Category

daily habits

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Strategies for Improved Focus by Envision Excellence

Last week I almost burned my kitchen down. In my quest to get all the important things done on my list, I was working on several things at once. Although I teach leadership effectiveness for a living, I sometimes get drawn into the busyness of life and slip into bad habits.

I put my lunch on the stove, and then went into my office to answer a couple e-mails while simultaneously making an important phone call. I was so engrossed (and overloaded), that I completely forgot about my lunch. Mushroom kale soup bubbled over the stove, and onto the floor. As I was on the phone, I started to smell something burning from the kitchen. Sometimes I need a painful lesson to remind me of the importance of good leadership habits.

Despite what most leaders think, multi-tasking is overrated. We convince ourselves that we have so much to do that it’s the only way to get things done, but it has the opposite effect. Our attention is drawn in so many directions, that we end up doing a few things poorly (i.e., a soupy kitchen and an interrupted phone call) than doing one thing really well. Quality always suffers when we multi-task.

In fact, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that multitasking caused a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep! (https://www.forbes.com/sites/vanessaloder/2014/06/11/why-multi-tasking-is-worse-than-marijuana-for-your-iq/#266587857c11)

I often hear clients talk about multi-tasking like it’s the sought-after skill that will help them get more done in less time. I even see “ability to multi-task” in most job advertisements. We have become obsessed with trying to squeeze as much as possible into each minute of our day in the unrealistic quest of being perfectly efficient.

The “skill” of multi-tasking has become a popular buzzword in organizations. But it’s killing our business. It’s killing our effectiveness. It actually has the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. And that’s because our brains weren’t built to do more than one big thing at a time. Research has shown that workers can lose up to 40% of productivity when multi-tasking (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/the-true-cost-multi-tasking).  It’s costing businesses about $450 billion a year in lost productivity; not to mention stress, loss of composure, and sloppy work (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/study-organizational-multitasking-costs-global-businesses-450-billion-each-year-221154011.html)

Remember the days before iPhones, Facebook, and e-mail? When you left work, you actually left work at the office. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but that’s not what happens for most professionals. We feel more stressed and overwhelmed than ever. We can’t seem to pull ourselves away for a mental break.

Have you ever left your office at the end of the day and thought, “What did I get done today?” If you can’t pinpoint what you accomplished, you probably spent a lot of the day multi-tasking. One of the best things professionals can do to boost performance is to focus on one thing at a time.

 

Here are six strategies for improving your focus (and your performance!):

Concentrate on one task at a time. Block out a specific time in your schedule to focus on one project. Make it a habit of scheduling your entire work day in chunks of time meant for focusing on specific tasks and projects.

Check e-mail only a few times a day. Turn off your e-mail and message alerts so they won’t distract you when trying to focus. Schedule a few specific times in your day to check e-mail and messages and focus only on that task.

Say no and simplify your life. You don’t have to volunteer for everything. Pick a couple things you really enjoy and do them well. When you are asked to take on a responsibility, tell the person you will think about it and get back to them.

Change your scenery. Most professionals I know can’t get much done in their office because that’s where most of their distractions are. Find a quiet conference room or go to a local coffee shop to get away from distractions and you’ll improve your focus.

Focus on two or three accomplishments a day. Executives often make a list of ten or fifteen things to accomplish in one day. We become too overwhelmed because our expectations are unrealistic. Pick two or three important tasks for the day and focus on accomplishing them (and doing them well). If you finish early, then you can move on to another task.

Delegate tasks and projects others can handle. Most managers I’ve worked with don’t use their employee resources effectively. They either feel they don’t have the time to teach employees or that their staff will resent them for piling on more work. The truth is, most employees enjoy the challenge and want to help their boss. Keep only the major initiatives you must be involved in, and delegate other tasks.

I’ve seen huge improvements in my efficiency and quality of work when I focus on one thing at a time. Learning to eliminate multitasking from your life is a work in progress and will take some time. But with practice and focus, you will feel less stressed and more accomplished.

The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership (and Life)

The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership

On a recent Wednesday night, I was attending a parent association meeting at my children’s school to talk about upcoming events. These meetings have historically run long; sometimes going until 9:30 p.m. or later. I go to bed at 9:30 on weeknights, so the day after these meetings, I always wake up feeling tired and sluggish. Before long, these meetings were negatively impacting my week. I realized I have a choice in this situation—I could continue staying until the meeting ends and feel tired and frustrated each time, or I could come up with a better solution that worked for me. So instead of feeling obligated to stay until the end of the meeting, I created a boundary: for weeknight meetings, I would leave by 8:30 p.m. No exceptions. I let the president of the parent association know ahead of time, and at the next meeting, I collected my things at 8:30, said goodbye, and headed home.

Boundaries are an essential part of leadership. Without boundaries, our days become a haze of activities without any focus. We end up feeling busy all day without accomplishing anything of value.

Are there any boundaries you need to create in your life?

I like to think of it this way:

Boundaries create structure
Structure creates freedom

Boundaries allow you to focus and work at your peak. The purpose of boundaries is to protect your time and energy so you can work at your best. So you can be your best.

Below are some examples of leadership boundaries that can help protect your time and energy:

  • Closing your door to work on an important project
  • Telling your employees you are not available for the next two hours so you can work on a project
  • Taking a lunch break every day to give your brain a rest
  • Not accepting a meeting request without an agenda
  • Protecting the first half hour of your workday to get focused and review your priorities for the day
  • Leaving the office no later than 6:00 each day
  • Not checking email on weekends
  • Not working at all on vacation (this is a boundary I am implementing in a couple weeks!)

When you don’t have boundaries, everyone else’s emergencies become your emergencies. You find yourself reacting to everyone else instead of focusing on what is important to you and your success.

Below are some of the personal and work boundaries I’ve put into place to protect my time and energy:

  • Prioritize my to do list and focus on two high priority activities a day
  • Schedule productivity sprints (blocks of time in my calendar) to focus on one thing at time (typically these sprints are between one and two hours each)
  • Close my email and put my phone out of sight when I am doing a productivity sprint
  • Go to bed by 9:30 p.m. on weeknights
  • No weeknight meetings after 8:30
  • No alcohol on weeknights
  • No work after 6:00 p.m.
  • Phone stays in the kitchen at night (not in the bedroom)
  • Maximum of one alcoholic beverage at a dinner or event (unless it’s a really long event like a wedding, where I allow myself two glasses)

You may be thinking; does she have any fun? Yes, I do. What these boundaries do is ensure that my energy is at its peak. I facilitate leadership programs and speak in front of people at least three times a week, and feeling rested, energized, and at the top of my game is vitally important for my business and the results my clients get. Having a glass of wine on a Tuesday night may not seem like a big deal, but it results in me not sleeping as well that night and feeling groggy in the morning, which undermines my performance. That boundary is a structure I use to keep myself at my peak.

Having structures also cuts down on the decisions you have to make, which frees up mental space and energy. As humans, we make thousands of decisions every day—everything from what to wear to who to hire. Having boundaries and structures in place keeps you from having to make simple decisions that drain your energy. Some CEOs create structures to simplify their lives as much as possible. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Don Tyson, former CEO of Tyson Foods, wear the same outfit every day, as did the late Steve Jobs. This is one less choice they need to make each day.

An important part of leadership is being able to keep yourself—and your team—focused. In today’s world, it’s challenging to keep your mind focused on what’s important. Without boundaries, you end up wasting your hours and ultimately your days. Developing boundaries creates the structures you need to keep your leadership—and your life—on track.

How to Actually Achieve Your Goals this Year

It’s a new year—a fresh start, a new page, a time for renewal and new commitments. It’s an exciting time to improve oneself and set high hopes for the brand-new year. Or is it? Do you find yourself feeling more melancholy than excited in the beginning of January?

At the beginning of last year, I noticed that instead of feeling motivated and excited for the fresh start, I felt…blah. Not so inspired. Not so motivated. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t swept up in the new year rush of positivity.

Upon reflection, I realized that below the surface I felt pressure and anxiety. It was only day three of the new year and I already felt like I was behind; that I wasn’t seizing each day to its fullest to get a jump start on the year. I also felt pressure to make this year better than the last. All of these feelings impacted my normal positive outlook and sent me into a three-week funk.

Instead of feeling hopeful for the year, I felt pressure to make it better than the last. Not exactly a great way to start the year.

Looking back a year later, I had my best year ever in 2017. Even though I didn’t feel enthusiastic at the beginning of the year, my habits eventually overtook my fears and helped me to make progress over the year before.

If you feel a bit of dread this time of year, you are not alone. Starting the year feeling less than enthusiastic doesn’t have to negatively impact your year. You can have a fantastic 2018 and make it your best year yet.

Success speaker Tony Robbins says that most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years.

Below are six strategies for actually achieving your goals this year:

Goals, not resolutions.

The traditional new year “resolutions” are rarely successful. It’s been reported that only 8% of people actually stick to their resolutions. The definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. It takes an enormous amount of discipline to completely stop doing something or to commit to always do something.

A better approach is to set goals. The best goals are specific, measurable, and future focused. By keeping the language future focused, it keeps you in a positive mindset and empowers you to work toward the goal.

Bad goal: I want to lose 10 pounds

Great goal: I will weigh 135 pounds by June 30, 2018

I’ve learned over the years that fewer goals empower me to actually stick to them. When I have a list of 10 goals, I end up focusing on what I’m not accomplishing than the progress I’m making. I try to keep my list to four to five goals. If I accomplish even half of them, I have made progress over last year.

Slow down to speed up.

The most common cause of overwhelm is a lack of clarity. If you come into the office on Monday and don’t have clarity around the most important things you want to accomplish, then you will probably start by checking your email, and an hour later find yourself on YouTube watching a cat video.

When we don’t have clarity, we procrastinate and whittle our time away doing insignificant things that don’t contribute to our goals. The same is true for annual goals. If you don’t have clarity, you will spend a lot more energy multitasking (which doesn’t work) and not get very far.

You will start the year off busy—running from meeting to meeting, putting out daily fires, trying to keep your inbox below 500 emails—and six months later find yourself wondering where the first half of the year went.

To gain clarity, slow down to speed up. Meaning, slow down to clarify your goals, and once you have clarity, you will be able to accomplish your goals faster and easier. Clarity allows you to not expend unnecessary energy overwhelmed by your to do list of over 30 things, and instead allows you to focus intently on important tasks that will lead you toward more success.

Ease in.

One of the top resolutions people make each year is to get in better shape. Most people approach this by resolving to exercise regularly and eat healthier. These are lofty goals (they are on my list almost every year), yet the challenge can come when we set our expectations too high.

Most experts would say that you should commit to an ideal workout schedule from day one. In my experience, this becomes overwhelming and does not feel sustainable. If you haven’t worked out consistently over the past year and then create a goal for working out four times a week, you can quickly become demotivated.

It may be against conventional wisdom, but ease into your goals. Create a goal that is realistic for you, yet will also motivate you to continue.

For example, perhaps the first two weeks you set a goal to work out twice a week and then increase it to three times in week three or four. Easing in allows you to adjust to your new way of living so it doesn’t feel so abrupt.

If you are someone who can create a lofty goal, jump right in, and never look back, then do it! Do what works for you. For the rest of us (the 92%), easing in is much more sustainable.

Reverse Plan.

This one strategy can be a game changer for achieving your goals this year. I started using this strategy about four years ago when I ended the year feeling totally exhausted and depleted.

I had a really busy year in my business, and had failed to plan a vacation. I remember opening my calendar mid-year looking for a week I could schedule some time off, and there wasn’t one week without appointments or commitments for the rest of the year. I pushed through that year with very little time off and promised myself I would never have a year like that again.

At the beginning of the next year, I sat down one day and planned the most important things in my life and scheduled them in my calendar—the doctor appointments, vacations, blog writing days, conferences, school activities, and dates with my husband.

I call this reverse planning because it’s the reverse of what most people do. Most of us go about our normal work and then try to fit in the important things later. That rarely works.

Planning ahead and being deliberate with your time will ensure the most important things are scheduled. Two important things for leaders to reverse plan are coaching sessions with your employees and strategy days (days you devote completely to strategic goals). Now is the time to schedule these important events before your calendar fills up.

Measure backwards.

One of my business mentors, Dan Sullivan, says one mistake most of us make in measuring our goals is that we measure forward instead of backward.

Let’s say at the beginning of the year you weigh 150 pounds, and you set a goal to weigh 135 pounds by June 30th. On June 30th, if you weigh 140 pounds, you technically did not achieve your goal. Most of us will focus on what we didn’t achieve rather than what we did achieve.

So, you didn’t achieve 135 pounds, but you still lost 10 pounds! Dan Sullivan calls this focusing on “the gap”. Instead of focusing on the progress, we focus on the gap between what we did and what we wanted to do. Progress is an evolution. Nothing happens overnight.

Forgive yourself.

Being human means you will likely hit some bumps throughout the year and fall off the wagon. Maybe you had a weak moment and somehow found yourself eating Nutella straight from the jar (I confess), you miss your workouts for weeks in a row, or you haven’t had coaching sessions with your employees for months.

You can spend your energy ruminating on your failures, or you can forgive yourself, get back up, and do better tomorrow. After years of ruminating, I have found forgiveness to be much more pleasant.

There are two books I recommend to inspire you to achieve your goals this year: The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen. Small steps throughout the year lead to big results. Every choice we make either leads us toward what we want or away from what we want. Don’t underestimate the power in the small daily choices.

Morning Routines of the Super Successful

I’ve never been a morning person. Or so I thought. Before I got married, my typical weekday schedule was waking up around 7:30 a.m. and dozing off around 11:15 p.m. as I watched Friends. My morning routine consisted of showering, dressing, and grabbing a breakfast Hot Pocket as I dashed out the door (don’t judge). On the weekends, I would go out with friends or binge watch movies until the wee hours of the morning and sleep until 11 or 12 the next day.

When I met my husband ten years ago, my comfortable schedule was interrupted. Rino typically gets up at 4:00 a.m. (that is not a typo). On the weekends, he would wake me up at 8:00 a.m. Before long, I was going to sleep by 10:00 and waking up at 7:00.

About two years ago, I was complaining that I didn’t have enough time to myself each day. Rino suggested I start getting up earlier to have some time in the morning. At the time, we had a newborn baby, and two other children under five. The thought of waking up early was not appealing to me, yet I craved some personal time in the day. I decided to experiment with getting up one hour earlier–at 6:00 a.m. That experiment two years ago has turned into a daily habit that has helped me to jumpstart my day and feel calm and productive.

I’ve been studying successful people for years, and over and over again, the morning routine turned up as a habit of the super successful.

Below are the most common elements in morning routines based on my research of highly successful people. The routines typically last anywhere from one to three hours (for those super early risers up at 4:00 a.m.!) and take place before they even get to the office.

  • Meditation: In his book, Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss shared that 80% of the highly successful people he interviewed meditate at least once a day. In my research, meditation came up time and time again. Organizations like Aetna, Google, and Apple all offer meditation classes to their employees. Since I pretty much feel a sense of urgency almost every minute of the day, I never thought I would be able to meditate (or at least do it well). I started meditating a year and a half ago, and I have seen an improvement in my focus, patience, and calmness. I meditate most days for 20 minutes in the morning. The bottom line: those who meditate report that they are able to keep calmer and handle the stresses of life better.
  • Prayer or reflection: Taking time in the morning to be grateful, pray, or set an intention for the day is typical for those who are very successful. While this practice was individual to each person, most report that this practice keeps them centered. Personally, I set an intention for my day to go well, and I visualize everything on my schedule, whether a presentation, a workshop, or a meeting, going exactly as I want. I take a pause before each segment of my day and make an intention to be present and connected to the person or people I am with.
  • Planning: successful people are very deliberate about how they spend their time. They don’t rush into the day and let others overtake their schedule. Most successful people report spending some time in the morning planning their day. I recommend taking this a step further and planning your day the night before. This allows you to jump right into your most important priorities instead of wasting time looking at your long task list and feeling overwhelmed (and then procrastinating by going on Facebook, looking at your credit union account, etc.). Pick your top two priorities, and schedule them in your calendar. In the morning, review your priorities list and get into action.
  • Exercise: Many successful people exercise in the morning, reporting that getting it done in the beginning of the day gives them energy and ensures it’s a priority.
  • Check email: you may be surprised that about half of successful people report checking email first thing in the morning (or maybe you are not surprised since it’s the first thing most people do). Most report scanning through their email and not reading or responding to each one. Although most experts advise not checking email in the morning, I find that unrealistic. The point is to not get engrossed in emails and let it derail your day. Be intentional about your time.

Although they have common elements, the routines of highly successful people were not all the same, so the key is to create a routine that resonates with you. While these routines took place for most people in my research before getting to the office, you can set up a routine to start your day at work too. Whether it’s reviewing your priorities list, reading an inspirational quote, or making a cup of tea, taking a few minutes to breathe and center yourself in the morning can help you to be more intentional and mindful as you go through your day.

If you want some further reading on morning routines, below are recommended articles:

The Morning Routines of the Most Successful People

The Morning Routines of 12 Successful Women

I also recommend the book, The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a morning routine? What practices help you to set your day up for success?