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Outsmarting a White Bear

courageous time blocking Aug 30, 2022

by Aubrey Patterson


Do white bears sometimes show up to ruin a perfectly good evening or keep you up at night?

Ironic process theory, or the white bear problem, says that attempts to suppress a particular thought will only increase its frequency and intensity. This idea from Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner is derived from an essay by a Russian writer well over a century ago:

Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute. (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

A white bear might be an upcoming contentious meeting, a very busy week ahead, or any foreboding task that needs to be completed. The more we try to push the worries down, the greater they feel. 

So, how do we get our brains to cut us a break and fend off the white bear?

There are a number of strategies to do this, like replacing the thought, going for a walk, or...

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Domino Falls

by Aubrey Patterson


Just time block it.

People seeking organizational help all too often hear this well-intentioned advice from people whose own calendars mostly display a collection of events and other people's to-do lists. 

Ensuring we get to all the right places at all the right times and track our task with colorful blocks is a nice start, but shouldn't we see our biggest priorities whenever we open our calendars? 

The ONE Thing

When we add tasks to a calendar quickly and thoughtlessly, we're spending time rather than investing it.

In The ONE Thing, author Gary Keller offers a simple and impactful way to begin time blocking. In any given moment, we should first ask ourselves the focusing question, "What’s the ONE Thing I could do, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?" 

Our next step is to time block that one thing and other priorities to create a series of...

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Calendar Before To-Do

by Aubrey Patterson


A great many swear by their to-do lists, and with good reason. Psychologist, author, and film-maker David Cohen maintains that a completed list greatly reduces anxiety.

Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life derive primarily from their own actions, whereas those with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors. A list is a way of being in charge. Sorting things out and getting jobs done gives you a sense of having influence on a world that seems beyond your control. - David Cohen

But these feelings of influence and control come at a cost.

Because it’s easy to add things to a list, our to-do items can quickly grow to an unmanageable number. To make things worse, as our well-intentioned lists expand, lesser items begin to take on equal importance with our most impactful work.

Simply put, putting too much stock in that convenient and coveted to-do list often leads to us spending...

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Leaders Walk the Talk

by Aubrey Patterson


We all have good ideas.

And we should share them and hope our teammates elevate them into something remarkable.

When we have an idea but don’t act upon it, at best it’s just a good intention.

Some people think generous sharing can help a relationship, but vision without action creates disappointment in those we've excited with a new idea.

Someone who frequently offers ideas and rarely acts is communicating, “I have the ideas, you need to do the work.”

Good intentions only count when accompanied by good effort.

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.

- Peter Drucker

When we offer a new thought that is received enthusiastically, the actions of each team member should immediately be entered into some form of a shared task document.

Dreams are turned into action when we know who will do what by when, including the commitments of the leader who just motivated the...

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On the Dot!

meetings time blocking Apr 26, 2022

by Aubrey Patterson


Do you find yourself in meetings that are chronically late to begin? 

To the punctual majority who are often pressed for time, being late is like saying, "This work is important, but, hey, it's not that important."

Arriving late was a way of saying that your own time was more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you. - Karen Joy Fowler

A Typical Late Start

We've all been part of this common scenario:

Some arrive a little early and start chatting. Most of the people arrive just in time to begin. A few have yet to arrive. Often one or two key members, who are usually the leaders, keep chatting until eventually one of them declares, "OK, let's get started."

Unfortunately, far too many meetings organically stumble to a late start, and then stagger to a slow end. Time, enthusiasm, motivation, and focus are the casualties of this pattern.

All of this makes...

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Habits vs. Willpower

by Aubrey Patterson


Many of us rely on willpower to actualize our biggest goals.

When we want to lose weight, we access willpower to prevent us from eating a piece of cake. 

If we want to save money, we use willpower to not click buy now on Amazon.

And when we want to wake up early, we use willpower to quickly get out of bed.

This common approach certainly seems to make sense. However, consistently relying on willpower is an exhausting, demoralizing, and failing strategy for most.

Willpower vs. Systems

Willpower is like a muscle. It needs to be consistently exercised or it can get weak.

Habits don’t require additional energy. They happen automatically.

If this, then that habits are most desirable because they require neither a lot of thought nor willpower. 

Powerful habits work together with beautiful synergy and beget excellent...

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Someday Isn't on a Calendar

by Aubrey Patterson


When scheduling your priorities into your calendar, how often do you place a time block on Someday?

It's a silly question, right?

Someday doesn't exist on the calendar.

We've heard the expression, there are seven days in a week and Someday isn’t one of them.

Planning to do something someday is saying that what we want is just a pipe dream.  A lack of risk and effort makes someday a frequently used excuse that doesn't allow us to take advantage of a sudden opportunity.

Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin. - Victor Kiam

Someday doesn't exist on any calendar and never will. If we keep loading everything into this phantom day, nothing will come of our dreams and we'll look back one day upon a devastating pile of regrets. 

You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. - Tina Fey

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Timing Matters

by Aubrey Patterson


Not all moments are equal.

By preparing ourselves and truly tuning in to what the world is saying, we can take advantage of timing.

Many don’t account for time; they believe they will always have the opportunity to achieve their goals. 

This simply isn't true.

Our people, environment, and team cultures are forever evolving.

Our goals don’t wait around until we can find a more convenient time. They are available only for a small snapshot of time before disappearing in an abyss of I should have’s.

Chapter Breaks

A slight delay in the timing of our actions could be the difference between an overwhelming success or an unremarkable result.

Such lessons are perhaps best illustrated by social media. As a new platform gains traction, there is a much greater opportunity to carve out space before others even create a profile.

Similar opportunities that are much less obvious are always available if we are attuned to our...

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Meeting with Myself

by Aubrey Patterson


You're going on vacation this Friday, and suddenly crushing your things-to-do lists, sending quick and clear emails, and crumpling post-its like a pro!


Meeting with Myself

Most of us get in a zone in the days leading up to a self-imposed finish line.

Certainly, we may be buoyed by increased optimism and energy, but it's not the actual vacation that drives productivity. Rather, we're driven to close as many open loops as possible to better enjoy the time on vacation and satisfy other desires like returning to a fresh start.

This pre-vacation productivity zone may feel a little frantic, but thoughts of a chapter break in our work life and an impending feeling of accomplishment provide an extra gear.

I can feel good about the trip, once I'm in the car.

I'll take a breath when I get through security.

Imagine operating with these finally in the car feelings every week, without the hurried pace.

Time block a 15-minute Friday ...

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