Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is your top priority being squeezed out?

My hybrid system, using a Moleskine Large Squared notebook,
mailing label checklists, Outlook and a XYRON machine
Originally uploaded by Juggling Frogs (clkl)

What are your top 5 goals, in order of priority?  Jot them down.  Now take a look at your list.  Are they business-related?  Personal?  A combination?  Now think about how much time you've allocated to each of them in the past day, in the past week.  Is your top priority being squeezed out of your schedule?

Is it really the top for you?
Many of us talk a good game about what's important, but are taken off track by crises, by other people's priorities, or by whatever is new and shiny and compelling.  Chris Argyris talks about the difference between espoused theory and theory in use, and these concepts are relevant here.  Our espoused theories (re:  time use and prioritization) are reflected in those things we talk about as high priority.  Our theory in use is demonstrated in those things for which we actually allocate time.

If you've got a disconnect here, it's a credibility issue, and perhaps also a stress issue.  When your walk and your talk are better aligned you are better able to make and keep commitments.  You can work at this from either side of the equation - take a look at your espoused theory and whether it really fits you, or figure out how to make sure you allocate the appropriate time for the high priority activities.  Easy to say, harder to do.

Is there really a such thing as life balance?
Business and personal concerns are often in a battle for your time.  I'm not convinced that there is a perfect "balance" for which we should all be striving.  It's a matter of making mindful choices rather than being swept along by momentum.

If business is winning the battle for your time, it might be that there's a temporary bubble of necessary activity - or it might be that you haven't set personal goals that are compelling enough to fight it.  How much 1-on-1 time with your kids is enough for you (and for them?)  At what time are you going to be home for dinner - no matter what? 

If personal stuff is interfering with your work life, how do you feel about that?  Have you chosen to invest a larger proportion of your time in parenthood, or in elder care?  Or do you have some personal messes that need to be cleaned up in order for you to focus better on your work?

Are your priorities undefined?
If you haven't sat down and thought about what's important to you, you're more likely to be subject to someone else's priorities.  You'll find out later when your gut tells you that you've given up something that you didn't want to give up.  There is a price to be paid when you choose, for instance, to take time off to be with your kids.  There is also a price when you're away on business so often that you have to wear a nametag when you go home so your family knows what to call you.  Only you know whether the price is an investment in something important or a cost that's too big.

You can't call "Do over!" and fix it.  What you CAN do, though, is to allocate time to gain some clarity in what's REALLY your top priority.  Then you can plan your time to make sure that the first things truly come first with you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Are you choosing the path that you're following?

From what source are you generating your actions?  Are you reacting to current circumstances, or to outside stimuli?  Do you have written goals that you're pursuing?  Are you listening to the whispers of your purpose?

No matter where you are right now, your choices have helped you get here.  Sure, outside people and circumstances have been contributors as well, but the element of personal choice is almost always a factor. 

No matter where you are right now, you still have choices.  Even if you're in a very narrow place, with walls that look very high, you have choices.  You might be ruling some of them out, but they are choices nonetheless. 

Are there some choices that you have assumed won't work, or that don't suit you, or that aren't available to you?  What if your assumptions are wrong?  Perhaps instead of two options, there are 3, or 5, or more available to you if you're willing to consider them seriously.  Perhaps you have more maneuvering room than you think you have.

It would be silly of me to suggest that you have full control over your life.  Stuff happens.  But when you choose to influence your results, when you choose your path, two positive things happen:
  1. You take responsibility for your piece of the outcome.
  2. You move from victim to creator.
When you choose, consider these criteria:
  • Is this choice consistent with my purpose?
  • Is this choice consistent with my values?
  • What is the impact that this choice will have on others?
  • What are the short term ramifications of this choice?
  • What are the longer term implications?
  • Do I have enough information to make these evaluations, or will I have to choose and implement my choice in order to find out? 
Remember that making no choice is a choice in and of itself.  Ultimately, someone will do the choosing.  Someone will set the agenda.  Why shouldn't it be you?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Four things to do when you're in a hole

Feeling overwhelmed?  Feeling buried by an overwhelming pile of tasks awaiting your attention?  Are you turning in circles, trying to decide what to do first?  Are all of the things on your To Do list  labeled Must Do - and right away?  Here's what to do.

1.  Stop digging 
This is the first rule of holes - don't make it any deeper than it already is.  If you are piling "To Be Filed" items on a pile that's already two feet high, stop.  Don't add anything more, not even that one next paper, to the pile.  Either file it or dump it right now.  If your credit card balances are lurking over your shoulder, hide your cards.  Freeze them in some ice, so you have to wait (and think twice) before you use them.  Or cut some up so you can't do any more damage.  If you're overweight and you know that you have been overindulging in some trigger foods, throw them out.  Clean out your freezer, your pantry, and your desk drawer.  Then don't buy any more.

2.  Focus on the outcome you want
You can fret all day long about the circumstances in which you find yourself, but that won't change anything. Fretting might reinforce and even intensify your negative feelings, but that's it. You are where you are. The important thing is the action that you're going to choose to take right now, in this minute and in the one that directly follows it. You can't choose your actions effectively without first determining what you want. Once you've identified your desired outcome, you can use it as a mantra, like "I am living a debt-free life, I am living a debt-free life," to help yourself stay focused on it.

3.  Develop your game plan
Positive change isn't instant.  There are usually obstacles that are making it harder to climb out of the hole.  Even a long list of obstacles won't stop you if first you name them, and then think of multiple ideas that will help you get around them.  (Notice that I said "multiple?"  Don't settle for your first answer - keep going so you have options and a potential Plan B.)  You might want to do some research, or talk to a trusted family member or friend to help broaden your thinking in the solutions department.  Then choose the best solutions from the list, convert them into specific actions and lay them out in a plan.

4.  Take a step
You won't climb out of the hole unless you move your hands and feet. And it's likely that you won't be able to jump out in one motion - it's going to be a process of finding handholds and footholds and gradually climbing.  A troubled relationship won't be cured overnight, but you can do something nice for that other person.  It's a step in the right direction.  If your office (or house, or garden) is a wreck, allocate a small timeslot in which to start working on it.  You might even find that the first step gives you the good feelings and the momentum to take another, and another...

Everyone experiences the feeling of being in a hole at some time or another.  You are not alone.  It can take courage to climb out, especially when you feel like you're in pretty deep.  But you can be an instrument for change.  You can bring better things and peace of mind into your life.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What in the heck is a Leaders Cafe?

Where would you go if you wanted to learn from other leaders in a relaxed setting?  Where would you go if you would like to get to know other leaders from around the world, network, collaborate, and improve?

Now you can go to Leaders Cafe.  Yes, we're live, folks!  Now you can go online and participate in a series of interactive webinars, (or even just one if you want to check it out) conducted by presenters who are business owners, professional speakers, and thought leaders.

Leaders Cafe is a collaborative effort to reach 20 million people by 2020.  Founded by Kwai Yu in the U.K., it is a social enterprise with no owners.  Its goal is to provide greater opportunity for people at any socioeconomic level who want to improve themselves, and to do so in a convenient, cost-effective way.

Here's how it works:
  1. Go the Leaders Cafe website and wander around.  Learn more about our philosophy, our goals, and our methods.
  2. Take a look at our catalog of upcoming webinars.
  3. Take advantage of the free stuff, including a "Try before you buy" webinar.
  4. Choose to sign up for more webinars one by one, or
  5. Subscribe for a year's worth of webinar participation, and for less money than you might invest in a one-day workshop in your community.
  6. Use the introductory offer code SUMMITHRD when you subscribe and receive a 20% discount on your subscription.
  7. Sign up for your first webinar(s).
  8. Learn, improve, and enjoy!
If you're a businessperson with a busy schedule, a college student who wants to get a leg up on your career goals, an individual who wants to broaden your opportunities, or a manager who wants to develop staff but hasn't been able to find a good fit so far, Leaders Cafe is worth investigating.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure - I am one of the presenters for Leaders Cafe.  We've got presenters from the U.S., England, Australia, and India already, with more to come. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Practical reasons for values-based leadership

There are some hold-out leaders who still haven't formally articulated a values-based guidance system for their companies.  Some haven't because they don't think they are big enough yet, some because their focus is completely on profitability (however they have to get there,) and some because the whole values thing feels too squishy and new-agey.

It's interesting to me that the vast majority of performance concerns come down, though, to values-based conflicts:
  • Is it more important to be on time or be thorough?
  • Am I more concerned about making money on this deal or about making the customer happy?
  • Do I share this information/resource with my colleagues or do I keep it to myself?
  • Should I wait for more information or should I do something about it right now?
  • How important is it to be completely accurate?
  • Am I allowed to swear, or to make verbal attacks on colleagues?
Performance comes down to a series of moments, and you as the leader can't be present to provide your input or your feedback on every one.  You might as well not have staff if you can't provide enough information or have enough confidence in them for them to do their jobs without you.  Yet you want to see some consistency, a good deal of "the way I would do it" in their everyday actions. 

Write down your company's core values and then communicate them, and then reinforce and reward values-based behavior if you want to be able to give your employees more room, but without worrying about their ability to follow through.  Here's what can happen as a result:
  • You will be less likely to have to supervise every situation to be sure that it's being handled in the way you'd like.  When employees know, for example, that "customer needs get satisfied first in every situation," they have a criterion for making decisions.  It's the same criterion that you would use.
  • You will be able to make better hires.  You can train for a lot of the skills you need, but it's tough to change values. When you consciously seek to make a values match, you will be better able to have confidence in the employee's work product (of course assuming they are well trained in the content of their work and have the resources to do their job.)
  • You will be better able to evaluate and provide feedback on job performance.  Mistakes are bound to happen, but there are differences between "simple mistakes" and dealbreakers.  Generally, values-based inconsistencies are more likely to be dealbreakers. 
Warning #1:  Don't pretend to go the values-based leadership route if you're not willing to follow through and be consistent.  The values to which you and your company commit should be the non-negotiables only.  That means a values violation could result in an automatic disciplinary action (even termination) for the offender.  They aren't values if you don't give them consistently high value (power) in your own daily actions, and expect the same from everyone else. 

Warning #2:  If you really want your company's values to be demonstrated in daily behavior, you'll need to provide examples of what that behavior looks and sounds like.  Communicate them regularly.  Make them visible in workspaces.  Call attention to situations and employees that demonstrate the kind of behavior you're looking for.  Publicly recognize performance heroes and you'll get more of the same.

Values serve as the operational rules of the road that contribute to your company's work environment.  If you want the work environment to be better, this is a great place to start.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Perfect practice makes perfect

When was the last time that you practiced your craft?  If you're in a professional practice of some sort, I'm not talking about your everyday activity.  By practice I mean preparation, expansion, refinement.

Athletes aren't at top performance without rigorous training - practice.  Distance and endurance athletes have to condition their muscles to withstand the physical challenges.  They also have to prepare mentally, developing the strategy for the race, thinking ahead about the particular course and its obstacles. They plan how they want to expend their energy so that they have enough early on to stay in contention but enough left to finish fast and strong.

Musicians need physical endurance as well - breath control, strength in their embouchure (their mouth position on wind instruments,) nimbleness in their fingers.  A drummer needs strong shoulders, and string players need to practice to develop the finger callouses that protect them from injury.  And of course the musician needs to learn the music - outstanding musicians are often excellent at sight-reading, but they won't be able to do their optimal interpretation of the music without having a chance to experiment.

Teams need practice to get better at working together, at handing off to one another.  You might have the same vivid memories that I have of a kids' baseball coach shouting, "Throw it to first!  Throw it to first!"  Team members need practice opportunities to discover one another's skills, and to develop trust in one another's capabilities and character.  They won't be at peak effectiveness if they're coming together for the first time in a high-intensity, high stakes situation where they absolutely have to perform.

It's not enough to play around in the name of practice.  Perfect practice requires intention - the identification of specific skills, muscles, interactions, etc. that you want to improve.  Then you line up simulation activities or supporting exercises that help to prepare you or your group for the real thing.  Half-hearted or intermittent practice won't have the same effect as full-on, committed practice.

In what things do you need to be outstanding?  You likely won't be outstanding the first time out - sorry.  Even a cook baking a cake from a recipe (or a mix for that matter) has to learn the quirks of their oven, their altitude, etc. to ensure a good result.  Plan practice, conditioning, dry runs, and simulations into your process if you really want to do it right when it's important to do so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who will be your next teacher?

Teacher and students
Originally uploaded by Obi-Akpere

If you have truly committed to the concept of life-long learning, of continuing to sharpen the saw - where are you going to look for your next teacher?  Will you be getting your information from books, online, or have you considered making contact with live role models and/or instructors? 

We could talk about life-long learning in general terms, but you know as well as I do that nothing significant in the way of progress happens until you get more specific. Do you have an idea about a path you want to pursue right now along that line?  Answer these questions:
  • What interests me right now?
  • What are the strengths I want to strengthen?
  • What are the skill or knowledge niches that would be assets to my performance in my role?
  • Who is already doing that really well?  Do I know who the gurus are?
  • Is there someone who is not generally well-known yet, but who I think could be a good teacher for me?
  • How could I go about making contact with them?
  • How committed am I to learning it? (That's going to be a factor in determining what the relationship or arrangements might be.)
  • How quickly do I want to or need to learn it?
Of course these questions are only a starting point - the tip of the iceberg for you.  The point is that you can choose to acquire knowledge by happenstance (the proverbial bolt of lightening,) or you can instead choose to engineer and accelerate your learning process by intention and action.    Who will be your next teacher?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is listening your default position?

Sometimes you just can't help but listen - the bird outside your window that wakes you up way too early in the morning in the springtime, the mower that your neighbor runs three times per week to keep a perfectly groomed lawn-carpet, your favorite song on the radio.

But when people are together with one another, listening isn't necessarily the default position.  Talking is what we focus on - telling our news, sharing our opinions, giving feedback (solicited or not)  - you get the idea.  "I guess I told them!" is a common boast when the talker feels victorious.

But wait a minute.  Intelligence - good information - comes from listening.  The talk button can't be activated at the same time as the listening button.  If you really want to know what's going on - if you want to have the maximum amount of control over your environment - listening is the better default position.

Ask someone to lunch, or for coffee, or into your office, and let them talk.  Walk around the building, the shop floor, and listen to people.  Listen to their goals, their problems, their ideas, etc.  Listen for the content, and also listen to the feelings associated with the content to get a complete message.  You may need to reciprocate with some disclosure of your own so the other person(s) won't feel at risk, or feel like you're interrogating them.  And keep your questions open-ended - that enables the other person to choose the direction of their talk.

You'll want to consider ahead of time what you intend to do with the information once you have it, and you might be well advised to share that intention before you start asking questions.  Listening without taking action to solve problems, allay concerns, etc. might shut off the flow of information.  (Why bother talking to you if nothing changes?)  The idea is that information comes in, your thought processes the information, and then you take action.

For a week or so, concentrate on letting listening be your default position.  Ask questions and then be quiet.  Let your listening show you what it can do for you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Customer loyalty opportunity missed - tsk tsk, Verizon Wireless!

I love my Blackberry Tour.  I've had it since last August, and it hasn't given me a speck of trouble.  I email from it, do the usual calling, Tweet, post to Facebook, listen to Slacker Radio - even read on it via Kindle for Blackberry.

Oh - did I tell you that my beloved Blackberry is deceased?  Of course its untimely demise happened last night, when I was newly arrived out of town for a week, needing to stay in touch with family and clients while away, and having to drive on unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar car.  Great timing, dear Tour.

After doing the usual ritual of taking the battery out multiple times after the phone locked up, I realized the phone's illness might be severe, so I went online for some tech support.  A maze of FAQs, none of which addressed my issue.  No 800 number for tech support was evident there, but I was able to locate a nearby store so I could drive there to seek resolution.

The tech support person, Reggie, was very polite, but puzzled when he couldn't reload the BBerry software on my phone.  He officially declared my dear Tour dead, and went to get me a replacement phone when  - rats.  He discovered that he had no replacements in stock.  After checking around he discovered that there are NO Blackberry Tours in any store in the vicinity of West Palm Beach, FL right now.  I can get a replacement in 2 days.

Two days!!  I have business calls to make, coaching clients to talk to, and email to keep up on.  Aack!  My Outlook!  (I'm not revealing my internal meltdown as I'm standing coolly at the counter talking with Reggie.) "I can't be without a phone, Reggie,"  I said.  "You can get it overnight for a $10 fee,"  he replied.

"What time tomorrow will it come?" I asked, knowing that I have several phone appointments already scheduled.  "Sometime before 3 p.m.,"  he says.  Great - that time will be AFTER both of my appointments.  "Can I get it earlier?"  I ask.  He answered, "You can have FedEx send it Priority for an additional $5, and it will be there before 10:00 a.m.  And it will require a signature when they deliver it."

I say to Reggie, "I have a bit of a problem with the idea of paying $15 to get a replacement phone because my phone died."  And he says - here's the moment of opportunity - "That's not our charge, that's the FedEx charge.  You could have it free in two days."  (aww, Reggie!)  Here's how I see it:

  1. I did nothing out of the ordinary to my phone.  One minute I hung up a call and sat it on the table - a few minutes later I came back and it was stuck on the "loading" bar.
  2. I have insurance on my phone.
  3. I went to the store and they couldn't fix it, nor did they have a replacement.
  4. The new Blackberry Bold is replacing the Tour - but there are NONE in the area??
I'm not blaming Reggie.  He was trying hard to solve my problem.  I would be frustrated at the loss of my phone no matter what, but I would have been happier if Reggie had felt free (or been empowered) to have Verizon eat the cost of my FedEx.  People don't buy smartphones unless they have reasons to stay constantly connected.  Verizon Wireless should have offered to take the hit in order not to add insult to my un-connectivity.  Their recovery would have been better and I would have left the store as completely happy as possible under the circumstances.

What do you think?  Am I expecting too much?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Call the question

Any Questions?
Originally uploaded by Wolfy

In sales of any sort, even "sales" of ideas in committes or groups it's easy to get wrapped up in the process of gathering information, and more information, and giving the same.  But at some point it's time to stop the information exchange and call the question. 

Regardless of how much information you have, you'll never have complete and perfect information before you (or the other party) decide yea or nay.  So why don't you just save everybody's time and find out - are they in or are they out? 
  1. You might be uncertain whether you've really said enough or done enough to ensure that the person will give you a positive response.  More is not necessarily better - if you keep going they might start to lose patience with the process, and with you.
  2. You need a "yes" and you've gotten used to hearing "no."  You don't want to hear it right now - at least not yet.  Why stand in the way of a "yes" that's waiting for you out there?  You're giving this transaction, and this answer, too much power over you.  You're more than that.
  3. You think their answer is proof of your skill (or the lack thereof) and you're forgetting that it's not all about you and what you do.  A significant part of each transaction is the result of them, who they are, and how they approach questions like yours.
  4. You are assuming that a "no" is the end.  It's often not a final answer - it might really mean "not now," or "I have a few questions first," or "I want to but I can't afford it right now." 
What is the goal of this interaction?  Is it to determine the way in which you and/or they are going to move forward?  If so, you have to call the question in order to see movement.  And if their answer is no, your internal voice needs to say "Next!"  This isn't the last opportunity you'll have unless you make it so.

So get moving.  Call the question.  Then the next one, and the next one.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

You can change behavior when you make it fun

Thanks to Tim Raine for the idea for this post:

Remember back when the legendary Mary Poppins said "You find the fun and - snap!  The job's a game!"?  Have you forgotten her message in the crush of deadlines or pressures, whether at work or at home?

A group of scientists decided to test the fun theory to see whether they could inspire more people to choose to take the stairs rather than the escalator.  Watch:

"The Dreaded Stairs"

Before the experiment, 97% of people were using the escalator.  Once the experimenters implemented their fun component, 66% MORE people chose to take the stairs.

You can also create more participation by creating the Expectation that it's going to be fun.  Their attitudes (and yours) are going to influence their behavior.  I heard a story yesterday about a mother who made a regular practice of saying to her sons, "We're going to be doing something tomorrow and it's going to be fun!"  She didn't tell them ahead of time what the "something" was going to be, and sometimes it wasn't anything big and dramatic.  But she prepared their minds for fun - and most times fun was the result, regardless of the activity.

Once you create a track record of being engaging and fun, people start out by being more open - before you even do anything.  Does your work have to be so serious?  Perhaps you can't throw fish at work like the guys at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, but are there ways in which you can lighten it up, to laugh, to insert an element of fun at work? 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Coming soon - Leaders Cafe

Dozens of leadership and management gurus talk about the importance of continuous improvement, of "sharpening the saw" to make sure your skills are current and in tip-top shape.  Yet there are a number of obstacles that prevent some current and aspiring leaders from doing that:
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money to invest in classes
  • Lack of support on the part of the company to pursue leadership development training on their own
  • Lack of interest in reading books
  • Difficulty transferring read information into action
  • Lack of sounding board for leadership questions
  • Uncertainty about where to find high quality resources
  • Lack of local access to in-person leadership experts
Leaders Cafe 2020 has been designed to overcome a number of these obstacles.  It is a place online where you will be able to go to obtain great FREE e-books and information, and where you can participate in webinars on diverse leadership topics, presented by leadership experts from around the world.

I'll be there as one of the webinar presenters, and once the site is launched (we expect the first webinars to be available in July) you'll be able to try LC2020 for free, to register a la carte for one or more webinars, or to join for a year for a massive discount to access dozens of webinar learning opportunities and other leadership learning resources.

You'll be among the first to find out when the Leaders Cafe 2020 website is ready to go.  Stay tuned here to be in the know!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thank you to two awesome middle school teachers at CYMS

Who was your favorite teacher?  Who made an impression on you, or turned you on to a subject, or influenced your choice of a career?  Was it in elementary school?  Middle school? High school?  College? My older daughter is transitioning in the fall from Central York Middle School to high school.  She had a fabulous year in eighth grade, and a lot of this year has been about the influences of her history teacher,  Mark Werner, and her band director, Rick Worley.

First, about Mr. Werner:  History isn't an easy subject to teach.  It can be a dry memorization of a series of dates and events - OR - it can become an opportunity to connect and relate concurrent events about the globe.  It can be about the details, or it can become about the larger ideas (and ideals) that served as catalysts for events.  It can be about words on a page, or it can be about real people and societies.  It can press a particular point of view, or it can teach students to develop their own through a process of critical thinking.  Mr. Werner taught my daughter about history, but also about how to form informed opinions and see the bigger picture.

My girl and Mr. Werner also share a love of playing music.  He played with the band and jazz band, so the students had the chance to see the person as well as the teacher, which helped to make his lessons in class stick with them.  My daughter requested him as her team's chaperone on a recent band trip.  That expresses a lot to me about his connection with his students.

Now, about Mr. Worley:  Mr. Worley is a drummer, but I don't hold that against him.  (Couldn't resist - music joke.)  Music has been a core avocation and vocation in my family, so it has been important to me to pass the love of it (did I mention jazz earlier?) to my daughters.  Mr. Worley provides a ton of playing opportunities for his students - marching band, concert band (2 levels), brass ensemble, other ensembles, jazz band and a Colonial fife and drum corps.  He's staying after school many times 4 days per week to rehearse these groups, and we found out that by the end of eighth grade some of the student have had eighty - 80! - opportunities to perform.

Playing music in groups teaches many lessons - personal responsibility to know your music, cooperation and teamwork, interpretation, attentiveness to direction, and more.  Mr. Worley took a group of brass players out to carol for shut-ins over Christmas.  A number of the middle school musical groups played at larger community events, like the Box Lunch Revue in the city and the Governor's Awards for the Arts ceremony.  Music would probably be a big deal for my daughter because of my family's interests, but Mr. Worley helped her become a full participant in it (and helped to broaden her interests beyond "screamo" - thank heaven!)

It's easy to take teachers for granted.  Our taxes pay for them and they are there for us and our kids.  But for these two in particular, I don't want to risk that they won't hear how much their work means.  Thanks to the both of you.  You've got the future in your hands, and you're taking care of it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

But I don't have time to do that!

When someone (boss, spouse, etc.,) has asked you whether you finished a project, went to the dry cleaner, etc. have you ever replied, “Sorry, I didn’t have time” knowing that your use of time as an excuse was totally lame? “I didn’t have time” was actually your code for your REAL response, like, “Pick up your own darned cleaning!” or “Don’t you think I have better things to do?”

Why is it that people in general tend to hide behind the time crunch? Sometimes we hide behind it to avoid conflict with others and other times we use it with ourselves to push the “shoulds” in our lives off of our plates- at least for today.

What are those things for which you always find time? As for me, I don’t start the day without a cup of tea and at minimum a quick glance at the local newspaper – ever. My friend down the street works out at least 3 times per week. My dad never misses his three square meals per day. My husband makes sure that, no matter what, our dog gets at least one 20-minute walk per day (beyond the necessary hygiene runs, of course.)

If you’re frequently citing time as an obstacle you’re not going to find a solution until you figure out the reason behind it. Only then will you be able to overcome it. Here are some REAL time obstacles with some possible solutions attached:

  • I already had too many things to do before the boss gave me yet another assignment.  Now what do I do first? Everyone will be happier if you talk with your boss about what’s already on your plate right at the outset and together you decide the priority of each. That way he (or she) gets no surprises and you don’t seethe silently about the weight of your workload. Silent seething causes unexpected hostile retorts when simple questions are asked. Not good. Hostile retort prevention – good.
  • I don’t think my husband/teen/parent should expect me to do that chore for them. Not telling them you resent their request or assumption and then just not doing it is passive aggression. You might as well come right out and talk about it. Stand up for your time, and if it’s an ongoing problem, work with them to develop an alternative solution that doesn’t include you.
  • I don’t know why it keeps getting away from me. Yes you do know, and it’s that you don’t really want to do it. You think you should - but you don't want to. There are several choices here – 
  1. You can acknowledge that you don’t want to do it (or that something else is more important to you right now) and either move it down or scratch it off of your list. Big sigh of relief.
  2. You can figure out how to turn it into something you’d want to do. If you vowed to exercise daily this year but aren’t doing it (and it’s only January 3rd!) choose a kind of exercise that attracts you – walk your dog, or meet a friend to take a class.
  3. Make an appointment with yourself to do it. Enter a time slot in your PDA or calendar so you won’t thoughtlessly book over it.
  • I’m overwhelmed. First, take a look at your task list. Separate the “Must Do” items from the “Should Do” items. I’ll bet that there are few things that absolutely have to be done, at least not today. If there are some things that have to be done, but not necessarily by you, delegate them. If you’ve been repeatedly reviewing the same paperwork delegate it, do it, or dump it. Get it off the list.
  • My work space is a wreck! Some people handle this best by setting aside a “Production Capacity” day and just muck the place out. Others do better by allocating one hour at a time (see the prior bullet about making an appointment) and see how much they can accomplish in the way of tossing, tidying and organizing.
You won’t solve your “I didn’t have time” problem until you’re candid with yourself about what’s really behind it. But no matter where you are re: time management, there are a number of potential solutions if you’re willing to stop B.S.-ing yourself and consider them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Time and space for breathing, thinking

Photo by Julie Poland 6-1-09

Have you been stuck on the treadmill, rushing madly from activity to activity, from task to task?  There is no doubt that there are certain times in one's life where this mode is common - when just out of school, juggling between making a career and finding social outlets; when kids are in activity mode and you're the taxi driver; when you're starting a business and pouring every ounce of sweat into the venture; and when you're retired (in name only) and volunteered up to the gills.

Some people like the stimulation (and some the feeling of being needed) that comes from a crazy schedule.  But when you're running around all the time, when do you take time and space for breathing, for thinking?  How do you take the opportunity to consider whether the path you're on is the path you really want to be on?  When do you develop your game plan, your strategy, your priorities?

In time management, urgent items, those things that are pulling at you, often pop to the top of the to do list.  Sometimes, however, these aren't the most important things in which you could engage your energy and your brain.  Planning, recuperation, learning, even relationship building - these things don't happen unless you allocate time in which they can happen.  They require space that you need to choose to make in order to allow them into your life.

Perhaps the habit of busy-ness has taken over your life without notice until it has reached the "last straw" volume.  Or maybe you don't want to know, or to look too closely, and therefore your activities have given you excuses to keep your attention focused elsewhere.  Ultimately, though, if you're on the treadmill it will eventually catch up with you in the form of exhaustion, stress, unnecessary conflict with other people, or the creeping discomfort that lets you know that you're living out of congruence with what you really want and need.

Make room for breathing, for thinking in your day.  Set aside half an hour for a walk, or a soak, or a quiet cup of coffee with no TV, no reading materials, no outside distractions.  Don't answer your phone or look at your incoming email during this time.  For this half hour it's all about you.  You can seed your thought process by asking yourself questions, like:
  • What went well today?
  • For what am I grateful?
  • What is the most important thing I could do right now?
  • If I were to make one small change in myself, what would it be?
  • Is there anything that I would like to include in my life, and why?
  • Is there anything that I would like to edit out of my life, and why?
  • What is my best next step?
These questions are just starters, but you get the idea.  You are the keeper of your own life, and your intentions will have a huge influence on the quality of your experience.  Give yourself time and space.  Breathe.  Think.  Plan.  Rest.  Enjoy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who is out in front?

When your group is moving forward, who is in the front of the herd?  Who is determining the direction and setting the pace?  Who is setting (and enforcing) the standards for behavior?

Leadership is situational - different methods are effective at different times.  For instance, you'd want a different, more directive leader when your group is caught in a fire than you would when your group is deciding the pattern for a quilting project.  I realize that these two examples are rather extreme, but here's the thing:  your leader(s) start to develop patterns of behavior based upon the most commonly occurring situations (as they interpret them.)  They develop leadership habits which might not be effective in the current set of conditions.

While working with a group of law enforcement Captains, I was repeatedly told, "Julie, you have to remember that this is a para-military organization.  We aren't going to form a committee and ask every person how they would like to approach the crack house we're getting ready to invade."  I won't argue that there are some regularly occurring scenarios where life and limb is at risk, and therefore command and control keeps the force (and the citizens) safe. 

In this particular situation, however, the law enforcement agency was having motivation problems with front-line officers, and retention issues.  The command and control methodology was being overused - "Do this now with no arguments!" was the standard mode of operation even when there was no emergency or imminent threat.  The command and control leadership habit was crushing individual motivation to perform -unquestioning compliance was expected all the time.

On the flip side is the company that is accustomed to a collaborative, consensus-based mode of leadership.  Most circumstances aren't presenting an immediate threat, and there's not a high sense of urgency.  Sometimes this leadership style emanates from a senior manager's value system that says that every individual has something to contribute to the conversation. 

This other extreme is tested when the company is trying to change.  People are comfortable in their old suits of behavioral clothing, so they are not excited about the idea of changing them.  The leader who won't specify the direction and place a stake in the ground for the new expectations will have a difficult time achieving his or her change goal as individuals continue to negotiate for their own favorite agendas.

It takes a moment to stop and consider what is the appropriate methodology for THIS moment.  But a leader worth his salt will take the time to evaluate and then adapt his personal behavior so his or her leadership methods fulfill the requirements of the situation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Would you rather have authority or power?

Most of us spend part of our lives in formal organizations and part in informal ones.  We go to work during the day and volunteer in the evening.  Our employer has an organizational chart and the ability to hire or fire us, while our volunteer organizations are usually more flexible than that, and are trying to keep volunteers engaged, happy, and committed.

One of the key differences in these two settings for interaction is the relative importance of authority vs. power.  Authority and power exist in both structures.  But to make sure we're on the same page, here are some working definitions:

Authority - scope of independent action granted to an individual by an organization or higher authority.  For example, a loan officer might be able to lend money up to a certain dollar value, but must pass any larger requests on to a committee or higher-ranking loan officer. 

Power - influence over others that is earned through relationship with them.  A child has huge power over his or her parents because of their desire to demonstrate love and make the child happy.  The child can't "make" the parents do anything, and has no consequences to wield if they don't.

In a formal setting like a company, authority is exercised.  But power also has a role here - it's not necessary to be sitting in the corner office in order to influence others to behave in a certain way.  In a formal setting, overuse of authority to drive behavior is often a symptom of a leader's ineffectiveness in building the sort of relationships that will help people want to do what the leader asks without being forced to do so.

Volunteer organizations can be quite interesting, because participants have to use power to wield influence, yet many of them carry the attitudes associated with their on-the-job authority into the room with them.  They might expect the other group members to capitulate to their wishes based upon their job title.  Sometimes their expectations are fulfilled, because their outside-the-room authority level carries them through.  But in other circumstances their assumptions create conflict - they aren't necessarily going to be allowed by other volunteers to call the shots when they aren't officially in charge.

Authority has value, but also has limits in its application.  Power, on the other hand, is in play in every environment in which more than one person is located.  If I had to choose one, I think I'd rather have power.  What about you?