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Spring’s Redemption

Spring has sprung. The grass has riz. I wonder where the birdie is. 

cardinal-snow-snowstorm-red-bird-Favim.com-474579My son told me yesterday that he received 12” of new snow, and it was still coming down. He was expecting 6 to 10 inches more today. Not what I would have scheduled for the first day of spring. When I think of spring, I’m looking for warm sunshine, green grass, balmy days, new life poking through the ground, warm temperatures, and longer days. Did I mention warm weather?

Spring does draw my heart to consider these things, spring-flowers1 yet I think its true meaning is hope! With spring comes a full assurance I will see an end to winter with its cold and yes, snow. The daylight hours will increase and warmer temperatures will begin to lure me outdoors to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Yet here’s the looming question. If the daylight hours are increasing, will it impact the way I use my time?

No doubt spring weather also brings additional tasks to clean up from winter’s winds and wild weather. The flower beds will require planning and planting, and the lawn will need attention. Yet all of the indoor responsibilities still require time as well. Somehow it all gets done. The work level increases and yet the number of hours in the day remain static. I tend to think the difference is more of those hours contain daylight, and I can accomplish more outdoors for a longer period. Yet more likely the change comes from my perspective and the way I align my priorities. Instead of being enticed to sit by the fire and watch TV or surf the web, I need to begin now to redeem the time. If I can do it while it is still getting dark early (though daylight savings has already started), just think how much more useful I can be when the reality of spring and summer come to fruition?

Here’s what I’m learning that may also help you. When you redeem the time, it can be done in increments, and it actually works better this way because two benefits appear. First you tend to sustain your efforts because you’re not making huge adjustments, just small ones. You’re increasing a little more each day. Second, you compound your efforts, much like interest on your savings account and increase them consistently. In so doing, one day you wake up and look over your shoulder with amazement to see where you were and where you are now. The key is consistency.

I love spring and all that it entails. (My apologies to those who suffer from spring allergies. I no longer do but more on that on another post.) Today I choose to use it as my springboard to a better and more productive me. I will do better than yesterday and move forward step by step. I can’t wait to see what happens between now and the beginning of summer. Feel free to hold me accountable.

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Am I there yet?

Pilot gty_pilots_cockpit_airliner_ll_120718_wgMy husband is an aviation enthusiast and reminded me of this illustration. Before commercial or corporate pilots take off, they file a flight plan which includes, among other pertinent details, the destination and estimated time of arrival. Once they take off, however, wind, air currents, storms, turbulence, etc. work against the aircraft so that they must continually make corrections in order to remain on course and reach their appointed destination. Pilots understand the necessity of regulating the route, anticipating and performing the process to achieve their ultimate goal – a safe and punctual arrival.

This course correction is often needed throughout life, but too often I only recognize it after I’ve become discouraged that my project or goal is not working out right. For example, when I began my adventure into semi-retirement, I had so many ideas about what I would do when I grew up. I have many interests – Bible study, business, embroidery, friends, gardening, grandchildren and their parents, people, reading, sewing, teaching, writing and so much more – so I wanted to make my choice fit within the parameters of the things I enjoyed as well as discover a niche where I could concentrate my efforts so that I spent my time wisely.

I started out enthusiastically, doing a little bit in each genre, yet it didn’t take long to realize that I had too many things going on. I needed to prioritize my list. I thought that since I was good at multi-tasking in the workplace, I could come up with a workable solution if I concentrated on only three things. Not so. The three things were still too large, and I finally realized that I had to narrow my concentration further, yet with an interesting twist. One project remained my main focus while the other two became secondary. In other words, I did not give up on them, but I just take little chunks of time and do something that will advance their completion. It may only be reading an article, watching a video or jotting down ideas, but I am moving along in the right direction. Eventually I will get there – I will realize my goal. At that point it will look like an overnight success, but I’m not there yet, and it’s okay. This has helped my level of frustration.

Maybe when you’re asking yourself the am-I-there-yet question, knowing it’s acceptable to continue along your desired path, regardless of speed or apparent success, will help you as well. Just keep going.

Picture credit: gty_pilots_cockpit_airliner_ll_120718_wg

My Summer Vacation

When I was a kid, the first essay of the school year always had the same title: My Summer Vacation. I hated that assignment because our family never did all that much worthy of report. Money was always tight, so rather than spending a week at the shore or traveling to an exotic place, my vacation away from home meant hopping into the car to spend a few days at my aunt’s house or a day trip to the park to swim.

My dad often spent his vacation painting houses (ours or someone else’s), but on really hot days, he’d quit work early and drive an hour away so that we could swim and play in the sand on the beach by the lake. No cone-shaped piles of moistened sand for us. Dad made the best sand castles in the whole world. Using a bucket, discarded paper cup and beach shovel, he could fashion turrets and steps with a moat surrounding the exterior. Sometimes he even added a draw bridge. You could almost see Cinderella waving from the window. Passers-by would always stop to admire his handiwork. Now as I look back, I know he was spending quality time with me, and though I enjoyed it back then, today I recognize his efforts and really appreciate his building these lasting memories.

My parents, aunts and uncles have since passed away, and I would give anything to spend time today listening to their stories and learning more about them and their values. Money is still tight (some things never change), but because of my dad’s influence and his impact on me, the last few summers, I have made a concerted effort to spend quality time with my grandchildren. I did not build sand castles, – the trait must have been recessive – but we walked in the woods, worked on projects, visited some interesting places and played a lot of games. While we did these things, I listened and intentionally shared with them my values and perspectives.

I hope when my grandkids get older, they’ll understand that a gift of time is the best part of any vacation.

6 Steps from Memory Lane

Do you remember singing the song Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush? It’s definitely for the pre-school set, but the interesting thing is what it teaches us as adults.    

The original lyrics included a daily to-do list with each day dedicated to a certain task or priority.  For example, they dedicated Monday to washing clothes; Tuesday, ironing the clothes; Wednesday, scrubbing the floor and so on culminating with Sunday, going to church. Back then multitasking was out of the question. It actually took all day to scrub the clothes, hang them outdoors to dry, take them down, and prepare them for the next step in the process – ironing, also an all-day event. 

Aside from the benefit gained as children burn off lots of energy singing the song, think about what you can learn (or relearn) from the lyrics. Although the days of one task per day are long gone, a key message is prioritize. If you’re one who is easily overwhelmed by things that need to be done or procrastinates on projects taking you out of your comfort zone, try these tips to help you focus. 

  1. Make a list of what should and can be done in your day. Be realistic.
  2. Assign time frames for each item on your list. (This is often a good way to reduce its size.)
  3. Dedicate a certain amount of time to one task or phase of a project and work on that.
  4. Use a timer. Besides providing a measure of accountability, you can see there’s light at the end of the tunnel as well as how much you can accomplish in your time allotment.
  5. Ignore rabbit trails or interruptions seeking to divert your attention. Unless it’s a matter of life or death, it can usually wait.
  6. Stick to it until the time is up or you’re finished. 

The self confidence you’ll gain from your achievement will be well worth the time it takes to prioritize your day and focus on what’s most important. 

If you still have little children around, see what other benefits you can gain from their songs. By the way, today’s version of the Mulberry Bush ditty addresses hygiene issues so feel free to continue to sing it with your kids.

Savings on email

Do you get overwhelmed over the volume of email you get each day? 

If you work in a business office, you’re bombarded throughout the day with electronic messages. Did you know that it takes an average of 2 minutes to open read and close an email? This means if you send and receive 50 emails per day – I realize this is likely a low estimate, you spend 100 minutes per day just on email. Let’s see, based on 260 days per year that works out to about 18 days you’re dedicating to email alone. All of this does not include any action or follow up the email may generate nor does it count texting or IM. You do your own math based on your volume. 

Several years ago, I read the Hamster Revolution by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey and Tim Burress, which offered several strategies to reduce the time spent on dealing with email. They claim to save you 20% on your time. Their methods do work, though I never actually measured my results. 

One of the ways they suggest to lessen the load is to use the ABC approach for messages you write:

Action Summary – one sentence specifying action, purpose or your key point

Background – body of message using bullet points and white space whenever you can

Close – niceties, next steps, and auto signature (this really saves you time). 

You might identify with their hamster analogy if you expend a lot of energy handling messages while your real work piles up on the desk. Throw in frequent meetings, and you’re loading your brief case to take the work home. Not good. To establish more work/life balance, try different strategies to lighten the load.

Help for Information Overload

Would you say you don’t have enough hours in the day to read all of the information that comes your way? And, do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to wait, like in an airline terminal, doctor’s office, or traffic and all you can think about are the things you could be doing were you not in this spot?  It appears to be a common problem, and I’d like to offer some tips to help in both areas.

Take interesting articles you’ve printed from the web and place them into a special colored folder. You want it to protect the articles and be easily located so you can grab it quickly when you go out the door. Keep it in your car or take it with you when you travel or go to appointments.  Then when you get one of those delays – I mean opportunities — pull out one of the articles to read.

Treat magazines in a similar fashion.  When they arrive, glance through the articles and cut out those that capture your attention, and yes, they go into that same file.

Keep a ziplock bag containing a pen and a highlighter in the folder.  Then, as you read the articles, get TUF with them … that’s T – U – F.

  • T – Reading through the article, you may glean all of the information you want.  If that is enough, then mark the upper right hand corner with a T.  When you get home just throw it out.  
  • U – If you find information that is useful, highlight it and mark the corner with a U.  This means you’ll take some action with the information to use it immediately, pass it on or … 
  • F – Mark it with an F to file it for the future.

Another way to catch up on books is via audio or downloaded to the iPad.  The audio books provide a hands-free way to catch up on your reading traveling travel back and forth to work.  Not only can you enjoy your favorite authors, but you can redeem your time as well.  Zig Ziglar suggests turning your car into Auto University using audio volumes to learn new strategies, languages or whatever you choose.   

I’ve used these tips and hope they’ll also help you.

What’s best for you?

In penmanship class in elementary school, the teacher had us write out sayings that she hoped would improve our character along with our handwriting. I guess there’s a lot to be said for repetition as a means of learning. I still remember this one. 

“Good, better, best.

Never let it rest.

Until your good is better,

And your better best.” 

This also pertains to the things we opt to do with our time. Each day, we make thousands of choices – what time to get up, what to eat, what to wear, what to do about situations that arise …. Each of these decisions impacts us differently. For example, if the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 AM and I hit the snooze alarm once or twice, I’m likely to be rushed or late for work. By not getting up when the alarm sounded, I actually elected the more hurried mode. At that hour of the morning, it may not have been a totally conscious choice; nevertheless, I can’t blame anyone else for the results. 

Now as an adult, I still struggle to keep moving from good to better to best with a measure of consistency, especially when it comes to organizing my day. My list is usually longer than is realistically feasible to accomplish, but all too often, it’s the little choices – like that of the snooze alarm or computer – throughout the day that throw me off track. 

One of my goals for this year is to live intentionally in order to make a difference in my world. This requires effective time management and wise choices. One of the things that helps me be more realistic is to use a timeline like those in an appointment book or on the Outlook calendar. With each activity planned for a designated block of time, not only can I visualize what can be accomplished, but I also see where it is critical not to get off task and how I can choose appropriately. My decisions for how I spend my time are progressing from good to better, and every once in a while, I even get one that’s best.   

How about you?