Sleep Deprivation Is Costing You Money and Longevity

There's a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture.  It deeply affects our body at a cellular level.  Cognitively a lack of sleep weakens our focus and hinders learning. It hurts our ability to "play nice with others" as well.  One study found that activity levels in the amygdala, our fight or flight center, were 60% higher compared to well rested subjects.  Our immune system is also weakened, because regenerative functions do not happen. In this article from The Register, Dr. Matthew Walker says the cells we need to fight many cancers drop by 70% after one night with 4-5 hours of sleep!  Lack of sleep also affects the body's capacity to control blood sugar which leads to weight gain and pre-diabetes.  Keep reading to learn more about how lack of sleep impacts our minds, attitudes and health followed by tips on how to improve it.

Get More Done In Your Sleep!

The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for consolidating information from short-term to long-term memory.  This includes all the information you learn in meetings, company announcements, industry news, etc.  Our ability to generate insight from the connections our brains create is highly dependent upon this function.  In one study they found that a single night of sleep deprivation impacted the capacity of the hippocampus to perform this function.  They found significantly less activity in those who were sleep deprived and it resulted in poor retention rates compared to well rested individuals.

This means a lack of sleep will make it hard to gather the information during the day and prevent it from storing for long-term use!

This article from Live Science talks about sleep deprivation and the impact to selective attention, or our ability to focus.  This is not surprising, as other studies have shown sleep deprivation to reduce the amount of gray matter in the thalamus.  This is the region of the brain used for selective attention.  The same study also showed a reduction in that of the hippocampus.  This means a lack of sleep will make it hard to gather the information during the day and prevent it from storing for long-term use!  It seems like this alone would be enough to push us to change some of our habits.

Passive Productivity

We all want to have the big idea or provide the answers in the meetings.  How many of us are making it harder than it needs to be?  We're working later, staying up late, studying, reading, and trying to force the answer to surface.  Sufficient sleep leads to increase productivity, creativity and break through ideas.  It's hard to believe that the easier way is a passive approach of just going to sleep!

How About Less Anger and Frustration?

As previously mentioned, a lack of sleep can result in a 60% increase in activity in the amygdala.  It means you're 60% more likely to be fighting or running away from something!  This is not a good state to be in while we're at work or at home.  Since we like to believe we're superhuman, I'll give the benefit of the doubt.  I'll assume we're able to maintain and suppress emotional reactions that damage relationships or affect our brand under this condition.  How much more energy and willpower does that take?  Is that where we want to spend it, so we could watch more Netflix?

It means you’re 60% more likely to be fighting or running away from something!

This article from Forbes talks about how successful people stay calm.  The fifth headline on the list of how they do it says..."They Sleep".  It goes on to say the ability to manage emotions and be calm under pressure has a direct link to performance.  The same article also says 90% of top performers have this skill.  This is not an innate strength and is available to anyone that wants it, will learn, and is willing to practice.  I meet few people who don't have interest in being successful or being a top performer.  This article is not about the longterm effects of stress, but it's worth saying that prolonged periods of being in fight or flight are not healthy.

I Can Live Long Enough To Spend My Retirement?

Yes you can!  We're talking about lack of sleep, but too much sleep can be an issue as well.  In a study they found correlation between six or less hours and a 12% increased risk of death.  They also found a 30% increase with nine or more hours of sleep.  General consensus on the right number is between seven and eight hours.  Recent data suggests some outliers are doing well with five to six, but it's not the norm.  There's plenty of data to suggest quality of sleep and overall health play a big part in this equation.  A day with a strenuous workout requires more time for the body to repair etc.  A healthy body with less inflammation will need less time for recovery.

In a study they found correlation between six or less hours and a 12% increased risk of death.

What about our immune system and sleep?  A study from 2012 concluded that sleep deprivation reduces the white blood cell count.  Since white blood cells are responsible for fighting off infection it follows that we're more susceptible to being ill if we do not get enough sleep.  Yet another study showed a correlation between sleep deprivation and reduced levels of glutathione.  Glutathione is the master antioxidant produced by the body.  Antioxidants are not just a catchy word to get you to buy pomegranate juice.  They reduce oxidative stress in the body.  Oxidative stress causes inflammation which correlates to a long list of issues ranging from Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease and more!

Help Me Get Some Sleep!

In summary, sleep deprivation is very bad!  It hurts our capacity to learn and retain knowledge as well as generate insight.  We lose our ability to be calm and collected and therefore make the best decisions when the time comes.  Our health and overall life expectancy is at risk without enough sleep.  So what can we do about it?  

I struggled to sleep well for many years.  My wife would pass out before her head hit the pillow, but I would flip back and forth like a hamburger on a grill.  Once I committed to making a change, I was happy to find plenty of information.  Do some googling and reading, but here are some things that worked for me.

  • Start shutting down an hour before bedtime. - Turn off devices, televisions, etc., and dim lights.
  • Reduce exposure to blue light. - Blue light is reduces the sleep hormone melatonin and we're surrounded by it more and more.  Replace CFLs with full spectrum bulbs and filter phones and tablets.
  • Take magnesium supplements and possibly something like Natural Calm before bed. - Magnesium reduces cortisol levels which can affect sleep.
  • No caffeine after 2:00
  • Don't eat after 8:00
  • Use the Sleep Cycle app to track your sleep.  - As you make changes to habits, it will show you what's working and what's not.

Looking For More Help?

Hacking sleep is a common area of focus with my clients and having personally conquered this I'm all too happy to help other do the same.  Setup an initial consultation with me and let's get to work!

Consider using Bullletproof ® Sleep Mode which uses a plant-based bioidentical form of melatonin.  Unlike other supplements out there that use higher doses, Sleep Mode is sized to not cause unnatural spikes in the body after use.

Overcome Fear and Escape the Comfort Zone Cage

What opportunity did you recently pass up that left you with nagging regret ?  Maybe should have spoken up in that meeting?  Did you avoid international travel, because you could not speak the language?  What are all the ways your comfort zone cage is limiting your personal growth?  We're all afraid of something, but some of us move past it and others do not.  Those of us breaking free have a growth mindset which empowers us to quickly overcome fear.  Those with a fixed mindset believe they cannot change and minimize their risk by not trying.  If having a growth mindset is something you want, then you're in luck!  Recent science around neuroplasticity proves the brain will adapt and change with practice.  It takes time, but it's easy!  It's just a matter of intentional practice.  Keep reading to learn about the growth mindset, neuroplasticity and how to start developing it today!

What Is This Power You Speak Of?

Carol Dweck published her earliest work on mindsets in 1988.  She identified two specific mindsets that relate to how we perceive ourselves and abilities.  The fixed mindset believes we are what we are.  Our strengths and abilities are what we're born with and there's little we can do to change that.  The growth mindset believes it can continually gain new strengths and abilities by learning and practicing new skills.  Fixed mindsets create performance goals that avoid failure from overextending beyond their abilities.  This behavior, or inability to overcome fear, stunts the personal growth of anyone with a fixed mindset.  A growth mindset creates learning goals that lead to challenges, and the unknown, in search of new knowledge and experience.  

The growth mindset views failure as part of the process.  Someone with a growth mindset will be quick to come out of their comfort zone, because it's easier to overcome fear when it's not high to start with.  This is the true advantage of the growth mindset and how to accelerate your personal growth.  The rate at which we learn and grow is directly proportional to the time spent outside of our comfort zone.  A fixed mindset will naturally spend less time in discomfort, so the consequence is slower development.  Slower development leads to less opportunity over time.  If you don't like the sound of this, then continue reading about neuroplasticity and how to begin developing your growth mindset now!

I Can Do What with My Brain?!

It was previously believed that the functions of the brain were compartmentalized and fixed.  This meant that the loss of a function was permanent.  The discovery of neuroplasticity came from the efforts of Michael Marzenich trying to prove this was the case in the 1970's.  He found that functions lost from brain damage could be relearned in the remaining healthy areas.  This occurs in part by how the brain functions and the rest from our own efforts.  How can we leverage neuroplasticity?  Neural connections are made stronger or weaker based on what we choose to do every day.  We're able to rewire our brains as we focus intently on what we want, create new thoughts and practice new behaviors.

The same thought and story from a fixed mindset can be changed to that of a growth mindset.  If you believe you can't change, then start telling yourself a new story where you can.  Start practicing the change you want to make.  Do this for an extended period of time (try three months) and the old belief and feeling will start to fade.  This practice will put you outside of your comfort zone, but that's where the magic happens.  Slowly you'll overcome fear by replacing it with experience.  The experience you gain during this process will solidify the new belief and just like that you're creating a growth mindset!  Next I'll talk about five simple practices to make this a reality.

Where Do I Start?!

Our personal growth is greatly accelerated by having a growth mindset, but we have to work for it.  Using these practices will feel uncomfortable, but that's what this is all about! There are many practices you can do to help create the mindset, but here are 5 of my favorites:

  1. Embrace Imperfection - We can't improve what we avoid.
  2. Use "Yet" - Say I'm not there yet, but I continue to improve.
  3. Embrace the process of failure while learning - Experience comes from trying and learning what works versus what does not.
  4. Spend more time with others that have a growth mindset - You're the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.
  5. Celebrate Growth - Go out for dinner, buy some shoes, go golfing, etc.

These are just a handful of actions you can take to create a growth mindset and catapult your personal growth.  Here's a list of 25 more you may find useful.

Wrapping It All Up...

The mindset we carry around with us plays a big part in our level of achievement throughout our lives.  Put yourself at an advantage by shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset now!  If you already have a growth mindset, then take some to time to reflect on ways to expand it.

The science behind neuroplasticity proves we can rewire our brain with intention and practice.  Nothing is forever, so if you're serious about making the change and taking action, then it's just a matter of time.  Start telling yourself new stories about the truths you want to have versus the ones currently embedded there.  Begin taking action with the five practices I mentioned here and your brain will make the shift.

There is certainty in our comfort zone cage, but growth and change do not exist there.  It's much easier to overcome fear when it's greatly reduced from the onset.  Do not fuel your fear with a fixed mindset, but rather make it go away by shifting to a growth mindset.  Your personal growth and opportunity will increase exponentially.  Use the practices mentioned here to start your journey today!

Reduce Distraction and Manage Long Term Goals with Lists

A To do list is for daily tasks, but what about those ever important long term goals?  It would be a distraction to look at all of it every day.  Over the weekend I had a conversation about this exact topic, so I felt it was worth writing about.  My clients, colleagues, and friends know I'm a GTD practitioner.  It reminds me of how my father managed his day using some old DOS software.  He captured everything he needed to do and set a day to be reminded.  Every day he would print off his list and get to work on it.  New items were captured on the paper and keyed into the program daily.  He specified the day to be reminded and then forgot about it.  This is where the magic happens! This post will go into more detail on how to make this work for you.

Use the Right Tools for the Job

As I mentioned before, the magic comes from setting a reminder for the action.  This is critical to filtering out distraction and noise on a daily basis, but not losing sight of the long term goals.  In my post about how to find more time in the day, I stress the importance of reviewing lists regularly.  How do we review lists associated with projects that may not end for five years?  You need two reliable tools for this.  One to to store information such as articles or notes for reference.  The other to capture actions to take with the ability to show you the right actions on the right days.  This can be papers and folders, digital, or both.  The key is that you always have access to what you need when you need it.  I personally use Evernote for notes and Things (Consider Omnifocus as an alternate) for actions.

Retro image of various tools and when not to use them based on their condition

Do you have the right tools?

How do we review lists associated with projects that may not end for five years?

Categorize your Goals by Time

Once you select your tools, you'll want to capture your projects with the associated actions and notes.  We'll say a project is anything that's two or more actions and will finish within a year.  If the goal spans outside of a year, then create a lists of 1-2 year, 3-5 year, and lifetime goals.  Take time to associate the long term goals with any active projects that relate to them.  This will differ based on the tools you're using, but it's still important to do.  Capture any notes and reference material related to your projects in your other tool.  Make sure you create the appropriate associations there as well.  With everything primed and ready to go, it's time to schedule tasks!

Create a Schedule to Review the Lists

Scheduling your various reviews will help quiet the mind and remove distraction.  Scheduling tasks will differ depending on your tools, but it's critical to being effective.  First you want to schedule a daily review to stare at your calendar and daily to do list.  This is best implemented as recurring event on your calendar.  Next schedule a weekly review on your calendar and to do list.  I usually block off at least 1.5-3 hours to do this.  You'll review actions associated with your projects, areas of focus (family, work, finances, etc.), and scan your calendar a few weeks out.  

Image of a calendar with the 17th highlighted

Schedule your reviews

Scheduling your various reviews will help quiet the mind and remove distraction.

Next schedule a quarterly review action of your 1-2 year goals.  You'll end up looking at these more frequently, but this is a good review interval.  Next schedule a bi-annual action to review your 3-5 year goals.  Again, you'll end up seeing these more frequently, but these times will be more deliberate.  You'll want to take more time reviewing progress and adding more projects (within a year) to help move the goal along.  I usually take three hours of time to do this, but I'm an INTJ who enjoys thinking and analyzing a lot.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to reflect and plan.

A Quick Recap

Let's review how to reduce distraction and use lists for long term goals.  You need tools to support capturing and scheduling of tasks and notes.  The tools should support your ability to associate your tasks and notes with areas of focus in your life as well as the projects and goals they're associated with.  You then divide your projects and goals into less than a year, 1-2 years, and 3-5 year lists.  From here you'll have scheduled tasks to review your lists at the appropriate frequency.  This will change your daily to do list into a mixture of actions that lend themselves to short-term and long term goals.  You will have more lists to review, but only when the time is right.  This will keep your mind clear and focused and remove the distraction caused by the nagging feeling that the important things are slipping.

3 Ways Your Diet is Hurting Your Bonus

What did you eat last night or this morning?  Will you have the focus and energy you need throughout the day?  Will your todo list grow or shrink?  Even health conscious eaters may be shooting themselves in the foot.  I frequently see common patterns with my clients that hinder them from consistently being in a high performance state.  They suffer from brain fog and can't regularly get into that high energy mode.  I continue to find three things working against them.  They're not avoiding brain fog foods.  There are not enough high energy foods in their diet.  Finally, they're not using supplements to cover the gaps.  There's new data and helpful practices like intermittent fasting, the keto diet, and more that are worth learning about.  Whether you have bonuses dependent on tough deliverables or ambitious goals for your career or life, you can't afford to not read this!

Come Out of the Brain Fog

​Recent studies have found found links between low grade inflammation and brain fog.  Additional data shows that most everyone has reactions to sugar, gluten, and dairy.  For some it's severe, and for others it's mild, but it still causes inflammation.  I personally had to change my diet to address auto-immune issues.  As a bonus I no longer had headaches, my energy levels increased, and my focus and clarity of thought became higher and consistent.  I've since connected with many others with similar experiences and frequently read about more.  Unfortunately, there's a lot of foods on this list that are considered "ok" that people really enjoy.  I advise committing to giving up all of it for at least six weeks, but push for ninety days.  Record energy levels, ability to focus, mood, headaches, and anything else you want to add.  Keep it simple and use a 1-10 scale with 10 being awesome!

Picture of a foggy day in a city with a brain on a street that's in the fog.

Love your brain and keep it out of the fog.

Foods to Avoid

Please keep in mind that the diet of what we eat matters, so avoid grain fed beef, farmed fish, ​etc..  They tend to eat junk to fatten them up to increase profit. If this is is not possible, then try to make sure it's the leanest cut you can get, because the junk ends up in the fat.  Remember, being in a high performance state requires us to fuel ourselves properly, so avoid these foods.

  • Sugar
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Anything Fried
  • Grain Fed Beef
  • Conventional fruits and vegetables, but especially those that are heavily sprayed
  • Artificial everything (sugar, color, flavor, sweetener, etc.)

As a bonus I no longer had headaches, my energy levels increased, and my focus and clarity of thought became higher and consistent.

To adopt a specific diet that will keep you on the right path, I would consider reading one of the following.  The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey, Eat Fat Get Thin by Mark Hyman MD, or the Whals Protocol by Terry Whals MD.  Terry Whals beat MS by changing her diet alone, so that's worth a read in general.  Here's an article from the Huffington Post that offers some non-diet ways to combat brain fog for additional benefit.  We'll never beat brain fog and achieve high performance if we can't stop bombarding our body with these foods, so make a commitment to test it for yourself.

Eat High Energy to be High Energy

Not all food is created equal in regards to nutrition.  The goal of eating is not to be full, but rather to provide us with the nutrition we need to live and perform.  Our bodies are very resilient and will find ways to make something work for periods of time, but this usually comes at a cost.  Can we "live" on burgers and fries, it depends on what you mean by "live", but generally speaking yes.  Will you feel great, be in a high performance state, and be able to solve complex problems or create innovative solutions?  Most likely not.  That said, what foods will provide us with high levels of energy?​  The three diets mentioned earlier are different forms of a keto diet.  A keto diet avoids carbohydrates and glucose. This causes the body to break fatty acids down into ketones which are used for energy.

Image of dogs sleeping under a tree and text that says

Avoid the food coma by not eating crap!

A Better Source of Energy and More

There are many benefits from a keto diet worth mentioning, but we'll start with energy.  Ketones are more efficient than glucose and is why the need to snack frequently goes away.  Ketones also promote increases in energy producing mitochondria in the brain.  Along with this they also reduce oxidative stress in the body, reduce inflammation, and neural protection which becomes more important as we age.  Of course always talk to your doctor, but research the keto diet on your own (Avoid Adkins...it does not focus enough on quality).  Here's an article from Scientific American discussing some of what I've mentioned here and more.  Regardless if you're on a keto diet or not, there are common foods that show up on many diets worth mentioning.  Remember, high performance needs high quality food!

  • Eat a lot of vegetables, but especially dark green leafy ones
  • Eat moderate (4-6 oz per meal) clean sources of protein (grass fed beef, wild caught fish, farm eggs with very orange yolks).  Too much protein can turn into sugar and spike insulin.  Body builders and athletes will need more, but the key is to avoid excess.
  • Eat plenty of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, grass fed butter, nuts).
  • Cook with fats that are solid at room temp or have a high smoke point.
  • Cook food at lower temperatures to avoid damaging the nutritional value or creating carcinogens from smoke (sorry, but smoked meat is just not good for the body).

High performance is much more than a strong will and determination.

Here's some additional reading from Mark Hyman on Energy, Mitochondria, and Oxidative Stress.  In this article Mark goes deeper into the science behind what happens when we pump empty calories into our bodies.  The short and sweet answer is we have low energy, age faster, and suffer from a wide range of disease and health issues.  Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and get informed, make a change, and find new levels of energy you did not know were possible.

Supplement Your Gaps

Vitamins and supplements are more important than they have been in the past.  One of the biggest reasons behind this is related to mass production of food and the depleted soil we have in the United States.  The food we eat today is not the food our grandparents were eating.  I've always been surprised, when traveling in Central America, about the difference in size between the produce and animals versus here in the US.  When I was younger I would have believed we had superior processes and therefore product, but now I know it's because that's how produce and animals are supposed to be naturally.  They can't afford to feed the animals the crap that fattens them or spray the chemicals all over the produce, so they don't.

Critical Supplements to Start Taking Now

Most people walking around are deficient in Vitamin D and Magnesium.  Vitamin D is critical for bone strength, hormone regulation, immunity, and countless other things.  Magnesium deficiency can cause heart related issues, metabolic syndrome and more.  Vitamin C is important for immunity, collagen production (healthy skin), and is used to produce glutathione (the master anti-oxidant).  You may want to consider blood tests to see exactly where you are and measure over time.  If you're focused on being high performance, you want to make sure you're not deficient first.  Here's a list of supplements you should be taking.

  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin K2 (especially for ​vegetarians and vegans)
  • Vitamin C
  • Iodine

The food we eat today is not the food our grandparents were eating.

I would read more about the various reasons we need supplements in Dave Asprey's post on this topic.  For a more complete list of supplements to consider, I would also read Dave's post about what he considers most important, the reasons why, and the dosages.

Parting Thoughts

Brain fog is not a random thing that just happens.  High performance is much more than a strong will and determination.  We all want to crush our goals and be successful, so give yourself an advantage!  Avoid foods that cause inflammation. This will allow your body and mind to focus on being productive instead of undoing the damage from a poor diet.  Whether you switch to a keto diet or not, do not feed the body empty calories.  There's plenty of overlap with foods between low fat Mediterranean diets and keto that provide high energy.  They both push lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and moderate levels of protein.  Regardless if you're on a keto diet or not, make sure the source and quality of the food is high.  Avoid mass produced, non-organic, etc...  Lastly, start taking supplements and spend some time learning why you need to.

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



The Secret Success Killer: Cognitive Junk Food

What is Cognitive Junk Food?

I can't claim credit for the phrase "Cognitive Junk Food", but I knew exactly what it was when I heard it!  There have been plenty of articles on the distraction of web browsing and social media.  The problem has become even worse with the advent of the smart phone.  We've are a society that's addicted to distraction, but at what cost?  Often we struggle to be present with our families or at work.  We're unable to focus on important tasks for long periods of time.  We're wasting time that we could be using to make a difference.  Do you find yourself distracted or is any of this starting to sound familiar?  How much time do you spend on social media?  What does your time management practice look like?  Keep reading to get tips on how to address this.

Zero calories, but no time for the gym?

This magical phrase came to me while listening to Cal Newport on episode 9 of Chandler Bolt's self-publishing school podcast.  Cal has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT and also studies the impact of technology on how we work.  I've not read his recent book, Deep Work, but it's now on my list after listening to him on the podcast.  In general I find most people struggle with distraction and it has become much worse with smart phones and social media.  I coach many people seeking to improve focus and be better at execution.  The majority of the time those sessions turn into time management strategies to prevent my clients from being distracted.

It's just Facebook, what's the big deal?​

It's never just Facebook.  After that it's Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube, Reality TV, and the list keeps going.  We can't just put it down either!  I recently had to put my foot down when my own family sat down to watch a movie together.  At the beginning of the movie my kids were distracted responding to messages, snaps, etc..  The initial distraction turns becomes an endless chain and it just goes on and on.  With my children, it was during the early part of a drama where the plot and characters were still developing.  This means it was not exciting their brains yet and it craved distraction!

The question worth asking is how much time do we spend eating cognitive junk food?

That's the big deal!  Our brains crave short term gratification and excitement.  We live in a day and age where there's no limit to the distractions, but also the energy invested by companies to capture our focus.  All of our experiences are engineered to captivate our time and money.  The question worth asking is how much time do we spend eating cognitive junk food? What else could we be doing with that time?  What would your time management strategy look like?

It's time to limit the use of these!

So what should I do to avoid distraction?

Create a time management strategy to stop the madness! This problem stops you from living the life you deserve to experience.  Worse than that, the others around you are losing out as well.  We only have one life to live and you deserve to say you did more than spend hours upon hours distracted liking posts and snap'ing your friends.  Here are three quick tips to help you take your life back from the genius marketing people taking advantage of how your brain is wired.  These will serve as the start of your time management strategy that will prevent you from living a distracted life.

  • Turn off non-critical notifications
  • ​Schedule the time browse the internet, play video games, use social media, etc.
  • Practice resisting your brain's urge to be entertained
  • Read part one on how to improve your self-awareness
The call to action is to be deliberate with your time and make sure it's not floating away in an ocean of distraction.

I would say Cal has rare discipline and some would say he is extreme in his practice, but it's serving him in the way he wants.  I'm just to the left of his practice and that it's also serving me in the way that I want and need for my own life and goals.  I'm not saying you have to give it all up, nor is anyone better or worse based on where they are with their practice.  The call to action is to be deliberate with your time and make sure it's not floating away in an ocean of distraction.  Do yourself a favor and create a time management strategy that prevents you from living the "distracted life".

Inspiration: Armless NASCAR Engineer Overcomes

This is belief!

I had never heard about Richie Parker until yesterday, but better late than never.  I recently wrote about five limiting beliefs we should all let go of, but this guy has done that and then some!  Richie was born with no arms, but learned to feed himself, ride a bike, drive a car, work on cars, and do computer aided design work for NASACAR with his feet…are you kidding me!

Wow!  That’s how I felt last night after I watched this video.  A big part of my job is helping others explore ways to move past what they view as obstacles.  Aside from the positive focus and encouragement from Richie’s parents, I’m confident he did not have a personal coach helping him day after day.

What drives someone like Richie to find ways to live like this in a world that tells him he can’t?  Even if the world was not that way, his day to day experiences growing up could easily have felt insurmountable.  Richie’s vision of his life was different.  He wanted to be independent, to not need help from others, and that’s what drove him to find a way to do it all.  Richie’s goals required that he found a way to overcome.  His focus on those goals created the persistence and wherewithal to chip away until he found success.  As Richie says, “I don’t know there’s a lot in life that I’d say I can’t do.  Just things I haven’t done yet.”.  We would all do well to believe this.

What do we feel we can’t do and is that really the case?  What’s preventing us from doing it and what could we do about it?  Find one thing you’ve felt like you could do nothing about and focus on what’s blocking you.  Come up with three options to begin chipping away at the obstacle and then commit to taking the action.  Turn this behavior into a habit and you’ll find a whole new world is out there.

If you’re having trouble, reach out to a business or life coach to help you out.  In a world where we need to learn and adapt faster, working with a coach is an advantage that will accelerate your goals.

Have a great week!