Vanquish entropy–and have a nice life!

Entropy is a term associated with the Second Law of Thermodynamics  – the tendency of things to run down and wear out.  It is most closely related to the gradual decline of predictability and lack of order.  In layman’s terms, everything tends to return to a natural state of disorder.  We see this play out everywhere, every day, in our lives.

An old joke:  Chicago has two seasons, winter and road construction.  Seemingly, just after you finish shoveling the driveway, pot holes assault your car and the grass needs mowing.  It’s predictable.  It’s consistent. It’s life – at least at the tangible level.

It’s the intangible world that is harder to deal with.

Intangibles such as email, voice mail, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  On and on:  Google, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Vine and Snapchat.  Maneuvering through the maze of Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G; Siri and voice dictations; smartphone apps and driving maps – the list is endless.  And these are just the intangibles that have surfaced in the last decade.  Not to mention tax returns, stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, trusts, wills and insurance.  The list seems inexhaustible.

This is chaos. This is frustration. This is disorder at a whole other level!

Recently, I happened to be walking on a Chicago Loop side street when I noticed a homeless man pensively watching his heaping shopping cart filled with all his worldly possessions.  He seemed in a nervous quandary, unsure if he wanted to leave it for a moment to go off to do something.

I couldn’t help but think that his tangible world of stuff, his most important possessions, was a burden for him in the same way it is for us.  We just have a lot more of it. We’re trying to protect it from cyber thieves, bad weather, market downturns and dysfunctional family members.

Whatever happened to the simple life?  The white picket fence around the small three-bedroom, one-car-garage Cape Cod home with modest possessions and a family of four in the front yard enjoying a bright sunny day?  Well, get real, that’s only on “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver” and “Happy Days.”

But then, there are those people who pursue spiritual work.  The Christian monks and nuns, and the Buddhist Bhikkhus (monks) and Bhikkhunis (nuns).  They renounce all worldly pursuits and possessions for dedication to a singular spiritual purpose.  Again, that is not happening anytime soon for most of us.

Let’s face it, the pace of change is accelerating.  We either can jump on that train and attempt to drink the fire hose of new apps and gadgets, or delude ourselves a while longer that somehow we can 3D-print a copy of ourselves to handle everything while we enjoy what we want to do.  To enjoy the freedom to do what we want to do.

But, freedom to do what?

Freedom is a tricky thing. When we free up one thing – for instance, retirement from active paid work – what happens? If we’re not careful, our days will fill up with things not of our choosing.  Others fill in our time for us.  That happens when we don’t intentionally fill in our own time with our freedom activities.

We can look at the meaning, value and purpose behind what we want, but that is sometimes a little too ethereal.  We need something “down to earth.”  Something practical, easy to use, that we can implement seamlessly in our busy lives.  No matter our station in life, anyone can stop to smell the roses.

There’s an accelerating American trend over the past few years – meditation.  For the many reasons already noted, we are collectively trying to take our lives back.  Meditation is considered to be a healthy daily activity.  It’s recently been popularized by Oprah, Ev Williams, Arianna Huffington and Tim Ferriss.  CNN’s Anderson Cooper did a “60 Minutes” piece on how mindfulness changes brain activity.  Many corporations now offer mindfulness programs to their employees.

Meditation and mindfulness?  What’s next?

Now, I’m not advocating you go out and start mindfulness training or meditation.  It may be, we are treating the symptoms and not addressing the root cause.  The root cause is allowing too many competing interests, actions and things to compete for our limited attention.  The entropy in our lives is overwhelming us and making us physically, mentally and emotionally ill.  It’s way too much for a simple breathing, living human organism to handle.  It results in a variety of maladies from weight gain to cancer, chronic stress and psychological disorder.

It’s just way too much!

Whew!  I’m through addressing the problem.  This is the classic “The problem isn’t the problem.  The solution is not the solution.  The solution is how to think about the problem.”

The answer is usually right in front of us.  Our difficulty is cutting through all the collective “stuff” to the core guiding principles by which we live and attain clarity.  Comedian George Carlin’s advice:  “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

This standup comic also winked to his audience about urgency defeating entropy:  “When Tom Edison worked late into the night on the electric light, he had to do it by gas lamp or candle.  I’m sure it made the work seem much more urgent!”

In today’s complex world, money, investments and all their supporting cast – taxes, cash flow, estate planning, insurance — often devolve into an out-of-sync jumble.  Entropy’s ugly disorder.  So, where does one look for help?  “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus,” said Mark Twain.

Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked, “You can focus on things that are barriers, or you can focus on scaling the wall or redefining the problem.”

First things first.  We need to administer triage to the patient – our overwhelming life.  We need to stop the bleeding, then heal the body.

Let’s take a look at a couple of practical solutions:

Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” has taken the 80/20 principle in a unique direction as it relates to work.  Based on the fact that 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your time, and 20% of your productivity comes from 80% of your time, Ferriss applies this principle differently.  When he learns of a new opportunity or venture, he doesn’t answer like most of us with a “yes” or “no.”  He has a simple rule.  It’s either “no” or “Hell Yes!”

Either you are really pumped up, excited, and thrilled about a new commitment – or not.

My office team reminds me of this whenever I’m mulling a new commitment.  I’ll get an email that simply asks, “Is this a ‘Hell Yes?’ – or not?”   Hmmm.  This one little tip has saved me a tremendous amount of wasted time.  It has allowed me to focus on the most important things.

The next tip is to separate out and sequester those things that are not where your focus is.  One very successful entrepreneur I know has a “Not Now” list on his office white board.  Every time someone brings him something that supposedly must be done that is not where his focus is, he has it written on his Not Now list.  Why?  Because his clarity allows his productivity to soar.  By totally focusing on the most important project in front of him, he makes certain it has his complete immediate attention.

John Paul DeJoria, billionaire founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products, and other successful entrepreneurs I know do not use email.  That’s correct.  When you listen to them explain why they have checked out of the “online” world, it’s very simple.  It is a distraction to their ability to bring more value to the world.  They have their focus completely on what is most important to them and the customers and clients they serve.  They have assistants who answer email and bring the most important things to them, but they don’t get stuck in the time-wasting, destructive nature of this ubiquitous communication channel.  Long gone are the days when one became excited to hear “You’ve got mail!”

The opposite side of this coin are those of us who wake up checking our email before rising and are “tucked into bed” by our smartphones.  The constant, incessant, non-stop, pinging, checking and rechecking has turned us into a frantic nation of ADHD smart phoners.  Many wise entrepreneurs now have a business smartphone and a personal smartphone.  They disconnect their work phones when they connect to their social and emotional world, for welcome peace and clarity.

Lack of focus, continual interruptions and entropy are coins of the same mint.  Either take charge of one’s life with “Not Now” and “Hell Yes!” – or – forfeit one’s freedom to Murphy’s Laws:  “Whatever you want to do, you have to do something else first.”  “Things left to themselves go from bad to worse.”  “If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway (think ‘Titanic’).”

Statistician-educator W. Edwards Deming said, “The average American worker has 50 interruptions a day, of which 70 percent have nothing to do with work.”  Think about that.  Continual interruptions jeopardize one’s creativity, life plan and family enjoyment.

“Human says time goes by –

Time says human goes by.”  (Anonymous)

Focusing on what we truly want to do, seeking the freedoms we passionately yearn for, are imperative to managing daily entropy.

That endless laundry list of things we all have?  Frankly, most things don’t need to be done right this minute.  Waxing the car and re-painting the white picket fence can wait for another day.  It’s time to turn off, and tune in, to what is truly most important in our lives:  family, friends, passions, meaning, purpose – the things we highly cherish and value.

In women’s professional tennis, the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are world phenoms.  Self-willed, determined, persevering.  Venus was quoted as saying, “I don’t focus on what I’m up against.  I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.”

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