This article was based on episode 196 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get $100 off WorkSmart’s executive functioning coaching membership or a staff training engagement when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
Even the most amazing manager can’t be available to guide their staff 24/7. At the end of the day, each of us needs to know how to manage ourselves. Developing self management habits is what executive functioning skills are all about. Michael Delman joins me to share his easy COPS approach to building executive functioning skills. Michael is the CEO of Beyond BookSmart and WorkSmart Coaching. As an author, school founder, and Executive Function Coach, Michael has centered the last three decades of his life on helping people become more effective. He shares here the simple tricks successful employees use to function as their best selves at work.
THE COPS APPROACH
We can break down executive functioning skills into five different categories, known by the acronym COPPS. This includes the ability to (1) calm yourself, (2) organize, (3) plan and prioritize, and lastly (4) start stuff and stay focused. Let’s go through each step to break down the elements of these skills.
Our brains don’t work well under threat. The prefrontal cortex, used for thinking, planning, and getting things done, gets hijacked by the amygdala when we’re feeling stressed. Taking care of our emotions is of paramount importance in order to stay focused.
When you notice yourself feeling stressed, Michael suggests using breath to center and calm yourself. One simple method is the 5 Finger technique which consists of breathing in for five seconds as you trace up one finger, then breathing out for five as you go down. Continue this pattern across all five fingers.
Another approach is to use a cognitive trick like reminding ourselves that it’s not such a big deal if things don’t go perfectly. Zooming out helps give us greater perspective which also calms down our amygdala-hijacked brains and gets us back in the zone.
Self-organization involves keeping track of many components, including Space, Time, Objects, and People. This can also be remembered by the acronym STOP.
Space: Consider your physical work areas. Are they neat enough? Are there distractions around?
Time: Be sure to allot yourself enough time for projects to reduce the risk of last minute stress. Give yourself more time than you think you will need to get your work done.
Objects: Gather all of the physical things you need to start working (think: computer, notebooks, coffee). Keep all distracting objects like phones or iPads out of the way.
People: Know who (or where) to go to when you get stuck or need help. This could include anyone from a colleague, a boss, or even a website with great information.
Prioritize and Plan
We have so many things to do at work it can often feel like everything is competing for our attention. In order to prioritize effectively, Michael recommends asking yourself what the one thing you need to get done is, and focus on that. Plan your day around that goal. To figure out what that one thing is, consider what the biggest ‘kink in the hose’ is for your team or organization to thrive. In other words, what can you do that would result in the greatest ROI. Spend time doing one or two things a day in response to that question.
In addition to prioritizing daily, planning for longer-term work helps us manage the workload. The greatest challenge to the best laid plans is uncertainty. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure that everyone understands the plan and what they’re responsible for. It’s best to document timelines, deadlines and each person’s role so everyone can refer back to it.
Start Stuff and Stay Focused
Even when you’re calm, organized and know the plan, you might feel overwhelmed at the enormity of a task or the prospect of trying something you’ve never done. To overcome the tendency to procrastinate in emotionally heightened situations, Michael suggests the 5 Minute Challenge. Set the time for five minutes and see what you can get done. Experiment with keeping the timer face up so you can see how much time remains vs setting the timer face down so you don’t know.
By breaking down the workload into a smaller, more manageable sized activity, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. A set time gives your brain a little dose of adrenaline to focus and a boost of motivation since it’s only five minutes. Peak performance occurs when we’ve hit this sweet spot of some, but not too much arousal.
TALK WITH YOUR TEAM ABOUT IMPROVING THEIR EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING SKILLS
If you notice someone on your team who really could benefit from strengthening some of their executive functioning skills, it can be tremendously effective to have a conversation with them about it. However, respect boundaries as you broach the subject. Make sure to ask permission to share your thoughts, which is true of any feedback session. Set a time with them to talk rather than just barging in with your observations.
To make it easier for them to hear, try normalizing the problem by framing their situation as a common challenge. For example, you can lead with “Most people, by their fourth month on the job, feel that this part of the job is difficult. Do you feel this way?” Come from a curiosity mindset, giving them the opportunity to name their challenges instead of telling them what you think is wrong. If they don’t bring up your concerns, share your observations and ask for their thoughts on that feedback. Going through this conversation builds up their metacognition, giving them the opportunity to become more aware of what they are good at and what they need to develop.
Executive functioning skills are essential for everyone on a team, including us. Self-management is just as important as managing others. When we are able to take care of ourselves, we are better suited to take care of those around us.
KEEP UP WITH MICHAEL
Website for kids: https://www.beyondbooksmart.com/
Website for adults: https://www.worksmartcoaching.com/
Get $100 off WorkSmart’s executive functioning coaching membership or a staff training engagement when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 196 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.