“Realize that now, in this moment of time, you are creating. You are creating your next moment. That is what’s real.” Sara Paddison
A friend of mine is in isolation on her own and sent me a strange message one evening. She was frustrated because she ran late for dinner…with herself. I reminded this friend that her angst is completely self-inflicted and eating 30 minutes later makes no difference which it turns out was a revelation for her because she found safety and comfort in her militant routine. Like all of us, there is a deep desire to control our world which gets amplified with the uncertainty that Covid brings.
This begs the question –
How much of your daily stress is self-inflicted? Are your managers really cracking the whip for you to work a ridiculous amount of hours consecutively or is this something you have imposed upon yourself?
A better question to ask – is this your default way of being? Were you laid back in the beginning of the year and then suddenly became like this during lockdown? If you’re honest with yourself, you have probably always been like this. This is not the first time you have experienced overwhelm and certainly won’t be the last time.
It’s always going to feel hectic and busy. Don’t have an unrealistic ideal that as soon as Covid is over, things will go back to a ‘normal’ pace and then you can start taking it a bit easier. The home-schooling will be replaced school lifts and extra mural activities, the virtual meetings will resume back to boardrooms. I’m not saying life isn’t more challenging now – of course it is but I want you to think about is this serving you? Is your way of being enabling you or hampering you especially during this additional challenge?
You have 4 months left of the year and you have the choice how it’s going to play out. Granted, the first few months of lockdown was a roller coaster no one could have ever planned for or anticipated. You had to switch to survival mode and go into overdrive just to stay on top of things. Now that you have had some time to internalise the situation and have a better sense of clarity from how the day to day operates, you can start to make an honest assessment of things.
The starting point is real self-reflection. Think about the following…
- What’s worked for you during the last few months?
- What hasn’t worked?
- What really matters to you?
- What about your day alienates you and contradicts what matters to you?
- Have you honestly tried to manage your stress?
- Have you been too busy to even think about it?
- Have you sort of seen that email about mindfulness but promised yourself you would come back to it because you are just so swamped with work?
You can turn the last 4 months of the year into something amazing and special. You get to choose how you show up to yourself, your family and your team. Here are suggestions on how to end the year on a high note and finish strong:
Set up an accountability system – with yourself.
“Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.” – Peter Drucker
Can you identify one negative pattern or habit you have developed over the last few months? Perhaps a severe lack of self-care, poor sleeping rituals, not taking a lunch break, checking your phone first as you wake up, poor nutrition, not saying no enough?
What about creating a new kind of list? One that will hold yourself to new standards to help you change your behaviour and let go of patterns that no longer serve you.
Marshall Goldsmith, author of Triggers, suggests we set up daily accountability questions to make progress on goals that matter to us. These questions announce our intention of who we are striving to become and that by implementing active self-questioning daily, we can trigger a new way of interacting with our world.
Some example include:
- Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
- Did I do my best to find meaning today?
- Did I do my best to be happy today?
- Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
- Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?
- Did I do my best to have a healthy diet?
- Did I do my best to pause between activities?
When you have to face yourself at the end of each day and rate your behaviour out of ten, you start to pay more attention to your daily choices.
If you consistently get a three out of ten for being fully engaged in your day, you will start to become more aware of the behaviours that need to shift to bring about the change you want.
What’s most powerful about this exercise is you have to face your toughest critic – you! When you consistently break the promises you make to yourself, you begin to dent your self-trust. When you begin to answer your questions with an 8 or higher out of 10, you build confidence, resilience and mental strength.
Ask for feedback
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
This is a bold move. Asking for feedback is really putting yourself into vulnerable territory but probably the most valuable thing you can do for yourself. Feedback is a gift and an opportunity to grow – so long as it’s delivered with genuine care and your best interest at heart.
Ask your colleagues, boss, friends, family, loved ones for feedback. Personal development author, Jack Canfield suggests this magic formula when asking for effective feedback:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the quality of our meetings or our relationship during the last week?
There are countless variations on this question that have served me over the years, and any answer less than a 10 always gets this follow-up question:
“What would make it a 10?”
This is where the really valuable information comes from. Knowing a person is dissatisfied is not enough. Knowing in detail what will satisfy them gives you the information you need to do whatever it takes to create a winning product, service or relationship.”
This is not only feedback about what will make the other person happy but asking for feedback from someone you know cares about you, will be able to provide a perspective you may not be able to see. They can be objective and shine a light on destructive patterns or habits you may be stuck in and have no idea has become a pattern.
When you receive the feedback, say thank you and avoid defensiveness as your default reaction. Sit with it and have a really honest conversation with yourself about how you can start to make better choices and let go of what is no longer serving you.
Define your 2021 goals now
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
Start thinking about 2021 now. Instead of thinking about additional activities to add to your plate, what about thinking about what you don’t want? What can you learn from Covid that you can take into next year stronger and more resilient? The ultimate goal is defining how you want your head-space to be for the year ahead. Replace stress, exhaustion and anxiety with gratitude, contentment and joy.
If you found yourself in constant brain fog and overwhelm this year, what can you start doing now to set yourself up for success? Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to reflect on the year ahead. What tends to happen is you are all excited and starry eyes about how 2021 will be different and before you know it, you are back in react and stress mode and now too busy to make any progress on the things that matter to you.
Don’t think next year is going to be any different purely because it’s January 1st. The only way things will be different is when you decide that you want them to be.
What can you start working on now? How do you want to feel at the end of each day? I have spoken about a to-feel list before and this is translated into the direct activities you schedule in your calendar on a consistent basis.
Don’t figure you can sit for 5 minutes a day and meditate and then wonder why you are still so stressed and fatigued. You need to take accountability for the other 23 hours and 55 minutes. Dandapani, a mindfulness expert, says we need to create a lifestyle first that meditation will then support. It’s like having a healthy breakfast and then only having junk food and no exercise the rest of the day and wondering why you aren’t in better shape.
For the next 4 months, commit to one new habit that will translate into the head-space you are craving. Don’t wait to feel like it, today is the day to begin.
“In a single moment, a person can choose to change everything. Change doesn’t have to take a long time, it happens the instant we decide.” ― Benjamin P. Hardy
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to journal about your new head-space and how you want 2021 to be different. It needs to become wired into you now so by the time January swings around, it is already inculcated into you. Life gets busy and demanding and even though you have this great intention to change, you get sucked into the day to day grind and it becomes a distant memory or something you’ll do next year or ‘when it gets less busy’.
It’s not enough to think about how you want to change, you need to forcefully interrupt yourself during the day with strategic triggers. It can be as simple as images on your phone or a computer wallpaper to consistently remind you of who you want to be (and who you no longer want to be).
You can set alarms in your phone with labels reminding you of the traits you want to develop. Say 10 minutes before an important meeting, the alarm can go with a label ‘confident, bold and calm’.
You could also use your senses to bring you into the present moment; I have a beautiful lavender scented candle in my kid’s bathroom. When I can feel my tension building with the tooth brushing games, I literally pick up the candle and smell it to ground me. I turn it into a personal game with myself, it works because it’s a distraction from my mind and triggers me back into the present moment and reminds me who I need to show up as – patient, nurturing and fun.
If you could only work 3 hours a day, what would you do differently?
“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week” – Charles Richards
I ask this question because it is my current reality. After dropping the kids at school, I literally have just over 3 hours of uninterrupted time to make progress on my work goals.
I am incredibly deliberate on exactly what needs to get done during this time. Firstly, before I leave the school parking lot, I do a quick email check in to see if anything needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. This frees my mind to focus on the tasks I have set for myself. When I get home, I start on my scheduled task and work at it solidly for 60 to 90 minutes and then take a short break.
I do not check emails or my phone during this slot because I know how precious this time is, especially being on my own with no external interruptions. Why would I possibly self-interrupt with mails or useless WhatsApp messages? If something is urgent, I will receive a phone call.
I also never allocate more than 3 big things for the morning. I do have some additional time in the afternoon but the kids are home and it is during this period that I do the less strategic and big thinking work like emails and admin.
Now I challenge you – if you could only work 3 hours a day, what would you do differently? I’m hoping you see my point that giving away this golden time to ‘busy work’ rather than productive work is why you are landing up in overwhelm and procrastination.
I also do not overload myself with an unrealistic number of things to do. If I get a space for extra stuff then great but I am very realistic about what can be done during this time and I focus like a hawk by turning off all notifications on my laptop and phone. You will be amazed at what you can achieve in a short space of time once you remove the external noise.
Bring back the human touch
“Those who make the worse use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness.” Jean De La Bruyere
In the office, if we had a query we would walk across the passage and chat to the person and have it clarified within minutes. Being in lockdown, the same principle should be a quick phone call to the person and discuss the problem so you can move on with your day. What I’m seeing is this barrage of Teams or Zoom meeting invites to have the same discussion. Now –there is a balance here of keeping contact with your teams and colleagues to maintain the connection. But if every single interaction is a digital meeting, no wonder you haven’t got up from your laptop and its 3pm.
The gift that lockdown brings is everyone is at home, it is far easier to reach people now. Or send the person a WhatsApp and ask them when they have 5 minutes for a chat. In my experience over the last few months, most people do not turn their cameras on anyway so you may as well just have a phone conversation if it’s something quick to solve. Then at least you can have the chat and take a walk outside in the garden or at least change rooms.
Perhaps you have defaulted to sending a mail when you need to clarify something simple. It’s easy to fall into the email trap because it seems like a time saving move. But inevitably, 8 emails later and countless hours wasted could have been solved in a quick phone call.
This one simple change will yield huge productivity and strengthen your relationships as well.
What do you do with found time?
“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
Think about when a meeting cancels and suddenly you have an extra hour in your day. That’s what I refer to as found time. What do you typically do when that happens? Do you figure you may as well scroll through the socials or watch cat videos because you have another meeting in 30 minutes time or it feels like you have so much to do, there’s no point to start now?
Ditch the to-do list and create a success list each morning or the day before so you are ready to go with a clear path to productivity. When you discover an unexpected 30 minutes has presented itself, you can go straight to your list and insert the activity. Even if you get 20 minutes of progress, this is a micro-win. It achieves the hard part of starting. Once you have made even minimal progress, it creates a mental freedom that would otherwise hang over you with dread.
An even better suggestion for this found time is to use it for yourself; you know the stuff ‘you are just too busy for’. This is a perfect opportunity and you probably need it more than you care to admit. Go outside, take a break, read a book, get out the mat – whatever is going to energise you. Don’t take this time for granted – “Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves.” – Lord Chesterfield
Cultivate a new team culture
“There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” – Richard Branson
A huge shift you can make in the next 4 months is to create and protect your down time, especially on the weekend or after hours. What normally shatters the peace you should be enjoying is email. I’m not talking about the unexpected crisis that happens where the whole team needs to pull together to get the task done. That should be the exception, not the norm.
I am talking about those emails that come in after 18:30 on a weekday or any hour on the weekend. Human nature is to always check the phone ‘just in case’ something arises. Once you see the mail, you can’t pretend it isn’t there because ‘what if’ it’s urgent? Why not have a talk to your team and implement a no email weekend?
Perhaps this is your time to catch up and it works for you but think about the impact it has on other people. If you all agree to do this, then perhaps you can start to create a new culture? Or maybe there’s a no email policy before or after certain hours?
You can write the email and save it in your drafts so it’s ready to go Monday morning or set a rule for it to be sent automatically so you can still use your time the way you would like to.
If you want a different outcome, you need different actions. If it’s done as a collective, it has a much better way of being implemented.
“Never be offended that your new circumstances require you to change. Be humble and receptive. Rather than simply going where you need to go, be willing to become who you need to become.” – Benjamin P. Hardy
I encourage you not to view this period as one of those city holidays where you come back exhausted and need a holiday from the holiday. But rather to really make a conscious decision to change what isn’t working and be honest with yourself about your daily decisions on how you operate.
You have 4 months to set yourself up for success for 2021. Yes there is uncertainty to what work looks like – how much is in the office and how much will be remote? This is also a time of experimentation to see what works best rather than hard and fast rules of knowing.
Start with creating a lifestyle that supports whatever changes you want to make. Choose one thing you read today and start with that because it is small incremental changes and progress over time that creates confidence. If you want a new way of being, it is going to call for a new way of doing.
Here’s to closing the chapter your way,
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