Prioritising When Everything is Important with Sandy Krot
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Sandy Krot who works with a consulting group Insight Principles and co-authored the book, ‘Invisible Power: Insight Principles at Work.’
Some of what they discuss include:
– Why do people find it so hard to prioritise?
– Our default prioritising system
– How an understanding of how the mind works helps with time management
– A case study of an executive who was struggling with to much work and how she got clear about what she needed to do
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To contact Sandy and find out more about her work, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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[00:00:00.00] Ankush: Welcome back to another episode of the business series podcast, today I’m joined by Sandy Knot. Sandy works with a consulting group Insight Principles, helping Fortune-100 businesses and leaders solve the most difficult problems through knowledge of the mind and human thought. She’s also the co-author of ‘Invisible Power: Insight Principles at Work,’ which is a fantastic book, and anyone listening to this I can highly recommend it, it’s one of my favourite books. So, welcome Sandy.
[00:00:32.25] Sandy: Thank you Kush, it’s good to be here.
[00:00:34.15] Ankush: Well today we’re going to be talking about, or the title of this podcast, is ‘Prioritising, when everything is important.’ And I think this is a really fantastic topic which we discussed the other day, and we’re going to cover things like: why’s it difficult, how do we prioritise? And I’m really looking forward to diving in deeper into this subject. So, let’s just start with that then: why do people find it so difficult to prioritise?
[00:01:04.13] Sandy: You know it’s interesting Kush, because actually we don’t always find it difficult. There are times in our life when prioritising is, I hesitate to say simple, but it’s more straightforward it’s clear. It’s more obvious if you will? In times of crisis or emergency, or tragedy, we often have very little difficulty prioritising. I live on the Western side of the United States, and this past summer, there were quite a few devastating wildfires here, and many times people had 30 minutes notice, to evacuate their homes. I remember watching some interviews of people and the reporter would ask them: how did you know what to take with you? In 30 minutes how did you know what to take? By in large people had no difficulty knowing what to take. It was very obvious what was the most important thing to them. Those people who got no warning, and lost everything in the fire, often said, “this allowed them to… this tragedy helped them to see what was actually the most important thing in their life.” So there are these times when we have complete mental clarity and prioritisation is relatively easy, or people get a diagnosis of a fatal illness, same thing, they are much better able to prioritise how they want to spend their time and who they want to spend their time with.
There’s also times outside of these extraordinary circumstances of tragedy or crisis or emergency. There are times, I think, when all of us experience an ability to prioritise quickly. It’s almost as if the choice looks simple or the answer, or the order, or the importance just appears to come to our mind naturally. That happens to all of us. We’ve all had those moments in our life. Then of course there is, I guess you’d call the invisible prioritisation that happens to all of us, as we live our life. We sometimes don’t notice that all of our lives are really a reflection of what’s important to us. So we have these ideas about the kind of person we are, or what our role should be or what our values are. Our life is a reflection of that, and so we end up prioritising our time and our energy according to that value system. Now it’s invisible to us, so it just shows up as life, but if you step back, you see we’re actually choosing and prioritising.
I remember once sitting in the office of a particularly harried executive, and he was complaining to me about how busy he was. He had so much responsibility and people were wanting his time, and he was being pulled in so many directions, and was struggling to decide where he should spend his time, as there was so much going on. He showed me his schedule and it literally showed back-to-back meetings. In fact there was some overlap in his schedule where he was literally being expected to be in two places at the same time. He’s complaining and he’s showing me this schedule and he’s like, “what am I supposed to do?” In the middle of it his phone rings, and he excuses himself and he takes the phone call, and I can kind of hear his side of the conversation and it turns out the person on the other end was cancelling an appointment with him that week. So he looked at me and he said, “just one second, wait one more second Sandy” and he gets on the phone to his assistant and he tells her to schedule him in that slot that had just opened up, and then he comes back to our conversation, says, “okay where were we?” And I said, “what did you just do?” He said, “what do you mean?” I said, “you had, you just had a free hour in your week, and you filled it up.” And he looked at me like, “what?” He didn’t see what I was pointing to. I said, “look, don’t you see, you had a free hour, you had an hour in your schedule, where you could have reflected on your priorities. You could have taken some time for yourself, you could have gotten yourself more organised. I mean there’s all kinds of things you said you wanted to be able to do, but you couldn’t do, because your schedule was so full, and there you go and you’ve filled up your schedule.”
So there’s this conditioned habitual thinking that all of us have, which ends up prioritising our time for us, and we don’t even notice it. We just live as if that we had no choice. I was reflecting on this and I thought, well, it really is something that prioritising is something that we’re doing all the time, and again sometimes it’s natural and we’re very wise, and very good at it, and sometimes it’s happening “to us” because this invisible conditioning is, this invisible force almost, is making us prioritise in a certain way. So I can imagine your question or the question of your listeners, as “well what are we supposed to do about that?” First of all, how do I get more experience with this so-called natural state of where prioritising is actually straightforward and relatively easy, how do I get more of that? And what am I supposed to do about these invisible forces if you will that are prioritising for me, what am I going to do about something that’s invisible that I can’t see?
[00:08:36.03] Ankush: Well before we talk about that, I just wanted to unpack a little bit about what you said, which I really loved, I love the example of the forest fire and what occurred to me, and I remember when I used to work in an office, I guess I’ve got my home office, but I used to work for a large organisation, my boss and I would always comment that, how amazing it was on the day before you went on holiday, how you managed to be really productive. So I guess in a more corporate version of the forest fire, was when you know that you wouldn’t be in the office the next day, how things really seemed to get done, and you’d know what just to do, and so I wanted to just unpack that. I loved it because it’s so relevant, that sometimes when we kind of get forced into, you’ve literally got no time left, it kind of really shows us that we can prioritise. The other example you gave of this client of yours who was filling his own calendar, I was listening sheepishly because it reminded me a few years ago when I was starting out in my coaching career, and I was working a full-time job and then coaching in the evenings, and I remember complaining. I lived with a flatmate and I was complaining to her one evening, going, ‘god, it’s so busy and I’ve got so much on…’ and she wasn’t a coach or anything, but she just looked at me, really confused, and said, “don’t you manage your own calendar?”
It reminded me of your story, but it looked so invisible to me, I loved the word invisible, because at the time it looked really like, this was something happening to me, and I had to do all of this work, and it had to be that way, and when she said that I kind of realised I could push one of the appointments back a week or a couple of the appointments back a week and it wouldn’t have any real detrimental effect on anything. It would probably have a positive effect because I’d be more awake and focussed and creative on the cause that I was having. So I just wanted to unpack that a little bit and yes go on to, how can we become more aware of these sort of things, and not have to rely on forest fires or constantly going on holiday to get stuff done?
[00:11:19.25] Sandy: Yeah or fatal illness diagnosis, right. Well I think that we tend to look at prioritising as a behaviour, which of course it is. It is a behaviour, but when we try to address it as a behaviour, we fall short, because behaviour doesn’t happen by itself. We aren’t made to behave in a certain way. Behaviour is the result of something that’s going on within the human mind, and talk about invisible. The name of our book, is ‘Invisible Power,’ and we call it that because this inside of our mind, now everybody, everybody’s mind is this incredible, invisible power called the power to think, the power of thought. It is this power that is actually directing our behaviour. We behave how we think. We behave as we think. We feel what we think. We experience what we think. Now it doesn’t look that way, and consequently, the world is under a very blatant misunderstanding that somehow circumstances, the boss, the deadline, the workload, can make us feel a certain way, or make us do a certain thing. But that’s not actually how the human mind works, and it’s not actually how human experience works.
Without thought, we would have no experience. It all has to start with the thought, that thought is happening within our own minds, it’s a capacity or a power, that we all have. I mean that’s not to say we have control over our thinking, but when we realise the source, the actual source of our experience in the moment, and the actual source of our feelings in the moment, the actual source of our behaviour. When we understand that, something happens to us internally. We lose a lot of the unproductive thinking that is what actually keeps us from the settled mental clarity that provides this fuel for good prioritisation. When people believe that the busy-ness of their mind, the stress that they’re feeling, the overwhelm. When that, the pressure, when people believe that’s coming from the job, from the deadline, from the work, from the boss, it generates a tremendous amount of excess thinking, that we then have to think about and deal with and pay attention to.It ends up filling our minds with such a mental burden, that we literally can’t think straight sometimes. We can’t prioritise. Everything as the title said, everything looks essential and important, but when we remember or realise, or insightfully see in the moment what’s actually going on, how the mind actually works, when we see that, wait a minute, my workload isn’t making me do it. My workload isn’t making me feel this way. That’s coming from thought in the moment, that’s coming from my thinking, inside my own mind. When I see that, a lot of that excess, unproductive thinking, just falls away.
It just doesn’t make any sense anymore, to hang onto it, to pay attention to it. It’s kind of like, you know I’m not a very good computer person, I’m not really adept at computer, and so I tend to, when I’m working on, I tend to do things the long way. Every once in a while someone will sit down at my computer or I’ll watch somebody work and they’ll do these little miraculous shortcuts, and I’ll go, “wow, wow, wow… what did you just do?” And they’ll show me, and once I get that shortcut, I don’t go back to the long way, why would I? It doesn’t make any sense, when I realise where my experience is actually coming from, where my feelings are actually coming from, I don’t hold on to thinking “why would I?” Because I see that it’s taking me in a direction of a stress and upset and bother and worry and why would I keep going there? When that thinking falls away, we find ourselves back in a settled place. And it’s the settled place that allows this natural capacity for wise prioritisation to show up. What shows up in a tragedy, a crisis, it’s what shows up in those moments when we get ready for vacation, or we just happen to have a good day and our minds are running on all cylinders and just click, click, click off all of our workload. Our mind returns to that place, when all of this extra unnecessary thinking falls away. So that’s what the secret is. It’s not that you have to do anything, you don’t… there’s nothing wrong with time management strategies and all of that, so they might be helpful, but you’re actually equipped as a human being to prioritise quite well.
[00:18:42.25] Ankush: Do you have an example of when you’ve worked with a client, and you’ve helped them see what you’ve talked about, how the mind works and the power of thought, which has led to them prioritising far more effectively, that you could share with us?
[00:18:58.09] Sandy: Absolutely. We’ve been working over the last 6 months or so with a company, actually two companies, two very large global firms that are merging, and any time you have a merger, it’s disruptive. It’s always a lot of change that gets instituted when two large companies merge. And we worked with the leadership team that, in many ways, is kind of ground zero for the disruption. Their part of the business, is really going to be changed in big ways. So we worked with the leadership team, and as we always do, I followed up a few weeks after our programme, and again at the programme this is what we teach. We teach people about how the human mind works, and help them have their own insights so they can rely on that knowledge as they go back to solving some very very difficult situations and problems. So anyway I do follow up with one of the leaders from this team, and this is what she told me, she said, “you know Sandy, a few days ago, I was sitting in my office at 6pm at night and I was exhausted, I had been working late several nights in a row..” – you know she’s a mum and a wife and has two small children and was really beginning to feel the pull and the pressure of neglecting her family life, and she’s putting in lots of extra time at work, and she’s looking at her to do list and it’s just completely overwhelming.
Like it happens in a lot of mergers, until you start putting the new people in their new roles, sometimes what happens is people have to do two jobs at once, and she was one of those people; having to do two jobs at once. So she was just really in overload and overwhelmed, and she’s sitting, she says, “I’m sitting at my desk,” and she said, “I got so upset, I couldn’t think what am I supposed to do tomorrow, I was so overloaded and overwhelmed,” she said, “I almost was feeling hopeless that I was ever going to get through this.” And she said, “and then for some reason, I remembered something you’d said in the class. You said, ‘we feel our thinking, not our circumstances.'” She said, “that popped into my mind, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really true,'” she said, “I saw it, and I could see that the feeling of overwhelm that I was having, was coming from me. It wasn’t coming from my workload, it was coming from me. It was coming from my own thinking, I could see that I was doing it to myself. She said the most interesting thing happened. “All of that extra ball of thought that was filling my head, it just went away, it just went away. And I found myself in this very quiet place, and I looked at my to-do list and certain things popped up, as critical”. She said, “it was just so obvious to me, and I made a list and I made some notes, and I thought of some assignments that I needed to make”, and she said, “I walked out of my office confident that I had picked the right things to work on”, she said “now I know that I am being asked to do more than is humanly possible to do, and some things aren’t going to get done, but I felt confident that I was going to do the most important things.”
So understanding how your mind works, doesn’t change the facts that there are times when we are overloaded with work, and are expected to do more than is humanly possible, there are times when we have personal lives and personal issues that are so critical that they need to get tended to and our workload has to take a back seat. There’s all kinds of things that can happen to a human being, there’s no control in that. But when people see insightfully, see the role of thought in their own experience, the role of thought in their own feeling state, you can see that, you get out of the way. You stop making the messes, you stop filling up your mind unnecessarily and unproductively. When that happens, you find yourself in a state where you, you are at your best, you are your most creative, you are you’re most clear, you are you’re most productive.
[00:24:54.01] Ankush: Thanks, that’s a wonderful example and just to round up on this whole episode, what is the one takeaway that you want our listeners to leave this episode with, with regards to procrastination?
[00:25:10.20] Sandy: Prioritising. I would say that just prioritising is a natural capacity of your mind, something you naturally know how to do. The question really is, what’s going on inside that’s making my mind unsettled, and when you see that the unsettledness is not coming from your experience, it’s coming from your thinking. You automatically or naturally settle down, or what I’d like to say, you return to a settled state. Being settled is a natural state, just like a pond is settled unless the minute you stop throwing rocks at it. So fo people to see that it’s a settled state that they’re after, and it’s actually a state that is our most natural state, but for the unnecessary and unproductive thinking that we do, to mess with that settled state.
[00:26:27.09] Ankush: Thank you Sandy for today, that’s been a wonderful episode, if our listeners want to find out more about you or they want to contact you, how might they do that?
[00:26:36.20] Sandy: You can contact me, you can check out our website which is, www.insightprinciples.com, you can reach me at email@example.com.
[00:26:53.07] Ankush: Fantastic, and I’ll be back next time with another episode related to business. Thanks once again Sandy.