The Big Idea
Urgent and important are not the same.
Questions I Answer
- How can I be more present with my family?
- How do I get started when I have so much on my plate?
- How do I plan and maximize my downtime with my kids?
- How can I feel more successful?
Actions to Take
- Watch this week’s video on TanyaTV as I answer Lena’s question on how to balance a thriving career and a happy home life without one suffering.
Key Topics in the Show
My favorite tips on how to carve out whitespace & recharge so that we can work effectively & feel successful
Distinguishing between what is important and what is urgent in our daily lives
Planning and maximizing your downtime with your family
What is the frequency illusion? And how to use it as a springboard for success
Resources and Links
Welcome to season seven of Productivity Paradox from Press, a podcast focused on using productivity not just to get more done, but to accomplish what’s most important. Join Tanya this season as she focuses on cultivating happiness through the power of productivity.
To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to Press.com/podcast. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton
Hello, hello, everyone, welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode 84. Today is one of my favorite style of episodes. It’s an Ask Tanya episode. So it’s your questions, the ones that you have submitted to me, and I take time to answer them directly. So any time that you have questions throughout any season of the podcast, you can submit them to me at inkWELLpress.com/question, and then when I have an Ask Tanya episode, I go through the questions that have been submitted, I choose out a few, and then I answer them here on the show. So feel free at any time to submit questions, because that’s where I got the questions for today’s episode.
Let’s go ahead and get started. Let’s dive into this. Our first question is from Ashley in Bad Axe, Michigan, and she says, “I’ve been working through your tips for the last year or so, and they’ve helped me immensely. I feel less stress, more organized, and happier in general. I’m a very driven person by nature, and always have been, which means during my downtime I have a hard time just shutting it off. Any tips on how to help me forget everything waiting and just enjoy my accomplishments and time with my family?”
Well, Ashley, I totally understand this feeling, because I, too, have a hard time shutting my brain off. I know for me, my brain is always buzzing, always working, and I think a lot of people who are driven to achieve their goals and to cultivate success, they have a hard time relaxing and just enjoying the moment. And for me, even when I am enjoying the moment, my brain is still working, and it sounds like maybe you’re the same way. What I want us to avoid is that need to feel like we have to keep going, that we have to keep working and planning. We want to really carve out some white space to be able to recharge so that that can allow us to be the successful person we really want to be when we want to focus on work.
It’s really important that we separate these, and one of the first things you can do is put your phone down. Too often, we are living life through that three-inch screen. We feel that need to do a quick check-in, to just give the phone a quick glance. You see, checking our phone is a dopamine addiction. Just like we’ve talked about in the past with our to-do list, it’s that need that we have to check in, because we get a tiny little hit of dopamine each time we
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- It feels like an itch, right? That you have to just pick it up just really quickly, and then we’re back into work mode.
So we really want to make sure that we’re not spending time on our phone, especially when we are wanting to be in our personal spaces. We get so focused on our destination we often forget to look up and be a part of that journey and be a part of the daily lives and the daily interactions that we have with our family. We need to embrace some boredom. We forget that boredom is a key part of creativity. We need to create that space. And often, we feel the need to pick up our phone to fill up the empty spaces to try avoid being bored. And instead, we want to look around and engage with the people around us.
Have you ever done this when you’re talking to somebody, even if it’s a conversation you’re totally interested in, but then for some reason you pick up your phone and you take a quick look at it? What’s the message you’re sending there? It’s phone-snubbing people, right? And we don’t like it when other people do it to us. I know it drives me crazy when I’m talking to someone and they check their Apple Watch or they check their phone, especially if I’m trying to talk to them about something personal.
So we really want to avoid getting on our phone, especially when we’re in personal time, unless you’re doing something very intentional on it. I’m not saying we can’t jump on Instagram or Facebook. I’m just saying we need to compartmentalize things. We need to give ourselves a container because I believe compartmentalization is important, keeping those lines drawn between work and home. When we look at our phone, we can end up going down into that rabbit hole where our brain is re-engaged with our work thoughts, when we really want to be in home mode.
I think that’s what’s really important here is we’re not
compartmentalizing. We’re not separating those two areas of our lives. For me, when I compartmentalize, it’s like opening a door to a different section of my life and closing the one behind me, so that way when I’m in home mode, I’m really, truly focused on the people in my home life and I shut that door of work behind me.
Now, that’s not to say that I’m not going to be checking in occasionally at work. I know that’s not often possible to just shut things down at 5:00 PM. And really, honestly, most businesses frown upon that. I know for me, even though I understand the importance of separating them, I still want to check in and the evening hours a time or two, and that’s okay. What we need to do is we need to carve out specific times that you will check in with work. We want to say, “Okay, you know what? I’m not going to check in all day Saturday, but Sunday between the hours of 1:00 and 2:00, that’s my time to check in with work on the weekend,” or whatever works for you, maybe in the evening from 7:30 to 7:45.
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I think what’s really important is that you make it mindful, that you make it a container, so you get in and you get out. What happens is we don’t often give ourselves a start time and an end time to get into our email, and so that email just continues to bleed into other areas, because unlike other tasks, when you check an email, it doesn’t necessarily start cleaning out your inbox. More emails are coming in all the time, so it keeps adding up. So give yourself a container and make it a mindful time that you are checking in.
Do keep in mind you can do things like pausing your email program. Most email programs have a pause button that you can implement, so that way you’re not getting new emails coming into your inbox. So consider looking into whether your email program will allow you to do that. I know that Gmail does it, so if your business uses G Suites, usually you can go ahead and set that up.
The other thing I want to talk to you about is really the idea of the brain dump. I think this is one of the biggest things to get things out of your brain onto paper so you’re no longer thinking about it. So I would encourage you to not to forget everything waiting, but to write it down. There’s a big difference, because you can’t just tell somebody, “Just don’t even think about it.” Right? That’s some simple advice that’s not really very simple to follow, but if you sit down and you do a brain dump of the random thoughts, the action items, the priorities, the things you don’t want to forget, when you sit down and you take the time to do a brain dump and write them down, your brain stops worrying about it, especially if you have a process in place where you check that notepad at the beginning of your day when you’re doing your planning. A lot of it is the stress of your brain wanting to work on things.
So then once you’ve done your brain dump, the next day you can plug those spec things into your planner, and then you can focus on the things that you really need to get done. I do want to encourage you, too, when you do a brain dump, I think it’s really important not to just stop with all the things that you need to get done, but take a minute to also dump in a few things that you are grateful for. That helps to create a little bit of happiness right before you go to bed. And to me, that allows my thoughts to quiet, and any thoughts that I have are really focused on what is positive, and it allows me to relax.
Our next question comes from Rachel in Massachusetts, and she says, “I’m struggling with getting started, and I feel like I’m so deep in the hole I can’t get out of it. Nothing’s in order, and even though I try to create priority lists, everything has become urgent because things have snowballed. I don’t know if there’s a way to get systems and automations working for me. Trying to get family on board is difficult, because there really is no buy-in. I get met with, ‘We don’t need to plan. We’ll just do it when it needs to get done,’ which it never does, or, ‘Why does that need to be on the calendar?’ How do I start? How do I tend my garden when it’s nothing by piles of dirt and mulch. Thank you.”
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Well, Rachel, I understand this feeling, and there’s two things I want to tackle here, ’cause I hear two things in your question. So I hear that we’re struggling with what’s urgent and what’s important, and then I also hear that you’re struggling a little bit with getting family on board. So let’s start with the first one, “Everything is urgent because things have snowballed and feel out of control.” And here’s the key. I think what’s really hard for people is we get caught up in believing that urgent and important are the same thing, and in fact, they’re very different things.
Things that are important are tied to your mission, to your vision and your core values, what I like to call your North Star, which means they’re often tied to your goals. They’re tied into the person you want to be and where it is you want to be going as that person. Urgent items are tied only to time, only to time. They have nothing to do with being important. They only have to do with time. Just because something is urgent doesn’t mean it’s important. And this is a hard concept for a lot of people to get, because things that are urgent are screaming fires in our day and we feel like we must take care of those first because they are screaming out at us. Right? But really, what we want to do is we want to spend more of our time on what’s important.
So I want you to think through those tasks that you feel are really snowballing, and decision, “Are they really important, or are they simply urgent?” You see, when we spend time on what’s important, it doesn’t become urgent. And that, I think, is the biggest secret to productivity is when we spend time on the things that are really going to move us forward in the direction we want to go in, the things that are tied to that North Star. Those things never come into urgency mode where we feel like we’re having to take care of these fires.
Let me give you a quick example. When your car breaks down, that becomes an urgent problem, right, because you need your car to drive yourself to work, to drive yourself to the grocery store. It becomes an urgent problem. But if we take care of it as an important item before it’s urgent by getting the car serviced or taken care of, it doesn’t end up breaking down. It doesn’t become something that’s urgent.
And so I understand, it’s hard to focus on what’s important but not urgent, but that is really where we have to spend our time. Otherwise, it’s a little bit like digging a hole in your garden during a dust storm. It just keeps building up. And that’s that snowballing that you’re experiencing. You’re experiencing that you’re digging these holes and they’re filling back in with more and more tasks.
So I want to encourage you to give urgent tasks time, but we don’t want to give it a lot of time. We need to give it a very limited time. You have to start pulling yourself out of this hole step by step, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen all at once, since it has snowballed for so
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long. You might actually have a very large pileup of these urgent things that you need to do.
So let’s break down urgent at this point, and let’s figure out what needs to happen day by day. So what I want to encourage you to do is each day figure out what needs to be done that day and that day only. Don’t worry about what’s going on in the future. Worry about that day. And then I want you to also choose at least one task that’s important, and it’s something that can be done to get ahead before it becomes urgent. So each day you’re tackling the things that are urgent, but then take on one or two things that are important but are not urgent at all. That’s how we’re going to start getting ourselves out of this hole that you’re feeling. Okay?
So then I also want to talk about the second part of your question, which is getting your family on board. And I know it is such a struggle when someone who is a significant other, like your husband, is not really playing nice in the sandbox and they’re not really wanting to support you in these ideas that you have. So I think the key here is to start by understanding, why does your husband feel this way? Instead of feeling like it’s you against him, I want you to come together.
I think that’s really important, because we have to respect the fact that there’s a reason why your husband feels this way. So is there something in his past or an experience that’s made planning feel too rigid? Because it seems to me like he’s pushing back on the idea of structure, and there’s likely a reason for that. Maybe it’s an over-structured upbringing or too much rigidity at work. I want to encourage you to see if you can dig a little deeper to find what that is so then you can approach these items with a little more compassion towards why he feels that way.
Now, I still want you to be firm and stand your ground. We’ve got to set due dates for things. But I think it’s really important to understand why he’s feeling this way so you can address these issues when you’re talking to him about the things that you want to have done. One of the biggest parts I believe about relationships is having this mutual respect for each other. So we have to respect the fact that he feels this way and you feel this other way, and come together and find a way for that to work together. I think letting him feel like he does have a say will really make a difference in how he feels about it.
And then I want to encourage you to really start being a cheerleader when something, no matter how minor it is, gets done on time. You have to get your family on board through guidance and support through some gentle reminders, because sounds like you can’t do this on your own. And you know what? You don’t have to. This is a thing. Family is there to support one another, and you just need to bring them together.
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It’s going to take a little extra love and energy to plant the seeds of success, because truly, what is a garden at the beginning but piles of dirt and mulch. But if you tend to it regularly, giving it love and food, you start to see the tiniest green buds that soon enough bloom into growing plants and flowers, and that’s what you’ll get, too.
My next question is from Jamie in Gilbert, Arizona, who asks, “How do you plan and maximize your downtime with your kids?” Well, Jamie, this is a great question, but just like anything else, I plan it out. I schedule it. I make sure it feels very intentional.
One of my very favorite parenting books is called “How to Really Love Your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. It’s a book that I read again and again, because it really talks about the importance of quality when it comes to the relationships with your children. And that’s true not just for your kids, but for any relationship that you really want to cultivate, whether that’s your spouse or your friends or your parents, or really anyone.
One of the concepts the book talks about is when people talk, stop what you’re doing and give them the attention they deserve. That means that yes, you’re not going to continue whatever task you’re working on. If someone wants to talk to you about something important, you stop what you’re doing. Let’s say you’re chopping vegetables for dinner. I stop what I’m doing while I’m at the cutting board. I turn and I look at my kids, and I look them in the eye and I have a conversation with them.
Now, this doesn’t have to happen every single time, because we have a ton of conversations at my house, as I’m sure you do, as well, but when I feel like it’s an important conversation, I treat is as an important conversation and I think that’s really important, is that we give our kids our full focus. Too often they’re getting these little, tiny smatterings of what we’ve got, and I think it’s important that when you are wanting to feel more intentional with your children that you really make that a focus.
These downtimes can be found in pockets that you actually create yourself. Here’s an example of creating a pocket of time to be really intentional with some downtime. You can purposely leave for an activity 10 minutes earlier than you normally do. That way, actually you’ll end up feeling a little less stressed about getting there, which is a bonus, and when you’re less rushed, conversation flows easier in the car. The car is a fabulous place to give your kids some focused attention.
I like to schedule in that time, because then when we arrive early, not only have we had a conversation on the way to the place, when we arrive there, I shut off the car and I enjoy some really good one-on-one time with my kids. I turn around in my seat, I look them in the eye, and we have a conversation. And it’s amazing how deep conversations can go when you’re
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confined to a car. Those are the moments where I find my kids open up and share the most intimate things or they share things that have been in their heart for a while, I think because they realize I’m not rushing around and I’m truly focused on them, they feel a little more open. So try to find ways that you can carve out these pockets for yourself.
Also, I would encourage you to try to create some intentional time to team-build. Create some activities that you can do together as a family. Brainstorm some activities that they would enjoy, and then call a family meeting and start gathering their ideas. Give them some ownership over this time. I think that’s really important. When you involve them in the process, they feel like they are truly a part of it rather than something that’s happening to them. They’re told all day long by teachers, by you, by everyone, what to do and how to do it and when to do it, so it feels empowering to them to feel like they have a say.
Plus, you might be surprised by the things your kids really want to do with you. For example, Kate likes for me to make slime with her, something I personally would never have added to my list, but it’s something that we now do together. Having a list makes it easier to actually schedule out the activities. It’s kind of like when it’s dinnertime and someone asks you what restaurant you want to go to and you can’t think of a single one, what we want to do here is we want to put a little water in the well and make it easier for you pick activities, and then plan it out. Put it on the calendar, talk about how fun it will be.
It’s not just activities themselves that build happiness; it’s the anticipation of them, drawing it out, stretching it out, so time feels longer. You end up savoring that time more, and it feels more intentional and in the time building up to this activity, you can gather materials you need, make it clear to anyone who might interrupt, like work or friends, that this is time for your family, and then unplug and focus only on this time you have with your kids. Just like mono-tasking at work, mono-tasking with your kids helps you get into a state of intention where you enjoy the moment without worry, and that’s really how meaningful relationships really begin to build and grow.
Our next question is from Lenora in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she says, “It seems like everyone around me is getting all the things I’m working for without even trying: getting married, getting promoted, having kids. Why does it seem like I’m the only one not finding success?”
Well, Lenora, I know in times like this it feels like you’re the only one with this problem, but let me assure you, you are not alone in this feeling. I know for me when I was dealing with infertility and I was struggling to pregnant with Kate, this was a time where I felt like everyone around me was pregnant, literally everyone. I think I had one week where five of my friends told me they were pregnant, and then I went to the grocery store, and every magazine had
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on its cover some sort of pregnant celebrity. So suddenly it felt to me that everybody was pregnant. Friends who weren’t even trying to have kids were pregnant. And that felt really isolating, and it felt really upsetting, because I felt like I was failing at not becoming pregnant.
What was going on, though, is the same thing that you are experiencing, and that’s the feeling of the effects of frequency illusion, which is the phenomenon that when you’re working towards something or if you learn about something new, you suddenly start seeing it everywhere. Have you ever had that happen, where maybe you see some information about a celebrity and then suddenly they’re everywhere? Or let’s say there’s a purse that you’ve seen that you really like and you would love to own it, and then everywhere you look suddenly it’s in the magazines and people are carrying it around and you see it everywhere you go.
Here’s the thing, it feels like it’s some kind of weird coincidence, but really, it is this frequent illusion that we’re experiencing. Your brain is constantly scanning our environment. It takes in millions and millions of bits of information every single second. It’s a lot of information, so it has to filter. Otherwise, we would go crazy with the amount of information our brain would have to process.
So your brain is constantly searching, filtering, and scanning for different things. Really, it’s the things that are important to you. So once your mind has declared that an idea is important, it sets up a mental filter, so new information about this idea reaches your awareness instead of getting filtered out as unimportant. So even though those things were there all along, they’re suddenly being placed front and center in your brain, so it feels like it’s everywhere even when it’s not. Now, that’s the reason why you’re feeling like everybody’s getting all these things and you’re not is because you’re starting to notice it more. It’s not necessarily that it’s happening more often; it’s just that your brain is filtering out for that.
Now, this can actually be a good thing. Since you’re primed to notice this idea around you, you can use this to your advantage as a springboard to gather ideas and to feel motivated to keep working towards whatever it is you’re wanting. For example, if you have a friend who just got promoted, great, ask them about their experience. What did they work on to get the promotion? How did the conversation with their boss go? And so on. Whatever it is, use that as a springboard. And instead of seeing other people getting what you want and feeling demotivated, use it instead as motivation, because if they can do it, you can, too, and you can learn from their experiences and use them for support. So I want to encourage you to look at things that way instead.
Now, I do have one more listener question that I would love to answer, but we’re out of time. So what I’m going to do this week is I’m actually going
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to answer this on Tanya TV. The question will be from Lena, who wants to know about managing a thriving career and having a happy, healthy home life without one suffering. So we’re talking a little bit about balance. And that’ll be on my Tanya TV channel, which you can get at inkWELLpress.com/youtube, and I have new videos on there every Tuesday that relate to what we’re talking about here on the podcast.
Next week we’re going to continue talking about cultivating happiness through productivity by talking about eliminating stress by bending time, so I’m excited to talk to you about that. In the meantime, I would love for you to join my group. We have lots of questions and discussions, just like we did here today on this episode, all the time in my free group, and I’d love for you to join. You can request an invitation to join at inkWELLpress.com/group. I’d love to see you in there. Alright. Until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/group.