9 tips to commute like you mean it {productivity}

What do you do with the time it takes you to travel between home and work? Or going into town? For most people it is simply a means of getting from point A to point B, and little thought or productivity goes into it.

Yet it is by now well-known that your commuting time offers a vast treasure of opportunities for your day to pack more punch. Your choice: you can zone out in traffic – whether you use a car or public transport – or you can engage in a meaningful way.

For me, public transport is fortunately a fantastic option – and a welcome one! – and I prefer it because it frees me up to focus on other things while getting to my destination. These suggestions work best for that. Many of them can still be adapted for using your own transport as well – always of course bearing in mind that safety and alertness come first.

  1. Educate yourself: Read a book (if you use public transport and are one of those lucky folk who can read in a moving vehicle) or listen to an audio book. Those minutes add up when you use them to educate yourself! If you spend an hour on the road five days of the week, can you imagine how much you will have empowered yourself by the end of a year!?
  2. Plan & review: Use the time to plan your day if you are going into the office, or review your day when you go home. The advantage of this is that you walk into the office knowing what you want to achieve that day, and you walk into your home having already processed the stresses of the work day. Make a voice recording for yourself if you need to.
  3. Pray: Use your commute for prayer time. Yes, you can’t go as deeply into intercession as you would have if you were in your inner room, and this is not meant to replace that private time. As an addition to that time of worship on your knees, though, commuting prayer time offers marvellous scope for bringing the concerns of all your loved ones and the world to God. Or simply talking to Him, the way your kids used to talk to you when they were small and sitting in the back of the car. When I was driving more regularly, prayer time was one of the two things which kept me from road rage.
  4. Listen to music: I mean, really listen. This is the other thing which kept me calm in traffic. For me, spiritual music worked most especially well. But there are days you really just need that immersion into classical music or some good 80s music or the Beach Boys. Whatever you can immerse yourself in and which touches your spirit. If you want to make a challenge out of it, then set yourself the goal to listen to everything Chopin has ever composed, or Nickelback, or Hans Zimmer … whatever floats your boat!
  5. Create: If you are creatively minded, your commute can even be a time in which you work on stories or blog posts or Toastmasters speeches. Even if you can’t take notes, running through a first or second draft in your mind will mean that once you are at your desk, it will flow so much easier out of your pen.
  6. Memorize: This goes for practising that Toastmasters speech or work presentation you have to give, and also for learning a language or Scripture verse. Whether you are doing it out loud alone in your car or sotto voce on the train, this is one of the best stretches of dedicated time you are going to find to hone your skills. Why not make use of it instead of having to fit it into your day later?
  7. Meditate: Using public transport, this is one of the times I know I can dedicate to a short 20 or 30 minute meditation. There are so many guided meditation apps for Android and iPhone that it is the easiest thing in the world to pop in your head phones, close your eyes, and just become mindful and fall back into yourself.
  8. Notice: Remember when you used to play I Spy With My Little Eye on those long holiday trips as a kid? Have you ever set yourself the goal to notice something new on your trip to the store or to the office every day?
  9. Relax: Sometimes you need to create a little bit of space in your day, too, and the greatest gift you can give yourself is to not follow any of these suggestions, but simply relax, simply BE.

How do you use all the time you spend travelling?

Art by the wonderful Pascal Campion

Art by the wonderful Pascal Campion

piggybacking {productivity}

Last week I wrote about viewing tasks as full cycles.

Once you have that skill under your belt, there is an additional way in which this can benefit you: by expanding the cycle.

Adding an additional small task into a cycle is one of the easiest ways to build good habits. It is called piggybacking. You take something you want to make into a habit and piggyback it onto an already established habit.

Let’s use making a cup of tea as an example of what a full cycle plus piggyback add-on would look like:

  • Fill kettle, put teabag, sugar and spoon into cup
  • Boil water 
  • Pour water, steep
  • Remove teabag, add milk
  • Place milk back into fridge, spoon into sink, throw teabag away
  • Enjoy tea
  • Rinse cup and put into dishwasher

That is what constitutes a full cycle for tea-making, for me. The diamonds mark the two opportunities in this cycle to add something into it if you want to build a stronger habit. While the water is boiling, you have a few minutes at your disposal where you are probably just hanging around in the kitchen. This is the ideal window for a piggyback addition to the cycle. It could be wiping a counter, decluttering a shelf in the fridge, doing 10 wall push-ups, memorizing a verse of Scripture or a new word in a language you are learning. Or perhaps this is the time you take to connect with someone via a short note from your phone or tablet. The options are as varied as your imagination, needs and goals.

And likewise, while the tea is steeping, you have another small window of opportunity to piggyback a bonus habit onto the cycle. Taking vitamins, taking out the trash, taking something out of the freezer for dinner, updating your shopping list, whatever you can fit into that small window that needs to become a habit.

If you continue focusing on this, soon it will become completely natural for you to make that part of the tea cycle. Or wherever you see the opportunity to creatively make your day and your life easier. I find it easier to keep the bathroom clean since I have resolved to clean something small whenever I go in there. Instead of spending a dedicated amount of time on bathroom cleaning, whenever I visit the restroom I do one small thing: brushing the toilet, wiping the mirror, wiping the counters or windowsill. It means that the bathroom always stays under control and because the whole cleaning routine is broken up into small, widely distributed tasks, it does a lot to keep me free from overwhelm.

Need another example of this skill? Resolve to never leave your car without removing trash or (whatever does not belong there) from it. And when you have nothing left that needs removing, there is still the option to quickly wipe a rag over your dashboard or one of your windows at a time. I even do this while waiting at the stop light. This constitutes a major victory for someone who used to have a car that needed to be hidden from everybody I knew because it was such a dump!

Once you mind starts working in this way, the world opens up to you: you find ways and means to make so much of your day easier and more productive. And that, to me, is just one of the greatest joys possible!

What can you piggyback onto an existing full cycle habit?

Artist unknown

Artist: Leonard Leslie Brooke

full cycle {productivity}

Recently I encountered a stellar piece of advice that has transformed my productivity in exponential leaps and bounds:

Determine the full cycle of a task and don’t stop until you’ve completed it.

It is that simple! Often we don’t have a clear image in our mind of what the complete task actually should be. Let me give a few examples of how this works:

  • Laundry: The full cycle of laundry is only completed once those clean clothes have all been put away. You’re not done when the washing machine is done. Or the dryer. Or the clothes are all (clean) in a hamper. You’re done when everything has been put away.
  • Writing a report: The full cycle needs to include research, typing, editing and proofreading (yes, folks, that’s an important part of it!), and submission before the deadline. It’s not done before that.
  • Travelling: The full cycle is only completed once you have unpacked and put away your luggage and your clothes are in the dirty hamper. For the more organized among us this may go even further and include putting together a packing list for the next journey.
  • That empty toilet roll: No, you can’t just leave it like that. If you used the last square of paper, you have already activated the cycle and you need to complete it. And that doesn’t mean you can just put a new roll on top of the bathroom counter. You are only done when you have put the new roll into the toilet paper holder and disposed of the cardboard core. (This is applicable to anything you finish: the paper in the office photocopier or printer, the milk in the fridge, a light bulb that has gone out, fuel in your car – once something is finished, the cycle has been activated and needs to be completed.)
  • Going to the doctor: The full cycle only ends once you have paid the doctor, gotten the medication from the pharmacy, paid the pharmacist, and – if need be – put reminders in your phone or calendar for when to actually take the medication.
  • Using equipment: Whether you are mowing the lawn, crafting, putting up a picture, taking photographs, making dinner, the rule is the same: the cycle is only completed once you have put away everything again.

Almost everything we touch in our lives consists of cycles. And the beautiful thing is that, as we grow, those cycles grow, too. You can start with a short cycle, and as you become more au fait in this, add on to it.

It has been truly empowering for me to realize this, especially since I can get a bit distracted sometimes, touching and going, and forgetting what I had been busy with. Or just not plain thinking. But I can tell you from the toilet paper situation in my and friends’ homes that clearly I am not the only one who needs this epiphany.

Viewing tasks in terms of full cycles brings with it the immense reward of a feeling of freedom and completeness. There is deep satisfaction in knowing you’re done with this one thing. It has been taken care of, all the loose ends have been tied up, you are free to move on to the next step.

For me, that means there is one less process that is open in my brain, slowing down my processing speed. I can use that released space for something more important. And next time I come into the bathroom and see the toilet paper, I think: ‘Yep! Nailed it!’

It’s the little things that make the biggest difference!

things you learn watching others

The way other people do life can be extremely instructional to the observant. Either on how to do it, or how not to do it.

Here are a few things I have learned from observing:

  • Integrity is far, far, far more important than strategy. Strategy may bring you far in what you do, but integrity is all-important in who you are. Ultimately it is who you are that adds the value to what you do.
  • No matter how much work you have to do, or how many responsibilities you have, always make time to mix with the other team players.
  • Plan! Don’t start your day, your week, your month, your year, without planning. Become the project manager of your own life. And remember that those plans need to take into account interruptions, changes and challenges. That’s what makes a project manager good.
  • Even in competition, play nice. Help others, be generous with your gifts, and share.
  • A sense of humor makes all the difference. Most especially in keeping stress at bay and perspectives balanced.
  • Have confidence in yourself. Don’t be arrogant, but don’t second-guess yourself. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, how will others be able to?
  • Don’t hide away your faith. If that is part of who you are, it is part of your integrity. (If it is not part of who you are, show that, too.) Integrity means ‘the whole’ – show the whole of who you are. With pride.
  • Be very clear within yourself of your values. And then stick to them. Don’t bend to others’ expectations of you. The fastest way to lose respect – your own, and others’ – is to bend away from your values.

What do you learn?

the way of the tea

You learn it only slowly, the way wisdom often comes: that what you pour yourself into first thing in the day, matters. The way you do it, matters.

Image adapted from mrhayata's photo on Wikimedia commons

Image adapted from mrhayata’s photo on Wikimedia commons

When you wake up, you rush into the day straight away, and it doesn’t work. Like weak diner coffee sloshed into a mug, you get spilled everywhere, your focus fractured … your worth diminished. And afterwards the stains on the counter and the half-drunk, greasy mug of cold leftovers tell the truth: how you have compromised yourself.

You learn you cannot just slosh yourself into the day like diner coffee.

There needs to be a much deeper grace present.

You learn to pour yourself into the day like Japanese tea … slowly, attending to every detail. First taking time for yourself and God. Infusing your strength, developing the pleasant fragrance. Carefully and beautifully planning the ritual of the day. Growing aware of the beauty and function of every action, every thing.

And only then pouring yourself out carefully and lovingly, like tea. In small measures, because it is of great worth. You are of great worth.

So that your sweet fragrance, your strengthening taste, may be a gift to Him, most regal and worthy of anyone how has ever visited your garden.

meeting the doctor

When you walk down Cable Street in Wellington, it is the beautiful Te Papa Museum that draws your attention first. But a little way up the street from it, there is a splash of color that beckons:

The Dr. Seuss Exhibition at the Exhibitions Gallery!

You are still walking along the street when the familiar Dr. Seuss icon jumps out at you, his bright colors startling you back into awareness.

DrSeuss01

Imagine that! There he is, the Cat in the Hat!

DrSeuss02

You stop in amazement the first time you see this, eyes flicking to the gallery interior, taking in the familiar illustrations … and then … more adult paintings.

Really? A gallery dedicated to Dr. Seuss? What a wonder! But at first you are too shy to enter.

So it takes you a few months to gather up the courage to return. And this time you do enter. Reading about Theodor Geisel’s life is fascinating, especially learning what a perfectionist he was. His easygoing illustrations don’t hint at the fact that he was fastidious about his art. He was exceedingly precise about the colors he wanted to use for his children’s books, even – and perhaps especially – when only two colors were used in the printing process.

Coming from German background, he originally pronounced his pen name Seuss (which is also his second name) as ‘Soiz’ rhyming with ‘voice’. He finally acceded to the now familiar English pronunciation because it rhymed with ‘Mother Goose’, which was good for the author of children’s books!

Photographs are not allowed inside the gallery, where his beautiful prints and books are sold. The books form colorful, tempting blocks behind the counter. These images come from the Exhibitions Gallery site, where you can see much more:

These Things are Good Things

These Things are Good Things

Sneetches Sylvester McMonkey McBean

Sneetches Sylvester McMonkey McBean

The sweet lady at the counter tells you that Ted was an insomniac, and during his sleepless nights he would draw and doodle and paint for his own pleasure. The days were for his work, the evenings were for himself. And she shows you into the back room, where his secret art is exhibited … flights of fancy you have never seen before.

Cat Detective in the Wrong Part of Town

Cat Detective in the Wrong Part of Town

Green Cat with Lights

Green Cat with Lights

Fascinated, you study the greater spectrum of colors he used, the wild imagination he displayed. His paintings show a mind wandering into all kinds of delightful worlds, as if he’s doodling. Ted’s private artworks are like visual limericks – the way authors would relax by dreaming up funny little rhymes on scraps of paper, he relaxed by letting out these fanciful creatures into strange situations, always with his tongue firmly in his cheek, it seems.

You leave the gallery inspired. Colors swirling in your mind, lines bending and beckoning across your field of vision, you realize this:

Creating art is simply about playing.

And so you resolve to follow in the good doctor’s footsteps and have more fun.

learning to walk the shore*

* Or: Learning to live without antidepressants

RipplesThe slow tide of darkness can creep up your shore so surreptitiously that it can leave you flailing for breath before you know it.

And you are forever a shore dweller, walking between darkness and light … between fluid and solid … forever sensitive to its intertwining play … so you learn to live with an eye to the tide. Always.

There are times you cannot outrun the tide and you need help. So the doctors give you life preservers. To help you rise on the flowing tide instead of sinking. To tide you over.

You take them every day, little pills that buoy you up, and you are grateful for them. But no shore dweller can forever fully live with life preservers around waist and neck and arms and legs. Sooner or later you have to grow stronger and let them go, learn to negotiate the sweet, sly shore on your own again. Learn to find that magical inbetween place where the darkness of the tide and the light of the land create evanescent sparkles.

The doctors say you will never be able to live without help again, that you are forever a shore dweller who will run the risk of being overrun by the sea. But He, your Beloved, says differently. He says it is time to lean on Him alone, to His glory. And so you cast off the life preservers and let them drift out to sea. Not slowly like you should really do, testing your strength, but all at once, with complete abandon. Even though the tide is rising.

And so you learn what coming off citalopram hard does to you. It is not just your emotions that skitter all over the place; it is your body, too. The withdrawal disorients you, leaving you dizzy and seasick and exhausted. Your mind sparks, as if short-circuiting. You can hear the sparks, feel them. Some days they spark one-two … pause … one-two. And some days they spark one-two-three-four-five. Over and over again. There is a constant, dizzy buzzing in your head. Tinnitus with the crescendos of short-circuits added. You cannot turn your head quickly, or some days, even your gaze.

You learn what helps:

  • Lying down when it gets bad
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Taking as much vitamin C as you can before bowel tolerance sets in
  • Taking vitamin D3 to help you sleep and function better
  • Taking St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP alternately to help your body deal with the sudden serotonin imbalance
  • Taking anti-emetics when you need to
  • Avoiding exertion that will make the seasickness worse
  • Listening to music to focus you, to drown out the tinnitus and confusion and siren call of the tide
  • Finding ways to see the light and not the darkness, as your emotions fight to stabilize
  • And always, ALWAYS, trusting your body and leaning on your Beloved

Those are the things which definitely work.

You know once your sea legs have returned, you will start getting more active. The best way to keep the dark tide at bay is to exercise.

And you learn to have immense patience with yourself. Even three and a half weeks later you still experience long spells of feeling disoriented and sick. Who knew that these life preservers could carry such poison in them? Frustration doesn’t help. Acceptance does.

Who knew that you could be this strong?

Casting off the floats slowly, one by one, is the more prudent way. Even returning to them if the tide rises too high and you are not ready. The sudden withdrawal can bend you badly, scare you into grasping for help again. Far better to be kind to yourself and grant yourself the time to ease into this new, unfettered life.

But if you can only do it cold-turkey, and the time is right, simply trust yourself. Be strong and resolute. Lean on Him. Know there will be bad days, but they ultimately lead to good: freedom and strength!

There is light on the shore, the sparkles of sunlight where water has touched the land. And the bioluminescent glow at night of magic happening in the inbetween places. Only the shore offers this magic.

And you will learn to see it on your own.

Because you are fearfully and wonderfully made!