Hooked by distractions? How to change if you always take the bait.

Diego Martínez Castañeda on Flickr

Suppose you start the day on a great note. You know exactly what you need to do that day.  You are FOCUSED.  Your to-do list has only the Big Stuff on it. Three or four things that are DO or DIE. And you have the energy to make it happen!

Before you know it, you’re off on a hundred tangents. The task list is all but forgotten.

Does this ever happen to you?  I experience it all the time, and based on what I’m hearing from my clients, so is practically everyone else.

At least three things are going on here: distract-ability, distraction-seeking, and displacement activity.  Here’s what I mean:

Distract-ability: A state of being easily pulled away from my goal or chosen focus. Example: you want to make a phone call, but become distracted by notifications on your phone. Relate?

Distraction-seeking: A behavior in which focus is willingly abandoned in favor of engaging in a less-desirable, low-return activity. Here we are choosing to be distracted. These activities aren’t actually fun, joyful, or life-giving. They’re just mindless–checking email, looking at social media, eating, drinking, etc. (Note: None of those things are bad by themselves, but doing them mindlessly makes them a distraction.)

Displacement activity: The act of focusing my energy on a secondary activity that is almost as deserving of attention and time. Displacement activity can be fun and productive. It’s different from distraction-seeking because there are benefits. But there are costs too, in that our primary goals are not being reached.

If you are among those of us who are distracted from our goals, try these steps to find the zen:

One: Choose a limited time to focus on accomplishing your task(s).

Have you ever noticed that your willpower runs out through the course of the day?  A friend once told me, “I start every day on a diet. By lunch, I’m done with it.”

A great explanation for this is offered by Chip and Dan Heath in their bestselling book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard: Self-control is an exhaustible resource. It’s like doing bench presses at the gym. The first one is easy, when your muscles are fresh. But with each additional repetition, your muscles get more exhausted, until you can’t lift the bar again.”

This is the story of my friend’s diet. Each day we have a finite supply of choices that we have the power to make on our own behalf, so plan wisely. Choose a short period of time in which you will devote your energy to powering through your short task list. The more difficult and important the items in the list, the shorter the list should be.

Two: Notice when you become distracted, and refocus

During the short time period you’ve set aside for accomplishing your tasks, pay attention to what’s going on with you. If you suddenly find yourself on Facebook, notice that it happened, close the window, and return your attention to your task. That’s all it is: Notice you’re distracted. Let it go. Come back. Don’t beat up on yourself–just let it go and refocus.

The metaphor of doing bench presses at the gym is a good one here, too. Every time you notice your distraction and refocus on what’s important, that’s a rep. Do you know what happens when you do lots of weight reps?  First, you become exhausted and your muscles fail. And then they rebuild. You become stronger.

You can use the same approach for developing focus that is used for strengthening muscles with weights and resistance.

With weight training, you do reps until you hit the point of exhaustion or failure, and then you give yourself some recovery time (about 48 hours) and try again–with more weight or more reps.

With distraction and focus, you do a rep this way: notice your distraction and choose to come back–over and over–until you’re just exhausted. The more you do it, the tougher the workout. Eventually you’ll get to a mental point where you reach exhaustion. That’s okay. Stop trying to accomplish your task, but make note of the time. How long did it take you to reach the point of exhaustion? Twenty minutes? Great–that’ll be your minimum goal for next time.

Recovery time is important. For weight-training, it’s 48 hours. For mental exercise, recovery time is one good night’s sleep. On the next day, set your timer for that minimum goal (“focus for 20 minutes”), notice your distractions when they happen, and keep coming back to focus. Keep doing reps.

Three: Make note of how the distractions happen

Are you distracted because of apps on your phone? Because of a blinking light or an audio signal? Or is it a person who distracts you? Or your expectations of what “should be”?

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that I’m more likely to seek distraction if I don’t feel good about myself. For instance, when I read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, I felt so guilty about all the things I wasn’t getting done that I had to keep putting the book down so I could watch a movie! Once I noticed that my feelings about myself were part of the fuel behind my distractions, I realized I could practice some self-compassion so I wouldn’t be so hard on myself, and then I could refocus more easily.

When you can identify WHAT distracts you, you can do something about it.  You can choose which apps have notifications. You can choose where to put your phone when you aren’t in checking-email mode. You can choose to be gentle with yourself when you aren’t perfect.

Being human means being distract-able, and living in our modern society means we’re surrounded by distractions. Nobody is going to do the focusing for us, unfortunately. We each have to choose it ourselves–but we can. You can do this. And so can I.

Okay, everyone. Deep breath. Choose your time to focus, block out distractions, and get those tasks done!  I’ll be working at it, too.


Image credit: Diego Martínez Castañeda on Flickr

When the Alarm Goes Off in the Middle of your Dream Job

alarm

Don’t you just hate when the alarm goes off in the middle of a dream? I was accomplishing something! I was enjoying that! When will I see grandpa again? Sometimes after I turn the alarm off, I try to get back to sleep so I can return to that dream.

One summer awhile back, an alarm went off in the middle of my dream job: managing in a large book store. I loved this job so much that I was sacrificing myself to it every day. Sometimes I worked all night, and the result wasn’t what I expected. Instead of being seen as amazingly dedicated and passionate, as someone who should be put in charge of everything, I had become a real problem to my colleagues. They could not predict when I would be awake, when I would fulfill my basic responsibilities, or even when I might be nice to the staff.

Long story short, I got myself fired from my dream job.

By the time I recovered emotionally from the shock, that particular industry was collapsing. My dream job was ceasing to exist.

Fortunately there are lots of dream jobs. I’ve had three since that fateful summer. Dreams happen all the time, but when a dream is lost, it can be painful.

Most of us try to do a very human thing: go back to sleep. Get that role back. Resist the change. This resistance is a form of grieving–it’s denial.

Grieving is a good thing to do, and you need to give yourself some time to recover from the loss. Talk to friends who can hear your pain and anger and fear. Be honest with yourself about what the role meant to you.

Later, when the time is right, you can start to view the event as an awakening–an opportunity to figure out what the dream is telling you. What did your dream tell you about who you are?

Interpreting dreams can feel like a cross between a parlor trick and invasive surgery. Or sometimes our dreams seem laughably random. “There was a baby in the back seat and it wanted White Castle burgers but then it turned into Clancy Wiggins and used the back-seat apparatus to drive to Kansas.” What?

Our job histories can seem pretty random, too. I became a secretary after earning my bachelor’s degree. I started in retail after earning my M.Div. Then suddenly I was working with executives in higher education. What?

Here are some things you can do to try to make some sense out of it all:

Reflect on your whole life

Look at the long view, at all kinds of things you have done both at work and at home. Select at least four peak experiences (ten is better): those times when you experienced flow or being “in the zone.”  These are characterized by a sense of losing sense of time passing, full immersion in activity, experiencing delight or fun, and drawing on all of your skill to meet a challenge. Times when you were just having a blast, especially if it was a little hair-raising. Jot down a list.

Write! Write! Write!

For each of these experiences, write a paragraph or two describing it. The following questions* may serve as prompts for your thinking.

  • What made this moment or time special?
  • Who else was present or involved? What were they doing?
  • What was it that you specifically did that made it so important?
  • What were your feelings then?
  • What was achieved, done or learned?
  • How did you feel about that achievement or learning?
  • What values and beliefs were you calling on?
  • What need was it serving?

You may not feel like you’re much of a writer, but writing is important because it helps you to come up with the words that you use to describe these experiences.

Print and read the paragraphs. Circle the words that stand out.

Read slowly. Pay attention to how you feel as you read. Which words feel significant? Important? Which words resonate for you as more powerful than the rest?

Find the themes.

It might help to have a friend or coach to help with this part.

Step back and look at all the words you circled.  What stands out? Do you notice any patterns or themes?

Pull the circled words into a list and start shuffling them around until you have them in piles of words that seem to go together. (For example, you might decide that “smart” and “conversation” and “participatory” go together. Your piles don’t have to make any sense to anyone else–just you.)

If you wind up with some words that don’t feel connected to anything else, explore those words further. What does that word mean to you? Why is it important? What’s the benefit or value of that element?  If you come up with other significant words, add them to your list.

When you have a few piles of words, name those themes. (For instance, for my little list above, I might name that theme “Collaboration.”) What do they tell you about the conditions in which you are at your best? When you are in your dream situation?

These are the elements of your dream job. Your next dream job.

Taking a little time to reflect on all of your experiences throughout life can be an important aspect of recovering from a single loss, no matter how significant that loss might be. When I lost my book-store job, I really felt like that was it–I was done. But my perspective was too narrow.

Take a step back. Consider everything that has ever lit your fire. You will find that you are bigger than any one job or role, no matter how much of a dream it might have been.

Come on. Wake up. You’ve got work to do.

*Questions credit: Jenny Rogers. (She has great books on job interviews and resumes to help readers make the best possible impression.)

Image Credit: MorgueFile

10 Lessons from Mad Men on Work and Life Satisfaction

Satisfied Mad Men principle characters seated around a 'Burger Chef' table
All images credit: AMC

As the AMC television series Mad Men wraps up this spring, let’s take a look back at the work/life satisfaction lessons we can glean from the show’s story lines. (Every effort has been made to avoid any specific spoilers, but general arcs and character habits are described. Even if you’re still working your way through the last few seasons, you should be safe.)

  1. donKnow Your Strengths: In the very first episode of Mad Men, we learn that Don isn’t just any old advertising      executive. He’s a creative genius who understands that advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. His entire career revolves around this central strength. Who wouldn’t like to shine like Don shines when he is at his best? He only does
    that because he knows what he can do and makes sure he does it. What’s lovely is that Roger discovers Don has this strength and decides to take advantage of it. If you are in a position of power, don’t just know your own strengths–know the strengths of others.
  2. Family Matters: We get to see all the main characters’ home lives and their families, and the measure of support each character gets from their family members makes a difference in their ability to show up at their best at work. If you and your family share the same goals, it’ll be a lot easier for you to find success. When Pete and Trudy are aligned, or when Don and Betty see the same stars, they are a powerhouse. Peggy lackes the support of family, and so winds up relying on her coworkers as family members.
  3. Look At Your Own Behavior: Pete Campbell is a great example of someone who takes his own self-loathing out on pete-campbell
    others. When we see him at his worst, he is leveling some poor person who is guilty of only what Pete himself has recently committed. Like most of us, Pete does this without one shred of self-awareness. In Leadership and Self-Deception, the folks at the Arbinger Institute wrote that our criticism of others usually begins with our own mistreatment of them, which we must then “justify” by proving to ourselves that we’re good and they’re bad. It’s a coping mechanism for alleviating cognitive dissonance that Pete lives out for us to see.
  4. Your Physical Health Matters: I was among thousands of viewers who were shocked by all the drinking, promiscuity, and smoking indulged in by our favorite Mad Men characters. And we’ve seen just how much self-care (or the lack of it) has an impact on both performance and satisfaction. When Don drowns his sorrows in a bottle he doesn’t wake up relieved or satisfied. This century we’re less inclined to smoke two packs a day but we’ll still ‘take the edge off’ with a bagel or chocolate. Either way we’re slowing ourselves down.

  5. TedUnderstand Your Needs
    : Part of the problem with life in a corporate office is that our needs become difficult to define. We start to believe that what we really need is success, or money, or a title, or to win an argument, only because these are the incentives that are the most visible in a corporate environment. We lose sight of our real needs for connection, inspiration, and contribution. When we forget those needs, we thoroughly fail to meet them. Several Mad Men characters (especially Ken, Ted, and Lane) all struggle because they get confused about what they actually need and wind up wasting their time pursuing the wrong goals.
  6. Grow up. Spend Time With People Who Expect and Encourage You to be an Adult. Don’s first wife Betty is one of the most miserable characters in the Mad Men world. She has been coddled and cooed over, and she responds to all that coddling with massive demands that everyone do and live according to her wishes. And none of it makes her happy. If she were to take responsibility for her own spiritual, emotional, and mental growth, she would earn the respect she craves and wouldn’t be quite so prone to disappointment. This describes many of us, so growing up is a simple solution. Simple–though not necessarily easy.
  7. Respect People Without Power–Including Yourself: Mad Men takes place before feminism became “a thing,” secretaries
    and Betty Draper’s misery is partly due to the limits on her growth and development that 1960s society expected of her. We also see the impact of disrespecting the powerless as the stars and executives interact with the secretarial pool. In Mad Men we’ve seen practically every aspect of the systemic disrespect afforded to the powerless, and what is most shocking is how easily it was accepted as the norm. This acceptance ranged from outright exploitation to “That’s just the way it is.” Each of these episodes illustrates how lack of respect for a person’s humanity robs them of happiness. (Who can forget Joan’s season 5 sacrifice “to secure the Jaguar account”?) Some changes happen through the course of the series, but only when individuals make the decision to respect themselves and others more than is expected of them. And it’s not just about feminism. Stan is a reasonably powerless grunt in the creative group but somehow seems to understand the power of respecting himself and the people around him. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief when he’s around because he’s reliable and steady.
  8. Be There For Your Real Family: If you neglect your spouse, your parents, your children, your siblings, things go badly. We’ve seen Don’s and Roger’s and Pete’s families fall apart in more ways than we can count. And in every case they’ve made choices to nurture some other relationship rather than their relationships at home. Their families pay the price, and the executives sacrifice their own work and life satisfaction.

  9. Don PeggyLook After Your Work Family
    . One of the things my friends always hear me say:“We spend so much of our time at work. Why be miserable?” The people we work with do become an important part of our lives, for better or for worse. Perhaps that’s where you find the thorn in your side, or the one person who actually understands you. In lots of ways our coworkers can be very much like family leaders. So just as our “real” family needs us, so does our work family. We’ve seen that the times when Don, Roger, Burt, and even Pete have been at their best are the times when they are taking up a cause on behalf of one of their coworkers. Even better: they step up to give others work satisfaction or confidence. When we give to others what we most want for ourselves, it makes things better for everyone, because we are meeting real needs and affirming that real needs deserve to be met.
  10. Know Who You Are; Love and Forgive Yourself: We’ve seen Pete, Don, and Ted sucked into the vortex of shame. Each one responded with affairs, but also very differently from each other (Pete with blaming everyone else, Don with drinking, and Ted with despair). They struggled to believe in their own value. With all those affairs they obviously thought they would find validation from their lovers, but each of those lovers were just humans with needs and problems, too, fresh out of all-encompassing assurance of someone else’s worth. None of us will ever find the validation we seek only from someone else. It’s one of the hard things about growing up, and we have seen Don finally starting to figure that out. By accepting the truth about himself, he can forgive himself for being human–which is the starting point for making his own life better.

As a series, Mad Men has drawn in viewers for many reasons: the nostalgia, the attention to detail, and the horror as we kept realizing “We used to believe that was normal!” But none of this would have drawn us in if we hadn’t found the characters so recognizable, so easy to relate to. We all kind of want to be like Don or Peggy or Roger. We all cringe inside when we realize we can also be like Pete or Betty. We see our friends in Megan and Stan and our leaders in Henry and Harry and Burt.

None of us is all good or all bad. None of them are all good or all bad. But the advantage of any story is that it gives us an experience without the costs. We can see the results of Don’s choices. We can discover the consequences of Pete’s actions. Each episode is like a parable from which we can glean lessons.

What are the lessons you see that I didn’t list?

burt

Credit for all images: AMC

Use Ice to Transform a Difficult Relationship

alarm

(Click here if you were directed here by mistake and are looking for the blog post on “When the Alarm Goes Off in the Middle of your Dream Job.“)

tea

You know that one coworker who always seems to bring out the worst in you?

If someone’s face came to mind, you’re not alone. Many of us have a person equivalent of a pet peeve at work (or home). Someone who never seems to know where you’re coming from, who doesn’t understand what is so obvious to you, who seems to have a mission of getting in your way–somebody who is just a problem.

Perhaps you fight out loud or silently, inside your own head. Either way, it’s a fight, even if nobody can see or hear it.

When we’re locked in conflict, we typically focus on the content of the argument. We go over the issues and our justifications: “I’m so right! He’s so wrong!” Sometimes we might realize the fight is over nothing, and yet it still seems so important.

Under the surface of conflict lies much that fuels the fight. In their book Resolving Conflicts at Work, Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith outline six “beneath the surface” drivers of our conflicts:

icebergissues (above the surface)

personalities

emotions

interests, needs and desires

self-perceptions and self-esteem

hidden expectations

unresolved issues from the past

For instance, when I experience conflict with a coworker (or the boss), any or all of this can add fuel to the fire. Perhaps their personality is more vocal than mine. Perhaps I felt angry or nervous before we even started talking. I have needs for appreciation and belonging that I don’t always articulate. I might even be feeling doubtful about myself and my contribution, or have hidden expectations that others will automatically think like I think and see what I see. Sometimes there’s just so much history between us that I can’t let it go of it and hear what they’re saying now without those filters made up of previous experience.

The iceberg of conflict offers us a useful path to identifying what’s really going on with ourselves when we are in conflict. It may take time and practice to be able to do this in the moment, but you can begin by reflecting on your experience and thoughts after the experience of frustration:

  • First, focus on yourself as you review the iceberg and ask yourself what’s really going on. It’s important that you come to understand your personal iceberg.
  • Second, be curious about yourself and that other person. Open-ended questions and empathic listening help as you probe the depths.
  • Third, take a risk. Probe for that deep level of honesty within yourself, realizing that greater self-honesty will allow and impel you to be more honest with others.
  • Finally, be accepting. Accept new understandings of yourself and others without shame, anger, or judgment.

These are simply stated even though they may be challenging to put into place. Take your time, but try not to let yourself off the hook. The more intentional you are about reflecting on your experience and working at changing your thinking, the more quickly you can shift directions–even under the gun. I’ve found questions like the following to be helpful (and please excuse my awkward attempt at gender-neutral pronouns):

  • What bothers them about what I did?
  • How did they feel when I did that?
  • Have I shared how I felt before, during, or after our conflict?
  • What’s really going on for them?
  • What did they really mean when they said __________?
  • What is most important to them in solving this problem?
  • What if I’ve heard them wrong?
  • What solutions might be acceptable for both of us?
  • What do they actually want me to do?
  • Have I shared with them, directly and calmly, how I want them to communicate with me?
  • What kind of relationship would he or she like for us to have?

So much can happen just by becoming curious about the other person. To even consider these questions is likely to engender openness rather than closed-mindedness and compassion rather than anger. Even a subtle shift in your thinking as you approach conversation can result in a significant change in outcome.

The next time you’re drinking a beverage over ice, take a look at that ice in your glass. Let it remind you how much lies beneath the surface in both yourself and the people with whom you live and work. What lies beneath the surface that is driving those issues that bob up above? It could be anything.

Image by Flickr user ttstam.

Ways You Can Recover from Conflict at Work (Part one)

Angry Owl

One morning, a friend called me and said she needed to talk to someone who would just listen. “I can do that, sure!” I said. “Bring it on…” No sooner did I invite her to unload on me than I received a text from a coworker saying I was late for a conference call.

This was a job where I traveled most of the time, and when I wasn’t traveling I worked from my house. I was part of a team that included members in Texas, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, and Indiana. We traveled together and worked together in person, but usually only in pairs, so our meetings always took place over the phone.

I apologized to my friend and quickly disconnected so I could call in late to the meeting with my team, unsure of what to expect. My boss started the meeting by asking me to “talk through” some work I’d done.

I’d taken some talking points prepared by another coworker–I’ll call him D.E.–and added some visuals for a PowerPoint presentation with “pop.” I had expected my boss to evaluate everything, decide what she wanted to use, and then let us know the final results. But this hadn’t happened. The presentation was just the same as when I’d sent it to her, and she was waiting for me to share the thinking behind all my choices.

This was a completely reasonable (if not generous) request, but because it was not what I’d expected, and I was already off kilter because of being late to the meeting, I felt surprised and confused I started fumbling my way through, and then D.E. started criticizing the photos.

My face and ears flushed hot. How dare he criticize me in front of everyone, including the boss? I was being ambushed! I reacted violently, talking over him louder and louder. When he insisted that he “knew where I was coming from,” I shouted back, “I don’t think you do!”–and then I shut up because I was boiling over. Did I really have to put up with that kind of treatment?

Conflict at work can be frequent but baffling. When this is the case, the impulse to start job searching is more than understandable. (I’ll get back to D.E. in a moment.)

Recently I have heard stories of conflict from several of my clients, and they are so easy to understand. When we feel threatened, anger is an emotion that makes sense and is perfectly legitimate. We feel anger whenever we feel that someone is standing between us and our ability to achieve a goal, any time we feel we’ve been treated unfairly.

If you find yourself in conflict with a colleague, it may not be necessary for you to put yourself at risk through a confrontation or to risk your salary by walking out on the job. Often you can make things better just by working on your own side of the conflict. By changing your contribution you will change the dynamic that has developed between you. Not all conflicts are the same, so I’ll offer a few different things to consider in the next post. One thing they all have in common? It’s all about you–how you think and what you do.

The following three suggestions are best used for conflicts as they happen – the fights or dust-ups that come up along the way. If possible, use all three.

1. Acknowledge your own insecurity and imperfection

It’s not unusual for our anger and defensiveness in conflict to be fueled in part by insecurity. D.E. criticized my work at a time when I wasn’t feeling at all confident in the work I had produced, and my defensiveness was only making things worse. We can say, “I don’t have all the answers, but I feel it’s important to try this.” Humor can also help. I might have been more successful if I could’ve cracked, “I think D.E. is giving me too much credit here. Could somebody point out some flaws?”

If the moment for the above passes before you have a chance to do this, you can still do the next two, which I recommend doing together.

2. Clarify your needs

When we are in the moment of conflict it can be hard to think things through with a clear head. I usually have to let that moment pass, but then I think through what I am feeling and what I need. A great tool for this is the NonViolent Communication (NVC) process by Marshall Rosenberg.

    1. State observations
    2. Name feelings
    3. Describe needs
    4. Make any requests.

Fortunately the Center for Nonviolent Communication provides lots of resources online, including lists of feelings and lists of needs. But I would highly recommend that you begin by reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book. Just the act of clarifying my interests and needs helps me to calm down, even when I’m just doing it by myself.

3. Intentionally bridge the gap

This can be the most difficult and yet most critical step. If we start avoiding the other person–which is natural–then our relationship with that person becomes frozen in time. The conflict becomes bigger than it was to begin with. It defines the relationship, and it never goes away.

When we intentionally develop closeness with that other person, we give the relationship space to become something else–something more or better. And we give ourselves the gift of freedom from the conflict.

Here’s how I used those last two steps together following the conference call:

I waited until my brain cooled off and then wrote up a couple of NVC sentences that I wanted to offer to D.E. I called him up and told him about the emotional soup I’d brought to the call and how surprised I had been by how things unfolded. He was congenial and apologetic, and owned up to expressing himself more strongly than he necessarily felt. In this cool-headed state I was better able to share with him what it was that he had said that had triggered me, and he understood.

We worked well together for the rest of our time as colleagues, but because of our differences we did have a few more dust-ups. Every time I had to cool down, write out what I needed to say, and then call him up to re-establish contact. It worked.

If you’re willing to work on yourself, this may be a way forward without having to quit your job. I’ll offer another in my next post. And, if the relationship has already gone a bridge too far, that’s a whole other story. We’ll get there in yet another future post.

Too much to do!!

inbox

Will you do this for me?

When can you get that done?

I know this is last-minute, but…

Oh good, you’re here. Guess what just blew up?

If you are like most managers and leaders, these phrases characterize your days. Many of us feel a slight tightening in the throat when we hear them, because we know we’ve already taken on too much.

Will I do that for you? Ugh. I don’t have time! And you’ll talk me into it anyway.

When can I get it done? How’s never for you? But I can try for next week… or today. Sure.

What blew up this time?

If this describes you, look at the steps below for help. They describe a three-pronged approach:

  1. Change your systems so you aren’t putting out fires all the time,
  2. Focus on what’s important, and
  3. Organize.

Simple, but not easy. Let’s take a look at each one.

Which of these describes you most?

I spend all my time putting out fires

If you have this experience at all, start here.  Begin by identifying what steps need to be taken to prevent these fires from starting up in the first place.

Here’s an example to illustrate: When I was managing a cafe, I had multiple problems from the first day I took over: Staff members were failing to show up to work, machines breaking down, we got complaints about the food and even bad coffee. One at a time I identified the firestarters and addressed them. Engage the employees at the level of their passion. Implement maintenance schedules for machines, etc. Every “fix” was more than just a fix for the moment, but a fix for the system:

Trace the fire back to its source and address that with a systemic change..

I’m going in too many different directions and never have any focus.

It’s so human to try to keep all the plates spinning. We play whack-a-mole with our responsibilities, and it’s exhausting. The more we engage in this behavior, the more it grows. In fact, the people around us know that “If you want to get something done, you go to a busy person.” And when you are in the midst of the maelstrom, you will never be able to identify where your energy needs to go. Instead, you have to:

take a step back–get out of the busyness and chaos so you can see the whole picture. This might mean a vacation, but more likely it will require a serious retreat where you have time and structure to take a broad view and see the landscape.

identify your priorities–determine what, out of everything you have been doing, you truly care about and want to put your energy toward. What matters most to you?

close doors. While it is very human to want to keep options open, that is a motivation that is killing your productivity. Closing doors isn’t about burning bridges but saying ‘no.’ When you close doors, you eliminate from your life and work anything that will distract you from achieving your core purpose.

Too much is falling through the cracks.

Many people believe ‘getting organized” is the first step. They might buy a new filing system or hire someone to help them sort their closet or desk or calendar. Instead, I believe organization needs to be tackled after your firefighting days have decreased and you have a sense for your priorities and purpose.

Where do you need to begin?

  1. Changing your systems so you can do something other than firefighting?
  2. Identify your priorities so you can focus?
  3. Organizing your life and work so you won’t miss so much?

These are not easy answers or ‘quick steps.’ To actually do this work requires focus, attention, and work–all of which are difficult to apply when you’re feeling under the gun all of the time!

If you feel that you have too much to do, if you are a leader looking for support and partnership for thinking through and implementing these strategies, it makes a big difference to work with a partner who can keep you on target and moving forward. A coach is one of the best sources for this kind of support. Let me know if you would like to discuss some options.

Because of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

Jon Stewart

Because of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show (and also Colbert), I’ve held belief that there is SOMETHING that each of us is uniquely capable of doing for the world that, if we could only see what it is and find a way to make it happen, would make us each successful beyond our dreams.

Jon was a good comedian and an actor who did fine. But he kept trying new things until he was described as incredible and amazing and important.

I believe that is in each of us. But we have to keep trying new things. Every day we sigh and accept ‘good’ and ‘fine’ is a day we are postponing our own experience of incredible and amazing.

Michael Jordan was not so great at baseball or golf.

What would you try if you knew you could not fail? What’s in your ideal job description, “if only?” What’s one thing you could do today to move yourself closer to the reality of that dream?