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Summertime: The Perfect Time to Get Ahead!

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The classic Gershwin song reminds us each year around this time that it’s “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” While those “fish are jumpin’,” the pace at work tends to slow down; the office dress code tends to get more casual; bosses, co-workers, and clients disappear on vacation; and most everyone tries to sneak out early on Fridays.

So, you’re thinking: Why not join the club, chillax, and shift into cruise control for the next couple of months?

But instead, what if, this summer, you decided to shift gears and do the opposite!

While everyone else is out getting their second Mister Softee or third iced coffee of the day, why not carpe the diem and take at least some of this downtime to do some of those things that you’ve been putting off all year long? That is, instead of cruising through the summer as many do and then wondering where the time went, why not put the pedal to the metal, and take advantage of these lazy, hazy, days of summer to get ahead…

How? By – in addition to, of course, allowing yourself to take some well-earned and much-needed time off for yourself – you may want to consider dedicating at least a few of those dog days of summer – the period between the Fourth of July and Labor Day – to focus on these four imporant, career-enhancing activities:

  • Developing yourself
  • Developing your relationships
  • Developing your people
  • Developing your team

The Time Management Matrix model I mentioned in a previous post (“Start the New Year Off Right with 7 Simple Productivity and Time Management Tips“) demonstrates that we spend most of our time in either Quadrant 1 (Urgent & Important tasks) or Quadrant 3 (Urgent and Unimportant tasks). For good reason, it’s often referred to as “the tyranny of the urgent” because we let external demands and time constraints dictate where and how we spend so much of our time.

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But with things slowing down a little and often with fewer Q1 & Q3 fires to put out, summertime just might be the right time to focus on Q2 (Important, but Non-Urgent tasks and projects)…and even allow us to spend some mindless Q4 downtime (Unimportant, and Non-Urgent) on ourselves.

So regarding those four items I mentioned earlier, which quadrant do they fit into? Yes, Quadrant 2!

Q2 is where the bigger picture, longer term, strategic, and developmental things happen. So, developing ourselves, developing our relationships, developing our people, and developing our teams are four high-payoff activities that often end up on our Wish List rather than on our To-Do List. Why? Because, by definition, though they are of high importance, they simply are not “urgent”…and it is the urgent and time-sensitive things that always command our primary attention, often leaving us with no time, or energy, to spend in the all-important Quadrant 2.

And what about Q4 – the unimportant and non-urgent? Well, we cannot live by work alone! There is definitely a need to recharge and refresh ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And summertime is the perfect time to try to carve out some time to do that…yes, during the workweek. After how hard we work throughout most of the year, don’t we kind of owe it to ourselves to take advantage of this downtime…and this beautiful weather? And, though Q4 activities are categorized as “Time-Wasters and Escapes,” as the saying goes, “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time.”

HOW TO CREATE YOUR SUMMERTIME Q2 & Q4 TO-DO LIST

So, to help you seize the day and develop yourself, your relationships, your people, and/or your team this summer, here are just a few of a potentially unlimited number of possible suggestions (in no particular order) that you may want to consider adding to your summertime To-Do list:

Develop Yourself

While racing to meet deadlines and focusing on getting your work done throughout most of the year, it’s easy to forget about working on yourself. So make the time and take the time this summer to get organized, to create processes and systems that will help you to be more efficient and effective, and, especially, to learn something new. Here are just a few suggestions to help you develop yourself at work this summer:

  • Pick out a business book (or non-business book) and read while having a leisurely lunch somewhere outdoors.
  • Whether online or offline, get in the habit of finding time to read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and/or the key periodicals and trade journals of your industry. As President Truman once said, “Leaders are readers.”
  • Sign up for a few work-related blogs and e-newsletters and read 3-5 per day (for example, some of my favorites are: Seth Godin’s blog, Harvard Management Tip of the Day, and SmartBrief).
  • Take some time everyday to watch a couple of TED Talks (these will not only increase your knowledge, but will also help you to improve your presentation and communication skills).
  • Look up a work-related topic on YouTube and watch a few different videos to get different perspectives.
  • Find out if your company has access to book summaries (e.g., summary.com or getAbstract) or other valuable e-learning resources (e.g., Udemy), and, if so, take advantage of them.
  • Learn to speak “the language of your business” by looking up jargon and terminology you’ve heard that you don’t know the meaning of (e.g., the Investopedia dictionary is a good source for improving your financial industry vocabulary, and there’s always Wikipedia as a good starting point for everything else).
  • Take some time to de-clutter and organize your workspace (including your computer desktop). I’ve found that a clean desk contributes to a clear mind. (And if you’re allowed to, perhaps you can take your laptop outside to do your work while, at the same time, getting some fresh air and sunshine!)
  • Initiate informal conversations with various people in your office to learn more about them and to leverage the wisdom of their experience. (As well as being willing to share yours with them.) As business author Dan Pink recently wrote, “Anytime you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve just proved that you’re not.” Or, as philospher Thomas Carlyle (and, later, Emerson) put it, “Every man (*or woman) is my superior in that I may learn from him (*or her).”

Develop Your Relationships

Initiatiating conversations with your co-workers will not only increase your knowledge and develop yourself, but will help you to develop and strengthen those relationships. As the saying goes, in the business world it’s not just what you know…but who you know – as well as who wants to know you. And as the best way to be seen as “interesting” is to be “interested,” seek to ask questions and make an effort to get to know people on a sincere, genuine, and human level. A few ways to build your network and deepen your relationships this summer:

  • Go out to lunch with people in your office. Suggest sitting outside (e.g., at a sidewalk café or in Bryant Park, Union Square, etc.) or take a walk around the block (or along the High Line or across the Brooklyn Bridge). This is a great way to exercise your body while exercising your mind and your people skills.
  • Reconnect and meet up with old friends and colleagues. Look them up on LinkedIn and/or Facebook to see WHAT they’re doing…and then shoot them a note to find out HOW they’re doing…and ask if they’d like to get together sometime. It could be just for fun, or you never know where your next business connection might come from. Last summer I met up with a guy who was my best friend growing up in Queens, and who I last saw when we were 12 years old. It was a really nice reconnection and a lot of fun to reminisce about old times.
  • Speaking of LinkedIn, another way to develop relationships is to join a few LinkedIn discussion groups and dive into the conversation. It’s a great way to increase your visibility, build your brand, and establish yourself as a subject matter expert or thought-leader in your field. And, again, while doing so you never know whom you might meet.
  • After work, look for opportunities to attend networking events. Often held in the summer at outdoor venues or rooftop bars, it’s a great way to socialize and enjoy the great outdoors while developing your relationships.

Develop Your People

The biggest objection I get when trying to sell clients on my training services is not “We don’t have the budget,” but “We just don’t have the time.” Unfortunately, the reality is that “NOW” is never a good time. So if you sincerely want to develop your people, you simply have to make the time, and the commitment, to do so. If you truly want to attract, retain, engage, and motivate your people, one of the best ways to do that is to invest in their personal and professional development. And summertime just might be a good time to squeeze in some training, coaching, mentoring, and more:

  • Set aside some time to meet informally with each of your people to simply ask, “How’s it going?” Most conversations between bosses and their employees focus on tasks and projects. Or only happen two times a year during formal performance reviews. But this is all about them. Finding out what makes each individual tick will help you to engage and motivate them, and set them up for success. Find out what they want to be coached on, and – whether it’s by you or someone else – get them the coaching and/or mentoring and/or training they need to take their game to the next level.
  • Initiate a mentoring program or buddy system that will encourage people to pair up with others in your organization solely for learning and development purposes. This is a great way to increase cross-functional knowledge sharing and collaboration, as well as upward and downward conversations.
  • Create a “learning library” – both online and offline – to provide employees with free access to books, videos, articles, etc. for them to learn what they want, at their own pace. Making this minimal financial investment goes a long way towards creating a learning culture in your organization. And don’t you want your people to be as smart and knowledgeable as they can be?

Btw, while some managers ask, “What will happen if we invest in developing them and they leave?” the other question to consider is, “What will happen if we DON’T, and they stay?”

Develop Your Team

Developing each individual is the first step, but when you develop people to become a high performing team, you’ll find that as a T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More. As I wrote in my post, “Team BONDING Needs To Come Before Team BUILDING,” to build a championship team takes time and attention. Time that you may be able to take advantage of during the summer:

  • One of the easiest and most common ways to create a team environment is to bring people together to bond over lunch. Whether they brown bag it or whether you bring in pizza and salads or something else, creating an opportunity for your people to break bread together in a casual setting will help them connect, exchange ideas, and get to know one another better. If you want to be creative and turn it into a learning experience as well, show a TED Talk, share an article beforehand, or start a summer book club…to get the conversation going.
  • Get out of the office either for an extra-long lunch or allow people to leave just a little bit early to meet up for afterwork drinks at a local rooftop or waterside bar. Social media is one way of connecting; social-izing live, in-person is another.
  • Plan a more structured teambuilding offsite event. Whether you facilitate it yourself or bring in an outside expert, it’s a great way to simultaneously develop your people as individuals and collectively as a team.
  • One other, random, fun way to help people bond: “T-shirt Fridays.” If if suits your culture, pick a different theme for each Friday and invite people to wear a t-shirt that day that represents “My favorite….blank.” One week is “Wear your favorite band or concert t-shirt (e.g., The Ramones); the next week wear your favorite sports team t-shirt (e.g., Mets or Yankees); favorite vacation t-shirt; favorite superhero or cartoon character; etc. This is a fun and no-cost way to break down barriers, help people find commonalities, and initiate conversations.

While there are a million more possibilities, I’ll stop here. If you have other ideas, please share them with us!

In closing, as the inspirational magnet on my refrigerator advises: “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Which implies that if you do just some of the things listed above, your “September Self” will appreciate and thank your “Summer Self” for setting you up for a successful remainder of the year.

And again, while you’re busily making progress on your Q2 to-do list, remember to also take some Q4 time to reward yourself…especially if or when you hear that hypnotic and mesmerizing Mister Softee theme song calling your name.

How Being a Quitter Can Make You a Winner

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“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.
You never count your money,
When you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’,
When the dealin’s done.”
~ Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

 

 

 

One of my NYU students was facing a dilemma: A few chapters into a highly-recommended, award-winning, bestselling business book, she realized that she found it to be a boring and uninteresting waste of her limited and valuable time. Meanwhile she had a pile of other, much more engaging and tempting titles sitting right there on her nightstand calling her name. She was excited about diving into one of them, only to find that when she put the boring book aside to embark on a new reading adventure, she suddenly and inexplicably found herself feeling extremely guilty.

Why?

As she put it, “The culture where I come from is really uptight about winning. People who quit are looked upon as ‘failures’. And, so, quitting this book translated into a failure on my part. And this feeling of guilt comes in whenever I don’t finish something.”

“Always finish what you start.”
“Don’t be a quitter.”
“No pain, no gain.”
“Never, ever give up.”
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
“Quitters are losers.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” (Thomas Edison)
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.” (Muhammad Ali)
“If you quit ONCE it becomes a habit. Never quit!!!” (Michael Jordan)

For those who grew up with parents, teachers, coaches, and/or other authority figures and motivational speakers drilling these mantras into our heads, no wonder we feel guilty when we decide not to continue with something!

But when is it ok to quit? How do we know when it’s better to cut our losses and move on? What about “sunk costs” that cause us to dig ourselves into an even deeper hole? How do we decide when to drop something and when to persevere? How do we determine whether to give something (or someone) a second or third or tenth chance vs. when to say, “that’s it…enough is enough”?

And, is there a difference between “quitting” and “being a quitter”?

Confession: I Am A Quitter

I’ve quit jobs that weren’t working out, and I’ve ended relationships that were dysfunctional. I’ve left many books unfinished, and I’ve walked out of many a bad play or movie. And I quit piano lessons when I realized that I wasn’t really very good. I recently quit eating foods loaded with sugar and carbs, and replaced them with nuts, fruits, and vegetables. And I quit reading the New York Times while laying on my couch, and instead now read it everyday while walking for 30 minutes on the treadmill.

So you can see where I’m going with this: When it comes to “quitting,” it’s all about context, and how you define and frame it.

In his classic leadership book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” legendary management guru Marshall Goldsmith explores “the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break.” In other words: there are unproductive and counterproductive behaviors that successful people need to QUIT doing in order to enable them to become even more successful, and leaders are often successful not because of how they are, but in spite of how they are. And, so, to get from “here” to “there” they may need to “quit” doing the things that may be holding them back.

While it is admirable to keep on keepin’ on, there is no shame in movin’ on if what you’re doing just isn’t working for you anymore. If you are not engaged, if you are unhappy, if you have given it your all and see little or no possibility of sunnier skies, then, perhaps, the best choice you can make might just be to make a change. As you get older (and, hopefully, wiser), you come to realize that life is short: Too short to waste on books, or movies, or tv series, or projects, or jobs, or relationships that you no longer find valuable. The key, and the challenge, is that – though you can seek out others’ input, advice, and opinions – when it comes to your life, you are the only one who can make the determination on whether to pass or to play.

It often helps to think about the fact that ending something negative – though leaving a void – creates the time and space for the start of something new. And that it’s hard to start something new while our cup is full or when we’re tenuously hanging onto the past.

So I’m not talking about quitting on a person who is relying on you, walking out on someone, leaving a project half-way done, or storming out of the office while crooning the old country song, “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more.” I’m talking about when you reach a point where, after much thoughtful consideration and deliberation you’ve made the well-thought-out, considered decision that it’s time to move on.

Why Didn’t You Just Quit?

As I wrote about in a previous post (“A Love Letter to All of my Horrible Bosses”), earlier in my career I worked at one of the tv networks as an administrative assistant for an abusive, sadistic, insane and maniacal boss who treated me horribly on a daily basis, including, one time, throwing a box of pens at my head because they weren’t the kind she liked. (They were medium point; she wanted the fine point.)

When people hear these stories about her – after laughing in disbelief and horror – they typically ask, “Why didn’t you just quit?” This question can best be answered in the following old joke:
“This guy works at the circus and his only job is to clean up after the elephants. All day long, day after day, his job is, literally, nothing but shoveling sh*t. And, then, after work every night he would meet up with his friends at the bar and bend their ears for hours complaining about it. Finally, fed up with the endless complaints and unable to hear about it anymore, his best friend exclaims, “If you hate it so much, then why don’t you just quit???” To which he replies, “What…and leave show business!”

The Learning/Enjoyment Matrix

Going back to my student’s story about the feelings of guilt associated with “quitting” her boring book in order to pick up another, more interesting one, it got me thinking about it in this way:
Ideally, it’s great when we’re able to spend our valuable time doing what we love and loving what we do. When we’re “Learning & Loving it,” time flies, we’re truly engaged, in a state of “flow” or “in the zone,” we can’t wait for it to start, and hate for it to end. This could refer to a book, a class, a movie, a tv series that we’re binge-watching, a project, a job, or even a relationship.

Sometimes, though – let’s keep using the book example – we’re not, necessarily learning anything monumental from it, but we’re enjoying it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment, escapism, and fun.

But what about when we’re learning, but not, necessarily, enjoying it? Continuing with the book, maybe it’s taking a tremendous amount of effort to even pick it up again, a challenge to understand, and maybe even an exhausting struggle to get through every page. And, yet, little by little, you are learning something. Do you keep forging ahead…or do you quit?

Lastly, what about when you’re engaged in something where you are neither learning anything nor enjoying it? What then? And, what if it’s not a $14.95 paperback we’re talking about…but a hobby you were trying out that you’ve made an investment in, a project you’ve been working on, a relationship you are involved in, or…even your current job? Then what?

Again, there are no easy answers. And, again, only you can decide. But, perhaps framing your situation using this matrix will help you to think things through.

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Playing Quit & Seek: A Few Questions to Consider

When should you quit your job…and seek out a new opportunity?
When should you quit that bad relationship…and seek out a better one?
When should you quit a bad habit…and replace it with something more healthy and productive?
When should you quit complaining about problems…and start coming up with solutions?
When should you quit venting…and start in-venting?
How do you know whether to quit while you’re ahead (i.e., knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em)?
How should you quit (if or when the time comes, what’s the right way or the best way to do it)?
Why are you quitting (is it the right decision, and are you quitting for the right reasons)?
Who can you rely on and trust for counsel, advice, and support?
Have you weighed the pros and cons of quitting vs. persevering?
Have you explored all your alternatives?
Are you giving up too soon?
Or have you already stayed too long?
Have you given it your best shot?
Is it time?

The best distinction I’ve heard between “quitting” and “being a quitter”

In closing, quitting is never easy. It is often an emotional and wrenching and potentially-confusing decision with numerous variables and unlimited pros and cons. And though making the decision to quit something is a tough one, the decision to not decide can be equally as tough. As mentioned in my last post (“It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!”), I’ve found that being stuck in limbo is worse than anything. As the psychologist William James famously wrote, “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

Perhaps this inspirational quote will help to reframe what “quitting” is about, and help you to decide what road to take or what move – if any – to make:

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you, so you can do more things that will bring you strength.”
~Osayi Emokpae Lasisi, author of “Impossible Is Stupid”

To sum up, perhaps by ridding ourselves of the mindset that quitting is for losers, we will realize that sometimes, quitting is exactly what we need to do…in order to win.

For a little additional inspiration and a burst of confidence-boosting motivation, please see my recent post:
Spring Forward…By Facing Your Fears and Kickstarting Your Confidence

Spring Forward…By Facing Your Fears and Kickstarting Your Confidence

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Is the calendar trying to tell us something?

As I wrote last week in my post, “It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!” sometimes we just need something like a Leap Day to give us that extra nudge.

Last Friday’s March 4th date hinted that, despite the barriers and obstacles that may stand in our way, we need to continue to “march forth” towards our vision and our goals – even in the face of adversity.

And despite the fact that we have been forewarned to “Beware the Ides of March” (Julius Caesar, Act I scene ii), this Saturday as we set our clocks ahead by one hour, what better time is there to – both literally and metaphorically – “spring forward”!

After a long winter of hibernation, spring is traditionally a time of rebirth, regeneration, and rejuvenation. A time to re-evaluate priorities and start fresh. And all those New Year’s resolutions you made just a couple of months ago? If you haven’t started doing so already, with the weather starting to turn a little warmer and sunnier and with baseball’s Spring Training season in full gear, now is the perfect time to get serious about turning those ideas into actions.

But what often stands in the way of these good intentions and best laid plans is not necessarily external forces, but our own internal self-confidence. Einstein famously said that “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And yet fear of the new and the unknown, doubts and insecurities, and the thought of pushing ourselves beyond the familiarity of our comfort zone is a scary thought that makes us rather “bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of” (Hamlet, Act III scene i). And those “ills” could range from a bad relationship or undesirable apartment to an unsatisfying job situation, a horrible boss, or simply the fear of getting out there and going on a job interview.

So what keeps us trapped in a prison of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and living a life of quiet desperation? It could be a variety of factors, but one of the biggest and most common is: a lack of confidence.

From my own personal experience, I’ve found, over the course of my career, that confidence is the single biggest differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. All things being equal, whether in business, sports, school, or life, the more confident person is often going to come out ahead more times than the one who isn’t. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

We’re talking about the person who has the confidence to raise their hand. The confidence to put themselves out there. The confidence to take risks and give it a try. The confidence to question authority. The confidence to ignore those who mock you. The confidence to get back up after getting knocked down. And the confidence to (as in the classic Apple “Think Different” commercial “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”) think they can change the world.

Years ago, when I lived in L.A., I went to watch a live taping of “Seinfeld” – which, as a huge fan of the show, was an amazing and unforgettable experience. But what made it most unforgettable – and regrettable all these years later – was something that didn’t happen that night:

During a break in the taping, the host whose job it was to keep the audience entertained in between scenes said, “It’s time for some Seinfeld trivia! If you can tell me the middle name of Elaine Benes, you win this Seinfeld t-shirt!” Having watched and pretty much memorized every single episode, I knew for certain that the answer was “Marie.” But while other audience members randomly shouted out one wrong guess after another, I sat there in anxious silence…while busting to call out the correct answer and claim my prize. But too shy to speak up, doubting myself, and afraid of the possibility of being wrong and embarrassing myself in front of a group of strangers who didn’t know me and who I would never see again, that window of opportunity quickly closed. So what kept me from winning that Seinfeld t-shirt that I wanted so badly? Absolutely nothing but a lack of confidence in myself, the fear of being wrong, and, simply, the fear of speaking up and speaking out.

I wish I had kept in mind that night the classic quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said that, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself,” as well as these motivational thoughts from his wife, First Lady and prolific author and world-changing social activist (despite all her many self-confessed fears and insecurities), Eleanor Roosevelt:

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you, if you realized how seldom they do.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each new thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out, eagerly and without fear, for newer and richer experience.”

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”

And, my favorite, and probably the most well-known (from her inspirational book, “You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys For A More Fulfilling Life”):

“Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face… The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility…once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this…I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

The word “confidence” comes from the Latin for “with trust or faith” (and is related to such other words as confide, confident, confidant, fidelity, fiduciary, etc.). So the key to keep in mind regarding this definition is that in order to instill confidence in others, it is so important to first trust and have faith in oneself.

Here’s the bad news: You are always going to struggle with your confidence. Why? Because EVERYONE does, at one time or another! Fear of the unknown is an absolutely normal, human emotional reaction. And, the future is always unknown!

The only way, really, to make yourself completely confident all of the time would be to just do the same old thing, the same old way every single day of your entire life. But that would be predictable and boring…and will lead us nowhere. The only way to grow is to try, to take risks, to fail, and to learn, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones…into the zone of the unknown.

Thomas Edison said, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I learned 10,000 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb.”

Wayne Gretzky said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

And Dale Carnegie advised: Imagine the worst that can happen. Now imagine the likelihood of the worst happening, and be prepared in case it does. But realize that worst-case scenarios rarely happen. Think back on how many times in the past you’ve worried about something bad happening, how infrequently (if ever) it did, and how much time and energy you wasted worrying about it. Now use that time, that you would have spent worrying, more productively.

So, with spring almost upon us and opening day of the baseball season just around the corner, to paraphrase the famous words of Babe Ruth: Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging for the fences!

For more on building your confidence, please see my blog post, “How to Regain Your Confidence and Recapture Your Mojo After a Layoff.”

Hired Guns Founder Ally Hemming on How to Read a Job Description

Mediabistro’s Joel Schwartzberg recently asked the top players in the recruiting business how to read between the lines of a job description. Among a series of great tips by experts, Hired Guns Founder Allison Hemming recommended that candidates be wary of listings that focus on personality over skills.

“Be cautious about postings that focus disproportionately on personality traits,” says Allison Hemming, CEO of the digital talent agency, The Hired Guns. “Chances are they just canned the last guy, and the traits they listed are ones they wanted him to have, but he didn’t.”

“Alternately, it could mean they’re looking for friends more than workmates,” Hemming adds. “This is especially common for small companies and start-ups.”

That’s a Novel Idea! How Reading Literature (and Other Non-Business Books) Can Benefit You at Work and in Life

dog-with-glasses

 

As an entrepreneur who runs a management consulting firm and teaches a graduate course in “Leadership & Team Building” at NYU, most people assume that I have a degree in business.

But I don’t.

I was an English literature major.

And while I LOVE reading business books (and average one a week), the truth is that today’s businessperson cannot – and should not – live by business books alone.

With the word “novel” having the same Latin root, “nov” (meaning “new”) as the word “innovation,” it follows that reading more non-business writing may be not only an engaging and enjoyable escape, but a catalyst for new business ideas.

When my students ask me, “How can I become a better writer?” my response is always: Become a better reader.

And when I am in need of inspiration, I often find myself going back to my English major roots to revisit the classics. As the French novelist Marcel Proust famously said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” So every time I go to my bookshelf to grab some Shakespeare or poetry, or a play or a novel – even those (especially those) I have read before – I tend to find that these great works not only hold up over time, but take on new meaning, foster innovation, and provide fresh insights into the human condition. Insights that can be directly applied to the everyday world of business. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that one “cannot set foot in the same river twice,” for both the river and the person are, forever, in flux. So it is with reading and re-reading the classics: Each time, a new adventure. Each time, a new voyage of discovery.

A few examples:

• SHAKESPEARE: The story of “Julius Caesar” is as current, meaningful and impactful as in the time it was written (1599), as well as when it actually happened (44 BC). It explores the world of individuals, organizations, and teams — as well as the themes of politics, public speaking, persuasion, and power. To see parallels to today, all one needs to do is open up the newspaper or turn on the tv. And how many times has your workplace turned into “A Comedy of Errors” in which you needed people to do things “As You Like It” so that “All’s Well That Ends Well”…only to find yourself working for a boss who always makes “Much Ado About Nothing,” and is as indecisive as Hamlet, as weak as Macbeth, as over-emotional as Othello, and/or as mad as King Lear. Turning everything into a “Tempest”…when what you really want and need is the inspirational leadership of Henry V.

• PLAYS: Arthur Miller’s classic dramas “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons” each explore numerous, timeless business-related themes, from core values (e.g., truth and integrity) and work/life balance, to relationships, communication, motivation, influence, and human nature in general. In the devastating drama, “All My Sons,” factory owner Joe Keller must make a choice between shipping a batch of cracked airplane parts (hoping nothing will happen) or admitting the truth and taking responsibility, thereby risking the loss of his government contract. You can probably guess which option he chooses and what the tragic outcome is. While this was a work of fiction, the fact is we can see this type of tragic scandal play out in the business section of the newspaper everyday – from faulty airbags (Takata) and ignition switches (GM), to tainted food, and toxic water supplies (Flint, MI).

• FICTION: In this age of crowdsourcing, mob mentalities, and social media flaming, might there be a cautionary tale for us to heed hidden within Shirley Jackson’s still-shocking, horrifying, and controversial 1948 short story, “The Lottery”? And who hasn’t wanted to say to his or her boss at one point or another, when asked to do something, “I would prefer not to,” as the title character famously does in Herman Melville’s classic short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” (1853)? And having recently re-read five of my all-time favorite novels – 1984, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and To Kill a Mockingbird – though times have changed, I found the themes and messages contained therein to be as relevant, thought-provoking, universal, and impactful as ever. And there is a powerful reason, from a leadership perspective, why Atticus Finch (the original To Kill a Mockingbird version, not the recently-published, unauthorized Go Set a Watchman version) is often held up as one of the greatest fictional heroes, role models, and real-life influences in the history of American literature (and film).

• POETRY: Reading poetry by the likes of Keats, Shelley, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Cummings, Yeats, Eliot, and so many others reminds us of the importance of language when attempting to effectively communicate with others. Poetry demonstrates the power of visual imagery, alliteration and allusion, rhyme and rhythm, meter and metaphor, and more. For example, one of the hot topics out there in the business world right now is “mindfulness.” What better example of that is there than Wordsworth’s 1804 poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (aka “The Daffodils”) in which he illustrates the concept of “emotion recollected in tranquility”! And when it comes to the subject of decision-making, is there a more well-known, thought-provoking, and impactful metaphor than Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”? And while we set off on the rat race each morning, striving to climb the corporate ladder (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), it’s important to keep in mind our core values, maintain a sense of perspective, strive for work/life balance, and seek happiness, taking heed of the cautionary tale of E. A. Robinson’s “Richard Cory.”

Beyond entertainment, enjoyment, and escape, great literature transports us to another place and time, allowing us to experience the world through the eyes of others. It often brings us back to the basics, and reminds us of the universality of the human condition, making us more informed and literate, more educated and enlightened, more aware and self-aware, more empathetic, more humane, and more human. And, all together, this will (hopefully) make us both better business leaders and better people.

And while the focus of this post is on the business value of fiction, the same can be said of non-business, non-fiction books. Whether you enjoy reading about the arts, sports, science, politics, history, biography, travel, self-help, etc., if you are open to “seeing with new eyes,” you are guaranteed to discover valuable business and life lessons hidden in plain sight within anything you read. So if you are thinking about switching careers, looking for leadership lessons, or seeking out fresh new ideas and approaches, one of the best ways to stimulate innovation and open up the world of possibilities is to look outside of, and beyond, your usual field of vision.

And, in addition to books, business and life lessons of all kinds can, of course, be gleaned every day, both online and offline, from such diverse media as newspapers, magazines, e-newletters, blog posts, or even the back of a cereal box. There is so much out there to read and so little time; so much to learn, wherever we turn…if we are proactively looking for it and open to seeing it. As Simon & Garfunkel once sang, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…and tenement halls.”

If “Wisdom is where Knowledge and Experience Meet,” then when we enhance our knowledge through reading, and combine that with the real-world experiences of our everyday lives, we eventually attain the wisdom that only time can teach.

So if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to start reading more – and even if your high school English lit days seem like a distant memory – it’s never too late to dig up and dust off one of your old novels or anthologies and read or re-read those timeless classics. It’s a great habit to get into, and one that you can continue to enjoy and benefit from for the rest of your life. Though we are all growing older with each passing day, it’s never too late to hit the pause button, turn back the clock, and rediscover the classics.

As the Fool put it to King Lear: “Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise.”

Discussion: What are some of YOUR favorite non-business books that have taught you valuable business-related or life lessons? Feel free to share your thoughts with us below or on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter!

A note from Todd: While the above post focuses on the value of reading non-business books, for some of my top business book recommendations, please see the following three posts:

15 Fascinating Books to Help You Become a Better Thinker in 2015

14 Books That Will Make You More Innovative in 2014

13 For ‘13: Thirteen Books That Can Change Your Life in 2013 (If You Actually Read Them)

 

 

dog-ripping-book

Ally Hemming Featured in Crains Magazine

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On January 16, Hired Guns founder Allison Hemming was featured in a full page article written by Crain’s writer Cara Eisenpress. The article notes Hemming’s dramatic success in building an agency that both attracts and services the top digital creative talent in New York and nationwide.

“Every time we meet with her on a different search, I can see her trying to figure out another way, another angle for us,” said Suejin Yang, vice president of digital entertainment and digital general manager at Time Inc.’s People and Entertainment Weekly.

 

Download PDF of article

Read original article on Crains NY

Start the New Year Off Right with 7 Simple Productivity and Time Management Tips

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In a previous post, I talked about the “unmade beds” in our lives. Those messy distractions that drain our energy, keep us from focusing, and stand in the way of getting any “real work” done.

But once you’ve made the bed and sat down at your desk, where do you go from here? How do you decide how you are going to spend the next eight to ten (or more) hours of your workday?

As the management guru Peter Drucker famously put it, “Time is the scarcest resource; if it is not managed, nothing else can be.” So how are you going to manage your time .  . . while you try to manage to find the time to do all that you need to do?

There are a million time management and personal productivity tools, tips, and techniques out there. You can spend hours researching all of them. (But then you really wouldn’t get anything done, would you?) Or you can start with any of the seven simple tips I’m suggesting below.

While many of these techniques may at first glance appear to be just common sense, “Common sense is not always common practice,” as the saying goes. And it’s putting these ideas into practice to achieve results that really matters.

So here are seven of my favorite time management methods to help you get the most—and the best—out of your day, week, month, and year:

  1. The To-Do List or Checklist – So simple and obvious, and yet most people just don’t have one. You may have a collection of scraps of paper scattered about, Post-it Notes stuck to your computer, or random scribbles in a notebook, but not a single organized and detailed Master List of everything you need to do all in one place. If you do nothing else, do this. Consolidate. Life is complex enough, so anything you can do to simplify will help. It will not only help you get your life more organized, it will reduce stress and help you get your brain more organized, freeing you up to think more clearly, make better decisions, and innovate. As Atul Gawande’s bestselling book The Checklist Manifesto powerfully illustrates, a simple checklist can, literally, save lives. So why not start with your own?
  2. Time Management Matrix (aka the Eisenhower Matrix) – Popularized by Stephen Covey in his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (and discussed in even greater detail in his First Things First), this simple 4-quadrant model can help you more effectively manage your time (and your to-do list) by thinking in terms of “urgency” and “importance.” The basic premise is that if we spend all our time scrambling around, dealing with the urgent (e.g., crises, interruptions, and distractions), then when and how do we ever find the time to do the big things that really matter?

time management

  1. Time-Cost-Quality Triangle – Every decision we make involves these three factors. It’s up to you to determine what matters, as there are always trade-offs involved — and a change in any one factor will impact the others. (In project management terminology, we may talk in terms of Scope, Schedule, and Budget.) Do you want it done right . . . or do you want it done right now? Usually you can’t have it both ways.timecostqualityFor example, delivering high quality tends to take more time, and often costs more. Everyone wants everything “better, faster, and cheaper,” but is that realistically possible? Even when deciding whether to walk, take the subway, or take a cab, we’re playing these three variables off each other! This simple, triangular model won’t make the decision for you, but it will help you prioritize and to make more confident decisions.
  1. SMART Goals – A big part of New Year’s resolutions is setting our goals or objectives for the year. So why do we so often fail to achieve them? Because the goals we set were most likely not “SMART”! A “SMART” goal is
    • Specific (as opposed to broad, vague, or general)
    • Measurable (that is, quantifiable—as Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”)
    • Achievable (that is, a challenge and a stretch, but realistically doable)
    • Relevant (the goal must be meaningful and significant)
    • Time-oriented (there needs to be a deadline to be met, because what you can do “anytime” will, most likely, be done at no time).

    Saying “I’d like to lose some weight this year” is a good intention; but it’s not a SMART goal that will increase your odds of getting you there. Saying (or, better yet, writing it down and saying out loud to others who will hold you accountable): “I am committed to only eating X number of calories per day, and working out five days a week, with the realistic and tangible goal of losing 2 pounds a month for the next six months” is more likely to get you closer to achieving your ultimate objective than just hoping it will somehow magically happen by itself.

  1. The Three B’s of Effective Calendaring: Bookending, Blocking, and Batching – Very simply, these three B’s are easy to remember and not that difficult to do…if you make the time and take the time to actually do them.
    • Bookending: Reserve the first and last hour of your workday (e.g., 8:00am-9:00am and 5:00pm-6:00pm, depending on your schedule) for solo, silent, undistracted planning time. You could also “bookend” your week, month, and year. Not taking the time – with yourself and for yourself — to plan and strategize is a good way to spend day after day just spinning your wheels, burning out, and never getting any of the most important things done.
    • Blocking: If you don’t control your calendar, everyone else will. Block out a few hours a week to “meet” with yourself (even if it’s just a half hour or an hour at lunchtime) so you can recharge and refresh, and/or to actually get some real work done…rather than just running from one meeting to the next.
    • Batching: Instead of stopping and starting as things pop up, group similar things together (e.g., responding to non-urgent emails and phone calls, doing paperwork, filing, bill paying, etc.) and knock them out all at one time when you can give these low-priority (but highly important) things your undivided attention.
  1. 18 Minutes – Author Peter Bregman, in his thought-provoking and highly entertaining book of the same name, recommends something similar to bookending, with an added twist: He says that you should dedicate five minutes at the start of each day for planning and five minutes at the end of the day for assessing how things went (that’s ten of the eighteen minutes. He also suggests you spend one minute of every hour in between (set the alarm on your watch or phone to go off each hour) to STOP… and ask yourself: Is what I’m doing right now what I SHOULD be spending my time on right now?
     In this day and age, it’s way too easy to go online to check Facebook “for a minute,” only to look up and realize that it’s lunchtime already and you’ve gotten absolutely nothing done. So you come back from lunch, log back in, and then go off on a “Google Field Trip” – you know…when you go online to look something up, only to find that it’s now five hours later and you can’t even remember what “that” was. And it’s now time to go home.
  2. The Two-Minute Rule – If something will take less than two minutes (or even less than five minutes) to do, just get it done right NOW. Rather than adding it to your To-Do list, or taking ten times as long to delegate it to someone else, just knock it off now and move on to the next thing. You’ll feel good about making progress as you check things off your to-do list, and, again, it will allow you to focus on the big things. This and other great tips can be found in David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which is probably the most popular personal productivity book out there today.

As mentioned previously, there are tons of other related tools, tips, and techniques around, but I’ll stop there.

You’re probably thinking: I barely have time to keep up with my email and all my meetings. How am I supposed to find the time to do everything on this list? The answer is, don’t try to. Just pick one or two—the ones you think will have the biggest immediate impact—and focus on making a few small adjustments and improvements . . . one day at a time.

Doing so is an investment. And like any long-term investment, you may not see the payoff right away, but you will see the return on investment—yes—over time. You know, the whole “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and all that.

The key is to just get started.

And now is as good a time as any.

For an additional personal productivity boost to help you start 2016 off right, you might enjoy some of my previous related posts, which will help you rethink how you are going to invest your valuable time this year:

 

 

 

Holiday Wrapping: 7 Productivity Tips to Help You Wrap Up 2015 and Get the New Year Off to a Flying Start

holiday-wrapping

The last couple of weeks of December is the perfect time to take stock – not only of whether you’ve been naughty or nice over the past year – but of what you’ve accomplished, and where you need to focus your time, attention, and energy to set yourself up for success in 2016.

To help you do that, it might be useful to conduct the following seven productivity “inventories”:

  • Goals inventory
  • Personal inventory
  • Environmental inventory
  • Relationship inventory
  • Financial inventory
  • Time inventory
  • Self-development inventory

Let’s get started:

Goals inventory

Stephen Covey’s second habit (from his classic bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) is “Begin with the end in mind” – which reminds us to always start things off with a vision and a goal. But my suggestion here is to flip this phrase around to: “End with the beginning in mind.” In other words, go all the way back to the beginning of this year to your list of 2015 New Years’ resolutions, and then see how you ended up:

Which ones did you accomplish; which ones are you still working on; which ones haven’t you even started on yet; which ones should you transfer forward to your 2016 list; and which ones should you simply discard?

When doing this reflection exercise the key, here, is this: Recognize, appreciate, be grateful for, and celebrate the things that you DID accomplish…rather than regretting and beating yourself up over the things that you didn’t. Setting goals and making resolutions are valuable exercises in terms of providing direction, focus, motivation, and inspiration. But while it would have been nice to be able to check everything off your list, it’s more important and productive to focus on the positive and give yourself credit for your successes.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden put it this way: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” If you did that, congratulations. If not, well…this is the time of year you get to wipe the slate clean and give yourself permission to start all over.

Personal inventory

How are you doing? And how are you feeling? Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? When was the last time you paused to reflect and ask yourself those questions? When I was younger, my grandparents always used to say, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything” – and as you get older, I think you really start to appreciate how true this saying is.

So this is the perfect time of year to look inward, to focus on yourself, and to think about your list of New Year’s resolutions. Remember, though, it’s not an “impossible dreams” wish list, but a list of actual resolutions, which the dictionary defines as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” And just as you might do with your 2016 performance goals at work, be sure to make your personal goals “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-related.” (I know that there are different variations on the acronym, but you get the point.)

True personal story: Back in August I kind of started to outgrow my jeans and my belts, and I had some less-than-favorable lab results. So (with my wife’s support), on September 1st I made a serious commitment to go on a “30-Day Challenge” to try to lose some weight and get my bad lab numbers down. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I am proud to report that after setting some “SMART” goals for myself and working hard at it, as of this writing (100-days-and-counting into my “30-Day” Challenge), I have lost 22 pounds so far, and dramatically improved my health over the past three months. Believe me, this brief, challenging journey has been a daily struggle, but I am feeling much better about myself these days, and am committed to this lifestyle change for the long-term sake of my health.

Anyway, that’s my story; what’s yours? My friendly suggestion is that now is as good a time as any to start making some positive changes and to take the time to schedule your annual physical, dentist appointment, eye exam, etc. To maybe start going to the gym, explore a hobby you’ve always considered, to maybe try yoga, and/or to look into what this whole “mindfulness” thing is all about.

But start small. You’re trying to reduce stress and add happiness to your life, not the other way around. So what’s one thing you’ve been putting off that would instantly make you feel better about yourself if you just tried it? Whatever it is, now is the perfect time to, as Nike – (and even Shia LaBeouf!) – might put it, “Just do it!”

Environmental inventory

A cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind. So one of the best things you can do for yourself is to declutter, organize, and clean up your work and living spaces.

Step one is to just get rid of stuff. Purge as much as you can. We all have too much stuff around. So try to minimize and simplify. Those piled up magazines and newspapers and articles that you’ve been meaning to read for the past two years…admit it – you’re probably not going to get around to them. So skim them, electronically scan the ones you may want to save, and recycle the rest.

Clean up your desk area, as well as your computer desktop, and your email inbox. Do an inventory of your office supplies. Re-order printer paper, cartridges, etc., BEFORE you need them. Clear out and/or label old files, box things up and put them in storage. Create as much room as possible – both in your mind and in your workspace – to make it easier to think and to work.

And the clothes you haven’t worn in years, now is a great time to donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or the New York Cares Coat Drive. It’s a win-win: You regain extra space (and a tax deduction), and someone who probably needs it more will benefit from the things in your closet that you may have forgotten that you even had.

And my top suggestions, the best thing you can do (if you’re not doing it already), is to back up your data to the cloud and/or to an external hard drive. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did. It seems like common sense and not even need mentioning, but “Common sense is not always common practice” and I’ve heard way too many sad and regretful stories from friends who have lost valuable documents, files, and photo memories.

In short, to create space for growth, you must first – as the ancient Zen saying goes – “empty your cup.”

Relationship inventory

As I talked about last month in my “Thinksgiving” post, this is the perfect time of year to re-connect with and acknowledge the people in our lives who matter most. However, it is also a good time to think about dropping from our lives the people who don’t. I’m talking about the users and takers, and the Grinches and Scrooges who are just dragging us down. Life is too short to invest time, energy, and emotion into people who are not willing to at least meet us half way. Difficult as it may be to cut these ties, toxic relationships not only preoccupy your attention and continuously let you down, but in doing so they take an ever-increasingly destructive toll on both your mental and physical health.

As for those important people in your life, look for opportunities to connect with them not just on social media, but in real life as well. Reach out and make a plan to get together. There’s never a perfect time, so if it’s really important to you to maintain this relationship – whether it’s business or personal – you really have to just make the time and take the time to do it.

As Polonius said to Hamlet: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.”

Nicely said! In other words: Which is more important to do next year: add 500 more Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts, Twitter followers, and “new-hatched, unfledged comrades”…or to get together with 50 people (an average of just one a week) who you genuinely like and care about…and who sincerely like and care about you? Those are the people you need to “grapple…unto thy soul with hoops of steel”!

As my father always used to advise me: “Never eat lunch at your desk. Take a break, get out of the office, take a walk around the block, and grab a bite with someone.” In this fast-paced world of spending eight hours a day hunched over a computer, it seems, more than ever, that using your lunch hour to slow down, recharge, reflect, and connect is sound advice.

Financial inventory

The end of the year is a good time to assess how you did in terms of income, savings, expenditures, investments, etc., as well as figuring out your budget, and exploring possible ways to reduce expenses (and financial stresses) over the next year.

One potentially stress-reducing financial suggestion: If you have the time this month, do your taxes…now. Seriously. And I’m not saying that just because my father was an IRS agent for 35 years. If you can’t complete them, at least start getting things in order by putting all your 2015 paystubs and receipts in an envelope and getting things categorized and organized. Why wait ‘til April? As per Covey’s first Habit: “Be Proactive”! You know you’re going to have to do it soon anyway. And, so, if you can knock it off now, or at least get the ball rolling, in three months you’ll be glad you did.

Another tip, from personal experience, that I can leave you with: In this season of holiday shopping, before buying anything (especially impulse purchases of any significant cost), ask yourself these two questions: On a scale of 1-10, (a) how much DO I (or the person I’m buying this for) really want and/or need this purchase right now; and (b) looking back on this purchase a week or a month from now, how much DID I (or they) really want and/or need it? If it’s not at least a 7 or 8 in both categories, you may want to reconsider. Or not…it’s your money. And ‘tis the season.

As management guru Peter Drucker said, “Planning [including financial planning] is not about future decisions…but about the future of present decisions.” So one way to eliminate or at least reduce buyer’s remorse is – before you make any major purchasing decisions – to think about how the Future You is going to feel about it.

Time inventory

One of my other favorite quotes by Drucker is that “Time is the scarcest resource; if it is not managed, then nothing else can be.” If you’re always asking yourself “Where did the time go?” then focusing on better time management might be a worthwhile activity. There’s no such thing as “work/life balance” anymore; in this 24/7/365 always-connected world we live in today, the best we can do is a more efficient and effective job of “work/life integration.”

Do you have notes and reminders written down in twenty different places? On post-its, on a bulletin board, a whiteboard, in your phone, etc. If so, you may want to consolidate and centralize, unify and simplify. One way to do this is to create a “Master To-Do List” that has EVERYTHING on it in one place. There’s no “one right way” to do this, and it doesn’t matter if it’s electronic or on paper…as long as it’s a system that makes sense to you and works for you. It should be a living, breathing document that you’ll be modifying throughout the year. It’s always a great feeling to be able to cross things off the list with a “Mission accomplished!”

One other tip that I find extremely useful is to map out your year visually so as to get a big picture perspective of the next 12 months. It’s one thing to have all your appointments on an electronic calendar; it’s another thing to be able to graphically lay out and visualize a road map of your year ahead.

For a list of my top time management tips, please see my post from earlier this year, “Start the New Year Off Right with 7 Simple Productivity and Time Management Tips.”

Again, it doesn’t matter which system you use to manage your time; it only matters that you have one, that you maintain it, and that the system itself creates less – not more – work for you.

And, lastly, as two of the biggest time-wasters and stress-inducers in life are “indecision” and “procrastination,” I am always reminded of one of my all-time favorite blog posts by Seth Godin, which was probably his shortest. All it said was: “You don’t need more time…you just need to decide.”

Self-Development inventory

My father wrote in my high school yearbook: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, ‘til the good is better, and the better, best.” I know he didn’t make it up, but it’s one of those things that dads tend to say. And it’s always stayed with me.

So, with that in mind, what do you want to get better at next year? What books have you been wanting to read? What TED Talks, YouTube videos, and Udemy courses have you been meaning to watch? What things would you like to learn? And what skills would you like to develop?

Whether it’s personal or career-related, what’s holding you back? The most likely excuse is “lack of time,” but we all have the same 525,600 minutes a year…so it really all comes down to how we choose to use them.

One tool to help you think about where you’re currently spending time vs. where you’d like to is my Passion/Skill Matrix model. Ideally, you want to spend as much time as possible in your Sweet Spot and/or your Growth Zone, and as little time as possible in your Default Zone and/or Failure Zone. So I highly recommend taking some quiet time to fill out your own Passion/Skill Matrix so you can work on maximizing your performance, your productivity, and your potential in the coming year.

In closing, conducting the above 7-part inventory definitely takes a little time and effort. But aren’t you – and your future – worth it?

We all know the saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; and the best first step you can take might be to sit down to ponder these questions and map out your year ahead.

For inspiration, you may want to keep in mind this exchange between young Kris Kringle and the Winter Warlock from the holiday classic, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”:

Winter Warlock: “I really am a mean and despicable creature at heart, you know. It’s so difficult to… [sigh] really change.”

Kris Kringle: “Difficult? Why, why look here. Changing from bad to good’s as easy as…taking your first step!”

So if this all seems overwhelming, just remember to put one foot in front of the other – and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor…and out the door.

I hope this list helped, at least in some small way, to shine a bright red light on some key areas of focus so that next year, in whatever you do, you’ll get 2016 off to a flying start.

And who knows, perhaps, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, someday you may even go down in his-to-ry!

 

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Seven Simple Ways to Make This Thanksgiving a “Thinks-Giving” Celebration

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I can no other answer make but thanks,
And thanks; and ever thanks.
~ Shakespeare (Twelfth Night Act III scene iii)

Thanksgiving is a time of family, friends, food, frivolity, and fun.

THANKSGIVING is a time of family, friends, food, frivolity, and fun.

But why not turn this Thanksgiving into “Thinks-giving” by giving some thought to those who have had a positive influence on your life and/or your career…and then letting them know that.

In this fast-paced, always-on, often-superficial social media world we live in these days, it seems that so many people treat many of their relationships as disposable – rather than as something enduring and valuable to be nurtured and cherished. It becomes all about “What can I GET FROM this relationship?”…as opposed to “What can I GIVE TO it?” With the constant focus on building our number of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, and Facebook Friends, it is so easy to lose sight of the people behind the profiles. And as we become consumed with increasing the quantity of our connections, what often suffers is the quality of the actual relationships that those numbers represent.

Last Thanksgiving, in my post, “Better to Receive: The Benefits of Being More Open to Feedback,” I talked about how, as the saying goes, “Feedback is a gift.” So what better time than Thanksgiving to seek out opportunities to give of ourselves by offering positive and constructive feedback, expressing appreciation, providi\n\nng acknowledgement, and demonstrating recognition for the people in our lives who matter. It takes so little time and effort; all it takes, really, is a little thought.

Thanking and Thinking

If you look up the origin of the word “thank” you’ll find that it is closely related to the word “think.” To thank someone is, basically, to reward them by verbally expressing your thoughts – and feelings – of gratitude.

So with that definition in mind, and in the spirit of this season’s emphasis on the giving of “thanks,” here are seven simple ways that we might think about thanking those who have earned our appreciation over the course of the past year…or, even, over the course of our lives:

●  Send a thank you note – out of the blue – to a former boss, mentor, or teacher (or to anyone) who made a difference in your life. I recently reconnected with Mr. Patterson & Mr. Ballentine, two high school English teachers who forever changed my life by not only instilling in me a love of literature, but, more importantly, instilling in me the confidence I needed to realize my potential. The author, Dale Carnegie, once said that the words we say to people WE may forget two minutes later…but THEY may remember for the rest of their lives. Similarly, all these years later, these two generous, caring, and inspirational teachers still serve as a guiding light in my personal life and in my career. And it was my small gift to them to get back in touch with each of them recently, after all these years, to let them know that. So who is someone that you’ve often thought of thanking, what’s been keeping you from doing so, and wouldn’t now be the perfect time?

●  Write someone a glowing recommendation. While clicking an Endorsement for someone on LinkedIn is a thoughtful act (although what’s the deal with people you’ve never met endorsing you for skills you’ve never had?), a thousand times more meaningful is writing someone a personal recommendation. It takes five to ten minutes to do, so why not take an hour to write recommendations for five people whose performance you would like to personally and publicly acknowledge. Think about someone who went “ABCD” (“Above and Beyond the Call of Duty”) to make a difference…and let them – and the world – know that you noticed. It would take so little to make somebody’s day.

●  Write a 5-star Amazon review for a book that made an impact on you. A while back I wrote a review for one of the most impactful and valuable books I ever read, “The Naked Presenter” by Garr Reynolds (author, also, of the equally amazing “Presentation Zen”). A few days after posting my review (with absolutely no expectation of return), I received this short and sweet note from the author: “Hi Todd. Thanks so much for the great review on Amazon! Wonderful! Really appreciate the kind words and glad the book helped. All the best from here in Japan, -g”. That totally unexpected note (all the way from Japan!) from someone I’ve admired and whose work has had such a tremendous impact and influence on me, was something I truly valued and cherished. It took him, probably, thirty seconds to write that note, but the fact that he took those thirty seconds to do so spoke volumes about him as a person, and meant so much to me.

●  Tweet, Re-tweet, Like, Forward, and Share. Look for opportunities to spread the word and share the work of others. Whether on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or via good old-fashioned email, take the time and make the effort to be a knowledge-sharer. Not only will you be developing your reputation as a “thought-leader,” but you will be benefitting others. It always feels nice when you get a note from someone that simply says, “Saw this and thought of you.” So next time you read an article or blog post that reminds you of someone, why not take two seconds to forward it to them. One thing to keep in mind, though: As I once heard someone say, there’s a difference between dripping on people and drowning them. So just be cautious not to over-do it, lest your messages either get ignored, lost in the clutter, or be seen as trying too hard. Often, in this regard, less is more.

●  Catch people doing something right. There are so many people around us who we can easily take for granted (employees, colleagues, clients, vendors, the mailman, your doorman, the guy at the deli who makes your sandwiches) who we may only notice when they screw up. But why not take the opportunity to thank them just for doing what they do…and for doing it well. There’s something to be said for people who just go about their business every day with a positive and enthusiastic and helpful attitude. As that so often gets overlooked and taken for granted, why not be the one to step up and acknowledge it. Especially when someone goes, as mentioned previously, “ABCD” (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty”). As a boss, yes, you can wait til end-of-year performance review time to tell someone they’re doing a good job…but you can also choose to do it in the moment. And, yes, you will be giving the doorman his holiday tip next month, but how much more valuable would it be for you to say a big “Thank you for all you do!” Think about it: Which has more impact…giving someone a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day when it’s expected…or any other day of the year, when it’s not?

●  Be a connector. If you have a couple of great people in your circle who you like and respect, perhaps they might enjoy and benefit from meeting one another! So send an email to both of them with each other’s contact info and say, “I think the two of you will hit it off.” (Note: Unless you have their pre-authorization to do so, you probably want to get their permission first.) But being a connector is a great way to show people that you appreciate and value them, and that you care enough to recommend them to others. Keep in mind, though, that they may end up NOT hitting it off, as not every introduction is a “love connection” – but that’s ok. You gave it some thought, put yourself out there, and made the effort. And it’s the thought that counts. Not every swing is going to be a home run, and striking out occasionally is just part of the game. Most people will just appreciate the fact that you thought of them.

●  Pay it forward. If someone does something nice and thoughtful for you (e.g., any of the things mentioned above), in addition to thanking them, let it trigger in you a reminder to do something nice for someone else. Very often, what goes around comes around. But even if it doesn’t, so what! It’s still the right thing and the nice thing to do…and that’s an end in itself. So be thoughtful and give generously. If you do so with no expectation of return, you’ll never be disappointed…and, who knows, you may end up being unexpectedly rewarded for your generosity somewhere down the road. And if so, you can consider that a bonus.

There are many other ways of practicing “Thinks-giving” beyond the seven ways mentioned above. If you have other suggestions, please feel free to share them…and I thank you in advance for doing so.

Lastly, as you think about putting your year-end holiday gift list together, remember that the gift of appreciation is one that costs the least, and yet is often worth the most. And, unlike your financial budget, which may be fixed, your “budget of gratitude” is unlimited and abundant, so why not spread the wealth…not just at Thanksgiving time, but throughout the year.

Thankfully, the opportunity to commit random acts of “thinks-giving” is never out of season.

The Hierarchy of Followership: How Likely Is It For Someone to Follow Your Lead?

We all want to be liked.

But if you had to choose between being liked, admired, respected, or trusted which would you choose?

trust

If you could only pick one, would you rather have a boss that you liked, that you admired, that you respected, or that you trusted?

What about if you are a manager or HR recruiter interviewing potential job candidates. Could you, would you, hire someone who – on a personal level – you trusted to do the job…but didn’t really like?

These terms are definitely not mutually exclusive. And, ideally we’d like to be – and associate with – someone who possesses all four of these highly positive traits.

But what about when they come into conflict with one another?

Whose lead would you choose to follow?

Let’s say that you were assigned to a 5-person project team with four other people.

1. Alan is someone you really LIKE on a personal level. He’s a good guy, friendly, fun, personable, and you enjoy being in his company. But he’s kind of a class clown who others often make fun of, so you don’t really admire the fact that people don’t take him seriously, respect, or trust him on a professional level.

2. Betty you don’t really like that much on a personal level as she’s not really that friendly or warm towards you, but you ADMIRE her impressive background, advanced degree, and career accomplishments. As she doesn’t treat you or others with respect, you don’t have much respect for her in return, and are not sure if you really trust her.

3. Chris is not that friendly either, and you don’t really admire the fact that he got his job through an internal personal connection, leapfrogging over others who’ve been here longer and were more deserving. But you RESPECT the fact that he’s overcome numerous personal and professional obstacles to get as far as he has in his career despite these setbacks.

4. And Diane is someone who, upon first meeting, you don’t really like, admire, or respect based on what you’ve heard about her through the grapevine. But she is super-smart, has an amazing, unparalleled track record of success, and you TRUST that when it comes to getting things done, compared to everyone else on the team, there’s no one better.

So, based on the above brief descriptions, if you had to elect a team leader from this group (i.e., someone other than yourself), who would it be – and why? Is it the person you most like, admire, respect…or trust?

Sometimes as leaders we need to make tough decisions that not everyone’s going to like – or like us for. And, while it is nice when people admire us for our past accomplishments that’s all it is: a nice-to-have. Most importantly, we want people to respect us – our intelligence, our judgement, our integrity, etc. – and, ideally, to trust us.

But what is “trust” anyway?

In my leadership workshops and NYU “Leadership and Team Building” class, when we discuss the characteristics, traits, and qualities of effective leaders, the word “trust” inevitably comes up near the top of the list. But what do we mean by it?

That is such an often-asked question that out of the roughly one million entries in the English dictionary, according to Mirriam-Webster.com., “trust” is listed as the 102nd most commonly looked up word.

And when you look up the word “trust,” there are numerous definitions but they all basically have to do with “belief” and/or confidence. Belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc., and the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.

followership-pyramid

From a word origin perspective, “trust” and “truth” have the same root, and are both related to the concept of “belief”:

  • Do you believe that this person is telling the truth?
  • Do you believe that this person will follow-through on what they say they are going to do?
  • Do you believe that this person will follow-up with you as promised?
  • Do you believe that this person will keep his or her commitments?
  • Do you believe that this person can be held accountable for meeting or exceeding expectations?
  • Do you believe, from a leadership perspective, that this person is someone you would voluntarily choose to follow?

How can YOU gain the trust of others?

The best way to gain others’ trust…is to be “trustworthy.” That’s obvious. But it means exhibiting the qualities that you would want in a job candidate, a teammate, or a leader:

  • Be truthful
  • Be transparent
  • Be authentic
  • Be accountable
  • Take ownership
  • Keep promises
  • Follow up
  • Follow through
  • Do what you say
  • And say what you do

So the next time you are deciding whether a person is someone you should hire, or whose leadership you would choose to follow, keep in mind that while it would be nice if you liked, admired, and respected them…it is most important that you trust them.

Similarly, while it is great to be liked, feels good to be admired, and an honor to be respected, ultimately, the key to building relationships and gaining followership is to build trust.

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