Intervew: Jennifer Van Uffelen on Procrastination

Audio Transcript is below the embedded videos.

Part 1/3
Part 2/3

Audio Transcript

pt 1/3

Kevin:

Hello, everyone. So I’m speaking today with Jennifer Van Uffelen, from Belgium, and who’s living in County Wexford, Ireland.

Jennifer is a qualified life and workplace coach and NLP practitioner, adding neuro wellness and mindfulness elements into her practice. She founded JVU Coaching to enable people to connect to themselves, organise their thoughts, and find clarity and focus. With a real passion for self development and growth. She wants to provide people with the tools to fulfil their full potential in life.

At the moment, she’s pursuing a Diploma in Leadership and Health & Wellbeing. Jennifer and I met on LinkedIn and we’ve been chatting back and forth and found that we had a number of mutual topics that were suitable enough to stick on a LinkedIn or YouTube video. So we’re going to just record a conversation today and see what comes out of this that might be helpful for you. So, Jennifer, hello!

Jennifer:

Hi, thanks, Kevin, for having me as well. And yes, we have been chatting for a while. So I’m sure we’ll have something productive to come up with.

Oh, actually, this is extra special because Jennifer’s also the first video interview I have on this new channel. I have one audio interview already. But this is the first of hopefully, monthly video interviews. So let’s see how it goes.

So, first question for Jennifer; we were talking about how you work with your clients on the topic of productivity, which is where we crossover a lot. When it comes to your clients becoming more productive, and achieving the tasks and the goals that you’ve set out with them, what are the main things that keep coming up again and again, that you tend to work on with clients. Is it procrastination, routines… what really stands out?

Yeah, I think actually, procrastination is a big one, because people kind of have this feeling that “I should be doing this, I should be doing that”. So the job gets really big in their heads, which is kind of blocking them from taking action. So I think a lot of what I work on is to get them to check in with themselves and see where are actually the priorities. So making a list of what are the things that need to be done, checking in when is a good time to work on them as well, and then working on the mindset around it.

So if there’s a lot of “shoulds”, and a high inner critic coming up, you know, a lot of inner voices of “I’m not doing well enough, I’m not working hard enough”, it’s kind of stopping action altogether. So it’s really connecting to possibly having some mindfulness techniques on connecting to their own breath, checking in with their body, kind of calming down.

So if there’s high levels of stress, starting to recognise that as well, stepping away from that, and coming back to the task when they’re feeling fresh and recharged to actually tackle it. So I think a lot of the procrastination is often related to that thought process. So thinking a lot about what needs to be done, but not really taking action. So it’s about breaking it up into smaller action steps. And then starting with step one, so starting with a smaller step forwards, which gives that sense of achievement, you know, which gives a good feeling, you start to see the progress as well in what you need to do.

So that kind of motivates some forward movement, going to step two, and really breaking it up so that you can keep making progress, and you don’t let it pile up into a really big job that you don’t start until you have all the tools ready to do the big job all at once. Because then often, it gets procrastinated. And it’s this job that’s like hanging over you like a big cloud where it’s usually not really that big, it can, you know, look much bigger then in their own heads.

And I think apart from that, what’s really important is to find a routine that works. So when you’re finding, for example, in the morning when you need to start work, let’s say you don’t really take time for breakfast, you know, you kind of want to rush into starting your work, finding out what is it that you actually need maybe apart from, you know, your work set up to be productive for work. Maybe you need to implement some exercise, maybe going for a walk in the morning. Maybe you need to have a good breakfast so that you’re not actually sitting there being hungry.

So that’s what mindfulness can help with as well is just to become more aware of your bodily cues so that you can fill those needs when you need to, and you actually have your full energy ready to do your work in a productive way as well when you’re doing the tasks and you’re not being distracted by other things that you haven’t really met so you know, figuring out, do you work best when you do exercise the morning, do you want to do exercise after work to switch off from work? Do you need to go for a walk to have a break in your free time?

So it’s really finding out what are the things that work best for you and sticking to that so knowing what works and then actually do those things, rather than avoiding them and sitting at your desk, procrastinating and not really taking any action. Just hoping that the work will happen on its own, because you thought about it so much….

pt 2/3

Kevin:

So Jennifer, we spoke a second ago about how you would help your clients figure out the best working structure for themselves for their energy for their focus. And then before we recorded this call, we were chatting a bit about an example, where people should check in with themselves on that, kind of realising what their best structure would be, and what might occur when, you know, a superior manager comes to you and says, “I want you to do it this way at this time”, or maybe they’re getting back to the office, and they’re getting their productive schedules that they’ve found themselves in the last year are getting moved around a bit. So I wanted to ask you, what sort of boundaries could you set? Or what sort of control could you come back with when someone’s asking you to do something in a way that that actually doesn’t suit your better energy, your better work or the better routines, you’ve found for yourself? In the last year?

Jennifer:

So with clients, it’s really important for them to check in with their days, and if there’s frustration in certain parts of their role is to figure out, you know, what is making it difficult in that moment, and is it something in their daily structure that they could change? Or is it something that they could implement in their day? So let’s say if it’s straight after lunch, is there something that they could do on their lunch break, to give themselves a break away, to switch off from work, and to get back to their their work re-energised? Is it certain coffee breaks, that actually tend to be a distraction, you know, is the caffeine not really sitting well, so it’s making them really anxious when they’re having to sit down and write a report. So it’s very simple things and it sounds really straightforward but it’s often things people don’t really think about to connect to themselves and check in with themselves to see, “how does this actually work for me”, if it’s something that comes up every day or every week, can I change that around, and can I build a structure around that to really be productive in this type of task that I’m doing? What do I need to be successful in that?

Kevin:

There’re two things I’d love to expand on there. So when you said, checking in with yourself to find that, what does checking in with yourself mean, practically? Is that a simple turn of phrase where you’re like, think about it? Or do you mean, take Saturday morning sometime and really look at how you worked last week? So like, what does “checking in with yourself” Sort of mean to you and your clients?

Jennifer:

That’s a good question, actually, Kevin, and I think it kind of depends on what you’re looking at. I suppose from a mindfulness perspective, a really good way to check in with yourelf is to observe yourself. So one of the really important parts of checking in with yourself is also not to judge yourself. Because when you check in you might think “oh I haven’t done this, I haven’t done that”, that “I should be doing this” so it’s really not judging yourself on where you are or how you are performing but observing yourself and becoming more aware so that you can implement changes to improve that. So that’s a really important critical part; to leave that inner critic aside, so park that and really bring up your inner observer…

Kevin:

… to ask you; does that mean journaling? Does that mean meditating after the work day every day or taking a monthly review? What might it look like in a real practical sense for people watching?

Jennifer:

Yeah, good to make it practical as well. And I was just gonna say, you could write that down, if that’s what you prefer, I think for me, journaling can be really powerful! And there’s actually a lot of research done on the difference in when you’re thinking or when you’re talking, or when you’re typing out stuff, or when you’re writing. So it’s really that connection to your pen on paper and writing down your thoughts or your observations, it can be really, you know, help you to move and process the words that you’re putting down.

And I think one of the things that came up for me lately is that you can think many thoughts at the same time, but you can only really write down one word at a time so it makes it more specific and it helps you to organise your thoughts as well.

So in Mindfulness, what you could do is:

1) Write down, what are your thoughts? And without really judging what’s coming up, and you can free flow write, as well, and just write down any thoughts that are in there. What’s on top of mind?

2) Then write down your emotions. So what is it that you’re feeling? You know, what resonates with you in that moment? Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling excited? What’s your emotional state?

3) And then also write down what are your physical sensations? So what is your body telling you, trying to really break them up and split them up. So observe them separately, and over time, it could help you to maybe find links in between and see is there something that’s affecting each other. When you’re writing down that you’re really anxious, and you’re writing down that you’re really hungry, you know, maybe it’s a sign, you should have some lunch in your day. And that’s just a really simple example. But it’s really becoming aware of yourself and what works and what you could change in your day to make your day more productive and more successful.

pt 3/3

Coming soon…

How to use Loom for more Productive Remote Team Communications

Loom screen capture software is a very fast and simple way to communicate effectively and asynchronously for remote teams, and to regain some of the “human-ness” that we miss from working in the office.

Loom screen capture software is a very fast and simple way to communicate effectively and asynchronously for remote teams, and to regain some of the “human-ness” that we miss from working in the office.

Watch the video or read the transcription below.

Hi! Today I’m going to talk about how to use Loom for more productive communication between remote teams.

There are 4 reasons that I find Loom great for remote workers.

The first is that it’s asynchronous, so you can record a video and post a link to your teammates or your clients for them to check out later in their own time, and they can get back to you with any questions.

The second reason is that Loom’s clear video format allows you to quickly explain things that might take a lot longer and with a lot more back and forth through emails or through Slack messages. Instead, you can just quickly show what you’re pointing to, like something that’s wrong on a web page or a new section of a report, without having to try to explain that by typing the words through an email.

The next reason that I find it great for remote teams is that you get back some of what is lost by not being in the office. And that you can see and hear your co-workers or your clients and they don’t just become another text interface. You get more personality out of the video than you would just by back and forth and emails. I really enjoy receiving Loom videos. I don’t really care what they’re about, I just like to see what the person I’m working with is doing; what they’re what they’re up to that day – whether it looks like it’s cloudy outside, etc. It’s just an added bit of human interaction that we’ve been missing.

And the fourth reason I like it is that it’s just fast and simple to use. You can very quickly set up the video and share your full screen or share part of your screen with your own image, optionally. You can change the size of your own webcam display, and be showing the rest of your screen off…

So, to get started, you want to go to Loom.com/download and get either the Chrome extension if you use the Chrome browser, or download the desktop app. It’s worth noting that Loom is completely free but with a five minute time limit on your recordings (which I find is kind of a good thing actually, because it makes you be more concise and get the message across without rambling). You can pay for the business tier to remove that time limit, of course. The free version is also limited to your 100 most recent videos. So you can make 100 recordings, which is fine for most people, but if you want to retain older recordings (if you have them as part of your documentation, for example) you’re going to have to either pay to save those, or you can download those videos and save them somewhere else like YouTube or internal servers.

[Recommend watching the video for the following section]

So now, if you’re using the chrome version, you’ll click the plugin icon. You’ll now have a box that looks like this, where you can select what you’re going to record the tab or the full screen, whether you’re going to have the webcam in the corner, or just use the screen or screen and the camera only, which microphone and camera you’re going to use and a few Advanced Options, then you start recording and it warns you about the five minute limit.

I’m going to record the entire scree. It might ask you for permission to use the microphone or the camera first time but and then you’re going.

So now I’m recording a five minute video. Once you finish recording this, you can cancel obviously, or pause the video, but once you finished recording, it’ll automatically close the recording and take you to the relevant page for that video. If you were happy with what you did, you can immediately copy that video link and put it into chat or an email and give it to somebody. You can also trim the video if you want to remove some of the start or the end (or the middle). It’s a very basic editor. You can also change the name of the video, or add a description if you like.

So, it’s that simple. Obviously, video processing and stuff needs to happen, but that’s not happening on your own computer. That’s a very expensive process and it’s just happening on the servers. It’s done very quickly. As soon as you stop recording, you basically have a link you can share immediately, which is much faster than recording it on your own hard drive, then editing it and re-uploading it to YouTube or somewhere else.

So that’s the last reason I really like Loom – how simple it actually is to use and to share.

I hope that was useful. I do recommend checking out Loom or its alternatives for asynchronous communication between remote teams. I’ve found it really great working with clients and my own teammates recently, and I fully recommend it!

All the best, bye!

Systems NOT Software

The software that you use for productivity are not as important as the systems that you use. See the video or read the transcription below.

Full Transcription Below

Recently a client asked me “what’s some good software to make me more productive at work?”. And to that, I had to say, “it depends”.

What are you trying to do? What problems are you having? Because software is only a tool. It’s the systems that are more important. It’s how you put that software together; how it fits into your day and into your workflow [that’s important].

The system is the way you do things. It’s your habits. It’s the processes. It’s the way you communicate with your clients, your customers, and your team. It’s how you manage your work, your day, your energy during the day. And software is just a part of that system. No matter how good it is or how expensive the productivity software is, is not going to give you a system. And that’s because no software is complete. No tool is perfect. You can’t build an entire house with just a hammer or even a multi-tool.

No one thing can get you the perfect combination [of features] for your work because everybody’s work is different and no company could make enough money designing the perfect tool for just one customer. So you’re going to have to integrate several different pieces of software. Even if you’ve got the one almost perfect productivity system, you’re still going to get some requests in through email.

Most email clients nowadays like Gmail or Outlook have integrated task tracking software that’s good at reminding you about unanswered emails or responses or setting a To Do list based on the words it finds in an email, and while that’s very impressive it’s not a complete system either. It can’t scale very well and it can’t cover every eventuality. So you’re going to need something that you can trust fully to be the core of your system.

In fact, I’d almost argue the only complete software is something like Windows, Linux, or the Apple operating systems. They do literally everything. But what are you going to do with that? That won’t make you more productive at all. You’re going to have to get more specific than that!

So let’s get a bit more specific. I just mentioned a few softwares. So I’m a big fan of Google Sheets. I’ve used Notion and I think it’s great, but I already had my own system, so it didn’t add anything to my workflow and so I stopped using Notion. todoist is great as well but a similar story; I already had my systems, largely based on Google sheets, and so those are perfect for me.

That’s because Google sheets or Microsoft Excel (Sheets is free) are incredibly flexible. If you look up some code, or you’re able to code, you can go even further with them, but even the standard spreadsheets are very flexible. There’s a lot you can do with them, but you have to set it up your own way in your own system.

And then it might not even add that much for you if you’re someone working on your own and you’ve already some perfect pen and paper systems, you work well in a written diary, maybe you use the Bullet Journal/ “Bujo” techniques, then maybe Sheets wouldn’t even add much for you if there’s not much number crunching to be done in your work.

So I’m saying you need to get more specific to the problem. So, okay. What about some software aimed at improving your focus? There are browser plugins like StayFocusd or News Feed Eradicator and they can be great at limiting your use of social media or other websites.

StayFocusd can block anything. For example, you just manually set it and it gives you a certain amount of time for the day that you’re allowed to spend on that site and it can be very useful, but then that’s good productivity software IF you were having a problem with browsing websites. If your systems are already habitual enough and disciplined, and you didn’t have problems with browsing the wrong websites during work hours, then those softwares won’t add anything to your day.

When it comes to tracking your time and billable hours for clients, you could be using something like Clockify or Harvest, and they can be great, particularly if you’ve more clients or you want to integrate the stopwatch directly with billing the client automatically. But you could equally be using a pen and paper and a stopwatch very well for years and have no interest in this type of software because your system is already in place and it’s working perfectly well for you.

So to answer that client’s question – what’s some good software that could make them productive? Well it’s whatever fixes the specific problem that you’re having, whatever saves you the most time, and whatever integrates the best with the existing systems that you have.

So it’s the systems, not the software!

How Open Loops Destroy your Focus, and How to Close Them (The Zeigarnik Effect)

How Open Loops Destroy your ability to Focus, and what to do about it.

Full Transcription below

Hi, how’s it going? I hope you’re well.

So I’m trying something new today. I’ve been a blog writer on and off for the last number of years, but I’ve never done a video blog or “Vlog”, if you will. So welcome to this… This is what that is [actually this is the transcription of that vlog, but let’s not be pedantic].

What I wanted to talk about today is open loops and how they destroy your ability to focus.

So what are open loops?

They’re ongoing processes that don’t have a resolution that are taking up space in our mind. So if you use the analogy of a computer, it’s like multiple browser tabs being open that are each consuming some of the computer’s working memory. You might also have a few apps running in the background, maybe even some larger programs like video editors that are still open, not being used, but they’re just holding something that needs to be finished that you haven’t saved and closed down on the computer. That’s all using the computer’s RAM and it’s reducing the computer’s ability to do work.

A very similar process happens in our own minds when we’re trying to hang on to too many thoughts at the same time as focusing on the one thing we really want to be doing right now. So for example, these might be; you have to remember to add honey to your shopping list and you’ve to remember to call back Dave later. You don’t have these things written down anywhere and in the meantime, you’re trying to just spend a half an hour to get this one job finished that you’re trying to focus on all that [distraction]’s still going on.

And there might be several, several other things as well to add to that. So open loops can really reduce our ability to focus on what we’re trying to get done and really just make any job take a lot longer.

This is also called the Zeigarnik Effect after the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who studied it.

So we want to be able to close these open loops and get back some of our focus.

So what would we do to diminish that?

The key thing here is to have systems that you can trust where your brain knows that those open tasks, even though they’re not finished yet, they’re ‘handled’. They’re okay to forget about. That’s the point you want to get to.

notes to close open loops

So for example, if I’m focusing on preparing the notes for making this video and something else comes to mind, like I have to remember to buy something downtown later, I have a little space on my daily tracker for notes and another one for distractions. The thoughts that come up and derail me from what I’m trying to focus on, those will get written down there.

And I know that once I’m finished this task, or once the timer goes off for the Pomodoro technique I’m doing, then I’m going to take those notes and put them on my actual to-do list, and I know that from there they’re going to get handled. I can trust that system. I’ve been using it long enough that once I write it down, it’s just out of my mind and I can focus back on what I was doing.

The “Two Minute Rule”

Now, if you’re not in the middle of a Pomodoro sprint or some other timed work and you’re in your daily life, you have a bit of flexibility, you’re cooking dinner or whatever, there’s something called the “Two Minute Rule”.

It’s that if a task that just came to mind takes less than two minutes to complete (maybe it’s putting away the mail, filing something into your filing cabinet or sending a quick text or remind somebody about something); if you can finish that task and close that loop in two minutes or less – you should just do it immediately. There’s no need to write it down. There’s no need to add it to a planner. Just get it done. Get it out of the way and close that loop as soon as possible.

Credit where credit’s due; David Allen talked about that in his book, Getting Things Done, (the two minute rule). So full credit to him for that idea. It’s become widespread thanks to the popularity of the “GTD” (getting things done) method over the last 20 years.

Delegate to close Open Loops

And the third way that we can handle open loops, or at least some of us can, is to Delegate it. Depending on what the task that comes to mind is, again, it might be better to write just that quick note if you’re in the middle of the timed sprint, but then after that sprint, you want to delegate it to someone who can have responsibility for getting that task done. And it might only take two minutes to delegate if you have employees, or if you have a virtual assistant that you trust, or maybe your kids if it’s a household task, you want to just ask them to get it done.

It comes back to the first thing I said, which is that you have to have systems that you trust to get it done. Otherwise the loop is still open.

So if your employees, or your virtual assistants are completely reliable, then fantastic! You can trust that that job’s going to get done. I then used the example of delegating it to your kids. Now, if your kids are fully trustworthy to finish whatever task you’ve given them, clean their room or whatever, great, you can trust that that open loop is now closed.

Otherwise you might need a new system. If you’re going to have to follow up on that later. It’s not a closed loop. But maybe you have a system for that where every evening at 9:30 PM (if these are teenage kids), you check in with them that their chores are done. You just have to ask them to do it once. Then you come back later and ask “is it done or is it not?”. Maybe there’s accountability for that. Maybe there isn’t. Just a quick, random example of a way you could handle that…

So that’s it! Just a few thoughts on what open loops are and how they derail us from our focused work and some thoughts on how to close them. I hope that’s useful for you guys, all the best.

Talk to you soon.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought of this new format.

Monthly Newsletter has Launched!

kevin murphy coaching productivity habit tracker remarkable

Hey all.

Just a short post to mark that yesterday I launched the first “SUPER-Productive” Newsletter, containing a modest amount of news, the monthly top tip, and a free resource, the Habit Tracker Template.

The template comes as a download link in the email, and signing up below will send you that newsletter instantly, as well as any future ones. You can of course unsubscribe at any time.

I felt that the newsletter was a better way to keep in touch with those who want a little boost of motivation and some useful tools once per month. If that’s you, please sign up below and let’s stay in touch! You can always reach me on the contact page, or by replying to any newsletter.