Scratch the Productivity Itch

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.

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Burning The Midnight Oil

Sometimes you’ve just gotta do it. If you aspire to work hard, make a difference and get the job done, it takes sacrifices. Not all the time, of course, because that’s not sustainable. But every once in a while, all-nighters, hundred-hour weeks and late Fridays do the trick. If you are able to crumple up your to-do list at the end of the night and call it an accomplished day, very little feels better. Crumpled paper, a glass of wine and a sigh of relief. That’s the stuff.

With that, I’m leaving the office. Fifteen hour day. Suck it.

A Job Without A Boss

Valve, the company famous for the Half Life, Portal and Left for Dead game series, is a rare gem indeed. From top to bottom, Valve prides itself on not having managers. Financed personally, the founders never had anyone else to answer to (except, of course, their customers). Within the organization, employees live and breathe a “flat” mantra – everyone is equal and autonomous. Teams form organically without assignments, no one serves anyone else, peers measure performance and everyone ranks each other for salary bumps. While somewhat anarchistic and inefficient, this chaotic and creative environment continues to birth instant classics. Valve releases nothing until it’s perfect. While this may sound idyllic and utopian, it’s actually working for them. I encourage you to read Valve’s Handbook for New Employees to learn more. Can this model apply to other organizations and industries?

Networking Without the Legwork

Who knows you? It’s a lot of work to get out there and meet people. It’s even more work to convince people to remember you. I know extraordinary professionals who are very well-connected without the help of Facebook, LinkedIn, search engine optimization, press or a single personal photo online. They largely don’t exist on the internet at all. These men and women spent years hitting the pavement to scale their network. As a result, they maintain a rich foundation of personability and respect with many people. That level of connection is difficult to beat.

Armed with tools of the internet era, we have the opportunity to make an impression on the world from our couches. While not as intimate or thorough as in-person meetups, you can at least blip on people’s radars. Social media can hold your name in the periphery of others and help you stay current. Blogs and content publishing can entertain, inspire and connect. These channels are fantastic for providing value to others and making impressions on people you’ve never met. Hustling in the streets could not possibly connect me with some of the people I’ve gotten to know through this blog. Content online can reach unforeseen places and open many doors you could not reach in person. Without thorough research and planning, legwork in the field can waste a lot of time and energy. Better to leverage accessible platforms to make introductions and accelerate connections.

All that said, the internet is only a two-dimensional version of networking. Like a movie poster, it can only tease real relationship building. Introductions online should precede introductions in person to close the feedback loop and formalize interpersonal relationships. Only then can relationships have human stakes. With human stakes in tow, relationships hold richer value not easily replicated by applications or hardware.

Networking takes work. With or without the legwork, connections take a lot of time and energy to build and maintain. Make an impression online, follow through with connections, stay in touch with people from your past and spend time building relationships offline. It’s worth it. Trust me.

Yes or No Questions

People do not like too many choices and procrastinate making decisions. Even the most opinionated people I know do not always answer your question in a timely fashion.

The easiest way to get a response? Make your question as easy as possible to answer. Don’t bury it with information, encrypt it in an email or forget the question mark. Provide a concise brief upfront and ask a yes or no question. Make it a multiple choice question if you need to. At the very least, provide the recipient with possible answers so he or she does not need to do the research or draft an elaborate answer of his or her own. Take the opportunity to curtail the list of possible answers to meet your own needs. If the recipient comes up with an answer other than the ones provided, whatever. At least you got an answer.

Busy people (like CEOs and celebrities) are notorious for single-line emails. Help them keep that pace and not bog them down with answering your question. The more you help them and consider their time, the easier it will be to get an answer – and the greater chances you will have at getting an answer you like.

Email Is Not Urgent

Every email I receive presumes to be imminently earth-shattering. Very annoying. Ninety-five percent of emails that hit my inbox are not urgent. I receive around 250 emails per business day – that’s one email every two minutes. It takes me forever to craft thoughtful replies, so I regularly fall behind in trying to keep up. To prevent this constant influx of faux peril from stressing me out, I am paying less and less attention to email these days. In the process, I’ve let a few important notes slip through the cracks. Oh well.

If it’s important or time sensitive, don’t just email me – call or approach me in person. I ignore my phone during meetings for everything except calls (it vibrates a dozen consecutive times when you ring me, so it’s difficult to ignore). Knock if you need to. If the issue at hand is complicated, follow up with details in writing so I have all necessary and accurate info in front of me to address the situation. If you can’t get ahold of me in person or by phone, put ‘URGENT’ in the subject line. Obviously, don’t do that if it’s not urgent.

To get real work done without distraction, I need to ignore my email for a sizable fraction of the day. You should, too. Constantly replying to emails means you’re working reactively instead of proactively. Unless you work in a call center, reactive work only contributes to the status quo of your organization. In a competitive industry, status quo work can be regressive and therefore deadly for a company. Don’t do it.

If I don’t write you back within a few hours (or days), why would you follow up with a second email? That’s silly. Your method failed the first time – why on earth would it succeed any better a second time?

If an email exchange we’re participating in turns critical, please cover all bases and follow up in person with everyone involved. Get our collective heads out of email and into real problem-solving mode. Hear the voices of others repeat back to you their understanding of the situation. Make sure everyone is on the same page – on paper and in dialogue. Then get real work done.

There’s a System for That

If you’re having organizational trouble or find yourself doing the same mundane task over and over, chances are pretty high that someone else out there shares your pain. With a little bit of research, you may even find someone who has already conquered your problem. At any rate, it’s worth a look. The internet is a pretty big place these days. There are apps for everything.

As times change, brand new problems crop up all the time that may not yet have structured solutions. Depending on the complexity of your problem and processes, other people’s solutions may not serve your own. If you cannot find a solution, it’s up to you to build one. Given the challenges and material complexity of designing solutions (be they software, logistical or cost), most people opt out and choose to continue suffering. Don’t do that. Don’t settle for the mundane. You should never have to do the same thing more than once – unless you want to.