Archive for Efficiency & Personal Growth
The end of the year is a great time to reflect on your year gone by and to plan for the new year ahead. This is something I’ve done for many years in one form or another, but in the past I have struggled with actually accomplishing many of my goals. This last year I did a better job because I approached my plan in a different way.
I started my planning for the new year by fist sitting down and writing a purpose for my year. This is something that requires a good deal of thinking. It’s a deep question. It’s basically asking yourself, “Why should I be alive this year?” It takes me a long time to answer that question, but once I feel good about what I’ve written it becomes my foundation for moving forward with everything I do. It becomes the one thing I can always come back to when I find myself at a crossroads in the future.
Here was my purpose for 2012:
Purpose: In 2012 I will direct my best and most positive energy towards the people, places, and things I want, enjoy, and care for most in my life — while being joyful, humble, and appreciative of whatever outcomes unfold from my efforts. I will be present and happy in my daily life no matter how the details of my future year unfold. I will focus on my creative work in photography and writing. I will also focus on my organization, balance, health, slow growth, and contentment.
After I’ve laid the foundation of my year out by creating my purpose statement I then state a theme for myself. My theme becomes the things I want to focus my energy on and towards as I move forward. This was my theme for 2012:
Theme: 2012 is the year of organization, balance, and recommitment to my creative life and endeavors. This time next year, I will be content, happy, and satisfied with how my year unfolded.
Once my theme is mapped out I state some basic actions that will help me move towards my purpose and my theme. These were my basic actions for 2012:
Actions: 1. Create a daily ‘Things to do’ or tasks list. 2. Work on the 2 things I want to do the least first each day.
After my purpose, theme, and actions are defined I then write down what I’d like my outcomes to be. This is what I wrote for 2012:
Outcomes: At the end of 2012, I will be further along in my creative career and in a better position for long-term stability.
When you first read my purpose, theme, actions, and outcomes they might all seem a bit too broad or too general, but that is by design. The more specific elements of what I wish for my year moving forward are found in my specific goals. Goals are the most specific aspect of planning. There are also usually the place where most people start. The reason why starting with a purpose is so important is because sometimes our goals aren’t actually in-line with the greater things we want or need in our lives and it’s very easy to get lost in the specifics of our daily lives.
Goals: My 2012 goals were personal enough and long enough that I won’t share them here. However, there are a few very important things I’ve learned about goals over the many years I’ve tried to write them down and reach them.
1.) Only set goals for things you can control. For many years I set goals without fully understanding that I was trying to reach goals I could never control. For example, you can’t set goals for making more money. Yes, we would all like to make more money, but is that something we have direct control over? No. But, you can control things like, what you eat, when you get up, how you exercise, how you save the money you already have made, etc. So again, only set goals for things you can directly control.
2.) Once you set a goal create a timeline and action plan for completing that goal. Writing down a goal is great, but unless you have a plan of how you’re going to reach it you’ll likely never get it done. That’s the main reason why so many people have great new year’s resolutions, but then never actually get their goals accomplished. You need to make a plan for how you’re going to reach your goal.
3.) Keep coming back to your whole plan. Check in often with your purpose, theme, actions, outcomes, and goals. Print them off and stick them up on the wall in your room, office, or bathroom. Hold yourself accountable to the the changes you want to see or make in your life moving forward. You are the only person responsible for the life you want to live.
Start your new year off right – with a purpose!
48 Days of Efficiency: The Experiment – Part 3 – Balancing Mindful Content Consumption Vs. Mindful Content Creation
Step Three: Mindful Media Content Consumption
This a biggie. Like my previously stated semi-commitment to exercising and healthier living I’ve also at various times in my life struggled with my personal levels of ‘content consumption.’
For a short period of time I worked in the US Senate and was a double-Blackberry-25-news-sources-daily-reader kind of person. Thank GOD twitter wasn’t invented yet. If keeping up with the news was a kind of booze I would have been dead drunk. I was consuming news and general media content so intensely I think it actually messed me up, definitely burned me out, and was a big part of the reason why I decided to leave the Hill. When you work in the Senate you are expected to know just about everything that is going on with everything in the world all the time, which is unrealistic and kind of ridiculous.
At a certain point sometime before college I decided a similar thing about TV. I still more or less strongly dislike TV. I don’t own a TV and likely never will. I decided there was essentially no content on TV worth ‘consuming’ and anything that was I could likely find on-line to watch later when it fit my schedule instead of my schedule needing to fit TV-land.
The choice to not own and rarely watch TV is something I still believe has been a very positive choice for my overall well being, and also for the purposes of this experiment, my overall energy efficiency.
BUT, where I left behind the TV – the internet, blogs, social media sites, feeds, and the like have taken up that void in ‘content consumption’ and likely then some. The internet has become for me a kind of ‘choose you own adventure TV’. It’s an endless pit of interesting tunnels or branches in a web. One you’re caught in the web you can never get out! (insert evil laugh here). Blast you Al Gore for your evil invention.
However, I rarely feel like my time on-line is wasted because I’m almost always using it to learn something new, interact with new people, or people I already know care about and am interested in their lives or work. I’ve communicated with some of my creative heros only because of what the net enables.
But, it’s very much a double-edged sword. No matter what I may be learning or doing that I feel adds value to my life while consuming media on-line it automatically takes away from my ability for ‘mindful content creation’. In other words – No matter how great all the shit I’m taking in is… it takes time and energy away from my own work. And for a person whose entire livelihood is dependant on their own ‘content creation,’ this can be a very damaging thing.
In starting out this new year I’ve put a lot of effort into being much more aware and mindful of how I spend my time in the, ‘content consumption’ department. Becoming a more efficient person requires a lot of attention to where your mental energy is being used.
This blog is about challenging conventional thinking in/on photography and life by trying to highlight new paradigms from which to see the world. – Mind over camera. Think:
Today I had a sudden and slightly intense flashback. While eating my lunch I remembered a conversation I overheard while looking at a Bonsai Tree exhibit in 2007 at the amazing local Como Park Conservatory. A young couple was discussing the merits/values of bonsai trees.
The young women wasn’t very interested in or impressed with the bonsai trees on display and was making a case for why they were not interesting, beautiful, worth taking care of, or even worth looking at. While the young man was trying to argue ineffectively with his mate that there was something more to bonsai trees than what she was seeing. In the end, neither one of them would make very good lawyers, but her argument was something along the lines of, “There are more important things to do than take care of tiny trees, and they don’t even look that cool because they don’t have flowers….. and flowers grow fast and are easier to grow.” While his argument was something along the lines of, “Yeah, but they’re really old and being old is important…” Even though he couldn’t really explain why.
It wasn’t an earth shattering discussion, just one of those things you overhear and chuckle at while visiting a public space.
My only other experience with a bonsai tree was in high school when my best friend got one as a present for a birthday or Christmas one year. We were both huge martial arts fans. Both the films and in real life via a few years of kicking each other in the head at a Tae Kwon Do studio. We got very good at kicking each others asses and I still maintain I’ve seen more martial arts movies than anyone I’ve ever met. But, I digress…. My friend was fairly serious about taking care of his bonsai, which if I remember correctly was already nine-years-old when he acquired it. The little tree required water daily in the form of mist from a spray bottle and was very temperature sensitive, which is kind of hard to control in Minnesota where you could experience an outdoor temperature swing of 50 degrees or more in a single day. But, even in our punk high-school karate-kid phase my best bro managed to keep his bonsai alive and well for over 3 years.
But, at somewhere around age 11 my friends’ tree died. And it didn’t die of a crazy natural disaster or from a flock of killer locus. My friend basically just stopped caring about it… or watering it… and well, it died. Looking back now, I couldn’t tell you exactly when that was and it wasn’t a big deal at the time to either of us. There was no sleep lost over the dead 11-year-old bonsai tree.
That being said, somehow today while in mid-bit of a turkey sandwich I felt sort of sad about its demise. I contemplated the ideals below the surface of the bonsai tree raising experience.
Perhaps what the young man was trying to explain to his young girlfriend at the conservatory in 2007 was that bonsai trees are important not just because of what they look like in their physical form, but also in part for what they represent on a deeper level.
In order to keep a bonsai tree alive you need a lot of patience. Many of these tiny trees require a lot of work to keep alive and healthy. They don’t care what you have going on in your own life they only require you take the time to take care of theirs. And they don’t grow very fast or get very big. If you expect to see any progress in their lives you’ll have to look at them for an extremely long time. They don’t care if you have a fast paced life and they certainly don’t tweet. They just live. And chill…. for as long as you take care of them. In fact, they’ll easily out live you. It’s funny to think a tiny tree could live 3 or 4 times as long as you could. Bonsai trees are a physical representation that other beings and even ideas take time to grow. And require a huge amount of patience to make sure they keep on living.
Taking care of a bonsai tree requires dedication. Even looking at one you don’t own presents this to you in its form. Each tree is carefully monitored, protected, watered, trimmed, misted, and transported. It lives as long as someone is there to be its guardian. It could be a life long commitment to take care of a single plant. In the society we live in now there is almost no such thing as a life long commitment. Less than half of modern marriages make it past a few years. It’s amazing how much a tiny tree can symbolize the idea or ideals of making a commitment to something outside of yourself for the long haul.
It seems that bonsai trees are also an amazing symbol for the fragility of life. Not just their own lives, but all life. When you look at one you get an immediate sense of how easy it would be to throw it on the ground and after a few swift kicks kill it within a matter of minutes even if it had already been living for a hundred years or more. It’s kind of amazing to think that these trees, like us, would certainly die without water any longer than a week. Their weakness is a reflection of our own. It’s interesting because I think when we’re healthy adults we rarely think about the extended periods of times in our own lives that we would perish without the care of others. The very young and the very old require the care of other humans to live. Those of us beyond or before these points in our own lives rarely think about the fact we would most certainly be dead without someone else’s care.
Trees are amazingly beautiful things. Stoic, silent, and humble living creatures. Their beauty goes beyond their physical form in that they are a reverse reflection of our own human lungs. They actually look like lungs and take the exact substance we release in our own process of exhaling and return to us the oxygen we require to live. Trees are our twin caregivers. The balance between our species is nearly unmatched. This kind of beauty goes beyond any aesthetic explanation.
Dream of Trees
A handful of years ago I had a strange reoccurring dream involving trees. I thought it would be interesting to look-up what it meant if you had a dream involving a bonsai tree in a dream dictionary. It said this:
“Dreaming of a bonsai tree indicates the limitations of your own conscious mind. You need to consider what your instincts are telling you.”
Maybe these tiny old trees are trying to tell us something after all?
December 11th, 2010 • Comments Off Efficiency & Personal Growth
Step Two: Refocusing & Planning
During my process of slowing down and re-centering I’ve also been thinking about how to move forward in all aspects of my life. Including how to move forward with my business, my health, all the way down to where I live and why. In doing so I have created a plan. An action plan.
However, for now the specifics of this plan aren’t as important as the process. And the process of carrying out my plan has to do with its structure and execution. Essentially I’m creating a set of rules for myself to create a space and time from with to work or carry out my plan within.
A Structure from with to Execute a Plan
Here is the structure for my plan of moving towards becoming more energy efficient in my life and my business:
1.) For the first time in well over 10 years I am going to get up at the exact same time every single day for 48 days in a row.
2.) For the first time in my entire life – I am going to go to bed at the exact same time every single night for the next 48 days in a row.
3.) I am going to eat breakfast and dinner at the exact same time for the next 48 days in a row.
The underling idea or goal behind doing these first 3 steps is to create a rigid frame to work within, or in other words – I have the exact same amount of time everyday to use my energy. No more staying up all night to work on something only to sleep half of the next day away. And no more not eating anything for breakfast because I had a bunch of morning meetings and didn’t get up early enough to eat. etc. etc.
I am not a morning person. And I never have been. Mornings are my Jedi kryptonite. However, for the purposes of this experiment in efficiency I am going to set a reasonably early (for me) time to wake up each morning.
Over the last few weeks I have read a number of different thoughts on how getting up early lends itself to being generally more productive. And I have generally stated throughout my life that I am way more productive at night. But, I am willing to see if there is some magical thing I have been missing all these years and to test this theory out for myself.
I recently read two blog posts by Leo Babauta titled: How I Became an Early Riser & My Morning Routine. Both of these posts made a lot of sense to me and are a part of my new ‘structure’ from which I will be executing my new plan towards efficiency in my life and business.
December 11th, 2010 • Comments Off Efficiency & Personal Growth
Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly frustrated with a few major aspects of my life. They are as follows:
1.) I am unhappy with the amount of packaged foods I consume. I would like to no longer consume any food that comes in unnecessary packaging.
2.) I exercise in waves. I will exercise regularly for a few months and then not at all for a few months. Overall my commitment to my own physical health is inconsistent and I feel less physically healthy than I would like to be. I am not overweight or extremely out of shape. But, I am not in top physical condition and I would like to be.
3.) I have absolutely zero consistency in my daily life. I don’t have a single activity beyond walking my dog, eating, sleeping, and brushing my teeth (none of which I do at the same time each day on a daily basis) that I do daily.
4.) I do not use my energy with enough efficiency. Bottom line – I waste too much time.
A few months ago I started talking with a good friend of mine who owns a Minneapolis based photographic equipment rental company called Flashlight about how I was feeling like I wasn’t using my energy properly in many aspects of my life including my business. These conversations motivated me to explore this idea more deeply and try to identify the specific aspects of my life I feel like are least efficient and how I can move towards becoming the most productive person I can be.
Step One: Re-Centering
As an effort to move myself closer to my new goal of optimal energy efficiency I’ve made a few starter adjustments. They are the following:
1.) I’ve joined an indoor rock climbing gym and have gone at least 3 or more times a week for the last month. Besides climbing I have been running 5 or more miles twice a week as well.
2.) I’ve been sleeping more and don’t set an alarm clock. I sleep for as long as I feel like and set meetings for later in the day to allow for me to sleep in if I feel like it.
3.) I’ve been doing a lot more writing. Writing personal letters, blog posts, e-mails, and portions of a novel.
4.) I’ve been reading and thinking about the best way to move towards more efficiency.
5.) I documented and organized all of my 2010 financial information for my business for the year up to the current date.
6.) I’ve been turning down work. And have been doing less overall.
Someone reading these might at first glance think one or more of these actions might seem like adjustments in the opposite direction of optimal energy efficiency. My arguments against that thought would be this:
1.) Before taking these steps I was burnt out. I have been working harder than I realized over the last few years and had simply started to lose energy.
2.) I was starting to feel although I’ve been working hard. I haven’t been working smart enough or efficient enough and I haven’t been making as much money as I could be if I was more efficient with my time and energy. Therefore, doing less, sleeping more, writing more, and getting one important aspect of my life organized has helped center me.
Without even being completely aware of it I have actually been doing this for about the last 2 months. I have been slowly… slowing myself down. I have been doing this to get reorganized, re-centered, and re-balanced to move forward towards prime efficiency again. Because I have at various years in my life felt like I was living at a very high-level of efficiency, which is something that adds to my overall happiness. And unlike some people I actually really enjoy an effective and forward-moving day of hard work.