I remember very clearly sitting in a cafe in Bristol just days before the UK went into our first Lockdown in March 2020. The group we were in were speculating what was going to happen and sharing how we might each use the enforced time at home wisely. Rachael in the picture above committed outloud that she would focus more on her art; she had always wanted to become an artist and this was an opportunity to capitalise on. Little did she know where that statement would lead her too. In just over 2 years she is now an established artist with her own website, attending Art fairs exhibiting her work and belongs to a supportive network of other artists in and around Bristol.
Watching Rachael step into her role and achieve what she has done in the last two turbulent years has been inspirational. She has walked through the G.A.M.E model outlined in my first book
E – Enjoying the process and continually Evaluating
Gets great results.
If you have a passion project, side hussle or something you really want to achieve there are some downloadable templates accessible on the books link above for you to use the same methodology as Rachael did.
Building high-performance habits into your routine and working environment can serve both you and your team professionally and personally. Different leaders need and want different things from their schedules, so this post will look at how you might incorporate reflective activities into your routine to ensure greater long-term productivity.
Looking from the outside in
Dedicating time to planning your business strategy will allow you to establish productive parameters going forward. This is what we call working ‘on the business’ rather than ‘in the business. An effective way to approach this, is to make a list of the activities that you might deem ‘in the business’ which will often be delivery of services, sales and marketing, administration, and direct managerial work.
Working ‘on the business,’ however, might involve thinking about where you are going next, to ensure you are headed in the right direction and have the best tools to get you there. Assessing the processes your business runs on and thinking about streamlining them will help here.
Bringing your team in to work ‘on the business’ is a fantastic way to pool ideas, although be sure to keep your vision at the front of your mind, and to ensure your long-term plan fits with your employees’ wants and needs. This might be done by building in a regular monthly 1-1 with the team, a wonderful way to encourage inter-team communication at the same time.
Working on you
Taking time to work on self-development tactics will also benefit your productivity. A personal habit that comes up a lot in my client sessions, for example, is building in certain routines. Incorporating exercise or meditation into your day will benefit you on a personal level and begin to flow into your working productivity. Having a repeated morning routine is also likely to bring clarity to your day. Taking regular breaks through the day is important to keep your mind focused on the task at hand. Using a habit tracker can be a useful tool to make sure you carry out these activities every day, and after a while they will have become instinctive and routine. Having an accountability buddy who is either trying to cultivate the same habit or another habit but also wants to be held accountable for embedding it – you can buddy up and keep each other accountable for your progress.
It is important to block time out in the diary for these reflective activities and the building of high-performance habits. It is extremely easy for tasks that are not short-term priority to be pushed behind those that produce immediately visible results. In the long-term, however, building strong routines based on habits that take a bigger picture approach, both to the business and to yourself, will be of great benefit. Establishing patterns is the most important thing here.
Joining one 20-minute yoga session or spending a lone hour thinking about your business strategy is not likely to make any difference. Practicing yoga every morning and blocking out a few hours per week to working ‘on the business,’ however, will ensure these positive activities are conducted. Of course, days are busy and adding anything more to the to-do list might seem overwhelming. But often, even small chunks of time dedicated to activities that are frequently repeated in a regular way, can make it easier for the rest of your time to fall into structured place.
A recent quote that resonated with me concerning habits was from a new book entitled High Performance – Lessons from the Best on Becoming Your Best – Jake Humphrey & Prof Damian Hughes https://amzn.to/35lgleq “Above all remember this simple motto: Never miss twice. Yes, on some days your habits might slip. But if high performers miss one day, they never miss a second.” Page 183. This quote was originally from Atomic Habits by James Clear https://amzn.to/3hw4Jr A another excellent book on this subject. Also check out The High-Performance Podcast https://bit.ly/3HBgYxo – listening to inspirational podcasts another habit to embed into your week.
As the new year begins, we are often encouraged to ‘start afresh’ and overhaul previous modus operandi. By internalising this mentality, leaders can often make their employees feel that they too must change their attitudes and approaches. This, in turn, could demoralise staff who feel may feel undervalued and unconfident just being who they are.
Instead, beginning the new year with a positive focus will support the fostering of healthy workplace cultures where staff feel inspired. A great way to do this is to develop processes which allow employees to think confidently about their unique skills and abilities.
Whilst one-to-ones are often embedded in managerial strategy for the purpose of encouraging reflection, an environment which builds employees self-worth can also be developed in other ways. Where teams are asked to reflect as a group, individuals are provided with the opportunity to consider where their skills lie and have their abilities further attested to by peers. Peer validation is an important element in the building of confidence, so consider about hosting a group feedback session to promote mutual admiration amongst colleagues and highlight individual strengths.
Think beyond binaries
Often, feedback from managers is provided within the framework of ‘what went well’ and ‘what could be improved’. The connotations of this are that employees contribute well in some ways, and less well in others. This in turn leads to an understanding that some skills are superior to others. Helping employees to think beyond the binary of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ attributes often allows them access assets that are traditionally undervalued, and in turn improve their self-confidence at work.
Encouraging peer group reflection might also help employees to understand that skills they might undervalue within themselves are just not being deployed in the right context.
Considering how certain attributes might contribute differently to certain areas of work will allow individuals to value all parts of their performance. It also draws attention to how working with peers can help individuals to bridge gaps in employees own ways of working, which might have been hindering their contribution.
Use reflection tools
The Creative Type quiz (https://mycreativetype.com/) by Adobe is a great tool for facilitating this way of thinking. Though a set of abstract questions, this software aligns the quiz-taker with a working personality type and highlights their strengths. In addition, however, it identifies which other ‘creative type’ you might work well with to maximise your potential. Undertaking this quiz as a team, and reflecting on it together, introduces non-hierarchical ways of thinking about ability, beyond the binary of positive and negative. This activity therefore reinforces the value of employees both as individuals and as a team
Equally the VIA Strength Finder ( https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register) could be used to encourage group-based reflection on what each employee brings to the team via their natural strengths, helping the collective group to leverage of the skills of each other and in turn create a positive working environment which boosts confidence and morale allowing each member to contribute in areas where they naturally excel.
We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed. The inbox is flooded with unread messages, the calendar is full, and the to-do list looks unmanageable. It is important to gain the ability to manage your time between short-, medium-, and long-term tasks and projects. By exploring how to spend time on the right things we begin to see the importance of setting a personal agenda to get your focus back on track.
This post will introduce two tools for developing time and project management skills that have proved very effective in my work with clients. The first is the Third Habit outlined in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which details the importance of prioritising tasks.
In Habit 3, Covey encourages leaders to ‘Put First Things First’. Here he refers to the Four Quadrants of Time Management, by which all tasks are classified in terms of both urgency and importance. Tasks in Quadrant I might entail important deadlines and crises, those in Quadrant II tasks contributing to long-term development. Quadrant III refers to small and potentially distracting deadlines, whilst Quadrant IV’s distractions are frivolous and often pertain to procrastination.
The process of working with these quadrants entails first identifying the levels of urgency and importance in certain tasks, and in this way becoming more reflective on your working patterns. Covey advises us to spend more time in Quadrant II, with tasks and projects that are important but not urgent. These tasks are about planning, prevention, and improvement. By focusing attention on them we begin to prevent crisis situations from unfolding and maintain a healthy balance between productive work and understanding our limits.
To do this, Covey argues, we must reassess the time we spend on Quadrants III and IV, which should respectively be delegated to others and eliminated entirely.
Visualising the plan
To assess how much time, we spend in each Quadrant, however, we must first identify the levels of importance and urgency in our routine tasks/medium term projects/long-term goals. Here I introduce a second tool which comes from the fifth chapter of my book, The Evergreen Executive.
By creating a plan on the page, it becomes easier to see what your priorities are and where your time should be spent. It can also be used to communicate and assign ownership to other members of your team
We all work collaboratively in many ways, and it is important to recognise the impact that relational work has on our time management. Leaders often feel themselves getting pulled in different directions by many people. They are often juggling multiple projects and are relied on heavily by different teams. By refocusing attention towards your individual agenda, it becomes easier to identify important tasks and prioritise these. Time management works hand in hand with personal management, and by regaining agency you can achieve efficiency in your work practice.
One phrase that has come up in many of my coaching conversations over the past few months is “I think I am suffering from Imposter Syndrome”. This has been mentioned by leaders who are looking for new roles, individuals who have been in their existing role for some time, and people who are new into their current position.
One of the main barriers to leaders reaching their full potential is not a lack of skills and experience, but instead a perceived lack emanating from low self-confidence. In a 1970s study on the impact of this work-centred around self-doubt, it was coined ‘Imposter Syndrome’. From here on this phenomenon has been understood as a limitation by which skilled workers doubt their competence and believe they are not talented enough to belong in their position. In 2014 study of 116 executives, 60% stated that imposter syndrome had an impact on their leadership.
When understood in this way, as a disadvantage, imposter syndrome can have huge consequences on peoples’ attitudes towards and behaviours at work. Some might overwork and refuse to ask for help to meet impossibly high standards, with the aim of combatting imposter syndrome by gaining proficiency in the workplace. This response often leads to burnout which can have hugely detrimental effects on wellbeing. Others lean into the insecurity and begin to avoid feedback and opportunities for promotion, believing that they don’t deserve to be given any merit.
First step to moving forward – open up communication
To tackle this exhausting feeling, opening up communication around imposter syndrome will allow the insecurity to be humanised and understood as a necessary and universal part of professional progression. Self-doubt can lead to rich and valuable reflection but should be balanced with positive reinforcement regarding what you have already accomplished and using this to move forwards and build self-belief. Changing the focus from the feeling of Imposter Syndrome as being a limiting factor, look at the evidence of what you are good at and can bring to your role and move towards a reframing of your situation as a natural phase of personal growth which you can easily move through.
A huge barrier to overcoming imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t belong in comparison to others. Breaking the silence on these thoughts, therefore, can help you understand how widespread they are. But this can only start with you, and openly acknowledging these feelings will give colleagues the opportunity to do the same. Imposter syndrome has been found as one of the top fears for executives, so there’s no chance that you’re feeling them alone. Take the first step by talking to a trusted peer, line manager or external coach/mentor and move forwards from here.
If you need any further help please reach out using email@example.com for an initial free consultation.
Sandra works as an executive coach for a multitude of businesses and private clients. She has over 30 years of experience to draw from in her work and has a particualar focus on creating high performing leaders.
Each UK Lockdown during these COVID times I decided to set myself a project so that I could look back in years to come with memories of having used the time productively.
In Lockdown 1 last March it was to finish book number 2 The Evergreen Executive and I also became a big Netflix fan. In Lockdown 2 , November 2020, the project was to revamp my home yoga/zen room and cook more nutritious healthy meals from scratch. Now as we approach the end of Lockdown 3 the project has been Action Learning with some fellow professional coaches which has proved to be both insightful and fun.
The term Action Learning crossed my path for the first time while I was working for Hewlett Packard in the 80’s and 90’s where as part of our leadership development and process improvement training we worked together to share best practices and support each other solve work related problems as a group. The way we have been using Action Learnings Sets in 2021 though has been with a slightly different twist, we have been using the methodology to keep refining our skills as professional executive coaches by investing in our own development. There is a danger, when the day job involves helping numerous people achieve their goals, increase self awareness, move though personal change, embed new habits or in this era find new roles quickly, us coaches don’t make enough time for our own personal growth. I am pleased to report that UK Lockdown 3 has proved to be very productive from this standpoint as all 3 of us in our mini Action Learning Set are nearing the end of 8 weeks of online learning in a variety of topics. What has made it fun and enjoyable has largely been down to our weekly Zoom meetings where we have taken ourselves through the action learning cycle above, challenged each other, shared successes and difficulties on route and most important of all held ourselves accountable to each other and the programme of learning. There were times when I didnt want to use my non working time to watch online video tutorials, read books or do assignments however knowing we had a weekly Action Learning Group meeting where we all had to report into each other on actvities and progress did work from a motivation perspective. In addition it was useful to discuss the difficulties we sometimes had as well as this made it easier at times not to be too hard on ourselves as well.
The concept of the action learning cycle can be powerful used individually as a reflective exercise by itself but its much more fun if you work with others to learn from different experiences and about alternative actions taken even given the same content shared by all. Next time you embark on a piece of learning consider setting up your own Action Learning Set with a few people undergoing the same journey it might add another powerful dimension to your experience.
Well when I wrote the last blog at the beginning of this year I could not have imagined what lay ahead for us all. There were the beginnings of headlines coming on the news about a virus called Covid-19 in China but as our family returned from a Christmas holiday spent over in Palma Majorca we were blissfully unaware of the big changes ahead.
Even as we all continued to work during the first two months of the year I don’t think we imagined that life was literally going to come to a pause phase as the UK Lockdown was announced on March 24th 2020 I remember the date clearly as my birthday was on March 25th and it was celebrated as one of the first of many lockdown birthdays that quickly became the norm amongst us all.
Continuing to work with both business and private clients over the past few months it has been interesting to observe how we have all (myself included) coped with these changing times that came about so suddenly. I have identified a few common stages as the weeks have progressed:
Stage 1 – Wow this has actually happened, we are all based at home (shock)
Stage 2 – Adjusting to working from home (immediate knee jerk reactions)
Stage 3 – New routines develop (how can I make this work for me)
Stage 4 – Am I optimising this situation as much as I should be? (guilt/doubt)
Stage 5 – What do I enjoy and not enjoy about this (reflection/evaluation)
Stage 6 – How can I integrate the best bits moving forwards ( new ways of working/living)
Stage 7 – Prevent just slipping back into old habits that didn’t serve you (embed changes)
For me personally there have been good days and bad days with both clients and friends sharing that they have experienced the same. A lot of good has resulted with time that would have normally been spent commuting, stuck in traffic and extra long meetings being spent either on more meaningful work, projects that needed to be completed or getting to know others better. Funny moments have included people having meetings with me in cars on drives to get away from young families to my elderly neighbours checking that I am ok as they haven’t seen me for days due to endless Zoom meetings!
Productivity has been good even getting book two published hence the image to this post – now on Amazon https://amzn.to/3gh95jw and streamlining social media strategy. Both of these things had been on my to do list for many months. I walk daily now easily meeting my 10K steps a day compared with 4k prior to lockdown. I have polished up my process of online coaching now that it is 100% virtually delivered compared with 25% before plus it feels good to have more meaningful relationships with my neighbours rather than going for weeks without even stopping to chat! The challenge is to keep the good stuff going!
A few weeks ago, in a regular client meeting one of the directors made a comment that has stuck in my mind since…. she said, “it’s good to mix things up a bit every so often”. We were talking about business changes that were happening, changes in personnel and a potential merger that looked likely to happen in 2020. Her reaction to all the changes that were happening impressed me because it wasn’t one of fear despite the uncertainty that was ahead regarding her own role. Some other people could have had an opposite response to the same set of circumstances. They could have been fearful and negative about all the changes and if they were vocal about their personal reaction then this could have rubbed off on other people involved who were perhaps themselves feeling uncertain about what the impact would be on them.
I think we can all get comfortable, myself included especially when things are working relatively well, and life is ticking along. When this happens to me personally I do enjoy the stability for a while and there is the reassurance that you can work or live with relatively little pressure when you know what to expect and you are doing things well within your ability levels and capacity. Don’t get me wrong having periods in our life when we operate in this way are great and in fact needed as we don’t want to always be living in a pressurised, unpredictability way as this can be very stressful.
The tricky thing I think is recognising when the time is right to “mix things up” or start doing something different or consider changing something that is working ok. They word OK is I think the key and is what I have been thinking about since hearing that phrase made by one of our clients a few weeks ago. A lot of the changes we have made to our business in the last year haven’t been triggered by things breaking or circumstances demanding we change. The changes we have made have been to things that were working OK, things that could have gone on in that way for many months or years and could have been still satisfactory. We decided to make the changes we did for a couple of reasons firstly we weren’t enjoying some projects anymore; the comfortable feeling was starting to tip into a feeling of dissatisfaction as we knew OK could have been great. The second reason was that we weren’t growing personally or professionally and when you are in the business of encouraging personal development role modelling the right behaviors is important.
In finishing this, first post of 2020 at the turn of the year and decade, one question I will leave you with is this “Is there anything that would be good to mix up a bit in your life in 2020?” Go for it, take things from OK to great.
So it has been a while since the last blog post and for a few reasons.
As many people do at the turn of the year I use it as a chance to take stock and review how the last year went and what the plans for the new year are. This year I decided to extend this period of reflection a bit longer so that I could take advantage of a planned trip to Northern Goa in India that I had had scheduled for a while. For me to take two whole weeks out of my schedule is unusual as I normally have a lot of shorter breaks throughout the year.
There was a specific reason for this trip and if you are interested in learning more take a listen to the podcast episode at Itunes link to podcast
So against my default programming I didn’t set any new year resolutions with the intention of using the space and downtime while away to decide what the focus of 2019 was going to be both professionally and personally. I think the trip to India was quite a landmark event as it had been a personal goal for nearly 5 years and the fact that it was actually going to happen was meaningful in itself. My normal reaction is “so what next” and I know I made the mistake once before in 2006 after completing the Ironman in that I immediately entered another one which in the end I had to pull out of due to injury – the real truth is it wasn’t meant to be I was just meant to do one event like that and originally that had been my intention I just got carried away with post race euphoria and the rest of my team mates rushing to fill in entry forms for the next event.
The two weeks away were soon over and still no obvious new goals were emerging just a few subtle tweaks to what I am already doing and the slow realisation that maybe that was all I needed to do just a bit of refining and refocusing. I fundamentally have the right things in place so there isn’t a need for major changes. There isn’t a obvious new big scary goal or shift I want to make at this time and that is ok what I have is a few areas of focus professionally and personally for the rest of the year , things that I am already doing but just take them to the next level starting with a slight tweak to the podcast in renaming it The Career Tree to expand the exploration of industries/jobs/ways of working to show what choices we all do have in the world of work. So watch this space as we refine what we do as we approach our twentieth year in business as Kudos. Now that is scary where has all that time has gone?
When someone initially approaches me to explore coaching the phrase I often hear is “I don’t like my job anymore or a version of this such as “I think I am in the wrong job can you help?”
This isn’t a good place to be, wondering whether you are on the right path or worse dreading going into work every Monday morning. I always vowed from early on in my career that if I ever got into this position I would take action to change it as life is too short to be unhappy in our work especially as we spend so many hours of our week doing this.
So if this is you thinking any of these thoughts then it’s time to set time aside toexplore what is going on ,either through your own self reflection process or with the help of a mentor or coach who has no vested interest in your final decision. This is why your line manager or a relative may not be the best person to work with on this.
It is not always the case that you need to leave your job ,so the setting aside the reflection and evaluation time doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up job hunting.
Once you have found some dedicated time ask yourself the following questions and note your responses
How long have you felt unhappy… sometimes there is a specific date, event or person that it can be traced back too. If you are a feelings person (see some of my posts or listen to podcasts regarding Myers Briggspersonality types ) then there may be an underlying resentment that needs to be processed through so you can move forwards. This might mean your acceptance of what happened or you being assertive enough to have a follow up discussion with those involved to understand what could have been done differently and to make others aware of the impact their actions may have had on you.
What is your ultimate career goal short and long term? Is being in your current role helping you achieve this or have you got enough from the role and need to find the next step on your journey.
Does the current role match your motivational mix ( again you may need to work out what this is) if it doesn’t there may be other projects or responsibilities you could take on to make it more enjoyable or you may indeed need the challenge of a change in role or organisation or type of employment.
Are you working for an organisation or leader that “ fits” with your value set? Do you like what they stand for and can you get behind the overall direction and what you are being asked to do in your role?
The bottom line is to find out what would need to change to make you happy in your role and is this something in your control or not?
Sandra works as an executive coach for businesses and also has a private coaching practice for career/life and business coaching. More information can be found at http://www.sandrawebbercoaching.com. She is also author of Own It – regain control and live life on your terms available from Amazon Check book out here and a recently launched series of Own It Podcasts which gives inspiration and tips for professional and personal life Own It Podcasts