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Has Your Fire Burned Low?

Has Your Fire Burned Low?

Sometimes it feels as if life is against you. Nothing works as it should. The people around you seem distant, preoccupied, and indifferent to you and your interests. There are constant hassles and upsets. Whatever enthusiasm you once had has burned to gray, barely-flickering embers. You have little energy and feel like giving up.

Many people feel this way. You can’t rightly call it depression or burnout. It’s not that dramatic. It’s more like feeling gray and dull all the time. There’s no spark. No sense of excitement or joy in life.

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I suspect that the commonest response is to try to ignore the feeling and hope that it will pass; to tell yourself you’ve maybe picked up a virus somewhere. To imagine that you just need a few less stressful days or a brief vacation and you’ll be fine.

Yet feelings like the ones I’ve described should not be ignored. They may not be spectacular, but they’re your mind telling you that you’re life is out of balance. If you’ve lost the excitement and pleasure in how you live, nothing will be better until you get them back. If you’re starving yourself of what you need to be happy and healthy—or living on a monotonous diet of hard work and stress—it’s only a matter of time before something more serious goes wrong: a bad illness, a breakdown, or the collapse of a cherished relationship.

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Every flame needs fuel, and your flame of creativity and joy is no exception. Thanks to the Puritan Work Ethic, many people are obsessed with working and studiously avoid allowing themselves sufficient time for pleasure. They’re too busy toiling and striving to lighten up and enjoy their world. Fun isn’t bad for you. Doing something for no other reason that because it feels good won’t undermine your moral fiber. Imagine trying to live by eating nothing but broccoli at every meal. However good it may be, a diet of nothing else would kill you. Every human being needs variety in their life as much as in their diet. Have a little fun. Go wild, once in a while. Goof off. Try something new. You won’t be struck down by a thunderbolt from heaven for that.

Here are some simple and practical ways to breath fresh life into your inner fires:

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  • Take time out to refocus. Think about what used to bring you energy and pleasure. What happened to it? How can you bring it back? Many people lose focus on what truly matters to them, because they’re wrapped up in what seems more pressing—like working to get ahead. Your career may be important to you, but it’s going to harm you spiritually, mentally, and emotionally—and maybe even physically—if you allow it to take over your life entirely. Let yourself go a little. You need more than a great career. You need enough of what truly makes your life worth living, however frivolous and financially impractical that turns out to be.
  • Learn to relax and let go. We all like to feel in control of events; to have stability and predictability in our lives. Give it up. It’s an illusion. Worse, it’s a dangerous one, because it encourages you to exhaust yourself trying to make things happen exactly as you want. You cannot do it, however hard you try. You are not in control. Accept it with a smile.
  • Reconnect with others. People who feel miserable and frustrated often isolate themselves. They think that they don’t want company, or that other people won’t want to be with them. Being alone with your problems is a poor idea. I’m not encouraging you to rush out and start unloading your wretchedness on others. That will isolate you, and extremely quickly. Just make sure you spend enough time in company, devoting your attention to someone other than yourself.
  • Try helping others who may feel like you. Teaching is the best way to learn; helping others is very often the best way to help yourself. Let your personal issues take a back seat for a while while focus on helping others. You’ll likely find when you return to your own problems that they’ve melted away.
  • Find a way to renew a sense of purpose. Actions—however successful—that feel meaningless will never be satisfying. It’s most likely that your sense of continual boredom and emptiness comes from suspecting that nothing you do has much real value in the long-term. The answer is to work through these questions:
    • Why did I go into the work I’m doing today?
    • What did I expect to find? Did I find it?
    • Are my expectations for my working life still realistic? What do I need to change?
    • What needs do I want to meet through my work and career? What is the next most obvious step to move towards them?
    • What can I do to make my life better? Why aren’t I doing it?

Above all, take action. Thinking about your problems makes them seem greater and more pressing. It also does nothing to change the situation. Only action can do that. Until you act, everything will remain as it is. Almost any action is better than none at all, for every action produces some result that you can use to learn what to do next. There are no failures, save the failure to do anything at all.

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If you build a fire, then merely sit and watch it, it will burn out. You need to feed it with fresh sticks and rake away the ash. Life’s like that too.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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