What are the essentials–the necessary steps, tools, qualities, and characteristics–for making a life that matters?
Essentials for a meaningfully productive life
As we start off a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make this year a really great one. There are lots of workbooks and courses available in the productivity space about making this year the best year ever. They are useful and interesting, full of insight and information. (I’ve been working through one myself called by Lisa Jacobs).
But seeing all those programs and books got me to thinking: how do we make 2018, or any year, a productive year in the sense of making a life that matters?
So I started brainstorming a list of things I think are necessary in order to make a life that matters. As it happens, I’m writing this at the beginning of the year, but these things are still relevant even if you are reading this post much later in the year. You can start your best year ever on any day of the year, and you can start to make a life that matters at any moment you choose.
That being said, here are 10 things I believe are essential tools for making a life that matters.
- Silence & Solitude
We need to take the time to think, time to rest the mind and body, time to process the information that comes at us, time to listen to our hearts and get a better sense of who we are and where we want to go.
Silence is uncomfortable for many of us. Our society seems to fear it. Everywhere we go there is noise. Considering all the noise around us, you would think we would look for some peace and quiet on our way home, but we often keep the radio or playlist on, so actual silence is hard to come by.
Toward the end of last year, one of the books I read during my morning “quiet time” routine was by Parker Palmer. He had some insights to share about silence. In his discussion about how and why silence is difficult for some people, this passage made me stop and think:
“Silence makes us vulnerable because when we stop making noise, we lose control: who knows what thoughts or feelings might arise if we turned off the television or stopped yammering for a while?”
Parker explains that we keep noise in the background all the time because it drowns out the worries, fears, and thoughts we would rather not deal with. I get his point. I do it too. When I have something on my mind, or I’m stressed or worried about something that’s hard to deal with, it’s easier to turn on the music or a YouTube video or the TV than to just sit with those feelings and process them.
But that makes it hard for us to do the thought work we need to do in order to make a life that matters. Because of the way our brains work, we need undisturbed, undistracted time to do our most focused and creative thinking.
Belle Cooper’s fascinating article, “The Power of Silence: Why You Need Less Noise for Work and Your Health,” helps us understand the impact of constant noise on our bodies and minds. The article outlines the various negative effects, both physical and psychological, of excessive (e.g., overly loud or continuous) noise, and notes that:
“Silence, perhaps, is our most under-appreciated productivity tool.”
Silence gives our body and brain a break, a chance to process the information that has come in up to that point. Sitting in silence can give us the time and opportunity to become aware of our feelings, listen to our heart, and understand what’s important, what’s bothering us and why, what direction we need to go, or even just to sit and be thankful for the things that we have. Silence and solitude give us that space to think, create, and rest, all of which are essential for making a meaningfully productive life.
In order to make a life that matters, we need clarity about who we are, what we really want, and what matters most to us. Once we’ve identifed what we want and what matters most, we need clarity on the steps we need to take to achieve them. Clarity can come out of the time of silence we take as we think deeply and really process those things.
One of the most hear most often in emails, in the Facebook community, and in mastermind groups is, “How do I know what matters?” The question is asked as if there’s a single right answer that’s “out there” somewhere to be found. The answer, though, is within you, in your heart. You know what matters to you–if you allow yourself to think about it. You just need to give yourself permission to say it.
Similarly, we are inclined to believe the source of our happiness is outside of ourselves, and dependent upon circumstances or other people. In his book, , author Marshall Goldsmith points out:
“[W]e are lousy at predicting what will make us happy. We think our source of happiness is ‘out there’ (in our job, in more money, in a better environment) but we usually find it ‘in here’ –when we quit waiting for someone or something else to bring us joy and take responsibility for locating it ourselves. We find happiness where we are.”
When it comes to the question of what matters most, there’s no single right answer that applies to everyone. The answer for each us is based on the values we as individuals hold most sacred. For some, this might be your faith. For others, perhaps family or community or security. An essential component of making a life that matters is getting very clear about the answer to that question for you personally.
Getting clarity requires awareness and a willingness to be honest with yourself. Again, this brings us back to the need for silence and solitude, as this allows you to get in touch with your values and guiding principles. The answers will become clearer as you look within yourself and become more aware of who you are.
In order to make a life that matters, we need to be very clear on what our next steps are, and have a plan in place to achieve those things. In order to effectively define those steps and create that plan, and especially to execute and complete that plan, we need to have a reason for doing it that’s strong enough to keep us going when things get tough or boring.
Why are you doing the things you do? Why does your schedule look like it does? Look at the things on your to-do list. Why are they there? Really? Dig deep and be honest with yourself. Do you like the answer? If so, go for it. If not, reconsider the things on your calendar and to-do list, your projects and your commitments.
You cannot make a life that matters without action. A life that matters doesn’t just happen. You make it by the things you do and the choices you make.
You can plan all day long, but the fact is, no plan works until you do. No system works unless you do. It doesn’t matter what tools you have (which is why you won’t find a list of tools on this list of essentials), because none of them matter unless you are prepared to take action.
Once you’ve figured out what matters to you and developed a plan to achieve those things, you’ve got to take action. These actions don’t have to be dramatic, but they do have to be intentional, focused, and consistent. You can take a journey of any distance by taking one step at a time in the right direction. Building space in your life to gain clarity will give you the direction and motivation you need to take one step each day.
“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”
~ Leo Burnett
Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something. According to Wikipedia, curiosity refers to “a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning. . . . Curiosity as a behavior and emotion is attributed over millennia as the driving force behind not only human development, but developments in science, language, and industry.”
To make a meaningful life, we need to always be learning, exploring new things, digging deeper.
In “7 Reasons to Be Extremely Curious,” writer Francisco Sáez asserts that curious people are more productive because, among other things:
• Curiosity leads you to clarify your thoughts
• Curious people want to understand how things work, so you can use them in the best, most productive way
• Curious people are proactive rather than passive (I think this quality allows curious people to look at issues from a variety of perspectives and find the most productive approach or resolution).
• Curious people get more ideas (I agree because curious people are always looking for more information and this creates a cross-pollination of multiple ideas from various sources).
• Curious people are never bored because they are always learning and trying to understand what’s behind something
We cannot make our best contribution to the world if we’re not as healthy as we can be. I’ve discussed in the past that productivity, as I define it, is about ordering your life in such a manner as to maximize your positive impact on the world around you. In order for this to be possible, you’ve got to take care of yourself.
Physically, this means you deserve to eat well, move regularly, and get adequate amounts of quality sleep, so you can keep your body strong.
Your mental health is equally important. You can cultivate this by continually learning and growing, feeding your mind from sources that challenge your thinking.
You can maintain your emotional health by having moments of silence, surrounding yourself with people who lift you up, and pruning the activities and people and “stuff” that hurt your soul or tear you down.
Inspiration comes from sources that keep us going, that encourage and inspire us to try new things, to look at things in a different way. Inspiration can help provide the third essential (motivation).
I collect quotes, books, songs, and other resources that encourage and inspire me; I encourage you to do the same. This creates a resource you can turn to when you’re down or discouraged, or when the work that you’re doing towards making a life that matters has got you tired.
For example, I have an “Inspiration” page in my Bullet Journal. This year, I’m expanding that page by starting a new notebook to capture quotes and ideas, the kind of thing that’s sometimes known as a “commonplace book.” This is not a journal; it is a personalized place to gather ideas and information. Lots of people over history have maintained commonplace books where they copied passages of books or anything of interest to them. Find out more about it here, here, and here. This is something I’ll be doing to have a separate place to go to when I need ideas, inspiration, or encouragement.
Another thing I do is to keep a playlist in iTunes called “Songs That Inspire Me.” Certain songs make my heart swell when I listen to them, whether it’s because of the lyrics or the music, or the combination of the two. When I’m feeling down or tired, I put that playlist on, and it lifts my heart and encourages me to keep going.
Another source of inspiration for me is Brooke Castillo’s Life Coach School podcast. As an introvert by nature and as a lawyer by training, I have a tendency to focus more on the negative. When I need to strengthen my resolve or manage my thinking, so I can turn in a more positive direction, this podcast is helpful. I’ve mentioned this before in past episodes, but don’t be fooled by the podcast’s title, because it’s not just for people who want to become life coaches. It’s for anyone who wants to manage her thinking in a way that’s healthier and more positive.
When I say faith, I’m not necessarily referring to a belief in God, although that’s important for me and many people, as this provides inspiration and encouragement. Having faith in general is necessary to create a life that matters.
• Faith in yourself
Have faith in yourself and your ability to do the things that are on your heart and mind to do. In her newly released book , recent TPW guest Courtney Carver (episode 169), says:
“We dismiss opportunities every day by telling ourselves we can’t do it. We give in to fear. It’s good to think things through, but trust yourself to try new things too.”
We need to have faith in ourselves, to go for it, to try something new, knowing that even if we fall on our faces and fail, life goes on and we can learn lessons from those experiences and continue forward.
• Faith in the process
We need to have faith in the process of taking the steps to make a life that matters. We need to look into our souls to find what matters to us, creating the goals and breaking them down into steps, doing all the things we talk about on this show or other sources you seek out to learn about living a productive life. We need to have faith that all the little steps we’re taking will get us where we want to go. We don’t need to make massive changes in our lives. One step at a time is all it takes, and you need to have faith that you will get there.
• Faith in the people in your life
We need to have faith in the goodwill and support of the people in our lives, and in their willingness to journey with us. I’ll talk a little more about that below in relations to “community.”
In order to make a life that matters, we need to be the kind of person who has the strength of character do the things necessary to make such a life. Character includes important qualities like:
• Integrity, which is defined as wholeness. In other words, we need to live in a way that’s consistent with who we are and what we value
• Courage and persistence. We need to be willing to “do it scared” when we have a vision of something that speaks to us as something to need or want to do, and we’re not sure how to do it, or it’s something new for us. I confess this component is hard for me. I’ve missed many opportunities in my life because I was afraid of failing in front of other people. Honestly, I feel that way even now every time I turn on the microphone to record a podcast episode, but I just have to do it scared.
In order to make a contribution to the world, we have to step outside of our comfort zone and into something new.
“Change involves stress, resistance, uncertainty, and discomfort. Success is as much about coping with these unsettling factors as it is about achieving goals.”
Lisa Jacobs in Your Best Year 2018 Life Edition
One of the things I’m working on this year as I look forward to the things I’d like to accomplish is learning to cope with the stress, resistance, uncertainty, and discomfort that comes with changing my life.
The success the author talks about isn’t just about achievement, but in making a life that matters. This concept applies to that. To make a life that matters, we have to face the fear of the unknown as we think deeply and identify what “a life that matters” means to us, and then face and overcome the resistance, uncertainty, and discomfort to go out and take the action necessary to create that life.
We also need to have the courage to say no. Part of developing the strength of character to make a life that matters is developing the awareness and insight to know what to say no to, in order to have room for the things we want to say yes to.
“Our days are full of options and opportunity. We don’t have to do it all. We can’t do it all. We are better for it when we don’t try to do it all.”
Courtney Carver, Soulful Simplicity
Relationships are essential to making a life that matters. This is the counterpoint to silence and solitude.
“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people–it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others. Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people–it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.”
Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
The fact is, we need each other. As Brené Brown says often, we are wired for connection. A life that matters almost always matters in relation to other human beings – what we gain from relationships, and what we contribute to them.
True community–that is, connection with others–requires characteristics that can be challenging for some of us: vulnerability and generosity.
Vulnerability is about allowing ourselves to be real and seen for who we are, and being willing to ask for and accept help.
“Then there’s the successful person’s unshakable self-sufficiency: we think we can do it all on our own. Quite often we can, of course. But what’s the virtue of saying no to help? It’s a needless vanity, a failure to recognize change’s degree of difficulty. . . . We’re all weak. The process of change is hard enough without grabbing all the help we can get.”
Marshall Goldsmith, Triggers
Generosity is a willingness to give without keeping score, but also refers to a willingness to interpret other people’s actions in the most positive light.
These two components are important and necessary in order to have a true community where we support, encourage, and uphold one another to make a life that matters.
Put the essentials into action to make 2018 productive!
- Proactively create space for silence
Leave white space in your schedule and create a space in your home, even if it’s just a chair in a corner somewhere for 10-15 minutes, where you can be alone with your thoughts and with the things that inspire you, motivate you, make you think. Give yourself the time and space to listen to your soul, to identify what matters most to you.
I create this space in my life through my morning routine where I read a few pages from a book that inspires me, journal about what I’ve read and what’s on my mind, and meditate.
Here are a few of the books I’ve read in the past months; you might find them helpful too:
• , Parker Palmer
• , Danielle LaPorte
• , Emily Esfahani Smith
• , Elle Luna
• , Rebecca Campbell
• , Robert D. Smith
- Cultivate curiosity and proactively seek knowledge and new ideas
Look for and capture those ideas and inspiration wherever you find them.
I keep a book by my bedside that’s intended to teach me something, and read a couple chapters each evening. I choose books covering a variety of subjects and perspectives, and always read with a pencil in hand to star or underline passages that speak to me. Then I capture those ideas in a notebook.
- Seek out and intentionally build community
Make a point of nurturing friendships. Seek support in your personal growth by finding an accountability partner in your community or on the TPW Facebook group, or work with a coach or trainer or even a mastermind group. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be the best version of yourself, and spend less time with people who, intentionally or not, make you feel you need to hide your true self.
- Take action
Identify what matters to you and create a plan to accomplish whatever has meaning for you. Then, take action–today, then tomorrow, then the next day. Do one small thing, and then another small thing. Use your community for accountability where you need it, and take action.
What do you think?
What are your essentials for making a life that matters? What are you looking to accomplish in 2018, and how are you taking action to set up the framework to do that? Please share them in the comments section of this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
• , Lisa Jacobs
• , Marshall Goldsmith
• , Parker Palmer
• , Danielle LaPorte
• , Emily Esfahani Smith
• , Elle Luna
• , Rebecca Campbell
• , Robert D. Smith
• “The Power of Silence: Why You Need Less Noise for Work and Your Health” by Belle Cooper
• “7 Reasons to Be Extremely Curious” by Francisco Sáez
• “What is a Commonplace Book, and Why You Need One“
• “The Benefits of Keeping a Commonplace Book“
• “Before Bullet Journals, There Were Commonplace Books“
• Brooke Castillo’s Life Coach School podcast
• TPW Episode 169 (Guest: Courtney Carver)
Announcements and Reminders
• Thank you to our sponsor, FreshBooks, for offering a 30-day, unrestricted free trial to TPW listeners. To claim it, just go to http://FreshBooks.com/WOMAN and enter THE PRODUCTIVE WOMAN in the “How Did You Hear About Us?” section.
Trevlig intervju med tre kvinnor - om vänskap.
Jag kanske kan fråga mina vänninor hur de skulle föredra att jag ska höra av mig?
Hur kan jag välja att prioritera att träffas?
Jag vägrar att arbeta, ja befinna mig, långsiktigt i en miljö där det finns rökare.
Jag värnar min hälsa.
Skadliga ämnen kvar i rökares omgivning
Jag tankar hos bemannade bränslestationer.
För att jag vill att de ska finnas. Det är tacksamt att det finns fräsha toaletter att besöka längs vägen, och det är tacksamt med människor längs vägen där en kan be om hjälp om det någon gång skulle behövas.
Jag rör på mig utomhus, varje dag någon gång mellan 11:00 och 13:00.
I vanliga fall promenerar jag minst en timme.
Jag anstränger mig för att leva hållbart.
- Jag handlar aldrig gladpack. Jag använder istället matlådor, eller så täcker jag över maten med en tallrik helt enkelt.
- Handlar ullkläder. Vädrar kläderna ofta, kan då tvätta mer sällan.
- Vill lära mig använda symaskin och att sy för hand. Lärde mig sy för att kunna anpassa kläder till mig. Min kropp är alldeles lagom för mig, och den är den finaste (enda) jag har. Sällan (i princip aldrig) passa ättlängden på färdiga kläder till mig, så jag har fått lära mig korta ner ärmar på plagg, så att de sitter bra.
The secret of every amazingly productive individual or team is the endless pile of work they decide not to do.
Tennisboll under fötterna vid stå-skrivbord.
Börja med en extra mjuk (tennisboll för barn/nybörjare)
Tack för tipset Alexandra
Om jag ngnsin skriver en bok:
Tack till min mor, som alltid uppmuntrat mig att skriva och väntat på att jag ska skriva en bok. Och bror min, som ofta hjälper mig reflektera över vad som spelar någon roll.
Att göra detta verkar ha mätbar effekt på ens liv
Värt att prova - de säger att de kunnat visa uppmätt resultat
Jot down three things they were grateful for.
Write a positive message to someone in their social support network.
Meditate at their desk for two minutes.
Exercise for 10 minutes.
Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.
3 new things I’m grateful for - kom på det varje dag/kväll
Journaling - 1 positive experience in the past 24 hours, every day
Exercise - Träna - röra på kroppen. - vad jag göra, hur jag agerar får konsekvenser
Meditation - En sak i taget - fokusera
Skriv 1 positivt e-postmeddelande/dag till kollega, vän eller annan person ifrån annat sammanhang, varje morgon.
Skaffa höj och sänkbart skrivbord till hemmakontoret.
Hur gör jag för att kunna ha skärmarna högre upp?
Går det att bygga ihop ett skrivbord?