Life is a whirlwind. There’s never enough time for everything we want to do. We’re on a never-ending quest for balance as we try to get “everything” done.
News flash: Remaining balanced while attempting to get everything done is completely impossible. Stop trying. Stop fooling yourself. Stop berating yourself for always coming up short of those completely unrealistic expectations.
Accept the fact that you’re a mere mortal. While each of us can probably achieve much more than we think, perfection isn’t one of those things.
Let’s look at balance first.
Some definitions of balance are:
A stable mental or psychological state; emotional stability. ~ thefreedictionary.com
Stability of one’s mind or feelings. ~Google
A condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. ~ Google
The definitions above describe a fleeting moment, not a steady state. It’s nice when you can feel like that but things are constantly changing. It’s your job to adapt in order to bring yourself back to your balance point as things continue to change.
Balance is the illusion of harmony while in a constant state of imbalance. Balance isn’t a state to be achieved.
“A quiet mind is not a state of mind to be achieved. It’s the state we experience when there is nothing to be achieved.” ~ Peter Russell, creator of “Effortless Meditation”
When the autopilot is turned on in an airplane, the plane is never flying in the perfectly intended direction. It’s constantly being pushed around by the winds and heat and cold vectors. It’s constantly adjusting its path in order to get to its destination.
If you try to stand on one foot, eventually you may feel a sense of balance (or not). As you stand on one foot, you’re constantly making adjustments throughout your body so that you can remain upright on that one foot. You may find a balance point but it’s fleeting.
It’s impossible to find and maintain perfect balance all the time.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Although I’ve never surfed, I know that it’s not easy to glide across giant waves. It takes tons of practice and focus.
Do you think the surfer is focusing on what to make for dinner or the next twenty things on her to do list while maintaining balance as the wave crests? Highly unlikely. If she did, she would be off her board and buried under the wave in no time.
But how often do you (and I) do that? You’re in the middle of one project while you’re thinking about everything else you feel that you’re supposed to do before the end of the day. Then the phone rings or you check email (just for a minute – ha!) and your whole day suddenly spins out of control.
It’s the end of the day and you feel like you’ve barely begun that first, “most important” thing on your list.
Prioritize and Focus
Easier said than done, I know all too well.
In an earlier post (click here) I described a sign that I put on my door and how I use the sign to maintain my priorities and focus. It works amazingly well – when I use it.
Here’s how I prioritize and focus on an average day. I can’t say that I practice it daily without fail. Hey, it’s a practice, like everything else in life. No perfection here.
At the end of the day, write down one to three things (no more!) that you want to accomplish the next day. Put it in a prominent place so it’s the first thing you’ll see the next morning.
As you write down each item, understand why it’s important. Why is it a priority?
Your most important things can’t be busywork. They are things that will move you forward toward your bigger goals.
A suggestion to help you feel better at the end of the week: Make sure at least one of those “most important things” in the week is just for you. Take a walk. Leave early. Get a massage. Have lunch with a friend. Attend a class. Just for you.
When you arrive at work the next morning, close your door (if you have one) and put up a sign that says: “Please do not disturb me. I’m focusing.”
I know this might sound odd but it works. When I first used the sign, I could hear some laughs outside of my office but no one knocked or said anything about it. Everyone knows to leave me alone when that sign is up.
3) Start working on the first thing on your list – first.
Don’t open your email or pick up the phone until that first thing is done. This is your time. Email and phones are all about other people’s priorities.
If someone knocks on your door or somehow tries to interrupt you for their priorities, keep looking at what you’re working on with a very focused face and let them know you can’t talk right now. You’ll get back with them when you’re done.
Some people use techniques where they set a timer and work for a set period of time, then take a break for a short period of time. I’ve done this but usually find myself so engrossed in my project that I don’t want to stop. It feels so good to finally make progress that I want to keep the momentum going.
At some point everyone needs a break. Do what works best for you.
I fought it for a long time. I couldn’t understand how you could feel more free by locking yourself into a schedule.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it works. It plays a key role in keeping you focused.
It’s kind of like a time budget. Oops. I shouldn’t have used that word. The accountant in me peaked out.
Before I scheduled out my days with the things I wanted to accomplish, I would just assume that I would get the important things done. If they’re important, of course I’ll do them.
But days would go by with me wondering why I hadn’t done those important things.
It’s like spending without a budget. You think you have plenty of money so you spend on little things here and there. They’re just little things and they won’t add up to much.
Then it comes time to pay the important bills and there isn’t enough left.
Unfortunately you can’t borrow time like you can borrow money (I do not advise incurring debt).
Actually, borrowing money is borrowing your time. Every dollar you borrow today is time you have to work in the future to repay it. (Suggested reading: Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez)
You spend your time on little things like checking email or social media. “It will only take a minute.” Four hours later you wonder what happened to the day.
You know that you want/need to check email and social media. Instead of letting it ooze all over your day, schedule time for it. Set a timer if you have to. Reign it in. Set limits.
Two hours for your most important thing. Thirty minutes for a break. Fifteen minutes for email.
Two hours for your next important thing. Thirty minutes for a break. Fifteen or thirty minutes for email/social media.
Repeat as often as you like. Change it up.
Lay out your schedule in a way that works for you and find a way to stick with it. I put reminders on my calendar. If things don’t beep at me telling me what to do next, I tend to get distracted.
Simple Steps Out Of Chaos
What are your values? What’s the most important thing you can do to move yourself toward your goals?
Know why these things are important to you.
Write them down.
Create an environment that limits your distractions. This takes work.
Clear your workspace. Turn off your phone. Leave your email closed.
3. Create and live by a schedule
There’s an example that’s part of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People training whereby you have to fill a glass bowl with three jars of rocks. There are big rocks, little rocks and sand in the jars. It looks like they couldn’t possibly all fit.
If you pour in the sand followed by the larger rocks, they don’t fit.
But if you put in the big rocks first, followed by the little rocks and you pour the sand over them, they all fit.
Your top priorities are the big rocks. The sand is the busywork and other people’s priorities.
Schedule your most important stuff first and layer in the less important stuff.
These steps will help you reign in the chaos and feel more balanced.
Putting yourself and your priorities first may be a challenge initially but it’s so worth it.
Every day you’re teaching other people how to treat you. If you never put yourself first, you’ll end up bitter and resentful as other people continue to dump their priorities on you.
Despite the best laid plans, big waves will come. Sticking by your values and your priorities and focusing on what’s important to you will allow you to surf those waves.
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