Saturday, 18 October 2008

Lessons for today

In between waking late with a headache, brunch, getting Miss Tizz to JOTA/JOTI (Guides & Scouts Jamboree of the Air/Internet), picking up items for the school market day stall, the car battery dying, voting in the ACT election, briefly visiting MIL, and an early dinner because we'd had nothing since brunch, I received two important messages.

The first was from Zen Habits: How to Make Work Feel Effortless. Now I know that work involves effort, but this was more about not allowing work to become something you drag yourself through each day because you have to. I've been resenting my work for months, because it's become one huge to-do list that is never completed. I have other things I want to do, and I feel like if I take time out to do the things I enjoy that I will pay for it in late nights trying to catch up, and being constantly cranky and snappy. And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy - I am cranky and snappy much of the time, because I'm tired and I'm not enjoying life.

I have my own business and work from home for some very good reasons. I am in control (ok - so it doesn't feel like it much at the moment, but ultimately I'm the one making the decisions about how this business operates). I can be as involved in my family's activities as I want - school assembly at midday? I'm there. Preschool excursion? I'll go along & help. Pick up the kids early & go to the movies one Friday afternoon? Yep - that's happening soon. I don't have to do the daily commute, unless you count the few steps from bedroom to office. I don't have to play office politics. I'm paid according to performance, not the hours I put in. And so on ...

All that is great, so why is it that I've been feeling lured by the idea of a 'normal' job? One that involves regular hours, and one where (most importantly) when you go home, you are off duty. One that involves a clear definition between 'work time' and 'family/home/me time'.

And then this article gave me the wake-up call I needed:

1. Follow your natural rhythms. A lot of the time I resent working is because I’m trying to force myself to do something I don’t feel like doing. Naturally there will always be some things you’re not crazy about doing (like cleaning the toilet). But how often do you force yourself to work more, when you really want to relax? When you force yourself to work when you’ve promised yourself a break, you’ll likely just end up distracting yourself with other things and put off working. Then you get stressed and end up resenting work. Instead, follow your natural rhythms. When you feel like working, work. When you don’t, don’t. Don’t over complicate things.

Resenting ... distracting ... procrastinating. Hmmm ... that sounds familiar. But if I only work when I want to, at the moment I won't get much done at all! I'm already well established in this negative cycle, and perhaps a complete stop is required to get out of it. Perhaps it's time.

2. Do, don’t think. ... Just do, stop thinking about it. Fail, make corrections later.

But ... Actually, no. That makes perfect sense. It's what I do with clients who aren't really sure what they want: get something on paper as a starting point, and then we can modify & refine the ideas from there. But the initial 'do' is vital.

3. Don’t put sugar in your tank. You wouldn’t put sugar in your gas tank right? It doesn’t make much sense to fill your body up with unhealthy fuel either. If you don’t have the energy to get the work you need to done, work will feel forced.

Oops. When things get out of hand, I live on sugar & coffee. Chocolate to keep going at night until the wee hours. Coffee to wake up in the morning. Something sweet to get through the afternoon slump. I know it's not healthy, but it's easy and instant.

4. Remove hidden roadblocks. What’s making you avoid working? What’s making your work seem like drudgery rather than joyful? It might have something to do with your beliefs about yourself. Maybe you believe you’re not good enough, smart enough or don’t have enough experience. Question your beliefs about what you can and can’t do.

I'm often surprised that there are no objections from clients when I send through a big invoice. I have a sneaking suspicion that someone will find out I'm a fraud ...

5. Only do your best. Work can easily become a chore when you’re trying to constantly be perfect. The truth is, some of your ideas might not be so great. Others will be mind blowing. If you can accept that and just do your best, you stop judging yourself. Guess what it feels like when you’re no longer picking over everything you do with a fine toothed comb? It feels extremely liberating. It feels like you can actually enjoy your experience, rather than worrying about how everything is going to turn out. That is working effortlessly.

Ok, so I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I admit it, and that's part of the reason I like working for myself - I have complete control over my product. Unfortunately I also feel like I let myself down when I'm so tired that I make mistakes (and yes, don't tell anyone, but I do occasionally make mistakes. Shhh!).

6. Act from your gut. When you think you have a great idea, believe it. Follow it. Chase it until you’re out of breath and can barely hold yourself up. Because if you don’t trust yourself, you’ll regret it later. The best way to live is to follow your intuition and trust life. If nothing else, trust yourself. Because if you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust your mistrust? That’s not very smart is it?

I've been so focussed on what I should be doing and what I have to do that I've lost track of what I want to do. Take away the demands of work, and it takes me a long time to figure out what I'd like to do with my time.

7. Focus on what matters. Our minds are constantly pulling us in different directions. We have to wash the cat, buy more apple cinnamon oatmeal, finish writing that resignation letter to your no-longer-boss at your dead-end job, and all sorts of other things. We have a tendency to follow what’s urgent instead of what’s important. In order to get the important things done, we have to be ruthless at removing distractions. If it takes bringing a laptop (or notepad) to a cafe to write your grandiose novel, then do that. Avoid the vacuum of minutiae urgency. Remove all distractions so you can focus on the important things. I would much rather spend 4 hours working on an important project, then 4 hours spinning my wheels and scratching my head trying to figure out what I did today.

One of the big downsides of working at home is being busy all day, but not getting any of the important things done. I started following the Zen to Done steps, but I find I baulk at Step 4: Do one task at a time, without distractions. I still write out my diary list most nights, I might even mark the three main things I need to do the next day, but the voice in my head is always telling me to get through these half dozen small jobs first, because then I can concentrate on the big jobs, and guess what? The big jobs don't get a look-in until they're so urgent I can no longer put them off.

8. Refuse to do what you don’t want to do. I often avoid working because I’m trying to do things I think I “should do.” I think I should read more because it will make me smarter. I think I should buy new clothes because it will make me cooler. I think I should work on this project because it will be good for my resume. Forget what you think you should do (except maybe… paying your rent). Do what you want to do. Other people will understand. In fact, they’ll probably envy you.

For me, this isn't about feeling like I should buy new clothes or read more (hang on though - I should read industry mags and websites to keep up with changes ...). What I do need to learn to more effectively is say no: no to clients who I know through experience will be painful to work with, no to jobs that I know will blow out, no to unreasonable deadlines, no to too much work. I can talk about saying no, I can practise saying no, and still I am shocked to hear myself say yes - no problem - of course I can do that. That has to change.

I know I need a major refocus, pretty much in all areas of my life, and there's no time like the present to make a positive change. But where to start? Well, remember at the beginning of this post I said I received two important messages today?

The second message was in the form of a blog post from someone who thinks like I do, and who always seems to have the answers I need to hear. And she did it again :) She didn't write the list, but something made her post it today, just when I needed it. I may not be able to take a holiday right now to reset my life, but I can put some of the simple things on this list into action, and refocus by eliminating the unhealthy aspects of my current existence.

So it's been a big day in some ways, and now I need to step away from the computer and the feeling that I should be working (even though it's Saturday night) and spend some time with my family.

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