a.k.a. The Blog – tools, ideas, and stories to inspire you to align your ACTIONS with your PURPOSE
I have a friend who has a bumper sticker that somebody made for him that says “Awareness is a bitch”. They made it for him after he expressed how frustrating personal growth can be. And I can totally relate to that. I have experienced that feeling personally.
My belief is that I’m never going to be done. I’m always going to be learning and growing. I’m never going to be done. And that isn’t depressing or overwhelming. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s tiring, but it’s mostly exciting.
Ongoing growth like that requires self-awareness. Awareness of patterns mostly. The patterns of stimuli and reaction. Sometimes those patterns are beneficial. Often they are because I’m still alive, right? So they’ve been working for me so far. And at the same time, that doesn’t mean I want to stay where I am. And this is when becoming aware of the patterns that might not be so helpful can be frustrating.
Because once you truly become aware of something, you can’t become unaware of it. You’ve done the work to become aware of the pattern (yes!) but you haven’t broken the pattern yet so when it keeps showing up you keep feeling frustrated (fuuuuuuck!). Sometimes you want to be able to forget what you’ve noticed to avoid that frustrated feeling. But you can’t. You can’t undo awareness. You can numb it. You can avoid it. But you can’t truly unknow it.
I have seen my clients experience this frustration as well. I totally understand it not only becuase I’m doing my own work on this and have experienced it myself, but because I know they wouldn’t be hiring a coach like me if they didn’t also want to grow and this is just part of the growth process.
But it seems like people think that awareness IS the process. As if we just become aware and then we stop doing the stuff that doesn’t serve us, right?
Nope. Don’t I wish.
Don’t get me wrong, awareness does lead to growth but it’s just the beginning.
But let me digress for a moment so you can understand how I came to believe this.
Besides therapy, self-help books, coaching, classes, etc, a lot fo people can gain a lot of awareness through personality assessments. They can be a kind of jump start to self awareness.
Personality assessments can be really helpful in fostering awareness.
There are behavioral assessments out there, like the DISC. While they can provide some awareness, they are primarily used and introduced to people in the context of hiring and job placement. They are meant to identify “predictable actions and personality traits within human behavior“.
And then there are personality assessments. These assessments are more focused on fostering self-awareness. They are intended to help you understand your core personality and how you are wired regardless of circumstances.
My two personal favorite personality assessments are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment that helps you look at your hard-wired preferences across four dichotomies. Here’s how the Myers & Briggs foundations describes these dichotomies:
- Favorite world: do you prefer to focus on the outer world OR on your own inner world?
- Information: do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in OR do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?
- Decisions: when making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency OR first look at the people and special circumstances?
- Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided OR do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
This can be really useful information to help you navigate life, navigate relationships with others, et cetera. It can be like a fast forward button on fostering awareness in yourself as well as appreciating the differences in other people. This is why a Myers-Briggs discovery session is the first session I have with my new monthly coaching clients.
There’s something interesting that happens when I do MBTI discovery sessions. Once we zero in on someone’s MBTI personality type, we go through and look at the description for that type. And I’m always really excited for this part because I know that we now have just pressed the fast forward button on fostering their self-awareness. We have something they can look at, respond to and refine.
The description starts with a basic description and then goes into a section called “You at your best”. And a lot of the time people respond to the information with an almost emabarrased “Yup, that sounds like me.” It doesn’t matter how I approach the content. Whether they were consciously aware of what I’m sharing with them, the initial response is sometimes just “Yup. Sounds like me.”
I’m always blown away by this because I think each description of each type sounds so amazing and sometimes people respond in such a resigned kind of way.
And then I remind myself that I responded the same way, when I first did some of this work myself. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds like me.” Sigh. I downplayed the positive and only saw the drawbacks of my personality type. It was really frustrating.
It took time for me to realize that I needed to not just jump into that zone of being frustrated by aspects of my type, I also want to celebrate some of it too. And even for the parts that frustrated me, I needed to grow some acceptance of myself.
When I started my career as a coach, I was excited about sharing this awareness stuff with clients. But over time I realized that the work I really was doing with them was around fostering acceptance. I wasn’t just helping them become more aware of who they are and what some of their hard-wiring is, I was also helping them to accept what we uncovered without judgement.
For all of my love of the MBTI, it took learning about the Enneagram to really lock into the belief that awareness is not enough.
The Enneagram is a personality system that describes nine fundamentally different ways of “thinking, feeling, and acting that arises from a deepr inner motivation or worldview“. Each of us developed one of the 9 patterns to protect a specific aspect of our self that felt threatened as our own personality was developing.
Sometimes people feel like personality assessments are about putting people in boxes. What I like about the Enneagram is that it’s not about putting you in a box, but, instead, describing the box that you’re in so that you can get out of it.
Anyway, my growth process led me to the Enneagram and I did some study under Dr. David Daniels. He is one of the co-founders of Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition. He also co-developed a model called the Universal Growth Process, also known as the 5As.
It was through this work that I understood why I knew awareness wasn’t enough. What his model shows us is that awareness is actually just the first step.
That image I shared earlier isn’t wrong, it’s just not complete. Awareness leads to growth, but there are other As that you need to really grow.
Based on the UGP model, Awareness if the first step. Then you have Acceptance, Appreciation, Action and Adherence. Let me share a little bit about the 5As model, or the Universal Growth Process model more in Dr. David’s terms, okay? You can learn more here. In the meantime, here’s the overview:
- Awareness – Having a practice to increase our receptivity and grounded presence.
- Acceptance – Opening our hearts in non-judgment to accept whatever arises in the moment. This includes befriending our reactivity and working with the critical mind or superego.
- Appreciation – Requires realizing that the positives in our lives often get neglected and require our re-experiencing them in order to help us use appreciation as a great resource. Appreciation is exactly that and more; it’s an appreciation for “what” is revealing itself, in the moment, in another, and/or within ourselves.
- Action – Noticing → pausing → collecting energy → containing not suppressing. Mentoring with the “inner coach” into conscious conduct. Conscious conduct includes two interrelated forms: releasing into acceptance and taking action.
- Adherence – Committing to regular practice and the process itself.
The model was developed as something you use moment-to-moment in your life. Being Aware of something that triggers you. Accepting what arises within you without judging yourself for it. Appreciating the patterns that were created to protect you. Containing the reaction so that you can channel your energy toward conscious Action. And sticking to, or Adhering to the model.
The model is a super helpful model to be implementing in your day-to-day, moment-to-moment life, and I also realize that it works at a higher level, too. When you gain awareness about yourself at a broader level, if you can accept what you find there, find appreciation for your patterns and be intentional about the actions you take, you can go anywhere you want to go.
My ideal clients are already on the self-awareness journey, they just aren’t always happy with what they find. They think they want a deeper level of awareness, but what they really need is acceptance. And that’s what I help people do, is gain a level of self acceptance that’s really empowering. And then the appreciation comes, and then we identify the more conscious purposeful action they can take in the world, so that they can show up in the ways that they want to. And that is what leads to growth.
Do you understand now why sometimes awareness is a bitch? Why it’s not enough? If you are feeling frustrated by your awareness journey, hopefull you now realize that you gotta get to acceptance. You have to work through the self-judgment that comes up. And when you do that, amazing things can happen.
Let me give you a super quick example. In Myers-Briggs lingo, I’m an ENFJ (I prefer Extroversion, iNutition, Feeling and Judging). While I’m a mediator and harmonizer, I’m also highly structured. I like to have decisions made, I like to come to conclustions and move on, I like to have a schedule, I like all my little systems.
And throughout my life, through a number of different people and experiences, I didn’t always feel valued for that structured part of me. In fact I felt like it was kind of a bad thing, like I was uptight. I’d get teased about how structured and organized I can be. This was one of those traits in the “you at your best” section of my ENFJ description that was listed as a positive and that I saw as a negative. I felt like it was a trait that I should maybe be less of. It was usually valued in me in professional situations, but in my personal life and in important relationships, not so much.
I’ve always done this kind of work in all the careers I’ve had. With my coaching clients, I have always helped them through a process to understand themselves and take action in a way that’s sequenced and structured so that they can keep it up and maintain it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed more personal and professional relationships with people who really appreciate my preference for organization and structure. They like that I can see the next step and also get all the next steps lined up after that.
In aligning with people who valued traits so inherent and hardwired in me, I came to accept and appreciate these parts of me as well. Which, of course, led to conscious action, different choices and a different way of showing up.
And that’s why I have added a whole new dimension to my coaching work over the past couple of years. Especially with my Get Your Shit Together (GYST) program, where I help people develop their own work+life productivty system. Where productivity means moving the things forward that you want to move forward. Not busyness, productivity. And I love what I’m doing even more than I ever have before.
And it was because I went beyond awareness and learned to accept and appreciate the part of me that is structured, likes to have systems in place, likes to sequence and categorize and organize. I really fully accepted that part of me, and then took conscious action around moving that part of me forward in a way that felt good, and in a way that was valuable to other people.
Whether you come to your own awareness through coaching, self-help books, therapy, or assessments, when you hit the frustration point, remember to push forward. Remember the 5 As. Keep going until you can reach the empowering experience of acceptance and appreciation. Take conscious, puerposeful action. Because that is where the growth is. In the actions you take and the awareness that comes from those actions.
What is your experience with self-awareness? How has it led to growth for you?
We all have lots of things on our minds. They range from things like “Schedule Dr. appointment” to “Remodel house” or “Start marketing to new zip code”.
Plus a hundred or so other things in between.
And some of these things stay on our minds for a long time. Even if you are a list maker, these things can stay on your lists for a long time.
There’s lots of reasons these things stay on your lists. Sometimes they are just ideas and aren’t meant for you to act on right now. And that’s ok. Have a place to store those ideas. Visit that place often so those ideas know you’re paying attention.
And for the stuff you definitely want to move forward? What about that stuff? What about the projects that you want to get rolling? What about the idea that you don’t want to keep on the shelf anymore?
In other words, where are you stuck? Take a moment and think about that. Seriously. Right now. Because I want to help you get unstuck.
It just takes one question. But that question needs to be taken seriously. You can’t dodge it. You gotta be willing to really think about it and answer it.
OK, here it is:
What are you going to do to move this thing forward?
I use this question all the time to get me and my clients unstuck.
It sounds pretty basic, but it’s really helpful and powerful when you take it seriously. I actually ask this question in the way that I learned it from David Allen in his book, “Getting Things Done”. Ready for the real version of the question?
What is the next PHYSICAL, VISIBLE thing you will do to move this thing toward completion?
As in, what could I walk in and SEE you doing to move this forward?
This project, this task, this idea, whatever it might be, this question helps you transform a “to do list” into an “all done” list. It takes a random list of stuff that is in your head and turns it into a list of actions or tasks that you can actually get done. It gets your stuff unstuck.
And it also helps you take something that seems too big to tackle, and make it doable. Because what I’ve noticed is that people often think that they need to leap tall buildings in a single bound, like Superman. And you just don’t need to do it that way, but you think that way, you think in terms of projects. Even if you are a detail oriented person, you are often thinking at least 3 actions ahead of what the next action really is. Some of you think 100 steps ahead!
In short, we think of terms of “stuff” that we want to get done, but not how it’s actually going to get done, or what we actually need to do it.
And so, what I want you to do is think about that thing that’s on your mind that you haven’t made progress on. The thing that gnaws at your conscience. Now ask yourself, really, what is the next physical, visible thing you would do to move that thing forward?
Perhaps a couple examples could help. I did a brain dump of real stuff that’s on my mind that I’m going to apply this question to. Here’s the list:
- Send proposal
- Call dentist
- WHY workshop
- Kitchen light
- Client recap
When you do brain dumps like this, isn’t this what it looks like? You come up with a random list of stuff. Work, personal, home, etc. Some of the things on our brain dumps are immediately do-able, cross-off-able and others aren’t.
Let’s apply the unstuck question to a couple of these.
- Call dentist.
“Elise, what’s the next physical, visible thing I would do to move this thing forward?” Well, I would call the dentist, right? That makes sense. But this particular thing has been on my list for a while now. No action taken. So there must be more to it. That’s when I pull out a couple of helpful follow up questions.
So, the first follow up question I often ask myself is,
Do you have everything you need to do complete this next step?
With regard to “call the dentist” I actually don’t have everything I need. You would think I do. Couldn’t I just look up my dentist’s phone number and call them? I’m actually thinking about changing dentists, and so I know somebody who has a dentist that they’d recommend and I need to ask them for the dentist name and contact information.
So really my next action isn’t call the dentist, my next action is to it’s to contact my friend and ask them for this information, right? So that’s the next action.
- Call dentist —> Text Sue and ask for name of her dentist
I can do that in 2 minutes or less, so I just do it. Done.
Now, my next action is “Call dentist”. I can’t do that right now, but I add it to my “@9am-5pm” task list. (My list of actions that must happen during business hours.)
Let’s take another one that’s on my list.
- Send proposal.
I’m just going to jump right in with that first follow up question: “Elise, do you have everything you need to complete this step?”
Well, actually no I don’t. I need to make some updates to the proposal and that requires me getting some information. So in this case, the next physical, visible thing I would actually do is pull up this person’s website and get all the information I need to update the proposal.
- Send proposal —> Look up client info for proposal
I don’t have time to do that right now. It’s going to take more than 2 minutes to do that. So I need to add it to one of my task lists. But which one?
This is where another follow up question is helpful:
WHERE do I need to be, in order to be most successful at accomplishing this task?
“Where” is really important for a couple reasons.
One of the biggest reasons is that it forces you to really think about you physically doing this activity that is necessary, which helps confirm that you’ve truly identified the next action.
Back to the proposal, where do I need to be in order to be most successful at getting the information for this proposal? Well, really I need to be anywhere that has internet access, right? Anywhere where I can get on and search for this contact information. Ideally though, where I would best do this work, would be in my office.
So suddenly this project called “send proposal” not only has a really nice clear next action — Look up client info for proposal — that’s going to move it towards completion, but it also has a place where I’m going to get this done.
This is called “context”. Where’s the best location for this action to take place? That’s what context is all about.
I have task lists set up for every main context in my life.
- @Couch browsing (stuff I can do on my laptop while watching mindless television)
Once I’ve identified the next action, I add it to the appropriate task list based on the WHERE the next action will happen.
Let’s take another example.
- Why Workshop.
Now that isn’t very actionable, is it?
So, what’s the next physical, visible thing I need to do to move this why workshop thing toward completion? Well, I need to create the next email template to send out to this group. That’s the very next thing I need to do.
Do I have everything I need to do that? Yes I do, I have all the information I need to do that. So…
- Why Workshop —> Create next email template for Why Workshop.
Where’s the best place for this action take place? —> @Office
This task goes on my @Office task list.
By using the ONE question I’m able to take the stuff that’s on my mind and turn them into actual next steps that can usually be complete in a matter of minutes. David Allen calls it Clarifying or Defining your work. It allows you to move things forward because we don’t always have hours on end to hammer out a project from beginning to end. We don’t always have what we need to leap the tall buildings in a single bound.
Let’s take one more example. Another life example.
- Kitchen light.
Our kitchen light turns off inexplicably right now. We turn it on. We start chopping veggies for dinner and after a minute or two it will flicker and then blink off off. What do I do about that? We’ve already done some minor troubleshooting and didn’t find anything obvious. Now what do we do?
“Elise, what is the next physical, visible thing you’ll do to move this thing toward completion?” Well, we know an electrician but I don’t have his contact info.
The next physical, visible thing I’ll do is text Kim and ask her for John’s contact information.
- Kitchen light. —> Text Kim and ask for John’s info
I can do that in 2 minutes or less so I’ll just do it.
Then I’ll add a task to my @Waiting for list indicating that I’m waiting for this information.
Are you seeing the power of this question? Can you see how investing time answering this question about projects big and small can help you move them forward?
What about the power of having task lists set up by context?
Doing this means that when I’m at the office I can just pull up my @Office task list and only see the tasks that I can actually do at the office instead of seeing every task for every project that is active for me right now. It gives me a lot more focus.
Watch this video for more examples of contexts that I use.
I’m a big fan of the big picture and big ideas. I love hanging out in that space with people, helping them identify their purpose, who they want to be, and the kind of impact they want to have in the world. And at the same time none of that work means anything if nothing ever comes out of any of it it.
Yes, we need to get clear on those big picture things. We should absolutely dream big. But our purpose, our dreams and our goals? They happen at the ground level. The day-to-day level of next actions. That’s why identifying what needs to happen next and capturing it in a way that allows you to be as productive as possible is really important.
Spending all of our time up there in the land of dreams and ideas isn’t enough. We gotta get down to the ground level, to the day-to-day actions that are going to move your dreams forward. The ground level stuff is where we do all of our learning. It’s where we make our mistakes and it’s where we learn our lessons and course correct.
It’s about steps. Not leaps. Because if you’re thinking you have to do big leaps all the time, you might not ever do anything. Bring it back down to what’s the next physical, visible thing you would do to move this thing forward.
Whether your brain is cluttered up with all sorts of to-do’s and tasks in your head, or whether it’s this big project, big idea, or this big dream that’s been just sitting there, and you haven’t done anything with it, I challenge you to ask yourself this question. And then capture that action in your task list.
What is the next physical, visible action I need to take to move this thing toward completion.
Remember that there is no leaping required. You can just take those little steps and move it forward. One action at a time.
Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear how you get unstuck.
If you need help, you might consider this.
October has been a pretty tough month for me the past few years. And the last couple of weeks of September aren’t usually all that fun either.
You see I got married on October 5 of 2002 to my high school sweetheart. We never had kids, but we built a life together of family, a family of friends, careers, businesses and two very sweet and crazy dogs.
Our first date was the homecoming dance in October of our junior year. The weeks leading up to that first date were so much fun. Hours on the phone getting to know each other. Flirting. Planning for our big date.
The weeks leading up to our October wedding had some ups and downs. I mean, there can be some anxiety around the biggest party you’ve ever thrown, right? And at the same time, there was so much excitement and joy around bringing so many people together for a big ol’party. Not to mention the fact that it felt really good to not have a single moment of hesitation about marrying this sweet man.
While we weren’t kids when we got married (we were 26) we were kids when we met. We grew up together. I don’t know that either one of us really knew what we wanted for our lives, but we loved each other, trusted each other and believed in each other, so we went for it.
And we kept growing. We were there for each other through the highs and lows of life. Trips with friends. Witnessing marriages, births and deaths. The endless entertainment of Barley and Baxter. The work and play of a marriage.
Our marriage always took work, but every marriage takes work. That’s what everyone says. And it’s true. It should take work. Work on yourself to always be learning and growing, and work with your partner to bridge the gaps that inevitably show up between two growing people.
But sometimes the gaps can become too big to bridge. Our divorce was finalized in December of 2016.
October 5th of this year was the second anniversary since we separated and the first anniversary since our divorce last year. And you know, I kinda thought that this October was gonna be a little bit easier than last year, but it wasn’t. This year was just as bad. If not worse. It started around mid-September.
I started to feel the buildup of feelings, but I didn’t know what they were. I was having some low energy. I was feeling tense. I was tired. I was grouchy. And finally I realized that I was sad.
I was really sad about the loss of all the best parts of us. The loss of the relationship I had been certain we could create. The loss of the familiarity of the world that we had built around ourselves. The loss of the house that we built from scratch and turned into a home.
You know what? It takes time and energy to feel all of the feelings. So when I finally realized what was going on, I let myself take some of that downtime that I needed to take care of myself. I let some people in so I wasn’t alone in it all. I let myself rest a little more.
And that meant that some things weren’t really getting done. But the thing is, I knew what wasn’t getting done. And here’s why. Because over the past two years I had been perfecting my system that helps me stay on top of things. I should say progressing, not perfecting. I don’t believe in perfect. I believe in progress.
Anyway, I’d been working on progressing my work and life productivity system.
You see when you decide to turn your life upside down and start all over again, it’s really helpful to have a system to keep track of everything because your brain is too swirly to do it on it’s own. Actually, your brain is not suited to doing that no matter what, but having an external brain to remember everything I couldn’t was especially important with all the newness in my life.
- How the heck do you get a divorce?
- Do I need an attorney?
- How do we divide assets?
- New bank accounts.
- New credit cards.
- New health insurance.
- Moving into a condo.
There was a lot that was going on and I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. But the thing is I had been introduced to the C-CORE Model from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity a few years before. And up until my separation, I had this kind of this half-assed version of the C-CORE Model in place.
C-CORE is an acronym. It stand for Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage.
Capture = Collect whatever has your attention
Clarify = Process what the things that have your attention mean to you. Are they actionable? What is the next action?
Organize = Put things where they belong. Create places to put things that make sense to YOU.
Reflect = Review your system frequently so you can keep things OFF your mind.
Engage = Simply do. When you have time, look to your system to do what you’ve decided needs to be done.
So I had my own version of the C-CORE model implemented in my life. But it was incomplete. I wasn’t really using it as it was intended.
And once my husband and I decided to separate, life kinda got crazy. Remember the firehose I mentioned earlier? There just was a lot to figure out. And so what happened, kind of organically at first, was I put in a much better version of the C-CORE Model in place. And over the first year after the separation I revisited Allen’s work at a much deeper level and really implemented the model in my life.
Having a solid system in place helped me stay really focused and productive in the midst of emotional, relational, and logistical upheaval. I just wanted to take really good care of the clients I already had and not go backwards. It was all up to me now and going backwards financially was terrifying to me.
But with my system in place, I actually grew my business income by 10% in that first year after the separation. And then this year, I’m on track for 20% growth over last year. I largely attribute that growth to my system. Having it in place has allowed me to really focus on what’s most important to me, what I most want to move forward, while also managing all the other demands in my life and in my world.
As I said earlier, our minds are not meant for holding all of this in our heads. Even under the best of circumstances. So creating a brain outside of your brain that helps you remember everything is critical. And it’s especially critical when the hard stuff hits.
The hard emotional milestones of wedding anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and friend traditions that trigger my feelings of loss. I’ve gotta navigate all that and there’s a lot of emotion around that stuff.
So sometimes I just need to take time for myself, and when I do that, I have my system there that will help hold everything until I’m ready to engage with the world of activity again.
It helps me know what’s not getting done and helps me make choices about things that I need to get done anyway because we all know there are some things we just gotta get done anyway. But when my energy is low, my system helps me make good choices about taking care of myself as well as moving things forward that I wanna move forward.
And my system isn’t everything.
I have a wonderful network of emotional and professional support in the form of an amazing girlfriend, my sister and her wife, my mom, my best friend, a wonderful circle of friends, my therapist, coaches that I work with. It takes a village, people. I’m really grateful for my village.
I’m also grateful that I’ve invested the time and energy and sometimes expense in building out a system that’s gonna support my dreams and my aspirations and my purpose. When my energy is up and I’m feeling creative and inspired my system is there to capture all the goodness I come up with.
And it’s also gonna support me and my sanity when the hard stuff hits. When the storms of life strike.
What you would be willing to invest to create that kind of strong foundation for yourself? I think it’s important that we invest in ourselves and give ourselves every opportunity to create the lives we are proud to life.
What helps you when the storms of life hit? What helps you keep things on track just enough to let you also take care of yourself?
Know that I’m here for you. I’m here for you if you need help creating your system that will hold you when you need to be held. And the system that you you can solidly stand on when you have the energy to get out in the world and get shit done.
Watch the video that inspired this post below.
When you talk about productivity as much as I do, people want to know what my favorite tools are. So I’m going to share the three tools that keep me productive and on purpose.
But first, a little bit more about what it means to be productive and on purpose. It’s all about aligning your daily actions with your higher life’s purpose. Aligning the ground level of daily life with the 30,000 foot level of who you want to be in the world and the kind of impact you want to have.
In order to align your day-to-day actions with your purpose, you have to be intentional. The struggle that most of us face is that day-to-day life can lead us to be very, very reactive. Whether it’s e-mails that are coming in, phone calls, texts, requests from people in our lives, whatever it might be, real life, real day-to-day life gives us every opportunity possible to be reactive, when, in order to live life in line with our purpose, we actually need to be more intentional.
This reactivity also leads to a sense of busyness, right? From the outside looking in busy can look like a good thing. But busyness is just that, an external measurement. It’s something that people can see and maybe be impressed by but it doesn’t always lead to feeling good about what you got done at the end of the day.
What most of us are really looking for is productivity. Feeling productive is more of an internal measurement. It’s more about, did I get done the things that I wanted to get done today? Did I get done the things that I care most about? Did I move forward those things that are most important to me and are they aligned with my higher level purpose?
My purpose is
TO foster understanding and acceptance of self and others SO THAT we can come together to make the world a better place.
Everything I’m trying to do on a day-to-day basis aligns with that.
I’m not always on purpose. Sometimes, I’m reactive. But overall, the work that I’m doing, even when I’m doing a task I don’t like to do, is worth doing to me. As long as it aligns with my purpose.
I want to help YOU be more productive and less busy. Here are the three tools that help me do just that.
I literally have these 3 tools open on my second monitor at my office at all times. These are the tools that help keep me productive and on purpose.
Tool #1: My Calendar
The first tool I go to at all times is my calendar. Why? Because my calendar shows me what my day is going to look like. It is the hard landscape of my day. What do I mean by hard landscape?
In a yard the hardscape is any of the non-living stuff that is part of the design. Decks, sidewalks, retaining walls, etc. They aren’t easily moveable. They are committed to. That’s how appointments are on my calendar. They are the commitments I’ve made.
The only things that go into my calendar are actual appointments. On occasion I sometimes have to block off time on my calendar so that people can’t book me if I need to work on a project or I block off travel time, but other than that my calendar is for appointments only.
So my calendar shows me when I can’t be working on anything else because I’m either in an appointment or traveling to an appointment.
The calendar not only shows me where I need to be and when and with who, but it also shows me how much time I have in my day to do anything else at all. Those blank spots on my calendar are the times when I can get the rest of my work done.
Part of my work as a coach is appointments with my clients, actually being in a session with them but there’s lots of work outside of that that needs to get done. So, those blank spots on my calendar tell me when I’m going to be able to do that work.
While I happen to use a Google calendar, it doesn’t really matter what app you use for your calendar. What matters is that you have a calendar that you can trust. A trusted calendar is one that has every appointment on it.
If you have a calendar for your personal life, a calendar for work, etc, I highly recommend getting all of your calendars in one place so that when you look at your calendar, you can trust it. Not being able to trust your calendar is like having no calendar at all.
The second tool I have open at all times is GQueues. GQueues is a project and task management tool. How do I use it?
Let’s say I wrapped up a coaching session at 10:30am. I have 30 minutes to get something done before my next appointment. GQueues is the place that I go to help me see what I could be working on when I’m not in appointments.
GQueues is where I plan my work.
GQueues is really just a bunch of categories (folders) and queues (lists) with tagging functions that allow for customized searches. Categories, queues and tags, that’s it. But I’d be lost without it.
Basically, you can have a bunch of different categories like: home, work, kids, someday/maybe, etc.
Within a category, you can have queues. In my GQueues I have a queue for every project I currently have underway. Within each of those queues, I can have a list of tasks for each of those projects.
What’s powerful about GQueues is not only does it allow me to know what I could be working on when I have time but it also allows me to get everything out of my head. Just like I don’t count on myself to remember who I’m meeting and when at what time (I use a calendar for that) I use GQueues to help me remember what are all the projects I’m working on and what’s the next action I need to take to move that project forward. I absolutely count on GQueues for that.
I also use it to capture any fleeting thought that comes through my head. If I have a “I have to remember to…” thought, I just pop it into the GQueues app on my phone and then decide how important that thought was when I get back to my desk and have time to think. Then I toss that “task” into the right queue and tag it appropriately.
Speaking of tags…
The other cool thing about GQueues is the tagging feature. You can create custom tags to that a make your tasks searchable in a more useful way. The way I tag my tasks is according to context. For me, context is the place I need to be to do that task.
So, back to my earlier example, when I have 30 minutes before my next client and am at the office, I can go to saved search list called “@Office” and see all of the tasks that have the “@Office” tag on it. That way I can only see the tasks that can actually be done at the office.
I have a tag called “@Errands” so that whenever I’m out running errands, I can just click on my “@Errands” list and see anything I could tackle while I’m out and about.
My other favorite tag that I have is called “@Couch Browsing”. This is the tag I use for things that I could be doing while I’m sitting on the couch watching The Voice or some other mindless TV.
A lot of other systems can help you manage tasks and lists but a lot of them don’t allow you to slice and dice your tasks the way that GQueues does. What I love about GQueues is that the tags feature allows you to think about WHERE you are and what you can get done in that setting. Otherwise you are just looking at a big long list of tasks and then find the ones you can actually do in the setting you are currently in. GQueues uses tags to do that filtering for you.
GQueues is also the tool that helps me get my all of my email inboxes to zero every single Friday. While many of my emails get dealt with throughout the week, there are inevitably some stragglers still in my inbox on Fridays. They are there because I haven’t taken the time to determine what has to happen with them, if anything.
So, on Fridays I look at each one of those remaining e-mails to determine what the next action is for that e-mail. I then put that next action into GQueues as a task and that e-mail can either get archived, filed or deleted. Boom! Inbox ZERO! You can download my free guide to help you get your inbox to zero by clicking here.
My calendar and GQueues hold everything I’ve decided is important that I have to DO. They are all about productivity. Things don’t go in there unless they are actionable. So those tools keep me focused on the things I want to be working on and things I want moving forward.
Evernote is where I hold everything else. I keep things there so I don’t have to hold them in my brain. Just like I don’t try to remember all my appointments and I don’t try to remember all my projects and tasks because my brain is not meant for that. It’s not meant for holding ideas. It’s meant for having them.
Again, Evernote holds everything else. It holds ideas for me. It holds every single account that I have a login for. It holds a list of all the links that I send the clients on a regular basis. It holds ideas I have for blog posts.
Evernote is basically a bunch of highly searchable electronic notebooks and notes. It can even search handwritten notes that you’ve uploaded. Cool, right?
Evernote is my repository of information that I need to run my life and my business.
Evernote also makes it so that I never have to type the same email more than once. If I send an important email to one client and it’s something I know I’m going to have to send again, I copy that e-mail, toss it into Evernote so I have it for next time I have to send a similar message.
I actually shared a bonus tool in my Facebook Live video on this topic. Watch the video below to find out what it is.
So that’s it.
My 3 favorite tools to keep me productive and focused.
1. A calendar I trust…it only holds appointments, but it holds ALL of my appointments.
2. GQueues…to help me know WHAT tasks and projects I could be working on depending on WHERE I am.
3. Evernote…to hold the non-actionable information I need to run my life and business.
All of these support my life+work productivity system that is customized to me and what I care about most.
Tell me, what tools do you use to keep you productive and on purpose?
Nobody gets trained on how to use their email effectively. I mean, there are videos out there and classes, but when you signed up foryour email account, nobody sat you down and taught you how to set it up and use effectively. So how can your email be the key to your peaceful productivity breakthrough?
Today’s world is still all about email. Even with Slack, Asana, Quip, etc. The reality is, we all still have email accounts and most of us are drowning in email.
And that’s personal. We judge ourselves for it. We feel out of control. The reality is that your INBOX is out of control, but it feels like YOU are. One of my clients characterized her old email life this way:
“I was a scroll monster. It was a constant scroll to find something. Constantly searching for what I needed. I would forget to respond to people and overlook important stuff because the important stuff was all mixed in with everything else.”
It reminds me of something I would always hear Peter Walsh say on when he was on Clean Sweep: When everything is important, nothing is important.
And that’s the problem, with these overflowing inboxes. Everything has been kept, even the unimportant stuff, so it’s hard to find what you really need.
Imagine if your email inbox was to suddenly print itself into your workspace or home. What if everytime you opened the door to your office you were confronted by these printed emails. Thousands and thousands of pages.
You want to follow up with that client on the meeting you are trying to schedule with them, so you start leafing through all the pages until youcan find what you are looking for. It was a communication within the past few days so it should be at the top of the pile somewhere, right?
Our emails are digital clutter and it causes stress, just like physical clutter does for most people.
I like how Joshua Becker of BecomingMinimalist.com talks about it,
“Perhaps your digital clutter causes a loss in time, handicaps your productivity, increases stress, or contributes to distractedness in your physical life. Much like the garage, we have to ask ourselves when it’s time to declutter those items on our desktop, delete needless emails, or reduce our digital footprint.”
So, how do you unclutter your inbox? More than that, how do you get to a point where you can get your inbox to ZERO at least once per week?
I’m going to share the process I use with my coaching clients.
The scroll monster client above? Here’s what she said after she started getting her inbox to zero on the regular:
“It makes me notice that I’m more on top of things than I realized. I always felt like I had too much to do because my inbox was so full. Now, things feel more managed. I thought I was bad at follow up. It’s just that I was overwhelmed.”
And before you stop reading because you feel like this is an insurmountable task, because you have thousands of emails in your inbox, I challenge you to keep reading.
The client I mentioned above had over 6,000 emails in her inboxes. She was embarrassed to show me her inbox, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many we start with, what matters is how many we end up with. And that number is ZERO…in case you haven’t been following along.
In fact, starting out with a ton of emails is great. It gives you a realistic picture of the kinds of emails you receive which will allow you to set up a better email productivity system that is more aligned to YOUR life and work.
So why the “peaceful productivity breakthrough” headline? I’ve watched my clients shift when they get a handle on making their inboxes more productive. In tackling that ONE part of their world, they end up creating a system that can help them be more productive and present in all aspects of their life.
So, let’s get started on YOUR breakthrough. Here are 5 Steps to get YOU to Inbox ZERO.
First, a couple tips:
Set aside 2-3 hours to do this. My former scroll monster accomplished her first inbox zero on her couch watching a couple episodes of the voice. Are you willing to commit to a couple of hours NOW to achieve weekly freedom FOREVER? I think you are.
- Start with your primary email inbox…the one with the most important stuff in it.
Now seriously, let’s do this.
Step 1: Archive
This first step can be the easiest and has the most impact. Ready?
I hereby grant you permission to archive anything prior to this calendar year or anything older than 3-6 months. Seriously. If you haven’t needed it in the past 3-6 months, you don’t need it in your inbox.
So how do you actually do this? Create a folder in your email called:
zArchive Prior to <<Insert Date>>
Select every email that is that date or older and drag it/move it into the archive folder you created.
For most people, this will be thousands of emails immediately removed from their inbox. And it saves you HOURS of making decisions about each email while still allowing you to find an email later if you need it.
Or as my scroll monster put it,
“Permission to archive was a big deal to me. I was afraid I’d have to go through all 6,000+ emails to figure out what to delete. And I was scared to delete things that were old just in case I needed them again. So tossing all the old emails into an “Archive” folder alleviated a lot of my stress AND took care of thousands of emails.”
Boom. Progress. (Wait. Did you get stuck on step 1? Maybe you need a little help.)
No problem with step 1? Move along…
Step 2: Unsubscribe and Delete
What’s left after step one is still a mix of important stuff, actionable stuff and just stuff. So it’s time to ditch the stuff that isn’t serving you AND keep it from hitting your inbox again.
You know what I’m talking about don’t you? The weekly emails you get from that online company you bought ONE thing from last year. Daily emails from that guru that you don’t even like anymore. The monthly sales emails from the car dealership…and you sold that car two years ago.
Be ruthless about this. If you don’t love it, leave it. Unsubscribe. If you don’t read the regular emails automatically delivered to you from businesses and salespeople, click that magical “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of their email. You can always resubscribe if you miss hearing from them. Or, better yet, just follow them on your favorite social media channel.
Once you click that magical “unsubscribe” link that should be at the bottom of their emails, delete all the emails they’ve sent you.
There are tools out there that can help you unsubscribe from a ton of lists very quickly, but beware of what they might do with your data. Unroll.me is a great tool that unfortunately sold user data to other companies.
CNET wrote a great article about this as well as a tip on another great way to identify possible unsubscribe candidates:
A tried and true method is to open Gmail and search for “unsubscribe.” When searching for this term, if you open an email, unsubscribe will be highlighted, so it’s easier to find.
And remember, after you unsubscribe, delete the emails from the sender.
This unsubscribe stuff is a boundaries thing. You get to decide who you let into your inbox.
If you don’t want what they are offering, let them go.
If what they are saying no longer resonates with you, let them go.
“But what if I like some of what they saying?” If they aren’t hitting the nail on the head for you 80% of the time, unsubscribe. You can always subscribe again if you really miss having them clutter up your inbox.
Completing this step should free you of hundreds more emails not to mention what it will do to prevent so many from coming in moving forward. As scroll monster said,
“Unsubscribe reduced the bombardment on a daily basis. So it just made it easier to keep things under control.”
Step 3: Clarify
OK, you are now down to the emails that you need to consider. And this is how email inboxes grow to hundreds and thousands of emails. We don’t take the time to consider what each email actually is really about…which keeps us from making a decision what what to do with the email…which keeps it in your inbox.
I’m just gonna say it.
Your overflowing inbox is the symptom. Procrastination is the disease. Harsh, I know. But that email is still in their because you put off making a decision about it.
The good news is that you can ask yourself two simple questions about each of the remaining emails that will help you get clear on what remains and will help you prioritize them.
The 2 Powerful Questions
- What is it?
- Is it actionable?
These questions come from productivity guru David Allen. He uses these questions to create clarity around anything that is in his inbox, laying around the house or rolling around his noggin.
Question 1: What is it?
That first question may seem silly, but you’d be surprised at how much clarity it creates when you answer it as if you were explaining it to someone else.
Question 2: Is it actionable?
When the answer to “Is it actionable?” is “No” you either trash the email or file it away.
What if the answer to “Is it actionable?” is “yes”?
If the email is actionable, you would either do it, delegate it or defer it.
- If it would take 2 minutes or less to take care what’s actionable, do it and then file or delete the email.
- If the action required belongs to someone else delegate it to that person and file the email away and set yourself a reminder to follow up on it at the appropriate time.
- If the action required must be done by you and it’s going to take more than 2 minutes to complete it you’ll defer it. This means you’ll put the action required on a task list and then file the email from your inbox into a folder that makes sense to you.
Whether the answer to “Is it actionable?” is “yes” or “no”, you will still get to the point of moving the email out of your inbox. Any action required will get added to your task list or calendar. The email itself will either get deleted or filed away for later reference or use.
I’m just gonna say it, this is often the hardest step for people. If you need some hands on help, just click here.
Step 4: House it
All that clarifying that you did in Step 3 will have helped you uncover a bunch of categories of emails. So Step 4 is all about creating homes for all of the categories of emails you uncovered.
And by “homes” I mean folders. And subfolders if that helps. You are essentially creating an organization system for all the kinds of emails you receive.
Don’t get freaked out by the word “organization”. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your personality style is, we all are capable of being organized. Consider this definition from David Allen:
“Being organized means simply that where something is matches what it means to you.”
To YOU. Not to me. Not to productivity gurus. To you.
This is YOUR system. Keep it as simple as possible and only as complex as is absolutely necessary.
In other words, you shouldn’t have subfolder upon subfolder within your email program. The point is to get things out of your inbox and into meaningful places to YOU. So keep the folder structure simple because you can always use your email program’s search feature to track down exactly what you are looking for.
Do you want a SUPER simple folder structure for your email? This structure would totally work. I said to keep it simple, right?
At this point you should have your inbox to ZERO.
If you haven’t, go back to the CLARIFY and HOUSE IT steps until you get there.
Still having a hard time? You may need more help.
Step 5: Repeat
Guess what. Steps 1-4 was all the heavy lifting. You got your inbox to ZERO. Now it’s time for the simplest, yet often most difficult step.
Step 5 is all about repeating steps 2-4 as often as necessary to maintain your feeling of control over your email.
For some people, “as often as necessary” might be every hour. For others it might be daily or weekly.
Hourly would probably be too frequently. It would give your inbox a lot of control over you.
Personally, I like to get to inbox ZERO weekly. Start there and see how it goes. Pick a day of the week on which you’ll go through Steps 1-4 and get all of your inboxes to ZERO.
For a lot of people I work with, the best time to do this is late morning on the last working day of the week. It gives them time to follow up on things before they wrap up everything for the week.
The nice thing about getting to inbox ZERO weekly is that it allows your week to get messy. Because life is just that sometimes, messy. It allows things to get a little out of control, which is ok because you KNOW that by the end of the week, you’ll get things back to good.
Make this an appointment on your calendar and honor it. Mine is set for 9:30am every Friday. I get all my inboxes to zero, get my desk cleared off and update my projects and tasks lists (among other things). This time on Fridays is a critical part of the work+life productivity system I have built for myself.
That’s it. Those are the 5 steps.
It can be easy to unintentionally create a life of stress and email can be a major contributor to that. However, you don’t always have as much to DO as it sometimes feels like you do. You just don’t have a system to manage it all, which leads to the overwhelm feeling.
Getting to inbox ZERO isn’t about DOING all of things you need to do. It’s about understanding what’s on your plate and deciding what you want to be spending your time and energy on.
Let’s hear one last time from Scroll Monster:
“This is something I didn’t know I needed and now that I have it, I can’t believe I was operating how I was operating before. For 10 years of my career I was somehow functioning like this. And now, life and work feel so much more manageable.”
It just takes 5 steps to create this feeling for yourself.
- Toss all emails that are 3-6 months old into an ARCHIVE folder
- Say bye-bye to the stuff that clutters your inbox by UNSUBSCRIBING and DELETING marketing emails you don’t want, newsletters you don’t read, etc
- Take time to CLARIFY what remains by figuring out what action is required and adding that to your task list
- Once you know what the action is for an email and add that to your task list you can HOUSE IT by putting it into a folder for future reference
- Create time in your life to regularly repeat these steps so you can get your inbox to ZERO at least once per week
If you follow these 5 Steps to Inbox ZERO you can be just like my client formerly known as Scroll Monster and have YOUR life and work feel more manageable. YOU will have the peaceful productivity feeling.
It’s quite impressive how many business owners I encounter who are terribly frustrated by their team and just don’t know what to do.
“They just aren’t creating any results!”
“They just aren’t getting stuff done.”
“We missed our goals. Again.”
And then I ask them about expectations. As in “What kind of expectations have you set for them?”
The answer I usually get? “What do you mean? I mean, they know what they are supposed to be doing.”
And I push, “OK, but you tell me what they are supposed to be doing.”
And they tell me.
And then I say, “And have you told them that?”
The response? “Well, no. But they know what they are supposed to be doing.”
That’s not fair. It’s not fair for you to keep score in your head and get increasingly frustrated when they don’t deliver.
It’s not fair to ask someone to play a game with you and not tell them the rules.
What are the rules? Well, it varies for every business, but some basics:
Your mission: “This is WHY we all get out of bed every day and why our clients care that we show up.”
Your values: “This is HOW we do things around here. We don’t violate any of these, no matter what.”
You goals: “Here is WHAT I expect you to DO every day/week/month/quarter. These are the activities that lead to success. We can’t control the results, but was can control the activities. DO these activities consistently and we’ll get to our goals.”
Give people everything they need to succeed. Give them the rules of the game. It’s only fair.