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Appointment bookends: Use ‘em.

Appointment bookends: Use ‘em.

I have some very simple advice for you this week which can revolutionize your workweek productivity.

It describes a habit I had fallen into out of sheer necessity when I was a corporate VP in operations, finding that appointments could easily and completely dominate my entire day if I allowed them to. My calendar was a parade of interviews, employee counseling, staff meetings, vendor appointments, and customer meet-and-greets, all those same scheduling challenges you probably have too, with people wanting or needing their piece of you. You can’t say no to them, and you may not want to, but you can get much smarter about how you schedule them.

What I’m going to describe for you is a straight-forward scheduling habit, but it takes strong will and self-discipline because it’s so easy to break. We break it because we are good at honoring appointments with everyone but ourselves.

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This is one of the first habits I teach to the managers I coach, for without exception I discover they must learn to get their time back, claiming it as their own, and giving it the degree of worth and importance it deserves. Second, they inevitably need more help with follow-up.

The objections are immediate, and are the same from everyone, nearly verbatim, “but Rosa, I just can’t afford to do this!” My response is the same too: “You can’t afford not to. Do you want your life at work to get better or not?” Once they get it, and get into it, they never give it up.

So here it is, a new habit for you to cultivate, and one you will deem priceless once it starts to work for you too— do it, and I guarantee it will work: Bookend all your appointments.

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For every appointment you place on your calendar which involves meeting with another person or group of people, schedule a half-hour beforehand as one bookend, and another half-hour afterwards as the second bookend. When using Outlook, I went so far as to label them Mua (‘before’ in Hawaiian), or ‘PREP’ and Mahope (‘after’ pronounced Ma-ho-pay) or ‘DE-BRIEF’ as totally separate entries, with the following checklists in the Notes section as my reminders.

During PREP, you do just that:

  • In a strategy of ‘paying yourself first’ focus on what you should get out of the appointment to come: Define for yourself your best possible outcome for when the appointment is over. Never ‘wing it’ in an appointment again: Claim it and Own it.
  • Gather everything you will need; strive to dazzle your appointment with how prepared you are for them, and how intentionally focused you are. Review any related documents, and make notes of the questions you can get answered during the appointment. Appointments should be people-time, not paper-time.
  • If you are about to go into a meeting, do a mental roll-call of all the people who will be there, and compile your questions and outstanding items for them, whether related to the subject matter at hand or not. This part of the habit saves so many emails and phone calls in the rest of your week; you are capitalizing on the presence of others in a proactive way.
  • Another Outlook tip on this last item: I use the Notes section of Outlook Contacts extensively to capture any conversation-agenda items I have for people. Then, this step became as easy as printing their Contact sheets and taking them with me to my meetings; notes on their responses were written on the sheets for easy processing into my system later. If my ‘Prep’ was shorter than the half-hour I’d allotted, I went to the meeting early, caught everyone as they came in, and was able to complete many if not most of my pending conversations with them.

These prep steps help you focus so much better during the appointment itself. In my Hawaiian language of intention: Mua becomes Imua, going forward with strong momentum.

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During DE-BRIEF, you do just that:

  • Again, take care of your own needs first: Write down your de-brief of whatever memory you need to capture from the appointment. Grab your take-aways and lessons learned; reflect and rejuvenate.
  • Process your notes and get any new data you’ve captured into your system; file, calendar, replace and delete as you need to: The goal here is that meeting and appointment data by-passes your inbox and is immediately processed. Any new paperwork generated gets done or gets started when fresh in mind.
  • Get your jump-start on follow-up: Brainstorm all related next-actions related to the appointment or meeting you just had, and calendar what you can, including appointments with yourself— time blocked for those priorities you deem most important.
  • Use whatever time remains in that half-hour to get something done. Choose from that list of next actions you just wrote down, and do them.

The strategy here is working proactively with full mindfulness. When the appointment was a significant one —you know which are key for you and which are not— my De-brief bookend was a full hour; I wanted and needed my most important work to get done!

Important coaching, and where your will and discipline come in: These bookends are just that, bookends and not cushions of extra time. You must discipline yourself to start and end your meetings and appointments on time, keeping them efficiently focused as well.

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I can hear most of your objections now; believe me, I’ve already heard them all. But you ignore this advice at your own peril. Start as you can: Many of my execs will squeeze themselves into the habit little by little, starting their appointment bookends with every new booking which comes on those calendar days which are weeks into the future. They’ll call me after the random one they’ve done, saying, “Rosa, these appointment bookends are golden!” and that glorious day comes when the habit is firmly entrenched and they never ever go back.

You can do it too: Get your time back. Imua!

Related Articles:

Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is also the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership. For more of her ideas, click to her Thursday columns in the archives, or download her manifesto: Managing with Aloha on ChangeThis.com.

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: What would your banner say?

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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