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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Profiteering Is Not A Good Bet

Setting out to build a business or project for the money is a huge risk – a bigger risk than building something meaningful that can make the world a better place. What happens if you seek a capital return and come up dry? What do you have then? Sadly, you have nothing but a lot of wasted time and energy. What if you build something that makes a difference, but still does not pay out? At least then you can be proud of building something great. Never do things for the money – you have everything to lose. Do things for the challenge, the value to the world, and for yourself. Build something you can be proud of, something rewarding in and of itself.

Give Everyone A Piece of Leadership

Dan Pink makes a big deal about autonomy, mastery and purpose as the three key motivators for success. I agree with each one. As a manager, you should do everything in your power to give each member of your team a little piece of leadership. Whether that be a process to oversee, a special project to helm or oversight to a group of people, give each person ownership of something they like to do (autonomy). Best if you give them something they have room to improve in and master (mastery). Bonus points if they come up with idea for what they own themselves (purpose). If you can be a trusting person and want to help people succeed, let go and give people the power to direct their own lives as often as possible. When you give your team widespread authority, it becomes your job to keep all the chips on the table. Make sure everyone is on the same page when and where possible. Different leadership means different directions – do not let your leaders completely run away on their own, or you will have fragmentation and anarchy. If only as an experiment, surrender control over every little thing and award responsibility. You’ll be surprised with the results.

The Collateral Damage of Making A Difference

The people who make a difference in this world aim to break rules. At whatever cost, they have something to prove. Sometimes true disruption means breaking hearts and losing friends. It’s a tough game to play and takes a thick skin. That said, you cannot change the world alone. It’s imperative to treat people well – be polite, caring and respectful. Never set out to hurt people. Make as many friends as you can. Earn as much respect as you can. Love everyone. Do not intend to break people. But you should intend to break systems. And people get attached to systems. So be prepared for collateral casualties.

The single worst thing you could do? Nothing. If you’re afraid to change the world because it means some people may not like you, you fail to understand what “changing the world” really means. I meet a lot of people who claim they want to make a difference. Very few of them have the balls to lose friends in the process. Do you?

Bad Ideas Are Good

Writer’s block is a very difficult dragon to slay. Bad ideas are better than nothing – at least you are coming up with ideas at all. A pile of bad ideas can still be useful. Never kill a bad idea prematurely. Let it run its course, in tandem with other bad ideas. Bad ideas can overlap and form alliances. Enough bad ideas can inspire a good one. Keep your mind open. Let the ideas flow. Analyze and annotate without surgery or criticism. Brainstorm until you can brainstorm no more. Then dig the gem out from underneath the rubble.

Call It A Day

I can think of few things more unfulfilling and overwhelming than leaving an incomplete pile of work on your desk at the end of the week. You feel like you don’t deserve the weekend. But you do. That work will keep coming and coming. Sometimes you just need to let go.

I’ve found that it’s better to draw the line in the sand on your to-do list first thing every morning. Realistically outline and prioritize the tasks you think you can complete in one day and set the rest aside. Do not let the other tasks bother you. Fold them up and hide them – whatever it takes to focus and feel like you accomplished the list you’ve reasonably committed to.

I’ve turned into a sticky note junkie. I’ve found that the size of a sticky note keeps your list focused, finite and reasonable. I try not to commit to more than one sticky note per day. Nothing feels better than to crumple complete notes and throw them away at the end of the day. You should try it sometime.

Vision By Numbers

It’s exciting to see the success and growth of an organization through the numbers: sales milestones, unique visitors, engagement statistics and more. It’s very practical and momentous to set metric goals that everyone can reach for and beat. But numbers cannot tell the whole story. And metrics can only inspire a team so far. It takes a portrait of the future painted zealously by leadership to truly inspire. Something greater to work towards. Something to believe in.

The best preachers don’t talk statistics or business. True vision cannot paint by numbers. There are no formulas or metrics for dreams. Speaking abstractly and passionately about a vision for the long-term future can open minds to the possibilities and help your team imagine their way out of the status quo.

Metrics and numbers keep an organization accountable to measurable improvements. Numbers have their place and should be respected. But they only serve to measure movements that already exist. Why not strive to make new movements and invent new metrics? A vision by numbers is not enough. The opportunities are boundless for your organization, but only if the vision you paint for your team allows them to be.

Don’t Give Up

To antithesize yesterday’s post a bit, you must not be too quick to surrender failed projects. Give obstacles their due perspective and time before you put your hands up and walk away. If you’re stringing a project along because you’re no longer interested in it, then mark it a failure and leave it be. But if you’re stringing a project along because of obstacles you cannot overcome, take an extra minute to consider the whole thing. What will it take to overcome this problem? Can you do it alone? Do you care enough to inspire the resources of others to help you? If you do not care enough to try and inspire the world with your work, walk away. If you do care, don’t give up and figure it out.

Quitters give up because they don’t care enough. Do not be a quitter. Pick projects you believe in and believe in them until the deeds are done. The second you stop believing, you lose.

Dreams Aren’t Real Enough

Dreams remain fantasies until you write them down. On paper, a dream transforms into a plan. With a plan, you can see it as you do your own to-do list. Others can see it as well and jump on board. Pitch your plan. Wear it on a t-shirt. Share it with everyone. After all, someone might want to help you. You may even start to believe that it’s more than just a dream.

Take your dream out of its fantasy box and put it in a place where it can become a reality. Keep calling it a dream and it will always stay that way.

Tell People When They Are Not Meeting Expectations

If someone is failing you in some way, you should not expect them to acknowledge it – they may have no idea. If that person isn’t meeting your expectations, it’s your responsibility to help him or her understand. Overcome your fear of confrontation. Face the person directly and as humbly as possible. Don’t give him or her nasty looks from afar. Don’t talk behind backs. Don’t gossip. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: that passive aggressive crap will get you nowhere. If he or she isn’t taking a hint from all of your side-talking or back-talking, it’s your fault for not communicating pointedly. Pull him aside, sit him down and tell him what’s up. You will be surprised how lightly he will take it – if of course you approach him with a genuine respect and understanding. He will give you excuses and you may believe them, but at least he should understand now what you expect. If he doesn’t listen, if you continue to confront him, and if he continues to fail, then the failure will no longer for yours as a manager.