They’re busy, but are they productive?

How many items are on your To-Do list? How many emails are in your inbox? How many meetings are on your calendar this week?

As my dear husband and business partner Roger James asks, “They’re busy, but are they productive?” It’s another way of asking, “Are you achieving what you want to achieve?” Or, are you being gerbil-like, running around a wheel without considering what you really want to achieve in both the long- and short-term?

I am being asked more frequently these days by my clients how to find time to think, to strategize, to be grounded in themselves and their deepest aspirations for themselves and their organizations. It seems that reactive and constant “doing” is crowding out time to pause, ask, and consider, what is it we are busy about? What do we want to achieve?

Perceived time pressures are also transforming how we talk with one another into transactions focused primarily on “getting stuff done,” and we too often forget we are interacting with beings as precious and tender as we are (even if we pretend we are “tough” or thick-skinned).

I wish I had some easy solutions for this dynamic that I too get caught in and have to manage moment-to-moment. Therein lies the key. Staying focused on our goals takes moment-to-moment practice. Here are five tips to help you do that.

1. Clarify your long- and short-term goals. 

Take time to clarify and write down your long- and short-term goals. Post them on your desk, office wall and/or your meeting rooms. Don’t let them become ignored wallpaper. At least once a week, look at them and at your To-Do list. How many things on your list relate to achieving those purposes? Asterisk those or mark them with an “A” meaning do these first.

Your long-term goals at work will likely relate to the overall mission or purpose of the organization. Your short-term goals might be in support of the overall goals and strategies of the organization and your department or team.

2. Ask good questions of yourself, your boss, your peers and your direct reports.

These questions might include:

  • What are we trying to achieve right now?
  • How does what we are trying to achieve help us reach our goals or implement our strategy?
  • How does this project help us achieve our goals? Is it consistent with our strategy?
  • What’s the most important thing to do right now?

3.  Schedule time every week to create a spacious mind. Protect this time with your life!

Use the time to:

  • Take a walk outside and muse
  • Ask yourself interesting questions like “What if I…? What questions should I be asking?  If I assumed I would be successful, what would I do? What do I want to create?”
  • Talk with an evocative thinking partner. Ask them what questions are on their mind. Tell them what questions are on yours. As you talk, ask them how the conversation is affecting them? How is it affecting you?
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to be “productive.” You are planting seeds that need time and space to sprout.

4. Take three minutes every morning to focus your attention.

Before you start your day, look at your phone, check emails, or look at your To-Do list, take three minutes to do nothing but pay attention to your breathing, the sensations in your body, and connect with the part of you that is present and aware of your highest goals and most important aspirations. Pause to do this periodically throughout your day.

Sometimes all it takes to connect with yourself and remember your goals is paying complete attention to three breaths. This takes less than 20 seconds!

5. Start every meeting with a 5-10 minute “check-in.” 

Ask people to take one minute each to share how they are in their body, mind, heart and spirit. This helps everyone become present and reminds then that there are human beings on board and that you want to get done what you need to get done with care.

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