Escape the Tyranny of Your To-Do List

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by my to-do list. I can end up grinding my teeth thinking about all the meetings, projects, and deadlines piling up on my calendar. That’s when I know it’s time to take a deep breath, calm myself, and affirm, as the Daily Word recently reminded me:

I have all the time I need

to do all that I need to do.

Once I’ve calmed myself, I’m able to reprioritize and see that everything is happening perfectly—on God’s timetable, not my own.

When you’re on a tight schedule, one of the things that can add to that feeling of stress is an interruption: A traffic jam puts you a half-hour behind. An urgent phone call breaks your train of thought. An unexpected visitor interferes with your carefully planned day. But don’t be too quick to look at interruptions as the enemy. Sometimes those unwelcome intrusions are blessings in disguise. For example, there have been times when I’ve gotten bogged down in my writing and an interruption occurs. Surprisingly, when I return to my writing, I find the right words. Neuroscientists call such interruptions “disfluency” and confirm that they can enhance creativity by leading to insights and innovation.

A variation of the interruption is the plan gone awry:  New developments undermine the project you’re working on. The dream job you wanted so badly isn’t offered to you. A layoff derails your carefully planned career. At times like these, it’s wise see if the bad news is, in fact, good news in disguise. An example I often give is when the California wildfires of 2007 burned down our house. At first, that loss seemed devastating. But it led to our moving across the street to the house we’d always dreamed of living in—which was priced lower than the cost to rebuild our old house!

So escape the tyranny of your to-do list and don’t be too discouraged by setbacks. How many successful people do you know who are doing what they thought they’d be doing at the outset of their careers? Often the path to achievement is more like a winding road than a vertical ladder. While focus is a wonderful thing, it’s important that your commitment to a goal doesn’t blind you to the opportunities that a so-called derailment might be presenting to you.

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!

Love versus Stuff

Over the past week, those of us living in southern California have had a whole new complication thrown into our busy holiday schedules: wildfires. For me it’s a reminder of the lesson I learned ten years ago, when our long-time family home burned to the ground in the massive Witch Creek fire of 2007. The lesson is this:

What matters in life is who you love and who loves you.

Everything else is just stuff.

Sometimes in our lives—and particularly during the holidays—we get lost in accumulation. We want to buy more things, do more things, see more things—and we get ourselves and our priorities out of whack.

How are you doing so far this month? Are you focusing too much on stuff—such as what you have and what you have to do—and not on the people you love?

It’s not too late to turn that around.

Reach out today and tell the important people in your life how much you love and care for them. Better yet, cozy up around the fire and spend time talking and laughing together. That’s the real spirit of the season.

A Kick-Start for 2017

You’ve probably had your fill of articles and blogs about how New Year’s resolutions don’t work. So I want to give you a positive framework to begin the New Year.  Creating your personal vision for the future is a different way to look at setting and achieving goals.

A clear vision is made up of three elements—knowing who you are (your purpose), where you’re going (your picture of the future), and what will guide your journey (your values). For years I’ve worked with company leaders to create the vision for their corporations and with individual managers to create their leadership vision. It is equally beneficial for people to set their own personal vision about what they want to get out of life. Creating your personal vision will help you get back to the basics and focus on what’s important instead of merely what’s next.

Create your purpose statement

Start by creating your purpose statement. In a few words, this statement explains who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do.

  • To begin, list some positive personal characteristics that describe you. Use nouns such as patience, creativity, artistic ability, sales ability, charm, diplomacy, energy, problem-solving skills, enthusiasm, or something similar. I chose sense of humor, people skills, teaching skills, and role model.
  • Next, list ways you successfully interact with people. Use verbs such as teach, coach, write, encourage, manage, lead, love, help, etc. I used educate, help, inspire, and motivate.
  • Finally, describe your picture of the future, focusing on what you want to create for your life. Write a short description of your idea of the perfect world. To me, a perfect world is where everyone is aware of the presence of God in their lives and realizes they are here to serve, not to be served.
  • There! You’ve completed the most challenging part. Now combine your thoughts into a statement. Here’s mine:

“I am a loving teacher and a role model of simple truths who helps and motivates myself and others to be aware of the presence of God in our lives and realize we are here to serve, not to be served.”

List and define your values

It’s time to create your list of values. This list will guide you and help you understand how to reach your ideal future state. Examples of values include honesty, power, courage, wisdom, commitment, learning, fun, relationships, or spirituality. This could be a very long list, but you must narrow it down to the three or four values that are most important to you. Some people prefer to start with ten values, then narrow those down to the top six, then to the top three or four. My values are spiritual peace, integrity, love, and success.

Once you have arrived at your top three or four values, write a short definition for each one. Remember these are your guidelines for making decisions and determining whether you are living your vision. For example, I define love this way:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself or others, anytime I have compassion, anytime I feel love in my heart, anytime I feel the love of others, anytime my heart fills with love, and anytime I look for the love of others.”

One final suggestion: read your personal vision—your purpose statement and values—every single day. It is a simple way to re-commit and stay on track.

Give this exercise a try. You’ll see that a personal vision statement can hold far more value than a vague resolution that’s easily abandoned. As soon as you define exactly what you want out of life, you will be able to begin realizing your vision.

Happy New Year 2017!

2 Secrets to Keep on Track with Your New Year’s Resolutions

In my last blog I talked about three tips to help you stay on track to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Now that you are a few weeks into the process, you might be struggling a little bit, so let me make another suggestion. Over the years, I’ve realized that the people who have the most trouble accomplishing goals and sticking with resolutions are the people who are the busiest. The problem with these people is that too often they go through the motions of day-to-day busy work instead of focusing on the most important things first.

You have probably heard the theory that we all have two selves—the external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting the job done, and the internal, thoughtful, reflective self that considers things before acting. The task-oriented self is the first to wake up in the morning, of course, and is only focused on task achievement. You read email while you are eating breakfast, then jump in the car, head to the office and start attacking your to-do list in order to get everything checked off before you go home. It’s so easy to get caught in this kind of activity trap—you’re so busy doing urgent but unimportant tasks you don’t have time to think about the important goals you may have set.

So how do you get out of this trap? How do you help yourself focus less on task achievement and more on goal achievement? I suggest that in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed and right into task achievement, you enter your day slowly and thoughtfully. Take 20 or 30 minutes to think through what you really need to accomplish for the day. Remember how I suggested you write down your New Year’s resolutions and read them every day? Now is the perfect time. Look at your resolutions to see where they can fit into the day’s plan. Entering your day slowly gives you the opportunity to plan your day out so that you can both accomplish your tasks and fit in time to work toward your resolutions.

Then, at the end of the day before you go to bed, jot down a few notes about your day in a journal. If you don’t want to take the time to write in a journal, at least give yourself the gift of thinking about your day for a few minutes. What did you do during the day that was consistent with your New Year’s resolutions, and what got in the way? Soon you’ll be able to spot both positive and negative patterns so that you can make changes in your schedule to get yourself back on track toward goal achievement.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to spend twenty minutes in the morning to plan and more time at night to reflect.” But I guarantee that if you take that little bit of time, you’ll set yourself up for success in achieving your goals—and your New Year’s resolutions. And you know what? You’re worth it!