What does it actually mean to be effective?

So what does it mean to be effective? In other words how do I ensure I get the right things done and am not just busy for the sake of being busy? Effectiveness (doing the right thing) has to come before efficiency (doing more things in less time). This is powerfully illustrated in the 8 minute video below:

Here are some practical examples of this:

  • As you plan your day how do you know what are the most important things for you to do? What determines your first priorities? Is it urgency, your values? Or is it a clear compelling purpose you have thought through and articulated?
  • What do you do when you feel torn between different roles in your life, such as work and family or contributing to a worthy cause or developing yourself? Does being ‘balanced’ mean running between the different bases of your life fast enough to touch them all?
  • Suppose you have planned your day and someone comes to you saying they have an ‘urgent’ need . How do you know whether the best thing to do is to change your priorities? Can you make that change with the confidence and peace that you are putting first things first? Or are you being driven by whatever is latest and loudest in your life?
  • Or suppose as you go through your day an unexpected opportunity lands on your lap? How do you know whether the best thing to do is to respond to that opportunity or stick to your original plan?

I have to confess that although I am writing about this, for me it too is a daily battle to keep focussed on my most important priorities and remember “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Yes I frequently get it wrong, but I trust over time my choices are getting more effective.

Effectiveness is best defined as getting the results you want in a way that enables you to get even greater results in the future. This is about success that endures, is sustainable and is balanced in all areas of life and not just one part.

There are three key elements to personal effectiveness:
– You know what the important things to be done are.
– You know how to do them
– You are actually motivated to do what it takes and they become habitual.

Without these three pre-requisites you cannot truly be effective. Because this is often not easy to achieve, we tend to focus more on speed and convenience – hence we spend more time on efficiency.

How does the video and these thoughts on effectiveness apply in your own life?

For more on being effective also see Time Management Part 3 and The top 5 regrets of the dying at How Would You Define Success Part 3

These ideas are taken from the work of the late Stephen R, Covey. For more on his work see Podcast #010

Why making a decision can be so hard

Choices! Every day we have to make them. Over the last few decades the number of choices we have had to make has increased dramatically. And it can feel exhausting. The short 5 minute video below humorously and helpfully explains this:

This issue of overwhelming choices has been exponentially increasing to have a dramatic impact on our often already busy and over-streteched lives.

It was back in the 1990s that perhaps Peter Drucker first predicated this decision fatigue when he wrote:

“In a few hundred years, when the history of the our time is written from a long term perspective, it is likely that the most important event those historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

Drucker was right when he said we as a society have been totally unprepared for this dramatic shift, particularly in the industrialised world.
What he is saying is that the biggest change in society that has crept up on us is the huge array of choices in modern life. Those choices range from what cereal am I going to have in the morning (according to Wikipedia there are over 500 in the Western world!) to all the things I can choose to do with my time.

This has gradually and exponentially increased such that we initially hardly noticed it, but it has now added an extra layer of stress and complexity to our already busy lives. As the video describes apparently in 1990 the average American supermarket had 9,000 products to choose from. By 2015 that had shot up dramatically to 40,000. Apparently we need only about 150 to fulfil our general day to day needs. And that is just in the area of food shopping.

It is rather like the proverbial frog in the water pot. Gradually the temperature is being increased and we are beginning to boil! Some have estimated that the average person in the Western world has to make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. That in of itself sounds exhausting!

Why does this matter?

What does it mean to live with intention?

I don’t know who originally said it, but apparently there are only 3 kinds of people in the world. Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who say, “What happened?”!

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As well as being somewhat amusing I am also struck by how insightful such a saying is about human nature. It is so easy to go with the flow of whatever is going on around us or get distracted by whatever is latest or loudest in our lives. And at certain times and seasons of life that can be absolutely appropriate. For example think about the stay-at-home parent with the responsibility of children or the receptionist or administrative staff in a busy office. Or the sudden emergency at home with an appliance or device.  In all those instances it is absolutely appropriate to react to the pressing needs of the moment. Not to do so could lead to disastrous consequences!

The danger it seems to me is when we live the majority of our life reacting to what is outside of ourselves rather than in response to the long standing God-given longings, beliefs and desires that have been placed deep inside of us.

Here is how writer Carissa Lada describes how she and her then husband spent much of their lives without intention:

Most of our activities involved going out to eat, planning which movie we’d see that weekend, or awaiting our favorite shows on TV. We had certain shows we looked forward to each night of the week. It was fine for a while, but I began to have this growing feeling like I was missing out on, well, life. I didn’t want to look back on my life in 20 years and say, “Well I saw every episode of [insert show], so I feel really accomplished!” This growing desire to get more out of life caused a rift in my marriage, and was one factor that ultimately led to its demise.’

So what is intention? At its simplest it is about living with an aim or a plan. But when we talk about living intentionally it is also more than that – it is a choice to deliberately pursue what is significant over the long term rather than the short term. It is to get more out of life than what I see in front of me with the vast myriad of choices and challenges to deal with.

Or taking the words of C. S. Lewis:

Podcast #029: The literal end of the world?

A discussion with Chris Wright on what the Bible actually says

What will happen at the end of time? How will the world end? How will our lives end? Where is history heading to? Is there any sense or coherence in this increasingly complex and challenging world that we live in? That is the subject of Hollywood movies and popular science fiction novels down the ages. Popular movies and novels can be great fun and escapism, but then you have to get on with the rest of life with all of its predictability and mundaneness.

Could there be another narrative? Indeed, what does the world’s best selling, and also arguably often least read and understood book actually say about the end of the world?

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On this podcast I have a fascinating conversation with Bible scholar Chris Wright on a subject that is often not given much serious consideration, at least not in popular culture. Is it a subject we can give sustained deliberate thought to in a world of such diverse views and opinions? There is certainly much mystery, but understanding ‘The End Times’ has profound implications on the way we live our lives today in the here and now.

Do join us on this podcast as we discuss the seven last things, according to the Bible, of this life and universe:

Death and resurrection: how the end of the world is actually a new beginning and how Jesus’ bodily and physical resurrection points to a new level of life and existence.

How the metaphor  of sleep describes the interim state between the physical death of our bodies and the end of the world.

The return of Christ at the end of history as an integral part  of the Bible narrative and its implications for us.

The resurrection of the dead and what that actually means for our earthly bodies. Do listen out for the analogy of twins in their mother’s womb!

Why the day of judgement and hell is actually a good thing in a world where so much evil and wrong-doing appears to go unpunished and unresolved.

What the Bible actually reveals about what heaven and the new creation will be like. It is so much more than sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, endless singing or even one long holiday! Heaven is not even my final destination when I die! It is only, as it were, a transit lounge for the new creation. In fact, the Bible makes clear that we don’t even go up to heaven! The new creation is actually heaven, at the end of time, coming down to earth.

Quoting from Chris’ book, ‘The God I Don’t Understand’:

“The new creation will start with the unimaginable reservoir of all that human civilisation has accomplished in the old creation – but purged, cleansed, disinfected, sanctified and blessed…… Think of the prospect! all human language, literature, art, music, science, business, sport, technological achievement – actual and potential – all available to us. All of it with the poison of evil and sin sucked out of it forever…… Whatever it may be like, we can rest assured that, for those who are in Christ, anything that has enriched and blessed us in this life will not be lost, but infinitely enhanced in the resurrection and anything that we have not been able to enjoy in this life (because of disability, disease or premature death – or simply through the natural limitations of time and space) will be amply restored or compensated for in resurrection life.”

So how should we then live?

“We are to live then as people who not only have a future, but know the future we have and go out and live in the light of that future, in preparation for it and characterised by its values.”

What questions, thoughts and comments does our discussion raise for you?

The link to Chris’ book is below.

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #028: The God I Don’t Understand

Podcast #007: Religion

 

Feeling stuck? When you don’t know how to do something

Kyle Maynard was born with a rare condition known as congenital amputation. This has left him with arms that end at the elbows and legs that end near his knees. From a young age he has learnt how to live life independently and without prosthetics.

In 2012, Kyle became the first quadruple amputee to climb – actually bearcrawl – the 19,340 feet to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. His 10-day ascent was widely covered by the press, followed on social media, and raised money and awareness for wounded veterans as well as Tanzanian schoolchildren. Upon his return, Kyle won his second ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.

The 3 minute video below gives a short insight into his life and attitude to handling challenges:

Kyle thrives on physical challenges and following a few rough middle school football seasons; he went on to become a champion wrestler, CrossFit Certified Instructor and gym owner, competitive MMA/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter, world record-setting weightlifter, and skilled mountaineer. Each of those are for anybody no small achievements! But for someone without arms and legs that is truly amazing. How is that possible for someone with so much in the way of apparent limitations and setbacks?

From the video we get a glimpse into Kyle’s thinking and mindset to achieve something so extraordinary. Here is what he says:

Do you need more sleep?

What the research shows

Russell Foster is a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. In this 22 minute TED talk he very helpfully explains the importance of something we so often take for granted and underestimate the importance of – sleep! Or to put it another way, sleep is the single most important behavioural experience we have. We spend on average 36% of our life sleeping. So for someone living to say the age of 90, they will have spent on average 32 years asleep! When you put it in those terms then sleep at some level is a really important part of being human. So what has science so far learnt about sleep?

Professor Foster helpfully explains that when you sleep your brain doesn’t just turn off, but that there are a huge raft of different interactions going on within the brain.

So why do we sleep? Its likely that there are a multitude of different reasons. Some of the most common:

It took just a change of words

The power of focus

Words are powerful and can have a dramatic effect on our feelings, energy and attitude.

To illustrate this, have a look at the introduction to Charles Dickens’ classic book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ :

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

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So according to Charles Dickens what kind of time was it? Was it the best of times or the worst of times? It all depends on where you choose to focus your attention. There are literally  a million or so thoughts that run through our minds, but we alone get to choose which ones we focus on and take to heart. In turn it seems to be a principle at work that whatever you choose to focus on in your mind, that is what will eventually become more of a reality in your life.

I have to confess I have not read the rest of A Tale of Two Cities, but the introduction for me shows something of the power of the words we use.

In a similar way we live in one of the most amazing times in history with opportunities and resources that only a few decades earlier would have seemed unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. And yet at the same time there seems to be more uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety inducing  possibilities  out there than ever before.

That is why a change of vocabulary and reframing our circumstances can be so powerful. There is power in the words we choose to use or choose not to use. And no where is that more powerful than in the way we talk to ourselves about our circumstances.

Many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view…….

The First Question To Ask Yourself To Thrive And Not Just Survive

In our rapidly changing and complex world, for those fortunate to have the opportunities and skills,  there has never been a better time to develop and grow in your chosen field or profession. However, in many ways this is a double edged sword. The further you rise and develop, the more responsibilities and expectations will come your way. With more opportunities will come more responsibility and more people will look to you for guidance, leadership and direction. Will you have the depth of character and resources to handle that apparent success? Or as David Allen succinctly puts it, “The better you get, the better you’d better get!”

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To put that another way, the skills and talent that got you out of Egypt (the mental constraints you find yourself in) are not necessarily the same ones that will get you to your Promised Land.

It is your self-leadership skills that will be the limiting factor which will determine whether or not you can thrive and grow for the long haul. That is,  whether you can fulfil and meet the expectations of others and even yourself.

In other words, it is your self-leadership that will determine how much you find yourself in the zone of your strengths (flow as we have previously discussed) or frustrated and even despondent.

In 1999, Peter Drucker, who has been described as one of the greatest management thinkers of the 20th century, wrote a paper for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Managing Oneself”. In this paper he explained how understanding and knowing oneself is vital to ensuring success in life and all that we are called to be and do. He outlines 5 critical questions he challenges every leader to reflect on.

In this post we are going to look in detail at the first question. It is absolutely critical to ask yourself this question if you are going to thrive and not just get by. What is that first question?

When life just doesn’t make sense

Joseph is one of my favourite Bible characters. The story has been well known over the centuries, and more recently was the subject of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Who was Joseph? He was the favourite son of Jacob. Jacob in turn was the grandson of Abraham, greatly revered in the three great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Joseph was given the famous multi-coloured coat and also had the ability to interpret dreams. However, he went through a series of unfortunate and undeserved betrayals and tragedies.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers to be sold as a slave to Egypt. In Egypt he began to prosper as slave to a rich official in Pharaoh’s court called Potiphar. However, Potiphar’s wife persisted in making sexual advances towards him, which because of his faith in God he refused to succumb to. Even so on one day when they were alone she attempted to grab him with the intention of seducing him. Joseph had no choice but to run away, leaving Potiphar’s wife to claim that he had tried to rape her. Thus started a long and undeserved 13 year prison sentence.

The short video above is from the film ‘Joseph, King of Dreams‘. Yes it is a cartoon, and there is artistic licence, but don’t let that deceive you into thinking it is simplistic or childish.

I think the movie clip powerfully conveys something of the confusion we all at times struggle through when life does not go the way we intended or hoped for.

Here are the words of the song to ponder and reflect on:

5 things you can control in an increasingly uncontrollable world

Life is complex and unpredictable. So much happens that is outside of our control. Just in this past week I have had to contend with major organisational changes at work, a gas leak at home with freezing temperatures outside and cataract surgery.

640px-Generic-remote-control-shallow-focusOn the grand scale of things these are all relatively minor, but each has the capability to unsettle or cause major disquiet,especially if you are something of a control addict like me! There is also so much that happens we don’t expect or takes us by surprise. It is so easy to feel powerless and at the mercy of whatever is latest and loudest. Some have described this as a VUCA world – volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous. And with each passing year it doesn’t seem to get any less turbulent.

So what is controllable in what is an increasingly complex and challenging world? Maybe not a lot in the wider world, but there are specific actions we can take. We can, however, still move forward when we take responsibility for our lives. Here is how the late Stephen Covey put it:

“Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognise that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

So what can you control in a fast changing and increasingly turbulent and uncontrollable world?
As I give this list to you I am very much aware of how I too need to implement these in my own life….