A pervasive concern I hear among my executive coaching clients, from middle managers all the way up to the C-suite, is dissatisfaction with the amount of time they’re spending on the most important and strategic matters. Why? Mainly because their minds are buzzing with action items and cluttered with trivia, and that state of internal disruption is compounded by non-stop external interruptions and distractions. I have a few tips for managers to attack these challenges, including:
1. Create a master list. What happens when you let your mind remember things? You can lose sleep, forget, get stressed, drop the ball, miss meetings, and pretend to listen. To remember your daily tasks, it’s important to take a few moments on a regular basis and transfer all of the commitments and to-do’s roaming around your head onto a master list. Once you’ve committed them to a central and safe place, your mind can let go, freeing it up to focus on higher priority projects or strategic thought.
2. Meditate. Yes, meditation is associated with yoga, but you don’t need to sit under a tree along the banks of the Ganges River or twist yourself into a pretzel in order to meditate. In fact, simply put by the 1,800-year-old Yoga Sutras," Yoga is a method to quiet the fluctuations of the mind." For me, as a former Wall Street executive and current Executive Coach, if I can free my mind and give my sole focus to one complex problem or issue, then that is a huge victory. Some of my most creative ideas and solutions to previously confounding work-related challenges have occurred to me when I hit the pause button on the craziness to relax even just for a few minutes in a meditative state.
3. Get better at saying “No.” Ambitious, successful people tend to overcommit. But due to the finite nature of time, when you say “yes” to someone or something else, by definition you’re saying “no” to something on your own project list. Does this vicious cycle sound familiar? If you take on everything, you fall farther behind, your anxiety level rises, and your mind won’t shut up. Steve Jobs put it practically, “Innovation comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track…it's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
I recommend asking yourself one simple question when faced with a decision to take something on: Does this [meeting, task, project, lunch invitation, etc.] support one of my biggest professional and/or personal goals?
Any credible school of thought on effective leadership embraces the notion that the ability to truly lead and inspire others begins with working on yourself. In the case of our minds, let’s take a cue from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who said, "Your mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."