Taking Control and Staying in Control


I occasionally introduce this weekly post with a reference to Google. This week, I’ve broken all records. ‘Take Control’ were the words I tapped in. Google’s response was instant: take control of your life it said, and offered me 755m hits in 0.54 seconds.

Clearly Thoreau wasn’t wrong when he talked about the ‘mass of men’ leading their ‘lives of quiet desperation…’

Last week I mentioned the three themes that have always run through this blog: work/life balance, going as far as you want to go on your journey, and adapting to change.

In many ways taking control – or being in control – spans all three. It’s easy to come up with a kneejerk response to the idea of control: ‘it’s nonsense. I’m running my own business. Obviously I’m in control of my life.’

But that may not be the case – as much as we’d like it to be. All too often things gradually slide. It’s so gradual that we don’t notice it happening, but suddenly we’re not in control of the meetings: the meetings (or staff problems or customer demands) are controlling us.

If you’re running a business there’s one central point to keep in mind: you’re not there to serve the business, the business is there to serve you – and what you want from life.

So here are five simple strategies that will help you take control and stay in control. They’re based on experience, books I’ve read and yes, my own life: things gradually slide for all of us at some point.

First and foremost, get fit and stay fit. I’ve always played a lot of sport, but like everyone there have been times – having a new baby is a good example – when keeping fit hasn’t been at the top of my priority list. This has almost always coincided with times when I felt I wasn’t in control at work. When I’m feeling at my best I’m more focused, I’ve more energy and I make better decisions – so rule number one for me, if I want to feel in control I make sure that I’m keeping fit and eating healthily.

I’ve written about this on previous occasions, but an essential part of being in control is saying ‘no.’ Two days ago a ‘job’ floated across my timeline on Facebook: a local charity wanted a Chairman. For about ten minutes I was really tempted – it’s an area where I’d love to help. But do I have the time to do it properly and do it without damaging my existing commitments? No. There’ll still be charities needing chairmen when I’m retired. Right now – for me and for everyone round a TAB table – saying ‘no’ is an integral part of staying in control.

Linked to saying ‘no’ is time for yourself. Whether you walk the dog or get out on your bike or simply sit quietly with a coffee, having time to yourself – time to get your thoughts in order – is essential. At least once a month take yourself off, order a flat white, and go through everything: goals, priorities, pipeline, problems, the team… Simply give yourself the chance to reflect and think it all through.

And finally, another nod to Stephen Covey. It’s over three years since he died, but The 7 Habits will still be read – and will still be as relevant – in 50 years. In terms of staying in control, two of the habits are paramount. Begin with the end in mind: if you don’t know where you’re going you haven’t a hope of getting there or feeling in control on the journey.

…And keep the main thing the main thing – which reinforces the point about saying ‘no.’ There are only so many hours in the day and if you spread yourself too thinly you’re back at the beginning – waking up one morning and realising that the meetings and commitments are dictating to you.

With that I have no option other than to climb onto my bike and pedal off into the wilderness with a flask of coffee, a notebook and a pen. Have a great weekend while I’m away…

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