6 Steps to Taking Action. Now.

You are bored.  You check your phone for some kind of notification.  It’s a new “like” on Instagram, or Facebook or LinkedIn or some other social media site.  Pretty soon your entire Sunday morning has gone by with scanning aimlessly on various sites.  You meant to start writing that article.  Or mow the grass.  Or call your brother.  But somehow the whole day has seemed to slip away to screen time with nothing productive to show for it.

Take Action

This disengagement from the here and now rolls on.  The constant distraction of “screen” time whether it be web surfing, channel surfing or playing video games is taking us away from the present moment.  And when you are distracted?  You procrastinate.  You put the project off.  It’s too overwhelming to take the first step so you escape into screen time.  Or as Dr. Hallowell says in his book, Crazy Busy, “A modern addiction, screen-sucking is like smoking cigarettes: Once you’re hooked, it is extremely hard to quit.” When you are sucked into a screen, you are caught up there and you are disengaged from everything else.

So here are 6 steps to taking action.  Now:

  1. Cut out the distractions. Full disclosure here – I have been trying to get started on this post for the last two hours on a Sunday morning.  I had my phone next to me.  I kept picking it up and looking for notifications.  So what did I do?  I put it in the kitchen to charge.  All my social media sites are shut now and my email is closed on my computer.  No more distractions.  So now I am finally writing.  I know there are apps out there that will shut down notifications while you are on your phone or laptop.  I try and cut out distractions by eliminating the notifications through the settings on my electronic devices.  You cannot focus on the project in front of you when your mind is distracted.
  1. Work on a computer or laptop instead of something smaller. As Amy Cuddy found in her studies outlines in her book, Presence, “As hypothesized, compared to participants working on larger devices (e.g. a Mac computer), participants who worked on smaller devices (e.g. an iPad) behaved less assertively– waiting longer to interrupt an experimenter who had made them wait, or not interrupting at all.” So you are making yourself small when you are hunched over your phone, less important. They call this “text neck” or “iHunch.”  As the study showed, it makes you less assertive.  This must be part of the reason why I rarely write when I am on the road since I don’t travel with a laptop.  I’m turned off by the feeling of being small and powerless on my phone.
  1. Eat that frog. This is a phrase coined by Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  Brian Tracy advocates starting with the biggest ugliest item on your to-do list first thing.  It helps you have momentum to start taking action on other things. Otherwise, you start filling your day with little items that don’t have an impact or really matter.  Pick the thing with the most significant impact and start doing it first.  You also have more energy first thing in the morning and, for most people, it’s when you do your best work.  First and foremost, Eat that Frog!
  1. Make bite size action items. So instead of Write a book as your action item list Start outline for book or Decide title for book or Research three articles for book. Whew.  Sounds a lot easier than taking on an entire book in a day.   When you are overwhelmed with the whole project, you become immobilized. Frozen.  Anxious.  Take one little bite and take it on.  It’s empowering.   The feedback I get from most of my clients is that through coaching they’ve been able to break things down and realize positive forward progress.   Smash up the project into pieces that will spur action.
  1. Set a timer for thirty minutes. You will think I am crazy but I don’t exactly look forward to writing. I’m fine once I get started.  I get in the zone or flow and it’s a great experience.  But getting started?  I have a hard time getting off the starting block.  So I looked at my clock on my computer and said, “OK.  Give it 30 minutes.  Devote 30 minutes to writing this post.”  So once I get past coming up with a title and direction for the post I am in the zone.  It’s now been an hour and all I need is one more bullet.  I’m long past the 30 minutes but it gets me in the chair and off to a start.  See if setting a timer will get you to start.
  1. Do it now. After teaching several classes of Franklin Covey’s “5 Choices to Extraordinary Results“, I realized that I was procrastinating with little tasks.  I would think, “If I can’t finish it before my next meeting, then forget it.  I’ll move it out until tomorrow.”  Suddenly I realized that I didn’t have to completely finish the task before the next meeting.  There is a perfectionism tied up in the attempt to get items finished before the meeting.  So now if I have 5 minutes to spare before a meeting, I will knock out paying some bills or draft an email to a client.  I no longer wait for the perfect window to complete the task.  What I have found is that I can complete a lot more than I thought by not waiting for the perfect moment.  It’s amazing what I can get done in 5 minutes.  Do it now.

I remember a coach of mine, Michele Woodward, told me some time ago that what I get done on my worst day is more that most folks get done on their best day.  Acknowledge that you are more productive than the average worker.  Envision that you are productive and action oriented and you will be.  But first?  Put away your phone.

25 Itzy Bitzy Mindfulness Habits You Can Start Now.

As Shirzad Chamine says in his 15 minute meditation resource (which is free by the way), “We spend so much time in our head, we can forget we even have a body.” When you think about it our head is about 10% of our body mass but we spend most of our resources and time staying up in our head instead of really occupying our body. Whether it’s a worry loop of “did I close the garage door this morning” or “don’t forget to buy ground coriander” or rehashing the disagreement you had with your partner, we spend a lot of time in our heads while our bodies are just going through the motions.

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I love the analogy that Dan Harris uses in his book, 10% Happier, when he experimented in all types of meditation. “Meditation helps you get behind the waterfall (of thoughts).” As I like to say in my workshops, you want to stay out of the back of your head or your limbic system and stay in the front of your head where the prefrontal cortex is. Your best thinking is in the prefrontal cortex. The best way to stay there is to try and be present. Mindful.

So here are the 25 itzy bitzy habits to keep you in the present:

1. Smile when you enter a room.
2. Wiggle and account for your toes.
3. Take three deep breaths.
4. Feel the temperature and texture of the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
5. Touch your thumb and index finger to feel the ridges of your fingerprint.
6. Listen for the farthest sound you can hear.
7. Listen for the closest sound you can hear.
8. Feel the weight of your body on the chair as you work.
9. Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning.
10. Do yoga for 5 minutes in the morning.

Being more mindful is also about eliminating distractions. As Dr. Hallowell describes in his book, Crazy Busy, we all just skim through life. We don’t take time to ponder. I skim emails, texts, articles, and Facebook posts. We are in a constant state of distraction which creeps us back into our limbic system and out of our best thinking. So the next few itzy bitzy habits are about eliminating distraction so that we can get back into the present.

11. Turn off all notifications from social media and email.
12. Have a technology sabbatical after 7 pm.
13. Keep your phone in another room (or off) when connecting with others.
14. Set up rules for spam so it goes to your junk folder.
15. Set up blocks of time to work on important projects.
16. Set up blocks of time to answer emails and phone calls three times a day.
17. Set up emails as tasks so that your inbox is not your to-do list.
18. Touch an email once and decide what it is and handle it.
19. Listen to instrumental music while working.
20. Use Luminosity every morning for 5 minutes.

Another key factor with being present is actually being awake and well rested. Getting between 7 to 7 and a half hours of sleep a night is critical to success. Zoning out at work or at home with the folks that you love is not healthy. I’ve worked with a ton of clients around sleep I’ve talked with Executives who aren’t able to work as effectively because they aren’t getting enough sleep. This is not a personal issue, if you have employees coming to work zoned out from lack of sleep, they are not doing their best work. So here are some more itzy bitzy habits around being well rested.

21. Go to bed by a set time 15 minutes earlier than before.
22. Leave your technology in the bathroom or kitchen (not in the bedroom).
23. Set your alarm to wake up 5 minutes earlier.
24. Read a fiction book for 15 minutes before going to bed (it helps create dreams).
25. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a journal at the end or beginning of the day.

You might be wondering about the last two habits. When you are grateful, you are more positive. It’s difficult to be grateful and worry at the same time. By reading a fiction book at the end of the day, it helps kickstart dreams. If you watch the latest from CNN, you are more likely to have restless sleep and start the worry cycle again. Spark some whimsical dreams by reading some classics by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. Which itzy bitzy habit will you start with?

How to Reignite Your Employees.

Your assistant is constantly calling in sick. Your technician seems to always be on smoke breaks. You sit in your cube gnashing your teeth frustrated because your project is going nowhere. The folks at your team meetings are passive. Disengaged. Ambivalent. There is no action. Just excuses.
It’s frustrating…isn’t it?

How to Reignite Your Employees

I have to say I stumbled on an absolutely engaging program from Franklin Covey called 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity. I facilitated this workshop a little over a month ago and we had the 5 week follow up this week. I thought the materials for the class were good but I didn’t realize how good. The rag tag team of 14 participants went from being in the 64th percentile in productivity and sky rocketed up to the 94th percentile 4 weeks after the class. That’s almost a 50 percent improvement in productivity. 50%!
Whoa. That’s incredible. Imagine what you can do with 50% more productivity. Heck, I would have been happy with 10%. That’s a lot more widgets on the sales floor. That’s a lot more customer satisfaction. And, most importantly, that’s a lot more happy engaged employees doing a good job.

So this is my take on how to reignite your employees:

1. Discern the difference between what is important versus merely urgent. Several participants said that this was a game changer. They suddenly realized that some of their actions, like quickly responding to emails ended up making them a sort of scapegoat. So the slacker coworker would call on them for help because they would respond so promptly. By being able to discern that responding quickly was taking them away from their important Quadrant 2 work and instead, spending valuable time on someone else’s frivolous Quadrant 3 distractions. When you start dedicating time to the work that is most important, everyone benefits (even the slacker if you show them how to fish). There is more meaning and satisfaction as well.

2. Don’t settle for ordinary. It may be the path of least resistance but settling for ordinary isn’t inspiring. Who wants to wake up and say, “Hey, let’s have a status quo day. Let’s not have an impact.” The benefit of this class is that the participants worked on what’s important. What is the role I want to be? Do I want to be a “spouse” or do I want to be “Kevin’s best friend”? Which do you find more inspiring? One participant decided to ditch his recliner to sit next to his pregnant wife on the sofa in the evenings. That is life changing. That is extraordinary.

3. Decide on your big rocks and give up on sorting gravel. This training has some great videos from experts like psychiatrist Dr. Hallowell, who says that when you are consistently being bombarded with constant notifications and information, you are basically firing off your fight or flight response constantly. Toxic stress is the new normal. What the participants found was that when they identified their “big rocks” or important goals and roles, it was much easier to skip the gravel. When you schedule your life with those things that are most important first, the rest seems to slide away. Several participants had scheduled working out. The impact? They said that they used to dread coming to work because of all the stress. Now that they were working out every morning, they looked forward to work. A complete flip. The engaged workforce.

4. Be the ruler of your technology. This is all about ruling your inbox. One participant said they had set up 60 rules to handle email whether it be spam, automatically forwarding messages (yes, you can do that in Outlook) and highlighting messages from important folks like your boss. Dropping emails into tasks or calendar appointments make sure that the important stuff doesn’t get lost. This was by far the area where most folks found the most saving and efficiency.

5. Fuel your fire so you don’t burn out. Several participants selected one of their important roles to be themselves. Wow. When was the last time a corporate training told you to take care of yourself first? At least a third of the class had started working with a personal trainer since taking the class. Several worked to improve their sleep. I know you might be skeptical. Why should an employer espouse self-care? Because the end result is more productive, happier employees.

I have to qualify that this group of participants were free to choose to take this class. Mandates on changes in behavior are not as effective as those who choose of their own free will. Productivity is a very personal decision. Make sure you give your employees the opportunity to choose to be reignited.