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How to keep calm in a disruptive new decade

Happy New Year to you. And welcome to a new decade. 

For many people (me included), the turn of the year is a time to look back on the past year and to make plans for the year ahead. It’s also the time to make New Year’s resolutions, in which we resolve to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve our lives. Interestingly, according to statistics, four in five people fail with their New Year’s resolutions within a couple of weeks for a variety of reasons (such as an unclear goal, flailing motivation, feeling overwhelmed, or because the timing wasn’t right). Charles Kettering has a point: “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”

2019 was a challenging year for me. Having to deal with a significant health threat unexpectedly has made me realize one thing: I cannot continue doing things in the 2020s as intensely as I have done in the 2010s. So, when I sat down to think about my New Year’s resolutions, I knew that I needed to make real changes in the way I work and live going forward. And as a creativity expert, I also wanted to include creative, counterintuitive, and perhaps slightly offbeat ideas on how to personally thrive in the new year and the disruptive new decade. 

Today, please allow me to share with you my work-life balance-related New Year’s resolutions, hoping that some may inspire you to come up with our own set of creative change pledges for the year ahead.

1. Work smarter, not harder

“Less but better” is a maxim advocated by the famous German industrial designer Dieter Rams, which resonates with me.

People who know me well can testify: During the past 15 years, I worked long hours almost every day of the week, virtually every week of the year. Hard, passionate work allowed me to create a solid, expansive foundation of innovation know-how blending theory with lots of practical experience on how to apply it successfully in real life.

Going forward, I resolve to stop working harder and start working smarter. I choose to work less, but better by working fewer hours overall while at the same time producing better outputs. In other words, I want to increase my work productivity. How?

  • I plan what I want to do and what outputs I want to produce every day, week, month, and quarter.
  • Before beginning my work on a particular, output-producing activity, I first imagine the end product I desire. Then, I take a few moments to explore what’s the best way to get there, and what different work steps are involved, and then set a realistic time limit to produce the target output. Thereby, I keep in mind an appealing thought of the English serial entrepreneur Richard Branson: “Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it, think ‘what’s the most amazing way to do it.’”
  • During my peak work time, I intensively work for 3-4 hours per day in a focused, concentrated manner. Once I get into my flow, I may extend this creative work period by another 1-2 hours.
  • By following this approach of working smarter, I commit to producing the best possible output that I can come up with within the given time each day.

Overall, I will aim to establish flow-inducing daily routines as described in an earlier article titled Learning from the daily routines of creative top achievers.

“It is not daily increase but daily decrease; hack away the unessential.” —Bruce Lee

2. Invest more time focusing on the big picture

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up,” notes the US novelist Chuck Palahniuk with a twinkle in the eye.

Creative leaders make sure that they invest more time working on the business and less time working in the business. They regularly slow down and step back to take a look at the big picture and the environment affecting their business. 

In our fast-paced, hectic times, it is more important than ever to avoid getting dragged down too much dealing with the menial operational details of everyday work. In the upcoming, disruptive decade, I resolve to schedule at least two days per month to explore the strategic environment or work on strategic big-picture issues. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done but remember point 1: Work smarter, not harder.

3. Asking a new question to propel yourself forward

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom”, noted the English philosopher Francis Bacon. 

In Thinkergy’s innovation profiling system TIPS, each of the 11 innovator profiles tends to ask a particular question. As an Ideator, I naturally ask, “What?” (such as in “What do I want to create today?”). 

In the coming decade, Thinkergy will move from the initial creation phase to a market expansion & growth phase, which requires me to ask a different question: “Who?” So, going forward, I resolve to ask more “Who”-questions: “Who needs this? Who can help? Who can connect me to a useful contact? Who should I meet?”

What new question will you ask in the new decade to take your business to the next level?

4. Approach chores with a mindful Zen-mindset

At work and in life, we need to deal with unexciting chores and drudgery from time to time. Some activities are not in our sweet spot and not enjoyable, but they need to get done. Generally, I try to outsource, delegate, or automate as many routine activities (such as scheduling meetings, producing call reports, or creating and setting up social media posts) as possible.

For those activities that I cannot delegate or outsource completely, I resolve to deal with them in my non-peak work time with a Zen-like attitude. Before getting started, I will ask questions such as: “Why is this humble activity important? What can I learn from doing it? How can I make it enjoyable and fun? How can I do it more creatively? How can I make it more mindful?” Then, I will get it done in the best possible way, thereby bearing in mind the words of Richard Branson: “If you don’t have time for the small things, you won’t have time for the big things.” 

5. Indulge in daily play

“Work hard, play hard” is a maxim that resonated with me for a long time. Going forward, and in line with point 1, I will aim to practice a creative variation of this motto: “Work smarter, play harder.” 

The more often I succeed in working less but better (point 1), the more time I will have for play. 

What do I mean with play? Any fun activity that I enjoy, such as running, working out, doing yoga, listening to music, or meeting friends. Daily play is essential to keep our mind, body, and spirit healthy and to cultivate an open, curious, and positive beginner’s mind that is a defining mindset trait of a creative leader. As Richard Branson highlights: “Fun is one of the most important and underrated ingredients in any successful venture.”

6. Meditate regularly

A few months ago, I picked up Transcendental Meditation (TM) based on a recommendation of a friend who has been meditating for decades. Practicing TM made me realize how much stress I’ve accumulated during the past few years without realizing it. I’ve also noticed that meditating each morning and evening is time well invested. It gives me more clarity, focus, and perspective, thus supporting my aim to work less, but better. Finally, mediation is one way to connect to the source from which breakthrough ideas and peak creativity flow. As the founder of TM, the Indian spiritual teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains: “Transcendental Meditation opens the awareness to the infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence that lies deep within everyone.”

7. Say yes more often. Say no more firmly

Richard Branson once made an interesting point: “Life is a hell of a lot more fun if you say yes rather than no.” Going forward, I resolve to more often go with the flow and say “yes” to things that cost me little time, effort, or money and allow me to support another person. Saying “yes” whenever possible not only will create positive goodwill with others, but also will keep my mind open, making it more likely to spot new opportunities, to learn something new, and to meet someone new. 

“When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself,” notes the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. So, while aiming to say yes more often, I also resolve to say politely but firmly “no” to anything that someone else wants to offload to me that would be a major diversion or distraction from the essential things I commit to achieving. 

8. Communicate more assertively

“Too many of us fail to fulfill our needs because we say no rather than yes, yes when we should say no,” noted the US psychiatrist William Glasser. 

Going forward, I resolve to communicate more assertively in business and life. Being assertive means confidently expressing one’s wants, needs, and feelings while being respectful of the opinions, wants, and feelings of others. Assertive communication is the healthy middle ground between an aggressive and a passive communication style. As one aspect of this communication technique, I also resolve to more assertively hold those people accountable who don’t live up to their promises.

9. When having to decide between “either or”, consider going with “and”

These days, we all have more things to do and deal with on a typical workday than ever. When time is short, we regularly face a situation where we can either do this or that. Typically, such “either-or” choices cause inner turmoil and may lead to conflict with others. Going forward, I will try to resolve the dilemma of an “either-or”-situation by entertaining the third option: “and.” 

For example, suppose I want to go for a run after work (indulge in my daily play, point 3), but my partner asks me if I can take care of our baby girl Zoë and play with her. Here, a possible “and”-option would be to sit our daughter into her baby jogger and take her with me on my run, thereby making sure that we stop by at a playground for 20 minutes to allow her to play as well. 

10. Reserve time for personal growth

Nowadays, it’s easy to mindlessly spend hours reading online news or social media posts. While it’s necessary to keep up with current events and what’s going on in your social network, I want to cultivate the habit of doing this browsing in the evening and limit it to less than an hour. At the same time, I want to reserve time for activities that allow me to continue to grow professionally and personally, such as reading books or learning new skills.

11. Be grateful daily

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful,” noted Lord Buddha. 

Writing these lines on the last day of 2019, I am grateful that I am still here. When I had to confront the prospect of a surprising sudden death earlier in 2019, I realized what a great life I had and how grateful I am for that. 

Going forward, I want to pause for a moment each day and take notice of three things for which I am grateful. May this little practice of daily gratitude remind me even at times when the going gets tough how lucky I am to living a wonderful life.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on January 2, 2020. It will be re-printed in the Bangkok Post on January 9, 2020. Photod by Curtis MacNewton (title) and Estee Janssens on Unsplash.