Archive for February, 2012

February 18, 2012

10 Ways To Slow Down (OR: Don’t Be A Russian*)

I love rushing around.

It’s a great way to feel like you’re getting stuff done. In its best moments, it can be inspiring, even euphoric.  And it feels virtuous: For years, I used moving around as fast as possible, doing way too many things, as a way of feeling a sense of self-worth. It’s also a great way to avoid other feelings: the adrenaline high cuts off pesky emotions and bodily needs.

But rushing is a terrible way of being effective, enjoying life, and focusing on friends, family, and what’s important. And for you fellow workaholic, overachieving types: Yes, it feels good, but let’s be honest. It’s like running a rat wheel with only brief moments of satisfaction: You achieve! — and 5 min later you think, “What’s next?”

THE SYMPTOMS

You may be moving to fast, if:

  • At the end of the day, you have a hard time describing what you accomplished
  • You eat lunch and a few minutes later struggle to remember the taste
  • Spending time with your nearest and dearest feels like wasting time
  • You’re always walking as fast as you can (even when you’re not late)
  • The thought of leisure fills you with a) intense longing or b) dread

…you’re probably moving too fast.

But slowing down isn’t easy, especially if we’ve developed a rushing habit and rush around even when it isn’t necessary.

10 WAYS TO SLOW DOWN

  1. TAKE A BREAK: “Well, duh,” you say. But how often do you actually do this during the course of a day? And now, taking a break by working on something else or trolling the internet doesn’t count. Seriously, how often do you rest for at least 5 minutes and do NOTHING? (That’s what I thought.)
  2. BREATHE: Take a breath in, let the breath go out, and repeat. Feel free to let your mind wander, but try to let go of thoughts related to what you’re taking a break from. Often when you return to your work, you’ll find you have a new perspective.
  3. STARE OUT A WINDOW:  It’s amazing how much it can help to just notice that the world is trundling along just fine outside your stress bubble. Trying watching people walk by or staring at the clouds moving. [Ever notice how clouds don’t seem to be moving until you stare at them? Sneaky bastards.]
  4. SAVOR SOMETHING: Drink a cup of tea. Enjoy a piece of chocolate. Whatever you do, do it slowly and really taste it. Focusing on the detail helps slow the brain down.
  5. WALK SLOWLY: As you go to your next meeting or walk to catch the bus, walk at 1/2 your normal speed. When I walk fast (and people have complained about how fast I walk since I was 5) my mind moves fast, too. When I slow down, my mind opens up to the world around me. I notice my neighbor or the sunshine on my face rather then being lost in a haze of work-related anxiety.
  6. NAP: This is one of the best ways to relax, recharge, and get out of the adrenalized zone. 10 or 20 minutes is best for most of us. One of my favorite things in the world is the feeling of lying in bed, quietly awake, after a good nap.
  7. TALK TO A FRIEND: Ask them to listen to you (without commenting) for 5m. Warning: Often people think that 5m seems as long as the grand canyon is wide, and fear they’ll run out of things to say. Never had this happen with people who I’ve listened to: usually a torrent of words emerges. Getting all that pent up stuff out, even if it’s boring and mundane, helps clear space to slow down.
  8. LISTEN: Now that you’ve babbled like an idiot to your friend, return the favor by listening to them. Actively listening is something we rarely do; often we’re thinking about what we want to say or some other thing we have to do. Just listen.
  9. ONE PROJECT: Now that you’ve finished your break and you’re getting back to work, trying focusing on only one thing for the next hour. Ask your colleagues to hold off on questions until then. Don’t multi-task: just work on that one paper, email,  batch of cupcakes, or plot for world domination. And move at 1/2 speed while you’re at it.
  10. DON’T RUSH: Again, obvious, but rare that we actually do it. Whatever you’re doing, try it at 1/2 speed. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. If you’re like me you’ll find you go slow for about 30 second before getting dragged back into whatever you’re working on. Notice this when it happens and slow down again. Have patience.

In 2012, I’ve made a concerted effort to slow down. I mostly focus on walking slowly and taking breaks. They’re small changes, but life is more enjoyable, I am calmer at the end of the day, and more aware of myself and the people and world around me.

It’s not easy. Especially if I have deadlines or commitments to other people and feel like I have too much to do. Instead of cutting back or prioritizing, my instinct is to work faster rather than smarter. Even while writing this blog post, I’ve had to remind myself to let go and take a break that doesn’t involve the internet.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What helps you slow down? What makes you rush?

*Bad pun is free of charge.

February 17, 2012

THE STICK & THE CARROT (OR: How to motivate yourself to get things done)

I’m good at getting things done: my friends tell me this I true.

But I have a dirty secret:

…It’s only because I beat myself up.

Yes, I’m good at meeting deadlines, scheduling time to write and doing it, and doing a 5 year plan. But it’s only because if I set up that expectation, I feel like a piece of crap if I don’t do it. I feel worthless. I often don’t enjoy the process.

I use the stick to get myself to write and perform. Good for work ethic, bad for the person.

So I’ve got a goal for 2012: follow what excites me. Time to try a carrot, some positive motivtion.

So far it’s been a roller coaster ride: I haven’t been this connected to my passion and sense of fun since I was a kid. I’m also not getting work done that’s necessary to tour my show — and that’s making me anxious.

But even if I was getting stuff done, I’d be anxious, because that’s how the stick works.
Here are a few things I do to follow my excitement

  • JOURNAL: Pose yourself the question “What excites me right now?” and write for 5m, non-stop. This is a great way of connecting at work, on the bus, or when you’re feeling out of it.
  • FUTURE WRITE: Write a journal entry from the future. Talk about your project as if you’ve already met your goal and got the best possible response.
  • PRIORITIZE: Make a short list of your top 3-5 activities. I’ve got mine here. If your feeling stuck or find yourself doing a lot of stuff you don’t like to do, check your list. What can you do, write know, from your list of most important things.
  • TRY SOMETHING QUICK AND FUN FIRST: Warm-up. Do something fun and easy. Especially, if you’ve got part of a project you don’t want to do, try something you love to do first for 10-20  minutes. The other day, I had no interest in organizing a tour of my show. I chose to work on rewriting the scrip instead: that took off and a little while later I was so excited about the project again, I couldn’t wait to contact those people so I could share this new material.
  • FILL THE WELL: If you’re mired in the dreck and not feeling motivated, set aside an hour to just do something fun that has no (apparent) relation to your work. My top choices would be to go on a hike, read a book, or free write — just write for the pleasure of it. I find these things often give me a new perspective on my work, even if I’m not thinking about them. And if nothing else, I’ve had some fun so I don’t feel deprived.
  • SLOW DOWN: If you’re a typical creative, you may get excited and inspired easily. This can burn you out and lead you on — it can also make you think that, if you’re not inspired, that your doing something wrong. Or give up on your main project because you’ve had an exciting idea and your craving that creative rush. One solution to this is to slow down: breathe for 10m, make a sandwich, meditate, go on a walk. Actively focus on that activity and feel yourself calm down. Make space for the inspiration to come back into the work.

***

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

How do you motivate yourself — carrot or stick? What are the pros and cons of both?

Especially interested in how you positive motivators get done the things you don’t want to do.

February 14, 2012

MY WAY OR THE HARD WAY (OR: Why I Pick The Hard Way)

Yesterday, it happened again. There was a deadline: a friend’s birthday party. And I still had too much to do before I left.

So I did the only logical, sensible thing to do in this situation: I PANICKED THE FRICK OUT.

This situation — too much to do, not enough time to do it — is a trigger for me, a deeply ingrained habit I’m working hard to let go. Fortunately, I wised up. And just recognizing the trigger helped me let it go.

I decided to recover what was left of the day, and spend the next 2 hours figuring out how to let go of my expectations, prioritize what I needed to get done, and let go of the anxiety.

There was only one problem: it only took me about 5 minutes to do those thing.

WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM

Because it felt like it should be harder work.

Here I had spent 4 hours slowly growing more anxious about all the stuff I had to get done,  had a big ‘aha!’ moments, and alloted myself 2 hours to figure out what to do next and do it.

And it only took 5 minutes to relax and replan. Because it only took me 5 minutes, it seemed too easy.  And easy work doesn’t seem like, uhm, good enough.

THE PROBLEM: MY SENSE OF PROGRESS

My sense of progress is based off of feeling like I’m working hard. More specifically, too hard. If I’m not a little bloody and bruised at the end of the day, I’ll catch myself thinking: well, I still coulda (shoulda) pushed myself harder.

Because progress is hard work for me, I’ve found myself working hard and getting nothing done. Or something done, but taking 5 hours when 2 would do. Because getting my task accomplished is second to working hard. And doing things the simple way — well, it doesn’t feel good, because it wasn’t hard enough.

This is ridiculous but I often pick the hard way over the way that best serves me — the way I want to do it.

CHOOSING MY WAY (THE SMARTER, EASIER WAY)

It happened again today as I was preparing food for work: I felt anxious because I don’t have the money to spend on lunch out until Wednesday so I needed to brown bag it.

But I didn’t want to spend Sunday evening toiling in the kitchen — and that’s what it felt like: I needed to work hard to get this thing done, because it was the right thing to do even though I didn’t want to do it.

I caught myself again. And this time I looked at my goal: Bring food for tomorrow (not make a gourmet 3 course meal. )

This raised a few questions:

  • Was there anything that I had pre-made? Sure, some lentils and mashed potatoes from last night. (1 meal)
  • Did I have any snacks I could bring? Yeah, I had some cheese that’d serve for a quick bite. (2 meals)
  • Did I have 1-2 or 2 ingredients I could throw together? Baked beans — check, toast — check. (3 meals)
  • And while I don’t have the money to eat out, don’t I have about a pound in change on my desk? I can buy a can of soup with that. (4 meals)

And I was done.

And it was uncomfortable, because it didn’t feel like enough work. I still felt apprehensive. I’d been gearing up for the virtuous slog, and instead I’d found an easy way to accomplish my goal.

I counted up my meals.  I had more than enough food for tomorrow and some for Tuesday. Took about 5 minutes and I didn’t have to do a lick of cooking.

THE MORAL

Letting go of working hard to feel good will take me a long time.  Key to recognizing this trigger is acknowledging the following:

  • My goal: What am I really trying to accomplish?
  • My motivation: Am I motivated to do this out of anxiety? Do I really want to be doing this?
  • My options: What’s the easiest, most pleasurable way to get there?
  • The finish line: How will I know when I’m done? (For the example above, counting my meals when I was done preparing them.)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

How do you know when you’re making progress?

What are you working hard on right now? Do you need to be working as hard as you are, or is there a better way?

Write on.
Chris

February 11, 2012

A TERRIBLE CASE OF THE SHOULDS (OR: Don’t Do What You Think You Should Do)

Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m a should-a-holic.

It’s last Friday night, and I can’t get comfortable.  I’ve been eating burriottos with friends, drinking and laughing. But I couldn’t fully relax. Later, I’m in bed, reading, and it’s like there is a rock in my shoe. I can’t quite lock in and enjoy what I’m reading.

I think: “It feels like I should be doing something else.”

Ah, I smile to myself. It’s just the SHOULDS.

And I settle in and finish the book.

***

The shoulds can be good. The help you:
•    Get to work on time.
•    Remember to pay your bills.
•    Be a responsible citizen.

But problem is the shoulds are based on guilt, or at least a sense of responsibility. They’re negative and external — it’s not what you want to do, but what somebody else expects of you and most likely they’ll be negative consequences if you don’t do it.

The shoulds are the enemy of creativity and figuring out what to do with your project, your ideas, or your spare time. And if you default to the question, “What should I do?” you won’t get around to doing what you want to do: the fun stuff, the creative stuff, like getting started on that writing project, brainstorming that product, or calling that person you should meet with.

Instead of asking “What should I do?” ask yourself “What excites me?” Right now. In this moment. What excites you?

If you’re like me, the answer you may get is a big, whistling silence. Because for those of us who haven’t asked ourselves this question in a long time, that part of us has gone numb.

Instead of asking yourself “What am I meant to do?” ask yourself “What do I love doing?”

3 WAYS TO STOP THE SHOULDS

Don’t deny the shoulds; instead work on strengthening your sense of excitement.

  1. LIST: Make a list of what excites you. Running, avoiding writing that work email, taking a shower, listening to song, calling your friend. Whatever gives you that shiver — or at least the thought “That would be nice.
  2. WORK OUT: Do this listing exercise every day. For 5m. No more. No less. Just do it everyday. Your working out a muscle and it’s better to do it every day to build strength.
  3. DECIDE: Cut up the slips of paper. Put them in a hat and order them, with the most exciting up top. This may be hard: prioritization of things that excite you can be hard if your used to thinking about what SHOULD happen. If you only had 20m today to move one of these ideas or activities forward, what would it be?

***

Don’t wait, start now: Ask yourself the question, “What excites me?” Right now. In this moment. What excites you?

Why not start by writing 3 things in a comment below?