With the end of 2022 in sight, I’ve been looking at my productivity. My August went by so fast I missed it, and September wasn’t much slower. So much so that I began October with more work than I knew I could get through. I started to get that sinking feeling, where I have this crazy desire to pull the duvet over my head and hope I wake up when it’s all over. Instead, I muttered some inspiring words, in this case “pull yourself together Ruth”. And thought I’d better sort out my focus, priorities and relook at a few of those entertaining but time sucking distractions.
And voila I entered November feeling like I’d finally got a grip of the year, rather than the year having a grip of me.
Now I don’t know how your diary and productivity are as December knocks on the door with its plate of mince pies. But if you think you want to be more ta dah, tick, tick, tick…hey I’m making things happen. Then I have a few ideas for you.
Revisit your goals
Have an honest look at them. Do they still excite you? Are they still valid? Knowing what you do today could they be improved?
Once you’ve reassessed you have your priorities. And that does mean making some tough decisions. In my case I moved the deadline on one. I’m getting better at being human, rather than demanding I’m wonder woman. I also binned one goal, which was a result of looking at it from where I and the world is right now, rather than when I set it.
Now look at your daily actions. Have they got anything to do with any of your priorities?
Too often we get sucked in to working on those priorities that come in via email, slack and a quick phone call. If we step back, and hit pause, there’s a good chance that the request isn’t aligned to your priorities / goals. I’m not saying it isn’t important and a priority for the other person. If we enjoy collaborating, supporting our team, or suffer from people pleasing and the word no struggles to make it into our vocabulary, then we can pay a higher price.
Banana v Spinach & Kale Smoothie
To achieve your goal, there will be actions that are easy and those that are more complicated, uncomfortable or just plain who knows how they’ll turn out. If you’re only doing the easy, comfortable actions you’re not going to make the progress you could. Are you choosing the equivalent of the banana smoothie and pretending you’re full when it comes to the spinach and kale one. The latter is nutritious, the taste takes a bit of getting used to.
What are you putting off and why? When you get honest with yourself you can then do something about your answer. There are things I put off, and when I’m honest with myself it allows me to make better decisions. That might be I decide not to do it and manage the consequences. Or I diarise it along with a reward for doing it. Sometimes it’s realising that I’ve attached some drama to it. Like…
“What it if all goes wrong”
“What if I do this and they laugh at me”
“I’m not ready yet, I just need to…..”
Now you’re reading this far, so I’ve had your attention for more than 8 seconds. And I appreciate that. I read the other day that we now live in a world where the average attention span is 8 seconds before the person begins to get itchy and looks to move on. Multi-tasking is a myth, or an illusion at least. If something is worth doing, I’d bet my tuna sandwich this lunch time that it’s worth focusing on 100%. And getting the real reward from doing it will come when you do it for longer than 8 seconds.
Check out how often you get seduced by wanting instant gratification for your action.
If you’re looking to lead from significance and service, then instant gratification and multi-tasking aren’t going to help you. Growth, learning, being uncomfortable, doing the hard stuff are the ingredients that take you to success. Stamina and focus are required.
If you’re looking for quick pick me ups, satisfaction and being busy busy busy then switch your attention and focus frequently. As you do this more you train your brain to work this way. Do it enough times and your brain won’t want to focus for a long period of time. The downside here is that your ability to be creative and innovative is also reduced. The next effect is that you set smaller goals and off round the roundabout you go again.
“I need to make time for that”
A phrase I hear and sometimes use myself. The thing is, we don’t make time. Time just is. 60 minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day. Here’s one shift for you.
Are you spending time or investing it?
Look at your day. You’ve planned it out and intentionally allocated tim e to those actions that are going to achieve your goal, including some spinach and kale smoothie ones.
So, use hindsight at the end of the day to help you refine, would you classify each action as an investment or a spend.
Let’s say I spend 30 minutes chatting to Yvonne about the latest Tik Tok dance craze. Investment or Spend? Well, if it’s helped me get to know her more and build our relationship, then investment. If one of my goals is to nail the Tik Tok dance craze, then investment. If, on the other hand we have a great relationship, or I’ll never see her again, then it’s a spend.
All work and no play make Edward very boring. Look at your day or week and schedule time to play, to indulge in a distraction. It will make you more productive. And in case you think I’ve gone completely nuts. Hang on. When you pay more attention to what you do, and how you use your day. You’ll notice there are things that you do and they’re not an investment, they’re not a priority, in fact they probably don’t even align to any goal. What you will notice is that when you do them you feel rejuvenated.
Remember I said that sometimes I diarise a task I would procrastinate on with a reward straight after. Well, that reward can be one of my distractions.
Over the years I’ve come to know what I do when my mind is exhausted. Until I moved to the sea it was surfing the web for shoes. I just needed to learn to set a time limit, or the pleasure comes with regret and panic that I still need to complete the rest of my diarised actions. The magic timeframe, well longer than 8 seconds, I usually set a timer for 5 minutes.
Have a KitKat
Leaders often set a bad example when taking breaks. Eating lunch at your desk whilst preparing for that afternoon’s meeting. We so easily get caught in the trap of cannibalising our breaks to fit in those extra requests. And our energy levels begin to drop.
Distractions when done with discipline, give us those 5-minute breaks. 30 mins for lunch, 10-15 minutes for a coffee and a distraction or two a day, and we’re recharging and working with our brain. Lunch and coffee on the go only ever looks cool and good in the movies. In real life it results in us having lower concentration, poor decision-making and indulging in too many undisciplined distractions and metaphorical banana smoothies.
If you want a highly productive team, then revisit everything I’ve shared. What are you role modelling and teaching them to impersonate?
Until next time, go and be the difference in leadership