Shawn Johal, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member and former chapter president in Montreal, is a business growth coach, author and leadership speaker. We asked Shawn how he coaches clients to set themselves up for success by implementing habits of intentionality. Here's what he shared:
"Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24 hours in a day." -- Zig Ziglar
Have you ever found yourself completely overwhelmed? Running at 200 miles per hour without a clear focus or direction? Working harder than ever without accomplishing much of anything? It is a counter-productive state of mind, but it's common--and it happens to the best of us.
As a business growth coach, I help clients find happiness and success by growing their companies in a profitable way. It is truly fulfilling work, and I love the challenges it brings. But when the pandemic hit, the world flipped upside down--revealing new, unexpected challenges. I found myself helping clients for free because many of them couldn't afford to pay. Those who were doing well got so busy that they didn't have time for coaching.
I ended up working double the hours for a fraction of the paycheck. I became "busy being busy," which is not the good kind of busy. If I wasn't working, I felt as if my world would crumble beneath my feet. I had a fear of stopping, as if taking even a moment to think through my plans would cause further despair and destruction.
Through meditation and introspection, and with the help of amazing peers and mentors, I set a goal of changing strategies. Within weeks, I pivoted my coaching model and found different ways to bring in revenue. Most importantly, I set myself up for long-term success by incorporating four new habits of intentionality:
1. Brain release
My friend, Hugo, taught me a fantastic trick: the brain release. Once per week, I make a long list of every single thing I need to accomplish. The list includes sending specific emails, making calls, paying bills, writing an article, completing a small project, etc. Literally, anything that I need to accomplish in the next seven days.
Next, I classify each item into one of the four Covey Quadrants, categorizing what is important versus what is urgent. It's incredibly important to identify which tasks fall above the line, into the "important" category. Anything that isn't meaningful should be delegated or erased from the list. At first, I found myself struggling with that--and learned to step outside of the "stories" that we often tell ourselves. Be brutally honest with yourself: Is x task really that important? Is it truly urgent? Does it even matter at all? Getting the tasks in the correct quadrants is a crucial step toward gaining back your time.
2. Deep work bursts
Cal Newport provides an excellent blueprint for success in his book, Deep Work. He explains how we must set time aside--ideally in 90-minute bursts--to work on substantial projects. The secret is to avoid all distractions during this timeframe. Easier said than done, but entirely possible. Turn off electronics, shut down notifications, lock your door and hide from energy vampires. That's the only way to succeed.
According to a recent study by UC Irvine in California, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus after becoming distracted from a state of deep work. Imagine how much valuable time you lose to distraction! If 90-minute bursts seem excessive to you, start with 20-minute focused bursts and increase that amount over time.
3. Mindfulness breaks
Sounds counterintuitive: How can you get more done by taking more breaks? In reality, you absolutely must take breaks to regain your energy. Try it, and you will likely become a believer.
But don't spend that break on your phone! This isn't the time to catch up on social media; it's an opportunity to give your brain some much-needed space. Take a walk, find a break buddy, stretch, eat (away from your desk) or take deep breaths. It will provide clarity and a fresh perspective.
4. Peer power
We all know interesting people: friends, mentors or even family members. Don't underestimate the power of tapping into the energy of these special human beings. Think of an invigorating conversation that yielded a nugget of wisdom. Now, imagine having such discussions regularly. You can! But you must be intentional about it.
Dig deep to make a list of 16 people in your circle who provide exceptional guidance or energy. Then, intentionally call one per week to spark inspiring conversations. Why 16? Because that means you'll speak to each person three times per year, systematically. It isn't a big time commitment for a colleague or mentor to have three conversations with you per year. Don't be intimated!
Being intentional versus being busy
Above all, work to reframe your ideas around the definition of productivity. The only true way to move the needle forward is to clarify your goals. Once your goals are crystal-clear, you can strategize the best way to accomplish them. It means cutting out the fat by eliminating distractions and also tasks that aren't helping achieve your vision.
Remember, you always have a choice! Choose intentionality over all else. By being intentional, you will succeed in whatever you're trying to accomplish.