Habits Help

Each day a million thoughts run through your head. You see and hear lots of good things to try. Your goals are many and varied. But, how to do it?!?

We have discussed multiple strategies on this blog that help answer that question, and today we will add one more aspect.

Routines are effective. The more habits you can create in your day and then string together into a routine, the more you will accomplish without thinking about it. Yes, it takes time to build those habits, but the investment pays off immensely in the future.

When you think about eating an elephant one bite at a time, habits are a great illustration of “one bite” a day. If you do one thing every day (or every weekday), how much would be accomplished in a month? Or a year? If you want to do something more (like exercise or read), doing that thing 10 minutes a day will add up. After a few months, you will indeed have done something more.

Habits provide rest. When you get to the point that you have a habit (like brushing your teeth), you don’t have to think about what you are doing while you are doing it. Some days that is a micro-nap for your brain; other days it is free space for creative or deep thinking. Make the most of it!

Also, we are not designed to go full-out all day long. Scattering mental breaks throughout your day gives you a chance to catch your breath — while still accomplishing what you continually need in hygiene or chores or growth — before expending energy on the major efforts of the day.

Structure builds security. When you know the road you’re on, you are comfortable lifting your foot to take a step. In complete darkness in an unfamiliar room — not so much. When your routine is established, making exceptions is safer. When you know what to expect, you will naturally feel less anxious. You can be confident you will come back to the “normal” day. Bases are covered, so a special activity is not a concern.  If you have put wise effort into big picture planning ahead of time, you can relax and enjoy the small trip.

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Not only do these points all apply to us, they also help with children. A regular, daily routine will:

  • minimize repeated instruction (they know what they are doing; they do it every day), and
  • require less energy in creating and communicating a new schedule for every hour and every activity.
  • Children love the security of structure. Once it is established, they will be active advocates for keeping it in place and you on track!

Relax

So, continuing on the theme of the joys to be had with shotguns and clays and a wide-open field…

You’re standing in the hot sun, holding your shotgun, joking around with friends. You know the goal is to vaporize the orange clay on the first shot. You know everyone around you is counting their shots and keeping one eye (or both!) on yours as well. Will you just chip it? Will you miss? Can you hit double after double? There is pressure to perform. If you are competitive, multiply that pressure exponentially!

Time after time, there has been consistent, obvious improvement in my accuracy when I am relaxed. The more relaxed, the more I hit. I’m breathing better, my muscles respond better, my energy is not wasted and can be used for what I want to do.

There’s a life lesson here too.

Relaxed and focused will maximize your time and efforts. Overwhelmed, panicked, tense, disturbed and distracted — all take time and attention from your goal or task or schedule for the day. The more time you spend ‘stressing’ or worrying about all you have to do and how you are going to do it, the less time you use to get it done. You psych yourself out of productivity when you focus on the potential problems.

Time after time, when I am coaching someone on process or time management, we start the hour with a HUGE project that seems impossible to get done. But as we break it down into steps and make a plan, twenty minutes later — it’s no problem at all. It’s possible. Not only that, it often is a project that can be enjoyed! How would you rather spend an hour: worrying and procrastinating, or working and enjoying the results?

My encouragement to you is this: Enjoy the moment! Do the work that is given to you for that time. Relax and get it done.

 

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Another way to support a little less tension in your day is to schedule margin. We have discussed this before, but it has a huge impact on reducing stress in your project or your calendar.

 

Acting on Your Plans

The school year is starting! This time of year is also when you may have made plans for how things will run on the new schedule. You may have goals for a new school year. Although we have touched on action plans already this year, today I’d like to spend a few minutes more on the steps involved — hopefully making it even easier to do.

Now, first of all, a good action plan is based on a clear goal. You will be set up for success when you start by knowing exactly what you plan to achieve and have a deadline. If you don’t know specifically where you are going, it will be hard to get there. So if you need to clarify how you are stating your goal, now is the time to do it.

Once your goal is defined, you can spend a few minutes brainstorming.

  • What steps will help you get to your goal? What actions will help? What supplies are needed? What has to be done to start? What will it take to finish? Do you need any resources to support your effort (i.e., books, training, input from experts)? Write down any and all ideas you have. Try to think through all the aspects and requirements during this time, and get it all down on paper (or screen).
  • Next, take a minute to look at all you have noted. Evaluate which ideas will work the best and do the most. Pick out the cream of the crop until you have enough chosen to accomplish your goal but not more than you need to do. Your action plan should have what you need but not have distractions or wasted effort.
  • With this list, you can break the work into manageable pieces (or bites of the elephant) and set your timeline. A timeline can be either dedicating a set amount of time per week, with at least one waypoint to check progress; or it will be lining up steps one, two, three, etc. Sometimes it will be a combination of both.For instance, you may dedicate time each week to completing a Bible study book (and check halfway through to make sure you are halfway through the work). Or if you are making a quilt, your action plan will be a series of steps (choose pattern, buy fabric, cut, piece, etc.) in addition to time dedicated. Your timeline will depend on your goal.

The only step left is to schedule your timeline. Block out slots for the weekly time you plan to spend on your goal. Set a target date on your calendar for each step in your project. The schedule for your action plan may need to move as other things come up, but you have something to aim at and milestones to keep you on track.

“What gets scheduled gets done.” — Michael Hyatt

If you would like an infographic summarizing these action plan steps, see below.

My hope is that this helps your success! Working through the steps to create an action plan will make it smoother and quicker each time. Breaking down what is needed makes the project more manageable. If you run into any snags or have any questions, please contact me and I am happy to help. Onward and upward!

Calendar Tips

Although a few minutes of mapping out your day will benefit everyone, there is more that can be done. Some are dependent on calendars — paper or electronic — for a daily schedule, and calendars or planners can be a valuable tool in time management. Using your calendar to define your path forward can help you cover all the bases and be proactive with your priorities. Planning ahead pays off.

How does that work?

Well, if you block time on your schedule on a monthly and weekly basis, you are making sure you stumble over what you need to do. Some of us need that extra help! Often distractions consume our days, but if your calendar simply reminds you that you need to spend an hour paying bills today in spite of those distractions, you have a helping hand.

This can work in different ways.

  • For instance, if you have regular tasks that need to be completed, like paying bills or a medical treatment, you can schedule that time out a few days before the deadline each month. Scheduling it a couple of days early gives you margin if a need comes up to push it back a day. No worries; you planned for that possibility. 
  • If you have something on which you want to spend regular time, i.e., walking with a neighbor or meal planning for the week, blocking that time out for the next month will protect that time slot and activity.
  • If you have a larger project or goal, you can break it down into smaller chunks and schedule time to work on it. So if you have a book to be read for a reading group at your local library, and you know 1) the book has 9 chapters and 2) they will take about 30 minutes each to read and 3) you have three weeks until you meet, you put time to read on the calendar 3 times a week. Remember, don’t put the last block of time on the last possible day; give yourself margin to succeed.

Sample Calendar

If you are using a paper planner, you often have space to list your priorities and to-do list on the same page as your calendar. This helps keep these front and center in your mind. It also helps you double-check that the priorities are reflected in your schedule.

Regular reviews are also crucial for calendar management. If you have planned out the next month, you will still need to look at your calendar each week to see what has changed or what may need to be changed to adjust to new requirements. Things come up. Stuff needs to move. The soccer schedule was laid out for the season, but games and practices get rescheduled. This doesn’t change the goal, it just changes the plan to get there. Remember you are in control of your calendar, so take care of conflicts and holes as soon as you can. This keeps your schedule running smoothly even with multiple adjustments.

Even with a weekly review, you will still need to look at your calendar at the beginning of each day to make sure all is still well and that you know what you are doing in the short term.

Color-coding can also be helpful. Visually, your brain will have clues to immediately categorize tasks and appointments. You can choose one color for each specific arena or goal. Paydays could be marked in green and school vacations in red. Each family member could have one color, to keep all the karate and dance lessons easily seen. However, if multiple pens and the effort to switch and maintain the system is too much, don’t let it hold you back from a successful schedule. One pen works well — as does one of whatever writing instrument is handy at the moment! It is better to have it planned than pretty.

Best wishes on your successful calendars! Do you have any other tips that help you? Please comment below for the benefit of us all.

Working the Plan

This is where the fun is! Putting together a reasonable plan and seeing the progress is motivating, as well as beneficial.

There are a few things to keep in mind, however:

  • You are in this for the long haul – a marathon, not a sprint. Steady progress is what we are looking to see. Delays are not the end; keep the end in mind and patiently wait until you can continue. One day doesn’t work? Start fresh again tomorrow and the next day.
  • Get input on the plan from the start and throughout. Spouses, of course, but also family members and friends whose opinions you respect. Children, if involved, have feedback that is important to consider. It’s never too late to adjust.
  • Plan to succeed. Set yourself up to do what you have determined is best. Put reminders in your path. Set alarms. Schedule time on a regular basis to accomplish the steps in your plan.
  • It’s fine to tweak. In fact, if you’re not omniscient and omnipotent, it’s pretty much required. If Plan A doesn’t work out as you thought, don’t give up. Plans B and C and D are just other creative ways to move forward.
  • Don’t do it on your own. Lean on God’s provision and rely on His strength and wisdom. Use the resources He has placed in your life to support you. Ask for encouragement and accountability from your spouse or close friends. Who knows if you may stir others up to good works along the way?
  • The plan is not the ultimate goal. Remember our big picture and purpose. No matter how beautiful and well-thought-out the plan, it is worthless if done without love for God and our neighbor.