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.
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Focus and Prioritize

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.”

 

What is YOUR Success Formula?

Look at how you filled your parking spaces last week.  There are 10 spots. Our math savvy friends know that each spot is 10% of your disposable time.  We will use this to create your formula.

Some of you may have created two parking lots. One that reflects how your life is today and one that reflects how you want your life to be.  The one that reflects the way you want your life to be will drive your success formula.

You are creating a vision for success – a “SUCCESS FORMULA” based on

  • your definition of success
  • your unique focus areas
  • your core values
  • your aspirations.

Keep in mind that each spot is equal to 10% of your disposable time.

Now assign a percentage to each of your parking spaces…

Example:

  • if you have 5 spots for work that’s 50%
  • if you have 3 spots for family that’s 30%
  • if you have 2 spots for self-care that’s 20%

This is my success formula:

Success Formula example

What’s your success formula?

Here are some other examples to spark your creativity:

Success Formulas

Now you have a visual based on YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS.

Use Your Success Formula to Drive your Priorities

  • Create a visual that is motivating and appealing
  • Post your visual where you can see it daily
  • Use your visual to drive how you spend your time, and how you set your priorities; ask yourself:
    • Does saying yes to this support my success formula?
    • If I say yes to this what will I be saying no to?
  • Do the math – if something gets 10% of your formula then it gets 8-10 hours a week. If something gets 40% of your formula that is 32 to 40 hours a week.  Try logging how you spend your time.  You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Integration: A key component of experiential learning (which is doing while learning, which is what we did in this blog course) is taking the time to integrate the learning.  Here are some questions that can help you to integrate the learning:

  • What did you figure out?
  • What do you see differently?
  • What one change will you make first?

Wishing you SUCCESS on your terms!

Creating Your Very Own Success Formula Blog Course Details – This is the 6th, and final, in a multi-series of posts.  Check this post for the big picture. Future blog posts can be delivered to your inbox by signing up for my blog. And please continue to share this blog course with your friends and colleagues.

 

Life is like a parking lot…   

When the lot is full, no matter how much you’d like to, you can’t pull in until another car pulls out.

  • Is your parking lot full?
  • Do you have more cars to park?
  • What car has to leave to put a more important car in?

We all have 24 hours in a day and we all have 7 days in a week.  We can’t control that.  What we can control, however, is what we do with those hours.

If we break this down, we can agree:

  • We need to sleep: there goes 7-8 hours a day
  • We need time for essential self-care: eating, grooming, emptying the dishwashers, etc. – we’ll give that 3-4 hours
  • 24-12 = 12      or      24-10 = 14
  • You have 12-14 disposable hours a day!  That is 84 – 98 disposable hours a week.

How are you going to fill your parking spaces?

  • For my analytical readers – depending on your disposable hour calculation above each space is 8.4-9.8 hours.
  • For my creative readers – figure 8-10 hours a week per space!

parking spots

Consider your “Unique Focus Areas” you created in Week 2. These can guide you to fill your spots with the things that you identified as mattering the most.

This is how my parking lot looks:  4 spaces to work, 1 space to volunteering, 2 spaces to self-care, 1 space to personal/professional development and 2 spaces to my family.

full parking lot

This week’s assignment: Fill your spots.  You may want to do this twice.  Once for how it is now and once for how you want it to be.

parking spotsparking spots

Creating Your Very Own Success Formula Blog Course Details – This is the 5th in a multi-series of posts.  Check this post for the big picture. Future posts can be delivered to your inbox by signing up for my blog. And please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues.

 

Helpful in the process of getting clear on what’s important is identifying and understanding your core values.

  • A value is your assessment of what is important to you in your life.
  • Your core values are those values that define you as concisely as possible.

Try the following Core Values exercise and see what you learn. Keep in mind that there is no right way or wrong way to do this exercise.

View or Print the Core Values Worksheet here.

Step 1) Circle 16-24 words from the list that best reflect your values.  Feel free to write in any values that are important to you that are not on the list.

Step 2) Narrow your selection by grouping related values together in the boxes provided.

Step 3) Select the one value per box that you feel best identifies a core value. Write that one core value in the corresponding box below.  You may use all 6 boxes, but if you only identify 3 or 4 values that is equally excellent. Example: Courtesy, empathy, friendliness and kindness are somewhat related. By grouping them together it may be easier to determine which of those terms would be your core value.

Do your intentions, focus areas, and characteristics align with your core values?

Do you need to make any adjustments to your intentions, focus areas or characteristics to match your core values?

Do your values support your living the life you want to live?

Take a few minutes and journal about what you’ve learned.

Creating Your Very Own Success Formula Blog Course Details – This is the 3rd in a multi-series of posts.  Check this post for the big picture. Future posts can be delivered to your inbox by signing up for my blog. And please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues.