Episode 69: Make Time for What Matters with Liz O’Riordan
Do you feel like you’re constantly chasing your tail in everything you do? Have you ever felt like you’d be more productive and successful if you just had more time? With so much on our plates, it seems like the only option is to sacrifice quality time with our loved ones and for ourselves. But if you’re stressed and overwhelmed, fret not! There are ways to find time, feel more calm and present not only at work but also at home.
This week, Liz O’Riordan joins us to share productivity life hacks. These have helped her transform how she approaches work. Now, Liz can spend quality time with her family and enjoy life. In this episode, she teaches us how we too can achieve this.
If you want to learn some new life hacks, beat burnout and work happier, then tune in to this episode!
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Learn a simple technique to get you off your phone and to spend quality time with your family instead.
- Discover how you can reduce your stress and the overwhelming feeling that comes with an overflowing inbox.
- Find out why you need to focus on a daily highlight before you do anything else.
[06:21] How to Break Up With Your Phone
- Liz removed all the apps from her phone’s home screen, leaving only the phone app at the bottom.
- If she wants to use any of the other apps, she would have to scroll across multiple pages.
- She no longer makes beeline social media apps anymore, and it’s harder for her to find things to distract her.
- We pick up a phone because we want to distract ourselves, so if you make distracting yourself hard, you’re not going to do it.
[15:38] Helpful Things with Email
- They say there is no difference in productivity between someone who checks their email 10 or 20 times a day and someone who checks it three times a day.
- Liz sets a couple of hours one evening to check emails.
- One hack is to pretend the messages are letters, be slow to respond and reset your expectations.
- Find a way to block out 20 minutes of your day to look at emails without distractions, and don’t look at them again until the next day.
[23:12] Best Practices for Improving Productivity and Gaining Quality Time
- First, decide what the highlight of the following day is going to be.
- Ask yourself one thing you’re going to achieve today and make it your priority.
- Break big tasks down into little things and use timers.
- People often overestimate the time it takes to do a task.
- By setting a timer for half an hour, you can work on chunks of your task without distractions and see how much you can achieve in that time.
[28:20] Spending Quality Time with Your Family and Yourself
- Liz realised that she needed to look after herself.
- Energising yourself, sleeping, eating well and exercising are all important.
- She now finds that she has more time to read.
- She was able to reconnect with her family and spend quality time with them.
[39:02] Top Tips from Liz
- Make your phone less addictive.
- Removing the apps on your home screen and keeping them in the app library will be more difficult to find the apps you waste your time on.
- Work out when you are the most productive and use that time for the highlight of your day.
- Energise and look after yourself and make sure you exercise daily.
- Delete emails off your phone.
7 Powerful Quotes from this Episode
[15:08, Liz] ‘I think you just get so absorbed in this being nosy about other people’s lives and you don’t look after your own’.
[28:39, Liz] ‘It has to be a package. You have to look after yourself to look after other people and make yourself a priority’.
[31:52, Liz] ‘You don’t need your phone. You can have fun without your phone because you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ll end up’.
[32:36, Liz] ‘It is a habit; it’s an addiction of just not being able to focus on what’s really important’.
[34:24, Rachel] ‘Pretty much every content we have is downstream from the content we consume’.
[35:15, Rachel] ‘We don’t pay enough attention to what we put into ourselves and into our brains’.
[40:11, Rachel] ‘I think [by] just being able to be more present in what you’re already doing, you feel a more spacious life’.
Liz O’Riordan is an author, speaker, blogger and triathlete. Known as the ‘Breast Surgeon with Breast Cancer’, she has been nominated for ‘Woman of the Year’. She also co-wrote the BMA Award-winning book ‘The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer: How to Feel Empowered and Take Control’.
You may connect with her by visiting her website or reaching out on Twitter. Alternatively, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Frogs generally have only two options — stay and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan. Fortunately, you are not a frog. You have many more options, choices and control than you think.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Have you ever felt you’d be so much more productive and successful if you just had more time? Do you feel like you’re constantly chasing your tail and feel rushed and hurried in everything you do? And would you like to feel more calm and present, not just at work, but at home too?
In this episode, I’m joined by Liz O’Riordan, an author, ex-surgeon and cancer patient who has discovered some hacks that have transformed the quality and quantity of time she’s able to spend on her work with her family, and just enjoying life. So have a listen if you want to find out a simple technique to drastically get you off your phone and reduce the time you spend on it. How to reduce your stress and overload that can come with an overflowing email inbox. And listen if you want to find out why we need to focus on a daily highlight before we do anything else.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, life hacks for doctors and busy professionals if you want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr. Rachel Morrison. I’m a GP, turned coach, speaker and specialist in teaching resilience. And I’m interested in how we can wake up and be excited about going to work, no matter what. I’ve had 20 years experience working in the NHS, both on the frontline and teaching leadership and resilience. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, worried about making a mistake, and one crisis away from not coping.
2021 promises to be a particularly challenging year. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been compared to frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, working harder and longer. And the heat has been turned up so slowly, that we hardly notice the extra long days becoming the norm, and have got used to the low grade feelings of stress and exhaustion. Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two choices, stay in the pan and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your own destiny, and to craft your working life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Through training as an executive and team coach, I discovered some hugely helpful resilience and productivity tools that transformed the way I approached my work. I’ve been teaching these principles over the last few years as the Shapes Toolkit Program. Because if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job. In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts—all who have an interesting take on this. So that together we can take back control to thrive, not just survive in our work and our lives and love what we do again.
Just to let you know that we’re now taking bookings for our resilience training for late spring and summer 2021. During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been delivering our training online and we’ve been able to deliver the shapes toolkit to managers and their teams in high stress organizations, to doctors and allied professionals, such as the additional roles in general practice, and also to GP training hubs for practice managers, admin support staff, GP fellow schemes, and GP training schemes. We can also help you to set up a peer group support scheme for your organization. So do get in touch by booking a call to chat with me about how we can help you and your organization. Also don’t forget to sign up for your podcast CPD reflection forms for use in your appraisal.
On with the episode.
It’s absolutely fantastic to have you with me back again on the podcast, Ms. Liz O’Riordan. Is that right?
Liz O’Riordan: Yes, it is.
Rachel: Liz, you’re an author, you’re a broadcaster. The reason I hesitate because you’re an ex-breast surgeon so it’s ‘Mrs.’ plus the ‘Dr.’
Liz: But I have a PhD. So, I am actually a Dr. Mrs. Dr. Just to confuse things. Mrs. O’Riordan is fine.
Rachel: Dr. Mrs. Dr. O’Riordan, and as well as being an ex-breast surgeon, you are a cancer patient yourself as well.
Rachel: So very sort of broad portfolio and you had a book come out, was it was it last year or the year before?
Liz: I think it was the year before now, which I wrote with Trisha Greenhalgh who’s been behind a lot of the evidence about wearing masks. Now she’s gone oft in that field. But just to help patients understand what it’s like, because we were two doctors who thought we knew everything, and we had no idea.
Rachel: And I really recommend that book.
Liz: It’s been nice to be able to help people all over the world. We still get comments saying thank you for telling me what it was really like.
Rachel: Yeah. I can imagine because when you get diagnosed, what do you look for information, what do you do? And I think the way that you guys just literally pooled all of your collective knowledge, both as a patient as a GP and as a surgeon, and in one absolutely fantastic source too. And it won BMJ Book of the Year, isn’t it?
Liz: It did, in the patient category. I just think there’s so much scary stuff online and it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t and what do you believe. We just wanted to kind of distill everything we’d found. So we know we’re really, really proud of it.
Rachel: Congratulations. And you just told me, you’re writing another book? Are you allowed to tell us what it’s about yet?
Liz: I am. Yeah. So I’m writing a book about my own surgical memoirs as a woman in a man’s world dealing with the really tough times that you go through both as a young naive woman dealing with patients on the ward, and the various ways that you’re trained and how you adapt to that, leading up to me, getting cancer as a surgeon myself, so it’s nearly finished.
Rachel: Gosh, wow. I’m really looking forward to reading that. It’s gonna be brilliant. So the reason we got Liz back on the podcast, not only did I want to get her back anyway, and have a chat and find out how she’s doing because the two previous podcast episodes have been incredibly popular, Liz. So if you’ve not listened to them, go back and listen. They were some of the earlier ones that we did.
But Liz, you put on Twitter, something about a book that you’ve been reading. But actually what caught my attention was—I think, did you change your home phone screen, or something?
Liz: I did.
Rachel: Posted about it on Twitter, tell us about that post.
Liz: So my husband and I will spend hours on our phone, and we will DM each other on Twitter instead of talking to each other. It’s become the default, if you just look at your phone, first thing you do in the morning. And I’ve read a lot of books about how to break up with your phone or what to do, but I’ve never done it. And I read this book and I did what they say. And now the home screen of my phone is just my picture of me and my husband at our wedding. And the only app on it is the phone symbol at the very, very bottom. Everything else has gone off the homescreen.
Rachel: Wow, that was great. How does that feel when you look at it?
Liz: It’s really freeing. It’s just, I look at my phone, and it’s a phone. And if I want to use any of the apps, I have to scroll two or three or four pages to cross. And I’ve only got two or three apps on each page. And I’ve realized now with an iPhone, you can delete them all off the homescreen because it keeps them in an app library. But it means that I don’t automatically go phone, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s harder for me to find things that distract me. And then we actually had some people, some thought I was mad. ‘What do you mean’? But it’s so freeing. I have so much more time now.
Rachel: How much would you say it’s reduced your phone use by?
Liz: Probably about half. And again, that also comes down to the things in the book we’ll talk about. But it was just something about, my phone is just a phone. I have a house full of books to read. And I have a lot of strength patterns I’ve not done. And a garden to weed, and I’m not doing any of it. Because we’re spending all my time scrolling through Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram on repeat. I’m not writing my book, because I’m always on social media and just either deleting off the phone or making them more difficult to find, it’s that mental block that just stops you saying ‘Hang on a minute. Do you really want to do it?’
Liz: It’s not that because you did it as well, didn’t you? You change the phone having seen the tweets.
Rachel: So I saw your tweet, I saw the book. I thought ‘That looks good.’ So I bought the book, read it. And I changed my name. I must say on my home screen. I did put a lovely picture of my daughter and I have—for now I’m sort of holding it up. I’ve got just—the few productivity things that I need for my work. And then my diary. But that so I actually got eight things on my home screen, which is just settings and my wallet as well it’s what I pay for things
Liz: Move them to the next page.
Rachel: So, we’re not talking about completely—
Liz: Yeah, put them on the phone. So I have the NHS COVID app, I’ve got my calendar, I’ve got my bank there on the second screen.
Liz: Just swipe across, and they’re there. But that first screen being blank with just the phone.
Rachel: All right, I’ll try that.
Liz: Try it. You can find Safari, you can just by searching you can get them really quickly. But there’s just something about having a blank screen and it makes you think why have I picked up my phone? Is it because I’m bored? Do I really need to?
Rachel: That’s really interesting.
Liz: Because we haven’t mentioned the book, have we?
Rachel: We have it, we’re gonna get the book in a second. I just want to explore this thing because I read another book—before we get into the book we are going to talk about called Make Time which is fantastic. It’s another book called Indistractable by a chap called Nir Eyal, who I heard talking on the Rangan Chatterjee podcast. And he talks about, because it just made me think of that, when he said we pick up a phone almost to ease some pain or just because we want to distract ourselves. We’re doing something a little bit too hard and we just want to distract ourselves. And in Indistractable, he says that avoiding distractions is pain management. This isn’t time management, it’s pain management. And I found myself doing that, I’m working on a project thinking ‘Oh, not quite sure. Just check my messages.’ And if you just make that hard, then everything we know about behaviour change. If you make it, put a little bit of friction, you’re not going to do it and it reminds you. So I’m going to do that. So once we finish it, I’m gonna take everything off that home screen and do it so I have to scroll. Even doing that and removing my emails, the first week had reduced my phone use by 81%, actually.
Liz: Have you taken your emails off your phone?
Liz: I haven’t done that yet. Because sometimes emails have got barcode tickets for trains and things. So I’m still a bit reluctant to do that. But I don’t check email on my phone.
Rachel: So, I take a screenshot of my barcode tickets of my event.
Rachel: I just screenshot them. And then I’ve got them. So that works.
Liz: That’s a good idea.
Rachel: But, when I start taking my phone that they’re not on the home screen. They are. If you search for it in an app, it makes it quite difficult. So I just don’t do it.
Anyway, we digressed. Let’s talk about the book because it has been really good. So the book is, and I’ll show if anyone is watching this on YouTube, it’s a yellow book, the cover saying Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. And this is quite a nice little strap line here: ‘If you want to achieve more, without going nuts, read this book.’ And that’s the guy who wrote the Power of Habit.
So, how did you come across it in the first place, Liz?
Liz: I was scrolling through Amazon. I bought a couple of—so I bought Digital Minimalism, which is a book by Cal Newport, which basically talks about how social media are designed to keep you coming back. To keep you looking to keep you scrolling. And again, he realized he was spending all his life on his phone. And my husband and I’d watched a film—I can’t remember now—about the power of the phone and how it’s ruining families and parents stop talking to their children. And we both thought, ‘Right, we need to use our phones less.’ Sundays are phone-free days, but you keep coming back. And I saw this on an Amazon recommended reading and I bought it. And I was hooked. And I had it on a Kindle. I thought no, I need the hard copy of this book, because I just need to keep going back to it. And I bought a copy for my husband for Christmas. And I said ‘Trust me, read it.’ And he’s like, Right. Okay.’ He’s done the same with his phone. And it’s just transformed our lives. And I think we don’t know how to be bored. I don’t achieve anything during the day, really.
Because as you say, you’re half an hour into projects, and your mind will be ‘Oh I’ll just see what’s on Twitter’, and then you’re suddenly down a hole and you’re looking at something else. And it was a way of making each day productive. Because the guys who wrote it are behind G-Mail and YouTube, so they know how to make things addictive. And they both said they were spending hours on their phone. And if the guys behind it say, ‘This is bad’, we don’t do it. But they just broke it down into really easy, simple steps. And I just thought this resonates with me. I can do it.
Rachel: Yeah, it’s really good. Like it’s very, very practical. But it also sort of explained what’s going on with you. You know why things are so addictive. And was it The Social Dilemma that you watched on Netflix?
Liz: Yes, that’s it. Yeah.
Rachel: Yeah. So we watched that. And in fact, there’s a podcast about that with Thambyrajah because that’s really affected me. That’s how I managed to get my kids to watch that by saying to them ‘You don’t need to watch this documentary. But I’ve got a massive box of chocolate, and it’s staying with me in this room. So if you want to have the chocolate, you got to watch the documentary.’
Liz: Love it.
Rachel: Yeah, they did. And they sat there going, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ And so often we find ourselves—my daughter’s trying to talk to me, I’ll go ‘Just hang on a second.’ What she can see is me—I’m actually answering your work emails. I’m working but she just sees me on my phone. And what these guys in the meantime, talk about, ‘Yes, emails, emails bad and work bad.’
But also we get sucked into what they call it, infinity pools. Yes. So the infinity pools are things that are bottomless. So the internet or Facebook or Twitter? They are bottomless, aren’t they? You, and LinkedIn, you could just go on forever, reading content on those things. Which was one particular thing that was…?
Liz: I think, for me, it was always Twitter. And a lot of it, I realized it’s all very shallow. I am looking at Twitter not to read what other people are doing. But to see who’s commented on what I’ve posted. Someone like what I’ve done. Someone do what I’ve said, and actually I don’t need it. Instagram is a world of sewing patterns. And then I got rid of Facebook. I don’t look at Facebook at all. And there’s some things that I won’t get access to anymore, some local clubs, but I thought I don’t need in my life. And I muted a load of people on Instagram. So I purely follow it for exercise and sewing patterns. So, I don’t care what all these strangers are doing. But if I mute them, they don’t know that I’m not following them.
And I’ve not quite yet taken Twitter off my phone, but I’m trying to use it as a work tool. So I’ll schedule in half an hour. I go on Twitter, I post what I need to do to maintain my profile. I don’t need to spend hours looking at it. Because I thought, I’m more worried about what someone’s doing in America than when was the last time I rang a friend from university.
Liz: And it’s that. My husband and I both looking at Twitter seeing what’s going on in the States, but we haven’t talked to each other. And I think you just get so absorbed in this being nosy about other people’s lives and you don’t look after your own.
Rachel: It’s a bit of an addiction, isn’t it?
Liz: It is addiction. No, it’s definitely an addiction. And I think the phones are fantastic, but they make it so easy. For me, it was email though, because I would look at an email on my phone, and I didn’t think I had the time to reply. So, I then mark it as unread. So I would then read it again on my laptop when I didn’t really have the time to reply. And it was just this treadmill of not getting anything done.
Rachel: Yeah, now that was a really helpful tip from the book. And we’re gonna go through. I’m gonna ask you what your most helpful things were with the email. So this isn’t just about sorting the bait time, not just about sorting out your phone use. Although that is a big thing because if you look at what sucks your time, it’s probably social media and phone use. But actually email. And what I found fascinating was that they said that there is no difference in productivity between someone who checks their email 10 or 20 times a day, and someone who only checks it three times a day. And I realized that it’s like you said, if you have it on your phone, and you’re checking it, you get the stress of seeing the message, but you can’t often answer it and really don’t want to be typing away an answer to an email on your phone.
So what happens is this unfinished task that actually gets lodged in your brain. And then you get to it later or the next day. But all you’re doing is adding these unfinished tasks into your brain. Whereas if you’re very intentional about when you’re going to check your email, maybe three times a day, you check your email, you’ve got time to send a quick reply. It’s done and dusted, actually makes a huge amount of sense about reducing stress.
Liz: And I think it’s training people that you don’t always reply automatically. I think especially in the Twitter, the DMs, everyone’s like reply reply reply. I know you’ve seen the message on WhatsApp, ‘Why haven’t you replied to me?’ And I think it’s—I don’t look, I don’t reply to work emails on a Friday. That’s my day off, people can wait until the Monday and if you take time to reply, they kind of get used to you not replying instantly. It’s kind of training yourself to do it when it’s right for you, not because you think they’re expecting it.
Rachel: Yeah. And one of the hacks in the book is pretend messages or letters.
Rachel: Did you get a letter? You gotta write, reply right now. Otherwise, ‘They’re gonna get it after a couple of days.’ But not that I’ve had a letter for years. If anyone wants to write me a letter, please do.
Liz: I’ll write you one.
Rachel: Oh, thank you. But, yeah, pretend the messages are letters. Be slow to respond and sort of reset expectations about when and how. And I did an email course, a really short course about managing inbox. And I really like—they put them if you just put an ‘NCR’ in a title, no need to reply. So literally, I’m just sending this to practice. Often when you send it someone goes, ‘Thanks for the info. How are you?’ Then you go, ‘Well, I’m fine. Thanks. And you?’ And I go, ‘Yeah, not too bad.’ And then suddenly, there’s ten emails!
Liz: When do you stop the chain?
Rachel: So no need to reply, that can be good. Not responding, really that fast, leaving things a few days. So you’re basically slowing everything down. So it’s actually really good for email hacks. What would you say to someone who felt a bit nervous about having email off the phone? And I’m thinking if you’ve got doctors who are away from their desk quite a lot of the time, would it not make them feel nervous? Or do you think even in a busy day in surgery, could you not check your emails? Until I guess…
Liz: It’s working out? Is there going to be an email that will come in that is so important that you need to drop everything you’re doing and reply to it there and then? And often it’s not because if something is that important, they’ll probably text you, or message you, or getting contacted another way. Most emails aren’t urgent. And I think, I mean I used to, in between clinics, you check your phone, because you’re bored, and you look and then you’re ‘Oh there’s an email’, and ‘Shall I book that for the cinema?’
And actually, if you can train yourself right, lunchtime, half an hour, I’ll look at my phone and my emails. But then if you don’t have time to reply, it’s training yourself to do it later. But then later doesn’t happen when you’re working all day, because then you get home and it’s family time. And it may be right, I’ve got 20 minutes where I will look and scan. But I will have a couple of hours one evening just to manage my inbox. But when it breaks into your day, you lose your sense of concentration and actually, you should only be focusing on the patients but it’s hard.
Liz: And then you’ve got work emails as well. And it’s very hard to know which one of those you need to reply and you’ve got those ‘All Reply’—everyone says everything and it’s a long train. And it’s almost blocked. Can you find a way to block out 20 minutes of a day where you just look at emails and no distractions and then it’s done?
Liz: And then you don’t look at them again until the next day. Don’t do them at home. Don’t do them at 10 o’clock at night because you shouldn’t be doing it, and people expect it. It’s like, if I haven’t checked, you could almost have an out reply message. I checked my emails at 4 o’clock every day or 6 o’clock before I go home. That’s when you get a reply from me.
Rachel: And I like that, doing it in the afternoon or after lunch, because I think we talked about this on the course of a mistake a lot of people make as you get to work, first thing you do is check your emails.
Yeah, that should be like first thing in the morning, that’s when you’re going to be mega productive. That’s when you’ve got lots of ideas. I don’t know when you write your book. But, I try and get my big projects, my creative stuff done first thing in the morning, because without any email interruptions.
Liz: Again, from the book, I try not to look at email or WhatsApp messages until lunchtime. So I can focus on what I need to get done in the day. And then in the afternoon when you’re a bit less, as you say, wired up, you can slowly look at messages and emails and reply, but the first thing in the morning getting into ‘Actually, wait, I’ve got a clinic, I’ve got a list to do. I’ve got this.’ And then your lost in a whole chain of emails about business cases. And suddenly, the clinical focus is gone. And we need to train everybody, just calm down, and not send so many emails and just try. But it’s hard.
Rachel: It is hard. I think that you said earlier as well, this thing about we’re not very good at being bored. I remember being at university before mobile phones. We’re really old, aren’t we? Some people listening to this podcast going, ‘What’?
Liz: It goes to the phone box of the pile of 50p’s to call your friends and arrange a night out.
Rachel: Yeah, yeah. Or you’d arranged somewhere. And you’d be where you said you’d be at the right time.
Liz: Exactly! Because they can tell you they were running late in order to come.
Rachel: You’d make an arrangement. And you would stick to it, not like these days anyway, right? So you’d be standing at the post office in a queue, waiting to pay something or a letter because you used to send letters in those days. And you wouldn’t have a phone to look at. So you just be thinking and reflecting on the conversation that you just had or what you’re doing.
Liz: That brings me to another book I read over lockdown called the Natural Health Service. And I can’t remember who it’s by but an amazing woman. She had depression. And she just talks about being aware. And when you go for a walk, you look at the grass. And she goes out with a microscope and binoculars and just looking at ‘Oh, there’s a fungus there and look at the bark on that tree!’ And just being aware of your surroundings, and looking and thinking and reflecting everything around you and not the screen. And it’s really made me, because I go to dog walk with a podcast in one ear and my brain may be running and actually just look at what you’re seeing.
Rachel: Yeah, I remember a couple years ago, we were going to London to train with the kids to see a show. And I forgot my phone. I left my phone at home. First of all, I felt completely naked. I was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ But we managed to work out where my phone was, etc. And then we had such a good day. Because I chatted to my children. I mean, they were all on their phones. And I read a paper and I just walked around. I just didn’t have that compulsive ‘I need to check stuff.’ And I think, to me, it’s good to be contactable but just getting off it, haven’t got that option is so important. So yeah, get rid of that. From the book, what else was helpful for you?
Liz: I think one thing was deciding what the highlight of the day is going to be. What one thing am I going to achieve today and I’m going to do that any hours I am most productive. And whether that is getting the ironing done, or writing a chapter in a book, or if your work operating, whatever it is that is your one priority. And planning my day. So one of them is a bit alien retentive about it but he will say half-six, get up shower half-seven check emails, but actually, I’ve got a daily planner and I plan what I’m going to do so I don’t get lost.
And I also liked, they talk about being a morning—is it lark and a night owl. I always thought I was a night owl and I was more productive at night. But I think actually I’m better first thing in the morning and I’ve got a lamp that wakes me up with natural daylight and birdsong. About six o’clock in the morning and I’m now trying to get up and do an hour of exercise then so it’s done and then a couple of hours of writing before look at emails and messages and suddenly by 9 or 10 o’clock I’ve achieved more than I would have done if I just got up at eight or nine. Again I don’t work so I have the luxury of lying in but it’s those golden hours in the morning when it’s really quiet and I’ve suddenly, I bought myself another couple of hours in the day.
Rachel: I’m not relishing the thought of getting up at half past six. I would struggle but I did think I was a night owl but I’m not. I do my best work first thing for sure. And the thing with the highlight has been really, really helpful for me as well. And that goes there was another book I read called—this is just like a, we’re just listing all these books are called—Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt and I don’t know if you’ve read that one.
Liz: I’ve heard of it, but I’ve not read it yet.
Rachel: Yeah, he does. He talks about priorities all the time. So basically, every day you’ve got to set three things you’re going to achieve in the day. And every week, what are your three week priorities? And every month your three? So you’re constantly thinking about, what are my priorities? I think most of us, and particularly doctors and other people in these sort of high-stress, very, very busy jobs, think we can do more than we can. We probably, I think, if I estimate how long a task is going to take, I just actually need to double that.
Rachel: And most of us are like that. And then we end up with these massive long to do lists, which we don’t ever get to the bottom of and that’s profoundly demoralizing. We think, ‘Oh, I haven’t done that.’ Yes, I’ve got through my surgery and cleared my, and done all the results and stuff. But I haven’t written that business plan that I needed to, or I haven’t written that protocol.
Liz: Or even the life admin, the stuff that you need to do to keep your house, your life running outside of work.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And how do we—then you’re constantly dropping balls and feeling guilty. But actually, if you have these three priorities every day, so the next handbook says, Get one highlight. And I really like that, that’s the one thing I need to get done. But actually, for me, I use the highlight and the priorities, the highlight is the thing I’m going to do first. So that’s the thing that I’m going to spend my really creative morning hours on. But then I’ve got this other couple of priorities that I need to do today. And if I’ve done them today, I’m done. I have done enough because I think in life, we strive, don’t we, to have an empty inbox or an empty to do list.
Rachel: That’s never gonna…
Liz: It’s like at work, you never see all the patients, you never do all the jobs. And it’s just accepting, and it’s breaking big tasks down into little things. And I use, they suggest, timers. Because often the thought of doing a task, you think it’s going to take you hours, and you don’t have time. And I will often set myself a timer of half an hour. And I’m amazed that I’ve done it in half the time. And it doesn’t take as long as I thought it would. And that has really helped me tackle the things I don’t want to do. Well, I just break them down into chunks, I’ll do half an hour, no distractions, then I’ll stop. And that’s been a real…
Rachel: Yeah. Again, none of these ideas are new, are they? Because though that idea comes from —well, there’s another book called The 15 Minute Rule, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, which is really actually one of the things on courses, people say that 15-minute rule really good. The whole book is pretty much, if you’ve got something you really don’t want to do, like maybe a tax return, you’ve got to find some stuff, you don’t know where it is or something, you literally set your timer for 15 minutes. You say, ‘I’m going to do 15 minutes. And at the end of this, if I haven’t done it, I’m going to stop, or I’m just going to stop and come back to it.’ And nine times out of 10 you get to 15 minutes, you’re halfway through you think another five minutes I’m done. It’s just getting that mental barrier, isn’t it?
Liz: And I think nothing we’re saying is new. It’s just that the book Make Time just clicked in my brain, how they described it, how these two men who were involved at making you addicted to your phones, stepped away and turned their life around. It just clicked and resonated. It was really simple, really easy to follow.
Rachel: Yeah, and it wasn’t just about making time in time hacks. Although there were a lot in there. It was all about actually being able to focus on the really important things for you.
Rachel: So how has that changed for you having read the book?
Liz: I think it’s made me, again, realize that I need to look after myself. They talk about you have to energize yourself. So you need to sleep well and eat well and exercise. And although I do a lot of exercise, over Christmas, it was hard to get back into it. And I realized that I don’t have my daily work. If I don’t do this, I’m not as productive. And it has to be a package. You have to look after yourself to look after other people. And make yourself a priority.
Rachel: Yeah, and were there anything, is there anything else that you’ve actually managed to find time for since this bit that you’ve really appreciated?
Liz: I’ve actually found time to read, but it’s actually to switch my brain off so I can stop and I can think and concentrate. So I’d seen a review in one of the newspapers about favorite books that authors had read. And I asked, my husband got me a load of them for Christmas, and thought, I’m never going to read them. But I’ve actually read three books in January. And I now feel calm enough that I can sit. And instead of two hours on Twitter at night, I will go and read. And that’s it’s been brilliant just to sit and get lost in a book again and not worry that there’s nothing I’m not doing because I’ve done my highlight for the day. I’ve looked after myself, I’ve done my day for tomorrow. I know what I’ve got coming up, and I can just sit and read. What about you?
Rachel: Yeah, I think the reading thing is really important. Just trying to think about what have I done with that extra time? I think for me it’s actually just being more present. With the kids that actually, whereas before if someone was in the kitchen cooking, or me I might be sat on my phone and my husband or in the evening of watching telly. Actually the interesting thing, my daughter is quite—the other day I was doing something on my laptop, because I had to do it. It was something I can’t remember what it was. And we were watching The Crown. And at the end of it, she said to me, ‘I thought we were going to watch this together?’ And I said, ‘Well, we are watching it together.’ She said, ‘No, you’re not. You’ve been on your laptop.’ And I realized that even if I thought I was spending time, she didn’t think I was spending time. And that’s definitely one of her love languages. So actually, it might not have given me loads-wise time, but it means that what I am doing, I’m much more present. And it’s more satisfying.
Liz: And I think, my husband and I are terrible. We’ll watch a TV program. But one or both of us will be looking at our phones as well. And you’ve got one eye on it, but you’re just checking something else, I think it’s actually if we’re going to watch telly, then we’re going to just watch a program and get rid of all the gadgets, the laptops. If we’re listening to music, we will just listen to music and actually be together.
And it’s really strange at first. It’s really, really hard. But then it just becomes lovely. And what we did, having read the book, we went and spent three days just before lockdown. Christmas in a digital detox, it was basically a Scandinavian shipping container in a field in the middle of Essex. They locked your phones away in a box, it was a tiny old Nokia, if you needed it, completely off grid, they had a really slow pouring kettle and tea bags. Everything was meant to make you slow down. And we just spent three days walking and talking and reading.
And it was wonderful. Just to reconnect and realize the person you’re living with, or your children and how wonderful they are. And just to spend time with them. And actually, they had an old Polaroid camera. So you had to take a picture, it was an old fashioned Polaroid and there was an old map so you didn’t get lost. And it was just, you don’t need your phone. You can have fun without your phone because you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ll end up. It’s fun exploring.
Rachel: Yeah, because everything you see, I was gonna say kept walking great. But actually, we take our phones because we’ve got the ordnance survey map on the phone.
Liz: Yeah, it’s just like, yeah.
Rachel: And then of course, you look at that, you see you’ve got a message. So you go down there again. I love the idea of whether my children would appreciate spending three days with us without their phones, it is quite another thing. I think they would be horrified. But it’s interesting that we actually need to go to places to do that. But we find it difficult to do that for ourselves.
Rachel: So wide in sweats.
Liz: And so we tried to have Sundays that are Apple-free days, but if you don’t remind each other, we’ll go back into it. And it’s hard to do it at home. It is a habit it is it’s an addiction of just not being able to focus on what’s really important.
Rachel: We used to have screen-free Sundays. And it really slipped last year over locked down. But I’m going to make a note to do a screen-free Sunday. Even if it’s just me, I think that would be really helpful. I think this thing about reading books as well, sometimes you can get into the—and I certainly have get into the—habit of thinking the only books I should be reading are these sort of self-improving books. I’ve got to read anything that’s got to be useful and blah, blah, blah. And actually, I’ve what I’ve really enjoyed is because I definitely bought, my rule I have myself is no phones in bedrooms, because I just I’ll be honest.
Liz: So we’ve done that; it makes a huge difference.
Rachel: But reading fiction!
Rachel: It’s so lovely to get lost in a really amazing fiction book. There’s not, well, it doesn’t prove your point you do learn stuff, but not in not in the way that we maybe start to see it’s productive.
Liz: No, because I would re-read self-help books that I’d read before because it was comforting. I didn’t need to think it was passing the time. But actually, I’m going to get a book, I’m going to sit and read it for fun. It’s not wasting my life. It’s just and then talking about it with others. And it’s a way of connecting with people and sparking ideas. And it’s just realizing, making the time to focus on what’s important to you.
Rachel: I was listening to a podcast, I think it was James Clear who wrote the Atomic Habits book.
Rachel: And he was at Rangan Chatterjee. He’s writing in his book saying, How do you be creative all the time? How do you do this? And he said, ‘Well, it’s about what I consume.’ He said, ’cause pretty—and I wrote this down. So if I was in my car, it’d be like, ‘Oh, I can’t write this down. Hey, Siri’! And it works.
Liz: So yeah, impressed.
Rachel: He said pretty much every thought we have is downstream from the content we consume.
Liz: Interesting. And I guess if you spend your life obsessed with the world and the news and politics, then your brain is going to be… Yeah, you’re right. Actually.
Rachel: It just really struck me that that is so true. Yes. And if we’re just literally only on Twitter, just sort of with the quite superficial stuff, or we’re only on…
Liz: …what is said about Brexit and Trump and America or bad things, then how are you going to get the freedom to come up with something new?
Rachel: Yeah, but if we’re consuming really amazing fiction books or biographies, or just looking in nature that’s consuming a different way as well. I just thought, we don’t pay enough attention to what we put into ourselves and into our brains.
Liz: And getting some positivity in your life, because often online is all depressing. And you tend to follow the same people talking about the same things. So there’s nothing new for me, it’s, I feed the birds every morning. And nothing makes me smile more than seeing the blue ticks on the feed. And that’s my moment of just getting away from everything.
Rachel: So important, so not just make you feel better, but for productivity and for life in general.
Rachel: So I’m going to have to finish in a minute, but I just want to come back to this, this highlight of the day, and how actually the act of reflecting and thinking through. Because you mentioned earlier, or I know I’ve done my day for tomorrow. What do you mean by that?
Liz: So I go through what I’ve done today and rate how I do it? Do I need to spend more time on it? What went well, what didn’t? Do I need to change what I eat for my breakfast? Or did I have the right amount of tea or coffee or just wasn’t the right way to do it? And then I plan the next day and I plan my next highlight. So before I go to bed, I know what I’m doing tomorrow. I know when my meetings are. I know I’m not going to be late for anything. And it’s just thinking, ‘Yeah, I did that today.’ Well done. I’ve not wasted it. Give myself a little pat on the head. It’s that feeling of achieving something, and actually how simple it was to do it.
Rachel: And I’m presuming that’s gonna relieve the stress the next day waking up.
Liz: Yeah because I get so many, so many calls and emails and requests and pulls on your time. And it’s hard just to lose track of what’s going on. And yes, you’re on your phone, but then you need to look at your phone to find out when they are. And now I have a piece of paper and I write down what I’m going to do at what time. And if it just stops me stressing, because I know I can fit everything in and I then know I’ve got the evening that’s free for me and my husband, or my husband and I sorry, very bad grammar.
Rachel: If we don’t have bad grammar on this podcast, Liz, terrible!
Liz: Do you do the reflecting?
Rachel: I do and actually a friend of mine really kindly gave me this thing called the six-minute journal such as that on my paper there and I sit there in the morning. And it’s lovely because actually, I’ve tried keeping a journal before and it hasn’t worked because, space with a blank page. What do I write? But this one it’s like, three things I’m grateful for. What’s going to be my literally—Today will be great if I? What’s gonna be my highlight? And then it’s gonna be an evening where you write things that made today good. What acts of generosity did I do today? I like that, because this year I really want to focus on generosity more.
Rachel: There was also a, ‘How can I improve?’ Which is an interesting one, and then three things that went well. So it sort of guides you through it. I’m absolutely loving it because it’s a no brainer. And I love that time, I’m trying to spend just half an hour in the morning in that chair, reflecting, doing a bit of meditation, of prayer, and then writing down my highlight. What am I going to do today? But yeah, but I think the gratitude and the positivity is so important. It does make a huge amount of difference to my day. And also putting in the time—and this is another time hack that a friend of mine told me recently—if you’ve got a commitment in your diary, don’t just put, or you need to do something, don’t just put it on your to do list. Put it in your diary as a channel. So don’t just say send a proposal to blah, block out two hours to send the proposal to blah. And that’s much less stressful because I know that even if you’ve got a lot of work on, it’s all scheduled in.
Liz: Yeah, exactly. Relieves the stress.
Rachel: So I think we’ve got to talk about, gone all around the houses on this, but it’s been really fascinating. It’s, what would you say your top two or three highlights from this book or tips for people. Things that you’ve learned recently that you’d sort of want people to take home as take home messages.
Liz: I think the first thing for me was making my phone less addictive. And with an iPhone, you can delete all the apps off your home screen but you can find them in the library at the back, and just having a lovely picture on the front and the phone button, it makes it harder to find the Twitter and Facebook the things you waste your time on. It just makes it nicer to look at, you can see that lovely picture.
Second was working at when you’re most productive and using that for the one thing the highlight of your day that you want to do. And it doesn’t have to be work, it could be playing with the kids. It could be cooking, using every bowl and utensil in the kitchen. But scheduling that in and making sure that you do that one thing and then it was very energizing and looking after yourself making sure that you are getting your daily exercise in. You’re not just sitting at your desk writing that you do look after yourself.
Rachel: Yeah, thank you.
Liz: And what would yours be?
Rachel: I was just thinking that I wasn’t sure I’ve got much to add into that. I think my additional hack would be deleting emails off your phone as well. That to me has been really important, I think
Liz: Sitting down and do them properly. Use the laptop where you can act on them.
Rachel: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think just being able to be more present in what you’re already doing. You feel a more spacious life. And for me, it’s the reflecting and putting the highlight in every day has been an absolute game changer.
Liz: It’s kind of stopping us all multitasking, isn’t it? And just do one thing at a time and do it well.
Rachel: Yeah. Which is another one of my favorite books, which is Essentialism. We’re not gonna go there now, though. No, recommend that so much. But anyway, Liz, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been brilliant to talk to you. We’ll come back again?
Liz: I’d love to. Yeah, I would love to.
Rachel: Thank you so much. So, Liz, if people want to contact you to find out more about your work, where can they contact you?
Liz: So I’m, I shouldn’t say I’m on Twitter, but I’m @Liz_ORiordan Twitter. My email is email@example.com. I do have a website with my cancer blog, lizoriordan.co.uk but I’ve not updated that for a while. But I’m happy to talk to anyone about anything.
Rachel: And your book that’s out already. That’s called?
Liz: The book is called The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer. And I wrote that with Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and although it’s a breast cancer book, it’s for anyone going through cancer and their relatives because you just remove the breast cancer surgery chapters and we cover everything. Sex, diet, exercise, menopause, fear of recurrence, what to do when it comes back, how to tell your family just in general, we’ve been there and we can help.
Rachel: Brilliant. Great. Well, thank you so much, Liz, and we’ll see you soon.
Liz: You’re welcome. Bye, Rachel. Bye.
Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not A Frog email list and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So keep well everyone. You’re doing a great job. You got this!
NHS COVID-19 app
The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer: How to Feel Empowered and Take Control by Liz O’Riordan and Trisha Greenhalgh
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal
Feel Better, Live More with Dr Rangan Chatterjee: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life with Nir Eyal
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
Natural Health Service: What the Great Outdoors Can Do for Your Mind by Isabel Hardman
Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less by Michael Hyatt
The 15 Minute Rule: How to Stop Procrastinating and Take Charge of Your Life by Carol Buchanan
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
The Social Dilemma on Netflix
Book a discovery phone call with Rachel here
You Are Not A Frog Episode 59: A Social Dilemma? With Dr James Thambyrajah
Connect with Liz: Website | Twitter | Email
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