Stress Management
Productivity Coaching, Time Management Consulting and Leadership Coaching for business and nonprofits - get your most important work done. Collaborating with leaders and their teams to become more strategic, focused and productive. Leadership and Board Coaching, Strategic Planning Facilitation, Productivity Coaching and Time Management Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Time Management Coach, Business Consulting, personal productivity, time management, nonprofit, board coach, collaboration, strategic planning, facilitation, change management, leading productive teams, project planning, board development, volunteer engagement, association management, workplace productivity, executive director.
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Stress Management

does email suck the life out of you?

Does email suck the life from you? Do you worry about missing important emails? Do you wish email supported you better? Here are some new ideas that can help! 

Consider Your Email Style?

Different people seem to be fine with different amounts of emails in their inboxes. While there is a correlation between structure preference and email style, it probably has little bearing on what you’re doing now. Do you see yourself in any of these cases?

  • Inbox 10,000+ – If I need something, I will search for it. If I miss something it’s ok. If it’s really important it will come up again.
  • Inbox 500 to 1500 – It’s unmanageable. I don’t kid myself. I know I miss important things and it does cause stress.
  • Inbox 25/100/250 – I can get it under control. Identifying a number I don’t want to get above cues me to spend an hour cleaning up my inbox. Still, there has to be an easier way.
  • Inbox one page – As long as I can see everything in my inbox, I’m good. Once it goes to a second page, it’s time to pause and clean it up.
  • Inbox Zero – All emails are moved into folders for future action. Nothing stays in the inbox. (Use with caution. For most, since there is no automatic cue once an email is moved from the inbox, it is never thought of again.)

Manage Your Inbox Contents

What belongs in your inbox? Some clients prefer to keep everything in their inbox. However, there is a high risk of losing important emails. Some clients are fine with the philosophy “if it’s important, I’ll get it again,” though most prefer a more proactive solution.

Keeping everything in your inbox is like keeping all your trash on your desk. Unlike paper, however, the problem isn’t finding it when you go to look for it — the robust search function helps with that. The problem is that you won’t know to look for something you don’t know you have.

To have confidence in your email system, the only items that should be kept in your inbox are the to-do actionable items. Those emails you MUST do something with. 

If you have read your inbox shouldn’t be a to-do list, I disagree. It’s inefficient to use it any other way. However, this only works if you move everything except actionable emails out of your inbox.

To have control over your inbox, you need to judiciously decide the fate of each email. There are three options: File, Delete, and Action:

  • FILE emails to keep for possible future reference 
  • DELETE emails you don’t need 
  • ACTION emails remain in your inbox

Clear Out Your Inbox

  1. Create a folder/label called Reference Emails or Past Emails or something that resonates with you that will indicate to you where your older emails will reside. 
    1. You will move all emails over two months old into this file.
    2. You’ll want to move over a few hundred at a time. If you move too many at once, you may overload your computer’s resources and lock them up. 
    3. In order to keep this information current, I’m not going to give you specific keystrokes to identify and move a range of emails. Instead, do an internet search on “batch move emails” and include your computer (PC/Mac) and email platform (Outlook/Gmail).
    4. Some clients are more comfortable moving the old emails into files labeled by year. This gives them more of a direction as to where to look when trying to locate something. On the other hand, it gives more places to search.

  2. You now have two months of email remaining in your inbox. The next step is to process these and remove additional non-actionable email. 
    1. Do a sort by subject —  This will allow you to batch delete or batch file large groups of emails that are not actionable. Look for: 
      1. Projects that have been completed.
      2. Events that have passed. 
    2. Do a search by sender — This will allow you to continue the batch deleting or batch moving process. Look for:
      1. Newsletters you’ll never read.
      2. Ads that are no longer relevant.
      3. Multiple emails of a string and you only need to keep the last one or the ones with attachments.
    3. Set up rules/filters — As you are going through these remaining emails, look for opportunities for similar grouping of emails to bypass your inbox. 
      1. You can tell your email program to route specific emails to specific files without stopping in your inbox. This is helpful for items you don’t need to look at regularly. 
      2. Some use rules or filters for newsletters, forum posts, or the like. Others use them for confirmation emails that don’t need to be looked at yet need to be kept for possible future reference.
      3. To keep things simple, create a file called RULES and direct all emails that you have created a rule for there. It makes searching, scanning, and purging simple. There is no need to overcomplicate this — remember, if it’s not easy, it’s too hard. 
      4. To learn how to use the rules function with your email system, search “how to use rules in Outlook/Gmail.”
  3. You will be left with far fewer emails than you started with. These emails can then be processed into FILE, DELETE, or left in the inbox as an ACTION item.

It is important you do this process in a short period of time. This is a great task to do in one or two chunks this week. To get your inbox under control, you need to reduce the number of emails so when future emails come in, you can process those and maintain the integrity of YOUR system.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

Unlock Your Productivity

The last many posts shared with you systems for creating your path to productivity. I bet, however, your asking yourself “how do I make this part of my routine?” The answer is daily planning  and weekly planning. These practices help you learn a process that in time will go on autopilot and you’ll just do it. 

At the beginning, planning will take time and practice. As you get comfortable with the processes and integrate them into your routine, it will take less time and become easier. Start by scheduling an hour each week for weekly planning and five to fifteen minutes each day for daily planning. 

This is a true investment in your productivity and quality of work. You won’t know the value until you start doing it and feel confident and under control. When you miss a week or a day, you’ll notice the difference. You feel the stress, the worry of not knowing. There’s nothing like an out-of-control week to motivate you to invest the time to plan. 

Life isn’t perfect, however, and sometimes you’ll miss the planning blocks. That’s ok. The system doesn’t fail if you skip; it will be there waiting for you. The idea is to jump back in, catch up, and not lose traction.

Your Weekly Planning Checklist

Weekly planning is a time to review, assess, organize, and prepare for your upcoming week. The Weekly Planning Checklist provides you with numerous options on what to do during your planning time. As with everything productivity related, all options may not apply to you. Review and select the ones that will support your best work. Test and experiment, ultimately crafting a checklist of your own.

Here is the menu of options I share with my clients for Weekly Planning

  1. Review Your Calendar – is everything on your calendar that needs to be? Do you have to prepare for anything coming up? Does anything need changing?
  2. Essential Structures – add in relevant commitments from your Time Map and Essential Structures
  3. Process Loose Notes (physical and electronic)  and Papers – clearing the decks once a week keeps you from losing track of important things. Once you are caught up it’s not as hard.
  4. Clean up Computer – close open windows, pasting relevant links onto your task list.
  5. Update your Task List – read over everything so you don’t miss something important. Move items up, down or off.
  6. Triage Email/Electronic Messages – review, delete, clear out, file/label, prioritize – whatever system you have – be sure you know what you need to focus on this week.
  7. Clear Your Space – if this is an issue for you take the time to clear the surface on your workspace. Return your dishes/mugs to the kitchen, put your supplies away. Physical clutter slows you down.
  8. Goal Checking – check in on your Goals and Intention periodically.  

When to Schedule Weekly Planning

There are many good times to do Weekly Planning: 

  • Friday afternoon is a good choice for some. They have their plan for the upcoming week so they can relax over the weekend. Sometimes it becomes clear that they will need to work a few hours over the weekend to be ready for the week.
  • Others like to plan first thing Monday morning. This can get a bit dicey if urgent things tend to pop up. Monday morning planning is most successful when done early before typical work hours begin.
  • Many of my clients prefer to invest weekend time to do their weekly planning. They find it worth the weekend-time trade off to spend an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning, or even Sunday evening, knowing when they walk into their office Monday morning they will be focused and ready to work.
  • A couple of clients like to plan mid-week because of the cycle of their businesses. 

It doesn’t matter when you pick to do your weekly planning. What matters is that you pick a time and schedule it as a recurring event on your calendar. You are giving yourself the gift of time and setting yourself up for success by creating and integrating a routine to keep you on your path. 

Your Daily Planning Checklist

Daily planning focuses on productivity and planning Today’s Work. It targets key planning tools to support you in doing the right things at the right time for the day ahead.

Here is the menu of options I share with my clients for Daily Planning

  1. Review Your Calendar – is everything on your calendar that needs to be? Do you have to prepare for anything coming up? Does anything need changing? Complete calendared reminders.
  2. Check Task List – does anything need to move up, be added, or marked off as completed.
  3. Triage Email/Team Messages – does anything need to be added to today’s to dos?
  4. Plan Today’s Work – what are your priorities for today? Make an achievable “Today’s Work List.”  If you completed it you can always add more, but start off being realistic. 
  5. Other Activities – such as daily tracking, clearing your desks of projects you aren’t working on today, and review of mantra’s on inspiring quotes.

Scheduling Daily Planning – Morning Launch or Daily Wrap 

Investing five to fifteen minutes at the start or end of your day pays off exponentially. Planning creates awareness around your priorities and helps you focus on the most important work. As with Weekly Planning, this may take longer as you figure out your own process. Over time you’ll do it without thinking, and it really will only take you a few minutes. If you have unique habits or you use the block of time for processing email then you’ll want to add more time; however, the daily planning of Today’s Work can be done quite quickly.

The Morning Launch and Daily Wrap have the same elements, you simply are doing them at the beginning of your workday or at the end of your workday for the next day. Morning Launch is effective for those of you who do better planning at the start of your day. Daily Wrap is effective for those of you who prefer to prep for the next day at the end of the prior day.

Not sure which is best for you? This is a perfect time to experiment. Try one week of Morning Launch and the next week of Daily Wrap. Which worked best? 

  • Which one did you do more consistently?
  • Which one helped you feel in control of your day?
  • Which one lowered your stress?

Again, not all components will apply to you. Review and select the ones that will support you best. Test and experiment to craft a checklist you will want to follow daily.

My clients tell me time and again that when they do their daily and weekly planning they are less stressed and more proactive, and if they skip it they aren’t. Isn’t that worth a try?


This is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Daily and Weekly Planning Checklist templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

 

In my last blog post I explained the importance of setting your goals and intentions, and we discussed why adding intentions was so important. In my book Productivity for How You’re Wired, I share 3 different models you can use to set goals and intentions based on your structure preference. You can create your own plan by following the steps below.  Definitely do the first 3 steps. Steps 4 and 5 are optional based on “how you’re wired.”

Step 1: Identify Focus Areas

Focus areas are the spaces in which you want to spend the time of your life. In a financial budget you’d have areas such as home expenses, utilities, clothing, food, and entertainment. For your life’s Focus Areas these may be business/work, professional development, personal growth, self–care, family, spirituality, friends/social, volunteerism, service, activism/advocacy.

Step 2: Set Goals and/or Intentions
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 “what is the purpose of doing these things” (the priorities.) The answer will bring the goal or intention into focus. Keep your goals and intentions concise and clear. They cue you to remember. They do not need to include ALL the details.

Step 3: Determine Strategic Priorities
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 so you understand what want to do, but not so much you can’t easily grasp the action.
  • When identifying your priorities, it is often helpful to prime the pump by ask yourself questions such as these:
    • What project, task or action is critical to my success/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? 

Step 4: Create your Mission/Purpose/Success Statement

This is your WHY, your driver, what motivates you in work and/or life. If you know your WHY, add it now. If not, it often comes into focus as you complete the rest of the map. This step is optional. Add it if it supports you. Your statement should inspire you:

  • Use words that will reinforce what is important to you.
  • Define what success means to you.

Step 5: Plan your Quarterly Tactics

If you thrive in high structure and you’re excited about having a full–blown, step–by–step quarterly plan, this last section is for you. However, if the thought of doing this last step sounds dreadful, you’re best to skip it.

  1. Think the project through.
  2. Now put the project elements in order. Consider what steps must come before the others. You’ll probably identify a couple of things you are missing. Add those in.
  3. Estimate the time you’ll expect to spend on this element. A good rule of thumb is to double your time estimate.
  4. Now plug the elements into your quarterly plan.

Start thinking about what matters to you.  Use a template from the book or design your own. What’s most important is that you take a bit of time to identify how you want to “spend” your time.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 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.

Counteract Burnout

Excessive busyness is no longer looked upon as a badge of honor. More and more companies are moving towards eliminating the frenzied activity and psychologically unsafe conditions that cause burnout. What can be done?

From an Organizational Perspective:

  • Shift from the quarterly results mentality to sustained positive performance
  • Support work cultures that value members of the team
  • Dismiss managers who create and promote dysfunction.

From an Individual Perspective:

Knowing that your work culture may be contributing to your burnout is validating; however, it’s probably not enough to effect change. We, as individuals, need to learn how to protect ourselves from chronic stress and burnout.

The emotional component must also be considered. Finding balance between your passion for contributing to a project’s success and caring for yourself is much easier said than done. 

In monitoring your relationship with burnout, consider the following:

  • Selfvalue — Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can do it better than anyone else still doesn’t mean you should. 
  • Connectedness Do you feel connected to your work colleagues? Do you fit in?
  • Contribution Are you part of something bigger than yourself? Are you empowered to do the work you were hired to do? Does your work matter?
  • Work Fit Are you working to your strengths? If not, this in itself is exhausting.
  • Support If you have a problem, is there someone you can go to for direction or to help you sort things out?
  • Balance Can you slow down enough to relax or are you always seeking your next big rush?
  • Interests Do you have interests outside of work? What else matters?
  • Fun and Joy Do you know how to have fun? Do you know what gives you joy? 
  • Happiness Have you lost yourself? Are there things that make you happy that come from inside you and not from external validation? 

What does relax mean to you? Another exercise class? Reading more? Cooking more? If these activities help you decompress, then great. But for many, they are simply personal to-dos, done for outcome and not pleasure. What makes you happy? What helps you enjoy life? We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. Can you identify one act of “be-ing” that helps you relax? 

Take a few moments this week and self-coach yourself around some of these questions.  You could journal, take a contemplative walk, or simply sit and “be” with a question or two.  Setting intentions about how you wish to live and creating structures that support your personal self are positive actions you can take.


This is an excerpt 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.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is trending. For many years, it didn’t seem to be a topic of much interest. It was almost like it was okay. IT IS NOT OKAY! 

Burnout can use up our physical and mental resources over time. Yes, USE UP, as in never be able to regain full capacity, full processing ability, full memory access. GONE! That is scary. 

Unfortunately, many employers see their employees as commodities. Commodities to use up and replace with other hard-working suckers who want to fast-track or prove themselves. The employees end up working endless hours, often suffering chronic stress and sometimes burnout.

If you are worried about chronic stress, I hope you find a place to work that values you and a way to live that fulfills you. In the event you can’t, it’s important to educate yourself about stress and burnout and how to take care of yourself. Don’t hold your breath waiting for someone to tell you to work less. This one is up to you.

What is Burnout?

Burnout doesn’t just happen. It is a process that occurs over time. The World Health Organization  defines burnout as chronic work–induced stress that has not been successfully managed. New science has also recognized burnout in non–work conditions such as parenting, caring for elderly parents, and unemployment. Whatever the source, all agree burnout results from long periods of ongoing stress.

When stress persists, it’s called chronic stress. When chronic stress impacts emotional health, physical health, and work efficacy it becomes burnout.

Causes of Burnout

Work Culture – Burnout is often driven by working conditions. In her seminal article, “Burnout from an Organizational Perspective”, Stanford Business School Professor Dr. Leah Weiss shares research showing that much burnout comes from toxic work cultures. 

Conditions that cause chronic stress include feelings of not belonging, being unappreciated, having little or no support, being micromanaged, and not knowing what is expected. These ongoing conditions move the brain into an always–on stress response.

Toxic Team Members – An organization’s tolerance for toxic team members contributes to burnout. It isn’t unusual for leadership to overlook abusive treatment of others when the harasser is a rainmaker or makes great promises about impacting profitability. 

Abusers are clever and they know who they can con. They also know who is smart enough to see through them. Their reaction is to smear and lie about those that can disclose their charade. Being a victim of that type of abuse is especially stressful. Continued work in this kind of situation is rarely sustainable without support.

Level of Job Stress – Certain jobs carry with them greater stress. Helping professionals, health care workers, and civil servants in harm’s way have stress baked in. The slightest negative change in working conditions can tip the scales toward compassion fatigue and eventual burnout.

Family of origin scripts – Mental scripts around work often reflect upbringing and family dynamics. These messages can contribute to chronic stress and burnout.

  • Was working extremely long hours modeled for you growing up?
  • Were you taught that anything less than 100% was not okay?
  • Do you worry about disappointing others if you don’t produce?

How you’re wired – Your own needs and values can also affect your relationship with work.

  • Does being busy make you feel good about yourself?
  • Is your identity tied to your work?
  • Are you addicted to the adrenaline rush of collaboration and results?

What doesn’t cause burnout Oversensitivity or “taking things too personally” are excuses used to blame workers for something someone else is doing wrong. One’s reaction does affect how the stress is processed; it is a symptom and not the cause. 


This is an excerpt 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.

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.


This is a combo repeat blog post with information from Chapter 4 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon.  Next post we’ll look at the burden of procrastination.