Following a wonderful ramble with a friend on Friday, I got some upsetting news over the weekend. But with snow in the forecast, I tried not to let it derail me for more than a few days. In this post, I share a few strategies for remembering what matters most so we keep making forward progress, inch by inch, even during the most challenging times.
Shape Your Environment
Whenever we want to change a habit, the easiest way to do so is to alter our environment to support our goals. For example, if your goal is to reduce systemic inflammation and the habit you want to build is staying hydrated, you might set an action item to drink two liters of water every day. Try filling several water bottles and leaving them everywhere so they’re easy to grab.
Place one at your desk. Keep one in your car. Put several in the refrigerator to chill. Store one in your backpack when you go for a hike or head to the gym for a workout. If you want to make your hydration habit more fun, consider purchasing a “motivational water bottle.” Such gimmicks work because they tap into your playful inner child who WANTS to see the bottle change when it’s empty, even though plain water may not be your favorite.
Another way to shape your environment is to place sticky notes with “DRINK UP” all around the house to remind you of your goal. Whenever your eyes land on one, find the nearest water bottle and take a sip. You can also set alerts on your phone or watch so that whenever they buzz, you chug. Any other favorite drinking games? Include them!
Create a Rough Schedule
When overwhelm threatened to shut me down, I made a list of things I wanted to finish. I’m aware that my lists are always impossibly long, and I’m working on that. This time, I starred the items I NEEDED to complete. Tasks with set deadlines like client work. Items I’d promised I would do. Things that were important to me in terms of my values and priorities.
Once I narrowed the list down to the nine highest-priority items, I assigned the approximate time I would need to complete each one. Note that times assume I’m paying complete attention, not multitasking.
Assign Time Allotments for What Matters Most
You may have your own unique strategy for making lists. My husband likes to put open boxes or bubbles next to items that he fills when he’s done. My list looked something like this:
- Client revision in 15 minutes Due Tuesday
- Client summaries for 15 minutes Due Tuesday
- Practice 3 songs on the piano for 10 minutes
- Complete one online lesson in 20 minutes
- Write one assignment for 15 minutes
- Work on the landing page for our new website for 30 minutes
- Choose 8 pictures for Blog 81 for 20 minutes Due Tuesday
- Walk Ajax for 30 minutes
- Write, edit, and submit 8 pages to the critique group ??? Due Friday
Include Wiggle Room
Barring interruptions (like sneaking in a few games on my phone) and adding half an hour for dinner, I realized I could complete most of my tasks. I did the items that were due that day first and gave myself permission to post my blog a day late. As long as I did something to move it forward, I was okay with that.
The creative writing assignment was my “big unknown.” It’s “important (to me) but not urgent.” Knowing my process, however, I wanted to get a draft done so I could let my subconscious work on it overnight. After spending several hours on it in the evening and an hour the next morning, I got it done. That left this blog post.
The takeaway: For me, the simple process of prioritizing items and assigning time stamps helped me to accomplish far more than if I’d only had a vague idea of what I wanted to get done. Write it down. Plan it out. “A failure to plan is a plan to fail” certainly appears to be true.
Get Support for What Matters Most
In addition to shaping your environment, making a list of top priorities, and assigning approximate time values to your tasks, it’s important to find appropriate support. That might be from a coach, a friend, a relative, an accountability partner, or even a support animal. My monthly walk-and-talks with a writing friend remind me to continue to expand my world, not only with Ajax but also with the people who are most important to me.
Do you have any helpful tips for readers about shaping your environment to support your goals? How about creative strategies around keeping lists? Share them in the comments so we can all learn.