One of the biggest complaints clients bring to me in coaching sessions is the painful experience of chronic overwhelm. At no time in history have we ever had so much information coming at us. This environment is calling for a new set of skills that separates the mediocre from the impactful.
What I’m going to share with you may be the single most important differentiator between those who thrive in this climate of rocket-speed technological connection and those who will be derailed from burnout or exist in perpetual reaction mode, never accomplishing their aims. Having a plan will ensure you stay balanced and focused on the important contributions you were meant to make. It isn’t a magic bullet, but if you commit to this plan you will feel like magic as you work. And more importantly, your outcomes will be exponentially greater than your peers and competitors.
One of my clients came to her coaching call with me in a state of anxiety that is common these days. When I asked her to describe how it felt, she used a powerful metaphor that said it all. She felt as though she were in a blender, trying to keep her head above water at the top. What was her greatest fear? That in her exhaustion she would let go and be pulled into the vortex of blades lying beneath her. Wow! That is a pretty scary metaphor and her voice told me she felt quite desperate. That was five years ago, and this kind of experience is even more common today. Anxiety is quickly rising to the top of complaints from clients and friends alike.
What surprises clients is that we know the answer to this dilemma. What’s more, with a simple plan and a strong dose of character development we can not only solve it, but help them rise above everyone else to make impactful contributions in their field. Why? Because so many of their colleagues are stuck in the pattern, making it easier to be the one who stands out in the crowd.
Here’s the deal. Everything in your life, at home and at work, depends on the automatic behaviors you engage in every day without being aware of most of them. The mind likes to fall into routines that produce your outcomes. The only difference between you and someone who becomes powerfully successful in their field is their habits. And those habits create outcomes. But here’s the rub. If you don’t examine those habits carefully, they get wired into your patterns and produce the same unconscious outcomes over and over. Stasis and stagnation set in, even if it looks like you are working harder than everyone else.
Steps to amp up your creative output:
Step 1: Assess where you spend your time now. Are you taking calls and meetings not connected to your most important work? Take an inventory of where you spent your time over the last two weeks and put them into three buckets:
1. What other people wanted from you
2. What you feel like you should do but are half-hearted about
3. What you do best and are deeply interested in working on
Once you know where your daily habits are taking you, choose to prioritize No. 3 and get rid of as many of No. 1 and No. 2 as you can.
Step 2: Mind your own business. Don’t be tempted to waste time on drama. Say no to interruptions that are about ego-driven politics and never participate in conversations about someone who is not present. Instead, if you have a problem with someone, make an appointment and have the conversation face to face, then get back to work. Be an example for others when they want to gossip with you too—suggest they deal directly with the source.
Step 3: Ruthlessly prioritize your top 3 interests and strengths. Block uninterrupted time during the most productive part of your day and hold those boundaries strictly so you can spend your most productive time learning about and doing what interests you most. Treat this time as sacred and invest in your most compelling and challenging work first. This is not selfish because it will be the one thing that helps you make a unique contribution to the enterprise at some point.
Step 4: Carefully evaluate your routine habits. Once a quarter conduct an inventory of your existing daily and weekly habits and see if they take away from or add to your most important work. Learn how to change habits and do it regularly until you have the ideal set of daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routines that produce top notch results. Eventually it will snowball into exponential contributions because you will be 10 times more productive than almost everyone around you.
Step 5: Learn how to focus on “right now.” Learn how to manage the temporal aspects of your thoughts by meditating daily. When the mind wanders to the past or too far into the future it can trigger emotions in the limbic system that will derail your best thinking. The past usually triggers regret, guilt and worry. The future can feel overwhelming, daunting or downright impossible. In this mindset, half of the blood flow will divert to your limbic system and render you less intelligent as you work because the pre-frontal cortex is starved of what powers it: blood flow. Learn self-soothing techniques and command the full power of your creative brain by focusing on NOW.
Step 6: Incubate your ideas by choosing balance that keeps your heart, mind, body and spirit in good shape. Technology is important, even critical to most jobs today. But ensure you don’t spend too much time working on devices that create brain strain and chronic stress. This ensures that you will ignore other important aspects of your life, like important relationships, leisure time, health, play and relaxation. Genius thinking requires that you work smarter, not longer. When you incubate your ideas and let them rest by engaging in activity other than work, what happens when you return to work will surprise you. That nagging problem you couldn’t figure out when you were tired will suddenly be solved with a brilliant insight that came from your unconscious. And you’ll have more energy to tackle it too.
Step 7: Invest in your most important relationships. Once you have completed your commitments to your top interests and priorities, spend the rest of your work day and leisure time to ensure your longevity and well-being long term. This includes nurturing the relationship you have with yourself first. If you ignore either self-care or caring for the most important people in your life due to not establishing good habits and sticking to them, you will end up with some big wake-up calls later. Your health will decline or your relationships will fall apart and put you smack in the middle of a crisis. Those who focus on achievement at the expense of overall fulfillment are the most in danger of this long-term outcome.
Only balance and working brilliantly with solid, contributive habits can ensure we are successful in both work and life in a sustainable way. Examining why you do what you do takes discernment and commitment. It takes a deep and lifelong commitment to character development and character strength building. And it happens today. Then each day after that, one day at a time.