The Productive Leader Blog
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The Productive Leader Blog

Working HybridIt seems we just got used to working at home and now we are returning to the office in some way. Today’s workforce is everything but stationary.

Productivity in the hybrid work environment focuses on mobility and flexibility. Your office is in your work bag. The goal is to work effectively regardless of location. Leveraging the benefits of this new work paradigm means looking at productivity differently.

Acknowledge the Difference

  • Time in the office can be energizing and inspiring. Take advantage of the lift you get when you’re with others, understanding that effectiveness improves with a change of pace and environment.
  • Child care and family obligations shift. Going to work provides a much-needed break. The flexibility enables you to be better in each situation.
  • Self-care continues to be important. Taking time for a walking meeting or planning an exercise break with colleagues helps to maximize the time. Leaders are on the lookout for ideas to support the new normal. Tell them what you need.
  • Planning your start and stop times in the office is helpful to helping you create routine and provides markers to keep you on task and effective.

Uplevel Communication

  • Hold planning meetings with your family or roommates. While regular review of work schedules and obligations is always helpful, holding regular planning meetings when one or many are working from home and hybrid is especially valuable.
  • Communicate goals and deadlines. Understanding expectations helps all parties manage deadlines and avoid stressful last-minute time crunches. Share a work-plan that identifies steps, deadlines, and areas of responsibility.
  • Leaders should consider no meeting days to encourage people to come to the office on meeting days, and support focused work time on WFH days.

Redefine Meeting Etiquette

Meetings in which some participants are in the room and others are on video chat present their own challenges. Identifying these challenges and creating new agreements to support them ensures all participants are treated fairly.

  • Those in the room can read non-verbal cues more easily than those on video. Meeting leaders should create extra space for clarifying questions and priorities.
  • Side conversations exclude those not in the room. While they are always annoying, during hybrid meetings they are especially detrimental.
  • Sometimes new ideas come after the meeting when in-person participants are still in the room. Be sure to include any post-meeting comments and actions in the meeting notes and create time to discuss at the next meeting.

Plan Work Strategically

With less structure it is even more important to build in supports to boost your productivity.

  • Weekly Planning: Identify which tasks are most effective doing at home and which are most effective doing at the office. When doing your weekly planning, block out specific tasks for the place they are most effectively performed.
  • Home is best for project, quantitative and focused work.
  • Office is best for meetings, small group work, creative problem solving and planning/
  • Task Management: When working hybrid, you’ll want to add in the variable of where you are doing the work. You can adjust your task list by dividing your list into HOME and OFFICE subsections.
    • Each day, write out a physical list of the most important things you intend to accomplish for the day.
    • Be deliberate and identify what’s possible to do for the day depending on other commitments and amount of time the identified tasks will take.
    • Build in time when at the office for conversation and walking to meetings.
    • Build in time at home for taking care of the kids/pets and household chores you’re squeezing in.

Create Parallel Work Spaces

Boosting productivity in the office is dependent on your particular work set up.

  • If you have an office, focus on creating an easy transition between work and home. Create parallel equipment set ups; two monitors, a wireless keyboard and mouse in both locations so all you have to do is plug your laptop in and start working.
  • If you have an open seating arrangement, follow the above noted recommendations AND work to find your best space at the office.
    • Don’t pick the center cubical. Instead choose a space at the end of the row so you aren’t between two people that can be distracting.
    • Be mindful of the person with the bellowing voice and move as far away as possible.
    • Sign up for conference room space. Work whenever you can with a door.
  • If you have a permanent desk assignment follow both guidelines above. If it is too hard to concentrate in your assigned space, explain to your manager that your productivity is compromised and work to find a better arrangement. Chances are they’d rather have you in the office some of the time than have you working at home all of the time. See if they will work with you to come up with a better solution.

Take Care of Yourself

Working hybrid blurs the lines between work and home. Consider new ways to refuel and reenergize to create conditions to do your most productive work.

  • Differentiating between work time and non-work time can help you to move from the working-all-the-time mindset and help you create the space to give your mind and body necessary recharge and renewal time.
  • ESQ – Exercise, sleep and quiet are your secret weapons. If these basics aren’t in place everything else will be harder.
    • Sleep – When working hybrid, staying on the same sleep schedule for office and home days will help your body acclimate more easily. An added bonus would be on WFH days using your extra commute time for self-care and starting your work day at the same time.
    • Exercise – Walking, working out, doing quick burst exercises all can help your brain work better. If you’re stuck and can’t get started with your work, move your body.
    • Quiet – Research indicates that downtime improves creative thought, problem solving, and replenishes work mojo. Meditation, reading, playing games all help soothe the mind so when you work you are more focused.
  • Take advantage of being able to go to the office. Don’t automatically think you don’t need to be there. As social beings’ connectedness and sense of belonging is an inherent need. It’s hard to motivate when you don’t feel connected.

Working hybrid brings more complexities. If we can structure our work and our time effectively, the hybrid model – working from home for focused work time AND going to the office to collaborate and connect, is the best of both worlds.

overcoming procrastination

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about people struggling with procrastination. The pandemic has taken a lot out of us, and we are all a bit worn down. When we put off doing what we “need” to do it makes us feel undisciplined and lazy.  The self-compassion experts tell us that just makes things worse.

Instead of beating yourself up, it is much more effective to figure out why you procrastinate. Then you can take positive action to overcome the obstacle. Procrastination is typically NOT about discipline!  When the system is right and you understand what is happening then it takes much less willpower to move into action.

Procrastination Strategies

If simply intending to do the task worked, you wouldn’t be reading this. There are a number of less-typical strategies you can try to see what will help YOU blow through YOUR procrastination obstacles.

Figure Out Why You Procrastinate – There are many reasons people procrastinate. Figuring out your reason(s) is the first step to overcoming them.  Is it self-doubt or do you just need more information?  Do you need more time for the information to percolate in your head, or do you simply need the stress of the deadline to activate?  Are you unclear if the task is important? Or do you just hate doing it?  Understanding the cause of our individual brands of perfectionism helps us move into action.

Make the First Step Small – focus on getting started. Don’t worry about finishing. Set one mini-goal to get you to sit down and start.

Trick Your Brain – Start with an easy task to stimulate your brain. Take advantage of the “pleasure seeking” chemicals and as soon as you finish the easy/fun task move to one of the “harder to complete” tasks.

Identity Motivation –Use a character trait you like about yourself to help you activate. i.e. – I am a learner, I have perseverance, I am a problem-solver. Then ask:

  1. What kind of situation is this?
  2. Who am I?
  3. What does someone like me do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be thoughtful – then you’ll ask yourself – what does a thoughtful person do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be a problem solver then you’ll ask yourself – what would a problem solver do in a situation like this?

Body Doubling – Body Doubling is having a partner share your space to help keep you on task. They don’t need to do anything in particular. Their very presence helps move you to action.

  • Meet a friend at the coffee shop and work on your “hard” project alone – together.
  • Meet a colleague in the conference room and set your Pomodoro timer.
  • Ask a family member to sit with you while you are getting started.
  • Hire a NAPO Professional Organizer or other consultant to work on your project with you

Change Location – A unfamiliar space can provide just enough stimulation your brain needs to move into action. Weather permitting try working outside, a new coffee shop, or even a new location at work or home. Simply changing chairs at your kitchen table may be enough to shift how your brain is processing the environment.

Freak Yourself Out – Creating controlled stress can help. Make a list of the top 3 consequences of not doing this project. Now make another list – top 3 consequences of not doing this project on time. Not failing can help move you into action.

Have you ever wondered why that book on time management didn’t help?

What about that article espousing the top 5 things you must do each morning to have a productive day?

And how about that author who focuses on the one great thing you must do to be successful?

Have you thought “what’s wrong with me – that will never work?”

I have good news for you.  Productivity is not one size fits all.  These “experts” are talking about what works for them. They are sharing the secret to their success. They are not sharing the secrets to your success.  They are not considering your unique needs; your brain wiring based on your life experiences, your learning style, your body-clock, or your temperament.

How can they even imagine what will work for you?

The one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty, after spending the last 20 years helping clients get more organized and be more productive, is that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.  There are many right approaches.

The secret is in actually figuring out what the best “right approach” is for you.

We look for clues:

  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What doesn’t work for you?
  • When have you felt most in control?

And then we create a strategy based on those clues. And we don’t stop there. We test the strategy.  I tell my clients to think of themselves as a science experiment.  We test and we tweak until we end up with a “best solution” that really fits.

Meet my client Margie (not her real name!) Margie has ADD and understands the value of exercise in keeping her brain functioning optimally.  She came to me wanting to create a structure so that she could get up each morning at 5 am and exercise before her work day began.  She had read that this was the one best thing she could do to manage her ADD; her doctor agreed.

However, Margie didn’t fit the norm. She worked from home, she liked to work at night, and often got her most important work done in the wee hours of the morning.  Margie hated mornings and hated exercise more.

I had this suspicion that exercising at 5 am wasn’t Margie’s best solution.

  • We discussed when she’d been successful exercising in the past (when her daughter was young and she’d drop her at preschool and exercised right after.)
  • We learned that having a time-driven deadline prior to exercising was helpful.
  • And we talked about how badly she felt about herself when she pressed the snooze button at 4:45 am and didn’t get out of bed, though she couldn’t really go back to sleep.

Alas, Margie wanted to try.  So, we did. However, I asked her to try 5 different times to exercise and to track her success.  This is what we learned:

Exercise Success   Time of Day  to Exercise # of workouts in one-week period  
Week 1  5 am  zero
Week 2  9 am 1
Week 3  Noon 1
Week 4  4 pm 3
Week 5  7 pm zero

Turns out 4 pm was Margie’s optimal workout time. She wanted to have dinner with her family at 6:30 pm.  Working out at 4 gave her time afterwards to shower and get dinner on the table. That time-driven deadline of a 6:30 pm dinner helped motivate Margie to get started exercising at 4 pm. She found the late-afternoon break refreshing and that she actually enjoyed her workout. And the extra couple of hours sleep in the morning was really helpful all around. When the system fit it was easy to implement and easy to stick with.

One-size did not fit Margie?  Does one-size fit you? Is there something you should rethink that might fit you better?  Try the following 5-step process to create your best solution:

  1. Look to the past for clues
  2. Create an experiment with different variables
  3. Test the variables
  4. Assess the results
  5. Pick your “best solution”

I’d love to hear what you learned.

Productivity: Post-Vaccine

We used to go to work and come home to relax.  Now we work from home and soon we’ll be going out to relax.  I heard someone say that we really don’t work from home – now we are living from work.  That sounds crazy!  What is clear however, is that things are different. Dependent on your age and where you live, your access to the vaccine varies. Hopefully we will soon all have our “get out of jail free” (vaccine) cards and be returning to our new normal.

I was on a Zoom call last week and we discussed our anxiety around returning to normalcy.  Yes, with this new freedom comes anxiety. We’ve gotten pretty darn comfortable in our yoga pants and bare feet. We’ve built in systems and supports to help us get our work done and live from work.  Now there is another shift coming.  How do we make this transition as healthfully and productively as possible?

It’s about BOUNDARIES!  What you say YES to, and what you say NO to. Building the scaffolding now will support you in reentering in a way that will get what you need, yet not compromise the learning and reevaluating that we’ve had this past year. What supports do you need? What guardrails can you put in place to protect you?

On our Zoom call, my colleague, Susan Lannis of the Time Liberator, posed her questions about our post pandemic behavior, from which I’ve crafted the following questions for you to ask yourself. I suggest you invest the time to journal on this, or open a note or document and write your answers out. Take your time. Give it thought.

  1. What behaviors, actions, or learnings from the Covid shutdown do you want to continue doing – what are you saying YES to?
  2. What behaviors, actions, or learnings from the Covid shutdown do you want to continue NOT doing – what are you saying NO to?
  3. What are the three most important things you look forward to doing post-vaccine?

Now make a list of your boundaries – what you will say yes to, what you will say no to, and what you wish to continue. Here are mine:

  1. What I want to continue doing – What I’m saying YES to:
    1. “No incoming tech” Saturdays
    2. Exercise and yoga classes via Zoom
    3. Speaking engagements via Zoom
  2. What I want to not do – What I am saying NO to:
    1. Going out socially more than 2 or 3 times a week
    2. Networking when it doesn’t serve me
    3. Traveling more than once a month
  3. Three most important things I look forward to getting back to
    1. Seeing my friends and family
    2. Going to the store and picking out what I want
    3. Taking golf lessons

Taking the time to think through and plan will support your success. Good luck as you move through this next transition. Interested in learning more? Here is what is sure to be many articles written about our post-pandemic return.

Now that we’re through the rush of the new year it’s a good time to set some goals and intentions for the year ahead. With all the unknown of the pandemic it is hard to really make plans, however without some direction it’s next to impossible to find peace.

Many struggle to get clear on what is important or what to do next. Taking a few minutes to identify your goals and intentions help you get clear on what you are saying yes to and what you are saying no to.

Why Intentions and Not Just Goals

A goal has a specific outcome – “I want to leave the office at 6pm each evening,” “I want to make profits over 6 figures this year,” “I want to complete the team on-boarding program by June.”

An intention is how you want to live – “I prioritize self-care,” “I make time to give love and care to my family,” “I continue to learn so I can help leaders grow, and develop their teams.”

Most people have both goals and intentions.  To focus on one and not the other is addressing just a portion of how people spend their time.  A new client typically describes himself as needing help getting all their work done. In reality, work isn’t the only problem; many share that they would like to be able to take time off without worry and stress.  As you identify your own goals and intentions you may want to consider more than work.  Remember, we are going for “better life.”

Here is a quick and easy goal and intention setting process for you to follow:

Action Plan for 10 Minute Goal/Intention Setting:   

  1. Take 3 minutes and write down three to four things you’d like to accomplish in the next 6 months, perhaps one per life area – (work, professional growth, personal growth, self-care, family, etc.) label these Short Term Goals.
  2. Take 3 minutes and write down three to four things you’d like to accomplish in the next 6 months to 3 years, perhaps one per life area – label these Long Term Goals.
  3. Take 2 minutes to re-write them in a form that makes them is meaningful:
    1. Check in with 3 former clients per week for the next 4 weeks
    2. Lose 10 pounds by working out twice a week and following the nutritionist’s program
    3. Read to the kids at least 4 times a week
  4. Take 1 minute to copy them on to a pleasing piece of paper.
  5. Take 1 minute to post them in a place that will keep them top of mind

Here’s to a happy New Year.

Traditionally on Thanksgiving I write about our lives being too full, like our Thanksgiving plate. And, that if we fill our Thanksgiving plate with foods to please everyone else, we won’t have room to eat the foods that we love. This results in us leaving our Thanksgiving meals unsatisfied and unfulfilled… and then later eating more pie then we need. Point being, if you want a balanced fulfilling life it is important to make room for the sweet potatoes (or whatever your fav Thanksgiving Day food of choice is.)

This year as I’ve worked as a Productivity Coach, I’ve observed this trend of not making room for the things that matter:

  • We put our own passion projects on the back burner
  • We spend too much time making unimportant things perfect
  • We don’t know how to even begin to relax

Make Time for the Satisfying Work

Do you have a “passion project” you never get to? Or even a work project that you’d enjoy doing but everyone else’s priorities, daily meetings and email, and the business-of-business keep you from doing what interests and inspires you?

You are not the only one. There is a way to fix this. You need to plan doing your project. Plan to prioritize it. Plan to work on it. Plan by breaking it into small manageable parts and then plan to do it by putting it on your list.  And not the Sooner or Later list but the Important and Hot lists. Working on it a little at a time will get it done.

Let Go of Perfect

Do you seem to take longer than everyone else to finish tasks? Do you hesitate to send out work because it may not be good enough? Do you keep working on something because you worry that others will judge you for it not being perfect?  Newsflash! Not everything has to be done perfectly. Does Apple and Microsoft release software updates that aren’t perfect? Of course, they do – and that’s how they keep moving forward.  I’m not asking you to be comfortable doing mediocre work. Nor am I suggesting that if you have something really important that you don’t give it your best. I am suggesting that most of the time very good is sufficient and that the difference between very good and perfect isn’t notable enough for the time investment. The 80/20 rule applies. You get to very good in 20% of the time. Perfect takes you another 80%. (Read more about the Pareto Principle in my How To Manage Time Better blog post.)

Learn to Relax

Excessive busy-ness is no longer looked upon as a good thing. And I’m hoping that our work-cultures are moving towards eliminating the frenzied activity that causes burnout. Now what?  My clients tell me they have no idea how to relax. Months into the pandemic and the extra time we’ve gained not commuting has been absorbed like a Bounty paper towel. It’s sucked up and it’s gone.  Not traveling, limiting social visits, shopping virtually…and we still don’t have time to relax. What does relax mean? Another exercise class, reading more, watching more, cooking more?  If this helps you to decompress then do it. But for many, these tasks are simply personal to-do list items, done for outcome and not pleasure.  What gives you pleasure? What gives you joy? What helps you to slow and appreciate what you have? As the saying goes, we are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings.  Can you identify one act of “BE-ing” that helps you relax? (I think bubble bath!)

At this time of Thanksgiving, even in this crazy time, there is so much to be grateful for.  I wish for you new perspective and peace as you learn to put things that satisfy on your plate.