Its a new year and a great time to talk about goals and balance. If you are like me your work is always with you. You wake up and check email on the computer, if you are not near the computer the iPhone or Blackberry is always in reach. As digital information because more accessible so does communication. For every actionable email there seems to be 10 emails with useful information and 100 useless cc’s and spam emails. Then there’s the rest of life. Mental, spiritual and physical reality. Our real world relationships, our dreams, our health need to be in balance with all this digital information. Without the right focus years can go by without making progress in all the right directions.
Your life goals don’t ask you for permission to use “push notifications”.
S.U.D.S or “Seemingly Unimportant Decisions”. Everyday we need to make hundreds, even thousands of decisions. From what to wear, eat, what time to get up, exercise, which emails to reply to, what to read, watch and how to spend our time. The problem is that the really important and beneficial stuff doesn’t bug you if you don’t do it. Your health, salary, relationships may not be where you want them but there’s nothing in your inbox saying to take a certain class or try a new workout. Groupon is reminding you of a great deal. Facebook lets you know that someone “Likes” your post. Your coworker asks you the status of a task. How do we get the system to be effective proportionate to the importance of the actions and potential benefits? For most of us we need a better system. You can do anything but you can’t do everything.
You need a “system” you can trust
Any time you remember a “to do”, you make a decision while talking to someone on the phone or Skype, any email request its like a calendar request. If I say lets meet the next question is when. This week? What day? What time? For how long? Are there any action item needed to be done before then? The problem is for most of us is that we add calendar requests to our calendar but don’t have a very good system for all the rest of the stuff.
I don’t ever think about or worry about my dentist appointment in a month because its in my calendar. But all the work I need to do this work drills a whole in my chest. That’s because most of it is on my ‘mental list’. As David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” says, its like all that stuff is in RAM. The more stuff that is is RAM the slower our computer works – or in this case the less effective I am. Furthermore that worried feeling is because you don’t have a specific time scheduled to “do” the work or take action. So in the back of your mind you are constantly thinking about when you will do the work, if you will have time, what could happen if its not done, how the people will feel, how you will look, what they will think about you if you fail. That’s when we are really busy and we make a list we feel better. Now we have the items in a “system” and we don’t have to keep thinking about it all the time.
Forget about sticky notes and Moleskins. If you are living a digital life you need a system you can sort by category, set due-dates, forward emails to and search by keyword. You need put everything on there. Keep nothing in your head – if its not on the todo list its on the calendar. Even things like opening your mail, cleaning your house or office, getting a haircut, right down to quarterly marketing planning, 5 year professional goal setting and investing in an IRA. Get it out of your head ASAP!
Flow is a task management app that provides a great interface to manage all your tasks. Its also great for sharing and delegating tasks with teams and/or family. Flow has both an iPad and iPhone app making it easy to work on tasks anytime you think of then. You can also forward emails and links to Flow to quickly add todo items. Flow does not have a free version – starts at $9.95 a month.
Remember the Milk is a remarkably simple task management system and does just about everything Flow does. RTM is has a structure that is well aligned with David Allen’s process in his book “Getting Things Done”. If you want to use their mobile apps and sync with Outlook you can upgrade to the pro version for just $25 per year.
Springpad takes a different approach in how it allows you to categorize everything you want to remember. Books, merchants, food, bar codes, coupons you name it. It has a very smart user experience. Springpad’s browser plugins allow you to quickly add links and snippets from web pages.
Life design is all about choosing how we want our lives to looks and trying to chance from its like now to our desired outcome. Its like creating a sculpture. But if we don’t know what we want things can go in the wrong direction. Even when we know what we want our progress can plateau or even regress. The most efficient path is often counter intuitive. A sculpture has to stop carving often to go faster – stop and sharpen the chisel. We need to exercise to have more energy, we need to sleep more to get more work done. Happy people has active social lives, happy people do better work. What? I have to socialise more to be more successful? Doesn’t make sense. Here’s some tips to force balance into your life.
Avoid sugar, white flower, pasta. Try to eat your meals with only veggies and lean chicken or seafood. Eat as much leafy, water filled (sprouts, greens, raw veggies) as possible. Eat lots of lean protein. Drink as much water as you can. One easy trick is to always carry a nice reusable water bottle. Get one that has an opening about the size of a quarter. No fancy squirts or large tops to unscrew. Should be easy to open and chug. Every time you take a sip force yourself to take three big sips. Maybe increase to four or five over time. If you don’t know much about diets and nutrition there are plenty of great diets to try such as The South Beach Diet, The Mediterranean or The Fat Flush Diet. Get a friend or spouse to make a commitment with you to try it for a few weeks – a little accountability goes a long way. One valuable thing these diets do is they get you into a regular system of eating the same healthy foods. When we don’t have a system we end up out in our busy lives with all kinds of unpredictable choices. Restaurants always serving too large of portions, snack options and more binges because we find ourselves starving at times.
If you have trouble doing 30 minutes of cardio each day find a way to get your mind off it. I have an iPad and a wireless router. I can check my email, catch up on blog readings, read inspirational content, work on my schedule and todo lists all at about 140 beats per minute. I even have the Xfininity app installed so I can watch Showtime and HBO to make the time pass. Sometimes I stay on too long. Another great idea is to find a small fitness club or try classes at your gym until you find one you like. You can’t check your email but it creates a circle of accountability that can be motivating. Nobody knows if I skip the elliptical machine.
I’m not crazy about socializing. Its like working out – I don’t want to do it, I don’t like doing it, I’m typically trying to stop early and glad when its done. But after a few months of it I’m really glad I did it. Socializing can be the same. So if you are as talented as procrastination as I am you have to force the issue. You need to get yourself locked into some horrible commitment or its not happening.
- Take a comedy class
- Help a non-profit
- Force yourself to do something with someone new once a month
- Call one old friend every week
- Get involved in a church
- Get active in your kids PTO
- Help at the YMCA
Ok, I think I just made myself sick. But trust me. Get active in something and try to do a monthly stretch activity and by this time next year that effort will have had a positive impact on your work and how you feel about yourself.
Accomplishment, progress, achievement are all beneficial but can become addictive agents. As a workaholic I know after a long startup binge I come back to find my relationships, waist line and life in shambles. I get so caught up I don’t even open my mail. By keeping balance you can be more effective in your work and there’s less risk of set backs from the consequences of neglecting the rest of your life.
I have a specific purpose and I remind myself of it everyday. I have a vision for my family, my business and my health that I review every morning and every night. I wish I could say that is true, in fact I struggle to do most of the stuff I think is really important. The fact is to know what you want and to think about it all the time as if you already have it, feel the joy and satisfaction, imagine how it would affect every area of your life, can transform your life. Think about it. You are shopping for a new car – say its a Toyota Prius. All of a sudden you see them everywhere. If you are always thinking about your crappy job or you work overload you subconscious mind tries to recreate that reality. It tries to give you whatever you think about most. Here’s some tips.
Defining Your Goals
Your mind can grow toe nails and do sudoku while breathing without making a mistake. Getting a new job, losing 40lbs, launching an awesome iPhone app is all doable. If other people have done it you can to. You need to focus on that outcome as much as possible and you’ll find the way. Think up one, two or three goals. Maybe one professional, a physical and a fun goal. Make a collage in Photoshop or write a mantra. Create a poem or an acronym.
To get there you need define your goals and figure out the next action items. “Be Happy” is a great goal but there could be a hundred little actions between now and then. Quite often the barrier between what we have and what we want is asking the right questions. Instead of saying “I’m terrible at Photoshop or skiing, or losing weight”, we should ask “How can I get good at…?”. The answers will come. Maybe call an old friend that could give advice, take a class, often just ask Google.
I use MindManager to brainstorm and categorize goals. You can brainstorm your new year resolutions, projects, task lists, organize and then enter into your calendar and task lists.
MindMeister is an alternative mind mapping tool that has a free version.
Read books, blogs, listen to audio books on your iPhone. There’s so many ideas out there you never know which one will give you the inspiration you need to make a huge stride in the right direction.
- Getting Things Done – David Allen
- The Power of Less
- The Four Hour Work Week
- South Beach Diet
- Watch TED videos
Now that all that stuff is organized we can start each day completely focused on the most important next action items to move ahead as efficiently as possible. Here’s some final tips.
Most Important Tasks
One approach that works well for most people is to do the most important things first. Look at your task list, review your goals and decide what are the 2 or 3 most important tasks (MITs) for the day. If you can blast those tasks out before you turn on your email or listen to voice messages then the rest of the day is cake.
Batch busy work
Set specific times to read email, check Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. You can do plan to do these things at 10AM, 2PM and 8PM. Don’t let it be a constant distraction.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Simplify as much as possible. Make sure what you are doing supports your life purpose. Unsubscribe from emails, uninstall Farmville, turn off your email. If anything you are doing online is distracting and counter productive uninstall it. Put it on your todo list to unistall Monday. Once you do it you will feel better. If its a website, spending too much time checking sports scores or gossip news or other unproductive content you can block it. You can always unblock the page but the extra step will make you think twice.
No one ever said they wished they worked more on their death bed. Our daily decisions can have serious long-term impact on our overall quality of life, health and relationships. I’m not an expert but I’ve certainly learned a lot from my mistakes. I would love to hear your tips and suggestions. Lets make 2012 the best year ever!