Make It

I was recently moved from reporting to one manager to another. Actually, the new manager was a director. The day I received confirmation that I was now reporting to him, he resigned… Talk about feeling completely adrift. I had reported to four different bosses in the last year or so, and the director would have been the fifth. And I was again without guidance from up the ladder.

I was also suddenly very aware that I could become an easy target for a layoff if I didn’t take charge of my own destiny. I could no longer look comfortably to anyone else for direction.

My plan was simple, the program that I drove was now in my hands so I began the task of making wholesale changes to it. I wanted to make it my own rather than just run it. I’m deep into the planning stages now and things are looking bright after the previous haze and gloom.

It will be the end of 2018 before the program can launch as it is dependent on other efforts at the company, but I feel like I’m finally making progress. I’m creating process flows, preparing metrics to share with leadership, creating graphics and training material, and generally taking matters into my own hands.

I’ll post updates about my progress as I get closer to the launch date of the new program, but what have I learned?

Don’t wait for guidance! Seek it out. Be aggressively creative, and make sure you keep important people in the loop. If you’re trying to help the business and its customers, no one will tell you to stop. They may correct your course, but chances are they won’t stop you. And if they do, perhaps that’s not the company or manager you want to work for.

Make It

Habits Of Success

Over the last year I’ve read dozens of articles on productivity, developing positive habits, how others drive themselves to success, etc. Many of the articles have similar advice for the reader, so I created the list below to show the habits that were most often recommended. The list itself has many one-off items like “be curious” and “take enormous risks,” but the ones in the list below are common to multiple articles. These are the ones that many people seem to consider the best habits to cultivate.

HABIT
# OF TIMES RECOMMENDED
Read (educational content)
6
Exercise (hard physical activity, health)
5
Listen to Podcasts (learning/uplifting content)
3
Meditate (includes Focus, Mindfulness, etc.)
3
Wake up early and get started (Early productivity)
3
Make lists (GTD, 4DX, Use Evernote, OneNote, etc.)
2
Take no days off completely (Read, check email etc. while on vacation)
2
Minimize distractions (aka don’t multi-task, don’t over-analyze)
2

I found that through my own personal experiences the habits that have helped me the most are reading, exercising, continuing education, and making lists (and scheduling my week ahead of time). Eating well and getting plenty of rest also help. As does reducing alcohol intake…

As for scheduling my time, I have recently moved to the Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s been very effective for me. It has been the most successful replacement to the checklist style to-do list that I used in the past. Also, I found that my analog planner worked better for me than my digital planners. I just use it more consistently.

How about you? Do you practice any of the habits on the list? Which ones work best for you? How do they help during your day/week to increase your productivity?

Habits Of Success

Quotes to Consider

Below is a small collection of quotes I’ve gathered from books I’ve read recently. Granted, what I’ve been reading lately seems depressing based on the quotes below, I strongly encourage everyone to read each of the books from which these quotes were taken as they will educate and enlighten to the realities and possible realities of our current world.

Marcus Aurelius

“It’s quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. Remember that.”

From “Meditations” 7:67

Viktor Frankl

“When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

From “Man’s Search For Meaning,” p. 77

Todd Rose

“Contemporary pundits, politicians, and activists continually suggest that our educational system is broken, when in reality the opposite is true. Over the past century, we have perfected our educational system so that it runs like a well-oiled Taylorist machine, squeezing out every possible drop of efficiency in the service of the goal its architecture was originally designed to fulfill: efficiently ranking students in order to assign them to their proper place in society.”

From “The End Of Average

Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne

“The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.”

From “The War of Art

Quotes to Consider

GETTING HEALTHY

The last couple of years I’ve been plodding toward a healthier version of myself. In 2017 I signed up at Planet Fitness and have been relatively good about working out from two to four times a week, though not without the occasional lapse.

I wanted to get in better shape and improve my fitness for the long-term, and started out with no desire to become a body-builder. I don’t lift heavy weights, though the weight is increasing little by little as I build strength, which was my primary goal. My secondary goal was to lose about 25 pounds. I didn’t look all that bad, but I had a gut that I really wanted to get rid of.

What I actually learned over the course of the last year was that changing my eating habits was the hardest part of dropping weight. I had been more successful quitting other vices than I had in adopting a healthier diet. However, I recently made a change to another area of my life which dramatically affected the foods I was able to eat for around six months. I got dentures. That process changed my life in ways I did not expect.

BACKGROUND

I was not born with good DNA where my teeth are concerned – or were concerned. I was also not taught at an early age the benefits of good dental hygiene. I don’t blame my mom. I just didn’t adopt an effective daily cleaning routine. Therefore, by the time I entered adulthood I was already struggling with the ramifications of poor dental hygiene and mediocre dental DNA. Looking back, about every 3-5 years I’d need to lose another tooth. Infections and impacted teeth weren’t uncommon. I tried hard as an adult to fix the issue, but I simply started too late to get ahead of the problem.

In the last four or five years I’ve been thinking about dentures as a solution as the semi-annual visits to the dentist for cleanings turned into quarterly, alternating visits to the dentist and periodontist. However I was timid about getting dentures because I knew it would be expensive. (I’m also a cheapskate…) A poor reason to put off healthcare or dental care, but still, I’m guilty of making the decision more than once.

Finally, though, I’d had enough and the ongoing treatments and solutions sounded less and less appealing. They also took more and more of my time. Dentists and Periodontists love to tell people to keep the teeth they were born with as long as possible, and I tried to do that, but eventually I made the decision to go all the way and address the root of the problem once and for all. I didn’t realize it at that time, but plodding toward a healthier lifestyle was about to get a rocket-assisted boost.

SURGERY ONE

In October, 2017 I had my first round of surgery – removing my back teeth. This was a total and complete body-pounding. I cannot tell you how hard it affected me physically to go through not only the surgery, but the healing process afterward. The first week afterward was pain management, the second week was a little less of the pain and more of the starvation that comes with having only front teeth to eat with. I could eat, sort of, but I had to use muscles in my jaws that I had never used before so at about the 10-14 day mark I thought my jaws were locking up due to the soreness… I was scared for a day or two, but it eventually passed.

I also ate Advil and Oxycodone like candy to deal with the pain in the early days. The foods I could eat were not all that different overall, but I had to make sure I let the gums heal so I stayed with soups and softer foods. Salads were out. I had no back teeth with which to grind leafy greens, so vegetables had to be soft. After a few weeks I was able to eat things like chicken or the occasional steak again. I had lost a little over 10 pounds by this time by eliminating fast food and large lunches out during the work week, and I’d cut out soda pretty much all together.

SURGERY TWO

In January, 2018 I had the front teeth removed and started using the new temporary dentures.

My dentist told me that the second surgery would be easier on me physically since the front teeth had one root and the back teeth had two or three roots. I was ready to complete the process and get the temporary dentures, give my gums enough time to heal and then start preparing for implants. However, the second surgery didn’t really go as easily as I’d been led to believe…

Where I had been in the chair for an hour and a half for the first surgery (pulling the back teeth and having bone grafts to prepare for implants), the second surgery lasted around three hours according to my wife.

After the removals and bone grafts the periodontist was frustrated that the dentures didn’t really fit quite right and my wife ended up hauling me to the dentist across town so he could help with the situation. I was still heavily sedated and bleeding… The dentist got everything fixed properly and sent me home to recuperate.

I awoke that evening with a soreness that I had never known before. I could also eat even less now because the dentures sat on top of gums that were still stitched up and swollen and very, very sore. It was basically a liquid diet for the first two weeks after surgery two. That’s when I lost the other 15 pounds.

I could go on and on about how the gums change over time, or how the dentures need to get adjusted by the dentist to go along with the changes in the gums, or a lot of other things, but I won’t. What I’ll say at this point is that I’m working very hard to keep that weight off. I’ve learned that portion control is king. Eating a lot more veggies and a lot less meat is also a big part of my success.

I also couldn’t work out at Planet Fitness as much as I wanted. I really didn’t have much enthusiasm to add additional soreness to my body… But I’m happy to say that I’ve kept off that 25 pounds, I’m back in the gym two or three days a week adding muscle and getting fit, and I’m eating a LOT better than I used to.

It’s taken months to get used to wearing dentures. It’s been the hardest thing I may have ever done for myself, but it’s been good for me in the long-term. I feel better than ever because I’m eating a much healthier diet, I’m working out regularly, and my self-confidence has never been higher because not only do I feel better, I look better too. I guess the silver lining is that being forced to do something is sometimes the only way some people (me) can make a change they know they need.

 

GETTING HEALTHY

Haiku: BRANCH

Behind me, the fork.
I chose the wrong branch and found
Civilization…

(I thought today I would participate in The Daily Post challenge word of the day. I submit my humble attempt at haiku, which is a reference to the Robert Frost poem about two roads diverging in a yellow wood. Unfortunately in my poem I chose the wrong branch in the road and found not trees – and branches – shading me from the sun, but the streets and buildings I tried to leave behind.)

Haiku: BRANCH

Book Review: Team of Teams

Written by General Stanley McChrystal, this book describes the challenges faced by the US Military in the conflict with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after 2003.

McChrystal provides a good history to illustrate why the US Military looks, sounds, walks, and talks the way it did at that time. The countless changes to everything the military did over 200 years had created a behemoth that was very efficient at doing its job, however it wasn’t able to adapt to the rapidly changing environment that AQI had created and in which they were thriving. Though ruthlessly efficient, they were not effective.

McChrystal defines the changes that he felt were necessary to allow them to reach the point where they could adapt quickly to unexpected changes in the fight against AQI and therefore become more effective.

First he started by building relationships between teams. He points out that most elite teams like to compete against each other for bragging rights if nothing else, which eventually creates teams that aren’t really working together toward the same goal. He wanted to have teams that broke down some of that mentality and worked with all the other teams involved in the conflict – in the field, in the command center, in the intelligence teams, in the embassies around the world, and all the rest.

McChrystal began embedding talent from one team in another team for six months at a time. He made his leaders choose the best soldiers for these posts. He wanted the best possible soldiers to be the face of his strategy. This was the first step in building stronger connections between teams, and therefore building trust between them.

Next, he pushed decision-making downward to his subordinates to increase the speed of operations. He simply removed himself as a bottleneck from the flow of information and decisions. Where he felt he asked a few basic questions about the situation then gave his approval, he allowed his subordinates to simply make the decision and then update him to the logistics and details. He pushed this approach down further so teams in the field of battle could make faster decisions as well. This eliminated time spent requesting approval potentially through several layers of leadership. Minutes counted and they needed speed most of all. Surprisingly, where he thought there would be a degradation in the quality of decisions, he found that decision-making actually improved. Soldiers take it seriously when so many lives are on the line.

Finally, rather than acting as a strategist telling troops where to go or what to do, he made himself a “gardener” by simply nurturing the environment he had created and allowed the machine to function more like a complex organism. The speed of actions increased dramatically, and the fight against AQI turned in the favor of the US Military for the first time.

The book would have been an exciting and enjoyable read from start to finish, but the countless examples McChrystal used to illustrate ideas became monotonous and it hurt the book in the end. He borrows extensively from the histories of business, politics, manufacturing, military successes and failures, leadership decisions, etc. Though it’s a well-established approach to make a point (or many points) in a book of this nature, it became tiresome very quickly and lengthened the book needlessly.

The examples were so numerous and, to be honest, distracting that I skipped through several portions of the book to get back to his personal story which is where he should have stayed 95% of the time. Perhaps this is a bit harsh on McChrystal, but perhaps it’s also bad advice given by his publisher because it’s become the established formula in books of this nature… Which sort of goes against everything McChrystal says in the book about breaking down entrenched processes, routines and traditions to become more effective…

Book Review: Team of Teams

The Importance of Documenting Everything You Do

You have probably been in the situation at some point in your work life where you simply feel overwhelmed by your duties. Perhaps you’re on a team and everyone feels the same way. After speaking with your supervisor or manager about it your take-away task is to document what you do during your day to show your workload. You probably felt as though the sky was falling because on top of the crushing weight of your duties and your panicked efforts to simply keep up, you now have to take the time to write down everything you’re doing. That sinking feeling just got worse.

This is known as “the whirlwind” in 4DX (Four Disciplines of Execution) and represents all the urgent tasks that you are expected to complete throughout the day. 4DX is a complete system to help chip away at the important items you want to accomplish while dealing with the whirlwind. And there is a difference between urgent and important tasks. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President, said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” I recommend reading his thoughts in more detail as this is an important concept in prioritizing and executing work.

There are other, similar systems, like Getting Things Done by David Allen, and many books like Essentialism, by Greg McKeown or The One Thing, by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan or Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy that attack the same idea in their own ways. However, what they all have in common is increased productivity as a goal. From my own personal experience, documenting what I did during my day is one of the most important things that made more time for myself. It is counterintuitive but it really works.

The first step is to simply use a tracker of some sort. Use pen and paper, a spreadsheet, a calendar, a text document, or all of them, or anything with which you feel comfortable, and stick with it. Evernote and OneNote are both great for this type of thing. Both have the ability to create and use checkboxes, which are tremendously helpful when you have daily to do lists, or a list of tasks to complete to reach your weekly goals.

Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a log of each action you took during your day, written down the minute you did it. Depending on your job, you can probably fill in some things ahead of time and write in the extras as you go, or at the end of the day. I strongly recommend writing down ahead of time all the things you know you will be doing through the day just to relieve some of the pressure of documenting your chores.

Also, set goals. Start by scheduling everything you want to accomplish for the next week ahead of time. Once you have three goals written down, write down what you need to do each day of the week to reach those goals. Be detailed, but not too wordy. Brevity in this area is a plus. As you complete the daily tasks you scheduled, just check them off the list.

One of the main tenets of 4DX to combat the whirlwind is to define “X to Y by WHEN.” I like this idea very much. Break it down. If you are currently at X location in your project, you want to be at Y by the end of the week. Set a due date to keep yourself focused.

However, if the unexpected arises and something or someone interrupts your work flow don’t be afraid to adapt and evolve with the situation. Move or change the “X to Y by WHEN” to accommodate the new details. Also write down why you had to move or change the details of your goal so you can explain yourself. You probably won’t remember three days later why you did that when your boss asks about it, let alone six months later when you’re doing your self-assessment.

As you work through your week update the tasks you prepared ahead of time. Keep checking off those completed items. You should also document meetings, conversations, note significant information from emails received etc. After a few weeks or months have passed you can look back at all the notes and see the progress in your tracker at what you have accomplished. You can identify bottlenecks or repeated interruptions, and can plan ahead accordingly. If one particular person or meeting or event seems to be causing problems with your productivity you can approach your boss about it to get help finding a solution.

At the end of the year you can look back at your notes and you have a tremendous amount of material to use when writing out your self-assessment, and this is the reason you started writing down everything you do in the first place. This is the make or break moment. Rely on those notes to show your boss exactly what you did during the year with specifics. The next step is to put a dollar figure to as much of it as possible. Since you already have the time involved in most tasks, you can attach a dollar amount as well. If you made a change in one of your processes that shaved 5 minutes per day off that process, you have saved X dollars over the course of the year.

Once I started using this method to track myself I found that my actual job description took perhaps an hour of my day, while the rest of my time was spent on the “above and beyond” projects, and that is where promotions hide. There’s no need for long days! Stay focused and you can get done with everything in the eight hours provided, and then go home to enjoy your family and friends.

The Importance of Documenting Everything You Do