Ways to work to start the new year

A strategy to get the most of your day

Time is the great equalizer. No matter how wealthy you are, or whether The Man is keeping you down – each one of us is granted the same amount of time in a day as Edison, Einstein, Sun Tzu or Martin Luther King, Jr.

The urge to stretch that time, and get more out of it, is the basis of a billion dollar industry. I’m simply amazed at the number of time management systems and strategies there are out there. Many are great – the FranklinCovey system & Getting Things Done by David Allen are perennial favorites – and all offer the promise of “pack more into your busy day.”

An often overlooked component, though, is the concept of personal and mental energy. A great, though dated, book on this is The Corporate Athlete. By being “in training,” the author reasons, you can keep your body in peak condition to handle the day to day stresses of the workplace.

But – how can these two concepts come together? Being a quantitatively driven guy, I always remember the equation:

Productivity = time + energy

Every day – whether at work, school or home – is an opportunity to “get things done.” Defining what needs to be done is another story…so let’s unpack the time and energy components.

Time. Though many complain “there simply isn’t enough” – there is. Remember the Edison observation, above? Focus on the important, and the urgent, and delegate everything else. One trick I use to keep myself on track is my calendar. If it is on my to-do list, I schedule time on the calendar to tackle it. Simple, and it reinforces itself…I’ve found that when I don’t, that important project becomes an urgent fire, simply because I didn’t handle it earlier in the week.

Energy. There is a body of work around being active and mobile to keep the body engaged and the mind refreshed. Whether it is as simple as the “standing” 10 minute meeting that Lencioni writes about, simply taking a walk every day in the morning or after dinner, or scheduling (and completing) workouts 3-5 times a week in the gym – move. Additionally, watch what you eat, and when. I’m not a dietician, and I don’t “play one on TV,” but I can definitely tell the performance difference when I’ve eaten a good breakfast. With the rise of Fitbit and other biometric monitors, it’s easy to keep track of your activity level. Make this a focus, and invest in yourself.

How does this show up for me? With few exceptions, I start my day at 5 AM with a workout of some sort (even if it is just a walk) while listening to a podcast or a “book on tape,” eat a good breakfast and then begin the commute. I do the hardest things of the day first – before 11 AM – when my calendar and my energy levels are at their best. I wrap up the day with the commute home, while doing conference calls with friends and colleagues in other time zones. In bed between 9 and 10 PM. Every chance I get, I walk around the office – keeps me connected to my colleagues, enables me to get some activity in, and opens up my brain.

Even though I travel frequently, if I don’t keep some kind of physical activity and watch what I eat & when, combined with leveraging my calendar to get tasks done – I can feel it in the workplace.

What about you? Do you have a life hack like this that enables you to get more done, and feel good about it? If not – try this for a couple weeks and see if it works for you. You have nothing to lose.

Conquering fear and ambiguity at work

Communicate, but don't be needy

Let’s face it. We all work for someone. Whether it’s your “boss”, the board, The Man…we all report to someone else. And we don’t know what they think of us, or whether they know what we do every day.

That’s what creates ambiguity, dampens productivity and can generate fear.

How do you deal with it? When you’re unsure of where you stand? Here are a few tips:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Whether it is a weekly email of accomplishments, or a daily 3 minute conversation on what is going on in the business or the project – do it. If your supervisor is a walk around type, use that “drive by” time to do the 3 minute drill on what’s going on. And for heaven’s sake, if there is bad news – get it to your supervisor as quick as you can. Bad news doesn’t age well. Just don’t be needy.
  • Have a career plan. Unlike the 1950’s, or the government, odds are you will not work for the same company, doing the same thing, your entire working life. If you work in a corporate environment, you’re familiar with the annual budget and business plan. What about having one for you? If you know where you are going, and actively work towards that goal, it can give you inner peace – since you are working your plan, and not worrying so much about the day-to-day ambiguity that your supervisor, or company, may be generating.
  • Find a mentor. This doesn’t mean enroll in the company program, or appear needy and tell your supervisor that you need a mentor – I mean, look around your company, the local community or social media and find a role model. With today’s technology, you can strike up a conversation with nearly anyone…or follow them on CNBC, WSJ, or industry press.

It’s all about having a plan, working the plan, and growing and developing yourself. If you are working your plan and communicating your good work to your supervisor, you don’t need to worry so much about the ambiguity and short sightedness of your company, your supervisor…or, if you are unfortunate enough to have one – The Boss.

Ultimately, no one is responsible for you – other than you. Go get it! I’m cheering for you!

Swagger?

Not at 22

Swagger. You really don’t have it. No matter how much Old Spice you purchase. Not at 22.

When I was 22, I was convinced I was the absolute best US Air Force air weapons officer on the planet. I spent my time in the back of the E3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft, talking to fighter pilots and practicing air-to-air engagements against Soviet style tactics. Maverick/Tom Cruise from Top Gun? Pansy. I mean, I had a whole 200 hours in the AWACS…half of them as a student, with an instructor weapons officer overseeing my every move. I. Was. Awesome. Just ask me.

Fortunately for me, and the pilots and aircrews I would work with during my Air Force career, I learned to listen to experience. Real experience, from real combat officers who had “been there.” Whenever I get the chance, I pass along some of the best lessons from the folks who cared about me, both in the military and in corporate life:

  1. Leadership by example. Don’t ask others to do what you won’t do – whether it is deploying over the holidays, or completing the annual corporate compliance training. Folks watch what you do, and emulate you.
  2. Communications cadence. Listen intently to what the other party has to say. Digest their meaning, and then respond. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and it works to move the conversation along. Or put iron on target.
  3. Hard work never hurts in the long run. Yes, I know – work/life balance and all that. But when it’s crunch time – get in early, grab the task list, and just get it done.
  4. Look out for your people. Whether they are your troops, your direct reports, your boss, or your colleagues in the company, your well-being and future are tied to theirs. Look out for them, grow them, and everyone wins.
  5. Be humble. Probably the first lesson that my first supervisor taught me on a combat readiness check. “Yeah, you’re okay to go to Desert Shield. But don’t be stupid. You’re not as good as you think you are, and if you don’t keep your eyes open, you’ll get somebody killed.” Or something like that. His point was well taken – you can learn from everyone and everything. Be open to that.

Good lessons from good leaders.Too bad I didn’t know them and fully internalize them, especially number 5, fresh out of flying training! I. Was. Insufferable. And didn’t know it, or didn’t care. Don’t be that guy!