Monday, January 26, 2015

Everyone Starts Small

The internet has revolutionized the way in which we work.  It has connected us to more information and more people in ways that would have been impossible without it.  All good, right?

For some though, the availability of information is misleading and can prove de-motivating.  When we Google an idea or a concept we quickly see that there are 372,461 posts about that same idea.  The count may even be in the millions, which instantly leads us to believe that our idea is not new, not novel and will not be of interest to anyone else. They already 'get it' elsewhere.

The internet can quickly serve as a means of comparing ourselves  with others, proving to us that there is nothing 'new' to be done.  Believing that it has all be done before can result in our never bothering to try. After all, why would someone hire us to do it for them (whatever 'it' may happen to be) when there are so many others that have clearly been doing it longer, can do it better, have established systems in place.  With the help of the internet we can quickly find ourselves being sucked down the comparison rabbit-hole which tends to highlight for us why we shouldn't do something rather than why we should.  Our comparisons create doubts and inertia, preventing our ideas and dreams from ever coming to light.

However, we need to broaden our perspective and recognise that every one of us has a blend and mix of unique gifts that no one else has.  Your experiences, outlook and skills will appeal to some in ways that no one else's will.  There are more than 7 billion people on this planet.  It is impossible for those 372,461 folks you googled earlier to have reached them all.  As long as you are offering something that people want and need there will always be a market for your gifts.  

Despite the number of published authors out there, there is always room for more story tellers.  Despite the number of talented singers out there, there is room for more voices and songs.  Despite the number of great Italian or Thai restaurants out there, there is room for another to make a go of it.  

Don't let someone else's success hold you back from seeking your own.

Everyone starts small.  Every 'great' person began as you need to; with a kernel of skill, with limited experience, but with a lot of drive.  The 'greats' got to where they are through practice and experience.  They learned along the way. They didn't wait to be great to start.  It doesn't make sense then to compare yourself to those that are at a different stage in their journey.  

We may be skilled at something but hold ourselves back because we feel that there are others that are better.  What we fail to see though is that there is room out there for us to offer our service too, because it will be different.  Everything you do is imbued with you.  Your 'you-ness' will have an impact on the service you provide simply because it is unique to you. Your 'you-ness' is not duplicatable. 'You' have never been done before which means that, regardless of what you're offering, no one has experienced exactly what it is you do.  No one.  

Singers can all sing the same song but deliver completely different experiences, because each song is imbued with 'them'.  Some appeal to you more than others, while other audiences find others' renditions more appealing.  That's why there is room for more than one singer in the world, more than one author, more than one artist and more than one of whatever you offer.  

Whatever you offer has never been done before because it has not been done by you. You are unique and the world deserves to have you share those unique gifts. Only you can offer them 'you'.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Be Brief: Your Audience will Thank You!

Brevity takes work.  Perhaps that's why so few seem to do it.  Either that or people just like to hear
themselves speak which, unfortunately, is a little more accurate than perhaps we'd care to admit. The truth is though, we can make a powerful, positive and lasting impression on others by simply telling them what they need to know, not everything we want to tell them.

Our objective, in any communication, is not to share everything that we know but to share what our audience needs and is interested in hearing.  It therefore requires more effort and focus on our part, to consider the needs of our audience and to use it to determine what information we posses is relevant and to simply share that.  The information we share will therefore vary by audience and by situation.  One may call for more detail and the other less.  It becomes our responsibility to pay attention to what information will serve our audience best.

In his book Brief: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, author Joseph McCormack shares that there are 3 levels of detail to any story we share.

  1. 1st Level Details:  These are the details and information that are central to your communication and important for your audience to hear (focus on these!)
  2. 2nd Level Details:  Are those details that add colour and often a bit more clarity, but that aren't critical components of the message itself
  3. 3rd Level Details:  Are accurate pieces of information but they do little to enhance the communication itself or the understanding of your audience
Level one represents the important and primary components of your communications.  As for the other two levels?  Be judicious in your use of 2nd level details and avoid using level 3 at all.  

The more that we talk, the more that the conversation becomes about us, whether it's our self-focus, our nervousness and discomfort, our lack of confidence or perhaps even our actual lack of understanding of the topic itself.  Sometimes by trying to share everything we know we actually highlight the reverse.  
The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and to have the two as close together as possible.      George Burns
What you are sharing with others should be of interest and importance to them.  Don't make them work for it, either by waiting for it or having to weed through extraneous information.  Choose to demonstrate your respect for your audience by putting their needs above your own.  Use their reactions as a gauge to determine how well you are addressing those needs.  Yawns and shifting in their seats are generally good indicators that you have gone on too long and overstated your case.

Think about what your audience needs to know.  Say it.  Sit down.

Enough said.

(for those that would like to check out 'Brief' for themselves here's a link you can use to purchase your copy)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Top 10 Productivity Tips

If you are like me, and like just about everyone else in the work world, you struggle with trying to get the most out of each of your days.  Instead of becoming fanatical in managing your time to the minute, focus instead on increasing your productivity.  The trick is to be as productive as possible within the time available to us.

I've compiled the following list of Top 10 Tips from top CEO's, Executives, Entrepreneurs and Clients.  All are ideas that they practice and have found to be instrumental in increasing their productivity, enabling them to make the most of each day.  Some you may be doing.  Great! However, pay attention to those you aren't and determine which would bring you the most value and implement it. Don't try to do them all, start by focusing on only one value-filled idea and make it your own.  When it becomes part of your daily routine, revisit the list for another idea to try.

Here's the list, in no particular order...

1.  Pace.  Many of us lead relatively sedentary lives.  We sit during our commute, sit at our desks during the day, sit on our commute home, during dinner and in front of the tv.  Although we may fit in some workouts during the week we can boost this each day by pacing periodically throughout the day.  Pace while brushing your teeth, while waiting for your coffee to drip through, while talking on the phone, during commercial breaks.  This small addition to your day can add up to hundreds of extra miles walked by the end of the year, but serves to increase your energy and focus each day.

2.  Plan Tomorrow Before you Wrap up Today.  Knowing what you need to accomplish, before you hit the office each morning enables you to stay focused and not be pulled off track by someone else's agenda the minute you cross that workplace threshold in the morning.

3.  Assign Times to Tasks.  Most people's to-do lists are just a running list of outstanding activities, not necessarily an accurate picture of what they expect to accomplish each day.  Assigning a timeframe to each task though ensures that you are not overscheduling your day.  Let your to-do list signify what you are actually intending to accomplish that day, using a secondary list to highlight all outstanding actions that are working their way onto your to-day list at some point.  This provides a much clearer (and mor realistic) approach to creating your daily schedule, giving you a much clearer and more positive picture of what you have achieved at the end of each day.

4.  Eat Breakfast.  Yes, I know we have all heard about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, but that doesn't necessarily mean you follow it!  Just as your body needs fuel to operate efficiently, so too does your mind.  If you want to operate at your peak level of productivity you need to ensure that both your body and mind are being given the fuel they need to operate fully for you.

5.  Top 3 - First.  Don't make the mistake of coming in to the office and engaging in 'warm-up' activities like email.  If you have planned your day before you arrive you can then use your morning to clear off your big ticket items.  Most people's minds are at their peak functioning in the morning.  You haven't yet depleted your resources so it makes sense to apply them to your biggest, more challenging tasks first.  Save the afternoon for meetings and smaller, less important activities.  Additionally, if your day gets away from you and 'run out of time' then you are leaving less important activities unfinished rather than that big project with the looming deadline.

6.  Create Productivity Rituals.  The more that you ritualize your productivity actions, the more habitual and automatic they will become.  Our minds and bodies like routines.  Go to bed at a set time, wake up at a set time, plan your day before you leave the office, routinize when you check emails (not every time it pings!), when to exercise, when to eat.  Writers train themselves for set times that they write.  It is a scheduled habit that prepares their mind to write at that scheduled time.  Creating routines that train your brain when it needs to be focused (ie:  top 3 first thing in the morning) helps ensure that it is focused in that time.  Other routines simply help you to engage in activities utilizing little brain power, saving up your energy and focus for the activities that need it.

7.  Use your Waiting Time.  We all have the inevitable times where we are forced to wait upon someone else's schedule.  A client is running late, we're standing in line somewhere, airports are notorious as are doctor's offices.  Rather than simply reading email, use this time more productively by always having podcasts and articles downloaded.  These are the types of activities we should all be doing regularly to keep abreast of new developments, to learn new ideas, but rarely find the time for.  Use your Waiting Time (and Commute Time) to continue building your knowledge base.

8.  Take a Break.  I know that this seems counter-productive but it actually isn't.  Research and studies clearly show that we are not built to maintain a high level of focus and productivity indefinitely.  We tend to operate in 90 minute intervals.  Pushing through this time without taking a break is likely only going to cause you to take more time completing a task rather than less.  Taking a small break every 90 minutes has been found to increase productivity by relaxing and re-energizing the mind/body, allowing you to be more focused and targeted when you return to your tasks.

9.  Hold Meetings to Timeframes.  Most people expect a certain amount of wasted time in meetings and are therefore never disappointed.  People tend to tune out in meetings which results in a less focused and directed meeting.  Stay focused and on task, ensuring that others do as well.  Odds are you will find that most meetings are completed in under the scheduled time rather than running late. Interrupting a meeting to announce there are only 15 minutes of the meeting left and directing the group to focus on the critical issues before the meeting is over typically results in a flurry of focus and decision making.  Training yourself, and your group, to be that focused from the start will significantly reduce the time you spend in meetings and your frustration with them!

10.  Uncover your Time Vampires.  Where do you tend to lose time?  You likely have a number of activities built into your week that inadvertently cost you time, decreasing your productivity.  Paying attention to these activities and refining and streamlining them will often free up far more of your time than you realize.  For instance, watching tv.  I'm not advocating a complete boycott, but be mindful of the time you spend.  If you tune in specifically to watch a particular show and it isn't on, or is a repeat, shut off the television rather than begin surfing.  You now have freed up time for something else.  You may also find that some of your time vampires are certain people in your life, that seem to take up far more of your time than they add value.  Be strategic about limiting your availability.  A ringing phone does not always need to be answered.  When I am engaged in something that I do not want to be taken away from I turn off all of my electronic notices.  Work to your timeframe, not someone else's.

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's Time to Take Notice!

Changes occur, whether in science, in corporations, in life, in ourselves because someone has taken notice of
something and determined to do something about it.  Think about it…
  • ·         Scientists are studying and trying to understand the root causes of diseases and are therefore uncovering new ways of treating them
  • ·         Technological advances have been made in great leaps because people continued to focus on and experiment with new ideas

The important question then becomes - What are you focusing on?

We have the ability to change virtually anything about ourselves and our lives, but we need to understand what we want to change, why we want to change it and how we plan to go about it.  Many people identify something they would like to have or do, with little thought given to why they aren't currently doing it.  This simple introspective step is the critical key to being successful in changing and maintaining new behaviours.  

Many of us spend our time accumulating knowledge but little time in developing our self awareness.  This lack of understanding of we are and why we choose what we do is often the biggest barrier to our getting what we want  from our lives.  It is our lack of self awareness that prevents us from developing ourselves as fully as we can, or as much as we probably should. 
“We are already the most over-informed, under-reflective people in the history of civilization” Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey (Harvard-based Psychologists)
True development involves making changes.  It is about transforming the way we think, react and behave. It is our lack of understanding and awareness of how we currently think and behave that is our biggest hurdle to overcome. Most of us work long hours. We are constantly juggling priorities and we rarely feel that we have enough time to devote to what is most important to us. Sadly, many of us are too caught up in simply ‘keeping up’ that we have lost sight of what is truly important to us in our lives. This state of 'busyness' has led us to being less introspective and less self aware.  However, limitations always begin with a lack of awareness.  You don’t (and can't) change what you don’t know needs changing.
  • What is the impact on you and on others in your life of the choices you have made?
  • What would be the impact in your life of making a different choice?
These are questions we need to explore to accept that we are who and where we are in life because of the choices that we have made.  Our discomfort, dissatisfaction and dissonance is of our own making.  If we want different, we need to choose differently.

We are skilled at self deception however, which allows us to avoid discomfort, to be accepting of  (if not feel good about) what we are doing, what we believe, what we have become.  We therefore avoid taking a more introspective look because we are afraid of what we’ll see.  Learning to pay more attention to our feelings, as we are feeling them and before we start deluding ourselves about how we truly feel, allows us to make more reflective choices about how we want to live our lives. to reflect further on what was really happening when you made that decision.  

If you find yourself feeling as though you need to justify the choices you've made, especially to yourself, you likely are in self-delusion mode.  Instead, use this as a signal to reflect further on what was really taking place when you made that decision, how you really felt about it, what you might have preferred and why you opted out of choosing it.  

To heighten your awareness and to become better at Taking Notice of potential positive areas of change, consider maintaining an Awareness Journal.  Establish a couple of set times each day to use as checkpoints to determine – and record – how you are feeling in that moment. Record what you are doing and how you are truly feeling about the activity. Learning to observe our emotions helps us to learn to become more intentional in our actions.

Fully 95% of our behavior is a habit, whether through our unconscious or in direct response to external stimuli.  We are run far more by our primitive reactionary brains that we like to believe. It is through mindfully and deliberately exploring how we truly feel about the situations we are engaged in, and what our desired outcomes and preferences are, that we can gain more conscious control over our actions, driving our outcomes.  

We will not achieve anything that we are not intentionally focusing on in life.  If we want to lose weight we must focus on making choices and taking actions that will lead us to that end.  If we want to get fit, stop smoking, get a promotion, learn a new skill, or take up a new hobby we need to become more mindful about how we truly feel about the desired outcome, how we feel about the individual choices and actions that will take us there. Are you willing to do what it will take to achieve your desired outcome?

We get what we notice and pay attention to.  What are you focusing on?