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Do you use a “To-Do List” to effectively manage your time and to enjoy life?

Having a “To Do” list can be an effective time management tool for clarifying, prioritizing, and goal achievement. To–Do lists can be used as a godsend or allowed to become demons. The latter was the case with Mike, a 30-something I.T. specialist, who is married and father of two young boys.

“What’s on your mind,” I asked Mike as we meet for a coaching session.

Mike: I’m totally task-driven, I’ve got a To-Do list for everything.

Me: How’s that a problem for you?

Mike: On the one hand, it’s gotten me where I’m at in my career. It keeps me focused on what I need to accomplish. The problem is with my home life, where I’ve also got a to-do list for everything. It’s gotten to the point where my to-do list runs my life. Last week, for example, my wife suggested we go for a ride, as the boys were off at something or other and we hadn’t spent any time together for ages. I turned her down, however, because I wouldn’t take the time away from accomplishing the tasks on my to-do list.

Later that day, Mike said, he was heading for the hardware store for something he needed for a project he was working on but his wife stopped him to ask where he was going. When Mike informed her of his intentions she insisted he take along one of the boys who’d returned home. Mike objected because he was in a hurry, but reluctantly gave in and took the son.

Recalling that day, Mike said he couldn’t remember what he’d been working on but he fondly recalled the time with his son. The two of them had fun together and Mike was thankful he’d given in to wife demands. He was remorseful, however, that his to-do list addiction had prevented him earlier in the day to spend a little quality time with his wife. Mike was seriously bothered by the fact that he was ruled by his To-Do list. His question to me was:

How do I free myself from this addiction so that I can enjoy myself and my family but still accomplish what I want and need to do?

I have great empathy for Mike on this matter, since I share some of his compulsiveness, which frequently inhibits enjoying life in the moment. My following two suggestions to Mike come, therefore, more from professional knowledge than from abundant personal success on this score:

  • Along with your important priorities, identify things you enjoy and include them on your “To-Do” list. Also include time to do nothing as a priority item. That way you get to rate enjoyable activities as task accomplished.
  • When faced with competing pulls between task or a relationship, ask yourself: What ultimately is going to be the most important outcome? At the end of the day—you life, which is going to result in feeling good about yourself? If it’s the task, then go about it guilt free. But if it’s a relationship building opportunity you can be fully justified in the time off task and on a higher priority. Good advice for Mike and for me. How about you?
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Are you experiencing a call for new meaning and purpose in your life?

Recently I was coaching a 47-year-old Clara who burst into tears as we were reviewing her assessment results.  Sobbingly she reported:

My life is almost over and I’ve never done what I really wanted! I feel like my life has been a lie and now I’m trapped in my job and I don’t even know who I am.

As a 60-plusser, I was dismayed to learn that someone would think her life was almost over at such a fruitful age. I was also surprised to learn that Clara, in a job with the federal government that many would love to have, was so unhappy and confused. Clearly, she was in the midst of what I call a self-realization crisis.

As a young woman Clara dreamed of playing the cello and becoming a veterinarian.  These desires ran counter to what her mother wanted of her, however, which was to get a good paying job to help support the family.  Out of guilt, Clara squelched her personal ambitions and acquiesced to her mother’s wishes.  Later, in married life, she again deferred her aspirations to support her husband’s career and provide for family needs. Her discontent was compounded by an abusive boss who showed little respect to her, and a husband so focused on his retirement plans that he was unwilling to listen to her needs and desires. It’s no wonder she felt trapped and depressed.

Clara had been aware for some time that she was going against the grain of her natural inclinations. It took a leadership assessment program, an encounter with the Passion Revealer assessment, and a career coach, however, to fully reveal the gap between who she had become and who she wanted to be.  As Clara regained her composure we discussed her passion-based aspirations and strengths, and developed a goal suited to this stage of her life. Her childhood dreams of working with animals and playing the violin remained a passion.  To pursue these persisting interests she decided to make a career transition to work at an animal preserve where she could care for injured critters.  As a leisure pursuit, she intended to take up the cello and to play solely for her own enjoyment. While it’s taken Clara half a lifetime to realize her passion, the good news is that she’s now on the path and has found the courage to become her “real self.”

In my work with thousands of adults over the past thirty years, I’ve observed that a call to “self-realization” often is heard during one’s mid-life years.  Our early years tend to be so focused on outward concerns that few have time to attend to the needs of their unique and personal inner selves.  That changes, however, as heightened concerns with meaning, identity, and purpose enter the center stage of our mid-life concerns.  It’s at this time when we need to make time to reflect upon what we want in life, who we want to become, and to re-conceptualize what will make us happy in our future years.

If you’re experiencing an inner calling for new meaning and purpose in your life, it’s a good time to consult with a wise mentor or a career/life coach for help in clarifying your self-realization needs, broadening your perceptions, and creating a possible new, or renewed agenda for your life, work, and your learning.

Listening versus Hearing in Leadership and Life

“I just don’t understand it,” said Leo in response to getting severely dinged by his subordinates on his 360 Degree feedback report. “ I hear every damn word they say.  Over the last weekend, for example, I thought about what my staff had said in Friday’s meeting, and on Monday I put many of those things into action.  How can they possibly say I don’t listen?”

Leo was upset, angry, and insulted from this feedback.  In our executive coaching session it became clear that Leo was confusing hearing with active listening.  There is a world of difference between these two modalities. It only takes ears to hear but active listening requires hearing, thinking, reacting, and communicating responsively.  Merely hearing what another is saying provides no indication of whether you got the communications, understood the intent, agreed or disagreed, valued it, or disregarded it completely.

Leo was a hearer, not a listener.  His staff, therefore, had no idea of what he was doing with their input, if anything.  As far as they were concerned, they might as well be talking to a blank wall.  Leo carefully digested their input, but without any visible response.  The result was that Leo’s staff felt unappreciated and disinclined to bother with a seemingly futile effort to share their best thinking, good ideas, or problem solving input.

In her book Listening: The Forgotten Skill, (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1995) Madelyn Burely-Allen identifies the following three levels of listening:

  1. Listening non-judgmentally with understanding to the intent and feelings, paying attention to the speaker’s total communication, actively processing and responding.
  2. Hearing words but making minimal effort to understand the speaker’s intent, appearing to listen intently when in fact you’re only slightly concentrating.
  3. Listening in spurts, hearing more than listening; being passive and judgmental.

At which level do you think Leo was operating?  Which level do you function in most frequently?  Are you inclined to listen at one level with certain individuals and another with others?  What do you see as the result of your current listening competency in your work and life?

Active listening at Level 1 can produce huge benefits personally and professionally.  It’s well known, for example, that top leaders are great listeners.  Leading-edge organizations realize they must become “learning organizations” through active listening to remain viable in today’s global economy.  Poor listening lies at the heart of most conflicts and relationship problems.

Level 1 listening is one of life’s greatest gifts.  When you know you’re truly being listened to you think more deeply, become more aware of what you’re saying and feel valued as an intelligent and worthwhile person.  In listening to others, you encourage them to become more deeply aware of what they are saying and thinking and provide a golden opportunity for mutual learning.  To be more effective in your life, work, and learning, become a powerful listener — it’s a win-win investment for you and others, and it’s free!