Scheduled for success
Without doubt one of Australia’s most in-demand workplace productivity experts.
As the Director of pac executive coaching, Cholena leads a team of coaches and Human Capital specialists who consult to an impressive list of leading executives and corporate companies globally. Cholena offers 20 years’ experience of building recruitment businesses and is also a regular contributor to business journals such as The CEO Magazine, GQ Magazine, Business Woman’s Media, Business Insider, Kochie’s Business Builders and Business Chicks.
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
I come from an extensive background in HR, with 20 years of experience in the industry. From humble beginnings, starting my career as a receptionist in a government department in Queensland, over the years I have transitioned from building businesses and recruitment businesses into coaching. I am passionate about assisting others with developing their careers and helping people to achieve more out of each and every day.
I was after a change. I had spent 20 years working in the same industry and it had started to become a pattern of repetitive behaviour, nothing was new or challenging. I decided to move from Queensland to Sydney and then from Sydney to Melbourne however something was still missing, physically moving locations was not enough. I came to realise that I didn’t love recruitment itself. I enjoyed the people aspect of it, as well as the sales aspect of it but I realised what was missing for me was the ability in that position to truly help people. After reflecting on what was lacking in my current career I came to realise that it was the coaching aspect of the industry which I truly enjoyed. I had been coaching in some capacity for just over 5 years at this stage whilst still working in recruitment and decided that I wanted to focus solely on it.
At the time I was working for Mercer, a consulting company, I ran their recruitment business which incorporated running certain internal training and talent programs as well as coaching frontline leaders. There were clients who requested that I provide coaching for their staff and for themselves, so I had been building and utilising the very skills required for coaching whilst in this position.
I was very fortunate that the perfect opportunity presented itself for me to make this move. The company at which I was working at the time acquired a business, Primary Asset Consulting, which had specialised in coaching for almost 11 years. As the CEO at the time I was able to transition into the newly acquired business and into the realm of coaching. While I say it was fortunate that the opportunity arose, when I look back it was really one of those opportunities that you start to create quite deliberately for yourself.
I have had some great mentors and coaches myself over the course of my career, I have always believed that your career is built on the shoulders of the people who come before you. To this day I am still in contact with those who have mentored me in the past and I still thank them regularly for the lessons they have taught me and the tools that they have equipped me with.
The first thing I did when I took over the coaching team was to conduct research into workplace productivity, based on a comprehensive survey completed by close to 1,700 people. From the beginning, I wanted to have a clear understanding of the concept of productivity itself and how different people experience it, to have a clear view of the market and to ensure that the coaching program I had developed over the last 11 years was still current and relevant. The research and results have attracted significant publicity but they have also been incorporated into our coaching programs, the results were used not only to update the content of the existing program but to also include new strategies that we have identified as a result. I recognised the potential value of the data we had collected and provided it to Curtin University where it has aided a study commissioned by one of the major banks centred around what makes managers happy in the workplace. The research has also aided me in developing priceless relationships with industry bodies and universities who work in this space, both here and overseas.
The articles that I have written on productivity and unproductive habits based on the results of the research we conducted have been published in a number of publications including CEO Magazine, which I have become a regular contributor of for the past 12 months. They have also been included in other publications which have required the same research to be presented from different perspectives for example GQ which is written from a male perspective or Business Chicks which is written from the female perspective. It’s interesting trying to put yourself in a different frame of mind depending upon whom you are writing for and focusing on different data sets according to your audience.
I think my approach to data and my approach to the program reflects my approach to life more generally. For me it is about looking at something and then asking the right questions, often being ‘what is the small improvement that I can make today’. It is about asking yourself questions like this constantly and challenging your current habits, doing so may help you identify an unproductive habit and to then turn it into a productive one.
As mentioned earlier, I like to take time to consciously ask myself questions and to reflect, this is something which I have built into my daily routine. I usually wake up around 4 am and am at the gym by 5am with my husband. We spend an hour there and will then come home together and have breakfast. I walk to work which is a 45 minute walk, providing me with the perfect opportunity for reflection and giving me time to prepare myself mentally for the day ahead. When I reach work at 8am I’ll try and dedicate the first hour and a half of the day to taking note of what it is I have reflected on upon my walk, what questions I asked myself and what conclusions I have reached. During this time I try to focus solely on my writing and reflecting, I don’t read emails or return phone calls. It’s a meaningful time of reflection, deep-thinking and development, usually I have in my noise cancelling headphones and listen to music or a podcast. The staff at my office know of and respect my routine, we have established routines as a group for example if someone is wearing their noise cancelling headphones, we know that this is not a time to disturb them. Our office has developed an environment where we are comfortable to say to each other ‘I am busy at the moment, can we speak later’ without offending anyone or without affecting our ability to build strong relationships. After my writing time I then shower at work, get changed out of my gym gear and get on with whatever that day requires, the ideal day being coaching.
The morning routine is what I refer to as one of my keystone habits, it is a habit which creates a series of small wins setting me up for the day. I start my day with the things that I love; meditation, exercise and my husband.
In our coaching program there are two other habits which we focus on teaching in order to improve effectiveness and efficiency. They aren’t the flashy ‘sexy’ habits which people are always focused on, but it is important to get the basics right.
The first habit we teach is ‘email batching’, allowing emails to collect and not checking them every 10 minutes like so many of us do. The reasoning behind this teaching is that every time we stop to check our emails, it takes us 24 minutes to refocus on the task that we were doing beforehand and to get back into the mindset. In checking our email every time we receive a notification or every time our phone emits a sound we become reactive rather than proactive, we effectively become Pavlov’s dog. It is also important to keep in mind that almost 70% of the emails that we receive have no relevance to our high value goals and activities. Instead it is more productive to allocate time blocks throughout the day to checking your emails, obviously the necessary frequency of these will depend upon the industry in which you work, that way when you are completing another task 100% of your attention is on that task and when you check your emails, 100% of your attention is on those emails. It is about setting a boundary in your interactions with technology. For me the time blocks are usually at 10.30 and 2.30, depending upon what I have on for the day.
There are three critical steps to the process of email batching, first you need to determine what emails actually require a response from you and which can be deleted or delegated. Once you have sifted through and determined what requires a response, the next thing you need to determine is what requires a response now and what can be done late, if it is something that will take less than 5 minute to do then respond now, otherwise schedule a dedicated time in your calendar to respond or deal with that particular email. The final step is to determine the actual content of your response by considering what it is you want, why you want it, how you want it and when you want it by. In addressing of all these questions at once, you prevent the unnecessary chain of emails back-and-forth seeking clarification that often follows. Complete these steps through your entire inbox each time you email batch, bringing your inbox back to zero each time prevents you from treating it as a task management system or as a filing system. This is an area where although the process sounds basic it really can achieve a great result, I have had CEO’s of major companies tell me that mastering this relatively simple concept has actually changed their lives.
The second ‘basics’ habit which we focus on in our coaching programs is the habit of ‘weekly planning’, to look ahead to the weeks that are coming up and ensuring that you have blocked out sufficient time for high value activities. You then need to ensure that you are still putting aside time for low value activities that need to be one. Part of the planning process entails determining what tasks truly require you to complete them and what can be delegated to others. I often see CEOs doing work that their receptionist should be doing but they end up doing themselves because of the lack of planning and therefore the lack of delegation. The secret to achieving more with less is blocking out time for your high value activities and setting boundaries around your low value activities.
Both techniques are relatively simple concepts to understand but can be difficult to implement. However, the efficiency and effectiveness that you can achieve through mastering them means the persistence more than pays off.
My advice to myself and others
The advice I would have for others is advice that I received myself when I was younger, and that is simply not to worry about what people think about you. It is one of those things that you hear all the time, that is so easy to say but is so hard to do in practice. When we worry about what others think of us we let fear get in the way of what we are doing, even when we know that it is right for us. No matter if you are an entrepreneur or a corporate figure, if you disrupt the market and implement change, there is always going to be opposition, you will always be acting to the detriment of someone else’s interests. You cannot create or implement change by being vanilla and boring. When we become consumed by our concern of what others think of us we get in the way of our relationships with others, rather our focus should be on how they feel not what they think. When you put yourself out there you are opening yourself to judgment, to the haters both in real life and online. Admittedly, unless you are a sociopath then to a certain extent you will always care about what others think, however it is about not allowing that to stifle you or your development. You still need to be able to put yourself out there, knowing that it is in your best interest to do so.
The inspirational quotes which resonate most strongly with me are those of Eleanor Roosevelt, a highly productive woman who achieved some amazing feats during her lifetime. I often reflect on the idea that if Eleanor Roosevelt was alive today she would likely look slightly different because of the image conscious society we live in today, but I also reflect on whether she would still accomplish everything that she need to given that the volume of discourage is much greater these days. Of her quotes, the one I relate to most strongly is ‘It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness’. When I get frustrated dealing with people who are not performing the way they need to or when I have to deal with the haters I remind myself of this. It is important to focus on the great people that I work with and all the great people that I have the opportunity to help, rather than dwelling on my detractors who are of no real importance.
I have quite a popular little blog which can be found on pacexecutivecoaching.com or on my LinkedIn blog, I also contribute regularly to CEO Magazine which can be viewed at ceomagazine.com.
I would also recommend an author by the name of Charles Duhigg who has published two books about workplace habits, my personal favourite being The Power of Habit. The book not only provides the reader with relatable stories but also focuses on the science of habit changing. It teaches how to not only understand the habits we have but also how to change the negative habits we have into positive ones. His book is also available as an audiobook for those of us who are auditory learners.
The best way of getting in touch with me is through our website pacexecutivecoaching.com, you can also find me on Twitter as Cholnea Orr. I can be found on LinkedIn for those who utilise it for legitimate business purposes. I can help those who have control over what they manage, whether it is a small business run as a ‘one man shop’ or a CEO of a major company. I love working with them both as while they face different challenges there are universal strategies which can be implemented everywhere and then there are also targeted strategies depending on the specific needs of that client.