Better Days

September 17, 2012

Bruce Springsteen sings of them. So do the Goo Goo Dolls. But the best lyrics I’ve heard recently about better days is a line in Dave Matthews’ Song, “Cry Freedom.” “The future is no place/to place your better days.”

Better days refer to better times. It usually is followed by “When I do X,Y,Z, then A,B,C can happen,” such as “When I have lost five kilos, then I’ll be happy.” Deferring the good stuff in life is not a good idea because you really don’t know when your personal bank account of time will close forever.

Better days are here and now. If you let them in. And they can be found anywhere at any time in the still, small moments that frame our lives.

Getting to your happy place isn’t hard if you make it a habit every day. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you think about? Your worries? Your to-dos? Or do you focus your attention on what’s right in your world? Do you greet the day with the reverence it deserves?

The good news is if you are reading this, you get another chance to make today that better day. Are you with me on this one?

Have you ever experienced the domino effect in your calendar? One person shows up too late and, because your schedule is so jam-packed, your entire day collapses like a house of cards? You end up racing from one thing to the next. By the evening, you are completely worn out without the feeling of satisfaction such level of effort deserves.

For those of you who have listened to any of the countless executive Webinars I’ve given over the past few years, you will know I often refer to the Japanese term ‘Ma’ as a great illustration for what is required to avert calendar disasters like the one I just mentioned.

‘Ma’ is a theatrical word that translates as the space between things either in music or in theater. It literally means the silence between the beats of the music or that theatrical pause, which keeps you on the edge of your seat. That which comes after the pause has more import because of the pause itself.

The Japanese (who also invented the concept of Wabi Sabi) are just so wise.

When we go from one appointment to the next in a seamless thread of activity, we have no time to digest what we’ve experienced before heaping on the next one.

This is what I imagine, in rather Picassoesque fashion, our scrambled brains look like after a ‘ma’-less day.

Note all the stuff surrounding our minds: the white noise, the distraction, the interruption, the input! I always know I have too much on my mind when I can’t decipher what my kids are saying. Okay, it’s hard enough to translate teen-speak into understandable language. But after a day without pause, I’m toast.

Now imagine your calendar as an open field of opportunity. You get all this time to play with. How will you divide it up? Insert ‘Ma’ between your major appointments. It will give you space to handle unexpected events and the breathing room to sustain your energy throughout the day. So instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings, give yourself at least fifteen minutes between things. And if people show up too late, reschedule if possible so your day isn’t impacted.

We could all use fifteen minutes of breezy nothingness to kick back and simply be. That’s when we are most creative, after all. Our juicy requires that soft crevice between the ‘must-do’s’ of our everyday lives.

Give yourself the gift of ‘Ma’ and tell me how it goes.

You know what? I can see a smile forming on your face already.

The Choice is Yours

August 6, 2012

I’m going to tell you a secret. Life is based on choice. Every bit of it. Whether you choose to wear white or gold or red or blue; whether you choose to react this way or that; whether you choose pancakes and sausage or fruit and yoghurt for breakfast.

You are the summary of all your choices. You are the progenitor of your reality.

That is not to say you are not influenced by external circumstances. Where you live (and with whom) informs a lot about your every day being. But it changes nothing about your true self, the soul that you are in eternity.

You get to be that spirit no matter where you are.

So when I see images like this one, I am blown away by the vastness that our lives can offer. It inspires and, yes, humbles me to think what a great opportunity we have to choose how we spend our time every day. And that awareness makes me more grateful than you can imagine.

Can you feel it?

 

Imagine taking an entire day off. No cell phone. No one calling your name. No computer. No client calls. No children begging for ice cream. Just you, yourself, and, well, YOU!

Yesterday I declared a sabbatical from my every day life and headed for the hills. Well, not really. I first headed for the woods. In fact, I left my iPhone, with little battery power left, behind. After an hour power walk, I went to the gym to enjoy the sauna and a hot, albeit short, shower. Browsing the supermarket aisles for a snack, I took my time with no real purpose or timeline. I even waited patiently in line while two women and a two-year-old unloaded their heavy shopping cart onto the conveyor belt. I had two items, but didn’t mind just standing there soaking in my surroundings. What an fabulous feeling not to try to squeeze time like an orange!

I missed the train to Munich so had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. So what. I called my husband with 30% left on my iPhone battery to say I’d be home in the evening or later, in case I found a movie I liked.

When I finally got to my destination, thousands of people rushed to and fro. Seeking refuge (and warmth) in a bookstore, I sat amongst the others on a long bench made for book lovers who just want to focus on one thing: the book or magazine they were reading. I found a book on burnout, which felt purposeful enough as I am doing research for a new book on it myself.

It was there that I realized how tiring a purpose-driven life can be. When we do everything on purpose, with focus and intention, we have no real time for Bacchalian enjoyment. To do a thing simply because we want to resides outside the realm of our vocabulary. In our achievement-oriented society, having a ‘be’ day seems extravagent indeed.

But it was just the thing I needed after a string of successive achievements. When we keep our eyes on accomplishment only,  we have no time to recuperate. With all our time spent on going for the gold, we find our worth only in the doingness of things instead of realizing just being is more than enough.

Did you know you will continue to exist — that is, to be — even when you don’t ‘do’?

Where did our drive for constant activity come from? According to the book I just read, Warum Burnout Nicht Vom Job Kommt by Helen Heinemann (in nearly one sitting – it was that good), burnout comes from the blurring of the lines around our specific roles in public and private life. If we live with uncertainty as to where my role begins and, say, my partner’s ends, we are left with a domain over which we will combat. Combine the lack of clarity with a lack of pause to reconsider which direction each of us should go and a wildfire ensues. Each of us, running as fast as we can, toward an ill-defined end goal can lead to burnout faster than you can say, “Call 911!”

Slowing down and taking pause really do help because in those pockets of air we allow ourselves come the solutions to many of our issues we otherwise quickly try to sweep under the carpet.

Take the Slow Challenge and call a whole day off for yourself. What do you think you’ll discover?

Many thanks to Psychology Today reader Kallin, who pointed me to this mind map, courtesy of LearningFundamentals.com.au. It beautifully illustrates how we can regain control of the things we do in the time that we have.

Happy Monday Morning, All!

Simple Ways to Slow - Courtesy of LearningFundamentals.com.au

Top Five Time Wasters

January 10, 2012

If you’re like me, you like to start out the New Year with a great sense of purpose, vision and commitment. But somewhere along the way, we become, well, wayward, in our thinking and actions.

If you missed the 2012 Productivity Revolution Telesummit talk I gave on the Top Five Time Wasters, I’ll offer you them in a super tight nutshell.

#1 Multitasking

I’ve blogged about this ad naseum, but the truth is slow is faster and fast is merely exhausting.

#2 Bad data management

Information overload is a myth, according to Clay Shirky. What’s really going on is our lack of filters. Get them. Use them. Live by them!

#3 Lack of Tools & Techniques

By now you might be saying “Are you crazy? We’re more plugged in that ever. I need fewer tools, not more!” I’m not talking about dashing out to the nearest Apple Store for yet another gadget. Tabula rasa, baby. Not tablet. What we need is to use our tools more smartly. That includes turning them off. Or on less. It’s about gadget control, people.

#4 Unclear Prioritization

Ene, mene, mine, mo…ever started your Monday out like that? How far did you get? Use a chalkboard or whiteboard with magnetized cards that allow you to shift your priorities as they do. It’s empowering. And it works!

#5 Miscommunication

A biggie, especially around the holidays. Be clear in your communication. And remember to listen. Relationships are a give and take.

Have any others? I’m all ears!

PS You can still download the recordings to all the fabulous talks here!

According to the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Marketing, creativity is best enhanced through a combination of training and reward. Despite popular belief that creativity is innate, studies have shown that taking just one course to boost your creativity by learning new skills can have a profound impact on your ability to think outside the box.

But course instruction alone is not enough. According to University of Virginia professor James E. Burroughs and his colleagues, those study participants that combined both training and an incentive produced the best results.

When reporting on the study’s findings, Strategy + Business says: “In tandem, rewards and training can enhance, rather than diminish, employees’ intrinsic motivation, which in turn helps them produce more creative ideas.”

I have to agree.

Real-life case study

Yesterday I was commissioned to play a desperate housewife (again – are we seeing a theme here?!) for a TV show. Whenever I get nervous, I guess my American accent is enhanced. Getting put under pressure by the TV crew wouldn’t have helped. They smiled, said “Try it again,” then let me breathe. While I’m not sure I nailed it perfectly (what is perfection anyway but the guaranteed route to a life of hell?), I used what I have learned in meditation practice and concentration. It showed me that training, combined with an incentive (being paid at the end of it and recognized for my language talent), led to stronger results than if the director had crushed me front and center.

Tony Schwartz, author of  Be Excellent at Anything,  pointed out four desctructive myths that most companies follow in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post.

Myth #1: Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand.

Anyone who follows this blog knows what I think about that. But in case you just landed here, multitasking is a myth. It’s counterproductive and a waste of time. Period.

Myth #2: A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.

If the director had screamed at me (which one did in my very first speaking role on TV), we would probably still be sitting there trying to nail the scene. We finished within the hour.

Myth #3: Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.

As the above study proves, creativity can be learned. Really!

Myth #4: The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

We all know that a well-rested worker is a productive one. If we had sat in that TV studio yet another hour, the result wouldn’t have been any better.

So how can you be creative today? In what ways can you foster that inner artist? We all have one. Sometimes it takes a gentle hand…or in this case voice, to bring out our best.

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