Does your calendar fill up with demands on your time that don’t seem vital, squeezing out the time needed to advance the goals that you have to drive? I think – by default – that’s true for most of us unless we do something very deliberate to take back control of our time and our focus. If we are not careful, our time during the workday and workweek becomes time that others control, pushing our own priorities and goals into evenings and weekends, or not getting done at all.
But there is another way. We can choose to be very deliberate about those things that we must invest our time and focus and energy toward. Those things that we need to drive or contribute toward to shape the outcome. Those priorities that require us to really personally commit ourselves and our time.
Some years ago I attended the Global Leadership Summit and picked up a small and simple technique that I have now used for many years – creating a single 6 x 6 grid.
|Priority 1||Priority 2||Priority 3|
|Priority 4||Priority 5||Priority 6|
Here’s the idea:
- What are the 6 priorities that are going to personally pour your energy and focus into to help achieve a strong outcome over the next 6 weeks?
Sure … it could be a 4 x 4 (4 priorities over 4 weeks, etc) … make it work for you. But I learned the 6 x 6 and come back to it regularly to check my focus, especially during more demanding times.
It’s not a list of everything you might do, or everything your team might be working on. Just those things that require your time and attention. Often some of these are things that no one will schedule your time for. They require you to take an action to carve out time for thought, focus, planning. It’s also a terrific and easy way to share your areas of focus with your manager or members of your team.
- Maybe there is a particular member of your team you want to invest coaching time in, or
- a critical initiative that requires some forethought on approach, or
- something that’s not going quite right that you need to invest some focused time around to reshape the approach.
Here’s a sample 6 x 6 with some space to declare what you will try to do around your top 6 priorities.
In some ways the list is just as important for what it excludes as for what it contains. If something does not make that list but its consuming your time, you should reconsider why your time is being spent there. Maybe your team can handle it without your direct involvement? Perhaps it needs to be re-prioritized behind some of the more critical areas of focus? Maybe you just need to see meeting materials and it doesn’t require your direct participation.
People are notorious for multi-tasking on conference calls. If you are doing that, perhaps ask whether you need to be there at all. Either commit to be engaged, or step back if not needed. Otherwise its just wasted effort – and time is our most valuable asset. Invest it wisely.
No matter what action you take, I have found that the exercise of doing this forces me to get clear on my priorities and be thoughtful about where I commit my time.
Try it – see what you find.
I read an HBR Article this morning that got me to thinking about disruption in our professional lives. It’s actually a topic I come back to a lot in my life and career, thinking about how I want to grow/reinvent/shift?
It reminds me of the quote on the cover of my journal … “Not all who wander are lost” … feels perfect for my sense of exploration and a desire to really seek out growth and new perspectives.
In industry, we think of disruptive companies or technologies as game changers, something elusive and highly sought after. If you are the disruptor company you are leading the pack, redefining the game. If your company and business model is disrupted, you are reacting to change, trying to figure out the new rules and quickly adapt.
But that same idea of disruption can and should apply at a person-level, too. Sometimes we get too set in our ways and it can be good to deliberately shake things up.
Last night while we played Star Wars Monopoly and waited for midnight, I asked my youngest son about what sport or hobby he wanted to pursue in 2016. He had come to the natural end of one stage of his study in Tae Kwon Do – so I asked whether he wanted to go deeper in that, or mix things up and go in another direction. He decided he wants to swim more. He’s a great swimmer, but needs to learn some of the strokes and would like to be on a swim team. This is a little disruption for his life – but one one forced on us, one that he chose. And one that will open him up to new people, new skills, new adventures. He can keep doing Tae Kwon Do, but is opening up a new avenue that he wants to focus on.
But in a work context, I think we often think of disruption as something that is done TO us, the reactive side of change. Are we doing enough in our professional lives to be disruptive in how we show up- disruptive in finding new approaches, new skills and knowledge, cultivating deeper and different types of relationships, in shaping our experiences to create the reputation that we hope to have. And that doesn’t have to mean a dramatic change of career or industry. Disruption can be smaller but no less significant in the way we show up and the career that we build.
Perhaps, like companies, we should be scanning for the opportunity to disrupt ourselves every now and then. if you think about the way you show up every day, the way you lead, the way you problem solve, the way to engage with others … that’s your norm. That’s your brick and mortar. When we show up this way we are often on autopilot, and the pattern of how we approach our work – even if once great – may no longer meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow.
- Where is your most valuable asset – your time – suboptimized, and you need to make some radical changes in your approach to invest your time more wisely in 2016?
- Where do we have strengths that – if really honed – could truly differentiate us in our ability to make an impact? What action can you initiate to move toward that differentiation in 2016?
- Where do we see gaps in our skills or experience that – once closed – really take our leadership to the next level? What kind of step could help you close those gaps in 2016?
- Where do we see the ability to give back more, to help others in their development – knowing that coaching and teaching will also develop a different dimension of our leadership. Could you offer to coach or mentor someone in 2016?
- Where do we need to balance out our perspective – get out of the details and challenge ourselves to think strategically, or dig into the complexity and detail to expand your strategic point of view? What first step could you take in that direction in 2016?
- Where do you realize you have been flying solo and need to cultivate some thought partners to help navigate complex issues? Who might be excited to be part of this network with you in 2016 … everyone needs a few people they can bounce ideas and dilemmas off of?
If change were not just about bracing for impact but about deciding where a shift would be good and seeking it out, then perhaps we will think of it less like an affliction and more like a door. Sometimes we open that door ourselves, other times its opened for us.
Rather than make a resolution that might fade in a week or two, maybe think of a small disruption that could shift and enhance your perspective and career.
My friends and family all know how much I love to travel. To explore, to discover new things, to have adventures, and to share what I pick up along the way with others! I just can’t get enough of it. On the flight home from New Orleans I read the quote above: “Open your eyes and see all you can, before they close forever.” And that’s it in the end – we are gifted with just a finite amount of time on this earth, and I can only hope to see, hear and experience life richly and to make an impact with the gifts and time I am given.
Sometimes we read things that just strike a chord with what’s on our mind or our heart. Today this was it for me. Find beauty. Connect deeply. Make an impact. Love life.
When the going gets tough and the risks emerge on a critical project or situation, how do you handle the intensity?
If asked to describe you in stressful situations, would your friends and colleagues describe you as:
Grace Under Fire
Hair on Fire?
Now I have to admit that I’ve always been partial to Mr. Heat Miser and his little heat minions 🙂 But that’s definitely not the reputation (or image) that I’m striving for. How about you?
As leaders, our perspective, tone of voice, and attitude are crucial. Whether we intend to or not, we set the tone for how we manage conflict and respond to challenges as we navigate these situations. It matters a lot and deserves our attention. None of us are infallible, but just being mindful of our reactions and how we recognize and encourage our teams makes an impact.
When I size up a day, I will inevitably see moments where I could have handled a situation better. But, thankfully, I also see bright spots where I may have succeeded in recognizing an accomplishment (not just the challenge ahead), the effort that the team put forth (not just the amount of time til work is done,) the teamwork during a difficult situation (not just the issue we might have been dealing with.)
I am grateful to spend my days with a group of talented, committed and kind people that are working toward a common goal. We have our moments, don’t get me wrong. And stressful situations will test you as a team, but when we get it right it also forges our sense of common purpose and willingness to help one another. Little by little the trust grows. And the more trust there is, the better we can go:
“hard on the issue, soft on the person.” (quoting Henry Cloud)
So here’s hoping that we can all try to keep enough perspective and self-awareness when stressful situation arise.
“You have invested the time to come to your yoga practice and step onto your mat today. Now honor that time enough to be present wholeheartedly.”
Heard that tonight at a wonderful hot yoga class. But it applies to so much more than yoga.
In more direct terms – if you are going to bother to show up, give it your all
all of your attention
all of your focus
all of your energy
all of your ability!
I love that!
At yoga practice, that takes the form of focusing on my breath, on the postures. Letting go of thoughts that might float into my head.
With the kids, it might mean stepping away from distractions (especially screens) to be sure they have my full focus when they want to speak to me or ask a question.
At work, it might mean to reject ineffective multi-tasking to be present and engaged in necessary discussions and meetings.
By being intentional and deliberate, the time and energy we invest can yield so much more than otherwise. Could be the difference between living and thriving!
Class closed tonight reminding us that our practice begins when we leave our mat. So here’s to a week of practicing intentionality and showing up wholeheartedly in the things we commit our time to this week.
“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” James Baldwin
I’m struck by the plainspoken distrust of this quote, and by how much it reflects the state of race relations in our country today on the heels of the death of Michael Brown and the decision not to indict Officer Wilson. Trust is broken when we say we behave one way and then we act differently. On a national scale, there is a degree of broken trust across racial lines that we often look past – until something hits the headlines that puts it into our living rooms and social media feeds again.
Whether we feel that the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer was a crime and warranted a trial, or a police officer acting in self-defense, it reveals a large gap between black and white perception of this issue, and spotlights the tremendous degree of distrust between blacks and whites in this country.
We say that racial prejudice is largely in the past, but the facts tell another story. The issues of race relations, racial inequality and violence against blacks are polarizing. Having a discussion about this case or the broader race issues (if we get past the sound bites) quickly evolves into a discussion of class, economic disparity, etc. They are tough issues that do not lend themselves to the sound-bite answers so favored by modern media.
The national reaction is to retreat to our respective corners, talk to friends who agree with us on the issue – but that’s not at all the path to change. I saw an article with some recent Pew Research Center poll statistics yesterday that shows that the % of black people who feel racism is a key issue that requires broader national focus was 80%, as compared to 44% of whites who responded the same way.
We do not all agree there is a problem.
So like with other similar tragedies, the news cycle will run its course and the issue will fade – only to resurface the next time there is another touchstone case that gains public attention. We want to believe we are a country that is not unequal across racial lines. But until we can admit that its not yet our reality, charting a course toward that will be elusive.
If I reflect on our family discussions in the last couple days on the Michael Brown case, these are tough, delicate discussions that are difficult even when you are trying your hardest to be respectful of other points of view. We might disagree on our interpretation of the facts, on what this case does or doesn’t say about racism in American, and about how to express our feelings and be a voice for change.
The lack of trust and respect is in full view in the next two images:
we see fear, distrust, disrespect and contempt. It will take some great leaders, communicators and visionaries to help rally us to a better version of our country where race really is not a factor … but we are not there yet.
We need police officers and cannot even begin to imagine the self-sacrifice and bravery needed to go out to protect the community each day in unknown and dangerous circumstances. And these public servants must have the right to defend themselves in any situation of danger – no doubt. But issues of fear, distrust and disrespect affect all of us at the core and affect how we all behave toward one another. Police officers are not immune from unhealthy beliefs that can inform their behavior. So getting the relations right socially is critical to getting justice and fair/equal treatment when laws are being enforced.
One small memory in this vein…
Bryce and I have been married almost 20 years, and I remember clear as day the first time we took a road trip together and the little lesson on race relations I got on that trip.
When Bryce and I were dating, we decided to travel from Ohio to Virginia to meet his family and spend Thanksgiving with them. We were driving, and he showed up at my door in a business suit and dress shoes. Odd, I thought (as I sat in jeans and a t-shirt) … why are you all dressed up? What followed was a short chat about being a black man driving across various states, and the risk of being pulled over by a police officer, and the need to ‘make a good impression’ so that you would be treated with respect. I was skeptical and he shared stories. Not based on paranoia or media coverage – based on experience. He wasn’t complaining about it, no discussion of inequity or unfair treatment. Just a behavior change (that he had made for years) based on the reality of being a black man in a country where some white police officers may be biased to assume wrong doing based on the color of your skin.
It sounds small perhaps, but for me it was memorable. (Important to note that my husband is very pro-law enforcement, and would strongly support the right for any officer of any color to defend himself. I share the story only because in its own small way it introduced me to this question of different racial experiences.) When we talk about ‘institutionalized’ race issues, I come back to that simple memory. There’s no legislation or litigation that will solve this … over time, people have to see fair, consistent and equal treatment to believe it. But it does require an awareness that these prejudices exist.
What part of you shuts down when you go into problem solving or crisis mode? Does it help or hurt your goal to show up as your best self?
When we jump into that problem-solving mode, lots of things can happen very quickly within us.
- our focus narrows
- we come highly alert
- we prepare ourselves for anything
- brace ourselves for battle
- feelings can take a backseat to analysis
This is exactly what we need when we are in danger. But if our immediate safety is not at risk, the way we steel ourselves for problem solving may prevent us from showing up the way we really want to – as present, open, aware, insightful, wise. By getting out of our self/soul/heart and into only our head, we can leave behind parts of ourself that we need of we are going to be authentic in those situation that require is to make decisions, solve problems and resolve crises.
To be at our very best, we have to stay focused on both HOW we solve the problem as well as WHETHER we solve it. Some days we will be happy with how we showed up, others we will take stock of what we want to do better next time.
Ultimately, our relationships and careers are made up of a series of moments strung together – so how we show up day to day in these situations translates into the quality of our life decisions and the health of our relationships.
Like so many things, this is a discipline and a practice – something we try to be self-aware and mindful of. For me as someone who is analytic by nature, it requires mindfulness – daily practice.
A passage in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening focused on this question of our minds and hearts in crisis, and was a wonderful reminder to be watchful of how we show up in these situations.
The Book of Awakening is an inspired and insightful book of daily reflections – a lovely book that I definitely recommend. I come back to it all the time when I need to get quiet and grounded. Book Link
Last night’s reading in John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping touched on grace and humility in a powerful way. He recounted a discussion with Dallas Willard on being challenged by someone in a very negative way and just letting it go. Willard replied:
“Being right is actually a very hard burden to be able to carry gracefully and humbly. That’s why nobody likes to sit next to the kid in class who’s right all the time. One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it.” Dallas Willard
He went on to say that he was practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.
Not that any of us are right all the time – or even often. But when we are, how do we carry it? How do we help bring people along to get to the right answer together. How do we let go of the need to have the last word. What a great reminder to stay focused on the words we choose, our attitude, our approach. At the end of the day we leave a wake of both relationships and results, so getting to the right answers and results in relationship with others is critical if we want both our results and our relationships to be strong.
For me, sometimes its more nature to focus on our approach in one setting and not another. What about you – do you do best at leading with grace and humility (even when you are right) with your partner, your kids, your team at work?