If you are committed to professional growth, but don’t have time to take classes or read books, these five practices can make a huge difference in your effectiveness — often immediately!
Five Daily Practices
1. Listen Longer
The road to becoming a great listener is infinite, but you can make progress simply by listening a few minutes longer in most of your conversations. When you feel yourself about to interrupt or give a suggestion, hold on one more minute before doing so. When you catch yourself getting distracted, force your thoughts back to the interaction at hand, and engage with all your curiosity.
When I do this I’m often surprised at how much more people open up. They reveal more of their thinking, come up with more creative ideas, and resolve their own conflicts just by talking them through.
2. Explain Why …. Incessantly
From your vantage point it may seem obvious how everything fits together, what the plan is to get from point A to point B, and how the decisions you make support the overall mission. You may feel that you have communicated this several times. But most people don’t get the message, even when they hear it more than once – because they are listening from their own perspective. If you make a practice of inserting the “why” into your daily conversations, then over time it sinks in and people start subconsciously grounding themselves in it.
You don’t have to be long-winded – simply adding a few words to a direction or a question can make all the difference in the world. For instance, saying “Notice when you do it this way, how much better it serves our purpose of X”, or “That’s a very good question. Keeping our overall purpose of Y in mind – what decision would you make?”
3. Focus in Concentrated Spurts
We all know that we don’t do our best work when we multi-task. Still, it’s hard to stay focused when we get interrupted constantly from people who really need us. If you can block out just 15-20 minutes at a time with no interruptions whatsoever, you’ll be surprised how much more you can accomplish.
Since focus time is precious, choose your task wisely. Pick your most important project that requires concentration and go uninterrupted for as long as you can. It’s also important to be obviously available outside of your focus time so that there is a clear delineation between when you are and are not available. If you can get into a rhythm so that there is a pattern to your “unavailable time” that’s even better. You’ll notice that if you are consistent, your team will quickly pick up on your schedule and accommodate you.
4. Optimize Routine Tasks
We all have mundane but necessary tasks that we do regularly and can work into a routine. Think expense reports, household chores, exercise, or anything you can do without much thought. The magic of systemizing is what happens to your brain once a routine becomes a habit. You move into a near meditative state that is ideal for creative problem solving and innovation.
For example, I often develop classes while I am walking the dog. I have prepared for important conversations while driving, solved problems while playing solitaire, and written articles in my head while folding and putting away laundry. The key is to do the mundane task the same way every time so at some point you stop thinking about it. Then allow your brain to meander around a problem or question. Anything in your life routine that is somewhat repetitive can be turned into a haven for innovation!
5. Push Against Your Comfort Zone
Do something each day that makes you a little bit uncomfortable. This builds confidence and resilience while also reducing the tendency to procrastinate. Our brain is programmed to develop a comfort zone based on habits so we can function efficiently. However, if we get too set in our ways we stop growing and miss out on important opportunities. If you do one thing each day that makes you a little bit uncomfortable, you actually create a habit of pushing yourself.
Often, getting started is all it takes to gain momentum and accomplish something fantastic. Some examples are: committing 10 minutes to a draining task, going to an event you’d rather avoid, being honest when you feel awkward, apologizing, or saying no.
It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but if you acknowledge yourself each time, you’ll start noticing a difference very quickly, and that builds confidence which accelerates this upward spiral even more.
Bonus – Reflect, Adjust, and Choose new Practices
In the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve noticed that those who make lasting changes follow a three-step pattern:
- Clarify what they want to change (how they want to become more effective)
- Choose something small to practice, and pay attention while practicing, often logging what they notice.
- Actively reflect on what they learned, either by journaling or discussing their observations. Then they go back to step one.
Have fun with these ideas and be sure to share what is changing for you as a result – I’d love to hear from you!