After the birth of my daughter, I quickly returned to work. I spent the entire first year of her life working, traveling and building my business. Caught up in my own busyness and striving to achieve some idealized notion of success I painfully realized on her first birthday that I had few real, joyful memories from that year.
It was in that moment that I made the decision to live differently. I wanted to savor the small joys of each day, to be as present and engaged in this moment and to no longer let busyness drive my life.
For the next 10 days I invite you to join me in a Holiday Joy Challenge to reconnect with your joy. Each day there will be a new joy tip or strategy for you to try.
Why does this matter? Your life with a lot more joy awaits you.
Day 1 – Creating Space for Joy – Decline or Shorten a Meeting
Moments of joy often require that we are fully present to our life and not merely reacting to the deluge of calls, emails and to dos that come our way. To be more present in the here and now you need some space on your calendar. Open up your calendar and look at your meetings for this week. Select one and answer the questions below:
- Will this meeting assist you in achieving your goals?
- How does the purpose of the meeting align with the company’s strategic priorities?
- What contribution can you make in the meeting?
- Will anyone even notice if you are not present?
- Will this meeting be energizing, or will it suck the life right out of you?
- Will this meeting be a rehash of the last five meetings you attended?
- Is attending this meeting the highest and best use of your time right now?
If you answer no to one of these questions, decline the meeting. Every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else.
Day 2 – Get into a work flow – Batch like tasks.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described flow as a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. And he asserted that a hallmark of flow is a feeling of joy while performing a task. To get into this flow, batch or group like tasks. For example, group all of your phone calls together, email correspondence, data analysis, or writing. When you perform the same type of task it is easier for you to concentrate and fully immerse yourself in what you are doing. This is essential if you are going to achieve that flow state.
Day 3 – Stop Shoulding all Over Yourself and Use Your P.O.W.E.R.
The shoulds are those voices in your head—you know the ones—saying “You should be doing this,” “You should like that,” “You should spend time on this,” “You should stop doing that,” and so on and so forth—endlessly. The problem with the shoulds is that they can easily become a runaway train, robbing you of joy and completely undermining your ability to get clear and focused on what you need. To combat the shoulds, use the P.O.W.E. R. No.
Here’s how to use it:
- Priorities: When that voice in your head tells you that should complete this task, lead another project, attend another meeting, or make cupcakes from scratch, evaluate the priority of that message. How does this ‘should’ align to your priorities, the company’s strategic priorities and/or your families’ priorities?
- Opportunities: Explore the opportunities. What opportunities does this ‘should’ create for you? Is there something that does actually need additional attention in your life? This ‘should’ could be shining a light on something that you need to address.
- Who: Who or what triggered this ‘should’? Was it an old script from childhood? Was it an ad in a magazine? Was it your colleague?
- Expectations: Whose expectations are these really? Your manager? Your mother? Your spouse? Your child? Society’s?
- Real: Get real. What is this ‘should’ really about? Are there real priorities that are driving this ‘should’? Or are you taking on societal expectations that are not in alignment with your priorities?
The P.O.W.E.R. No enables you to think carefully and critically about all of the shoulds so that you can consciously and thoughtfully respond. Just say no and stop shoulding all over yourself. Your joy filled life is waiting.
Day 4 – Clear the mental clutter. Do a brain dump.
Mental clutter – that incessant voice in your head reminding you of things to do, emails to respond to and meetings to schedule – is stealing some of your joy. It is hard to be joyful when you are constantly being pulled away from the present moment. Clear the mental clutter by doing a brain dump. Think about everything you need to do, personally and professionally. Imagine turning your brain upside down and emptying out its contents onto paper, a whiteboard, or into the computer program of your choice. The goal is to get all the to-dos and ideas out of your head and into the physical world. Once your to-dos are in the physical world your mind is free to think about things, not of things – exactly what it was intended for. As your mind begins to quiet you will find yourself able to be a little more present and to notice the simple pleasures in your life – those simple pleasures that make you smile and bring you joy. Clear the mental clutter and reclaim your joy.
Day 5 – Create a stop doing list.
As your responsibilities continue to expand at work and in life, you keep adding tasks and projects to your to do list. However, as that list grows, you’ll notice something – you’re never taking anything off of the list, and THAT is the antithesis of joy. Take a hard, critical look at your projects and tasks and ask yourself if each project is still relevant. Are the tasks directly tied to your goals or your organization’s goals? There are probably a few tasks and projects lurking on your list that need to be moved to the stop doing list. No one is going to miss them. Open up space in your life to start doing things that bring you joy by removing the things are no longer relevant, aligned to your goals and are creating unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Day 6 - Focus on the Real Work That Is Aligned to Your Goals and Brings You Joy
There is work—the routine, time-filling work most of us spend our days performing—and then there is your real work, the work that takes you one step closer to achieving your goals and bringing you joy. Reshape your task list to focus on the real work. First, examine your assumptions. Where are you letting assumptions guide your decision-making process about the work that needs to be completed? Are assumptions - that may be false, misleading, or unsupported - getting in the way of you completing the work that is aligned with your personal goals? Assumptions hijack your joy by keeping you trapped in the busy work cycle.
Then ask, “What do I need to start doing? What projects and tasks need to be added to my to-do list that will enable me to achieve my goals and bring me joy?” Put them on the list.
Leave the busy work to someone else, someone who does not want your joy filled life. Focus on the real work that you are meant to do.
Day 7 – Work in vacation mode and stop extending your day.
Long days that never seem to end are not part of the recipe for a joy filled life. It is time to work in vacation mode and stop extending your days. Have you ever noticed what happens before a vacation? Your inbox is magically cleaned out, projects are wrapped up, and your desk is cleared off. I call this the vacation phenomenon. The vacation is a hard deadline. As a result, you have to get the work done before you go. Consider working in vacation mode even if you are not going on a vacation by creating hard stops to your work day. For example, schedule a fun activity after work that has a hard start time – a movie, a play or a sporting event. The scheduled activity will force you to stop working and you will be more effective throughout your day because you know you cannot keep working until all hours of the night. Or, if you are ready to take it up a notch, schedule a date with yourself to just do something fun, which is exactly what my client did on a Friday afternoon when she left at 5 pm to finish watching the end of season two of her new favorite show on Netflix.
Day 8 – Personalize your productivity tools and stop accepting one-size-fits all solutions.
One-size-fits all t-shirts never fit properly. The same applies to one-size-fits-all approaches to personal productivity. Maybe you have tried to use a calendar tool you received in a time-management workshop or those colored post-it notes that a friend recommended. If the results were disappointing, the fault is not yours—it’s the fault of tools and techniques that do not match your Productivity Style.
So instead of fighting against your natural thinking, learning, and communicating preferences, work with them. Identify your Productivity Style and then embrace it. Use your understanding to guide the choices you make to manage your attention, invest your time, get work done, tame your inbox, and design your work space in ways that are customized for you—not for someone else.
Day 9 – Decide what is good enough and stop.
Perfectionism is often helpful in my line of work. However, too much of it deprives me of joy because I spend so much time overanalyzing and overdoing that I am never really in the present moment, which is where I can find joy. Do you know what good enough is for each of the projects on your list? This is good enough for the organization and good enough for you. And if you have any doubts, ask a colleague, friend or significant other for their insights to keep you from falling into the trap of perfectionism. Overthinking, over editing and over tweaking wastes valuable time and is not necessary. Do good work, and then stop.
Day 10 – Bring back recess! Go play!
Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute of Play, says that play is what keeps our brains flexible and is what enables us to innovate, create and solve problems in new ways. And, in his “play histories” he has found that people who do not make time for play – in either attitude or activity – are often joyless, rigid, have diminished curiosity and, at the core are depressed. It is time to bring back recess and go play! What did you enjoy doing as a child? Think, how did you spend those long summer days that seemed to stretch on forever? Now, disconnect play from any purpose. The true measure of play is how it feels, not what it produces. Lighten it up and lose yourself, even for two minutes, in the joy of play.
In the midst of our busy, hectic and frenzied lives there are flashes of joy – a smile on the face of your child, landing a new client, a hug from your significant other, laughing with your friends, acknowledgement from your boss of a job well done or finally making it all the way through a boot camp class.
And it is in these moments that you experience a lightness of being, a rejoicing, and a delight that emanates to your very soul reminding you that life is more than a crammed schedule, bulging inbox, and never ending to do list.
For more inspirations and motivational messages to increase productivity, find additional resources at www.carsontate.com.