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When Life Hacks You Off

When Life Hacks You Off

    How often have you been given some really, really good advice in your life? I’ll put money on it being a lot more often than the number of times you’ve taken it. And conversely I’ll bet  you’ve offered really, really good advice far more often than it’s been taken.

    (As an aside I’ll wager that the times good advice is taken is pretty similar to the number of times the advice matched what the person receiving the advice wanted to do in the first place!  But that’s very much an aside to my main point!)

    The point is this: it’s always easier to solve other people’s problems than your own. Admit it, you know it is.  It’s the way coaching works, after all. Coaches don’t have answers – what they have are questions. Or better yet, reflections of your own questions – making you look at things (problems) in a different light. And hopefully a more productive one.

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    There are a few tools you can use yourself to take advantage of this clarity of vision without the expense of a coach and I’ve listed some of them here. They don’t remove the need for a good coach if you’ve got a significant problem but will certainly help for the day to day problems of life…ask yourself this question:

    “If a friend of mine came to me with this problem, what would I ask them and what would I suggest?”

    There now. Simple…isn’t it!

    Let’s take a personal example where life hacks you off. Someone I know is in an abusive domestic relationship. That’s all you need to know from the outside to know what she should do next – leave. From the inside, however all she can see are the reasons why she shouldn’t leave and can’t leave. In other words, all she sees are the problems, not the end/solution.

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    Okay, I’ve over-simplified to make the point but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Less importantly, a friend of mine has a car which is falling apart and he doesn’t have the time or the money to maintain it. At the moment it’s still worth quite a bit of cash but the odds are very much that within the next six months it’ll devalue spectacularly.  From the outside the solution is simple – sell – but from the inside it all looks very different. Ask yourself this question:

    “I know I don’t know what to do to solve my problem, but if I did know the answer, what might that answer be?”

    Yes, I know it sounds silly but what it does is allow you to get past the automatic self-filtering of ideas that everyone does when they sort of know what to do but don’t want to admit it to themselves.

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    This one is – in my personal experience at least – particularly useful in business settings for problems such as what to do about rising advertising costs, or falling income predictions or a member of staff who’s under-performing…ask yourself this question

    “If I wanted to explain the situation to someone else, what would I say?”

    Try writing the problem down – the best format is to imagine you’re writing a letter to someone you absolutely trust but who you’ve not managed to keep up to date with – which means they won’t know the ins and outs of your issues.

    That in turn means you’ll have to explain the problem to them in simple steps, giving them all the information they need to solve your problem but only the key things they need to know.  Often you’ll find that the things you need to do come to you just in the process of writing this letter because you’re forcing yourself to structure your thinking and looking at the problem (and only the problem) not all the fluff and anxiety that lies around it.

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    If you don’t get inspired by the process of writing, try posting it to yourself somewhere else, so that when you read it you’re in a different environment. Address it to yourself using a different name to the one you normally think of yourself as… in other words, treat this letter as though it was coming from a friend.

    Chances are…you’ll spot a way forward.

    (Photo credit: Closeup Image of Vision Flow via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    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.”[1]

    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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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    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 6 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.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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