Invitation to Deep Work

An earlier Editorial to the Wycliffe Europe Area Newsletter.
This describes a book that made it on my list of the 10 best books I read in 2017.
Why English
It is one thing to challenge each other to become “reflective practitioners”, it is quite another to actually do it. Because when we try to, we often find our days hijacked by the urgent and by demands and distractions from the digital world. This leaves no room for what we know is important – things like sitting down and reflecting, thinking things through, learning, reading, and praying. – If you don’t know what I am talking about, count yourself truly blessed! For the rest of us, I came across this helpful book that I’m trying to put into practice: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

The author defines Deep Work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push [one’s] cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve [one’s] skill, and are hard to replicate.”

In contrast, Shallow Work is “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

Surely, the reflection part of being a reflective practitioner is Deep Work at its best. On the other hand, taming the inbox, losing oneself in research on the internet and subsequently following rabbit trails in trivia on YouTube and the like, is not. What is even more tragic: If one spends enough time in a state of frenzied shallowness, one permanently reduces the own capacity to perform deep work, as one knowledge worker admits:

I was always getting on the Internet and checking my email; I couldn’t stop myself; it was a compulsion (or an addiction?) Consequently, responsibilities that benefit from deep work such as strategy, research, writing and so forth get fragmented into distracted dashes that produce muted quality. This is a consequence of being wired to the web, it chips away at one’s capacity for concentration, contemplation and creativity.”

Newport underlines the fact that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare. Unfortunately, this happens at a time where Deep Work is becoming increasingly valuable in our societies, especially in these complex times.

So, what can we learn from the author? One first and embarrassingly simple thing I noted: The mental shift to treat Deep Work as my main responsibility, makes a significant difference. In my daily routine, it now receives the prime time it deserves; shallow work gets demoted to the margins.

Deep Work being thoroughly hard work, it is a constant uphill battle against the lure of shallow work. Unfortunately, to use our willpower in this struggle is unlikely to be successful on the long term because we only have a limited amount of willpower at any given moment. Newport suggests to “add routines and rituals to your working life” that one just does and thereby saves on willpower to fend off tempting (shallow) alternatives. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Establish rituals for Deep Work that address questions like:
    Where do I do it? When? (Allocate precise time slots in the daily routine; Newport says we have a limit of 4hrs of deep work per day). How? (establish a starting ritual; don’t go on the internet unless planned in advance; don’t allow other distractions to interfere with Deep Work).
  • Clearly separate work from leisure. Call it a day at 17h30 (for example) and don’t work on weekends. Dare to “be lazy” when work is done, but plan something truly meaningful for your leisure time (I recommend people and books :-). In order to keep work from creeping into your leisure time, consider establishing a specific ritual to bring the workday to a closure.
    Prayer to submit your tasks to the One who builds the house (Ps 127) may be a good way of doing this.
  • Train for Deep Work: You may engage in mental training (Newport explains how to memorize a deck of cards) or at least – no kidding! – “embrace boredom”: The temptation to seek some sort of distraction in moments of boredom is similar to what we experience in Deep Work when we hit a wall. Newport recommends to stick it out, because in Deep Work the breakthrough may come only if you persist in such moments, too. – We, of course, have the extra blessing of having the Wonderful Counselor (Isa 9:6) and the Good Teacher (Mt 11:29) at our side in such moments, too.
  • “Drain the Shallows”, i.e. “ruthlessly identify the shallowness in your current schedule, then cull it down to minimum levels…” An important element here is to schedule your day and allocate time for Deep Work (which you protect against intrusion) and the necessary shallow work (kept at the margins).
    Personally, I now keep a To-Do-List where I note for every task if it is Deep or Shallow Work or something in between which I call “Type-Two-Work”. (I use Workflowy for this list). I have defined what a typical day looks like in terms of when I do which type of work. I’m less structured than Newport (who recommends to “schedule every minute of your day”), but I see more of the important work being done than in the past.
In the first part of the book, Newport gives a variety of arguments for Deep Work. A compelling one is this: As “you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance.” – May we experience just that in new ways – not only for our own benefit and satisfaction, but because Deep Work is so important for our calling as leaders.

Ruhen Gott zuliebe

My Editorial to the Wycliffe Europe Area Newsletter
Why English

Have you made any New Year’s resloutions? I know that this is an old-fashioned habit, often ridiculed because the only thing they produce is guilt and shame – for some as soon as February 1st, for others as late as New Year’s Eve when we revisit our list. But I really do hope you reflect about your life and have some ideas how, by God’s grace, you want to grow.

So here’s an invitation for this year – one that may interest people who long for God’s presence in their lives, or for a life outside the hamster-wheel. This invitation stuck with me because I’m one such person. I received the invitation while reading Psalm 132:14: “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it” (NIV).

The resting place that is talked about is first of all Zion – a place no one can compare or compete with. What struck me, however, is God’s desire for a place of rest. In the business of modern life both out- and inside the church – a business that even invades my “quiet time” (!) – I note with wonder: God desires a “resting place”, he is longing for a place of rest.

This thought comes across even stronger in the German translation I was reading this verse in, which says: “This is my resting place for all times, here I will dwell, for I long for this place of rest” (my emphasis).

Of course, His generous promise to be with us (Mt 28:18) has no condition; he is with us even in the hustle and bustle of our active lives. However, this verse implies that God somehow seems to particularly enjoy being where there is rest and silence.

It seems therefore that it is an act of love for God if we rest and welcome Him in this space.

Rest happens on a Sabbath. But frankly, if we only rest one day out of seven, it isn’t enough – not for us, and not if we love God. Furthermore, God promises His rest in the midst of working with Him under His yoke (Mt 11:29). We need to look for moments of rest – short and long – throughout our normal days. We do this both for us and for God.

The “big Sabbaths” are good and necessary. But they need to be complemented by “mini-Sabbaths” throughout the weeks and maybe even “micro-Sabbaths” throughout the days.

That’s how God invites us into his presence. And that’s how God invites himself into our presence. Want to join me in practicing it? …and who cares if we call this a New Year’s resolution or just a good idea…


Ten Books worth reading

Wieso auf English?

Here’s the list of the ten best books I read in 2017 – the top book in each section is the top book 🙂

Top 3 Spiritual
  • Tish Harrison Warren: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – This is one of the better books on spirituality coming out of the mainstream evangelicalism I’ve ever read. Harrison takes elements of everyday life (waking up, eating leftovers, writing emails, etc.) and applies them to the spiritual life. She does this in a truly meaningful, inspiring and helpful way. Totally recommended.
  • Gregory A. Boyd: Present Perfect – Another book that helps to root the spiritual life in everyday living, with tons of practical ideas how to actually do it. For „ideas“ read „exercises“ – because it won’t happen automatically…
  • Brené Brown: Daring GreatlyI don’t know if Brown would want to see her book recommended alongside with books coming from a Christian tradition (she doesn’t quote the Bible ). But it’s a really good book and has to do with the inner life. Brown gave this famous TED talk about vulnerability. I think she has a totally pertinent point to make.
Top 3 Intellectual
  • Cal Newport: Deep Work – A must read for all knowledge workers. In the first part, Newport argues why Deep Work is important, contested and satisfying. In the second part he develops practical rules how to actually make space for it in one’s daily routine. (Stay tuned, I will post my summary – done as promised).
  • Kegan & Lahey: Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization – The authors describe our reaction to change as if, on the one hand, we really wanted to change, on the other we really resisted to change: One foot is on the accelerator, one on the break. End result: We stay where & how we are, both as groups (organizations) and individually. The book shows a way out of the dilemma.
  • Roger Schwarz: The Skilled Facilitator – Quite a comprehensive book about the philosophical background of a facilitative mindset and proven ways to establish a space where constructive facilitation can take place. Has interesting thoughts also for everyday interaction.
Top 3 Leisure
  • Eric Metaxas: Luther – Whatever you think of Metaxas political stand, he’s a great storyteller, and to read a biography about Luther written by this guy seemed like a no-brainer, particularly in 2017. I didn’t regret it 🙂

Please share your book recommendations in the comments! None of us has time to read bad books…

Since I posted last year’s list only on Facebook and no longer really entertain my FB channel (after reading Deep Work :-), here is last year’s list again:

book recommendations 2016

Top 3 Spiritual
1. Gerald May: The Awakened Heart
2. Eugene Peterson: Practicing Resurrection
3. Timothy Gallagher: Discernment of Spirits

Top 3 Intellectual
1. Chris Lowney: Heroic Leadership
2. Graham Hill: GlobalChurch
3. Robert D Kaplan: Balkan Ghosts

Top 3 Leisure
1. Paul Kalanithi: When Breath becomes Air
2. Fyodor Dostkojevsky: Brother Karamazov
3. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables (engl. Kurzversion)


Speaking with is better

Im Zusammenhang mit diesem Artikel, ist er mir ein Editorial in den Sinn gekommen, das ich vor längerer Zeit mal geschrieben habe. Es beginnt mit einem Zitat, das ich bei einer Konsultation über Leadership in Community aufgeschnappt habe.

»We can only move beyond ‘speaking for’ and ‘listening to’ if we are willing to enter ‘speaking with’.«


I always thought that “listening to [others]” was pretty good. After all, this shows respect for and interest in the other. Why should “speaking with [each other]” be better? – I see two reasons:
(1) Speaking is important because otherwise – i.e. if I only listen – the other has no idea what goes on in my mind. By speaking, I offer my thoughts to the scrutiny of others and thereby remain open to both challenge and change. By speaking, I give the other person the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings or wrong interpretations on my part which – unfortunately – seem to be rather common in our interactions.
(2) If I only listen, I reduce the other’s role to only speaking, and vice versa. There is only one way how we can overcome existing differences in power and status: by “speaking with each other”. Think about the alternatives: If the one in power decides to only listen, his silence will be an expression of his power; if the one with higher status decides to only speak, her avalanche of words will confirm that she is in charge. – “Speaking with each other” puts us on the same level.
In other words: Speaking with each other is a necessary element of community. Community can only happen in the rich context of conversation. Leadership-in-community requires two-way conversations to happen constantly.
Speaking with each other is also an excellent way to discover new thoughts. Of course, just listening to intelligent and inspiring people can be helpful, too. But the eureka-moments of our communal discoveries have a significantly bigger and more sustainable impact on us than the lectures we listen to and the books we read.

Gott kennen und lieben

«Gott kennen ist Leben.» Ein guter Spruch von Tolstoi. In jungen Jahren war ich davon so angetan, dass ich ihn als Bekenntnis und Provokation an die Jacke gepinnt herumtrug. Es stimmt ja auch, finde ich noch immer, immer mehr sogar. Die anderen Lebensbezüge haben sich als brüchig und inhaltsarm erwiesen. Aber Gott! Gott trägt und bleibt, ist unfassbar und liebt und lebt und überrascht und überrascht und spricht und schweigt und wirbt und das Allergrösste: Er ist da und wohlwollend zugeneigt.


Und da frage ich mich bei alldem und wo ich doch soeben gesagt habe, dass er unfassbar ist: Wie komme ich zum Bekenntnis, dass man Gott kennen könne? Klingt tatsächlich nach Provokation! Denn im Grunde kenne ich ja nicht mal mich selber, bin mir in meinen verworrenen Motiven und schillernden Ambivalenzen oft selber ein Rätsel. Und da will ich tatsächlich Gott kennen …? Riecht nach jugendlicher Naivität.

Aber Tolstoi ist ja nicht irgendeiner. Er wird damit nicht gemeint haben, Gott in der Tiefe zu kennen, ihn ergründen zu können. Ein Gott, mit dem man das machen kann, ist nicht Gott, ist jedenfalls nicht der Gott, den ich kenne.


Gott kennen heisst vielleicht quasi seine Adresse zu kennen. Mehr zu wissen, dass er ist als wie er ist. Zu wissen, dass er da ist und wohlwollend zugeneigt. Zu ahnen, dass die Fragen des Lebens bei ihm am besten aufgehoben sind. Ihn jedenfalls nicht festzulegen auf das Bild, das von ihm zu machen ich versucht bin. Auch als Frommer.

Gerade als Frommer.

Das mit dem Kennen ist sowieso so eine Sache. Denn «wer meint, etwas erkannt zu haben, hat noch nicht erkannt, was Erkenntnis heisst.» Klingt nach Paulus und ist es auch. Eine Breitfront gegen intellektuelle Überheblichkeit und populistische Vereinfachung. Und weiter: «Wer aber Gott liebt, der ist von ihm erkannt worden» (1 Kor 8,2-3). Ein Satz wie das Morgenrot! Dass ich Gott und mich selbst kenne, ist nicht so wichtig. Wichtig ist, dass er mich kennt. Wichtig ist, dass ich ihn liebe.

In der Bibel steht «kennen» für viel mehr als nur das, was sich in meinem Kopf abspielt. Es geht um Beziehung. Mehr noch: es geht um eine Liebesbeziehung. Und das wirklich Abartige daran: Gott selber initiiert sie und macht sie möglich. (Und ja, ich schreibe diesen Artikel kurz vor Weihnachten, und Weihnachten ist der Ausdruck dieser göttlichen Zuwendung schlechthin). Dass wir Gott lieben ist Antwort darauf und Folge davon.

Fast hätte ich geschrieben, «ist nur Antwort und Folge». Aber diese Antwort ist nicht «nur». Gott lieben ist alles, ist sicher mehr, als ihn kennen. Gott lieben ist Leben. (Was denkst du, Tolstoi…?) Lieben ist mehr als Kennen. Ja, manchmal steht das Kennen dem Lieben sogar im Weg. Denn wer liebt, der kennt zwar schon, irgendwie, aber vor allem kennt er auch nicht, gibt sich nicht der Illusion hin, schon alles über den anderen zu wissen, sondern hört wirklich hin, weil es Neues zu erfahren gibt, und ist dabei nicht schon mit der nächsten Antwort und dem übernächsten Einwand beschäftigt oder wartet auf die Mikropause, wo die eigene Geschichte wieder eingespielt werden kann, sondern hört und lauscht und neigt sich zu und fragt und gesteht sich ein, dass man manchmal verwundert ist, wie verzaubert.

Das ging mir heute durch den Kopf, als ich Max Frisch’s Tagebucheintrag las:

«Es ist bemerkenswert, dass wir gerade von dem Menschen, den wir lieben, am mindesten aussagen können, wie er ist. Wir lieben ihn einfach. Eben darin besteht ja die Liebe, das Wunderbare an der Liebe, dass sie uns in der Schwebe des Lebendigen hält, in der Bereitschaft, einem Menschen zu folgen in allen seinen möglichen Entfaltungen. Wir wissen, dass jeder Mensch, wenn man ihn liebt, sich wie verwandelt fühlt, wie entfaltet, und dass auch dem Liebenden sich alles entfaltet, das Nächste, das lange Bekannte. Vieles sieht er wie zum ersten Male. Die Liebe befreit es aus jeglichem Bildnis. Das ist das Erregende, das Abenteuerliche, das eigentlich Spannende, dass wir mit den Menschen, die wir lieben, nicht fertig werden: weil wir sie lieben; solang wir sie lieben.»

Frisch-Zitat aus: Franz-Josef Bode, Zeit mit Gott: Ein Stundenbuch.