There is an idea that “time flies when you are having fun”.
* (see below post for disclaimer)
But time flies for other reasons too: When you are stressed or under time-pressure, when you are doing addictive chores, when you are asleep…
So don’t think that just because time flies, you are having fun.
I have spent a lot of time flying through time not having enough fun, so my first New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to regularly re-do an exercise proposed by Marcus Buckingham in his book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work”. It’s simple and you can do it too…
Step 1: Note what gives you energy
As you go through your working day, any time you are having fun or feeling energetic, make a note of what you are doing. Use seperate post-it notes of bits of paper for each idea – this will help when you get to step 3 later.
I have already noted the following in the last few days:
- Chasing new ideas, researching things that get my attention
- Blogging and writing ideas in order to try and communicate them well to other people
- Hospitality and welcoming people
..and the last time I did this exercise, I had also noted:
- Developing a presentation for a large audience
- Speaking to a group of people about a topic on which I am an expert
- Editing an article to ensure the minimum effective dose of content
- Consulting with new potential clients, by phone or face-to-face, asking questions in order to understand their situation, values and needs
Step 2: Note what drains your energy or makes you unhappy
As with step 1, any time you feel drained or unhappy in what you are doing, note it down. Again, use separate notes.
My own ideas:
- Working with particular people … I noted their names, but won’t share here 🙂
- Raising invoices
- Writing administrative emails to tick-off silly little tasks in preparation for a training or conference
- Booking hotels, flights and travel
Step 3: Categorise wherever possible in order to see the thin-red-line
If I remember well, Buckingham proposes to do the exercises (steps 1+2) for about a week. At the end of the week, see if you can find common points between the different notes. Spread them all out on a table and re-arrange them in order to see how they fit together.
This should give you an idea of what really turns you on … and off.
Step 4: The hardest part = Create strategies to maximise the energisers and minimise the drainers
Although I won’t get into this here and now, if you have an idea of when turns you on and what turns you off AND if you are truly willing to invest in your own happiness (so that time flies) then you must work on this step.
Bear in mind that there is always a way to improve your working experience, even if you don’t work for yourself. If you are not sure how to actually make it happen, consider the following ideas to get you started:
- Share your ideas with your manager. If this person is worth their job, they should be interested in your working happiness.
- Do a SWOT analysis, using “be happy” as your mission in order to create strategic action.
- Read “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss or “Getting Things Done” by David Allen
- Kill your sacred cows (as Tim Ferriss would say)
- Look for a new job!
I know very well that this last step may seem a bit dreamy and some people will read and think “It’s not that easy” but that doesn’t mean the exercise is worthless in itself. Think about what gives you strength, what drains your energy and then make the choice to have a Happy New Year!
Thanks for reading,
* The idea that “time flies when you having fun” is almost true, but in fact there is a mistake in this phrase which is both philosophically interesting and also, I believe, quite dangerous for the fast-moving, entrepreneurial, recognition-seeking type of folk (like me) that are rather desperately on the road to dissatisfaction and burn-out.
In fact, time doesn’t fly when you are having fun. It stops. It disappears. This is important because our obsession with time as an entity or currency leads to lots of attempts to save it, redistribute it or make it move faster or slower than it actually does.
But even my previous paragraph is faulty, because there is no such thing as time. At least not as it is intended in the phrase “time flies when you are having fun”. In that phrase, the time referred to is “clock time” and in reality, we just stop thinking about “clock time” when we are really having fun. We live in the moment, without regard for what will come later or what came earlier. That is indeed why it is fun. Because we are truly alive in the “now” instead of “thinking” and getting caught up in other ego-led desires. And when we do start thinking about it (“clock time”) again, we see that it has flown by. We are much “later” than we thought.
If this little philosophical suffix interests you even in the slightest, read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.
Look at this picture. What’s wrong with it?
Looks tidy, right? Nice Paul McCartney poster? Nobody died..
This is the small room at the bottom of the stairs in my house. Opposite the sofa you can find my guitars. Sometimes I sit and play there. The door goes through to the entrance of the house and my wife’s office.
But what is that pile of DVDs doing there? We don’t have a television in that room and “all my other DVDs” are nicely organised in their own little space.
THAT pile of DVDs is what is wrong with my life and what is wrong with the lives of many other people. THAT pile of DVDs is unfinished, indecision and procrastination. It is the annoying remains of a DVD-classifying and tidying job. No-one knows where to put them and no-one has made a decision. Every time someone sees them, small silent curses are made about what the hell they are doing there, followed (in my case) by mini-anxiety about having to deal with them, but not being sure what to do and where to put them.
In life, many people have their own “pile of DVDs”: The thing at the bottom of the to-do list that isn’t getting done, the dripping tap in the bathroom or the CV that still hasn’t been posted for that job opportunity.
These things remain unfinished and undecided as we procrastinate our way around them. It seems easier to ignore them than to take action. But they niggle away at our souls because they are not in their right place. When I wake up and come down the stairs, the first thing I see is those damn DVDs. And when I go to bed, they are the last thing that crosses my path before sleep.
In some cases, the consequences of inaction are quite small: The untuned piano and out of place DVDs will not change much. I don’t lose any sleep and nothing bad will come of it.
But in others cases, the consequences of inaction can be far worse: That niggling image of more important unfinished business eats away at you, causing insomnia and anxiety. What will I do about the wall that looks like it might fall down? How will I pay my credit-card bill? When will I finally get started on living my dreams?
In all cases, until there is a boldness, decision and action, nothing will change. The boldness is about daring to move forward with things. The decision is about what matters most, your priorities, the things you want out of life and how you want to feel about yourself. And action is about taking small steps towards satisfaction, one-at-a-time.
Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to force you into action: The wall falls down, the bank freezes your credit-card or burnout leaves you depressed and out of work.
In many cases, one of the following ideas might help:
- Seth Godin says in “LinchPin” that our lack of boldness is an evolutionary leftover designed to keep us “safe”: When we are frozen in inaction, it is because our reptile brain is scared of what will happen if we actually take the action we are considering. It is easier to stay in the status-quo than try something new.
- Tony Robbins’ TED talk on “Why we do what we do” suggests asking 3 questions about “focus” in order to actually make a decision: Ask yourself what this thing means to you, what you are focussing on and what you are going to do about it.
- In his book “Getting Things Done”, David Allen proposes asking 2 questions to figure out what the next action should be.
Regarding my DVDs, it was Tony Robbins’ idea that got me started: I have been focussing on almost everything else in my life but those DVDs and what that means to me is the same as what my ever-fattening belly means: I am letting some other things go to shit. Action? [Pause from writing]
…OK… 30 minutes later they are gone. Some have been put in the children’s rooms.. Disney and The Gruffalo. The music ones have been put with my CDs. And the rest are in the big cupboard with things to sell on eBay. (That last idea is my answer to David Allen’s question: “What is the next concrete action I will take?”)
Whilst tidying, I contemplate the importance of Seth Godin’s idea and realise that it often seems easier to do nothing, plod along and get the same results. Going for gold is scary. What will it look like? How will it work? What if I fail?
But if you want to tidy those DVDs, fix the scary threatening wall or find the job of your dreams, you need a little boldness, decision and action to get you on track.
I’ve finished reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and I have to say it was great. I wanted to share the concept that really hit home the most..
As a perfection-lover, control-freak and high-achiever (in my mind, at least) I really like to get things RIGHT. So much, that these “things” spin around in my head a lot. Sometimes they even keep me up at night. But not any more, it seems…
Is this because I’ve got no problems anymore? Or am I now perfect?
No – I just followed David Allen’s advice: 2 simple questions…
But first, why do things spin around in my head?
According to Allen, the human brain has a kind of RAM (short-term memory ability) like a computer. The RAM holds whatever is needed in real-time in order to quickly access it for usage. It doesn’t have a concept of “un-real time” and only knows the here-and-now. And it is limited. So it gets full if you don’t treat it right. The aim, according to Allen, is to empty the RAM and this is only done by “closing open loop”.
How do you close open loops?
Its easy: Tell the RAM that its done. To achieve this, you need to get it satisfactorily out of your head and somewhere else.
My chosen somewhere else is my calendar/task-bar…
…but the key is that word “satisfactorily”. To achieve THAT, you have to be CONCRETE and GOAL-ORIENTED.
What do you mean concrete and goal-oriented?
For anything that comes your way, you won’t stop thinking about it until you are satisfied with the action-based-answer you have found. It doesn’t matter what the answer is, but it need to be clear, action-oriented and the first step to getting things done the way you want them done.
Everything else can wait, but not the first step…
Ask 2 questions to empty your RAM
I have been asking these 2 questions for about 2 weeks now and I can say that I really feel different. Check it out…
For anything that comes into your inbox (RAM…mind) ask:
- What would be a satisfactory outcome for me? (Not perfect, just “OK for me”)
- What is the next concrete action I need to take? (Not everything, just “next”)
That’s it! Whatever the answer is, write it down or put it in your calendar or on a list to do or give it someone else …. and then forget about it.
(Read the book for more details on strategies for the last part)
Thanks Mr Allen 🙂
Thanks for reading!
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This blog post has been written as support for homework for participants from my training on “Creating Influence”.
…but the exercise described below is an excellent approach to defining strategic action for any mission you may undertake.
First, let’s describe “strategic action”
How is strategic action different to normal action? It considers one’s current position in close relationship to the mission. In this way, strategic action is focussed on high level priority-driven steps that are more likely to get us to where we want to be.
Example: Suppose I want to complete an IronMan race. I might be inclined to imagine that swim-training is the best action to undertake. But if I first do a good strategic positioning exercise, I might realise that my priority is in fact to first develop my business offer in order to earn more more so that I can liberate more time for training. If I don’t do this, I will have to a) squeeze in training in an already busy schedule and b) end up paying divorce costs due to marital negligence 🙂
Ready to think strategic??
STEP 1: Start by defining your mission
There is no sense in doing a positioning exercise if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve.
Example: If I ask you if I am strong, depending on what objective you imagine me working on, you may come up with completely different answers…
When defining your mission, be sure to use quality goals. Read my other blog post on PERSONAL goal-setting for some starter ideas..
STEP 2: …then assess your current position
One of my favourite tools for doing this remains the SWOT analysis. A good SWOT will give you ideas on recurring themes for improvement. Note: I said a GOOD SWOT !
- Read here for some of my favourite SWOT questions
- …and here for some tips on how to be complete in your general approach to SWOT
Another tool I really like regarding personal influence is the network influence-grid proposed by Jo Owen in his book “How to Influence“. He suggests that for all the people in your network, you need to assess them in terms of whether or not you have a good relationship with them and whether or not they have power (to help you in your mission). A network influence-grid therefore has 4 quadrants…
When the people you know are mapped out in their relevant quadrants, you will better focus on people who are realy useful (top-right) or think about how to better leverage the existing relationships you have to get what you need.
STEP 3: Now, look for priority areas for action
I find that if I have done a good job of assessing my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, when I look at the results there are recurring and linking themes. These are the things to work on. Don’t worry about action yet, just look at which things seem to come back and back.
For example, in my last SWOT exercise I saw that:
- My network was very complete
- …but that I wasn’t using it well enough
- I have great references for training work
- …but never ask for referrals
- There was an opportunity to better develop my own client base
An obvious priority strategic action: Leverage own network.
STEP 4: When your priorities are clear, plan baby steps
I am finally reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen right now. One of my clients said it was a great book, but I thought: What else could there be to learn about priority management? In the first 10 pages I had my answer:
Turn unmanageable TO-DO lists into “next concrete action” (baby-steps) lists.
In the scope of our exercise, this means asking 2 questions for each of the priority strategic actions noted previously:
- What would be an ACCEPTABLE outcome?
- What is the NEXT CONCRETE ACTION you need to take?
If you’ve followed the 4 steps ahead, you should have some good ideas to get moving with.
Thanks for reading 🙂
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