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Op/Ed

Looking for more focus in your life? We’ve got a book for that [Interview]

(Opinion Editorials) Here are some actionable items and considerations on how to focus in such an unfocused world.

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The Focus Project book with author Eric Qualman

In a crazy year of serious health concerns and many shifts in priorities, many of us have been grappling with where to focus our attention. Personally, I am a wife, mother of a toddler and two dogs, a full-time employee, and have a side business with consistent clients. I also was leading a women’s group monthly and have a couple of freelance/contract projects. Upon losing daycare in mid-March, I was drowning.

I felt like nothing was being given full attention and my to-do list was running away without me. I also realize now that all of the above is too much and I NEED to make time for rest and figure out where to focus my time and energy. I also was sad about losing some much needed human connection.

As a Career Coach, I’m constantly preaching the power of networking. While some think that word is icky, I want to share how I met Erik Qualman in a pretty cool networking way. He was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended in 2019. He had an interactive way with the audience where he asked you to email him the one word you wanted to be remembered for.

I wrote compassion (if you were curious). He ended up writing back later and we were able to coordinate a coffee meet up since we both live in Austin. Erik hires many of the students I work with as interns and this was a great opportunity for me to ask about his interview process, what skills he looks for in students, and any other nuggets of insight that could help me coach them better.

In the meantime, he’s been a very kind and generous person to answer my entrepreneurial questions. I’ve also enjoyed his podcast, Super U. It’s full of great insights about finding and living your super powers from a variety of people and backgrounds.

When I saw that Erik’s new book, The Focus Project, launched (a bit early than he had planned), I had to order it. I am currently working through it and emphatically believe this will help many people with solid advice and immediate and long-term action ideas.

The book also covers lots of food for thought on how you are living your life and where you may want to consider adjustments. Erik has also been kind enough to answer some of my questions while I’m working through the book. I truly hope these inspire you to check it out and work on your own priorities of focus.

1. In your own experiment, you took a month to focus on each of these categories in this order: Growth, Time Management, Family + Friends, Health, Relationships, Learning, Creativity, Empathy, Mindfulness, Giving, Gratitude, Your Story and Life. At the end of year after reflection, which one (or more) surprised you the most by focusing on that area? Did it have positive ripple effects to other areas or maybe seemed easier than you originally thought? Would you change the order after going through it?

The first month surprised me the most. I’d attempted to do the project 5 times over the course of a year, so I knew how difficult that first month could be. However, once it clicked I couldn’t believe the results! The focus was on growing our revenue so that I could afford to take the time to test the rest of the project for 11 more months. Just by focusing all of my and the team’s efforts around keynote speaking, we not only had a record sales month, but we almost made a year’s worth of revenue in that one month, leading us to our most successful year. In terms of order, I wouldn’t change the order, but a lot of thinking went into the order before I began.

2. Focus in 2020 is great because it is a metaphor for perfect vision. Do you think there’s any hindsight for individuals that would be important to consider as to why maybe they are feeling so unfocused right now (values they hold to be true, work hard/play hard messaging, etc.)?

Our inability to focus on what matters most is silently killing us inside. This silent killer is similar to the fable of the frog in the pot. Recall that the frog happily sits in a pot of water, unaware of the slowly rising temperature. The premise is that if a frog is dropped into boiling water, it will immediately sense the danger and jump out. But if the water is at room temperature and slowly brought to a boil, the frog will not perceive the danger until it is too late.

Our goal is to ensure that we don’t end up like the frog. Our goal is to leap out of the boiling water—immediately—and never look back.

How many times do we find ourselves thinking: “Oh, tomorrow I’ll start my exercise program, tomorrow I’ll start spending more time with my kids, tomorrow I’ll start writing my screenplay, tomorrow I’ll start my fashion company, tomorrow I’ll start spending less and saving more, tomorrow I’ll ask for a raise, tomorrow I’ll look for a new job, tomorrow I will finish that report, tomorrow will be better.” This is the slow boil! We are in danger of wasting our most precious commodity—our individual lives.

3. Can you share your philosophy/how you balance social media so that you’re able to make the most of it in a positive way versus it being a total time suck?

The key in digital leadership is always a balance between having digital tools work for you rather than you working for the tools. These digital tools should not replace face-to-face experiences but are designed to augment it when time and distance are an issue.

Essentially you need to strike a balance. In order for me, and many other digital leaders, to strike a balance we set time limits on the amount of responses on social media we will tackle personally.

We now have a method, a method we named cowboy scheduling: A calendar with wide-open spaces and fences. I still can’t ride a horse to save my life, but I can now schedule like Annie Oakley or John Wayne.

This week give it a try — try scheduling like a cowgirl or cowboy by fencing off specific times for certain activities and leaving wide open spaces for creativity, relaxation, and deep thinking (or in this case allotting yourself a set amount of time for social media).

4. If you could change one small thing in your community/neighborhood, what would it be? (Think about examples of small changes we can make for positive impact.)

It would be wonderful if your closest 52 neighbors each wrote one nice note per week to a different neighbor each week. This would be a small change with a tremendous impact.

5. You share lots of additional books that inspired The Focus Project. Do you have recommendations for people that may read all the things but have a harder time taking action?

One reason I started writing The Focus Project is that, in some strange way, it will serve as an antidote for my book, Socialnomics ®. It is an antivenom to the poisonous habits technology can manifest in us. For the purposes of this book, I’m most interested in BJ Fogg’s research and philosophy about developing powerful habits via small steps. Fogg, a Stanford psychologist and researcher, specializes in captology – a captologist studies the effect of computers and mobile devices on human behavior. Fogg first appeared on my radar when I was writing Socialnomics. Fogg’s work was relevant to Socialnomics because many of us using social media are unknowing participants in the world’s largest social science experiment—one being controlled by the data scientists at Instagram, YouTube, Weibo, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and others.

Fogg argues that we mistakenly try to will our way to habits around activities we don’t enjoy. For example, we get up early and drag ourselves to the gym to ride a stationary bike for an hour. Eventually, since we don’t like it, we stop doing it. We don’t develop the habit. Fogg believes this mistake is more detrimental to a major change in our lives than doing nothing at all. Instead, Fogg explains that we need to start with small adjustments that lead to little victories and to celebrate these victories.

Fogg’s formula involves a trigger. An example of a trigger might be doing 25 sit-ups every time you wash your hands. Washing hands = sit-ups. We normally associate triggers with a negative cause-and-effect relationship. In Fogg’s formula, however, instead of negative triggers, the triggers are positive influences.

Here’s the simple formula for identifying triggers.

“After I Establish Habit, I will New Habit.”

Fogg’s best-known example of this formula is:

“After I Brush my teeth, I will Floss One Tooth.”

This sounds preposterous—who would floss just one tooth? This is exactly the point! Once you put into motion the flossing of one tooth you might say, “What the heck, why not floss a couple more?”

Neil Armstrong got it right, small steps lead to giant leaps.

FAQ about the book from the Author

How would you describe your book in 2-3 sentences?

The Focus Project teaches us how to focus on what matters most in this digitally unfocused world. In some ways it’s an anti-venom to my first book, Socialnomics.

Explaining The Focus Project in 7 seconds: The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin) and Essentialism (by Greg McKeown) have a baby with Amazon Alexa as the surrogate mother.

What distinguishes your book from others before it?

The Focus Project is unique in that each chapter is designed to provide a new area of focus, so the reader does not necessarily need to read the book chronologically. Each chapter is a month of the project. The blend of case studies and anecdotal elements are relatable and designed to help people at any stage in life, both personally and professionally. One main differentiating factor is Erik’s personal first-hand studies and stories. Due to his speaking schedule (55 countries and 35 million reached) and exposure to some of the world’s top thought leaders the book is less “dry” than most business books.

What problem will this book solve for the reader or what significant benefit will the reader get from the book? Why should the reader spend their valuable time reading this book? Why is the message of this book important?

The Focus Project doesn’t offer an overnight cure, but with time, patience, and persistence, significant progress is possible. This book will help to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of:

  1.  Focusing on what matters most.
  2.  Focusing in an increasingly unfocused world.
  3. Becoming a focus ninja.

The following is a guide to help lead us on our individual paths of personal development—pursuing less in order to achieve more: More happiness, more love, a more fulfilled life. We will realize that leading an overly busy life is a choice, but it’s not a wise one. Despite the perceptions of many, being over scheduled isn’t something to be proud of—it’s something to avoid at all costs. Instead, we should choose to focus on what matters most. This choice determines our success, happiness, and fulfillment.

The Focus Project solves the problem of prioritizing what matters most and confronting digital distractions to get the most out of life. Using both clinical science and street science this book helps the reader to better focus which, in turn, helps us reduce our stress and achieve our goals.

Some main ideas in the book:

  1. What items if I focus on them will bring me fulfillment? What’s preventing me from focusing on them? How can I focus on them first?
  2.  The power of saying no and how to say it.
  3. Making a Not-to-Do List is more important than your To-Do-List

You can learn more about Erik and the book here.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

Op/Ed

How to keep your business partner on your same page during COVID-19

(EDITORIAL) COVID-19 has a lot of people worrying about themselves, their families, and their friends, but one that doesn’t get brought up much is business partner.

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Business partner

In the age of COVID – we are all having conversations about our personal wellness. Story after story, we are encouraged to be reflective about our self-care to ourselves, our families, and our employers.

Our business partners, while being in the same storm as us, are not always in our same boat.

They have unique situations, perspectives, and needs. To maintain that business relationship, you need to start thinking about how you can communicate your situation to them.

This is a critical piece of communication. You should be mindful of this beyond a simple “I’m at home and may be delayed in answering email” kind of message.

Honesty and openness are essential to good business partnership, but you want to craft the right message to assure your business partner and protect yourself. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for the content of your message:

  • Identity your primary message. What are you trying to do? Why is it essential for them to know? What do they need to know to keep the business afloat, and manage their expectations. You may need to refresh yourself on any existing structural agreements or roles. We often pick business partners for their skills sets in relation to our own – if you’re doing all the numbers and purchasing, explain to them how the current situation will impact your ability to do that.
  • Say “why”. You do not need to dump all the things you have going on to your business partner – but rather explain things in a way that is relevant to them. This will keep your conversation brief and to the point. A good example of this is to say “We normally have morning meetings with clients, but since my kids are being homeschooled in the morning, I need to have them in the afternoon”. This gives a clear explanation of what you need, and why your business partner should care.

Before you get on the meeting:

  • Recognize differences and see where you can compromise and where you cannot compromise. Your health should be number one. This is not the time to endanger your health or radically disrupt the things you do to stay healthy. But also, if there are places where you can adjust or be flexible, be willing to do that. This is useful when you and your business partner are in different time zones or life situations. The situation around us is changing every day – and is different by region, state, or even city. Communicate changes or challenges promptly and with clarity.
  • Set up the conversation. When is the best time? Is it in evening with an informal “Zoom happy hour?” When does your partner prefer communication? Are they morning people? Are they better after a few hours and coffee? Timing is everything. Especially if the conversation is tough.

Number one? Keep communication open. Nothing makes people more anxious than a partner you can’t get in contact with. There are lots of tools and technology we can utilize. Have a regular check in – and communicate frequently. This will keep heads cool and ensure that the relationship you have is protected.

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Op/Ed

10 productivity tips to get the most out of yourself and your team

(EDITORIAL) Keeping up productivity can be a hard goal to shoot for, so sometimes It helps to see what others are doing. Here’s our list of 10 ways to stay productive

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productivity in a team

Funny thing about inverse relationships, they are so counterintuitive. Like working hard. That is an example of doing what you think will be beneficial, but usually just makes the job what you expected, hard. When it comes to productivity, harder isn’t smarter, as the saying goes.

And, if you are sick of the word “hack” we hear you. But, finding ease in work will allow you to be more productive and with better results.

We offer you this list of stories to meet your productivity needs. Here’s to finding work-life balance, seeking ease in the moment and rocking out a productive day!

1. If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t focus so much on time management. Instead, consider energy management to get more out of less effort.

2. Meetings suck. Wait, I mean they are a time suck. Yeah, that’s it. Everyone knows some meetings are unnecessary and could easily be handled through an email. Yet, many supervisors are hesitant. But, there’s an app for that now. Here’s to meeting less and actually getting work done.

3. Kondo your desk, for God’s sake. If you say you are more productive with a messy desk, yet you have a sandwich from last week and those TPS reports you were supposed to turn in weeks ago somewhere under a pile of crap, you need to clean up your act. Nobody wants to get a report covered in coffee, chocolate, and mustard.

4. Are you agile? I mean, really. Is your team as productive as it could be? Whether you are a PM or a real estate agent, if you need a tool that helps your team stay agile and nimble, this will help you and your crew kick ass and take names.

5. Cut the team some slack. Too many messages and you forget what you were originally doing. Slack thought about that and has a way to make the app work for your team so you can be more effective and keep the workflow moving.

6. Working remotely has some serious benefits, notwithstanding working in your PJ’s. While it is the norm now, convincing your boss you will actually work in the future and not binge on Netflix may be the challenge. And, for many folks, working from home is a much more productive option long term, even after COVID restrictions lift. Yet, anyone who has worked remotely also knows it can be easy to get caught up in work and miss human interactions, leading to burnout. Here’s how to make the remote transition work for you.

7. Sometimes more is less. That is the truth when it comes to work where quality beats quantity all day long. Our 9-5 workdays may be good for some, but not for all. And, putting in 80-hour weeks may seem righteous dude, but what do you really accomplish? Kick productivity in the butt and consider are you using your hours wisely.

8. Want to be a baller in the workplace? Then get focused. According to the experts, those at the top of their game aren’t necessarily working harder or smarter, they are just hyper-focused. Here are some good habits to have if you want to get ahead.

9. If it seems everyone has a podcast, you are correct! Some of those podcasts are useful, especially if you are trying to get ahead and find ways to use your productivity to the fullest. Here’s a list of podcasts that will fill your free time with useful information.

10. Creative folks love to start new projects. They can be like kids in the candy store any time they have a new idea they must explore. The problem is that whether you are an artist, writer, graphic/web/software designer or developer, you may start a lot of projects and finish few. Here’s how to finish what you start!

By now, you know what information to keep and you are ready to get your rear in gear. We wish you all the success with your future projects. We know you will be diligent and hyper-productive!

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Op/Ed

Choice IQ: The self-guided career coach for busy professionals

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Need help with your career but unsure where to start or struggle to find the time? Choice IQ could help you, even on the go.

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Choice IQ robots, designed to help identify strengths and stress in self-guided career coaching.

Although it’s not part of the job description, without a doubt, you’ll eventually develop some form of stress at work. In a way, stress is a good thing because it shows you’re pushing your boundaries and growing. But, too much stress is bad. It can lead to poor health and cause you to deliver sub-par performance at work. And, while not all of us may have a life coach we can easily call on, we could potentially have a digital one.

Meseekna, a computer software company that designs scientifically validated tools, has developed an on-the-go life coach tool for busy professionals. Choice IQ is a coaching platform supported by the learning and training system developed by Meseekna scientists. The app uses “interactive scenarios, storytelling, and art to help you build strategies for managing your stress.”

With a comic book art style, Choice IQ helps describe what stress is and explains how you can manage it. Through its step-by-step guided process, Choice IQ measures your metacognition, or ‘how’ you make your decisions. By looking at your focus, drive, curiosity, and resilience, it can uncover your strengths. The tool also assesses your stress and what aspects of it affect you the most. All these tests are done through a series of multiple-choice questions.

Once you’ve been able to determine your strengths and stress points, Choice IQ can help make a plan that will help you work on reducing the impact of stress in your life. The tool has training scenarios where you can immerse yourself in a different role to test your metacognitive skills. Through interactive storybook-like quests, you also can learn to navigate through stress.

To take your career coaching to the next level, you can sign up for Choice IQ’s Coaching Program. By signing up, you will have access to MONA. The on-the-go interactive coach is packed with six-decades of science and is available to support you 24/7. All you have to do is ask MONA! You will also have access to daily texts that have quick prompts and check-ins to make sure your metacognition training is consistent. And, all your progress is tracked in a digital journal.

By using Meseekna’s simulation technology, “Choice IQ can break down the processes into daily actionable steps and behaviors which enable optimal performance in a dynamically complex world.” For busy professionals, this sounds pretty good. Are you ready to give it a try?

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