Inside the Box, Outside the Lines

There are many metaphors that convey one of the basic dichotomies of life: that middle ground between routine and spontaneity.  The concept comes to to mind thus:  put your life into a neat little box that is familiar, known, manageable.  At the same time, don’t be afraid to color outside the lines and create something new.

This concept is equally applicable and examples abound at work, at home, and everywhere in between.  I think I counted a dozen examples in my own life just yesterday.

I’ve written about routine here recently. This topic is certainly something that is frequently on my mind: striving to be efficient, productive, responsive, and responsible, that’s the main goal.

The other side of the coin though is equally compelling; it offers the energy and excitement of the immediate need, and sometimes that particular spark that fosters creativity and inspiration, as well.  It breaks the routine, marches off in its own direction, responding to the demand of the moment, chasing the muse.

So how do we reconcile the two? I’m not entirely sure.  What I am absolutely sure of is that the two must co-exist. We’re much better off if we learn and accept and master the art of flipping between the two worlds.

The fundamental take-away?

Make the most of what’s inside your box, be able to very familiar with every item in the box, and be ready to paint the outside with colorful splashes from the rainbow when given the chance.


When I studied political science in college, we learned about linkage. The concept was applied with respect to the Cold War, the superpowers, and linking of attitudes, policies, behaviors, actions and consequences. 

Linkage is also true with respect to circumstances in our personal and professional life. Very little happens in a vacuum.  

Example? Last night things got crazy busy at home. There were crying, fussy kids, my wife was out with some girlfriends…I was solo dad trying to keep it together. 

 Everyone survived, but I didn’t get things done that I needed to: a few letters, some financial review, a couple emails, dishes, they got pushed out. That situation slowed everything down for today, changed the dynamic, and required adjustment. 

My response after some admittedly strong frustration? I poured a little cold brew coffee, took a few deep breaths, and considered my reality. 

What do I need to shift on the list, what must still get done on time, any meetings I can reschedule? I shuffle, jive, shift, and all the while, work to move things forward.

This sort of thing happens more than I’d like to admit. It’s why being able to handle change, adjust, figure out the best next step, and have a good attitude all the while is helpful. I do ok, overall.

I remind myself, 

“As long as you’re doing what you want to do, taking care of the people and things you’re responsible for, you’re on the right path.”

Change is the only constant, as they say.

The trick as I mentioned earlier, is to keep a good attitude overall as you go through the process. You need to maintain your focus on the big picture, even as you’re required to adjust your tasks, your tactics, your priorities.

Realizing that things are linked together, that you have to be ready to modify your plan and approach, that’s a big part of the secret.  

Change happens, as noted. The question is, what do you need to do to keep moving forward? 

The linkage between your attitude, how you approach your goals, and the realities of daily life is undeniable. How you respond is up to you. 

Momentum: The Magic Potion

Finding a little momentum goes a long way.

This fact is especially when you’re sharpening up your focus to get sh*t done.  The approach isn’t new or complicated, but it is important.

Check your list.

If you don’t have one, write one down.  Depending on your level of motivation and focus as you begin, I suggest writing everything down.  The more items, the more focus you’ll have.

Consider the priorities you’ve got in front of you. Consider the time it will take to complete the various tasks on the list.  Don’t get overwhelmed by the list, be empowered by your effort to get it all down in front of you.  Once you’ve got a good representation of what needs to be done, it’s time to get after Number One.

My personal approach is to target a couple quick hits, items I can accomplish pretty quickly, to get some positive energy going in the right direction.  As you line out items on your list, you can feel the sense of accomplishment. Your focus will increase, your resolve to continue down the path will strengthen, you’ll be one your way forward.

So make that list and get after it.

The momentum you create will make the difference in your effort.  It will make it GOOD.

Homework In the Backseat

I was talking to a good friend last night about his two boys — his kids are several years older than my little three.  In particular we were comparing and contrasting the way the two approach school, homework, sports, and…time management.

One tidbit really rang true for me, and I think it will for most people:  the realization (reminder!) that focus is the key to productivity.

My buddy was telling me how his younger son typically will start doing his home work while he’s in the backseat on the drive home after school.  Lots of times, by the time they’re home, he’s finished (or nearly so).  Ridiculously productive kid.


Pick your most important task, and DO IT.  The pick another, and DO IT.  And another, and…wait for it…and DO IT.

I’m going to be like my buddy’s ten year old today.  Give it a try.  You’ll be glad you did.


Even Flow


This phrase came to mind when I was sitting in the daily morning meeting at work.

“Even Flow.”

I’m like most people, taught to create to-do lists early in my school career as a way to manage my time and get my work done.  I think I learned about the practice in the my Study Skills class in 4th Grade.

When I got into the professional world someone gave me a little volume about time management.  One of the central themes and related tools was creating a “master task list”,  where everything went you had to do.  I started using composition books about ten years ago to maintain my master task list, which I still maintain and use regularly.  The goal is the same:  Create and Maintain an even flow in my work efforts, to get things done.

Even with the master list though, I find myself making a little scribble list on my notes paper when I’m sitting in meetings, to further hone my focus for any given day.  I review the master list, and then make a scratchpad list to attack for the day.  It’s a good exercise, at least for me.  Sort of like stretching before a run.

The master list is like the workout schedule/plan, the scratchpad list is the stretch before I hit the streets.  It gives me an even flow of how I want the work efforts to go, provides the proper mindset and assures readiness for the day ahead. And then what?  ONWARD into the day with focus and good attitude ~

What’s the bonus in all this?  When the title  of this post came to mind, so did this classic 90’s grunge song by the same name  ~ Enjoy.

Avoid the Rat Hole

I was talking to my brother yesterday.  Through the course of the conversation he said something like, “…not to go down the rat hole on this, but…”.  I’d never heard of the term.

Then last night the neighbors were over for dinner, and I asked K (who works in the tech sector) if she’d heard the term, “rat hole.”

She replied quite assumptively, “Yea, we use it all the time.  Like in meetings.  We even have a separate, rat hole white board, to capture those ideas during the discussion, but not allow the agenda to get high-jacked.”   Ah yes, the RAT HOLE.

This situation got me thinking.  There’s terminology, jargon, vernacular, whatever you want to call it, that’s likely to develop in any business, discipline, group, team, etc.  That’s probably a good thing most of the time.  It gives people with a common purpose a common language with which to move their goals forward.

Just as important as the language though — maybe more so, actually — are the processes and commitment to see things through to the goals that are set.

So to go back to my neighbor’s example, having a white board up during a meeting to note ideas that come up during discussion that aren’t particularly relevant to the agenda at hand is really smart.  It allows the ideas that come up to be captured for future review, but also keeps people moving forward towards their goals.

Figure 0ut ways to hack your behaviors to be more productive, to move toward the objectives you’ve set. You’ll be more successful.  Even more important, you’ll be happier. And you’ll stay out of the rat hole.