Time Management
Productivity 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 Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Executive 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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Time Management

The brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. 

Productivity, Stress and Flow Brain Model

A lot is written today about stress and anxiety. We know exercise, meditation, and good sleep help reduce stress. However, little is discussed about the effects of stress and anxiety on our productivity. In a nutshell, the brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. (Excerpts from Chapter 3 of Productivity for How You’re Wired.)

Here’s the neuroscience:

Neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Model provides a straightforward model to understand the impact of fear and stress on the brain in conjunction with evolution and the hierarchy of brain functions. MacLean describes the brain in terms of three regions:

Brain Stem: From an evolutionary perspective, the brain stem is the oldest part of the brain. It controls bodily functions without thought or effort. This part of our brain operates on “autopilot.”

Limbic System: Next in evolutionary age is the limbic system. This is the emotional center of our brain. It is home to the amygdala, the part of the brain that houses the fight, flight, or freeze response. We have some control over our emotions, but under threat or too much stress, the amygdala automatically “hijacks” our thinking brain and takes over.

Prefrontal Cortex: Newest, and least on autopilot, is our Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), our thinking brain. It is here we plan, anticipate, think, and learn. The PFC is where innovation and creative thought occur. It houses our working memory and supports our ability to organize information and draw conclusions.

The PFC and the amygdala compete for control of the brain. When we are our most productive selves, we are functioning from the PFC. However, when there is too much stress, anxiety, or fear, the emotionally driven amygdala kicks in. We move from thinking and being productive to a fight, flight, or freeze state.

When under treat, anxious, or overstressed, our productivity tanks because we’ve moved from our thinking brain to our emotional brain.

Flow

Doing one’s most effective work occurs when a person is in flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the architect of positive psychology’s flow state, defines flow as “a powerful and rewarding psychological state that makes extra effort seem worthwhile.”

When in flow work feels like play, time flies (and stands still,) and productivity soars. To be our most productive selves, to be in flow, we need to function from our PFC, our thinking brain.Finding Productivity Flow

When under too much stress, anxiety can be paralyzing. You may relate to that feeling when you get a note from the boss saying “come see me,” or a long-time client calls and says “can we talk?” Just when we need to be at our best, we freeze up and our emotional brain takes charge.

Without enough stress, the brain struggles to move into action. Waiting until the 11th hour to begin a project causes enough stress to move the brain into productivity flow.

Strategies for Getting and Staying in Productivity Flow

The emotional limbic brain almost always wins unless we learn how to manage it. To be in productivity flow we need to employ strategies to help us manage the stress.From overstressed to productive

Knowledge is power! When you start to feel anxious or lose focus, it’s empowering to stop and think — I know what’s going on here. When you realize that what is happening in your brain is the normal physiologic stress response, you can take back control. Deep breathing, a walk, or other calming activity can help, but sometimes simply understanding what is happening is enough to pull you back into productivity flow.

Productivity for How You're Wired

I am so happy to share with you that my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired is out!

It truly has been a labor of love.  My most sincere hope is that it will help people work and live better.

Many have asked how they can buy the book. It is available on Amazon.  If you like it, I hope you’ll leave a review.

As a loyal subscriber, you’re invited  to my Virtual Book Launch Party and Book Signing.  It will be on Wednesday September 28th between 4pm and 7pm Eastern Time.  Please put it on your calendar and plan to drop in for as much or as little time as you like.  I have some fun activities planned.  We might even play a game…with prizes!  For those of you who want your books signed, I’ve figured that out too.  I think you’ll love it.  (Zoom link to follow).

In my last blog post I introduced you to the concept of Structure Preference – how much structure you personally need to do your best work.

In this week’s post we’ll use that information to guide you in finding the way you work best.  Knowing what’s unique about how you work can guide you as you craft productivity systems that fit how you’re wired.

David Keirsey, Professor of Psychology, and co-author of the seminal book Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, streamlined the Myers-Briggs® by identifying personality types based on two specific personality characteristics. He theorized that the way one processes information influences behavior. He believed SENSORS are most affected by the way they function in society, while INTUITORS are most influenced by their decision-making processes.

Applying Keirsey’s concepts to productivity inspired my productivity styles: Catalyst, Coordinator, Diplomat, and Innovator. Use your structure preference to narrow your options. If you are Task Priority Focused chances are your either a Coordinator or Innovator.  If you are Relationship Priority Focused you’re most likely a Catalyst or Diplomat.   Review the chart below.

Can you recognize your Productivity Style?

Once you understand your more about yourself, you’ll understand more about how to set yourself up for success.

For example, let’s look at how people with different productivity styles approach doing a to-do list.

  • CATALYSTs thrive with simple systems. They keep it high level by using their list to capture ideas and identify most urgent tasks.
  • DIPLOMATs benefit from taking time to plan their work. Since their tendency is to verbally process rather than write, committing to the system is key. They make it fun by color coding and using creative labels.
  • COORDINATORs love seeing everything in one place. They plan their work and work their plan.
  • INNOVATORs like to plan but can get lost in trying to improve the system. They do best when they use their list to capture ideas and prioritize, and then quickly move into action.

Are you staring to think differently about how who you are affects your best way to do things? If you’ve ever felt like a square peg in a round hole, understanding how who you are impacts how you do things will shift your perspective so you can consider alternative approaches.

Book News:  The book WILL be out next week.  Available for purchase on Amazon next Wednesday, September 7th.  I’ll send a link to you next week when the book is available.

Save the Date: Virtual Book Launch Party – Wednesday September 28, 2022 from 4 p.m to 7 p.m.  Eastern Time.  This will be an open house so please drop in for a few minutes or longer, whatever is good for you. I’ve ordered these amazing custom bookplates so that I’ll be able to “sign your book.”  And we’ll have give-aways, readings, Q&A, and just celebrate.  Zoom link coming soon.

Welcome to The Better Work Better Life Blog – Here I share big ideas to help you think differently about your productivity, your work, and your life. My goal in this series of posts is to summarize the concepts I share in my new book (out next week) Productivity for How You’re Wired. My promise to you, as it’s been for the last 15 years that I’ve been blogging, is to write something short enough that you can read it in the moment.

Structure Preference to Boost Productivity

Understanding your structure preference will help you leverage your strengths and give you context to create systems that work for you.

The concept of Structure Preference grew out of my observations of successful clients over the past 20+ years.  Rooted in situational leadership theory, the same principles apply to organization and productivity. Connecting how you’re wired with how you work (and live) helps identify how much structure you need to be your most productive self. This is the crux of my soon to be published book, Productivity for How You’re Wired.

Why does structure preference matter?

  • It builds self-awareness and helps put in perspective why you are the way you are.
  • It shows you how to adjust a situation to make it fit you, rather than changing how you’re wired to fit a situation. (Think round peg/square hole or square peg/round hole!)

There are two elements to consider when determining Structure Preference:

  1. Priority Focus — how your brain prioritizes work.
  2. Situational Structure — the degree of structure in your work and life.

Individuals do their best work when their priority focus complements their situational structure.

  • Those with a propensity towards task focus excel in low and high structure settings.
  • Those with a propensity towards relationship focus thrive in moderate structure settings.

Your priority focus is inherent to who you are. While small tweaks to your priority focus may help a little, the power is in adjusting your situation to match who you are. Knowing you can adapt your structure to how you are wired is empowering. Understanding how to adapt your situational structure to your highest performing self is the game changer.

In Real Life:

The Covid pandemic did a number on many of my clients’ situational structures.

For those with a Relationship Priority Focus, losing a consistent work schedule, not having to physically be in meetings at specific times, and not traveling to and from the office moved them from moderate to low structure, which isn’t their best fit. By defining work starting and stopping times, creating a work–only zone, and implementing regular planning sessions, they were able to build in enough structure to move themselves back to their moderate structure sweet spot.

For those with Task Priority Focus, the change to routines, shifts in how work was done, and the inability to know what was coming next moved them from high to moderate structure. By identifying top priorities, scheduling team check–ins, and creating personal accountability systems, they were able to move themselves back to their high structure sweet spot.

Can you see how understanding your structure preference can help you be more productive?

Book News: I’m putting the finishing touches on my Book page and Amazon page now.  It’s not quite done but you can learn more here and look at the pre-order information here.  The paperback releases right after Labor Day! (That’s really soon!)  As I’ve learned, there is no pre-order on the paperback. You’ll have to wait until September 7th.  I am working on planning my Virtual Launch Party now.  I’ll share the launch party details with those of you who are receiving this Blog post in your email inbox. If you want to sign up to get on my list and be notified of the Launch Party details you can do that here.

 

The 5 Pillars of Productivity

A Note from Ellen: I’ve been working on a book. In the coming weeks I’ll be previewing snippets from the book on my blog. It’s important information I want to share. Today’s post is a summary of Chapter 1.  If you would like to learn more, I’ll post book updates here on the blog. It is exciting. Stay tuned! 

These 5 pillars of productivity are core to your productivity success. Whatever you learn, whatever you do, keep these in mind and build from here.

Productivity is a Quality of Life Issue

Productivity is a quality of life issue. When we don’t know what is important, we end up doing unimportant things. We spend our weekends thinking we’ll get work done, yet we’re exhausted and don’t. We end up more stressed and less effective come Monday morning, worried about the work we didn’t do. Finding a way to work better brings greater ease, peace, and happiness to both career and life.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Each of us is wired differently, and what works for one person absolutely may not work for someone else. Being willing to experiment and discover productivity solutions that fit YOU is essential. I discuss this pillar in depth in this post: Productivity That Fits How You’re Wired.

If It Isn’t EASY, It’s Too Hard

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to improve their productivity is making their systems too complex. Too many steps and the systems are destined to fail. Too much time to learn the systems and more time is spent on the tool, with little time spent on the task itself.

Not All Work is Equally Important

Pareto’s principle, the 80/20 Rule, supports the concept that you can achieve 80% of the results in 20% of the time. Learning how and when to apply the 80/20 rule helps free up time for important things, in and out of work. Be deliberate in how you invest your time.

  • 20% of your work/clients contributes to 80% of your profits
  • 20% of your apps are used 80% of the time
  • 20% of your meeting time achieves 80% of decisions
  • 20% of your time yields 80% of the result

 Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Taking the time to plan is the secret sauce to productivity. If you think you don’t have time to plan, you don’t have time NOT to plan. Investing a little time for planning drives the shift from overwhelmed to productive.

The greatest benefit of planning may be the process of thinking things through. Winston Churchill may have been right when he said “Plans are worthless, planning is priceless.” Yes, sometimes plans go awry. However, things go much more awry without them.

  • Planning helps you stop worrying about missing a deadline or an opportunity.
  • Planning helps you to anticipate so surprises are minimized.
  • Planning helps you prioritize tasks moving you towards focused success.
  • Planning helps you use your time well. When you say yes to something off–plan, you are saying no to working on–plan.

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.