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Improve Your Focus and Outperform the Hardest Worker in the Room: You

Inspired by this week’s Moms Making Six Figures Podcast episode with Laurel Hamblin, an incredibly successful realtor in the Treasure Valley at the young age of twenty-three, who credits her success to her pursuit of personal growth and the time she invested in herself and her career by taking the steps necessary to establish focus, even when it required (and continues to require) sacrifice.


In addition to the stress, the worry, and the very real consequences the last two years have brought many of us, now we’re facing another fallout: the inability to focus.  According to Harvard Medical School, ‘brain fog’ can be caused a variety of factors that accumulate in “wear and tear that affects processing”; these factors can range from physiological stressors to the very real plague of information overload.  “We are bombarded with information from TVs, computers, and messages such as texts or emails.  ‘When there’s too much material, it burdens our filtering system and it’s easy to get distracted.’” So how do we get back to our ability to focus? How do we become so passionate about the task at hand that we lose all track of time, notifications, and the buzzing of our devices?


Start Here

Our brain is a muscle, and does a lot of heavy lifting.  Neuropsychologist Kim Willment suggests rehabilitating our brain’s capacity for focus by participating in a single-task exercise like reading.  “Read something for 30 minutes, setting a timer to go off every five minutes.  When it goes off, ask yourself if your mind as wandered.  If so, just refocus on what you’re reading. By training your brain to monitor if your mind is wandering, you strengthen the monitoring process and the ability to maintain focus on a single task.”

 

No Direction

Performance Psychologist, Helen D’Silva, attributes our struggle to focus to a lack of clarity about what we need to do next.  Without clear steps in the beginning phase of any task, we will succumb to our emotions and become derailed.  It’s worth noting, that the plan itself doesn’t need to be fool proof.  Instead, our plan simply needs to trick our own inner critic to feel confident enough to move forward in taking the next step.

 

Warren Buffet’s “2 List” Strategy

Part of our inability to focus is largely due to our inability to prioritize; we believe that everything deserves our time and attention and we struggle to say no to tasks and other people’s priorities that pull us away from our own.  Buffet asked his personal pilot to go through this exercise to help him to better focus on what mattered most to him.  First, he had him create a list of 25 career goals, then he had him circle his top 5 goals; at this point he had 2 lists, List A, and 20 un-circled items on List B.  Buffet’s pilot, Flint, said we would begin working on List A right away, to which Buffet asked what he would do with List B.

Flint replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

 

Be Still

When you’re trying to focus and make headway on a project or a goal, nothing can be more frustrating than tasks that pull you out of “the zone”.  Unfortunately, that zone rarely requires intentionality or your full presence.  In order to get focused rather than busy, we must first get still.  “Mindfulness is about focusing attention on the present moment and practicing mindfulness has been shown to rewire the brain so that attention is stronger in everyday life,” says Kim Willment.

 

Unplug

Distraction has become our new normal, and our devices are normalizing that distraction.  According to AARP, older Americans have superior attention spans due in large part to their limited interaction with technology during vital years. “When participants in a study at Hokkaido University in Japan performed a task on a computer, those with a phone nearby performed more slowly than those who had a memo pad. Similarly, a single notification on your phone weakens your ability to focus on a task, researchers at Florida State University found. Those notifications may be short, but ‘they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering,’ the researchers wrote.”

Even worse? Our inability to unplug is creating anxiety and increased stress levels.  When our bodies are in a physiological state of “fight or flight” we cannot expect to focus on any higher-level thinking or performance for that matter.


While there are simple ways to improve our focus like keeping the room at an optimal temperature (77 degrees according to Cornell University) and chewing gum, the truth is that in order to reap the rewards of our increased ability to focus, we have to first put in the hard work to recalibrate our brains by cutting through the noise of the outside world.  When you establish your focus again, protect and maintain it.  You can only outwork the hardest worker, if you can focus your hard work on the most important goals on List A.

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Own Your Calendar to Own Your Life

Inspired by this week’s featured Reflection Weeks episode of the Moms Making Six Figures Podcast with our founder, Heidi Bartolotta, who believes in owning your calendar to own your life.  There is freedom in taking back your most finite resource: time. 


One of the perks of mentoring teens through some of their most tumultuous years is getting to be a first-hand witness to their astounding growth as they step into their identity and find their passion for life.  Their contagious energy is also wildly admirable (yes, I realize they sleep in absurd stretches of time, but have you seen what they juggle and accomplish when they are awake?!) and I often find myself thinking back to my own college days while drinking my third cup of coffee, “How do they do it? How did I do it?”

Quite simply, young adults are experts at time management (please suspend your disbelief, I can hear your cries of outrage echoing across the internet).   Really, it’s true.  Their schedules are every bit as demanding and filled to the brim as our own, but they have the hard-wired training and resources to manage all the moving pieces (with our guidance, chauffeuring, and financial support of course). They know the secrets many of us have forgotten when we left the world of 18 credit semesters and part-time jobs behind: the secrets of time blocking and a balanced calendar.  Here are six strategies you can begin implementing today to take back your calendar, and your time, to find freedom for fun and pursuing your passions.


Time Blocking

Unlike teens and university students, most of us don’t have dedicated and focused amounts of time (blocks) throughout our day for specific and similar tasks, like our ENGL 101 course. When we were students, whatever remained to be completed at the end of a class got put on the back burner while we focused our attention on the next block, and it didn’t come back to our mind until we hit our study block later that day.

Looking over your own calendar, begin by identifying all the daily tasks that are an essential and necessary part of your routine, both personally and professionally.  Group like tasks, and assign blocks of time to each.  Instead of living by a to-do list that will inevitably lead to burn out, with time blocking you focus your attention and energy on related tasks in a set period of time; what remains to be done, will remain to be done, and you move on to the next block.

Color Coding

Now that you’ve organized your calendar into blocks of time, designate each block with its corresponding color of your seven chakras.  This isn’t just some new age magic or an excuse to play with colorful pens, instead this technique allows you to see, visually, where your calendar and likely your life is out of alignment.  Each of your chakras corresponds to one of seven energy points in your body; if we’re trying to better manage our time, motivation, and energy, it would make sense to start from a point of reflection to achieve more synergy.

Here is just one way to approach this technique according to LinkedIn blogger John Rampton, “For example, because red is the root chakra symbolizing survival and safety, you would want to use that color for all work-related tasks.  For creative tasks, you might choose to use orange; yellow would represent the items that help you grow; green is reserved for personal events like lunch with a friend; blue equates to activities that express your mind like writing, and indigo is meant for activities that deserve your attention.”

E-mail

It’s a necessary part of doing business, and most parts of our modern lives.  If we don’t manage our e-mail, our avoidance of it will eventually manage us.  You have to commit time to organizing your personal and professional communication, and once you have a system in place, in order to maintain it, you need to give it its own block in your day.  We said we what we said, there is no way around it.  See Do It Yourselfbelow.

Eat the Frog

There’s a reason this time management technique took the business world by storm when it first debuted, and continues to do so.  According to Brian Tracy, the technique’s founder, when you tackle your Most Important Task of the day before you turn your attention to anything else, you can, “go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worse things are going to [go] all day long.”  Even science proves that our most productive and focused hours are in the morning, before other distractions and tasks consume our energy.

Determine when your “Power Hours” are and dedicate that Time Block to your biggest work frog each day; best to eat it before lunch so you can cleanse your palate as the day continues.

Schedule Everything

If it isn’t important enough to make it on your calendar, it probably doesn’t deserve one of your time blocks.  Conversely, there are aspects of our lives that are essential to our well-being and our soul’s nourishment; if these areas aren’t making it onto your calendar, you’re likely experiencing some alignment issues between your personal and professional life.  Just as you would schedule a block of time for meetings, schedule a block of time to take care of your physical and mental health, whatever that looks like for you. And, if you have a tendency to allow your work day to linger long into the evenings and time with your family and friends is continually being compromised, it’s time to begin scheduling an ‘Out of Office’ time as well.

Make yourself an optional list of ‘electives’ and ‘extra-curriculars’ you’d like to pursue if there are openings in your schedule, but that can also be the first things to be removed when your calendar begins to feel chaotic or life begins to feel unbalanced.  And perhaps the biggest challenge, dare we say it, begin to block open time into your day every single day that you can choose how to flexibly fill depending on what the day and your dreams demand

Do It Yourself

When you find the system, or systems, that work best for you, the most successful entrepreneurs have found that as soon as they begin to outsource their time management, they begin to outsource their control over their own life as well. Maintain your own calendar, reflect on it and refine it often, and share it with the people who it affects the most, but never outsource your schedule to someone else to plan for you.


Teens and young adults are exceptional at time-management because they have no other choice but to be.  When you own your calendar, you own your time and ultimately you own your life.  Fine tune this skill and achieve your personal and professional goals while also gaining better alignment and freedom with your most finite resource: time.

 

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Manage Your Mind

Inspired by this week’s episode of the Moms Making Six Figures Podcast with Brooke Paulin who believes in the practice of managing your mind and the small daily habits that lead to great success over time.


 In a world where we are inundated with more information and more access to it than ever before, we are faced with new challenges like ‘consumer fatigue’, information overwhelm and digital burnout.  The media and social media industries are designed to be addictive in nature, releasing dopamine or cortisol dependent on the nature of the content, that keeps us coming back for more and ultimately conditions our behavior.  Information, and the way in which we access it is not the enemy, instead it is our passive consumption of that content that can wreak havoc, particularly when we are bombarded with negativity, click-bait headlines, and divisive rhetoric.  Just as we fuel our bodies and health with nutrition and exercise, we must manage our mind and the information we choose to fill it with.

With nearly 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the US using social media, it is time for us to become active participants in managing our minds, our mental states, and our mental health.  Here are a few small changes you can make to be better prepared and intentional with the information and inputs you choose.


Reality Check

We would never let our children sit for hours on end, absent-mindedly in front of screens and we shouldn’t allow it for ourselves either.  While it may not seem like you’re spending that much time on devices outside of necessity, your Weekly Activity Report likely shows something different.

Start by taking an inventory of the current time you spend consuming content intentionally vs. out of habit or boredom.  Once you have begun to inventory your passive or active consumption tendencies, track for a day (or longer) every piece of information you digest with a “+” if it is beneficial to your personal life, work life, or overall well being, a ”–“ if it negatively impacted or took away from your personal life, work life, or overall well being, and an “=” for no impact other than time lost.

Seeing our habits in black and white allows us to see where our own struggles actually exist.  It takes five positive interactions to offset each negative interaction; is it any wonder we are more anxious, depressed, and lonely than ever before?

Schedule (and plan) Your Screen time

Self-monitoring and scheduling your consumption habits can change not only your perception of the information you digest, but also, your behaviors.  In 2018 the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that observed the behaviors of 143 undergraduates.  One group was asked to limit all social media activity to only 10 minutes per platform, per day, while the second was allowed to use their social media as usual for three weeks.   The group that limited their scrolling “showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression during those three weeks over the group that continued using social media.”

As Brooke pointed out in this week’s podcast, “I don’t think that some of the top CEO’s, and, you know, multi-million dollar female business owners … I don’t think that they’re scrolling through social media that’s not feeding their mind. There’s no room for that.”  What would you be able to accomplish in a week of limiting your scrolling habits?

Empty the Junk Folder

Once you’ve taken inventory of the information and input you’re allowing in, and you’ve refined your mindless scrolling by replacing it with intentionally scheduled time for content consumption, get rid of anything that isn’t serving you, your mental health, your professional life, or your personal life.

Once you’ve emptied the Junk Folder, take note from some of the most successful people and follow suit by replacing what wasn’t serving you with content that does.  According to research, what makes highly successful people less stressed, happier, and more productive is scheduling their personal priorities before tending to other people’s priorities.  That goes for what you’re consuming too.  Instead of starting your day by checking email, dedicate an hour of your morning hour to be your Power Hour where you replenish your motivation with podcasts, books and curated content that supports your goals, challenges you, and leaves you feeling ready to tackle the day.  Ask your mentors what they listen to, what they read, and who they follow on social media to begin refining your palate.


In order to be successful in managing our mind, our mental state and our mental health, we must be intentional about what we consume and prepare our daily activity and schedules with discernment.  Just as nutrition is fundamental to achieving our health and wellness goals, so is the information we consume.  We avoid pitfalls of hunger by meal planning and preparation, and we can avoid the pitfalls of media and social media by planning and being thoughtful consumers.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” –Alexander Graham Bell

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Effective Time Management Tips for Busy Moms

Does it ever feel like 24 hours in a day just aren’t enough? Those deadlines, meetings, and endless chores can leave you time for little else. Add kids to the mix, and it’s a whole different ball game.

You’re always on your children’s time. Their sleep schedule, school runs, sports and other after-school activities, bath time, homework… it never ends. As working moms especially, we can feel like we’re constantly playing catch-up. If only we had more time, we could do it all!

Unfortunately, I can’t give you more hours in the day, but I can share with you effective tips to better manage your valuable time. We can all use more ways to stay organized and find those hidden pockets of time in our day—believe me, they do exist!

How Much Time Do You Really Have?

It’s easy to get so busy that hours can rush by in what feels like minutes.

Let’s say you have 4 hours from the time you get home until you go to sleep. It may seem like plenty of time to get things done, but in reality, that time gets used up quickly. Between cooking dinner, helping the kids with their homework, bath time, and chores, you’ll be lucky if you get an hour to yourself.

Be realistic about gauging how much time you actually have to accomplish tasks so that you don’t get overwhelmed and try to accomplish too much in the time allotted. Follow these time management tips to get a better handle on your valuable time!

Prioritize and Eliminate

Do you ever feel like you’ve been busy all day, but haven’t gotten anything done—running to put one fire out after another? I get it! There are days when the unexpected just keeps pushing you off track.

Try to avoid unexpected delays by planning ahead as much as possible. On Sunday night, write down your tasks for the week and prioritize them. Don’t try and do it all—you don’t need to! Make appointments with yourself to finish the important tasks first. Be specific about when each task will start and end, and complete it within that time frame.

Also take a moment to identify the time-wasters throughout your day. A 5-minute break to check your Facebook page can easily turn into 30 minutes or more if you’re not careful. Save these things for the end of your day, when the priority tasks on your list are done.

Learn to Say “No”

I’ve said it before: it’s okay to say “no”! It’s wonderful to volunteer, but you don’t have to participate in every school fundraiser or take on additional projects at work.

If you find it difficult to say “no”—or feel guilty when you do—try to put it in perspective by looking at the big picture. Saying “no” will free up time that could be better spent having fun with your family or accomplishing a project on your to-do list that’s been bothering you for months. Just be polite about it—there’s no need to feel bad! A simple, “No thanks, I can’t make it” will suffice.

Interruptions: The Reality of Mom Life

No matter how perfectly planned your day is, there is always something that interrupts your plans. Such is mom life.

Schedule time for these interruptions. If you have 4 hours to accomplish your tasks for the day, factor in a at least one hour for unexpected interruptions. That way, when you are interrupted, it won’t derail your entire day. If—by some miracle—there are no interruptions in your day, then you may even be able to get additional things done or enjoy some rare “me time”.

Remember, interruptions can occur at any time and you may have to rearrange your schedule around them, so it’s important to stay flexible and not panic if things don’t go as planned.

Get Good Quality Sleep

Your kids shouldn’t be the only ones with bed times—you should too! Even if you can’t plan out your day as much as you’d like, make sure to get some sleep by scheduling and sticking to a time for going to bed.

If your kids are young, this may not be uninterrupted sleep (from 1am feedings to snuggles after nightmares, it’s always something!), but make it a priority for yourself. Between 6 to 8 hours (ha!) of good quality sleep will help you function your best. When you’re well rested, dealing with both the planned and unplanned events of the day is a lot easier.

So many moms, myself included, run ourselves ragged staying up hours after the kids’ bedtime to get some of our endless tasks done. But you won’t be much good to your kids or yourself if you’re not well rested.

Do yourself a favor and invest in a good bed. The last thing you need is aches and pains nagging you throughout your busy day!

Stay on Track: Be Judicious With Your Time

There are only 24 hours in a day. If you want to clear your to-do list, your time is the one thing you shouldn’t waste. Don’t add things to your plate that you don’t have to. Prioritize what means the most to you and your family, and practice saying no without guilt. And when you do have some extra time, make sure to spend some of it on yourself—you deserve it!