The Evolution of Productivity

The workshop “Productivity with Heart: Aligning Your Values with Your Schedule” has been one of my foundations for teaching time-management. This is the perfect starting point for entrepreneurs and busy professionals who want to create more time. I’m looking forward to sharing this event as part of Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW).

As the world changes and priorities are shifting, some people have more time than ever. What’s lacking is presence. It can seem almost impossible to focus on work while you are trying to help your kids through virtual school. Or maybe you are working more because your home office makes it hard to create boundaries between work and home life.

After 20 years of meditation practice, I’ve seen the benefits of improved clarity to focus my time and presence to connect with myself and my loved ones. Now I’m sharing what I’ve learned and helping others bring more mindfulness to their personal and professional lives.

I’m excited about these upcoming collaborations with Luis Moreno and Sylwia Borowy:

Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness for Personal and Professional Relationships

And the first TCSW event in Spanish:

Cómo aprovechar la Inteligencia Emocional y la Atención Plena para Tener Relaciones Profesionales y Personales Más Efectivas

Another event that will be a fun way to bounce back this year with some positivity, is the Collaboration Coaching Group’s 2020 Reset!

I know you will love the insights and perspectives that Susan Kavanaugh shares when we discuss mindfulness and conscious communication on 9/22.

I can’t wait to connect with each of you at these upcoming events. And, stay tuned for details on my mindfulness for productivity course launching this fall!

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

 

Nobody’s free until everybody’s free

I was not really feeling the “Independence Day” celebration this year. Independence for whom?

According to the Declaration of Independence of the United States, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

If you know me as a productivity coach, you may be confused by the topic of this blog. Since I am a fierce advocate for meaningful time, this encompasses clarifying our goals and taking action. We must each ask, what parts of myself do I need to bring to the table or to the world today? As a mixed-race person, raised in America by an immigrant mother, I have often felt that my background made me different. I grew up believing that my ancestors did not contribute to the historical oppression of Blacks in America. However, as a light-skinned person that has always been afforded white privilege, I need to recognize my own unconscious biases. I also need to question if I contribute to the oppression of black and brown people today or if I am truly practicing antiracism and inclusion.

In the past several weeks I have been focusing on unlearning and relearning #Americanhistory from different perspectives. Better late than never, right?

It is my responsibility as a parent and role model to educate my child and teach her about antiracism. Together, we are reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning.

YWCA of Saint Paul has some amazing resources in their 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge. Week one discusses voter rights. I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1990’s before it was so trendy. I was proud of the women who fought for our right to vote until I learned that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton focused on white women’s suffrage over voting rights for all women. There were many instances where black women were excluded from participating in the voter’s rights movement. So much for solidarity.

You may have heard of the literacy tests that were given to black voters until they were abolished during the Civil Rights movement. My daughter and I tried to take the literacy test given in Louisiana. We had 10 minutes to complete 30 questions. At the top of the exam, it states that one wrong answer can disqualify you from voting. Imagine the pressure! Many of the questions were unclear. When our 10 minutes were up, we had completed 23 questions without 100% certainty.

Recent injustices of police brutality have helped shed light on the fact that this country has a long way to go to even approximate equality. In June, I updated my email signature at work to (finally) include my gender pronouns, my personal values, and acknowledge the celebrations of Juneteenth and LGBTQ+ Pride Month. I brought up the need to further Diversity, Equity, Inclusion initiatives in our weekly team meeting at work, and shared resources on the history of African American Inequality in the United States as well as the historical timeline of the LGBTQ+ community.

Each one of us has the responsibility to educate ourselves and advocate for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all. We are not separate and as the Civil Rights activist, Fanny Lou Hamer, says, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The 52:17 Rule for Productivity

Have you noticed that the more time you have, the more likely you are to waste it?  Since I started creating time blocks for meetings or focused projects, time feels more finite and I am more productive. If I only have two hours before my next meeting, I want to make the most of that time.

In 2019, I started tracking my time. Using the Toggl app on my phone or Chrome extension on my computer, I tracked everything in categories from work, to sleep, exercise, family time and commuting. I shared on my blog the experience of discovering where my time went. One unexpected advantage was that the simple act of tracking improved productivity. Especially when working on my own business. When I hit the timer button it was like I was clocking in and I wanted to make the most of this time, even if I wasn’t billing for those hours.

In 2020, I implemented a modified Pomodoro Technique. I had resisted this method because working only 25 minutes before a break did not feel like enough time to get into deep work. However, revising the method to 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of break added a huge boost to my productivity. I downloaded the Focus To-Do app which not only improved focus, but also improved clarity by forcing me to identify my task for the next interval. According to Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable, we can’t claim to be distracted unless we are clear about what we are being distracted from. Preparing a presentation, for example, could include tasks like outline, research and slide creation. This technique got me back on track after a slump at the beginning of sheltering in place during COVID-19.

My modified Pomodoro technique was validated by research from the  Draugiem Group. Their DeskTime product tracks the logs of users’ computer programs throughout the workday. They studied the workflow of the most productive employees by analyzing data points from thousands of logs. These individuals didn’t get more done by working longer, but rather by working smarter with more frequent breaks. On average, this meant 52 minutes of productive work followed by 17 minutes of break. The key to making this work is 100% dedication to the task at hand, without allowing any distractions such as email or social media, followed by a 100% break.

Ideally, a break should be stepping away from your computer. The best options are a walk outside or brief period of exercise along with socializing with colleagues or grabbing a healthy snack. You can also meditate, listen to a podcast or read a book. Checking your social media or watching cat videos can be considered a mental break but these options don’t have the added benefit of reducing eye strain and may not get you out of your seat.

But wouldn’t we get more done if we worked 8 hours straight? In reality, working for longer periods decreases engagement with the task and increases cognitive boredom. Whereas breaks refresh our focus and attention. Or as DeskTime puts it “Concentration is like a muscle – it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise, it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.”

In recent years, health researchers have dubbed sitting as the new smoking by increasing our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Trading two minutes of sitting for two minutes of light-intensity activity each hour lowered the risk of premature death by 33 percent, according to a study from the University Of Utah School Of Medicine. Moving throughout the day can reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Walking or gentle exercise also stimulates endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators.

I encourage you to experiment and see if the 52:17 method works for you. Or, if you’re like me, you may want to round those figures down to 50:10 to create hour-long time blocks. The bottom line is, in order to get more done, get completely engaged and focus on the task at hand. When it’s time to take a break, give that 100% of your presence as well. To learn more, attend the Impact Hub’s virtual event on 7/27/20: Productivity with Presence: Discover the Mindful Advantage for Work & Life.

 

Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

Building Resilience

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”

Life during a global pandemic has resulted in a multitude of challenges and changes. Even those that haven’t been directly impacted by illness, face adversities from social isolation to job loss. Resilience involves bouncing back from difficult experiences and can result in meaningful personal growth. Fortunately, like a muscle, we can grow our resilience with intention and time. The following are ways we can change our thoughts, behaviors and actions in order to become more resilient.

Create Connection

Remember that social distancing creates physical distance but does not mean social isolation. Create time for connecting with others safely. You can strengthen the relationships you have or participate in supportive online communities to develop new connections.

Promote Wellbeing

Support your physical health by attending to the pillars of nutrition, exercise and sleep. Cultivate your mental health with mindful practices including meditation, prayer, yoga or journaling. Pay special attention to the positives in your life and what you have to be grateful for. Don’t use negative outlets to numb your feelings such as consumption of drugs and alcohol or overindulging in the media.

Find Purpose and Take Action

Helping others by dropping off groceries to a neighbor in poor health or volunteering by sewing masks are a few ways we can gain perspective of the bigger picture and take the emphasis off ourselves. While accepting your emotions during difficult times, you can also notice opportunities for self-discovery. Find ways to take small steps and move forward.

Cultivate Healthy Thoughts

Accept that change is inevitable and focus on what is within your control. Don’t over-personalize a negative experience. An optimistic outlook helps you to look forward to and create better circumstances.

Seek Professional Support

Our social circles can be a wonderful source of support. However, there are times when a mental health professional with specialized knowledge and resources can help you work through your thoughts and emotions.

Strengthening your resilience takes time but it’s worth the effort. What’s one small step you can take to get moving on your new path?

Adapted from the American Psychological Association

For student resources, visit the Cornell University page on building resilience.

Photo by Garrett Anderson on Unsplash

 

 

Managing Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis

April is stress awareness month. Needless to say, just about everyone is experiencing new stressors while we adjust to life during the global COVID-19 pandemic. It may not be a coincidence that this is also alcohol awareness month, as there is a correlation between stress and alcohol use/abuse.

Happy hour, even virtually, is a common ritual for celebrating the end of the workweek. While we may feel like just getting through each day is a victory, we should avoid developing the habit of a daily self-congratulatory toast. However, if you’ve found yourself indulging with more alcoholic beverages than before, you are not the only one. In the third week in March, the United States saw an increase in alcohol sales of 55% as many states were adopting stay-at-home orders. But sheltering in place is going to be marathon, not a sprint. Below are some healthier alternates to manage stress and maintain good health.

Promote your pillars of health

It’s no surprise that the usual habits recommended for wellness apply now more than ever. Stress management is considered one of the four “Pillars of Health” along with exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Exercise may look very different now given that we no longer have access to gyms. Outdoor exercise in safe spaces (while maintaining at least 6 feet of distance) is still recommended in most areas. In addition to the fresh air, we get a boost of vitamin D from sunlight and this helps support physical and mental health.

Routines

You’ve heard it before, even if you are working from home, get up at the same time, shower, dress, and be prepared for a “normal” workday. However, as Harvard researcher Karmel Choi notes, “We’re not just working from home. We’re working from home in a pandemic. If things feel different it’s because they are different.”

One of the best ways to manage stress while so many changes are outside of our control is to find ways to manage what is within our control. Creating routines helps to create a sense of calm, balance, and normalcy. Routines also help decrease ambivalence and decision fatigue. Once you have a routine of a healthy breakfast, you are less likely to consider unhealthy treats or skipping breakfast altogether. Creating routines can be a successful strategy for maintaining or improving the other pillars of health such as sleep.

Mindfulness and Meditation

If you don’t already have a meditation practice, you can get your feet wet with a free app like InsightTimer or paid subscriptions to Headspace or Ten Percent Happier. In our daily lives off the meditation cushion, there are many activities that we can do more mindfully. Daily chores such as sweeping or washing the dishes can become an opportunity to be fully present with the task at hand. We can also be mindful of our consumption by limiting unhealthy foods, alcohol, and negative news or social media. It’s helpful to be aware of the stressors that can be a trigger for emotional numbing and mindless consumption. To combat this, set limits such as portion controlling sweets or only scrolling news media for 10 minutes at a time.

Connection

Fear and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety. Remember that we are physically distancing, but can and should maintain connections virtually. Even if you consider yourself an introvert we are all social creatures to some extent. Make a point to connect with others regularly, especially friends or family who are living alone or may have less access to resources and support. Limit screentime and find novel ways to connect with members of your household such as walking together outside or playing board games.

If you needed a reminder of why alcohol is not a viable long-term solution, according to the World Health Organization: “At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviors, mental health issues and violence.” Alcohol use can also affect the general health of the body, leading to potential outcomes like sleeping less, and a weakened immune system. Additional resources on healthy alternatives can be found on the Stress Management Society website.

We are experiencing changes and challenges on a global scale like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes. If you are struggling to manage your time and energy to create good health and habits, connect with Tamara for a free Zoom call.

 

Work From Home Tips to Start Your Day

I started working from home a few days per week in 2015. I would still go into the office or a coworking space 3-4 days per week. Like many of you, I have now been solely working from home since mid-March for social distancing. It can be difficult to adapt when there are so many changes but I hope my work from home tips help with the transition.

  1. Get up close to your usual time for work
  2. Take advantage of some of the time you used to spend commuting:
    • Meditation/intention setting
    • Exercise (walk or at-home bodyweight exercises)
    • Eat a nutritious breakfast
  3. Change out of your pajamas into comfortable work clothes to get into work mode
  4. Maintain favorite morning rituals like a warm coffee or tea or refreshing shake
  5. Set aside 15 minutes before work to catch up on headlines
  6. End with a mental sorbet to cleanse your palate, like a funny YouTube video
  7. When you login for work, check your email and flag what needs a response today (but don’t reply until later in the morning)
  8. Set aside a 1-2 hour block of time to complete a project in the morning when your mind is the freshest
  9. Use a Pomodoro desktop time or app to help ensure focused blocks of time
  10. Take time for breaks, chat with your family, pet your cat, have another cup of tea. Productivity may decrease with the intention for connection, especially if you have family members at home. That’s okay!

Please stay home and help us flatten the curve. I invite you to connect for a free call as I am learning to better serve clients during these difficult times.

Photo credit: James Fitzgerald on Unsplash

Productivity with Heart

February is heart health month. There are tons of articles that emphasize diet and exercise for a heart healthy lifestyle. These are definitely important, but I propose Productivity with Heart to not just be “heart healthy” but also “heart happy.”

What does this mean?

This means being productive not just for the sake of “getting stuff done” but with the greater intention of having the time and energy to create a satisfying life.

Why is this important?

Research shows, and you’ve probably noticed for yourself, our best or happiest days are those when we connect with others or do something to take care of ourselves.

The way we spend our days and weeks becomes the way we spend our years. If time is not spent where it really matters, this leads to life dissatisfaction. At the end of life, according to hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, some of the top regrets of the dying include:

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

How does it work?

Productivity with Heart is the process of:

  • Clarifying your values
  • Identifying actionable values
  • Prioritizing these values on your schedule

For example, you identify “Family” as an important value. The value in action is “time with family.” To make this happen more often, you have to block off the time on your schedule. This could be having meals together, game nights, date nights or activities out. This may require shifting schedules to leave work earlier (or arrive later) some days.

The same can be done for the value of health and creating time for activities like exercise and cooking. And, of course, the more you can be productive with work and other responsibilities, the more time you have to make your values a priority.

Pro Tips:

  • Schedule recurring calendar blocks for each week.
  • Treat these appointments as you would a business meeting or visit with you doctor. This is a commitment and you do everything you can to follow through at the scheduled time. If you absolutely cannot make it happen one day, you do not delete it from your calendar, you connect to reschedule.

What are the benefits?

The more consistently you are spending intentional time related to your values in action, the more you are living life in alignment with what matters most. This helps you to have a happier, healthier and more satisfying life.

Tamara’s passion is helping busy professionals align their values with their schedules to have the time and energy for what matters most. To this end, she founded Optima Results Coaching and launched the Productivity with Heart series. Like many of her clients, Tamara fills multiple roles as parent, partner, employee and entrepreneur.

Her background in psychology and integrative medicine, along with 10,000+ coaching interactions, has honed her unique skill set to help her clients achieve results. Her personal values include: Family, Presence, Connection, Service and Growth. Connect with Tamara to strategize your next steps for Productivity with Heart for yourself or your team!

 

Why you should create your 20 for 2020

“Trying new things and breaking out of your routine is a great way to improve your satisfaction with life.”

– Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps

One year ago, I made a list of things I could do to bring more joy and greater satisfaction to my life. You can find my 19 for 2019 here. I hope this year in review will inspire you to plan for 2020.

My list was ordered so that one-time items were at then top and recurring activities were at the bottom. By then end of 2019, I completed 11 items on my list. It was fun to cross off one-time items like a new professional bag, taking a class with my daughter and vacationing in a new city.

It was surprisingly effortless to meet with friends and go to a new restaurant every month. So was the quarterly goal of visiting a museum or attending a live theater performance. Apparently I do a lot of these activities more often than I thought.

Likewise the quarterly goal of “reading one book for pleasure and one for professional development.” This year I listened to 10 Audible books (half were non-fiction/professional development), read 6 paperbacks and listened to a few dozen book summaries on the Blinkist app.

In addition, I read one young adult novel aloud with my 12-year old daughter and we listened to 10 audiobooks together in the car. This has been a great way to pass the time together and spark conversations. As much as I enjoyed reading as a child, I hadn’t considered myself an avid reader as an adult. It turns out, one of the greatest happiness boosters this year was dedicating at least 15 minutes to pleasure reading each night. It’s amazing how much more consistent I am with an early bedtime when I have a captivating book to look forward to.

However, some items were just not in the cards. The timing didn’t work out for a family meditation retreat in California, although we did start going to our local meditation group more consistently.

A knee injury kept me from training for an indoor triathlon (or running at all) and I had to “retire” from martial arts. But I did meet my goals of weekly yoga and biking to the office in warmer weather.

As a substitute for the activities I gave up, I joined a water aerobics class. I enjoy the benefits of low impact cardio and interacting with my classmates. Since the class is at 6:30 am, these days I’m up a little earlier, complete my exercise and can be even more productive and positive throughout the day.

I fell short on reconciling my finances weekly but did change to a more user-friendly accounting system. The goal of filing paperwork more consistently was also not met. I’ve decided not even bother adding this back to my 20 for 2020.

I learned that I underestimated how much I was already doing activities that make me happy. The novelty of pushing myself to go to visit new places added another layer of satisfaction.

For 2020, almost half of my list will carry over either because I didn’t complete the items or I enjoyed them so much I want to ensure I complete them again. Maybe this year I will clear the happiness stumbling block of decluttering my basement or the fun goal of taking a girls trip. Or perhaps add the arduous challenge of giving my website a makeover? Maybe this last one should go on my Annual Review which takes a deeper dive into business planning.

What are a few items you plan to add to your 20 for 2020? This year I’ve decided to share my list with the Creating Time group and I invite you to join the conversation!

Thanks to @GretchenRubin for this activity to help our year become “happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative.” You can listen to her podcast episodes #250 and #255 on the subject.

Photo credit: Matthew Sleeper on Unsplash

 

 

 

2020: The Year of Vision and Clarity

December is an ideal time to plan for the year to come. A friend of mine recently shared her theme for the year as “2020: the year of vision and clarity.” I love the clever wordplay and clarity is a crucial way to shape our plans regardless of the year.

If you’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past and had trouble lasting through the first month or even first week, it’s time to try something new.

The top reasons why so many people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions are:
1) they don’t have a clear plan of action
2) they don’t assess their progress

When a colleague introduced me to the Annual Review almost a decade ago, it immediately made sense to me. Chris Guillebeau, entrepreneur and author of The Art of Non-Conformity, addresses these challenges in his Annual Review. While it sounds like a retrospective of what you’ve accomplished this year, this resource facilitates planning for success with clear and actionable steps.

A summary of the steps to complete your Annual Review:
1) Make a list of what went well and what did not go well
2) Choose categories to focus your plans on such as Business, Friends/Family, Health and Service
3) Identify “Actions Required for Each Goal”
4) Plan for monthly and quarterly assessments of your progress and add them to your calendar
5) Optional: Choose a theme for year
7) Optional: Metrics you want to track such as Income, Charitable Giving, Number of books read, Number of new cities visited etc.

For a spreadsheet and more details on how to make use of this framework, read Guillebeau’s original post:

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is! I am setting aside a few blocks of time to complete this process in late December. This is an investment of time that will provide great returns by helping you more successfully complete your personal and professional goals. Having an accountability partner can help. Reach out to someone in your inner circle and invite them to complete their own Annual Review.

If you’d like support in completing your first Annual Review, message me on the Optima Results Coaching Facebook page!

Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Photo by Fressh Connection on Unsplash

Several months ago, I began a nightly gratitude practice. I listened to a simple 5-minute meditation that tells you to recall something that happened that day that you were grateful for and recreate how the experience made you feel.

There is a ton of research demonstrating the benefits of a gratitude practice. In particular, it helps us to overcome our natural negativity bias by noticing more of the positive. This in turn improves our outlook and helps us to be more optimistic. Studies have shown benefits for physical and mental health as well as for our social and professional lives.

In order to get the most benefit, however, it’s recommended to journal about three new things each day that you are grateful for. Keep in mind that it take at least 21 days to develop a new habit.

Since this was going to require a little more effort, I decided to recruit some accountability. I knew Erica, who is always up for trying something new, would be the perfect partner for this project. She is one of my oldest and closest friends but because we live in different cities, we don’t always connect as often as we’d like.

Fortunately, I was visiting Erica in New York City and we were able to share our first day of the gratitude project in person. It was also my birthday and I had plenty to be grateful for. I had just shared a wonderful weekend with family and friends in my favorite city.

For our gratitude project, we completed these steps each day for four weeks:

  • Texted each other about an experience that day we were grateful for.
  • Wrote in a journal (on paper or in our phones) about at least three experiences, including the one we had shared.

The accountability helped me pay extra close attention and seek out the positive. I was excited to share with Erica about my day as well as hear about her experiences. Some commonalities that we shared were the connections we made with people and opportunities to enjoy nature. Re-reading my gratitude journal was a nice boost and I can see the benefit of having a positive lift to look back on after a difficult day.

Something that may have been unique to our project was that Erica was on vacation for one week. When I asked if sharing daily with me in the US took away from her experience in Mexico she replied, “If anything, the gratitude challenge makes you more present no matter where you are! And I had time to think about how lucky I was to be there.”

So there you have it, a resounding endorsement for practicing gratitude. Speaking of which, thank you, Erica! Are you ready to get started? Do you want to recruit someone for accountability? Let them know. You can also get in touch for me for resources and support!