Lessons Learned – #3

Lesson #3 of my top 10 insights this year:

Good Book – On January 1, I committed to read 20 minutes each morning, and my first selection was a mystery filled with deception, war, betrayal and lust. Over the next 242 days, I missed just four, and finished the book on August 31. Reading 1,598 pages plus every footnote – along with the accompanying 579-page commentary – of the Bible is something I always wanted to do. What’s on your ‘need to read’ list for 2012?


Speed Bumps

I read the other day – and if I could remember who penned it, I’d give him/her credit… apologies upfront – that the concept of writer’s block is a myth. After all, the author questioned, “Is there such a thing as plumber’s block?” Seems like a logical point. Other professionals get up every morning, go to work and have to deliver results. What makes writers so special?

However, I can personally attest that there are days – despite intense efforts – words just don’t flow from my mind onto the monitor. That’s probably why I wouldn’t have been a good newspaper columnist, and likely the reason these blog entries only come occasionally. If I had to endure the pressure of writing something intelligent and inspiring every morning (or twice daily, if you’re Seth Godin), I’d be in big trouble.

Of course, I know the reason my ideas don’t flow smoothly like water, and instead drip slowly like syrup. It happens whenever there is something blocking the energy from making it’s way to my fingertips. Usually the inspiration well dries up because of another priority, a distraction or being unclear about the point I intend to make. When that happens it’s important for me to get those roadblocks completely taken care of; that’s the only way to clear the path for creating the next posting or e-newsletter.

So whenever you’re stuck, pause and think about the big humps preventing you from completing what you’re trying to accomplish. Push those out of the way and you’ll unleash the clarity you need to move forward.


Organizing Results

While facilitating a client’s recent executive leadership retreat, one of the attendees asked me: “So how do you stay on top of your priorities and get things done?” Many in the room expressed a similar interest in this topic, and they agreed to start 30 minutes early the next morning to create some extra time for me to share these techniques:

Make a list and check it often – Each Sunday night or first thing Monday morning I rewrite a one-page tracking sheet of everything that’s a major ‘Rock’ priority. This paper sits on the left-hand corner of my desk for the rest of the week, and it’s my way to keep focused on the big picture items that otherwise might be forgotten during the hours of a crowded day. This means the ‘not urgent and important’ quadrant that Covey identified never strays too far out of my mind.

Don’t let e-mail control your life – Once you open your In Box in the morning, you’re no longer in control of your day. So, I spend an hour working on other things before checking e-mail and diving into the fires that come with being a leader. (Note: read my post titled “Setting Priorities” on July 15th for more on this including my “Dr Pepper Approach.”)

Prioritize your piles – My goal is to start and end each day with a clean desk, and I’m probably successful 75 percent of the time. This means staying organized and being efficient. I have two types of current files: ‘clients’ that exist in the desk drawer to my right and ‘events’ that rest on the credenza to my left. I pull out client files the morning of their coaching sessions and place them in order by appointment time. The event files are clear project folders that I implement for all the other things we’re working on in our business. Each day I prioritize these from top to bottom, so I’m always focusing on the most important project first.

In addition to these, I utilize my calendar to block Genius Time for such things as writing this blog or reaching out to prospects. I also prioritize my workday by sequencing ‘these are the things I absolutely have to get done before I go home.’ One mental approach that works for me is to treat every day like it’s the day before I leave on vacation. I find it’s much easier to complete tasks and hit deadlines that way.


Setting Priorities

The legendary French skier Jean Claude Killy once said he starts every morning with a cold shower; that way whatever happens the rest of the day can’t be all that bad. My approach to the day’s first activity is the same philosophy, so I begin weekdays with 15 minutes of stretching and 15 minutes of sit-ups and push-ups. Most of the time this requires a mental struggle to finish – as I continually remind myself, “Everything is going to be a lot better in just a few minutes.”

Whenever clients ask how to better organize their workday I recommend a similar strategy: “Focus on your most challenging project for at least 30 minutes when you first sit down at your desk; then whatever fires come up later seem a lot less daunting.” After a few weeks of adjusting your mindset, of course, this becomes habit and your productivity soars.

One of the key adjustments of this technique is to avoid checking e-mail. While this high-tech world is great, a major drawback is iPhones, Blackberrys and desktops can take over you life. So it’s important to take back some control. My recommendation is to utilize the “Dr Pepper Approach” and check e-mail three times a day. (That’s a reference to their commercials when I was a kid that suggested drinking Dr Pepper at 10, 2 and 4 provided a pick-me-up.)

Simple changes can lead you to big results. Getting more organized and putting first things first doesn’t take a complete overall… just a little tweaking. It’s a lot easier than taking cold showers. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

(Disclaimer: I’m not really a doctor, but that last line – taken from Dr Pepper’s current commercials – was too good to pass up.)


Premature Evaluation

Early this morning the announcement came down that President Obama is the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. He becomes the fourth U.S. president to be honored with this coveted award. The first two – Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 – were well into their two terms in the Oval Office prior to receiving such esteemed recognition. Carter, meanwhile, was removed from the White House more than a quarter of a century before being bestowed for a lifetime of achievement in 2002.

The 2009 prize is for accomplishments prior to February 1st, which means Mr. Obama was inaugurated just 11 days beforehand. Thus, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is honoring what he did prior to becoming Commander-in-Chief. “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” said committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.

It is clear that our dynamic president is a powerful speaker who has the ability to engage a global audience. That’s why stadiums filled to capacity wherever he appeared during the campaign – and why the inauguration events were so must-see-TV. It is my hope his decision-making, policy setting and leadership in the next three years live up to the lofty expectations and suddenly glowing recognition.

As someone who spent 15 years working in and around college and professional sports, I’ve seen up close and personal that games aren’t won in the first half or early innings. Being president is a marathon, not a sprint. There are many miles ahead for Mr. Obama, and he needs to start making moves and executing actual initiatives to help our struggling citizens. Only then will he be worthy of all the overwhelming praise.