Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Playing hooky is not the answer

Well, it's the informal beginning of summer.  It seems that
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only last week it was too icy, too cold, too snowy, too windy or whatever to do chores, go on appointments or attend meetings.  And now, well the siren call of balmy breezes causes minds to turn to picnics, a day joyriding in the convertible, or lounging by the swimming pool.


Are you tempted to play hooky, take off on a whim and just do something for fun?  Do you have cabin fever in a big way?  What's the problem? After all, isn't life balance what we're all striving for?  Why not get the heck out of Dodge without needing some big compelling reason?

You might be right.  Your inner child might be whispering in your ear that it's time to pull a Ferris Bueller, although you didn't read it here that you should feign nausea, moan and groan for the sake of a paid day off.  But have you considered that your desire to get out and recreate might have something else attached to it?

A mentor from a long time ago said that most of your actions can be categorized in one of two ways:  tension relieving or goal achieving.  You're either focused on the long view right now or you aren't.  At the time that she said that, she was not without an agenda - she wanted more people to produce more.  It was her job, and the targets of her comment found themselves feeling a bit defensive.  But her point was valid and simple: you are either actively engaged in achieving your goals or you're not.

If you're tempted to play hooky, to take off on impulse, consider this:
  • Are you doing it in a legit fashion, or are you violating your truthfulness standards to take advantage of paid time off work?
  • Is there something that you are avoiding or running away from?  Is this desire to get away a call for life balance, or is it simple procrastination?
  • How will you feel at the end of the day if you haven't made progress toward the things that you have said are important to you?
  • Is there anyone counting on you that would be let down or unable to achieve their goals if you take off or leave town without warning?
  • How will you derive full value from your decision to take off?  Could you actually have a better time if you planned a little bit in advance - more money, tickets to a favorite event, the company of somebody you enjoy, etc.?
If you find yourself engaging in a lot of tension relieving activities like playing hooky, perhaps it's a better idea to uncover the reason for the tension and deal with that.  Otherwise, when you get back on the job, back home, back into the routine the tension will return, and if it's related to a deadline you'll have even less time to complete it than you did before you left.

Leadership guru Stephen Covey calls recreation and rest a quadrant two activity.  That means that it is important, but not urgent.  You have to choose to allocate time and resources to do it.  But if the temporary relaxation costs too much later, maybe there's a better way than playing hooky to get the R & R that you need to maintain your full production capacity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How will you know you've achieved it?

One of the biggest benefits of setting written goals is that
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you create a measurement device for your performance.  But some goal-setters miss out on the full feeling of achievement because their goals are intangible.  Here are some examples:

  • I am going to get into shape.
  • I am going to be a good parent.
  • I will be a business success.
When goals are intangible,  one person's definition can be quite different than another's.  For instance, what does it mean to get into shape?  Do you define it by weighing a certain amount, by bench pressing a certain amount?  Is "in shape" determined by a waist size, or by the ability to complete a 5K run?  If you and your boss disagree on what it means to be productive, for instance, setting and working toward a goal to be more productive might not help you satisfy his or her expectations for performance.

For some, having an intangible goal means it's something they will always be chasing, and it will always seem that it is just out of reach.  Intangible goals like "being happy" are subject to changes in circumstances and mood. So there is no finishing line, no place to celebrate, and no boost to the self-confidence that comes from a track record of achievement.

There are several ways to get more specific, and thereby more able to experience all of the benefits of writing and committing to a goal.
  1. Consider your intangible outcome a reward of achieving a goal that contributes to the outcome.  It becomes the context, the purpose, behind the goal(s) that you set.
  2. Select a behavioral habit that will help you to achieve the outcome you want, and set your goal around that.  If you have an intangible goal of getting in shape, create a goal that relates to exercising X number of minutes per day, or visiting the gym Y number of times per week.  Important:  If you choose a behavioral habit, make sure to give yourself an evaluation deadline.  Because an "evergreen" goal that says you'll do this behavior for the rest of your life is not only unrealistic - it sets you up to fall short of your expectations of yourself. That erodes your self-image, which interferes with your willingness to try again.
  3. Find and implement a project that would exemplify the characteristics of your intangible outcome.  Follow a "couch to 5K" program and register for a race that falls at the end of it.  Build a tree house for your children, or plan a vacation for you and your spouse. Solve a workplace problem.  The point of projects is that they have beginnings and endings.  They get their meaning from your intangible goal.
Personal and professional development is a lifetime journey.  There is no ultimate finish line, and that's good news.  You have in front of you an incredible number of opportunities to get closer to uncovering your full potential. Your contribution matters - to your workplace, to your family, to your community.  So let's get going, shall we?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Favorites - Are you chasing success?

Do you see yourself as successful?  Do you often think about whether you are more or less successful than, say, the guy or gal who lives next door to you?  Let's put comparisons aside for this post, because you will always - always - be able to find people who exemplify society's tangible (and in many ways superficial) definition of success.  This post is all about you. What does the word "Success" mean to you?  

This is an important question for you to answer for several reasons:
  • Until you have defined it you can't align your behavior around it.
  • You could chase something and catch it, only to realize that "this ain't it".
  • Achievement in one part of your life could require making sacrifices in other parts that are significant to you.  Are you willing to make those sacrifices - make the investment for success as you define it?
  • Until you answer the question "Who wins along with you?" you won't know the lengths to which you will or will not go to advance your own agenda.
For the moment let's talk about your success as an individual rather than you in your professional role.  You may or may not have each of these sections in your life, but the Life Wheel is representative for most people.  In what sections do you have written goals?  Chances are that they are the areas on which you are placing the most focus.  

Here's a point that's important to remember: It doesn't matter in which section(s) of the life wheel you commit your time and energy and invest your money.  What matters is that the alignment of the wheel works for you.  What matters is that you are consciously choosing your definition of success rather than falling into one by force of momentum or somebody else's goals for you.

Are you willing to sacrifice your physical health and your family life for your job?  Some people are willing to do so, some make a choice to do so just for limited period of time, and some aren't willing to sacrifice at all in those areas.  Again, your choice is not as important as it is that you MAKE a conscious choice.  

There is the issue of sustainability - if you injure your body severely enough in the process of doing your job there might be only a limited window of time in which you can do your job.  If you don't sharpen the mental saw from time to time your ability to be effective might erode as your industry's body of knowledge moves forward.  And lack of social connectedness can lead to depression.  You can't have friends if you're always too busy with something else.

Are you striving for balance in your life?  Balance doesn't necessarily mean that you are committing focus in equal parts every day in all parts of the wheel.  Beyond your long-term success definition, there is a life stage factor that enters into the management of your life wheel - when you are young and unattached, Social is a section that receives a lot of attention, as does Mental when you are in the formal education part of your life.  Family and Career tend to take over later as your life progresses, just because that's often what comes next.

Excellence in one area might mean that you have to shift resources from one segment of the wheel to another.  You might have to choose to reduce some social time to find the time to work out.  But don't assume that pursuing one segment of your life wheel means giving up in another.  You can exercise with your family, or you can take a class with a friend.  You can create high-leverage activities that invest simultaneously in several segments of your wheel.

Stress can result from too many things going on at one time.  But more often, stress results from a misalignment, a conflict between what you want to be doing in your life and what you are actually doing.  If you feel stress and you can't identify its source, take a look at the life wheel - your life wheel.  Determine whether you have allowed yourself to be swept along into making unintentional compromises.  You have the opportunity to make a new choice, starting today.  You can live your own best life once you decide in your conscious mind what it looks like.  Then, and only then, can you take the right steps to manifest it in real time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Flitting like a butterfly - and going nowhere

How many flowers do you think this butterfly will visit in the
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course of the day?  Thirty?  Three hundred?  We know a highly valued professional who uses the same working style as the butterfly - he lands for a moment on a task or problem, notices it, frowns over it, and then moves to the next.  He touches dozens of activities, but he feels that, although he's quite busy, he's going nowhere.


Compounding the situation is the fact that the guy is brilliant and experienced.  He's the company guru, and he knows what needs to be done to resolve many of the company's perpetual issues. But because they aren't a part of his personal performance goals he's reluctant to take time away from his own production to build greater production capacity for the company as a whole.  Instead he flits on to the next thing on his list.

This guy has got the same issue with email.  He receives a pile of them during the day, and when the email notifications pop up in the corner of his computer screen as they are delivered to his mailbox he glances at them.  He stops in the middle of a phone conversation to read them, leaving the listener wondering where he went until he resumes talking and apologizes for the interruption.  He responds to the urgent emails immediately, out of the noble intention of wanting to be responsive.  Then he has to bring himself back to the task in front of him and figure out where he was before the interruption.

It would be oversimplifying to claim that flitting is solely a matter of self-discipline.  Some people are more prone to the shorter bursts of attention - and flitting can help them scan the environment for opportunities.  In sales in particular this can be a valuable method for noticing opportunities.  But in a typical workplace role, especially in a leadership role where the complexity is higher, certain issues and problems need a more sustained block of focus.

Sometimes you just have to stop where you are and allocate some time to identify the repetitive issues that cause you consternation during the work day.  Sometimes you have to move to quadrant 2 time use and do some crisis prevention, planning, relationship building, etc. if you want to stop revisiting them every day and develop a more long lasting solution. They won't be pulling at you to do them, so you have to take the initiative to choose to do these things.  What's that old phrase - "Pay me now or pay me later"?  Just like our client and friend, you might have been paying, and paying, and paying for your habit of constantly moving on.


What did our butterfly do?
In the course of our coaching engagement with him, the businessperson in the example identified a LOT of capacity building issues that could use his attention.  He chose to single out one - one that, once solved, could generate a substantial amount of revenue for his company.  He's going to focus on that one until he's built a path to solve it not just for now, but for good.

He has also decided to allocate only a couple of windows of time each day to process emails.  His plan is to read them and respond to the ones that need responses - and then check them off of his mental to-do list.  He thinks that 24 hours is sufficient turnaround for most of the messages.  He is also looking at the best time of day to go through them, thinking that he can complete them in time slots that are otherwise less productive times of the day for him.

It was amazing how much more relaxed he sounded, even after only coming up with a game plan to overcome his flitting habit.  He's taking control of the issue instead of allowing it to control him.  Also notice that he is not simply choosing to stop engaging in his flitting behavior, but rather is replacing it with a different set of actions. Of course, the ultimate test will be in the successful and sustained development of his new habits, but he's on the right track.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tom Leonard says less tolerance is a good thing

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This young woman isn't happy. We can only imagine what her companion is doing or saying, but he seems quite pleased with the situation.  Should she hang around and hope things get better?  Or do you think she'd be better off cutting her losses right here and extricating herself from the situation?  What is she tolerating, and how much more should she take?

The dictionary defines tolerance as endurance or allowance.  When you endure you continue on, despite the fact that it doesn't feel good.  Allowance is a bit different in that it's giving space to another to engage in behavior with which you may or may not agree.  This post is about the endurance meaning of tolerance, and the premise is that you're probably putting up with too much that's not right in your world.

The late, great Thomas Leonard, coach and founder of Coach University wrote in his book The Portable Coach that


“Being flexible, adaptable, having gratitude – these are all virtues. But sometimes we operate at such a virtuous level that the virtues turn into vices.  And we all know it. Beyond a certain point you are simply tolerating too much. Let’s define tolerations as thing that bug us, sap our energy, and could be eliminated! For most people I’ve coached, as much as 80 percent of their lives involved carrying tolerations around. There’s a small payoff to carrying tolerations. But, believe me, it’s a very expensive source of self-esteem.”

What are you tolerating in yourself?
  • Feeling heavy?
  • Your disorganization?
  • Feeling tired?
  • Your impatience and anger reactions? 

What are you tolerating in your relationships?
  •  Inattention?
  • Unkind treatment?
  •  Lack of reciprocity? 

What are you tolerating in your living conditions?
  •  A cluttered or unclean house?
  •  Misbehaving children?
  •  A sticking screen door?
  •  Noisy (or nosy) neighbors? 

What are you tolerating in your circumstances?
  • A job you hate?
  • Inadequate financial resources?
Tolerating things saps your energy and reduces your ability to attract the things you want into your life. In order to endure the things that drive you crazy you have to sort of numb yourself and try not to notice them. Being numb is no way to enjoy all that life has to offer! 

Here is Thomas Leonard’s list of the Top 10 Ways to Tolerate Nothing from The Portable Coach:

1.   Realize what tolerations do and why you have so many.
2.   Make a list of the fifty things you are tolerating in your life, big and small.
3.   Identify the benefit of having and maintaining your tolerations.
4.   Study the list and identify the hard and soft costs of those tolerations.
5.   Decide whether it’s worth it for you to evolve into a toleration-free zone.
6.   Pick the costliest toleration on your list and eliminate it 110 percent.
7.   Tell the people closest to you about this new track you’re starting.
8.   Find a friend, coach, or therapist to support you in this area.
9.   Progress down your list for the next ninety days.
10. Make some important infrastructure/goal changes to support your progress.

As Leonard details so well in his book, choosing not to tolerate any longer and following through on that choice isn’t easy. Some of your larger tolerations might be creating a sense of comfort and safety for you, even if they’re harming you in the long run. You might even find that people from your toleration-full life might recede or even disappear from you once you decide to become toleration-free.

Tolerations are ways in which you are living out of alignment with yourself, your values, and your dreams.  How important is greater alignment and greater peace of mind to you?  Is it worth going on the challenging journey of addressing your biggest and most self-destructive tolerations? You don't have to do this alone. Consider adding people to your life that support you in the direction that you want to go.  And along the way incorporate new habits of thought and behavior that help you remain toleration-free.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A mantra for times of trial

Are you suffering from your current circumstances?
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Feeling stressed? Battling illness? Broke? Angry with a loved one? Facing change that you haven't chosen, but that was thrust upon you?

Illness isn't permanent.  Neither is poverty, Neither is youth, doggone it.  Nothing is permanent - it changes over time.  Depending upon your perspective toward the event, impermanence might seem like a good thing - thank heaven that's over - or a bad thing - why can't we stay at the beach house forever?!  You want to hang on to the things you love, the things that nourish you.  And as for the tests, the trials, the bad things - well, they can't be over fast enough.

Would it help you to get through the trials to remember that "It's only an inconvenience?"  Would you be able to detach to that extent?  From childhood we remember this bedtime assurance, "It will all be better by the time you get married."   And indeed the trials of youth were better by then - usually by the next morning everything looked different, brighter.

Let's be real, though.  Some things don't resolve in a way that seems "better."  Sometimes the outcome doesn't fall in your favor.  But even those things, like disappointment, hurt, even grief - are not permanent.  Even the worst of them gradually fade from wrenching pain to shadow with the help of time and distance.

Do you perceive the idea of impermanence as frightening?  Are you holding on to things, to situations, to people, to habits, to feelings?  What are you assuming that would cause you to grasp them so tightly?  Are you convinced that they will never come back again, or that nothing could possibly come into your life that would be better?   Or is it simply that they are comfortable - you know them, and so you try to hang on even if they are causing you pain?  

Worry about losing and stress about acquiring can anaesthetize you to such a degree that you don't fully experience the things that are here right now.  Is a life well-lived one without bumps?  Or does the best scenery only reveal itself when there are hills and valleys, where an incline obscures the view until you crest the hill and - aahhh! - the panorama appears in front of you?

Give us the hills and valleys any day.  Sure, the view from the top of the hill looking out is more fun, but if a person can't have the vista without the dip and the climb, then here we are, ready to see it all.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Don't use ultimatums - or else!

  • "Change your behavior or you're outta here!"
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  • "Clean up your room and keep it clean or you'll have to find another place to live!"
  • "Fix this problem now or I'm leaving you!"
Issuing an ultimatum means that you (or they) are done - there's no more messing around, there will be no more warnings after this one, etc.  The person who issues the ultimate threat is trying to send a loud and clear signal to the other person.  They are saying, "You had better change now because I'm telling you to do so!"  The intention is that the issuer can create change in the other person by upping the ante so far that the other party will see no other option but change.  The ultimatum often doesn't work as a negotiating tool, due to these limitations:
  1. The issuer of the ultimatum does so from a position of higher authority.  If you are involved in a serious conflict in a personal relationship - and you want the relationship to succeed - your needs are not the only ones important in the situation. An ultimatum assumes that your needs are the more important ones.  Are you certain that you want a one up - one down relationship?  If the other person succumbs to your ultimatum you may lose respect for them and view them as weak.  You may wind up wanting to leave the relationship anyway - just for different reasons.
  2. Be sure that you are willing and able to follow through fully with the consequences you outlined if your conditions are not met.  Otherwise you have lost credibility and will not win future negotiations with this person.
  3. The ultimatum only works when the other person has an interest in meeting your needs and wants.  If they don't care your threat will be nothing but empty sound and fury.  They will be quite OK if you (or they) go away.  (Remember that old insult - "Don't go away mad, just go away"?)
  4. The other person will only tolerate a very few (maybe only one) ultimatums from you before the drama quotient associated with dealing with you motivates them to leave the relationship, job, etc.
  5. If you are demanding a change in behavior, especially with the high stakes attached to an ultimatum, you had better be in a position to know whether the behavior standard is truly being met after the ultimatum is issued.  If you don't follow up on the required change, it's not a required change, and your future demands will become toothless. (See #2 above)
The Chinese euphemism related to empty ultimatums is "paper tiger."  The paper tiger looks fierce, but is harmless.  The irony in this is that sometimes people resort to ultimatums because they think the "my way or the highway" approach makes them look strong.  They are wrong - overusers of ultimatums look weak and desperate instead.  Not every issue or difference of opinion rises to this level of importance.  Some problems are only inconvenience.  Most mistakes are better addressed by training, encouragement, and two-way communication than by threats of extreme measures.
If your situation seems intractable, the assistance of a coach, facilitator, or therapist may be helpful.  If the involved parties have difficulty breaking unproductive patterns of communication, or need help articulating the problems they see in the situation, the third party can help to identify the real issues, recommend better paths to resolution of problems, and with commitment from both parties, help to prevent further disintegration of the situation.