You don't run your life by lists. They're a tool, nothing more. They're useful, but they're really part of a new set of habits you're forming.
The next level, beyond managing the day-to-day tasks, is about designing or creating projects that matter to you, in your life. Beyond the "have-to's" are those things that make life worth living.
How do we get there? We're all incredibly busy, and more so all the time. Still, if we don't have balance in our lives, we reach burnout pretty quickly. Then, you can add into your life factors like depression, moodiness, and being less productive, on a daily basis. How would your life look then?
A moment to dream
Most of us don't take time to dream anymore. These days, we call it being a visionary or having a vision of what is possible. History shows us that almost all of the great accomplishments began this way.
Consider people like:
· Jane Goodall, and her quest to save the gorillas, led to the "Roots and Shoots" program, which educates school children about the need for conservation.
· Millard and Linda Fuller, co-founders of Habitat for Humanity
· Laura-Beth Moore, the 12- year-old founder of the recycling program of Houston, Texas
These people – with different backgrounds, ages, experience (or lack thereof) – are regular people. Yet they accomplished extraordinary things because they had a dream and persevered until they made the dream real.
All too often we won't allow ourselves to have, or to do, things that are meaningful to us. We have lots of reasons for this. One of the most common reasons is that we feel that we don't deserve it. We may not think consciously that way, but it's there.
Maybe you think, "If only I have more (fill in the blank), then I can (be/do/have) whatever the thing is that I've wanted." Or, maybe for you it is, "If I just could (fill in the blank) then I could (be/do/have) whatever the thing is I've wanted." Whatever the thought is, that keeps stopping you, CUT IT OUT!
There's generally no real good reason to deprive yourself of something that would make a qualitative difference in your life, or in someone else's, is there? So why not begin the process that will let you finally start making a difference?
Take a couple of minutes and write down at least one thing you have cut out of your life or would like to be doing that would boost your spirit. It doesn't have to be something huge. It can be something simple, like to start taking walks in a beautiful area where you've always wanted to explore, but never took the time to do so. Or, it can be learning to play the piano, a secret wish you've had for years, but never told anyone about. This is where you have permission to dream, so get in there!
What would you do if ....?
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is, "What would I do if I could do that which I've been putting off?"
If you could do or have that thing you've been putting off, or secretly wishing to do, how would your life be different? How would you feel about yourself? Write that down.
These are important questions to ask yourself. They are part of the creative process, regardless of the desired result.
Just one ... for now
Now, let's see how to make that secret wish become a reality.
Go back to where you wrote that "impossible" dream down. What would it take to attain it? What would you have to do differently in your life to make room for your dream? What would you have to say to yourself about having it in your life? Remember that little voice we talked about earlier? If you let it, it can be your ally, instead of your worst critic. With practice, it can empower you to do and have great things.
How would your "self-talk" (that little voice in your head that yammers at you) have to change to start creating your "impossible" dream? What is that little voice saying to you about it, right now? Write it down.
Now, how can you alter that, turn it around, so that the voice is empowering you to achieve what you really want to achieve? Write that down now.
Now, to make that dream come true, it takes persistent action. Plan one action step that you'll take, either daily or weekly, toward achieving the dream you have identified as important to you. Remember, be specific.
Most of us don't do things we'd really like to do, because we don't know how to fit it into our busy lives. We already discussed how to block out time for regularly occurring things. Why not block out time for a "special project" like the one you just outlined?
Another reason we don't do those "special projects" is that we get so overwhelmed just thinking about it; we can't even begin. Here's a simple solution to help keep that overwhelming thought at bay.
Break it down! Treat whatever "it" is – taking piano lessons, planning a much-longed-for vacation, etc. – by breaking it into small, manageable steps.
Have you ever heard the statement, "I'm dancing as fast as I can?"
It's not about working harder to manage time well. Most of us work incredibly hard.
Have you considered whether or not you're working smarter? Are there things you do that are wasting time? Are there areas in your life where, with a small shift, you could get more accomplished?
1. Take a moment and look at an area of your life (home or work) that seems "stuck." If you could work "smarter" in that area, what would be different? Write it down.
2. Now think about this. What would you have to do differently, to make that happen? What step or steps could you take that would help create that shift?
Think in small steps, not big ones. Do you need to ask someone for help to create this? Is it a matter of changing the timing of the situation? What simple action would make the difference here?
3. Now put a time frame on this. When will you take the action you've just identified? When you look at the kind of result this will give, doesn't it make sense to put this into play as soon as possible? Don't let yourself off the hook. Taking this action is about empowerment, and about freeing yourself from being "stuck."
There is a small, but very important element, that, by noticing it, could help you be much more effective. Start paying attention to what time of day you are most productive. Is it first thing in the morning, early afternoon, or later? Discover what time of day you have the most focus, the most energy, and then plan accordingly. Plan your more time-intensive or challenging activities for that time. Do more routine, mundane tasks during your less productive times. You'll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish by making this small but essential shift.
Developing good habits is important. Knowing how to prioritize and having great organizational skills means nothing if you don't use them regularly.
Daily planning and updating are critical to your success in managing time. Don't let these get away from you. Practice these new habits during the work week, whether or not you work full time. That way, you'll keep up with not only the "have-to's," but the "dream" action steps, too.
Another important good habit to cultivate is to get enough rest. Studies show that too little sleep can cause an inability to concentrate, cause moodiness, and even cause depression. It's tough to focus when you're tired. The more rested you are, the easier it is to manage stress, difficult situations, and even screaming kids. How easy is it to keep your cool when you're exhausted? Getting enough sleep also helps keep us healthy. It helps our bodies regain energy after being physically active, or doing mentally challenging work.
Regular exercise, another element of creating success, has many benefits. It helps us keep fit and feel well, and helps us sleep more soundly. Studies have also shown that even something as simple as walking regularly increases blood flow to the regions of the brain that deal with attention, while, at the same time, decreases blood flow to areas linked to indecision. Getting regular exercise has also been shown to help stave off early signs of Alzheimer's. Although, getting regular exercise doesn't mean you'll be a master at time management, it definitely has a positive impact on your ability to concentrate and remember things.
Where in your work week could you make time to exercise? It could be a short, brisk walk during lunch, a couple of days a week -- a really nice break in the day that can refresh your spirits. Maybe scheduling a racquetball or basketball session with a friend once a week would work. Whatever it is, make it fun. Studies consistently show that when exercise is fun, we will do it more frequently. You don't have to always use the gym to get the benefits of cardiovascular exercise (commonly known as "cardio").
Don't forget nutrition and good eating habits. These give us energy, help us think more clearly, and boost our immune systems. Paying attention to what you eat and getting good nutrition are important steps to managing your well-being, which, in turn, creates that balance we all need to succeed.
Making it easy for you to stay organized. Some helpful tips include:
· Create a "put away" basket or bin and locate it in a central place (one in each major room, if needed).
· Make it a regular habit to empty that bin, daily or weekly, whatever works to keep clutter from accumulating.
· Set yourself a time limit and make it a game to see how quickly you can empty it.
· Are there other systems you can create to help keep things organized?
Remember, clutter blurs your focus and depletes your energy, so eliminate clutter every place you find it!
Outline all the steps needed to accomplish what you want. A good way to do this is to think backwards. Assume you have already done the project and finished the task. How did you do get there? What were the steps that got you there?
Here's another great tool to get more out of what you do. Set up a reward system for yourself. Having a "carrot" at the end of a project is a great incentive. The rewards don't have to be elaborate or even expensive, unless you want them to be. They can be as simple as treating yourself to a late afternoon walk someplace special, or buying yourself a bunch of your favorite flowers. Have it be whatever makes the process of completing the task or project just a bit sweeter for you.
Think a moment about a reward system that you can set up. We are not talking about eating. What would be a fun or an interesting reward that would make working to finish a project a good incentive, and keep you focused and on track? Maybe it would be a trip to a cool exhibit you haven't seen. Perhaps treating yourself to a special event if you finish that project within the time frame that you allotted. Whatever you decide, make it worth the hard work to get there. That "carrot" needs to sparkle and shine in your mind's eye.
Keep your schedule flexible. Add a bit more time for each action item than you think that you'll need. This will give you some breathing room between meetings, phone calls, and other activities. It also allows space for spontaneity and fun!
Let's address that little voice again. It's always telling us what we can do and what we can't do. Too many times we listen, and believe, what it says. But it's important to remember the little voice is not always right. We are capable of so much more than we think we are. Remember, ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things all the time. Stretch beyond what you think you can do. What is the brass ring? Where is it and how can you grab it?