time vampires

The Truth About Interruptions

Interruptions seem a fact of life in today’s world. Email, phone, cell phone, the people around us, everything conspires to make it difficult for us to stay on task and stay focused. Yet, it is more important than ever that we do stay on task and focused, since the world has accelerated, and results are expected faster than ever.

Many think that this is not an issue, because we can multitask, or interruptions, while time-consuming, are just changes in the way we work: we just need to stop often what we are doing, and take it back afterward.

Interruptions however come at a very high cost in terms of time and quality of work, Read the rest of this entry »

Self-talk: Productivity booster or productivity destroyer?

For the past few months, I’ve been investigating the effects of self-talk on our ability to get things done, and it’s been a fascinating inquiry. Did you know that your self-talk may be the single most important factor in determining how productive you are?

I started to investigate this topic for my clients. The Daily Mastery tools are very straightforward: easy to understand, quick to implement, they yield results immediately. While most of my clients readily implement them, a minority of them, intelligent, otherwise highly functional people, have trouble putting their Daily Mastery skills into practice. They know what to do, they know it’s easy, they know they’ll get great results out of it, yet they still don’t do what we discussed in session.

Once I had started paying attention to this, I also noticed that I was doing the exact same thing in some areas of my life: saying that I want to do something, knowing exactly what to do, recognizing that the steps I had to take were easy, then… not doing it.

So I set out to find out what was going on that stopped both my clients and me from doing things we knew to do, we knew how to do, and we knew would bring us the results we wanted.

Interestingly, when I started asking my clients and myself questions, something became very clear: while the reasons why were very individual: “I didn’t want to see that I hate my job”; “I’m just disorganized, I can try, but it’ll probably fail again”; “it’s tough” (?!?); everything came back to negative self-talk.

You may have noticed this, or maybe not – it often runs in the background, unnoticed – but we have a running dialog with ourselves all day long. When we’ve done something we are unhappy with, we think  “I’m so stupid” (my son’s current favorite, which I’m working at helping him eliminate) or “good job” for a job well done. That’s all inner dialog. Pay attention to it for a moment, and you will find out that you have this conversation going on in your head too. If you are like the majority of people, you will also notice that your inner dialog – or self-talk -  is often critical and judgmental of yourself.

When Henri Ford said “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t”, he was absolutely correct.

Whenever my clients and I didn’t do what we had set out to do, it was because we were victims of our own negative self-talk – something in it prevented us from doing what we could do. Sometimes, it was very blatant, such as “I can’t do it”, “it’s hard”. Sometimes, it was more subtle, as with this client who had the recurring thought “I’m disorganized”. Guess what? Whenever that person started to make progress and become more organized, she would sabotage her progress in a way or another.

The more I explored the subject, the more appalled I became: Not only does negative self-talk make our lives miserable (think having the most critical person in your life living 24/7 in your head), but it has tangible costs as well: time wasted while you are caught in the negative spiral; productivity lost from not doing what you could be doing; money from not growing in your career or business the way you could.

So I set out to find effective tools to change this negative self-talk into more positive self-talk (you can’t get rid of self-talk altogether, except for briefs periods of time), and came across some wonderful tools to do so:

Meditation: while it doesn’t change your self-talk per se, it gives very important weapons against it, awareness and acceptance. When you strive to find silence, to find the gap between your thoughts, you become more aware of your thoughts, without judgement, which allows you to look at them more objectively. Also, with regular meditation, you get more in touch with your core, increase acceptance of yourself, which reduces self-talk. Not to mention that it gives you a reprieve from the constant chatter in your head. After trying for myself many different techniques and reading different books on the topic, I usually recommend the book Getting in the Gap to my clients; it’s an introduction accessible to anyone and easy to practice successfully.

Affirmations: An interesting feature of our brains is that we can’t have two thoughts at once. When we are thinking several things at once, we are really jumping from one thought to the next moment by moment, but at any instant, we have only on thought in mind. Which means that, if we consciously think a positive thought, there is no room for any other thought, negative or otherwise. It is the basis for the very misunderstood positive thinking. The modern inventor of the technique, French Dr Coue, used the following affirmation every morning “today in every way I’m getting better and better”, which is a far cry from “I’m healthy” when you’re critically ill, or “I’m wealthy” when you are broke. Affirmations, in order to work, need to be positive, yes, but they also need to be believable. Otherwise, you give even more fodder for your internal critic. However, once you choose an affirmation, and you repeat it often enough, things start to shift. One of my clients had trouble doing anything. He always wasn’t sure whether he could do {insert anything we were talking about}. I told him to start using “I can do it” as his mantra, both as a response to his negative self-talk around being able to do things, but also as a regular mantra he would repeat to himself several times a day. Within weeks, he started implementing the tools we had been talking about for three months without result.

In some cases, the negative self-talk is too entrenched for us to be able to eliminate it on our own. I, for one, have needed support from a trained professional to address some of that, and have used – and still use – EFT as taught by my mentor and friend Cathleen Campbell, of Living Harmony. Quite a few of my clients have worked on this with me, and sometimes I’ve sent them to Cathleen or another wonderful resource, Madhu Maron, a life coach who specializes in helping women re-connect with themselves.

So this week, I invite you to do the following:

Start paying attention to your self-talk. Is it generally supporting you in your goals (“you’re the best”, “you can do it”, “you’re going to make it”, “one more effort, you’re almost there”), or is it handicapping you (“you’re so stupid”, “darn, once again I did this wrong”, “what’s wrong with me?”, “I’m disorganized”, etc.)? If the latter, try one of the methods outlined above, and, if you find that, in spite of this, you are not able to reduce your negative self-talk, give me a call or send me an email. We’ll see together if what you need is my approach, or that of one of my resources. Once you are engaged in this process, you will quickly become more productive, happier, calmer and less stressed.

Yours in Daily Mastery,

Karin

Small Change, Big Impact: Is Your Time Eaten Away by Email?

Is your time eaten away by email?

We are hard-wired to react to any unexpected sound or movement. It’s a reflex that served us well when we were trekking through unsettled territory a couple of centuries ago, but in today’s typical office all it does is create unnecessary distractions. So turn your email alerts off, both the sound and the pop-up window. You’ll find yourself less distracted by email and better able to focus on the task at hand.

Here is how to do it in various formats:

Check here for Outlook

Mac’s Mail: Go to Preferences > General, and select “None” for “New mail sound”. Even better, in the same screen, select “every hour” for “Check new mail”.

blackberry: go here to turn email off for a while, and here if you just want to turn off notification.

iphone

Android/Droid phone

An experiment on the relationship between diet and productivity

You may not know this, but before I talk about or recommend anything, I always test it on myself, sometimes on others as well. In the past few weeks, I’ve been engaged in an experiment on myself to assess how differences in diet affects productivity. So far, the results have been quite striking.

When I eat a diet that is rich in refined sugar and carbs (lots of bread, and sweets on top of regular meals), within a day or two I find myself in a troubling cycle: I become sluggish, my brain feels like it’s in a fog compared to normal, I don’t get as much done, I’m alternating between moments of energy and moments where all I want is to take a nap, or crave more refined sugars/carbs. When the 2-o’clock dip comes, I can barely keep my eyes open. After a few days of this diet, I’ve also noticed that I start to have mood swings, and I feel much more stressed.

On the other hand, when I eat a diet that works for my body (Mediterranean, no sugar or refined carbs, 5-6 small meals a day) and drink enough, within a day or two I feel like my brain is working again, I have more energy, I sleep better, and the 2-o’clock dip is just a blip on the radar rather than a huge crash.

Nutrition experts have been telling us of this difference in energy levels from diet for a long time, but it’s a different thing to actually experience it for yourself. Even though I had a sense of what to expect, I was amazed at how much difference it makes. I wasn’t expecting quite as stark a contrast between the two diets! So I’ve decided to strongly limit how much refined sugars and carbs I eat, and to limit my carbs intake to the end of the day as much as possible, where it has less of an impact on my energy.

I found out that our bodies are like cars: when given the right fuel, they operate beautifully and get us where we want to go quickly and easily. However, when we give them the wrong fuel, they hiccup, they stall, or they may go, but they just don’t work quite right.

If you are serious about being productive and living a balanced life, I highly recommend that you experiment for yourself and find the right diet for you. You may have a different metabolism than mine, so what worked for me may not work for you, but your body, like mine, will tell you how it is affected by the foods you put in it. All you need to do is listen to its messages, such as tiredness, cravings, mood swings…

And please tell me what food you find fuel you, and which ones slow you down, I’m very curious to see the differences.

PS: If you are not sure what might even work for you, here are two resources that I highly trust:

Dr Abravanel’s Body Type Diet and Lifetime Nutrition Plan (I lost 30 lbs on it, and stayed healthy and energetic on it for years – until I stopped following it, thinking my body would be ok now… big mistake!)

Or if you want someone to guide and support you through the process, Shannon Sodano is an excellent resource to find out how to reconnect with your body through diet and movement and learn what fuels it best.

#2 of Simple Secrets for a Peaceful and Happy End of Year: Turn Off Your Automatic Email Download

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you’ve probably already heard me mention this secret. It’s so simple, it’s so easy, and it gets such fabulous results that more than one client called me after trying it for just one day to tell me how much time it had freed up in their day. Yet, in spite of those results, too few people do it.

So what is this secret? It’s turning off the automatic upload of emails on your computer and your smartphone, so that you get your emails whenever you please, rather than have them intrude on you whenever they please.

This little tweak to your email system makes a huge difference because it takes you 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after an interruption by email, and anywhere between 4 and 27 more minutes to recover your pre-email focus. Assuming you receive 10 emails an hour (that’s about 80 emails a day, fairly frequent now), that leaves you only 10 minutes for focused, productive work for every hour you are at work!

So do yourself a favor, turn off the automatic download of emails, and check your email only at set times. It’ll make a huge difference in your ability to get done everything you need to get done at year end without undue overtime.

#1 of Simple Secrets to a Peaceful and Happy End of Year: Boundaries

Fall has now arrived – and with it, the last stretch of the year, with its string of holidays and end-of-year work.

For most people, it is the most stressful and overwhelming season of the year: too much work, to many obligations outside of work, chores to prepare the holidays. But not for you, dear friend, not for you, because you have Daily Mastery to help you through this season. :-)

This month is what decides whether you too will have a stressful end of year, or if you will have a peaceful one. So all this month, I’ll give you tools to help you experience this season differently.

The first tool is a seemingly obvious one, but one we often forget: boundaries. What are boundaries? In time management, they simply are the line in the sand between what you want or need to do (the important stuff) and what you think your should, or are drawn/seduced/coerced into doing (the rest). So this week, simply ask yourself the following question for each task, errand, chore, request you receive:

“Is it something I deeply want or absolutely need to do?”

If the answer is yes, go ahead and schedule it in your calendar or put it on your to-do list. If the answer is no, just drop it. It’ll make your life immensely easier come the end of November and throughout December.

Some of you will find that, while this tool is very simple, it’s not always easy to apply: you may find yourself saying yes to things you don’t really want to in spite of your best intentions. Or you may find that you have trouble making the difference between the important stuff and the rest. If that’s your case, email me or give me a call (201-497-0403) at any time, and we’ll discuss how to move you past this hurdle so you can easily use this question.

Small changes in your schedule can have a big impact on your productivity

Did you know that small changes in your schedule can and do have a big impact on your productivity, sometimes adding or removing hours to your day? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes, the things we do are so unproductive that we lose several hours a day, when we could instead enjoy them and do something we actually want with them.

This lesson was driven home to one of my clients in a very strong way once we started to work together.

Although my client had initially hired me to deal with the large amount of paper clutter she had, as we chatted it quickly became clear that she was living a nightmare every day. A single mother and a doctor, she had very busy and tiring days. In the evening, she tried to devote her time to her four-year-old son until he fell asleep, then do some of her personal chores and study for her upcoming board exams. That was the plan anyway.

The reality was quite different. Almost every night, dinner, then getting her son to bed was a nightmare. She tried to do everything the books tell you to do, but somehow her son never fell asleep before 10:30 or 11 pm, by which time she often fell asleep as well, exhausted by her day and the evening battle.

I asked her to describe in detail her evening routine, and I suggested a small change it it. She implemented this change. In three days, her son was peacefully asleep by  8:30, and she had a solid two hours to herself before going to bed.

The change I asked her to make? Move up dinner to the first thing she did with her son when she got him back from day care. You see, she was getting her son around 6 pm, would play with him, then give him his bath, and only then serve dinner. By then, it was close to 8 pm, and both mother and son were starving and tired, a recipe for a very difficult time thereafter. Having dinner immediately allowed both of them to interact on a full stomach, in a much happier way, and my client could better modulate the amount of play time so that her son was in bed by 8:30 at the latest.

You are like this mother, whether you are a working mother or a single male: like her, you have habits, routines, ways of doing things, that are costing you enormous amounts of time. completely unnecessarily. So examine your schedule and your habits. Where can you move things around to make them flow better, be more efficient? What can you change in your process to make it more effective?

You NEED Boundaries

As women, we often have trouble establishing and keeping boundaries, both at work and at home. Yet, not doing so exposes us to a lot of lost time and, often, to being used and exploited, which makes us feel stressed, which in turns makes us less productive, and very soon we’re in a negative pit of overwhelm, stress and frustration.

Jennifer (not her real name) had serious boundary issues both at work and in life. In particular, a client that was supposed to take no more than 20 hours of her week ended up asking for urgent tasks at all times of day, interrupting her and, in the end, getting much more time than they paid for. As a result, Jennifer was working a solid 60-hour week.

One of the first things we did when we started working together was putting boundaries around this client: she would contact them and let them know that, due to her workload, she had to change the way she worked with them; from now on her time would be completely devoted to them between 9 and 1 every day, but that any task they sent after 1 pm would be fulfilled the next day.

Jennifer was afraid that her client would be very unhappy with the change, but she was so desperate for a solution that she agreed to make the call. To her surprise (but not mine, because things usually go this way), her client immediately agreed and, after a few misses, respected her new boundaries. And Jennifer discovered that, with this new scheme in place, she worked better and faster (this change alone reduced her workweek by almost 10 hours) and her client respected her more than before.

Jennifer, in her difficulty to establish boundaries with her client, is far from an exception. Most of us are guilty of it in one form or another. So where do you not establish boundaries, or, once establish, do you let people breach them over and over again? Is it because you feel you can’t say no to your boss? Or you feel guilty to establish firm boundaries with your child, because you see him or her so little in the first place? Is it something else? How much is not establishing or having your boundaries respected really hurting you? My guess is that, just like Jennifer, it is costing you dearly in terms of stress, lack of time and feeling out of control. So start re-establishing your boundaries. If it feels strange, try with small things, before graduating to larger ones, such as occasionally saying no to your boss. You will find that your life suddenly gets much more peaceful and productive.

Why Is It So Hard to Ignore the Phone?

The phone rings. Immediately, no matter what you are doing, you stop, pick up the phone and answer… only to find out that it was a telemarketer. You know that a call at that time has every chance of being unimportant, yet it seems impossible to resist picking up the phone when it rings.

Why is that?

It’s because of a small part of your brain, called the reptilian brain, or primitive brain, that we have in common with most animals. The primitive brain’s function is to keep you alive, both by taking care of all the automatic functions you need to live, such as heart beat and breathing, but also to keep you alive in the face of danger. As part of this latter task, it assesses any unexpected element in your environment and triggers the fight-or-flight response when it deems it necessary.

Here’s the rub, though: this part of your brain doesn’t think, it just reacts instinctively.

Until the very recent past (think the pioneers crossing the Rockies toward the West Coast, for instance), unexpected sounds and movements were usually a sign of immediate danger, such as a bear about to pounce on you. So your primitive brain learned to react to every sound or movement as if it was a potential danger, forcing you to stop what you are doing, assess the danger, then resume your task if it was a false alarm.

Today, an unexpected sound or movement is much more likely to be the phone ringing or an email arriving in your mailbox than an oncoming bear, or even a car barreling towards you. Yet your primitive brain doesn’t make the difference between true danger to your life and the phone! So every single time the phone rings, it triggers its alert system, makes you pay attention and assess the danger, if any.

Add to this alter system some cultural and psychological elements such as the fact that until voicemail boxes, it was the rule to answer the phone every time it rang, because you could miss something important; or the fact that it makes us feel wanted or important when someone calls; and you have a recipe to make it extremely difficult not to pick up the phone when it rings.

Yet this has a huge cost, as any of you who is constantly interrupted by calls and emails can attest… It’s distracting, slows you down, and sometimes even gets your adrenalin going for no reason whatsoever. So turn off the phone every once in a while to get what you need to done, knowing that any important call will result in a voicemail!

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