Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Prioritize your time investments
Stress for Success
July 28, 2009

Here’s great time management advice: not everything will get done so focus on the important and ignore the trivial.

The first time I read this I almost had a heart attack! Not everything will get done? Impossible! But if everything’s a priority then nothing is. I used to race from task to task giving each equal attention. Dr. Dru Scott’s “How to Put More Time into Your Life” woke me up to my folly.

Since our time choices are mostly unconscious it’s easy to assume you’re efficient. The only way to truly know, however, is to keep a time log. Dr. Scott recommends one with five columns:
* “From/to”: E.g., 8:00 – 8:15 a.m. Record all you do in 15 – 30 minute increments for one week whether for just work time or 24/7.
* Activity: Briefly describe each activity you tackle and with whom, where appropriate. “Three phone calls: Jennifer about accounting, Jim about the XYZ project, Charlene regarding Saturday’s party.” When in a meeting for 90 minutes obviously log it just once.
* The next three columns are labeled “C,” “S,” “M.” After the week return to each task and check the appropriate column regarding its importance using Scott’s priority system:
o Central: the most important activities that lead you directly toward your goals. Schedule your best time to work on Centrals.
o Secondary: tasks you must do but they don’t lead you directly toward your goals, like paperwork. Schedule regular, specific time for these. If you discover that you spent three hours doing Secondary tasks at work block off three hours of work time to focus on these. Since they’re secondary in importance you could schedule them during hours with more interruptions but set aside more than three hours.
o Marginal: the most unimportant activities. Avoid these unless you have absolutely nothing left to do.

My first time log shocked me. I spent an unbelievable amount of energy on Marginal and Secondary tasks, woefully neglecting my Centrals. Much of my reason was perfectionism.

Her book helped me become a recovering perfectionist. It taught me to strive for perfection only on my Central activities. It astounded me that making the bed daily was Marginal and didn’t have to be done! This standard was my mother’s but I could let it go! This may seem silly to some but it was revolutionary to me at the time. Now our bed gets made when I change the bedding and when we have guests. And the sky didn’t fall! Even my mother didn’t care!

To manage your time better make conscious choices to override automatic ones. Keep a time log for one week and notice if you exhibit one or more of the five compulsive time uses that Dr. Scott identified:
* Hurry Up!
* Be Perfect!
* The Rock!
* Good Student!
* Like Me!

In 1989 I saw myself in four of the above five! Dr. Scott’s advice helped me curb each of them significantly. I’ll pass on her advice over the next two weeks.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, will soon be available at www.letyourbodywin.com. Call her at 239-693-8111 for information about her presentations on this and other topics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Make wise choices on how you spend time
Stress for Success
July 21, 2009

Is lack of time one of your biggest stressors?

But how can that be when you have all the time there is - 24 hours a day? How can a Martha Stewart accomplish incredible things while others do so little with the same amount of time?

Because time management isn’t about “finding” more time it’s about managing yourself better.

If you have impulses like, “I have to clean the house,” and “I must help those around me,” you may operate out of one or more of the following “compulsive time use” habits identified by author Dr. Dru Scott:
* The Rock: others depend upon you;
* Like Me: say “yes” when you want to say “no;”
* Be Perfect: everything must be right;
* Good Student: A for effort;
* Hurry Up! Always in a hurry;

Do any of these describe your habitual time use motivations? Dr. Scott estimates that approximately 80% of your time may be spent compulsively (obsessively). When you’re a perfectionist, for example, it doesn’t occur to you that some things are entirely fine imperfectly done or that people don’t always have to do things your way (even though your way is better).

Red flags that you’re compulsively using your time include having lots of have tos, musts and shoulds. These amorphous decrees are rigid and lead you to operate unconsciously without contemplating your true options: you avoid conscious responsibility for daily choices.

If you’ve been shoulding on yourself forever it’s hard to know why you blindly follow your unwritten rules. Suffice it to say, you learned your imperatives and haven’t challenged them enough to decide which to discard.

One thing’s certain, as long as you continue to believe you have to do this or must do that, nothing will change.

If time feels like an enemy take responsibility by making conscious choices about your time investments:
* Keep track on paper for a week whenever you do something because you think you should, must or have to.
* Substitute with “prefer”, “want” or “choose” to identify which to stop doing for the subsequent month. Stop doing some things you should do but prefer not to do. (Weigh the consequences. If you prefer not to feed your kids and some are too young to feed themselves, you have to feed them.)
* Discontinue doing easier things first, like if you typically run errands for your parents on the weekend and you fear they’d be upset if you stopped, even though you want to stop, choose another area in which to protect your time. Eventually you can set limits even with your parents and see that the world doesn’t end.

We all have rules imposed on us by parents and society that continue to dominate us. Question the wisdom of adhering to those that unduly stress you. Change some of your choices to lower your stress. Over time you’ll learn to become more in charge of your own standards, which puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

There’s an important difference between judgments, behaviors
Stress for Success
July 7, 2009

Often in interpersonal conflicts we forget that it takes two to tango. We’re so focused on what the other person’s doing “wrong” and what they “should” be doing instead that we lose sight of what we add to the situation, eroding personal responsibility.

For example, in a common workplace conflict an employee with no kids thinks it’s unfair when she’s expected to take on more after-hour responsibilities to free up her parent co-workers with childcare responsibilities. One complained to me about a colleague, “She’s so selfish. It never occurs to her that I’m stuck here until 6:30 while she waltzes out the door at 5:00!”

Her statement makes clear that she’s convinced that her colleague is “causing” her stress. But by labeling her colleague selfish she dodges responsibility for her own role and becomes part of the problem. Negatively judging others is like spreading fertilizer to grow a conflict. And that’s her responsibility.

And does the parent co-worker even perceive a conflict? If not, how can she be expected to alleviate the injustice?

If I could wave a magic wand over everyone on earth, myself included, it would be to avoid the destructiveness and resulting conflict that judging others negatively grows.

You can become much more a part of the solution by replacing your negative judgments of others with the facts of the situation and the behaviors of the party with whom you have a problem.

There’s a huge difference between judgments and facts/behaviors:
* Judgments are interpretations; they’re not necessarily facts, and they vary person to person. They tend to be adjectives describing someone: lazy, inconsiderate, arrogant, etc. You see someone as rude I see the person as enthusiastic. It’s a matter of perspective.
* Facts are facts and consistent person to person. Anyone observing a situation could observe the same facts. Behaviors are factual and can be videotaped. Behaviors are verbs. The person “does” something like talk, interrupt, etc.

In the above example the judgment is that the colleague is “selfish.” But selfish cannot be videotaped since it’s an adjective therefore in the mind of the beholder. What did the person “do” that leads to this judgment? Factually/behaviorally, the co-worker “left at 5:00.”

To lower stress and resolve conflicts more easily our friend would be wise to focus on the facts and her co-worker’s behavior: Tuesday she left at 5:00 and I stayed until 6:30. Period.

To take appropriate responsibility in your conflicts don’t assume your judgments are accurate. Think before you address the situation:
* Identify your negative judgments and commit to letting them go;
* Identify the facts and behaviors of the situation;
* Decide if they’re worth confronting;
* If so, address the person about the facts/behaviors not the judgments;

Defensively judging others and assuming we’re right makes it difficult to focus on the factual. Accurate or not, approaching someone from a judgmental point of view will set up almost sure conflict escalation. At minimum, stay conscious when you judge and accept at least partial responsibility for the outcome it produces.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple is available at www.jackieferguson.com. Call her at 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.