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Tag Archives: Time Management

Think outside the box. Or, climb out completely.

I sometimes wonder if we all live in boxes.

Personally, I dislike – nay, am very uncomfortable – being in a confined space of any sort. CloseThink outside the boxd into a box, with a lid shut down on me – even the thought fills me with the heebie-jeebies. Our cat, now, there is a different creature. No matter how small the box, our daft moggy will attempt to squeeze herself inside. Bits of her sticking out all over, but something about being in a box makes her feel safe from the world (not that the world in which she lives – our home – is in any way scary; the only risk here is being loved to death by Younger Members of the household).

But a quick trawl of any kind of management or business publication or website would suggest that boxes are our preferred domain. After all, exhortation is all around us to “think outside the box”.

This has become one of those grossly over-used phrases that has largely lost it’s impact. Now more of a tired cliche than a novel challenge to change the way one thinks. The phrase apparently originates in the late 1960’s – I had no idea that it had been around that long.

But to think outside the box suggests that you do indeed have to be in a box in the first place.

And therein lies the rub. For sometimes, it is easier, or safer, or more comfortable to remain within the confines of our own familiar way of thinking. Assumptions, expectations, past experiences, lack of confidence, or the belief that our way is the only way or the right way can all form boxes within which we choose to remain.

Sometimes it is our attitudes that need a gentle challenge or prod to get us to start to think differently. To step back and consider that another view point might also be valid.

Sometimes, when we feel constrained by the box we are in and have lost inspiration for the task at hand, climbing out of the box and walking away from it entirely is required. I came across this fun quote of Dr Seuss in my recent meanderings through his sayings –

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

And there is the irony. Sometimes, it is only when we stop actively trying to think that inspiration comes. How often have you found yourself facing a computer screen or a page, brain filled with fog, struggling to express or write or draw or design what you need to do. Box walls all around, closing in, squeezing and inhibiting ideas and original thought.

What to do? Climb out the box altogether.

Leave the room and go and do some completely unrelated mundane task. Leave the building and go for a walk. Do a few star jumps, go and post a letter, walk up and down the stairs a few times, hang the washing out. Switch off the trying-hard-to-think brain and often what happens is space opens up for the creative wiring in our brains to start to crackle and fizz, and we are off!

When our cat climbs out of a box into which she has squeezed herself, she will indulge in a long and luxurious stretch. I watch her and think, I could learn from that. To stretch myself, metaphorically speaking, to try new things. To reach further, to engage bits of me that have lain dormant. To extend myself well beyond what I thought was possible.

Need to think outside the box? Maybe climb out altogether and have a good mental stretch.

What happens when our plans are derailed? Introducing the bullet journal…

Take time –

  • to reflect
  • to work out and clarify your values
  • to dream big dreams and cast vision
  • to plan and strategise how to get there
  • to write out action steps
  • reflect on what is working and what is not, and start the process again.

This is a useful and straightforward framework that enables us to –

  • live according to our values
  • make decisions with more clarity and consistency
  • stick with our boundaries
  • get back on track when we are derailed by obstacles or unexpected hiccups
  • have time for what is really important rather than reacting to what seems urgent but sucks us dry.

Why am I writing in bullet points?

  • because this kind of living can become over complicated and onerous if it involves so much writing and reflecting that nothing actually gets done
  • because of the rise and rise of methods to facilitate this kind of living in a manageable way
  • and because bullet journalling has arrived in our house!

What is a bullet journal?OK, I’ll stop now. It was getting annoying and hard to do whilst still making any kind of sense.

I first came across the phrase ‘bullet journal‘ in a glossy magazine whilst I was at the hairdressers (which is the only place I read glossy magazines). No clue what it meant, sounded very trendy and a bit scary all at once. Perhaps if you didn’t write in your journal for a day, you were shot? I jest.

And then in a short space of time I heard the phrase again, from a friend converted to this new craze. So of course, I did what is required in these situations – I looked on Youtube for inspiration. And boy, is there a plethora of views and options on the subject on that marvelous medium!

My understanding is that bullet journalling simplifies the process of reflection, planning and scheduling. Rather than a normal diary or weekly planner, the bullet journal is infinitely customisable (perhaps a word I just made up?). You can personalise it for your needs, add the bits that help you and ditch the elements that do not. Perhaps put a gratitude list in there – always good – and a page of thoughts and inspirations for the future. The world is your oyster. Or your bullet journal. The title still leaves me cold, but I guess that is not the point.

The point in our house is that it makes keeping a diary, and the associated planning and – ahem – discipline of this, cool and groovy for blokes. MB has been enjoying his bullet journal for months, and has found a method that works for him.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because the most important thing about planning is what happens when our plans are derailed. The rise in popularity of the bullet journal testifies to the import many put on planning, recording and reflecting on our lives in a manageable way.

Of course, we cannot plan our lives to the letter. Our plans inevitably can get derailed, and what was most important that day gets bumped off the schedule. It is what we choose to do next that is key.

Rather than that important thing being missed off altogether, we can stop the panic or gerbil-wheel of urgent tasks, and take a breath. And re-schedule the important thing that got missed off the day before.

This sounds so ridiculously simple and obvious. But ask yourself, how often do important things get bumped off your day repeatedly, day after day under the never ending tsunami of urgent tasks, until they disappear into the chasm of “I’ll do it one day when I’m less busy”? Important things are often life giving or enhancing, and are rooted in our values. This is worth paying attention to, or we risk getting onto the slippery slope of burnout.

The bullet journal is simply a tool. Disruptions occur daily, that is life. But if something is really important to you, make time to do it. A quieter day without disruptions is not coming.

 

 

Dr Seuss inspired thoughts Part 1

Last week’s post on not living out someone else’s values prompted a fabulous Dr Seuss quote from a dear friend:

Today you are you, that is truer than true; there is no-one alive who is you-er than you.”

I had a little fun looking up more Dr Seuss quotes, and re-reading some of our much-thumbed copies of his books.  And I thought we could have a little more fun looking at some of the thoughts that other quotes inspire.

Dr Seuss inspired thoughts

Dr Seuss inspired thoughts

This is another way of saying ‘Carve up the elephant’, which was one of my wise old grandfather’s favourite expressions.

Mountains are solid, huge, and look entirely immovable. What situation are you facing in your life that you would describe in similar ways? Perhaps a problem at work, an assignment or training need. Perhaps a relationship.

Perhaps a tread-mill way of living that is unsustainable but you have no idea where to start. Well, start with the first step.

 

 

  • Where do you want to get to? What is the mountain, and what would it mean to move it? Create that image in as much detail as you can, adding in how it feels to get there and what success in that area looks like.
  • Then work backwards – what would the steps be to get there?
  • And therefore what is the first step?
  • Make it small, achievable, and recognisable once completed.
  • Then take the next step.
  • And the next.

Before you know it, that mountain has moved.

 

And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!)

Success is often achieved in the mind. That is not to say hard work, determination and resilience are of no use. They are incredibly important.

And of course, nothing in life is fully guaranteed (except that you are going to die, sorry).

But our mindset forms either the starter block or stumbling block to success.

If you believe you can do something, you are much more likely to succeed. If you fill your mind with negative thoughts of how much a failure you are, how little you have to offer, how you’ll never be able to be able to do whatever it is, chances are you will become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Your efforts will be hamstrung at your own hand.

What we believe produces our thoughts, our thoughts dictate our emotions, and our actions follow on from this. Believe you will succeed, your thinking patterns will be more positive and success-oriented. You will feel more optimistic, energised and motivated. And your actions will put you well on the path to success.

 

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

This follows on nicely – we often fall in to the trap of believing we are victims of our circumstances or of the behaviour of other people. Actually, most of the time this is hogwash, but it can be painful and quite exposing to acknowledge that.

But we choose what we fill our minds with, and we choose how we respond to other people.

Event A happens and I respond like C. I then all too easily believe that A causes C. And therefore I blame A for my response or reaction. I believe I had little choice in what happened, and in so doing, put my circumstances in control rather than being in control myself.

But, as I said, hogwash.

In that gap between the two there is a choice – B. B is what we tell ourselves about the event A – the role of the ‘brains in our head’. Event A will have evoked certain beliefs I have about myself, which may or may not be true. I can then choose to identify what I am believing, correct it if necessary, and make a choice to respond differently – to steer myself any direction I choose.

This takes time, effort and practice, but if I have a positive mindset and expect to succeed, and take one step at a time to move the mountain, all things are possible!

Disconnect to reconnect: Is this possible?

Disconnect to reconnect

Disconnect to reconnect

If I say to you: “Why don’t you…”, your age and where you were brought up will probably dictate your answer. Those of you in my (undefined!!) age bracket who lived in the UK as kids will likely reply immediately….

…just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead!”

“Why don’t you…” was on television during the school holidays when I was a child. It’s aim was to encourage children to get outside and do something fun, creative, physical, bonkers – you name it, but anything other than sitting in front of a screen. Now that was 4 decades ago (OK, given it away there) but my, how much we need that advice today.

There is a growing voice on – ironically – social media, the radio, and in print that is talking about the need we modern livers have to disconnect from our 24 hour technology and release and restore our brains. I have spoken about this often, and am increasingly aware of the challenges and temptations to engage in all-things-screen as I watch my children grow up. Technology is not going to go away, and there are some great devices, gadgets, games, apps, out there that have transformed how we live.

But as I say to my children, we choose to control technology, not have it control us. We need to learn to disconnect to reconnect.

As we meander through the implications and challenges of living in a society where burnout is becoming increasingly common, this need to disconnect is crucial. I know of 20-somethings who recognise that they are addicted to their smart phones. I heard of a primary school age child who refused a school residential trip because he could not be away from his games consoles and phone. I know the impact on my brain in the deepest recesses of the night when I can’t sleep and can’t switch off and my head is in a vice and the electronic noise is crushing.

So – how do we learn to disconnect to reconnect?

  • who is in charge – you or your phone? What messages are you giving to those around you about how important they are versus who is texting or messaging you? Consider what is most important to you now – and what you are setting up for the future. Create boundaries around technology use when with family and friends.
  • it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to an original task after an interruption. So imagine at work, constantly having emails ping whilst you are trying to focus on some significant project or task. Research published in The New York Times in 2013 suggested that allowing ourselves to be constantly interrupted by texts or social media – trying to do two things at once – is actually robbing us of brain power. So switch off distractions. Focus on the task at hand, and then once completed, stop. Resist the temptation to revisit it endlessly and fret. Accept when you have done enough and let it go.
  • put time limits on use of social media
  • work out what the life-giving, refreshing alternatives for you are to constantly being plugged in. The more you know yourself, the more you can be in control of choices. A good book, a talk with a friend, exercise or a walk, a hot bath, listening to music, a social activity, craft or hobby. Whatever it is, what restores and refreshes your weary, over-connected brain and allows you to switch off? Unless you have a viable, attractive alternative lined up, it is all too easy in our brain-weary state to feel we have to be available constantly, push ourselves too hard, not let work go, trawl mindlessly through pages of internet.

So this week, I encourage us to look long and hard at when we are connected electronically, to what and – crucially – why.

And what are we disconnected from as a consequence.

What is most important to us? How can we disconnect to the technological world and reconnect to the actual world?

 

 

 

 

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