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What's it for?

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Does it pass this simple test: What’s it for?

That thing on your desk, that shirt or pair of shoes, this email, that sentence, this meeting…

Why are we doing it? Why do we have it? Why are we still allowing it?

If it doesn’t pass the test, get rid of it.

Because, all too often, what it’s there for is to take up space, hide, or not be clear.

So many of us do things, have things, say things because we seek validation and/or approval. We need to be heard. We want for things, get them, then want for what we had.

That’s how you get stuck, trapped, lost.

How do you escape? Start by asking: What is this for?

Your essential day

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Urgent!

It’s what takes up your day. Not going to the gym, writing your book, reading, or traveling—urgent. It’s you spending your time on other people’s to-do list (aka: email).

Here’s the problem, the urgent never stops. It will never stop. There will always be that pesky notification that directs your attention elsewhere. It never ends! And it’s a tragic short-term game.

So, what really deserves your attention? The urgent? Or the important?

Here’s something I’ve tried recently: write down your ideal day. Meaning, if you found the time, had enough sleep, felt great, what would your ideal day look like? Then ask yourself, what is something essential in my life that I’m not investing enough in right now? Then ask, what is something non-essential in my life that I am over-investing in right now? Modify your ideal, essential day accordingly. Then try to get as close to it as possible.

Too far behind

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Does it matter, now? You’re too old to go back to school. You can’t learn a new skill. You didn’t make it into honors class. you’ve invested too much already to switch directions.

Here’s the thing, there will always be someone who has read more books, done it for longer, or has more resources; but why should that stop you? There are enough people out there who will care what you are doing to make it worth it.

So what if you aren’t seeing the kind of results you want to see, yet. Just because others are a few years ahead of you doesn’t mean you should call it quits. That shouldn’t matter. If you talk to anyone, they, too probably feel like they got a late start or are behind.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the one that makes the first move doesn’t always come out on top.

I set one goal a year

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I used to set at least 20 goals a year. The list would include the typical things like working out more, reading x amount of books, reaching certain milestones at work, doing something more with my website, learning a new skill, buying things, traveling places, and the list went on and on.

But now I set one goal a year. It’s the same goal I set every quarter, which is the same goal I set every week—that is, to make a plan every day and then stick to the plan.

See, there were times when I would look back at my year and review the list of things I wanted to do only to realize that things changed. We moved locations, so buying a new car was no longer important. I learned something new and adjusted my career direction. I grew up and different things became bigger priorities. Then, one year, I decided to try something different. I instead focused on my habits, my system for getting things done, and my attitude toward how I approach each day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love goals. And when I say I set one goal every year (to make a daily plan and stick to it), what I’m really saying is that I set lots and lots of goals every day. I break down each day into categories. For each category I have habits and actionable items. I’m updating these on a daily basis as well. Simply put, I don’t set large goals anymore. I have a vision for the type of person I want to become, sure, but I don’t set 90-day targets for myself or even monthly goals. I make a daily list (it’s a really long list) of everything I am working on or seeking to improve and I stick to it. I focus on continuous progress. Because I’m realizing that goals come and go too quickly and I prefer, instead, to set systems.

Here’s what I’ve learned and here’s how this approach has worked for me: I now get things done. When I say ‘we should get together sometime’ I log it onto my daily list of things to get done that day, I get it scheduled, and it happens. I complete projects. I get to all my emails. I’ve changed jobs, switched careers, traveled a bunch, read over 100 books, and cooked more at home. I now do things for the sake of making progress. If I want to build something, I no longer spend the next few weeks thinking about what tool I need to get it done, I just put the next action item onto my daily list and complete the next step toward building the thing I want to build.

And I’m always tweaking my approach. If something isn’t working—if something has been on my daily list for a few days, I either drop it, or (if it’s still important to me) I reflect on how I can prioritize that thing into my daily schedule, and I make it happen.

So this year, if you have already given up on your New Year’s resolutions, try something new. Focus on your system. Yes, I’m even suggesting to completely ignore the big goal in the back of your mind and instead worry about how you are going to do better today.

I’m with James Clear on this one. Check out his post on setting systems. You just might come across something that actually works.

What's most essential?

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When you set goals this year, ask yourself these questions:

What is something that is essential to you, but you are underinvesting in right now? At what point, what would it look like when you can say, ‘I’m now investing enough into this thing?’ What is something non-essential that you are over investing in?

For more, check out Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Also listen to this podcast episode where Tim Ferris interviews Greg and they talk about this idea of essentialism in greater depth and detail.

Being distinct

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This goes beyond just being you. Because you could choose to be a lot of things. But then you would be like everyone else.

Being distinct is a deliberate choice. And when you choose what makes you distinct, you choose who follows. Otherwise, you don’t and they won’t.

Culture add

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If you’re in a position to influence culture - which (spoiler alert) you are if you choose to be - then you probably despise complacency. You preach inclusion. And you push for creativity.

Your main priority is, no doubt, to break through bureaucracy so that the environment in which you seek change is effected in an upward trajectory. In other words, everyone wants the same thing: progress, growth, and prosperity, yet we keep doing the same things over and over to get there—insane!

If we truly want what we say we want, then why do we keep doing things that don’t work?

If we want new ideas and fresh eyes, then why are we not listening to those who have them or seeing those who view things differently?

If we really want a culture of diversity, inclusion, and originality, then why do we insist on culture ‘fits’ instead of culture ‘adds?’

Now, if your definition of a culture fit is someone who adds value in a unique way, then, by all means, hire culture fits. But for everyone else, why is it so important that you hire someone who looks like, acts like, and talks like everyone else in the office? People from similar backgrounds think the same. They probably perform at similar levels as well; which, might be good for the short term but that’s not how innovation happens.

Innovation happens when new ideas are introduced and executed. New ideas come from a variety of different places—oh wait, that’s it! Of course, new ideas and methods can come from culture ‘fits,’ but there is something special that happens when a culture ‘add’ is thrown into the mix.

Here’s the thing, finding culture fits is a predictable model. It’s something all growing organizations are looking for (and when i say ‘growth’ I mean ‘revenue’). But the organizations that want real growth, the kind that sticks, that makes a difference, that matters, are the ones that find culture ‘adds’ (this time, when I say ‘growth,’ I mean ‘the process of developing or maturing’).

So what does it mean when you say someone isn’t a culture fit? What is your culture? And why wouldn’t they fit in?

Another question: what’s so great about your culture that you literally wouldn’t want to change anything about it? Wouldn’t you beg for people who add value? Add substance? Add depth? Add culture?

Then invest in culture ‘adds.’

Institutional habits

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Beside your desk is probably a thick book of rules, procedures and best practices. There may be a section in there about company values and another about how to conduct a successful meeting.

But then, on the Slack channels, there’s something else happening.

Like it or not, realize it or not, culture is always taking place. It’s adapting, changing, and pivoting. You can’t aways control it, but you can influence it—through habits and routines.

The best companies in the world are run by employees who have developed healthy habits. They aren’t micro-managed, they aren’t machines, but they are trained on how to react to certain cues. Angry customer? They don’t panic, they rely on their training on how to deal with this kind of situation; and the habit of kindness kicks in. Leads aren’t coming in? That’s the trigger that refers them back to whatever acronym they were taught on how to increase traffic; and the habit of productivity takes over.

Dysfunctional organizations have habits, too. Habits that are the catalysts for toxic behavior and catastrophic events. Then some big wig steps in thinking he can change everything by promising more revenue and lower costs. And the race to the bottom continues.

Take a look at the organizations, teams, and institutions that have changed things around. They didn’t see a drastic transformation at first. It happened over time. They started with something simple, celebrated the moral victories and the small wins along the way, and, little by little, started to see bigger and bigger results.

Turns out, we too can see similar transformations when we focus on the simple habits.

Start small. Take it one habit at a time, then give it some time. You will hardly notice a difference. But then, one day, you’ll see that you are different.

Beyond urgent

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What’s more important: The issue? Or how we deal with the issue?

What’s happening right now has repercussions. Sure, the moment can be stressful. It usually takes quick thinking and sharp acumen. But it’s tempting to get lost in the minutiae when there are bigger things at play. And, whatever’s happening right now, the issue at hand—while important—isn’t as vital as our capacity to lay a foundation and create a system to deal with the next hundred issues.

By all means, don’t put the urgent on the back-burner—what i’m suggesting here is to take some extra time so that you’re not only getting it right, but also creating a process so that it doesn’t happen again.

If you find yourself consistently being a victim to circumstance, or getting blindsided by unforeseen issues, it’s probably an operational issue. Whatever system you have in place currently, isn’t detecting the obstacles soon enough and it’s not efficient enough to recalibrate once problems arise. Which is exactly when you need focus more on the process than on whatever ‘urgent’ thing is happening at the moment—getting the process right will always be more important that the problem we’ve got right now.

Worse case, it’s got us collaborating again, whereas before we spent most of our time arguing about the issue. Best case, well…

What do you need? Vs. This is what I do.

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If you’re a freelancer and you are always taking on projects where people tell you what they need and you adapt, you’re always going to be spinning your wheels wondering why you can’t ever get any good clients.

If you’re applying for a job with the attitude that you qualify for every role out there, you’re going to be on the market for a while. But, if you can clearly outline that you have 5 years of SaaS closing experience selling into state and local government agencies on the east coast, then the world is your oyster. You’ll find your next dream job in no time.

Riches in the niches.

People aren’t afraid to charge too much, they’re scared that once they do find their niche that people won’t like it. But here’s the thing, in today’s gig-economy, that will never happen.

‘What do you need?’ might work in the short-term, but your true value will never be noticed unless people know exactly what you do—and that you’re the best at it…

People can afford it. In fact, not only will they buy it, they’ll thank you for being so generous with it.

But it starts when you decide what you do.

Just making it up

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I don't really know of any other way to make things up. There are some days I want to write 10 blog posts, some days I can't think of anything to say. Either way, I have committed to showing up every day in order to write something interesting. Some days are better than others. It certainly hasn't gotten any easier. I would like to believe I'm a better thinker than I was 2 years ago when I started. I'm also pretty sure I can type faster. 

My big learning over the past two yearss: we're all just making it up as we go. 

The counterattack

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Your move.

This moment will change you, but not define you. You think you know what you are doing and are even rewarded for it. But then you are blindsided. Something comes out of the blue and takes you by complete surprise.

An oversight.

A devastating blow.

Your move.

Reading your way to a jump shot

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Do you think that’s how the best shooters in the world developed their jump shots?

Exactly.

Sure, reading may have been part of the process at some point. And the ones that perfected their form may have studied the game more than others. But the muscle memory of putting the ball into the basket came after literally thousands upon thousands of attempts.

References

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When a prospective employer asks for references, they aren’t looking for more information, they’re seeking validation. They have a feeling they’ve made the right decision, but (usually out of formality) they want someone else to tell them that as well.

Every day, we’re forced to make decisions with very little information. And certainly after 3 conversations, you’re not going to know everything about your candidate. Checking references, therefore, acts as a smokescreen. It gives you more time and more information. However, the new information you receive is random (some people exaggerate, some people lie), and the time it takes you to check those references is wasted (when you could be spending that time with your candidate).

More information isn’t the answer—certainly not from people who skew the data (aka, references).

Meetings and commuting

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Two thoughts while driving:

1. Driving to and from work is awful. It sucks your soul and drains your creativity. Take public transportation, ride your bike, or walk if you can before you drive. If you must drive, make the best of it by listening to podcasts (I recommend EOFIRE or The Tim Ferris Show) or listen to audiobooks. 

2. Avoid meetings at all costs. They are detrimental to productivity and employee satisfaction. They usually are more about abstract concepts than real results and, therefore, nothing ever feels accomplished. Real learning rarely takes place in meetings and even with a well-defined agenda, they can drift into other discussions that can detract from the focus of what jobs need to be done. 

Sometimes we overcomplicate things. Hire the right people. Trust them to work hard and do their jobs well.

Let us remember to avoid these two toxic things as we enter the new week.

Consistencies

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When it comes down to it, the only thing that is constant is change. 

A business is either growing or declining. 

Your lungs are either expanding or contracting. 

The universe is either expanding or shrinking. 

If you're not whitening, you're yellowing

There is no 'maintaining.' Change is inevitable. You're either getting better (even if only by a little) or worse (if only by a little). But the paradox is, the amount of energy expended is the same. 

Fighting the cycle

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In the words of the famous Vince Lombardi:

You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Ever wonder why that is? Why losing is a 'curse?' Why is it, when you tell a 'B' student to try harder, work smarter and faster, they, more often, become C students rather than A students? The same goes in the workplace. Getting better rather than getting worse is something you can learn. In other words, responding to failure is a skill that can be taught. But, too often the coaching is: 'double down, stay longer, work harder, or else.' The stakes get higher and things only get tougher. And, in response, people spend more and more of their energy fighting the cycle (playing to not lose) rather than building momentum and gaining confidence to win when it counts. 

Turns out, the best way to fight the cycle of losing is to change your mindset on what that cycle is. Fear is going to ask a lot of you. When it does, that's not your cue to pull back but push forward. Meaning, embrace it! Do the opposite of what it asks. Otherwise, you'll always be fighting against the inevitable. 

It's like if someone tells you over and over to stop being angry, what is your typical response to that? You get angrier! The same goes for winning and losing: 'don't lose, don't miss quota, don't underachieve, don't make a mistake, don't fail.' what happens? You end up doing exactly what you didn't want to. 

The solution is simple (not easy); embrace the cycle, the failure, and keep playing loose. Play to win and only focus your attention on winning. You will fail. But learn to love failure because, without it, you won't ever know how sweet success really tastes. Pretty soon, you'll stop thinking about what it would be like to lose, those thoughts won't even cross your mind. You'll live in a world where things always work out. Afterall, they do! 

Is it worth it?

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The answer is yes, if you want it to be. Or rather, if you let it. 

But, then again, that would depend on the destination. And, in that regard, sometimes it's not so much about the destination as it is the journey. The effort itself can be the reward, not just worth the reward.