Two Simple Habits for the Ultra-Busy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Leading, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 5 min.

How is your week going?

No, really. How is it going? On a scale from “Calm waters, smooth sailing” to “Rough Chop” to “Gale” to “Tempest”, how effectively are you sailing through your week?

Chances are that most of you—most of the time—will say, “Gale,” “Tempest,” or “What word do you have for something worse than a tempest ‘cuz that’s where I am?”

We live every day with wave upon wave of tasks, competing priorities, and interruptions.

And that sucks. It feels bad, it saps our energy, and lowers our productivity. It’s also a downward spiral; the more storms we experience, the more behind we feel, the more we push, the less energy we have, the more we don’t get done, the more storms we have.

For those of you who manage a team, you’ll recognize that this is not just a personal issue; it affects teams and entire companies the same way.

GOOD NEWS: Two simple habits; you choose when to take them on.

(Of course there’s good news!)

What doesn’t work is trying to fight the storms by working harder, going numb, blaming, or hiding. There will always be new waves of tasks and interruptions and they’ll wear you down.

What DOES work is learning to surf these waves. And you are just two simple habits away from hangin’ ten.

If your frustration with the way things are is high enough, grab these two habits and run with them; they’ll change everything.

If you’re not ready, bookmark this post for a time when you are ready, when the way things are is no longer acceptable.

HABIT ONE: Plan-Do.

If you start your workday by diving in to your work, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, invest a relatively minute amount of time to plan you day and your week. When you do, you’ll put yourself above the waves.

This type of planning gives you the proper perspective to know what your will work on given of all the things your could work on.  It also gives you the information you need to decide in the moment whether to allow this next interruption or that request.

Set aside time–maybe 40 minutes–before each work week (e.g. Friday night, Sunday night, or Monday morning) to review all your projects and commitments to know what you’ll select to work on and what goes to the back burner. Set aside 10 minutes or so before each work day (either that morning or the night before) to select what you’ll work on that day and adjust your weekly plan based on what’s happened.

Have with you the lists of your projects/commitments/appointments as you do this planning.

For more information about this habit, see this article in Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com/article/work-smart-how-to-avoid-the-busy-trap?partner=homepage_newsletter

For more help, email me with your questions or post a comment below.

HABIT TWO: Be here now

This habit is about changing your state of mind–your attitude–instantly and often as you can.

If you see this habit as less practical and even a waste of time, give me a moment to explain. It’s actually a surprisingly powerful and productive tool.

This is deep topic that we can spend our lifetimes learning about. For now, let the loosely constructed logic below point you in the right direction. If you’d like to learn more, email me. You can also skip this logic and go right to the practice that follows.

  • Performance in our jobs and life comes only from action.
  • Our state of mind affects our ability to perform, to act well.
  • Without focus or training, our state of mind comes from our habitual thoughts and emotions.
  • We build our habitual thinking and emotions from very early on life. They are there for what was a good reason.
  • Some of these habitual thoughts and emotions are no longer useful; they really detract from our performance today.
  • The thinking and emotions more in conflict with our performance today can be categorized as “regret about the past” or “worry about the future.”
  • We may not think we are regretting or worrying. Typically we react to the word “regret” and “worry;” looking deeper, we see we indeed are expending too much time and energy on the past or the future.
  • The best barometer for measuring whether we’re too focused on the past or future is how we physically feel. Tense, nervous, ill, numb, in pain, and excited are some of the usual signs.
  • Regretting the past or worrying about the future pulls our focus from the ONLY PLACE EVER WE CAN PERFORM: here and now.
  • We can tell we are in the here and now when the physical sensations disappear or diminish.
  • We can’t force ourselves to be here and now. Forcing creates an ugly reaction of not-here-and-now.
  • We can release ourselves by simply observing. Naming what we are thinking, feeling, doing drives a wonderful wedge between us and our habitual thinking.
  • Regular observation gives us the ability to catch ourselves caught up in habitual thinking and emotions and release ourselves without much effort at all.
  • Regular observation is like building a muscle. As we strengthen our observation muscle, we naturally have more energy and focus to act well, right here and now.
Practicing Habit Two
  1. For the next 24 hours, notice your thinking and emotions. Just name them and go no further; resist the temptation to describe, evaluate, judge what you notice. One easy way: quietly say to yourself as often as you can today, “This is me thinking_______.” Or, “This is me feeling_______.” Or, “This is me______.” Examples: “This is me thinking this meeting is a waste of time.” “This is me reacting to my colleague’s comment.”
  2. Extend this practice by making a commitment to it and using the habit builder to make it stick.

Post a comment below with your questions, observations, or improvements to these habits.

Real change is fast, not slow.

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Career, Leading, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 4 min.
How Long Does it Take?

How long does it take…

  • …to turn around the culture of an organization?
  • …to find your ideal career?
  • …to reform a criminal, change the dynamics in your family, turnaround a business, change a habit? achieve peace in the land,or have balance and satisfaction in your life?

Months? Years? Lifetimes? Strings of attempts ending in failure or at least less-than-hoped for results?

Perhaps. Or perhaps there’s a way to speed things up. Let’s first look at what blocks real, lasting change.

Why change fails or lags

Most change fails because we act at the wrong level. We work the symptoms, not the causes.  We get trapped, for instance, in the drama about things or by the discomfort of looking too deep.  This is true for us as individuals or in organizations.

Getting trapped like that not only delays change and presents hard work, it reinforces the belief that long and difficult is the way of things and that the next change will be long and difficult, too.  More insidiously, we can believe that there’s something deeply, fundamentally wrong with us or our organization.  Look closely, and you’ll see this belief hiding and driving people and organizations everywhere.

Real change is just one thought away.

Here’s how to make real, sustained change quickly.  It starts with just one thought.  Find the right thought at the right level, investigate its truth, and choose a thought that supports your goals.

We tend to start looking at the symptoms; these are our “first thoughts” about the situation.  To go deeper ask two sets of questions:

  1. Where do you or your organization say, “That’s impossible.”?  These indicate you are bumping up against a too-limited view of the world and yourself/your organization in the world.
  2. What question is too painful or sensitive to ask or answer?  These indicate the thought that you or your organization can’t handle reality.  This type of thinking block has power when you don’t investigate them.  They lead to avoidance and stagnation for fear of the consequences.  Far better to jump into the jaws of these questions to realize they are toothless and timid.

Once you’ve found the thought, ask yourself, “Is it true, 100% true?”  Typically it’s not.  Acknowledge your tendency/habit to think like this.  Then decide, “What thought would better support me or us?”

Career Example

Situation: A friend wants to change careers, doesn’t know what he wants, it tired of not knowing (and not having any income) and isn’t taking any action. He’s been struggling for more than a year.

First thoughts: “I am a procrastinator.”  “This is hard.”  “Maybe it’s not meant to be.”

Underlying thought: “I don’t act so others won’t criticize.  I’m afraid of criticism; others will say I can’t have what I want or that I’ve screwed it up.”

Is this true? Pausing here for a moment, he sees it’s not true.  Those he fears would criticize merely express their own lack of direction and certainty.

Better thought: “I see my tendency to avoid possible criticism.  I act anyway to discover my SweetSpot and bring it life in my work.”

Organizational Example

Situation: A company that has enjoyed a large, protected market is now facing stiff competition from new and powerful entrants.

First thoughts: “We can’t change our stripes fast enough to react to these guys.  Our way of doing business is so ingrained and the politics amongst the players inside [think along the lines of management-union divisions] are so bitter that we can only make cosmetic changes; we fiddle while Rome burns.”

Underlying thought: “We cannot change anything because the other party is so unreasonable and so greedy that they rather let the whole thing go to hell rather than change.”

Is it true? Reflecting on the fact that both groups have the same thought about each other, they agree that it might not be true.

Better thought: “Though we’ve fought each other for years, we see there’s probably common grounds for cooperation AND even a possibility that our current organization gives us unique power in the marketplace.”

What’s your thinking?  How long will it take you or your company to change?

Don’t Join This Revolution!!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Good: Your Good Work, Leading
Reading time: 1

There’s a revolution afoot.  It is big.  It is global.  And it’s going  to change everything, for the better.

You can not join this revolution.  There is nothing to join.  No leaders, no organization, no followers, no enemies.

But you can be this revolution.  The power of this revolution lies within you and everyone else.  And it’s quietly waiting for you to nurture it and bring it to life.

Can you feel it? see it?

How to Build a New Habit

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 4 min.

“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconcious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character…” –Stephen R. Covey

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

You’ve been there before, I’m sure; we all have.   You want to make some sort of change and can’t seem to make it stick.

Whether it’s your New Year’s Day resolutions, your promise to listen more, or your new time-management regime, replacing old habits with new ones is tough.  And it can be discouraging: how much energy do you have to start a new exercise program the day after you’ve declared the last program a flop?

Can you ever teach old dogs new tricks?

Why is it so difficult to break a habit and put a new, more constructive one in its place?

Two reasons:

  1. Habits, by design, resist change.  They are the original “set it and forget it” lifestyle aid.  And for good reason: habits keep you safe and sane.  You can appreciate how great it is that your habits resist change.  Without habits, you’d have to consciously think about everything.    Imagine what life would be like if you had to consciously think about everyday tasks such as walking, talking, driving a car, reading, typing, and remembering to say, “Please,” and “Thank You.”  All these habits made sense to you as you built them and they still serve a good purpose.
  2. The typical methods for changing habits have a fatal flaw: they try to fight the old habit with “will power.”  Will power is just no match for a nicely entrenched habit.  In his book, The Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton says our habitual brain is more powerful than our conscious brain…more than a million times more powerful!   Your habits are going to win whenever you pick a fight with them.

Luckily, there is a method for building new habits that works. (more…)

Top Business Books: Career Edition

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Career
Reading time: 1

Following up my post about classic business books, here are my picks for excellent sources of career inspiration. These help one get over the main, faulty assumptions about jobs and careers that strangle would-be pursuers of their passions and life work.

  • What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. This perennial is popular for a very good reason: it gives practical, current, and hopeful advice and tools to find a job, change or grow your career, or start a business. Best part: the Flower, a powerful exercise for discovering your career passion, calling, or life’s work.
  • Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt. Pick up this book, scan it. Pause anywhere and dive in. You’ll come out with insights into most every aspect of your career development. Zen is deep and yin where Color is direct and yang. Use these two books together for best effect. Best part of Zen: the quotes from the world’s philosophers and leaders that invite needed personal reflection in uncovering mission, values, passions, skills, etc.

Guess what? Leading change is really hard!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading
Reading time: 4 min.

Read the cover story of the May 2005 issue of Fast Company: Change or Die. When you read that changing people’s behavior is difficult–really, really difficult–are you more shocked or are you more relieved? As a leader, do you see this as sad news or is it justification of what you’ve always known? Either way, there’s cause for excitement. Sure, the odds are against you; they are against everyone. But you can beat the odds. Here’s how.

  1. Get the context right – this stuff is hard but worth it. Your success as a leader depends on it. Havard Business School professor John Kotter, as quoted in Fast Company, says, “The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.”
  2. Accept reality – if you know how difficult it is to change people’s behavior, you’ll put in the required effort to make change happen. You won’t over-optimistically assume that policy or charisma or any other point solution will handle things. And you won’t brush under the carpet the focus needed to affect change in people.
  3. Understand behavior – study it, query it, confrm it. Make a study of people’s behaviors. There are patterns of behavior out there that you can see and decode. Use tools and methods like the DISC. You’ll be surprised how much you already know. Test your understanding by asking questions. “Has this person given up or am I seeing her quiet-and-committed style?” “How can I diffuse the beligerence of these aggressive types?” Get the input of others to validate you conclusions.
  4. Actively influence and support behavior changeCommunicate. OVERcommunicate! Communicating facts is okay; you’ll win when you address emotions. John Kotter says, “Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” And, from the article,
    • Re-define the context of change. People get stuck when they can’t see and break out of their old frames of reference. Give them a new one that’s simple, positive, and resonant.
    • Make bold changes. They’re scarier but they create success faster which supports further change.
    • Provide support. Use as your role definition the CEO in Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.” His advice is to get your team solid, set the vision (“organizational clarity”). constantly re-inforce that vision, and build human systems (e.g. training, compensation, hiring) that support that vision.
  5. Model change youself. The adage, “The fish rots from the head,” says it plainly. If you want to see change in your organization, open to changing yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. As leader, people look to you for cues. Your organization is ever a reflection of your views and beliefs, stong or weak, positive or negative. It mirrors you. Here are some tips: Give up having to know it all. Give up having to look good. Question practices. Build strong personal habits. Hire a coach! 🙂 Seek feedback. Surround yourself with people of high integrity. Develop your character. Redefine your role as enabler of others. Delegate well. Eliminate stress and build health. Adopt a practical task/action management system. And take everything a step at a time.

You see, you can affect change. You need to find and push on the right levers of vision, emotion, and integrity. I recommend you do this because the alternative isn’t so hot.

Guess what? Leading change is really hard!

The best way to get a job.

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Job search
Reading time: 7 min.

How do you find and land a great job?

A great job is one that  suits you, rewards you, lets you offer your best to the world…and pays the bills!

There are many paths to landing a great job.  The one I’ve outlined works well and is more likely to get you a great job.

Slow down, avoid blasting out resumes.

Pause for moment.  Take a deep breath–or three.  If you are anxious to get started, worried about begin out of work or about making a transition to a new job, you’re going to want to jump in and get going.  I’m all for that.  Where you need caution is in the type of activity you choose to do.

Just like your Thanksgiving meal is 90% preparation and 10% eating, just as a good contractor wouldn’t start slapping together some 2x4s when someone asks for an addition to their house, your job search will be most successful when you spend the proper time up front and prepare.

Avoid the well-trod path

In general, this means not “sending out resumes.”  Though it seems like the most basic thing you can do to get into action and get a job, it’s actually not that productive.  Reason: it puts you in the position of a commodity and has you playing the wrong side of a numbers game. (more…)