Tag Archives: time management

Can I ask a bigger question

Too frequently, we get stuck in a small thinking just because that is where our idea started. An entrepreneur may review is P&L and realize he’s spending too much on hotels when he travels, so asks the question, “how can I pay less for my hotel stays?” That is a fair question but is it big enough. Instead the entrepreneur could ask, “how can I reduce my travel expenses?” The difference in the two questions may not seem like much but they can lead to very different answers. In the first case, then entrepreneur may try to negotiate better pricing or travel on cheaper days. In the larger question, the entrepreneur may question is some trips could be replaced with Skype calls or trips could be combined.

On a personal level, someone trying to get into shape may ask, “how can I make my workouts more intense?” A bigger question might be, “how can I adopt an active lifestyle?”

When you discover an obstacle or opportunity, pause for a few minutes and ask yourself, “can I ask a bigger question?”

Turning stop goals into go goals

Whether in business, relationships or personal lives, there are two broad categories of goals around making change: stop and go.

Stop goals are simply that, things you want to stop doing. Stop blowing up in meetings. Stop over eating. Stop taking on too many tasks. Stop taking your relationship for granted. Stop procrastinating.

Go goals are about things you want to start doing. Start speaking up. Start eating better. Start being proactive.

The two goals use different parts of your mind. Stop goals are mainly about using willpower and must be constantly applied. Stop goals are usually about breaking existing habits. Go goals rely more on creativity and starting new habits.

Research has shown that people using go goals are more successful than people who are using stop goals. Also people are more likely to give up on stop goals because it is more obvious each time they fail while go goals are are more about successes.

So. What do you do with this information? How can this improve your life? When you create a goal, be sure to turn it into a positive goal. For example, don’t have a goal of not eating that triple bacon cheese burger. Instead have a goal of eating a salad. Don’t have a goal of showing up your coworker. Instead have a goal of getting the most out of the team. Don’t have a goal of stop being so negative. Instead have a goal of being more positive.

Discover vs Defend

I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.

One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.

How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.

So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.

You can do anything

You can do anything you set your mind to but you can’t do everything. Really.  The clue is right there in the sentence.  If you are trying to accomplish everything than you really haven’t set your mind to something.  You can have more than one goal but it definitely helps to be able to pick out a few top priority goals to work on.  The tricky part is how to determine what to set your mind to.  That is, what are your goals.

I’ve come across a great little game to help people prioritize their goals.  Take a pile of index cards and write out possible goals, one to a card.  Try to be very specific with each card.  Instead of writing, “make a lot more money” write “make $10,000” a year.  Adjust to your own income level.  You can put goals that cumulate on multiple cards, so you could have five “make $10,000” index cards or “lose 10 pounds” for example.  It helps to put a time limit on your goals.  For example, you might want to focus on goals you could achieve in the next year.

The goal on your goal cards, is to have, at least, twenty cards.  Feel free to overachieve.  Here are some prompts to help you fill out as many cards as you can:

Financial goals: making more money, saving for specific goals, increasing retirement, paying down debt

Health/fitness goals: losing weight, increasing ability (jogging more miles), lowering cholesterol, playing with the kids

Romantic: number of dates with spouse, getting a spouse, divorcing a spouse

Spiritual: attending church, praying, going on a retreat, taking a trip, meditating

Stress reduction: having flexibility at work, finishing nagging tasks

Growth: taking a class, reading a number of books a month

Joy: spending time with friends and family, getting a pet

There really isn’t a limit to the types of goals you put on your cards.

Once you have your cards all filled out, shuffle them face down and deal yourself five cards.  (If you really overachieved on the number of cards you wrote, you may want to start with eight cards in your hand.)  Look at that hand.  Is this the hand that equals goals for your next year?   Take a card from the deck and add it to your hand.  Now choose one card to discard.  Repeat with every card in the deck.  Your final hand is your hand of goals for the next year.

To really make it challenging, after you try it with five cards, reshuffle the entire deck (including the cards in your hand) and try doing it again but with only three cards in your hand.

What is your final hand?  Post it in the comments.  Sharing your goals can be a great motivator.

It is

We spend much of our lives classifying and judging situations.

It is good.

It is bad.

It is lucky.

It is hectic.

It is just the way things go.

It is like it always is.

When we judge a situation, we have already given it an emotional context.  This context will color how we see and explore the situation when we explore it more.  It also requires an emotional effort to classify a situation.  My wife and I have started reminding each other and I have started reminding my clients of a powerful tool to simplify their emotional clutter and see the situations in their lives more clearly.  The tool is simply to stop the sentence after, “It is.”

“It is,” means to accept the situation as it is.  Don’t judge it yet.  Don’t give it an emotional weight.  Simply accept that it is.  Then you can start to explore it.  You may find that a “lucky” situation was really the result of some clever and hard work.  A “hectic” situation may be open to some organization improvements.  Accept.  Analyze.  Act.




A lot of a little or a little of a lot

Many people attack a challenge with massive effort.  Starting from day one, they drop everything else and commit themselves to the challenge one hundred and ten percent.  This can be anything from someone trying to start a business or beginning a new jogging program by starting out with a five mile run.

The problem with this approach, I have found, is that it lacks sustainability.  Yes.  It is true that some people are successful at making this sudden and intense change but most people fail miserably at it.  The first day or even the first week, they are able to put off all other distractions and summon up intense amount of motivation to make ridiculous amounts of positive changes.  Then the second day comes.  Then the third.  The amount of effort they put in starts to fade.  They frequently think this reduction of effort is a failure, which further dampens their motivation.

Alternatively, people who start small but focus on moving forward a little every day won’t see that initial rush of success.  Their little bits of effort are more sustainable and as their start to see success happen, they are more ready to add a little more effort.  This slow and steady increase of effort quickly leads to larger and larger positive changes.  At the same time, the person has had the time to transition the rest of their lives to include these changes.

My experience and the experiences of my clients has taught me that a little of a lot – that is a little extra effort added every day – yields much better and lasting results than a lot of a little – that is a huge but unsustainable amount of effort.

First things first

Most of my clients come to me with a goal of growing either their company’s sales or their personal earnings.  Other than that, they rarely have other goals.  At least, rarely do they know how they want to grow.  Frequently, they don’t know why they want to grow.  More is simply more and that is enough.

One of my first client exercises is an attempt at getting my clients to understand their “why,” their reason for growth.  This process is usually a series of questions, forcing my clients to make trade offs and to imagine how they would feel with various outcomes.  Understanding their “why” has helped many of my clients to make wiser tradeoffs and to focus their efforts on what they really want.

Unfortunately, not everyone can go directly to discovering their why.  Their lives and thoughts are simply too cluttered to make an honest assessment of their lives.  While some people aren’t able to see the forest for the trees, some aren’t even able to see the trees yet for all the leaves.  Their focus is locked too tightly on the minutia for them to every truly understand their whys.  Therefore, I have found that a powerful first step in discovering someone’s reason for growth is to de-clutter their lives, their schedules and their thoughts.  I encourage them to aim at small targets, the low hanging fruit, and look at their lives through a DIME mindset.  That is look at each task in their lives and Delegate, Improve, Minimize and/or Eliminate.  Once they have done a DIME process on their lives, they have more time and energy to focus on the big picture.

Striving for mediocre is a poor way to achieve greatness

In my career, both in corporate American and as a Business Coach, I’ve frequently heard otherwise good capable people state a goal to become just like everyone else.  That’s not how it is said, of course.  It is always couched in phrases like, “Best practices are . . . .” or “Both my brothers were able to . . . .” or “The competition typically . . . .”  What follows next is usually a recommendation to achieve the banal, the commonplace and the typical.  People and companies who achieve these bland goals are frequently surprised when they stop, look around and realize that they haven’t achieved any level of greatness.

Yes, it is ok to have “good enough” levels for lower priority goals.  Life is a trade off.  You have enough time and resources to do anything.  You don’t have enough time and resources to do everything.  Manage your resources by identifying your one or two primary overpowering goals.  Divest in all other goals.

Your goal, that is your one primary overpowering goal, needs to be something special.  It needs to motivate and drive you.  Take to heart W. Clement Stone’s wisdom, “Aim for the moon.  If you miss, you may hit a star.”  Strive for more.  Reach for the seemingly unachievable.  Move.  Act.  Now.

Focus of effort chart

When pursuing a meaningful goal, there is simply too much to do.  The number of potential activities and tasks to take well outnumber the number of hours any one person has to do them.  A person trying to build there business needs to divide her time between selling, building her team, planning for the future, learning new skills, etc., etc., etc.  Something simply has to give.  She needs to prioritize her efforts.  Some things simply won’t get done, at least, not done in a timely manner.

A Focus of Effort Chart is a handy way to decide which tasks need to be prioritized.  Start by writing your goal across the top of a page.  Draw two vertical lines, creating three columns each about a third of the page wide.  On top of the column on the left write, “Things I can control.”  On top of the column on the right write, “Things I can NOT control.”  On top of the middle column write, “Things I can only influence.”  Now draw a horizontal line cross the middle of the page.  The top half of the page is for those tasks that will have a big impact on your goal.  The bottom half of the page is for those tasks that will have a small impact on your goal.

Now start filling in the chart with your action list (your goal based to-dos).  Those items in the “Things I can control” column that will have a big impact (top half of your page) are your high priority items.  These are the tasks you should do first.  Next look at the big impact “Things I can only influence” square.  Here you have to make a judgement call.  Since you have a lower level of control on these items, they are likely to require more effort for a similar level of result.  Does the amount of effort justify the impact?  If yes, these are higher priority items as well.  If not, then these items belong lower on the to-do list.  Those items under the “Things I can NOT control” column, most likely do not belong on your to-do list at all.  Now look at the low impact items.  Only do these things when time allows.