25 Jan

Too much information? No. Too little intention.

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To understand how and why we experience information overload we need to recognize that the main reason we collect information is to influence ourselves and others. Not entirely unrelated is the fact that one of the most important factors in attaining happiness is having influence over others. Without it we lose our raison d’être. This is also essentially the driver for technology. Edison and the countless others who pursued the invention of the light bulb, for example, did so not to illuminate dark rooms, but to enable people to do things at night that they could not or could less easily do before. In other words, the interest of the inventor is to change or improve behavior – to influence.

The actual volume of information is completely irrelevant; therefore, complaining that there is too much information, or not being able to find relevant information only serves to underline one’s misconception of information overload. It is not that there is too much information or too much coming at us; instead, it is how we attract and control the information, and ultimately how easily we feel that we can influence others with the use of this information that determines whether we feel overloaded or not.

Whether there are ten billion terabytes of data available to you on Monday, and a billion times that on Tuesday is inconsequential to you as an individual. Trying to categorize things or color code them is far too daunting a task, and profiling (I liked these books, therefore there is a 92% chance that I will like these others) is a step in the right direction, but it is far too flat and one-dimensional to rely upon. For example, I often buy a business books through Amazon, and once I bought some kitchen utensils for my sister, so my recommendations are always about business literature and cooking items – and almost equally so. If you knew me as a person you would see how poorly this kind of profiling addresses my needs because the influencers are monochromatic.

The point is that in our efforts to attract and control information, our focus should be on the customer, whether that is an actual customer, your spouse, your children, friends or whomever you are trying to influence in your life – even yourself. Once you are deliberate and clear in your intention, you will attract the right information and filter out the waste. So rather than focusing on the mechanism (the tool that we think will solve all our problems, the rating system, the color coding, etc.) we need to turn our attention to our intention.

Getting too many e-mails is essentially a problem of filtering (reduction of spam) and magnetism (you attract mails from people because they believe you are either interested in what they have to say) or because you can help them solve their problems (in order to influence others). Once you have a good spam and pseudo-spam filter and have broadcast your intentions clearly, i.e. “I don’t ever respond to Cc: mail”, or clarified your intentions as a company by strengthening core values, much of that noise goes away.  The rest should be handled systematically instead of cherry picking, but that is the story for another day.

The more generalized your attraction to information is (subscribing to blogs, on-line magazines, RSS feeds etc. because you want to stay abreast of current trends), the more diffuse your experience of that information is and the more ambivalent and targeted you become. Likewise, the more precise you are in proactively searching for relevant information based on clear intention, the less you need to reactively filter. It is not a technological problem – it is YOUR problem. Once you recognize that, instead of waiting for the magic tool, you will stop feeling overloaded.

In the end, your intention determines the scope of your war on information overload. Generalists will be deluged with the cacophony of nonformation and expert influencers will not be distracted by the noise. It is a choice, not a tool or technique.

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13 Oct

Why leaders are blind to the most important productivity opportunity of all

by Michael Hoffman

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Email is the leading cause of preventable productivity loss in organizations today.
Forbes Magazine (2008)

Employees spend 1 to 3 or more hours per day managing email at 40-60% of capacity.  That means they typically lose 30-60 minutes PER DAY.   Not some.  All — even the ones who believe they are extremely productive. That means you too.

It goes completely unnoticed because you probably think this is an exaggeration.  It isn’t.  Go ahead and challenge me.

Employees, many of them top managers, lose, forget or simply don’t have time to get to 5-15% or more of their email – a lot of which is highly important.  Many of these mails haven’t even been looked at.

It goes completely unnoticed because it has become status quo.  It shouldn’t because it is ravaging your business.

These otherwise highly productive employees often answer unimportant little task emails rather than pouring their focus into the most important things – systematically.  The idea of applying a methodology to the way people manage email (25-30% or more of their day I remind you) is not even discussed or considered.  Who’s in charge of email productivity in your company?  No one.  It’s not even on the map.

It goes completely unnoticed because you think email is personal and difficult to systemize.  Rubbish.

There is no other single activity in your business that is as poorly regulated and in so much need of improvement than email management, and yet…

…it goes completely unnoticed.

Why isn’t fixing email management a burning platform in your organization?

blogpicYou guessed it.  The problems go completely unnoticed; and for good reason: no one has experienced what it is like to have an entire team of employees:

  • working their inboxes at twice the current velocity;
  • prioritizing and executing what is important and urgent; and
  • having complete visibility control over what is going on at all times of the day. 
  • never late, never missing ANY emails.

Face it, most people probably can’t imagine that this is possible – THAT’s why there is no burning platform.  You simply can’t know what you don’t know or have experienced.  Wilbur and Orville had this same problem.

Click here to read all the comments from cynics like yourself and see the light.


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23 Apr

Most salespeople completely blow their first newbiz meeting – including you

by Michael Hoffman

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You land a meeting with a prospect that you’ve been researching for quite some time.  Then you make the same mistake that most sales people make:  you book an hour-long meeting at her office.

What’s wrong with that?  Plenty.  The chances of converting that meeting into a sale are quite slim at this point.  So let’s look at the math:

Meeting: 1 hour
Travel to and from: 1 hour
Waiting time (you always want to leave a margin for traffic): 15 minutes
Preparation: 30 minutes

You’ve just invested nearly three hours on a meeting that hasn’t yet been properly qualified.  Big mistake.

Not only that, for every meeting you’ve booked you could have probably booked three if you had asked for 15 minutes instead of an hour.

What can you do in 15 minutes? You’d be surprised – but who says it has to remain a 15-minute meeting if you’re both having fun?

 First, let’s look at the typical office visit:

  1. After travel and parking you wait for the prospect, then more waiting.  Even if you politely refuse the coffee in order to not lose more time, she’ll grab a cup.  Fine, you take care of the small chit-chat while you’re walking down that mile-long corridor.
  2. Down to 45 minutes, you get to business.  Introductions, etc.  Finally, you have 30 minutes to do your song and dance.

If you don’t get a second meeting, you’ve just blown about three hours.  Ouch!

Now let’s look at the potential behind 15-minute LeanMeetings® for sales executives

  1. No travel, no coffee, just a quick call to qualify each other.  Both of you agree this is a good idea before blowing an hour with a total stranger.
  2. With only 15 minutes to work with, you dispense with chit-chat and long introductions and get right down to the business of qualifying each other.
  3. If you’re not a good match, you’ve lost 15 minutes (more likely just 10 if you’re good) – not 3 hours!  Think about it: how many of your first face-to-face meetings get to the next level?  If it’s less than 100% then following this LeanMeetings® method is a no-brainer.  Don’t forget that you’re booking three times as many meetings because you’re only asking for 15 minutes.  Who doesn’t have 15 minutes?
  4. Wait, it gets better.  What if it goes well?  The phone call doesn’t have to end after 15 minutes.  You’ve planned 30 minutes in your calendar – and you’ve got to know that she doesn’t have an 11:15 or an 11:45 meeting right?  So you spend the second half of the call planning a “real” meeting with the right stakeholders attending.  In the end, you get the same amount of “quality time” but with less than 20% of the time investment – never mind the gas and parking savings.
  5. Your next meeting (your first live meeting) has the right people around the table so you book 90 minutes – at her suggestion.  Shazam!

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15 Apr

8 strategy questions every CEO should ask

by Jeroen de Flander

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With 300+ likes and 1K shares, the strategy article 8 things every leader should know about strategy somehow struck a nerve. But as many readers pointed out correctly, it’s one thing to know what strategy is all about, but it’s another to get out there and come up with one.

As you will probably agree, there is no magic formula for crafting the perfect strategy. If there was, the business world would look a lot different. But that does not mean there aren’t a few shortcuts that you can take. Here are 8 strategy questions to inspire your strategic thinking.

1. Should I strengthen my current strategy? And if yes, how?

Are you doing ok today? If yes, ask yourself how you can strengthen your existing strategy. Look for ways to improve what you do well already. Think about introducing new technology, features, products or services that leverage other areas in the value chain and fit with the current strategy. In short, build on what you already have.

2. How can I copy with pride?

Copying what others in your industry in your main markets are doing isn’t smart. You will start competing on the same axes and this competition will lead to price erosion. But copying can still pay off big time. The world is a big place and many great companies only operate locally. But in this information era, it’s easy to find them, learn from their success and see if some of their ingredients for success can be copied.

By spending only one evening on the internet, 56 out of the 80 companies that participated in my research found at least one great example in another geographical area that fuelled their strategic-thinking process

3. How can I go beyond product innovation?

Don’t focus only on the product or service – a risk, especially in an engineering environment. There are more things to a value chain then the product itself. The key to a sustainable competitive advantage is that ALL activities are tailored to the value proposition.

4. How can I recapture company heritage?

If your company has been around for some time, it follows that it has been doing something well for at least a certain time period. Finding out what that uniqueness is/was and reapplying it to boost your strategy is an interesting way of fuelling your reflection process about strategy. This doesn’t mean that you have to re-do it in the same way, but an adapted version might be just what you need.

5. How can I take advantage of a crisis?

Take a look at these figures from an article in the Harvard Management Update(Baveja, Ellis, Rigby, March 2008). A study of more than 700 companies over a six-year period found that “Twice as many companies made the leap from laggards to leaders during the last recession (90-91) as during surrounding periods of economic calm”. And most of these changes lasted long after the recession was over − a clear indication that what you do during the crisis determines your position when it’s over. Put differently, what you do during a crisis determines your strategic position once it’s over. So when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And win in the end.

So keep going, even when it’s tough out there.

6. How can I build an execution edge

Strategy Execution provides a competitive edge. A strategy needs to reinvent itself every five to seven years. Execution capabilities last much longer. So it pays off to invest in strategy execution excellence.

7. How can I innovate my business model?

A business model is a fancy word for the combination of choices you have made in your activities – your value chain – to bring your value proposition to life. The concept has been around for a long time, but for some reason, everyone apart from strategy consultants have forgotten about it. A recent book by Alexander Osterwalder in which he puts thinking about business models in an easy-to-use format has been a big hit. If you want to get going, identify activities and ask yourself some questions for each block.

8. How can I create Shared Value?

Sustainability is a hot topic today and I believe it is more than a fad. Shared Value is a new concept that helps strategists to incorporate social value into the strategic positioning of an organisation. And it goes far beyond philanthropy.

Michael Porter’s definition of Shared Value is: “You create shared value by enhancing the competitive position of a company while at the same time advancing the society in which it operates.”

The words ‘at the same time’ are very important. When people look at the relationship between a company and society, they tend to think it’s a zero-sum game, a game with only one winner. The strategy concept of Shared Value looks at the positive sum. It means that certain choices will strengthen the strategic position of the organisation and at the same time offer benefits for society.

It’s your challenge as a strategist to find that sweet spot.

There’s an active discussion on LinkedIn Pulse. You can join it here

Original source: The Performance Factory by Jeroen de Flander

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07 Apr

Guest blog: Training vs. Learning: do you want to train? Or have someone learn?

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenTraining successfully educates only those who are predisposed to the new material. Others may endeavor to learn during class but may not permanently adopt it. The problem isn’t the value of information or the eagerness of the learner: It’s a problem with both the training model itself and the way learners learn. It’s a systems/change problem.

We all operate out of unique, internal systems comprised of mental models (rules, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices, behaviors and habits. Our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems – our beliefs in action, if you will. So as a Buddhist I wouldn’t learn to shoot a gun, but if someone were to try to kill my family I’d shift the hierarchy of my beliefs to put ‘family’ above ‘Buddhist’ and ‘shooting a gun’ might be within the realm of possibility.

Because anything new is a threat to our habitual and carefully (unconsciously) organized internal system (part of our limbic brain), we instinctively defend ourselves against anything ‘foreign’ that might seek to enter. For real change (like learning something new) to occur, our system must buy-in to the new or it will be automatically resisted. It similarly effects selling/buying, coaching/clients, doctors/patients, leaders/followers.

A training program potentially generates obstacles, such as when

  • Learners are happy with their habitual behaviors and don’t seek anything new
  • Fear they might lose their historic competency
  • The new material unconsciously opposes long-held beliefs.

We are programmed to maintain our status quo and resist anything new unless our beliefs/mental models recognize that the new material will align with our status quo regardless of the efficacy of the required change.


The training model assumes that if new material

  • Is recognized as important, rational, and useful
  • Is offered in a logical, informative, interesting way,
  • Allows time for experience and practice

It will become accepted and habituated. But these assumptions are faulty. At an unconscious level, this model attempts to push something foreign into a closed system (our status quo): it might be adopted briefly, but if it opposes our habituated norm, it will show up as a threat and be resisted. This is the same problem faced when sellers attempt to place a new solution, or doctors attempt to change the habits of ill patients. It has little to do with the new, and everything to do with change management.

Truly experiential learning has a higher probability of being adopted because it uses the experience – like walking on coals, doing trust-falls with team members – to shift the underlying beliefs where the change takes place. Until or unless there is a belief change, and the underlying system is ready, willing, and able to adopt the new material into the accepted status quo, the change will not be permanent.

One of the unfortunate assumptions of the training field is that the teach/experience/practice model is effective and if learning doesn’t take place it’s the fault of the learner (much like sellers think the buyer is the problem, coaches thinks clients are the problem, and Listeners think Speakers are the problem). Effective training must change beliefs first.


To avoid resistance and support adoption, training must enable

  1. Buy-in from the belief/system status.
  2. The system to discover its own areas of lack and create an acceptable opening for change before the new material is offered.

I had a problem to resolve when designing my first Buying Facilitation® training program in 1983. Because my content ran counter to an industry norm (sales), I had to help learners overcome a set of standardized beliefs and accepted processes endemic to the field. Learners would have to first recognize that their habitual skills were insufficient and higher success ratios were possible by adding (not necessarily subtracting) new ones. I called my training design Learning Facilitation and have used this model successfully for decades. (See my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: : “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272).

Briefly: Day 1 helps learners recognize the components of their unconscious status quo while identifying skills necessary for greater excellence: specifically, what they do that works and what they do that doesn’t work, and how their current skills match up with their unique definition of excellence within the course parameters. Day 2 enables learners to identify skills that would supplement their current skills to choose excellence at will, and tests for, and manages, acceptance and resistance. Only then do new behaviors get introduced and practiced.

Course material is designed with ‘learning’ in mind (rather than content sharing/behavior change), and looks quite different from conventional training. For example Day 1 uses no desks, no notes, and no lectures. I teach learners how to enlist their unconscious to facilitate buy-in for new material.

Whether it’s my training model or your own, just ask yourself: Do you want to train? Or have someone learn? They are two different activities.


Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and What?. Did you really say what I think I heard? She has developed facilitation material for sales/change management, coaching, and listening. To learn more about her sales, decision making, and change management material, go to www.sharondrewmorgen.com. To learn more about her work on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, go to www.didihearyou.com. Contact Sharon Drew for training, keynotes, or online programs at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. Sharon Drew is currently designing programs for coaches to Find and Keep the Ideal Client, and Lead Facilitation for Lead Generation.

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26 Mar

How my small company cut in half our $3.2 million dollar inbox expense in just 12 minutes!

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greasymOK, I have a small company of only 200 employees, so $3.2 million is nothing. But imagine a company of 2,000 employees that spend 2 hrs. per day on email with an average annual salary of $70,000. That would mean that they spend OVER HALF A MILLION DOLLARS PER DAY managing email.

Since we all know that email is a fact of life (nothing we can just cut out of the budget) I came up with a quick fix in the form of a memo that I sent to everyone in the company with the following 5 suggestions:

  1. Don’t check your mail too often during the day (Just enough so you don’t miss anything).
  2. Respond quickly. (I got this one from Google’s Eric Schmidt – GENIUS! – So don’t pay too much attention to rule 1)
  3. Use the OHIO rule; Only Handle It Once (unless you can’t, so don’t – and most you can’t)
  4. Prioritize your mails before responding, then answer the high priority mails first – remember that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. (I’m sure there is a way to do this in Outlook, just play around with the menus until you get it right)
  5. Don’t Cc: everyone, just the ones who really need the information (But always keep your boss in the loop and maybe a few others.)

So I figure, if a CEO of a 2,000 employee company does what I did, he could save $16,000,000 in just 12 minutes.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. The truth is you CAN double your productivity and cut in half your email management cost. But you CAN’Tdo it with a memo, seminar, workshop, add-in, app, or any of the other methods that you’ve tried. There is only one solution on the market that works for entire populations of employees and it takes a lot more time than 12 minutes to see the results. 10 TIMES That. (Yikes – two hours!)

It takes 10 times more time than a memo, but it’s the only long-term, complete solution for your multi-million dollar black hole you call an inbox.
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21 Oct

To 5S or not to 5S

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I recently took part in a discussion that debated whether 5S is the best way to introduce Lean to an organization.  While this is a common approach because of the quick visual impact that gives a feeling of real accomplishment, Implementing 5S, in my opinion, is not the way to introduce Lean.

Many (most?) companies fail by starting their Lean initiative with 5S.  Even though they achieve stellar results and win the battle, they lose the war because 5S has nothing to do with Lean if it is an island unto itself. 5S is a simple-to-use tool that brings great initial results because it “cleans house”.  However, if the Lean mindset is not established well beforehand at the management level, complacency will set in before the culture is in place to prevent its erosion.  It is simply short-sighted and definitely not having anything to do with the Lean philosophy to run 5S before there is mindset, preparation, and a plan for what to do two, three and ten steps after 5S.

Achieving early success is a key ingredient in developing a commitment to Lean, but without an agreement to sustain the effort it is a cherry lacking the Sundae underneath.  Like most new initiatives, there is a honeymoon period when everyone is blissfully in love with the new concept, but as the enthusiasm wavers support is needed from management to bolster the habit until it is integrated into the DNA of the organization. I can give my kids ice cream to cheer them up and get them to do things, but it’s not a long-term strategy; and Lean is ONLY about long-term strategy.

I’m not knocking 5S. It’s an amazing tool, and fundamental to our own LeanMail training, but it’s just an isolated tool if it is not part of a concrete plan. The idea of being able to start the Lean journey with 5S as a way of getting the attention of management or enticing employees is unrealistic.  If management needs convincing, educate them instead of trying to impress them.  Even if you do impress them unless they are educated about the Lean philosophy, they will not have the rigor to go the distance, and therefore FAIL.

Facilitating your management team in explaining why they are backing Lean and why it is not a new project or new strategy but the new “(put your company here) Way” is a much better way to introduce Lean than 5S.

Giving the impression that Lean is set of tools or techniques is superficial and puts a lot of pressure on teams to show immediate results — or risk the death knell:  “Well maybe Lean doesn’t really work in our company.”

5S is a great starting point once there is an understanding of the vision, but it will never create the vision. If you don’t show people where you’re going, they’ll run around in circles trying to be efficient without being effective; the antithesis of Lean.

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21 Feb

Atrendia Friday Video 23 – A Conference Call in Real Life

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In this YouTube video you’ll relive those agonizing on-line meeting moments that make you want to pull out your hair!  You’ll be jumping up and down shouting: “So true!”.  Share this with colleagues – especially those who need some help in this area.


Although it’s fun to poke fun at this, virtual conference calls are extremely important in our work day and creating best practices for your teams, instead of relying on common sense, has become a necessity. Many novices – and even seasoned professionals are unaware of “best practice” guidelines that can determine the success of conference call.  Something to think about….

Duration: 4:04

Find out more about our Executive Leadership Coaching Program

Click HERE to watch the video.

Happy Friday!

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24 May

Atrendia Friday Video 19 – Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

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Many thanks to our client, Mitch Sowards, from www.entrust.us.com (Managed IT Services in Texas), for providing this Friday’s fabulously entertaining video. 

We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity.

Shawn Achor

Duration: 12:21

Find out more about our Executive Leadership Coaching Program

Click HERE to watch the video.

Happy Friday!

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04 May

Do FIRST the things you MUST do

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You can relieve stress, ensure that you make deadlines, and give yourself a greater sense of control simply by following one general rule: Do the things you absolutely HAVE to do as soon as you can do them.  — Or, put another way: Do first the things you must do.

To achieve the benefits of this rule, you must first identify correctly the things that belong on this list  — distinguish must-do items from anticipatory tasks (more on those shortly). Your must-do items are things that have extreme consequences if you do not do them.

Start, for instance, with things that prevent you from dying or paying taxes.  In other words, the absolutely unavoidable and extremely important tasks like preparing the presentation for next week’s speaking event or examining the financials in order to present them at the board meeting on Friday.  These are the tasks that can make or break you and not having sufficient time to do them properly will severely damage your credibility, so don’t delay.

Then move on to other absolute necessities.  Here are some examples:

  • Email. At least once per day, build in time to prioritize and plan or re-plan email-related tasks. You may not have time to carry out all those tasks, but prioritizing and planning them gives you a sense of the time that will be required.
  • Travel arrangements. When a project requires travel, do all planning and booking as soon as the trip has been finalized.  Get all critical information into your calendar — flight times and flight numbers, hotel address and confirmation number, time and method of getting to the airport, etc.  Assembling all that information early, when you are calm and collected, ensures fewer errors and, most important, gives you early warning of any time constraints that might have caught you by surprise later on, when you could do little to change them.
  • Reports. If you need to send in periodic reports — sales, expenses, or other types of reports — create them as soon as it’s possible to do so. For instance, if you need to collect your receipts and report them every month, do that on the first day of the following month, if possible. Better yet, do them on a weekly basis, so that you build in the habit of spending just 10-15 minutes every Monday, while things are fresh in your memory, instead of staring at a mysterious receipt and trying to remember what you did 25 days ago. Once you’ve identified the earliest possible time to assemble such information, block off time in your calendar or create a recurring task to ensure the early creation of such reports. You’ll find that the closer a report’s creation to the events being reported on, the easier it will be to create that report and the more accurate it will be.
  • Future meetings. Once you’re certain that a particular meeting will take place, do the planning for that meeting as soon as it’s possible to do it. Again, executing early gives you early warning of any trouble that might lie ahead, including unexpected demands on your time.

The greatest benefit from working this way will be the feeling of being on top of, rather than under, the mountain.  It’s a matter of simply changing the order in which you do certain things. You’ll lower your stress and, most important, see how little time you have left for your core business  — which brings us back to anticipatory tasks.

Anticipatory tasks

The reason you want to do your must-do items as soon as possible is because it gives you a much clearer picture of how much time you have for anticipatory tasks (Stephen Covey calls these Quadrant II tasks – a term he borrowed from Dwight Eisenhower).  These are the tasks that prevent fires because you anticipate challenges and proactively stave off emergencies and secure opportunities.  Most of these tasks are operational excellence oriented.  They are about removing waste, reducing defects, speeding up processes and adding value to the customer experience (internal as well as external).

As you can imagine, it is extremely important that you allow time for anticipatory tasks; and it’s not that easy, because the last thing we feel like doing after we have put out the fires is look for more work to do – but that is precisely what is needed.

Quite often we will drop our guard (allow interruptions and do busy work) once we have breathing room, so building in a habit of taking care of one or two anticipatory tasks every time you finish a must-do will not only help you continuously improve your situation, but also alleviate the stress you have about not getting past status quo.

Measuring your progress

I will ask my clients every so often to color code their work in their calendar so that they can differentiate absolute needs, core business and the rest.  Sometimes they are surprised at what they see, in which case we take some decisions in order to correct their time usage.

Imagine if after color-coding your calendar (using categories in Outlook or print out a week-view and highlight your core responsibilities) you found out that you spent less than five hours per week doing what you considered most important.  Measuring your calendar gives you a visual understanding of the truth, which will hopefully help you regulate how many other things you are willing to take on and how many interruptions you are willing to incur.

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