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5 New Year’s Resolutions for Better Time Management

5 New Year_s Resolutions for Better Time Management

Some of my very first blog posts have focused on the topic of time management. I’m passionate about discovering new ways to efficiently use my time so that I can have the greatest impact on my clients while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The reality is, it will always be a work in progress and sometimes I slide back into old habits that leave me feeling overwhelmed.

For 2018, I want to refresh my time management tools to make this year my most fulfilling one yet, both on the professional and personal sides of life. If you find that you’re already struggling to keep you head above water in these first few weeks of January, I urge you to join me in making five small, but impactful New Year’s resolutions. The common goal of these resolutions is to help you balance your life so you’re doing more of what you love, and being mentally present in the moment to fully enjoy it.

Take this resolution with me! In 2018, I will…

  1. Start my morning with a clear “inbox”

Several years ago (once my kids were finally on good sleep schedules), I began to wake up one hour earlier than the rest of my family. I used this time to wake up, drink a cup of coffee and clear out my inbox. By the time everyone else was waking up, I had handled many small tasks and outlined the tasks I needed to accomplish that day. I could then close my computer and enjoy those morning hours with my family.

By the time my husband and sons were off to their respective locations for the day, I could again open up shop and jump right into my core tasks. I found this single hour in the morning gave me so much more patience and peace of mind to be present with my family. While there may be some mornings I choose to hit snooze, I resolve this year to use this “power hour” at least 3 times per week, or as needed.

  1. Keep an organized to-do list for each day

I have always kept a rolling to-do list of every task on my plate at a given time. However, this year I resolve to take things up a notch and organize this a bit further. I find that by placing my to-do’s on a list on my computer, I no longer carry around the mental weight of trying to remember it all. I also love the satisfaction of deleting something from my to-do list.

This year, I plan to keep a daily to-do list where I can spread out and prioritize my work tasks over the course of the week. In doing so, I know that I merely need to accomplish what is on today’s to-do list to stay on track. One long list can be paralyzing to tackle. Rather, a list that breaks it down by day and order of importance is far more manageable.

  1. Manage other people’s expectations of my time

This is an important one! Typically I try and complete work tasks as quickly as I can for my clients, often giving them same-day service. While this has helped to build up a great book of business, adhering to this standard every single day is neither reasonable nor necessary. Rather, this year I resolve to manage people’s expectations of my time, both professionally and personally. I plan to assign a realistic deadline so everyone is on the same page and so that it works into my workflow without causing undue stress. I anticipate I will often deliver tasks in advance of the deadline, which is all the better for building a good reputation with clients! But having a deadline as my buffer will help me retrain myself that many tasks can wait while I prioritize other things in my day like relaxation and family.

  1. Block schedule my time

Another secret to getting the most out of the hours in my day is to use a block scheduling strategy. On days when I have one out-of-the-home meeting scheduled, I try to schedule a few others as well. There are a few reasons for doing this. First, I know I will already be out and about and professionally dressed (not always the case when working from home!). Second, having just one meeting during the day really breaks my concertation and work flow. If it’s going to get broken anyways, I may as well make it worth it by blocking most of that day out for other meetings.

On the flip side, days when I have no meetings or phone calls scheduled, I am very protective of this time and strategically plan nothing else on such a day. I know I can get into a deep concertation and plow through a lot of work tasks that would typically take me far more time if disrupted by anything else. I love these days just as much as I love my client meeting days. It’s all about balance – and something that I resolve to gain more of in the New Year.

  1. Decline or outsource tasks I don’t have the time or desire to take on

When you spend any part of your career as an entrepreneur, you quickly learn to say yes to any work that comes your way. However, once you’ve built a solid business, you need to remove yourself from the trap of trading your time for tasks that don’t pay your market rate or that you simply down enjoy. While I have gotten better each year, I want to make a conscious effort in 2018 to decline or outsource tasks I don’t have the time or desire to take on. This applies to work tasks as much as it applies to household tasks.

Consider what you time is worth. If you can work an extra hour or two and afford someone else to do something you don’t enjoy, like clean your home, it’s more than break even! Before you start turning down or having someone else take on work for you, get a good grip on your budget and understand your “hourly rate.” Then, gradually transition into letting other people help you get things done. After all, it’s an opportunity to someone else to make a living too!

Have you made a resolution for the New Year? Does it focus on time management or something else? Share what you hope to accomplish in 2018 by leaving a comment below!

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7 Tips for Writing Faster Client Proposals

7 Tips for Writing Faster Client Proposals

For a business owner, putting together client proposals or customer quotes (whichever applies to your industry) can feel like the bane of your existence some days. If you invest way too much time and energy into your client proposals, that’s time you’re not spending on doing actual work. Moreover, on the chance that client chooses to work with a different business, your time was a complete wash.

So how can you streamline your proposal process? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along my entrepreneurial journey that allow me to put together just about every client proposal in an hour or less.

  1. Use a standard template.

While every proposal will (and should) be unique, you will save a lot of time and headache by developing and following a standard template. More than just consistent branding, a standard template will guide you with what information to include where. As you build an archive of past client proposals, you can pull entire sections from these, especially if you’re proposing a similar package of services.

  1. Scope the client’s desired services in the first meeting.

During my first meeting with a client, I leave with a pretty well defined scope of services. That’s very intentional on my part. With a narrowed focus on what my client wants, I can quickly and efficiently put together a proposal and email it to them same-day. I’ve found that producing a proposal on the same day of our meeting keeps the momentum going and often leads to a signed contract within a day or two.

  1. If the client doesn’t know what they want, charge to tell them!

If you find yourself in a meeting with a client thinking “They have no clue what they need! Where do I start?” this is a good indication that the first thing you give that client is a strategy. And by give, I mean get paid to create a comprehensive strategic plan. Working with a client to map out their strategic plan will help you see if you work well together. You will also prove the value of your work while outlining the scope of your services moving forward.

  1. Don’t put a price on anything until you agree upon scope.

This is the third point to focus on the importance of scope. Do you get the picture why it’s so important? If not, let me give you one more reason to consider. Say you create a large proposal for a client, throwing in stuff you didn’t talk about and you’re not sure they really want. You put a final price on it and send it over for review. Then the client comes back and wants you to take out what they feel is about “half” of the services and then wants you to also cut the price in half. This could put you in a really tough position!

Maybe the half they removed consisted of the less time consuming services, so it’s not really an even split. Maybe you gave them a slight discount considering they were going to purchase a larger block of your hours. Now you’re in a sticky situation. You either take the work for less than you would like to charge or have to explain to your client why the price is higher than they feel it should be.

Avoid all of this mess by providing your client with an “idea proposal” for them to first prioritize the exact services they are interested in having you quote. Then quote away! You may even consider breaking down the total price into line-items so if your client should wish to remove a piece of the proposal, it’s clearly marked how this will impact the total price. Which brings us to the next point…

  1. Break down the proposal into small line-items and let the client pick and choose.

If your client has a limited budget, but you still want to showcase the full scope of services you can provide, consider quoting the services out as smaller line-items. For example, a client asks for your help with a direct mail piece and new marketing materials, but you know they desperately need a new website and social media overhaul. Include these extra pieces in your proposal so they can see what each will cost.

I most often see one of two things happen. The client is pleasantly surprised by the price and decides to add the extra services in right now or they create room for it in their business’s budget and come back a few months later to complete the extra work. Whether it’s now or later, it is extra business you may not have gotten unless you presented it!

  1. If the client’s deliverables will vary each month, simply sell blocks of your time.

For a few of my clients, their strategic communication needs ebb and flow from month to month. One month we might focus all of our hours on a single, large project. The next month there may be several smaller projects that take up our time. For these clients, I simply sell them a block of hours that they can apply however they wish. If an urgent project comes up, we can shift the focus of our monthly hours or they can add hours to their retainer. The best part is that presenting this option is a very simple proposal to put together! I show my standard hourly rate and then the various discounts per hour they will receive based upon the quantity they pre-purchase.

  1. Put a 30-day expiration date on all proposals.

Finally, I highly recommend placing an expiration date on all of your proposals. You can determine how strict you want to be, I personally say 30 days from the date the proposal was delivered. The benefit of doing this is two-fold. First, you add a sense of urgency for the client. They realize that if they wait beyond that 30 days, you may take on a different client in their place and no longer have the bandwidth to accommodate their work. This results in closing the contract sooner. Second, you reserve the right to issue a new proposal once that 30 days has passed. If there is higher demand for your time, your price will likely increase. This is a standard practice many industries use and you should too!

To bring it all back together, the key to writing faster client proposals is to be efficient and strategic in your first meeting with the client to leave with a prioritized list of what they want. You also want to develop a standard template, use pieces from past proposals where applicable, and be careful about how you structure your pricing so that you don’t back yourself into a corner. Finally, protect your time and add a sense of urgency to your proposal by setting an expiration date.

What tip for writing faster client proposals did you find most helpful? Or do you have another tip to share? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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How To Make Your Startup Business More Efficient Now (Guest Blog by Kiley Martin)

The following post comes to us from Kiley Martin, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, editor and blogger.


TimeIncreasing the efficiency of operations should be a primary goal of all business owners . However, enhancing business productivity often falls by the wayside when workload increases. People push things off and get stuck in the same old routines.

You might be worried about the need to spend money in order to make your business more streamlined. Especially in the startup world, it’s unavoidable. You’re introducing things for the first time and it will cost time and even perhaps a new position. You’re building something that wasn’t there before.

But spending money doesn’t mean inefficiency. In fact it often means the opposite, especially if you’re investing in the future of the business. If you spend $5,000 to save $5 every time you do a repetitive process, you’ll make your money back in no time.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can make your startup business more efficient.

Invest strategically to reduce costs

When a startup is founded, business owners choose not to invest in a lot of technology or equipment because it may initially increase costs. For instance, you may choose to use a manual fax machine instead of buying an electronic one with Bluetooth access.

However, if sending and receiving faxes are a critical part of your daily operations, using an electronic fax machine would save you time, paper costs, and the hassle of manning the machine when waiting on an important document. So, even though you may have to spend some money and invest in a good machine initially, it will make things easier later on by increasing your time and cost efficiency.

Cost benefit analyses like this are very useful for when you’re setting up your business as they can help you in the long run. Focus on strategic investments that impact your most important operations.

Automate your tasks. Focus on your specialties

As an entrepreneur, you will quickly become aware that just because you own a business, this doesn’t mean you are equally good at managing all aspects of it. You could be well versed in the nuances of how to sell an app, but you might not be familiar with the specifics of app development or coding. This paves the way for task delegation.

Foremost, you need to learn to identify which tasks you can do best and which need to be delegated to other employees so they can do it best.

This concept also applies to menial tasks. Even though you are a business owner looking to cut down costs, taking a full burden of responsibilities will not help your situation. If you spend three hours manually sending invoices to clients, you are spending way less time overlooking the state of affairs for your business.

It would be prudent to get software that takes care of your invoicing so you can pay attention to other tasks that demand your attention.

In the same way, menial jobs like sending receipts or overseeing the delivery of documents could take up mental space, time and energy. Hiring an employee to take care of these tasks or using a computer program can not only make things easier for you, but also streamline your business processes in the long run.

It will also free up most of your work hours so you can focus on other tasks that require your attention.

Furthermore, if you have a website, which you should, don’t spend too much time running it if you’re a website amateur. Allow a hosting service to take the reigns. You’re running a business, not a website or an AP department. You need to invest in these processes so they don’t eat away all your time.

Give feedback and encourage employees

Your responsibility does not end at hiring personnel. The reason why most startups fail is because they are unsuccessful at retaining talent. The employees may feel useless in terms of contribution to the overall venture if they are not encouraged regularly.

Sometimes business owners will stick to brief comments and words of appreciation that mean nothing to the employee. Without proper feedback, they can stagnate their progress.

Therefore, it is important that as a business owner, you develop a keen eye for the work of your subordinates, providing ample constructive feedback where necessary. This will develop your rapport with the staff and provide work fulfillment so they can keep working with you.

Plan your schedule and focus on one thing at a time

Most startup owners work long hours and sacrifice sleep for work. Yet, they always have tasks on their to-do list that still need to be considered. For them, the work never ends.

This does not mean that other startup owners have it considerably easier than you do. It just means that other business owners have learned to manage their time and their tasks.

But how do you end up going about that ridiculous pile of work on your desk? Well, the first thing is to list everything you need to do. Then, list the time you have in a day that you will dedicate to the tasks, and plan accordingly. Do not attempt to take on more work than you know you can do.

The same goes for your employees. Encourage them to direct their focus on single tasks, rather than multitasking. Intense concentration will produce better results and take less of a mental toll, resulting in quality and efficiency.

Do you have a tip for helping a business to run more efficiently? Share your advice by leaving a comment!

Kiley MartinKiley Martin is a freelance writer, editor and blogger from Philadelphia, PA. She has worked with several popular blogs and magazines. She recently graduated from Drexel University. She also enjoys mentoring and connecting with others on new technologies in web development and programming. Feel free to contact her at KileyAMartin@gmail.com

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2017 in Business & Success, Guest Blogger

 

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How I Plan to Gain More Free Time in the Summer Months

summer 2017

Given the Memorial Day holiday, I think just about everyone is thinking about the fun summer activities that lie ahead. I know I am! This is why I got to thinking about my plan for the summer to ensure I enjoy my most favorite months of the year. It’s too easy to stay on the same work routine and not take advantage of the warm weather and time with family. Being a creature of habit, I thought the best thing to do was to set some “boundaries” for my summer and come up with a new routine that will help me maximize my free time and benefit from my flexible work schedule throughout the coming months. Take a look!

End each weekend with a preview of the week ahead

In order to get more out of my work hours and maximize my free time, I’ve found it to be really helpful to end the weekend with a review of the upcoming week’s tasks and obligations. This gives me a good mental grasp on how much dedicated work time I’ll have, verses time that will be spent at meetings or events. I also compare this schedule with my husband’s to be sure we’re fully covered on family duties. There’s nothing quite as stressful as realizing you both need to be out of the house early without someone to run the kids to daycare!

Get up at the same time every day

This will be a challenging one, but one that will surely help to maximize my free time so I can enjoy the summer months. Every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, I plan to get up at 6am. Some days I may have a little helper join me who wakes up early, and some days I may get a cup of coffee and a head start on my inbox. No matter how I spent this extra hour of the morning, it will go to good use and put me in the best position for a less stressful day. On the weekends, this will be the only hour I dedicate to checking in on work – or I’ll use it to get in some exercise!

Make a plan – for both work and play

Just as it’s important to plan to get work done, it’s also important to block out time in your schedule to enjoy non-work related things. I’ll have an agenda for each day that outlines how I want to spend my time. This will likely involve a mix of some work tasks along with a nap in the sun on the back deck. On days I have one or more kid home with me, I will prioritize only what has to get done that day to keep me on top of my work tasks, the rest will be dedicated to family time!

Stay on a routine for monthly tasks

I’ve gotten on a good routine of looking at all projects I have to deliver on a monthly basis and dividing them into one of two categories: tasks to be delivered for the current month and tasks to be delivered for the coming month. The first category of tasks gets prioritized and completed between days 1 and 15 of the current month. The second category of tasks are put on the to-do list starting day 15 and completed no later than the end of the month. If you’re overwhelmed by your task list, you may need to start categorizing and prioritizing tasks so you have a better handle on what needs done now and what can wait.

Limit networking and social requests

For some, summer is the prime time to set networking meetings and attend social events to grow your business. But for me, I’d much rather spend my free time soaking up the sun with my kids. Because of this, I frequently decline such requests. I’ll tell the contact that we can set date for the fall, and if they’re really serious about meeting, they’ll comply. For those “serial networkers” that were likely going to be a waste of time anyway, they will forget to follow-up and fade away.

Zero out my inbox each evening

This takes a little commitment, but once it’s routine it will greatly streamline workflow. I practice this now, and plan to into the summer. Every evening, once the kids are in bed, I take up to 30 minutes to “zero out” my inbox. What this means is that I check in on any emails that may have come in since I closed up shop sometime in the afternoon, and I address them. Many emails can be read and deleted, others will need a response. If the response is quick, I give it. If it will take some time, I patch it into my work flow for tomorrow. If I anticipate needing more than one day to reply to a client, I first reply with an acknowledgement of the email and then let them know when to anticipate my full response. I have found this last tip to be the key to keeping clients happy by keeping them in the loop. It also prevents additional follow-up emails or phone calls asking when something will be completed.

With these tips, I hope to enjoy a slower paced summer without needing to cut back on any client work. With my extra free time, I plan to enjoy the warm weather, spend time with family and take a few long weekend trips to make some new memories. If this new routine produces favorable results, I just may never come back from my “summer” lifestyle!

How do you plan to manage your workload to enjoy this summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!

 
 

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11 Habits of Highly Efficient People

11-habits-of-highly-efficient-peopleThere are a ton of cheesy memes and inspirational quotes out there that allude to this one truth – we all have the same 24 hours in a day. So why then does it feel like some people can accomplish so much more with their time while others are spinning their wheels? If you believe yourself to be a highly efficient person and find you get annoyed with a friend or co-worker who would take a week to get done what you accomplish in a day, remember this. Everyone has a different threshold for stress and some people are simply wired to be inefficient.

On the flip side, if you find yourself struggling to keep up with a normal workload while that one friend seems to do it all and make it look effortless, keep this in mind. They have likely learned, and continue to practice the habits of highly efficient people.

Some people thrive off of the feeling of getting things done and are actually stressed out by idling while work piles up. Whether you can or can’t relate, take a look at these 11 habits to gain insight into the world of a highly efficient person!

11 Habits of Highly Efficient People

They accurately estimate the time required to complete a task. Highly efficient people are realistic about how long it will take to accomplish something, whether that’s washing the dishes or taking a client phone call. Inefficient people often underestimate the time required for a task and find themselves overextended and with a time deficit day after day.

They block-schedule their activities. These people don’t multi-task. It’s not efficient. Rather they block schedule their time for a single activity, get it done and then move onto the next task.

They keep a running mental to-do list. Highly efficient people always know what they must accomplish on any given day to stay ahead of their task list. Should some unexpected free time arise, they can identify the right task to fit into that time slot to knock it off ahead of schedule. They don’t waste 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there, because at the end of the day that really adds up!

They minimize distraction. Highly efficient people work in a bubble, in a good way. They “wire in” to their work and mute other distractions like cell phones, TV’s and multiple browser windows. They also avoid that co-worker small talk at all costs!

They keep to a schedule. These people have their routine down pat. While each day might be slightly different, it follows the same format. They may even wear similar clothes or eat similar foods throughout the work week to streamline things and minimize unimportant decisions.

They don’t aim for perfection. Highly efficient people don’t care about making things “perfect” because it’s not efficient, nor it is attainable. Rather, they aim for the point of diminishing return where any more time spent on a task won’t make a noticeable difference. They don’t deliver sub-par work, but they also don’t stress about everything they produce being a masterpiece. Often “good enough” is quite alright.

They only invest time in people or activities that they find fulfilling. These people refuse to waste time with people they don’t enjoy, doing things they don’t enjoy. They limit their social circles to people they truly care about and rarely do something out of guilt or obligation. If a highly efficient person wants to hang out, take that as a high compliment!

They go to bed early. Highly efficient people don’t gain more hours in their day by sleeping less. On the contrary, they likely sleep more than an inefficient person. Let’s be honest, no one is their most efficient late at night. This only produces low-quality work that likely needs revamping the next day, compounded by a groggy person who doesn’t have the energy to put forth their best effort. Go to bed early and wake up ready to take on the world!

They stay physically active. These people prioritize exercise and choose a type of exercise that doesn’t feel like work. By staying physically active, they boost their energy levels, mental clarity and endurance. Now that’s what high efficiency is made of!

They develop mental “toughness.” Highly efficient people aren’t easily rattled. You can throw a last minute project on their full plate and they will still find a way to get it all done with time to spare. How? They keep a positive “I got this” attitude that helps them pull through even the most stressful scenario.

They know when to say no. This is a big one, which is why we saved it for last. Highly efficient people aren’t afraid to decline an invitation. Someone wants to have a meeting when a phone call would suffice? Decline. Someone asks you to lunch to solicit your business and you’re not interested? Decline. Someone wants you to help them, pro bono, for like the fifth time this month. DECLINE. By saying no to things they have no interest in doing, highly efficient people make more time to say yes to things they truly enjoy!

Would you consider yourself to be efficient with your time or not? Do you incorporate any of these habits into your daily routine? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Fully Unplug When on Vacation

slow down, relax, take it easy, keep calm, love, enjoy life, have fun and other motivational lifestyle reminders on colorful sticky notes

Whether you have planned a destination vacation or are opting for a “staycation” this year, giving yourself a few days of rest and relaxation is not only fun, it’s absolutely necessary!

For those of us that work virtually, we’re used to plugging in from anywhere which can lead to the temptation to get work done when we really should be relaxing. Can you relate? Then, take a look at these tips for how you can fully unplug and enjoy your vacation to its fullest.

Plan Ahead

Plan your time off well in advance and communicate early and often with clients and employees that you will not be doing any work during this time. Work ahead on projects that you would normally complete during this time off to minimize the amount of work on your plate when you return. Also, avoid scheduling meetings several days before and after your vacation to give you a buffer of dedicated work time to complete your most pressing tasks.

Manage Expectations About Work Communication

A great way to unplug without leaving emails or calls unanswered is to set up an automatic email response and voicemail. Be specific about when people can expect to hear back from you. You can choose to check emails just once per day to make yourself accessible for emergencies. Or you can choose to completely go offline for the week. No matter what you choose, let people know when they can reasonably expect to hear back from you. Clients are far more understanding of a lag in communication if they know you are out of the office. You may also want to designate another employee as the person to contact for urgent matters to give you full peace of mind to relax.

Commit to Your Vacation

The biggest obstacle a lot of us face when unplugging from work isn’t the separation from technology that we may all think, but rather it is the willingness to allow ourselves to fully embrace our time off. You have waited all year (maybe longer) for this break, so make sure you are just as committed to your vacation as you have been your work. Sleep in, move slow, read for fun, take a nap and strike up conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with work! It may feel weird at first, but if you can learn to “rewire” your thinking to a more relaxed state, you will feel calmer even once you return back to work.

Have you been able to fully unplug from work while on vacation this year? If so, comment below and share your tips!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Life Inside a Chaos Bubble

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Life Inside a Chaos BubbleRecently I used the term the “Chaos Bubble.” It happened during a conversation in which I was describing how some people whose time is in such high demand actually become immune to the whirlwind of chaos surrounding them. So to properly define this new concept, a Chaos Bubble occurs when the heavy demands of your work and hectic lifestyle create a protective layer to the outside world and insulate you from the chaos.

I’m of course basing this off of several people I have met who have the “luxury” of experiencing this Chaos Bubble phenomenon. These people are in such high demand that their email and voice mail are consistently filled to capacity. Not a single new message can be received. Their phone rings but almost always results in a missed call due to a dead phone battery or because they’re in and out of meetings all day. Their secretaries or personal assistants are the gatekeepers. If you need input or an approval, your best bet is to get the message to their #2 or risk it bouncing off this Chaos Bubble never to be seen, heard or so much as acknowledged.

To reach such a threshold where chaos becomes a protection and no longer a threat, first takes going through many uncomfortable, and at times unbearable, levels of chaos. It’s fairly comparable to being in the eye or a hurricane. Outside of this inner circle a fierce storm of mayhem is constantly brewing, but inside all you experience is an eerie silence and false sense of calm. To get inside this eye, you may spend years being whipped by the winds and swirled around to the point of not knowing which end is up, but once you make it to the inner circle, the chaos spins around you—not within you.

For the most part, chaos is an unwelcome and heavily avoided part of life. But when the dinging and ringing of emails, iPads, cell phones and calendar reminders reach a high enough volume, they have the ability to create a white noise that cancels out their sounds all together—leaving just you and your thoughts inside your own Chaos Bubble.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2016 in Life

 

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