Making time work FOR us not AGAINST us

Making time work FOR us not AGAINST us

Do you always have too much to do?

It's not entirely surprising since our only finite resource, time, is at the heart of the challenge.

Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty constant topic when coaching people on their communication.

How do we find enough time to think through our communication? How do we know when to prioritise thinking through a particular piece … or when ‘smashing it out' is the right strategy?

It's also top of mind for me as I head off for a month away on Tuesday. Yes, a month.

So, today I wanted to focus on ‘time' and share some ways to help us all take advantage of it rather than be held hostage to it.

I'd like to suggest we can ‘hack' time to enhance our work and our life by harnessing two thinking modes.  This might be an odd idea, but let me give you the high-level first and then work through it in three parts.

  1. Two familiar thinking modes that we already use to allow time to do our work for us.
  2. Several modern writers offer ways for us to capitalise on the under-utilised ‘diffuse thinking' mode to enrich our work and life.
  3. So, with that background I'd like to share some of my own thinking on taking advantage of these two thinking modes in work and life


I'll now expand on each of these further.

Two familiar thinking modes that we already use to allow time to do our work for us. Let me introduce them both:

  1. Focused thinking, which is what we commonly imagine as ‘working'. This involves diving deeply into a task and as the name suggests, focusing on it. This is when we are actively reading, thinking, solving something specific. It can play out as time alone or time collaborating with others to complete a task.
  2. Diffused thinking, which I suggest most of us don't make nearly enough use of. This is the thinking that happens while we sleep, are out walking the dog, cooking dinner or perhaps in the shower. It's those non-focused times when our brain is processing in the background. It's also the times when breakthrough ideas often emerge. How often have you had the ‘aha' moment at a seemingly random point?


I first learned about these from Barbara Oakley in her Coursera course, Learning How to Learn. You may also find this free course enjoyable.

Several modern writers offer ways for us to capitalise on the under-utilised ‘diffuse thinking' mode to enrich our work and life.

Without necessarily using this language, they all seem to me to be taking advantage of diffuse thinking mode.  

Greg McKeown has written two excellent books on this subject. The subtitles for each sum up the key ideas:

  1. Effortless: Make it easier to do what matters most 
  2. Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less 

Cal Newport of Deep Work fame offers ideas to avoid distractions so we can focus properly when at work and switch off when not. There is overlap between his work and Greg McKeown's, but I have found both to be great reads.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang takes the ideas further and discusses the increasingly popular shorter work week. Again, his title and subtitle are instructive: Shorter: how working less will revolutionise the way you get things done. 

His thesis is that if we focus harder during a shorter time period we are forced to change the way we work which he says is a good thing.  This will force us to become both more efficient and more effective. We will change the systems we use, the way we use our time and help us deliver more over all.

He reinforces the idea that the extra time off helps us be happier and healthier. The beauty is that our time away from the office allows our ideas to ‘marinate' while we aren't ‘working'.   

These are not the only people talking about these issues, but ones that I have read and enjoyed. All offer ways to rebalance their use of focused and diffused thinking in their lives.

So, with that background I'd like to share some of my own thinking on taking advantage of these two thinking modes in work and life.

Firstly, in work, particularly where problem solving and communication are involved.

Many of my clients leave thinking about their communication to the last minute. They want to finish their analysis first and then are understandably squeezed as the deadline looms. Or they don't have enough information about the communication context to start and so leave it until they have no choice but to begin.

As an alternative, I suggest this five step strategy to help us start thinking early so we can take advantage of these two thinking modes.

  1. Start the thinking early even if you don't write much until the paper is due. It may be that your ideas haven't fully formed yet. Getting started early will push you to start pondering about exactly what is needed, without making you work overly hard.
  2. Involve others in a quick conversation before you write anything. We call this a roadmapping session. Our goal is to think through the purpose and audience collaboratively so we can get our heads around the communication context.
  3. Follow with short bursts of focused activity to draft the one-page storyline. One Clarity First member sets 30 minutes at the start of the day to get as much as he can done for major papers. Then he leaves it until the next appointment he has made with himself. This way he makes progress, isn't stressed by the deadline and can allow the ideas to marinate in the background.
  4. Iterate around the one-pager until the messaging lands.  
  5. Finally, prepare your doc or deck.  


Secondly, in life. Now, this one is going to be different for everyone as demands on us and our life stages vary. I could be general here, but the authors I mentioned have offered good quality advice on the subject so I'll avoid that.

Instead, I'll explain why you won't be hearing from me for the coming few weeks. I'm taking July as a mix of holiday and sabbatical.

My husband and I are heading away for a month to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and to catch up with our 22 year old who has recently moved to New York.

We'll be taking the first couple of weeks away as a ‘proper vacation' and then using the second half of the break as a sabbatical. This will give us time and space to reimagine our life and work.

On my side, I'll be thinking about two things in particular:

  1. Progressing a project around ‘big picture thinking' and ‘synthesis'. A group of advanced Clarity First members and I have been working on practical tools to help people make the leap between summary and synthesis. Taking this to the next stage will require both focus and ‘marination'!
  2. Optimising the Clarity First strategy. The intensity of my workload during the covid period has not allowed for much of this kind of thinking and planning. I am very much looking forward to thinking more deeply about the way forward for the business. It has been an exciting couple of years as my online programs have become more interesting to clients. I want to capture the learnings and optimise the program further.
So, I often close with something like ‘more next week'.

Not this time!

I look forward to popping back into your inboxes in August.

Kind regards,
Davina




PS – If you are keen to further your learning over the coming month, you are welcome to take advantage other materials on our website. Here are some ideas:

Free course – How to Communicate with Impact. This four module course offers some foundational thinking about how to think differently about your communication. Learn more here.

Paid courseClarity First Express. This 11 module self-directed course covers the key ideas we offer during the Clarity First program. We offer you a discount code on completion that enables you to ‘upgrade' into the Clarity First program to receive help with putting the ideas into practice. Learn more here.

More than 100 posts on a large range of communication and leadership topics.  Click here to visit and use the search categories on the RHS to find posts that interest you. Learn more here.

 

 

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

I was reminded this week of why thinking and writing don't mix if you want to deliver impact at work.

It's great if you want to keep a journal, write a novel or perhaps some poetry.

But, bear with me.

I do believe writing helps us clarify our thinking.

But I also think writing to think inside a doc or a deck makes for poor business communication.

Communication quality is further reduced by socializing your document with others.


Let me offer three reasons why I believe ‘thinking' into a document leads to cluttered communication that takes far too long to deliver value.

Clarity of messaging is compromised as we seek useful input from others. In today's busy world, messaging must jump off the page the minute someone opens an email, paper or PowerPoint.

Asking stakeholders to review lengthy docs or decks leads to a mess of track changes that focus on the minutiae rather than the substance.

Quality of insight is hard to coalesce into a cohesive argument. If you draft your ideas inside an email, a doc or a deck you will naturally wander all over the place. Your thinking will evolve some here, some there as ideas form. The structure of your story and the quality of your messaging will wander likewise.

Velocity is nearly impossible. By velocity I mean the speed with which you can create your communication, with which your audience can digest it and then make a decision. When my clients skip using a one-page storyline they frequently see at least three problems. They see extensive rework, delayed decisions and lots of last minute scrambling to ‘fix' their docs and decks.

As one CEO said to me recently:

“We chose to introduce your storylining method as it offered a system we could replicate across the business.”
“Iterating 16 times around a Board paper just doesn't make business sense.”
Now I receive a stack of one-pagers and spend 15 minutes reviewing each one before offering substantive feedback to the team.”
“The team then uses this to finesse their messaging before they quickly prepare their documents.”
“Our Board and SLT papers have improved out of sight”.



Early Bird registrations for Clarity First close this coming Sunday, June 19th.

>> Click here to learn more.

I hope to see you there.

Warmly,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

The best strategy ‘hack’ so far …

The best strategy ‘hack’ so far …

At this time of year I am naturally starting to think about what comes next.

Oddly, this also involves bicycles and icecream.

For me it is time to lock critical dates in my diary, checking in with clients to see what they are looking for in the coming year and generally planning ahead.

It's tricky to find time for this as my plate is already full.

This year, unusually so as one of my team is in hospital so I have picked up two extra programs so we don't let a client down.

All this occurs while I am determined to continue adding more value to both my clients and my business while not burning the midnight oil.

I'm old enough to know that burning too much of it is counter productive.

So, what to do?

#1 – The usual – keep myself organised, focusing on the most important things first. Declutter, prioritise, optimise: This, however, doesn't always cut the list of ‘to dos' nearly far enough.

#2 – The still usual – focus on ‘the now' so I don't suffer from overwhelm by thinking about that growing to-do list

#3 – The new thing – rather than forcing myself to stop thinking about the list, actively think about the exciting plans I have for the business and let that list take care of itself.

It's a bit like when learning to ride a bike: as soon as we start focusing on the tree we don't want to hit we head straight for it. Instead, focus on the path that we do want to ride on.

Strangely enough this has been the most powerful hack of all.

By focusing more on the next big thing (which in itself is something I find motivating) I am finding that what I call the ‘ice cream theory' of time management works a treat.

Have you noticed that children ALWAYS have room for ice cream?

Strangely, I'm getting the old things and the new things done during moderately sensible hours.

Even better. I'm sleeping like a top, which means I have lots of energy to do both the things I have to do and the things I want to do.

What is the next big thing that will have a big impact on what you need to achieve for 2022?

Kind regards,
Davina

 

 

PS – In no way do I mean to belittle the ‘hacks' from last year. They have been hugely useful. They have laid the groundwork for me to be able to prioritise and focus on the good stuff. I hope they help as you plan for 2022 also.

It's time to plan for 2022 …

Over the last year I have continued working toward using my time better and becoming more impactful generally.

Next week I'll share my ‘big aha' with you that has helped fix the one problem that optimising my time spent did NOT fix.

Here's the back story to start you thinking ….

++++++++++++++++++++

Hack 1 – Diagnose and Declutter

Clarity First alum Steve shares ideas on how he transitioned from being an engineer to becoming a strategic leader who takes nights and weekends off as well as going sailing most Wednesday afternoons. Click here to learn from Steve and grab hold of a template that will help you start your own journey toward becoming maximising your impact while minimising your effort.

Hack 2 – Prioritise

We all know we need to prioritise …. but HOW do we do that so we know which tasks we should eliminate, delegate, automate or do? In this post I turn to a favourite of mine: Michael Hyatt to capture some practical ideas from his excellent Free to Focus book. Click here to learn more.

Hack 3 – Optimise

This time I point you to my first substantive conversation with Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant who specialises in helping successful people magnify their impact. He offers a number of terrific ideas including how to:

  • Harness your curiosity to increase your influence
  • Lead strategically when there is already too much to do
  • Use a concept called prisons and fortresses to make sure you get to the things that really matter
  • And plenty more too. Click here to learn more.

Hack 4 – Bonus ideas

I found this process so useful that I wanted to share some final ideas stemming from my own experience in learning from Steve, Michael and Richard. Go beyond the theory to get some more ideas here.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.