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Archive Monthly Archives: July 2017

Brainstorming Made Easy With a Mind Map

We all want to involve innovative ideas into our strategic planning, but many of us struggle with the creative process.  We tend to put ourselves in boxes made from our own limiting beliefs.  We say things like "brainstorming is hard for me" or "so-and-so comes up with the innovative ideas".  We mentally block ourselves from being able to be the creative people we truly are.  First you need to drop the limiting beliefs, because they're not serving you.  Read more on my post about five limiting beliefs to drop now.  Next we'll get some tools in the bag.  My preferred method is mind mapping.  The mind map is the perfect tool, because it's very quick and aligns to how the brain works.  Lastly we need to learn the do's and don'ts of brainstorming made easy.  We'll focus on how they work and especially how they don't work.

The mind map is the perfect tool, because it’s very quick and aligns to how the brain works.

Brainstorming Will Be Easy For You Too!

Generally speaking all of our brains function the same way.  We all have strengths that make certain activities effortless, but that does not mean we can't strengthen areas that we find valuable.  There's no sense in making it hard by mentally sabotaging yourself.  For this to work, we need to alter our outlook.  Going forward, you'll stop saying "I can't...", "I hate...", and "I'm not...".  Now you will say "I value being creative and I get better every time I practice"!  Because you want the innovative strategic planning, you'll commit to making these changes.  It's just words you have to say, so there's no excuses!  If you really want something made easy, don't make it difficult to start with.

Image of a broken electronic easy button in pieces.

Don't give up!

The Mind Map Is Your Friend!

Our brains are networks of associations.  Some of these are not logical, for example the smell of licorice reminding you of a barber shop from your childhood.  Others are very logical, like the smell of smoke and fire.  Our brain is constantly creating associations and relationships to better understand the world around us.  Because it's a fluid and free-form process, trying to access the illogical associations with a structured logical mind is very limiting.  Mind maps are unstructured by design and align to the many random associations your brain will create.  It's the perfect design when you don't need to know what will come next and when it does not make sense.  Every thought branches to another and you keep writing.  The innovative ideas that will help your strategic planning exist in these areas.  Why?  Because everyone sees the logical conclusions and connections.  Innovation requires new thinking versus the obvious.

Image of a light bulb in the center of a black board with lines radiating from it to new bubbles like ideas.

Turn the Light On With a Mind Map!

Don't Fight The Process...

An article from the Harvard Business Review says "When creativity is under the gun, it usually ends up getting killed" and I agree.  Most of the people I work with on this subject fight with the process.  At the root of their challenge I find unrealistic expectations.  They're in a hurry for a nice structured outline or idea to help with strategic planning.  They go into mind mapping with a logical linear mindset.  They find anxiety in the mind mapping process, because it does not create structure and can feel like it's not leading to end goal.  The structure will come later, but for now it's important to change our goal.  

Innovative ideas often come when we’re not focused on the problem, so give yourself permission to get off task for a bit.

The point of the mind map is to generate information that can be organized later.  The novelty and diversity of the information will lead to very interesting insight and more comprehensive solutions.  Innovative ideas often come when we're not focused on the problem, so give yourself permission to get off task for a bit.  The biggest part of brainstorming made easy is to not fight the process.  You can read about some other examples, like "fear of ambiguity", in this article from Copy Blogger.

​Some Parting Thoughts

As an aside, I would not advise using a mind map structure to write structured linear thoughts like an outline.  This too will lead to frustration and anxiety.  For brainstorming made easy, you'll want to practice the process and set your expectations appropriately.  There are times where I move back and forth between mind mapping and structuring.  If the thoughts stop flowing when mind mapping, then try to structure the information for a while.  If you find the structure is not solving the challenge yet, then go back to mind mapping for a bit.  Go back and forth until the structure is where you want it.  For me, this is very common when I'm using it in conjunction with strategic planning.  Visit Tony Buzan's site for more information on how to mind map.  Remember practice makes perfect, so keep trying until it becomes comfortable!

Does Your Personal Brand Say I Don’t Care?

Workplace relationships are critical to any leader's ability to influence and execute against a strategy.  The quality of of those relationships rely on our ability to build trust with those we lead and others throughout the organization.  Whether we're speaking or not, we're always saying something.  The challenge with non-verbal communication is that it's hard to know how it was interpreted!  If you're regularly late to meetings, don't call others back when you said you would, or initiate conversation without asking if it's a good time, then you need to keep reading!  Personal branding is critical to the success of any leader, but especially for executives.  The most common challenge I find that hinders those I work with is an inability, or unwillingness, to be assertive with others.  Keep reading to find some simple ways to practice being assertive along with other tips to let everyone know you care.

Whether we’re speaking or not, we’re always saying something.

Don't Waste My Time!

Time is the most valuable resource we have! A willingness to allow your behaviors to waste​ the time of others is the fastest way to say "I don't care".  How can we effectively build trust, create high quality workplace relationships, and influence when our actions say "I don't care"?  Learning to be assertive will help greatly with this situation.  Often times it's the previous engagement that's causing us to be late, so be assertive and let others know you have another commitment to get to.

I Never Heard Back From You...​

If you've heard this from others, then you may need a strategy and system to get organized.  If you already have one, then it's letting you down and you may need to change it.​  A personal branding strategy would help motivate the actions needed to stay organized, but it can wait.  For now, just know you need a way to make sure you don't drop the ball.  To have influence, we have to build trust, and effective follow-up is a sure way to get this done.  Read my recent post on time management for more tips.

Picture of guy alone waiting at a table with multiple empty drinks

Don't be the cause!

I'm Glad You Came to Talk to Me, Because I was Sitting Here Doing Nothing...?​

How do you know if it's a good time to talk if you don't ask?  Asking before you go on about how the meeting went, or what someone said, is a great way to say "I care".  Most people in the workplace are not sitting around doing nothing.  This does not mean they're unwilling to talk either, but give them the choice and the opportunity to defer!  You'll have a lot of high quality workplace relationships when interruption is not part of your brand.  Read this article from Forbes to find more tips on how to manage interruptions.

Most people in the workplace are not sitting around doing nothing.

There's Hope!​

If you don't already have a personal branding strategy, then you should create one and I'm happy to help with this.  Until you have a personal branding strategy, just avoid sabotaging yourself. That said, here are some simple actions you can ​take to let everyone around you know that "you care"!

  • Be on time - This means you have to leave other meetings, conversations, the house, etc. with enough time to make it.  Be assertive and let people know you're happy to follow up, but you have another commitment to uphold.
  • Follow Up On Time - Call, email, or text when you said you would.  Schedule the action on your calendar to remind you and to help with other conflicts that may have been there.
  • Ask For Permission - Don't just interrupt, but check with others to see if it's a good time.  This is another opportunity to schedule a time that's good for them or maybe check with their admin to get on their calendar.

Consider reading my series on self-awareness and learn how to manage this stuff on your own!

Work Life Balance and Three Reasons Why You Don’t Have It

Which is Easier to Find…A Sasquatch or Work Life Balance?
 

I won’t be home on time for dinner.  I’ll try to make it, but this meeting may run long.  I know we had plans for the weekend, but it’s due Monday morning.  There’s no time for the gym with a sixteen hour day!  Any of this sound familiar?  I listened to this throughout my career in the corporate world.  I found executives who maintained a great work life balance, but not that often.  Line and middle management are better, but the ambitious ones struggle.  The same applies to individual contributor SME’s serving as the last escalation point.  Fear, lack of time management, and digital distraction are the three reasons I encounter most that kill the work life balance we deserve.  Learn to “say no” and stop giving into fear, practice time management, and guard against digital distraction.  Read on to find tips that will help you make this a reality.

Fear Makes it Hard to Say No…
 

Image of words that say "I say no".

Fear is our biggest challenge.  Today’s common acronym FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out, is applicable in this discussion.  In this case we’re afraid of missing out the following:

  • promotion
  • great review
  • recognition
  • protection during layoffs
  • closing the deal

All of these are legitimate reasons, because they can affect our livelihood, but do we have a strategy or filter on when to say no?  Can we create strategies to guard against being in these situations in the first place?  If you’re promoted because you work twenty hours a day, then that’s the ongoing expectation that will be set.  This is not sustainable nor healthy.

commit to prioritizing your life over work

Focus on promoting by adding more value.  Create a sound plan around doing it with a healthy balance of time.  Commit to prioritizing your life over work and especially outside normal business hours.  Start practicing a new skill…”Say No” when someone asks you to work when it would compromise your life.  You can always get to it the following day or someone that cares less about balance can work on it.

Get More Done With Less Using Time Management
 

An image of a framed picture that says less is more (more or less).

Use time management to get more done with less time!

Any high-performing individual without a high-performing system is leaving a lot of time on the table.  Time management and discipline are critical parts of any organizational system.  They help set and maintain your brand with respect to being on time, following up, never dropping the ball, and more.  You may be getting it done, but at what cost?  Most likely your own life and sharing it with your loved ones.

You may be getting it done, but at what cost?

Effective time management will help even the most effective professional either get more done or find some much needed rest.  A calendar is not just for tracking meetings.  Commit to tracking your work there as well and you’ll find less conflicts for your time. Complete your work during business hours with this practice.  Leverage the practice to free up your time for life.  Read more on time management in my post on how to find more time in your day.

Turn Off The Digital Distraction
 

Image of iPhone screen showing red notification circles on a lot of apps

Those little red dots on my apps must go away!

In our always-on world, most people will not turn it all off.  They’ll look at the last email, or text, or notification.  I’ve certainly been guilty of looking at email right before going to bed and taking another thirty minutes to research and respond.  Learning to turn it off did wonders for me.  I was more engaged with my family, got more sleep, read more, and enjoyed other hobbies.  Who does not want or deserve this!?

Learning to turn it off did wonders for me.

We only have one life and you’ll want to say you filled it with much more than a career, email, and sixteen hour work days seven days a week.  Turn off notifications and use your new time management skills to schedule time to review all of these “important” things.  Communicate your new practices to others to make sure they know to call for emergencies.  Read more on how to manage distraction in my post about cognitive junk food.

Work life balance is available to those willing to practice some new skills.  Contact us today to help you achieve this sooner than later!

Five Tips to Give You More Time to Reach the Next Level

I can’t find time…how about More Hours in the Day?
 

“When this project is over”, “when the kids are out of school”, or how about “after I get settled from…”?  These are examples of the many “reasons” I hear that prevent people from doing something important to them.  More often than not, we don’t start at those “opportune” times and our goals continue to slide.  Anyone that has spent enough time around me has heard me say “we don’t find time…we make time”.  We’ll never find more hours in the day, but we can create them with new habits and improved self-awareness.  The good news is it does not have to be a struggle!  Learn and use these basic time management tips and you’ll be able “find time” the time to accelerate your career or learn something new that will add value to your life.  This is your opportunity to recover from your busy life and get organized again!

1. Turn Off Notifications
 

The Problem with Notifications

Most of what we experience throughout our day is engineered to grab our attention and hold onto it.  What are we being pulled away from and for how long?  Aside from the obvious time loss of being pulled away, there’s a high cost to context switching.  According to a study from Inc., it takes an average of 25 minutes to resume a task after interruption.  If we’re focused on the slides our boss needs to review before the big presentation, then do we really need to see the latest email?  Is it best for our career to be constantly distracted by notifications or to stay focused and on task?  Can you really be organized if your attention is constantly being pulled away?  Read more on this topic in my post about cognitive junk food.

Can you really be organized if your attention is constantly being pulled away?

Image of iPhone screen showing red notification circles on a lot of apps

Those little red dots on my apps must go away!

Turn them off!

When I ask my clients what will happen if they ignore the email I usually hear silence followed by “I don’t know”.  The reason they don’t know is because they’ve never really tried to find out.  After a bit more discussion and logical thought, most people realize they’ll receive a phone call if it’s truly an emergency.  From this realization it’s just a matter of learning a new way of operating.  For this situation we can take advantage of “do not disturb” features on smart phones that will allow some calls through and block the rest.  This allows us to disable email and instant messaging notifications.  By disabling these kinds of notifications we can stay on task longer with no distraction.  What other notifications can you disable?  This time management tip will help you “find time” that you did not realize was lost.

2. Schedule Your Work
 

The value of scheduling your work

Most of us have very busy calendars packed full of meetings.  A typical corporate culture assumes you were doing nothing if your calendar showed to be open.  It’s hard to argue against attending that meeting when you look and show the time to be free.  How would you feel if it showed a conflict with “Create outline for the biggest presentation of my life”?  Two things happen here and the first is you’re feeling conflicted, because you know how important the presentation is.  Here’s the second critical benefit to being organized in this way.   Everyone scheduling meetings will now see these kind of conflicts and look for another time!

Image of a confused boy scratching his head.

I could have conquered the world by now!

Protect Your Time

Management and executives tend to to be in more meetings than most, but that does not mean they don’t have other stuff to do.  Do yourself and your career a favor and “MAKE THE TIME” to do it, before someone else takes it.  My experience inside and outside of large companies is that many people are not great at planning ahead and those around them suffer from their last minute meetings.  If others are not going to be organized, then you really should be.  Protect your ability to execute against your priorities and goals by scheduling the time to do the work.  Using this simple time management practice, you’ll “find time” to focus more on your career and ability to learn.

3. Log Your Time
 

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

When I ask my clients where their time goes, I usually hear the normal stuff like meetings, phone calls,  kids, etc..  If I ask more specifically “how much” time goes to each of these areas, the answers are not so clear and confident.  It’s hard to drive from Texas to California without knowing how much fuel you have, how fast you’re going, or if you’re going the right direction.  We’ll slow down when we know that we’re speeding.  If we’re running out of fuel, then we’ll stop for gas.  We change our course when we realize we’re going the wrong direction.  The critical point here is that we will make good decisions when we have the information to guide us.  What could you be doing with your career if you knew your time was not aligned to your goals?

The critical point here is that we will make good decisions when we have the information to guide us.

Shine a Light on Where Your Time is Going

If you find difficulty in explaining how much time you spend in the various areas of life, then start logging it.  This information adds value to everyone that’s willing to take the action.  Rarely have I worked with someone that did not see a trend they could change to free up needed time.  Using a calendar as part of your time management practice will do most of the work for you.  If you’re already organized and have this information, then use tip 2 to make sure you’re getting all of it.  It does not take much time to log your hours and you only need to do it long enough to learn from the trends and take action.  There are hours in your day just waiting to be “found” with this tip.  Commit to log your time today and “find time” you’re desperately looking for!

4. Make Lists and Review them Regularly
 

Image of a task list with some things checked off.

Facebook is not on the list?!

Use Your Lists Like a Compass

This tip improves the probability that we’re working on the right tasks and less distracted by the potential tasks we could work on in the moment.  We can always spend our time doing something and in the office we will find something to do that feels productive. The question is if it’s going to make the most impact?  Using a list to guide where we’re investing time is invaluable.  Do this to stay organized and free up time by helping you not spend it in areas that do not add the most value.

Look at Your Lists Daily

It’s not good enough to have a list.  You have to review it regularly, or it will not serve you.  The same problem exists with your speedometer.  If it only showed your speed once an hour, then you would stop looking at it.  The information we use to make decisions needs to be ready when we’re ready. This means it has to be granular enough and available when the time comes or we will ignore it.

Schedule Your Daily Review

If you’ve not figured it out yet, you need to schedule this on your calendar with tip number 2 “Schedule Your Work”.  If you learn to make time to review your lists you’ll “find time” that you did not realize was there.  This is more of an organization activity for me, but it helps avoid wasting time as well as some of the best time management practices. My career trajectory changed and never looked back when I made this part of how I operate and I’ve watched it work for many others as well.

5. Say No!
 

Don’t be a Pleaser

Can you come to this meeting?  Help me work on these slides?  Will you make this call for me?  Can you help me learn…?  Any of these sound familiar?  In coaching I often find many managers and executives don’t know when or how to say no.  The question to ask yourself is what’s at risk if you say yes?  The power of no can free up vast amounts of time.  We all enjoy helping others, pleasing our friends, being available to our boss, etc..  I’m not telling you to say no to everyone, but start getting into the habit of questioning whether it’s the best use of your time.  How will your calendar be impacted if you say yes?  Is there room or do you need to make it?  What can be pushed and what cannot?

Image of words that say "I say no".

Can we reschedule?

Take a Stand

Delegate to your directs if you’re a manager.  If you’re an individual contributor, then negotiate other times or look for alternatives.  Regardless of your role, consider just saying “no”.  This practice becomes very powerful as you become more organized from using the other tips.   An old manager of mine once told his peers and boss that nobody told him no more than myself.  I always explain the risks if I say yes, so he and I were able to have an informed conversation weighing the pros and cons together.  You’ll “find time” little by little as you learn to effectively use this tip.  Including this benefit, Entrepreneur Magazine has a good list of five benefits from this practice alone.  This is a critical time management practice and one that any manager of people needs to adopt now!  Do your career a favor and practice using “No” starting this week.

Some thoughts to Leave You With
 

  • Time is the most valuable thing we have
  • Time management is one of the most valuable things you can do
  • You’ll never “find” the time, so be more effective with what you have
  • Commit to practicing at least one of these until it becomes a habit
  • Read my series on self-awareness to learn more about how to create new habits
  • The ROI on time management makes up for the lack of excitement

 

 

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