Monthly Archives: March 2013

Dealing with discomfort

Starting an exercise plan isn’t easy.  Quitting a bad habit like smoking or drinking is mentally draining.  Trying to start a business is demanding on both your time and energy.

Any time you try to make a real change there’s an element of discomfort involved.

People often look for tips, tricks and shortcuts to ease this discomfort, but I believe we should be taking the opposite approach.  We should lean into the discomfort and start making ourselves more comfortable with discomfort.

The discomfort that we feel in most changes or challenges that we undertake aren’t dangerous to our health.  Sure, they may make us feel tired, sore, frustrated, among a wide range of other emotions.  But it’s not really something that we can’t endure.

We’re all worried to search for the past of least resistance.  It’s easy.  Maintaining the status quo requires much less effort that bringing change to your life.  But if you’re even thinking of change, then the status quo in your life isn’t cutting it for you.

So how can you get comfortable with discomfort?

Exercise/Diet

A prime example of dealing with discomfort is when you look at exercise programs.  Any exercise program that actually works is going to involve a significant amount of discomfort if you want to see results.

It’s not comfortable to start using muscles you haven’t used in ages.  It’s difficult to start a cardio program when you haven’t run since high school.

But people all too often give up without truly exerting themselves.  It may be because they’re starting to get winded on the exercise bike.  They may have promised themselves that they would do 30 minutes of cardio to start, but gave up halfway through because it was getting hard.

Or maybe they get through the first week or two of the program, but they’re feeling sore and decide to start skipping some trips to the gym.

Instead of focusing on the discomfort, start re-framing this discomfort as if to say to yourself “I’m feeling sore because I’m working hard.”  Keep reminding yourself that change is never easy, but that you expect discomfort and you’ll work through it.

The same goes for sticking to a diet.  It may be uncomfortable to skip your evening junk food binge.  It may take some extra time to make healthier meals instead of relying on frozen dinners or even worse, take out.

But passing up on eating empty calories isn’t going to ruin your life.  Acknowledge to yourself that you have the craving, resolve to deal with the discomfort for a few minutes and let the urge pass.

Quitting a bad habit

Habits are part of our life.  They are so ingrained in our lifestyle that they are automatic.  So training ourselves to not do something isn’t easy.  Our mind will revert to doing what it’s accustomed to doing.  If the habit is something like smoking or drugs, it may even be worse as our body is craving it.

Ending the bad habit of procrastination is another great example of discomfort.

Doing meaningful work is taxing.  It may be physically demanding if your job entails manual work or mentally demanding if you’re an information worker.  Sometimes it’s both mentally and physically demanding.

We’re all too aware that it’s much easier to browse the web, chat with colleagues, go on extended breaks, or call friends then it is to get down to business.

If we truly examine what’s going on when we procrastinate, it basically comes down to us avoiding the uncomfortable work that needs to get done.  But if we work through the initial resistance of this discomfort, we start building momentum that lets us push through this barrier.

The added benefit is that you’ll start feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment in getting these tasks off your plate.

Dealing with discomfort

Humans are creatures of comfort.  We like the comforts of relaxing and knowing what’s ahead of us.  When we start pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, we start to resist.

But the area just outside our comfort zone is where true change happens.  We start reaching and trying to get a little bit better at whatever we are pursuing.

It’s the people that don’t quit when they encounter this resistance that make real changes.

Make sure you push through the discomfort.

Use Your Passion as a Compass for Goal Setting

Setting goals wasn’t always easy for me.

I’ve been a productivity junkie (for lack of a better word) for as long as I can remember, so I’ve always heard it preached that goals are essential to making a better life yourself.  It was always a good idea to have goals in various aspects of your life.  So you should set goals for your career, your athletic endeavors, your finances, etc.

But what I didn’t often see was that some of the more important goals you should set surround following your passions in life.

After all, when you look back on your life, do you think you’ll cherish the fact that you improve efficiency in completing those TPS reports week after week or that you achieved your goal of seeing everyone of your favorite groups in concert?

By no means am I suggesting that you should completely disregard any career or financial goals, but I feel like more emphasis should be placed on setting goals that will bring more joy to your life.

What’s your passion?

Strangely enough one of the biggest roadblocks when I tried to set goals around my passions was that I had a hard time defining my passions.  It’s hard to know what goals to set when you can’t define your passions.

So I arranged some time alone to think about what brought happiness into my life.  I focused on what activities I enjoyed with friends, what places I’ve always wanted to visit, what sports I enjoyed playing, what music groups I’ve always wanted to see.  At the end I didn’t exactly have an exhaustive list, but I had a place to start.  I identified a couple of items that I knew I could achieve with a little planning and used a couple of these as my goals.

You may not have this trouble.  You may be fully aware of what your passion is and you may even be lucky enough to pursue it daily.  I applaud you for that and wish more people would take this approach.

But if you’re struggling to really identify your passion like I was then set aside some time for yourself to do some thinking.  Go somewhere quiet with just a pen and paper in hand and jot down some of the things that you really enjoy doing.

I would suggest avoiding using a computer to do this brainstorming as it tends to provide too many distractions.  A pen and paper lets you focus on just the topic at hand and the free space on the paper will provide a good canvas for your brainstorming.

Set at least one goal based on your passion

At the end of your brainstorming session you’ll hopefully have a clearer idea of what you’re really passionate about.  What I don’t want to see happen however is that you become overwhelmed that you have so many passions that you would have to set a goal based on each of them.

What I suggest you do, is set just one goal based on your passion.

The reason for this is that you’ll still need to set goals based on your career, health, finances, and other areas of your life.  By also setting a goal based on one of your passions, it doesn’t allow the rest of your life to suppress this passion.

So why shouldn’t you set more goals around your passion?

You only have so much time and motivation in the day to move your goals forward.  Instead of spreading your focus thinly around several different passion goals, it’s best to focus all your available energy on achieving one goal.

Once that goal is achieved, you can set a new goal in another area you’re passionate about.

Don’t let life get in the way

We all have responsibilities in life that will steal our time and move us away from our passions.  I realize that we can’t just shun these responsibilities, but I don’t think it’s fair to ourselves to delay our passions completely to a later period in life due to these responsibilities.  What tends to happen is that these passions get suppressed indefinitely and as we only get to live this life once, we end up regretting the things we didn’t do.

So take some time today to reflect on what you’re truly passionate about and set a goal to take action on your passion

How to Just Start

One of my favorite articles on productivity was written by Leo Baubauta on his ZenHabits.net site.  The title of the post was “Best Procrastination Tip Ever.”  While the title of the post seems more than a little aimed at getting some search engine love for people searching for anti-procrastination tips, the message of the post resonated deeply with me.

The essence of the post was that getting started is difficult, but by just focusing on getting started on the first piece of work you can overcome the initial resistance and build some momentum towards getting some serious work done on an important project.

Leo is much more eloquent in his delivery of the message and I encourage you to read his article, but I just want to add my own thoughts on this subject.

If you’ve been an avid reader of productivity articles on the internet, I’m sure you’ve read about the state of flow.  It’s that critical point in your work where time seems to slip away as you’re solely focused on the task at hand.  You may not always be aware of it, but think of times when you’ve been at your desk and you glance at the clock, notice that it’s 4:15pm and you wonder where the day went.  Chances are you were in a state of flow all afternoon when you were churning through your work.

Flow is really the state in which you get most of your work done.

Doing the work when you’re in a state of flow is easy.  The key is figuring out a way to consistently get yourself into a state of flow.

This is why Leo’s tip of “just starting” is brilliant.  He encourages you to just get started for 30 seconds or a minute, just to get things moving.

It’s like a snowball that starts going downhill.  Initially you have to start rolling a snowball down a hill.  But it quickly starts picking up momentum, becoming bigger and bigger and moving faster as it continues to roll downhill.

If we look at an example, consider a report you may have to write.  When you’re getting started, you look at that report as a monster that’s going to take copious amounts of work and use up your precious time to get done.  Getting started on this type of project is a challenge because you really fear the amount of work it will take.  So often you will put starting on this project off until a later time, much closer to the deadline.

If you were to just start however, maybe you could look at opening your computer and saying that you’re just going to open your favorite word processing software and create the file that will be your report.

So you’ve named your file and you’re looking at a blank screen.  From here you might think, “well it wouldn’t be too painful to maybe write an introduction.”  So you type for a few minutes and the introduction is drafted.  It didn’t take too long.  So then you decide to outline some topic ideas for the various sections that may require some additional research.  And you proceed from there.

Do you see how this works?

Most often, the hardest part about work is getting started.

You can really use this in almost any area of your life where you find yourself having trouble getting started.

The key is to remember to focus on just the first step you can take towards moving your task forward.  Identify the smallest element of that task and focus on doing that smallest piece.  If you feel a desire to move away from that task, acknowledge that desire but don’t let it consume you.  It’ll pass shortly and you can re-focus on completing your first task.

Do this consistently when getting started on tasks and you’ll be much more likely to spend more time in the state of flow

How Much Are You Really Working?

If I were to ask you how much time you spend working each week, do you think your estimate would be higher or lower than the actual amount of time you spent working?  I’m talking about actual work that you do to move your tasks or projects closer to completion, not about the amount of time you spend at your workplace or at school.

I would be more than willing to bet you will always overstate the time you spend working.  I’m very confident on that fact.

In reality we waste so much time in the run of a day, that only a fraction of our time is used to do work to move your projects ahead.  Time wasted may be in the form of reading the news, watching videos online, browsing social media, talking to colleagues, and taking breaks.  The problem is that we may do bits and pieces of work in between these activities which causes the time to blur and leads us to feel like we’ve been working longer than we really have.

This was a common problem for me early in my working career.  My love of professional sports would lead me to read article after article from various columnists on ESPN, CNNSI, and other blogs.  Often it would seem like my workday wouldn’t begin until 10:30am despite the fact that I had been in the office since 8:30am.

Introducing Time Logs

What lead me to change my ways and realize the amount of time I had been wasting was that I began tracking how I spent my day.  For every activity I completed in the run of my work day, I would enter it into a spreadsheet.

I would track the activity, the start time, and the end time and I would be sure to include every distinct action.  This would even include time I would spend going to the bathroom, going on lunch, talking with co-workers, or browsing the web.

Over the course of the first day it felt like a waste of time to track this info, but at the end of the day I reviewed my log and I was shocked.  At the end of an 8 hour day, I had barely worked 2.5 hours!

I chalked the day’s results up to just a distraction filled day and vowed that the rest of the days in the week would show just how much I truly worked each day.  While I wasn’t expecting to see 7 or 8 hours of solid work each day, I figured I was at least logging 5 or 6 good hours.

At the end of the week I was shocked to find that the first day wasn’t an anomaly.  I was working on average about 3 hours a day.  THREE HOURS!  I felt like I was robbing the company I was working for and felt disappointed in myself.  How was I ever going to advance in my career if I was only working 3 hours a day.

I thought about my results over the weekend that followed and decided I was going to be more conscientious about my day.  I was going to continue keeping these time logs, but I felt a change in my mindset.  I didn’t want to look back on week 2 and see the same results and end up feeling bad about my work habits again.  This lead to a staggering change.

When Monday rolled around I continued the practice of tracking my time, but I kept reminding myself that I didn’t want to see too many “breaks” or “surfing the webs” in my log.  So I did as best as I could to remain focus on productive work.  At the end of the day, I tallied up my working time and was overjoyed to see 5.5 hours logged doing real work.

At the end of the week, I noticed a similar pattern, having average over 5 hours work each day.

Not only did I feel better about myself, but it actually felt like I had completed twice the amount of work that I had done the week before.

I continue to use these time logs regularly even today as it puts me in the right mindset to know that my time is being tracked and that I really don’t want to look back at the end of the week and see that I wasted so much time.

To get started using time logs yourself, start a file in Excel, Google Spreadsheet or go old school and just use a pen and paper.  Make sure you log the activity, the start time and the time at which you move to a different activity.

Also make sure you try to be honest with yourself.  You’re not submitting this to anyone so don’t cheat yourself (although promising to share your log with a loved one might add some additional motivation).

At the end of the day, look back at how you really spent your day.  This reality check should provide you with a baseline to improve your productivity as well as provide you with some additional motivation when you truly see where the minutes of your day (and your life!) are going.