No 1 tip for getting focused

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s a new year – well, newish.  A time for resolutions – and by now, 25 days in, if you made some you’ve probably already given up.  Research* shows that most last less than a week!

So if there’s something you really want to achieve, just give it a laser like focus!

Do you find yourself saying any of these things?Laser like focus

  • “I’ll just do these quick jobs first …..”
  • “Where did the morning/day go?”
  • “Oh no, I still haven’t had time to work on that big project today”
  • “I just haven’t had time to do that”

This was definitely me until I decided it couldn’t go on or I would never achieve the big, important things I most wanted to do.  Through some coaching I realised that there is just one way to focus – and that seems appropriate when we are talking about focus!  It works for others I’ve passed this tip on to as well.

And the really good news? – it’s not just one thing,  it’s simple as well!

Work on that big, most important project first thing in the morning – dedicate some real brain-space time while you feel energised and upbeat and before everything else starts crowding in on you.  It works partly for that reason and also because those many ‘small, easy tasks’ are never actually finished – every day more appear!  It’s also a very virtuous circle – you feel good about yourself and what you’ve achieved and so become more enthusiastic to carry on,  achieving even more than you expected.

So give it a go and let me know how you get on – why not start tomorrow?  unless you haven’t got time of course…..?

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*University of Hereford

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Are you like broadband?

December 19, 2011 5 comments

I was working for a large telecommunications company in the early days of broadband and we said the marvellous thing about it was that it’s ‘always on’.  It opened up whole new opportunities to communicate, be entertained and do business across the world, anytime, anywhere.  It struck me though that many businesses expect their people to be ‘always on’ as well, with a seriously detrimental effect on their decision-making ability, judgement,  general health and well-being.  We used to have something called the ‘Sunday afternoon club’ – it started off with a few people clearing their emails so they could personally start afresh on Monday morning.  But somehow it gained momentum and it became expected that you would be responding to emails on Sunday and frowned upon if you didn’t.get off the hamster wheel

Until one senior manager decided to break the pattern.  She made it clear that she did not expect us to be part of the ‘Sunday afternoon club’ and we agreed a time in the mornings that would be acceptable to start calling each other – rather than the contest to see who could be on tap the earliest.  What a difference it made to our capacity to deal with the day-to-day stresses,  our well-being and morale.  The ‘footprint of the leader’…….

So this seems  a great time of year to reflect on whether you are ‘always on’ and whether you expect the same of your team.  To take some time out, get off the hamster wheel and ask yourself what’s most important – it might be your family, friends, your own health……   Give yourself – and your team – a well deserved break.

I wish you a peaceful and joyous Christmas and New year – whatever your religion or none.

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What’s in the box? metaphors and imagery to solve your problems and get motivated

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

“It’s as if there’s a box and I’m afraid to open it because I don’t know what’s in there.  And if I look inside there’s all sorts of things, just jumbled up, they’re all wrapped up and I don’t know what any of them are.”

“How would you like that box to be?”

“I’d like it to be…..….like a filing box, like one of those card indexes  – everything neat and tidy so I can see exactly what needs to be done and when.  Phew, that would be such a relief!”

“And what do you need to do to get that filing box organized?”

“Hmmm – I just need to sit down with the box, unwrap all the ‘gifts’ and go through them all…in fact it won’t take me long ….…I just need to decide to sit down and do it…….yes I could do that, I could do it today in fact, I’ve got an hour later on!”

This is the power of metaphor to solve problems – and far more interesting and engaging than ‘how do I organise my in-tray??’

BarriersBarriers – what are they like?  Like a huge brick wall that you can PUNCH a big hole in?  like hurdles that you can leap over? Or a pane of glass where you can see everything you want almost in your grasp just the other side.   And then when you step back you realise that in fact it’s not very big and you can just walk round the side of it!

By turning something nebulous and elusive into something tangible it makes it so much easier to deal with, and metaphor is part of what makes us human – don’t just take it from me, watch this video clip of Professor Susan Greenfield: Metaphorical thinking and identity.  Or you can read more in Lakoff and Johnson’s  Metaphors we Live By.

So if you don’t already use metaphors and imagery – why not give it a go?   I’m just scratching the surface here (here I go again!);

How many metaphors can you spot in this blog post, besides the obvious ones? They can be both fun and profound!  Tell us about how metaphors have worked for you by leaving your comments.

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Photo: © James Steidl –

Get those monkeys off your back!

November 4, 2011 4 comments

“As he spoke I saw the monkeys coming towards me.  As they climbed up on my shoulders I peeled them off one by one and passed them on.  In the past I wouldn’t even have seen them coming!”  What a brilliant metaphor for learning to delegate!  This is what one of my coachees told me recently.  For years she had happily accepted every meeting invitation, volunteered for every action point until she realised she really could not carry on taking responsibility for other people’s ‘monkeys’* and that she had to delegate if she was not going to collapse under their weight.

So how did she do it?  A change in her beliefs.  In my opinion the real key to delegation – top tips and guidance are all very well but unless you examine your beliefs and assumptions about taking responsibility and delegating you will never do it successfully and feel comfortable about it.

She realised that she did not have to accept every invitation that came her way – that it was OK not to always be a ‘dog’ ie an enthusiastic puppy eternally bounding excitedly on to every bone thrown to her.  And in doing so she was actually giving others the opportunity to shine and learn new skills.  It was not being lazy and irresponsible to pass things on.  Now she orchestrates and delegates rather than running herself ragged doing everything herself.

So what unhelpful beliefs or assumptions do YOU have that are stopping you delegating?  Might it beDelegation

  • “I don’t have time.  By the time I’ve explained it I may as well do it myself”
  • “It won’t get done properly/on time”
  • “It’s my responsibility”
  • “I’ll look as if I’m shirking if I don’t do it.  People will think I’m lazy”
  • “I need to do it myself to show the team I’m supporting them”

Develop some more helpful ones instead:

  • “Actually this is what management is all about”
  • “It may take longer in the short term but it’ll save me time in the long run”
  • “This will develop some useful skills and experience in the team”
  • “It’ll really motivate Joe if I make him responsible for this”
  • “My job is to help the team by seeing the bigger picture and sorting things out properly, not continually firefighting”

Then you can use those helpful hints and tips to actually do it!  And remember you ARE still ultimately responsible – another  manager I worked with knew one of her team was not doing what she should have been, did not do anything about it,  and cost them both their jobs.

What’s been the successful ingredient for your delegation – or what’s stopping you?

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* Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? by William Oncken Jr and Donald L Wass (1974)  Harvard Business Review

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Best kept secret of transition from professional to leader

October 5, 2011 4 comments

“This is the hardest transition I’ve ever made” to quote a successful software developer after her first three months as a manager.  Why was that?  “Suddenly I’ve found I can’t do everything.  I’m bombarded by emails, requests for information…. I have to be selective about what I do”.

She shared this in a group coaching session I was running to help her and others recently promoted to address the big challenges in their new roles.Leadership tightrope

Although this was several years ago I still find this is one of the biggest shocks to new leaders.  Does it matter? – yes! because as a new leader you want to focus on the big challenges you really do need to get to grips with, not trying to walk a tightrope of something totally unrealistic and unattainable.

Why is it such a closely guarded secret?  Maybe:

  • None of us quite get over that guilty feeling of NOT doing everything?
  • Or feel we’ll lose credibility if we admit to this ‘weakness’?
  • There is still a tendency in many organisations to promote people because of their professional expertise rather than their leadership qualities or potential – this means that when you are promoted you think that’s why you got the job and you need to be even more professional and knowledgeable?
  • Little or no organisational support is provided to help with this transition?
  • It’s hard to break the  ‘habit of a lifetime’ of responding to all requests and demands?

So what’s the answer?

  • Other leaders and HR managers should share what they are looking for in a manager/leader in their organisation  – it’s not just a more glorified professional role – and may not be for everyone who’s great at their job.  One law firm I worked with had a clear framework which specified the responsibilities at each point on the career ladder from Solicitor to Partner
  • Setting yourself a vision and goals and prioritising around these – Stephen Covey’s matrix in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is one excellent way of doing this – prioritising around what’s important and/or urgent (or not!)
  • And one of my enduring themes – it’s about changing your beliefs and letting go ie the value you bring comes from a different source, no one can do this as well as you can so you’d better do it yourself……which brings me to…
  • Understanding how to delegate successfully

And that will be the theme of my next post – don’t worry it won’t be a list of ‘practical tips’ – it’s about what it REALLY takes to delegate successfully….As always I’ve got some real life examples to share with you of the positive benefits and also some dire consequences of NOT doing it well!

As ever, please share your views below.  I look forward to hearing what you think.

Photo: © Aliaksei Hintau –

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What are the voices telling you?

September 23, 2011 2 comments

Amanda’s comment on my last post “it’s easy to become so self consumed in negativity when you fail to turn it around on the spot” got me thinking about the voices we all hear giving us a commentary on how we are doing.  No you’re not crazy, it’s part of our nature.

And very often they are negative:Voices in your head

“Who do you think you are, thinking you could be a Partner in this firm”

“What an idiot you are – you got that wrong again”

“It’s no good applying for that job because there will be hundreds of people better qualified than me”

Where do they come from? often from people who admonished us in our early life – some even hear the actual voices of those people, for others it’s a voice of their own invention.

So what can you do?

  • Remember that it takes 28 days to change a habit – that’s good news! it’s not going to take forever to change the habit of a lifetime – just 28 days of conscious focus and effort to develop a new habit of saying positive things to yourself. For example:  “OK, so I got it wrong today – next time I’ll be better able to catch myself quicker”, “I am worthy of this success”, “I’ll give it a go – because even if I don’t get it right this time I’ll have learn something and I’ll be more successful next time”
  • Believe that ‘There is no failure, only feedback’.  A coachee of mine, when he realises in retrospect he’s made a duff decision, comes up with a better solution and says to himself,  “OK, I’ve had an idea about how we can do this better”.  I’m not saying never admit to making a mistake, but do think about what new possibilities there now are.  Believe also that ‘we all make the best decision at the time based on the information available to us’.  These are what’s known in NLP as ‘beliefs of excellence’
  • Remember you’re in good company: Thomas Edison said  “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”

How have you changed the voices in your head for the better?  Do post your ideas below.

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Don’t think of a pink giraffe with blue spots

August 30, 2011 8 comments

What happens when I say that to you?  yup, it’s pretty much impossible to NOT think of something that’s drawn to your attention.  That is where your focus goes.  Also your unconscious mind doesn’t hear the word ‘don’t’ and only hears the rest of the instruction.

“Don’t forget to call me”, “I want to lose weight”, “Mind the kerb”.  All of these contain embedded commands to do exactly what you don’t want.  So this may explain why people don’t do as you ask (or think you asked!), why you don’t achieve your goals and why you fell off your bike  – because your thinking and language is ‘problem focused’ or ‘away from’ rather than ‘outcome focused’ or ‘towards’.  You’re not alone – this error is made by large organisations too: ‘don’t walk on the grass’, ‘don’t forget your green bags’.

Problem focused thinking can also be hugely demotivating – I once worked for a Director who was an absolute master of it – he took us all away to a conference which I think was meant to motivate us to greater things – but by the time we’d heard about what would happen if we didn’t up our game, how the team numbers would be cut, how our budgets would be reduced, how our status would drop we were all feeling thoroughly depressed and the confidence and optimism we’d arrived with just melted away with his words.

Some organisations have a whole culture of problem thinking, constantly looking for things to stop doing eg saving costs or failing to celebrate achievements before moving on to the next thing.  Learning from mistakes is fine – but do you also learn from what went right?!

This type of thinking is so contagious – I’m finding it really hard to write this post whereas I find they normally flow very easily!  I hope you’re not finding it as difficult to read – oh no! I mean “I hope you’re finding it easy and enjoyable to read”.Focus on the outcome you want

So what do you do instead?

  • As ever the first step to changing your thinking is to be aware of it – notice it yourself or ask a colleague or coach to draw your attention to it.  Do many of your sentences start with “I don’t want to…”
  • If you have a problem to solve ask yourself  “what do I want instead”? for instance, change “I don’t want to get bogged down with this” to “I want to be really focused with this”.
  • If you have a goal express it in the positive – not “I want to reduce customer complaints” but “I want 99% of our customers to be delighted with our service”
  • Focus on the outcome you want and vision it  “Whatever you create in your life you must first create in your imagination” – Tycho Photiou.

What are your experiences? – please share them in the comments below.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo: © Tomasz Trojanowski –