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Life Is Only As Complicated As We Make It

Is your digging making a mountain or a molehill?

Is all that digging making a mountain or a molehill?

We’ve all encountered them – people who seem to take even the most simple task or situation and smother it with complex scenarios and complicating questions. Maybe we are them. Chances are good that these people live with a lot of unnecessary stress and worry as well as spreading this stress and worry to others. How complicated we choose to make things has the power to completely change the experience we get out of life. Personal responsibilities, career goals, organizing and planning even the simplest things can become arduous, overwhelming tasks if we allow these molehills to grow into mountains. But let’s dig a little deeper. How do mountains turn into molehills if not without the help of us shoveling on piles and piles of dirt to grow (and complicate) the situation? Just as much as we hold the tools to make life complicated, we also hold the tools to make it simple. The more we value the simplicity of life, the more likely we are to apply this value toward how we live, work and interact with others.  I want to now outline just a few critical areas in which I feel like so many people choose to make life far more complicated than it needs to be – and with that, pile on stress and frustration unnecessarily. As you read on, I urge you to ask yourself how familiar these scenarios sound to you:

Mountains and mole hills

It’s a common phrase – “Making a mountain out of a molehill” – and though we know it and use it often, it never seems to stick as a life lesson we should learn to apply personally. Simply put, don’t make things more complicated than they need to be! I had a teacher first tell me about the K.I.S. principle or “Keep It Simple.” She didn’t want us to turn in a 10-page report if all the necessary information could be expressed in 3 pages. Our time was not best spent writing this nor was her time best spent grading this. Based on some of the people I encounter in both business and in life, I can tell they did not have a teacher who valued the K.I.S. principle. I fondly refer to them as “over-communicators.” They’re the people who require 2 phone calls and 3 follow-up emails to you before they feel a point has been clearly communicated. Dealing with such communicators is insulting because they don’t feel you’re capable of fully grasping a concept, just because they can’t. Furthermore it’s frustrating because they inevitably take up more of your time and energy than they’re worth. Don’t be an over-communicator and this begins with putting down the shovel and walking away while it’s still a mole hill.

Less complicated doesn’t mean less thoughtful

Believe it or not, the simple answer can be the right answer. I know we’re wired to think that if it’s too simple it must be missing some element or overlooking some critical aspect. I’ve learned this to be very flawed thinking. While some things may be “too good to be true,” I have not had the same experience with things being “too simple to be right.” In fact, the simplest answers are often the best answers, but we only land on these long after we have exhausted our far more complicated options. The most important point I can make here is to simply stop second guessing your judgment or the judgment of others you know to be capable.

Add value without adding complications

Making a situation more complicated does not mean you’re more invested in a project than someone who is trying to keep it simple. As someone who actively seeks out the most simple and straightforward answer, I often feel like sometimes this makes people think I’m looking for the easy way out. While ease can often accompany simplicity, laziness is an entirely separate motivator. The energy I save in handling a situation simply, I reallocate to another area of the project to make it even more exceptional. I don’t “get out” of any work, per se. Instead I invest it back into areas that unexpectedly require more of my time. For those who over-communicate and like to complicate matters as a way to prove their worth to a project, this is easy to identify and even easier to see through. If you’re insecure with the value you’re bringing to the table, don’t compensate by making the job harder for someone else. Both in life and in business, we’re all in this together. We certainly don’t need to start throwing dirt into each other’s piles.

In my final comments, I’ll keep it simple. Embrace that life is only as complicated as we choose to make it. We all have shovels in which we can choose to either pile dirt on our molehills or dig it away from our mountains.

 

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Making Christmas A Celebration Not An Obligation: The essentials for reducing holiday stress

broken ornamentIf the advertisements, TV special and store decorations aren’t enough of an indication – the holidays are here! And so begins the preparation and the stress that often accompanies this time of year. I have never begun decorating before Thanksgiving and only once did I give in to Black Friday shopping (and believe me that was enough), but this year I feel the most organized and prepared as I ever have been. The decorations are up, the Christmas cards are ready to be mailed and the holiday cheer has definitely set in. It’s not because I’ve had any more time than in years’ past – in fact, I’ve likely had less. It’s because I’m starting to identify the key factors that allow for the holidays to be less frantic and more fun. They’re common sense really, but as soon as we see that first television commercial our brains seem to fill with eggnog and we tailspin into full Christmas chaos. Here are just a few ways in which I have and hope to continue to make Christmas a celebration, not an obligation:

It’s meant to be a team effort.

Our house is small and our decorations are just enough to give a warm feel of the holidays. But preparing our house for Christmas still would have been a daunting task for one person if it wasn’t for a second set of hands. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, when family had gone home and the dust (and dirt and crumbs) had settled, we dedicated our day to organizing, cleaning and then finally decorating. Amidst his incredibly busy work and travel schedule, my husband had a very rare free day in which to help me. He actually suggested this is how we spend our day together which set the tone that this wasn’t so much a chore as it was a memory.  I planned for a full day of dusting and decorating, but once we put on some Christmas music and divided and conquered the tasks, we were done in just several hours. I know that had I tried to tackle this on my own, we still wouldn’t be decorated for the Christmas and the nooks and crannies behind the couch certainly wouldn’t be as clean. What this experience taught me was that Christmas traditions are meant to be shared and in doing so they transform from a to-do into a want-to-do. We look forward to the warm glow of our Christmas lights every evening and this shared enjoyment is what makes decorating fun not frantic.

It doesn’t “sneak up” on you.

I hear this phrase a lot. “Wow, the holidays really snuck up on us this year, huh?” Not really. Christmas is very predictable. It’s the same date of the same month every year. If anything, the decorations in the mall and commercials on TV should give us even more time to prepare as they seem to start earlier and earlier each year. Yet no matter how stressful last year’s holiday preparations were, we fail to take action to prevent it from happening again…and again. If you mailed your Christmas cards on December 24th last year, why not set a reminder in your phone to begin the process earlier next year? Writing Christmas cards, picking out a tree and buying gifts should be a loving and thoughtful experience. Any stress that comes along with it is unintended or misplaced. If you’ve made an effort to be more proactive and organized but are still left with a time deficit, then chances are you’re simply trying to do too much. So….

Simplify!

The holidays are made for tradition, but they should not take up so much of your time that you’re left with no time to actually enjoy everything for which they stand. The most important traditions should be carried on, but there are many that should also be let go. Determine what’s giving you the best return on investment (ROI) for your time. Sugar cookies made from scratch, hand painted Christmas ornaments and self-stamped wrapping paper are fun activities and beautiful memories, but don’t feel like you have to do all of them every single year. Enjoy the act of preparing for the holidays, but also remember to enjoy time with family and friends. Also, don’t be afraid to lower the bar. I imagine almost every other person you know is feeling a degree of stress and overwhelm as well. Simplify this Christmas with fewer, but more meaningful presents. Do a secret Santa or eliminate the pressure of presents altogether. Hopefully The Grinch that Stole Christmas has helped us to realize that it’s the time you spend with those you love (and the great food) that make the holidays special. Presents, cards and decorations are all just extra.

It’s a process.

So often I hear people boast that they’ve been decorated since Thanksgiving or their Christmas shopping was completely done by mid September and my inner response is, “Was it a race?” Preparing for the holidays is part of the celebration – it’s a process and balance. Rushing to get everything done and out of the way as soon as possible makes Christmas like any other task on your to-do list. I also can’t imagine you feel the same holiday cheer when shopping next to bathing suits and beach balls. Scrambling to buy that last present on Christmas Eve also makes the act of gift giving feel more like an obligation than a thoughtful gesture. Find a balance between the two, take time to sip the eggnog and when all else fails…simplify!

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Finally and most importantly, you should be able to look back on your preparation for the holidays and smile while remembering some fond and funny moments. Even in the coldest and gloomiest months, you should feel warmer, brighter and friendlier. If you find that the holidays bring out the worst in you or your family, make you fight, feel angry or stressed, then something’s gotta give. Somewhere you’re missing the mark for what Christmas is truly all about. And once the holidays have come and gone, you shouldn’t be left feeling even worse—looking at the mounds of decorations that need put away or the heaping credit card debt. All of these are signs that a change needs to be made. Get back to the basics of what makes Christmas fun and special for you!

This holiday season be merry, be bright and….don’t be stressed!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Advice, Life

 

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Clearing Out The Mental Clutter

mental clutter imageSimply put, clutter is stuck energy. It’s a clog in our mental piping that prevents us from working, communicating and acting as effectively as we could. There are more than enough mental-clearing techniques to help us relax and refocus, but these don’t address the ways in which we rebuild the same cluttered mind every day. Here are just instances in which mental clutter may be messing with your psyche and some easily implemented fixes to help you start moving forward.

Clean out your email inbox…every single day – Take a moment and click over to your email. What does your inbox look like right now? If this is the beginning or middle of the work day for you, chances are you’ve accumulated quite a few messages. That’s normal. But how many of these messages were rolled over from the last work day? Some of these messages may even be from several days or weeks ago. If so, you’ve unknowingly been creating your own landfill of emails which might be making for a pretty unpleasant work environment. The fix? Clear the inbox clutter by treating it like a to-do list. Any email that comes in should be read and prioritized before the day’s end. Some emails are a quick response and easily taken care of. Others will require some time or further action before it can be considered ready to archive. For these types of message – utilize folders! I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t take advantage of the folder organization Outlook and Gmail provides. Label them with titles most applicable for the messages you commonly deal with and the actions they require. With these messages organized, you’ll never risk them “disappearing” under the heap of emails that build up over a week’s or month’s time. Since starting this practice myself, I’ve been much more aware of the messages requiring my response at any given time, know where to find them when I need them and have all but eliminated the dreaded “I don’t think I ever saw that email” moment.

Remove mental clutter by removing physical clutter – I’m not sure when this began for me, but to this day if I’m in a messy environment, I can’t work as effectively. I need to have a clear space which translates to a clear mind. In the midst of a project or a busy day, it’s completely acceptable to have some small mountains of paper fill your desk, but by the day’s end be sure these mountains aren’t left for you to climb over the next morning. If you tackle your physical clutter every day, each new day will begin with a clear desk and a clear mind.

Capture your thoughts in writing – In a world surrounded by cutting-edge technology, you may be surprised to know that we’re still allowed to be human. By this I mean we aren’t expected to commit every task, appointment, phone conversation or change in plans to memory. The times in which I have a lot of mental notes to remember are among the times when my mind feels the most cluttered and least productive. So write it down! Whether this is a pen and paper to-do list, phone app, word document or calendar reminder, capture your thoughts however best fits your lifestyle. It’s simple…the more you put in writing, the less that’s on your mind.

Eliminate unnecessary noise – When I first began running Bennis Inc I would often keep a television set or music on for “background noise.” It’s not so much that I would become distracted by the show on TV or the artist singing the song, but I would become distracted (and irritated) simply by the noise. It was competing with my inner thoughts and making me work harder to concentrate on the task at hand. The silliest part is that I was self-inflicting this irritation and audio clutter. I now recognize that I prefer to work in as close to a silent environment as possible. Some days this can even be setting the phone to vibrate and turning off email alerts. I don’t doubt that some people may work better with a little bit of background noise, but I urge you to try at least one day “working silent” to be sure you’ve given this option a fair shot. It’s not boring when your thoughts really get on a roll!

Address what’s really fogging your mind – If you’ve made your best effort to eliminate all of the mental clutter by following the steps listed above, but you’re still feeling fuzzy and unfocused, there’s a good chance there’s something else in play. What’s really fogging your mind? Mental blocks can come from feelings we’re harboring about a relationship problem, financial stress, or recent negative experience. These aren’t just clutter; these are actual issues that should be dealt with fully. If a personal situation has you distracted in other areas of life, you can’t bury it deeper and hope it will go away. The best thing to do to resolve this completely is to talk it out, go for a run to clear your head or seek a solution if one is possible. Once this major mental plug is removed, you can return to addressing the rest of the minor clutter rolling around.

Whether your mind is cluttered or organized right now, share with us some of your struggles or secrets to achieving a clear mind!

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Business & Success, Life

 

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You Don’t Need the Best of Everything To Make the Best of Everything

HappinessSometimes I don’t know what to count first. My blessings—or the little moments in life that make me stop and want to count my blessings. It was the second or third time I’ve used this particular cashier at a local shop. It’s the type of job that garners little respect or attention, no matter how frequent the customers or how pleasant the small talk. But this guy has grabbed my attention on more than one occasion for no better reason than he is completely, contagiously, happy. So many visual cues tell me this guy has a lot he could be frustrated about or unhappy with, but instead he bubbles over with such contentment for the life he’s been given that I have yet to walk out of the store without a smile.

After I leave his small glow of happiness, the real work begins to wear on me again. I hear negative comments from all around. People will yell when their phone isn’t working, complain about their job or become sarcastic when someone suggests an idea they don’t like. There’s a time and place for every emotion, but why do we first seem to resort to the negative reaction to a situation? I’m reminded of a phrase I’ve seen displayed in various ways that reads:

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything.

It seems that some of the happiest people I have ever met are the ones who have fairly average lives. Some of these people have even dealt with major struggles and setbacks that would leave most of us feeling frustrated and pitiful. Instead, they’ve (knowingly or unknowingly) mastered the art of making the best of everything. These people aren’t naive nor are they complacent, they are simply happy, and what else is more important? If a magic genie came to grant you just one wish, I would say we’d all be smart to wish for happiness. Everything else is really secondary. Unfortunately, the people who have yet to figure this out are obvious. We can likely all pull up a real life example in our minds of a person, who on paper, is wealthy and successful, but knowing them deeper allows you to also know most of their life is spent feeling stressed, angry and unfulfilled. In contrast, are those who have learned that happiness is not having the best of everything; it’s making the best of everything.

Slowly, I too am learning to make the best of everything. Even the most unexpected and outrageous situations can be a reason to smile if you loosen up long enough to realize you’re simply not in control. Whether my career continues to excel or one day I have to take a different job to make ends meet, knowing that I have the power to be happy through anything makes any outcome okay. It’s an incredible realization that the stress we place on being happy can become the cause of our unhappiness.

Thinking back to that contagiously happy cashier, I would love to one day know that he finally got the life he dreamed of. But who am I to say that he hasn’t already?

 
11 Comments

Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Life, Wisdom

 

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Finding a New Perspective at 13,000 Feet

Not much in life shocks or scares me anymore. I’m not an adrenaline junkie or immune to fear, but I just haven’t experienced much in my daily life lately that has gotten my heart racing. I began to question whether I was apathetic to life or just not pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, so I decided to take an extreme test of fear, courage and insanity to find the answer. I decided to go skydiving.

Throughout the whole experience I was most apprehensive about kneeling at the door of the plane, looking down at a world so small, it’s barely recognizable…and not feeling a single thing. How sad would it be to discover that life isn’t enough to satisfy you? With everything beautiful and wonderful to experience in our world, I think the worst emotion to suffer through is the lack of emotion altogether.

Skydiving proved to me that I am very capable of feeling every emotion and in rapid succession. As the door opened and I inched my way toward it, I had no time to over-think what was happening—I jumped. And like that, I was free falling to the earth for close to a minute. In those 60 seconds I experienced doubt, fear, confusion, lack of control, excitement, happiness, appreciation, love and pride. When the parachute successfully released, I felt an unexpected sense of calm. I was still falling rapidly toward the earth, but in comparison to free falling, I was relaxed and content to just enjoy the ride.

By the time I landed, sitting in the grass, all of the stresses that had seemed so overwhelming must have blown off me on the way down. The only way to describe how I felt is to compare it to having just gotten the most amazing massage. I was so relaxed and almost in a dream-like state, my heart rate might have been 40 beats a minute. I understand how ridiculous this sounds, comparing skydiving to a massage, so I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me—I wouldn’t have either 24 hours ago.

I loved my experience, but I’m not “addicted” to this extreme sport and I may choose to never go back. I think I’ve gained from it everything I needed to and I don’t want to risk a second experience tarnishing the spiritual awakening it was for me.

When you’re free falling 13,000 feet above the earth, your mind can focus on little else but finding the energy to breathe. And maybe that’s what this whole experience helped me to realize. Life is made up of a series of breaths and no matter how stressful or uncomfortable the situation may be, as long as I find the strength and composure to take that one next breath, everything else—just like the world from two miles up—is small in comparison.

First breath out of the plane

Scott during his free fall

Back on the ground, coming off of an adrenaline high!

 
25 Comments

Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Life

 

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Beating the Hourglass: My Foundation for Better Time Management

I get asked quite frequently about my “secrets” for time management because apparently I seem to look like I have it all together. This couldn’t be further from the truth and even I have moments of stress, panic and sheer exhaustion. But I have established some guidelines that I regard as my foundation for better time management that I’m more than happy to share. They’re not one-size fits all, but they fit perfectly into my life.

My Office Assistant, Pinot sets a poor example of time management

Keep a Weekly White Board

I keep a white board in my office that’s divided into seven columns for each day of the week.  This allows me to visually map out my “Must-Get-Dones” for each day and set priorities for the week. Moving these tasks from my mental to-do list and to my white board has been a huge stress reliever and organizational tool. I can clear my mind long enough to focus on a single task and when I have time to move on to the next project or if something were to come up and change my plans, I can visually move around my tasks from day-to-day and change them as often as my schedule does. I also find myself completing tasks based on priority not based on ease or interest which I’ve found to be my own personal form of procrastination.

Block Schedule Your Time

All too often I would find myself in the same workday scenario. I would be trying to complete 4 tasks at once, have at least 8 pages open on my browser and be checking my email every 3 minutes. Not only was I not getting anything done, I was also causing myself more frustration and stress. The answer I found was to block-schedule my work time. I focus on what task I need to complete, estimate the appropriate time it should take me and schedule time on my calendar to work solely on that task until completion, just like I would schedule a meeting or conference call. And because I wouldn’t check my email in the middle of a meeting or hang up in the middle of a conference call, I am able to see one task through to completion and find myself with a better quality product in the end.

Be Productive Even When You’re Not Working

No one can be productive for 8+ hours straight. Ok, no HUMAN can be that productive…but we are just that—human. We need to take breaks and my best advice is that when you feel like you need 15 minutes away from the computer screen, take it and make it count. I use my breaks throughout the day to still do productive things that I want to get done, they just might not be work related. I’ll read through a magazine, clean, do laundry or browse Word Press and see what other people are writing about. By using these little breaks to knock routine or housekeeping items off of my list, I’m still gaining that moment of relaxation and mental clarity while clearing even more free time for myself in the future.

Get Into a Routine

As a freelancer and business owner, I set my own schedule. I COULD sleep in until 11am each morning or spend the afternoons shopping, but I don’t. I wake up earlier now than I ever did with a desk job. I exercise, eat breakfast and shower just like I would if I were going to an office. Then I use the first hour of my work day to complete routine business-building tasks. I browse the news, answer emails and update my social media. After one hour, no matter what, I stop. I then focus solely on client work and what my white board has laid out for me that day. My goals for the day are already outlined and I know exactly how much time I’ve allotted to complete each one. This structure in my day helps me to move forward and with greater speed and efficiency. Find whatever routine works for you, but stick with it!

Make the Most of Your Mornings

Get up early. Get up two hours earlier than when you would normally feel like waking up. I promise you, this is some of the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to be successful. Those morning hours are ones you’ll never be able to make up for the rest of your day. If you wake up late, you’ll be playing “catch-up” until you finally crash into bed that night. Mornings are your time to knock as much off your to-do list as possible. If a crisis were to strike in the afternoon, you’ll be well-equipped to handle it without it causing other tasks to roll over to the next day. If you work hard enough in the mornings and find yourself with some free time in the afternoon, then that’s all yours! You paid the piper now enjoy it, guilt-free. Run an errand, exercise, check-in with a friend, nap or give into a guilty pleasure. Eventually this “free afternoon” reward will inspire you to want to work hard in the momings and if you use today’s free afternoon to work ahead on tomorrow’s tasks, you can “earn” an entirely free day later that week.

These guidelines aren’t easy or always fun. They take discipline and accountability. But I promise you, you’ll adjust to the early mornings and new routine and will be even more prepared to accommodate the future growth of your business, your family and all of the chaos that comes with it!

 
139 Comments

Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Freshly Pressed, Wisdom

 

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