Most people admit to being very busy, often over-busy these days, but very few people, when they think about it, will say they are very productive.
But why is that?
People don’t mean to waste time but that’s what happens more often than not.
Oh, I can hear the shouts – “No – I’m not a time-waster”.
Well I’m sure you don’t mean to be, but could that be the end result of your actions?
OK, let’s take a look.
What are the signs of someone who is busy but not productive?
- Easily distracted
- Lots of loose ends/tasks left incomplete
- Rushing from one thing to next with no time to think
- Everything seems urgent
- Feeling frazzled
- Little or no downtime
- Working hard and pushing through to get things done
So, if you want stop wasting time and be more productive, you need to do these things.
1. Have a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is the most underrated health habit and productivity tool there is. A good night’s sleep means 7 to 9 hours according to the National Sleep Foundation. Research shows that if you deprive yourself of sleep you make more mistakes and things take longer – but you know that anyway.
2. Create time to think.
”The quality of everything we do is dependent on the thinking we do first” (Nancy Kline). But so few people create time to think and they find themselves running from task to task, often responding to what’s urgent rather than important. If you want to be productive, carve out and protect your thinking time and don’t just slot it in after your working day.
3. Create an environment that allows and encourages focused concentration.
Organisations really let themselves down here.
Most people have an open plan office and are expected to be at the beck and call of their superiors. This is not an environment for hyper-productivity. People need autonomy and uninterrupted time if they’re going to be productive and do quality work. People should be allowed to work in areas free from distractions at least some of the time. People these days are so used to being distracted that the art of concentration is being lost. Few people can focus and concentrate for long before they seek a distraction/dopamine hit. Focused concentration is like a muscle that needs to be built. Use it or lose it. I believe that being able to concentrate to get quality work done will distinguish the people who will be successful.
Creating uninterrupted periods of time requires planning and scheduling. Most often, people give up these blocks of time easily. They need to be ruthlessly protected if you want to be productive.
4. Choose your tasks wisely.
It’s not possible to have focused concentration all day long. There are times when our brains need to just tick over. This is completely normal. This means that people who want to be productive need to notice their high and low levels of focus and attention and choose their tasks wisely. High focus and attention periods should be used for thinking, problem-solving and creative work. Low levels of focus and attention can be used for admin tasks and data sorting.
5. Take a break.
Our brains do their best to process information but have a finite capacity which is different for everybody. The pre-frontal cortex can hold only a limited amount of information before it gets full and needs a break to let go of what it doesn’t need, store what it does and be ready for action again. If you find yourself just not able to process/get stuff done, take a break. It doesn’t need to be long. Even standing up and taking a breath can be enough. But it is folly to keep going.
6. Make meetings matter.
Most people book meetings without considering whether that is the best way to get stuff done. Few people stop and think about what they really want from a meeting, e.g. who should be there, who should not be there, what is expected of the participants, before, during and after the meeting.
Without great clarity, meetings can often be a waste of time while still allowing people to look very busy. Take a moment and ask yourself: Is this meeting really necessary? Do I need to be there?
If you’re really finding it difficult to focus and you’re time-wasting and procrastinating it could be that you’re in the wrong job, i.e. what is important to you is not aligned with your organisation or the job you signed up to do. If so, it’s time for a re-think.
So, if you want to determine your future success the choice is yours. Do you want to be part of the focused few or the distracted many?
Are you having problems dealing with a difficult boss? Do you want to get past the hurdle of a challenging colleague so you can come and leave the office without a strained relationship looming over your head?
It may be time to have that tough conversation with them so you can speak up and talk about the issues that are weighing you down. Unfortunately, difficult conversations take strategy, skill, courage, and confidence that you may not have. Not yet, anyway.
It is important to remember that your ability to speak up has an influence on your success in the office, at home, and with life in general. If you can’t get past the stressful experiences you’re having, your productivity is limited, relationships are strained, and opportunities are constrained. You don’t want that, especially because it will slowly chip away at your self-confidence and undermine your sense of security.
Unfortunately, if your heart race or you get that sinking feeling every time you think about talking to your boss or confronting a colleague, it will be difficult to put on a brave face. It would feel even worse if you crumble in front of certain people or when you beat yourself up before and after every attempt of having a tough conversation.
Here’s the thing though, if you don’t make an effort to have a courageous conversation, you will continue to struggle. The first thing you need to do is overcome your fears and hesitation.
How do you do this exactly?
6 Keys to Have the Confidence to Have a Courageous Conversation
- They’re human too
Regardless of how difficult your boss might be, they are human too and they’re likely to be throwing their weight around because they are under a lot of stress or pressure. Their problems might even come from a variety of sources and they’re having difficulty coping, which accounts for their challenging behaviour. The same thing could be true with a difficult colleague. If what you’re doing, or the lack thereof, is exacerbating the situation, then you should think of ways to help alleviate it.
- Being likeable
People are more likely to say yes to those they like and reciprocate accordingly. So make sure to build rapport and behave in a likeable manner. This can influence how people will respond to you. If you’re not doing this yet, you might want to switch to this tactic. Just don’t end up looking like you’re sucking up. This can have the opposite effect.
- Be your best self
It is possible that your confidence is lacking because you’re unsure of how confident and resourceful you are. If you’re mismanaging your state of mind and wellbeing, then you’re not setting yourself up to be the best version of you. So make sure you’re well-fed, watered, and well-rested.
- Create a positive zone
Think of a positive outcome and play it through your mind over and over again. Make sure to watch the entire scene unfold and savour every moment that you celebrate your success in those thoughts. Then, whenever you start thinking negative or playing out the worst case scenarios in your head, stop, and go to your positive zone. You know the adage. “Be careful what you wish for”
- Do something in their favour
What can you do to a challenging colleague as a favour? It doesn’t have to be grand, but something they will appreciate. Research showed that people are likely to reciprocate and do you a favour if you’ve done the same to them.
If it’s not possible to make the first move, make them feel like they’ve done you a favour. Even as simple as borrowing a book and showing your gratitude would make them feel open to you and receptive of your friendship or attention.
- Work on your own demons and fears
Is there a reason that you have difficulty having a courageous conversation? Did a horrible parent or teacher shut you down and stomped on your self-esteem? It may be time to unhook on that history and free yourself. It may just be what you need to find your confidence and courage again.
It is important to understand that a relationship is a system that you can control. If you change something with the system, you will get a different response or an outcome. So if you want to build a working relationship with your boss or colleague, change something. If you didn’t succeed in your first attempt at having a tough conversation, try again. Make sure to try all the strategies listed above and enjoy the fruits of your effort.
Are you any good at saying no? Well, I reckon you’re pretty good at it because you say no every day!
But is that what you’re thinking?
Do you think of yourself as someone who is really good at saying no?
Or are you one of those people who shies away from saying no for fear of upsetting people or worrying about the consequences? Perhaps you think saying no is a career-limiting move. Well, whether you are one of those people or not, how do I know that you’re good at it?
Would you agree that there are only so many hours in a day and the chances are you have more on your ‘to do’ list than you can possibly get done? Yes? Do you feel you are continuing to run just to keep up and that your list of things to do never gets any shorter? Well, if that sounds familiar, you’re good at saying no whether you recognise it or not.
Let me explain. As there are only a certain number of hours in the day and it’s just not possible to get everything done, when you say yes to a request you must be saying no to something else. Would you agree? Then the key question is what are you saying no to? And is it OK to be saying no to this?
Let me give you an example of one of my clients. Let’s call him Joe. Joe continually found yourself working late at the office more evenings than not. When this came up on his coaching call recently, it was clear he was finding it difficult to say no to his demanding boss who seemed to find urgent things for him to do almost every day. But the thing is that Joe has a young family and by staying late most evenings he missed the opportunity of seeing his kids before they went to bed. So you see Joe
was saying no on a regular basis. But now he is aware of what he is having to sacrifice by saying yes to his boss he’s renegotiated and agreed that on three nights a week he will leave the office to get home
on time. Now I know that takes courage and a certain level of skill, which is just one of the things I teach at my Choose to Thrive Masterclass.
You don’t want to be doing this all of the time but if you want to live life on your terms it has to be done from time to time. Make your choices consciously rather than unconsciously.
So what are you currently saying no to that you are no longer willing to tolerate?
Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that the more difficulty you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout and even depression. Saying no is a major challenge for many people. No is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, avoid phrases such as ‘I don’t think I can’ or ‘I’m not certain’. Be clear and offer alternative solutions. Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfil them. When you learn to say no, you free yourself from
unnecessary constraints and free up your time and energy for the important things in life.
Have you come back from your holiday refreshed? Or are you feeling like you need another holiday?
Many people I’m hearing from right now still feel tired and exhausted even after their holiday. Is that you?
Maybe you didn’t get a chance to read that book or quietly sunbathe despite your best intentions.
Or perhaps you took some work away with you. You may not have literally taken your laptop but work nevertheless invaded your space. Maybe the odd email, phone call or conference call just had to be done.
So no time to really stop, unwind and relax.
Possibly you had reports to read, projects to plan or resources to juggle.
So have you really come back to work having caught up on sleep and with your batteries recharged?
Whatever is the reality for you, how is you battery level right now and is it enough to carry you through the next few months? If it’s not great, how are you going to get back on track and be ready for whatever comes?
Here are the top five tips and techniques I have gathered with my clients over the years.
If you want to increase your productivity, mood, creativity and well-being, the best thing you can do is get more sleep. Unless you’re getting from seven to nine hours of sleep a night, chances are you’re not getting enough. If you want to be a high-performer and get quality work done, research has shown that if you don’t get enough sleep you make more mistakes and things will take longer to do. An extra 30 minutes a night will make all the difference
2) Get ahead of your day.
Creating space and time to plan your day before it starts seems to be the crucial tactic for high-performers. Knowing what must get done today before looking at emails will help you stay on track. After all, emails are just a convenient way of organising other people’s agendas. If you mean business you need to be clear about your own agenda.
3) Agreements avoid disagreements.
How often have you found yourself working late into the night only to discover that what you’re working on wasn’t needed, or you did more than was necessary? Has that ever happened to you? Certainly it happened to me in my time at Goldman Sachs. You see, I never used to have the courage to seek clarification, particularly with more senior colleagues. As a consequence I often did more work than was necessary. But it doesn’t have to be so. Seek clarification before you get started.
4) Stop and take a break.
In today’s fast-paced world, which is continuously changing and bombarding us with distractions it’s easy to think that we need to keep going to get things done. However, the reality is that when you have information overload and decision fatigue it’s time to take a break. Even a short walk to the bathroom or to grab something to drink can be enough to allow your brain to recover and get back on track.
5) Choose who you hang out with.
If you want to hang on to that holiday feeling and don’t want to get dragged into office politics then choose your company wisely. Choose people who are going to motivate and energise and not those who will drag you down with their moans and groans. As my mum says, ‘hang out with radiators, not drains’.You are after all the average of the people you hang out with.
I hope you found these tips and techniques useful.
For more tips and techniques join me at the Thrive Tribe on Facebook
You might do your job out of necessity, or it might be your passion that drives you, either way, have you ever wondered – is your career killing your marriage? There is nothing wrong with your focus being on your career, this is a highly positive thing, and you’re in a fortunate position if you are driven by something that fulfills you and gives you a great sense of achievement. However, should this come at the expense of anything else that is also important to you, in particular, your marriage? What you need to aim for is giving all aspects that make up your life sufficient time and attention; be it work, relationships or health and wellbeing.
Here we give a few pointers on how you can tell – is your career killing your marriage?
Do you have a good work/life balance?
With a busy work schedule, we can often go into autopilot, leaving the house early, not getting back until late, followed by dinner, bath, bed – and then doing it all again. Making time for a marriage or a relationship in the working week can seem difficult, and for some it might even be seen as unnecessary. However, even the healthiest of relationships still need nurturing in order to flourish. Giving time to a marriage on a daily basis can seem unimportant, however in the bigger picture this can lead to neglecting the relationship and taking your partner for granted. Make time in your day for your partner. This could be sitting down and having breakfast together, or dinner, or having some quiet time in the evening where you focus on each other, and not the TV or smartphone. If this is something you would rather avoid, you should be asking yourself why.
Does you partner hate you working?
Having a career we love and are good at can deliver a great sense of achievement, build self esteem, and keep us feeling fulfilled. However, it is not unheard of for a partner to dislike their other half having a career. The only way to overcome this is to communicate, and get to the bottom of the reasons why. Your partner could feel threatened by your success due to their own insecurity issues. Or, they could resent the fact that it takes up so much of your time, especially if work spills over into home life and the things you do together. Be sure to communicate how you both feel, and come up with compromises if need be. Make sure you are putting as much effort into your marriage as you need to, and try and see it from the other side.
Do you snap at your partner for no reason?
Sometimes you can snap at your partner without even really being aware of it. If you are feeling irritable, it could be for many reasons (medical, tiredness, stress) however it can often be related to stress at work. When you feel stressed about work, and do not deal with this stress, it can spill into other areas of your life. Try to be more self aware, and when you catch yourself snapping at your partner, acknowledge it, apologise, and explain the feelings behind it.
Do you feel resentful toward your spouse?
When small things aren’t discussed and dealt with properly, they can fester and grow. If you find yourself feeling moody and resentful toward your partner, take a step back and see if you can figure out why. Is it because you feel you are doing more housework than them, despite working full time, or do you feel they don’t understand you? Whatever the reason, communication is key. As well as communication with your spouse, being able to know yourself and how you really feel about things is vital.
Do you speak up at work?
Not speaking up at work can mean you come home feeling frustrated and unheard, or perhaps undervalued. And as you might expect, if these feelings are not dealt with in the workplace, they are brought home. These feelings of frustration, maybe anger, at work are likely to spill over into your home life, and it is common that these feelings can be projected onto your partner. It could be that you are acting as if you are unhappy at home, when really you are unhappy with issues at work. Try to deal with work issues in the workplace, and you will be less likely to take them home with you.
Take time out for yourself
In addition to having a career, and being a spouse, perhaps a parent, and any other role you may be fulfilling, it is important to take time out for yourself. This doesn’t mean having a cup of tea or a glass of wine and scrolling through your phone. This means, quiet time when you are alone with your thoughts and you can work out what is really going on. If you are stressed, ask yourself how you are feeling, and what might make it better. If you or your partner seems unhappy, ask yourself what can make it better. While it is important to put time and effort into your marriage, it is also vital that you nurture your own self and deal with your own feelings about things too. As they say on planes these days, fit your own oxygen mask before you help others to do the same.
Do you find yourself rushing around with no time to think? Perhaps you have so much on, that it’s impossible to keep up? Or maybe you know the quality of your work is not its best and you’re worried you’re going to be found out?
Imagine 2017 is the year you get on top of things and that you will be in charge of your day rather than your day being in charge of you.
You see, “The quality of everything we do is dependant on the thinking we do first” – Nancy Kline.
So creating time to think is vital. But how do you do that? It’s certainly not always easy and not always possible but try these ideas to regain control, get some time back and be in charge of your day.
Before you look at emails, and I mean BEFORE, think about these questions:-
o What’s important to get done today?
o Who do I need to reach out to?
o What sort of leader do I want to be?
o Who do I need to appreciate/acknowledge?
You might need to lie in bed for a couple of minutes longer to do this if you can’t trust yourself not to look at emails first thing!
As you walk between meetings ask yourself these questions:-
o What was great about that last interaction?
o What would I do differently next time?
o What do I want out of the next interaction? Win:Win
o How do I need to be to get the result I want?
And during your commute home or at the end of the day
o What can I celebrate, however small?
o What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned?
o What needs to happen so I feel done for today?
o How can I best switch off and recharge the battery ready for tomorrow?
The inability of all of us to switch off is universal these days and is evident in every sector.
The World Health Organisation states that stress is the ‘Global Health Epidemic of the 21st Century’. Stress and burnout are on the increase globally due to the increase and intensity of work and it is now the number one cause of sickness here in the UK with 12 million days lost in 2015.
The Sunday Times in 2016 stated that nearly 3/4 of bankers were suffering from insomnia, panic attacks, headaches and depression brought on by work-related stress.
The City of London police reported in Sept ’16 (9 months) a 100% increase in suicides from the previous full year 2105 in the square mile alone.
It’s a major issue.
The average user in the UK checks their Smartphone 150 times a day
70% check their work phones within the first hour of waking
56% check their work phones before going to bed
48% check their work phones over the weekend
Harvard Business School expect email volumes to increase by 16% year on year
51% constantly check their phones during holidays
73% of British workers feel they are expected to always be available, increasing stress levels and the likelihood of them leaving their job.
It’s all a false economy and we’re all colluding in this fallacy. It’s a massive problem for mental health and productivity. It’s just not possible to function at your best for long periods of time without breaks and time out.
Our brains cannot continue to process information without out time out – they get full up. Timeout allows the brain to consolidate information, make meaning, allow connections and creativity to happen and puts down memories. Being on 24/7 is not humanly possible and doesn’t allow for Eureka moments that only happen when our brains are allowed to wander.
As I say we are all colluding. Have you sent emails outside of normal working hours and expected an immediate response? Was it really that urgent? Have you sent emails to people who you know are on holiday? Have you have copied in people on emails which was not really necessary and adding to their already bulging inbox.
Instead, people need to stop this folly. We have to allow people to have time out. Within your team agree up front and between you when you will have uninterrupted time to switch off and recharge. Take it in turns to cover for each other to give people a break.
If you want the biggest competitive advantage of all, carve out your own ‘switch off’ time and stick to it. You know your competitors won’t dare and you will be so much more effective and clear-headed.
If don’t you could be yet another burn out casualty!
More than ever Leadership skills are critical for success. In the new world of hyper-connectivity and information overload being able to identify what is essential and what is just noise, will identify the true future leaders. It requires more than being a ’subject matter expert’ (SME) and in fact, I think being recognised as an SME will hold you back.
As Goldsmith said ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’ is absolutely true and being seen as an expert in your field will serve you very well in the early part of your career but if you aspire to get to the top you need to have a real shift in mindset and behaviour. No longer will you be able to rely on your expertise, and the success of your own area to show your worth. You will need to move to a place where your success is measured
You will need to move to a place where your success is measured on the success of other peoples successes and you will no longer get the lion share of the credit. Ideally, you will surround yourself with high achieving, ambitious people who may know as much or more than you and who want your job. In my experience, this is a big step for many professionals climbing the corporate ladder. As you move up and take on responsibility for businesses or departments outside your area of expertise you need to ‘let go’ of knowing the ‘answer’ and be able instead to ask the ‘right question’. This takes maturity and different leadership skills.
Often another challenge for professionals in my experience is that early on in their career they pride themselves in getting the ‘right answer’. Often black and white thinking. Right or wrong. This won’t work at the top! There often isn’t a right or wrong answer – another mindset shift and a need to exercise influencing and negotiating skills.
These mindset shifts not only require you to re-invent your own self-concept but necessitate in re-branding yourself in the workplace. Without others looking at you differently and recognising that you are now more than your technical know-how, you are stuck. One way to do this is to change roles or even organisations.
As you climb further up the tree, there is more and more need to balance future goals with current needs. This requires thinking time. Something which is less and less available these days. You need to stop doing and reflect, analyse, accept advice and decide. This long-term perspective requires a level of maturity and selflessness. No longer can you think of only yourself and your success but you need to think of the organisation as a whole and your legacy.
Growing as a leader takes constant work and attention. Watching and modeling great leaders at work can really help hone your skills but a coach can accelerate the pace and help you identify an authentic leadership style of your own that is effective and gets results.
How’s your mojo right now?
There are times when even the most positive of us loses our mojo, even momentarily … so here are my 5 tips for getting it back:
- Take a break – Ideally, take a holiday or short break. Changing your environment does wonders for changing your perspective and your state. Ideally leave all work related stuff behind and allow yourself time to un-wind. You’ll find it’s a good use of time in the long run when you come back with renewed energy and vigour. If you cant take a holiday right now take a moment. Even a short break in your day can change your mood. Take a moment and take a deep breath in, hold it and then let it go slowly.
- Get Moving – Go for a run, brisk walk or just get that body moving, ideally outside in the fresh air if you can. Do what ever it takes to increase your heart rate and circulation. Look up and enjoy the sky! There’s a big world out there waiting for you!
- Gratitude – remind yourself of all the people and things that you are grateful for. If you have a roof over your head, food in your stomach and a gadget to read this blog, you already have a lot to be grateful for, compared to many in the world. Start spotting even the small things that make you happy such a familiar smile, a cosy chair and beautiful flower, the touch of a loved one.
- Get rid of drains – are you hanging out with drains or radiators? Cut out all the people and things that make you unhappy and drain your energy. Easier said than done I know but start noticing what is affecting your mood and energy and do your best to eliminate the drains wherever possible. Sounds harsh I know but there are plenty of other people and things that would value your attention. You can’t do everything so choose wisely.
- Do something – do anything! Stop thinking of all the things you can’t do and start focusing on the things you can do, however small. These actions don’t have to be perfect or complete – just take a small step in the right direction. If you’re finding it difficult to do something for yourself, do something for someone else. Ask a neighbour if they need a hand. Help a stranger in someway. Smile at someone as you walk down the street.
Remember, you are in charge of your mojo – no one else can do it for you!