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.

HuffPost’s Russell Bishop embraces the slow in his new book, Workarounds that Work. Baseline magazine did a nifty slide show (I just love their slide shows!) to illustrate the points below.

1.       Tangible results come from setting clearly defined goals.

2.       Prioritize. Ask yourself: Will this task make for my team or organization?

3.       Examine how much time you spend working around things versus accomplishing them. Eliminate any beating around the bush.

4.       Fix it, then move on. Complaining is a top time waster!

5.       Those who seek to please are a time drain because they value everyone’s happiness over action. Avoid consensus seekers.

6.       Don’t procrastinate. Approach undesirable tasks as you would a great workout. Remember how good you’ll feel when it’s over!

7.       Only have meetings with those directly involved. Eliminate external voices that only add white noise to the conversation.

8.       Focus during meetings ~ gadget-free!

9.       Close your inbox. Email shouldn’t disrupt, but inform.

10.   Read the latest email thread while eliminating the ‘repeats. Email begets email so don’t respond when no response is needed.

A man after my own slow heart!

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According to a recent HealthyWomen’s survey of 1000 women, conducted by Harris Interactive, women’s daily time-crunched “pain points” are very much in line with what I discovered in my own research for The Power of Slow. Although I didn’t separate men and women’s time demands, this survey’s findings show our specific time challenges. Give it a read and let me know if you agree or not. Your voice counts!

The survey revealed that women’s busiest hours are in the early morning and early evening — very closely connected to the work day.  The survey also found that the number one activity that takes time away from women is domestic chores. As I traipse up and down three flights of stairs to hang, fold, iron and put away laundry, I couldn’t agree more!

These findings affirm that, despite women taking on greater responsibilities outside the home, they are still very much constrained by household roles. Fortunately, they are also finding novel strategies to cope.

I had a brief phone chat with HealthyWomen’s executive director, Beth Battaglino Cahill, a nurse and expert on women’s health and lifestyle issues. She spoke about authenticity in the workplace and how important it is to show your human side. “We have to reprogram ourselves to shut dow the computer and focus on one thing at a time.” She advises women to utilize the time in the car to actually talk to your kids instead of tuning into your handheld device. She also suggests taking the all-elusive ‘me time’. “Taking care of yourself makes you a better person,” she said.

Similar to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual American Time Use Survey, the HealthyWomen survey revealed how women are spending their time…and how they wish they could:

~Women are doing more than ever.  They are working outside the home, yet are still spending significant time on domestic chores (49%) and paying bills or running errands (47%). Almost a quarter of women (23%) said that their time-draining activities included personal communications chores such as making phone calls, texting and emailing.

~Younger women (ages 18-34) have different time burdens.  They were more likely than those over 35 to cite communicating with others through phone calls, texts and email as an activity that keeps them from doing what they want to do.  Younger women also are much more likely to say that personal hygiene takes up too much time.

~Women would rather be spending their time on leisure pursuits or with friends and family.  When asked what they would do if they had more time, the majority of women (65%) would use it for entertainment, such as reading, watching TV and using the Internet. More than half of the women surveyed said they would spend time with friends or family (54%).  Younger women wanted more “me time” and were more likely to say that they would spend time ‘doing nothing’ or sleeping.

One thing the survey highlighted was the notion of ‘saving time by multitasking,” something I found to be misleading. Women need to be honest with themselves that they can’t be, do and react to all things at all times. However, prioritizing, asking for help and delegating are powerful solutions to the increasing demands on our time.

~To get through their to-do list, women are doing chores during commercial breaks and taking public transportation so they can use their commute time to catch up on reading.  Many women find it difficult to prioritize their own needs – but some are finding success by setting personal boundaries, limiting their time on the phone or asking friends for help running errands.  A little bit of support goes a long way in saving time!

 

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Imagine being made up of milliseconds like pixels in a picture. Every second counts and forms who we are.

 

Image from Smashing Magazine

Yet so many of us combat time as if it is something to beat. In truth, what we are doing is beating up ourselves.

„If only I had more time…“ is a common phrase among people in general. Our collective time starvation has us running at an unsustainable pace. As your information delivery systems get faster, so do we. The trouble is we can’t run any faster than we are.

The result is giving in to the temptation to multitask, something our brains literally cannot do. Oprah agrees. Think No Phone Zone and all.

‘Time’ and ‘being busy’ are a mindset. Time  is a construct into which we are born. We’ve made up the notion of time to structure our lives. But since we are defined by two time notations (our date of birth and the date of our passing), we live as if it is real. Since we act as if it exists, it might be a good idea to establish a more positive relationship with this thing called time so you have more of it. Because after all, don’t you want more of what you’re made of?

It’s not about creating more time. It’s about looking at the things you do within the time that you have.

Time abundance is having more than enough time to do what is required to fulfill your ultimate purpose. If you are so busy reacting to the things around you instead of putting yourself into proactive mode, you will always be at the beck and call of your surroundings.

Are you checking your emails twenty times a day? Are you subscribed to more newsletters than you can manage in a day? Do you really need to be copied on every single intra-office correspondence?

Tip #1:

Prioritize. The Eisenhower principle states there are urgent/non-urgent and important/non-important things.

There are also urgent/non-important things (the phone ringing ~anything that demands your immediate attention).

There are urgent/important things (that pending annual sales meeting).

There are non-urgent/important things (working toward your annual goals).

There are non-urgent/non-important things (surfing the Internet to ‘relax’. Like TV, it won’t relax you, but places you in a mild state of depression).

Tip #2:

Make your list of immediate to-dos. Most likely, there are four or five things on that list. Everything else can wait or be delegated.

Tip #3:

If you are overwhelmed, one of several things needs to happen:

1)    Delegate

2)    Say ‘no’ (or ‘here’s what I can do…’)

3)    Manage expectations

4)    Examine your habits

5)    Focus

6)    Avoid procrastination/last-minute rushes

7)    Take a time-out (a well-rested manager is a productive one)

8)    Stop multitasking. Who won the race, the tortoise or the hare?

9)    Take a vacation to rescucitate your ability ot handle stress.

10)  Re-examine your personal relationship with time. How often do you say you don’t have any?

If you do these things, I promise you won’t yearn for that extra hour because, in truth, time abundance will be yours.

The power of slow is about being the master of your own ship. It’s your life. What are you going to do with it?

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