Time for a change: the lunchbox challenge

I mentioned on twitter yesterday that last week I decided to monitor just how much money I was spending on food during the day at work.

Frankly I found it just ridiculous that I was spending so much money when I could be bring in some food from home. Now I know this, easily, a first world problem and indicative of the fact that I have lived a privilege existence but I have not brought a packed lunch (other than the odd left over meal) from home since I left school.

Rather than reverting to cooking more than necessary for dinner to allow for lunch to become those leftovers, I have decided to go right back to my school days and take a lunch box with me that has in it sandwiches and a couple of small treats.

My outlay for supplies this week, including the lunch box, was $60ish which is less than a third of what I spent last week so financially this makes significant sense. I will be interested to see how I go with getting up in the morning and actually making my lunch and then sticking to eating it.

It is bizarre to me that this, obvious, process is so foreign to me and I am hoping I can stick to it. Bring on the cheese and onion sandwiches and kids sized chip packets: it this works this week I may go all out and add a frozen popper or two to the mix!

Mental Health and Holidays: When Inactivity is not a Positive

We have just finished another Easter long weekend and have an ANZAC Day weekend looming next weekend. This weekend just gone I had some time to reflect on the time spent on holidays or long weekends and consider what correlation there is between those times of rest and impacts on mental health.

It struck me that often my most negative or down of times occurred when I had nothing to do. Put a different way: having pushed myself hard for weeks and sometimes months on end, down time that came from holidays or long weekend left me anxious that I was not doing anything or that there was something that I had not done that I should have been doing.

Despite having family that loved me and wanted to spend time with me I often eschewed their attentions and spent time either alone in my home worrying or I would go into my office and sit there and procrastinate.

Inactivity at times of rest used to cripple me. I could not be positive about that times, rather I saw them as an imposition on my work. Part of my problem, of course, was that my whole identity was focused on my work and I did not identify anything positive with doing things other than working.

Over time, I have come to embrace times of rest like those given to us by virtue of long weekends and holidays. It has not been without significant effort (I know this all sounds bizarre but you have to remember where I used to be mentally) and making sure I do these things when I have downtime:

1. Organising as many “events” as I can during the down times to ensure that I am still busy but not tempted to fall back into bad habits. Seeing family, hitting golf balls and doing work in the yard are all things I put on my agenda.
2. Doing things that I enjoy always distract me: during periods of downtime I read as much as I can because I enjoy reading.
3. If I can not organise to see them then at least I make time to talk to my family.
4. I sleep as much as possible: working in a high pressure environment often means sleep deprivation can arise so I use down time from holidays to sleep as much as I can possibly do.

Downtime can be difficult and can lead to the return to old and bad habits. Ensuring that I do things that lead to my down time actually being busy helps me avoid those habits and, by extension, negativity and anxiety that comes from those bad habits.

Now I can not wait for the next public holiday / long weekend / holiday I have: these are times to refresh and enjoy rather than procrastinate and regret. I am sad it took me so long to realise that but I intend to make the most of any downtime in the future.

Some thoughts on business strategy and performance

I have been privileged to attend a conference over the last two days focused on forward planning towards 2020 and business building and to say I have come away refreshed and full of positivity for the coming months and years would be an understatement.

Here are some of the key themes to come from the conference, which I thought I would share because they certainly will shape how I plan for the future and also work on a day to day basis and I thought they were worth recording all in the one place. They are in no particular order:

  • Design a plan of action that suits what you have not what you want to have.
  • Focus on areas where you consider that you are going to have the most impact and exercise the most control.  There is no use focusing on an area that is already flooded.
  • Live up to the hype: it is no use not meeting expectations or exceeding them.  Performance at below expectations is crippling for ones personal brand and the development of ones business.
  • Be proud of what you achieve and be optimistic.
  • Be consistent in everything you do and seek excellence in even the smallest of matters.
  • Seek to use positive reciprocity as a tool for building relationships: why shouldn’t what we do be personal to the person we are seeking to build a relationship with?
  • Be disciplined and set the example for your team whilst giving the team the chance and the tools to succeed and receive acclimation.
  • One hundred plan: set achievable goals … doing too much only sets one up for failure.

These messages all resonated with me and will now travel with me every time I consider strategy and actions focused on improvement.

I will finish this post with a quote that impresses just how important it is to think proactively and out of the box when it comes to strategy and performance (from Theodore Levitt):

The future belongs to those who see the opportunities before they become obvious.

Bugger me … February already? Where did January go?

The sentiment in the title to this post is one that I have heard at least 3 times today and have seen on twitter possibly a dozen time more.  I too have found myself incredulous that already we are into the second month of the year.  I am not sure our lives get progressively busier as we get older but it sure feels like it on days like to today when I have sat back to reflect on the month that was January and feel like I have done not very much but that the time has flown.

It struck me though when I thought about it more that perhaps I was being a little too harsh on myself, given that it has actually been a packed month when I look at my diary, and the actual problem is one of failing to reflect on, for want of a better term, things when they actually happen.

Life rushes past so quickly that it is easy for the days to, it would seem, roll together into one large collage of success and failure that just continues to roll on without reflecting on the good and the bad of each day and looking for ways to improve.

In an effort to slow things down and learn more from both the successes of each day as well as the failures I have decided to spend some time each day reviewing what I have done during the day and reflecting on how I could have improved.  Hopefully that will make the time seem to run less quickley and I will learn and improve as the month goes on.

Hopefully next month I am not sitting here feeling like I have done nothing of import and rather feeling positive about the new learnings to come from the month just gone.

The Diary Debate: Electronic or Paper

I have spent a bit of time over my break considering how to improve my performance at work in 2014 and, by extension, how to more effectively use my time.  One of the things I really struggled with in 2013 was management of my diary. The root of said problem seems to have arisen for two reasons: my own focus at times and the fact that my electronic diary is accessible across five devices (MacBook, Work laptop, iPhone, 2 x iPad) means that I often have multiple appointments that I have accepted or declined or otherwise without even really thinking about it.

The first problem is one that I can only fix myself mentally: focus is a funny thing I find.  Sometimes I am too focused on one particular task which means the other tasks fall by the wayside and then other times I am not focused enough and trying to do too much.  The only strategy that I can think of that will really assist is to maintain a full list of all tasks I have and methodically work through them.

The other problem, the diary issue, is also a difficult one.  Sometimes I accept and decline the same appointment on different devices.  Sometimes I mark appointments as tentative but then do not confirm them later so I do not know whether I have accepted or otherwise.  Sometimes I agree to meet with someone talking to them on the phone whilst out of the office and do not put the appointment in straight away and then forget.  As I wandered around Officeworks this morning (because I drove past and I can not resist) it struck me that maybe the answer was to be found in running a paper diary: so I have purchased one.

The more I thought about it though just running a paper diary is never going to work in the current environment in which we work because all appointments are made electronically.  That has led me to the view that for 2014 I am going to trial a dual approach to diary management.  It is obvious that I am going to have to run an electronic diary: everyone does.  I am also going to run a hard copy paper diary.  The way I think it might work is this:

  • Every appointment that comes to me electronically I will consider and either accept or decline.  I will not mark any appointments as tentative.
  • Every appointment that I make via phone or by talking face to face with someone I will put into the paper diary.
  • At the end of each day I will do a reconciliation between the two diaries to make sure they are both up to date.
  • Then at the start of each day I will print out the electronic diary which will stay on my desk during the day and I will carry with me the paper diary.

It strikes me immediately that this is double handling however I am hopeful that an extra 10 mins at the start and end of each day and more vigilance in what goes into my diary will help me be better utilised and better use my time.