1. Visual Thesaurus site for word-hunters and brainstorming
When brainstorming, it's useful to have words or images that can prompt new ideas. One site I like for this purpose is www.visualthesaurus.com. You type in a word and click, and a spiderweb of related words comes floating into view. The words are attached to each other, with additional click-points where they are connected. If you click one of those points, more related words appear. It's much for fun to use than a normal thesaurus, and the on-line version is free (you can also pay for a version to put on your own hard drive).
2. Use time pods to be more efficient
I'm putting together a new time-management system and will offer it free to some beta-testers in due course, but in the meantime you may want to try out one of the components to make better, more focused use of your time. I call it time pods, and here's how it works:
You set aside one hour of time for a particular task. Next you make sure that you have all the materials you need for this task, so that you won't have to break off and look for a file or stapler or whatever. Finally, you write down your intention for this time period. For example, "I will write 5 pages of my script," or "I will clear my e-mail in-box of 50 old messages," or "I will use the internet to get the ten key bits of data I need for my report." You may feel a bit silly writing this down, but please don't skip this step, it's crucial!
Set an alarm or buzzer for one hour. When it goes off, stop. On the same sheet of paper, write down any observations or notes that might be useful in helping you to be more efficient next time. For example, you may have real ised that there was something that you needed in order to do the task, that you didn't get ahead of time, but next time you can. Before you move on to your next time pod, take fifteen minutes off, and make sure to use at least five of those minutes for physical activity. If you're in an office, going up and down the stairs a couple of times is a good choice. Also allocate at least five minutes for some mental stimulation (e.g., browsing a magazine). Finally be sure to take a big swig of water--most of us are lightly dehydrated much of the time and that affects our energy levels.
If you give this a try, please let me know how it works for you.
3. The Option Method questions
Therapist Deborah Mendel di Marsico suggests a set of questions to answer, ideally in writing, when we are unhappy (or otherwise negative) about something. The idea is that the answers will reveal our beliefs about the situation and at times will show that those beliefs are not necessarily true. Here are the questions:
- What am I unhappy about?
- What is it about that, that makes me unhappy?
- Why am I unhappy about that?
What would it mean if I were not unhappy about that? (This is where it gets a little strange, but stick with it! For example, let's say you're unhappy about not getting a raise that you were hoping for. If you weren't unhappy about it, it could mean that you are giving up on your ambitions, or that you felt you were less valuable than others who did get a raise, or that you were caving in to your employers' demands.)
Why would it have to mean that? (This question prompts you to find out whether the meaning you have attached to the event is necessarily true. Often it is not, and realising that can transform the effect of the experience. Other times, it is true and then you will feel more determination to take appropriate action.)
4. Cards and letters (remember those?)
In this day of e-mail, personal letters and cards are getting more rare, and therefore more valued. One of the big trends at Hallmark and American Greetings (which, together, account for 90% of all cards sold) is encouragement cards. These are cards that tell the recipient that you believe in them, perhaps when they are undergoing a time of stress. Frankly, it strikes me as a bit plastic to send a manufactured card with those sentiments, but why not make your own? Any postcard with an image you like (or a card that's blank on the inside) will do. Jotting down your own words of encouragement, or even "I was just thinking of you and wanted to let you know" will make somebody's day.
5. Put your subconscious mind to work for you
Here is what successful novelist M. J. Rose (her most recent novel is "Flesh Tones") says about how she uses her subconscious mind: "My novels always start off with a 'what if?' For "Flesh Tones" I asked, 'What if a man asked a woman who loved him to help him die?' I carry the 'what if?' around in my head, and if it has legs, the story tells itself to me. I literally see it all in my head, like a movie, and I just write down what I see. If I don't see anything, I stop for that day. That night, before I go to sleep, I concentrate on where I stopped. The next morning, before I get out of bed, I focus again on where I stopped. Then I go swimming, and while I'm doing my laps, I see what's next. I am very good friends with my subconscious - we work together."
Action Tip: You can use the same techniques even if you're not a writer. If you have a personal or business challenge, make up a suitable "What if?" For example, "What if I decided to change careers?" or "What if I could heal my relationship with my teen-age daughter?" Let ideas come to you and jot them down. If you get stuck, focus on that part of the issue before going to sleep and in the morning check for new ideas. Do the same while swimming, jogging, taking a shower. Always write down the new thoughts and ideas and soon you may find that, as in M. J. Rose's case, the full story appears.
6. Cross-brain exercise
Kay McCarroll, of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation says that "Movements on one side of the body will stimulate activity in the opposite brain hemisphere. By activating both sides of the brain alternately, you are building up and balancing the neural connections between the two." Here's a simple exercise that they say centres the brain, improving logical thinking, focus and reading: Make a V-shape with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. Place it in the centre of your chest, just below the collarbone. Rub this spot for 30 seconds while placing your other hand over your stomach. Exchange hands and repeat.
7. Expecting to laugh
It's not a surprise anymore that laughing has a beneficial effect on our mood and even our physical health, but here is a shocking result from a recent study from the College of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine: the subjects' mood improved not only during and after seeing a one-hour comedy but also two days before the video was shown!
Lee Burk, the assistant professsor of family medicine who conducted the research, says, "This is the first time we have seen that just anticipating such an event can change the body's responses. We believe this 'biology of hope' underlies recovery from many chronic disorders."
Action Tip: Decide at the start of the week which comedy film or series you're going to see that week, and use the anticipation to lift your mood.
8. Brian Tracey's prescription for success
Motivation guru Brian Tracey tells the story of his life-changing experience: he was travelling across the Sahara with friends when their Land Rover broke down.
They were low on water and they knew that if they couldn't fix the car they'd die. Of course they did, and Tracey says, "That's when something locked in. I realized I was responsible for my own life. I stopped blaming my parents, my teachers, other people. I knew nothing in my life would ever change unless I changed; I knew a person in this life must be a proactive agent in his life rather than a reactive agent." Here is Tracey's prescription for being effectively proactive: "You must be clear about the goals you set, flexible about the the process of achieving them, and then continually learn all you can in every way possible."
Action Tip: Review your goals monthly. If what you're doing to move toward that goal isn't working, decide what you can do differently, and identify what would be helpful for you to learn in the coming month.
9. Last, but not least, a Zen story to consider...
A farmer went to see the Buddha about his various problems: the weather was either too hot and it dried out his crops, or too wet and it caused floods, and his wife didn't understand him, and his son was ungrateful and rebellious.
The Buddha said he couldn't help because all human beings have 83 problems. A few may go away, but soon enough others take their place. So we will always have 83 problems. The farmer was indignant. "Then what is the good of all your teaching?!" he demanded. The Buddha said, "My teaching can't help with the 83 problems, but perhaps it can help with the 84th." "What's that?" the farmer asked. "The 84th problem," the Buddha said, "is that we don't want to have any problems."