Why we need timeless principles to be truly effective

Effectiveness is about getting the things that truly matter done. You know what they are for you:

  • That project you keep putting off because it seems too complicated and out of your depth. But if you were to complete it would yield great benefits.
  • That conversation with a key person who could help to move things forward.
  • That important family friend or relative you know you need to get in touch with.
  • That time alone or at the gym to re-charge your batteries and help you focus better.

In contrast to efficiency, effectiveness is based on timeless principles that in the end will bring about the maximum long-term benefits. To really understand effectiveness then we need to first understand what we mean by principles.

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Principles are natural laws or fundamental truths about life and the universe that are:

  • External to yourself
  • Do not change
  • Universal and timeless.
  • Produce predictable outcomes in the long term.
  • Continue to operate with or without your understanding or acceptance of them
  • Self -evident and enabling when understood and applied.

Correct principles are like a compass. They are always pointing the way. If we can learn how to read them, not only will we not get lost, confused or fooled by conflicting voices and values, it is more likely we will move forward in our lives with confidence and true power

As Stephen R. Covey puts it:

“We are not in control; principles control. We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from these actions are controlled by principles.”

Principles are natural laws in the human sphere that are just as real, just as unchanging and arguably present as laws such as gravity is in the physical dimension.

The best example of this is found in the principles that govern the seasons and farming. Think about what a farmer does. He must prepare the ground, plant the seed, give time for it to germinate and grow. All this takes time and requires honouring the seasons by doing what is appropriate in a particular season. You prepare the ground and plant in the spring if you want to harvest in the autumn. How ridiculous it would be if you ignored this principle and instead chose to plant in the summer expecting a harvest in the winter! To do so is to violate the principles that govern the seasons and the growth of plants.

What are some examples of principles? When you hear them they seem obvious, and yet the media abounds with examples of people who do not live by them……

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

Are you being efficient or effective?

The dangers of just being busy

If you ask people these days h0w they are doing, the vast majority will tell you how busy they are. In many ways there is nothing wrong with being busy. The more important question is what are you actually being busy about?

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Efficiency is about doing something faster, cheaper and with less hassle. Its about getting more things done in less time. Nothing at all in one sense wrong with that either. Technology has increased efficiency dramatically in the last few decades. At the same time we have more and more things coming at us and so we naturally find ourselves speeding up and moving faster.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who first said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” He died in 1948 so what would he have made of today’s fast paced frenetic world? Speed is certainly something we have got in our lives!

While efficiency is important it only works when we make it of secondary importance and not the primary thing. In other words, it doesn’t matter how efficient you are if you are doing the wrong things in the first place. Of primary importance is ensuring I am getting the right things done. This is why effectiveness is so relevant.

For example you may be driving down the road at great speed, enjoying the weather and seeming to make great progress. But if you are heading North on the motorway to Edinburgh, and your actual destination is South in the opposite direction to London, then you are not being very effective!

While efficiency is getting more things done in less time, effectiveness is about getting the right things done. 

Here is how the late Peter Drucker put it:

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

That is the crux of the matter. Being busy for the sake of being busy is not enough. Just being busy can actually be an enormous distraction.

Here are five dangers of simply focussing on efficiency for its own sake while ignoring the question of effectiveness:

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?

Do you need to re-connect with nature?

I have to admit when it comes to appreciating nature I have been a slow learner. Perhaps it has something to do with being the son of South Asian immigrant parents and feeling driven to succeed academically above anything and everything else. Or maybe it had something to do with assuming practical aesthetics were only a luxury for rare occasions. However, whatever the reason, appreciating natural beauty and surroundings was for many years not been a priority to me. Much to my own loss.

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To my shame I have to confess that when my wife Sally and I moved to a new house in 1996 with the choice as to how we would design the garden area my natural inclination was to propose that we just concreted it all over! Thank goodness Sally over-ruled me on that!

Taking time out to connect with nature through gardening, going for a walk or even to just get some fresh air can be enormously rejuvenating. There is something about being in the countryside or by the beach that recharges and rejuvenates us like nothing else can. Even I have come to instinctively appreciate that! But I am not the only one who has ignored or downplayed the importance of the environment to psychological wellbeing.

For as long as anyone can seem to remember in most societies progress has been measured by increase in average income and the numbers of people moving from rural areas to the cities. That is how unquestioned and unchallenged economic decisions have been made for centuries. But we are slowly and surely also realising that such progress does not lead to the health and well-being we hoped for. In fact more urbanised and industrialised societies are experiencing increasingly greater levels of physical and psychological distress from conditions such as obesity and diabetes to chronic loneliness, depression and other mental health problems.

When it comes to understanding well-being then there are two important components to consider – the person’s sense of contentment and the ability to cope with life’s challenges (resilience). There is increasing research  evidence to show that spending time in nature has a significant and positive impact on both contentment and resilience….

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:

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:

Podcast #028 The God I Don’t Understand

Discussing tough questions of faith with Christ Wright

Religious faith. That is certainly a subject that can polarise and divide opinion between different people! 

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 17.40.54We live in a world where it seems as though the more committed someone is to their particular faith view, then the more certain they seem to be about life and what others should or should not do.  That is often the impression that comes through much of the popular media’s analysis of faith and life issues. But does that really help to make sense of life in all its mystery and complexity?

Why do terrible things happen in our world and why does it so often appear God is silent and not involved?

Chris Wright is a scholar of the Old Testament of the Bible who has written a number of books on knowing and understanding God. He is someone who has a life long passion for knowing God through the Bible scriptures and communicating that clearly to others.

It is somewhat surprising then that Chris has also written a book called “The God I Don’t Understand”. Here is what he writes in the introduction:

“It seems to me that the older I get the less I think I really understand God. Which is not to say that I don’t love and trust Him. On the contrary, as life goes on my love and trust grow deeper, but my struggle with what God does or allows grows deeper too.”

On this podcast we have the privilege of interviewing Chris about the book he has written and exploring this tension between living a life of faith, loving and trusting God, while at the same time being honest enough to admit there is often mystery and much we do not understand about life.

Do join us in this fascinating conversation as we explore:

How anger and frustration with what God allows and does not allow in our world is nothing new. Indeed an author like Richard Dawkins writes in his book ‘The God Delusion’:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filiacidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

How Psalm 73 written 2,700 years ago by someone called Asaph dealt with similar anger and frustration with God’s dealings with the world, but came to a very different conclusion.

Why the question of evil and suffering is a specific problem for people who have a Biblical faith, compared to those of other religions.

Why the Bible says we should not bottle up our feelings and be stoical when suffering and evil comes into our lives, but actually to be angry, lament and protest.

Why Chris surprisingly says, “Of all the things that lead me to speak of the God I don’t understand, the cross is top of the list.”

Why was the death of Christ necessary?

What did God actually accomplish through the death of His Son?

How did it all work? Or to be even more specific: How did one man’s bleeding body stretched on two pieces of wood for six hours of torture and death on a particular Friday one spring outside a city in a remote province of the Roman Empire change everything in the universe?

How can it be possible for God to be both loving and angry?

What comments and questions does this discussion raise for you?

You may also find of interest:

What Is So Good About Good Friday?

How Can I Find Hope In My Darkest Days?

Why Understanding Easter Brings Hope

Is This The Best News You Have Ever Heard?

4 Personal Implications Of The Resurrection

A Day That Changed The World

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:

Are you looking for inner strength?

Identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking habits

We all know what physical strength is. But inner mental strength? What is it? Put in the simplest terms mental strength refers to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations.

Someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about this is Amy Morin. She is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and lecturer at Northeastern University in the United States. In this powerful 15 minute video she very helpfully explores three kinds of destructive beliefs that can derail us and rob us of our mental strength.

What makes her explanation particularly meaningful is that she talks not just as a psychologist, but from her own experience at the age of 23 with the sudden loss of her mother and then exactly 3 years later of her then husband.

As she says about that time,

“So now I found myself a 26 year old widow, and I didn’t have my Mom. I thought, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ And to describe that as a painful period in my life feels like an understatement. And it was during that time that I realised when you’re going through tough times, good habits aren’t enough. It only takes one or two bad habits to really hold you back…… Because sooner or later you’re going to hit a time in your life where you will need all the mental strength you can muster.”

Even after these tough experiences Amy Morin still had further challenges in her life to deal with, but her insights about helpful and unhelpful thinking habits are universally applicable.

What kinds of bad habits is she referring to?