I wouldn’t mind so much, I generally like mythology, but this particular myth was invented to create a sense of inferiority and that I find annoying.
When you start from a mythological ideal as your goal, you create an endless cycle not meeting the mark, your energy has nowhere productive to be and you begin to complain about how you need to focus on work life balance.
Then the rest of us find you a bit annoying and prone to complaining too much. All this can create an endless cycle of guilt and suffering.
You don’t want or need”balance” in your life. You may, however, be working to much. So lets quit talking about “needing work life balance” and start being honest and talk about how we might have lost control of our priorities and our lives.
Working too much often comes from a manufactured sense of scarcity that we allow ourselves to confuse with truth.
I have two concrete ideas that might be helpful to fixing the reality of being out of control.
Big idea #1
It’s not the amount of work — it’s the type of work as compared to your expectations. It is the ability for you to have a say in what you do and in having the ability to tune the mix to feed your own soul. While this can feel out of your ability to resolve, I encourage you to focus your energy here.
Ask yourself a few key questions
- What do I wish I were doing that I am not? (be specific)
- What am I doing that I wish I were not? (again specific, if you just say working too much you are missing the point here).
Next, spend some more time on what is going well in your life. What are you doing well? What are you accomplishing? Start focusing energy on gratitude and sufficiency. Start realizing that you have a wealth of great things to be proud of in your life. You don’t have a balance problem, you have a full life. Reframe the whole topic with yourself as tuning your time expenditure to help your life be more rich and fulfilling.
Big Idea #2
Small things matter in a big way.
So often people make problems big and then try to make themselves feel better by telling everyone they are going to fix it.
What works better (while being far less glamorous) is breaking big problems into smaller problems and resolving them. Whether that is a huge pile of work that is sucking away all your energy or 50 lbs you are hoping to lose, the same strategy will work. Focus on the smallest component of the problem and fix that, this creates more self control which gives you more confidence which builds into big achievements.
Doing something small might not be charming or glamorous but it will make you feel powerful and in control.
So I leave you with this — you will not ever achieve balance. But you can achieve happiness and you can get back control if you want it.
In the end it’s all about habits.
I am often asked how I manage my email. A few years back, I responded to this query with an internal blog post that I’ve reworked to hopefully help a few of you with your 2013 goals.
It’s important to note that struggling with email is very common. I wouldn’t even suggest that you are not alone, instead I would say you are the new normal if you find email management overwhelming/fatiguing/stressful/painful/etc.
First, lets talk about why to bother
Sure, you can fall behind and wallow, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Fantastic email ability is a level cutter in some organizations. Being able to “keep up” is a critical job skill. Being known as someone who is in control of email, is often important to helping others feel confident in your abilities.
My recommendation is to lean in and think of this as a skill building opportunity, that will help your career.
Next, lets talk about how to seize control
Now that you are convinced that you want to master email and not let it defeat you — what are some tips?
Here are my tips, but I am hopeful that others will comment on this thread and give some of their own.
- I do not personally love the idea of rules and filters — I know people who find them helpful and if you are inclined, I encourage you to look into tools of automation to help you prioritize.
- For me what works is the zero inbox concept — that is to say, that if I have read and/or taken action on an email (or if I don’t need to) then I remove it from my inbox. This is critical to my strategy. I do this with the following approach:
- Have at least one folder for filing — probably best practice is only one, as it’s easier to search that way. If you want to keep it, put it in this folder but get it out of your inbox.
- Only touch an email once — if you can take action, delete, respond or file — immediately do so. The goal is to get it out of the inbox
- If there is an action item associated, try to use your calendar and tasks to schedule the follow up and/or action item due date. This way you can track progress and the deliverable without forgetting but still get the email out of your inbox.
- If at all possible scan and delete — do not spend too much time on any one email – especially if it is not tied to a priority.
- If you are new, and things don’t make sense immediately — get a folder to file away stuff you don’t understand — don’t let it drag down your inbox, as most likely it’s not the most important thing anyway.
- If you are not sure – ask – do not be someone who doesn’t respond b/c you don’t know what is being asked of you — save everyone time and acknowledge the email asking for more info.
- Do not let the volume encourage procrastination — that just doubles down on the backlog — act or decide not to act. Don’t get stuck in-between — you are not only building a skill in reading/scanning email, you are building decisiveness, which is important and powerful.
- Whatever you do — if someone is talking to you — reply! Do not be someone who does not reply – it is bad for your brand for people to wonder if you are able to keep up with your email.
OK– that’s really all I have — the rest is just about doing.
How about you? What tips can you share with your friends on this topic? How do you survive email and still get work done?
I’ve often been asked by close friends and family if I have been on the TED stage. Since I’m always so enthusiastic about my TED experiences and a fully committed TEDster.
Whenever I’m asked this question, I give a version of the same answer, I explain how learning new things is important to my energy, and TED, with it’s commitment to sharing big ideas, fuels my soul. TED is a space where I feel I really belong. I gain so much from this belonging, I am reluctant to trade that experience for one of giving not receiving.
Yes, I’m a real [comfortable in my skin] geek.
and then I got the note from my friend Diane, asking if I could help her co-host TEDxSanJoseCA‘s first TEDxWomen event…
The planned co-host had to leave to care for her ailing mother and could not be at the event.
Next thing I knew, my dear husband went on a recon mission to the dry cleaners to get my red dress, and I said “yes”. I pushed aside the thoughts of fatigue and ill-preparedness and I decided to open up and embrace the opportunity.
The experience was exactly as you would imagine — amazing, inspiring, difficult, complex and wonderful. I was winging it in the most authentic way I knew how, allowing myself to get out of my own head and into the moment.
Ironically, this was not the first opportunity of this kind to come my way this year. I had been asked a few months back to do a keynote for the TechWomen visit to Oracle, a last minute request when the “real” keynote speaker they wanted [Safra Catz] had a conflict.
Again, it was not a convenient time, but I said “yes” and decided to believe that I would not fall flat on my face on stage, but have something to offer the audience that could inspire and help them on their life journey.
Now, since we all know these things come in threes, I look forward to working out what next opportunity will be. I know that I will again push myself to say “yes” and it will be hard and meaningful. It will be about something more important than my own fear or doubt– it will be about someone else who needs me to say “yes”.
It seems that I might have a new reputation as a reliable back up plan. I think I am ready to take that out for a spin and see where it takes me.
Look out 2013, this is going to be a big year!
These are not qualities anyone wants in their life. No one wants to hire, promote or interact with people who have these attributes.
When people come to me looking for coaching and they are angry about some specific outcome in their current career (terrible manager, skipped over for a promotion, under valued, over worked, pick your favorite one — they all apply) I have to tell them I can’t help.
I wont be able to help you achieve your best career outcome, when you are in such a state, as you are not your best self.
To bring about the best career outcomes you need to be your best self. To be your best self you need to project success and optimism. If you want to see a big change and things are at their worst, you must first get over it or you will not be able to invite good things in.
Therefore your first action item is to bring joy and energy back into your life. Take a vacation, get a massage, exercise, volunteer, call your family, give someone a hug, watch Megan Keeley’s video — do whatever it takes, but get your smile back.
I once worked for an organization that often asked us to “expand our capacity” which was a age-old development euphemism, inviting you to work the weekend.
Not at all surprising, that this was also the job where I learned just how poor my own personal productivity could become when I worked around the clock, and didn’t invest any time in planning my work or managing my energy. It’s also the time when I ended up in the ER and getting an MRI to try to figure out why half of my face was going numb (migraines).
I have since come to an entirely different conclusion about time management. I now strongly believe that most time management problems are really symptoms not causes — especially when they are chronic.
Fact: For the vast majority of us, there will always be more work than time.
So in the end, it really isn’t about expanding the hours you work — it is about expanding the quality of the work you do within the hours you should be working. There are two important things you are getting wrong, if you find yourself struggling with time management.
- You are not spending your time on the most important things
- You are not managing your energy properly, to make sure you work on the right things at the right time [for you].
If you deeply understand that you will not get all the work done,you recognize that your most important job is to decide what you will not do. Being realistic and decisive about what you are not doing, is a key to success. Knowing why you are choosing to not work on something and not spending energy stressing about things you are not going to do.
The best way I have found to deciding what I will not do, is to clearly define what my “can’t fail” objectives are. Who are my most important stakeholders, and what are my key success measures for my business. If the work doesn’t fit into that framework it is secondary priority.
The most effective people I know, are those who acknowledge that they can’t do it all and it doesn’t matter. They instead produce results, because they work on the most important tasks for their business. They take the time to plan and organize their work for maximum productivity, and they are unapologetic about what things are not doing.
Don’t make time for everything, instead, do your best work.
First full attribution that I’m really just re-stating Patty’s advice to be more relevant so you should absolutely read that if you haven’t already.
Whatever it is you want. A job, a promotion, a new opportunity, more headcount, travel approval, budget increase, a spiffy new sports car that the spouse can’t seem to appreciate — you will increase your probability of getting it, if you can get out of your own way and quit trying to make it about you.
It needs to be about them.
The harsh reality is no one cares what you want.
The trick to getting what you want, is to do the heavy lifting to connect the dots, to make what they want and what you want the same thing.
If you start the process by explaining to them why they need to care about what you want, you have already stacked the deck against success. The more work you do up front to make it about them, the better chance of success.
What if you don’t know what they want?
I’d suggest that would be the most important gap to fill — as without that you are likely not going to reach the full potential of the relationship.
What if what they want is wrong?
Well I’d suggest you have a lot of work ahead of you, and you had best get started. No one said this was easy.
I think we are all familiar with the importance of deliberate practice to building expertise and becoming your best self.
I often coach people on the importance of discovering what things you should be practicing, especially as it impacts getting to a new career level. One of the most obvious tricks I recommend, is to watch those leaders who are where you want to be, and see what they do that you don’t.
This helps you target the list of what to practice to the outcome you are looking to achieve.
For myself, I have decided to work on velocity and context shifts. Now those who have worked with me, are probably surprised to hear velocity, since this is a strength. But there is a specific kind of velocity that I want to improve (remember we are talking about deliberate practice, not just generic practice). I want to get better at the preparation, delivery and recovery cycles with business and audience context shifts.
Context shifting — between lots of different kinds of business needs, is something I observe those above me doing fairly effortlessly. For me this is a hard. The ability to quickly prepare-act across different contexts is something that I want to improve. My theory is that the regroup/recovery process can be shortened, in a similar fashion to how you can train your body to recover from high impact cardio (or so I’m told, I haven’t done much in the way of cardio lately).
I have observed, that much of what I believe I need today for context switch recovery, is really not what I need but what I enjoy having. I like a lot of time to prepare on different topics (mentally), I like a lot of control on how many different things I need to prepare for in a single day, and how many different points of view I need to be able to comprehend and represent.
I don’t like to mix internal and external audiences without some mental regroup time. This is stuff that defines my comfort zone, and as such it also defines my limitation. My comfort zone is not where I need to be — it is where I am today. In recent months, I have been leveraging opportunities to say yes to things that support this deliberate practice. To push myself into more frequent (and relentless) context switching, and to move past my inherent resistance, to build up this new professional muscle.
What about you? What are you focusing your deliberate practice energy to accomplish? How is that aligned with your career goals?
We hear people talk about this one a lot — about how success is really just evidence of working out what not to do. It really is up to you how long that should take.
If you are an ambitious sort, then you should really strive to get good at failure. Quit trying to avoid failing and start working out how to fail faster.
Fall down, dust off, learn and move forward.
Making mistakes is a sign you are learning. Making epic mistakes can even be a good thing (if they don’t happen at the exclusion of any success). Instead of spending so much energy trying to avoid failure, how about spending a little time working out what you will do when you do fail.
How you will adjust and move forward. It’s a much more productive use of time and it will get you to ultimate success faster.
Safe is a great place to be if you want to stay where you are. It’s comfortable and it’s nice. It rarely moves you forward to your full potential.
- Safe does not teach you new skills.
- Safe does not encourage others to give you new challenges, or see you differently
I’m not suggesting that everyone should move away from safe. I am suggesting that when you choose safe you are making a choice that is away from growth. Quit pretending you are not making that choice and that others are failing to give you chances. If you want new opportunities you must give up the safe and embrace the chance of failure.
Brave is not the absence of fear — brave is being afraid and doing it anyway.
The choice is yours.
My youngest had a unique opportunity to re-define herself a few weeks back. She got a staring role as the troll in her first grade play. She was really good. Not Disney casting call good, but objectively on the high end of the typical first grade performances.
This was a really great moment for our family — not because I want her to be an actress, but because I knew it was important for her to see herself as good at her school.
You see, my youngest has had some struggles in school. Most of her school feedback has been about being disruptive in the classroom and not being able to control her body. She is strong willed, outspoken, expansive in her gestures and, for the most part, lacking in focus.
I have been known to suggest that “maybe she’s a dancer?” on more than one occasion.
Her teacher is amazing, she gave her the role for the express purpose of giving my daughter a moment to shine. Giving her a sense that she is good, not only made her happier during the play, it has helped her be more confident in the classroom.
The need to see yourself achieve, is not a unique concern for first graders, it is critical for everyone. It is our responsibility as leaders and individuals to find our genius and effectively use our gifts. It is not about being great at everything, or even about accepting the job definition that is handed to us, it is about differentiating ourselves in our work with our strengths.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
― Albert Einstein
Genius is everywhere — it just comes in different packages and it is represented with different skills. Often genius can be both a blessing and a liability. When you do not fit in, you can feel like you are failing. In fact, you might actually be failing. Digging deeper on what we are not good at is a recipe for being, at best, average.
Finding our greatness, can give us the energy to improve even in areas that we might otherwise struggle. Quit trying to fit in and start finding out where you can stand out and shine.
What I would like to also point out is that, as a leader, you should make it a priority to mentor others.
Not only because it’s the right thing to do, and the equation breaks down if there are only mentees, but because mentoring makes you a better person.
Mentoring gives you a context and a focus you don’t get otherwise. It moves you outside your direct management/leadership focus and helps you see the world from other perspectives.
If you want to find a mentor for yourself, if you want to be given opportunities, then you should realize that you have an obligation to be mentoring others.
So how do you make this happen? It’s not exactly like there are t-shirts or stickers to advertise. My recommendation is to first make the commitment. Then, make your commitment known, to your team, to your friends and to your boss. Then help make it easy for people to ask.
There you go — you are now a mentor. I look forward to hearing of your progress and how it has changed you.