We all know that there’s certain things that we need to do in order to become better version of yourself. We need to take action and actively press towards the finish line, or we’ll never make it.
But along with those things that we need to start doing, there’s also things that we need to stop doing. Take a look at your life; think about all the things that you’re doing instead of pursuing your goals. Now think about how that time could be better spent.
There’s a concept in business called “opportunity cost.” To put it simply, when you take a certain action, you need to give up thing that you could be doing instead. When you’re doing that things that we discuss in the following sections, you’re taking time away from the things that you really need to be doing.
So remember- you’re giving up time to do the right thing when you spend so much of it doing the wrong things.
Be Better Version Of Yourself
While this is perhaps the most obvious, it’s also very often ignored. We’re generally taught that being busy is a positive trait, and that’s very often true. But you have to look at what it is that you’re actually accomplishing.
Let’s draw a distinction between being “effective” and being “busy.” The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but they’re not exactly the same thing, either. If you’re effective without being too busy, you’re efficient. You’ve found a way to accomplish more without overcommitting yourself (and thus suffering in the long run). But if you’re too busy without being effective, you’re wasting your time.
Studies suggest that 20% of tasks take up 80% of our time. In other words, generally it’s only a few major tasks that are keeping you the busiest. If you can tackle those, it will make a difference.
Consider the things that are keeping you busy in an average day. Which of those things do you have to do? Which of those things can you stop doing, and allocate that time to different tasks? Which of those things can you do more efficiently, once again saving precious time?
Make a list of the recurring tasks that take your time. Determine which are taking most of your time. Which of those can you make more efficient? Which can you eliminate?
It can take some time to do this, but the time that you’ll save in the long run more than makes up for it.
2. Getting Distracted
What distracts you? Chances are good you can think of at least a few examples. Or maybe a few hundred.
There are plenty of opportunities for distractions- they’re everywhere. Billions of dollars are spent every year on making sure that you stay distracted. But the good news is that recognizing your distractors allows you to overcome them.
There are many ways to fight distractions, but first you have to think about what’s actually distracting you. Once you know what is distracting you, come up with a plan for each specific item. Do you find that you’re using Facebook when you should be studying? Install software that blocks sites during specific times. Are you watching television when you should be working on yourself? Go somewhere where you don’t have access to it.
If you’re having trouble fighting the distractions, try the following:
- Create structure. Whether it’s in your work itself or in the environment in which you’re working, structure. Can be freeing. Try setting up a designated area for working, or establishing a pattern in your efforts.
- Welcome the distractions, but give them limits. You can do this by using what is sometimes called the Promodoro Technique. Essentially, you “promise” your mind a reward after accomplishing a set time of work. The specific times depend on what work best for you, but try giving yourself 5 minutes of “free” internet time after completing 20 minutes of solid, dedicated work. Once you figure out the ratio of work/play time, set an alarm to make sure that you can stick to it.
- Use distractions to your benefit. Certain tasks can accommodate distractions. Learn which ones they are, and figure out how you can still work on the overall goal. For example, maybe you can afford to take a break from painting the living room and finish sanding the door for the second coat.
- Use technology to your advantage. Sometimes, the biggest distractions are your electronic devices. With your computer and phone comes games, the internet and other distractions. If you don’t have it in you to turn them off, install software or apps that block certain programs and websites, forcing you to concentrate on the task at hand.
- Set goals, and give yourself rewards for meeting them.
- Notice when you’re distracted, and make yourself acknowledge it. The more you’re aware of it, the less hold it has on you.
- Use ambient noise. Ambient noise, such as white or pink noise, or certain music, can help keep distractions to a minimum. Video game music can be great for this, as it’s designed to be stimulating without being overwhelming. Just make sure you’re not actually playing video games instead of working!
3. Blaming Yourself
You will make mistakes. You will screw up. You will fail.
You shouldn’t ignore it when you do. But, at the same, don’t dwell on it. Acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them and move on. But do not dwell on them.
Think about a time that you failed. It’s very easy to focus on that, but try to see it for what it was- an opportunity to grow and to learn. You’ll never master anything unless you do.
So mentally go back to that time you failed. What did you learn from it? Or, if you’ve only been focusing on the negative emotions, what CAN you learn from it? Do that until it becomes reflexive, and you’ll learn a lot from each experience.
The Military has a process called an After Action Review, or AAR, which is completed after a successful or unsuccessful project, mission or operation.
It’s a formal process to consider what went right and wrong, and what needs to be improved or sustained. Get in the habit of looking at your efforts the same way, so that you can learn from them without dwelling on the past.
4. Being Bored
Boredom is your mind’s way of telling you that you should be doing something more than what you’re doing at that moment.
Now, of course there are bound to be exceptions. But think about the times that you’ve been bored- maybe in class; or in a meeting; or in traffic. Consider why you were bored, and what else you could have been doing during those times. Maybe you need to be paying attention, but in those times that you don’t, could you find something better to be doing? You could write, plan, scheme, think edit or anything else that you can think of, if you plan ahead.
I used to hate commuting, until I realized just how much time if gives me for other activities. I had a job once that was an hour and a half commute from my home. That’s three hours a day in the car! Of course, I spent a lot of that time bored out of my skull, until it hit me- I could use that time so much better! I could actually do something productive, instead of giving in to the boredom.
So I planned ahead. Instead of seeing it as time wasted, I begin to look at what I could do to better use that time! While I had that job, I learned passable Spanish, studied for my CISSP exam and listened to my course lectures to complete my undergraduate degree. Time is only wasted if you don’t use it. And you can only be as bored as you allow.
5. Holding Anger
Okay, that’s an oversimplification. Anger can be a healthy, necessary reaction to life events. If someone harms you or someone you love, get angry at them! And it’s okay to let them know it, too.
But think about the quote by Buddha. He likens holding onto anger with holding a hot coal, and how you get burned while doing so. But even though you may get burned, could you not throw it anyway? You could actually harm the person that has made you angry- sometimes, that’s all we can think about.
However, the quote also reminds us that holding onto the coal will burn us. It will do us harm, while we’re busy thinking about doing harm to the target of our anger. And the longer we hold it, the more it burns.
Let’s look at this from a more realistic point of view. I normally deal with hot coals when I’m barbequing. And sometimes, I need to move a coal from one place to another. Do I pick it up with my hands? No, of course not. I use thongs to move it. In other words, I handle the coal in a safe, responsible manner.
In the same way, we can use tools to better handle our anger. If there’s something or someone that makes you angry, try the following:
- Replace the negative thought with a positive thought. When you think of the thing, immediately think about something more positive. Think about your favorite food or a happy memory- whatever it is that cheers you up.
- Distract yourself with something more positive, like a television show or a video game (within reason!).
- Scream or punch a pillow. Psychology tells us that letting out your aggression in such a way can be a great way to work through it.
- Exercise! Exercise is a natural stress reliever, and it works for anger in the same way.
- Write an angry letter to the target of your feelings, and burn it when you’re done. It helps you work through your feelings, and no harm is done (just don’t accidentally send it!).
- Try to surround yourself with positive people- it spreads.
- Pamper yourself, care for yourself. Remember that you deserve it. Take a warm bath, go on a mini-vacation or just take a day off. Whatever helps you recharge.
- Make a conscious effort to let go of the anger- remember that you want to get past it, even if only for your own peace of mind.
- Sometimes, talking to the person helps. This isn’t always possible, but sometimes you can tell them how you feel and actually work it out. In that case, you’re not so much “getting over” the anger as much as you are working through it.
- Give yourself time. Time doesn’t actually heal all wounds, but it certainly gives you more perspective. And sometimes it’s easier to deal with anger when it’s not so fresh.
Sometimes certain tasks can seem pretty daunting, and then they can be really hard to tackle. And when you look at those tasks, it can be overwhelming.
So don’t look at your project as a single thing- break down its components, and look at those for what they are. Don’t make things more complicated than it has to be.
For example, maybe you build a house. If “build a house” is on your todo list, you might never get started. But if you break down that task into its components (purchase wood, pour foundation, etc), it’s much more manageable.
Set deadlines for your mini-tasks, and you’ll feel a greater sense of achievement when you accomplish them. Take baby steps, and you just might reach your destination faster.
We all want to be our best, and we all have the best intentions. But sometimes, we’re really our own worst enemies. So after today, make yourself a promise: don’t overcommit yourself, don’t allow distractions, stop blaming yourself, fight against boredome, let anger go and don’t overcomplicate things.
And then, see just how far you go.