Managing Your Time: The Myth of Multi-tasking

June 14, 2012

During many of our time management sessions, invariable, the subject of multi-tasking comes up.  Many of us try to do it.  We think we can answer emails while we talk to subordinates.  We think we can talk on the phone while checking email.  But according to neuroscientists, this is actually impossible to do.  It’s not that you can’t try to do two things at once.  That is absolutely do-able.  But if you think that is more efficient, then that thinking may be flawed.  Our brains cannot actually do two things at once.  It can switch back and forth between two things, sometimes very quickly, but you always have that lag where the brain has to engage and find out where it left off.

Try this example of how multi-tasking does NOT work.  This is courtesy of my friend, Paul Terlemezian.  Write down the numbers one through twenty-six and time how long it takes.  Now write down “A” through “Z” and time how long it takes.  Got it?  Numbers 1-26 took me 15 seconds.  “A” through “Z” too me 11 seconds.  Now try this and time it.  Write down alternating numbers and letters through M/13.  That is 26 characters, the same number of characters you just wrote.  But it took me 32 seconds.  Over twice as long.  So if you can bl0ck your tasks into discreet chunks so that you don’t have to switch back and forth, you can be much more productive.

The two biggest keys to great time management are: 1) Figure out what NOT TO DO!  This fits right into this concept of multi-tasking.  Do one thing at a time with total focus and choose the things that are going to get you the biggest returns.

and 2) Don’t get on other people’s agendas.  Set aside time to get your important stuff done without interruption.

Check out this You Tube Video on multi-tasking:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO_oEGHWSMU

For more information on how the brain works, you can check out the book, Brain Rules, by John Medina, or check out my book, Time Management, Stress Management, and Life Balance on my website at http://www.brentdarnell.com.


Thanksgiving and Stress

November 29, 2011

For some folks, Thanksgiving is a stressful time.  Families can be stressful.  Attempting to cook that perfect bird can be stressful.  It also signals the beginning of the holidays.  More stress.  Gift buying, hectic schedules, more food, more alcohol, more worrying about your weight, and more stress in your life.  We get overwhelmed with it all and forget the entire reason for the Thanksgiving holiday, which is to be thankful.  And being thankful is one of the best ways to alleviate stress.

In our stress management classes, we teach some basics of stress management.  The first is that we have little control over the stress in our lives, but we have 100% control of our reactions to that stress.  Stress doesn’t kill anyone.  It’s our reactions to that stress that causes all of the problems.  The second thing is that instead of reducing or eliminating stress, we teach participants to build in more recovery throughout their day.  And recovery can be simple things such as a short walk, a coffee break, a few deep breaths, looking at a photo of your family, or watching a funny video.  Try to take some kind of break every 90 to 120 minutes.

We also teach basic breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques.  Proper breathing is essential for reducing stress.  Most of us use the top 1/3 of our lungs and don’t take in enough air.  This causes lack of oxygenation of the blood and less oxygen in the brain.  Did you know that cancer cannot thrive in a high oxygen environment?  It also puts us into a low state of fight/flight.  Adrenalin and cortisol are increased.  Our thinking brain shuts down.

We offer a very simple meditation technique where you close your eyes and count your deep, diaphragmatic breaths.  Breathe in and out and mentally count one.  Breathe in and out and count two.  Breathe in and out and count three.  Breathe in and out and count four.  Then start over at one.  Other thoughts will come into your head.  Just politely dismiss them and go back to your breathing and counting.  Do this for three to five minutes and see what a difference it makes.

Mindfulness is another great stress management technique.  It’s simple, but not easy.  It’s being totally in the moment throughout your day without judgment.  I will cover mindfulness in part two.

So what is the best thing you can to do help with the holiday stress?  Take a few deep breaths and count your blessings.  It is physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time.  Try it. You can even combine this with the meditation exercise and instead of numbers, when you breathe out, think about a blessing in your life.

If you want more information to help with your stress, I have a FREE meditation CD available on my website.  Go to http://www.brentdarnell.com, click on the download center, register and create a profile, and download the CD.

If you want even more information, check out Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys:  http://www.amazon.com/Stress-Management-Time-Balance-Tough/dp/0979925843/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_5

 

 


What would you do if you knew you were dying?

October 10, 2011

At many of these inspirational events, they ask, “What would you do if you had 30 days to live?  How would you spend it?  What would you do differently?”  I never really took those questions very seriously because the end of my life seemed so far out into the future.  But the truth is that we are all dying.  Some will die more quickly than others.  But we will all end up in the same place.  Worm food.  Take a tape measure and roll it out to 80 inches.  Let that represent your life span.  If you have great genetics, roll it out further.  Now look at where you are now.  30?  40?  50?  60?  In any case, I am always struck by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of tape left.

If today were the last day of your life, would you do the same thing that you are doing today?  It is something to think about.

This past year, my wife and I thought about that a lot.  Four of our very good friends left this earth, all in their fifties.  All of their lives were cut short.  It made us examine what we were doing.  And we found out that we talked and thought about work way too much.  We worried about money too much.  We obsessed over things that really didn’t make that much of a difference in our lives.  We came to the not so profound conclusion that life is too short.  So we decided to do something about it.  We decided to take every Friday off.  We also decides to take at least three weeks of vacation this year.  When you add up the Fridays, that is seven weeks.  Add the vacations and that’s ten weeks that we are taking off.  That’s even more than some Europeans.

Don’t get me wrong.  We are not perfect at it.  We have worked some Fridays.  We have had stretches of financial worries and other trivial worries.  It is a constant struggle.  But we are making the effort.  And perhaps, over time, we will become proficient at it.  With managing your time, it comes down to this:  There are choices and there are consequences.  What choices are you going to make?  How are you going to spend your remaining days?

Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford discusses death as a motivator.  Look just after 9 minutes and listen as he talks about his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.   It’s an eye opener.

We are all dying.  We are all marching toward death.  What are you  going to choose to see along the way?


Revelations about my Smart Phone

September 16, 2011

I know I am not supposed to do it.  But I did.  I was checking emails while driving.  It’s not a very smart thing to do.  It is ridiculously stupid if you give it any thought.  After avoiding what would have been a horrible crash due to checking emails while driving, I had an epiphany.  I vowed to never use my phone while driving again.  It was extremely difficult at first.  I keep reaching for my phone, wanting to check it constantly.  But after a while, the impulse to reach for my phone died down.  Not only did driving become much more conscious and safe, but there was an amazing side benefit I had not counted on.  My stress levels actually went down for a number of reasons.  1.  I decided to turn off the radio as well and just be in the moment of driving.  As a result, many very cool ideas came floating into my brain.  Of course, I had to hold them there until I could safely make a voice note.  2.  I think the brain in multi-task mode burns a lot of energy.  Because I was not frantically trying to drive, text, talk, and be fully present, I was not as fatigued at the end of the day.  3.  When I needed to chill out without silence, I turned on the radio to some nice music, staying away from talk radio or any stations that fuel the fear of what’s going on in the world today.  As a result, stress levels were reduced.

I know we lived in this fast paced world and feel that we need to be DOING something every second of the day.  But I want you to try something for one week.  When you are in your car, only do the following:  Be fully present and drive.  The only other things you can do is listen to the silence or listen to some nice music.  See how differently you feel after that week.  It is not only much safer, but it will contribute to your well being.  And for those of you who are worried about lost productivity due to not using your smart phone in your car, you will find that because you are less stressed and have more energy, you will actually get MORE done when you arrive at your destination.  In addition, I am trying to find other times to just turn my phone off and be fully engaged in other activities such as reading, writing, or just plain thinking.  It has been very beneficial.

If you try this, I would love to see how it worked for you.


For all of you Tough Guys out there: How to knock off the rough edges.

August 31, 2011

Many of you know about my “Tough Guy” series of books:

Communication and Presentation Skills for Tough Guys

Relationship Skills for Tough Guys:  The 12 Steps to Great Relationships

Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys

And make not mistake.  The term “guy” is gender neutral.  There are plenty of female tough guys out there.

I am now combining these into one book called The Tough Guy Survival Kit and hope to have it out by Christmas.

These books were written especially for all of those tough guys out there.  I work mainly in the construction industry and help contractors, architects, and engineers with their social competence and “soft” skills.  But there is nothing soft about these skills.  They are essential for success in life and work.  Is there a tough guy in your life?

Here are the top 10 Tough Guy Tips for knocking off the rough edges and becoming better with communication and relationships:

1.  Avoid the use of I and me in your conversations.  This forces you to make it all about the other person.

2.  Avoid starting questions with the word “why”.  It sounds like an interrogation, and the other person will likely be put on the defensive.  Find a way to ask the same question with the other reporter questions:  what, where, when, how.  And “What the hell were you thinking?” doesn’t count.

3.  Smile.  I know it’s tough.  But it puts people at ease and opens them up.  It also reduces your stress.

4.  It’s not about the information.  It’s about making a connection with others.  Instead of a transaction, try to create a positive emotional experience.  Whether it is your spouse, your kids, or the person at the grocery store, this makes your encounters with others much more meaningful.

5.  Try this empathy exercise:  Get rid of the kids for a while, sit your spouse down and ask them to tell you about their day.  You can’t offer any suggestions, comments, or criticisms.  You can’t tell them what they should have done.  All you have to do is listen and try to determine what emotions they were feeling throughout their day.  And that is the only comment you can offer:  “That must have made you feel . . . ”

6.  An old man told me before my wedding a sage piece of advice:  “You can be right or you can be happy.  And the choice is yours.”  Think about this one.

7.  Whenever anyone gives you advice or a comment or criticism, just say thanks.  Nothing else.  Just thanks.

8.  Build in personal reflection time EVERY DAY!  This can be prayer time, meditation time, quiet time, vision time or whatever you want to call it.  It doesn’t have to be long, but it has to be consistent.

9.  Lighten up.  Don’t take things so seriously.  This too shall pass.  In the movie Stripes, there is a soldier who tells everyone he will kill them for any minor infraction.  The Sergeant tells him,  “Lighten up, Francis!”

10.  Spend more time with your spouse, kids, and pets.  Check in with them often.  Don’t sacrifice you or your family for work.  Remember, when most people are on your death bed, they rarely if ever say, “Gosh, I wish I could have worked a little more!”

There will be more tough guy tips to come.  And tough guys, once they get it, really do make the positive changes in their lives.  So for all of those with tough guys in their lives, hang in there!


Forget About Your People And They Will Certainly Forget About You

August 29, 2011

I attended the SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services) National Conference this past week in Chicago and there was a common theme running throughout the conference:

It’s all about your people.

This goes for both internal and external customers.  This concept may seem trite and redundant and many of you will say, “Duh!”  But I think it bears repeating because during these stressful times, we tend to forget that.  Even if it is unintentional,  many companies neglect to truly take care of their people and their external clients.  They are in survival mode, and they buckle down.  The focus is internal, and we forget the people sitting across from us.  Keep in mind that, as a business owner, your people are scared, unsure, and likely approaching burning out with the amount of stress involved in trying to get new work.  This goes for clients as well.  Get up right now and go talk to someone near you.  Ask them how they are doing, and perhaps more importantly, how they are feeling.

During these stressful times, we crave connection with others, so do everything within your power to create those connections.  The golden rule says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We talk about the platinum rule which says,  “Treat others the way that they want to be treated.”  Remember, others may want to be treated differently than you would want to be treated. The platinum rule honors that difference.

Both individuals and companies can focus on ways to create more connections with others both internally and externally. Increase the social activities during work hours and after work hours. Involve the families. Let people know you care. Celebrate the wins. Celebrate the personal milestones of births, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, and graduations.  Mourn the losses personally and professionally with your people.  Let them know that you not only know about their life, but you care about what happens to them.  If you don’t take these steps, be prepared for a mass exodus when the economy turns.  People will go where they feel cared about and nurtured.  Period.  And if you have leaders in the company who don’t subscribe to this notion of taking care of your people, remember that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their boss.

This isn’t hard to do, but it takes effort and focus.  And the payback can be tremendous!  If you have any success stories with this people approach, please share them.  I would love to post it on the BDI Blog!


Thursday’s BDI Buzz: Stress Management, Time Management & Life Balance for Tough Guys

August 4, 2011

We’re still buzzing over the Tough Guy series! This week looks at a book that addresses three of the industry’s most common obstacles that lead to burnout and weigh on an employee’s health and happiness.

Continuing with the Tough Guys series, this particular book offers some of the most immediately applicable advice. Construction workers endure physically and mentally strenuous work environments. In addition, they’re often working on a tight deadline that keeps getting tighter regardless of project set-backs. Throw in finding time for family, eating healthy and getting enough sleeping and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So you can see how easily stress and poor habits can easily get out of control…

What this book successfully provides is a no nonsense guide to exactly what’s in its title: stress management, time management and life balance. The book really gets through to even the “toughest” of readers by first examining what your stress is doing to your mental and physical well-being. There are some great testimonials from people who didn’t know their sluggishness, headaches and other health issues were actually related to a completely non-physical cause, stress (all testimonials can be found at http://www.brentdarnell.com). By heeding to Brent’s advice in this book, we can all learn to better identify and manage stress, make better use of our time and find a balance between work, family and what we are most passionate about.

Buy it here!