September 04, 2013
It's a magical time of year where we are both busy, and at the same time, compelled to observe the conventions of holiday. September and October for many of you will be the busiest months you've had since spring. November is a wild card and December is just a tattered mess of potential workdays without interruption.
I call this the Fall 100 Day Dash. Between today and the end of the year, you have about 100 days to accomplish your annual goals. As an effective person who doesn't hit the snooze button of life or work, you want to achieve your goals to have a clean slate going into the next year. So here are my bits of advice:
1. Identify What Is Made Of Rubber VS What Is Made Of Glass - Too often, we have several end-of-the-year goals. Trying to attain all of them can lead to meeting none of them. For example, if you are in sales, you likely have an annual goal. But at the same time, you are trying to close the IBM account as a goal as well. The annual goal is likely made of glass, something that breaks if dropped. The IBM account, so long as it's not tied to your annual goal, may very well be able to bounce into Q1 2014. If you can, identify the most brittle made-of-glass goal and focus solely on it.
2. Think In Two Week Spurts - Don't try and even out the year, plucking your way around the holiday season. Define open two-week windows and cram your calendar with efforts towards the made-of-glass goal. During the partial weeks (they start piling up by the 3rd week of November), work on the made-of-rubber items and maintenance work. Give yourself a breathing day if possible during those partial weeks, because you are JAMMING otherwise.
3. Reserve the Last Two Weeks Of December For 2014 Planning - It's too easy to get caught up in next-year-plans as early as November. For too many, Halloween represents a turning point where we write off this year, and look forward to the next. While that might be stock market thinking, you need all three effective weeks of November to get to the finish line.
4. Forgive Yourself When You Come Up Short - Goals are usually made up, arbitrarily picked to motivate us and give us something measurable to work towards. If you've done your job prioritizing and sprinted as best you can...when the December holidays bring down the curtain on 2013, give yourself a break. Like everyone does, you need the holiday season to refresh for the coming year. It's a long cold winter until Easter, and tenacity comes from rest and reflection. Don't kill yourself over the Christmas-New Year's week trying to close that last deal, finish that last project or turn in the last report. In my experience, that's weak sauce work and in too many cases it imposes on others' attempts to enjoy their holiday season.
What are your tricks to being productive at year's end? Share them in comments!Tweet
May 22, 2013
This week, I’m going to write about how deficits, those times in our lives where we feel malnourished, depressed, overextended, can actually be a great benefit to future success. The truth is, there’s no better time to reevaluate your process than when things aren’t going well. We’ve all heard very successful people say they learned more from failure than success and there’s a reason for that. Because it’s true! The trick is to efficiently breakdown the reasons for your deficits, rectify them, and then utilize that knowledge so that when the surpluses come roaring back (and they will), you can manage that success with more efficiency and, hopefully, more longevity.
One of the most basic “deficits” that almost everyone faces, is time. We are all over run by obligations, by our schedules, by our calendars, that keep telling us we have a meeting, a new employee to train, a work lunch with a VIP investor, dry cleaning to pick up, etc., and the stress of these various duties can be overwhelming. So, how do we deal with 25 hours of need-to-get-done tasks when we all know we only have 24 hours to work with?
Here are a few ways guidelines that I’ve utilized in my life that have helped me manage my time deficits:
Do you have any tips on how to solve a calendar crunch? If I choose to add yours to the above list, I’ll send you a $15 Amazon gift certificate!Tweet
December 20, 2012
For my entire life, I've heard this one: Time is money! However, most of the people who say this haven't yet figured out how to fully sell out their time. That means that for them, time could potentially be money, but in the end...it's just time.
This misguided view causes us to be impatient, utilitarian in our relationships and stern this those who don't operate at our pace or 'waste our time' on calls or in meetings. Again, the assumption we errantly take in this approach is that our time is fully committed for cash, and others barge in for it, taking points off the board.
A few weeks ago a sage business person I know offered a counter-perspective that really hit home with me. Money is time. It takes time to make it, and while money can be found, made or borrowed - time cannot. Every day, you look in the mirror and realize that you are getting older, slower and more likely out of step with up and coming generations. At some point your body or mind will start to slip, and unlike the flu, you will never get better.
I know that's morbid, but it's also pretty realistic. If it took you a year to save $10,000, then spending it in the wrong place costs you a precious year of your life to replace. If you haven't noticed, it's harder in 2012 to make up lost money than it was in 2005, and might get even more difficult in the future.
For me, here's my takeaway: Money is a precious resource I've sacraficed time for. Time away from my loved ones. Time I'll never get back. Money is a reflection of it, not what it bears. I will be judicious in how I spend or invest it. I will look for passive income streams where ever I can, so that I can stretch time instead of gringing it out with active income that requires my present capabilities. I will teach others to think of money that way also, be they individuals or companies. (As a startup founder, it's clear that if you run out of money, you don't have any more time to find traction, it's literally your life-cycle.)
The next time I eyeball that $500 gadget or a fancy car, I'll look at my watch and calculate how much time it will ultimately cost me. And that may change my mind.Tweet
September 19, 2012
I've spent a great deal of effort acquiring tools that make my work faster without sacraficing quality. From software to little life hacks, I've found ways to harness faster-better-cheaper in my worklife. At some point, though, the only way to become more productive is to break free of the time traps that set me back.
1. Meetings That Should Have Been Timed Phone Calls - I live in Los Angeles, the king of "let's have lunch" cities in the USA. But likely, you too get this request all the time: "Let's get together for a cup of coffee or lunch and talk about X." On its face, it seems like you are only investing an hour in the actual meeting, but when you consider travel and interruption time...it usually adds up to 3 hours and ruins a 1/2 day in the process.
The next time you receive this request, ask yourself: Is this worth a half day of my workweek? Is this tied to my business objectives? Will a face-to-face meeting provide a unique solution to our challenges in moving forward? If you don't get three yes's, then suggest a timed phone call. Why timed? Absent a full stop (we only have 30 minutes), you can likely end up on the phone and hour...or two. Lastly, try to schedule calls at the top or bottom of the hour, because phone tag is a time trap too.
2. Checking Up On Your Content - Whether you are a blogger or social media maven, it's easy to build up the habit of "doing the digital lap" every time you sit down at your computer or boot a browser. This is the lap you take around your digital outposts, seeing how many shares, likes, comments or gold stars you last post earned. All it takes is one interactiion to tie you up for five to fifteen minutes. One account of social media usage (Edison's recent study) suggested that up to 25% of all our time spent online is done, doing this lap. Delay gratification, and define a few times a day that you allot to content follow up.
3. Leaving The Interruptions On - It's estimated that it takes you about 15 minutes to recover from an interruption. A bell rings (you've got mail/texts or a call) and you stop what you are doing, and shift your attention to the interruptor. In most cases, it has nothing to do with your task at hand, yet you likely treat it as more important. This whipsawing of our attention can take away a quarter of our workday, with little to show for it other than your constantly available for all comers. Solution: Turn off all notifications, set you email pickup for every hour (or two) instead of real time and put your phone on stun.
4. Working On Projects You Should Have Declined - This gets to the heart of Covey's teachings: Focus on the the important, and be transparent about your capacity when other's ask you to work on the un-important or non-urgent. No one ever succeeded because he or she said "Yes" all the time. Measure the number of times you say "No" and if you can show a trend upwards, you are getting the hang of pushing back. Remember: Favors are extra-curricular activites and should be done in your off-time, at the expense of the things YOU like to do.
This is where you need to be very utilitarian, testing every one of your commitments for a straight line connection to your objectives and desired results. Don't get caught up in the fuzzy math of paybacks-in-the-future. In your mind, the future is about 120 days, and not much further.
It's going to be hard to live by these, but if you do, you can double how much you accomplish Monday through Friday. This will give you three luxuries: The weekend, your sanity and dramtically improved performance.Tweet
August 22, 2012
Time was the scarce resource of the uber successful and the harried executive. Today, we have more time than ever, aided by myriad tools and software solutions. We can move mountains in days, aided by digital devices and software that "eats the world."
Here's the rub: The same tools that make life faster (smart phones, web, social, search, etc.) are also interrupting us constantly, requiring more time to finish our work! On top of that, in our modern culture, people think it's OK to ping us any time they want via messenger or text, expecting us to drop everything and answer them.
Not only is this a killer of our focus (quality) and productivity (output), a study I participated in a few years ago says this will cause depression. The technical term for depression by constant interruption, according to Heartmath researchers, is "decision shift."
Making this worse, best selling books now declare that attention is the scarce resource. Most of them are focused on how we as companies or marketers can get others to give us their undivided attention. None of them talk about how we can take back undivided attention to apply to our work. In fact, this obsession with getting people to pay attention to us, leads to a tendency for us to steal it from them whenever we can.
On Monday, I turned in my latest book, a short eBook on social media I created for a major bank to support my speaking tour for them. It was hard to finish it in sixty days, and the only way I could do it was to manage my attention aggressively. I interviewed experts, wrote, edited and copy proofed the book in my basement music studio with the door shut and the phone disconnected.
I left my smart phone upstairs, instructing my team to back off while I worked on this project. I only used my computer for word processing and fact checking/link lookups. No email, no social media. The experience was nothing short of liberating. I took back my life, and turned in a book I can be proud of.
I believe that in the modern era, most of us are hamstrung by our devices, and the associates in our life clammoring for our attention. It's as if we are running the race of life with heavy leg weights on. It's a miracle we finish anything, and when we do, the quality suffers from our divided focus. We lack the freedom to focus our entire being on a single project.
It's not just our friends that kill off our focus, we do it compulsively: Check email every few minutes, check reactions to our last social media update, check the blogs, check-check-check. It's like a little digital smoke break, except we are the equivalent of a chain smoker.
Here's my suggestion for you: Try a focus break tomorrow, just one hour of single-tasking. Wall out the world and focus on the work in front of you. Try it for a report or a presentation that's due. Turn off all alerts, be they email or your smart phone.
If you are in a meeting, go device free, shut the door and put blinders on to narrow you view to the person in front of you. Don't even take an iPad to take notes, use pen and paper.
You'll be liberated too. And, when you look at what you accomplished during the focus break, you'll become jealous of your attention. Like your father was jealous of his time.Tweet
November 17, 2011
Are you investing it wisely? After all, in this competitive and disruptive environment, you can't be late when the barn door opens. Every day you waste working on the wrong stuff, gives your competitor a day to gain or you or extend his lead. So how do we best manage time at a strategic level? Enter Jason Nazar, CEO of docstoc and a (very good) speaker at this week's Startup Conference in Los Angeles.
His talk (How To Make The Right Business Decisions) revealed a grid (see above) that will help you manage your time effectively. Too often we have a mega-TODO list that gobbles up our time, and we feel some sense of accomplishment ticking items off the list. That may be OK for some, but if you are entrepreneur, this approach will bury you!
Here's his formula: Focus on things that have a big upside (money, market share, etc.), you have a way higher than 50% chance of succeeding in this task, it won't gobble up too much time and most of all - it's strategic to the business you are running. Think for a second about this formula, and how much of your TODO list doesn't qualify for your attention. He explained that at docstoc, they don't put resources into a product that will increase traffic by a few percent. It needs to have a 25-50% potential to get his attention. At Google, this is called the "hundred million dollar idea" filter.
Too often, we work on low-upside projects that are easy or sometimes we get buried in low upside projects that are hard to finish - and by wasting the extra effort we miss the golden opportunites. The other thing he warns, is the high success - not strategic trap: Where you achieve a quick victory, but in the end, it has nothing to do with your business strategy. Sure, it's a win, but for who?
Try this next week, and be ruthless! If you adopt the A quadrant right now - Put no efforts on a project that doesn't move the needle significantly, you'll likely ignore over half of what you toiled on this week.
September 20, 2011
Too often, we measure our progress yearly (annual resolutions and goals) or quarterly (the 90 day treadmill). The result is often cram-fests at the end of the year or quarter to meet a goal that's "all made up" in the first place. Those time lines are usually too long to correct, once the finish line is in sight.
When I was working for Bob May (Pat Summerall Productions) in Dallas, he taught me a simple weekly success system that I use to this day. His motto was: "Good weeks add up to good months - and good months add up to a great year."
Each week is a small enough slice to conquer. Monday and Tuesday have metrics that 'load up the funnel' to produce a successful week. Wednesday is your review window, where you figure out if you are ahead or behind. Thursday is the day of finishing things, leaving Friday for clean up or catch up.
Your weekend means more in this system, because the whole process starts over again the following Monday. Unlike other methods (annual, quarterly), the finish line is really Friday - so you are less likely to treadmill through your weekends and burn out. Sure, it's like a never-ending-race, this weekly system, but then again, so is any other system.
Over the years, I've learned that this weekly focus makes us prone to finishing projects and closing deals with a sense of urgency (by Friday!). It starts on Monday, and predictably comes to a crescendo by week's end. A good month is usually comprised of three good weeks (on goal). A good quarter is a few great months and a good year can be comprised of a few good quarters. It's all about the highly successful weeks and the shortened time lines for success that we march to.
Note: The best way to live by this system is to spend some quiet time on Sunday evening or early Monday AM, plotting out what the successful week looks like and how it intersects with established business goals from financial to operational. As you 'rehearse the coming week,' you'll find it much less overwhelming than trying to visualize success during a more protracted period.
So get crackin', it's only Tuesday, this week's going to be great!
December 29, 2010
We make them, thinking that all we need to do is this one thing to have a better coming year. The reality is that we need to do several things to see year-over-year improvements in our lives. That's why so many New Year's resolutions are broken - they are all or nothing. In some cases, we make the same ones over and over again. What's the point?
I look at the beginning of the year, specifically the holiday period that precedes it, as a chance to reset. It's like powering down a computer, then rebooting it. Works better, usually, no? At Yahoo!, Jerry Yang kept three lists at all times, and these lists are the ones you should draw up this week and execute on over the next three months.
1 - The Stop Doing List. What habits, tendencies or activities are counter-productive? Create a plan with a deadline, and knock these off first.
2 - The Keep Doing List. What are our greatest hits from 2010? What's working, and shouldn't be forgotten? This is important, because unless you recognize the effective, you might replace it with the novel.
3 - The Start Doing List. These are activities, habits or projects that could add value over the coming year. Consider this list the end of procrastination or the tool that will help you close the good intentions-accomplishments gap.
For me, personally, here's mine: Stop/Wasting time grazing online. Keep/Blogging. Start/Writing a schedule for each day. Get it? This is how I can increase my personal effectiveness over the year. This isn't my complete 2011 lists, but now you get this point. What's yours?
November 24, 2009
"How do you feel about meetings? A lot of them!?"
That was my opening question after Jon finished his power point presentation, pitching his startup. He had a good idea, a great approach to tech and some understanding of marketing. But did he understand how to run a startup, without it imploding under the weight of its people's creativity?
"I love meetings. The more the merrier. Get 'er done!," he replied.
Wrong answer. When people ask me what's wrong with corporate America, I often reply "bad laptops and long meetings." Too many long meetings are killing our productivity at work. Even at Yahoo, a 2.0 company of sorts, meetings could take up your entire (long) day -- leaving you evenings, weekends, plane rides and holidays to catch up on email.
Why did we have so many meetings? Too much democratization of product development and process improvements. In both of those activities, there's a misguided notion that you can never have too much collaboration. Then, add the plague of power point, which usually takes up the first 45 minutes of every meeting. Given the fact that meetings never start on time, that means you spend your first hour listening. Then the banter begins, followed by some screeds then topped off with white board stick-company art.
Somewhere at the 2 hour point, the meeting ends abruptly as several attendees are either late for lunch or their next two hour meetings. In my experience, three out of four meetings produced no real change in business. A few of them, however, produced important insights. Online meeting (email threads, etc.) don't work either -- the channel's too weak to convey intentions. So we need to meet, but we need to meet much much better.
If I had a startup, my competitive advantage would be our productivity. Here's a handful of meeting rules I'd implement:
1. Meetings are to be limited to thirty minutes for a strategic meeting and eighteen minutes (like TED) for introductory or non-strategic meetings. There would be a massive countdown clock in every conference room. NOTE: There can be exceptions to this rule (see Brett's comment below). But don't let exceptions become the rule -- and go back to meeting 40 hours a week and working all night and weekend to catch up w/ the workflow.
2. Power points will be limited to "must-have" illustrations (graphs, visualizations, diagrams, etc.) The meeting can never start off with a power point - instead, it must start with the WHY? WHAT? HOW?, leading to discussion/presentation of facts/collaboration.
3. Meetings always end with two minutes of promise-record keeping. Action items are fully assigned, with delivery dates to be documented and placed into our calendars.
4. Meetings deemed "a waste of time" by the most senior person in the room will have a budget cost to the person who called the meeting. Think of the chargeback system for corporate training (for no-shows and cancellations, etc.) There are many variations of this rule that can work, but the point is that we have to hold people accountable for calling meetings.
5. NO ONE is to bring a laptop, black berry or cell phone into the meeting UNLESS there is a specific timing issue that requires them to be "online" during the meeting. Working on two things at once is considered a sign of poor time management. Advisory: If you can't come to a meeting without a communication gadget to interrupt you, do us a favor and miss this meeting.
6. Meetings must have a moderator, who's job is to manage agenda, time and documentation. The moderator must also attempt to manage cross talk, but senior members in the room are expected to help in this regard too.
7. Director level and up attendees can (quietly) leave any meeting in violation of the above rules.
For more, read Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
November 20, 2009
I shot this video @ home on Monday, but waited until today to share it with you.
I want you to take some time off this weekend. As much as possible. The more you take off, the better you'll be next week. Check out this video clip for the screed: