In celebration of Independence Day, let's talk about freedom. As those of us in the United States celebrate our freedom as a nation and the many freedoms we're afforded by living in the US, I've been thinking about what freedom feels like to me in small everyday ways.
Freedom is not only something I'm grateful for, but it is also one of my values. When I feel free, I feel happy, and often when I feel happiest is when I feel most free.
So how can we cultivate more freedom in our everyday lives? Here are a few things that I find helpful.
1. Ask Yourself: What Makes Me Feel Free? Write it Down.
For me, I feel most free...
- In nature
- During the summertime - and in the presence of sunshine and warm weather
- When I have time and space on my calendar to breathe, zoom up, think strategically, and be creative
- When I have some level of flexibility for impromptu plans throughout my weeks and months
- When I create time early in the morning to think, plan, reflect, and write
I have found that I feel least free when I feel trapped by my calendar, trapped by commitments that don't tie to my values or my higher purpose, or trapped by too much back-to-back work-related travel. Identifying what makes me feel free (and what makes me feel least free) allows me to make choices that align accordingly. For me, my feeling of freedom ties directly to my feeling of creativity - and ultimately helps me serve my clients in a more impactful way.
2. Free Yourself From Your Inbox
Over the past 5 years, I've had the opportunity to offer leadership-based workshops and courses to thousands of successful professionals across many different industries. Regardless of role, tenure, or working style, one of the most common things I hear is that people feel trapped by their inbox - a constant flood of incoming emails each day, taking their attention away from the things that matter most, and causing them to feel as though they can never catch up.
I believe there is a better way!. And this better way involves putting ourselves back in charge of our inboxes. Here's how:
- Determine how often you need to check email each day in order to be effective and responsive. I've found that for most roles and industries, people self-identify that the sweet spot is around 4 times per day. For some it is more, and others is less.
- Determine, based on the above number, the optimal times to check email. I typically recommend morning - but not first thing, late morning/midday, mid-afternoon, and end of day.
- Schedule 20-30 minutes at each of these times to check email. Pull out any tasks, to-dos, or follow-up items into a separate list.
- Start your day free of intake (this includes your inbox!). Give yourself at least 10 minutes each morning to reflect on your highest priorities for the day before opening your inbox.
- Turn off all notifications for your email and your inbox. In this new model, you are now in control of when you check your email; those notifications are no longer in control of you!
- When you're finished checking email during your pre-determined blocks, close out your inbox entirely, and back away slowly.
I recognize that this entire process may sound terrifying - especially if you're accustomed to having your inbox open all day long, and responding to emails individually as they come in. The process of checking emails all day everyday can have a huge hit on our productivity; research from Gloria Marks at the University of California-Irvine has found that we are distracted, on average, every 11 minutes - and that it can take us 25 minutes to return to our original task after interruption. If we think about this data in the context of our inbox, we can quickly start to understand why it's easy to feel like on some days, we go to work for 8-10 hours per day but get nothing done.
I've had many clients go through this process, and the impact has been tremendous. (even for clients who were very resistant at first!) Almost immediately, my clients have noticed decreased stress and frustration, and an increased feeling of productivity.
3. Get Rid of Commitments that Feel Like Obligations
Do you dread going to committee meetings for the volunteer group that you're a part of? Did you renew your position on the board because you felt obligated to, rather than because you wanted to? Have you filled your calendar with meetings, scheduled months into the future, that don't actually align with your highest purpose at your job, in your business, or overall?
Time is our most precious and valuable resource. It's a resource that we never get back once we spend it. And yet often, we give away our time in ways that we would never give away our money or other resources. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, when we are doing things out of a feeling of obligation, we are simply not having the greatest impact possible - because we are not operating from a place that is aligned with our passion and our purpose.
When saying "yes" to things that we put on the calendar, I invite you to reflect on the following:
- Is this a "hell yeah?" In the words of Derek Sivers (and many others since), "if it's not a hell yeah, it's a no."
- Does this commitment align with my values?
- Does this commitment align with my higher purpose? Am I creating some sort of positive impact through this commitment?
- Do I know why I'm here? This is especially important if you're working within an organization that is facing meeting overload. When planning meetings, each participant should have a clear understanding of why they are being asked to participate in the meeting. If you receive an invitation to a meeting and you're not sure that you need to be there, I invite you to be empowered to ask! Several of my clients have been able to reduce meeting fatigue within their organizations by consistently asking this question for every meeting they schedule.
- What is the cost? If I say "yes" to this, what is the trade-off? And am I okay with that trade-off?
If this is hard for you (it's still incredibly hard for me too - even after practicing this diligently for the last five years), I recommend reading the book Essentialism. And then, if you're like me, reading it again...and again. :)
Note: May we remember, as we celebrate our independence, that we are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants. If you are looking for ways to support families separated at the border, you may consider reading this article for ways to get involved and concrete steps you can take to contact your representatives, and/or supporting one of the following organizations.
I hope that these strategies are useful to you as you consider ways to create more freedom in your everyday life. I'd love to hear from you if you try some of them out, or if you have other strategies that you find useful.