The 5 Biggest Lessons I Learned This Year

This time of year is always busy, but if you give yourself permission to slow down a little it can also be a valuable season of self-reflection. As I optimistically look ahead to 2018, I’ve been contemplating the top lessons I learned in 2017. I’m hopeful there are some takeaways that you might find useful too.

Managing your energy is more important than managing your time

As I’ve noted in previous Day In A Canoe blog posts, it’s critical to understand what and who energizes you. Surround yourself with energizing people who feed your head, support you, hold you accountable and generally help you to be your best on the job and off. Many people spend a lot of time creating to-do lists and watching the clock. But I’ve learned that it’s the energy I expend – not the time I spend – that’s most worth monitoring. When I focus on the people, the projects and the causes that most motivate and inspire me, I’m far less protective of my time because the progress I make has a multiplying effect. To whatever degree possible, avoid the things and people that suck the life out of you. Your energy is too precious a commodity.

It’s not what you say, it’s how people feel after you say it

Speaking in a clear and cogent manner is great. But being able to do that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a great communicator. True communication is a two-way street. You have to listen (see the point below) and at times encourage feedback. People need to feel like their input and opinions have been heard and are understood. A great quote has been helpful to me whether I’m discussing a specific initiative with an employee or sharing the vision for our firm. George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” and I now believe that he was dead on. How you are heard is more important than what you say. So, tune into how your audience is hearing you and be willing to adapt your approach accordingly.

Being a good listener is the most underrated skill

As I noted in my Don’t Be a Hippo post, it’s taken me awhile, but I think I finally understand that “being all ears” is where it’s at. I’ve discovered communication can thrive when I simply listen. When conversing with colleagues, clients or anyone else, I’ve been reminding myself of Simon Sinek’s quip: “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” It’s made a world of difference. If you’re rehearsing a response in your head while the other person is speaking, it’s pretty much impossible to truly hear them. I’ve found that taking a mental “pause” to fully reflect on what the person has said before I respond often improves the effectiveness of my communication.

Get more sleep

We live in a workaholic culture where we’re constantly logged on and plugged in. But running yourself into the ground is not a recipe for success even if the work you’re producing at midnight is consistently solid. Historically I’ve been someone who’d work at work and then I’d work more when I got home. I’ve experienced two bouts of high-grade burnout in my career and it takes a toll. This year I committed to achieving better work-life balance and part of that meant going to bed earlier. It sounds easy enough but it was a surprisingly difficult adjustment to make. But now that I’m in the routine, I’m finding that I feel healthier both physically and mentally. I’m more focused in the morning and have extra energy throughout the day. While I recognize I’m not announcing a medical discovery by saying that a good night’s rest will help you thrive, I can attest that paying attention to sleep patterns and catching some extra z’s has helped.

A clear vision will solve most of your problems

Are you truly going about your day with a clear understanding of how to reach your ultimate goals? While I’m still a work in progress, I’ve gotten much better about doing so. I know what my goals are and that keeps me on track. Having clarity on my destination means I see daily challenges, frustrations and potential distractions in a different light. Maintaining a more nuanced big-picture perspective has enabled me to more quickly catch myself when I’m getting mixed up in the minutiae. When facing an array of demands and priorities, I’d encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself these questions: What actions today will be the highest and best use of my time and talent? And how will those actions move me closer to reaching my ultimate objective?

Related article: 5 Steps to Take When Your Canoe Hits Rough Waters

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