2013, The Year in Review

Where do I start to try and sum up this year? Although nothing too extraordinary happened, a lot still happened. We settled in to our new house, my wife had her hair shaved in support of cancer, we learnt a lot about gardening, we got a cat.

I embarked on an amazing journey of self-discovery. A journey in which inspiration, leadership, communication, and passion have made their way into my life. My life changed when I was provided an opportunity to go on an Outward Bound course. That course compounded what I had already been discovering through the year, and in turn provided me with clarity and focus on what my priorities are, and where I want to go.

Finances have been tough this year. The house took its toll on the bank balance. First with the actual buying of the house, then with all the maintenance that occurred through the year. Maintenance that didn’t need to be there if the previous owners had simply got the job done properly. We did, however, manage to paint the kitchen area, and it looks amazing.

My wonderful wife, Lisa, getting her hair shaved in support of child cancer was brave and inspiring. I am so proud of her. It is the first time we’ve done something along those lines. It feels good to have done something in support of a good cause. She was extremely brave, and I feel she was the envy of her friends.

This year I discovered the true power of Twitter. I’ve had an account for years, but never tweeted. I thought it was just a place where people shouted about brushing their teeth, or when they were going to the toilet. Man, was I so wrong. It is so much more. Twitter is a communal hotspot to find likeminded people. To gain inspiration from others. Or simply just to socialise and build relationships of people around the world.

Lisa and I continue to fall further in love with our adopted country, in particular the city we live in – Wellington. We continue to discover new places and small joys that drive home the reason as to why we chose New Zealand as the place we want to be. I find myself becoming more loyal and patriotic to New Zealand than I ever was for South Africa (as controversial as it may seem to my South African friends and family).

A few hiccups here and there, but overall it’s been good. Another year in which the foundation was made stronger for when things start turning out for the better for our little family. 2014 will be that year. I feel it in my bones.

How to Fly in One Easy Step

When I was younger I wished and dreamed I could fly. To feel the air rushing past as I burst through clouds, broke sound barriers, and glided among the treetops. If I could choose a super power, the ability to fly would be my immediate answer. Alas, I have come to accept that I can’t, and probably won’t ever, fly in my lifetime.

Until now. I can fly if I want to. We all can.

This is, of course, in a metaphorical sense. But just think about it for a second. Close your eyes, imagine the blue sky. Imagine the freedom. The freedom obtained by doing what you want to do, not what you have to do. The first step towards this is simply by jumping a fence.

Imagine a chicken. Limited to a pen. Pecking the ground constantly. It has no purpose other than to lay eggs and be served as food to humans. This is how I see daily life for most of us. Going day in and day out working at the same job, doing the same commute, earning minimum wage. Hoping one day it might change.

Yet, it never does change. The chicken doesn’t attempt to fly over the fence. It simply continues to peck, lay eggs, and be eaten. They grow fat on the falsely fed reality that this is the life they are meant to live. They have theirs heads at the ground peck, peck, pecking away – hoping for that better life that will never come. Are they even hoping at all?

The sparrow watches these chickens from his perch in a tree nearby. Merrily does he sing his song. He has flown in from his own nest, made by himself, at the place of his choice. He wonders how these fat birds in the pen simply don’t fly? There is more to a bird’s life than sitting all day and gathering scraps from the earth. How can these chickens not want to feel the wind through their wings, lifting and navigating the open skies? The sparrow contemplates this as he watches them.

These chickens are so focused on the ground and the pen, when just over the fence they can get as many juicy, gorgeous worms as they want. Or ample, bursting fruit on the nearby trees. It’s all there, if they simply made the choice and flew over.

The sparrow wonders this as he feels the morning breeze ruffle through his feathers. He takes in the warm morning sun, spreads his wings, and lifts in to the rising air. As he rises above the tree line, he looks to the horizon. He knows where he wants to be, and he will get there on his own wings. By his own choice.

This simple analogy is how I want to live. How I believe we all should live. We are all destined for greatness in our own right. We all have something to provide this world. But we just have to jump the fence of the chicken pen to start believing. Jumping that picket fence will provide us more confidence, make us stronger, and start that long trek to achieving success in our lives. Whatever that success might be.

Go on. Join me. Jump that fence now.

How To Focus And Churn Through Tasks Faster

You have a million tasks to get through. Many of them high priority, many of them not. Some of them quick and easy, others are most definitely not. You sit and ask yourself “Where the hell do I start?”.

So you pick a task, and start working on it. After a number of minutes, an email comes into your inbox. You have a look at it, and start working on that email. As you’re working on this new email, you have a thought about something else, and open up your browser to investigate further. You carry on like this for a while and before you know it, it’s been a couple of hours, you’ve been busy, but none of the tasks you started have been completed.

Does this sound familiar? It should. Most of us work this way every single day. We work work work, but don’t actually get anywhere. There is a way to work smarter, not harder. A way to start – and complete – tasks like a machine.

And that is by using focus periods to complete tasks.

In it’s simplest form, these focus periods are chunks of time that you set aside to complete a task, or set of tasks, that you have prioritised to be completed. You focus on the task, and only that task. No reading of email, no going off on a tangent when your thoughts wonder. Only. The. Task. At. Hand.

I recently discovered this method through my research for more effective productivity, and came across the Pomodoro Technique as well as a few similar concepts. The Pomodoro Technique is comprised of strict 25 minute sessions (or pomodoros), 5 minute breaks in between, and a 20 minute break every fourth pomodoro. However, in my daily schedule, this simply does not work. In turn, the method I use is a hybrid of the Pomodoro Technique, whereby I’ve adjusted the lengths of the focus periods slightly.

I personally find 25 minutes per focus period is just too short to accomplish any decent tasks. In turn, I use 35 minute chunks. I’m also not as strict on the breaks, as there isn’t a long enough period where I’m at my desk for a given length of time – either through meetings or assisting my team.

In summary, this is how I churn through my tasks. I’ve found a huge increase in my productivity since using this method. And I sure hope you can too.

  1. Specify a task, or tasks, you wish to complete in the focus period.
  2. Start the timer.
  3. Complete the tasks.
  4. Don’t get distracted by thoughts or emails
  6. Have a 5 minute break after the timer has ended.
  7. Repeat as necessary.

TIP: A handy little application that I use for timing the focus periods is Focus Booster.

[image source: Dart by Asif Akbar]

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