Archive for the ‘Focus’ Category

Worth Repeating – September posts from New Leaf News

(photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve sorted through the New Leaf archives to choose a few posts from Septembers past. Here’s a sample of what was on our mind during recent years.

When no work is getting done, you can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm, and yet you can’t relax either, it’s time to get serious about avoiding burnout. Here are some important clues to look for and some useful steps to take.

The modern world seems determined to shatter our focus ; don’t allow it! Minimize interruptions and feel the joy of focused work.

Need a quote for your September screen-saver? Try this Chinese proverb to remind you of your commitment to focus.

Wishing all New Leaf News readers & writers a lovely September!


Time Myth: “busy people are more productive”

Ready for a tough assignment? The next time you feel overwhelmed because you have too much to do, slow down.

This is not easy. It is a natural tendency to rush through our work when we feel short of time, but in the end it doesn’t help. That’s because busy-ness is not the same thing as productivity.

Our goal is not to do the most things, but to do the most important things.

The next time you feel really rushed, stop and take stock of all you have to do. Give yourself a full minute to take it in. Think about what really is the most important thing for you to move forward. Then do that one thing.

At the end of the day, you’ll find that the discipline of moving mindfully through your tasks, rather than racing frantically through them, allows you to get more of the important things done while feeling less stressed and more in control.

Time Myth: “I have to run faster to get everything done”

We all have certain beliefs and assumptions that we make about time. One common assumption I encounter: getting more done requires running faster.

clock with color pencil effect by Margaret LukensSome time management systems encourage us to work faster to save maybe 10 or 15 percent of our time. And while a saving of 10 percent is always welcome, there are much bigger gains available, and they come with less stress. Getting those really big productivity gains requires challenging our fundamental assumptions about time and how we use it.

While I respect David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, the title is a bit misleading. We can “get things done” 24-7 and still be no further ahead. There is simply no correlation between getting lots of stuff done and being successful.

Productivity improvement does not come from running faster. It comes from having clear goals to pursue and then allocating enough time to work on the steps required to meet those goals. It may require defending that allotted time against others who would intrude on it.

What could we substitute for the old belief, “I have to run faster to get everything done?” Try this on: “I need to be absolutely clear what I want to achieve so I can get the most important things done.”  There will always be more stuff to do than can easily be done in a day. It was true when my ancestors were clearing granite chunks from farm fields, and it’s true when silicon chips allow people to flood my in-box with email day in and day out.

Before trying to run faster, ask yourself where you really want to go. You may find it’s closer than you thought.

Quote: write your goal

A quote for the day:

The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.

— Lee Iacocca

Productivity in 10 words or less

Really. You can sum up all the productivity advice in the world in just 10 words:

  1. One thing at a time.
  2. Most important first.
  3. Start now.

All the rest is commentary.

(I made the photo using the Candy Heart Generator at, a site I also enjoy for their very funny, satirical anti-motivational posters. Pay them a visit.)

Need a Net Nanny? Rescue Time Provides the Loving Discipline.

How do you waste time at your computer? Are you an obsessive email-checker? Do you while away hours playing solitaire or backgammon? Are your achievements in Farmville and Mafia Wars huge compared to your achievements in the real world? Are you a connoisseur of funny pet videos on YouTube?

image courtesy of

With temptation never more than one little mouse click away, our best productive plans can easily be derailed. I can always divert myself from work that is difficult or tedious by clicking over to something amusing (I’m a solitaire and backgammon girl, myself.) Even when I’m not trying to avoid work, it’s easy to be drawn from one site by a link, that leads me to another interesting link, that leads to…. Day’s over and nothing’s accomplished.

Did you ever wish for something that would help to keep you on track, a sort of nanny to remind you of what you should be doing right now? Enter Rescue Time. Rescue Time bills itself as time management, productivity, and project tracking software. Running in the background on your computer, it’s basic function is to track what you’re spending time on – business, email, social networking, meetings and phone calls, and so on.

Time Rescue provides pre-assigned categories of activities, which are surprisingly easy to customize, allowing you to change the productivity ranking (“Being on twitter is required for my job – I’m the social networking guru, honest!”) and fine tune the reporting.

One feature of Rescue Time that can be especially helpful is the Focus Time tool. If I need to write without interruption for 30 minutes, I tell Rescue Time to put me on Focus Time, which means it will block any category that I have rated above a certain level of distraction. If I try to leave my work and open a browser window on, which I have rated as “very distracting”, the browser window will roll over to Rescue Time, with a reminder of why the site is blocked for me and, just in case I really need to look at facebook right now, a message detailing how I can unblock it.

If you are motivated by upholding your personal best, you’ll probably enjoy checking your Rescue Time stats and making sure you haven’t dropped below your average, or the score of the average Rescue Time user.

Of course, Rescue Time can’t enforce productive habits against your will. What it can do is to helpfully remind you of your intentions if you should falter for a moment and provide feedback about how well you’re sticking to your goals. And when it comes to forming good time management habits, that’s a lot of help.

The basic Rescue Time application is free.

Plan from your passion

Last week I received the audience feedback from a conference workshop I led in November. One respondent commented anonymously:

“So inspiring, clean. Made a promise to myself as a result of this session.”

This is what I live for!

I was leading my popular session “Plan to Thrive – how to shape, track, and follow through on your best business plans,” and while it’s impossible to cover the whole planning process in the 75 minutes typically allotted for a conference workshop, I aim to give people several tools that can take them from vague and disorganized to focused and motivated, with their plan beginning to take shape even during the session.

I am passionate about helping others get in touch with the possibilities in their business so that they can get the results they want with more ease. In that workshop session I spoke from that passion, and consequently I was able to tap that passion in the workshop participants.

As you make your business plans, remember to station your passion front and center. Planing isn’t merely about making a spreadsheet of what’s possible, or worse, probable.

A good plan also touches the passion that is the source of so much energy, creativity, and focus.

A good plan will help to propel you out of bed in the morning. It will hold your passion up before you, reminding you of why you bother.

A good plan will enable you to enlist others in your enterprise, so you don’t have to go it alone.

Success requires clarity about goals and how to reach them. It requires good execution; no plan can help very much if we don’t take the steps outlined in it. And long-term, sustainable success also requires tapping into our passion.

How will your passion inform your plan for the future? What are you excited about right now? Leave a comment here.

The Jump-start Meeting

Recently I was seated next to Laura Van Galen, the dynamic head of Bleu Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm based in San Francisco. She described to me a practice she uses with her senior team, the daily jump-start meeting.


Are all the parts working together?

Here’s how the jump-start meeting works: every morning each manager has three minutes to describe the top three things they will be working on that day. The meeting lasts no more than 15 minutes.

Here’s why it works: it provides group accountability, it helps sharpen everyone’s focus, and it improves everyone’s clarity about what the group as a whole is working toward.

The entire leadership group stays focused and productive, all pulling in the same direction. The investment in meeting time pays back handsomely in improved coordination among all the managers.

Are your meetings short, targeted, and productive?

Do Not Interrupt Me!

It's a time management thing

It's a time management thing

The national “do not call” list is well-known to many people. By registering your business or home number, telemarketers once were forbidden from calling your number – at dinner time or any time – for five years.

Exceptions included those who were calling for legitimate charities, which sadly include the well-paid fundraisers who dial on behalf of the local police and fire departments, and anyone to whom you’ve given permission.

Recent changes to the do not call list have eliminated the five-year expiration date. A law which became effective in February changes the “5-year” rule. Now, once you enter your phone number on the list, your preference for uninterrupted dinners lasts forever.

If you should receive a call after registering with the list, file a complaint here. This address also works to register a new phone number you’d like post a “no call” notice, so that you will not receive marketing calls.

Four no-excuses ways to exercise for better productivity

If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish. – Charles Dickens

Balancing stress and recovery is essential to high performance, and I am in need of a tune up before I, in the words of Dickens, “explode and perish.”

<div xmlns:cc="" about=""><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=Yesterday I sat on a rock at Pescadero Beach, watching the waves give my ankles an icy bath, then retreat, pulling the sand from beneath my feet. The waves were mesmerizing, yet I was struggling to sit still for more than a minute. My mind and my body were both unfocused and twitchy. And I know why: I’ve fallen off the exercise wagon.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz write that one of our most essential needs as human beings is to spend and recover energy. Lately, I’ve been spending all my emotional and mental energy without recovery while spending very little physical energy. It’s a toxic combination.

It’s not all my doing, of course. Sometimes life throws a lot our way, in my case a parade of welcome and unwelcome changes beginning with a canceled vacation in early June. So now it’s time to hit the reset button and recover my productivity by recommitting to physical exertion, along with an extra dose of mental recovery.

If you, like me, need to make physical activity a priority, here are four no-excuses programs to make it happen every day.

1. Walking

Accusplit pedometer (photo courtesy of Amazon)

Accusplit pedometer (photo courtesy of Amazon)

The simplest, and the one endorsed by Dickens, is walking. Open your front door and exit. Keep going for 15 to 30 minutes, maybe longer, then turn around and go back. If you’d like to include some fancy equipment, spend about $20 on a pedometer so that you can count your steps. Aim for 10,000 a day.

If it’s too dark or too wet out, consider a rebounder.

2. Rebounder

Bola Odulate, a marketing specialist and owner of Evangelist Marketing, has been using a rebounder for years. Every day she logs at least 20 minutes on the small trampoline-like equipment, jogging in place. The very low impact aerobic exercise was recommended to her by Dr. Robert Young, co-founder of the pH Miracle. Adherants say that rebounding is good for improved bone density, lymphatic health, and balance, as well as aerobic benefits.

(photo courtesy of

(photo courtesy of

In the intervening years, she has worn out a set of springs through consistent use and had to replace them.

Rebounders vary in quality. Good ones are available for under $250. Look for one with sturdy construction, replaceable springs, a support bar, and a design that allows for easy folding. One good source is ReboundAir.

If you’d like more strength and flexibility training in addition to aerobic exercise, consider a Nintendo Wii Fit.

3. Wii Fit

Professional organizer Janine Adams, owner of St. Louis-based Peace of Mind Organizing, did some calculations.

“I’m truly a couch potato,” confessed Janine. “You pay to belong to the Y, and then you don’t go.” She looked at the Nintendo Wii Fit, and decided that the video system suited her style.

Four activities of Wii Fit (photo courtesy of Amazon)

Four activities of Wii Fit (photo courtesy of Amazon)

The basic Wii Fit includes four categories – yoga, strength, aerobics, and balance. Janine’s favorites are the balance exercises, including slalom skiing, snowboarding, and “table tilt”, a labyrinth game played with the whole body.

Clocking 30 minutes every morning with her Wii, Janine stays motivated by entering stamps on the calendar for every day she works out, then keeps herself motivated to see how long she can keep an unbroken chain of days.

The initial cost of the Wii plus the Wii Fit (which includes the balance board and controller) is currently about $ 340 at Amazon.

If you like the core strength of Wii, but would like a teacher to go with it, consider The Bar Method.

4. Bar Method

Currently available in just a few states, I rely on Bar Method classes to build strength and maintain aerobic fitness. I have impressed my soccer- and softball-playing great-nieces with my pushups, and for getting rid of the shoulder hunch that comes from a day at the computer, Bar Method is excellent. Classes do include some stretching, especially some deep and effective hip flexor stretches.

(photo courtesy of Bar Method)

(photo courtesy of Bar Method)

I have described the 60-minute classes as “one hour of agony followed by 23 hours of feeling supremely virtuous.” Despite the quip about agony, I consider the classes to be very safe. I have known people who injured themselves in yoga and pilates classes. Though it is more strenuous than either, I have not yet encountered an injury at the Bar Method.

The Bar Method offers unlimited monthly classes for about $250 at most studios, ten class packages for about $210. Though it is the spendiest option of the four, I love the Bar Method for its ability to  produce big results for the time invested.

Do you get regular exercise? Is so, what’s your routine and why do you like it? If not, what’s your excuse? Have you, like me, neglected exercise recently? Are you ready to get back in the game?

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