Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tip Thursday - Time Management

One of the biggest complaints of workers today is that they spend far too much time in meetings. In order to recover time that you can better spend on other tasks and activities, consider reducing 1 meeting per week by 25%. 

If your typical meeting lasts 60 minutes, reduce it to 45, which will likely serve to eliminate the 'filler' discussions and not the actual business that needs to take place. 

Reducing 1 meeting per week will save you 13 hours at the end of the year. Although this might not sound like much, that represents 2 full days of time that you could put toward things that would benefit you more. Are you in meetings far more frequently? 

Reducing 1 meeting per day by 25% nets you an extra 5.5 hours per month, or roughly 10 extra days per year to do with as you will. 

Don't have enough time to do everything on your bucket list? Consider cutting one meeting a day short and put that time toward crossing more off your to-do list 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Don't Hide in Your Job

We all have a job to do. You know, that thing your company pays you to do.  Odds are you have a description of it, a list of activities you engage in to produce a product or service.

However, this description can be misleading for many who, erroneously, come to believe that their 'job' is all that they need to do; to get paid, to get promoted, to get recognition. Imagine their disappointment to discover that their 'job' is typically describing the baseline requirement for their role.

Your job may describe a series of activities you need to complete to receive your pay but don't think that simply doing your job is enough for you to get ahead. It is far too easy to show up each day and simply 'do' your job, nothing more or less.  This doesn't help to propel either you or the organisation forward.

Sure, by doing your job you are technically doing what was asked of you, and that you are paid to do, but it is playing it safe.  You can't really fail, get in trouble or make much of a mistake if you are just doing your job. In short, it is far too easy to hide out in your job, not pushing or growing your skills and abilities.
If you're not stretching, you're not adding value
We can all spend our days just doing our jobs, but it is those that are focused on taking on the true work, on adding real value, that are growing themselves and the business.  These are the people that should get ahead, because they are not interested in merely doing their job, but in changing their job, in shifting it to get at the real work.

They aren't interested in sitting complacently within a job they are comfortable in, playing it safe. Instead, they look to expand their role, identify work that is valued and needed, and get it done. This is work that changes the landscape, that creates an impact, that makes a difference.  It is work that saves money, saves time, opens new opportunities, streamlines processes, creates new revenue streams, enhances the customer experience, forges new partnerships and drives new business.
"The last thing we want is to remain as we are"     Steve Pressfield, 'Do the Work'
It has been said that your job is what you are paid to do, while work is what you were 'made' to do. How much of this work have you taken on?  How much have you avoided by hiding in your job?

If your personal mantra seems to be 'I'm just doing my job', then you are likely hiding within your job avoiding doing the real work. Sure, you've got reasons but if you accept that all the reasons you voice are merely excuses for not doing the work then you see that the biggest obstacle to your success is you.  Ask yourself...

What new challenges am I prepared to take on?
What new skills am I looking to develop or expand?
What opportunities exist for me?  For my department?  For my company?
What could be done better or differently?
Am I adding value?
Am I stretching and growing?

Any negative responses to the above questions may mean that you are hiding out within your job, getting caught in the daily to-do list but avoiding taking on anything of true value.  Know that you were made for better than this, that you are capable of 'more'.  You have to see the purpose and value of more to be willing to take it on though. It is only by focusing on the work, rather than on your job, that you are going to be living a life of passion and purpose.

So many of my clients struggle with identifying their passion, believing that it is their passion that will drive their willingness and desire to do the work, when it is the other way around.  It is by engaging in the work, physical and mental activities that accomplish something of value, that they come to experience and identify their passion.

To live a more satisfying life, to get the recognition and promotions you want, to experience the growth and fulfillment of your potential, to add value to those around you...

Do the work and quit hiding in your job. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

A positive cue to watch for in your interactions with others are what are called `gravity defying` behaviours, where the body is unconsciously moved in a motion upwards... against gravity. 

For example, raising the toe upward while standing (while the heel remains on the floor) is generally a sign that the person is feeling positively disposed toward what is being said. This type of behaviour is rarely seen with clinically depressed individuals. 

When people are excited and interested you tend to see more gravity defying behaviours. Just another little cue to keep in mind when `selling` someone, whether a product or even on an idea! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Forget About Following Your Passion

How often in your career have you been told that you should 'Follow Your Passion"?

The belief that this is the sole path to finding satisfying and fulfilling work has led many to feeling despair over ever experiencing passion for the work they do. However, when questioned what work they would rather be doing, what work they feel passionate about, many are unable to answer.

Given the admonition to follow their passion, many then engage in a search to find and define something they are passionate about.  However, it is this search that often leads them further from engaging in work that is meaningful than closer to it. The hard truth is that rarely do passion and ability align.  They are definitely not synonymous.
Passion and Ability often have very little to do with one another.
Believing you should follow your passion may lead you to attempt to build a career around a hobby you love and enjoy, but that you are not skilled enough at to ever make a living from. Pursuing your passion beyond the hobby level may prevent you from pursuing meaningful work that you do have skill and competence in, that you could be successful at.

Your happiness in the work you do has very little to do with the work itself, but everything to do with how well you do it. Your success can lead to passion.  You can become passionate about the work you do by becoming better at it.  Focusing on how to make you and your output more valuable is far more likely to help you build a career that you can be passionate about than chasing your passion ever could.

In his book So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal Newport talks about the need to engage in Deliberate Practice in order to build your skill and your value.  This deliberate practice requires you to stretch your skills past your comfort zone and to seek out ruthless feedback on your performance, all with the intention of then applying those insights to improve your performance.  This is the same technique used by professional musicians, athletes and even professional chess players.  Is is through Deliberate Practice that you can expand your skills and increase your value.  In essence, build your mastery to build your passion.

There are typically numerous fulfilling opportunities missed by focusing solely on following your passion despite the fact that passion itself is not enough to assure success.  Instead, follow the opportunities life presents you with to prosper. Being good at something will typically lead you to feeling passionate about work that utilizes those skills and abilities.

Don't follow your passion to find fulfilling work, but do bring it with you, applying it to all that you do.  That's where success, fulfillment and happiness ultimately will all be found.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tip Thursday - Paying Attention

Although it is important to focus on the tasks we are engaged in, concentrating intensely on a task may blind us to everything else going on around us, thus limiting the quality of our end result. This is referred to as Attention Blindness. 

Each of us sees the world from `our` perspective, which can leave us blind to the perspectives and insights that others may have. Our Attention Blindness can lead us to a solution that fits our perspective, but not necessarily to the `best` solution. 

Acknowledge that there is more that exists beyond what you can see, soliciting feedback and insights from others to gain perspectives that can strengthen your results. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Reach Your Goals Faster

I was running my first ever marathon. I had set the goal and I had trained but I had never hit a point
where running felt easy, or natural or comfortable for me.  In fact, it was always painful.  My hips ached (I didn't know at the time I have degenerative arthritis in my hip) and each step forward became increasingly more difficult. Despite the pain, despite the tears, despite the belief I couldn't possibly take one more step, when that Finish sign came into view I actually picked up my pace and ran (or hobbled) faster to cross over.

This phenomenon is not unusual.  Most marathoners actually sprint across that line with all of their remaining energy.  It seems that there is a special brain event that occurs called 'The X-Spot', which is when the brain releases a flood of endorphins (and other chemicals) that provides them with the energy needed to accelerate.

This X-Spot is indicative of how powerful a force goal attainment can be. The magic moment occurs when the brain realizes that success is not only possible - but probable.  Positive psychological research demonstrates that this reaction of the brain occurs not just when someone sees the finish line of a goal, but the moment they realize the probability they will succeed. This means that it is our perception of our success that drives our brain to release chemicals that will accelerate our success.

To manage this process though, we need to manage our perceptions.  

1. Clarify the goal. We must have a clear and defined goal that we are targeting. Our brains are constantly mapping out action paths we can take and assessing how close we are to achieving our goals. However, the brain can't work effectively for us if it is unsure about what it is that we are trying to accomplish. The clearer we are about the 'what' we want to achieve the less energy we waste on unnecessary course corrections along the way.

2.  Make it Closer. The closer we are to achieving something, the more we believe it's possible for us to achieve it.  That's why reward cards that say buy 12 get one free, with two purchases already 'given' to you are more effective than reward cards saying buy 10 get one free, with no purchases pre-stamped.  Both cards require 10 purchases, but more people attain their free item and faster, with the card where they already had 2 stamps - simply because it appeared that they were already on their way.  The goal seemed closer.  Give yourself a perceived head start by designing goals with progress already achieved highlighted.  Look backward to review how far you've come, which emphasizes the distance traveled rather than how far is yet to go.

3.  Make it Bigger.  This refers to the perceived likelihood of your achieving your goal.  If we think that the possibility is small  we create a visual in our minds of a very small target which implies that the odds of our ever hitting the target are also small, like the center of a bulls-eye. Instead, flip it. Make that Bulls-eye target larger than the rest of the board.  Remind yourself of all of your past achievements, how well you have handled pressure, the difficulties you have overcome. Creating the expectation that this is just one more hurdle to jump in a long list of hurdles successfully overcome increases the psychological belief that you will also hit this target.  It's now bigger.

4. Recalculate the Energy of Achievement.  For every task we face our brain calculates out the perceived amount of energy and effort needed to achieve it.  The more mental effort and energy required to accomplish a goal, the more likely we are to abandon it.  To help maintain your focus then, it is important to avoid 'awfulizing' a task, making it seem like it will take an inordinate amount of time and effort. Stop watching the clock, tackle your more important tasks earlier in the day when your energy is higher, routinize your peripheral activities so they don't drain energy unnecessarily, don't tackle two challenging tasks back to back without building mental recovery time in between.  

Fundamentally, the biggest key to achieving your goals faster is to train yourself to focus more of your brain's resources on success than on failure. Create your energy X-spots by focusing on your target and on how excellent your chances are of hitting it. Focusing your brain on how great your probability of success is will give you the energy and drive you need to succeed.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tip Thursday - Meeting Management

When scheduling your meeting ensure that you consider the end time of the meeting to be a `Hard Stop`. 

Continuing a meeting beyond its scheduled end point, simply because you did not cover all of your agenda items, shows disrespect to the importance of your attendees time. 

Always living to the stated end point forces you and the attendees to become more proficient in planning your agenda and managing the meeting processes to move effectively through the agenda items. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Managing Your Emotional Thermometer

There are times where, despite our best intentions, our emotions seem to get the better of us. We get caught up in what we are feeling, losing control over our behaviours and the conversation.  Rarely does this work out for us, the end result never being a outcome we would have developed deliberately or strategically.

Some people seem to be much more in tune with their emotions, able to control their responses almost effortlessly.  They appear cool, calm and collected in most situations, maintaining an even-keeled perspective.  Although taken at an extreme this calm demeanour may appear uncaring or distanced (think Mr. Spock here), they will typically appear far more professional and credible than someone flying off the handle at every slight.

If our desire then is to manage our emotional responses better, to heighten our professional presence, just how can we learn to control emotional responses when they are something that 'just happens'?

The first step is to create a visual representation of your emotions. Consider that your emotional responses run on a continuum of behaviour from 'everything is fine' to full out 'catastrophe'. It is often helpful to picture a thermometer beside this continuum, such that the rising temperature of the thermometer is indicative of your rising emotions.

Creating this visual helps you to establish an internal emotional gauge of your responses.  Some of my clients like to attach numbers to their thermometer while others like to use colours, with green being at the bottom of the thermometer (safe zone), rising through yellow (warning) and red at the top (danger).  Whichever you choose it is important to attach some labels that fit for you, that reflect the type of emotions you are typically experiencing at each level.

Think of different instances you have experienced; what you were feeling at the time and what behaviours you engaged in.  Put these on your Thermometer chart to help you in gauging your emotional responses quickly when in future situations. Spending the time when you are calm and controlled will help you to gain the clarity and control you need during a more emotionally laden situation.
What's the temperature of your upset?

For each of the main emotional levels you have identified on your Thermometer (whether key numbers or colours), consider what practical actions would have helped you to reduce your temperature and ultimately gain control.  Some of the following suggestions from my clients may prove helpful to you in building your strategies...

  • Low.  Take some deep breaths.  Think of something positive.  Listen to calming music.  Think about what you really want/need from the interaction and listen more actively to what the other party's needs are, considering whether there is some practical middle ground.  
  • Mid.  Take even slower, deeper breaths.  Think of someone you can speak to that will be 100% supportive of you. Think of positive interactions you've had with the other party in the past. Consider whether your emotional level is warranted in the given situation.  Take a mental break with music or reading.  Take a walk or engage in something physical to relieve tension.  Repeat calming phrases to yourself.
  • High.  Breathe slowly and fully from the diaphragm.  Consciously tense and relax main muscle groups.  Leave the situation.  Take a walk to think things through.  Engage in exercise to relieve the tension. Get a massage. Write out pros and cons of what happened and attempt to develop a win/win outcome.

It's important to spend some time thinking about what techniques and activities work for you.  What helps you to calm down and disengage?  Looking at Youtube videos of kittens may work for others while for you it may aggravate you more.  Therefore the strategies you employ must be something that's meaningful for you.

I have a client that has a soft piece of fur they keep in their desk that they like to pet to soothe themselves (reminds them of their dog), another who likes to squeeze a stress ball and yet another who has specific music they find calming.  There is no right or wrong, just what is 'right' for you. Knowing what you need and require at each emotional level, before you are caught up in the emotion, helps you to activate that response and regain control faster.

Sometimes the mere act of just thinking about your anger and where you are on the thermometer helps you to regulate the emotional response, taking you from the unconscious and uncontrolled response to the realm of consciousness and control.

With your Emotional Thermometer in hand, try using the following steps to help you to manage your emotional responses more quickly and effectively in future altercations.

  1. Assess Your Temperature. When you feel your emotional temperature rising, think about where you are on your gauge. Sometimes there is a steady rise, sometimes an immediate temperature jump.  Understanding where you are currently lets you engage in the right strategy.
  2. Ask.  What led me to this state?  Is this emotional level warranted given the situation?  Is this likely to lead to my desired outcome?  Asking these questions helps you to shift from your unconscious (reactive) mind to your conscious (proactive) mind.
  3. Strategies.  Use your temperature chart to determine what you need to do to lower your emotional response.  What do you need - Now - to lower your temperature, regain control, and drive the outcome you need from the exchange? 
The earlier you gauge where your emotions are at the better.  It is far better to catch your emotions before you get caught up and invested in them.  Typically hurt and anger are two emotions that we can become moralistic over, getting caught up in justifying our reactions. The stronger we build our position, the more difficult it is to diffuse.

Using your Emotional Thermometer to help you catch your emotional responses early and deal with them quickly, helping you be viewed as more professional and capable. Great leaders aren't unemotional, they simply manage their emotions rather than be managed by them.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tip Thursday - Visualization

Don't overlook the positive impact of your ability to visualize your success... upon your actual levels of success. 

In a study conducted at the University of Chicago on visualization, they had a group of participants all throw basketball free throws, measuring their accuracy. They then divided them into 3 groups. 

The first group didn't practice at all, the 2nd group practiced shooting free throws for 1 hour a day for 30 days, while the 3rd group simply spent 1 hour a day (for 30 days) visualizing shooting free throws. They then retested their free throwing accuracy. 

The 1st group showed no improvement in their ability, the 2nd group improved their ability by 24% and the 3rd group - those that only visualized shooting free throws increased their accuracy by 23%. This is the key reason why professional athletes spend just as much time visualizing their success as they do physically practicing for it. Bear it in mind the next time you are looking to strengthen your skill in any area. How you visualize it will very much influence the outcome you achieve.