Selling is NOT Stealing, it’s Serving

Selling is serving. It’s not stealing. There’s kind of two different approaches to making a sale, or selling something. One is stealing. The better way of selling is serving somebody. The two ways of doing sales are either transactional sales, or relational sales.

A transactional salesperson values money. They’re like a used car salesman. They just want the sale. They don’t care about what else happens after the sale. A relational salesperson values trust. They want you to come back to do business with them later.

A transactional salesperson knows their product. They know what they’re selling, but a relational salesperson knows you.

A transactional salesperson that used car salesman, they’re high pressure. They want you to close right now. They don’t want you to say no. They don’t want you to come back and say yes later. They don’t want you to think about it. They want to close the sale now. A relational salesperson is going to give you time to make a reasonable decision. They’re not worried about getting the sale right now. They know that if you trust them, you’ll come back and do business with them later.

A transactional salesperson avoids objections. They don’t want to give you more information. They don’t want to answer, “Well, why not?” A relational salesperson tries to find all your objections. They make sure that you have all the information that you need to make a wise decision.

A transactional salesperson fears educated consumers. They don’t want somebody coming to do business with them that knows their product as well as they do. A relational salesperson wants to educate consumers. They want consumers to know that they are getting the right product for the right reasons at the right time. Relational sales is all about fit. Transactional sales doesn’t care about fit at all.

By the end of the transaction with a transactional sales type of person, you feel dirty. You feel used. You feel yucky. You might even have some buyer’s remorse, thinking you paid too much for what you just bought. If you’ve been doing business with a relational salesperson, you feel helped. You feel cared about. You don’t feel guilty about spending the money. You think it was money well spent, because it was.

Transactional salespeople care about the short term. You may even see some of them doing well in the short term. A relational salesperson cares about the long term. They’re the people who are going to be around for a long time, because they have return customers.

If you are working in customer service, if you’re working in sales, or just about any job, you are selling something. You’re providing a product. You’re providing a service, so be a relational salesperson, not a transactional salesperson. Think long term, and value trust, instead of thinking short term and valuing money.

Business Leadership Personal Growth

What should you do when you hit a project wall?

All right. The last video was, “What to do when you hit a wall in your learning?” This one is, “What to do when you hit a wall in a project, or solving a particular problem.”

Same options as before, you can go over the wall, around the wall, or through the wall. Going through the wall is possible. But it’s not preferable because you might just keep doing the same thing over and over. You might be expecting different results. As we know, that is the definition of insanity.

To get over the wall, you are going to need to build a team. You’re going to need people to help you. That might be people that know more about the problem than you, might be people that are peers. It might be people that you’re mentoring and you’re trying to bring along. They’re still part of the team, and they can help you get up over the wall, finish the project, solve the problem. Whatever the case might be.

The other option, again, going around the wall. Being an introvert and preferring to work by myself, this is the one I prefer. Solve a related problem. Do something that you can use as a stair step to solving the actual target problem.

There’re three options. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Business Leadership Personal Growth

What should you do when you hit a learning wall?

What would you do when you hit a wall in your learning? You’re trying to study something. You’re trying to learn something new. You’re stuck on one concept, and you just can’t seem to get your head around it. Just like with a physical wall, you can go through it; you can go around it, or you can go over it. In the case of learning, going through the wall would be Google that concept as much as you can. Read everything you can that you can find on Google. Or if you want peer reviewed journals, use EBSCOhost or Google Scholar. Going over the wall, you can call a mentor. Call somebody who you think might already know the answer.

Going around the wall, and this is my favorite, study something else for a little bit. I like to study psychology and counseling. I like to study marketing, sales, and business, and I like to study theology, stuff about my faith. There are lots of overlaps there, but you’re just moving to the side a little bit. I can usually even … If I’m trying to solve something about marketing, by reading about counseling, I can tie it back. If I’m working to solve something in counseling by reading about theology, I can tie it back. Just shift the mental gears for a little bit and helps me get through sticking points, get through walls. Just a few thoughts, a few suggestions, let me know what you think in the comments below. Thank you.

Business Faith Leadership

Business is Ministry – The Worship and Love Inherent in Fair Exchange

Business owners can be just as pastoral and missional as paid ministry staff. When you run your business with integrity, your work is an act of worship to God. It is also an act of love to your neighbor (or customer).

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… – Colossians 3:23 (ESV)

The work we are called to do every day is an important part of our image-bearing nature and stewardship. As human beings, we were created to do things. In this sense we are not only human beings, but we are also human doings. – Tom Nelson

This post comes out of a conversation about two years ago with my dad. As I was struggling to describe my long term goals, I was using terms like

  • business of ministry
  • business and ministry
  • business as ministry

I was even writing them down and using a Venn diagram to try to describe what I was getting at. Finally, dad just said, “Okay, so business IIIS ministry.” Loudly emphasizing and drawing out the word, “is.”

How did I miss that? It had been right in front of me the whole time. I think that I missed it because I was afraid. I often hear things like “selling is stealing.” (Bernie Sanders supporters, anyone?) Even in circles where people would deny that claim, it is common to fear to charge fairly for what you do.

I think that fear is what kept me from seeing what was right in front of me. Once I acknowledged the fear and got past it, I felt more comfortable charging fairly for what I do.

What is Business

In modern English, the word “Business” means many things. It can be a euphemism for bodily functions. (Skylar and I had just loads of fun potty training Keaton, now we’re in the diaper phase again with Sawyer.)

It can refer to what some of us do to bring home a paycheck. It can apply to things we do at home like keeping a calendar or a budget.

In this case, I am using it mainly in the economic sense. What we do to bring home a paycheck.

What is Ministry

Some people think that “ministry” is only done by religious professionals. People like pastors or rabbis. Some people think “ministry” is only done by religious leaders. They add elders or deacons to the list. Others think that “ministry” is only done when it meets basic needs. Like food, shelter, or the spiritual need for a Savior.

Others recognize that all Christians are to be doing some sort of ministry. Everywhere. At all times.

In this case, I am using it in a way that recognizes that spiritual and basic physical needs can be met…

  • by unexpected people
  • in unexpected places
  • at unexpected times
  • in unexpected situations

I think that ministry is preparing to meet people’s needs. Not just spiritual, and not just the basic physical needs. Ministry meets people’s needs in a way that leads to human flourishing, in this life and the next.

Business of Ministry

“Business of ministry,” usually refers to business aspects of running a church or nonprofit. Thinks like accounting, leadership meeting agendas and minutes, filing taxes, etc. In this case “business” is more like what we do at home with our calendars and budgets. It is less like an exchange based economic issue. It’s mundane and routine, a necessary evil.

This term is somewhat helpful. It acknowledges that there are necessary business functions in any ministry. Yet, it is problematic because it creates an artificial separation between business and ministry. It conveys the idea that ministry can never overlap with business.

Business and Ministry

For some absurd reason, we put little economic value on vocational ministry. Pastors, missionaries, church staff, nonprofit executives and nonprofit staff are obscenely underpaid. Because of this, bivocational ministries are increasingly common. “Bivocational” just means having two vocations.

Bivocational ministry is not new. It’s what Paul did (he built tents for people so that he could be a missionary).

There some great things about bivocational ministry:

  • It provides for the financial needs of religious workers
  • To outsiders, it breaks down the sacred/secular divide
  • It keeps ministers connected to culture outside of the “Christian bubble.”

There are also some not so great things:

  • It excuses and perpetuates low pay for ministers, missionaries, and nonprofit workers
  • To some insiders, it highlights or reinforces the sacred/secular divide
  • It’s hard to excel at more than one thing
  • It divides attention

Business as Ministry (or Mission)

Now we’re getting warmer.

Sometimes Missionaries need a cover story to go places they could otherwise go. A business provides an easy cover story that is difficult for governments to turn away. It’s a great way to get the gospel into places where missionaries aren’t allowed.

The problem is this. Business as Ministry perpetuates the sacred/secular divide in closed countries.

Business IS Ministry

To avoid being misunderstood, Ministry IS NOT Business. It doesn’t work the other way around. Evangelism and missions are done to save souls and glorify God, not make a profit. But making a profit does not exclude evangelistic or missional activities. Making a profit does not preclude caring for souls and basic needs.

In business, we have opportunities to serve people that may not attend a church. We set a positive example when we:

  1. Are open about our faith
  2. Run our business with integrity

The internal ministry of a business

Business leaders can care for souls by having meaningful relationships with their teams. Business leaders can care for basic needs by investing in their teams, not just by paying them. To invest in their team, leaders must have meaningful relationships with their team members.

To have meaningful relationships with team members, leaders must:

  • Know their team members on a personal level
  • Know, at least generally, the home or family environments of their team members
  • Know, at least a little, the personal growth struggles of their team members
  • Be willing to support team members’ personal growth
  • Be ready to provide support in ways other than with money
  • Be prepared to provide financial aid at unexpected times

The external ministry of a business

Businesses can care for the souls of their customers by caring for the souls of their teams. Customer interactions may not lead to salvation. But they must not lead away from it. When you care for the souls of your staff, they will have a much easier time doing their work as unto Christ. If they are not Christians, they will still have an easier time keeping a good attitude. Customers will notice the real attitudes of your staff.

Businesses meet the basic needs of their customers by … doing business. It’s easy to see how any business that sells food or shelter meets basic human needs. Whatever you sell helps to solve a problem, or you would not get paid. Solving problems leads to human flourishing.

The fundamental principle of a fair exchange is that both parties place a higher value on what they get than what they give. The apple I just ate from a local farmer’s market was worth more to me than the money that I paid for it. The money was worth more to the apple grower than the apple.

A few weeks ago I heard an interesting spin on the Lord’s Prayer on the radio. It went something like this:

Father in Heaven, may your name be made Holy.

May your Kingdom come, and your will be done in my life, as they are already in Heaven.

Give me today my daily bread. And thank you for the grocery store cashier, water, and electrical utility workers, that work to provide for my daily needs. Help me to see opportunities to provide for the needs of others.

Forgive me as I forgive. And thank you for the pastors, counselors, and mentors that help me work through the process of forgiveness. Give me a hand to see the hurts that I haven’t forgiven.

Lead me not into temptation.

And deliver me from evil – and thank you for the police, EMTs, and firefighters who will come to help if I need them.

Further Reading

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What divide or unity do you see between business and ministry?
  2. How are you keeping a ministry mindset in your job or business?

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Business Leadership

6 Ways Blogging Leaders are Better

I wrote about why counselors should blog a bit over a year ago. I thought I might update that old post and apply it to a broader group of people: Blogging Leaders. Or, at least, leaders who aspire to be bloggers.

Blogging leaders are better educators, better culture creators, better hirers, more in touch, more professional, and more adaptive. @DanielTStephens

If I were saying that communication enhances leadership, no one would argue with me. Some might object to the claim that blogging enhances leadership. But blogging is just one form of communication. It is a form of communication with a few advantages over other forms of communication.

One leader that I follow is a blogger named Tim Challies. Speaking to Christian leaders and bloggers, he recently said this:

I believe we are living in a golden age of writing, where any Christian with a heart for the Lord and the Lord’s people can have a voice of edification and encouragement. – A Call for Plodding Bloggers

Here are some of the advantages.

Bonus: To help you put this into action, I’ve created a FREE worksheet to help you get started. Click here to get it

1. Blogging Leaders Educate Their Team Members

Only dictators fear educated followers. Leaders should be ecstatic when their team members know what to expect.

Blogging serves a training function. You create a post once, but get to use it every time you train a new team member. It saves a ton of time.

What if you could automate your orientation process? What if you could give your team members on demand access to it, AND have it serve a marketing function for you? Jay Baer’s book Youtility is an argument for this type of marketing based on just this point. That book is a must read, but if you’re not convinced, here’s a 5-minute summary to whet your appetite.

If you are providing Youtility, can you lower the “first-day anxiety” of a new team member? Would you spend less time on orientation and be able to get to work faster?

2. Blogging Leaders Get a Head Start on Esprit De Corps

If you have never heard of “Esprit De Corps” before, it means “Spirit of the Body.” It’s like a grown-up version of school spirit. It’s company loyalty. If you are trying to lead a culture shift in your company, this is critical.

You cannot be part of every conversation (that would be nosy). But you have an opportunity to influence every conversation by blogging. Blogging is just consistent, quality content that helps your team to do better at their jobs.

Guess what the most important skill is for building Esprit De Corps: empathy. Guess what the most important skill is for effective blogging: empathy.

Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter, uses a tool called an empathy map. The tool puts Demian a similar frame of mind to the audience he is writing for. The bonus worksheet that I have provided will help you to do the same thing.

3. Blogging Leaders Get Better Team Members

This is the combined effect of 1 and 2. Because you educate your team members by blogging, you have Esprit De Corps from day one. Because you take care of your team and train them well, they refer more qualified people when you are hiring.

Hiring this way is better for you because you’re more likely to enjoy working with the new team member. It’s better for the new team member because they’re getting the type of leadership they need. It’s better for your customers because they get better customer service. You’re happier, your team is happier, and your customers are happier.

4. Blogging Leaders Have More Team Contact

You cannot be part of every conversation within your team. But you have the opportunity to influence every conversation. When a team member is struggling with a specific problem, you can refer them to posts you have written. You can set things up internally so that some blog posts get re-read occasionally.

You can use the same sequence that you used for initial training for ongoing training. This is often well received because it is coming from someone familiar to your team.

Content marketers like Jay Baer call this a “shotgun” approach. He’s talking specifically about reaching your team members with more digital touch points. But the same principle applies to how much more effectively we can train and take care of our team this way.

5. Blogging Leaders Contribute to their Profession

Blogging for leadership does not need to be limited to an internal newsletter. Do it publicly. Dave Ramsey’s internal leadership training eventually became EntreLeadership.

What started out as a way for Dave to lead his team eventually became a product that he sold. Let’s say you run a group counseling practice, publicize or sell your training materials. Maybe you run an adult family home, publicize or sell your training materials.

Sure, you might help a local competitor rise to your level of service. But if you have a collaborative mindset instead of a competitive mindset, this is a GREAT thing. A rising tide raises all ships. Likewise, training your team in public contributes to your profession.

6. Blogging Leaders are Ethically Adaptive

This point is the combined effect of 1 through 5. If you blog, you will adapt more quickly to new ethical challenges in your field. The process of blogging is not easy. It requires research. It requires careful thought. That makes you more prepared than your non-blogging peers to face ethical challenges.

Blogging forces you to step away from “playing fireman” as a leader. It forces you to make time to work on your business rather than in it. It forces you to think broadly about what is going on in your field. It does not allow you to limit yourself to the day to day operations of your tiny market share.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.

If you have a different opinion, please comment below. I love a good discussion.

Bonus: To help you put this into action, I’ve created a FREE worksheet to help you get started. Click here to get it

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Business Leadership Personal Growth

Working from Home: Sweet Dream or Nightmare?

This is a guest post from Norah Martin of the Bizzmark Blog (click here for more info about guest posting).

Working from home is a dream many of us have. But there are challenges that come with that dream. Norah has some great thoughts about how to set yourself up for success when working from home.

Working from Home, Telecommuter

When we look at telecommuters, it is hard not to be jealous. Who would not want to exchange their car for a pair of slippers? Or the hastiness of the workplace for the comfort of their own home? The short answer would be – telecommuters. Telecommuting is just another work arrangement and has its set of both pros and cons. Here are a few things you should consider before making a leap of faith.

Pros of Telecommuting

  • Less issues at the workplace. Let us start with the bright side of this situation. As time goes by, we become intolerant towards our colleagues and supervisors. Working alone from your home reduces this work-induced stress. It also allows you do things your way.
  • Flexible scheduling. It is hard to stay productive during the whole workday. Making your own work schedule is great with telecommuting. Make the most of the hours when you are productive. Try to do something else when you feel tired.
  • You do not need to commute. Commuting is time-consuming, expensive, and exhausting. Moving your job to your home will solve this problem and leave you with more money and more time. Instead of traveling a few hours a day, why not look for network marketing tips and establish yet another income flow?
  • Being close to your family. Even if the time you spend at work is short, it is easy to become homesick. If you are working from your home, your family will remind you of your goals.

Cons of Telecommuting

  • Separation of private and personal life is not as easy as it sounds. We do not mean only creating a quiet and stimulating work environment. Being at home means that your family members will count on you to be a part of regular family activities. Drawing the magic line between your job and your family will become much harder than before.
  • Bringing job-related issues home. Mixing your family and professional life is hard enough. You have to remember that telecommuting will not spare you of job-related issues. Bringing those issues home can cause unnecessary turmoil in your family life.
  • Distractions. Making judgments about time management is hard when distractions abound. If you are not self-disciplined, you can spend your entire day dragging out a job that would usually take you no more than a few hours to complete.

Keeping the Best of Both Worlds

Is it possible to make your telecommuting job as good as it sounds? Sure, but you will have to maintain the same level of productivity as at the office. Having a stimulating and isolated work environment will help you achieve these goals. Your family will have to make a few concessions of its own. They will have to get accustomed to your work schedule.

Telecommuting is a work arrangement that sounds like a dream come true. That does not mean that it cannot slip into a living nightmare. You will enjoy its perks only if you keep your job on one side of the door and your family at the other.

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Business Leadership Personal Growth

Effective Leadership: The 4 Essential Tasks

Effective leadership is more than a position. It is more than an activity that you do. Effective leadership is made up of common skills. More people are leaders than think they are.

Leadership is a deep issue. But we define it in a shallow way.

For example

Google Leadership Definition

Leadership is a whole lot more than that. At least good leadership is. “Who is a leader?” is not as simple a question as it sounds. “Who is a good leader?” is a better, and even more complicated question.

The answers to both of those questions should form the definition of leadership.

Who is a leader? Everyone is a leader in some sense. You are a leader. I need to define good leadership to define what sense.

Who is a good leader? You are a good leader the extent that they are good at four essential tasks. There may be more than four tasks in leadership, but these four are the central ones. The nucleus.

Effective Leadership

These tasks are:

  1. To equip
  2. To educate
  3. To empower
  4. To encourage

You are a good leader to the extent that you are good at even one of those things. You are a great leader to the extent that you are good at more than one of those things.

This means several things that contradict the “standard” definition of leadership.

  1. Leadership is more than a position of authority.
  2. Leadership is more than the act of leading a group.
  3. Leadership is not only from the top down.
    • It can be from top down.
    • It can be from peer to peer.
    • It can be from bottom up.

Equip the People Around You

Effective leadership requires you to equip the people around you.

The people around you are all trying to get things done. Maybe productive things. Maybe fun things. Maybe useless things. Maybe something you told them to do. Maybe something you asked them to do. Maybe not.

Regardless… they need “tools” or “equipment” to get things done. They need equipped so that they can achieve their goals.

Effective leadership requires you to equip the people around you.

If you equip others, you are a leader, even if you do not think so.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… – Ephesians 4:11-12

Educate the People Around You

Effective leadership requires you to educate the people around you.

A tool that you don’t know how to use does you no good.

We are remodeling our basement right now. Part of the remodel includes taking out a wall. I gave my 3 year old a hammer the other day and told her to hit the wall with it. She used both hands, held it right next to the head, and had a short swing. She didn’t even dent the sheet rock.

I equipped her. But I failed to educate her (at least for a few minutes). Even after some instruction, she wasn’t effective. Or interested. It was fun, but she is still too young to use a hammer.

Effective leadership requires you to educate the people around you.

If you educate others, you are a leader, even if you do not think so.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20

Empower the People Around You

Effective leadership requires you to empower the people around you.

Empowerment = task + trust.


Empowerment = Responsibility + Authority.

I don’t remember where I first heard that. I didn’t come up with it.

The point is that if you ask someone to do something, then micromanage them, you are not empowering them. Or you are not trusting them.

This is a sticking point for many leaders. If you have always done it yourself, it is hard to trust someone to do it for you. If you believe, “if it’s going to be right, do it yourself,” you limit yourself.

The skill of delegation is hard because it is taxing on your emotions. You have trust another person with your goal. To delegate well, you hang on to some responsibility, but none of the authority.

It is tempting to do the opposite. You may want to hang on to authority, and not responsibility. But that is a recipe for disaster.

Effective leadership requires you to empower the people around you.

If you empower others, you are a leader, even if you do not think so.

It’s too long to include here, but consider reading Exodus 18.

Encourage the People Around You

Effective leadership requires you to encourage the people around you.

This is both the easiest, and the most important skill. It only requires one of two things:

  1. Attention to notice when someone needs encouragement
  2. Kind words to offer encouragement

Encouraging others does not always need your time invested. But investing your time in encouragement is powerful. Time does more than add to attention and kinds words. It multiplies them.

Encouragement = (Attention + Kind words) x Time

Effective leadership requires you to encourage the people around you.

If you encourage others, you are a leader, even if you do not think so.

…encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11


  1. With this new definition of leadership, who are some people in your life that you now think of as leaders?
  2. Which of these skills is most natural for you, and how can you develop it further?
Business Leadership Personal Growth

Leading in Crisis: Calm Down, Slow Down, and Think

In the Mel Gibson movie, the Patriot, Mel Gibson has a line when he is leading one of his sons to ambush a company of Redcoats. He tells him “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

In crisis: Calm down, slow down, think. @DanielTStephens

I heard that line again in boot camp when I was learning how to shoot the Marine Corps way, the instructor had his own version: “slow is smooth, smooth is fast; calm down, slow down, shoot.”

My daughter is learning how to dress herself. She often gets frustrated and fussy when she gets stuck halfway through putting on or removing a garment. Recently I started telling her, “calm down, slow down, try again.”

Whether we’re revolting against Redcoats or just trying to put our shoes on, we will all face crises of varying degrees. When leading through crisis, we’re not only responsible for ourselves, we’re responsible for others. Which makes it all the more important to handle it correctly.

Calm down

Decisions made under emotionally intense conditions are usually bad decisions.  Sit down, take a few slow, deep breaths.

If you have time, consider a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. If you’re a person of faith, make this a time of prayer, ask for guidance and wisdom, consider reading Psalm 23 slowly and out loud. Continue breathing deeply and slowly. Read one line, then restart and read two lines. Visualize yourself in the scenery described in the Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23 (ESV)

Slow down

Rushed decisions are nearly as bad as overly emotional decisions. Give yourself time to process what the problem is and how to respond to it. An hour, a day if possible. The saying “easier said than done” applies here. There isn’t much to say here but do your best to slow down. Create time and space to calm down and think.

Don’t make the mistake of saying “I can’t find time.” You need to make time. If handling a crisis is really a priority, you will make the time to calmly think it through. If you can’t find the time, perhaps you should question whether it is a real crisis.


It’s incredibly helpful to write things down and organize them in some way. My three favorite tools for this step are (from simple to complex) the pro/con list, the Eisenhower Box, and the Prioritization Grid.

Pro/Con list, making choices, making decisions. @DanielTStephens

The Pro/Con list is best used when you have to decide between only two options. If you have more than two options, then use either the Eisenhower Box or the Prioritization Grid.

Eisenhower Box. Decision Grid, Prioritization Grid. Making Choices. Making Decisions. Setting Priorities. @DanielTStephens

The Eisenhower Box is best used as a time management tool to help prioritize tasks. To get the best use out of the Eisenhower Box, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of tasks that need to be done to respond to the situation
  2. Decide which tasks are important (or mandatory) or not important (or preferable)
  3. Decide which tasks are urgent (must be done soon) or not urgent (need done, but have no deadline)
  4. Do the important and urgent tasks
  5. Schedule time for the important but non-urgent tasks
  6. Delegate or automate the preferable and urgent tasks
  7. Delete the rest

Decision grid, prioritization grid, making choices. @DanielTStephens

The Prioritization Grid is best used when choosing from three or more options, or when three or more criteria must be considered in making the choice. To get the most out of the Prioritization Grid, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of choices or criteria
  2. Arrange your choices or criteria on a square table
  3. Block out the diagonal line (where each choice would be compared to itself)
  4. Compare each pair of choices and put a 1 when the preferred choice is on the left, and a 0 when the preferred choice is on the top
  5. Add up each row, from left to right (not from top to bottom)
  6. In the Total column, the choice with the highest total is the one to implement
  7. If you want, you can redo the Prioritization Grid, or use one of the other tools for tie breakers

Regardless of which tool you use to solve the problem, do your best to look for the good in the situation.

… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

If you are a person of faith, be sure to finish your time of thought with prayer. Ask for help to follow through with the decisions you’ve made, even if they are hard. Regardless of whether or not you are a person of faith, be sure to find a safe, trusted person to hold you accountable and help you follow through.


Mark 12:31 – Love your neighbor as yourself. Real crises all come with human or relational costs attached to them. Do your best to ensure you make loving choices, not choices out of self preservation.


  1. Think of a time when you have been lead through a crisis, what gave you confidence in the leader?
  2. What can you learn from that leader?
  3. How would these tools have helped you in a past crisis?

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The 2 Vital Ingredients You Need to Have Unbeatable Preparation

Zig Ziglar said, “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” We can’t control opportunity, but we can be prepared for it. Preparation occurs when simplicity meets stewardship.

Preparation occurs when simplicity meets stewardship. @DanielTStephens

Defining Success

As much as I enjoy the Zig Ziglar quote, it’s pretty empty if you take it by itself at face value. I’m sure that when he originally said it, he went on to define opportunity and preparation. I’m sure that he also went on to explain why he believed success was made up of those two ingredients. But I have never heard or read the original context of the quote. I have only ever heard that one line by itself.

So for the sake of argument, I am going to assume Zig’s definition of success had something to do with achieving meaning and stability beyond oneself. Success has as much to do with helping others as it does with helping yourself.

Another Ziglar quote I often hear is “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Because helping others is meaningful, I am going to assume that his definition of success included meaning, significance, transcendence, or whatever you want to call it.

The point is that success is bigger than just you. Success includes your tribe. Success is also bigger than just your tribe, it includes other tribes.

I am also going to assume that Zig’s definition of success included stability. You could say that I am being redundant, because there is a lot in common between “stability” and “preparation.” But for the sake of argument, I am going to say that you work from a place of preparation in order to get to a place of stability.

Preparation is the point of origin, stability is the destination.

I could just say that to be prepared is to be ready. But that is… obvious. What exactly does that mean? I think it will be most helpful to break preparation down into what it looks like internally and externally. I also think it will be helpful to think of preparation as an ongoing process, rather than a one-and-done achievement.

Preparation = Simplicity + Stewardship

The basic principle of simplicity is to clear clutter from your life. Simplicity is the cutting down phase of preparation.

The basic principle of stewardship is to save your extra resources now for when you might need or want them in the future. Stewardship is the building up phase of preparation.

If you have implemented simplicity and stewardship in your life, then you have extra gas in the tank to “go the extra mile” when the opportunity arises. Anyone can say that “going the extra mile” leads to success. I think what Ziglar was getting at is that you have to have gas in the tank (preparation), and you have to do it at the right time (opportunity).

Internal Preparation

Spiritual Preparation

Can you tell the difference between an opportunity and a temptation? Can you tell the difference between a good idea and a distraction?

It is your spiritual preparation, your world view, your growth, that will help you to be discerning, and to make good decisions. You need a filter to screen out the temptations and distractions while letting in the opportunities and good ideas.

How you build that filter depends a lot on your learning style and spiritual temperament. If you’re bothering to read a blog, odds are you’re a bit on the intellectual side. If you want to build a strong discernment muscle, spend your time in the wisdom books of scripture, and surround yourself with people who do the same.

Physical Preparation

I can’t resist. Call me immature.

Isn’t Viagra’s whole advertising scheme based on “being ready when the time comes?”

Okay, moving on. Olympians train hard for their sport so that their bodies can handle the punishment of competition. Parents get worn out from lack of sleep and blow up at their kids.

Filling your physical tank means getting good rest, good food, and good exercise. If you’re not sleeping, not exercising, or you’re putting garbage in your body, what are your chances of being prepared to:

  • Make love to your spouse?
  • Play tag with your kids / grand kids?
  • Defend yourself in a fight?
  • Work extra hours when it’s needed and appropriate?

Physical simplicity pretty much rest. Sleep. Creating habits that allow your body to clear the clutter (which is mostly what sleep is for). Check out the book Sleep Smarter for specific suggestions.

Physical stewardship is diet and exercise. Putting in the right fuel and tuning the motor so that you’re ready for whatever race you need to run.

Emotional Preparation

Filling your emotional tank means dealing with negative emotions and maximizing room for positive emotions.

To handle your negative emotions in a healthy way, remember the GEMS (Kay Bruce):

  • Gyst of what happened (or is happening)
  • Emotions associated with it
  • Meaning assigned to it
  • Strategies for change

Dealing with negative emotions, or clearing emotional clutter, will create space for positive emotions. You can do a lot of work to deal with these yourself, or you can talk to a safe person in your life about them. Don’t handle your negative emotions by ignoring them, because they will only get more intense. Don’t handle your negative emotions by numbing them, because you’ll numb the good feelings too.

Emotional simplicity is handling your negative emotions in the right way.

Emotional stewardship is reminding yourself of good feelings. Take time at least 3 times a week to ask yourself, and write down the answers to these three questions:

  1. What are you thankful for?
  2. Who have you helped recently?
  3. What have you learned recently?

Unless it’s a habit that you’re highly motivated to maintain, or it’s part of your “normal,” don’t do those questions too often. If you do, the practice might lose its potency and become ritualistic.

These questions are a part of my bed-time-prayer routine with my daughter. They’re a part of her normal. I hope it’s something that she takes with her when she is older. I am highly motivated to participate and to set an example. So for us, it works really well to do this daily, but it might not work for other people.

External Preparation

This is really the same drum that I’ve been beating for the last month. Just in case you missed them, you might want to read my past two posts on simplicity and stewardship.

Financial Preparation

Finances are the area that I hear the most about simplicity and stewardship.

If you have a lot of debt that drains your weekly or monthly cash flow, you won’t be able to build a savings as quickly. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you won’t be able to fix or replace things easily. If you don’t have a savings, you won’t be able to pay for large expenses, or to survive a season of unemployment.

You can’t start a business if you don’t have start up funds. You can’t donate to a cause if you don’t have discretionary funds.

Schedule Preparation

Have you ever made the excuse “I’d love to, but I don’t have time.”

A simple schedule is not an empty schedule. A simple schedule just reflects the right priorities.

Stewardship of your schedule is saying “I’ll make the time” instead of “I can’t find the time.”

Rory Vaden’s “Focus Funnel” is a great visualization of that illustrates both of these. It’s created for a business context, but with smart phones and mobile apps, it’s totally possible to automate a lot of tasks at home too.

Rory Vaden, Focus Funnel, Eliminate, Automate, Delegate, Procrastinate on Purpose
Image via Rory Vaden

Relational Preparation

Relational preparation is a lot like emotional preparation.

Simple relationships are low drama relationships. I did not say low conflict relationships. I said low drama. Drama happens when a conflicts are not handled well. Both people in the relationship have bad habits for handling their own negative emotions, and they bring those bad habits into the relationship.

If both people have good habits for handling their negative emotions, then they will have good habits for conflict resolution. Conflicts will be addressed when they are small.

Stewarded relationships have a lot of positive memories. Both people have stored up things to be thankful for in the relationship, and they have quick ways of referring to them. Both people have stored up things they’ve learned, and they are quick to remember those lessons. Both people remember when one of them was a better fit for a challenge they faced together, or one was stronger than the other.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. Which area of life are you least prepared for?
  2. What are you doing to implement simplicity or stewardship in that area of life?

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Achieve Simplicity in 3 areas to be a Successful Steward

In a couple of past posts, I wrote about the importance of stewarding your health, as well as stewarding your time, money, and relationships. But there is one critical step that comes first. Successful stewardship requires simplicity.

Successful Stewardship Requires Simplicity. @DanielTStephens

BONUS: Read all the way to the end of this article for a free download to help you achieve simplicity by prioritizing your relationships, time commitments, and expenses.

Knowing Your Limits

One of my professors at Western Seminary, Norm Thiesen, uses the illustration of juggling. If you can juggle, how many balls can you juggle? Three? Four? Five? Seven? Ten?

If the most that you can juggle before failing is five balls, you can probably juggle four well. If you try to juggle five, you’re pushing it; and if you try to juggle six, you’ll fail.

If you’re failing at stewardship, it’s because you’re failing at simplicity. Your life is too complex. You’re trying to do too much at once.

Pairing Down

In a recent article at No Sidebar, Melissa Camara Wilkins told the story of packing up to move her family to a new home. As she was going through her and her family’s belongings deciding what to pack, she began with the obvious question: “Do I need this?”

Along the way, she discovered a better question: “Can I live without this?” That second question isn’t necessarily better when the answer is a clear yes or no, but it is definitely better when the answer is, “maybe.”

Melissa was applying those questions to her possessions, but what if we apply those questions in other areas?

Simplicity in your Relationships

Can I live without this relationship?

This is probably one of the most painful areas of life to ask this question. In a culture where most of our “friends” are on Facebook, it can seem like considering an amputation to consider setting boundaries with people we have face to face relationships with.

It can be tempting to try to simplify your time or finances first. But your time and financial priorities hinge on the relationships that are important to you. Trying to start in those areas is like trying to open a door with no hinges.

But, “bad company corrupts good character,” does it not? When people around you are pervasively negative or draining, they are not only taking your time, energy, and possibly your money, they are corrupting your character. It is absolutely critical to set boundaries.

On the other end of the spectrum: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

I am not suggesting that anyone should ever turn their back on family or a marriage or other serious commitment because of a season of hardship. Forgiveness is part of every healthy relationship.

Even so, there is a line somewhere. Here are a few questions that you can answer to help find that line:

  1. Does this relationship bring me more joy, or more pain?
  2. Is this only a season, or is it a pattern?
  3. Does this person invest in me as much as I do in them?
  4. Do I invest in this person as much as they do in me?
  5. Does this person actively or passively support my goals?

This is NOT about playing favorites or being selfish. It’s about freeing up energy and resources sunk into unhelpful relationships so that you can invest in important relationships.

Simplicity in your Time

Can I live without this time commitment? 

We live in a culture where being busy is a badge of honor. If we can answer the “how are you doing?” question with “busy,” people somehow assume that we’re either really important, really productive, or both.

In 2005 and 2006, I was in a men’s bible study led by David Valear. He frequently said that BUSY stood for “Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke.” I initially brushed it off as one of the goofy things that Christians say sometimes. But as I got to know David and how protective he was of his time, and how successful he was, I started taking it more seriously.

Once you have prioritized your relationships, it will be MUCH easier to simplify your time commitments.

Here are some questions to help decide what commitments can be cut:

  1. Is this a “have to,” a “get to,” or a “need to?” (Check out Michael Hyatt’s podcast episode “Watch Your Mouth” for a great self-check).
  2. Does this bring joy to people important to me?
  3. Does this bring me closer to people important to me?
  4. Does this tap into my personal strengths?
  5. Does this contribute to a greater, long term purpose?

Simplicity in your Finances

Can I live without this expense?

Has anyone else noticed that the majority of financial blogs or “gurus” focus on the increase-your-income side of the equation more than the decrease-your-expenses side?

In today’s developed and post industrial economies, even our “poor” are better off than most of the world’s population. In spite of that, in the US, personal debt per citizen is nearly twice the median income (check out the debt clock).

I confess that I am a part of this. But I’m writing about where I’m going; not where I am now; or where I’ve been.

Here are some questions to help you examine your finances:

  1. Does it provide a basic need (food, shelter, transportation)?
  2. Does it provide an economic need (education or job training)?
  3. Does it facilitate my important relationships?
  4. Does it facilitate my time commitments?
  5. Do I have to go into debt or dip into my savings for it?


I have created a printable worksheet to help prioritize your top ten most important relationships, time commitments, and expenses. Click Here, enter your information, and I’ll email it to you right away.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What helps you to keep your life simple?
  2. What self check questions do you use in these 3 areas?

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