Find More Time by Eliminating “Shoulds”

Finding room in your new year to do the work you want to do means taking other stuff off of your schedule. Often, we can identify potential tasks for elimination when we say we “should” do something. In the coaching world, we commonly say that we “should all over ourselves.” When you hear a should coming out, ask “Who is speaking in these moment? Is it my inner critic or our inner mentor?”  I suggest using Julie Morgenstern’s process of “Deleting, Delaying, Delegating, and Diminishing.”

Strategies for Finding More Time

Delete: What tasks can you just simply eliminate without retribution?
Delay is What items can be put on hold?
Delegate What work and chores can be given to collaborators, students, staff assistants, family members, hired people?

 

Diminish How can you create short cuts and streamline tasks?

“Delete” the parts of your schedule that are a “should” instead of a must. Skip optional lectures and unnecessary meetings. Stop adding more detail to student comments than is necessary. Stop opening social media reflexively. Notice the increase in energy even when you make this decision—that is a sign that it is the right choice.

Include “delay” items on a separate part of the to-do list. Keep track of items include items that can wait for another day but you don’t want to forget about. Include also items that have punted elsewhere and you are awaiting response. Delaying can often mean that issues diminish or disappear.

It took me a long time to understand the value of delaying response to some email. I had the luxury of a sabbatical recently, and I turned on a vacation message that indicated that I would not be responding to emails quickly since I was not on duty that semester. I was fascinated to realize how well people could solve their own problems with a bit of time. Solutions that I would have spent time given were often not necessary after a few days—often people figured out their own questions if I gave them a few days to let them “season.”

“Delegate” tasks that others can do. Give assistants tasks such as copy editing, tracking down citations, and researching specific content. Consider what household chores can also be hired out to maximize writing time during busy periods. Discern when to spend the money to hire others with the question: What tasks can others do that would significantly decrease my level of stress?

I struggled with the inner critic images of the perfect mom and the successful academic pre-tenure. Looking at my internal rhythms, I was keenly aware most efficient writing hours were between 2 and 6 p.m., I was struggled with the limiting belief that they were the “most important” parenting hours of the day (an idea that seeped into my brain as an inner critic from some parenting book). They were certainly the most challenging parenting hours and if was fully honest, they were some of the least satisfying hours of parenting as well since they involved low energy for every one and lots of frustrating errands—driving to activities, meal preparation, and homework time. 

When on a deadline for a publication, grant, and during the critical year before my dossier was due, I invested in childcare several days a week during these key hours. I asked the babysitter to clean the kitchen and prepare dinner for the children and to transport the kids from place to place.

My sense of accomplishment increased and stress declined.  I emerged from my writing cave on those days with a sense of professional  accomplishment. I was much less likely to procrastinate knowing I was paying for that time. I was also ready to fully engage with my children, rather than burdened by the tasks of parenthood of transition and mealtime preparation. On my best days, I  gave myself permission to appreciate this gift of child care rather than feeling guilty about it, knowing that these pressured days were not forever but instead a period of time in my career and in the developmental stage of my kids’ lives.

“Diminish” emails. Handling emails more efficiently and read files only once. Respond to items requiring less than ten minutes immediately. Be precise in the subject line to improve the efficiency of the emails you must send (Morgenstern, 2011).  Move longer term items to folders and add the tasks to your to-do list. Your inbox should not be your to-do list since you cannot change the order easily. Keep focused on your priorities and use your to-do list faithfully instead of email to decide your next task. Beware also of the virus that is “zeroing out your inbox” rather than doing your important work.

“Diminish” schedule gaps. Diminishing also can occur by stacking meetings. Meet with students on your schedule, not theirs. That might mean that people have to wait a few days to talk with you. Stack your meetings around your teaching time so you can limit the time you are responsible to others in your office. Have days where you are only accountable to your five-year writing timeline.

 

Creativity with structure? Or let it flow?

A recent article getting a lot of attention talks about how some people may thrive on a lack of balance and mindfulness. It suggest that perhaps being mindful and calm just isn’t for everyone.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, an acclaimed writer for the New York Times, speaks to the need to hide in the bathroom to puzzle out a piece of her novel during a family dinner. Of juggling many balls at once to get it all done. She talks about NOT letting the big idea float away because she is trying to lie in savasana in yoga and empty her mind.

I agree with the author on her premises of how to work as a creative and get her writing done. When working with my writing clients, I often say that it is necessary to ride the creative wave when it hits. When everything is clicking and the words are pouring onto the page, clear the decks of all else and let that flow happen. Hide in the bathroom when the inspiration hits. Cancel plans and let the house get messy when inspiration is visiting.

In such waves of inspiration, sitting still is excruciating. Clearing my mind–not helpful.

It’s important to realize, however, that creative juices don’t flow evenly and always. I find that they come in waves. Ride them when they are there. But when the flow disappears, it’s time to rest and recharge and clean up our lives to prepare for the next influx.

Balance rarely means doing everything all the time in equal portions. Rather, it means that over the course of a bigger span of time, we are connecting with all of the pieces that matter to us. I can be a super mom for a week, and then a writer for another week. Can I be a super mom and an inspired writer all at once in the same day? Not very often, and if I do, my energy will be zapped for days.

When I do go on a creativity binge and write until my fingers are sore, I have to recover with sleep, self-care, and yoga. I need to recharge my inner battery by shutting off the phone and the email and the to-do list.

Mindfulness is very important in the times when we are stuck in critical pieces of our lives be it work, creativity, relationships or otherwise. It is an important tool when we have a decision to make and need to discern the best decision. Clearing of one’s mind is not necessarily getting rid of all thoughts. It is getting rid of the chatter. The negative tapes. The inner critic that sits in our head and judges us (and is NOT us). It is listening for the inner voice of truth and wisdom—finding the important voice by turning down the noise. THAT voice is where all of the creativity comes from.

Coaching provides a way to help us to find that inner zen. Mindfulness alone cannot find our own blindspots. Partnering with a trained professional can help to create the structures and habits that can restore our energy and point us back to our purpose when we are stuck, lost, or just moving in too many directions at once. It can also help us to rebound into those flows when life seems filled with creativity and joy.

So yes, chaos might reign and be healthy in the good times of abundance. But in the droughts of creativity, of energy, of love—coaching, mindfulness, body movement, rituals and prayer, quiet moments—all of these skills can give us healing. Can give us comfort. And can help us to find our way back to our purpose so that joy and inspiration can flow again.

Charge your batteries before the feast

The holidays can be a time that social anxieties and triggers flare all over the place. Sitting next to Uncle John with opposing political views at Thanksgiving dinner. Social obligations that make us uneasy. Lots and lots of things “to do.”

When we don’t prepare for these moments ahead of time, we often numb ourselves throughout. We drink too much wine. We eat too much turkey and pie.

The numbing tends to make us feel worse.  It further drains our batteries when we are already low.  We check out emotionally. Or explode. Awkward happens.

How can we avoid this damaging cycle? We need to prepare AHEAD of time for the moments that we know are coming.

Take the time before the crazy times begin to remind yourself of the habits that truly renew you.  Stick to what recharges your batteries so that you have the capacity to navigate the emotions and interactions of the holidays.  Ten minutes in silence. Deep breaths of fresh air on the front porch. Journal. Take a walk or a run.

If you are visiting away from your home, you might need to walk around the block of a family members house instead of walk in the woods. Or do a few yoga poses in a bathroom.  Do it anyway! Take these moments of solitude to clear your mind. Set intentions for the difficult parts of the holiday.

Remembering to recharge is a discipline. Especially on days where we don’t have a normal routine. Recharge requires setting an intention ahead time for self-care. Scheduling the time. Sticking to it when it’s easier to numb. Maybe even getting up an hour early or stepping out of the house for an “errand”

If you can stay grounded and centered, everyone around you will benefit from your ability to be present, calm, sure of who you are.

Doing so might even require enduring the comments of others who might judge and call it selfish. Often such people are not caring for themselves, so it is hard to appreciate when others are making wise choices. They might not think it’s “fair” that you step aside for a few moments. Send them love and light. And do it anyway.

Namaste.

Slowing Down.

Every year I spend a week in the woods. I live in a tent and I cook for my children’s summer camp. I unplug from my technology and steep myself in a much camp magic as possible.

I especially the singing at the fire circles. This song spoke right to me this year, sung over and over in a round:

Humble yourself in the arm of the wild
You’ve got to lay down low and… [repeat]

And we will lift each other up.
Higher and higher.
We will lift each other up.

Camp offers me the gift of slowing down. Noticing a bug walking across the roof of my tent. Sampling the blackberries along the trail. Staring into a fire.

The slower I get, the more I know. The more wisdom seeps up into me. The more grounded I am. The greater I am in touch with my truth. My intuition. The part of knowing that comes from deep within my belly and tells my monkey mind to hush up and surrender. To “be still and know.”

I’m back I’m the frenetic life of the day to day. But I keep trying to hum that melody and remember to notice. To wonder. To be thankful. And to get still and to listen deep within myself.

Ready for transformation? Contact dana@coachingbydana.com

 

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