Escape the Tyranny of Your To-Do List

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by my to-do list. I can end up grinding my teeth thinking about all the meetings, projects, and deadlines piling up on my calendar. That’s when I know it’s time to take a deep breath, calm myself, and affirm, as the Daily Word recently reminded me:

I have all the time I need

to do all that I need to do.

Once I’ve calmed myself, I’m able to reprioritize and see that everything is happening perfectly—on God’s timetable, not my own.

When you’re on a tight schedule, one of the things that can add to that feeling of stress is an interruption: A traffic jam puts you a half-hour behind. An urgent phone call breaks your train of thought. An unexpected visitor interferes with your carefully planned day. But don’t be too quick to look at interruptions as the enemy. Sometimes those unwelcome intrusions are blessings in disguise. For example, there have been times when I’ve gotten bogged down in my writing and an interruption occurs. Surprisingly, when I return to my writing, I find the right words. Neuroscientists call such interruptions “disfluency” and confirm that they can enhance creativity by leading to insights and innovation.

A variation of the interruption is the plan gone awry:  New developments undermine the project you’re working on. The dream job you wanted so badly isn’t offered to you. A layoff derails your carefully planned career. At times like these, it’s wise see if the bad news is, in fact, good news in disguise. An example I often give is when the California wildfires of 2007 burned down our house. At first, that loss seemed devastating. But it led to our moving across the street to the house we’d always dreamed of living in—which was priced lower than the cost to rebuild our old house!

So escape the tyranny of your to-do list and don’t be too discouraged by setbacks. How many successful people do you know who are doing what they thought they’d be doing at the outset of their careers? Often the path to achievement is more like a winding road than a vertical ladder. While focus is a wonderful thing, it’s important that your commitment to a goal doesn’t blind you to the opportunities that a so-called derailment might be presenting to you.

The Glass Is 100% Full

As humans, we often tend to look at the dark side of things. For many of us, the proverbial glass is always half empty.

This is unfortunate because research has shown that what we place our attention on tends to grow stronger in our minds and in our lives—for good or bad.  My daughter-in-law, Madeleine Homan Blanchard, has a master’s of science degree in neuroleadership from Middlesex University. As I’ve learned from Madeleine, studies confirm that your thoughts and experiences actually change the cells and structure of your brain—something scientists call neuroplasticity. If you focus on positive thoughts, your brain will strengthen the electrical pathways related to an optimistic outlook. If you focus on negative thoughts, your brain will become hardwired to pessimism.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying negative situations and working to make them better. The trick is to keep your eye on the positive. No one expressed this better than retired basketball legend Michael Jordan, who said:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Do bad things happen? Of course. But so do good things. This week Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported that 2017 “was probably the very best year in the history of humanity.”  He pointed to statistics that showed a smaller proportion of the world’s population was hungry, impoverished, or illiterate than at any time before. “In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone,” Kristof reported. “After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.”

Take that, gloom-and-doomers!

As a witty T-shirt points out, technically, that proverbial glass of water is always 100% full—half is full of water, half is full of air! So look at the bright side—your brain will thank you for it.

Keep Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio at 4:1 for a Healthy Workplace

I was once talking to a young woman and asked her if she liked her boss.

“She’s okay,” she said. “She seems to think I’m doing a good job.”

“How can you tell?” I asked her.

“Well, she hasn’t yelled at me lately,” she said.

Unfortunately, too many people have bosses like this—they never hear from them unless they do something wrong. That’s too bad. I am a firm believer in not only catching people doing things right, but praising them when they do.

I was involved in a corporate study where criticisms and praisings from managers to direct reports were tabulated and the reactions measured. The study concluded that in a healthy workplace environment there need to be at least four times as many positive interactions as negative ones between manager and direct report—a 4:1 ratio.

When there was one praising for each criticism (1:1), people perceived their relationship with their boss to be negative. When the ratio was changed and there were two praisings to one criticism (2:1), people still saw their manager as being all over them. It wasn’t until there were four praisings to one criticism (4:1) that people responded that they had a good relationship with their boss.

You know that people’s perception of criticism is powerful when it takes four positive comments to balance one negative comment. It’s pretty clear that when a leader doesn’t give a lot of praise, the people who work with them will think of them as negative and unfair. So how can you cultivate that much praise? It’s simple: catch people doing something right and give them a One Minute Praising.

In The New One Minute Manager®, my late friend Spencer Johnson and I wrote about One Minute Praisings. They work best when you follow these steps:

  1. Praise someone as soon as possible after you see praiseworthy behavior or work. Don’t save up compliments—unspoken praise is worthless!
  2. In very specific terms, tell the person what they did right—and be specific.
  3. Tell them how good you feel about what they did right and how it helps others or the organization. In other words, relate their good behavior to the broader picture.
  4. Once you’ve given a praising, pause to let the message sink in and give the person a chance to feel good about what they did.
  5. After a brief pause, let the person know you would like to see more of the same behavior.
  6. Make it clear that you have confidence in them and that you support their success in the organization.

These steps can easily and sincerely be accomplished in a minute. One Minute Praisings have a powerful impact on morale and productivity—and they are a great way to create a consistent 4:1 ratio in your organization!

The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.

Remembering a Friend

Spencer Johnson, M.D., author of Who Moved My Cheese? and my coauthor on The One Minute Manager® and The New One Minute Manager®, died last week from pancreatic cancer.

Together, Spencer and I created the business parable movement. But more important, Spencer was my teacher and friend. He taught me that in writing books, feedback is truly the “breakfast of champions.” As an author or coauthor, you write the first draft. Then you share it with potential readers to get their feedback, rework the manuscript, share it again, rework the manuscript again, etc., until your readers are so excited they start asking  to buy a Xerox copy of the draft. That’s when you know you’ve got a winner.

Spencer impacted millions of lives. I’m going to miss him—and so will everyone else who knew him or read his books.

The San Diego Union-Tribune published a nice article about Spencer after he passed. Read it here.