This blog post nearly didn’t get written. I’ve been working at a frenetic pace for the last month. It’s half term. It’s Halloween. I’ve got a bit of a cold…
We moved house this weekend. It’s an event that is generally accepted as being one of the most stressful periods of your life and if our experience can be regarded as typical, there are so many things happening simultaneously that it is sometimes hard to determine whether you are coming or going. As I’m sure my wife will testify I’m pretty meticulous and like to plan things in great detail, so in a high stress situation like moving, my challenge was not to get swept up in the chaos or to place all of my focus on the things that weren’t going to plan – of which there were many!
Now, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I was always a model of cool, calm, collectedness - there was a certain incident involving the garage keys which definitely spiked my blood pressure! – but I was struck by the impact that continually working to remain “in the moment” had on my levels of stress. Rather than focusing on what had or could go wrong, I tried to place my focus on what was happening at the precise moment in time and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of times I felt joy instead of dread.
When I was growing up I vividly remember an elderly friend of the family repeatedly telling us to “enjoy the moment” and at the time I really struggled with the concept. What I think he meant was really try to be present. Take time to notice what is going on around you, to breathe it all in. We live in a world that values and prioritises speed but all too often we fail to connect with the task at hand or the people we are interacting with. We should be human beings but much of the time we are human doings.
The challenge is to continually be in control of your state. To choose the attitude you take into a situation rather than allowing the attitude to choose you. For me that all begins in the body. What we do with our physicality has a massive impact on our mindset so taking a moment or two to stretch, to breathe, to shake things out really allows me to reset my emotional outlook. You can try it right now. As you read these words, take a couple of seconds to notice how you are feeling. What are you doing with your body? Are you holding any tension? What emotions are you experiencing? What thoughts are going through your mind? Now move. Go on! Get out of your chair. Stand up. Stretch. Take a couple of deep breaths. Smile. Feels better doesn’t it?
Making an effort to be mindful, to stay grounded and connected to your objective not only makes you feel better, it makes you more productive too. Rather than flapping around or jumping from one task to the next and back again, being in the moment helps you to move towards your goal one step at a time. It’s not easy but it is effective. During the house move at moments I felt like I was juggling 101 task but when I forced myself to focus on the most important task at hand we seemed to take exponential leaps forward.
So, as you go about your day today take a moment to pause, to notice and to make a choice. How do you choose to be? How would you like to feel? There are no guarantees that everything will go smoothly and according to plan but you’re much more likely to enjoy the journey. As for me, I’m looking forward to getting back from the office, lighting a log fire and soaking in the surroundings of our beautiful new home.
It’s been a hectic few months. I’m not complaining at all. I’ve had the pleasure of training some amazing delegates and speaking at some brilliant events and now it’s time for a rest. I’m taking next week off and I can’t wait! Of course I’m looking forward to a few lie-ins and the thought of not checking my emails is very appealing but I’m most excited about the extended opportunity to connect – with myself, with my loved ones and with my environment. It might sound a bit fluffy but connection is so important for our wellbeing and happiness and it’s a fundamental ingredient for high performance.
It All Starts With You
It may sound selfish, however, the key to being truly connected is time for yourself. If you’re not in touch with your own sense of purpose, your values and your emotions, then it’s impossible to make anything more than a superficial connection with those around you. If you want to function at a higher level, you have to be in deep connection with the things you are trying to achieve. If what you are doing doesn’t make you want to jump out of bed in the morning, then it’s unlikely that you’ll stick to the plan when temptations or opportunities for procrastination present themselves.
Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to love every little task you do, you just have to understand how each step you are taking is part of the overall journey you have chosen to embark on. I spent a good chunk of yesterday going through the business accounts. If I’m honest it’s the part of being an entrepreneur that I enjoy least. However, I know that if I want to succeed in my mission of helping people reconnect with the spoken word, I need to have a viable business that makes money and being on top of the numbers is an essential part of that.
Next week I plan to carve out some quality time each morning to focus on the bigger picture and prepare myself for the exciting challenges that lie ahead. I find that the knock on effect of this is that once I’ve had my “thinking time” I can be much more present and connected with my family. I get to really enjoy the time we spend together without getting distracted by the “work noise” that pops into my head. I’m the first to admit that I often find it difficult to switch off – I love what I do – so working in this way allows me to stay connected to all parts of my life by simply choosing where I place my focus. And I don’t just do this during the holidays. Whenever possible I start the day with planning time and some headspace, so that by the time I reach the office or the training room I am ready to hit the ground running.
There’s Always Time
One of the biggest objections I hear when I talk with people about the importance of connection is “I don’t have time”. We tend to wake up in the morning and get straight on the treadmill of life. We spend our work day moving between meetings, phone calls and emails without taking the time to breathe. Not only do we fail to make time for ourselves, we fail to make time for others too. We tend to see our interactions with colleagues and customers as transactional rather than transformational. When we do this we miss a massive opportunity.
The old adage that time is our only finite resource is often overused. What’s vital to remember though is that we are free to choose how we use it. If you had to find 10 minutes in your day to do something of “life or death” importance, you would. Of course you would also have to let something else slip to do it - that goes without saying. So what we’re really talking about is not a lack of available time but our choice of priorities. What value do you place on connection and what are the benefits of making it non-negotiable? It might be easier to have superficial “yes” or “no” conversations with colleagues and team members but what could be gained by going beneath the surface and working for deeper understanding? Getting out from behind your desk at lunchtime and seeing the world around you will create infinitely more opportunities and spark infinitely more ideas than eating a sandwich at your desk hunched over Facebook. We must take responsibility for creating space in our life. No one else can do it for us.
So, whether you need to focus on connecting with your purpose or connecting with those around you I encourage you to take some time-out this week. Are you sure you don’t have 10 minutes?...
I’m often asked by people how they can have more “presence” for me the answer is very simple, make sure you’re “in the moment”, not connected to something that has just happened or to something that’s coming up in the future. In this video I share a simple tool that I use to help me create moments of true presence everyday.
Put it into practice and let me know how you get on in the comments box below.
Have you ever been to an “update meeting”? These crimes against humanity usually take place first thing in the morning and require employees to pack themselves into crowded meeting rooms to hear progress reports on a variety of projects, most of which they are not personally working on. The concept of sharing information is of course sound but in my experience the execution of most meetings is awful. In theory the idea of keeping everyone in an organisation or team on the same metaphorical page or getting people together to share ideas is a good one but the reality is often a painful experience from which attendees take no real value. Now, I’m not a fan of having meetings for meetings sake but when it becomes necessary to get people together in a room there are three simple steps I recommend you take to protect your only finite resource: TIME.
1. Keep It Snappy!
It is common practice to schedule either 30 minutes or 60 minutes for meetings. The problem is that these go into the diary in back to back blocks and no sooner have you finished one event, than you are magically supposed to be in another location to kick off the next session. Not only does this lead to time slippage and people coming in late but it also encourages you to carry the energy from one meeting into the next. The result: If meeting A went badly, you walk into meeting B feeling negative regardless of the change in subject matter. I had the good fortune to listen to Sir Clive Woodward speak at the end of last year and he offered an ingenious (or even blindingly obvious!) solution to this problem: Create a rule that meetings can only last 15 minutes or 45 minutes and insist that 15 minutes of “travel time” must be scheduled after each event. Not only does this avoid slippage and lateness but in my experience it also makes meetings more productive. There is something about the shorter appointment time that seems to galvanise thinking, cut out waffle and force people to come to decisions. 30 minutes is comfortable. 15 minutes make things urgent!
2. Get Emotional
Good meetings have a clear objective that all participants are aware of and have bought into. However to be truely effective I think you need to go a level deeper and consider how you want to make others feel. All too often when I speak to people about why a meeting is taking place the answer I hear is “to tell people about what’s going on with the project” or “to inform the team about the changes taking place”. If your intention for your next meeting is similar then cancel it immediately and send an email instead! I’m serious! Human beings need to be engaged emotionally. Simply passing on information won’t cut it. If you want to create buy in or get a client excited about your offer, you have to think about what you want them to feel. Maybe you’re trying to inspire, perhaps you want to motivate, you may even want to challenge. Your starting point when thinking about your material should always be the emotional response you want to elicit in the audience. Work in this way and I guarantee that people will have a much greater connection to what you say. It will literally bring your meetings to life.
3. Take Action
There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at a “follow up meeting” to discover that the things you thought you’d agreed last time round have not been done. Often in a desperate attempt to get out of the room we allow meetings to end without clearly defined action points. This is quite simply a waste of time. Accountability is key. I recommend sending out a list of next actions to all participants within 24 hours of every meeting. This list can be really simple – what the action point is, the time frame agreed for completion and the name of the person owning the action. Not only does it serve as a reminder of what was agreed, the list can then be circulated before any follow up is arranged to ensure progress (The document also forms the basis for the agenda of the next meeting, killing two birds with one stone.). Science also suggests that writing the next steps down is much more likely to produce compliance than a verbal agreement meaning that meetings actually result in action, which surely is the whole point!
I’d love to hear how you make the most of your time and ensure meeting are productive and purposeful so please share any tips in the comments box below.