Fortitude, Personal Development

Productivity Habits for High Achievers

If I have learned anything in my 20+ years of project management experience, it’s that there is always room to grow and improve my skills as a PM. Some of the best things I’m learning about being a successful PM didn’t come from college, expensive seminars, or even on the job training. What I’m about to share with you are several simple habits and tips we can adopt to maximize our productivity on the job and in life. Since we are all managers of ourselves, these tips can help us be better no matter our profession.

Set the environment to be productive

A quick internet search for “most productive work environments” will provide more than you need know about the pros and cons of every conceivable variable in your work space so I’ll just offer a few suggestions. The point is to minimize the distractions that keep you from focusing on your work.

  1. Since your optimum work environment is based on your personal preferences, try to personalize your space to suit you.  Display photos, inspirational quotes, or a trinket to help remind you of why you are working so hard and to offer a bit of encouragement when you look at it during a stressful time.
  2. Consider lighting. Most agree natural light is best, but if you are stuck under fluorescent lighting, try adding a lamp to soften the light at your work area. You can work better when you aren’t squinting all day from uncomfortable lighting.
  3. Your chair is important. Sitting at a desk all day is bad enough on our body. I’ve heard it said that desk work is as bad for your health as smoking. Get a comfortable chair, try a stand up desk, incorporate Deskercise into your day, and stretch your legs occasionally.
  4. Neat or messy work area? I’m not sure it matters, and everyone defines messy differently. I’ll say that if you struggle to find what you are looking for, then you need to tidy up. Remove items from your work area that you don’t use regularly, and make a sensible filing system. When organizing your files and work area, consider this question, “If I died tomorrow, would someone else be able to pick up where I left off and find what is needed to continue my job?”
  5. Temperature matters too. If you are too warm or cold at your work area, you will use precious energy to manage your comfort instead of your work. Dress in layers and use a personal fan or space heater handy if you need it.

Stop time wasting activities

We all have unique time wasting activities. Find a way to make the activity efficient, delegate it to someone else, or eliminate it. One example for me is social media. Mindlessly scrolling the news feed for “quick break” can end up being 20 minutes or more without realizing it. One trick I do is to kill my news feed on my work computer to eliminate the temptation. For work tasks that seem cumbersome or inefficient, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this a task I must do, or can someone else do it for me?
  2. When is the most convenient time for me to do this task?
  3. What value does this task add? If it’s not valuable, change it to make it valuable, or stop doing it.

Take notes

Write down the pop up thoughts to clear your mind and get back to it later. Sometimes these thoughts are important reminders to do something, but you are in the middle of another task. By writing it down, you free your mind from it, and guard against forgetting about it later. If I’m away from my desk, I’ll add a note or reminder with alarm on my phone. It feels great to clear my head of these pop up thoughts so I can focus on the task in front of me.

The 3 D’s of email

  1. Delete. Our inboxes get filled with worthless mail. If I don’t recognize who it came from, or the subject line is not related to my work, it gets deleted immediately. But first I mark it as spam and have my email service block them from sending me more.
  2. Deal with it. Some work related mail can be dealt with in 2 minutes or less. Those should be done upon reading, otherwise you are just wasting your time to close the email and reopen it later. Just reply and be done with it. Make your reply thorough so you don’t create unnecessary back & forth with the sender.
  3. Defer it. This is the hardest one for me. If I let it, answering email could fill my entire day, every day. To get any of my other work done, I must simply defer some email to a time that fits my day. I do this by blocking out time in my day specifically to handle email. This way, I only handle the email once and it’s done. This strategy helps me fight the urge to react to the “ping” when new mail comes in. When the sender realizes sending urgent email is not getting the desired response, they will call, or meet in person.

-Don’t be a slave to your phone

Unless I’m aware of some mission critical activity taking place after my normal work hours, I simply do not answer the phone. It can wait until morning. In my experience, there is often very little that can be done after business hours anyway. Everyone else is closed, so no action of consequence can be taken until the next business day anyway. Behaving this way teaches others how to respect your time, and your family will thank you.

-Own your morning

In my opinion, how you manage your first waking hours of each day has more impact on your personal performance and productivity than anything else you will do all day. This is the time before the phone calls, team meetings, and the barrage of email, reports, and decisions due throughout the day. Early morning is your time to take care of you so you can best take care of your other responsibilities. Use this precious time to renew your mind, workout, and fuel your body for the day ahead. Keep reading for more details.

-Read & reflect

High achievers read to learn and they take the time to process what they are reading so they can take action on what they learned. Choose any topic that interests you, but it should be for your personal and professional development. Read something that encourages you to be a better human; a better leader, employee, boss, project manager, etc. I like to read long enough to capture an idea to reflect upon. Then I write about it in my journal. The writing exercise grounds me. Thinking and writing about what I just read helps me to process what I read, remember it, and hopefully put it to action right away. I spend about 30 minutes a day on this activity and am convinced it yields the greatest return in my personal productivity for my time investment.

-Sweat

High achievers understand the importance of their physical health. Let’s face it, if we aren’t healthy, we can’t be our best. Ignoring your physical health may not seem like a big deal today, but it will in the future. You need to build healthy habits now to increase your probability of a long, healthy future. Spend some time to exercise first thing in the morning. Twenty to 30 minutes of exercise, 3-4 times a week is all you need. While some will say you must do this or that exercise, but I recommend that you just get moving. Get your heart rate up, break a sweat, and challenge your muscles. It will help clear your mind, reduce stress, and rev up your internal systems for the busy day ahead.

-The secret weapon

We have all experienced the energy and motivational slump that occurs in the mid-afternoon. Our mornings typically go by fast, but once lunch is behind us a couple hours it seems extra hard to tackle another pressing task. The reason we struggle at this time of day may not be what you think. Unless you are disciplined about how much water you drink throughout the day, it is very likely that you are dehydrated. The secret weapon to revitalize yourself is simply water. A decent rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. For me, that means by 3:00 p.m. I should have drank at least 60 oz of water. Trust me, this works. The sluggishness we feel, the headache that we blame on staring at the monitor, and the irritability we sense is not from “that guy” but from your body telling you that it needs more water. Stay hydrated and plow through your afternoon with vigor and clarity.

 –Create margin in your calendar

Have you ever experienced a work day when everything went as planned? Me either. Despite our best efforts to not double book ourselves for meetings, or to tackle that complex issue right after lunch, the day of a project manager is routinely hijacked by the unplanned, the interruption, and the hair-on-fire crisis. The days can be stressful and frustrating to say the least. That’s why it’s so important to create margin in your calendar. You must block out periods of time in your day and week that are reserved for important tasks. These are closed door, leave-a-message, I’m-not-available-right-now times so you can do your vital task. Block out the time for whatever it needs to be, but you must schedule it. Maybe you need an hour to catch up email or return calls without interruption. Maybe you need to focus on the budget report. Maybe you need to get a workout or eat a healthy lunch. Block it out on your schedule. Here’s what I’ve learned by doing this:

  1. The margin greatly reduces the stress of work. I feel more in control of my time and energy.
  2. I am more productive and produce higher quality work faster.
  3. Work “emergencies” are resolved better when I have uninterrupted focus to handle them, versus trying to multi-task.

While there are lots of good ideas here, I recommend trying just one or two at a time to start. Get those firmly ingrained into your daily/ weekly routine before moving on to the next one. Taking on too much at once is a recipe for failure and discouragement. What are your tips and tricks to optimize your personal productivity? Encourage us with your comments below.

Fortitude, Personal Development

How To Break A Bad Habit

how-to-break-bad-habits-778x1024If you set some significant goals this year, you might be feeling the challenge of sticking with them already. That’s especially true if you have a BAD HABIT holding you back.

Deeply ingrained habits are hard to break—but not impossible. There are a few steps you can take to break that bad habit, which I will explain now. Fasten your seat belts! This could change your life. 

Step 1. Admit the Challenge

Half the power of habits is our LACK OF AWARENESS. When we do become aware of a habit working against us, we have to ADMIT it’s inhibiting our progress. It doesn’t have to be life-threatening to be serious. It simply has to be standing in the way of your goals.

Most of us don’t take the time to sit still and THINK about such things. While I highly recommend some daily quiet time to focus your mind and take a regular sober self-assessment, start with remembering WHY you set the goal in the first place. Then think about what is holding you back. Write it down. Say this to yourself right now, with as much conviction as you can muster: “I have a problem with [fill in the blank].”

The good news is that whatever the impediment, you’re not alone. Other people have faced it, too. And from their success you can take courage that you can overcome it as well. All it takes is determination, a plan, and a trustworthy friend.

Step 2. Understand How Habits Work

Once the bad habit is identified, we need to understand how it works in order to break its power over us. A habit has three components:

The TRIGGER. This is often something we see with our eyes. But it can involve the rest of our senses as well.

The BEHAVIOR. Normally, we think of the behavior as the habit itself: overeating, procrastination, whatever. But it’s only our response to the trigger.

The REWARD. More than the physical sensation we experience, this is the dopamine hit the behavior produces.

The trick is that we begin experiencing the reward at the point of the trigger—even before we act. Your brain gives you a dopamine hit every time your eyes encounter something you associate with the reward. It’s like a feel-good credit card. The fun comes now; the bill comes later.

This where we get tripped up. Because it’s our human nature to look at, think about, and pay attention to is whatever we’ve done in the past that was immediately rewarded, we have to practice delayed gratification. Believe in your heart that the future reward is far greater than the instant & temporary reward. 

So think about the habit you want to break. Can you identify the trigger? This is where the sober self-assessment comes in handy. Everybody struggles with a warped view of themselves. Surprised? Most of us think too low of ourselves (I’m not good enough, not qualified, not worthy, etc.) Newsflash: YOU ARE A MASTERPIECE!

You were made for more than the bad habits and their empty and temporary rewards. An accurate view of yourself gives you the key to discovering your life purpose which will go a long way to helping you achieve your goals. Take encouragement from this verse from my favorite book: Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

You’ve admitted you have a bad habit you want to change, you understand a bit more how habits work and hopefully have identified the trigger, and hopefully you’ve taken a sober self-assessment. Next let’s address MINDSET in clarifying what you want (the goal or good habit).

habits

Step 3. Flip the Switch

Have you ever tried really hard to NOT think about the thing you don’t want to (the trigger to the bad habit) only to find you are even MORE drawn to it? Yeah, me too. It’s normal. Thinking about defeating the bad habit will often send you right into the thing you are trying to avoid. The ‘trick’ is to REPLACE the thoughts with something else. This takes some practice, but it works.

It’s creating a new association for the trigger. You likely can’t make the trigger go away, so you have to relate the trigger to something positive instead. For example, say my bad habit is mindless eating. I always seem to be eating when I watch TV. Instead of not watching TV, I need to recognize that doing so is a trigger for me to eat snacks. So instead I need to consciously think of a new association when watching TV. Maybe I’ll chew gum, or drink water instead. Maybe I can do push-ups during commercials! That might also help minimize TV time!

Give your brain a new focus. In my example, the behavior was to eat snacks, but now you chew gum or drink water. Similar behavior, but much healthier. The point is to find something you can DO to change your focus to something different and better.

Another key to the mindset part of breaking bad habits is addressing your WHY. I talk/ write about this often because it is so powerful and effective to personal achievement. You need to have a personal, compelling reason(s) WHY you want to change. It’s not enough to say you want to quit smoking because it is bad for you. Why is it bad for YOU? What might quitting mean to your future self? How might quitting smoking affect your family? What will you do with the money you save from not buying smokes? Ask yourself these types of questions until you find the reason that truly motivates you to do this hard thing of breaking the bad habit. Go to this reason when you struggle, when you are tempted, when it gets really hard to resist. Your WHY will help keep you motivated.

If you’ve made it with me this far, I have good news. This is the home stretch. Just a couple more points to digest and you are on your way to slaying your bad habits for good! 

Let me be the first to agree with you that it is EASY to read (and write) about breaking bad habits. It’s really hard to actually DO it. I know. I share this info to encourage you, but also for my own good. I’m preaching to myself here.

By now you understand more about bad habits than you probably wanted, and maybe you’ve had some success in your journey to kick it already – which is awesome! 

But how do you keep up the good work over the long term? Thanks for asking. 

I have a couple ideas:

Track Your Progress. Not surprisingly, there are several free apps you can get to help you trade your bad habits for good ones. I prefer a journal and/ or written checklist or calendar to help me stay the course. Either way, it’s important to have a way to record your progress. It helps hold you accountable, serves as a reminder, and gives you a record of your journey so you can look back on it.

Tell a friend. This is REALLY important. Yep, it might be uncomfortable to share what you are doing, but a couple things happen when you get an accountability partner. One, it confirms to you that you are serious about replacing a bad habit. And two, you have a trusted friend who cares about you and will be there for you when times get tough. It’s really hard to replace bad habits all alone. Get someone to help you be accountable and maybe invite them to do it with you.

Never give up. Transformation won’t happen overnight. You must persevere through hard times. Keep an eye on the prize. Remember your WHY and how great it will be to have freedom from the “old you” or the bad habit that has kept you down for so long. When you hit a setback in your journey, remember that you don’t have to start all over. Just get back on track from where you left off. You can do it!

528739481-good-habits

Humans are bent toward addiction, to habit, routine, call it what you want. The key is to make sure that you are “addicted” to good habits – the ones that lead to the results you want and help you to take care of what is really important to you.

If this information is helpful or encouraging to you, would you please leave a comment? Feedback helps me to know I’m connecting with you and providing value to your life.

Fortitude

Making Time

making time

YOU WILL ALWAYS MAKE TIME FOR WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU.

I really like this quote. It reminds me that I CHOOSE how to spend my time everyday. Granted, there are things we must do (like work) that take our time whether we like it or not. But I’m often surprised at how much time I REALLY have to do the things that are important to me.
Few notes:
1. You first have to identify what is important to you. This may require some serious thought. Like me, you may find that what is actually important to you is not exactly what you first thought.

2. Take inventory of your time to identify where your time is currently spent. If you don’t like how you spent it, then CHOOSE differently next time.

3. While it is impossible to actually “make time”, we can CHOOSE to spend our time on the important things we’ve identified.

What is important to you? I hope it includes taking care of yourself – and I mean your whole self:
-your mind through reading, art, personal development, etc.
-your body through good nutrition, regular exercise, and rest
-your soul through prayer, Bible study, meditation, helping others, etc.
‪#‎liveonpurpose‬ ‪#‎beyourbestself‬

Fitness, Fortitude, Personal Development

Brush Your Teeth To Fitness

Discipline bridge

Here are a few ideas to help you achieve your fitness goals, whether you are triathlon training (like me), trying to get to your target weight, couch to 5k, or making it through an entire Beachbody DVD program like PiYo (my favorite).

1. Write down your plan.
Make your workouts part of your daily schedule/ routine – just like brushing your teeth, work meetings, appointments, etc. Consistently completing your scheduled workout appointment will build the habit – and improve your results.

2. Have a purpose to your workout.
This is especially true of endurance athletes who often log unnecessary or “junk miles” because they believe the volume of work will make them better. Not necessarily true. Regardless of your fitness goals, make sure your workout is aligned with them. Focus on your form and the quality of your workout. Learn to do it right before adding weight or intensity to your workout.

3. Try Habit Stacking. One clever way to sneak in your exercise is to associate it with something else already in your routine. I’ve made it a habit to hit my pull up bar after brushing me teeth in the morning. It only takes a minute. Brush teeth. Do pull ups. Boom! done!

4. Don’t ever give up.
Sometimes circumstances will block your workout schedule. Life happens. Healthy living is a journey intended to last a lifetime. Miss a day? Don’t do a double the next day, just move on to the next one. Short on time? Sneak in a partial workout, or modify it to get some activity in. Some is better than none. Building the habit is key and consistency grows over time. Eventually, exercise will be such a natural part of your life that you hardly have to think about it. Daily workout? Yep, that’s just like brushing your teeth…

 

Fortitude

#1 Obstacle to Achieving Your Goal – YOU

Lombardi commitment1

Today I encourage your to take a hard look at personal commitment to your goals. On a scale of 1 to 10 how committed are you to achieving ‘X’?

If you answered of 7 or less, it’s time to re-evaluate your goal (‘X’). Realize that whatever ‘X’ is most likely isn’t going to get done with a C- commitment level.
You are either committed to something or you’re not. A 70% commitment is like no commitment at all. Think about your goal and the real reasons you want it. WHY do you want to achieve ‘X’? Connect with this question on an emotional level. Act like… a 2 yr old when you answer WHY, and ask it again and again until you get to the REAL reason you want to achieve ‘X’.

Example: “I want to lose 30 lbs. Why? So I can look better for my class reunion. Why? Because I don’t want people to see that I ‘let myself go’. Why? Because I’m embarrassed/ ashamed about the way I look and feel. Why? Because my mom/ dad was overweight and the diabetes and heart disease from it eventually killed her/ him. I have seen first hand what unhealthy living can do to a person. I want to live a long, healthy life and be around for my grandkids.”

See how “lose 30 lbs” became “being around for my grandkids”? That’s the kind of process that gets you from 70% commitment to 100% fully committed to your goal. Your goal doesn’t have to be weight loss or health related at all. It might be to get out of debt, to change careers, or whatever it is that’s important to you. ‪#‎allin‬ ‪#‎go4it‬‪#‎onlythingstoppingyouisyou‬