Focus and Prioritize
Productivity Consulting and Leadership Coaching for business and nonprofits - get your most important work done. Collaborating with leaders and their teams to become more strategic, focused and productive. Leadership and Board Coaching, Strategic Planning Facilitation, Productivity Coaching and Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Executive Coach, Business Consulting, personal productivity, time management, nonprofit, board coach, collaboration, strategic planning, facilitation, change management, leading productive teams, project planning, board development, volunteer engagement, association management, workplace productivity, executive director.
-1
archive,category,category-focus-prioritize,category-8,bridge-core-2.1.6,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,footer_responsive_adv,qode-theme-ver-20.3,qode-theme-bridge,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.1,vc_responsive

Focus and Prioritize

There is a cute meme going around saying it’s simply “day,” not Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday…. just day.  And yes, sometimes the days just run together because there is not a lot of differentiation. It does seem like every day is kind of the same.

That sameness makes it easy to fritter time away.  Without having to be at the office, or a client at a specific time, or having to prep for a trip, or even meet friends for a night out, time seems to fly by.

What can you do to boost your productivity during these unstructured times?  In the absence of external structure, we have to create internal structure! Here are some possible ideas how:

  • Create a daily checklist
  • Identify the 1 (or 3) most important task to accomplish each day.
  • Set specific intentions for living well
  • Plan time “on” and time “off”

Daily Checklists

  • Cues you to do your important tasks
  • Holds you accountable
  • Shows results

Out of necessity I created a simple Excel doc and have been using it daily since the beginning of May. I feel like I’d be lost without it.  It changes a bit as time goes on and my priorities shift. Here’s a snippet of what it looks like now:

Identify Top Daily Tasks

Take the time to write out the most important things you intend to accomplish for the day. Use a post-it and stick it somewhere you’ll be able to see all the time.  Here are some options:

  • Top 3 tasks
  • Top 1 task – and 2 on deck
  • Top 1 task (I love this one because it ensures your focus is only in one place!)
  • Top 3 tasks – and on deck tasks if the top 3 are quick

I’ve had clients who find success with all these options. Try them and see what works for you.  Right now the most popular selection is #2 – Top 1 task, and when that gets done move to the 2 on deck.

Set Intentions

What do you need to do to live well? Make a list.  Set your intentions.  Then when you plan your week, be sure they are integrated.  Here are some examples:

  • Work no later than 6pm
  • Protect 8a-9am for email and daily planning
  • Create two 2-hour blocks for project work
  • Practice Yoga 3 times a week
  • Meditate at least 5 minutes each day
  • Do a cardio workout 2 times a week
  • Make time to plan healthy food choices

Plan time “on” and time “off”

When working from home it is so easy to work all the time. Going to the office created separation. Now you have to create that for yourself.  Protect your non-working hours.

  • Create a space where you go to work. Don’t go to that space during non-work hours. If you need your computer, use it elsewhere.
  • Try a tech-Shabbat/Sabbath. With the endless Zoom meetings and phone calls it is healthy to give yourself 12 hours off. Try shutting your tech off on Saturday or Sunday.
  • Take a few days off – if possible, find a place to go for a few days. If there is nowhere safe to go plan a stay-cation and put work on hold.

At the beginning of the pandemic, much was discussed about working from home.  In my opinion, way too much discussion.  I don’t know about you, but I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of newsletters, emails, and social media posts, as well as the endless links of things to read shared by well-meaning friends. Even if I only read selectively, it took so much time!

It was all too much. The rebel in me was not about to jump on that bandwagon and inundate you with more.  I took that break, but now I feel like I have information that will help you adjust as we move into this new normal.

From talking to clients and colleagues around the world, it’s clear that things are different depending on location.  I’ve heard of a few people preparing to head back to their offices now, while others are being told not to plan to return until 2021.

With that in mind, here are my productivity tips for the next few months:

  1. Be ruthless with your online reading/viewing time
  2. Create more structure than usual
  3. Schedule non-working and working blocks of time
  4. Plan (and take) vacation/stay-cation time

My intention with this blog has always been to keep the posts short enough so you can quickly read them and absorb them.  I do not want these posts sitting in your inbox. Please read what I am sharing and then delete this email!  You can always reference back at www.ellenfaye.com/blog.  (The search feature will help you find what you’re looking for.)

To keep this short and sweet, I will address each of the above noted topics in individual posts. Today’s topic:

Be ruthless with your online reading/viewing time

Now more than ever be super selective with what you are choosing to spend your time reading and watching.  The availability of information is enormous and endless. I have clients that spend hours reading things that they have never asked for, yet because it’s in their inbox or feeds, they feel compelled to read it.  Here is how you can manage this:

  • Set specific hours for online reading – that means articles, blog posts, texts, videos, and messages from well-meaning friends. If you stop for a quick read/view of everything that is sent to you, it’s going to be hard to get your important work done. Try blocking out time at the very beginning of your day, at lunch, and at the end of your day for this.
  • While it may be interesting or have value, ask yourselfwhat else is reading this now keeping me from doing?” Some of you with a super high need for completion may need this extra nudge to keep you on task with the work you want to be doing.
  • Reframe and read without guilt! – build in a system to help you stop “reading on the ping.” Move what you want to read to a folder, mark it unread, or flag it for later; then when you get back to it you can enjoy reading without guilt.

I can’t help thinking that solidifying these habits now are going to make you even more productive later! In my next post I’ll be address how to create more structure in your day, and why this is more important now than ever. Talk to you soon!

 

 

 

from over-stressed to more productive

Last post I wrote about how the brain reacts to stress and why physiologically, it’s hard to get anything done when we are over-stressed and anxious.  If there is one thing we can be sure of right now, it’s that there is much uncertainty. It is quite stressful.  There are however specific things we can do to help move ourselves out of our emotional brain and back to our thinking brain.

  1. List and plan what you can control: take a minute and make a list of what you can control – routines, work flows, meal prep, news consumption, social media time – then set an intention around each.
  2. Create a realistic timeline – to say I will build a website in April may not be realistic. What is?  Outlining it?  Selecting a platform? Writing copy?
  3. Break large task into small steps – look at #2 above. Build Website is stressful. But breaking into the small steps – outlining, selecting platform, writing copy (maybe page by page,) is a lot less stressful.
  4. Practice gratitude, meditation & exercise – build the positives into your day. I take time each day to count my blessings…
    1. My family is healthy.
    2. I have a comfortable home in which to isolate.
    3. I have many friends and colleagues to stay in touch with.
    4. Good things are still happening in my business – check out these two articles from CNN Business Writer Kathryn Vasel on Working from Home 1) handling it all 2) scheduling work with kids around. I’m grateful for the wonderful professional relationships I have, like with Kathryn, and that she consistently reaches out to me for my expert opinion.
  5. Find outside support or accountability – we are juggling a lot these days. A coach or trusted friend/colleague can help you process your thoughts so it’s not quite so hard.

Last week I shared some tips about maximizing productivity while working from home.  And this week…. well things are different.  I’m having a hard time getting much done.  I thought this would be a perfect time to dig into this book I’m writing… It’s really hard. And there is a reason for that.  (A sneak peak of what I’ll be writing about.)

We start with a quick look at the brain.  In the simplified picture above, we see 3 areas; in evolutionary order – the brain stem, the limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex.

The brain stem is the oldest, most evolved part of the brain. We don’t have control over it.  It basically functions on autopilot.

Next, in evolutionary terms, is the limbic system.  It is our emotional default center. We have some control here, but it takes over when it needs to.

And then we see the evolutionary newer Prefrontal Cortex (PFC); this is where we think, process, and remember.

To get into flow (optimized productivity), we need to be in our thinking brain – the PFC. This is the part of the brain that sets humans apart from other animals. It’s where we do our abstract thinking, and where our executive functions and working memory live.

The limbic system is the emotional center.  This houses our amygdala – the home of the freeze, fight, and flight response.  The amygdala takes over when we are overstressed, in fear, and/or anxious. Because the limbic brain is evolutionarily older than the PFC/thinking brain, it easily overrides it. And when this happens, our concentration, focus and efficiency is compromised.  

To illustrate, let’s look to our caveperson ancestors.  Cave-woman Wilma is working on learning her wall symbols.  Suddenly, a wolf enters the cave and lunges for her baby. It’s Wilma’s limbic/emotional brain that overtakes her PFC/thinking brain and enables her to snatch the baby away from the wolf in the nick of time. The limbic brain wins.  The limbic brain almost always wins. It’s physiological and not within our control, just like our heart beat is not within our control.

Coronastress is supercharging our limbic system. Yes, we can get work done, but getting into flow? We may need some time for that.  This is the time to be kind to yourself.  Having realistic expectations is helpful all around.

Self-compassion expert Dr. Kristin Neff, in her self-compassion Ted Talk, says “When we fail and feel inadequate, we are fighting ourselves. We are the attacker and the attacked.” When we are too hard on ourselves, we flip our brains from the PFC to the amygdala. Now add the uncertainty and stress of Covid-19, and you can see that it’s natural for our productivity to tank.

Taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is important in keeping your immune system strong. If you need support, please reach out.  I’m offering my coaching services (leadership, productivity, business and organizing) via phone and Zoom and am available to help. I invite you to schedule a complimentary consultation with me here.

This week’s topic comes from a client’s inquiry.  She is seeking a better way to balance freelance work, her full-time job, and everything else going on in her life.

The word that comes to mind is RUTHLESS.  She will have to be ruthless in her planning, her priorities, AND her follow through.

A solid plan is paramount:

  • Treat this like you have two different jobs – treat the freelance job like you had a boss and you had to show up. If you’re serious about the other responsibility you can’t not do it just because you don’t feel like it. This holds true for freelance/gig/second jobs, volunteer commitments, family tasks, and other responsibilities.
  • Quantify time allocated to each commitment – If you want to work in your freelance job 20 hours a week and your regular job 40 hours a week, get real about what a 60-hour work week will be like. What do you have to say “no” to to say “yes” to this?
  • Plan it out on your calendar – now let’s bring this to life by clarifying what your week is going to look like. Plug into a calendar grid what you’ll do when. Create a spreadsheet beginning with what time you’ll wake up and what time you’ll go to sleep.  (I call this Ideal Week planning – ideally, if all things go well – my week will look like this…)
  • Pledge to yourself that your 2nd responsibility is as important as your day job – not necessarily in hours, but in commitment. Monitor your actions.  Log your time. If it’s not working ask why not.
    • Are you too tired?
      • Are you working with your body clock?
      • Can you swap office and freelance time?
    • What can change?
      • Are you going to bed at the right time?
      • What other work can you delegate/pass on? – hire someone to clean your house, have your groceries delivered, take your laundry to a wash and fold service.
    • Are you motivated enough?
      • How much do you really want to be doing all you are doing?
  • Assess success weekly – is there a friend or coach you can check in with to discuss how it’s going? Or is it enough for you to be accountable to yourself?
      • Did you reach your goals?
        • If so – what worked?
        • If not – what didn’t work?

At the end of the day there are only so many hours. If you are going to say “YES” to multiple responsibilities, what do you have to say “NO” to?

Be a More Productive Leader

Thrilled to be quoted in the same article as Bill Gates!

As the boss of MicrosoftBill Gates would take one week, two times a year, and escape by himself to a secret clapboard cabin somewhere in a cedar forest in the Pacific Northwest.

It was what he called his “Think Week.”

Gates would arrive by helicopter or sea plane, and spend the week reading papers written by Microsoft employees pitching new innovations or potential investments. He read as many papers as possible, sometimes doing so 18 hours a day, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, according to The Wall Street Journal.

”…I would literally take boxes out to a beach place and sit there for a week reading them day and night and scribbling on them to putting it entirely online,” Gates said in 2008 video of of Microsoft’s CEO Summit.

Work done during one Think Week eventually led to Microsoft to launching Internet Explorer in 1995. And in 2005, Gates was reading a paper called “Virtual Earth” that described building a virtual map with information on traffic and live images of final destinations.

Gates’ Think Weeks started in the 1980s; the first ones were quiet visits to his grandmother’s house. As they evolved, no visitors were allowed to the cabin during Gates’ Think Week (other than someone who dropped off two meals a day at the cabin, and on year a Wall Street Journal reporter) and Gates’ cabin was stocked with Diet Orange Crush and Diet Coke.

“When I talk about the early days, it’s hard to explain to people how much fun it was. Even with the absurd hours and arguments, we were having the time of our lives.” – Paul Allen

View image on Twitter

Gates’ “week in the woods” idea is smart, says Laura Stack, president and CEO of consulting firm The Productivity Pro. “I would recommend this approach,” Stack tells CNBC Make It. “People should have a ‘third place’ that isn’t work or home, where they can find focused time to think and create and clarify your strategic thinking,” Stack says. “We must create an environment that gives us the ability to focus our minds without interruption from coworkers, spouses, children, pets and technology, or we’ll never be able to concentrate on higher-order activities.”

 

Leadership coach Ellen Faye agrees: “While exercise, yoga, and meditation are great solutions to managing the stress of every day, there’s nothing like disconnecting for a longer period of time to create the space for important decisions and objective creative thought,” she tells CNBC Make It.

“I think of it as a one week long shower. Because we know that in the shower we have these really great thought processes, but those are flashes and moments, and when you go away for a period of time alone you’re able to get more significant results,” she says.

Stack and Faye both employ the technique in their own careers.

“I check myself into my third space — a local hotel up the road — every quarter to write for 48 hours. I’ve published eight books in 14 years using this approach,” Stack says.

Faye says she spends at least four or five days alone at a yoga retreat every year “for deeper creative thought.”

But your “third place” doesn’t have to be far away or fancy. it could be “Starbucks, the library, or the gazebo in your garden. I recommend at least eight hours, but it’s best to take several days to ‘clear the decks,’” Stack says.

As for Gates, his Think Week eventually expanded from just him reading about ideas and providing feedback, to later Microsoft’s top 50 engineering “thinkers” throughout the company doing so.

In the 2008 summit video, Gates said, “We have institutionalized it as kind of a grassroots process and this is a way that somebody who is even just a year or two into the company and has ideas that may or may not relate to the group they are in can write something up.”