What to do when EVERYTHING feels important!

What to do when EVERYTHING feels important!

How to prioritize your time, energy, and to-do list with a set of simple questions

One of the most consistent questions I’ve been asked over the last eight months is, “With so much change, how do I handle everything?” 

“Everything” may include adding the title of teacher to your list of daily responsibilities. Or perhaps it’s simultaneously managing on-site and virtual relationships. Or, balancing the nuances of being both married and home-office coworkers with your spouse for the first time.

Regardless of the specifics, we can all agree that what is required of us has changed and grown. And yes, different strategies are needed to meet the increased demands we are facing today.

The problem is we focus on finding strategies to help us manage it all without considering if it all actually has to be managed.  

Clarifying these two questions is critical because your brain isn’t naturally designed to distinguish between the two under stress.

In fact, the more stressed you feel, especially when that stress is experienced for long periods, the more your body attempts to meet the stress demands by pumping additional cortisol reserves into your system. Cortisol alters your neurological and physiological functioning, priming your body and attention to stay on high alert. You may feel this physically by tense muscles, and emotionally by heightened levels of irritation and lowered levels of patience. As a result, even the smallest things trigger an outsized reaction as your cortisol loaded brain responds by amplifying the significance of the threat while simultaneously awfulizing the negative consequences if it is left addressed.

In a life or death situation, this is ideal, but in everyday environments, not so much. The unintended consequence is that your brain struggles to apply a sense of proportionality to experiences making it difficult to distinguish meaningless and mundane events from the urgent and important.  

As a result, EVERYTHING appears to require your immediate attention and best efforts. 

For example, when stress runs high and energy runs low your brain may treat your kids instance on wearing their Halloween custom to virtual school (even though it’s not Halloween), with the same urgency as needing to follow up with your insurance agent to understand changes to your health plan and what that means in the time of COVID.

Chances are that if you’re reading this, it’s because your natural response is to dig in and try to do it all. Chances are even higher that this approach has left you feeling both exhausted and perpetually locked in a cycle of never ending overwhelm.

Breaking that cycle requires acknowledging that both time and energy are finite resources. Therefore a strategy will be most useful if it helps you focus on regulating your energy and maximizing your time. This approach is the difference between feeling like you need to manage it all and determining what in fact, needs to be managed.  

The next time it feels like the world’s to-do list is smothering you, try practicing the 7×7 Rule in response to overwhelm. Ask yourself these seven questions:

Will this matter in: 7 years, 7 months, 7 weeks, 7 days, 7 hours, 7 minutes, 7 seconds from now?

Does simply asking these questions solve the problem? No.

Does it cross things off your list? No.

What it does is help you put things into perspective, differentiate the meaningful from meaningless, prioritize where to put your time, attention, and how much emotional energy to give. These provide the clarity on what to take action on first.

The “Rule” of this strategy is not to give more time or energy than the amount of time it will matter. In other words, if it won’t matter in a week from now, don’t treat it as something that will matter seven months from now.

Your child wanting to wear their Halloween costume probably won’t matter in seven seconds from now because chances are they aren’t the only one. Let this one go – low energy input, low time input.  

Ensuring you have the right health insurance – a much more important spend of time and energy.  

Some situations, conversations, reactions, and decisions will have a lasting impact, so divert your best resource to those situations. This is not to say that small things shouldn’t bother you or aren’t worth reflecting on. They absolutely are, and you should use your emotional reactions as information to assess why that situation impacted you the way it did…and then respond in an equally measured way.

Not only is the Rule of 7×7 helpful in the moment, it is a skillful way to keep yourself in-check while preparing for a high pressure situation. This is especially powerful if you are a perfectionist. Sometimes good enough is actually good enough!

It is also a more structed way to reflect on stressful situations, particularly if you have one of those critical brains that love to analyze your reactions to the day’s events just as your head hits the pillow.

I still don’t have the answer to how to do everything, and unfortunately, I don’t think that answer is out there. Instead, shift your question’s focus to ask yourself how you can use your time and energy the best way today.

Replace Your “Do-Over” Mindset With A “Do Better” One For More Resilience

Replace Your “Do-Over” Mindset With A “Do Better” One For More Resilience

I’ve heard many people say the pandemic is our chance at a “Do-Over.”

Although I understand the sentiment, I disagree. That mindset seems backward.

Instead, I suggest this is our “Do Better” opportunity.

It’s not just semantics.

A ‘Do-Over’ mindset suggests that we erase away the past and begin anew.

But the risk of this mindset is that we approach the future from a place of fear, cynicism, and scarcity in an attempt to avoid the losses, hurts, heartaches and mistakes of the past.

A ‘Do Better’ mindset suggests that we build on and use our learnings, losses, and acknowledgments of what was and wasn’t working to get stronger.

It challenges us to accept our mistakes, take a hard look at our beliefs, be thoughtful about our decisions, and honest with the consequences of our actions.

It allows us to approach the future with courage and bravery. To use empathy to connect our differences and to extract meaning and knowledge from our adversities.

As we start to prepare for opening back up, I challenge you to think about how you can take something that has impacted so many people in so many different ways and hashtag#DoBetter in the future.

Let’s make our new normal a better one.

If You Feel Exhausted at the End of the Day, Add POWER Breaks Throughout the Day

If You Feel Exhausted at the End of the Day, Add POWER Breaks Throughout the Day

Why it’s time you put the “push through” mindset away.

If you are one of those people who can get focused quickly and maintain concentration even while distractions are competing for your attention, this article may not be for you. 

If you are great at proactively scheduling breaks into your calendar and taking those breaks throughout the day, keep doing what you’re doing. 

If on the other hand, you find your legs going numb from sitting too long, your eyes crossing from staring at your screen and you’ve moved your coffee maker onto your desk to save getting up throughout the day. And still find yourself exhausted and somehow further behind on your most crucial work, then this article is definitely for you. 

Before COVID-19, the research arm of my company, BrainAMPED, uncovered some interesting data. We found that leaders who proactively build breaks into their day (and took them), self-assessed themselves as being more focused throughout the day, less tired at the end of the workday, and in the case of having a partner at home, felt more present with them outside of work hours.

None of that was surprising. The data on working in 90-minutes cycles followed by a break is well documented. What was most surprising was that the difference between leaders who were scored as being “good” and those being “great” by their manager, direct reports, and their partners at home, wasn’t dependent on the quantity or length of breaksInstead, it was much more connected to the quality of the breaks taken throughout the day. 

Our research shows that high quality breaks consistently have five key elements. I’ve organized them into an easy to remember mnemonic, we call them P.O.W.E.R. breaks. These are short (typically 5 minutes at the low end and an thirty minutes at the high end), reset breaks taken throughout the workday. 

Let’s look at the key elements of a P.O.W.E.R. break:

P: Proactive Pause

By far, the biggest difference between those that took breaks throughout the day and those who didn’t was if they proactively scheduled them and diligently worked to keep them free, even when a request came in that would overlap.

When asked why people don’t take breaks throughout the day, even when they knew they are helpful, the most consistent answer was, “because I was too busy.” This is all a matter of brain science. The longer you work, the less time it will feel like you have to take a break. This is because your Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), the part of your brain that helps you keep things in perspective, fatigues when constantly engaged – and is less able to recognize when a break would be most beneficial.     

The second key piece is that it is a “Pause.” This means you “pause” doing work. If you schedule a 15-minute break following two meetings and you fill that time checking email, you have proactively scheduled a work execution break – not a pause break. The goal is to give that hard-working PFC a break allowing it to function best and therefore serve you best.

O: Oxygenate

This element is about consciously slowing and deepening your breath to oxygenate your brain and body. If you’ve worked with me before, you know that “Oxygenate” is a part of many strategies.  

The reason for this is simple – it is necessary. For many of you, much of the day feels fast-paced, pressure-filled and demanding. This stress kicks in the ‘fight-flight’ system resulting in quick, shallow breathing.  

Slowing down and deepening your breath activates your vagus nerve. This nerve bundle is critical to turning off the ‘flight-flight’ stress response system. It instead activates the relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.

To build this into your reset break, take a minute or two and just focus on taking some slow breaths. When done throughout the day people report lower frequency of headaches, less muscle tension and more energy.

W: Water

As counter-intuitive as this sounds, one of the biggest contributors to dehydration is immobility. When you are sitting most of the day away, water delivery to the cells is slowed which in turn decreases the flow of waste particles out of those cells – dehydrating the system and increasing the feeling of fatigue.  

This is often further exacerbated by attempting to get that ‘second wind’ by replacing a glass of water with a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, this has a tendency to further dehydrate you.

But it’s not just that you feel tired. Because your brain functions via electrical impulses between synapses, the brain requires water to serve as the conduit. When you are dehydrated the connection between these synapses slows down impacting on your ability to concentrate and think in a nimble way. 

Simply adding in more water throughout the day will have a huge impact on energy, focus and attention. 

E: Exercise

If your initial reaction is, “I don’t have time to exercise in the middle of the day!” rest assured, I am not suggesting that. In the context of a P.O.W.E.R. break, think of exercise as simply standing up, extending your limbs – moving your body.

However, if you want to amplify the impact of your breaks, add in some actual exercise that will increase your heart rate such as brisk walk. There is a reason people often say “I’m going for a walk to clear my head.” It is because the brain is optimized when we move. Focus on adding additional movement to your day, especially if you attend a lot of virtual meetings (because you don’t even need to walk to those ones!).

R: Re-evaluate  

Now that you’ve proactively disengaged from work, taken some breaths, sipped some water, and moved your body, now it’s time to get back to work. Before diving back in, use that now rested PFC to re-evaluate your approach in terms of time, energy and attention. .

This can be done by asking some simple questions such as, is this a priority? Would a phone call be a better option? Who should I engage in this decision or communicate my decision to? Is this the most impactful work you could be doing at the moment? Is there a better way?

Who hasn’t finished a day and wondered where the day went and what was actually accomplished.

When busy, most people become reactive focusing on the moment. As a result, they end up prioritizing answer emails and focusing on low value, easy-to-complete tasks. This is inevitably at the cost of high-impact, high value, strategic work. A rested brain will question your choices, a tired brain will not. 

The P.O.W.E.R. break strategy is simple. Executing on it may not be easy. Your day will fill up and it will feel like you don’t have time. Remember, these are exactly the times you need a break the most. 

Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

On my computer, you’ll find a folder called “File of Funnies.”

That is what the actual file is called. As you might expect, this is where I keep videos, pictures, memes, stories, and basically anything that I find funny. Some are just for me and others I share.

If you have ever been in one of my audiences, you know that I love to use a funny video, first to make people smile but also because I believe that when we laugh, we let the learning in.

It turns out the science would back this up. Laughter raises our overall well-being by:

1) Increasing perspective and creativity.

2) Decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol.

3) Triggering the release of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

In fact, my research on exceptional leaders and what differentiates the people that experience higher levels of Leadership Vitality versus Leadership Fatigue, (appropriate) humor and laughter are consistent contributors.

This makes sense as laughter inspires hope, it strengthens relationships, it is grounding in the midst of chaos, and it can lessen our burdens, even if only for a short time.  

I’ve seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful. ~Bob Hope

I have been filling up my “File of Funnies” lately, not just because there is a lot of funny things being shared, but because with the accumulating impact of social isolating, I need to go into the file a little more often.

Every time I scroll through, I am reminded never to underestimate the power of humor.

What could make you laugh today?

These Three Mindsets Will Help You Thrive During Change

These Three Mindsets Will Help You Thrive During Change

How to handle COVID-19 working from home.

With all of the uncertainty everyone is facing, there are three guarantees that you should expect :

1. Everything will take longer. Conferencing everyone in, trying to call into a customer service center, or waiting in line at the grocery store, expect everything to take longer.

2. Emotions will be running high. Everyone is facing uncertainty, but each person’s circumstances are different. It serves us to remember that as empathy is often the first causality in stressful situations. Even if you can’t see emotions, they are there and will influence people’s effectiveness and productivity, hence point number one.

3. Your colleagues, employees, and direct reports are TRUSTWORTHY. Please don’t make people earn your trust – start by giving it. Even if you can’t see them at their desk, even if they don’t respond immediately to your email, assume that points one and two are contributing to any delays, not that they are slacking off, untrustworthy, and lacking commitment.

It’s natural when dealing with sudden change and uncertainty for our brain to look for shortcuts via assumptions and expectations.

Shift these positively to strengthen relationships and help people be at their best.

We owe that to one another.