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Throw a lifeline to your future.

Throw a lifeline to your future.
A lifeline

    It can be pretty discouraging when after a long week of hard work you realize you are not one inch closer to the future you want.

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    Sure, you’ve worked all out, chopping through tasks left, right and center, fulfilling all your (conflicting) roles for various people in your life, and here it Friday, your brain feels like boiled mush and you’re bone tired. What’s worse, you know in your heart of hearts (or Weekly Review) that nothing you’ve done this week is connected to who you want to be, what you really want to achieve, what you really, really, really want your future to look like.

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    There was just too much stuff from now to deal with – too many looming deadlines, urgent requests, upcoming milestones, all those web sites and emails and decisions, choices, alternatives and options. Not to mention all the past stuff – things you wish you had done better, things you wished you’d not done at all. At least, that was my week – how about you?
    Now before the suicide hotlines and liquor stores start seeing a surge in business, I’d like to suggest there’s a solution to this very discouraging problem. It’s simple, but not easy: Throw a lifeline to your future.

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    The purpose of a lifeline is to pull someone from where they don’t want to be – quicksand pit, raging seas, icy pond, the messy present – to where they want to be. In the movies, the brave and valiant rescuers provide the muscle to pull the limp victim to safety; this isn’t the movies. It’s going to be up to you, buckwheat, to throw that lifeline, hook it onto something solid and start pulling with all your might if you want to get into that really nice future.

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    Here’s how I think you can throw a lifeline to your future:

    • Know what future you want. So what do you really want? Look in your heart of hearts for that really big thing you want. Maybe it’s making a million bucks a month, or fulfilling your lifelong ambition, or finding The Right Girl or The Right Guy. Be honest – there’s only you and me here – and I won’t talk. Now write it down where only you will see it. That’s the big beautiful future you want to get your lifeline around so you can pull yourself to it. Refer to it often. Look at it when you go to sleep, look at it when you wake up.
    • Let go of your luggage. That’s right, stick all the emails decaying in your inbox into a new folder, move all the hundreds of documents littering your desktop and My Documents folder to a new folder, drag all those bookmarks and favorites you just had to mark to a new folder, delete all your saved voicemails, bag every task lingering on your to do list older than a week. Heresy! Blasphemy! Nope: Reality. If you want to get to the future you’ve got to let go of the past, and besides, to be brutally honest, what are the chances you are going to deal with all those dead open loops? Slim to none. Lighten your load. So let go.
    • Know that if other people have done it, you can do it. Go visit a bookstore or library’s biography section – find someone you like, that you admire. Get that book and read it. Odds are good it’s going to be a recounting of someone who had it worse that you, who struggled like hell to pull themselves to the life they wanted, the things they believed in. If they did it, so can you. Not convinced? Go buy or check out another biography.
    • Every single day, do one tiny doable thing to make that future happen, and do it the very first thing. You want to write a bestselling novel? Spend 30 minutes a day writing the very first thing you do. Want to run the company you work for? Do one tiny step to towards that future before you do the rest of you job. Want to write a great app you can be proud of? Spend the first 30 minutes learning what you have to learn and doing what you have to do to make that happen. What about all the things you’re supposed to do? They can wait for all of 30 minutes while you do some tiny, but constructive, step for you.

    This last one – doing one tiny thing to make the future you want happen, and doing it first before all the now stuff, is your lifeline to the future. Grab it!

    Bob Walsh writes, codes, podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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