In Praise of Laziness

Take-it-EasyThe August 17th issue of The Economist has an article titled “In Praise of Laziness, businesspeople would be better off if they did less and thought more.”

The article starts by sharing some of the top recent business books which tell us to Lean In, Book Yourself Solid, and Never Eat Alone.  I agree with the article… we need less doing and more thinking.  In thinking about my own time management, here are 10 things I do to increase productivity and not waste effort:

  1. Say no.  Whether it’s someone who wants to “talk about partnering” or an invitation for an event I’d rather not attend, I pass.
  2. Focus on results (not activities or perceptions).  In the first decade of the firm, I cared about being early into and late out of the office.  At a board meeting a decade ago, when going through details of what I did the last month, a board member stopped me and said, “I don’t care.  You’re paid for results.  Let’s focus on that.” Fast forward to now, I’m not concerned about perceptions–my mornings are filled with coffee, reading, writing, thinking, and planning before a morning run then heading into work.
  3. Delegate.  Around the same time as the above mentioned board meeting, I attended Dale Carnegie’s Leadership Training for Managers.  It broke leadership down into seven major things… one of which was delegation.  Today, when new stuff pops up that could fall in my lap, I look to delegate or… question whether it needs to be done at all.
  4. Trust.  As a leader, it’s imperative to trust my leaders and everyone in the firm.  Per #2 above, I focus on results and don’t care about when or where work gets done.
  5. Communicate.  To be clear on expectations, I meet on Mondays with my leaders for 1-on-1’s.  To stay on the same page as a team, we finish our days with an end of day management huddle.
  6. Think.  In my book, Building a Winning Business, I share there aren’t college courses on thinking.  Yet, it’s done constantly.  Before jumping into any activity, I take time to identify the best way to tackle.
  7. Plan.  There’s wisdom to the adage, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” Simple things like setting advanced reminders for important things that can be booked or done ahead of time, save time, stop fire drills, and reduce stress.
  8. Focus on the future.  In The Economist article, it shares how Jack Welch of GE would spend an hour a day “looking out the window of time” and Bill Gates would set aside two “think weeks” per year.  If these crazily successful people can commit time to think about the future, “Why can’t I?”
  9. Goal set.  In Alice in Wonderland, she’s told “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” For the different areas of my life–health, family, friends, finances, career, spirituality, philanthropy, etc.–I’ve made a clear list of objective, measureable goals.  I use these to guide decisions about how to spend my time.
  10. Manage time vs. being managed by it.  An early mentor, told me about the tyranny of the urgent.  He said if I wasn’t proactive and preventative, my days would be managed by urgent, most likely non-important things, vs. important non-urgent things.  This is spot on with the advice of Ivy Lee to Bethlehem Steel.

The Economist article finishes by saying, “… Doing nothing may be going too far… But there is certainly a case for doing a lot less—for rationing e-mail, cutting back on meetings and getting rid of a few overzealous bosses.” The of the article in The Economist and title of this post were meant to be eye-catching.  When it comes to work, I think about a quote from one of my favorite, “old school” business thought leaders, Earl Nightingale.  He said “We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.”

8 Secrets of Success

This Ted Talk is by Richard St. John. It’s based on seven years of research and 500 interviews.  Through these interviews, he summarizes the eight “secrets” successful people have in common:

  1. Passion… If you do it because you love it, the money will follow
  2. Work… Work hard because it’s fun
  3. Good… Get good at what you do thru practice, practice, practice
  4. Focus… Focus on one thing
  5. Push… Push yourself thru limits like shyness and self-doubt
  6. Serve… Serve others
  7. Ideas… Listen, observe, be curious, problem solve, and make connections
  8. Persistence… Be persistent and get over CRAP (Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Pressure)

Embrace Limitations for Better Solutions

Thanks to my sister for getting me hooked back onto Ted Talks.  This 10 minute video by Phil Hansen “Embrace the Shake” demonstrates how limitations create better solutions.

Happy Father’s Day

Tom with his mom and dad

Tom with his mom and dad

A couple of years ago, I wrote “Lessons from My Father” for  Octane, The Entrepreneur’s Organization Magazine.  While some of you may have seen this before, below is a copy…

Lessons from My Father

For many, Father’s Day is a holiday of the worst possible definition: a phony event designed to sell cards and neck ties.

For me, though, this Father’s Day has special poignancy: It’s the first time I’ll be celebrating as a dad myself, and the first time that I won’t be able to tell my own dad how much he means to me.

My father, Theodore, died last year in a farming accident. It was a terrible shock, to say the least, and it put my life in perspective. In the months since, I find myself remembering all the things he taught me; lessons that I want to teach Theodore, my young son.

In 2001, a local newspaper published an article about how my company, Intertech, was named one of the 500 fastest growing firms in the nation. In the article, I credited some of my success to simple lessons that my dad taught me. Now I realize that my dad taught me so much more, and those lessons have been critical to my company’s ongoing success.

“Tell the truth and you’ll only have one story to remember” was one of his favorite sayings. After being in business for 20 years, I have repeatedly experienced the merit of my dad’s wisdom. Recently, an important client of ours hired a CIO who turned out to be a dishonest bully. He hoped posturing, changing his story and saying whatever would resonate with me would make me complicit with his deceit. It didn’t. The company fired him, but Intertech is still engaged.

This particular experience taught me that while it’s easy to encourage others to tell the truth, it’s harder to create an environment where truth–telling feels safe. To create an atmosphere of honesty, I’ve learned to support people when they fail. I also encourage my managers to tell those people who make mistakes that they’re OK. I’ll never forget how grateful I was when my dad did that for me.

“If you do nothing, you won’t make any mistakes” were his first words after I accidently sheared the axle on his truck when I was a teenager. After reminding me that only those who do nothing are perfect, he said, “Now let’s go take a look at the truck.” No shaming reprimand; just a straightforward focus on solutions. When mistakes happen in my business, I acknowledge it, learn from it and move on to the next step. At the end of the day, the mistakes are what make us great.

“If someone does something you don’t agree with, tell him directly” was another belief my dad modeled. He wasn’t confrontational, but he did speak his mind if he disagreed or had something corrective to say. When I asked him if this was hard to do, he would just shrug his shoulders and say, “I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.” I was able to apply this lesson when a valued business partner of mine messed up. We talked through the issue and he realized that, while I recognized his mistake, I was more concerned about the future of our company and his role in helping us move forward. I’m happy to say that he’s still with us today.

While popularity wasn’t his goal, my dad was beloved by many. At his funeral, many people recalled stories of how he turned their lives around or did good work. It made me realize that sharing sincere praise is precious. This is something I have institutionalized within my company with a program that encourages employees to nominate each other for demonstrating our company values. Sometimes as leaders we get so busy that we don’t give people the acknowledgement they need to excel. At the end of the day, awareness begets success.

My dad was a modest farmer, but he left a rich legacy of integrity, authenticity and kindness. His wisdom has helped me grow as a business owner and father. I only hope I can be at least half as effective in passing that legacy on to his namesake.

Happy Mother’s Day – A 75 Year Study on the Impact of Moms

Tom with his mom and dad

Tom with his mom and dad

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 12.

Whether your a son or a mom to a son, there’s a fascinating piece in this month’s issue of The Atlantic that describes some surprising results from one of the longest running longitudinal studies of human development.

The project, which began in 1938, has followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years, “measuring an astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and personal traits—from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships—in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.”

Turns out that our relationships with our mothers matter – a lot! Specifically:

  • “Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.”
  • “Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.”
  • “Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with success at work.”

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and my wife!