End-of-the-year reflection may seem like a timeworn practice, but I've found it the best hope for a purposeful next year. As I look back at 2014, I am determined for 2015 to be defined by simplicity that yields fulfillment.
It is easy to get swept up on the wrong side of the tension of "Having it All vs. Having What Matters." But what could possibly be gained by another year of attempting to look like I can do it all, missing out on the things that are more aligned with my purpose? These are the six things I will be doing in 2015 to trade an overabundance of busyness for a life more focused on what matters most.
1. Do the most important things first
A day can easily end with many little things completed, but that looming project or needed, but likely-to-be-long, conversation goes uncompleted for another day. We can all relate to the instinct of first wading through a sea of emails, news updates, and then along the way, we are swept up by the tyranny of the urgent, only to end the day feeling a dissatisfying, unfulfilling sense of exhaustion.
But if instead, before allowing my energy to go to anything else, I begin my day by filtering my to-do list through my sense of purpose, and do those things that most align with what would be truly fulfilling, the day may still end in exhaustion, but a deeply satisfying variety. Brian Tracy's Eat That Frog, based on this idea, derives its title from Mark Twain's quotation, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." While a day's tasks are rarely a matter of better or worse, they are always a matter of important or not.
2. Avoid rabbit holes
Whether it's the ding of a new email, text, phone call, or an article promising an insider's look at the next season of Downton Abbey, we can hardly stop ourselves from satisfying our curiosity. "It will just take a minute," or "It's important I address this right away," or "I can take a quick break" are cues we have habits that might ultimately derail us from staying on purpose. Barring the rare but real emergency, most things can wait. I have found that the discipline to keep focused on the task at hand is a critical characteristic in determining success.
3. Protect how I feed and use my brain
The way we consume information and media is fundamentally changing the way we think and how our brains function. Because of how television and online media is structured, our brains are becoming more able to flit from one topic to the next, but less able to stay focused on one topic long enough to develop sustained and critical thought. Ever since reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, I am convinced that we can--and must--make wiser choices daily to support our brain's development by staying focused on big ideas long enough for them to take hold and direct us toward more informed and meaningful lives.
4. Trade multitasking for being present
It turns out that although we love to brag about being excellent multitaskers, it's a delusion. It is simply not possible for the brain to do multiple things at once, and neuroscience proves that those who attempt to do so perform their tasks at a lower level and are generally more prone to distractions. This one is the toughest for me. But if I focus on one task at a time, giving it my 100% attention, it will be done at a much higher level, making my time spent exponentially more effective.
5. Go for walks, eat a good meal, and get more sleep
It feels crazy to go for a walk when tasks loom large. But there is nothing quite like a head-clearing walk or the refreshment of a solid night's sleep to help us be at our absolute best. The man that officiated my wedding counseled us that a good meal and a good night's sleep lead to a better marriage. I've found this to be absolutely true.
6. Build in margin to connect with people
If we aspire to do anything meaningful, we must develop strong relationships, for it is through both the quantity and quality of time together that significance develops. Deep, healthy, abiding relationships take time. They take focus and attention. We must plan our schedules to enable depth and breadth of presence, rather than having a calendar that leads to constantly clipped conversations. Prioritizing people always pays off--this is where we gain our deepest fulfillment and are positioned for our most satisfying successes.
What will you do this year to simplify your life? How will you ensure 2015 is a year of meaning?