by Achim Nowak

How To Manage a PILE-ON Day

July 24, 2023

You know this day.

Meeting after meeting after meeting. By early afternoon, your head starts to swirl. By evening time your brain feels like it will explode. Incapable of thinking one more thought.

The entire day has seemed like one long ride on a runaway train.

How do we slow down the pile-on madness?

I learned about the power of transitions several decades ago when I was a trainer for Langevin Learning Services, the largest train-the-trainer company in the world. I delivered 20 different programs, each designed by a professional instructional designer.

Here’s what the designers built into each program. After learners returned from a break, I would not immediately delve into teaching new content. I would, instead, deliver a short and hopefully enjoyable brain teaser to allow learners to transition from hallway chit-chats, phone calls and email catch-ups, back to the focus of a learning environment.

Honor the space between no longer and not yet.” 

Nancy Levin, best-selling author

This was the thinking behind this convention, based on heaps of research about how adults learn: A brain teaser would take no longer than 5 minutes. When you don’t build in a transition and go straight to content, learners are not ready to fully focus on what the trainer is about to present. Their mental energy is still on what they were thinking about in the hallway.

By incorporating a transition (the brain teaser), learners transition with more ease from what had happened outside of the room to what is happening in the room. 5 minutes buy a much higher degree of learning focus. Much better work happens in class because participants are able to transition into a learning state-of-mind.

Mind you, this is not a Post about brainteasers or training programs. I’m not proposing you do puzzles all day, just as I’m not suggesting you start each meeting with soft chit-chat, as often happens in a business meeting these days.

No. Go ahead and start to create, and incorporate, YOUR own transitions.

Have a transition mindset. And consider the following specific ways of putting transitions into action throughout your work day.

4 Transition Practices

The Morning Preview

Instead of launching into your day first thing in the morning with a crucial meeting, schedule 30 minutes of private time before you “go public.” Think of these 30 minutes as your preview time. You look ahead to your day, the meetings that are in store, the deadlines you must meet. You consider what you need to do to bring your Best Self to all of these circumstances.

While a Preview is not a transition, it affords you the opportunity to consider your transitions for the day. What do you need to do, at any given moment, to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually present? What do you need to do to remain energized until the final meeting? Sure - review key documents that will help you to contribute meaningfully in a meeting, but also consider the sort of transitions that will help you to move with grace from one situation to the next throughout your day.

Prepare with data and information. And prepare for flow.

The 5-Minute Regenerator

Where can you find 5 minutes in-between meetings, tasks, obligations to simply stop? 5 minutes is the magic number I followed at Langevin. 5 minutes facilitated a much richer engagement in the minutes that followed a break. The moment we decide, we will always find the 5 minutes, no matter how busy we are. Trust me.

Only you know what will be regenerative for you in 5 minutes. Close your eyes and meditate? Step outside and enjoy a change of scenery? Look at a bit of nature? Have a quick jog? Eat a power bar? Chances are, going on social media or chit-chatting with colleagues, no matter how much you like them, won’t do the trick.

Know what regenerates you. Choose an activity that is realistic and do-able for you. Make this activity a habit. If success in life is predicated on simple habits that set us up for success, make your 5-minute regenerators a habit you don’t negotiate away.

The 1-Minute Focus Moment

Surely you can take a minute, just ONE minute, to focus yourself before you join a meeting. A minute in which you mentally and emotionally put yourself into an optimal state of mind for the meeting you are about to attend.

What do we do in that minute? What will help us focus? If our mind is chattering away with fears and predictions, consider taking a few deep breaths, eyes closed, to bring yourself back to fully being in your body. If you want to make sure that you will be a helpful thought partner in the meeting, affirm that it will be so. I am a thoughtful and valuable contributor to each meeting I attend. Affirm this quietly, a few times over, in the minute before you join. It will calm you and affirm that it will be so.

Anchoring techniques (an affirmation IS an anchoring technique) are powerful self-management techniques that quickly put us into an optimal state of mind. They are the sort of techniques actors use before they need to act and athletes before they enter a race or competition. Visualize the perfect meeting with an impeccable exchange of ideas. Listen to your favorite piece of music that instantly lifts you into a great mood. Curious about anchoring techniques? I urge you to do a google research. Anchoring techniques are perfect helpers in your 1-Minute Focus Moment.

The 15-Second Reset

Meetings tend to shift and swerve. Sometimes they veer into unexpected directions. We have all sat in that meeting where a topic was covered, the conversation has moved on, and someone harps on something that was talked about and tabled 15 minutes ago. Dude, you think to yourself, we’re done with that one. Move on!

The individual who harks back to previous matters has not transitioned to where the conversation has evolved. They simply have not noticed. They have not adjusted or transitioned with theflow of the conversation.

A 15-Second Reset is internal. It happens in the midst of a conversation. It is based on our observation of the collective mood of the moment. This topic is done. There is no collective appetite to kick this around anymore, even though it really matters to me. Let me switch along with the group.

Simple. Helpful. Quick. And most importantly, conscious.

A transition mindset is an essential self-management mindset.

  • I am mindful that my energy is not limitless.
  • I am mindful of making choices that best manage my energy and don’t overload my brain.
  • I understand that transitions are a key tool for managing my everyday energy flow, and I commit to honoring my transitions every day.

Simple stuff. Powerful.

Please go do it.

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