While the past year may have amplified it, the amount of change and uncertainty surrounding us has been steadily increasing for quite some time now. In fact, as soon as we get comfortable with something, it seems to inevitably change again.
One thing we can count on not changing anytime soon is this amount and pace of change – it’s here to stay. So how we deal with it will go a long way in determining whether we experience consistent success or setbacks.
Whether you are the type of person who is energized by change (bring it on!) or handicapped by it (what will I do?!), change causes an emotional reaction in our brains. Left unchallenged or unregulated, those emotions can overwhelm us and negatively impact our ability to think and perform well.
Here are three ways you can help mitigate that response and put yourself in a position to handle the stress (both positive and negative) that often comes with change.
One way to calm and control those emotions is to pause and recognize them. During this self-reflection process, try to assign a label to how you are feeling. Think about the emotion and the feelings created – and choose a word to describe it. Be as specific as possible, forcing yourself to work through what (for most of us) is a limited emotional library.
Rather than just choosing the word “mad” – ask yourself if you are “angry”, “disappointed”, “frustrated”, or “disrespected”? Acknowledging and labeling those emotions helps you better understand and put them in their proper place rather than allowing them to dominate your thinking. This process also forces you to engage the more rational, thinking part of your brain – always a good way to calm that emotional response.
Key Question to Ask Yourself: What am I truly feeling?
Emotional responses often cause us to shift our focus internally – what does this mean for me? An easy way to fight that is to force yourself to think through the change from multiple perspectives to better see the entire picture. Be curious and ask good questions to help you understand the need and motivation for the change.
Shifting your time perspective can be helpful as well. You may feel charged now, but how will you feel one week, one month, or one year down the road? Envision a future state to better understand how you may feel about the change in time.
Key Question to Ask Yourself: What am I not seeing?
Every change comes with opportunity. The key is to always be on the lookout for it. Rather than just reacting to the immediate circumstances, try to expand your thinking to see what new opportunities are now available. Growth and change go hand in hand, so sometimes being forced to grow through change is exactly what we need to push through our comfort zones.
When experiencing change, create a discipline to work through a process to identify those new opportunities. This is where the voice of an outsider can be especially helpful. Engage a partner, coach, or mentor to help challenge your thinking to see the possibilities.
Key Question to Ask Yourself: What does this make possible?
One common theme with all three of these strategies is to ask yourself, “How do I push past my emotional response and think through the situation?” Whatever your natural reaction is to change (ready or reluctant), finding ways to control those emotions to help you think and react well is key. In fact, it’s probably the biggest factor in whether you only survive the challenge – or are able to thrive and come through it even stronger.
With the amount of information, distractions, and change surrounding us today, staying productive and focused is harder than it’s ever been. But for the people and organizations that have been able to figure it out, it has quickly become a competitive advantage.
For the rest of us, it seems like a never-ending cycle of success and setbacks. There are days when I can conquer my to-do list with purpose and passion and days when I find myself in a constant state of reaction and overwhelm.
So, like many people, I’m always on the lookout for new tips, tricks, and hacks to help me be more productive. And while I’ve found some success in this area (turning off all my notifications has been huge for me), many of us still struggle to find long-term consistency because we believe some common myths about productivity—and they hold us back.
At Building Champions, we say beliefs always come before behaviors. So, rather than sharing a quick tip, let’s look at five false beliefs around productivity we’ve seen people struggle with (myself included).
Myth No. 1: It’s About Time Management
When many leaders begin to work with us, they often mention time management as one of their biggest struggles, and it is usually accompanied by a sense of overwhelm and always being behind. This belief is often rooted in the idea that the things they are doing are good—there just isn’t enough time to get all of them done.
When thinking about time management, we often want to focus on efficiency: How do I get better at what I’m doing? If you want to improve your productivity, we need to shift our focus to effectiveness: Am I even doing the right things?
We all have the same number of minutes in a year (525,600 to be exact). Rather than focusing on managing our time, we need to focus on managing our priorities, making sure we make room for our most important activities.
After all, productivity isn’t about getting more things done—it’s about consistently getting the right things done.
Myth No. 2: Being Busy is a Good Thing
If you ask a co-worker or friend how they are doing, you’ll often get a response that involves some level of busyness. In fact, many people today seem to wear the word busy as a badge of honor. This belief is often rooted in a sense of value. If I’m doing lots of things, constantly in motion, then my work must matter. And often the opposite holds true, If I don’t look busy, then people may begin to think I’m not working hard.
But too often we mistake motion (being busy) for action (behaviors that drive outcomes). Author James Clear refers to this as “the mistake smart people make.” Motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress—but often it’s busyness that keeps us from tackling the scary hard actions we need to take to achieve anything great. Legendary coach John Wooden once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Yet when we buy this lie, we often do.
Myth No. 3: Multitasking Makes Me More Effective
This myth is so pervasive that I fear many of us have come to believe it is true. It’s often rooted in a feeling that with so much going on the only way to get it all done is to do a couple of things at once. Plus, everyone else is doing it (and most proud of it) so it can’t be that bad, right?
But the truth is that researchers believe that only about two percent of humans are actually capable of multitasking. The rest of us are experiencing contextual switching—picking up and putting down different tasks at lightning speed so it almost feels seamless. But it’s not seamless—in fact, it requires a lot of resources.
In addition to making you less happy, researchers estimate that it reduces productivity by 40 percent and can lower your IQ by 10 points (the same effect as losing a night of sleep; two times the effect of smoking marijuana).
Myth No. 4: I Must Be Accessible at All Times
This myth is often rooted in a place of good intention—wanting to be a good teammate and serve others well. In a 24/7, digital, uber-connected world, sometimes we have the expectation that constant accessibility is a requirement. For some of us working more remotely, this burden can be exasperated and forces us to blend the boundaries between work and life in unhealthy ways.
But a side effect of always being accessible is that we often spend more time reacting to what’s going on around us, often serving at the whim of every interruption and email that comes our way. And these constant distractions come with a real cost.
According to a study by Microsoft, on average employees lose 25 minutes every time they immediately respond to an email notification—and never return to their original task more than 25 percent of the time.
Always reacting to someone else’s needs and priorities can also foster a pattern of passiveness—always waiting for the next interruption rather than being intentional with how you prioritize and invest your time.
Myth No. 5: Working More is the Answer
I have a long history of struggling with this one. For me, it is rooted in a feeling that I have too much to do in the time I have, so I’ll just find more time. We covered the first problem above—there is only so much time available. This leads us to the second and bigger problem—we often “find” time by investing more hours in our jobs at the expense of the other areas of our life.
This causes two main side effects. The first is in our personal well-being. The extra investment in our work usually comes with costs: skipping a workout, missing a family meal, allowing relationships to suffer. Self-leadership must always be a priority—we must be at our best in order to give our best to those around us, including our work.
The second side effect often goes unnoticed but carries an equally high cost—our creativity and productivity. We don’t often think of intellectual work as being as demanding as physical labor, but it requires a huge amount of resources and energy to maintain focus and produce quality ideas and insights. We’ve all experienced the effect of this: we can only work so long without a break before the quality of our work begins to suffer.
In a quest to get more done, the extra investment of time can actually harm our productivity and well-being. The old adage is true here: the key is to work smarter not harder.
I’ll share it again: beliefs always come before behaviors. I know those behaviors matter—ultimately, they will decide whether you succeed or fail, find new levels of productivity or fall further behind.
But if you don’t align your beliefs first, then consistently executing on those behaviors will be nearly impossible. So, before you hop in and try to adopt some new techniques, take some time to reflect on the myths above and figure out which ones are holding you back. If you change your beliefs first, then adopting long-term effective behaviors will be easier—and necessary if you want to see lasting change and results.
A couple of years ago, Ken Perry shared a challenge he was undertaking. One push-up a day—add a push-up per day. As a bit of a competitive person at heart, it didn’t take long for me to accept the challenge myself.
Sounded simple enough, especially in January. To be honest, it almost felt weird doing just one push-up that first day.
But as the months wore on—and the number went up—the challenge became harder and harder. Starting in late October, I was doing more than 300 push-ups per day. And because 2020 was a leap year (of course it was), I ended with 366 push-ups on December 31.
In case you’re curious, that added up to a total of 67,161 push-ups throughout last year.
Here are some lessons I learned (or was reminded of) along the way:
It feels good to finish what you start
There is definitely satisfaction in finishing something (especially something hard). I hate to admit it, but I’m not naturally a finisher—which sometimes causes me to walk away from things too soon. But I’m glad I stuck it out to the end—it definitely makes me want to swing big with another goal or challenge in the future.
Accountability is key
Big goals mixed with accountability is a great recipe. Share your goals with others so you can be encouraged along the way. Accountability doesn’t have to be overly structured or scary but can be extremely effective. It was great to have colleagues and friends checking in and asking me how the challenge was going. Plus, knowing that others are pulling for you and invested in your goals can be a difference-maker, especially in a season of isolation like we find ourselves in now.
Reframe your goal
If the task is big, find creative ways to break it into smaller, more doable chunks. 300 push-ups seemed like a huge task. Six sets of 50 push-ups were much more manageable. Each set I completed also felt like a little win and helped to keep me motivated throughout the day.
Start earlier in the day
Get ‘em done. Getting the push-ups done earlier in the day always made a difference. Try to get your important stuff done early in the day so it’s not hanging over you—plus you are more likely to make sure it gets done. Trying to knock out 100 push-ups right before bed is never a great way to end a day.
Be honest with yourself
Don’t cheat yourself. On days where I was a bit foggy on how many push-ups I had left, I always did extra just to be sure. Integrity starts with keeping your promises to yourself.
Know when to quit
Don’t be afraid to walk away if you need to. I actually attempted this challenge the previous year but had to stop in June because of a shoulder injury. I reset and tried again last year—and felt stronger and more prepared through the entire experience. No shame or guilt if you need to stop for the right reasons. (Perseverance can be overrated at times.)
While I’m sure every experience is different, my hope is that you can apply some of these lessons as you undertake your own challenges and chase big goals this year in both your leadership and life.
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