People often tell me they’re amazed by how organized and focused I am, which I find hilariously ironic, because this was my desk* before I left for my Christmas vacation:
I am a duck, people – calm on the surface, going like mad underneath.
This “before” shot is a pretty accurate reflection of how my brain felt, too, which is one of the reasons the vacation was so necessary. I had managed to over-schedule myself to the point that I hadn’t filed a single piece of paper in over a year, because I hadn’t had time for such a basic task. Not only could I not find anything I needed, I’d completely forgotten what most of those piles actually contained, because I hadn’t looked at them in so long.
Clearly it was time to stage an intervention on myself. A week of intensive cleaning later (the kind where you not only file, but you touch every piece of paper in the filing cabinet and decide whether it should stay or hit the bin), my desk looks like this:
And while I purged my office and my mind, I figured out some stuff that I think will help me make some serious awesome this year. I don’t think there’s anything particularly revolutionary here, but I wanted to share in case some of this helps you too.
Figure out what’s really important to you
What are your goals, for work or health or lifestyle? You have to know what you really want before you can figure out how to get it. Once you decide which items are the top priority in each category, you can move on to stage two.
Create a battle plan
This is especially important with big goals – the kind that will take a lot of work to realize. Big tasks can be overwhelming, but if you break them down into smaller tasks, they start to look achievable. When I’m working with graduate students, I tell them to stop saying “I have to write my thesis today.” Instead, say, “I have to make a table today” or “I have to outline my introduction today.” No one can write a thesis in one day, but anyone can handle a table. Keep piling up bricks and soon you’ll have a house.
Recognize that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy
Life happens. Stuff comes up. Some of that stuff (sick kids, snow days, a work colleague dropping a ball you now have to pick up) just has to get dealt with, and resenting its impact on your plans is a waste of energy. Instead, try to factor this stuff in. One strategy that works for me is figuring out how much time a task should take me to complete, then adding 20% to my plan. Another is scheduling time at the end of the week for catch up – dealing with little things that got put off or big things that got derailed. This lets me go into the weekend feeling like I’m still more or less on track.
Get rid of dead weight
I’m not talking about holiday pounds, here. I’m talking about all of the paperwork and closet detritus and “but someday I might actually do something with a yard of paisley fabric from the 1960s and six foam letters that don’t spell any words in English” stuff you’ve been hanging on to. Because what I’m starting to realize is there is no someday. If you have no solid intention of doing something specific with that stuff today (or, OK, within the next year), you don’t need it. All it’s doing is weighing you down. You’ll feel so much lighter and more focused without those unreasonable expectations holding you back, and that makes it easier to stay true to your goals.
Instead of doing a lot of things pretty well, do a few things exceptionally well
This means figuring out how to be happy achieving less. If you know how, please share, because this one is my kryptonite. I seem to be convinced I can produce a whole lot more than I can actually produce, and as a result, work has totally taken over my work-life balance. Which is partly because I love my work, but mostly because I have utterly unrealistic expectations for myself. So this is my ultimate goal for 2015 – do less and live more.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be writing books this year. It just means I won’t be writing four, which let’s face it, is pretty unsustainable for people who also have day jobs. I’m focusing instead on a small number of select projects I’m really passionate about (and trying to ignore the longer list of other projects I’m also really passionate about, but slightly less driven to work on right this second). We’ll see how it goes!
How about you? What steps are you taking to make more awesome in 2015?
* And no, the office explosion was not caused by the ingestion of the contents of those bottles, which actually contain filtered water (our well has arsenic and the only RO tap in the house is downstairs).