The Importance of Doing Nothing

We pretty much live in a go-go-go, do-do-do society.  If we are not being productive, somehow we are letting ourselves and the world down.  This credo is true in both our personal lives and our professional lives.  So, we cram our to-do lists with more than can be accomplished and then get frustrated or feel bad because we are not doing enough.

The trouble is, we don’t live in a two dimensional world – it’s a 3 dimensional world (at the very least) and it’s driven by quantum physics.   We live in fractal-like loops – looping paths with a forward momentum that both revisit and retrace some previous path while also creating a new one while in general expanding.

My argument is that to do anything we must have times of not doing – a cyclical process of thinking, doing, thinking, doing and so on.

Without the periods of rest, the doing suffers – we do tasks badly because we are tired, we do projects in the wrong way because we didn’t plan or we, perhaps worst of all, complete activities that shouldn’t be done or don’t really need doing at all.

The time management process should be more like a teeter-totter – a process of going back and forth between doing and not-doing.  The doing time is about accomplishment, growth and progress.  The non-doing time is about thought, reflection and appreciation.

Both sides are needed to live your best life.  That is key – both have a purpose.  It’s not a situation of doing being ‘good’ while not-doing is ‘bad’, but rather an interdependence.  It’s a reality that you must spend time on both for either one to exist.  If we fail to appreciate the value of not-doing, we just burn out on the doing side.

We have this strange disconnect between thinking we need to constantly do and what we really do – which is to drop out – or down in front of the TV or Internet and feel guilty about what we are not doing.  We crash and burn and more importantly, we don’t think, reflect and appreciate enough.

Instead, realize and plan for the not-doing time.  Reflect on what you’ve done, think about what to do next and how to do it and appreciate each accomplishment.  You will, in the end, do more – better quality, higher value, better-return-on-time-invested activities.

Sometimes, it is important to do nothing and just be thought full.

 

Time Is On Your Side

Time is on your side if you let it be.  I probably answer more questions about time and time management than any other area of productivity and organization and, of course, the complaints can all be generally classified as too much work and not enough time.

I think one of the most important and easiest ways to look at the balance between time and work is to look at the language you use.  Take your list of to-do items and read each one twice, first by by adding “I should” to the front and then by adding “I need” to the front.

For each to-do item, which statement is your gut telling you is more true, should or need?  The difference between need and should is your ability to see a consequence you need to avoid versus one that either has no negative consequence or at least not one you can see.

In my book, should is a red flag.  It indicates a lack of commitment, motivation or value.  Set aside all the should items and focus on the need items.  I’d be willing to bet your to-do list just shrank considerably!

Most of us pretty consistently over estimate how many tasks and projects we can do in a day and under estimate how much time each will take.  Depending on your job, 2 or 3 solid projects is a reasonable list of to-do’s for any given day.  If you are a manager whose primary function is to be responsive to the needs of the people you supervise, completing just 1 major task a day may be a solid victory.

Time drags when your activities have no discernible value and it flows beautifully when you are fully engaged in meaningful work even if the meaning is that you now need to file because you’ve reached critical mess and the lack of filing is now creating more probelms than ignoring the filing.

Time can be on your side when you treat it with respect – be reasonable about how much you can get done, make the work valuable and stop worrying about completing every little thingyou think you should do and focus on the tasks that need doing.

What Are You Procrastinating About???

 How you spend your time is how you spend your life.  Procrastination is another way of saying what I am doing is more important than what I am not doing. 

If you frame it in that language on each action you are procrastinating about, you should see clearly that, either you are right or wrong. 

If you are right and what you are doing instead IS more important – stop beating yourself up.  You’re prioritizing not procrastinating.

If you are wrong and what you are doing is less important, you need to identify why you are ignoring an important action in favor of doodling away time on an activity that has less value. 

  • Are you missing tools or learning? – find them
  • It’s too big to tackle? – step one is to break it down into smaller pieces
  • If it is something you don’t like to do but you have to do? – do it first and get it out of the way.  You might try listing on side of a piece of paper all the reasons why you are procrastinating and on the other side all the benefits you will gain if you got it done – that can motivate.
  • procrasting on this task has become a habit? – create a new one by starting small – do one thing right now and then start each day doing one thing you have been procrastinating about.
  • you are trying to swim against the tide – trying to do it in a way you have learned rather than one that fits your personal style? – there is more than one way to skin a cat – look at the outcome or objective first then ask yourself how you can get there in your own way
  • if it needs to be done ask if it has to be done by you? – if not, delegate it by swapping your time for a payment to someone else or maybe a barter with someone who has something they need to do but hate doing that just happens to be something you love to do

The only difference between procrastination and prioritization is the guilt we feel when we procrastinate.  It comes down to the value of your time and how you want to spend your life.

 How you spend your time is how you spend your life.  Procrastination is another way of saying what I am doing is more important than what I am not doing. 

If you frame it in that language on each action you are procrastinating about, you should see clearly that, either you are right or wrong. 

If you are right and what you are doing instead IS more important – stop beating yourself up.  You’re prioritizing not procrastinating.

If you are wrong and what you are doing is less important, you need to identify why you are ignoring an important action in favor of doodling away time on an activity that has less value. 

  • Are you missing tools or learning? – find them
  • It’s too big to tackle? – step one is to break it down into smaller pieces
  • If it is something you don’t like to do but you have to do? – do it first and get it out of the way.  You might try listing on side of a piece of paper all the reasons why you are procrastinating and on the other side all the benefits you will gain if you got it done – that can motivate.
  • procrasting on this task has become a habit? – create a new one by starting small – do one thing right now and then start each day doing one thing you have been procrastinating about.
  • you are trying to swim against the tide – trying to do it in a way you have learned rather than one that fits your personal style? – there is more than one way to skin a cat – look at the outcome or objective first then ask yourself how you can get there in your own way
  • if it needs to be done ask if it has to be done by you? – if not, delegate it by swapping your time for a payment to someone else or maybe a barter with someone who has something they need to do but hate doing that just happens to be something you love to do

The only difference between procrastination and prioritization is the guilt we feel when we procrastinate.  It comes down to the value of your time and how you want to spend your life.

Make the Most of Time at Conferences

Attending industry or corporate conferences is a great way to get some great classes that are more focused on what you do.  I rarely miss my professional organizers conference.  Humans are herd animals and NAPO is one of mine.  I thoroughly enjoy mingling with my herd once a year.

A couple of tips –

Budget and save for attending at least one major conference a year.  It takes you outside your comfort zone, let’s you connect with peers who share your business experience and provides motivation, ideas and energy to move your business forward.

Have 2 -3 objectives – other than the classes you are attending – that you want to achieve while at conference. These might be ideas or information to gather, people you want to meet, or discussions you want to have with your colleagues. 

Arrive well rested.  It’s likely to be high energy the whole time and you want to absorb it all.  You will hit overwhelm regardless but, you don’t want to be in that state at the first session because you arrived tired and stressed.

Ask peers what classes they found most helpful when they started out.  Are there speakers they recommend or ones they would not recommend? 

There is apt to be a lot of networking as well as the classes.  Preopre a list of questions you want to ask more experienced members in advance.

Who are the people in the organization you like/admire/appreciate?  You might e-mail them in advance and arrange time with them over coffee or at one of the meals.  Once everyone is on-site these kinds of arrangements are hard to make.  Again, you might ask the successful peers who they would recommend you meet – they might even be able to provide an introduction.

Conferences should be a positive experience.  The trick is to pay attention to how quick all the energy and learning dissipates!  Take really good notes.  If you have a smart phone – get a recording app so you can record the sessions if possible.  It sounds a little crazy but arrange for people to e-mail info to you after the event is over – seeing them in your inbox stimulates memory and can slow the inevitable dissipation.  Plan to communicate with people you felt a strong connection to – that helps also.

I keep of list of to-do’s for when I return that is separate from the other notes. I jot down ideas, suggestions, people to thank etc. all through the conference and then tackle that list when I get back to my office.

Make the most of your investment in attending conferences – it can pay dividends the rest of year.

Impossible Things

"Think 6 Impossible Things Before Breakfast"

You know how sometimes you hear some little thing and it sticks – it resonnates in some way that captures your attention.  Recently, my honey Ron and I got around to enjoying Johnny Depp in Alice In Wonderland. What ”stuck’ for me was a line near both the beginning and end – “think 6 impossible things before breakfast”.

It happens, because I believe in life-long learning – that after more than 20 years in business, I am in Business Boot Camp with Patty Keating. It was challenging me to project forward – something that pretty much defeats me.  I am much better at scanning for opportunities and following them – that’s a different post.  Anyway, since I had just seen the movie and the phrase “think 6 impossible things before breakfast” was stuck I decided to try an experiment.  Would writing six impossible things every day unblock my thinking and allow me to project forward in time?

It did actually, but something more amazing and wonderful happened.  Every impossible thing I wrote down not only expanded my thinking but it triggered my thinking.  My mind began shifting perspective, turning the impossibles upside down, bringing into consciousness clarity about my wants and feelings in ways that began to show why what I wrote was possilbe rather than impossible!

One of the first things I wrote was ” I own a beach house in Yachats” – my favorite spot on the Oregon Coast – impossible for several reasons but finances being the biggest.  As soon as I wrote it, I found myself thinking – why do I want to own another house?  Am I not in the process of simplifying my life?  What I really want is to spend more time in Yachats so why not find a rental or time share and plan several trips.  Not nearly the expense and work of owning a vacation property.  Yachats was totally possible when I looked at it from the right perspective and clarified what I really wanted.  Wonderful!

Not every impossible thing I wrote found an immediate path to possible, by every single one started a rich thinking process and many of them have become possible in a short period of time.  It also generally expanded my ability to think bigger in a powerful and exciting way, which was the point of the dialogue in the movie.  You have to think impossible things,  in order to achieve impossible things.  Powerful!  What do you think?  Are you willing to try the same experiment?  Write down 6 impossible things and see what happens.

The Gap Between Promotion and Reality

Maybe it is just me.  Maybe it is just a fluke for today.  Maybe I’m just so different from the average small B2B business that information doesn’t apply to me. 

I am getting major reinforcement that what ‘experts’ are telling us to do is more wishful thinking and promotional that solid advice.  What I think of as the marketing message to reality-of-use gap.  I see it all the time.  Shop here today – but the store doesn’t open for six months.  Call from anywhere at anytime – but there is no signal here or here.  You know what I mean.  The marketing to the projected future ideal when the present is somewhat more problematic.

I am working with Charles Montgomery at NWeSource to spiff up this blog and make it the main website for my business and nicely SEO’d.  To make good decisions on my side of the project, I have been doing some research. 

While reading an article on how to use review and answer websites to both build credibility and drive traffic I was referred to Bizmore.com as a Q & A site for small to medium size businesses – right in my target market. A visit however, shows that the last question was posted 8 months ago.  I had a similar experience with the referred to yahooanswers.com.  When I look for small business questions, the posting are a year old or more.  The article I am reading is current but the references and link backs are way outdated.  Makes me wonder if the author actually looked or if he was just looking for links to improve his SEO.

I’m searching for keywords and phrases for the SEO on my sight and got all excited when I found a website devoted to Solo-preneurs – the thousands of us running one-person companies.  “Join our community”, “hook up with others and create a virtual community of support”.  It sounded so terrific until I started looking further and found that there are barely a handful of members – 5 to be exact – listed in the directory.  Great looking site but the message and marketing don’t live up to the reality.  It has more flash than substance.

I don’t mean to imply that this is always the case.  It is absolutely not.  I have learned a great deal from a number of experts who ‘walk their talk’ – where the marketing is perfectly aligned with the reality of the experience.  Those are the experts worth listening to, worth my time and worthy of my trust.  I want to be just like them.  If there is some flash it is  totally outweighed by the substance.  How about you?

I’m getting off my soapbox now.  Thanks for listening.

When You HAVE To See Your Stuff

For some, seeing is doing

A lot of people still subscribe to the idea that being organized means ‘pulling a Felix Unger’.  The popular Odd Couple character was the fussy one that had to have everything clean, put away and in order.  Felix was not organized – he was a neatnik.

Being organized is not about the ‘stuff’ – it about how you think, relate and exchange energy with the ‘stuff.’  It’s about the flow of energy and the movement to – through – and out of your life.

For some people, that does mean having a clean clear work space with just one project at time out and visible.  But for others, it does mean being able to see their ‘stuff’.  Both can be organized but it is done differently.

If you someone who HAS to see their stuff, you need to be careful about is just how much you keep visible.  Just about everyone I know is trying to do too much – they have too many to-do items.  It leads to overwhelm – whether it takes shape as a daunting list or tipsy pile.

If you are someone who just ‘has’ to see your ‘stuff’ you still need to be selective. Organize to your natural working style.   Use tables instead of desks.  Use shelves, bins and clear containers rather than drawers and cupboards.

You need still need to separate by priority and deadlines – you just use different containers.

You are still limited by time so don’t just add to a pile – decide how much time and when you will do it.  Let your containers and piles represent something other that just a pile.

So what’s your style?

1 Way to Simplify

I was visiting a companion I Take the Lead group earlier this week.  Also in attendance was Dr. Sean Harry who taught the class where I learned how to blog – I highly recommend it. During conversation he joked that I should blog about 76 Ways to Simplify Your Life.   Silly of course, but it did give me the idea to write the simplest of all how-to-lists.  So, here is one way to simplify your personal and work life.

 Whenever you are faced with a task or project, ask yourself how you would do it if it had to be done in an hour.  Parkinsons’ Law states that things expand to fill the space available and the same is true of our planning and ideas.  By first drastically reducing the time, you will focus in on the critical actions and short cuts.  As long as the objectives are met, the short cut is as good as the long road but uses a lot less time and fewer resources which equals simpler.  Just like this post! :>)

Clearing Your Schedule

A double mastectomy was enough to let one woman clear her schedule.  What about you? 

I was reading an article in the March issue of  Fortune about Esther Dyson and her position as stand-by cosmonaut.  After first turning down the option to be a backup crew member on a Space Adventure flight because she was busy elsewhere, Esther had a epiphany.  Shortly after turning down the opportunity and faced with double booking her time, she found herself thinking if only she had just had a double mastectomy, like her sister just had, she could clear her schedule.

Cue the cymbol clash and lightening bolt!  Esther realized “Wow! There is something wrong with your life if you need a double mastectomy to clear your schedule.  You need a better excuse.”  For her it was changing her mind and saying ‘yes’ to her life long dream of space flight.   She cleared months of time to attend space training camp in a snap.

You can start with all the buts – but she has money to burn and I need an income – but I have a family – but… you get the idea.  When I read her words, I knew a blog post was in front of me.   What was resontating was the idea that we are pushed to plan and fill our time and to view it as set in stone.  Busy-ness and a full calendar have become equated with success and fulfillment.  Even when an unexpected emergency causes us to abandon our plans, we try to pick it all back up and squeeze it in somehow.

We need to take a more flexible, less stuffed view of our time.  Following Pareto’s Principle – the 80/20 rule – probably 80% of what you planned for today has no real lasting impact on your life or your business.  It’s minutia that, left undone, has no impact but it fills our time and wears us down.

Look at that pile of projects sitting on the corner of your desk.  Other than taking up space, creating a lot of guilt and negative pressure has there been any lasting impact in leaving it undone?

Interesting question!  Life changing question.  Again using Pareto, maybe only 20% of that pile is highly impactful  or maybe 20% has no lasting impact.  You need to decide.  But more importantly, what is important enough for you to clear your calendar?  What would you jettison today if you knew you were going into the hospital for surgery tomorrow followed by 3 weeks of recovery?  What about jettisoning the same items to attend a game your kid really wants you to see, or lunch with a friend or just for time to sit quietly and think?  What about something that moves you closer to a long-held dream like Esther?

What is worth clearing a space for in your calendar?

Incremental Innovation vs Radical Change

I toured President Garfield’s home yesterday while in OH and I had that ‘everything-new-is-old-again feeling’.  

While touring the library Garfield’s wife Crete (short for Lucretia) set up in their home as a memorial to the assassinated President, our tour guide, Charles, pointed out a desk given to Garfield as a sample. 

The craftsman, named Woodson if I heard our guide correctly, had created a marvelous desk – top of the line in storage options with two swing out arms full of cubbies – top to bottom – for easy sorting and accessing all kinds of papers.  He was trying to crack into the business market with his innovative desk design and he hoped Mr. Garfield, with all his prominence, would influence industrialists to use this kind of desk in their corporate operations. Celebrity endorsement anyone???

But, it never caught on.  Why?  Probably a lot of different reasons – we live in a black-white-and-shades-of-gray, multi dimentsional world.  But, one of the main reasons was because at the same time, another innovation was making its way into the business market.  It was called a file cabinet.  It was a pretty radical idea at the time.  Who says you have to keep all your papers folded and stuffed in cubbies in your desk anyway?  Woodson’s desk was an incremental innovation on desks and how they stored paper.  The filing cabinet was a radical change in where and how papers were stored.  Woodson had bad timing with a good idea.

Sometimes, increment innovation works – small improvements on an existing product are nothing new and they are an effective way to build brand loyalty and keep your customers interested.  At other times a leap in technology or radical change is either needed or worse for you, taking place somewhere outside your business.  E-mail and texting is having a significant impact on our postal system, digital readers and the internet are shaking up the print world.

Are you paying attention to the innovation and change as it is happening all around you or are you focused in only on what you are doing?  We are living in a world that is changing both incrementally and exponentially faster than ever before.  If you want your business to stay relevant, it is not enough to just have incremental innovation anymore (it was fine in the 80’s and 90’s) you have to create and watch out for massive shifts in what people are doing, how they are doing it and you need to keep an eye out for changes happening outside your immediate sphere that can have a market shifting impact on your business.