Last week, Andrew Wilt and I were working side-by-side. During a break in the daily grind, we decided to discuss time management. Time management seems to be one of those things we all have to deal with, and I had recently swapped tips and tricks with my peers. Since both of us have previously written blog posts about time management, we felt like the ideas were a step in the right direct, but they could benefit from some revision. So, Andrew and I had that discussion.
No, not THAT f-bomb, the other one. Fear. Twice in two days I have heard or read something that refers to fear and the description has varied from fear being an effective tool for achieving an outcome, to fear being an oppressive feeling that fuels self-doubt. Indeed, fear is a key driver in many of our actions. I have a fear of heights (or at least of falling from heights), have been fearful of losing my job, and have been afraid to ask someone out on a date. I have used fear (not proud, more an admission) to try and get my way or drive things the way I wanted them to go. The list is pretty endless on both sides and some fears will always be there. However, the fears around my abilities, my value, my competence, and especially about a job are gone. That loss of fear is enabling me to achieve what I didn’t think was possible. Here’s what has changed for me.
Near the beginning of 2016, I blogged about this year being a Leap Year. I suggested that with planning, I would be able to leverage that extra day to review the trajectory of my year and do any course correction needed to meet my yearly goals. To do this, I need to know what my goals for the year are and what my plan to get there looks like. The key areas I mentioned in the blog post were day-to-day time management, work back schedule, goal construction, and milestones. I’m reporting back on how I did with those areas and how I did with my extra day.
A couple days ago, I received a book in the mail from Amazon, but it wasn’t the book I ordered. This mistake could be the product of many factors, but this event got me thinking about communication. Specifically, how valuable is communication? According to an article by Mark W. Sheffert of Manchester Companies, “it is estimated that miscommunication can cost an organization between 25 percent and 40 percent of its annual budget.” That’s how big communication is to you and your company.
Writing a weekly blog is a worthwhile process--one that is both challenging and rewarding. Despite our best efforts, Andy Ruth and I don't always get around to it every week. The hardest part is finding time. Through the successes and failures, I have come to realize the key is discovering the gaps of downtime between daily tasks and then learning how to utilize those breaks. For example, look for time between meetings and during breaks for coffee or lunch. You can also mentally prepare in the car (or public transit) and when you are getting ready in the morning (in the shower). About 10-15 minutes a day is all you really need, but remember: don’t limit yourself to 15 minutes if you are on a roll.
Time is funny. We all have 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. Yet most of us complain about how little time we have and how there are too few hours in a day. This year is a Leap Year so we all have an extra day. This is also the start of a new year and many make resolutions, so this year I will make a resolution about time, and my extra day. I resolve to remember I have an extra day and use it to reflect on (and correct) the trajectory of my year. In fact, I will officially declare it as Extra Day - a day to limit work, take a breath and reflect on the direction the year is taking. I’ll do it on February 29th since that is where the calendar places our extra day. But, to do that, I’ll need a plan.
One of my favorite things I get to do at SEI is write weekly blog posts to engage with the public and our community. This was my first year writing in this format and I have learned a lot along the way. One year and 37 posts later (plus 32 posts by SEI mentor, Andy Ruth), 2015 has taught me 11 mandatory lessons every blogger should consider:
For about five years, I played hardcore/metal music in Grand Rapids, MI. One of the popular music venues that catered to local bands in the mid-to-late 2000’s was the adolescent-friendly safe haven: Skelletones. Before I played on their stage, I grew up spending as much time as I could mingling with aspiring bands and the off-beat, we’re-so-counter-culture-we-hate-counter-culture crowd. At 15, the only dream I had was to play on that stage. At 19, I got my chance.
I’ve suggested before that you need to identify a role model to help you further your skills and career. You identify an area inside of yourself you want to change and find someone that you think represents the embodiment of that change. You consider why you think they are ideal, what they do differently, and how they do it. Then, you start practicing doing things the way they do. As you practice, you learn and grow your abilities in that area and before you know it, you have adapted their approach and tweaked it to make it your own. Find another area to grow and repeat. There are quite a few good things about this approach, however, there is a risk. You may get into the routine of only doing what others do and let your ability to experiment, innovate, and have original thoughts atrophy. Here’s how I have tried to balance the two approaches.
"There are two types of people in the world: those who push and those who and enjoy the ride. Who do you want to be?"
I grew up with a lot of these types of sayings separating those who "do" and those who "do not do enough". We have a culture of elitism, which is great for some—but what about those who don't want to change the world? Those who want to enjoy work and be good at it, but also have a family and a life outside of work? Those who are looking to fill a role? Those people are belittled in our culture. Business books ask, “If you aren't reinventing yourself; your image; your brand, then what are you doing?”
When did being "good" become "not enough"?
When everyone is trying to stand out, it’s hard to be unique without looking like everyone else. The slang use of the word “peacocking” entered popular culture as a way to describe someone who dresses in a way to intentionally stand out. Over the past decade, this term has made its way into the business world and is now commonly applied to someone who intentionally goes out of their way to make themselves look bigger or more impressive than they really are. “Peacocking” in the business world shouldn’t surprise us: this kind of thinking is part of the millennial cultural DNA, reinforced by teachers, coaches, and parents. Some popular lines include: “You have to sell yourself;” “Make sure you spend time talking about your accomplishments;” “Bulk up your resume;” and “When you talk about a weakness, make sure it is a strength in disguise”.
William Porter lost his job at the First National Bank of Austin in 1894 for accusations of embezzlement. In 1896, when a federal case opened against him, he changed trains on his way to the courthouse and fled the country. Porter returned to Austin a year later when his wife was too sick to meet him in Honduras. Upon his return, he surrendered to the court and started serving his five-year sentence shortly after his wife’s death. As a licensed pharmacist, Porter took on the duty as a night druggist at the prison hospital where he also continued pursuing his life’s passion: writing. During his time in prison, he began publishing short stories under a pen name—the household name we all know him by today: O. Henry.
Columbus was at play when it dawned on him that the world was round. Newton was at play in his mind when he saw the apple tree and suddenly conceived of the force of gravity. Watson and Crick were playing with possible shapes of the DNA molecule when they stumbled upon the double helix. Shakespeare played with iambic pentameter his whole life. Mozart barely lived a waking moment when he was not at play. Einstein’s thought experiments are brilliant examples of the mind invited to play.
One of my writing friends gives all her workshop students toothbrushes. She tells her students, “This is one of the most important writing tools I can give you. Use this twice a day: once in the morning and once at night.” The toothbrush does two things for these creative misfits who spend too much time in their heads thinking about stories:
I think we’ve cured boredom.
You wake up with an app that tracks your sleep. You respond to all the text messages you received during the night. You get an email notification while texting. You pour some of your green-machine juice and do a web search for “reconstituted concentrate” to see if your juice is really 100% juice. You track your breakfast in a nutrition app. You get a Twitter notification (swipe it aside, you’ll look at it later). You read the news using an app that selects stories based on your interests. A Facebook notification interrupts you. Before you leave for work you check your step count so far this morning, and look to see how you compare to your friends. You check the weather app and decide to bring an umbrella. You listen to that new song on your streaming music app and tweet about it. You Instagram the sunrise on your way to work. You get another notification but ignore it. Your boss sends you a text asking you to pick something up from the printer/copy center. In line, you buy tickets to a concert this weekend. On your way to the office, a local coffee shop sends you a message using a location-based restaurant app promoting their seasonal drink that happens to be on special. You buy a coffee and pay for it by scanning your phone. In the elevator you Yelp a review. Good morning.