Why is it that productivity tips, tricks, and hacks are perennially captivating? We all seem to care about being productive, to a fault. Let's talk about being more productive by doing less. Here are seven things you should stop doing if you care about being productive.
Mark stopped abruptly. An innate warning commanded him to STOP. Moments later a bullet flew past his skull, so close, he felt the wind brush his hair. This commanding voice, of inner nature, had saved his life.
Mark is no ordinary man. He is Mark Divine, a 20-year veteran and former trainer of the Navy SEALs. His story of life-saving intuition is recounted in his Unbeatable Mind podcast. I was surprised to hear Mark’s sharing of the role intuitive and extrasensory training has had in the shaping of elite fighting forces.
I picture Navy SEALs and commandos as being driven by rationality, logic and strategic planning. The last thing I would expect to learn is that listening to gut feelings and intuition would have any meaningful role in their training. Mark shatters this assumption through his focus on awareness and intuition one of the “five mountains” of his SEALFit training method and in recounting how he was trained as a SEAL.
The military’s secret weapon
Mark Divine is not alone, Navy SEAL Mike Jaco has written a book on the topic called “Intuitive Warrior.” Jaco states, “By fine-tuning my intuition as a Navy SEAL, I was able to predict and avoid attacks to protect myself and my fellow soldiers.”
These are not two isolated cases. In 2011, the Navy funded a $4 million and 4-year long study into intuition, and it’s military application, slyly referred to as a study in “sensemaking”. In a job where one wrong step could mean life or death, I can see how greater sense perception can be worth its weight in gold. More than $4 million worth of gold for sure.
This is all about cultivating a broader sense of awareness for what is really happening, both externally and internally, with regards to a human observer. When awareness is broad, more data is captured and bias is removed. With a broader and unbiased data set, intuition can flourish as it flows in the background of our consciousness, making sense of all the data and bubbling up insights and ideas to guide our way forward.
Intuition and sensemaking in daily life
If the armed forces see value in the cultivation of intuitive and sensemaking powers, what is the relevance for those of us who are business owners, students, athletes or merely looking to get along more effectively in life? Let’s explore this idea.
Business owners could benefit from the enhanced understanding of the viability of a deal or investment. Not to mention the massive improvements to the quality of overall decision making.
Students could benefit from a better sense of how to communicate ideas and cross-pollinate thoughts when writing papers, in exams or engaging in class.
Athletes could better tune into and engage with their bodies in motion, the environment and other players on the field.
Working professionals could benefit from massively improved communication, listening and collaboration skills. As leadership can be defined as one’s capacity to communicate and create an engaged following, there is perhaps no superior way to be a stronger leader than to strengthen one’s sensitivity to what’s going on around them.
Improving your intuitive capability
“Intuition is a skill I believe that can be developed. Every one of us has it to some degree, but a lot of times we ignore it, or we deny it,”
Mark Divine, Navy SEAL Veteran, SEALFit Founder.
Step 1: Improving intuitive capacity is no different from improving any other sense or skill. The first step is to become aware that we all can make sense of the world around us in a more profound way. Logic and reason are vital, but never paint the full picture of what is happening around us or within us.
Step 2: The next step is to broaden one’s awareness of surroundings. Mindfulness meditative practice is one way to do it. Mindfulness can be cultivated when moving as well as stationary. Tune into inner signals and outer surroundings. Start noticing smells, sights, sounds, and feelings as you move. Turn off your smartphone and tune into the real world.
Step 3: The last step is to “keep score” of your intuitive signals. That is to say, begin listening to the more profound intuitive sense you already have, and notice what it is telling you. Intuition communicates in ways that are often subtle and feeling oriented (though in the case of Mark Divine, when his life was on the line, his intuitive warning to STOP was clear and abrupt). Are you able to correctly interpret your intuitive signals? Where is it spot-on? Where does it leave you confused? Where is it dead wrong? Keeping a journal of the intuitive signs and insights noticed can help.
Logic and reason are powerful capacities. However, it’s also important to harness latent intuitive power for the sake of making better choices. Intuition is no longer limited to the realms of mystics and seekers. It’s equally relevant to all of us who are looking to make our way in the world with less struggle and more success.
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Not all jobs last forever. Sometimes you need to decide when to call it quits. Other times, you need to stick with it. In this article I share five things to do if you are hitting a dead-end in your job.
Benjamin Spall joins me to discuss the magic of a morning routine. Benjamin is the co-founder of MyMorningRoutine.com, a site dedicated to the art and science of crafting the perfect start to your day. What started as a passion project, to catalogue the morning routines of the world’s most successful people, has resulted in a book deal with a major publisher. My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired is available starting May 2018!
The book features insights gleaned from hundreds of interviews with successful people about how they start their day. As part of the book project, dozens of more interviews were conducted, with CEOs, an Army General, Fitness Experts, Entrepreneurs and countless other people worth learning from. You will even see a quote from yours truly in the section about meditation!
Listen to the podcast as we discuss:
- Why morning routines are so important
- How a passion project resulted in a book deal with a major publisher
- The crazy morning routine of a retired US Army General
- Meditation as a life hack that more people should embrace
- …and much more!
Manoj Vasudevan joins me to discuss his experiences as a professional speaker and coach, fresh off his 2017 win at the World Championships of Public Speaking. We review the essential qualities of a successful speech, and how to ensure that your next talk will inspire and captivate your audience. Hint: it’s all about taking time to reflect on your audience and the messages that will resonate most with them.
Listen to the podcast as we discuss:
- Why empathy is the most critical success factor for a speaker
- How to be funny (like Jerry Seinfeld) by “glowing in the dark“
- The role of emotions in stirring audiences to action
- Three questions to answer as you prepare a presentation (before working on slides!)
- Why introverts are the best public speakers
…and much more!
View Manoj’s winning presentation at the 2017 World Championships of Public Speaking: “Pull Less, Bend More” on the power of being flexible in relationships.
More About Manoj:
Manoj Vasudevan is a renowned Next Level Leadership Expert, Management Consultant and Author who helps executives and professionals to get to the next level of their career and life. He has more than two decades of leadership experience with major multinational companies around the world.
He is the author of the international bestseller “Mastering Leadership The Mousetrap Way”. He is an MBA from Imperial College London and has coached C-level executives, celebrities, U.N. diplomats, entrepreneurs and professionals from 27 nationalities.
In 2012, he was among the Top 25 Stand-up comedians at the International Comedy Festival in Hong Kong.
In 2017, he was listed among the Top-50 professional speakers in the World by International Speakers Summit.
During the 2017 World Championship of Public Speaking held in Canada, he competed against 35,000 speakers from 142 countries and was crowned the World Champion of Public Speaking.
Jim Posner, Wall Street Trader turned Mindfulness Meditation Teacher joins me to discuss the value of meditation and his journey from a life of anxiety and stress to one of wellness and contribution. We speak about the benefits of meditation. We also go into his decision to transition from a stressful career on Wall Street to a meaningful career as a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher.
John Kabat-Zinn: Creator of MBSR (Mindful Based Stress Reduction) with an array of books worth checking out.
The Don’t Panic Project Podcast by Jim Posner. Podcast (and on YouTube) empowering people suffering from anxiety, stress, and depression. Check out interviews with Andy Weir (author of The Martian) and Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf.
Is an active mind a healthy mind? Most people or think so. However, it turns out that our mind, while powerful, mostly gets in the way of our struggles to live a fulfilled and satisfied life.
In this blog post I’ll discuss a different way of achieving big things in the world, a way predicated on thinking less (not more) and following an unconventional and less mentally taxing route to living up to your full potential.
The Full Potential Of Our Mind
A New York Times article by Dr. Moshe Bar, Professor of Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, cites a curious quality of the mind:
“Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.”
Note the final part of the statement: “…when our minds are clear.”
The jury is out on how many thoughts we have per day. The number 70,000 is tossed about online. It’s undoubtedly well into the thousands if my own experience is correct! It makes sense to me that all this mental noise can cover up the precious signal of insight and wisdom lurking down below.
If our minds are naturally innovative and creative, as Dr. Bar asserts, it’s worth better understanding what keeps us functioning this way most of the time. The impediment seems to be all that mental chatter going on upstairs. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the problem with our thinking.
The Problem With Our Thinking
We live in the feeling of our thinking, not as the world really is. This is true for everyone, all the time. It’s not a bad thing either. Thoughts carry all sorts of ideas and insights in their midst, that help us make our way in the world.
I’m happy that I get to think. It’s how I get to write these words. It’s how I get to plan my trips. It’s how I get to come up with all kinds of exciting games to play and adventures to pursue. You probably feel the same way. Your thoughts aren’t all that bad. In fact, it can feel kind of good to think!
However, what happens when you are stuck in a bad feeling? Someone cuts you off in traffic. Your boss passes you over for a promotion. A competitor beats you. Your cake comes out of the oven looking a little flat. Mental chatter amplifies and with it, a bad feeling arises that seems to last forever.
None of these external circumstances carry an inherently negative quality. The person cutting you off might be a surgeon rushing to save a patient’s life. The competitor might be the better athlete and more deserving. The flat-looking cake might still taste amazing. Still, we feel buffeted about by our feelings about the changing winds of an external world. This doesn’t pose a problem, until, well, we feel that it does.
The brain has a knack for amplifying the negative; therefore, we tend to overemphasize the less-than-positive thoughts which are felt as crummy feelings. We take our perceptions too seriously, instead of seeing them as merely the product of our personal thinking, which varies depending on who is the thinker and which side of the bed they woke up on!
As described by spiritual teacher Sydney Banks, in The Enlightened Gardener:
“Take that rose bush, for example. We are all looking at the same plant, but our perception of it varies according to the way we each think and see. One person may see a vigorous rose, another may see a rose that could benefit from a little pruning, and a third may see a mess that no amount of attention would save. The rose bush isn’t changing; it’s the way we personally perceive it that differs, the way each of us thinks that colors our perception.”
The truth is that it’s not the circumstances that create what we feel, be they positive or negative feelings, it’s our thinking about the circumstances that cast a spell. Spell? You might say it is magic or a curse, depending on the feeling that goes along with the thinking.
I’m spending so much time discussing the nature of our thinking, and how it runs our experience of life since this understanding is fundamental to sorting out how to make our way in the world more fruitfully. If our thoughts get us into trouble more often than not, wouldn’t it be logical to see that thinking less is a promising solution to our predicament?
How To Think Less
Let’s conduct an experiment: Try not to think about a what you are going to eat for your next meal. Don’t think about how good the food will taste, where you will eat it, who you will eat it with or what you will have for dessert!
How successful are you at not thinking about it?
What we push away grows stronger. Our thoughts are the same way. It’s not possible to force thinking to stop. I’ve never been able to do it, and I’ve wasted a lot of energy trying!
Instead of trying to eliminate your thinking, you can follow the path set forth by experienced meditators and spiritual seekers. This is a similar path that works wonders for top-performing Executives who are looking to improve their Emotional Intelligence and Elite Athletes who are looking for peak mental performance. It’s all about getting out of your own way. Noticing an obstacle makes it easier to contend with. The obstacle is your nonstop mental chatter.
Notice your thinking, and allow it to move through you. The less you hold on to your thinking, the less the thoughts weigh on you. No judgment. No story. Just let them go, each and every time. It’s a process of letting go vs. trying to do anything actively.
This is where a meditative practice can be invaluable. Dr. Barr, as mentioned earlier, calls meditation one of the few practical tools we have to cultivate a calm and clear mental state:
“It is clear to me that this ancient meditative practice helps free the mind to have richer experiences of the present. Except when you are flying an F–16 aircraft or experiencing extreme fear or having an orgasm, your life leaves too much room for your mind to wander.
As a result, only a small fraction of your mental capacity remains engaged in what is before it, and mind-wandering and ruminations become a tax on the quality of your life. Honing an ability to unburden the load on your mind, be it through meditation or some other practice, can bring with it a wonderfully magnified experience of the world — and, as our study suggests, of your own mind.”
Mindfulness and meditative practice is an art. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You can practice it while walking, eating, writing, working, playing or doing any other activity. While I personally enjoy going for a quiet walk or sitting for 10–20 minutes in silent meditation, you can cultivate whatever practice seems to work for you. I highlight three simple ways to meditate here.
The important thing, is to find a way to notice what is happening in the world, including in your thinking mind (your thoughts are part of the world too!). Allow your thinking to arise and flow through you without ruminating on them or buying into the stories you want to tell about them. Naturally and inevitably, your mind will settle and the benefits of a relaxed cognitive state will be revealed.
What benefits? Try it and see for yourself!
We do our best when we have less on our mind. We are more creative at work, superior athletes on the playing field and feel better overall. What gets in the way is over thinking and attachment to our thoughts.
Thoughts have a purpose, but when we engage in the world, we are best served by being present and connected to what is actually happening, not stuck gazing at the movie theater of our mind.
While we can’t stop our thoughts, we can notice them and remember to observe, but not grasp them. Meditation and mindfulness practices also work wonders. What is revealed through the settling down of the mind is a more creative, innovative and relaxed state that will undoubtedly lead to positive outcomes in many parts of life.
Modern scientific research, such as the work done by Doctors Bar, Goleman, Davidson and others; are starting to uncover these benefits. However, there really is no need to wait for scientific proof to catch up, you can experiment for yourself and experience the benefits if you are willing to try.
We are in a culture of meetings run amok. Most upper-level managers I know spend over 50% of their time in meetings. Even worse, research shows that 1/2 of all meetings are considered a waste of time! In spite of an environment where the tyranny of meetings is a new norm, I’m a firm believer that there is a certain type of meeting that is not done often enough, and when it is, it’s done poorly. I’m talking about one-on-one meetings.
Why One On One Meetings Matter
Human connection is the lifeblood of society. Relationships are at the core of what any business is and does. Your company is not a function of your product. Your company is a function of the creativity and productivity of people who choose to work there. One on one meetings are a way of taking care of the human connection in a way that people feel empowered with a clear sense of direction and an unwavering sense of safety and support from their leader.
This blog post is written from the perspective of the reader (you) being the leader. However, the insights apply equally to anyone who is looking to “manage up” and improve the way they relate to their bosses.
Before we get to what you should do in a one on one meeting, let’s talk about what not to do…
Please, Don’t Do This!
The worst use of a one on one meeting is to apply pressure and micromanage team members. No one wants to be micro-managed. If you find yourself issuing a litany of directives and checking in on the status of progress and tasks and other minutiae, you are not only missing a vital opportunity to coach your team, you are pushing them further away from their inner source of creativity and motivation. This is exhausting for everyone, including you!
It’s Not About You (The Manager)
Instead of using a one on one to tick off a checklist or spew directives, approach your one on one meetings with the opposite perspective. In my opinion, the purpose is to support the growth and development of team members.
Take care of project updates and administrative minutiae using email, use one-on-one meeting time to coach your team! If you, as the manager, do not have something to talk about, this doesn’t mean the one on one meeting should be canceled. The time is for your team members, not just yourself! Some of the best conversations happen when there is no “fire to fight” or project to micromanage. With a relaxed perspective and a willingness to explore, you would be amazed at what could emerge from even a short conversation.
One On One Meeting Structure: Three Questions
I like to think of three key questions to frame a one on one meeting. This is how I used to structure my one on ones when I was a team leader. You can be creative with how the questions are phrased, but ensure that each of the three topics are covered. I think you will discover (as I did) that this format of conversation helps team members to feel a strong sense of belonging and commitment to the team. You will also find that they help you (as a manager) to uncover meaningful topics of conversation.
Q1: What is going well?
Start on a positive note. Connect to something meaningful and supportive. Even in the worst times, there is always something positive going on. Encourage your team members to surface the things they are proud of. As a manager, don’t passively listen, but listen intently, to what is being said. If something intrigues you, probe deeply by asking powerful questions. For example:
“Tell me more?”
“What happened next?”
“How did you come up with that?”
“Interesting, should we continue doing more of that?”
“How can we expand the impact of that to other parts of the company/team?”
Q2: What would be even better?
We are all on a learning curve (perhaps several!) and face areas of developmental growth. No one is exempt; even Fortune 500 CEOs stand to improve in specific areas! Encourage your team to surface the things that they see as areas of growth. These may be challenges, missed opportunities or ideas for improvement in the future. If a project just completed and didn’t go according to plan, use this as a chance for your team members to reflect on what could have been better in their approach.
I like the phrasing of “What would be even better?” instead of “What’s wrong?” or “What isn’t working well?”. The former phrasing has a more favorable flare that people will be more receptive to.
As a manager, understand that it’s not natural for team members to want to share things that are not going that well, lest the messenger be criticized. It’s up to you, the team leader, to create a sense of safety in the conversation. Emphasize that you are really interested in hearing what could be even better for the sake of supporting their growth, and also, thinking broadly about how you can also assist in making things even better.
Q3: What, if anything, do you need?
Outdated management models dictate that team members work for bosses, who set goals, plans and allocate resources. Under this model, if things don’t work out, the fault lies with the individuals on the team who supposedly “failed to execute.”
However, flipping the management model makes a lot of sense for dynamic and modern businesses. After all, it’s your team that has a direct line of sign to your business operations, what’s working and where things could be even better. Why not allow your team to tell you what they need? Wouldn’t this both make your job of allocating resources easier and better serve the needs of your team and business?
I’ve discovered that just asking the question, “What, if anything, do you need?” holds remarkable power. It’s a coaching question that gets people thinking about their inner resourcefulness and what is really getting in the way of their taking positive action. Often, you’ll notice that they don’t need much to act on what you discussed, their awareness of what to do is all they needed!
Important: I am not phrasing the question as “How can I help?” Your offering to help might be needed, but should be offered only after your team member has tapped into their inner wisdom to solve their problems. Then, if they are still stuck, you might wish to ask if there is any way you can help. Just be careful not to “play hero” and solve everyone’s problems for them. Sometimes, I’ll let a team member sit with a problem for a while and then jump in only if I see that they are stuck. People can be remarkably resourceful if you allow them the time and space solve problems on their own!
How often should you conduct these meetings?
Only discussing these points during an annual review is the sad truth about how many leaders operate. Consistency is key, though the exact frequency can vary.
When I led teams of 5–8 people working on diverse topics, I would meet with everyone weekly for an hour each. This made sense since each team member worked on radically different problems, and our team was moving at a very fast pace. A lot would happen each week!
If your team is aligned to work on a similar set of problems, or if the pace is slower; bi-weekly or monthly one on ones would make sense. Some global CEOs set aside quarterly one on one meetings with their direct staff members due to the extreme demands on time and travel. Experiment and see what works best for your situation. Whatever you decide, make it a consistent routine. Treat your one on one meetings as sacred time.
I hope that you are now in agreement that one on one meetings are a vital component of your management rhythm. I also hope that you have a clear sense of how to conduct them. The three vital questions I included in this blog post are a fantastic starting point for you. Try them out and let me know how it goes! If you have any further questions, please leave a comment.
I love the Olympics. It’s inspiring to watch people who have worked their entire lives for a single moment on the world stage. When it comes to performance improvement, these athletes leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of excellence. The best training, coaching, nutrition and of course, mental preparation all have their place.