5 Immediate Use Strategies for Taming Email (BONUS VIDEO: Email as a spiritual practice)

Most of the time I write about how purpose-driven leaders can be more effective in their working relationships, and so a topic like “taming email” may seem like a strange departure. And yet, I believe that email overwhelm is at its heart about relationships. You might avoid an email because it contains something difficult, and the impact is no different than avoiding a person because you associate them with difficulty.

Start doing these five things right now to get your email under control and improve the relationships connected.

  1. Set up a short-term autoresponse (a.k.a Vacation or Out-of-Office message). The autoresponder should say something like, “I’m working hard to catch up after (X Special Event Got Me Behind) and I’ll respond as soon as I can, but probably not today.”  Do not leave this on for weeks at a time. (I’ve experimented with that and found it unhelpful.) This works best if you can use it for a few days while you catch up, then turn it off.
  2. Set time on your calendar for doing nothing but catching up on email. This might be an hour a day or a three-hour block each week, but you need to set this appointment and keep it like you would any other.
  3. Ignore email completely for blocks of time. Give yourself the gift of focus and complete presence away from email outside of your email-task-block appointments. If you know someone needs to be able to get in touch with you outside of that time period, email is not the route they should be taking. Ask them for a text or phone call (sparingly).
  4. Put your full attention on each email and read it carefully during your email-task-block appointment. Read and respond carefully. How much of a waste of time is it to find out that when you finally responded to someone, you offered the wrong information because you weren’t paying attention to the actual questions they asked? Honor your email-task-block at least as much as you would a one-on-one conversation with someone you cared about, and be fully present.
  5. Convert larger tasks assignments into calendared appointments. If an email comes to you with a request that will require some dedicated work on your part, do not leave this for your dedicated email-task-block time. Make an appointment for doing just that, and honor that appointment when the time comes.

Helpful hint for protecting relationships while you’re doing #5: Inform the original requester about the date when you are going to be able to tackle the task. When the time comes, devote yourself to the task for the entire time and get it done. As soon as it is finished, send the results back via email.

Email as a spiritual practice

I can hear you: “The heck you say!”

Yes, email can be a spiritual practice. Here’s how:

Do you have a spiritual practice that you use at work, or have you known of someone who did? I’d love to learn about it! Please leave me a comment below.

The spirituality of how we use time

“My disease is terminal. I know that.”

These startling words came from a friend last week–an amazing person who has inspired many with the power of his positivity and love–traits only purified by his encounter with terminal illness.

My friend is doing everything he can to fight off disease so he can invest his time in inspiring people. A survivor who has lived eight years since his diagnosis has inspired him, and he wants to invest time in supporting others.

To me, this is an example of a spiritual approach to time:

  • Clarity about what is important
  • Focus on necessary action to buy the most time possible for what he wants to do
  • Emphasis on what he can do rather than what he can’t

Here are four lessons in spirituality and time that I take from this encounter:

Resolve Conflicting Emotions 

When time seems short,  conflicting emotions might be to blame. Suppose you are invited to a social-justice event regarding causes you care about. However, similar events have felt too confrontational or boring. Your conflicting emotions about the event make the event feel larger and more demanding than it is.

I have noticed that I feel like I don’t have time to clean the house. My conflicting emotions are to blame. I love the feel of a clean house and want that for myself, but I feel discouraged that the activity won’t have permanent results. “It’ll just get dirty again!”

If my friend had that attitude about his life and death, he might stop bothering with anything and just give up. It’s a lot easier.

If you can relate, science has two suggestions for us: Take a few slow deep belly breaths and try reframing the task mentally as something we can look forward to. List the positive aspects of the task (including likely or potential results) that you can focus on instead of the negative aspects that are currently taking all of your attention.

Put First Things First

In Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he encouraged readers to focus on “First Things First.”

  1. When you consider everything that you feel you “should” do, what is most important? What weighs most heavily on your mind? Which items on your to-do list must be completed before you can get other things done? Or, even more importantly, which items could, once completed, actually eliminate future tasks? (Think, “A stitch in time saves nine.”)
  2. Whatever task is most important, put it FIRST on your schedule — before email, before a meeting, before checking apps/websites. Get it DONE and out of the way, and reserve lesser tasks to later in the day.

Another of Covey’s principles is the relationship between what is important vs. what is urgent. Time is a resource, just like your energy and your money, and your values determine how you spend it.

My friend values people and values inspiring energy, and so his time resources are focused on creating that energy for the people he loves. He doesn’t have time to sit around feeling sorry for himself! He is focused on what is important.

However, my friend must attend to his health now. This is something that can’t be put off for another day. He doesn’t have the illusion of “someday” when things will get easier. Attending to his health is urgent. He has to find balance.

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and too little time on what is important. How can you restore balance (a spiritual concept) to your time?

Be Accountable to What you Can Do

Accountability is your personal power, and it’s all about choosing to do what you can do. It’s too easy to say, “But I can’t (which means “It isn’t easy”), so I won’t.”

Accountability acknowledges reality: “Maybe the straightforward easy way is blocked, but what can I do to make progress? What steps could I take? Who do I know who might be able to budge this obstacle or help me get strong enough to overcome it or circumvent it?”

When we’re personally accountable, we don’t allow ourselves to say we don’t have time. We say yes or no according to our values, what is important, and what is possible. We own our decisions and our power.

Use Your Attention Mindfully

“I lost track of time!” When you don’t pay attention to how you spend your time, it gets away from you.

Attention is a spiritual concept. It is your most intimate human trait. What and who you attend to influences who you are. It determines your behavior and your thoughts. Your attention directly impacts how you feel.

Contemplative and meditative practices are all about attention. In the Christian New Testament you can find a letter written by the apostle (church planter) Paul, who wrote to the church in Philippi about the value of their attention: “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable… if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The message is clear: what you pay attention to matters.

Are you clear about what is important to you? Are you focused on doing what you have to do so you can have the most time possible and the most opportunities to do what you most want to do?

I’d love to hear your thoughts — leave me a comment in the box below!

The Way You’re Relaxing Isn’t Relaxing

When you hit your busy season, how do you stay healthy? How do you make sure you’re ready to go when the time comes?

If you aren’t paying attention and following through with a few basic disciplines, you could wind up driving yourself into the ground–even when you think you’re taking time to relax.

If you have been feeling exhausted or like it’s time for a 3-year vacation, it’s time to take stock and start building a life for yourself that you can actually live instead of the one that’s grinding you down every day.

Practice self-compassion.

I have noticed that, when I am feeling my most frazzled, I can often trace it back to self-criticism more than just being busy. The problem is, the busier I am, the more my self-criticisms pile up and become this constant negative chatter in the back of my mind. I compare myself to others and to the unreal perfect performance I seek from myself.

Pioneering self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff suggests taking frequent selfcompassion breaks.  Self-compassion is not the same thing as self-pity or self-esteem, and it’s being proven to offer immediate and lasting benefits.

When you take a self-compassion break, you simply pause and breathe deeply for a few moments to calm your thinking, and then intentionally change the way you talk to yourself. Acknowledge mindfully that you are experiencing suffering. Remind yourself that suffering is a part of life and that we all struggle in our lives.  Seek to speak to yourself in ways that express kindness and gentle caring.

Learn to say no.

Saying no strategically doesn’t come from exhaustion and turning everyone down. It comes from paying close attention to what energizes you and what does not, and saying yes to those things that give you energy.

When your energy dips, that’s a signal. Maybe that’s a task you need to delegate.

Pay attention to your energy. Learn to say no.

Focus on activity that pays you back.

Some people call these activities “high return on investment.” They’re things like strategic planning, professional development, sleep, exercise, and relationships.

Often, when we are depleted, it’s because all of our energy has been invested in activities with little or no return. Greasing the squeaky wheel. Answering email. Poorly designed / planned meetings.

Planning takes time, and it helps to ensure you get something for the time you’re investing.

One of the most important ways to focus on activity that pays you back is to intentionally create opportunities for your own learning.

In 2009 I attended an event where I was surrounded by people who were smarter and more educated than me, and I had the most amazing experience. They listened to me. They were interested in my opinion. And I felt poorly prepared for that opportunity.

I realized I’d been playing entirely too small. Before I left that event, I made a commitment, that I would invest time and money in my own learning so I could contribute meaningfully.

It does take time and money. It also takes risks — the risk that maybe I won’t be the expert. The risk that maybe I won’t have as much money for incidentals as I thought I would have. The risk that I’ll have to delay watching the rest of Transparent.

Some risks are bigger than others.

But I need to take those risks and make those investments in myself if I’m going to grow and develop and contribute meaningfully.

Recognize when comfort has become numbing.

We’re surrounded by easy entertainment. Streaming video, social media, snack food, and cell-phone games. And while I can’t think of any reason any of those could be considered bad in and of themselves, we can lean on them too much.

Shame researcher Brené Brown has illustrated this with chocolate truffles. One truffle is comforting. Ten truffles is numbing.

Too often we numb ourselves with entertainments that are comforting for about a minute. And it’s tempting to swear it all off, but unless we’re going to join the Amish community (which believe me is tempting some days!), they’re going to be part of our world.

What can you do? Pay closer attention to how you feel from the moment you begin an activity to how you feel 10, 20, or 30 minutes later. Most of us experience comfort or joy with the first engagement (the first 5 minutes of Facebook; the first TV show, the first bite of comfort food). From there, it’s diminishing returns. When you notice how long it takes for you to start experiencing the diminishing returns, you’ll know how long to enjoy the activity and when to quit.

What’s a risk you’ve been holding yourself back from?

What would it mean for you to invest in yourself–in your own learning–instead of numbing?

How can you be kinder to yourself today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you relax? How do you know it’s working?

Engage volunteers* with ease (whether you pay them or not)

You walk into a meeting.

Now you know, from your own experience, that people will probably leave this meeting with assignments — tasks or roles they are responsible for in order for the group to achieve its purpose.

Meetings like this tend to fall along a spectrum of effectiveness.

  • At one extreme, everyone is assigned a task, whether they want it or not, and everyone leaves with a sense that they have to put their nose to the grindstone to get it done.
  • At the other extreme, the roles and tasks are so poorly conceived that nobody quite knows what is needed, so another meeting is set “for us to figure out what we have to do.”

Both meetings wind up feeling like they were designed for someone else, but not for you.

When you are in the driver’s seat, you can do things differently! Whether your volunteers are paid* or unpaid, you want to motivate them to get the work done!

Here’s a great way to do just that.

First, plan ahead and get REALLY CLEAR. Even if you believe everyone who shows up to your meeting is clear about why they are there, you would be surprised at how broad their intentions and unclear their ideas about how they might be involved following the meeting.

PREPARE for clarity: Before the meeting, take some time to map out the general tasks that will need to be done.

Define the roles and tasks. What will need to be done? How many people are needed for each task? Could one role be split between two or more people? How much commitment will each role take? Be clear on these so your volunteers will know what they are stepping up for.

When you are describing the roles, be very clear about expectations. What would they have to accomplish to succeed? What would they have to do first to succeed at those things?

INVITE: Why are we doing this? The invitation to the meeting is important. Be sure to invite people with an awareness of the purpose of the meeting. Be clear about the issues you want to discuss and explore. If you are inviting someone because they have agreed to a role (or you believe they have), send them a detailed role description ahead of time.

INTRODUCE: Ask introductions to be short and yet encompass both what is basic (name, title) and what is unusual (a fun fact) Seat participants in a circle and ask that each answer the questions. (If your group is too large to allow time for this, form smaller circles so they can hear and contribute to the answers of the people in their own circle.)

POSSIBILITY: What were you hoping to receive when you joined this group/organization?  Answer the question first, yourself. Your level of vulnerability will set the tone for the rest of the participants.

What would you most like for this group to be like?  A question like this helps you as the facilitator to bring their assumptions and intentions to the surface. Answer the question first (with a heart of compassion for yourself and others), then ask each person in the circle to answer in turn.

Note: This question works only if you are open to co-creation in the group’s design and outcomes. If you are, the reward will be higher engagement! If you only want one outcome, skip this conversation and accept that engagement will be lower than it could be with a co-created design.

OWNERSHIP: What are your strengths? What are you doing when you are at your best? In order to create the group you most want, what gifts could you contribute? These questions encourage each participant to look inside themselves, to reflect on their gifts and capabilities. This is important, because the work will get done much faster and more easily if each person is using their own strengths to do what comes most naturally.

Encourage them to make a note in a journal or notebook about their answers to this question. You might encourage them to share their answers with a partner, which increases accountability, but it is not important that they answer this question in the circle. (In fact, answering in the circle could lead to distracting side conversations that are irrelevant to your purpose, so it’s best to skip circle sharing of this one.)

COMMITMENT: Finally, share the tasks and roles you’ve defined that require volunteers. Let everyone know what needs to be done and what level of commitment is being asked for each role/task. Then ask everyone in the circle to respond to how they can help to create the group/outcomes they have said they most want.

One last pointer: Get out of the way. Since you facilitated the conversation, you will be considered as the leader of the group, and those who have stepped forward to accept roles may think of you as the “boss” for the project. If this is a role you intend to keep, focus your efforts on supporting their actions and asking questions to help them think through challenges.

Offer LOTS of specific, positive feedback, but be cautious about intervening with suggestions and corrections. Each time you do this, you are encouraging the volunteer to come back to you for decisions and approvals, which will add to the time you are putting into the project.

Stay mentally involved enough to offer positive feedback, but support others in solving their own problems, and you won’t wind up with more responsibility than you wanted.

*Paid volunteers work for your company, but you may want them to step forward voluntarily to take on new or additional tasks. This format works in such a situation.


Hi! I coach purpose-driven, socially responsible, soulful leaders to discover their destiny and own their power with humor, courage and compassion.

SIGN UP HERE for my regular Words of Wisdom and Perspective emails.

-Amy

You’re more influential than you think

I spent the last weekend leading a retreat* for 11 folks — a local congregation’s leadership team. Most of our time was spent looking at the ways in which we live and work and lead in systems.

One of the biggest takeaways I heard: We are not just a collection of parts that build a machine. We are interconnected in ways we rarely notice.

Some things I learned while participating with this group of folks and their learning:

  • Your gifts are needed. If you are too far outside the center of things, the group will drop the ball.
  • Leading and following are so interdependent that it almost doesn’t matter if you think you’re the leader or you think you’re the follower.
  • You are influencing others’ behavior even when you are in retreat– like it (or feel it) or not. And you can’t predict what they will do.
  • Some people just love being in the role of the victim, even when they think they’re leaders. The rest of us can learn to lead without feeding into or indulging their anxiety.

Wow. I think I’m going to stop there, because even that much is huge! (They’d learned that much by the end of the first six hours.)

Actually, I will mention one more of their takeaways. One big lesson of the weekend that I kept hearing: We need to have fun. We learn, we bounce back, and we see things in perspective best when we can lighten up, stop taking ourselves and each other so darned seriously, stop worrying so much about dropping the ball (or the stick), and be willing to laugh.

All this influence can be nervewracking. You don’t get to give yourself a break. But there’s great news here, too. You don’t have to do more. How you show up–who you are when you show up–makes a difference.

It was a fun and fantastic weekend.  In fact, I received one of my favorite compliments at the end of the first day:  “I was so dreading this! And I just want to thank you.”  (It’s a compliment I receive quite often, actually.)

Several folks told me how good an experience it was, how useful the tools will be for them. If you would like to talk about bringing these insights to your own group, let’s talk.

Amy

linkedin-profile-blurred-periphery


Client Testimonial

I received an email from one of my clients this morning. She had done some career coaching with me last fall despite feeling nervous that it was going to cost her more than she could afford. This is what she said today:

Subject: award

C…… Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 8:04 AM
To: Amy Kay Watson <amykaywat@gmail.com>

Hi Amy,

Just wanted to let you know, that I received an appreciation award yesterday at work, for all the contributions I made to the company last year.  It specifically cited the projects I worked on last fall –> projects I chose to work on because of what I learned with you.

There was a monetary gift associated with it, that was greater than the cost of the coaching. 🙂

So, thank you.  Your coaching made a significant impact on my life and work satisfaction.  And it paid for itself!

-C…

Are you ready to break out of the same old thing and into a greater experience of humor, courage, and compassion–even at work? Let’s talk.

Amy

Find the Support You’ve Secretly Longed For

If you’ve ever seen the video “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy,” you know how important it is to have a leadership wingman (wing person?).

If you haven’t seen it, here are “the lessons”:

  1. Be public. Be easy to follow!
  2. There is no movement without the first follower.
  3. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.
  4. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Being the “lone nut” can be rough on a person. Maybe you lose yourself in the dance for awhile, but eventually you can’t help but notice you’re out there all alone, and you may start to question the value of your nuttiness.

Every successful “lone nut” I’ve known can communicate well (be easy to follow!), but they do a couple of other things that are not so visible:

One, they build support behind the scenes.

Building support behind the scenes is about building your home base, a place that nurtures you, with activities that enable your recovery. The colors, (lack of) clutter, furniture, and habits associated with this place are life-giving.

When you’ve built your self-support behind the scenes, you can give give give when you’re out there, being visible. But when you are home, you rebuild yourself.

Examples of what a person might find in a home base that supports you include high-nutrition (but not high-calorie) homemade meals, tea, clutter-free spaces, beautiful paintings, and soothing sounds.

If your home base is cluttered, carb-loaded, and Netflix-oriented, you have built a cocoon, not a sanctuary. A cocoon can protect you from new attacks, but it will not help you actually recover from the last one.

(Note: I offer this noticing from my own personal experience of both states, as well as the data I’ve collected from clients.)

Two, they know how to work with the inner voice of criticism.

Most of us carry within ourselves an inner voice of criticism. It serves us because it helps us to notice when our performance is not up to snuff, and we will make efforts to improve.

However, that inner voice of criticism stops serving us when it continues to criticize after the improvements have been made.

I have noticed that when my inner voice of criticism flies unchecked — when it’s busy telling me about everything in me, in others, and in my circumstances is wrong or bad or insufficient — I begin to slow down and withdraw.

When I withdraw, I pull into the protective but not-nurturing cocoon I described above. I come out slightly less frazzled, but not healed.

When I notice that the inner voice of criticism is running things, though, I can engage with practices that help me to sort out what will serve me, what is aligned with my values, and what I can just set aside.

These practices include meditation, straightening up, getting exercise, limiting caloric intake, talking through difficulties with an empathetic listening friend, and sleeping on a pretty regular schedule.

If you do all of this, even as a “lone nut,” your first follower won’t get scared off–and then your leadership will really take flight!

What about you? What helps you to really recover from high-visibility, low-support days? Leave me a comment below!

Do you wish you were braver on the job?

LIVE event! (with me!)

Tell it Like it is Thursday (TM) Webinar

from WELD (Women for Economic and Leadership Development)
February 23, 2017

Amy Kay Watson: Choosing Courage in Corporate Life

We face many situations in corporate life that challenge our courage: applying for a job or promotion, confronting bad behavior, giving presentations, and speaking up in a meeting are just a few.

But many of us manage to live day after day without drawing on our courage banks. We avoid confrontation, “pick our battles,” and let opportunities pass us by, believing that (unlike others) we just aren’t “that type of person.” Is that all there is?

Join WELD for their February Tell It Like It Is Thursday (TM )webinar which will feature Amy Kay Watson, M.Div., CEBC, ACC, Career and Leadership Coach, Career Leadership Alignment, LLC.

This presentation is designed to support you in exploring courage and the key practices that will help you to move forward so you can be the person you most wish you could be, approaching your work with both compassion and accountability for the best possible outcomes. It will inform, involve, and inspire you to change your approach so that courage is closer at hand.

By the end of this 60-minute presentation you will:

  • Recognize your imperfections as part of your unique value in the workplace and in life
  • Discover the relationship between discomfort and boundaries
  • Learn how to map contributions (including your own), and then clarify and follow through on consequences when boundaries are violated
  • Learn a process for healing after loss/hurt/disappointment

Thursday, February 23, 2017

  • 11:00am – 12:00pm CST
  • 12:00pm – 1:00pm EST

Limited spaces are available. Click here to register for this national event! Registration closes at noon on February 20th! Late fees apply after registration closes.