You’ve set the alarm clock 20 minutes early, and, as soon as it kicks fully into gear, you jump out of bed with a clear intention and laser focus. ‘I’m doing some mindfulness this morning,’ you remind yourself and reaffirm that ‘it’s going to be great!’.
The night before you’ve done the prep work. You’ve identified a nice quiet room, or at least the perfect space in one, already set the heating to come on so it’s not too cold, and you feel like you’re ready for what is to come – nothing less than blissful, in the moment, calm stillness!
You enter the room and ready yourself. You’re sitting up, holding a good posture, or, even, lying down, but focused (you’ve read or heard from a previous meditation guru that both were ‘allowed’). You’re determined. All Set. Ready to do some real good meditation.
You pick out a nice short 10-minute guided meditation that you were recommended. All geared up to really get ‘into the moment’, to ‘concentrate on your breathing’, and just ‘be’! For the next 10 minutes, you’re going to totally let go. No doing. No rushing. Just you and a blankness. Tranquillity. Nothingness. The instructions begin, you close your eyes, take a deep breath in…….and…you’re there!
“Breathe in….breathe out…..
breathe in….breathe out…..
breathe in……this is going great…breathe out….oh I forgot to put the wash on….oh…damm…
breathe in….breath out……breathe in…breathe…out….aaaah…my back is sore….I need to move….oh…I’ve lost it….
breathe in….breathe out……..maybe I’ll start counting…..breathe in……1….breathe out….2……breathe in….3…breathe out…..4…..oh can’t believe it’s Sunday morning already……where did the weekend….I must..ahh…
breathe in…4…was it 5?? breathe out….this so hard…why can’t I do this properly…..I’m useless at this……ahhh”
Does this look/sound a little familiar? If so, don’t worry. It’s pretty much what’s going on in my own head, nearly all the time when I meditate. You’re not alone. Self-commentary is normal. Especially so when you start out.
Before writing this piece this morning, I completed a 20-minute meditation session. It’s mid-February 2018 and, for the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve been experimenting with a new technique. New for me, but one that’s very much a mainstay in traditional meditation practices. A chanting based meditation (yes, I’ve gone there!!). I set myself the goal of sticking with it for the full 31 days of January. I know it takes time to get ‘into’ the practice when you change around what your approach is. I’ve decided to continue with it for a while longer just to really give it a good go and see if it’s for me or not. It was difficult, at first, to get into the chanting part, but that self-consciousness and embarrassment fades away quickly…after a few sessions anyway. Ok, maybe 10 sessions.
Prior to starting into this morning’s session, I set the intention to take mental notes during the sitting and log the random stuff that came into my mind during it. While it’s not something I’d advise to do on a regular meditation, for the purposes of this research, it was fine! The thoughts are always going to come in any way, so it was just about looking at them for what they were and take note.
So, while I silently, and at some stages, out loud, chanted the Ohms & Ahms during the 20 minutes, I made an extra effort to be aware of what thoughts, images, and sounds did come to, and pass through, my awareness. Straight after, I tried to recall as many as I could and brain dump these. The results are below, in no particular order. My own internal commentary or dialogue flowed something like this:
“Right, focus on the Ohm…..Ok, I’m in a new sitting position now….
back to the Ohm….I don’t think I like this position…I need to get my back straight against the table…..
back to the Ohm….ok that’s good. I can still feel the pain in my left hip but that’s better…maybe I’ll focus on the pain part as I heard that is a good thing to put your attention on….
back to the Ohm…….this is going to be a busy week…..god my mind is wandering again…..wouldn’t this be a good thing to write a blog piece about….
ok back to the Ohm…….I must get that Q&A email back to Pat…..that event was good yesterday…….Meryl Streep was great in ‘The Post’……god I’m wandering again…..
back to the Ohm…….I can’t believe I’ve been doing this type for the last 4 weeks…..is it having any benefit??…..I think I prefer the silent meditation with just breathing and following your breath….god…lost it again…
back to the Ohm……I wonder how much time is gone….I’m settled in now…my hip isn’t sore…….what time is it?……on I’m going to really concentrate now on the ohm and count to 50 while I do it…..
back to the Ohm……how far did I get??…god…I lost it after two ohms…….Rob..that’s your ego giving you a hard time….relax….I can feel muscles in my face are tense….what about my back?……aaah..
back to the Ohm…….”
See just how busy my mind is too! My monkey mind jumping about from place to place. You get the message!! Writing out the above really shows me (and hopefully you) how much is going on in the mind when you observe it. The ‘back to the Ohm’ piece for me was when I realised I had wandered or strayed from the focus point. Which, as you can see, was happening very regularly and within seconds of each other. Literally.
When I started out a few years ago, the above chatter was definitely there, and frustrating. But in a different way. During most of the 10-minute sittings early on in my practice, I noticed I’d wander away from the breath a few times during it. Yet, as the weeks and months went by, I started to notice more frequent wanderings. This was a source of great frustration for me. It seemed like I was regressing rather than ‘getting better’ at meditation. What was happening? What was I doing wrong? Was I a failure? Was it just not for me?
In actual fact, it was the opposite. In those early sessions, I wasn’t aware I had wandered off that often, mainly because I had predominantly just been thinking about the day ahead, the day just gone by, or in some cases events that happened years ago that I could do nothing about now. It really is funny that stuff that we think of when we start to notice it.
Actually, I was spending very little time just being present and focused on what I was doing right there and then. Instead, I was lost in my thoughts. Not really being mindful at all. The fewer ‘back to the breaths’ essentially meant I was just day-dreaming with my eyes closed.
‘I finally figured out how to do this. It only took me 2000 years!’ Buddha (not actual quote from the Buddha)
The big lightbulb moment for me came when I did some online searching to see if I was unique with this sense of frustration. I found that it’s was actually quite normal. What I’d been experiencing was a common ‘complaint’ for newbie meditators like myself. It makes total sense when you’re made aware of it. As a benefit of the regular practice, I was catching my wandering thoughts quicker than before. Instead of being lost for minutes, it was for just seconds. So, the 50 ‘back to the breath’ connections instead of the 25 was progression! 100% better if you wanted to put a measure on it. It all made sense. Maybe there was something in this after all!
The purpose of this short piece was really to give you just a little window into my own busy mind and to show that these random thoughts are absolutely normal during a meditation session. In fact, if you’re not having these or not aware of them, you might be doing something wrong (or you’re just naturally approaching enlightenment). The key learning here is to know that this is normal. That when you sit and attempt to be for the period of time you’ve given yourself, these thoughts will come and go. Another learning for me, that I didn’t believe at the start, was that you’re not really in control of your own thoughts, despite that fact you think you are! We don’t control our thoughts…..if we did, then why are you thinking of a Pink Elephant right now? Thoughts are easily planted by others or by your own subconscious.
So just let them come and go, detach and be aware. And don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Stick with it, make it a habit, don’t set your expectations too high, and see how things develop over the first few months. Hopefully knowing this, especially in the early days, will give you some relief and silence the negative self-talk a little bit too.
I really enjoy writing these pieces and sharing them in the hope that others read, enjoy and even get some tangible benefit from it. I absolutely encourage feedback, comments, and additional ideas or suggestions to add to what I said. I have developed thick skin so don’t be shy!
Thanks for reading,
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of strategy and business operations with Dell IT in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics.
Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below:
Subscribe to the Rob of the Green Newsletter Here
Yes, that is a picture of a hand dryer! And over the last year or so, I’ve discovered that they have an unintentional secondary purpose.
I’m still not sure exactly how to spell out the sound they make. Some might say ‘vooom’, or maybe more like ‘whoosh’. They all don’t sound the same for sure. I conducted research and they run at different decibel levels so that’s probably why. But, for me at least, they all have the same additional benefit, regardless their brand or the key (okay more like noise) at which they produce air. They have become a really useful meditation trigger for me, helping to get off autopilot and return back into the present moment! Before you pass judgment (mindfulness is all about being non-judgemental by the way) and think I’m crazy, please let me explain!
Ok, so you might have managed to carve out ten to fifteen minutes in the morning to sit, breathe and be mindful using some form of meditation that works for you (if not, have a read here as it might give you some pointers on techniques to start with). You’re finally making progress and developing a daily meditation practice. Well done! You’re off to a great start each day and that’s the basis for the habit to develop.
However, finding the time during the day to have micro-meditation bursts is something you can’t seem to incorporate. One of the most common complaints I hear from those new to meditation, and even those more advanced, is that they would do it more regularly but they forget! Or that they can’t find a suitable place or time to do it during their busy day.
I would meditate more often but I keep forgetting to!
One of the challenges I find, and others I’ve talked to, is how to remember to meditate or take a few minutes, or even seconds, out of your day on a regular basis, to be more present. It’s definitely not easy to get into this habit, especially when we’re racing around, constantly distracted, jam-packed with meetings, appointments, and always doing, doing, doing! I get it, 100%. For me, this was the next hurdle I had to overcome in my own developing meditation practice.
During some Mindfulness training I attended a couple of years back, the presenter talked about this challenge and gave some very practical examples that stuck with me (thanks, Grattan Donnelly). Hearing a text message ‘buzz’ the phone, the sound of a crow ‘caw’, or the sound of a car horn ‘beep’, were just three he shared as possible triggers that anyone could use to bring about a momentary pause in what you’re doing and just be for a few seconds. This resonated with me. It was something I was experiencing at the time. I kept forgetting to take a few seconds out during the day. Yet there are countless opportunities all around that could act as triggers. All it needed was a little bit of awareness to realize it, and some guidance.
So, in the weeks that followed, I made a very conscious effort to identify some triggers that might work for me. Which ones would make me STOP, get out of my own head for a few seconds or minutes every day, and just BE. I started to experiment. After some trial and error, I found one that has stuck.
I was in the office, running from one meeting to another, and looking to squeeze in a toilet break. I was consciously taking a few breaths while washing my hands (which can be another powerful trigger) and then placed them under the hand dryer. Then boom! It hit me full on. The instant whoosh/voom (I’m open to a better word here – please advise) struck me. By concentrating on the noise for those few seconds, I was right back into the now, I had stopped thinking and was just focused on the there and then! It was pretty instant and one I hadn’t identified as a trigger during the experimentations over the previous few weeks while seeking out test triggers.
During a typical day at work, in between meetings, or whenever nature requires it, I’d walk to the restroom. It’s funny, as most of the time, on the walk to there, I’d be still processing the last call, meeting or conversation I had and would do this stroll mostly on auto-pilot. But, as soon as I put my hands in/under the dryer (depending on the design), and the unmistakable sound kicks in, I’d be back in the room. Since identifying this as a trigger, it’s become more and more powerful as the months passed. Much like other types of meditation practice you do, or any practices you do for that matter, the more you do it and more you connect with it, the stronger it becomes.
Much like other types of meditation practice you do, or any practices you do for that matter, the more you do it and more you connect with it, the stronger it becomes.
The common hand dryer has become my trigger. One that works for me. Who would have thought that a Dyson Airblade, a xlerator, or a World Series A Grade would have been such a multipurpose and zen-like device? (FYI – I am not sponsored or affiliated to any of the aforementioned devices but I’m open to offers if any of their representatives would like to get in touch – email address below) It’s working for me numerous times during the day. It’s just an example of one of the many possible triggers that are around you that could be useful as you develop your own micro-meditation practice each day.
Over to you!
I’d love to hear what your own triggers are? Or if you haven’t already identified one, I hope this gives you some ideas as to what they could be! Make a conscious effort to identify a trigger and stick with it for a few weeks. It will become a habit and could be a great benefit to you during the busy day.
I really enjoy writing these pieces and sharing them in the hope that others read, enjoy and even get some tangible benefit from them. I absolutely encourage feedback, comments, and additional ideas or suggestions to add to what I said. I have developed a thick skin so don’t be shy.
Thanks for reading,
About the Author:
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of strategy and business operations with Dell IT in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics.
Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on:
Consider the two options below for a goal I’ve set for myself in 2018.
A) No Alcohol for the entire year of 2018
B) Make each day count & Wake-up fresh in 2018, free of alcohol and hangovers!
I’ll leave that sit there for a bit and return to it later.
So, it’s that wonderful time of the year again. Time to lock in on 2018 goals! In truth, I’ve been in brainstorming & planning mode for a while. Now it’s a matter of breaking them into categories and critically looking at which of them are really worth doing, which align to my core values, ensure they will be of benefit to myself and others and, lastly, which are challenging enough to take on!
This was the first year in which I was quite public about some of my personal and professional goals. The subject cropped up a good bit in the weekly podcast. I’ve also posted some articles in the last few months that touched on goals I set for myself in 2017. This was by design in lots of ways as I definitely believe that, by putting them out into the public domain, my own levels of accountability to them has increased, in a good way for sure.
Looking back at the 2017 goal list, I’ve completed almost all of the big goals. Buying a house, releasing 50 podcasts (originally the goal was 30), completing a diploma in executive coaching, spending 100+ hours in coaching sessions, sticking to a pretty strict fitness programme, forcing myself to get up at 6 am on weekdays and meditating every day have all been mostly nailed during the year. One final goal was to spend a week away around the turn of the New Year. This has been one I’ve failed on for the last few years but managed to make it happen this time around (I’m writing this from Sunny Gran Canaria – sorry!). Overall, I’d rate the year from a goal perspective at around 8/10.
Why only 8/10?
Well, two reasons. I don’t think it’s possible to get a 10/10. It would indicate perfection and that’s not a thing in my view. I’ve taken the perspective in recent years that striving for excellence works better. It keeps things moving forward, focuses more on the journey, with less pressure and more enjoyment. The other reason I’m around the 8 mark? Due to multiple failings on a goal I set out last December, one I blogged about intermittently during the year, appropriately called 12 challenges in 12 months! Bit of a mouthful but pretty self-explanatory. I endeavored to either stop, start or increase a specific habit or activity each month of 2017. The first of which was a Dry January with a total alcohol-free month as the goal. This started the challenge off with a tough one considering I probably had not gone a full month without at least one beer since the age of 18(ish). That said, it was the month that I was most successful. Surprising even myself. Februarys challenge; to resist reading work email on my phone/in the office before 10 am daily. The hoped benefit here was to instead focus on productive deep work prior to getting caught up in the email time warp the usually began from around 8 am. I didn’t think this would be harder than the drink ban! It started well but fell off a little towards the end, however it did start me on a path to where I now don’t have work email on my phone at all – that’s a big achievement and has had a very positive impact on my productivity in the mornings. Some of the other months were quite successful (one was to go with my intuition more for decision making – I bought a house this month) but others I failed miserably at (some bulging disc issues so running 5km every day for one month didn’t happen & I didn’t swim 20 times another month to name just two). Overall, the challenge was an experiment but one I really learned from.
Ok, so now on to 2018 goals and back to the options I posed at the outset. As a reminder, these were:
A) No Alcohol for the full year of 2018
B) Make each day count & Wake-up fresh in 2018, free of alcohol and hangovers!
You might be thinking neither sound good with 365 days without even a glass of wine. But if you had to go for one, I’m hoping you’d opt for B! Can you explain why? Did B feel better than A?
Both goals you could consider SMART, referring here to the goal setting methodology where the goal you set is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (it’s probably not smart, however – time will tell there). Up to a few weeks back, I probably wouldn’t have thought of wording an option B.
What is different between A & B is not just how they’re worded, but how they make me feel. Option A is very much a restrictive goal. Uninspiring, sounds very tough and can be termed as, what is referred to in the book Switch, a
”Black & White Goal” – Heath & Heath.
It’s very much all or nothing and doesn’t really connect in with much emotion. It’s not one to get excited about and that makes this one all the harder to get motivated by.
With Option B, however, I’ve tried to look at it a bit differently. I’ve asked myself what goodness will come out of doing this. What is the Why? What could make this more exciting? The overriding feeling that is driving me to achieve this goal is joy and satisfaction. Not to have any wasted Sunday mornings/afternoons that invariably follow on from a night out where a few too many IPA’s have been consumed. Another advantage of doing it would be the increased productivity that comes with a clear head. Again, taking great inspiration from the book Switch, I needed more than just a SMART goal.
‘SMART goals presume emotion, they don’t generate it’ – Heath & Heath.
The goal needs to connect on a more emotional level and make it one that is full of feeling and hits me in the stomach. This was something I wouldn’t have naturally thought of in the past when setting goals. I probably have always made them pretty clear and time-bound but, looking back, lacking in inspiration, maybe slightly boring and not so clear on the value or benefit. They were SMART but lacking some feeling. For a year without a beer, I definitely needed to get clear on the emotional win.
So #DRY18 (not sure if that hashtag will take off but feel free to use it) is my BHAGfor 2018. Thankfully I’m sharing it with a good friend (hang in there Richie, we’ll get through this) so I’m not doing it alone! It’s a lofty goal and maybe, being Irish and fond of the occasional night out, the antithesis of smart! But with it worded as Make each day count & Wake-up fresh in 2018, free of alcohol and hangovers, it sounds more appealing. It still sounds difficult and I know it’s going to be a challenge but I’m up for it. Serendipity had a role to play here too as if I hadn’t read the book Switch in the last couple of weeks (it had been on my to-read shelf in the office for the last 6 months), I wouldn’t have had the foresight to make the goal emotionally charged. That gives me further incentive to achieve it. The goal gods are smiling on me!
Some of the other goals on the radar for 2018 that I’ll state publicly include the 12 challenges in 12 months again. First up in January is a 5km every day! February, I’m aiming to learn to swim ‘properly’ and feel comfortable doing it (just purchased the total immersion book & DVD so going all in with this). No cell phone between 10 pm & 7 am, getting up at 5:30 am and giving Bikram Yoga a go are just a few others that are lining up to make the monthly cut. Other goals that are more point-in-time include completing a Masters in Q3/4 2018, a 10-day silent meditation retreat, running the New York Marathon in November (fingers crossed with the lottery), complete Season Two of the 1% Better podcast (that will include some live podcasts with an audience) and a few more besides. Sure, sharing these out are scary and exciting. Less scary than this time last year, however. That’s progress and knowing I might have a few folks reading this over the coming weeks really makes them more real.
How are your goals worded for the year? Are they SMART and in Black & White? Or in brilliant emotionally fuelled Technicolour? If you’re putting the final touches on your own 2018 goals, take a closer look at them to see if they’re SMART and are hitting you in the gut, bursting with feeling and emotion. It might be the difference between achieving them or not!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re reading this a few days or weeks into 2018, it’s still not too late to set yourself goals for the month/year. Don’t use that excuse. It’s never too late. I’ll be updating on progress over the course of 2018 as the months pass by.
As always, please leave feedback, comments and even share some of your own goals for 2018 here. I’m also looking for more #Dry18 Buddies so feel free to reach out or coax a friend to buddy up with you!
Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob currently is a director of strategy and business operations with Dell IT in Cork, Ireland. Rob is a qualified Executive Coach and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and a host of other topics and areas of interest. Lots more to come in 2018.
Two of my core values and passions are continual learning & ongoing wellness (mind & body). When engrossed in interesting mind nourishing content, I feel alive, excited, energised and dare I say more confident as it feels great to be learning. Traditionally, this has been via books, TV documentaries or, in more recent times, a magical Ted Talk I may have watched online or heard on the Ted Radio Hour show.
With exercise and wellness, it’s very similar. For most of my life, apart from a few years during University and in my Twenties when way too much alcohol was being consumed, I’ve always been pretty active. Either in team sports or individually, keeping fit has been essential to my contentment. To be honest, a lot more than I probably realised. I definitely wasn’t aware, when younger, just how much of a positive impact some vigorous exercise had on my mood. It probably wasn’t until I took up long distance running in my early thirties that I could see the direct connection between running and a happier me.
The No Choice diet!
Around my 35th birthday, I had a bit of a wake-up call. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas can’t make insulin because the immune system attacks it and destroys the cells that produce insulin. So, I had to start taking insulin injections daily to control blood sugar levels. My passion for all things wellness became all the more important. Trying to look for the positives out of the situation, I consider Diabetes as best diet I could ever have gone on (I’m joking but it’s kinda true). A diet that I don’t really have an option but to follow. There is a certain freedom when choice is removed. As exercise and being active has a positive impact on Blood Sugar maintenance, I now have the perfect excuse, not that I needed it, to be active on a daily basis.
Up to this point, my exercise and learning passions were pretty much always independently pursued. I never could get the knack of reading a book on a treadmill! But that all changed for me a few years ago, when I discovered Podcasts. Things just got a lot better! More than 1% for sure.
Back around late 2012, I was like many of the people (guests included) that I’ve talked to over the last year. The podcast concept was not fully understood. ‘Isn’t that just Radio?’ I remember thinking. I decided to do a bit of digging into what these podcasts were all about. I’m not sure if someone had recommended one to me or if the curiosity got the better of me, but I downloaded the Apple Podcast App (since then it has become a pre-installed app on the iPhone). By luck, not design, I stumbled across a podcast called ‘Stuff You Should Know’. It had me at hello. I vividly remember listening to an episode while out for a 5km run, and I was hooked. Not just by this episode (I recall it was about the Berlin Wall). It was more about the possibilities that I had available to me. I had the opportunity to learning on the run, literally. I quickly realized that I had a mobile university in my ears and it was, for the most part, free!
Over the following months, and years, I embarked on a podcasting journey of discovery, listening to a broad range of amazing shows. It’s impossible for me to call them all out but two that I keep going back to are ‘the Tim Ferriss Show’ and Sam Harris ‘Waking up’. Both very different but hugely enriching for me over the last couple of years. I can say that they’ve changed my life in a positive way. I’m sure of it.
Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome
Fast forward to late 2016. As I continued to enjoy these shows, I was still struck by how many of my friends and people I’d talk with were unaware of the value that podcasts could bring. These folks are missing out! So, with some blind optimism, I started to investigate what I needed to do to create one myself. Switching roles from consumer to producer. With the bold simple vision of creating a podcast that could help others learn, improve, grow thought the stories of others. This was my fledgling idea and was enough to get me started!
While this was a very exciting time, figuring out everything and anything I needed to do to pull this off, it was also a period where I felt paralyzed with fear. I remember (and still hear it regularly but much less) the negative self-talk raging. The questions coming up were something like ‘who do you think you are to create a podcast?’, ‘you’re a nobody?’, ‘what do you have to say to share?’, and ‘who’s going to listen to you?’ to name just a few! I’m probably keeping the language extra clean here. My inner gremlin has a colourful turn of phrase.
I’ve since learned that this is commonly known as ‘the Imposter syndrome!’ Well, ironically enough, thanks to the power & insights I gleaned from listening to podcasts that talked about this condition, I pushed through, felt the fear and did it anyway.
Right & Left Brain in action
Over the months that followed, I got it done. Firstly, I spent a lot of time getting clear on my Why. This took a lot of right brain work, getting clear on my purpose, vision and mission. The work I had done on myself over the last few years, along with the learnings taken from the executive coaching diploma, all helped very much. That’s when the 1% Better idea became clear. Going back to my point above, I wanted to give something back and help others improve though the podcast. My aim was, and is, to create a show where every episode has the best content I can put together that consistently provides listeners with insights, tools, and tips to help them get a little bit better. I’m a poor man’s Tim Ferriss if you will, with slightly more hair. (Tim, if you’re reading this, I hope your stoic view of the world will see this as a joke!)
With the why clear, I then focused on the How and the What. I put a detailed plan together. My background is in project management. This helped hugely. Setting a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) can be the easy part. Implementing it is what normally gets in the way. Setting the launch date was key! Telling others about it held me accountable to myself! I recall, as the project gained momentum, and I started to record my first interviews, my confidence grew. I was learning so much. About production, editing, interviewing, and most importantly, myself.
Then in early March 2017, one week ahead of scheduled, after many long hours, definitely lots of sweat, a few tears, (can’t recall if there was any blood spilt other than pricking my finger to check glucose levels) and definitely learning to overcome the embarrassment of the sound of your own voice, I launched my first set of shows. It was out in the public domain. It felt good. Another syndrome, that my boss at work liked to call ‘perfection being the enemy of good enough’ was there during this time too. But the momentum was too strong and the date was set so it was time to go-live. Waiting for it to be perfect was not an option.
Road to 50!
Back at the start of 2017, I wrote down about ten goals I had for the Podcast in the year. I literally did this in about ten minutes and was just randomly throwing out what was coming into my head (although subconsciously they were probably well formed). Now, as I’m writing this, I have forty-eight episodes released and I’m putting final edits to the last couple of Season One. My original goal for the show was to do thirty in 2017. So, I’ve exceeded that. To be honest, I’ve exceeded nearly all of them! All the ones that mattered for sure.
The journey had lead me to conversations with World Champions, World Record Holders, Magicians, Entrepreneurs, a Clairaudient (look it up), a Social Media Strategist, and I’ve just released a great new episode with one of Ireland’s best-known Chef’s (thanks, Neven). That’s just to call out a few. I have over one hundred hours content released and learned so much about topics such as Business, Start-ups, Meditation, Mindfulness, Developing Habits, Morning Routines and even people’s earliest memories. It’s been an awesome experience.
Lessons Learned & Success
I’ll wrap up this piece by sharing a few takeaways that might be of value to you. Something to ponder over or maybe even take some inspiration from if you’re facing some similar challenges or are being held back from trying something new.
I started out this podcast voyage with a few personal goals in mind. Give something back to the podcast world that has helped me learn & keep fit over the last few years. By devouring hours of podcast content, I believe I have developed new habits and practices that have made me more confident and more willing to push through fears and set BHAGs for myself. I’ve confronted the imposter syndrome head on by putting the content out there. What once was a loud voice inside my head, is now hardly audible at all. All this shows that if you set the goal, work out a plan to get there, be resilient and stick the course, you can achieve it. Whatever IT is. It’s a simple enough message to write, much harder to execute. But it can be done.
In my performance coaching work, one of the tools I find the simplest yet more powerful is the Action Learning Cycle. Taking Action to set up my own show has continued that Learning cycle for myself and moved things to the next level. In parallel, I’ve made connections with people I would never have otherwise. I’ve also been able to share these stories with thousands of others across the globe, received emails from folks that have benefited from hearing the struggles and victories of others. And maybe in some ways they have become that 1% better as a result.
In one of the episodes, a guest turned the success question I ask back on me. What is success for me? I didn’t have to think too much. In that moment, the conversation I was having with the guest was success. I was taking action and learning simultaneously. It was aligned to my own why, how and what.
Once season one ends, and I take some time out to do my own proper reflecting, I’ll post more on the themes and patterns that emerged from interviews with guests. But for now, I hope you enjoyed this read. If you haven’t listened to an episode of the show yet, I’d love to have you as a subscriber or casual listener. Check out the links below to the show, the newsletter, and other useful ways to connect. Feedback on this and the show overall is not only welcome but highly encouraged. I’d love to hear from you.
Rob O’Donohue AKA Rob of the Green
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Productivity Boosters: 11 of the things that help me get more done!
The last 12 months of my life have been pretty full-on. From completing a Diploma in Executive Coaching, to building up nearly 100 hours in 1–1 Coaching Sessions, starting a new role in the day job, and Creating, Producing and Hosting 50 shows of a Podcast in my ‘spare’ time. I’ve even started to get a bit more frequent with article writing (hence you’re reading this). As I put this piece together, I found myself looking at my whiteboard where I have my key 2017 goals listed out and see that I have just one left to complete, which will get done before 31st December! It’s been a busy but amazingly productive year.
From time to time, in interactions with Friends or Colleagues, I’ve been asked ‘how do I get so much done?’. My usual reply is that I’m not married nor have I kids. My ‘baby’ for 2017 has been the podcast, with a lot of other personal stuff, going on hold.
But there was something in this question that made me reflect on what are the key practices or methods that I use to get stuff done. Over a period of a few weeks, I took some time to brain dump a list of these on the whiteboard. Then reflect on the ones I think make the most impact. I recently released a podcast about the top 11 (EP42 here). I promised that I’d put out a written version too with some links and examples for those that might not have heard the episode or forgot to write the key ones down when listening.
Before diving into the 11 tips, a little on Discipline and Habits. Across the 40+ podcast guests I’ve recorded with, productivity comes up a lot. I’ve learned a lot from the answers. It re-enforced some things for me; a Productivity Hack isn’t real, with a shortcut to success being somewhat mythical. For you to win at increasing your productivity, you need discipline. This is needed for all of the tips below. By applying discipline regularly, you’ll end up creating good habits. Discipline itself could be considered a Habit.
So here it is! My only ask in return for sharing is that you let me know which you like, dislike and if there are others you practice that make a big difference for your own productivity! Get a pen and paper out and let’s go!
1. Set SMART Goals.
Setting a clear target is key. If you haven’t heard of SMART as an approach before, great. As you’ll really find it useful. If you have, be sure to keep using it. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound! Let’s use an example. I aimed to release four episodes of my podcast on the launch weekend of 10th March 2017. This was SMART in the following way:
a. Specific — The Podcast Launch
b. Measurable — Four episodes
c. Achievable — I was in control of this (mostly)
d. Realistic — It seemed realistic as I was setting this about three months in advance
e. Time-bound — March 10th 2017 was the date
My habit of goal setting started out way before I become a Project Manager. We all set goals, yet probably not aware of it all the time. I recall that I started setting yearly goals one Christmas in the early 2000s. I was bored out of my mind and decided to set a few big goals for the year ahead. They say creativity can arise out of boredom. That was the case and that time of year to reflect back and look forward. Write them down!
2. Make a Plan
Now you have the goal. The easy part is done. It’s the ‘how’ you get there is the challenging part. This is all about breaking it down into tasks and creating a timeline to do it. For me, this is where the Project Management background helped. It’s using some common sense, plotting out all the steps to get there, putting a level of effort/time on each one, which needs to happen first, dependencies, and lining it all up. Keep it simple. You’re already doing it in lots of ways in everyday life without consciously seeing it as project management. If you have run a marathon, completed a degree or diploma, or built a house, it’s highly likely you’ve planned it out. You can use this planning approach for anything. The goal can be daunting, but break it down. Mini-goals along the way. I’d highly recommend doing some form of Project Management training. These are great life skills to have.
Quick note here. You might have set a goal but when you do the planning, the A, R, or T in the SMART might seem unlikely. That’s ok. Revisit the goal and adjust the date, or aim to still hit the same date with less of the measures (e.g. Podcast launch with two episodes instead of four).
Tools you can use? So many to recommend. Microsoft Excel can be used for building a timeline. An online tool like www.basecamp.com comes highly recommended too. For business, MS Project is good. Test ones out with free trials. If you’re really interested in the Project Management world, email me directly and I’d be happy to discuss other training options.
3. Time to BE! ** WARNING — DISCIPLINE & PATIENCE ESSENTIAL **
The ROI in Meditation is big…if you stick with it!
Since you’ve started reading this article, you’ve probably already looked at your phone at least once and checked your email. And that’s just in the last five minutes. Meditation and Mindfulness can help with that as your focus and concentration will improve. For those that know me or have heard some of the podcast episodes, you’ll know I’m a big advocate of mindfulness. I started properly practicing about two years ago and I’m seeing improvements and benefits in so many ways since then. It takes patience, practice, and testing out what works for you through experimentation. And even with all that, it still might need more digging until it starts to feel like change is happening. What I have found is that others will notice a change in you before you do. Subtle differences. You need to commit to the practice for five-to-six weeks. Commit to it. There is a big Return on Investment. Taking the time to meditate, can calm the mind, give you greater focus and allow you to get more done! There is a great quote, an old Zen Saying that says ‘you should sit in meditation twenty minutes every day unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour!’.
I have a piece I published on the blog that goes deeper into benefits with some useful links to books and guided meditations online. Again, feel free to email if you want to get more specifics. No bad can come out of giving yourself just some time to BE!
4. Deep Work Experimentation
About this time last year, I read a great book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. In it, he talks about Four different time chunks that work well to get real work done. These range from locking yourself away from the world for weeks or months, to four-hour blocks, to shorter stints like thirty minutes. Earlier this year, I was writing a number of assignments. So, I experimented. I found that the four-hour blocks of time worked great for me. It usually took me fifteen minutes to get sucked into the work. Then, I’d find a flow state for a period. Knowing I had this solid block of time squared away was great and allowed me to really focus.
For the more tactical work, that I deal with day-to-day in my work, I use the fifteen to thirty-minute blocks. I’ll touch more on an approach for this further down. Finding out which chunk works best for you by testing it out is the key! And, the improved concentration of number three above helps.
5. Lists, Lists, Everywhere!
I know, you’re awestruck again with this ground-breaking tip! But lists are so powerful for me. Back in 2005 (I remember as I still have the spreadsheet I started out with), I was getting much busier in my work. By becoming a Manager for the first time, my workload increased, and I was finding it hard to keep track of everything. So, I created a rudimentary spreadsheet broken out for the week with a column for each day. I developed a habit, over time, of putting everything that I needed to do in this for that week, or the following week. As the weeks passed, the list structure evolved. I included weekends and broke out tasks into work versus personal. As time went by, and I applied some discipline, it became my system. And it increased my productivity massively.
I continued with the trusty old spreadsheet until about 2015. I had tried a few other tools online but never really found one that was an improvement on what I had. Until I found the tool Trello. This quickly replaced the spreadsheet as it allowed me to track the lists easily on any device. The Usability of it is great. Very simple. What’s great is that when I get an idea or remember something I must do, I just add it to the trello board on the fly and then prioritise it later. This is a huge one for me in enabling me to get more done! To bring my list taking even a little bit further, I recently invested in a dry erase whiteboard that I applied to the wall in my home-office. This is great. I can scribble on the wall when new stuff comes up, wipe it out when done, and just helps to get the stuff out of my head. Decluttering the mind is key and ties into the Meditation point above for sure.
6. The Not To-Do List!
I noticed a few years back that my TDLs (To-Do-Lists) kept getting longer (even more so after finding trello with access on the go). It became overwhelming and it felt like there was always too much to do. I was heaping things on my already full plate. I needed a new way to get clearer on what I needed to stop doing. I’m not certain where I found the idea, I’m definitely not claiming it was my own, but I started to play with moving items from my To-Do to a new list, that I initially called my Stop Doing List. The word ‘Stop’ has a powerful impact. So, I started to comb my lists, spending a few minutes each day (developing the habit) to look at activities that I was doing, or spending time on that were of little or zero value. I used my intuition, a gut check and experience here to help me decide. Now the habit been embedded, I often find myself in the middle of a task or piece of work and realise it wasn’t worth doing, so I stop. A lot of the time, we tend to keep doing the stuff that’s easy or we are comfortable with. It’s hard to stop but you need to have discipline!
7. The Tomato Timer & the Pomodoro Technique
I’ve always liked researching where certain words and phrases originated. When I heard of the Pomodoro Technique, I wanted to know more. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique, developed in the 1980s. The Wiki link is in the header above explains all. Using this so simple yet cool approach, I set myself twenty-five minutes to work on a task (PS — I’m using it right now). As I reflect on this one, it brings in a few of my previous tips above. Focus, Deep Work, Time-bound, Specific, Goal focused (albeit micro-goals). It also requires accountability on my side. After the Twenty-five minutes are up, you break for five minutes. And go again.
I’ve been using it more and more. You can download an app for it, or add it to your browser. I’m getting a lot done with this. Be strict with yourself. Stop after twenty-five minutes. You’ll notice your distractions during that time lessen as the practice develops. I love this one.
8. Sweat it out.
I’ve nearly always been semi-addicted to exercise and sport. In whatever form. The days that I don’t exercise are days I feel a bit off, maybe more mentally than physically. Over the last few years, Exercise and Wellness have become even more crucial after I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2012. This was a bit of shell shocker at first. But it has had a positive impact on my wellbeing. From the perspective that I now really have to run, exercise, and keep active to maintain good blood control. For me, it’s a blessing in disguise. Four-to-five times per week, in the gym, out in the fresh air, whatever you can do to get going is all it takes. Besides it being a physical necessity, it’s a productivity one too. I just get more done, have more focus and more energy after getting a sweat on! There is more than enough information out there about Exercise so I’ll keep it to a minimum but it is definitely in my top eleven.
9. The ZEDs!
Ok, so I know this isn’t what you might call a productivity practice. But if you don’t practice sleeping and enough of it, you will not get stuff done. I’m just turned Forty (eek) and in the last few years, I’ve started to value and prioritise sleep almost above all else. If I get too little, I’m ok for a couple of days, but then start getting very edgy, and productivity sinks. I could get away with this in my Twenties and for some of the Thirties. But no longer. If you want to keep high on the output, I’d say for about 90% of us, sleep and the eight hours mark are essential.
Just another interesting learning on sleep I’ve noticed. I keep a journal most days. Normally writing it at night to unload the thoughts rolling around in my skull. I’ve got into the habit of scoring my day out of Ten. Just giving it a gut feel score. I also track the number of hours I sleep each night. It’s interesting to see that the days that score lower correlate with the nights where fewer hours sleep were in line. It’s an interesting observation for me. It might be just coincidence. Test it out for yourself.
10. Circadian Rhythm & Night Owl v Early Bird!
I first heard about the Circadian Rhythm on a podcast a few years back and did some research. It’s a very interesting topic and, for me, it reinforced my lean towards being an Early Bird! Answering this question for me was another big move forward on my getting stuff done continuum. As I said in my podcast on this, up to a couple of years ago, my habit was typically hopping on the couch at around 9pm most evenings after a long day working. I’d flick through the channels, maybe stumble across a Friends re-run and, before realising it, I’m three episodes in, all ones I’ve seen over ten times in the past, and it’s 11pm. It was also around this time that I was trying to get into meditation but couldn’t find the time in the morning. When I managed to get up from slumber, the twenty minutes I had earmarked for mindful breathing had gone! Not only had that nice quiet time I had planned been missed, it meant I was on the back foot for the day and I’d give myself a hard time for not sticking to my plan. Great started to the day, eh? The Busy Mind was only fuelled to be busier. Great start! Sound Familiar.
So, I came up with a two-pronged approach to see if I could beat this. Both very unique! One — go to bed earlier. Two — get up earlier. Both worked great. I sometimes get two+ hours work done before leaving the house (that’s four Pomodoro’s J) and I’m on fire after that.
Find your AM or PM window. And make it your time to do your deep work.
11. Deciding to Decide!
I couldn’t decide whether or not to include this one!! Ha, I tease!
For some, making decisions is easy. For others, it can be painful. It depends on many factors and, I believe, some of that is genetic. But, your approach can be trained to become faster at making the call. If you’re to get more done, learn from mistakes, and grow, then deciding fast can be a game changer.
Taken from the Personality profiler originated by Carl Jung called Insight Discover (check out this free test here), I tend to fall into the Green Zone! A mix of Intuition & Introversion. One that likes to weigh up the options and is slow(er) to make the call. The longer I delay, the harder it gets. It’s true! I can easily think of a number of decisions that I’ve made that I dragged out way too long! But when I commit, I’m all in. So that’s the trade-off. I’m living proof that you can be one personality type by nature, but it can be adjusted with nurture. Through heightened self-awareness, a better understanding of my preferences, and giving myself a deadline, I make the call sooner, with the gut having a big say. I’m right more than I’m wrong and learning faster too.
So that’s my One-to-Eleven! Actually putting the time into writing this, helped me a lot. All of these feel more right for me now than they did when I recorded the podcast on this. That’s reassuring. As I said earlier, I kept this to eleven. I have probably another eleven that I could talk\write about. Since the podcast came out, I’ve heard back from some listeners about ones they use. I love when I get that response. I’d love to hear more so I can include them in a follow-up episode and post. Keep the feedback coming in.
You can hear the podcast or any of my other episodes on www.robofthegreen.ie/episodes/
If you like this article, I’d be grateful if you shared it with others as they might get something from it. Especially around this time of year as folks start to plan out goals for the new year!
Thanks so much & have a very productive day!
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