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A photomontage of Nanci McGraw, motivational speaker,
shows the colorful, zany nature of her "Cure for Overwhelm" seminars.

Overwhelmed at Work? Speaker Nanci McGraw Offers Instant Cure

By Paul Mueller I November 15, 2004

The animated redhead, her jacket a-glitter with butterfly pins, waves a sparkling toy wand over the crowd. "Poof!" she says. "If you've been feeling overwhelmed by tasks at work or at home, here's some magic that'll make you a doer and a wow-maker!"

The lunchtime participants in the Price Center auditorium, encouraged to respond, hold up handouts emblazoned with the word "WOW!" Again and again, to the appreciative laughter of the crowd, Nanci McGraw uses toys, anecdotes, and the gruff Texas wisdom of her father to elicit the brandished WOWs - and in the process she describes her "Just-in-Time Management: Instant Cure for Overwhelm" program.

McGraw, a San Diego-based speaker, trainer and author, emphasizes that we can learn to manage our daily tasks but that, in the words of her Texas-born father, "you gotta wanna."

Part of the Learn at Lunch seminar series, McGraw's session focuses on the sense of many employees that they're overwhelmed by the pace and volume of daily activities - too many e-mails, too many meetings, too many interruptions, too many things to read. McGraw, a San Diego-based professional speaker, trainer, author and award-winning broadcaster, tells the packed room that they can stop fretting and start doing. But first, she says, they must heed the words of her father, 86-year-old (and still kicking) H.D. Jones: "Ya gotta wanna."

If you really "wanna," says McGraw, you can avoid the dual pitfalls of perfectionism and procrastination that hold many people back. If everything's got to be perfect before a task moves forward, for example, it might never get done. Sometimes, says McGraw, "pretty good is good enough," especially if the alternative is inaction or lack of progress. Procrastination's not always a bad thing, she says, again citing her father's Western wisdom: "Some things deserve every amount of procrastination you can muster up, 'cuz you hadn't ought to be doin' 'em anyway." (WOW!) But at work, putting things off now usually creates larger problems and more work later.

Life rewards the doers, McGraw says, and she lists the three categories of those doers: ordinary people doing ordinary things, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. "Nobody's impressed by what you know," she says, acknowledging that this might sound heretical in a university setting. "People are impressed by what you do." For those who say they don't have enough time, or who are consistently late with projects, McGraw offers two of her father's adages: "If you don't plan on bein' on time, plan on bein' late," and "Everybody's got the same amount of time." (WOW!) Her point is that successful doers "organize, prioritize and energize," and rely on some basic practices that help circumvent familiar blockages.

• A master “to do” list, for both office and home, is vital. Tasks that don’t get crossed off today’s list go onto tomorrow’s list.

• Use a timer for unpleasant or dreaded tasks. Knowing you’ll only have to do them for, say, 20 minutes, is motivating – and you can celebrate when the timer goes off. (The WOW signs flutter across the auditorium.)

• Fill a “job jar” with tasks that must be done. (For McGraw, the high-avoidance task is cleaning her refrigerator.) You can decline to do one or two of the tasks you remove, but of three picks you must do one. Use a timer here, too, if necessary.

• In the office, have a “slush box” for papers that don’t demand immediate attention but that you can’t really throw out. In a quiet time, sort and prioritize the contents.

• Similarly, create a “read box” for the journals, magazines, newsletters and papers that, increasingly unread, can make you feel buried. Sort them at your leisure, and put some in a folder (for especially tedious meetings),and some in your car (for doctor-office waits, DMV lines, and the like).

• To make e-mails more useful and productive, let people know what you want them to do. Put the priority and deadline in the subject line whenever possible, and focus on the needed actions. Use a bulleted list instead of dense text, if possible. Categorize your mail, and store in folders, keeping all your e-mails on one screen (without scrolling down).

• To minimize interruptions, learn how to say “no.” If it’s part of the job, says McGraw, it’s not an interruption. But, “to be a doer, you can’t do everything.” She advocates a “smooth” approach to saying no. Let the interrupter know that you understand his or her urgency, explain your situation or deadline, and describe what you can do once you’re able.

A widely traveled Army brat, a first child, a former teacher, a wife and mother, a news director of San Diego's KYXY Radio, and "my mother's child but my father's daughter," McGraw learned her time-management lessons at home and at work She's earned over 100 national, state and local media awards, including two "Golden Mikes" and six "Mark Twains," with reports, documentaries and features airing on ABC, NBC, the Associated Press and other media outlets.

"Life rewards the doers," says McGraw to her classes, and the audiences respond with WOWs. She uses the signs to emphasize key points and to keep the classes actively engaged.

She presents more than 150 programs a year to audiences in the U.S. and around the world. She chose a butterfly as her logo (and wears butterfly pins given to her by numerous clients) for several reasons. "Butterflies are doers," she says, "they transform themselves inside their cocoons, and emerge as bright and bold new creatures. They elicit the 'Wow' from those around them. And everybody likes a butterfly."

Judging by the enthusiastic response of the audience during McGraw's presentation on Tuesday, and the post-seminar commentary, the butterfly was decidedly in flight. And, perhaps, some ordinary people now in self-made cocoons were motivated to grow a doer's bold wings.

The Learn at Lunch lectures are sponsored by the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) and the UCSD Staff Association. For information about upcoming lectures, visit here, or contact Rose Lee Josephson at 534-2387.



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