Yes, you are human

If you are reading this blog, then like me, you probably aspire to great things. The idea of living an average life is something that holds no appeal.

Be kind to yourself though, because after all, you are human.

There may be days that couldn’t resist watching an hour of cat videos in the morning, vowed to focus on your one priority in the afternoon, and then blew the rest of the day chasing answers to random questions like, ‘how does cryptocurrency work?’

If you have a young child, you may be so tired that at times it feels like all you seem to do is think about when you can next go to sleep.

You might have been sharp (or blunt) with someone that you love that was totally uncalled for.

There may be days where your boss, your spouse, your children, and even your friends demand more of you than you want to give, and you’d rather just be alone for a week.

There may be days that you just want to throw out the whole idea of intermittent fasting, and just eat whatever you want, whenever you want.

These are all just different aspects of being human. Consider that they provide a contrast to the greatness inside of you.

Regroup, apologise, clean up the mess, reset, get focussed, and then move on.

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Laughter is the best medicine

Taking ourselves seriously is a human trait that can be a double-edged sword.

If you don’t take what you are doing in your life seriously, then how are you going to get where you want to go? And yet, that in itself can make the effort joyless, oppressive and stressful.

I propose that you can be serious and focussed about your endeavours, but enjoy the journey a lot more by bringing in laughter, good humour, and by taking yourself a little less seriously.

As a child I was an avid reader of Readers Digest, but I could only read new editions when we visited my grandmother, who lived about 2 hours away. Upon finding that a new edition had arrived, I would immediately turn to the section ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’,and it never failed in lifting my mood, even in the dark-clouded teenage years.

Although I don’t often read Readers Digest any more (I’m afraid of being bombarded by direct mail letters for the rest of my life if I subscribe), here are some tips for finding some joy in your day.

  • Hang out with a friend who makes you laugh.
  • Watch a Monty Python movie. I recommend ‘The Meaning of Life’.
  • Laugh with others frequently. If you grew up in a laugh-free household , following the lead of others and laughing when they do can help you develop your own sense of humour over time.
  • Wrestle with your kids.
  • Wrestle with your partner.
  • Listen to a comedy playlist on Spotify

This classic quote says it all:

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

Mark Twain

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Busy work

Some people think that being busy means they are being productive.

Don’t confuse one with the other. If what you are doing is not leading you to achieve whatever goals and dreams you have for your life, then you are just busy, not necessarily productive.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Some times life can feel like an unending series of tasks that need doing. Just know that if you have big plans for your life, then being productive is the only way you are going to get there.

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What should you do next?

To-do lists are a fundamental time management tool that most of us use in one form or another. It’s an efficient way to ease cognitive load and ensure that the things that need to get done don’t fall through the cracks or get forgotten.

If your to-do list is growing faster than your ability to keep up, or you never quite know what you should really be working on next, then it’s time to apply a little more rigour to how you handle your priorities.

The fundamental key to taming your to-do list is to firstly work out what matters. The things that matter are those things that are key to achieving success in your life, whatever that means for you.

On your to-do list right now, there are the things that you could do, and of those there are the things that you should do. The latter are the things which directly feed into you getting where you want to go in life. Put another way, they are the things which are going to bring you close to achieving whatever dreams and goals you have.

In Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle, he asserts that a minority of your inputs usually lead to a majority of your outputs or results. Similarly, your to-do list likely consists of items which 80% of the time will not lead you to where you want to go, and the other 20% will.

In The One Thing, Garry Keller takes this idea one step further and proposes that there is ultimately just one item on our to-do list that is the most important thing that you should be doing right now.

  • Start with your to-do list
  • Sort it by the items you could do and items you should do
  • now take the should do items and choose the most important one

This single task or priority is the most imperative item you need to work on right now. Once it is completed, then go through the exercise again.

If you take this approach will find that you will be doing a lot less ticking-off of items on your to-do list, which for some might be disconcerting. The fact is, not all things matter equally, so it stands to reason that the things that don’t matter as much are going to remain on your list, or eventually drop off altogether.

What matters is to do the most important thing, and see how your results multiply.

If your ability to focus could do with sharpening, then read how to get stuff done.

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Are you pushing uphill or downhill?

In life we often encounter resistance, and the common advice is to push through it.  With whatever your pursuit is, if things get tough, then that’s a sign that you should keep pushing, right?

To answer that, I propose you take one step backwards, and ask yourself the same question that Seth Godin did when someone asked him about their new business:

He asked, “if you accomplish that, will you be seen by your audience as the best in the world, or will you be seen as doing your best?”

Being the best in the world doesn’t mean that you need to build a $1 billion company, or write a book that sells a million copies, or create a youtube channel with 5 million subscribers.  It means being the best in the world in your particular niche, and that ‘world’ might consist of just 1000 people.

So, if your goal is to be the best in the world, then yes, keep pushing uphill if you are meeting resistance, and eventually you’ll start pushing downhill.  If you are just doing your best and having a tough time of it, then maybe it’s time to find something else to do with your life.

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Give yourself a gratitude reboot

The practice of expressing gratitude is one that my wife introduced me to after we first met, and it’s worth revisiting if you are finding yourself frustrated or out-of-sorts with your life.

Several studies have shown that expressing gratitude helps people feel more optimistic about their lives.  Likewise, those who expressed gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive towards that person but were also more comfortable discussing concerns about their relationship.

So, what if you feel like you have little to be grateful for?  Here are some ideas to give yourself a gratitude reboot.

  • Image if you died suddenly, but were given one last extra day here on Earth.  How would you feel about your family, your friends, your situation?  What would you be grateful for knowing it was your last day?
  • There are at least 1 billion people on this earth living in abject poverty, political oppression, and without the most basic of freedoms that most of you reading this take for granted.  I would argue that those 1 billion people would consider themselves very fortunate to live your life, even just for one day.
  • According to the latest UN research, more than 250 million children live in countries and areas affected by armed conflict.  Imagine if that was your living situation, where the basic safety and security of your children was not assured, and how does that compare to where you live?

Finally, say thank you.  That simple phrase has the power to transform your life and that of those around you.

A Harvard Business School study showed an astounding 50 per cent increase in the amount of help being offered by employees as a result of appreciation being shown by their managers.

So, thank you for reading this.  I hope it made a difference.

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The nature of boredom

Have you ever considered what it would be like to spend a day without your smartphone, or Netflix, or Spotify, or any of the other myriad of sources of entertainment we have at our disposal 24 hours a day?

A whole day without these things may be unthinkable to some. How about an hour, or even just 5 minutes?

Today I challenge you to avoid finding something to distract or entertain you, and to just experience the passing of time.  We all seek to fill the gaps in our day with the latest news, the latest tweet, the latest Facebook post, the newest episode, the newest track.  

Perhaps, like Cathal Horan proposed, boredom is just our inability to deal with time.

And maybe, just maybe, learning to deal with the passing of time without experiencing boredom is one of the great learning experiences of human existence.

How to get stuff done

On any given day you can have multiple priorities.  Some of these are things that have to do that can be done relatively quickly (such as submitting your Business Activity Statement to the tax office on time) and some of them are tasks associated with larger goals that may take weeks to complete.

Here are two things you can do to make progress on your priorities:

  1. Break your priority down into tasks that you think you can complete in 25-30 minutes
  2. Say no to everything else, get rid of all other distractions, and just work on that one task.

So, let’s say that your priority is to reconcile your bank statements for your business, and that overall this task usually takes around 5-6 hours because you have 4 separate bank accounts and credit cards.  Break this larger task down into workable 25-30 minute chunks.  

You may be able to achieve this by doing an entire bank statement, or perhaps you’ll need to reconcile just a week from one account at a time if it has a lot of transactions. I like to use Trello to break a task into chunks, and move each individual card from ‘working’ to ‘done’ as I finish it.

  • open only the tools and applications that you need to perform this task.  
  • Close your email and any other messaging and social media applications.  
  • Put your phone in do not disturb mode, if it’s not already.  
  • If you work on a mac, turn on do not disturb there as well.  
  • Then get to work.

Go for 25-30 minutes to complete the chunk, then take a short break and work on another.  Take a longer break after every fourth chunk is complete.

The concept of working in 25-30 minute chunks is one popularised by Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the Pomodero Technique, and is a deceptively simple but powerful way to be more productive.

If you work at home in a potentially noisy environment like I do, then try this:  Put in some earplugs ( I find Hearos are the best), then put on headphones with another of my favourite productivity tools, brain.fm, turned right up.  The earplugs block out the environmental noise, and the sounds of the music from brain.fm block out noise further and make it much easier to focus.

Likewise, if you, like me, are a small business owner who spends some time managing and directing people, and some time creating, then you need to figure out how to eliminate interruptions from your staff.

You may find that it’s best to assign the first few hours of the day to creating and to let your staff know you are not to be interrupted unless it’s an emergency.  Then open up the rest of the day to allow for interruptions.

For more on this, read What should you do next? and Busting the multitasking myth.

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How to maintain good habits when life gets chaotic

Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day, according to James Clear.  In a study conducted in 2005 by researchers at Duke University, they observed that habits account for around 45 percent of our behaviours on any given day.

The kind of life we live and person we are is largely a sum of our habits.

If you are getting ample sleep then you’ve probably created a good habit of going to bed by a certain time each night.

If you are in good shape then you’ve probably created a good habit of eating healthy food and exercising regularly.

Often times though, life can get chaotic, and that gets in the way of keeping up good habits.  

You have a newborn and suddenly your old sleep routines aren’t workable.

Your new job has a roster that changes all the time so you can’t stick to your old exercise routine.

The most essential part of maintaining any good habit is to maintain the routine when life gets chaotic, even if you have to reduce the scope.

So, if you usually go to the gym or meet your trainer on Tuesday and Thursdays at 8am, but your daughter suddenly fell ill and you had to take her to the doctor, then reschedule it for the next day.

Or, if your goal is to do 30 push-ups each day in the morning but you suddenly get called in early for work, then punch out 10 now and do the other 20 when you get home.

Likewise, if your goal is to have four booze-free days each week on Monday through Thursday, but your friend from out of town suddenly turns up on Tuesday and wants to go out for a couple of drinks, then do that, but stick to non-alcoholic drinks on Friday.

The key is to keep up the habit even when life throws you a curve ball.  Change the time, change the day, or reduce the scope of what you are doing, but keep your habit going at all costs.

Pretty soon, keeping that good habit going will be way more comfortable than not doing it, and then you can work on creating a new one.

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Productivity hack: never lose an app again

If you are an iPhone user, one of the single best productivity hacks I can give you is to use Spotlight to find and launch apps.

Time and again I see people looking for an app on their iPhone by scrolling through windows of apps until they find the one they are looking for.  By using Spotlight you can avoid this laborious search and it also works on any iPhone, no matter how the apps are organised.

To use Spotlight on the latest version of IOS, simply pull down from the middle of the home screen, then start typing the name of the app.  Spotlight sorts the search results by the most used app, so chances are you’ll only need to type in one or two letters before it finds the app you are looking for.   Once you can see the app you want, just select it to launch.

Using Spotlight on IOS to quickly search for the Gmail app.

Spotlight also works in a similar way on MacOS on on your laptop or desktop with a simple keystroke.  From anywhere, in any application, simply press the command key + space bar at the same time, then start typing the name of the app you want to launch, then select enter on the chosen app to open it.  If the app is already open, then this will bring that window to the front.

Using Spotlight on MacOS to quickly search for the Gmail app.

If you are a Windows 10 user, then the built-in Windows search also offers a similar time-saving shortcut.  To use it, press the Windows key + S, then start typing the app you want to start.  Press up or down arrow if you can see the app you want to launch, and press enter.

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