When we’re ‘stuck in a rut’ it’s often accompanied by the idea that the next ‘awakening’ or ‘level up’ for lack of a better term, is an unknown distance away. We likely still hold on to the idea that work itself produces progress, but when it’s extremely hard to track that progress and genuinely feel like we’re moving closer to our goals in sufficiently significant ways, it becomes very easy to start trading “10 minutes of work here” for “10 minutes of distraction there”, and if we allow it to snow-ball (which it certainly does, very quickly) it can rapidly grow to 30 minutes of distraction, an hour, half a day, whole days, weeks, months and before you know it years can fly by without you even touching that project that you know you should be working on.
Distraction is a killer. It’s killed me, more times and for longer periods than I want to admit. My wife could tell you all about it, but there’s probably too much evidence and detail you would be better not letting that conversation distract you from whatever else you should be doing 😛
It’s actually really hard for me to confidently provide ‘the formula’ for empowering progress. Sometimes it feels outside of our control, as though it doesn’t matter how much we put in, that harvest just isn’t coming. Other times it feels like we’re on a soaring sail boat and even when trying to use the rudder to slow ourselves we remain ‘pushed’ along faster than we’re ready to go. Despite being in the former state many times in my life, waiting what feels like an eternity for the relief of dawn, my honest, recurring experience to date has been that the dawn always eventually comes, but more importantly, when it does finally come it’s with such overwhelming beauty and empowering drive that it shatters all of my previous concerns about being ‘unjustly paid for my efforts’ into insignificance. Every single time.
You’d think that’d mean the next time I’m working late into the night that I would be more hesitant to start complaining about my ‘wages’, but for some reason I’ve proved too dense to let that one sufficiently sink in. In the meantime however, let me share with you some of the things that I personally feel help the most, while pushing through the night and trying to bring that dawn on faster.
The first is simplicity. I’ve tried habit-trackers, complex spreadsheets, accountability partners, and more. What I’ve found the most helpful though, is a piece of paper that I look at every day with a 7×4+ calendar grid and I use a real pen, adding real ink to real paper in real life to indicate that I’ve really done the things I consider most important, on a daily basis (illustrations contributed by my children). And to be honest those ‘most importants’ for me, are things I can usually achieve within just a few minutes. They primarily relate to my conscience and my wife and if I do them all pretty well, I’ve used about half an hour of my day. An intriguing points I’ve noted is that even when I fail to be sufficiently consistent in the task, if I’m at least consistent in recording, it seems to go a long way to maintain that momentum, kind of like accidentally going off the road but refusing to take your eyes off where you’re trying to go, therefore much more likely to get back on the road and keep going. If nothing else, consistently record your progress no matter which way it’s going.
Keeping some kind of daily journal of experiences and ideas is one of the easiest ways to begin. It proves such things are at least worth recording, even if you’ve not yet found an effective way to utilise them as you’ve ensured they’re available for future use. Failing to at least record them, simply evidences they’re not worth recording and that’s the message you’re subconsciously repeating to yourself on a daily basis. Either way, you’re going to end up believing it.
I’ve recently added a new ‘daily-task’ to my simple grid, which involves being up to welcome the sun into my life each morning, watching out as its face begins to appear on the horizon. I think of the love and affection that my kids express for me when I come home from being away for any length of time and connect that idea to the reality that the sun is surely the biggest contributor to my life every day and therefore also the primary contributing factor to all the good things that I experience each and every day.
‘No sun no life’ seems to be something we get by default, but ‘no sun no fresh cream doughnuts’ produces a reality-shock most of us just weren’t prepared for. No sun no BAKERIES! The humanity! No cuddles with my gorgeous kids, no calls back to work from my power-house wife, no hand-holding while we’re driving, no family gatherings, no BBQs with mates, no motor-bikes, surfing, skateboarding, warm beds, cold treats, tall mountains, running rivers, cool nights, warm towels, soft sheets or smooth chocolate. Goneskies.
Each morning as I get up looking east for the sun I feel a little more silly for not having done it my whole life. It does involve going to be earlier and getting up earlier, but both of those things seem to be working drastically in my favour compared to the previous alternative. “More life in the sun” is a motto that I think could do us all a lot of good.
The third is what I call the 51% rule or ‘majority rules‘. I’ve personally found that there’s a HUGE motivating and empowering force behind honesty, and particular personal-honesty or integrity. I perceive that many of us fail to appreciate how easy & beneficial it can be, to be honest. We’re easily fixated on something ‘close’ to perfection, usually appreciating perfection isn’t really on the table but we still expect that we should be getting pretty close before we’ve done a satisfactory job. For most of us who are nowhere near the end-game of personal progress, this can sometimes be a little too overwhelming. Here’s where integrity can help, a lot.
I’m constantly repeating that ‘expenditure represents value’ and appreciating that point, we can apply the distribution of our available resources to our relative priorities. Or to speak plain, if you have 1 job that’s most important, just spend at least the majority of those available resources on that task. Now you need to be honest about your available resources to begin with. Give consideration not just to the time and money you have available, but to your energy levels and capacity to focus. Put out some honest numbers and then just focus spending the greater portion of them on the #1 task.
If you genuinely feel that you only have 10 minutes a week you can dedicate to that ‘most important’ thing. Then just ensure you’ve delivered at least more than 5 minutes. Let’s call it 6. Even if you goof off in the remaining 4 minutes, if you’ve been honest you reach a place where you’re genuinely capable of saying “I spent more of my available resources on this task than I spent on anything else” and you’ll find that there’s real empowering integrity in being able to honestly say that. It will invigorate you and help you repeat the cycle until you’re able to increase those available resources and consequently the amount spent on your real priorities.
EVERY SINGLE TIME you prioritise A over B, you’re telling yourself and your entire world what matters more. So look at how you’re currently spending your available resources. Say out loud what message you’re telling yourself. What message are you telling yourself? Just be honest about what you can offer and then give at least the majority of it to whatever your number one priority is. Forget the rest until you’re ready to go at it again. If you’ve done 51%, you HAVE made progress. Don’t forget that in the hard times, especially when available resources are shrinking! The same rule applies.
Using these three principles as your kindling, I’m positive that you can start another fire within you and keep it going long enough to survive until dawn. If you’re ever struggling remember that your loved ones are with you and so am I. You can contact me. I will respond as soon as I can and I will be there with you, no matter where you metaphorically are. I’ll also be there physically if I can.
Honest progress is more attainable than you likely think, and my experience has taught me that the dawn will undoubtedly be bright enough enlighten the darkest of days you’ve faced as that’s what it’s repeatedly done for me.