Developing a Personal Schedule

Over the course of the past year, I’ve discovered that one of the most invaluable assets in my life is having a rhythm and routine to my days. When I lived for 6 months at the Zen Monastery, this process was done for me. While waking up at 4am and having your entire day scheduled down to 5 minute intervals initially sounds daunting, (and trust me it often is!) after some time I eventually surrendered to the schedule, finding an incredible freedom in the routine. I found myself full of energy, requiring much less sleep (6 hours a night), and found myself incredibly effective in my short personal breaks: often reading, writing or exercising.

Since departing from the monastery 3 months ago, I’m finding it terribly difficult to establish a personal rhythm.  Part of this has simply been due to the circumstances of the summer – travel, living in other peoples homes, constantly changing environments, etc.  While still in a temporary living situation in Boulder, my days are now much more my own. Ingrid will be joining me in a little over a week and we’ve had a number of discussions on how to best structure our days – creating a structure to allow us to both examine our paths as well as put energy towards creating a shared-vision together. We also of course want to create the space for spontaneity and fun. This all said, HOW do we actually do it??

My idea is to create a working schedule, as if I was actually in a paid job. This will be a weekly schedule, including various mornings at the Boulder Zen Center, Blogging, Exercise, Yoga, Non-profit commitments and personal time with Ingrid and friends. Once Ingrid arrives we plan to redefine our goals for the coming year using the Best Year Yet Workshop. Through this we’ll also include various activities and intellectual pursuits in our day-to-day.  I hope to eventually share this schedule in an effort to create more accountability for myself!

This very morning highlights the importance of a schedule. I sat down about 2 and a half hours ago to write this, and instead have found myself doing all kinds of irrelevant things on the Internet and around the house. For me, this clearly highlights the need to disconnect throughout the day to focus on things.  I’ve also found that it is extremely important to do the things most important to me first. If at 8am I decide to dive into the To-Do’s or tackle the more mundane technicalities of living, I find it extremely difficult to return to things like Yoga, writing or meditation. Therefore I’m going to experiment this next week with being disconnected before noon, engaging in my more creative and spiritual pursuits early in the day.

If you are reading this, and have also found yourself at various points in life with unstructured time, what did YOU do to be most effective??

2011: Your Best Year Yet

I mentioned previously that I had envisioned a framework for 2011 based on a book recommendation from one of my most goal-oriented and motivated friends, Marc.  The book is Your Best Year Yet, published in 1994, yet ever prevalent in today’s world. The premise is simple: Keep your goals simple, focused and close at hand.

clip_image001During my time in Corporate America, specifically at IBM, a routine part of my career was goal-setting, execution, and review. Throughout the year I would examine my responsibilities, direct them towards my goals and hopefully be rewarded financially for meeting them at the end of the year.  I believe I took for granted how helpful such a process is in moving one forward towards their aspirations. Why not apply such a process to all aspects of one’s life?

Unfortunately I cannot promise anyone big bonuses through this process, but I think you will find it satisfying and if anything, allow you to cut out some of your less than fruitful activities.

The process is simple; you can choose to read through the book or simply jump to the workshop and refer back to the sections when needed.  Eventually you will end up with a one page summary like this:

Keith’s Best Year Yet 2011

GUIDELINES

  • No place to go, nothing to do
  • Trust my intuition: choose nourishment over diminishment, always.
  • Do the difficult things first

NEW PARADIGM

  • My Inner work is evolving into a creative means of service to humanity

MAJOR FOCUS

  • Writer

TOP TEN GOALS

  • Develop a formal writing process and implement it: 2 blog entries a week and personal journal with weekly goal review and reflection
  • Lead and complete technical peak climb of at least Grade III, 7+
  • Innovate business idea and financial plan to support it
  • Organize and take a destination trip with my family

The intention of the short summary is for you to have something concise and easily referenceable (You’ll be able to essentially memorize it after a couple weeks).

Several aspects of the process stood out to me as particularly helpful:

1. Getting to the Guidelines. You look at the previous year, your accomplishments, your disappointments and the lessons learned from these.  Your guidelines stem from the lessons learned – almost if you could go back to the start of last year and give yourself advice.

2. Developing the Paradigm shift. I thought this part was extremely innovative. You look at your last year, analyze the What do I say to myself to justify why I didn’t meet my goals? For example, I found things such as:  I’m not a creative person; I am in a place where I need to develop myself first before I can help others, etc.  You then turn these excuses (limiting paradigm) on their head, basically shifting a world-view you hold of yourself.

3. Determining the Focus:  The workshop takes you through a process of cross-referencing your roles in life (boyfriend, athlete, yogi, and writer) with your values (self-realization, loving others, creative expression, etc.).  You then put tic marks next to each role when it helps you focus on one of your values.  This is where certain goals that you may have been holding onto for some time fall away. For example, I’m always saying that I want to re-learn Spanish. Yet it doesn’t fall into this matrix at all, and therefore (this year at least) is not a tangible goal.

After this process, you ask yourself, If I were able to put a big checkmark next to one of my roles at the end of this year, signifying a sense of mastery in it, which one would it be? This becomes your focus. For me, writer.

Finally you walk through your life roles and write 3-5 goals for each. You painstakingly have to trim this list down to 10 in total. This can be difficult, but it is one of the jewels of this process: remaining focused. Now a month after finishing these goals, I sometimes feel the 10 are unobtainable. I can only imagine if I started with 20.

And that’s it. I keep a copy of this list on my iPhone for quick reference, referring to it weekly or as needed. It has already helped me on a few major decisions where I am teetering back and forth. Instead of a long debate with myself, I simply say, is it on my list? When having to choose where to direct my energy, I have a set of guidelines that I can fall back on.

I did this process as a slow-burn over the course of a couple of weeks. But if you’re motivated you complete it on a Saturday afternoon. Everyone works differently, but my recommendation is to plan on at least two sittings. The first to read through the book and understand what is being asked from you. Then let it incubate a bit. Come back and actually do the goal setting exercises.

Here’s to your best year yet!

The Summoned Self

How will you measure your life?  This is often the question that we Americans ask ourselves when we move forward with major and even minor decisions. This line of thinking, as termed by David Brooks in a recent New York Times article, is considered the Well-Planned Life approach. Promoted by Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen, this approach is about creating a strategy to come up with an overall purpose, and making decisions about allocating your time, energy and talent. Christensen reminds us that people with a need for high achievement tend to focus on tangible and near-term accomplishments (such as closing a sale or finishing a paper) instead of aspects of life that may not yield fruit for some time – such our relationships, family and health. Just like any successful business project, focusing on both near and long-term goals will lead to success. When following this model, life comes to appear as a well-designed project, carefully conceived in the beginning, reviewed and adjusted along the way and brought toward a well-rounded fruition.  Sounds so nice doesn’t it? But if you’re like me there is something about that approach that just doesn’t feel right at all!

Brooks moves on to discuss an alternative view of life, one that is not as prevalent in American society that he coins The Summoned Life. This view approaches life with a completely different perspective, believing life isn’t a project to be completed; it is an unknowable landscape to be explored.

Short of quoting the entire article (its short, just read it!), the Summoned Life is about emphasizing, What are my circumstances asking me to do? over the What Should I do? approach of the Well-Planned life. 

These are questions answered primarily by sensitive observation and situational awareness, not calculation and long-range planning. Moreover, people who think in this mode are skeptical that business models can be applied to other realms of life. Business is about making choices that maximize utility. But the most important features of the human landscape are commitments that precede choice — commitments to family, nation, faith or some cause. These commitments defy the logic of cost and benefit, investment and return.

Brooks believes that the first vision is more American, while the second vision is more common elsewhere and that ultimately both are useful to combine into a Well-Considered Life, where Life comes to a point not when the individual project is complete but when the self dissolves into a larger purpose and cause.

This article really touched on something that has been incubating inside of me for the past couple of months, since my return to America. My life prior to 2009 was clearly a Well-Planned life; a life centered around achievement, accomplishment, career, possessions, hobbies, etc.  A fear of commitment to certain things (read: relationships with women) always existed because they clearly add a variable to the well-planned life that could not be controlled to produce the desired result.  I think I’m not alone in this, as I see so many people around me driven by this project of life: completing tasks, improving their situation, moving up. The problem is that this entire approach is rooted in Ego. When Ego drives, the feeling is that the world is separate from you, therefore you act from it and by default act in self-interest. This may have the temporary effect of improving your financial or material situation, but from my experience will not satisfy the burning questions in life – those like: Why am I here, What happens when I die, What is my purpose? Why do I suffer? How do I find (lasting) joy? 

Having a tremendous amount of time to myself recently, I am fortunate to be able to watch subtle patterns in my consciousness, see the roots of emotions rising and visualize more clearly my own habits that are rooted in various schools of thought.  This process can’t be viewed through traditional lens, its one that requires an element of quietness and an element of stilling both my external activities and the activities of mind. This combination has led me to the sensation that I alluded to earlier, one of standing still as the rest of the world rushes on by. A lot of this has been beautiful – friends and family growing and changing, people finding new careers, welcoming new babies into families, new relationships beginning, others ending to allow a new exploration. Outside of my immediate circle, the patterns of the world do something similar – the wars continue, as does the poverty, the materialism, the nationalism, consumerism, etc, etc.  Yet my perception of the world shifting. These things aren’t grabbing hold of me, entering into my way of thinking and consciousness.  They are becoming more like background music in a beautiful play where the main actors are Beauty, Love and Compassion.

Yet, the Ego is an elusive fellow.  I have felt a tremendous amount of self induced pressure to produce the results of well-planned life through a summoned life. This is clearly an effect of the remnants of the Well-Planned life construct– projects (life) have targets and goals, and there should be measureable progress along the way.  However, measuring the immeasurable is simply impossible to do. I constantly have to remind myself of this before getting mired in self-judgment and doubt, which unfortunately happens more often than I’d like. The reminder is that this beautiful gift of a human life is a process, one with no beginning and no end, completely timeless and by its very definition, already perfect.

That’s all I have time for today – soon I will be discussing the realities of such an approach in the modern world.