Are you staring at a blank page again?

When faced with a blank page, it’s so easy to walk away, find something to distract yourself with or find something urgent you need to tick off your list.

I deal with this daily and typically, I am reminded of this poster I see at my gym of some sweaty ex national athlete  (because a normal person wouldn’t be as convincing?) working out with furrowed brow and looking very serious with the caption – “It doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it.”

So true.

Go through the pain of this process, there’s no avoiding it.

I am dealing with content development at least 6 days of the week, in some form or other, whether for work or my own blog. Planning distribution, editing articles, SEO, figuring out how to socialise articles seems easier compared to coming up with new, original content.

What’s the best way to fix this?

Go through the pain of this process, there’s no avoiding it.
You come out stronger, trust me. I have been there.

It’s what you need to develop your voice.

But write. Write daily.

I know it sounds cliche. I never really understood what it meant until I went through this process. Of course, you know your voice. But speaking is very different from writing. There’s the element of permanence and certainty in what is written that can be made lighter in a conversation. You will write and be disgusted and what comes out – how boring and unoriginal it may sound after you’ve spent hours on it. But do it anyway. Journal if you need to, save it as a draft even.But write. Write daily.

Like getting the smoky eye look down pat or cooking up an awesome paella, you need to get it wrong many times before you finally get it right. You need time and space to figure out what you will say, how you will do it and the core messages you will keep coming back to without even realising.

Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

How do you face the blank page? Pls give me some tips! Share your thoughts in the comments, as I too want to learn from you.

I run the VerticalDistinct platform to support both Human Resource and Technology professionals. I blog on the entrepreneurial journey. I also write for Women of HR and post on LinkedIn. Let’s connect, let’s learn from each other. Let me know how I can support you.


The Funny Thing About Habits

Besides the fact that they can creep up on you, the one thing that I recently discovered about habits, and which whacked me sideways, is that it doesn’t have to be an action. It can be an emotion.

You could understand the idea that you get into a habit of grabbing a cookie at 3PM every day. But did you think you could get into a habit of being angry… of being irritated…of jumping the gun? Did you think that you could develop a habit around an emotional response? Well, yes, you can.

Until such time you realise and make the connection that you can make a habit of a particular emotion, you may be going down the wrong path of diagnosing your problem and coming up with effective solutions. So, how do you deal with something like this? Here’s what I did.

1. I didn’t give up.

I knew that I had a problem I needed to get fixed. When the pain presented by the problem is greater than the joy derived from continuing as is, you will do what it takes to figure things out. I can’t say that there are quick fixes out there, some things have taken me years to realise and discover. But the key is to figure out what your priorities are. If this is a priority to you, you will find a way. You simply will because you will keep trying and knocking things down, one at a time, until you reach the solution that works. There’s no magic there.

2. Keep an open mind. Keep looking.

I kept reading, looking out for ideas, clues. When all is aligned in that one goal, strangely, it seems like things begin to open up. You see things you realise you had not seen before. You explore new ideas, you test them out, you adapt them to your needs. You keep going.

3. Do something.

This can’t be a theoretical exercise though. If it stays in the realm of something to read and understand only, nothing happens. You have to do something, take action in some way. Persist. The greatest and best way to learn is simply to do, fail, try again. And repeat.

4. Be mindful.

I think it’s fairly easy to go through life without really living. Many already do. Going through the motions, getting caught up in what’s happening around you and trying to keep up, maintaining a particular approach to your work, your relationships and your life… it’s hard to always be mindful. Since I started focusing on this, I can see how painfully slow the growth in this area is. Frequently, I see the mindfulness kicking in after the fact. Or it might kick in halfway when I am reacting to something, as opposed to choosing my response. It is frustrating and it’s in moments like that that I go back to 1, 2, 3 above.

So, what works for you, what do you think?

Productivity hacks that work for me

As my career develops and my family expands, I keep taking on more and more on my personal and professional plate. Simultaneously, I feel that I have even less time than ever before. It’s a mental thing more than anything else, isn’t it?

So, here are some productivity hacks and ideas that I have discovered and honed through the years that I feel may help you too.

1. Choose.

You can’t do it all and I know I certainly don’t want to. So, choose. Simply said but very hard to accomplish. Do the hard yards of figuring out what you want to focus on. Sometimes, it’s hard because it’s stuff you know you ought to do but aren’t interested. Or it’s stuff you know you have to do to avoid pain but can’t find the motivation. Or stuff you really want to get into but there’s too many distractions.

Just sit down and decide. Because everything flows from the moment you do. It’s the failure to decide, the unwillingness to commit that is deadly.

2.Do the hard bits first.

Yea, I know. But it’s only when I actually started doing it, that it finally sank in. When you tackle the crappy bits up front, it frees you up. It frees your time up and more importantly, it frees your mental space and attitude up. Tackling it up front is best because you are at your best.

3. Get up early.

I didn’t start doing this until I had kids and then it just seemed like the best thing in the world to do. You just get so much more accomplished first thing in the morning, with no distractions and with you at your most alert and energetic.

4. Turn your most important goals into habits.

You have to work on turning your goals into habits. So, if your goal is to write well, you need to develop the habit to write daily. That is but one step. If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to ensure you hit the gym three times a week at minimum. You have to convert the goal into actionable, clear steps you can take. Then, begin taking these steps and do them daily to make them into solid habits.

5. Write it down.

I have a daily checklist. I usually spend the first and last parts of my day, planning out what I need to do. I prefer to do this last thing in the day, when your focus areas are still fresh in your mind. In the morning, while you are rested, it’s as if you’ve rebooted and you need to think afresh and that seems to take more time for me.So, I plan the important things I need to get onto, last thing at night.

6. Focus on your checklist.

If you plan your checklist but then get distracted, whether intentionally or not, it’s no use. So plan the list of priorities and then work on it.

Ensure distractions are kept to a minimum. You know what distracts you so do what you need to, to prevent it. Review this list through the day as work piles up, projects get started and  developments surface.

7. Have support at hand, whatever that may be.

For me, that’s my phone and my notebook. When I am up and about, I use my phone to write myself notes that I can deal with later. If ideas strike, I write it down in a notebook or put it on my phone. I set reminders for myself for these notes so I remember to pull these from my phone later.

Ideas strike throughout the day, as you meet people, read or just think. You need to ensure you can capture the thoughts you have as you progress through the day as relying on memory tends not to work.

8. Automate where you can.

If you have repetitive tasks, automate it where you can. You want to avoid rethinking it or reminding yourself of what needs to be done.

Create a process. For example, if you need to pay X bill monthly, set up auto-debit on your account to take this off your hands. The bill will get paid on time and you won’t need to worry about bill receipts or all that paperwork. Alternatively, if you don’t want any auto-debit, then create an automated reminder system that will kick in monthly.

9. Outsource the low-level work.

Need I say more?

10. Create white space.

You need enough emptiness in the day – just the right amount – to strike balance between the doing and the thinking. It’s in this white space that you are able to come up with new ideas, take a fresh approach or solve a problem. Without it, you’re just too close to everything.

So build in the white space. It could be physical activity, quiet reading time or the time while you commute. And then embrace it – don’t fill that white space with boring repetitive stuff that seems worthwhile (Facebook checking) but is actually a major time suck. Understand that little time sucks throughout the day add up to a lot of seemingly productive time that well … is not.

You win even when you lose

It’s late and I’d like to go to bed. It’s been a very long day. But I need to do this post. I’d much rather relax and do something else but having struggled with the writing habit, I know that this hard-won development is not something I want to discard lightly in favour of immediate gratification.

And that got me thinking how we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Yet, some of us seem to get more accomplished in this timeframe than others. They’re finishing chapters of their latest book, they’ve made guest appearances on tv shows, they’ve spoken at interesting conferences and presented thought-provoking papers.

And then there are those for whom there are no enough hours in the day, where the workload seems to mount, where there doesn’s seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Those who feel that the harder you run, the faster you get, but the wheels just keep turning and turning, with no end in sight. Those who feel others are out to get them, that they don’t understand where they are coming from and their personal dilemma. Those who know that their work will never get done, but the time has got to be put in. And so they do.

Those who realise that they need to do something differently, that there’s a little tweaking that needs to happen…if only they knew what it is that had to be tweaked.

Those who know exactly what it is that they need to do but somehow that road is long, full of bumps and frankly, the gains are not something tangible enough to sacrifice a change in their current thinking or philosophy.

Then, there are those who know what they ought to do and know that they will get on to it. Someday. When this project is over. When that person leaves.

And so here’s what I’ve come to realise.

You win when you lose. If you are willing to do the work, you will reap the reward. And especially when you lose, you’ve lost a battle – but not the war. There’s so much more gained from the process of losing – the psychological upheaval, the emotional toll, the reliance on gut and insight – if we can truly see what is before us and are willing to dissect the situation and draw the truths out.

Not all things can be rushed. Think of it as a process of ripening because that is probably the best way of looking at your growth and development. You are ripening and that needs to happen in its own time.

You never really get rid of problems if you choose not to deal with it – you’ve just put it in storage. I think a good strategy in life is to choose to view your problems are opportunities for growth and learning. Realising though that this is not the typical response in most situations, it takes real effort and mindfulness to reach that state of mind but it’s a journey that’s worth it.

All you need to ask yourself is this : If you are faced with a tough challenge right now, think about what the problem is really about. Dissect it from all angles.

In my experience, I find that, frequently, problems come disguised in various shapes/shades and present themselves in different ways. What may occur however, is that a number of problems may appear quite distinct from each other. However, over time, you may come to see that these various problems are merely just one problem, manifesting itself to the end user, and therefore, subject to the inner workings of the mind of the person perceiving it.

So long as we make excuses for why certain challenges are not worth our present energy, we never really ‘see’ the problem for what it truly is – which, in turn means, we miss out on the opportunity for some real growth.

The road to greater fulfilment is paved with much distraction

I am finally feeling better. I breathe more easily now. I even feel myself taking a step back and just enjoying the present.

It was not always this way. I got frazzled easily, stressed by the priorities laid upon me instead of the ones I decided to develop myself,  believing that I had no choice, that this was indeed how it was to be. But things have changed.

Reading was key. It opened me up to new ideas and shifts in my mindset. Reading, to me, is my trigger, to getting so much more done, and living more closely to the ideal I have built up for myself. That is why I don’t have time for tv. It’s a great way to relax, to zone out but time is a precious commodity to me. And that is why I say that the road to greater fulfilment is paved with much distraction.

You have a choice in everything you do. Always. Even when it seems that you don’t. You could as easily choose to watch an hour of tv instead of catching up on your reading. I could easily choose to do that instead of writing this post. Distractions abound, wherever you go. The point is to recognise them for what they are. They exist to question and strengthen your resolve.

Choose to see distraction not as a challenge or obstruction. They are tools to help you refine your goal. They help you decide how strongly you want to do something. Because there are times when you are not sure how badly you want something.

I read somewhere that when that happens, you should flip a coin because in the split second that coin is up in the air, it’s the moment in which you know what you want to do. Distractions are like that. Whether it is one thing (like tv) or just any kind of distraction (I didn’t have enough sleep last night, I need to meet Joe for dinner because I already promised him earlier), it does not matter. What matters is whether you let one or many through and if you do, ask yourself whether the goal you set for yourself is really, really what you want.

What has changed for me?

There are three areas of my life that are affected in the categories below.

INWARD FACING – I have many things I want to do.

Unfortunately, I have neither the desire nor the ability to wait for each to be completely consecutively. So, I must tackle them, at some point, on a concurrent basis. 

OUTWARD FACING – I have many demands placed on my time.

These are in relation to the work responsibilities I have, the family I am blessed with and the household I run. As an entrepreneur, there is never a shortage of ideas that require action. Business grows, and there are things to get going. You make the work. You run your business.

As a mother, there is never enough time to complete the things you want to do. There are the low level responsibilities – things that can suck your time like housework and grocery shopping and the high level responsibilities – like figuring out how to teach your child to stand up to a bully.

STAGNATION – This is stuff in both categories above. They refer to things that I am attempting to do – some may be large projects (revamping my personal household budget and changing one habit at a time) and some are small things (getting more reading done). What bothers me is that if I consider them separately and view them as projects (for ease), then most of these projects are stagnating. They are in varying levels of completion and some get tackled so slowly that by the time I come around to it, I :-

  • have lost my drive (I’ve only done this so far- what is the point now? I might as well stop);
  • have lost my focus (What was I doing this for again?); and
  • have not got the quick wins to keep me going.

What held me back?

1. Trying to do too much. I can be pretty crazy like that (I read multiple books at any one time). However, I’ve come to accept that and I now find a way to stay me and still get results.

2. Slow wins. If you don’t have small quick wins, let’s face it, its a hard, long and lonely road.

3. Lack of focus. Your mind is all over the place with a succession of to-do items to tick off. You’ve gone in deep and you are mired in the nitty gritty of it all.

4. Big changes. These things take time, patience and grit. If you try to do this alongside other stuff, be prepared to take longer, to be sorely tested. If you try to do this for more than one big thing at a time, be prepared to fail.

So how have I overcome these various challenges?

1. Organisation

More than ever, I believe that it’s critical that you get organised. Passion will not get you where you need to be if you are not organised. This needs to be a critical skill not just physically but also mentally. We’re not talking about nicely lined tins in a cupboard but if your desk is messy, and your mind is cluttered, and you fail to see that it is a problem, it’s groundhog day and you don’t even know it.

My tools : Google calendar. Trello. Alarms and reminders set on my phone. Notebooks.

The calendar is used to set appointments, carve out time for assignments, projects (personal or work) and as a reminder system for pending issues/meetings/plans. Alarms and reminders on my phone mean I can set it up and it will ping at the right day/time. You simply cannot remember everything and even if you did, you most certainly cannot remember everything at the right time. I have mini notebooks, post it notes and recylcled paper everywhere – in the house, in the car, in my gym bag. When an idea strikes, take it down.

2. Prioritisation aka focus

Trello is my KIV system – things I want to work on (short-term, long-term and mid-term priorities) and the best thing I’ve discovered to now plan my day. Every day.

I want to make sure that the things I do everyday are the very things I want to work on everyday. I don’t want to be at the mercy of what others are pushing out to me –  I want to create/deliver/put out things of my own.

I want to make sure I have time to think. I need to block out that time – if I don’t, it doesnt happen.

3. Action aka execution

You can think about it. You can plan around it. Heck, you can also do a lot of reading about it. But nothing beats execution. Just go get it done. The first step is the hardest. But it gets easier after that, I promise you.

You can’t think your way around the things you want to achieve. You also need to actually work on it and get it done.

4. Developing habits

One key realisation for me : Individually coming up with ideas, making plans, tackling stuff  – these work but in silos, they are so prone to failure without one thing in place : systems or in the case of human beings : habits.

Relying on plans, memory, desire, impetus, passion and flow – they place too great a burden on you, your mental processes and your desire.

You need systems. And you need a goal.

Once you’ve figured out what it is that you want to do, you cant rely on your desire or memory of this to get you through. You must help yourself and you do that by setting yourself up for success. You need to put a framework around you that best supports you. You need to put systems in place to ensure you do what you planned to do.

Framework : you don’t continue stocking cheetos in the cupboard if you’ve decided you want to lose 10lbs. Get rid of it. Keep good wholesome food in the house only. Keep a list of foods you will eat. Keep a list of foods you won’t touch. Refer to it often. Have a goal, articulate it, make it visible. Figure out the milestones and mark them. Articulate where/when you see yourself failing and come up with a Plan B.

Systems : You’ve developed a habit of stopping by the cafe downstairs and grabbing a doughnut when taking the lift down from work. Remedy : take the stairs. Have a mini workout, completely bypass the doughnut and therefore avoid the temptation.

This requires thinking through the steps, the trigger points, the typical responses, the automatic thinking, automatic behaviour and the cues. You don’t need to think of all of it at the one time but you need to be mindful so you see it happening, as it’s happening. Then you can start to shift.

5. Letting go.

Pick one, then two and then three things you want to work on. Let the rest go. Schedule them for phase 2.

6. Accepting failure as part of the journey.

Understand that you will fail, get up and back on. Fail, get up and back on. The mental switch is necessary to undertake this journey. Failure has to be the way in which you will burn a new way, a new approach, a new result.

7. Automation

This is one of two buzz words for me this year. Automation is the key to my success. There’s so much to think about, there’s so much coming at me. I want the stuff that I really want to get done, to be done effortlessly, almost like riding a bicycle or driving home. You don’t think about that, do you? You just do it.

8. Outsourcing

Outsource what you can. Outsource the low level items. Outsource the job but not the responsibility. Get the job done but monitor it. Free your time so you can fill it with things that matter.

See the big bump ahead on your road? It doesn’t matter… move towards it anyway!

I’ve been working on building positive habits now far more proactively than ever before. In the past, you could say that my desire to form certain habits was similar to the efforts of most people, in that there was desire but it was certainly not matched by enough follow through.

I used to think that one could stay still and that would be neutral ground. I now believe that there is no such thing as staying still. Whether you choose to act , react or simply do nothing, something is happening. If it’s not you, then it’s happening around you. And it is this that means that you are either moving forward or moving backward.

When it comes to building habits, you’re either moving toward reward or running from pain. In my case, I am running from pain. The pain of seeing the yawning gap between the person I want to be and the person I see myself as.

I’ve taken this problem apart and put it together on so many occasions. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and most times, the solutions I crafted were shortlived. No matter what the intent, the pain or the drive, things always fell through. And I was left to wonder. If the desire is there, why do the efforts simply not match up? Where was this going wrong? Slowly, things began to dawn on me.

Firstly, solutions do not present themselves to you with neat packaging or some sort of sign screaming what it is. Consequence :  you can’t always identify it as such when you see it.

Secondly, solutions do not always surface immediately. Time needs to be on your side and add a dollop of patience. And distance too.

So, here’s the thing. If the solution is not easily recognisable and if it doesn’t present itself in a timely fashion, what exactly do you do? Time, desire and patience. That’s the combo you need. If you are hellbent on solving something, if you desire something so much that nothing gets in your way, you will get it eventually.

And so the penny finally dropped.

I was looking at the myriad number of changes I needed to make. There weren’t always unifying factors between these different problems. When I decided to tackle each challenge individually, I didn’t have much success.And then, l realised that perhaps, the solution was not in solving each challenge individually.

I needed to find a system instead. An approach that, once devised, would tackle each challenge at its roots. In other words,  I didn’t want to deal with symptoms; I was interested in the root cause. And it was here that I realised the true value of building habits.

If I focused not on solving one challenge but instead, developed a habit that addressed that challenge (and perhaps many others, in the process), I would not only solve the current challenge but I would be sure to resolve any future challenges simply by developing an approach, rather than creating a one-off solution.

Herein lies the beauty of habits. They start out hard and then get easy with time and practice.

And so, down the road of habit building I went. I started with a public statement that I would work on writing more regularly. It was a hard ask early in the day. I failed often but never saw the point in giving up. Once you decide on a goal – and a concrete one at that – and you match that with a public announcement, something switches over in your head. It is as if it’s cemented a place for itself within you.

It took a few months to get to the point where I was writing regularly and I was feeling pretty happy to see these results finally. For starters, I thought that things were moving pretty well. Then, at the point that I believed I was getting this well under way,  I hit a major snag. I had a baby. It’s been two months now and it’s wonderful to have this new addition to my family. But I have to say, I did wonder if the long hard slog to build the habit would be washed away very shortly. It has not.

I have not written as often in the last few weeks. I’ve lost precious time I once had at my disposal. I’ve had to seriously tweak my work commitments and schedule a greal deal to make way for this new change. But building the writing habit – it’s firmly there. I can say the habit has been formed and I just need to keep at it to strengthen it further.

So, I am now considering working more thoroughly on the second habit I’d like to focus on – a greater degree of mindfulness.

Perhaps I am taking on more than I can chew at this juncture. I have yet to fully build on the one habit, hit a snag and yet I feel compelled to establish another new habit. But again, its the battle between running from pain or moving towards pleasure.

The quest for a greater degree of mindfulness is driven by the disparity between how I see myself in my mind’s eye and who I am in reality. Of late, I notice that the me I see is not always the me I present to the outside world. And that’s scary on many levels. Which I will leave for another post.

What do you think?

Same same but different.

I saw this stupid phrase on a teeshirt once and thought hmm.

I read Seth Godin’s recent post, Angry is a habit and thought, wow, now someone has just discovered what I am all about… and it seems I may not be the only one suffering like this.

Then, today, I read about The 80% Energy Rule : An Old Secret to Success by Jessica Stillman about a guy called Justin Jackson who blogged about his life spiralling out of control from doing too much. And I am reading about a father of four, who’s involved in a start- up (note father in start-up, not mother, so do-able, right?), who also saw fit to dive into volunteering, studying for another degree and various other projects at the same time. And I am thinking, What is that Guy doing? Does he not like having a spare second free? Does every moment have to be accounted for and doing something? And then I realise, with half the things on my plate, I am in the same boat. Doing too much, in too little a time span, completely overstretched, and occasionally succumbing to the desire to bite a little bit more. Did I mention newborn in tow? Sheer madness? Yes.

Well, then, nothing can top Devon Corneal’s Lesson in Futility. I would be laughing a lot at the crazy talk…. had it also not hit home for me.

It’s a humourous (right?) note about the moronic things Devon does as a parent. Guess what? I find out I have tipped the scales myself and am equally as bad. In Devon’s list of only 15 things that she gets wrong, I do about half of them as well !

Devon’s #2. I ask my kids “How was your day?” after school. I get the same response every day. My teenager says, “It was good. Nothing exciting.” Little Dude says, “I don’t remember. Can I go play?” That does not stop me from asking and, worse yet, expecting that they’ll suddenly sit down and fill me in on all the juicy details of the past 8 hours.

Me : ditto.

Devon’s #3. I threaten Little Dude with outrageous punishments that I will never implement. He knows this, because when I turn purple and apoplectic and inform him that if he does X one more time I will send him to his room for a week, he just looks at me and smiles.

Me : Come on already? Are you kidding me! I thought I was the only one.

Devon’s #9. I negotiate with a 5-year-old. Sadly, he is better at it than me. Yesterday he bargained for two cups of juice, a treat from the snack bar (see #4), and a late bedtime of 10 p.m. In exchange, I got two hours of hyper, a lot of guilt and a grumpy kid this morning.

Me : Do we ever learn? Evidently, not.

Devon’s #11. I ask my son to get dressed by himself and am shocked when he comes in wearing madras shorts, striped socks and a plaid shirt. Then I ask him to change. Because. I. Am. That. Stupid.

Me : Despite knowing that doing the same thing over and over while expecting something different is insane, I find that I am regular one at that. Nothing seems to change on that front. Sadly.

Devon’s #12. I cave when Little Dude asks to stay up late. Because he’s cute. Then I am horrified when he’s a crabby, wild-eyed monster at breakfast.

Me : Oh my god. Need I say more?

Devon’s #15. I tell Little Dude not to yell for me across the house. When he does, I yell at him across the house to remind him not to yell for me across the house. It’s like my own personal 9th level of hell. With lots of shouting.

Me : Oh, this is my all time favourite. Do as I say and not as I do. If only I had a mirror pointed at me, every single time but I would have to wonder whether that would really help? I am very good at shouting at my kids to not shout. Multiple winner, many times over.

What does all this come to? Same same but different.

I read all these wonderful little snippets from other people’s lives and realise, same same but different. I treasure the little nuggets of wisdom that people take the time to share with you, to know that you are not in this hell alone, that others have paved the way before you. That while you may not be on the exact same part of their journey, the fact that many of us do travel that path, helps make the journey that much more exciting, enjoyable, bearable and light. Yes, light.

I can do this. Yes, I can. Why? Because we are same same but different.

Why do I post? Because someone out there will see this and maybe get something from it. Something similar will hit a nerve. Something from this will speak to them, in a way, that perhaps others have not. And they will then know what others have known before me and what I now, indeed, know as well.

Extremes can help you make decisions

Have you ever been in a situation where you had ten dollars and you had to make a call on how to spend that? That decision was pretty easy. And then there was the thousand dollar decision… and that decision was not so easy.

Extremes : they can help you make decisions. I can’t say that they are necessarily better decisions but they are quick. There’s something finite about what extreme situations present – either this or that, either here or there – that somehow make the whole decision making process clearer, shorter and more distinct.

I’ve been unwell these last few days. The blogging habit that I’ve been working on has encountered some tough times; and so, I can feel myself stumbling again. But somehow I feel like I am stumbling closer to success (than towards failure) if that makes any sense to you. Having started this habit, I noticed a mindfulness about blogging now. It is top of my mind. Every day. I feel that it helps.

I’ve had to wipe stuff of my to-do list to take some well-earned rest. I’ve had to do this to pull through. Consequently, it’s been easy to make quite a few decisions that I usually grapple with every day. I found myself saying no to most things in the last five days. It is something I am not used to yet strangely, it has brought relief. There is relief in letting go.

And so I come to the conclusion : Firstly, you know yourself best. So make the best decision for yourself. Secondly, a quick decision is better than no decision at all, or even a slow decision sometimes.

Still in the ‘struggle’ phase of building this writing habit

It’s ironic, for me at least, that after posting about the difficulties of the writing habit, that I should just bump into not one but two interesting posts on habits and writing. Ben Yu posted yesterday on Habits, explaining how he had an unbroken record of posting twice a week until travel put a serious dent in this effort. Really worth reading if you are struggling with building any habit and I’d like to quote from Ben :

“For anything that we wish to do, we must make the effort until it becomes effortless, and it is precisely through that effort that effortlessness will rise.”

Music to my ears and I am waiting for this effortlessness to rise within me.

And then I read another post of similar vein by Nathan Kontny entitled During. Nathan talks about how he wasn’t growing any audience, how he gave up and then how he changed his mind  based on a commitment he decided to make. Great stuff.

Granted both these posts are about building habits around writing regularly, but this can apply to any habit you’re trying to create, can’t it?

I have to say, their comments really resonate with me and consequently, strengthened my resolve to post daily. Being a pretty private person, I have to confess that laying it out here like this, and walking everyone through this journey, really goes against the grain for me. But it is in this very act of putting it out there, that I hold myself accountable.

So I am working also on how I can support this habit. Intent is not enough and just sitting down to write every day can be a nightmare. Thoughts come to you throughout the day, and I bet that there is a fair bit that you feel that you can expand on. But if you dont have the ability to make a note about it at the time, to reference it somewhere until you get to your desk, then it gets lost. Trying to recollect four hours later rarely helps, I find. So, have pen/paper with you at all times – the electronics help but hey, so does the good old-fashioned notebook.

Someone recently said you should have an editorial calendar as well – a sort of sifting place where you can store all these random thoughts or ideas you want to get out there. Keep them in one place and then you can refer to it. You simply cannot expect it to flow when you are ready to write. Too much time is then spent on working the flow instead of on the writing itself – both of which take time and effort to complete.

So, there you go. Another tick in the box. For today at least.

Why building a habit is best done daily

I have been fascinated with the idea of developing habits for the last few years. It has dawned on me that, frequently, success in any endeavour is impacted not just by hard work, an ability to ‘see’ an opportunity when it comes knocking but also by the kind of habits you develop.

Between the singular activities that might have an influence on your level of success in a particular area, and the kind of habits you create to sustain an atmosphere conducive to success, it is the habits that are far more influential.

It is habit, I believe, more than the other, that seems to drive entrepreneurial success. It is the reason why while there are those who have achieved success in one endeavour, there are many others who achieve success repeatedly in whatever they do. It is habit that is behind the success of those, who having achieved success in one area and then failed, are able to then climb their way back from failure to repeat their success.

Consequently, my journey has been earmarked by my endeavour to create both good yet lasting habits. One such habit that I’ve had some success with now (in my second year) is that of waking early. I am, by nature, someone who feels she is at her best, creatively, towards the end of the day. I take time to come into my day. While this has been my way of life for a long time, having now a young family and all the associated demands that young children place on me has a huge part to play in this decision.

The nights are quieter – you can actually hear yourself think. However, I was finding that energy levels were getting depleted quite fast and at night, I was battling the ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ game. So, with the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, I was left to wonder what the other options were. Since I didn’t want to cut into my already deprived sleep levels, I decided that there was really no way around the obvious solution – to get up earlier. My days were usually starting around 7AM and I was now considering moving that up to about 5.30AM.

I will admit that the early days were rough on me. It was not the early waking so much that was the problem but the fact that I refused to make some necessary changes to other parts of my routine – changes that were critical to how well I executed this new plan. For example, adjusting sleep patterns and getting to bed earlier. Having already developed a lifestyle where lots of important work was reserved for the night, I found it hard to break the flow and stop abruptly to simply go to bed. Setting alarms to ‘switch off’ and just pile into bed sadly, didnt work. Making my mind up that it was needed and taking a rational approach was also of no great help.

But over time, the accumulated lack of sleep took its toll and nature took its course. Adjustments were forcefully made and I found that I was succeeding not only in waking up early but also completing some solid work in the morning. Over a period of months, I found myself looking back and realising that, hey, I had successfully started and built a good habit.

One of the best things about starting early is the freshness of your approach. Physically, you’ve been renewed and so while mentally, you still need to make the leap, the body is ready to take on whatever you throw at it. Whereas, at night, the ravages of a whole day’s activities, both mental and physical, definitely ensure that you are not at your best.

Perhaps foolishly, I was also trying to build other habits at the same time. Once I opened my mind to the idea that I was developing these new habits, things started to come together. I began to ‘see’ the kind of articles that would help me make the right choices. I started to look for the appropriate kind of information and support around me that would help ensure that my efforts were rewarded and unhindered. And I was gung-ho to forge ahead with building another habit.

I knew that habit building would take time and was best achieved when tackled one at a time. It would be stressful and a recipe for disaster to try to spread myself so thin. But having started one habit and seeing quick success developing, I was buoyed by this success and believed I could do it.

Writing daily, in my blog, was the second habit I was trying to develop. However, this one had yet to come together very well. Months later, I saw that the demands of a full time job, competing priorities that all seemed to demand level one priority status and family commitments all came to a head on a daily basis. Without doubt, this conflict regularly pushed the daily post to the bottom of the pile. So I ummed and ahhed and decided that blogging daily was not necessary and that three times a week would suffice.

Yet, even after this drop in demand and expectation, I still failed to achieve much success with the blog. Looking at this conundrum, I began to wonder how I was able to achieve success with one habit and not the other.

Mulling over this over the last couple of months, I’ve now come to five conclusions as to why this is so:

1. Building a habit is really something that needs to be done daily

This is the most important finding to me. When you do something daily, you’re practising daily and we all know that practice makes perfect. Practising once a week or once a month is still practice but it means that you start, almost at ground zero, every time you practise.

This can be hard on the psyche as you see yourself not making substantial ground with each successive turn. You want to know, you want to feel that every effort you put in, at the very earliest stages, is making real impact and you don’t feel this when the practice is irregular. The pain is palpable, the effort very real; consequently, the lack of quick wins or tangible results makes it very easy to quit.

2. Building a habit requires flow and momentum building

Working on your habit daily allows you to see results quicker and the pain of having to work on this seems to go away much more quickly than if you were to do it every other day/week. I call this being ‘in the flow’. Everything takes time to build on, to develop and to gain a kind of momentum that seems to support your effort. Daily practice brings all this to fruition more clearly and quickly.

3. Building a habit takes time – not in years but in effort

Sometimes, it seems like people can be developing habits for years. How often have you heard someone say that they are on a diet, yet it is something you’ve heard them say before this? Perhaps it has even happened to you. The truth is that when you work on something, you’d like to consider the length of time taken as a yardstick but this is not always a good barometer of success.

Success is best quantified in terms of effort but measured in terms of result.Therefore, if you put in a lot of effort within a short period of time, it is very possible that you will have more success than someone who puts in mediocre effort over a period of years. While this is a bit of a generalisation, the truth is that habit or anything else you work on is about concentration, flow, momentum building and presence of mind. We can all work on things in a semi-automatic manner, much like how we drive from Point A to Point B. But it is when we work on things with all our senses focused on the one endeavour that we achieve much traction. Consider this : the person who, with no distractions in on the elliptical machine and pushing herself solidly from level to level as the minutes pass. And then consider the person who is on a similar machine doing much the same kind of activity, yet preoccupied with her phone and also catching up on reading. Who is likely to achieve results quicker?

4. Building a habit must be in your mind front and centre

The challenge with trying to build a habit that you work on every now and again is that you lose focus over time. If you take the typical executive today, who is time poor, who has to make decisions constantly about what to focus on, who is bombarded via technology and all other means, with things demanding his attention, you will find that it takes the most diligent, well-organised and goal-oriented individual to succeed in the endeavours he chooses. Building a habit, therefore, is a goal like any other goal. Success is contingent on this aim being very much present in all you do and think about.

5. Building a habit needs to start with effort and conscious thought but end with automation

This is your ideal scenario and ultimately, this is also the end result. You start with effort, pain and consciousness in your approach but when you have succeeded, there is a flow, there is anticipation and joy. There is a process to the whole activity that over time removes your preoccupation with the activity – consequently, it has become part of you.

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