Faced with Overload, a Need to Find Focus, by Tony Schwartz

What follows is the latest from Tony Schwartz, co-author (along with Dr. Jim Loehr) of The Power of Full Engagement and founder of The Energy Project. The principles and approaches within The Power of Full Engagement are embedded within the Just Keep Pouring goal setting model, and Mr. Schwartz and Dr. Loehr unknowingly continue to add by feeding thoughts and ideas along the way by doing what they continue to do.

Having a strong sense of self-awarness enables us to make adjustments as we travel down the path toward our goals. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had an “ah-ha” moment or two, resulting in a correction back to center. During those weeks, there was intense and energetic focus on urgent and exciting projects at work and at home. Each day was filled with energy, enthusiasm, and great progress, however each week I was increasingly drained and fatigued with less focus. With so much going on, I would think about other things that needed to be done while in the middle of a task. In other words, after the third consecutive week of intense focus (where there was NO focus on health and fitness), I was burning out. Routines and rituals were shelved in exchange for the adrenaline rush of exciting projects with high visibility.

Which brings us to Tony’s article, which he posted yesterday on his website . . . Engaging in life physically and thoughtfully is the key to getting where we want to go. Thanks, Tony, for serving as a compass on our journey!

Faced with Overload, a Need to Find Focus, by Tony Schwartz

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, before you even brush your teeth? Is it checking the e-mail that’s flooded into your inbox overnight? Does the pull feel increasingly irresistible, even Pavlovian? Do you get so immersed in responding to other people’s agendas that 30 minutes can go by before you even look up?

Here’s a radical proposal: Don’t check your e-mail at all tomorrow morning. Turn it off entirely. Instead, devote a designated period of uninterrupted time to a task that really matters.

For more than a decade, the most significant ritual in my work life has been to take on the most important task of the day as my first activity, for 90 minutes, without interruption, followed by a renewal break. I do so because mornings are when I have the highest energy and the fewest distractions.

I’m doing it right now, but in all honesty, it’s gotten tougher in the last several years. My attention feels under siege, like yours probably does.

For the last 10 years, my colleagues and I have helped companies like Google, Genentech, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee and Facebook fuel sustainable high performance by better meeting the needs of their employees. Far and away the biggest work challenges most of us now face are cognitive overload and difficulty focusing on one thing at a time.

Whenever I singularly devote the first 90 minutes of my day to the most challenging or important task – they’re often one and the same — I get a ton accomplished.

Following a deliberate break – even just a few minutes — I feel refreshed and ready to face the rest of the day. When I don’t start that way, my day is never quite as good, and I sometimes head home at night wondering what I actually did while I was so busy working.

Performing at a sustainably high level in a world of relentlessly rising complexity requires that we manage not just our time but also our energy – not just how many hours we work, but when we work, on what and how we feel along the way. Fail to take control of your days — deliberately, consciously and purposefully — and you’ll be swept along on a river of urgent but mostly unimportant demands. It’s all too easy to rationalize that we’re powerless victims in the face of expectation from others, but doing that is itself a poor use of energy. Far better to focus on what we can influence, even if there are times when it’s at the margins.

Small moves, it turns out, can make a significant difference.

When it comes to doing the most important thing first each morning, for example, it’s best to make that choice, along with your other top priorities, the night before.

Plainly, there are going to be times that something gets in your way and it’s beyond your control. If you can reschedule for later, even 30 minutes, or 45, do that. If you can’t, so be it. Tomorrow is another day. 

If you’re a night owl and you have more energy later in the day, consider scheduling your most important work then. But weigh the risk carefully, because as your day wears on, the number of pulls on your attention will almost surely have increased. 

Either way, it’s better to work highly focused for short periods of time, with breaks in between, than to be partially focused for long periods of time. Think of it as a sprint, rather than a marathon. You can push yourself to your limits for short periods of time, so long as you have a clear stopping point. And after a rest, you can sprint again.

How you’re feeling at any given time profoundly influences how effectively you’re capable of working, but most of us pay too little attention to these inner signals.

Fatigue is the most basic drag on productivity, but negative emotions like frustration, irritability and anxiety are equally pernicious. A simple but powerful way to check in with yourself is to intermittently rate the quantity and quality of your energy — say at midmorning, and midafternoon — on a scale from 1 to 10. If you’re a 5 or below on either one, the best thing you can do is take a break.

Even just breathing deeply for as little as one minute – in to a count of three, out to a count of six – can quiet your mind, calm your emotions and clear your bloodstream of the stress hormone cortisol.

Learn to manage your energy more skillfully, and you’ll get more done, in less time, at a higher level of focus. You’ll feel better — and better about yourself — at the end of the day. more skillfully, and you’ll get more done, in less time, at a higher level of focus. You’ll feel better — and better about yourself — at the end of the day.

The Magic of Gratitude: Fragile is a Frame of Mind

Reason to Dance

It’s been awhile since we’ve been together here on the web, and my apologies for staying away so long. We keep moving forward with Just Keep Pouring, spreading words, thoughts and ideas around as we can. Stay tuned for more developments in 2013. We’re very excited about things to come. In the meantime . . .

By this point, nearly everyone has seen Kid President’s Pep Talk. For those who haven’t, you must check it out because it’s a powerful message from a nine-year old, reminding us that nine-year olds have a few of the most important things right about this world. It’s a message about inspiration (“The world needs you to stop being boring. Yeah. You.”),  teamwork (“And if life IS a game, aren’t we on the same team?”), about being different (“Not cool, Robert Frost!”), about dreaming (“It’s like that dude Journey said, ‘Don’t stop dreaming. Unless your dream is stupid. Then you should get another dream.’), about persistence (“What would happen if Michael Jordan had quit? . . . He would’ve never made Space Jam. And I love Space Jam.”), about being positive (“You can cry about it, or you can dance about it.”) and most importantly, guidance about what should drive everybody every day – “It’s everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance.”

Robbie Novak’s Pep Talk video has been viewed over 12 million times, with most of those views originating from my home in Florida. His message is direct, powerful and energetic. His zest for life is even more powerful when you consider the experiences he’s lived in his short life, highlighted recently on CBS Evening News. He embodies everything we mean when we say “If the glass doesn’t appear half full, just keep pouring.” Robbie would agree that we should all Strive to Be Awesomer!

Multitasking – Does it Make Us Better?

The term “multi-tasking” began as a technical term describing computers that could do more than one thing at a time. As computers became more common in the workplace and society, humans soon were expected to perform the same way – and the term began applying to a human ability to do more than one thing at a time. Before long, as we were exposed to more and more information through the internet, e-mail, instant messages, phone calls and meetings, some viewed the ability to multi-task as a prerequisite for success and productivity.

Over the years, we’ve been able to appreciate multi-tasking for what it is – a habitual behavior creating a false sense of accomplishment by allowing the multi-tasker to cross things off a list without giving complete attention to any one thing. The multi-tasker is undoubtedly very busy. The reality is crossing things off a list doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity or accomplishment. Furthermore, multi-tasking has become a part of our culture at the cost of focus, thoughtfulness and true engagement. We’ve become a society glued to the little and big screens with a fear that if we put the toys down, we might miss something.

This past week, Harvard Business Review listed the top postings from 2012. The most read article in 2012 was The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, written by Tony Schwartz. If you’ve followed Tony’s writings (among them, The Power of Full Engagement, co-written with Dr. Jim Loehr), you’ll know his research supports alternating periods of intense engagement with periods of intentional disengagement as a way to bring your full and complete energy to what you do. As human beings, we do not work well when continually focused without breaks and when pulled in multiple directions. Working in that environment is not sustainable, and in Mr. Schwartz’ words, has created an energy crisis in our country of a personal nature.

The column above is worth some attention as we head into the new year and the season of resolution. It’s time we appreciate multi-tasking for what it really is – doing more than one thing at a time half-assed. It’s important to set aside time for thought and strategic consideration. Most importantly, in the words of Wally Armstrong (co-author of The Mulligan, with Ken Blanchard), we need to adjust back from humans doing to human beings.

Happy New Year everyone, and remember to Just Keep Pouring!