Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tip Thursday - Productivity

It is easy to feel overwhelmed, especially with a long to-do list hanging over our heads. Rather than focusing on 'everything', ask yourself instead... What is the best use of my time right now?

Focusing on what is within your control at the moment increases your sense of control over 'tomorrow'.

Focusing on the moment helps you to decrease the stress you feel about what else is on your plate, which makes focusing on what's left so much easier.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Cost of Avoiding Change

There is no shortage of articles that will extol the benefits of change such as; increased personal
growth, progress and opportunities. Regardless of the benefits that could be listed though, there are those that opt not to adopt change. Generally, the avoidance of change occurs because the perceived benefits do not outweigh the perceived costs.

However, when taking a look at the cost/benefit ratio, it is important that all true costs be identified. Typically, the assumption is that the cost of 'not' changing is the loss of the perceived potential benefits of the change.  However, the impact of not embracing change is far greater and more insidious.

Although we may be choosing not to embrace changes, preferring to maintain the status quo, it turns out that we may not be factoring in the true costs to us of avoiding the change. Research has shown that the following factors also impact us whenever we avoid change...

  • Reduced adaptability.  The more often we avoid change, the less adaptable and flexible we become, which makes us ill-prepared to face new situations in the future.  Think of your ability to deal with and manage change as a muscle.  The more you use it, the stronger it gets. However, the reverse is also true.  The less you use it the weaker the muscle gets which means that you are not likely to have the strength needed to see a future situation through when it is not possible to avoid it.  Continuously avoiding change leaves you with few coping strategies for facing future events.
  • Stagnation.  We may be comfortable with our current situation, but that doesn't mean we don't want more or better for ourselves.  However, our failure to embrace change will result in reduced skills, talents and abilities. We can't possibly be capable of fulfilling 'more' in the future if we are unwilling to push ourselves to take on more today.  Our skills become obsolete, significantly limiting future opportunities, until we become redundant and unnecessary. Instead, we need to continuously be upgrading our skills and knowledge, to remain current and viable. 
  • Fewer Future Opportunities.  The less we say 'yes' to opportunities today, the less likely we are to say yes to them tomorrow.  Additionally, the less we say yes today, the less others call upon us with opportunities in the future because we have trained them to look elsewhere. If you are not open to exploring new opportunities and challenges today, then don't be surprised that future opportunities pass you by.
  • Increased Stress.  Although people will often avoid change because they feel that it is too stressful on them to embrace it, long-term studies find the reverse to be true.  Failing to embrace change leaves you with limited opportunities, reduced income, and more repetitive work which will lead to increased stressors over the longer term. 
  • Reduced Self Esteem.  One of the greatest factors in building and renewing our self-esteem is our sense of achievement.  As we push ourselves to take on and try new things we build our confidence and belief in ourselves. By avoiding taking on new tasks we fail to stretch ourselves and provide new examples of our capabilities and talents. Our seeming 'lack of success' then leads us to view ourselves as less successful and less capable which reduces our confidence, completing this downward spiral in our self-belief.  Our self-esteem is built through our successes, however small, which requires us to challenge ourselves with something new periodically.
"I used to say, 'I sure hope things will change.' Then I learned that the only way things are going to change for me is when I change."    Jim Rohn

Change is never easy and not all change is desirable.  There may very well be changes that it is in your best interest to say no to.  However, there are many changes that would prove beneficial to you in the longer term, that would help you grow, build your confidence and open up new opportunities for you.  Understanding the true cost of saying 'no' to these moments will perhaps help you to overcome your hesitation and make the 'yeses' easier to say!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tip Thursday - Communications

In research, the following is found to be true... that those who talk more are more likely to be perceived as dominant, more competent, intelligent, trustworthy, the Leader. Unfortunately, studies also find that in mixed groups (ie: business meetings) men tend to speak 75% of the time, effectively reducing women's voices around the table. Apparently women's challenges lie not only in getting to the table in the first place, but in establishing a voice around the table as well! Therefore, it is not enough to show up.  If you want to be perceived as a leader you must also learn to speak up!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Lure of the Urgent

There is much written about how to manage your time effectively, about how to get things done.
However, regardless of how much volume you manage to work your way through each day you may still find yourself struggling at the end of the year to get your key objectives met. Your lament, of course, was that it just wasn't possible, there wasn't enough time.

When you are constantly busy, are actively putting out fires, haven't a minute to call your own... the challenge is not that you aren't moving tasks forward and getting things done, but that you might not be getting enough of the 'right' things done. This is the dance between the Urgent and the Important.

The Urgent are the loud tasks, the pushy tasks. These often seem important at the time but, in retrospect, rarely did anything to move your objectives and goals further. In fact, urgent tasks are typically driven by someone else.  These are activities that they have left to the last minute, failed to plan for, or simply overlooked.  They are now 'urgent' because they weren't dealt with sooner. Rarely are they important tasks, their apparent importance driven only by the lack of time remaining to get them done.

Certainly there is the occasional true crisis, something that couldn't have been planned for or foreseen, but the daily urgent activities you face are rarely these. Most urgent activities have only become so due to someone's lack of planning or preparation. 

In contrast though, Important tasks are those that contribute the most to our objectives and that therefore have the greatest long term impact. They are worth our attention because these are the activities that move us forward, whether personally or professionally.  The challenge though is that the Important tasks seldom need to get done today. As a result, they lose ground to the urgent demands placed upon us each day.  We then get caught up in busy work but not in meaningful work or in working on tasks that add value to the organization, our growth and our future.

Keeping busy dealing with urgent items can feel 'important' at the time, but leave us coming up short at year end. This is the biggest source of frustration for people during annual performance reviews. They feel their 'shortfall' was not due to a lack of input but a lack of time. They felt overloaded and, because they feel that they were constantly 'contributing', that they are deserving of reward - the bonus, the recognition, the promotion and are disheartened when these rewards don't arrive.  
The challenge always rests in recognising the difference between 'getting things done' and 'getting the right things done'.  One keeps you busy while the other moves you ahead.
Take a look at your To-do lists for the past week.  As you review each day highlight the tasks you had planned that directly contributed to your key objectives and goals for the year.  Odds are... you had very few, if any.  You spent the week putting out fires, moving 'work' off your desk - but not engaged in work that contributed significantly to moving ahead.  You dealt with the urgent, not the important.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a simple system to ensure that he was being effective as well as efficient.  He did this by managing his Important and Urgent activities.  For this, take a look at your current To-Do list and Categorize each item listed according to the following...

  1. Important and Urgent.  These are your true MUST do items for the day.  However, the fact that they are both important and urgent generally means that you have left these items for the last minute.  Planning ahead a little better, fitting Important items in sooner, avoiding procrastination all could help avoid creating 'urgency' where possible.
  2. Important not Urgent.  Doing these items helps to decrease the number of activities you have in the category above.  Ensuring that you are not avoiding the Important for the Urgent means that you are constantly moving those important projects forward.  Every to-do list should contain a number of these items. The more your day is made up of these items the more effective and efficient you're being and likely the more successful.
  3. Not Important, but Urgent.  These are the items that will tend to consume your time and prevent you from reaching your goals. The more you get caught up in these activities the 'busier' you will be but the less effective in the long run.  A common source of these types of activities are other people, especially those that haven't managed their time effectively and now have deadlines looming, creating a false sense of urgency.  Don't allow their urgency to become your own.  Do what you can, help where you can, but create a deliverable that works for you.
  4. Not Important, not Urgent.  Why are you doing these?  These are activities that are simply distractions.  Minimize, eliminate, ignore or cancel.  The less of these you do the more time you will have for what really matters.

It can be challenging at first to move out of 'firefighting' mode because it can be gratifying - in the short term.  You feel necessary and needed.  It is important not to lose sight of your longer term objectives and goals.  Keeping these items constantly in mind helps you to build plans, schedule activities and take the action steps needed to move them forward.  Start by ensuring that every day contains at least one key action item that contributes substantively to a key objective.  Then make it two, then three.  Soon you will be spending more of your time on getting the right things done, which is the hallmark of successful people.  

We can all be busy.  Successful people are those that make the choices necessary to be busy doing things that count in the long term.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tip Thursday - Success

Use your questions wisely. You can use your questions to get the answers you want or... the answers you need.

Using questions simply to confirm your thoughts, beliefs and expectations is a waste and can lead you to believing that there is only one answer... yours. Use your questions to help you to gain more information, new information, different perspectives. Balance this against what you know to determine the best answer.

Successful people recognise that they don't need to have all of the right answers, but they do need to know how to seek them out.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Managing our Emotions and Driving Performance

We all have our off days.  Those days where we seem to lack the interest, energy or motivation to get out there and make things happen.  If our off days are significantly outnumbered by the days that we feel 'on', we likely don't worry about them too much.  However, when our 'off' days seem to be gaining a foothold or seriously begin to outnumber the good days, we may find ourselves becoming concerned over the potential impact of these days on our short and long term success.

We know that we perform better when we are in a positive frame of mind. It's a simple equation: when we feel good we are more likely to engage in good work.  When we feel bad though, our work suffers.  Unfortunately, many of us don't know why we feel bad, why we feel angry, sad, anxious, or nervous and, even if we do, we believe ourselves to be at the mercy of the emotion.  We don't control our emotional responses.  Or do we?

There is an emerging new field of study - Emotional Body Language - that is investigating this more fully, but know that it is based on studies that have been taking place over the past 20 years highlighting the interrelationship between our emotional and physical states.  In fact, Amy Cuddy's top TED talk of 2012, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, is a prime example of the work done in this field.  In her study Cuddy focused on the impact of Power poses on participant's physiology.

We know that our emotions drive our body language.  When we are sad it shows in our facial expressions and the way that we move and carry our body.  When we are angry that translates out into different expressions, gestures and movements.  So too when we are happy, disgusted, surprised or fearful.

What is important about the work of Cuddy and her team, and so many other studies, is that the reverse of this is also true.  You can consciously create an emotional response by engaging in certain body movements and postures.  You want to feel more confident and powerful?  Adopt stronger more powerful body language.  You want to feel happier?  Adopt the body language of happiness.
"We don't laugh because we're happy, we're happy because we laugh"  William James
Our body language drives certain autonomic and hormonal responses within our bodies which, in turn, drive the corresponding emotional reaction.  You want to feel more confident?  Stand, sit and move with confidence. The feeling will follow.  This is referred to as Self Generating Emotion.  You create the emotion you want to experience.

Certainly this is something that requires a little more than simply 'telling' yourself to be happy.  You must first understand what your body typically does when it's happy.  How do you carry yourself when you are happy?  How do you move?  How do you gesture?  What facial expressions do you engage in?  The better you understand this, the better able you are to replicate it.  The better you are at doing so, the clearer the message you send to the brain, which reads the happiness signals you are sending and creates the Autonomic and Hormonal responses that support the state you are creating. You now feel happy.

As with all things worthwhile to perfect, this takes some preparation and practice.  Two important steps in this process.

  1. Build Awareness.  You need to develop your conscious awareness of what your body does when angry, when confident, when happy.  Whatever emotion you are looking to replicate.  The easiest way is to 'dissect' your body language when you find yourself in a situation when you are experiencing the desired emotion. When you are in a situation in which you feel happy, consider how you are gesturing, how you are walking, how you are moving.  What is the position of your shoulders?  What is your facial expression?  The more detailed you can be the better and clearer the message you will send to your brain when you want to replicate this emotion.
  2. Practice.  Try adopting the behaviours and body language of Happiness (or any emotion of your choosing) when you are not feeling particularly happy.  Walk around the room in the same way you do when happy.  Replicate all of the behaviours you identified in the first step.  Try this for two minutes and then assess how you are 'feeling'.  If you've done a good job in the first step then you will be feeling and experiencing more of the desired emotion. The good news is that once you are 'feeling it', your brain will assume control of your body language, making it fit the new emotion.  You no longer need to manage it consciously.  If, after a couple of minutes, you are not experiencing any emotional shift then go back to Step 1 and assess and dissect your movements again, adding more details.  If you can arrange for video to review even better.

The positive message for each of us is that we are not at the mercy of emotions.  When we are experiencing an emotion that isn't serving us (perhaps nervousness or anxiety) we have it within us to change that emotional state to one that does (confidence).  A little upfront homework can pay off huge dividends for us by helping keep us in the emotional mindsets that assure us productivity and peak performance.  Definitely a recipe for success!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tip Thursday - Creativity

New research out shows us that the earliest ideas voiced in a brainstorming session have a heavy
influence over the rest of the conversation, having determined the direction of future thoughts. Instead, experts suggest using a Brain Writing versus Storming approach. Have everyone write their ideas down first, before sharing with others. The point is to have the idea generation phase take place before any review or discussion. This prevents one idea from influencing the perspective or direction that the solution takes, opening new possibilities of thought to occur. Side note: this is also a great way to ensure input from all - including introverts!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Controlling the Public Speaking Nerves

Statistics show that 3 out of 4 people suffer from public speaking anxiety.  That's a whopping 75% of us that experience nervousness and anxiety whenever we need to get up in front of others and share our thoughts and views.  It's little wonder then that Public Speaking is still the highest ranked fear, topping out above the fear of spiders, heights and even death.
"There are two types of speakers.  Those who get nervous and those who are liars"  Mark Twain
In working to control their nerves most speakers are told to work at calming down, to take deep relaxing breaths, to release the tension from their bodies.  The aim is, of course, to reduce their anxiety.  This is what is known as a Suppression technique, where you are actively working to suppress the emotions that a situation elicits.

However, research conducted by Alison Woods Brooks, professor at Harvard Business School, suggests that working at controlling our nerves may just be the worst thing that we can do. Instead, her studies suggest that we would do better to reframe our anxiety instead.

Anxiety is an aroused emotion.  Our heart beats faster, our Cortisol levels (stress hormone) rise, our bodies prepare to take action.  We perceive a potential threat to ourselves which puts us on the defensive. Anxiety is therefore a negative mindset that reduces our sense of control.  When we attempt to suppress those emotions, by focusing on trying to Calm ourselves, we are asking our brains and bodies to shift to a completely different state, which is an extremely difficult task.

Instead Brooks suggests that we simply reframe the emotions that our anxiety is causing.  Instead of thinking of ourselves as being 'nervous', we need to think of ourselves as 'excited'.  Excitement is also an aroused emotion.  Therefore, physiologically, anxiety and excitement are not so different. The impact of these two emotions on our body is very similar.  However, each carries a different impact upon our brains and perceptions.

While both anxiety and excitement exist because they are reacting to a certain amount of perceived uncertainty, we experience anxiety when facing a perceived threat and experience excitement when facing something we are looking forward to.  In studies where people reframed their performance anxiety as excitement, rather than anxiety, their performance improved. This is called Anxiety Reappraisal.

Studies are now showing that Reappraisal strategies are far more effective than are Suppression strategies.  In Reappraisal strategies you shift your mindset from viewing an emotion eliciting situation in a way that changes its emotional impact on you.

Because both anxiety and excitement experience a very similar physical impact, reframing takes less effort to get the brain to shift than asking it to help calm your nerves.  It is far easier to shift from one charged up emotion to another charge up emotion than to control all of the existing physiological elements required to shift to a different state.

High performance requires energy and drive.  It comes from a more action-oriented focus, which comes from a more energized state.  Rather than looking to tamp down the emotions that comes with an energized state you want to take advantage of them.

Next time that you're hitting the stage or giving that presentation, and are beginning to feel nervous, welcome the emotions it brings and tell yourself that those butterflies you feel are signs of your excitement.  Use those revved up emotions to heighten your performance, to draw your audience in, to create an opportunity mindset.  Reframing your nerves as excitement may be all that's needed for you to finally kick your Public Speaking fears to the curb.

I'm excited for you to give it a try!