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.
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?
If your time were money … would you let others decide how you spend it???
Who among us has not complained about how busy our lives are, about not having time for this or that, about how we are over-scheduled and just worn out? At work, a week full of meetings scheduled by others (sometimes double and triple booked) can leave one laughing at the idea of taking the time to grow and develop ourselves. The best of intentions have not translated into growth – crowded out by the more immediate issues of the day.
But if we allow this – and it IS a decision – we can see years pass in our career where we are really not progressing and growing professionally.
I don’t just mean promotions. In fact I don’t mean promotions at all – because sometimes chasing that has us focusing on the wrong things. I mean US growing and becoming better and better at what we do – going from good to great in our areas of strength, or focusing on development to improve on a weakness that is getting in the way of our progress.
I am in the midst of reading two books by Christian authors that – unplanned by me entirely – both touch on the question of our soul and our purpose, and how the decisions we make about the pace of our life and how we invest our time matters. Here are the book links:
Soul Keeping by John Ortberg Soul Keeping Link
The Best Yes, by Lysa TerKeurst Best Yes Link
I love this topic and can absolutely attest to how vital this is. Every week I look at the calendar ahead – the coming week, and the next several weeks ahead. – and I ask myself two questions about each and every meeting:
- Am I crucial to this meeting. More specifically, if I am not there, can the goals still be accomplished? If all I need is an update, surely someone can send that along. If the answer is no, its off my calendar. Period.
- What are the things that I want to accomplish that no one else will schedule my time for. Something that I need to be the catalyst for – whether that’s personal development, mentoring others, or thinking more broadly about the business. Then I schedule myself into those things.
Because if you are not very focused and intention about how you spend your time, it will be wasted. I like the idea of opportunity cost – the opportunity cost of spending time on something of limited value is the value you could have received from spending your time in another way, on something more impactful. Whether that’s something like strategy that can get squeezed out by the immediate, a complicated issue that requires some reflection, a new initiative you want to get going but you need time to plan, or time needed to meet your personal development goals … these can all get crowded.
Of course sometimes things interfere, schedules change and we adjust. But without the two things above – day in and day out, week in and week out – we will be left to work longer, add less value and grow less in our abilities as leaders and as people with the ability to make a difference. CRITICAL WORK, right?
The exact same thing applies outside of the office … but that’s for another day. If time were money and you were investing each minute of it, what would you change about your schedule?
I love it when topics that are on my mind and your heart show up in other stories, readings and learnings that I stumble upon . They are happy discoveries along the way that sort of energize my thinking around a topic. Love when that happens! Lately, the topic has been happiness, and how purpose and meaning are tied to our happiness. If you didn’t see my earlier post on the topic, here’s the link: Nexus of Skills and Passion
In the last two days, I have read two wonderful pieces on this topic. In very different ways – one spiritual and one professional – they both reinforced for me how critical it is for our minds and hearts to know that we are working on something that matters to us. How ‘work’ and ‘life’ really can’t be compartmentalized as much as we say or think … one informs the other. For better or worse.
First, was a wonderful daily reading from Mark Nepo in The Book of Daily Awakening (love this – highly recommend!) Book Link – Mark Nepo. The reading talked about the importance of living out our true nature, not living just to please others or be what they expect of us.
To discover our own truth and try to craft a life that is true to that. He ended with a statement that especially stayed with me:
“JOY IN WHAT WE DO IS NOT AN ADDED FEATURE; IT IS A SIGN OF DEEP HEALTH”
Wow! That somehow made it feel more essential to be authentic – core to health, not just a nice to have.
(The gorgeous rocks are from the happiness garden at Newcastle Elementary School in Virginia Beach. LOVE them!)
Then, I read a NYT article – written from a business perspective. Here’s the article link: NYT Article Link – Liking Works Really Matters
The study and article show that when we find personal value and relevance in our work, we perform at a much higher level. So a deeper sense of health and better performance – seem like two great reasons to try to bridge work and our purpose and passion.
I have always loved the story of the Three Bricklayers.
Once upon a time there were three bricklayers working alongside one another. When asked, “what are you doing?” they reply quite differently.
First Bricklayer: “I am laying bricks.”
Second Bricklayer: “I am building a wall.”
Third Bricklayer: “I am building a cathedral.”
I love this little story because its so simple and yet so packed with meaning. Usually when we talk about it, we are focused on either attitude or engagement of the bricklayers to emphasize the importance of getting the right kind of talent in our organizations. Other times, we look at the story from the vantage point of a leader and the importance of casting vision, to create a compelling vision that others want to join and follow. Absolutely! Love it!
But interestingly … we usually reflect on the story from the outside looking in, as a leader assessing the situation and looking for a leadership lesson – particularly about how to get more cathedral builders on our team.
But what if we look at the story with ourselves as the bricklayers, not the leader? Which would you be? Easy to say the third … but is it true? Even a very talented and capable bricklayer could show up as any of these three if they are not careful about placing ourselves into roles that inspire us, that we feel committed to, and that we see and love the vision . Do we come into work and see the cathedral under construction and know that we want to be a part of it.
Are you building a cathedral lately? If not – why not?
Thanks to many AP classes in high school, Natalie returned to her second year of college as a junior. So we have had a few discussions about volunteer service, internships, and career planning. Great stuff, I do love talent development!
In our chat, she shared a terrific insight about herself and a path she had been considering. She reflected on and how some of her strengths and her leadership style didn’t seem to line up well with what success looks like in that potential career path. Wow – I was so impressed by the self-awareness and insight! That got us to talking about the many ways that her gifts could be applied and the wide range of career paths that were open … but to think about what issues really mattered to her and try to find pathways to use her strengths in that direction. To try to match skills with meaning and impact. That got me to thinking about how much better we could do at getting ourselves and our kids into careers that line up ability and purpose better.
There’s some debate circulating on whether its best to find and follow their passion or focus on building skills and passion will come later. And after hours of reading, reflecting and writing – I couldn’t get behind either one. Sort of like politics, people seem to be picking sides and pressing their arguments – black or white.
- Passion – grounded in the idea that if you figure out what you love and make that your work, you will be happier and more fulfilled. Question is can you be ‘successful’ and what does that really entail – now and for you specifically?
- Grow Your Skills – iconoclastic idea that without skills you can’t build any successful career, and its a fools errand to focus on your passion before you build some skills.
But the key question underlying both of these ideas is the question of how we define success. Money, prestige, reputation, growth, accomplishment, service ??? The first two have been the norm so many people are burnt out, unengaged and uninspired at work – so maybe that isn’t working so well. I read a provocative statement in an essay this week that said:
If you want ambitious people to do errands work, just make it prestigious.
So how we define success matters, to avoid spending our life on fools errands I think the question isn’t about which side of the argument you pick at all. Its about meaning, and purpose, and adding value.
I would suggest that success comes from knowing we are having an impact, making a difference in the world. And that doesn’t need to be a utopian idea that runs counter to a successful career. But it does require us to think about our potential and our career paths very differently. To find and cultivate roles that can deliver security and meaning. How? Here are a few thoughts … still developing them, so perhaps they seem obvious. But they are not the way we typically chart our course.
(1) SELF AWARENESS: From a young age, be mindful of your gifts and strengths and work hard to cultivate them – through learning, practice, volunteerism etc. (I remember when the kids were younger we would talk about the fruits of the spirit and they would score themselves, then we would score them, and we would discuss.) What can I say, performance discussions are in my blood 🙂 But no matter the format, can we look at ourselves objectively and see our greatest abilities?
(2) GLOBAL AWARENESS: Seek out the problems that are in need of the kind of solutions you can deliver – the issues of the day or of the century that light you up and make you want to make it better. That could be a specific domestic problem, a global issue, an entire industry or something else that isn’t working well in the world.
(3) FIND THE NEXUS: Now … what is at the NEXUS of ability and passion – that array of possibilities for volunteerism, jobs and careers that use your skills toward something that matters to you. It’s not one perfect job in many cases, especially in our ever changing world and economy. There may be a whole array of ways that your abilities can make a meaningful difference. But we have to seek them out.
Maybe the question isn’t what the perfect job is, or what exactly my title should be in 5 years, but what space to I want to work in that feels important and meaningful to me, and (knowing my strengths) what kinds of roles could help deliver solutions. Maybe you need to develop some more skills, perhaps you find or create a volunteer way to work in the space that’s calling you while you prepare for the job you want. But using your skills to deliver meaning and impact matters – whether its your full time career or not.
And while I first put down these ideas in the context of teens and young adults, as I write and reflect they apply to us all. And in this rapidly changing world and economy, the ability to translate your abilities into the kind of solutions that countries, companies and non-profit agencies need is critical. Finding the problems you can help to solve may be the first assignment of the knowledge workers of tomorrow. Would love your thoughts on how we navigate this space – whether for ourselves or for our kids.
Back from spending most of the week in NYC. TEAMWORK was the name of the game professionally this week. Personally, it was the first week of my online study of Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection. So I was flush with experiences to reflect upon. I found myself observing our work and relationships through the lens of ‘wholehearted living’ and the concepts in Brene Brown’s book. Here are the three main concepts – and some ways I saw these things lived out this week in teams:
- Courage – leaning into conflict, having honest and difficult discussions when needed, giving and receiving honest but gentle feedback
- Compassion – coming alongside a teammate to help and support without judging, and having them do the same for you;
- Connection – sharing an experience, breaking bread (and drinking plenty of early-morning Starbucks,) sharing life stories, laughing
Oh … and all in the midst of a whirlwind of important, complex and tense work. And it was also absolutely a lesson in accepting imperfection. Though a great week with good outcomes, there are always lessons to be learned. And living proof that imperfect can still be great. It was a great example of people showing up with a shared goal, a commitment to support one another and lots of heart and caring . And it reminded me how important it is to really nvest in and cultivate an environment where our teams can thrive.
In the course of our lives and careers, we work alongside lots of people. But many of these groups never live up to the spirit of the word ‘team.’ Egos, insecurities, selfishness and lack of trust can compromise teamwork daily. But sometimes – if we are very lucky – those people connect on a level where their shared purpose and passion really shines through and you really start to see a team show up.
Ultimately to create a thriving team you need to add a large dose of trust, but I think the seeds of trust can be sown with a shared purpose, a common vision, something aspirational that you want to accomplish together. Then over time as we teach one another, solve problems together, come alongside and help one another, that sense of trust starts to grow. Of course we can still frustrate one another or fall short, but with trust comes a little grace as well. Little by little, we begin to know and trust that our teammates are there to support us, that if we stumble they will come along side and shore us up and we would do the same for them in an instant. We start to develop that sense of connection. And then we are more willing to share and let down our guard, and more able to listen without judgment and support each other.
I have been blessed in my career to have worked alongside some wonderful people been on several truly great teams! And also had experiences where I see the wrong behaviors on display in myself and in others… teaching me what to change next time, and making me recognize and appreciate it when teams really do connect and thrive! These strong teams push the envelope of what we think we can accomplish and leave us feeling better for it. They create periods in our careers and our lives that we look back on fondly because we showed up for one another and achieved great things.
So after a long week, I am glad to be home this evening. But also grateful to have been a part of some great team accomplishments! Also very glad to see courage, compassion and connection transition from a personal reflection in my journal (where I started the week) to something I could carry into work to try to act out and see in practice.