Sunday, February 20, 2011

Taking Back Your Life is The Key to Happiness

I gave the following speech at Toastmaster's on 2/10.
The ideas I describe her are directly derivative from Take Back Your Life!: Using Microsoft Outlook to Get Organized and Stay Organized: Using Microsoft Outlook to Get Organized and Stay Organized Copyright 2005 Sally McGhee.  I am not getting any sort of payment for this, nor would I accept it.  I find their methodology very logical and it has benefited my career.  I would highly recommend taking their course and using their consulting services.  Check them out at

Are you happy? It’s a simple question. Are you happy? If you’re not happy, why aren’t you happy?

To answer these questions we need to start with a definition. What is happiness? For each person happiness means a different thing. So the question should be what does being happy mean to you? What makes you happy?

Charles Schultz said Happiness is a warm puppy. John Lennon said Happiness is a warm gun.

Abraham Lincoln said that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. With that in mind, I ask you is happiness even achievable? I think that it is.

Sometimes you can gain nuggets of wisdom from the most unlikely sources. For example, about a year ago a took a course at work called “Take Back Your Life”. This was a class about managing your Outlook Inbox. What does this have to do with happiness? On the face of it, absolutely nothing. But I took something away from this class that I didn’t expect. Today I’ll share with you with I learned and how I’m starting to apply this wisdom to my life.

Am I happy? No. But I’m on the path. The first step on the path is to identify the issues that are in my way. I need to know what kinds of issues I’m concerned about. What am I worried about every day? What keeps me up at night? Here’s a little exercise you can do. Take twenty minutes. Sit down in a quiet room at a table with a blank pad of paper and a pen. On that paper start writing down the things that you are worried about. There are no wrong answers.

Are you worried about your retirement? Write it down?

Are you worried about your blood pressure? Write it down?

Your child’s education? Write it down?

The economy? Write it down?

Afghanistan? Write it down?

Spiders? Write it down?

Groceries? Global Warming? Getting the Garden ready for Spring? Graduation? Write it down?

If you take longer than 20 minutes, that’s okay, this is your time. Writing down your fears and your issues does not get rid of them, it just identifies them. Once you have identified them them, you can better address them.

The second step on the path is to become accountable to yourself for the items you have identified. You have tools you can use for this. Take Back Your Life calls these tools the 4 D’s:

  • Do It Now
  • Delete It
  • Delegate It
  • Defer It

When you are managing your email, these become simple tasks.

Do it now - the request in the email will take less than five minutes, including answering it.

Delete it - no response required, maybe not even applicable

Delegate it - get it to someone that is either responsible for it, or that can get it done better or faster

Defer it - this will take longer than five minutes. Schedule work time to complete.

How can you possibly apply these to your life? In going through the Take Back Your Life course, they emphasize using your calendar to achieve a work / life balance. It’s recommended to combine views of your home and work calendars so that you don’t schedule work time on top of personal time.

I see your personal time is really two types of time: Personal project time and Down time. We all need down time. Down time is my favorite time of the day. It when I get to my favorite stuff:

I can spend time with my wife

I can play with my kids

I can watch TV

I can play on the computer

I can nap

Not my dog - from My Dog Violet (1)

I can do absolutely nothing

Basically, I can recharge

But you also have personal project time. Some personal projects are regular and recurring. These are known as chores:

Washing dishes

folding clothes

mowing the yard

paying the bills

taking out the trash

It’s the special personal projects you need to schedule personal project time for. Things like:

painting the house

filing your taxes

fixing your toilet

planning a party

The trick is to use the same tools that you use to schedule your work time to schedule your personal time. A pocket calendar is great, so is a BlackBerry, so is a 59 cent notebook. Just find a method that works for you and stick to it.

To see how the 4 D’s can apply to your personal life, let’s go back and look at that list you wrote of issues you were concerned about. These were the Items that were keeping you from being happy.

Look at each item on your list.

Can you Do it? In other words? Can you do it in five minutes, right now and cross it off your list?

Can you Delete it? Is it even doable at all? Becoming an astronaut would make me happy, but I’ve deleted it, or crossed it off my list.

Can you Delegate it? I sure would love to cure cancer. But I don’t have the time time to go back to school, become a doctor, and research the cure myself. Maybe if I delegate it to the American Cancer Society, but support their efforts, they can find a cure.

Can you Defer it? I want to open a restaurant. It’s going to take me more than five minutes, but I can do it. It’s going to take me some time to detail and plan the steps. I’ll set up an hour on my personal calendar to do some planning for this.

Once you’ve gone through your list you can now work towards fixing the things that make you unhappy. Will they clear up overnight? No. Will you become fabulously wealthy? Not without a lot of hard work? The important thing is, this system provides you the opportunity to identify the issues, a method to identify what you can fix, and the time to work on these personal projects at your own pace.

That sort of sounds like the Serenity Prayer (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. )

Applied to real life, when issues come up from time to time that require your personal attention, you can also apply the 4 D’s to them. For example, if had an issue with your car you are probably already using this method.

If you’re low on gas, you’ll probably Do it now and go fuel up
If your transmission dies and your car has 240 thousand miles on it you’ll probably Delete it and junk the car
If your car needs minor repair, you’ll probably Delegate it to the local mechanic
If your car needs a new set of tires, you may decide to Defer it and schedule it for next payday.

Remember, The trick is to use the same tools that you use to schedule your work time to schedule your personal time. Use a pocket calendar, or a smartphone, or a notebook. Find a method to keep a calendar and keep it up to date. If you are comfortable keeping up with a checkbook, keep it with that. By taking control of your personal time and making it personally productive, you can take back your life.

What are the drawbacks?

You do need down time. You need to rest and recharge. Don’t let your personal productivity get in the way of that.

Do not over engage and do not over commit. Start small. As you see projects complete, add more.

Make sure your family and friends are on board and are helping. Unless they support what you are doing, you will be working alone.

My final recommendation is to be flexible. Ultimately with these projects, you are answering to yourself. Conditions change: weather, money, time. You need to be able to roll with it.

This evening, I hope I have given you a road map towards achieving happiness. There are a lot authors that have made a lot of money telling you how to be happy. I think that only you can discover what makes you happy and I hope through a little introspection, application of the 4 D’s, and some hard work, you can achieve happiness.

I quoted Abraham Lincoln earlier, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Am I happy? Not yet. But I’ve made up my mind to be happy.

Think Sideways is 95% a food blog... this is one of those other 5%. I hope you got something out of today's post.  More food next time!  Until then, I wish you Peace, Love, and Hollandaise Sauce!

(1) Not my dog...

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