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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Life Style

Everyone struggles to find work-life balance.

That struggle has made me a firm believer in managing by results over location and I am helping our organization transition to a workplace where the “place” is not part of the “work”.

A team-mate told me his plan is to move to another state in a few years and he is hoping we have an opportunity for him in Georgia. He quickly added, “But, by the way you are leading the company, we might all be working from wherever we want by then. You might already be living there when I get there!”

I was happy to hear his confidence in me, but it also got me thinking… when we are no longer location-centric because of work, what might life look like?

For me, I imagine designing my life in the style that works best for me and Nicole. Maybe we use technology, like Airbnb (for timeshare living), Uber (to get around), and Skype (for team availability) to stay connected and on-the-move at the same time. Maybe we have temporary set-ups in the places we most want to live, planning each year ahead.

It would take some planning but we could always live in our favorite places while working the same job. Nicole and I could spend Summer in Grand Rapids–June, July, and August. Fall in Portland–September. Winter in Tampa–November and December, Orlando–January and February, and Miami–March. Spring in Savannah–April and May. The next year it could be Chicago, Austin, Key West, San Diego, Detroit, and Seattle. Then Hawaii, Costa Rica, Paris, Ireland, and Montreal.

The only reason to limit the possibilities of Work, Life, and Balance is for fear of the alternative: limitless possibilities. 

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Why You Should Work For Free

I share a lesson I have learned in life each weekday. Today’s lesson is about giving away your best work.

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1.  Don’t work for free. In general, if you have a talent people are willing to pay for, then you should ask them to. Giving away your work sends a signal that it is not worth paying for, that you are an amateur, that you do not believe in your own results enough to charge for them.

2.  Work for free. Giving away your work does two things: builds an audience of potential future customers and shows the value you have to offer. If you choose to work for free, make sure you do your best work. Sounds crazy but giving away your best work is the best way to have word spread about you.

As you build raving fans, they will be willing to pay for the add-ons. If you have a podcast, for example, be sure the best content is available for free. Most people will be indifferent about paying for your content (after all, there are literally millions of podcasts available for free). Your biggest fans, though, will be willing to pay to support your continued efforts and they will want to dive into the details–these are the people who will pay for the extended interviews and extra content. That content is not your best work, though it might still be great. It is not the work that drew them in. Rather, it is the work that makes them special. As paying customers, they are insiders who understand the full value of what you offer.

 

For me, I do a lot of work for free (this blog, for example).  I could command much higher income each year if I charged appropriately for my work but it is not only about the money for me. It is about touching lives and leaving a legacy–spreading ideas as far as I can, with or without credit (though with credit is better).

Here is a more practical example. For years, I helped a former boss with special projects, almost always at no charge. I did not know 15 years later he would refer me to his friend and help me secure a job I love. Maybe he would have provided a nice referral anyway, but by working with him over the years, he was able to see the quality of my work and speak to it when I needed him most (and I didn’t even know he was behind the scenes helping me!). Doing five or ten free projects, in that case, helped secure an entire career path, worth far more than the paltry money I could have made charging for those one-off projects.

I recently took on an after-hours recruiting assignment. A decent recruiter can command more than $25,000 for supplying one top-notch employee. I chose to do this one for free, though. It is less paperwork and dealing with taxes for me, and most of the groundwork is already done. In other words, it is easy work for me (though highly valuable to the employer). Providing a great employee for free this time could lead to future business worth much more, or other opportunities, so I didn’t mind suggesting to do this as a favor. Money-in-hand now might not be worth a better opportunity later, and if there is no future opportunity, no big deal. It was not hard work to begin with and it certainly garnered good will.

You don’t have to work for free, and generally, I think you should not, but working for free can lead to more and better work. Your choice, and if you choose to give away work, don’t hold back. Give away your best work and let the word spread. Sometimes fans are better than clients.

 

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Love Work

I share a life-lesson I have learned each weekday. Today’s lesson is about work. You know, that thing nobody likes to do…

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I love work. That is not to say I love my job (but I do). I mean I love the act of working. I like accomplishing tasks, solving problems, and rising to personal challenges. I love feeling competent and in control of my destiny. I love being the spark that helps others grow and develop and think differently. That’s why I write this blog (it certainly isn’t for the advertising dollars rolling in).

I find vacations, and even sometimes weekends, put me in a position where all of those things are out the window. I am in a foreign place (where I may not know how to navigate the food or language or culture), or doing absurd things I would not do at home (like bungee jumping or mapping out my walk or making five visits to a veterinarian that is three hours away) or I am not where I want to be (like shopping for underwear or standing in line at a bank).

I tend to embrace change so none of those things are particularly bad or frightening. It is just that on Monday, I know where everything is (right where I left it), and I know the problems I am likely to face (even the unpredictable ones are fairly predictable–they are going to be around the business), and I know exactly what I can contribute (and what I can’t for the most part).

People dread the work week but I love it. Weekends are fine for relaxing–necessary, even–but I love jumping into the fray each work week and creating new ways of doing things and pushing myself and others to rise to something greater than grocery shopping, laundry, or debating who left the cap off the toothpaste.

Work is good. Good work is great. And doing great work you enjoy is a fine reason to wake up and smile at the day ahead.

 

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Double Check

On weekdays, I share a lesson learned through the course of daily living. Then, if all goes well, you read it and learn something too.

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I had to take my car back five times before it was fixed.

Several times per week, I review resumes with basic grammatical errors, typos, or formatting mistakes.

Our apartment maintenance guy repaired our toilet but didn’t bother trying to flush it afterward, which would have led him to realize the chain was too long.

The bad news, we are part of a culture of incompetence. Bad work is largely accepted as normal. We use LOL language shortcuts. We move from project to project without checking our results. We fire off emails to our bosses or subordinates without reading what we have typed first. Nearly every time I have something repaired, I have to request it to be repaired again, and in a disposable society embracing a culture of incompetence, it is usually easier to replace rather than repair.

The good news is, because most people do not check their work or care enough to do their work with excellence, if you are moderately talented or focused, you can look like a total rock star. If you are actually passionate about what you do and strive for perfection, then you can become legendary in your field or art.

If you take the time to learn to improve and pause to double-check your work, you won’t uncover every mistake every time but you will gain a reputation and strengthen your commitment for turning in work you can be proud of.

 

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Driving Zen

Each day I think about a life lesson I have learned and share it with you, in case you don’t have any of your own every day…

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My drive to work is about an hour and twenty minutes through rush-hour traffic almost the entire way. There is this one period, though, where I take a little-used section of freeway for seven minutes.

It is the best part of my morning most days. As I come up over the bridge from the bumper-to-bumper navigation war, I can see Tampa Bay below and the sun just popping up over the horizon. The salty morning air has not been overcome by industry and car exhaust yet, the breeze is light. Since there is almost never more than 4 to 6 other cars on this stretch of road with me, I pause my podcasts and drop all the windows and just enjoy the morning cruise for that seven minutes. It is truly a moment of bliss.

Except…

Except the last few weeks, for some reason, the traffic has picked up considerably on my morning moment of zen. There is so much traffic I am no longer able to use cruise control and move at 70 mph down that stretch of road any longer. It is not yet as stressful as the bumper-to-bumper traffic but it is easily three times as busy as it was just a couple months ago.

I am not sure if the traffic increase is seasonal (school’s back in), or due to construction re-routing, or just from more and more people moving to the area–probably a little of each of those–but I know one thing:

Sadly, nothing lasts forever.

I don’t want to end today’s lesson on a depressing note, so I will point out the obviously positive spin on this story, as well.

Happily, nothing lasts forever.

Not even bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. The way work is done is transforming. Companies are increasingly becoming aware that where and when work happens no longer matters, creating shifts and flexibility in traffic patterns. Driverless cars are on the way. Public transportation is on the rise, as is healthy transportation such as bicycling and walking where it makes sense. Technology is catching up too–use of roundabouts and other traffic managing systems are helping relieve the stress and stupidity of driving.

Those are all great things… and the sooner they arrive and proliferate, the better.

 

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Why Do You Have to Work THERE?

I look back at each day and figure out one life lesson I learned. I share each of those lessons on this blog. Here is today’s lesson…

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I used to run a successful sales team. When I moved to Tampa, I had to give up my job and find new work. While in that position, I had to hold back the promotion of one of my managers and risk losing one of the company’s best team members because they did not live in the district they were applying to manage.

Many companies cling to archaic work paradigms, such as physical presence=results, and miss the big picture (which is results=results).

The company could have promoted that manager (the manager did earn a promotion to my position after I moved away). The company could have kept me as well. They simply chose not to. It worked out great for me. I’m not complaining, just making a point:

It is difficult for a company to find extraordinary talent. It is NOT difficult for extraordinary talent to find a company. There is always work for talented people. The only question is whether talented people will choose to work for YOU.

I am happy my situation worked out the way it did–I have another great job now but I never understood why it had to be that way.

This week, I watched another leader nearly pass up an amazing candidate for because the person did not live in the area. I was dumbfounded, but still, I recognize that most leaders think in a very “local” sense. They believe remote work is a privilege to be earned and distributed to those “worthy”. This is exactly backwards in my opinion. The privilege, for a leader, is having the best person possible on their team. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my team members live on the moon as long as they figure out how to do excellent work.

Being location-ambivalent means I have a tremendous advantage over my competitors. I can pull applicants from all over the world, not just the 20 mile radius from the office.

If you think about it, most non-entry level work today is “knowledge work”–reporting, strategy, and communication rather than manual labor–flipping burgers or unloading trucks (Both things which obviously require physical presence).

We have technology to free knowledge-based workers–Skype, Hangouts, Slack, GroupMe, email, FaceTime, SmartSheets, Dropbox, and of course, the phone. For example, I can just as effectively run a sales team in Michigan from Tampa as I could from Michigan. With video chatting, email, instant messaging, collaborative work folders, and screen sharing, everything is at my disposal virtually that was there physically.

Yet we cling to the notion that communication is only effective face to face.

There are many ways to have a stronger, more agile workforce built from a broader talent pool. There are many ways to retain your most talented people while maximizing their freedom and ability to innovate and drive transformation.

Sadly, technology and change is scary to many otherwise excellent leaders.

To me, it is a shame to see a talented person looked over for a leader’s lack of vision, but at least I take heart knowing they will undoubtedly find great work wherever they end up. Luckily, I was able to convince the leader who almost tossed out a great applicant to take a second look. Hopefully, when you are faced with the same quandary, you will think twice, too.

 

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It’s Better Than You Think

You never know what will resonate with people.

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I am still surprised when I talk about a favorite album, that somebody will almost always think the best song is the song I thought was the worst song on the album.

The same is true of my work. Often, the thing I put the most work into–the thing I am really proud of–feels like it is completely overlooked by my audience (or bosses, or friends, or family, etc.). On the other hand, the thing that demanded comparatively little energy, time, or intellect to complete will be one of my best received efforts.

There are a lot of reasons why your best is sometimes overlooked. It could be that your timing was not good, or that people’s concentration is elsewhere at the moment, or it is more interesting to you than to others. Regardless of the reason, do not take it personally.

I used to feel frustrated when a blog post I worked on for weeks bombed, and I would feel confused when a post I blew off in 10 minutes generated the most views or shares that month.

Now, whether I feel the post (or work) is good or bad, or whether people seem to love it or dismiss it, I like to believe either way it is probably better than I think.

 

 

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Why Should Work Be Fun?

Today’s Lesson: When work does not feel like work, work happens.

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What happens to kids that kills their desire to be productive? Think about this:

When children see Mom vacuuming or Dad mowing the lawn, what do they do? They beg to help. They have to sandwich between Dad and the lawnmower and sometimes will push Dad’s helping hand away as if to say, “I got this. You just chill out by the pool. I’m going to mow this lawn like nobody’s business.” Kids want to contribute. They want to know they are doing something valuable and are appreciated for it. They want to help.

Then, they turn into teenagers and you can not get them to vacuum, mow the lawn, or clean their room if your life depended on it. Sometimes, you can’t be sure they would even if their lives depended on it! What happened?

Here is what I think happened… I think they learned to distinguish “fun” from “work”. When Work looks like Play it is nearly effortless and completely engrossing. This is why, in my opinion, professional athletes never “work.” No one works baseball. They play baseball.

The funny thing about mowing the lawn or vacuuming the living room is it is only work for Mom and Dad. It is functionally the same task for the toddler, but it is seen as an opportunity to embrace responsibility, be part of the team’s success, play with cool toys, and fulfill an obvious, clearly defined mission… all while wearing only underpants and repeatedly shouting five words to a song you sort-of know (“Who livesun a pinepill…? Who livesun a PINEPILL? WHO LIVESUN A PINEPILL… MOMMY? MOM? MOMMY? MOMMA? MOM? Who…? Mommy? Who… WHO LIVESUN… a pinepill?”).

Setting aside singing SpongeBob at the top of your lungs and having at least a minimal dress code, does your job look like that? Do you see your reports or meetings or factory work as a chance, each day, to embrace responsibility, be part of the team’s success, play with cool toys, and fulfill an obvious, clearly defined mission?

If not, what can you do to help your job, your team, or your organization blur the lines between Work and Play? Here is an interesting place to start:  Embrace The Weird.

 

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5 Fast Food Meals for Vegans

Today’s Lesson: There is always an option.

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Sometimes I have to travel for work or I am in an unfamiliar city with friends or just in a hurry and do not have time to make or buy a great, healthy, delicious vegan meal. I never suffer for food, though, even on the go. Here are 5 fast food restaurants that have saved me in a pinch (many times), and exactly what I order from each to find vegan goodness when fast food is the only option.

1. Subway.

Six-inch Veggie on Italian, not toasted, no cheese. All the veggies and peppers. Instead of dressing, I ask for Salt, Pepper, and Oregano. I grab a bag of Fritos chips and a drink, too. It’s filling and I promise that sub is as tasty as anything else on the menu but twice as healthy. Remember, not all their breads are vegan. 

2. Chipotle/ Qdoba/ Moe’s Southwest Grille.

I am counting these as one restaurant because they all offer basically the same thing: burritos. Chipotle is a step above, though, because their Sofritas are amazing. Non-vegans would never know they were eating “fake” meat. Moe’s also offers tofu, which makes them legitimately vegan friendly in my book. Qdoba has no meat replacement option but they offer tortilla soup that is vegan, making them one of the only fast food soup providers I can think of.

At Chipotle, I order the Sofritas bowl with brown rice and black beans. I add hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole (it’s extra), and lettuce. I add an additional side of guacamole and chips and I use the chips to turn the bowl into super nachos! Sometimes I change it up and have Sofritas tacos (corn tortillas).

Qdoba has two options for me. I might order a veggie burrito on whole wheat, with white rice (the white rice has cilantro-lime flavoring so this is one meal where I will choose white rice over brown) and black beans (add hot salsa, pico, lettuce, and guacamole). If I am really hungry, I will add a side of tortilla soup with tortilla strips on top. Or, I will go for the Mexican Vegetarian Gumbo with brown rice (it will be smothered in other stuff so the white rice offers no benefit here), hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole, tortilla strips, and lettuce. This is a super filling meal.

At Moe’s, I order a “Joey Bag of Donuts” (which means “build-your-own”) burrito with a flour tortilla (I prefer whole wheat but theirs tears too easily), black beans, tofu, hot salsa, pico, black olives, fresh jalapenos, fresh cilantro, and guacamole. Sometimes I order a side of guacamole as well. Their burrito comes with chips and will fill me up for hours.

3. Panera

I like Panera because they offer Pepsi products, and Coke sucks, so sometimes I will go to Panera only for a good caffeinated sugar drink.

If I do eat, though, this is what I usually order: You Pick Two with Black Bean Soup and a Mediterranean Sandwich, no cheese or pesto on the sandwich, with chips… and a Pepsi.

 

4. Pizza Hut
It is possible to order a vegan pizza at Pizza Hut but it’s too complicated and they do not have vegan cheese anyway, so I just order Spaghetti Marinara and add mushrooms. Just set the garlic bread aside and enjoy your Pepsi (because although Pizza Hut sucks at vegan pizza, they at least have good taste in soda).

5. Taco Bell
In case of emergency, you can make a run for the border (before you make a run for the bathroom) with dinner at the Bell. I order a Bean Burrito “fresco style” (that means minus cheese, plus pico de gallo-they know that), a 7-Layer burrito minus cheese and sour cream, and Cinnamon Sticks.

It is tough to balance being vegan with having a convenient social life. You don’t want to be the pariah of your office or friends, forcing everyone to cater to your needs (or simply to avoid you). Fast food is not necessarily great food but knowing you can always find good (or at least good-ish) vegan food when you need can help.

 

 

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