In order to do great work, we must deepen our ability to focus exclusively on whatever it is we are doing. This seems so obvious, right?
As sensory overload shrivels our ability to direct available attention where it needs to be, one of the biggest challenges we face is to not only build the skill of focus, but to also improve our ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli.
Neuroscience research indicates that ignoring irrelevant stimuli is a very active process taking place in the brain. And that it requires a lot of cognitive energy. The greater the distraction, the more cognitive energy required to ignore it.
With increased cognitive energy being directed toward ignoring irrelevant stimuli, there is much less bandwidth to actually focus with clarity and precision on the task at hand.
Bearing this in mind, it's not only about deepening our focus, but also about creating the conditions necessary to be able to ignore distractions.
So, how might we learn to better ignore distractions?
If you were to look at your own workspace, how organized is it? How easily can you reach for your headphones or grab your favorite pen? I'm certainly no expert at keeping my own space neat and tidy! I can vividly recall many times in the past, the impact that a cluttered working space had on my ability to be productive.
For example, reaching for my headphones that are tucked on the shelf behind me. As I try to get them, I realize the chord is caught between a pile of papers, a magazine and an old coffee cup. As I try to pull the headphones toward me, everything goes crashing to the floor.
In frustration, I untangle the chord and reach down to pick up the papers, magazine, and coffee cup. The result? Not only am I cursing myself, I'm also experiencing massive spikes in cortisol, adrenaline, and cognitive load. Not a great way to stay focused on the original task I was trying to do.
The evidence is very clear on this. The more easily retrievable something is, the better. The more organized and efficient your space is, the less there is required to ignore. The brain, at a subconscious level, picks up everything around it. Meaning that the disorganization and clutter is very taxing on the brain.
In order to perform at our best and be as productive as possible, it is worth our time and energy to redesign our workspace, declutter it, and have only the essentials on hand.
Again, all of this seems so obvious, but the hardest part is to take consistent action to declutter. Decluttering physically is also an act of decluttering mentally. And as world renowned consultant and author Marie Kondo says:
"The space in which we live and work should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past."
I still have a way to go in my own life when it comes to decluttering, but in knowing how important it is, I'm definitely prioritizing it. What about you?
Thanks for reading folks.
We all experience time pressure in our lives that can inevitably result in a feeling of being rushed. As we think of all the tasks that we have to do, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there simply isn’t enough time to finish everything.
This perception of not having enough time can often lead to a sense of helplessness or overwhelm that literally paralyzes us from taking action.
Researchers call it ‘task paralysis’ which is a freeze in motivation that may result in procrastination and task avoidance caused by our ever-looming to-do list.
I’ve come across lots of different people who approach their to-do lists very differently. Some wake up and just know what they need to do. Their to-do list is in their heads and they tackle one task at a time until they go home and start the next day doing the same.
Other people write their to-do list either before going to bed or when waking up in the morning. Perhaps it’s on a sticky note or, in some cases, in a journal or note pad, or on their device.
Despite having to-do lists, what percentage of tasks actually get done, on average, each day?
According to a Huffington News report, approximately 66% of professionals write to-do lists on a daily basis but only 59% of these tasks ever get done, leaving a 41% average of uncompleted tasks each day.
Why might this be?
One of the main reasons why is that many people do not spend enough time truly prioritizing what needs to be done each day. They have no filtering system to assess the level of urgency with these tasks which can lead to a feeling that everything is urgent. Like a big tangled ball of tasks needing to be done.
To avoid this, we can take action to change this immediately. If you are a person who feels overwhelm to due time pressure, below are two things you might consider doing.
Night Time Routine:
Invest 5-10 minutes of quiet time each night to not only write out a to-do list, but to ask yourself:
What is the urgency of doing this tomorrow?
When you ask yourself this question you are essentially assessing the urgency of the task. This strategy can help you to better create your to-do lists for each day.
Why do it at night?
The latest neuroscience research suggests that doing this at night unloads our subconscious of worry and anxiety related to the things we have to do the next day. The act of writing it down reduces cognitive load which can result in a better sleep. And who doesn't love a good night's sleep? :)
Eisenhower Decision-Making Matrix:
Before Dwight Eisenhower took the office of President of the United States, he was a general in the United States Army. He had to continuously make difficult decisions in regards to the tasks he had to focus on each day.
This led him to create the Eisenhower principle which helped him to assess the urgency and importance of the tasks he faced each day.
It was later called the Eisenhower Decision-Making Matrix and he brought it with him into his presidency. Many people still use this matrix today to help them prioritize the tasks they need to complete each day. Here it is:
As you can see from the matrix below, you can use it as a mechanism to make better quality decisions about what goes on your to-do list and what doesn’t each day. A simple, yet powerful tool to vet your decision-making.
In summary, if you are on top of your daily to-do list and are among the few who actually complete everything on the list, great job. Keep up whatever it is you are doing.
If not, you may think about approaching your daily tasks differently and see what kind of success you have.
Thanks for reading.
The evidence is quite clear when it comes to multitasking. By and large, multitasking leads to reduced accuracy and increased errors in whatever tasks are being focused on in the moment. As a result of multitasking, the quality of work being done is greatly diminished.
I would venture a guess that anyone who has multitasked, in the past, has experienced what this is like.
There are some people who understand the negative impact that multitasking has on performance and try to focus their daily work on one task at a time. They dig into a task that needs to be done and try very hard to make whatever it is they are working on their singular focus.
In the moment, they are making some gains and then, BOOM! Just like that, they realize that they didn’t send an email they were supposed to send.
They switch gears, leave Task A to quickly jump over to Task B. They send that email then return back to Task A. Once the dust settles a bit, they try to get back to the same level of momentum they had with Task A right before they jumped over to do Task B.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? If so, you have probably experienced what it is like to be a task jumper.
Dr. Sophie Leroy, a professor at the University of Washington School of Business has specifically focused her work on the study of attention for nearly 20 years. The main question that guides her research is:
What allows us to have focused attention and what makes it so hard to do so in today’s world of interruptions, distractions, decentralized decision making and information overload?
For nearly two decades, she has studied the brain and how humans deal with having to constantly switch focus from one task to another. As a result of her research, she coined the term ‘Attention Residue’.
In Dr. Leroy’s own words, she says:
“Attention residue easily occurs when we leave tasks unfinished, when we get interrupted, or when we anticipate that once we have a chance to get to the unfinished or pending work, we will have to rush to get it done. Our brain finds it hard to let go of these tasks, and instead keeps them active in the back of our mind, even when we are trying to focus on and perform other tasks.”
She also refers to this as a ‘grazing approach to getting work done’ and that this way of working creates a build up of ‘attention residue’.
A person can literally leave 10-20% of their attention on a previous task at a subconscious level. They may feel like they are fully present and engaged in the original task once they come back to it. In reality though, they are distracted and unable to focus, as clearly as they need to, in order to complete their work with clarity and precision.
There are several strategies that can help a person overcome the need to be a task jumper and I will focus on some of these strategies in future blog posts. For today though, I will share one thing for you to consider when you think about your own performance.
To what extent do you block off uninterrupted time in your daily calendar to do deeper work?
By blocking off uninterrupted time to do deeper work, we train ourselves to ‘follow through’ on tasks and build up our tolerance to avoid unnecessary distractions that get in the way of completing important work.
Of course, this is not always possible as some interruptions are unavoidable. But, when we learn to block off sacred time to get important work done and challenge ourselves to stick with the task at hand, it can have a very positive impact on our performance.
More to follow in tomorrow's blog post. As always, thanks for reading and sharing with anyone who may benefit from these daily posts.
Having hope is essential in life as it hugely contributes to our happiness, well-being and levels of motivation. It allows us to see what's possible and even helps us better cope with adversity and hardship when these things are thrown in our path.
However, hope alone is not enough.
Hope can get the steam engine rolling, but so much more is needed to build and sustain true momentum in our lives.
The dictionary definition of hope is this:
~a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen
Turning our hopes into reality requires effective planning and sound strategy.
Plans are intentions or decisions about what a person is going to do. Strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.
As you can see, there is a big difference between hope and strategy/planning.
It is human nature to hope for happiness, joy, fulfillment and well-being in our lives. Or to hope for a promotion, improved physical fitness, or better relationships. We can hope that our managers or bosses see and value us. We can hope that those who lead us will see our worth and contribution. But, is simply hoping for these things enough?
Conversely, leaders can hope that the people that work under them will do their best to be productive and impactful. They can hope that those who they lead will take initiative and be motivated to show up as their best selves each day. But again, is simply hoping enough?
Planning and strategy are imperative. Having clear intentions and making a conscious effort to check in with these intentions is a must. Creating strategies that help us move toward our intended goals requires deep commitment and consistency in regards to our actions. Precision, clarity and transparency are also critical components within this process.
Bearing this in mind, here are a few questions for you to consider:
How often are you checking in with your daily intentions and goals?
To what extent do you strategize when it comes to turning your hopes into reality?
How clear are your goals and your strategies in the first place?
How are you communicating, from an authentic place, what these goals and strategies are with those who matter most?
Thanks for reading.
Most people have experienced the absence of inner peace at some point in their lives. A feeling of lingering dissatisfaction that, at times, can be interwoven into the fabric of life.
If we were to double click on these feelings, where might the dissatisfaction and absence of inner peace come from? What might be the root cause? Although there is no right answer to these questions, some research suggests that feelings such as this could possibly stem from being misaligned or not having a clearly defined purpose in our lives.
A few months back, I had the inspiring and insightful, Dr. Michael Gervais, on my podcast. Michael is a world renowned high performance psychologist who has devoted his life to helping people become their best through mindset training.
Something Michael said to me on the podcast resonated deeply with me. It challenged me to think about my own life and work through a different lens. It helped me to understand that there is a very fine line between deep optimism and despair, especially when it comes to my capabilities and potential.
Here is a very short clip of Michael expanding on this idea in our podcast:
If you were to reflect on your own work, the ambitions you have, and the goals you are chasing, how do Michael's words land with you? Have you experienced both deep optimism and despair when it comes to thinking about what you are capable of achieving or doing in your life? How clear are you on your own path toward fulfillment? And what are next steps needed to get you there?
As always, thanks for reading. I hope these short daily blogs help to get you thinking about your own life differently. To listen to the entire Dr. Michael Gervais podcast that I recorded with him last October, please click the photo below.
According to Northwestern psychologist, Dr. Dan McAdams, all humans are natural storytellers that constantly revise and edit the ways that they talk about the past and the future. Dr. McAdams work revolves around the concept of 'narrative identity'.
Every person has their own unique journey in life and with this journey comes a multitude of experiences that shape who they are. Some of these experiences might have been filled with joy, wonder, a sense of awe, and accomplishment. Other experiences might have left them with pain, suffering, regret, shame and emotional scars.
As Dr. McAdam says, what narrative identity does is create 'historians of self'. People see their past as something that they can draw meaning from that can then be applied to what they think might happen in the future.
I've been fortunate enough to interview some amazing people on my podcast over the years. What I have learned from interviewing some of the best in the world is that they all own their story. Whether it be gold medallists in the Olympics, professional athletes, best-selling authors, top researchers or world renowned performance psychologists, they all embrace their stories; the ups, the downs, the triumphs, the failures, the deep regrets and so on.
They know with certainty that they are vessels of self-learning. They also know that it is very important to do the deep internal work needed to consistently move forward in their life in empowering ways.
By and large, these people are willing to explore their past and mine for the gold, but also accept they are works of art in progress that are flawed with imperfections. The most important part of their journey is that they have always been willing to 'own their story' and learn from it.
Recognizing and accepting our past can be difficult at times. It can be easier to avoid sitting in the potential discomfort, emotional stress, and anxiety caused by exploring painful memories and experiences in our life, but as Brene Brown's quote above emphasizes, there are two choices:
"You either walk inside of your story and own it or stand outside of your story and hustle for your worthiness"
So, as you reflect on your own personal narrative from the past and present, reflect on these three questions:
To what extent are you willing to stand in your story and own it?
What have you learned about yourself based on exploring this story?
And lastly, how has both the good and not so good of your story shaped the person you currently are?
Thanks for reading.
There are always going to be times when we feel less confident and unsure of ourselves. Moments in time that we simply feel we don't measure up to others. According to research, a natural and healthy reaction to the feeling of inferiority is compensation. And with compensation comes efforts to overcome the feelings of inferiority.
Dr. Alfred Adler, the Austrian born medical doctor, psychoanalyst, and founder of the first school of individual psychology devoted his career to unpacking what causes feelings of inferiority and he even coined the term 'Inferiority Complex'.
In more extreme cases, some people experience intense personal feelings of inadequacy that can often lead to the lifelong belief that one is deficient or broken. It is sad to imagine the impact that this has on their life and their relationships.
As you think about your own life, both personally and professionally, it is important to understand what is within your own locus of internal control and what is not within your locus of control. At the end of the day, we are the ones who are ultimately in control of the thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves. Nobody is forcing us to feel the way we do about ourselves.
This is a gentle reminder to always remember that. If you catch yourself comparing yourself to others or not feeling as though you measure up, remember that you are in the driver's seat.
When I came across the Winston Churchill quote above, it reminded me that we are all in control of our thoughts and inner dialogue. And as he says:
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Drawing more self-awareness to what is within our control and what isn't can help us reframe when necessary. It might not be possible to forever eliminate feelings of inferiority, but it's certainly possible to decrease how often we allow ourselves to feel this way.
And it's completely up to us whether or not we let people make us feel inferior or not.
Thanks for reading.
The accelerated pace at which the world is advancing has placed enormous pressure on humans. Technology has, without question, changed the world that we live in. Although it allows us to do more than we ever did before, the need to multitask in order to keep up is ever-present in our lives.
Dr. Adam Gazzaley is an M.D. and P.H.D. in Neuroscience at the Mont Sinai School of Medicine in New York. His research has shown that interruptions in the workplace take place, on average, every 5 minutes and that average response times to text messages is roughly one minute.
He believes that humans, nowadays, are always in need of being switched on and that incessant distraction is the new normal. Dr. Gazzaley has even coined the term ‘Phantom Pocket Vibration Syndrome’ which is the perception that one's mobile phone is vibrating or ringing when it is not.
The constant distractions all around us, in every waking moment of the day, makes it extraordinarily difficult to give our full, prolonged, deep attention to anything.
We are often taught that the ability to multitask gives us the feeling that we are getting more done. But, in reality, how possible is it to be 100% focused we when we are multitasking? And how does it get in the way of being more productive?
Linda Stone, a world-renowned consultant for Apple and Microsoft calls it Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). She believes that most people are caught up in this state with regularity in their lives. Linda's work shows that multitasking does not improve performance. It actually leads to our focus being fragmented and disjointed.
So, what can you do about this? I’m certainly not claiming to have the right answers, but what I have learned is that focus is a ‘trainable skill’. Research suggests that if we can become more aware of where we are placing our energy and attention, we can begin to address the levels of distraction in our busy lives. Bearing this in mind, is it possible to decrease the amount of multitasking in our lives?
In closing, some questions to think about are:
How might we better goal-set in order to prioritize what is on our to-do lists for each day?
How can we create the time and space needed to address one task or challenge at a time whenever possible?
And lastly, how can we minimize multitasking in order to maximize our attention, focus and productivity?
Thanks for reading.
My friend, Gary Nicol, a well-known golf instructor, and his business partner, Dr. Karl Morris, wrote a fantastic 3-book series aimed at helping people on their journey to becoming the best possible version of themselves as a golfer.
Most golf instructional books focus on the technical aspects of the golf swing. Instead, Gary and Karl’s book series aims to help golfers better understand their relationship with the game itself, the internal voice that they bring with them on to the course, the questions they need to ask themselves to be able to play the game to the best of their ability, and where they place their attention when going through the process of hitting each shot. It is a very mindful approach to the game of golf.
One of the themes they explore in their books is the idea of 'Intention versus Attention'. Gary and Karl believe that without a crystal clear intention, we have no start or finish line. And that once we have clarity of intention, we now have somewhere to place our attention.
Although they unpack this idea as it relates to the game of golf, Gary and I have often spoken about how this theme transcends the game of golf and applies to everything we do in life. We actually spoke about this in a podcast we recorded last week while I was in Scotland (to be released soon).
As you think about Gary and Karl’s work and how it applies to life in general, it is helpful to reflect on these questions:
To what extent do you feel you set intentions in your daily life?
How clear are these intentions?
To what extent are you able place all of your attention on these intentions?
What gets in the way of your attention?
Reflecting on the degree to which we focus our attention on the intentions we create will allow us to build the skill of focus. And with increased focus comes improved performance. Something to think about as you approach each day.
Thanks for reading.
It’s easy to put off till tomorrow what can be done today. And when it comes to our own growth, there are very specific conditions necessary to thrive, both personally and/or professionally.
For some, it is common practice to take charge of their own learning. These people are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to develop themselves, in order to move closer toward mastery of self and craft.
For others, it isn’t so easy to do so. Although these people strive to be their best selves, they can often times be overcome by nagging self-doubt and an inability to identify the next steps needed in their own learning and growth.
This can be the result of a number of factors. For example, not having had any real mentors or being explored to poor leaders in the past, working in organizations that did not support learning and growth, or never having experienced genuine autonomy in past jobs.
It’s necessary for leaders to consider how they are using each day to help create the conditions necessary for growth in their organizations. Especially considering these organizations probably have both types of people described above. To any leader reading this, consider this question:
How might you be differentiating growth opportunities to meet your employees where they are at in regards to their own learning and development?
With each day, comes new opportunities to empower all people under your leadership to thrive and flourish in their own unique ways within your organization. It is easy to categorize people into either being willing or unwilling to grow and learn. Just as a teacher has to differentiate their instruction to meet the diverse needs of the students under their care and guidance, every leader also has the responsibility to individualize and differentiate professional growth in a way that makes learning accessible to all of their employees.
Seneca’s quote above states, ‘As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all and make it your possession.’
Grabbing a hold of each day, will allow you, as a leader, to take action on the steps needed to empower those around you to show up as their best self and feel completely supported along the way.
Thanks for reading.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.