A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the category “Prioritizing”

Paradigm Shifter #48 – Identify your life’s purpose

Paradigm Shift

You will always leave a legacy – whether you intend to or not. To intentionally leave a legacy, you must identify and act boldly based on your life’s PURPOSE.

This advice is perennial: success requires that you understand why you are here…at this time…in this place…with these specific talents.  Your legacy is, therefore, the result of the interplay between your internal talents and the external circumstances that create the fabric of your life.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that this unique amalgamation is random or dictated by a higher power. What matters is that you identify for yourself the “why’s” of your life.

But it is often much easier said than done.

Boldly asserting your life’s “purpose” can be frightening:

  • Will I become so focused on a single goal that I miss out on all the other things that life has to offer?
  • Is it egotistical to believe that I am here for an important reason that can impact society – or even a small portion of it?
  • What if I want to achieve this purpose so badly and commit so many resources to it…then don’t achieve it?

Whether expressed out loud or just simmering in our subconscious, these fears powerfully sabotage our ability to really achieve success on our own terms.

The fear of “missing out”

I am adamantly against the idea that anyone can “have it all” – but I just as adamantly support that you can have what you want.

Several years ago, I was the keynote speaker at a university’s conference on women. My topic focused on transcending the guilt-inducing societal edict that we can – and should! – “have it all.”  Instead, I recommended that we focus on our personal priorities in order to achieve what’s most important to us.

While many of the women agreed with me, I was astounded at the anger and vehemence of a few of the women. In fact, one attendee said that the topic should have been that “Geri Puleo has it all.”

Why did this well-meant advice create such astonishingly diverse reactions?

Having the courage – and, yes, it takes courage – to proclaim what we want and then act accordingly holds a mirror up to our lives. Our actions reflect our priorities even if we profess something entirely different.

Realizing that we can’t “have it all” but that we can “have what we want” is profoundly life-changing.  It takes away the guilt if we don’t try to do everything…for everybody…but often not for ourselves.

This insight also might lead us to take actions that will upset or hurt other people because we may need to say “no” to their requests in order to say “yes” to what we need to do in order to achieve our life’s purpose.

But when we live our lives based on what we believe is our guiding PURPOSE to be here at this time, in this place, and with our unique talents, then saying “no” becomes much easier.

And the people who truly support us – our “tribe” – will embrace us along our journey.

The so-called “egotism” of a higher calling

When we finally muster the courage to define what we want (our life’s purpose) and decide to go for it, we must also let go of that which does not support that purpose.

And when that involves letting go of (or at least distancing ourselves from) certain people, it is far too common for them to demean us in order to assuage their feelings of rejection.

So they call us egotistical. A dreamer.  Unrealistic.  Even a braggart.

Striving for a higher goal, a noble purpose, is life-affirming – even if those who are currently around us try to belittle our ambitions.

Again, it takes courage to live based on a rock solid belief in the PURPOSE of our lives.  This has the effect of propelling us toward people who also live their lives based on a higher calling.

We generally are not “discarding” the people who are currently in our lives (but don’t necessarily support us). Instead we are shifting our relationships with them on a continuum traversing friends who have moved to the periphery of our relationships to those who are toxic and thus no longer a part of our lives.

But, even more importantly, living our lives based on PURPOSE makes us much more compassionate and empathetic toward others. In fact, we tend to be more open and give more of ourselves to those who also want to make a difference – and the probability of supportive reciprocation is vastly increased.

Defining the difference that we want to make – whether it is on a small familial level or on the greater world stage of society – is the essence of identifying the unique purpose of our individual lives.

And there is no egotism in wanting to achieve something that ultimately helps others.

The fear of failure

I really don’t believe that there is an objective difference between a “winner” and a “loser.” The truth as to who “wins” and who “loses” rests solely in the eye of the beholder.

Life is a journey. Anyone who has achieved greatness has also had the gnawing fear of “what’s next” and “how do I top this?”  You still have a life to live after you achieve the goal that you defined as identifying you as a “winner.”

Because life is a journey, living with PURPOSE creates a better sense of balance. Goals become benchmarks on the path to creating an intentional legacy.  If a particular tactic doesn’t achieve a goal related to the overall purpose of your life, then it is much easier to adapt and shift.

The biggest fear comes from not achieving the scope of your life’s purpose.  Maybe you won’t save the world, but your daily actions aligned with your purpose will undoubtedly create small successes and even joy.

There will be challenges, but your journey toward actualizing your PURPOSE will also be energizing and enjoyable – something that you don’t want to “miss out” on. When your purpose is based on a higher noble goal, it is the antithesis of egotism.  And, finally, recognizing that “failure” is really an opportunity to learn creates curiosity and commitment.

Living in alignment with the PURPOSE of your life transcends the siren call of society’s more mundane definition of “success.” Rather than living with fear and second-guessing, a life lived with purpose is a life well lived and produces a sustainable, intentional legacy.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert whose goal is to eradicate burnout from the workplace. She is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.

The Tiny Little Word That Stops Burnout

Words hurt or healNo one would argue that words can be very powerful.  Not only do they convey our feelings and beliefs, but they can also motivate or demotivate not only ourselves but also others around us.

But a strange phenomenon sometimes happens when we talk to ourselves.

While self-talk can be used as a way to empower and motivate ourselves to go after that which we want in life, it is an empowering way of talking to ourselves that (for some equally strange reason) must often be learned.

In sharp contrast is the negative self-talk that operates unconsciously deep in our psyches. This endless loop of guilt, condemnation, resentment, and anger is a powerful influence on the actions we take (or don’t take), as well as our feelings about the resulting outcomes (either positive or negative).

Ironically, the types of comments and opinions that would enrage us if said to us by someone else are often repeated in our private negative self-talk loops. Although frequently not acknowledged in our conscious minds, these comments continue unabated as absolute truths as to who we are, what we do, and what we want.

While we can learn to ignore unwarranted criticism from others, our unconscious negative self-talk is even more damaging to our psyches. Why? Because the reality that we experience is colored by our perceptions – if our self-talk is negative, then our perception of the world and our role within it will also be negative.

More powerful than the words spoken to us by others, negative self-talk internally motivates us to act in either proactive or reactive ways. As Earl Nightingale said, “We are what we think about.”  But the behavioral impact of our words is often ignored, diminished, or accepted as undeniable truths that define who we are even if it is not who we want to be.

Consider these examples:

  • We tell ourselves what we should do (even though it might not even be something that we are interested in doing) – then berate ourselves when we don’t do it.
  • We second-guess our choices and decisions – then imagine a more perfect world if we had taken another course of action.
  • We “make nice” by doing things that we really don’t want to do (or even have the time to do) – then feel guilty or angry because we have no time to do the things that we really want to do.
  • We take on too many responsibilities as well as the problems of others – then wonder why we are so exhausted and burned out.

The more negative our self-talk, the more harshly we judge the difference that we perceive between where we are and where we want to be (or where we told ourselves we should have been). The damage to our psyches can be chronic, acute, and difficult to overcome.

Our negative self-talk is a powerful contributor to not only burning out, but also to staying burned out.

The One Syllable Mantra to Combat Burnout

The negative self-talk specifically associated with burnout focuses on four issues:

  1. The difference between our expectations and our perceptions of the current reality
  2. Anger, guilt, and self-doubt associated with the “should’s” of perfectionism
  3. Our attempts to change or blame others (often to overcome our feelings of being victimized)
  4. Ineffective attempts to deny our frustration, anger, and apathy associated with being burned out

Because these negative self-talk loops frequently exist on the subconscious level, we must actively attempt to bring them to the conscious level – their power over us grows in proportion to our attempts to ignore them.

But, once these statements are expressed, we are rightly shocked by the venom in the words that we have used to identify and define ourselves.

By acknowledging and verbalizing these negative subconscious judgments, we can consciously begin to exchange them for proactive alternatives: words expressing acceptance, kindness, and compassion toward ourselves.

But how do we start?

By saying one tiny little word every time our negative self-talk rears its ugly head: “NO.”

  • Say “NO” to condemning ourselves if our current situation is not what we had expected. Instead, replace it by accepting that what we previously wanted has changed OR that our mistakes have simply shown us what didn’t work (thus giving us a new launching point for future action).
  • Say “NO” to the unrelenting “should’s” of perfectionism. Instead, replace it by acknowledging that we are doing the best that we can with the resources that we have OR that our goals may have been unrealistic given the circumstances (thus helping us to better learn how to set realistic yet inspirational stretch goals).
  • Say “NO” to misguided attempts at trying to change others. Instead, replace it by remembering that we only have the responsibility to change ourselves OR by being grateful for the positive qualities of those who we are trying to change (no matter how badly they treated us, every human being has something about them that is positive).
  • Say “NO” to our barely controlled feelings of burnout-related frustration, anger, and apathy. Instead, replace it by finding safe ways to express, vent, and release these feelings AND develop new phrases that are proactive and nurturing.

Saying “NO” to our negative self-talk is both an acknowledgement and a choice. Saying “NO” helps us to reclaim our power. Saying “NO” can truly be a positive expression of our own self-worth.

“NO” is one of the tiniest words in the English language – yet our ability to say “NO” to negative self-talk can transform our lives. Saying “NO” enables us to say “YES” to being kind to ourselves. Isn’t it time that we start treating ourselves the way that we would want others to treat us?

P.S.:  To learn more about the self-talk of burnout, please watch my mini-webinar by clicking here.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #32: When you say “yes” to one thing, you have to say “no” to something else

Paradigm ShiftOne of the most important paradigm shifts that I have ever made is related to the idea that we can “have it all.”  What I’ve discovered is…we can’t.

Whenever we say “yes” to one thing, we simply have to say “no” to something else.

If we don’t, we are over-extending our resources – physically, emotionally, mentally, and even financially.  As a result, we are much more likely to be unhappy and burned out.

This idea of saying “no” to something because we have already said “yes” to something else is nothing new.  There are many things in life that inherently require us to say “no” to people, activities, or belief systems that are not aligned with what we want.  For example:

  • When we say “yes” to getting married, we (hopefully) say “no” to dating other people.
  • When we say “yes” to losing weight, we say “no” to decadent desserts.
  • When we say “yes” to going back to school, we will find many times when we have to say “no” to going out with friends or having our weekends “free.”
  • When we say “yes” to purchasing a large ticket item, we usually also need to say “no” to spending money on unnecessary “splurges.”
  • When we say “yes” to living a well-balanced life, we have to say “no” to anyone or anything that contributes to a sense of imbalance or dissatisfaction.

It’s all about our priorities.  There are only a limited number of hours in each day.  Each of us has different biorhythms that reflect our “peak” times for getting work done.  We also have a very real, unconditional need for restful sleep so that we can recharge for the coming day.

This balance of work and rest has to be completed every 24 hours each and every day.

In other words, we can’t (and shouldn’t) over-extend ourselves by trying to “do it all.”

By living our priorities, it is much easier to say “yes” to the things that really matter to us – those things that reflect what we want, who we are, and what we believe in.

Saying “Yes” to Everything Actually Means Saying “Maybe” to Most Things

The realization that we can’t “do it all” often invokes fear in many of us.  But fear is not the problem that prevents us from “doing it all.”  The real problem lies in our unrealistic expectations of what we are humanly capable of doing.

High standards are great.  But we can’t – and shouldn’t – try to be superhumans by saying “yes” to everything that comes our way in our personal and professional lives.

By saying “yes” to everything, we are unable to commit fully to any of the things that we said “yes” to.  When we are over-extended, it is highly unlikely that we will sufficiently follow through with any of these commitments.

Life is full of trade-offs.  Living a more well-balanced life is a choice.  It requires us to recognize, respect, and adapt to the fact that we can’t “do it all” and (probably more importantly) don’t try to “do it all.”  Although we can do a lot of things well – we can’t (and shouldn’t) strive for “perfection” in every aspect of our lives.

By saying “yes” to everything, we are actually saying “maybe” to most things.  Instead of being able to commit to excellence in the things that we choose to say “yes” to, we actually commit to mediocrity because our energy and resources are stretched to their limits.  Instead of creating excellence, we succumb to mediocrity by our inability to say “no” to the things that conflict with our priorities.

The power and courage necessary to determine what we choose to say “yes” to comes from identifying and committing to the priorities that are important to us.  It then becomes much easier to say “no” to anything that conflicts with our self-identified priorities.

Saying “no” doesn’t mean that we are “missing out” or short-changing ourselves.  Paradoxically, the more comfortable we are in saying “no” to things, ideas, and people that do not reflect our priorities, the richer, fuller, and more satisfying our lives ultimately become.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

The Impossibility of “Giving 110%”

MultitaskingIn today’s fast-paced world, we are constantly being told to “give 110%”.  The result (so we are told) is that we will lead a satisfying life in which we enthusiastically say “yes” to all that life has to offer.

It’s a great concept, but it is actually more of a prescription for burnout.

While I firmly believe that it is important to be focused on completing the necessary tasks required to achieve the goals that we want, trying to give more than what is humanly and mathematically possible (i.e., anything over 100%) is misguided.

What’s worse than being told by our managers to “give 110%” is when these expectations are self-imposed – and extend beyond business to all other aspects of our lives.  Because giving more than 100% is impossible, not only are we burned out but we are also exhausted and more likely to fail.

I’ve discovered that “giving 110%” usually involves buying into three specific (but misguided) paradigms:

  1. “Giving 110%” requires multi-tasking and multi-tasking is necessary to achieve success.
  2. “Giving 110%” demonstrates the extent of our passion and commitment.
  3. “Giving 110%” views our brains and bodies as inexhaustible resources.

Multi-Tasking Can Sabotage Success

“Giving 110%” is closely related to multi-tasking – which has become an inaccurate catch-all phrase for “efficiency.”  The sad truth, however, is that multi-tasking works best for tasks that require manual repetition.

But many of us work in situations that require judgment.  These higher-level situations require creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and decision-making.  Multi-tasking these types of activities actually undermines our efforts – making us less efficient and even less effective.

We are the most effective when we commit completely to an activity in the moment – whether is is completing a task, helping a friend, or even taking time for ourselves.  This concept of mindfulness (or being present in the moment) means no cell phones, no social media, no television, and no activities that deflect our attention from the task at hand.

Instead of multi-tasking, perhaps we should focus more on single-tasking in order to succeed.

“Giving 110%” Can Also Sabotage Our Passion and Commitment

“Giving 110%” is often viewed as the equivalent of wholeheartedly saying “yes” to something or someone.  Such a “yes” is something that many of us want – from others and ourselves.

There is no better reinforcement of our estimation of the other person’s worth to us than when we focus intently on them and their needs.  Similarly, there is no better reinforcement of our worth to the other person than when we focus intently on the task that they have requested us to do.  In both cases, we are choosing to focus (or single-task) on helping them.

But vowing to “give 110%” to another person’s requests requires going beyond our innately human capabities and limitations.  Not only can it create burnout, but it can also potentially ignite resentment toward the person demanding that we “give 110%.”

When we are angry and resentful, it is difficult (if not impossible) for us to retain our initial levels of passion and commitment to the task.

Sleep Is a Sacred Act of Renewal

Our brains and bodies are miraculous in their ability to process a vast array of our conscious thoughts as well as those simultaneous autonomic responses that keep us alive:  heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc.  With all this expended effort and energy, it is crucial to our physiological and psychological health that we take time for renewal.

Unfortunately, sleep (or the lack thereof) is often the first indication that our attempts to “give 110%” have depleted our resources.  Sleep disturbances and insomnia make it impossible for our brains and our bodies to replenish.

Sleep is sacred, sacrosanct, and critical for human survival.  Without sleep to renew us, we cannot even begin to take the necessary steps to succeed.

In business, we all know that if our expenses (what we give out) are 110% of our income (what we take in), then we will run a deficit and face potential bankruptcy.  Why can we understand this simple mathematical concept when it comes to money…but ignore it when it comes our people?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #40: You can’t do it all (so don’t apologize)

Paradigm ShiftDoes “having it all” necessary mean “doing it all?”

In today’s fast-paced, chaotic world, we’ve developed a strong tendency to “go for the gold” in everything that we do.  While excellence is a worthwhile goal, I’ve come to believe that we can’t necessarily be “the best” at everything that we do.

The problem is that we apologize for our perceived lack of “perfection” and forget to relish those things that we actually do well.

Another problem is that there are only 24 hours in a day – and we have to sleep at least some of those hours.  But few of us get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night, so our energy falters even though we insist on continuing to do “everything.” The result is higher stress and an even more insurmountable “to do” list.

Why do many high achievers believe that it is imperative that we “do it all?”

Even more important:  why do so many high achievers apologize when we CAN’T “do it all?”

Delving into a sociological and psychological study into this problem is far beyond the scope of this article.  However, creating a new way to work requires that we prioritize what’s important to us.  When everything is important, then nothing is really important.

The simple truth (albeit a hard one for many of us to accept) is that we can’t “do it all.”  But we can do the important things well.   These important things represent our true priorities.  “Doing it all” inherently draws us off course as we attempt to also do the unimportant things in our lives.

“Unimportant,” however, doesn’t mean “unnecessary.”  Unimportant tasks are those activities that might need to be done – but don’t necessarily have to be done by us.

Therein lies the challenge:  when we admit that a task that we have traditionally accomplished can be done by someone else, it often causes our ego to question our “value.”  Nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace.

  • Managers who believe that they have to “do it all” are micromanagers that are rarely appreciated (or respected) by their subordinates.
  • Employees who try to “do it all” generally tend to miss deadlines because their focus is shifted to the unimportant, lower priority tasks.
  • Trying to “do it all” simultaneously at work and at home is a recipe for job dissatisfaction, relationship problems, and burnout.

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned is to accept the fact that I am a human – not a superhero who doesn’t need sleep, rest, and relaxation.  It also means that I can’t do everything “perfectly.”

But admitting that I can’t do it all was and, to a certain extent, continues to be a challenge.

The problem is that trying to do it all leads to feelings of being overwhelmed.  Failing in our attempts to do it all leads to frustration and a diminished sense of self-worth.  Yet we continue in our misguided efforts to go beyond our very human limitations.

The cure for trying to “do it all” is to prioritize what’s important to us – and then have the courage to focus our efforts on these important activities.  It means being able to say “no.”  It also means being sufficiently confident of our own unique value so that we can feel comfortable delegating the unimportant but necessary tasks to others.

Finally, it means that we need to stop apologizing when we can’t “do it all.”

Accepting that not only we personally but also everyone else CAN’T “do it all” changes our perspectives of what is important, what is feasible, and what is just additional “stuff” that has little if any true importance.

As corporate leaders, managers, and employees, this new perspective can radically change the work environment and reduce burnout.  Understanding that we can’t “do it all” might be the first step in creating a new, more productive, and more enjoyable way to work.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #25: Determine how badly you want it

Paradigm ShiftThere is a huge difference between living proactively vs. reactively.  Living proactively means knowing what I want, why I want it, and the specific sacrifices that I must make in order to achieve it.  Living reactively means bouncing from goal to goal, idea to idea, person to person, or thing to thing.

Living reactively never satisfactorily answers the fundamental question, “How badly do I want it?”

Depending on the goal, we’ve all lived both ways.

Resources are finite – whether it is the amount of time, money, energy, or will power.  The only way that we will gladly and purposefully commit to achieving something is when we choose to spend these limited resources on the things that matter most to us.

We can’t be all things to all people nor can we possibly do everything.  The amount of commitment and level of sacrifice that we are willing to exert is directly related to how badly we want something.

“Things” do not necessarily mean tangible items or symbols of status.  In fact, many of the most important “things” are intangible – things like love, respect, or making a difference.

A basic tent of Buddhism states that life is suffering.  But rather than this being a depressing edict that negates our very existence, accepting that suffering is a natural part of life can actually be very freeing.  In fact, it can help us avoid turning mere “bumps” in the road into cataclysms that throw us off course and derail our progress.

If we want something (whatever it may be) badly enough, then we can transform any roadblocks into surmountable challenges that educate and inspire us.  Our view of obstacles is thus directly related to the importance, value, and desirability of whatever it is that we say that we want.

But if we don’t want something badly enough, then we tend to rationalize obstacles as heavenly interventions telling us not to continue toward what we say is a worthwhile goal.  Far too often, we quit when we should have moved forward.

We are all human beings, but the things that we want are vastly different.  One person’s goal is neither better nor worse than someone else’s.  It takes all these different individual goals to create the synergies necessary to move both the world and society forward.

We can’t do it all – nor should we.

But we can and should determine what is important to us…and why.

Only then can we persevere to creatively find solutions to what appear to be insurmountable obstacles.  We are more willing to reflect on what is happening so that we can best determine whether to stay the course, modify our road map, or totally transform what we’ve been doing.

It takes courage to boldly state just how badly we want something.  We will be questioned or even belittled and ridiculed – it’s part of the journey.  We may also find that we need to change our personal networks in order to move forward – while hurtful and sad, it too is part of the journey.

But we won’t do what is necessary unless we believe that what we desire is valuable and even noble.  It takes courage not only to express it, but also to act upon it.

If you’re not achieving something that you say that you want, do you really want it badly enough?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #35: Single-tasking is better than multi-tasking

Paradigm Shift“There’s too much to do!!!  Do more with less!!!  Don’t waste time!!!”  These are caveats by which many of us live our lives.

For greater efficiency and financial profitability, many companies now expect their human resources to be able to multi-task in ways that are comparable to the feats made possible by artificial intelligence.

Instead of harnessing technology, it has instead become our 24/7/365 master.  We tend to expect that we can accomplish multiple tasks not just simultaneously, but also at the speed of our computers and mobile devices.  If not, we think that there must be a problem with us.

But the real problem is that many of us ignore the needs and limitations of being human.  We are not wired like computers.  We are not programmable robots.  And that is ultimately a very good thing.

The drive to not only do more with less but also to do it faster is fertile ground for our misguided attempts at multi-tasking.  The primary issue is that there is often very little consideration of the nature of the tasks themselves when we multi-task:  each task is simply a line item on our ever-increasing “To Do” lists.

Recent studies have shown that interruptions (either by others or self-imposed through the process of multi-tasking) actually interfere with our ability to concentrate and ultimately slow down our progress.  In other words, we actually waste time when we try to do too much because our brains need time to re-group in order to “pick up where we left off.”

Any “time savings” or efficiencies achieved from simultaneously working on tasks that involve critical thinking or creativity are thus undermined by the reduced quality or effectiveness of our completion of each task.

So, if the tasks require critical thinking, creativity, decision making, and/or learning, then we shouldn’t multi-task!

There a few other things that I’ve noticed about multi-tasking:

  • Multi-tasking destroys mindfulness.  We’re not totally “present” in anything that we’re doing because we are trying to simultaneously compartmentalize and control competing thoughts and goals.  The likelihood of breakthrough, “a ha!” moments is severely limited.
  • We overlook some of the most important concepts or aspects of our tasks.  Because we’re not present in the moment (i.e., fully concentrating), we tend to skim over documents or conversations.  Then we berate ourselves for missing the “obvious.”
  • We also miss the important nuances.  Since both the devil and the serendipitous discoveries are found in the details, we lose the opportunity to notice either.
  • Finally, multi-tasking tends to draw out projects beyond the time that they should reasonably take to complete.  We have a false sense of accomplishment because we completed 25% of five different projects even though we haven’t 100% completed any of them!

However, there is one type of multi-tasking that I believe can be very effective.  Multi-tasking via technology works precisely because it isn’t really multi-tasking.  Instead, it is actually a form of technological delegation.  The “grunt work” is done by technology, leaving us free to concentrate, analyze, ponder, and use our creativity to solve higher level, more complex problems.

In my own life, single-tasking actually increases my productivity in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness.  Maybe that’s because I’m fully focused and using all of my resources to get something 100% done.  By saying “yes” to this particular project or task, I can more readily say “no” to other competing interests.

What about you:  is your multi-tasking propelling you toward the goals that you want to achieve OR is it undermining your path to success?

  • Look at your past history.  How effective have you really been when you tried to do too many things at the same time?
  • Which of your key projects have you actually completed?  Did the completed projects meet your expected standards?
  • How many other projects have “fallen through the cracks” because your attention was focused elsewhere?
  • Have any 6-month projects turned into 5-year odysseys?
  • Of the projects that are still partially completed, how much time would it actually take to finally check this project off your “To Do” list?
  • Are you willing to at least try single-tasking and see what happens?

While everybody works differently, it is critical that we understand and appreciate the most conducive environment and tools needed for us to do our best work.  Single-tasking requires prioritizing what is important – then taking the time to focus on completing the task at hand.

Although it’s against the “norm” of our multi-tasking society, maybe it’s time to be a maverick and try single-tasking in order to achieve the goals and success that we really want.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Curiosity, Thinking Outside the Box…and Noticing

CuriosityIn my consulting practice, keynotes, and training sessions, I have consistently recommended that business professionals need to become more curious.  In fact, I often recommend a megadose of curiosity in order to solve problems and make better informed decisions.

Obviously, curiosity is essential to being creative – which is closely related to the ability to “think outside the box.”

Curious, creative people tend to ask more questions, investigate more thoroughly, and are not afraid to “play” in order to come up with new ideas, innovations, and solutions.

Then why do so many creative people fail to turn their dreams into reality?  Are we focusing on the wrong things?

Recently, I began reading a fascinating book, The Power of Noticing by Max Bazerman.  While we’ve all been encouraged to analyze the internal and external factors that can contribute to the success or failure of any given action, the idea of simply noticing is often overlooked in decision making.

As a university professor, I’m often amazed at how many of my colleagues are fantastic at delving into minute details – but missing the “big picture.”  In academia and business, many people unfortunately remain in their area of expertise and ignore anything that is not related to their field of interest.

In other words, many people “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Although specialization has long been an important consideration for a job-related promotion, there has been an urgent need for business professionals to also have at least a rudimentary understanding of how their particular job fits in with all the other jobs in the organization.

There is a tendency to become complacent when it is assumed that we already know the key factors in a situation – at least in terms of how they relate to us.  In our minds, it is just logical that we focus on those important elements and ignore the rest – somebody else will focus on them, right?

The current trend is toward harnessing “big data.”  As I’ve noted in many of my blog posts, “big data” is critical in business and can be a powerful tool to help move a company up to the next level – but it is only part of the picture.  Focusing exclusively on the “data” (without noticing any factors outside that data) skews both the information and ultimate decisions arising from that data.

Bazerman’s book addresses these issues head on and challenges us to actively notice what is going on around us.  The book, however, is not a fluffy, “here’s how to heal your relationships” kind of book.  Instead, it looks at major failures that led to loss of revenue, reputation, and, more importantly, loss of life (such as in 9/11 and the Challenger space shuttle disaster).

If we don’t notice, then we are bombarded with “predictable surprises” – situations that we did not expect…but should have if we had only taken the time to notice.  In other words, “hindsight is 20/20.”

The goal, of course, is to help our foresight (not just our hindsight) become 20/20.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Noticing Forces Us to Challenge Our Assumptions

We all have blind spots in how we take in and observe information – it’s part of the way our brains are wired.  This short, classic video simply asks you to count the number of passes made by the basketball team in white.

Here’s another example from a “real life” experiment:

If you watched these two videos, then you might have been surprised at something so “obvious” that you didn’t notice.

Thinking inside the box means that we are following the instructions given to us.  We’ve been taught to block out anything that is not related to the subject or object of our focus because it is “irrelevant.”  But this tunnel vision actually skews our ability to see what is really happening.

Noticing, therefore, is more than just observing.  I agree with Bazerman that the ability to really notice is often underrepresented in modern business.  Whether we ignore these insights from ignorance, arrogance, or a focus on the bottom line is debatable.  But what is not debatable is that not noticing can lead to horrific consequences that could have been avoided.

  • How aware are you really of what is going on around you?
  • Do you notice certain things – then dismiss them because you assume that they are not relevant to you?
  • What assumptions are skewing your ability to be curious and notice?
  • Isn’t it time for you to take the notes of the signs that you might have been missing?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #2: Live your life by YOUR priorities

Paradigm ShiftA few weeks ago, I posted Paradigm Shifter #30:  Believe what people do (not what they say)In that post, I mentioned that people’s actions are the only true reflection of their real priorities.  It’s just as true a reflection of you.

Today’s hyperactive pace often leads to many of us doing things because we think that we have to – even if they aren’t necessarily aligned with what we say is important to us.  But actions do speak louder than words.

Priorities are not the mind-numbing “to do” lists.  Nor are they the “have to’s” that other people demand of us.

Instead, priorities reflect our values, beliefs, and (when acted upon) our dreams, goals, and aspirations. Life is short and, without priorities, we tend to flounder and may never attain whatever it is that we deeply want.

When I was 27 years old, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Two months later, Nana (my grandmother who lived with my family from the time I was a little girl) died.  Fifteen months later, my mother succumbed to cancer; she was not even 60 years old.

Because I didn’t have children, I knew then at the age of 28 that I was the final link in the lineage from my grandmother to my mother to me – and, from a generational perspective, I was “next.”  I faced these losses by making a concrete vow to NOT reach the end of my life saying, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

This epiphany was a momentous turning point for me.  Too often we believe that we are invincible…that there is always a tomorrow.  While some people believe that this is the prescription for frenetic activity, I instead believed that workaholism (that compulsive commitment to work which is rampant in entrepreneurs) was not the answer.  (Ironically, many years later, I discovered that workaholism is actually one of many false cures used in attempts to overcome burnout.)

Life is many-faceted – all of which are clamoring for our attention.  We have the opportunity to choose at any given moment what is a priority and consequently on what we will focus our attention.

It was inevitable that my change in perception came with a major shift in priorities:

  • I chose not to be the workaholic business owner who never had time for friends or family.
  • But I also did not want to be unsuccessful in my business because I was too focused on “saving” the people in my life – even if they didn’t want to be “saved.”
  • I recognized that there usually always is another day – but that each moment is precious and should not be squandered.
  • What I choose to spend my time on in any given moment is a blatant reflection of what is important to me at that time.
  • Furthermore, if everything is important, then nothing is truly a priority – prioritization necessarily characterizes some things as more important than others.
  • Finally, the unique way in which we balance all these activities and situations is reflective of what we truly believe is important and worthwhile.

I would love to say that this perceptual shift was met with great enthusiasm and support by those around me.  It wasn’t.  Probably because when you say “yes” to one thing, you inevitably have to say “no” to something (or someone) else.

Because people change, it also means that people’s priorities will also change.  Sometimes they will still be in sync, but, other times, they may actually be counterproductive.

It takes courage to define exactly what it is that you want in your life…but it is only the first step.  The much more difficult challenge is to choose on what you will spend your time:  minute by minute, hour by hour, week by week, year by year.

A basic law of physics states that nothing is motionless:  so if you’re not moving forward, then you’re moving backward.  The biggest regrets that I’ve observed in family, friends, colleagues, and clients relate to never finding the time to do what it is that they say they really want to do.

Although it sounds cliché, we can’t please everyone – but, at the end of the day, we can please ourselves.

Living your life by your own priorities and having the courage to ensure that your actions align with those priorities is not selfish.  In fact, I’ve found that we are much better people to be around when we are genuinely happy with what we are doing in our lives.  In my own life, just a few of the times that I went against the advice of well-meaning friends and family in relation to my career include:

  • Going back to graduate school for two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. when many of my friends were looking to scale back toward retirement.  (One of the best decisions I ever made.)
  • Quitting a full-time faculty job due to an abusive dean when many people told me to “quit caring, do the bare minimum, and collect the paycheck.”  (To me, this was simply hypocritical and contradicted my deeply held beliefs about healthy human resources, effective workplaces and, of course, the important relationship between a professor and his/her students.)
  • Proselytizing the concept of humanism in the workplace at a time when many of my colleagues deemed this as naïve because “business is about bottom line results and not employees.”  (Glad to say that there is an increasingly large body of research to support the relationship between human resources and corporate sustainability.)

Earl Nightingale is often quoted as saying, “You are what you think about.”  What you think about is the catalyst for what you will act upon.  And what you act upon reflects your innermost decisions about what you believe is important in every moment.

Living your life by the priorities that you set for yourself is not just a guarantee that you will continue moving forward (despite the obstacles) on your path to the goal.  The added bonus?  The chance for regrets about “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is almost nil.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #19: Creativity and implementation are NOT mutually exclusive – success requires both

Paradigm ShiftEmployers place a high premium on creativity in their workers.  Learning to “think outside the box” is a critical skill to successfully compete in today’s constantly changing market and workplace.  But it takes more than great ideas to be successful.

Success – today and in the past – requires not only creativity, but also follow-up and implementation to convert an intangible idea into a tangible innovation.

Having owned my own businesses for over 25 years, I’ve found that coming up with new products and services is relatively easy – in fact, it’s downright fun.

However, my experiences have also taught me that it takes analysis, critical thinking, perseverance, determination, risk management, and simple hard work to manifest those ideas into something tangible.

The combined ability to not only create but also to implement requires a new approach to prioritizing, problem solving, and decision-making.  Success in today’s age of unrelenting change requires both.  For example:

  • You’re a key player in major brainstorming sessions regarding new product development – your ideas are great and everyone is inspired. But, when it comes time to do the hard, often monotonous work of actually manufacturing these products, you tend to walk away and delegate that “operational stuff” to the “non-creative types.”  If the products don’t go to market, it’s their fault for not being able to realize your ideas.
  • You’ve earned the reputation of being methodical, diligent, organized, and efficient – but you’re also known to be somewhat change resistant. Trying to incorporate new ideas into your established routines and processes tends to have a ripple effect that (in your mind) creates chaos.  Why try to fix something that isn’t broken (at least not yet)?
  • You’ve decided to really expand your business with several new product lines – all of which are so important that they need to be developed at once. You’re excited and energized, but after several months of trying to juggle wide-scale product development along with your routine tasks, you’re frustrated because you haven’t made significant progress on any of these products.  A year later, none of them is ready to go to market.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

Depending on the culture, some companies bestow kudos on the creative types for their vision and rule-breaking.  The “operational types” and analysts are considered to be less important to the company’s future than the visionaries.  Conversely, other companies rely so heavily on effective operations that they silence the “crazy” ideas from those “creative types.”  Being able to do what we say we can do is more important than “wasting” time trying to innovate within our companies, fields, or industries.

What I have learned is that, while status quo operations can leave us vulnerable and ill-prepared for a constantly changing environment, creativity without disciplined implementation is just a dream that never takes form.

Making the shift from an operational/managerial mindset to one that embraces creativity/leadership –and vice versa – can be a challenge.

The difficulty might be from the necessity of using both sides of our brains in interacting with our environments.  Another cause could be expectations of the organizations in which we have worked.  Yet another cause could be our own histories relating to the types of recognition that we have received.  Finally, society is somewhat intent upon “pigeon-holing” us:  you’re either a creator or a doer.

In today’s era of constant, unrelenting change, learning to feel comfortable with both creativity and implementation is a critical competency to finding a new way to work.  This powerful synergy of creating and doing is hard to duplicate.

Here are just a few tips to help you embrace the synergy of being able to create and implement:

  1. Identify your preferred style: First determine whether you tend to approach problem solving and decision making from a creative, “outside the box” perspective OR a linear, analytical approach.  This is both your starting point and your default style.
  2. If you tend to be more creative: Try to visualize the steps between where you are now and the culmination or realization of this new idea – not just a paper trail, but a colorful movie depicting the journey.  Be curious and use your creativity to peer into all the different routes that you could use to go from “here to there.”
  3. If you tend to be more analytical: Challenge yourself by asking, “what if?”  What would happen if you changed any of the assumptions or individual elements needed to achieve a goal?  Be fearless and use your linear thinking to mitigate risks by preparing for obstacles that are unforeseen on the surface.  Take pride in your ability to uncover those “hidden” obstacles and develop appropriate responses.
  4. Befriend someone who is your opposite: If you are a creative, make an effort to truly understand the thought processes of an analytic – and vice versa.  Remember that one approach is not superior to the other:  in fact, both are necessary to successfully compete in the modern workplace.
  5. Good news: the tools of creativity and implementation can be learned:  Regardless of your preferred style, each perspective can be understood as a set of tools used to prioritize activities, solve problems, and make decisions.  Balancing creativity with implementation results in visualization plus action – perhaps one of the most overlooked secrets to success.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

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