Wisdom 2.0

I love love loved being at Wisdom 2.0 this weekend. One of the great highlights of my life.

A Lesson on Focus

Photo by Michael Dales

I’m naturally very distractible and messy – a “big-picture thinker, but not so much a detail person,” as my father would euphemize when I was younger. I’m often tempted to work on a lot of things at once, inefficiently, and without finishing much. This tendency can wreak havoc on my ability to get anything done as a writer.

I work from home most of the time, so the pull of all the things that I could be doing instead of writing is usually more powerful than any intention I have to just focus.

(Some of the things that tempted me this morning: the laundry, the breakfast dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher, chatting with my neighbor, retrieving the dog’s ball from behind the sofa so he stopped barking at it, e-mail, texts, a quick thank-you note, bills, yesterday’s mail, and chatting with my husband on the phone.)

I had to carefully construct a work structure for myself that would support focus rather than allow me to hop from one easy but not important task to another.

Forcing myself to stop multitasking was a process. I had to create a formal ritual to get myself into the zone. Here it is:

As I’m brewing myself a second cup of coffee or tea, I take a quick peek at my calendar and e-mail on my phone. Is there anything urgent? The idea isn’t to respond to e-mails; it’s a check that keeps me from worrying while I write that I should have checked my e-mail, and keeps me from wondering if there is anything on my calendar that I should be preparing for. Then I head to my office, with my coffee and a full glass of water. (I’ve also had a snack and used the restroom. I’m like a toddler going on a car trip.)

I do a quick cleanup, removing yesterday’s coffee cup from my desk, closing books left open, putting pens back in their place. I put all visual clutter in deceivingly neat piles. I put my phone in do-not-disturb mode, and close any unnecessary applications or windows that are open on my computer. I launch Pandora and choose the “listen while writing” radio station I’ve created (mostly classical piano because it doesn’t distract me like music with lyrics does). I tell Buster, my trusty canine colleague, to go to his “place” – a bed right next to me where he’s trained to stay while I work.

I write at a standing desk that has a small treadmill under it. When I’m ready to start writing, I start the treadmill. Walking slowly while I work has a lot of positive outcomes; one of them is that it more or less chains me to my desk. Finally, I launch the app 30/30, which times my writing and break time.

At first, I actually felt guilty for carving out such dedicated time to focus on my writing. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous to you – it’s my jobafter all! But honestly, I felt like I should be more responsive to my colleagues’ e-mails throughout the day, and I shouldn’t be creating the scheduling nightmares that blocking off dedicated work time does because it’s basically at the same time every day. It’s very hard to schedule a meeting with me in the morning, when I do my best writing, or in the afternoon, when I pick up my children from school. This means that it’s pretty hard to get me to go to a meeting.

So how did I ultimately let go of the guilt? Instead of trying to conform to the norms of the ideal office worker (which made me feel a little terrified anytime I was straying from that path), I started to see myself as an artist. I read everything I could about other writers’ and artists’ work habits, and talked to a half dozen successful writers about how they get things done. Guess what?

They have writing rituals just like the one that I set up. Seeing myself as a part of their tribe made the whole thing easier for the part of me that is people pleasing and wanting to conform with what people see as hard-working.

Do you struggle to block off dedicated time to write? If so, I welcome you to join my tribe.

Instructions For A Bad Day

Having a bad day? Take a few minutes to listen to these truthful and poetic words. Let them uplift you and know that this too shall pass.

Thursday Thought

TT-MBeck“You will never realize your best destiny through the avoidance of fear. Rather, you will realize it through the exercise of courage, which means taking whatever action is most liberating to the soul, even when you are afraid.” –Martha Beck

How to Find More Than 24 Hours in a Day

Find the minimum effective dose — of everything.

The “minimum effective dose” (MED) is considered to be the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being. In order to live and work from my sweet spot, I had to find the MED in everything in my life: sleep, meditation, blogging frequency, checking my email, school volunteering, homework help, date nights.

We have a deep-seated conviction that more work, more enrichment activities for the kids, more likes on Facebook or Instagram, more stuff would be better. Unless we like feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, we need to accept that more is not necessarily better and that our go-go-go culture, left unchecked, will push us not only beyond our MED — but beyond the “maximum tolerated dose,” the level at which an activity (or drug) becomes toxic and starts causing an adverse reaction.

Take Action: The first step in dialing back the busyness of everyday life is to figure out your minimum effective dose of everything. Ignore what other people think and assume and demand of your time. Figure out how much time you actually need to spend on your email, going to meetings, driving your kids to their activities, etc. in order to be effective at home and at work.

Join the Discussion: What activity have YOU found the MED for that surprised you? Your story will help others have the courage to dial back their own busyness.

“Genius” Relationship Advice

Love this advice for navigating all important relationships in your life.

Thursday Thought

tt-buddha “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” –Buddha

How To Be Happier

We’re all in search of ways to become more productive, less stressed and better balanced between work and play. This hour, we’ll talk to sociologist and happiness expert Christine Carter about the strategies that work, which she writes about in The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work (Ballantine Books).

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How to be happier and more productive – by doing less

by Dave McGinn for The Globe and Mail

When asked how we are doing, most of us will answer with “busy.” We say it with a mixture of pride and exhaustion. Always doing more has become the toxic default position of our culture. Christine Carter wants to show us how to be happier and even more productive by doing less. There are countless gurus hawking road maps to happiness these days, but Carter’s new book is based on five years of turning her life around. She’s no longer a harried, stressed-out perfectionist. Her book is filled with practical advice based on a wide array of research on how to get to your “sweet spot.”

Read full article…

Is Your Phone Actually Controlling YOU?


Photo by Bruno

Social media can stress us out—or help us feel love and connection. The key is to understand their impact and use them strategically.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report on social media use and stress, and subsequent media coverage has boiled its message down this kind of headline: “Using Facebook and Twitter a lot can actually decrease stress,” to quote the Washington Post.

Wishful thinking. Pew surveyed the associations between people’s self-reported social media use and how stressful they perceive their lives to be, but it did not attempt to determine how Internet and social media use affects stress levels.

The Pew report did find that “women who use Twitter, email and cellphone picture sharing report lower levels of stress.” But we have no idea if there is a cause-and-effect relationship. Perhaps the low-stress women Pew surveyed have more leisure time, which both lowers how stressful they perceive their lives to be, and also gives them more time to send their friends pictures from their smartphones, and to post to Twitter.

Or perhaps these women were feeling the positive effects of communicating with friends. That would be consistent with 150 years of research that has found a person’s well-being is best predicted by the breadth and depth of their social ties.

Knowing this, we can ask how social media can strengthen our real-life relationships. Perhaps sending your sister photos makes you feel closer to her, especially when she comments and sends photos of her own in return. Plenty of research would back up the notion that the love and closeness you feel during this picture exchange really could lower your stress in a measurable way. Many people report a similar positive effect from posting on Facebook. The same goes for reading an article posted to Twitter that makes you feel engaged and curious, or viewing a particular artist’s photos on Instagram that inspires you. These are all instances where social media can foster positive emotions—and positive emotions reduce stress, help us relax, give us energy, and lend our lives meaning and fulfillment.

On the other hand, you might notice that your email or social media use is making you feel bad about yourself. Comparing ourselves to others, while natural, can make us feel envious and unhappy. Does social media use make you feel like you aren’t measuring up? Or does it make you feel isolated? Neither of these feelings will make your life better.

And, as so many people know, constantly checking email or feedback status throughout the day can exacerbate your stress. When researchers Elizabeth Dunn and Kostadin Kushlev regulated how frequently research participants checked their email, for example, those limited to checking their email only three times a day (vs. an average of 15 times) were less tense and less stressed overall.

Social media does have the power to make us miserable and stressed out—or to help us feel love and connection, joy and gratitude, inspiration and curiosity. The key is to understand how these technologies influence our emotional lives, and learn to use them strategically. To reap the benefits of electronic connection, try these three strategies today:

Take Action: Social media does have the power to make us miserable and stressed out–or to help us feel love and connection, joy and gratitude, inspiration and curiosity. The key is to understand how these technologies influence our emotional lives, and learn to use them strategically. To reap the benefits of electronic connection, try these 3 strategies today:

  • Check email intentionally, not compulsively. Designate three specific times today that you’ll read and respond to your email, and keep your mail application closed (and alerts off) at all other times.
  • Decide on a few places where you will ban your smartphone use. (Consider starting with the dining room table, your bed, and the bathroom.) If you don’t have your phone in the same room, you’ll be a lot less tempted to check it.
  • Use social media and email to strengthen your real-life relationships. For example, each morning, send an email telling someone what you really appreciate about them.

Join the Discussion: What tactics do you use to make sure that you aren’t controlled by your smart phone?