Recently on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I decided to join my husband for a bike ride. We filled the tires and water bottles, put on our helmets, and headed out. I felt a little extra resistance while peddling up the hill out of our neighborhood and thought, “Ok, this is hard. I think I just need to warm up.” As we pedaled on, I continued to feel that the ride was much more difficult than I expected. I couldn’t keep up with my husband – it seemed even when he wasn’t peddling he was going faster than me – and I was already out of breath. Thoughts that were going through my head during this time included: “I thought I was in better shape than this.” “I work out more than him…why can’t I keep up?” “Is biking really that different than my regular workout?” “What is wrong with me?”
After over three miles of this, it was time to turn back for home. We stopped so I could catch my breath and get a drink of water and my husband said, “Are you sure there isn’t something wrong with your bike? Maybe your tires?” I responded that it felt like it was riding fine and I didn’t hear any strange noises or rubbing, but let me get off my bike and check just to be sure. Lo and behold, the front brake was snug against the tire. I had basically been riding with the brakes on! After a few minutes, I figured out the problem, fixed it, and we rode home in about half the time it took us to get there – a much more enjoyable ride.
What does this somewhat embarrassing story have to do with productivity?
How many times in your life are you pushing against some sort of friction without realizing it? What could be made easier and more enjoyable if you stepped back and really analyzed, and addressed the issue? Often, we are so engrossed in day-to-day life, information, and tasks that we fail to really consider what we are doing. It is vital that we regularly take time to review and reset. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown asks “Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes?” My response is “yes”! And my sore legs would agree.
Below are three simple steps you can take to minimize or alleviate the friction in your life and career.
1. Take Notice
Pablo Picasso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” It is important to take focused time regularly to review your actions. Are they intentional? Do they reflect your priorities? Are you in control or are you letting others define your schedule and tasks? Are there processes, projects, or tasks that could be done more efficiently or effectively? A regular review might include the following questions:
- What is going well for me? How can I continue this?
- What do I not enjoy? What are my challenges? What can I stop doing? What can be made simpler?
- What do I most enjoy? What do I look forward to? How can I do more of this? What might get in the way?
This reflection is much easier to do if you are clear on your vision, priorities, and plan. For more on this, see my June 2021 blog, Mastering Time Management: What To Do Before the To Do List.
2. Identify the Issue
When you take focused time to reflect and review your priorities and related actions, it becomes simpler to identify any issues that are holding you back, getting in your way, or causing unnecessary friction. Maybe it’s a process, tool, or system that isn’t working optimally. Perhaps a colleague, friend, or family member is causing tension or stress. Or maybe it’s the position, company, or career you are in. It may even be a medical issue that has been overlooked resulting in lower productivity, and higher stress and anxiety.
If you are reviewing systems and processes for a company or team, identifying issues can entail a full-blown workflow analysis to find areas for automation, unneeded duplication, or improvements to technology, training, and communication. More often though, it just takes quiet, focused thought or journaling to pinpoint obstacles towards reaching your goals. Identify them and write them down.
3. Create Change
How will you minimize or alleviate the issues you have identified above? Consider any resources needed to support the change as well as your own habits or actions that need to change. What will you do differently going forward to reduce the friction or obstacles keeping you from success and enjoyment? Making a full plan for success is great, but sometimes you’ll need to just start with one small action step. Then, take another and another. Change can be hard, but the increased joy and success will be well worth it. And, you will likely reach your goals much quicker than you would have otherwise.
As my husband and I drove our bikes back into the garage, we found our daughter waiting for us to leave for her soccer game. Since the bike ride took much longer than expected, we were almost late. I realized then how much the friction I was working against for the first half of the ride impacted more than just me. It also caused stress for my daughter and potentially her team and coach if we were late. While I wish I would have stopped to evaluate the situation sooner, the fact that I did eventually stop to (1) take notice, (2) identify the issue with the brakes, and (3) create change by working to fix it, allowed for a much more enjoyable ride home, and we arrived at pre-game warm-up just in time.
I had a blog ready to post this month but changed my mind at the last minute. The original blog I wrote focused on the importance of tying a clear vision, goals, and priorities to your daily to-do list. While I still think this is vital to making sure you are working on the right things each day, I decided to put that blog aside until next month. What has been coming up over and over the past week, that I felt more important to share this month, is the fact that no matter how much we plan and prepare, life often throws us curve balls. I’m sure no one would argue, especially in the environment of the past year. So, why even plan at all?
Planning takes time. It requires difficult decisions. Good planning also creates the need to know your vision, goals, and priorities. Some people may determine the time and effort isn’t worth it…life doesn’t go according to plan anyway, right? But without a plan, without the knowledge and clarity of who you want to be, where you want to go, and how you will get there, the odds of reaching your goals are very low. Without a plan, the stress of the unexpected and the unknown is much higher. Without a plan, you are reacting to the needs and changes around you without intentional thought and value-based decisions.
With a plan in place, you gain more control over your days, your weeks, and your life. A plan puts systems and boundaries around the chaos. Barbara Hemphill, a mentor and leader in the productivity industry, says “Control what you can, so you can cope with what you can’t.” Planning provides you with this control. When the uncontrollable occurs and you are required to “pivot,” you can do so with a great deal more confidence that you are making the right choices. The stress and overwhelm that often results from change is much lower. Your original plan is adjusted, not forgotten, so you will continue to progress towards your vision for success.
Characteristics of a Good Plan
How do you create a plan that allows for the unexpected or for a change in direction? Following are the key features of a good plan:
- It ties to your life and career mission, vision, priorities, and long-term goals,
- It is written. Studies show writing something down makes it more likely to happen and allows for better processing, so pen to paper is ideal, but getting it out of your head and in digital form is better than not getting it down at all,
- It leaves room for flexibility. In other words, don’t plan every minute of every day.
- It is reviewed and reset regularly.
Stay tuned for next month’s blog as I dive deeper into #1 above which is the key to creating the best plan for YOU.
If you need some assistance with creating or adjusting your planning process, I’d love to help. Click to learn more about my Productivity Coaching plans.
One of the most controversial topics I’ve posted on social media has been whether or not it is important to make your bed every morning. I admit to not being a daily bed-maker (sorry Mom) and was excited to share this article by Tim Denning backing up my decision, albeit written more aggressively than I would have (e.g.“This is stupid advice. Don’t follow it.”) But I do appreciate the author’s point of view to focus on larger tasks first thing in the morning before you are worn out by the day’s events. Mr. Denning argues that making your bed won’t change the world, but other tasks can. My post was met with support by fellow “non-bedmakers” including successful leaders I think highly of. But I also heard from “daily bedmakers” I respect and admire, including my mother, who are passionate about their decision and reasons for making their beds daily.
During a 2014 commencement speech given at the University of Texas by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, Admiral McRaven explained the importance of a perfectly made bed during basic SEAL training. He ended this section of his speech with, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” Honestly, who am I to argue with the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations?
How then, can these completely opposing views about the importance of this simple task in our daily lives both be right? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Why You Might Make Your Bed Every Day
An unofficial poll on one of my social media accounts gathered several comments as to why the “bed-makers” take the time each day:
- “Starting out the day with a simple completed task sets me up to do better during the day. If I don’t do that first task then pretty soon everything just feels overwhelming so why do anything.”
- “I think [not making your bed] sets up for a too relaxed way of living.”
- “I love the feeling of coming into my bedroom and having everything clean and nice looking. I feel like it helps my mind relax at night and feel less cluttered.”
- “It’s a simple thing I can do while my brain is still fuzzy (and not yet ready to tackle big things) and it sure feels good later in the day.”
- “The best part of making the bed is climbing into a nice crisp bed at night. I don’t want YESTERDAY covers!”
But what if this isn’t true for all of us? Let’s take a look at the other side of the story.
Why I Don’t Make My Bed
I was brought up to feel that making my bed was just part of the daily routine – you shower, get dressed, brush your teeth, and make your bed. So as a young adult, I continued to make my bed every day. But then I got married and my husband didn’t make the bed. When I asked if he would chip in every once in a while, he told me, “I don’t make the bed. My grandma taught me it needs to air out.” What? At the time, this sounded like an interesting made-up reason to not take responsibility, but I’ll get back to that. Without my spouse taking on his share of the task, I started to wonder how important it really was and soon began to periodically skip this daily activity.
Then I had children, started my business, and began working at home. I found that I could spend half of my day picking up and cleaning the house before I even “got to work.” I had to discipline myself to let some of it go, and bedmaking became one task I was okay giving up. Today, I make the bed fully only when someone is coming over, on cleaning days, and on rare days when “I just feel like it.” Most days, I just throw the comforter up over the pillows and call it good.
What I found over time is that it really didn’t matter. I could walk out of the bedroom and into my office and feel just as productive whether I made my bed or not. But recently, during the COVID-19 quarantine, I learned I have a different “productivity trigger” when working from home. I need to wear makeup. I learned this when my daughter walked into the bathroom while I was getting ready for the day and said, “Why are you putting makeup on?” I responded, “For you guys, I guess.” As I thought more about it, I realized my family doesn’t care if I wear makeup (they’ve seen me at my worst), but I do. Putting on just a minimal amount helps me to feel more awake and energized which leads to more productivity.
Obviously wearing makeup isn’t going to be the trick for everyone – we are all motivated and energized by different things. If you can’t jump immediately into a “change the world task” first thing in the morning, as Tim Denning suggests in his article, what small action can you take each day to increase your energy, motivation and productivity? Perhaps it is making your bed or putting a little makeup on. Or it may be something completely different such as a morning jog, journaling, or meditation.
Read The Following At Your Own Risk
A few years ago, I decided to look into my husband’s claim regarding beds needing to “air out” each day and guess what? There is actually some truth to it. You may regret reading what follows, so continue at your own risk. The article The Reason Scientists Say You Shouldn’t Make Your Bed cites research from a 2015 Kingston University study when it states “making your bed in the morning traps in dust mites that have accumulated overnight and provides a breeding ground for allergens that can exacerbate asthma and allergies.” I’ll spare you the more gruesome details (check out the article for this), but according to the Simplemost.com article, making your bed first thing in the morning traps in moisture, allowing your bed to be a home for up to 1.5 million dust mites. If you leave your bed messy, however, the mites are exposed to air and sunlight, which causes them to become dehydrated and die out. So for those that are not daily bed-makers, you may actually be healthier because of it.
What Works For You?
I’d love to hear what is or is not included in your morning routine that helps you have a more productive day. Has your time at home during COVID-19 changed your morning routines or habits? Share a comment below or reach out via email.