How you approach your work matters. You don’t have to repeat to yourself focus, focus, focus… there are some specific ways you can prime yourself to choose better priorities, and be more productive. How you set your mind and your body into your work can make a big impact on the quality of the work you perform. Here are a few ideas from Laura Stack’s bestselling book and online course Doing the Right Things Right.
Know that you are an executive.
Despite your role or title, you are an executive. In other words you are the #1 person responsible for managing your time and getting the right things done right. It might feel like your time is not your own, but one way or another you must make it yours. Only you can own your own engagement.
Know your strengths.
Are you a person who thinks and plans before acting? Or are you more apt to focus on your team to get things done? You may also be one of those who truly enjoy doing tactical work and using every app imaginable to manage your time. Knowing your strengths and learning from others just makes your executive job more powerful.
Know what’s important.
Reacting to email, social media, late demands, and interruptions can be called work, but it isn’t the kind of intentional, personal, and self-designed work which gives us a sense of purpose. Emptying our in-box is not work we cherish. When we have to do new, original and creative work such as delivering an article, researching, or preparing a new presentation or report, we are far more productive when we mentally plan what we will do, and remain more focused and dedicated to protecting that time because of the commitment and planning.
Start with your posture.
Sit up. Slouching makes you sad. Erik Peper, a professor at San Francisco State University, did a few experiments in which participants were asked to sit in various positions. They were then asked to recall either negative experiences and memories or positive, empowering ones. Slouchers had a harder time recalling the positive thoughts. According to Peper, “If you take on a collapsed position, it really shifts the physiology.” Also known as a “cowering position”, slouching is a posture of defeat.
Don’t worry, you can almost immediately reverse the negative effects of a slouch by simply standing up and skipping in place. Subjects who sat up in their chair had an easier time recalling positive and optimistic memories, and just 30 seconds of skipping in place improved mood and energy levels.
Even better, crank up the tunes and dance. The positive physical and psychological effects of dancing are well-researched. Better than tennis, cycling, golf, and swimming, dancing has a stronger ability to ward off dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers concluded the combination of physical intensity, mental focus, and social connection compounded to produce stronger positive results.
Adjust your attitude.
Don’t tell yourself, ask yourself. Instead of telling yourself “I will go to exercise class in the morning!”, instead ask yourself “Will I go to exercise class in the morning?” Contrary to the old wisdom of using positive self-talk, such as “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” to boost self-confidence, using positive questions is much more powerful. If instead we ask ourselves, “Can I do this?” we will have to answer the question in our minds and be specific about how we will meet the challenge.
Similarly, if we challenge ourselves by asking, “Will I finish this article before I read Facebook again?”, we are more likely reflect on that challenge and accept it. In being honest with ourselves and asking if we are up for a challenge, we’re more likely to face that challenge successfully than simply repeating, “I think I can.”
Now, give yourself less time.
“But I didn’t have enough time!” Yes, you did. You had all day, all week, all month. You burned it doing something else. Often when you have more time, the obligation will simply fill your mind with more anxiety and dread than if you give yourself less time and get it off your desk. Recently I had three weeks to prepare a presentation. I spent so many moments lost in thought about what I should change or remove or add, that I realized the obsession was crowding my time for creating new ideas and projects. I delivered the presentation a week early. Once I delivered the project, and knew I could make no more changes, I let go. I moved on to being productive in other valuable work.
To learn more about choosing priorities in your work, and executing with greater efficiency and speed, take a look at world-class productivity expert Laura Stack and her course Doing the Right Things Right:
Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.