Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Have Moved

I am happy to announce that we have now moved to the Everyday Tasks Blog website. The reason for this is in order to change to our own self hosted wordpress website which affords greater flexibility.

Our name has also matured to the 'Everyday Tasks Blog' in order to make it a bit more down-to-earth.

Please, come visit us! You can reach us here: Everyday Tasks Blog

If you wish to subscribe to the new feed, this is the new feed url: Click here

Many thanks

Addressing The One Thing We Are Avoiding

Life is not perfect. There is always some hussle and bustle and life never goes on for too long without something happening having undertones bordering on stressful, or possibly even annoying. Even if you are having the most spectacular day ever, its not common to bump into someone who is not sharing your happy mood, and ends up ruining your day too. This is all part of the rich tapestry of our life, and this post isn't about reaching some imagined ideal.

However, sometimes we make things harder for ourselves. Especially if we end up avoiding dealing with something that is bothering us. It is usually easier to not think about these things, but unfortunately your brain is not able to deny the existence of something simply by pushing it out of your brain. It is also not even possible to completely forget about something you are avoiding - the subsconsious has this habit of bringing it up to at various intervals.

So you have a choice of living each day with a small worrying feeling at the back of your mind or to address it and sort it out forever. If you take the first route, the typical outcome is that you end up doing things too late and the worry escalates and escalates until you are forced into action. Not a pleasant outcome to always leave things to the last minute. Since, like I started off in the beginning, it would be impossible to address all worries at one go, since we are usually busy enough already, one should go about this practically. It is for this reason that I suggest focussing on the single biggest thing we are avoiding.

Take one minute, to look inward and ask yourself: 'If there is one thing that I am avoiding unecessarily and that I can do something about, what would it be? How would I feel once I took the first steps in solving this issue?'

Now to take some advice from David Allan, you do not need to plan out each and every step of this project. I say 'Project' because it may help you to think about it this way, even if it is a personal issue and not work related. Trying to think about each step in the plan can often become so complex, that this may be the very reason you hit a roadblock. So I encourage you to avoid thinking about the entire situation, but to ask yourself only what the next step is. Compared to the end goal, the next step is often incredibly simple and may be something like 'Post a letter' or 'Write an email' in order to find out more information.

It is important not to put off this simple step with the excuse that you are too busy. Often the next step is tiny enough that one can easily slot it into a busy work schedule.

Another common roadblock is imagining a possible negative outcome at some point in the plan. This one often holds me back. Often this type of roadblock is so hidden by the mind that you have to force yourself to ask yourself: 'What is holding me back from doing the next step'?
Solving this is something that will need more attention than this blog post, but you can try by playing out the imagined negative outcome in your mind to it's utmost final conclusion and asking yourself if it is really as bad as you imagined.

So, to end off, I encourage you to make your life better by tackling that thing that is holding you back, head on.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What is Living?

Hello all. Have you ever sat down, and thought about what core, essentials you need in your life to qualify as 'truly living' life? I think you'll find it quite hard if not impossible. However one thought has been going through my head recently, and that it is that whatever the definition of what life should be like to be enjoyable, one does seem to have a very clear internal picture of whether one is 'living' or not right at this moment (i.e. if you are happy with life or not right now). One day you could wake up and realise you could choose to do anything you wanted that day and you would conclude 'This is the life' or 'What more could one possibly want than this'. On the very next day, you could open a letter demanding some tax form or other errand to be completed and you might reach a very different conclusion. In this case you might say to yourself 'Let me just get this one task out the way. Then I can start enjoying life again'. The enjoyable things of life can often seem to pale when something is hanging over one's head. Often when we feel the burden of such a task that is unpleasant to us we can feel as if we are 'not really living'. As if you are just going through the motions and waiting for time to pass till things get better.

Last weekend, I spent three solid days in a Tai Chi workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant energy flowing around, and the chance to 'step out of reality' for a while to learn more Tai Chi. When it finished, I felt a bit sad that every day was not like that. I then questioned my daily patterns. Usually I have this feeling of a constant pressure of various admin to do . If often feels so never ending that I often start my mornings off trying to get it out of the way so I can feel more relaxed in the day. But there is no magic point that arrives where I think 'Yes - I've completed it now I can rest'. Its like the more time I spend on it the more that needs to be done, tidied, sorted and so forth.

I think the more you give attention to something, the more it grows, so maybe its time to banish administration work (filling out forms, chasing up companies etc) to perhaps a block time once a week, or some time that is not my peak time. Instead of the 'morning administration hour' I'd like to start the day off with something I enjoy doing. After preparing a healthy juice to wake me up , stretching, and a brief meditation, I'd like to spend an hour each morning doing something which will make the day worthwhile which for me is learning something new. I love learning things and applying my brain to something. For other people it might be something different, but for me its improving something however small. In order to eliminate any last minute cop-outs, It is vital that I set myself a small goal of what to accomplish in that hour on the day before. So when the day arrives I don't need to debate with myself if I really want to do it - I just start. At the very end of the hour in the last 5 minutes I should again decide what to do on the next day - write it down and place it somewhere I will see it the next morning.

Another interesting phrase I heard this week: 'It takes courage to be happy'.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fundamentals and Good Habits to Keep Your Email Inbox Empty

In the past I have been inspired by many email sorting processes such as the ZenToDone system from my favourite blog of all time 'ZenHabits'. ZTD is in turn based off the famous GTD system developed by David Allen. I have also interviewed a few people such as the author of 'TheTechTreeHouse'. All these people claim to have wonderful 100% clean email inboxes all perfectly managed, the likes of which I have to sheepishly admit I find difficult to imitate.

Last week I made notes of some bad email habits. To examine the situation more carefully, this week I asked myself: What is an email by its very nature? Each email is a piece of information. As such, each email has some content and also may or may not require an action from us. The informational content inside the email can be as varied and as complex as a written language can portray. Certainly this might mean an infinite number of meanings, and it would be futile to develop an approach that could cater for all these possibilities. Usually as we internalise the content we also become aware of some actions we may need to carry out as a result.

As can be seen from my previous post, the biggest trap one can fall into is getting lost in the content of the email. To empty our inbox, we must not lose sight of our goal: which is to sort the emails, not to necessarily understand them at present. That can come later. We only need to understand enough of each to adequately sort them.

I recommend setting aside a piece of time on a regular basis to sort all the emails. How often you do this depends on the frequency and amount of emails you receive. You should aim for at least an hour, at least once a week. As it requires some concentration and block time you may want to do this in a quieter time of day. I found the first work hour on a Monday morning works for me.

If your inbox is the type to be literally overflowing from emails a year old and you have not already done so, I suggest that you first move those older than a specified time period (for example a month) all into the archive folder without looking at them. These should be old enough that you can be pretty sure are too old to be relevant. However they will still be there in your archive if you ever need them. If you attempt to sort every single one of these old emails, chances are that you will never finish and you will be setting yourself up for failure.

With that out the way, at least once a week, process the entire list of emails from top to bottom, without exception. Imagine that it is not yourself who will carry out the actions of the emails, you are only organising them for that person. If a particular email seems too hard to sort, then it may help you to imagine you have a rather unsympathetic friend watching your progress over your shoulder. If you say 'I can't sort this one right now', he will reply 'Why not?'. As you try to desperately come up with an excuse, it may help you to actively categorise the email.

This diagram shows how we will process the email:

Lets look at our thinking pattern for each email:

Easy Emails
If this email requires no action from you, and know you will never need to refer to this again, delete it!
This is the most fun part, and I want you to be really strict about it! Let spam jokes, and irrelevant cc'ed emails begone! Have your finger ready on that delete button and show those emails who is boss. If you notice yourself arguing to keep it, I want you to ask yourself a second question: If I never see this email ever again in my life, will I be the worse off for it? If the answer is no, blast it.

If the email survived we now have some more questions.

Action Review

When is the action required, and how long will it take?

Action required will take very quick
As a guideline 'very quick' is less than a few minutes. If it will take you less time to action it then it will to write up in your todo list, it should be done right away. A simple email reply, falls in this category.

Action needed today
Write the item up in you @today list. This is the list of things you have decided to tackle today.

Action needed later
Add the item to your @todo list.

Information Review

With actions out the way, lets review whether we will need to refer to the content again:

Never need to refer to this again
You can safely delete it.

May need to refer to this again
Firstly, if possible get the information out of the email. If you can take the message and add it as a description to an item in your todo lists then all the better. This means you can safely delete the email, and never need to worry about it again.

I generally also keep notes/files for supporting information on projects I am working on. If the email is has a slightly longer content, I will add the message there and again, delete the email. (A better description on my todo lists is a topic for a another time).

As a last resort, if you want to keep the email itself, archive it. You may want to flag it if an action is required.

Moving to the archive folder, is an obvious choice when you know you only need to refer to it in the long term. However an email being needed in the short term is the most contentious category, where most people will choose to leave the email in the inbox. By looking at my own behaviour I realised that the reason I like to keep things in my inbox, is because this is the view that I refer to most often instead of looking at the actual archived emails themselves. In Google Mail this is archive view is called 'All Mail'. It really doesn't make sense that one spends most of ones time looking at uncategorized emails (the inbox), and little time looking at the emails that were precious enough to archive in the first place. So once processed I try to keep my mail looking at 'All Mail' and only referring to the inbox when I see something new has arrived. It's best to think of the Inbox as the entry hall of a house, where you can greet new guests if the doorbell rings but then spend most of the time in the reception.

Archive folder

I have noticed that some people use one big archive folder while others like to have individual folders where they drag and drop each email. I say that whichever system you use is perfectly fine and completely up to you. I think the single archive folder is a concept really encouraged by Google Mail and it does require a good searching ability - which is why you don't often find people using Outlook using this approach. I have used both methods, and tend to prefer the single archive concept as the multiple folder approach is more time consuming.

Finally, as a receiver of an overwhelming number of emails per day I'm proud to say that after using this approach I have finally managed to reduce my work inbox to zero! This has to be an achievement.

I'd be interested to hear your comments.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

8 Excuses That Prevent You From Reaching an Empty Inbox

Who doesn't like the concept of a completely clear inbox? All tasks efficiently dealt with. No outstanding 'urgent' requests remaining. Nothing hanging over your head to 'come back to later when you have more time'. Well this post isn't about that sort of inbox. Its a lighthearted post about its evil twin the messy inbox. An inbox clogged up with irrelevant emails. And the excuses we use to justify bad email habit behaviour. You know who you are!

In a future post I will examine some good email habits. The first step to overcoming bad email habits however, is to identify our own mental blocks standing in the way between us and a potential email utopia.

Okay, so lets paint the picture. I am opening my inbox right now with a bold determination to sort this mess out! I have set aside some time this week (an hour perhaps) to do nothing else but clear out that inbox. Nothing is going to stand in my way. So lets take a look at that first email there. Oh dear. Perhaps this wasn't a good example to start off with. Perhaps, we should move onto the next one and it will be much easier ...

If this sounds familiar to you then you are not alone. Some emails are easier to tidy than others. Over the course of a week I tried to record my reactions whenever I came up with a difficult email to sort/classify/delete. I invite you to do the same before we move on to some healthy email habits next week. For the sake of clarity I would like to reiterate I am in no way condoning this sort of behaviour, but quite the opposite. Here is my list of internal responses to various difficult emails:

Wow! Fascinating! Let me research more on this or phone someone about it...
Not a good way to start off our allocated time to clear out those emails is it? We got a bit distracted and well the rest is history..

I'd like some to respond in detail but now now...
So the email stays in the inbox marked read...

I don't have time to do this
Well why not leave it in the inbox, to 'come back to later' when you spontaneously have too much time on your hands? Along with all the other emails still waiting...

I don't want to do this
But equally I can't delete it because it was allocated by my boss. Perhaps I can just wait and see if everyone forgets about it?

Wow the next email sure looks more interesting than this one
How about I read that one first and 'come back later'. (Don't hold your breath).

My phone rings with some new random urgent request of the day and the time allocated to clearing the inbox is gone.

Easy Access
I have written the essence of this in my @todo list, but I want to keep the email easy to find in my inbox so its 'easy to reply to'. Or worse, it has file attachments I want to keep and refer to in the upcoming week.

Too many inboxes!
I like to organize the content I am receiving so I make sure that work emails don't arrive in my personal inbox and vice versa.
A few others were created for other reasons (e.g. catching spam). However now I'm finding that there are just too many to manage effectively and some don't get read.

Thats all for now. I did enjoy compiling the list. Let me know if you have any others!

Friday, March 21, 2008

How to Find Inner Stillness

I would like to write today on the topic of inner stillness of the mind. Most of us are familiar with its opposites all too well:

Hectic life - too much going on leading to feelings of not coping
Rushing - anxiety of being late
Frenzy - a burning desire to do something
Distraction - being interrupted - not keeping focus

It is interesting to see that being mentally still does not mean necessary stillness of the body. In face we could be doing something but doing it in a mindful manner. In today's society we may often feel encouraged to juggled ten tasks at a time. But the feeling one gets from focusing on a single activity without interruption, with stillness of mind, and having had sufficient sleep is truly a fantastic feeling indeed. It can sometimes feel like one has gained an extra dimension of perspective, and perhaps even feeling more awake than usual. You will notice that your decisions are of a higher quality as you are better able to take in and process what is going on around you, and your reaction time will be quicker.

Before one can feel relaxed and channel the mind, the first step is to achieve stillness of the mind.

To describe it is hard, as it does come in many levels of stillness, and in different situations. I am often feeling still during meditation (a topic for another time), but the time that I can recall I experienced it at its highest intensity in the last year was when getting onto a plane to Japan at the start of a three week holiday. It was a feeling of calmness, feeling all tension leave the body, timelessness, and lack of worry. I knew I had no real deadlines or deliverables for the next three weeks!

This is interesting as it shows how my usual everyday life is a cause of tension. I also experience stillness at the start of a day that is a weekend, or from starting a work day with some meditation. I think the feeling is from getting up and doing everything calmly in an un-rushed manner knowing that I don't need to do anything for now unless I voluntarily choose to do it.

There are some other ways to gain stillness in everyday life, which I would like to share with you:

1) Make some personal time for stillness and reflection if you haven't already done so. For me this is the first 30 minutes to 3 hours after waking up. Stillness won't come to you unless you make time for it. Give yourself permission to not worry and stress for this time - while this is hard you will find your life will not fall apart as a result, and you will thank yourself for it later.

2) Do one thing at a time and be mindful of it.

3) If you sense worry in yourself, the first step is to think deep what are the roots of the worry. Then use your worry minimizing tools from your experience to remove the worry. Look at each one in turn, and then look away. Often merely the conscious act of observing yourself worrying is sufficient to eliminate it. This is a topic that deserves at least a full post in itself.

4) If you sense anxiety related to time, perhaps you are choosing the wrong time to be still. First thing in the morning is often the best for me, before other people are awake. This is also the time used by Zen Monks to practice zazen (meditation). Be calmer and try to reduce your impatience using your calmness tools from your experience. Move slowly.

5) Contemplate some things in your life that give you happiness and comfort.

6) Observe nature, animals and natural beauty where you can find them. Engage all the senses and listen, smell and look. Don't look with the eyes, but with the mind. Do not judge what you see, just take it in.

7) Remember a time when things were worse and be thankful for what we have today.

8) Don't think too much.

All of these are big topics to explore, but I have tried to keep it brief. Hopefully we can find time to explore these topics in the future.

Thanks for reading, and I would be interested to hear comments on what readers do to find stillness.