The Art of Gardening

While pulling weeds in my garden this afternoon, which I am accustomed to doing after church on Sundays throughout the summer, I began consciously trying to free my mind from everything outside of the relationship between me and my garden. And the moment my mind was free, I was able to find the answer I was looking for.

In the recent past I have been viewing my life in sections, what you might call roles.  I am a business analyst by day, a business consultant by night, a blogger, an entrepreneur, a father, and a husband (and yes, I fear I prioritize in that order, but that is a subject not covered in this blog post).  I preferred calling the roles “sections” because I could better categorize in my mind how to act in each area, while remembering my character – who I am makes up a large part of how I act in each section.  A value I set on myself, the whole of all those sections, was to prioritize things that are revenue generating over those that are not, least most being cost-centers (expense generators).  And since my biggest client was my day job as a business analyst, that gets highest priority.  In the same way, my family is a cost-center so they get lowest priority.  My wife costs more than my children so she is ranked lowest.

However, I have a garden.  I chose to plant a garden last fall and actively have been working on it since.  This garden is roughly 200 square feet, of which half is corn and the other half made up of strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, and sunflowers (subconsciously I even listed the plants in the order which are most expense-saving to aesthetic-only).  In the fall I turned over shovels of weeds.  In the spring, I brought over compost-rich soil, and a neighbor helped me plow and till.  My wife bought seeds and my daughter helped me plant them.  At least once a week I go out, get on my hands and knees, and pull weeds.  It takes about 5 minutes per corn stalk because the weeds are so thick.  Each corn stalk will create roughly 80 cents worth of corn – if any corn comes at all.  There is no fence around my garden so there is also a risk that some one or thing will harvest it first.  I’m thinking all of these things while pulling weeds and then this question hits me, “How can I put so much effort into something non-revenue generating?” to which I intuitively knew the answer, “Because it’s exactly like starting a business, which you love to do.”

The Art of the Start

Starting a business usually involves many hours of preparation and toil for little or no return – all in hopes for the big payoff at the end, the harvest.  Buying the seeds is easy and clean.  Preparing the bed is a little harder, but at least the weeds aren’t growing then and you can ride the results of your preparation for a while.  Planting is not so much difficult as mentally challenging and sometimes stressful.  It’s no longer just churning up dirt, you’re dealing directly with product development now.  Plant too deep or space to unevenly and you’ll get waste.  There is no way to know how the decisions you’re making now will affect the harvest, but they will – tremendously.  You water the seeds through promotion and pull weeds by dealing with all the little problems until the harvest comes in.  But if you don’t stay on top of the problems, the problems keep growing.  Just because you ignore the problems doesn’t mean they stop growing.  The funny thing about weeds is, individually they are easy to pull.  The problem is in their magnitude.

Like in Getting Things Done or any other personal productivity program you can think of, the key to projects or problem solving is defining the next step and taking action.  Projects can sometimes seem like what author Jim Collins calls “big hairy audacious goals”, but if you break them down into “next steps,” big goals can seem manageable.  Author Jack Canfield tells an allegory about driving to California from New York at night: you don’t have to see all the way to California, you only need to see the next 200 feet in front of you.  So if your project is 200 square feet or 200 feet, define the next step, but of equally importance: take action.  The weeds, or problems, will not stop coming.  You must develop a system for dealing with them, stay on top of them, and you just might enjoy a bountiful harvest.

How to Have a Happy New Year

How to have a happy new year:

1. Tell yourself you are going to have a good year.  Give up on the thinking that for every good thing that happens there will be something bad.  It doesn’t have to work that way, but will if you want it to.  Say you are going to have a good year and that it doesn’t have to be offset by bad.  Then write it down and speak it out loud.

2. Ask yourself what you want.  Be specific.  Narrow it down by using actions and places.  What do you want to accomplish at home? What do you want to accomplish in your business life? What things would you like to own? Where might you want to go to see or show someone?  Write down your answers, then speak them out loud.

3. Take inventory of your assets and liabilities.  Surround yourself with family and team member who share your positive outlook on life and eliminate or narrow your exposure to those who are constantly negative.  Cut out things in your life that are busy work or that are uncessary.  Ask yourself why you are doing something.  If you don’t know the answer, stop.

4. Take a step towards one of your goals each day.  Action cures fear.  A goal like debt reduction or quitting your job can be scary and seem insurmountable.  It is probably impossible to do in one step so don’t.  Figure out the next action, then write it down.  Speak the action out loud and set a deadline of accomplishing this action within the next 8 hours.

5. Develop a system to manage your thoughts or ideas.  If you’ve followed these steps you have been writing things down.  They may be on the back of an envelope, on a receipt in your car, or in an email or text message.  USe whatever you feel comfortable with to collect these musings into one cohesive place.  Only use a calendar for hard and fast dates, not for action items.  Try to avoid using email as your method of choice if possible.

6. Relax. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take time to smell the roses and the aftershave.  Unplug.  Check your email less often. Read the news less.  Take more walks.  Lay down outside.  Feel the ground. Decompress.  Take a deep breath at least once a day.  Laugh. Forgive. Love. Visit your mother wherever she is.  Don’t make lists, take actions. Conquer fear.

5 Ways to Stay Alert and Focused

How to Avoid the Afternoon Loss of Energy

If you’re like me, you get tired in the afternoon just after lunch and just want to lay down.  Most employers discourage this (although some encourage it) and for those who want to fight off this feeling and get more done, here are five things I have found to help me keep going longer.

Change what you eat.

Drink more water, which fights fatigue and helps keep you fuller, longer.  When you do eat, choose foods high in protein, which slows the absorption of carbohydrates which can cause fatigue when they wear off, but in all things moderation.  Foods high in protein are usually also high in tryptophan which can cause sleepiness.  One way to combat this seeming contradiction is to eat a high protein breakfast when you are most rested, then eat less protein at each meal throughout the day, eating the least amount at supper.

Learn your circadian rhythm.

Every living creature has its own circadian rhythm, but each person also has their own intricacies which can be learned and used to your advantage.  Start by going to bed at the same time each day and waking up at the same time each day for a week.  If you’re not getting enough rest, move one of the times so that you get more sleep.  If you’re waking up too early, move the going-to-sleep time back until you find your optimal sleep time.  But here’s the key – when you find your optimal sleep time, its only effective if you stick to it.  Your body will know that it can run full steam all day long if it “knows” its going to bed at a certain time no matter what.  Otherwise, its just protecting itself from your erratic behavior.

Cut back on caffeine.

This sounds counter intuitive, I know, but caffeine only speeds up your heart temporarily, leaving you more tired afterward.  I sometimes even drink coffee at night timing the crash for when I want to fall asleep.  If you use a lot of sugar in your coffee or drink sugared colas, the crash is double as your heart slows down and your body crashes from the sugar drop.  If you can’t give up caffeine completely, try switching to a green tea, which has less caffeine or saving your caffeinated drink as a “secret weapon” for when you need it the most.  It takes about a half hour to kick in so if you have to, drink it at your desk a half hour after lunch to propel you through the afternoon.

Change up your environment.

Sometimes its nothing to do with the chemicals inside your body, sometimes its your surroundings that are lulling you to sleep.  Take a break to get some perspective on life.  Step outside and take a deep breath.  If you can’t get outside, find a window.  If you don’t have a window, close your eyes, lean your head back and take a deep breath.  Force yourself to smile.  The muscle movement will elect a feeling on your body forcefully.  If you’re a scrooge, you might not like this feeling so use with caution.  Also, if music is allowed where you work, it can both pump you up and take you to another place, giving you perspective on your current activities.

Rest when you can.

On the seventh day, God rested.  This was a good example for us humans, but we seldom do it.  If you can find the time during a weekend to rest, take a nap.  Yes, you are allowed.  If you work seven days a week, a power nap can work wonders, just don’t fall into too deep of a sleep or you will feel worse after waking up.  Limit yourself to less than twenty minutes.  This ensures you won’t fall into REM sleep, but your body will still feel rested.  If you can get out to your car, go and set an alarm or find a coworker you trust to wake you up.  I have found that I can put a “request ticket” out to my subconscious that asks to be woken up when slipping between stage 1 and 2 of sleep.  Not everyone can do this though.

Give yourself something to look forward to.

In life and everything else, we all need incentives.  Its how the world works.  You’re probably not working for someone else for free and you shouldn’t have to.  We just need to harness that same mentality to help us get through the day.  Create mini-goals and rewards throughout the day.  Everyone is working for the weekend, but that happens once a week and starts on Friday.  What do we do on Monday to stay motivated?  This might be the hardest task of all, but if you can master it, you’re well on your way to being more productive and alert during the afternoon – and time may just fly by a little faster.

Summary

Above all, use common sense.  If you’re too tired to stay awake during the day, you probably need more sleep at night.  Before taking any advice you read here or anywhere else, see your doctor to make sure these things are right for you.  I’d love to hear how you stay alert during the day in the comments below. Need more advice? Here is a complete website on how to stay alert.