You can accomplish amazing things when you have no fear, no distractions and nothing to lose. I am by no means an expert on any of those three things, but I am working hard to learn. Starting with distractions. Too many distractions on a regular basis – total loss of control – is overwhelming to me. Email plays a big role in that for me. Though it’s only been a week or two, I’ve found myself considerably less stressed out and thereby far more productive without email buzzing in my pocket. In all of my studies, I found that the smartest men and women in our era and history long before it knew how to focus on things that matter. I think part of that also has to do with ignoring or saying no to things that overwhelm or otherwise hurt you. I am a huge proponent of trying new things in new ways. But if something doesn’t work out for you, why keep doing it? Why let it keep happening? Especially if you don’t like it or if it overwhelms you? Do something about it. Shut it off. Tell him or her to leave. Be honest. Or just say, “no.” Whatever it takes to lift that burden on your shoulders and get on with your life.
I did the math and realized my phone buzzes or beeps once every 3.5 minutes during the average work day. Over 90% of that comes from email. It’s a miracle that I am able to pay attention to anything at all with that party going on in my pocket. And forget restful sleep – there’s no way. Email is huge a distraction in my life. Out of spite, I’ve started leaving my phone places. Unfortunately, that results in a nasty habit of missing worthwhile phone calls. To combat the distraction, I started a very simple experiment: turning off all email notifications on my phone and laptop. I intend to track productivity and see how things go. With any luck, I will find myself more engaged in work, meetings, conversation and social outings. Text messages and instant messenger are still fair game if you have something urgent to say. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark with an email – I’ll get back to you when I choose to (and not when my phone nags me to).
If you have the choice between performing a task in the same painful manner you always do or taking the time to invent a better way, always opt for the latter. If you can afford to invent in spite of deadlines, resources or the status quo, then do it. Time saved down the road often outweighs the time invested now. If you fail to make a better system, at least you tried and will know better next time. A slap on the hand is totally worth it in the scheme of things.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by failure, errors, bugs, hurdles and drama. Rough patches and setbacks are never fun. You can either throw up your hands, whine and get beaten down by them – or you can look past and move forward. Focus operates hand-in-hand with success. If you keep your eye on the prize and ignore the rest, you can still cross the finish line in good time. Do what you can to put the stress, pain and drama aside for the time being. Go for a walk, eat a meal, take a nap – whatever it takes to cleanse, reset and get back on the horse. Man up, get the job done – and then complain.
In a world where everyone in an organization needs to be on the same page, hierarchy can be fatal. The time it takes for information to travel up and down the ladder, pass decisions up to the qualified decision maker, and fix broken translations will derail your team. Hierarchy in an information-age company turns into a big clumsy game of telephone, a jumbled mess of words and directives totally unacceptable and avertable in a world ripe with efficient communication technology.
Hierarchy today helps only in one scenario: eliminating the time it takes to collectively vote on a decision that needs to be made. In some situations, big decisions need to be made quickly without consulting the committee. That said, the time it takes to disseminate and re-orient everyone around the decision may take as long or considerably longer than taking the time to vote in the first place.
An efficient organization awards every member of its team the autonomy and trust to make decisions and solve problems when they arise. An efficient organization rallies everyone around a core mission and invites everyone to shape objective extensions of that mission. An efficient organization promotes true transparency, total accessibility, and the free-flow of information. Everyone who needs to have a say has a say. No one is left out. And no one needs to answer to anyone but themselves and their work.
All too often I find it difficult to thoroughly engage in entertainment, conversation or recreation if I jump in having left active tasks incomplete. You cannot always push plans back to make room for completing the task, but it can make a big difference in helping you enjoy yourself if you find extra time to get the job done. Better in most scenarios to show up late and fully connect with the moment than stick to the calendar with a head full of unsolved problems. Fight the habit of tardiness and never accept it as a personal trend, but forgive yourself if it means victory, understanding on the part of the people you keep waiting, and an untarnished engagement. After all, your original plans can double as a celebration if you complete the task at hand. Get it done and go have a good time.
The public cares little about how long Olympians train or how many practices football teams suffer before playing a game; the public cares about gold medals and victories. Big wins define success. Many successful companies grew by the hand of all-nighters and sweat, others by beer and four-day work weeks. What matters at the end of the day is attitude, strategy and inspiration. With a team on the same page and in good mental health, the engine can plow forward full steam ahead. Through calculated innovation and disruption, an organization can leapfrog the competition overnight. If everyone believes in what they are doing and work hard to make a difference, anything is possible. Long work days are symptomatic of success and passion – hardly ever the source. Man hours do not scale an organization – that’s industrial era nonsense. Asking your people to work longer days will not shovel fresh coal into the fire. The message should be: care more. If your team does not inherently care a lot, then find different ways to get them charged. Set the vision. Plaster a mission statement to the wall. Whatever it takes to remind everyone why they wake up everyday and come together.