The Working With… Podcast

What’s Important Here?

April 11, 2022

This week, we’re looking at how to identify your most important thing.


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Episode 225 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 225 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein, and I am your host for this show.

I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s a lot of stuff flying around in our lives that demand attention right here. Right now. Messages from WhatsApp, email and social media that need responses. Colleagues, family and friends as well as clients and bosses ask us to ‘help’ them. Homes and cars that need cleaning, bills to pay, accounts to sort out and consolidate and, of course, summer holidays to plan. The list is endless. 

And because this ’stuff’ is non-stop and endless, the truly important things in our lives get pushed aside in favour of what’s urgent that masquerades as important. 

So what can we do about this? Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do that will give us some perspective on things and guide us through the days so that the things that do matter to us, can still take centre stage. 

So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Frank. Frank asks, Hi Carl, thank you for all the valuable content you publish. You’ve really helped me to get a grip on my life. 

I’ve completed your Areas of Focus Workbook and followed the guidelines. The problem I have is I have so many other things to do for my work and general chores, that I don’t have any time to do the things I want to do for my areas of focus. Is this normal or am I missing something important? 

Hi Frank, thank you for sending in your question. 

Now, it sounds like you are in transition. This is quite common when we have spent a lifetime working for other people’s agendas. It’s hard to take back control because we’ve become conditioned to give up all our time for other people. So, when we take some of that available time away and dedicate it to ourselves, we feel guilty and selfish. The truth is, you are not being selfish at all. 

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy from the airline safety announcements at the beginning of a flight—put your oxygen mask on first before helping small children—and there’s a good reason for this. You are not going to be able to help anyone if you are unconscious. The rule is you make sure you are fine first so you can then help other people. 

This is the same with life. If you are breaking down if your health gives out and you have to spend a prolonged period in hospital. Or if you are stressed out, burnt out and depressed, how helpful are you going to be to those around you? 

If you want to be there for the people that matter in your life, you must take care of your own wellbeing first. 

What does that mean? 

Well, in terms of time it doesn’t actually involve a great deal. Let’s begin with the basics.

In order for you to keep in touch with your wants and needs, you need some time each day to reflect and think. The best time for this is first thing in the morning. Rather than staying in bed until the very last moment, wake yourself up thirty minutes earlier and make those thirty minutes time dedicated to you. 

Make yourself a cup or glass of your favourite morning drink, then find a quiet spot for some time alone. Now, what you do in this time is entirely up to you. For me, I like to spend a little time in my journal and write my thoughts and feelings and review my objectives for the day. The key with these thirty minutes is to spend some time with yourself. Treat it as a time to stop, reflect and think about your needs. 

The act of writing a journal gives you a way to empty your head of things that might be worrying you. Or it might highlight some area of your life you feel is out of balance. 

Now, in your case, Frank, you have already completed your Areas of Focus workbook so you know what each of the eight areas means to you. This gives you a reference point to refer to that will help you to see where things are going well and where things might not be going quite so well. 

By completing the workbook, what you have done is to externalise the things that are important to you. This makes it so much easier to see if everything is going well. 

For instance, health and fitness is quite high up on my list and while my diet and exercise have been very good for a number of years, one area I have neglected is sleep. I haven’t been getting enough and I realised I need to make some changes to my day so I give myself every opportunity to get the required seven and half hours of sleep I need each day. 

This meant reviewing my calendar, adjusting my available coaching times and moving my daily admin time to earlier in the day. 

The funny thing was when I first realised my sleep was not good, I could not see where I would be able to find the time. But writing about it, reflecting and thinking about solutions over a couple of weeks, I soon found a way to accommodate more sleep time into my schedule. 

While it was running around in my mind, it became a huge problem. When I sat down to think about it objectively and look at the resources I had available, I soon found the solution was in my own hands and a few small adjustments to my calendar solved the problem. 

One of the great things about giving yourself some time for yourself is you have an opportunity to look at what is on your mind and to come up with solutions so they are removed from your mind. 

Our brains are incredible things that have evolved to keep us alive over hundreds of thousands of years. And that is where our brains fall down. They are designed to keep us alive and not necessarily evolve and develop us as individuals. This means even the smallest of problems will become amplified until we become stressed out and worse, stuck in a cycle of worry and anxiety. 

By giving yourself thirty (or more) minutes each day for yourself, you can occasionally ask yourself a series of simple questions. Questions like:

  • What work issue/project is most on my mind?
  • What health issues are bothering me?
  • What area of focus feels out of balance? 

Now, most days, there will likely be nothing, but from time to time, there will be something, and this allows you time to externalise the problem (write it down) and to let your intelligent brain consider solutions. 

Now, there are two parts to your brain. There’s the conscious brain—this is where your survival instincts lay. This is the brain responsible for making your stressed, anxious and on edge. Now, this is a good thing because it allows you to stay away from imminent danger. It’s what has kept us human beings alive. It’s the flight to fight part of our brains.

So, running away from your angry boss or upset customer. Or avoiding calling the bank to talk about your unauthorised overdraft is all controlled by your conscious brain. So, is ignoring your expanding waistline, your constant fatigue and the pain in your back that won’t go away. All of these ‘decisions’ are controlled by your conscious brain. 

If you never stop to reflect and think about you, you never engage your more intelligent part of the brain—your subconscious brain. 

Now, I like to think the subconscious brain is where your knowledge and life experience mingle and develop unique solutions to all your problems. The problem is, that you need to give your subconscious brain time to do its stuff. 

Your conscious brain is designed to make quick decisions such as running away from an angry mother bear and avoiding calling that upset client. 

Your subconscious brain is where you will find all the resources you need to solve all your problems. It might not be very helpful if you come face to face with a charging, angry mother bear protecting her cubs, but for most of our everyday problems, it is by far the best part of your brain to engage when you want to bring a sense of calm and control in your life. 

The reality is, that there’s always something on our minds. Something that doesn’t feel right. The question is: what are you going to do about it? 

You can choose to ignore the problem, or you can externalise it and reach into your subconscious mind for the resources that will give you the solution.

Just some of those resources would be:

  • Ask someone who has the knowledge to help you. That could be a doctor, a dietician or a fitness instructor. It could be a friend, a boss or a colleague. 
  • You could read some books or articles or listen to podcasts etc.
  • And of course, you have your own experience. What have you learnt in the past about this particular problem that could help you solve it?

All these resources are in your subconscious mind, but if you do not give yourself some time alone to stop and think, you will never gain access to this amazing resource. 

Over the years, I’ve leant not to be afraid to ask myself what’s bothering me right now and what can I do to get it off my mind? It’s when I go through that process I find that the things that are bothering me are not as bad as I imagine them to be and that a simple fix is often just a small amount of time away. 

On my recent flight back to Korea, I knew I was not going to get any sleep on the overnight bus ride to Dublin Airport, but I reasoned that as I was going to be on an eleven-hour flight from Paris to Seoul, I would have time to get some sleep on the plane. And as I was going to be very tired, I would not have much of a problem getting to sleep. 

What I didn’t bank on was to be sat next to two lovable small boys who once the flight attendant dimmed the lights after our meal, would start fighting and screaming. So much for being able to settle down to a few hours' sleep. 

Initially, my conscious brain reacted. I began to feel anxious and annoyed. But then I stopped. Externalised the problem—I was extremely sleep-deprived and these two boys were making it impossible to sleep. 

Once I pushed the problem to my subconscious brain I calmed down and realised there was still eight hours left of the flight and these boys were not going to be able to carry on fighting and screaming for all those hours. 

And sure enough, after about ninety minutes, they got tired and fell asleep. Cue seat back and sleep. 

Okay, I didn’t get as much sleep as I had hoped for, but by calmly waiting for the boys to get tired, I wasn’t stressed—one way to not be able to sleep—and I got around five hours. Enough to get me through the long flight. 

So there you go Frank. If you’re missing something it’s giving yourself time each day for yourself. To look at the big picture of what’s going on in your life and to externalise (ie write down) any issues or problems you feel you may have. 

Your subconscious brain may not give you the solutions immediately, but if you give it enough time it will. 

Life was never designed to be smooth sailing. It’s a journey, and they will be plenty of rough seas and storms. The ‘secret’, if you can call it that, is to give yourself time to reflect and use your natural resources to calm those seas and break those storms. This is where you will find the important things, and then you can prioritise them and make sure that is where you spend most of your time each day. 

Good luck Frank with your journey and thank you for your question. And thank you to you for listening.

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 


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