Meme: Successful Habits

From Sheryl over at 21st Century Collaborative:

List the top 5 to 10 things that you do almost every day that help you to be successful. They can be anything at all, but they have to be things that you do at least 4 or 5 times every week. Anything less than that may be a hobby that helps you out, but we are after the real day in and day out habits that help you to be successful.

Source: Miguel Guhlin responding to Ed Tech Journeys‘ Guest Blogger, Sylvia Martinez (GenYESBlog) writing on this meme by Thea Westra, Simply Successful Secrets

Before I start, I’ll say that I have a lot in common with Sheryl in terms of organization and getting up early (well, maybe not THAT early), but I’ve got a few twists that I’ll include here:

Writing:  In his book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis says that all leaders should be writers.  He writes, “Writing is the most profound way of codifying your thoughts, the best way of learning from yourself, who you are, and what you believe” (p. 43).  While I do a variety of writing throughout the day, it is the writing that I do first thing every morning that seems to lend itself to the kind of learning Bennis is talking about.  About six years ago, I adopted Julia Cameron’s practice of morning pages that she describes in The Artist’s Way:  three pages of long-hand writing every morning, first thing in the morning.   It isn’t journaling although there is some of that.  It isn’t a to do list although there is some of that.  This is stream of consciousness, get all the shit on the page kind of writing, and if I do it right (although there is no right way–how’s that for a little Zen this morning?) I find that as I begin to write the last page, ideas that have been floating around come together or problems that have been looking for a solution start to find one.  It’s weird the way it works, I can’t explain it, but whenever I think about stopping the practice, I get scared because I don’t know anywhere else in my day when I have the opportunity to commune with myself in this way.

Organization:  This is one area that I have been working on for the past year.  Like Sheryl, I try to touch things only once and have learned how to delete email and throw out paper.   I take advantage of web-based tools like Google docs and netvibes to organize electronically and am very close to my goal of living online.  I use a whiteboard for my to do list and calendar.  Oh, I use an electronic calendar, too, but I like having a hard copy to glance at quickly when I’m planning the day or the week or the month.  Staying organized is a habit I am still developing so I have to think about it every day.  But my efforts are paying off because I am better able to focus on the stuff that needs my attention instead of trying to carry my schedule or to do list around in my head.

Quadrant II Time:  I think I’ve got the quadrant right…this is from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the best self-help books I’ve ever read.  Quadrant II is the one about closing your door and doing something that, while it is not directly related to an immediate problem, will lead to personal and professional growth and learning.  For me, this might be getting caught up on some reading or playing around with a new technology or even writing a blog entry like this one.  The important thing it is MY time for me–not to prepare for a workshop or work on an article but just to learn–and I try to fit at least a few minutes in every day.

Communing: With nature, with my husband, with my dog, with my friends…as I write this entry, I am watching the sun rise over my neighbor’s woods out back.  At the start of the new year, we moved my desk in front of the new window so I look out on our back yard and the bird feeders.  I just saw the first hummingbird on Friday, and I can watch the progress of my husband’s vegetable garden.  I try to get outside every day, either for a walk, or this time of year, to dig in the ground.  One of the benefits of working from home is being able to take advantage of nice days, and this past Friday was one of them.  I gardened hard, and it was a pleasure but it also afforded me time to just mull over stuff while I puttered.  I haven’t always done this, but I am learning that it is an essential part of being successful because without it, I just don’t feel healthy.

Health:  This one goes along with communing, I suppose, but I’m listing it on it own because I think it’s a tough one for all of us.  The busier I get, the more my health suffers.  I don’t mean that I get sick, but I just lose the energy and vitality that is essential for me to be at my best.  When I’m busy, I don’t take the time to make healthy meals, or I don’t take the time to exercise or meditate, and it shows, even more so as I get older.  For much of the past winter, I suffered from a lower back pain that, at its worst, would extend to my lower leg making it impossible to sit comfortably.  I was taking ibuprofen every day and just feeling lousy with no energy.   Finally, one morning, I decided that enough was enough.  I took a hard look at my eating and exercise habits.  I had been walking quite a bit in the fall, almost every day, but the cold weather kept me inside.  So, I drug out the yoga mat and added 30 minutes to my day.  I also got a Weight Watchers account online so I had a place to keep track of the food I was eating.  Turns out those crackers and cookies really added up.  So, I started exchanging fruits and vegetables for empty carbs like crackers.  I feel much better now.  Don’t know if I’ve lost any weight, but the back pain is gone and I feel energetic and refreshed.  No more heartburn either!

Music:  I LOVE music and considered a career as a musician.  I’m not sure I can draw a straight line between music and being successful, but I know that my life would be much less rich if it weren’t for music.  I listen to it–all kinds from classical to Broadway show tunes to good old rock-n-roll–and I play it.  In fact, this morning, the recorder group that I belong to is heading to a local elementary school to do a program for the fourth graders who are learning to play.   Like gardening, playing music gives me a chance to move away from my primary concerns and do something different even while some part of my brain is still thinking about my work.  I come away from a rehearsal or performance refreshed and ready to go.

So, there’s my list.  Hope it’s helpful!  I don’t think there’s anything really unusual on it, but I think it helps to know that others are struggling with the same sorts of concerns.  I think the biggest lesson I ‘ve learned about being successful is BALANCE.   I love my work, but I need my time, too, for things that aren’t work.  I love talking about educational technology issues with my colleagues, but I also need to talk to people who don’t know anything about what I do and have their own interests and ideas to share.  I need days of hard work and days of hard play.  And, at night, as I sip my ritual cup of tea before bed, I need to look back and see the balance then look forward and plan for it the next day.

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