This is the final blog post in the series of What holds us back. The previous blog posts looked at fear (of failure and success) and lack of confidence, which deal with elements on a mindset and cognition level. But for coaching to really work, we also need to engage at a behavioural level and that is what this week's post is all about.
Lack of time can be the most cited reason why people don't make progress on their goals. In my experience, lack of time comes down to three main things - prioritisation, planning and organisation.
I recommend to most of my clients the Eat That Frog book by Brain Tracy. Firstly, just for the first words in the book where he talks about how you will NEVER going to get caught up and get to the bottom of that to-do list. I think acknowledging that it is impossible to do everything is a really big step in re-thinking how you organise your life. If you can't ever do everything, what can you get rid of then?
List all of the things that fill your time on a regular basis and then prioritise them. Does the time you spend doing things correlate to your prioritisation of them? If having a tidy house comes 15th on your priority list, but you spend more time doing that than on things that are 10-14 on your priority list, something there is wrong.
You know why a lot of people spend more time than they would rationally like on things like keeping the house clean? Because it is a good distraction from other things that take more mental energy. I know that my flat never looked so clean as when I was writing my Masters Dissertation. If you want to invest more time in writing rather than cleaning, you have to do one of two things. Either decide and stick to a set amount of time for cleaning and tidying and then accept the mess that there is when you come to the end of that time. Or work from somewhere else. A lot of people that work from home find having a set space in the house can help them avoid the distraction of the ironing pile. I tend to mainly avoid the living room in my house when I work from home. Mainly because that way I avoid the temptation of 'just having a quick tidy up', but also because I like to keep that space associated with just leisure activities. If you find that you are constantly doing housework instead of things that you consciously prioritise above that, then you have a couple of options. Lower your standards for housework or enlist help. That help could be paid help, it could be enlisting the help of your partner/kids/roommate.
The phrase 'Eat That Frog' refers to the saying that 'if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long'. So always do your worst task first thing. Ok, ok, it doesn't actually have to be your worst task, but certainly the biggest thing that you want to achieve all day. Firstly, it means you get it done. And that's the most important thing. But also (and I've said this before) what makes us feel productive is being productive. So achieving our biggest thing, first thing, makes us most likely to do more throughout the rest of the day.
But you'll never really work out what your biggest thing is if you don't invest some time in prioritising. Your priorities can (and probably should) look different day to day. A midweek work day has a different priority to a weekend day. But even across your work days, your priorities can well be different. If I'm giving a big workshop, my priority for that day and a few days spread out before the event will be workshop creation and delivery. Towards the beginning of the month, one of my days will have a priority of accounting and bookkeeping. Because even though these would never be things that I would love to do, they are essential priorities for keeping the businesses running. Some days my sewing business is a priority (which gets broken down further into manufacture, marketing, admin, research). Other days my coaching business breaks down into priorities around delivery, marketing, client relationships, research and professional development. If I didn't spend time working out how to prioritise each element, I would just do what I felt like doing each day. And some days, if the to-do list is particularly long, it can often feel like the most important thing is to change the exact colour scheme on my website.
Working out what your biggest priority is is one thing, deciding that we're going to do that first thing come into planning. Before that step though, we need to do more planning. Like, what amount of time would you like to spend on your goal? What does it look like? Is it a day a week or buckets of time across a week/fortnight/month? Can you do it anywhere or is it geographically bound? What things are you willing to have take priority over your goal? Because we do need to accept that we have to be flexible. Sometimes you will need to change things around. But just because you have to stay home and wait for the electrician which means you can't go to the gym, doesn't mean that you have to entirely lose that bucket of time. Could you work out from home? Could you do something in the evening instead? When something gets in the way of your goal time, how can you shift your events so that you still do that work towards your goal, even if it is at a different time?
I encourage my clients to leave at least one bucket of time free every week. This means you can always add more work in if everything else has gone perfectly. But let's just say that it hasn't (lol), then having an extra bucket to pop things into means you don't have to end your week thinking about all the things you haven't got done.
An important note on planning. If you've not done much of it before or you are planning something new (e.g. writing a novel, half marathon training, etc) then your idea of how much time something will take will invariably be wrong. That's normal. We're all secretly optimists that think we can get things done much more quickly than we can in reality. So leaving extra buckets to suck up the work that we've planned and not achieved is a even better idea at the start of a project. But instead of just getting frustrated that we don't get as much done as we would like, we should chart how long things are taking us. Now, I don't mean a super-duper complex spreadsheet that takes you 8 hours to fill out (because that would be incredibly unproductive!) but just a few notes at the end of each bucket of time or the end of the day about how much we got done. It's only by actively reflecting on what you can achieve in each bucket of time that you will learn to appropriately match the time with the task. Otherwise, you continue thinking that (just a random example that springs to mind here) a blog post takes you an hour. When it doesn't.
Break down your goals into projects then tasks. 'Publish a novel' on your to-do list is never going to be something that feels easy to tackle. Breaking it down into the separate projects is the first step. For example, write the novel and research publication may be two projects. Then within the projects you have smaller tasks such as 'create outline', 'chapter one', 'join local writing group', 'subscribe to publishers weekly', 'research who publishes my favourite authors', 'research what is new in my genre', etc. Those tasks themselves may be broken down even further, depending on the scale of them, but each one of those is a considerably smaller, less ugly frog to eat than 'publish a novel'.
Plan your rewards. In an ideal world, we wouldn't need rewards because the satisfaction from working on our goals would be enough. However, in the real world, we all love a bit of validation and positive feedback. Rewarding ourselves for getting through the tough things make us more likely to do them again. One of my rewards for running when the weather is rubbish is a bath. Lots of people reward themselves with food or drink which is something that is fine if it is carefully considered. (Let's not get into that minefield here. You guys are sensible, right. You know that rewarding yourself with a 450 calorie piece of cake for doing a run that has burnt 300 calories is going to lead to some unintended consequences!) But rewards can also be things like hiring a cleaner, going to the spa, getting your hair done, buying a new suit..... The bigger the milestone, the bigger the reward.
I do not believe in multi-tasking. I believe in focus. (I can't say focus without wanting to say laser like focus. I know that's a quote from somewhere but I don't know where!) I believe that you have to focus on one thing at a time to do it well. There is a multitude of evidence to suggest that switching from task to task (e.g. writing this blog post, switching over to email, then back to the blog post) reduces both your productivity and your ability to focus (see http://www.realization.com/pdf/Effects_of_Multitasking_on_Organizations.pdf if you'd like more details) This then means when you set out to work on a single task or project, you need to organise all of your things together first. This way you're not switching between doing something and looking for the things you need to do it.
Turn off notifications. If you're working at a computer, turn off your email and messenger notifications. If you're working elsewhere, turn off your phone notifications. Minimise every chance of disruption. Even if you don't open the app, if you look at the notification coming in, it will take your attention from what you are doing and disrupt your flow. Make it a habit to use every bit of time as productively as possible. This isn't just about your goal, this is about everything you do. Because when you settle to a job, it takes far less time than when you are half-heartedly doing it. I know many people who talk about the reason they didn't finish work on time is because they had finally got round to doing things that needed to be done and were in the zone. Well really the reason they were in the zone was because they had settled and focussed themselves upon achieving their task. (And they hadn't chosen to do that task first thing!)
If you struggle with focus, consider the pomodoro technique. This uses working in short time chunks, traditionally 25 minutes long. Take a 5 minute break then do another chunk. After 4 chunks of time, have a 30 minute break. I use an app on my phone that not only times this for you, but can also be customised to have 'focus' music and 'break' music. I find 25 minutes is far too short a time period if I'm working on creating a sewing project, but about right for things that require more brain power. I also find that having to take a break, encourages me to physically move, even if it is just a stand up and stretch. Some days, I only do 2 cycles and then I'm in my zone and I just keep going (albeit, I wouldn't actually encourage not taking breaks because they are really important for your physical and mental health).
This is the end of the series on What holds us back, but that doesn't mean that there isn't more to discuss. If you have something holding you back that you'd like me to explore, do feel free to get in touch by dropping me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org
Otherwise, we'll be off to pastures new with the blog in June. Are there any topics you would like exploring? Let me know and I'll do a blog post just for you.
If you like the idea of being more organised, do look out for our Pinterest Board on https://pin.it/kyimlyqk6qgqfp for lots of tips and ideas.