self-care
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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self-care Tag

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.

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!