Real living and real productivity as a human being is about having inner peace or real peace of mind. The current label for this is ‘mindfulness‘. Plato, a Classical Greek philosopher, once said that the beginning of wisdom is in the definition of terms, so how do you define inner peace?
The definition that I have used for many years is “inner peace is having Serenity Balance and a Harmony in our lives achieved through the appropriate control of events”.
Real peace of mind comes through balance and control, and using our most precious resources, which are our energy, attention and time.
Time management is an oxymoron, you cannot manage time you can only manage yourself. Can you put and extra hour in the day? Can you make a minute shorter longer? No!
Everything in life is an event
Sometimes on training courses I ask a delegate ‘what time is it?’ Easy question, but then I say ‘let me ask you a different question but I use the same words, time what is it?’ Big question! (Unless you’ve seen the recent movie, Interstellar). Several hundred years ago, Sir Isaac Newton said ‘that time was absolute; that it occurs whether the universe is here or not’. On the other hand, Einstein stated that “nothing is absolute, everything is relative” He furthered this by suggesting that “time is just the occurrence of events in sequence one after the other’ – a rather fancy way of saying if nothing ever happened we would have no sense of time.
Everything in life is an event; getting out of bed this morning was an event, getting to work was an event, picking up the phone was an event. Big event? Big problem. Time is just the occurrence of all these events in sequence one after the other. Have you ever heard anybody say ‘I’ve lost control of my life’? Or maybe you’ve said this at some point during your life?
The question is, what are we really saying when we talk about ‘losing control of our lives’? We say we’ve lost control of the events that make up our lives. As human beings, we are reactive. We do what everybody else thinks we should do, and when this feels out of our own control, it doesn’t feel very nice.
What’s your next event?
What’s the next event you’ll get involved with? Ask yourself, is my next event an email? Is my next event a phone call? Or is it a face-to-face meeting? Whatever the event may be, we need to continue asking ourselves the Key self audit question before we do anything, ‘what is the best use of my time’? Then stop and listen internally for the answer. Listen to your conscience, and then act.
So, if you feel that you’re not experiencing a sense of serenity, balance and harmony within your life right now, and you’d like to get into the driver’s seat (moving from reactive mode to proactive mode), then feel free to give us a call, we can help!
Content credit: Jim Hetherton
Taken on its own, the information in this blog post is useless. There is simply no point in buying or reading books like this one unless you plan to actually put these ideas to good use. It’s when you begin to use the information in these chapters to change your habits that the whole subject of productivity comes to life.
So why do so many people buy books like this and never even read them? Or buy books like this and read them for extra knowledge, but without actually making any change? Well, one reason is that it takes a lot of self-awareness to be able to analyse and change your habits.
The whole subject of you and your habits is most likely not what you wanted to read about – people want ‘tips’, ‘hacks’ and ‘shortcuts’. You wanted secret magic formulae to make it all better. Sorry to break the bad news to you, but there’s no magic shortcut, no secret formula. The only way to make lasting change is to make the effort to change your habits.
The four-stage model of competence
The four-stage model of competence offers us a window into our own minds. It details the process of taking any piece of information or new skill, from something that we can’t do for love nor money right through to a learned habit or behaviour. The model suggests that we go through four distinct phases as we learn:
1. Unconscious incompetence
2. Conscious incompetence
3. Conscious competence
4. Unconscious competence.
Unconscious incompetence, for example, is when you look at somebody doing something and say: ‘Wow, how do they do that?!’ You can’t do it and you wouldn’t know where to start if you were asked to try. It’s like when you see a juggler or magician and their skills just amaze you (unless you happen to be a juggler or a magician …).
On the other hand, conscious incompetence describes the period in which you’re learning something new and failing. As you learn, you keep screwing it up, but at the same time you’re starting to analyse for yourself where competence could come from. You’re starting to see what you’d need to do to get good at it. Imagine you are learning a new language, and the sentence structures and some of the vocabulary are coming together. When your errors are pointed out, you kick yourself and say, ‘Oh no! I knew that!’
There’s been a long history of seminal books about the subject of time management. In the 1990s, the biggest book was Stephen Covey’s personal development bible, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I’ll cover in more detail later on. Covey was the last of the traditional time management teachers, releasing his book just before the advent of email as an all-encompassing business tool.
In 2001, David Allen’s Getting Things Done became the book of the noughties. He was the first to suggest that the approach to getting things done should be primarily bottom-up as opposed to top-down. Previous great-writers on core themes like personal development, leadership and time management always start with the ‘visioning’. The common ground running through so many self-help books is that you start by picturing your goal or defining what you’re trying to achieve. From there, you work backwards, from life goals through to annual goals through to quarterly targets all the way back to defining ‘what shall I do today?’
Getting Things Done turned this on its head by asking: ‘What’s on your mind?’ This simple insight that for most of us, getting clear on current commitments is the first step towards achieving the bigger vision – or even being able to see the bigger vision at all – was one of the reasons I think Getting Things Done had such success.
David Allen was born in 1945 and grew up in Louisiana, USA. He is the founder of the David Allen Company, one of the USA’s best-known productivity companies. His most famous work is Getting Things Done, although the more recent book, Making It All Work, is actually the one I would recommend if you have yet to read any of his work.
Below is an example of one of David Allen’s key messages that I’ve incorporated into my working life.
The two-minute rule
Getting Things Done advocated the use of the two-minute rule Simply put, if you come across something and the next action takes less than two minutes, just do it straight away. The two-minute rule is extremely effective for a few different reasons:
1. It means you don’t need to spend time adding it to a list and then time in the future re-reading it and trying to remember it.
2. It keeps your lists shorter.
3. It obviously keeps a lot of things moving.
4. The two-minute things are often the fiddly and annoying things, so forcing yourself to do them straight away saves a lot of procrastination.
5. It creates the positive psychology of completion, which is rare in so much of our work these days.
Brian Tracy’s classic book Eat That Frog, focuses on one of the consequences of our fear – procrastination. We all have tasks and activities that might be necessary but not fun. We might fear the social awkwardness, the potential for rejection, the potential for things to be hard or the potential for us to get things wrong. His advice is simple: start the day by ‘eating a frog’ – by doing the most difficult thing on your to-do list. This is a powerful piece of psychology.
Firstly, think of the inefficiency of procrastination. Procrastinating about something means thinking about it over and over again, constantly reminding yourself that you’re not doing it, while simultaneously distracting yourself with this thought and taking yourself away from whatever else you might have been trying to do. And you keep coming back again and again to how bad you feel about avoiding something. It’s a huge waste of time and mental energy.
Secondly, by starting the day by ‘eating that frog’, what happens is that you know that nothing else can phase you that day. You’ve started the day with your hardest thing, so the rest of the day is like free-wheeling down a hill. Psychologically, beginning with the heavy lifting and getting it out the way is a wonderful feeling.
Thirdly, by building a habit for regularly confronting the things that are hard, you become more comfortable with the fear. You start to see the results that come from confronting fear.
Which tasks over the last few days have been your ‘frogs’? Which ones did you procrastinate the most over and why?
It can be hard to develop the right routines or habits to make this happen. Starting the day thinking too much about that frog can leave you less and less likely to do it. One way around this is to build ‘eating the frog’ or ‘worst first’ into a wider daily habit. Keeping a simple checklist that includes your morning exercise or meditation, your breakfast, your daily to-do list planning and eating your frog can help establish a daily ritual that sets your frog in a wider and more positive context. The frog is just one of several things you do to honour and give thanks for the day and get you set on a good path. No big deal!
So many people focus on apps and systems when it comes to productivity. They spend time too much time organizing their stationery into neat sections and developing intricate filing systems. But how we deal with our own fear and foibles is absolutely critical to establishing good productivity habits. Without the right mindset or the ability to coach and manage yourself, there’ll always be something missing.
Mistakes are often looked at as inherently bad. But progress often comes from experimenting as much with what doesn’t work as what does. As one Chief Executive once told me, ‘I have no problem with people screwing up. My problem is always with the people who don’t own up or clear up’. Encourage experimentation and innovation, and think instead about how to do this as ‘safely’ as possible
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