It’s graduation time. As students receive their diplomas, they look forward to the next milestone, the next development, the next opportunity. As they walk across the stage, I bet most of them don’t think about how many days they have been on Earth and how many days they have left.
Understanding your purpose, living each day to its fullest, becoming as productive as possible, and mastering your life are critical to a successful life and yet most of us are so busy with today’s tasks we don’t stop and reflect.
In 20,000 Days, you will find a compelling reminder of the value of time. It’s not a long book, and the message is simple, but profound. A few of the lessons I took away:
Eat dessert first.
Think of today as your last day and also your first day.
In recent research only 11 percent of people said that they have a great deal of energy. If you want to rev up your engine, read on.
One of my very favorite authors, Tom Rath has a brand new book called Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. Tom is a researcher at Gallup who studies human behavior. You may know him from any of his five New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. From How Full Is Your Bucket? to StrengthsFinder 2.0 every one of his books inspires and challenges. We recently discussed what it takes to be fully charged at work and in life.
“The pursuit of meaning, not happiness, is what makes life worthwhile.” –Tom Rath
You open the book with your own personal health challenge. How do you maintain such a positive attitude and strong work ethic in the face of the unknown?
I have learned it essential to focus on what you can do today that will continue to grow when you are gone. In reality, no one can say with certainty that they will live for a defined period of time. But we all have today to do something that improves the life of another human being.
You don’t even have to do anything that profound today to make a difference for someone else. The things that change people’s lives are usually an accumulation of small acts. If I have one great conversation today, do a little research or writing that contributes to something larger, or read a book to my son, those all add up in the way I think about a day where I am fully charged.
“The things that change people’s lives are usually an accumulation of small acts.” –Tom Rath
Three keys to a Full Charge include meaning, interactions, and energy. Are You Fully Charged?offers practical, easy steps to energize your life and become more effective. At the same time, I don’t think most of us think of our lives in these buckets. How did you develop this approach?
While I have also worked on research and books about life in a more general sense, this one focuses more on the key ingredients of a great day, for yourself and others. So I think of these three elements as little reminders of things I need to try and spend time on within a given day. As I talk about in the book’s prologue, this work has been deeply influenced by recent research suggesting that our daily experience functions very differently from our overall satisfaction with life over decades.
“Doing for others may be the only way to create lasting well-being.” –Tom Rath
You say to “make work a purpose, not just a place.” What practical steps can company leaders take to make that a reality?
I think it starts by going all the way back to the fundamental compact between a person and an organization. Companies are now pretty good at quantifying the value an employee adds to their bottom line, but very few do a good job of ensuring that each person’s life is better off as a result of joining the organization.
So leaders need to spend more time helping employees to see how their daily efforts are part of something much larger that makes a difference. One way to do this is to help employees hear directly from customers and communities who are benefiting from their daily work. What matters is not just that we make a little meaningful progress each day but that each person also has a chance to see and perceive this through their own lens.
“Make work a purpose, not just a place.” –Tom Rath
My father passed away when he was 65 years old. I was born when he was 30, so many of the important events of my life happened 30 years after they did for him. When he died, I had an overwhelming sense that I was next in line. This caused me to think about my legacy and the impact that I was making. I asked myself if I was satisfied with my life, and the answer was no. I began to make some changes and that included writing about the process of creating a legacy.
“Leadership is the act of making things better for others.” -Andrew Thorn
The “arc of leadership” represents our own maturation as a leader. It helps us remember that life is a circular experience and that it is difficult for us to see it as a whole. When we pull out an arc, or a part of that circle, we can study it and understand it more effectively. Each arc calls us into movement and improvement.
“The measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations.” -Wade Davis
I’m interested in your view of balance. Your chapter on this subject is called “From Balance to Focus”. What does this mean?
A very lucky person, over the course of a 45 year career, will spend about 117,000 hours at work (average of 50 hours a week working), 131,000 hours sleeping (average of 8 hours a day sleeping), and 65,000 hours (average of 4 hours a day) taking care of personal responsibilities. This scenario would leave the lucky person with a little more than 50,000 hours to use however he or she wants.
Unfortunately, most of us work longer, sleep less, encumber life with unnecessary personal responsibilities and then find ourselves too tired to make our free time matter. Just by looking at the hours, we can see that there is no way to balance the number of hours between work and life. We need to work to provide for our needs. Instead of trying to balance the time, we must spend time focusing our efforts into meaningful work.
The time we spend at work is the time when we are most awake, most alert, most focused on what we want, most productive and most engaged. Once we focus on where we want to work and how we will contribute what we know we must contribute, we find ourselves full of energy at the end of the work day, which in turn means that I can use my 50,000 hours more effectively, too.
How do you coach clients to understand ‘purpose’?
I think it is important that we understand that purpose is a moving target. In other words, purpose is different during the different seasons of life. Sometimes we hang on to a purpose for too long or we let it go too soon. This is why we must be constantly evaluating what we find to be meaningful. When we connect to meaning, our purposes come into focus, too. When we can see purpose for what it is – the guiding force of why we do what we do, then we can begin to also know what to do. I use one or two questions to connect my clients to purpose: (1) Why do I want to do this? & (2) If this were my last day, would I still be willing to do what I am about to do? Once these questions are answered, there are very few doubts about purpose. I don’t want to make it any more complicated than this.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams
This is a guest post by Jeremy Statton. He is an orthopedic surgeon and a writer. He blogs about Living Better Stories. You can follow him on Twitter or download a free copy of his eBook Grace Is.
One of my regrets in life is never having watched a space shuttle launch in person.
I try to imagine how it might sound or what it probably feels like. But nothing could compare to witnessing the feat of getting something that big and heavy off the ground, through the atmosphere, and into orbit.
The purpose of a launch is to transfer the shuttle and the astronauts and the items stored on the shuttle into space. They go on a mission designed to accomplish a task. The launch is relatively insignificant when considering the greater purpose.
But have you ever thought about what it takes to get the shuttle off the ground? Have you ever considered what must happen first in order for the greater purpose to be accomplished?
Empty, the shuttle weighs 172,000 pounds. But add in the fuel necessary for liftoff and the weight goes up to 4,400,000 pounds. By weight, 96% of the shuttle exists to get it moving. After the launch, the first big moment comes when the two white rocket boosters on the side are released. This happens at exactly 124 seconds.
The boosters contain 83% of the fuel needed for the entire mission. The mission might last ten days, but a majority of the fuel is consumed in the first two minutes. We associate a space shuttle mission with a bigger purpose than getting off the ground, but the launch can contain the most difficult obstacles to overcome.
The same can happen for whatever purpose you choose to pursue. The start might be the most difficult part of any project.
How many good ideas have you had that never saw the light of day mainly because you never began?
Sam Davidson met me one January day in a hip new coffee shop in Nashville. As he shared stories about his life and his books, I listened intently while still managing to watch the painting and construction of a stage. (If you’re in Nashville, this is a requirement.) As my schedule allows, I try to meet interesting people in person to learn their stories. Sam is an author, speaker and the cofounder of Cool People Care.
Leaving the little café, I tucked the book Sam gave me under my arm and made my way back to my car. Not needing much sleep, I average a book a day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m sent so many books, I can’t keep up with them. But any book with tips on reducing stress has to go right to the top of the pile. I found a very practical and somewhat surprising book on how to Simplify Your Life.
I decided to follow-up with Sam to talk about his ideas on how to live a simple life.
Determine your values and passions
Sam, you have a very different approach to simplifying life. When I first saw the book cover, I thought “minimalism.” Any thoughts of minimalist advice were quickly cast aside when I saw your first chapter begins with the words, “Down with Minimalism.” You say, “Minimalism is boring.”
What is minimalism and why is that not the right place to start?
Minimalism puts the focus on quantity, perhaps to a fault. In the rush to minimize, I fear we miss out on a reflective or introspective process that gets to the heart of why it is we have too much stuff or feel too stressed. Instead, I encourage people to first determine their values and passions. Then, everything that doesn’t enable or enhance one of those can go.
Eliminate things that don’t match your purpose
Getting rid of things for the sake of minimalism may mean we miss out on a valuable tool needed to achieve a great dream. Furthermore, if all we have helps makes us better, the amount of things around us matters less since it’s all beneficial and important.