I’ve come to realise that the simple things in life can often be the best and that common-sense practices are often the keys to delivery. The behaviours that separate the super successful with the average are really nothing ground breaking and earth shattering, and the difference between what they do and what others do aren’t in the realm of magic pills and potions.
Yet often when I discuss this with my clients, the responses from them are often one of common sense and everybody knows that.
If it is indeed, common sense and common knowledge why then is it so hard to DO.
Because we know if we don’t do, it doesn’t get done.
This best applies in the way we plan and prioritise our lives, whether it’s daily, weekly or long term. Everyone knows they should write that stuff down. It’s common knowledge, it’s common sense but it’s not common practice.
Imagine this. When we go shopping for groceries, we will compile a list of what we need. Because if we don’t, we know we will come home with stuff we don’t need and miss stuff that we have run out of. So, we prepare a grocery list.
Imagine a major life event, like a wedding without writing out a plan. It would be mayhem. We would be lucky to have the reception booked, the photographer would turn up at the wrong times, the potential for chaos is huge. We create a detailed plan and we go over it numerous times prior to the day. We don’t want a thing to go wrong.
Yet many don’t do this for our daily, weekly and long term goals. When working with clients I will often get told “the plan is in my head”, or they “keep it front of mind”.
Keeping a plan front of mind is a sure-fire way to fail.
There are two main reasons for this. Our conscious thoughts are held in our pre-frontal cortex. Our pre-frontal cortex is a pretty amazing mechanism, it enables and empowers us with conscious thoughts and our ability to make decisions. Unfortunately with every amazing machine, there are some limitations and the same applies with our pre-frontal cortex. It takes a lot of energy to be intentional with our thoughts in the PFC, and additionally our capacity is limited. Just as a sports car is not desired to move large numbers of people, our PFC can only deal with a limited amount of information. As we learn more about our brain through research, our knowledge increases. We know a lot about a little. There is much we don’t know, but we do believe :
- The maximum number of critical information we can deal with is four. But even this comes with constraints. The information needs to be chunked into abstract strategic thoughts. To test this, be in the middle of something requiring focus and then get two people come to you at the same time and asking for some help requiring critical thinking. You get flustered and frustrated and that happens even when the distraction is relatively minor.
- The best number of items to compare is TWO. That enables the best environment for comparison and decision making. Anything above, consumes more energy.
- Prioritising takes energy. Having a list is great, prioritising that list takes energy.
- Once an idea of thought leaves the PFC it heads back to, what I envision, the deeper and dark aspects of the brain. Attempting to recall items from these areas of the brain, consumes energy and creates frustration when it doesn’t happen.
- Many of the things we do become automatic to us, we have committed them to habits and we do these things without thought or maxing out our energy.
In knowing this, some of the hacks that I have applied to my life to help my energy, productivity and effectiveness.
I have an ideas white board. When I have an idea during while working, I write it on my whiteboard and then return to my task. By doing this I am not trying to “hold that thought” and consume energy doing so. I then have no need to extend myself to recall the idea later on, once it got kicked out of the PFC.
I use my phone to collate and record ideas if I am out of my office and have a small digital recorder in the car to do the same. When walking or exercising and get an idea I note it immediately into my phone recorder. Once it’s been dictated I can then move on, but this is where the hack comes in. I walk into my office, look at the ideas board and the ideas I had noted down or dictated often come back with simple memory recall. If they don’t, I have them available to review, whatever method I use. I found my energy was being depleted by holding ideas or observations front of mind, and the risk was that I lost most of them. Now I note them down, save the energy and the frustration and when the time is ready they are easily recalled
My ideas are in front of me now, more then they ever were when I tried to keep them “front of mind”. And when ready, the ideas move into action, and that’s when I focus my energy.
I have a key dates board, the upcoming speaking engagements or full day corporate workshops. It’s also in my dairy and electrical calendar as well, but the white board creates easy reference for me and again, eliminates the need for me to go searching through my mind for the date. Control, or at least the sense of, comes from having an easily seen visual reference for what’s coming up.
I have a priorities white board with the five key things I am working on at that moment in time. The benefit is, it’s not being stored in my mind and I have it for easy reference. Once a priority is complete it leaves the board. Working on one priority at a time just works, and when i find myself feeling the need to multi-task, I intentionally stop. I know it sounds simple, but it’s true.
I have a daily task board. Now sometimes, this doesn’t need to be filled out as my day is filled with coaching appointments, but it’s helps me maximise my time and schedule my priorities in my available time. I also ensure I prioritise when I am fresh in the morning. I prioritise when I am fresh in the morning, as I have found I make the best decisions when I have the energy to do so.
Every night before I go to bed, I organise the next day clothes and work bag, if needed. I am up early for a run, and I have my exercise gear and shoes out ready, and I also have the next day’s outfit ready after that. I have my breakfast planned and even my coffee cup next to the coffee maker, the less decisions I must make in the morning, the more I preserve my energy and the more it keeps me fresh for my focused, important tasks
I look for ways to create habits. I know if I can create a good habit around some of these disciplines, the process becomes more automatic and even more effective. That’s because I don’t have to consciously think about it to make it happen. As an example, getting up in the morning, and putting on my running gear, is almost automatic. When you can create disciplined habits, you add the benefit of good automation to your life.
I limit my emails and phone notifications. I process emails at set times and, I return calls at set or scheduled times. I know that every time I get distracted or interrupted, the item I was working on, gets kicked out of my PFC for the distraction, no matter how small or trivial. I then have to recall it and refocus, wasting time and my precious energy resources.
I was like many others, trying to keep things front of mind and not working on the simple disciplines that make a huge difference.
What I have found with these simple ideas.
I find myself less stressed. I’ve found that I spend less time wracking my brains trying to recall ideas I was trying to hold on to. I am more able to focus clearly on a single task and my productivity and importantly my effective use of time has improved markedly.
While sometimes control can be an illusion, the feeling of being in control has affirmed my approach, I smash all deadlines and no longer have a list of half-filled and forgotten projects. I schedule time for upcoming projects and use the deadline and structure to help complete and finalise.
Importantly I feel fresher daily and I work hard to maintain this by “chunking” my time and structuring the work when it is best done. Understanding how our brains work, has certainly given me the awareness needed to create structured process to build further success.