‘Tis the Season…

Many of us struggle with too many priorities, multiple deadlines and countless people clamoring for our time including our families. You’re spending too much time at work and struggling with work-life balance.  Understand LIFE is never in balance – it’s a rhythm and perhaps you’re struggling with that ebb and flow – so STOP and ride it! Perhaps you’re sacrificing clarity and cannot stay grounded due to the deadline pressures. On top of the lack of productivity and wheel-spinning, you’re spending too much time in unproductive meetings, recurring fires and countless interruptions during your given 24 hours. What’s the answer?

The answer is a choice to get off the hamster wheel environment and re-establish more appropriate boundaries that you do control. There’s less than 60 days left in 2017 and it’s vital to capture where you spend your time and re-calibrate life as you live it.

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” – Henry Cloud.

When you’re serious about making a change, taking the time to honestly see where you spend your time is that important. A wise old man told me once, “…spend five hours to save yourself five minutes, because 5 minutes here and there will add up to several hours…” Elegant Leaders with Voltage assess the strengths of your people and delegate to develop, and we all need to be working on what matters most in our lives.

What would your ideal day look like in terms of hours worked and how that time is spent?

Redesigning our time to minimize overwhelm and leverage the hours we do have is liberating and allows us to set boundaries making better use of our time, avoid distractions and delegate where appropriate. Our environment and our behaviors are choices we make AND we own it! Choosing to better utilize time and establish or build upon an environment of leadership and service allows us to optimize what we do best and how we do it better. Ask yourself the following:

What can you stop doing to eliminate being overwhelmed?

What are you willing to start doing to eliminate overwhelm?

Who will support your new habit and how will they support you?

What is it about your work area that’s overwhelming to you?

How accessible are you? Is that a good thing?

What distracts you at work?

These key questions guide you to understanding why you’re in the current situation, what is driving those stressors and how you can unpack this luggage and start fresh. Even though I’m leading you here, it is truth…how addicted are you to your smartphone? In this high-tech, low-touch world we live in with ridiculous bombardment of information and entertainment, false relationships and superficial communications, your smartphone runs your life. How often are  you separated from your phone? your tablet?

Please tell me the first thing you do when you wake or before you go to bed is check your phone? Your smartphone is not only changing what we do, it is and has changed who we are. Some of us are texting during meetings, at the dinner table, immediately after sex and some even during sex – that’s a serious problem. You’re not only overwhelmed, you’ve lost control of what’s important in your life.

Speaking of sex and sleep patterns, some of us are early birds, some of us are night owls and some of us are somewhere in between. Wherever that day-part is for you, performing your most vital, important and challenging work needs to be done during your peak hours of the day. Research shows, we can only maintain optimal concentration and focus on any one topic for no more than 45 minutes during an 8-hour period. We’ve had clients suggest it’s their ADD that keeps them from concentrating at work and at home.

While we’re not medical authorities, the number of people who complained of being chronically inattentive, disorganized, and overbooked has increased ten fold. It’s not some medical condition, in our opinion, instead, they have what we call a severe case of modern life – cultural ADD. They get caught in the weeds on one hand one minute and are overbooked, overstretch and overworked on the other to the point where the least amount of distracted stimulation veers them off the rails. SQUIRREL!!! How do we unplug from task tedium and begin tracking on high value work? Let’s look at your work flow and ask the following of those behaviors:

How many of you are spending way too much time on tasks or projects that have little strategic value?

Did that task or project have to be done? Did it have to be done now? Did it have to be done perfect?

Who else could have done it? Who could you develop in 5 hours that would save you 5 minutes?

What tasks or projects must be done instead?

How do you stop doing the lower value task?

How do you schedule more time for higher strategic value work?

We all have urgencies and emergencies more frequently than we care to admit. “As soon as I begin to see daylight, I get sucked back in,” is a typical response we hear from Executives at nearly every level. Being more predictive and preventive allows you to get on the road to a more optimized day. Reacting drains you physically, mentally and emotionally. At what point will you have a belly full and do something about it? There are repetitive 911 issues you deal with far too often. For whatever reason legitimate or not, you cannot be effective, efficient and happy let alone productive in that environment.

How can you solve the root cause once and for all and predict and prevent the issue from recurring?

What specific steps are you willing to take to eliminate overwhelming urgencies and emergencies?

In addition to urgencies and emergencies, let’s add perfection into the mix while we’re at it. What tasks or projects are you working on that you perform like a Rockstar? Maybe even legendary? How can you execute and meet your report to’s expectations without being the next Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, Founder of Twitter. [Editor’s note: there’s gold in the link, The Daily Routine of 7 Successful Entrepreneurs].

Let’s face it, we deal with interruptions all the time. How we characterize these interruptions is where the rub is. There are REAL interruptions and then there are boundaries that need to be set in order to eliminate overwhelm. The interruptions you must deal with need to have a time budgeted for them. You want to be able to anticipate and predict outcomes in order to prevent the feelings of being overwhelmed…unless you like the idea of running the hamster wheel day-in, day-f’ing out! Yes, you’re going to have to have conversations with some people in order to set appropriate boundaries. You’re not alone in this step either; we all need support. Here’s a primer:

Who can help you with low-priority items to clear from your calendar?

Who can be that gatekeeper for you to deny access?

Who can help you stay focused on your top priorities?

Who can be your stake-in-the-ground when setting boundaries?

#MeetingShift. Meetings can be shifted and managed better to save valuable time and energy. You change your environment by changing how you have meetings. Several months ago, we penned a Brief Whisper, our short discovery secrets we share often within our community, on making meetings worthwhile. Meetings in our company are a necessary evil as they are in your company. However, we internally committed to each other to not hold a meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary, thus eliminating unnecessary interruptions. Shifting your idea on meetings to areas of strategic value where only key employees are involved is a good first step. Here are several thoughts:

Which meetings can you stop going to or send someone else?

Which meetings can be rescheduled, eliminated or combined?

What else can we do to eliminate feelings of overwhelm?

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities saves time. Modifying your role and responsibilities enables you to lead and for others to “wear their own hat by themselves confidently.” At some point, you’re going to delegate more and more if you are to eliminate overwhelm. Maybe it’s a matter of willingness. What are you willing to put into someone else’s role? You can negotiate to have things taken off of your plate. There comes a point where you cannot do any more. For decades, we’ve all learned how to do more with less for a myriad of reasons. However, we challenge you to be more effective and efficient by doing more with what you have, which means you have to lead, to serve and be willing to have those sometimes difficult conversations to remove things from your plate. No? Well, how’s it working for you thus far?

What must come off your plate if you are to be more productive and successful in your role?

Plate optimization leads us to your overall structure at work. Improved processes and systems prevent reactive fires and constantly fixing things that shouldn’t be broken in the first place. Undoubtedly, there are processes that suck you in every damn time to fix and to repair instead of leading. I’m certain there are a number of bottlenecks where too many hand-off’s, backlogs and errors occur. If you take some time and truly uncover the root cause, then you’ll find solutions to redesign key processes that work effectively and efficiently for you once and for all. For some, that sense of being needed, because you’re the only one that can fix “it” is pretty sick and twisted. If that’s you, then there’s two answers – change it or live with it and quit bitching.

Speaking of plates with the Holidays weeks away, part of managing overwhelm is a healthy diet and an adequate amount of sleep. My friends at Positive Health Wellness have “Secrets to Healthy Eating and Portion Control” below.  Take time to step back, step off the hamster wheel and gain clarity to stay ground this Holiday Season.

What can you do to fix, repair, eliminate from a systemic or structural framework or implement an automatic process?

Part of systemic solutions is your accessibility. Earlier we mentioned, having your people wear their own hat. The meaning here is, in order to cut the strings for your people so they can work effectively in an environment free from recriminatory behaviors they need to be able to do their job on their own without you hovering over them. By budgeting times to be inaccessible, you will be more productive. There needs to be a time during the day you will be less accessible, or only accessible for emergencies or for key people. In order to set those boundaries, you’re going to have to have key conversations to make this happen.

An Elegant Leader allows failure without making you feel like a failure.

Failure can be highly stressful, yet there needs to be a mindset shift. Great discoveries and moments came from failures – Edison’s light bulb, Winston Churchill’s leadership, Oprah Winfrey’s conglomerate and on and on. It’s okay to fail. You’re not a failure! The less stress you have and the more rested you are, the better you use your time. You may have hobbies and activities that give you peace of mind and allow you and your body to recharge. There is sound advice in Steven Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, especially Sharpen the Saw. We’re not diverting to New Year’s Resolutions that were easily forgotten. We’re proposing, if you’re going to eliminate feelings of overwhelm, then there’s a critical path to get there and stay there provided you have the mindset, discipline and tactics to implement daily.

When was the last time you took a 10-minute break at work? A 30-minute break? Break is restorative – go for a walk, work out, meditate, relax, nap, talk with friends or family. Always eat lunch away from your desk. Beyond any health risks, the desk lunch detracts from your sense of the office as a collaborative, innovative, sociable space. Taking a brief nap sitting in a chair somewhere other than office for 15-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.

The Last 30 Minutes. If you’re following #TheCultureWhisperer on LinkedIn, you’ll recall the article, Your Week Begins On Thursday.  In order to lead multiple offices in several time zones, it’s critical for me to stay grounded and focused on where we are in the moment and what we’re  working on over the next 30-90 days. In order to get there, the team understands we plan 3 days ahead, 3 things at a time and spend the last 30 minutes of each day preparing for tomorrow. Try beginning your week on Thursday and let me know what’s working and what happened when you planned this way.

14+ Life Hacks You Can Use. Can a tomato make you more productive? Daniel Pink shared this deceptively simple technique that resonated with me and has allowed me to leverage my time across time zones and allow me more freedom to relax and enjoy the journey we’re on. If you want to skip to the end of the movie, click here for the Pomodoro app. Working in 45 minute blocks or some derivative, has made me frighteningly more effective and efficient. Here’s another handful of hacks:

  1. Organizing tomorrow can be as simple as picking out the clothes to wear to work priorities, contingencies, and the urgencies and emergencies that can occur.

  2. Refocusing on what’s most important to you today and spend ten minutes there,

  3. Forgive yourself if everything you wanted to accomplish that day didn’t get done,

  4. Be grateful for what you have and thankful that others help you along your journey of success personally and professionally – TELL THEM!

  5. Clear your mind and sleep

  6. Decompress, spend time with kids AT HOME unplugged, cuddle

  7. Plan your week two weeks out, plan your days two days out;

  8. Review the following week 15 minutes and no more over the weekend,

  9. Exercise consistently,

  10. Leave the middle of the day open 11-3,

  11. Read like a sponge about unrelated topics on your biz,

  12. Answer emails in the early am and vmails in the late afternoon or vice versa – hit it once a day with time block,

  13. Trust who you hired

  14. Final note: The sentences below from Miyamoto Musashi ring as true today as they did in the 16th century.

The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding. It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first. You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain. Do not waste time idling or thinking after you have set your goals. Imitation is the surest form of flattery and failure. I am not interested with your talk about my ideas. I am more interested in your applying them to your life. If you do not, then you are essentially not in accord with your own mind.

Very few people and organizations can clearly articulate WHY they do what they do. Why is a purpose, a cause or a belief. It provides a clear answer to why we get out of bed in the morning, Why our company even exists and why that should matter to anyone else – it’s the why that inspires us. How long will you continue along the same path expecting a different outcome? Don’t fear your self-imposed “unknown” and resolve yourself to be satisfied with marginal success. Do you have to be in distress to make a change? There’s an intersection of egos, relationships and results where the mindset tips the balance personally and professionally.

As if this article wasn’t long enough and you made it this far, here’s another more brief interpretation to have you moving away from feelings of overwhelm and into 7 Things for 7 Days clearly, concisely and in a compelling manner.

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