Shift-tasking is the new multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking seems to be a requirement in society lately, but it only works well when the tasks we’re doing can acceptably be done less adequately, or are so habitual they can be done on auto-pilot. For instance, we can send a casual text while waiting in line for lunch. However, sending an important email, while out for lunch with colleagues, can lead to weird auto-correct typos and nasty looks from our hungry co-workers. We often think that we can quickly switch from one task to the next, and back again, but the mental energy those transitions require, adds up to a considerable amount of wasted time.

Instead of splitting our focus to juggle important duties somewhat simultaneously, it can be more effective to focus fully on one task for a period of time – for most people that’s about 45 minutes – then take a short break, and shift our brain power to focus fully on the second task for another 45-minute sprint. For example, we could choose to focus on emails for 45 minutes with no interruptions. Then quit our email application and take a physical and mental break, such as a simple stretch, or check off a 2-minute item from our to-do list, or perhaps pre-emptively connect with people who are likely to try to interrupt us later in the day. Next, get back in the productivity zone for the second undertaking.

Always leave a small period of time at the start and the end of an activity to shift focus. Sure, we’d all like to have days where we can concentrate on one responsibility without feeling pulled in many directions, but for many people’s time-crunched reality, shift-tasking is a solution that allows for focused productivity for a realistic amount of time, and that optimizes our brains for massive output.

Take action: Let your co-workers know you don’t want interruptions by putting out a “do not disturb” signal. If you can’t close a door, big headphones are a good sign (they can be silent, it’s a visual clue). And try using your phone as a countdown timer, setting it on your desk so people will know when you’re available again, without asking when they should come back.

Inspired by David DiSalvo’s book, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.

Captivate, by telling a gripping story.

As human beings, we are attracted to good stories because they are engaging, memorable, and they appeal to our emotional side. If we want to connect with someone, telling a compelling story will leave a lasting impression in both their head and their heart. Although there are numerous ways to tell a good story, there are some key aspects that are common to all approaches. Stories need a structure for the listener to follow – beginning, middle and end is most familiar. The beginning needs to give the context, or set the scene – when and where is the story taking place? It also introduces the character(s); often it’s ourselves, or we make the listener the hero. An important challenge or dilemma is presented here too. The middle part describes the main character’s journey through a struggle, and some sort of internal and/or external transformation during the challenge. The end resolves the challenge and the hero comes out with an emotion. That connecting sentiment could be victorious, disappointed, relieved, educated, confused, inspired, you name it. There are lots of tricks to enhance our stories too. We can incorporate an element of surprise, describe a relatable emotion, use humour, include a metaphor, add dialogue, express with gestures, display an illustrative prop, get super descriptive, and so on. Storytelling is an essential skill that builds instant rapport, and leaves a lasting impression.

Take action: If you know you’re heading into a situation where you’ll be meeting new people and want to quickly get past small talk, craft a couple stories ahead of time. Some thought starters: how you met your significant other, an experience you’ve had with a particular organization, a flubbed renovation, a funny misunderstanding, or something odd you noticed on your way to the event.

Inspired by Paul Smith’s book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire.

Our comfort zone is no longer in our safety zone.

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Comfort zone and safety zone used to be interchangeable terms, or it was thought that our comfort zone was contained within our safety zone. Things that we do repetitively, without challenging ourselves to create something new, are comfortable to us, and they feel safe because historically we’ve been fine doing them. Maybe we go into work, do our 8 hours, collect a paycheck, and do it again. Or we’re expecting to have a similar family life as we had growing up, assuming that if it worked for our parents, it will work for us. Or we think we’re going to retire at 65 and everything will magically be fine. But this comfort is a false sense of security. We’re now living in a world where we have global influence, artificial intelligence, less privacy, and robots that will replace jobs and disrupt industries. We need to be more than just competent, and do more than just follow the current norm. We need to have vision, and offer unique value. Because of technology, the world is quickly shifting, and we need to shift too. If we are not creating something new and meaningful, then we may no longer be safe. It’s like getting caught out by bad weather when flying on autopilot; we’re hitting some bad weather and we need to consciously take control to avoid disaster. Conformity and living the status quo, may have worked for us during industrial times, but they are a mismatch with our current connected and technological culture. Instead, ideas, curiosity, specialized ability and surprise will do us well. If we’ve been stuck within our comfort zone, it’s likely we’ve developed mental boundaries and limitations about what we can do, so stepping outside of that will make us feel vulnerable. But, so long as we find, and stay within our new safety zone, avoiding things that will actually physically, emotionally, and spiritually harm us, we’ll be fine. Experiment by pushing the comfort boundaries a little, then a little more, and build on what works. When we can contribute to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world in our own personal and creative way, we’ll be adding unique value and we’ll find safety again.

Take action: Create something, anything, and share it. Here are a few ideas: If you love to write, start a blog. Love cooking? Try catering a friend’s event. Have a good voice? Sing in public. The point is to create something new, or put your spin on something existing, and put it out into the world. Remember, you’re not contributing to others until you share it.

Inspired by Seth Godin’s book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?

Find potential in all opportunity.

We often see other people’s success and think that they started with a better opportunity than we’ve been given. Sometimes that’s true, but often we overlook the potential that is right in front of us. We tend to think that we’re getting a bad hand while others get all the good stuff. Here are three common excuses we may be familiar with: 1, at work we may think that our co-worker gets assigned better projects than we do, and dismiss that she actually got a similar bad brief, but her work turns into greatness because she’s been extra resourceful. Or 2, in a book club, our friend may stand out by having a very interesting point of view influenced by an article he read. We may not have liked the assigned book, but we could have researched new angles as well. Or 3, maybe we use a friend’s highly recommended contractor for a renovation, but instead of getting a beautiful, new bathroom, we end up not happy with the work. We forget that our friend has had more experience working with contractors than we have, and we could have asked for help in that area. Sure, sometimes our opportunities in life are not great, but they all have potential if we can figure out how to get more out of them.

In the mentioned work example, some tasks can be done twice, once by doing it as it’s been requested, the second time by breaking the rules and being ultra creative. There’s a good chance the final piece will land somewhere in between. In the book club case, brainstorming inspiring, fresh ideas can help us enhance the opportunities we receive, and a bit of extra research can bring surprising results. And for renos, asking questions and having a deep curiosity can not only help us figure out how to improve a condition, it can also lead to new levels of expertise through the power of collaboration. It’s too easy to just think that other people get better opportunities, and not put in the effort required to make what we have acquired, great. It’s not about the hand we’re dealt, it’s about how we play it.

Take action: Find value in what you do. Sometimes a task feels menial and not worth your time, but if you reframe it, you can turn it into an opportunity. Plus, these sorts of circumstances tend to have a snowball effect, in that, if you perform well consistently, the opportunities in front of you will grow more favorable.

Inspired by Paul Arden’s book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.

How to connect, in the connected world.

Technology has changed the way we build relationships. As humans, relationships are just as significant to us, as they’ve always been, but the ease of tech has lured us away from in-person conversations. We’ve become more solitary and have fewer interactions with the physical people around us. To be properly fulfilled, we still need an intimate form of connection, like the old-school conversations. On the flip side, tech can also enhance our relationships; but, it’s not about how many friends, fans, or followers we have, it’s about the people who would miss us, if we stopped connecting. Many of us use social media to broadcast what we are doing, few of us use it to share our deep thoughts, and even less of us share our views within a dynamic conversation with other engaged people. Until we get to this level, we are not truly connecting. Creating value, building trust, and putting in the emotional effort are hard because it’s the unknown. It means taking a risk of being judged, getting negative feedback, and being vulnerable. To put our self out there, in a way that invites others to connect back, means giving up control. One-way broadcasting online is relatively easy, so for many of us, that’s our default (likes and hearts are too insignificant to be considered conversation). Connecting in a good relationship takes time, effort and vulnerability, whether online or in-person. If we are brave with these connections, we will eventually be rewarded.

Take action: Get involved with an online community and reply to a comment – agree, disagree, give an example or expand a thought. Jump in to a conversation that you feel strongly about, and ask an open question, instead of just broadcasting one-way. And then bring that new experience to someone in person.

Inspired by Seth Godin’s book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?

Fall in love with good habits.

Remember those teenage-type feelings, down deep in your belly, when you first fell in love with someone? The excitement, the newness, and the anticipation triggered joy and inspiration in us. And as a result, we started taking better care of ourselves, prioritized differently, and had a more positive outward expression. Anticipated love is an extremely powerful motivator. So if we can figure out how to tap into those same feelings now, when we think about who we want to become, we can have the same enriching thoughts towards the new habits that are required to achieve our goal. Since we’ve felt it in the past, our brain already knows how to react to those joyful thoughts, and can wake up our biological systems that work with the feeling of desire. Our brain can fire the neurons that can reconnect the synaptic triggers associated with those positive thoughts. For example, lets say we want to be a health-oriented person. If we can think about our ideal self in the same way we’ve yearned for love, our cells can kick in to craving those good chemicals again. It’s true that it’s easier to fall in love with other people than with a new routine, but healthy habits can lead to a lifestyle that involves plenty of love, and that’s where we should focus. Tapping into positive feelings that our mind and body are already familiar with, can make new habits a lot easier to commit to, and can even turn into a long term relationship.

Take action: Over time, new habits will feel more natural. Along the journey, just like falling in love, try rewarding yourself with praise, fun, romance, and commitment. For example, if you are falling in love with healthy living, sneak away from work for a bit to go for a walk in the sunshine. Or go on a date that requires physical activity, like rock climbing or hiking.

Inspired by Joe Dispenza, D.C.’s book, Evolve Your Brain.

How do you tackle change?

On a scale of 1 to 10, do you resist change (1), or seek it out (10)? Some people really struggle with change and take time to analyze a situation, to the point of stalling the inevitable, before getting on board. They waste their effort in worry when they could be spending that time shaping the change to their benefit. Others relish newness and can’t wait to jump in – they may even want to shake things up just for fun. They get excited about exploring new possibilities, but often forget how it affects the people around them. Yet, successful change happens when everyone is aligned. If we’re the type to resist change, we should keep in mind that we are pushing against the inevitable; evolution will always happen and we can’t stop it. It’s better to spend our time analyzing the problem/solution to make sure the change is for the better and know how we can work with it to our benefit. Go with the flow and put our effort into making sure it’s flowing in a good direction. If we’re in a situation where we need to implement change, we should keep in mind that the hardest part of it, is not the mechanics, it’s figuring out how to make the change ideal for all involved, and then leading others to embrace it. The more people affected, the more alignment and coaching will be required. Whether it’s a change in work processes, where we live, or our lifestyle, we need to make sure we include enough time and communication for others, in our implementation plans. Only when everyone affected by the change joins forces, and the transformation favors all, will the change truly be effective.

Take action: If you generally resist change, try doing something different today, for the sake of getting more comfortable with it. For instance, just a switch in your morning routine. If you love change, try coaching someone resistant to try something new. Remember, the key is to align interests.

Inspired by Thomas Reibke’s Creative Mornings talk, Shut Up and Listen

 

Strive for confidence, not cockiness.

Confidence comes from knowing that when we are faced with a situation, we will be able to figure it out. It grows out of humbleness: when we recognize how much we can learn by putting work and effort into mastering a situation, instead of thinking we already know what’s best, we will stay flexible and adjust to all possible scenarios. When we know we can tackle what’s thrown at us, then we will have confidence. Cockiness, on the other hand, is inflexible. It grows from arrogance and entitlement. It blinds us, so we don’t recognize when a situation isn’t working, and leads us to stubbornly continue down the wrong path. To strive for confidence, not cockiness, we need to keep an open mind. Life can be unpredictable, we don’t ever know it all, and others may have different perspectives that can enhance our own knowledge. Confidence means being able to seek out, recognize and adjust to new information, persevere, and believe that we will figure out our best approach as we proceed. That confidence only comes by being open to learning from many sources, and being flexible in all scenarios.

Take action: Think back to a time in your life that was difficult. Did you think everything was going to be great, only to have things crash down on you? What signs were there leading up to the situation that you ignored? In future, pay attention to those signs, adjust your strategy, and figure out a better approach.

Inspired by Tim Grover’s book, Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable.

Innovate by asking: why, why not, what if, and how.

Five year olds ask a lot of questions, but as we grow up, we generally skip this step and jump to finding answers or solutions immediately. However, that child-like inquiry is important. Asking the right questions can be far more useful when looking to go beyond the norm and be innovative. Asking questions is the way deep thinkers tackle problems and it works well for daily life as well. If we ask the right questions, it leads to a deep analysis and a better understanding of an issue, then sets up a challenge for us, a puzzle to solve. So what are the right questions to ask? The ones that stir up interest and inspire us to think differently. “Why” questions are a good start and something we’re familiar with from preschoolers. First, start questioning the seemingly obvious, and then questions the answers that come from that process. Repeat this “why” questioning, going deeper each time, until you get to something interesting. Then move to “why not” questions to start exploring options and possibilities. Next, “what if” questions can stimulate thinking in combinations, mixing ideas together to get the best of each. Lastly, draw on the exploration already done with the previous three questions, and start action by going into “how can we do things better” inquiries. This four-part method can be used for simple daily issues, or complex problems that take years to solve.

Take action: For your next problem to solve, make a game of it and jot down as many questions as you possibly can. Don’t edit, just let it flow fast and see if you can get to 100, that’s about 25 for each of the four questions.

Inspired by Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

It’s great to be the big fish, even in a small pond.

The experience of being better at an activity or an action than our peers, is not only confidence building, it can also push us further. Knowing that people depend on us to step up, or competing with someone who pushes us to grow, challenges us. Mentally we are stimulated in ways that we don’t get if we’re middle of, or lower in the pack. Yet, we often forget this concept when deciding what categories we want to belong to, whether the groups are high-end schools, elite sports clubs, or top-tier companies to work in. When performing with people well above our level, it feels discouraging, frustrating, and may cause us to give up pursuing our goal completely. If we are great at playing baseball, and are suddenly recruited by the ‘Yankees’, would we jump at the chance? Probably yes, but if we don’t play at that advanced level, we’ll be benched most of the time, and not have a good experience. If we drop down to a team that’s more suitable to our skill level, we’ll probably make some great plays, get more time on the field, and feel like a hero. Knowing the difference between a good stretch challenge where we fit and can excel, and reaching beyond our range to an arena that will crush us, can be tricky to navigate. Take ego, emotion and social status out of the equation to make a good decision and find the best fit.

Take action: Prioritize personal fit over socially high-level opportunities. It’s exciting when we’re given new challenges, but look for the ones that will stretch your ability and help you grow. Avoid the ones that will stress you out to the point of giving up on them.

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants