Do More, By Doing Less

Working Image

After listening to podcasts on my long commute between Long Beach and Torrance for a year, I became obsessed with self optimization. It only made sense. Most of my career I had been optimizing systems and services, and finally I had an excuse to focus on myself. 

"Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks about changing him[her]/self." - Leo Tolstoy 

As I dove deeper into the world of productivity and personal growth, I quickly learned the strategies and tactics were all about making lists, crossing them off, and dividing my time into quadrants. 

Since work was a shit-show, I started testing hacks to preserve my sanity. My older blogs still wreak of productivity solutions. Everyone in the office followed similar rules. Several colleagues even attended seminars on how to get things done.

Thanks to many hours in the car, I soon crashed into a Mark Twain quote on a podcast.

Unfortunately, attempts to optimize myself at work became unsustainable, because the work list grew exponentially and we never hired anybody new.

So, I wondered. Could I achieve the same or even better results by doing less? What would that even look like. 

It was time to test the waters. 

Experiment #1

Attend only 1 out of 4 meetings every week.

I began filtering every meeting invite by asking three questions. Am I going to add any value to this meeting? Am I going to gain any value? And, why was I invited? 

25% of the meetings were informational. I decided to read the slide decks on my own time. Another 25% of them invited two or three people from the same department.  And, I simply ditched the last set of meetings after speaking directly with the meeting organizer. We got more done when we spoke directly than we would have at the meeting.

That was 7.5 new hours that magically appeared in my week. 

“It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away the unessential.” - Bruce Lee

Experiment #2

Stop planning.

I stopped planning my work day. Work was appearing unannounced, with harder deadlines, and at a rate that none of my quadrants could siphon.

By the time I filtered the work by importance and urgency, I was already behind schedule. 

Instead, when work unexpectedly landed on my desk, I asked the requestor three questions. What are we trying to achieve? Why do we want to achieve it? And, why now?

1/3 of the time people weren't even sure what they wanted. I asked them to come back when they knew exactly what they wanted. I was tired of looking for the wrong rock.

Another third of the work had no clear reason why it needed immediate attention. These got put on the back burner.

The remaining work usually needed to be done right away. In which case, everything I planned for in my day had to be reshuffled. This happened every other day. 

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”- Mike Tyson

Experiment #3

Stop answering questions, start asking better ones.

Alright, this might be directly influenced by the podcasts and at first it may seem like it does not belong in a "Do Less, Do More" post. But, technically by asking more questions, I was able to reduce my work and gain more time so here it is.

You probably noticed from the first two experiments, I started asking more questions instead of trying to jump right into solutions.

In the case of when people didn't know what they wanted, jumping right into a solution never delivered anything of value. Instead of blindly attending every meeting, asking better questions returned time that was stolen from me.

Asking good questions, instead of trying to answer mediocre ones appears to do wonders.

If you are struggling to achieve more by doing less, test these three simple experiences. Remember, just because these worked for me does not mean they will work for you.

The only way to find out is to test and reflect on the results. Below are a few questions to help with your reflection.

Reflection 

Step 1

Did you find a way to reduce the number of meetings you have to attend? Which ones?Did it work?

What type of meetings did you stop attending?

Step 2

Are you a natural planner?

Did you stop planning your work day? Did abandoning your plans help or make things worse?

Has not planning improved your life?

Step 3

Have to started asking more questions?

Do you questions challenge others to pause and think?

Are the questions you are asking giving you the results you want?

 

Thanks again for reading. And, remember to throw away what absolutely doesn't work. Use the things that consistently give you the desired results. Only take the advice if the moment is right.

On a Crowded Branch

how to get the attention your ideas deserve

Crowded Branch

We’ve seen several examples of young employees fighting for attention in the workplace.  

The struggle is real.  

Age itself is a hurdle in many circumstances. 

Do you remember your first job out of college? Were you excited to change the world? Did you think that your ideas were revolutionary? 

Was your job exactly as you had hoped? How long before you realized that your ideas didn’t matter? 

We expect companies to listen to what we have to say, but they rarely do. We feel like we have prepared our entire lives to change the world for the better. 

Now that we have the opportunity, we want to dive head first. 

Alas, we are rudely awakened by the lack of enthusiasm displayed by our employers and our energy is brought to a screeching halt by bureaucracy and resistance to change. 

Turns out the lack of enthusiasm and resistance to chance is part of the design of the industrial age complex. The industrial age complex has created busy workers and busy workers don’t have time to listen new ideas or free thinkers who like to challenge the status quo.

If you understand the peculiarity of the system, you can create your own methods to beat it. 

After years of experience, we have discovered a way to beat the system and get our voices heard. 

The unpleasant truth we all need to face is that the world is rarely how we think it should be.  

We must understand the systems and the rules in which we have been forced to operate. 

Once you understand the systems and it’s rules, it’s much easier to defeat the practices that are preventing you from making a difference.

We are independent thinkers, and we love to challenge the status quo. It’s something we’ve been taught from a young age. 

If you find yourself in the same shoes as many of us do when it comes to our ideas not being heard, keep three things in mind to devise a powerful process:

(1) timing

(2) a relative comparison 

(3) the right advocate. 

 

1 TIMING

“The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore.” - Rumi

Practice good timing.  

If you have a good idea, a bad time would be to present it :

  • On Mondays
  • Before a related or unrelated meeting
  • After an unrelated meeting 
  • After lunch
  • When quarterly stewardships are due 

The best time to present a good idea is when:

  • Fridays
  • You know your boss is happy 
  • You know he or she is in a receptive mood
  • In the morning before he or she checks his or her emails
  • After he or she recieves a positive earnings report

Additionally, try to make the timing of your pitch relevant. 

You might have a great idea in your pocket, but if your timing is off, it won’t matter one bit.

This happens rarely, but if your supervisor brings up the problem on her own, the that’s the perfect time to present your solution. 

Sometimes your manager might not be aware of the problem, or have his or her mind preoccupied with something else. 

In that case you need to present the problem first. 

You may have to present the problem over and over for it to sink in. 

Be careful about this strategy though, as some managers don’t like hearing about problems all the time.  

Make sure to give the decision-maker time to come to their own understanding of the problem you are presenting.

 

2 RELATIVE VALUE

“A wise man is he who knows the relative value of things.” - William Ralph Inge

People are very poor at understanding absolute value but really good at understanding relative value. Dan Ariely has done a lot of research on this.

Once you are ready to present the solution, it’s not enough to simply tell or show people what it is. 

For example, this is why every race in the Olympics has a first, second, and third place. 

If Usain Bolt was on the track all by himself, and his world record in the 100m dash was against no one, then his fastest time of 9.58 seconds would mean nothing. 

But 9.58 seconds, when measured against the rest of the world’s fastest athletes, quickly has value. 

When you present any solution, it has to be against either an existing solution that’s not working or another option that isn’t as good. 

Research shows the best way to present your solution is in three’s (Predictably Irrational). 

First present something similar but that doesn’t provide any immediate benefit

For example, let’s say you want to track follow-up actions from a meeting. Someone’s job might be to write the meeting minutes. Unless that person remembers to distribute the meeting minutes, everyone else may or may follow-up on their actions. The problem is that these might be saved on one person’s computer and may or may not get emailed to the meeting attendees. 

Second, present a solution that is actually going to work, but still doesn’t resolve all the problems

For example, you could put all the follow-up actions from your meetings in an excel spreadsheet on the local area network that everyone can access. But, this still does not ensure that people are going to go search for their follow-ups on the LAN.

Finally, present your solution, which is astoundingly better than the first, then even better than the second.  

For example, you can demonstrate the case for using a software program like Asana, which not only tracks follow-ups from meetings but also tracks tasks by responsible parties and due dates.

 

3 THE RIGHT ADVOCATE

“All advocacy is, at it’s core, an exercise in empathy.” - Samantha Power

It’s time to find your first follower. 

Just because you presented the problem and shared a worable solution when you thought your boss was most receptive doesn’t mean he or she actually liked it or is going to take act on it. 

Your boss has his own set of priorities and own set of instructions. 

In this case, you need to find an advocate who loves your idea and helps you push it to fruition. 

The best advocate, if you work in the corporate world, is someone in a leadership position, but that always doesn’t happen. 

If that’s the case, you may need to hunt around your team, or the department, to find your first believer or follower. 

The first believer is someone that easily buys into your idea. 

Note that usually this is someone that directly benefits from your idea.

If you are struggling for your ideas to get attention, use these three simple steps as a starting point. Remember, just because these worked for someone does not mean they will for you. The only way to find out if the suggestions add any value is to test them and reflect on the results.

Below are a few questions to help with your reflection.

 

Reflections

Did your idea get any attention when you presented it when your boss was happy or in a receptive mood?

Did you present your idea on Friday or after your boss received good news like a positive earnings report? Did that help? 

What did you do to make your manager aware of the problem if they already didn’t have knowledge of it?

In this case did presenting the problem first help? 

  • Did you present the problem over and over for it to sink in? 
  • Did this help or hurt you? 

Did you give the decision-maker time to come to their own understanding of the problem you are presenting?

Did you present your idea in relative terms?

Did you present the solution in options of three’s where first present something similar but didn’t provide any immediate benefit, then solution that actually worked, but still doesn’t resolve all the problems, and finally, a solution, taht was astoundingly better than the first, then even better than the second?

Was your boss receptive to your idea? Did he or she act on it? 

Did you end up needing an advocate who loved your idea and helped you push it to fruition?  

Was your advocate someone that directly benefited from your idea?

Once you answer these questions, revisit the framework and make adjustments by discarding the steps in the process that do not work for you. Keep the final version that delivers consistent results and requires the least amount of work. Good luck!

 

 

The Root Of All Heartache

Evil Image
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
William Shakespeare

We have expectations of what work should be and it’s not working.

The solution is simple to say, but extremely difficult to actually practice.  

If we want to rid ourselves of this problem, what we need to do is rid ourselves of expectations.

The fundamental problem with expectations is that they are subjective ideas of how the world ought to be.  

Think of the language that often gets used.  

My company should provide a better healthcare plan.  My boss should listen to all of my ideas.

The unpleasant truth we all need to face is that the world is rarely how we think it should be.  

This is true in everything from politics to restaurant service and everything in between.  The world will never be ideal, and we need to let go of the expectation it should be.

In practice, this means we need to come into work every day with a new mindset, a mindset of appreciation and curiosity. 

Instead of expecting anything, let’s be open to whatever happens. 

Let’s appreciate the opportunity and look for experiences to make a contribution. 

For better or for worse, there is always something to learn and a way to impact the world.

Putting this idea into practice can be really challenging, but in this guide you will find a few tips to get you started.

 

FEELINGS MATTER

The first and most challenging step is to be aware of your emotions.  

Are your emotions indicating that there is a mismatched expectation present?

Some emotions to look out for: anger, disgust, upsettedness, disappointment, or contempt.  

Understand these feelings before being swept away by them.

Something to try:

  • If you feel any strong emotion, whether that be happiness, anger, or frustration, try to pause and take a deep breath.  
  • Ask yourself the question, why do I feel this way?

For example, if you’re very happy, it might be because you expected to do well in a presentation and you did.  Notice that your expectations were met.  Or perhaps you got a surprise raise.  Your expectation (that your salary would remain the same) was surpassed. On the other hand, perhaps you’re upset because a coworker didn’t get you information you needed.  She didn’t meet your expectation.

Regardless, note what happened.  

Your emotion is a reaction to your expectations.

As you identify your expectations, strive to rid yourself of them (again, this is easy to say, but hard to practice- but the more you practice the better you will get).  

An Example

Let’s say you have it rough - no job and no income.

Take pictures of your living situation, your clothes, what you eat - anything that highlights your condition.

If you are a person who takes action and has plans to get out of the situation at some point in the future, these pictures will prove invaluable.

When you finally find work, have an decent income, take pictures again of your living situation, your clothes, what you eat. These should be things you used to be dissatisfied with.

If your job was not what you expected then sit down and compare the pictures side by side.

Look at where you used to live or what you used to eat and if life is now better than it used to be, change your expectation into appreciation.

Sometimes we forget our previous conditions when we accomplish the things we want. Of course it’s not going to be just like we imagined when we accomplish our goals. But if we take the time to appreciate our hard work and actually have pictures to compare, the job of learning how to appreciate will get easier.

As often as possible, exchange your expectations for openness and curiosity.

For example, let’s say that you recently floated an idea casually by a coworker.  

It’s an idea you’re passionate about, but your coworker couldn’t seem to care less.

Instead of being frustrated that your expectation of your coworker being excited didn’t come to fruition, reflect on the exchange with openness.  

Did you catch your coworker at a bad time?

Is it possible your idea isn’t as noteworthy as you thought it was? 

If you’re still passionate about your idea, what are some other ways you could work at getting the support you desire?

By ridding ourselves of expectations, we see several benefits.  

First, with practice, it helps limit the negative emotions we often encounter at work.  

But perhaps even more important, we start reflecting on our work in a more meaningful way, hopefully providing a deeper insight into our own working lives. 

 

Reflections

Step 1

How often are you aware of your emotions? 

How often are you swept by your feelings when expectations aren’t met?

When you felt a strong emotion, did taking a deep breath help?

Did asking yourself the question, why do I feel this way, help?

Did taking notes on your emotions in different situations help?

 

Step 2

How easily were you able to identify your expectations?

Did the picture exercise help?

What helped you exchange your expectations for openness and curiosity?

 

Step 3

Have you seen any benefits of ridding ourselves of expectations?

Can you give some examples? 

Have you been able to limit the negative emotions?

Do you reflect on our work in a more meaningful way?

 

Step 4

Has this new mindset provided deeper insight into your working life?

 

As always, identify what worked, eliminate what didn’t. Try to consistently use what works. Find new examples to test the value of your process. Test the outcome to ensure the system is repeatable. Keep the final version that delivers consistent results and requires the least amount of work. 

 

 

 

The Single Biggest Illusion With Communication

Communication Image
“The single biggest problem in communicaiton is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

The heart of the problem is that you and I were raised differently than our parents.  

We grew up inundated with messages about proper communication.  

We were always requested to explain everything to our parents and teachers.  

I was raised to be open and honest about my feelings, and to seek out feedback from adults.

How about you?

Problems can usually be solved by good, honest communication. 

But, this is not always the way the world works.  Especially, the world of business.

When you walk into our supervisor’s office to talk about a problem, do you ever wonder if you come across as whiny or incompetent? 

That’s rarely our intention. 

You and I were both raised to talk through our problems, but those who raised us seem to forget their previously communicated expectations.

In this post, my goal is to share actions you can take to experiment with your personal style of communication and limit the number of misunderstandings that might occur at your work. 

 

discuss values

The answer to the problem of communication is more communication.  

I would agrue that every employee and supervisor must have a conversation about communication and share communication styles.  

Supervisors should always have a very specific conversation with employees about their preferred method of communication and ask employees about their preferences as well.

Often, advice is geared towards employees holding conversations with supervisors, but the truth of the matter is that we are dealing with basic, fundamental, best practices.  

These fundamental practices should work for everyone.

If you are an individual contributor and do not know how to begin, start off by asking your supervisor to talk about his or her communication style. 

For example, if he or she is fiercely independent and does not care about feedback, then the burden might fall on you to understand how to overcome this hurdle.

It does not matter if it’s right or wrong. You want to understand the system that you are a part of and optimize it to your advantage. 

I like to begin by asking the supervisor to share his or her core communication values.

For example, if he or she prefers to be left alone so he or she can spend time working instead of talking about working, then clearly you need to know that. 

If the supervisor beats around the bush, ask “Should I let you focus?” and “When would be a good time for me to approach you?” 

Ask how often he or she plans on providing feedback.

If you don't know what to talk about, here are a few key discussion points.

  • Talk about trust.
  • Ask about your supervisors baseline for trust: “What will allow me to maintain your trust?”  
  • Ask your supervisor to let you know when your work isn’t meeting the expectations.
  • Tell your supervisor how you like to be supervised and what your expectations are.  

Take notes on what comes out of this discussion. Write down what your supervisor said.

If there is a mismatch between you and your employer, then this is a good time to talk about it. I remember a specific time when I kept reiterating my work because I had not recieved any feedback on my work. 

It was only months later that I discovered that no feedback meant I was doing my job.

Ask if your supervisor has an open door policy. Make a promise that you will not misuse this policy. 

 

Mirroring  

Generally speaking, people respond to the type of communication they are providing themselves.  

Does your supervisor speak in short, terse sentences that get right to the point?  

If so, it might be smart to get right to the point when speaking with them.  

Does your supervisor send everything via email? 

If so, respond the same way.

Keep in mind that everybody has different modes of communication. Your responsibility: figure that out lies on your shoulders. 

It is not your boss’ responsibility to figure out how to communicate with you, it is your job to communicate with them.  

Remember it's you who is trying to conquer communication, not your boss. 

Learn what to expect from your supervisor.

  • Establish concrete expectations in terms of communications.  
  • Both parties must know what to expect
  • Both parties should have a sense of what each one is looking for.  
  • Make it is personal.  
  • Acknowledges that everyone is different, but that there is common ground to build from.

Along with what we have discussed so far, there is plenty of other advice on how to become a better communicator. 

It took me a long time, but I quickly realized that none of this matters unless I reflect on the strategies that work well for me. 

Keep exploring different communication strategies and styles to find a sweet spot for yourself, and don’t forget to spend time reflecting on how it was executed.

Everyone should have a reflection roadmap if the end goal is to get better. 

Here is one to get you started. Don’t forget to adjust the roadmap itself based on the different strategies you decide to employ.

 

Reflections

Step 1

  • Identify what worked. 
  • Eliminate what didn’t. 
  • Consistently use what worked. 
  • Find new ways to test the system you develop for yourself. 
  • Did you and your supervisor talk about communication styles?
  • How did it go? Did it help?

Step 2

  • Were you able to get your supervisor to share his or her core values?
  • How did it go? Did it work?
  • How did you talk about trust?
  • Have you ever lost trust? If so, how did it happen? What did you do to regain it?

Step 3

  • Did you tell your supervisor how you like to be supervised and what your expectations are? 
  • What did your supervisor say?
  • Does your supervisor have an open door policy?

Step 4

  • Have you ever used mirroring to conquer communication? Did it work?
  • What medium does your supervisor use to communicate?
  • Did you have to change your own communication style to become a better communicator?

Step 5

Keep the final version of the communication system that delivers consistent results and requires the least amount of work. 

In The Face Of A Uncertainty

How to deal with Pressure AT Work

Photo by thomas marban on Unsplash

Photo by thomas marban on Unsplash

When I was working as a Safety Engineer at a refinery, I had to meet with the site leadership team every quarter to give a presentation. I remember feeling anxious, queasy, and petrified every time I had to do it.

Why did I feel this unnecessary pressure at work?

Pressure is directly related to our performance (article). No one wants to perform poorly and squander his or her reputation. 

Most of us feel pressure when we value others’ opinions over our own and when our performance is measured against someone else’s standards.

I discuss this idea in more detail in my book The Experience Manifesto.

Even though outcomes of our performance cannot be controlled, we can manage the pressure and anxiety related to our performance.

Performance related pressure can be mitigated by various means like deliberate practice, dress rehearsals, and role-play exercises.

If took me 3 or 4 tries before I no longer felt the pressure to perform at the refinery. Access to pressure management tools helped me navigate the uncertainties of my performance.

Below are a few tools that have worked well for me and details on how to use them effectively.

 

DELIBERATE PRACTICE

Practice with intention of improving a component of your performance. 

Create a scenario that will allow you to rehearse your performance.

Recruit friends or coworkers if you need an audience or team for your scenario.

Identify the fear. I define fear as the key indicators that directly influences performance.

Eliminate the fear. 

You can eliminate fears through:

  • Performance rehearsals
  • Scenario walkthroughs

Manage fears that you cannot eliminate.

For example:

  • I test the technology I am going to use ahead of time.
  • I try to visit the rooms where I am going to present.
  • I confirm the type of lighting I need and make changes if needed.
  • I eat something to manage my hunger.
  • I anticipate questions based on my rehearsals.

Practice scenarios that may catch you by surprise. 

For example:

  • I practice my talk without technology in case of a digital malfunction. 
  • I simulate many different scenarios dozens of times. 
  • I plan for anything that could go wrong will go wrong.

 

THE POWER OF NEGATIVE

Picture yourself failing.

This is an idea that goes against much of what you hear in the self-improvement space, but it’s a powerful tool.  

One way to deal with pressure is to ask yourself what is the worst that could happen.

This idea actually comes from classic stoic philosophy.  

Marcus Aurelius, in his classic Meditations, states, “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.” 

This might sound like a horrible day, but for the famous roman emperor, it was a reminder that life is not perfect.  

He goes on to say that none of these things can injure him.  

By preparing for the worst, he is ready for it in his day.

When facing a pressure-filled task, ask yourself what the worst case scenario would be.  

Write down the worst case scenarios. 

How bad is it compared to other worst case scenarios you have experienced?

Visualize and prepare for negative consequences, you will be more familiar with them if they should arise.  

NASA employs a variation of this as well.  

Chris Hadfield, an astronaut who wrote An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, says that when they were training for missions, they would constantly ask themselves, 

“What could kill me next?”  

By asking that question over and over, they learned to recognize all of the potential dangers of their mission, and more important, figure out how to deal with them.

The power of negative visualization is not for everyone. 

The idea that anything and everything that could go wrong, will do wrong, is sometimes demoralizing.

If you do not have practice with negative visulization, we recommend you start small with something of remedial consequence. 

Note: it is very important that this process is not adopted if you are trying to come up with ideas to manage pressure. 

If you are brainstorming ideas, thinking about the worst case scenario can be limiting.

 

LONG TERM THINKING

Pressure has a short shelf-life, so changing the temporal perspective can offer lasting effects.

For example: 

When I am under pressure, I follow these steps:

I stop what I am doing.

I ask myself: a year from today, will the thing I am worrying about matter?

If the answer is no, then I know this is self-induced pressure that doesn’t require the energy or attention I am giving it.  

If the answer is yes, then I use the pressure to practice deliberately and improve my performance. 

By asking ourselves this simple question, we are reminding ourselves of the long-term picture, the knowledge of what is really important.  

A task or deadline which may feel like life-or-death now is not likely to even matter in the future.

By taking a long-term perspective, we can decrease the pressure we all too often put on ourselves.

 

FAKE IT

One final tip that I use when I feel pressure at work is Amy Cuddy’s recommendation on changing body posture. 

Her strategy:

Before attending a meeting, assume the superman pose.

Give yourself a sense of power and confidence. 

Do this if you want to boost your performance, or if you are feeling a little shaky or nervous about your performance. 

The power posture supposedly increases testosterone, decreases cortisol, and allows a person to feel dominant.

There is a significant amount of research that shows that attitudes often follow behavior.  

What that means is, if we behave in a certain way, it can actually change our attitude.  

Cuddy’s research is a part of that, but it is often used as a therapy as well.  

For example:

  • If you’re depressed and feeling down, the simple act of smiling can decrease the symptoms.  
  • If you’re feeling pressure at work, assume the posture and mannerisms of someone who is in control and confident of the outcome.  

You might be surprised what ends up happening.

Different people have different ways of faking it till they make it. 

For example:

  • I listen to music that I enjoy and dance in private before I give presentations.
  • I try to fish for my audience’s expectations ahead of time.
  • I like to rehearse my performance where the situation may be more stressful but the consequences aren’t as high. 
  • I try to prime my audience by engaging with them ahead of time and jumping into a conversation of their liking. 
  • If I am presenting in front of an audience or at a meeting, I try to share a funny and relevant story. 

If you are looking for tools to help manage pressure at work, please give the ones that we've discussed a try. I know I covered a few different options, so here is a summary of what we have discussed so far. 

 

Summary

STEP 1

Practice your performance.

Create a scenario to rehearse your performance. 

Recruit friends or coworkers to watch you perform.

Identify and manage fear. 

Practice scenarios that could catch you by surprise.

Simulate many different scenarios dozens of times. 

 

STEP 2

Begin the day like Marcus Aurelius by assuming the worst.

Write down the possible worst case scenarios about performance. 

Think about every single detail that could go wrong and rehearse it so you are able to plan a fix.

Compared what you write down to other worst case scenarios you have experienced.

 

STEP 3

Ask yourself: a year from today, will I remember this performance or will this performance affect me or my career on a personal level? 

Think long term.

Practice like the task or deadline will not even matter a year from now.  

 

STEP 4

Use Amy Cuddy’s recommendation on changing body posture.

Assumed the superman pose for two minutes or as Amy recommends it.

 

The key to success with these tools is figure out how well they work for us individually. The more time we spend afterwards reflecting on the effectiveness of these tools, the more likely we optimize our productivity. 

Here are some questions to get you started.

 

REFLECTION

Question set 1

Did you practice before you performed?

Did creating a scenario to rehearse your performance? How did it help?

Were you able to recruit friends or coworkers to watch your perform?

Did you identifying and managing fear? Did it help?

Did you practice scenarios that could catch you by surprise? What did that do?   

Did you simulate many different scenarios dozens of times? Was this a waste of time?

Question set 2

What worked and what didn’t work about begining each day like Marcus Aurelius?

What would you do differently?

Did you write down the worst case scenarios for the day?

Did you think about every single detail that could go wrong and rehearse it so you are able to plan a fix?

Did you compare what you wrote down to other worst case scenarios you have experienced? How did they compare?

Question set 3

Did the long term thinking exercise help?

Were you able to project your condition a year from today?   

How, if at all, did this type of long-term thinking help?

Were you able to practice like the task or deadline wouldn’t even matter a year from now? What did you do?

Question set 4

Did you employ Amy Cuddy’s recommendation on changing body posture to gain more confidence?

How did this influence the pressure you were feeling? 

Did you assume the superman pose before a meeting? 

How long did you do this for? Did this help?

 

General Reflection

Did negative visualization actually help? 

How often are you able to turn pressure into fuel?

Have the tools encouraged you to take on more pressure-filled experiences? 

Has embracing pressure helped you perform better? 

Keep the final version that delivers consistent results and requires the least amount of work. Identify what worked. Eliminate what didn’t. Consistently use what worked. Find new experiences to test the value and sustainability. Test the outcome to ensure the integrity of the process is preserved. 

“Actions express priorities.”

Mahatma Gandhi

 

Thinking That Does Not Solve

Part III - Manage Work Stress

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of tackling difficult problems first. I also shared a few rules that have helped me prioritize work. These are only a few of many steps towards learning how to dance with stress. 

In a constantly changing world of work unfortunately this is not enough.

As priorities and expectations mount, we need more methods to protect us from power of anxiety. Without proper systems and boundaries, the cumulative affects of stress can quickly disengage us from our daily routine.  

With this in mind, let's look at 3 additional ways to manage stress related to having too much to do with too little time.

Step 4

SYSTEMS

Click here for Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3

Systems are excellent at helping us manage heavy workloads. The challenging part is finding one to regularly follow. 

For those of us that cannot manage task lists, positive change comes at glacial paces.

There are a plethora of systems to choose from. You can make work-lists as simple as a checklist or as complicated as a program.  

It’s all about finding what works best for you.  

If you have never thought about an organized system, here are a few places to start:

Getting Things Done, Strikethru, and Goalless Living.

One thing to keep in mind is that every systems makes the same assumption. For example, without surplus of work, spending time creating or finding a system to mange work related stress might be a waste of your time. 

Step 5

BOUNDARIES

Timing is everything - stress is caused by having too much to do in too little time.

The real solution is simple in principle and difficult in practice.  

There’s nothing more vital to dealing with stress than establishing and maintaining well-defined boundaries. 

If your boundaries are pre-established then it’s less likely you will say yes to new tasks before completing important ones in your possession. 

For 9 to 5’ ers (people who have a traditional boss and a steady paycheck)

When confronted with a surplus of tasks, test the importance and urgency of the new work.

Confirm the timeline, and don’t be afraid to ask for the reason for the due date. 

Some due dates are arbitrary, and you can push back on them if your plate is too full.  

However, some due dates are backed by good reasons, moving the task further up your priority list.  

If you still have confusion about which tasks are most important, ask your supervisor.  

Remind your supervisor what you are working on right now, and ask them which task should take precedence.

Seldom bend your own rules (unless the rules themselves are adding stress). 

For example, if you have a rule that says anything that takes less than two minutes should be completed immediately, then never postpone those tasks.

It might be tempting to push remedial tasks into the future, but doing so will only add unnecessary layers of stress.

Setting boundaries on rules that you will always follow is crucial for avoiding future stress. 

Limit accessibility to distractions. 

Distraction show up in many forms. 

Social media, a team member, the news, and your stock portfolio all can contribute to distractions that separate you from important and urgent work. 

Distractions are usually enjoyable and instantly gratifying, which is why we have a difficult time turning them away. 

Saying no to distractions isn’t always easy. 

This requires intentional practice and a reward system that favors boundaries that allow deep and focused attention to complete meaningful work.

For some, setting boundaries will be difficult, especially, if you are an entrepreneur or someone who loves what you do, because there might not be a clear and distinctive boundary between work and personal life.

For Entrepreneurs

The first step is to manage your availability.  

There’s a reason why high-powered executives often hide behind personal assistants.  

If they said yes to everyone who wanted their time, they wouldn’t have much ability to do the work they need to.  The same is true of you as a business owner.  

You need to carve out the time to do the work that is necessary.  

The best way to do this is to carve out your day in chunks of time.  

Make sure part of your day is dedicated to creative or deep work, part is dedicated to meetings and phone calls, and part is responding to emails.

Don’t be afraid to change your physical space. 

Arrange meetings in places around town just to change your environment.  

If you are able to remain productive, visit a coffee shop and work from there.  

Use your flexibility to your advantage.

Find a way to separate your time.  This is particularly hard for business owners, who feel like they need to be on-call and busy 24/7.  And there is truth to the problem.  

If you are running your own business, you will spend an enormous amount of time growing it.  

But at the same time, you need to carve out time for the other things that matter: friends, family, and movement. 

If you don’t take breaks, you will burn out, and that’s not good for you or your business.

Step 6

TAKE A BREAK

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best actions you can take when you are starting to feel overwhelming stress is to take a break.  

There’s a common logical fallacy that we’ll get more done if we just spend more time on task.  

The problem is, our minds are only hardwired to focus for so long, and if you’re fiddling with a few words on a presentation in a dazed stupor, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Stand up, step away from your work, and take a break.  

You’ll find that when you come back to your work, you’ll actually accomplish much more.

If you want to up it even further, stretch and or workout during your break.

It doesn’t need to be intense (although it certainly can be), but movement has been shown to release chemicals in the brain that will help you tackle your work with renewed focus.

Now that we have covered several topics, it's time to tie it all together.

Reflection

Step 1

Sit down and start freewriting about the problems you’re facing.

Put down on paper whatever comes to mind.  

Make a list of every single thing you need to do, from your laundry to a slide deck for a meeting.

Don’t stop until you couldn’t think of anything else.

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 2

Tackle the hardest tasks first. 

If you have a difficult time deciding what tasks are hard, then find tasks that are important and urgent. 

Use the 80-20 rule. Work on 20% of the things that are causing 80% of your stress. 

Focus on linchpin tasks. 

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 3

Make your list and focus on only a few tasks at a time.  

Find a system that works well for you.

Take breaks. 

Set boundaries.

Organize work by importance and urgency.

Challenge due dates - tell us what you did? Did it help you or hurt you? 

Say “no,” to distractions like social media, a team member, the news, and your stock portfolio.

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 4

Change your physical space. Keep track of whether or this helps.

Find a way to separate your time.

Are you more stressed now than you were before? 

If so, do the exact opposite of what you did.

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 5

Test the actions you took. 

Identify what worked. 

Eliminate what did not work. 

Consistently use what worked. 

Find new examples to test the value of the experiene and sustainability.

______________________________________________________________________

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

I Will Never Change Unless

Part II - ManagE Work Stress

Stress Image

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of changing our relationship with stress.

One of the greatest weapons to manage uncertainty and stress at work is to learn to manage our personal response.

As promised, if you are having difficulty categorizing work to get things done and reduce stress, I will share a few techniques that have worked well for me.

Step 3

(Click here for Steps 1 and 2). 

Work related stress hides in the hardest tasks. None of us instinctively tackle it first.

Consequently, many of us will do anything possible to delay difficult work.  

When I was a kid, I would separate my food. The food I enjoyed the most got eaten last. Knowing that the tastiest part of the meal was only a few spoons away, motivated me to eat the green food first. 

Consider difficult work the metaphorical food you detest. Chow through it first and leave what you enjoy for the end.    

Turns out when animals are stressed, the brain fires off signals to the adrenal glands, which excrete hormones called corticosteroids into the blood. These hormones in turn generate new energy from stored reserves. They also divert energy away from low-priority activities. As a result, the animal is more likely to escape death. (Tufts University)

If you can summon the discipline to tackle the hardest problems first, the rest of your problems will be easier to tackle, and you’ll have momentum for the rest of the day.  

If you have a difficult time deciding what tasks are hard, then find tasks that are important and urgent.

Tasks with quick turnarounds are the ones that are urgent, and tasks whose completion is vital to a project, are usually important. 

In my experience, responding to emails are neither important nor urgent. 

Tasks that break into your normal routine by default are examples of tasks that are important and urgent. 

If you are still struggling to come up with a differentiation method to define important and urgent tasks, then use rules.  

RULE 1

Use the 80-20 rule.  

As it relates to work, the rule states that eighty percent of our stress comes from twenty percent of our difficult tasks.  

In Ryan’s (co-author, The Experience Manifesto) case, there’s a lot going on. His publishing company has employees to supervise, books to balance, and emails to respond to. 

But what makes him money?  His writing. 

Because of that, no matter what else he has going on in any given day, he always spends 80% of his time writing and editing.

RULE 2

Focus on linchpin tasks.  

Linchpin tasks are tasks that if completed, make everything else easier.  

For example, think about reorganizing a closet.  

Generally, it makes the most sense to take everything out so you can see it all at once.  

It’s much harder to go digging in a closet trying to reorganize as you find new items. 

Prioritizing linchpin tasks makes everything else easier.

In the world of work for example, this means if you separate important documents into properly labeled folders (a linchpin task), then you won't waste time later during the retrieval process.

RULE 3

Underestimate

Try to keep in mind that we generally have a tendency to overestimate what we can accomplish in any given day.  

As you make your list, focus on only a few tasks at a time. If you have 8 things that need to get done, focus only on 3 or 4. 

Then, if you have any extra time, you can do more than you planned.  It’s a much better feeling than not getting through your list.

Again, these are just a few rules of how you can decide what work to tackle first. They may work wonderfully for some and not at all for others. At minimum, you should have a good place to start. 

Continuous improvement is about testing ideas and figuring out what works best for you.

If these ideas don't work, abandon them. However, please share what systems you end up adopting. 

Once we have figured out ways to prioritize tasks, it's time to use systems to manage stress. Please join me next time as I walk through different strategies that have worked well for many.

Thanks again for reading. If you enjoyed this blog, please leave a comment.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.”

 Someone Smart

The Greatest Weapon

PART I - MANAGe STRESS AT WORK

Stress Image

Work related stress is killing productivity and adding unnecessary anxiety in our daily lives.

Researchers found that more than 1 in 4 Americans surveyed say they don't have enough time to do their jobs and two-thirds of all workers say they frequently work under tight deadlines or at high speed (NPR).

I would also argue that unnecessary stress is impeding employee retention, commitment, engagement, and realization of self-worth. 

Stress is difficult to eliminate. We deal with it in various ways. But, a modest mindset change may help us manage it better.

What if we viewed our interaction with stress as a dance? A dance, in which we partner with it instead of letting it debilitate us.

In my adult life, I have come to realize that trying to conquer stress is fruitless, but being able to prance alongside is productive.

The more familiar we are about how we react to stress, the better off we shall be. 

I also find it useful to think of stress as an outcome. As my coauthor and I have discussed in the Experience Manifesto, outcomes are difficult to control. But, we can control our actions and willingness to continuously perform better.

If you are like me, interested in continuously improving and growing, then please join me in the next few posts and let's see if we can help each other dance with stress. 

Step 1 

Sit down with pen and paper (or computer) and start freewriting about the challenges you’re facing.  

Just start writing.  

Don’t edit, just put down on paper whatever comes to mind.  

You’ll often find that if you simply give yourself space to write out your thoughts, you’ll find just the source of your stress. 

Some people enjoy journaling in the morning. 

It doesn’t have to be an activity that takes too long. 

The idea is to free thoughts from the mind.

If that idea is not specific enough, here is another approach. 

Instead of free-writing, simply make a list of every single thing you need to do, from your laundry to a slide deck for a meeting.  

Don’t stop until you can’t think of anything else.

By putting everything down on paper, you are effectively removing the list from your mind and the effects it has on you.  

It sounds simple (and it is), but the power of it is incredible.  

Step 2

Once you’ve identified your stressors, the next step is to set systematically reduce the impact of stress.  

Ask yourself what tasks are most important and most urgent.  

Focus on completing most important and urgent work first. 

Perhaps these priorities are set by a boss or coworker, but after you’ve made your list, sort them.  

Ideally, you want to get your list into an order where if you had to cut out or delay the unimportant tasks, it wouldn’t matter very much.

There’s a number of ways to think about priorities, and ultimately you have to decide what’s important and what’s not.  

But if you’re having trouble, please join me again next time. I will share a few tips and strategies that have worked well for my coauthor and I.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” 

William James

 

 

Where You Spend Your Money, Says A Lot

Invest In Friendships

Friendship Image

In 2016, Harvard Business Review put out an article saying that the on-demand economy receives $57.6 billion from us annually. That is a lot of coin for things that were once solved by friends.

Like many of you, I grew-up through the absence and now abundance of social media and insta-services. 

As the number of on-demand services grow, it seems like friends are no longer needed.

Friends that would drop us off at the airport have been replaced by Lyft.

Friends that would bring food when we were sick have been replaced by Blue Apron.

And, friends that may have helped us move once, have been replaced by Pikkup.  

With Facebook and Instagram, there is no need to ask how my friends are doing, because I already know.

Do not get me wrong. Services like Care.com and Angie's List are excellent. They have added convenience to our lives like never before. 

However, if we want to cultivate deeper and more meaningful connections, is it time to phone-a-friend and participate in an offline bonding experience?

Mini-reflection

Do you think it’s important to spend time with your friends outside the virtual world?

If your answer is no, why not?

If your answer is yes: how do you spend time with friends offline?

Recently, I decided to invest in a friendship instead of on-demand service, and I have benefited from it continuously every since. 

My Story

I needed a ride from LAX (Los Angles Airport). I thought about using Uber. A cab ride is normally $82.00 with tip and Uber is around $60.00.

Instead, I decided to ask a friend. I haven't asked for help like this since 2007. Luckily, my friend said yes.

A few days later, I surprised by friend to dinner at her favorite Thai restaurant.

She loved the surprise. 

My friend and I have done favors for each other ever since, and our friendship has grown stronger than ever before.

Not sure this would have worked well had I mentioned I was going to buy her dinner ahead of time. 

Deeper connections are rendered meaningless by expectations.

If you find yourself driffting away from a close friend, or hardly seeing her because you are busy, this might be the perfect way to rekindle your friendship.

If you run a similar experiment, I am interested in knowing:

  • If you are now more likely to invest in a friend instead of a business? 
  • If you would recommend this strategy to anyone else?
    • If you do, what would you recommend? 
  • If there was anything negative that came out of investing in your friend?
  • How would you change your strategy based on your own experience?

“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” - James W Frick

Decision, Decision Everywhere, Please Don't Make Me Choose

Part VI - How to get things done

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

In my last post, I talked about the importance of balancing movement and rest to accomplish your goals.

This is my final post on the topic of getting things done. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Hopefully you identified what works for you and discarded the advice that you were unable to personalize.

Today, I will talk about completing tasks on time and working better by, something I call, modulating decisions.

Imagine how productive you would feel on a daily basis with only half the number of decisions to rationalize.

Reducing Decision Worry

The idea of decision minimalism is not a new concept. It’s popular among many including Presidents, Silicon Valley tycoons, and designers.

The Minimalism Movement started with artists and musicians in the 1960’s. Although, minimal art has been around for much longer. For example, the proverbial phrase Less is More, first appeared in a poem about art, in 1855.

The poem is peppered with complex themes. It questions the value of an artist’s talent in the absence of a defined purpose. It insists that the birth of great art comes from the willingness to fail.

The most intriguing component, for our discussion, is the poet’s rationalization for creating something simple.

He ties simplicity with a higher calling.

As society advances, the desire to create simple things has been set on a pedestal by commercially successful companies.

In the quest to simplify our own lives, we have moved towards minimizing the number of decisions we make.

Fewer decisions equate to lower mental demands. But, do they equate to accomplishing goals?

Productivity experts suggest too many choices drown us in fatigue. As a result, the solution often dispensed is to eliminate options.

Some ways to eliminate options is to wear the same outfit, eat the same food — so you can conserve energy for decisions that require more mental horsepower.

Even countless studies show that too many options are paralyzing.

But in an privileged society, reducing options is highly improbable. And, as options increase, simplicity is manufactured into the choices.

Here in lies an interesting conundrum.

When an artist creates simple art, the burden to interpret the art now lies in the art connoisseur.

When a musician composes a simple piece, the meaning of the song now lies in depth of the listener’s interpretation.

Simplicity is easy to create, but difficult digest.

The simpler the option, the more likely we spend time assigning a complex explanation.

If you agree with this argument, then this means the less we rationalize simple decisions, the less drained we will feel from the copious number of decisions we have to make.

Is it then fair to say that the number of decisions don’t prevent us from accomplishing our goals, but our built-in quest to understand why certainly does?

In order to work better and get things done, arguably there is no need to reduce the number of choices, but there is strong reason to stop rationalizing every minute decision.

If you believe this to be true, then the only burden that lies with you is deciding what’s simple.