2012 Tune-Up

It’s that time of year again.  Time for making resolutions and taking stock before turning over the calendar page and having another go at it.  What will you make of 2012?  How will you put your best foot forward?  What will you leave behind?

Somewhere deep within my dreams, I have often found myself circling the numbers 2012, as if this would be the year for something great.  I don’t want to jinx it but I do feel electrified and ready for adventure.  I plan to start this year in the same way I have started all the rest: with passion, drive, and optimism.

I went for a tarot card reading last week.  The mystic identified 2012 as a year relatively free from planetary obstacles, and said that I would get everything I deserved (and almost everything I wanted) this year.  He also said that I had some hard work to do.  Again?

The same card kept re-appearing in my spread: “The Hermit.”  This card, I was told, means that it’s time for some serious introspection and to determine my true purpose in life.  The tarot card reader also suggested that I look closely at what I was carrying with me in my “pack sack”; to review all of my relationships, habits and belongings, and to determine whether they helped or hindered me in relation to my deeper purpose.

I decided to take this suggestion quite literally, and took a good, long look inside my laptop bag. Even with the “bare essentials”, this bag somehow manages to weigh about fifteen pounds.  I dug deep, asking myself, “What can I strip away?  What do I really need?  How can I do this better?”

Not easy questions to answer when your laptop, iPod, Blackberry, Kindle, digital camera, (along with their cables and accoutrements), are all vying for their rightful place in your purse.  Hopefully someone at the Apple store can help me with this problem.

I really liked this idea of taking a complete “life inventory”, and I found myself thinking about it for a number of days.  I decided to explore the metaphorical “pack sack” as well.

First, I wrote down my top priorities, and what I see as my main purpose or raison d’être.  Then I wrote down the names of all of the important people, habits and things in my life on small squares of paper.  When I was done that, I laid out a scarf and divided it into the following sections:

– That Which I Hold Most Dear

– That Which Helps Me Achieve My Aim Practically

– That Which Helps Me Achieve My Aim Spiritually

– Good Things To Keep Close By

– Friends To Cherish

– That Which Holds Me Back Of Which I Must Let Go

Keeping in mind (and referring frequently to) my list of priorities for guidance, I placed each square of paper in the appropriate category.  “Do crackers help or hinder me in my goal to stay fit and healthy?”   Finally, I chose one or two items to put at the very top of each section, signifying that they were the most important items to focus on for the coming year.

This exercise proved to be hugely helpful and enlightening, much more so than I ever would have expected. With everything laid out in front of me, I could see how the pieces fit together, what I value most, and which items were on the chopping block (sorry, Grey’s Anatomy.)

As I moved through the exercise, I found myself shuffling some of the paper squares from one category to another, and as my focus became sharper, a few of them ended up being removed altogether.  As de Saint-Exupéry once said, “he who would travel happily must travel light.”

I found myself undecided on a couple of items, and that in itself was revealing.  I’ll be thinking about those…

Keeping your priorities in plain view at all times is critical if you want to keep the plethora of daily distractions at bay.  I want to share a couple of tools that I have found along the way that have really helped me to stay focused on what matters most.

1. The Quadrant To Do List – From Last Lecture, Randy Pausch

As Randy Pausch said, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and being given 3-6 months to live, he was uniquely qualified to talk about the importance of time management. He suggests making a quadrant to do list and breaking tasks into 4 categories:

-Important, Due Soon

-Important, Not Due Soon

-Not Important, Due Soon

-Not Important, Not Due Soon

His core message is that we must carve out time to work on the important items, even if they are not due soon.  If you find yourself doing something that falls in the “not important, not due soon” category, stop doing it.  You can watch the complete lecture here.

2. The Weekly Planner – From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s weekly planner template was built on a very simple premise – “put first things first” – and this unassuming philosophy has completely changed the way I schedule my time.  Each week, I list any confirmed appointments under the appropriate time and day, and then in the spaces at the top of each day I list a maximum of 3 other important items that I want to complete.  That’s right, only three things.

That’s the greatest thing about this template:  it prevents you from having a “To Do” list with too many items on it.  After identifying what has to be done, you only have “room” for 2 or 3 other things each day.  This forces you to be both realistic and discerning, putting only the most important things first.  It’s also helpful to see the week as a whole, so you can see where you have blocks of time available, and which activities could be grouped together.

Another wonderful tool that Covey has made available online is the Mission Statement Builder, which guides you through a series of questions to help identify your priorities and core values.

3. Typical Day vs. Ideal Day – From Secrets of Simplicity, Mary Carlomagno

First of all, bless Chronicle Books for releasing what is definitely the best- looking self-help book on the market.

Illustration by Andrea CobbIn Secrets Of Simplicity, Carlomagno suggests completing the following exercise to help identify exactly where your life might be in need of an upgrade.

Step one: list the activities you would typically be doing on an average day at each hour from 6:00 AM to midnight.

Step two: list the activities you would like to be doing each day from 6:00 AM to midnight.

Step three: compare the two lists, determine what is missing from your current schedule, and brainstorm ways to incorporate those items into your daily routine.  Of course, the “no pain, no gain” rule applies here, and you may find that you need to let go of something in order to clear the path for what you really want in your life.  As the Japanese master Nansen once said, “how can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I’m ready to let go of 2011.  There are some things I will definitely leave behind me, and a few I will take along on my journey.  I will be sure to completely empty my cup of wine this New Year’s Eve so that I am ready and free to receive whatever goodness 2012 has in store.

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