Six Things that Great Time-Management is about NOT doing

“#1 Will Surprise You!”
(It won’t – that’s just my silly way of highlighting that #1 is about NOT getting distracted.)

I’m writing this as the world re-opens, in stops and starts, post-covid lockdown.

And I notice that a lot of people are struggling with their Time Management. That’s understandable. So much of how we’re doing things now has had to change, that it can be difficult to find our old patterns of effectiveness. Worse, nearly everyone else is in the same situation, so that when my time-management misses a beat, it can affect several other people’s timing too.

In case it helps, here’s my six things to NOT do, if you want to have great time-management. None of these are necessarily easy by themselves, but if you or the people in your teams are finding it tricky to manage their time just now, these are the things to focus on first:

  1. Not getting Distracted
    A lot of great time-management is actually about Attention-management. Give some attention to how you can block, control, ignore or manage those things that might otherwise steal your attention – and therefore your time.
  2. Not feeling Overwhelmed
    One of the key reasons why people aren’t effective and don’t work at their best is the sense of feeling overwhelmed by all that’s required; to the point where it’s either difficult to see where to start, or hard to believe it’ll ever be finished. Start anywhere and go step-by-step if that happens.
  3. Not being Bored
    Human beings are generally hard-wired to go off and look for interesting stuff. I think it helps to not fight this. A meditation teacher once described the mind-sharpening part of meditation to me as being like training a puppy to sit still. When it wanders off, you can just gently bring it back again.
  4. Not forcing Creativity
    For most people, creativity is a process that requires inputs and some system of stirring around, before it can produce an output. Nothing wastes time quite like trying to force a high-quality decision to come or to force a deep insight into a knotty problem to arise without that process happening first.
  5. Not confusing Immediate with Important
    This is often the starting point for a lot of writing about time management. And with good reason, as it’s so easy to get into fire-fighting and so much harder to justify fire-prevention. But once you’ve dealt with the immediate priorities, don’t just focus on preventing bad stuff in the longer-term. What are the long-term benefits that you could be working towards too?
  6. Not overlooking Sequence and Task-Dependency
    Some things need to be done in a certain order to be successful. Or are dependent on other things happening first, before they can take effect. If you can avoid the paralysis sometimes caused by over-planning, then a project-management approach is often also a brilliant way to have great time-management.

Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re finding out about time-management in the “new normal”?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

What is your Time-Management NOT about? Click To Tweet

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Rules of Behaviour and Social Distancing

Why some people won’t social distance, why some people won’t tell them to, and why others are outraged

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

Useful motivation or unhelpful bullshit – how do you know?

Readers will recognise this as the unofficial motto of the US Marine Corps (and also the humorous Bear Grylls meme of a few years ago).

It was in my mind for no real reason as I woke today, feeling more than usually get-up-and-go-ish.

I often treat this kind of Improvise, Adapt, Overcome stuff with a bit of caution. In particular, how do you know when:

  • It’s a genuine sense of resourcefulness, that you really mean it and are ready to deal with whatever life and works throws your way; or
  • You’re just bullshitting yourself and don’t really feel ready to overcome anything – but desperately think you should be?

Some people would say that it’s an important distinction to make.

Because if you’re not feeling especially resourceful, but are unconsciously telling yourself that you should be able to deal with whatever comes your way, then you’re actually just setting yourself up to fail.

The more I do this coaching work, the less sure I am about the usefulness of this kind of distinction.

I’ve seen lots of people move mountains by telling themselves they should be able to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, even when it really ups the stakes of failure for them. Equally, I’ve seen people frozen into inaction by trying to live up to some impossible standard.

Perhaps the following is the best way to test the usefulness of these kind of mottos and slogans. My definition of empowerment is this:

Empowerment is the power to make decisions and take actions that affect our circumstances Click To Tweet

So does this kind of thing help you to make decisions and take actions that affect your circumstance?

If yes, go for it, maybe even get the tattoo!
If not, drop it, this one’s not for us; instead, work on what you want to have happen until you’re really clear about that.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.

Tell me about your own favourite motto and whether or not this kind of thing helps you to be empowered? Click To Tweet

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Keeping your mind fresh and flexible

When was the last time you travelled home from work on a different route to normal?

In my coaching work I often encourage people, especially those who are maybe a little stuck or who want to up their game, to go and seek out variety and unpredictability.

This is important because so much of what we do, what we say and how we think, is driven by habit. Habit is useful, because it’s ‘expensive’ from a brain-power point of view to have to stop and think about things before we do them. Being on autopilot is efficient. And yet, if habit is all that drives us, how do we develop, learn and grow?

I’ve long argued that the extra brain-expense of doing things like driving home on a different route every now and then, is a good investment, because it helps our brains make new connections and be more pliable. Those connections and that pliability are extremely useful for increased problem-solving and mental and sensory acuity – the ability to spot information and recognise patterns.

So it was interesting reading Steven Kotler’s book “The Rise of Superman – decoding the science of ultimate human performance,” in which Kotler cites unpredictability and novelty as being essential steps towards achieving what athletes call flow state.

“[things like] brushing your teeth with the wrong hand,” says Kotler, “…increases novelty and unpredictability, demanding focus and pattern recognition.”

I’m still only half-way through that book and undecided about just how useful it might be, but it’s nice to see others also emphasising these points. Kotler also goes on to quote renowned neuroscientist James Olds as saying that new routines in our daily lives produce dopamine and norepinephrine, the feel-good chemicals that our brains use to amplify focus and enhance performance. In fact, I got really excited, because Kotler then says that James Olds practices what he preaches by driving home from work a different route every night!! Unfortunately, even though this would be a great way to justify what I’ve been telling people to do for years, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate – read for yourself what Olds did actually say in one interview by clicking here.

Regardless of that possible slip up, I’m interested in how you keep things fresh and your brain nice and flexible? How do you make sure that not everything you do is driven by habit or routine?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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Recovery Position

What kind of first aid is good for when we hit a minor mental or emotional wobble at work?

I did a great course a couple of years ago on outdoor first aid (see this link).

I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a piece of learning as much as this for ages, partly because it was so practical and relevant to the outdoor volunteering I was doing at the time.

Looking back over my first aid notes recently and after having had a bit of a confidence wobble about some completely unrelated work, it made me think about how I sometimes recover from those wobbles better and faster than at other times.

I wondered if there was a kind of ‘recovery position’ that would be good first aid for my minor mental and emotional wobbles?

There are all kinds of wobbles we might want to be recovering from at work: confidence crises like the one I was having; relationship fallouts; ego-bruisings of all kinds; the shame of having made a truly awesome mistake or two; the crippling fear of something going disastrously wrong.

It feels like a minefield! – maybe that’s enough of a list for now, but let me know if I’ve missed any of the kinds of things we might need to be recovering from.

Two kinds of approaches seem to be good first-aid for those issues: State-changers and Reframes – read on to find out more.

1. State-changers

These are anything that quickly shifts our mind/body-state, and include things such as:

  • Music – always shifts my mood
  • Movement – getting my body a little warm and loosened-up always helps
  • Journalling – getting it down on paper (even if I then tear it up)
  • Getting a change of scenery
  • Talking to a friend
  • Imagery – for example, looking at some inspiring pictures.

I know there’s lots more – what are your own first-aid state-changers?

2. Re-Frames

These are about finding a new and more resourceful way of thinking about or regarding our situation. There’s a couple of different structures you can use to help find reframes, although it’s pretty easy to do anyway. Here’s a summary using my confidence-wobble example, just to show a little about how one of those structures works:

One way to use Reframes as good first aid
Situation“I’ve had a bit of a confidence wobble about some work”
Reframe it by:For example:
Thinking about others“Maybe I can use that experience to help other people in the same situation.”
Thinking about what type of person I am“I am someone who wants to do things well, so this is going to happen from time to time.”
Learning about what I believe is more important than that situation to me“I don’t want this confidence wobble to stop me, because I believe this is important work, it needs to be out there.”
Reflecting on what I’m actually capable of“I’ve got past this point this before, even if it wasn’t straightforward.”
Finding something I can do about it “I can call a friend, ask for help and see if that changes anything.”
Looking to shift something in the where and when“This often happens when I’m tired; I’m going to take a break and try when I’m fresh.”

It’d be great to know about what recovery positions you use when you hit a bit of a wobble at work – what shifts your state, or what reframe usually works for you?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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Snoozing on the Job

Should leaders pay more attention to the quality and quantity of their sleep?


This is the second in what might become an occasional series. It’s mostly come about because so many of my coaching clients are mentioning issues around health and wellbeing at work and in how it impacts their leadership. Perhaps it’s just that I’m writing in the winter-time. Nevertheless, with so many people of all ages and experience levels, and in different working sectors mentioning it, there might be something worth giving at least a little attention to. (Click here for my ‘Wellbeing’ tag to read related articles)


How well do you sleep?

And how does the quality of your sleep affect your ability to lead and function at work?

I’m convinced that way back in the mists of time, one of my ancestors volunteered our whole family to be the nighttime guardians of our tribe. We would stay up into the small hours of darkness, patrolling the borders, bravely investigating the slightest sound and, whilst watching the stars at about 4am, have the kind of interesting ideas that would really get our pulse racing.

Nowadays, that’s still a pattern that I can fall into, even when I don’t want to. And it makes me really, really tired in the daytime!

I noticed that being tired when I was trying to work had an impact that was way out of all proportion. I would miss the signals that a colleague needed my support. I would fail to spot that we were about to make a bad decision at the board. And I would produce poor-quality work that often needed revision.

My productivity, health and relationships in and out of work, all suffered. So I decided to do something about it, and got curious about what helps people sleep (and what doesn’t).

For lots of us, especially those who aren’t exactly ill, but maybe just aren’t as well as we’d like, sleep seems to be right at the heart of that wellness. If sleep is wrong, it can seem especially difficult to make improvements in any other aspects of our wellbeing and in our ability to deliver everything we want to.

So I thought I’d do a little research.

Good grief! – there is an awful lot of writing and stuff about this (there are even Sleep Coaches – see this link!). I don’t think I want to add too much to all of that writing. In part, because it’s not my area and also because what worked for me, may not be the same for you.

In terms of what currently makes a real difference to my own sleep though, there’s a few things I can’t help wanting to mention because their positive impact is so high.

Don’t take these as a solution for your own sleep needs. Rather, see them as a jumping-off point for your own experimentation. Here’s my current sleep-assisting strategy:

  1. Ban electronics from the bedroom. I joined the library and only read paper-based books in bed now. I got a stand-alone alarm clock (no-tick and with a read-out that can go entirely black). I also got a notebook for all my great 3-4am ideas.
  2. Get up at the same time as often as possible.
  3. Don’t eat after 8pm. At all.
  4. If you feel a late night coming on, try a herbal tea at bedtime, especially anything with valerian in it
  5. Have a very slick productivity process, especially something that is good at quickly and easily capturing your “To-Do’s”. I’ve written before how I’m a big ‘Getting Things Done’ (GDT) fan (see this non-affiliate link), and I’ve also used paper and app-based systems to help implement that. I currently use an IoS/Mac-only app called Things – see here

In the end, most of the useful stuff I got came from just a couple of different sources, both of which are also good reading around the subject:

  • An article in The Guardian featuring the work of Hugh Selsick, a South African psychiatrist who runs the Insomnia Clinic in Bloomsbury – see this link;
  • An article from the slighty batty but dedicatedly self-experimental Tim Ferriss, which at the time of writing was still available here – and if that link no longer works, google: “tim ferriss 5-tools-for-better-sleep.pdf”.

It’d be great to know about your own sleep patterns and how or if tiredness affects you at work – and what you’ve done or are doing about it. As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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Smarter, Stronger, Completer

You are Smarter than you think, Stronger than you feel, and more Complete than you imagine

One of my purposes in life is to someday get to the point in my work where I can convince people of the truth in that with just a simple word, or a look or a touch. Or maybe even to the point where it doesn’t need me at all. Wouldn’t that be fantastic!


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. And always remember how brilliant you are.


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What Not To Do

Perfectionising, Distractifying, Trivianeering and 4 more things that should be on your Not-to-do list

I’m writing this post as the run-up to Christmas is well and truly underway. For a change I seem to be on top of everything I’m supposed to be doing and am actually feeling quite festive relatively early (“Ho, Ho Ho.”). But this is a potentially very stressful time of year. As one study, which I first saw in The Guardian newspaper puts it, Christmas can actually give you a heart attack!

It’s no surprise that the pressure from financial and appraisal year-ends can add to our stress at work. Nor that everybody suddenly realises they’ve set the end of this month as a deadline for an awful lot of crucial objectives and that there’s still quite a bit to do! Combine that with the need to attend all those important social/networking/team-building events and (in the northern hemisphere at least) cold dark nights and grey days, and no wonder we can get a bit overwhelmed.

Perhaps a good time then to consider your Not-to-do list. And if you’re reading this some other time of year and you don’t have a Not-to-do list – why on earth not!? Here’s what should be on it:

Perfectionising
Not everybody remembers that Pareto’s Law works in two ways. The first is what we all know – 80% of our results are delivered by the first 20% of our efforts. But crucially for your Not-to-do list, the last 20% of the results you can achieve will take 80% of your effort – and it’s a parabolic curve, so that the further you aim, the tougher it gets! You’ve got to be really, really sure that anything you’re working on needs to be more than 80% perfect before you push past that point.

Distractifying
How easy is it these days to distractify ourselves?
(Don’t go looking for that word in your dictionary, I just made it up to see if I could catch you out). Checking emails, tweeting, facebooking, LinkedIn-ing, all from the comfort of your phone, even before we’ve counted actual, human, In Real Life interruptions and distractifications. Don’t do it, Stay-focussed. Rest properly when you need to rest and only check emails a couple of times a day if you can.

Trivianeering
When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory allegedly replied, “Because it’s there.” This is maybe a good reason for mountaineering, but I’m not convinced that “because it was there” is anywhere near being a good enough reason for doing things at work. Climbing Everest in those days wasn’t easy or trivial, so make sure that you’re not adding things to your to-do list just because they’re ‘there’ or are easy to do. Some mountains are important, others are just trivia.

Strugglesting
‘Strugglesting’ – intransitive verb: ‘Trying to do something but not actually getting it done; struggling without making progress.’ I don’t know about you, but this one does occasional catch me, like an unseasonal fly stuck to flypaper, I’ll sometimes keep on strugglesting for way too long. Put it on your Not-to-do list. Either break the task down so it’s small enough to get something done, or go get whatever resource you need to be able to do it. Like Yoda said, “NO! Try Not! Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Worryings
Another great thief of time and effort. Natural as it is, Worry. Never. Helps. Leo Buscaglia wrote: “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Take action to mitigate what’s worrying you, or learn to peacefully co-exist with your concerns. Put Worryings on the Not-to-do list.

Rambling
Although it’s one of my favourite Led Zeppelin songs, rambling on should be right up there on our Not-to-do lists. Don’t have unfocused meetings or calls. Don’t meet without an agenda and don’t forget to agree some specific actions as a result.

Dramacating
Don’t get dragged into other people’s dramas. Focus on what you need to do, on what only you can do, on what is best done just by you. There’s a great Polish idiom which is said with a shrug when there’s a risk of getting dragged into the mess of an unnecessary drama: “Not my circus; not my monkeys.”


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s on your Not-to-do list?
And have a great festive season whatever time of year it is.


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Don’t tell me what I can’t do!

I’m too busy doing it.

My favourite response whenever someone starts imposing their own limits on me.

Click the image above and then right click it and select ‘Save as…’ to download your copy.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. How unstoppable are you?


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The Road You’re On

Which matters most: the road you’ve chosen for yourself and your business; or your commitment to that choice?

A resource that gets used a lot in my world is the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, from his 1920 book: Mountain Interval.

It’s a very inspirational poem and what people usually like most about it are the last two lines, where Frost is talking about the two roads that he could have walked into the woods:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

It’s easy to see how this is so inspiring.

Choosing the unknown path, and dealing with all of the hardships and tests along the way, is a great reflection of everybody’s life and work experience. None of us really know what lies ahead and all of us have had trials and tribulations as well as joys and accomplishments along the way.

And yet, re-reading the poem again this morning, I wondered if perhaps I’ve been misunderstanding Frost’s emphasis.

I was struck by the end of the second verse and the beginning of the third, where he’s making the choice about which road to take. One track is grassier than the other, and yet he bothers to tell us:

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

It made me realise that both of these roads are unknown to Frost’s morning traveller.
Yes, he took the one that was a bit grassier, but actually they were really about the same.

And (with apologies for the huge sideways leap here but this is how my head works), I was reminded of doing a series of exercises around ‘White Space Analysis’ on my MBA. This is where you investigate a couple of criteria that are important to buyers in a particular market – Price and Quality, for example – and then plot all of the current offerings in that market onto a grid, to see where there might be some white space for a new offering.


What I remember most about doing that exercise over the weekend at college and then just a week or so later taking part in a marketing strategy programme back in the large organisation where I worked, was this:

With one or two exceptions perhaps, there really wasn’t a whole lot of viable white space anywhere in any market. At first glance, almost everywhere you looked, some business was already doing something that more or less fit the criteria. To really make the most of the white space exercise, you had to look beyond that first glance, to include:

  • nuance – where is there some nearly-white space?
  • competences and culture – what nearly-white space can we thrive in by virtue, say, of our innovation and/or our resilience?

That is what Frost was really saying I think. That all roads are actually already travelled a bit; just not by us. That our choice of what road to take will be determined by a nuance – the grass is slightly less worn on one track, maybe – but that it’s our choice nevertheless. That for every road we do take, one remains not taken and can never be known and should not be regretted. That what really makes a difference is not which road you choose but your commitment to being totally on it.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. How do you feel about your choice of the road you’re on – and what was involved in that?


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