t say, “I wouldn’t change a word.”
Instead, he said things I didn’t want to hear but needed to nonetheless. He said that I write with a lot of logic and not a lot of emotion. He said that I describe situations up to the point of conflict and tension, and then I run away from the tension. He said that I don’t let the reader in to how I feel about the conflict. He said that I tend to substitute sermonizing for emotional content. He said that for us to continue, much of what I’ve written needs to be reworked to be more than data and facts. I have to describe not just what happened but how I feel about what happened.
So here is the task I have before me: I have to rewrite my book, improving the flow of it, better defining the conflicts, and exposing my feelings about those conflicts.
This is my conflict and tension. Would you like to know how I feel about this? Would like me to let you in?
I am scared to death. I often use humor to mask my fear. I joked with my friends about how I expected to hear “I wouldn’t change a word” because I was scared that none of the words I had chosen were right. I’ve joked about how the editing process would be humbling, mostly because I don’t really want to be humbled. I joked with my editor on the phone that when he said I don’t let people in, he sounded like my wife. He didn’t laugh. That was unsettling. And humbling. And scary.
I am scared that I won’t be able to access and express my feelings in a way that will satisfy him. I’m afraid that the process of rewriting will take me far longer than I imagine and that I will disappoint both my editor and the people expecting the book to be published this fall. I’m petrified that if it’s not the book he wants to publish, he’ll pull out, and I’ll be back to square one … and publicly humiliated to boot. 
This fear has sent me spiraling into a pretty bad funk this week. I have felt emotionally exhausted and full of self-doubt. Even though I’ve made some progress on the rewrite, I feel disheartened by the process, no longer confident that I can tell my own story adequately.
Self-doubt has been my demon this week.
But like we all have to do from time to time, I need to talk back to my self-doubt and tell myself the truth. Here is the truth of what I know. I know that my story is valuable. I know that if I tell it well, it will be a source of help, encouragement, and inspiration to many others. I know that my editor is right and I will be a better writer for heeding his counsel. And I know that if I can write with emotion, my story will be better for it.  
So tomorrow I am going back to the drawing board with renewed energy and vigor. I can’t not write this book. It has to emerge from me. I feel like I have no choice. If rewriting with emotional vulnerability is what will make it the best story possible, then that is what I will do.


What I Learned in My, Albeit Short, Foray Into the Job Market

On October 24, the company where I have been employed for half-a-decade announced that it would be closing at the end of the year. (Ironically, that day was my 5 year anniversary with the company.) The owner’s readiness to retire coupled with upper management’s belief that the death of the book in education is imminent spelled doom for a textbook wholesale company. After the announcement was made, I walked back to my cubicle dazed and confused, just like all of my coworkers. In the intervening weeks, the story has changed a bit. We were for sale with several very good potential buyers, and we would only close if we weren’t sold. Uncertainty reigned.

On November 17, three and half weeks later, I accepted a position at another textbook wholesaler. Starting in December, I will be the Director of Business Development for them, doing a lot of the same things I’ve been doing for the past 3 years. But I’ll be working from home with a team that is much more bullish on the future of textbooks in education. When I informed my boss, I knew what would happen next … I was escorted out of the building, a necessity since I had signed on with a competitor. Just a few goodbyes to my teammates who were still in the office. No opportunity to say “thank you” to the people who believed in me and gave me the chance to succeed. More than a day later, I’m still feeling sad about that.

In the three and half weeks of work limbo, I learned (and re-learned) some important things about God, life, and work. Here are some thoughts about it:

You Can’t Manage Results, But You Can Manage Activity
I read this line in EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey. He was talking about how to manage people, but I applied this lesson to myself as I was suddenly thrust into a job hunt. The results were clear: I needed interviews that would lead to job offers. But there was very little I could do to make that happen. I suppose I could have occupied some office and demanded a job, but the results I was after were the decisions of other people. I can’t manage those. But I could manage my activity that could contribute to those results.

So, each day, I made a to do list of activities I could manage. In the first few days it said things like: rework resume, update cover letter, confirm references, write reference letters for team. As the days dragged on the same activity-oriented items appeared on my to do list: think through network, visit online job sites, send thank you email for interview, troll LinkedIn.

The atmosphere in the office was one of mutual support; we were all rooting for each other to get a job. We would joke around with the person who showed up for work obviously wearing interviewing clothes. But I was amazed at the people who did nothing. I would ask them how their job search was going, and they would say they hadn’t really started. “I need to update my resume. I need to get to it.” I would always walk away from these conversations wondering where they would be come December 23 … our collective D-Day. As much as I wanted the best for them and myself, the only thing I could really do was manage my own activity. And so that was my daily focus.

The Power of Network
I could only imagine my resume coming across the desk of an HR person: seminary degree, Bible college, pastoring. When we first moved to Arkansas, it was worse, but I still wondered if I would be taken seriously by anyone looking to make a hire. When I sent my resume off, virtually anonymously through or one of the other sites, I did so with a lot of realism. I didn’t think I was going to get a call back from any of those HR managers. And I didn’t.

But … if a friend who knew me, knew what I brought to the table, knew how my skills and experience translated to different business needs recommended me to a hiring manager, that would be a whole different ball game. And it was. Within hours of the announcement, I was reaching out to friends, asking for their help. I was amazed and humbled at what it produced – sincere offers to help from both people I knew and strangers, meetings with significant business people in Northwest Arkansas, interviews, second interviews. Results.

A week or so ago, I heard Dave Ramsey on the radio reference the book The Power of Who and say that just about everybody in this job market was getting hired through the power of networking not by responding to ads on the job sites. I knew I was on the right track.

The Roller Coater Sucks
I love roller coasters at amusement parks. I hate them in other parts of life. During our company limbo, the roller coaster went up and down: We have prospective buyers. Things fell through. Another company is coming in next week. Customers are abandoning ship. Tell customers that we are optimistic about our ability to continue serving them. Up and down, up and down.

More than once, a coworker sat in my cubicle, red-faced and insistent that we shouldn’t give up. I agreed, but I also didn’t believe that we could do much to influence the company being sold. And if it did sell, we couldn’t bank on our jobs still being there. I just wasn’t going to get on that roller coaster. It wasn’t that I was being negative. I was trying to be realistic. And I wanted my team to be realistic. And honest with our customers.

The wisdom of Proverbs says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. I struggle enough with anxiety-ridden pain around my heart. I didn’t want to add to it by riding the roller coaster of unfounded hope.

Positive Support
In the past three and half weeks, I’ve had days when I felt utterly hopeless about my prospects of getting a job. I imagined myself standing in line at the unemployment office in January, humiliated and hopeless. That’s the situation of 1 in 10 people in our country; why would I be any different?

I consistently had the positive support of Vanessa, friends, and the community of Vintage. All of them were encouraging, not offering cheap cliches, but putting their arms around me and saying that they loved me and were behind me. They participated in my personal ups and downs. They rooted for me when I had interviews. And they shook their heads encouragingly when I got those “thanks but no thanks” emails. This time would have been a lot darker for me without them.

Is it cheesy to believe that God in his grace actually provided the job I accepted? Here’s the thing. Back in August, Vanessa and I were expressing to the Vintage Oversight Team what we were hoping for related to my employment: a bit more money, a bit more freedom, a bit more influence over my own success. The job I accepted gives me all of that. I don’t know why I was blessed with this opportunity while so many others struggle to find work in this bad economy. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve earned this. And that leaves me with only one explanation – grace.


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