The Next Step

Sometimes we are faced with problems that seem insurmountable and far too big for us to tackle. We feel overwhelmed and we don’t have the slightest notion of what to do. Unfortunately, we have to deal with these problems or challenges if we want to or not.

It doesn’t really matter if these problems or challenges are business related or stem from your personal life. The way to cope with them remains the same. Here it is:

What is the single next thing you can do or action you can take?

Don’t think of the big picture for a moment, think only of the very next step that will give you more information, a clearer picture of what you are looking for, or any other kind of help. If you have taken this step, repeat.

The beauty of this approach is that since you are busy with finding answers to your next step you don’t have time to feel overwhelmed or to worry. With each step or action you take, you gain more information that will help you decide what your next step will be. And with each step taken, you get a little closer to your answer or solution or, in our case, our own home.

Here an example:

We bought our first house a couple of months ago. I found this to be a daunting undertaking, at least in the beginning. I had no clue about the process and felt quite overwhelmed thinking of the financial aspect and implications of it.

Here is how I climbed the mountain of questions:

My first step: I started talking with friends about purchasing a house. Whatever information I got, I collected in a folder. For example: tips when house hunting, terminology, questions to ask, things to keep in mind, contact information of people they worked with, you name it.

My next first step: I divided these pieces of information into categories: Financial, insurance, contacts, house criteria, and so on.

My next first step: scheduling a meeting with a mortgage provider to learn if we would get approval for a mortgage and the amount we would get approval for. There is no point in searching for a house if you don’t have the money to buy it, right?

My next first step: scheduling a meeting with our financial advisor to discuss various scenarios and ask questions about the long-term implications. This was one of the most important aspects for me considering that we are relatively “old” for buying our first home. This meant we had to dig up a lot of information and fill out forms. By doing so, we learned a lot but also added new questions to our list.

I’m sure you get my point.

Focus on the very next step, take it, and decide what your next step will be.

Reflecting On Your Day

Do you take time at the end of the day to reflect on it? I do, (almost) every night.  Most of the time I make some notes in my journal. I call it my Insights & Actions. I write down what I found hard and challenging, what I am happy about, what I struggled with, if it was a good day and why, or if there was something that I’m not so thrilled about and why.

For me it’s the key to learning and growing, both professionally and personally. Sometimes it’s a quick note to serve as a reminder. But sometimes it’s very specific.

Learning what worked and why is helpful to remember and to keep in my personal “toolbox.” Learning what didn’t work and why is helpful to avoid making the same mistake. It may not work right away, but reflecting on the good and/or bad brings it to your consciousness and gives you a choice: keep it, or lose it.

I’d like to invite you to do the same. Take a moment at the end of the day and ask yourself: what are the things that you found hard, you found easy, you are happy about, you are [fill the blank]. The insights you’ll gain are priceless.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Did I accomplish all I’ve put on my to-to list? If your answer is no, dig in deeper and ask why? What can you change?
  • At the end of a project you may want to ask what made this project go smoothly and why? Was it due to a person, a tool, preparation at the beginning…?
  • Or alternatively, why did I run into so many problems during this project? Were these problems preventable? What could I have done differently?
  • Did I take the time to read, relax, exercise, etc.? Your promises to yourself are important for your wellbeing. If you disregard them on a regular basis you may want to find out why and what you can do differently.
  • Or simple things like being more patient with your husband, kids, colleagues, friends also deserve recognition.

Happy self-discovery and learning!

Urgent-Busy-Important Work

Urgent Work:

Tasks that pop up “unexpectedly.” Often these are tasks we’ve forgotten about or procrastinated over that “suddenly” reached their due date. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular time or on a particular day.

Our instinctive reaction is to jump to the rescue at the expense of whatever we had planned to do instead.

Busy Work:

Tasks that are on our to-do list forever. These tasks don’t move the needle of our success or progress in the right direction, but…. getting them off of our to-do list feels great, at least at the moment.

We think about these tasks as getting them “out of the way” and “finally off our to-do list” so that we can focus all our attention on the important work.

The caveat, by the time we are done with our busy work the day is over, and a feeling of dread sets in. Again, we haven’t done a shred of work that we know deep down to be far more important. 

Important work:

Tasks or actions that move us, our business or our relationship, or anything else for that matter, to the next level. These tasks follow one single purpose: deliberately following a goal and getting there.

These tasks are often scary, hard, challenging, something that may not come easy to us. We need effort, commitment, guts, trust in ourselves to do them. These are the tasks that, at the end of the day, allow us to grow, build confidence, make progress, create success, and find content and fulfillment.

No matter what we like to accomplish in any area of our lives, it’s the important work we need to focus on. 

What is your important work today that moves the needle in the right direction?

If you like to read more about this topic. Check out my blog post “Urgent vs. Important.

Say NO more more often

Imagine this situation: A friend, family, or team member approaches you and asks you for a favor. It’s a small favor, you think. And without even thinking about it, you say yes.

A couple of minutes, sometimes a couple of hours, later you realize that this small favor is really cutting into your day more than you had bargained for. You start to move your own commitments and responsibilities around to make it all work. You’re angry, and you feel stressed. You wonder why you said yes in the first place.

How do you avoid this situation? Don’t say YES right away. Ask for a bit of time to consider your answer and give it later. This way you can check in with yourself and your calendar what impact this YES will have.

In my blog “Darn, why did I say yes…. I wrote in more detail about it. Check it out. Or have a look at this blog.

Focus Time

In a previous post I explained why multitasking is impairing your productivity and efficiency and suggested turning off notifications on your devices.

I know this may be easier said than done. We don’t want to miss important calls from a prospective customer or an urgent question from a team member. So, how to go about it?

Here are 3 steps that’ll help you work around this problem: 

  1. Ask yourself the question: What is the time of day with the least calls or disruptions? This could mean dealing with kids at home, answering calls from your team or customers, you name it.
  2. This time with the least disruptions is your focus time, time to work on your complex and important projects or tasks. Turn off notifications on all your devices or set them on flight mode, turn off everything that would distract you, and yes, that means TV and radio, and get to work.

Everything that will land in your inbox or on your voicemail will be attended to after your focus time.

  1. Last but not least, don’t allow anybody to “steal” this time from you (emergencies excluded of course). Inform your team, your colleagues, or your family that you’ll be offline for x-amount of time and available afterwards.

I know, it’s far more difficult with kids. But even with kids there are periods in your day during which they won’t need you. Maybe you have to be more flexible. Maybe you have to limit your focus time to 20 minutes instead of one hour. Whatever time you can carve out make sure you use it well.

Remember, there is no such thing as perfect, but there is always the best we can do.

Slowing Down?

I subscribe to a newsletter written by Jonathan Fields which is all about living a good life. A couple of days ago I found an email in my inbox, and it started like this: (excerpt of Jonathan’s Newsletter):

Have you noticed, things tend to keep speeding up?

It’s a natural consequence of life. Compounded in a big way this year.

Our reaction, when that happens, is to speed up, ourselves, so we can keep up.

But, then keeping up becomes the new norm, and the firehose of pace keeps coming.

So, we cope by speeding up. Again. And, again. And, again.

At some point, we can’t handle it anymore.

Keeping up becomes blowing up.

We’re brought to our knees, forced to reckon.

A thought…

What if your reaction to the quickening cycle of life was not to speed up, but to slow down?

[…] Not in a “head in the sand” way, but in a “I know what matters” way.”

How often do we commit to something because we haven’t thought about the consequences for ourselves or what matters to us? How many times do we agree to do something because it is expected of us, but is not really what rocks our boat? Each time we give away a bit of our time…

The problem with that is, it is not only the time we give away, we also give away our purpose, our fulfilment, our contentment. We become irritated, frustrated, and may even lose our energy.

So, slowing down may be the only way you discern what’s important from what’s a distraction in your life, leading to better decisions for yourself and eliminating “random” commitments.

It’s your choice, and you may be surprised by what you’ll find.