Maintaining Energy

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Pushing on your work takes an intense amount of energy. And without energy, it’s hard to maintain consistency, perseverance and results. Energy is not a given. You have to foster your routines and habits to keep peak performance going.

I like to hike, play tennis, trail run and snowboard to get me into a bigger world and get the blood flowing. If I miss days, I get crabby and unproductive. The world becomes smaller and my problems become bigger.

Sometimes, when I am thinking about a deal, for example, and how to structure it, I will head out for a long walk. I don’t think about it. I get into freeing up my mind and simply sweating. Somewhere along the line, or when I’m finished, my legs and heart get worn out and that creative kick comes out. This approach tends to work well for me. I may sit down for another four hours and push on creating. I have new energy.

There’s this giant temptation to skip the habits that spend me, relax me or divert my attention. However, those habits are too important to sideline. Managing the ebb and flow of my enthusiasm, energy and focus matter towards getting results and pushing on all the fronts I care about with clarity. That’s why I consider managing energy part of work.

We are not simply brains swiveling on a post. We are whole beings that push our work out from emotion, determination and knowledge. There’s a lot of quality difference in our output from how we feel in the course of a day and how much energy we are bringing to our relationships and problem solving.

I think finding what works to keep the energy high is simply good business.

Schedule Working Meetings

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I am a big fan of working meetings. They cut through the back and forth of getting something done. It actually creates time and space to get real work done in real-time with another person or group.

Too often, we talk about the secondary stuff:

What we are going to do.

When we are going to do something.

Who should be a part of the work.

What resources are required.

In actuality, you can save a lot of time and get things moving by simply working.

So, when I see a thread going back and forth too often, my need for closure kicks in. Open loops drive me nuts after a while.

It’s inefficient to hide behind the chatter. Instead, lead. Make working meetings a part of your execution process. It’s energizing to bring together short, focused meetings to accomplish one thing. Here’s a simple way:

  1. Stop. Move an email and conversation that is going back and forth to a meeting instead. “I’m going to get us together to get this done.”
  2. Schedule. I have an article sharing best practices on putting a meeting together using your Google or Outlook calendar.
  3. Work. Open the call, online meeting or in-face time with one goal and let everyone know. “We are here to get this proposal created and emailed.”

In the meeting, simply facilitate and work. Ultimately, this is a process of leadership. You have to lead. Get the decision. Send out what you promised. Write up the new standard operating procedure.

When you find yourself procrastinating, perhaps the task feels undefined and overwhelming. A working meeting can increase the energy and motivation with other people to get clear and move bottlenecks through your pipeline of tasks.

That ability to move from talking to action is critical in an overly competitive and inattentive world. Cut through it with the determination to work with your team and customers. It’s efficient and fits the times.

Getting Caught Doing the Right Things

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How do you know if you had a solid day or week of output? We can easily get deluded into thinking we were highly productive, but we may have simply stringed together fleeting days of busy activity. Sometimes, simply maintaining that appearance of effort can make us feel justified.

Productivity makes you a reliable person who gets things done that need to be done. There are things we have to keep doing in order to keep tasks and projects moving along because of the commitments we made to ourselves.

However, what about moving the needle on a much larger level? You have to have space to think about such context.

What makes an impact?

Are the projects and people I am involved with helping me get to where I want to go?

Does this project even matter?

It’s that pull between doing things right vs. doing the right things.

When I find myself unenthusiastic or lax in my work and interactions, it’s likely because something does not make sense anymore in the context of what is important. I have to disengage and do a gut check on what I am giving myself to.

With the world moving so quickly and the ease of others pulling on you with requests, I think it’s a trap anyone can find themselves in.

So, if you feel that kind of misalignment, take a breather and pull back rather than push in. Think about where you are headed and cut things that don’t make sense even though they might have been a good idea before.

We are always needing to be dynamic because we are living in a fast changing world.

Maybe it’s less about hard work and much more about hard thinking.

Don’t Get Fooled By Heroics

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We humans tend to live by emotion more than logic. It’s why politicians, business leaders and religious authorities can sway the masses too often.

You may have heard that famous saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s an opportunity for heroics to come into play. And those affected by a crisis are vulnerable.

Never mind asking, “How did we get here in the first place?” or “Could we have avoided this crisis?”

It’s the blind spot we are prey to. We like heroics. Those that fix things can get praise without much scrutiny.

Maybe we accept that there are inefficiencies, waste and bubbles as part of the natural cycle of life. After all, we tend to accept mediocrity in people’s actions and work. It’s easier to overlook the fault of others because of compassion or to avoid the pain of dealing truthfully. We don’t want to appear as a bad person.

So, we get buildups of problems and crises and enjoy praising heroics. After all, who actually says, “Look what I prevented,” and gets praised for this? Better to say, “Look what I did.”

If you can see ahead, it can create internal conflicts. Do you take the job, money or relationship on because you have the opportunity to perform heroics when your incentive is to shine and be a savior after a crisis? Building robust and preventive strategies, processes and systems doesn’t pay off as well. It’s too abstract.

Security companies, IT managed services and insurance firms get paid for prevention and just-in-case. It’s an inverted emotional incentive because the threat is large and can be imagined readily.

It gets tricky trying to be preventive, wise and prudent in environments that reward heroics. You can show up envious coworkers or burn a lot of energy trying to get a decision maker to value what hasn’t impacted the immediate.

There are certainly no shortage of problems to solve and bring your value towards. How we package and ensure the value we bring is recognized is often determined by context, timing and mindsets.

I would rather avoid disasters than spend all my time and energy playing savior, regardless of the arguable misplaced perceptions others may have.

What do you do when you see something coming?

The More You Know, The Less You Need

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“The more you know, the less you need.” ~ Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, Let My People Go Surfing

Knowledge is always accessible and allows you to need less indeed. Compare how pros approach their work versus amateurs. Pros, people that know what they are doing, have the following characteristics:

  • Relaxed
  • Focused
  • Simplified
  • Efficient

Amateurs throw a lot at problems. They have to. New, shiny tools can cover over their deficiency in knowledge. They look different than pros:

  • Enamored
  • Frenetic
  • Concealed
  • Wordy
  • Wasteful

The great thing is that if you are not lazy, you can learn anything your heart desires today. Knowledge is there for the taking and can empower you to be a pro. Finance, law, relationships, and an infinite amount of topics are domains you can study, apply and learn deeply at little to no cost besides your time and attention. You can become a pro.

In the process, you learn to need less because you know what matters and what doesn’t matter.

When I am doing business with people that seem to throw a lot of detail into a project or use a lot of words on deals and projects, I instinctively have my guard up. It is because I am dealing with an amateur that doesn’t know much so they need more to persuade others or to get things done.

The reality is that there are simply too many options out there to settle for mediocrity.

Furthermore, anyone can get ahead of the crowd by simply committing to studying deeply and owning ideas, approaches and problem solving in areas with conviction.

When you look at yourself or others, can you see needing more than you truly require if you were a pro?

Where can you need less?

The charlatans hide their deficiencies with lots of noise. Be better. Be simpler than that.

Mise En Place

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Picture of Josh Skaja and his mise en place approach as a pro musician from the Minaal blog.

The saying in French, mise en place, roughly translates to everything in its place. French cooks use this approach to keep order and readiness in their work.

I have done this for decades, and I even train my kids on this important practice, not only for survival and getting things done, but to exercise care for others.

I think when you care about customers, employees or other people, you think about and keep ready for anything. That means taking care of your own space, workflow, efficiencies and customer experience.

Sloppiness has a cost. If I deal with a sloppy vendor and I have other options, which is usually the case in our connected world, I simply and easily exercise my options. So do many other mistreated customers.

Mise en place is a mindset of caring. You care enough about someone else’s experience that you take care of the details ahead of time. Get rid of the friction. Be eager and ready. Stop tripping over your own encumbrances and messes.

I was reminded of the concept over on this blog on tips from digital nomads:

Mise en place.

It’s the French term that cooks use to describe putting their stations in order – everything from stocking their cooler, to the order they put the garnishes in, to having the right spoon for each sauce, to making sure they have dry towels for handling hot pans.

It’s like a religion for them, and it’s frequently the only thing that stands between them and disaster, a way to stay focused and efficient in chaotic situations.

Touring is a lot like professionally cookery – you’re doing the same thing over and over again, trying to consistently put out a high-quality experience, but something is going all wrong, all the time. This isn’t an obstacle to be avoided. It’s the standard working condition for your chosen profession.

Mise en place keeps the clusterfuck gremlins at bay. ~ Josh Skaja, Freboard Anatomy

You have no idea what is coming this week or next week. What is standing between you and disaster? Are you focused and efficient in chaotic situations?

If you care enough, then you act like a pro and deliver the highest quality experience. This goes for friendships as well. Amateurs simply react and let the chaos keep getting away.

A place for everything and everything in its place. It’s something you can control if you care. I don’t know any other way to work without consequences.

For Those Who Can’t Do

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My kids and I love that Jack Black movie, School of Rock. The other day, we were laughing at a line that Black’s character, Dewey Finn, made a group of his colleagues roll with in a lunchroom scene, “Those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach… teach gym.”

Too funny.

We live in a world where people can hide and not do. They can teach about business, but not do business.

There are brokers that trade for you but don’t do it themselves.

There are professors and pastors that talk about the marketplace but don’t work in the marketplace.

It can save you a lot of trouble to distinguish between doers and talkers. You gain much more value from someone who takes risks and puts their name, money and work out there than pontificators sitting on the sidelines.

I’m not sure we can completely squeeze out safe spaces where talkers can hide and not take risk, but I do think you can pay attention and align with doers that have skin in the game.

Overcoming The Valley of Death in Growing Businesses

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From the book, Scaling Up, and their commentary on the challenges of business growth.

The idea of growing a business is romantic. That spirit of entrepreneurship, leadership and scaling have a wonderful image of adventure and nobility. In the trenches, when a firm decides they want to grow, it is messy. It is hard work day in and day out to get the strategy clear and the people and systems moving in the same direction.

That is why the graph above on the valley of death growing firms experience is so vivid and real.

4% of firms reach $1M in annual revenue. Then it only gets harder to scale from there.

Essentially, the hardship comes from complexity. Growing revenue often requires growing teams. Teams of people need to collaborate. This growth may be linear as far as headcount goes, however, the complexity grows disproportionately in an exponential fashion.

One strategy to keep complexity lower is to use technology and systems rather than headcount. Information systems are ridiculously powerful and cheap today. And for growing businesses, they create extreme leverage. You can create information flow and access to make decisions and get things done in an unprecedented way.

Another strategy to grow is to implement strong leadership and use management approaches to foster alignment around clearly defined goals that are important to your company. This takes time. People take a lot of nurturing, repetition and trust, thus the HR systems have to be built, reinforced and robust to create the culture for growing a business past the valley of death.

The pain comes when trying to grow a business to support or create demand and the systems or leadership do not keep pace. Complexity inevitably grows and there needs to be a corresponding counterbalance of simplifying the business. Otherwise, the valley of death at each stage can crush the business. The weight of success becomes too heavy.

When you think about your business, you are never safe. Every comfortable niche is threatened today by technology and competition, which relentlessly pushes you towards commoditization. If you are a commodity, you lose relevance and profitability. Someone is, effectively, eating your lunch.

If you move from your comfortable, or deteriorating, position towards growth, you face the valley of death as you grow headcount. The task of simplifying as you take on exponential complexity becomes critical to manage as you climb.

It’s a tough world out there. But the game of business growth, while fraught with challenges, can be attained when you know where the pain is coming from. Your leadership and systems become your tools for increasing your rewards.

Are you in a valley of death?

Don’t Limit Yourself

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Too often we are mired in the circumstance we chose thinking we are limited. This is not necessarily so. You can always choose differently, and that is the opportunity to grow and become bigger than your circumstance.

Perhaps you hate your job, your life or even a bad deal you are currently in. The stress of it has you in a vortex of emotions. It can be overwhelming.

But, one of the best strategies is to start moving. Create more options. Become a person that creates again, rather than resigns to what you have. If you hate your job, move to action and find three more gigs that could be more promising.

If you want a more fun life, start looking at new locations.

Creating more options and continuing to move forward is something that is in your control. You are not limited by anything but your choices. Choose differently and make yourself better.

Why I Blog and Share

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First blog post circa 10/15/2005

My first blog post was on October 15, 2005. I was exploring what blogging meant. At that time, the blogosphere was exploding to tens of millions, and I started that humble process of writing and sharing to help my friends and clients with things I was learning.

I used to gift books that I liked when I would meet people. I believed the quote found in that post,

“The only difference from where you are right now, and where you’ll be one year from now, are the books you read and the people you meet.”

Well, it’s been 13 years and about 1,500 posts later and I am in a completely different place because of the books I have read and the people I have met. They are a part of me, and I am grateful.

I wanted to have a place to solidify my thoughts as well as help people that are trying to grow their businesses and improve their lives.

Blogging has been a wonderful, simple medium to focus the strategies, approaches and insights I gained not only from what I have learned, but also from what I have put into practice in the trenches. There are lessons about business, people, strategy and execution I have been able to test and tweak over the years. And those articles simply capture some of those learnings for those that are trying to grow as well.

I consider it a shortcut. You can skip the figuring out part and grab the good stuff.

For me, I can clarify my thinking while sharing.

I do agree that reading blogs is, “The last great online bargain,” as Seth Godin stated. With the Delete Facebook calls and social media fatigue, reading, writing and testing in the real world has fundamental value as we push for what we want in life.

I am grateful there are still simple ways to think, share and reflect on what is happening in this immense world of opportunity. It’s all continual learning and I blog and share to keep on that journey.