Responsiveness

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I left a message for a company yesterday again. They have still not called me back. I am thinking about moving on. Too bad. There’s a lot of business that could come their way. I tend to be a loyal person to the things I like.

In this instant, 24/7 world, there is this illusion that we can always obtain world-class service. That’s not true. I think we want it. But then we end up with a phone tree, wait times and no follow-through.

Business is still people. And people are hard to move towards responsiveness without leadership.

I still smile when I call my accounting software, FreshBooks, for support. Two rings into the call and I get a live person! It’s impressive. I love their responsiveness, and I tell my clients and friends about them every chance I get. They are part of my team, and I’m a fan.

There are a few other partners that have also set up their business around responsiveness. It keeps me delighted, and I stick with those partners. I trust them.

Maybe it’s my own need for quality. I practice mise en place. I believe in being responsive and love delighting people with a high level of service and care. That’s how I see it. Good business is about truly caring about another person and helping them get what they are looking for fast.

I don’t think that it’s a lot to ask. And I do believe most customers are looking for care and responsiveness. You don’t have to go far to hear the complaints of bad service or sloppy follow-up.

Can you imagine if your brand stood out because of your responsiveness? If you are constantly in a crisis or tripping over your own clutter and disarray, forget it. You won’t make it happen. You don’t care enough.

But, if you want to stand out, I bet opportunities and attraction make their way to your doorstep from a habit and setup of being responsive in all your dealings.

How can you make responsiveness part of your way of doing business?

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.

The More You Know, The Less You Need

more you know the less you need

“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.

Routine Sets You Free

routines set you free
“Routine sets you free.” ~ Verne Harnish

Your routines set you up for performance, creativity and peace of mind. We have this long road ahead to accomplish projects that matter day in and day out. And if we simply go with the randomness and urgencies of the day, we don’t win the long game. We are at the mercy of many things that simply do not contribute to our bigger goals.

That is why routine is a powerful way to overcome the traps of those temptations that would pull on our energy and attention.

If you depend on will power to help you do what you want to do, then I think you have already lost. I can tell you that will power becomes the red zone for me. I don’t have enough of it to tap into to get the things done I want or resist what I don’t want. And, there’s only a limited supply in a day. It dwindles as the day progresses.

Your productivity and creativity are scarce resources that run out and in knowledge work, we have to be excellent managers of these limited resources if we want achievement. I think from conversations with clients, being overwhelmed and constantly spun around the relentless demands of work gets them off course. Routine helps to set up habits that move what is important further along.

Habits are powerful to keep momentum going. My own habits include reading, writing, hiking, prayer, taking vitamins, saying a kind word and sleeping enough. I also do simple things like morning showers, push-ups and sit-ups. It’s remarkable how these simple routines point me towards execution each and every day.

You can even use an app like Streaks to set up and keep a habit going. If you wanted to run a race, simply set it up and don’t miss a day. The same goes for building a family culture or writing a book. Our brains are wired for habits and this can create the routines you need to move the ball.

Don’t rely on will power, emotion or hype. They are short-lived. The long game requires something more forceful and consistent. Routines set you free.

Doing What You Want to Do

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There’s a big consequence for winging it. If you allow your days to be dictated by the demands of others or the urgencies that days tend to push on us, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do the things that you want or matter to you.

Furthermore, your own energy levels and resistance to work on the important parts of your life take a backseat.

Living intentionally with conviction takes focus because everything is working against you. Your brain and emotions are looking for the path of least resistance. And days can bleed into weeks, then into months and then into years without much being accomplished towards your goals.

If you want to do what you want to do, then you must gain conviction. You know what you want. You want it badly.

This can come from setting up a few strategies for yourself:

  • Routines. I have a morning routine. It’s been said, “Routines set you free.” It sets the stage for me to focus on the day ahead and align myself mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually. This is critical to win the day.
  • Ritual. You may know things because you heard them or discussed them. You may know that it’s important to read every day or show gratitude. But the ritual of reviewing why you think this is true pushes it deeper into your convictions. I use Google Keep to collect quotes, articles, rules and important thoughts. Your brain can’t remember everything. But if you have it, keep a list of notes that you review every day. This ritual will help the thoughts you collect become a part of you.
  • Reflection. Think often and regularly about what has been happening around you. Is it what you want? What are the obstacles? What are the opportunities? Taking long walks, sitting quietly in the dark and writing in a journal are different ways I like to reflect. Your brain is a problem solving machine and having time and space to connect the dots furthers your clarity and convictions on what you want and what you are doing in contrast.

Routines, rituals and reflection are powerful tools that work with our natures. If we want to change ourselves and how we approach the craziness of life and the world, these become our anchors for doing what we want to do despite all the forces working against us in a day, externally and internally. It’s how conviction is built.

The Value of Bookends

bookends to support commitments

Starting something means you committed in some way. You gave a, “Yes,” and now you are in. Your new yes is one of the items that are in your life and now demands attention, whether small or large.

The temptation is always there to commit on the front end. A moment of inspiration, someone else’s request or a legitimate priority can solicit that easy response.

Starting a thing is highly asymmetrical compared to ending something. It’s easy to get into something and because of our desire to please others or our inability to decide on a good thing vs. a bad thing. We jump in too easily.

Our bias towards the status quo overwhelms our sense of a good thing vs. an irrelevant thing as well. A commitment may have made sense previously, but today’s priorities and reality have changed. However, we find ourselves with a sunk-cost bias still working on something that doesn’t make sense today compared to a week ago.

This is where having bookends can help, something that holds up and defines your boundaries. On one end, you want to let few, but great, things in. On the other end, you want to cross-off or get rid of commitments that simply don’t make sense.

Letting go is hard for many reasons, largely emotional. But burning out, living with a heavy burden of work or relationships, can be costly. How do you get to your goals if you are holding up many commitments by not having clear bookends? It’s not scalable. You’ll simply keep letting half-hearted things in and not letting go of the things you should.

Bookends work because they are clear and defined. You don’t hold onto some clothes you may wear. You get rid of them and get something you love. The same goes for projects, relationships, business ventures and all the pursuits you have built that are part of your life.

Allowing things to stick around because once upon a time you made a commitment is costly. The best things are subservient to the mediocre.

If you can be discriminate about what comes in and vigilant about getting rid of things that don’t matter, I have no doubt you will live a little lighter and a lot clearer.

Five Email Tips To Use Now

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I think people lament too much about email. The reality is that for many of us, email is our work.

It’s easy. Everyone knows how to manage their own email without learning a new system. It’s how information moves to action.

It’s not going away and my encouragement is that you embrace it and become good at email. Have a growth mindset. Use it effectively so you can improve your results.

Here are a few tips to use immediately within your busy onslaught of a week since it’s always going to be a part of your work and something worth becoming good at:

  1. Summarize meetings: Take your notes and any actions and send a summary email right after your calls or meetings. You now have a record and it’s extremely easy to reference any decisions or actions. No CRM required.
  2. Check your grammar and spelling: We have these tools built in now. A misspelling simply distracts the recipient and lowers your brand in their mind. Show you care and do a quick check before sending.
  3. Use lists: I like numbered lists for any actions or decisions. Make it clear about what happens next. Lead. Clarify. Act.
  4. Get to a ZeroInbox. This is not hard. It’s a habit. Most of what you read is informational. Archive those emails. Move others to a folder that need an action or response.
  5. Be fast. Yes, you can increase your speed. You have to embrace decision making and action. Be a person known for action. The world responds to action. You have to want to be fast and decisive first, however. Hiding or accepting slowness doesn’t cut it in our hyper-competitive world of choices. We can choose to work with people that are efficient too easily, otherwise.

There’s definitely more, but some habits and a commitment to being excellent keeps you in the game, especially in the tool most of us are spending our time in on any given workday.

Do you want to become better with better results in email?

All You Have to Think About

decision making, age of speed, productivity

The next thing. Isn’t that it? It sounds simple. It is simple. But it’s hard. It’s simple and hard.

The ability to be clear about the next thing is not common. Most people you encounter dialogue or procrastinate around decisions and actions that could be made quickly. In other words, there’s not a lot of difference between the decisions and actions taken a few days or weeks from now than right now. And that inaction and indecision does not match today’s reality of speed. If you hold onto information that doesn’t move to the next step, a backlog quickly develops.

Formerly, executives were the ones burdened to be able to make decisions. Now, everyone has to make decisions because work and information flows in a more matrixed, horizontal fashion. You have to be better to be valuable. To be better comes down to your ability to think quickly, clearly and decisively about the next thing.

Remember those word problems we had to solve in school? I was talking with my daughter the other day about how I approached those in grade school, high school and engineering school.

The goal of those word problems is to obfuscate the things that really matter. Most of the words or points in a word problem do not matter. However, there are a few key facts, stats or data points that are extremely relevant. This is how real life and work actually operate in reality. Most of what is coming at you does not matter. Clarity is about recognizing what does matter and solving problems with decisions and actions around those vital few factors that you can identify.

Some people are much better at getting to the next step because they can make meaning from information efficiently. This is a skill you can develop over time by paying attention and trusting yourself. Yes, you can fail at making wrong decisions and actions. But that is part of building the skill. You have to risk being wrong so you can get better at being right.

If you simply punt and allow someone else to make decisions and actions and tell you what to do next, that may alleviate your fear of failure, but you are falling behind from the flow and pace of business.

Practice one thing relentlessly for the next 30 days. Define the next step and move to action quickly. Don’t let things sit or pile up. Get good at this one skill. Your survival and relevance depend on it.