Pausing to check

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks (Creative Commons)

I do volunteer work with a group called I Run 4 (read more here), which pairs runners with special needs adults and child buddies. Since I do the matches, I get emails from both buddies and runners asking all sorts of questions.

Most of the emails are polite and cordial, but the other day, I got one that said, “”Hi I signed up more than a year ago. Could you please tell me what happened?”

I was a little taken aback at the abrupt and accusatory tone, and when I checked, I did not see this person on any list or find any sign that they had done anything other than join the closed Facebook group, which meant they did not follow the directions on how to sign up. As the exchange continued, the tone got more abrupt and rude, which I have to admit, made it difficult for me to continue.

Conversations like that remind me how important it is to pay attention to my tone with others, no matter what else is going on in my life. It’s important to stay positive and upbeat, and not get upset or negative whether I’m in a store, talking with a co-worker, or answering the phone. Getting loud or upset never helps and usually puts people off. It is much easier to get answers and solutions when you are working “with” people instead of working against them.

Sometimes I find I need to pause before I speak – or hit send – and make sure that my tone is pleasant.

How do you make sure you are approaching an interaction with the right frame of mind?

Low hanging fruit

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Photo courtesy of Ross G.  Strachan

Photo courtesy of Ross G. Strachan

What do you do when your task list is so long and unruly that you freak out and become completely overwhelmed?

That is me lately – I’ve been dealing with the urgent too much. I have been putting out so many fires and taking so many notes, that when I finally sat down to see what all I really needed to be doing, I had to throw my hands up in frustration because there was so much to be done.

I took a deep breath, and went back through my list with a highlighter to pick out what I call “low hanging fruit.”

I knew there was no way I could get it all done quickly, so I highlighted some tasks that were fairly simple to accomplish and that didn’t take a huge block of time to complete. Then I got started.

A couple of the items involved quick email as a starting point to a larger project. I filed a few things that I no longer needed. I made a couple of phone calls.

I couldn’t believe the lift I got from finally accomplishing even things so small. I had not checked off any major projects, or spent any significant time working through solutions, but I had made some progress that would make those things easier later on.

Plus, when I went back through the list, it felt incredible to be able to mark things off, and then I could refine my list so it wasn’t quite so overwhelming. I also took the time to block out work time on my calendar for some of the larger projects.

Had I focused on one of the major projects first, I would have been distracted by the volume of little tasks still outstanding. If I had continued to work on refining the task list, I would have been spinning my wheels.

Instead, I felt like I had made major progress and was energized to take care of even more things. Now I can make reasonable progress, and feel confident that other things aren’t falling through the cracks.

What low hanging fruit can you knock off?

Thinking outside the box

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IMG_0102Do you like to watch clouds and try to figure out what shapes they are making?

One evening I was going for a walk and looked up to see Pooh bear in the clouds!

It’s a great way to let your imagination flow and I find that creativity shows up in other ways when I let my mind go like that.

It is especially productive if there are issues and challenges at work or in other areas of my life. Solutions that are decidedly outside the box tend to present themselves when I’ve opened myself up and am not so uptight in my thinking.

I am realizing I need to be more intentional in that kind of creative thinking instead of stumbling into it. It can be any activity that entices creativity to come out – a daydream, a conversation with a friend, or cloud watching at the pool.

Once you prime your imagination, what kind of innovative solutions will you find?

I’m doing this because…

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Photo courtesy of Charlotte90T (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Charlotte90T (Creative Commons)

I’ve been struggling to simplify and streamline my life and actions lately, and as part of that, I have been paying closer attention to not just what I am doing, but why I am doing it.

I let so many different obligations and activities into my life by either saying yes, or by not firmly saying no, and they often crowd out the things that are really important to me. Things that could make a difference to others.

I’m learning to examine each of my activities followed by the word “because” so that I can start to determine whether I’m doing things for the right reasons. Then I can begin to trim some of those activities out.

I’m doing (fill in an action) because:

  • I have to/someone is making me
  • It will get me further ahead/make me look good
  • It’s always been done this way
  • I can’t/won’t think of another way to do it
  • I can’t/won’t let anyone else do it
  • Someone dropped the ball
  • I don’t have anything else to do
  • I don’t know what else to do
  • There’s no one else who can/will do it, but it is important
  • I enjoy it
  • It is healthy/good for me
  • It’s the right thing to do
  • It will make a different in someone’s life

Give it a try with just a few of the things you do regularly – I bet you’ll be as surprised as I was about the motivations behind some of those actions. If the reasons fall at the top of the list, I am resolved to make some changes.

Just an awareness of the reason I’m doing something instead of blindly doing it helps me make better choices. There are some things that are impossible to simply stop doing, but I can spend less time and energy on them and start phasing them out. That will leave time to start adding the things that are more important.

Now what?

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Photo courtesy of Sarcasmo (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Sarcasmo (Creative Commons)

Now what? That’s the question I sometimes feel like asking when I’m having a rough day. What else can go wrong is really what I mean.

But what I really need to be asking is “What next?” and mean what good thing is next?

Usually when I’m having a difficult day, struggling with more than I think I can handle, or facing things I just don’t want to have to deal with, that’s when a blessing appears.

It’s the one friendly face in the mass of complainers, the happy email in the inbox full of problems, the hug when you feel like you’re being punched by the world. But you have to be looking because you can so easily miss it.

I find myself too often looking down and inside, so focused on the grind that I am not even aware of what’s going on around me. The other day I was reminded once again as I was running (well, it felt like crawling) up the last hill. I happened to glance up to see 4 beautiful deer, just at the top of the hill. They watched me for a moment and then turned and silently ran back into the woods. If I had not looked at that exact moment, I would have missed that stunning sight.

So now I look up and ask, “What next?”

Check your attitude

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Photo courtesy of LollyKnit (Crreative Commons)

Photo courtesy of LollyKnit (Crreative Commons)

I overheard part of a couple’s conversation in a coffee shop the other day. Her tone of voice was decidedly whiny, and she was telling him about her upcoming day. Victim oozed out of her words as she talked about she had to do this, and no one ever did that so she must, and she sure wished they would…

The poor guy had a look like he was searching for an escape, and the few times he tried to say something to her, she snapped back at him.

I wonder what she would have thought had she been watching from my position?

It made me sit up and pay more attention to my own attitude. Even when things aren’t going my way, I’m even more focused on projecting a positive attitude. I may let myself sink in private, but no one wants to be around anyone with a whining victim mentality.

What does your attitude project?

What is your focus?

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Photo courtesy of Focus On Your Ability (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Focus On Your Ability (Creative Commons)

Do you have specific goals? Do you have a mission?

I ask this because I have realized once again that I do not know my mission – not exactly. I have always struggled with the idea of goals and vision. Case in point – I am in my third career. And I still don’t know what I want to “be when I grow up.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m great at short-term goals – put a challenge in front of me and I’m there:

  • Create a plan for X.
  • Hit this target sales goal.
  • Implement this strategy.

It’s the looking out into the distance and future that is difficult for me, especially on a personal level. Pinpointing what it is that makes me feel successful in the long-term, and deciding what my purpose is – well, that eludes me.

And because I don’t have a clear vision of my purpose here, I end up taking on a lot of responsibilities and participating in many activities that in the end don’t lead to fulfillment. They leave me feeling restless and looking for more activities – which leads to a sense of being overwhelmed.

I have landed on the fact that my mission is to “impact people.” But that is rather vague. There are things I am doing that accomplish that vision, but I’m not on a specific path with that ultimate goal in mind.

What does it mean to “impact people”? I guess I want to create positive experiences for them. There is so much negative in the world today, that it is refreshing when you stumble on something positive. I want to be a part of making that happen for people.

And honestly, I need to focus on my ability to impact one person at a time. Perhaps someone will glean insight from something I have written in my blog. Maybe someone I encounter at work will be able to do their job better due to my efforts behind the scenes.

As I facilitate matches between buddies and runners at I Run 4, my hope is always that they will develop an encouraging and supportive relationship that will last a long time.

All these things make me feel satisfied and content. I am happiest when I get to see the results of my actions. I need to stay focused on finding activities and work that provide those opportunities.

So maybe my mission is to “Create positive experiences for people through my work and writing in order to inspire, encourage and uplift.”

Now what? As I am working through this process, I’m realizing that all of my choices, including my work, commitments, and even how I choose to spend my weekends, need to be channeled through that mission. I need to examine all my activities and obligations to see if they fit into my mission. Those that do not need to be phased out.

Going forward, I need to seek new commitments that are a part of fulfilling that mission.

What is your mission and do your activities reflect it?

Weeding it out

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Photo courtesy of Pat Kight (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Pat Kight (Creative Commons)

The other day, someone made a comment in an email that I’m sure was meant with good intentions, but I guess I took it wrong, and I spent more time than I needed obsessing over it. It seemed snarky, and rude, and I debated how to respond.

As it turned out, I finally decided not to respond. I let it go and everything was fine. But I have seen these kinds of things escalate when one party or the other questions the comment, and it gets blown all out of proportion.

With the number of interactions most people have daily, in person and especially online, it’s easy to run across the occasional remark that sets you off. The trick is to recognize that most need to just be tossed away and disregarded.

It’s like in the flower garden – you don’t obsess over where the weeds came from, what you did wrong that allowed them to grow, how you must have let things slide because there are so many – you just get busy pulling them up and throwing them away.

Same with those off beat statements. You know the things you need to pay attention to, who you need to listen to, and what conversations matter. All those other comments are extraneous.

Pull the extraneous ones up and throw them away.

What are you afraid of?

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Photo courtesy of c-h-l (paused) (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of c-h-l (paused) (Creative Commons)

Running in the fog is a surreal experience. The world is shrouded and those familiar landmarks you know are there either hide out of sight or become faint and blurred. Sounds are muffled and it’s easy to become disoriented.

Worries and fears can be like that fog surrounding you. There are the anxieties hiding in the fog just out of sight that you can barely put a name to – vague fears and uncertainties that you can hear buzzing and rustling, but can’t see clearly.

All of these things can end up being suffocating, partly because so many things are nameless.

As painful and difficult as it can be, it is important to name those fears. Identify those worries. Only then can you start to address them and make progress past them.

I think many times we are held back because we are afraid of something we haven’t identified. I have often said that I can’t fix a problem if I don’t know about it, and the same holds true for fears.

I can’t fight and overcome a fear I haven’t named. That nebulous anxiety that I feel will drag me back until I turn and look it in the face. Then and only then can I start fighting it and getting past it.

I have finally named one of my fears: I am afraid that I won’t make a difference – that I won’t positively impact people.

That was a huge realization – and it explains so much about my choices and my obstacles.

I have spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, and taking on more and more responsibilities that just seems to make me busier, but not more satisfied.

I realized I was agreeing to do all these things that are great things, but they weren’t “the” thing. Now that I have identified my fear, I can direct my efforts toward doing those things that will make a difference.

As I analyze all my commitments, I need to be honest and let go of those things that don’t positively impact people, and seek opportunities that allow me to do that. Also, I need to be wary of being overly committed because that takes away my potential impact.

When I am rushing from task to task, with hardly a moment to really focus on what I am doing, then I’m diluting my power of impact. And that in turn, feeds my fear of not making a difference.

It helps dissipate the fog to name my fears and to face them head-on. It doesn’t make them go away, but it sure makes it easier to fight them.

What fears do you have hiding in the fog? How would your life change if you named and faced them?

What do you do?

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Photo courtesy of Chris Valentine (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chris Valentine (Creative Commons)

You meet someone new, shake hands, and start talking, usually by asking a common question.

“So what do you do?”

Most of us answer that question, “I work for (fill in the blank)” or “I am a (waiter, teller, writer, etc.)”.

But is your job, you?

Are we defined by the job or do we define our lives and the job is just one part of it?

I’ve recently signed up for The Owner’s Path online course with Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author and publisher of Owner magazine. I’m not even through with lesson one and I’m already rethinking my reasons for doing what I do.

Side note: He’s offering a special on all his online courses right now if you want to take advantage – click here (affiliate link). I HIGHLY recommend his classes if you want to improve yourself.

I realize that my focus needs to be on my mission – on my reason for being. My mission (in rough form) is “to impact people in a positive way.” So when you ask me what I do, I need to phrase my response in terms of “I impact people by…”

What an eye-opening realization! That changes my motivation – that can turn a difficult day into a day filled with opportunities to have a positive influence on someone else.

It spills over into other choices as well – my volunteer work, my writing, my running – all are ways I can impact someone else.

Will I always know that I have? No, but I can work with that goal in mind. And not for any glory or recognition, but simply the intention of giving of myself to improve someone’s day or making things a little better for them.

This changes my justification for saying no. It validates saying yes to new opportunities.

So let me ask you, “what do you do?”