leadership dot #3700: ten minutes

Some of the best time management advice I know sounded too simplistic when I heard it but became a game changer for me. The founder of IKEA shared this gem:

Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.”

Ingyar Kamprad

I have been amazed at how much I can accomplish in that small of increment — and how many times I previously let ten minutes go by doing nothing as I transitioned between meetings, arrived early to an appointment and waited, or scrolled through social media instead of dedicating the time to accomplishing a small portion of a larger task.

When you reframe your day to “what can I accomplish in the next ten minutes?” a variety of options present themselves that set you on a path to greater achievement. Just paying attention to the amount of time you spend on “meaningless activity” can be an eye opener as well as motivation to rethink how you are spending your most precious resource.

Give the ten-minute mantra a trial today and see if it doesn’t shift what you do or don’t do in ways that will be more rewarding in the long term.

leadership dot #3694: alternately

It stinks when you lose your job. There’s no getting around it. Your paycheck, identity, routine, and network are all wrapped up in your employment, and it is a deep level of stress-inducing awful when you are let go.

To complicate matters, just as you’re feeling your worst you need to project your best in order to interview well. You want to stay in bed but instead, you need to be perky and articulate. It’s tough.

It’s unrealistic to believe you can be fired and just carry on as if nothing happened. It’s also counterproductive to wallow for any length of time. I describe this juxtaposition as a yin-yang — and encourage those in this situation to keep that balance in mind. You need to be sad — for a bit — then you need to establish boundaries that provide a barrier to the gloom and allow the positive to be put forth.

The yin-yang applies to other traumatic events. A divorce. A death. An accident or trauma. To move forward, work hard to mentally compartmentalize and craft boundaries that juggle the gymnastics of grieving and persisting — not expressing both simultaneously — rather alternately — so that each emotion can be expressed without overriding the other.

leadership dot #3693: your timing

Too often, we underestimate the importance of the “when.”

  • Meeting the “right someone” when you are not open to a relationship may alter your future vs. meeting them at a different stage in your life
  • Pitching a proposal at an opportune moment may allow it to proceed but sharing the same idea with bad timing may doom it
  • Buying an investment when the market is down could reap a much higher payback than buying the same stock when the market is high
  • Your business idea may be ahead of its time and fail but have success years later
  • Finding an exciting new house/job/pet doesn’t matter if you aren’t ready for it
  • You ask for a donation right after the donor received a big bill vs. receiving a dividend check
  • A great sale on cherries isn’t a bargain if your refrigerator is already overflowing with fruit

Instead of only focusing on the situation itself, consider whether the timing is what you should tinker with. The same thing that is a “no” now can be a “yes” later — and vice versa.

leadership dot #3690: painting

I’m having the inside of my garage repaired and painted, a job I definitely do not want to do myself. But my painter, Paul, seems to actually enjoy the work, more than for the income it brings.

“I like painting because it provides instant gratification,” he said. “I can tell right away what I have done vs. doing electrical work where the first thing I have to do is figure out what somebody else did wrong. Painting you can see.”

I think all of us need some aspect of our work that provides tangible results. Creating a formula-driven spreadsheet. Clearing our inbox. Submitting a grant. Mowing the grass. Cooking a meal. Cleaning out a closet.

It’s fine to toil in settings that have a long-term impact as many non-profits do but to keep up the motivation and momentum, sprinkle in some short-term accomplishments. Remind yourself that you are making progress by painting the equivalent of your wall.

leadership dot #3689: 3 hours

I returned an item at Dick’s and the cashier noted that there was a coupon attached to my receipt, providing me $20 off a $100 purchase. I thought I would give it to my sports-crazed nephew, who undoubtedly spends that amount with regularity — but then I noticed that the coupon was “valid for 3 hours.” Seriously?

My mind immediately flashed to yesterday’s dot (#3688) about stupid rules, but my second thought was “well, at least I’ll get a dot out of it.” I have found that aggravating situations often have lessons buried in them, helping me clearly see what not to do. People often say they learn supervision by doing everything opposite from what their bad boss did; the same principle applies to service situations. If you find something ridiculous, chances are your employees or customers will, too.

leadership dot #180a: not guilty

My advice from being called twice to serve on jury duty: if you have to be on the jury, be the foreman.  

If I am going to spend my time at the trial and deliberation, I want to see a productive outcome (verdict) as a result. So if I have to be there, I’m going to step up and lead the discussion to help us stay on topic.

The same principle applies to meetings outside the legal arena. If you have to be at a meeting, act like the foreman. Take an active role in the discussion to frame the issue, bring out the various views, point out the commonalities and move the group toward action. The foreman is a facilitator, not a dictator, and it is a good model to follow.  

You don’t need to hold an official position of power to help move the meeting along. If you have been convened with the purpose of deciding, step up to the role. Whether your goal is group consensus or majority rule, you can help drive the discussion to facilitate action.  

Don’t just sit there and be guilty of leaving the verdict of the meeting in someone else’s hands.

Originally published in modified form on November 28, 2012



leadership dot #67a: the other side of the coin

I have two new staff members starting work this week.  Several people here have been busy planning training for them — lots of meetings, readings, and things to do to help the new employees to learn their job and get acclimated to our culture. To be sure, learning what is serves a critical purpose and is vital to success in the position. When you’re new, you clamor to learn everything there is to know as soon as you can.

Harder to learn, but perhaps more valuable, is learning what isn’t. Sometimes it is a struggle for people at all stages to think beyond what is on the page to what should be there. They proof a document and point out that a comma is missing, but fail to note that a paragraph to set the context or to explain something important is absent. They learn every detail of the process but don’t stop to question why it is that way in the first place. People become experts at what exists, but forget to be strategic about what should be happening.  
Whether you are brand new or a seasoned veteran, the real difference makers are the ones who ask “what isn’t” in addition to mastering “what is”.

Originally published in modified form on August 7, 2012

leadership dot #48a: first draft

The most important lesson that I learned in all of college can be summarized in five words: “Writing is different than editing.” It was the admonishment of a curmudgeonly old journalism professor that we just write, putting unfiltered thoughts out there, and tend to organization and editing later.  


Because of this simple mantra, I have completed hundreds of proposals, papers, projects, and especially a dissertation. Writing and editing utilize different portions of the brain and as we worry about spelling or comma placement, we cut off the creative flow that comes from freely expressing thought. Writing without editing also produces a far greater quantity of writing – giving the editor a larger selection of work from which to glean some “good stuff”. It makes all the difference in getting something done. A blank page is intimidating, but reviewing something that is already there takes much less effort. We often know what we don’t like, so editing it out comes naturally. 

I think this lesson applies to many things beyond the literary world. It is really about starting and worrying about making it better later. START vacation planning and then narrow down specifics later. START planning a menu for your dinner party and then swap out choices later. START making a Christmas gift list and then make changes depending upon what you actually find at the mall. START thinking of all those courses you could take and then pick one or two. START dragging out the box of receipts and sorting them into piles and then determine what is tax-deductible later. 
We don’t like to begin, and we don’t like to have first drafts in life. But a good life is like that – continuously editing to make it better.
Originally published in modified form on July 19, 2012

leadership dot #3674: go easy

When the advice columnist or cartoonist in the newspaper goes on vacation, they re-run some of their favorite entries while they are gone. Even though I may have read the content before, there has been such a gap since publication that it seems new — and enjoyable — again.

Never do I think: “oh, that lazy artist,” or “what a slacker she is” for taking a respite. Not only does it alleviate the incredible workload of generating new material for the time they are away, but having a break from continuous production is good for the creative soul — or so I’m told.

So, why do I have such hesitation about doing the same thing when I am away? Whether over a daily publication schedule, work ethic, weight, appearance, parenting skills, achievements, or financial status, it seems that we are always harder on ourselves than we are on others. We have personal angst over things that we don’t give a second thought to when someone else is involved.

But I’m taking the advice of a wise leadership dots writer (ha ha) and giving myself some grace. Starting tomorrow, you’ll be enlightened by entries from 2012 for a dozen days while the only dots I think about are the polka dots on my swimsuit. Go easy on yourself this summer, too.

leadership dot #3672: just did

I had a conversation with a colleague whose employee has just resigned. As she prepares for the transition in his final days, she has been reviewing a list of tasks he has prepared so she can assign his duties to others. This will work well — until something arises that he “just did” and did not think to put on the list. “You don’t realize what people do until they don’t,” she said. How true!

It happens at work, of course, but also at home when one of those in the household is unavailable. Locations of supplies or equipment. Passwords. Maintenance items. Shopping and inventory management. Financial responsibilities. The list goes on.

There are so many tasks that we “just do” without thought or effort, but for others to do them requires both. Prepare in advance for your absence by maintaining an ongoing resource of key information that others would need if you were out of commission or move on — or better yet, trade-off duties with others so you are not the only keeper of the knowledge.

Whether due to your absence, resignation, or death, you’re not going to be the one doing it forever. Don’t act like you are.

Thanks, Natalie!