Who Needs Resolutions When You Can Create a Three-Word Theme for 2019?

Girl with thought bubble
Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing 

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Most people don’t know how to make them so they’re able to keep them. And most of those resolutions are unrealistic anyway.

Think instead about a general theme for the New Year, something that will guide your actions, not just for one day, but for the entire year.

Here’s what I mean. In 2013, I made several ill-advised career decisions that put me into financial and emotional debt. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of what was really important to me. So at the start of 2014, I came up with a simple three-word phrase as a guide for the rest of the year. I chose “Reclaiming Your Life” as my mantra, and that phrase guided me to make better choices about my future.

When I first started this blog, I wrote about three-word mantras in terms of career missions. You can read that post here. My comments then still hold true. A three-word theme can relate to one specific aspect of your life, like your career or your relationships, or your entire life. The important thing is to come up with a phrase that resonates with who you are today and what you want to achieve.

As we enter the first week of 2019, I’ve come up with new phrases – two of them, in fact, to guide me throughout the year. “Rewrite my story” not only refers to one of the novels and the numerous essays and short stories I’ve begun writing and haven’t finished, but also my own life story. I’m not changing anything about my past – that has already happened. But I do think about how I can change the direction of my life moving forward.

The second phrase, “Say Yes More” is intended to be more accepting and welcoming of everything that comes into my life – new people, opportunities, invitations.
How would I – or any one of us — rewrite the course of our lives if we said yes more?

Here’s another example. Perhaps you are going through a major transition in your life, perhaps a career change or a divorce. You might use the phrase “Build a Bridge” to connect from your past to your future. There are numerous other possibilities. Try one of these for yourself, or create your own.

* Believe in Yourself
* Believe in Others
* Find Your Passion
* Speak Your Truth
* Treat Others Kindly
* Act with Compassion

No matter what you choose for yourself, your three-word phrase should consist of three elements.

1. Be action-oriented. Begin your statement with a verb — Build, Find, Act, Believe, etc. The verb drives the action, like the engine of a locomotive. You’re not waiting for something to happen to you because you are the one driving the action. It’s proactive rather than reactive.

2. Make it positive. A positive tone and message is more inspiring and motivational. With a positive three-word theme, you’ll want to follow it all year long.

3. Focus on your power as an instrument of change. What influence do you want to make in the world? Do you want to help others, heal others, write, build homes or make people laugh? Or do you just want to be a better human being?

Once you’ve come up with your theme, write it down and put it somewhere where you can see it every day, like the refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror. Every time you see it, think of it as an active meditation.

Instead of a general theme, you can make it project-specific. For example, if you need motivation to maintain a writing practice, try the phrase “Write 500 words” or “Publish a story.”  When you see those messages on your mirror every day, it serves as a reminder of what you want to achieve and it can help you stay on track of your goal.

The three-word phrase works because it’s short, it’s action-oriented and it’s positive. There’s also a rhythm to the sound the phrase makes when you say it, especially if you choose words with a single syllable. For example, listen to the pattern of sound when you say “Speak Your Truth.” It’s like a heartbeat – boom, boom, boom – and that heartbeat is coming from you.

Make New Year’s Resolutions if you want. Or you can take a different approach with a three-word theme to guide your actions throughout the year.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Writing Practice

pexels-photo-356079.jpeg

Some months ago, I attended a writing workshop on a Saturday morning sponsored by a local writers group. Over one of the breaks, I chatted with the man next to me, an attorney who had recently married. I asked him what kind of writing he did. His answer? “I don’t have time to write. I have a busy law practice and I just got married,” he said rather sheepishly.

It wasn’t until later that I realized the inconsistency of his remark. He claimed not to have time for writing, yet managed to find time from his supposed busy schedule to attend a three-hour writing workshop on a Saturday morning. What’s wrong with that picture?

For many of us, it is far easier to think about, read about and talk about writing than to actually sit down and write. We’d much rather make excuses about why we don’t write than to examine the reasons why we don’t.

A writing practice, as I define it, is a regular, consistent routine of putting pen or pencil to paper (though some people prefer to use a computer). The amount of time devoted to the practice differs from person to person. But whether you spend two hours a day or fifteen minutes a day, the key is consistency. A little bit of writing every day slowly and gradually builds up your practice. And the more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will feel about your writing. The more you practice, the more progress you will see which gives you more momentum and motivation to keep writing.

Not everyone is mentally or emotionally prepared to begin a writing practice, however. They may have questions about starting a writing practice – lots of them. And they may have self-doubts and fears, either about the writing practice itself or about their own abilities as a writer. As a former colleague once told me years ago, “Fear and self-doubt will kill every opportunity that comes your way.”

So before you embark on this writing journey, ask yourself the following questions. The answers will help you to ‘get real’ about your writing practice.

1. Why do you want to begin a writing practice? Why is a writing practice important to you at this point in your life? Answering this question determines how strong a desire you have to write. If you’re still unsure of your response, answer this question: On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not important at all and 10 being very important), how important is writing to you?

2. What do you want to achieve with your writing? To eventually get published? To pass along family lore and legends? Or just have fun?

3. What does your writing practice look like to you? What notions, if any, do you have about how much time you should spend on your writing, or where you write? Many of you may have preconceived ideas about what your writing life looks like – about how much time you should spend each day or how many words you should write, what your office space looks like, etc. However, the reality often looks different from the fantasy.

4. What obstacles, excuses or conditions hold you back from starting and maintaining a writing practice? For most people, time management is an issue. Let’s face it, we all lead busy lives. But some people are more willing to adjust their schedules so they have more time to write. Remember, it’s not about having the time to write, but about making the time to write. Those with the greatest desire to write will make the time to write.

Suspense author Mary Higgins Clark was a widow living in New York with five children to support. She had to work to support her family, so she got a job writing radio scripts. Still her desire to write was so strong that she made time in her busy schedule to write her first novel. For two hours every morning from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., she set her typewriter on the kitchen table and wrote. Clark could easily have made excuses for not writing. She didn’t, and she went on to a very successful career.

5. Do you have a dedicated space for writing? If coffee shops are your thing, more power to you. Or like me, do you prefer quieter places, like the library, so you can think, plan and create?

6. Do you have a support system? Are there people in your life who not only provide encouragement and input about your writing, but also respect the time and space you need for writing?

7. How much time are you reasonably willing and able to devote to your practice? If you were to keep a log of your activities for three consecutive days, I bet you would find gaps in your schedule where you could sneak in a writing session. We’re not nearly as busy as we think we are.

The more you understand your motivations and desire to write, the more prepared you will be to begin writing. If the motivation and desire to write isn’t strong to begin with, no amount of encouragement from others will get you started on your practice.

A healthy mindset is also important. If you are not in a good place mentally or emotionally, it will be more difficult to begin a writing practice. When you are in a good place, the stories seem to flow more naturally and organically. You won’t have to ask, “What do I write about?”

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to explore some of these concepts in greater detail. If you have any questions about how to start a writing practice, feel free to post a comment below.

7 Ways to Improve Your Professional Life in 2018

road-1668916_640

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2018!

With the flip of the calendar, not only have we changed months, we have moved on to a brand new year. I always look forward to this time of year – a time to reassess where I have been and where I would like to be in the coming year. It’s an exciting time for me because I have an opportunity to make changes in my life to produce the kind of success that I want for myself. Rather than resolutions, I prefer to call these efforts “calls to action” or “priority-setting” because I think it’s more positive and helps drive my efforts for the rest of the year.

What about you?  Have you made any promises to yourself to change some things in your professional life?

Whether you call them resolutions, goals or calls to action, you can always find ways to improve your professional life. There’s always room for improvement, especially if you want to stay relevant in your industry or company. Here are a few examples of improvement goals any worker might consider achieving in 2018.

1. Learn new skills. Take time to assess the skills you already have. Then take a few minutes to assess what skills are most in demand for your job or in the workplace overall. If you work in sales, perhaps you need to brush up on your public speaking skills, visual design skills for your presentations, or learn a new system for tracking your contacts and sales results. You can never have enough skills, and the more updated your skills are, the more in demand you may be at your company or in the job market.

2. Mind your manners. Be aware of how you think and how you behave around others. B respectful of everyone you know and meet on a daily basis. If we have learned anything from 2017 is that sexual harassment happens everywhere every day. Be mindful of your own actions. And if you experience or witness harassment in your workplace, speak up. The best way to combat harassment is to bring it out in the open and make people aware of their behavior when it happens.

3. Take care of your health. Let’s face it, you can’t be productive at your job if you are sick. If you catch a cold or flu, stay home and get the rest you need. Your co-workers will thank you for it. Good health also means good health habits, such as getting at least eight hours of sound, restful sleep at night, getting annual physical and dental exams, eating more healthful meals, exercising regularly, drinking water instead of soft drinks, and practicing stress reduction techniques like meditation. When you feel your best, you will produce your best work.

4. Build your network. For some professionals, a strong network is vital to their business. If your own network is lacking, resolve to build it up in 2018. It isn’t how many people you know, but WHO you know. The quality of your relationships may be more important than how many people are in your network. Those who know you better are in a better position to give you what you need, whether that is career guidance, business referrals or job opportunities. Remember to offer your assistance in return. Don’t be shy about giving testimonials for good business service, pass along job leads or give helpful advice to a colleague. The good you do now can come back to you in spades later when you need it.

5. Get organized. Most people aren’t born with good organizational ability. Sometimes you have to train yourself on how to be organized. Did you ever stop to think that your lack of organization may be holding you back from performing at your best? For example, if you keep misplacing your keys or your bills keep getting lost in a pile of papers on your desk, put up a little shelving unit on your wall that contains hooks for your keys and pockets for your bills. That way you know where to find them and you don’t have to keep looking for them when you need them. Developing systems at home and at work can help you operate more efficiently.

6. Update your financial skills. If finance has always baffled you or you have difficulty making and sticking to a budget, it may be time to seek some help. There are numerous apps available to help you with budgeting, for example. Take a class at your local library or community college or download e-books that can help you understand basic finance principles. If you really feel stuck, seek out the advice of a professional financial planner. Learning about financial planning can help you not only personally, but also at work where you may need to manage a department budget.

7. Practice better work-life balance. In the competitive business world, it is easy to keep saying yes to business opportunities, projects, invitations, and so on. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day business obligations that we neglect our personal lives. Or likewise, we get caught up in our personal obligations that our professional life suffers. Practicing better work-life balance may be a simple as learning to say no. We all need time to catch our breath. Living life at full throttle eventually catches up to us. We’re not meant to live life at full speed, or we’ll simply crash and burn. To avoid burnout at work or in life, slow down. Start saying no to things that are non-essential to your happiness. Work-life balance can happen; it just requires an assessment of your priorities and making some tough decisions. But you’ll be happier for it in the long run.

8. Give back to your community. Speaking of work-life balance, one way to bring more balance into your life and your career is giving back. That can mean anything from fostering a dog or cat in need to mentoring a young professional in your office. When you do something for someone else, it gives you a warm feeling inside knowing that there is more to life than your work.

These are all common sense objectives. You don’t have to pursue all of them. Choosing one or two can make a difference in your life, not just for today but for many years to come.

16 Quotes About Gratitude

Placeholder Image

Wherever you celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., enjoy this time with family and friends. Take time to smell the turkey and reflect on what is important in your life.

No actual story this week. Instead, enjoy the following motivational quotes that are sure to inspire you and warm your heart. Happy Thanksgiving.

1. Count your rainbows instead of your thundershowers.  – Unknown

2. If you count your assets, you always show a profit. – Robert Quillen

3. I cursed the fact that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet. – Ancient Persian Proverb

4. Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward

5. Gratitude is one of the sweet short cuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something to be grateful for. – Barry Neil Kaufman

6. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

7. Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. –- Marcel Proust

8. In the bad times, choose to grow stronger. In the good times, choose to enjoy fully. In all times, choose to be grateful. – Unknown

9. I’m thankful for my struggle because from it, I have found my strength. – Unknown

10. The more you thank life, the more life gives you to be thankful for. – Unknown

11. The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become. – Robert Holden

12. No matter what language you speak, a kind and smiling Thank You always speaks to everyone’s hearts. – Unknown

13. Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. – Henry Ward Beecher

14. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. – Anonymous

15. Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. – Seneca

16. Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you sue it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. – Alan Cohen

Business Lessons from the World Series Champions Chicago Cubs

20161107_102801_resized

It’s been nearly a week since the Chicago Cubs clinched the World Series championship, ending 108 years of futility on the baseball field and finally putting to rest any further talk of goats and curses. While still in the throes of celebrating their victory, it’s also helpful to look at their rise to the top of the baseball world. What can we all learn from the Cubs’ championship run? How can we apply these lessons to our businesses and our work life? Here are a few of my observations.

* If things aren’t working out, start over. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That means cutting the dead wood, so to speak, letting go of the pieces that no longer work, fixing what can be fixed, and rebuilding the business from the ground up.

In the case of the Cubs, that process started at the top rather than the bottom of the organization.  A change in ownership in 2009 brought the Ricketts family on board, followed by the hiring of Theo Epstein and Jeb Hoyer to manage the team’s operations and begin the rebuilding process with the players.  With each new trade and draft pick, the Cubs slowly created a team that was built to win for the long term.

* You may need to go through a few lean years before seeing results. Like any other business, you have to take a few risks and make some tough decisions that may not be popular with your clients. For several years, the Cubs did not have a good team on the field. In 2011, they lost 100 games and fans were doubtful of the changes the Cubs leadership was making. But Epstein and Company stayed the course, knowing they had a game plan they were putting into place, and they repeatedly asked fans for patience. The fact is, whether you run a baseball team or a small boutique business, success does not happen overnight.

* Develop a long-term strategy for success. Create a strong vision of your business. Write down your business goals, and figure out how to achieve them. Develop a detailed plan and make adjustments along the way as needed. The Cubs had a clear vision for the team and knew what it would take to achieve it. Without that detailed plan, owners would have lost faith, and the fans would have too.

* Acquire the best players that can help you achieve your goals. Make sure those team players complement one another in terms of temperament and talent. When they like and respect one another, it’s much easier for them to work together toward a common goal. That likability and respect was on display during the Cubs’ World Series play, both on and off the field.

* Hire a good, strong leader to motivate the team to perform their best. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon is a master of motivation. He respects his players, and encourages them to have fun, even if they’re on an extended losing streak. A good leader will always bring out the best in your team, so hire the most qualified person you can find.

* Have fun. You don’t want to create an environment of all work and no play. Have fun doing what you are doing, and share that joy with the people you work with. People who infuse humor and fun in their workplace are more productive and are better team players. And that bodes well for the success of your business.

* You need to work hard every day to improve your performance. There is an old saying, “Work comes before success only in the dictionary.” The Cubs have a lot of young players they have drafted over the years. With the assistance of coaches and several veteran players, the young Cubs are still developing their talents, and must continue to work hard each day to learn and grow as individually and as part of a team.

*Savor success and share it with others, especially your clients and your fans. The Cubs’ shared their achievement with their fans in one memorable parade and rally. Likewise, when you meet certain productivity goals, celebrate. Break open a bottle of champagne or treat your team to a pizza party. Recognize the important roles they play in your business success. Without them, your business would likely dry up.

No matter what type of work you do, or how you define success, whether you work for yourself or for an organization, there’s always something to be learned from seeing the success of other organizations. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the Cubs’ success is their own motto: Never give up.

 

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

Find Creative Inspiration in These Soulful Spaces

096

I sat inside a local coffee shop recently, where I wrote in my journal and sketched out a story for my blog. I don’t go to coffee shops very often since I have a home office, but on occasion, I feel the need to hunker down somewhere in the neighborhood. While sipping my coffee, I’m not only brainstorming story ideas, but I find myself half-listening to other peoples’ conversations at nearby tables or watching people or simply staring out the window. By the time I left the coffee shop some four hours later, I hadn’t crossed off all my tasks on my to-do list, but what I did have were pages of ideas and emotions that I could tap into for stories later.

There have been other places I’ve visited that has inspired me to write, to dream, and to create. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for inspiration, get out of the house and get around your neighborhood.

1. Coffee shops. Coffee isn’t the only thing that flows at these neighborhood java shops. Whether people watching, surreptitiously listening in on conversations or mindfully enjoying a cup of your favorite beverage, the local coffee shop is the obvious choice for finding inspiration. Even the tap-tapping of nearby computer keyboards signals that creative juices are flowing.

2. Libraries and bookstores. Next to coffee shops, libraries and bookstores are my favorite place to find inspiration. When you browse the book shelves, note the topics, the story lines, the biographies. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, yet there is still plenty to write about. Somewhere in our world, there is a story that has yet to be written, and you and I have the opportunity to write it.

3. Places of worship. There is something powerfully serene and reverent when I walk into a church or other place of worship. Sit in the silence (preferably not when there is a service taking place) and observe your surroundings. Or better yet, close your eyes. Whether you pray or not is up to you. In fact, prayer isn’t necessary. Just your mindful awareness and your willingness to be present.

4. Cemeteries. As odd as it may seem, cemeteries are great places to find creative inspiration. Think of those who have died and are buried there. They all have a story. Read their tombstones. When were they born? When did they perish? Imagine what their lives must have been like. How did they live? Who did they marry? How did they die? Keeping these questions in mind can help you create their life story, whether they are true or not.

5. Museums. Have you ever seen a painting, sculpture or other artistic endeavor that moved you? What is its story?  Each antique relic, painting and sculpture you see in a museum has a story.  Even after you’ve read the caption next to it, you can still write your own story about that particular piece. How did it move you? What did it look like? What did you experience when viewed it for the first time?

6. Nature. Feeling stuck indoors? Take a walk, whether in a park, along a lake or in the woods. Nature calls for us to be quiet so we can hear the still voice within us. That is our creative muse, and sometimes in the hectic pace of life, we lose its sound. Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to reconnect with our soul, which can help get those creative juices flowing again.

7. Music. They say music calms the savage beast, and they may be right. Though not a specific place, music does provide a meaningful backdrop to any creative endeavor. When I sit down to write or read, I prefer to listen to softer music, like contemporary folk or classical. Listening to a piece of music that is unfamiliar to you may be especially enlightening, providing a new experience to draw on for your next inspired story.

Mix and match, or choose whatever you are in the mood for. When you need a change of scenery, a change of pace or even a change of heart, visiting a quiet place can help you reconnect with yourself and find the creative inspiration you seek to write your next great story.

Spice Up Your Business with Laughter

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

smile-1539196_640
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter how stressed or worried you may be about what is happening at your job or in your personal life, studies show laughter has been known to boost mood and release tension.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has both short-term and long-term effects on the body. It increases the intake of oxygen, which stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. It improves the immune system, relieves pain, improves mood while lessening anxiety, and makes it easier to cope with difficult moments in your life.

So why aren’t more people cultivating more humor and laughter in their lives, especially at work?

For starters, they may be perceived in the workplace as not being truly serious about their work, as being a goof-off, or not being promotable. So they keep their humor in check rather than risk reprisals at work.

But studies show that humor and laughter can boost work productivity. According to this Forbes article, humor can be key to business success in several ways:

* Humor, when used wisely, can help win friends and influence people. People enjoy working with people they like. But don’t be snarky, say experts, which is not good for team building, and don’t offend others.

* It boosts morale among team members. People who share a good laugh form a bond over a shared experience.

* Humor can make your company differentiate itself from competitors. If you can make customers laugh, it makes your company more memorable, and it can be part of your branding.

* Humor helps create an upbeat office environment that encourages interaction among team members and brainstorm new ideas, which lead to greater productivity and greater product innovation.

* Humor is a stress-buster, puts people at ease and builds trust.

Whether you work from home alone without co-workers or work in a not-so-fun office, there are ways to bring laughter into your work life. Here are a few ideas:

* Sign up to receive a joke of the day or cartoon of the day from any number of websites. My personal favorite is Savage Chickens by cartoonist Doug Savage. (www.savagechickens.com). Each morning during the week, I receive a cartoon in my email inbox, and I start my day with a smile with minimal interruption to my work day.

* Post a few funny cartoons at your desk so you have something to laugh at throughout the day.

* Recruit colleagues to participate in a skit that encourages them to express their humorous side.

* Set out games that team members can work on throughout the day, such as a crossword puzzle or chess board.

* Away from work or in off hours, indulge in a comedy-a-thon, playing back-to-back-to-back episodes of your favorite comedy or movie series.

* Visit a comedy club, or take an improvisational class.

* Spend a few minutes (and I do mean a few minutes, not hours) on YouTube videos. Just don’t spend so much time on the site that it interferes with your work.

* Enjoy a comedy festival, like the Cat Video Festival that tours the country each year.

Laughter is good for your heart, mind and soul. Take the time each day to put a little more laughter into your life, and share it with someone else. It just may improve your work life.

Finding Your Most Productive Hours of the Day – and Making the Most of Them

tiger

Have you ever gone to the zoo and observed the lions in their den? Or watch your cat, if you have one? Note how much they sleep during the day. But those lazy interludes are followed by short bursts of activity where they play, hunt for food, groom themselves and chase after their prey.

It may seem like they are lazy, for all the sleeping they do, but they are behaving according to their natural instincts. They have their own internal alarm clocks that dictate when it’s time to eat, when it’s time to hunt their prey and when to sleep. The time when they are at rest is when they conserve energy for when they need it most later.

As animals of the human kind, we too have internal alarm clocks that go off when it’s time to eat, sleep, play and work. If we paid more attention to our internal clocks, could we too maximize our time for better productivity?
Recent studies find that for many high-level executives and top producing professionals, early morning hours may be the most productive hour of the day. By getting up at 4 a.m. or even 5 a.m., the theory goes, you can use the time to catch up on emails, read, exercise, study for a class, or write posts for your blog. At that hour of the day, it’s quiet and there are less distractions to interrupt the flow of work and creative thinking.

But just because you rise at 4 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s the most productive time of day for you. But for many of us, 4 am is just too early to start doing anything other than sleep, unless you are a cat scrounging around for its next meal. But I believe we all have a few hours each day in which we are at our most productive. Our energy levels reach peak levels and we feel recharged and ready to tackle our work for the day. But knowing which hours are the most productive for us may be tricky, and those hours are not the same for everyone.

A recent article in Fast Company outlines a few ways we can determine our peak performance hours.

1) Ask colleagues, friends and workmates to observe your work habits for a few days or a week. What do they notice? Some workers dive in to projects first thing in the morning, while others get cranky if they get a project handed to them at 4 p.m.

2) Monitor your own performance peaks. This may be difficult for some to do because it requires you to be mindful of your habits. But if you pay attention to your energy levels and note when they are at their peak and when they are at their lowest, you can quickly determine which hours may be most productive for you.

3) Track your time (and your feelings). Using a sheet of paper, jot down how you spent your day, from checking your social media to taking bathroom breaks. Try this for at least three days in a row to get a true picture of your work habits. Next to each activity, note how you felt as you were doing them. Did you feel yourself in a “zen” moment where you lost track of time, or were you ready to take a nap? Be honest with yourself. Especially pay attention to those zen periods, which proves that the work you were doing then and the time of day were aligned.

Once you figure out those productive hours, set aside those hours to focus on your toughest project, make your calls, and do you most creative problem-solving. By tapping into that productive time slot, you’ll likely get more work done with less hassle and better results.

The Search for Motivation and Passion in Your Work

snail-83672_1280

Many years ago, I attended a professional workshop led by a woman who ran her own communications agency. During the event, she admitted to putting in some long hours for her business. Someone in the group asked, “Do you mind working longer hours? Is it worth it to have your own business?” The woman replied, “I love what I do, so I don’t mind working longer hours.”

She is one of the lucky people who found a career that they were passionate about. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all find that passion?

But not everyone is as lucky as this business owner. Most of us strive each day to find the drive to keep going, keep searching, and keep reaching for our goals. For many of us, just waking up and getting out of bed in the morning is a major achievement.

As I watched the Summer Olympics in Rio few weeks ago, I was struck by the notion of performing our best when there isn’t a whole lot expected of you. With more than 10,000 athletes participating in the Summer Games, only a handful were expected to contend for a medal. How do you compete when you know you probably won’t win? How do you motivate yourself to stay positive, to keep going, to keep driving towards the finish line?

Consider the performance of Oksana Chusovitina, the 41-year old gymnast from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, who appeared at her seventh Olympic Games. She competed  only in the vault contest and was not expected to medal, but she was thrilled to participate because she loved the sport of gymnastics so much.

Finding that one thing you love so much, that you are so passionate about, is the key to staying motivated. When you love what you do, you are more willing to make sacrifices to achieve your goals. When you love what you do, time stands still, and you find yourself living in the moment. When you love what you do, working longer hours is never an issue.

Sometimes motivation is driven by an inner goal that you set for yourself, one that is not obvious to others. It’s not necessarily about winning the race as it is about finishing it. Finishing the race is as much an accomplishment as winning. You know you’ve found your motivation, your passion when your brain is on fire with ideas and your heart is wholly engaged.

So whether you are a manager, a writer or an athlete, ask yourself today, “What is my motivation? What keeps me motivated to perform my best?”

It could be the love of your family that drives your performance. It could be the desire to one day publish a book or get a byline in a magazine. Or it could be the satisfaction of seeing others that you coach achieve their best.

More important, ask yourself “How do I perform when there isn’t a lot expected of me, when I’m not expected to win a prize or be the best? How do I perform when I don’t expect a lot from myself?”

If you don’t expect the best from yourself, how will others expect the best from you? And how will you be able to perform your best if you don’t believe in yourself? Belief in yourself is the most powerful motivation. Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you too.