Case Study: Monika struggled with focus.
She managed a large operations team and found she was constantly interrupted by clients and team members. She worked in a fast-paced environment however preferred to work at a slower and more methodical pace. She was an introvert and without adequate time to recharge she constantly felt drained.
Monika wasn’t disciplined when it came to creating personal boundaries for her well-being. She felt guilty about saying “no” to people who intruded on her time. The impact was she often felt moody, she wasn’t getting enough time with her daughter and was constantly giving up her personal time.
Monika wanted to be able to do her work at work instead of at home. She felt this would improve her energy levels and her overall mood. She wanted to learn to say “no” more often and to set better expectations without guilt. She wanted to be seen as thoughtful and measured rather than busy and hectic. She didn’t want to work on weekends anymore and wanted to started exercising on a regular basis again.
She started working towards these goals by managing her communications with her team in a more effective manner. She asked team members to start batching their enquiries rather than interrupting each other every time they had questions.
Knowing she had a habit of “dumping and running” rather than providing her team with enough detail, she coached her team to make sure they asked her specific questions when she briefed them on new tasks.
She asked her manager if she could work at home one day per week which gave her time to complete project work without interruptions. This also gave her time alone to restore her energy.
We identified her keystone habit was running. This gave her alone time to think and be present.
Email batching was a game changer for her. It allowed her to be more focused, and slow down the interruptions and distractions. In her words “I stopped procrastinating in my inbox because there was nothing in there when I checked my email too soon after batching.”
We also created a habit where she drank herbal tea every afternoon at 3 pm and used this as an opportunity to check in with her team as she wasn’t chatting to them as much during the day.
After our work together, Monika and her colleague started catching up on a regular basis to hold each other accountable to and brag about their great habits, and to encourage each other to keep going.
Use Your Body to Energize Your Mind
Harvard Associate Professor Amy Cuddy shared her research via a Ted Talk “Your body shapes your mind” and released her book Presence. Both are excellent resources.
What we do with our body influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
This knowledge can help us achieve greater productivity.
If you glue yourself to your desk chair all day you’ll find it hard to focus, problem solve and communicate effectively. We move from a high focused state into a drained state in 45 to 120 minute cycles.
When we understand the body’s impact on our cognitive function we remember to take regular breaks, and pay more attention to how decisions relating to our health impact upon our performance at work, and our overall happiness.
The Mind: Focus of Energy
In our coaching programs we help people develop the following habits to help them gain and apply better attention to high-value tasks:
- Scheduling tasks and projects
- Batching communication
- Put your habit in your calendar
- Sticking to your schedule, even only in small ways at first
- Having someone to hold you accountable
- Managing interruptions
- Designing your environment for success
- One Touch- One Decision
Single tasking within the corporate environment is key. Focusing on one thing at a time isn’t easy in open plan offices. That’s why it takes discipline, clear boundaries and mindfulness to harness as much of our focus as possible on high-value work and reactive tasks alike.
The Rule of 5
My husband and I go to the gym every morning before work. It’s a habit which took a while to develop and one that starts my day off on the right note.
One morning I noticed something really interesting. There are three women who come in together most mornings. They walk on the treadmills talking for a while, catching up, and then they all put on their headphones and do a proper workout. I generally run on a treadmill beside them with my headphones on. I really admire their friendship as it encourages them to get up and go to the gym every morning at 5 am.
What I noticed was when I was running intervals the gym ladies were doing exactly the same workout as me. They were completely matching my pace as I slowed down and sped up. It wasn’t deliberate, we’d somehow managed to synchronize our workout for about 30 minutes. I’ve never spoken to these women but we have succeeded in averaging out our workout simply through proximity.
It reminded me of an important life lesson:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
The secret of course is to spend more time with people who inspire you and are achieving success in areas of their life you value.
Let’s apply the “top five people rule” to a number of aspects of our lives, shall we? What if we were the average of the top five people we spend the most time with in regards to:
- Our health and wellbeing?
- Our financial success?
- Our career success?
- The depth of our intimate relationships? and
- Our success at university?
How does this apply to you and the things you value in your life?
Identify the people who make you feel inspired when you spend time with them and make sure you see them more often.
I’m sure you have people in your life who you meet for a coffee, talk non-stop and leave the conversation feeling a new surge of energy to achieve your goals. Make a list of who these people are and make sure you make time in your diary to spend more time with them.
Also, be aware of the people who spend the whole time complaining and putting other people down when you’re with them. Negative talk can be addictive and is unhealthy. These conversations don’t inspire you. They leave you feeling uneasy and paranoid. They suck your time and energy.
Limit your time with these people and when they start complaining change the subject. Be the person who inspires them to be better.
Identify areas you want to improve on and seek out events and opportunities to participate with experts in these fields.
Going to the gym at 5 am every morning has been a great way for me to get healthy and be productive at work. It’s not just the exercise; it’s also about spending time around people who make their health a priority. I don’t even have to talk to them to learn from their technique or become inspired by their work ethic.
Where can you go to be around, converse with and learn from people who are leaders in their field and/or are achieving the same goals you have set for yourself?
If you don’t have access to inspiring people in your day-to-day life (and let’s face it you probably do) spend time with inspiring people in books, podcasts, and audio programs and on YouTube.
Check out Tim Ferris’ podcast The Four Hour Work Week. In each episode, he deconstructs world-class performance whether by interviewing Tony Robbins, Arnold Schwarzenegger or by discussing an essay on Stoicism.
Watch an entrepreneur like Marie Forleo on http://www.marietv.com as she provides insights about how to be productive, grow your business and manage your relationships.
Read Richard Branson’s biography and then follow him via his blog or on social media.
Choose your role models wisely.
Be conscious about the people you spend time with. Be mindful of the media you consume because you’re choosing to either be inspired or deflated. I know which one I’d prefer.
Start Well and End Well
There are two parts of the day you have control over. The start and the end. Consider the start and end of your day to be bookends.
Start the day well, and you’ll set yourself up for a series of small wins. This starts from the moment you wake up. The start of the day is your time, guard it as a gift for yourself and frontload your day with happiness.
Some suggestions to start the day well include:
- Power posing
- Having breakfast with your family
- Writing in your journal
- Writing in your gratitude diary
- Making your bed
Each of these habits correlates with success.
The end of your day is the perfect time for reflection. Reflecting back upon each day we will likely identify three key things we can learn. Reflecting back on each month we will likely identify three key things we can learn. Reflecting back on each year, you guessed it, we will remember three key things.
Ending the day well, feeds into the success of the next day. The end of the day is a good opportunity for you to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well and what you will do differently tomorrow. This also gives you an opportunity to “let go” of the things which are not serving you.
End of day habits include:
- Turning off your phone an hour before bed
- Reading a fiction or non- business-related book
- Writing in your journal
- Writing in your gratitude diary
- Going to bed early
Good sleeping habits are key to achieving optimal performance and happiness. It’s a keystone habit.
Sleep deprived leaders are uninspired. University of Washington’s Christopher Barnes and his colleagues completed sleep research to assess the impact sleep has on charisma. They measured the ability of leaders to influence others when they were well rested versus sleep deprived. They also measured how likely an audience member is to feel inspired by a speech when they were well rested versus sleep deprived.
Barnes and colleagues found leaders are less charismatic and less inspiring when they are sleep deprived. As a leader (and we are all leaders in one way or another) your job is to inspire the people in your team to be the best at what they do, and continue to look for new and improved ways to achieve outcomes for your clients.
Get some sleep. Inspire more people.
Sleep deprivation leads to lower levels of performance
Research tells us sleep deprivation leads to:
- Unethical behaviour
- Lower levels of work engagement
- More accidents
- Lower levels of cooperation
- Higher levels of selfishness.
It’s our responsibility to get enough sleep to ensure we are performing well in our roles. As leaders we need to set up conditions for our teams which allow them to sleep. (E.g. no late at night email).
Lack of sleep is bad for your health
Getting appropriate sleep is even more important for the brain than going to the gym.
You may feel like a warrior when you say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” but the reality is you’re more likely to lose productivity due to health issues if you’re not getting seven to eight hours per night.
I used to survive on an average of four hours of sleep per night or less. At one very dark period of my life I would work until midnight or 1am and then get up at 4 am to get back to the grindstone.
The impacts were countless. I call it a dark time because I literally walked around with hooded eyes. My neck and shoulders were rock hard with tension. My communication skills eroded and I was way too direct.
Good sleep habits include:
- Getting to bed early (I know, seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people complain about not being able to wake up early when they stay up until midnight as a habit);
- Turn off devices an hour before bed;
- Create a bedtime ritual to tell your brain it’s time to shut down;
- Wear clothes exclusively for sleep;
- Limit stimulants after 2 pm;
- Exercise regularly (but not close to bedtime);
- Meditate; and
- If all else fails consult your doctor.
You should aim for a minimum of seven hours every night.
Calls to action:
- What makes you happy?
- What new habits can you prioritise for your happiness?
- What do you focus on which makes you miserable?
- How often should you be taking breaks?
- What changes can you make for your health?
- What are you grateful for?
- In terms of your work: What do you do best?
- In terms of your work: What do you enjoy most?
- How can you allocate more time and energy to the areas of your life you feel are most important? (Work, family, health, service etc.)
- What gives you a sense of purpose?
- How do you get into flow? (i.e. What kind of work? What are your ideal working conditions?)
- What makes you feel like a rock star?
- Who are the people in your life who make you feel inspired when you spend time with them?
- What are some other sources of inspiration for you?
- What are your new sleeping habits?
Habits to work on:
- Habits that prioritise your happiness
- Deliberate change of your focus from issues that fall in your circle of concern, to focusing on things you can influence. (Ask yourself, do I have the influence to change this? Should I change it? What can I influence? Take action.)
- Take breaks based on your natural energy
- Develop healthy habits. (Exercise, eating, meditation)
- Develop a gratitude habit
- Develop a system to ensure that you always have time planned for people who inspire you to be your best self.
Let us know how you go!
Keep moving forward,