On Balance and Perfection

Many busy professionals, and especially entrepreneurs, express exasperation at the notion of achieving life “balance.” Some even say the concept of balance is a myth. Before approaching the questions of whether balance exists and how it can be achieved, there is an important distinction that must be drawn. When people say they are in search of balance, they oftentimes use the benchmark of perfection. Using perfection as a standard automatically sets up the individual, who by this point is usually tired and somewhat frustrated, for failure.

Balance vs. Perfection

Balance is a scientific concept. It requires adjusting the distribution of weight to remain upright. While the positioning may not appear to be ideal or comfortable to onlookers, the end goal is to remain upright and stable. Therefore, achieving balance may not necessarily feel pretty at first. It may require strengthening muscles you’ve never used before, doing exercises that are not necessarily comfortable in the beginning, and stretching yourself in ways that may seem painful, but will eventually help you move more efficiently. The perfect illustration of what balance looks like is ballet. Anyone who has taken a ballet class knows it is not the most comfortable dance art to learn and requires a great deal of conditioning. But once dancers achieve a certain level, the beauty of the art form is undeniable. Like many areas of our lives, the beauty of ballet is all based on the foundational concept of the dancer being able to readily identify his or her center of gravity and move in ways that allow him or her to remain in a balanced state. You can always tell when a ballet dancer is not balanced because he or she will bobble or even fall. In these ways, life and ballet are very similar.

The Problem with Perfection

Many of us seek perfection, but oftentimes people achieve what they perceive as perfection only to realize “perfection” ain’t so perfect. How many times have we thought someone lived a perfect life until we saw what goes on behind the scenes? Some of us have thought we would be perfect if we were to gain or lose 10 pounds only to discover the weight did not necessarily go (or leave) wherever we had intended it to. Some of us chose the perfect major in school and later discovered we hated it; others of us may have even graduated and discovered that the chosen course of study was not necessarily the most employable degree, or perhaps you graduated just as job demand in that particular field changed. All these examples illustrate that we have to set benchmarks that are firm, but flexible enough to be adjusted to accommodate changing conditions. Otherwise stated, identifying an ideal and striving for it is a fantastic idea; however, in doing so, it is important that we spend time thinking about how we can incorporate a sense of balance into that equation.

What Does Balance Look Like?

Balance looks different for everyone, but it is generally characterized by a lack of chronic stress. If you find yourself constantly stressing over the same thing (money, relationships, weight, work-life balance), there is usually something you may be doing or allowing that is no longer working for you. An effective approach to discovering what may be contributing to imbalance is to evaluate every area in your life, write your findings down, and even track your moods and behaviors over the course of a week. Many of us have taken on practices that are in direct opposition of our overall goals and objectives, but we are unable to readily identify which part of our life is out of alignment because we adapt and continue to repeat counterproductive behaviors until they become habits. I should note that achieving a state of balance will not necessarily mean that you will not have to make sacrifices. Oftentimes, living a balanced life may mean cutting back on work to support children in their after school activities or enfing the party earlier in the interest of getting home earlier and waking up at a comfortable time to prepare for the upcoming workday. Once you achieve balance, you will know. Your basic needs will be met, you will feel less “strained” in certain areas of your life, and you will generally be at peace. Experiencing your personal version of true “balance” will ultimately compel you to continue to prioritize things in your life in a manner that allows you to maintain your newfound peaceful state.

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September Closet Clear-Out Challenge

Although the weather (in the East) has been swinging frantically back and forth between incessant rain and temperatures approaching 100 degrees, we all know that fall will eventually come. Before the harvest season sneaks up on us, I decided to conduct a challenge that will help us all be prepared whenever it arrives.

The September Closet Clear-Out Challenge will take place via email and consist of me providing you a step-by-step guide to effectively purging your closet over a period of 14 days. I am a fan of purging categorically, so each step will focus on purging all items within an identified category. I will also be providing helpful tips and strategies along the way to help us maintain our newly organized closets!

SIGN UP HERE TO JOIN THE SEPTEMBER CLOSET CLEAR-OUT CHALLENGE

It’s totally free of charge and will equip you with skills that will help you maintain a more organized closet.

Calm Magnesium Supplement: Days 1-3 (Review)

Much of my productivity coaching focuses on helping clients get enough sleep. Therefore, I am always looking into all natural, drug-free sleep remedies and strategies my clients (and I) can implement to produce more restful, timely sleep. Recently, I saw a social media post by someone who compelled me to try the Calm Magnesium supplement powder. I had heard of it before, but decided to look further into it before giving it a try myself. The preliminary words on the street was almost unanimous: this stuff works.

A  little background on magnesium: it is an essential mineral that supports nearly every function in the body, from calcium regulation for bone health, hormone regulation, the nervous system. It eases muscle cramps, combats constipation in certain forms (Milk of Magnesium!), and can help you sleep. Due to the nature of the American diet, most of us do not eat foods that are rich in magnesium, and when we do eat those foods, we do not take in large enough quantities each day. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of us are magnesium deficient.

How the Supplement Works

Taking Calm Magnesium is very easy. It has a light Alkaseltzery, bubbly essence once mixed with water. The product is available in multiple flavors. I currently have Original, which is mostly flavorless, but very lightly lemony. I mix it with water, then add a bit of lemonade. It’s actually really refreshing. I look forward to drinking it each night. The directions say you are to take it on an empty stomach to allow optimal absorption.

Well…Does it Work?

I have been taking the supplement for three days and have yet to experience much of a difference. I do have a theory that it may be helping other areas of my health (I may have less cramping and reduced tension in my neck and shoulders…but I’m going to wait and see if magnesium is the real cause). Naturally, I began to wonder why a product that works for so many others seems to have no affect on others seems to not be “knocking me out” in the way it allegedly affects so many other people. I read the company’s blog, and, apparently, people who are extra deficient in magnesium may require a higher dose at first. In fact, the company advises to slowly increase the dose until it works or…well..diarrhea…happens. as…”bathroom fluidity” is a sign that the body has made up for the deficiency and is eliminating the excess magnesium….Yeah, I don’t know about all that. But I DID increase my dose last night slightly with no additional effect.  So I’m going to give it another slight adjustment upward again and see how this goes. Stay tuned to find out how many teaspoons is the magic number [to be clear, I’m aiming or drowsiness…not…the other thing!].

Brain Dump Strategy – Creating a Chronological Notebook

Most of us can relate to having stray thoughts that emerge throughout the day while we are trying to complete our scheduled tasks. For some, these thoughts come one at a time and are generally not too bothersome. Others may be plagued by nagging recurring thoughts or a mind that constantly races and makes focusing on any task a challenge. This particular method of brain dumping is a quick way to transfer stray thoughts from your mind onto paper. By transferring things from your head to a physical page, you can permanently save the thought and revisit it later when you are not attempting to focus on another unrelated task. Storing your thoughts on paper can also help ease the anxiety that drives some people to replay the same thought over and over again. When you have written the idea down on paper, you no longer have to burden yourself with repeatedly reminding yourself of it.

How to Maintain a Daily Brain Dump Notebook 

 

  1. Select a small, portable notebook, and keep it accessible throughout the day.
  2. Begin a new page each day by labeling the page with the current date.
  3. Whenever you have difficulty focusing, write down all stray thought, reminders, recurring ideas that enter your mind and distract you. Make a note if the thought requires revisiting.
  4. Once the thought is written down on paper, give yourself permission to move on and complete the current task at hand.
  5. At the end of each day, set aside 15 minutes to review what you have written on the current page of your brain dump notebook. Revisit all thoughts that required further evaluation or action. If you have written yourself reminders, transfer them to your upcoming to-do list and/or daily calendar.

OPTIONAL: Reserve the first two pages in your notebook to create a running index. As you fill in pages chronologically, update your index by labeling each week or calendar month and listing the page range that covers it (example: “January: Pages 3 to 32” or “January 1st – 7th…….Pages 3-11”). Labeling your index according to corresponding dates will help in the event that you need to review your notes from several weeks or months ago.

Brain Dumping for Prioritization

Conducting a brain dump is a productivity strategy that essentially allows us to transfer the information that fills our mind to paper, a dry erase board, or a digital format. Brain dumping has several benefits:

  • Facilitates the process of getting organized
  • Minimizes the risk of forgetting important dates, details, and ideas
  • Creates more “free space” in the brain for creative thought
  • Helps quiet the mind

There are many ways to do a brain dump. This post will cover a more intensive brain dump strategy that can be especially helpful to those of us who struggle with schedule-building and indecisiveness. The following method is an adaptation of an article that was published by Lifehacker.

Step 1: Make Your Lists.

In this case, the lists will be entitled “Must Do,” “Want to Do,” and “Maybe.”  Be sure to give yourself ample room to list everything that comes to mind, make edits, and add notes to the list.

Step 2: Finalize and confirm the “Must Do” list. 

Your “Must Dos” are events and tasks you have already verbally or mentally committed to doing. In this step, you will simply confirm and reconfirm plans then write your “Must Dos” down on your calendar and, if necessary, set reminders. This is also an opportune time to call and send emails to confirm upcoming meetings and appointments.

Step 3: Evaluate your “Want to Do” list.

“Want to Dos” consist of everything you want to do, but have yet to plan. Look over the Want to Do list, and ask yourself if these are all things you really want to do. Then write a number beside each item according to level of priority; “1” corresponds to the item on the list that is the highest priority to you. You may have to change and reassign numbers as you proceed down the list. Or, on the contrary, it may be 100% clear to you which items you prioritize more than others. Next, look at your low-priority items. Ask yourself whether you are 100% certain that you want to do these things. If not, transfer them to the “Maybe” list. If you are 100% certain that a particular item is something you have zero interest in doing, simply eliminate that item altogether.

Step 4: Evaluate your “Maybe” List.

For people who have difficulty making decisions, the “Maybe” list will probably be the longest of the three. Look at each item on the list, and ask yourself whether the item is 1) something you really want to do, 2) something you really NEED to do, and 3) whether you need more information to decide. If the item is either 1) something you want to do or 2) something you need to do, transfer it to the “Want to do list.” In some cases, you may come across items on the Maybe list that you need to fast-track to the “Must Do” list and add to your schedule, for example, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or applying to a program in which you have decided you want to participate. You will also encounter items on your “Maybe” list that you now realize you no longer want to do. Have no shame in crossing these items off completely. Lastly, f you need more information to make a decision about an item on the list, make a note detailing the actions you need to take to get the information you require to proceed with making a decision. Forward progress is the objective!

With an increased focus on prioritizing, this type of brain dump requires a little more mental energy and critical thinking than a general brain dump. But for anyone who has difficulty with scheduling and decision-making, this is a very effective strategy to help streamline events and tasks in a manner that naturally flows into an organized calendar.

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Quick-Start Solutions: Simple Rescue Strategy for Rooms That Are Buried in Paperwork

Sick and tired of unorganized…*things*? Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of getting tackling that nondescript pile of stuff? I’m here to help. This exercise will help you move one non-painful, very manageable, highly productive step toward getting organized.

Problem: Help! My living room/dining room/bedroom/office/kitchen/the doghouse is overflowing with papers that are of questionable importance!

Solution: Go grab some empty file folders. If you don’t have any lying around the house, run to your nearest office supply store/drug store/grocery store…or scroll to the bottom to see some cool folders Amazon can have on your doorstep within 1 to 2 days…depending on your shipping preferences [note: affiliate links included].

If you don’t have folders right this second, you can still separate the papers into piles, but label the piles CAREFULLY, and clip the papers in each pile together using a paperclip or binder clip. Now. We’re ready to begin:

1. SET A GOAL, and determine how much paperwork you would like to clean up in your current session. Be realistic. If you know you only have the energy to work on the task for 30 minutes, set a timer for 30 minutes. If you can work for a full hour…POWER HOURRR! Let’s Go!

2. Create categories,  and label each folder according to the types of papers you have. If you can’t think of categories, try starting with these: Health, Home, Work, Finance, Bills, Leisure. Some of you may need to add a category for School. If you have kids, each child should have his or her own folder…but for starters, you can keep them all in one folder. For now. You WILL have to go back and separate everything out, though. So it’s best to just make a folder for each child if you have a massive amount of paperwork coming in from school, hobbies, etc.

3. Pick up one piece of paper. Determine which category the paper best fits. Example, if you pick up a car insurance bill, file it in the “bills” folder. If you can’t decide within 30 second, set the paper aside, and revisit it at the end. 

4. Repeat process until you can see the table/desk/floor/interior of the oven (yes, I’ve seen this before) or wherever your unruly papers have been landing. Advanced tip: (file your papers in chronological order as you add them to the folders; doing this now will save time when you need to access these papers later…and you WILL need to access your papers later: either to use them, to file them more permanently, OR to throw them away).
5. When finished, store the folders in a standing file box or file cabinet so you can access them later.
***If you still have remaining papers to clean up, don’t worry. Pull out your calendar, and schedule another time WITHIN THE NEXT 7 DAYS to continue the task. Write it down as an “appointment!” Keep repeating these “appointments” until all papers have been cleaned up and appropriately filed.
Maintenance: Set aside a general basket, bin, or letter tray to collect paperwork throughout the week. Choose one designated day each week to clear out the basket and file paperwork in its rightful folder. Eventually, the papers should go into a permanent file cabinet or drawer. But I will discuss that in a future post in the interest of keeping it simple and just focusing on quick cleanup strategies for now.
Recommended Supplies:

 

 

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24 Hours Not Enough? Learn to Manage Time Like Money

To be fair, most of us have felt at one time or another as if we simply don’t have enough money. When that happens, we either look for an additional stream of income, or we refine our budget and try to work within it. Time is similar. However, because we can’t simply make more time, the latter approach is the default. What does it mean to learn to manage time as if it’s money?

Viewing Time As a Budget

We’re all working with the same 24 hours. That part of the equation is set. Where everyone begins to differ is the very diverse ways in which we use our 24 hours. Think of your 24 hours as an allowance you receive each day. You literally can do whatever you please with your 24 hours. But for most of us, it’s not that simple, right? We decide we want housing, clothes, food, financial savings, entertainment. All those things cost. They cost money and time [unless you literally have someone handing these things to you…in which case, please come over here and advertise YOUR coaching services]. Anyhow…these things cost what I’ve come to refer to as time dollars. In planning your schedule–because you should be planning your schedule–start with 24 hours, and subtract from that each time you schedule an activity. For example, your 8-hour workday costs 8 time dollars, leaving you with 16 remaining.

But actually…it’s inaccurate to begin by subtracting from 24…unless you count sleep!

Begin By Planning Time to Sleep

Sleep is so important that I always recommend starting schedule planning by setting a bedtime, deciding how long you want to ideally sleep, and scheduling a wake-up time accordingly. We underestimate the importance of sleep. While you may think you need time to go to the library, pick up your dry cleaning, and attend the birthday party you were invited to, your body places a much greater priority on repairing cells and tissues, encoding learned information into your memory, and restoring your energy. These very important activities are just a few that happen while you’re sleeping.

After Designating Sleep Hours

Let’s say you plan to get seven hours of sleep each night. After subtracting seven from your 24-hour time budget, you are left with 17 hours of time that can be allocated to work, fun, leisure, and everything in between. If you ever find yourself feeling tempted to waste time or engage in an activity that does not serve your well-being or contribute to the well-being of others in a manner you can afford, actively remind yourself of the remaining hours in your time budget. Then asks if it is worth allocating time to participate in the activity.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you are a person who struggles with decision-making and prioritizing tasks, you may struggle at first with deciding which activities are deserving of your time. Don’t be discouraged. Simply do your best to make a decision. Evaluate the outcome of that decision. Then carry that analysis with you as you keep moving forward in approaching each day as if you are on a strict time budget. Eventually, you will become better at ranking tasks according to importance, balancing social commitments, and becoming a better decision-maker and steward of your time.

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The Real Reason You’re Always Late

I’ve always viewed tardiness as a touchy subject. If you’re a person who is consistently on time, you may feel like others are late because they don’t value your time. While this may be true in a percentage of cases, I know…from personal experience…that there are multiple layers to a person’s ability to be on time and that oftentimes, tardiness may not be rooted in a basic disregard for others. Instead, people who are chronically late often have legitimate struggles with learning to manage time effectively and are more likely to be prone to over-committing themselves to a variety of tasks and obligations. In addition, inaccurate time perception is oftentimes a culprit that only makes matters worse. Still, there are other cases in which hidden emotional stress or anxiety inhibits an individual’s ability to regularly show up on time.

Trying to Please Everyone

We live in a time of InstaPots, entertainment on demand, and “there’s an app for that!” It’s very easy to find ourselves taking on the societal expectations of “fast,” “easy,” and “always accessible.” Therefore, many of us have lost touch with our ability to say no, to plan things out, and to do things on timelines that are more feasible for us. We feel like we always have to deliver. We find ourselves always wanting to perform. We never want to let anyone down. Therefore, people are increasingly overstretching themselves without even realizing it until there is a logistical, relational, or physical breakdown. And then there’s the guilt. Society steadily streams the message that there is no room for us to attend to our human needs. But the reality is we must. The irony of adopting a mindset of over-committing in the interest of never letting anyone down is that by doing so, your risk of letting yourself and everyone else down rises sharply.

Taking time to plan your schedule is essential. Only after creating a schedule for yourself and deciding when you would like to make yourself available (and are logistically able to do so) can you realistically ensure you are able to fulfill the time commitments you decide to undertake. Moreover, you must say no whenever a request for your time is made and you are unwilling or unable to either a) provide sufficient time to comfortably meet the request or b) re-prioritize your current commitments to make the new request fit. If you are unwilling or unable to do a or b, saying no is within your best interest; doing so also better for the person who is making the request. The sooner that person is made aware that his or her request will not work with your schedule, the earlier he or she can request an alternative time or make other arrangements altogether. Sometimes we waste time and needlessly cram our schedules with things that don’t serve us or other people. In many cases, we can avoid these situations by being more realistic with our time management and planning ahead.

Inaccurate Time Perception

To some of us, a minute isn’t a minute, and an hour isn’t an hour. Those of us who are challenged in the way we perceive time know that this can easily lead to always arriving a little late or even showing up awkwardly early. But there are ways to overcome this type of time management hurdle. Addressing inaccurate time perception requires an initial assessment. I recommend spending a day or, if your schedule changes often, an entire week timing and recording how long it takes to do your normal, recurring tasks. Make a list of how long your commutes take, how much time you usually spend in the shower, how long it takes you to read through your emails at the office, the average length of your phone calls, all the major events that comprise  a  typical day. Next, you HAVE to begin maintaining a written schedule if you do not do so already. Keep your list of timed activities next to your planner or wherever you choose to record your schedule. When planning your schedule, ALWAYS reference the list you’ve created, and budget your time accordingly. That means if you know your friend wants to meet you across town after work and you know it takes you 45 minutes to commute to that area, go ahead and tell that person you will meet them a full hour after your workday ends. Not only are you accounting for the 45-minute drive, but you are allowing yourself an extra 15 minutes to have a quick chat with your supervisor before leaving, go to the restroom, and attend to any other small time “vacuums”  that tend to pop up whenever we really have somewhere to go. While it is important to actually allow yourself the extra time, the game-changing potential lies in continuing to behave as if you only have 45 minutes to get there. This means recreating that same sense of urgency despite knowing you have a time cushion. That part may or may not take a little practice, so be firm, yet patient and consistent with yourself.

Set Firm Time Barriers

Whether you have to set a very loud alarm, have someone call you at a particular cut-off time, or use an app on your phone, creating unavoidable reminders that you need to stop what you’re doing and move on to the next activity will greatly enhance your ability to avoid being late. Be very intentional about how you structure your activities and transition points (i.e. leaving one place to commute to another, stopping one task and beginning the next). Try to make it nearly impossible for you to ignore the reminders and time boundaries you create for yourself. By giving yourself the right tools and holding yourself accountable, you will immediately begin to see real change in the way you manage time and adhere to deadlines. Inviting other people you trust to also keep you accountable will only add fuel to your self-improvement fire.