You feel like you’re head is full of fluffy cotton,
You’re brain seems like it is set on “slow,”
You know that feeling like you just can’t think, can’t make decisions, can’t get anything done? It’s actually a solution.
Watch the video to find out how brain fog can possibly be a solution to anything—and what to do if it’s not the solution you want anymore.
When you’re ready to clear away your brain fog, stop procrastinating, and create the life you are meant to live, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.
As kids we’re all taught to get our work done first before . . .
• playing with friends
• watching TV
• having dessert
• really, doing anything fun.
It’s called delayed gratification, and it’s not only a sign of maturity, it’s a skill that’s essential to accomplishing most anything that is important in life.
Most of us have learned to use this approach as an incentive to get ourselves to finish those things we would rather avoid. It makes sense. But, when taken too far, it can actually cause us to procrastinate.
This happened to a client of mine who had been trying very hard to be a good, mature adult who did her chores before going out to play. It backfired and ended up causing her to procrastinate on the very thing she was trying to get herself motivated to do.
Watch the video to see why that happened and how to know when you should chuck delayed gratification in the trash and just Go Out and Play!
If you would like some help figuring out what’s causing your procrastination, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.
“Elizabeth” had a big block. Lately she had been unintentionally sabotaging her relationships with her big clients She was worried that it was jeopardizing her business, and she was right. She needed to get rid of her block. But her block wasn’t quite what she thought it was.
Elizabeth works hard at everything she does. When her clients say they need something, she always takes on the project immediately no matter how unreasonable the time frame. Then she knocks herself and her staff out getting it done. She has taken that old adage to “underpromise and overdeliver” and thrown away the “underpromise” part. She promises her clients everything they want in record time, struggles to make it happen, and then finds that they don’t appreciate how hard she works. Of course, she rarely tells them how difficult it will be to meet their deadlines, so how could they?
She also overdoes things at home. Despite having a successful business making more than enough money, she does all the cleaning and cooking at home. She manages her seventh grade son’s schedule, personally making sure he gets to all his after school activities, attends his games, and hosts his friends at home at least once a week. And when he started struggling in math, she researched geometry books, got the one with the most recommendations, and tutored him herself. When her husband complained about their outdated kitchen, she hired the general contractor then made all the decisions and dealt with the inevitable problems on her own.
I’ve been realizing lately how many of my clients have been struggling with sleep issues due to all their stress. I know how hard it is not just to get the work done but to even think when you haven’t slept well the night before from personal experience, so it’s something that I work on with my clients. A lot. And now I’ve made a decision.
I’m going to create some sort of product that uses all the tricks and techniques I use with my clients to lower their stresses so they can sleep. It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile. And since I’m constantly advising clients to share their goals with someone else to really get motivated to make them happen, I’m sharing this goal here.
There, now I’m motivated.
I’ve got a lot of details to work out, but it’s important so I’m going to make this happen. It’ll take some time to come up with my . . . book? Video training? Webinar? Well, I have a few things to decide, and a bit of work to make it happen. I’ll let you know as I get closer to having . . . something to share about this new project.
Time for a confession: I get blocked, too. In fact, I had some serious internal blocks to marketing my business in the past, and I had to work very hard to figure out what they were and root them out. As I worked on my own blocks, I found it easier and easier to do things like write my newsletter, talk to others about what I do, take on more clients—all the things I had been planning to do but dragging my feet on.
Since getting rid of these blocks, I even thought of a plan to share what I do to help clients with sleep problems with a lot more people. I was very excited about creating my manual with supporting video and audio aids. I got off to a good start outlining what would go where and making a start on the manual. Then I stalled out. Whenever I thought, “I should do another section for the manual,” I would find myself doing something, anything else. What was going on? I thought I’d taken care of all my blocks already!
Hey, I’m a coach who specializes in helping people get rid of what is holding them back. Surely I should be able to figure this one out. Was I holding myself back by trying to be perfect? No, that didn’t match what was going on. Did I need to get rid of the usual timewasters? Well, I tried and that didn’t work. I just found other, more creative ways to waste time. I wasn’t even wasting time, really. I was just working on things that weren’t as important. What if I cleared out some of the impediments to working on the manual? Nope, that wasn’t it.
I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked. So I gave up and asked my coach. Yes, I have a coach. Two, actually. We coaches have realized that, no matter how good we are at helping our clients, it can be impossible sometimes to figure out our own problem. It’s like that old adage, you can’t see the forest for the trees. So when I really want to get moving I call one of my coaches. I called.
In about twenty minutes, Rebecca showed me that I was falling into a trap that many, many people are falling into these days. There is so much to do. If we aren’t working all the time, we feel like we’re falling behind. So we work later, eat lunch at our desks, stop taking breaks, start working on weekends, anything we can do to get more work done. But the reality is we get less done, not more when we do this.
Why should this be? Rebecca has done the research and tells me it’s because the adult brain cannot work for more than ninety minutes at a time. After ninety minutes, it just can’t take in any more information. It needs to take a break for something like twenty minutes before it can get back into high gear. That’s why my schedule of trying to get it all done without coming up for air was backfiring. I would hit my ninety-minute limit, then go into mental puttering mode, doing things that didn’t take much thought. The more I pushed, the less I could think clearly. I wasn’t taking any breaks, so my brain wasn’t coming back online. As Rebecca pointed out, I was being neither strategic nor smart by working constantly.
I spent a bit of time arguing with Rebecca. Well, sure, that’s true for other people, but I should be able to work through the pain. I have too much to do to be weak like that. I can take a break in a few months, after I’ve finished my project. Rebecca listened patiently to me rant, only smiling a little at my efforts to avoid physiology. We both knew that trying to ignore reality wasn’t working and wasn’t going to work. I needed to change my approach if I wanted to get more done. I had to take breaks every ninety minutes or so. Everyone does.
Once I caved and admitted that I was human, we got to work figuring out what the most effective way for me to work was so that I could get more done with the less clock time I would be using. Rebecca reminded me of the Pareto Principle. You’ve probably come across this at some time or other. The Pareto Principle holds that around 80% of results come from around 20% of efforts. To get the best results, then, I needed to schedule my most important “efforts” into the 20% of my time when I was most productive.
For me, this means scheduling ninety minutes to work on my sleep manual at the beginning of the day, when I have the most energy and focus. No more “clearing out the easy stuff,” like emails, when I sit down at my computer. That can wait. I have something important to do, and that is going to get done in my most productive time.
So your tip for this week is to figure out the times you are most productive. First thing in the morning? Right after lunch? The last hour of the day when everyone leaves you alone? Schedule your important projects for those times. And, yes, schedule breaks every ninety minutes or so. Run up and down in the stairwell a few times. Go get coffee with a co-worker and talk shop. Go for a walk. Take a real break so you can get some real work done.
I love helping clients uncover and get rid of those internal blocks to their success that go very deep. It isn’t always easy, but it can be pure joy to start with, say, what they have been doing to sabotage themselves, follow it back all the way to its source and get rid of it. However, not all blocks are complicated issues that need serious detective work with a coach to untangle. Some blocks to doing what we need to in our career or business are simply “reflex reactions” built into all of us that can be avoided with some easy techniques—when you know the techniques.
In the past two weeks I’ve described two ways to get around those kinds of blocks, first, by making it a little bit harder to procrastinate and second, by making it that much easier to start the activity you want to be doing. Today’s tip is another way to get yourself going on something that you just haven’t been getting around to in spite of all your good intentions. (All three of these techniques and the research behind them are explained in detail in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. I highly recommend reading or listening to it on your commute.)
Making choices can be exhausting
Science tells us that making choices lowers our physical stamina, our persistence, and our overall focus, and it lowers them a lot. (Each choice also lowers our ability to do math problems, if that is relevant to you). Each choice doesn’t have to be complicated or have enormous consequences resting on it to have those effects, either. As Shawn Achor puts it, it can be as simple as “chocolate or vanilla.” When we’ve used up our “choice energy,” we start making the easiest choices that take the least amount of effort, whether or not they lead to the results we want. Then it just takes time and rest to replenish our choice energy.
I recently read about a study that showed this choice energy being used up. The study looked at the parole system in an Israeli prison and found that the earlier in the day a prisoner’s parole hearing came up, the more likely he was to get released. The researchers concluded that because it was easier and safer for the members of the parole board to deny parole than to grant it, they were more likely to make the hard choice—to grant parole—early in the day before they had made many choices, and more likely to make the easy choice—denying parole—later on after they had already made a number of choices. The only exception was for the hearings that happened right after the board’s lunch, when there was an increase in paroles granted. Apparently eating can replenish your “choice reserves” somewhat, too.
Just this week a client gave me another example of what happens when you use up your choice energy. A few years ago she took a standardized test to get into professional school and didn’t do very well. The test takes over five hours to complete, with five multiple choice sections. The questions are tricky, designed to weed out those who don’t think the way that is required in school. By the time my client got to the fifth section, she was exhausted. She couldn’t keep her focus on the questions long enough to reason them through, so she just started filling in the bubbles randomly. Her stamina, focus and persistence were gone because of all the choices she had already made in the previous sections.
Granted, one of the reasons she got to this exhausted stage was a deep-seated fear of taking tests, which dragged her down and made the first four sections of the test that much harder for her than for others taking it. But even after we finish rooting out her test anxiety, when she re-takes the exam she will still have to contend with using up her choice energy. So we’ve made a plan. To make sure she has as much “choice energy” as possible going into the test, which is on a Saturday, she is going to limit the choices that she has to make for at least twenty-four hours prior to that. She’ll do things like lay out her clothes for Friday and Saturday on Thursday night. She has already picked out what she will order at lunch with her co-workers on Friday. She will ask her partner to choose Friday’s dinner without her input. He will drive her to the test site. Any choice she can make before that twenty-four hours, or give to someone else, she will.
Save choice energy by getting rid of choices—prepare in advance and make rules
You can use a similar strategy for any project that you haven’t been able to get going on. Let’s say you’ve been meaning to make some cold calls but never get around to actually doing them. Instead of just saying to yourself, “I’m going to make some calls tomorrow, without fail” and relying on your willpower to make it happen, make all the decisions you can the night before. Write them down and leave the plan on your desk. How many calls will you make? When will you make the first call? Who will you call, and in what order? Don’t leave anything to decide on the day you make the calls that you could decide the night before. Then, when you arrive in your office the next day, there is your plan sitting right in front of you. The decisions are already made. You just have to implement them.
Another way to get around draining your choice energy—and therefore your stamina, focus and persistence—is to make rules for yourself. When you’ve made a rule, you’ve already made your choice in advance so you aren’t drawing on your choice energy when it is time to act.
Example: Jessie’s big slump at work
A good illustration of these techniques was the situation faced by my client, “Jessie,” who wanted to get more productive at work. She liked her job and her boss, but she found she was doing less and less each day, coasting on her reputation from past successes. She knew she couldn’t keep going this way much longer.
Jessie recognized that a big obstacle to her getting anything done these days was her conversations with her co-workers over coffee when she first got to work. They had turned into b- . . . er, kvetch sessions about all that was wrong with the co-workers’ managers and their jobs. By the time she got to her desk, she was unmotivated and looking for the easiest thing she could do to make it seem like she was working. The problem was compounded at lunchtime when she would join these same friends for another complaint-filled conversation that would sap her energy for the afternoon. Making herself choose anything challenging from her To Do list under those circumstances was just too much.
The answer Jessie and I came up with was to implement three rules. The first was not to have coffee with her co-workers until after 10:30 am. That way, she had at least two hours to get some work done at the beginning of the day. The second was to do first the one thing on her To Do list that she least wanted to do that day. (Of course, she picked that item out the night before.) The third rule was to turn the conversation to something more positive whenever a co-worker started in on a complaint, like what they could do next to find a better job, or where each was going to go on vacation. (Again, she picked out what the topic would be the night before.)
Two weeks after she implemented these three rules, the change was dramatic. Jessie reported that she was getting a lot more done throughout her workday, not just those first couple of hours. She had already finished two of the projects she had been dreading and avoiding. And her co-workers were also enjoying the change in their conversations. Apparently they were tired of the never-ending complaints, too.
Pick out a project and try it!
You can use this technique on anything you have been avoiding. The day before you plan to work on it, write out your plan—what you are going to work on, when, in what order, anything that you will have to decide. Put your plan front and center on your desk so that the next day you can just do it. If your problem is long-standing, or, like Jessie’s, it seems to cover a lot of activities, then come up with a rule today that you can follow tomorrow, and the next day and the next. That way the decision is already made and you won’t have to whittle away at your stamina, focus and persistence by making choices each day before starting on your project or projects.
Next week, I’ll put this technique together with the two previous techniques to show you how to implement a new, more productive habit. Until then, enjoy the extra stamina, focus and persistence you’ve recovered!
Sometimes the reason someone procrastinates is a deep-seated block that takes serious effort to root out. This is where I earn my nickel with clients who come to me to get past blocks. But sometimes we procrastinate because our brains are hardwired to choose activities that are easy and convenient over those that take more effort. When that is the kind of block getting in your way, there are three simple techniques you can take to get around it. Each technique will work individually, but when combined they can be almost unstoppable.
Willpower has its limits (and when it’s gone it’s gone)
It turns out we only have a certain amount of willpower to work with over a period of time. The more we use it, the less we have, and when it’s gone it’s gone. That’s why crash diets so often end in a huge binge of the foods the dieters have been denying themselves. The dieters kept using up their willpower each time they told themselves “no” until they had none left.
The limit to willpower reserves is also why it can be hard to get started and keep going on a project —you have to make yourself go work on it. Every time you do that, you draw on your willpower reserves. When the reserves are used up, you can’t make yourself work on it anymore. So what do you do?
The short answer is to take willpower out of the equation by making it easier to work on your project than to do anything else. You’ve already made a start on this if you followed last week’s tip and made it harder to access the time-wasters in your day. Now you want to do the opposite and make it easier and more convenient to access your project, whatever it is.
Remove the easy-to-eliminate obstacles ahead of time
Let’s say you are a small business owner with an opportunity to submit an article to a publication that is read by a lot of potential customers. It could really showcase what you do. Not only would that make your cold calls easier since those potential customers would have heard of you, it might even lead to a few of them calling you up to hire you, no cold calls required. The upside is huge. And you just can’t seem to get around to writing the article.
You can call yourself a lazy good-for-nothing (which still won’t get that article written), or you can simply make it easier to get started on the article than do anything else.
If the file of research you need to write it is sitting in the file cabinet ten steps from your desk, move the file to the middle of your desk before you go home. That way when you sit down tomorrow you won’t have to take those ten steps to get started. What’s more, you won’t be able to do anything else unless you physically move the file out of your way. That extra effort to move the file out of the way may be enough to tip your brain into thinking that it is easier to just work on the article than do something else.
Of course this isn’t logical, but logic isn’t the issue here. If logic worked, you would have written and submitted that article months ago. Instead, we’re dealing with a different part of the brain, and that part just looks at initial efforts. That’s why lowering the amount of effort it takes to start up the project can get you moving, even though the overall effort—the “real” work of writing that article—remains the same.
Now if moving the file to your desk isn’t enough to get you going on the article, look at other ways to make working on the article easier. Does the thought of toggling back and forth on your computer between the document with your notes in it and the one you are planning to fill with your brilliant article make you sigh? Then print out your notes and put them on your keyboard the night before you plan to work on the article. Again, you will have removed activities that added effort to your project (opening the notes document and toggling back and forth). In addition, you will have to physically move the notes out of your way to do anything else on your computer, adding a step to working on any other project. Working on the article will become that much easier and more convenient than other projects.
You’ll notice that I suggest you move pieces of your project to a more convenient location the night before. When you do that, you allow your willpower reserves to replenish before starting to work on the actual project. This is in addition to lowering the willpower it takes to get started because the pieces of your project are more convenient. So setting yourself up the night before gives you double the benefit for your effort.
Prove it to yourself—pick a project right now
This approach sounds simple and it is. You actually have to do it, however. So pick something you have been avoiding and put it right in front of you, either physically on your desk or virtually on your computer, so that you have to move it to get to anything else tomorrow. If you trip over your project whenever you try to do anything else, you are on the right track. If you manage to avoid your project anyway, make another simple change that makes it even easier and more convenient to get started on the next day.
Eventually, you will have made enough changes that your brain will decide that you might as well work on your project since it’s right there. Then you’ll “just do it” like you’ve been telling yourself for the past three months. In this way you will see how powerful this technique is, you’ll be more likely to remember how to do it the next time you find yourself procrastinating, and—who knows—you may finally get that project off your To Do list.
If this tip plus last week’s tip aren’t quite enough to get you started on a project you’ve been putting off, there is one more technique you can add to end your procrastination easily. I’ll tell you all about it next week!
Many internal blocks to business or career success go deep. It can take some serious detective work to root out the causes of some blocks, like: a persistent pattern of sabotaging your own performance after you’ve made a strong start in a new job; failing to close customers despite catching their interest; freezing up when asked to speak in public…and the list goes on.
Fortunately there are some blocks most of us face at one time or another that you can get around with just a simple change or two to your routine. Today’s tip focuses on the first of three easy changes you can make to get around these blocks. I’ll cover the other changes in the next few weeks. (If you just can’t wait that long to find out what they are, you can read about them in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.)
Each change, if implemented alone, will help get you moving. If you put them all together, you can set yourself up in the easiest—and most scientifically proven—way to make that big change in your work or business that you just haven’t gotten around to despite all your good intentions.
The first change: make time wasters more difficult to waste time with
The first change is all about how to get rid of those persistent time wasters we all face at some time or another. Say you’ve decided to get right to work on that report as soon as you sit down at your desk. But you find yourself sidetracked into “just checking” email, Google news, Facebook, or stock prices once you turn on your computer. Before you realize it, you’ve lost hours weeding out your inbox, following up on interesting articles—anything other than finishing that report. Alternatively, you might limit yourself to just a few minutes at a time on these distractors, but you keep coming back to them throughout the day, losing time and focus over and over. What happened to all your good intentions?
If this sounds like you, you’ve probably chalked it up to being a terrible procrastinator, not motivated enough, lazy, or some such character flaw. In fact, it is more likely due to the way we all are made. Humans are hardwired to choose activities that take the least amount of effort. As Shawn Achor puts it, we default to those activities that are “easy, convenient, and habitual.” So when you fire up your computer, if it’s easier to click on a news site than to get out your research, start analyzing the data, open up your draft,and start writing, then you are more likely to choose the news. We default to doing what is easiest and most convenient.
Just as there is a simple explanation for why we procrastinate in this way, there is a simple way to correct it. You just need to add steps to anything that’s distracting you.
For example, if looking at Facebook is a problem for you, take the site out of your bookmarks so you have to either search for it or type it into the browser. If that doesn’t dissuade you from going to Facebook as often, then sign out after you do visit it so that the next time you go there you have to enter your password again. If that’s still not enough to limit your Facebook time, change your password to one that is not memorable (a string of gibberish words and letters), then write it down on a piece of paper and put the password somewhere you would have to walk to, like your coat pocket hanging on the back of your office door or another room entirely. The more steps you have to take, literally and figuratively, the less you will choose to “just check” what’s on Facebook and the easier it will be to start and continue focusing on that report. So keep adding steps until that time-waster is not easier to start up than what you need to be doing.
How about something that you need to use for work, like your email? The answer is the same. Take out the shortcuts and add steps so it is harder to check. You will still be able to open it up when you need to, but you can break the habit of mindlessly checking email over and over throughout the day. Then it will be easier to schedule specific, limited times to check your email during the day and stick to that schedule.
Now I’m no tech wiz, but I do know there are some things you can do to make it harder to get to your email, like:
Taking email off your toolbar so you have to search for it;
Burying the email application in a set of nested folders so that it takes several clicks of the mouse to open it;
Adding a password to access it, or asking your resident techie to do so;
Asking said techie to suggest other ways to make it take more steps to get to your email (he or she will look at you strangely since part of their job is to make everything quicker and easier for you, but do it anyway); and
Closing it again after using it for a scheduled interval so it doesn’t distract you when you move on to your next task.
I know it is counter-intuitive to save time by adding time and steps to daily activities, but you will actually save yourself much more time than you lose when you limit those time wasters. It may seem silly to resort to adding steps when, as a fully capable adult, you should be able to limit your time wasters simply by telling yourself to stop. But there are actually scientifically identified reasons why just telling yourself to stop doesn’t work for most people. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing this approach hasn’t been working so well for you, either. So stop trying to force yourself to stop through willpower. Try adding steps instead. Do it as an experiment for two weeks. If you don’t notice any difference in how much you get done, you can always go back to your current system.
This tip tells you how to avoid the time wasters by adding steps to doing them. What about if you need to do something but you just can’t seem to be bothered to get around to it? Turns out there’s a simple way to change that behavior, too. Tune in next week!
In last week’s tip I explained how we go into a fight or flight reaction when we perceive a threat and our brains’ higher functioning begins to shut down, whether that threat is an attacking grizzly bear, an angry boss, or even the economic news. The longer we perceive the threat, the less of our brain we can access.
Last week I focused on the importance of limiting your intake of media, especially the news, to lower the amount of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in your body throughout the day. The more we hear about dangers from accidents, war, crimes and even financial distress, even when these things happen to complete strangers in another part of the world, the more our body pumps out those stress hormones. For that reason, just cutting back on your consumption of the news can drop the level of those hormones in your body, allowing you better access to the parts of your brain responsible for decision-making, creativity, language, and other areas critical for success in business (not to mention life).
But even when you’ve limited the amount of media in your life, you will still find yourself in situations in which you are facing a perceived threat. Let’s say your biggest client calls you up and tells you they are going to pull their account. This is a big threat, but not one that your flight or fight response can help you with. Indeed, that response will actually prevent you from reacting to the client’s threat in the best way you could. The stress hormones that start coursing through your body will block access to the very parts of your brain you most need in the moment—like critical thinking, impulse control, problem solving, maintaining relationships, and simply being able to find the right words!
Relaxing Your Body Stops the Flow of Stress Hormones