Don’t Let the Big Picture Stop You

Recently, on two separate occasions and for two different reasons, I was asked to thoroughly explain how the tasks different people were being asked to do were connected to a bigger picture or master plan. On many occasions this makes total sense, but I believe in these two situations the people were using this as a way to escape from doing the work.

Sometimes you just have to start the task or project and get work done. Finding new and more creative ways to try and stop yourself from getting work done (like making it seem you’re trying to be strategic) is only hurting your progress.

In certain cases, you have to do one of the following:

  1. Remember that the person asking for the work understands the higher purpose
  2. Recall the discussion about the higher purpose at the beginning of the journey, or key it in to the organization’s mission
  3. Call bulls&^t on yourself and discover if it’s a hiding tactic

Climbing the tree and ensuring you know you’re headed in the right direction is important, but being on the ground and chopping through the woods efficiently and effectively is also important.

Know which role you play on the team and when you just want a break from chopping, that’s when the real magic happens if you can push through.

Power of the 3rd Party

A surefire method to break myself out of a productivity rut is by finding some way to get third party pressure or reinforcement. Having someone or something help prod me along or complete a portion of the work is sometimes exactly what I need.

Using a third party has also been incredibly impactful in areas where I need to get something done that might not be exactly what I love doing or am best at. Here are some examples of third party pressure or reinforcement I’ve used:

  • Announcing public deadlines
  • Working directly with someone else
  • Hiring someone else to work with me on a project
  • Working in a more open environment where people see what I’m working on
  • Telling people I respect about what I’m doing.
  • And, I love this example of hiring someone to watch how the person was working.

I’ve used sites like upwork and fiverr to find people who love doing the part of the work I might not. Sure, I do plenty of things that I’d love to source smarter, but having the knowledge of how to and following through on getting some things done in alternate ways really helps maximize my productivity.

 What’s the thing you’re working on right now that could use the help of someone else?

Start The Work And Everything You Need Will Appear

A few years ago, I was offered the honor to speak at an event but I almost missed out. I kept putting off the process of sitting down and figuring out what I wanted to say. I felt like I had a great opening, but didn’t have the full story of what I wanted to get across.

I procrastinated for far too long, then things I never expected started to happen.

The more I thought about it, the more potential content I gathered. The more I talked to people about it, the more they provided insights that took me on amazing new paths.  One day I was walking around outside and there were new signs in our parking lot that completely related to my topic. After a quick mention to a colleague, he sent me something that he saw months earlier in Canada that became critical to the story.

Once I started working, everything I needed started to appear. All I had to do was start.

How To Generate More Ideas

Coming up with more ideas is the same as achieving many other things. In fact, many of the underlying techniques of how to come up with more ideas same the same principles of of other popular self-improvement topics:

  • how to build bigger muscles
  • how to find your perfect mate
  • how to make one million dollars
  • how to lose weight
  • how to get a raise

It all boils down to doing the “thing” more.

In building biceps, it’s doing more barbell curls. In finding your perfect mate, it’s going on more dates. For coming up with more ideas, it’s only about trying to come up with more ideas, more often. Just like your biceps, idea generation is a muscle.

No one that is “great at generating ideas” was born that way, they usually just tried coming up with ideas more often. The more you flex your idea generation muscle, the better you get.

And the fact is, the more ideas you take in, the more you’ll put out.

Every idea you see, hear, feel, taste, do, and touch all have impressions in your mind that can influence your ability to generate new ideas.  That being said, everything that exists was at one time an idea, so a simpler way to say it is, “experience more”.

Someone who has only ever eaten white rice will have a harder time coming up with a new flavor of ice cream than someone who has experienced every fruit in the world.

See, hear, feel, taste, do and touch more and you will be able to generate more.

Instant Meeting Feedback

Have you ever ran a half day, all day or multi-day meeting and wanted to get better live feedback about how it was going? Would you like to receive real time feedback about your performance, without disrupting whatever was happening?  What are some ways you could receive this type of instant feedback, and make it as simple and non-disruptive as possible?

What if…?

What if you handed everyone a red, yellow and green card at the start of the meeting and asked that at any point in time a participant would put one of the cards on the table to indicate their feelings.  What if everyone vote at every break?  What if it’s an app that people can click their feedback and it gets aggregated to a continuous monitor on your screen?

Incredibly simple ideas, but the start of what could be very powerful and even more elegant ideas to immediately improve your process and outcomes.

The main idea is that you should start to ask for more instant feedback.

 

Work Spas

I love going to spas.  No, not the kind that are advertised in the back of local newspapers, but the real kind that are luxurious retreats from the outside world.  Periodically being in a place that is specifically geared towards helping me relax and recharge while being extremely comfortable is as close to perfection as possible: fluffy robes, soft towels, salt rooms, wet and dry saunas, different temperature hot tubs that get hotter and hotter, cold plunge pools, lounge chairs, hot towels for your face, rainfall shower heads…

When you’re immersed in the spa those features may seem like they’re geared for your body, but it’s your mind that is getting a radical change of pace as well.

Imagine if you could use that different mindset for your work. How about integrating some elements of the spa into where and how you get work done?

Introducing the Work Spa.

Much of today’s most important work (if not all) involves creativity. The Work Spa is about being in an environment, periodically, that enhances your creativity while also being conducive to getting work done–if you want.

Could you be more effective immediately after a series of hot and cold plunges in the different pools?  Would you stimulate a latent part of your brain and be able to better solve problems because you’ve never tried to find a solution while you’re sitting around in a robe and towel surrounded by eucalyptus steam?

There are plenty of movies where the two power brokers in some financial transaction go into a steam room, so let’s take that idea to the current times.

A simple start would be putting wi-fi and laptop lockers in existing spas and having a section where the keyboard clicking wouldn’t interfere with the silent portion.  What else would your ideal work spa have?

 

The Sunday to Thursday Workweek

If you have to work five days a week, work a better five days.

Work on Sunday and you’ll be less distracted and focus better because to most other people it will be a day off. Being able to focus means you’ll also get your work done faster and usually with better quality.

Take off Friday and you’ll enjoy all the things you’d want to do during a weekend without the weekend traffic and crowd.  Again, this will make the overall experience more enjoyable.

There are innumerable benefits to moving your schedule to be slightly opposite the majority.  Test it and see how it works for you.

What else could you do to your schedule to improve your effectiveness?

 

Finding the Payoff in Your Work

When I was a little kid I was always on the search for odd jobs. A couple times my Uncle Mike brought me to a warehouse he managed where they distributed VHS training videos in all sorts of subjects. One of the jobs I did there was to take huge boxes of VHS video tapes and stick stickers on the front of them before putting into other huge boxes. It was one of the greatest jobs I ever had.

The reason why: there was an immediate payoff (and maybe it’s related to singular focus).

I could see hour by hour, minute by minute the exact output of my work and set up little games to challenge myself to get better. If I did 2 boxes of video tapes the first hour, I would challenge myself to get 2.5 boxes done the next hour.

How many times do you get to the end of your day and think “what the hell did I do today?” Sure, you know you went through hundreds of emails and sat in hours of meetings and did SOMETHING today – you just have no idea what it was and there was no payoff at the end that lets you realize your impact. It usually after months and months of a large project to realize any payoff when it launches.

What would happen if you or the people on your team were absolutely clear, every day, about what the payoff was that you were working towards? How can you tie your daily actions to overall longer term goals?

Whatever you do, just please don’t set up some little system where you make the number of emails you send in a day or the total number of minutes you spend in a meeting any criteria for success.

Use Your Out of Office Message to Change Your Life

When you open your email inbox after a vacation do you ever take the time to analyze what happened? Usually, over a short period of time people generally get the point and stop emailing you frivolously.

Could receiving less unnecessary email benefit you? If you want more time in your day and a more valuable inbox, all you need to do is re-create the vacation email phenomenon all the time instead of just when you’re actually on vacation.

So why not utilize the Out of Office message even when you’re in the office?

Whether you want to use it to the extreme that Tim Ferris talks about in “The Four Hour Workweek” in order to build independence or you’re just looking to change some of your co-workers behaviors so you receive 15% less email at work, the automated reply or Out of Office is key.

So what does an Out of Office message look like when you’re actually in the office and just trying to make a point? Keep it simple and try something like

Thank you for your email; I’m currently trying an experiment to reduce email clutter. If I am CC’d this will get filed without review. If there are more than 2 people on the To: line this will get de-prioritized as well. If this is something important or urgent please follow up with a conversation. Thank you.

People can’t get mad at you when you say it’s an experiment.

After a couple days or weeks people will get the message and stop emailing you unless it’s incredibly important. With all that free time (because we all know email takes up way too much time) you’ll be able to focus on the things that will bring you value and could, in the end, change your life.

After all, wouldn’t your life be different if you spent that 15% more time with your kids, or finding ways to be exponentially better at your job, or creating your micro-business?

What would you do with that 15% of your time back?

Commuting School: Learn Anything in No Extra Time

 

Have you ever wanted to navigate patent law, learn a new programming language, solve for X in a Diophantine equation? How would you like to learn it almost automatically, without having to spend any extra time on it throughout your day?

I was first introduced to the term No Extra Time (NET) by Tony Robbins.  While I had occasionally used my commute time productively, I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to the potential power that this force could have. That was years ago and learning something on my commute meant fumbling CD’s in and out of my car’s CD changer and trying to keep the order of them correct.

Now I have a library of  iTunes and podcasts at my fingertips. And if I’m taking a train, there’s even more opportunity to learn from the rich video learning experiences available.

The true beauty of NET time is that its otherwise essentially wasted time. How can you use it? 

The average commute for a person in the U.S. is somewhere around 26 minutes per day each way.  52 minutes a day times the average number of working days per year… I wonder if that’ll be enough to learn that thing you’ve always wanted to learn?

I bet it is. Have a productive commute.