Tag Archives: focus

The Benefits of a Personal Retreat

A couple of weeks ago, I spent two days in West Virginia for an individual business retreat. I used this time to review my goals and progress, make necessary adjustments, and work on some strategic goals that I find challenging to complete during my everyday work.

It can be hard to find time to really focus and get meaningful work done when you are surrounded by distractions, interruptions, and a calendar booked with meetings.

Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.

Pausing for an hour (or a couple of days) to recalibrate and get clarity on where you are going and what you need to do to get there can actually speed up your progress. When I start to feel overwhelmed,  it’s usually an indication that I don’t have clarity about what I need to be working on. Slowing down to create clarity allows me to refocus my energies and increase my productivity.

Watch the video below to hear about my retreat in West Virginia and how a personal retreat can help you to refocus and get better results. I almost canceled this scheduled retreat because of some big life changes we have going on (I share some of that in the video), but I honored my commitment, and the results were awesome.

Once you’ve watched the video, I’d love to hear from you. How do you build time into your schedule for strategic and meaningful work? Share your tips in the comments below!

8 Ways to Develop More Discipline

I once heard one of my mentors, Darren Hardy, say that at his core, he is a lazy person. Left to his own devices, he would watch golf and eat ice cream all day. Yet he is one of the most disciplined people on the planet. This guy gets more done in one week than most people do in a year.

Discipline isn’t the absence of temptations. There will always be something more enticing to do than the task at hand. I’d much rather have a leisurely lunch over wine every day than meet a deadline or exercise. Discipline is getting yourself to do something you don’t really feel like doing, so you can get the result you want.

Most people try to unsuccessfully fit important tasks into their already jam-packed day, and then leave the office feeling very little sense of accomplishment. One of the secrets to developing more discipline is to create structures that enable you to be more productive on important areas.

If you want to accomplish your goals and become more successful, here are seven ways to develop more discipline:

  1. Understand your “why”. Whether you have a goal to lose weight, or to finish a project at work, understanding why you want the result will help you muster more energy and enthusiasm when you don’t feel like being disciplined. A few months ago, my husband and I completed a 21-day health detox. Eliminating sweets (my vice) for three weeks felt like torture at first. But I kept reminding myself why I was doing the detox in the first place. I want more energy, I want to fit into my smaller size jeans, and I want to look and feel great. It wasn’t easy, but it got easier as time went on because I was connected to my why.
  1. Plan your day the night before. A little bit of planning can make a huge impact on how your day goes. Have you ever tried to start a diet when you weren’t prepared? If you don’t have the right foods in the house (or the wrong foods out of the house), it makes it much harder to follow through. The same goes for setting up our days. Taking ten minutes each night to plan how you will spend the next day will set up the conditions for getting more done. At the end of each night, I choose my top two important goals for the next day, and schedule focused time for each in my calendar. Not every day is the same, but I use this structure for any time I am not facilitating leadership programs, working with clients, or in meetings.
  1. Schedule focus time. There is one habit I implemented a few years ago that has made a huge impact on my discipline and getting things done: productivity sprints. Productivity sprints are blocks of focused time to work on a project or task. They are a structure of discipline that provides the environment to actually get something done. I am writing this blog during a two hour productivity sprint I scheduled on a Monday morning. I will not take a break, check email, or do anything else until I have completed my two hour productivity sprint. Your productivity sprint can be as little as 15 minutes, but the point is to schedule time without distractions where you can focus and get into the state of flow. And you will feel so accomplished when you complete that important task!
  1. Remove distractions. If you are trying to lose weight, nutritionists recommend removing all junk food from your house so you are not tempted to cheat. Makes sense, right? The same is true for your work environment. You probably struggle with discipline because there are too many distractions begging for your attention like email, your phone, Facebook, or your coworkers. I’m sure on more than one occasion you’ve wasted an hour or more surfing online with no specific intention (I know I have) and then wondered where the day went. Remove all things that tempt you so you can get down to work!
  1. Give yourself constraints. Work tends to fill the time we allot to finish it. If you have a month to finish a report, you probably take a month. if you have a week, you take a week. Deadlines can be a great discipline tool. When I plan my week, I assign deadlines to each of my tasks, even if they don’t involve a deliverable for someone else. For example, I gave myself a deadline of finishing this blog today. It’s not due to anyone but myself, but I create these deadlines to keep myself on track. If I gave myself all week to finish it, I’d probably start it on Friday afternoon. When you have a task or project, assign yourself a specific day that it needs to be completed by that will spur you into action.
  1. Get Started. Most people procrastinate because they don’t “feel” like doing it. Ninety percent of the time, you probably won’t feel like doing what you need to do. People who are more disciplined work through the discomfort even though they would rather be doing something else. And once you get started, most times you will build up some momentum and get on a roll.
  1. Find an accountability partner. Let’s say you have an important project you need to work on but it’s not due for a few weeks. Find someone who can help hold you accountable to getting into action. Set up rewards or punishments that motivate you to get it done. For example, don’t allow yourself to go to lunch with your co-worker unless you finish your report first. Or reward yourself with a half hour break if you complete the project plan you’ve been putting off. I have an accountability partner who I text every morning and night. We each send our top five goals for the day (for me, it’s typically my top two work goals, and then some personal goals like exercising or reading a chapter in a book). At the end of the day, we text each other to report what we have (or have not) done. I often push myself to finish that one last goal because I don’t want my accountability partner to think I’m slacking!
  1. Forgive Yourself. One of the most important things to remember is to forgive yourself for not being perfect. There will be times when you don’t take action like you should, and you need to be able to forgive yourself so you don’t get stuck in negative thinking or beat yourself up. Being human means you will at times fail. Learn from your mistakes and start to notice your own patterns that trip you up so you can get back on track faster.

Left to my own devices, I would eat chocolate ice cream and watch When Harry Met Sally every day (I could never see that movie enough).

Discipline is a pursuit. It’s not something you master and forget about, it’s a daily practice  that takes effort. The rewards are the achievement of your important goals that lead you to success.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you create more discipline in your life to reach your goals? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

My Tips for Increased Energy

I just returned from a relaxing getaway in Cancun with my family and it was just what I needed to recharge and refocus. One of my personal goals this year is to schedule more downtime. I can very easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, and sometimes neglect to take care of myself and ensure I am getting the time I need to recharge.

So what does this have to do with leadership? In my experience, many leaders get so caught up in work, that they leave little time for leisure. I used to be one of those leaders. I enjoyed my work, and would often work long hours. I would come home mentally and physically exhausted, which left very little time and energy for exercise, eating right, and taking care of myself. I like to keep busy, and at the time, leisure time sounded unproductive.

I admit that I sometimes still struggle with prioritizing leisure time, but I have made consistent progress and continue to focus on making small changes. To be an effective leader, we need frequent mental and physical breaks to de-clutter our minds and recharge physically. We can’t possibly run on overdrive and be effective. Attending to the physical, emotional, and spiritual side will ensure we have the energy and mental capacity to bring the best to our work.

Below are some changes I am implementing to make sure I can work at peak performance and have the energy to bring my best to my work.

Pre-schedule vacations and getaways. I used to do this backwards. I would put all of my work commitments in my calendar, and then a few months before I wanted to take a vacation, I would try to fit it in. This caused more stress since I often didn’t have room in my schedule for any time off. This past year, I started scheduling my downtime first. I blocked out several weeks I wanted to take off (even if I didn’t have a destination yet), and committed to taking that time I need. I also blocked off at least two full days a month with no commitments so that I could use that time for planning and creative thinking. Blocking this time in my calendar has served as a constant reminder that this time needs to be a priority.

Make health a priority. This is nothing new, and I think it’s easier said than done. When I am busy, I grab convenience foods like unhealthy snacks. My family is working on cutting out most processed foods this year and planning our meals ahead of time. This can be challenging–like when my husband bought four box of Girl Scout cookies this weekend–but we are making small changes that are really adding up. I follow a website that has been an excellent resource called 100 Days of Real Food. Check it out here: www.100daysofrealfood.com. I have used many of these recipes to make food on the weekends to have for the week.

Get some sleep. Unless you are a giraffe (they only need a total of 1.9 hours of sleep a day), you probably need at least eight hours of sleep a night. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they would feel better and more prepared for the day if they got more sleep. Technology is one reason why many people don’t get enough sleep–they stay up surfing the Internet, watching television, working, or playing games on their phone. This is one area that is non-negotiable for me. I aim to get about nine hours a sleep a night (as long as my 3 year old and 1 year old cooperate!). If I get less than eight hours, I absolutely feel a difference the next day–I’m tired, sluggish, and have very little motivation to focus.

Get clear on limiting beliefs. I ended last year exhausted and ready for a break. I had been running at full speed all year, and felt like I didn’t have the breaks I needed to regroup and relax. When I reflected, I realized that I had a subconscious belief that work should always come first. This limiting belief was apparent in my decisions, and it was having a negative impact in my life. I would choose work over things that I said were priorities, like exercise and meditation. If something for work came up, I would often shift personal commitments to accommodate my work schedule. I realized that this had to change. There will always be work. And if I treat the personal needs as optional, they will never rise to the top of the list. Now I schedule my personal needs in my calendar months ahead of time to make sure they get the focus they need. Sometimes I will need to shift something, but I am making a lot of progress in prioritizing my leisure time.

Small habits lead to big changes. As a leader, I know you have a very busy schedule. Adding more commitments probably seems impossible. Start with small changes and build from there. In my work with leaders, I find that the most successful people are those who make small habit changes and are consistent. They stick to the changes and focus on improving and making better choices in each moment. It’s great to have a big plan, but it’s even better to get results.

What is one thing you do to recharge and re-energize?

Making The New Year Awesome

Only 8% of people achieve their new year resolutions. Is it even worth setting goals? I believe the answer is yes. There is a way to set realistic goals and make significant progress in the new year.

Like many people, I take time to reflect and make commitments for the fresh new year approaching. I believe in setting goals and improving, and over the years, I have enhanced and changed my process for creating “resolutions”. I’ve figured out what works for achieving my goals, and most importantly, what doesn’t work. I don’t believe there is one formula for making changes;  each person is different and will respond differently.

Here are the lessons I have learned for achieving new year goals:

Lesson 1: Less is more

I used to make a laundry list of goals for the new year: learn Italian, improve piano playing skills, exercise more, etc. You get the picture. What I found is that when I set too many “stretch goals,” I become overwhelmed and just give up. I end up feeling worse about myself because I failed to achieve the goals I set. A few years ago, I started taking time to imagine my ideal life. What would the ideal look like in health, relationships, and business? I keep my goals realistic. I really take time to think through what resources and time I have and I focus on making progress instead of achieving a list. I would rather make significant progress on three goals than very little progress on ten goals. I have learned how much I am capable of taking on and create my goals accordingly. This creates freedom. Rather than being  chained to a list, I work on making incremental progress.

Lesson 2: Measure each day

I find small steps lead to bigger progress for me. I switched from setting weekly goals to setting daily goals. I take the ideal life I envisioned and think about ways I can close the gap. I focus on making an impact in this day. Focusing on today takes the overwhelm and judgment away and gives me permission to make choices that feel good now. Inevitably, I end up succeeding with more of my goals when I focus on today. At the end of the year, if I can look back and see progress from the year before, to me that is success. The compound effect is very powerful.

Lesson 3: Focus on the being, not the doing

I am a doer. I love lists and crossing things off. I love the feeling of accomplishment. And when I focus on checking things off, I often lose the intention of my goal. For example, for years I have wanted to incorporate meditation into my ritual. I read books on meditation and tried to meditate, and my mind was racing. I was trying too hard to “do” meditation correctly. I often found myself wanting to check it off my list rather than get the full experience and benefits. And that’s just pointless. This past year, I focused instead on the “being”. The purpose of meditation is to clear and quiet your mind. So, I sat quietly with music, closed my eyes and kept quiet. I am not great at it, but I get benefit from it, and I am improving over time.

What has worked for you when setting goals?

Wishing you an awesome year!

The Power of Simplicity

I believe many organizations are suffering from self-imposed complexity. I am frequently hearing from leaders that they have too much on their plate, and that the pace and demands in their organizations make it almost impossible to accomplish anything. They’re in meetings all day, they have 25 projects to complete this year, and their employees are overwhelmed and overtaxed.

In the quest to achieve so many goals, many executive teams are overambitious, over-scheduled, and over-committed. They are mired in so many competing demands, that they lack the ability to focus, which holds them back from achieving very much of anything. They may be really busy, but they are not producing much. This complexity trickles down to all levels of the organization and can paralyze a company from getting anything done. This has become such the norm in so many organizations, that some leaders have convinced themselves that there is no other way of operating.

Don’t get me wrong. Things aren’t always easy. New technology needs to be implemented, new employees need to be hired, and new ideas need to be created. I’m not saying leaders don’t need to juggle multiple priorities. But how many is too many? How often do we add a level of complexity by trying to do everything at once? In the quest to make everything a priority, we make nothing a priority. Not a lot gets done.

There is power in simplicity. When a leadership team can make things uncomplicated and clear, that’s where the magic happens. That’s when people at all levels can really focus and make things happen. That’s where you can really create traction and begin to produce awesome results.

Take a look at your organization. Does everyone know what the top three to five priorities are? Can employees at every level tell you what they should be focusing on? And do their answers align with the true priorities? To be able to communicate what your employees should be focused on, you first have to be clear about the top priorities yourself.

 

Habits of the “Super Achiever”

One of my personal goals each year is to improve my habits over the previous year. Whether it’s being more productive, spending more time planning and prioritizing, exercising more, or focusing on cultivating personal relationships, keeping my focus on getting better and better helps me to get greater results over time. Small incremental improvements yield better results than a list of lofty resolutions or goals.  

This year, one of my small improvements is implementing a “Half Hour of Power. ” I learned of this idea from famed coach Tony Robbins, who suggests an “Hour of Power” each day. I determined a half hour would be manageable for my schedule, and have been working to implement this improvement into my day. Each day, I spend a half hour writing what I am thankful for in my journal, envisioning future successes, reviewing my annual, monthly, and weekly goals, setting my two top priorities for the day, and getting centered to be able to work at maximum productivity. This small change has helped me to stay on top of my key result areas, be highly productive, and stay centered and focused.

I’ve worked with many leaders through coaching and leadership programs, and I’ve noticed the highly successful leaders share many of the same daily habits or traits. They focus each day on improving and don’t make excuses. The most successful leaders make time for the important areas, they don’t complain about how much time they don’t have. They take control and responsibility.   Here are the most common habits and traits of highly successful leaders, or what I call “Super Achievers”:  

Planning and Focus. They develop plans and goals, and then execute those plans. They take time each day to make sure they are working on their top priorities. They are proactive and purposeful, and their day reflects it.

Passion for learning and improvement. They have a desire to constantly learn and grow. They tend to be relentless readers of leadership books and articles, and they invest in their growth and education. They make time to develop and improve themselves as leaders.

Keep commitments. They keep their commitments and don’t make excuses. They rarely miss schedule events and meetings, and are always well prepared and focused. They take time to do the work needed to make each encounter meaningful. They bring their ‘A’ game to meetings and are prepared.

Focus on people. They always make time for their employees and the important people in their life. They understand the value of cultivating relationships, and regularly interact and meet with their employees in a meaningful way. They understand the importance of communication and learning, and foster an environment of truth and feedback. They take the time to communicate vision, plans and goals, and ask questions.

100% effort. They always give all their effort to everything they take on. They are deliberate about their choices and focus on a few initiatives to do really, really well rather on a bunch of things half-heartedly. They don’t settle for mediocre; they aim to work at peak performance.

 

The Power of Today

Happy New Year!

Did you know that most leaders are only 30%-40% productive each day? Most people spend their days reacting to issues that come up and focus very little on the important key result areas. One of my professional goals last year was to work at 95% productivity every day. I didn’t succeed every day, but having that goal made me focus intensely on increasing my efficiency by blocking out time, planning, focusing on the most important tasks, and getting more done in half a day than most people get done in a week. The results were incredible–I had my most productive and successful year ever, worked less hours, felt less stress, and had more time to focus on some of my personal goals. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take advantage of the power of each day.

The best book I read in 2012 was The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Although this concept is not new, I find it inspiring to be reminded that small daily changes lead to big results. There is power in TODAY. If you get clear on the top two things you need to accomplish today, and make that a practice EVERY day, where will you be this time next year? Your results will compound and you can literally make dramatic changes in your life. Whether it’s being more productive, improving your leadership skills, reading more books or eating healthier, small actions taken each day will yield great results by the end of the year.

One of the actions I took last year was to read at least 45 minutes a day, five days a week. I read over 25 books, got caught up on all my magazines, and read many professional articles and periodicals that contributed to my professional development.

Here are some questions to help you harness the power of TODAY:
• What big results do I want to accomplish by the end of the year?
• What small steps can I take each day that will compound dramatically over time?
• What are two steps I can take to work at maximum productivity each day?
• How will I measure my results and keep myself on track?
The key is to focus. Most people write a list of lofty goals, only to abandon them after a couple weeks because it is too much change at one time. If you focus on a couple habits at a time, you have a better chance of following through, building momentum, and succeeding.

Wishing you a productive, prosperous, and joyous year!

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Last week I almost burnt my kitchen down. In my quest to get all the important things done on my list, I decided to multi-task. I put my lunch on the stove, and then went into my office to answer a couple e-mails while simultaneously making an important phone call. I was so engrossed (and overloaded), that I completely forgot about my lunch. I totally charred the pan, and black smoke filled the house. It was not a pretty scene.

 Multi-tasking is overrated. You think you are getting a lot more done, but in fact, you are not. You just end up doing a few things poorly (i.e., burnt bacon and an interrupted phone call) than doing one thing really well. It’s a fact that quality suffers when we multi-task.

I often hear clients talk about multi-tasking like it’s the sought-after skill that will help them get more done in less time. I even see “ability to multi-task” in most job advertisements. We have become obsessed with trying to squeeze as much as possible into each minute of our day in the unrealistic quest of being perfectly efficient.

 The “skill” of multi-tasking has become a popular buzzword in organizations. But it’s killing our business. It’s killing our effectiveness. It actually has the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. And that’s because our brains weren’t built to do more than one big thing at a time. Research has shown that workers waste an average of two hours a day on recovery time from interruptions and multi-tasking. It’s costing businesses about $650 billion a year; not to mention stress, loss of composure, and sloppy work.

Remember the days before iPhones, Facebook, and e-mail? When you left work, you actually left work at the office. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but that’s not what happens for most professionals. We feel more stressed and over stimulated than ever. We can’t seem to pull ourselves away for a mental break.

Have you ever left your office at the end of the day and thought, “What did I get done today?” If you can’t pinpoint what you accomplished, you probably spent a lot of the day multi-tasking. One of the best things professionals can do to boost performance is to focus on one thing at a time.

Here are six strategies for improving your focus (and your performance!):

Concentrate on one task at a time. Block out a specific time in your schedule to focus on one project. Make it a habit of scheduling your entire work day in chunks of time meant for focusing on specific tasks and projects.

Check e-mail only a few times a day. Turn off your e-mail and message alerts so they won’t distract you when trying to focus. Schedule a few specific times in your day to check e-mail and messages and focus only on that task.

 Say no and simplify your life. You don’t have to volunteer for everything. Pick a couple things you really enjoy, and do them well. When you are asked to take on a responsibility, tell the person you will think about it and get back to them.

Change your scenery. Most professionals I know can’t get much done in their office because that’s where most of their distractions are. Find a quiet conference room or go to a local coffee shop to get away from distractions and you’ll improve your focus.

Focus on two or three accomplishments a day. Executives often make a list of ten or fifteen things to accomplish in one day. We become too overwhelmed because our expectations are unrealistic. Pick two or three important tasks for the day and focus on accomplishing them (and doing them well). If you finish early, then you can move on to another task.

Delegate tasks and projects others can handle. Most managers I’ve worked with don’t use their employee resources effectively. They either feel they don’t have the time to teach employees or that their staff will resent them for piling on more work. The truth is, most employees enjoy the challenge and want to help their boss. Keep only the major initiatives you must be involved in, and delegate other tasks.

I’ve seen huge improvements in my efficiency and quality of work when I focus on one thing at a time. Learning to banish it from your life is a work in progress, and will take some time. But with practice and focus, you will feel less stressed and more accomplished.

 

The Effective Executive

I recently conducted a survey of high level leaders and found that their number one challenge was managing time and increasing productivity. Have you ever left work at the end of the day and wondered what you actually accomplished? Operating in reactive mode is a very common challenge leaders face. 

 I recently wrote an article that was featured in Credit Union Management Magazine entitled “The Effective Executive: Strategies for Leading Your Team so You Can Focus on the Big Picture”. This article highlights five ways to increase productivity, engage your employees, and lead at a higher level.

 Below are the five strategies:

Define key result areas. These are the three to five functions only you can do in your job. Once you get clear on your key result areas, plan your month, week and day around these high-leverage activities.

Shift your focus: people first, then things. Your success as a leader depends on getting things done through other people. Spend most of your time developing and coaching your staff and less time on operational areas.

Design the relationship. Be purposeful in designing the relationship you have with each employee. Ask each employees questions to find out their individual needs and tailor your leadership style to each person so you can garner the best performance from each employee.

 Use the coach-approach. The cornerstone of coaching is to be more inquisitive rather than directive. Ask more questions and listen instead of telling your employees what to do. Challenge your employees to think critically and develop solutions on their own.

 Build in accountability. Set clear expectations and deadlines, and build accountability systems into your individual and team meetings to encourage accountability. Be explicit about who will do what and by when. Employees are more likely to naturally follow through when they know there is a system in place to check progress.