THREE REASONS TO KEEP YOUR LAPTOP CLOSED THIS WEEKEND

Portrait of male resting at home on his couchThe weekend gives most of us the chance to downshift and recharge. But how often do we seize on it to catch up or get ahead on our work instead? Slow down and imagine what could happen if we resisted the temptation.

If you’re driven like I am, you have more projects than time. It’s easy to think of downtime as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence every day that it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.

A “symphonic life”, like we discussed before, doesn’t allow work to dominate. It takes advantage of natural times to blow off work and rejuvenate. Here are three reasons to unplug this weekend.

1. We Need to Play

When researching people who demonstrated deep joy and life satisfaction, Brené Brown found that they “fool around a lot”. In other words, happy people play.

It’s easy to disregard playing as trivial, especially when there are so many “serious” things we need to do: problems to solve, deadlines to meet, tasks to finish. But play actually help us with all these things. It’s rejuvenating and stimulates our creativity.

“Play nurtures a supple mind, a willingness to think in new categories, and an ability to make unexpected associations” says Virginia Postrel after reviewing some of the growing research on the importance of play. “The spirit of play not only encourages problem solving but, through novel analogies, fosters originality and clarity.”

“Nothing lights up the brain like play” says researcher Stuart Brown, and it’s worth watching his TED Talk on the topic.

Play also helps us pop the stress balloon. Greg McKeown talks about this in Essentialism. Maybe that’s a “duh” for most of you, but I forget it pretty easily. Then I end up goofing around with my dog, Charlie Brown, for an hour and get up feeling like a new man. Just a brief time playing makes a big difference in my energy level and how I see the world.

2. We Need to Rest

We’ve talked a lot about sleep here recently. A couple of weeks ago I read that Yahoo’s CEO missed a high-power advertising meeting because she fell asleep before the event and kept people waiting nearly two hours.

The strange thing is that most of the coverage I read said nothing about how little sleep she brags about getting, just four to six hours a night. She defends working 80 hours a week by saying she gets enough vacations.

Apparently not.

Can we stop this already – this culture that values accomplishment at the cost of basic human needs like sleep? People have been sleeping since the beginning of time, and yet we think we can go without it. Isn’t it bizarre? We wouldn’t do that with food or water, but sleep is just as essential.

So close the laptop and take a nap. Or go to bed early. Or get up late. Don’t set the alarm. Just rest.

3. We Need Time with Our Thoughts

Now for the hard one. How often do you daydream or even allow yourself to get bored? This is a major struggle for me. It’s far too easy to scan Twitter or Facebook, flip through Netflix, or catch up on my RSS feeds. If I’m unoccupied I feel guilty. But it turns out there’s a lot of value in letting our minds just wander.

Daniel Goleman calls this “open awareness” and says when our minds wander we’re free to:

  • constructively envision our future – essential for planning and goal setting
  • reflect on our thoughts and actions – central to living intentionally
  • make fresh and creative associations between ideas – key to problem solving

I often feel unproductive in these moments. But that’s the point. Our brains aren’t designed to go nonstop. When we drop things into neutral ideas flow on their own, memories sort themselves out, and we give ourselves a chance to rest.

If you read music at all, you are familiar with the various notations that signal rest. The marks on the sheet music tell the musician when to stop. The weekend is a signal to rest, and the symphonic life is one that pays attention to the signals.

Do you cheat your rejuvenation by trying to cram in more work into the weekends? What could happen for your creativity, energy, and attitude if you took the time your body needs to rest?

TEN MISTAKES LEADERS MAKE WITH EXECUTIVE ASSISTANTS

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I’ve worked with several executive assistants over the years, and I have found it is a make-or-break relationship when it comes to my success.

Think about it: None of us can do it all on our own. We need to bring others into our work to help us succeed in it. And the bigger the dream, the more help we usually need.

In my corporate days, I had some very effective executive assistants, and I couldn’t imagine doing the work without them. The same has been true since going on my own again in 2011, though at first I thought I could just operate as a one-man show. I was wrong. I couldn’t.

It wasn’t long before I was completely buried in email, speaking requests, travel details, calendar complications, expense reports, and more. I knew I needed help. Fortunately, I found a virtual executive assistant who enabled me to dig out of my pile, offload the stuff I hated, and get back to the essentials.

I now have two virtual executive assistants working on my team, and I can’t imagine it functioning without them. But that doesn’t mean an executive assistant is a silver bullet for all our big hairy problems. An executive assistant is only as good as the working relationship.

There are a lot of ways to blow it with your executive assistant, and I have identified the top-ten mistakes leaders make with their executive assistants, regardless of whether they’re virtual or sitting right outside your office. If we can avoid these, we can amplify our chances for success:

1b30– We undervalue our true worth. How valuable is your time? Most of us don’t know, which is why we keep wasting so much of it on activities that don’t really matter. Without a doubt this is the No. 1 mistake people make with their executive assistants.

Take your total compensation and divide it across your available work hours. Now ask yourself: Is mailing that package, scheduling that meeting, or processing those invoices really worth that much? I bet not. If we really understood how much we’re worth, we’d hand off far more to our executive assistants.

2- We undervalue our executive assistants’ true worth. Some of us don’t appreciate the competence, talents, and skills of our executive assistants. We don’t trust them enough to delegate the important but time-consuming tasks that take us off mission. It’s like we’re stuck in an old­-school “secretary” paradigm. The truth is that an executive assistant is really a full partner in achieving our goals.

3- We don’t communicate enough. Communication is key to working with an executive assistant, and yet I constantly see executive assistant relationships that suffer because leaders fail to provide necessary details about their work and even their private lives. If an executive assistant is a partner in achieving our goals, they will only be as effective as they are dialed into what’s happening. Keeping them in the dark only hurts our ability to succeed.

4- We don’t give the why behind the what. No. 4 is related to No. 3. A good executive assistants can fill ­in the blanks of tasks and projects if they know the rationale behind a task or project. When we don’t communicate adequate background and reasoning, we’re hampering our executive assistants’ ability to help us win.

5- We just don’t know how to delegate. If there’s a magic sauce to leadership, it’s delegation. Nothing will sink a leader faster than the inability to assign priorities and responsibilities.

But many of us don’t properly delegate to the one person working closest to us, our executive assistants. That’s a recipe for disaster. One executive assistant was straightforward about the problem: “If you don’t ask for something to be done and then explain how you’d like it accomplished, I’m no good to you!”

b256- We refuse to surrender our email and calendars. Some of us actually like managing our inboxes and schedules; others are just control freaks. Either way, it sucks up tons of time. Leaders who don’t delegate these two functions are killing their productivity.

7- We don’t open up. Some of us don’t share our lives enough with our executive assistants, but we could delegate so much more if we were more transparent about both our work and home life.

A good executive assistant will see where they can plug in and take things off our plates we’re not even aware of – but that only happens if we give them access. How many unnecessary tasks and low-payoff activities could you offload if you only gave your executive assistant permission?

8- We don’t play fair. Executive assistants get used to extraordinary requests; it’s sometimes part of the job. But if we are hypocritical about things, we can really undermine respect. For instance, to demand that your executive assistant be hyper responsive and then sit on a request ruins your credibility. We have to work toward the same standard we expect from our teammates.

9- We’re lousy about feedback. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind and miss opportunities to give our executive assistant insight into how they’re doing or what they could do to improve. Not only does this hurt our working relationship, but it’s also like shooting ourselves in the foot. Who benefits if our executive assistant improves? Who suffers if they don’t? Regular feedback is a must.

10- We expect too much access. As leaders, most of us are always on. We’re thinking about our business all the time – probably too much, actually. And we assume that everyone on the team should be on as well. The result is that we assume 24/7 service from our executive assistant is reasonable. It’s not. Especially if you’re working with a virtual executive assistant who is giving a set number of hours, going beyond that strains the working relationship. In the end, the executive assistant will be less effective, not more.businessman-in-boardroom1

Our work it too important to go it alone. It’s also too important to undermine the very people responsible for helping us reach our goals. Having an effective working relationship with your executive assistant will enable you to achieve your core objectives while minimizing the clutter and distractions that sets you back.

What goals could you accomplish if you could make the most of your relationship?

SIX STRATEGIES TO SLEEP SOUNDLY, WAKE RESTED AND ACCOMPLISH MORE

Idormir-bem’ve been thinking a lot about sleep recently. Most research shows that we don’t get enough, and our deficit is seriously hurting our productivity, our physical health, even our mental well being.

The line we’ve all heard is, if you snooze, you lose. But it turns out the opposite is true. The costs of not getting enough sleep are staggering. And a key difference maker in accomplishing more is more sleep.

So we all know it’s important. But how do we actually do it? There are a lot of factors working against us, but many of these are easy to address. You don’t have to follow any of these perfectly – I certainly don’t, at least not all the time – but here are six strategies for getting more and better sleep starting tonight.

1. Get Committed

How many times have we been up later than we wanted because there was one more link to click, one more episode to watch, one more page to read, one more whatever?

Researchers call it “bedtime procrastination,” and it’s really about willpower. If we want the benefit of extra sleep, we have to decide on the tradeoff: one less link, one less episode, one less page. Determine to go to bed at a set time and then do it.

2. Set an Alarm

To help follow through on that commitment, set an alarm. There’s an inertia to being tired. We’ve all experienced this. It’s easier to just go on than go to bed. But a calendar alert or phone alarm can help us change gears when we might otherwise cruise along for another hour or more.

I once started using an alarm to signal sleep time and reports it’s even more beneficial than a morning alarm.

3. Establish a Ritual

It’s easier to do just about anything when there’s a pattern or a rhythm we can follow. As parents and grandparents, we know bedtime rituals work for our kids, but they can work for us too – especially if the ritual includes things that are helpful in making the transition to sleep, like:

  • getting a warm bath or cup of herbal tea
  • prayer and devotions
  • a novel saved just for bedtime
  • processing the day with our spouses in bed

The key is to follow the same pattern most nights, even on weekends. I find winding down with Gail and prayer are essential for my evening ritual, and when I skip them my sleep suffers.

4. Go for a Run, but Not Before Bed

We all know about the benefits of exercise for health and longevity, but it’s crucial for improved sleep as well. Research shows that exercise in the morning or afternoon can benefit sleep.

David K. Randall’s survey of sleep science, Dreamland, confirms these findings and adds another side benefit of exercise, particularly outdoor activity. Exposure to sunlight helps “keep the body’s clock in sync with the day-night cycle and prime the brain to increase the level of melatonin (the sleep-regulating hormone) in the bloodstream,” he says.

The important thing is to avoid exercise right before bedtime, which will make it harder to fall to sleep.

5. Kill the Lights

Just as important as getting enough natural light during the day, it’s critical to extinguish artificial light at night.

More than nine in ten of us use electronic devices before sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Not only can the tweets, emails, videos, and articles we consume leave our minds buzzing and unrestful, the light from the devices themselves – even little LEDs – can compromise our slumber.

To prevent experiencing what expert Michael J. Breus calls “junk sleep” consider:

  • turning off TV’s, tablets, and other screens an hour before bedtime
  • putting your phone in a drawer or leaving it in another room
  • getting black-out curtains for summertime or sleeping with an eye mask
  • reading a genuine paper book instead of a tablet before bed – remember those?

There’s no sense getting to bed on time if we’re getting poor sleep throughout the night.

6. Blow off Work

For high achievers like us, this is really important. Let’s agree to let the report wait for morning the design comps, too, and the email. Unless we’re already totally exhausted, all of these things just keep our minds active long after we close our eyes.

Our bosses don’t own our sleep. And if you, like me, are your own boss, then let’s give ourselves a break! If you can’t let something go, just write it down, hit the hay, and deal with it in the morning.

The evidence for the importance of sleep is clear at this point. All that remains is for us to take it seriously enough to change our habits. After all, becoming more productive, efficient, and effective in every other area of our life is pointless if we cheat our minds and bodies the rest they deserve.

Do you struggle to get enough quality rest? What’s the one strategy you could implement to improve your sleep tonight? 

Rear view of a young man waking up in bed and stretching his arm

HOW TO DEVELOP THE ONE TRAIT ESSENTIAL FOR SUCCESS

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Success has many determining factors, including dumb luck. But I’ve been thinking of one lately that’s largely indispensable and totally learnable: persistence.

Have you ever felt like bailing on that one thing you know you’re supposed to do? As a teen I picked up guitar and started a rock band. But it took a long time to sound better than cats fighting in an alleyway. I had good feel for the instrument, but I had scales and chords to learn, songs to memorize, and a sound to mesh with other musicians.

There were enough moments of frustration I could have quit and done something easier. I’m glad I didn’t. Not only did I develop my skills, but sticking with it taught me something essential about success in every other area of life, especially business.

The Importance of Persistence

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. We’ve all seen talented, smart, and well-trained people bottom out. Success takes something more – the willingness to keep going even when the odds are bad and our enthusiasm has waned.

Think of the developers of virtuality reality technology, tablet computers, or ebooks. After initial spikes of interest all of these faded as failures. Yet today they are all going concerns, including virtual reality, because people kept working, tinkering, improving, and waiting. Finally the line of preparation and opportunity came together, and it can happen for us too if we stay persistent. And the good news? Persistence is something we can all develop.

Six Tricks For Gaining Persistence

1- Set goals Some tasks are simply too big. Maybe you’re recording an album, developing new code for a website, writing a book, launching a new product, or taking your business into a new market. Dicing it up into manageable pieces is one way we can stay on task instead of getting overwhelmed.

2- Keep the end in mind – Don’t just think of small goals. Think of the big win. What will persisting to the end do for you? If the reward is big enough, we can stay on task when the difficulties become discouraging. This trick has seen me through seemingly impossible circumstances more times than I can count.

3- Improve your pace and renew your enthusiasm – If you can set goals, you can measure progress. Working against deadlines and milestones enables us to accomplish more, more quickly. And the progress we make can keep us energized for the long haul.

4- Run and walk – When we’re working on a big project, it’s impossible to go all out all the time. But proper pacing improves endurance. Running coach Jeff Galloway has been teaching people to run marathons for years using his run-walk method. Alternating periods of intense effort with moderate efforts can keep us going longer. The method applies in other areas too; we can go farther if we take breaks, go easy, relax, and rejuvenate.

5- Kill the distractions – Exercising our determination is like exercising any other muscle. This relates to No. 5, but instead of taking breaks or going easy, the answer is removing the extraneous stuff working against our determination and wears us down. How many meetings, hobbies, projects, pastimes, even relationships are making it impossible to keep up our determination when it matters most?

6- Change your self image – The most important trick for getting more persistent is to see ourselves as persistent people. When the urge to quit arises, the first and best response is that quitting is not part of who we are. We are people who stay the course, we deliver, we get it done.

Yes, there are good reasons to quit all sorts of things. We can all be grateful that Steve Jobs quit college, for instance. But he quit because it was pointless, not because it was hard. When we have a calling or a dream, the most important factor to seeing it realized is persistence.

Can you recall a time when persistence was the determining factor for the success of a project or something even bigger in your life?

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE?

mentor (2)Ever since I began blogging, productivity has been one of my most popular topics. But I’m convinced we’re not always productive for the right reasons. Maybe this is why many people are productive but miserable.

Over my career I’ve been entrusted with a lot of responsibility. At one time, I was responsible for the well-being of over one hundred employees and a company legacy twenty years in the making.

I found unplugging difficult. I couldn’t rest because I was always on. If I didn’t perform well and efficiently, disaster loomed – lots of people would be hurt. At least, that’s how it felt. But that meant my focus was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Make It Happen, Faster

This mindset didn’t just happen. It is deeply rooted in the history of the productivity movement.

When industrialization ramped up in the twentieth century, factory owners hired experts to improve efficiency. Armed with stopwatches, these experts roamed factory floors trying to spot needless activity and waste. The faster someone fashioned one thing and assembled another, the more profitable the business could be. Henry Ford is the classic example of what greater productivity meant for a business.

It used to take workers half a day to assemble a car. After installing the first full automobile assembly line in his plant in 1913, he cut that down to two and half hours! The benefits were massive. His profits soared. But there was an unexpected trade off, too.

A Wrong Paradigmbusiness-meeting-1_91130032

Instead of work existing for people, people began to exist for the work. The most famous of the efficiency experts, Frederick Winslow Taylor, said it this way in 1911: “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”

Can you see what’s underneath that statement? The person needs the system, but the system doesn’t always need the person. As a result, we accidentally created an anxiety machine where fear became the driving force of productivity. Corporate life became like running from the wolf. The faster you moved, the better your chances for survival.

By the time I entered business this mindset was well engrained. Its influence was pervasive. I adopted it unconsciously. Sadly, though my commitment to excellence usually drives my productivity, many times, I’ve found myself motivated by fear – when, for instance, my business failed; or when the Great Recession threatened my company.

Whenever I started thinking of the wolves, I saw more wolves. Pretty soon I was more consumed with running from them than running my business. Not the best paradigm, right? Fortunately, there is a better way.

Productivity Is About Stewardship

I believe Universe has entrusted us all with certain ideas, talents, and resources. We’re responsible to improve and increase what we’ve been given. If we shrink back from this in fear, seeing it only as an opportunity to fail, we’ve embraced the wrong paradigm. But if we embrace it with gratitude, seeing it as an opportunity to grow – to step into our abilities and exercise our gifts – then we’ve embraced the right paradigm.

It’s like trying to beat a personal best on the race track. Instead of running from the wolf, we’re running toward a goal. Anticipation, not anxiety, pushes us forward. To view productivity this way involves a conscious change of thinking – one from scarcity to abundance, from fear to hope. But it’s worth it.

Unplugging finally becomes possible. Rest, too. And the unexpected bonus is that this paradigm actually enables more productivity because it’s finally for the right reason.

5 Questions for Self-Evaluation

So how can we discover our primary motivation? As I think about increasing my productivity, I use these five questions. They work best when I can apply them to particular circumstances. See if they help you:

1- Do I feel proactive or reactive in this situation?

2- Do I feel that my self-worth is tied up in the outcome?

3- Do I dread the outcome, even if I win?

4- Do I feel like victory will be short-lived?

5- Do I feel energized or drained?

To be truly productive, we need to have the right focus. Productivity driven by anxiety is unsustainable. But seeing productivity as a chance to grow what you’ve been given can radically change what’s possible in your work.

So say: Did you start this week running toward the goal or away from the wolf?

FOUR STRATEGIES FOR CUTTING YOUR TO-DO LIST IN HALF

WEx2Quite often when I ask a friend how he is doing, he inevitably responds, “Busy. Crazy busy.” It seems like all of us have more to do that we can possibly get done.

One of the most helpful time management principles I’ve ever found is David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule. The basic concept is that you take immediate action on anything that can be done in two minutes or less. This is the key to becoming more productive.

To implement this, you should do these kinds of actions NOW. Why? Because it will take longer than two minutes to add the action to your to-do list, organize it, get back up to speed later, and complete the task. Instead of going through that whole rigmarole, you just do it and move on to the next task. It is a huge productivity booster. And it will keep your to-do lists much shorter.

In addition to the two-minute rule, here are four strategies for cutting your to-do list in half:

1- Understand the five basic decisions. With any given input (email message, physical inbox item, etc.), there are only five actions you can take:

-You can DO it by taking action now yourself.

-You can DELEGATE it to someone else who is better qualified or has the bandwidth.

-You can DEFER (or schedule) it to do later.

-You can FILE it for later reference.

-You can DELETE it and forget about it.

2- Make a decision and then act. This is the most important part—make a decision. Most of the decisions you and I make are not that consequential. You can afford to be wrong occasionally.

It is better to make a decision and move on than waste precious time trying to get it right. (Obviously, I am not talking about big decisions that require significant risk or investment.)

3- Don’t second-guess yourself. This is unproductive. You can spend an inordinate amount of time questioning your decisions. What is past is past. Let it go.

Don’t get bogged down in “the paralysis of analysis.” Learn what you can and keeping moving. Like someone once observed, “It is easier to steer a moving car than one that is parked.”

4- Set a time-limit. Parkinson’s Law states: “work expands to the time allotted for it.” For example, I may go online right before lunch, say 11:00 a.m. I then give myself 30 minutes to process the emails that have accumulated since I checked earlier that morning.

On average, I can go through 70 emails in this amount of time. The deadline helps me be more productive.

You will get better with practice. Consciously try to implement this principle. Nike got it right with their slogan: “Just do it!” This applies to task management as well. Ready, set, go!

How many items are currently on your to-do list? How many could you have eliminated if you had just taken the action when it first appeared?

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ARE YOUR BELIEFS KEEPING YOU STUCK?

limitesRSERSCLimiting Beliefs are like fences, invisible barriers. They only exist in our mind, but I treat them as though they were “out there”, part of the real world.

I immediately think of three kinds of limiting beliefs:

Beliefs about myself I have often been stuck in my life, not because I didn’t have the money, time, or contacts to make progress, but because of some deep-seated assumption. For example, early in my career, I thought I was too young to succeed. I sabotaged myself in subtle ways. Now I routinely meet people who think they are too old to succeed.

But what is the truth? The truth is that age has very little to do with our success. It’s often a story we use, whether we are young or old, to stay stuck.

Here are some other examples of limiting beliefs we might have about ourselves:

“I’m just not technologically-inclined.”

“I can’t help it, I’m just big-boned.”

“I’ve never been very good with money.”

“I guess I’m just not that creative.”

“I’m a quitter. I never finish what I start.”

Beliefs about others It’s not just the beliefs we have about ourselves that keep us stuck, sometimes it’s a belief we have about others.

I once worked for a man whom I thought was arrogant. Though he was brilliant, he kept his office door shut most of the time. When he did venture out, he barely spoke to anyone. If he passed you in the hallway, he would look away. As I got to know him, I discovered that he wasn’t arrogant at all. He just suffered from low self-esteem and, as a result, was extremely shy. As I got to know him he warmed up and became a mentor.

The truth about him was exactly the opposite of what I initially thought. My limiting belief almost cost me an important relationship.

Here are examples of limiting beliefs we might have about others:

“There’s no use asking. He’s too busy to meet with me.”

“He’s just a bean counter. What does he know?”

“Someone like her would never go out with a guy like me.”

“She’s too introverted to be a good leader.”

“He hasn’t responded. I guess he’s upset with me.”

Grand Canyon National ParkBeliefs about the world Sometimes the beliefs that keep us stuck are global. I saw this recently when I was talking to one of my friends in the book publishing industry.

I asked him how it was going. “It’s tough,” he admitted. “With the economic downturn, stores are continuing to close and book sales are down.” I don’t doubt things are tough for him. However, I do question whether the economy is as bad as he thinks. He may be suffering from selection bias.

Because I speak for organizations in a variety of industries, I see different perspectives on the economy. For some, the economy is booming. For others, we’re still in the Great Recession.

Here are examples of limiting beliefs we might have about the world:

“You know how women are. They are so emotional.”

“Everyone knows politicians will say anything to get elected.”

“I don’t trust management. They’re always trying to screw us.”

“Rich people don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

“You can’t be successful without compromising your integrity.”

Beliefs are not the culprit. They can be a good thing when they are rooted in reality. But we have to learn to distinguish between reality and excuses. For example, I used to think of myself as an introvert. It was the reason I didn’t mingle with people at parties or even introduce myself to audience members before I spoke in public. But it suddenly dawned on me one day that this was a limiting belief. It was keeping me from having the impact I really wanted. It wasn’t the way things were; it was an excuse that was keeping me from growing.

So I changed my belief. I decided that introversion was more of a preference rather than something innate. I could chose which behavior to exhibit (introversion or extroversion) based on what I wanted to achieve.

If you find yourself stuck in some area, ask yourself, “What beliefs do I have about this that are limiting my ability to move forward? Is this really true? Is there something else I need to believe that is more rooted in reality?”

What is a limiting belief you struggle with?