In this day and age of busy-ness and multiple distractions, mindfulness has come into common usage as an antidote to scattered minds. Time Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes and many other well-respected publications often extol the reasons for their readers to learn more about this hot new buzzword. “Many corporations and employees are also realizing that the benefits of mindfulness practices can be dramatic,” reports The Huffington Post. Well-known companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and General Mills, are starting to provide mindfulness training to their employees because they understand that mindfulness reduces stress and allows employees to acknowledge their emotions, to stay in the present, and to remain productive.
What exactly is mindfulness? Neuroscientists define it as paying close attention to what is happening around you so that you are open to new opportunities and new ideas. Dr. Daniel Siegel, a professor at UCLA, describes mindfulness as simply the opposite of mindlessness. “It’s our ability to pause before we react,” says Siegel. “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”
Most of us focus on ourselves and often lose track of what is around us. It is easy to do, given the hours spent on email and the temptations of social media, but this inner focus does not lead to greater productivity. Unfortunately, it often leads to more stress. The examples below happen all the time:
Example #1: You walk into your office and immediately turn on your computer to download email. An hour later you are not even close to done and then you remember that the project due today has not yet been touched. Had you been mindful when you walked in the door, you would have planned your day carefully. The email check would have waited until the important project was sent off. Using mindfulness gives people more control over the day.
Example #2: You are in a meeting and strongly disagree with a colleague. Both of you leave in a huff. Here is where practicing mindfulness is invaluable. By acknowledging your feelings, you now become an observer. It takes the sting out of the strong reaction you have just experienced and provides a calming effect. You can “see” your feelings but not be “undone” by them. Without the emotional baggage, it is easier to communicate with your colleague and stay productive that day, instead of angry.
Example #3: You are back in the meeting but only in body because you are thinking about something else. Join the ranks of people (virtually all of us) who are not in the present. With this mindset, it is unlikely that you will benefit from the meeting nor will you contribute to it. On the other hand, good things happen when you pay attention and are engaged — you are more likely to provide valuable input because you are in the present and paying attention.
Here’s the good news: most of us have the ability to be mindful. Fortunately, this skill can be developed — the more you activate it, the more mindful you become. However, it requires work to become a habit. The benefits are worth it:
• It is easier to process information at a higher cognitive level because there is less stress getting in the way of clear thinking.
• It changes the way you react to everyday occurrences because you have time to pause before acting.
• It helps eliminate distractions by acknowledging them and moving on.
• It supports overall health and well-being due to less stress.
• It improves productivity.
Seven actions to improve your mindfulness:
1) Stay alert. Ask questions. Listen actively, gathering insights and perspectives from other people. Dr. Daniel Goleman in “Focus” says that “This active engagement leads to smarter questions, better learning and a more positive early warning radar for coming changes.”
2) Let go of judgments by resisting assumptions and not coming to premature conclusions.
3) Wait before acting. Give yourself time to observe and think.
4) Identify your emotions and label them. It is not always easy to describe to yourself what you are feeling but, when you do, you will have better control over them. The feelings will be easier to regulate and to put aside.
5) Inhibit the emotion. Once you are aware of your feelings, stop them from interfering. Push them away. Otherwise, it is difficult to return to your current activity. Do not allow them to take over.
6) Maintain your focus on one thing only. Consciously put other thoughts out of your mind.
7) Take mini-breaks throughout the day to give your brain time to rest. Switch to easier, less cognitive tasks, take a quick walk outside and enjoy a short lunch break.
By practicing mindfulness and paying attention on purpose, you can become more efficient, more focused and more productive. Why not give it a try? Let me know what happens when you do.
Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, it is the perfect time to talk about goals which are top-of-mind for many of us. A new year and new goals go together. If you are a member of the 12% Club (people who actually stick to their resolutions), there is no need to read further. Congratulations on achieving your 2014 goals.
But for those of us who do not have goals or who did not reach them this past year, this post is for you. Why do so many of us not accomplish goals? There are a lot of reasons. Can you relate to a few of these?
Now that we know why a goal may not succeed, are you wondering if it’s worth bothering to create and pursue them in the upcoming year? The answer is yes and here are some of the reasons why.
Imagine a spectrum. On one end are long-term goals and at the other end are shorter-term goals. Both have merit. Becoming an industry leader in two years is a long-term goal while achieving 10% more in sales in three months is at the opposite end. Small and shorter goals are just as worthy as longer term goals and may be easier to make.
The secret for achieving any goal – long or short – is to list each task. (another word for a to-do.) Some goals consist of two tasks whiles others may have twenty or more. Even daunting goals with many tasks will feel more achievable. Once all of the tasks are listed (either on paper or electronically), we can prioritize them. As each task is completed, check it off. (A great feeling!) You can chip away at a goal this way, one task at a time. Or, think of it as one bite of the elephant at a time. If, at any point you are unsure what to do next, refer back to the goal and the list of tasks to help you prioritize. The decision will be a lot easier.
By tackling a goal one step at a time, you will be able to manage your time so you can reach any type of goal. When you plan your day, decide the three most important tasks that must be done. At least one of these tasks should be related to your goal. Eventually, these small, doable tasks will help you reach the goal you’ve set out to accomplish.
When we work on these tasks neuroscientists call this “goal pursuit” — the process of creating and going after the goal. It is the journey – accomplishing the small tasks — that counts. Without a commitment to the journey, the goal can be lost. How easy it is to become derailed along the way!
Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience and well worth the hard work. Have you decided which goals you are going to pursue in 2015?
Everyone is late from time to time (even you and me), often for a reason that can not be helped. But that’s not who we are going to discuss today. We are going to talk about people who are chronically late — people who do not leave enough time to get someplace on time. Often they often arrive late for lunch, an appointment or an important event like a job interview or a wedding.
If someone is consistently late, it can be a problem for friends and family who feel like victims. It can even damage the relationship. We all know how it feels to be sitting and waiting for a friend who is always late. “Sorry”, she mumbles when she arrives, “but I had to write an important email before I left and, oh, the traffic was really bad.” Maybe she thinks these excuses are acceptable but they get old quickly. It is tempting to give my friend an earlier time so she’ll actually arrive on time.
A far more serious problem is the effect being late has on relationships at work. Unfortunately, chronic latecomers have a poor reputation. Colleagues resent it when their peers show up for meetings after they have started. They do not feel as if they can trust their colleague. Far worse, it can eventually limit career advancement. It’s that serious.
According to Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, most people don’t like being late but this behavior was often acquired a long time ago. Even when they try to be on time, it is extremely difficult to break lifelong habits.
What are some of the reasons that people are chronically late?
Interestingly, some people are not comfortable with the idea of being early. They do not know what to do with the “extra time” and are frustrated at not making “every minute count.” The thought of downtime with nothing to do is uncomfortable. The last thing they want to do is wait.
What is their idea of being on-time? In a perfect world, some latecomers aim to arrive exactly at the start time. People who tend not to be late view it quite differently. On-time for them is arriving 15 minutes early which eliminates the stress and gives them a chance to grab a cup of coffee, relax and even scout things.
Try these tips for being on time:
Follow these top ten email tips and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how productive you will become in handling email and how much time you’ll save. You’ll also discover that it is really possible to reduce (even empty) your inbox.
1. Do not do email first thing in the morning. Once you plan out your day, work on your most important task (MIT) for the first hour you are in the office while you are fresh and alert. Then, start email. (Note: it’s OK to glance through email first thing in the morning to make sure that you have not missed anything significant, such as an urgent email from your supervisor or a cancelled meeting.)
2. Schedule several blocks of uninterrupted email time – one mid-morning and a second in the afternoon. Use a timer to keep you focused and on track. Plan on spending 45 minutes – one hour reviewing email that needs to be handled right away. The rest can wait. When you are checking email, try and stay focused. That means not allowing internal and external distractions. Let phone calls go to voicemail and indicate that you are “busy” on your calendar. If you think of something that needs to be done, jot it down on a pad of paper and continue to read and answer email. Make the best use you can of the email time you’ve allotted yourself.
3. Move or drag email out of the inbox. Do not let it sit there.Commit to making a decision on each email. Delaying decisions creates havoc in your inbox. Your inbox is not a filing cabinet. View your email inbox as just that – an In Box — where email arrives that need processing. Imagine how cluttered and messy your kitchen counters might look like if you ignored incoming snail mail. You’d be lucky to find anything.
4. Decide if the email is action or reference. Start at the top of your inbox and look at each email in order. Do not skip around. If it is action, follow the 4Ds (#5). If it is reference and will be needed again, move it to personal documents, shared files or the personal folders in the inbox. Examples of reference folders are: inactive clients, proposals, past projects, and marketing materials.
5. Use the 4D’s of Decision Making. This valuable tool eliminates a lot of the guess work about how to handle individual emails and where to move them. It is a sure-fire way to reduce the email in your inbox.
6. Set up specific folders for action items, current projects and reference and move email to the appropriate folder. Examples of folders: To Do, To Call, Waiting For (or Pending), Read & Review, Upcoming Meetings/Events, Cases, Clients, Current Projects, Associations. My favorite personal folder is “Read Later”. The email in this folder can wait.
7. When sending an email:
8. Respond to the sender promptly even if you cannot give an answer right away. Let the sender know the email was received. Now the sender will not need to send a follow up note because you were proactive. That will be appreciated.
9. Use “Reply All” judiciously. Usually a reply to the sender is all that’s necessary. Not everyone needs to know you’re leaving for vacation and cannot attend the meeting.
10. Move important folders to the Cloud such as Dropbox and SugarSync. If anything happens to your hard drive, your information will be safe.
Often people with hundreds, or even thousands of emails, feel totally overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. We recommend that they set up a system that works using these tips as a guide and then manage the newest emails first. Ignore the older emails or move them into archives where you can deal with them later.
By using a few of these tips, your inbox will be manageable. Finding the email you need will be much easier. You’re the one in control now.
Most of us leave the office with a sense of accomplishment if we manage to complete our daily to-do list that day. Productive and successful people live and breathe to-do lists. It’s their business bible. With limited time and energy, a manageable and realistic list like this is a must.
Why, then, is a NOT-To-Do-List also a good idea? Think about it. All day, every day, we are bombarded with to-dos that are not on our daily list. While we are committed to the tasks on our to-do list, other tasks, which often appear out of nowhere, also demand time and attention. To make it worse, they take our focus off important tasks – the ones that bring us closer to our goals.
Staying away – far away — from those interloper tasks is just as important as completing your to-dos. We recently interviewed 70 successful and productive business people. Many of them told us that they prevent “other” tasks and assignments from derailing them despite the pressure to succumb. They maintain their focus and concentrate on the tasks that matter.
In many ways a NOT-to-do list is ranks just as high as a to-do list. Knowing what you should not be doing frees you up for the tasks that need your focus and concentration. As fellow time management specialist Harold Taylor says, “If something is not critical to do then it is critical that we do not do it.”
Below are suggested NOT-To-Dos. By not doing them, you will be able to focus your efforts on the tasks that will get you closer to your long term and short term goals.
1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers. It is an interruption and you will lose focus on what you are doing. That’s why they made voice mail. If it is important, return the call on your schedule. A program called PhoneTag will convert your voicemails into text and email them to you along with the original audio of the message.
2. Do not check email in the morning. Tackle an important task instead. Email is a low-level function that requires less brain power than other high level tasks such as prioritizing, planning and writing.
3. Do not check email all day long. Check email only at specific times. Email is like candy. Your brain craves the novelty of finding out who just sent you the last email and what it says. Don’t play that game. Schedule a block of time (45 minutes or so) two or three times a day and enter these times in your calendar with a start and finish time. Consider looking at email mid-morning, after lunch (probably too sleepy to do much of anything else) and again around 4pm, giving you one last opportunity to reply before heading out the door. Oh, yes. Don’t forget to disable the sound and pop up alerts.
3. Do not add to your priorities without considering the implications. Were you just handed a new project? If so, how important is it and when is it due? Communicate with your boss the impact a new project has on your existing ones. Tip: write all active projects down into a notebook (paper or electronic). At a glance, you’ll see all of your projects and due dates.
4. Do not take calls while you are in a meeting unless you are the president of the United States or an ER doctor. If you must answer, be sure and inform attendees before the start of the meeting that you are expecting an important call. Otherwise your colleagues may not have nice things to say about your manners.
5. Do not allow others to clutter your inbox. Avoid sending emails with receipts attached to them. Ask to be removed from your company’s non-essential distribution lists. And, while you are at it, unsubscribe to on-line magazines and newsletters that do not have a high payoff. One last email tip: avoid sending email with receipt requests. Some people use an auto responder thanking a person for their email and letting them know when they will return the call. Leave a phone number in case it is an emergency. Just remember to call them back when you say you will.
6. Do not connect with your smart phone 24/7. Turn it off when you are not working. Everyone needs time to recharge without being tethered to technology. Get a dog if you need companionship.
7. Do not allow social media sites to consume your time. Access updates during non-working hours unless social media sites are part of your business strategy. Use a timer to stay focused while surfing social media sites. Or, before you know it, an hour has passed and you have nothing to show for it.
8. Do not send vague emails. Write relevant, descriptive subject lines. Put “Action Needed” or “Action Requested” in the body of the email to highlight your request. The fewer words the better. Read over the email before hitting send to make sure that the email is clear and expresses your thoughts.
9. Do not say “yes” unless yes is really the answer you want to give. It is appropriate to check your calendar or to say that you must check with others first. If this project will make it harder to reach your goals, do not hesitate to say no.
10. Do not attend a meeting without an agenda. Preferably, the agenda will be sent out ahead of time along with committee reports. Focus your time at a meeting on issues and discussions. Before entering the meeting, be sure and know when it will end.
11. Do not spend too much time chit-chatting with people in the office or on the phone. Of course be friendly, but move the conversation along at the same time. Often, informing the person that you are in the midst of a project is sufficient.
12. Do not worry about something that has already happened. Did you make a mistake in a meeting or say something that you now realize was incorrect? It happens to everyone. Make your apologies and move on. Save your thinking for positive thoughts and ideas and do not dwell on something that you cannot change.
13. Do not do something if you can delegate it. Given the demands on our time these days, do not hesitate to ask an administrative assistant, a subordinate or a colleague to handle tasks they are capable of doing. H/she may have more expertise in the area than you have. Even though explaining the task may be time-consuming, it will be worth it in the end.
14. Do not do less beneficial tasks at the expense of important ones. Often we become caught up on a less important task. The task was important when you started it, but part way through you now realize it is no longer a priority. Even if you have put extensive effort into it and are emotionally tied to the outcome, drop it right away. It may be hard but your time needs to be allocated against the projects that count.
15. Do not worry about things you can not affect. If your revenue was down last month, think about ways to make it up. Worrying about the problem won’t fix it.
Now you have 15 NOT-To-Do items and you are sure to come up with others on your own. Be mindful and oh so conscious of the tasks you should not do because they will rob you of the time you need for crucial tasks. What will you put on your NOT-To-Do List? Write to us and let us know.
How do you start your work day? Do you dive right in to email or grab the first thing you see on your desk when you walk in the office? In this blog, we will discuss how you can maximize your productivity all day long just by following a routine in the first 15-30 minutes of the work day.
One of the hallmarks of a successful person is that h/she creates many positive habits and follows them, day in and day out. One of them is a morning ritual that keeps them efficient and effective throughout the day. Highly productive and successful people resist diving in to their to-dos until they have mapped out the day. Planning the way the day so it will be as productive as possible is always first.
Q: Why is the 15-Minute Opening Ritual that big a deal?
A: There are multiple reasons; let’s start with these:
Q: Most of us do our best thinking in the morning when our cognitive resources are at high alert. What’s going on?
A: Our cognitive resources are stored in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. This is where we use our working memory to perform high-level functions such as planning, prioritizing, making decisions, and delegating. This part of the brain allows you to envision the day and maximize your productivity which is why a morning ritual is so valuable. High level thinking requires a tremendous amount of working memory and needs your undivided attention. The last thing we want to do is squander this valuable resource on low-level tasks such as email and phone calls. They need to wait until later when the prefrontal cortex is tired and then we can switch to less taxing activities.
Q: Can you describe my day using the 15-Minute Opening Ritual?
A: Your day will be well-planned and will flow more smoothly than if you approach it haphazardly and reactively. The key is to focus ahead of time – usually in the morning or the night before – to decide what needs to be accomplished and what the day will look like. Remember — not everything needs to be done immediately. Some tasks can be moved to other days while others you know must be attended to right away.
Here is an example of a 15-Minute Opening Ritual:
Arrive early for work or at least be on time. This one act alone sets a positive tone for the day, helps you stay calm, and eliminates the rushed and stressed feelings that otherwise might stay with you throughout the day. With fewer people in the office and the phone silent, this is an ideal time to envision, assess, and prepare for the day.
Crave caffeine? We would be remiss if we ignored the well-trod trip for a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke (after all, this is the South). On your way there and back, greet everyone who crosses your path and make connections although this is not a license to linger. No thinking required. At least not yet.
Is your desk clear of papers? If not, remove the clutter. Messy work spaces can be distracting and studies show that colleagues are judgmental even if you are the best performer in the office.
Review your calendar for important meetings, appointments. Add uncompleted tasks from yesterday to your schedule along with new ones and decide which ones to attend to today. But do not start on them yet.
Leave enough white space for unexpected happenings and emergencies that are sure to occur.
Know your schedule and look at it often throughout the day. (Tip: With two monitors you can display your calendar throughout the day.)
Review your to dos and determine the three most important tasks that must be done today. (We understand that your list is a mile long and you are probably protesting just reading this. However, when you leave the office at the end of the day, you will feel good about your accomplishments. (Tip: Hear what Stephen Covey says about important vs. urgent.)
Break projects down into chunks so they are not overwhelming. Once you have listed the steps, prioritize them and decide what you can accomplish today. The second step may have to wait until another day.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. It is not enough to just identify the three important tasks. Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog suggests scheduling the least appealing task first.
Decide when during the day you will do the 3 tasks and enter them into the calendar at the times you are going to handle them. If you double the time you estimate the task will take, you will probably be right.
Turn off external interruptions such as the ding on your email and the ringer on your phone (or at least send messages to voicemail). Colleagues walking by will notice your closed door and get the message that you are not to be disturbed because you are in the midst of your 15-Minute Opening Ritual.
What about internal interruptions? That’s the voice inside you that is thinking about where you will eat lunch instead of concentrating on what you are doing now.
Save low-level activities such as phone calls and email for later. Chunk them together and add them to the calendar. If you do fall into the black hole of email, an hour will slip by and your good intentions to be productive and focused will be derailed.
Listen to voice mail for messages and enter them in your computer or write them down on the pad located next to the phone. Plan when you will return calls but don’t do them now.
Make sure your to do list is realistic and up-to-date. Successful and productive people we interviewed all had working to-do lists that they reviewed throughout the day.
If you need to get in touch with someone and receive an answer that day, phone or email as soon as you have completed the 15-Minute Opening Ritual. It’s the best chance of reaching someone.
For more information, check out these websites:
The 15-Minute Closing Ritual is a technique that It’s Time To Get Organized created to ensure that each day runs smoothly. Recently, tips and techniques on what to during this closing ritual were posted in the Abacus blog to help maximize the time management techniques of thousands of attorneys. Not only does it keep attorneys working efficiently but it will benefit others as well.
Most of us lack energy or inclination at the end of the day to get organized for the next day. Yet, those 15 minutes yield a huge payoff. Check out the blog to read about how you can add this highly successful routine to your day.
One of the books we refer to often when we speak to businesses is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We particularly like the Time Management Matrix in the third chapter, Put First Things First, because it is all about the importance of results. Stephen Covey divides all matters into four quadrants. It looks like this:
I. Important and Urgent: These are the crises and pressing problems that we encounter every day. Many people “live” in this box because urgent matters always take precedence. They need to be done NOW. While we are all in this box some of the time, we do not want to spend all of our time here. It can cause stress and burnout. The next time you are asked to do something that is urgent but does not support your goals, think twice before saying yes. Some of your projects need to bring you closer to your goals. That’s the II quadrant.
II. Important and Not Urgent: This is the most important box to be in because it is planning, recognizing, building relationships — all of the things that will help you accomplish your goals. The trick is that it requires being proactive. You need to take the initiative. If you do, however, the rewards are great: this is where you get results, have a good perspective, control your day and encounter few crises.
III. Not Important and Urgent: The less time in this quadrant, the better. Here is where we find interruptions, phone calls, email, snail mail, meetings, and pressing matters that have little weight. It is crisis management at its best and the day is spent reacting to things that are probably important to someone else.
IV. Not Important and Not Urgent: It is best to stay out of this quadrant altogether because mostly trivial activities happen here. This is where busy work belongs along with time wasters, a few phone calls and emails and pleasant activities that do not move you along toward your goals. It is not where effective people choose to be.
Want to learn more? Forbes Magazine talks about the Four Quadrants in its January 30, 2013, issue . The article is called “How Does One Manage Time More Effectively?” Or, it is always worth investing in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
Which quadrant(s) do you spend your day in?
How do you spend your time? We all have the same number of hours in the day and yet some of us achieve quite a lot while others less so. Author Harvey Mackay suggests that improving our time-wasting habits is the answer. As productivity specialists, we agree with the article he wrote in the Atlanta Business Chronicle August 30-September 5, 2013. It contained seven smart suggestions:
1) Begin With A Plan Every Day so that you can focus on the right tasks; otherwise you will lose sight of what is important. Remember to make a to-do list for the following day so you can be productive as soon as you enter your work space.
2) Prioritize based on what is most important. Complete important items first.
3) Be Realistic and don’t take on too much at one time. There are times when saying no is necessary so you can complete your work on time. Otherwise, you’ll be adding stress when it can be avoided.
4) Keep Your Workspace Neat. Spend 5-10 minutes daily to put away files and get rid of the clutter. It will make a big difference and will prevent you from searching through documents to find the one you need. Statistics show that workers spend 50 minutes a day searching for documents they know they own.
5) Focus. Interruptions and distractions pull you away from what is important. While 20% of the interruptions are good, try and avoid others such as answering the phone and checking email often.
6) Get Enough Sleep. Everyone functions better when they feel rested. It puts you in control, reduces your stress level and helps you tackle problems better. According to the experts, most people need between 7 and 8 hours.
7) Take A Break. While it is tempting to continue persevering on a project until it is done, short diversions are recommended. Stopping and doing something else for a short time will take your mind off of it. When you return to the project, you will feel renewed. That is why activities such as exercise and taking time to eat lunch are a good idea and help refresh you.
Many of us are aware of these steps but putting them in practice is not always easy. Choose one of them that you currently do not do and give it a try for a week or two. Our guess is that you will like the results.
Often clients ask us how many goals do they need? The answer is as many as you can think of. And write them down.
Prioritize them. Decide which ones to tackle first. After all, not all of them can be worked on at the same time and some
may be more important or more timely than others.
Use the S.M.A.R.T. system to evaluate each goal and to decide if the goal is achievable.
S.M. A.R.T. is an acronym for:
S: Specific — be as concise as possible. “W” questions as a guide: Who is involved? What do I want to achieve? Where is the location? When does it happen? Which requirements and constraints do I need to follow? Why is this goal important?
M: Measurable — How much? How many? How will I know when I have reached my goal?
A: Achievable — Make it attainable. What are some of the ways I can reach my goal?
R. Realistic — How hard are you willing to work?
T. Timely — It needs to be time-bound for a goal to be achieved.
Often people set themselves up for failure by setting goals without the specifications in the S.M.A.R.T. system.
Now that you know the steps, consult your planner and choose a date and time to work on your goals.
It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. — Eleanor Roosevelt