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Why Power-Play & Politics In Extended Families Can Sabotage Relationships

Understanding Extended Families

The funny thing about extended families …

… is that  the further you diverge from your nuclear family, the crazier things get. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas eve gathering with your maternal aunt complaining about the tacky gift she received from her sister-in-law last year, or your second cousin getting drunk and inappropriately boisterous, you know what I’m talking about.

Because of the emotional bond that holds our families together,  any conflict that occurs is usually loaded with past grievances and hurts. This is why holidays like thanksgiving and Christmas Eve are both the most dreaded and the most cherished part of our working year.

There is a sense of obligation to attend that holds us together. In a society where loneliness has risen to epidemic portions, mandatory family gatherings may be the only situation in which many of us put ourselves out there and step out of our comfort zone.

The lack of annoying people that you have to put up with, has eroded our sense of patience and ability to stay calm, committed and resilient in conflict situations. So naturally when there is conflict among extended family, our first gut instinct is to back away and cut that person off from our life.

Then when people get lonely, they look for superficial thrills, posting about their paragliding adventure on Facebook or taking constant selfies on instagram, just to feel like they are connected to the outside world, that they belong someplace, that they are part of a group. Do you see the irony in this?

I’m asking you today: to embrace the annoying people, the critics, the people that make you feel uncomfortable. A lot of times, this comes in the form of relatives and extended family. Nothing will inspire personal growth like an annoying aunt’s criticism. Nothing like grandma’s encouragement to help you get through growing pains with your toddler. Nothing like being compared to an obnoxiously successful cousin to inspire you to focus on advancing your career. In order to learn and grow, we must force ourselves to face uncomfortable situations. And nothing is more uncomfortable than a family gathering…

The role of power

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Power is the undercurrent that runs through all human conflict. The way human beings (or any other biological/animal  societies) function socially is through power play. We learn early and often about the different roles of power that people hold. We also learn that power is fluid. That it can be given and taken based on the perceptions of those around us. You either find where you fit in, or for the more ambitious, you seize power by manipulating or controlling other people. Power is just as universal as conflict in this regard.

If both power and conflict are universal, then it stands to reason that power lays and conflicts are inherent in the family dynamic. In fact, the family and/or extended family dynamic is there we first encounter  the ebb and flow of power and conflict. Some of us grow up feeling that our parents have wrongly manipulated us using threats, punishments and harsh words to discipline us.  This ‘betrayal’  can lead to destructive patterns of resolving conflict, often with one or both parties striving to regain the lost ‘power’ at any cost. This is a pattern of conflict resolution many of us carry beyond our birth families and into our own later lives.

Another thing to note about this power-play inherent to family conflicts is that it stems from a fundamental, two-pronged fear:

1. Those with more power than us can harm or control us, leaving us unable to defend ourselves.
2. Those with less power than us are just waiting to pounce on us at the first sign of weakness, making us more likely to fail.

Even in intimate and family situations, this fear-induced power-play is often hidden. As a society, we are also conditioned to value honesty, strength and courage, so anyone feeling these insecurities will naturally try to hide it. However, such covert insecurities can lead us further into destructive patterns of conflict resolution when everyone involved denies the problem, or worse, refuses to accept their role in creating the conflict, blaming others instead. This creates a vicious cycle of conflict, lack of  ownership and a deep, festering mistrust.

So what would you do to bridge conflicts and set the stage for positive resolution?

Two things are essential in order to answer this question:

1. Building solid alliances with your family mediators
2. Finding common interests

Forging strong relationships with the peace-keepers in your family will help you thwart conflicts and redirect the family’s focus on positive things early, often, even before the conflict starts. Also, finding common goals can help you survive a difficult family gathering by uniting you to solve a mutual problem rather than dispersing alliances and pushing everyone apart. For people you know you will have to repeatedly interact with, you can choose whether you want to make things even more miserable –  or find a way to co-exist.

And this choice will make all the difference between making your family gatherings a source of joy, or a source of heartache.

In our soon to be published e-book you will find tools to help you build alliances with your family members and find common interests which may help you ward off difficult situations. Stay tuned!

 

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Day 14 -I am grateful for the everyday opportunities to express gratitude through my actions

While researching for this Gratitude Challenge last week, I stumbled upon a group of bloggers who had taken part in a similar challenge in 2009. One of them was Ana Picazo of Bonggamom. I followed the links back to her fun, tip-filled blog and came across a ‘gratitude alphabet’ post she had written in 2009. Her observations were a mix of astute, relatable and funny. Check them out below:

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D — Okay, I admit it: I’m one of those women who’s ecstatic that she has a daughter. Not that having sons isn’t wonderful. But you know what I mean.

I — I’ve got the best in-laws ever; you’ll get no monster-in-law stories from me!

N — Our little computer nook on the upstairs landing has the best view in the whole house, and it’s my favorite place to be.

S — The public school system in Palo Alto is blessed with dedicated teachers and involved parents (the fact that so many of them are also internet millionaires with big hearts and big checkbooks is an added bonus!)

T — My son ThreePo needs constant love and affection, but gives it in return.

Y — I don’t have my youth anymore, but the memories are great!

[/quote] Ana Picazo, blogger, freelance writer, mom.

You can read the rest of her gratitude alphabet here.

What I really liked about Ana was the authenticity and playfulness that came across in her posts. So I reached out to her for an interview. Check it out:

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Love the Filipino word ‘bongga’ and your fun food and lifestyle updates. Briefly tell us about how you got started blogging.

In 2006 I was a mom of a 5 year old girl and twin 2 year old boys…. and I was drowning. I needed an outlet, so when a friend from school invited me to write for the Silicon Valley Moms blog, I jumped at the chance. Silicon Valley Moms blog went on to become one of the most successful collaborative blogs of its time, and I went on to start a personal blog and a review blog.  I fell in love with blogging and never looked back.

What current or recent project are you working on, and what is your role?

I still maintain both my personal and review blogs, but the bulk of my work as a blogger consists of freelance writing. I am currently a contributor to the Savvy Source, Silicon Valley Mamas, and Bedtime Math.

Tell us more about the gratitude challenge you took in 2009.

In August of 2009, I was invited to join a group of bloggers in blogging every day about the things we were grateful for. We were given specific writing prompts and activities for each day of the 21-day challenge.  I welcomed the challenge of blogging each and every day. I also wanted to be a better role model for my kids, and do less yelling and more hugging.  I thought that taking the time to reflect upon my blessings was a good way to start.

What was the best part of the gratitude project for you personally?

Remembering and listing down everything that I have to be grateful for.

What was the most difficult challenge you had in maintaining a gratitude practice?

Maintaining the discipline to blog every day.

What’s the biggest thing you learned from the gratitude project?

Being grateful is easy, but acknowledging it and thanking those responsible takes work.

Gratitude is more than an attitude, it’s a habit-tude.

What’s one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a gratitude practice?

When you think about it, you can be grateful even for little things. Look at the little things in your life that make your life easier or make you happy, and think about what your life would be like if they weren’t there.

What’s next for you?

My kids are moving on from elementary school to middle school and beyond. They are getting more independent, which gives me more flexibility to pursue more freelance contracts. I’ve taken a position as a social media manager for a nonprofit, and I’ve begun dabbling in web design.  I don’t have as much time for personal blogging, but I’ll always be a blogger at heart!

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Ana also talks about “the little things in your life that make your life easier or make you happy”. Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and life satisfaction. More than any other personality trait. More than even optimism, hope or compassion.

According to researchers, Ana’s tip to “think about what your life would be like if they weren’t there.” is actually effective in inspiring gratitude and happiness.

In his book “Gratitude works : A 21 day program for creating emotional prosperity.”, UC Davis professor and researcher Robert Emmons writes that “thinking about the absence of  something positive in your life produces more gratitude and happiness than imagining its presence.” These findings (a result off controlled research experiments) show that gratitude works in ways that we can barely begin to comprehend.

How this changes YOUR life

The biggest take-away for me from Ana Picazo’s was her advice about gratitude being more of a habit-tude than an attitude. Its the little things in your life that add up to make the bulk of your lived experience. The smallest of things can inspire gratitude in us. While its relatively easier to sit down in the comfort of your home and write down little lists of gratitude in your journal, the real work – and especially the rewards come from acknowledging your gratitude through actions. By thanking people who have helped you, by performing random acts of kindness, by reaching out to those that are less fortunate and helping them.

Last week, a friend posted on her Facebook status that she was blown away by a simple act of kindness at the drive-thru.  The guy who drove up before her had paid for her order in advance. She seemed thrilled with the experience and talking about how she hoped to pay it forward someday. You can imagine the gratitude a stranger’s simple act inspired in her. A small bill paid at the drive-thru – he didn’t even have to go out of his everyday routine to show this simple kindness.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″] A gratitude practice is more effective when you take concrete steps to increase your ‘gratitude awareness’ and to infect other people with feelings of thankfulness by setting an example of giving without expecting anything in return. [/quote]

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r8qYyeMMWI&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I am grateful for the ability to nurture a grateful disposition through my thoughts, actions and convictions. I am grateful for the ability to deeply ingrain this practice into my everyday struggles so that ‘giving thanks’ can germinate in the fertile ground of my inner being. I am grateful not only for the ability to contemplate on all the things I am grateful for, but also for the ability to act, express and release my gratitude in order to change the world around me.  Gratitude felt and more importantly, expressed through our actions can radically change the nature of a relationship, journey or goal. I am grateful for the everyday opportunities to express gratitude through my words and actions.

Inspired by Robert Emmons’ powerful metaphor of ‘growing gratitude’

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Today’s Task

Today’s task is as simple as going out there and sowing your seeds of gratitude in the world around you. Get up right now and go do any of the following five:

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  • Write a letter to an old teacher, professor or mentor about how they changed your life. If they heaped you through a particularly challenging experience, let them know. Go out and mail it.
  • Call your mother, father, sibling or spouse randomly. Talk about how much you love them and how much richer your life is because they are around to support you.
  • Perform a random act of kindness.
  • Help someone in need – volunteer at a shelter, help an old lady with the groceries, donate your old clothes.[/list]

 
Now, go out and make the world a better place!

 

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Day 13 – I am grateful that I have access to healthy, delicious, nutritious food

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22JT4Vn1lcg&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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Every weekend, our cook goes into town to buy fresh vegetables and fruits. There is a farmer’s market in the heart of Old Ahmedabad City to which she travels. In the midst of a cacophony of vendors selling everything to fruits to vegetables to nuts to meat and fish, she picks out the freshest, healthiest produce to last us for the rest of the week.

I order healthy and delicious produce from a list of my choice. I am grateful that I can afford such a wide variety of nutritious food. I am grateful for my cook for painstakingly picking out the freshest produce for us to eat.

I am also grateful  for the realization that food is literally fuel to my body. I am grateful that I no longer eat as much junk as I used to I am grateful that eating healthy food clears my mind. I am grateful for my daily green smoothies they keep me energized and feeling powerful. I am grateful for the awareness that my body works best when nurtured with healthy clean diet and not mindless oily, unhealthy junk.

I am grateful for the means to afford this healthy food and the luxury of feeding myself high quality produce. I am grateful for a healthy and functioning body that can enjoy such nutritious food. I am grateful for the awareness that enables me to make healthy dietary choices.

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Wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein are essential to eating well and maintaining a healthy body but most of us have no time or patience to follow complicated diets. So I’ve tried to set up a better way to feed myself  healthier meals. Below are some of the practices that help me everyday:

Portion control

We actually do not need to eat as much as we think we do. Except veggies, of course. A simple way to eat healthy and still feel satisfied is to eat your veggies at the beginning of your meal. That way, you will be full when you get to the higher calorie foods. Studies show that Americans are not only eating more high calorie foods outside the home, but also that portions are slowly getting larger. Larger portion sizes coupled with sedentary lifestyles are a potent time-bomb waiting to detonate into a slew of health problems – obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, even joint and muscle problems from lugging all that extra weight around. To combat this, save high calorie foods for the end of your meal when you will be fuller from the veggies and more able to resist gorging yourself because of hunger pangs.

Pantry control

Restricting yourself to home-cooked meals also means you have to commit to eating low-calorie but nutrient laden meals in the home. So raid your pantry. It may sound extreme and wasteful but throwing out unhealthy foods will not only get rid of all the temptation, it will also help you avoid healthcare bills in the long run. Produce, lean protein, meat, whole grains – anything that looks like it came out of the ground can stay. The rest of the stuff? Dump it.

Dress up your veggies

If you’re going to eat them over the long term, your veggies need to taste great. If you can practice moderation, there is nothing wrong with using a table spoon of ranch, a few shreds of cheese, raisins, nuts, soy sauce or anything else that tickles your tastebuds. Dress up your veggie platter so it looks enticing. Flavorful herbs, colorful fruits and unusual spices can add adventure and novelty to otherwise bland vegetables without the burden of extra calories. Do what you need to do in order for your fruits and veggies to taste great. Make them the highlight of your meal.

Smart snacking

Some experts say that your snacks ( especially the less healthy ones) must be no larger than the size of your fist. Veggies, of course, are an exception. I am a certified junk food addict, so instead of snack time being a starvation struggle, I treat myself to a tiny (no cheating here!) portion of my favourite snack and enjoy it without beating myself up.

Manage your eating environment

Take a look at where you eat. Is everyone around you munching on cheesecake and chips? Are your friends laughing at your failed attempts lose weight? Do you watch tv while eating? get yourself out of these toxic situations. Find a new, fresh, clean and inspiring place to eat. In the summer, go out to the patio to enjoy the scenery and fresh air. In winter, find a cozy spot near the fireplace. Make your dining area your sacred shrine.

Sustainable food habits take much more effort than just going through the motions until you are so desperate for a bag of Cheetos that you drool in your sleep when you dream about them. Every meal is a choice – not a battle! Experiment to make your healthy food taste good so that you actually look forward to eating it. Think of it at as a love affair – keep it fresh and exciting, throwing in some new flavours here and there. Most of all, remember that food is not about comfort, stress-relief, reward or stuffing yourself just because it tastes so great.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]Food is fuel.[/quote]

Go ahead. Tattoo that on the inside of your wrist. I’m joking!

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Day 12 – I am grateful to my sister for dragging me to Yoga class

Growing up in an East Indian household, Yoga was something reserved for crummy old uncles and aunties trying to lose weight. Any Indian kid I knew, any Indian kid worth their salt steered clear of anything yoga-related. My grandmother did yoga, so did my aunt. They made me do it sometimes with them. I kind of thought it was fun – but I wouldn’t be caught dead doing it.

So imagine my surprise when my sister insisted we sign up for a month of unlimited hot yoga (unlimited?!?) at the local yoga centre when I returned home for a visit this summer. Not only was she literally dragging me to yoga. It sounded like some torturous new fad. What the hell was hot yoga???

I went reluctantly, almost ran away again when I realized hot yoga was literally HOT… We were practicing inside of a sweltering room heated to unnatural degrees by a heater and humidifier rolled into one hideous looking machine. It was supposed to be good for your joints… or something.

Anyway, I started the session skeptically, but by the end of it I was like WOW! The workouts were gruelling, but there was nothing new about that. I’d done gruelling workouts before. What blew me away was that the entire time I was contorting my body into impossible positions in that dark, infernal studio, my mind was quiet. No anxieties surfacing, no fears, no thinking just a soft, worm void like a womb. Instead, I felt a sense of relief at not having to think. I’m a worry wart. My mind is constantly whirring, even when I’m trying to relax. The evil side of my brain is constantly whispering silent poison into my internal ear about ALL the things that are going to go wrong with my life if I take risks. I take risks anyway – and boy, do I pay the price listening to my inner devil.

Our instructor closed the practice with a few lines of gratitude for the support we take for granted – the ability to have been there in that room, the circumstances in our lives that make it possible to engage in leisure activities like this. She asked us to release all hurts, self inflicted and by others, to release our fears and let the universe take care of them. As corny as it sounds, the meditation had me sobbing uncontrollably by the end. The combination of moving muscles I had long ago forgotten how to, with the gruelling physical conditions and the utter mental peace gave me an overwhelming sense of relief that I had not felt in a long, long time.

Back in the real world, I felt rejuvenated, empowered and ready to take on anything that life throws at me. That month of hot yoga has long been over, but I’ve rediscovered a new sense of freedom in the practice of yoga that grounds me everyday. I’ve possibly turned into a crummy old aunty and I can’t believe how good it feels!

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaPWdvDiPaE&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

[message_box title=”Affirmation” color=”beige”]I’m grateful for a sister that pushed me to join yoga class. I am grateful for my old folks that took care of my little one while I indulged in daily hot yoga sessions. I am grateful for the luxury of time and money that allows me to afford such leisure practices that rejuvenate me. I am grateful for the physical and mental benefits of discovering this yoga practice. I am grateful for the amazing instructors at Moksha Yoga whose words had a bigger impact on me then they will ever know. Their words moved me to tears, they allowed me to introspect and think the scary thoughts that I was repressing. Their gentle support allowed me to think these scary thoughts in the safe-womb of that dark studio. I am grateful for the strong and supple body that allows me to continue to practice everyday. I am grateful for the steady mind that allows me to focus my thoughts. I am grateful for the breath that allows me to centre myself. I am grateful for the lungs that draw in oxygen and give me strength. I am grateful for the change in my food habits as a result of my yoga practice that allows me to nourish myself with clean, healthy food that keeps me nimble. I am grateful for the burst of energy I feel after a practice session. I am grateful for the increased mindfulness I experience as a result of practice that allows me to be fully present with my two year old. Most of all, I am grateful for this beautiful life I’ve been blessed with where I feel free, joyous and excited to begin each day with my daily practice.[/message_box]

 

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Day 11 – I am grateful for the people that make my life comfortable

I am grateful for the people that make my life comfortable

How many people make your life possible the way as it is? How many of them do you take the time to thank?

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It is Diwali in India and while most of India is exploding with designer sweets and consumer culture and firecrackers, I see some quiet acts of kindness too. Some people are quietly tipping, thanking and wishing the people that serve us.

I am grateful for the ability to afford so much help with maintaining my lifestyle. I am grateful for the support of so many wonderful people that show up everyday cheerful to do their job. Even on days where they may feel sick or dread work, they show up and do a good job of doing it. I am grateful for the cook that provides kind childcare even though it is not part of her job description. I am grateful for the security guards that guard our community. I am grateful for the kind old man guarding my little girl’s school who always spares a smile for her as she gets dropped off and picked up everyday. I am grateful for the pre-school staff that nurture my child everyday and allow me the luxury of a couple of hours to work on this website. I am grateful for the chauffeurs that drive me around the chaotic Indian roads so I don’t have to deal with that hassle.  I am grateful for the gardener that keeps our outdoor space manicured and beautiful. I am grateful for the government staff who work hard to process papers that allow me and my child to stay here. I am grateful for the farmers that toil under the harsh sun so that we may eat fresh fruits and vegetables to nurture our bodies. I am grateful that so many people rally to make my comfortable lifestyle a reality.

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This is for the one who drives the big bus, up and down the road.
Or the one out in the warehouse, bringing in the load.
Or the health aide, the mechanic, the campus supervisor on patrol.
For everyone who works behind the scenes.
With a spirit you can’t replace with no machine.

by Chris Gdowski, Adams District School Superintendent[/quote]

 

When you think about it, there are a ton of people that work hard everyday to make your comfortable lifestyle a reality:

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  • Cashiers who cash out my groceries quickly and with my smile. They make grocery shopping enjoyable and convenient.
  • Janitors who clean up after me at work and at home. They save me time and make my surroundings comfortable, clean and livable.
  • Garbagemen – who take away the garbage every week. Without them I would be surrounded by streets that are a stinking, disease harbouring mess.
  • Local Barristas who fuel my writing with their delicious beverages. They allow me to sit in a public place, watch people that inspire my writing.
  • Bank tellers who allow me to keep my money and valuables secure and who help me access these resources when the fancy strikes. They allow me the freedom to stop worrying about the security of my valuable possessions.
  • Housekeeper who cooks for us, cleans after us, watches our kids and serves us healthy, delicious meals. She allows me to work from home. Because if her, I  have the luxury to go out everyday without worrying about putting food on the table. Because of her, I can go on dates with my husband without worrying about my daughter’s dinner. Because she spends all day in the kitchen, I get to eat delicious, elaborate meals every day.
  • Chauffeurs who drive me around so I don’t have to deal with the crazy Indian traffic. They take me to play dates, lunch meet-ups, to my daughter’s school, to doctors’s appointments, to the office and even to visit friends and family. Because of these chauffeurs, I can travel without the hassles of driving myself everywhere.
  • Gardener who toils in the sweltering Indian afternoons, planting beautiful herbs, flowers and watering the soil so that my garden is always landscaped, beautiful and pristine. Because of him, I am able to enjoy the lush gardens on my property. Because of him, I’m able to dabble in my little Potager garden growing herbs, greens and edible flowers without having to lift heavy soil.
  • Preschool teachers who take care of my child everyday so I can have two hours of peace and quiet to do the work I need to go in order to keep this website running. They allow me to drop off my child guilt-free, secure in the knowledge that while I’m away from her, the teachers are kind role models to her, teaching her new, useful and interesting things about the world around her.
  • Security staff who guard the residential area I live in. They allow us to sleep at night, keeping us safe from thieves, hoodlums and robbers by staying up all night to watch out for our safety. Because of them, I feel secure, confident and protected from crime in our gated community.
  • Physicians who treat my family when we are sick. Because of them we enjoy quick recoveries, spending most of our time healthy, worry free and enjoying life to the fullest.
  • Farmers who work all year round to nurture crops of fruits and vegetables, then sell them to me for less than the price of most unhealthy, packaged goods. These incredible human beings undertake hard labor just so the rest of us can eat a clean, healthy diet.
  • Subway musicians who have always made my commute pleasant and interesting. There is one man in particular that has been embedded in my psyche. When I used to work in Oncology, there was a bearded, middle aged man who played beautiful, soulful violin tunes every morning and evening as I passed him by. Everytime I pass by Queen’s Park subway station, I remember him with fondness. I don’t know where he is, but I hope he’s still cranking out some badass music.

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This is just a cross-section of the people that help me in my life.

Today’s Task

Think about your life. Who is helping you in your everyday struggles? Have you thanked any of them lately? Maybe you’re not quite sure where to begin. Try looking through the list below for something that seems comfortable for you. Which of these words can you share with a service person that is helping you today:

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  • From friendship to mentorship to leadership, you have given this company a warm kinship in every possible form. Thanks.
  • I am sending you thank you note for your excellent services. My appreciation to your job is greater than the words I could express in this note.
  • I am very fortunate to avail your services and I am really happy that I had you for carrying out this difficult work. Thank you very much.
  • My words can never be enough to praise your actions because your work always meets my expectations. Thank you.
  • Thank you for all your efforts and dedication. Your sincere service needs all our encouragement and appreciation.
  • Thank you for being so committed.
  • Thank you for bringing your positive attitude to work every day.
  • Thank you for your excellent work and your support. You have really made my life more comfortable and have taken my worries away.
  • Thank you for your hard work and honesty.
  • Your enthusiasm is a personality trait that cannot be learnt and a skill which cannot be taught.
  • Your job was timely and very helpful. It deserves all my appreciation.

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You can find the entire list here.

 

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Day 10 – I am grateful for the daughter who reminds me everyday of the beauty that exists in the simple, non-material things

I am grateful for the daughter who reminds me everyday of the beauty that exists in the simple, non-material things.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayJoUPyDQGQ&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
[message_box title=”Affirmation Day 10″ color=”beige”]I learned this the difficult way. Although I have never been much of a shopper or consumer, I started buying clothes, toys and little knick knacks for my little one the moment I found out I was pregnant. I’d buy her stuff, especially toys and to my dismay, she never played with them. She didn’t so much as cast a second glance at them. She was more interested in my smiles, the cooing from other people, from banging pots and pans we already had to looking at my clothes and playing with my jewellery. It took me a long time to take the cue from her and stop buying toys. I have a cupboard full of play doh, barbies, stuffed toys, music toys, kitchen sets and a million craft activities from a time when I had yet to realize a fundamental truth that this little child already knew – the best things in life are often the simplest. A lot of times, they are also free.

So I started focusing instead on the funny faces, the hugs, the piggy back rides, the messy dough parties, counting and sorting beans, watching butterflies, growing a herb garden instead. And she started flourishing! Where before she was bored and cranky, she is now engaged and excited. She reminds me everyday to do the dusting by picking up the duster herself. She helps me sort laundry, she helps me water plants. She even helps me put her toys away. All of this without much prompting from me.

I am grateful for the simple lessons children impart. I am grateful for the insight that though she may be little in size, my daughter has wisdom that is far beyond her years, far beyond mine. I am grateful for when she calls me out on having double standards and being a hypocrite. Like when I force her to wear her indoor slippers when she comes home and wash her hands and feet before bed but forget to do it myself. Like when I eat junky cookies while telling her to eat her veggies. I am grateful she stops me in my tracks and forces change my behaviour so I’m closer to the person I want to be.

I am grateful for her sunny smile even when she’s hurt or sick. I am grateful for the unconditional love she gives me even on days when I am cranky, irritable, not at my best. I am grateful for the blessing of a beautiful child that reminds me every time of what’s most sacred in life.

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Teaching the right things to our kids is something I’ve seen a lot of parents struggle with. No matter how scrupulous you are, you always make a few parenting mistakes that you end up regretting. Often, these things may be issues we were struggling with ourselves while growing up. Melissa Fagan wrote a very thought provoking post about The (Super) Power of Gratitude:

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Lately, I’ve been coming to terms with my most worn-out childhood belief, the one that keeps me stuck time and again: the belief that I’ll never have or ultimately be enough. So when the ‘never enough’ tape started to play, I’d drown it out with gratitude.

Gratitude is fundamental to being ok with ourselves and who we are.

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Gratitude may be the antidote to feeling crappy about ourselves but there is a fundamental truth that I’m only just starting to realize:

We think we are the ones who raise our kids, nurture them and perhaps most importantly, teach them about the world. It is actually the other way around.  As much as we teach them to walk and talk, they teach us about life. No other human role inspires as much personal growth as that of a parent. In the end, we learn and benefit the most from our kids. Not the other way around. Our kids don’t need us. We need them.

That is something I want to keep in mind the next time I am feeling like I have to sacrifice a lot of personal and career opportunities to raise my daughter at home.

 

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Day 9 – I am Grateful for My Faith and Spiritual Beliefs

I’m grateful for my spiritual beliefs

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJ18xCZyEYk&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I spent the better part of my teens believing I was an atheist. I was well into my twenties when I looked back and realized that all along, with my head in the sand, I’d been praying, believing, ritualizing my way through the good times and the bad.

I don’t believe in ‘a’ religion. I do believe in intangible things. I’m grateful for that. Which shocked me to no end when I first had that realization, but at 28, I’m starting to realize that in a world shredded by disbelief, skepticism, negativity, loss of human connection,  the belief in something you can’t see hear touch or smell – is at once beautiful and thought provoking.

I am grateful for the belief in something beyond myself and the human world I know. However founded, unfounded, scientifically or wishfully based these beliefs may be, they get me through the day. I am grateful for the security of believing that there is a force out there that is watching out for me, supporting me and cradling me even in the most difficult of times. I am grateful that in the good times, this force is rejoicing in my happiness and sharing my excitement. I am grateful for the freedom to believe these things and not being forced into a box of subscribing to particular religious or dogmatic beliefs. I am grateful for the freedom to pick from different faiths as I wish. I am grateful that I live in a free world where I am not forced to supplicate to spiritual systems that make no sense to me. I am grateful for the comfort of the belief in a higher power. I am grateful for the ability to feel gratitude and the moral responsibility of sharing what I have with those that are less fortunate.  I now realize that those who believe in organized religion are not all that different for me. Like me, they too are looking for a strengthening set of beliefs that supports them, encourages them and gives them faith as they go about their lives. I am grateful for the realization that perhaps, spiritual beliefs are just a way for us to feel supported in our human existence, no more, no less. And I am okay with that. [/message_box]

What are spiritual beliefs?

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“A set of mutually supportive beliefs. These beliefs may be religious, philosophical, ideological or a combination of these… the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.”
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I read an interesting musing over at Live Laugh love mentioned above. In it, Life Coach, Vedam Clementi scrutinizes the meaning of spiritual beliefs.  He explains a simple (but very effective) concept of how our belief systems are made. Simply put, your mind keeps recording every situation, every experience that you encounter, how you reacted to it, what happened as a resold and over time, these cumulative thoughts, cause-and-effect-scenarios, rationalizations and experiences become your belief systems. Clementi further points out that  these repetitive thoughts need not be yours in order to be internalized and turned into beliefs, they can be inherited from others – friends, family, media, religious authorities. The very act of  repetition makes your mind believe these ideas to be true.

“Belief systems govern our lives. They determine how we look at something, how we perceive it, how we judge something, and our expectations about situations, experiences and life in general.”

Sometimes we get so stuck in these patterns of being that its difficult for us to look at these systems objectively and see if they’re actually true for us in that moment. In school, I had a teacher who described her religious beliefs in this very distinct manner.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]My religion is over a thousand years old. Its resilient because its been passed down over and over through countless generations. Many of its beliefs are logical, even desirable,  but these are old beliefs. Do the truths of shepherds, nomads and hunter-gatherers apply to me living in the 21st century today? Most of them don’t. I just take what makes sense to me and treat the others like interesting stories[/quote]

 Going back to Clementi’s observations, “any belief system is nothing more than a bunch of thought forms”. The thing about thoughts is that they only have the power you give to them. If you pay them no heed, thoughts by themselves are nothing. If you feed and nurture them however, thoughts can become powerful vehicles for action and change – both good and bad.

Which thoughts would you feed – the ones that serve you, or the ones that don’t? 

The answer to that question explains why  “spiritual but not religious” is such a popular term today. Below, I’ve highlighted insightful quotes from two writers that I thought had some interesting things to say on the matter:

John Cannon from Another Perspective put it very aptly:

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If one decides that the evidence proves the non-existence of a supreme being, then one must scrutinize their beliefs as to what, if anything at all, we have to look forward to once that wee spark of life within us is extinguished by age or hate or disease.

Every act that we each perform which creates a kinder, more loving and co-operative and hopeful future is the greatest act that mankind is capable of. The spiritual sensitivity that I seek is one in which we all behave with love and charity and decency towards one another. I seek a time when we learn just how much is truly “enough” and to share that excess with all.

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Another Blogger, Tracey Jackson from Gratitude and Trust puts it this way:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]I believe in belief. And when I am enveloped by it, I let its power overwhelm me. Whatever you believe – for many this [Easter] is your week.  Love. Pray. Cry. Laugh. Feast. Rejoice. And then take that feeling with you, try and bottle it up, or tuck it deep in your heart.  And then on those days when one is not celebrating major religious holidays you can draw on it.  Take a sip from your belief cup.  Draw on that belief for sustenance love, and strength.  Give back, Be grateful. Trust. Because belief in any form is just that – trust. [/quote]

If you’re still skeptical and want more authoritative information on why engaging in spiritual practices is good for you, check our the following benefits of good quality spiritual care as prescribed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

  • Improved self-control, self-esteem and confidence
  • Faster and easier recovery from illness,
  • Maximized personal potential
  • Improved relationships—with self, others and our environment
  •  new sense of meaning, resulting in reawakening of hope and peace of mind
  • Increased ability to accept and live with unresolved problems

 

Today’s Task

Reflect on the following questions:

  1. What does spirituality mean to me?
  2. What are the formative sources in my environment what shaped my spiritual beliefs growing up?
  3. Do these spiritual beliefs inspire and uplift or frighten and bind me?
  4. For the beliefs that uplift you,
  5. What internal resources are strengthened by my spiritual practices?
  6. What external support am I able to access as a result of participating in spiritual practices?

 

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Day 7 – I am Grateful for the Gift of Human Connection

I am grateful for the gift of human connection.

Loneliness is an epidemic in today’s world. From kids to teens to adults and the elderly, we are all suffering silently in our private worlds of disconnection. As technology replaces a lot of our human functions, as we are drawn deeper into the world of automated messages and snapchats, we are slowly losing our ability to have a deep face-to-face connection.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I sat side by side for an hour and a half while our toddler slept beside us. Silently. Without uttering a single word. When I managed to look up front the novel I was reading on my iPad, I realized how equally engrossed he was in reading the Times of India on his iPhone. Then a thought occurred to me: If we were locked into a room together for an hour without any gadgets, would we be able to hold a decent conversation? What scared me was that I didn’t know if we could. Where I expected myself to rebut with a resounding yes, my mind came up with a doubtful blank. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband. I get along with him. Those of you who have been with your partner or spouse for a while may be able to relate. The conversations don’t have the sparkle they used to.

Then I got to thinking about other people. Can I find one person I can have a deep, long conversation with? Siblings don’t count, by the way. I tried to think of people in my life I could sit down with one-on-one and proceed to talk about an issue that mattered without giving in to the urge to fidget, check my iPhone or turn on the TV. Yes, there were a few people, but my list came up woefully shorter than I thought was healthy.

Nurturing Human Connections

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME5priGOWHU[/youtube]

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The other day, I was looking for something to help my preschooler deal with tantrums by teaching the concept of mindfulness. I ended up buying Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh

The book tells many stories – one of these is the story of James, a little boy in Plum Village (France). In a group of children learning mindfulness, James and two of his friends are rebels. They’re always engaging in disruptive activities when the other kids are meditating. Instead of yelling and disciplining them, the spiritual teacher keeps inviting them to join and making them feel welcome time after time. They never join in, but on the last evening of the retreat, James comes tagging along behind his mother, asking the teacher for a hug. As time goes on James becomes attached to the teacher, his spiritual understanding deeper, his hugs warmer.

The power of this story lies in its simple lesson that disconnected though we may be in our human interactions today, there is still hope. In a situation where it feels like your efforts are going to waste, the little things you do may affect the other person in ways that you may not even notice. So instead of getting overwhelmed by the impossibility of forging deep connections in today’s world, get out there and sow your seeds of kindness. You never know which of these can germinate into a tree of genuine love and friendship.

I am grateful for the human ability to forge connections. I am grateful for the close connections I already have – those unconditional relationships where I can do anything, say anything, be anything. I am grateful for the close connections I have yet to form, that are yet to germinate. I am grateful for the ability to think, to listen to respond, I am grateful that despite awkward conversations, difficult circumstances and emotional hardships, many of my important relationships continue to thrive and grow. I am grateful for the redeeming and forgiving nature of these genuine relationships. When your underlying foundation is solid, no matter how big a rift your relationship experiences, there will always be a way to heal, to make amends. I am grateful for the gift of peering into the soul of another human being, and being able to bare mine for another to see.[/message_box]

Today’s Task

There’s a beautiful exercise in Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh called “Building Anew” that can prevent feelings of hurt form building up and diffuses conflicts in order to restore emotional safety in your relationships. Find a friend, partner or a small group to do this activity with. This is also a great family activity to increase bonding and express gratitude.

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  • This simple practice begins with something called ‘flower watering’ where you essentially speak truthfully about the positive qualities of others without any flattery.  You take as much time as you need while the other person practices deep listening, resisting the urge to interrupt.
  • Once you finish, you express regret for anything u have done to hurt others. This requires a reg=cognition of the fact that sometimes, it only takes a small thought, action or word to  hurt someone. Whether you hurt someone consciously or unconsciously, you can undo this damage by acknowledging that the other person has been hurt by your actions, and sharing your regret with the person you have hurt.
  • When you have finished expressing your regret, you can express ways in which others have hurt you. Use loving speech.  Goal is to heal your relationship and not a content for who is right or wrong. As the listener, you would show compassion by listening to another’s pain and showing willingness to relieve their emotional suffering.Even if you disagree with something they are saying, listen deeply. In doing so, you give the other person the gift of freely expressing their pain and allowing them to release the tension within. This is a rare and precious gift – the gift of allowing a free release of pent up emotions. Give it unconditionally.
  • End the practice with a soothing song or mindful breathing together.

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Inspired from Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day 6 – I am Grateful for the Ability to Release All Bitterness, Resentment and Dissatisfaction and Emerge Resilient

I am grateful for the ability to release all bitterness, resentment, dissatisfaction, so that I may see the blessings I miss while taking part in the everyday busy-making of life.

Sometimes we are so focused on the things that are wrong in our lives that we barely notice the good things that we are right under out noses. It takes a chance encounter, a life changing experience, a thought provoking conversation before you open your eyes and look around you with a different lens. When you do look around with a fresh perspective, you realize the beauty you were searching so desperately for, the one that you have been taking for granted, has been with you all along. You were just too caught up in the drama, the bitterness of things that didn’t go our way.

Resentment and bitterness can cloud your vision. Bitterness is a vice that holds you in its grip long after the offending incident has passed. Here’s the interesting part. When bitterness festers into resentment, it pollutes your entire being. Often, it also pollutes your relationships, your aspirations, your environment.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4VbVNg7F3U[/youtube]

I once cared for a terminal cancer patient who had lost it all. I mean this in a literal sense. When he was diagnosed, he lost his job, his physical abilities, his beloved garden, even his wife who left him for a more physically able man. Yet, every time I saw him, he was polite, even kind, always trying to make others feel comfortable. When I asked him how he stays so positive, he replied with words that I will never forget.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]“I have a few days left to live.  I refuse to let cancer win by spending those precious moments checking off the things that didn’t go right for me. Wherever my wife is, I hope she is happy. We don’t need two people suffering through this horrible illness.”[/quote]

His generosity of spirit brought tears to my eyes – but it was his utter lack of bitterness that left me stunned. This man who had been served the worst imaginable circumstances, was sending cosmic goodwill to the one person who should have been by his side but had deserted him in his worst time of need.

[message_box title=”AFFIRMATION” color=”beige”]I am grateful for the human ability to forgive and move on. I am grateful for the release of bitterness, for dissatisfaction , grudges, and resentment. Releasing pent up bitterness not only frees the other person from the shackles of your negative energy, it also ironically frees you , releases you and cleanses you from whatever pain you are holding in your heart. I solemnly resolve to release all bitterness from my mind. I choose to remember instead the liberating power of a joyful mind. Regardless of the awful things I’ve been through, the heartache that loved ones have inflicted upon me. Regardless of the countless personal dreams I’ve seen crash and burn, I promise myself that from this moment forward, I will release the failures – both mine and those of other people. Starting from this moment until my last breath, I resolve to choose freedom. Freedom from bitterness. Freedom from resentment. Freedom to focus on positive things that will drive me in the direction of my dreams instead. [/message_box]

So here’s the thing…

In order to turn your disappointments into learning opportunities,  you need to nurture a mindset of resilience. Resilient people bounce back from disappointments and failures, using these setbacks as rungs on the ladder to success. Resilient people:

Remain accountable.  They own up to their part in the problem. They make no excuses. They never play the victim card.

Remain optimistic.  In the best-selling book, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, author Elaine Fox talks about the fear-seeking brain and the pleasure seeking brain. Those that have a sunny disposition are optimistic, friendlier and also likely to get more of what they want out of life. This is based off of actual research. So remain optimistic – it might just make the difference between achieving our dreams – or not.

Have strong boundaries. Many people confuse being a people-pleaser with being compassionate. Resilient people create and exercise strong boundaries for themselves. When people walk all over them, they react by reinforcing their boundaries, clarifying what is acceptable to them, and what they will not stand for. They do not react with complying and then feeling bitter or resentful.

Avoid self-bashing.  As important as it is to not let people walk all over you, resilient people realize that it is also unacceptable to beat yourself down. Whatever mistakes you may have made in the past, forgive yourself.

Ask for help. Resilient people know when they are in need of help and seek it. They recognize the fact that if they do not tend to their issue, it will only get bigger and take more energy to resolve.

Learn from challenges. Resilient people don’t dread challenges. They relish them. Opportunities to learn, grow and to refine their methods in their quest for success. Challenges are just learning opportunities in the grand scheme of things.

Stop seeking control. Resilient people recognize that everything in life will not be under their control. They learn to be flexible and roll with the punches life throws at them. They learn to let go of the petty things and choose to focus instead on what matters to them.

Embrace change. Resilient people welcome change. They know that change, both good and bad presents opportunities for personal growth. They learn to accept change and even thrive in it.

This list was inspired from (but not exactly the same as) ’10 ways to be better, not bitter, through deep challenge’ by Kathy Caprino

Today’s Task

I want you to start noticing how you feel inside. Start noticing how incidents throughout your day make you feel either positive or negative. Grab a piece of paper, make three columns:

Column 1: Notice the events that trigger feelings towards the negative end of your emotional spectrum. Simply make a note of them without analyzing, making inferences or judgements

Column 2: Write down your reactions. Did you react with your gut? Did you think about it first? Do you believe that negative statement in your head or one someone else has said is true? Is your reaction external (verbal communication, physical action) or internal (introspection, anxiety, brooding)? How does your reaction impact your thoughts.

Column 3: Identify the underlying issues. Did the comment about your weight strike a nerve with you because of larger body image issues. Did your brother’s comment about getting a ‘real’ job make you feel inadequate? Rank each incident from 1 to 10. 1 being very important, 10 being  not so important. How important is this issue in your life. Which ones align with your goals? How much energy should you expend on it?

 

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Day 5- I am Grateful for my Body, Just the Way it is

Our body is the vehicle through which we experience the world. And yet, so many of us are unsatisfied with our bodies. We are caught up more in its structure, than its function.

The other day, I witnessed my neighbour’s nine year old daughter complain about her legs looking fat. I was shocked inside out. She was, in fact, genuinely distressed about getting too fat. I tried to think back to when I was nine.  All I worried about was running round, peering into bird nests, collecting flowers, leaves and building little model houses.

Another time, a mother at my toddler’s preschool complained about her three year old saying “these clothes are too tight on me mommy, am I getting fat?” I’m willing to bet that this came from her child having heard an adult say it before. Kids are like a blank canvas that mirror our insecurities. So I wonder, what unconscious messages are we sending to the future generation?

I’m not judging. I’ve been struggling in the same rabid waters of self-doubt and loathing. When you and yours are looking at photos of airbrushed celebrities and dangerous images of ‘thinspiration’, maintaining a healthy body-image can become an ongoing uphill battle. Our bodies are somewhat of a engineering masterpiece to be celebrated rather than a source of negativity to worry about.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZW-lJpA7-wE&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I am grateful for the flawed, imperfect body I’ve been blessed with. As flawed as it may be, my body allows me to move, run, jump, and walk. It also allows me to feel sensory pleasure, to travel, to grow and to learn new things about the world everyday. My imperfect body allows me to enjoy difficult workouts, soothing massages and even to do things like driving, cooking and playing with my daughter. There are so many things we take for granted with our body. For a long time, I’d look at the stretch marks, the sagging skin, and see nothing but the loss of a strong, youthful body. But I’ve learned to appreciate the body I have – exactly as it is right now.

Rather than an object to be used, abused, loathed and criticized, I choose to view my body as a temple, a shrine. A monument to my life. Each scar, each stretch mark telling a beautiful story about my life. These scars give my life meaning. These imperfections make my body beautiful.

When all is said and done, I am grateful that I look like no one but myself. I am grateful for the ability to nourish my body with healthy foods. I embrace my flaws. I embrace my scars. For it is the flaws, the scars, the imperfections that make my body so exquisitely perfect.

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Extra Resources

We’ve rounded up some extra resources to support you in today’s gratitude journey of appreciating your body and cultivating a healthier body image.

Affirmations

Affirmations are powerful. Use them frequently, and you will subtly alter your thought patterns to bring you over from negativity about your body into a more positive, imperfect body-loving state of mind. Check out the following affirmations from Happy Life Circle

  • Today I love my body fully, deeply and joyfully.
  • My body has its own wisdom and I trust that wisdom completely.
  • My body is simply a projection of my beliefs about myself.
  • I am growing more beautiful and luminous day by day.
  • I choose to see the divine perfection in every cell of my body.
  • As I love myself, I allow others to love me too.
  • Flaws are transformed by love and acceptance.
  • Today I choose to honor my beauty, my strength and my uniqueness.
  • I love the way I feel when I take good care of myself.
  • Today my own well-being is my top priority.

 

Dialogue

If affirmations are powerful, dialogues are doubly powerful. They have the power to spread, to educate and perhaps even go viral, both online and offline. That’s how societal change happens – and what better way to start a dialogue about body image than with your own child. Read the following excerpt from a powerful letter written by mommy blogger Gemma Hartley to her little girl. I highly recommend that you read the rest of the letter. If you are a parent, it will move you, change you and inspire you. Its that powerful.

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There is beauty in the fact that your body is strong and able—that you can run and jump and swim and dance and cartwheel and kick and whatever else you choose to do. Your body is powerful and amazing. Appreciate all it does for you. Embrace it as it is. Love it. Love yourself.

My body is strong. Amazing. It has brought life into this world. It has housed you and your brother, kept you safe and warm and healthy even before I knew you existed. These scars and marks on my stomach tell a story. A story of love. If that is not beauty, I do not know what is. My body has nourished you and comforted you. This stomach which is not lean and flat, this face which has aged so quickly; all these things sing of my love for you. How could I not celebrate this body? How could I not think it beautiful?

-Gemma Hartley, author of Journey of Love blog
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Will Powers

Finally, here’s an authoritative list of ten ‘will powers’ from National Eating Disorders Association by Michael Levine, PhD and Linda Smolak, PhD to help you improve your body image.

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  • I WILL ask myself: “Am I benefiting from focusing on what I believe are flaws in my body weight or shape?”
  • I WILL think of three reasons why it is ridiculous for me to believe that thinner people are happier or “better.” I will repeat these reasons to myself whenever I feel the urge to compare my body shape to someone else’s.
  • I WILL spend less and less time in front of mirrors—especially when they are making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious about my body.
  • I WILL exercise for the joy of feeling my body move and grow stronger. I will not exercise simply to lose weight, purge fat from my body, or to “make-up” for calories I have eaten.
  • I WILL participate in activities that I enjoy, even if they call attention to my weight and shape.I will constantly remind myself that I deserve to do things I enjoy, like dancing, swimming, etc., no matter what my shape or size is!
  • I WILL refuse to wear clothes that are uncomfortable or that I do not like but wear simply because they divert attention from my weight or shape. I will wear clothes that are comfortable and that make me feel at home in my body.
  • I WILL list 5 to10 good qualities that I have, such as understanding, intelligence, or creativity. I will repeat these to myself whenever I start to feel bad about my body.
  • I WILL practice taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do. Not for how slender, or “well put together” they appear.
  • I WILL surround myself with people and things that make me feel good about myself and my abilities. When I am around people and things that support me and make me feel good, I will be less likely to base my self-esteem on the way my body looks.
  • I WILL treat my body with respect and kindness. I will feed it, keep it active, and listen to its needs. I will remember that my body is the vehicle that will carry me to my dreams!

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Today’s Task

Reflection is a powerful tool for when you are stuck in  a self-destructive body-hating thought pattern. Consider your responses to the following questions. Write them down in your gratitude journal.

  1. What makes you proud of yourself?  It could be about your body, it could be about anything else. The point is to see that you are a person that is much more than a sum of his/her body parts.
  2. Start noticing the good things about other people. Their body, their actions, no matter how flawed, start noticing, rather than judging other people that you encounter, observe or interact with during your day. If the opportunity presents itself, take the initiative to compliment them on it.

 

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Day 4 – I am Grateful that I Can Think and That I Have Free Will to Use Those Thoughts to Change My Life

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. – Rober Frost [/quote]

The ability to think. Such a precious faculty.

When you think of people like Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week as an activist for female education in the Taliban-ruled Swat Valley, you begin to realize that education is a privilege that is denied to millions of people around the globe.

Millions of people so far removed from our comfortable western world educational institutions. Where nobody has to fight everyday for the right to learn, to question to think. The free will to think and to be inspired by revolutionary ideas is indeed a precious privilege that we take for granted.

Yet, in our high-tech world, we see thinking as such an obsessive activity reserved for the over-sensitive, the nerds, the writers, the misfits. You think too much. Stop Over-thinking. Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think. This basic mental faculty has earned a bad reputation over the years as relationships have moved from the ‘engaged’ end of the spectrum to the more superficial. The ability to think critically and clearly is a privilege if you think about it. For a long time, I didn’t think that way though. When I moved to India, I was suddenly among people of varying educational, aesthetic and intellectual backgrounds. All so different from mine.

Peter Clemens, author of The Change Blog (www.thechangeblog.com) writes that people around us have the free will to help or ignore us. I say the opposite is true too. I’ve turned his words around with the thought that we also have the free will to help or ignore others. We have the free will to embrace or reject others’ visions; to be rude or kind; to kill or cure; to love or hate; to be genuine or to manipulate; to treat them like kindred beings or to use them; to be honest or lie; to be grateful to them or to resent them. We have the free will to choose all of those things for everyone from our loved ones to the janitor that opens the door for us.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb48″]The good that we strive to attract as well as the evil we hope to avoid are both, nine times out of ten, the result of interactions with our fellow human beings.[/quote] Peter Clemens, Author of the Change Blog.

Prayers, meditations and affirmations are essential. According to Clemens, this introspection has the power to transform our gratitude from an internal endeavour to one that is manifested in the real world. One can do this by letting the people in our lives, from the most important, to the ones on the periphery know of the ways in which they inspire gratitude in us.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6EG1R1lewE[/youtube]
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At first, it was a huge cultural shock when I encountered different types of people. India is a country of extremes. There are extremely rich and extremely poor people living side by side. There are people who have no concept of the basic politeness, social intelligence and thought processes that run our lives in the western world. Some people have no verbal filters, blurting out rude observations – all unsolicited. At first, I was repulsed by such crassness. I used to look down upon these people for their ignorance, rudeness and superstitious beliefs. Until I realized that my ability to think and to set lofty goals are a result of a privilege. A privilege that is rarer than most people realize: access to higher education. it took me a long time to realize that my education does not make me superior to these so-called illiterate people. My cook is far more intelligent than some of my college classmates. She has not attended a single day of university. I realize now that the ability to think critically and articulate sophisticated thoughts is a blessing – not something I have earned.

I am grateful for a world class education. I am grateful for parents’ generosity in helping me pay for grad school. I am grateful I grew up in a country where education was freely available. A friend of mine put herself through school by working part-time jobs and relying heavily on student loans. She came from a single parent family of seven kids, all of whom were in Africa. Where I live now, there are people so far below the poverty line that even primary school is a pipe dream. I am grateful that I’ve been exposed to ideas that have expanded my understanding if these people. I am grateful all my schools had comfortable desks, air conditioning and heating facilities. These are schools in India where kids sit in the infernal heat, studying with crude writing tools, far, far away form the tech-oriented, internet-ruled classrooms that I know. I am grateful that at the ripe old age of 28, I can go back to school for another Masters or Doctorate degree if I choose. I’ve seen seven year old girls who are pulled our of school to sweep floors of rich peoples’ homes. I’m grateful that I have the privilege of holding pen in my hand, not a broom. I am grateful that I can think and that I have free will to use those thoughts to change my life.

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Today’s Task

Make a list of five people in your life (doesn’t have to be loves ones or friends, just people you interact with everyday) that have impacted for in a positive way. Write them a note saying why they are important to you. Add in how they’ve changed your life. Then pick up the phone, call them and tell them.

This exercise was inspired by the following video from Soul Pancake:

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHv6vTKD6lg[/youtube]

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Day 3 – I Am Grateful I Have The Power To Initiate Change

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]The essence of all great art, all beautiful art, is gratitude. -Friedrich Nietzsche[/quote]

Keeping a gratitude journal can help you feel powerful. The act of writing down things you are grateful  for can have a powerful effect on your life and relationships. Think of these things that come form maintaining a daily focus on gratitude.

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Helps the negativity vanish for a brief moment.

Brings you back to the here and now.

Makes you feel lucky rather than sorry for yourself

In times of stress and fear, it reminds you that you have support

Reminds you that things could be a lot worse.

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Inspired by Gratitude Works : A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity by Robert Emmons

In his book, A Simple Act of Gratitude, author John Kralik opens his book with a thank-you note to his son. He goes on to write 365 notes in total and that’s what his book is about. Anyway, Kralik goes talks about how the thank-you note set off a series of interactions that began to heal his rocky relationship with his son. No matter how broken, hopeless things are, you always have the power to make amends and turn things around. In fact, instead of sitting around thinking things are ruined and too far down the wrong path to change – if you just put one foot ahead of the other, surprising things will happen, as Kralik discovered in his journey. Things that you may never have considered or thought possible.

We often think of power as aggressive and money-based – perhaps even corporate, political or hard-nosed.

But there is a subtle kind of power too.

One that is much more effective. One that heals, convinces and supports. The aggressive kind of power is one that rifts people apart, establishes competition and one-upmanship. This subtle power, on the other hand,  joins, encourages and builds things together. For a long time, I used to think that the aggressive kind of power is more powerful because its so vocal, visual and seems to have dramatic effects. Slowly, I’m starting to realize that this other subtle power is far more effective, far more intense, and far more impactful. And it lasts a long, long time. Even today, through social media, people are starting to realize that being aggressive and vocal doesn’t always get you the audience you crave. Instead, its the subtle helping kind of power (the one which gives without asking), that ends up more powerful.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bMm_CEiWOo[/youtube]
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Each and everyone of us has power. Even the most disadvantaged of us. Helplessness is a state of mind – not a physical or mental condition. I once had a paraplegic patient who was more empowered than any other soul. She may have been trapped in her immobile body, but if you came anywhere within hearing distance, you’d be left in awe. Even when asking for help, she was quick, witty, unapologetic, vocal and incredibly intelligent without being pushy.

Suffice to say that with my four working appendages, she was more powerful than I was, in that moment.

I am grateful for the ability to think, to recognize the need for change and distinguish between things I like and don’t like. I am grateful for the flawed, but perfectly functional physical body that helps me move, work, run and stretch. I am grateful for the often straying but perfectly functioning mind that helps me stay strong, decisive and sure-footed even in the most unusual and frightening situations. I am grateful for an education which helps me make my point in a sophisticated manner. I am grateful to my old folks for an upbringing that gave me the unshakable confidence in myself so I could take colossal leaps of faith and giant risks –  and for the perseverance to stick to my decisions despite unsurmountable odds.  I am grateful for having moved half a world away from one set of roots to another. I am grateful for the wider perspective I have on life now. I am grateful for the reassurance that no matter where I go or what I do, I have power to initiate lasting change.

I am grateful for the realization that power comes in many different forms. I am grateful that I am no longer limited in my recognition of power. Most of all, I am grateful that despite the occasional harshness of life, I have the power to change things in the world around me.

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Today’s Task

On The Change Blog, Paul Clemens talks about the three benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Reflecting on gratitude through a journal provides insights into our busy lives that we may not even begin to notice as we go about our day. Reflecting on gratitude cultivates the discipline necessary for any type of successful endeavour – long before we succeed, we need the ability to sit down everyday and reflect on our actions and reactions so that we can do things better tomorrow. Reflecting in gratitude also leaves a legacy – whether it is for yourself fifteen years from now, or for your kids fifty years from now, your gratitude journal can tell a deeply personal story about your life’s journey.

So sit down today and pick out a simple notebook to fill up with daily gratitude reflections.

Here are some excellent tips for successful journaling

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  • Make a commitment to write in your journal for 5-10 mins everyday. Honor it.
  • If you’re too lazy to use pen and paper, an easy way is to use the voice dictation in your smartphone
  • Write in specific details. Have less points but make them real, deep, specific. Journalling is more than a list of stuff.
  • Write about the unexpected blessings that improved your day or the horrible thing you were expecting that didn’t happen.
  • Call these unexpected blessings gifts. Relish and savour them.
  • Who has helped you today, who are you grateful to, and why?
  • Think about things you take for granted. Talk about why you appreciate them.
  • Repeat your blessings everyday if they are meaningful, as long as you keep adding details and layers to them
  • Think about people that you overlook – people who have helped people you love.

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Inspired from Robert Emmons’ book Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity

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Day 2 – I am Grateful that Though I May Stumble, I Always Find My Way Back Up Again

I started today’s gratitude practice by reading Robert Emmons’s “Gratitude Works : A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity“. He opens with the story of a 98 years ‘young’ woman who stays mentally and physically healthy with a simple gratitude practice. She wrote him a poem called “I Choose“, which made me think hard about the little things that can inspire gratitude in us. Stop for a moment in your busy day and find moments like these where you release the tension that you are holding in. Sometimes the tension is physical like a dull ache radiating through your shoulders. Often, the tension is subtle, only recognized in the way your breath hitches with every passing hassle. The tightness in your chest that makes you feel simultaneously irritated and trapped.

The funny thing about gratitude is that you can start where you are. No matter how bad your situation is, you can start exactly where you are.

Emmons writes, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well being and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity and cooperation.”

Gratitude is far more powerful than you think. Try it today. Instead of focussing on the dark clouds, pay attention to the breathtaking mornings. Notice the little things that make the world around you beautiful. The mischievous laugh of a toddler. The smell of the earth after rain. The taste of perfectly brewed coffee rolling over your tongue.

Have that faith in yourself and the Universe around you that no matter how bad things get, no matter how badly you stumble, you will always be able to pick yourself back up. I’d like to leave you with the beautiful poem that I referred to at the beginning of this post:

I Choose

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I choose to be happy

I choose to be grateful

I choose to be caring

And always be thoughtful

I choose to be well

I choose to be fine

I choose to be healthy

All of the time

I choose to be patient

I choose to be strong

I choose to be calm

All the day long

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Excerpted form “Gratitude Works : A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity.” by Robert Emmons

 

Affirmation Of The Day

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnvuUzoVBYg&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
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I’m not addicted to anything. I have no illnesses. I am not poor or disadvantaged. But I have bad days too. Days where I want to curl up under a rock and never see a single human being again. Days where I am angry, hateful depressed. Days where I feel like human existence is just an exercise in greed, stupidity and slyness.

Affirmation: I am grateful that thought I may stumble, I always find my way back up again. Every. Single. Time. I am grateful that there is so much to live for that I always have my faith in humanity restored after an internal storm.  I am grateful that I have the mental faculties to crawl out from under the dark cloud even on the worst of days. I am grateful that no matter how bad it is, there are reminders littered through my physical, mental, emotional space of the fantastic life I’ve been blazed with. I am grateful for a spouse, for loved ones who always recognize my need for space or my need for encouragement – whatever the case may be.

I am grateful that there is beauty in every single morning that draws me out of my bubble on the dark days and help me engage with real life again. I am grateful for the little hands that hold me and the little pink mouth that kisses all my boo-boos away.

I am grateful that every time I stumble, there’s a universal force that cradles me and brings me back up again.

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Today’s task:  Pick a person or event that makes you hurt, angry or uncomfortable. Spend a few minutes thinking about ONE good thing that came out of that situation.
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Gratitude Challenge Day 1 – I am Grateful I Have a Place to Live

The #21daygratitudechallenge is about making your life positive, vibrant, worthwhile. This challenge features a daily multimedia recording of affirmations, daily pictures of things that inspire gratitude, an action challenge and personal reflections.

Why you need gratitude

There are numerous benefits to practicing gratitude. Our List is inspired by Robert Emmons’ (world’s leading gratitude expert) article on the Greater Good website.

Physical
  • Stronger immune system
  • Fewer muscular aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less stress-induced heartburn
  • Increased awareness of physical health
  • Increased physical activity
  • Longer and deeper sleep
  • More refreshed in the mornings
  • Better postures and parasympathetic responses

 

Psychological
  • Increase in positive emotions
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased feelings of joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness
  • Feeling “alive”
  • Higher self esteem
  • Blocks toxic emotions
  • Increased presence and attentiveness
  • Refreshed by positive thoughts regularly
  • Reduced stress

 

Social
  • Engaged relationships
  • Increased positive behaviour (helpfulness, generosity, compassion)
  • Increased social interaction
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Less superficial relationships
  • Authentic interactions with others
  • Less compulsion to put on a “front”
  • Reduced feelings of hostility and fear of others

 

Studies show that happiness strongly linked to gratitude. More than material possessions, marital status or age. Later in this challenge, we will share a video of people engaging in acts of gratitude and how it changed their perspective.

Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and an authority in gratitude research has conducted numerous studies and written textbooks on the topic of gratitude. In fact, his studies show that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%.  He talks about the concept of a happiness ‘set-point’ – your baseline level of happiness.  Good or bad events temporarily raise or lower your happiness but you always returns to your set-point once the effect of the external stimulus has passed. Practicing gratitude raises your happiness set-point so that regardless of external circumstances, you stay at a higher baseline of happiness. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Emmons’ website:

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“In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events” (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

“A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”

“A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.

“Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.”

“In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.”

Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

Those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships.

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For the next 21 days, we want you to look at the people, challenges, personal tragedies, daily hardships and pet peeves in your life with a gratitude filter on your eyes. Whether you are materially blessed or just getting by, we want you to cultivate the habit of seeking gratitude and positivity in every life experience. One thing we promise, the more you practice living in gratitude, the more natural it will become.

Some of our exercises and activities will include:

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  • taking the 365 gratitude photo challenge
  • writing letters that you may or may not share
  • reflecting on situations in your life
  • journalling
  • keeping a gratitude diary
  • random acts of kindness
  • refocussing on the positive things
  • ignoring negative energies

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Obviously there will be many more as we delve deeper into this month’s intensive.

It is our hope that as we approach Thanksgiving festivities this month, you will join us in focussing on personal growth rather than material things. Rather than stuffing yourself full of leftovers, we ask you to join us in our practice of mindfulness. Your belly will thank you,  so will your mind.

If you want to join us on our journey, simply use the hashtag #21daygratitudechallenge on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  You can connect with us on these social media platforms by clicking on the icons at the top right of this page.

We want to leave you with the following affirmation to kick off the first day of our #21daygratitudechallenge:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]I am grateful I have a place to live.[/quote]

There are scores of people all over the world who cannot boast this basic luxury.  Check out this powerful article about the lives of homeless people by John Hwang, who started the “Being Kind is Cool Project

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjpJwvWjVUw[/youtube]

Today’s Task: Give the money you would normally spend on a dinner to a homeless person in need.

Finally, here’s a transcript of our multimedia recording for those of you who are watching this at work, beside a sleeping baby, on the subway or anywhere you need some silent reading.

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As I get chauffeured home everyday, I pass by scores of homeless people. The reality of living in a developing country. There are naked toddlers. There are little girls with ragged dresses. Mothers breastfeeding their kids on the infernal streets of the dusty,  arid city I call home. Finally, there are boys that look barely above ten. Labouring at construction sites with pickaxes almost their size.

Affirmation: I am grateful I have a place to live. I am grateful I have running water, electricity, a house made of stone and glass. I am grateful I have the security of a gated community and the luxury of privacy. I am grateful my child never has to experience the harsher realities of life. I am grateful she not only has a big house to live in, but also a big garden where she can safely romp. Where the biggest danger she faces is to get thirsty, tired or tanned. There are kids out there whose playground is a dirty, dangerous, high-traffic road. I am grateful that with or without these material luxuries, I am alive, loved, fed and sheltered. I am grateful for things that I used to think were a scourge: a mortgage, car loans, having to mow the lawn. I am grateful because these ‘problems’ mean that I have a roof over my head. I am sheltered from the heat, the noise, the pollution. I am even sheltered from other people. I am grateful that as a result of a random, perhaps divine lottery, I have been blessed with things that these street people I would consider unimaginable luxury. 
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11 Things I Learned from Reflecting on Last Month’s Productivity Challenge

This past month was an amazing whirlwind of work, promotion and finally taking the first steps to realize our dream. The soft-launch of the Liftree Community finally saw us through turning a pipe dream into something concrete that we could share with our friends, family and co-workers.
 
Its been a long road to get here, juggle personal commitments and still stay productive and churn out quality work in a regular basis. So we kicked off the first month with our August Productivity Challenge – and here’s what we learned about being productive:
  1. Productivity needs structure
  2. Productivity cannot be planned
  3. Productivity needs faith and reverence
  4. Sometimes you need a drill sergeant
  5. Productivity needs controlled doses of stress
  6. Productivity thrives on variety
  7. Productivity is both an art and a science
  8. Productivity needs singular focus
  9. Life will always get in the way
  10. There are no shortcuts to productivity
  11. Get in the best shape of your life (BONUS)

 

Productivity needs structure

You have no hope in hell of achieving your dreams and working productively if you don’t even have a road map for where you are going.  Here’s a simple idea: create some structure in your workday. No, not the OCD kind with 50 post-it notes accounting for every moment of your day. More like a subway map that shows you the direction and redirects you if you miss your stop. With no plan you will be as productive as a chicken trying to find a kernel of corn in the dark it’s impossible.
 

 

Productivity cannot be planned

For all the talk about productivity and planning, the simple truth remains – productivity cannot be planned. you can train yourself over time , maybe . to be honest, it did get easier to work and get in the zone faster towards the end of the month, but there are still days when the enthusiasm falters, the work is boring as hell and we just lose our mojo. The concept that was the most difficult to wrap our head around was this: Some days you will sit down to work and realize that its just not happening. If you falter, don’t get upset and beat yourself up about it. stressing about productivity actually makes you *surprise* less productive. On the particularly bad days, it is easier to just step away form the rat race and enjoy the beautiful chaos of ordinary everyday life.

 

Productivity needs faith and reverence

Your work is important – like life and death important. If you can’t find a single cell in your body that believes this down to its cytoplasm, then quietly hand in your resignation, shut down your business and walk away. Find work that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out, murder your co-workers and clients. Work that you actually enjoy. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you don’t like.
 
When I worked as a resource nurse, we rotated around different hospital units on different days. Some places were great, the work was exciting and the pace challenging yet fun. Some places on the other hand, I literally dragged my feet to. When I started realizing that I was actually dreading going to work on some days, I switched to a job I enjoyed more. I’d seen too many old and bitter nurses angry for having wasted their lives in a field they didn’t love – and guess what – their patients, colleagues and managers didn’t enjoy having them around much either because they were always complaining. So if you dread going to work everyday, go find yourself new work that inspires you.
 
That is not to say that work should be enjoyable every moment of the day otherwise its not worth doing. Obviously, anything of value takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build. However, the difference between toiling to build something you aspire to and something that you do for the sake of doing lies in the amount of engagement that you experience while working.
 
If you’re just there for the money, sooner or later you will burnout. You may even start to hate yourself and your job because you know that is not where you belong. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the healthcare arena.
 
When you know you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps, you even know deep down inside that you’re not doing a particularly good job either, it creates a cognitive dissonance that will leave you restless. You risk becoming a bitter and resentful machine.
 
Find something to look forward to in your work day. If you can’t, then get out as fast as you can. There is better work elsewhere that desperately needs your skills and enthusiasm.

 

Sometimes you need a drill sergeant

Sometimes, despite loving your work, you cant seem to actually sit down and get the work done. At some point, you might have to admit to yourself that without external motivation you probably wont get anything done. That’s why crazy apps like WriteorDie; Zombies, Run and even Fitsby are so popular.
 
While apps are great, having a real, live person to hold you accountable is unbeatable. Having someone check in with you can be as pressure laden as you want it to be- or not. I used to hate having to report to someone or be told what to do until I quit my job.
 
When we first started Liftree, I began to realize how motivating it can be to have someone breathing down your neck. In fact, I missed that external motivation so much, I actually considered appointing my mom as the drill-sergeant in residence! Don’t worry, I chickened out before I actually did that.
 
If you don’t want to appoint a parent of spouse whose reminders can grate at you real quick, pick a friend or a colleague. Make a group, if you can gather enough people.
 
If you can’t find people, be your own drill sergeant. This one is more difficult though unless you’re super disciplined. When push comes to shove, you will have find it within yourself to start working and keep yourself going.
 
Inspiration comes and goes but productivity is something you can control,measure and improve. In order to maintain a successful and regular practice, consistency is key. Pick a time slot everyday to work on your craft whether you feel like it or not. Writers use this technique a lot. As do Yoga practitioners. Even on days where you do not feel inspired at all to sit down at your desk, coffee table or balcony – wherever it is that you sit down to work (Check out this post about ditching your desk), you still sit down consistently, and devote yourself to the practice with the faith that you will get something valuable accomplished. Over time, you will.
 
In work and in life, people seldom get anywhere without constantly pushing themselves to their limits and beyond. We were juggling other full-time commitments when we started working on this website. In fact, we still are. I am currently raising a two year old, living in a house with nine people, travelling frequently and writing for local publications as a columnist. Finding time to work on this website while juggling personal, professional and social commitments takes that extra mile every single day. Every single day.

 

Productivity thrives on variety

In order to keep yourself interested, you need to keep the novelty factor up. The only way to keep things interesting is to pepper your work with a variety of tasks and approaches. If you’re a writer, sketch out your story board by hand one day. If you’re  graphic artist, try listening to music for inspiration the next time you sit down to design a logo. Slaving through a day’s work doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself. Using a variety of approaches can help you stay interested and inspired.

 

Productivity is both an art and a science

Many of us think we work better under pressure. The truth is, we work better when we have clear, quantifiable, relatively-rigid deadlines. Why does productivity come so easily to us when we have a looming deadline? When our short-lived, limited dose of stress over-rides our internal critical editor, we’re able to mentally climb out of the box and work freely (check out our earlier post about working under pressure). The art of working under pressure entails knowing how to get yourself into the zone by shutting out your internal editor. The science involves knowing and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses well enough that you don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t with and you don’t end up being as productive as you expected to be. Its a fine balance – and one that we often overlook in our zeal to work like a ninja warrior.

 

Maintain singular focus

In today’s arena of social media and new media distractions, we tend to lose focus because we are trying to engage in multiple activities at one time. We end up doing even less and being less productive even though we were involved in various busy-making tasks all day. We think we are getting lots done, but when we look back at our day and realize how little we’ve struck off our to-do lists, we get mad at ourselves. The most notorious of these is internet ‘research’. A close second is running a social media campaign. Beware of tasks that make you feel like you’re doing valuable research, but in reality, just lead out of one internet rabbit hole and down another. Pick a task and run with it until it is completed. Set a timer if you have to. You’ll be surprised at how fast this old-fashioned method gets you off your behind to do some serious work.

 

Life will always get in the way

Sad but true. Even last month, when we were setting up the beta-version of this website, you’d think that we had the time to focus and be free of distractions. Not true. Something or the other always came up that seemed more urgent, more important, that took us away from the work that needed to be done. Sometimes, its okay (even desirable) to accept that life happens and just take setbacks in stride. It is more about finding a workable balance between the work you want to do and the other important priorities in your life than about blazing through the work like a maniac and burning yourself out. For me, I ended up dividing my time between family (whom I was visiting) and working on the website. I realized that I did not want to work exclusively on the website at the cost of missing out on precious time with my old folks.

 

There are no shortcuts to productivity

When all is said and done, there is no substitute for hard work. At the end of the day, the work is not going to materialize out of nowhere. it will take a lot of toiling, frustrations, working and elbow grease to build something valuable and profitable. If you work for someone, you will have to show some real initiative and effort before people start to recognize your skill and ability. No matter what your field of work is, you will need to log some serious hours in order to become an expert at it and succeed.

 

Bonus: Get in the best shape of your life

Good health makes other areas of your life function more smoothly. When you are well-fed, well-rested, well-hydrated and active. Your alertness, quality of life and ability to work brilliantly, creatively and efficiently all depend on having an agile body and mind.  How well you work is directly proportional to the physical, mental emotional shape you are in. Focusing on your health will help you clear the cobwebs from your mind, shed emotional baggage, get rid of fatigue and completely focus on the dreams that you want so badly to achieve.

 

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Exercise For Productivity – How Exercising Regularly Can Give You Insight Into Being Productive

At the advice of this superhuman friend of mine, I started doing Tabata workouts.

I’d been struggling to lose weight for the past two years, both in terms of motivation as well as trying to find the time to work out after I had my baby. I ran sporadically 30-60 minutes a day and lost a significant amount of weight last year, but I’d hit a plateau. So over a dinner reunion with an old friend who happens to be a certified fitness coach, a world-class dragon boating champion, a medical student and an incredible powerhouse of energy (that’s the superhuman part), I posed the question:  What is the most efficient way to lose weight? 

Definitely not running, she said. Try Tabata instead.

So I went home and hunted down some Tabata circuits from Pinterest.

They were hard, monstrously, heart pumpingly hard but the thrill I got after doing them, the sense of accomplishment was phenomenal. Kind of like when I tried Insanity to lose weight before my wedding. It works, but only if you give it all you’ve got.

Anyway, while working out, I got this huge brain-wave that had me itching to finish the workout so I could run to the notepad, the sweat still dripping off my nose, to pen down the epiphany that just rocked my grey matter:

 

There are so many parallels between working out and increasing your productivity.

Both require:

    •    Planning
    •    Discipline
    •    Singular focus
    •    Solitude
    •    Decluttering of the mind

 

Planning

In order for your workout to be effective and to prevent injury, you need to have the skills and knowledge to  plan out an effective workout. Now, I’m no purist, planning can be as simple as picking a pre-designed workup dvd or video program. In that case, Shaun T or Jillian Michaels will have already done most of the planning for you. What’s important is for you to give it some thought and plan the kind of work (or workout) that you intend to do and the results that you expect to get.

Similarly, you need a road map to your end goals in work as well.If you want to work productively and see results, you will need to plan, gather resources and learn the skills necessary to succeed in your task.

Discipline

Intense workouts require discipline. You need to be able to roll your sleeves up and focus. When I started my workout, I had a lot of reserve energy and motivation to bludgeon through the difficult moves, but as the workout progressed, the only way I was able to go on was by powering through with sheer force of will.

I am not saying that your work should always be dependent on whether or not your will power is strong that day. After all, if you don’t love the work you do, you will end up burning out at some point by forcing yourself to do it day in and day out.

More often than not, however, there will be days where you have to force yourself to sit down and work when you don’t feel like it – that is where discipline comes in. Contrary to what most people think, discipline is not the same as torturing yourself to finish a project when you really don’t want to. Its more about building a habit or practice over time, where regardless of the external and internal factors affecting you, you are able to sit down and give your work the attention it deserves on a regular basis.

Singular focus

Effective workouts, like productive work, requires you to focus solely on what you are trying to accomplish. You can’t succeed if your attention is flying in all directions and you’re trying to accomplish several things at once. Self help gurus like Leo Babauta talk about focusing on one thing at a time. We nod our heads to concepts like these but then go right back to checking our iPhones, answering emails and watching youtube videos simultaneously.

Step back and focus on one task at a time. Say you’re doing a squat challenge. In order to do it properly, you have to be in the present – to tighten and engage your core, to breathe evenly, to keep your back straight, shoulders down and to slowly lower yourself into a squat without losing your balance or damaging your knees by extending them beyond your toes. If you’re wholly present within you’re body while you’re doing this squat, you don’t have much mental space left over to think about other things, do you? If a simple squat is more effective because if such singular focus, imagine the difference focusing can make to your work projects.

Solitude

Some tasks require social participation and interaction. This is not necessarily true for working out or working productively. It sounds counter intuitive (group work, and group workouts are so much more fun right?), but really, it isn’t.

Collaboration may be fun, but in order for the system to work, at some point, you will have to go inside yourself and on your own to complete the core requirements to accomplish your goal. Even in group workouts, we are seldom interacting with others during the more intense bits. Instead, we are focused internally on ourselves. This also means that we are no where near our gadgets, tablets or social media accounts.

Being alone forces you to mentally check off your priorities and focus on what’s important to you at this moment, free form external pressures and influences. Being alone can make you incredibly productive. Being alone, you also don’t have any distractions. Many of us relish working in groups, especially if we are working form home and do not get a lot of human interaction through out the day. It is important to remember that there is a balance between working with others and working alone, and working alone in solitude is not just  important, it is essential to stepping away from mediocrity and doing extraordinary work.

 

Decluttering

Working out both promotes and stems from a decluttered mind. Like an endless loop. We already talked about how important it is to have a clean mental slate in order to function at the optimal level. The beauty of it is, once you declutter your mind and start to work in solitude – once you get into the “flow” of your work (or workout), your monkey mind automatically settles down and switches to a thought process that helps you calm down and focus deeply.

The following three things follow when you declutter your mind:

You are not a slave to random thoughts.
The car needs a wash, garbage needs to be put out, you forgot to pay the telephone bills. These thoughts slowly slip off your radar as you do deeper into an intense workout or focus on your work. The deeper you get into the ‘zone’, the less frequent these random thoughts become. If it worries you so much write it down and go back to working – you can always deal with non-urgent things an hour later when you’re done your work.

You don’t get bogged down by worries and negativity.
When I’m upset of angry, I sit down to work. No you didn’t read that wrong. Working as an anger management strategy works incredibly well because when I get into the flow,  I automatically check-out of every day life and into a cleaner, more positive, worry-free mental space.

Try it, concentrate hard when you sit down to work today. Overtime, it will become a habit. Negativity feeds off our brooding and focusing on our problems. Getting into a working rhythm can help you manage your emotions and liberate you from the stress and worry that hounds you. That’s how people get addicted to working out. It gives you such a huge mental break from your daily worries and hassles. You worry less when you’re taking active steps towards solving a problem. It empowers you and puts you in the position of a leader, rather than a victim.

It gives you clarity of mind.
The focus and freedom that comes from working or exercising are a corollary to maintaining a clear mind. When you sit down to work with a clear mind you tackle it, finish faster and often eliminate the entire cycle of worry and negativity that comes from procrastinating about a job.

Exercising it before during or after work can be very conducive to a productive work session. These two activities are mutually compatible in the context of getting things done. More than its physical benefits, those of you that need to get a lot of work done in a short period of time will appreciate this technique for its ability to (ironically) tackle several problems at the same time – procrastination, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, lack of focus, worry, stress negativity as well as not getting things done on time.

 

[message_box title=”Try this exercise:” color=”beige”]I’m a big fan of the focus booster app. No, I don’t get paid by them. It has a timer that counts 25 minutes ON and 5 minutes OFF. When its ON –  work hard and blaze through the project you’re working on. When the timer turns to the blue OFF section, put everything down and do a few pushups, burpees or anything other physical activity (Try Tabata!). The Focus-booster app is based on the proven and popular pomodoro technique which is really effective because your mind stays fresh and active while you work in short, sharp bursts and maintain regular breaks.

Try it the next time you are looking to ramp up your productivity. See what a huge difference it makes in the quality and quantaty of your work. And – Tell us about it in the comments below!
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Why You Need to Become a Morning Person and How to Do It

Mornings are sacred.

There was a time when humans rose and retired with the sun. For us, that meant better health, more energy, and more importantly for those of us concerned with productivity, more time early in the mornings to plan and work. We are no longer forced to follow the daily cycle of the sun, but the simple act of waking up early in the morning can literally revolutionize your work-life.

Mornings are the singular uninterrupted time during the day when you can do whatever you like, uninterrupted. Its like a mini-vacation during which you have the power, the energy, the drive and the resources to accomplish the most difficult tasks of your day.

Why, then are so many of us struggling with waking up late, squandering our mornings and not living up to our potential? A lot of it comes down to planning.

If you don’t plan for work in advance (check out this post on using planning) then you end up just going with the flow and most times the flow means you are just lounging around being ridiculously unproductive. Using your mornings wisely can make all the difference between staying on task throughout the day and fumbling about without any apparent purpose.

 

Benefits of being an early bird

Clarity of thought. Your mind isn’t bogged down, distracted or confused with worldly things first thing in the morning. You can use that focus and momentum to knock out a huge chunk of your work first thing in the morning.

No interruptions. No colleagues emailing you or calling you  with “urgent” queries, no employees coming to you for more budget allocations, no friends inviting you to random events on Facebook

More will power.  Will power is highest at the beginning of the day and goes down as the day goes by, so focusing on your health and productivity first thing in the morning makes inherent sense.

Increased motivation. If you wake up in the morning and accomplish important tasks even before others are starting to wake up, that motivation carries you through the workday and gives you an energy boost better than coffee or redbull would.

More time in the day to do what you need to do. This is self explanatory.

Peace and quiet. Experiencing the solitude of the early morning hours helps ground you and put problems in to perspective. Your whole day starts on a calm note.

Setting an example for others. Getting to work early in the morning with a positive attitude shows how seriously u take your work. As a boss and employer, that speaks louder than any training. You don’t need to pay someone a ton  of money to motivate your employees, you just have to be a role model for the behaviours you want to promote.

 

[message_box title=”Quotes from Successsful People” color=”beige”]
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]You can always strive to get out of bed a little earlier.  you could get right to work, or for something personal like working out. Use commutes wisely – no one is competing for your attention. Tim Cook, Apple[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Working out early on monday (even if it seems too busy). It’s a way of making yourself a priority when you otherwise wouldn’t. Plus, you’ll have a clear head and the accompanying endorphin rush, which always helps make otherwise dreadful Monday mornings cheerier. Barack Obama[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, you’ll have it behind you for the rest of the day.  Mark Twain[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I normally walk her for about an hour in the morning. It’s the only time of day I get to myself. Joanna Coles, the Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I’m really not a morning person at all. It’s just sheer determination. I’m very strict with myself. When I practice six days a week and eat clean food, I feel much better. Gwyneth Paltrow[/quote]

For more quotes like these, check out the original articles they were excerpted from.

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So how exactly do successful people use mornings to stay on top of their game and power through the rest of the day?

Emails.

Some experts say you should tackle your email the first thing in the morning. Some say don’t. I say do what works for you. If you’re the type of person that gets derailed when someone jumps in with an item on their agenda, where you quickly give up your own to help the other person, then definitely, don’t check your emails. But if you’re the kind of person that can shut out other people and look at your priorities effectively, then starting the day with an email is a perfectly natural way to plan for the hurdles you will be up against later in the day. By checking your email you are alerting and preparing brain for the things to come. For years I used to avoid checking emails because I always ended up getting side tracked by someone else’s demands. Until I realized that every time I missed an important memo and a colleague asked me about it, I risked looking like an incompetent baboon. So check your emails. Just don’t get so engrossed that you forget to do your work.

Calendar.

You can use email to plan your day out, or you can skip it altogether by penciling in your most important priorities first. This way, when you are bombarded by external demands and gripes, you always have that perspective on what your priorities are. Planning is also important in helping you pace yourself so you’re not burned out, or taking it too easy.

Doing difficult things first.

If its good enough for Mark Twain (see the quote below), its good enough for you. Start the day with the most difficult tasks. Laura Vanderkam, author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, talks about experts and millionaires with morning habits and how they impact their lives. She cites a study by a Florida State University professor named Roy Baumeister. They found in this study that will power is like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse.  So make the most of your reserve of will-power in the morning to blast through some of those giant tasks that you’re afraid to touch, but you know you have to at some point. In fact, the sense of achievement from having dealt with that monster first thing in the morning will keep you powered through the rest of the day, breezing through it because the headrest part is, literally, already behind you.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]”Diets come undone in the evening, just as poor self-control and lapses in decision-making often come later in the day. On the other hand, early mornings offer a fresh supply of willpower, and people tend to be more optimistic and ready to tackle challenging tasks.” -Prof. Roy Baumeister as cited in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast[/quote]

Rejuvenation.

If you don’t take care of your physical and mental needs, you will burn out at some point. Its so obvious on paper (or screen), isn’t it?

If powering through the crummiest tasks of the week is too much of a herculean feat for you in the morning, try relaxing instead. Go for a walk, indulge in some yoga or meditation which, incidentally, is also good for regulating your hormones and really getting into the optimum physical and mental space for working.

Last summer, I visited my family in Toronto where my sister dragged me to a hot yoga class. I loved it so much, that every morning, I’d hover over her bed and wake her up unceremoniously to go attend the 7 am class. We were working on this start-up at the time and I found that after yoga, a shower a light meal, I was totally primed for some marathon writing and creative action. I got so much more done when I took an hour out for myself in the morning. More than I had in the last two years of trying (and failing) to get content up on this website. Go on. Try it yourself.

Labor of love.

Do something you love. A side project. That dream book you plan to write. The guitar lessons you’ve been putting off. Whatever your passion is that you’ve saved up for the proverbial ‘someday’. Starting the morning with something you love can have the same motivating effect as tackling an unsavoury task first thing in the morning. What you’re aiming for is that sense of achievement when you do something you don’t normally do.

Food.

Mornings are a perfect time to plan out healthy meals. Of all the things we know are good for us, this is the one that falls to the way-side when we are busy getting through the buzz of life. I once knew a girl who had a tattoo on her arm that said “food is fuel”. Indeed, food is fuel. You don’t expect your car or lawn mower to run on the wrong kind of fuel. Why would you expect that of yourself? Greens, beans, fruits, grains, vegetables and lean protein. If you’re upto it, use your mornings for a quick mental check for what healthy meals you will be eating for the rest of the day.

 

Here is an excellent excerpt from Personal Development Guru Robin Sharma’s website on how to wake up earlier in the day:

1) Don’t eat too late in the day, it will help you sleep more soundly.
2) Jump out of the bed and start your day as soon as the alarm clock goes off.
3) Get into the best shape of your life. When you’re working out, you sleep better, wake up fresher, and getting our of bed earlier gets easier.
4) I love this one – Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Raising the bar and striving for a personal dream will fire u up and give you something to look forward to in the morning.
5) Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier than your usual wake up time.

Robin Sharma ends his post with the following words:

“Get up early. I dare you to do it for a few weeks. Your life is too precious a thing to waste. You know you were meant for your own unique form of greatness. You know you can do more, have more and be more. You know that you can be bigger than you currently are. So join The 5 O’Clock Club. Win The Battle of The Bed. Put mind over mattress. Get up early.  And as Benjamin Franklin once noted: “there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.” Smart guy.”
How’s that for some early morning inspiration?

 

 

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42 Reasons Why You Are Slacking

  1. You wake up at the last minute, then rush out the door to work, disorganized.
  2. You check emails like an obsessive chimpanzee.
  3. You watch way too much TV. You think you deserve a few moments of relaxation, but few moments easily turn into many.
  4. You put off the challenging tasks for till tomorrow.
  5. You create self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
  6. You work long periods without rejuvenating breaks.
  7. You take breaks but don’t get back to work as planned.
  8. If you work at home, you make no clear demarcations between work time and family/chore time.
  9. You let other people’s agendas rule your day.
  10. You let other people distract you into gossip, chit-chat or unproductive banter.
  11. You chomp on chips while you work. Not only are you unproductive, you’re also getting fatter.
  12. You stay up late. You’re partying or waffling or watching all-night Harry Potter marathons. Or all of the above.
  13. You make horrible meal choices. They may taste heavenly but leave you drowsy, bloated and distracted.
  14. You don’t take care of your physical health. Physical exercise helps you think clearer and feel more active and inspired.
  15. You are bored out of your mind. If you’re in a line of work that ceased to inspire you a long time ago, you won’t exactly be bursting to churn out quality work.
  16. You are waffling around on the internet. You’re not really doing any “research” are you?
  17. You are lost in a sea of social media updates.
  18. You are secretly stalking your niece’s sister’s best friend’s aunt’s vacation pictures from Costa Rica on Facebook.
  19. You are secretly pinning the awesomest wardrobe of life on Pinterest at work.
  20. You are scheming about the rewards you will give yourself even before you complete the measly taks at hand. Get your hand out of the chocolate jar!
  21. The people in the cubicle next to yours are talking loudly about the concert they are attending this weekend.
  22. Your boss keeps interrupting you with useless instructions.
  23. Your colleague keeps stopping by to chafe office gossip, you, of course indulge.
  24. The phone keeps ringing with clients making random inquiries.
  25. You are bogged down with numerous, irrelevant company memos and meeting minutes.
  26. You have three meetings in the morning, none of which have any conclusive results.
  27. You are waffling around on your coffee break, trying to squeeze that one last spare minute before you have to get back to that boring report.
  28. You don’t know how to say no when someone dumps an unwanted project on you.
  29. You are making plans for dinner with your friends after work.
  30. You don’t push yourself hard enough.
  31. You don’t have all the tools you need.
  32. You don’t have the right tools for the job.
  33. You don’t have the necessary training for the job.
  34. Your team isn’t working as a coherent whole.
  35. Conference calls without a purpose that seem to meander on forever.
  36. You’re exhausted and frustrated from your daily commute by the time you reach the office.
  37. Your lack of familiarity with the technologies you use for your work.
  38. You are way-sided by a million shiny apps that really hinder your productivity rather than enhance it.
  39. You don’t set priorities and optimize your workflow. Working without priorities is like firing a shot in the dark. You don’t really know if you will get the intended target or not.
  40. You are disorganized and your workspace is cluttered.
  41. You are a perfectionist. Learn to be comfortable with work that is “good enough” and you will get a lot more done when you sit down to work.
  42. You are constantly checking, sending and receiving texts from friends, family and co-workers.

 

 

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Squash the Negative Thoughts that Are Destroying Your Productivity

In a haze of exhaustion, anger, PMS and the stresses of child-rearing the other day, I completely lost it while trying to get this project done.

It started with my toddler refusing to have her omlette and demanding cookies for breakfast and quickly snowballed into a full-blown cascade of negativity.

Problem is, it had nothing to do with my toddler or breakfast or even child-rearing. There is this tape that keeps playing over and over in my head whenever I get upset. Its like a continuous refrain that crescendoes into self-doubt and tears. What am I doing half a world away from family and friends trying to raise a child when I can barely take care of myself? How long did I think I could keep up this charade of domestic bliss living in an extended family of eight? Yes , eight. What am I, with my professional degrees and independent rearing doing depending on my husband for everything like some 19th century stay-at-home wife?

I became so fixated on these “issues” that I started bawling right alongside my two year old. The project I was working on? Straight out the window.

Funny thing is, on the whole I am genuinely happy. I chose to live half a world away from family and friends and raise my child with my husband. I actually like living in a huge family, not the least because it gives me so much more support in raising my two year old but also because I am a better mom for it. And not to piss the feminists off, but I actually enjoy having a capable, strong and protective man take care of me emotionally and financially for this brief period in my life while I devote myself to the first few years of our child’s life. Contrary to popular belief (and to my own) I am blessed to have the kind of life that I do.

So why do these same old thoughts cycle through my head when I’m struggling to be productive – like some well-worn belt of a treadmill that goes nowhere? Because I think too much.

Although new mothers are often ones who over-think and mire themselves in a pattern of negative self-talk, I am pretty sure we aren’t the only ones with a penchant for brooding over an issue until everything explodes around us and we lose track of what it was that we are actually trying to accomplish.

Do you over think things too? What if you nipped these seeds of negativity in the bud? Negative thoughts often trigger a chain reaction with one dark thought roping in another and before you know it, you find yourself in the throes of anger, resentment and depression.  What if you could declutter your mind and streamline your thoughts?

Sometimes its better to just let experiences wash over you without analyzing, judging, inferring or processing at all. Experiences, after all, are the primary products of life, and you cannot completely avoid unwanted situations. What you can control, however, is whether or not you fuel these unproductive feelings with your thoughts. The way you think influences your productivity. Do you want to live a positive life or a negative one?

Just how do you clip your negative thoughts anyway?

I had this crazy clinical instructor in university. The kind that told you quirky stories that you thought went nowhere but you listened because they were interesting. Then BOOM! You realized that they applied to your life and your learning goals. Some of them weren’t just interesting anecdotes but practical, engaging learning tools.

This one time in my freshman year, I was close to tears dealing with a particularly difficult patient when she pulled me aside and told me about the acronym ‘STOP’. I listened politely until she went:

“You need to STOP”

“Slow down, you mean”

“No STOP, you think too much and get yourself worked up”

I looked at her trying to figure out if it was a random story or one with a moral. You never knew with her.

She went on to tell me about a concept that I have been coming back to over the years when I’m wrangling with a particularly challenging situation or emotional problem. Or when I’m looking to make a quick, impactful decision.

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Stop. The deciding factor in how most situations turn out for us is how we react to them. The S in the STOP acronym stands for disengaging from a situation before you react. Gut reactions are great in fight or flight situations but we no longer live in the caveman days of running away from the carnivorous beast that wants to devour us. We live in a social world and staying calm in an upsetting situation is a skill we can only master by stepping back before we react emotionally. Not only do rash decisions clip our productivity, they may also cause us to make mistakes that we may regret later. Some mistakes are much harder to undo and it is much more productive to just take a moment to step back and make a rational decision rather than try to patch up a crappy decision later.

Take a Breath. In fight or flight, the adrenaline seeping into your system makes you breathe rapid and shallow.  The oxygen in your brain drops as your brain shunts the blood to your limbs for fight or flight. Take a deep breath in. Smooth and slow. Take your time breathing it out it out. Breathing deeply tells your brain that you are not preparing to fight or flee.

Observe. Not all thinking leads to negativity. When you react instinctively, you are often focussing on how wrong or unwanted the instigating event or behaviour is. If you are in conflict with another person, observe how they are feeling, try to see what has caused them to behave I  a way that has upset you. A little empathy goes a long way in human interactions. If the conflict is self-imposed or internal like mine was, try to step back and look at the whole picture. Observe how your body feels when you are upset. Observe what events or thoughts may have triggered your response. Perhaps naming this emotion may help you understand and resolve the situation in a rational manner. At this stage, your observation is as objective and detached as you can possibly manage.

Proceed. This is where you step back into the situation at hand, preferably calmer, with a bigger picture in your mind. When I put my toddler situation into perspective, it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Just because my toddler asked for cookies at breakfast doesn’t mean I failed as a mother or as a human being. Rather than focussing on my overwhelming self-doubt, I ended up calming my baby down with crayons so I could carry on working on my project. Stepping back and putting the situation into context will help you be an effective problem-solver when you come back to resolve it.

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At first using STOP may feel awkward. Lets face it, that’s a lot of steps to go through in the split second between getting upset and thinking negatively. Avoiding a downward spiral of negative thoughts takes practice especially if you (like me) have been thinking negatively for a long time. Difficult thought it may be, learning this skill of putting things into perspective will do wonders for your productivity in a stressful situation.

Try the STOP strategy the next time you are upset – and let us know how it went for you. Leave a comment below!

 

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How your perfectionism is killing your productivity

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. -George Orwell

Who are Perfectionists?

Perfectionists are people who strive to meet very high, often unrealistic, standards in all aspects of their life.

Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College, Massachusetts has designed a scale to measure perfectionism. Six different dimensions have been identified: concerns over mistakes, personal standards, parent expectations, parental criticism, doubting of actions, organization.

Expectations of reality are often idealized and the practicality aspect is ignored. When these expectations of how things should be ideally fall out of sync with what the reality is, a surge of negative emotions overwhelms these people.

The higher your expectations, the more the chances of disappointment or failure.

Perfectionists who criticize themselves excessively are prone to psychological and physical illnesses such as depression, alcoholism, coronary heart disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicide, anorexia nervosa, writer’s block. It’s a life filled with misery.

I used to be one. Sometimes, I still find myself having perfectionist thoughts and behaviours. But at some point 3 years ago, I realized my perfectionistic ideals had gone too far. It had become a compulsion, it was hindering my everyday activities and consequent success.

I would not hand in assignments (worth a good 10%-20% of course weight), because I felt I couldn’t do it “justice”, which was just my way of convincing myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t have time to make it perfect, so I justified my actions by thinking “it’s better not to hand in anything at all than to hand in average work”.

Then there were the personal feelings of failure or disappointment that accompanied any minor setbacks. Over the years, I would gave up on many dreams and tasks at the first signs of trouble. I believed that in this way, I hadn’t actually “failed” from achieving my goals in the “perfect way” that I expected or wanted to.

Other times, I caught myself trying to micro-manage other peoples actions and lives. I feared becoming a control freak. If I’d let it carry on, I have no doubts that it would have resulted in ruined relationships. Afterall, no one likes people who step on their toes or interfere with their lives for their personal neurotic insecurities and needs.

I also suffered from extreme procrastination. Why? I told myself that “it had to be just perfect, and often that meant I’d save it for later when I could perform my best”. This time often didn’t approach until the last minute case, in which case it wasn’t my best work anyway. It was a perfect excuse to be lazy and non productive.

But I didn’t realize the negative influences my ideologies were having on my life for a very long time. And admitting that I had this problem was the most important and difficult step. Thankfully though, once I did accept it, working on a better ideology of “productivity” only got easier.

 

What is Productivity?

Productivity is the state or quality of producing something, used especially in agriculture or industries. It is a term rarely used to gauge personal progress.

But I am a strong advocate for defining a productivist as a person who strives toward “achieving results” in all aspects of their lives. This person is focused on getting things done. They believe that having something is better than having nothing at all.

This “something” doesn’t mean that they are sub-par achievements. But even if they were, I would argue that average yet tangible products or results are better than above-average ideal imaginary ones.

 

Why seeing results is better than incomplete idealized expectations?

If unhealthy personality traits (such as self-criticism, intolerance) don’t get in the way, there is an inherent sense of accomplishment and pride with all personal creations and achievements.

Ever since I started working on the cause, I’ve found myself feeling liberated, like a heavy bag of potatoes has been taken off a mule’s back. I don’t have these unrealistically high expectations and standards that I constantly have to keep trying to meet.

I accepted the reality that nothing and nobody is perfect.

And there is no point trying to achieve ideas of perfection because they do a lot more harm than any good. Perfect is a subjective unattainable state. You end up draining out all your energy, positivity and efficiency.

It’s like chasing after a mirage in a desert.

Be practical, seek productive goals and results.

You’ll find yourself a much happier and carefree person. You’ll actually be much more likely to achieve success because you can focus all your energy and time on doing your best without the negative self-criticism and self-doubt.

Try it! You’ll thank yourself, first for taking an active step and also for doing it sooner rather than later.

You don’t want to be on your deathbed thinking you could have lived a better, more “perfect” life.

Instead, take the time now to change your thinking. Learn to let go of idealized versions of reality. Stop being afraid of making the wrong decisions and not achieving perfection. You will feel more empowered and less regretful.

A much better way to live life, in my opinion.

 

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Plan. Plan. Plan. Then Live One Day At A Time For Stellar Productivity

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan – not the goal.

 

I’ve learnt, the hard way, that the absence of goals leads to disappointment and eventually failure. Without a self determined benchmark to aspire towards, your daily actions just become meaningless and your life, a confusing mess. I discovered this when I chose to “live one day at a time”. I was under a lot of stress and was extremely unsure of the future. My education and career path, my relationships were all up in the air. So my smart brain decided it was time to employ the well known plan of action. But in all honesty, looking back now, I was only using that as an escape, as a way out of the indecision I was facing. I couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted, on what my dreams and goals really were. So instead of spending time to reevaluate, I chose to avoid the true problem and started focusing on the daily events of each day.

My aim every morning was merely to get through whatever happens, and then rinse & repeat. I did this for almost 2 years before I was forced out of this rut by a coming-of-age ceremony called convocation. I am so thankful for that rude awakening. Though I had been anticipating graduation for such a long time, when it came, it was a shock. Suddenly, I no longer had assignments or textbooks to keep me busy. My schedule was completely open and empty, and I began to resemble a bum. But it was blessing in disguise. At first I felt hopeless and lazy, but soon I realized I was actually relieved and at peace with myself more than I had been in the past few years. I had no real plans for the future because I didn’t think I was capable enough to achieve what I wanted. How foolish of me. I hadn’t applied for grad school, not for jobs. I spent the first little while regretting that, but soon enough I formed goals that were not only real but also meaningful. I started applying for jobs because I wanted to, not because I had to. I focused on those applications that interested me. Within a month after finishing my last semester, I had a job in a field that I wanted.

So I took a long, hard a look at the pros and cons of being a meticulous planner:

Pros

You are more organized. Planning gives you the ability to organize not just your time but also your space and social commitments so that when you’re doing a certain activity, you can focus on it and perhaps also work more effectively.

You put things in perspective. When you plan for the future, you are forced to look at the big picture and determine what your priorities are. Putting things into perspective this way ensures that you’re always working towards a goal that is important to you and not catering to someone else’s agenda.

Allows for preparation. Planning allows you to indulge in future-thinking. This can actually be a good thing because it often prompts you to get things ready in advance so you waste less time prepping when you’re ready to settle down to business.

You are clear about expectations. How many times have people you work with gotten away with the worst because you didn’t have the forethought to define your expectations in the beginning. This is especially true if you have people working under you or if you run a start-up. In order to stay on track , you need to be able to  define early on to other people what your expectations are. Planning in advance allows you to see the big picture and articulate clearly to toehr people what kind of work it is that you need from them. In turn, it makes things easier for the other perseon as well because they don’t have to keep guessing at what it is that you want.

 Makes you reach for loftier goals. We have a tendency to be easy on our selves. We may be rough with all the negative self talk, but when it comes down to actually doing something, we are as lazy as donkeys on a summer morning. Planning ahead gives you proper insight into what you’re capable of and if you’re like me, it also motivates you to reach just a little further to achieve something that you think is beyond your grasp. That striving, in my opinion, makes all the difference between mediocre work, and creating something exceptional.

You have peace of mind. You know that nagging feeling when you know you advent sat down in a while to do your homework? I don’t mean the kind of homework they give you in kinder garten. I mean the planning kind of homework that makes you list down all the concerns and priorities that are pressing down upon you at the moment, and turning it into something actionable and productive. When you plan, when you do your homework, there is less room for worrying about things you think you can’t do and more focus on taking practical steps to achieve whatever it is that you’re setting out to do. Not only does planning make you feel empowered, it also helps you maintain peace of mind and stay calm so you can work without getting distracted by your worries. Include link bat calm down article.

Cons

You don’t live spontaneously. Sometimes when you’re heavy on the planning, you tend to develop this loyalty to the original plan that can actually hamper your selse of freedom and productivity. You become a slave to the plan , afraid to veer form the planned course for fear that you will lose track of the bigger picture and far away fem your most important goals.

You restrict yourself from experiencing novelty. When you’re so committed to a plan that you tend to dismiss any novel, more attractive options that are presented in front of you, that’s  a problem. Sometimes, our plans blind us to the possibilities that are right under our noses.

You get bored. Sticking to a routine or a monotonous plan day- in and day-out, it is human nature to get bored and seek novelty. Why do you think so many people are opting out of office jobs and working for themselves these days? Even though you still have to plan your days and work, these is a sense of freedom and novelty in working by yourself, from random locations  and on your own terms that you would never be able to experience from the caged comfort of your 9-5 cubicle.

You get lost in the details. Sometimes you’re so caught up in following the nitty gritty details of your previously laid out plans tat you lose sight of the opportunities in front of you. I went on an epic trip to Jaipur this year. As I disembarked form the first ever rickshaw trip of my life, shaking from the adrenaline, I was so caught up in following my itinerary and the map on my ipnone to the last detail, that I didn’t even notice that it was raining. I got off in the downpour trying to negotiate with the rickshaw guy, only to realize that the hotel guard had been tapping me for five minutes trying to alert me to the rain waking up my sleepy baby, telling me that if I needed to look over my map and haggle further, I could slide over to the safety and dryness of the hotel lobby. When you’re planning, don’t miss the forest for the trees.

You become rigid. A corollary to the above point about getting lost in the details is that some of is are obstinate. I know I am. Once I decide upon a course of action, I have this urge to see it through at all costs. Sometimes, having the flexibility to change course or even edit defeat can mean the difference between being a struggling entrepreneur and a successful one that knows when to cut losses and try something more effective.

You become stuck in planning. When you’re stuck in the planning phase, you tend to pour over the plan and edit and re-edit –  but you don’t actually take any action or do anything. By the time you come to the point where you do something, you’ve expended so much energy and anticipation on the planning phase that you’re already bored before the project even begins.

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Goals are what drive and motivates humans. Every person has individual motivations, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time. That is why they say set high goals, dream big. If you have no goals. You won’t achieve anything. If you strive high, you will reach somewhere there depending on how much of an effort accompanies that dream.

Essentially this is the recipe for success, to be added in the order listed:

1. Dream big and set goals, know what you want (I mean it), make them extravagant and don’t allow your mind to wander or convince you otherwise.

2. Make a plan of action, know how you are planning on achieving them

3. Take it as it comes one day at a time, don’t allow setbacks or happenings to get you down and reevaluating your goals. Don’t get too phased by things & think your goals are no longer realistic and achievable because X happened. You don’t need to over think things because often when you are under stress you have odd ideas and make stupid decisions. So deal with anything calmly and logically, now is not the time to reevaluate or worry. That is the next step.

4. On a particularly calm day, when there is no tension or pressure on your shoulders and in your head, maybe once a week take a few hours and rethink and evaluate the week. What things happened that worried you, how did you react with them, have your ideas and values changed, are you goals still what they were, do you wish to alter them a little bit. Never scrap an idea/goal because you never know when it could work out. If you think things have changed and I no longer wish to achieve that because it’s unrealistic and foolish, let me tell you it’s NOT! Because you had thought long and hard about it, that is exactly what you wanted at one point in your life. So don’t undermine it’s value, and don’t give up on it just because you haven’t been able to achieve it yet or because you have already achieved it and now it doesn’t mean anything to you.

Being a planner doesn’t hamper you from a journey of self discovery and improvement, thinking critically about your plans and choices can help you start a personal revolution to stay eager, motivated and productive.

How do you handle the planning phase? Reply in the comments below to share your planning dilemmas and hacks with us. We love hearing form you!

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Invoking Calm Productivity in the Middle of a Crisis

“A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.” – Wayne Dyer

Difficult boss. Screaming kids. Looming deadlines. Relationship problems.

Whatever your stressor, it will leave you feeling overwhelmed, powerless and unproductive. Turbulent emotions often mean that you pay less attention to working creatively, productively and efficiently. Take charge and empower yourself to deal with these feelings so they don’t get in the way of your goals. Learning to calm yourself effectively and immediately will give you clarity of thought and the conviction to take sound decisions.

In fact, the ability to resist emotional urges and outbursts actually improves your performance and productivity. One of the best ways to keep your mind stable and calm, especially when you’re looking to focus on getting back to productive work is to centre yourself by meditating.

 

The next time you’re in a blank state of unproductively, fixed in-place by stress, try this chanting meditation:

Select an appropriate phrase, prayer or affirmation that inspires and uplifts you. Examples of affirmations you can chant include:

I believe in myself and my decisions.

I accept the challenges of the world.

I can change my world.

I have unlimited potential

I am destined to succeed.

 

Sit comfortably on a mat or chair, or even lie down. Keep your shoulders and body relaxes. Close your eyes, take a few breaths to ground and centre yourself.

Repeat your chant slowly, pay close attention to the sounds you make as you chant. Keep a steady beat as you inhale or exhale as you chant.

Redirect stray thoughts and try to bring them gently back to the affirmation.

When you are ready, come out of the meditation by taking a few deep breaths. Observe your internal landscape. How do you feel?

 

Practical Strategies to Help You Calm Down

When you focus on staying calm, a funny thing happens. Your brain starts zooming out of the problem and putting it into context. Readjusting your perspective helps you gauge the problem rationally instead of blowing it out of proportion. When you come back to a situation with a clear perspective about what you want, you get back some of that control you lost when you were overwhelmed.

Disengage.

Step back. Get away from the aggravating situation or person. Focus on something else. Meditate. Breathe. The extra oxygen will do you a world of good. Experts say that in times of stress, the reduced oxygen to your brain drives your brain to freeze and trigger a primitive fight or flight response. Breathing deeply will replenish your brain supplies allowing you to look at the situation more rationally. And force yourself to smile – a fake smile will make you feel better just as a real one will.

Absorb yourself.

Do something else. It could be as simple as a shower. Do mundane things. Some people clean as a way to get their heads in order. Cook, if you like. Go do some yard work. Doodle – it’s a wonderful stress reliever. A change of pace, activity or scenery will instantly take your mind off whatever is bothering you.

Stop Multitasking.

A study at Stanford found that people who multitask are prone to distractions and decreased focus when working on a task. The “busy” feeling of multi tasking is just a facade. The constant distraction may make you feel like you’re getting more done, but in reality, you are far less productive than you hope to be.

Use music.

Blast some music. Sing along if you’re feeling bold – the louder the better. It is no secret that music helps people calm down. Sing loud, off key and do the chicken dance. There is no way you can be upset while you’re being that silly.

 Get moving.

Speaking of the chicken dance, a dance workout is an excellent way to improve your mood. So is running. Moving vigorously will clear your mind, pump some endorphins and have you feeling better in no time. Another great way to get moving is to do a walking meditation. Go to a local park or green spot. As you walk, breathe in the fresh air and drink in the sights and sounds of nature.

Engage a friend.

Have a “bitchin’ buddy”. A girlfriend of mine and I made a pact years ago. Instead of harassing our family members, significant other or random friends who may or may not want to listen to us raging, we would reach out to each other to vent. The mutually beneficial arrangement kept our other relationships sane and lending a sympathetic ear to each other drew us closer as friends.

Reflect.

Grab a piece of paper, set a timer to five and write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t censor or edit. Don’t try to make sense of what you are writing, just keep the pen moving on the paper. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artists Way” suggests writing three pages every morning to free up your creative energy and help you think without inhibitions. For those of you that prefer typing to writing, try 750 words.

 

Staying calm in the middle of a difficult situation can give you the insight that someone who is worked up may not have. It makes you productive, focussed and gives you clarity of thought to put your larger goals into perspective so that you’re winning the war, not just the battle.

Quite frankly, staying calm makes you very powerful.

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9 Powerful Tools To Help You Get Things Done Faster

I’ve always been a list person. First pen and paper, then on electronic gadgets. I even asked my parents to buy me a PDA at the age of 14 so I could make better to do lists. Anyway, as you can imagine I’m a nerd for productivity and GTD apps. Here is a compilation of my top ten productivity apps:

 

Wunderlist

From Things to Remember the milk, Apple reminders to Evernote, I’ve tried them all. Wunderlist is the one app that helps you craft a relevant to-do list, and then see it through to completion. The best part is that you can share lists and make unlimited sublists for free! Their paid version is highly customizable and not overly complicated with superficial features designed to make you part with your money like some of the other apps out there. . While the list making and the sleep interface of the previous versions were pretty awesome, what I like about the latest Wanderlist 3 is that they’ve made it extremely easy to share lists, upload files, share comments and collaborate with others. Wunderlist’s seamless integration on all platforms – complete with real-time syncing on various platforms like iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Kindle Fire and the Web make it a convenient substitute for some of the expensive project management software out there.

Wunderlist has come a long way from the first version. For someone looking to manage entire projects off of Wunderlist that their project tracking capabilities are still primitive. For everyday productivity, I’ve set up my Wunderlist so that I get reminder emails when something is due, or when a colleague checks off an item. Some examples of things I’ve used it for include summer travel lists, collaborating with my sister for places we wanted to visit, assigning tasks for group projects, multiple lists for different projects makes it easy to organize the different aspects of your life.

 

Evernote

This new media darling has literally all the features you will ever need. Need a place to jot notes? Check. Need to make a to do list? Check. Want to save a website to browse at a later date? Check. While I find this integration a little slower than Wunderlist (depending on your internet connection), its still pretty fast and arguably the most powerful productivity app out there. Evernote is a one-stop-shop for clipping notes, collecting pictures, making lists as well as clipping web content.

The one drawback of Evernote is that it takes a bit of education to learn to use it really well. As a first-time user, evernote can be a bit intomidating and not so user-friendly. The way I use Evernote in my everyday work is by recording audio clips of important lectures, taking notes, clipping interesting web content and for keeping all my content in one place. Again, the integration across different mobile platforms makes Evernote very handy when working on the move.

 

Dropbox

This is one of the oldest and most efficient cloud storage solutions that I’m aware of. If you’re looking for a single place to store different kinds of files (e.g. powerpoints, excel, word documents, photos), Dropbox is unmatched in its speed and user-friendliness. More recently, other newer cloud storage apps have started floating around the internet but I have found Dropbox to be the one that just works perfectly on all devices.

The one drawback of Dropbox is that after you run out of your free storage space, you either have to earn points by inviting friends and sharing dropbox on social media, or you have to purchase extra storage space for subscriptions of $10.99 a month.I use it mostly for reviewing my lectures on the go. But it’s also a very common tool in my family for sharing photos and videos. Alternatives to Dropbox include Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, iCloud.

 

Lift

This is the ultimate public accountability app. Often, when working by ourselves, the social aspect of  working and staying on track gets missed. The List website claims that “You are not alone on Lift”. If you want to harness the power of social media to ramp up your productivity, this is definitely the app for you, because they’re big on community interaction and public accountability. Every time you login, it also shares that with your friends. Within the app are various goals that you can set and work towards. Every day that you achieve the goal, you login and comment and it tracks the number of days you went without skipping.

While the social media shares can get annoying, especially if you’re failing to meet your goals, I think that is the essence of social accountability sites like these. I use lift to improve my own daily habits. Some of my Lift goals include drink 2L water everyday, write a well-researched Liftree blog post everyday, remember to clean my bunny’s cage, attend 60 minutes of hot yoga and even breathe deeply sprinkled as reminders throughout the day.

 

Write or Die

This website has one message, and one message only. Write or die. Literally, there is one big text box on the page with a timer and running word count on the bottom, and you write without distractions. Do you find yourself not able to concentrate when trying to put words down on the page for that big history paper? Try this app, and notice how easy it is to write when you have a timer. There is even a blinking red screen and a panic alarm to scare you into writing faster. If you slack off for a few seconds, fall far behind your set rate of writing or generally waste time, the app will literally scare you into focus. Let all your ideas come out on paper without censoring, the more fodder you have, the better you can sculpt it.

While the web version of the app is free, you have to download it for $20 if you want to use it offline. I use write or die when I want to brainstorm new ideas, complete free writing exercises to come up with blog posts, as well as for finishing research projects on time.

 

Focus Booster

This app uses the pomodoro technique by setting a timer to 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest. Focus Booster is great for disciplining you into working with focus and then making a point of taking breaks to maintain productivity. Often, many of us get into the “zone” but afraid of taking a break lest we lost that productive streak, we just trudge on trying to work despite getting tired or bored of the project. This is actually counterproductive because taking a quick break would ensure that we are fully engaged with the work when we come back to it after a break. Focus booster is great for reminding yourself to take these much-needed breaks – after 3-4 regular sessions, it also reminds you to take a big 15-20 minute break. Alternatives include Howler timer for Mac, and the Online Stopwatch website. How awesome is this little tool, ticking away to help you stay on track.

 

ColdTurkey (Windows) / SelfControl (Mac)

This simple to use app is essential to conquering our pervasive online addiction and complete lack of self-control. It not only temporarily (you can also schedule blocks in advance) blocks you out of social media sites, addicting websites, games and even programs but is smart enough to know when you are trying to fool it. So forget trying to uninstall the program while its running or restarting your computer to circumvent its brute force. This is the ultimate bad cop- making you work so much faster without all the distractions. The best part of it all- it’s free!

 

If This Then That (IFTTT)

With this tool, you can eliminate the need for a personal assistant, and put the internet to work for you instead. You can create “recipes” using multiple channels to do things that you had only imagined in your dreams till now. Some examples of recipes: Get an email to let you know if its going to rain tomorrow. Send a thank you tweet to someone who retweets a link. Post the same picture to 3 different social media websites without actually opening even one.

 

Pocket

This nifty tool collects any and all of the webpages that are of interest to you. It is marketed as save for reading later, but I send many sites to pocket even just as a seamless bookmarking tool. The best part is, once you’ve saved a particular webpage or article to pocket, you can view it offline later. Check out this article on using Pocket with IFTTT to create a fantastic alternative to confusing RSS readers.

The one drawback of pocket is that unlike comparable apps like Readability and Instapaper, Pocket doesn’t offer any options for plugging into other social networks or the service’s own data to find the most popular/shared pocket pages. I use pocket for commuting or when I have little or no internet access.  In fact, earlier this year, I spent a few days on the Indian railway, travelling to Jaipur and surrounding areas, and using Pocket on my cell phone was a fantastic alternative to hauling around a heavy book, or dragging along my tablet or reader. I got a ton of research done on the go and could travel freely without worrying about slacking off or falling behind for the Liftree launch.

 
Have you used any of these? Do you have any other favourites that I missed on this list? Comment below, and share the knowledge!

 

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Stay Productive While Working From Home

So you’ve finally managed to grab the holy grail of the millennial dream.

You’re working from home.

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  • You work on your own time.
  • Cafe, poolside, basement, hammock – you choose where you work.
  • Other people envy you
  • No office politics
  • Fewer interruptions from co-workers
  • More time with family
  • No more road rage during rush hour
  • Gas money, Lunch money – more savings!
  • More control over how you balance your life
  • Helping the environment
  • Less sick days, better health

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The Facts

Expert opinion on the topic of productivity among those that work from home remains divided.  Researchers at Stanford studied a large-sized Chinese travel agency and found that people working form home worked more hours, took shorter breaks, took less sick days and were more satisfied. A similar study at Cisco had the same results.

Ironically, tech-giants Google and Yahoo are not so keen on the work-from-home mindset. In fact, in February 2013, Marissa Mayer (CEO) sent out a new directive saying that employees could no longer work from home.

It seems to me that in this day-and-age, working remotely, telecommuting, or even working while  “away” from work is inevitable. While not every small or medium sized start-up can afford to bring their telecommuting staff (some of which live in other countries) into a physical office, we can definitely offer employees training and resources to maximize their productivity when working from home.

While telecommuting is really convenient in terms of satisfaction, eliminating sick-days and commute time, but the big question now is:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]How do you stay productive when there is no structure to your workday?[/quote]

 

Establish a routine

While it may seem ideal to wake up and start working in your pyjamas while watching Dora the Explorer with your two year old, instead of dragging yourself out of bed by sheer will to start the day with a dreary hour long commute; there are some unexpected benefits to commuting. The trudge to work creates a morning ritual that gets you into the mental space to start work. This transition period is a crucial signal to your subconscious mind to get you in the mood for serious work.

 

Have a plan

Without a plan, you may get lost in the pile of pending items demanding your attention. You’re also vulnerable to numerous distractions at home. If you’re rolling with the punches and just working on things that come up in front of you, you may be working without a clear direction of your own, and despite the fact that you’re now working form home, you’ll still be working to further someone else’s agenda.

Creating a plan can be as simple as prioritizing and streamlining your to-do list to pick the tasks that are most important at the start of the day. If you want to get really fancy, you can even create a distraction elimination plan to overcome any disturbances and work like a ninja.

 

Be professional

You may no longer need to don a blazer or a pencil skirt to work from home, but lounging around on the sofa in your sweats or boxers won’t boost your productivity at home. Get dressed before you start working. You don’t have to go all out but the simple act of maintaining a decent appearance sends subconscious signals to your brain that you’re settling down to business.

Similarly, your workspace should remotely resemble an office. If you’re sitting on the couch watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother, that report isn’t going to magically get written. Treat your home office like professional business and I promise you, your productivity will skyrocket.

 

Professional space

  1. Define your work space and time. Refrain from attending to personal stuff during this time. When you’re working from home, uninterrupted work time is sacred. Do whatever you can to protect it. Just like you protect your personal time and space when you were commuting to the office.
  2. Separate yourself physically. If you live with other people, especially if you have kids, you will be more productive if you isolate yourself from the other people in your house away from the clutter, chaos, noise and distractions of everyday living.
  3. Some people recommend working in the same space everyday to train your brain to be more productive. While this may work for some people,  I’ve found that changing things up, finding a different place to work, especially taking your work outside to a novel, but soothing location can do wonders for your creativity and productivity. Working everyday in the same space without interacting with co-workers can get boring fast, and varying your work space (as long as your new place is conducive to focussing on your work) can make you excited about your work and boost your productivity.

 

Get moving

Finding a place to focus and get work done is crucial to staying productive, but equally essential is the need to take breaks and move your body. This Swedish study found that getting yourself outside, moving physically and doing a differently paced activity to your usual work can make you more productive. If you are a sedentary worker working with your laptop all day, getting outside is even more crucial in order to:

  1. Reduce eye strain
  2. Relax your strained muscles (shoulder rolls, neck stretches, walking the tension out of your legs)
  3. Stretch
  4. Breathe fresh air and gain clarity
  5. Use balanced meals to recharge your energy
  6. Use the change of scenery to inspire creative solutions
  7. Clear your mind of repetitive thinking patterns
  8. Give yourself a mental rest
  9. Get back to work with a fresh ideas and a recharged mind/body

 

Stay social

  1. Working form home can be very isolating and staying in touch with your co-workers can be beneficial in several ways. Being proactive about keeping in touch with your boss and co-workers not only projects a professional image, it also helps you feel connected, keeps you focussed and helps take some of the edge off the loneliness of working alone.
  2. Even if you don’t actually meet up with anyone, you can still satisfy your inner social animal by just hanging out in public places, letting yourself experience the human interactions happening around you. I don’t mean you should eavesdrop and get carried away listening to other people’s conversations (unless you’re a budding novelist), but just hanging out at a coffee shop or other public place filled with human chatter can boost your creativity, help you meet strangers that might trigger new thoughts and give you a different perspective on the problem you’re struggling with.
  3. Use other people as sounding boards, critics and idea magnets. Check our this article that talks about how Tim Trampedach, owner of Level X Motorsports reaches out to others for coffee to exchange ideas, bounce questions in order to stay productive.
  4. Take advantage of the WWW. This article talks about Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, who created a virtual water cooler message board so her employees can share photos, talk shop, share personal interests and catch up with each other to create a better connected organization.

 

As we venture over into the unknown territory of work-from-home gigs and flexi-time, questions of productivity and engagement while working in the home environment will become both personal and organizational concerns. While it remains to be seen whether working form home is more productive than working in an office, one thing is for sure – employees and start-up founders now have much more control over their time than they ever did. The key is to use it critically, looking at how you spend your time, energy and resources, analyzing, tweaking and improving your productivity.

Do you work from home? What is your biggest challenge in staying productive? Leave a comment below to let us know!

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Mindful productivity- working in the present

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.
– Khalil Gibran[/quote]

In a discussion about productivity, people seldom expect to talk about mindfulness. Sometimes though, mindfulness is exactly what we need in order to stay productive, just like in other aspects of our lives.

In particular, being mindful of our internal dialogue, limiting beliefs and personal strengths can be helpful in identifying the style of work that is most productive for us.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. ― John Lennon[/quote]

In her best-selling book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, author identifies that human beings have two primal responses to stimuli- fear and pleasure. Those of us that are governed by fear are preoccupied with protecting ourselves and seeking safety. Those of us who are governed by pleasure seek excitement and novelty and new situations. Obviously both temperaments in excess can be harmful. The fear brain can lead you down a path of worry, nervousness, suspicion and negativity. The pleasure brain can cause u to seek out excesses, hush-risk activities, and even substance abuse in order to feel that thrill of doing something unique.

The body, like the mind, also has two responses to any situation – yes and no. The next time someone asks you a question or proposes an idea, observe your body closely for its internal answer. When your internal answer is yes while thinking of an idea, a question or a situation, you are relaxed, and positive. Your breath is even, the tone of your voice is level.  When it is no, you scrunch up and tense. Your shoulders pull up to your neck, your breath quickens, your body tightens.

 

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Jot down two or three questions that have been on your mind lately.

Keep these questions in mind as you proceed through the exercise.

Sit down on the flow or in a yoga mat. Cross your legs put your palms on our thighs. Imagine a thick gnarled root coming out of your spine, grounding you into the earth below. Think of your head sending out a million shoots and leaves reaching high towards the sky.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Notice the tension in your shoulders, let it go. Notice the tension in your abdomen, let it go.

Notice what is going on in your body. Breathe like a baby – with abandon and trust.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Ask your first question.

Suspend your conscious thinking. Do not try to think logically or drive the answer into a certain direction. Restrain your rational and logical responses.

Listen instead to your body. Is your body tightening up, grabbing on to your roots? Are you holding tightness in a particulate part of your body as you ask this question? Just observe the reaction of your body as you hold his question in your mind.

When you’re satisfied with the answer, breathe, and let this question go.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Ask your second question

Repeat the thought process above for the first question.

Maybe you’re feeling free and peaceful as you think of this question. Is there a sighing, a release, a sense of relief as you hold this question in your mind. What is your body telling you?

When you’re ready, breathe and let go of this question.

Repeat the whole thing if you have a third question.

Breathe.

When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and reflect upon the wisdom your body has just shared with you.

With practice, you will learn to respect and recognize the powerful decision making of your body. The silence that this bodily awareness creates in your mind will be more valuable, restorative and productivity-inducing than any expensive vacation you will ever take.

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Often people think of meditation, inner peace and achieving a state of “flow” as some esoteric mumbo jumbo. But these things can be applied in your everyday working life too.

Here are some ways you can infuse awareness into your everyday work activities:

  • Being present in the moment. Wherever you are, truly engaging in conversations and making meaningful connections with those physically around you will create a special bond and magical memories more than conversations online ever will. Remember there will always be time to write on someone’s facebook wall, or send your crush a text message.
  • Focusing only on the current task. Eliminate any negative feelings that keep you from being productive. Attempting to achieve multiple goals all at the same time is not only an inefficient venture but also a counterproductive one. Remember that grasping new concepts and getting a project done properly is a big responsibility and requires all the attention you can give it.
  • Not worrying about the past or the future. This is similar to being in the present moment, but cultivating mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, nervousness and agitation which stems from negative experiences or feelings of the past, and anticipation of what is to come.

 
The ability to identify both fear and pleasure stressors in our lives, create a quiet space to rejuvenate and work free of your everyday tensions can create an avalanche of productivity in your everyday productivity as you learn to let go and ease into the activity at hand.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. ― Thích Nhất Hạnh[/quote]

 

Working in fear

Fear is a manifestation of misplaced hope. When you are constantly hoping for an external miracle to solve all your problems,  you’re also in constant conflict with reality. Leaving behind your fantasies about life to fully embrace the reality that is present here and now is the key to unlocking your happiness and creativity.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear. ― Cheri Huber[/quote]

Contrary though it may seem, giving up your rigid notions of the world, can set you free. There is no limiting beliefs or castles in the air interfering with your fluid perception of reality. And when these limiting beliefs are gone, you can really work with yourself and get into the elusive “flow”. Speaking about the state of “flow”, working in the “zone” isn’t really different from mindfulness when you think about it. When you work in the “zone” you are present, fully focused on what is in front of you. No past and no future limiting, obscuring or altering your present reality.

 

Working with pleasure

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more. ― Mother Teresa[/quote]

Joy is the pervasive happiness that stays constant regardless of the internal and external circumstances pressing upon us. Unlike the superficial notions of happiness, living in a state of joy simply means focusing solely on the present. It means living in the present moment with intensity, experiencing the world around us with a heightened sense of attention.

Working with joy doesn’t mean that you’re not aware of the negativity around you. Instead, working with joy means that you’re constantly living the present moment with a pervasive awareness of the grand perspective of things. Working with joy means stepping back from our fear and pleasure stressors and working in a “zone” that is neither altered by the situation nor the actions of totters around us.

 

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30 Productivity Hacks to Help You Make The Most of Your Workday

  1. Try the Pomodoro technique. Chunk your tasks into 25 minutes and take a 5 minutes break in between. Use focus booster for getting some serious work done!
  2. Race the clock. Use an old fashioned timer, or for anywhere access try www.onlinestopwatch.com.
  3. Try working in a coffee shop. Train your brain to work efficiently in public.
  4. Prime yourself to get into “the zone”. Set yourself mentally to begin work at a certain time.
  5. Exercise. It gets blood flowing to the brain, making you more alert.
  6. Ditch your desk. Let go of the non-essential gadgets, streamline, and take your essentials outside to work.
  7. Vary work spaces to keep things exciting to boost both creativity and productivity
  8. Stay accountable with apps like WriteorDie, Lift and If This Then That.
  9. Use social media to your advantage. Go public with your tasks to stay accountable and productive.
  10. Ask a friend to check on you. Someone nagging you to finish your tasks on time is unparalleled in its effectiveness to help you get things done.
  11. Have a long-term countdown to your big project. On your cellphone. On social media. On your website. Maybe even on your desk.
  12. Take frequent breaks. Stay productive by recharging frequently and paying attention to body/mind cues.
  13. Make a distraction list. Then determine how to eliminate these distractions.
  14. Spend time with your peeps. Have guilt free distractions scheduled into your day or week so when you sit down to work, you’re focussed on the tasks in front of you.
  15. Don’t watch TV. Its called an Idiot Box for a reason. Watching in moderation os okay, but stay mindful if you’re starting to get fused with your living room couch.
  16. Take care of other needs so you don’t end up interrupting yourself. Pee breaks, food, water, exercise. Deal with these before you sit down to work so that you can work free of interruptions.
  17. Use your strengths. Delegate the tasks that you don’t want to do, or that someone else is better at. Keep your energy focussed on doing things that will give you the highest returns.
  18. Wear comfortable clothes but dress like you mean business. Appearances are important even when you’re working by yourself. A drumpy outfit signals to your brain that you’re not really on your A game.
  19. Limit obsessive email checking. Set times during the day when you will check your emails and reply to important correspondence. Make your habits public knowledge so people know when its best to contact you. Once you’ve checked your email, refrain from checking it again until the designated time.
  20. Be firm with yourself. When working for yourself, especially, if you work by yourself at home, its easy to slack off and tell yourself you’ll do an important task later. Don’t talk yourself into being less productive. Set deadlines like you would at a job. Then stick to them.
  21. Use pen & paper. If you’re getting distracted by your gadgets, try switching things up a bit by going back to old-fashioned pen and paper. You may be surprised at the creative ideas that seem to suddenly crop up out of nowhere.
  22. Wake up earlier. Things seem so much saner earlier on in the day ( or later on at night – depending on whether you’re an early bird of a night owl) when no one else is around to distract you from the task in front of you.
  23. Curb your perfectionism. If a task is done, and is of reasonably decent quality, you need to let it go and stop nit-picking at the little stuff. If a task is done, then label it as done, and move on.
  24. Meditate. Closing your eyes for a few minutes to ground yourself can make a huge difference between getting burned out and staying productive.
  25. Take a walk. Walking for productivity and creativity isn’t just for the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. You can do it too. Take a walk in fresh air whenever you’re stumped by a work problem. You just might happen to stumble upon a creative solution.
  26. Switch to a different task. If you’re on a tight deadline and cannot afford to take a complete break, try switching form a sedentary task typing away on your laptop, to getting up and looking up a reference you’ve been meaning to.
  27. Eat right. Eating clean will keep you alert and active. It will clear your mind of cobwebs and focussed on the task in front of you. Make sure to eat lots of produce, while grains and lean protein. Don’t forget to flush out toxins with lots of water.
  28. Eat on time. So many of us wait until we are starving to start thinking about what to eat. His is the basis of many of our terrible diet choices. Not only is it bad for your health, it also erodes your productivity when you’re sluggish from an unhealthy meal.
  29. Isolate yourself. When working, stay away form distractions. If you’re in an office, put up a temporary “Do Not Disturb” sign to discourage chit-chatting co-workers from barging into your office e or cubicle. If working from home, let your family or roommates know you’re going to be going off to your home office and not to disturb you unless its an emergency.
  30. Don’t stress about productivity. If you keep scaring yourself to death about how little you’re getting done, you’re just going to make yourself miserable and even less productive because instead of focussing on the solution, you’re distracted by thoughts about how you’re going to fail.

 

Your Turn! What’s your best productivity hack? Share it with us in the comments below.

 

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The Glaring Benefits of A Productivity Pre-Party

You sit down to work. The phone vibrates, you just got a text from a classmate asking you how to solve question #3 on the assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your inbox dings as you receive 3 emails in a row. Your child starts crying at the top of his lungs. You need to tend to your crying child, you need to reply to your classmate and reply to your emails or they might think you’re rude and irresponsible. Your work session comes to a halt before it even started. Could you have avoided any of these distractions? Check out our previous article on creating a distractions and solutions list.

Here’s an innovative and effective way to ensure that when you sit down to work, you actually get stuff done. Plan a pre-party. No, not the kind you have before a night around town. I mean creating an atmosphere, both internally and externally, that will be conducive to a productive work session.

[message_box title=”Ask yourself:” color=”beige”]

  • Why are you sitting down to work?
  • What specific goals do you need to accomplish before you get up?
  • What are the things on your mind which may stop you from focusing on the task at hand?

[/message_box]

I’m going to let you in on a secret- it’s a checklist of the things you should do immediately before you sit down to work.

1. Set a start time. And be firm with yourself. Finish all your menial but urgent tasks, so you don’t have impending doom lingering in your mind. Setting a particular time aside for working will send a powerful signal to your brain that you mean business. If you do it enough times, this habit will become internalized and help you quickly get into “the zone” once you sit down to work.

2. Eat brain food. Nuts, eggs, flax, fresh produce, whole grains. I recently started going to this Yoga class where the instructor talked about eating just enough to sustain yourself and not gouging on junk to satisfy your cravings. The goal was to eat clean, healthy nutrient rich foods in just enough quantities to sustain you thorough your Yoga practice, but not so much that it hinders your movement and takes your attention away from doing what you have to do. The same principle applies to eating before work as well. Eat just enough to sustain yourself. Eat clean, fresh, healthy food. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum. If you really need something to sip on, try herbal tea. If you find yourself lethargic or lacking in energy, opt for energy right, nutrient dense foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, dates, raisins and walnuts to keep yourself energetic and focussed. Most importantly, drink lots of water to flush out the toxins and keep yourself vitalized.

3. Gather supplies beforehand. Get yourself everything you need – pen, paper, textbook, laptop, sticky notes. Organize your workstation. There is nothing as distracting as sitting down to work and realizing that you’re missing an essential tool for your work and having to get up repeatedly to gather the things that you need. Even if you sit down motivated and ready to make a dent in your to-do list, constant distractions can erode this motivation and bring you back to a state of unproductivity.

4. Disconnect. Turn off your gadgets and stay away from the Internet. Use programs such as ColdTurkey and SelfControl if you need to stay connected to the internet for the purposes of your work- it aids in blocking distracting aspects of the internet and is not that easy to work around. Read more about using apps and other tools to improve productivity in this post.

5. Let others around you know that you will be preoccupied and busy for a set amount of time. A lot of times, lack of clear communication hijacks your efficiency and gets you annoyed at people who keep interrupting. A simple gesture like letting people know in advance can resolve the issue and protect your working time. Letting friends and family know that even though we may be physically present, we will be unavailable mentally and emotionally in order to get an important task done, can help us gain their compliance, respect and even support.

6. Pump yourself up. Both physically and mentally, you need to be in optimum condition in order to work productively. Use exercise, cardio, aerobics, quotes, positive thinking, meditation, visualization – whatever your tonic, make sure you indulge in some tender loving care towards creating a healthy mind and body. The rewards of such self-care will be evident when you start working more efficiently, enjoy your work more and generally feel more engaged when trying to complete a task. Personally, I am a big positive quotes junkie. So if I’ve been experiencing a lack of concentration, I’ll read quotes to remind me about the importance of staying concentrated, how to stay concentrated or really just anything that’s been on my mind lately.

7. Write down a list of SMART goals that you want to achieve this session. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Example, “I will finish reading section 3.2 in 30 minutes.”

8. Write down all other things on your mind. DUMP so you can think on efficient things. Free up important brain space for the important things you are trying to accomplish. Check out this exercise about doing the Morning Pages to free up your mental and emotional space in order to ramp up your productivity.

 

Here is a checklist for you to print off and use before you sit down to work. 

Share your thoughts, and comment below with any suggestions.

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A simple system for eliminating distractions and staying productive

Distractions are everywhere.

Plus, with all our mobile phones and gadgets, they are ominously inviting. At every turn, they lure you like hawkers at an Indian market, diverting you away from important tasks.

Apparently, distractions cost businesses money too. According to this article , a “2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year”

Aside form the monetary costs, distractions can also make you frustrated and unhappy creating a vicious cycle of stress and poor performance.

So how can you beat pesky distractions and show them who’s the boss? The answer is laughably obvious. Monitor and eliminate the distractions. Just the act of  writing down your common distractions will make you conscious and attuned to the ways in which you waste you r time during the workday.

Quick plan to end all distractions

  1. Make a list of all your distractions. Write down every last little bugger.
  2. Keep this list somewhere accessible.
  3. Across from each distraction, list a possible solution
  4. Just before you sit down to work, review this list.
  5. The more you use this technique, the more mindful you will become about distractions and the opportunities for eliminating them.

 

Here is what my list of distractions and solutions looks like:

unnamed

 

I found the results of this exercise surprising. Many of my distraction problems had common solutions. This little insight saved me a lot of time in the long run because the million distractions we think we are up against, really only entail tweaking a few common things in our daily routine or environment to optimize productivity and eliminate distractions.

 

So I put together a final list after compiling the solutions that fell under a common theme, and here is my final list:

unnamed-2

Final thoughts

Identifying and elimination distractions is as simple as writing down everything that is keeping you from a productive workflow and then analyzing your results to see if you can come up with a master plan of sorts.

To go one step further and make this even more intense, you can write your final list of distraction elimination solutions on to an index card and laminate it. Keep it accessible at all times near your workspace. Then, review it every time you sit down to work. This frequent review will burn the solutions into your subconscious over time. Eventually, you won’t even need the list in order to tackle the distractions you come up against. The beauty of using repetition to change or build habits is that it doesn’t take much more than a small measure of effort on your part to bring about big changes.

You just have to be consistent.

Change things in small increments until the cumulative effect helps you build momentum towards the new habit(s).

Over to you – List your distractions and solutions in the comments below. What did you learn about your own workflow? Our favourite reply will get a shoutout in the next post.

Happy Sunday!

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How taking a vacation can boost productivity

In our busy, everything to-go filled lives, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the impacts of such a lifestyle. First, let’s acknowledge that working too much is bad for you, your employer, your family and friends. Yet it is a lifestyle that so many of us fall victim to. We live under the illusion that everything we are doing is equally important and more often than not, get so drowned in all the important tasks that we completely give up. The busy routines we find ourselves in are not providing ideal lifestyles for our productivity and creativity to thrive.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking. -Earl Wilson[/quote]

Every once in a while, get out of your routine. Even though routine is thought to be the core of productivity, often what is missed is the need for a break. It is extremely important for us to take time to take a break. Both on a small scale and a larger scale. In this article, I will convince you on why you need to take more vacations. In the next article, I will discuss the benefits of taking small breaks throughout your day.

The best phase in my life which was coincidentally the most productive one as well was after my most memorable vacation in the summer of 2009. I travelled to India with my family after seven years and was completely rejeuvinated upon return. I’ve noticed after coming back from every vacation since then, there is a magic that follows after every period of rest and relaxation. Leave a comment to share your experience.

[message_box title=”Exercise:” color=”beige”]Think back to your last vacation. When was it? What is your best memory from it? On a scale from 0-10 think about how badly you needed that vacation. Now stop reminiscing and come back to the present. How much do you need a vacation now? Do you constantly feel irritated, anxious, tired, frustrated of it all? How close to burnout are you? [/message_box]

 

The Facts

An estimated average of 9.2 vacation days were left unused by Americans in 2012. More than 6 out of 10 Americans reported working through their vacation. While advocating for more vacations, Tony Schwartz, Energy Project CEO compared energy to time. “Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable,”  he wrote in the New York Times. “Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.”

 

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it”  Jim Goodwin[/quote]

 

The Logic

Our bodies are very flexible and accommodating of what we put them through, for the most part. However, living with chronic stress which comes along with our busy lifestyles hinders the body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and its ability to avoid injury. When we’re stressed out and tired, surviving on only a few hours of sleep and a poor diet, our immune systems become weaker and we are more likely to become ill. Chronic stress also has impacts on our mental health. We become more irritable, depressed, and anxious. It is also linked to memory problems and poorer decisions.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We need to take breaks in order to allow our bodies to recuperate from all the insults and catch up on rest. During the vacation, we gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. As the vacation ends, there is a sense of empowerment; we emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]The purpose of a vacation is to have the time to rest. But many of us, even when we go on vacation, don’t know how to rest. We may even come back more tired than before we left. – Thich Nhat Hanh[/quote]

 

Benefits of taking a vacation

  1. Recharge and enjoy life
    • Avoid burnout
    • See the bigger picture
    • Gain more energy
    • Experience new things
    • Strengthen family ties
    • Allow for personal growth
  2. Increase productivity
    • Enhance job performances
    • Increase focus
    • Promote creativity
    • Improve mental skills
    • Gain new perspectives
  3. Stay healthy
    • Relieve stress
    • Improve mood
    • Catch up on sleep
    • Reduce risk of depression
    • Boost heart health
    • Promote well-being

[message_box title=”Try this…” color=”beige”]What is the one place you have wanted to visit since you were a child? Why haven’t you been there yet? What is the one activity you have been thinking of doing? Take a few minutes to plan your next vacation. If you don’t have the money or time right now, plan a stay-cation budget trip. Take just 2 days from your busy life where you will just let everything go and exist in the present- worry free.[/message_box]

Pack your bags, cut out the routine and take a vacation, and watch your productivity fluorish in the weeks that follow! Stay tuned for an article on planning a vacation.

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16 Experiments to clear mental chatter and stay productive

Its 3 am and these scary, creepy, toxic thoughts start creeping into your mind. What if you fail and the project you’re working on tanks? What if your best friend is backstabbing you?What if he is cheating on you?  What if?

We go through life with so much negative mental chatter, its a miracle we survive at all. From the moment we are born, we are cautioned and protected. Watch out for that sharp edge of the kitchen counter. Be careful not to climb up too high on that chair. Don’t speak to strangers.

Most of us are lucky – our worst fears never come true.

The funny thing with mental chatter is – the more you entertain it, the more it  flourishes, like a  parasite eating through your brain until you have nothing left to give.

The fear-mongering limits us, clips our wings and makes us doubt who we are and what we stand for.

The only way to stop that debilitating mental chatter is to go to the source and cut it off from the root – your mind. Consider these common sources of negative mental chatter:

 

Family

In the groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman talks about how our families and upbringing shape our destiny.

Early in childhood, we begin to form lasting perceptions about the human relationships around us. Countless moments of negative talk and harsh criticism over the course of childhood can shape some of our most fundamental ideas about ourselves – essentially determining the course of our lives.

While you cannot change your upbringing, studies show that even in adulthood, we have the power to change our emotional patterns and become adept at overcoming our negative thought patterns.

 

 

Significant Others

Often our closest relationships – lovers, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends – bear the brunt of our toxic  emotional conditioning. Even a small reaction such as a contemptuous expression can cause an increase in the other person’s heart rate, with prolonged conflict leading to a host of health problems. Since most of us live with a spouse or partner in adulthood, how we interact in our most significant relationship has a massive impact on our productivity and motivation.

 

Workspaces

Since most of us spend majority of the week working, our workspace can also be a significant source of stress that detracts us from being productive.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University found that social integration in the workspace employment and peer support are potent predictors of the productivity, quality of life, and surprisingly even mortality. When the focus is on the drama and conflict at work, it can be incredibly difficult to focus on the project at hand and be productive.

Negativity in the workplace wastes time, hinders creativity and innovation lower morale and decreased productivity.

 

Commuting

The average American spends 51 minutes a day commuting to and from work. A Swedish study found that long commutes increase stress levels and reduce productivity.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its report on Commuting and Personal Well-being. The study found that “commuters have lower life satisfaction, less pride in their work, less happiness and higher anxiety than non-commuters.”

In fact, a 2012 study by the New Cities Foundation, San Jose found that if travel time could be made more interesting and less stressful then commuters would be more productive.

Internet and Other Media

Watch this TED talk to understand how social media is negatively impacting our internal dialogue and making us lonely. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, sociologist and MIT professor talks about how our mobile devices aren’t just changing what we do, but also who we are. Social media has become so powerful that we don’t use it just as a tool to share our lives with other, but that technology has taken over our lives and we now simply find things to do so we can post them up. Our superficial interactions online have left us without the skills for self-reflection or face to face conversations. Turkle asserts that we are so lost now without social media that we cannot stand the discomfort of being without the constant online chatter when we are temporarily disconnected from our gadgets.

Joel Bain of Sour Grapes Winery puts it beautifully:

We are closer to each other than ever before, yet more distant emotionally and mentally than has ever been seen in human history.

These five common sources of negative mental chatter and toxic thoughts : family, spouses, workplace commutes, and social media are a testament to our increasing distraction from out own lives with constant, negative mental chatter. This constant chatter is what keeps us browsing, sharing, surfing all day –  and yet, we have nothing to show for our ‘hard work’ at the end of the day.

Not only do these sources erode our productivity, sucking our energy, ruining our quality of life they also impact our morale and mental focus.

Listening to Authentic Voices

Your search for inner motivation and creativity can be counterproductive when all the information you are consuming is created by other people. Whether it is your family, spouse, or the negative thoughts that spring form your workplace, commute or social or other mass media media that are influencing your thoughts – know this – In order to access your inner strength and sit down and do some authentic work, you need to block these outside influences (even if it is temporary) and listen to your own little voice of dissent.

Below are 16 practical experiments you can do to eliminate mental chatter and toxic thoughts from your mind to unleash your productivity today:

  1. Go on a social media fast
  2. Take a vow of silence for a day
  3. Listen to a positive audiobook on your commute
  4. disconnect from the internet
  5. have a heart to heart conversation with a friend or family
  6. Make eye contact when you talk to someone – give them your complete attention
  7. Catch yourself criticizing or judging someone – give them a compliment instead
  8. Create an hour of solitary time just to be alone with yourself
  9. Make a cup of green tea – take each sip mindfully
  10. Sit on the couch with your spouse. Do nothing else.
  11. Hug your parents. Call them if they are far away.
  12. Write a letter to an old friend
  13. Do a walking meditation
  14. Roll your shoulders, close your eyes, look up and take a deep breath
  15. Play with a child
  16. Go for a run outside – especially if the weather is bad.

 

Which ones did you do? Tell us about your battle with mental chatter in the comments below!