Cool-Time

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool.

When people think about managing time and becoming more efficient, they almost always look at their calendar and ToDo lists to try to figure out how to work faster and how to prioritize. These are good thoughts, certainly, but they miss out on half of their workload problem. It’s not just the work you have to think about – it’s people.

At the end of every request, problem or opportunity, there’s a person waiting for something. Whether it’s a project you have to complete, or a text message you just received, somebody is waiting for something, and this can cause you stress. No one likes to feel rushed or pressured.

Time management is really about people management. It’s about managing expectations, keeping people satisfied by addressing their fear of the unknown, building a personal credit rating, and learning how to exert influence. Let’s look at all four of these.

1. Managing Expectations

A recurring theme in the Cool-Time approach to time management is proactivity. Proactivity means taking charge of an activity or an event before it happens, and consequently affecting the outcome in your favor. Now think about every time someone sends you an email. What are they doing? They have sent something to you and are waiting for a response, for satisfaction. Until they get that response from you, they won’t know what’s going on, and they won’t know when you will reply. This is why many of these people might send a follow-up email that asks, “did you get my last email?”

But what if they have been taught – by you – that you only reply to emails after 1:00 in the afternoon? If they know this about you, then they now have a frame of reference. Even if they send you an email at 9 in the morning, they will know not to expect a reply until after 1:00. They will be – to some degree at least – at peace.

By proactively managing peoples’ expectations, you will be able to carve out more time for yourself and lose some of that stress along the way. Managing expectations means being proactive – making sure people know what to expect from you. How can you do this?

  • By telling them. When you talk or communicate with someone, make sure to remind them about your policies.
  • By using your out of office assistant in email and embedding it in your voicemail greeting.

Anywhere and anytime you have the opportunity, take a moment to proactively inform the people in your life when where and how they can expect a reply from you.

Don’t expect that they will get it the first time. People need repeated notifications for the message to get through – that’s why you see the same ads so often on TV.

If people wonder why you suddenly are replying to emails almost by appointment, you can always blame the changing times. Things are getting faster, times are not what they used to be, and you and your company or department are trying new best practices to do more with time.

The bottom line here is this: you can manage your own time and tasks better by first managing the expectations of the people who are waiting for you.

2. Addressing the Fear of the Unknown

People have an innate fear of the unknown. Imagine you are back in high-school, in first-period gym class, out there on the soccer field on a frosty morning. The gym teacher comes over. You hear one of the two following commands:

“Go out there and give me 12 laps around the field,” or, “Go out there and start running until I blow this whistle.”

Which would you rather hear?

Most people say they would prefer the 12 laps, because it is finite. They know when it will be over and can pull together the resources to get through the effort in front of them.

This shouldn’t be taken lightly. It addresses a fundamental instinctive need that all humans have, to know whether a situation will be a danger. Gym class might not sound so dangerous, but in this scenario, it’s all about knowing how much energy you can spare. Knowing it’s just 12 laps gives you a finite measure – a challenge you can get through.

When you proactively take the time to manage peoples’ expectations, tell them when they can expect a return call, when they can feel “safe” again, you are doing much more than being organized on your end. You are influencing people by speaking directly to their instincts.

3. Bad News Is Better than No News

This is a subset of the Fear of the Unknown principle. Imagine you are running late for a meeting and your phone battery has died. You’re walking – almost jogging – along the sidewalk as fast as you can. You spot a payphone (a rarity these days, I know). Should you stop and call the person you’re meeting, and therefore make yourself even later? Or simply keep your head down and keep on walking?

The answer is to make that call. Even though you’re running late, bad news is always better than no news. That’s because people can start to make other plans or at the very least stand down from their state of anxiety once they know what’s going on.

4. Cialdini’s Six Faces of Influence

Robert Cialdini is one of the foremost experts in influence and he wrote a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He describes the six faces of influence that each get people to do what you want them to do, by approaching their psyche in different ways. Those six faces are:

People can either fear you, or they can like you. In almost all cases, liking lasts longer. Robert Cialdini, in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, identifies six ways that you can exert influence over someone. These are:

  • Reciprocity: you give something to me, I feel obliged to give back. This is typical if someone has done you a favor, or if you receive a free sample of something, you feel obliged to buy it.
  • Commitment and consistency: developing and sticking to habits or people that we know and have become comfortable with. People are attracted to consistency because it gives them a sense of comfort. The way you dress, the way you speak, the way you conduct yourself – if you were to change these things radically from day to day, people would not know how to relate to you.
  • Social proof: we decide upon the correct action or opinions based on what others are doing. If I ask you to recommend a good restaurant or a good accountant, if I act on your recommendation, you have influenced my actions through social proof – in other words, another person’s opinions are sufficient to sway my choice.
  • Authority: we believe in and react to the authority of another. I’m the boss. Do this work or you’re fired. You can’t get much more influential than absolute power. But this does not always lead to the type of progress you might be looking for. People don’t tend to put their heart and soul into working for tyrants, which can lead to errors, absenteeism or people simple leaving.
  • Scarcity: we act now out of the fear that the opportunity might not exist in the future. This is used a lot in advertising. “Buy now! Supplies are limited! Weekend blow-out sale! These types of messages try to influence you into buying by making you believe you will b missing out if you don’t at now.
  • Liking: we like to work with people we like. This is by far the most effective. People like to work with those who have shown them respect and who make them feel good.

The bottom line here is that influence is about getting people to do the things you want them to do. It’s more than that, actually. It’s about getting people to want to do the things you want them to do.

Think of the times you have been waiting for someone else to get their work done or show up to a meeting, or on the flip side of this, getting them to leave you alone whether you’re at work, or on personal time. This is all more likely to happen if you can use the tools of influence, most specifically Liking and Reciprocity, to allow them to want to do this.

How to Deploy an Influence Strategy

It has been said by many experts in this field that the secret of success is to spend most of your time in your business, but a certain amount of it working on your business. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of your time doing effective, profitable work, but spend some of the remaining 20% doing things like networking – managing relationships, marketing yourself, listening to others. All of this might sound pie-in-the-sky that add to your existing workloads, but in actual fact, its about building a personal credit rating that helps cut back on work requests, especially those unplanned crises, or simply the pressure of having people bothering you for answers or delaying you because they have forgotten about your deadlines.

People who like you are the people who will find opportunities for you and who will support and guide you.

Influence is about getting people to do what you want them to do. Sure you can command them if you have sufficient authority, but the better approach is to leverage peoples’ natural human desire to collaborate. People are tribal by nature. They want to be part of something, like a group or a team, and most people like to be led by a leader they can believe in.

Influence seems more like an art than a science. It is based on human relationships and interaction. To become more influential:

  • Understand the power of body language. People will tell you more through their body language than they will with their words. You can tell when someone is really engaged, nervous, even lying, by reading their hands, eyes, voice and posture during conversations. But you, too, can use body language as a tool of influence by consciously being aware of what your hands, eyes, voice and posture are telegraphing about you, AND avoiding sending mixed messages through unconscious body language.
  • Practice and demonstrate active listening. Active listening means using your knowledge of body language to demonstrate engagement and interest when you are talking to someone. This is not just about hearing their words; it’s about giving them respect and dignity during the discussion. This in turn translates into greater loyalty and drive from the people you are talking to. Once again, people like to work with – and for – people they like. And his comes largely from a sense of being respected.
  • Network internally. Networking is about getting to know people by taking the time to meet them. At first glance this might seem like a waste of time, especially with all those emails and other tasks you have on your plate. But by budgeting a small amount of time per day to network, to manage by walking around, to talk and to actively listen, you will develop a personal credit rating that pays off. How?

People will read and reply to your emails and work requests more promptly, prioritizing you above other people. They will be more motivated to get their assigned work done more quickly and efficiently. They will be more motivated to show up to your meetings on time.

In short, they will be more willing to do they things you want them to do, through the power of influence.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Dynamic Email and Calendar Management

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Dynamic Email and Calendar Management. Dynamic Email and Calendar Management

Email is a necessary tool of day-to-day business. But its candid and immediate nature swallows up a lot of time. In this podcast I want to share with you a method for pairing your email and calendar together in a way that will make your day healthier and more productive and will not leave you having to sacrifice your evening to returning all those messages.

So, let’s start with your calendar. Most people see a calendar as something that tells them what to do. But it shouldn’t be that way. That’s backwards. Your calendar should be a menu of choices that you use to decide how to apply your time based on the priorities of the day. It is also a tool of defense against other peoples’ work requests. It’s a dynamic method of proactively managing your time.

Most of us have way too many things to do, yet we believe we can get them all done in a day. That’s a fallacy based on not being fully aware of the total inventory of your day. What do I mean by that? Well, most people only use the calendar for unique and specific events like meetings, dental appointments or a specific task. They never put in the day-to-day regular stuff like email. That never gets accounted for, because it’s a given. BUT even though it still exists, it doesn’t get put in the budget.

The budget? Yes. This is exactly the same as budgeting your take-home pay. Imagine it’s payday – you either get your direct deposit into your bank account from your employer, or you get handed a cheque or an electronic payment from your client. Whatever. Hooray! You’ve been paid. Now, is all that money yours to do what you want with? Maybe buy a guitar or pay for a vacation? No. Not immediately. You know you have payments to make. A mortgage or rent, maybe a car payment, utility bills, food. All these things. They are standard. You have to budget for these things. A whole lot of that money is already spoken for.

So let’s translate that same concept into your calendar. If you flip ahead in your day planner or online calendar to a workday that has no events planned on it, let’s say exactly one year from today, it’s probably an empty page. But you already know, if that’s a regular workday, part of that day is already spoken for, for the day-to-day activities that we take for granted, such as email. Email is something that comes into your inbox randomly and immediately demands your attention. Each one of those emails demands some of your time. So how many do you think you handle on any given day, and how long does it take you to deal with each one? I know that’s an unfair question, but that’s the point. Because it’s such a candid and varying thing, few of us stop to calculate just how much time email takes. That’s why so many of us resort to doing them in the evening because the day got full of other stuff.

So, let’s say you stop and quantify. Just like a professional project manager has to do when planning a road, a building, or a wedding – yes, wedding planners are project managers, too. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is counted, planned and added to the budget.

So, you give it some thought, and yes, ok, you basically deal with 30 emails a day. And by “deal” I mean receiving emails, reading them, replying to them and creating your own. OK? So, 30 a day. Now let’s say you average out the time each one takes based on your past experience. Don’t count the ones that ask you to do something that takes more than a few minutes, like “Please review the attached document, make changes and send back to me.” This particular type of email is actually a task and should be immediately promoted as such as an appointment on your calendar face. OK, so all of your quick emails average about 3 minutes each to handle. So, 30 emails at three minutes each is 90 minutes. 90 minutes! That represents almost 20% of an 8-hour day.

If you want to use your calendar as a proactive tool of time management rather than as a passive list of impossible obligations, my suggestion is to do the following. Schedule three recurring 30-minute blocks for email management and assign them to every day that you work. That’s easier to do on a calendar app, than a day planner, of course. Three per day, perhaps at 10:30, 1:30 and 4:00.

Here are the three reasons why doing mail in blocks like this is way more practical and efficient than just doing them candidly and reactively.

First, they serve as placeholders. Collectively they prove to you that 90 minutes of this day and every day into the future are already spoken for. This is tangible proof of your busyness and will be extremely helpful as a negotiation tool when people ask you for some of your time. You only have so much left to make available, and any time someone pressures you into saying “yes” to a meeting request, the invisible obligations tend to get forgotten. By making them visible in this way, it gives you and the requestor proof of your current obligations while allowing space to negotiate a suitable time.

The point is we are bombarded by work requests and distractions throughout the day. It’s so easy to forget the standing, recurring obligations that you have. But you know what it’s like when you forget to pay a bill, or you forget to put money aside for a scheduled payment. There’s hell to pay, and it’s the same thing here.

Your calendar is a proactive tool of prioritization and defense against attack. Three email returning periods still allow for flexibility. If your first email returning period is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and someone, a client or your boss really needs you for a meeting at that time, well, OK, it’s not that difficult to slide that 10:30 email returning timeslot down by half an hour like a game of Tetris or Candy Crush. Things can move fluidly across your calendar face. The important thing is that they are there, on the face of the calendar. They are not invisible. Dynamic calendar management is part and parcel of effective time management. So, slide things around slightly. Just do not delete these email returning times. That’s as dangerous as deciding not to pay the phone bill this month.

Flexible, slide-able appointments also make life easier for people who may be trying to schedule meetings with you online. But I will always maintain the conviction that, a.) you should never delete these email returning appointments, and b.) you should always make sure you leave some empty spaces on your calendar for your people to choose from instead.

A big pushback I get when describing this concept is the idea of planning to return emails at these set times rather than dealing with them right away. So, I ask, “Why do you want to respond to them right away?” “Because someone’s waiting for a reply,” they say. “And why is it important that you get back to them right away?” I ask. “Because they’re waiting for a reply. They might be offended.”

So, I ask “what’s really going on here?” Do you know they’re going to be offended? And what can you do to prevent that? The answer is easy. Manage their expectations. Let your people know when and how they can expect a response from you. This is as easy as setting up an out-of-office assistant in your email, or putting it in the footer of your messages or even at the bottom of your email signature – something to the effect of:

“I return emails three times a day, mid-morning, early afternoon and late afternoon. You will receive a reply from me in a couple of hours.” You can phrase this how you like, but this is another example of the power of proactivity. By proactively informing your people of your email response schedule, you are letting them know what to expect, rather than leaving them to flap around in the breeze and form their own assumptions.

Very often, emails that are responded to too quickly simply sit in the recipient’s inbox anyway, or worse beget even more emails that themselves are unnecessary and redundant. And if you think making people wait is bad customer service, I would suggest you redefine this as giving them certainty. You are giving them something tangible to hold on to, and that is a very good thing.

Be aware also that when I schedule email returning times that doesn’t mean “not checking my email.” There’s a big difference between looking to see who just mailed you and actually working on handling those messages. If your job or personality is one that absolutely must know who emailed you the moment they arrive, then do yourself the stress-releasing favor of checking, but unless it is earth-shakingly urgent, leave the reply until your email-returning time.

Here’s another reason why email blocks are worthwhile. It has to do with how your brain works. An email is a surprise attack. Even though we know we are going to receive them, each time an email arrives, your brain and body go into a minor version of fight-or-flight reactive mode. Concentration is broken and you enter a tunnel vision state. If you then go ahead and respond to that email right away, not only will a few minutes of your time be taken up and away from the work you were actually doing, it takes another five minutes or more for you to regain the level of concentration you had prior to the interruption. Your brain and instinct basically must recover from the interruption and until it does, you will be working at a sub-level capacity. If that happens 30 times a day, you can add to those 90 minutes of distraction that those emails take, another 150 minutes – that’s two and a half hours at which you are guaranteed to be working at sub-level capacity. No wonder the day goes by so quickly and you don’t get it all done.

BY contrast, when you consciously choose to enter into an email-returning time block, you do so of your own volition, which removes the “surprise factor and does not set your body back, so there is no recovery required. This removes that 2 and a half hours per day of sub-par performance right there.

Finally, there’s the principle of Parkinson’s Law, which states, “Work expands to fill the time available.” With email, this tends to point to them taking longer than needed, because until the next fixed appointment arrives, such as maybe a meeting at 11:00, emails will simply pour themselves across your calendar like liquid until they bump into the next solid appointment.

But Parkinson’s Law can also work in your favour. If you give yourself only 30 minutes to respond to 10 emails, you will find you can do that by maybe writing shorter emails and getting to the point more quickly and using the momentum of this time period to really get on a roll. You might even find you can shorten your email returning times to 20 minutes each or less.

Email is a technology whose designers never really considered the human aspect of reacting to false urgencies. It can be a useful tool, but only when kept under control, and I think this pairing of email and dynamic calendar management is a highly proactive way of getting more done in a day.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Dynamic Email and Calendar Management. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Value of Your Time

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Value of Your Time. It describes how to place a value on your time so that you don’t give it away. It describes the enormous productive power of the 80/20 rule, how to handle email more effectively, how to break large tasks up over many days using carryover momentum, and the productive power of downtime. Whew! That’s a lot. Are you ready?

The Furnace Repair Story

This is the story of a person whose furnace goes cold. The house is cold, and a couple of presses of the thermostat confirm that the furnace is not working. The homeowner calls the furnace company who sends a technician out. The technician arrives and heads down to the basement. The homeowner listens as the boots clomp down the stairs, and then a single “clang!” The furnace comes back on and warm air starts flowing through the registers once again. The boots clomp back up the stairs.

“All done,” the technician declares, “may I present you with the bill?”

“Sure,” says the homeowner, who scrutinizes the bill and then looks at the technician doubtfully. “Five hundred dollars?” the homeowner asks. “Five hundred dollars? But you were only down there for thirty seconds! How could that cost five hundred dollars.”

The technician smiles and asks, “Would you like me to itemize the bill for you?”

“Yes please,” replies the homeowner, who watches as the technician writes a couple of lines on the invoice.

“Here,” says the technician, “this might help.” The homeowner reads the revised invoice. It now says:

“Furnace repair:

– Hitting the furnace with a hammer: $5.00

– Knowing where to hit: $495.00”

I love this story because, nice and clearly, it conveys the value of a person’s expertise, which is not always visible. Time is valuable. Your time is valuable, and the art of staying fully aware of that is a life skill that needs to be practiced and maintained.

People who are self-employed, for example, or who work in small businesses can very easily fall into the trap of undervaluing their services, maybe doing some of it for free. “I”can’t charge for just a 5-minute phone-call,” they say. Or, “invoicing is part of overhead. I can’t charge for that.”

The same applies for people who work for companies, on salary. They might not feel they have direct impact on how they price their services, certainly, but they still give away too much. Whatever work you do, the value you bring to the table has a long tail that stretched far back into past.

The years you invested in your education – all those years of study, plus the years you have spent doing this work, or even the work of your previous job, have shaped you into a professional person with skills and experience that have value. But that long tail of value is so easily forgotten – or overruled.

When a customer asks for 10 minutes of your time – and by customer I not only mean the direct small business customer, but also internal office colleagues, even your boss – they are still customers. They are still buying your experience and your service. When they buy ten minutes of your time, they are also buying all those years that went into making those minutes valuable.

When you’re sitting in a meeting that starts late because Bob hasn’t arrived yet, you and everyone else around that meeting are giving away time that took years, individually and collectively, to craft. When your significant other asks you to stop off and pick up some milk on the way home, you think nothing of it. But that’s at least 20 minutes of your life that you are giving away. Yes, you might be pleasing your partner by doing a favor – there is value in that, but my argument is that there’s a better way to deliver this service. The spontaneous giving away of your time in any circumstance is not only a tragic waste, it also sets a precedent. The expectation to do the same again will always be there.

The 80/20 Rule

I spend a lot of my speaking time showing people how to do better with their own time. One of the points that I mention and will always stand behind is the 80/20 rule. Specifically, you can get more done in 80 percent of your time than you can in 100 percent of your time. The point is, that 20 percent is invested – not spent, but invested – in proactively managing the events to come.

This means planning. It also means networking, building relationships, and yes, even relaxing. But let me just focus on planning for the moment. Part of this 20 percent of this day, and tomorrow, and the next day should be used to prepare a calendar that realistically questions how long each activity should be and then helps identify the number of activities that you can realistically – not optimistically – fit into your day. It asks these questions before you actually get started on any of them.  Most importantly setting up a road map of operation for the day. Without a map, you will drift. It’s as easy as that.

And this is where I get pushback – or at least questioning. People will ask, Steve, do you spend all of your time every day just updating your calendar and your to do lists? That usually gets a laugh.

But I answer YES! Yes, I do. And that also gets a laugh.

But here’s my point on this. People think this activity – updating your calendar – that is to say your personal project plan – so regularly and so often is extra work – more on your plate. But in actual fact, you’ll be spending this time anyway – more of it in fact if you just try to get these things done in real time in an unplanned fashion.

Take My Email, Please.

As I mentioned in a previous podcast – Are You Conscious – email steals a great deal of time from you. Not just the time spent responding to them, but also the time required to recuperate from the distraction. It really is a literal drain on your system. So, if you handle 10, 20, 50 or more emails per day, you deal with the sum total of time required to write or respond plus many, many minutes of recuperation time. This amounts to hours of time lost per day working in sub-par mental capacity.

But if you plan your email handling time, let’s say, 3 blocks of 20 minutes, not only do you eliminate the recuperation time – because you choose to answer these emails consciously rather than getting taken by surprise by them – but you are also able to frame them – let’s say by aiming to respond to 10 emails inside of 20 minutes, you can change your actual approach to work to fit inside a defined box of time. NO more drifting. You stay on track.

So, you can do the emails in a casual, unplanned way, which might literally take three hours out of your busy workday, or you can plan how and when to do them and cut that amount by at least half. That’s the power of planning. It isn’t extra work. It’s less work in total. The planning plus the planned work ends up taking far less time than unstructured work by itself.

The Power of Twitter as a Tool for Ongoing Education.

The other thing that gets people a little nervous or incredulous is when I talk about the power of Twitter. Seldom do I get more than a couple of hands up when I ask my audiences how many people use Twitter as a tool of professional development. Most people think that Twitter is useless when they themselves have nothing to say, and that the rest is pure junk. Well, maybe most of it is junk, but I remind them that there are a few people out there worth listening to. Thought leaders. Subject matter experts. Your customers. Your competitors.

But the reaction is the same: “I do not have the time to browse social media.” But my argument is, you invest time in formalized ongoing education. You might even wait months to get a training course from your employer. That’s a lot of time drifting by, and with is a great deal of time lost to inadequate knowledge. Imagine trying to catch up on a breaking development that affects your company. The minutes or hours needed to get caught up retroactively will always exceed those you could spend just reading – a few minutes here and there on a daily basis.

Catch-up costs. But pro-activity yields dividends.

Proactivity beats reactivity every time. Whenever you think a proactive action – part of that 20 percent – is too much extra work. Remember it will end up being less work and costing less time than if you let things happen the casual, unplanned way. This not only includes planning your email and investing in Twitter education in the ways I have just discussed, it also points to things like managing by walking around (MBWA).

That is to say investing some time in talking ton your colleagues, suppliers, or customers, to learn more about them and to demonstrate acknowledgement of their hard work and dignity. For although this too, seems like extra effort with no reward, the reward actually comes when these people reciprocate, by showing up to your meeting on time and prepared, or paying your invoice on time, or getting their share of a project done on time, simply because they like working with you and they enjoy the respect you show them. That’s the payoff. That’s the dividend.

The Value of Work

I remember sending a change of address notification to my company’s law firm. No big deal, right? We send those out to everybody. Two weeks later I received an invoice from them for $150. Professional services for updating the address in their files. That seems like a lot, right? But lawyers are taught early on: time is money. As soon as you start giving the results of your expensive education away, as soon as you give your expertise away, people start expecting that regularly.

Think also what it says about you.  You are willing to give away your hard-won expertise. Not everyone is going to respect that. They might even start to question just how good you actually are. See? That’s the problem. It seems like the right thing to do, to be nice, but by giving away the very thing people respect about you, you might also be diluting your brand and your credibility. That’s not a great thing to hear, but it is human nature. Humans tend to judge. And best intentions might turn out to do less for you than you would like. This is the same whether you give away a half hour of your services or when you delay the start of a meeting because someone is late. It happens when you take on extra requests or drop-in visitors just because it seems too hard to say no.

But remember, the word NO can also function and the first two letters of the phrase “Not at this moment, which opens you up to another word that contains the letters N O – that word is negotiate. Everything can be negotiated. Rather than give away your time, negotiate suitable alternatives that maintain your image of flexibility without sacrificing your value – in your eyes or in theirs.

The Value of Carryover Momentum

Very often I get asked by people how to take care of giant tasks that will take hours to do, let’s say, for example, a bunch of backlogged work, or a big project. The temptation is to say, I will book off an entire day to take care of this in one go. Now, if you can do that, and it works, then good for you. I will never argue against something that works.

But most people will never successfully do this. There’s just too much else to do. But there is a better option, and I call it “Carryover Momentum.”

As I have already mentioned, the power of planning is an amazing thing. Whatever day of the week it is as you read to this, think back to what you were doing exactly one week ago. Doesn’t seem like seven days, does it? It’s not fair, how quickly time seems to fly, but that’s life, and that’s how memory works.

If you are faced with a task that is too big to get done all at once, the chances are that another week will slip by, then another, then another. Though this might be considered procrastination, it’s not always the case that you’re actually consciously putting it off, so much as never quite getting around to it – there’s a difference.

To that end, there is the principle of carryover momentum, in which it becomes possible to break up a large task, and then schedule and deal with it regularly and consistently over a period of days.

If you were to assign one half-hour per day to a project, you wouldn’t feel that much headway had been achieved after the first half-hour of the first day. But if you were able work on the project one half-hour each workday for a month, that’s 10 hours. For larger-scale projects, that one half hour per day, even with weekends and holidays off, becomes 125 hours over a year, or the equivalent of three forty-hour weeks! That’s a lot of time!

Physiology crash course: The reason why I call this technique carryover momentum goes to the workings of the brain. By returning to an ongoing task on a daily basis – preferably, but not necessarily at the same time each day – the mind continues to retain and access the creative momentum of the previous day. It significantly reduces the amount of “let’s see now, where was I?” that happens when a project is picked up after a week or two of inactivity.

This is yet another example of how to capitalize on the strengths of the brain to get the right work done in the right way within the constraints of a busy day.

So, if you are facing a large project at work, and you feel overwhelmed by the size of it all, do not despair. That sense of overload is normal. It’s mental paralysis, the manifestation of the fight-or-flight reflex, draining nutrients from the thinking area of the brain. It can be easily treated by using a calendar to lay out a collection of half-hour blocks across days and weeks as a recurring activity and taking the giant task on one bit at a time, regularly, day-by-day.

Of course, such a thing must be coordinated and pro-rated according to the project’s deadline but instead or putting it off and putting it off, only to be faced with a high stress situation later, just like my email discussion of earlier, you can consciously plan – invest in some planning time – in breaking down this task into manageable amounts. Where once you had a mountain blocking your view, you now have a mountain with a staircase carved into it.

The Value of Downtime

The final point I want to make is the value of downtime – thing includes breaks during your working day, and most importantly focuses on stepping over the big red line that actually can be the divider between work life and home life. In the podcast episode dedicated to metabolism, I talked about sleep and melatonin, and I don’t plan to repeat myself, other than to say that sleep is the single greatest investment in productivity of the entire 24-hour day. The value of downtime is in part due to its chemical capacity to help your brain and body repair the damage of the day, boosting the immune system, both through the pleasure of sleep as well as the pleasure of enjoying life – with your family, your friends, your pets, and your hobbies.

Your phone needs recharging, your car needs refueling and you know what? So do you. Downtime has value in balancing out your day and preparing your energy and your excellence for the day to come. Burning the midnight oil, working late into the night simply diminishes tomorrow’s potential. You are drawing from a well. Either use the water tonight or tomorrow. You can’t do both.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Value of Time. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here.

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Box of Time

This blog comprises show notes and script for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Box of Time. It describes how to maximize productivity and influence people by taking advantage of a simple technique of delineation – something that speaks very clearly to human instinct – which means people will take notice of it.

Steve Prentice - Bonsai Tree

A bonsai tree is an example of an organic entity constrained by hard edges.

The box of time. It’s not a science fiction reference. It’s an incredibly powerful way to manage time by managing other people. But to do this, we must first talk about bonsai trees. This is what a bonsai tree looks like. A bonsai is a perfectly normal tree, genetically speaking, that has been placed in a pot to restrain its growth. The pots are usually a few inches wide and because a tree will only grow as far as the roots can extend. The hard edge of the pots stops the roots from going any further and therefore stops the tree from growing any taller.

So, the art of a bonsai tree is to maintain a perfectly healthy, genetically pure tree in small scale. There are two different styles, generally speaking, being Japanese and Chinese. Japanese style generally favors shaping trees in a dramatic, windswept look whereas the Chinese style focuses more on symmetry. But regardless, it’s a perfect tree. A perfectly natural being, just held in check by the solidity of its surroundings.

So, what does this have to do with people and time management? There is a substantial parallel here. People and trees are both living creatures, and human beings also need and respond to delineations. Delineations help define limits, which helps us stay alive.

Which is the Least Evil of these Two Statements?

Let’s go back to high-school gym class for a moment. Imagine yourself standing out on the soccer field on a frosty November morning for first period gym class. You hear the gym coach telling you one of the following two commands; either:

“Go out there and give me 12 laps around the field,” or “Go out there and start running until I tell you to stop.”

Which is the least evil? The least threatening? Most people say the first one is less evil, because it is finite. you can gauge the amount of energy required to get through this exercise. And that’s a very important point. It’s a “known.” People need to know the delineations of things in order to progress through them safely. People need to know, for example, when things will be over.

Applying the Box of Time as a Tool of Influence

If you want to motivate and influence people to work with you, to show up to meetings on time, to leave you alone, to supply their pieces of the project you’re working on, to log in early and be ready for your on-time video or telephone conference – any time people need motivation the primary lever to get them to do what you want them to do is a delineation. This is a fixed line in the sand – a fixed “box,”

Let’s apply this to a phone conversation. One of the greatest wastes of time in the working world is the game of email ping pong. I send one to you, you send one back to me, I’m in a meeting o I send one back to you later, I don’t quite understand what you said, so I send one back… The conversation just keeps on spinning its wheels because email is not an intuitive communication technique. There’s no subtlety, no context, it’s a very sterile medium.

So many situations could be much better handled if only we had the time to speak live, one-to-one, face-to-face, or voice to voice, over the phone. Whether this is to solve a problem, or being creative – working on something together, the synergy of conversation, of two or more minds meeting, gets things done far more effectively than emails ever could.

But what’s the problem? It’s the Fear of the Unknown

People are afraid of having that conversation. They’re afraid of taking that call. One of the main reasons for this fear is this: you don’t know how long it’s going to last. So instead we use excuses. “I’m busy, I don’t have the time to take you call, so let it go to voice mail, or send me an email.”

The fact is, though, that a five-minute or even ten-minute phone conversation will yield more creative, problem-solving output than any number of emails you could possibly send. So, to motivate and inspire, and to generate interest in having a call or a face-to-face meeting, it’s not the agenda that’s most important, it’s “when it’s going to be over.”

I can deliver far more credibility by saying to you, “let’s have a call tomorrow at 2:00 for ten minutes. I will call you.” That’s all they need to hear. This becomes the box of time. It’s a message that says, “ten minutes – you can handle that. It will be over in ten minutes.” This is a specific message that replaces the unknown with a “known.”

It’s not something vague like “I’ll call you tomorrow.” That never works because that puts people on the hook of uncertainty – not knowing how long it will last, not knowing when the call will happen, not even knowing what it will be about.

If you want to motivate people to get things done, give them something tangible and something closed. This is the box of time, replacing the fear of the unknown with the manageability of the known. It’s a major component of successful time management, but as you can see, it’s about managing people and their expectations.

Replying to Messages on Personal Time – Conditioning to Your Own Detriment

Have you ever felt compelled to respond to a work-related email message at 11:00 p.m.? Do you know what that does to the person who sent the message? It conditions them to expect the same level of response and behavior from you consistently, regularly and forever. What might seem to you to be simply clearing an email from your inbox quickly, or perhaps providing excellent customer service condemns you to a lifetime and a lifestyle of constantly being available, 24/7. You are conditioning people through your actions to expect this same kind of behavior.

Some people like to live and work this way. If you like it, then great. But remember what you’re doing here. You are leaving yourself and your time open to ownership by others.

Once again, the box of time comes to the rescue

You can set up a schedule and message response that says something like:

“I am available between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you send me a message outside of these hours, I will get back to you between 9:00 and 10:00 tomorrow.”

By setting up a boundary, and managing the expectations of the message sender, including a box of time in which they can expect response, everyone will be happy. The specifics of this message are up to each of us individually but setting up a box of time gives people a known field of expectation – something they can work with.

This is like water flowing around a rock in a stream. The water will move around the rock to find a path of lesser resistance. Your availability and non-availability are the rocks in your stream. People can move their actions and expectations around these blockages providing there is something else they can hold on to.

What a Dental Appointment Can Teach About Influence

People get conditioned to expect based on what they see. If you return an email at 11:00 p.m. you set a precedent that is very difficult to live up to. But these same assumptions can be overruled. For example:

Photo credit: Frank May / NTB scanpix

Someone asks you, “Can we meet tomorrow at 10:00?” and you say, “Sorry, I have a dental appointment.” It’s very unlikely that anyone will say, “No problem! I’ll come with you and will sit int the chair next to you while you’re having your treatment, and we can chat there.” No. They’ll wait until you come back, because a dental appointment is a suitable and acceptable rock in their stream. They can move around it. They can live with it. Life goes on.

The same principle can apply to other things. If you have some work you need to get done, you need some focused time – you really want to focus without being disturbed. Or you want to go home at a reasonable hour. Set up these boundaries and condition people by first publicizing and communicating these boundaries, and secondly, respecting them yourself. This means not falling prey to the temptation of responding to messages outside of those boundaries.

Everything you do conditions other people. Whether it’s action or inaction, it’s still conditioning.

Remember also, humans generally like to be led, they like to be guided. This is your chance to guide and influence other people through a box of time.

Bad News is Better than No News

No one likes to give bad news. No one likes to receive bad news. But there’s a good thing about bad news: human beings are extremely good at taking bad news, turning it around, and working with it.

Huge amounts of procrastination happen because people avoid what they fear. Fear is the most powerful emotion of all, and people are ruled by emotion, not logic. So, we tend to spend a lot of time hiding from or even running away from those things that scare us.  But the fact is we are very good at taking bad news and and saying, “OK, what’s next? Where do we go from here? What’s my next step?”

So once again, the box of time concept reappears. If you suffer from procrastination, if you are putting something of because you fear it, that’s perfectly natural and understandable. But the truth is, the delivery or acceptance of bad news is the launch point for the next step. It is like the box of time because it is tangible and real. Its real-ness helps overcome the instinctive fear of the unknown.

When you bring facts up to meet the fear, it allows you to move forward with the next steps. The box of time concept is about giving people something tangible to overrule their fears and move on.

Assumptions

People will always assume things if you do not give them the facts. People, if unassisted, will come to their own conclusions simply to fill the void. This means you actually have an obligation to deliver hard facts to people, if only to stave off their own incorrect assumptions.

For example, if you are spending time focusing on your work, and you don’t say “Hi” to people as they walk by your desk, the assumption is, “she’s having a bad day,” or “he doesn’t like us,” or “not a team player.”

People will make their own assumptions if they are not addressed. They need to be introduced to your concepts, they need to be led and guided. So, if you are looking to schedule some focused time in your day, or you’re looking to have some time away from carte blanche meeting availability, or you need to leave at a certain time, you must deliver the hard facts, the ideas. This might be in the form of a meeting or a memo, an infographic – whatever works for your team, to remove the instantaneous assumptions that will otherwise fall in to fill the void.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line with all the concepts above is that the known is always better than the unknown, but that the human mind will seek an answer wherever it can find it. If you are looking to guide people, give them a box. Give them a fixed, finite duration. When you are calling a meeting, the agenda is not the most important item – that should already have been dealt with as the justification for the meeting’s existence. The most important thing that will make people show up on time, ready and engaged, is in answering the question, “when will this be over?” That’s what will give them the energy and stamina to get through this event, just like the 12 laps around the field.

That is the primary motivator of human action.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Box of Time. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Your Brain is Like a Bath Sponge

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Your Brain is Like a Bath Sponge. When you learn to recognize the power of breaks, decompression, and stepping over that line between work and home life, that’s when you can truly capitalize on your metabolic strengths and be the best you can be.

What is your attention span? How long do you think you can focus on something before you need to move on to something else? This is a component of your mental metabolism, and it might not be as long or as thorough as you think it should be or would like it to be.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.

I myself, have an attention span of about 15 minutes. That’s it. After that, I need to move on to something else, if just temporarily. What I have discovered about myself is a two-minute data break in which I read the news headlines on Twitter or a news site, is enough for me to step away from my work for two minutes, refresh my brain, refresh my entire outlook, and then go back to the work at hand for another 15 minutes.

This on-again-off-again approach to work fits my attention span perfectly, and allows me to regain the momentum that my work requires.

So I ask you to consider the same thing. What is your attention span? It is not wrong to need to move away from your work on a regular basis. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that guarantees a much greater level of excellence, correctness, accuracy, and productivity. You cannot expect your brain or body to continue working at a standard level of 100% attention or 100% exertion all the time. We move up and down throughout the day and throughout the hour.

So, think about your attention span. How do you work well What do you need to do? Do you need to stand and move around on a regular basis? Do you need a squeeze ball to absorb your energy while you are working? Take time to think about what makes you feel more comfortable and bring that into your workplace. This becomes part of your recipe for excellence and for your capacity to focus, negotiate, and survive the day in a healthy fashion.

Similar to this is the notion of decompression.

The black light aquarium room at Google.

This image shows a black light aquarium room. Here’s a wonderful concept, one that many organizations have embraced, if not in an actual aquarium room, then in approaches that do the same type of thing, including designing people-friendly buildings from the ground up. They focus on the fact that people do indeed need to decompress in order to perform better.

So, a bunch of people crashed out in La-Z-Boy chairs and bathtubs in a dark room, lit by black lights, with aquariums everywhere. They stare at the fish and relax. Is this a good use of company time? Some will say “yes,” others “no.” But the point is, this room was not devised to let people sleep through the afternoon or burn off a hangover. This is a place that helps the brain decompress. Companies need creativity from their people, and this involves social creativity – the ability to interact and work together.

You don’t get creative by staring at a blank sheet of paper or a blank PowerPoint slide. Creativity does not come from this, in fact the opposite happens. Your brain compresses under pressure.

Think about a bathroom sponge for a moment. If you took a sponge and compressed it in your hand, it would become very small, obviously. Once you let go of that sponge, however, it re-expands to its original size. Your thinking brain is similar to this in the fact that when it is under pressure or stress, it compresses, metaphorically, which limits the space available for creative thought.

Any time you can decompress, whether it’s in a black light aquarium room or more realistically, something like taking a walk around your building, looking up at the sky and thinking about nothing. When you think about nothing, your brain has a chance to re-expand and reorganize itself into the machine of creativity that it likes to be. It comes down to a simple observation: a stressed brain cannot work as well as a decompressed brain.

My Challenge to You

How can you decompress to ensure you get the most from your thinking brain and your body? It’s a matter of five minutes or even two minutes spent decompressing turning into an hour’s worth of top-quality work. That’s a powerful ratio.

Not doing this – simply soldiering on – yields only mediocre work, which means a different and lower type of quality gets to your end customer. Decompression keeps things in check.

As for the commute home, whether it’s driving, taking transit, cycling, walking, or simply walking from your home office to the kitchen – these are all additional opportunities for decompressing and stepping over that line between work life and home life. This is a concept that seems to be less and less possible – in fact the term work-life balance is often eclipsed by the newer term, work-life integration, implying there is no longer any line between the two worlds.

But it remains vital to step over this line at some point, in order to facilitate the onset of healthy sleep. Sleep is the single greatest contributor towards quality work. Effective sleep is based on the hormone melatonin being introduce into your bloodstream, and melatonin is triggered first by your body’s perception of the sun moving toward the horizon, and the subsequent onset of diminishing natural light, and secondly by the awareness that work has been replaced by home life.

Yes, you want to be on, you want to be productive during your working hours whether these are 9-to-5 or otherwise, but there comes a time when you have to step over this line and declare work done for the day. This is not easy, especially with emails and other messaging coming in at random times.

It is vital to keep in mind that your metabolism is built to respond to urgency, including signals and cues that hint at the dangers of the unknown – initially a a primordial self-preservation reflex, now part of the compulsion to reward and respond to every message that appears on your phone.  As innocuous as they may seem, these are cues that stimulate your body back into action at a time when it should be winding down toward healthy sleep.

By stepping over the line that separates work and home life, you help encourage a smoother slide into healthy sleep, maximizing the potential for a great day of profitable work tomorrow.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Your Brain is Like a Bath Sponge. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Rising Bar of Expectation

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Rising Bar of Expectation. It explores the relationship between us and time, especially when it comes to our expectations, and managing the expectations of others.

Boy it’s annoying when things don’t load at the speed you want them to, isn’t it? I mean when we have to wait around for Microsoft Word to fire up, or for your browser to configure its updates, or for an app to download to your phone. And this is a serious problem. People have a tolerance of mere seconds before they give up and move on to something else. E-commerce people know this, which is why they place such high priority on solving shopping cart abandonment issues. Music companies know this too, which is why artists are asked to write tunes that deliver the hook sooner. Consumers know they have a choice and they will move on quickly.

Texting Your BFF in the 1700s

Imagine what it must have been like 300 years ago. Imagine, for example, you walk four hours into town, maybe two hours if you’re rich enough to own a horse, and as luck would have it, a ship has just arrived carrying – among other things – mail from the old country. It includes a letter from your BFF, your sweetie, your betrothed, who writes, basically, “we need to talk.”

You re-read the letter several times, your heart is pounding as you see your happy future dissolving before your eyes. You run to the local apothecary, borrow a quill pen and a bottle of ink, and frantically write back a heartfelt plea to save your relationship. You proofread your letter, dab the ink dry, seal it inside an envelope. You dash down to the dock, leaping over barrels and boxes, you dash up the gangplank and hand your letter to the first officer you see.

Two weeks later, the ship leaves the harbor to start on its two-month voyage back across the Atlantic, where your frantic letter might stand a chance of getting into the hands of your betrothed another month after that. If, this was all happening to you in New Holland (Australia), just multiply all of these travel times by ten. Back then, you had to have a lot of patience when it came to sending and receiving information.

Rearranging the Text Messages on the Titanic

Did you know, by the way, that one of the contributing factors to the loss of life during the sinking of the Titanic had to do with the fact that the radio operators of the time were employees of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company – subcontractors, essentially, not crew – and as such, their primary responsibility was managing messages between passengers and their families and friends in Europe or in New York. These radio operators had no time or motivation to pay attention to the frantic calls of “Icebergs ahead” from the lookouts.

Over the century since the Titanic’s sinking, our communications technologies have increased in speed and reach, and so have our desires to stay ahead of them. Nothing seems ever fast enough. We humans thrive on communication. Today, for example, if someone does not answer your email within five minutes, you consider it within your rights to send another email that asks whether they received your first email.

Texting at 90 Feet per Second

So, what’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, nothing really, so long as you stay in control of the messaging. But most of the time we find ourselves not in control. For example, it is very difficult to resist the temptation to reply to a text while you’re driving your car. The compelling need to know what an incoming message says, and to then respond, overrules the logic of maintaining control of the vehicle. Evidence continues to mount that shows that even talking hands free, whether you’re chatting on the phone or dictating a text, is still an impairment. It takes a great deal of concentration to drive a vehicle, and that gets quickly eclipsed by the moment-by-moment activities of speaking and listening.

OK, you say, so why isn’t it the same when you have someone in the car with you?

Well, having a conversation with someone in a car can be distracting, especially if things get heated like in an argument, but when someone is in the car with you, they can see what you see, and are more likely to put the conversation on hold if there is a potentially dangerous situation unfolding up ahead. When a vehicle is travelling at 90 feet per second, that’s a lot of ground that can be covered during a moment of distraction. They can see that. But the person you’re talking to through your phone cannot.

The main reason why I am pursuing this line of thought though has to do with the bar of expectation, which continues to rise along with that increasing speed of communication. This rising bar does not just apply to messaging. It also applies to our own expectations of ourselves, and this anticipation of increased productivity sometimes exceeds our abilities. Let me give you an example.

Super Time Management Spray!

When I talk to my audiences about techniques for improving productivity, I deliver this offer paired with a challenge. My offer is this: I say to them, “I have, in the trunk of my car, a supply of time management spray. You spray it all over you and it will help you do everything faster. In fact, one spray of this patented elixir, and you will get at least four more hours’ worth of stuff done. Would you like some of this?”

Nobody actually believes I have this spray in the trunk, of course, but they play along, nodding their heads. After all, the truth is, there are few people who would pass up on the chance of being able to get a few more hours of productivity in a day.

“But wait!” I then say, like an old-time sales barker, “If you were to purchase this spray from me, even at this giveaway price of just nine dollars and ninety-nine cents a can, and you were to spray it all over you and you found yourself working at super speed, my question becomes, what will you do with this time you have found? Will you use it to answer more emails or attend more meetings? If so, my friends, you have won back nothing. You will call me back two weeks from now and you will be asking me for the extra strength spray.

This is the problem with best practices generally. They are not able to stick to the surface of a fast-moving culture in a way that ensures ongoing achievement. Instead they become part of the new normal. So, where you were once able to do five things in a day, now you can do ten. The bar of your expectations rises with this achievement and soon your expectation is that you can and should be able to do 15 things. And once you discover you are able to do 15, you start to expect to be able to do 20 things in a day and you start to make promises accordingly.

However, your body and mind have a hard time keeping up. Our instinctive desire to evolve and continue to make life better and safer for ourselves enthusiastically grabs this idea of doing more with less time, but our physical and mental selves really cannot do that.

So, you say yes to more and more emails, meetings, requests and tasks.

Or more precisely, you don’t actually say “yes,” but you don’t know how to say “no.”

The Smallest Word Is Also the Hardest to Pronounce

“No” is one of the smallest words in any spoken language, but one of the hardest to pronounce. Most of us have a profound fear of confrontation, or of offending or angering the person we are communicating with. After all, if you say no to your boss or your customer, you might lose your livelihood.

But the fact is, without that capacity to say “no” appropriately, the work simply piles up, but time does not expand to accommodate. And added speed is not enough. The extra strength spray just does not work.

The Future of Work: Cut Me Some Slack

That’s why, when it comes to looking at the future of work, many experts point to soft skills as the key. Skills like prioritization, delegation, and negotiation will become even more critical as timelines continue to shorten and the bar of expectation continues to rise.

I’ll give you an immediate example: Slack.

Now I love Slack. I am a devotee of online collaborative environments and I use them every time I am managing a multi-person project, which is all the time. There are other brands as well, of course, and Microsoft Teams will likely be the one most people encounter first, given the preponderance of Microsoft products in most workplaces.

Long story short, collaborative conversations grouped into channels are more efficient than email. There is an informality and immediacy to the communication that removes much of the mental overload and delay that email has been proven to cause.

But the pushback I get from people when they see a collaborative environment for the first time is, “how is this any different from email? What’s the difference between having a pile of unread emails in your inbox and a pile of unread messages in your Slack channels?”

It’s true. Even though I still think the collaborative messages can be handled more easily and more quickly over all, there is still an expectation that people be ready and available to respond to messages of any sort the moment they come in. The bar continues to rise.

But that’s where the soft skills come in. There is an ever-increasing need for people to be able to push back and say “no” in the most practical ways possible. “No” does not mean “go away, I never want to see you again,” it means, “let’s negotiate.” It’s a way of saying, let’s find a suitable alternative to the immediate.

So, whether you choose a collaborative environment like Microsoft Teams or Slack, or even if you choose to stay with email, it is up to you to let people know when and where you will be available. If you’re busy right now, or you plan to be traveling, then you’re not available to reply. This means you need to let people know this. You have to counter the rising bar of people’s expectations.

Get proactive and send out updates to those who are most likely to want to talk to you. Let them know the times that you will be available and when you will not be available. Give them access to your online calendar. Make sure to mark your busy times as busy, and your available times as available. If you use a collaborative environment, then update your status, and train your people to observe your status and availability notifications. This is a skill. It’s part of the skillset called influence, in which you get people to act in ways you would like, using positive emotion and positive reward.

A related and equally vital skill is that of following up. If you promise to be available at a certain time, then you need to ensure you are available. If you promise to return all emails and calls by the end of day, then you need to ensure you make the time to do that. People will believe in you and will accept these alternatives if they know they will be looked after within a reasonable amount of time. But if you break that promise, then the trust relationship will be broken.

The power is within you to manage the ever-rising bar of expectations – those you have of yourself with regard to workload, and those others have of you. It all depends on your ability to hone those soft skills of influence, planning, delegation, negotiation and prioritization.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Rising Bar of Expectations. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

Arguments Against Time Management

Here are the most common objections to establishing a time management plan. See how many fit your mindset, or that of your colleagues.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Guide for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you want to learn more, please check out the Books page on this website.

Common Objections to Time Management

Nobody appreciates being told how to act. Books on time management often force people to adopt techniques that go against their natural preferences, such as using a certain type of agenda, or doing certain things at certain times, in short, taking some of the fun out of life. Such fears and objections are perfectly sound, since people are conservative by nature. Change generates fear of the unknown, a fear of failure or of being seen to fail. This fear goes back all the way to the early days of our evolutionary history. Like the rest of our metabolism, it cannot be changed so much as understood and properly channeled.

The purpose of Cool-Time is to help you take the principles and apply them to your environment, culture and preferences in the most comfortable and proactive way possible – the one with the greatest payoff.

Time Management Doesn’t Allow for Spontaneity

In fact, it’s perfect for spontaneity, since it allows for the existence of “free time.” By keeping the day in order and with a day plan in mind, spontaneous activities can occur without endangering or forgetting the other activities and priorities of the day. Being able to take some time for yourself is essential, but in the real world this can only truly work if the other tasks are understood, prioritized and accounted for.

The best way to be spontaneous in life is to plan to be spontaneous.

It’s Only Good for People in a Routine, and That’s Not Me

Everyone has a routine. Some routines are just more obvious than others. A person who does shift work, or someone who has a fixed list of tasks to accomplish day in and day out, has her routine clearly mapped out. However, we all have a routine by the very nature of the 24-hour clock and our circadian rhythms.

The first stage in effective time management is to step back, observe the constants and standards in your life, and then recognize the routine in which you operate. Then, like a fish suddenly discovering the water in which it lives, the patterns of your existence will emerge for you to manipulate and finesse. If you can’t identify any distinct routine happening daily, step back and observe your activities over a week or a month. Your routine will emerge, and will serve as the foundation for your time management plans.

It May Work for Others, But It Simply Won’t Work Here

Our environment is too different. Everyone says that. Everyone thinks their business has unique pressures and requirements that make any time management regimen unworkable. Whether you work in the public or private sector, or a not-for-profit; whether you are a student, a homemaker, between assignments, a manager or an up-and-coming professional, you are in the business of selling “you” to other people. Also, no matter what activity you are involved in, there is someone, somewhere who does it better, or did it better. There is always opportunity for improvement, advancement, and refinement. It’s up to you to identify how to make that happen.

I Have No Time to Put Together a Plan

Actually, you do have the time, it’s just been assigned to other tasks. Time is neither made nor found, simply rearranged, much like the Law of Conservation of Energy we learned in Physics 101.  Let’s put it this way. If you are a working parent, and your child’s school calls to say that she is sick and needs to see a doctor, there’s not much on this earth that would stop you from going to her side right away. Even if you’re not a parent, a sudden toothache or a broken finger is going to change your schedule for the day pretty quickly. Most of your colleagues will be accommodating, and the work will get done later. The point is, time can be found when it’s important enough. The benefits of Cool-Time are tangible. They translate into money, health, satisfaction, and control. Cool-Time is important enough to make the time.

I Work Better Under Pressure — I’m A Last-Minute Kind Of Person

Nobody really works better under pressure, since pressure immobilizes higher brain functions and replaces them with fight-or fight reflex. In short, pressure instills mental paralysis. What last-minute people do well is to compress their action and energy into a smaller block of time, not letting a project drag on, but keeping it on time.

When I Need To, I Just Work Harder – Hard Work Equals More Work

Hard work without planning is like chopping a tree with a dull axe. Huge amounts of energy go misspent, and sometimes it will not yield any product at all. You cannot make bread twice as fast by putting in twice as much yeast or by setting the oven twice as high.

I’m Already Organized, And I’m Doing Just Fine/I Have a System

I’ve used it for years. If you have a system and that system works for you and your colleagues in a satisfactory way, then that’s great! Congratulations! Still, there is always opportunity for improvement. Take a moment to observe your current work environment and note whether certain tasks or procedures could be tightened up to win you back some more time. To be able to embrace change, it is necessary to confront your objections. Note any feelings or resistance you may feel towards continuous improvement, and assess whether your arguments can be countered, or whether your current way of doing things is adequate.

Check out my book, Cool-Time. Information on ordering is available on the Books page.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Driving Me Crazy

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Driving Me Crazy. It explores the relationship between driving, food, and overwork. Have you noticed, for example how frustrating it is when the other lane of traffic seems to be moving faster than yours? This frustration not only leads to road rage, it also leads to “event-to-event thinking” in every area of your life, which leads to crammed schedules, overload, and no time allowed to eat lunch. It doesn’t have to be that way. So much more can be achieved from taking a slower approach, to driving, working and eating. You will get more done when you just slow down a little.

Let’s Take a Drive

More than century has elapsed since the development of the first horseless carriages. During that time automotive power has risen from 12 horsepower inside a 1904 Duryea Phaeton to 762 horsepower in the battery-powered Tesla S and 1200 hp in the Bugatti Veyron. James Bond’s beautiful Aston Martin DB5 was considered a super-car in 1962 but can now easily be outpaced by a well-tuned Honda. But as speed has increased, so has it decreased.

1904 Duryea Phaeton, the Tesla S and the Bugatti Veyron.

Though the available horsepower in a typical family car has increased twentyfold, people are not able to travel twenty times faster. For although cars themselves are capable of a great deal more speed, they seldom get to exercise this ability on major streets and highways. This is due not to any physical fault of the car, but to congestion, caused most often by the poor driving habits of aggressive, speed-obsessed drivers and lane- hoppers.

In China, where the desire for personal advancement has itself taken a great leap forward, 30,000 new cars are being added to the streets of Beijing each month. That’s 1,000 additional cars every single day. I’ve been there. The traffic jams are unbelievable, meaning that the traditional bicycle remains the fastest way around town.

Is this L.A.? No. Toronto? No. It’s traffic congestion in China.

But regardless of the country, this rush hour paradox—faster cars but slower traveling— is a classic example of what happens when people think speed rather than efficiency.

There have been many studies performed over the years to identify whether aggressive lane-hoppers really benefit from constantly switching lanes when driving in congested traffic. It’s a concept called roadway illusion, which makes the other lanes on a congested roadway appear to be moving faster than the lane you are in, even if both lanes have the same average speed.”

The findings repeatedly show that unless there was an actual lane obstruction such as an accident, no lane is faster than any other during high-volume rush-hour traffic. It appears to a frustrated driver that the cars and trucks in the other lanes are moving more quickly, but this is because most observers only really take note of such vehicular injustices when they themselves are being passed, and they are not so likely to see them when their own lane temporarily becomes the faster one. In addition, cars that pass an observer tend to remain in the field of view (up ahead) longer than those that have been passed.

Other traffic studies have shown that the slowdowns and bunch-ups that are commonplace during rush hour are caused, more often than not, by erratic acceleration and braking patterns rather than actual accidents. One car picks up speed, for example, and then is forced to brake as the traffic ahead slows. The driver of the car behind then often tends to over-brake, in order to allow for additional stopping distance. This creates a ripple effect, which quickly extends many miles backwards through the traffic, creating the slowdowns that seem to have no cause.

What would be truly amazing – and probably only a few years away – will be  a lane dedicated to cars that talk to each other. Not necessarily self-driving, but at least able to maintain a safe distance that eliminates erratic braking. It should be possible for a long line of cars to cruise at 55 miles an hour, just six inches apart. That would be a true fast lane. I’m pretty sure it’s coming.

For the time being, our own research into discovering the existence of a true truly “faster lane” has led us to conclude that on a congested road, the best lane to remain in is the outside lane—the one everyone merges into and exits from. This is primarily because as soon as the other drivers merge in, they quickly switch to the middle or inside lanes, expecting them to be faster. So, even though the outside lane handles more cars, it quickly disperses them. As a result, the best advice for getting somewhere quickly and coolly in congested traffic is to aim for the slow lane, because it’s the quickest.

Life in the Fast Lane

The relationship between cars, speed, and traffic jams highlight by extension, the high-speed mode of thinking that causes problems in other areas of life. Delays cause stress primarily because any stoppage becomes an impediment between where a person is and where they’d rather be. Life has conditioned us into a mindset that runs “event-to-event.” Think about the relentless sequence of shows and commercials on TV, for example, without factoring in intermediary time. People plan their days and fill their agendas as if they knew (or hoped) they had access to the transporter room on the deck of Star Trek’s Enterprise.

Think about meetings, for example. The problem is not only that they often run less than optimally, but also that they are so often booked too closely together. This is because the people doing the planning as well as the participants are trapped into thinking “event-to-event,” and “meeting-to-meeting.” How many times have you had to deal with a schedule full of back-to-back meetings? How often have you attended a conference in which the second event starts late because the opening address ran over long, past the scheduled time? People tend to schedule things according to the old notion that one event must follow another in close succession, since they feel gaps of wasted time are evil.

I’m going to challenge that.

Certainly, gaps of wasted time are not what people want in a day. But gaps need not be wasteful; in fact, they can make the difference between a reasonably productive day and a fully productive day. Meetings, activities, or events that run back to back, for example, are physically and mentally exhausting.

Late starts impact the quality of the information to be delivered, and late wrap-ups impact subsequent events. Often it is the breaks that are sacrificed, which further threatens the success of the entire occasion. These kind of difficult days offer no opportunity to regroup, refresh, and prepare, which results in participants whose mental tachometers end up distressingly low.

How many different types of event-to-event situations can you identify in your day? What about getting up in the morning and getting your family and yourself out of the house and on their way? How about your commute in, your morning meetings, your travel itinerary? How about back-to-back phone calls, or ad hoc requests for your time in an already busy day? There are so many situations in which we force ourselves into an event-to-event mindset, and as each task block butts up against the one before it, we start to suffocate intellectually and the blur thickens.

Bumper to Bumper Lunch

I’m always amazed at the number of people who tell me they work through lunch. It’s easy to see why. There’s so much to do. No matter how much gets done, there will always be a reason to do more, and event-to-event thinking creates the expectation that work must continue, no matter what.

Personal time is so easy to sacrifice. After all, what value could it possibly have compared to that of doing more work? Personal time is intangible and subjective, and therefore easily becomes secondary to work in terms of its significance. Personal time is not as definite or as firm as a scheduled event such as a meeting or a conference call. Consequently, when you meet someone in the elevator or kitchenette carrying his lunch back to his desk, you’d think little of it. It’s normal. It’s expected.

Lunch should not be considered a self-indulgent act. What if individuals and teams could be educated towards the idea that slowing down and taking a few minutes away from work actually increased productivity during the afternoon? What if people were able to see how taking a break from work for just 15 or 20 minutes to eat a healthy lunch (not fast food), not only replenishes the body with vital nutrients for the afternoon, it but also gives each employee’s creative mind a chance to step away from the momentum of the tasks at hand and refocus and condense the energies that go into delivering quality? That might mean something: the idea that rest actually pays off.

A short midday lunch break also bolsters the metabolism in two important ways:

First it energizes your body against the dreaded mid-afternoon trough, a period that occurs roughly around 2:30 p.m. and lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. For nine out of every 10 people, tasks become harder at this time, the brain becomes a little sluggish, and the body becomes a little sleepier sleepy as it seeks to take a quick afternoon nap. This physical depression is due to our innate 12-hour echoing of the deep-sleep period that occurs at around 2:30 a.m., but it can be lessened substantially by eating the right types of foods at the right pace. That means taking both at lunchtime, and by snacking on healthy foods throughout the day.

Taking time to eat, and eating the right types of foods, helps to level out your metabolism and maintains  energy throughout the day, while simultaneously bolstering the immune system against colds and infection. This is profound. It has direct economic value: By simply slowing down enough to eat a small lunch, and therefore minimizing the afternoon trough, each of your staff members or colleagues stands to gain one hour of extra productivity per day. If you have eight people on your team, this simple technique will win you back one person-day each week. By assisting your people in fighting off colds and other infections, you also help to cut back on both absenteeism and presenteeism, adding hundreds of more fully productive person hours per year.

Not to mention that studies have shown that eating over the keyboard is a health hazard, pure and simple. It has been proven that a computer keyboard and mouse, being locations that are constantly touched after having touched other common surfaces, contain 100 times more bacteria on their surfaces, nooks, and crannies than a kitchen table, and 400 times more than a toilet seat.

Consequently, you might be able to squeeze 15 minutes more out of the day by working through lunch, taking a bite of her sandwich, then working a little on her computer, then taking another bite, but when you have to spend the next few days sick at home as an absentee, or sick while still at work, a condition called presenteeism, all tasks, from the simplest phone calls to the most challenging knowledge work will take at least twice as long.

Eating at the Wheel

Hagerty Classic Insurance, a provider of classic car insurance, used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving, since up to that point this was data that was up until this point, largely unavailable to insurance companies. Even though I would have personally thought it would have been lobster, they discovered that two of the biggest offenders are chocolate and coffee.

You’re most likely to spill or burn yourself with coffee, and chocolate will most likely get you into a swerving situation, or worse. Chocolate is sticky, it gets onto the steering wheel, and even worse things happen when it falls into your lap and starts to melt. With chocolate, it’s not the eating that’s dangerous, it’s the cleaning up.

The other eight members of Hagerty’s top-10 list are: hot soup, tacos, chili, hamburgers, barbecued food, fried chicken, jelly-filled or cream-filled donuts, and soft drinks. And oh yes, when was the last time you sanitized your steering wheel?

But people need to get where they’re going. And as long as we live and think “event-to-event,” lunch on the road becomes like lunch over the keyboard—a space of negligible personal time that can be sacrificed in the name of keeping up.

Driving while eating robs the mind of its driving talents. The first to go are realistic, defensive assessments of braking distances, followed by acclimatizing to changing road surfaces or obstacles (particularly in construction zones).

Driving while eating further robs drivers of the ability to anticipate other drivers’ actions. Reading a driver’s body language can help predict fast lane changes, for example, or can help assess the safety of intersections in which other people are turning in front of you or running yellow and red lights.

I have spoken to many a road warrior who has learned, sometimes the hard way, that there is greater value in pulling over for 10 minutes to grab some lunch, rather than eating it on the fly. Here are some of the comments they shared with me:

  • “I find I eat slower if I stop driving. Then I don’t get heartburn in the afternoon.”
  • “I don’t get so hungry so quickly if I eat slower and stop driving. It’s helped me lose weight.”
  • “It really cuts down on highway hypnosis.”
  • “I get a chance to check my schedule. If I can call people and tell them what time they can expect me, then there’s less waiting around for me. I can actually see more of my customers by calling them just after I eat my lunch.”
  • “Sometimes I have to give my client a lift. Sometimes even my boss. It’s really embarrassing to invite someone into your car when all of the lunch stuff is still there. When I stop to eat, I can also make sure my car is presentable. That means a lot in my business.”
  • “It’s just nice to get away for a while. I’m in my car, with my music on, or sometimes a book on CD or Audible. It just feels good.”

Later I asked the person who made the fourth statement above, what would happen if he realized his schedule was too tight and that he couldn’t make all his appointments that day.

He answered, “That has happened to me, and it’s not a problem. My customers like to know that I’m looking out for them. If I tell one that I can’t see him today, but that I will be able to come by tomorrow, he’s fine with that. He’s busy, I’m busy, and we know that. He’s actually grateful for the call. It shows that I respect him.”

This is a great example of how “high- touch” wins out over “high speed.” The customer is happy. He feels looked after. The road warrior is happy. He feels in control. His health is better since he has eaten slowly and carefully, and he will be in a better position to drive safely and still make his other commitments in the afternoon.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Driving Me Crazy. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here.

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Managing Your Metabolism

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. It describes how moving from reactive to proactive is a positive brain-body exercise that will help you do things right, do things better, and foster more constructive relationships.

Imagine you won that big lottery. No more worries about making money, no need to get up when the alarm clock tell you to do so, what would you do with your life? Not so much in terms of your hobbies and interests, but how would you structure your day? Would you continue to get up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise or would find yourself rising later and later and enjoying the evening nightlife instead?

When you look at this ultimate situation where you have complete control over the coming and goings of your day, you get to see what your metabolism is really like; how you would be ideally suited for a 24-hour cycle. Some people are morning-oriented. They are naturally able to wake up in the morning, while others are night owls who find themselves doing their best work as the sun goes down and as the evening moves on.

So, who are you? How do you operate? What you do with your time reveals a lot about you and becomes the beginning of an understanding of your metabolism – how you operate as a person.

We can’t all win that lottery. Most of us have to go back to work some way or other, but when it comes to getting things done, managing time, seeking out a balance in life, it’s essential to look at your metabolism. This is your vehicle that carries you through time; your brain, your body, your “self”.  But it is so often overlooked. You can make it work far more effectively once you understand it.

The Metabolic Blood Sugar Level Chart

redline

This wavy rollercoaster line that heads in an overall downward direction throughout the day, represents, in simplified form, your metabolic blood sugar level. Your personal metabolic blood sugar level will vary based on how well you slept the night before, as well as what you ate for breakfast.

Your Golden Hour: 9:00-10:30

Most people, on a busy workday, have a breakfast that consists of coffee and some carbs, such as toast, bagels, muffins or cereal. These tend to burn off extremely quickly. So the blood sugar level moves through the day with its peak around 9:00 a.m. That is the best time of day for getting things done: 9:00 a.m.

This high blood sugar level period is a result of a confluence of three significant activities:

  1. Your breakfast
  2. The presence of morning sunlight – Sunlight is a natural stimulant that removes the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin from your bloodstream. These three stimulants, working together, make the period between 9:00 and 10:30 the most productive period of the day, at least for the 8 out of every 10 adults who are morning oriented. It’s when most of us are at our intellectual and attentive best. For learning, strategy, research focus, sales… whatever it is that you do, that’s the best time to do it.
  3. The energy and mental shift expended in getting to work

Unfortunately, it is often overlooked, and we spend that time doing more mundane things like checking and returning email.

The 10:30 Crash

For many people, the first blood sugar crash of the day happens around 10:30 p.m. This is when the coffee and the carbs have been completely used up, and you hit a blood sugar low. Traditionally people take a break mid-morning to get more coffee and more carbohydrates to get themselves through to lunchtime. So the rollercoaster continues. We buoy ourselves back up wit this energy until noon.

The Tragedy of Over-Lunching

Noon is a difficult time because if you are already hungry by lunchtime, you will fall into the trap of overeating, which is something that fast food restaurants exploit hugely. It’s a hunger urge brought on because people do not eat in a regular and controlled fashion. If you fast between 10:30 and 12:00, the hunger urge will make you want to eat more than you need to at noon.

Moving from the 10:30 crash to noontime, the ideal approach is to graze, to take food in in a more regular fashion. This means grazing on healthy foods not junk. The idea here is to keep hunger at bay by satisfying your body’s nutritional needs like stoking coal onto a fire: smaller more regular amounts work much better.

The 2:30 Crash

This mid-afternoon time is a double threat to productivity. First, we tend to echo the deep sleep period of 12 hours earlier (called the ultradian rhythm), and there is a tendency to lose focus and abilities somewhat at this time. In some countries, this was culturally accepted as time for a siesta. It’s an energy trough initiated by the ultradian echo and then compounded by the demands on the digestive system brought on by overeating at lunchtime.

These troughs can be substantially lessened in their depth and severity. One of the easiest ways to do this is to change your choice of foods to include a morning protein source. There are many types of food to choose from:

  • Yogurt
  • Protein smoothies
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal

An intake of protein in the morning will allow your blood sugar to stay much more level throughout the entire day, even long after breakfast has been digested.

What about Taking a Nap?

Is it OK or even advisable to take a nap in the afternoon? For the North American and growing globalized working communities, a nap is not looked upon favorably as an ideal use of company time, even though I would venture to disagree, assuming the napper returns to a more alert state immediately afterward.

It’s ironic that being stuck in a useless meeting where 20 minutes or more are wasted, is seen as a normal part of doing business. But spending those same 20 minutes having a nap may be career-limiting.

Ultimately, if you are a natural napper, you would know this by now. It will already have inserted itself into your daily ritual. If napping does not come naturally to you, then it’s not worth pursuing, because the opposite reaction can occur. A nap can rob you of part of your natural sleep cycle later that night, which can rob you of quality sleep and make the following day less productive.

What if You are a Night Owl?

The proportion of night owls in any group of people anywhere in the world is generally 20% or two out for every ten people. For this group of people, their circadian wiring extends into the evening and the night.

If you know this about yourself, perhaps you can find or create a line of work that matches it. That’s not so farfetched. This is an age where work-life integration is a reality. It may be very possible to negotiate a job starts at 2:00 p.m. and ends at 10:00 p.m. It might also be very useful.

When I graduated and joined the workforce, I joined a temp agency who would send me to work at banks. I would start my “day” at 5:00, taking over the typing and number crunching that a 9-to-5 staffer could not finish. When they arrived at work the next morning, the work was ready and waiting for them. Although you could argue that this work could have been done by a person halfway around the world for less, the fact was, they hired me because I immediately understood the job, and was physically onsite to talk to the stakeholders face-to-face before they left for the day.

There are many types of work that require people to be available on a different schedule. It might be up to you to find them and make your pitch.

However, this might not be possible, at least for the moment. So if you are a night owl stuck in a day job, what can you do to compensate? Negotiate with your “morning person” colleagues and managers to schedule morning meetings a little bit later in the morning or perhaps opt out of the meeting and read the summary instead. Or schedule the meetings in the afternoon, after making sure the meeting room can contribute to productivity, as we described in the previous podcast.

Why is This Nutrition Lecture Important?

The reason for talking about nutrition here is because this is the fuel for your metabolism – your body and your brain. You cannot expect this device to work at a constant level of standard energy throughout the day. Blood sugar ups-and-downs are a fact of life. Knowing how to work with them is an amazingly powerful way to ensure you get the right things done at the right time.

If the morning is the best time for you, then that should be the time for you to assign yourself your most important tasks of the day. If the afternoon doldrums are particularly hard for you, then assign the less challenging work, such as returning emails, or if you have meetings at that time, make sure you can compensate for the doldrums with:

  • Natural light
  • Good ventilation
  • Exercises
  • Breaks

This is something we covered in a previous podcast, The 55 Minute Meeting. You can listen to it here or read it here.

So What About Exercise?

For people working a traditional workday or wok week, it can be very hard to find time to put exercise into your day. Many people think that exercise must be formalized in terms of going to the gym and working out. This again is a personal thing. If you are someone who can exercise at 5:00 a.m., or 5:00 p.m., if that feels natural and good for you then go for it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t, because that‘s not the right form of exercise for you.

Instead, figure out what things do work for you. Do you like to cycle? Or walk briskly? When you connect your wireless headphones or earbuds to Spotify where you can download cardio-friendly music, it becomes very easy and very motivating to take five or ten minutes to squeeze some exercise into your day.

There’s always a way that will fit you. Take that lottery-winning vacation dream, observe how your body would prefer to work if there were no rules, look upon the way you like to do things and identify what really works for you, your metabolism and the context of your life.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Are You Conscious?

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Are You Conscious. It describes how moving from reactive to proactive is a positive brain-body exercise that will help you do things right, do things better, and foster more constructive relationships.

Are you conscious? I don’t mean, are you awake? I mean are you really conscious? Are you in the moment? Are you able to know what is going on around you and pro-act accordingly?

This is an essential part of getting things done the way you want them to be done, but it is something that so often gets terribly overlooked. We have become overrun by external stimuli like emails and texts, as well as the simple momentum of life, to the point that, in many cases, we simply react. But being a slave to reaction is very expensive. In this podcast, I want to share with you why that is so dangerous and counterproductive, and what you can do to turn this around. But first, let’s go to the airport.

Imagine yourself for a moment in the departure lounge of an airport. You are rushing to catch a connecting flight, half-jogging to the gate and pulling your wheeled carry-on bag behind you. A sign on the wall catches your eye. It says “Beware! There are pickpockets in this area.”

Now what is the thing you are most likely to do at this moment? If you are like 95% of the traveling public you will instinctively reach for your wallet, your purse or the breast pocket of your blazer – wherever you remember your money to be.

Bad move. That is precisely what a good pickpocket wants you to do. This is the reaction they are looking for. In fact, the first priority for any ambitious pickpocket is to locate the nearest warning sign or maybe even bring one with them, and stand near it, since this is where success happens.

Human beings are hard-wired to react, especially to dangerous or threatening stimuli. The threat of a pickpocket in the area immediately forces the unsuspecting passer-by to touch the location where the money is stored, as an attempt to neutralize the threat by ensuring the money is still there. But by doing so, the passer-by is basically saying to the pickpocket, “Hey, thief, my money is here, OK?” and pointing at it.

The reaction gives away precisely what the pickpocket wants: the correct location of the goods.

In this situation, the unsuspecting traveler reacts as all living creatures do. Alerted to danger, instinct takes over. The pickpocket on the other hand, pro-acts, anticipating the turn of events and setting a trap. The thief is writing the history of the next few minutes even before they happen. The thief anticipates the reaction of all but the coolest of airport travelers and communicates an influential message by way of the warning sign itself. A perfect trap.

In the working world, the challenges we experience with managing time come from this same reality – the one that says we must react. When emails come in, we feel compelled to read them. It’s a reaction based on an instinct that addresses our fear of the unknown. When someone interrupts, we feel obliged to respond. When a meeting planner books a meeting, we feel obliged to go, even if it messes up the entire afternoon. Reaction makes us follow the calendar’s commands. This is neither healthy nor productive.

Think about Phishing emails.

Phishing emails are a modern day equivalent of pickpocketing and are the conduit for a wide variety of common business crises, like hacking, data breaches and ransomware. You check your email and see a message that looks very legitimate – it has the logo and everything – and says, “your bank account has been frozen,” or even “Job application, please click here to download my résumé.” Without thinking, you click on the link and the malware pours into your system because rather than stopping and thinking about this, you react, click, and invite the bad guys in.

Pro-action, by contrast, can put you back in the driver’s seat, and back in control. This is such a crucial part of life, work, productivity and online security.

The Physiology of Being in – or not in – Control

There is a physiological response that happens when you and your body sense that you are at a particular level of control – that danger has been put aside. When this happens, it feels good. Nutrient, oxygen, blood – they all move where they need to go and they do so more efficiently. This means to the brain, certainly, but also to the digestive system, and many other vital areas. When you feel good, your body feel good. When your body feels good, it works best.

So let’s look at things from the opposite side. When an email, an interruption or any sort of distraction happens to you, your instinct response with a fight-or-flight reflex that we have known and felt for hundreds of thousands of years. During this response, you stop thinking clearly. All of the nutrients and all of the elements that are distributed reasonably equally around your body are quickly removed to other places. The blood, nutrients and oxygen in your brain are shift over to the amygdala – the anger center of the brain, to immediately handle this unexpected urgency.

  • Digestion tends to stop or low to a crawl
  • Vision goes into “tunnel vision”
  • Your ability to prioritize tasks or actions freezes up

All these things happen as soon as you start to feel not in control. It’s a significant physiological response.

The Art of Saying “No.”

“No” is one of the hardest words in the English language, because so often, saying it leads to conflict or problems. It can be an insult, a challenge to another person’s dignity, made even worse if this person is your boss, your customer or your partner. It might even lead to confrontation and bad feeling.

But you can look at the word “No” as being a shortened version of the word Negotiate. Everything in life can be negotiated. There are alternatives, there are deadline extensions there are other alternatives to taking care of a task. Everything that has been loaded onto your plate can be negotiated.

It’s a matter of managing peoples’ expectations in a way that makes them feel they are still being looked after, even if the conditions of the request have been changed to something more manageable.

But if you are not in that conscious state, if you are still in the fight-or-flight-response mode, then there will be no creative space for coming up with alternatives. It’s about keeping a cool head. Being able to think clearly requires a capacity for, and a genuine sense of being in control.

Once you have that, you are able to influence peoples’ decisions, negotiate alternative outcomes, and steer things to a more comfortable and productive conclusion than that which happens when reaction is the only choice.

Fight-or-flight represents pickpocketing in real life. Your time and your mental capacity are being stole from you because of reaction and fear.

Remembering Peoples’ Names

One of the most significant and treasures words in the English language – or any language for that matter – is a person’s name, interjected at the right place and time. Inserting a person’s name into a conversation demonstrates to them that you have genuine care and interest in them. All human beings have two sides: an emotional side and a rational side. The emotional side always dominates. The most powerful emotion of all is fear. This is why we get caught up and get disoriented in moments of uncertainly and confusion. Fear rules everything.

But no matter what line of business you are in, no matter how rational and logical you feel yourself to be, the people you react with and the people with whom you work, the people that you serve – customers, clients, managers, colleagues, everyone – they are all emotionally driven. When you can contact that emotional base, you make a far more profound connection with them.

This turns into an increased willingness for people to cooperate with you, to participate in projects or meetings, all the positive reactions that come from this positive feeling. So keeping a cool head generally means that whenever you can address people by name, as emotional beings, they will want to work with you. They will in essence love you for acknowledging ther dignity and moving with them in a way that motivates them.

So one of the easiest ways to do that is to remember someone’s name and use it in your conversation.

But there’s a catch. Often, when you meet someone and they introduce themselves by name, you will have forgotten it 30 seconds later. Tat happens because the act of meeting someone involves a physical protocol. It varies among countries, but for many of us it involves a short handshake, a small amount of eye contact and a light smile. This is a trained action that you have committed to physical muscle memory. It does not require any conscious processing. So when you hear a person’s name, there is no conscious processing that confirms “I must memorize this.”

When you can insert that person’s name – not overly frequently but just toward the conclusion of the conversation, the message is, “I care about you enough to remember your name – to remember you as a specific person. That word – a person’s name – carries a huge weight.

The trick to remembering peoples’ names is – as you shake hands, and as you hear the person’s name, you do a word association trick. You connect a person’s name to something about them – their hairstyle their clothing, their glasses or jewelry, maybe a physical resemblance to someone you know, or knew in high school, or a TV or movie character. It’s a silent word association game that will allow you to connect to this person’s name, at least for the duration of the conversation.

It’s a fantastic trick that you can do with dozens of people at a time, at a networking meeting, for example. But only after you have practiced this skill.

The point is, you must remember to remember to do it! That’s the trick. If you go into a conversation and shake hands with a stranger while you’re still in in reactive mode, you won’t remember to do this. That’s where the word association and memory component will come in – when you remember to stay in pro-active mode.

When you do this successfully, you will move up on this person’s emotional checklist of “liked” people. You will come across as someone who cares, someone who is interesting, and someone  who they wish to work with.

The Bottom Line

You have much to gain from stepping away from reaction and replacing it with pro-action and cool thought. Your entire body will thank you for it and will support you.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Are You Conscious? If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

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