Six 10-minute tools for improvement in the new year

Many grand plans for the new year fail because they are too complex, too daunting or require a high level of commitment. If you have an hour, try these simple techniques.

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We are in the middle of the year of self-improvement when we are likely to draw up big plans to achieve different goals, are bombarded with advertisements for diets and fitness regimes, and perhaps that second (or third) regret) portion of holiday cake.

We have probably all set a lofty goal or attempted to launch a new behavior, but saw that it gradually disappeared after a few days, weeks or months. Instead of starting a grand plan for a complex transformation, you can try to break down your goals into bite-sized chunks.
Here are six tools that you should try for just a few minutes.

SEE: Top 5 ways to get to zero (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Spend 10 minutes on planning

Most of us spend too much time responding to the events and demands of the day, and not enough time planning how we want to approach the day. If you have a quiet moment (I like the time after the kids have gone to school, but before I go to work), take 10 minutes to plan your day and week. The first session may focus on triage, but make it a weekly habit and you start by mapping long-term goals and the short-term tasks to achieve them.

2. Perform a focus experiment

A major challenge of our “always” work culture is that our attention is demanded in dozens of places on an apparently simultaneous and never-ending basis. Our culture praises “multi-tasking”, but our brains perform at their best when they concentrate on a single task. Take 10 minutes and try a “focus experiment” where you focus solely on a single task. Close your e-mail, mobile phone, etc. and only focus on that activity. Alternatively, the next time you are in a meeting or communicate with a colleague or someone outside of work, you can concentrate on that conversation alone. Do not think of other things, or even think of how you will respond to what they say; challenge yourself to consider every expression before allowing your mind to move on. In both cases you will probably find that you have achieved more and have had a more meaningful interaction than if you tried to think of a dozen unconnected activities.

3. Send yourself a letter

When we set a daring goal for the first time, it is an exciting time in which the possibility seems unlimited. Later we forget the excitement and perhaps we focus on the difficulty of consistent implementation. Why not record your current excitement and grand plans and send a letter of encouragement to your future self? I recommend writing a letter that you will open in about 90 days or, if you feel ambitious, write a short note for 30, 90 and 180 days. You can use the “send later” function of your e-mail program, or go old school and write or type a note for yourself, put it in an envelope with an “open on” date on the front and stick it to your bathroom mirror or another prominent location.

4. Choose a stalled project and invest 10 minutes

Most of us have a project or a task we face. It can be a complex, multi-monthly effort that gets stuck, or a relatively simple task that has been postponed for too long. Set a timer on your telephone for 10 minutes and concentrate solely on that task. You will probably find that the 10-minute investment was much less painful than you had assumed, and perhaps those first 10 minutes will break the mental impasse that has prevented progress.

5. Clean a frequently used area

One of the most important blockages for self-improvement in the longer term is a chaotic mental state, which can be dramatically influenced by chaotic physical spaces. While this may sound a little ethereal, think about when you sat down to work in a clean workspace or opened your email inbox for a handful of messages instead of years of unread messages. Take 10 minutes to clear up a single physical or digital space with which you regularly communicate. This does not have to be a work-related space to have a positive influence on your work. I try to tidy up my bedroom closet every three to six months, because this is one of the first rooms I interact with every day and I notice that my workday starts better immediately after I have cleaned this room. Other goals can be your workspace, car, digital desktop or mobile phone.

6. Plan a fun activity or vacation

All of these things for self-improvement can seem boring after a while, and many of us become so focused on the implementation mechanisms that we forget the long-term goals and positive aspects of what we are trying to achieve. Combine this with the fact that many leaders are so overwhelmed by the daily grind that we forget to unplug and charge the plug, and these tips may seem like an addition to an overloaded plate. Why don’t you take 10 minutes to plan your next outing? Set your timer and block your schedule for a planned vacation, then take the time to browse through potential destinations or activities. It is absolutely acceptable to apply focus and discipline to planning your pleasure!

Self-improvement is not only about becoming a better technology leader, but ultimately also about becoming a better person. Creating lasting change does not require complex and comprehensive change; instead, a few minutes can start on a sustainable and cost-effective journey that lasts longer than typical resolutions.

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