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The 9-1 Keys To Surviving The September Rush

Written by: Christelle Deblon, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Every year it's the same story. By mid-September, everyone realises that there are barely 12 weeks left before the Christmas holidays and that you still have a lot of objectives to achieve. The emails are flying; the meetings are piling up, and each department is asking for your participation in this or that project that is not in your priorities but is so important to them or the organisation.

Businesswoman checking time on wristwatch while talking mobile phone outside..

If you have young children, there are also parents' meetings, notebooks to cover, the pale green outfit required by the ballet teacher for tomorrow evening and the return of the weekend taxi mode. In short, it's mid-September, and you feel like it's been three years since your last holiday! Yet, no matter how great your talents are, one thing is immutable: a day is 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. Not one more. If you want to achieve a few key goals in the next few weeks without falling apart, it is urgent to establish some good habits and (re)develop some skills. In this article, I want to share with you a structured approach in three main steps: three questions to ask yourself, three good habits to develop, and three skills to deploy. Plus, one last step to maintain the whole thing over time.

Three questions to ask yourself.


It may seem obvious, but increasing your knowledge of the situation and yourself can dramatically improve your efficiency.

1. What are your priorities?

Normally you should know your professional priorities. Hmmm… can you name your top three must-do for 2022? I often observe that most of you have a list of priorities as long as a list of to-dos! A quick reminder: no, not everything is a priority! Having priorities means ranking them from the most important to the least important. This allows you, if you must arbitrate resources (and time is a resource), to give priority to the objective with the highest priority. It may seem obvious when you put it like that, but practice shows that it is far from being that simple.

The last dimension to consider is that this applies to your professional life AND your private life. If we are more or less aware of our professional priorities, which are punctuated by the objectives/evaluation cycle, this is rarely the case for our private life. If you had to choose between cleaning your house and going to the gym, what would you do?

2. What are your needs?

Once you know your priorities, do you know what you will need to achieve them? Time of course, but probably also materials, support, budget? And what about your physiological needs? How much sleep do you need to function well? How many hours of sport do you need to keep your body in top condition? Our bodies and brains are not machines. Both need time to rest, pause, relax and enjoy. Take an honest look at your schedule. When do you recharge your batteries (and I'm not talking about collapsing in front of the TV and binge-watching any debilitating series)? When do you give your body some movement? When do you keep your eyes away from a screen? When do you take care of your relationships? Forget these needs, they will remind you of them at some point, which may be painful. So plan ahead, and set aside time to take care of yourself. In fact, this should be your top priority!

3. What are your favourite pitfalls?


Are you more of an empath who will take work from colleagues because they are overloaded? Or the perfectionist who can spend an extra two hours on that presentation just to get all the shapes right? Or the dreamer who has trouble deciding whether to end a sentence with a full stop or an exclamation mark? Identify those little phrases that go around in your head and plague your effectiveness. Those limiting beliefs convince you that to be loved, you must please or be perfect. Those irrational fears prevent you from simply asking for help or refusing an extra task. Put yourself in a state of self-observation (called meta-positioning) as often as possible to track down all those thoughts that prevent you from unfolding.

Three habits to get into urgently.

Do you ever feel at the end of the day that you've accomplished nothing, even though you've been running the whole time? One of the main reasons for this feeling is that we confuse busy with efficient. Here I share with you the three tools that I believe are essential to greatly increase your productivity and free up time.


1. Work on what is important.


What is urgent is what needs to be taken care of without delay. An emergency that is not dealt with can lead to a problem in the short term. What is important is what will contribute to your goals in the short or long term. The interesting thing is that it is often because someone has not dealt with something important that it suddenly becomes an emergency. And the worst thing is that the emergencies that fall on you are not always your own...


Let's take a simple example (it's real life!), and you'll understand: you asked your spouse to fill the oil tank. Busy with other priorities, he/she forgot to do so. It's 3 p.m. on Saturday, the weather is grey, ten friends are coming over in two hours, and ... no more heating. All that's left is to run to the petrol station and fill up a few jerry cans to keep you going until Monday when you call your delivery man urgently. An emergency you could have done without!


To differentiate between urgent and important and improve your efficiency, I present the Eisenhower matrix. How to use it?

The area you want to see empty, but which you must take care of as soon as it is no longer empty, is 'urgent/important'. If you don't take care of it, you risk a crisis or a problem in the short term. For example, there is that offer that your important client asked you for this morning as a matter of urgency because he is meeting with his management tomorrow and wants to pass the budget. Or that appointment you must make at the dentist for the son's toothache. Or of course, the warning light that has just come on in your car.


The area where you should spend the most time is 'non-urgent/important'. Working here will allow you to plan your tasks better, do more quality work, and reduce your stress. As we have seen, it is also a good way to avoid loading the 'urgent/important' zone.


The 'urgent/non-important' area is most often polluted by other people's emergencies! It's your colleague who forgot to ask you to validate a report for this evening, your neighbour who comes to pester you with unsolvable problems, the Xth call from that telephone company, ... It's not easy. Still, you'll have to refuse to devote any time to this area or delegate the task to someone for whom it's important. This is about setting limits and inviting everyone to take responsibility for themselves.


The 'non-urgent/non-important' should simply be removed. This is when you waste time wandering around the internet for no purpose, changing the shape of that slide for the 42nd time when your presentation is already more than perfect, or attending a meeting where you have no added value. Don't hesitate a second; pull the plug!


2. Set your priorities the day before


This is a simple but highly effective habit: plan your day the night before. Establish an end-of-day ritual: before you close your computer or your office’s door, take a moment to think about what will really move you towards your goal tomorrow. Finish reading that report? Call Stéphane to decide together on the next step in project X? Keeping that lunch with that potential client at all costs. Or take an hour with your daughter to discuss her future?


Set yourself a maximum of 3 priorities per day, the 3 things that will make you say tomorrow night that you have made significant progress. And write them down somewhere! We often underestimate the power of writing, but there are two immediate gains: you don't have to make an effort tomorrow morning to remember what you had planned, and you make a form of commitment to yourself to achieve these three priorities.


Personally, I also list other tasks that I would like to do the next day but which are of lower priority. Depending on how much time they will take, my energy and my pace, I do them quickly between two big blocks, or I postpone them if I haven't had the time.


3. Never start your day with your emails!


This is probably the hardest habit to keep in our hyper-connected world but, combined with the previous one it will make a huge difference to your achievements. I guarantee that by 10am you'll feel like you've done a day's work!


Do you know why we behave like this? The cause is found in the famous FOMO ('Fear Of Missing Out'). The fear of missing out on (information) drives us to scan social networks and emails at all hours of the day and sometimes night. I know former colleagues who read their emails as soon as they wake up, still in bed!


By doing this, you put your brain into automatic mode. It will start to process information, classify, and work on it. So it's not you and your choice of priorities that will decide your priority tasks for the day, but your mailbox. Chances are that you will start working into the ‘urgent/non-important’ zone and leave the important to later. Hence the feeling of having done nothing at the end of the day. The circle is complete.


Three skills to (re)develop.


Laura, one of my coachees, mastered everything I have just explained and even more. She knew the right habits and tried to apply them. But it didn't work. Why? Because tools are nothing if you don't work on what defines you. We've already touched on this a bit in the pitfalls above, but it's basically certain limiting beliefs that will slip banana peels under your good resolutions. Let's look at three beliefs that might be useful to unravel in this case.


1. Saying no efficiently


For a long time, I was one of those people for whom saying no is simply rude. You must please if you want to be loved, even if you get yourself into trouble. This led me into many unsavoury situations until I realised the weight this bad habit was putting on my life.


On the other hand, saying a real NO opens up the possibility of saying a real YES. Because what happens when you say yes to everything without really meaning it? You run the risk of doing things by halves or not being able to keep your word. While giving ourselves time to reflect and allowing ourselves to refuse puts us in an active and involved position. We become more autonomous and give an image of greater reliability.


Two pieces of advice if you are struggling with saying no:

  • Find your 'no mentor.' Look around you; you probably have a friend or colleague who says no easily. Observe them, or have a chat with them. How can they inspire you? He or she will certainly tell you some things that will make your skin crawl, but think further, identify the beliefs that are sticking, and look for some tips to put in place

  • Say no to the situation and yes to the person. Your friend asks you for help, but it's completely impossible for you. Formulate a response that shows empathy for him and his situation while explaining that you can't help him. Help him/her to look for other alternatives.

2. Put responsibilities in their place.


"Yes, but if I don't do it, no one will.” How many times have I heard this phrase during coaching? It's very positive and great to be involved in your work, and it's a value that is highly appreciated by your hierarchy.

Yes, but to what extent? Because while you are doing a job that is not yours, who is looking after your work? Who is advancing your priorities? And, sorry to disappoint you, but unless you are the CEO, you are not responsible for everything that happens in your company!


I see this kind of sentence as an indicator of inconsistency. Either the priorities are not the right ones, or the means are not aligned with the objectives. In both cases, the situation should be rediscussed and decisions should be taken.


Just a remark: I'm not saying that you should never help your colleagues, especially in certain circumstances - imagine a nurse saying that it's not her patient and therefore, she doesn't intervene when the person is becoming unwell. I'm talking about situations that are recurrent, even structural, in some organisations... or with certain personality profiles.


3. Cultivate a sense of letting go.


Let's get one thing straight right away: letting go does not mean giving up! The notion of letting go is in fact, strongly linked to the previous point: focusing on what is under your responsibility, or more exactly in your control zone.


Think of a student preparing for an exam. If he wants to put all the chances on his side to succeed, he will have studied well, of course, will have gone to sleep early the night before after having done some sport and eaten lightly. And that's it! He has no impact on the questions he will be asked nor on the teacher's mood. His result, therefore, depends largely on him, but not only. He must put his energy into preparing well and then let go of the result.


Cultivating a mindset of letting go has two essential components: understanding what is in your control and accepting that the end result is often beyond your control. Because trying to control what you can't is like pouring water into a bottomless pit: a waste of energy. Worse, you're only creating stress for yourself.


And the tenth key?


We are all fallible, or rather we are all learning. We make mistakes, we are imperfect, and that's fine: it creates space for progress in a spirit of development.


So my final key is to look at yourself with kindness, embrace your imperfection, and keep doing your best.


Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Christelle Deblon, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

"For Christelle, joy is definitely the greatest emotion one can feel. She dreams of a world where everyone wakes up in the morning anticipating the joy of the working day to come. Not only she dreams of this, but she puts all her positive energy and broad skillset into action to make this vision become reality and to impact the professional world.


Before being a coach, she worked in marketing, communication and direct sales. She then had the chance to become a people manager. That's when she discovered her mission: helping others to become the very best version of themselves in their professional life.


In 2011, she decided to make her dream come true: she learned coaching, and started her own business. For the last 10 years, she provides hundreds of days of training, facilitated work sessions in sectors as going from banking to semi-conductors sales, helped teams and individuals to improve, led projects, and enjoyed every single day!


Living in Belgium, her mother tongue is French, and she works in English and Dutch as well.

She successfully completed her Coaching training in 2013, and kept on developing herself continuously ever since. She is certified in Stress & Burnout Coaching, Prosci ADKAR change management and Appreciative Inquiry (Case Western University). She contributed to two chapters of 'Le grand livre de l'Appreciative Inquiry' published in 2021."

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