Friday, February 27, 2015

Alarm Bells

Monkeys have different warnings for snakes
As regular readers and listeners may know, I'm a big fan of connecting with the natural world around us, and since we've been raising our Guide Dog puppy Viking I've found myself happily spending much more time in the fields and woodland near our house.

Even over the winter there are always birds around the fields: magpies, crows, wood pigeons, and collared doves. In the hedges of the field margins are songbirds of all shapes and sizes, and in the skies or in the trees are my favourite birds of all, our local buzzards.

The other morning on our walk, Viking and I had once again spotted one of the buzzards atop a telegraph pole staking out moles in the fallow field below. I always feel happy when we spot one of the buzzards, and after only a short linger to watch him, we carried on our way. A few minutes later I turned back to see the buzzard gliding over the field towards the woods. At his approach, diverse alarm calls from other birds rang out, and pigeons burst from the trees in all directions to get out of the way. The buzzard lazily flapped a couple of times before gliding off into the distance, shortly followed by his mate from another direction, both seeking out air thermals on which to soar.
"Alarms often warn us of danger, like the birds at the approach of the buzzard"
Alarms often warn us of danger, like the birds' calls at the approach of the buzzard. Some animals have different alarm calls for different predators, like vervet monkeys which have distinct calls for leopards, snakes and eagles. Warning alarms tell you when it's dangerous to stay where you are, like on a railway crossing, or behind a large reversing vehicle.

In a previous house, our smoke alarms were programmed to beep when the battery needed testing or changing, emitting individual high pitched "pips" every couple of minutes until action was taken. Invariably the battery seemed to run out in the middle of the night and I'd be dragged from deep sleep into bleary wakefulness to stumble downstairs in search of a screwdriver and 9v battery.
"Warning alarms tell you when it's dangerous to stay where you are"
Our most recent car seat for our young son came with an extra feature, a feature which in hindsight we'd have happily done without - it emits a helpful beep, in the same high pitched note of a smoke alarm, when the seatbelt isn't strapped in. I can honestly say that we've never forgotten to strap our son in when he's been in the car - so this special feature only ever goes off when the car seat is empty, and usually when you least expect it. Sadly it's not obvious how to remove the battery without irreparably damaging the clasp, probably designed to make it baby proof - however we never plan to get a car seat with this special feature again!

I'm not a pilot, but I've watched enough films to know that many planes have systems which alert pilots if they're flying too low and therefore in danger of hitting an obstacle or the ground. If that kind of alarm goes off then the action you need to take is to gain altitude - fly higher.
"We sometimes need an alarm bell to wake us up, tell us the day has begun, to remind us we need to act."
Is your alarm going off?
I'm pleased to say that our kids sleep pretty well these days, and I'm grateful for the extra hours' sleep rather than too many broken nights. We're also grateful that our neighbourhood is pretty peaceful, so peaceful in fact that occasionally we can hear our next door neighbours' early morning alarm clock going off.

I'm not a person that generally needs alarms to wake up, but usually our neighbours' alarm goes off around the time I need to get up anyway, so it's not entirely unwelcome. We sometimes need an alarm bell to wake us up, tell us the day has begun, to remind us we need to act.

The thing is, alarms are only effective if we are attentive to them. So many of our alarms require us to be able to hear - for people who aren't able to hear they are less effective or not effective at all. That's why another important type of assistance dog is a hearing dog, who will alert their owner to take necessary action to sounds they're unable to hear.

Are there any alarms going off in your life that you need to become aware of again? Perhaps a regular beep telling you that your batteries are low? Has anything in your environment changed that you need to be aware of and take action? Is it safe to stay where you are or do you need to move? Perhaps you're flying too low in terms of what you're capable of, and you're called to higher altitude. Maybe you simply need to wake up, to take action of some kind.
"Are there any alarms going off in your life that you need to become aware of again?"
One beep I've had to pay attention to over the last few months is the beep of busyness, and I've needed to take evasive action to avoid a crash, and adjust the pace of some of my commitments, scale back in a few areas. What do you need to be reminded of? What beeping do you need to hear?

Are you still listening?
If you've ever watched the film The Polar Express (and it gets watched dozens of times in our household in the run up to Christmas) then you'll know that the sleigh bell given to the main character can only be heard ringing by those who believe in Father Christmas. Maybe there's something in your life that you've stopped believing in, a bell, an alarm that's been muted for whatever reason?

I've not been visited by an angel myself that I'm aware of, but from the stories of angelic visitation I read in the Bible, it's quite an alarming experience, hence their usual opening line "do not be afraid". Sometimes we're deafened by our fears, or distractions which drown out the things that are calling us to action, to fly higher, to wake up.
"Maybe there's something in your life that you've stopped believing in, a bell, an alarm that's been muted for whatever reason"
I heard a great quote this week from Steve Maraboli, he said this: "Think of what makes you smile, makes you happy... and do more of that stuff".

The things we're passionate about, the things that make us happy, the things that make us feel truly alive are a function of how we're wired by a loving creator God. For Eric Liddell, the hero of the true story behind Chariots of Fire it was running. Even though he felt called to become a missionary to China, he expressed his passion well when we said "when I run I feel his pleasure".

So who or what is trying to get your attention? Are you receptive to your divine calling? There's a line in the Psalms that's always stood out to me, and it's this: "Today if you hear his voice don't harden your hearts".

Perhaps today's the day to act, to believe, to hear, to move rather than block your ears or harden your heart. The starter gun's fired and it's time to run your race.
"Who or what is trying to get your attention? Are you receptive to your divine calling?"
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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on alarm bells! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media? Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Joining the dots

What picture do your dots make up?
Back in 1987 there was a momentous moment in our family. 

Only a few years after we'd got our first video player (and I remember walking to the video store that day with my mum and choosing a Spiderman video to watch), we entered the space age with a giant beige Amstrad home computer. 

Running MS-DOS, armed with twin 5.25inch floppy disc drives, we were at the cutting edge of technology, with a speedy 8086 Intel processor. 

I remember my Uncle coming over with a computer expert friend of his to help us set it up, and I remember the drawing program that came preloaded with an image of a tiger (I could never draw anything remotely that good). We also splashed out on a dot matrix printer, which took an age to print and was really noisy - everything it printed was made up of dots (hence the name) and it gradually built up the picture or the text it was printing line by line, dot by dot.

"We need to live in the tension of focusing on the steps whilst being aware of the bigger picture."
The computer and printer lasted us a good few years until we upgraded to a Viglen at some point in the 90s (at which point I could play games with at least basic graphics!). To be honest I have pretty fond memories of the old Amstrad and the Citizen dot matrix printer we had, and as an inquisitive seven year old I remember finding my way round the DOS operating system by trial and error... although I have a vague recollection of accidentally deleting *.* and wiping my dad's entire work database. I may have slightly blanked that out and I think I was sent on a long walk after the unfortunate incident.

My kids don't get much opportunity to use MS DOS, but they are getting to the age where they can enjoy dot-to-dot puzzles. These require the ability to count and recognise numbers, a steady-ish hand, and recognition of simple pictures. Once you grasp the idea and know to start at the first dot all you have to do it look for the next dot and link up to it. Even if you don't know what the picture is to begin with, you can still start the puzzle just by following the numbers. The arrangement may be bewildering, but with a little determination the bigger picture becomes obvious.


It's possible to break tasks down into dots.
I think sometimes we face giants, mountains, obstacles that seem insurmountable. A bewildering, confusing mass and it's hard to even know where to start. I remember that after Kate said "yes" to my proposal, it seemed a really daunting thing to plan our wedding. Likewise moving house, or some other complex task. 

This past few weeks I've been setting up my podcast, something that felt completely bewildering to begin with, but that I've found has been more like a child's dot-to-dot puzzle than I realised - yes it's complicated, but it's also possible to break it down into a series of linked dots.. do this, do that, then do that, go here and you're done. Our wedding planning was like that too, a long list of small things to do, and much more achievable a dot at a time.

Working in an Engineering Consultancy it's fair to say that I'm surrounded by a lot of very clever and very technical people. People who are great at working on dots. In my experience there's a tension between being focused on the small dots, the immediate, technical tasks, and remembering the big picture. We're often guilty of diving straight into the detail - the how - because we're adept problem solvers who get energy from solving complex engineering or environmental problems, and sometimes we can lose sight of the big picture - the why. We need to live in the tension of focusing on the steps whilst being aware of the bigger picture.

Our old dot matrix printer was great at focusing on the dots. Line by line it noisily laid down dots on the paper in the order commanded by our Amstrad computer. It was rarely obvious to begin with (unless you knew what was coming) what was being printed out, and we usually needed to go downstairs and put the kettle on for some tea before it would be finished and it would become obvious what was being printed out. 

Sometimes I think life can feel a bit like that - we can struggle to see any pattern in the dots of our circumstances, relationships and experience. If we're stuck on the dots then maybe we need to stand back and let the image become clearer - like my kids figuring out half way round that they're drawing a frog or a cat. Funnily enough, what started out as straight lines and sharp angles becomes smoother and more lifelike as they finish - but they still need to join up all the dots to complete the picture. If you're finding it hard to see where the next dot is, take a step back and look for the bigger picture.
"If you're finding it hard to see where the next dot is, take a step back and look for the bigger picture."
Here in the West Midlands its been a dreary and rainy start to the month, but the other night the rain had finished falling and the wind had blown the clouds clear, allowing the stars in the February sky to gleam as though freshly polished. They were truly sparkling. Each pinprick of light we see is a distant star or one of our neighbouring planets, and I love looking for the patterns in the sky that we recognise as constellations.

At this time of year Orion is easy to spot, as well as Ursa Major - the plough or big dipper. Although we rely on our sat-navs more for wayfinding these days, you can use Ursa Major to find Polaris, the North Star by following the line of the two front stars of the plough. Early navigators were used to reading the dots in the night sky to find their way.


"When I look at the night sky.."
The other year my brother gave me a fantastic book on Star Maps. This presented many early star maps from various cultures, and not surprisingly different cultures saw very different things in the patterns of stars and planets in the night sky. 

We find our own patterns, our own images in the dots of our circumstances, relationships and experience, but it can also be helpful to find out what others see.

Systems theorists might see dot to dot puzzles very differently than my kids. Instead of dots they might see nodes, and instead of lines they might see links. Instead of a simple picture, they might see a visual representation of a complex system. 

I watched a fascinating TED talk by Tom Wujec recently which was all about systems thinking, it's well worth a watch, and one of his conclusions was that we can make better meaning out of the systems that surround us when we view them together. If you're facing a complicated problem, or you're struggling to find a pattern, then trying to visualise it somehow, breaking it down into nodes and then trying to link those up may help.

Looking back at the most meaningful nodes in our lives and seeking to find the pattern in those can help us make better choices for our future - if you find that there's a cluster of dots in a certain area then this might signify an area you're passionate about, or the type of event that brings you fulfilment. From a career perspective, the classic book What Colour is Your Parachute? has numerous exercises to help you do this. More recently, the new book by Jeff Goins, The Art of Work, is also about seeing all your dots in a different way. No dots are wasted in the making of your masterpiece, it's just that our lives are a gentle unfolding, a slow printing like our 80s dot matrix printer.

So how are you feeling about the dots in your life? How do you see them? Are you stuck on a detail and need to look for the bigger picture? Or maybe you're overwhelmed by something and instead you need to break it down into a series of dot to dots. There's always a tension between the nitty gritty, the dots, and the bigger picture of our lives, and that's ok.
"No dots are wasted in the making of your masterpiece, it's just that our lives are a gentle unfolding, a slow printing like our 80s dot matrix printer."
Wherever you're at, taking some regular time to re-orient yourself is a really positive habit to get in to. Why not seek out someone to help you see our own constellations from a different perspective, like a pastor, life coach or close friend?

One final thought, from King David in Psalm 8:

"When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers - 
the moon and the stars you set in place - 
what are mere mortals that you should think of them,
human beings that you should care for them?" (Ps 8:3-4, NLT)

I take great comfort that in the dot to dot of my life, I'm not figuring it out alone, and nor are you.




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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on joining the dots! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media? Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on amazon!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Consistency and Heartbeats - Potting Shed Podcast



Consistency and heartbeats..

What makes your heart beat?
There was a funny news story I heard recently about a commuter train, the 7.29 service from Brighton to London Victoria which hadn't once been on time during 2014. For various reasons it had consistently been late every single day. As it happens, this week I've been set the topic of consistency, which builds on my post last month about routines, rhythms and habits

Have you ever been in hospital and hooked up to a machine which monitors your heart rate? You see them lots in films or TV dramas after people have had accidents of some kind. What's healthy is the regular beep and signature heart rate pattern. The last thing you want to hear is a steady tone and a flat line across the screen.
"It's important to have a consistent heart beat - this is a sign that we are alive"
My wife and I have been watching 24 again recently and there have been scenes in which characters end up "flat-lining" - losing their vital signs of life. In medical terms, it's important to have a consistent heart beat - this is a sign that we are alive.

If you've never read Daniel Coyle's book "The Talent Code" then it's a great book on the topic of excellence and the importance of consistently and diligently developing your skills through practice - this causes something called myelin to reinforce neural pathways in our brains and enable us to improve. As Aristotle famously said "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." 

Sometimes I think we can get so focused on the things we repeatedly do wrong or wish we didn't do, that we forget to pay attention to the things we do well. Or more often we're simply inconsistent with the things we really want to do. Perhaps we have bursts of commitment to something, like healthy eating, exercise, or learning an instrument, but then end up binging our way out of it with poor food choices, laziness or apathy. I think we can all agree that self discipline is hard since it requires us to be whole hearted when so often its easier to be half hearted. 

Like a heart beat, if we want to develop in whatever area, we need to be regular and consistent in our commitment. Making space for it in a regular pattern, maybe "little and often" to begin with, to help us get into good habits. That's something Daniel Coyle observed in his book - it was better to practice for five minutes every day than for a few hours once a week. Our brains are wired to reward consistency, and when we're growing up it's important to have consistent boundaries to enable us to grow - as any parent of toddlers or puppies knows, consistency is a key element of good parenting (although knowing that doesn't make it any easier).
"Like a heart beat, if we want to develop in whatever area, we need to be regular and consistent in our commitment."
I listened to a brilliant talk from Leon Evans the other week about making wise choices, and want to share a couple of his points as they relate to this:
  • There is a cumulative value in investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period. For example exercise, family time, devotional time, date nights.
  • There are rarely any immediate consequences for neglecting single instalments of elements in your life.
  • Neglect has a cumulative effect. Look at your garden! 
  • There is no cumulative value to the things we allow to interfere with the important things. 
  • In the critical areas of your life you cannot make up for lost time. 
Do you need to change your switch?
Perhaps the opposite of consistency is neglect. Are you starving your dreams and passions to feed other less important demands on your life? 

So often I think we can take a binary approach, either we're all this or all that. Either it's my family or my dreams, or my work, or volunteering - the switch is either on of off. 

I don't subscribe to this, I think our lives can be more like a dimmer switch or a mixer tap. Maybe this year you can ask yourself how can you combine both somehow - maybe invite your dreams and passions to dinner, so to speak!
"I think our lives can be more like a dimmer switch or a mixer tap"
So what does your heart beat pattern look like? Are you allowing your true heart to beat, or are you in danger of flatlining? Perhaps your "little and often" way to consistently integrate these things into your everyday is about accepting the pattern of your heart trace - allowing yourself to have regular times devoted to your passion, even if it's not as often as you'd like or as long as you like. Our lives have seasons when the demands of our families or work crowd other things out, slow our creative heart rate down but no matter what season you're in, it's important to keep it beating. 

Conversely, there may be times where you have the opportunity to increase your creative heart rate, but the important thing at any time is that you're consistently allowing your creative heart to beat on a regular basis, not flatlining. This might mean setting aside one evening a week for a particular activity, or a weekend a month. Maybe you could explore changing your working patterns to make space for this, even a sabbatical of some kind. And if you're struggling with self-discipline, feeling half hearted, then find a tribe to help you. I've found this useful myself. Being part of a blogging group which I'm accountable to gives me the motivation to stay consistent with my own writing in a way I'd struggle to do on my own. Who could you ask to share your journey? We can often go further with others.

Don't consistently put off the most important things in your life, instead, allow your live to thrive by consistently allowing your creative heart to beat. And if you feel like you're flatlining, check out my book Life Space on Amazon, perhaps it can be the virtual defibrillator you need to kickstart your dreams to life again.
"Don't consistently put off the most important things in your life, instead, allow your live to thrive by consistently allowing your creative heart to beat."

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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on consistency! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on amazon!

Friday, February 06, 2015

That thing you dread..

What do you dread?
Are there things that you dread? Perhaps public speaking, or doing your tax return. Maybe it’s opening credit card bills, or a particular family get together. 

Maybe it’s opening your work inbox after the weekend or after a holiday. 

Perhaps you get a gnawing sense of dread on Sunday nights about going to work on Monday mornings. We all face dread at some point.
"We all face dread at some point"
In my mid-twenties I decided to take up triathlon, and in my enthusiasm I signed up for a number of events including a major Olympic distance race in the docks in Salford. In hindsight this was very ambitious, especially because my swimming left a lot to be desired. In fact, I couldn’t even do front crawl. So I tried to learn but just couldn’t get my breathing right. I couldn’t even swim one length without my lungs bursting, leading to a gathering sense of dread about what I’d signed myself up for.
I survived the swim..

In my desperation I signed up for some one to one swimming lessons, but even having learnt the right technique my swim stamina was still poor and I had major concerns about being able to the distance. Added to this was the open water element of the swim – until now I’d only ever swum in swimming pools. My first race was a short pool-based triathlon, which went ok, but I was dreading the open water swim on my next race.

Fast forward to a cold spring morning at Dorney Lake in Eton. Despite a heavy cold I am determined to make it through the race. I need to make it through the swim otherwise I feel I’ve no chance of completing the Olympic distance race in the summer. 

The horn goes and there’s a surge of swimmers off the line to the first buoy. The water is seething and I’m trying to swim but swallowing lots of water and being kicked and jostled all over the place. 

It doesn’t help that I’m streaming with a cold. I fall behind the main group and the water is calmer but I’m struggling to get enough air in my lungs and I’m panicking. I pull up at the first buoy to see where I’m going and the guys in the safety boat ask if I’m ok. I say yes but promptly feint and am hauled into the boat and back to the shore. Gutted is an understatement and my dread for the coming races increases.
"Sometimes getting pushed in the deep end with things we dread can help us get through them"
In hindsight, the moral of that story is not to attempt a triathlon when you’re ill. The happy ending was that I made it through the next race (in the River Thames at Windsor) despite a minor panic attack to begin with, and successfully completed the big race at the end of the season, learning to hang back a little in the swim to avoid the frenzy at the beginning. Funnily enough, being pulled out by the safety boat was kind of the worst thing that could happen in a swim, so experiencing that early in my triathlon career actually helped in the long run. Sometimes getting pushed in the deep end with things we dread can help us get through them. Quite literally in my case!

Now I’m all for trying new things, and stretching ourselves, like my swimming story above. But if we’re experiencing dread on a regular basis in our day to day lives it might be a warning light that we're not playing to our strengths.

There can be a culture in our workplaces where the focus is on improving on our weaknesses, and that's important to a degree. There's a place for getting better at things, and pushing through, but an over-focus on our weaknesses in the long term can lower our morale and increase our dread for the tasks we’re given. How about flipping it on its head and mainly focusing on our strengths? 
"if you’re experiencing dread on a regular basis in our day to day lives it might be a warning light that you're not playing to your strengths"
We’re all wired differently, with a unique blend of strengths, and if you’re not sure whether you have any then I’d strongly recommend the book “Now discover your strengths” which comes with a short online test to help identify your top 5 “themes”. I personally found the results astonishing, helping me articulate for the first time some of the key things that made me tick. Check it out.

Are you playing to your strengths?
Another approach to identifying your strengths is the Myers-Briggs profiling – there’s plenty of free tests for this online. 

This categorises you into one of 16 broad personality types, and while no test is completely perfect, in my office we’ve found the results to be uncannily accurate. 

In my team we’ve used both Strengths Finder and the Myers-Briggs profiles to help steer our personal development goals to areas of our strengths, rather than overly focussing on perceived weaknesses. 

Paul Sohn shared a fun infographic about ideal types of jobs for each personality type, the headline for my own ENFJ personality type is “inspiring guide” – something that chimes with me and fills me with excitement, not dread!

When we orient our work around the things we're strong at then we're less likely to dread our tasks, or opening our inbox. Instead of living in dread we can start living the dream!

If you feel a general sense of dread about your work then I’d encourage you to read Jeff Goins’s new book “TheArt of Work”. I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team and can honestly say it’s really helped me to look at my work, my dreams and my calling differently. 
"Instead of living in dread we can start living the dream!"
So this week, why not take some time to consider your strengths. Perhaps ask some friends or colleagues you trust what strengths they see in you? You may be surprised at the result! 

Don’t settle for a life of dread, stretch yourself, play to your strengths - you may be surprised at what happens! 


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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on dread! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on amazon!


Friday, January 30, 2015

Routines, rhythms and habit.

Routine can be our friend..
Can I start with a confession? Much as there are times I dream of ditching the day job and being spectacularly successful at whatever my current obsession is, deep down I secretly know that the regular working routine I'm in is probably good for me (although I don't like to admit to myself).

Firstly, it gets me up and out of the house in the morning (otherwise I'd probably drive my family up the wall), I get some exercise running to and from the station (which in itself is good for creativity - some of my most creative thoughts come to me on my morning or evening runs).

On the train I have some reading time, or the opportunity listen to a podcast. At work I mainly spend time with good people who challenge and inspire me, whilst mainly doing things I'm skilled to do, as well as earning the pennies to support my family. I get to work in a city rich with history and the largest public library in Europe, which usually has at least one copy of whatever obscurely titled book I'm keen to read next.
"The truth is, whether we like it or not, routines can be really good for us."
Being in the office I have a constant supply of tea, and I find myself more able to make better food choices by bringing in my own lunch and being away from aimless snack temptation. I'd be the first to admit that I would make terrible food choices and overdose on Jaffa Cakes and Pringles if given the opportunity - no joke. And whilst I'm sure I could fill my weekdays with cool stuff if I wasn't working, I have a sneaky feeling that by being in a routine I generally make more of my evenings and weekends in a way I might not do if I wasn't in the same routine. I am incredibly blessed to have health and employment, much as sometimes I grouch about the daily grind.

The truth is, whether we like it or not, routines can be really good for us.

So how can you make your routine work better for you? And I'm not talking about cramming every moment of your day full of some task or stimulation. But how can you make room in your routine - in your "normal" - for some of those things that you aspire to? How can you normalise your aspirations and step closer to the things you really want to do?

Routine helps me avoid these..
So often, especially at the beginning of the year, we attempt a wholesale change of routine and formation of new habits. Maybe it's doing more exercise, or avoiding the Jaffa Cakes and Pringles, or learning a new language.

Sometimes this works but in my case it usually doesn't. The things that have worked for me have been when I've maybe switched one thing for something else in my existing routine. I saw a great quote this week from Nathan W Morris:

"It's not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less". 

We live in a world that's full of distraction, but I think the secret to a fulfilling routine is to focus on one thing at a time. On my desk at work I try only to have the one thing I am working on that that time - whether it's a report I'm reviewing, technical drawing I'm checking or something completely different. I find that physically having a clear desk helps me give the task more focus.

It's the same in my workshop - I'm able to work better when it's less cluttered. In my inbox I'm an advocate for having as few emails as possible - as demands come in I write tasks down then file the email in the relevant place. For me this really helps me to prioritise on one thing at a time, and get better at giving it my full attention.
"It's not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less". (Nathan W Morris)
Sometimes a good way to get into a positive routine is to have others around you. Peer pressure can be really positive when you're trying to lose weight, or get fit. Even writing this blog regularly is helped by a community of blog buddies I'm part of - we set each other titles to blog to each week, which is a really helpful routine to be in. Can you find a tribe to help you with an area of focus?

What is it that you need to focus on in the days and weeks ahead? Are there things in your routine that have become unnecessary habit? Perhaps your life feels overcluttered. If so, it could be time to focus on less if possible.

Our routines can often be a rhythm, and there's much to be said about the benefits and blessings one gains from routines and rhythms of prayer, although I'll save that for another post (check out Chapter 8 of my book Life Space as a starter on this, link below). So I want to end with these encouraging words of Jesus, reminding us that for all our striving and straining, there's grace to be received when we follow His footsteps:

"Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace." (Matthew 11:29, Message translation)


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Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on routines, rhythms and habits! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on amazon!



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review of The Self Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guide

As a recently self published author I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review the recently released The Self Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guide (compiled by Joel Friedlander and Betty Kane Sargent) which signposts you to resources on every aspect of the self publishing process.

The book is divided into three main parts: Prepare, Publish and Promote, with commentary and information on each part of the self publishing journey.

As I read through it I was challenged to think bigger about publishing. Yes self-publishing is easier than ever before, but quality stands out and there are always ways and means to improve your product - it's easy to delude yourself that you know it all or that you know best, and the content of this book is a good reminder that there are communities and companies out there who can help you refine your work in many different ways.

As well as contacts for practical things like proof reading, illustrating and translating there are also lists of books to read on different aspects, blogs to follow, conferences to attend and competitions and funding to apply for. 

I will definitely be following up some of the direction included in the book - not all immediately, as some aspects/sectors are just helpful to file away for future reference. 

If I have one slight gripe it might be that many of the contacts and organisations are biased towards North America, however this is not exclusively the case and is understandable since the authors are themselves based there. I do also wonder what the shelf-life is for some of the links and information contained within? 

However, on the whole it's an excellent resource with plenty of guidance for authors at any stage in their career.