Doing Nothing Is Really Something

Today’s guest blogger, Jones Loflin, is an internationally recognized speaker, author and trainer, and the co-author of the award-winning book Juggling Elephants.

In our activity-obsessed culture, the idea of doing nothing is not considered a positive thing to do. Oh we talk about relaxing and disengaging, but even those moments of idleness are incessantly interrupted by the ding, chirp, or ring of an electronic device. The tide is changing, however, and there is now mounting evidence that we need these moments of what I call “sacred idleness. Forbes had an excellent article on the subject just a few months ago.  I’ve taught the general benefits of taking an “intermission” in my work life balance training for several years, and am always looking for more neurologically-based facts to support the value of doing nothing.

Enter the book, Autopilot: The Art And Science Of Doing Nothing, by Andrew Smart. It’s an intense read about how the brain works when we are actively working on tasks versus when we are idle. While the author’s goal is to show how doing nothing improves our creativity, the information is beneficial to any of us who are trying to figure out how to enhance our focus and increase clarity in our lives. Some of Smart’s findings include:

  • Our brains need to go on autopilot. Smart gives a brilliant analogy of how putting a plane on autopilot allows the pilot to rest and conserve mental energy for higher risks tasks like landing. In the same way, Smart argues, we need to relinquish control of our brain and allow it go where it really wants to go-and let it take us there. Constantly trying to prevent the brain from acting in this manner (i.e. being busy), causes mental fatigue, whereas allowing our brains to wander actually refreshes our mental energy.
  • Idleness brings deeper thinking. Smart writes, “Through idleness, great ideas buried in your unconsciousness have the chance to enter your awareness.” Always being activity -focused subdues these more meaningful thoughts or reflections.
  • Letting your mind wander actually gets you more organized. Smart says that when we “space out,” information in our brain begins to flow more freely between different regions of it. Connections are made that are not possible when we are focusing on the completion of a list of tasks or just trying to get stuff done.
  • Constant activity reduces creativity. One of my favorite sentences in the book is, “As children become more scheduled, more measured, more managed to achieve, and more hijacked by digital media, they become less and less creative.” And couldn’t the same be said of adults? We allow so little time for informal interaction, brainstorming, and just casual discussion in the workplace. Every moment is hyper focused on getting something done… NOW! Ironically, some of the best ideas that move an individual or organization forward come when the focus is NOT on generating those ideas.

So what are some guidelines for doing nothing? Smart’s timeless example is lying in the grass on a summer afternoon, looking up at the clouds. The main requirement is that you not be engaged in trying to complete a task or focus on one external stimulus. This would include getting away from your normal work or life environment with all the reminders of incomplete tasks and all the stuff  you could be doing. I was intrigued to read that having random noise during our down time is okay, and even acceptable. It stimulates the brain to make connections between normally unconnected items or thoughts. Listening to music during our idleness, however, is not recommended. Remember, it encourages you to focus on just one thing (the music) and our goal is to let our mind wander… and wonder. I found some other good tips at Real Simple.

The strongest case Smart makes for being idle from time to time comes when he writes, “….as we organize our lives down to the last second, we are suppressing our brain’s natural ability to make meaning out of experience.” Sounds like a pretty good reason to do nothing.

How could you start building more moments of “doing nothing” into your week?

To learn more about personal productivity from Jones Loflin, try out his SoundviewPro course: The Five Keys to Experiencing Extreme Personal Productivity.

5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Entrepreneur

Serial entrepreneur and author Faisal Hoque is the founder of SHADOKA and other companies. His newest book is “Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability” This blog first appeared in Business Insider.

To be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to jump into the deep end. And that takes courage.

But courage is just the beginning. At a fundamental level, most entrepreneurs need to repeatedly overcome adversity and pursue opportunities with very limited resources.

My path as an entrepreneur has been marked by the adversity I’ve experienced in my own life and the struggles I’ve witnessed in the lives of others.

Here are the five essential things that I believe are must-haves for any successful entrepreneurial journey:

1. A companion

Nobody succeeds in a silo. The majority of life’s travels include a partner or two or many. Be it a significant other, friend, or business colleague, you are most likely to have some company. If I’ve learned anything from my entrepreneurial journey, it’s that your choice of partners — be it a life partner, cofounder, management team, investors, or board members — can make or break a venture.

The people you surround yourself with are the difference between failure and success. It’s also how you interact with them that makes the difference. It’s important to be reminded of the people who believe in and support you and to cultivate those relationships. Spending time with people who make you stronger requires intentional effort and is a key component in being able to move forward.

Equally important is to avoid people who bring you down, waste your time, take you backward, and have no interest in your suffering. A close friend constantly reminds me to “get rid of toxic people from your daily life.” While you cannot always avoid them, at a minimum you can choose not to allow them to weaken you.

Your job, then, is to continuously search for those right companions at each new stage. It is only when the right person shows up that you see why it has never worked out with anyone else.

2. Good timing

The timing of your product or service must be right in the marketplace. If the market isn’t ready and you are way ahead of the market, then you must possess the drive and the willingness to sacrifice in order to make that product or service work.

You will need to choose to either wait for the market to catch up (requiring the resources to survive during that period, and accepting the risk of emerging competition), or you’ll need to adjust your offering to something more palatable to the market’s current readiness.

Smaller businesses have the advantage of being able to make choices and implement changes without the exhaustive process and conflicting points of view that slow down major corporations. You need to anticipate your market and customers’ needs and constantly innovate to stay ahead. This requires leadership with agility, resilience, and a willingness to fail — and to recognize that failure quickly enough to adapt and move forward.

3. Connection with your audience

Today’s innovative “social economy” requires entrepreneurs to create positive memories for customers and partners, or customers will turn to a competitor in search of a better experience. If you want to create a scalable business, you have to understand just how crucial it is to build products and services with brand equity and emotional connections. The emotional attachment that links customers to your products, as opposed to any other, translates into sustainable growth.

Here are some basic rules to connect, shape, influence, and lead with your products and brands:

  • Choose your target audience: The surest road to product failure is to try to be all things to all people and to be overly complex. 
  • Connect with the public: Your objective is to make your audience feel an emotional attachment to your products and brands.
  • Inspire and influence your audience: A simple, inspirational product and brand message is far more influential than one that highlights many product features and functions.

Here’s more on the topic of audience connection and value creation:

4. Scale

Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn’t enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. It is one thing to sign up a few customers; it is another thing entirely to identify, design, and implement repeatable sales and customer-delivery processes. You have created a repeatable and scalable sales model when:

  • You can add new hires at the same productivity level as the entrepreneur or the sales leader.
  • You can increase the sources of your customer leads on a consistent basis.
  • You have a sales conversion rate and revenue that can be consistently forecasted.
  • The cost to acquire a new customer is significantly less than the amount you can earn from that customer over time.
  • Customers get the right product in the right place at the right time.

A repeatable sales model builds the platform to scale. Like the search for product and market fit, it can take major experimentation and R&D to find a repeatable and scalable sales model.

5. Ways to de-stress

Most entrepreneurs consider managing the ongoing success of their business to be twice as stressful as maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner, nearly three times as stressful as raising children, and more than four times as stressful as managing their personal finances.

The stressors can be relentless. But if you’re not happy, healthy, and motivated, you can’t create a business model that provides a positive market experience. You set the tone for everyone who works with you. Nobody wants to do business with a grouchy, bitter, and exhausted entrepreneur. Therefore, investing the time and effort to adequately take care of your physical and mental well-being will further increase your chances for long-term success.

Mental health is not just about going to the gym to let off steam. It’s about achieving a state of mental calmness to see you though the relentless challenges — but that’s another topic in itself!

To learn more about entrepreneurship, try Faisal Hoque’s SoundviewPro online course How to Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset.

Emotional Intelligence. Have you lost it? Part II

Today’s guest blogger is Morag Barrett, the founder of Skye Team and author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships. This is Part 2 of 2. Read Part I.

The more I read about Emotional Intelligence the more fascinated I become about its impact in both the workplace and at home. I am also conscious that awareness is not sufficient, as my earlier example shows, knowing what I should have, or could have done different is not as effective as actually doing different…

Now if you are raising your eyebrow and thinking “that would never happen to me” or “this is a business, there is no place for emotions in business” or “I’m a tough leader… I don’t get emotional.” Then take a moment and humor me for a moment. I want to show you how quickly emotions drive behavior. How quickly emotions drive YOUR behavior.

My team and I start our EQ workshops with a discussion and activity that demonstrates how emotions and feelings are at the root of all our actions and drive behavior, performance and leadership. Here is a quick example of how emotions impact and drive behavior…

Imagine you are walking down the street… around the corner comes your Nemesis, your archenemy, what are you thinking and feeling in that moment?

Here are some of the things we hear from workshop participants:

• Dread
• How can I avoid them?
• I feel myself get defensive

When we then as what happens next, participants will say they:

• Cross the street
• Pretend to be on a phone call
• Avoid eye contact
• Walk quicker (so as to spend as little time as possible with them)

Now imagine its your best friend who turns that corner… What are you thinking and feeling in that moment?

• Excitement
• Pleased to see them
• Maybe you have a quick flashback to your last evening out together

What happens to your behavior this time?

• Smile
• Walk quicker (to be able to spend more time with them)
• Make eye contact

Even in the classroom we can see participants visibly tense up in the first scenario, and then relax and smile in the second, even though their best friend is not in the room, they are only mentally picturing the encounter.

This is a simple but powerful example of Emotional Intelligence in action. Emotions are part of our DNA, our operating system, and try as you might, you cannot leave your emotions at the door. They are with us every minute of the day. Emotional intelligence is about recognizing this fact, understanding the emotions we are experiencing, why and how best to leverage that emotion to achieve a successful outcome.

Emotionally Intelligent leaders are aware of the emotions they experience in or about work. Consciously and unconsciously these emotions impact the how you communicate and the messages you send to those who work for and with you.

• When was the last time you laughed at work? Why did you laugh? Did others sense your positive mood?
• When was the last time you were frustrated? How did this impact the atmosphere of your team?

My advice? Don’t dismiss EQ as a fad, or as something you don’t need. “I have got to where I am today without it, why would I need to know this?” Think of it more in terms of where do you need to be in the future, to what extent does that rely on building effective relationships and managing your responses in given situations? Emotional Intelligence is the game changer that differentiates great leaders from the pack.

You can learn more about emotional intelligence at Morag Barrett’s SoundviewPro course A Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence. Have you lost it?

Today’s guest blogger is Morag Barrett, the founder of Skye Team and author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships. This is Part I of 2.

I lost it yesterday. I was at a meeting and all was going reasonably well. I was aware that I was tired and not focusing 100% on the matter at hand when it happened, I lost it. What happened? Someone made a comment and I decided to come out of my corner fighting. As soon as I did I regretted it.

How many times has that happened to you?

• Have you ever been in a conversation that started ‘heating up’, where the tension and/or complexity increased?
• Where you wanted to say ‘No’ but found yourself saying ‘yes’
• When things didn’t go as well as you would have liked? …

And a few minutes later you’re thinking, “Why didn’t I do this?” or “Why didn’t I say that?”

This is Emotional Intelligence in action… or in my case, re-action, as I didn’t effectively manage my response to the situation. My emotions ‘escaped’ and I only applied the emotional intelligence knowledge afterwards.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership is an excellent read. If you haven’t already obtained a copy I would highly recommend that you do. Daniel talks about Emotional Intelligence as the key ingredient that causes great leaders and performers to stand out. As you move through your career it becomes less about how smart you are or the results that you achieve personally…it is about your ability to build effective relationships and to motivate and inspire others – to achieve results through them.

Daniel Goleman’s model for EQ has 5 components.

Personal Competence – this comes from you and understanding the following:

1. Self-Awareness– understanding yourself. What is your default behavior, fight or flight? What causes or triggers you to react one way or another and it may be different at home than work. It may be situational, specific to individuals with whom you are working. Once you understand what drives you, you can move to:

2. Self-Management – how can you anticipate and plan for your reactions and triggers. If you know you are about to enter a situation or a meeting that in the past has caused you to behave in a way that is different to what you intended, how can you anticipate and influence your reactions and stay in the moment. And trust me, its one thing to know and anticipate an ‘amygdala hijack’ – when your brain takes control of your ‘sane mind’ and you speak without thinking and another thing to be able to manage it in the heat of the moment. Think about it, how many times have you thought about the ‘right response’ or “I wish I had only…” later on in the day, when it is too late?

3. Motivation -understanding what drives you to individual and team success. How you react to and explain successes and setbacks.
Social Competence -understanding and managing other’s reactions.

4. Connection – once you are aware of your reactions then you can apply these to others. Understanding from their perspective how they may perceive the situation, their reactions and seeking to start from their point of view, to learn and to move forward in an effective manner.
5. Social Skills-the ability to influence others, to communicate effectively such that the shared learning and understanding of different perspectives grow (rather than just focusing on one point of view). To lead and inspire others, to manage conflict effectively and to build relationships that collaborate and work effectively together to achieve common goals.

To Be Continued . . .

You can learn more about emotional intelligence at Morag Barrett’s SoundviewPro course A Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence.