How often do we get out of bed and, without thinking even once, check for notifications on our phone or check our email? Before we know it, we have spent more time on it than we would have liked, and have likely delayed our morning routine. In the above example, the problem was not checking email first thing in the morning necessarily, but doing so impulsively. This is not to discount any valid reasons for checking email (if you get a $1M contract, let’s say), but that would be intentional rather than impulsive.
Using your devices without any forethought is akin to using the slot machines in the casino. We are looking for that next dopamine hit. The more random the hit, the greater the positive reinforcement.
Another example. You may choose to binge-watch a TV show (or play video games) all day and still feel okay about it, as it’s coming from a place of intention. You have consciously decided to do it, so you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I’ve scheduled time to do something and I show up and do that thing, I feel great for many reasons. For instance, last night, I chose to learn about a topic on the web, and ended up spending a little over an hour doing just that. I didn’t feel guilty about it one bit because I decided earlier in the day that I was going to do that thing in my discretionary time. I know this idea of blocking time to do something and then doing it sounds so obvious, but I think one might be surprised to know how often we do things reactively rather than consciously deciding to do them. Here’s the thing: if you’re always thinking about doing something, you’ll never be able to do it. Call it overthinking.
One of the things we are guilty of doing is we try to think and do things at the same time, which never works. It shouldn’t. You can’t do strategy and tactics at the same time without getting stuck. You can’t think about your work and do it at the same time. That’s just nuts. By not deciding or making a conscious choice, we are neither able to be present with what’s in front of us now nor can we stop thinking about what we are not doing. By not paying attention to things that have our attention, it takes more of our attention than is required. More than doing the thing, it’s about finishing the thinking required so you can move on with what you’re doing now. For instance, if you didn’t plan/review your week on the weekend, you’ll end up doing that passively the entire week.
I am often asked by friends about the purpose/meaning of life. My answer is almost always the same — a life of purpose/meaning. It’s about doing the essential things, which are often the important and non-urgent. It’s about living a value-based life rather than acting out of guilt or impulse. To me, living intentionally is about making yourself useful by using your talents and strengths to help others make a difference in their lives. It’s about living a life of purpose and intention. You do things for a reason, not arbitrarily. Do things out of intention, not impulse.
Living a life of intention puts you in control of your life (not vice-versa). In other words, you’re proactive, meaning you have taken complete responsibility for your life and the results that come from it. You may not be responsible for what happens to you, but what you do about it is definitely your responsibility.
When we do things intentionally, we are happier and relaxed because of it. We don’t worry about what we are not doing because we have consciously chosen to do something (given our complete inventory of commitments). We have made an explicit choice about doing that thing. This is a different experience as it’s coming from a place of deliberation.
Here are some ideas for living more intentionally:
Start with the end in mind. If you don’t know where you’re going, it won’t matter which road you take. For instance, when you know you want to climb that mountain (strictly a metaphor here), you’ll figure out a way to get to the top. Other times, you have to figure out what your “mountain” is before you can commit to it.
Ask yourself why you do what you do. Why do you work for your organization or what is the reason behind having your business? You have to ask yourself why you exist. It’s not psychological, but biological.
You can’t live intentionally without living the slow life. They go hand in hand. This is the one thing most of us are missing in the frenzy of trying to do more and more things. As a result, we are spreading ourselves thin. You have to slow the heck down and stop trying to do it all. You can do a few things better or you can do many things poorly.
Live a value-based life. Get clear on the things you’ve said yes to so you can say no to almost everything else (without thinking twice). Question your values now. Make decisions based on those values. There will be times when you won’t “feel” like doing something. In those instances, you make value-based decisions rather than caving in to your impulses or desires.
Plan your weeks. This is more about finishing the thinking required for things that have your attention versus necessarily doing those things. Here’s the thing: if you don’t have 90 minutes once a week to review and plan your week, you are probably biting off more than you can chew (in terms of your commitments).
Pause before doing things. Stop rushing and acting based on your impulses (like checking your phone without knowing why you’re doing it). Be present in the here and now (with yourself and with others) rather than worrying about the past or getting anxious about the future. Practice mindfulness meditation. Spend some time in solitude every day. Mornings are best for this quiet contemplation. Write, meditate, and read classic nonfiction.
Accept things you can’t change and make your peace with it. Then, focus on things you can change. Knowing the difference between the two is true wisdom.
Make decisions after you’ve considered the different possibilities and outcomes rather than strictly acting out of emotion in the heat of the moment. Read my drafts on divergence and explore, evaluate, and execute.
Be outcome/results-focused rather than thinking about inputs/tasks. No one cares about what you did, but what you accomplished. Plan your week in terms of RxR.
Create some margin in your life. Avoid living paycheck to paycheck. Avoid scheduling every minute of your day and give yourself a breather. Avoid rushing to your meetings. Plan an extra 40-50% time to account for contingencies, delays, etc.
Don’t just consume information mindlessly, be it articles, podcasts, videos, or books. Have a reason behind it. For instance, if you have started a business now and need help with marketing, learn about it through different media, which doesn’t matter as long as the topic (marketing, in this case) remains the same. Even though you might hop from one medium to the next, because the topic remains unchanged, there will be a continuation of focus rather than an element of randomness.
Whatever you do, do it with intention and give that thing your undivided attention. I think anything worth doing is worth doing well. Don’t do things halfheartedly. If you’re going to work, work. If you’re going to have some fun, do that. Do things out of intention, not guilt or impulse.