Making Time

Making Time

It’s a common dilemma. There never seems to be enough time. In my twenties and well into my thirties this was a frequent complaint of mine. “I just don’t have enough time”! Or “I will when I find the time.” As if time was playing hide and seek with me and I just needed to keep looking for it.

I was obsessed with time. Always wearing a watch, always checking to see where those precious hands were pointing. And scared to waste a mere minute on something trivial or, God forbid, fun. Scheduled to the minute with no breathing room, time was my nemesis.

My relationship with time began to change when I had my first child. Time began to change right in front of my eyes. It became more treasured and precious. But it also changed consistency and become more malleable.

It appeared I could change my perception of time, stretching it out. I couldn’t do the impossible, and add more minutes into my day, but I could slow down the time I had been given.

Unconsciously at first, I began to make small changes that seemed to give me the time I thought was missing. I felt like a child in a candy-shop at first, like I’d uncovered special sci-fi secrets that bent time against its will.

These three changes have stuck with me over the years and are tools I always lean on if I find myself out of time.

1. Single-tasking

Having children meant more to do. More laundry, more mess, more everything. And at first pass, it’s tempting to buy into the illusion that multitasking will help save time. Washing the dishes, while baking the cookies. Hang the washing and pull those weeds that have popped up.

But what I found (aside from burnt cookies), was that rather than helping, multitasking just made me feel chaotic and even more pressed for time.

Instead, what I found was that by doing just one thing at once, and finishing it before starting the next thing, I felt calmer and more relaxed. And it made me feel like I had been gifted a few more minutes!

2. Overestimating

I have been a chronic over-scheduler my whole life. And when I thought about why I was doing this (and consequently running late, or feeling robbed of time), I realized it was often because I was underestimating how long tasks or appointments would take.

So I started to overestimate. Hair appointment? Three hours. I have very thick hair! Grocery shopping? At least an hour in a small town where I know every third person.

And this overestimating did two things. It automatically reduced the length of my daily to-do’s. With each task taking an average of 30 minutes more, I simply didn’t have space for so many.

And second, it made me feel as though I had the luxury of more time. Sometimes we forget that it’s only ever ourselves in charge of how we spend our time.

3. Noticing

I also found myself noticing more. Rather than rushing through each task on autopilot, I found that if I paid closer attention to what I was doing, time seemed to go a little slower.

From little tasks, like watering a plant, to bigger ones like making a meal, I paid deeper attention to the mini-tasks inside each job. I took closer notice of what the plant looked like, and I paid attention to the texture and smell of each vegetable I cut.

This deep noticing, a mindful activity, gave time a sluggish feel. I began to feel a sense of happy meandering instead of thoughtless rushing.

And I began to feel as though I had found more time.

Change your perception. Change your life.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has called time a ‘rubbery thing’, stating; “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

Research by Eagleman and others in this field has shown that mindfulness meditation increases the perceived duration of a task. Essentially slowing down the feeling of time.

When we focus our attention on the here and now we can change the way our brain stores information via attentional processes.

For me, this change in perception is life-changing. The freedom that comes with no longer feeling so rushed, busy and out of time is priceless.

Of course, there are still times when I slip back into autopilot, but now that I know the secret to slowing my time, it doesn’t take long to pull out my tools again.

And it’s no longer a secret. Extra time is available to anyone willing to turn off autopilot and try something a little different.

You don’t need to hunt for lost time anymore. Just pay deeper attention to the time you have. It works. I promise.

By Emma Scheib

How to Design Meetings Your Team Will Want to Attend

How to Design Meetings Your Team Will Want to Attend

Nov 14, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Paul Axtell

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to make meetings more efficient and productive. And while it’s true that leading focused, deliberate conversations is critical to organizational performance, meetings aren’t just about delivering results. There’s another outcome that leaders should be paying more attention to: creating a quality experience for each participant.

What is a quality experience in a meeting? I define it as when employees leave feeling more connected, valued, and fulfilled. Of course, you should still be focused on achieving the meeting outcomes, but thoughtful meetings and productive ones don’t have to be at odds.

We begin by asking people to reflect on their best team experience and answer two questions: What does a powerful group look like? What does it mean to be powerful in a group?

The second question typically elicits answers like these:

  • “I never left anything important unsaid. When I spoke, I felt like I was being heard, and I believed that what I said had an impact.”
  • “It felt like I was really a member of the group. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each other and in what was going on in our lives.”
  • “I knew that I added value, both in the meetings and outside of them.”

In other words, each group meeting added to the experience of being a productive, valued member of the group.

Here’s what I’ve seen leaders do to create that quality experience:

Work hard on being present. Take adequate time to prepare so that you can be available and attentive before and during the meeting. If you’re running late because of another meeting or still thinking about how to conduct this meeting, you’ll be preoccupied and not truly available for anyone who wants to connect.

Preparation allows you to relax about leading the meeting and pay more attention to “reading the room” — noticing how people are doing as they walk in, and throughout the meeting.

Demonstrate empathy. People associate attention with caring — your attention matters. Observe, listen, ask thoughtful questions, and avoid distractions and multitasking. Empathy is a learned skill that can be practiced by simply setting aside your phone and computer for two to three hours each week and really listening to someone. Meetings can be your primary place to hone this skill.

Set up and manage the conversation. Ask the group for permission to deliberately manage the conversation. It’s important to establish some guidelines about distraction. Ask people to:

  • avoid using technology unless it is pertinent to the topics
  • avoid any distracting behavior — verbal or nonverbal
  • listen and respect people when they’re speaking
  • invite others to speak if their view needs to be heard

Include enough time on every topic to allow broad participation. This means having fewer agenda items and more time allocated to each topic. As a target, put 20% fewer items on your agenda and allow 20% more time for each item.

Slow down the conversation to include everyone. I like the idea of social turn-taking, where you have a sense of who has or hasn’t spoken and whether the conversation is being controlled or dominated by one or more people. You don’t need to set this up as a rule, but you can model it as an inclusive style of conversation, so people become more likely to notice who hasn’t spoken yet.

To implement this practice, call on people gently and strategically. By gently, I mean make it feel and sound like an invitation — not some method of controlling participation. By strategically, I mean think through, during your preparation, who needs to be part of the discussion for each topic. Ask yourself:

  • Who would be great at starting the conversation?
  • Who is affected by the outcomes and therefore needs to be asked for their view?
  • Who is most likely to have a different view?
  • Who are the old hands who might sense whether we are making a mistake or missing something?

Check in with people at specific times. Begin each meeting with a question: “Does anyone have anything to say or ask before we begin?” Ask it deliberately and with a tone that signals that this conversation matters to you. And then wait. Pausing conveys that you’re not interested in getting to someplace other than right here, right now — that this conversation matters. Don’t spoil your pauses by making remarks about the lack of response or slowness of a response. People often need a few moments to reflect, find something to say, and think about the best way to express it. Just wait.

Once people realize that you are willing to pause, they’ll become more aware, and when they have a question, they won’t worry that they are slowing down the meeting.

High-quality conversations with broad participation allow people to get to know each other in ways that lead to friendship and collaboration. It’s the act of being with other people in an attentive, caring way that helps us feel that we are all in this together. Crafting a quality experience in your meetings takes time, but it’s worth it.

Outsmarting your Brain to Become a Better Leader

Outsmarting your Brain to Become a Better Leader

Sep 4, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Tina Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

We know from behavioral and neuro-science that our brains struggle with information overload. Timothy Wilson, a Professor of Psychology, estimates our brains receive over 11 million inputs – any of the data or stimuli we receive through our five senses – per second, when they can only consciously process 40. Moreover, when we multi-task, this falls even lower.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman points out that our brains evolved so that most of our decision-making is an automatic, unreflected process reliant upon shortcuts and biases. This is useful if you’re in the wilderness, instinctively running away as a rustling leaf or moving shadow hint at a predator, but less so in the modern workplace.

Research show that people get even more biased when they work together in teams, while social pressures, self-silencing, and group conformity significantly all impact the quality of information shared in discussions.

Leaders need to overcome these obstacles to get the best out of themselves and their teams. In our work, we apply behavioural sciences and design techniques to outsmart our brains’ automatic patterns of thoughts.

Here are some simple tips to help your organization make better decisions.

1. Interrupt the interruption

Women get interrupted 2.8 times more often than men, by both women and men, and when they do contribute to a team discussion, men may take credit for their ideas – a phenomenon that usually goes unnoticed by their male colleagues. Furthermore, when women voice their views, they are punished with a 14% drop in how competent they are perceived to be. The impact is that women often hold back from speaking up.

As a leader, redesign the way you facilitate meetings. You need all inputs from every person on the team. Create an interruption-free space in a team discussion. Set an amount of time that is only for the person speaking (two minutes, for example) to get their point across. And, throughout the discussion, when an interruption occurs, anyone on the team may call it out (try using a bell, a buzzer, or knocking on the table…some sort of auditory cue to signal the unwanted behaviour). The interrupter doesn’t get to continue, the original speaker continues. Do not create a ‘blame’ culture for the interrupting. Instead use the sound as an interrupter to the automatic and un-reflected behavior of interrupting.

2. Share perspectives silently

The psychologist Solomon Asch found in his experiments that approximately 74% of people in a group conform to the view of the majority of its members when addressing them. This is due to our deep social need to feel accepted by the group. Neuroscientist Gregory S. Bern discovered that when people in a group conform, the region of the brain where perception is located shows increased activity. His research suggests that how we perceive an issue changes to reflect that of the group. Also, he found that when people in a group offer an opinion that goes against that of the group, they feel anxiety.

To avoid this and get the best input from your team, try this. Ask group members to write down their perspectives – including their most critical views – instead of saying them out loud to the group. This makes group conformity vanish and gives equal access to diverse perspectives. This is especially important as minority, low status group members are likely to hold back more than their peers.

3. Conquer ‘Group Think’

The launch of the Challenger in the U.S. in 1986 was a failure. It exploded 73 seconds after launch, in a tragedy which killed seven people. The investigation committee concluded the reason for the disaster was a lack of dissent, a failure to take data into account that didn’t fit expectations, and Group Think in the decision-making process. No leader wants to see a catastrophe unfold in their own organization, yet in experiments at Harvard, Professor Iris Bohnet finds that her students repeatedly fall into the “trap” of relying on a biased sample of data in the decision-making, similar to what led to the Challenger disaster. Only very few of her students seek more information, as she notes in her book, What Works. Yet even when we’re aware of the pitfalls of Group Think, and are instructed to seek out new data, we can’t be assured of the quality of our decision-making.

To avoid the perils of conformity, try dividing groups into many small and different kinds of groups that work independently of each other. Be sure to compare the outcomes of the different groups.

4. Flip perspectives

Another tactic that mitigates Group Think is to frame the same data to the different groups in different ways, for example, presenting a project as a “90% chance” to succeed to one group and a “10% risk” of failure to another group will make a difference in their perceptions, thus behaviours. Also, if you have a stack of background information for the groups, make sure to order it differently for each group to change their “anchor”. We are used to perceiving information relative to something else (the “anchor”, often the first thing people read) – flipping the anchor will flip their perspectives. Again, be sure to compare the outcomes of the different groups.

5. Leaders and experts hold back

Leaders should be the last people to contribute ideas in a team discussion, to avoid swaying the group due to their status and power. Similarly, those who are perceived as “experts” on a topic under discussion should also hold back, as others on the team will begin to conform to their view or censor themselves if they disagree. If you find this hard to do, put a note in front of you with “speak last” written on it, or put a piece of tape on your hand to signify taping your mouth closed. When you do speak, give permission for others to critique your views.

6. Reframe ‘conflict’

Often “conflict” is seen as a negative thing in team discussions, something to be avoided or even punished. While some conflicts can indeed be destructive, others are simply a healthy exchange of different perspectives. Try reframing this type of “conflict” as “constructive discussion” or “positive debate” or “uncovering blind spots” (or whatever term fits your organization) and communicate to the team that this is acceptable – when it’s done respectfully and with the intent of getting all ideas into the discussion to arrive at the best decisions. You can also prime the brain to perceive contrarian views and critical questions as positive by stating that this task requires ‘critical thinking’, whereas if you use the word ‘getting along’ it will have the opposite effect.

7. Assign critics

In the book Wiser, Sunstein & Hastie suggest appointing team “devil’s advocates”, specifically asked to critique team recommendations and decisions. However, you need at least two people playing this role simultaneously; with just one person, self-silencing might kick in. The book also illustrates the benefits of inviting another team to act as a “contrarian” team with the purpose of “combating” your team’s plan, strategy, or idea.

8. Take another perspective

To see alternatives and/or to uncover blind spots, ask yourself, “What would others do?” Ask a simple question to yourself or in the team meeting, “What would xx function do to deal with this challenge?” or “If a new leadership team took over now, what would they do?”. Something as simple as this can help your brain to see issue and challenges from a different perspective and open up your mind to other solutions. This helps to mitigate status quo bias, selective attention bias, and confirmation bias.

9. Create space for contemplation and analysis

The rush to make decisions often leads us to fall back on implicit associations, biases, and stereotypes — certainly not the conditions for good decision-making. Instead of going with your gut feeling, design for a two-part decision making process and add in a reviewer. When you have reached a decision, take a break from it (such as a day) and then come back to the decision with all the reasons why it would not work or be the best decision. Also seek others’ input in the same way. Seeing the decision from the flip side allows us to question if we have really found the best solution.

10. Design meetings for fresher minds

Meeting conditions can impact decision-making. A study of judges found that their decisions were more carefully considered and lenient after having taken a break, whereas prior to breaks they often opted to maintain the status quo and deny parole. Fatigue can interfere with our decisions. This can especially crop up in situations where many decisions are made in sequence, such as in an organization’s annual appraisal session (which can involve very long, multi-day meetings).

Design your team meetings with frequent breaks that are structurally built into the agenda (such as every two hours). Don’t leave this to chance, and set limits on checking emails during the break – that will only further overload the mind, contributing to increasing fatigue. Give suggestions for what to do, such as ‘take a 15 minute walk”, or “Sit in a quiet room with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.” Provide drinks and light snacks to ensure hunger doesn’t eat into decision-making. These things might be seen as trivial or too costly, yet what is more important: a flawed decision and its consequences, or a few minutes of downtime and minor catering expense? Reframe those perceived expenses of time and catering as enablers to create a stronger organization and bring out the best in yourself and your people.

11. Release time to work

When we are under time pressure or have too much to do, our rational mind is overloaded, and we fall back on unconscious mode of thinking.

We know from research that one of the major time-stealing activities that most people engage in is email and social media. When we stop working on a task to check emails it takes the brain about 23 minutes to get back into the task at hand. Help your brain not to do this by designing your messaging systems not to inform you about incoming email or instant messages/chats, and only allow you to check at a certain time, such as right after lunch or late afternoon when you are most often tired.

Or take it to the extreme, and set up an autoreply stating that you’ll check emails on Friday, asking people to send a text message if it’s urgent. And check how many people deemed their matter important enough to do so.