Life's Too Short to be Ordinary

Reading Time: 2 minutes 12 seconds

Career change, career transition, fulfillment, purpose

Life's Too Short

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Every morning, we are born again”  Buddhist Maxim

How do you get through the day?  A simple question.  What keeps you going when the going gets tough?  One common way is to put our heads down and soldier on.  Humans have a remarkable ability to put on a suit of armour that protects them from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Another way is to ride the emotional roller-coaster.  Like all roller-coasters we tend to feel sick with fear and anticipation on the way up and scream on the way down.  These approaches both get us through the day, but it feels like a struggle to survive.

Life shouldn’t be ordinary and it shouldn’t just be keeping our head above water.  It’s too easy to forget that our days are limited and precious.  I’ve found that creating some daily principles for living help me to be more intentional every day.  It gives me a foundation for how to approach life.  These rules help me to live life to the full.

What do daily principles look like?  Well here are mine:

  1. Life is a Precious Gift – Make the most of it
  2. Treat others as you’d like to be treated
  3. Be authentic and true to your values
  4. Find joy in everything you do
  5. Inspire others to make the most of life
  6. Work is love made life – put your heart into everything that you do

I created this list a few weeks ago.  I took myself out on an hour long run with the plan to capture the essence of how I’d like to live my life.  Running is my most creative place and the ideas just started to flow.  At the end (after mopping my sweaty brow), I wrote down my first draft.  I stewed on these for a day or two, made some changes and suddenly I had this powerful list.  Now I have this list up in my office, on my fridge door, and carry it around on a card in my wallet.

We are born again each morning .  I love to review these ideas every morning to get my head in the game.  I’m able to set my intention for how I’d like to be that day.  Just to be reminded that life is precious every morning is crucial.  When I wake up feeling sad, stressed or unexcited I’m reminded to find joy in life. Most importantly the principles take away the temptation to simply survive – I remember that life is too short to be ordinary.

What are your principles?  How do you remember to live life, rather than just surviving it?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Picture credit – Moustaque

Achieve More – Find your Natural Rhythm

Reading time – 2 minutes 24 seconds

Find your focus

Find your rhythm

Continuing our series on Finding Focus in 2010 – click here to subscribe and never miss another post.

I have sincere apology to make.  This is for anyone who has ever come into contact with me in the morning before my first cup of coffee.  You may know me as the “live life to the full” writer of Less Ordinary Living, however before 8.30am when the caffeine kicks in, I look and act like a bedraggled plane crash survivor who has spent 3 years surviving on berries in the jungle.  If you’ve experienced this I am truly sorry.

The serious side of this it that we are all subject to natural body rhythms that control our energy levels each day.  During our development we find our unique pattern that works with our metabolism, lifestyle and preferences.  By adulthood, the Circadian Rhythms we have developed become deeply ingrained.  Understanding and working with these rhythms can have a huge effect on our ability to focus and be effective every day.

I only recently became aware of my patterns.  I find that I start the day with fairly low levels of energy and these slowly pick up during the morning.  Typically by 9am I start to get into the zone and am in a good place to focus (after the coffee kicks in!).  The energy levels pick up and continue rising until about 1.00pm.  At this point, my energy drops off a cliff for most of the afternoon.  However weirdly (but not uniquely) a second wind start to kick in late afternoon and I get another power surge that can last until 8 or 9pm.  After that, things tail off to the end of the day.

So what is your daily pattern?  Take a minute to draw a graph on a piece of paper and put time on the X axis (starting from when you wake up and ending when you hit the sack).  You can then map energy levels on the Y axis.  Think through a typical day and your relative levels of energy during the day and start to map this on the graph.  Most people have varying levels of energy during a day and so you will probably get some kind of curve or wave.  If you’re not sure, take a day or two to watch yourself and your energy levels throughout the day until the pattern emerges.

The key now is to use this information wisely by matching activities to energy levels.  When you are putting together your daily plan, try to schedule your highest priority activities which require the most energy and concentration in your times of peak energy.  It is much easier to focus and avoid distraction when we our energy is at its highest.  Likewise, if you have an obvious lull during the day, this is a great time to either knock off some of the tedious, easy chores that need to be done, or to schedule in some personal care time (exercise, mediation, reading).  Much better to use this time productively than to waste an hour looking up America’s Next Top Model on Wikipedia (not that I’ve ever done this, obviously).

Experiment with what works best for you each day.  Because of my pattern, I have deliberately moved my lunchtime back to about 1.30pm to take full advantage of my first high energy peak.  I’ve also found that scheduling meetings and phone calls for my traditionally “low energy” times forces me to concentrate and can make this formerly dead time much more productive.  As you get more confident you can guide others to make sure that meetings happen at times that work best for you.

So apologies again to anyone who has met the Phil “pre-coffee” monster!  For the rest of you, please do give this a try and leave a comment to let me know how this works out for you in becoming more focused.

Six steps to Stress-free Productivity

Reading time: 2 minutes and 12 seconds

productivity, stress free, focus, career change

Stay calm

Stay on top of your task list, prioritise and be more focused – click here to subscribe and never miss another post.

This is quite simply the best technique I know for staying focused on your priorities.  If you want to feel more organised, more effective and get more done, try this approach:

Step 1 – Set up a Weekly Master Task List

This process uses an old fashioned journal, so head to the store and find a properly bound notebook (ideally A4 sized across two pages such as a Moleskine).  Congratulations – this is your master task list.

On the first double page, write today’s date at the top left.  Every week, you’ll use a fresh double page to compile your master task list.  The left hand page is for work projects, the right hand page is for personal tasks.

Step 2 – Put all your projects and tasks down on paper

Start with the work page (the left hand side of the book).  Think of every project or area you are involved with and write a heading for that on the page.

Under each heading write in the specific tasks that you need to complete.  Don’t be shy about throwing everything in your mind down onto paper.  Keep going until you run out of ideas.

Now repeat this process for your personal tasks on the right hand side.  Get as detailed and specific as you can – the aim is to be complete.  If you need to buy a lightbulb, or return library books, put that in.  Also put in things you enjoy such as exercise and socialising.

The objective here is to get all of your tasks out of your brain and onto paper, so that the worry goes away.

Step 3 – Prioritise tasks

Now go through EVERY task on the page and write a priority next to them.  The priority scale is:

A-    Mission critical – this must be completed this week

B-    Important – this would be a nice to have for this week, but not vital

C-    Trivial – small and annoying, however if this is not completed, no big deal

Step 4 – Set days for completion

Now we get specific.  Look at your calendar for the week and determine how much time you have available each day for working on these tasks.  Go through your A rated tasks first and assign a day of the week for completion of these tasks.  Do the same thing for the Bs (don’t bother with the Cs).

Step 5 – Daily actions

Every morning, consult your Master Task List.  Identify the A and B tasks scheduled for the day. Take a Post-It note and write out the tasks you will accomplish and the order you plan to do them.  As you work through the list during the day, cross off each task.  At the end of the day, go back to the book and cross off all completed tasks (this feels good).

During each day, if new tasks arise or your brain remembers something that was missing from the master task list, add them in to keep the list up to date and prioritise as above.

Step 6 – Weekly refresh

At the end of every week, or the beginning of a new week (according to your preference), you need to refresh the Master List.  Start a fresh page and transfer over all remaining tasks from the prior week and add in any new ones.  If a task has been hanging around for a while and not getting done, consider if it is really important.  If not, don’t roll it over.  Now follow the process for prioritisation and scheduling for completion as above.

This simple process has helped me to create a sense of calm and assurance that nothing important gets missed.  Surprisingly, I’m not a natural list person and didn’t think it would work for me.  I’m by no means perfect, however it has certainly helped me to be much more effective and focussed.  Give this a try next week and see how it helps you – and don’t forget to share your tips about getting focused by leaving a comment.

Two Powerful Ways to Your Perfect Day

Reading time: 3 minutes and 15 seconds

Two powerful ways to boost your focus and improve productivity every day – click here to subscribe and never miss another post

Focus, Career change, procrastination

Find your focus - picture: Sergi's Blog

“Its such a perfect day – I wish I spent it with you” – Lou Reed, Perfect Day

Imagine a perfect day of focus.  From the minute you open your eyes, you are energised, in the zone and ready to go.  Throughout the day, you effortlessly work through your top priorities and get them done.  You deflect the interruptions with grace and constructively deal with the challenges that arise.  As you wind down at the end of the day, you feel fulfilled, content and satisfied.  This may sound unrealistic, unobtainable and a little bit crazy, however why not try to get as close as possible to this?

I’ve struggled with finding focus on a daily basis.  I’m a well known procrastinator, particularly when it comes to doing the most important (and for that read scary) things.  Yet recently I’ve found two really powerful techniques that have helped me immensely to move closer to having the perfect day, and here they are:

1. Plan out your day in scrupulous detail

One problem I had with being focussed and effective each day was that I didn’t even know what focus looked like.  To change this, I have taken to setting aside time each morning to create an incredibly detailed plan of attack for the day.  Starting with my prioritized to-do list (I’ll share how to create this later in the week), I work out the key priorities for the day – this includes things from work, my personal life and also how I’m going to take care of myself.  I use my calendar to see how much time I have available to make sure that this is realistic.  I then create an incredibly detailed programme for the day ahead with a blow by blow account of EXACTLY what order I will do everything and the timing for this.  For example today’s schedule looks like this:

8.30am Meditate

8.45am – Send key emails (and I have a list of exactly which ones)

9.15am – Clear out email accounts

10.00am – Go to Coffee Shop – Write four blog posts

12.30pm – Return home

12.45pm – Run – 4 miles tempo run

1.15pm – Post run stretching, shower

1.40pm – Lunch – spaghetti bolognese

2.00pm – Put postings on Linked In

2.30pm – Business Telephone calls (again I have a list of which ones)

3.30pm – Design ideal client experience

5.30pm – Scheduled business call

6.00pm – Do Crossword and relax

6.30pm – Send out personal emails

7.00pm – Cook supper, relax and read

Anyone who knows me will realise that this is the antithesis of my laid back personality.  Yet the remarkable thing is that it is 11.38am and I’m in the coffee shop finishing my second blog post of the day.

I’ve found that knowing what you want to achieve creates a real sense of focus and even if you follow the plan with 80% success, those days feel remarkably productive.  Mapping out your perfect day in obsessive detail is no guarantee of success every time, yet it gets you focused on what is most important and helps to reduce the draw of distractions during the day.  It is easier to get back on track and know what to revert to if you are thrown a curve-ball.

2. Act like you are being audited

This powerful technique came from the Change your Thoughts blog.  The key here is to act as if your actions are being audited each day.  Imagine that at the end of each day you have to justify what you did to a super critical auditor who will make you account for every second.  How easily could you justify what you did today?

To put this technique into practice, start out by “meeting the auditor” twice a day for a week – at lunchtime and at the end of the day.  Each time you meet, you need to justify your time since the last meeting – explain what you have done and what makes that important and useful.  You also have to explain your less productive time – that half hour on Facebook, the twenty minutes in the bathroom, the 3 hours watching TV.  Remember the auditor is not there to judge, only to listen and record.

The objective of this process is not to beat ourselves up, or to take all the fun out of life, it is simply to find focus.  One of my primary values is to take better care of myself and develop inner peace and happiness.  For me, finding time to meditate, run, read and simply relax and get quality time is justified and I can look the auditor in the eye with good conscience.   However, if I goofed out on the important deadline that I had and didn’t make an important call to go running, that is harder to justify.

Over time, your inner auditor will become internalised.  You’ll feel them looking over your shoulder as you start your game of Tetris and go back to finishing your spreadsheet.  It will become easier and easier to justify your time at the meetings as you find your focus improving.

So the perfect day may not happen every day, however using these techniques you can get closer to a focused and effective day to day existence.  As with all personal change some days will be better than others and you’ll need to be kind to yourself when the less good days come along.  However with persistence and patience you’ll find the Perfect Day may just be possible.  Let me know how your perfect day is, by commenting.

Find your Focus in 2010 – Feel the Fear and Do it anyway

Reading time: 2 minutes and 45 seconds

Continuing the series on Finding Focus in 2010 – 3 powerful steps to beat procrastination and overcome fear.  Click here to subscribe and never miss another post – and you’ll help us get to our big target of 500 subscribers (currently 115).  Thank you!

There is nothing to fear except fear itself” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear – gut-wrenching, stomach-churning foreboding.  Even thinking about fear sends a shiver down my spine.  Despite this, we should all be quite grateful to our biology for this emotion.  In its primal form it is there to protect us from harm – the sabre-tooth tiger hiding in the bushes or falling over the edge of a cliff.   Unfortunately this instinct can also be a real obstacle to finding focus in our lives.  It can paralyse us with inactivity, drive procrastination and avoidance, and distract us from the here and now.  Feeling the fear and doing it anyway may be a  a cliché, however learning to manage fear can increase our focus and effectiveness .

When we feel afraid, our ever-active brains conjure up a future scenario that typically involves failure and impending doom.  Before we know it, looking for a new and more fulfilling job leads to us being rumbled by the boss, fired, losing our homes and destitute on the street, stealing to feed our families.  All this imagination requires a lot of energy and takes our eye off the ball of what is happening in the present moment.  Fear also generates powerful hormonal responses in our body (that tightness in the stomach) that literally make us freeze.  Gripped by fear, it is normal to abandon that important phone call, and find something less scary to do (this is where Google and Facebook often kick in for me).  This often causes us to lose all focus on what needed to be done and go into a loop of procrastination and delay.

Learning to understand and manage fear is the first step to overcoming it.  Here is a simple three-step process to start dealing with fear:

1. Find your fear

The first step to making a change is to understand what is happening.  Next time you find yourself procrastinating and wasting time, or avoiding an important task, stop for a minute.  The first thing to do is to figure out what is going on, and these questions may help:

  • What activity am I procrastinating about?
  • What is behind this – what am I afraid of?  (The most common fears include, fear of taking a risk, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of humiliation)
  • What unfortunate consequences am I anticipating and attaching to this activity?  (Let your imagination really go wild here).

Often we internalise and hide our fears, so take a little extra time to ensure you get to the root cause of the problem.

2. Rationalise your fear

Next, it is time to explore the situation.  Fear tends to be irrational and based on our own wild imagination’s ability to whip up a terrifying scare story.  Think through some of these questions:

  • How realistic is the scenario I’ve created?
  • What are other potential outcomes?
  • What would the consequences of these be?
  • How would I handle these consequences in reality?
  • How rational is this fear, really?
  • What is the best decision to make in the moment based on my desired outcome?

The objective here is to come back into the present moment and decide the most logical step to take right now.   If you are still stuck with your fear, try this next step:

3. The Power of Ten

Think through the activity you are planning to undertake.  Now ask yourself if you are to do it, how important are the potential consequences in ten hours time?  What about in ten days, ten weeks, ten months or ten years.  Use these answers to assess the fear you feel.  This helps to provide a better perspective on making choices and to diminish fear of the future implications.

Fear is a hardwired into our DNA and learning to manage fear’s effects takes time and determination.  Not one day goes by where I don’t feel afraid about something I need to do.  However, these simple steps can help us to be brave and achieve things we dreamed of but thought were impossible.  This process helps us to take life one small and determined step at a time and be more focussed every day.