The promise of a shiny new year brimmed full of possibilities, a time when so many of us reflect on our lives, consider our priorities and make plans for the future. I love the start of a new year, the opportunities for new beginnings and fresh starts. The changing of the calendar can encourage us to consider what we really want out of life, to ponder our mission and purpose and contemplate how we wish to be remembered.
New Year’s resolutions are not my thing but I do like to live intentionally. The choices and actions we make on a daily basis can add up to a life well lived. Many of us are faced with so many competing demands on our time and distractions that pull us this way and that, it can be hard to keep focused on what we really want to achieve. Resolutions in the form of grand declarations can be useful tools to help us move in the direction we wish to go, but they can also set us up for failure. Instead of resolutions I have been experimenting with ways to support better habits. Here are some of the tools I have been using to help me be more mindful of how I spend my every day.
Word of the year
Picking just one word to give an annual focus, to symbolise what is important in this season of your life can be so inspiring. It can remind you, reassure you and revive you on days when you feel lost, worried that your focus is waning and unsure of the direction in which you should be travelling. In the past I have used trust, kindness, presence, connection, breathe and most recently play. This year I am drawn to the word Blossom. I love the sound of the word and the images it conjures, the beauty of new life, the foundations laid for new fruit and for hope and optimism for the future.
Practising a monthly habit
Given that it can take anywhere from 21 days to 254 or more, to form new habits then having a short period of time, like a calendar month, to focus on a specific area where we would like to build new habits can provide a great boost. Focussing your energy in a short concentrated burst can lay the foundations to effectively transform our routines.
Each month of the year 2016 I chose one habit to implement more deliberately into my life, these included drinking more water, increasing my physical exercise through a 10,000 steps challenge and a read aloud challenge. Each month I experimented with different reminders and ways to incorporate each habit into my day. I found this practice incredibly helpful, both in terms of bolstering my enthusiasm in the short-term and maintaining my momentum for change in the longer term.
By tracking new habits we create useful reminders and a visual celebration of our achievements. Using a checklist or tally chart to demonstrate how far we have come in consistently implementing our new habit can be a powerful motivator and helps to turn the whole process into an enjoyable game.
Reciting mantras can be a quick way to transform our energy, pick up our activity levels and regain our focus. I love keeping things simple and the power of five, ‘just do it now’ and ‘you can do anything for 15 minutes’ are really simple ways of overcoming procrastination and just getting started when things seem overwhelming. Mantras also have a calming, meditative effect helping us to handle stressful situations and retain control over our emotions when we might be inclined to panic or lash out in anger.
Keeping a short daily to-do list
To-do lists have a tendency to spiral out of control, getting ever longer and exhausting even to read, let alone put into effective action. Rather than helping us to organise our time efficiently they can become debilitating and weaken our resolve to actually get things done. When our to-do lists become ridiculous and we live in fear of reading them, something needs to change.
Creating a catch-all reference list of all the items that we would like to get done, ideally broken down into appropriate categories – work, home improvements etc – is an important organisational step. We can refer to this at regular, specified intervals but it does not need to overwhelm us.
From this reference list we can identify the most important tasks (MITs) and focus our attention on achieving these. Limiting our daily to-do list to a maximum of five MITs makes it far more likely that we will actually complete them all, thereby promoting a sense of success rather than failure.
What tools have helped you to become more productive and intentional with your time and attention? I would love to hear about them, please share in the comments below.
Wishing you all a wonderfully happy and fulfilled 2017, enjoy!