If you aren’t clear on you priorities, it will have an impact on almost every other aspect of your life. We commonly refer to work – life balance when we are talking about priorities. But, it isn’t just about what you do at work and what you do in your personal life. Your priorities have an impact to many different aspects of your life. Its all inter-twined.
If you just think about your work, you can think about how productive you are during any given week. Are you as successful as you could be or as you want to be? How can you be more productive or successful in the - air quotes – 40 hours you spend at work each week?
Now, expand beyond work and consider your family life. I will include friends really – you social life, which includes family. How fulfilled are you in your personal life? Are you accomplishing what you want in this area? Do you feel like you are giving it the attention it needs?
Lets expand again. Now, what about your community life? When you think about everything you want to accomplish outside of work and our social circle, do you feel like you have a handle on it? Are you happy with the contribution you are making?
And finally, let me expand one more time. What about you personally? For yourself? What are your goals? Do you have hobbies? Is there a hobby you want to pursue that you haven’t?
It’s a lot to keep track of.
What do you want to accomplish at work, at home, in your community, and for yourself? How on earth do you balance it all?
How do you ensure that each and every week you are taking actions that align with these goals?
How do you balance your personal set of goals with other important people in your life?
You really can’t set your priorities without taking your bosses priorities into consideration. If you are in a relationship, you can’t set your priorities without taking your partner’s priorities into account. It can get overwhelming very quickly. That is exactly why so many people just ignore their priorities and let their life unfold the way it unfolds.
When you let life unfold, it has a tendency to be driven by the urgent things – regardless of how important they are.
North Star List
There is a tool that I use to help me keep track of it all. It helps me keep an eye on my priorities so that I can feel confident that I’m always acting in accordance with my priorities. I call it the North Star List, and although I’ve talked about it a lot on this podcast, today we are going to deep dive into it. My goals is that you leave this week with a North Star List of your own.
The way I describe the North Star List is that it is the job description for your life. Just like a job description outlines what you should be spending your time on at work, your North Star List outlines what you should be spending your time on in life.
As you think about the different areas of your life – work, social circle, community, and yourself, you are going to write out a description of what you want it to be for you. Don’t feel like you have to cover every scenario. Your North Star List is going to change over time because – well – your priorities change over time. Let’s just take work as an example.
When you first start working, you may have a priority to find a good solid job that has good potential for growth. Or maybe that has good potential to learn a specific skill you want to pursue. Then, over time you may decide that what you really want out of work is a certain title or a promotion and climbing the ladder is your top priority. And, if you are like me and you’ve been working for nearly 30 years, your priority ay move from climbing the ladder to just maintaining a paycheck because your priority is shifting from career to retirement.
Obviously, the same is true for your social circle. When you are young, your priority is likely a circle of friends. As you get older and start a family, it is likely your immediate family – your spouse and children. And, as you get older and your kids move out, it is likely going to shift back to friends.
So, as you can see, the priorities in each are of you life are going to shift over time. There will be times when your work/life balance is completely focused on work, and times when it is completely focused on life, and everything in between.
What the North Star List does is it helps you think about your priorities and ensure you are acting in alignment with them at all times.
So, let’s put together your North Star List. When you think about your life, what is your job description?
Start with your work. If you were writing a job description for the role work plays in your life, what would it be? Is it the central responsibility you have? Is it an important part of your job, but not the most important thing? Or is it one of those nice-to-have things that they always put in the last section of a job description? How would you describe the role your work has in your life?
My current North Star List has work listed as “provide for my family through a job that pays enough to provide the lifestyle we desire.” What does that tell you about my priorities? There is nothing in that statement about doing something I love or enjoy. There is nothing in that statement about a certain title or achieving anything other than – honestly – a paycheck. This is because I’m at the stage in my career where I’ve done everything I want to do and my job is no longer a focus for me. Don’t get me wrong – I still have to work and I still want to enjoy what I do, but as far as my priorities go – it doesn’t go beyond the paycheck. Practically speaking, what does it mean? It means that as I make my way through my week and I have to make decisions about my limited time, I let this priority drive those decisions. I don’t put a lot of overtime in because my priority isn’t to climb the ladder. I used to make decisions based on what might be good for my career. Now, I don’t because it is no longer such a priority. It is a subtle difference, but is so helpful in providing direction when I’m faced with decisions.
Ok, so lets turn to your social life. This includes family and friends. The next line in your job description should describe what you want this area of your life to look like. Knowing that you have to balance work with your social life. What is the priority for you when it comes to family and friends?
For example, my North Star List says “support my family by being present as a wife, daughter, sister, and friend.” That means I show up in meaningful ways for those people I love. Since I don’t have kids, there is no need to talk about the kind of parent I want to be. Your focus may be a lot more narrow if you are in a new relationship or have young children.
Next, think about the wider community. What role do you want to play in your community?
It may be that your answer is none. And, that’s ok. Again, over time, our focus changes. If you are young and have a new family and new career, you may not have any time for the wider community. There was a time when I very consciously called out my community involvement was limited to supporting organizations or causes I cared about financially because I could easily write a check, but giving my time was a much bigger challenge.
You can see how having this outlined in my North Star List made decisions easy. When I was asked to volunteer for something – having the North Star List to refer back to made it easy for me to say no because it wasn’t one of my priorities.
My current North Star List says “support my community by using my strengths too benefit organizations that serve missions that I believe in.”
Finally, it is important that you don’t forget about yourself. In your life’s job description, what is your current priority for yourself?
How do you take care of yourself? What is the top priority for yourself?
It may be tempting for you to say something about your work or family. Don’t. You’ve covered those already. It may feel selfish at first, but just do it anyway. If you don’t put yourself on your priority list, I can guarantee you won’t give yourself permission to do whatever it is that is important to you. And, that will lead to burnout.
For me, it is my podcasts. What will it be for you?
I’ll admit up-front that today’s topic is one of my pet peeves, so if I sound a little more preachy than normal, you’ll know why.
Today, we are going to talk about identifying busy work so you can get onto being productive. I guess I’m making the argument that being busy – fake busy – is standing in the way of being productive.
“When it comes to your effectiveness, fake work is often more dangerous than no work at all.” From The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
I see it every day – people keeping themselves so busy with unimportant tasks that aren’t moving the needle for them. They get to the end of their day and they are exhausted, but they aren’t really making the impact that they want or need to make.
It really frustrates me to no end to see this happening. It is an easy trap to fall into because we, many times, are thinking very short term and feel like we need to do what we need to do just to keep our head above water in our day job.
What I want to do today is give you a framework for thinking about the work you are accomplishing and to help you move away from busy work and toward being more productive. It means working in a mode for most of your day that contributes to your priorities.
It is called the Productivity Mode Optimizer – and yes, that is PMO hidden in the title. Pretty cleaver, huh?
The Productivity Mode Optimizer is a pie chart that gives you a visual of how much of your time is being spent on activities that move the needle forward.
So, picture a pie chart that is divided into 3 slices:
This is the time you spend working on tasks beyond the point you should have. I don’t really mean that they were done too late. I mean that, you are doing the task and it is taking more time than it should because you are reacting to it rather than managing it. You are swimming as hard as you can to keep your head above water but you aren’t moving the needle forward.
When you are working in reactive mode, you are doing busy work that is unnecessary because you haven’t appropriately managed the situation. Reactive mode is diabolical – it keeps you busy so that you don’t think you have the time you need to do anything about it.
Although I think it is obvious, I guess I’d better say it out loud – you want the reactive mode section of your pie chart to be as small as possible.
This is when you are working on tasks before they are needed. This is where you move the needle forward. This is productivity personified. Of course, it isn’t easy to work in productive mode, or else we would all feel like we are very productive.
When you are working in productive mode, you are looking at a long term timeframe.
You are getting to the root cause of issues and addressing them.
You are thinking about how to solve problems rather than just reacting to them.
For me, Productivity Mode means I’m not in meeting or looking at emails. It means I’ve got some dedicated quiet time to work on solving a problem. Sometimes that means I’m standing in front of a whiteboard trying to work through the problem. Sometimes that means I am 10 feet deep into a complicated spreadsheet. And, sometimes it means I’m staring out a winding just thinking.
The hardest part about Proactive Mode is that it can easily get pushed aside by Reactive Mode. So, I want to emphasize that Proactive Mode has to be deliberate. You have to make time to be working in Proactive Mode.
You’ve got to remind yourself that the time spent in Proactive Mode is the productive bit. Feeling busy while in Reactive Mode makes you feel like you are getting stuff done, but it isn’t productive.
Busy is not always productive.
This is the time spent on your long term goals. You’ve got to be deliberate about this mode as well. How much time are you giving to your long term goals? What activities in your week are contributing to the long term goals you have set?
This podcast is built on the foundation of this mode. We set aside 10 minutes per week to add to your core business skills so that you can be more successful in your career. So, if you are a regular listener, you can put this 10 minutes into the Foundation Mode section of your pie chart.
But, what else are you doing? you should aim for this to be about 25% of your chart. It is a stretch goal for sure, but you’ve got to aim high to make a difference.
So, you homework for this week is to look back over the last month at what you’ve done and create your own Productivity Mode Optimizer chart.
If you are a subscriber to Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you’ve got a worksheet in your inbox. If not, you can sign up here and get our free guides each week.
Fill in the pie chart to reflect your current division of time between Reactive Mode, Proactive Mode, and Foundation Mode. Are you happy with the allocation? If not, what can you do to move in the direction you want to move?
Navigating the corporate world means you are always negotiating. You may be negotiating with a coworker about a project deadline. Or, with a client about how to resolve an issue. Or, you may be negotiating with your boss about a promotion or a raise. Whether you think about it consciously or not, you are always negotiating. And, because our goal is to help you be successful in your career, we want to spend 10 minutes with you this week teaching you one component of negotiation.
The concept we are going to be covering is called BANTA. It stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.
Negotiation always involves at least two people, and you are always one of them. Chances are good that you and the other person involved in the negotiation have different priorities.
This doesn’t even have to be dramatic. Its really only natural that 2 people will have different priorities. You both have different interests as well. They don’t necessarily have to be competing interests, but if you are negotiating with someone, you are really, by definition, in a place where you don’t currently have agreement.
Entering the Negotiation
So, as you enter into any negotiation, you should be aware that, at the start of the negotiation, you have a gap to close. There are two parts to closing that gap:
As you think about your personal priorities, you are going to come up with a list of your demands:
You need to be clear on these things so that as you get into the negotiation, you can remain more calm. You will have already thought through the possible outcomes and you aren’t having to think on your feet when the heat is on.
BANTA takes you to the next step
Again, BANTA stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. It is your best course of action for satisfying your interests if you can not reach agreement with the other side.
It is about being clear in your mind about what action you will take in the event the negotiation does not go your way.
The reason BANTA is important is because it is the emergency exit. When you don’t have an emergency exit, you panic.
You make rash decisions.
You may dig in.
Your mind shuts down and you lose your ability to think creatively. And, because you can’t think creatively, you rely on the goals and objectives you had identified as the only possible options.
BANTA is your exit plan. If a negotiation doesn’t result in the outcome you were looking for, you need to know how you’ll exit.
Having BANTA in your toolkit will help you reach a new ability to negotiate because it will help bring clarity to your negotiation.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, we’ve sent you a worksheet to help you plan your negotiation, including your BANTA. If not, you can sign up here.
Everyone in your management chain – and everyone in a leadership position at your company is making decisions based on your company’s financial position every day. So, it is important for you to have some basic understanding about some of the core building blocks of financials. If you understand these, you are better able to understand why your leadership team makes some of the decisions they do. It helps to give you better insight. It helps you better understand the strategy decisions they are making. And, it helps you better anticipate what decisions they might make in the future.
Today we are going to talk about the difference between fixed and variable cost. If you can really understand this concept, you’ll have a better ability to analyze business strategy. So, this is fixed and variable cost 101.
Fixed cost is any cost incurred by your company that doesn’t change based on the business. So, for example, the rent paid for your office is fixed. Whether you make $100 in sales this month, or $1,000000, the rent is the same.
If you are in a manufacturing business that has large equipment – that equipment is a fixed cost. It is likely that there is some sort of monthly payment on the equipment that has to be made regardless of sales.
If you are in the transportation business, you likely have a fleet of trucks that are being paid for each month.
If you are working for a start up, maybe your company has taken out a loan. That loan payment is a fixed expense.
Chances are good that your company has some sort of insurance – whether it is liability insurance, key man insurance, or something specific to your industry. The insurance payment is fixed. It doesn’t change based on the volume of your sales.
The other type of cost is variable. Variable costs fluctuate based on volume. Inventory is a classic variable cost. Whatever business you are in, if it involves inventory, then your company can control costs by controlling inventory. You pay based on the volume you buy. So, if you are in a seasonal business, you would minimize the cost of inventory during the months that are not part of your season and your costs would go way up in the months that were your season.
What if you are in an industry that doesn’t involve inventory? Maybe you work for a software company or an accounting firm. In that case, the largest variable cost is salary expense. The amount of expense is going to increase or decrease based on the number of employees.
Services businesses like software, accounting, real estate, consulting – the largest expense they have is the cost of employees. So, the best way to control costs is to control headcount. In an accounting or consulting business where revenue is linked directly to headcount because you are literally charging by the hour – then the costs that the business incurs automatically goes up or down with the revenue.
For a software business – there isn’t as much of a direct link. You can sell a lot more software licenses without having to add more developers.
But, the fact still remains that salary expense is a variable cost because it increases or decreases based on the number of employees. So, your salary, regardless of what industry you work in, is a variable expense for your company.
Benefits are also variable expenses. Each time they add headcount, they also add expenses related to whatever benefits are offered.
So, you can start to see how understanding fixed versus variable costs is important. The leaders of your company have to make decisions based on the specific situation they are in. As they are making decisions, they have to look at the options based on what is variable and what is fixed. And, these aren’t always easy decisions. If you see your company making some belt tightening decisions, it could be an indicator that cash is tight and they are looking for ways to decrease variable costs in order to be able to ensure they can cover their fixed costs during a lean time.
And, on a side note – all of this applies at home as well. What are your fixed and variable costs at home? You are constantly making decisions based on this and may not even realize you are doing it.
You can learn more about financial acumen with our Financial Acumen Curriculum.
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