Monday, August 06, 2007

Putting It Into Practice

WARNING: This is no short post. You may want to read it in bits and pieces.

My time management book continues to be the center of my life right now. I read it cover to cover and just passed it on to someone who I hope will get as much out of it as I did. I started it a week ago. I think I read a huge Stephen King book faster once upon a time when I was not quite 20-something and living carefree at home, but with my life right now - sans kids for the next few weeks - finishing a book in a week is pretty good. I'm two chapters now into another one I'm reading with my writing group and I want to finish that before Saturday, so boy will I feel accomplished - and empty-handed - when it's time to board that plane!

This one was good though. Really good. And this is how I know it's timely and meant for me to pay attention. This is from the most recent newsletter from Valerie, the life coach I follow:

We can sometimes buy into the notion that following our passion is supposed to be fun and exciting, but living purposefully is journey of character-building and evolving into the person you always knew you could be. The process is not always fun, but it does bring us rich rewards. I took an honest look at my life. It wasn’t bad, but “not bad” was not the goal. Admittedly, my schedule was a bit unruly. I managed to get a lot done, but with very little structure in my life, I was feeling scattered and ineffective. While I was not excited about embracing more discipline, I knew a change was needed. What I discovered in the process is that discipline is not about taking things away, but about giving you what you truly want.

This week, I challenge you to take an honest look at an area of your life where you know you are not living up to your potential. Consider the five key areas of your life: Relationships, Health, Work, Finances and Spiritual Life. Perhaps you need to exercise discipline when it comes to eating junk food or watching television instead of going for a brisk walk. Perhaps you need to be more discipline by leaving the office on time so that you have more time for yourself, family and friends. Maybe the area where it’s time for more discipline is spending. It’s time to take control of your finances by increasing what you save each month, taking steps to increase what you make and decrease what you spend. You know the area of discipline is that’s calling you. Your next step is to embrace the change, then enjoy the reward.

So this book is very encouraging in terms of wrangling that elusive creature that most, if not all, mommies seek - balance. How do you have and do it all? Well, I know and I've said before that you can have it all - whatever that means for you - and you can do it all. It just can't be all done at once. You have a whole life to acquire "it all" and I believe that's how you have to take these things. Plan for it over the span of your years, assuming you shall have the full amount you should and even if you don't, you still would have led a full life if what you do every day is another step in that direction toward a fulfilling, meaningful life. You do nothing, you get nothing. You do one little thing and all your little things eventually add up to big ones so make those little changes and revel in the fact that you did something. Many people choose to talk about change but never make it because they are too busy, they will do it one day, or they are looking to make a huge change all at once. Your baby steps actually will put you ahead of the game.

So now I am done reading. Allow me to share what I am taking away from this book. That is to say, these are the things I started implementing as of the moment I read about it. I am doing my best not to think beyond today in doing these techniques because I am hoping to simply convince myself to do them every day where necessary and to one day look up and see I've been doing it long enough now for it to become a habit. I know it takes about 30 days to makes something a habit but instead of counting to 30 days, I'm just going to celebrate every day I can do what I want to and just see what happens.

So having said all that, this is what I liked and I am doing, in no particular order:

1 - Assessing my current state of balance

This little task has to do with assigning value to every one of Wetmore's 7 facets of life and then seeing just how balanced I think I am, as well as thinking about what kinds of improvements I need and want to make in order to get that balance. There is a chart in the book and the example shows that you want to rate everything from 1 to 10 but in an ideal world, you may not choose to rate everything a 10, or the highest value to you. I do.

Health - 4. I've been higher.
Family - 6. Kids absolutely need more of me.
Financial - 6 and that's an improvement over years before.
Intellectual - 5 mainly because I don't read as much as I used to.
Social - 5. The friends see me even less than the family but they all know the deal so that's good.
Professional - Now this depends. My job is a 9 for sure. If I didn't have to commute, it would be a 10! My business is a 7 because we still aren't as organized there as we should be. But we're working on that as I write. Things go off for the rest of this year and we'll at least be at an 8 and 8 is great! My writing is a 5 because I don't do it like I should. If I did, I'd have a shorter procrastination list. (See that later.)
Spiritual - 5 because I don't do anywhere near what I used to when I didn't have kids. But I am working on that right now. (See The Waking Hour.)

Now if I multiply my ideal by my real, a balanced life for me would be a 700. With these numbers - using an average in the professional areas - I'm at a 380 right now. Just past half way. Man I have a way to go! But part of making this assessment is also determining what changes I want to make now. For me, it's not about what I want to change overall, it's about what can I honestly do right now and feel good about because it's that small step in the right direction. That I can't spell out for you - too much information! - but the numbers will come out to a 510. Significant boost and the things I did weren't big but they will make a difference for me.

2 - Index cards

I like this one. It's simply a method of notetaking that allows you to transfer it anywhere at any time. Surely I can keep a notecard on me, huh? One of the things Don said to do was to write out birthdays and such on these cards, one for each month, and clip that to the appropriate month in your planner so you don't forget. Well I don't plan to have another written planner so my PDA will be set to remind me of things. Still, I like the note cards for the other stuff - hear about a book? Write it down. Pull out the list next time you're at the bookstore and wondering what to get. Someone say something good for a Christmas gift for the hubby? Write it down and when your shopping time comes, the list is already done. One thing I like was an Irritations list. Every time something bothers you - car making noise, clogged sink, etc. - but you can't do anything right then and there, write it on your irritations list. This is part of reducing the stress in your life because stress makes you do crazy things too.

3 - 7x7

This is where the baby steps come in. Don Wetmore says that in order to effect the change you seek, just do one little thing - an improvement - in each of the areas every day and you will have made thousands of little improvements in the course of a year. Now, my challenge is to find little improvements to make in every single area but right now if I can do something every day in even one of them, I'm good. Still, it's not easy figuring out what they should be. My little changes would be the same as my big ones most of the time but I am thinking about it. Notes to the kids and Mr. T. - used to do that a lot once upon a time. Gotta do that again more regularly. Compliments. Learning a word a day. Saving a dollar a day. Stocking up on something you use a lot to avoid running out at the wrong time. Choosing NOT to do something. All that counts.

4 - The Waking Hour

Ah. Here's the real challenge that I am finally going to try to accept. I am not a morning person in the least. Wetmore says that everyone takes about an hour to wake up, whether you choose to do it at home or at work, it takes about that long to leave the alpha, dreamlike state you are in when you awake and enter beta which you operate in otherwise. His thought is to get up an hour before you need to and start the day slowly. Let it set the tone for the day, which should be stress free and in as much control as one can be on this side of heaven. 15 minutes of sitting on the edge of your bed and just visualizing, he says. Then 15 minutes of some sort of inspirational reading. Then go outside and walk for 30 minutes and THEN start your day. Now, I've known about that whole waking up an hour early thing and I detested it. Still do hate the thought of being up early for anything EVER. However, for the past 2 days I did it. Now that first 15 is a wash. It takes me that long just to get myself together - sit up ALL the way, go the bathroom, throw on something to wear for that time - so I take advantage of the next 15 and read my Bible. Presto! An improvement in my spiritual life. Just like that. This alone will help me feel that closeness to God again that I too often let slip because I get caught up in life. (Sure glad He doesn't operate like I do!) Then off I go, walking around the neighborhood for 30 minutes. Chango! A benefit for my health AND spirit as I continue talking to God as well as visualize. (See? That first 15 minutes got back in there after all.) This might even be good for the social life if I finally start talking to the neighbors I don't know but so far they haven't been out. I've only spoken to other strangers on the street and the trash guys. I suspect when the kids come home, I'm going to have to push this time back from 6 to 5:30 so I can be home by 6:30 to start getting my slowpokes together. But I don't want to think about that. I'm living in the now. And for now, I come home feeling pretty awake.

5 - Keeping it All in Check
Part of keeping the balance is keeping the information straight. I started straightening up my office again. I still can't do what I need to because I still don't have what I need to get the stuff physically organized. But I'm going through boxes, tossing what I can and just making it neat to my eye. That tends to make me want to go deeper and I'll do what I need to in time. When you have a whole house that needs little things here and there, it adds up so some things have to wait. That was a huge sidetrack! Anyway, I came across a calendar I tried to deal with back in 2004. Too big. I have one in a purse at home right now that I've been carrying for the past year. Not too big but it's very presence bugs me. So that's where the previous PDA discussion came in. Still on my to-do list for next month. In addition, it's time to put a Family Calendar on the fridge so everyone knows where everyone else is as much as possible. I'll do both of these before the end of September and let you know where I stand in December.

6 - More reading
Having the chance to read when the kids are gone really makes me miss it. I'm hoping to make it a habit again so my goal is a book a month. That taps my need to improve the intellectual side of my life and it may help the professional from time to time too since I love to read business books that apply to what I do. I've got a little list going on already in my Amazon favorites and on my trusty index card too so I should be set for quite a while.

7 - What do I value?

I think I answered this question once a long time ago. Probably while I was in job transition. The idea is to know what matters to you so while you are doing other things, you can keep it all in perspective. Some things are simply a waste of your time if it's doesn't somehow enhance what matters to you. Getting a huge job with big money is great but if family is what you truly value, that job may actually take away from the time you need to spend with them and then is it really worth it? Probably not. My values are pretty simple I think: family, friends, faith and freedom to be me. My job is a blessing because it doesn't compromise any of that. Nothing I do does. But I need more time for the first three, that's for sure. Thus my current foray into self-evolution.

8 - Procrastinated Items
This is one thing I need to do and I am procrastinating about. Actually, not so much. It's just that I know I won't do what I need to do right now so why fake the funk? My mission? To write that darn thesis. That requires calling the college to find out if it's simply too late and I need to let it go and forever have to say that I completed some grad work when in fact I completed ALL the classes and just didn't write the book. And speaking of, I have my children's book and another adult-focused one to finish too. Hmm. I'm sensing a theme. I know I can do it because I have a NaNoWriMo award to prove it. I write for my job regularly. I can do it.

One day at a time.

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