Life is a Very Special Occasion

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!

Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.

Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.

Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!

Savor Some Solitude

In the age of information and round-the-clock news, many of us feel swamped by obligations that constantly require our attention. We can all relate to feeling bogged down by responsibilities. It’s only human to feel that balancing a job, a family, and flooded inbox makes taking time for yourself an impossible luxury.

It’s true that taking time for solitude in a busy world is challenging. In the rare moments where we have time to ourselves, relaxing can feel unsettling because we are used to doing, not being.

Despite our hang-ups, solitude is extremely valuable. Many CEOs, including Steve Jobs, use solitude as a tool to process information away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Jobs believed that if you just sit and observe your mind, you will see how restless it is; but over time your mind calms down. When it does, you can see things more clearly and there’s room for your intuition to blossom. Jobs used the awareness he developed through reflection to build a groundbreaking company. His intuition gave him insight into the desires of customers. This became one of the defining qualities of Apple: giving customers what they didn’t know they needed.

Solitude helps us know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we’re able to make decisions that match who we are and what we value. If we don’t take the time to know ourselves, our decisions are often based on what’s popular, rather than what’s best.

My wife Margie and I believe in the importance of reflection so much that we spend a good chunk of our summer in Skaneateles, away from our business in San Diego. I find that this time I spend reflecting actually improves my business decisions when I return, because I come back relaxed, with a better sense of my values.

Take time to listen to yourself, in the same way you would listen to an employee’s concerns or a friend’s problem. Time is a precious resource, but setting some aside to just be will bring a great return on investment. Even if it’s only 10 minutes each day, this time will empower you to make decisions that are powered by your deepest self.

Work Smarter, Not Harder, During the Holidays

The old saying Don’t work harder, work smarter might seem like common sense, but it isn’t common practice—especially during the hectic holiday season. In addition to the year-end push for revenue goals and project completion at work, everyone’s personal time is impacted with school vacations and holiday celebrations that can result in added pressure and frenzied activity. Many people approach this season with the mindset If I put in maximum time and effort 24/7, I should be able to get it all done.

I’d like to suggest something a little different. Although it’s very tempting to tell yourself “Don’t just sit there, do something,” please consider this: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” I know it sounds counterintuitive, but let me explain how this mindset can make things easier both at work and at home.

Someone once taught me the phrase Plan your work and then work your plan. When you jump into a project without proper planning, you often make decisions without all the necessary information—which can create extra work for both you and your team. But when you take the time to think, strategize, and prioritize, you’ll actually save time, have better focus, and avoid pitfalls along the way.

At work, it’s critical to take the time to create a project plan before taking action. This will allow you to be proactive at making continuous progress toward the end goal instead of being reactive when issues come up along the way and slow you down. Without a clear plan, you have no real focus. And without focus, you might be working hard—but not smart.

At home, it’s important to get the whole family involved in creating a plan for the holidays. There’s nothing sadder than ruining your own holiday spirit because you feel like you have to do it all. You might be surprised at how much everyone would pitch in on holiday preparations if you simply asked for help. So sit down as a group and decide who is going to be involved in which project. Doing projects together—whether it’s cooking, shopping, or entertaining—adds to the positive holiday spirit. And you’ll spend more time together as a family. What’s more important than that?

I encourage you to sit down and take a few minutes right now to plan your work and personal activities for the coming month. I guarantee it will be time well spent—and you’ll enjoy the benefits of working smarter, not harder.

Enter Your Day Slowly to Lead a Balanced, Productive Life

Years ago I learned a very important lesson from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He explained to me that we all have two selves. One is an external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting jobs done, while the other is an internal, thoughtful, reflective self. If we let the task-oriented self rule our lives, we might accomplish many tasks—but we won’t be leading a balanced, values-based, fulfilling life. Making more time in your day for the thoughtful self will actually help you accomplish more while reducing stress.

Think about which self wakes up in the morning. Of course, our external task-oriented self wakes up first—usually to an alarm clock. Think of what an awful term that is—an ALARM clock! My friend pastor John Ortberg thinks we should call it the opportunity clock, or the it’s going to be a great day clock. Wouldn’t that give everyone a more positive perspective and outlook?

So the alarm goes off and you leap out of bed and you’re into your task-oriented self. You’re trying to eat while you’re washing, and you’re checking your email as you get dressed. Then you jump in the car and you’re on your speaker phone while you’re driving. Next, you’re going to this meeting and that meeting and running from here to there. Finally, you get home at eight or nine at night. You’re absolutely exhausted, so when you fall into bed you don’t even have energy to say goodnight to someone who might be lying next to you. And the next morning—bang!—the alarm goes off and you’re at it again. I call that leading a busy life, but not necessarily a balanced, peaceful, or thoughtful life.

There is a way to break this cycle. We all need to find a way to enter our day slowly so that we can awaken our reflective self first thing in the morning. The way for some people to do it will be exercise, and for others reading, meditating, or journaling. I put together a booklet of favorite inspirational quotes that I read in the morning. It only takes a few minutes to read and it helps me begin my day with a positive and happy perspective. Instead of immediately doing activities I can check off a task list, I’m able to be thoughtful about how I approach each task. I can prioritize easier, be more creative, and eliminate a lot of stress this way. I even have more time for the most important activity of all—spending time with loved ones. And what’s better than that?

By entering my day slowly, I find it easier to focus on the important things and have more energy to face challenges. It has worked for me, my family, and friends—I urge you to give it a try.

The Reality of Work-Life Balance

Much has been written about work-life balance. Some say it is impossible to find in our fast-paced world. Others say it is achievable—but you have to work at it.

Summertime is usually the time of year when people try to concentrate a little more on work-life balance. However, I don’t see balance as just a summer project. In fact, for some people, summers can be more hectic than the rest of the year with children out of school, extended visits from family and friends, and pressure to take vacation—even as project deadlines pile up at work. This kind of schedule can turn a balanced summer into a stressful summer. But there is a way to manage all the day-to-day demands of a busy life, no matter what time of year.

Reaching balance in life is all about decreasing stress by focusing on things that create a sense of contentment. Several years ago my lovely wife, Margie, came up with PACT—an easy to remember model whose elements can help people relieve stress in their lives by achieving Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone.

  • Perspective is about seeing the big picture of life. If we know our purpose and direction in life, chances are we have a good perspective and daily stressors don’t get blown out of proportion. To illustrate the concept of perspective, I think about when our kids were young and we would take them to the zoo. Most parents get a little crazy chasing their kids around the zoo, but we loved it because our top priority was to have fun with the kids. We were able to overlook certain things and just enjoy the day—it was all part of our perspective. I called it zoo mentality. Honestly, it still seems strange to me that parents take their kids to the zoo then spend the whole time yelling at them. Everyone would have more fun if they embraced the perspective of zoo mentality.
  • Autonomy relates to our ability to make choices that allow us to be in control of our lives. If you have a high sense of autonomy, you are not totally controlled by your job, your spouse, your children, or anyone or anything. Of course no one can always be in complete control of every aspect of their life, but as long as your daily activities support your personal and professional goals you will have a greater sense of balance.
  • Connectedness is all about having strong positive relationships at home, at work, and in the community. Mutually supportive relationships can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and balance. Creating trusted connections at work helps improve morale and performance, while spending quality time with family and friends leads to a feeling of satisfaction of belonging to a community or being part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Tone covers how you feel about yourself physically. It includes the way you look, your health and energy level, and your level of fitness.  People with high tone generally have a high energy level, maintain a proper weight, have sound nutrition, and feel good about their physical appearance.

Margie and I have taught the PACT model for many years, and I still use it to monitor the balance in my own life. It’s a great tool that will help you not only pinpoint what’s wrong when life gets stressful, but also check off what you’re doing right when you are feeling great.

When your life is in balance, stress naturally loses its grip. Start using the PACT model this summer and keep it up all year long. You’ll live life at a higher level.