Focus and Prioritize
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Focus and Prioritize

It's not really balanced...

Work-life balance isn’t really a thing. Betty Friedan has been quoted as saying “you can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Balance implies evenness, sameness, a destination. It isn’t.

No one is ever in balance for more than a moment. Perhaps what we are striving for is harmony. In classical music, sometimes the percussion is louder, sometimes the strings are louder, sometimes the brass is louder. There are forte sections where everything is blaring at once and there are pianissimo sections where sound is barely audible. And there are rests, quiet spaces when no sounds are made at all. Just like life! In life, different parts are louder than others at different times, but as a whole, it can be harmonic and beautiful.

When on a deadline or project, work is loud. During times of celebration or sadness, family is loud. While training for a 5K or other personal endeavor, self-care is loud, and when on vacation there are times of quiet and silence. Framing life like a symphony and striving for harmony seems so much more reasonable.

If one were to divide a “life pie” into four balanced parts — work, family, self-care, other interests —  you would be spending an equal amount of time on each portion.  That’s not how life is.  And we know no day, week, or month is ever the same. To think it would be is not realistic. Additionally, imagine how boring life would be if every day and every week were the same.

What would be possible if you gave yourself permission to live in harmony and not strive for perfect balance all the time?

Harmony at Work

The same concept of harmony applies to work as well. If you are only doing unrewarding tasks and projects, it’s hard to stay engaged. Therefore, when creating your task list, consider the importance of putting meaningful things on your list. If all you do are things to please others, you won’t be very motivated to do your best, most productive work.

Traditionally, around Thanksgiving, I write a blog post about our lives being too full, like a Thanksgiving plate. If we fill our Thanksgiving plate with foods to please everyone else, we won’t have room to eat the foods we love. This results in us leaving the Thanksgiving table unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Then later, we eat more pie than we should. If you want to be satisfied, it is important to make room for the sweet potatoes and stuffing, or whatever your favorite Thanksgiving food of choice is.

In life and work, it’s important to make room for the things that matter too. Is it time to pull your passion projects off the back burner? Is it time to stop spending precious time making unimportant things perfect? Is it time to have more fun? With variety, NOT BALANCE, you’re much more likely to be productive.


This is compiled from Chapter 5 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

 

This is not your typical business school goal setting post! It’s about getting clear about what’s important to you.  Because when you know what is important, it is easier to say yes to the things that matter.

Intentions and Not Just Goals?

Goals are useful in some cases. They just aren’t applicable for everything. Considering intentions (how you want to live) expands your possibilities.

Goals have specific outcomes

  • Make profits over six figures this year.
  • Complete the team on-boarding program by June.
  • Lose four pounds a month each month this year.

Intentions clarify how you wish to live

  • I work smart and provide a great service.
  • I live a healthy, happy life.
  • I give my best self to my family.
  • I continue to learn so I can help other leaders grow.

Goals AND Intentions 

Most people have both goals and intentions. To focus on one and not the other is addressing just a portion of what is important.

My clients tell me they need help figuring out how to get all their work done. In reality, work is only part of the challenge. Many say they would like to take time off without worry, spend more quality time with their families, and even have a bit of time for themselves. As you work through identifying your own goals and intentions, you may want to consider more than work. Remember, a key reason to improve productivity is to have a full and better life.

Use the Planning Map Snapshot format below to plan a better 2023

Step 1: Identify Focus Areas — The life areas you choose to prioritize.

  • Focus Areas are the spaces in which you want to spend your time. In a financial budget, you’d have areas such as home expenses, utilities, clothing, food, and entertainment.
  • Your life’s Focus Areas may include business, work, professional growth, personal growth, self-care, family, spirituality, friends, volunteerism, service, activism, or advocacy.
  • Only Four Areas! Challenge yourself to limit your number of Focus Areas to four. When you spread yourself too thin, you end up accomplishing less. When you force yourself to narrow your focus, you do better work and are more productive.

Step 2: Determine Goals and Intentions — The ultimate outcome you are striving for.

  • A few people can state their goals or intentions off the top of their heads. Most can’t.
  • If the answers don’t come easily to you, start by developing your priorities (step 3). Then use your priorities to back into your goals and intentions. While it goes against every rigid business planner’s process, completing your priorities first can help you see exactly what matters.
  • Ask yourself “what is the reason these priorities are important? What is my purpose in accomplishing them?” The answer will bring the goal or intention into focus.

Step 3: Set Priorities — The overarching projects and tasks you need to complete to achieve your goal or live your intention.

  • The next step is to figure out the three most important things you want to accomplish in each Focus Area. Your priorities should be actionable within the established time frame of your plan.
  • The priority should identify what you will do.
    • Start with an action word such as plan, complete, strategize, or implement.
    • Be concise — provide enough detail for you to understand what you want to do, but not so much you can’t easily grasp the action at a glance.
  • When identifying your priorities, it often helps to prime the pump by asking yourself questions such as these:
    • What project, task, or action is critical to my success or my organization’s success?
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • What would I be disappointed with if I didn’t achieve?
    • What do I need to do to be who I want to be?
  • Was it hard to identify three priorities for each life area? Having too many priorities is more often the problem. Remember, it’s better to do a few things fully and well than attempt many things that never reach completion.
  • While you may only have three priorities per goal or intention, when you consider your four Focus Areas, you will have twelve priorities for the entire year. Completing twelve priorities is a challenging, yet generally attainable target.

My wish for you for 2023 is that you take a bit of time to get clear about what’s important for 2023. I suspect that if you do, you will actually have a happy New Year.


This is compiled from Chapter 7 my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

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.

There is a cute meme going around saying it’s simply “day,” not Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday…. just day.  And yes, sometimes the days just run together because there is not a lot of differentiation. It does seem like every day is kind of the same.

That sameness makes it easy to fritter time away.  Without having to be at the office, or a client at a specific time, or having to prep for a trip, or even meet friends for a night out, time seems to fly by.

What can you do to boost your productivity during these unstructured times?  In the absence of external structure, we have to create internal structure! Here are some possible ideas how:

  1. Create a daily checklist
  2. Identify the 1 (or 3) most important task to accomplish each day.
  3. Set specific intentions for living well
  4. Plan time “on” and time “off”

Daily Checklists

  1. Cues you to do your important tasks
  2. Holds you accountable
  3. Shows results

Out of necessity I created a simple Excel doc and have been using it daily since the beginning of May. I feel like I’d be lost without it.  It changes a bit as time goes on and my priorities shift. Here’s a snippet of what it looks like now:

Identify Top Daily Tasks

Take the time to write out the most important things you intend to accomplish for the day. Use a post-it and stick it somewhere you’ll be able to see all the time.  Here are some options:

  • Top 3 tasks
  • Top 1 task – and 2 on deck
  • Top 1 task (I love this one because it ensures your focus is only in one place!)
  • Top 3 tasks – and on deck tasks if the top 3 are quick

I’ve had clients who find success with all these options. Try them and see what works for you.  Right now the most popular selection is #2 – Top 1 task, and when that gets done move to the 2 on deck.

Set Intentions

What do you need to do to live well? Make a list.  Set your intentions.  Then when you plan your week, be sure they are integrated.  Here are some examples:

  1. Work no later than 6pm
  2. Protect 8a-9am for email and daily planning
  3. Create two 2-hour blocks for project work
  4. Practice Yoga 3 times a week
  5. Meditate at least 5 minutes each day
  6. Do a cardio workout 2 times a week
  7. Make time to plan healthy food choices

Plan time “on” and time “off”

When working from home it is so easy to work all the time. Going to the office created separation. Now you have to create that for yourself.  Protect your non-working hours.

  • Create a space where you go to work. Don’t go to that space during non-work hours. If you need your computer, use it elsewhere.
  • Try a tech-Shabbat/Sabbath. With the endless Zoom meetings and phone calls it is healthy to give yourself 12 hours off. Try shutting your tech off on Saturday or Sunday.
  • Take a few days off – if possible, find a place to go for a few days. If there is nowhere safe to go plan a stay-cation and put work on hold.

At the beginning of the pandemic, much was discussed about working from home.  In my opinion, way too much discussion.  I don’t know about you, but I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of newsletters, emails, and social media posts, as well as the endless links of things to read shared by well-meaning friends. Even if I only read selectively, it took so much time!

It was all too much. The rebel in me was not about to jump on that bandwagon and inundate you with more.  I took that break, but now I feel like I have information that will help you adjust as we move into this new normal.

From talking to clients and colleagues around the world, it’s clear that things are different depending on location.  I’ve heard of a few people preparing to head back to their offices now, while others are being told not to plan to return until 2021.

With that in mind, here are my productivity tips for the next few months:

  1. Be ruthless with your online reading/viewing time
  2. Create more structure than usual
  3. Schedule non-working and working blocks of time
  4. Plan (and take) vacation/stay-cation time

My intention with this blog has always been to keep the posts short enough so you can quickly read them and absorb them.  I do not want these posts sitting in your inbox. Please read what I am sharing and then delete this email!  You can always reference back at www.ellenfaye.com/blog.  (The search feature will help you find what you’re looking for.)

To keep this short and sweet, I will address each of the above noted topics in individual posts. Today’s topic:

Be ruthless with your online reading/viewing time

Now more than ever be super selective with what you are choosing to spend your time reading and watching.  The availability of information is enormous and endless. I have clients that spend hours reading things that they have never asked for, yet because it’s in their inbox or feeds, they feel compelled to read it.  Here is how you can manage this:

  • Set specific hours for online reading – that means articles, blog posts, texts, videos, and messages from well-meaning friends. If you stop for a quick read/view of everything that is sent to you, it’s going to be hard to get your important work done. Try blocking out time at the very beginning of your day, at lunch, and at the end of your day for this.
  • While it may be interesting or have value, ask yourselfwhat else is reading this now keeping me from doing?” Some of you with a super high need for completion may need this extra nudge to keep you on task with the work you want to be doing.
  • Reframe and read without guilt! – build in a system to help you stop “reading on the ping.” Move what you want to read to a folder, mark it unread, or flag it for later; then when you get back to it you can enjoy reading without guilt.

I can’t help thinking that solidifying these habits now are going to make you even more productive later! In my next post I’ll be address how to create more structure in your day, and why this is more important now than ever. Talk to you soon!

 

 

 

from over-stressed to more productive

Last post I wrote about how the brain reacts to stress and why physiologically, it’s hard to get anything done when we are over-stressed and anxious.  If there is one thing we can be sure of right now, it’s that there is much uncertainty. It is quite stressful.  There are however specific things we can do to help move ourselves out of our emotional brain and back to our thinking brain.

  1. List and plan what you can control: take a minute and make a list of what you can control – routines, work flows, meal prep, news consumption, social media time – then set an intention around each.
  2. Create a realistic timeline – to say I will build a website in April may not be realistic. What is?  Outlining it?  Selecting a platform? Writing copy?
  3. Break large task into small steps – look at #2 above. Build Website is stressful. But breaking into the small steps – outlining, selecting platform, writing copy (maybe page by page,) is a lot less stressful.
  4. Practice gratitude, meditation & exercise – build the positives into your day. I take time each day to count my blessings…
    1. My family is healthy.
    2. I have a comfortable home in which to isolate.
    3. I have many friends and colleagues to stay in touch with.
    4. Good things are still happening in my business – check out these two articles from CNN Business Writer Kathryn Vasel on Working from Home 1) handling it all 2) scheduling work with kids around. I’m grateful for the wonderful professional relationships I have, like with Kathryn, and that she consistently reaches out to me for my expert opinion.
  5. Find outside support or accountability – we are juggling a lot these days. A coach or trusted friend/colleague can help you process your thoughts so it’s not quite so hard.