What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?

It’s getting to be about that time when people talk about New Year’s resolutions. What do you want to do differently in 2011? What would you like to be different in your life a year from now?

Just a couple of suggestions on New Year’s Resolutions: Don’t make too many of them. I’ve known some people who say, “This year I’m going to lose weight, exercise more, stop drinking, cut down on the amount of meat I eat,” and so forth, and they don’t even want to get up in the morning—it’s too overwhelming! So pick one, maybe two things that you’re going to focus on.

Several years ago, Bob Lorber and I wrote a book called Putting the One Minute Manager to Work. We talked about having a PRICE project. I like using that model for my New Year’s resolutions.

P is for pinpoint. What is the thing you’d like to do? Is it lose weight, is it exercise more? Identify what you want to work on and be specific.

R is for record. What is your present level of performance in that area? Get on the scale if you want to lose weight, or write down your present level of exercise so you have baseline data. Then with that, you can compare it with where you want to go, which involves the next step:

I is for involve. Gather all the key people in your life who can really help you and see if you can set a realistic goal. That’s the difference between what you’ve recorded, where you are now, and where you’d like to go. See what kind of help you can get from this group because it’s hard to stick to resolutions and you’re probably going to need a little help. What are they going to do to cheer you on? What are they going to do to hold you accountable? Plan it out and get agreement on your goal or goals.

C stands for coach. That means getting underway with your resolution—getting the coaching you need and the cheerleading, the supporting, the redirection. Let other people help to keep you in line. As I say, if you could do it by yourself, you would.

E stands for evaluate. That’s the end of the time period when you have achieved your goal, or moved toward your goal, and you look back and evaluate how you did. What could you have done differently? What went well? Any forward progression toward your resolution is worth celebrating. Track your progress and plan your future strategies. What will you pinpoint next?

So think about what’s going to be different next year. What are you going to be smiling about next December? Take care and have a terrific 2011!

Lack of Humor in the Workplace is No Laughing Matter

It amazes me how seriously some people in business take themselves.  It’s as if they have come to the conclusion that who they are or what they are doing is so important that there should be no time for anything as frivolous as laughter.  This is a sad outlook on life.

I tell people who work with me to take their work seriously and themselves lightly.  In doing so, they are better apt to have a sense of perspective about what they are doing that is balanced, and an openness to suggestions and new ideas I often find missing from those who are more tunnel-visioned and only focused on business. A sense of humor serves as a pressure valve that can keep you enjoying your work even when times are stressful. I find it a preferred alternative to developing an ulcer or migraine headache.  In fact, it is one of the best ways I know to get you through stressful times on the job.

I have found three useful methods for keeping a sense of humor.

1)  Take time for yourself. You should take time to relax and enjoy yourself some every day.  What this means will vary from person to person.  It may be reading a magazine, taking a walk, practicing yoga, or playing with your children. I personally recommend skipping.  I believe that it’s impossible to skip and not enjoy yourself—and people who see you will probably laugh as well.  (Unfortunately, I’m afraid my own skipping days are over now that I have two “bionic” hips!)  I also recommend easing into your day—that is, getting up an extra 30 to 45 minutes earlier each morning so you don’t have to “jolt and bolt” like a race horse out of the starting gate. If you are too busy to take some time for yourself, you will inevitably start to expect others you work with to do as you do, and stress will result for both you and your people.

2)  Set an example. Let others you work with know that it’s okay to joke with you by sharing your own sense of humor. I think the best humor is self-deprecating, because it’s never at someone else’s expense.  For example, when I’m with a group having a good time at work I love to say something like, “Hey, if I’m in charge here, how come everyone’s laughing?”

If you are a manager, CEO, or business owner, you have a great amount of influence in setting the tone of the work environment.  You need to show that it’s okay to have fun at work and to celebrate successes when they occur.  For example, once to celebrate record sales halfway through our fiscal year, we closed the company and took employees to the beach for some fun in the sun.  We took time to explain our company’s financials and why we were celebrating—and what it would mean to each employee in terms of gain sharing if our sales and profit rate continued.

3)  When you find yourself stressed about something, ask yourself, “What difference will this make in 100 years?” You guessed it:  No difference.  So why get stressed about it now?  Instead, make a plan and take positive steps toward your goals in a way that is reasonable for both yourself and those around you.

I use another perspective-setting technique that I call my “zoo mentality.”  I developed this when my children Scott and Debbie were growing up.  I noticed that whenever we were at a park or zoo I’d see parents yelling at their children for running around misbehaving and generally having a good time.  It seemed crazy to me to take your children to a place to have fun with them and then spend all your time yelling at them!  I decided what was called for was to get into a different frame of mind that I dubbed my “zoo mentality” when I wanted to have fun. Then if the kids started acting silly or chasing each other I’d be more inclined to join the fun myself.  I still use this technique occasionally when attending company meetings.

The way I see it, everything is on loan—the skills we have, the opportunities to use those skills, and the impact we are able to make in this life.  I’ve had good fortune in my life and I am thankful for it.  I have yet to meet the person who does not have some good fortunes in his or her life.  Even during dreadful times in your life and work, there is always a positive side if you take the time to look for it. Once you have this perspective it is difficult to have what I call “false pride,” in which you feel the world revolves around you.

Remember, no one says on their deathbed that they wish they would have worked harder. Most are inclined to wish they would have enjoyed life—and being with those they knew and loved—a lot more. So have a great week and don’t forget to laugh every day.

Time Out For Time Management

Everyone knows the importance of making a list of things to do, prioritizing that list, and then working on the highest priority item.  Yet how many managers actually do that?  More often than not, managers have the best intentions as they come to work—but before they are even settled in their offices, they may be completely sidetracked by the needs of others.  From that point on, most managerial days become a series of interruptions, conversation snippets, ad hoc meetings, rushed phone calls and crises.

Interruptions aren’t all bad, necessarily.  In fact, research on time management indicates that effective managers and executives tend to have lots of interruptions during the day as they seek to keep in touch with day-to-day operations and to make themselves available to whoever needs them.  In fact, many effective managers define the most important part of their jobs as being available to others. Conversations are the primary way a manager or executive has to influence others today.  It may be the best strategy to take advantage of conversations whenever you can have them, even if other tasks you wanted to work on get delayed as a result.

Take Time to Focus

When, then, do those other tasks get done?  When should a manager take time to concentrate, focus and reflect?  The right answer varies from person to person and is a function, in part, of your personality.  If you are a morning person, you may surprise yourself at how much you can get done by getting up an hour earlier in the morning.  Some managers report getting everything they have to do in a given day done in less than an hour of unobstructed time, leaving the remainder of the day to help others.  If you are a night owl, it may make sense to periodically carve out time in the evenings to do such tasks.

And increasingly, people are discovering the distinct advantage in having the flexibility to work at home.  Managers indicate they can get two to three times as much work done than in a comparable time span at the office.  There are no interruptions, no socializing, no phone calls—just quiet focus time.

Use Different Time Management Systems

Probably more important than having any specific rules for managing your time is having a willingness to try different systems when the one you’re using is not working.  Since we are all creatures of habit, a time management system helps you gain efficiency in the use of your time.  Having flexibility in using different systems helps you to gain effectiveness in using the system that works best at any given time, and keeps you from becoming a slave to a single system.

“To do” lists, card sorts, post-it reminders, calendar tie-ins and project planning software are all useful time management tools.  Working on the next item that pops into your head, focusing on one high-priority item at a time, having a group work on a task, or doing a number of items as fast as you can, can also be effective time management approaches—but none of these approaches will work for you all the time. You have to have a willingness to switch to something new when what you’re doing is not working.

I go through phases in which a very flexible, detailed, priority-ranking time management system works best for me.  During such times, I grind through the tasks like a machine.  The following week I might go to bed determined to only work on one task the next day, stay home focused on that task, and put all other demands completely out of my mind until that task is finished.

Don’t Do What You Don’t Have To

Of course, the best way of getting something done is by not having to do it to begin with.  Thus, a manager should constantly check to see if the things he or she is spending time on are items that have to be done or that could be better done by someone else.  I find it useful to periodically review old “to do” lists to see if, looking back, those items completed were really that important. Often they were not. I then try to prune similar items from my current “to do” list.

We also need to constantly ask if things we are doing could be done better by someone else.  It is human nature to lean toward doing things we enjoy rather than those things we are required to do as part of our jobs.  Thus, a manager who used to be in a technical position might like troubleshooting equipment problems, while another manager who used to negotiate contracts might still enjoy spending extensive time combing over the details of a contract.  Effective managers keep this tendency in check, realize what parts of their jobs could be better done by others, and assign those tasks accordingly.