Escape the Tyranny of Your To-Do List

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by my to-do list. I can end up grinding my teeth thinking about all the meetings, projects, and deadlines piling up on my calendar. That’s when I know it’s time to take a deep breath, calm myself, and affirm, as the Daily Word recently reminded me:

I have all the time I need

to do all that I need to do.

Once I’ve calmed myself, I’m able to reprioritize and see that everything is happening perfectly—on God’s timetable, not my own.

When you’re on a tight schedule, one of the things that can add to that feeling of stress is an interruption: A traffic jam puts you a half-hour behind. An urgent phone call breaks your train of thought. An unexpected visitor interferes with your carefully planned day. But don’t be too quick to look at interruptions as the enemy. Sometimes those unwelcome intrusions are blessings in disguise. For example, there have been times when I’ve gotten bogged down in my writing and an interruption occurs. Surprisingly, when I return to my writing, I find the right words. Neuroscientists call such interruptions “disfluency” and confirm that they can enhance creativity by leading to insights and innovation.

A variation of the interruption is the plan gone awry:  New developments undermine the project you’re working on. The dream job you wanted so badly isn’t offered to you. A layoff derails your carefully planned career. At times like these, it’s wise see if the bad news is, in fact, good news in disguise. An example I often give is when the California wildfires of 2007 burned down our house. At first, that loss seemed devastating. But it led to our moving across the street to the house we’d always dreamed of living in—which was priced lower than the cost to rebuild our old house!

So escape the tyranny of your to-do list and don’t be too discouraged by setbacks. How many successful people do you know who are doing what they thought they’d be doing at the outset of their careers? Often the path to achievement is more like a winding road than a vertical ladder. While focus is a wonderful thing, it’s important that your commitment to a goal doesn’t blind you to the opportunities that a so-called derailment might be presenting to you.

The Glass Is 100% Full

As humans, we often tend to look at the dark side of things. For many of us, the proverbial glass is always half empty.

This is unfortunate because research has shown that what we place our attention on tends to grow stronger in our minds and in our lives—for good or bad.  My daughter-in-law, Madeleine Homan Blanchard, has a master’s of science degree in neuroleadership from Middlesex University. As I’ve learned from Madeleine, studies confirm that your thoughts and experiences actually change the cells and structure of your brain—something scientists call neuroplasticity. If you focus on positive thoughts, your brain will strengthen the electrical pathways related to an optimistic outlook. If you focus on negative thoughts, your brain will become hardwired to pessimism.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying negative situations and working to make them better. The trick is to keep your eye on the positive. No one expressed this better than retired basketball legend Michael Jordan, who said:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Do bad things happen? Of course. But so do good things. This week Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported that 2017 “was probably the very best year in the history of humanity.”  He pointed to statistics that showed a smaller proportion of the world’s population was hungry, impoverished, or illiterate than at any time before. “In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone,” Kristof reported. “After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.”

Take that, gloom-and-doomers!

As a witty T-shirt points out, technically, that proverbial glass of water is always 100% full—half is full of water, half is full of air! So look at the bright side—your brain will thank you for it.

The Way You Think Can Change Your Life

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of people engaging in what I call “ain’t it awful” conversations. Believe me, I understand that with things going on like the terror attacks around the world, the controversial Presidential campaigns in the United States, and even the weather, it is easy to slip into a negative mindset. But hand-wringing and downbeat discussions aren’t going to change anything. In fact, it can make things worse by taking all your thoughts into a downward spiral.

Now is the time for positive thinking. I always loved working with Norman Vincent Peale because he used to say “Positive thinkers get positive results.” That is such a powerful message, and we need to keep it in mind to be able to rise above the negative and focus on the positive. We are free to choose our thoughts—and thoughts guide our behavior. It is essential to keep uplifting messages in our head so that we are able to think more clearly, make better decisions, and approach life with a better attitude.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulties we all face in life such as illnesses, money problems, stress at work, and a hundred other things that can drag you down. But I know that a peaceful mind will give you more energy—and that will help you get through tough times.  My wife, Margie, uses a gratitude exercise to help her focus on the positive. Each evening she writes down the top three positive things that happened in her day. Sometimes it is as simple as getting a much-needed rainstorm in our time of drought, or reconnecting with an old friend. The point is that she ends her day with positive thoughts and a peaceful mind.

Try it for yourself. I encourage you to think about it from two perspectives—your personal life and your work environment. I think you’ll be surprised how this simple shift in thinking will change your outlook on life for the better.

First-Time Manager Challenge: Providing Feedback and Re-Direction

Today is a big day for our company—we are officially releasing our new First-time Manager program based on the essential secrets of The New One Minute Manager.

It’s a great one-day program designed to address some of the key challenges people face when they step into a leadership role for the first time—including how to set goals, praise progress, redirect behavior when necessary, and conduct effective performance review sessions.

One of the challenges we zero in on is providing day-to-day feedback and coaching—especially when it involves redirecting behavior that is off-track.  Typically, new managers receive very little training in this essential skill, and without training they often struggle—either coming on too strong and alienating people, or spending so much time beating around the bush that the team member doesn’t have a clear sense that a change is even necessary.

When someone makes a mistake, you need to tell the truth so the person changes the behavior—but make sure you speak in a caring way. Also assume the best intentions. The best way to do this is to talk to your direct report about what you observed and make sure their goals were clear to them at the time. Once you both determine that the goals were clear, check out the facts leading up to the re-direction, to make sure you both agree on what happened. Discuss the impact of the behavior, and then reaffirm the person in a way that is meaningful. Let the person know they are better than their mistake and you have confidence and trust in them.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company, states it this way: “It’s important to maintain the balance between being tenderhearted and task oriented.” As a leader you must be able to re-direct behavior to keep people on the right track while also respecting their dignity. Remember—when you share feedback it is never about you or the other person; it is about the behavior. A leader’s job is to constantly help people be the best they can be.

What are some of the other challenges you’ve seen new managers struggle with?  Share them in the comments section below.  I’d love to tap into our collective wisdom and begin to identify more of the challenges new managers face and some ways to effectively address them.  With approximately two million people stepping into new management roles each year, it’s important we help them—and the people they serve—get off to a great start!  Share your thoughts below and I’ll use them as jumping off points for upcoming posts, tweets, and comments.

2 Secrets to Keep on Track with Your New Year’s Resolutions

In my last blog I talked about three tips to help you stay on track to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Now that you are a few weeks into the process, you might be struggling a little bit, so let me make another suggestion. Over the years, I’ve realized that the people who have the most trouble accomplishing goals and sticking with resolutions are the people who are the busiest. The problem with these people is that too often they go through the motions of day-to-day busy work instead of focusing on the most important things first.

You have probably heard the theory that we all have two selves—the external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting the job done, and the internal, thoughtful, reflective self that considers things before acting. The task-oriented self is the first to wake up in the morning, of course, and is only focused on task achievement. You read email while you are eating breakfast, then jump in the car, head to the office and start attacking your to-do list in order to get everything checked off before you go home. It’s so easy to get caught in this kind of activity trap—you’re so busy doing urgent but unimportant tasks you don’t have time to think about the important goals you may have set.

So how do you get out of this trap? How do you help yourself focus less on task achievement and more on goal achievement? I suggest that in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed and right into task achievement, you enter your day slowly and thoughtfully. Take 20 or 30 minutes to think through what you really need to accomplish for the day. Remember how I suggested you write down your New Year’s resolutions and read them every day? Now is the perfect time. Look at your resolutions to see where they can fit into the day’s plan. Entering your day slowly gives you the opportunity to plan your day out so that you can both accomplish your tasks and fit in time to work toward your resolutions.

Then, at the end of the day before you go to bed, jot down a few notes about your day in a journal. If you don’t want to take the time to write in a journal, at least give yourself the gift of thinking about your day for a few minutes. What did you do during the day that was consistent with your New Year’s resolutions, and what got in the way? Soon you’ll be able to spot both positive and negative patterns so that you can make changes in your schedule to get yourself back on track toward goal achievement.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to spend twenty minutes in the morning to plan and more time at night to reflect.” But I guarantee that if you take that little bit of time, you’ll set yourself up for success in achieving your goals—and your New Year’s resolutions. And you know what? You’re worth it!