Friday, September 16, 2016

Keeping all the balls in the air…

I’m sure you are a busy person.  I know I’m a busy person.  Being busy people who read and write stuff like this, we are looking for ways to organize things better, have a better perspective, or just look for a better way of going about things.  The good news is there are more than a few resources out there for us to rely on.  A simple search of “productivity” or “life hacks” will yield enough reading material to keep all of us busy for the next several years, and I think that’s probably a conservative estimate.  The question is with all these available resources and so many people spending so much time thinking about this answer, how have we not cracked this yet?  Shouldn’t we be able to point to something like the pythagorean theorem, enter a bit of information and be productive?
The reason I bring all of this up is due to conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks about using my time.  With new responsibilities at work, the kids back at school, soccer back in full swing, and the rest of life going on, I’ve had a hard time doing everything I need and want to do.  I haven’t been running as much, although I did run today(we are starting a streak here!), I haven’t been writing as much, and just been in an overall funk trying to get everything done.  I obviously don’t want to continue this, and I want to succeed at everything and flourish with everything going on.  This is where that productivity theorem would be really handy.  I want to enter a few variables into a formula and magically have the productivity answer right in front of me.  It goes without saying that that’s not going to happen, but that’s what we all want with these hacks and all the other information out there right?  We want some sort of immediate sign or immediate sense of peace that the puzzle has been solved, or the finish line crossed.  Then when something doesn’t work, we’re on to the next book or article to see if that’ll make everything better now.   
The conclusion that I’m coming to is that things don’t work that way.  Productivity and feeling accomplished isn’t a finish line to cross, and it’s sure as hell not a straight line to get there.  There’s going to be bad days, less productive days, and amazingly fantastic days where you feel like you can conquer the world.  That whole range needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  Every day isn’t going to be fantastically amazing, and every day isn’t going to be a throw away either.  Wherever a given day falls on that spectrum, you can’t beat yourself up or praise yourself too much for it, and you certainly can’t compare days.  Doing any of those things is a quick way to get yourself in trouble.  Each day is a new “game” of sorts.  Enter that day trying to win it.  Once the day is done, win, lose or draw, figure out what you can learn and move on.  Once that new day starts, there’s a whole new set of rules or obstacles that need to be taken into account and you do the best you can.
I’m sure everyone has heard the story of the professor with the jar.  Professor puts rocks in the jar followed by gravel, sand, and water. you can find the whole story here.  The point being there is a lot of room for a lot of things in our lives.  When we focus on, and identify the big stuff and make sure we’re completely present mentally for those things, having room for the smaller stuff becomes that much easier.  Focusing on those big things allows the sense of accomplishment I think we all need and are striving for and it makes sure that our days aren’t hijacked by small less important tasks.

To answer my question from the top of the article regarding a productivity theorem, I think it does exist.  I think the answer is mindfulness and being completely present in whatever task or activity you choose to do next.  Too often over the last month I’ve found myself at work worrying about home, or at home worrying about what I need to accomplish at work.  When I’m sitting there distracted, it’s really hard to get anything done.  That’s why I think the answer is presence.  To put it another way, presence and purpose.  Be all in on whatever you choose to be doing, and do it to the best of your ability.  Once done, move on to the next and do the same thing.  I know this is all easier said than done, but it’s my goal.  Let me know what you think, and I’ll let you know how successful I am with this.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Efficiency vs. Mastery

This is admittedly very similar to Be Shitty at Something.  In that last article I talked about something that we personally struggle with.  Whether that be running, or anything else you’re passionate about.  You need to be shitty at it before you can excel at it, and the mental approach to all of that.  This time around I’m talking about things we do in our day to day lives, whether that be work or personal that we maybe aren’t passionate about, and the tasks aren’t something we’re doing to better ourselves or for some sort of personal satisfaction.  I’m talking about tasks you do because you get paid to do them, or they are an adult requirement.  Now hopefully there is a fairly significant percentage of folks reading this that are thinking to themselves that they are passionate about the tasks they get paid to do.  On some of my tasks I feel that way, but there are still quite a few left on the table that I could never do again and be perfectly fine. (For you Office Space fans, think TPS reports).  These are the tasks I’m talking about today.
As some of you have followed, there has been a bit of turnover on my team at work lately.  With that turnover has come a steep learning curve for a lot of us that we’ve been having to hike up.  Obviously during this time different deliverables haven’t been making their way out the door quite as quickly as they once were, and this has caused some conversations amongst our team regarding how to solve this problem.  During this conversation something struck me.  We were trying to figure out ways to get efficient at something without even fully knowing what that something is.  After chuckling to myself viewing the problem in this light, the thought came to me, that you can’t have efficiency without mastery.  On top of that, any time spent on attempting to gain efficiency before you’ve gained mastery is a bit of a fools errand.
As I sat with this thought a little more, I began to think this is quite a bit like most of these time management slogans that seem to be steeped in common sense.  Of course you need to understand something before you can figure out how to do it better.  Then I thought of most of the conversations I’ve had at work or sat in on or listened to others share, and it seemed this little tidbit of info and acting on it would have saved quite a bit of time.  Take some time to understand something, get to the point where you can explain it in very clear and concise language.  Understand what can go wrong, what’s most likely to go wrong, and what’s the problem that this thing is actually solving.  Having those answers before you attempt to do something “better” will go a long way toward making sure better doesn’t set you back 3 steps.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Yep this is the spot…

I had a conversation recently with a friend and we were talking about how happy we were to be right where we are in life and doing the things we want to do.  I guess this kind of goes back to my previous post where I was talking about decisions that were made and how I spent the summer doing what I wanted to.  This conversation went a little deeper than that, and it got me thinking how being right where I want to be and doing just what I want to be doing didn’t happen by accident.  It happened through a series of very real and conscious decisions that sometimes, for me anyway, I just sort of let happen in the past.  
All of this isn’t to say I don’t have bad days, and yes sometimes there are specific things we as adults need to do(ie DMV, jury duty, or pick your poison), but talking life as a whole, being happy and good with where you are and what you’re doing.  That’s an amazingly powerful thing.  It’s not easy to get to, but once you’re there it is definitely worth the trip.  I’ve heard the trip described as “ruthlessly loving yourself”, or the ability to accept or initiate difficult conversations.  Whether those conversations are with others or with yourself, they are hard to have.  Seems being completely honest with yourself is one of the harder things to do in life.  This initially struck me as counterintuitive, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more truth I’ve found behind it.  The hard part comes in when you try to decipher between what you actually want, and what you think others think you should want.  Following the herd as they say.  Stepping out on your own and doing something different is challenging and it definitely takes a level of courage.  I’m not saying all of this to pump myself up, but rather put it in the light for people to consider.  It can be done, and my hope is that a person reading this may take solace in the fact that it’s been done before, and therefore they are capable of it as well.  
I believe the main ingredient in getting to this spot in life is self awareness, having a good understanding of who you are, what you want, and most importantly, being completely comfortable with all of that.  Shortcomings included.  This isn’t a free pass on the shortcomings but being aware of them is the first step toward correction.  Realizing that we all have shortcomings is also extremely helpful.  Realizing these things frees you from the pressures that can be applied from social norms or attempting to “keep up with the Jones’”  When it comes down to it, the only person you need to prove anything to is yourself.  Look yourself in the mirror every night and be at peace with who you see.  Everything else is just background noise.

Once you’re at that point, the rest is actually amazingly easy.  Once a person has a clear picture of what they want, the path forward really does open up in front of them.  It’s amazing how working toward taking this view on life has changed things for me.  Gone are the days of worrying if I am good enough or not.  Gone are the days of wondering what so and so thinks, or working to get that next material possession.  Now my days are filled with working because I like to solve big and interesting problems, writing because I like to share thoughts and spark discussion, spending meaningful time with the people I love and being present in those moments, and most of all living with a sense of knowing that I am where I want to be, doing what I want to do.  Here’s hoping something here resonates or sounds familiar to you.  Please forgive the toilet picture…I thought it was funny for this…