Do You Have a To-Don’t List?

An executive acquaintance of mine was just promoted to a C-Suite role, a significant promotion. While she is excited, she has not yet found a replacement for her previous position. In the meantime, she is doing both jobs. When I asked her how it was going, she responded, “just trying to get it all done, without dropping any balls.”

This conversation reminded me of one I had with one of my clients who was lamenting the challenges one of his executives has with burnout. In this case, the CEO said, “I wish this executive would learn to drop some balls, his effort to get everything done is what is causing his burnout”!

For those of us who want to dot every I and cross every T (I admit I am one of them), the ‘to-do list’ can seem endless. This wise CEO’s response “go ahead, drop some balls”; just choose the ones you will drop.

What if instead of starting each day with a to-do list, we also created, in the words of Tom Peters, a “to-don’t list”? Here are some examples to get you started:

  • What if you reviewed your email once or twice daily and let everyone know that is your plan?
  • What if you paused and asked yourself, does this email, call, text, or inquiry require a response?
  • What if you paused before saying “yes”?

 For more on this topic, check out Dan Pink’s Pinkcast 1.16. 

What Is Your Personal Strategic Plan?

September is the time of the year most companies begin their strategic planning process. But what about your personal strategic plan?

As part of my You Pivot™ Program, I suggest that my clients write a personal strategic plan. And I further recommend that they apply the techniques they have learned from business planning to this personal plan; frankly, most find it challenging. 

Business people are comfortable with and adept at business planning but rarely do these same executives choose to define their mission, vision, and strategic plan for their lives.

If you want to give it a try this year, here is a suggested approach:

  • Begin with your mission, your personal Why? Listen to Simon Sinek discuss finding your Why here
  • Then spend some time getting clear on What Matters to You, what really matters. 
  • As you reflect on your personal Why and your What Matters together, you should be able to craft your life vision. 
  • Finally, begin to draft your strategic plan, the actions you want to start, stop or continue so that you can achieve your life vision. 

Same, same, but different from your business plan. 

These Are The Best of Times…

Charles Dickens said, “these are the best of times; these are the worst of times.”  

How can it be both?

One way to interpret this is to say that it depends on who you are and what your life experiences are.  For some, the past held the best of times, and the present holds the worst. 

And for the pragmatists amongst us, admittedly, I am one, the present is where we live. Therefore, by definition, regardless of who we are, the present is both the best and the worst of times. 

At this point, if you haven’t already quit reading, you are probably asking yourself, “what is she even talking about?”

Earlier this week, I was in conversation with a friend and fellow coach about the attraction many people have toward attending their high school reunions. These reunions allow the attendees to revisit the past, thus providing perspective on both the past and the present. Yet, some of us have never attended, or if we have, we didn’t find it to be the magical experience that it was for others.

As we discussed this more, I remembered my mother’s choice when my father died. He was the love of her life, yet she put away all her photos of him. If my sister hadn’t rescued the albums, they would be gone. 

One reaction to this story is, OMG, how could she? Another is perhaps it was too painful for her to look at him. And a third is she was someone who chose to live in the present; the past was, well, the past. 

  • What is the difference between these perspectives? 
  • Does the question of whether these are the best of times or the worst factor into the difference?
  • Is it a function of our life experience, or is it a function of our philosophical view of the world? 

Who Gets to Decide?

Just about every leadership book and every leadership speaker talks about the importance of allowing people to fail. The concept is delegation does not occur unless and until I enable people to make their own decisions, take their own risks, and succeed or fail on their own.

Easy to say, hard to do, on so many levels. Some of the common questions are:

  • How much risk should I allow them to take?
  • What if I am certain they are making the wrong decision, a decision that will cost me money, put the company at risk, put the person at risk? How can I look away and allow the failure to occur?
  • How many failures are okay?

Lately, I have come to realize this question, who gets to decide, also applies to our personal lives. The following stories brought this realization home to me.

A friend’s teenage son is more focused on sports than on his homework, a familiar story. Mom says, “we have to make him do his homework.” Thus ensues a fight between mom and son. Dad says, “let him suffer the consequences if he chooses not to do his homework.” 

Who gets to decide? Who is “right”?

The 89-year-old father of a friend has cancer. His actions indicate he is confused about what he wants. He says he is willing to get treatment but misses his treatment appointments. He lives alone and refuses a live-in caregiver or even a visiting caregiver. Before the cancer diagnosis, he was cognitively in fine shape. Son says, “we have to make him go for his treatments.” Daughter says, “if he wants to be alone, doesn’t attend his appointments, doesn’t return the doctor’s phone calls, it’s his decision to make, not ours.”

Who gets to decide? Who is “right”?

Back to the three questions from the leadership story:

  • How much risk should I allow them to take?
  • What if I am certain they are making the wrong decision, a decision that will cost me money? How can I simply look away and allow the failure to occur?
  • How many failures are okay?

Which choice is the more courageous one? Who gets to decide?

The Maxims of Delphi

Last week I was in Greece, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Delphi. Inscribed, in ancient Greek, at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi are the following “maxims”:

  • Know thyself
  • Nothing in excess
  • Certainty brings ruin

In addition to these three, another 147 Delphi maxims provide a framework for an honest, worthy way of living. These “maxims,” short, pithy statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct, are intended as guidelines and advice, not absolutes, and speak to the following:

  • character
  • worship
  • justice
  • knowledge
  • work
  • finance
  • family

One hundred years later, Confucious teachings were remarkably similar to those found at Delphi. Did Confucious travel to Delphi and copy them down? Doubtful. And, of course, modern religions are also based on these principles.

A few days after visiting Delphi, we visited Akrotiri, where archeologists uncovered a town from the 16th century BC. What was most stunning about this town was the level of sophistication of the inhabitants, including indoor plumbing!

As I left these two historic sites, it occurred to me that the only difference between humans today and in the past, no matter how far back in the past we go, is our technology.  

We have and probably always will strive to understand the motivations of ourselves and others and seek to understand the meaning of life.

Quiet Time, a Luxury or Necessity?

Call it meditation, or simply call it quiet time. Spiritual leaders say taking time to clear the mind is the secret to awareness and peace. For centuries, humans have gone to mediation classes, yogis, ashrams, the Dalai Lama, etc., in search of The Way.

More recently, our physicians have begun to tell us that meditation will lower your blood pressure, protect us from cancer, manage pain, and more. Mayo Clinic’s website contains this article on the health benefits of meditation.

And in this powerful New York Times opinion, the author reminds us our businesses will benefit too. “Creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations, and other forms of mental load. Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.”

Summer is a great time to experience quiet, to test this out and see if perhaps a few moments of quiet each day could add value to our lives.

No One Is Coming

Years ago, a friend said this to me. Her comment profoundly impacted me, and when I recently read this line in a book, I called her. After we talked about our memories of that conversation, she asked me if I would write about it, and I agreed.

No one is coming. What does this even mean? 

The great thing about this comment is that you can interpret it in your way. When I heard it the first time from my friend, the message I heard was that no one would fix this for me, and no one was going to rescue me or the situation. It’s up to me to choose to be a victim or choose to take action.

 I was at a career crossroads. My friend happened to call me one day when I was sitting on my back porch, ruminating. I was frustrated about my situation and wanted it to be different. Until my conversation with her, my focus was on how to change my circumstance. Instead of seeing a bigger picture and possible alternatives, I was narrowly focused on finding a solution to what was.

I shared the story with her, and she shared one of her own, and then she flatly stated, “no one is coming.” At first, I was taken aback by her comment, yet her words caused me to pause and evaluate. After some reflection time, I realized she was right, no one was coming, and it was time for me to choose. 

Embarking on a pivot of my own led to creating The You Pivot™ Program, which enabled me to continue my mission of inspiring others toward action so that they can achieve the results that matter to them. 

P.S. Today, whenever I feel frustrated and powerless in a situation, I remember my friend’s words and remind myself, No one is coming.

Reduce Your Choices

How often do we pause during a day and ask ourselves, “what was my intention today? What did I want to accomplish?” 

  • What if, instead, discipline became a habit? 
  • What if, instead, we gave ourselves fewer choices each day?
  • What if, instead, we prescribed our day such that we spent more time on action and less on deciding?

According to Tony Schwartz, author of Why You Need to Make Your Life More Automatic, “the more conscious willpower we have to exert each day, the less energy we have leftover to resist our brain’s primitive and powerful pull to instant gratification.”  

Conversely, the more of our key behaviors we can put under the automatic and more efficient control of habit — by building something he calls “Energy Rituals” — the more likely we are to accomplish the things that truly matter to us.

And the fewer decisions we have to make, the more likely we are to make better decisions. This sobering story, Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney, drives home both the value and the societal impact of leaders choosing to make fewer choices. 

So how do you get started? Begin by slowing down. Then decide your priorities and make those a daily habit. With the remaining time, reduce your choices. The counterintuitive result is by doing less, we accomplish more. 

Turbulent Times

Once again, the financial markets are adding to the uncertainty as we muddle our way through the third year of COVID. At the same time, we read that retail sales outperformed expectations in January while supply chain challenges continue.

What to do? 

As the adage goes, we can’t control what happens around us; we can only control how we respond. 

While we would like to believe we can separate ourselves from what is happening to us, we know that, at least for most of us, that isn’t so. Losses in our life affect our well-being. And, financial losses, business or personal, can impact our sense of well-being and, therefore, our health.

On the flip side, what about when things are consistently good for an extended period of time? Do we become complacent? Life is good, so why not enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. And, when does enjoyment become an adverse health factor?

One of my clients shared the following story with me. 

Each time his business hits a tough cycle, competitors exit, and his company dips. At the same time, his well-being was impacted, feeling depressed and losing weight, yet he continued to focus on health and fitness. Then the company survives and thrives again with new achievements. 

When things are on an upswing, he begins to relax; life feels good, he feels good. He finds himself eating, traveling, enjoying more, and gaining weight. Again, he is mindful of his behavior and begins to focus on health and hygiene.

My sense is his business recovery consistently outperforms his peers because he continues to take care of his mental and physical hygiene when things look their bleakest and when things look their brightest.

I am grateful to him for reminding me that maintaining our mental and physical health is a balancing act that ebbs and flows and to be mindful of the impact of both ups and downs.

The Ever Elusive Search for Work-Life Balance

For many of us, the holy grail of success is achieving “Work-Life- Balance.” It is a topic of frequent discussion in my coaching sessions and is often first on the list when we start working together.

And yet, despite all the discussions, books, and articles, many of us feel this “balance” eludes us. Perhaps, it is because we see it as an either/or – choosing between work and life to achieve balance?

What if, instead, we saw it, as James Michener did, becoming masters in the art of living.

“Masters in the art of living make little distinction
between their work and their play, their
labor and their leisure, their mind and their
body, their information, and their
recreation, their love, and their religion.
They hardly know which is which.
They simply pursue their vision of excellence at
whatever they do, leaving others to
decide whether they are working or playing.
To them, they are always doing both.”