Set Concrete Goals To Keep Your Day On Track.

4182510875_b63a9f77a6It’s happened to me so many times. I wake up. Get dressed. Have breakfast. Sort out my to do list. I pick away at them here and there. Have lunch. Have dinner. Then get to the end of my day. I get everything done, but I have a feeling it shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did.

Tasks always have a way of filling up as much time as you give them.

If you give yourself one hour to respond to emails, it will take one hour to finish them. If you give yourself one day to get that project done, it will take one day to finish it.

Set Concrete Goals To Stay On Track

One of the best ways to manage your time is to set concrete, attainable goals. This will give you direction for the day and a clearer focus on what you actually need to get done. When you get to the end of the day, you will be clear on exactly what you accomplished.

Don’t be vague and write something that’s not a specific goal. For example, this morning I had to finish a few things for a major research project I’m working on. Instead of saying, “I’ll go to Starbucks and read for a while,” I said: “At 9 a.m., I’ll go to Starbucks for two hours. By the time that two hours is over, I will have finished reading a key article for my project, locate additional resources, and write out a rough outline of my report.”

And did you notice something else?

Break The Big Task Into Smaller Parts

It’s important to break down a big task into small tasks that you can manage.  A huge project looks threatening.  A list of mini-projects looks much more manageable. This is beneficial practically and psychologically.  Notice that in my example, rather than having a big vague goal like, “finish my research project,” I broke the task down into small goals:

  • Read the most important article
  • Locate additional resources
  • Create a rough report outline

Having specific sub-steps will help you focus all the way through and knock things out in no time. Nothing will keep you on track better than concrete goals.

Don’t Forget To Relax

You will always feel a bit overwhelmed with the demands of life and no time management tip will fix everything, but you can set concrete goals to get your most important tasks done first. Take a little weight off of your shoulders.

As always, when you’re done working, set aside a little time to rest and do something you enjoy on a personal level. This will keep you from running on empty.

So remember: Take a big task and break it into small mini-tasks.  It’s easier to finish a list of small tasks than a mammoth project. Your to-do list will also look much less intimidating.

Have you ever tried breaking down your day into specific goals? How did it work for you? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Be sure to check out my Facebook or Twitter page. And don’t forget to share this article with someone who needs it.

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Out of Daily Work, Amazing Things Happen

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It’s pretty safe to say that many of us have a fear of missing out in life – or that we already have missed out.

I’ve often struggled with this fear. I become envious of innovative and inventive people. The pioneers. The people doing things never done before. I fear I’ll never be as good them.

Now it is wise to imitate disciplines of successful people. Studying the lives of people who have accomplished things you would also like to accomplish will prevent unnecessary mistakes and wasted time. But when I get caught in the comparison trap – spending all my time thinking about how I don’t seem to measure up – my mind is everywhere except for where it should be: Right here. Right now.

Many, if not all, big things start small. A favorite quote of mine from Picasso says:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

In Okinawa, Japan, there is an idea called Ikigai – a reason for living. A reason for waking up every day. Living with purpose in everything you do.

The people who do influential things in the world are the people who simply show up every day and get to work. Study the life of many famous people – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates – and you’ll quickly see that daily work and purpose were the keys to their success. They showed up. They created. They did the work. They lived with Ikigai.

And out of that daily work – amazing things happened.

I never had fears about purpose or significance when I was a kid. I got up every day. I went to school. I read books about things I loved. I enjoyed friends and family. And I always tried fun, creative ideas just because I could. I lived with Ikigai.

Fear only came when I grew up – when I started comparing myself with everyone else.

Some time ago, I began to realize that I don’t have to feel insignificant standing under the accomplishments of others. Fear and jealousy leave us moored to where we don’t want to be – like a boat that can’t sail to beautiful new places because it’s tied to a dock. But we can turn our eyes forward, live from curiosity and passion, pull the rope off, and free ourselves to live a genuine life. And from that genuine daily life, amazing things will come.

Do you have an ikigai? Share it in the comments. Be sure to check out my Facebook or Twitter page. And don’t forget to share this article with someone who needs it.

Have you ever met a 5-Minute Expert?

Photo Credit: J0R63 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: J0R63 via Compfight cc

A 5-minute expert is someone who knows almost everything, but hasn’t really done much work to get there. A couple of videos on YouTube and an article or two are all he needs to be sure of himself on nearly any topic. The 5-minute expert loves to show up in discussions about provocative topics; but any will do – even if it’s just a sports team or whether Apple or Android has the hottest new mobile device. The 5-minute expert seems to lack nuance and depth of understanding when he talks, and is much too sure of himself. Maybe you know someone like this – or maybe you have been like this yourself.

We’ve been doing this a long time

I think there are a few reasons why we fall into the 5-minute expert trap. For the last century or so, we’ve invented more and more ways to make life faster, more efficient, and less physically and mentally demanding. We do everything we can to make everything easier.

Think of the major inventions in recent history – they generally center on the idea of doing less work. An easier life isn’t always a bad thing – I’ll take less work any day. But it can have some negative side effects if we’re not careful.

Take information – the internet. The best part about the internet is that anyone can say whatever they want. The worst part about the internet is that anyone can say whatever they want. Google gives us millions of search results in a fraction of a second, and all we have to do is glean the results for a quick and easy answer. But quick information leads to sloppy conclusions.

We need to slow down

Life is so fast that we no longer take the time to slow down and just engage with it. We don’t take the time to know ourselves, to know each other, to form deep personal character, or to deeply engage with the minds of others and of ourselves. The late philosopher of science, Karl Popper, gave a beautiful illustration of what I think life should look like – especially as it relates to knowledge:

“The best thing that can happen to a human being is to find a problem, to fall in love with that problem, and to live trying to solve that problem…”

Depth does not come quick and easy. It takes a lifetime of intentional engagement.

And that takes work.

It requires becoming best friends with the phrase: “I don’t know.” It requires that we be honest – we’re often afraid of not having all the answers. The volume of knowledge that exists in the universe will always vastly exceed the capacity of our minds beyond comprehension. Be humble.

Go deeper

I do believe that truth exists and that things can be known, but it’s not easy and it’s never complete. And I’m always capable of being wrong.

Ask yourself what goes into a certain topic or opinion: What background knowledge must be known? How does your current perspective affect your interpretation? What are we sure of? What is still cloudy?

See things from the other point of view. Learn and acknowledge all the work that must be done to develop a perspective. Is there someone you don’t understand? Ask them the details about how they came to where they are now.

When we choose to be a 5-minute expert, we only cheat ourselves out of the depth and beauty that comes with a life of engagement. 

Donald Miller wrote a great article about truth on his blog: Storyline Blog. Be sure to check it out.

Don’t forget to leave a comment on this entry. Check out my Twitter or Facebook page. And don’t forget to pass this article along to someone who needs it.

Write to be Creative – Even if you’re not a Writer

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Writing is one of the best ways to get your creativity flowing – even if you’re not a writer.

I’ve written an article about how many of us struggle to see ourselves as creative people. We’re all artists – the brain constantly creates new ideas. Want proof? Try to keep your brain silent for even thirty seconds.

But I don’t want to just say that we’re creative. Let’s introduce a good habit to tap into that creativity. Daily free-writing is one of the best ways to engage with your thoughts and get your ideas flowing.  And everyone can reap the benefits; not just professional writers. The creative habits you develop from daily writing will benefit every area of your life – even the ones that have nothing at all to do with writing.

What is creativity?

Asking this question is kind of like asking, “What is art?” It’s almost hopeless to get a good definition that works for everyone. But I think that at its heart, creativity is nothing more than the ability to make new connections between things you already know.

Creativity is the ability to engage with your thoughts and experiences, and draw new things out of them.

Writing to be creative.

When you spend time writing, you’re forced to engage with your own thoughts. You have to think about, well, what you’re thinking. You have to think about what happened yesterday, or last week, or last year, or ten years ago. You have to think about different areas of your life and how they might all go together.

Writing puts things together on a wider scale. It makes new connections where you didn’t see any before.Creativity.

Creativity is not so much about being original – it’s more about seeing something that’s already there from a different angle. Just the very act of writing, even if it’s not particularly amazing writing, is still being creative. I’m going through my head, seeing what’s there, and putting it together.

The steps needed to get into the daily discipline of writing are very similar to the ones suggested in my other article: Six Steps to Getting Things Done. So let’s get started with the writing discipline.

Make a time and a place.

It’s hard to do things when we just leave them on our mental “whenever I get to it” list.

Set aside a time and a place for your writing. If you work best in the morning, wake up a few minutes earlier. More of a night-owl? Then do it in the evening. Or maybe you just have a few minutes during your lunch break. Pick a time then pick a place.

I like to go to the library or lock myself in my home office for a few minutes. Maybe you like the coffee shop. Whatever you like. Just pick a place where you feel comfortable and focused.

Don’t get distracted.

For me it’s a big let-down when I’m getting into my thoughts and then get distracted by an email or Facebook chiming in the background. Shut everything off for a few minutes while you’re writing. Or better yet, if technology is just too distracting for you, just get a paper journal instead. Most of my writing is on the computer, but sometimes I just like to sit with a cup of coffee and write in my beautiful handmade leather journal.

Consistency is key.

I like to write for about twenty-five minutes every morning. I feel like that’s the best balance between getting to the deep places in my brain and not getting mentally burned out. But do what works best for you and what you have time for. Maybe it’s 750 words – 500 words – one page. Whatever. Pick a target and stick with it. Consistency is most important – so don’t burn out trying to do more than you can.

Don’t over think it.

You’re not trying to win a prize in literature – just trying to get into the habit of exploring your thoughts and being creative. It doesn’t matter if your grammar is perfect or if you write in the precision of a Greek epic. Just get your thoughts on paper. If you want to make something nice, you can always go through it again later and pick out the good parts.

Some days you’ll feel like profound words are flowing out of your fingers with no effort at all. Some days you’ll feel like you have nothing worth saying. I struggle with writing all the time. But when I just show up, sit down and do it, I’m often pleasantly surprised at something new I hadn’t thought of before.

Writing helps every area of life.

Even if you’re not planning on being a writer, or don’t even have a blog and never plan on making one, writing will still be enormously beneficial for you. You’ll still get into the habit of making those new connections.

What if you could train your brain to become much better at making those connections all the time? What if you could take that ability you developed from writing and transfer it into everything else you do: like fixing something around the house or solving problems at work? You’d feel more confident and do a much better job at the other things you have to do that aren’t related to writing.

Why not take a one week writing challenge and see what you come up with? Leave me a comment or visit my Facebook and Twitter page and share your experience with us. And don’t forget to share this article with someone who needs it.