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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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Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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