Browsing the archives for the work tag

Continuous Change

Change, family, Life as it is, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey

A very long time ago, I was introduced to the idea of continuous improvement – or to use the japanese term, kaizen. Nowadays it means a lot of formal processes and is an integral part in LEAN processes and Six Sigma and such, but when I first heard it 25 years ago, I only knew it was a powerful idea about continuous improvement – and that it had possibilities in work or in one’s life.

I’d love to tell you that I embraced it, and lived it fully, and give you a field report of what its like to have lived 25 years of continuous change. But I can’t.

Circles and Neon

My problem with continuous improvement – or even slight improvement – is that it involves change. And like Monk once said, “I don’t mind change, as long as I am not there when it happens.” And when I am busy trying to not make any mistakes, or do that perfectionism thing, I become rigid and inflexible – and so I resist change. And then that continuous improvement thing just can’t breathe and dies.

But this is on my mind at the moment for a few reasons. First, I am about to experience a significant amount of change in my life as my daughter will return home soon. And secondly, I have recently come to the realization that change is an intrinsic part of improvement.

My son and I have been living together alone for most of the past year, since my daughter was hospitalized. And while it hasn’t been perfect, it has – for the most part – worked. That is, it has worked in a way that is a change from the way things did not work when last my daughter lived here. So as much joy as I feel to have my wonderful daughter back in my daily life, I also feel some fear of the unknown.

They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
–Confucius

Things were not working well before, and then things did work, and that move from not working to working is both a change and an improvement. This next change is coming – and it can be an improvement. (While all improvement must be a change, not all change is an improvement.)

So as I have considered this and looked at it, and given myself permission to feel the feelings as long as it doesn’t keep me from getting things done that need to happen for this to work, I thought I would share some of the ideas that I am having on the subject:

  • I am the author of my life and so I can write this next chapter – or at least outline and start it – the way I think it could go. This is a rejection to the passivity that I used to have to change, and means I have a chance to influence the change to be an improvement. Maybe even a big improvement.
  • The only place I can author this change is in my choices of what I do. I don’t get to choose for anyone else what they will do. Trust me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. But my own choices, that is where the rubber meets the road.
  • Some of the changes coming may be changes I will really enjoy. Like going to the symphony with my daughter again and shooting with our cameras.
  • Some of the changes I may not enjoy. I don’t like the decions that others make sometimes. And where that conflicts with my boundaries and my responsibilities as a parent, I sometimes must choose to do things I would rather not do – or in a more basic form, I don’t want to live through some of the things I have had to live through in the past.
  • I have chosen to embrace change – to be open to its possibilities. It feels frightening – but only in that way that doing the right thing seems to stir fear up for me.

So that is where I am. I have finally come to the realization that I will never have the sort of life that gets better and better every day unless I have a life that keeps improving. And continuous improvement really just means continuous change (that we hope will be positive more times than not).

If today is going to be better than yesterday, then I need to let the day change to let that happen. (Otherwise it would be the same, you know?)

If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.
–Author Unknown

How about you and change? How do you handle it? Are you comfortable with it? What gets you through the times when lots of things all change at once?

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How to Reboot Life Systems

Change, Life as it is

I spend quite a bit of time around computer and communications systems, both at home and at work. As a result, I occasionally have a system get stuck or need to be reset – that is restored to a known working situation with the system in a healthy state. Sometimes starting with a clean slate it all it takes to get past a problem, other times, it simply creates a starting point to solve problem.

Telecommunications Junction

I also have my life systems sometimes get stuck as well – because of a system crash such as a lack of housekeeping input causing the living-comfortably-at-home system to halt because of unacceptable disarray. Or as another example, I may be overwhelmed when I have too many challenges to handle at any one time, and this may affect any number of systems in home. This is where having a good methodology to reboot the hung systems is handy.

Most computers have simple ways to restart them when you need to. It may be a couple of mouse clicks, or a keystroke combination such at CTRL-ALT-DEL, that does it – but its a simple process that is often a first step in getting things working again. Unlike a blue screen of death I usually don’t have an external notice that systems are not working, rather it comes from listening to my own state of satisfaction. When systems in my life are working properly, I feel a sense of contentment – when a reboot is necessary it’s usually through a growing discontent with something I am doing or not doing.

I have a couple systems of living that are very helpful to me. I can’t say I do them perfectly – or even just very well, for that matter – but they are both good life systems, because they both have reboot methods built into them. They are David Allen‘s Getting Things Done (GTD) and the FlyLady‘s processes for decluttering and getting rid of CHAOS. (For those who don’t know the FlyLady, CHAOS is an acronym for Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

In the book, Getting Things Done, David Allen writes:

Think about the last time you felt highly productive. You probably had a sense of being in control; you were not stressed out; you were highly focused on what you were doing; time tended to disappear; and you felt you were making noticeable progress towards a meaningful outcome….

And if you get seriously far out of that state – and start to feel out of control, stressed out, unfocused, bored and stuck – do you have the ability to get back into it? That’s where the methodology of Getting Things Done will have the greatest impact on your life, by showing you how to get back to “mind like water” wit all your resources and faculties functioning at a maximum level.

Falling off the wagon on any new system of living is easy – I’m doing it all the time it seems. But knowing how to get back on track is the key though. With GTD, I know I need to get my list out (I use MonkeyGTD for my lists) and renegotiate my own commitments to myself and to start gathering and processing again. That’s the beauty – it is that easy to start making prgress – to reboot to a known working state.

And for days like today when I feel overwhelmed by my home and the work it needs, Flylady always starts at the same place. What is the condition of my kitchen sink? And today was no exception – I went to the kitchen and started on the sink. Soon it was clean, and the cleanliness started spilling over to the surrounding countertops until my kitchen was done, and that lead me to working on other parts of the house. I know that next I will be working for 15 minutes a day and also working on being mindful of my bedtime and waking routines.

The point is, I didn’t have to wonder what to do to get rebooted and get systems back to a known running state. Before FlyLady, I would have wandered the house feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to start working on so much to do. Before GTD, I would just leap into the closest fire and leap from one out-of-control mess to another, burnout and watch things crash again.

I wish I was always in control of all areas of my life. The good news it that instead of needing a systems that always stay in a steady state of harmony, I can make do with just knowing how to correct my course whenever I start to drift.

How do you reboot the portions of your life that seem to get hung up?

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Art and Fear and Flickr

photography

I am reading a most excellent book called Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s one of those books that was just in my Amazon.com shopping basket from an earlier visit when I was placing Christmas orders – I kept seeing other photographers mention it so added it at some time in the past. I am very glad i did.

I’m not far into it, but on reading the section the explains the difference between quitting ones art and merely stopping it, I was struck by a couple of things that i would pass on. It seems many artists will quit creating when they lose the destination for their art – that is, the place where they will share and show their art. They go on to share the following strategy to keep from quitting:

Operating Manual for Not Quitting
A – Make friends with others who make art, and share your in-progress work with each other frequently.
B – Learn to think of [A], rather than the Museum of Modern Art, as the destination of your work.
(Look at it this way: If all goes well, MOMA may come looking for you.

I was reading this over coffee while my son was sketching a comic panel based on a story we had been telling back and forth and I was commenting on his efforts between paragraphs and pages. I read this section to my son, and he said, “Well, yeah. That’s what me and my friends do,” as he continued sketching into his overflowing sketchbook.

This is how my son does it with his friends – each of his friends has one or more comic stories they are working on or will sketch a hastily told tale from lunch at shool. And this is how we all did it as kids. When we would do something cool, we shared it with out friends and they shared what they were doing. And that joy in creation and camaraderie is why we were doing it.

I realized how much Flickr.com provides that same sort of vehicle for myself and my photography. Sometimes when I am just shooting something for my own sake, I will have others ask me if this is for a project or for a client – and i just say no it’s for me and my friends. And of course, what I mean by that is that I will post it to Flickr and share it with my friends there. Especially my happier mistakes like this portrait:

Innocence

That is part of what keeps me from the fear of shooting something that might not work. I am sharing it with friends who are all busy doing exactly the same thing with their work as well. This also means that I can try things that may or may not work and not worry too much about how they will be received.

Flickr is a frequent destination for my photography. What’s yours?

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Rigid and Inflexible – Like Iron Man?

family, Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Quite a few weekends ago, I assembled what I thought were all of the right elements to get some work done and to have some fun with friends in the process. The fun didn’t really happen like I thought it would, so I reviewed the day with another friend. She listened and then saw immediately the problem.

“You were being rigid and inflexible.”



I didn’t like how that line of observations was going, so I changed subjects and discussed an issue about my daughter, and what might have caused things to blow up like they did. Again she saw an answer.

“You were being Rigid and Inflexible.”

Damn it, I think she might be right. And that isn’t a good thing. It used to be how I lived – this rigid inflexibility about what I planned, what I expected or what I wanted. But I also know of times where instead of being so rigid, I was flexible and able to adapt to circumstances. So what was putting me back into a rigid shell?

As I wondered, I looked on the ‘Net and found this quote in an essay by John Cleese (of Monty Python fame):

We all operate in two contrasting modes, which we call open and closed. The open mode is more relaxed, more receptive, more exploratory, more democratic, more playful and more humorous. The closed mode is the tighter, more rigid, more hierarchical, more tunnel-visioned mode that we find ourselves in so much of the time. When is this closed, tight, solemn mode helpful?

Only when action is urgently required, it seems. If you want a decision in two minutes, don’t open up the discussion. If you’re leaping a ravine, the moment of takeoff is a bad time for considering alternative strategies. When you charge the enemy machine-gun post, don’t waste energy trying to see the funny side of it. Act, narrow-mindedly.

But the moment the action is over, we need to return to the open mode; to open our minds again to all the feedback from our action that enables us to tell whether the action has been successful, or whether further action is needed to improve on what we’ve done. In other words, we must return to the open mode, because in that mode we are most aware, most receptive, most creative, and therefore at our most intelligent.

And this fit my situation well. I was, metaphorically speaking, charging multiple machine gun posts in the internal urgency and importance of the work to be done. “It had to be done,” I remembered saying again and again when people wanted to quit.

I was armored in a rigid suit like Iron Man and doing battle.

Sometimes I really like the suit, and I like the narrow-minded approach of, “there is only the next mission, and the mission after that.” But the suit also isolates me from others I care about.

So how then to live outside the armor? I started doing two things. I started just taking the time to meditate and be still and remind myself there is no battle needing to be fought at that moment. I also sought laughter – to see the humor in my own actions, and also to rent some comedies to watch with my son.

How did I take off the armor?

I started playing again.

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