I did a bit of traveling last week, different hotels in different cities. Invariably, I would get up early to get some work in before my meetings. And as I worked, I would begin hearing the incessant beeping of alarm clocks going off in unoccupied rooms. There would be the 5am alarm clocks, the 5:30am alarm clocks, the 6am alarm clocks. It nearly drove me crazy until I figured that I could tune them out by plugging my ear phones in to my ipad and listen to the Vijay Iyer Trio (great stuff for any jazz fans out there).
But it also got me to thinking about the alarm clocks which might be beeping in my background. And there’s always a few. There are the ones that are louder and more discernible, like those that tells me I’m late for a meeting, or that I need to get a project done. And there are ones that I probably should ignore, like some issues which are due far out in the future, or ones that talk to me about things I have no control over, or about people or actions that get my blood boiling over trivial issues. But there are other ones in the background that I really should listen to; the ones that ask whether I’m focusing on what’s really important, that tell me I’m spending too much time on the road and not enough with my family, or the ones that tell me I better watch what I’m eating or that I’m not getting enough sleep.
The key is to tune into those alarms which are important and tune out everything else. In my mind, there are six “alarms” to pay attention to. (And, full disclosure, I’m not good at paying attention to them all the time myself)
Alarm 1: Relationships — Are you spending enough time developing and nurturing your relationships with your family, your beloved, your friends, your co-workers? This is perhaps the most important one to pay attention to. Self-imposed lonliness is a hell that is very difficult to crawl out of.
Alarm 2: Your Passions — Are you spending time on activities which you thoroughly enjoy? Did you take the time to read that book you want to, or go see that band you wanted to see or work on that project that you loved to do?
Alarm 3: Your Health — Take it from someone who knows — When you’re young, you think you can do anything to your body and it will bounce back. Then one day, it knocks at your door and asks for payment due. Pay attention to what you’re body is telling you, and treat it as you would like to be treated (after all, it is you!).
Alarm 4: Your Sprituality — I’m not talking (and wouldn’t talk) religion here. I’m talking connection. To each other, to the world, to the universe, to yourself, to a higher power, to all of the above. Call it what you will, but if you’re not focusing on your version of “it”, you feel like you’re going through the motions.
Alarm 5: Your Finances — Is your spending out pacing your income? Have you set enough side for that upcoming wedding or junior’s college? When you’re stretched financially, it becomes difficult to focus on anything else and you feel like you can’t get out of it. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Alarm 6: The One Thing — During a strategy session last week, we talked about the line from Curley in the movie “City Slickers”, when he tells the main character Mitch, the secret of life. Curley: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [He holds up one finger.] Mitch: Your finger? Curley: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean sxxt. Mitch: But what is the one thing? Curley: That’s what you have to find out. We spend a lot of time responding to alarm clocks, often someone else’s alarm clocks that at the end of the day do more to distract us than any thing else. As Verne Harnish writes in Rockerfeller Habits, a business consultant once got a job by telling the CEO of a Fortune 500 company that he could help him generate millions in revenue by simply writing down the top five business strategies that would move his company forward and looking at the number one item on his list every fifteen minutes until it was implemented. We think we are great multi-taskers. Perhaps we are just multi-muckers, simply moving the crap from one part of the stall to the next, without getting any of it out of the barn. If you focus on your One Thing you’ll do more than most, and enjoy life more than most, as well.
Take a sheet of paper out, write down the six alarms: Relationships, Passions, Health, Spirituality, Finances, The One Thing. Next to each alarm, write down what your long term goals is and then write down what you want to achieve today in each of those categories. If you really truly focus on these alarms, you are paying attention to what’s really important.
Then pop in your ear buds and tune out the rest.