Category Archives: Behavior & Performance Diagnostics

Reclaim quality, productivity, efficiency, and sanity…


Differentiating what’s important to us from what’s urgent to others lets us take situational control by not confusing the two, and helps us to decide what to do next!

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But take a look at your to-do list. And how are you doing on your bucket list? Do you find that you keep putting off things that you really, really want to do or must do? Do you catch yourself first doing things that feel more urgent but just for the moment?

Separating your Critical Few “must do” tasks from your Minor Many “nice to do” tasks is an essential step in the process and is my version of the 80/20 Rule. It’s a fact of life that applies across the board from business to your personal life—80% of your stress is caused by 20% of your problems. In network television, it’s the concept of “prime time”—the three hours of prime time produce 80% of the revenues despite being only 20% of the programming. In time allocation, the idea is for you to allocate 80% of your time to 20% of your tasks that deliver the greatest return on your effort. In other words, you shouldn’t just “work smart,” you should “work smart on the right things.”

So let’s say you’ve identified your Critical Few. When was the last time you had enough time for all of them? Prioritizing them is next. If you can’t get them all done, to which do you allocate your time first?

I don’t know the answer for you. But I do know a reliable method for arriving at the right conclusion. I call it the Given Reality Test.

“Given” because our Critical Few don’t appear in a vacuum. We develop them based on some givens – assumptions accepted as facts. There’s a due date we can’t change. We have role-based responsibilities that are inescapable. If your daughter is counting on seeing you on the sidelines of her soccer game, sending your assistant is no substitute. If you’re the corporate lawyer, you have to read the regs. If you’re the press liaison, you have to return that reporter’s call.

“Reality” because our wishes don’t govern our surroundings. Reality persists in defining what we can and cannot do. We might wish we could enact culture change overnight, but reality says otherwise. We wish our family commitments would not conflict with our work priorities, but often they do. We wish our strategy off-sites didn’t get interrupted by urgent calls from clients, but they usually do.

“Test” because testing means we don’t have to choose the wrong Critical Few and experience the bad effects before realizing we made a big mistake. We can put our toe in the water and then decide if we want to proceed.

Here’s how the Given Reality Test goes: First you define the problem clearly in your own mind. Then you articulate and calculate the effects of not doing each of the activities that is demanding your attention. When you analyze those effects, you’ll end up clear and committed as to what your priority should be. If circumstances change, you might have to repeat the Given Reality Test, but it still works.

That’s the process in the abstract, but let’s give it some color—some context so that you can apply it in your own circumstances. Let’s say you have three activities vying to be your Critical One for an afternoon. 1) Keep your promise to attend your best friend’s gallery exhibition. 2) Participate in an impromptu meeting called by your biggest distributor who is getting customer complaints about your products. 3) Try to get in and see your doctor about a worrisome pain you noticed earlier this week and haven’t had time to deal with.

  1. Define the problem: I can’t be three places at once. So I have to tolerate two of the following: keenly disappoint my best friend, push the distributor problem on to a colleague, stress out about that pain.
  1. Calculate the effects of not addressing each of them now: My 30-year friendship will not be altered by a single disappointment. This distributor wants to be heard and acknowledged, not fire us, and my colleague is a better listener and relationship builder than I. This will be my fourth sleepless night worrying about what that pain could portend—I’m too worried to enjoy the exhibition or even pay attention in the meeting.

So, there’s your answer, inescapably: Go see your doctor. It might be a different answer for somebody else, or different for you if the circumstances were slightly altered. But articulating the effects that way is its own revelation. It keeps you from ruminating in endless circles that all start out with “But maybe I should…” It lets you arrive at a conclusion that you can live with about how to allocate your afternoon.

Do this, and you will find yourself allocating your precious time better. You can claim your own time and reclaim the quality of your work, your productivity, and your sanity.

Businesses Strive for Lean and Continuous Improvement

Cohen Brown President and Co-Chairman, Edward G. Brown and Independent Publisher, Jim Barnes.

Cohen Brown President and Co-Chairman, Edward G. Brown, and Independent Publisher, Jim Barnes.

The Axiom Business Book Awards are the most respected critical guidepost for business books in the publishing industry. These prestigious and competitive awards are presented in 21 categories and serve as the premier forum to help readers discover new and innovative works. Axiom Award-winning books will help them to understand changing trends and technologies affecting the business world and to recognize opportunities in our complicated new economy.

When Cohen Brown Management Group’s president and co-chairman, Edward G. Brown, learned he was the recipient of an Axiom Award for his book, The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had, he was thrilled. The book won in the category of Operations Management, Lean, and Continuous Improvement. The perfect category for a man who, for more than 36 years, has trained and consulted Fortune 500 companies on behavior and culture change. The Time Bandit Solution provides the definitive “how to” for time management. It’s not just a day planner but rather contains specific tools and techniques to assist corporations and individuals who want to learn how to stop unwanted interruptions and gain back their time. The Time Bandit Solution teaches how to put an end to interruptions and maximize the resulting time surplus.

Interruption-Free Mindfulness and Other Tips for Making Tax Time Go Smoothly

“I’m proud to pay my taxes,” the old saw goes. “But I could be just as proud for half the amount.” And half the time, I would add.

A recent study found that it takes the average medium-sized company 264 hours to comply with its tax requirements. Daily Finance reports that the average 1040 filer spends about 16 hours on it.

Most people are already so busy that tax time, besides being a chore, leaves them feeling positively overwhelmed. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed, your obligations feel like an avalanche, instead of separate, doable tasks.

If that describes you when it comes time to “render unto Ceasar,” here are five time management and productivity tips that will turn the avalanche into something you can dispense with efficiently and maybe even pleasantly.

  1. Avoid Interruptions. People tend to underestimate how much harm interruptions inflict.

Remember, it’s not just the interruption itself that throws you off task. There’s the time wasted to reassemble your thoughts and resources, a little staler this time. There’s loss of momentum or physiological shortcuts created to accomplish the task. There’s frustration at having to regroup, which dissipates the energy that work thrives on. There is the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost. There’s the likelihood of errors, which take even more time to correct. “When you start to take Vienna, take Vienna,” counseled Napoleon.  When you start to do your taxes, do them.  Get in the tax zone and stay in it without interruption.

  1. Practice Mindfulness. That is, don’t let yourself be distracted by your worst Time Bandit (you).  The data it takes to file your taxes can be revelatory about your financial matters.  You see numbers aggregated for the first time and they make you think:  Maybe I should get out of those investments.  Have rental rates risen since we priced those units?  Might be time to pay off that mortgage.

Do you call up your financial planner about your investments?  Start researching rental rates?  Call your banker about the mortgage?   No.  Distracting yourself causes the same problems as being interrupted by someone else.   If today is the day you planned to do your taxes, then stick to what must be accomplished to meet that goal.  Find all the documents.  Sort and collate them.  Read all the instructions. Run your calculations.

If doing your taxes gives you ideas for your financial future, make note of the ideas but avoid allowing it to be a distraction — finish the task you started.  Otherwise you’ll find yourself sighing a dozen times, Now where WAS  I?  Leveraging mindfulness will make you more productive and let you finish the job faster.

  1. Don’t Let a Negative Attitude Eat Up Time and Energy

Tax filers can waste an incredible amount of time and energy by griping – sometimes verbally, often just mentally. Granted, taxes are a prime source if you want to gripe.  You can get worked up about unfairness, loopholes, rates, the tax code, the impenetrable language, the balky web site, sitting on hold, getting contradictory answers, and being stuck inside when the golf course or garden beckons.

But when you permit your mind to go off task like that, you reap the same time loss and emotional issues that external interruptions cause. Plus you turn an anodyne responsibility into an unpleasant burden.

Instead, practice adopting an attitude of constructive acceptance.  That means accepting gracefully the things that can’t be changed and turning your deliberate acceptance into a constructive tactic.  So it’s not accepting with a sigh, but with newfound eagerness.

A fair price for the privilege of being an American. Well, at least I’m in the black. Whatever thought works for you.

  1. Similar Tasks? Batch Them Up. Think ahead: What actions in preparing your taxes will you have to repeat multiple times? Running calculations? Sorting receipts?

Whatever they are, batch them up, and do all of those like tasks at once. Repetition builds up muscle memory. If it’s doing calculations on your computer, and you do all of them at once, you get faster and faster until your fingers are fairly flying. It will feel good. That won’t happen if you intersperse phone calls or form filling between the calculations.

Batching is also useful for the way it keeps your mind focused. Concentration stimulates the brain. Again, it feels good. Okay, not like sinking a hole in one, but so much more positive than the alternative. If you have a pile of receipts to sort through, do it all in one sitting. Don’t break it up with other activities so that you have to ask, “Now where was I?” and try to recall what your sorting system was.

  1. Separate Hard from Easy. Do hard tasks when you have energy or creativity for them. Hold the easy ones for when your energy flags.

Usually each person’s hard/easy is pretty subjective, but deciphering new tax instructions would be hard for Albert Einstein. Don’t crack that instruction manual in the evening when you’re weary. Don’t use up your energetic hours doing mindless tasks such as sorting. If you’re bad at math, doing calculations is stressful. If you’re good at it, it’s a breeze. Schedule accordingly.

I hope these tips make your tax-time a more cheerful and productive effort. But more than that, I hope you use these tips in your daily life, especially when you have duties that are low on the delight scale.  These and many other time management tips are contained in our book The Time Bandit Solution.  When you make these practices a part of your daily life you will, as the book’s subtitle promises, “recover stolen time you never knew you had.”

Are you running a business? Our company’s time management and business productivity solutions have helped corporations save billions in loss productivity for over 30 years through a methodology called structured time and workflow management (STWM). Contact us to learn more about our 45 day fee free pilot.



Planning Protocols


by Claudia Irmer


I have a dear and close friend, and she is in a managing position. I have no idea what exactly it is she does for a living, but as our relationship has no professional background, I thought it would not play a big role.

As far as I’ve gotten to know Betti, she is very dedicated and ambitious, and always tries to give her best. Some would say she is a perfectionist, but as the term has a negative ring, I won’t go over that bridge. But there is one big issue with Betti: She is always late! When we want to meet to go shopping, she is late and calls exactly at the time she was supposed to meet me. On my birthday, she called me at five minutes to midnight – at the end of the day! She has also told me that she rarely meets a deadline at work and that she is also late for her client meetings.

Although I am her friend and not her consultant or coach, I think I will share with her the importance of “planning” and following “planning protocols”. Just like an athlete, she needs to focus and block out any external distractions. Her protocol needs to be practiced over and over again, so when she is under stress, she can perform as trained.

I truly believe that the simple What, How (much), Who, and By when protocol will be the solution for Betti!

  • What: What is the task she is planning to achieve?
  • How: How will she execute the task?
  • Who: Who will she rely on, other than herself, to implement the task?
  • By when: When is she planning to get started, and by when will she be finished?

Once she has internalized this protocol, she needs to do the actual step of planning! She should plan the next day the evening before, and on Friday afternoons she should be planning her next week – and of course this also applies to months as well! I need to remind her also that a plan has to be flexible; if anything unforeseen comes up, the plan needs to be adjusted to the new given realities.

I know this works with my professional clients, but I will let you know if I have been successful in coaching a friend – watch this space!

Claudia Irmer is a Results Consultant for Cohen Brown Management. Within the European Team, Claudia covers the territory of UK, continental Europe, and the Middle East.

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What Type of Person Are You?

Personality type

I am a Type C person. I hear you thinking, “What is a Type C person?” Well, let me explain the three personality types as they relate to time and workflow management.

Type As believe there’s never enough time to meet deadlines.
Type Bs believe there’s always enough time to meet deadlines.
Type Cs believe there’s never enough time to achieve quality-control perfection.

So I am a Type C person. That was my conclusion last Thursday when I was preparing myself for a very important business meeting.

My day started very early, around 6 a.m., since I couldn’t sleep very well during the night. I woke up sweating and with a feeling of panic. I had a deadline, and there were lot of things I still needed to do.

As I worked, I asked myself, why do I always panic at times like this? I really wanted to understand myself better, so I started by creating awareness about what kind of person I am using the following questions:

“When are you satisfied with your performance?”      
“Do you accept less than absolute perfection?”              
“How are you organised?”                                                      
“What is the level of quality control you want to achieve?”

My answers were really illuminating, and I realized I am a perfectionist and I need to do something about my stress level.

I spoke with my husband (who is Type B), and he told me that my behaviour also affected him, making him become stressed, almost like a secondhand smoker.

We decided to address the problem by doing some relaxation exercises together every day. I must say that this has really helped me to sleep better and not panic all the time.

So what personality type are you and how are you managing your stress?

Brenda Schäfer is a Results Consultant with the Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc. covering the territory of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


I’m My Own Worst Enemy When It Comes to Distractions


by Johanna Lubahn


I have a big proposal to write in a short time. It’s an involved proposal and doesn’t follow our standard template. It requires notes from several discussions and several people on our team. I am not a big fan of writing in the first place so this task is a little daunting for me. To meet the deadline, I have blocked out my calendar, set my alarm early every day and cancelled any evening plans. It’s all or nothing right now, and I need all the time I can get. To make it a little more challenging, one of the team is halfway around the world, so talking and getting a plan in place is difficult; thank goodness for email.

But even with all the preparation—the notes, the calls, the emails, the blocked-out calendar time—I find that I still have a distraction: myself. My phone is not ringing right now as most of our team knows I am working on this. I am not receiving a lot of emails. With all this quiet, I somehow find ways to distract myself.

I dilly-dally around, shuffling papers after I type a few things; I look out the window; I change the music; I open the window; I check for emails; I check for voice-mail messages. What’s my problem? I’m not using focal locking for my project. I need to find a time and place to keep myself focused and remind myself to STAY focused. If I don’t, the deadline will come anyway, and I will be tired, cranky and fail to do my best work.

Knowing this, I am recognizing more quickly when I’m distracted. I’m reminding myself to stay focused and getting right back to writing, because I am capable of completing this task. That’s all for now; I’ve got to get back to work.

Johanna Lubahn is Managing Director of Call Center Services for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.




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Collaboration Can Ensure You Never Move Forward

Well, there is a way to move your organization forward and there is a way NOT to move your organization forward …. it’s called COLLABORATION.

teamwork, leadership, leaders, goals

Why would collaboration be a blocker?  Because without a structured process, it’s a great way to invite objections and ensure that all voices, even the resistors get their way, not the way of the organization, but their way.

 Why not maintain the status quo anyway?  We understand that with all the changes taking place for people, processes and technology, it’s a challenge just to keep the status quo.  Unfortunately for the steady-as-it-goes-crowd, top performers are not thinking about how to maintain the status quo, they are thinking about how to smash new goals, introduce breakthrough products and processes and push forward.

The Leadership Unpopularity Law from Cohen Brown is, “You don’t have to be disliked to be a great leader, but you cannot be afraid to be disliked.”  Well, that is a game changer for some leaders as they may be afraid to be disliked and they think that means keeping the status quo.  But what if the status quo really isn’t working for the team?  What if the team really wants improvements and it’s just the leader who is afraid of the change or afraid to lead the change?

Well, for all the meek and mild leaders, we have a way to for you to engage the team and get the change that is needed.  This is a paradigm shift of telling people what to do.  It involves getting all the ideas from the team in a brainstorm session, then letting the entire team vote on their favorites and providing their commitments to move forward.  How hard is that?  And you don’t have to worry about being unpopular, you’ll be popular with everyone because everyone had input.  It just takes breaking the status quo of leadership behaviors to try new ways to engage the team.

Collaboration can be a great way to get great ideas and smash new goals.  But use it the right way.  So protecting the status quo with getting collaboration from the team may be on your personal agenda but it won’t be on the company’s agenda and it won’t be on the hitting new goals agenda.  Engaging the team with a structured collaboration process and moving forward is about the only option companies who are serious about growing have now.

P.S. Just by reading this blog you may have changed your leadership behaviors, that wasn’t so bad was it?

Johanna Lubahn is Managing Director of Call Center Services for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.