RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

CAT | Muscles of Success

I was watching a movie recently and it struck me that people were panicking when they could choose not to panic. The core action was about someone accidentally starting a fire. Okay. I admit that’s not good. Burning down a house is not a positive experience.

But while that character sat sobbing and feeling like she had just “ruined everything,” her sister started yelling and screaming – without pausing for one second to ask what happened.

Yes, I get it. That’s what makes drama good. But in the real world, it’s the kind of behavior that only adds negativity to the situation.

Then it occurred to me why I could never be a fiction author or playwright. Due in large part to my meditation practice, my first reaction to almost any situation is to stop, look around, and assess the situation. I wonder what people are going through – and I try to get their perspective.

And more importantly, I look at what is actually happening versus what I think, observe, or fear is happening.

It’s almost like a self-coaching or self-therapy session. Am I actually in danger, or just afraid of the danger? I see an activity, but is it really obvious what happened to cause that?

Human beings are really good a filling in the gaps. Even as infants, we connect things in surprising ways. If we see one end of a stick on the left side of a blanket and the other end of a stick on the right side of a blanket, we believe that it’s two ends of the same stick. When we’re correct about our observations often enough, we start making these conclusions faster and more frequently. Pretty soon, most of what we “experience” is actually made up from a series of observations.

I love to tell people that my favorite situation comedy [insert you favorite show here] episode is the one where someone overhears two others talking, but doesn’t hear the context. He (or she) then comes to the wrong conclusion, followed by plotting, anger, confrontation, and then realization that they got it all wrong from the start.

That happens all the time in movies and real life as well. It’s the drawing-the-wrong-conclusion part that’s avoidable. We can stop the action in our heads for just a second and ask, “Is what I’m perceiving real?” or “Does this mean what I think it means?”

Stepping outside yourself (your own brain) to look at yourself more objectively is a benefit of meditation.

But just be aware that it takes a lot of the drama out of some movie scripts.

:-)

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I’m a big fan of working from priorities rather than a calendar. Yes, we all need calendars, but only for one reason: Our lives intersect with other peoples’ lives.

It takes a lot of effort to learn to work from priorities instead of a calendar. The good side is that you get a lot more done – and you know you’re always working on what’s important. The bad side is that most people don’t do this, and they can get upset with you for not adding their low-priority stuff to your calendar.

One of the huge benefits you get when you work on highest priorities first is that you take time to improve yourself and your life. Here’s what I mean:

All too often, we “know” we should do something, but there’s never time. I know I should study for an exam. I know I should upgrade my certification. I know I should read a book in my field. I know all that – but these things don’t make their way onto my calendar.

Everyday, we look at the high priority things and don’t do them because they take time. And since we’re focused on the calendar and the clock, time is so precious that we don’t make time to do what’s important!

For example: Let’s say you’ve been told – and you believe – that reading a specific book will dramatically improve your life (or sales process, stress level, relationships, etc.). You “know” that this book will change your life for the better.

But it’s been sitting on your shelf for a year. Why? Because reading feels like you’re not doing something. And, as a result, reading that amazing book never makes its way onto your calendar.

There’s a certain irony here, especially if you are struggling with something and you “know” this book will help. You don’t have time to take time to do something that will make all your future time more effective and positive.

What?

I love the old saying, “She’s too busy mopping the floor to fix the roof.” It’s very true for very many of us.

Some people find it hard to believe that I read, write, and meditate every day. The most common thing I hear is, “Where do you find the time?” The answer is, I don’t find the time. I find the priority.

I know absolutely and definitively that reading and writing every day will improve my future life significantly – both personally and professionally. So I set aside time to sit in a chair, get comfortable, and read.

You can do this. You don’t have to write every day. Or read every day. But whatever thing you know you need to do, just set aside an hour to do it.

And relax about it. It’s okay to block off an hour in your calendar for self improvement. Remember the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey? #7 is Sharpen the Saw. In other words, work on YOU.

Once you accept that something will improve your life, you have do it, right? That hour will pay you back with many better hours in the future.

:-)

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Jun/19

18

Single File, Please

In his autobiography Even This I Get to Experience, Norman Lear relays a story told to him by a therapist. He says to imagine a crowded room with about fifty people in it. Suddenly there’s smoke and someone yells “fire.” Some people escape, but others are jammed in the doorway and can’t get out.

The lesson: “Your thoughts are no different from those people who rushed to the door and are crushed there. Let the people out one or two at a time and everyone gets out. . . . Same thing with your thoughts, Norman.”

Single File

Someday I’ll come up with a less gruesome example. But it really struck me that this is an important lesson about our brains. So many people complain that their brains are over-active. They can’t think straight because of self-diagnosed ADD. Or their lives are just busier than everyone else. Or they can’t meditate due to monkey mind.

Here’s the deal: We’re all like that. We all have a million thoughts a day. We are all super-ridiculously busy. We all have monkey mind.

And for all of us, focus comes when we begin choosing to address the situation instead of using it as an excuse to be parallized by a tangled ball of thoughts. Despite all the research verifying that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, many people embrace it. For some, this is because it keeps them in the middle of the whirring, buzzing busy-ness and doesn’t require them to take responsibility for not making progress.

Everyone can focus. Everyone. When my daughter was born, I was amazed at how she could entertain herself watching the ceiling fan, or the faces of people going by. Then, I was amazed at her ability to play with blocks or books for hours. At every stage – even when the world said “Kids at that age are impossible” – she had periods of intense focus.

For some reason, many people don’t acknowledge their own ability to focus. Whether it’s reading, gardening, carving wood, painting, or just working really hard, we all have periods of great focus. But we don’t notice what’s going on in the moment.

When you’re focusing intently, you don’t notice that your brain has quieted down. You don’t notice that the thoughts have moved to the background and are forming a nice, orderly line. That’s because, once you’ve set your sites on the one thing that needs attention, your brain relaxes a bit and digs in. You choose to focus and it works hard to help you.

Intellectually, we know this is happening. We know we can do it when we need to. But we really love the story about millions of competing thoughts and monkey mind. That story gives us an excuse not to be focused.

Here’s the reality. If you know you can focus once, then you can focus again. You can choose to take a little time and be aware, in real time, how your brain and body feel when you’re focused. You can almost step outside yourself and catalog what’s going on. Try it.

The next time you are doing something super focused (anything from frosting a cake to balancing your books), do a quick cataloging exercise. How does your brain feel? How are your emotions? Are you relaxed? Is your heart going fast or slow? Are you muscles tight or loose? What does this kind of focus feel like?

Note: Focus can be very different for different situations. If you’re mountain climbing, your physical senses might be very highly tuned in and hyper aware. If you’re much safer and less intense, such as planting flowers, you are more likely to be very relaxed with a lower heart rate.

Once you’re aware of these moments of intense focus, you can start figuring out how to get back there. What’s the setting? What’s the task? What time of day? etc.

One of my favorite rules of life is Slow down, get more done. This is certainly an example of that. In the end, you get a lot more done when you only try to do one thing at a time.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about setting priorities. As long as you’re going to line up those thoughts single file, you might as well figure out which is at the front of the line!

:-)

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May/19

25

Leave Gaps

Nothing is important. Um . . . Let me rephrase that: Leaving space in your life for new things is important. Leaving space for “nothing” means leaving space for opportunity.

We modern humans have a natural tendency to over-pack, over-schedule, and over-commit. We stack our day with frenzied activity and act surprised when one domino knocks down all the rest.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite “Rules for Life.” It’s called Silence Means Nothing. (Read that now.) The gist is that we spend lots of energy filling in the mental gaps when we waiting for communication.

A very common example is when you send a text and don’t get a reply. Is that bad? Did I offend someone? Is silence a yes or a no? More often than not, silence has nothing to do with you. Perhaps the other person had to jump in the car and drive somewhere. Or their mother called. Or something. Once you tune into this, you’ll see examples everywhere.

In my “day job,” I train technology consultants to be better at the business side of their business. Very often, that means helping them to create good processes and procedures. A big piece of this is helping them manage their work load. And the biggest problem I find is over-scheduling.

Think about your average day. Is it filled before you start? Is you entire day booked up by the time you start your first task? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set yourself up for a stressful afternoon. Why? Because “something” will happen. Something always happens. One client has an emergency. Another shows up late. Somebody goes home early.

Whatever it is, something interrupts your nice, tightly-packed schedule.

Another maxim I use in by business is related to project management: Something’s going to go wrong. We don’t know whether it will be big or small, but we’ll find it and fix it. We’ll always be successful in the end; we just don’t know how smooth the path will be.

Accepting that emergencies and interruptions happen does not mean you’re a bad person. Don’t plan your day as if everything will be perfect. When was the last time that happened?

Here’s a challenge to reduce your stress in the next week: Leave gaps. Leave blocks of time un-scheduled. Leave room at the table for an unexpected guest. My guess is that you’ll actually get a lot more done. When the inevitable interruption takes place, you’ll wiggle things around a bit and take care of it without throwing off the rest of your day.

Three great advantages come from leaving gaps in your day.

  • “Stuff” happens that you didn’t expect. Now you have a little extra time to take care of it without making a mess of your whole day.
  • No emergencies or big interruptions happen. Good! That gives you time to finish everything you had scheduled and either start working on tomorrow’s list or give everything you do today a little extra attention and love.
  • In your open time, your brain relaxes and new ideas emerge. You may not have time to work out all the details, but you’ll probably have time to jot down a few notes so you can revisit the new ideas another time.

There’s a lot of great research about the chemical factory inside your brain. When we over-book and over-pack our lives, we place ourselves in a perpetual state of “Fight or Flight” – and that’s not healthy. You need it once in awhile, but as a constant state of operation, it will lead to serious health problems.

Really. Google “perpetual fight or flight” and read any ten of the five millions results that come back.

Yet another of my maxims is Slow Down, Get More Done. When you under-pack your day, you actually have a chance of accomplishing everything you need to do. AND you leave room for opportunity to knock on your door.

Opportunity has probably been knocking for a long time. You just didn’t have time to answer the door.

:-)

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Feb/19

20

Working Out Your Whole Brain

At one time, we thought the brain was just one thing. Now we know that the brain is more complicated and miraculous than ever.

You have parts of your brain that are automatic, controlling your basic functions. And you have some you can control. Others more or less lie dormant until we call on them. THOSE are the ones I find most interesting.

There’s an old saying about getting old: Use it or lose it. That refers to your body. You have to remain flexible, or you’ll stop being flexible. You have to keep walking or you’ll lose the ability to walk. You have to use your muscles or you’ll lose your muscles.

How many ways do you use your brain?

The brain works the same way. If you stop doing puzzles, a certain part of your brain basically shuts down. If you stop being artistic, another part shuts down. And on it goes for memory, attention, focus, etc. There’s new research that people who do a variety of interesting things can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

I recently wrote in my technology newsletter about attending conferences outside the field of technology. I love going to conferences for writers in particular because there’s so much creative energy in the room.

We all spend so much time in our businesses that we end up putting on blinders. We are super focused on the here and the now and the challenges. We are focused on the next payroll and the next marketing campaign.

Conferences put us in an environment where people are talking about other things. Writer conferences are particularly good because only a few people are talking about writing. Everyone else is talking about their book project. And those subjects are as varied as the book shelves at Barnes and Noble:

Science. History. Art. Biographies. Business. Cooking. Health. Lifestyles. Technology. Fiction. Travel. Science. Romance. Everything!

One reason I travel and attend so many conferences is to keep the creative part of my brain engaged. I refer to it as mixing up the mental DNA. I meet a variety of people and talk about hobbies, challenges, the tools they use, and the habits that contribute to their success.

One of the ways people get “stuck” in their personal and professional lives is that they stop doing a variety of things.

Really. It’s as simple as that.

Workaholism is the most visible example. People work and work and work. And then they work at night, on the weekends, and even while riding a bus or train. They don’t garden any more, or take a drive in the country.

Workaholics get obsessed with getting more and more done. They lose sight of the fact that the work will literally never be done. (And it shouldn’t be, because then you have to go get another job.)

When you stop having hobbies, painting fences, meeting new people, reading for fun, or gardening, you shut off pieces of your brain.

Workaholics aren’t the only ones. Some people get completely obsessed with cleaning or knitting or bingo. Whatever it is, they do that one thing all the time and stop doing other things.

A friend recently invited me to a local poker night at a bar. No actual money is at stake, but teams compete and move through a league similar to bowling. She was a little surprised that I said yes right away and jumped right into it. I’m not a big poker player, although I enjoy it. But it was something different to do.

I have another friend I call on to keep a level of weirdness in my life. About once a year I say, “Find us something different to do” – and it never fails. Last year is was superstar midget wrestling. This year, who knows?

But it will be a new thing for me. And I have a strong tendency to not do new things most of the time. So I’ve made a habit of saying yes to lots of stuff simply to include a variety of experiences in my week, month, and year.


What do you do to light up various parts of your brain? Remember: Use it or lose it!

:-)

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Jul/18

30

Priming Your Brain – Part 3

In my last two blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I introduced the reticular activating system (RAS) and talked a bit about how you can “prime” it to focus on your goals. In this blog post, I want to touch on what happens when you don’t focus your attention.

If you study a lot of self-help and “success” literature, you’ve probably noticed that one of the most common recommendations across all these works is to spend some time at the beginning of each day planning the day. For some it’s prayer. For some it’s meditation. For some it is simply reviewing a schedule. But no matter what form it takes, they all involve spending time just thinking about the day ahead.

Without knowing it, this advice is really about telling your reticular activating system what to pay attention to. In Part 2 of this series I went into some detail how I use this to give lots of attention and focus to something. Today I want to talk about what happens when you don’t do this – when you don’t consciously choose what to put your attention on.

We’ve all had the experience of worrying about something. Sometimes, we get “stuck” worrying. We start to focus on something and then we can’t stop. We get more and more worried until something snaps us out of it. Very often, the thing that snaps us out of worry is simply the passage of time as we realize that the bad thing didn’t happen.

As Mark Twain famously said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Money is a common worry. The safety of our children is a common worry. Success in business. Fall sales numbers. Grades. Taxes. The list goes on.

Here’s what we know about the RAS: Whatever you choose to focus on, it amplifies. That’s great if you’re focusing on your goals and ideals. But if you’re focusing on “bad stuff” like worries, it’s going to amplify that as well. Here’s why:

The RAS has a primary function of filtering OUT virtualy everthing you could be paying attention to. Hundreds of millions of things happen every day don’t get your attention. You simply can’t process all that. But the RAS has a secondary function of filtering IN the things that are most important to you.

Some important things are reinforced so much over time that one could argue they are hard-wired. For example, if you’re a parent at the State Fair, you will hear your child’s voice say “Mom” or “Dad” through a huge crowd of people. Hearing that voice calling you under any circumstances is important, so it gets filtered IN to the top of the list of stimuli. Years and years of responding to this call have burned it into a pathway that says there’s probably nothing more important for you to respond to – ever.

Worries and fears and problems can be the same way. We choose to pay attention to our children, our spouse, our business, etc. But very often we do not choose to pay attention to worries, fears, and other negative things. They take some of our attention. But they don’t dominate our attention unless we get carried away. If we let them in, don’t push them out, and don’t tell our RAS that we’d rather pay attention to something else, then we end up paying attention to them again.

This pattern reinforces itself. If you don’t choose what to reinforce, the RAS (which has no brain of its own) will automatically choose for you. More and more research is showing that we can break patterns of negative thought. We can lay down new neural pathways. We can change our overall tendencies to focus on certain things and instead focus on more positive things.

One of my mottos is, “Nothing Happens By Itself.” I believe that is very true and applies to every aspect of life.

Positive attitudes don’t happen by themselves. New ideas don’t just happen. New business plans. Renewed marital happiness. Nothing happens by itself. But almost anything can happen if you put your attention on it.

If you ignore your attitudes and your preferred thought pattterns, then you get whatever random stuff other people throw into your life. But if you focus on what you want – the attitudes you want, the goals you want, the friends you want – then your RAS will work hard to help you GET what you want.

For me, the best part about all this is its simplicity. The RAS is like an audio amplifier. You speak into the microphone and a loud voice comes out the speakers. You tell your RAS that you want to focus on something and it responds with massive attention on that thing. And the more you prime it, the more it gives you in return.

:-)

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There are many fields I wish I had studied more in college. The brain is one of them. Of course, when I was in college, we knew about 1/10th of what we know today.

 

Aside from being an efficient chemical factory for producing hormones that affect happiness, pleasure, body control, and mood, the brain is a masterful collection of information systems and sub-systems. One of my favorite sub-systems is called the reticular activating system. The reticular formation is a set of interconnected nuclei that are located throughout the brain stem. The ascending reticular activating system (RAS) represents a series of connections made between the brain stem and the higher parts of the brain.

The RAS is an miraculous system for controlling habits and perceptions in humans. On one hand, it affects the way you see the world, filtering millions of stimuli into a few things you pay attention to. On the other hand, it reinforces behavior and beliefs. So, for example, we tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit our current beliefs. (This should help explain a great deal of the political discussion on Facebook.)

Here’s the coolest part as far as I’m concerned: the RAS does a lot of work automatically (controlling automated functions of the body, filtering information, helping your sleep, etc .), but it can also be manipulated by your intentions. And when that happens, your intentions can become magnified very powerfully. Here’s what I mean.

Every’s had the experience of buying a car and then seeing that car all over town. Those cars were always driving all over town: You just didn’t notice them because you didn’t care. You have to filter out virtually everything you’re exposed to or you would not be able to function. The RAS does that filtering. At the same time, you can choose to focus on specific things. You can tune into the color blue, or BMWs, or plastic ducks. Most of the time, these “choices” are unconscious. They just happen. But you can make conscious choices to focus on specific information.

Let’s try an example. You may have heard of the concept of block chain. Block chain is a cool new technology for creating secure transactions. It’s going to be widely used very soon. Many companies are investing in block chain. Say the words out loud: Block Chain.

There. I’ve told you almost nothing about block chain. But I’ve planted the seed in your consciousness. You’ve probably heard the phrase block chain before, but you have not paid attention to it unless there’s a reason to. Now, I’ve dragged it out of the background fog and into the forefront of your attention. Watch over the next 1-2 days and you will probably see or hear the phrase block chain. This phrase has been floating around, just outside your consciousness. Now it will become more visible for a short time.

“Short time” is key here. If you have no reason to pay attention to block chain, this raised consciousness will fade quickly – precisely because it has no value in your life.

Now consider something else. Perhaps you want to grow your business, lose weight, learn a new skill, get your garden into shape, or any other goal. If you take time to bring that goal into your conscious brain, the RAS will recognize that it has value for you . . . and begin focusing on it more and more. The RAS becomes an amplifier for your goals.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had a “great” business idea that flashed into my head. I took time to sit down, write out notes, make some drawings, and maybe even do some calculations. In other words, I focused very heavily on this idea for an hour or so. And guess what? All day the next day, it seems that every conversation helps promote that idea. People pop into my head that might be able to help me. The radio has a story about something that affect this. And so forth.

The point is: Once I choose to give an idea a certain amount of attention, the RAS helps me give it more and more attention.

Now, if you practice this regularly, your RAS will help you amplify your focus. But only for a short period of time . . . until you continually choose to focus more. If you keep focusing on the subject again and again, your RAS will renew it’s attention more and more. It’s a lot like cramming your way through on online course. You can ignore it for awhile and your brain will have no reason to put attention on it. But when you buckle down and study every day, your brain redoubles your efforts . . . and begins working on the problem in the background when your are not even aware that your brain is working on your behalf.

All success comes back to the concept of focus. In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I say that you get better at whatever you put your attention on. Other people have said things like, “Whatever you put your attention on expands.” That’s absolutely true. You can spend your days responding to the random stimuli of the universe, or you can choose to focus your attention – And your good friend the reticular activating system help you focus even more.

:-)

 

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One of the hardest things to do these days is to unplug. Technology keeps us so connected all the time that we never feel like we’re off work. This is particularly true with people who are self employed. And with people who work in big companies. And everybody else, too. :-)

Unplug

We have email on our phones, on our tablets, on our computers, and maybe even on our wrist watch. It’s literally everywhere. And our calendar is on most of those devices as well. And Facebook, LinkedIn, and whatever pop-up messaging apps you subscribe to.

It is very hard for some people to turn all that off – but you need to. A friend recently told me, “I need to be a lot less Pavlovian about work email, but I can’t help myself.”

It’s an addiction. And all that evening distraction has two primary characteristics: 1) It’s unproductive work, and 2) It robs you of the recovery time your brain needs to be productive the next day. You are using your “time off” from work being distracted by work!

I have a home office. Actually, two home offices. One is in the big front room where employees show up. The other is my study, where it’s just me. Those are my work areas. When I’m in other parts of the house, I’m “home.”

Many years ago, I started a routine of declaring, “I’m going home for the day” at about 6:00 PM. Then I stand up, turn off the lights, and leave my office to go home. I even do this when employees are sitting at their desks working. New employees find this humorous, until they realize I’m serious.

This is a great way to end your work day – even if you work at a “real” office. Here’s the whole end-of-day routine for me:

– Review tomorrow’s schedule. What is happening and when? Are there hard time commitments?

– Review email for the last time. Move it, delete it, answer it, flag it, etc. Close Outlook.

– Close all programs. Be done with all productive work for the day.

– Say “I’m going home for the day.”

I just read Deep Work by Cal Newport and he describes a very similar routine. It’s a great way to officially be done for the day. It’s a bit like plugging in your cell phone. You need to charge your personal batteries for the day. The routine also helps you check the box that says, “These things will get taken care of.” Just not tonight.

There’s lots of research (and common sense) showing that our energy levels, will power, and work quality are highest at the beginning of the day and lowest at the end of the day. So why keep trying to work when you’re low energy, low will power, and you’ll only spit out low quality work? You actually know that your work is lower quality, but you’re tempted to keep going.

Shut off. Power down. Play a video game. Read a book. Watch something stupid on TV. Listen to music. Enjoy your life. Recharge your batteries.

So many people tell themselves, “I can’t shut off.” But you can. You just have to do it, get used to it, and learn how to shut off. It really will improve your work if you take time to NOT work.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

:-)

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I am a firm believer that you must control your schedule, your availability, and your communication. These things are absolutely essential to your productivity and success. If you don’t control these things, someone else will. Guaranteed!

The two most common questions I get are some variation of the following:

1) How do you accomplish so much? How do your produce so much? How do you get so many things done?

and

2) How come you never answer your phone? Are you ignoring me? Why don’t you answer text messages? Are you really offline or just pretending to be?

Some people are genuinely irritated that I am not available 24×7 to respond to tweets and text messages and emails. But here’s the key to success: 99.9% of the time, 99.9% of the people have no idea that I’m unavailable.

Perhaps the wisest thing I’ve heard in the last ten years comes from my friend Arlin Sorensen, who thinks he heard it from his dad:

“Don’t worry about what people think about you, because they probably don’t.” It’s so true. People don’t spend their time thinking about YOU. Sorry. In our nihilistic, social media-focused society, people might believe that the whole world is looking at them and waiting for them to Tweet out the next funny post. But it’s not true.

Essentially nothing on social media is productive for you. In fact, almost nothing in your life is productive. Most email is not. Most phone calls are not. All tweets are not. All of Facebook is not. Most YouTube is not. In fact, most of the Internet is not.

We fool ourselves into believing that these things are productive, but they’re not. At all. In fact, all of your productivity happens between these distractions. To become more productive (and less stressed), you need to decrease the length and frequency of distractions and increse the length and intensity of the productive periods in your day.

If you want to learn to unplug and become more productive, here are some tips. This is what I do so that I appear to be active to others, but I’m actually “off the grid” most of the time.

Step One: Commit to doing one thing at a time.

You cannot multitask (That’a a whole different topic, but trust me, you can’t.), but you CAN time slice. Time slicing simply means you do one thing and then another and then another. When you do this, you give all of your attention to one thing. This focused attention makes that one thing go faster.

Step Two: Determine the minimum number of times you need to do unproductive activities in a day.

For example, you might think you need to check email every five minutes but you really don’t. For most people, checking email once per hour is enough. You may even be able to check it first thing in the morning, 30 minutes before lunch, and once in the middle of the afternoon.

Facebook and other social media are the same way. You might only need to check them once an hour or less. In fact, if you’re perfectly honest, you don’t really need to check them much at all.

Step Three: Set a routine to cycle through each activity block.

This will help you identify a large block of time that can be spent on a single focused task.

I always remind people of the time they were in a meeting and couldn’t answer their phone. An hour later, they checked their text messages, checked their voicemail, checked their email, etc. And guess what? No one noticed that they were unavailable for an hour. The world kept spinning. There were no crises.

Here’s what I do on a daily basis to unplug as much as possible and yet appear to be online a lot. I simply make a list of things to do on a rotating basis. For me, this includes:

– Check email (Inbox, employees, clients, etc.)
– Check text messages
– Check Facebook. Interact.
– Check to see if I have anything scheduled
– Focus on the most important project I have

With rare exceptions, I simply rotate through this list all day long. Think of it as a cross between a pie chart and a clock. Allocate a time slice to each activity. Repeat all day long.

It is very important that you silence your phone, close Outlook (email), close Facebook, close everything except the one project you’re working on. What you’ll find is that email might take fifteen minutes at 8:00 AM, but it takes five minutes at 9:00 AM, and only one minute at 10:00 AM. Once you focus on this, you’ll realize that you really don’t get that many truly important messages in a day. The same is doubly true for voicemail and infinitely more true with social media.

The result is that your hourly period of productive labor grows from 30 minutes to 40 or 50. And once you realize that you can check email every other hour (along with text messages, etc.), your block of productive labor grows to an hour and fifty minutes. That’s enough time to dig deep into an important task and get a LOT of productive work done.

I know this sounds hard if you’ve programmed yourself to believe that busy work is real work. Once you realize that the world is divided into productive blocks and interruptive blocks, it becomes easier to focus on the productive.

Try it. I’d love to hear your feedback.

:-)

 

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I was reading a very old book by Seneca the Younger called On the Shortness of Life. Although it was written almost 2,000 years ago, it reads like a message for today.

Seneca talks about people spending all their time in foolish activities rather than leading their lives. When we look at our lives today we see the same thing. Instead of leading our lives, we spend too much time thinking about the future or the past.

The past is a powerful time waster. I’m not talking about reminiscing or remembering a particularly fun time. I’m talking about time spent dwelling on bad experiences, fears, embarrassing moments, and all the trivial things from days gone by.

You cannot change one minute of the past. It’s done. Baked. All you can do is waste precious time in the PRESENT reliving bad experiences from the past. You can re-write them and mis-remember them. Or you can relive the details in excruciating clarity. But you can’t DO anything about them.

The future is not quite as bad. We need to plan. But we don’t need to plan TOO MUCH. There’s a point at which we work so hard trying to get things perfect that we take no action at all. We need a healthy mix of planning and acting. The acting part is called living.

The thing about time is that it’s easy to waste. Most of us don’t place much value on time. But it passes at exactly the same pace for all of us. You can use it or you can waste it. Unfortunately, too many people use up too much of their time without a thought to how valuable it is.

You get exactly 1,440 minutes each day. The same as everyone else. The same as presidents and prime ministers; the same as actors and singers; the same as professors and teachers. Every one of us gets exactly the same allocation every day. How do you use your allocation?

Living? Planning to live – someday? Fretting on the past? Watching TV shows you can’t remember?

We all need to “recharge” our batteries and have downtime. But we also all need to take control of our lives and use our precious time wisely.

One of the guiding rules of my life is to work on the highest priority activities I can. From that follows a process of setting priorities. How important is giving the cat fresh water today? How important is meditating? Reading? Writing? Paying bills?

We are all very busy. Perhaps all overwhelmed at times.

And yet we let other people simply interrupt our day. The phone rings and we answer it. An email pops up and we read it. An instant message comes in and we stop whatever we’re doing and look at it. Someone walks into the office and we give them our attention.

I recommended to a coaching client last week that everyone in his office should keep an Interruption Log. Literally write down every time they were interrupted (by a beep, a tweet, a knock at the door, a message, a phone call, etc.). And then write down whether this interruption was high, medium, or low priority. In particular, was it higher or lower priority than the thing they were working on when the interruption occurred?

If you work from the perspective of priorities, you can always be working on one of the most important things that needs to be done. And when you do that intentionally, it becomes easier to resist interruption.

For example, talking to the sales person on the phone is almost never higher priority than anything else you can do in your day – personal or professional.

Live in today. Live in the now. And guard your precious time wisely. No one else will!

:-)

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