Category Archives: Work

How Would You Put Your Own Company Out Of Business?

Anotheroyal theater, closedr way to think about the 100 Marbles metaphor comes from Getting Things Done author, David Allen: “If you were to quit your job and go out and start a company that would put yours out of business, what would you do differently in your new company?”

Pausing to think about this hypothetical situation reveals giant opportunities for improvement. By looking at our company (or non-profit, or department, or team, or marriage!) through the eyes of an imaginary, cut-throat competitor who knows our operations inside and out, we’re suddenly able to name our areas of greatest weakness and vulnerability. Miraculously, the steps required to take a quantum leap become obvious. And we realize that not reallocating our “100 marbles” to respond to the savviest competitor imaginable is sheer, self-sabotaging insanity.

(note: You can read my original “100 Marbles” article at Lifehack.org by clicking here)

The Threat of Mediocrity

elegant restaurantA couple of years ago, I attended a panel discussion where five philanthropists talked about how they make giving decisions. One philanthropist spoke passionately about a school he supports that truly “wows” him every year in the way they thank him and show him the impact of his gifts. His relationship with them has been memorable, meaningful, and exhilarating. Someone in the mcdsaudience asked this philanthropist, “How does the way that the school reaches out to you affect the way you feel about the other non-profits you support?” I will always remember the philanthropist’s response: “Have you ever dined at a restaurant where the food, the atmosphere, and the service were simply amazing? [“Yes.”] How did that experience make you feel about McDonald’s?”

100 Marbles and The Time Log

marblesAs I wrote in an article over at Lifehack.org, there’s a game we’re all playing, like it or not. It’s called 100 Marbles, and you win by allocating your “marbles” (units of time, attention, effort, and energy) in new ways to achieve more out of life than if you were to maintain your current marble allocation. It sounds simple: invest your marbles thoughtfully, improve your results.

But before you can even try to win this game, you need to know how you’re investing your marbles now. Ironically, most of us have no idea how we allocated our time, attention, effort, and energy over the last month. Even though you were there for every minute of it, you would probably be amazed to learn the actual, exact allocation of your 100 marbles during this time.

The only way to truly know how you’re investing your marbles is to keep a time log. I was persuaded to try a time log by three superb books that make strong cases for it: 1) The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker (1966); 2) How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling, by Frank Bettger (1947); and 3) The Critical Path To Sales Success, by Frank Sullivan (1970).

I have kept a time log for 1-2 week periods about six times over the last few years, and each time, the results have been eye-opening and enlightening. Just the act of keeping a time log radically increases my awareness, from moment to moment, of what I’m focusing on – and what I’m not focusing on. It’s like having a mini coach sitting on my shoulder, with a stopwatch in one hand and a clipboard in the other, watching everything I do. Wasted time becomes more intolerable and painful, and long stretches of uninterrupted time on important projects and pursuits become the Holy Grail of productivity.

Peter Drucker writes: “Effective executives start by finding out out where their time actually goes. The analysis of time, moreover, is the one easily accessible and yet systematic way to analyze one’s own work and to think through what really matters in it.”

So before you reallocate your 100 marbles, investigate how your marbles are currently invested. Then, be strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate about allocating your marbles to the things that “really matter.”

(note: You can read my original “100 Marbles” article at Lifehack.org by clicking here)

The ONE Question to Ask Yourself

compass on mapOne of the greatest blog posts I’ve seen comes from Rajesh Setty’s Life Beyond Code. If you haven’t seen his “Quoughts” series (Quought = Question that provokes thought), you must check it out. Rajesh asked several influential thinkers, “What is the ONE important question a person should ask himself or herself in 2007?”

The questions he received are big doozies – the kind that unhinge us from our comfort zones and help us see our lives through a new lens. Here are a few samples:

“How can I be the person that I hope my children become?” (Harry Beckwith)

“What do I have to do to earn and deserve the key relationships that are going to get me where I want to go?” (David Meister)

“How can I help others attain a level of success greater than my own?” (Mike Sansone)

“What is the question whose answer would set me free?” (Peter Block)

“What do I care about enough to defend in conversation with people I respect?” (John Battelle)

“What would I do differently in 2007 if I had no fear?” (Steve Pavlina)

And here are a few quoughts I’d have shared with Rajesh if he’d asked me:

“When am I in the zone, and how will I double the time I spend in the zone in 2007?

“On January 1, 2008, what habit or routine will I wish I had established in 2007?”

“What project can I start working on now that could, conceivably, lead to my next career?” (A good question to ask even if you love your current career.)

Work-Life Balance: The Window Looking West

window overlooking oceanThe best train ride I’ve ever taken was May 17, 2002, from Boston to Philadelphia. I know this because that’s the date I wrote on the inside cover of Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion, by Roy H. Williams – the book that mesmerized me for the entire trip. Perusing the book again last night, I came across a note I wrote in the margin on page 136: “The best advice on work-life balance I’ve ever read.” I’d like to share with you a shortened version of this classic, two-page essay, entitled, Look Out The Other Window. The entirety of what follows is in Roy Williams’ words.

“How do you leave all the cares of the office at the office?” my good friend Akintunde asked. “I’ve never been able to do it.”

Pointing to the east, I said, “Look out that window and tell me what you see.” Akintunde looked intently out the window and described in detail what he saw there. “Now look out this window,” I said, pointing to the west, “and tell me what you see.” Akintunde spent the next several moments describing an entirely different scene. I said, “That’s how I do it.”

When he said he didn’t understand, I pointed to a bare wall and said, “Tell me what you see.”

Akintunde said, “I see nothing but a blank wall.”

“Keep looking,” I told him. After a minute of watching him stare silently at the wall, I asked, “Are you thinking about what you saw out the window?”

“Yes, I am,” he laughed. “How did you know?”

“Akintunde,” I said, “if you will pour yourself into something that will occupy your evenings and weekends as completely as your job occupies your nine to five, you’ll find that you will soon be feeling less tired, less frustrated, and less stressed out about what’s happening at the office. The reason you can’t quit thinking about the office is because you’re going home each night and staring at the wall.”

Like most people, our friend Akintunde had been confusing rest with idleness. Rest is not idleness. Rest is simply looking out a different window. If you have a job, or anything else that you struggle with and worry about, you have a window that looks to the east.

But do you have one that looks to the west?

It’s not, “What do people think of you?”

I want to share with you the most powerful idea about human relationships that I’ve ever heard. It’s in the form of a question, and it’s from an essay by Harvard Business School professor, Thomas J. DeLong, in Remember Who You Are (2004). Here it is: “How do people experience themselves when they are with you?”

Imagine if, in our daily interactions with others, we succeeded in giving people a better experience of thegrandfather swinging grandsonmselves than at any other time during the day. 

This seems like an outrageously ambitious goal to set. But in practice, it doesn’t take much to achieve. Be excited to see other people. Look them in the eye. Smile with your whole body. Call them by name, and ask how they’re doing. When people ask how you’re doing, tell them, “Excellent!” Take an interest in others’ lives. Listen to their stories, and laugh. Keep conversation focused on them, not on you. By God, tell them how great they are!

How does your spouse or significant other experience him/herself when you walk through that door after a tiring day at work? Loved and appreciated? Or deflated? How does your child experience him/herself when he/she is with you? Are you more interested in watching the TV news than you are in hearing about his day at school?

Starting now, start to notice the “invisible” people in your daily life (such as administrative assistants, maintenance staff, fast-food order takers, security workers, and customer service phone reps) and deactivate their invisibility by asking a question, complimenting their work, saying a heartfelt thank you. Rid yourself of your hierarchical lenses and see others as equal to you – because they are! There’s something magical about giving someone a high-five and uttering their name with gusto as you walk by them in the hall. Try it!

DeLong prods, “What transpires inside people when you are talking to them? What are they thinking and feeling? In what way, however small, has their perception of themselves changed as a result of having the interaction?”

When we slow down and even go out of our way to make others feel unique, interesting, talented, or important, we are truly “making their day.” For that shining moment, their experience of themselves is ideal. (And, ironically, our experience of ourselves is idealized, too.)

8 Secrets of a Time Revolutionary

I am married and have four small children. My wife works full-time during the week, and so do I. My job keeps me busy from Monday through Friday, from about 8am to 6pm (which is not enough time to accomplish all I want to accomplish at work), and my weekends are devoted entirely to my kids. Taking a cue from Richard Koch’s book, The 80/20 Principle, I have become a “time revolutionary” in order to fit into my life everything I want to fit in, while remaining a visible and involved parent and a visible and involved manager at the office. Here are some of the time principles I have found useful:

1. Commit to being home when your children are getting ready for bed – at least five days per week. Say “no” to commitments that would keep you away from your children at bedtime. Tell others this is why you can’t commit – they will understand and they will admire you for taking this stand. Be there when they brush their teeth; read them a book before turning off the light. These days, just being there for your kids at these sacred times is truly revolutionary!

2. Three or four times per year, take a day off from work and take your child out of school for a day, and do whatever your child wants to do. Go to a museum. Go out to a pizza place for lunch. Play baseball at the local playground. Go to a bookstore and buy him/her a few books of his/her choosing. Go to the top of the tallest building in your city. Spend focused time with your children (or loved ones). Even a half-day off from work is worthwhile and meaningful. My strongest childhood memories of my father are the days he took off from work to spend with me, including Opening Day at Fenway Park every April.

3. During the work week, if it’s at all possible, schedule a lunch date with your spouse. We always think our dates need to be in the evenings – but sometimes lunch is just more do-able, and the bonus is you’re more alert at lunch than at dinner.

4. Wake up early. Very early. 4:30am or 5:00am. Get your exercise in early. Or peaceful newspaper-reading. Plan the day ahead.

5. Make a list of all of your commitments and activities that take at least ½ hour of your time each week. Select three of them that you simply don’t enjoy, or that give you the least return on your investment. In the next 48 hours, make a call to remove yourself from those three commitments. You will experience a double-whammy of time revolution – ridding yourself of undesirable commitments that suck away your time and your energy, and freeing up time and energy for things that do matter to you. Marcus Buckingham, in his book, The One Thing You Need To Know, asserts that the key to personal effectiveness is to “Find out what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.” I think he has nailed it.

6. Say “no, thanks” to every offer that requires a major commitment of your time, until you’ve had at least a few days to think about it. And don’t add unless you subtract – if you add a new commitment to your life, be disciplined about subtracting one at the same time. I once attended a week-long seminar with accomplished entrepreneurs (I was a guest) and on the first day, they were asked by the instructor, “What would you most like to learn?” and the most frequent response was, “How to say no.”

7. Work at home (or in the local public library) one day a week, or two half-days per week. It’s amazing how being out of your office, away from typical interruptions and distractions, fosters focus and perspective that promotes creativity, new ideas, and productivity.

8. Get creative in your use of weekends. Reserve two hours on Saturday, and two hours on Sunday, to focus, uninterrupted, on an important project. Schedule it, protect it from others’ demands, and work on it in an environment that will be conducive to productivity. I like 5:30-8:00am at the Starbucks about a mile from my home. When I get home, my family hasn’t missed me much because they’ve been sleeping while I’ve been gone, and I’ve already gotten more done than I will the rest of the day.