Finding BalanceIt's a new year and a great time to talk about goals and balance. If you are like me, your work is always with you. You wake up and check your email on the computer and if you're not near the computer, the iPhone or Blackberry is always within reach. As digital information becomes more accessible so to does our ability to communicate. For every actionable email there seems to be 10 emails with useful information and 100 useless cc's and spam emails. Then there’s the rest of life: mental, spiritual and physical realities. Our real world relationships, our dreams and our health needs to be in balance with all this digital information. Without proper and directed focus, years can go by without making significant progress.

Your life goals don’t ask you for permission to use “push notifications”

S.U.D.S or “Seemingly Unimportant Decisions”. Everyday we need to make hundreds, even thousands of decisions. From what to wear, eat, what time to get up, exercise, which emails to reply to, what to read, and how to spend our time. The problem is that all the really important and beneficial tasks don't bug you if you don’t perform them. Your health, salary, or relationships may not be where you want them to be and unfortunately it's unlikely you'll find a solution in your inbox. Groupon is reminding you of a great deal. Facebook lets you know that someone “Likes” your post. Your coworker asks you the status of a task. How do we get the system to be effective proportionate to the importance of the actions and potential benefits? For most of us we need a better system. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

You need a “system” you can trust

Anytime you remember a “to do”, whether you make a decision while talking on the phone or via email, it's the equivalent to a  calendar request. If I say lets meet, the next question is when. This week? What day? What time? For how long? Are there any action items needed to be done before then? The problem is for most of us is, that we add calendar requests to our calendar but don’t have a very good system to ensure that the tasks at hand get completed. I don’t ever think or worry about my dentist appointment in a month from now because it's documented in my calendar. But a mere glance at the laundry list of work tasks for this week drills a whole in my chest. That’s because most of what I need to do is on my ‘mental list’. As David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” says, it's like all that information is in RAM. The more information that is in RAM the slower our computer works - or in this case the less effective I am. Not having a specific time scheduled to “do” the work or take action is likely the cause of such anxiety. In the back of your mind you are constantly thinking about when you will do the work, if you will have proper time, what could happen if it's not done, how the people will feel, how will you will look and what will they will think about you if you fail. If we make a list when we are really busy it will surely help to alleviate some of that anxiety. Now we have the items in a “system” and we don’t have to keep thinking about it all the time.

Todo Lists

Forget about sticky notes and Moleskins. If you are living a digital life you need a system you can sort by category, set due-dates, forward emails to and search by keyword. You need to put everything on there. Keep nothing in your head - if it's not on the todo list its on the calendar. Even things like opening your mail, cleaning your house or office, getting a haircut, right down to a quarterly marketing plan, 5 year professional goal projection or investing in an IRA. Get it out of your head ASAP!

Flow

Flow is a task management app that provides a great interface to manage all your tasks. It's also great for sharing and delegating tasks with teams and/or family memebers. Flow has both an iPad and iPhone app making it easy to work on tasks anytime you think of them. You can also forward emails and links to Flow to quickly add todo items.  Flow does not have a free version - starts at $9.95 a month.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is a remarkably simple task management system and does just about everything Flow does. RTM has a structure that is well aligned with David Allen’s process in his book “Getting Things Done”. If you want to use their mobile apps and sync with Outlook you can upgrade to the pro version for just $25 per year.

SpringPad

Springpad takes a different approach in how it allows you to categorize everything you want to remember. Books, merchants, food, bar codes, coupons, you name it. It also has a very smart user experience interface. Springpad’s browser plugins allow you to quickly add links and snippets from web pages.   

Finding Balance

Life design is all about choosing how we want our lives to look and then putting in place systems to help actualize the transformation from our lives current state to our desired outcome. It's like creating a sculpture. But if we don’t know what we want, things can go in the wrong direction. Even when we know what we want, our progress can plateau or even regress. The most efficient path is often counter intuitive. A sculpture has to stop carving often to go faster - stop and sharpen the chisel. We need to exercise to have more energy, we need to sleep more to get more work done. Happy people have active social lives, happy people do better work. What? I have to socialise more to be more successful? Doesn’t make sense. Here’s some tips to force balance into your life.

Diet

Avoid sugar, white flower, pasta. Try to eat your meals with only veggies and lean chicken or seafood. Eat as much leafy, water filled (sprouts, greens, raw veggies) as possible. Eat lots of lean protein. Drink as much water as you can. One easy trick is to always carry a nice reusable water bottle. Get one that has an opening about the size of a quarter. No fancy squirts or large tops to unscrew. Should be easy to open and chug. Every time you take a sip force yourself to take three big sips. Maybe increase to four or five over time. If you don't know much about diets and nutrition there are plenty of great diets to try: The South Beach Diet, The Mediterranean or The Fat Flush Diet. Get a friend or spouse to make a commitment with you to try a diet for a few weeks - a little accountability goes a long way. One valuable thing these diets do is they get you into a regular system of eating the same healthy foods. When we don't have a system in place we are more likely to make forced decisions that yield less favorable outcomes. This can be avoided in large part by establishing systems to help with planning.

Exercise

If you have trouble doing 30 minutes of cardio each day, find a way to get trick your brain into having fun while exercising. I have an iPad and a wireless router. I can check my email, catch up on blog posts, read inspirational content, work on my schedule and todo lists, all at about 140 beats per minute. I even have the Xfininity app installed so I can watch Showtime and HBO to make the time pass. Sometimes I stay on too long.  Another great idea is to find a small fitness club or try classes at your gym until you find one you like. You can’t check your email but it creates a circle of accountability that can be motivating. Nobody knows if I skip the elliptical machine.

Socialize

I’m not crazy about socializing. Its like working out - I don’t want to do it, I don’t like doing it, I’m typically trying to stop early and glad when it's finished. But after a few months of it I’m really glad I did it. Socializing can be the same. So if you are as talented as procrastination as I am, you have to force the issue. You need to get yourself locked into some horrible commitment or it's not going to happen.
  • Take a comedy class
  • Help a non-profit
  • Force yourself to do something with someone new once a month
  • Call one old friend every week
  • Get involved in with a religious or spiritual center
  • Get active in your kids PTO
  • Help at the YMCA
Ok, I think I just made myself sick. But trust me. Get active in something and try to do a monthly stretch activity and by this time next year that effort will have had a positive impact on your work and how you feel about yourself. Accomplishment, progress, achievement are all beneficial, but can become addictive agents. As a workaholic I know after a long startup binge I come back to find my relationships, waist line and life in shambles. I get so caught up in my work that I don’t even open my mail. By keeping balance you can be more effective in your work and there’s less risk of set backs from the consequences of neglecting the rest of your life.

Life Goals

I have a specific purpose and I remind myself of it everyday. I have a vision for my family, my business and my health that I review every morning and every night. I wish I could say that is true, but in fact I struggle to do most of the stuff I think is really important. The fact is to know what you want and to think about it all the time as if you already have it, feel the joy and satisfaction, imagine how it would affect every area of your life and can transform your life. Think about it. You are shopping for a new car - say its a Toyota Prius. All of a sudden you see them everywhere. If you are always thinking about your crappy job or your work overload your subconscious mind tries to recreate that reality. It tries to give you whatever you think about most. Here’s some tips.

Defining Your Goals

Your mind can grow toe nails and do sudoku while breathing without making a mistake. Getting a new job, losing 40lbs, launching an awesome iPhone app is all doable. If other people have done it, you can to. You need to focus on that outcome as much as possible and you’ll find the way. Think up one, two or three goals. Maybe one professional, a physical and a fun goal. Make a collage in Photoshop or write a mantra. Create a poem or an acronym. To get there you need to define your goals and figure out the next action items. “Be Happy” is a great goal but there could be a hundred little actions between now and then. Quite often the barrier between what we have and what we want is asking the right questions. Instead of saying “I’m terrible at Photoshop or skiing, or losing weight”, we should ask “How can I get good at...?”. The answers will come. Maybe call an old friend that could give advice, take a class, or simply just ask Google.

Mindmapping

I use MindManager to brainstorm and categorize goals. You can brainstorm your new year resolutions, projects, task lists, organize and then enter them into your calendar and task lists. MindMeister is an alternative mind mapping tool that has a free version.   

Research

Read books, blogs, listen to audio books on your iPhone. There are so many ideas out there you never know which one will give you the inspiration you need to make a huge stride in the right direction.

Get Focused

Now that all that stuff is organized, we can start each day completely focused on the next most important action items to move ahead as efficiently as possible. Here’s some final tips.

Most Important Tasks

One approach that works well for most people is to do the most important things first. Look at your task list, review your goals and decide what are the 2 or 3 most important tasks (MITs) for the day. If you can blast those tasks out before you turn on your email or listen to voice messages then the rest of the day is cake.

Batch busy work

Set specific times to read email, check Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. You can plan to do these things at 10AM, 2PM and 8PM. Don’t let it be a constant distraction.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Simplify as much as possible. Make sure that what you are doing supports your life purpose. Unsubscribe from emails, uninstall Farmville, turn off your email. If anything you are doing online is distracting and counter productive, uninstall it. Put it on your todo list to uninstall on Monday. The moment you complete the task, you will feel better. If it's a website, spending too much time checking sports scores or gossip news or other unproductive content you can block it. You can always unblock the page, but that extra step of blocking will make you think twice.

Conclusion

No one ever said, while lying on their death bed, that they wished they worked more. Our daily decisions can have serious long-term impact on our overall quality of life, health and relationships. I’m not an expert but I’ve certainly learned a lot from my mistakes. I would love to hear your tips and suggestions. Lets make 2012 the best year ever!