My top tips to thrive in a culture of constant meetings

thrive in a culture of constant meetings

Do you sit in meetings feeling anxious about what you contribute or wondering if it’s the best use of your time? Have you ever sat waiting to get a word in and then the meeting is over before you’ve had a chance to speak? I think, for too many people, meetings get in the way of getting the important work done. After running a workshop on speaking up and making the most of meetings last week, I thought I’d put my top tips for better meetings down in a blog.

Say no to meetings

I know this might sound controversial but it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to a meeting request. Even if it’s from a very senior important person. Your time is important – you only have a certain number of hours in the day and you must use them wisely. Meetings can suck huge chunks out of your day. So before you say yes make sure that you are clear on the following:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? What does success look like? For example, to discuss the blah project and decide on timelines, roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand your role in the meeting – why are you invited, what are you there for? If it’s just for information, I’d challenge if you need to be there. Could you get updated on the ‘information’ in a more time effective way like on an email or a quick briefing? Only when you are clear on the purpose of the meeting and your role can you make a decision on whether it’s a good use of your time to attend.
  • If you’re calling the meeting, clearly brief the meeting attendees on the purpose of the meeting and their role. Consider how long the meeting needs to be. Often we just keep talking until the hour is up. A quick-fire meeting could last 10 minutes and if you all stand up it can make it even quicker.
  • I’m a big fan of walk and talk meetings because they are quicker, it creates a
    better dynamic than staring at someone across a desk and walking is proven
    to help your thinking.

Do you ever lose your confidence? Be prepared.

Confidence is something that comes and goes and you have to be deliberate about keeping your confidence tank topped up otherwise it can run empty. When it comes to confidence for speaking up in meetings here are my top tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – if you know why you’re going and what’s expected of you, you can do a bit of research. When you know your topic it helps you to feel more confident.
  • Give yourself time to breathe. Quite literally, take a few minutes to breathe properly before you go into a meeting. Breathe in and count to four and breathe out and count to four. Repeat.
  • Prepare – be early, bring water (for those nervous croaky throat moments) and go to the bathroom.
  • Turn up to work every day dressed appropriately for a surprise meeting with the most important person in the organisation, this way you are always prepared.
  • If you believe the research by Amy Cuddy, your body language can change your physiology and make you feel more confident. In your meeting pay attention to your body language. Sit up straight, shoulders . back, head upright. Don’t fidget and maintain eye contact.
  • Demonstrate you are actively listening by leaning in. Make eye contact. Use the phrase ‘yes and’ and words from part of the previous sentence when responding to show that you’re really listening.
  • Often we doubt ourselves, the critical voice in our head tells us we don’t know anything and we’re going to get found out. Form an answer in your head compared to what other people are saying in the meeting and when you start to realise that your answers are similar to other peoples it can help to build confidence.
  • Use a technique called anchoring. Remember a time when you felt confident, it could be a work or a personal situation. Remember how you felt in that moment. Practice reconstructing that moment in your mind to tap recreate those feelings of confidence. There’s more on anchoring here.

I always miss my opportunity to speak

It’s happened to the best of us, you hesitate, miss your moment, someone else speaks up, the moment passes and you don’t get to speak at all. You leave feeling a bit disappointed. When it comes to making sure you contribute I advise:

  • Give yourself permission to interrupt, remember you have been asked to the meeting for a purpose, It’s your job to contribute.
  • Lean into the meeting and raise your hand to indicate that you have something to contribute and make eye contact with the meeting chair.
  • Buddy up with an assertive person and work with them to introduce you, for example they might say something like ‘Dave had a good point about this topic’ providing you with a clear opportunity to speak.
  • Remember why you’re there – to share insight based on your unique set of skills and experience. It’s important for the outcomes of the meeting that you contribute.

I’m just too anxious to speak

For some, it can be incredibly daunting to speak up in a meeting and many people feel way out of their comfort zone doing it. If you ever feel like it’s just too scary to speak up, here are my tips:

  • Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, you might start by agreeing with someone else’s opinion as a way to find your voice rather than making a lengthy point yourself.
  • Ask more questions or ask for clarification. We can often feel anxious by asking what we feel might be a ‘stupid question’. In my experience, if you have a question you won’t be the only one and having the courage to ask it does everyone a favour.
  • Get networked – get to know people in the room, which can make speaking up less intimidating.
  • Tell someone else your thoughts ahead of time so they can introduce you.
  • Remind yourself that you are separate from the issue and you’re there to share your unique views to help move a situation or project along or come to the best conclusion on a problem.
  • Practice speaking up anywhere and everywhere, with friends, family and strangers. For example, when you order your coffee, at the supermarket or in the lunch queue. Say hello, start a conversation, talk about the weather it doesn’t really matter what you say. All these small steps add up to building your confidence for speaking up in meetings.

When I do speak I mess it up

Part of the fear around speaking up in the first place is that we’ll fail or get it
wrong. We perhaps fear that we’ll not represent ourselves well or ‘do ourselves
justice’ and this makes us feel bad. If this resonates with you then my tips are:

  • Speak in headlines – short direct sentences – this helps to stop rambling, which can easily happen when we’re nervous.
  • Listen in to your tone of voice and be careful not to end your sentences (that are not questions) with a questioning tone.
  • Don’t apologize, watch out for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and don’t use filler words or words that do yourself down including, ‘just’ and ‘I could be wrong’
  • Take notes and write down what you’re going to say.
  • Set yourself goals, think about the most important information you bring to the meeting and set yourself a goal to just say that one thing.
  • Leverage your expertise and refer back to it when you speak. For example quote research or a time you’ve experienced something similar with great results.

Let’s agree to ban pointless meetings that suck great chunks of the day and exchange them for enjoyable, effective places where you can thrive. Aim to get the desired results in the shortest time freeing you up to achieve your task list and go home on time. If you have more tips for making meetings great again please
do share them below. Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results.

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that in order to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things.

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

Five ways to thrive in 2019

5 ways to thrive in 2019

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, January and February can feel like a bit of a slog.  It’s cold. We leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark. That flu virus that sprang up in October is still doing the rounds. We’re still secretly recovering from the overindulgence of Christmas and thriving can feel like the last thing we’re doing.

That’s why last month it was such a breath of fresh air to interview Colette Heneghan of Optimum Living about how to thrive. Colette specialises in helping people working in high-pressured corporate environments as she puts it ‘to be the architect of your own day and not the victim of it.’

If you’ve never felt stressed out by your working day or never felt like you’re stapled to the mattress when the alarm clock goes off in the morning then stop reading. This blog will be a waste of your time.

If, however, you’ve ever felt just tired all the time and overwhelmed by juggling lots of different tasks and priorities. Or if you’ve ever had a day when it gets to 4 pm and you realise you’ve not eaten, or been to the toilet and your feet are like ice blocks because you’ve not moved for six hours then read on.

Colette helps people because she’s been the ambitious burnt-out person and so has a stack of practical tips and tools to turn you from a victim to an architect.

Colette’s advice is to first know the signs that you are not thriving. We’re all different but the most common ‘red flags’ are cancelling social plans because you’re too tired because of work. A one-off is nothing to worry about but if it becomes ‘normal’ to choose catching up on work over friends and family then it’s time to take a step back.

The second common ‘red flag’ is how you feel when your alarm clock goes off in the morning. If more often than not you feel dreadful, like you have to drag yourself out of bed, or for example you have to roll onto the floor so you are so uncomfortable you have to get up (which of course I’ve never done) then that’s bad too.

And if you often feel overwhelmed that you can’t get everything done and end up jumping from one thing to the next, working through lunch and not getting through your list that’s a ‘red flag’ too.

Colette’s first piece of advice is to take a step back give yourself a break. Then start with a blank screen or a blank notebook and write down everything you’re working on and everything that is stressing you out. Get it all in one place so you can see what you’re dealing with. Then she advises not to make big radical changes all in one go, but to make small changes and ‘Never underestimate the power of quiet consistency’.

Colette suggests five things to prioritise in order to thrive:

Seek out daylight early on

Daylight sets our energy dial-up high and helps us sleep later on by regulating our sleep/wake cycle. Also known as your circadian rhythm, the sleep/wake cycle is a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. Start to notice what times of day you feel more awake. For example, most people have a slump in the afternoon. Work with your natural cycle and do the hard work, the things that you have to really focus on either earlier or later in the day when you are in the alert part of your cycle.

Eat the rainbow every day

We mean fresh fruit and vegetables and the more brightly coloured the better. Different coloured foods play different roles in the body. Eating a variety of colourful food provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to nourish your body that can’t be replicated in a supplement. Aim for at least three colours at every meal and two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables over the course of the day. (Skittles or the cherry on your Tequila Sunrise don’t count here).

Move more

Our bodies were designed for motion not for sitting behind a desk for hours on end. You don’t have to fork out for a gym membership or a new personal trainer. It’s the small things that add up every day, for example, get off the tube or bus one stop early, take the stairs instead of the lift, set an alarm during the day to get up and have a walk and a stretch every hour, or you might even start your day with a 20-minute workout fresh from YouTube.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can affect your immune system, making you more likely to get sick with colds, flus and other illnesses. Set yourself up to have the best nights sleep. Get into a pattern to go to sleep at the same time each night, switch of screens, make the room dark, control the temperature – on the cool side is better than too warm and make it a comfortable place with good pillows and duvets, an environment that you look forward to being in.

Hydrate

Get into the habit of carrying water with you in a reusable bottle. Remember to sip from it regularly throughout the day. It’s a simple ritual to top up energy and daily focus, but because it’s so obvious we often overlook it.

I suspect that the tips above aren’t new news. Think about how you are working right now? What things can you, and want to work on from the list above to help you thrive?

There’s often a gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do. So plan your day to close that knowing-doing gap. For example, if you want to be better hydrated, carry a water bottle, if you want to eat the rainbow stock your fridge and cupboards with fruit and veg. You know it. Now do it and make the small changes that will make a big impact on your ability to thrive.

If you’d like more tips and tools to thrive then check out Colette’s latest book Work Fuel available in March 2019 and pre-order here.

The ‘How to thrive in 2019 webinar with Colette Heneghan is part of the exclusive content available to Lucidity Network members.

The Lucidity Network is a professional development network that combines a mix of face-to-face meet-ups, online toolkits and access to a community that supports you in getting the results you want. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime, you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group for clearer thinking and better results.  

Leadership lessons from Gary Gower – a wire fox terrier

Gary

I was worried about money, the huge responsibility of keeping something alive and having to change my lifestyle – no more last-minute trips or evenings out on a whim. Close friends and family gave me an ultimatum ‘set yourself a deadline and either get a dog or stop talking about it’ Fair enough if I was bored it’s no surprise that everyone was too.

I remember having a dog as a child; a black Labrador called Barnaby (I was proud to have named him after my favourite TV programme Barnaby the Bear). I remember him being a best friend (especially in my early teenage years). Barnaby knew all my angst and he was an excellent listener, never judged, completely trustworthy and was just ‘there’. I felt safe when Barnaby was around. I remember long walks, day trips to the beach, how he forgave me for painting his nails, how he’d know when you were sad and lick your hands (or feet) and he was a lovely, well-behaved gentle soul.

I wanted a dog to hang out with, to go for long walks with, to give me a distraction from work. When you work for yourself and love what you do it’s very easy to work all the time and I was falling into that trap.

When I told people I was thinking about getting a dog they’d say ‘you’ll have to walk him every day’.  No problem. Walking is how I get my thoughts together, plan my day and keep my sanity in check. I felt like I was the only person walking around Alexandra Palace every day without a dog.

Introducing Gary

To be honest I wasn’t quite prepared when Gary arrived aged 12 weeks in March 2018. The first thing he did was a poo under the kitchen table. I was only a puppy myself when Barnaby came to live in my house so I missed the hours of standing in the garden in the rain toilet training, non-stop play, leg humping and the chewed shoes, books and laptop cables.

Gary is a wire fox terrier. He is now one year old. Here he is.

Gary the dog
Gary the wire fox terrier

The fox terrier breed is known for being curious (when Gary arrives anywhere new he needs to check everything, and when he goes somewhere he’s been before he needs to check everything is still in the same place). They are independent – all the other puppies stuck close to their owners in puppy training class, if I’d let Gary off the lead he’s have headed out to explore for himself on his own terms. They are also stubborn, if they decide something, it’s a cunning game and a battle of wills to get them to come around to your way of thinking.

Let’s face it, If I was a dog, I’d likely be a Wire Fox Terrier.

I’ve never apologised so much or felt like such a giant failure as when I’ve been training Gary. He’s taught me a lot about dogs and inadvertently has made me think more about human behaviour and how to get the best from people. This is what Gary’s taught me;

Patience and perseverance – people don’t necessarily understand what you want first time. It’s not because they’re being obstructive.  Is up to you to try different tactics and to keep going until they understand.

Reward good behaviour – if someone does a good job tell them. Make it abundantly clear that they nailed it so they are more likely to do it again.

Tone of voice and body language is more important than words. Professor Albert Mehrabian‘s research cited that 7% of communication is in the words that are spoken, 38% in the way that the words are said and 55% of communication is in facial expression. If I get the tone of my voice and my facial expression right, the words are less important. If Gary’s running off and I call him and I sound and look cross he’s not likely to come back in a hurry. If I call him like he’s missing out of the best party of the decade if he doesn’t do a U-turn, I have more success.

Forward plan and avoid bad situations – it’s possible to minimise bad outcomes, for example, I’ve learned that if there’s a children’s party in the park with lots of small people waving chicken twizzlers that we go a different route and avoid the likely chaos of Gary being an unwanted guest. Can you simply avoid some of your potentially bad situations?  

Other people’s treats are nicer than your own – Gary wants something because someone else has it. My human example of this is when you are employed to do a job, you present your expertise/business case to the board.  They are not sure. You call in the consultants to do the same presentation. The board agree and are delighted. If you get the result you want it doesn’t matter how you get there. (even though it’s annoying)

See the situation from someone else’s perspective – no one sees the world in the same way that you do – and even if they do how will you ever know? Not to get all philosophical here, but you have your own unique lens on the world, never assume that anyone else sees a situation in the same way that you do. Gary sees me running about trying to put him on his lead as enormous fun. I see it as massively annoying, embarrassing and inconvenient.

Keep it simple – humans are excellent at over-complicating things. When things are getting too complicated and I’m trying to make it simple I ask myself ‘What would Gary think?’ It might not get the right answer, usually it’s  ‘if its fun do it, if it’s not don’t’ but it helps put my mind in a different train of thought.

Ask for help – if you ask for help people are generally kind and will offer it. You don’t have to take all the advice, but listen, and make the best decision for you in your unique situation with your unique perspective.

Dogs bark at things they don’t understand – and so do humans. It can be easy to become anxious or defensive when we don’t understand. If you don’t understand be brave enough to ask for clarity.

There is no one right answer – you just have to take the information you’ve got and do what you think, do the best you can, learn and keep going.

And if that wasn’t enough Gary makes me laugh every single day, sometimes joyous laughter and sometimes in frustration, but thanks to Gary I’ve made some new friends, walk my daily 10,000 steps, switch off from work more often and have a different perspective on many situations.  And something surprising happens every day.

You can check out Gary for yourself on Instagram – he’s Garygowerwft

One simple tool to help you solve any problem

Have you ever had the experience where the same challenges keep coming up again and again? Whether that be in one to ones or in team meetings after a while these things get you down and you lose perspective or energy to solve them.

In my last job I managed a large remote team, we met together about 6 times a year. I used to sit in the day long meetings and note down everyone’s problems and take on the burden of solving them. I left the team meetings drained, stressed and quite honestly depressed. While my team left feeling upbeat and positive because they had unloaded everything. However, their initial relief soon faded when they realised that I wasn’t actually going to solve their problems. Just a quick aside – if this is a challenge you have – read: The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard.

So, how do you solve this problem and indeed all the problems of your team? During my last three months in the job I took on a new team, a team that had lots of challenges. I knew that I had a short period of time to support them and that taking on their problems wasn’t going to help. I needed to empower them and give them the tools to problem solve.

The team was a small team in a charity responsible for looking after supporters – they were saying they were overworked and couldn’t take on a bigger caseload.  By looking at the problem in a more abstract way you start to unlock the root cause of the problem and frame it differently.

This is where the Ladder of Abstraction comes in. As you go up the ladder the thinking becomes more abstract and down the ladder thinking becomes more concrete. To move up the ladder you ask WHY and down the ladder you ask HOW. It is a useful tool to help describe our language and thoughts and re-label a problem. It can be used in many different ways but I have found it useful for problem solving and evaluating activity.

So how does it work?

You take your problem and start at the bottom of the ladder. For each statement you keep asking WHY. Eventually you get to a root cause of the problem and then you can work your way back down the ladder asking HOW. If you start with how you miss the opportunity to re-label the problem and you take it at face value. So, in the example below the problem is “We do not have enough capacity”, you might jump to – we need to recruit more staff or maybe we need to change a process or reduce workload. But you might be unsure which process to change or simply providing more capacity might not actually solve the problem – exploring the why helps you get to grips with this.

One simple tool to help you solve any problem

By using this simple tool we thought the problem was that the team didn’t have enough capacity but then we realised that we didn’t need to discuss every supporter together but that we could set aside a set time to creatively discuss specific challenges. This also helped the team focus on the solution and not the problem.

I have also used this tool personally to reflect on how a project or piece of work went – this is particularly useful if you feel that the project failed in some way. You could use the ‘What Went Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ method Better If’ method, which is useful. But the Ladder of Abstraction helps you to explore more deeply WHY things went wrong and then HOW you would do things differently in the future. It also makes it less personal because you can look at it objectively from a more abstract viewpoint.

I hope that this simple tool can help you unlock your thinking, solve problems and learn from failure. Used enough, asking WHY becomes second nature.

Emily Petty

 

Emily Petty, a member of the Lucidity Network, is a fundraising and change consultant. She is passionate about helping charities build a relationship led approach to fundraising and supporting them to unlock potential and manage change. You can find her on Twitter @EmilyPetty1 and on LinkedIn

 

If you’d like to develop your thinking and get better results check out the Lucidity Network. We’re open a few times a year. There is more information about joining the Network here

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