From Procrastination to Productive in 15 Minutes

October 25, 2010 4 comments

Mondays can be tough.  We’ve  just come off of a fun and/or relaxing weekend and, for many of us, Mondays mean ramping up and getting enough momentum to get stuff done.  It’s the gaining momentum part that tends to be a challenge.  My to do list for today is not pretty, there’s a bunch of stuff cluttering it up that is normally not on there and it’s bumming me out.  This means if I want to do the other things I normally do, I need to be more efficient with my time today.  This is bad news for someone like me who is impulsive and organizationally challenged. Thankfully, I have learned some strategies that help me function like a productive, pulled together person.  One of my favorite methods for getting stuff done when I start to feel overwhelmed by my to do list is to commit to 15 minutes of doing one thing I need to do.

This may not seem like a mind-blowingly genius idea, but I assure you, it is.  The first time I understood how powerful the first 15 minutes are of any activity or project I was in a spin class. I was tired, un-motivated and very close to ignoring my alarm clock that morning and rolling over to go back to sleep. Somehow I made it to class but I felt crappy for the first few minutes on the bike.  I phoned it in, doing the bare minimum the workout required but then after 15 minutes, something happened: I started getting into my workout. It could have been the combination of good music, my body getting warm and loose and the instructor’s enthusiasm, but those things (except for getting warmed up) were in place at the start of class.  I strongly suspect it just took about 15 minutes to shift my focus (and my body) to what I was doing in the moment. I finished the entire workout and, as is usually the case, I felt about 1000 times better after my workout than I did before I started. It just took a 15-minute period to transition into an activity that I really did want to do.

I find this happens when I’m working on any project.  I’m writing a book right now and if I told myself I had to write so many pages by such and such date, I would probably find a way to freak myself out about it and watch funny clips on Youtube all day instead (this has actually happened to me). However, if I just focus on the bare minimum, those first 15 minutes, I often find I get into a flow and I actually want to continue doing what I’m doing.  I will often write for at least an hour when I intend to devote only 15 minutes of my time to writing. Sometimes I don’t get into groove at all and that’s okay, too.  At least I gave it a go and I feel better about leaving that project and doing something else for a while before coming back to it—and sometimes that means getting back to it the next day.

If you’re having trouble getting a project going this morning, just give it 15 minutes of your time and attention. See how you feel after that, it may be the jumpstart you need to get on a productive streak. If you’re struggling with procrastination, check out my post How To Procrastinate.

Inspired Action

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Last week I picked up Laird Hamilton’s book Force of Nature. I’ve surfed exactly 3 times in my life, but it was enough to develop an appreciation for the sport.  I appreciate the athletes who enjoy the sport even more and Laird has become one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to going after what I really want. I am moved by this man’s sense of adventure, courage and dedication to do something he is completely passionate about. I also admire his complete honesty as he reveals the journey he took (and continues to take) to reach greatness in his sport. I mean, this guy dominates —he is THE big-wave surfer.  One of my favorite parts of the book is his list of injuries he’s sustained while learning how to master his sport, I like it because it reminds me that there is a cost to every pursuit, not just physical, but mental, too. Not only is there a cost to pursuing what you want, but there is also a cost to not pursuing what you want and that cost can be exorbitantly high. Laird has sustained some pretty gnarly injuries, and still, he gets up all happy on his surfboard ready for more. That is partially what makes him great: not everyone is willing to get back up after getting beaten down, let alone get up and be crazy enthusiastic about getting back up and out there again.  That’s a weed-out process. If, for example, I took a surfboard through my cheek and it rearranged the inside of my mouth, I might be inclined to discontinue surfing.  That is to say, I’m not that passionate about surfing. However, there are other things I would take the equivalent of getting a surfboard through my face and keep going, and that’s a good thing. There is something out there you would take a hard blow for and get up and say thank you sir, may I have another and actually look forward to the challenge just so you can be in it, close to it and mastering it. If you don’t believe me, you just haven’t discovered it yet, or you don’t realize you’ve discovered it yet.  I chatted with a woman who said she didn’t have anything in her life that she was that worked up about, but then we started talking about her children.  That woman would definitely take a surfboard to the head for her kids and keep going. No doubt.

Mostly, what we fear isn’t physical–it’s mental. Even what we fear will happen to us physically is all bound up in our heads. The initial blow sucks, but the body heals, it’s the mind that has the power to make us suffer. Clearly, I am moved by Laird’s example.  Recently, he inspired me to try something I’ve never done before: pole dancing.  I’ve been practicing pole tricks for about 3 years now, but I’ve never really attempted to put them all together in a way that flows. I know it may sound crazy, but I just didn’t think I was that kind of pole athlete (even though I love practicing pole tricks and I love dancing!).  It kinda scared me.  What if I was clumsy and I couldn’t flow the movements together in a pretty way? What if I didn’t have the stamina to string one move together right after another? What if I couldn’t think of any moves to put together in the first place?! I know better than to let fear stop me, too, but that doesn’t mean I always remember that.  That’s when inspiration and a mentor (even one I’ve never met before) make all the difference.  After reading a quote from Laird’s book, I put on some music, said screw it and got my groove on. You can see what happened next here.  And you know what? It wasn’t technically brilliant, it wasn’t polished, but it was a start and it was a ridiculously good time. This is the quote that got me to show up for it:

If you think about it, the flip side to fear is commitment.  You can spend your life fence-sitting because you’re frightened of something bad that might happen—or you can launch yourself into it with all your conviction and all your intelligence.  Here’s my advice: Meet up with your fears . . .what you’ll find isn’t terror—it’s exhilaration and the moments you never forget.

Amen.

How Not to End Up Penniless and Alone

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

 

One of the problems we humans have is the tendency to think too much. Don’t get me wrong, not all thinking is problematic: planning, preparing and finding solutions are some examples of commendable uses of our high-powered brains.  The kind of thinking that bums me out is worrying.

Here are some examples of things I have heard people worry about out loud (and the end result they inevitably fear):

If I don’t make X amount of cash soon, I’ll end up penniless and alone

If I don’t get into better shape, I’ll end up penniless and alone

If I blow this opportunity, I’ll end up penniless and alone

If I don’t clear up this ginormous zit by this weekend, I’ll end up penniless and alone

We humans mostly fear being penniless and alone.  You’d think we would mostly be afraid of death, but, no, some people actually choose death as a way to not face the possibility of ending up penniless and alone (think of the stories of people who end their own lives because they think their reputations will be ruined or their fortunes will be wiped out . . .). I bet you have a fear that if you follow it all the way to it’s most negative conclusion, you find that you also end up some version of penniless and alone. It’s not a very fun game to play.   The good news is that when you see it written out, it looks a little silly, doesn’t it? It’s all so serious when it’s floating around in your noggin, but put it on paper and it starts to lose its hold on you.

It gets better . . .when you actually challenge these scary thoughts you start to find that they aren’t absolute or even based in reality.  Most of us aren’t where we want to be in some area of our life, I suspect if we were, it would be game over—which is probably why it takes most of us a lifetime of learning, growing, trying and failing to get to where we are going.   Very few of us take the opportunity, however, to just acknowledge where we are. If you happen to be penniless and alone right now, take a look around and notice that you are still here and I presume out of immediate life threatening danger.  That’s good.  Many more of you have shelter, food in your belly and at least one person in your life you call a friend.  That’s even better!  If you can add more to that list of stuff you’ve got going for you, you are doing quite well.  If you still want more that’s fine, too! Only now instead of worrying about what you don’t have use that powerful brain of yours to plan, prepare and find solutions. There’s no reason to end up penniless and alone, just a slight shift in your thinking can help you start getting what you want.

 

Is Getting What You Want Worth Risking What You Have?

October 4, 2010 1 comment

What I love about risk taking is that it is how great work comes about—greatness doesn’t come from playing it safe. ~Tim Gunn

I sometimes find myself thinking how clean and convenient it would be to get what I want, while not losing what I have. I know this usually cannot be the case, however, because most times getting what I want involves letting go of something else.  In order to reach my current state of health and fitness, for example, I had to let go of some habits that I really wanted to hold on to . . .initially.  Like most people with eating disorders, I did not want to give up using food as a way to cope with problems or challenges in my life.  However, I was also so sick of feeling that I lacked control over my body and life and I wanted more than anything to feel in control of me.  I had to risk the former in order to get the latter, and that’s exactly what I did.  I no longer use food for anything other than for fuel. I have learned that challenges require solutions, not cake, and most of the time I am able to find the solution.  Even when I don’t resolve a challenge to my 100% complete satisfaction, food never factors into the equation for me anymore. In this case, achieving my goal was well worth the risk of losing a poor coping mechanism that I had used for many years.

When you imagine yourself having the thing or situation you really want—you imagine that you’ve already taken all the risks and put in the leg work of getting it—how much better off do you believe you will be?  Do you feel good, neutral or bad thinking about the outcome?  If you’re not completely excited about the outcome, abort the mission—you don’t really want it.   Put the time and energy you would have wasted pursuing that dead end goal into finding out what you do truly want, the goal that is worth taking a risk for. If you feel good about the outcome, the risk of losing what you have is beyond worth it, because you are ready to trade up—you can do better and deep down in your guts, you know this. It’s a no brainer, really.

Taking risks can be exciting when you are going after what you truly want, but it can also be scary. One of the first things I did when I decided to conquer my eating disorder was to sit, for fifteen seconds, with all my anxiety and stress without raiding my pantry or fridge.  It was one of the hardest and longest fifteen seconds of my life, but it was also one of my proudest moments—it was the first time that I realized how much power I actually possessed over my choices. It was the beginning of the end of my eating disorder.  When you get scared pursuing what you want, just remember that you are being given an opportunity to practice bravery.  Without fear there could be no courageous acts. Without courageous acts very little would get accomplished (especially the most amazing accomplishments). Find out what you want and use your courage to go after it.  Do one risky thing, no matter how small, that will move you closer to your goal. I promise it is worth it.

Do You Choose Meaning or Happiness?

September 27, 2010 1 comment

If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costumes and come back as a new character. . .Would you slow down? Or speed up? ~ Chuck Palahniuk

This weekend I read part of an almost 2000 page suicide note.  It was fascinating, well researched, and even funny in parts. The author of the note, 35 year old Mitchell Heisman, killed himself in an attempt to test whether life has meaning or not and whether there is anything in life that can be judged as important. He was taking nihilism to the next level. I am impressed with this man’s drive and ambition, but I’m disappointed because I will never learn the conclusion to his hypothesis that life is meaningless because, well, he’s dead.

My guess is that if Heisman had survived the experiment he might have realized that there was at least one thing of meaning in his life: the 1,905 page polemic he wrote about how life is probably meaningless. This idea was important to him and he was compelled to leave behind an epic ebook for free distribution to let as many of us in on this concept as possible. Is this ironic? that a man is willing to take his own life to prove that life is meaningless? or concrete proof that life is meaningless? A man is willing to die for an idea he finds important. . .meh.  I’m not entirely sure.  What I suspect is that Heisman really wanted his life to have meaning, and that he believed meaning would somehow justify his existence and that would ultimately make him happy—otherwise, why hassle with proving or disproving his hypothesis? At some time or other we all wonder why we’re here and, perhaps, wait for something amazing to happen to us like receiving a calling, falling in love, getting our big break or winning the lottery. People can spend a whole lifetime just waiting for and feverishly expecting meaning to happen to them.

Right now you may feel your life has no meaning because you’ve lost a job, a spouse, a house, your pre-baby figure or your sense of self—maybe all of the above.  What if it didn’t matter if your life had meaning? What if for right now you just did the best you are capable of doing at something you enjoy doing? If seeking meaning is making you miserable, it may be a good time to reevaluate your goals, get focused on what it is you really want, commit to it, forget about the outcome and just do what feels right at this moment.  If you connect those moments and all you can say at the end of your life is that you only had a string of experiences that moved you and had contact with people who passed the time pleasurably with you, would that be so bad? Would you rather be happy or pursue meaning? I don’t believe there is a right answer, only a choice that you are left to make.

Not Getting What You Want? Audit Your Routine

September 22, 2010 2 comments

From the moment we wake up in the morning we are faced with choices: do I hit the snooze button? Do I get up? Do I sleep in? Do I lounge a bit and then get up?  Once we’re up and about (if that is our choice) there are even more choices to make: do I shower? Do I eat? Do I brush my teeth? Do I work out? Do I check my email? Do I go to work?  Most of us don’t run through the plethora of choices we have facing us each moment of the day.  That would be overwhelming and exhausting. Instead, we form routines and pre-define our choices. Most of us get up in the morning and know exactly what we’re going to do and in what order.  This is very efficient and helpful, but sometimes a routine needs to be audited, especially when the results we’re getting aren’t lining up with what we want.

A change in routine doesn’t have to be huge and monumental to get improved results. The other day I got a late start on what was already a short work day. As I was getting caught up with email messages and social media, I made a decision to quit my email, close my internet browser, ignore my phone and put all my attention on writing for one solid hour.  It took less than a minute to make that choice, and shake up my routine a bit, but I’m glad I did it. It progressed the writing of my book by 872 words–872 words that may have gone unwritten that day had I chose to follow my usual routine. I like knowing that at any moment, I can make a simple choice, and, just like that, I change the course of my day. I also like knowing that if I don’t like my choice, I can always reevaluate and choose again. Nothing is carved in stone.

If you’re not satisfied with how your day, week or year is going, make a choice right now that will alter, even slightly, the course of your day for the better.  That one choice could be the catalyst for big changes over time.

How To Procrastinate

September 13, 2010 6 comments

A year from now you may wish you had started today.  ~Karen Lamb

How to procrastinate:

1. Determine that you want to get something accomplished

2. Get stressed out and worried that you won’t do it perfectly even though you know perfection is an unreasonable standard

3. Become overwhelmed by the enormity of your goal and don’t take any action toward accomplishing what you want and do something totally different and irrelevant instead

How not to procrastinate:

1. Determine that you want to get something accomplished

2. Be willing to make mistakes, learn and try again

3. Break up your goal into the many simple mini tasks that it really is and take action –no matter how small or imperfect that action might be. Keep taking action until the mini task is complete, then take on another simple mini task and another. Take planned mini breaks and celebrate your accomplishments. Even five minutes of good effort toward your goal and 7 hours and 55 minutes of celebrating is more productive than 8 hours of dread, panic and avoidance.