Friday, February 18, 2011

Key to Effectiveness: Time/Energy Management

We all know about managing our time, and may be pretty good at it. But are you aware that it is just as if not more important to manage your energy? When you are not focused on how you are committing, expending, and replenishing your energy stores, you are far less effective in all areas of life and work. It’s about being strategic and tactical in how you organize yourself.

To follow is a select list of useful approaches for managing your time and energy. While there are a million and one techniques, here are some of my best practices:

Powerfully Use Your Calendar

Of course, this is the starting point. Regardless of whether you prefer paper or electronic, the important part is to honor your schedule as a declaration of your commitment to yourself and others. Stick to it, but also be flexible enough to adjust your approach as needed.
  • Take Stock – Do an honest evaluation of how you are really using your time. Just like the budget exercise of writing down every penny you spend to understand your habits, it’s good to track your time for a week or two. Notice what you are doing, when, and how long it generally takes to complete each task. Make adjustments to your scheduling as necessary.
  • Match Energy to Activities – There are times of day when we are better at specific activities, and it’s important to think about when is best for you. For example, I prefer to do my writing, technical analysis, and tasks requiring the most intense thought first thing in the morning. While I can certainly do them later, I like to tackle them while I’m fresh and less distracted. I schedule exercise in the afternoon around lunch hour when I need a break and can use an energy boost.
  • Plan Your Week – Taking time to think about your week before it begins better sets you up for success. Sunday evening is great for this because it allows you to reflect on your previous week (what worked and didn’t), capture the items you want to carry forward, and start blocking out your schedule.
  • Pay Yourself First – Block out times in your calendar for self-care and what’s important to you. Some of these may be: wake/rest time, exercise, dates with your spouse, activities with your children, creative time, commitments to self/others, etc.
  • Schedule Positive Habits – Just like paying yourself above, your calendar can support you in creating and maintaining any positive habits you are trying to establish. You may put in simple things throughout the day like meal planning, working out, or even reminders to breathe.
  • Block Out DNS Time – Because I know I need time to myself where I don’t have any activity scheduled, I make sure of it by putting DNS (“do not schedule”) blocks down periodically. If something comes up, instead of removing it, I’ll shift it to another day close by.
  • Allow Buffer Time – It’s a general rule of thumb that everything takes longer than you initially think it’s going to. When planning, be sure to not only tack on a little breathing room for each activity, but also put buffer time before and after.
  • Anticipate Travel Time – If you have appointments at different locations, be sure to build into your schedule travel time to get from Point A to Point B. Punctuality is not only about respect for the other party, but proper planning will allow you to feel less stressed and rushed.
  • Plan Your Procrastination – I wrote a whole blog post about this HERE, but I can’t emphasize this enough. Know you will likely put off some things, or they may simply get pushed back by unanticipated issues. Anticipate that and build that into your schedule.
  • Commit 5 Minutes in the Morning – When you first get up, take a quick look at your calendar and mentally prepare yourself for your day ahead. Check for discrepancies, and add additional items like “return call to X” so you make the time to be on top of some of your to-do items.
Control Your Email

This is a huge time and energy suck. While it’s essential to our productivity, it’s important to keep an eye on this.
  • Hold Off on Logging On – Don’t start your day with getting on your email. This is doubly true for entrepreneurs. Email pulls you in and it’s hard to get out. There are few emails that can’t wait an hour after you get out of bed. Do your self-care and grooming activities, review your day, and take care of tasks that require the most focus.
  • Sort with Filters – Go through your email and set up automatic filters for different types of email. Send your reading and subscriptions into one folder, your daily deals/shopping into another, and your social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) into another. Etc. You’ll have less email in your inbox, and will be less distracted by miscellany. You can also go to each folder, do a quick scan, and delete en masse.
  • Keep your Inbox Tidy – When done with messages, consider deleting or filing them away as soon as you can. This will minimize the amount of messages sitting in your box.
  • Star/Flag Messages – You don’t have to respond to everything right away. Scan your messages, deal with most important first, and use the “star” or “flag” to mark messages you want to deal with later.
  • Use RSS Feeds and Instapaper – Consider deleting your newsletter subscriptions and set up RSS feeds instead so that they can be directed to your favorite feed reader. For web pages that you’d like to read later, consider using Instapaper or something like it so that you can tag them and come back to them later. Subscribe to the RSS feed for Instapaper and you can have it directed to your reader so you can read them when you have time.
  • Purge Your Inbox – Once in a while, we just have to start over. Scan your messages for key items you really want to keep and delete everything else. There are likely many messages you’ve been holding onto like old magazines, thinking you’ll get around to reading them. And just like old magazines, you have to throw them out periodically when they pile up.
  • Schedule Times for Review – Don’t keep your email open all the time if you can help it. It is a terrible distraction and a great excuse for procrastination. Set up specific times of day when you check your email. You can even go so far as to do an auto-reply that states the times when you reply to messages.
Leverage To-Do Lists

Some don’t like to call it a “to-do list,” but we all have them. Whatever name you want to call it that empowers you, but be sure you capture running tasks somewhere.
  • Separate Tasks from People – Keep your list of actions separate from your people. Managing relationships is more than a to-do, and an essential part of being successful in life and business. Make sure you have a place to capture the people you want/need to get back to, and schedule chunks of time each day to do so.
  • Tackle Low-Hanging Fruit – To feel accomplished, make sure you write down and cross off the easy items. If you’re an achievement oriented person, this will make you feel great.
  • Prioritize Action Items – While low-hanging fruit is attractive, be sure you are prioritizing the A, B, and C priority items appropriately and that you are tackling at least one A and B item every day. You’ll feel forward momentum, and be less likely to continually procrastinate.
  • Delegate – Remember that being successful requires that you involve other people. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Consider items that you can delegate to other people, and go ahead and make the request.
  • Review and Plan – Just as in the calendar section above, include a review of your to-do list in your planning for the week, and in your 5 minutes in the morning. You’ll better be able to anticipate how you want/need to use your time and energy.
Energy: Committing, Expending, Replenishing

All of the suggestions above have the power to positively enhancing your energy stores if executed appropriately and effectively. Here are some additional suggestions for impacting the energy you have available to you.
  • Practice Self-Care – This is crucial. Read my blog post HERE for suggestions. Also consider implementing a Morning Workshop so you have some specific daily practices.
  • Just Say No – We are often guilty of saying Yes more than we say No, for a variety of reasons. Create a list of what you will say Yes/No to and honor yourself and others by not overcommitting. Consider practicing saying No 10 times a day or instituting a 30-minute wait time before saying Yes to anything.
  • Eliminate Clutter – It’s a distraction and saps your energy. This includes both physical clutter in your living and work spaces, as well as mental clutter (including relationships that no longer serve you). Look for ways to clear this out and focus on clutter-free living.
  • Create a Toleration Checklist – Like clutter, there are many things we simply tolerate. Read this blog post on creating a list of things you are tolerating and commit to tackling them.
  • Clean Up Your Integrity – When your integrity is out, you feel bad about yourself and you create a space for others to be out of integrity with you. This is mental clutter and is a power sap. Identify where you are out of integrity with yourself and others. Include everything: unreturned phone calls and email, bills that need to be paid, an unclean bathroom, an apology you need to give. Take it one action at a time. Regain your power!
  • Reframe Obligation – You are the only one who can make yourself feel obligated. Choose carefully and stand by your choice. Give without feeling obligated. If you are feeling obligated, don’t do it – unless you are willing to give that up.
  • Refresh Your Relationships – Check in with people around you to keep your relationships fresh and current. Consider this blog post on the Relationship Compact for recommendations on how to do this.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

We are used to being lone rangers in our lives, and forget that we have a whole network of people to support us – if we are willing to reach out and to allow them to assist.
  • Create Accountability Structures – Share with people what you are up to and request that they ask you “how it’s going.” Appoint people as accountability holders and schedule times when you will check in
  • Team with Others – Share with more than one person and create a supportive team around you. Use your team for accountability. Buddy up with others to have them play along.
  • Make Requests – Make more requests of people around you. Don’t be shy – people are more than happy and willing to support you. Be open to receiving contribution – they love you for it.
  • Get SupportHire a coach. Get a therapist. Talk with a friend. Ask for help – there is no shame in it.
Again, there are a million ways to manage your time and energy. By following any or all of these suggestions, you can organize and focus so that you can be your best self in all areas of your life and business.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Your Inner Critic is a Liar

Have you noticed that voice in your head that criticizes every thought, emotion, action, and experience? Have you heard it saying that you will fail…that your [appearance, job, intelligence, abilities, etc.] are not good enough…that you’re wrong and bad? That voice is your inner critic. It drones on-and-on all day, and is a master at spewing destructive lies and abuses at us. Yet we continue to listen, and worse: believe.

Have you found it hard to hear or believe positive compliments and kudos from others? We’re less likely to give them priority over the garbage we repeat to ourselves continuously. When we look at our achievements and our own true beauty, we question it or begin tearing it down so that we can return to those beliefs that we are inadequate and flawed. “Yeah, but…” is one phrase we mutter.

Some believe the inner critic is our friend, while others would argue it’s the enemy. Picture the devil and the angel on each shoulder – they are actually two sides of the same inner critic. One wants to tear us down, while the other claims it wants to protect us. We formed this angel/devil when we were young as a way to shield us from criticism and preempt anything that may hurt us or cause us discomfort.

The problem is that over our lives, we build up far more damaging “protections” and criticisms that do more harm than good to our self-esteem and beliefs about what we are capable of being/doing/having. The inner critic keeps us in our heads (criticizing and evaluating), deters us from taking risks, and pulls us out of being present and able to make conscious choices that are based on our values and our true nature.

This true nature I speak of is what we have forgotten (or deny) about ourselves because we’ve been pushed and pulled and torn down (inside and out) for so long. The truth is we are whole, complete, resourceful, and perfect just as we are. What did you just say to yourself when reading that statement? “That’s not true” or “Sounds nice, but…” or perhaps “He doesn’t know how screwed up I really am.” There goes that inner critic again attacking you, my statement, and maybe even me for saying them.

So what do we do about it? For years, I have done a lot of work with “inner critic” on my own and with clients. There are many books and tools for dealing with the demons, but I have found one text to be fantastically useful: Taming Your Gremlin, by Dr. Rick Carson. The book focuses on helping you “get out of your own way” by learning to tame the little gruesome creatures in your mind.

Carson uses the word “taming” not “eliminating” because the Gremlins don’t actually go away. However, with practice, we have the ability to learn how to manage them. Gremlin-taming begins with “simply noticing” that they are there and learning to “play with options” for dealing with them.

Incorporating some of Carson’s material, here are a few suggestions for approaching this process of dealing with your inner critic / Gremlins:
  1. Build Awareness. Pay attention to the chatter – which will likely be loud, repetitive, and pervasive when you first begin shining a light on it. Try to separate yourself from the statements. Remember: you are not the Gremlin. Do your best to listen, but try not to indulge it by believing what it is saying. The goal is to be present to them in the moment, and to not engage or fight. Rather, to just hear it and acknowledge: “Ah yes, there it goes again.” I sometimes add: “Thanks for sharing.”
  2. Name Them. I recommend writing down what your Gremlins are saying (in their exactly language) so that you can start naming them. At first, you may feel you have dozens, but after a while you’ll start noticing themes. You likely have about 6-10 different buckets you could put the statements into. Take the sting out of them by finding some creative names for them, like “The ‘You Suck and Everyone Knows it’ Gremlin.” For each Gremlin: write a description for (including gender, sound of voice, key characteristics), list some of the common criticisms, and if it helps, draw a picture of their ugliness. By naming them, you can say to yourself things like: “My Money Gremlin was attacking me when I was paying my bills today,” or “My ‘You’re Going to Fall Flat on Your Face’ Gremlin didn’t want me to take that risk.”
  3. Tell the Truth. I suggest you create an “Awesome Me” description for yourself so you have something to counter the lies. This is what you know in your heart of hearts to be true about you when you are your best self – your abilities, your fantastic personality traits, your values, etc. Again, this is what you know is true, not what you wish was true. Go full out and give yourself some credit. Get creative with the name so that it resonates with you. Some have called it: Kick Ass Brian, Tara Full Throttle, and Anna Flavor.
  4. Create Affirmations. We have heard a lot about affirmations, and I do believe in them. However, the way I approach these statements is to create phrases that I know to be true (like Awesome Me), in words that is in my own style. The more they feel true and real to you, the more they will resonate when you repeat them to counter the Gremlins. If they are too “fluffy” or “fix it” in language and tone, they may feel flat and artificial and won’t empower you.
  5. Consciously Choose Your Response. After becoming more aware that the inner critic is chattering, you can start to “play with options.” When in the moment of hearing your Gremlins, take a breath and choose whether you want to believe the Gremlin or not, and then choose an action/response. For example, you can indulge the Gremlins (try setting a time limit for how long you will do this), you can fight them (which just feeds them and is not very effective), you can deny their lies as false (with an affirmation or reminding yourself of your “awesomeness”), or you can simply thank them for sharing (defusing them by not giving them power), etc. Creating a consistent meditation ritual also helps.
Remember: This process of dealing with your inner critic requires practice. You must remember that it takes time and patience… and kindness toward yourself. You won’t be perfect, taming won’t come overnight, and the voices won’t completely go away. However, you can lessen their ability to derail and unravel you if you can continue to practice paying attention, being present, and consciously choosing your responses.