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.
We’ve all been involved with situations where something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen because of a lack of clearly defined expectations. A customer gets mad because the repair guy didn’t show up when he said he would. The repair guy is stressed out because the appointment scheduler is scheduling him into appointments with no time for driving from one place to another. The scheduler is trying to meet metrics set by the boss.
Think about your own situation. Is there an area where it seems like everything isn’t lining up? Where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Is someone making decisions or taking action without considering how it impacts others in the process?
Today, we are going to talk about a tool that can be helpful in these situations. Its called the RACI (race-eee) matrix. It is a project management tool that you can adapt to your job.
At its core, the RACI matrix is a responsibility matrix. You simply list tasks down the left side and people or departments across the top to form a matrix. Then, at each intersection of a task and person, you list the role the person plays from a responsibility perspective.
The R in RACI stands for responsible. If the person is responsible for performing the task, then you put an 'R' in the cell. Responsible for the task means they physically do it. They are the boots on the ground, the hands on the keyboard, or the person who actually shows up at the client’s home to make the repair.
The A in the RACI stands for accountable. This is the person who ultimately makes sure the task gets done. They are the ‘buck stops here’ person. They are the person who makes sure something happens – even if they don’t actually perform the task. This is the VP of Customer Support in our repair example.
The C in RACI stands for Consulted. If the person has specialized knowledge or is going to be impacted by the task, they may be consulted as part of the task. This is someone whose input adds value even if they aren’t going to be responsible or accountable for making it happen. In our example, our repair guy may make a call to the product engineering department to get an answer about a product specification in order to be able to properly resolve the issue. The product engineering department has no responsibility for customer repairs. But, they do have specific knowledge that can contribute to the process when the situation calls for it.
The I in RACI stands for Informed. This means the person would know about the task but they don’t have input into it. This is one-way communication whereas C – Consulted - is 2 way communication. The accounting department is informed that the repair has been completed so that they can bill the customer for it. They weren’t responsible for making sure the repair got done, accountable for making sure the repair guy showed up, or consulted in the process of making the repair. But, they need to know it happened so they know to send the bill.
So – RACI. Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.
Benefits of a RACI
Any process benefits from a RACI because it helps to clearly define the roles played by each person involved in the process. It helps clarify who does what so that everyone is on the same page. It helps you think through a process more thoroughly to ensure that you have fewer unintended consequences to decisions or actions taken within a process.
Having a RACI matrix is a way of forcing you to think about the process and all of its stakeholders. It is a way of planning for different scenarios by proactively identifying who does what for each process.
Because each of us tends to get focused on our own day-to-day job, it is easy to just do what we do and lose track of the stakeholders to the process. The RACI gives you a chance to take a step back and think about the impacts you have on others within the process.
We’ve got 2 episodes that would make a great companion to this one – one about the difference between Systems and Processes, and one about Stakeholders.
Cross Functional Processes
There are very few processes in modern business that are isolated. Almost any process you can think of is cross functional – meaning it involves people from across departments. When you involve people from across departments, you are bringing together people with different objectives, different skills, and different focus to solve a specific task.
Because there are so many variables, having clearly defined roles helps take away one variable.
If I know I’m a C – Consulted – in the process, then I know my role is to give input, but I also know I don’t have to actually deliver anything. I also know that the other people involved know my role is limited to consulting, so there shouldn’t be confusion about who is doing what. When something doesn’t get done the way it should, everyone knows that the right person to go to is the person listed as 'responsible' on the matrix. And, if that person doesn’t get it done then the issue is escalated to the person listed as 'accountable.'
This about one of your processes that could use a RACI and spend some time to put one together. I think you'll find that the process helps identify potential areas of problem in the process and will help you resolve them quickly.
If you are a subscriber to Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you’ve got a RACI matrix in your mailbox. If you aren’t, you can sign up here.
Our topic today is a little bit unusual – it is definitely something you don’t learn in school. But, surprisingly, I have found it to be a very useful tool in my career.
You know what an inside joke is. It is something between you and another person that you share and only understood because you have a shared context. You can talk about It in front of other people, and although they can understand all of the words you are saying, because they don’t have the context, they don’t get the deeper meaning. Inside jokes are usually funny, and can sometimes border on mean or cruel if the joke you share is at someone else’s expense.
What I want to talk about today is like an inside joke, but not funny or mean. I’ll call it a verbal shortcut.
A verbal shortcut is something between you and another person that you use to quickly communicate a full idea using shortened words. You’ve established up-front a specific context for the short cut that means that everyone understands the underlying context when the agreed upon short cut is spoken.
You probably already have some that you use without even realizing it. But, by thinking about it as an efficiency tool, you may find that you could purposefully implement more of these shortcuts into your work and find an improvement.
Let me give you some examples that I’ve used over the years.
One of the most recent ones I’ve learned is the verbal shortcut “Left Hand Column.” If you aren’t familiar with this one – hearing those 3 words may not mean much to you. But, when I say those words to one of my coworkers who has been initiated into the use of the phrase, they know exactly what I’m getting at. The phrase “left hand column” means – “here is what I’m really thinking and I’m about to tell you something you may not want to hear.”
By giving this idea a short cut term, we’ve normalized it as part of our culture. Because we have established a protocol that has established the use of this short cut term as an acceptable way to voice our negative thoughts, we are more effective.
Another favorite example that I use all the time is the shortcut “blue car.” This is something I say when I’ve gotten way off topic. It is the same idea as the dog who gets sidetracked by the squirrel in the Movie Up. It is used to tell people – ok, we have gotten completely sidetracked by this unrelated and off-topic discussion and need to come back to the original purpose of the meeting.
These shortcuts don’t work if the others aren’t indoctrinated into the meaning. If I’m in a meeting with a group of people who don’t know what “blue car” means and I say “ok, this is a blue car and we need to move on,” then they all just think I’ve lost my mind.
But, by introducing these verbal short cuts to your department, or the people you work most closely with, you can make an impact on effectiveness.
There are a lot of factors that contribute.
Where Verbal Shortcuts Come From
How do these short cuts come about? A lot of times, they develop over time and out of a situation or context that occurred. For example, I was talking with a colleague when his daughter came into the room and asked him if she could have ice cream. He told her no, but she could have a frozen grape.
I don’t have kids, so frozen grapes may be new to me for that reason, but I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. What kind of a substitute is a frozen grape when what you really want is ice cream? To me, this sounded like bait and switch.
But, my colleague told me his kids love frozen grapes. So, for them, although it may not quite be ice cream, it was an acceptable compromise.
Now, when my colleague and I are talking about how to come up with a solution everyone can live with, we say it is a frozen grape. The client asked for us to assign a project manager to their project full time at no additional cost. That’s not going to be possible, but maybe we can give them the PM at cost as a frozen grape.
I’ve been using blue car for so long that I don’t remember how it came about, but I’ve taken it with me from company to company. It means that I sometimes have to explain it to my new team, but because I use it frequently, they eventually get used to the term.
And sometimes, the short cut gets introduced more formally. For instance, Left Hand Column came about from a training session that all of the managers in my company went through.
So, verbal shortcuts can come in many forms. Over the coming days, keep your eyes out for them. You probably have some in your life already. Look for places where you might be able to introduce a shortcut that would improve efficiency or effectiveness for your work.
It may be something small – a way to communicate to your coworker that you can’t be disturbed, or that although you’d love to catch up, you just done have time. It might be a way to communicate with your manager that you are stressed and just not at your best. Or, it might be with a team you are part of that could use a short cut to deal with a certain recurring theme.
There are a lot of different opinions about brainstorming. As with just about everything, you can find people who think it is the best thing since sliced bread and people who think it is the devil incarnate.
I believe it is an important tool to have in your toolbox, but not that it is the right solution for every scenario. What I want to do today is to give you an idea about a variety of brainstorming that I find to be a great option. It uses a combination of traditional brainstorming tactics with some aspects of agile development methodology and a good dose of individual problem solving.
I’m going to start by describing the process end-to-end and then we’ll go back and examine the steps in more detail with an example.
So, that is an overview of the process. Now, let’s go back through it using an example.
Start with a Problem You Need to Solve
Let’s say your company has been growing fast and things that used to work fine when you were small aren’t working anymore. It is starting to show up in reduced customer satisfaction. Your customer satisfaction ratings have started to decline and you recognize the need to take action, but you aren’t sure what needs to be done. So, the problem you want to solve is improving your customer satisfaction rating.
Start by finding 5-7 people who want to help solve the problem.
They are not signing up to implement the solution identified. They are signing up to participate in the process of identifying a solution to the problem. Their time commitment is something less than 8 hours. Their commitment is to the brainstorming process only.
You want to find people with different points of view. You’ll want to think about customer satisfaction for your company and identify people from different departments that could have an impact on the client. Client satisfaction issues could stem from your product or service, from the delivery process, from the ongoing support process, from the payment process, etc.
A good reference for helping you with this is our episode on System vs. Process. I suggest you go back and listen to it to help you identify the potential people to include in your team.
Educate the Team
Once you’ve identified your team, you are going to define the presentations you want to have the team exposed to. These presentations should help the team understand the problem from different perspectives.
In our example, we would want someone from customer support who could talk about the types of complaints they’ve seen lately. You’d want someone from the product group who could talk about how they take customer feedback into account when they decide on features. Ideally, you’d hear from a customer about what they’ve experienced as you’ve grown as a company. Depending on how bad this customer satisfaction issue has become, maybe you need someone from accounting to present the impact to sales or past-due accounts receivable.
Again, this is not an in-depth analysis of the problem. You want your project team to hear accounts of the problem from multiple angles that they may not have otherwise considered.
Identify Interesting Questions
As the presentations are being made, the team is writing down questions that come to mind. For example, as the person from customer support is presenting, he mentions that he’s noticed more calls are about the increased delivery time. You might write down “how can we reduce delivery time?” I might write down “how can we better set client expectations about delivery time?”
By the end of the presentations, each person might have a dozen questions. If you are doing this exercise in person, the best option is to write them on post it notes. If you are doing it virtually, you’ll need to look at the tools you have available. You could use a shared document and have everyone add their questions to it. Or you could use a virtual whiteboard app like Miro that has electronic post it note functionality.
Vote on the Question The Group will Tackle
Each person in the group gets 3 votes. Give everyone 5-10 minutes to vote on their top 3 questions. Then identify the questions with the most votes.
You may need to do some consolidation. For example, your question and my question about delivery time may have each gotten a couple of votes. Since they are both about delivery time, you may combine them into a single item. Individually, they may not have been top vote getters, but combined, they may.
The point is, a set of questions will rise to the top as the ones the group believes are important for solving the problem. From there, you will have a group discussion to identify which questions the group thinks is the right one to tackle.
One thing that is important to note – it is likely that every question asked is legitimate and could contribute to the solution. Certainly, there will be several questions that are very important and need to be solved. But, for this session, you are just landing on one. The others won’t be lost forever. They just won’t be the focus of this session. You are identifying the question that the group is going to tackle.
Once you have agreement, the groups gets their homework. Go off on your own and draw out your own personal solution to the problem. In our case, each person is going to draw out their ideas about how to improve delivery time.
The guidelines are pretty simple – don’t limit your ideas. Think of this as fantasy land. If you had no constraints on budget or headcount, org structure, or company politics, what would your solution be?
The other guideline is to stay at a high enough level that your solution isn’t tactical – its theoretical. Again, you aren’t solving the problem as a team. You are brainstorming ways to solve the problem.
The timeframe for this exercise should be pretty limited – no more than 48 hours between the 1st session – identifying the question, and the 2nd session where everyone presents their homework.
Identify Potential Solutions
When the group reconvenes, each person presents their drawing and idea. Make sure they mention the assumptions they made and any big questions they still have. This should be time boxed to about 10 minutes per person to keep everyone from getting too far into details because there will be a tendency to try and solve the problem.
After everybody has presented, you will go through another round of voting. Again, each person gets 3 votes. They can vote on a solution in total or part of the solution they find compelling.
Again, you’ll look at the top vote getters and go through a process of consolidating similar ideas.
Once you’ve identified the top vote getters, you will narrow in on which solution the group thinks is the best place to start. Again, all of the solutions may have merit, but given resource constraints at all companies, you’ve got to prioritize down to the one you feel will give you the best return for the effort.
Identify Next Steps
Once you have that, you need to figure out the next step. This team is disbanding. So, you’ll need to figure out how to take the idea forward.
What you’ve done in a very short period of time is gotten a lot of good questions that could help you solve your problem, and narrowed in on a great solutions to take forward.
This brainstorming process is really good because of the diversity of opinions that come out of the “together but apart” nature of it. You are together as a team, but writing down your questions individually. You decide on the question to solve together, but put together a solution on your own. That means your solution isn’t influenced by someone else on the team as would happen in a traditional brainstorming scenario.
I encourage you to give this a try the next time you are faced with a problem to solve that maybe seems too big or overwhelming to tackle.
This week, I want to focus on helping you think in a new way about achieving your longer-term goals. We all get so caught up in our daily lives that sometimes it can seem impossible to make any meaningful progress toward longer term goals. These longer term goals are usually important, but not urgent which makes them easy to deprioritize when you are facing a weeks’ worth of meetings, problems, and deadlines.
What you need to learn how to do is to be able to separate the urgency of the day-job from the importance of the longer-term goal. You need a way to keep your eye on the ball while keeping your head above water each day. There is a combination of very tactical activities that can help you achieve that, and that is what I want to cover today.
Know what your goal is
First, let’s assume you are already clear about what your important goal is. This is something you want to accomplish that is outside of your day job. For our purposes today, we will use an example from my job.
We had a process of forecasting revenue that was monthly and prepared by our finance department. The process was: about halfway through the month, the finance department would prepare a spreadsheet that forecasts revenue for the current quarter and the next quarter. They would send it to me and I would review and correct it. Typically, about 25% of the forecast was wrong and I would have to compare line-by-line to find problems, make notes and updates, and then send it back to finance. Then, finance would have to make the updates based on my notes and put together the final presentation for our leadership team.
This process was stressful and frustrating for several reasons. First, I am closer to the business than finance and have a better understanding of the forecast than they do. This is why there were so many corrections. Second, the time between when the 1st draft was sent to me and when the forecast had to be presented was usually about 2 days which meant there was always a crunch time to turn around my corrections to finance. And third, looking at the forecast once per month was not frequent enough to allow us to make adjustments when we needed to in order to make our numbers.
So, my goal was to improve this process. I wanted to reduce the stress of the process and be able to be more proactive about taking action in order to meet our quarterly targets.
But, because of my day job, it seemed like something that would be hard to accomplish.
So, we’ve got our goal.
Identify the levers that influence the goal
The first tool is to think about what things influence the goal. Think about levers that you can pull that if they change, they will impact the bigger goal. These are called lead measures.
For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, the levers you can pull are eating fewer calories and exercising more. If you know each day that you ate fewer calories and exercised more, then you can be certain you will achieve your goal of losing weight. If you take your focus off the end goal and put it on the levers – or the lead measures – you can achieve your goal even within the constraints of daily life.
For my goal, in order to be able to be more proactive about achieving a quarterly target, I knew we needed to get to the point where we knew where we stood each week.
For me, the lever became a weekly scorecard that told us if we were on track for the quarterly target.
That seems simple enough, but the reality is that I’m already working 10 hours a day and not getting everything done. Adding a weekly report to my schedule was an overwhelming thought. It would be very easy to have ignored it and just let the current process continue.
Make 1% Progress
Tool number 2 is to think in terms of 1% progress toward your goal. What is 1 small step you can take this week to make progress toward your goal? If you can take 1 step in the right direction this week, you’ve made progress toward your goal.
A lot of times, we set a goal and feel like we’ve got to make huge progress toward it or else we aren’t successful. Then, because our day job doesn’t stop, we can’t get to our goal and then we feel like a failure. Too often, we have unrealistic expectations about changing our daily life in order to accomplish this new goal. Your daily life isn’t going away. In order to accomplish an important goal, you need to come up with a plan that will allow you to make progress in spite of your daily life.
So, think in terms of 1%. What is something you can do this week that will progress you toward your goal? It should be something related to your lead measure. You already know that the lead measure is a lever that will influence the outcome of your goal. So, if you are going to make incremental progress, it definitely needs to be something related to that lever.
For our weight loss example, it might be to eat 1 vegetable each day. It may seem like an insignificant step toward losing 20 pounds, but it is directly linked to weight loss and moves you toward your goal.
For my goal of getting to a proactive forecast, using a weekly scorecard, it meant setting up a set of reports that would feed into the scorecard. So, my original 1% goal or that 1st week was literally to just think about what the scorecard would look like. I had to have a clear picture of the scorecard in order to identify the reports I would need.
Week #1: draw a picture of the scorecard.
Week #2: identify what reports I need in order to fill in the scorecard.
Week #3: pick 1 report and create it.
Week #4: pick a second report and create it.
You get the picture.
Time Block for your 1%
Tool #3 is something we’ve covered in a previous episode – time blocking. If we acknowledge up front that you are going to have to achieve these goals in spite of your daily life, then you need to start to build in time to your daily life for these 1% activities.
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available. And its true. Your daily life is going to take up all of your time. So, you need to block off time on your calendar to ensure you can take your 1% step in the right direction.
Time blocking is the practice of scheduling a meeting on your calendar with yourself to accomplish an important task.
If you know what your goal is and you know the levers you can pull to get you there and you know what your next step is to get you 1% closer to your goal – then the only thing left is to find the time to do it.
So, block time on your calendar each week to take your 1%.
And, then, the hardest part of all – honor the time. Without a doubt, you will have something urgent from your day job that will want to take that slot on your calendar. But, if the goal was important enough to set in the first place, it is important enough to honor the slot you reserved to focus on it. Put the slot on your calendar for 6 months. If you achieve the goal sooner – great. You can always unblock your calendar once you’ve achieved the goal.
So, let me end by telling you that it took a little over 6 months to achieve my goal. I could have easily accomplished it in much less time if it wasn’t for my pesky day job! But, that just wasn’t going to change. So, although it took 6 months to get there – I got there! Our new weekly scorecard is now part of my day job, but there is recognition across the organization that it is a far better process than the old process. And, it is a lot less stressful for me.
The circle of influence is a concept popularized by Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although Covey takes no credit for the idea, he was a master at explaining it in a way that is so clear and actionable that it has become part of our business lexicon.
Today, I’m going to do my level best to explain it to you in a manner that will allow a light bulb to go on and for you to be able to walk away from this episode and put a new habit into practice. Even if you think you’ve got the concept down, I encourage you to listen to this episode. It is always good to have a refresher.
I fall into this category myself. If you were to ask me if I live or embody the concept of circle of influence I would have said yes. I think of and employ the concept frequently. I’ve talked about a lot of the ideas in one way or another on previous episodes. I would describe this concept as a core of my philosophy and personality. And yet – I just re-read the chapter in 7 Habits and found myself learning more. Being reminded of little nuances I’ve forgotten. Being shown a different way to approach it. So, there is always something more you can learn.
Let’s start by defining the circle of influence. Think about your world in 3 buckets:
This you can’t control
Most people are pretty good about how they deal with the things they can’t control. There is a recognition that you can’t do anything about it, so you adjust your behavior in whatever way is relevant and you move on with your life. The majority of people recognize this situation the majority of the time.
The weather is a classic example. You can’t control the weather. You know it and, although you may be disappointed when an even gets cancelled due to the weather, you don’t let it eat away at you.
Another example I like to use is a sports example. When a referee makes what you think is a bad call, there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can yell and scream and post as many bad tweets as you want, it isn’t going to change the outcome. The reason I use this example is because I think it is an example of where people who otherwise generally recognize situations where they don’t have control temporarily lose sight of that fact.
When it comes to the things you can’t control, your best option is to recognize as quickly as possible that you have no control, which takes away their ability to control you. If you feel like this is an area where you need to so some additional development work, I suggest you listen to Episode 20 about Productive and Unproductive Worry.
Things you can control indirectly through influence
Within the circle is the circle of influence. These are the things you can control indirectly through influence. These are things that other people are responsible for, but for which you can impact their actions. Your circle of influence with your children, if they are still young, is pretty large. And, although it decreases as they get older, it is still a very large part of your circle. Your circle of influence at work is likely smaller than your circle of influence at home, but you still have influence. Your objective should be to increase your circle of influence to be as large as it can be.
I believe influence is a mindset issue. You need to 1. Believe you can influence the situation and 2. Take responsibility for your actions or response. The way you know if you are doing this is by looking at the language you are using:
Is the issue someone else’s fault?
Do you feel like you are the victim?
Are you talking in terms of ‘onlys’? If only I had a better boss. If only I had this certification. If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.
You have influence over each of these if only’s. And you can take action to influence them. When you give up your right to take action, you’ve made the choice to dis-empower yourself.
“If only I had a better boss.” What about your boss do you have a problem with? What can you do to build a relationship with your boss to gain influence that will change the impact? If they are a micro-manger, it means that they need a high level of detail to be comfortable. Increase the level of detail you provide when you communicate with them. By proactively doing this, they will become comfortable with you – they will trust in the work you are doing and will no longer feel the need to micro-mange.
“If only I had this certification.” If you think you aren’t getting considered for a role because you are lacking a skill, what are you doing to go get the skill?
“If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.” How can you help them understand? Are you documenting the scenarios that come up? Have you investigated the steps necessary to address the scenarios? Have you asked management for what you need to address the scenarios?
And, taking responsibility for your actions means that if you feel you’ve tried to influence and the outcome is still not acceptable, then you take action to move on.
Things you can directly influence
Which takes us to the final part of the circle of influence – things you can directly control. These are your habits, your mindset. Taking responsibility for your actions proactively is one of the key things that sets highly productive, highly effective, people apart. Taking action on your own behalf is a fundamental skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you believe that you are the architect of your career.
As human beings, one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our ability to be self aware. Our freedom to choose how we respond to a situation. When there is some sort of situation thrust upon us, we are the architects of our response. I’m not trying to imply that by having a positive attitude, you can turn a bad situation into a positive situation. Bad things happen. Sucky things will always suck. But, you have 100% control over how you choose to respond. You can let bad things eat away at you, impacting the rest of your life, or you can let bad things be one part of your story rather than the whole story.
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Time Mindset can have a profound impact on your productivity. Productive people don’t have more time than unproductive people. But, they do have a different mindset about it. If you want to see an increase in your productivity, one of the things you need to think about is your relationship with time.
How much time have you spent thinking about your relationship with time?
Do you approach it unconsciously, or do you know where you stand with it?
I think a lot of people are really unconsciously dealing with time.
The symptoms of someone who doesn’t consciously understand their relationship with time are things like getting to the end of your day and not getting the most important things done.
Or starting every conversation with “I’m so busy” or “sorry I couldn’t get you what I promised, I’ve just been so busy.”
Another common symptom is negative self talk about your productivity. Telling yourself you just aren’t accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Being down on yourself or – even more diabolical, making yourself a victim of time.
These are all symptoms that occur when you aren’t conscious of your relationship with time. And, the simple way to fix them is to become conscious of it. Once you become conscious of it, you will begin to see that you can become more productive because your mindset sets you up to be more productive.
Notice your mindset about time. Are you making decisions about how you spend your time or are you unconsciously letting your time get by you?
Do you feel good about your time mindset?
Do you have a mindset about time that serves to make you more productive, or is it limiting you to a life where you feel like there just isn’t enough time?
Become someone who takes responsibility for your time mindset.
Expand your understanding of this topic by listening to Words Matter.
Strategy is something that is traditionally left to the C-Suite or other executives. This is a podcast for those who are early in their career or are not interested in leadership positions, so you may think that strategy isn’t important for you to understand. But – you are the CEO of your career, so you do need to understand it. And, one of the things that you should think about is whether or not your company has a strategy that will make it viable in the long run.
What I want to do in this episode is give you another criterion to consider about whether the job you have or are looking at taking in the future is a good fit for you – it is called the inflection point.
The inflection point is a point in the future where the fundamentals of the business are going to change.
Meaning, everything the current business is built on becomes obsolete and a whole new set of rules apply.
A good strategy will
You want to work for a company that gets this.
In addition, you, as an employee, should be able to recognize and accept change that may come if your company is in the middle of executing a strategy to change the fundamentals of the business. Prepare yourself for changes that may come by assessing:
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