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Summary:

What are your intentions? Do you ever stop and ask yourself that question? Probably not. If you’re like me, you get up and kind of let the day happen to you — addressing emails, putting out fires, taking on whatever comes your way.

“Gentlemen, what are your intentions?” — Jim Lovell, Apollo 13

In “Apollo 13,” Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) asks that question at a pivotal point in the movie, where the mission shifts from going to the moon to getting back home safely. I hadn’t really thought about it when I’d seen the movie before, but for some reason, that quote resonated with me when watching it the other day.

What are your intentions? Do you ever stop and ask yourself that question? Probably not. If you’re like me, you get up and kind of let the day happen to you — addressing emails, putting out fires, taking on whatever comes your way, and working in reactive mode until the day is over. Then you wonder why you’re so frustrated and swear to yourself that tomorrow will be different. On the rare day that you manage to control your direction, stand accountable for your results, and work from a place of intention, you end the day feeling exhilarated and more connected to your true purpose.

In the movie, Lovell asks the question so that the crew would get their minds off going to the moon and focus on what was really important, which was making it back home. By asking that one simple question, their attention moved from disappointment over not making it to the moon to doing what was necessary to ensure their survival.

How different would your “mission” be each day, if you asked that one simple question before you even got out of bed? What are your intentions?

Do you intend for your life to be one big scatter-gun approach toward success? Do you want to look back one day and see that your time was spent compulsively checking email and following social network feeds? Is there something that you would rather spend your time doing?

Personally, I know that I would rather spend my work time engaging with other entrepreneurs and small business owners, figuring out solutions to move our businesses forward and to make the biggest impact on the world around us. Spending time replying to countless idle emails isn’t what I have in mind for my life or business, and it doesn’t stop there. There are also some things that I want to do outside of my work life, things that don’t get done because I’m watching some television re-run for the third time instead of doing things that really matter to me.

What would happen if we distilled our days down to a very concentrated core focus, where we spent the majority of our time pursuing our intentions? Maybe that’s unrealistic, but what would it hurt to try? Seriously, what do we stand to lose, a few days of not replying to emails the second they hit our boxes? What do we stand to sacrifice, hours of concentrated effort and attention toward the things that we say matter the most to us so that we can not do things we say we don’t want to do anyway, things that aren’t moving us forward and distract us from our real goals? If you’re comfortable accepting that risk, here’s a challenge for you.

The Challenge

  1. Stop everything you’re doing right now, and aside from any really important tasks or appointments that must be done, clear the rest of your day, if necessary, to give this the real attention it deserves.
  2. Turn off your email alerts. Close TweetDeck. Turn off all the time-nibblers.
  3. Now get a note-taking tool. Open a Zoho or Google document, or just grab a notebook and pen.
  4. Think about your ideal day. In an ideal world, how would you spend your days, both professionally and personally? How would you interact with customers or clients? What would be the service or product that you would provide the majority of the time? How would you deliver that service or product, ideally? How would you spend your days? What time would you wake up, start your work day, end your work day, and go to bed?
  5. Now figure out how to create it. If nothing could get in your way, how would you create that ideal world? What would you need to do to make that happen and to only make that happen (and not start catering to other demands that might present themselves as a result of your efforts, unless they support your intentions)?
  6. What core tasks and milestones do you need to meet each day, week or month to see this through? Do you need to get up at a certain time so that you can take that morning walk you’ve been meaning to get around to and so that you can start your day off right? Do you need to contact a certain number of people each day, post to your blog, or begin writing that book? Do you need to turn off your computer at a set time each day so that you can concentrate on other areas of your life and not be tempted to check email? Set it up. Put whatever you need in place — checklists, alarms, reminders, a vision board, whatever it takes.
  7. Now make a commitment to your plan. Stop right now and ask yourself, honestly, “What are your intentions?
  8. Now stay true to them. For the next 30 days, commit to working from a place of purpose and intent. See what happens.

We have to step back and ask ourselves what it is that we really want to do with our lives and businesses and then figure out how we’re going to do it. Why not?

What are your intentions?  Are your actions supporting them, and if not, how could they?

Photo by Flickr user DraconianRain, licensed under CC 2.0

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  1. this is exactly what I needed today, right now. Thanks.

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    1. Glad it helps, Mark.

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  2. I like that you write about stuff like this. I have these sorts of discussions with my colleagues every day. In our institution there is a constant droning/hammering on best practices, new technologies, (etc) in an attempt to make us better. We so often neglect the most important factor that allows us to get work done: our selves. I think it’s great that you approach the culture of work, and that underlying sense of psychology and philosophy. Thanks for being daring and going outside of the box…or cubicle :-)

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    1. Thanks, David. I appreciate the compliment. Yeah, I have the same idea. I’m my #1 competitor, no one else comes close. If I can get myself to do what I need to do, honor my boundaries, and stay accountable, then the rest is much easier to manage. The rest you can find in a book or on a blog, but I have yet to find the how-to manual for getting out of my own way. Writing this stuff out, figuring my way one inch at a time, is the best solution I’ve found.

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      1. No problem, Amber. I have been looking for the same manual. I heard a decent podcast on 43 Folders:

        http://www.43folders.com/2010/01/26/godin-linchpin

        Basically, Seth Godin discusses the amygdala and it’s primitive functions vis-a-vis fear. His main theory is that we are our own enemies because our amygdala is interpreting something as being dangerous, when in actuality there is no clear and present danger. It appears that our primitive brain is simply looking for things to be scared of in lieu of being chased by tigers etc. So, our higher functioning mind takes these vibes and translates them into different ways of us circumventing our true intentions. That’s my quick and dirty explanation. Interesting stuff to think about, though.

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    2. I’m reading Linchpin right now, David! :)

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      1. I’ve been meaning to read that. Let me know how it is, if you get the chance. I read one book and buy three, so I’m always a bit behind :-)

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    3. So far, I like it. I’m like you, except I buy three and read three, so it takes me a while to get through them all! If/When you decide to get it, touch base and see what I think of it at that point.

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  3. I so much love this article–thank you, Amber–and I accept the challenge. Signs reading “Do you intend for your life to be one big scatter-gun approach toward success?” and “What are your intentions?” are going up on my wall right now!

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    1. Thanks, Sam. I’m glad you liked the article. I should post those signs, too! :)

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  4. Thwock. Right between the eyes this post landed.

    Thanks so much for sharing it. Best, M.

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    1. I need to re-read it every day, M. I forget to stay true to my intentions all the time (it’s so easy to).

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  5. Thanks Amber for a great post, which has inspired me to try it out, as it’s exactly what gets to me, when I’m trying to get something else done.

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    1. Thanks, Torben. Best of luck! Post back your progress.

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  6. Great article! I think a lot of people, including myself, are in this situation.

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    1. Agreed, Abby. Me, too.

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  7. I’m looking forward to seeing of I can accept the challenge… starting tomorrow. I’m optimistic that I’ll be more productive – I just need a reminder every once in a while that it’s possible.

    Thanks!

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    1. Good luck, Andre! I think it is possible. Post back with your progress.

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  8. Tammy Stone Friday, April 9, 2010

    Love this article. I’ve been struggling with the goals/business plan and this was a huge help. It really comes down to what is it that I REALLY want to do with my life and my business. Thanks!

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    1. Totally agree, Tammy, and if we’re not doing what’s REALLY important to us, then what ARE we doing?

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  9. Thank you for this valuable reminder about the importance of our intentions.

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    1. You’re welcome, Ellen! Hope it helps.

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