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Podcast Transcript


Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:10  
Welcome back to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark! Join us on this journey as we uncover what it takes to be a powerful leader in our organizations, our communities, and our lives.

Well, welcome back, Marsha! And I have to say that I've been using all of my power tools from the last episode, so I'm pretty amped up this week. I've been consistent with my journaling. I've been going back and looking at quotes that I've collected. So I'm really looking forward to this episode.

Marsha Clark  0:46  
Well, I love to hear that! Of course I do. That's great! And I hope everyone who joined us last week is as amped up as you are this week as we move into this new episode. So we're definitely shifting some gears this week as we explore, in today's episode, our favorite process and tools for helping people get laser-focused and fully present. And this is especially important for meetings or learning sessions where there's going to be a longer time period together and where you really want to be focused and present. So, welcome to this week's episode that's entitled - "I'm In!"

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:25  
I'm in! So, being fully present that might just be one of my biggest challenges. And I know it's something that so many of my colleagues also struggle with this idea of multitasking, thinking about the thing that's going to happen 5, 10 minutes, 5, 10 years from now. Mind racing a million miles a minute and it's so hard to slow down and focus. And I know that technology and our access to technology and apps and notifications and bells and whistles and dings and alerts and all these things. I mean, I need this episode!

Marsha Clark  2:06  
Well, I think we all do. We're in great company. And I love your point about the technology. When you're with people and you hear this kind of "bing" and you hear that kind of "ding" and that kind of... You know, you know crackling noise. I mean, everything has a different meaning. And so we're in great company. So in many ways slowing down and focusing on just one thing feels almost unnatural. And it goes against so much of what we believe we've had to do to excel as women. And you know, we all know our brains are incredibly complex, and they're wired to take in all kinds of, you know, stimuli coming in and processing information quickly. And you know, we've got to generate lots of output. So we've learned to expect all of that to happen simultaneously. And quite honestly, our environments and social conditioning have reinforced that message that we can and should be able to multitask effortly, and even pretty much flawlessly. I mean, the unrealistic aspect of that is just mind-blowing. And yet we continue to operate that way. So, you know, at the same time, we also know that we can focus when we need to. So I don't want to imply that we're always multitasking. We've all done it in that focused way. We get laser-focused working on a document or a presentation and we don't really realize that an hour or two is passed. And so maybe it's a hobby that you love that pulls you in and you're so intent and focusing. You know, you say the time has passed so quickly. You look up and you realize you've been doing it for hours and you feel like... The phrases that we use is I'm in the flow or I'm in the zone.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:43  
Yeah, yeah, it's so true. I mean, so we know we can focus if and when we need to. Then why don't we do it more often? And also, why is it so difficult? Like, how can we do it more easily?

Marsha Clark  3:59  
Yeah, yeah. No, I think that's a great question. So you know, a big part of it is that we have had to multitask out of necessity. If you think back to our episode on being a Superwoman... Right? That Superwoman syndrome. So we've built this deeply rooted habit out of, "I've got to do it all." And so we've trained our brains to think that being split-focused or doing two things or more at once is, you know, necessarily, or excuse me, necessary and valuable. And that it's almost crucial to our survival but it's the only way we're going to be able to get to sleep tonight. And so it's just like any other habit that we built over time, and that we've been practicing and that we've certainly mastered for years and even decades. So, it's really tough to break down. You know, I always have this visual image. I'm a visual person. So I think about the woman who has a child on her hip. She stirring, you know, a pot for dinner. She's talking... she's talking on the phone to a friend, family member, mother, whoever. And, helping her son at the table, you know, with his homework. I mean, that, to me is the visual image that I have when I think about multitasking.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:09  
Yeah, and aren't the researchers and time management experts now telling us that multitasking, as we're thinking about it, and as you just described it, it isn't even possible? That it's a myth?

Marsha Clark  5:22  
Yeah, good news, ladies. So, the idea of multitasking... So you know, I always like to give a little bit of history or definition to things... And so the idea of multitasking was first used by the technology company, the computer company, IBM. And it was used to describe the functions of a computer system. So take it all the way back to 1965. And it didn't take long before this idea that the human brain... If a computer can multitask, then certainly, you know, human brain can multitask as well. And this illusion that we can handle multiple tasks at one time. Now, in reality, while we have, you know, multiple biological functions operating at once... We're, you know, if you think about our bodies we're breathing. Our heart is beating. Our brain synapses are firing. And, you know, I always think about the "I can walk and chew gum at the same time." We cannot perform two different tasks simultaneously. That's the key here. We cannot perform two different tasks simultaneously. So what we've learned to call multitasking, is actually what the current research calls, task-switching. And it may feel simultaneous when in fact your brain is toggling going back and forth between tasks. So rather than doing them, it's it's a back and forth motion rather than a simultaneous motion.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:51  
Right. And I know a lot of women feel like they can multitask. As I get older, I'm finding that what I'm realizing is that what you just described is spot on... It's task toggling. It's that switching, and it makes me tired. I mean, if I'm working on something, and I have the TV on in the background. I know a lot of people feel like that's multitasking.

Marsha Clark  7:19  
Yeah. And I think we've come to believe that that's... Well, I mean, you know, there's been reinforcement for what you're saying. And, you know, there's one author on the topic. His name is Dave Crenshaw, and he actually calls what you're describing... If I'm working on something and there's music or TV in the background, as background tasking. It's breaking down this this view of simultaneous with really understanding what makes it up. So it's an interesting way to describe what you talked about. And he says, "Performing a task while something mindless or mundane occurs in the background." So that's his definition of background tasking. So let me ask you this, with the example that you gave. Are you really paying attention to that show in the background? Or is it mostly just keeping you company?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:09  
Well, it feels like I'm paying attention. But I'm going to admit, I mean, this idea of that it's just keeping me company. That's resonating.

Marsha Clark  8:19  
Well, so here's the here's the validation of that or not is, as it's playing, do you ever have to rewind because you miss something? And you have to...

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:28  
OH! Whole episodes go by! What? I'm on episode number seven? Yeah, I was on two a minute ago!

Marsha Clark  8:42  
Right, right. And then where did that... Where did that come from? I often think about it too, as, and this is a really dangerous, but have you ever been driving and had your mind so distracted on seven different things that you miss your exit? And then you realize you've driven 10 miles past where you were supposed to go?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:58  
Yes. And then don't remember any of it. Any of it! How you drove there?

Marsha Clark  9:04  
Yeah. I mean, so there's all kinds of ways that this shows up for us. So that's the point, right? The researchers have determined that there really is no such thing as multitasking. So I want to I want our listeners to hear that. We're simply... Our brains are not wired to operate that way. And you're either deliberately switching from task to task, even if that may feel like it's simultaneous, or you're focused more on one task at the forefront of your mental processes. And there's sort of mindless activity running in the background. And there's another researcher that I'll share his his thoughts and research with you is David Meyer. And he's a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and he's pretty clear about our brain's inability to multitask. So what he says is, "As long as you're performing complicated tasks that require the same parts of the brain, and you need to devote all that capacity for these tasks. There just aren't going to be any resources available to add anything more." So when I'm truly focused, I'm consumed. That part of my brain is consumed. So I really can't do other things.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:14  
Yeah, I remember you talking about this in your book, "Embracing Your Power." Isn't this related to one of the foundational elements?

Marsha Clark  10:24  
It absolutely is. And it's a thread that that runs throughout the book. And what I call it it's foundational element number four. And I describe it as "Slow Down to Speed Up." Now, now, let me let me just give you a little bit of Genesis around that phrase - Slow Down to Speed Up. In the early 90s, we were looking at developing what was called an Executive Assessment Center. So there, we were going to hire someone to do these battery of assessments for people that we had identified as high potentials to determine how their skills could be assessed. So they took online assessments. They did in-basket exercises, as they call them. They had to stand up and do presentations, and so on and so forth. And admittedly, I was one of the few women that had ever been to one of these Executive Assessment Centers because there weren't that many of us in the early 90s. And so I get through with all of my three days of this battery of tests, and so on, and the person who's debriefing me on what they learned about me and things that I could do better, was that I needed to slow down to speed up. I have to tell you. I just laughed. I mean, I'm like, "Do you know what you're talking about? Do you realize what you're saying? I'm a working woman. I'm a working mother. I travel 75% of the time. You know, I am engaged in involved in my son's life... " And all of those kinds of things. So it didn't even... It was beyond my comprehension that I needed to slow down. And so you know, I'll offer something to you that I do write about in the book about this slowing down to speed up. And it's that women, as well as men, this is true for all of us...  are running, running, running all day long. And I know the listeners right now can relate to that. I often think about it as jumping from really one gerbil wheel to the next gerbil wheel. Right? I'm just running as fast as I can. And then I don't even take a breath before I jump right on to the next gerbil wheel. And so we go on this automatic pilot and try to get it all done. We got to get everything checked off the to do list. And because we're always running, we don't always do our best work. You know, we prided ourselves on being awesome multitasking women. And these these, again, current articles, current research is telling us that even the thought, or the desire to multitask is teaching us Adult Attention Deficit Disorder because we're skimming the surface on everything and going deep on nothing. So we just flip, flip, flip from one thing to the other. Never really getting centered or focused on what we're trying to accomplish.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:05  
Wow. Well, I see this playing out in my life right now. Like, even when I sit down to read a book or a magazine article, you know, a piece of research, an email... I'm scanning. I've found myself doing this more and more. And I, you know, I know you've studied this Myth of Multitasking for a few years. Do you have any favorite resources that you could point our listeners to for some of that latest research where they can read this for themselves?

Marsha Clark  13:38  
Absolutely. And I and I want to encourage our listeners to do that. Because you can just say, "Well, that's not my reality." And I just want to say, "What else could be true?" Right? Because there are other possibilities. So there's some, a few excellent resources out there. And I'll offer a couple that is, I think, are the easiest to read that post together quite a bit of the latest research. And there's a place called Rescue Time - And it's a blog and they have other tools on the site. But the blog has some really great articles as a starting point. And one of the blog articles was written by Jory MacKay, and it's from January of 2019 -  - so pretty recent research around this. And it has some really fascinating data that he's pulled from a whole wide variety of research sources and trying to give us sort of the essence of multitasking. And he shares that the price for multitasking is higher than we might expect. And so here's a couple of those things that are from his article. So one is that multitasking impacts your short term memory. And there was a 2011 research study from the University of California San Francisco that found that multitasking negatively impacts your working memory. And that's, you know, he refers to it as the brain's scratchpad, which is what we use to manage and focus on key information. So it negatively impacts that working memory. A second thing he notes is that multitasking leads to increased anxiety. And I think we all know and recognize that. And so neuroscientists say that the multitasking literally drains your mind energy reserves, and actually causes you to lose focus and become more anxious. Because as we lose focus, we're afraid we're going to miss something, right. And then we go into overdrive, hyper-drive about all of that. And then the third that I'll share with you is that multitasking inhibits creative thinking. And that the added anxiety and the lack of that brain space that's caused by us multitasking all the time, can cause us to lose our ability to think outside the box, you know, that, you know, traditional definition of creativity. And that to be creative, our mind needs space, to to either digest all the input that's coming in, make sense of it, or even and then next to incubate any new ideas that might come along.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:10  
Yeah, I can definitely remember feeling those times when I felt all of these things. And I just want to layer in also, again, how much technology and social media is driving this. also. Like the that impetus or that that "itch" to pick up the phone. Check Instagram. Check LinkedIn. Get that dopamine hit of feedback because it's, it's something it's a... again, I'm going to use the word itch. Like an itch that you feel like you need to scratch.

Marsha Clark  16:45  
Well, and it's Pavlov's dog, we hear that "ding." And we automatically pick up the device. And I agree, I mean, how many social media outlets do I need to be on? Right? I could spend all day doing nothing but that and that's not really what I want to do.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:00  
Right. Right. And now I'm layering that social media and that phone aspect in with the idea of multitasking, though. I don't want to start going down the rabbit hole of social media and my opinions on all of that. But that component of our day seems to be the, "Okay, I'm doing this. And I'm also looking at my phone." seems to be such a huge part of our lives now.

Marsha Clark  17:26  
Yeah, it is. And it's fascinating to think we've been telling ourselves all this time how productive and responsible we're being with all the multitasking and all the while that may be having exactly the opposite effect.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:39  
Exactly. I mean, you mentioned earlier about multitasking. Knocking you out of the flow or the zone, and I feel that I almost every day of my life.

Marsha Clark  17:49  
Yeah. Yeah. So there's, that's another example of how the research, you know, reinforces the negative impact. Right? That in one of these articles, he explains it, and I want to read this to you. "Flow is the state of mind where we're so focused on a task that our productivity skyrockets. And in one example, executives said they were 500% more productive while in flow." Now just think about that. Oh, my gosh! And however, flow requires sustained effort and focus. Something multitasking gets in the way of. So I mean, isn't that obvious to us? I mean, once I see this in writing, and I go, "Well, of course, if I'm trying to do 17 things, I can't focus on this one thing and give it my all." And so before we move into some suggestions for, you know, how to manage this deeply ingrained habit of multitasking, there is one more piece of research that I think is really intriguing that we need to pay attention to. So, Jory shares that there have been multiple studies where they have discovered, and I want you to get this, that multitasking causes people to take longer to do simple tasks. It drops your IQ by an average of 10 points. And can even have the same negative impact as losing a night's sleep. Now, those are big prices to pay. You know, things that would take me five seconds now take me a minute. And I know that doesn't sound like much, and yet you multiply that over and over and over again. Or it drops my IQ by 10 points. Oh my gosh! It dumbs me down. Right? I mean, that's the way I think about that in lay terms. And, and, you know, we all know that our lack of sleep and sleep deprivation is one of the things that haunts women because we're the most sleep deprived group on the planet. And yet this has the same impact as losing sleep. So I think it's really important we understand this.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  19:51  
Yeah. Well, clearly, that splitting of our focus and attention is very costly, both to our productivity and to our well being. So what tools or processes do you recommend for our listeners who want to slow down to speed up?

Marsha Clark  20:09  
Yeah, so the slowing down is a tool right in and of itself. Recognizing, "Okay, take a breath. Slow down. Get clear. Get centered." You know? But just being deliberate and recognizing the price that we're paying for all of this, you know, adult hyperactivity is the first step. You've got to buy into it and acknowledge that it's real. And, you know, again, I'll quote from my book that, "We seem to sometimes be more focused on just getting everything done on our to do list, rather than working on the most important tasks that really are going to make a difference." Right? If we don't slow down, how do we get clear? And if we're not clear, how do we know what to work on? So rather than managing our to do list and our goal every single day is check it off, check it off, check it off. You know, stopping for a moment and saying, "Really? On this list, what are the things I really need to do the most?" So this whole idea of prioritization is important. And we talked about that some on our "Superwoman - To Be or Not To Be" episode. And we'll talk about that more when we consider what it means and what it takes to set good boundaries. And so I agree with the experts on all of this. That they're all really consistent in their suggestions. So first, start with your calendar. Take a few precious moments on a Friday and check your calendar for the next week and ensure that that your schedule truly reflects the highest priority work. You know, I say this all the time, if you really want to know what's important to someone, look at their calendar and look at their checkbook. How do they spend their time, and how do they spend their money? And so I like what Jory says and that is, "Your daily schedule is your map for the day. It tells you what your intentions are, and it holds you accountable to them. It's also your first line of defense against multitasking." So I agree with the idea of scheduling really non-negotiable time for focused work time. When you want to create that specific block of time dedicated to staying totally on task, and holding your attention to one very specific project. And you can set the duration. You know? But when you set it, live by it. Commit to it. You know? You're solving really two things at once here. You're knocking out that prime quality work that you get when you can focus, and then you're also building a new habit and a mental muscle, you know, for being ]and staying focused. And I'll tell you about one of my clients. There was a book called "Deep Work." And they made the door hangers that people could put on their offices. Or they could pin up on their cubicle walls. And it would say, "I'm doing deep work." And so they introduce that as a way of everyone honoring that person's focused moments. And so whether you know, if you're working in a cubicle area that could put on their headphones and block everybody out with heads down. Or, you know, head to screen or whatever. Or, be in an office and people knew not to go knock on that door. And they could turn, you know, "Do Not Disturb" on their phones. And, you know, quiet their laptops or whatever. And so there are structures we can put in place in that way to think about not only helping ourselves to set aside time for deep work, but also letting others know that that's where we are.

Yeah, and I think it's also a habit of you controlling your calendar. I mean, and I know there are a lot of women listening here that are like... You don't understand. I work at, you know, XYZ and they booked me from..." That's the one thing that I think companies have gotten better at is not booking back to back to back to back to back meetings. I mean, they just have to recognize that you have to have space to get away from that. And, so I'm going to offer to the listeners something that I do which is, if I have a meeting, I book 30 minutes before it and 30 minutes after it also blocked out on my calendar so that I can prepare myself for the next thing that's about to happen. And then also do that 360 review of what just happened and get ready for the next thing that's going to happen. So just giving things some space helps you you know, get focused on what... On being "All In."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:27  
Yeah! Well, I I love that as a as a strategy. You can also set 15 minute meetings rather than one hour meetings. Where you have control of those things, take it. Take it and make it work for you.

Yep. So what other strategies do you recommend for our listeners who are trying to break this multitasking, panic-filled-day habit?

Marsha Clark  24:59  
Right Right. So a couple more. So they're both about managing distractions. So, as you talked about our virtual environments that so many of us have been working in, you know, has really compounded this problem. I mean, it's just made it, you know, off the charts. But it applies to us even when we're face to face with people. So it can work for both. We have multiple distractions trying to compete for our attention. So here's some examples. We have dual monitors that you said one or two other digital devices that are running or near us as we try to work. The instant messaging, email, video conferencing... and if we can manage to turn our cameras and microphones off, maybe we even tried to sneak in some work while we're attending our, you know, the fifth virtual meeting of the day. So those are all the things that we again, we need to manage. And you know, in converting a lot of my in-person classes to virtual classes, I can, you can just tell, you know, even having to ask people to turn on their cameras, because that requires them to be a bit more engaged, rather than sneaking around doing all the other things. But but some people are offended by that. So I mean, it's fascinating to me how quickly we can get into protecting our multitasking distractions versus protecting our focus time.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:19  
That's a very interesting way of looking at it. Yeah, I, you know, some of our listeners might be like me who aren't working virtually, or remotely, you know, 100% of the time.  You know, I'm kind of like 75/25, and we still find ourselves pulled out of that present moment in whatever conversation we're supposed to be paying attention to, and drawn into another time and space by whatever electronic gadget is buzzing lighting up. You know? Waving at us. Screaming at us. And even if we're not distracted by the IMs and the emails popping up, we're back to the 100 undone ToDos that are floating around in our brains.

Marsha Clark  27:04  
Well, that's right. That's right. And so I want to, I want all of our listeners to think about making their own list of what their distractions are. Because then, if you make that list, now you can start taking care of it. Right? So put your phone in another room. Put your phone on "Do Not Disturb." Put your... You know, turn off that second monito. Whatever it may be. So for the actual physical distractions, we got to be deliberate and we got to be committed to actually, I'll go back to, protecting our focus time. So start training yourself. First, you're the one person over which you have total control. And then, but also share with your team and your boss, your roommates, your family, and you know, even customers and clients, that talk to them about, "I want to ensure that I'm doing my best work. And what I know about doing my best work is about dedicating blocks of my calendar to specific focused time." And so it's not because I'm being selfish, or because I'm playing video games, or because I'm doing any of that. I want to make sure that when I'm doing work for my company and my customer, or when I'm supporting my family in whatever way, that I want to give it my very best. So let them know, you know, set set blocks of time on your calendar that says, you know, "I'm going to be responding to emails or IMs or whatever, between these amounts of time. Between 11 and two, I'm going to be doing some of that deep work. So you know, recognize that that's what I'm doing at that time." And, you know, if you can, you know, choose your time to block meetings and that sort of thing. Let your team know that. That we're going to do meetings between 2pm and 5pm every day. And the mornings are going to be spent doing, you know, the keeping the emails and things flowing as well as doing some focused work. So, you know, and then again, looking at your workspace to say, "How can my physical structures help me with the communication I'm having to let people know what I'm doing and why."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  29:16  
Yeah. I love the idea of a future podcast episode on workspace layout and minimizing distractions. And then also I want to add in, because as I said earlier, before in a previous podcast, I'm an aesthetic, an aesthete. I have to have that, you know, feedback that makes me feel... by the visual things that I see in my space that makes me feel productive, energized, ready to go.

Marsha Clark  29:45  
Yeah, well, you know, we talked about quotes, "I'm a woman. What's your superpower?" I mean, that helped... That's one of those things that I too see every single day. And you know, sometimes that can just become background and we don't pay attention to it. But I'm very intentional about okay, "What kind of, you know, superpowers as a woman, do I want to, you know, display today? Or exert today?" And so I think we... I love... We want to have the kind of workspace that inspires us, that motivates us that, you know, keeps us focused when we need to be focused, and you know, all that that a day may bring. And so I love would love doing a future podcast on that that would be fun.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:24  
Yeah, it would. So that brings us to our last process and tool for being fully present and focused. The "Check In." Tell us about this.

Marsha Clark  30:35  
Yeah, the "Check In" to be "I'm In!" Yes, that so one of my favorites. And so Check In...  The way it works is that it can be done in a variety of ways. And it's used as both an individual process for me, as well as a group process. So if I'm leading a team or a group of people, and at its core, it's, it's a deliberate slowing down to, quote unquote, "Check In" in the present moment, as fully as possible with what's going on both inside myself and outside with whatever is going on around me. So it's taking all those swirls, and just getting in touch with those. So we use check in, in our leadership programs, and with our teams, primarily as a way to kick-off our sessions or meetings or whatever. Not our 10-minute checkpoint meetings, but you know, longer meetings. And the intention is to invite everyone to check in with the group in a way that helps them really commit to being fully present with the meeting. And what we find is, you know, and I'm guilty of this, too, is that people often attend meetings, but they're not really attending them. I mean, they're physically present. But that's about all. And so when they show up physically, but were not there in other ways. And you know, one other side benefit I want to speak about as it relates to check ins is, if I am truly trying to create an inclusive environment, I want to hear from everybody. Right? So I want to hear everybody's voice or story or perspective. And so, research has shown us that once I speak up once, I'm more likely to speak up again. So just by getting my voice into the room will increase the likelihood of me me contributing to the subsequent conversations that occur.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:35  
Yes. Well, I love that. I mean, I love Well, you know, that's one of my underlying premises with my business is "getting women's voices into the room." And it requires them to be not only showing up physically, but to be fully there. And "IN." You know, we've all been in the situation where we're running from meeting to meeting the unfinished ToDos from the first meeting are still on the new list of ToDos from the last one. And then there's lunch, and then that "I haven't eaten yet, and it's three o'clock." Like all those things.

Marsha Clark  33:14  
Well, I will tell you. I had women tell me... This is the real truth. That before they go home at six o'clock, at the end of the day, they go, "Well, I haven't been to the bathroom all day. I guess I need to go the bathroom before I get in the car." I mean, that's how crazy all this is. And so I mean, it is. The gerbil wheels are spinning, and we're right there on them.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:36  
Yeah, yeah. So... Well, which reminds me, "You need to stop by the store and pick up snacks for.... "

Marsha Clark  33:44  
Right, right, right! All of that. All the things. Yeah. So it really is a perfect storm of, you know, when all the parts of our lives, all the roles that we play, come come together. And so this Check In is a process for helping us to do that. Slow down. Checking in long enough to find a way to let it go of, you know, things that are not required or helpful in this moment. You know what I mean? It's like little Johnny's got a spelling test at 10 o'clock, but you can't help him at 10 o'clock. You worked with him last night, so come to this 10 o'clock meeting and be here, kind of thing. And, you know, doing what I can do to make sure that that's true for me. And you know, what's powerful, sort of power tool/ powerful, is when a team, or you know, a partnership has created this culture where Check In is a natural part of doing business. So it's like what we do with our teams and our programs. And I've had many women say I've started this with my team and oh my gosh! My team has built this culture of really honoring and respecting that everybody's got a story outside of the work place. You know? Kind of thing that stuff is going on in all of our lives. And you know, we don't start the work until we have this Check In because understand that in that first few minutes, and you know, maybe it's depending on the number of people, you can put whatever time against it that you will. But you know, I'm allowing people to free their brains of all that extraneous stuff that is not useful for them to be in this moment. Because here's the phrase... We cannot focus on our business, or B, U S I N E S S, because we aren't dealing well with our busyness, which is B U S Y N E S S. And so just the difference there can make all the difference.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  35:37  
So what does this process for checking in look like?

Marsha Clark  35:42  
Yeah, so there's a couple of what we call, you know, guidelines that that we encourage people to follow. And one is that everyone in the group or meeting is invited to Check In. And it's not mandatory. So we're not going to force you to talk if you're really not ready to talk. And people can pass. And the only thing I ask is that when people pass I asked them, "Do you want us to come back to you? Are you passing temporarily? Or are you passing, you know, the process entirely?" So the other key thing is that when a person is checking in, when I am talking, when you are talking, everyone else is listening silently. We don't interrupt. We don't add commentary. We don't ask questions. We don't offer help. We listen, quietly and intently.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:30  
That can be so hard for women, because I mean, not the interrupting part. But the urge to try to fix it. If Sally is sharing something that might be a little bit painful or difficult, or, you know, "I can't do this because I didn't get the form from John by 5pm yesterday... " Whatever. Like. your instant reaction is trying to say, "Oh, well, I have the form from John. I can give it to you after the meeting." And so that can be difficult.

Marsha Clark  37:01  
It is difficult. And you know, and I will tell you, because as you do more and more of these, like for the long term programs that I have check ins, in the beginning are pretty short check ins. In the end, it could take all day. I mean, they really could. And there are moments when I want to go put my arms around them and give them a hug. And that's about me. It's not about them, but and I have to you know, manage myself differently. So you know, the temptation to commiserate, or problem solve, or rescue, they're really strong. And, you know, again, if I, if I relate to the woman story, or the person story, it, it's even stronger. So once you fully checked in... Now, admittedly, immediately following check in, you can go say, "What can I do to support you?" Or, "Let's sit together at lunch and let's talk about this because I've had a similar experience. And I you know, if you're open, I'd love to share with you some things that I learned in going through this process." So, but really as much as possible, the process of checking in itself is a solo, if you will, act. An individual's sort of emptying process and letting it go. I'm setting it down. I'm setting it aside so that I can deal with the relevant task at hand.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  38:11  
Yeah, yeah, one of the things that I really like about this process is that everyone attending the meetings gets a chance to check in one by one. Now, I'm sure it's a little different in virtual environments. But when you've been face to face, in, especially in groups with just a few people, you use a very specific tool to manage the flow of these check in. So what is that tool? And what's the purpose of it?

Marsha Clark  38:39  
Yeah, you're right, Wendi. That's what we do. So when we meet in person, in all of the women's programs that we do, we use a glass heart. That's when I did the programs here in the U.S. We've used different things. When I was in the Philippines, we used a shell, a beautiful shell from one of their beaches. So, you know, different groups have different totems as they're often called. And so the reason that I chose the heart and whatever totem or token you choose. It's in my case with the heart. It's representing that we invite you to speak from your heart, and that when you're holding the heart, the floor is yours. We're listening intently. And we're listening to another story in a very heartfelt way. So we're hearing the tone. We're hearing the emotion. We're hearing the quiet or the loud or the happy or the sad or the disappointed or the broken. All of those things in heartfelt ways. And, and I know you know, there are other groups that use other items to you know, signify who has the board that you know... You can toss the cush ball around, or other kinds of team mementos and but it's really about creating a tone and a safe space for encouraging people to open up to empty out if you will, the stuff that they're, you know, dragging into the room, and that might get in the way of them contributing their best thinking and work, or helping achieve the group's objectives. And you know, sometimes there's some take a lighter note to all of this, and that's okay. And then, quite honestly, there are lighter notes some days, but there are more serious notes other days. So, you know, all of that sets the tone. And, you know, one of my this favorite tool that we use during a program where I really learned the concept of this check in and the totem is... We did it in partnership with Peter Senge Fred Kofman, and they were from MIT's Organizational Learning Center. And that was back when I was in, in EDS. And one of the things that they used instead of a heart was they used a Native American talking stick to represent both the reverence of the speaker space. And it was a another beautiful way of honoring the tradition of the talking stick and the process of check in.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  41:00  
Yeah, I appreciated the ceremonial aspect of passing that glass heart, like you said. That and I can feel it in my hand, again, from one person to another, as we checked in before workshop sessions. And I guess for virtual teams, they can get just as creative and use something fun or meaningful for passing around the Zoom squares.

Marsha Clark  41:23  
Yeah, if anybody has ideas about that, I'd love to hear it. Because I wish there was, you know, I mean, it's kind of like I want each one of them to, you know, have they have those emojis at the bottom of a lot of the, you know, virtual platforms is. Here's the heart and this person's talking, and then she turns her heart off. And then I would if anybody has ideas about that, I'd love to hear them. But you know, one of the other things that I will tell you that women have spoken about, because we've used the very same heart in our power of self program for many years now, when they hold that heart in the hand in their hands. It's not just absorbed the energy of the women in their circle, their class circle. It's absorbing the energy of all the women who have come before them. And there's something powerful even in that you feel a connection that's broad and deep. And so I just wanted to add that as a part of the beauty of this, this heart that we use. And so, you know, use what works for you. The heart is I'm a heart person. You'll come into my house or any place that I got hearts everywhere. So that's what that's a part of what's important to me and what it represents, and find that thing for you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  42:36  
Right? Well, we talked about using music as a power tool in our last episode. And I remember there were times when you use music before our check ins, what's the intention behind that?

Marsha Clark  42:50  
Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, too, because there are a couple of different ways that we've used music. And, you know, one was very intentional, where, you know, the the staff or the planning team, you know, we had some sort of theme or tone that we wanted to set up for the day. So it could have been upbeat, or it could have been, you know, very topic specific. And so we would select a song with, you know, whether it be targeted lyrics, or, you know, something to help create the space for the conversation we were going to be having. And, you know, other times, we would ask that question as a prompt that came from the lyrics and other times, we would just simply play the song. So I've even played very quiet music with no lyrics because I wanted, you know. Let's just say that people came in, and there have been a lot of things going on in the world. And we just needed a moment to just breathe. Right? Just let that more soothing, soft music, just bring us, you know, out of the craziness, the chaos and so on, just to have that as a moment to let those then check ins flow, you know, more organically and from the heart. Now, I will tell you that one of my favorite check in songs, and this is usually comes early in our programs, is from a woman named Jana Stanfield. And you know, think about your first day in this program, and you're hearing that, you know, you're going to be doing things that you typically don't do. And this is not your Daddy's Leadership Program and all that kind of stuff. And so the song that we play is "I'm Not Lost. I am Exploring." And so thinking about all the women that come into the program going, you know, "Where am I going? Where's my career going? How do I work on this?" This is, you know, "What is this issue? And how am I ever going to make my way through it?" We're just going to explore if you think about this learning experience is just an exploration and a journey in that way. There's nothing wrong with this. We're just we're not lost. We're just we're finding our way. But but it's not because we're lost. It's we want to set a more intentional path. So it's, again, just an example of how we use music. And, you know, we've we've used lots of different kinds of music, and it all works just I recommend to our leaders that they be very thoughtful about it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:56  
Yep. And it's another one of those trust the process moments, right? When you're checking in and the universe is just delivering exactly what we all need...

Marsha Clark  45:09  
Well, it is it is. Because how many meetings do you come into where they're playing music?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  45:17  
And believe me, as we've been talking, I've been thinking about, hmm, what is the VP at IBM thinking about this right now?

Marsha Clark  45:25  
Right. Right. And yeah, I will tell you, we did this at EDS. I mean, you know, you can't blast it so that it's interrupting people's focus time. Right? But I mean, you can use music and it and it gets people's energy hoppin, and all those kinds of things. Whether you're at break... we used to do that, too, is play music at the break. But anyway, so I want to offer one other thing. And I always read this because this is, to me, a really important concept. It gets back to the slow down to speed up. It gets to the gerbil wheel madness and all of that kind of thing. And this was given to me by one of the women in our second Power Of Self program. And, you know, our listeners now know that we give shout outs to all the people that have contributed to the to the works, right. So this was by Mira Keta Gordon. And she shared this story, because we had taught check in and she brought this in, because she thought it was such a beautiful representation of it. And it's a Tallis story from Tuan Tsu. And please, I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly. But here's here's the story. Long ago, there was a man who was afraid of his own shadow and hated his footprints. He tried to avoid his shadow and his footprints by running away. But no matter how fast he ran, his shadow always kept pace. And his footprints were always there. Thinking that he was running too slowly, he ran faster and faster, until he was exhausted and fell down dead. He didn't understand that had he relaxed in the shade, he would have rid himself of his shadow. And by resting in quietude, he would have ended his footprints. So just think about that, how do we create that resting and quietude moment? Where the shadows and the footprints are no longer so present for us that we think we just have to run faster....

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  47:30  
Yeah, exactly. I mean, it's the process of getting of getting people to quiet their minds and get focused.

Marsha Clark  47:37  
Yes. Yeah. So people who know me know that the Eagles are one of my favorite groups, and they have a song Learn To Be Still. And that's the other, you know, music that speaks to me on this topic is we have to learn to sit and be still with ourselves.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  47:52  
Yep, yep. So what else is involved in the check in process that helps people quiet their minds and get focused?

Marsha Clark  47:59  
Yeah. So a pretty standard step in the process. There's variations on it, of course, but really three basic elements, and we've covered two of them, but invite everyone to check in, and people can pass. So that's number one. Everyone else is silent, while the person who is speaking and you know, who's checking in, they have the floor. And then this third one is one of the ways that we know a person is finished, right checking in, is we ask them to say I'm in because we don't want to cut them off. Just because I stopped to ponder a point or, you know, even asked myself internally, should I say this? Or should I not, you know, we can, we can cut them off, and it breaks the moment. And so no one, you know, can speak until the person has said, I'm in and now we know they're finished. And you know, what the rest of the group does is to say, welcome, we welcome you into this circle, we welcome you into this space. And it seems sort of overly simplistic, but this act of saying I'm in is really another way to, for me to experience the the commitment to the group of truly being in, you know, to set aside all that both internal noise and the external distractions, and really focus on what we're trying to accomplish at hand. And the group's collective response of welcome is a tacit acknowledgement and agreement that you know, to one another and that everyone is welcomed and accepted and and it's desirable to have them be in and a part of the circle. Oh, you know, all the baggage and all if you will, the story and all whatever it might be, and this It expresses this sentiment of I see you and I hear you and for so many in their lives that that's not an experience we have nearly enough. We get we get, you know, diminished. We get you know, denied we were talked over all of those kinds of things. This is our moment to truly be respected, seen and heard. And that's what a lot of us are longing for is just... Hear me. Just see me. And value me in this moment.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  50:10  
Right. I'm remembering the times there that there were times when people would pass during the first round of checking in and for so for our listeners, we often sit in a large circle to start start each day of our sessions. And one person would volunteer to start the check in and grab the heart, then the heart would move around the circle from person to person. And there were times when some of the people would get the heart passed to them. And they just quickly say, simply, I'm in without saying anything else, or they say something really short, like, I'm tired, I'm really tired, I'm really, really tired, but I'm in or they would say, pass and hammerheart to the next person. And I'm going to be honest, it took me a while to be okay with all of that, because I really wanted to hear what was going on behind all of the tiredness and the passing.

Marsha Clark  51:11  
Yeah, I agree with you, because I'm a relator. Right? So I am all about connecting with the other person. And so it's hard for me. And here's what I've learned in doing this for so many years. And using this process, everybody's going to get comfortable in the group to feel safe to share at their own pace. And if I tried to rush that, it really slows it down. It doesn't, it doesn't make it safer, it makes it less safe. And that, you know that that's the thing that I had to learn is that just respect that they'll do this at their own pace. And you know, there's always a moment in the program where that person who the first three or four or five times says I pass or just says I'm in, when they begin to start opening up a little bit, you know that their time has come right? That they're now getting that this is truly a safe space, that people are not going to judge me or asked me or exclude me, or criticize me, because I'm sharing a story that is very deep inside of me. And it's a moment it as hard as the moments are to let it pass when they say I'm in or I pass the payoff, if you will we talk about trade offs and payoffs. The payoff for letting them do that at their own pace is extraordinary. So So I just want to say yes, it's a trust the process, but it took it took me a while to do to get past the but but but aren't you going to tell us more or you know, but that's not this is not the time and place for that. Let them do it on their terms and on their own pace.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  52:50  
Right, that it's so true. I mean, there were definitely times when people would pass early on, and then end up asking for the heart later, either later in that check in or later in the day that they would eventually say what had been bothering or distracting them.

Marsha Clark  53:07  
It happens more times than you might imagine. And, and so like you said, if we came in, and we did check in first thing in the morning, it could be two o'clock in the afternoon. And and we're having a discussion about some topic. And then a person says, you know, this is why I just passed this morning, right? Because this was the topic and it was deep and it was painful. And it was you know, and and then it's time and and what's beautiful about this is because we checked in and because we had that history and culture of checking in. We stopped what we were doing and honored that moment. And so the checking could come in at two o'clock in the afternoon. Not at you know, 8:30 in the morning.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  53:48  
Right? Well, our listeners may be wondering about how you do this with a large group. We had 20 plus people in our group, and we checked in every morning before class. But there were all there were other days, you know, where the check in took a lot of time. So how can you manage that time so that it doesn't take 45 minutes to check in? For a meeting that was booked for 15 minutes?

Marsha Clark  54:17  
Right? So here's what I'll tell you, when you first start using check in check ins will be shorter. As you go through and you create a check in culture, they're going to take longer plan accordingly. But like I said, you don't necessarily have to check in full blown if you're going to have an hour meeting. But what one of the things that that we can often do is, you know, five to seven words, three to five words. You know, what are the three words that you're thinking are failing as you walk into the room today? And they say three words and then they say I'm in and we pass. So in a three day session, just practically speaking if I'm doing a three day two Session day one is I give it a lot more time. Because it's been weeks since we've seen each other, we got to bring people up to speed. But on days two and three, we go a little faster. It could be what stood out for you from yesterday, or it could be what you think about after you left the session yesterday. And so we we give them the prompt questions. And so if you're trying to manage abbreviated time, it's okay to put boundaries around that three to five words, you know, one thought, one breath, whatever it might be so, and you can again, mix up that approach, because you don't want it to always be abbreviated. Because you do want to create the space that says we do get to have some of those deep conversations every now and then. But I would just know that when I have the benefit of the time to do it well is when I want to set that aside. And if it's a particularly important meeting, if it's a particularly fraught with dissension or conflict or, you know, craziness kind of meeting I want to give, I want to give that time on the front end, because it's going to help the meeting go better.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  56:05  
Right? Well, this reminds me of one of the other hints that you give at the beginning of check in. At least during the first few check ins as the team is learning how to do them, you remind everyone to listen fully to the other speakers and not to spend the whole time thinking about or worrying about what you're going to say when it's finally your turn. I mean, it took me a while to get used to that, because I would catch myself getting caught up in how someone's story related to my own or another situation I dealt with that week. And then I realized I'd stop listening. And I'm now in my own head and running around in that landscape. So it's really an amazing habit to learn how to turn down the volume of your own internal dialogue, and just listen, soak up what the other person is saying. And not try to fix it, or have an action about it or have an emotion about it, it's really hard to stay focused on that other person and not practice in your mind. You know, these reactions or practice in your mind what you're gonna say, when you have the heart?

Marsha Clark  57:15  
Well, it is a hard habit and you're in what you're describing is your experience. I think it's a very familiar one. And I'll guarantee you that, you know, when you learn to be fully present, the whole world opens up, right? The connections you make with that person are much deeper, because you're really listening. And again, that's why we use the heart is to speak from the heart and listen in a heartfelt way. And so what I will tell you is that I've had people say, Oh, it's really hard to follow that one, when someone said something that was very compelling, or very deep or whatever. And it's not a contest. It's not as my story better than yours. It's not is your life harder than mine. It's not is my life more chaotic than yours. This is what we talk about authentic all the time, right? This is our best authentic leadership, powerful self. And so the authenticity of this is what comes. So when you begin to listen so intently, it gets to you, and you say, oh, you know, and yet, in those moments of the unrehearsed are unprepared, is when we can most often speak from the heart, because we're not in our heads, we are in our hearts. So I just say, practice, practice, practice with that because it will come and the payoffs will be tremendous.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  58:40  
Yeah. I mean, it's that gift of being truly attentive and fully present and committing to be in with other people. Yeah. I mean, we have covered a lot of territory today. So what would you say are the key highlights you want to make sure our listeners capture from this episode?

Marsha Clark  59:02  
Well, remember that the title of this is "I'm In" so you know, that's the that's the big headline. So the first thing that I would like to offer is that multitasking is a myth that it's hard to be fully in when you're trying to do 17 things at one time. Our brains are not computers, and they don't, biologically physiologically allow us to multitask. They our brains can split focus and switch back and forth between tasks. And especially on those tasks that use the same cognitive processes are parts of our brain, we can't overload that it can only do one thing. The second takeaway that I want you to remember is that multitasking is actually counterproductive. That it's costly and it keeps us from getting into the flow or the zone, therefore preventing us from being our most innovative, creative, you know, productive selves. The third is to go slow to go fast by being really deliberate about where you're splitting your focus, and making sure that part of that slow down is "Stop. Breathe. Center. Get clear. Get intentional and recognize where you need to put your focus." So that you can produce your, your your good work, and that your calendar reflects that. And then the fourth is practice slowing down and getting more deliberate in your meetings using a process like check in, that can help people let go of what's unhelpful or not helpful to them. And really tune in to being in the here and now. You know, Wendi, you and I went to a class a week ago that was a new word that was made into her. Am I "presencing?" Right? So I mean, just the whole idea of it being a concept, a word, a verb, a state of mind, and that's what this can bring to us.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:00:56  
Mm hmm. presencing. That's going to be a huge. I think that word kind of wraps up everything that we talked about in this episode. I mean, Marsha, thank you for reminding me yet again. Because I need it seems almost a constant reminder to slow down to speed up and be more deliberate about how I use my time how to focus more on what really matters.

Marsha Clark  1:01:19  
Yeah, it really is my pleasure to explore, you know, these topics and all the ones that we bring to our listeners. And, you know, we try to break it down and have a real life, familiar situation with some real research and tools that help us think differently, and therefore do differently as we learn more. And, you know, it's such an important reminder, with all the craziness of our one more, one more, one more, one more thing. And, and I hope that we can jump off those gerbil wheels and start managing our lives and managing our calendars, rather than letting everything and everyone else, you know, direct or drive us in that way. And, you know, I too, have to remember and remind myself every day to check in with me and to check in with the world and my staff and my clients and so on and so, so forth. So, as we wrap up this, the content of this this podcast, I'll just say, I'M IN!

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:02:16  
AHHH! Well, I'M IN, too! So welcome everyone else who's in! Thank you all for being IN with us today and joining us on our journey of authentic powerful leadership. We invite you to download, subscribe, and share "Your Authentic Path To Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark on iTunes, Google Spotify, wherever you like to listen. Pease visit Marsha's website at for links to all the tools, resources, her email list, her social media... everywhere you can stay up to date with Marsha and everything going on with her world. And her book, "Embracing Your Power!"

Marsha Clark  1:03:05  
Well, and I just want to remind our listeners to we want to hear your stories. So please share, if you've tried some of these tools. And all of a sudden things are whether it's better or worse or whatever. If they're not working for you, let's have a conversation. If they are working for you, please share the the experiences because we want to help women know that these are possibilities because we just that self talk inside of us is off and I could never do that. Or I could never use that or that would never work in my team. I just want to challenge your thinking on that and say it has worked in a lot of places you wouldn't think it would work. And I can tell you that from a personal standpoint, and from many clients standpoint. So I do want to hear from you so so please share with us your stories. And as always, thank you for joining us today and we hope you'll be back together with us next week. And here's to women supporting women!

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