Every year in mid-June when my children’s school wraps, I imagine how productive I will be with a different routine, and every single summer I have felt frustrated and frazzled, wishing I had more time…until this year. I (finally) figured out the “secret” to knowing everything, and it is quite simple: sometimes we need to do nothing. I’ll be honest; I did slightly more than nothing, but a whole lot less than everything I had originally set out to accomplish this summer.
I admit that I occasionally jump on the “Take Massive Action” bandwagon, even though that concept without proper direction goes against the grain for me. Let me be clear: we MUST take action, and sometimes that action will be “massive”. I believe that we are misguided in our interpretation of massive action, and as a result, we deplete our good energy while spinning our wheels, sadly not making progress on what matters most (and for the entrepreneur in particular, what boosts the bank account.) On that note, I will share with you how I learned “everything” from “doing nothing” this summer.
I did close to nothing for almost three months, and I learned a lot. I am grateful I listened to my intuitive sense and let go of the frustrating and unrealistic expectations I had been setting each year, making summer rather disappointing. This year in addition to letting go of unrelenting expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed a more relaxed summer pace with my children AND continued to grow my business in a smart, un-rushed manner. Interestingly, I managed this without barreling forward or being overly busy.
Sometimes I forget the following, but when I DO remember, the results are magical. In order to learn by (not) doing, let’s consider the following process: slow down to speed up, zoom out and then take inspired action.
Slow down to speed up. Identify your objectives and WHY they are important to you. Before charging ahead, pause and reflect to gain clarity about what you want and why you want it. I made a decision many years ago that I would spend time with my children while they are young and actually want to spend time with me. That proves challenging any time of year, especially in the summer, when childcare and camps are costly and sometimes difficult to find. This year when my children and I discussed what they wanted most out of camps and daytime programs, they shared that they preferred to have a “chill” summer, where, when they were at camp, they wanted to learn something that would enhance their lives.
I am able to work mostly from home, and my offspring are old enough to entertain themselves for a few hours at a time, so I am generally able to accommodate this. However, despite being happy to allow for a “chill” summer for my peeps, I confess that I panicked at the thought of them being home so much. I worried how I’d get everything done with them asking for food, shuttle service or access to my computer and phone in regular intervals. Then I remembered to ask myself what I want most, and how that fits the bigger picture.
I want to make a living that provides a comfortable lifestyle, so I leaned back, took some deep breaths and reminded myself of why I designed my career around my life instead of life around career. This has taken some sacrifice, late nights and bullet sweating, yet I continually come back to this: I want to serve people in developing their life and career in a way that honors their highest desires, and the best way I can authentically provide that service is by doing the same for myself.
Remembering my clear objectives and WHY - to help people to take control of their time, energy and success - helped me get back on track and maintain perspective. I believe that we all deserve the opportunity to feel successful and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We can have ‘it all’ without buying-in to the idea that we need to give something up in order to achieve. Why not have it all? (Being realistic, but a stretch, of course. I do not have access to fairy dust or unicorns.)
When getting clear on your objectives and WHY, ask yourself:
- What do I want to achieve?
- Why is this important to me?
- What impact will achieving this outcome have on other areas of my life?
- Specifically, what benefits will I gain?
(Note that it is perfectly acceptable to be a little “selfish” here; the clearer you get, the more energy and time you free up to share with others.)
Zoom out. Once you are clear about your objectives and WHY, look at your one year plan from the 10,000-foot perspective. When I realized that coordinating summer camps and daytime activities for my children meant rarely having more than a few hours a day to work without interruption, I looked at my whole life and business picture rather than focusing on not having time to get work done in the summer. Here’s what I learned: when I’m hyper-focused and clear about what really needs to be done, I am more productive. I sort of already knew this, but couldn’t see past the panic of “not having enough time” in that moment. Boy, am I glad it passed!
In a wonderfully thoughtful article in The Economist about why people are so busy, I learned that the “problem” of not having enough time relates primarily to living in the wealthy first world, and some of this “problem” is a matter of how we allocate our time according to our skewed perception of this valuable, non-renewable resource (this is grossly over-simplified; I highly recommend that you read the article). What can we do about this dearth of time? For starters, slow down, get dreamy once in a while to get a clear picture of what we want, and why we want it.
How will we know if we have achieved our objectives if we don’t know what they are, and how can we better allocate our precious resources if we do not know where to send them?
Once we have clarity we can now ask:
- What needs to happen so that I feel completely happy and satisfied with my results one year from today?
- What actions am I willing to take to achieve this objective?
- What roadblocks do I regularly encounter?
- What actions am I willing to take to work around roadblocks?
You may notice the word “actions” making an appearance. Yes, now that we are clear and know what barriers we might encounter and how to work around them, it’s time to take action. I call this taking Inspired Action Steps. Take the one year view, see where you want to go, and work your solution and action steps backward from there. Stretch yourself, and stay realistic. What steps can you take every day to get 1% closer to your objective? Did you know that leaning back, observing and listening to your intuitive sense is considered taking action? Likewise, calling procrastination and self-sabotage “intuition” is also taking action, although that action will not help you reach your objectives. You have been warned.
Once you are clear, the steps to take will become increasingly obvious, continually feeding the waterwheel of success and abundance (notice, there is nothing about trudging ahead and pushing against resistance or fighting any kind of fight.)
Take Inspired Action. A Lifehack article about taking massive action reminded me that taking action the smart way can boost motivation. Smart action is the inspirational thread to motivation. Sometimes we lack motivation, and then we feel inadequate and flawed, which can cause us to stall or not begin at all. Some super humans are possessed with excellent self-starting, seemingly flawless, highly-disciplined action-taking abilities. The rest of us mere mortals can hack their abilities by learning to tap our inspiration to fuel motivation. What better way to take action than by being smart about it? Remember to be realistic, but stretch yourself. We mortals are funny; if a task seems too hard we most probably will not get started, and if it seems too easy, we will likely put it off until we are under major pressure to finish. To bypass this potential roadblock, we can challenge ourselves, achieve, raise the bar, and challenge, achieve and raise the bar again - what I like to call the waterwheel of success and abundance, fueled by inspiration.
Try one or any combination of the following to help you take inspired daily action:
- Ask yourself: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?
- Choose 3 action steps you will complete by a certain time each day (master the mundane).
- Daydream, journal or doodle daily for 10-30 minutes.
- Create the feeling of joy and excitement before starting your day.
- Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments at the end of each day.
With clarity and vision, we quiet the noise and hustle and bustle we have conditioned ourselves to believe is productivity. Once we are able to do this, we too will appear to have super human strengths and abilities. If every day you tap into your WHY and remember what is most important to you, even the most boring or tedious tasks can take on new meaning, and your productivity will soar. I invite you to do yourself a favor and give this a try. Do nothing. Get quiet. Get clear. Get inspired. Get more done.
If you would like to learn more about taking inspired action, schedule your free one hour strategy session.
Read the articles that inspired and informed this post:
Listen to Olivia Gamber interview me about Mastering Your Mindset and taking Inspired Action. (http://occupationalolivia.com/mastering-your-mindset/#more-425 )