The New Year is perfect time to start fresh and to make resolutions. And resolutions are as American as apple pie: According to CNN, approximately 100 million Americans make resolutions every year. Sadly, within six months, 60 percent of those well-meaning people have abandoned their resolutions, according to psychologist John Norcross.
Why? Lots of reasons, including lack of support, lack of preparation, lack of forethought, etc. But today I am going to focus on how to be successful. If you focus on these four Rs you will make better resolutions in the first place, and you will be better able to achieve your goals. Here they are:
- Results. Know your results: What specifically do you want? What are the results you seek?
- Reasons. When we leverage the reasons why we set a goal, the probability of accomplishing it increases exponentially. So create a compelling why. Why do you want to achieve this goal?
- Resources. No resolution will be met without the proper resources. What resources do you have to make your resolution happen?
- Responsibility. Finally, this is your resolution; you are responsible. You have to take the bull by the horns, develop a game plan, and hold yourself accountable.
Good luck! And for more on the Four Rs, please visit: http://www.aimleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/4-Rs-Achieving-your-Resolutions.pdf
Resolutions are a very big deal. The end of the year is a natural time to reflect and it is normal for people to resolve to make big changes. Now, I previously posted about how to achieve success by sticking to the four Rs of resolutions—results, reasons, resources, responsibility. Those will definitely help you succeed.
But resolutions aren’t for everyone. In fact, resolutions can leave many people frustrated, drained, and, let’s face it, depressed. There is another, gentler, but incredibly effective way to achieve what you want. I call it the anti-resolution: the create space alternative.
This fantastic idea came from my friend Katherine Collins, founder of Honeybee Capital. At the end of every year, Katherine reflects on the highlights and lowlights of the past year. She goes through her calendar, week-by-week and day-by-day, and revisits her year. What were the magical moments? What was wonderful and incredible? What was impactful? Special?
She is reminded of (and sometimes surprised by) the events that brought the greatest joy and fulfillment, and made the greatest memories. Sometimes it is work-related or professional, sometimes it is family time or a vacation, sometimes it’s a social engagement.
Here’s the amazing part. She then looks at the calendar ahead and puts in those great events for the coming year. She actually schedules them (as much as she can). She blocks out the time and creates the space to make sure these happen again. She creates the space for her own joy. So simple, and so smart.
And you can do it too:
- Look back at your year.
- What brought you joy?
- What was most memorable?
- What had the greatest impact?
- What are you most proud of?
- What was great?
- What do you want to do again?
Now, start with the first quarter of the New Year. Look at January, February, and March. What can you schedule? What can you put on the calendar? What can you create space for to bring you joy? Book it!
This is such a terrific strategy. Look ahead and create space for the joy. Put it on the calendar!
Several weeks back, I blogged about my new love affair with Endomondo. This free app integrates GPS data to track the distance and pace that I am running. Endo alerts me when I have run an additional mile and provides me feedback on my pace. Being somewhat competitive with type A tendencies, this data inspires me to pick up my pace. Each day, I aspire to quicken.
Healthy stimulus moves us toward optimal performance. Running a familiar route along the Charles River, my attention is focused on my pace and whatever I am listening to on my iPhone. Rarely is the stimulus this straightforward in the workplace.
But too much stimulus, too much data, too much incoming information bifurcates our thought processes. Many of us have experienced this information overload. Too much stimulation from too many different sources all at the same time. So why do we do this? Why do we overstimulate ourselves?
Our brains are wired to look for novelty, in part for protection and in part because it simply feels good. Novelty stimulates dopamine—the feel-good chemical— in our brain. This brings us elation. But too much novelty, too much stimulation, can leave us high with excitement and then exhausted and drained. And that is not good.
Can you think of times when you have intentionally overstimulated yourself? How did you feel? Did it last?
In our overwired world, we have to be careful to strike a balance, and always find time to operate with optimal effort.
We know that our brains work best when they are fresh and rested. We know that we are our most creative, most effective, and most resourceful when there are no distractions. So why do we spend our most precious resource on the thing that matters the least?
Over the past 6 months that I have been speaking about my book Rewired, I ask people to make commitments for how they will unplug from technology and what they will do to rewire for greater results. And repeatedly – people are wanting to say not to checking email in the morning.
A few interesting facts:
- 2/3 of American’s report checking email before getting out of bed.
- The best time to send a message and ensure that it gets read is 7am.
Willpower is finite. The more we resist the temptation to check email, the less will power we have to resist the pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
I want to hear from you:
- What have you done to resist checking email? (and what works?)
- What would you be willing to do to limit that temptation?
When I am delivering a workshop, I often ask the people in the room, “How many of you are procrastinators?” Sheepishly, three-quarters of the room will raise their hands. I tell them not to be embarrassed about it. Then I share that I am not a procrastinator but consider myself “deadline oriented.”
Invariably, this is met with confused looks. Deadline oriented? Isn’t that the same thing? What’s the difference? The difference is in the perception of who made the choice.
Innovation happens when creativity, deadlines, and out-of-the-box thinking collide. Deadlines inject creative tension: how am I going to get all of this work done within this finite amount of time? Often, I will inject deadlines to inspire those creative juices.
So why does procrastination (or being deadline oriented, as I like to say) work magnificently sometimes and fail miserably other times?
Well, there is something called the inverted U of optimal performance. This hypothesis states that performance improves with a certain amount of stress, but plummets with too little stress. Deadlines inject the stress, but if those deadlines are too close or the stakes too high they can inject so much stress that performance plummets. Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson also studied the relationship between arousal and performance. They found that increased arousal leads to better performance, but only up to a point; if there is too much arousal performance suffers. This is the Yerkes-Dodson Law.
So, there is a balance that must be struck. Being deadline-oriented only works if the stress is mid-level, rather than full-blown arousal. Here is a three-step strategy to help you navigate the waters of stress and optimal performance, and make you a better procrastinator:
- Know your commitments. Do an accurate assessment of what you are committed to, what your distractions are (i.e. urgent new requests from your boss), and what your boundaries are (i.e. picking up children by 5:30pm).
- Assess your schedule. Look ahead to create space to work. And work wisely. Experts tell us our brains are at their cognitive best when we work in 90-minute chunks of time, then taking a 10-minute break to go and do something completely different.
- Create deadlines. Once you have assessed your commitments and assessed your schedule, you can set deadlines. Be realistic. Give yourself enough time, but not too much time. You want that perfect level of stress for optimal performance.
What does this look like in practice? At the end of coaching conversations, clients share what they are committed to doing before our next conversation. And I will often offer to share forward resources and personal experience. Based on my own commitments and schedule, I will create an artificial deadline to accelerate my response and ensure that I am clearing my commitments to be most effective.
Remember: a little stress is good, but too much can ruin performance. The power of deadlines will be mitigated if you are unable to achieve the optimal level of stress to be most productive.
Following a recent coaching conversation – an executive sent me this message: Yesterday, you pissed me off. Today, I realize you were doing exactly what I hired you to do….You left me thinking am I making lateral vs. more radical moves.
Amid the fast pace of business, all to often we are putting out fires, focusing on the crises at hand, doing the easier things, and taking the safer route. And, we are doing this at the expense of our dreams. At the expense of going after what really matters. At the expense of pursuing what would be deeply fulfilling.
Take a moment to consider these questions:
What are the 3 things that would exponentially improve your life at work? At home?
What would you need to do to make these things happen?
When considering this, what makes you feel most uncomfortable?
On the dating scene, we are eager to meet the “right one.” – and terrified that s/he might be perfect.
At work, we are eager for the promotion – and terrified that we might get it.
At home, we crave being seen for who we truly are – and are terrified that we might be seen.
If all our passion lies outside of our comfort zone. All our passions necessitate a radical move.
In rewiring our lives, it is very important to be especially cognizant of what we say yes to. I believe that we say yes to far too many things, maybe in an attempt to assuage guilt, or be a team player, or be seen as someone who can do it all. But when we say yes to too many things we may be saying no to some very important things, too.
So, stop saying yes automatically and start saying no, or at the very least, say you will think about it:
- Implement a 24-hour pause period before accepting any invitations.
- Learn to say, “Thank you. Let me think about it and I will get back to you tomorrow.”
- The think about what you will get out of it and if it is worth your precious time.
- Say no to complex recipes that necessitate special gadgets, hours of preparation, or more than one grocery store stop.
- Get off boards or committees that you don’t enjoy.
- Say no to those lunch dates or events that you don’t enjoy.
- Say no to meetings and events that you don’t want or have to attend.
- Only do volunteer work if you enjoy it; if it feels like it is a chore, change your focus or stop doing it.
- Withdraw from commitments that are not fulfilling.
Again, think of your time as precious. When you say no to something you may be able to say yes to more of the things you do want in your life.
We’ve all had “a ha” moments. We don’t necessarily know how or why, but solutions appear almost out of thin air, and there is an inner knowing that they are accurate.
As a child, I recall having numerous insights or intuitions that were dismissed by family members because there was no logical way to deduce the solution (and yes, the little girl in me would smile when they were later proven true). I share this anecdote since I have experienced a world pre-disposed to logic over intuition or insight.
Next time you have a particularly vexing challenge consider these two alternative strategies. The first is metacognition. This is thinking about how you are thinking of the problem, rather than thinking about the problem itself. In essence, you are opening or exploring alternative ways to think through the challenge at hand.
The second strategy is insight. Often thought of as an “a ha” moment, when insight happens we suddenly find a solution, or we recognize a new idea, or we understand the complexity of the situation.
Too often, insight is dismissed as unpredictable and not controllable, but it is real, and neuroscience research highlights tools and actionable strategies for increasing insight. Here are three of the strategies:
1. Generate a positive mood. The better your mood, the more creativity and insights you will have.
2. Presuppose you know the solution. Individuals with a hunch that they could solve a problem were more likely to solve it.
3. Relax. Although easier said than done, research consistently shows that alpha waves (associated with relaxation) precede gamma waves (associates with insights).
Skeptical? Try it. You might have an “a ha” moment about insight…
The holidays are supposed to be a joyful season, but many people get stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. In order to make the holidays as bright as possible, remember to make and take time for yourself:
- Find “you” time throughout the day to unplug and rejuvenate.
- Physically disconnect from the things that are stressful (and yes, this may include the kids and the in-laws!)
- Sit in your living room and enjoy your holiday decorations.
- Go for a winter walk and enjoy the decorations in your neighborhood.
- Listen to holiday music.
Remember to think of yourself this holiday, as well as others, no need for stress.
We’ve all had those days where we feel like we move a thousand miles an hour, nonstop, only to find our to-do list longer at the end of the day than it was at the beginning. Days like this leave us drained and dejected, and a little mystified.
How can it be, working that hard for 8+ hours, we could still be further behind than when we started? How is this possible, given how much we do every day? Well, here’s the reason: activity does not always equal productivity.
Truly productive individuals know and live the following six strategies for being purposefully productive:
1. More is not always more.
In our culture, more is more. The perception is that the more we have and do—more information, more connections, more data, more gadgets, more work, more things—the better, more powerful, and more successful we are. This concept of always having to have and do more is what drives much of the activity we engage in, and causes us to be “active” even when it isn’t purposeful.
Information is a perfect example of this. Nowadays information is abundant. But true power and purpose is in knowing what information is important, and then knowing how to process it effectively. And you cannot do that if you are constantly seeking more of it.
2. Avoid just hitting back. Aim for solving problems instead.
We’ve all known the feeling of a packed e-mail inbox. Most likely, you can feel your heart rate and stress level rise (research funded by NSF demonstrates this impact) as you wonder how you are going to respond to all of them while still attending meetings, preparing reports, managing your team, and tackling big projects.
If you are like most people, you have had those moments in what I like to call the e-mail batting cage: Swinging, hitting, and not really tuning in to where the e-mail lands because you are so focused on getting it out of your box. Although this feels good in the short term, we are not really solving problems, we are not serving our colleagues at the highest level, and we are increasing the stress of those around us. Next time you get up to bat, approach it this way:
- Identify which e-mails are most pressing.
- Ask yourself what is the true, underlying problem/request.
- Determine who is the best person to solve the issue/request.
- Identify what is the best vehicle for resolution (phone call, meeting, introduction, etc.).
You might “hit” fewer e-mails this way, but you will know that each response has a greater chance of becoming a home run. Added bonus: you will cultivate raving appreciation from your colleagues.
3. Stopping accelerates finishing.
I can hear it now: “What, you want me to stop? Don’t you see how long and growing my list is?” I know, stopping sounds crazy, but amid the frenzy of trying to get it all done and to “do it all,” we are doing nothing. When we live overwired, we are in constant motion. Everything seems urgent.
By stopping we can see more clearly, be more effective, and make better choices. Stepping back from the demands, we can ask better questions. Unplugged from the frenetic pace, we can differentiate the important from the urgent. Gaining perspective, we can develop better strategies. So:
- Step away from your technology.
- Refocus on what matters most.
- Generate options and alternatives for tackling priorities.
- Determine your plan and your timeframe.
By moving away from the overwired states of urgency and constant doing, we can actually move toward getting things done.
4. Delete distractions to reclaim focus.
We spend an unbelievable amount of energy trying to resist distractions and stay focused. For the most part, we are unaware of how this drains our brains. Worse yet, we spend minimal amounts of time positioning ourselves for success.
Research shows that willpower is a finite resource. If you spend your willpower throughout the workday resisting the chocolates on your colleague’s desk, you will have less willpower available to do the hard work and heavy lifting on important projects (like getting to the gym). So:
- Keep a list of all the things that distract you in a given day.
- Which of these distractions can you control?
- What habits would help you to limit these distractions?
Important tasks seem to pop into my brain at the most inopportune times. Rather than waste brain energy trying to remember them, I write them down on running list of miscellaneous tasks. Then, twice a day, I look at the list and recalibrate and reprioritize, determining which ones are the most important things for me to be focused on.
5. Build systems to maximize brain energy.
We have all heard the phrase “Practice makes perfect.” In reality, practice makes permanent. That which we practice consistently becomes a habit. Neurologically, each time we repeat an action we rewire our brains. The more times we take an action, the deeper or more robust this wiring becomes.
Leverage this by building systems that work. The more routine and ingrained these habits become, the less brain energy we need to spend on them. If you always put your keys in the same place, you never have to think, “Where are my keys?” because you will already know. These systems can extend from how you record new contacts, to how you store files, to how you refill your vitamins, to how you answer e-mails. Systems work in all aspects of our life. So:
- Build systems intentionally.
- Repeat routines.
- Simplify your thinking.
- Maximize your brain energy.
6. Manage your time to maximize your attention.
No matter how hard we work, how hard we focus, and how disciplined we are with our systems, we cannot be purposefully productive all day long. However, we can maximize our productivity with these core tips:
- Work in 90-minute intervals. Research shows that our brains work best this way. Focus with intensity, then shift gears and go do something else for 15 minutes. This might be a catnap, a walk outside, filing papers, etc. Just something completely different, so your brain gets a break.
- Chunk like-minded projects together. Put similar projects together within the 90-minute interval. For example, do all your expense reports within one block of time.
- Know yourself. Schedule the most important projects for your best thinking time. I am most sharp and most creative in the mornings, so I reserve this time for deep thinking, for big projects, and for challenging issues.
- Schedule fuel breaks. Oxygenation, hydration, nutrition, and rejuvenation are all critical. Schedule regular time throughout the day to do each these.
Being purposefully productive is about making better choices, using better strategies, and understanding how our brains and bodies can work best. With a little practice, you can work smarter, live better, and be more purposefully productive.