6 Ways to Get Unstuck Today

You meant to start that exercise program this morning but hit the snooze button instead.  You were going to reach out to your friend for a referral and blew it off–and your thought was probably along the lines of, “He doesn’t know anyone who needs my kind of services.”  You had to start on that big gnarly project but decided to scroll through Facebook instead for an hour or so.  You just never seem to get unstuck.  It feels like your days are quicksand and the new normal is sucking you in.A photo by Jared Erondu. unsplash.com/photos/j4PaE7E2_Ws

I was in that place some four years ago.  I never seemed to have forward momentum.   I also had an aversion to change.  Most people do.  I’d rather watch television all day with my free Saturday or bake the perfect loaf of bread than take on a project.  I also didn’t think that I had anything to share with the world.  I had just finished up my coach training with the Neuroleadership Group and I was being coached by my fellow students on a weekly basis.  I had the revelation that I was stuck.  With the help of my fellow coaches, I finally was unstuck.  So this what I learned.

6 ways to get unstuck today:

1. You are not an impostor.  Practically everyone feels like an impostor.  Someone will find out that you aren’t the greatest mother, accountant, teacher, writer, or cook.  This can be paralyzing.  My coach was working with me recently.  I felt like I wasn’t an author.  She reflected back to me what the source of that limiting belief was.  I realized that I had been writing for over four years, have been read in over 100 countries and had over one thousand followers.  She asked me to say it.  “I am an author.”  I owned it.  What do you need to own?

2. Path of least resistance.  Figure out what the project or activity is that you need to break out of and create the path.  I keep my sneakers, shorts and t-shirt in my bathroom closet.  I can get up in the dark, dress and head out before my husband wakes up.  If I had to turn the lights on in my bedroom and scour around for my walking garb, I likely would roll over and hit the snooze.  If you want to take up the guitar again, get it out of the closet and put it in plain sight.  If you want to walk during your breaks at work, take your spare sneakers to work and put them under your desk.  Basically, you’re eliminating the excuses you would normally come up with.  Create the path to your new goals.

3. Clear the decks.  When I write or work on a project, I clear my desk of any clutter like post its, papers, books, magazines, invitations or mail.  So if I’m in the middle of two projects, I put one of the projects away.  It’s out of mind.  This frees me up to work on what is in front of me without visual distraction.  There is no excuse.  I don’t end up going down some rabbit hole of “Should I go to the conference in Austin?”  “I wonder what that letter is about.”  “Why did I buy that book?”  The only thing on my desk right now is my computer, a lamp, a glass of water and a picture of my kids.  So before you get started, stash the clutter.

4. Digital sabbatical.  I have not tried to go without social media and email for a day except for when I was caught in the Berkshires a month ago without power and Wi-Fi.  It is really freeing to not be constantly checking for notifications.  But I DO put my phone in my purse or another room when I am writing.  Like right now.  My email and social media on my computer is shut down.  No bings, chimes or pings to bother me and veer me from my focus.  About two months ago, I turned off all notifications on my phone except for text.  My reasoning is that my kids and my husband typically are the ones who text me, which may end up being important.  For you, it might be something else.  Seeing a little red number 4 in the corner of my Facebook app used to drag me right back into opening the app to check out the latest Like.  Now I do that when I am free and not trying to accomplish something.  Set up Digital-Free Times.

5. Is it important?  When my fellow student coach would work with me, if something wasn’t accomplished, they would ask, “Is it still important?”  Say you didn’t sign up for that 5k or start going to the gym like you said you wanted to.  Maybe it’s not important any more.  Maybe it is.  It’s still a good idea to reflect on.  What is the “why” of what you are doing?  What is the higher goal?  I used to run in the morning because I was training for a marathon.  Now I walk in the morning to just get outside, listen to a book and feel refreshed.  It’s like that task you’ve moved 5 times on your task list.  Is it still important?  If not, delete it.  If it is, do it.

6. Start.  I am amazed what I can get done in 5 minutes.  Before I taught Franklin Covey’s ‘5 Choices’ class, I used to procrastinate if I had five minutes before a meeting started.  Now I’ll return a phone call, finish an email or make a hotel reservation.  I am amazingly more productive.  Any free time is an opportunity to start.  At home, I will pick up a book and read a page or two or put my grocery list together.  The point is, I start.  If I don’t get it done before another commitment, no sweat.  I’ll get back to it after the meeting is done.

I got unstuck through working with a coach.  There is a perception that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  It’s really a sign that you are ready for forward motion.  What do you want to get started on?

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.

5 Reasons to Cut Your Employees Some Slack.

Remember the first time you were in charge?

Someone promoted you to supervisor or lead or manager or Chief French Fry Cooker. You were then Chief PooPaw and everyone had to bow to your desires. You promised to make sure that everyone on your watch had their nose to the grindstone! And you, the Chief, would squeeze your direct reports to death to make sure you had the greatest productivity.

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Not so fast.

There is recent evidence that holding the reigns too tightly on your employees might be the worst thing you can do for their productivity. Happy employees make for more productive employees and, in turn, more profitable businesses. I’m not suggesting you have a daily corn hole tournament but cutting your employees some slack might just get you that next promotion. Validation and empowerment are the secret sauce to success. Don’t you want to be acknowledged for your efforts and know that you can make a difference? So do your employees.

So what are the reasons? Here they are:

1. Short breaks actually rejuvenate employees to be more productive. This was found in a study at Baylor University. Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu looked for ways to enhance breaks. The employees who were studied who completely left their work (i.e. not multi-tasking) and were permitted to use their time to engage in activities like social networking or meeting with friends’, experience greater recovery. I knew a manager who unilaterally I outlawed breaks. Anecdotally, I found that her employees were less productive, called in sick more and generally had lower morale. Make sure your employees have time for breaks.

2. Give employees autonomy. This is one of the main drivers from Daniel Pinks’ book, Drive. From the age of two, you exercised the right to say “No.” Your employees have the same need. They want to be able to choose. And being able to choose means being able to say, “Yes or No.” I’m not talking about insubordination. I’m saying that if your assistant wants to do the report in Access versus Excel, give him the autonomy to decide. When your employee decides on the best avenue for success, they will have been brought in and make sure it’s a success.

3. Stay away from working lunches. Employees are most restored when they actually get out of the building. Staying at one’s desk and plodding through some project will invariably lead to poor quality. Even thirty minutes outside of work can help you focus better when you return. Some employees may feel like they have to work at their desk during lunch from a work culture standpoint. Be the manager who is making sure that Jane has left her desk for lunch. As a consequence, you will get better quality end products from Jane.

4. Give your employees the tools to be more productive. I have facilitated Franklin Covey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity. After learning how to fully utilize Microsoft Outlook in the class, employees reported being 50% more productive and the main reason was how they used Microsoft Outlook. With a clear understanding of how to use the Outlook tools (there are hundreds), I can tell you that when they reported back to me sequentially after 5 weeks, 2 months and 4 months they were much less stressed out. Who do you think is more productive? A stressed out employee or a knowledgeable, trained employee? Right.

5. Understanding the SCARF model. As developed by David Rock, the SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) model shows that when an employee is in the same room as their boss, they immediately have a fear reaction. Fear is not good when it comes to productivity. Your employee is in the back of their head or in their “lizard” brain as it is frequently referred to. You want to make sure that you have your employee working in the front of their brain or the prefrontal cortex. This means you need to make clear instructions and then get out of the way. The more you pester or micromanage, the worse your employee will do.

I have found in my career as a manager that, the most difficult thing is to get your manager to loosen the reigns on employees. I hear manager’s say that “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. Not delegating in the long run is a career killer. Empowered employees end up making you look good. Loosen the reigns and watch everyone grow. What has been your experience?

How to Keep Your Inbox from Dragging You Down.

You know the feeling.
You’ve been on vacation.
Maybe a four day weekend.
The reckoning is coming.
You open your inbox to some 200 plus emails.
Some unopened.
Time to sloth through for 2 plus hours to reorg the whole mess.
Ugh.
Nothing but a time drain.
Lucky for you, I just taught an awesome class developed by Franklin Covey called the 5 Choices of Extraordinary Productivity and I have the master moves to save your inbox.

Get Control of your Inbox

Here they are:

1. Have folders that make sense. It’s really simple to add folders but frequently they don’t make sense or your folders need to be updated. This happened to me recently. I had a folder in my personal inbox named “Duke” while my daughter was attending the university and I kept track of various school and financial aid information. She graduated two years ago. I am working for Duke as an instructor starting in September. Now the “Duke” folder is housing different information. As Andrew Mellen espouses in his book, Unstuff Your LIfe, you need to have categories that work for you. I used to have folders for each blog I subscribe to. Now I have a main folder called “Blogs” and subfolders with each author’s name. I also update my folders periodically so that now the “Duke” folder is not a subfolder under “Kids” but is now a subfolder under “Current Clients”. Make sure you organize it in a way that makes sense for you and update it as appropriate.

2. Set up rules so you don’t have to open unnecessary emails. Frankin Covey calls this “Win without Fighting”, so essentially you never even see an email and, therefore, never have to fight it. Low hanging fruit here is to have junk mail automatically go to the junk mail or delete folder. I’ve read in several places that it’s not wise to unsubscribe to emails because they frequently create more emails by confirming your email address (obviously these are disreputable spammers). So if you have them go automatically to the delete folder you don’t need to bother to unsubscribe. Shopping receipts can go to the “Purchases” folder automatically if you set up rules from your most frequented online shopping sites like Amazon, Staples, Southwest and the like. What I really like about doing this is that my cell phone inbox doesn’t blow up with emails I want a record of but don’t necessarily want to look at on my phone. It cuts back on the alerts.

3. Turn it into what it is. During the class, as we all sat at our laptops connected to our Outlook inbox, we could turn all those incoming emails into what they actually were. So when I get an invite for a meeting or conference, I can drag the email down to the “Calendar” and create an appointment to decide whether to attend on the last day of early registration. I can drag an email requesting data on turnover to the “Task” list and set up a due date on the first day of the next month. I can drag a new contact email to my “People” icon and set up the contact information. When you do this, you can practically empty your inbox to a handful of emails. Before I started using this method, I invariably had email that sat in my inbox until it was taken care of. So if I couldn’t decide on a conference some six months out, that email would sit there gathering dust and cluttering my head until I could actually sign up for it. Start dragging your incoming email and creating what it really is.

4. Link to Locate. This is the last “Master Move” in the 5 Choices class. Basically, in any calendar entry, you can “insert” an email, a contact, a task or a note. So if you have a meeting with a new client on Friday at 10 AM, you can have the client’s contact information, the proposal you sent them and the notes from the phone call you had with them. They are all sitting there in your calendar entry. In addition, if you copy your associate on the appointment request, they will have access to all the information as well. It’s a nice neat little package. No need to set up an email folder and hope you have all the information in there. Or printing off tons of paper for the meeting. It’s all there in Outlook waiting patiently for the appointed time.

I have to say that even the technology folks in the class didn’t realize all the capabilities of Outlook. Once you start fully utilizing it, it’s remarkable how efficient you can be. Out of 13 participants, every single person had their “mind blown” by how easy it was to organize their technology. My husband brought his laptop home and, after a brief lesson on the 4 items above, he went from over 10,000 emails (all of which were flagged) to ZERO in about two hours.  So there you have it. A nice neat efficient inbox. Whew.