Learning from Experience

While we all like to think that we are learning from experience all of the time, the truth is that the whirlwind of the day-to-day often means that we fail to reflect and therefore gain maximum benefit from the events to which we are exposed.

Applying Kolb’s Learning Cycle terminology; we are exposed to different Experiences in our day-to-day lives, however, the demands of our busy lives often mean that we go straight to Planning the next event/experience before we have Reflected and Conceptualised the last thing. In this way, we fail to go all of the way around the cycle and thus don’t gain the full benefit from the experience.

  Kolb’s Learning Cycle

 

Worse than this, by repeatedly travelling the same course we create deeply entrenched neural pathways, which then become habits, which in turn are difficult to break, even when we would be more effective without them.

Building Wisdom: The memory does not lay down memories in a linear fashion, but more like a scaffold – wisdom is built by making connections between seemingly unrelated facts, creating models that can be amended and applied to different situations. Taking time to reflect and conceptualise helps us to build a strong scaffold, which helps us to apply our learning to future events. Making many connections of this sort promotes faster thinking – a useful analogy might be travelling by train around City A, which has many suburban connections versus City B with a hub and spoke network, thus forcing one to go via the centre in order to reach the next door suburb. If connections are king – how do we build them?

While I don’t suggest that we should reflect on every single experience/event in our lives, (such an approach would slow us to the point of paralysis, causing us to miss opportunities and normal engagement), reflecting and conceptualising is required to build those all-important connections – a balance is required. So how can we get the balance right? The methodology I use and frequently recommend to my clients, is the Reflective Learning Journal.

How can a Reflective Learning Journal help? Put simply, a RLJ is an organised repository for thoughts, which promotes learning through making connections. It is a practical way to apply the Kolb Learning Cycle to everyday life. (For a fuller explanation of how to layout and complete a RLJ follow the Free Tool tab at the bottom of this article). So why a written journal, rather than simply taking time to think? There are many advantages of actually writing a journal including:

  • Slowing down your thoughts to the rate of the pen promotes focus on one single issue, rather than a jumble of thoughts, effectively untangling the web of competing concerns
  • Creates intentional space for thinking
  • Allows you to tackle uncomfortable, background issues, which you can’t quite put your finger on
  • Provides a record of your thoughts, which you can revisit and identify trends in your behaviour

When to use it: You can use your journal at any time a useful thought occurs to you, however, I recommend you add a reminder in your diary for the end of each week. A good time is immediately before planning the following week, thus allowing you to reflect on progress towards your goals for the preceding week – what went well, (things to repeat),  what not so well (things to stop/change), what got in the way of your progress, and importantly – the resulting plan. This is not an exercise of navel-gazing, this is about improving your performance by perceiving the connections between events and outcomes to apply to an ever-changing future.

Worth testing out for a month? Download the instructions using the link below.

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and non-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment. She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

You can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Where does the time go?

Research tells us that we are slightly delusional – we think we are doing one thing, but are actually doing something else. To help us check back in with reality we created a Time Analysis template to complement our previous blogs; in January’s blog I asked you to think about putting everything into a schedule, last month was prioritizing, this month I am asking you to revisit that schedule and see where does time really go by using our simple, free Time Analysis tool. In this way we aim to eliminate tasks, which do not take us closer to our objectives, thus creating more time for the ‘right’ things.

shown below, (see link at end of this article to download your free copy):

  • The first column separates the day into 15 minute blocks,

  • The next column provides space to record the activity undertaken
  • Column 3 indicates whether this was your planned activity or if you were interrupted (i.e. unscheduled),
  • Column 4 records your energy level (H = high, M = medium, L = low).
  • Column 5 records the quadrant number (1 urgent & important, 2 non-urgent & important, etc. See February’s blog for further explanation).

How to Use It

Select two or three fairly typical days from your schedule, (a week is better, but don’t overcommit at this stage, as this will require some discipline to complete well). While the final column can be filled in in retrospect, all of the others should be completed at 15-minute intervals, without this accuracy will be sacrificed. Consider setting a 15-minute reminder to run throughout the day. Be honest with yourself – if you were chatting to Steph about the weekend, record chatting – this is for your eyes only and no benefit will be derived from self-delusion.

At the end of the exercise review what you have been doing – how much time have you spent in Q2 (leaders should aim for 80%), how much in Q1 – what planning can you do to prevent repeats of crises? What Q3 activities can you delegate and are you prepared to stop doing the things in Q4?

You will also see whether or not you are keeping to the schedule you set for yourself – if not, why not? What can you do to reduce/eliminate interruptions so that you are working to your own agenda and moving closer to your goals?

Reviewing your energy level will allow you to recognise when you are at your best and therefore the best time to schedule your most important and challenging work in future. Use these insights to plan your coming weeks to achieve the ‘important’ and eliminate the distractions.

 

To download the Time Analysis template for free (and without the need to leave your email address – just think of us when you need some help) use the link below

 

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Doing The Right Things

We are all busy, right? Too much to do and too little time? It certainly feels that way, but sometimes we are so busy heroically scaling the proverbial ladder that we fail to notice that it is lent against the wrong wall. As Andy Pausch said “it’s not doing things right, but doing the right things”, but how do we know if we are doing the right things?

Thankfully Franklin Covey came up with a smart little tool, which helps us to conceptualise what we are doing



 

 

How to use Franklin Covey’s Time Matrix

All of our tasks can be plotted on this 2 x 2 matrix according to how important and urgent they are. What is important/urgent for me may not be so for you, (and vice versa), so make judgments based on your own priorities. (Priorities will be difficult to define if you don’t know your major goals, this is a whole separate subject, which I will tackle in a subsequent blog). Look at your agenda – which of these boxes does each task sit:

  • Q1 Urgent & Important – these are crises/big issues that need to be dealt with right now.
  • Q2 Not Urgent & Important – essentially this is planning, which we can put off and generally do off.
  • Q3 Urgent & Not Important – these are the sort of things you should think about delegating, (if they aren’t important to you, why are you doing them?)
  • Q4 – Not Urgent & Not Important

Be honest with yourself – this is for your eyes, no need to share.

NB Relationship-building activity belongs in Q2  – a common mistake is to assume that this is a Q4 activity – wrong! Relationships and the maintenance of them are essential – we are social animals relying on one another both for motivation and cooperation; relationships are important, make time for them.

The critical factor is to spend time in Q2; this automatically shrinks Q1 and Q3 – while planning is not fool-proof, it does mean that we raise our heads and think about why the boat is sinking, rather than endlessly baling out.

Use the Planning Tool from last month’s blog to check your balance by assigning Q1 – 4 to each activity. If you are spending less than 50% of your time in Q2 you are probably not leading effectively.

If you struggle to understand where your time is going, I will address this in next month’s blog, (drop me a line if you would like to be signed up to receive it).

 

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Positive Feedback – Praise More

“With no feedback, no coaching, there’s just no way to improve.”

Bill Gates

I have worked in businesses where there was no feedback and in others where feedback came only when things went wrong: they were run on confusion and fear. They were going nowhere fast and their people were neither happy nor successful. Yet the power of feedback to improve performance is demonstrable.

Researcher Ayelet Fishbach suggests that positive feedback increases people’s confidence, gives them belief that they can achieve their goals and encourages them to pursue them with more motivation. Even more, a positive feedback loop* can develop, whereby feedback leads to success in one’s goals, which, in turn, feeds satisfaction, leading to higher goal-setting and heightened motivation to achieve more – and so on. The reverse can occur, however, if a person receives only negative feedback.

But there is a potential feedback trap, as Carol Dweck explains fully in her recently updated book Mindset. Feedback should not be about praising a person’s innate intelligence or ability, as this does not foster self-belief; on the contrary, it can lead to complacency and aversion to risk-taking. Consequently, full potential is neither striven for nor achieved. It is, therefore, “curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not”. (Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author). Positive feedback is essential to encourage those who are not succeeding and it can take the form of praising determination and/or appropriate procedure. In failure, this is a very encouraging and constructive form of feedback: praising effort and process leads to a lifelong love of learning, builds resilience and enables greater accomplishments in all areas.

This YouTube clip is a short and effective way to illustrate this positive praise approach –“growth mindset” – Carol Dweck – A Study on Praise and Mindsets.

With so much negativity surrounding us, looking for the positive and celebrating it will help us all be more motivated, more resilient and more productive. So let’s seek out every opportunity to see the good and praise it, in our students, in our staff and in our colleagues – wherever it occurs. Make it about energy, exertion, struggle, progression, development and method. And as a regular accompaniment thank you goes down well too.

Thank you.

 

*(Ellen Winner 1996).

 

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

End the ‘To-Do’ List for Better Productivity

I was recently approached by someone who was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things he needed to get done each day. His motivation was to do a really good job, but his productivity was poor – no matter how many hours he put in, there was always something else which needed his attention and he felt like he was going backwards. Each new day started with a backlog from the previous, and from one minute to the next he didn’t know from where the next curved ball might hit him. When we met he was in a highly stressed state, he wasn’t sleeping, which was affecting his performance, making him less rational than he might otherwise be, which was further feeding the stress.

 

While I am not saying that it was all the fault of his ‘to do’ list, I do think that scrapping it was the biggest single contributing factor in breaking this negative cycle. The trouble with such lists is that they do nothing to inform us how long each item will take, nor which should take priority; as a result you have no visibility, which makes us wonder if we are doing the right thing at any one time, leading to feelings of lack of control – a key factor in stress.

 

 

There is a different way

At this time of year we tend to come back to work re-energised from our winter break and motivated to get things done many of us will have compiled a trusty ‘to do’ list – lines/pages of actions arising from quality, non-stressed thinking over the holiday period and captured safely to avoid forgetting these nuggets. I’d like to encourage you to try out a slightly different approach – perhaps give it 4-6 weeks – instead of using a list, use a schedule. This is hardly revolutionary – I’m sure you already have a diary, which at least has appointments recorded, so all I ask is for you to extend this to the point where you start scheduling everything, (yes, everything!)

 

Start each week by producing a plan – using something like this:

 

 

  1. Block out & label the things that can not be moved (e.g. meetings to which you are pivotal and/or committed) & don’t forget to block out traveling time where appropriate
  2. Now think about the major things you want to achieve in the coming week. Break it down into tasks and block out appropriate chunks of time to work on them, (work on the rocks, pebbles, sand principle)
  3. Now block out time for all of the other things you need to do and label them. Don’t forget to schedule lunch and regular breaks.

 

Crucially, we can now to see when your week is full; if we want to fit in something else we make a conscious decision about what to sacrifice/move into next week, (prioritising). The other major benefit of this over a list is that the constant background worry about whether we are doing the right thing at the right time is removed, as we are reassured that we thought about this rationally at the beginning of the week. You’ll be amazed at how much headspace this frees up.

 

One objection I commonly encounter goes, “but my life is not like that, I have to react to situations minute by minute”. When we step back this is rarely the case, and if it really is so, then there is something fundamentally awry with the way we are working. That said I do understand that the idea of having the whole day committed can be a scary one and things can and do crop up, things which need your attention. For these people I propose blocking out an hour, maybe even two, and label that time “unexpected”. Let the team know that this is the time to bring up urgent/unscheduled things, (for other things get them to book out a free slot in your schedule), and if nothing crops up simply crack on with the next item on your schedule.

 

I’m pleased to say that having implemented this system “John” is much more relaxed and has better productivity and is more creative in his work, all this because  he has taken back control – he’s happy, his boss is happy and his direct reports are delighted.

 

Give it a try

If you would like to talk about making your time more productive please get in contact. If you would like to download our Weekly Planner template for free (and without the need to leave your email address – just think of us when you need some help) use the link below.

 

I’d also love to hear how you get on.

 

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Willpower = Achievement?

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One in four new year resolutions fail by January 8th.

Despite what we were told, it seems that willpower is not the golden bullet for getting things done we thought. According to research by Professor David Desteno, (professor of psychology at Northeastern University, USA) rather than driving us to achievement, willpower is actually quite toxic, it creates stress and has long-term negative health outcomes. Remember that child who deferred the gratification of eating one marshmallow now, by waiting patiently to be given two? She seems destined not only for higher long- term earnings, but also for a stress-related coronary!

 

What is the learning from this? Apparently the solution is not to live a life of complete hedonism, living for the moment with no thought for the future; instead it is to be social in our endeavours. This means working as and for a group or team, rather than for your own ends. Why so? It turns out that we are able to defer gratification and dig deep in our reserves much more easily and with much less stress when we do so with feelings of compassion for others and with pride. Doing something in and for the group is actually easier and more successful than following our individual goals. Working together has the natural pay-off of security, which for social beings like us humans, who rely on others for our survival, is a fundamental need. Doing things for others has a reward in and of itself, as well as driving us on.

 

Whoever your team is, make sure you plan together, and for the good of the whole; this way you will enjoy a much higher probability of success without the emotional grunt work required for solitary pursuits.

 

 

The Author

Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator and non-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives who lead organisations with a turnover of up to £10 million or less than 100 employees, and who wish to effect positive change, particularly in the environmental sector. She collaborates to help them achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach.

You can contact her at

enquiries@yibp.co.uk  or  07789520205

 

Ditch Perfectionism – Combat Procrastination

It’s a good thing to set your standards high but just watch out for the potential downside of perfectionism – procrastination. When I was in my mid twenties, I had a tendency to want everything that I did to be perfect, so much so that anxiety about failing to reach that standard sometimes prevented me from actually getting started on anything. I was effectively “paralysed by self-consciousness,” as my therapist put it. It was a very self-limiting thought process and I was very happy to put it behind me. Nowadays I am always eager to learn new things and impatient to start out on new adventures. So how did I get to where I am now?

The first step was to recognise I had a problem ‘perfectionism’ (not an easy admission) and the second was to seek advice. Self-awareness and taking responsibility for my thoughts and actions were key to making my way out of this roundabout of limited beliefs, and the best piece of advice I received during the process was:

“It ‘just doesn’t matter’ Have a go, do your best, learn from it, and press on. At times ‘good enough’ is good enough.”

Here are the key things that keep me on the straight and narrow:
• I don’t shy away for fear of making mistakes: at least I am actually doing stuff and can take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes.
• I avoid negative self-talk and replace it with more positive and helpful statements, such as switching “I have lost” to “I have learnt.”
• When something goes wrong, I try to keep it in proportion by asking myself: “On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is death) how important is this issue and how important will it be tomorrow, next week, next year?”
• I resist any tendency to become self-absorbed, and I find that helping others is a great way to accomplish this.
• I have learned to laugh about myself!

If you want to learn more from some fine experts, here are links to a TED talk Reshma Saujani’s Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection and book to read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.

Finally, some wise words from Seth Godwin:

“Start small, start now. This is much better than, ‘start big, start later.’ One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect. You can merely start.”

 

 

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist.  After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation.  Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field. 

Space To Breath

Let’s start with a summer quiz (the kind I like, where there is no right or wrong answer nor do you have to disclose your results) to test just how much space-to-breathe we have at present:

Q1.  What activities have you or will you engage in this summer that you would rather not? Perhaps they are things you usually do and so just keep doing.

Q2.  What do you have in your wardrobe that you have not worn for the past year?

Q3.  What do you own that you do not use – or have never used?

Q4.  How tidy is your workspace?

Q5.  How much time do you spend on line? (Be honest here!)

Q6.  How many emails do you have in your in-box?

Q7.  On a scale of 1/10 how busy/complex does your life feel?  (1= not busy/10 = v busy)

As you reflect upon your answers, wonder if living with less could actually make you feel better. For me, I know I feel calmer and more in control when my environment is neat and tidy.  The evidence is growing that saying goodbye to things that get in the way and serve no purpose can make us happier.  So, is it time for you to de-clutter?

Fumio Sasaki tells us in his new book, Goodbye, Things, about his extreme clear-out. He was once a big consumer – and hoarder – of knick-knacks that he thought made him an interesting person.  He spent a lot of time comparing himself with others and concluded “I was miserable and made other people miserable too”.  One day he decided to take action and gave away most of his possessions. He now lives with just the bare essentials. For example, instead of two or three wardrobes crammed with clothes, he now owns just three shirts and four pairs of trousers and says that throwing things away and having fewer things made him feel happier each day.

Fumio is a hardcore minimalist but his message is that de-cluttering is more than just physical tidying up: it is an exercise in learning about true happiness.

So is it time for you to try it?   Think of a time you made do with less – maybe when you travelled somewhere remote.  Did it make you feel liberated?  Did it make you feel elated? Did it make you feel happy?

I confess – and it will come as no surprise to those that know me well – that I love to de-clutter.  In fact, I schedule four days a year to reviewing the way I am working, addressing what is accumulating in my life – not only physical things but also issues that eat into my time.  I edit what I have and what I do and find the cliché that less is more is true.

A lot of us spend too much time feeling overwhelmed by what we have to do, yet harbour doubts about how much of it is truly meaningful. Simplifying our lives gives us the breathing space we need to rediscover that which is important.

Enjoy the rest of your summer – and remember to do some de-cluttering: one of the knock-on effects will be ecological – a reduction in consumption equals a smaller carbon footprint and more money in your pocket! What’s not to like?

And for fellow TED talk junkies – Graham Hill has a great five-minute talk on the subject – Less Stuff More Happiness.

 

What Is Action Learning?

Action Learning Sets are one of those concepts that we think we know about, but when we really think about it we are often a bit vague – this in turn suggests that the benefits are also poorly understood. It was with this in mind that I recently ran an Action Learning Set for a mixed group as a demonstration of the value in creating new and deeper thinking among the set members.

 

The room had its fair share of sceptics, added to which we were in a false situation, in that we effectively had an audience, which does little to engender the safe, trusted space needed for truly creative thinking; but not to be defeated we pressed ahead.

The set was made up of eight volunteers – in my opinion the maximum number for an effective set – facilitated by myself and observed by a further dozen or so people. We sat in a circle with all members able to make eye contact with one another. After agreeing which member of the group would ‘present’ their issue, we listened carefully as the Presenter laid out the facts of their situation as they saw it and the various factors affecting or preventing him from moving forward. Members of the set listened intently and in silence, after around 5 minutes the scene was set and I, the Facilitator, invited any clarification questions, this completed, we went into open questions.

 

A critical aspect of Action Learning is that it is not advice giving – all questions are open and are in no way ‘leading’. Participants come with a sense of curiosity and an understanding that the right solution is the one the Presenter works out for themselves. As a new group, it was no surprise that they found it difficult to resist giving the benefit of their extensive experience and several times we had to pause and reframe questions to be truly open. Well-timed and short questions usually have the greatest impact, as was the case with this group – we watched the presenter’s facial expressions in response to “and what else?” – the question drew him up short and then he went first into deep thought before a real light bulb moment.

 

Of-course, Action Learning is not just about thinking things through, the clue is in the name – it’s about taking action. From our short session of thoughtful, open questioning our presenter went away with a number of very practical actions on which he will report back to the group. His reaction – “totally immersive, a powerful way to become unstuck”.

 

This is a learning experience not just for the Presenter, but also for the whole group. And the naysayers? Everyone declared themselves on-board, with the exception of two, who declared themselves scientists only interested in facts!

For the 90% plus the BENEFITS OF ACTION LEARNING include: –

  • Actionable outcomesHow to grow business
  • Long lasting problem solving competency
  • Enhanced creativity & curiosity
  • New questioning & listening skills
  • Increased resilience/ability to deal with stress
  • Improved leadership
  • Team building
  • Heightened emotional intelligence

 

 

If you would like to experience the benefits for yourself, we will, (subject to demand), be running two FREE ACTION LEARNING SETS in Manchester during July and September 2017. If you would like to be involved please drop us a line at enquiries@yibp.co.uk for a chance to be included – first come, first served – good luck.

 

The full PROCESS, (not all of which is covered above), is made up of a number of steps:

  1. Arriving Round
  2. Bidding
  3. Presenting
  4. Questions
  5. Action
  6. Reflection
  7. Process Review

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is an  ILM accredited action learning facilitator, business coach, trainer and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of up to £10m/100 employees and who wish to effect positive change. She collaborates with them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach