Personal Energy

A well-worn cliché. Worn for a reason.

Everything old becomes new again.

If you took a class on time management 20 years ago, chances are they taught you about prioritization, and they taught you about batching.

Then the internet arrived. Social media. Information glut. Just when we needed batching the most, our collective attention to batching flew out the window. The seductions were simply too great. Many of us fell into increasingly distracted lives.

More fractured, less productive.

Batching is the simple habit of performing like-minded tasks together instead of bouncing from one task to the next.

We live in a bouncing time. Mental bouncing, task bouncing. Enter Adam Grant, award-winning rock star author and the highest-rated professor at The Wharton School. In his terrific book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” Grand Central Publishing/2016), Cal Newport describes how the prolific Adam Grant batches his time.

Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method: the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching his students. By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer … Grant also batches his work on a smaller time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods when his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods when he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (Deep Work, page 39)

Common-sense, isn’t it? And yet we forget. Here’s the very simple law of productivity:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Batching helps us get there. Let’s take a look at how you and I can better batch the basic tasks we perform every single day at work.

  1. Batch Your Writing Time

    When you have to create documents, write reports, craft power point presentations – any tasks involving the sustained written and/or visual creation of a product that requires a significant level of detail, nuance, and which may be subject to substantial scrutiny, batch these tasks. You will create momentum, get these tasks done faster, and enhance the quality of your output.

  1. Batch Your Talking Time

    When you have to attend multiple meetings or conduct a series of phone calls, whenever possible batch these tasks. Even though context and conversation partners will change, you will drop into a “conversational groove” where you engage with greater ease and more fluidity in every one of your conversations. The quality and outcomes of your conversations will notably improve.

  1. Batch Your Correspondence Time

    When you have to participate in lots of email correspondence, both sending and receiving – avoid the constant interruption of one task for the sake of checking emails or crafting instant responses to emails. Chances are, very few of your emails are true emergencies. Instead, batch your email reading and writing into a sensible cadence that suits you and your work duties. For some this may mean handling emails once every hour; for others it may mean handling emails only 3 times a day. Whatever your cadence – your choice to batch will add a higher degree of focus to both your email activities and all the other activities you don’t abandon for the sake of an email.

  1. Batch Social Media Time

    Checking social media can be a fun distraction, a quick way to switch out of an unenjoyable task, an instant way to chat with a friend, a short-cut to entering alternate realities. Most of the time, it is simply a willful distraction from a task at hand. Avoid the constant and impulsive checking of your social media streams. If you play in social media, batch your social media time. Every time we visit a social media site, we fill our minds with random and unfiltered information. We disrupt the focus on whatever task we happen to be engaged with. We tire our brain with the constant switching between task and distraction, task and distraction. Batching our social media time is a no-brainer. Batch it consistently, and you will instantly notice a heightened focus for everything else you’re doing.

Bonus suggestion: When you transition from one batch of activities to the next batch, give yourself a bit of rejuvenation time. 5 minutes will often do the trick. 5 minutes to help you shift gears. Not 5 minutes of distraction time – no, 5 minutes that calm, center, and help you to re-energize. 5 minutes of going for a walk. 5 minutes of having a healthy snack. 5 minutes of listening to music that energizes you. 5 minutes of doing nothing.

Sound easy? It’s not. In the midst of writing this simple article, the temptation to check my social media feeds and email messages, even on a Sunday afternoon, is relentless. The price of a distraction culture. You pay it, I pay it. Brutal.

Remember: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Batching works. It’s straightforward. More importantly, it frees us the moment we commit to it.

So, commit. And reap the rewards.

 1

Yes, I’m biased. I’m a former theatre guy. 

I think of this as I stumble on an old article about improvisation in, of all places, a copy of the Wall Street Journal (7/8/2016). From a young age on we’re taught to master impulse control. It’s what grown-ups do, right? We manage our emotions. Avoid distraction. Aim for a zen-like focus, a sense of control. Squelch the impulse, avoid distraction.

Enter improvisation. The art of conscious impulse surrender.

At Second City in Chicago, the improv comedy troupe that has launched the careers of celebrities like Jim Belushi and Tina Fey, scientists and engineers and nurses and psychologists now practice the art of impulse surrender. It’s been a total change from left-brain attorney to right-brain class-taker, says Second City student and retired attorney Irv Levinson. In a recent episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer recovers from giving a disastrous speech by taking an improv class. Yes, improvisation has left the theatre vault.

There is a place for impulse control, of course. It behooves me to know my blind spots. Left unchecked, I can swing toward sarcasm. I am a better person when I stay mindful of this impulse and let it pass.

But here are just a few of the brilliant gifts of conscious impulse surrender. They are subtle and delicious, and they have the potential to elevate any business conversation we have.

  • Celebrate the wealth of words.

We habitually consume language as if were fast food. Taste-less, quickly discarded, instantly forgotten. We babble without paying attention to linguistic nuance. Improv reminds us that at our best, we are consciously creating a conversation, moment by moment, word choice by word choice. It begins by truly hearing the words that come our way. By explicitly picking up on those cues in our response. Choosing words that are distinct, unexpected perhaps, surprising. When done well we actually call it word play. Nice, right?

  • Seize the energy of the moment.

Every moment has pace, velocity, stasis or momentum. Improv sharpens our ability to sense these dimensions. We tune into the energy of a person, a group of people, a moment. We feel it, and we consciously merge with that energy, subvert it or expand it. We begin to revel in the unspoken dynamics of a conversation, and we have the courage to playfully mold them. So liberating, right?

  • Embrace the gift of the detour.

In our linearly prejudiced world, we are programmed to avoid tangents like the plague. Detours are considered sacrilegious. Improv gives us shameless permission to investigate any cue, linear or not. It knows that a detour is often more illuminating and insightful than the predetermined path. A detour is the expression of an impulse that, for whatever reason, shows itself. It implores us to not simply give the answer(s) we think others wish to hear but to follow, instead, the thought that yearns to be expressed. Way cool, right?

  • Excavate meaning.

Great improvisers don’t simply spout funny stuff and or do silly things. They seize an impulse and create meaning in split-seconds. They have trained their meaning-antennas in improv class. They note implicit or emerging meaning, seize it, blow it up, shape it into a story. A key leadership skill for any corporate leader is the ability to articulate meaning. It’s easy to offer pre-packaged meaning. We carefully plan our meaning messages in advance. Advance planning is encouraged, of course! But how much more resonant it is when we notice the meaning that actually emerges in a moment! Notice it, name it and claim it. Stirring, right?

Wanna transcend basic transactional competence in your daily endeavors? Well, you may not be able to take a course at Second City, but you can sure as heck practice a little bit of impulse surrender every day.

It doesn’t mean simply “going with the flow.” It means consciously shaping the impulses you notice in a moment. Words. Energy. Thoughts. Meaning.

Conscious impulse surrender helps you to stay more fully present. It’s also great fun. And as you practice it more often, more experiences of flow will show up.

And that is really way way cool.

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Wanna stir me?

Wanna stir your colleagues, your clients, your team?

It’s the old logic-versus-emotion conversation.

Logic is a powerful form of energy. Emotion is the deeper one.

Here’s the little lie we tell ourselves. Logical folks like to be moved by logic. Emotional folks like to be moved by emotion.

Don’t believe that any more. Madison Avenue doesn’t. Madison Avenue caters to longing and desire.

They know what to stir.

Desire is the spark that ignites your beliefs and fuels your actions, Tom Asacker writes in his stirring book “The Business of Belief.” Desire is what moves you from thinking to doing.

I had the pleasure of attending TEDxKoenigsallee in Duesseldorf last Friday. First-ever TEDx event in that great city. Held at Nachtresidenz. Amazing venue, fired-up audience, 10 speakers. I had a terrific time. And yet – some of the talks stirred me, some didn’t. 

Logic will stir logic. I’m a brainy guy. But when your logic really TRULY stirs my logic, I get the goosebumps. I get that irresistible itch to begin, at once.

It drops down.

Go ahead, stimulate my brain. But here’s how you get to the deep stir:

  • Speak Longing

What are your deepest aspirations for yourself? For me? Our project? The team? Translate metrics language into longing language. It’s the language of our innermost desires. When you go there, you give me permission to go there, as well. Stirred.

  • Speak Vision

Beyond hitting targets and surpassing production goals, how will our shared future be a better place? Translate tactical performance language into the language of desire. My desire to belong. My desire to do good. My desire to help. My desire to create a better world. Take me there. That’s vision. Stirred.

  • Speak Emotion

When you speak about a project, speak with joy. With excitement. With anxiety. With exuberance. Speak the language of feeling. The sort of language that doesn’t show up in transactional emails anymore. Don’t fake this language. Don’t fake the feeling. Get the feeling first. Brim with it. Your language of feeling activates my desire to be moved. Stirred.

Here’s what you get when you stir me:

My devotion. My fervent desire to work with you.

We will start to soul-travel together.

Yes, it will go that deep.

The stir will show up in our Return-on-Investment. And we cannot think our way to it. The language of aspiration and desire will get us there.

Stirred.

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high energy conversation

Saturday afternoon. A South Florida rainstorm pounds my garden, and I lounge in the shelter of my home, flipping through the pages of the Wall Street Journal Magazine that just arrived. Settle on a story about two designers and their house in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, half an hour from Marrakesh.

“Anti-Wow”

That’s how the owners describe the style of their home.

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slow down
Playfulness At Work

I jot this down on my birthday. Feels fitting.

Spent a few fine days last week with some of the amazing peeps I get to support. Every single one of them works in a high-pressure Fortune 500 culture. And every single one of them – as individual, as a leader – is actively claiming a lighter side.

Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold. A favorite quote from Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of the much-revered book “Magical Child.”

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. Another Pearce gem I cherish.

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CEO Time Management

I think of Michael E. Porter as “the Harvard strategy guy. “ Porter’s research since the 1980s has influenced how a generation of CEOs define strategy and make strategic decisions. So I was curious to stumble on an article by Porter and Nitin Nohria in the summer issue of Harvard Business Review about how CEOs manage their time (Porter & Nohria, How CEOs Manage Time, HBR, July/August 2018, p. 42)

Porter and time management. Really?

Then I thought to myself duh, of course. When there never is enough time, how we use time is strategic. It is game-changingly important.

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leadership

I was dazzled.

A couple of years ago, sitting in the glorious Berlin Philharmonie on a Sunday night, listening to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra tear into Faure, Schoenberg, Ravel.

Dazzled most by rising-star-composer Matthias Pintscher who was conducting. Whew, this guy embodies music, I thought to myself.

Pintscher conducts with his entire body. The fire of his grand gestures. The grace of his gentle coaxing. The effortless dynamic between the two. The generous way Pintscher acknowledges his musicians during the ovation. The way he bows to the audience, hand on his heart. The vigor with which he enters from the wings.

Always from the core, as my trainer would say.

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Zen

Cool when science catches up with what we already know.

My thought as I peruse an article by Sue Shellenbarger, my favorite Wall Street Journal columnist (It’s Not Copying, It’s Connecting, We’re Networking. WSJ 9/21/2016). Shellenbarger quotes one of my favorite neuroscientists, Uri Hasson of Princeton. Using MRIs to study how brains react to the signals exchanged between a speaker and listener, Hasson describes the process of neural coupling that occurs in such moments. Think of neural coupling as a powerful Bluetooth connection. Instant brain synching. And nonverbal cues measurably enhance the rate and quality of this coupling.

Wanna connect better, faster, more deeply? Get in sync.

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Tis the week after the political blow-up about the separation of families at the US/Mexican border. Public discourse got more heated than it had already been. Even if you tried to avoid the coverage, chances are you watched. And, pardon the gun metaphor – you got triggered. I got triggered. You bet I did. 

There’s having a reaction. There’s being triggered. 

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