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The Excellence Experiment: 11-Month Update

"Life is like a highway, no matter what they say, the construction is never finished. There's always gonna be bumps in the road and detours every now and then." - Life Quotes

 

Originally I planned to update my results after 10 months, but I just looked at the calendar and realized it’s already December, so… Sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions, which is probably the biggest insight I’ve had since my last progress report. Well, maybe not that life can get in the way – I think everyone who has ever set a goal has had that experience – but how to hang in there when life is crazy, along with strategies for getting back on track when things settle down.

Considering that we’re headed into the holidays, when everyone’s schedule gets crazier than normal and it’s hard to stick to a routine, hopefully this article will give you some ideas on how you can use kaizen to keep moving forward when life tries to derail your best intentions.

Progress

Professional Excellence:

One of my biggest struggles toward professional excellence has been time management and overall productivity. As a work-from-home coach and writer, it’s really easy to slip into sloppy work habits. I’ve tried a lot of little tricks over the years to develop more discipline, but nothing really clicked – until now…

In my last post, I mentioned that I had tried out a few ‘virtual co-working’ sessions through a business development group I’d found online. They worked like a charm – all of a sudden I could keep myself in my chair and focus for extended blocks of time. So in September, I finally bought an external webcam and installed it so I could try out Focusmate.

If you haven’t ever heard of Focusmate, it’s a website (www.focusmate.com) that pairs you up with someone else to co-work with virtually in 50 minute blocks of time – the other person can be anywhere in the world, and there’s a 24/7 calendar where you select the times you want a partner. Plus, it’s free!

This has been life-changing – now, I just schedule sessions for when I want to start my day, and times I would be likely to slack off. I’ve doubled the number of productive work hours I get in every day, but more importantly, because it helps me to focus and tackle tasks I tend to procrastinate on, my output has increased exponentially. It helped me not only survive but thrive during the busiest month of the year with my other business (freelance medical writing – and I had double the assignments this year!), while keeping up with my coaching and blogging.

This one ‘little’ improvement has had a disproportionately large impact on my businesses – and that’s the way kaizen-inspired small steps work: sometimes they’re just small steps that accumulate over time, and sometimes one little step is the catalyst that triggers an avalanche of benefits.

 

Image and Self-Care (Exercise, Healthy Eating, and Overall Image)

Mixed results in this area.

On the fashion/image front, I made a lot of forward progress. While I struggled for months trying to develop a shopping habit, focusing instead on improving my wardrobe one piece at a time did the trick. Now that pathway in my brain is firmly established – I can’t wait for my weekly shopping expedition, and I even got excited when I saw an Ulta was coming soon to a shopping plaza right by my home!

The effort is paying off, too – I took two multi-day business trips this month, and carefully planned my outfits. For the first time, I felt totally pulled together and confident about my image, which actually helped me to do my job better. And the positive reinforcement is inspiring me to keep going down the fashionista pathway 🙂 Who knew I had it in me?

Unfortunately, everything didn’t go as well on the fitness front… first, I injured my foot (in a non-impact dance class, no less…) and it took over a month to heal. I had to cut out running, but I kept up the cardio/weights class. Then my crazy intense work/travel schedule took center stage, and cut into the times I could get to class. Then, while I was traveling and my foot was finally feeling better, I did something to my knee…

Now, I’m not a big fan of excuses, but when it comes to injuries and exercise, sometimes you just have to take a break. Everything is finally healed up (I hope!), but I lost a lot of the strength and endurance I had built up over the year, and I’m pretty much back where I started in January. But, my goals haven’t changed, so I’m just starting over where I’m at, and slowly rebuilding.

 

“Living Excellently”

My focus over the past few months in this category has been on fixing up my environment, and this is another area where I saw a lot of progress by just tackling one improvement a week. Some weeks, I only did something small – deep cleaning something in my home, buying a centerpiece for my dining table (which, in true Magic Geranium form, made me clear the clutter off the table and look for other ways I could redecorate) – but some weeks, I did something bigger (buying a new car to replace the one I’d been driving for 15 years).

Overall, these little (and not so little) improvements have had a really positive impact on my quality of life. Instead of feeling stressed when I walk in the door, I’m starting to really enjoy my home. There are still pockets of disorganized clutter to be cleared up, and worn-out stuff to be replaced, but I’m enjoying the process of creating my little sanctuary. A few more months of kaizen small steps here and I won’t ever want to leave home 🙂

Making improvements in this area also kept me encouraged when my life was crazy busy – I could always find something small to fix up, and that gave me the satisfaction of success in at least one category of my experiment. Moving forward and making progress, even if it’s small, helps maintain motivation. Despite everything else going on, I was still taking action to make my life better.

I also kept up with doing things outside my comfort zone. In September, I pushed myself to go to several social events that in the past I would have made excuses to avoid. In October, I went car shopping – by myself. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but growing up it was drilled into me that you need to bring a man along when you go to buy a car. I dutifully did that for my last two cars, and honestly, they weren’t much help.

This time, I didn’t have a conveniently available man to drag along, so I simply went online, found my dream car, made an appointment, and bought it for a price that I was happy with. And while I love my new car, the feeling of empowerment that came with turning my vision into reality all by myself is priceless!

 

Struggles and Insights

My biggest challenge was time and energy. Because of an annual meeting that I help to organize, late October and early November for me are like March and April for a tax accountant – the amount of work that needs to be done is enormous and there’s a hard deadline – so nearly all my time awake had to be devoted to work. Plus, this year in a moment of madness, I agreed to help out with a second meeting at the same time.

However, thanks to kaizen and the Excellence Experiment, I feel like I came through these challenges and handled the increased workload even better than I’ve handled the regular load in the past. Normally, this time period is so stressful that I totally give up on doing anything to take care of myself for a month. I typically end up exhausted and burned out.

This year, I was exhausted by the end of my second trip, but I felt good about everything that I did accomplish.

A few insights that helped me navigate this period:

 

Take a Time-Out and Make a Plan

One of the best ways we can empower ourselves when life gets in the way of our best-laid plans is to take the time to assess the situation and make intentional choices. We can’t control the world around us, but we always have a choice about how we’ll act and react. We reclaim our power by thinking through our priorities and options.

In this case, I knew advance that my life would be crazy-busy for a month. I also recognized that the ‘interruption’ to my plans was temporary, and then my schedule would lighten up considerably. Knowing this, I relaxed and chose to put a few things on hold temporarily, like blogging and exercising. I trusted myself to get back on track as soon as the ‘crisis’ was over. If this had been a long-term or permanent change in my routine, I would have looked instead at ways I could take small steps to keep everything going, even if it was at a much slower pace. It’s important to be realistic, but also not to let life’s curveballs derail you from your goals entirely.

Sometimes life blindsides you and you don’t get any warning that your life is going to be turned upside down. All of a sudden you’re in the middle of a storm. When that happens, find the first opportunity to take a time-out – carve out an hour or two for yourself, maybe take a long walk, or even schedule a session with a coach who can help you get clarity.

Determine whether this curveball is going to impact your schedule short-term or long-term. Think through your priorities, and proactively decide what’s mission-critical, where you can cut back, and what you may need to temporarily put down.

 

Focus on the CAN, not the CAN’T

When our lives get turned upside-down and we can’t do everything we want in the way we want, our natural impulse is to throw up our hands in despair and give up on trying to do anything. That’s silly. No matter how crazy life gets, we can always find small ways to keep moving forward. We need to focus on the CAN.

There were a lot of obstacles during my month of crazy. I didn’t have the mental energy to write or meditate, I couldn’t exercise the way I wanted to, and finding healthy foods while I was at these meetings was a monumental challenge. It would have been easy to throw in the towel on everything – and this is exactly what I’ve done in the past.

But this year, I chose a different approach. Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do, I focused on small things that I could do: I made the healthiest choices I could, I drank more water, I actually took my vitamins, and I read books and did research for future blogs while I traveled. I didn’t have time to go out and shop, but I could go online – and I found a few pieces to round out my travel wardrobe. Finally, I focused on using my time as efficiently as possible to improve my rate of completing assignments on or before their deadlines.

The result was that I came through this period feeling successful. I was far from perfect, but I handled things better than previous years. That’s progress. Next year, I’ll look for more small ways to improve.

 

Drown Out the Inner Critic

That brings us to the all-important mental game. Our inner critic likes to point out all the areas where we’re falling short. It’s critical that we drown out that negative voice and celebrate our little victories!

I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of all of the successes I had during this period, and all the ways I did make forward progress. One way to do this is by journaling and keeping a list of your little victories. Take it out and look at it when your inner critic starts chattering. Another way to celebrate is to give yourself small rewards – treat yourself for every small step when the going gets hard.

 

Get Back on Track as Soon as Possible

One of the biggest problems with life’s curveballs is the amount of time it takes us to get back in our groove. It’s the Law of Inertia – a body in motion stays in motion, and a body at rest stays at rest. When our progress toward a goal is temporarily thwarted by life, it’s easy to keep procrastinating.

I couldn’t get to the gym for a month, what’s another week (or month or year)? I blew my eating plan, I may as well wait for the New Year to start over… I haven’t been writing every day, skipping a few more won’t hurt…

It’s important to fight that urge and get back in action as soon as we can.

As soon as the second meeting was over, I gave myself a little time and grace to rest and catch up on sleep, but I started taking small steps to pick where I left off. I scheduled Focusmate sessions to get back to work on my blog. I made time to go to the gym, even if my knee limited the types of exercise I could do (no running or lunges…). I returned to my meditation practice, even though most days I could only sit for five minutes.

It took me a few weeks to fully get back to my pre-crazy routine, but I consistently worked toward that goal. Once again, kaizen-inspired small steps paved the way. Each day, I focused on doing a little bit more, getting a little bit closer, than the day before.

Don’t let getting off track become an excuse for staying off track. The sooner you get the wheels back on the bus, the sooner you’ll be rolling towards your goals.

 

Your Turn

I’d love to hear from you. What strategies have you found most helpful for weathering the storms of life? And how do you get back on track when things calm down?

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