Archive for the ‘Self Management Training’ Category
Self-Management: Be Lazy and Bored
Being lazy and bored can help you produce better work. These two states help us balance ourselves and prepare for times of deep work. Cal Newport defines deep work as professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your mental capacities to their limit. This is the opposite of shallow work which is not mentally demanding, composed of logistical-style tasks and often performed while distracted.
The Latitude of Lazy
Newport suggests leisure is critical to deep work. Downtime allows our unconscious mind to go walkabout resulting in aha moments. Leisure helps recharge our batteries. Time spent in nature and exploring stimulating activities allows our directed attention resources to replenish. For example, fifty minutes spent walking in nature boosts your concentration. Generally, work that impinges on evening downtime is rarely important.
To succeed at laziness:
- Avoid any work intruding on your downtime
- Develop a shutdown ritual to tell your brain you are done for the day
- Create a plan to complete unfinished tasks, for example, a to do list to review and plan for the next day
The Benefits of Boredom
The ability to concentrate intensely must be trained and we live in a distraction filled world. It is a two-fold challenge: improve the ability to concentrate intensely and overcome the desire for distraction.
Many distractions are from the internet and social media. Block off distraction free times in your day to focus on deep work. Decide in advance when you will use the internet and avoid it outside these pre-determined times. Newport suggests putting a note pad by the computer saying when your next usage time will be. The total number of time blocks is less important than staying true to your off-line time blocks. Try this for both work and home.
Another idea to train concentration is give yourself a short deadline for a critical task. It forces you to greater focus. Public commitment to your deadline can also up the ante.
When physically but not mentally occupied, for example on a walk, focus on a single well-defined problem. If your attention wanders bring it back to the problem. Try two to three sessions a week. If your mind starts to go over what you already know, redirect your attention to the next step.
Building concentration takes time. Start your new habit with a once a week practice and increase it gradually.
Lazy and bored can help you be more productive. Sounds good to me. Why not give it a try?
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world, Cal Newport, Grand Central Publishing, 2016
Self-Management and Four Agreements
Recently I was reminded of a small book with four big ideas on self-management, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It encompasses simple wisdom that can help build relationships in our work and personal spheres. I say “simple” wisdom with great respect. Things that appear simple are often the hardest to achieve. The following sums up Ruiz’s thoughts and is taken from the fly leaf of The Four Agreements.
Be impeccable with your word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t take anything personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t make assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.
Simple wisdom indeed. To achieve your best self, what will you stop doing, start doing or do more of, beginning today?
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz, Amber-Allen Publishing, 1997
Self-Management and the Multi-tasker
Are you a multi-tasker? Our lives at work and home abound with things that grab our attention and seem to demand our immediate response. We often feel productive as we zip though our day. Unfortunately you and I are not as productive as we imagine. One study of office workers found that when working on a project they had only eleven minutes of concentration before being interrupted. It took, on average, twenty-five minutes to get back to the original project. If that project is your number one priority it won’t take long until the day is done and you’re working late again!
Multi-tasking also makes it harder to manage our attention and retain what we read. In a study of classroom students, those who watched lectures while sending text messages did 19% worse on tests than non-texting students. Multi-tasking may seem to be more efficient but a little “inefficiency” allows us to linger with a thought, puzzle over an problem, let ideas sink in and tap into our creativity.
There are some simple ways we create time and space to focus on our work. These modes include: alternating, automation and synthesizing.
Alternating is the most common and easy to implement strategy. Plan to give short “bursts” of attention to your task and then move on. This works well for small multiple tasks. Alternating is not effective in dealing with complex problems or tasks that require in depth thought or concentration.
Automation occurs when you perform two tasks at once. The “multitask” is not with two new and independent processes, but rather the result of effort and practice in one area. One piece of the task is well-rehearsed so it doesn’t need conscious attention. It is performed with a “relaxed observance” and greater attention is paid to the other task. “Automatic mode” is not good enough to handle highly complex demands.
Synthesis blends two or more tasks into one. Synthesized tasks have a single goal or objective that involves various parts. Synthesis works well with complex problems when you have a depth of skill and an understanding of the relationship between the parts. Synthesis needs time and practice as you discover how the pieces work individually before they are combined.
Recognize when you alternate, automate or synthesize in your work. Ask yourself “Does this mode help with the task or is it hindering me?” When working on critical items develop practices that allow you to stay focused on one task at a time. Save multi-tasking for your less important efforts.
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self-Management and Priorities
Sometimes it can be hard to get motivated and get at our priorities. We may feel overwhelmed as things pile up on our desk. Maybe we are a bit disorganized or perhaps we have neglected our self-care and are experiencing burnout. No matter the reason it is time to step back for a moment and take stock of what’s going on.
If you feel it is an organization issue decide on your top priority and get going. Even if you only have five minutes- start immediately. In five minutes you could look up a client’s phone number or grab the relevant files. Even a small action will give you more information about the project and some momentum. Focus on starting rather than completing.
Use to do lists. Determine whether items are high or low priority. Top priority projects are the activities that will change your life or help you keep your job. These top priority items are important and may take anywhere from 8 to 1000 hours to complete. They matter, so get at them first. Do lower priority tasks after you make progress on the top priority ones. Use low priority tasks as a break from the top tasks. You might be able to delegate or eliminate some of these low priority items.
I like to backwards plan. Break the large task down into smaller chunks and assign dates for the completion of each step. Put the dates in your calendar. This creates small manageable steps and helps you allocate time better.as you work to achieve your top priority.
If you are dealing with burnout book time in your calendar for you and those you care about. It may seem counter-intuitive but some of us need schedule our fun! Plan two hours for lunch with friends every week and turn off all digital devices. Honour the weekend and take four to twenty-four hours for you. Write it on your to do list if you have to. Can you remove a have to from your to do list? Consider removing the words have to from your vocabulary. Uses the phrase get to instead. This small change moves the item from a must to an opportunity. Develop a habit of mini breaks between tasks and projects. Take six to twelve deep breaths as you let go of the last task and before you start a new activity.
No one does their best work when stressed and overwhelmed. Focus on top priority items which include self-care. If you don’t make time for the important things the low priority items will fill up your day and life.
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self-Management and Anger
All emotions provide us with useful information. Anger is one emotion we may be less comfortable expressing. The emotion is neither good nor bad but how we choose to act on it can result in widely different outcomes. Anger is not the same as aggression. We usually feel anger because of perceived unfair treatment or something blocks our ability to achieve a goal.
Have you ever considered the upside of anger? When channeled, it can spark creativity. We may take bigger risks when angry as we explore the boundaries of possibility. Anger can promote collective action against something which is unfair, inappropriate or a threat to a group of people. Some researchers think anger may help people prepare for action.
Expressing authentic anger can be appropriate with certain people in certain situations. Here are some tips on how to get angry the right way:
- Use a discomfort caveat. Let others know you are experiencing a strong emotion and it is more difficult for you to communicate clearly right now.
- Apologize in advance for your possible lack of clarity. This helps keep the other person from becoming defensive and also encourages them to be more empathetic toward you.
- Share what’s bothering you in a straightforward, non-blaming way.
The goal is to encourage the other person to be open to your message. When deciding whether or not to share your anger consider:
- if expressing your anger will be useful and is justified or not. Communicate your message assertively using an appropriate tone without demeaning the other person.
- slow the situation down. Pause for a moment to allow a wider range of options than just a reactive response.
- consider the options under discussion. What will the other person’s next move be? Is the discussion headed in the right direction? If not, keep looking ahead and adapting your strategy.
When you decide an angry response is the right one, check in frequently with yourself to assess your inner state. Is your anger increasing, decreasing or stable? If anger is increasing you’ll need time to return to a level of maximum flexibility and control. When you slow down you’ll be able to listen more carefully and attend to the other person’s body language.
Using anger effectively takes both the wisdom to evaluate the best response and practice. It is possible to express anger in a way that taps into the upside of this powerful emotion.
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self-Management and Focus
Interruptions at work can be frustrating when they pull us off our main task. It can be a challenge to get back in the groove. There are a number of ways to create time and space to focus on your most important priorities. First of all know your top priorities. If everything is a priority then nothing really is. Have a compelling vision of how you wish to live and work. Many people find a few physical reminders help to keep this vision front and centre.
Clear your space and turn off all your digital devices. Close down screens you won’t need for the task. Put your phone to voice mail. If you have a hard time disconnecting then start small. Try ten minutes of focus time and build from there.
Start the task. This is not the time to put yourself down for past delays on the project. Ask yourself what the task needs right now. Focus on doing what you can do now. You can’t plan for every possible future outcome. Don’t compare yourself to others or what you could do in ideal circumstances. Just get started.
There are always difficult events and people. These should be accepted as part of life; things you can co-exist with rather than problems to solve or enemies to fight. The habit of reflection can be helpful if something has gone wrong. Remember to move past the reflection phase and get to solutions. Maintain a healthy sense of self-worth. The opinions of others should not be the sole determinant of your work or your worth.
If you get caught up in other thoughts and distractions think of them as outdated habits that are no longer relevant to you.
When ten minutes is up you can change tasks; check your messages; go back for another ten minutes of focused work. The choice is yours.
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self Management and Play
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discovery is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny.” Isaac Asimov
How do we achieve “That’s funny” moments? One way is to incorporate a healthy dose of play in our lives. Play is defined as an absorbing, apparently purposeless, activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It’s also self-motivating and makes you want to do play again. Whew that’s a lot of words for something we often think of as “fun”.
Scott Eberle describes play as a six step process.
- Anticipate play with expectation and curiosity
- Surprise with the unexpected, the discovery of a new sensation or idea, a shift in perspective
- Pleasure, a good feeling results
- Understanding as we gain new knowledge, synthesize different concepts and incorporate new ideas
- Strength in the form of mastery as we now know more about how the world works
- Poise, the final step, leaves us with greater composure, balance in life and contentment.
Although we generally think of play as separate from our work life, play and work support each other. Work we value gives us purpose and sense of meaning. Play renews us in the moment, helping us to achieve a sense of discovery and newness. Creativity is an important quality that work and play have in common. Work without some play is boring and a grind. Look for small ways to add play into your work whether it is an ice breaker at a team meeting or adding something fun into your break time. The idea of a life with more balance, composure, and contentment makes adding play into our lives sound like a seriously good thing.
Self Management and Burnout
The world of athletics has taught us the importance of recovery time in fitness training. The concept of recovery time has an important place in our work lives as well. Anxiety, lethargy and depression are part of the body’s natural warning system. They signal us that something is out of balance. These symptoms are subtle and we can easily ignore or minimize them. Feeling a little tired? Grab a double-double or a Coke for a quick pick-me-up. However, are we actually ignoring a plea from our body for recovery time?
Taking a vacation is part of the answer. Vacation time is an example of macro-level recovery. Once a year we should take a week to a month away from work. This break enhances our creativity and productivity.
We also need to understand the importance mid-level recovery. Are you getting the sleep you need? On average that translates into 7-9 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Additionally, an important component of mid-level recovery is a day of rest each week. Individuals who take this day report they are more productive and creative in the coming week.
Finally, we need to be aware of the role recovery plays in our daily work life. This is micro-level recovery. We benefit when we alternate work and rest. After 1-2 hours of focused work our performance drops off, giving us less return for our effort. A break recharges us. Ninety minutes of intense and focused work should be followed by 15 minutes of recovery time. This time can take many forms; meditation, exercise, listening to music, a stretch and a walk, a chat with a colleague. We need regular breaks to do our best work.
Today we see rising levels of mental health problems in society. A major reason is that our lives are significantly busier and we are finding fewer opportunities for recovery time.
How’s your level of recovery time? Are you making sure you build micro-levels, mid-levels and macro-levels of recovery time into your life?
Self-Management and Multitasking
Multitasking…now there’s a word borrowed from the computing world which does not compute with the realities of human behaviour. The research is in and it may disappoint some of us…we can’t multitask. Study after study has shown that our ability to do excellent work is compromised when we split our attention.
The average employee is interrupted from his or her work every eleven minutes. Each interruption breaks the individual’s attention, takes him or her off task and requires time to refocus back to the original task. This constant flux in attention decreases productivity. Research also suggests that when we do two or more tasks at the same time we do neither as well as if it was our sole focus.
How do we find a balance between work interruptions and getting the job done with our best attention? One way is to plan work in terms of our natural ultradian rhythm (the 90-120 minute brain wave frequency cycles that occur when we are both awake and asleep). Create interruption free zones of time (1.5-2 hours) where you can focus. For example, turn off your email icon and check email only once an hour. Return all the new emails at one time.
Make it difficult to be distracted. In The Happiness Advantage, researcher Shawn Achor shares the Twenty Second Rule. If you can make the interruption/distractor harder to access it will become easier to ignore. He suggests an effort of twenty seconds or more, hence the name Twenty Second Rule.
If you’d like to hear more about the myths of multitasking check out this Science Friday.com audio cast.
Shawn Achor: The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work, Crown Business, Crown Publishing Group, 2010
Self-Management and Well-being
My attention is perked when I hear similar messages coming from different sources. Lately the message of well-being, fitness and nature has been a notable theme. In Barbara Fredrickson’s book, Positivity, she suggests the importance of finding nearby nature in your life and visiting it regularly. Research shows we are more positive and expansive in our thinking when in nature.
The next nudge to my attention came from a CBC Radio interview with Dr. David Suzuki, the well-known scientist and environmentalist. He discussed the importance of children and adults spending time in nature whether in your yard, an urban park or the wilderness. You can check out the interview on Radio Q with Jian Ghomeshi here: http://www.cbc.ca/q/popupaudio.html?clipIds=2384007731
The importance of fitness and well-being connected in a recent forum held by the Alberta Centre for Active Living. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a researcher from the University of British Columbia, shared recent research results on the importance of physical activity and brain health. In her work with seniors and activity she found that fifteen minutes of walking at a moderate pace each day had a protective effect on the brain.
The message is, you and I were designed to move and nature provides us with a healthful place to accomplish that movement. If you have problems finding those fifteen minutes a day Liu-Ambrose shared a way to reframe those precious few minutes: Humans beings were not meant to sit and lie down more than twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes a day. Think about that on your next walk.