“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Mark Twain
This article was originally published July 2013 and was updated in 2019
Are you a bit of a drama queen?
Rushing around, frantically waving long lists in the face of anyone who shows the slightest interest? As much as you complain about not finding “time for yourself”, it never seems to happen.
How weird is that?
I was that way for, oh I don’t know, 35 years. I thrived on a perverse rush that can come from being stupid-busy. Of course, I’d tell anyone willing to listen I hated feeling busy. Truth be told, I loved it.
I took time management courses, made promises to stop procrastinating – even covered my walls with dry-erase calendars.
I was a student of getting stuff done.
I should have gotten a C-.
The reality was I was addicted to my lists.
If you feel your life has a bit too much chaos and not enough calm, this is for you. The three changes I want you to make could change everything. I know, because they changed my life.
Before I get to my three-part menu… chew on this.
Allowing endless scenes of drama into your life is easier than planning and working on one task at a time until done. In fact, every time you rush in and throw water on a fire you get rewarded with a shot of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
In effect, you’re getting rewarded for taking the easy road: see a problem, drop everything, fix the problem, immediately feel good “Woah! Good thing I checked my email.”… see a problem, drop everything, fix the problem, immediately feel good, etc.
The hard work is to design your life to be as drama-free as possible.
Change starts with your rewards.
1. Change Your Rewards
All behaviour has a reward (including being a drama queen).
Sure, we need to look at our routines – the way we get stuff done – but if your motivations don’t change, neither will your routines.
Before I started a habit of writing every morning, I would write in coffee shops. I was inspired by authors who swore they did their best work in public spaces. It was stimulating – a new space, the white noise, the smells.
It was also a disaster.
Despite my best efforts (and a lot of strong cups of tea), I was distracted and my output was dismal. So I changed my reward.
Instead of my reward being about writing in a different location, my new reward was to complete one solid hour of writing – whatever it took.
After a bit of experimentation, I landed on morning writing. Yes, I had to change my sleep routine, but mornings took advantage of silent space and my naturally high circadian rhythm from 5:00 to 7:00 AM.
What reward is keeping you from what you want?
- Constantly checking email makes you feel productive.
- Allowing people to interrupt you makes you feel valuable.
- Jumping on urgent tasks (instead of important work) makes you feel responsible.
- Your rewards will always drive your behaviour— change your rewards and you can change your life.
Once you start working toward rewards you really want it’s time to know what ‘done’ looks like.
2. The Goal is “Done”
I have a question for you…
What does a great day look like? I mean when you send that last email and pack up your water bottle how do you measure success?
Do you sometimes feel like the day had a mind of its own? Sure you were busy, putting out fires, replying to emails, checking Facebook – that stuff – but you don’t feel “successful”.
I get it. And I know the problem… you’re an idiot.
You’re an idiot if you think that somehow by making a list the right stuff happens. It doesn’t. In fact, making a list is just one more way to set yourself up for failure.
You have to start with a much clearer definition of what “Done” looks like. Winning the race, dunking the most baskets, writing 1,000 words, calling 10 prospects… it doesn’t matter, but it has to be valuable and measurable. Everything else is hopeful thinking.
Knowing what ‘done’ looks like starts with what a great week looks like (see creating your Flight Plan) and what a great day looks like (see creating your Day Plan).
The worse thing is to just show up. Good luck with that – you’ll be a victim of distractions. And while you might have a warm fuzzy feeling from running hard all day you won’t have a damn idea where the day went.
Next, you have to work hard and then… stop.
3. Breaks are your Friend
One of my last running marathons was in my home town of Kelowna. I hadn’t run a marathon for a few years and had no clue that it was a now common strategy to run for 10 minutes and then walk for one. I always thought running was racing and walking was for after the race.
As I ploughed through my first 10k I kept catching up to a group led by a runner with “3:15” written on a pair of pink bunny ears. And then they would stop and walk.
“Ah ha!” I thought as I ran on, I’ll show you what REAL running is all about. Time and again the group would catch me and move past me. They were running for 10 minutes, walking for one.
It soon became embarrassingly apparent the run/walk plan was working better than my head-down, plough-ahead strategy (which, truth be told, wasn’t a strategy at all).
At work, you can use the same strategy.
Whether you use a Pomodoro technique of 20 minutes of work, followed by a break, or break between tasks, productivity will increase with frequent breaks.
Let’s face it, sometimes the wheels come off, disasters happen and your day is hijacked by what “life” throws at you.
And it doesn’t have to be that way every day.
Get clear on your rewards – what does success really look like? Focus on getting the work for today done and make breaks your friend.
It’s your day, your week, and certainly your life. Take control and make it the life you want. And if you miss having drama in your life, go to the theatre.
To read more of Hugh Culver’s blog posts check out http://hughculver.com/category/blog/.