How do you spend your time when traveling for business?
Do you frantically check, recheck, and respond to email? Are you constantly on the phone, coordinating the latest project, or averting the latest crisis?
I’ve seen all kinds of crazy behaviors at airports. People who are clearly caught up in their own self-importance, who can’t let go.
I’ve been all kinds of crazy at airports and continuing onto the flight.
Long before the days of iPhones, I had a PDA. A PalmPilot, with its nifty stylus and hand writing recognition. I even had a portable keyboard for my PalmPilot.
This keyboard allowed me to write documents while on cross-country airplane trips without needing to use the heavy laptops of the day.
I remember when iPods came along. The ability to carry your entire music library in your pocket! What a joy!
Somewhere along the way, I realized that the quality of work that resulted from my vain attempts to be productive even during travel time was so low that it was essentially pointless.
I switched to carrying a thin Moleskine notebook and a pen for those flashes of brilliance that came along during travel. Those flashes happened often enough to justify the price of official Moleskine notebooks, yet infrequently enough that a single notebook would last a couple months.
The big ah-ha that came along with this shift was that I am much happier. I arrive at my destination with far less stress. While I can’t say that I enjoy travel by air, letting go of this compulsion to “make the most of the time” has allowed me to at least tolerate the travel.
Ironically, letting go of a need to “work” while traveling has actually turned out to be a more effective use of the time.
Using the travel time to do nothing, while not quite recharging the batteries, has had the effect of allowing the batteries to not drain during that time.
Try it sometime. Maybe even on your next trip.
Give yourself a travel day (and one to get back). Do nothing other than transporting yourself from point A to point B.
See if you don’t arrive in better spirits, able to accomplish more overall than when you were frantically “working” the whole time.
Do you panic? Do you completely freak out? Do you shut down?
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I do my best work under the pressure of a looming deadline, and yet I hate that pressure.
Do you know people who are always prepared well ahead of time for everything? Me too. I hate those people.
OK, so “hate” is too strong a word. I simply don’t understand them. I’ve never been that kind of person. I procrastinate. Constantly. If I were told I must procrastinate, I’d find an excuse to put it off until tomorrow, or next week.
Then, as that new date approached, I would be the best procrastinator you ever met.
Or, at least that’s what I would tell myself.
I sing in the choir at our church. This is a relatively new experience for me. I was in a choir only once before. I didn’t enjoy the experience and it didn’t last long. This time it is completely different. I love being in this choir. So much so that when we have a week off from rehearsal, I miss it.
Our director is amazing. She is a highly skilled musician and an excellent teacher. But, what I most appreciate is her steadfast, calm, persistence as we struggle to step up to sing music well beyond our comfort level.
This year as we were preparing our anthems for Easter, it was clear we were being pushed in our musical ability. Our director is not a procrastinator like me. However, I definitely felt that we should have started learning these pieces much sooner than we did.
As the deadline of Easter Sunday drew near, it seemed like we would be better off starting over with something easy. But, she persisted. Calmly. Steadily.
Each week at rehearsal, our director comes in with her notes on specific spots that are particularly problematic in whatever we are currently preparing. Usually, this is a few well-spaced passages in the music. In this case, it was pretty much the whole thing.
And yet still, she persisted.
And we went along.
Slowly, steadily, it got better.
Easter came. We pulled it off. An Easter miracle.
It wasn’t perfect. But, it was certainly acceptable. Maybe even good. Perhaps a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.
What deadline do you have looming? Are you in panic mode? Are you feeling like you should just throw out your lofty goal and start over with something easy?
Hang in there.
Be like our choir director: steady, calm, persistent.
In my previous post, I shared my view on the latest scandal around college admissions – bulldozer (or lawnmower, or snowplow…) parents.
This time I’m going to take on the issue of bulldozer bosses.
Have you ever experienced a bulldozer boss? Have you ever been one?
It is critical in the development of a child to allow them to experience failure – and to know the joy of pulling yourself out of it. Failure happens. Mistakes happen. We must develop our resilience and learn to recover.
This ability to learn from our mistakes, to deal with failure, doesn’t end when we leave school. Rather, when we stop allowing any possibility of failure, we stop learning.
In my experience, our greatest learning happens in the aftermath of things that go horribly wrong. I am not saying that we have to actually fail in order to learn. I am a huge fan of learning from the mistakes of others.
But, I am suggesting that allowing for at least the possibility of failure, by operating in a space where we accept that failure is a possibility, we do learn more.
Some bosses behave in a way that disallows any option of failure. They berate staff who make the most minor of mistakes, they fire people for making even single mistakes, etc.
My philosophy has always been that it is OK to make a mistake. Repeating them is not.
Some bosses act like bulldozer parents who attempt to clear all possible roadblocks. They cannot tolerate any possibility of failure.
Some of these bosses, in their attempts to avoid failures, become micromanagers. They not only tell their staff what to do, but exactly how to do it. And by “how to do it” I mean “the way I would do it.”
Like loading the dishwasher, there are many ways to accomplish the same objective. It really doesn’t matter whether the silverware gets loaded handle up or handle down. (I know, heresy, right?) We all develop our preferences for which is the right way, but in the end, they get clean either way.
The next level beyond micromanaging are the bosses who step in and do the work their staff should be doing. They don’t trust that their staff is capable of doing the task, so they do it themselves.
This is the worst of all. It sends a clear signal to the staff that they are seen as incompetent. It gives them no path to grow. It encourages them to do less, when all the time we are being surrounded by a message that we should be doing more.
If we want our staff to grow in confidence and capability, we must allow room for them to make mistakes. And in doing that, we also allow room for them to do things far better than we could have done ourselves.
Step out of the bulldozer. Point the way. Set the direction. Then stand back and watch the magic happen.
Are you a helicopter parent? A snowplow parent? A bulldozer parent?
These terms have been in the news a lot lately as the latest scandal rocks the college entrance world. People are appalled by reports of parents who have bought their kids’ way into college.
Gasp! You mean people with money are using it to seek an unfair advantage? Say it isn’t so!
OK, sarcasm aside, these latest reports do strike people as being even more abusive of wealth than what we have come to generally expect and therefore accept.
All of the reports I have read talk about the unfairness of it all, focusing on the kids who worked hard to get into college, but didn’t have the financial resources to clear the path to their entry.
The victims being pointed out in the majority of these stories are the rest of us. Those of us who are playing by the rules.
To me, the real victims here are the kids (young adults) whose parents are doing this to them.
That’s right, to them, not for them.
Imagine being one of the kids who had no knowledge of the strings being pulled and paths being cleared by their parents. Imagine finding out after the fact.
If it were you, how would you react? Would you be happy to know your parents were willing to go to such great lengths to support you in your future?
Or, would you see it as yet another way your parents are telling you that you are not good enough. Do you see it for what it is – that your parents don’t believe in your ability to do things on your own.
How does that set you up for a bright future?
As for the Varuca Salts in these stories, those kids who demanded that their parents wield their influence and money to get them what they want, they get what they deserve. An unearned and vapid life. An existence devoid of any real accomplishment. Good luck with that.
In the meantime, let the rest of us continue to truly prepare our kids for their own futures – by letting them succeed, or stumble and recover, by their own hands.
I love watching people who are skilled at their craft.
The scene from “The Princess Bride” quoted above is a perfect example. Two highly skilled swordsmen in an epic duel. Both such masters of their blades that they make it look easy.
I recently had a front row seat at a concert by Ellis Marsalis and his trio. Ellis Marsalis is a jazz pianist and the patriarch of the well known Marsalis clan. Perhaps you’ve heard of his more popular sons Branford and Winton, or the younger Delfeayo and Jason.
The concert was an evening of awesome music and performance. Ellis is well known in the jazz world for his smooth style at the piano. At 84 years old, he can barely walk. But, when his hands start moving over the keys, you forget that he needed assistance to get to his position on the piano bench.
He makes it look easy.
If someone had said, “You are wonderful,” he would have been justified in responding, “Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.”
What is it that you do that elicits that statement?
I’ll bet that there are things you have done for so long that you find them to be easy to do and that you have forgotten how long you worked to become proficient. With most things we do on a regular basis, once we become good at them, we forget that it was ever hard. Take walking for example. Or riding a bike.
There’s a fun saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The concept of that saying is that when we have mastered a particular tool or technique, we tend to apply that tool or technique as our first choice for anything we encounter.
What’s the go-to tool in your toolbox?
There’s nothing wrong with this “everything looks like a nail” approach. When we have great skills in a particular thing, it makes sense to apply those skills.
The problem arises when we become so enamored by someone else’s mastery of their particular tool of choice that we forget that isn’t the only way to accomplish the task.
Each of the Marsalis brothers plays a different instrument. Imagine if they all thought they had to create music the same way as their dad.
And yet, that’s exactly how we often think. We see someone who is good at artistic painting, or sewing, or creating masterful Excel spreadsheets. We can’t do those specific things, so we feel “less than.”
Often, this gets exacerbated by the Excel expert who thinks the only way to do, well, pretty much anything, is by using Excel. So, everything they show you involves a spreadsheet. If you’re not good with that tool, the job becomes harder and wrought with frustration.
Go back to the original objective. What are you trying to accomplish? How is that “expert” using their tool of choice to accomplish it? What are your skills? How could you apply what you are good at to accomplish your goal?
There are many ways to attach two pieces of lumber together. A hammer and nails is only one of them.
In music, the variety of instruments makes the music better. We all need more cowbell. But, even that has its limits.
Use your tools. Make it look easy.
You are wonderful. You’ve worked hard to become so.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to saving money?
For my wife and I, coffee is a big one. We make our own coffee, but we are particular about the brands that we like. It’s not always Starbucks, although that is our go-to favorite. We’ve experimented with cheaper brands. Every time, though, we come to the same conclusion: it’s worth it to us to spend a little bit more for the brands we like. So we watch for sales and stock up when we can.
Being just the two of us in our house now, we also tend to spend more for smaller packaging rather than buying the mega-packs that would be cheaper on a per unit basis. We view it as paying the stores to store the excess for us. We’ll come back and pick it up as we need it, thank you.
There is something satisfying about being able to spring for life’s little luxuries. These are different for everybody.
For some people, it’s Charmin ultra soft toilet paper. Maybe it’s Jeni’s Ice Cream. Or, perhaps it’s that specific type of ballpoint pen, medium tip, black ink, that only comes in 5-packs and can only be found at that one store.
I am fond of good quality legal pads. White paper. College ruled. Somehow writing on them just feels better. It makes the ideas that get scribbled there seem more important.
I could go on and on about my personal choices for which things I find worth spending a bit more vs. where I am willing to go with the cheaper brand. You might get a laugh out of the list. You would likely disagree with many of the choices.
What matters more, though, are the choices that you make. Only you can determine those items that are important to you.
If you are a compulsive saver, uber frugal, who finds pleasure in how much you save by buying in bulk, go for it. If you are fine with plain old stick pens, have at it. I am not suggesting you do otherwise.
However, I do think it is important to identify those areas where treating yourself, even if only occasionally, is valuable. It sends a signal to your brain that you value your self, that you see yourself as being worth it. And you are.
So, go ahead. Throw caution to the wind. Buy yourself the extra-bright colored super-sticky 3M brand Post-It Notes.
What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Where do you spend your time?
Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time working on our weaknesses, while downplaying, if not outright ignoring, where we are truly gifted. In many cases, we don’t recognize how special our particular strengths are.
This pattern of focusing on our weaknesses routinely plays out at work in the annual performance evaluations.
After your evaluation, where does your mind go? What do you spend all of your time stewing over when you walk out? Right. The stuff you were told you need to work on. Your weaknesses.
Here’s a thought. What if we focus more of our energy on what we are doing well? What if we simply do more of that and less of what we don’t do well?
When I was a manager in an office job, this was much easier for me to do. If there was something I didn’t enjoy doing, or was not particularly good at doing, but recognized the importance of it being done, I could delegate that task to someone on my staff.
By delegating, I do not mean dumping. Proper delegation involves assigning tasks to people who are best suited to do that task. Maybe they’re already good at it. Maybe they are looking for opportunities to become good at it. Either way, delegation done right is a gift you are giving, not a burden you are imposing.
Effective delegation tends to be one of the hardest lessons for new managers to learn.
As a homeowner, there is no end to the litany of ongoing maintenance. Many repairs are things I am able to handle and even enjoy. But, there are others I won’t touch. Electrical work? I’m all over it. Gas lines? No way. Plumbing? I’d rather not, but I’ll do it in a pinch.
As a manager, I became adept at delegating tasks for which I had no inclination, sometimes to a fault. I had one particular boss who did not appreciate my lack of interest in keeping statistics in my head. But, I had a person on my staff who loved that.
When it comes to home maintenance, I tend to work around things I can’t handle myself for as long as I can get away with it. In other words, until my wife gets angry.
Why is it so hard for us to accept that there are things we are simply not good at doing, or that we have no interest in becoming good at doing, and move on? Why do we constantly beat ourselves up over the areas where we struggle, while totally disregarding those areas where we excel?
We accept the idea of focusing on our strengths as a natural thing when it comes to sports teams. Let’s talk football.
Imagine listening in on the performance evaluation for the guy who plays center. His primary job is to hike the ball to the quarterback. During his review, he is criticized for not being able to kick a field goal. Sounds ludicrous, right? And yet, that is exactly how we treat ourselves.
We expect ourselves to be able to do everything. Sadly, I’ve experienced performance evaluations in the workplace that were equally ludicrous.
Sure, most of us work in jobs that have broader expectations than “hike the ball”, or “kick field goals”. And, truth be told, most of those guys actually can and do play multiple positions. But, for the most part, typical job descriptions have a fairly narrow focus.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in my business. I love having my own business. This was my desire since high school. OK, this particular business was not what I had in mind when I studied electrical engineering in college. But, the type of business doesn’t really matter.
There are aspects of my business that I love and some that I don’t. There are tasks I am good at, and and those I am not. In most cases, the “good at” and “enjoy” categories align. There are also the ones I enjoy, while not being particularly good at. But, hey, it’s my business. I can do them if I feel like it, even if I do them poorly.
Then there are those tasks I am capable of doing, but I detest doing them so much that they simply don’t get done, or get done so poorly they might as well not have been done at all. Unfortunately, some of these are tasks that do need to be done if I want the business to grow.
The challenge for me is determining which tasks I absolutely must do myself and which can (and should) be done by someone else. Some of these are obvious. Others are not. And some I have simply been too stubborn to let go of.
When you own your own business, the strong tendency is to assume that you have to do it all yourself. Michael Gerber writes about this extensively in the book, “The E-Myth”. He makes a strong case for working on your business, not in it.
What that boils down to is creating an actual job description for yourself. Assigning tasks to yourself, based on your job description – and even more importantly, NOT doing tasks that are not in your description.
There will always be tasks we must do ourselves that we don’t enjoy doing, or that we are not particularly skilled at doing. At work, at home, in life. But, if we can learn to pause, consider if that is a task that we absolutely must do ourselves, and NOT do it if the answer is “no”, we will be better off.
By handing off tasks we do not enjoy to those who DO enjoy doing them, we are giving them a gift. We are happier because we’re not doing something we hate. They are happier because they get to do more of what they love. It’s a win-win.
What is your view of work? Do you believe it is something you must struggle through in order to get paid? Or, do you think there should be at least some level of enjoyment along the way?
If you’ve noticed the domain that hosts this blog, you know my view.
When I came up with the concept of “Work Should Be Fun”, I knew I was onto something. I knew I was headed in the right direction. How? Because I received a lot of pushback.
People told me, “Oh, that’s too strong. Sure, work CAN be fun. But, should? I don’t know. That seems kind of crazy.”
At the time this started, I was still in an office job. I made no secret of my philosophy. Not everyone agreed with me. It even became somewhat of a running joke among my peers.
When we were experiencing a particularly difficult day, they’d look at me and ask, “Is this the fun part?”
I was reminded of this the other day as I was working on a project in my basement. It wasn’t going especially well. I was frustrated. There might have been a few expletives expressed. My wife said, “But, you’re having fun, right?”
In other words, “Is this the fun part?”
How we deal with work challenges is a choice. How we deal with everyday disappointments is a choice.
We will have disappointments. Work will present challenges. Life will not go according to our plans. We can’t avoid it. But, we do have a choice in how we react.
In that moment of frustration, I had a choice. Would I throw my tools across the basement in disgust and anger? Or would I step back and allow myself to laugh at the situation? And find the willingness to try again?
Surely you’ve heard, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Which do you enjoy more, the journey or the destination?
I think the answer can be both. Sometimes one drives the other.
Consider being on a journey toward a destination you are not eager to reach. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun along the way. If we have enough fun along the journey, we might even forget we didn’t want to get to the destination.
Sometimes the destination is so enticing we’ll do anything to reach it.
Have you ever had one of those rare trips where both the journey and the destination were enjoyable? Count yourself as one of the lucky ones.
When I was a software engineer, I loved the act of coding. The journey itself was fun.
What I do now is more destination driven. This is the “eyes on the prize” model. The end result is so desirable that we will tolerate whatever it takes to achieve it.
The amount of time and effort required to get to the fleeting moment an entertainer gets to spend on stage would probably surprise you. Some of that “journey” work is fun. Some not so much. But, it is worth it. Absolutely worth it.
There will always be aspects of our work that we find less fun than others. We might even find some tasks to be downright distasteful.
I know musicians (and speakers and magicians and ventriloquists…) who hate to practice, but love to perform. I also know musicians who love to practice, but don’t enjoy performing in public. Reality check. No one is going to pay you to practice. You must perform. Likewise, no one is going to pay you to perform if you don’t practice.
I know people in the office who love meetings, and people who despise meetings.
As for me? I hate doing the sales part of my business. But, if I don’t sell, I don’t get to perform, or speak, or coach. Without sales, there is no business.
I know people who love to sell. Someday maybe I will find a way to enjoy that part. Or, more likely, hire one of those who loves to sell, but can’t imagine being on a stage. We’ll both be able to enjoy the journey. In the meantime, I slog through it with eyes on the prize.
How about you?
Do you enjoy the tasks involved in your work? Are you enjoying the journey?
Or are you more motivated by the destination? Do you slog your way through tasks you dislike because you know the result is worth it?
Pick one, or both.
If it’s neither, if you are not enjoying the journey or the destination, if it’s been a long time since you’ve been able to say, “This. This right here. This is the fun part.” you might be due for a change. You might need a new job. You might need a new attitude. You might need both.
What did you walk away with from your last annual performance review?
Or, for those of you who do what I do for a living, what do you remember from the comment cards at your last event where you spoke or entertained?
Here’s my bet: You forgot all about the great comments, the compliments, and you are obsessively focused on that one negative comment.
In the annual review it is that one thing your boss gives you to work on going forward.
In the realm of the feedback cards, it is that one negative comment. It is the one score of 2 in a sea of 5’s.
Why do we give so much power to the naysayers? Why do we not give equal ranking to those who love us?
I am certainly not immune to this. Why else would I be writing about it?
I am still stinging from the feedback from one particular performance in recent memory. There were well over 500 people in the audience. All I saw from the stage were smiling faces. There was much laughter. The applause was loud and long. After the show there was a long line of people for the meet & greet waiting for an autograph and photo opportunity.
And then it happened.
While I was packing up, the organizer shared with me that she had received “a few complaints”. I take this seriously. So, I pressed her for details. I encouraged her to share direct comments with me and to encourage people who were displeased to email me directly.
In the end, it was hundreds of people who were thrilled by the event, eager to find an opportunity to see the show again. And 3 people who were not. Three.
You know where my mind spent all of its time over the next several weeks. Not the 500+ who are new (and renewed) fans. No. Those three.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
What are you holding back from trying out of fear of even a single negative comment?
That. That right there. THAT is the true crime.
You have something amazing to share with the world. YOU.
I don’t know what it is. But, I’ll bet that you do.
And I’ll bet you’re afraid. Afraid someone might laugh at you. Afraid someone will say something negative.
So you continue to hold back, keeping your fantastic gifts to yourself.
I vow to continue to fight this battle. Won’t you join me?
Let’s do this together. Let’s agree that we will share our gifts with the world. We will put ourselves out there. Give what we have to those who appreciate them. And let go of the need for a perfect scorecard.
As I write this, we are in the throes of a polar vortex bringing record breaking cold temperatures across the midwest. Schools are closed. Community programs are cancelled. Even the Post Office isn’t delivering mail. Now that’s cold.
When I worked in an office, weather like this would often be an excuse for people to call in and request to work from home. Of course, sometimes that was more like “work” from home, meaning they would check their email randomly between chapters of the book they were reading, or getting up to put on a fresh pot of coffee.
When our kids were in school, a snow day meant an excuse to stay in bed.
How do you spend a snow day?
It doesn’t have to actually involve snow. This is more of a metaphorical term; a snow day is simply a day when all of your normal activities are cancelled. You don’t need to leave the house.
What do you do?
Do you celebrate? Or do you become filled with anxiety?
Do you view it as an unexpected holiday? Or do you freak out thinking of all of the things that you can’t get done?
As for me, I can go to either extreme, sometimes pegging the needle on both ends in a single day.
And I work from home.
I know people who take weather related delays, cancellations, and postponements as a personal affront. Some of these people are road warrior types who travel on a regular basis in their business.
You’d think that after more than a decade of life on the road you would have come to some sort of peace with it. And yet, some of my most hearty road warrior friends are the first to complain loudly over flights being cancelled, forced changes to their plans, etc.
This time around I witnessed numerous complaints from my fellow entertainers, especially those who do a lot of school programs.
I, too, was scheduled to do a program at a school on the coldest day of this latest weather front. We all knew it was coming. It was no surprise. The principal contacted me on Monday to discuss rescheduling the program scheduled for Wednesday. No big deal. Let’s shoot for Friday. If that doesn’t work, we’ll find another time. If we can’t? Again, no big deal. We’ll loop back for next year.
But, I will admit, that even with this calm approach to rescheduling of this one performance, I find myself wandering around the house, struggling to settle into doing something productive. I’d hate to waste this time that has suddenly appeared on my calendar.
My to-do list is enormous. Some of those items require working in the garage. Guess what? It’s too darn cold to be out there. Not just for comfort. The things I need to do out there require the temperature to be above a certain level, which simply isn’t possible to attain in that uninsulated space. They’ll have to wait.
So, while I can point out the inanity of complaining about how the weather affects business travel plans, I also find myself feeling frustrated by the impacts of the uncontrollable on my daily life.
For now, though, I’ll end this time of writing and go put on a fresh pot of coffee. After all, I get to “work” from home.
How about you? How will you spend your day when you are given the gift of cancellation of your previous plans?