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What's Important Now? Get the WINning Edge

By Kathy Paauw

"I thank God I live in a country where dreams can come true, where failure is sometimes the first step to success, and where success is only another form of failure if we forget where our priorities should be."

- Harry Lloyd

Over the past decade I have noticed an increase in the number of clients who report that they have ADD -- Attention Deficit Disorder. Although some have been officially diagnosed with this disorder by a medical professional, I suspect that others have read about ADD and identify with one of the key indicators: difficulty maintaining focus. We have so much stimulation around us that it becomes difficult not to get distracted. I wonder how many people truly have ADD and how many simply lose focus because they're feeling pulled in too many different directions.

As a productivity consultant and a life coach, I don't get hung up on the labels. (That's not to suggest that I make light of this diagnosis, as I know that ADD can create tremendous challenges for some.) Whether you have ADD or not, I'll bet there are times when you feel unfocused and off purpose. I certainly do!

I have incorporated two acronyms into my life that help keep me on purpose.

* WIN: What's Important Now? It's amazing how asking such a simple question can help when you're feeling overwhelmed and unfocused. Another version of this question that I sometimes ask myself is, If I say yes to this, what will I be saying no to? Asking these questions help me snap my focus back on what's most important.

* ERO: When I feel out of control or like a victim, I think about this powerful equation:

E + R = O (Event + Response = Outcome)

Although I was never very good at math, I do remember that what precedes the equal sign is called a variable, and what follows the equal sign is called the quotient. In order to change the quotient (the Outcome), you must change a variable. Often you cannot change one of the variables -- an Event that happens in your life -- but you can choose your Response to that Event. By choosing your Response, you will affect the Outcome.

These two acronyms are related to each other by one factor; they both require self-management.

Principles of Self-Management

"In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves...self-discipline with all of them came first."

-- Harry S Truman

Valentine's Day is around the corner. It's a bittersweet day for me; 24 years ago my father had a heart attack and died on that day. He was 47 years old. He did not practice self-care very well - a factor that contributed to his untimely death. For me, Valentine's Day serves as an important reminder to practice three fundamental principles of self-management: (1) Focus on what you want; (2) know yourself well; and (3) create structures to support you.

1. Focus on what you want.

"The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions."

-- Alfred Lord Tennyson

There are three elements to consider when thinking about what you really want in your life:

  • Your Purpose - the core of who you are and what you uniquely have to offer.

  • Your Vision- a compelling image of an achievable future.

  • Your Mission- what you will do to perpetuate your vision.

    The clearer your vision, the greater your chances of achieving your goals. Having a clear vision and purpose will also keep you in touch with the motivation behind your goals, which is essential for sticking to any plan. (For more about motivation, read Getting Motivated to Get Organized.) Here are some top New Year's resolutions and examples of how you could visualize them more clearly:

    • Lose Weight: In addition to imagining yourself thin, visualize having the energy to do an activity you've wanted to do for a long time, visualize attracting your ideal life partner, or whatever losing weight will enable you to do that you are not doing now.

    • Save Money: Visualize what you will be doing when you having enough money saved to achieve your long-term goals -- going on your dream vacation, living in your dream home, taking early retirement, taking a year off to work as a volunteer for a cause you feel passionate about, attending your kids graduation from college, or whatever saving money represents for you.

    • Get Organized: Visualize yourself enjoying an environment and a schedule that enables you to work, play, and live exactly as you want to.

    When we focus on what we want, we are more likely to attract it into our lives. Rebecca Hanson, author of Law of Attraction for Business, describes the Universal Law of Attraction: "We attract whatever we choose to give our attention to -- whether wanted or unwanted. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions and moods emit vibrations (similar to sound waves) that draw to us people, places, things and events that match our own vibrations." If you can't relate to the idea that you 'put out vibes,' perhaps it's easier to imagine how you regularly signal others thorugh your own body language and demeanor.

    Here's a perfect example. My friend and colleague, Patty, shops at the same grocery store all the time, and usually she is very warm and friendly with the employees. She may enter the store and hear them grumbling about how the management overworks them and never shows appreciation...but by the time Patty leaves, they have a smile on their faces and seem happy to be there. Their entire mood shifts when Patty shops there. Why? If you met Patty you'd know why. She's one of those "feel good" people to be around! I love spending time with her -- or even talking with her on the phone -- as she always lifts my spirits. Patty recently shared a story about how she was having an "off" day and was in a bad mood. That day as she entered the store, she was very quiet and did not smile. She ordered something from the deli. She recounted to me later, "The deli clerk filled my order, but he wanted to drop me like a hot unlike the way he usually is with me. He didn't smile or ask how my day was going, like he usually does." As she recalled this experience, Patty realized just how much her own signals and body language affected others.

    What are you visualizing? What are you giving your attention to? What vibes or signals are you emitting? Does this reflect what you want and choose to attract into your life? Whatever you focus on may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, do you know people who often say, "I always have the worst luck!"...and it seems like those people have a black cloud following them everywhere they go? Energy follows thought.

    For more information about the power of visualization, read the incredible story about Olympian Marilyn King in my article, Are You an Olympian Thinker?

    2. Know yourself well.

    "Self-disciplined begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don't control what you think, you can't control what you do. Simply, self-discipline enables you to think first and act afterward."

    -- Napoleon Hill

    Understand your strengths, weaknesses, and behavioral style. Do you tend to be an over-doer or an under-achiever? Are you more subjective or objective? Do you focus on the details or the big picture? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Assessment tools can help you learn more about your own behavioral style. You may also be interested in reading my article, Discovering Your Strengths.

    Beware of self-sabotage. You probably know yourself well enough to anticipate the pitfalls that could sabotage your best intentions. Example: you were doing great on your diet until your family started complaining about what you've been fixing for dinner. In frustration, you gave up and went back to your old meal preparation habits. To be more healthy and energetic, you'll need to make a fundamental choice to live as a healthy person would. You'll need to counter negative self-talk -- "Why bother to eat healthy when my family doesn't think it's important! - with positive self-talk -- "I choose to be healthy, regardless of how my family feels." Is your self-talk saying I should", I have to", or is it saying I choose to"?

    Don't let your emotions rule. This is where E + R = O becomes such a powerful tool to use! Do you allow your emotions to determine your commitment level to achieving your goal? Focus on what you want and choose - not how you feel at the moment. Example: you've made a commitment to yourself to clear your desk before leaving the office each day"and at the end of the day you feel really tired and not in the mood to put things away. You just want to get home, have dinner and relax. Here's how E + R = O works:

    Event: It's the end of a workday and your desk is a mess.

    Response #1: You decide to leave your desk the way it is and go home.

    Outcome: Tomorrow morning you come into your office and feel defeated before the workday even begins. As you look at what is on your desk, you feel overwhelmed, distracted, stressed and out of control.

    Event: It's the end of a workday and your desk is a mess.

    Response #2: You spend your last 10 minutes in the office filing things away and you drop the outgoing mail in a mailbox on your way home.

    Outcome: Tomorrow morning you come into your office and sit down at a clear desk. You spend the first few minutes planning how you will focus your energy and time for the day. You feel calm and in control.

    3. Create structures to support you.

    "We deceive ourselves when we fancy that only weakness needs support. Strength needs it far more."

    -- Anne Sophie Swetchine

    Have a Plan. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! If you focus on an entire project, it may feel too big and impossible to achieve. Break it down into smaller steps and create a schedule or timeline. In other words, eat one bite at a time. This will get you closer to your goal than all the best (but unrealized) intentions. Many people never get out of the starting gate or get stalled out in the early stages because the project or goal seems too big and unattainable.

    Build in feedback, encouragement and accountability to help you stay on track. Develop whatever support systems you need to achieve your goals. My own life coach serves as a great support to me. Once a week we meet by phone and I have an opportunity to receive feedback and encouragement. I also use the time for accountability check-ins. When things don't go as I wanted them to, my coach provides a safe, non-judgmental environment to examine what happened and harvest the learning that I gained from the experience. Then I can try something different in the coming week, choose to postpone or delegate it, or determine that I am not committed to doing it so I can move on to something else.

    Identify structures you need in place to keep you on target. For example, weekly meal planning may provide the structure you need to ensure that you have healthy and nutritious food on hand to choose from. If "getting organized is one of your New Year's resolutions, read about some of the tools I recommended in my article last month at

    About The Author
    This article was written by Kathy Paauw of Paauwerfully Organized. Kathy's web site offers a comprehensive resource devoted to helping busy professionals and small business owners de-clutter their schedules, spaces, and minds so they can focus on what's most important. Kathy is an organizing & productivity consultant, certified business & personal coach, and speaker. Contact her at For free resources and valuable productivity tools visit

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