Small changes for big impact
I'm writing this from a place of contentment. Following a 'busy' (I use this word with caution because it feels like a cop-out for an unstructured lifestyle!) August I made a couple of deliberate moves to be kinder to myself and reintroduce methodical creativity into the way I approach my work and life. I have spoken before about the importance of self-care and mindfulness in how we approach our lives - even more important given the 2020 COVID crisis - so this would likely come as no surprise to some.
Identifying the patterns in your behaviour where adjustment might be necessary can be challenging and it might take a lot of hard effort really embrace change. Change doesn't need to be big, though.
If you've heard of the butterfly effect you'll know that the smallest change in rhythm or approach can have an impact in far-reaching places. Thinking about making small changes, the first place to begin is always going to be within your circle of influence.
Steven Covey talks about this as one of the core behaviours in his book 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People'. We have our circle of influence and then a surrounding circle of concern which cannot be influenced directly by our actions. It's something to be mindful of but to really affect change, we must first begin with the inner circle; the areas of your life which you are both highly concerned with and are able to impact directly.
But, so what? What are the changes I've made which are going to have an impact further down the road?
I have a mixed relationship with social media - Twitter and Instagram especially. As a designer with an active interest in people combined with a desire to be 'present in the conversation' wherever possible, being connected on these platforms is important. However, the infinity pool of content and 'input stream' has outweighed my output; it's become easier to consume than it has been to contribute. It's addicting, idle busywork which adds no value to my personal goals.
I've deleted all the social media apps from my mobile devices - iPad and iPhone - in an effort to avoid the infinity pool trap and the guilt that comes with not 'being on' all the time. I've set up Freedom to block social media sites in the browser during 'working hours' (9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday).
A month away has in the past proven to be a meaningful timeframe in which I can regain focus and declutter my mind. I'm hoping that by not diverting straight to the social media pool when I feel the urge to divert my attention - directly or indirectly - I can give my mind the space to be bored, to explore ideas, or just to reset and refresh.
Better Personal Care
I've been letting this slide far too easily of late. Poor sleep patterns and late bedtimes; a little too much caffeine and alcohol; not enough exercise. Knowing yourself and your body can mean the difference between being able to show up and be your best self and barely being able to lift a finger to raise your hand for daily registration!
Getting good rest is important; may be the most important thing you can do when it comes to looking after yourself physically and mentally, and making positive changes to your lifestyle. As I get older I am acutely aware that my body and mind need more rest than I might think. 8 hours of sleep combined with sensible rest time during the day - not hours and hours with my nose to the grindstone - has already begun to replenish my energy and enthusiasm for showing up and engaging with the world.
On the last day of August following an early, kind-to-myself bedtime I was able to be up at 5:15am with my eldest and jump straight into the day; embracing a little exercise and preparation for some creative output.
I have been guilty of taking on every challenge that crosses my path, even after years of learning how to say no; I can nearly always find an opportunity or advantageous experience in a conversation or potential project. A potentially dangerous behaviour, this has to stop!
As I write I have a retainer client with whom I feel I am doing some great work and three students whom I mentor on weekly Skype calls. This is enough 'work'; it takes up a lot of mental space to shift gears not only between the major engagements but also the minor ones, too. Even shifting from an email to a UI review to a Zoom meeting for one client takes its toll.
It's important to leave space in your agenda. Working to the wire every time is the first step on the road to burnout; killing creativity and our engagement with things outside of career interests. If it's progress you want, mental space is what you need.
I want to write more - a book, maybe! I want to enjoy writing and recording music - an album or maybe even join a band. I want to feel the 'kairos time' (quality time not quantity time as I recently learned about in John Fitch's book 'Time Off') when I spent it with my family; no clock-watching or fitting things in between work engagements.
None of these things can happen if the diary is full to the brim and there is no room to breathe.
The most impactful things start with the smallest changes; the most personal changes. Examining what you're doing and why you're doing it can be the first step to finding clear space in your head and decluttering your life of the things which challenge the status quo (whether you know it or not).