A Simple Way to Get More Done

If you want to be more productive, the key is simple. Simple is the key.

People are often surprised at how much I am able to accomplish and yet how responsive I am when something new needs to be completed. Here is my secret to being a top performer: I don’t multi-task.

The idea of multi-tasking has become so ubiquitous and abused it is practically the butt of its own joke. People who accomplish a lot do not do so by spinning from task to task, with imaginary octopus arms, inching each project forward a little at a time until everything is complete.

Top producers simplify their work. They edit ruthlessly the work that is unnecessary and they politely say “no” to work that does not move them toward their goals. Top producers instead work on a single task until it is done and then they move to the next task and work on that one until it is done, and then they move on to the next task and… you get it.

I watch so many leaders burn themselves out at the altar of, “I have to get it all done and it all has to get done by me”, rather than taking the approach of, “What is the goal and what is the most efficient way to reach it?” Smart leaders look for ways to move on to the most important stuff. “What can I let go of so I can focus on what is really important? Am I the only person that can do this? If so, why? Can somebody else do it, and get it done, even if it is not to my perfect standards?”

For me, I saw my productivity transform when I embraced minimalism as a lifestyle. Being a minimalist forces you to think about the smallest number of things that bring the greatest return on value. As a result, I began working to simplify every area of my life (and I am still working at it) and the results have made it clear to me that doing less is one of the best ways to get more done.

I think corporations, teams, and even personal relationships suffer from complexity when a dose of simplicity can change everything.

It makes sense. We stretch ourselves too thin.

We take on 12 assignments at a time, which means our mental resources, our attention, and our efforts are divided by 12. I try to never have more than 2 or 3 focal points at one time on my docket. More than that and I find myself slowing down the thing I am doing because I am thinking about all the things I need to do next.

How many half-finished projects are on your desk? How many projects have you contributed your labor to, only to watch them disappear into the ether because other “more important” projects came up? (Well, why weren’t you working on the most important project from the beginning?)

That is the easiest measure of time being wasted for the sake of wasting time. Or put another way, workers work to fill the time required to be in the office, rather than working to do important work. The reason for this is simple, by the way. Workers fill time because they know the reward for work done well is to be piled up with more (busy) work. If your people can accomplish a task in 4 hours but still have to fill an 8-hour work day rather than be set free to go home or do what they want, you better believe that 4-hour task will take 8 and a half hours.

The reward for good work should not be more (less interesting) work, but rather more time and freedom. Google figured this out years ago with their famous “20% rule“.

From a minimalist perspective, the world over-complicates productivity. Ironically, productivity is over-complicated in the name of efficiency! “I’m a great multi-tasker,” potential hires will tell me during an interview. That is a sure sign to me they are not good at being productive.

Nobody needs great multi-taskers. We need great simplifiers.

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I Quit

“I can’t quit smoking. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” I have heard this excuse more than once. You can quit.

I am in my forties and I quit things all the time. I would even say I am a professional quitter, and maybe you should be, too.

Quitters get a bad rap but knowing when to say no is a value. Over the last two decades, I have quit eating meat and dairy, I quit believing I need 10 hours of sleep every night, I quit living in Michigan, I quit owning a TV, I quit playing video games, I quit a bad job, I quit believing what I could not prove or deduce logically, I quit some friends, I quit swearing (I keep quitting swearing–it’s tougher than I thought), and I quit living in debt, among many other things.

In fact, I actively look for things to quit. The older I grow, the more I realize how precious my time is and how important it is to say “No” to some things. For me, quitting something that is no longer contributing to my life, health, or prosperity opens doors to let me start new adventures, learn new things, and to create space for more of the actually important things.

It is a simple equation: the more things I give up, the more freedom I gain.

My next mission is to quit being overweight. After I went vegan, I dropped 50 pounds in a year but have hovered between 20-30 pounds over my ideal weight ever since. Like most people, I live a VERY sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a computer or in front of a screen the majority of almost every day. That is what I have to quit. I am not sure how I am going to do it but I have already taken some steps… literally. About 10,000 of them, actually, on most days. That means I quit waking up at 7 and now wake up at 5:30 each morning, which also means I had to quit griping to myself about waking up at 5:30 and begin embracing it. So I did. Now I wake up at 5:15 most days, fifteen minutes before the alarm clock, and I step (figuratively and literally) into my day!

Anyway, you can quit almost anything. Don’t tell me you can’t. Or better yet, tell me you can’t. Tell me you can’t keep smoking, can’t keep being unhealthy, can’t keep staying up too late or going to bed so early, tell me you can’t keep working a job you don’t like, or you can’t keep losing time with your loved ones. Tell me you can’t do the things that are holding you back anymore.

It turns out saying no is sometimes more powerful than saying yes. After all, that’s quitter talk… and we need more of it.

 

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I’ll Just Make Up The Rest…

The biggest movie of 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens left open a few mysteries. Is Rey Luke’s daughter? How did Poe survive the tie-fighter crash? Why is C-3PO’s arm red? Is Captain Phasma still in the trash compactor?

The internet is abuzz with speculation about a familiar galaxy far, far away.

What does internet speculation about a space fantasy have to do with leadership? It’s simple. When people do not have information about something they care about, they fill in the blanks with their own story.

Companies who are, either by circumstance or design, secretive or slow to share information invite rumors and speculation among team members. There is no quicker poison to a company’s culture than gossip over rumors.

Companies and leaders sometimes plead the Fifth, choosing silence over explanation. For example, when a high-profile person within the company is let go, many companies make the mistake of pretending it never happened. They trudge along without addressing the missing elephant in the room. Their reasons might be sound (for example, they may not want to smear somebody’s reputation who was a long-time and popular employee but was caught stealing and justly fired). Nonetheless, by not addressing the obvious they leave the story on a cliffhanger… and people chime in with their interpretation of the rest of the story.

Transparency is clearly important (ha–see what I did there?). The message does not have to be, “Attention Everyone: we just fired John because he’s a scumbag thief!” The message only has to address what happened honestly and tactfully, “Team, we’re sorry to tell you John is no longer with the company. Out of respect for everyone, we can’t really share details around why we parted ways, but we wish John well and hope to lean on many team members to help fill the gaps in the interim. Please direct any questions to Michael in HR. Thanks.”

Rumors might still crop up, but with a polite and timely message, the nature of the information being filled in will put the company in better light. In other words, team members will assume the best (Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter) instead of the worst (Poe is secretly a double agent) .

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His Name Was Prince

 

Prince, Rave

Prince was more than a musician, a rare gem in the world of celebrity who truly earned the right to become a “legend”.

Aside from being arguably one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time, he leveraged his talents to do more than sing. As he matured, he used his voice to advocate for veganism, animal rights, monogamy, feminism, peace, independent artistry, and more. I certainly did not agree with everything he stood for but I respected that he had values, particularly while living in a world that would offer him access to any and everything he desired.

Prince was not the reason I became vegan but I first learned the word through his speaking out on the subject, which, in turn, nudged me to dig further and eventually become vegan myself.

In short, Prince took advantage of his skills to do more than make money and have fun. He used his platform to make a difference in as many ways as he could. There are few celebrities who die with such an outpouring of respect from their counterparts, and story after story shared describing what an authentic human being they were.

Prince could easily have gone the route of so many famous people who died and were mourned for nothing more than being famous. After all, he came to his fame in the hey day of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, yet he changed the lives of nearly every musician, and every person, he touched. He made, for the better, the lives of many humans and non-humans who were never able to shake his hand or thank him.

The point is this… you have a voice. You have your social media accounts, or your blog, or your relationships with the people around you. Whether you know it, who you are–and who you present to the world–affects more people than you will ever meet, know, or even hear about.

A word of caution: be sure you know what you are talking about when you do speak. Your voice is also your reputation. It is the last thing anyone will hear from you.

Use your voice, like Prince did, to do more than sing.

rave lamb prince

 

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The Final Word on Leadership

The last word on leading others hasn’t been written. The absolute best book on leadership out there… isn’t out there.

It turns out there are as many ways to lead as there are leaders and if any leader had all the answers, then people like John Maxwell would have only one book published on the subject, instead of more than 40.

Take your leadership advice with a grain of salt, whether it comes from me or someone rich and famous for writing a lot of ineffective advice. (How do I know it’s ineffective? Because if it was effective, you would not need 40 different books to prove it works.)

All advice on leadership is not bad (in 40 books of trial and error–or 40 blog posts–there has to be at least a few gems, right?). The point is there are many styles and methods to lead. Find one that works for you, and try others now and then.

Baskin-Robbins used to be famous for having 31 flavors of ice cream. They had the right idea and it works the same for leadership. There are many flavors to choose from and you can sample as many as you want. You will find your favorite and least favorite, for sure, but you will not know which is which, until you try each. You might find mixing and matching works best or you might be a die-hard vanilla sort of leader.

Regardless of the additives, though, the core ingredients of leadership–just like the core ingredients of ice cream (milk, ice, sugar)–remain the same. For leaders, the core ingredients are: Listen, think, act… in the right measure. 3 parts listening to the data and people around you, 2 parts thinking about the appropriate action and predictable consequences, and finally 1 part action… because after listening (gathering data) and thinking (planning), taking action is the easy part. It will become obvious and seem instinctive if the rest of the recipe is right.

Listen, think, act… because the opposite never works.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

 

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The Flynn Effect

The Flynn Effect shows us that people, on the whole, have been getting smarter. It makes me think of Sir Isaac Newton’s famously attributed quip, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” I think that means Isaac Newton’s grandest accomplishments in science were only possible because other people laid the ground ahead of him.

Leadership works the same. Whatever skills I have are thanks mostly to the shoulders I have stood on, the leaders whose books, friendship, and practical wisdom have been shared with me. I didn’t have to discover the Peter or Pareto principles because other people already did the work. That frees me to build on their work rather than have to rebuild their work.

Therefore, the Flynn Effect works in leadership, too. On the whole, there are better leaders today than there have ever been, and it will always be that way. Robins built on the work of Maxwell who built on the work of Covey who built on the work of Welch who built on the work of Blanchard who built on the work of Carnegie, ad infinitumBefore you enjoy the laurels of any victory, acknowledge the people who pioneered the way before you…

Recognize you are standing on the shoulders of giants while you are enjoying the view.

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Do You Know What Motivates Your Team?

Leading a high-performing team requires understanding how to motivate individual performers. When you know what motivates your team, you can better lead them to drive results. Even better, you will be able to help them lead themselves.

Let’s start by acknowledging that most people do not know what motivates them. If you ask one of your team members what motivates them, you will probably receive a vague answer (“money”, “family”, “praise”), if any answer. One reason is because they are trying to guess what you think is the right answer. No one wants to give the boss a bad answer. The other reason is because they legitimately do not know.

Few people spend the time to consider what drives them forward each day and what they want from life. They are moving too fast to consider it. Still, it does not hurt to ask. If you really want to know what motivates someone, though, the best way to find out is through observation. Pay attention to their interactions with other people. Notice what types of situations and conversations energize them and what challenges they shy away from or reluctantly accept.

I used to lead a sales team and I found 3 primary motivators among my employees. These 3 motivators extend beyond sales, so I thought I would share them with you, as I have seen them:

1. Motivated by Greed. Some people seem motivated by money–by financial goals. They want to make all the money they can and they will do whatever it takes to have more than the person next to them. Of course, money itself is not the motivator. The motivator is what they believe money brings–status, luxury, a reputation among their peers or family. They want to feel famous in their own world.

2. Motivated by Deed. Some people are motivated by winning. Money is nice but what they really want is to be the best. They enjoy recognition of their ability and they are not only “in it to win it” but they are also driven to perform as role-models. They take intentional, conscious action to learn, and work hard to do whatever they do better than everyone else. They love to see goals in front of them almost as much as they love blowing past those goals. They want to feel proud and accomplished. They are motivated by the action of perfection itself.

3. Motivated by Need. Some people just want to do right by others. They work in alignment with a moral code. They never want to be seen as a slick “car salesman”. They have to fill a need to be in service to others, volunteering for a greater charitable calling to help their church, or the environment, or local charities. Moreover, they need the people they serve to acknowledge their nobility or fortitude. They want to help people and they feel a need to have people know how much they sacrifice. They need to feel good about themselves.

 

By helping a team member or friend play to their strengths and motivations, I find they compel themselves to excel. Often, this is done by simply framing a conversation to align with their motivational view-point. For example, during a sales contest, I might frame a conversation like this for each motivator:

  1. Greed: Pat, if we finish number one in this sales contest, you will have an extra $1,000 in your pocket, which will make a nice first payment on that new Lexus you want. Just throwing it out there…
  2. Deed: Chris, you owe it to yourself to finish at the top. I know you can do it. You know you can do it. You have worked and practiced for this. Now let’s show everyone else why you are the best at what you do.
  3. Need: Sam, finishing number one in this contest means you could be a hero at the shelter. What a cool gift that would be to donate, and honestly, if Pat wins it, you know that money will not go to a charity. I want to see the look on your face when you write the check. Make me proud.

 

The important thing, of course, is to be authentic to yourself in these conversations. If you don’t care if Pat gets the Lexus, or Chris leads by example, or Sam gives the money to a charity, then don’t pretend to be on their side. If you are not motivated by them feeling motivated, then they won’t be motivated by you. Use a different tactic.

Either way, it is good to know what energizes the people around you so you can have conversations that energize you both. Whether your thing is Greed, Deed, or Need, knowing the prime motivators will help you succeed.

 

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Is the Promise of Technology Broken?

We create cars with the promise of ubiquitous and unlimited travel. Then we tax gas, add license fees, mandate expensive insurance, set speed limits and otherwise make owning a car as much a punishment as a privilege.

We create computers with the promise of ubiquitous and instantaneous access to information, media, and communication. Then we tax the actual data transmission, inhibit download and upload speeds, force consumers to pay for network expansions rather than compete for consumers, and pretend there are dichotomies between computers you carry in your pocket and computers you set on a desk.

We create debit cards and electronic banking with the promise of ubiquitous access to our hard-earned money in a cashless world with unlimited shopping options. Then we tax access to our money, add fees for fake convenience, and subscribe to an absurdly convoluted system of credit punishment.

The best I can hope is that one day a future generation (maybe the children of your children’s children) will be so over-taxed, over-burdened, and over-tired of being punished for enjoying the fruits of their labor that they are forced to live by candlelight, walk everywhere, and read text on an archaic medium nostalgically referred to as “books”.

Only then, will there be hope that enough of them will trip across stories like “Atlas Shrugged”, “Animal Farm”, and “Starship Troopers”. Maybe then, forced to read and communicate with each other face-to-face in conversation… maybe then, they will be fed up enough to say “NO!” and create a better world rather than accept the one they have is the best they can “afford”.

Maybe when the promise of technology and innovation is once again a promise instead of a broken, limp excuse to take more… maybe then the world will be full of unlimited potential instead of filled with nothing but potential.

Just my two cents. Please don’t tax that.

 

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Would You Have A Beer With Me?

When I choose people for my team, I look for the right skills and experience but I don’t bank everything on someone’s credentials or qualifications. I can teach a new team member how to do what I need them to do but I can not teach charisma, candor, or personality.

One thing I think about when I am interviewing is, “Would I want to have a beer with this person?” In other words, do I like this person? Are they interesting? Do I want to learn more about them? Could I see myself hanging out with them in a non-work environment?

One of the most important things you can do when choosing the people around you is choose people you genuinely like.

Working with people you enjoy being around makes life more interesting, work more engaging, and relationships more enriching.

(If you don’t drink beer, by the way, just replace it with “tea” or “lunch” or something else that works for you.)

 

 

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Why Do You Want To Succeed?

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This house sits across the waterway in front of the trail surrounding our apartment building. We live in luxury apartments on Tampa Bay but they are decidedly less luxurious than the mansions lining the other side of the channel.

Check it out. There is a white sand beach behind that house, with several beach chairs, hammocks, a jungle gym for kids, trampoline, spacious upper deck and huge lanai for those few rainy days. The house is surrounded by palm trees and sitting right on the gulf–that’s a saltwater channel. This is the house you dream of owning while putting yourself through college.

The thing is, I don’t know who owns it. I have never seen anybody there. Its own private beach built for parties and family gatherings or just for lounging after a long day, to my knowledge, has never been used.

I walk by that house and its many neighboring mansions at least twice a day, at varying times. For almost six months now, as I pass my apartment neighbors along the walking trail on our side of the channel, I see the mansions lining the other side every day.

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And yet… I have never seen anyone outside on that side of the channel. Not once. Nobody lounging in the yard, nobody barbecuing on their huge deck, nobody sunning by their boat docks, nobody swimming in their infinity pools in front of the bay.

20160305_070417My theory about that is simple. The people who own those mansions never have time to enjoy their house with private beach or huge double decks because those people are too busy working to pay for the home and car and lifestyle.

The point is, in our cultural addiction for succeeding (whatever that means), how often do we stop to ask, “Why do I want to succeed? What does success look like, to me? How will I know when I am there?”

We are steeped in a constant pressure cooker to buy more things, own bigger things, make more money, have a nicer car, hang out with more important people… to the point where success has become the means and the end in itself…a never ending cycle.

The problem, then, is if you succeed… then what?

Why own a house you never see? Why have a private beach if you never get to lay in the hammock at the water? Why own a luxury car if you will never have the spare time to read the manual and find out what makes it luxurious?

Success is important. Don’t get me wrong. Evolution demands that we, as a species, continue to improve, and grow, and prosper. It is our nature, literally in our genes. However, it does not matter how rich you become, or how famous, or how talented, if you have no idea what to do with your money, or popularity, or skills, once you attain them.

If you have no purpose, having more success won’t help.

Or, put another way, regardless of how old or successful you are… what do you want to be when you grow up?

Be that. The house, money, and car won’t make a difference… unless you wanted to be a big empty house when you grow up.

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