Are You Wading in the Shallows?

Sorting all your tasks into the categories of Urgent, Urgent and Important, Important etc. can be maddening, time consuming and open to interpretation. Reportedly, this approach is helpful to many who can make many clear distinctions between tasks and act accordingly. But for most of my creatives and inventives, the two bucket approach (deep and shallow) is working better.  According to Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, we can sort our tasks into 2 fairly distinct categories. Deep tasks are those with high-payoff work requiring sustained concentration. Shallow work tasks are the low priority busy work tasks that make us look, but not feel, productive.

When I meet with clients who are short on tangible productivity, we’ll study their to-do lists from the previous week and find that about 80% of what was accomplished was shallow work and 20% was deep work (Pareto lives on!). The idea is to turn that around to 80% deep and 20% shallow. As an entrepreneur, what tasks will yield the most payoff, toward your goal? Those are the deep tasks (researching, planning an important presentation, accounting work etc) that require the most concentration and least distraction. These tasks completed will get you closer to your goal. Shallow work is necessary work, but it is easier, more enjoyable and less important to the bottom line. Because of our weakness with concentration and focus we tend to spend more time in the shallows.

In subsequent blogs I will share my solutions to the concentration and focus problems that keeps us wading in the shallows. But for now, clearly identify your deep and shallow tasks and see where you’ve been spending your time. Next, schedule your days around a core of deep work, with the shallow activities batched into smaller bursts when your energy dips or as a reward for getting the deep work done. If you’re short on time (no kidding!), I highly recommend reading the summary and analysis on Deep Work, for a more “in-depth” understanding.

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Mindful Listening: 5 Steps to a Better Business in 2018

Mindful listening in the workplace saves time and money, improves productivity and creates employee AND customer loyalty. It is one of my four core skills that every founder needs to succeed. The holidays are a perfect time to connect better with your co-workers and customers, so apply any one or all of these mindful listening methods for a more prosperous 2018:

1)  “Set your mind” first thing every morning to focus.

Before you’re flooded with interruptions, set aside the first 5-10 minutes to close your office door, sit quietly with hands resting on your lap and breathe. Attend only to the feeling of deep inhalation and exhalation. When other thoughts creep into your consciousness, acknowledge them, let them pass for now and get back to the breath. Settle down the internal noise. After about 15 settling breaths, keep your eyes closed for the last couple minutes, and imagine the day as you would like to see it unfold. What, if you could accomplish it, would make you feel satisfied with your day?

2)  Create a ‘listening culture’ in house

Offer employees a Monday morning 8:00 a.m. bagel hour as a connecting, brainstorming new ideas and solutions without fear of reprisal. No idea is crazy. Talking through ideas that appear to be out of the ordinary will stir up the creative juices in team members.  Encourage top levels of management to be present whenever possible. Reinforce each person’s contribution.

3) Tell back what they said.

Paraphrasing is an old active listening technique, but we’re reluctant to use this powerful tool because we’re not good at it. Paraphrasing or telling back what someone said, in your own words, offers your speaker opportunities for clarification. It also saves you and your customer a lot of time, because with paraphrasing you get the message straight from the get-go.  On your way to work, get practice at telling back in your own words what you hear. Listen to a podcast. After about 5-10 minutes, pause the podcast and tell back ALOUD what you remember as much as possible. With practice, you’ll be able to WOW your customers with your conscientiousness, concern and efficiency, which is what customers LOVE. Paraphrasing aloud or silently to yourself during your practice helps to burn in information you want to remember – you’ll be smarter for it!

4) Don’t deny a complaint.

When customers complain, try to hear it as code for I’d really like to continue to do business with you. But, here’s a problem I’m having that can only make your company better. Complaining customers are a key component to your marketing department. This is where paraphrasing comes in handy. You don’t have to agree with them to be a good listener, but you do need to appreciate their reality.

5) Get them talking. Forget yourself!

Just like at the movies, forget yourself. To get customers and co-workers talking, ask open-ended questions like, “What are your objectives?” or “How could we do better for you?”  Allow the speaker to pause between thoughts. Let your curiosity take over your tendency to interrupt, give advice, judge their statements. Let their facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice tell you how they really feel about the product or service. You won’t learn anything from hearing your own movie again and again. Read more about the movie mindset in my book “The Zen of Listening.”  

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Creativity Cautions

As an entrepreneur, I bet dollars to donuts that you love to engage in other creative endeavors well beyond your startup. Creativity is our lifeblood, but if not controlled, it can interfere, deter or sabotage your startup’s velocity. If you look back at my previous blog, A Morning Ritual, Not A Morning Retreat, it points out how an over-the-top morning ritual saps energy and adds more distraction. Instead of a morning ritual being a mind and body warm-up for a day of exceptional productivity, many of my clients, uberly creative, report indulging too much time and energy in their morning rituals. They are told, in addition to working out, to meditate, journal, drink their over-priced energy drinks and resist their email, and act on their creative yah-yahs before getting to work. Well, let’s get real here. We know how jump-starting those creative juices first thing in the morning may help one solve problems in their business or see things from another angle. But if you find that acting on your muse as part of your morning ritual a bit too musifying, here’s what you can do.

Creative activity can seep into your morning and bleed into your objectives for the day no matter how good of a time manager you are. Set an alarm for 30 minutes, an hour or reasonable time slot for creative flow. I rarely boast, but when it comes to managing my time, I’m awesome. HOWEVER, when I sit down to practice piano I tend to lose track of time; I require occasional clock checks to stay on schedule.

Creative endeavors tend to be so fun and joyful, that when it’s time to shift to work mode, it can take the smile out of “file” and the grin out of “call in” and the smirk out of “paperwork.” The to–do’s we avoid end up looking worse in comparison to our hobbies.

Don’t give your hobby a bad name. Try making your creative activity a reward for getting important tasks completed, either from the previous day or for an end-of-the-day incentive. Instead of hiding from your to-do’s, you’ll eagerly cross them off the list as quickly and efficiently as possible because your creative endeavor awaits!  Using creative activity as a reward versus a distraction streamlines the transition from the creative activity to the to-do’s. You’ll relish your creative activity so much more if you earn it!

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Add a Little Stoicism to Your Startup

 

 

 

 

As a kid, going to the library for me was like going to a candy store. I never knew what yummy books and magazines I would find to devour; I rarely left empty-handed. Now, as an adult, with less time to read and more clients to help, most of my reading material is related to learning more about the brain and behavior. (When I retire, IF I DO, I’ll go back to picking up books on marine archeology and UFOs)!

As an adult, my trips to the library are just as adventurous, but more of a gamble, in that only about 6 out of 10 visits I’ll find something really helpful. However, 1 out of 10 times I‘ll leave with something life-changing for myself and for those I coach. A recent example of a 1 out of 10 moment was when I got to the “new books” table (it’s hilarious how my heart rate picks up when I approach this table− I’ve actually measured it!) and noticed a book on the philosophy of Stoicism, called “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. Despite my previous study of existentialism and Buddhism, I had never given Stoicism much thought until that day.

As I read about this 3rd century philosophy and all the famous people who subscribed to Stoicism from George Washington to the New England Patriots coaching staff, I was stunned to see how dead-on-the-mark applicable it was to two of my favorite topics− communication and entrepreneurship. Before you start rolling your eyes thinking that “Stoicism” is about living life with a stiff upper lip towards life, it is not like that. It is, as Epictetus (A.D. 50 – 135) put it, about how “to use our reason to choose how we categorize, respond and reorient ourselves to external events.”  What a better way to prepare a founder to weather the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. In future blogs, and as I learn more about this very inspiriting philosophy, I will occasionally sprinkle in helpful pearls of Stoic wisdom to add to your success as a person and as an entrepreneur.

To learn more about my CollegeCore and CoreFour Coaching for Entrepreneurs, see  www.MindfulCommunication.com

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Time and Energy Wasters – Stop the Madness!

#1 Redundancy – how many lists and calendars have you?  I had to write this blog today after a new client came in with 4 calendar books and 3 GAGS (my acronym for Gimmicks, Apps and Gadgets) to manage his schedule. Folks- Less is More!  He was taking a couple hours each day ( Holy Cow!!) filling them all in, adding fancy color coding, cross-checking and looking for them.  Consolidate your life into one week-at-a-glance calendar book and one to-do list, and  THAT’S IT! There are many enticing and expensive agenda books out there, the more expensive they are, the more fun they are and the more time you’ll waste filling them out versus doing the work you need to get done. You are fooling yourself into being “busy” in this way.

#2  Perfection is the enemy of “good enough and on time.”

Try to get to the bottom on your “perfectionism.” Are you anxious about the quality of the deliverable, worried that it will not meet acceptable standards – then what can you do about it? Perhaps your perfectionism is really procrastination?  Ask me about my invincible 80/20 approach to procrastination.

#3 Are you allowing the 50-60 interruptions a day that are robbing you of time and money? How often do you:

  • check your phone?
  • take unscreened incoming phone calls?
  • sneak in a podcast or video game?
  • shop online (Gotta have that new GAG or self help book today? Really? You know when it arrives it will either sit in a pile of others you thought would change your life, or take up valuable work time)?
  • accept the drop-in office “Do you have a sec?” visits

STOP the Madness today!

 

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Say No to This

If you saw the Broadway musical Hamilton, you are familiar with  “Say No to This the song Hamilton sings when he’s tempted to cheat on his wife. If you want to capture this refrain for the purposes of resisting the temptation to do things NOT on your to-do list, check it out here. It’s one of those catchy rap tunes you can’t forget, and one that can guide you towards a productive versus the self-sabotaging path that contributed to Hamilton’s downfall.

Another good reason for knowing when to say NO and being able to say NO, is that it frees you up for saying YES to activities that more directly contribute to your company’s success and your personal well-being. We learn to say “no” so we can say “yes” to:

  • business opportunities that hold great potential
  • setting aside quality time with your family
  • carving out time to listen to team members and customers
  • regular exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep.

Say NO much of the time, so you can say YES more often.

 

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Mindful Listening: 5 Steps to a Better Business

Mindful listening in the workplace saves time and money, improves productivity and creates employee AND customer loyalty. It is one of my Core Four skills and routines that every founder needs to succeed. Here are five ways you can start to benefit from the mindful listening mindset today:

1)  “Set your mind” first thing every morning.

Before you’re flooded with interruptions, set aside the first 5-10 minutes to close your office door, sit quietly with hands resting on your lap and breathe. Attend only to the feeling of deep inhalation and exhalation. When other thoughts creep into your mind, notice them, let them pass and get back to the breath. Settle down the internal noise. After about 15 settling breaths, keep your eyes closed for the last couple minutes, and imagine the day as you would like to see it unfold. Resolve to give your personal soap operas a back seat for the next 8 hours. Ponder the notion that what will make your day today is the ROI derived from giving employees and customers what they REALLY want – appreciation and respect.

2) Create a ‘listening culture’ in house

Offer employees a Monday morning bagel hour, an 8:00 a.m. huddle to get to know each other, to brainstorm new ideas and solutions without fear of reprisal. No idea is crazy. In fact, talking through ideas that appear to be out of the ordinary will stir up the creative juices in team members.  Encourage top levels of management to be present whenever possible. Reinforce each person’s contribution.

3) Tell back what they said.

Paraphrasing, or telling back what someone said is a powerful tool. People are reluctant to “tell back” because we’re not good at it. Paraphrasing or telling back what someone said, in your own words, offers your speaker opportunities for clarification. It also saves you and your customer a lot of time, because with paraphrasing you get the message straight from the get-go. Practice paraphrasing on your way to work. Listen to a podcast. After about 5-10 minutes, pause the podcast and tell back ALOUD what you remember as much as possible. With practice, you’ll be able to WOW your customers with your conscientiousness, concern and efficiency, which is what customers LOVE. Paraphrasing aloud, or silently to yourself during your practice, helps to burn in information you want to remember – you’ll be smarter for it!

4) Don’t deny a complaint.

When customers complain, try to hear it as I’d really like to continue to do business with you. But, here’s a problem that I’m having that can only make your company better. Complaining customers are a key components to your marketing department. This is where paraphrasing can come in handy. You don’t have to agree with them to be a good listener, but you do need to appreciate their reality.

5) Get them talking. Forget yourself!

Just like at the movies, forget yourself. To get people talking, ask open-ended questions like, “What are your objectives?” or “How could we do better for you?”  Allow the speaker to pause between thoughts. Let your curiosity take over your tendency to give advice, judge their statements or interrupt. Let their facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice tell you how they really feel about the product or service. You won’t learn anything from hearing your own movie again and again. Read more about the movie mindset in my book “The Zen of Listening.”  

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Founders Fess-up

Hello again future founders! This problem has come up a fair amount lately in my group discussions with investors, so I wanted to re-visit it for you. Be mindful of your past and present activities and “clean up your act” if you need to.  Investors, when meeting new founders, are getting over things like casual dress, lackluster personalities and the fact that you may not have finished college. But one thing that will most certainly deter an angel’s buy-in is your record, your reputation and online behavior.

Here’s an example. A rather large company recently invested millions in a founder (to protect the not-so innocent, we’ll call him “Leon”), with a flawless presentation and a stellar team behind him. The company’s due diligence was spotty at best. Once they started dishing out the money to Leon’s group, who had reportedly been “living on canned soup to get the business off the ground,” Leon went out and bought a top of the line BMW M6 G-Power Typhoon, got high on cocaine, which apparently had been his habit for the last 10 years, had an accident and was unable to get back to work for several weeks. Stunned with this out-of-character behavior, the company, on the verge of another infusion of cash, probed deeper into Leon’s background and discovered previous skirmishes with the law and some raunchy activity for which he had used an alias. The investors got nervous and cancelled the contract.

Even before a business has a chance to succeed, a startup can be sabotaged by the founder in many ways, and this is one of those ways. Most investors and large companies will do a thorough character investigation before handing over a check. Seasoned investors, as most are highly intuitive, can often smell something fishy from the start. They will want to explore your work, medical and marriage history, past tweets and posts, your Facebook page, run-ins with the law, bad debt, and remarks of former partners and the rants of disgruntled customers.  If their findings are unfavorable, you may be cast as unreliable, untrustworthy, and incompetent. Be mindful of the behaviors, past and present that could de-rail your great idea. However, if a founder can admit these transgressions from the start and demonstrate sincere efforts to change, investors may be more forgiving. Nobody is perfect.

 

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Be Your Own Uncle Bob

Every day I put aside about an hour to follow various productivity gurus. I look for the golden nuggets that can help my free agent clients succeed. Most of the advice is quite good for the average person, but a good deal of is not helpful for those whose brains are wired differently. Lately, I ran across a tip that I totally disagree with for any brain. The tip was to get mad at yourself for not doing something you should have done. With all due respect, this is really bad advice, particularly for those who already feel guilty about slacking off.

Negative self-talk abounds compared to the kind of talk we need to hear to get us moving. Is there a psychologist anywhere who thinks that berating ourselves is the catalyst for taking action and sustaining a desired behavior? If so, please set me straight.

Have you ever known a golfer who, furious with a bad shot, threw his 9 iron across the green, called himself every name in the book and proceeded to shoot a perfect hole in one? No, because it takes the brain many minutes and sometimes hours to recover focus from that kind of self- flagellation.

Instead, let’s bring out the mentor in ourselves. Perhaps you had a supportive big brother or an Uncle Bob who pointed out when you were doing wrong and when you were doing right. Talking to yourself in this way, aloud, using your name (which by the way is much more powerful than not) is a more positive mobilizer than adding more shame to the mix.  We all disappoint ourselves from time to time, but let’s admit those transgressions then move like Jagger to problem solving mode.

For those that want an example, here it is.  Max looks at his watch and says, “Max, you forgot about your plan to get an hour’s worth in before checking your email this morning.  Now you know why you are running behind schedule. It doesn’t feel good. Therefore, Max, before checking your email again this afternoon put a post-it on your laptop as a reminder to address at least two items on your list before re-checking email. If you can get that done Max, enjoy reading your email at 4:00 with a tall Starbuck’s – you’ll deserve it. Love that Uncle Bob − a tough guy with a soft heart!

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That Elusive Present Moment

When I started meditating in college back in the late 70’s, nobody ever mentioned “staying in the present.” I assume that’s what the mantra was for. Now, the emphasis is all on “staying in the present moment.” I totally get the idea – it’s pointless to bash yourself over old stupid mistakes or worry about the future. But when we’re told to steer clear of the past and future, like the pink gorilla we should ignore, it only further exposes our pitiful ability at self-control. My clients get very uptight about trying to “stay in the present tense,” and for good reason…it doesn’t last that long. Even thought all the mindfulness gurus will come down on me for this, I tell my clients to forget about trying to “stay in the present.”  Here’s why…

Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest moralists in modern times said it perfectly. He wrote, “…almost all that we can be said to enjoy is past or future; the present is in perpetual motion, leaves us as soon as it arrives, ceases to be present before its presence is well-perceived, and is only known to have existed by the efforts which it leaves behind.”

So, I suggest we stop struggling to stay in the moment (just about impossible) and grasping for “the present.” Instead, wrap yourself around the task at hand, give it all your thought and concentration, especially if it’s an odious task, and hope it will be over with…now.

 

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