If you joined us last time in our self-coaching experiment, you spent the last several days observing yourself and accumulating insights about what helps and hinders your productivity.
You've had your "ah-ha" moment. (Or maybe several of them.)
But now what?
As every budding therapist quickly discovers, insight does not always equal action.
Despite our best intentions, we often find ourselves falling back into ingrained patterns and unproductive behaviors. Even when we know what we should do instead.
But there are things you can do to change.
Here's what I'll cover in this post:
- I'll share a helpful framework for making needed changes.
- I'll fess up about what I discovered about myself during my self-observation and about a big change I want to make.
- Finally, I'll use my example to help illustrate the ways you can use the change framework to enhance your own productivity.
A Framework for Change
A powerful framework I like to turn to for help in making needed changes is the elephant metaphor the Heath brothers share in their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.
They explain that making a change is like trying to get an elephant from Point A to Point B. To accomplish this, we need to use at least one of these three strategies:
- Direct the rider (your rational self).
- Motivate the elephant (your emotional self).
- Shape the path (your environment).
And if you really want to ensure things change, do all three!
I'll explain each of these strategies below, after I share a bit about what I discovered during my self-observation — and about a goal I've set for a change that I want to make.
Confession Time: My Own Time Management Insights
Before we apply the above framework to the task of putting your insights into action, let me share a few of my own insights from the self-observation exercise I shared last week.
I noticed some interesting things, like the fact that...
- I was more efficient with my tasks when I was monitoring the passage of time (e.g., if I needed to leave for a meeting in an hour) than when I completely lost myself in the activity.
- Leaving a task not quite finished (e.g., a mostly written blog post, or a mostly finished plan for a team building session) helped motivate me to get back to work more quickly the next day.
- (This one's a little embarrassing to admit...) Vanity prevented me from taking a nap a couple times when I really needed one. I cared more about what other people thought than I did about giving my brain the sleep it needed to perform well.
But here's the big one I want to focus on...
- I felt more energized, productive, and efficient on the days when I didn't just sit all day in front of my computer. And I know it's healthier for me in the long-run if I don't allow myself to fall victim to sitting disease.
So with those confessions out of the way, let's get on to the task of applying the elephant metaphor to an insight like this last one.
How to Make a Change Without Even Trying ("Shape the Path")
The key idea here is to change your environment so you will do things differently without having to make a conscious effort.
"Environment" can be your physical surroundings, the people you're exposed to, or any other aspect of the situation or context in which you find yourself.
Strategies in this category include:
- Make it hard to do the wrong thing.
- Remove obstacles to doing the right thing.
- Expose yourself to other people who are doing the right thing.
For me and my sitting scenario, that might mean things like:
- Making a date to meet friends at the gym every morning before work. (I actually started doing this last Fall. Harnessing the power of peer pressure has helped me finally stick to an exercise routine!)
- Scheduling lunches, coffee dates, or ideally "walk and talk" get-togethers on days when I'm not training, facilitating, or meeting with clients. (I can't stay chained to my computer all day if I have a midday appointment.)
- Wearing sneakers and exercise clothes on days when I don't have meetings, so it's easy for me (and also serves as a reminder) to hop on the treadmill and work there for a while (on my makeshift treadmill desk).
K.I.S.S. ("Direct the Rider")
Our rational self — our "rider" — can over-analyze things to death and get overwhelmed and bogged down when presented with too many ideas, options, and details. (Don't believe me? Check out this TED Talk by Barry Schwartz on the "paradox of choice".)
Strategies to use with your rider include things like:
- Pick just ONE thing to do differently.
- Automate the action so you don't have to think about it.
- Clone what's already working well.
So if I applied these to my goal of getting myself moving more during my solitary work days, it might look like:
- My social approach to exercise in the morning is working for me. What if I found one or more people to meet regularly for an afternoon walk as well?
- Set a timer to go off once every hour to remind me to get up and move.
- Just aim for 10,000 steps a day. That's it.
You Can't Reason With Your Id ("Motivate the Elephant")
So if something feels good in the moment, that's what your elephant is going to do.
The trick, then, is about getting your elephant to want to pick the thing that you know is ultimately best for you in the long run.
Here are some strategies for doing so:
- Remind yourself of what inspires you about the change.
- Set yourself up for early wins.
- Make yourself feel the need for change on a visceral level.
For me, this could look like:
- Install a screensaver on my laptop showing images of healthy, active people.
- Jot down a daily self-rating of my productivity and energy levels so I can see the immediate benefits of a more active workday.
- Wear weights or a heavy backpack for a full day so I can feel what carrying around 10 extra pounds does to me. (Through a healthy plant-based diet and regular exercise, I've lost 35 pounds since last Fall. But I could still stand to shed at least 10 more.)
So there it is. If you're wondering how to put your insights into action, just think "Elephant rides!"
And if you want to delve deeper into this framework, get a copy of the Heath Brothers' book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. It's an entertaining and inspiring read that's full of great stories and examples.
Meanwhile, if you did some self-observing last week, consider sharing your top insight on Facebook (along with a link to this article!). It's a nice way to help hold yourself accountable for making that change.
And if you haven't yet tried this self-observation exercise, I urge you to give it a shot. You don't have to do it for a full week — even just a day or two can yield powerful insights.