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self-efficacy

Over the years I’ve found myself at the end of many a workday beckoning to the heavens, “Where did the day go???” I eventually came to the realization that I needed to streamline my life and structure my days around my energy levels.

I used to immediately grab my phone when I woke up to scroll through emails. To be honest, many mornings I still do if I’m anxious about some aspect of work, but I try not to because it drains me instantly.

These days I try to take a moment first — to kiss my husband, to kiss my cats — to have a moment of personal life before I entrench myself into work mode.

You can close the door to your office (if you have one), tell everyone not to bother you, and turn up the white noise in your noise-canceling headphones all you like (and believe me I have!) but when it comes to productivity and focus it’s all about preserving your energy — or willpower.

This stuff is personal and requires trial and error. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but here are some tactics I’ve adopted to put me at my most productive. And I’m thankful for them!

Pave the Road from Wake to Work With Something Fun, Relaxing or New

Bon jour, Madame! Où est La Rue Saint Jacques?

La Rue Saint Jacques? C’est là-bas!

I have started to learn French in the wee-early hours of the morning and I’m loving it. My husband and I wake up at the crack of dawn and take a brisk hour walk and listen to our French lessons, he a few feet behind me so I don’t have to hear him and his perfect French accent while I struggle with “Je.”

The morning air, the exercise, the brain cell increase from learning a new language — it’s a great way to wake up and prep the mind for taking in information.

Yes, there’s a certain willpower depletion that comes from learning something new, but because it’s not work-related it feels invigorating and allows me the time and relaxation in the morning to transition from waking to working.

If you can’t handle me in my active wear, then you don’t deserve me in my…active wear.

I wear active wear every single day that I get to work from home. Leggings and a shirt is my uniform.

By reaching for leggings and a shirt I don’t tap into any serious brain functioning to decide what I’m going to wear. Being that I get to work from home when I’m not with clients it doesn’t really matter anyway. Might as well be as comfy as can be. When I’m out with clients, I have my go-to also. A black skirt or pants, a belt and a button down blouse or a dress with a belt. Simple and done and already known.

Every decision we make depletes our willpower and you need as full a reserve of willpower as possible to get through the workday. My willpower is thus still relatively intact after I’ve showered and dressed for the day because I’m not thinking about what I’m going to wear.

Mark Zuckerberg does the same, as did Steve Jobs. This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the uniform routine. I’m a believer in it; it helps me. I actively feel the absence of having to choose what to wear and that relaxes me, as do my leggings.

Find your uniform! It can be as simple as “I like blue shirts” or “I like boots” (and who doesn’t love a great pair of boots?)

Hardboiled eggs are my best friend; so is Sunday cooking.

I like a couple of eggs every day with some vegetables, maybe a little sweet potato, a cup of coffee and I’m good. No more “What am I going to eat?” “Where will I eat?” “Should I eat this?” I save the more exciting breakfasts for weekend brunches when I have the luxury of choice.

On Sundays I roast vegetables, bake sweet potatoes, boil eggs, cook some meat, and voila: food for the week.

Being able to not think about food, although it’s fun to think about food, saves so much time and so much energy.

Let it all out.

I need to be able to emote freely, speak at full volume on the phone freely, pace if need be.

Suppressing emotion or curtailing your personality in any way is a willpower zapper.

If you don’t have a door or a private room, step outside for a moment to vent; grab a cup of coffee. Make sure you have an emotional outlet, otherwise it churns inside you, gathers momentum and power, and steals your focus.

System Preferences → Notifications → None

“Cheryl also commented on Rebecca’s post about feeding the giraffe at the zoo.”

“@luvsrockclimbing44 has sent you a message.”

“LinkedIn Message: “Hi Nicole, I’m new to organizational psychology and was wondering if you could give me some pointers about…”

I love social media and I love the notifications, so much so that if I don’t turn them off I will find myself typing a lengthy considerate email to Jennifer Somebody about how to start your consulting practice while I ignore my own.

I save all social media follow-ups for post-dinner / TV watching or early AM coffee time. It has no place in the meat of the day. Only eating meatballs belongs in the meat of the day.

Chunk isn’t just a Goonies character, it’s also a productivity hack

At the end of each day I look at what I have lined up for the next day. Then I chunk out my day. Tasks that are going to require a fair amount of mental energy I schedule as early as possible.

Did you know that the average worker actually checks their email up to 74x/day???

Our willpower is fullest at the start of the day. You’ll need that willpower reserve for the tasks/projects that tax your brain. If you spend the first half of your day answering emails, crossing off the easy-to-do items on your to-do list you are putting yourself at a disadvantage for the harder stuff later in the day.

Sometimes life is boring…and that’s OK.

Resisting temptation — to abstain from distraction — depletes our willpower. The more depleted our willpower, the less we are able to attend to important projects and important conversations.

Giving in to every distraction versus training your brain to be still creates a scattered, inattentive mind.

I’ve learned not everything I do is exciting or interesting. Sometimes I need to perform a solo brainstorm session and it’s not fun. Sometimes I need to write lots of proposals that are boring. To get these tasks done so I can move on to the next point of business I have to accept that boredom is part of my life, and presumably part of yours too.

If you allow yourself to distract every time boredom creeps into your day you are empowering your ego, which aims to grab and attach to something — anything! — in every second of every minute, all day long.

Take back control of your mind. You steer the boat.

Productivity is less about tricks and more about just managing your energy in a way that works for you.

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Every year millions of people are diagnosed with Terrible Personality Disorder but nobody wants to talk about it. Even the DSM-5 has not yet classified it as a legitimate personality disorder despite the disease’s prevalence in society. TPD has been unfairly delegitimized while those who suffer from it are oblivious to their condition and the suffering they inflict on others.

If you are not familiar with this personality disorder, it’s because I made it up. There are a lot of personality traits that have no official classification but are just as difficult to work with as those that do (like Narcissism for instance).

Some of the traits I’m referring to are the following:

  • Oblivious to social cues, like talking your ear off and not seeing the lobotomized look on your face
  • Loud Talking in area where others are concentrating
  • Insistence on being right
  • Being the authority on everything that has ever happened or will happen
  • Complaining ad nauseam
  • The need to explain themselves when there’s no reason to
  • The One-Upper
  • Using long-winded analogies for easily understood concepts

This is only a partial list of the criteria that comprises TPD, but no matter the trait, they all share one thing in common: there is an overwhelming need to be HEARD, which points to deeply rooted insecurity. It’s not your responsibility to uncover the cause of their insecurity or to be its depository.

Don’t become their victim, whether it be through having to patiently listen to them, endure their obliviousness, or take the high road to avoid unnecessary conflict. That victimhood can easily turn into resentment if left unchecked, which is why…

It’s important to be patient and have compassion for their plight. Unless you’re dealing with a psychopath, those with TPD don’t realize they’re victimizing you; they’re simply living their lives (while making it harder for you to live yours). There could be trauma behind their obliviousness, their need to be heard, to be right, to win, be first, to get their words into your ears. Something or someone, somewhere, at some time, negatively affected them and now it’s stealing your life force. So we need not be mean or rude, but….

It’s OK to ask for space. You don’t have to do this rudely or meanly. If you have work to do, somewhere else to be, or simply don’t want your life back, you can politely say, “I’m so sorry, I have to get back to something I was working on/dealing with/in the middle of.” And on that note…

Don’t throw yourself into the fray. There’s no harm in avoiding someone when you don’t have the time or energy to spend dealing with their personality. We sometimes let ourselves be enveloped out of compassion, but what about compassion for yourself and your needs? They will drain you to the point where you’re a deflated balloon, and then you have nothing left for work, and it’s only one o’clock. If possible, move to an area that’s more secluded, which falls under the umbrella of…

Focus on what you can control. There is a Buddhist proverb that goes something like since you can’t cover the earth in leather [to make it more comfortable to walk on], you cover your feet in leather. The point is just as astute as it is obvious: start with yourself. One way is to…

Set boundaries. Make it known that for certain periods of the day you do not have the time to deal with anything but that which you are working on. If they truly need to be heard, have them…

Email. This puts the power back in your hands. You can respond when you have time.

 

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A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a mental slump. My leadership development company, Equilibria Leadership Consulting, had just completed a two-year long project with our biggest client to date and we did not have another gig on the horizon. We did not have another gig on the horizon because I committed huge mistake #1 of owning a company: “forgetting” to do business development because I was too busy delivering.

I hate to admit it but my anticipatory anxiety flew through the roof. I feared the worst: we would not land another client, I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees, I’d have to close up shop, find a new career, divorce my husband, sell my car, move to the country, and raise cats. I was happy about the cat thing but pretty bummed about the rest.

I also felt extraordinarily guilty and stupid for committing “huge mistake #1” of owning a company. I felt like a complete failure.

It also didn’t help that I had just returned from my honeymoon and was probably dealing with a wine withdrawal, having spent the previous two weeks drinking in Italy and France.

Suffice it to say my anxiety over the business was affecting my ability to think clearly and objectively move forward. The fear and anxiety directly impacted my self-efficacy. I remember feeling mentally sluggish, lacking vigor.

Turns out this isn’t rocket science. Our self-efficacy directly impacts our motivation and ability to forge ahead. In short, our belief in ourselves (or lack thereof) influences how much energy you have to move through life and accomplish your goals.

The way you think about yourself makes or breaks your bottom line.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel found that if you are mildly exhausted and you have a strong sense of self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task) then the mild exhaustion won’t affect your ability to forge ahead.

But if you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy then even a slight mental drain will join forces with your insecurity to ensure you drag yourself down and make you even more exhausted.

I’ve always been extremely driven and ambitious, waking up early and working steadfastly throughout the day, so this was an unusual state for me to be in; that further compounded matters as I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

There was an unhealthy cycle at play: fear I wouldn’t land another gig created anxiety, which created mental exhaustion, which affected my self-efficacy, which created fear I wouldn’t land another gig, and so on and so forth.

My husband, who normally needs career pep talks from me, was now the pep talker. We pepped and talked daily for a couple weeks until the fog lifted (and maybe the wine, cheese, and bread started to leave my system).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you are not feeling up to par professionally, you will need to bolster your lifestyle with every other possible gain to ensure you don’t drag yourself down a rabbit hole of exhaustion and self-defeat.

Since we can all feel less than at times, we need to either remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and laugh on a daily basis, or remind ourselves that our insecurities and exhaustion are joining forces to keep our productivity at bay.

So, in short:

  • Self-confidence increases your energy level and your immunity to the effects of mental exhaustion
  • Lack of self-confidence decreases your energy level and weakens your immunity to mental exhaustion

We need to think of our belief systems the same way we do our bodies and muscles. If you were going to run a marathon you would train. You’d build up your stamina. You’d run a bit every day. You’d stretch. You’d watch what you ate. You’d try to get the right amount of sleep. All of these factors play important roles to get into the right physical shape for the marathon.

Similarly, you need to prep the mind for the marathon that is your life. You need to get it in shape. So if you lack confidence, self-efficacy, or if you feel lazy, unambitious, and cynical – all of these factors are going to hinder your performance level.

If you’re getting enough sleep and eating well but still lack the energy to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, take a look at your belief system. What are you telling yourself on a daily basis?

Are you filling your own head with doubt, insecurity, and cynicism? This type of negative self-talk will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you drain yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the goals you are telling yourself aren’t possible in the first place.

Exhaustion we pretty much know how to deal with: sleep, the food you eat, exercise, etc. But what about self-efficacy? There isn’t a confidence diet, I’ve never seen an “Eat these three foods to believe in yourself” article.I offer the following three suggestions as a starter kit for keeping your self-efficacy intact:

  1. ACT. That’s not an acronym. I mean take action, even if they are small actions. Action begets action and as you accomplish small goals your confidence will rise. It’s amazing how great accomplishing a goal can feel. It removes so much anxiety. When we stagnate our anxiety increases and those two (stagnation and anxiety) will reinforce each other until the end of time. So don’t worry about the BIG goals. Instead focus on the small wins you can accomplish on a daily basis. Maybe it’s something as simple as registering a website domain. If you act in any way, shape or form, you’re way ahead of the majority of the world.
  2. Get a coach. If you lack the motivation to accomplish small goals on your own then you need outside help to motivate you, reveal your mental blocks to you, give you pep talks, and pump you up. Until you can self-motivate I recommend seeking outside motivation. A coach can give you the tools you need to prop yourself up when you’re alone.
  3. Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are, what steps they took, what obstacles they faced. You might learn that they went through periods of self-doubt as well. Maybe they’ll share how they overcame them. When you meet another regular human being who has done what you want to do the road to the goal becomes less mysterious.

The two main actions that worked for me were talking to my husband, who served as a coach, and accomplishing small daily goals. Even though it felt like drudgery, the small daily actions kept me moving forward until the habit of moving forward was re-established.

The talking and the acting eventually broke the spell. Once the fog lifted I resumed my normal activity level, got back on track, and soon enough I started doing the work necessary to land some business.

I still recommend devouring as much bread, cheese, and wine if/when you find yourself in the south of France.

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