Tag Archives: process

The Integrated Life, part one of four.

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I think I first noticed it about fifteen years ago.  I was in my home office, on the phone. My daughter, who was maybe all of six years old, walked in the door and stopped dead in her tracks until my call was done. As soon as I was done, she came the rest of the way in and climbed on my lap.

“I was very good, wasn’t I, Daddy?” she said. “You had your work voice on and I waited.”

“My work voice?” I asked.

She went on to explain that I had a work voice, and a voice when I was doing church things and a voice for friends and a voice when I was talking arty things. “They’re all different.” She said.

I hadn’t realized how different they were, and that episode moved me to look at my larger life. Like most of us, I have a lot of roles. My work alone has several aspects to it – technical consulting, marketing strategy, writing, coaching, teaching. It’s the same in the other parts of my life, be it family or creative or spiritual.

We have a tendency to live these parts of our lives as separate things, moving one to the other with each of them being almost separate lives. That’s the way humans are wired, to categorize things. You can see that even with small kids as they separate toys by color, or type, or how they never let the mashed potatoes touch the peas. And we carry that tendency into our grownup lives.

So we live differently, or at best with a bit of overlap in our faith and life and work.

It works well enough, but what if, I wondered, what if we did a better job integrating all the aspects of our lives?

I know it works in marketing.  In my work in marketing I preach the principle of Integrated Marketing. It is one of the basics of marketing. Real Marketing 101 stuff. The idea is that everything you do as a marketer works together, each thing builds one on the other. This intentional working together requires a bit more thought and purposefulness, but the effect of doing it well is that when you do, each thing you do builds on the other things. They magnify the other things you do, making everything more effective.

Teaching a company to think in terms of truly integrating marketing always (let me repeat this), ALWAYS pays big dividends, often without much extra effort or cost, other than changing their thinking and purposefulness.

What if, I wondered, we could do the same in our lives?

Well, we can.

It’s been slow going for me, but I have seen it work in my own life. And I have slowly seen it work in the lives of others.

Let me share with you what I have seen…

  • When we better integrate all our roles in life, we reduce the stress of moving from role to role. Life and work become easier, more joyful, less of a struggle. We simply don’t understand how much work and energy goes into building a life of silos.
  • When we better integrate our lives, there tends to be better balanced. This is because we really aren’t balancing anything. We are simply living a life of principles that don’t require balancing.
  • When we better integrate our lives, we become more effective in everything we do. Because everything builds on everything else, in every aspect of what we do, not just in one role or the other.

For me, the big reasons had to do with building a less stressful life, and being more effective in the things I do. Often, those two things seem to be diametrically opposed. But they aren’t. Not really. We’ve just built artificial walls in our lives.

I have spent much of my work over the past years in the broadcast systems integration business, helping clients build broadcast and network television facilities.  The challenge in that business is helping chose and engineer a dizzying array of equipment and software into a comprehensive whole that works together as one. When we do it well, it’s a wonderful thing.

Each project is a totally custom project that melds the corporate culture, the technical needs and the images clients carry in their heads of what they want to be and how they want to do their work.

The same is true of developing an integrated life, where our truest selves shows itself in the things we do and the life we lead.  It’s where we look for the commonalities of all our roles in life, and build on them, slowly cutting out the things that are less true, that we have come to do because it was part of the role. It’s where we change our lives to let our roles, all of them, better match who we are.

When we do it, our goals, principles, values and behavior fall into line, across all of our roles in life.

Why don’t we live more integrated lives? Why do we live lives where there is some bleed over into the other, but where we keep so much of ourselves hidden away, not living this part of ourselves in a work role and that part of ourselves in a private role, and some other part of ourselves in a faith role?

I will leave you with that question until the next article. But let me assure you, because I have seen it in my own life, and in the lives of many of my clients, when we integrate our lives better, everything works better. We are happier, less stressed, more effective.

Be well. Travel Wisely

Tom

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There Are No Shortcuts

There Are No Shortcuts

Tea room

Earlier this week my son and I traveled down to see my daughter. The three of us traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to see the mansions there, a collection of “summer cottages” of the rich and famous from The Guilded Age.

And guilded they were, incredibly extravagant, more like little palaces rich in marble, Louis the 14th furniture, gold gilt and crystal chandeliers everywhere, each house a  jewel box, each one trying to outdo the other. Time after time our jaws hung open as we rounded into the next room, sure that nothing could outdo the room we were in, until we moved to the next room.

My favorite room. The one in the picture above. It’s called the Japanese Tea House, a small replica of a temple built on the edge of the grounds of one of the mansions. One room. So simple. So peaceful after the magnificent assault of my senses in the mansions themselves.

That kind of simplicity calms our soul, calms our spirit.

There has been a movement towards simplicity in our society that largely back to Apple’s creation of the I-Pod. Music had once been something that, if you wanted good music, was built from a rack of gear with dozens of knobs and meters. And Apple reduced it to a little thing you stuck in your pocket, taking your music collection with you. Anyone could use it. It was reduced to only the essential controls.

From that, point, simplicity, which has been something only a few old hippies who had spent too much time on the commune talked about, became mainstream. Design became more minimalist. We began to simplify business practices and procedures, reaping loyal customers and higher profits. And we began to crave it in our personal lives, even our spiritual.

We began to discover, as a culture, the values of simplicity.

We also discovered simplicity is not easy. It is not merely removing things from our lives. That is easy. But removing things doesn’t always create simplicity.

No, simplicity involves an understanding of what is vital, what is important, and what is not. It involves a close and honest look at ourselves, or our customers, or the people who work with us, or in our own lives, and realizing there is a trade off for everything.

And that means a constant look at our priorities.

And THAT is hard work.

I learned this the hard way. Nearly a decade ago, when I separated from my now ex-wife, I moved to a small apartment. I took a few things with me, but left behind the vast majority of what I had spent nearly 25 years accumulating with her. And I found I liked life simple. I had forgotten. I had a simple life before. And I had a simple life again. Life since them has been focused on keeping that simplicity, and not letting life, and stuff, overrun the peace of a conscious choice of simplicity.

Once I learned it in my personal life, I found that applying it to my professional life had serious payoffs.

I began to hire differently. I took more to making sure I understood what was essential in the people I brought into my work teams. No longer was I dazzled by a golden resume. I came to understand that the best people were defined more by character than skills and experience. You can teach skills. You can’t teach character.

I began to design differently. I discovered that often my clients were happier with facilities that did a little less, but did the important things amazingly well. And so I had happier clients.

I began to apply the same principle to my faith life and my creative life, finding the essences that gave them both life, and not allowing them to be cluttered with stuff that didn’t matter.

But it’s not easy. In fact, it may be harder than complexity. Complexity happens easily and on its own. The house fills. The closet fills. Designs get crazy complicated because we can. Business processes become messy and fragmented all too easily. Faith becomes church and committee meetings, not connection. Our art and passions get lost in the cacophony of everything else.

But simplicity. Oh my! It’s hard work and diligence. It takes sifting through priorities, making choices, saying no. It involved an honesty about what is important, and courage to live it. There are no shortcuts, and there is no end to the work of maintaining it.

It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Here are some things I’ve discovered about the value of simplicity.

  • It reduces stress. Whether it’s is in our lives or in our work, simplicity reduce stress, making what, how we experience work and the things we do  we do a joy.
  • It makes us more efficient. I used to believe that if I had systems and stuff around me that I was ready for anything. And theoretically I was. But it also means that I didn’t do the 95% of things I did nearly as well because I was always thinking about all the less important. Science has proved that simplicity is more efficient whether it’s in life, running a business or running a TV studio.
  • It leaves room for the new. Often we claim we can’t take on the new, can’t pursue that passion, can’t add a new division to our company, can’t take on a new project because life is too full. But what is it full of? Simplicity creates space in our lives and work to expand.

There’s lots of other values to simplicity. But maybe the biggest one I have learned is that people and companies that value and do the work of creating simpler lives and workflows, always seem to be happier. You can’t measure that, but I find it to be universally true.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. It takes work. It takes mindfulness. No more auto pilot. No more “that’s how I’ve always done it.”  There’s a process. Follow it, and you reap the rewards. Don’t follow it, and you don’t.

I’ve tried shortcuts, and so have some of my more impatient, insistent clients. Shortcuts don’t work. The process works.   With all its hard work and self-honesty and courage to let go.

So today, whether I am working on a poem, designing a control room, managing a project, or coaching an individual or company to claim their own simplicity, I don’t allow shortcuts.

Life’s pretty simple. Trust the process. Do the work. Good stuff happens. No matter what you are doing or what you want.

And the next time I go to the Newport Mansions? I’m visiting the tea room again.

Be well, Travel wisely,

Tom
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