Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

Overworked and Overwhelmed? We Have an Offer for You and Your Colleagues August 22 2014 no responses

Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative - New Book by Scott EblinIf you’ve been reading this blog the past few months, you know that I’ve been working on my next book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. There are two questions that people usually ask me when they hear the title of the book. The first is, “When can I read it?” The second is “How does the new book relate to what you’ve been doing?”

On the first question, I’m thrilled to let you know that Overworked and Overwhelmed is now in production and will be available on October 13. On the second question, I view this new book as the logical successor to my first book, The Next Level. The connection is explained in the tag line of the new Eblin Group website we’re launching in a few weeks:

Leadership presence requires being present.

 The Next Level is all about leadership presence. Overworked and Overwhelmed is all about how to be present.

As you can see on our dedicated website about the book, it’s garnered very strong endorsements from best selling leadership experts like Dan Pink and Marshall Goldsmith and business leaders like the Chief Learning Officer of GE. In the same way that The Next Level offers leadership tips that are easy to do and likely to make a difference, Overworked and Overwhelmed makes the principles of mindfulness practical and accessible for stressed-out professionals who think they’re too busy to meditate. Go to the Overworked and Overwhelmed book site now to download a complementary copy of the Introduction to the book.

We’re very confident that this book is going to make a difference for you and your organization so we’re making it very attractive for you to share it with your colleagues. Here are the details. (Please share this post with those who would be interested):

Tired of the Fire Drills? Appoint a Fire Marshal August 20 2014 no responses

firemarshalOne of the things I talk a lot about with my executive coaching clients is the highest and best use of their time and attention. When they think about what they really need to accomplish and how they should be spending their time to do that they often see a gap. The gap is between what they should be spending their time and attention on and what they actually are spending it on.

When they itemize the lists on both sides of the equation they usually recognize that a lot of what sucks up their time and attention each week is fire drills. If you’re an executive or manager, you know what fire drills are. They’re the unexpected customer crises, data calls from the top or systems breakdowns that draw you into a vortex of email chains, impromptu meetings and circular conversations. Before you know it, you’ve turned over ten or twenty hours of your week to stuff you had no idea was going to even come up on Monday morning. Fire drills make it really hard to stick with and follow through on all of those more strategic and value added uses of your time and attention.

How do you get out of the fire drill time suck? Appoint a fire marshal to handle them. If you think back on your own development, you’ve likely had fire drill experiences in your career that forged you into the leader you are today. You learned a lot from those fire drills.

Give the people on your leadership team the same opportunity. Every week or two, designate one of them as the fire marshal for the team. When a fire drill sounds, the fire marshal is the first responder. If it’s a brush fire, it’s their job to get it put out and maybe not even get you involved until they tell you it’s over. If it’s a raging forest fire, they should bring you in earlier but you should give them the space to coordinate the response. If half the state is on fire, then you should probably take the lead. The good news, though, is that most fire drills don’t require water drops from big huge planes. Most are smaller than that and probably don’t require your hands on attention.

So, if you’re tired of the fire drills, try appointing some fire marshals. They’ll get some valuable experience and knowledge and you’ll have more time to do the things you know you need to but never seem to have the time for.

What’s your take? What conditions would need to be in place for you to appoint some fire marshals?

Mindful Mondays: Inject Some Life Into Your Daily Grind August 18 2014 no responses

peppergrinderBack in 2007, Tim Ferris released a mega best-seller called The 4-Hour Workweek. He’s since gone on to release a couple of other best-sellers but it was his first book that really put him on the map. It was a great title for sure. Who doesn’t want a four-hour work week?

I’ve always joked, however, that there was no way Tim Ferris was only spending four hours a week working on writing and then getting the word out about his book. As I’ve been doing the same thing on my second book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative this year, I’ve been reminded of what a time intensive process it is to write a book and then let the world know about it. (After all, what’s the point of writing it for people if no one knows it’s there?)

The biggest challenge for me this year has been to write the book and meet my normal business obligations without becoming – you guessed it – overworked and overwhelmed. It’s been an interesting exercise in eating my own dog food. I’m happy to report that it actually tastes pretty good and that most days and weeks turn out pretty well.

Still, as my wife and business partner, Diane and I move closer to the October 13 launch of the new book, we’ve found the daily grind to be more intense than usual. The good news is that working on the book has made us more acutely aware of the disparity between showing up in a mindful – aware and intentional – way and just putting our heads down and continuing to grind it out hour after hour.

For us, being mindful includes things like regular quiet time and exercise each day but it also means tuning into when we just need to inject a little more life into the daily grind. For instance, after a long day of work last Wednesday, we decided about a half hour before dinner time to go out to eat instead of the normal routine of having dinner at home. It was just a couple of hours that made it easier to get out of our heads, enjoy each other’s company and get a change of scene. Going out to eat was a super simple but highly effective way of injecting some life into the daily grind. When we got back to the work the next morning, it was with a little more energy, enthusiasm and creativity.

What super simple thing could you do this week to inject some life into your daily grind?

What Leaders Can Learn About Trust from Vladimir Putin August 13 2014 2 responses

putin1Given his track record in Crimea and Ukraine over the past several months, you wouldn’t think there is much that leaders could learn about trust from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shoot down of the Malaysian Air flight, the Russian-backed rebels, the troops massed on the Ukrainian border, the government-stoked propaganda in Russian media and the current “humanitarian” convoy that the Russian army is driving into Ukraine have blown the international community’s trust in Putin out of the water.

So, what in the heck could a leader learn about trust from Putin? It’s one of those what-not-to-do kind of lessons. An article in the New York Times about Germany’s changing relationship with Putin sets the table for the lesson. A longtime German politician named Gernot Erler is quoted in the article. Erler has been working on establishing a stronger relationship between Germany and Russia for decades. He’s done with that. As he said in the article:

“The policy of Vladimir Putin is destroying reserves of trust with breathtaking speed. Russia is not naming its goals and has suddenly become unpredictable. And being unpredictable is the greatest enemy of partnership. Restoring trust will take time.”

And in that quote is the lesson about trust. People won’t trust you if you’re unpredictable.

As I’ve written here before, my favorite explanation of trust comes from Fernando Flores. He believes trust is dependent on three factors: Sincerity, Credibility and Competence. You could argue that when it comes to at least the first two of those three factors, Putin has proven to be predictably unpredictable.

Of course, most leaders aren’t in a position to disrupt the world order in the way that Putin has, but, within their own domain, they can either do a lot of good or damage in the way they build or break trust.

If you’re a leader (or parent or friend or co-worker), it might be really useful to ask yourself on a regular basis, “What am I doing to build or break trust?” Taking a look at your sincerity, credibility and competence are a good place to start the self-exam. For good measure, you might want to throw predictability into the mix.

What’s your take? What are the most impactful ways to either build trust or break it?

Mindful Mondays: Why You Should Reset Your Brain and How to Do It August 11 2014 no responses

reset-buttonThe most emailed article on The New York Times website today is an article called Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain. It’s by Daniel Levitin of McGill University and it explains the findings of research that he did with a colleague at Stanford. The big headline is that they’ve identified a part of the brain called the insula that controls the interplay between focused attention and daydreaming. The brain has two neural networks that manage attention. One is for focus; the other is for daydreaming. They’re designed to counterbalance each other. The insula helps them do that.

As I discuss in my forthcoming book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, with all of the input that’s coming at us in every 21st century day and all that we’re trying to cram into a 168 hour week, it’s easy for the brain to get overwhelmed. As Levitin writes in his article, “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited.”

The research (and perhaps your personal experience) shows that you need to take regular breaks to reset your brain so that the focused attention and daydreaming networks can do their jobs. As I wrote here just a couple of weeks ago in How to Overcome Your Fear of Thinking, most people, when they reflect on it, realize that their best ideas come when they’re taking a break from their primary work. That’s the daydreaming network coming into play to give the focused attention network a rest.

Looking for more ideas on how to reset your brain for optimal performance? Check out these other posts:

What’s your go-to move for resetting your brain? Share your favorites in the comments.

Mindful Mondays: Hit the Showers August 4 2014 2 responses

showersOne of the features in my forthcoming book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, is a series of sidebars called Habit Hacks. The Habit Hacks are simple things that are easy to do and likely to make a difference in feeling less overworked and overwhelmed.

I have a feeling that I’m going to be collecting a lot of good Habit Hacks over the next few years. Just last week for instance, I heard one from a client who’s been working on incorporating deep breathing into his day as a way to be more mindful (aware and intentional) and less stressed.

Earlier this year, we kicked around the idea of him sitting in his car and breathing for a few minutes before he left the parking garage to go into his building in the mornings. That worked some days for him but not others depending on his commute and his early morning schedule.

In the meantime, he realized that taking a shower each workday morning is one thing he does that is consistently reliable. So, he’s started the Habit Hack of taking three deep breaths while he’s standing in the shower each morning. It wakes him up, clears his head and gets him ready for his day.

Easy to do? Yep, it only takes an extra minute or so in the shower that he was going to take anyway. Makes a difference? It does for him.

One of the big points of my new book is that you don’t have to meditate like a monk to benefit from mindfulness. All it takes is a few minutes (or even less in the case of the Habit Hack in the shower) to center yourself, become more aware and set your intention for what’s next.

What are the mindfulness Habit Hacks that work for you?

Weird Al Takes Business Buzz Word Abusers to School July 31 2014 one response

Years ago, someone introduced me to a game called BS Bingo. (They actually spelled it out but I’m keeping things PG here.) If you were playing, you had a bingo type card where each square contained a common business buzzword. You could take the card to a meeting and check off the boxes as you heard the words used. When you got five in a row in any direction, you yelled out, “BS!” and you were the winner.

God bless Weird Al Yankovic for bringing BS Bingo into the 21st Century. He’s recently released the video for “Mission Statement,” the last song on his new album (which hit number one on the Billboard chart last week!).

Making world class use of a whiteboard, Weird Al makes the case that “We must all efficiently operationalize our strategies,” and “leverage our core competencies.” Because, of course, at the end of the day it’s all about the synergy.

If it just doesn’t feel appropriate to yell out, “BS!” in your next management meeting, watch this video instead. It’s hilarious and at least it proves you’re not the only one being driven out of your mind.

 

What was your favorite line in the song? Any buzzwords that drive you crazy that Al missed and should include in the sequel?

Mindful Mondays: How to Overcome Your Fear of Thinking July 28 2014 5 responses

fear-thoughtsIf you haven’t seen it, take a look at this recent article in the New York Times titled “No Time To Think”.

It’s a fascinating recap of a study at the University of Virginia that confirms what you may already know. Lots of us are keep ourselves “super busy” because we’d rather have a day packed with doing stuff than leave anytime to be alone with our thoughts. The UVA study showed that most people don’t like being in their own heads for even six minutes because if you give yourself time to think you might have to think about difficult, unresolved problems or challenges.

Just like you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know about it, you can’t solve it if you don’t think about it. But if you don’t think about it, it’s just going to eat at you. It will still be lurking in the background as you avoid thinking about it.

The impact of all that lurking is stress and anxiety that will cause you to think that much less clearly. Avoiding your thoughts damages your relationships because not tuning into your own thoughts and feelings makes it much less likely that you’ll be able to tune into the thoughts and feelings of others. It also has a serious impact on your health as I noted in Chill Out. Your Life Depends On It.

Earlier this year I wrote a post called Three Simple Ways to Create Space to Think. Of course, that post assumed that you were interested in finding the space. If you’re starting to think that you’ve packed your days to avoid thinking, here are three ideas that might help you overcome that.

Mindful Mondays: Don’t Burn Your Calendar at Both Ends July 21 2014 3 responses

burningagendaPerhaps you think I meant to use the word candle rather than calendar in the title of this post. Nope, calendar was what I meant but the idea came from a brain blip I had recently.

I was conducting interviews with about a dozen colleagues and friends of a new executive coaching client. One of my questions was, “What do you hope he gets out of this coaching engagement?” and someone answered, “I hope he’ll quit burning the candle at both ends.” When I went back to review my conversation notes to write the report, I saw that what I had actually written down was, “I hope he’ll quit burning the calendar at both ends.”

I laughed at my mistake and thought that there’s actually something to that. So many people today are burning the calendar at both ends. I see so many people who are trying to cram way more stuff than they can possibly fit into the 168 hours that each of us are given each week. In the category of true confessions, I’m sometimes one of those people myself.

But, based on personal experience, the best practices of my clients and what I learned writing my forthcoming book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, here are three sure-fire methods to keep you from burning your calendar at both ends. (Please share your own sure fire methods in the comments.)

ESPN’s Stuart Scott Brings You the Best 15 Minutes of Your Day July 17 2014 one response

Last night at the ESPY awards, SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott took up the mantle of Jim Valvano when he accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award.

Scott has battled multiple forms of cancer for seven years now. As recently as last week, he had four surgeries in seven days because of complications from his latest round of treatment. And yet, he stood on stage last night and delivered a speech on living and loving that you need to watch. It will be the best 15 minutes of your day – even if it makes you cry.

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