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Self-Accountability not Self-Criticism

Four simple questions that easily help to develop more self-accountability and avoid falling into the trap of self-criticism instead

What do you notice about your own self-accountability? Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

The best way to be true to your word is to be more self-accountable, and *less* self-critical. Click To Tweet

What we *DO* will be consistent with our beliefs about *who we are*

The single biggest predictor of people’s action and behaviour – what they will say and do – is their internal view of who they are

Think you’re a good leader? Then that will shape how you behave towards the people in your teams.

Feel like you’re organised and capable? Then that will influence how much work you take on and what you can cope with.

Do you regard yourself as someone who gets up early and pushes themselves? Then that’s way more likely to shape your motivation than ability, experience and resources.

And the converse is true as well:

  • If you feel that you’re not good leader or that you’ve let people down in the past – and you don’t take steps to focus away from that belief – then your leadership will fall short in future;
  • If you think you’re a disorganised, haphazard person – and you don’t acknowledge where your strengths really are – then your effectiveness at work will suffer;
  • If you tell yourself you’re a lazy person who doesn’t try hard enough – and that’s all you do, without properly examining what you want to achieve and why – then it’ll be doubly-hard for you to create momentum.

Rigorously examine your beliefs about who you are.

What kind of person are you – really?

Strip out all of the negative judgements. Nobody is perfect. We all fall short of the highest standards in some areas, some of the time.

It’s so important to guard against self-beliefs that limit us. Be careful about who you think you are. For example:

“I am a failure”

is 100% NOT the same as: “I am someone who has tried and failed.” Someone who has repeatedly tried and failed is a “Tryer”, not a “Failure”!

Someone who has repeatedly tried and failed is a 'Tryer', not a 'Failure'! Click To Tweet

Whenever you can, sculpt your self-identity to be totally honest and true and all-inclusive. Not rose-tinted, but not judgemental either.

Above all, our beliefs about who we are should support our higher purpose.

What are you here to achieve?
Who will benefit from you being at your best?
What are your efforts in service of?
And in the context of those answers – who do you choose to be?


What do you notice about your own self-beliefs about the kind of person you are? And how do they influence what you say and do, day-to-day?

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


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

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.


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.





Achieving Change and Progress

Chop the wood and carry the water: use small, daily actions to achieve big things

There’s a great Zen koan which goes:

Before enlightenment, chop the wood and carry the water;

After enlightenment, chop the wood and carry the water.

Like all those koans, this can be interpreted in a few different ways but I like it because of the importance of just doing the small, daily stuff. Even when working towards something as big as Enlightenment, the fire still needs to be kept going, the water still needs drawing. Even afterwards, we still need to cook, eat and drink.

I don’t think we always find it easy to adopt this mind-set. Perhaps it’s because popular culture emphasises the dramatic, heroic interventions, or the long-shot that finally pays off big-time.

Some changes, even good ones, do happen suddenly and with huge impact. But my belief is that even those are usually just the visible tipping points that result from an accumulation of force over time.

In reality, most change, progress and innovation is the result of small, daily actions that build and build. Daily actions that become habits, habits that become traits, traits that lead to paradigm shifts.

I’ve written elsewhere on this website about the importance of linking long-term goals to short-term activity. For example, see here: Planning, productivity and the cumulative S curve and here: Productivity, prioritisation and the rule of threes

The kind of daily, chopping the wood and carrying the water-type actions I’m looking at here are the most granular level of achieving your long-term objectives. We should ask ourselves:

“What’s the small thing I could do in the next five minutes that will at least keep the fires burning?
What small task can I choose every day to help water this year’s crop?”


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your current equivalent of needing to chop the wood and carry the water?





Too much to do?

Slow is Smooth; Smooth is Fast. The 3S’s of making hard work easy.

This is a saying that I like to remember whenever I find myself frantically trying to catch-up on too much at once. Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

I couldn’t find any definitive reference for where it originally comes from, although it often gets attributed to US Special Forces and even Napoleon is credited with saying something alone the lines of “Dress me slowly; I’m in a hurry.”

I first heard it listening to a talk from Formula racing drivers – it’s apparently a good mindset for winning races and not spilling off the track in a corner!


The principle is easy to understand.

Rushing into things gives you less chance to assess the ultra-important 3S’s:

  • Sequence (what’s the best order in which to do things);
  • Strategy (what’s the best way to do them); and
  • Simultaneity (what’s the best number of things to be doing at once).

Over the years I’ve tried to figure out if Slow is Smooth; Smooth is Fast is best applied to either standard or non-standard tasks, but I think it works equally well both with things you’re familiar with doing (but have a lot of) and tasks that are unfamiliar.

Getting into the mindset of doing this well is similar to a flow-state (the subject of a future article on this website), in that it’s not something you push or try hard at. Instead, it’s about relaxing into things. As Yoda might have said: “Don’t try too hard; just do.”

Similarly, instead of trying to catch the racing car in front of you, it’s about making sure that you take the best line through the next corner, and the next corner and the one after that. That is fast.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Become like water.”

Bruce Lee

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your approach when you’ve got way too much to do and not enough time to do it?





Can’t Keep Up?

Feel like you can’t keep up?
12 ways to simplify your leadership

Do you want to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, so you can finish early and still have time and energy to do other stuff? You’re not alone. More and more I’m seeing people who say they want to do more at work, enjoy more time with their family, and have more time to relax, but that their actual focus is on “keeping up.”

It may be that you’re temporarily in a really tricky situation and you just need to get out the other side of it. But if not; if that sense of not being able to keep up at work is persisting longer than it should, take a look at these short tips for breaking the pattern.

1. Identify your Top 1 – 3 priorities for the day

And once you’ve identified them, do these first thing in your day, or do them in your quality time, or scrub-out something else. Remember, you’ve either chosen to work on your own priorities, or you’ve chosen to forward somebody else’s agenda.

2. 80% is More Than Good Enough

Identify what level of %age completion/quality is right for the task you’re involved with and don’t go 1% over. Perfect is the enemy of good.

3. Delegate the ‘What’ not the ‘How’

Make sure you’re only delegating ‘outcomes’ and not telling people how to achieve those outcomes. Be prepared to live with people taking a different approach to the way you might have done it. This is the ONLY option if you don’t want to, or can’t, do everything yourself – which you don’t and cant’!

4. Don’t use your Email In-tray as a To-Do app

It doesn’t work. It DOESN’T work. Email is for communication, not task-management. Get a simple to-do app and use that instead. If your email in-tray is overflowing, make a separate folder, dump everything into there and start again with a blank in-tray, this time using a separate app to record to-do’s.

5. Manage all your Emails (and other In-boxes) using the 5-Minute RAFT Formula

Everything that arrives in your various inboxes should be dealt with using the 5-minute RAFT approach, as follows:

  • R is for Reading – can you read an item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to read it? If so, read it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into a Reading File and wait ‘til it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • A is for Action – can you action item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to do it? If so, action it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into your To-Do app and do it when it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • F is for File – can you file an item in 5 minutes or less? If so, file it now. If not, wtf is it!?
  • T is for Trash – this is my favourite. Trash it. Hit delete. Gone and forgotten. Should be your default setting – can I legitimately just hit delete or chuck this in the bin and not get emotionally-hooked.

6. Under-schedule and Over-deliver

Rather then over-schedule and under-deliver! This is strongly linked with Items 1 and 12. The best way to do more is to try and do less. Focus, focus, focus. How jammed is your calendar, how hectic is your travel schedule? “Less is more” people.

7. Ask people for their ideas

Not only is this a good way to get and stay engaged with people, you’ll end up with new and different solutions that you wouldn’t have thought. Takes a bit longer in the short-term, delivers better quality and takes the load off of you in the medium-term.

8. Know and Say your Leadership Mantra

All leaders should be able to say what the strategic aim for their organisation or department is. “What we need to do is X, Y and Z.” Repeat this whenever and wherever until you’re sick of hearing it. And then repeat it some more. This way of simplifying really helps others to get behind the programme and take-up more of the effort themselves. You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised when you hear people repeating your mantra unprompted.

9. Work through People and on Tasks

And the more senior you become, the less you should be working on tasks and the more you should be working through people. Check how your current balance is on this and see if you need to spend more time leading and less time doing. See also 10 below.

10. One-to-one Meetings are your Main Tool for Working through People

There isn’t a better way to get things done than to sit down with your people individually and coach them through their own priorities. I’d give at least one day a week to doing this for every four team members I have. Use this Coaching formula:

  • What Outcomes are they working towards?
  • What’s in the Current Situation that you and they need to be aware of?
  • What Approaches have they tried or do they want to take?
  • What Support do they need?
  • How will you know when it’s Worked?

11. Build Relationships

I bang on about this all the time. Relationships are the key to getting stuff one in organisations.

“It’s not what you know.

It’s not even who you know.

It’s how well do you know the right people?”

Nick Robinson

When was the last time you prioritised coffee with a colleague just for the sake getting to know each other better?

12. Leaders think Short, Medium AND Long-term

So often we under-estimate what can be done in the long-term and over-estimate what can be done in the short-term. The key is to plan on all three time-horizons. What’s my priority for this year, for this month, for today – and how do they link together?


I hope those help a little? Give me a shout – add a comment below if they’re still open, contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach if there’s something not covered or if you’d like to add one of your own tips.


Planning, Productivity and the Cumulative S-Curve

Time to focus on that small, regular progress which builds into really significant long-term achievement

I’m writing this in early September, just back from family holidays. It’s time to commit to and to get down on paper the priorities and achievements I want to focus on for the remainder of this calendar year. If you run your year quarterly:

  • Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec, Jan-Mar

then the start of the month before the next quarter starts is a great time to get this kind of planning done. (Which is why I’m doing planning for the Oct-Dec quarter at the beginning of September).

And, of course, any other periodic structure that works for you is just as good.


You might already know that people generally tend to under-estimate what they can achieve in the long-term, and over-estimate what they can achieve in the short-term.


One of the consequences of this tendency is that it’s really important to plan what you want to achieve in a cyclical way. To look at both long-term and short-term, and to link those together. Longer-term planning needs some ambition and vision. Shorter-term needs more realism. I’ve written before about how you might use the Rule of Threes to help with this.

Another way to think of it, is as a series of linked S-Curves.

Any project managers reading this will be familiar with the concept of the ‘S-Curve’: a graph showing how costs, labour hours, profitability or outputs in a project typically flow over time. Slower at the beginning, accelerating in the middle and slowing down again towards the end. There may even be downward slopes at the beginning and again at the end, as the rate of the input/output measure tends to drop at those points.

When it comes to how much you might achieve over time, your own S-Curve graph might look something like this:

If you can take the time each quarter to refresh this work and to intentionally plan the priorities and achievements that you want to focus on then, over time, you’ve got more chance of your overall achievements building into a kind of much bigger cumulative S-Curve. This is how small, regular progress builds into quite significant longer-term progress. I think it’s the accumulation of achievement in this way that’s behind our tendency to under-estimate just how much we can achieve in the longer-term.

If you were to make a graph of it, most project-managers (and technologists, who love this kind of stuff) will be familiar with the cumulative S-Curve graph, which looks something like this:

I often feel in this kind of planning process that the joy, spirit and motivation can all too easily get sucked out of the whole thing. Even if you’re somebody who does get excited about the planning part, it’s just as easy to lose heart when the weight of everything that needs doing becomes clear. Again, this is why it’s so important to approach this in a cyclical way. In the longer-term, a great deal can be achieved. In the shorter-term, we have to be realistic about what’s possible and find ways of motivating ourselves about it. I’ll leave you with some thoughts about stuff that does seem to help with that motivation part.

Whenever you do it, as you’re refreshing and planning the priorities and achievements you want to focus on, does it help you to also include things like these:

  • How do you want things to ‘feel’?
  • What’s exciting, attractive or rewarding about your priorities?
  • What needs to happen in order to stop the sky from falling in?
  • What does it look like? I mean, if we could jump in a time machine and travel forwards to when you’d achieved it, to the end of that S-Curve, what would we see, hear or feel in relation to each of your priority achievements?
  • How will you know when the end-point of an S-Curve has been reached?

Let me know how you get on please. What are your priorities? What timescales work for your regular planning and focussing?


Leadership Quickies

Four leadership mistakes you probably don’t even know you’re making

1. Not giving one-to-one attention to each of your team members
Leaders should act as a mentor or coach and listen to each person’s concerns, needs and ambitions, giving empathy and support, keeping communications open and setting challenges. This fulfills a deep need for respect and celebrates the individual contribution that people can make to the team. You’ll very quickly lose the right people and bring out the worst in the wrong people if you don’t do this.

2. Being safe and boring
A steady pace is all very well, but people and organisations sometimes need a leader to challenge assumptions, take risks and ask other people for their ideas. This helps stimulate creativity and develop independent thinking. When times become hard, you’ll wish you’d fixed this particular roof when the sun was shining.

3. Not having a Vision
Being able to talk about an inspiring and attractive view of the future position of your team, department or organisation is perhaps the key factor that sets great leaders apart. It isn’t difficult and it doesn’t have to be grand or world-changing (unless it is); but you do need to do it.

4. Forgetting that You’re a 24/7 Role-model
I get that it’s a tough thing to be an always-on role-model. Everybody looking to what you say and do, all the time. It is wearing. And it also just comes with the territory. People will adopt their way of doing things from watching you. Please remember that you need to be a role model for the right behavior, so that this instills pride and gains respect and trust. You don’t need to always be perfect – that isn’t possible for anyone – but you do need to visibly put it right when you haven’t been.