The Real Purpose of Your To-Do List

Productivity

You think it’s to Get Stuff Done, right? Wrong. That’s actually a by-product of a well-done system. 

I’ve had to learn this the hard way, so hear me out…

First, basic systems theory states that the purpose of a system is not the design of a system. The purpose of a system is determined by its actual use and results. 

The result of a to-do list is not actually getting things done because sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t (am I right?)… BUT what is guaranteed from a well-structured system is a CLEAR VIEW OF THE TRUTH. 

That means, a clear view of:

**What’s actually getting done.

**What’s getting stuck

**What you’re waiting on from other people

**What is getting neglected. 

**What lingers for weeks and months

A great system shows you the truth in a fast snapshot. And then it’s your choice what you do with that truth. 

Oddly, the result is peace, because it all becomes conscious. There’s no more “I forgot” no more “They never got back to me.” No more “What the heck did I even do this week?” 

Do you have a system? “All change starts with the truth.” – Dan Sullivan

Culture-enhancing drugs?

Culture of Chaos ,Hacks ,Productivity

When Lance Armstrong got to Europe for his first Tour de France, he quickly realized he had to either start doping or accept losing to those who did. It was a different game.

Could corporate America go the same direction? It’s possible.

Silicon Valley executives have long been known to take modafinil (brand name Provigil) to gain a cognitive edge, and it seems that Wall Street does as well.  Still others create their own “custom stacks” of over the counter supplements.

These smart drugs seem to speed up the brain, and yet other workers use the effects of marijuana to focus and reduce stress.

And what about for insights and ideas?  In this piece on CNN, Venture Capitalist Tim Ferriss shares that every billionaire he knows “takes psychedelics on a regular basis.

And if we look at the offices of a smart drug supplement company, what do they do to get that extra edge?  Fasting.  Nootrobox‘s employees stop eating from Monday night to Wednesday morning every week.  This article in Fortune explains the psychology of why fasting actually enhances our cognition.

Could performance-enhancement be the new reality of companies that outperform the others, the way doped riders took all the awards at the Tour de France?

The 3 Lessons I Keep Learning

Hacks ,Productivity

1. Follow the energy

When I was 60K in debt from a failed business, depressed and low on hope I invested my time in something that made no financial sense…

I became a spinning instructor.

I had always wanted to be one since high school. I loved the combination of DJ, coach and speaker. So much time was spent on training and making mixes that I lost money. And yet, I had so much fun that I was able to use all of the energy to launch my next career.  Again, it did not make sense from a practical perspective, but I followed the energy.

For me, it’s often a distinction between what looks good versus what feels good…

It’s a date who looks amazing, but I don’t feel myself around her. It’s a house I’m looking at that has all the amenities, but doesn’t feel like home. It’s a speech that delivers on paper, but I don’t care about it.

It takes courage to follow the energy, but more importantly it takes curiosity and a sense of wonder.

All of this applies to culture as well, since culture is simply a bunch of people together. If the group is following what “should” matter (results, revenue, profit, new manager program du jour), and not what they’re passionate about (the customer, the values, the product, or even each other), then the culture eventually goes south.

2. Get back to the basics

Veteran pilots still use checklists. Yoyo Ma still plays scales. And the best athletes practice for hours.

I’m always amazed by how much it’s the basics that make the difference.

On the personal level it’s really about getting great food, sleep, exercise and meditation. I heard that neurosis is the result of denying our animal nature, and I can tell you if I don’t get exercise I anxious and neurotic. In fact, if I do boxing or martial arts I’m so peaceful I don’t even have thoughts in my head afterward.

On the corporate level it’s about meetings. Most companies are terrible at meetings. They’ll take on multi-million dollar change initiatives and yet everyday meetings are dysfunctional.

When I work with teams I start with the basics: Can you be on time? If you show up late and run over then you’re prioritizing your own personal agendas over the culture. But if you’re on time, you’re honoring commitments. There’s no point working on values if you can’t even be on time.

3. Focus is flow

Flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.” (1) It’s when athletes are “in the zone.”

I have a million things on my to do list, and trying to multi-task is a joke. It just adds stress. I continue to learn that lesson. But focus is heaven. It feels like a luxury.

Getting totally absorbed with a task (even if it’s one I don’t like) is a pure joy.  A friend of mine who survived drug addiction started his life again by cleaning chandeliers. He said it was one of the most joyful times of his life because it was so simple.

The three temptations

Looking back on this list I see the lessons could also be re-written as temptations:

1. Follow the Energy
(Temptation: Choosing what “should” be done, or what looks good instead of what feels good)

2. Get back to the Basics
(Temptation: Going for the new shiny object)

3. Focus is Flow
(Temptation: Multi-tasking, letting texts, emails and facebook interrupt me)

 

 

What You Really Want is Clarity (and how to get it)

Great cultures ,Popular Articles ,Productivity ,Values

business-crystal-ball

There’s one word I keep hearing at companies when they express their desires. It’s like the holy grail people are seeking. What people want most, whether leaders or workers, is this:

Clarity

And what’s interesting is I see this most in companies that are successful! Successful companies have a plethora of opportunities, choices and options. And so the pain comes from questions such as:

  • What’s the priority?
  • What do we focus on?
  • What happens when our priorities compete?
  • How do we stop the chaos?
  • How do we delegate decision making while ensure the right decisions are made?
  • What data do we need to make decisions?

The funny thing is that focusing on these questions only makes the problem worse, because it actually brings up even more options. 

I was running a culture game around conflict and it was interesting how challenging it was for people to follow a basic language protocol that focused their communication. It was like they were wrapping their brains around how to be more specific and concise when they were used to simply talking and figuring things out as conversation went on.

This was in stark contrast to a podcast I heard with a 24 year old Army Ranger whose clarity in communication was incredible. He could think so clearly and communicate with quick precision, without meandering thought. I immediately thought: This is the kind of person I’d like to hire.

So there are two ways to solve this dilemma of clarity. First, as I’ve always said, the biggest impact you can have on your culture is who you let into the organization.

1. Hire clear thinkers and communicators. 

It’s always tempting to go with the person who has the exact experience we need on their résumé. But that’s a terrible idea. Unless it is ultra specific (think: nuclear chemist), then hiring someone who has already “been there, done that” means they won’t grow a lot and so they won’t give their best.

Whereas if you hire someone who:

a) loves to learn (and learns fast)
b) thinks clearly (more on that in a moment)
c) communicates clearly (succinctly, on point, and looks you in the eye)

Then you’ll have someone you want for life.

2. Establish the 3 P’s.

The reason an Army Ranger can think so clearly is because their lives are built around the 3 P’s:

Principles

Whether it’s the core values of Whole Foods, or the credo of the Navy Seals, the strongest organizations run on principles. Principle define who’s in and who is out. They act as guides for decisionmaking and they reduce politics by aligning people to agreed upon concepts rather than to people in power. If you haven’t figured out your principles, check out the core values process in my book The Culture Blueprint.

Protocols

There’s an anecdote from the Checklist Manifesto that says a beginner pilot uses a checklist to prepare for a flight. Do you know what a veteran pilot with 30 years experience on a 747 uses? The same thing: A checklist. If it’s clear that we must do it and hold to a standard of excellence, then a protocol like a checklist is very useful. And this is not just for processes, but also for conversations. That’s why I have a protocol that I teach for conflict resolution. By staying within the process it allows people to feel safe.  New management systems such as Holacracy are based on this concept.  If companies had a protocol for delegating it would relieve so much pain.

Policies

Policies can actually be quite liberating when used effectively. For example, a policy can be that any employee can use up to $500 to remedy a customer service error without asking for approval. That policy can empower people to make decisions while still keeping a safeguard on the process.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the decisions you need to make, consider if there’s a breakdown in clarity and how precise communication, principles, protocols and policies can help.

The Epic CEO Hack (or, the cheapest innovation tool)

Hacks ,Productivity

innovation-hack-walking

An innovation hack is an action that is “low input, high output.” That means it takes very little investment, but the gains are tremendous. I watch for the hacks of effective CEO’s and this one is shared by both the late Steve Jobs and Tony Hsieh.

Innovation Hack: Walks.

Yes. That simple. They go for walks, a lot. Whether it’s for meetings or just taking time for themselves, they take long walks.

Research is proving the common sense idea that sitting for extensive periods of time is very unnatural. One even called sitting the smoking of our generation.

I took an hour long walk today, with a 3×5 card and a pen. At first I listened to an audiobook with headphones while I walked. Then I noticed I stopped listening to the book and started listening to my own ideas. I would walk for awhile, let the ideas simmer, then write them down and repeat the process.

Some might call it taking the time to listen to our own intuition. Others may say there’s a spiritual element to it all. Whatever it is, it works. Try it right now. It may be the cheapest most effective innovation tool.

NOTE: You’ll see I finally added a way to get updated on new posts. See the sign up bar in the upper right corner.

Productivity Hack: Hack the Wifi

Productivity

I’m at a coffee house, and the wifi is down. Awesome. No, seriously. Awesome! Now I can actually get stuff done.

My friend Dawn, author of Small Footprint Family, had her internet connection go out completely at her house this week. A few hours later, she had finished formatting her book – a task that she had put off for months, assumed would take weeks, and would require assistance from freelancers. Dawn is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, the time she spent online was spent working on marketing, SEO, and blog posts. But eliminating that option opened up a new possibility.

Dawn’s husband Ivan had never been able to sleep more than 5 hours a night. That night he slept for 7 hours. Why? Because with the internet down, there was never that stressful feeling that he could be doing work from the office. It reminds of the Jewish laws for the Sabbath. The specific wording in the commentary is that the command is not just to rest, but to rest “as if you never have to work, ever again.” Can you feel the difference between those two levels?

My friend Patricia decided to put fate in her own hands by specifically choosing a coffee shop that has NO internet connection. By going there to work just a couple hours a day, she completed her entire business plan in a week.

What is something you’ve been putting off? Something you know you must do. Something you think will take a long time, but you won’t know until you try it? Great, now find a coffee house with no wifi.