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

Failing Forward

failing forwardI like to read books. I read to learn much more often than I read for an entertaining story. Sometimes I get through a book that really speaks to me. Failing Forward is impactful to say the least. I highly recommend it for your personal development regardless of age, career, personality, etc. You can benefit from the encouragement in this book. However, if you aren’t likely to read the book, maybe you can read my notes on it here along with some personal commentary from my experience.

First let me just say that fear of failing is a big deal for me. I’ve struggled with it my entire life. I was the kid that was so afraid to try something new because I didn’t want to fail at it. I sure wasn’t going to let anyone see me fail if I could help it. I would first study, watch, analyze the thing, play my moves over and over in my head until I was certain that I could do it and do it well. If not, I would practice in secret until I got it down, then reveal to all that I could do it as if it were no big deal. I captured the story about learning to ride a bike in a short video HERE. Kinda funny.

The issue didn’t disappear over time just because I supposedly grew up. In fact the mindset of fear and aversion to failure just grew deeper and more difficult to overcome in some instances. I’m certain that my fear to risk has stunted my career and limited my potential as a leader. But not all is lost my friends! This old dog is still learning, still working on me so I can be my best for those people who count on me the most. If you can relate, keep reading and I hope you find some inspiration and encouragement to fail forward.

The following is taken directly from Maxwell’s book. It’s a summary of my favorite lines. 203 pages reduced to one short list. You’re welcome.

15 Steps to Failing Forward

  1. Realize there is one major difference between average people and achieving people. The difference is their perception of and response to failure. No matter how difficult your problems, the key to overcoming them is not changing your circumstances, it’s changing yourself. Changing yourself is a process that starts with a desire to be teachable.Three-feet-from-gold
  2. Learn a new definition of failure. “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison  Regard failure as the price you pay for progress.
  3. Remove the “you” from failure. James Allen – “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thought.” People who don’t give up keep trying because they don’t base their self-worth on their  performance. Take responsibility for your failures, but don’t take them personally.
  4. Take action and reduce your fear. Don’t wait for motivation to magically inspire you to act. Just do it. Exercise, eat right, love sacrificially, kick a bad habit, whatever the thing is, DO IT without motivation and then it happens. Your motivation comes AFTER you do the thing and makes it easier for you to keep on doing it. act into feelingYou are more likely to act yourself into feeling than feeling yourself into action. So act! DO whatever it is that you know you should do.
  5. Change your response to failure by accepting responsibility. If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. “Ninety percent of all those who fail are not actually defeated. They simply quit.” – Paul J. Meyer “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of our responsibilities.” – Sire Josiah Stamp
  6. Don’t let failure from outside get inside you. Failure and success is an inside job. conquer2The battleground is between your ears. If you want to achieve, you have to win the war in your thinking first. “Handicaps can only disable us if we let them. This is true not only of physical challenges, but mental and emotional as well…I believe real and lasting limitations are created in our minds, not our bodies.” – Roger Crawford.
  7. Say good-bye to yesterday. You will not be able to be your best today until you say good-bye to yesterday. Today may be your day to turn the hurts of your past into a breakthrough for the future. Don’t allow anything from your personal history to keep holding you hostage.
  8. Change yourself, and your world changes. If you are not happy with your job, your family situation, or life, look at what you can change in yourself before trying to alter your circumstances.  “The circumstances of life, the events of life, and the people around me do not make me the way I am, but reveal the way I am.” – Sam Peoples Jr.
  9. Get over yourself and start giving yourself. A major cause of negative thinking and poor mental health is self-absorption. Generous people are rarely mentally ill. If you tend to take yourself too seriously, give yourself and others a break. Recognize that laughter breeds resilience.
  10. Find the benefit in every bad experience. trust_the_processWe tend to overestimate the event and underestimate the process. Every fulfilled dream occurred because of dedication to a process. To achieve your dreams you must embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you’re not failing you’re probably not really moving forward. Journaling is good for this.
  11. If at first you do succeed, try something harder. Risk must be evaluated not by the fear in generates in you or the probability of success, but in the value of the goal.
  12. Learn from a bad experience and make it a good experience. Ben Franklin – “The things which hurt, instruct.” Your attitude toward failure determines your altitude after failure. When a person has the right mind set, every obstacle introduces him to himself. “Learning is defined by a change in behavior. You haven’t learned a thing until you take action and use it.” – Don Shula
  13. Work on the weakness that weakens you. Take a sober self-assessment. Real success lies in experiencing fear or aversion and acting in spite of it.

Top 10 Ways People Get in Their Own Way

Poor People Skills Learn how to get along with other people. Period.

A Negative Attitude Learn to make the best of any  situation.

A Bad Fit Sometimes a case of mismatched abilities, interests, personality, or values can be a major contributor to chronic failure.

Lack of Focus People lacking focus are not too busy, but have priorities out of whack.

A Weak Commitment The last time you failed, did you stop trying because you failed, or did you fail because your stopped trying?

An Unwillingness to Change If you resist change, you’re really resisting success. Learn flexibility, or learn to like living with your failures.

A Shortcut Mind-Set If  you continually give in to your moods or impulses, then you need to change your approach to doing things. Set standards for yourself that require accountability. Suffering a consequence for not following through helps you stay on track.

Relying on Talent Alone Adding a strong work ethic to talent is like pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s explosive!

A Response to Poor Information “Expect only 5% of an intelligence report to be accurate. The trick of a good commander is to isolate the 5%.” – General Douglas MacArthur.

No Goals Many people don’t have goals because they haven’t allowed themselves to dream. No dream= no desire. If that describes you, then you must look deep within yourself to determine WHY you are on this planet. Once you know that, you’ll know what to shoot for.

14. Understand there is not much difference between failure and success. Having a sense of purpose is the fuel that powers persistence in the midst of adversity. “Ninety-nine percent of failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” – George Washington Carver

15. Get up, get over it, and get going. It’s what you do after you get back up that counts. Nothing of value is achieved without taking risks. Winning usually follows losing.

  • Finalize your Goal
  • Order your plans.
  • Risk failing by taking action
  • Welcome mistakes
  • Advance based on your character
  • Reevaluate your progress continually
  • Develop new strategies to succeed

You made it! You read this far because this subject struck a chord with you. Or maybe because you are determined to not read the whole book, but wanted to get the high points. Either way, mission accomplished.

Fitness, Personal Development

Snooze Now, ConQuer Later

I can remember taking ‘power naps’ in college. At very random times of day, I would just lay down for a few minutes between classes. My posse back then often did the same. We’d say, “I need a 10.” It was our code for nap time. Just 10-20 minutes is all that was needed. I remember feeling so much better afterwards. Naps really work. I steal one every now and then these days, but its not my habit. Maybe it should be. A quick glance through history books reveals a long line of influential nappers. Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Thomas Edison were all known to take naps.

Their decision, it turns out, is backed by science.

Napping and productivity

The benefits of getting enough sleep are widely acknowledged, but why choose naps instead of catching more Zs at night? The simple answer is that it makes the second part of your day as productive as the first. About an hour after waking is considered our most productive time. Even if you consider yourself a night-owl, chances are your cognitive abilities are sharper after some shut-eye. It is more than common sense. It is science.

In a review of the many studies conducted on napping, Dr. Catherine Milner and Dr. Kimberly A. Cote find a host of productivity-related benefits. Napping improves reaction time, psychomotor speed, vigor, and vigilance. In one [study}(https://elibrary.ru/item.asp?id=7466161), participants saw their ability to complete additional tasks improve post-nap and in another, retirees saw improvements in episodic memory, visuospatial abilities, and general cognition. Yet another study on memory found that working-aged people were able to perform recall tasks better after a nap when compared to drinking coffee. The nap doesn’t need to be long: even a six-minute micro-nap improves declarative memory.

Napping and learning

Sleep is known to help consolidate memory and contribute to learning, but some scientists say the same benefits can be reaped from naps. Dr. Sara Mednick looks at how sleep impacts learning. In a 2003 study, she found that a 90-minute snooze is just about as good for learning perceptual skills as a full eight hours. Even better, the power of a nap adds to the learning potential experienced during regular sleeping hours.

Participants who napped in addition to their regular sleep schedule experienced “improvement, such that performance over 24 hours showed as much learning as is normally seen after twice that length of time.” The research suggests that if you’re struggling with complex learning tasks, a nap can help.

Napping and health

We know that getting enough sleep is important for overall health, but there is also evidence that napping, in particular, is a healthy habit. A 2016 study by the European Society of Cardiology compared the health of 386 patients with arterial hypertension to see how napping might impact their health.

Those that took mid-day naps had lower blood pressure and anatomical evidence of less blood pressure related damage. Napping was also associated with fewer medication prescriptions.

The benefits extend into real-world results. In a longitudinal study of over 23,000 healthy people, nappers had a much lower rate of coronary mortality. Those who napped occasionally had a 12% lower coronary mortality rate, while those who napped often had a 37% percent lower rate.

Towards a culture of napping

Napping is becoming popular because it is easier to coordinate than a full eight hours of blissfully uninterrupted shut-eye at night. Work hours are long and time with our families is precious. A twenty-minute nap can be slotted in between meetings or a longer snooze can take place over lunch, leaving free time at home to be spent on hobbies or with loved ones.

In China, public napping is commonplace. “It’s nothing unusual,” Chinese journalist Lorraine Lu writes. “If you get tired, you just put a cushion or pillow on your desk, lay your head on it and rest for 15 minutes.”

Aside from the workplace, subways and even Ikea are fair game. The same is true of several other Asia countries, and the afternoon siesta is a time-honored condition in many Spanish-speaking nations.

Though the United States is yet to catch up, some companies are coming around to the idea of corporate nap time. A 2011 poll found that 34% of respondents were allowed to nap at work and hundreds of sleep pods are popping up in offices, hospitals, and schools around the country.

If you aren’t one of the Americans already taking naps, there is no time like the present.

*credit belongs to Erin Wildermuth and the team at michaelhyatt.com for doing the heavy lifting on this article

Fitness

Performance Enhancers You Need Now

People everywhere are looking for an edge. We’ve heard stories of the illegal performance enhancing drugs athletes have taken to get ahead of their competition. Doping scandals in cycling, steroids in baseball and football, and all kinds of crazy stuff in bodybuilding are what most of us think about when we hear the term “performance enhancers.”

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be tempted by performance enhancement though. Have you seen the ads for magic potions you can take to boost your energy, stay alert longer, improve mental clarity? These products are marketed to you and me – regular people who feel exhausted and just want to keep up with the demands on our time and energy, let alone excel at our roles of spouse, parent, worker, weekend warrior, etc.

infuses-red-bull-with-5-hour-energy

If you are like me, you aren’t likely going for illegal substances to keep sharp, but maybe you’ve been tempted to pop a pill or take some elixir to gain the edge you desire.

Well, I have some good news weary friend! We don’t need illegal substances, controlled substances, or so called energy potions to help us through our busy days. We can be our best by incorporating a few simple disciplines into our daily life.

all-natural-y13w7x

Sleep

We need to rest. 7-8 hours of sleep per night is recommended. You are laughing because that hasn’t happened for you in a long time. But why not? I challenge you to review your schedule and see where you can change your routine to get the rest you need. Chances are, you don’t need to watch that late game, movie, or TV drama. If you are just vegging in the evenings, I suggest cutting that short and going to bed. I wrote earlier about HOW TO SLEEP, and if you are looking for some rest for your weary soul, I covered that topic HERE.  Bottom line is that if you want to be sharp, you need to rest. Schedule it in your day like any other important appointment.

Water

I’m willing to bet you don’t drink enough water. Most of us don’t. There is a simple way to know if you are well hydrated. Look at the color of your urine. The more clear it is, the more hydrated you are. Being hydrated wards off common headaches, grumpiness, and a long list of physical ailments that keep you from being your best. Proper hydration = better performance.

Exercise

“I don’t have time to exercise!” Baloney. You don’t have time to SKIP exercise. Regular vigorous exercise is so good for you. It’s a natural mood booster, gives mental alertness & clarity, and actually energizes you for the day. Morning or mid-day exercises will help you power through your work day like nothing else. Besides, what good can you be in your most important roles at home and work if your body is a wreck and you are sick all the time? Take care of your body, and it will take care of you – and enhance your performance.

Balanced Diet

“Ugh. You had to mention food.” Yep. Food is fuel and your body is a finely tuned MACHINE. The fastest way to get physical results in your shape is through proper nutrition. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to follow the latest fad diet or starve yourself or spend a fortune on fancy produce to eat healthy. What you need is to eat reasonable portion sizes, more veggies, less cake and beer, and you will be shocked at how much better you feel. When you feel great, performance is enhanced – naturally.

BB Performance

OK, so there is this one thing. Sometimes we could use a quality supplement to our healthy lifestyle. I found the Beachbody Performance line to be just that. With real food all natural ingredients, these supplements taste great and help my body perform optimally.

IMG_2033

Personal Development/ Journaling

You’ve got to feed your mind and soul as well as your body. Taking time daily to read and reflect on something positive and encouraging (hmmm, the Team Quadzilla blog…) will go a long way to keeping you sharp and performing your best. The inputs to our mind dramatically impact our mood and attitude.  I find great encouragement in journaling. It doesn’t sound very manly, but let me tell you it is super healthy. If you want to leave a positive legacy for the next generation, I encourage you to journal your thoughts, prayers, fears, dreams, and happenings in your life. Those who come behind you might be encouraged by your writing. Journaling also helps to clear your head, reflect, and focus your mind for the day. It’s an exercise worth doing daily.

So there you have it. Nothing earth shattering here, but that’s kinda the point. Healthy living is not supposed to be complicated. We still need to actually DO these things though. Start with one and move on from there. You want to be your best and many others are counting on you as well. Maybe these simple reminders will inspire you to make a change today.

Fitness

Desk Jockeys Need Deskercise!

Desk-Jockey-American-worker

Every Desk Jockey understands the stiff and sleepy feeling that hits around 2:30 nearly every afternoon. Sitting all day staring at the screen and banging away on the keyboard is exhausting and potentially hazardous to your health.*

To save us from looking like the guy pictured above, I made a video of a very short and simple routine you can do at your desk to loosen your stiff muscles, increase your blood & oxygen flow, and wake you out of the afternoon coma.

Stretches

Neck Roll

Shoulder Roll

One Arm Hug

Overhead Side Stretch

Triceps stretch

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Spinal Twist

Hand/ Wrist Stretch

Quads & Hammy Stretch

Strength

Desk Dips

Desk Pushups

Seated Leg Lift

Chair Squat

Forward Lunge

Tippy Toes

One Leg Balance

Wall Sit

Coach tips:

  1. Set a recurring appointment on your calendar every afternoon for 10 minutes to go through this routine. It is sure to help you power through the rest of your day.
  2. Invite your cubical neighbors to join you. Though I don’t think it looks silly to do these moves on your own, it will be super cool to have a small group Deskercising together. All the cool kids are doing it!
  3. Skip the caffeine fix and sugary snacks. These will spike your blood sugar for 20 minutes, but then you crash again which makes you feel more tired and hungry than before. Instead, go for a big drink of water or a piece of whole fruit for your afternoon snack.
  4. Remember that healthy and alert employees are more productive. In fact, your health is part of your job. Don’t feel guilty about taking this short break because you are too busy. Your boss will thank you for taking care of yourself so you can keep doing quality work.
  5. Deskercise is a great help to the afternoon slump, but it is not a replacement for regular exercise. Target 30 mins of moderate to intense exercise 4-5 times a week for best results. Get access to 100’s of world-class fitness programs from yoga to dance to weightlifting that you can do at home by clicking HERE.

*While some research suggests that “sitting is the new smoking”, other research argues that maybe sitting isn’t as bad as we think. However, virtually all research agrees that people in general are far less physically active than previous generations and we need to move more to optimize our health. I agree. Let’s get moving people!