I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple days about the foundation for optimization. What is it that is going to make me truly ready to take on this new chapter in my life and make more than just a pipe dream or a flash-in-the-pan burst of inspiration? What will guarantee that I succeed? Putting together everything I’ve experienced with things that I’ve read and conversations that I’ve had, I’ve come up with a five things that I feel are essential for progress.
This skill is something that needs to be applied to every area of your life. Being organized is the basic element that allows to you optimize your time, which is the most precious commodity of success. There are several different things you can do to be organized in all aspects of your life.
- Create a to-do list. I am a nerd and absolutely love my to-do lists that I make for myself every day. It gives me such a sense of accomplishment when I can cross things off. (Yes, I have gone back and written down something I’ve already done just so I can cross it off). Aside from giving me a nerd-rush, to-do lists allow me to prioritize my time and focus on the things that need to get done. On the days I haven’t written a to-do list, I find myself doing random crap that isn’t actually that productive.
- Write a menu for the week. If you want to optimize your time, money, and fitness, planning out your meals for the week (and actually sticking to it) is critical. Not only will you be ensuring that you are eating healthy things throughout the week, you will also be saving money by buying only the things you need at the store, not the random box of cereal that catches your eye or the good-intention vegetables that you end up throwing away because you never actually got around to cooking them.
- Clean your house/apartment/room. I am a firm believer that your outside environment affects your headspace. There is nothing I like better than the feeling that comes after an intense deep cleaning session (yes, I know, I’m a nerd). The more you keep things clean, the easier it will be to be productive. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning that needs to happen in your space, chip away at it a little at a time over the course of a couple days.
If you are currently not an organized person, don’t worry. Organization is a skill that needs to be practiced. I use SO many different tools to stay organized: lists, calendars, reminders on my phone, etc. Don’t be afraid to use the tools available to you!
This skill is how people actually accomplish their goals. When I first started my Master’s degree, I was teaching full-time, in charge of several different clubs/activities at my school, and taking online classes two at a time. Trust me, there were several tears shed throughout those months, but I sit here now with my degree finished and my job performance unscathed. This is only due to the fact that I kept my focus on my degree and job and nothing else. I did take breaks during the weekend to keep my sanity, but the majority of my free time was spent writing discussion posts/papers, planning, and grading. If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish a LOT in a short amount of time.
I have taken some steps in the last couple of days to optimize my focus.
The first thing I did was *gasp* delete Snapchat. It was a spur of the moment decision, and you know what? I don’t miss it. It was nothing but a waste of time.
The second thing I did was to put all of my entertainment apps (Facebook, Instagram, etc) into a folder on my phone on the second page so that it takes more work to access them. The only things on my front page are boring things like my clock, calculator, contacts, etc. It sounds hokey, but it actually works.
The third thing I did was to make a giant list of all the things I want to accomplish over the rest of my holiday break. I’ve been chipping away at the list the last couple of days, and it has been an immense help in staving off the “guess I’ll just waste the next couple of hours on Netflix” black hole that seems to crop up whenever there isn’t a purpose or structure for the day.
This may seem odd to include in a list of skills, but I am convinced that I am where I am today because of my positivity. While my life is pretty rosy right now, there was a time that things were not so great. I got married at 19 to a man who prioritized drugs over our marriage, and it took me four years to actually get fed up enough to leave. Overall, that’s five years of my life that I wasted tied to someone who seriously weighed me down. Rather than let the emotional abuse and resulting insecurity keep me from achieving my potential, I chose to view it as a learning experience and built myself back up from the ground floor. In the last couple of years, I have observed that my positivity is what people notice and appreciate about me more and more, and I can’t count the number of times my colleagues and friends have commented on my positive nature and thanked me for it as well.
If you are not a naturally positive person, I suggest that you start by resisting the urge to dwell on the negative. Go do something active and get your endorphins going. There are so many times I arrive at the gym pissed off and leave doing a happy dance. Think about things you are thankful for. Do something nice for someone else. I know that when you are in a negative state, trying to think and act positively is the LAST thing you want to do (I’ve been there). I promise, though, if you muster the courage to actually do it, you will be amazed at your transformation!
Education is not so much a skill as it is a process. We tend to think that once we finish our schooling, we’re educated. This is not the case. Education is a practice that should be undertaken daily and should be pursued with a purpose.
Let’s explore a simple analogy. If you want to build a house and you have never built anything in your life, you have set a steep learning curve for yourself. Of course, everyone knows what a house looks like, and you could muddle your way through the process and throw together a nice little shack that falls down when the first person sneezes inside it. However, if you are actually serious about building a house, you need to read about houses, talk to people who have built houses, and spend some time actually building the house.
Our life is the same way. Everyone knows what a successful life looks like; it is what we all watch and envy on TV and movies and the media. However, it is not enough to simply know what that life looks like. Optimizing your life requires that you have the necessary tools and knowledge of how to use them. This means reading books written by people who have experienced more things than you. This means talking to people who are where you want to be. This means actually taking this information and applying it.
Change is the end result of all true learning.
In order to truly optimize my physical fitness, I am in the process of hiring a personal trainer (talking to someone who is where I want to be). While I know that I could eventually get to peak physical condition on my own, I don’t want to waste time going through trial and error. With the trainer educating me, I just have to worry about my focus, allowing me to spend more time educating myself on other facets of my life.
The final trait that I feel is vital for progress is spontaneity. A great majority of the good things in my life happened because I just did them. I didn’t think about it a whole lot, I didn’t make a pros and cons list, and I didn’t agonize over how it would affect other people. I simply decided, and took the necessary steps to accomplish it.
Case in point:
- I was talking to a boy in California during my last semester of college. My friend was moving to Arizona to teach. My desire: Get out of the Midwest (and explore this relationship possibility). My thought process: “I’ll live with you, sub for a bit, and be interviewing for jobs in Cali!” My action: I moved down to AZ with her and ended up getting a full-time job in AZ.
- I was still talking to the boy in California during my first year teaching in AZ. My desire: Actually make this thing work. My thought process: “I’ll move to Cali and find a teaching job so we can actually date because I like you!” My action: I finished out my contract in AZ, moved to California, stayed with the boy, scoured Craigslist and found a great live-in nanny situation within a week, applied for a million teaching jobs, and got hired for my current position within three months.
- I was tired of wearing glasses and contacts day in and day out. My desire: Perfect vision. My thought process: “I’ll go in and get a consultation for Lasik surgery!” My action: I paid for it that day and was on the operating table getting my eyes lasered open within a month. Best. Decision. Ever.
- I was newly single again and living alone (albeit 45 minutes away from my job), and my friend I had met a couple months before wanted to move to a city together up the coast that would be closer to work for me. My desire: A shorter commute and a town with a younger crowd. My thought process: “Well, I’ll look at the apartment and consider it”. My action: Signed the lease in March and moved in April 1st. My roommate and I are now best friends who do everything together, and my commute to work is a dream.
The common denominator in all of these scenarios is that I knew what I wanted and took steps to accomplish whatever it was immediately. The thought of failure didn’t even enter my mind. It didn’t occur to me that I may not get a teaching job in California, I just moved. It didn’t occur to me that Lasik might leave me with worse vision or blind, I just did it. It didn’t occur to me that my roommate and I could end up hating each other, I simply moved in.
In my view, overthinking things can paralyze you to the point where the easiest decision to make is to not make a decision. Could things go wrong? Yes. Could you make a turn and realize down the road that WHOOPS, that was a terrible life choice? Hell yes. But you need to trust yourself enough to know that you can rise up to any occasion. Trust your instincts. You will cover more ground correcting a wrong turn than you will sitting in the parking lot.
This blog and the whole idea of The Optimization Operation was a spontaneous decision that arose out of my reflection on a few conversations and life observations I have made over the past couple months. All of my past experiences and life skills that I have attained are coming together to springboard me into the next successful phase of my life. While I don’t expect it to happen overnight, I know that if I focus part of every day on achieving my highest potential, it can’t help but manifest.