I Know a Pro: Elise Enriquez, Productivity Coach and Creator of GYST

How a "Bonus Brain" frees us up to be present, think big...and be okay with completing 80 percent of our to-do list.
Elise Enriquez - Kelly Anderson Photography--3

In a recent conversation between Elise Enriquez, productivity coach and consultant, and Shilo Lockett, president of Comprehensive Wealth Management, one thing became clear: they’re both recovering power-users of complex (and colorful) organizational systems.

“I had all the planners in college. I had all the different-colored pens. I love crossing things off a paper list. I will write something down that I already did and cross it off,” said Enriquez, whose story reflects many professionals who pride themselves on being highly capable and organized, but whose work and personal commitments can overwhelm the systems they’ve built organically.

“I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and say, ‘I can’t keep up – I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Life is complicated. You have so much more to worry about than you ever did before.’ And on top of that, we have so much data, like literal data, coming at us than ever before. To expect that we can do everything and hold it in our brain is ridiculous. There's nothing wrong with you, but we need to upgrade your system, with a simple process paired with a simple tool.”

Enter GYST, a work-and-life productivity system that Enriquez designed to help free clients from anxiety, stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed. This spring, the CWM team completed Enriquez’ six-week training session and walked away with new “bonus brains,” a shared language for prioritization, and a few other surprises. Read on to learn what drew Lockett to GYST and more.

Elise, how do you describe what you do?

EE: I help people understand a different take on productivity, empowering them to see it as more than just a to-do list. My signature program, GYST, focuses on building a bonus brain with a system that enables people to be more intentional with their time so they can be more fulfilled in their lives. I help people think about what they really want and how they are going to make it happen.

How did you two begin working together?

SL: I was trying to help my team be even more effective and productive together. I'd been searching and reading articles for a while and then I was talking about it with a professional contact who said, "You know what? I think you should talk to my coach. She does a program around this."

And I went and clicked on Elise’s website and saw the GYST program, which literally stands for Get Your S#1t Together, which I found succinct and hilarious.

EE: Just cut to the chase, right?

SL: Yes, and as I read through it, I thought, this is it. This is what I've been looking for.

Elise, who do you typically work with?

EE: I love working with women on a mission – women in charge, basically. They might have a professional title that says that they're in charge, but they're also in charge of a household, or they are in charge of keeping the family and friends together. The people I work with are the ones in their circles who everybody looks to – and sometimes that's overwhelming. They're great at so many things, but sometimes that creates a lot of overwhelm, a lot of chaos. They want help managing it all and I like to help them with that.

Does part of your work involve helping people embrace that role? Because on one hand, we may really love being in that doer or gatherer role, and then sometimes it shifts into, oh my gosh, I always have to do everything.

EE: What I've noticed in the entrepreneurial type of person, and I think especially women, is that we learn that we need to be responsive: responsive to our customers’ needs, responsive to the market, responsive to all sorts things. That’s great, but at some point it can tip into being reactive. When you find yourself wondering whether you’re going to embrace the role or fight being the one people look to, it’s usually about being responsive versus being reactive.

When I get to that point of feeling overwhelmed about doing things for everybody else, it's because I've just said yes, yes, yes, yes without assessing for myself. It’s important to ask, is this something I really want to take on? Is this something that I have to do? Can I outsource this? Can I empower somebody else to do it in some way? How can I look at the energy and the time that I have and make a decision about it and be responsive instead of reactive?

SL: I love how you framed that, because that’s what really resonated in our training with you. I'll say I'm absolutely the person that Elise described. You feel like you’ve got your finger in the dike at all times, and you're trying to handle all the things for your family and household, and then the pets need vet appointments, and then you go to work and you’re driving things there too, especially in a leadership capacity.

After a while, you get frustrated when you feel like you can’t keep up. And it’s not always helpful to have well-meaning folks in your life simply say, “Oh, you’re just taking on too much,” because part of it is your do-er personality. You know that someone has to do it.

An important part of Elise’s message is honoring that in yourself, and our discussions with her really allowed me to say, “This is who I am.” I’m an object in motion and I shouldn't feel badly about that, but what I can be is more responsive instead of reactive, be more intentional, with how I'm in motion.

What do you focus on in your training?

EE: With CWM and the other teams that I work with, we focus on building a bonus brain – because our brains are meant for having ideas, not holding them.

We know this intuitively, right? We know this because you don't put appointments in your brain, you put appointments in a calendar. You know you can't count on your brain to remember that you have a dentist appointment six months from now at 2:30 p.m.

There's a part of us that recognizes this limitation for some things but doesn’t accept it for everything. I encounter a lot of people wondering, “What's wrong with me that I don't remember exactly? I must be getting older.” But the disconnect is that your brain's not meant to be a storage device. It's the least reliable storage device out there. So that’s why my work focuses on building this bonus brain.

It's really interesting what clearing up the ground level of day-to-day life can do for your brain. It just frees it up for so much more space and frees up capacity to dream bigger, to solve problems, to be more strategic. It allows us to actually be present – to have ideas, be with your people, and run things. it's such a gift to see all the little things that happen around you in your life and to be able to operate at your highest and best use.

What is the bonus brain? What does it look like?

EE: The bonus brain itself is an app. I prefer to introduce my clients to a tool called GQueues. It’s inexpensive, it’s readily available your phone or other devices, and it works with a lot of Google products.

It’s a place to store things that pop into your brain, and then organize and prioritize them. If I'm at the basketball game with my family and I get inspired and my brain fires off something I want to do, I just add to that into my bonus brain and then let it go. The next time I'm at my desk, I can look at my bonus brain and think, “okay, now when do I want to get that done?”

It doesn’t work to keep everything in your brain or scattered around on Post-It notes, or four different apps or journals, or separate calendars on our desk. Getting it into one place – especially a digital tool – allows you to take stock and prioritize what's going to get done.

But I want to be clear that having a system, a methodology that you’ll trust and use, is the answer; GQueues or any other specific technology itself is not the solution. I always encourage people to start simple. If that means starting with a spreadsheet at first, I don't care. If that means starting with your calendar first, I don't care. Have something simple that you trust, that you’ll use and that is going to scale with you as your work and personal responsibilities become more complex.

To me, it's about defining your standard for how you want to treat your clients and your standard for how you want to treat yourself and your team, and then you pick the systems that are going to support that standard. That's the harder work: To be clear about what you expect and what you believe in and what your values are. And I think that that's why GYST was so straightforward for the CWM team - their standards were already defined.

So once you have all of your to-do’s in one place, what next? Is the idea to start checking things off?

EE: Well, I will say that I don't always get my to-do list done. But the strategy is to ask, “What is most important?”

Within the program, we have what we call a “due today” list. It includes everything that I want in front of me on this day, and then I have ways in my bonus brain to highlight what is an actual due date. Sometimes that involves something I need to get to another person by a certain date versus an item that I want in front of me again.

My goal is to make sure I get all of my critical items scheduled in so that when I start my day, I have a strong sense of the time I have available and my critical to-do’s, and I’m being realistic about what I can get done. Then anything else can thoughtfully get moved ahead a day or two – or a month – but it's a thoughtful choice. At the end of the day, hopefully I'm getting 80% of it done, assuming I have everything I need to move things forward.

The system also involves a weekly review of the bonus brain, to make decisions and plan ahead, which helps to minimize interruptions in our daily personal and professional lives.

SL: And I will add that Elise trained us on a component that I’ve not seen elsewhere, which is a someday/maybe folder within our GQueues. One of my strengths is ideation, and this allows me to store ideas that I’m marinating on – maybe it’s for 2023, maybe it’s 2024, but it goes into the folder and then periodically you peek at it and say, “Is it time?”

EE: Exactly! I work with a lot of idea people and want to make sure your system can hold as much as you want to make room for. It's just a matter of structuring in a way that it doesn't overwhelm you. That way you get to have all your ideas. I want you to have all your ideas. You just can't do all of your ideas at once.

Elise, how does intentionality fit into what you do and how your clients can move forward?

EE: It goes back to being reactive vs. responsive. Having everything in front of you allows you to be more intentional so you can make choices about things, and that can help give you clarity about what you want next. To me, intention is actually a formula that I base all of my coaching on, focused on clarity, communication and consistency.

It’s about clarifying what you want and where you're trying to go – including clarity on where you are now, so you understand the gap. Communication is saying, okay, now that I have this clarity, who needs to know about it, either because they're affected or because I'm going to need them – or both? And consistency is all about having the habits and systems in place to support consistent action towards making that thing happen.

Shilo, we know that intentionality is a strong focus at CWM. Did the GYST training help to put a finer point on that?

SL: I think it just helped keep the light shining on themes that we talk about with our clients all the time. I couldn't have said it better regarding intentionality, and that's the space we try to help create for our clients – to assess where they are and where they want to go. We just happen to look at it from the financial planning and investment management side.

That's probably one of the reasons that Elise and I got along so well, too, is that we think the same way about this and our team was really aligned philosophically. I think it just helped give us tools to also make sure we're being thoughtful about that day-to-day in our own jobs.

Once the list is compiled, and we’ve established priorities and deadlines, where do we go from there?

EE: I encourage people to keep track of what is and isn’t getting done, because if you keep pushing that date out over and over again, that’s an opportunity to ask why. And it's typically one of two things: It shouldn't be on the list and you need to just let it go, or it's not defined well enough for you to actually take action.

Often, the stuff that we skip over is not well-defined. So part of GYST is developing our muscle for next-action thinking. To be able to say, “what is the next step that I will take? What is the next thing I can walk in and do to move this forward?” If you don't have it written down in a way that somebody could see you doing it, then you haven't identified action. And if you haven't identified action, you're going to struggle with getting started.

Defining the next action may involve Googling something, texting the person, making a phone call, finding the old email. For me, I prefer to review things in hard copy, so one of my defined actions is to print things out.

SL: I love how you use the phrase next-action thinking. Last year our team completed an exercise developed by Jim Collins in his book Great By Choice. It’s based on the story of two teams of explorers venturing to Antarctica. One of the teams would push as hard as they could when the weather was beautiful – just work everyone to the bone. And when it was stormy, they would all duck and cover and wait it out. And the second team completed 20 miles a day, regardless of the weather. If it was beautiful, they’d go 20 miles and then stop, rest, and rejuvenate. If it was ugly, they’d work harder that day to get those 20 miles, but still stop. The first team did not make it to their destination and people died. The second team made it there and made it home.

I think that’s such an amazing example for our work lives. When we started connecting with your training, Elise, it really tied into this concept. With next-action thinking, what are those little incremental steps we can take each day to move a project forward instead of just putting a monumental project on our list? It's a more thoughtful way of breaking it down and turning it into those bite size pieces.

EE: Yes, we focus on progress, not perfection. The only way you're going to get something done is one action at a time, no matter how big or small the project is. And importantly, you said they made it there and they made it home – and we all want to make it home, right? I want to achieve accomplishments, but I also want to enjoy the journey along the way. I love that analogy, Shilo.

How can this approach affect the way that people talk to each other about priorities?

SL: We are in such a big conversation right now, as a society, about work-life balance. COVID just blew that door wide open and you're finding a lot of people looking for more balance and agency in setting their priorities. When we worked with Elise, it helped expand the shared language we use in the office and I think made it a more accessible conversation for people to say, okay, this is what is realistic – both for me, and for our team, because we’re sharing information and evaluating our actionable to-do’s together.

EE: I’m so glad, Shilo, that you’re talking about the shared language and how your team is using it. One of the dynamics I see when I work with teams is that the training itself spurs other, bigger discussions. Beyond the established curriculum around building and using your bonus brain, there are natural conversations that we can’t plan for, and that teams don’t typically have on a regular basis, but that are totally necessary. How do we want to handle competing priorities as a team? How are we going to talk about it? There’s something really juicy and fun about working with intact teams, and the deep conversations that come out of it for them.

During CWM’s training, were there any surprises in the way different team members responded?

SL: Yes! You know, at CWM, we take a really holistic view not only of how we treat our clients, but how we treat our team. There were also rich conversations and light bulb moments related to our home lives. It was amazing and beautiful to have some of our team members say, "This really got me thinking about how much my spouse does that I don't even touch in a day."

And several people, men and women in the office, started having more intentional conversations with their spouses as a result of this training and have shared with me stories of things they now do at home, whether they use GQueues or something else, around more thoughtful planning and to share household responsibilities. One of them even acknowledged, “I don't have a lot of capacity to do more, but I need to say thank you to my wife more.”

What about the items that aren’t already stored in our bonus brain – how does this help account for the unexpected?

EE: I think with social media influence, the Insta perfect life and the Facebook perfect life, there is a lot of pressure on all of us to have it together. And to me, Get Your S#1t Together isn't saying that you have it together all the time. It's saying that you're getting it together all the time. Every day is going to come, you're going to get it together and run the experiment again.

Life throws us so many stinking curve balls. It's ridiculous to think we can control it, but at least we can control how we respond to it based on what we have in place to support us.

SL: In one of our first phone calls, Elise, you shared that a family emergency is always going to happen – and when you have things worked out, it allows you to respond to what's really important in that moment and disconnect from the things that can be released and moved and handled separately.

That's what I find so powerful. I don't look at GYST as a program exclusively for people who are struggling; it gave me a superpower. I can handle a lot more things more effectively and with more peace of mind. And who doesn't want that?

EE: Yes – and it creates space for us to be present and able to tackle the positive or negative, right? Whether it's an interruption, a crisis or an opportunity.

For more about Enriquez’ work with teams and individuals, visit https://eliseenriquez.com/

To learn more about other professionals in CWM’s community that serve as great resources and trusted partners, visit our professional directory.

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