With all the important plans you made to make you this your best year yet, one of the most effective ways you can help to realize your goals is to have built-in, supportive flexibility in your life.
Think of this familiar scenario: Most gyms see a lot of money come in during the first month of the year, because a lot of people sign up to lose weight and get fit at part of their resolutions. Those aren’t bad goals at all, but a common observation shows that most enrollees peter out over the first eight weeks of their membership. Many sign up, but not all follow-through.
There could be all sorts of reasons for dropping out: People couldn’t adjust to the regimen they picked for themselves. They develop an injury from over-training. They get discouraged. There is a conflict in their schedules and they can’t keep up regular visits… so they do a slow fade.
Not showing up to exercise is just an example of the ways our goals fall off to the wayside, but you can already see where the weak spots are in the previous example. An inability to adjust, failure to adapt, pushing too hard too fast, taking on too much too soon…To help your plans survive past the first month or two of the new year and reach fruition– you need to factor in flexibility.
Building your flexibility
Let’s go with imagery: You need flex so you can absorb shock and bounce back. Working within too rigid a structure, you can shake apart or break down after exposure to repeated blows of stressful events. When you are flexible, you can bend, you can lean over, you can bow– but not break or snap, right?
You anchor those flexibilities to something solid: a structure, a routine, or a schedule. You deliberately make space so you can move.
Disciplining yourself to stay close to your routines and schedules means you respect your time by using it well, using methods like filtering intrusions and shutting out distractions. It’s too easy to be seduced away from what you need to do by impulsively responding to outside cues.
- You make plans, outlining your goals and how to accomplish them: identifying time-limits, deadlines, resources, stages, etc.)
- You make schedules by breaking down the steps for the goals so you know what to do by when.
- You build routines that support you, whether they’re to help you get and stay productive, help you recover from work, or help you avoid burning out.
- You reset (refresh) on a regular basis — and reconnect to your reasons behind your goals, keeping your momentum going.
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Having flexibility gives you a certain ‘bounciness’ so you can push yourself up. You make room to pivot and approach an issue from a different direction. You make room to maneuver, to renegotiate, to adjust and refine, to take away or drop things. Flexibility builds you time and space to adjust. But, you have to make the effort to make room for it to work.
What kinds of flexibility do you aim for?
How: ‘Overestimate’ the time needed for tasks.
We aren’t machines.
We can’t be ‘on’ 24/7.
We get stomach problems. We get blindsided.
We wake up on the wrong side of the bed and hate every single living thing.
A robotic, rigid schedule will not allow for human limitations and fluctuating energy levels. So when we say ‘overestimate’, take it to mean, “given the time to humanly finish something.” Also known as being reasonable.
Be honest about what you are capable of and how much time you need to do certain things. Cutting things short puts pressure on you because you know that you only have ‘this much time’ to get a thing done. And interspersed here is: are you getting the right things done? Priorities must be put first.
Alas, many studies have already shown that our energy and focus levels suffer when we multitask. Ask yourself if your multi-tasking is a deliberate choice, or an unconscious habit.
Making a choice gives you strength and momentum from the inside. Being forced by circumstances makes it easier to panic and make impulsive decisions.
On the internet, it’s easy to get sucked into bottomless click-tunnels.
If you find it easy to procrastinate, there are tools to lessen your cognitive load — you enter your top time-sucking sites, they will decide for you when these sites are available and at what times. It’s like blinkers on a horse; when distractions are screened out automatically, all you can focus on is what’s in front of you.
Corral your thoughts:
Make a list of Top 3 must-be done for the best outcome: If you do these three things today then you know you spent your time and energy well.
Add 2 good-to-do things that are like sprinkles on top of the cake, bonus extras. Lock everything else out as you work your way through the top 3’s. Assess, take a break.
Then work on the Nice Two’s. All niggling things pushing their way to the forefront? Collect them and process them in batches in your free blocks of time.
Block time and respect the block.
An interruption can cost you 5-7 minutes of mental gymnastics to regain your momentum and train of thought — how many interruptions do you allowed to poke you in a workday? Pings from social media, email alerts, calls and notifications –screen them out.
Sitting too long can shorten hamstrings, you know? Shortened hamstrings can contribute to all sorts of pain, including the ever-popular lower back-pain that sitting–and slouching at one’s desk– for hours at a time can get you.
Look into a self-care program to take care of your greatest physical asset: your body.
Related series: Your And Your Computer (4 parts)
Make time to reflect on your GOALS
Before your start the day, take quiet time to calmly assess your most important goes for today. Just like falling asleep, you can fall into stress without ever really noticing. Contemplation helps you see the change-over, and push away the stressful thinking before it takes root and takes you over.
Pre-planning gives you a structure to work with and a direction to work towards. The issue with planning too far — into the future, into micro-details– is that too much detail makes more rigidity. This is the very opposite of the flexibility you’re aiming for. Take care of today. Don’t borrow tomorrow’s troubles.
If you do want to think about tomorrow, do a pre-mortem and plan for the best way to use tomorrow’s energy and time.
Helpful article: Simple Way To Prevent failure: Do A Pre-Mortem
Make time to reflect on your ACTIONS
You do this at the end of the work day and check your activities:
- What were pressing actions that came up?
- How can I handle this better tomorrow?
You pay attention to what you did: Is this a frequent issue? How can i handle this better going forward? What about this, can I drop this? What are the things I can handle definitely and finish? What are the warning signs I need to pay attention to before they snowball into a bigger issue?
Flexibility is freeing in that you know you have room to move, so you don’t need to panic about getting trapped, or falling short, or failing to do something important — you were paying attention and attending to the important things. You didn’t strain yourself.
Welcome to a new year. Just focus on today. When the day’s done, prepare for tomorrow. Take things a day at a time, you know you can’t make time collapse or go faster. Flexibility recognizes we’re all human, and uses that knowledge so we can accomplish the things that are important enough to really keep working at, without hurting ourselves or falling into unconscious self-sabotage. When you give yourself room to move, you can take slow and steady steps to where you want to be at the end of the year.
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