Archive for the 'Newsletter' Category

Three often-overlooked time hogs.

Bent on lowering our household water use one summer, I Googled water conservation through less toilet flushing. It seemed simple enough, but like hanging the laundry outside to dry, my results were less than optimal – so I went searching for answers. I discovered the topic being discussed at astonishing length on several forums. On one, a wise person pointed out that unless you had taken care of the big stuff – shorter showers, efficient washing machines and dishwashers, repairing leaky plumbing, appropriate landscaping – flushing a few less times a day was nearly pointless.

I think we often approach conservation of time in the same myopic way. Zoomed in on the latest technological gizmo or finding the perfect planner, we forget to step back and evaluate the big picture. No single tool will have a measurable impact if we haven’t eliminated the truly substantial time-wasters in our lives.

Recently, I have been reminded of these significant but often overlooked time hogs.

1. Not Trusting Your Intuition

You can know something without knowing why, and still act on the information.

Last year I tried a handful of new activities and in every case, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reasons, I knew almost immediately they weren’t a good fit. And in every case, I waited to act on that information – anywhere from days to months. For the entire time I delayed action, they remained background distractions – a white noise of hemming and hawing over something I had already decided. Eventually, push came to shove and I had to summon the oomph to withdraw myself, whether the why had percolated to the surface or not. But I could have saved so much time (and energy) if I had simply acted on my intuition the moment I felt it.

Of course, this can work the other way. Instead of delaying in saying no, we can be just as apt to put off saying yes. Either way, waiting until we have “proof” is a time-waster.

2. Not Saying No As Soon As You Want To

Could you _____? Do you have time for _____? Would you like to _____? You know the answer, you just don’t want to say so – you just don’t want to say no.

I’m all for diplomacy, but in most instances you don’t need to equivocate. You don’t need to check your calendar or talk with so-so first. Saying I’ll get back to you when you know your answer needlessly creates a new task you both have to follow up on. If you are anything like me, whatever discomfort you felt initially will grow and you’ll continue to delay replying. There it is on your to-do list day after day, nagging you: Get back to X about Y – the guilt of saying no compounded by the guilt of not saying so sooner. Wait too long and you may end up saying yes – which is an even bigger time-waster.

So do yourself and everyone else a favor – be truthful and just say no (politely). Choose to respect time over being nice – it’s the nicest thing you can do.

3. Refining a Too-Complicated System

Good for you. You recognized something in your day-to-day doings wasn’t working well, so you’re making adjustments in your systems. Except now you’re in a tangle. Because making an adjustment here is requiring adjustments there, and there, and there. Augh!

According to our friend The Universal Cycles of Change, you may be relieved to know this is a natural part of the circle. Growth leads to maturity, which eventually leads to more complexity than the system can support. The resulting turbulence – that augh! you’re feeling – is a sign that something has to be shed or dropped before the next healthy cycle of growth can continue. If you don’t respond to the turbulence, if you don’t let something go, chaos will set in.

Intricate systems require a lot of time and effort to maintain in the first place, but they are also extra-prone to chaos. So next time you find yourself in a tangle, ask yourself how you can remove the knot completely to make what you are trying to achieve as simple as possible. And stick to simple systems whenever you can.

• • • • •

Managing all three of these time hogs requires awareness, some way of staying awake to your experience. You need to be able to hear the voice of intuition, the cry of no, the sound of turbulence to be able to act on them and use your time well. Journaling, meditation, walking outdoors, yoga, painting – whatever works for you – do it. Often. You can’t be productive or efficient – at least in any meaningful way – without regular opportunities to listen.

Cultivating self-awareness is the first lesson in becoming a Time Disciple. I’d be honored if you chose to practice with us.

And this week you can register at this year’s price instead of next year’s. It’s the early-early-bird sale to celebrate the new website being very nearly ready. If becoming a Time Disciple is something you’ve been wanting to do, celebrate with me by saving some monies now and being wowed later.

All because of seven words.

It’s an odd time of year, isn’t it? It feels odd to me anyway. I am at once coming and going, finishing and starting, looking back and looking ahead. Which can give a gal a bit of whiplash, you know?

But, as long as I remember to slow down a bit, the process of looking back on 2009 – reflecting on what I accomplished, what I want to carry forward and what I want to leave behind – and what new things I want to build and explore in the coming year is ultimately a rewarding and valuable process.

Especially when I have a tool in my tool box like a Living Theme. Because questions like “What do I want to carry forward and what do I want to leave behind?” or “What to I want to achieve in the coming year?” can quickly devolve into -ick- new year’s resolutions. Which are depressing and never work.

Creating a Theme for each new year is a technique I learned from my life coach, Laura Burkey. I’ve participated in her annual tradition of creating a Living Theme since 2004 and haven’t made a new year’s resolution since. It’s way more fun than making a list of shortcomings that need fixing and a whole lot more effective – and this past year was no exception.

the theme

My Living Theme for 2009 has been Relate Generously. For me, this had to do with everything from relating more generously to my spouse, family and friends; relating more generously to myself, my body and self-care; being more generous in my business with colleagues and clients; and having a more generous relationship with money.

I wanted a greater sense of security, abundance, intimacy and connection in all these areas of my life. And in the mysterious way things so often happen when you set a clear intention and write some stuff down – I gained an astonishing amount of what I asked for at the beginning of 2009.

the results

Looking back on my notes I am most struck by how much I wanted a closer circle of professional peers and a just-right group of clients and students. Which I have been blessed with by the bucket-full in wonderful ways I could not have imagined a year ago. I adore you all.

I am also struck by my wish for a greater sense of belonging and confidence, a greater willingness to take risks instead of delaying gratification or worrying about being good enough or what others thought. Wow did that come about in a big way, too.

And it came about when I figured out the how that supported my theme of Relate Generously.

the how

Perhaps you’re familiar with the idea that how we do one thing is how we do everything? Or, as Havi would put it, our patterns are all reflections of each other? If you can get at that core habit or behavior, you can shift a lot of stuff – which is one thing a Theme is really good for.

For much of the year, I’ve had the phrase “do the half-right thing” stuck on my computer where I can see it every day. It reminds me to do what I can when I can’t do what I want to do in the perfect way I want to do it. Wanting to do things in a precise way is a pattern that has often gotten in the way of me relating generously.

  • If I only have a portion of what I intended prepared for a post or email, I keep people waiting while I finish instead of sharing what I have now and providing the rest later.
  • If I don’t have time to take the long daily walk I committed to, I deny myself and my dog exercise by not taking a walk at all instead of taking a short one.
  • If I don’t feel like cleaning the house, I continue to live in dirt and clutter instead of choosing a few key chores that would make me feel better about my space.
  • If I don’t have something brilliant to say, I remain silent instead of showing up in small human ways and just being present for people.
  • and on and on and on…

This year, because I was more focused on and committed to generosity than perfection, I was able to make big shifts in this pattern. Is it gone? Hardly. But the conscious practice of consistently putting half of myself out there has made a big difference. I can see it in my relationships, my business – even my bank balance.

all because of seven words

Relate Generously (do the half-right thing).

This theme stuff works. It works so well and I love it so much, I asked Laura if she would pretty-please share this tradition with all of you. And – yay! – she said yes. You can learn more about her experience with annual Themes and register for an engaging tele-workshop with us at my website.

A theme is a simple, yet powerful alternative to resolutions – and a tool I encourage you to add to your own toolbox. I hope you will join us.

• • • • •

This event is the first in a new monthly series – Guest Guides – in which I’ll be introducing smart people who know cool stuff I want share with you. Announcements about future events to come.

• • • • •

Decluttering Your Calendar

Oftentimes, people bring the task of sorting stuff to Bite the Candy. It’s not surprising – sorting stuff is something we all procrastinate about doing from time to time. Even if we’re pretty vigilant about what we acquire and clean up our messes as we go, there are still piles that inevitably accumulate.

And what came up in last month’s session is just how stubborn and surprisingly emotional some of those piles can be to sort through.

One of the best insights I’ve ever come across about why we hang on to our stuff is that we associate particular objects with our identity.

For instance: in the process of cleaning out the garage, you might realize you should really let go of those water skis – you haven’t used them in years – but you can’t bring yourself to do it. You were really good at the sport and had a lot of fun doing it. It’s not just fond memories of people and places you loved, it’s the recollection of skill and pride that keeps you holding onto those skis. In letting them go, you fear not only losing those memories, but also any chance of water skiing or being a water skier again. So they stay.

In my own case, I have a devil of a time sorting through any kind of accumulation of art supplies or unfinished art projects. In part, it’s a habit acquired long ago as an art student. In that context, I never purged what might be useful. I couldn’t afford to. But beyond that, letting go of materials feels like letting go of who I am. To pass on that gouache is to relinquish all that I became when using it. Never mind that I never learned to like the stuff and haven’t used it in years (for all I know it’s dried in the tubes). Yet I can’t let go of it because then I wouldn’t be an artist.

Same with the student flute that’s been kicking around since high school. I never really enjoyed playing it in the first place, but to let it go would somehow mean never playing music on any instrument ever again.

It’s illogical, I know. But that’s how our minds work.

Here’s another. During a quick purge of my closet a couple weeks ago, I tossed a couple pairs of jeans in the outgoing pile of clothes – but with a twinge. I was getting rid of them because I never liked how they fit to begin with, but they are also a size too small. And whenever I give up clothes that are too small I feel like I am giving up on ever being a healthy weight again – that I will somehow no longer be a healthy person.

Again, it’s illogical. Those pants don’t have anything to do with what I eat or how much I move from this point forward. But my mind nevertheless associates the two.

It’s the same when our schedules become too crowded with stuff.

Activities pile up and when we go through them to sort out what we no longer need, we come up against things we’d like to give up doing or change in some way – but they are so strongly associated with how we’ve come to see ourselves, we can’t release or shift them. At least, not without some struggle and introspection.

The client work found when your business had a different focus than it does now.
But I’m still one heck of a _____.

Administrative tasks that would be better handled by someone else.
But organized people can do it all themselves.

The care-taking no longer needed by older children.
But a good mom is always there for her kids.

The spaces that have become too high-maintenance.
But responsible homeowners have nice lawns.

A family tradition that doesn’t feel appropriate anymore.
But if I don’t bake the cookies, no one else will.

The friendship that has drifted.
But you stick by people no matter what.

A spiritual practice that has lost meaning.
But a faithful person always attends services.

The TV habit that isn’t relaxing anymore.
But I’m tired!

The yoga class that hurts your knees.
But I’m not a quitter.

Change this stuff up and suddenly you’re no longer an expert, self-sufficient, a good parent or neighbor, loyal, a believer, helpless, or disciplined. So, much the same separation of the thing from one’s identity is required to let go of activities as the physical stuff. Reframing it might look like this:

Now I’m one heck of a _____ > and a ____.

Organized people > know they can’t do it all.

A good parent > will always be needed by her children, just in different ways.

Responsible homeowners > cultivate native, low-maintenance plants.

If I don’t bake the cookies > I can pass the torch and allow someone else to contribute.

You stick by > the truth no matter what.

A faithful person > seeks the light wherever it is.

I’m > committed to restorative forms of self-care.

I’m not > afraid to listen to my body.

Ceasing activities that no longer light you up or serve their intended purpose does not undo past accomplishments or prevent future ones. In fact, just as with removing clutter, clearing unwanted activities creates space for those desired experiences to come into your life.

So, the next time you find yourself doing something you don’t really want or need to do, ask yourself how you can let it go and still be the person you want to be.

• • • • •

If “Will I still be me if I stop doing X?” is the sort of experiment in rule-breaking that appeals to your inner-rebel, please join us for the fall session of The True Discipline of Time Management. Registration closes Tuesday, September 8.

What does productivity mean to you?

Productivity.

I don’t like the word. At least, I don’t like what it has come to mean. The expectations it creates. And how we’ve come to turn it on ourselves. Our little businesses. Our lives. As though we are factories.

You are not a factory!

Seriously. Even if you are in the business of making goods for sale, you are not a factory.

And evaluating your day according to the ratio of the input of your labor to what you output – well, that’s just asking for frustration and disappointment.

Quantity or quality?

Is it merely quantity of output that’s necessary? Because feeling productive would be easy if it was. All of us are capable of busy work. But the problem with busy work is we end up with a lot to show at the end day, but not a lot to show for it. Which is usually pretty unsatisfying.

Even if we were productive, we don’t feel productive. So we push ourselves to do more. But like eating empty calories, we are never satisfied – so quality of output also would seem to count for something.

But what if generating quality requires a sort of productivity you can’t easily see or measure?

What if your best creativity comes from… walking the dog, tweeting, vacuuming, doing a bit of yoga, taking a class, reading other people’s blogs and newsletters, doodling, digging in the garden, hanging out with friends, napping… and the bazillion other things that allow your brain to rest and process and learn and spark?

From that point of view it can seem to take much, much too long to create what you’ve output. Except maybe not. Because a tired and uninspired brain is going to struggle. It’s going to take longer to create mediocre work. And it’s going to be so much less fun.

There is a certain efficiency to be found in being deliberately “unproductive.” And most of us know this on some level. We know the easiest way to be most productive in ways we feel good about is not to try to be productive all the time.

Yet this still can leave us feeling unsatisfied. Like we still haven’t gotten it right. Like we still don’t measure up. Because we are still evaluating our output by some vague yardstick of “productivity.”

If you want to feel productive, you need to decide what that is for you.

You need to answer the question of: how much of what?

What kind of qualities are you in the business of producing?
And what would be enough to satisfy you?

What exactly are you measuring your productivity by?

The length of your to-do list?
The state of your inbox?
Your web stats?
Your bank balance?

-or-

Your energy?
Pleasure in your work (and life)?
The number of useful ideas you share?
The connections you make?
How much you help others?

If you ended your day still feeling joyful and energized, would you feel productive?
If you inspired one person with one idea this week, would you feel productive?

I’m all for efficiency, but only in the service of creating what matters in the ways you want to create it. So before you push yourself to do more this week – to be more productive – first ask yourself what you really want to produce.

• • • • •

If you’d like to develop new yardstick of success – you can learn how to manage your time or refine your systems in ways that serve you – and don’t leave you feeling like you’ve come up short. Register now – special early bird prices end soon.

• • • • •

Choose systems that move you.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: structure can be liberating if you let it.

It can be as freeing as the TARDIS, bigger on the inside that it appears on the outside and capable of taking you anywhere you want to go.

It can be as beautiful and complex as a tree, built from the repetition of small and simple – yet equally lovely – shapes and actions.

The structures we choose for ourselves also determine the pace and focus of our days – how we experience flow.

It was Jennifer Louden who sparked my thinking about this with a comment she made on her blog way back in March in one of her Wednesday Wiry Fankles.

“I’m thinking of systems as banks on a river. You need banks or you just have a big flood that trickles into nothing.”

But many of my students are attracted to metaphors for time that involve water, so this keeps coming up – and I’ve kept thinking about it.

When it comes to flowing water, if the riverbed is shallow, the water will cover a wide area and the current will have a meandering pace.

If the river banks are high, the water will run narrow, deep and fast.

How you structure your time and activities will determine the speed at which you move.

Many of us resist using systems and structures, fearing they will be constricting.

Yet just as many of us are frustrated by our own meandering.

Boundaries and guidelines – our chosen river banks – are what shape what is otherwise a twisted, wandering trickle into a current that can carry us places.

Not that I’m against slow meandering. If you’ve ever gone whitewater rafting, you know it’s nice to have some spaces in between the rapids to catch your breath.

But without the rapids, it wouldn’t be much fun.

A little constriction allows (and requires) us to focus. And focus creates flow. A flow allows us to get stuff done. You know, the good stuff.

  • Having a set time in which to accomplish something is part of what helps people to finish tasks during Bite the Candy sessions.
  • When I offer a class, following a check list of necessary steps – from the first announcement to the final lesson – helps me deliver a great course and concentrate on my students, instead of getting sidetracked with its administration.
  • Creating guidelines for your day (I won’t call it a schedule) – helps you move easily through transitions and not waste energy on moment-to-moment decision-making.

But there is a point at which constriction no longer creates the sort of flow that is useful or enjoyable.

When we hold ourselves to doing too much. When we impose limits that stifle our creativity and harm our well-being.

When our chosen river banks are so high that we find ourselves in a dark canyon shooting down class 6 rapids.

In a word: scary. And dangerous. These are the structures worth fearing.

Choose your river wisely.

Make sure it has wide, relaxed places where you can enjoy the warmth of the sun and dangle your feet in the cool water as you float lazily through a beautiful landscape.

And make sure it also has narrower, tumbling-over-rocks places where you can feel the spray on your skin and laugh and shout with the quickening of your heartbeat as you confidently navigate the rushing water.

If you choose wisely, structures are that much fun.

• • • • •

If you’d like some help choosing your river, you can learn more about how to structure your time -or- establish your systems. Fall courses begin September 14.

• • • • •

On Pushing, Pulling and Two Kinds of Control

There is a “push hard” school of getting things done. It’s the place where you play a bigger game and take yourself to the next level and commit to excellence and all that.

Makes me tired just to write that.

It’s not entirely mistaken. It does help to maintain a certain degree of motivation and self-discipline. But… sigh. I think we can get things done without the hard – or the pushing for that matter.

When I was in college, I participated in a student organization that held an annual festival. Planning that event was a ton of work. All the decision-making, coordination and attention to detail required real tenacity over many weeks and months.

I remember observing, “Most people don’t realize what it takes to make something happen.

“This is what it takes to make something happen.”

I think advocates of the “push hard” school of getting things done are just trying to help people understand what it takes to make something happen. They are trying to communicate the necessity of that tenacity, of consistent persistence.

But once you grasp that, once you understand what is required, I’m not persuaded that pushing is the thing to emphasize.

At least not when you are applying consistent persistence to work that you love. When you are doing your thing – you know, your thing – doing what’s necessary for its success seems, well, obvious. I mean, isn’t that what you are already doing?

And I think this is why so many solopreneurs work so darn much. We know what it takes and we care about our work an awful lot, so we keep at it. And at it. And at it.

But it’s not pushing. It’s being pulled.

It’s being compelled to do the work by our passion for it.

When my husband, dog and I visit the nearby river beach, if it’s a windy day, we often see kite-boarders there doing their beautiful crazy thing with the wind on the water. It obviously takes a lot of strength and skill. Because without them, it’s pretty clear you could lose control and wipe out big time.

Being pulled forward by your business is equally thrilling, but it takes similar strength and skill. Without them, it’s easy to wipe out as spectacularly as those kite-boarders can. You need control, but a very different kind of control than what is promoted by the push hard advocates.

What strengths and skills do you need to develop to be pulled forward by your business without losing control, so you can enjoy the ride without wiping out?

A couple things come to mind from watching those kite-boarders: don’t sail alone and take breaks. Both of which you can do in the upcoming special Bite the Candy series: Never on a Sunday – in which we take back the weekend and learn to finish what we need to finish so we can get a day (or two) of rest. Early bird ends Friday, July 24.

It’s faster to slow down.

I hate telling students and clients they’ve probably taken on too much at once, that they are being overly ambitious. Hate it. Who wants to ask people to give up their ambitions?

Which is not what I’m really asking them to do. It just feels like it. What I’m really asking is that they spread what they want to do over a longer time frame, do fewer things at once, stop cramming their schedules as though they were super human.

I also don’t like asking this of myself. But I dislike it a lot less than I used to. Because I’m learning what happens every single time I try to avoid it.

You know how when you are feeling just a little bit lazy (and, let’s face it, a little bit overconfident) and rather than making multiple trips, you try to carry all the grocery bags from the car to the house? A teetering stack of dishes from table to the kitchen? An armful of boxes so tall you can’t see over them?

It seems easier, more efficient. One trip instead of several. But how often does it end well? Broken eggs. Broken china. Broken, well, whatever was in those boxes.

Now you have a mess to clean up and a loss to absorb.

Not feeling so clever now, are you?

An overfull schedule or too-long to-do list is much the same thing – and the impulse to take on so much at once comes from much the same place. A little bit lazy, a little bit overconfident, and – dare I say it? – a little bit greedy. Or maybe just impatient. And fearful.

LAZY: because we can’t be bothered to choose what to do in what order, or figure out how to pace ourselves in ways appropriate to our abilities and the task at hand.

OVERCONFIDENT: because somehow this time we will have the focus and stamina the to pull it off (even though we’ve done nothing in particular to build those skills).

GREEDY/IMPATIENT: because we want it all right now. It’s not just that we can’t be bothered to choose, we don’t really want to.

and AFRAID: because sometimes we get the notion into our heads that one trip is all we get. As though hyenas are chasing us from from the car to the door, snapping at our groceries.

Thing is, you can’t outrun hyenas loaded down like that.

So it’s better to make more than one trip.

Every time I try to move forward with more than I can comfortably carry in my business, I end up dropping something. Might be a project, a relationship, or my health. Something will break. When I can least afford it, I end up with a mess to clean up and something that needs repairing or replacing. Which makes it harder to fend off the hyenas (real and imaginary). Plus there’s recovering from the startling surprise of it all. Even though I know better, I never seem to anticipate what it is that will get dropped.

It’s frustrating and exhausting. It feeds feelings of guilt and doubt in my abilities. And in hindsight, it always seems such a foolish waste. Just like looking down at a busted sack of groceries.

We can choose to slow down, or we can be slowed down.

Either way, the work is going to get done within our capacity. There’s no getting around it. So we might as well choose how we want that to happen. In the end, it’s the faster, more efficient, productive, profitable – and more enjoyable – way to work.

• • • • •

If this newsletter sounds a lot like the last one, it’s because the work of choosing is at the heart of a business and a life you enjoy. It keeps coming up for me and my clients and students, so I keep talking about it. Streamlining and efficiency come after making choices. They improve those choices. But there is no magic system that will somehow make you a rock star of productivity and Doing It All effortless.

But if you’ve made some of those hard choices and are ready for the streamlining and efficiency – my upcoming Organic Business Manual course might be for you. It’s all about smoothing your work with systems. Not magic systems. Down-to-earth, just-right-for-you systems that make what you have chosen to do a whole lot better. Registration closes this Wednesday, May 27.


Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]

Categories

Archives

© 2008 Cairene MacDonald, Third Hand Works. All Rights Reserved.