I was in a meeting today and one of the attendees is a tax professional. It’s tax season of course, so she was explaining that she will be working until midnight.
Maybe I’m odd, but my first reaction is that I don’t want my taxes to be prepared by someone at midnight. Or 11 PM or 10 PM. In fact, I don’t want my taxes prepard by someone who was up until midnight last night either!
I want my taxes prepared by someone who is fresh and well rested – and on top of their game.
I don’t want my accounting handled by someone at 11 PM.
I don’t want my tech support handled by someone at 10 PM.
I don’t want my surgery to be performed by a doctor in the last two hours of a ten hour shift.
I don’t want my legal documents reviewed by an attorney after ten hours at the office.
Do you see the pattern here? We all see this behavior in others. We know that they have diminishing returns. We don’t want them at their worst. We want them at their best. We don’t want to pay full price for the ninth or tenth or eleventh hour of work.
When you see someone working like this day after day, you know that they are mostly spinning their wheels and becoming less productive every hour. And after several days of overworking, they are becoming less productive every day.
It can be very frustrating when my flight is cancelled because the pilots sat around waiting for delays until the FAA says that they have to go home because they’ve been on duty too long. But the FAA knows a very clear truth: People make more mistakes when they are tired. Mistakes can kill people.
And What About You?
It’s easy to see this behavior in others, but what about yourself? Are you overworking day after day? How productive are you in the last hour of your long work day?
When most of us make mistakes, no one dies. But that doesn’t mean that we are doing good work, or that our clients are getting their money’s worth. Certainly, our families are not getting what they deserve when we are working eleven or twelve hours in a day.
When you collapse at the end of the week and are “useless” to your family, then you really need to re-evaluate why you’re working so hard.
Under-serving your clients (or boss) while under-serving your family is the only long-term result of chronic over-working.
If you’re a thoroughly modern person, you are probably pretty well tethered to your technology. That means you are never far from your email, cell phone, text messages, and social media. Generally speaking, these are good things. But you might be too connected.
If you are too connected, your addiction to these technologies is actually detrimental to your success, detrimental to your peace of mind, and detrimental to your health. Really. More and more research is revealing that constant tethering to technology is resulting in a new kind of neurosis or addiction.
If you can’t ignore email, text messages, and Facebook for two hours with without feeling agitated, you have a problem. This might sound funny – unless you’ve experienced it. From time to time we all legitimately wait for a special email or a special text message. But addiction comes in when you aren’t waiting for anything in particular – you just crave some kind of interaction on your phone that will make your brain produce some neuro-chemicals that give you a little a positive “hit.”
The Pew Research Center reported in 2012 that 44% of respondents said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week. My guess is that the number is higher today. For many of us, a little beep or tweet from the phone actually causes a chemical reaction in our brains.
Dopamine is a chemical created in your brain. Often called the pleasure-seeking neurotransmitter, it creates and enhances pleasure-seeking impulses. So when you get some little indicator of pleasure, dopamine pumps into the pleasure center of your brain and you go seeking more. Remember Pavlov’s dog? When the bell rings, the dog starts to salivate.
How about you? When your phone beeps, do you start to salivate? Do you rush to see whether it’s a text message or a Tweet or a Facebook alert? Dinging computers, email pop-ups, and instant messages are all the same. A little taste leads to a larger desire.
And what really happens is that one little ding results in fives minutes pleasure seeking. You make sure you’re all caught up on the alerts and emails and other activity. When you’re sure you’ve got it all, you can put your phone down. But for many of us, we start seeking the next electronic-inspired hit of dopamine as soon as we put the phone down.
Whether it’s just a habit or an actual addiction, you can get carried away with being tethered to your technology. Let’s look at how this behavior affects our lives.
On the business front, constant interruptions just make you less productive overall. Really. I’ve written many times about the fact that multi-tasking is a myth. Human beings cannot focus on two things at once. Again, more and more research is demonstrating that the best we can do is to jump between tasks doing each of them less effectively. And interruptions cause us to lose time as we switch gears. We think we’re doing more because we confuse busy-ness with productivity. We might be busier switching tasks all the time, but we are far less productive.
You need to turn off the distractions. You need to silence the alerts. You need to disable the pop-ups and instant messaging. You need to take control of communication and decide when you’ll check those things. Do not be interrupt-driven.
I am not trying to be preachy here. I really take this very seriously. That’s why I can’t ask you to just drop it all at once. If you’re addicted to the BEEP, you need to slowly ween yourself off of it. You need to un-tether, but you need to do it in a way that decreases your anxiety instead of increasing it.
The goal is to be able to ignore your disruptive technology so you can be more productive and more focused. Here’s a plan to do that without guilt, stress, or temptation.
Step One: Believe and Commit
First, you need to accept that the world really is going to be just fine even when you are not monitoring it 24/7. Intellectually, you know that you can watch a movie at home or in the theater and everything will be just fine if you don’t check your text messages during that time. And the same is true with dinner, and with sleeping at night.
So we know in our intelligent brain that we can ignore email, social media, and text messaging for hours at a time. But when we have access to these technologies we tend to turn them on and keep them on – ready to interrupt us at any time.
You have to accept that ignoring these technologies for longer periods of time is okay and that nothing bad will happen. A big piece of this is that YOU will control the entire process. You will decide when to look at email or check the phone.
Step Two: Plan Out A Morning Routine
The morning is key because it gets you up and going and sets the tone for the day. The biggest change here is that you will not check your phone (or email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) first thing when you wake up.
You need to actually wake up, acknowledge the new day, and calmly enter the world before you choose to tether yourself to technology. That means you will want to make sure that the phone is left in the kitchen or the study at night – not in your bedroom. Not next to your head. Not where you can reach over and get your first hit of dopamine before you crawl out of bed.
A good morning routine for everyone includes a gentle start. Wake up. Make coffee or tea. Have a very light meal or snack. Like a small yogurt. Just enough to give you a boost of energy. Then exercise for 30-60 minutes. Of course I recommend quiet time (meditation, prayer, etc.). Then you can shower, have breakfast, and get ready for your day.
THEN you can check your email and phone.
Step Three: Create a Regular Schedule for Email and Phone
I know it sounds drastic, but I encourage you to totally silence your phone and turn off all reminders and alerts for email and social media. In other words, nothing in your environment should be beeping and tweeting and buzzing. YOU will decide when to check these things. They do not have the right to interrupt you.
Whatever you are doing right “now” is absolutely more important than whatever interruption happens to occur. You’ll prove this to yourself in the next step.
For now, set yourself a non-interruption policy. Turn off all the alerts.
Then, set yourself a schedule. For example, let’s say you go through the morning routine above and check the phone, email, and text messages between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning. If you are heading to work at an office, I highly recommend that you do NOT check email until you get there. The first email session of the morning usually involves filtering through a lot of crap you’re going to delete anyway. The rest of the day, email can usually be handled in 5-10 minute sessions.
What’s your schedule? The best is probably 60 or 90 minutes. That means that you check all of your electronic communications, and then close it out or ignore it for 60-90 minutes. Do not check email every few minutes. Do not have a Twitter (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) feed scrolling on your screen. Do not have pop-ups or audible alerts.
YOU decide to check your email after 60-90 minutes. I think you’ll be amazed that you’ll catch up on everything in 10-15 minutes. Then you can go silent again for 60-90 minutes.
Eventually, you’ll stretch out this time. Maybe you’ll end up checking email at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 4:45 pm. That’s much better than twenty times an hour. Really.
Step Four: Keep a Log of Important Communications
One of the lies we tell ourselves about the technology tether is that we’ll miss something important. But the reality is that 99.999% of the time, the phone call that interrupts you is LESS important than whatever you’re doing at the time. Email is even less likely to be more important than what you’re doing. Twitter and Facebook less than that. Instagram less than that. And so forth.
Here’s a sample log format. Simply mark down the time you you check email, etc. and then log the number of emergencies and high priority items that you did not respond to in a timely manner. For example, if someone is stuck on the side of the road in the rain with a flat tire and they decided to call you instead of AAA, did you respond to them quickly enough?
Time Check . . . Emergencies High Priority ----- ----------- ----------- -------------
8:00 AM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
9:30 AM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
11:00 AM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
12:30 PM Voicemail 0 1 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
2:00 PM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
3:30 PM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
5:00 PM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
Note: There’s no need to track Medium and Low Priority items since they can wait 60-90 minutes. They are not, by definition, Emergencies or High Priority.
Keep a log like this for a week. You can track it during the business day or all day from when you get up until you go to bed at night. What you’ll see is self-proof that you don’t need to camp out on your phone waiting for urgent tweets.
. . . Or Do Something Different
This approach might not be right for you. But if you look at your technology tether and decide that you need to be less tethered, please come up with a different plan that does work for you. I don’t know what the future holds regarding technology. But I know this: We will only become more tethered to more technologies as time goes on.
Take control of your communication. Separate the entertainment factor from the work factor and focus on what needs to be done. Focus never happens by itself. You have to choose to focus. Which means you have to choose to un-tether.
Yesterday I had a particularly painful Bikram Yoga* workout. I always have some pain due to my Rheumatoid Arthritis. But this was a bad day.
Other than Yoga, I never go barefoot. You see, walking barefoot for me is a bit like walking on a floor where some kid has scattered Legos. You know those little 1×1 pieces with really sharp corners. And the pain isn’t in a specific spot, so I can’t avoid it. I never know when I’m going to step on a Lego.
Then at random intervals I get a shooting pain like a needle sticking into my foot very suddenly.
Some days my toes feel like they’ve just been hit with a hammer. That usually doesn’t last more than a few minutes.
The joints in my hands hurt when I put pressure on them – like interlacing my fingers and making a fist. Or holding my feet in Head to Knee pose. Oh, and standing on my fingers in Hands to Feet pose? Not happening.
In general, R.A. makes me feel fatigued a lot, and sometimes my muscles are just tired. So don’t worry if I’m twitching or getting cramps or spasms. I’m fine. It will pass. The heat helps.
I currently take two medicines that affect my equilibrium, so I’m just a little dizzy when I try to stand on one foot. Luckily we only do that for half the class!
Outside the yoga studio I walk or bicycle for exercise. Both of those are pretty hard on my joints, especially feet, knees, and hips. So if I do that kind of exercise, I’m more sore and my muscles might be more fatigued during yoga.
But I DO Exercise
So why go through all that? Well, about ten years ago I was walking with a cane. I could NOT interlace my fingers and make a fist. It took me three years of Bikram Yoga to accomplish that.
I no longer walk with a cane.
Back then the joints in my back were so immobile that one would occasionally pop during a back bend and I would suddenly go back an extra inch. Instructors were frequently alarmed if they were near me when this happened.
I am no longer popping like that. My spine happily moves all the way forward and quite a ways backward. And it works pretty well side to side.
I get to do all that because I exercise.
I danced at the Halloween party last night. It was great fun. And my hips are sore this morning. But 1) I danced, and 2) I got to dance because I did Yoga in the morning.
Pain Is Just a Physical Thing
Fifteen years ago I found out that I had R.A. The doctor warned me that they have to be very aggressive with this disease to get it under control, otherwise I would be too crippled to work in ten years. Well it’s been fifteen and I am not crippled. I’m not disabled.
I’m just in pain sometimes.
My first reaction to being in constant pain was to move less and try to minimize the pain. But that’s very deceptive. Not moving leads to weight gain, loss of flexibility, and more pain. So avoiding pain is actually bad for someone with a condition like this.
Working through the pain of exercise reduces pain in the long term. It helps me keep my weight down. It keeps me flexible – which reduces pain more.
Think about all those athletic types out there (I am definitely not an athletic type): They are constantly icing knees and shoulders and heads. They seem to be in pain all the time. If one thing isn’t hurting, something else is.
So why don’t they all give up? It would hurt a lot less . . . in the short term. My assumption is that they don’t give up because they know it will hurt less in the long term. AND they get to HAVE a long term. They get to be in pain for an extra 20-30 years because they go through the pain now.
Pain is the pill you take to live longer and feel less pain over time.
- – - – -
*For those unfamiliar with Bikram Yoga, it is a program with 26 poses that you move through in 90 minutes in a very hot room (over 100 degrees). It is strenuous, but the heat is great for such exercise.
The Revised Edition of Relax Focus Succeed is now available to purchase in both paperback and as an e-book. Very soon we’ll have the audio version as well as Kindle and other e-reader formats.
Also check out the free 60 minute recorded seminar I posted on The Book page.
Focus on the positive, make some plans, and start heading in the right direction today!
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I heard a rumor that Xerox was merging with Wurlitzer.
They’re planning to sell reproductive organs!
When I was very young my knees were pretty messed up. So I was either excused from physical education or given alternative (stupid) activities to do. I gradually improved and even took up running a bit in college. Then in graduate school I started playing racquetball and lifting some weights.
When I was 39 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an immune disease in which the immune system goes into overdrive and the body begins to attack itself. The most obvious point of attack is the sinovial fluid in the joints, which swell and hurt. Eventually this causes disfiguring joint damage. The other major symptom is overwhelming fatigue.
For several years I basically could not exercise at all.
So I spent the next five years getting on top of the disease. That meant finding the right combination of medicines, exercise, and food. It meant watching my weight. Yoga. Meditation.
It meant spending time everyday paying attention to my health.
And now I’m 53 years old. I have friends young and old with weight problems, diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and all kinds of ailments that tend to compound with age. I have none of these problems.
It’s very strange to get older and realize that I sometimes feel like I’m just waiting for some ailment to hit me. Yes, I still have R.A., but it’s so well managed that I don’t really worry about it. I easily describe myself as “healthy.”
I have never done extreme exercise. No marathons or triathalons. No massive bulking muscles. But I can ride a bike a lot. And I can walk a lot. I got a second-story apartment intentionally so I have to climb stairs every day. I only do the little things.
But I do all the little things religiously.
One of my favorites quotes is from the business guru Tom Peters:
“The essence of sustainable competitive advantage is: 1) The obvious; 2) The little things; 3) The accumulation of little things over the years.”
The same is true with health. The key to sustainable health is the obvious, the little things, and the accumulation of little things over the years.
Not everyone can run a marathon, climb a mountain, or swim the ocean. But everyone can move a little more and eat a little less than they did yesterday.
My friend Laura Steward Atchison used to be a computer consultant. After successfully selling her business, Laura started looking at her own success. One of the things she realized is that she had worked hard at asking the right questions.
Her new book – What Would a Wise Woman Do? Questions to Ask Along the Way – focuses entirely on this concept. She begins with a discussion of how we tend to lead our lives on autopilot. This is a very powerful concept. If you get up every day and do what you did yesterday, you will tend to assume you know the right questions to ask, so you’ll put your energy on the answers.
Too many folks focus on the “answers” instead of the “questions” in life.
Laura argues that you should step back and ask yourself whether you started with the right question first. Asking different questions will necessarily lead to different answers.
This book is a great “starter” for quiet time and meditation. One of the great “starter questions” Laura asks is: “What questions am I asking myself that got me to this place?” She encourages us to use this to examine the path we’re on.
After all, if we’re not happy with our choices, we could make different choices. But more importantly, we need to realize that those choices are answers to questions. So examining the question might lead us to a completely different set of choices.
This is really a powerful point. Different answers to the same question can only have so much variation. But answers to different questions could be dramatically different from the options we’ve put in front of ourselves so far.
This excellent book discovers questions about relationships, business, personal crises, money, faith, and a lot more. If you’re interested in beginning a new kind of journey of self-examination, this is a good place to start.
Here is a quick interview I did with Laura right as she was releasing the book. I caught up with her at a technology event in Florida.
Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
One of the exercises I go through with people during my seminars is to think back five years or ten years. Let’s pick a nice round number, like 2005. That’s seven, almost eight years ago.
Where did you live?
Was it the same house?
Did you drive a different car?
Did you go to work at a different place?
Did you hang out with different friends?
Has your personal (love) relationship changed?
How old were your kids? What grade?
What was your biggest spare-time activity?
What was your favorite TV Show? Song?
What kind of phone did you have?
Did you have pets? The same pets as today?
Did you go to the same religious services?
What was your favorite restaurant?
Where did you go on vacation?
Please take a minute and really think about that. It is completely possible for everything in your life to be different in the next seven years. Everything. You could live in a different place, work at a different office, drive a different car, have different friends, be in a different relationship, etc.
Some things just will change no matter what you do. You’ll be seven years older. Your children will be seven years older. You know you won’t have the same phone or computer! You’ll probably have different pets, a different car, different hobbies, and vacation in a different place.
The lesson is: Lots of change is going to happen in a very short period of time.
And the important thing is, most of that change will take place whether you LET it happen or MAKE it happen. Your intentions have a huge role to play in creating your new future. You can plan almost everything on that list. Your age . . . well that’s just going to be what it’s going to be. But your car, your house, your friends, your hobbies. Those are all within your control.
Here’s an exercise I went through recently in my morning Quiet Time. I had been pondering what my life used to be like. A little nostalgia maybe. And I started wondering about the things that used to be important but simply aren’t important any more. Some of these actually fall into the category of “facts” that used to be true are not true today.
So try this exercise in three parts. To be fair to yourself, you might dedicate three days of Quiet Time to this.
First, make a list of things you believed to be true five years ago. This doesn’t have to be profound. A good way to get started is to think about your day. Look back on your former life. You wake up in your bed and begin your day. Maybe you make coffee, chat with your spouse, get the kids up for school. Whatever it is, write down the things that were true then.
Five years ago my daughter was 15. She didn’t have a drivers license. She was in high school. My house was worth a LOT of money. My monthly income was $_____. My yard was beautiful but a lot of work. I enjoyed my patios almost every day. I had written three books with great difficulty and my speaking business was just starting.
All of those things were true. I believed my house was important. My marriage was important. My daughter’s high school and driving and graduation were things I thought about every day. In my head were many “truths” about who I was, what my life was like, and where the world was going.
I defined myself as a computer consultant. I was also an author and speaker, but those were secondary.
Second, make a list of things you believe today. Maybe the same technique will work. For me, it’s now true that I don’t need to own a house. I don’t need a big stock portfolio. I can write books non-stop (as long as I sit my butt down and write). My daughter is still the center of my life, now 20 and moved out.
My marriage ended quite suddenly. My truth around that today involves accepting that I can be happy without that marriage. That didn’t used to be true. Now it is.
Today I define myself as an author and speaker. I am also a computer consultant, but that is secondary.
Finally, make a list of things you might believe five years from now. Will you believe you’re five years closer to retirement? What will you believe about your self-image, your career, your relationships, and your children?
What will you believe about your money and your success? What will you believe about what you “need” in life to be happy? What will be important to you? What will you care about? What will you believe about friends and family?
Remember, today is simply what “is” at this moment. Truth – reality – will be different in the future. And just like everything else, you can create that future. You can choose what you will believe. You can formulate the reality of your life as it evolves.
Beliefs are not really any different from the other things in your life. A physical thing like a car will age five years and may be replaced in the next five years. And a mental/emotional belief will also age five years, and my be replaced at some point in the next five years.
The primary difference is that physical things can be replaced and be gone. One day you can trade in your old car for a new car. After that moment, the old car is gone and the new car is simply there in your driveway every day.
Emotions and beliefs don’t change that quickly. But they can change just as completely. It might take you a year or more to stop believing in one reality and accept a new reality. Luckily you have experience with this! You used to define yourself as as kid, as a student, as a newbie in the workplace, etc. You have been many people in this lifetime and you will be many more in the future.
Lucky for you, you get to create the new you whenever you want.
Q: What did the first stoplight say to the second stoplight?
A: Don’t look I’m changing!!
After years of ignoring it, I finally face the fact that I was (am) depressed. Not just a little bump in the road, but truly, honestly depressed. I had been in denial for over three years.
Depression doesn’t look like what most people think. Depressed people don’t always lie in a fetal position doing nothing day after day. Most depressed people struggle through the day, doing what needs to be done.
As strange as it sounds, most people who are depressed don’t realize it. At least not at first. Depressed people are happy a lot of the time. I know that sounds strange. But a person can be happy in the moment and depressed overall. As with any other task, depressed people can put on a happy face – and actually be happy – a lot of the time.
Forcing yourself into smiling and putting yourself into “happy” situations can actually be very theraputic.
Depression doesn’t start out with feeling completely unable to cope. It starts out with feeling not quite right. Then you realize that it’s been awhile since you believed that you could conquer a big challenge. At some point you realize that you have more difficulty making decisions. Especially decisions you used to make very easily. You feel isolated. Even if you spend all your time with friends and family, you feel like there’s a barrier between you.
I’ve always been forgetful and distracted. I’ve always had to come to a complete stop in order to think things through. But with depression, I would stop and then not be able to think. It became very difficult to focus. I had to isolate myself to experience a sense of focus.
After spending 50 years being extremely positive, I found myself focusing on my failures. Instead of focusing on what I CAN DO, I focused on what I can’t do. I kept track of failures instead of keeping track of victories.
I never felt suicidal.
But I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud because I only saw my defeats and not my victories.
Depressed people laugh. They love. They do everything that everyone else does. But all too often it’s a mask they put on so that they don’t have to be the person they really are – overwhelmed and feeling like no one can possibly understand.
My depression started when my wife of 19 years left me. She was and is clinically depressed. She has fought this fight for as long as I’ve known her. Her specific circumstances led her to stop trying to live the life she was living and move to something else.
She will never be truly happy. Not like the rest of the world experiences happiness. There’s an upper limit on her happiness. It’s not her fault. She’s not a horrible person and I can’t blame her for anything she’s done. A piece of me still loves her.
At the same time, she has been a part of my life for 25 years and losing her tore me apart. To be honest, it took me a few years to realize that I had not been happy in that marriage for a long time. But we cling to the familiar.
Having a life coach helped me phenomenally. Jenifer Landers kicks ass!
Today I can honestly say that I accept that you can love someone and know that you will never be together. Some things just don’t work. And then I fell in love with another woman who was also wrong for me. She showed me greater happiness than I had known as an adult. But we were also not meant to be together.
I had moments and hours and day of happiness.
But my depression had a life of its own. No matter how much happiness I felt in spurts, I felt a general sense of darkness and grey. The world was in black and white – with ocassional moments of color. Perhaps everyone thought I was happy because I put on a happy face. But it’s a bigger picture.
I worked hard to keep working. I disciplined myself to move forward. I found numb, mechanical things I could do. I took a full year longer to finish a book than I had any excuse for. I started and stopped projects that cost me thousands of dollars. One huge, massive push in my business lost me $300,000 because I could not focus enough to put my head down and push through to the moment of success.
Financial losses in the middle of a massive recession can be depressing enough.
But I can’t blame the recession for my depression. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through thirty years of thinking about life, it’s that 90% of my state of mind is determined by what *I* bring to the situation. So when I am in a positive mood, things roll off my back. And when I am in a negative mood, everything contributes to the bad mood.
In early 2012 I decided to seek help with my depression. Like most people who experience depression, I probably waited too long. It took one appointment to put me on the right track. But it took me eight months to realize that I was headed in the right direction.
I’m not saying I’m “cured” or that I’ll ever go back to being as amazingly happy as I have been most of my life. But the darkness is lifting. I know I can’t go back, but I also know that I CAN go forward.
I won’t presume to give any advice on this topic except, if you think you might be depressed, seek help. Talk to someone. All those people who “can’t understand what you’re going through” will be extremely supportive. And you’ll be surprised at how many of them understand exactly what you’re going through.
You are not alone.