Simple Things Done Well: Your Calendar

I’ve started a project asking people what they do that well that makes them successful. The premise is that the best do the basics better(1) –  have a “basic” they deliberately do better than anyone else. Is there a certain set of fundamental behaviours, practices, skills, or habits that we all rely on for being effective human beings?
For example, if you are a hockey player, being able to skate and pass might be a basic(2). The best hockey players are not only the best at skating and passing, but have become the best by practising those skills deliberately and exhaustively. The best marksmen (and women) practise trigger control – the act of pulling the trigger – to the point where they can fire between heartbeats. Fundamental to a business or community leader would be what?
So far I’ve sent out a small set of surveys, and done a couple of face-to-face interviews. It’s too early to come to any conclusions yet, but there’s an interesting early finding that I (non-scientifically) tested by putting into practise.
Both people I’ve talked to so far deliberately use their calendar to manage their time. They treat the hours in a day as something to be budgeted, like money, to accomplish their goals. Resources are allocated, and time is spent, in the way a general or CEO would deploy resources and people to accomplish a strategic goal.
For example, when I asked Rosanna what her “basic” was, she immediately said “You have to be okay being with people.” I probed a little deeper and asked her what that looked like.
She books times in her calendar, every week, to be with people. Whether it’s someone who she needs to talk to, or someone who she hasn’t seen in a long time, or even a group of people she’s never met before but just wants to hang out with and find out what’s going on in their world. This was an especially valuable technique when she worked in a large and growing corporation. People are her priority, her calendar is how she plans, executes, and records that priority.
Curtis’ literal wake-up call came after he got a Fitbit and realized he was only sleeping four hours a night. He said the most important thing in his life was his family, but he didn’t like what the hard work was doing to his relationships. Making a change meant coming to the realization that working sleep-deprived was about as effective as working drunk.
As part of his change to working more sane hours he set working hours (no more up until 2am), and he started booking travel time into his calendar. Now – instead of rushing around to client meetings and being late because everything was always about jamming as much into as day as possible – he’s on time, much less harried and more cogent, and he feels he’s just as effective, productive, and profitable as before. But now he’s a much nicer person to be around, especially with his family.

(Curtis admits that he could be better at saying “no” to requests for his time, but it’s getting easier with success.)

Procrastination is something I’ve struggled with much of my life. Could I manage my time better by simply writing things in my calendar and following that plan? I gave it a try, and three weeks in I’d say it’s a noticeable improvement. I started booking time in my calendar for travel, and voila! Magically my stress levels dropped. So I’m going to keep doing that.

I also started blocking time for things that I need to spend time on but often keep putting off – marketing my business, bookkeeping, reading, and writing. So far (three weeks) my blog traffic has picked up, I’m on top of my cash flow, and I’ve spent some quality time making contacts and mining prospects. It’s a small sample, but promising.

How do you use your calendar? What priorities (and how you spend your time) are reflected in it? It’s given me something to think about.
(1) Competitive pistol shooters use “dry-firing” to practice trigger control, as pioneered in Rhodesia. Having no ammunition to practice with because of international sanctions, they created a practice technique using no ammunition that won them the world championships in 1977.
(2) I’m Canadian. Sorry. Please translate into your local vernacular such as baseball, cricket, or footie as needed.
(3) if you’re interested in participating, or you know somebody you’d like to recommend, get a hold of me at or here

Leadership Lessons from the Music Industry

The music industry continues to change. Falling album sales eroded by on-line streaming, questions on how artists get paid and make a living, and technology making it easy for anyone to become a producer. It’s another industry that got hit by the internet twenty years ago (remember Napster?) and continues to get sucker-punched over and over again as the technology evolves(1).

With a young step-son who’s been a professional musician since age 15, and is now recording his sixth album, it’s a topic of interest to me personally – how is he going to make a living doing what he loves,  in an industry famous for manipulators and scumbags, and keep being that good person I know him to be? He’s a talented guy and decent human being, and I look forward to helping him figure it out where he wants my help.

I got to sit in on The Gathering(2) afternoon’s music panels on Friday, and came away impressed with the thoughtfulness and depth of discussions. There seems to be an intersection between artists, brands, marketing, and the people who act as in-betweens.

There are successful artists who have become their own brands (not only making music but also clothing and other products, and doing their own marketing); brands that bring marketing in-house (for example Dr. Dre headphones, who started as a musician(3)); and marketers who love music doing amazing things in the world even though they don’t make music (like Andy Cohn from the FADER).

Turns out music is more than just music. Social justice, innovation and creativity, self-identify, story and narrative, commerce, influence and motivation all get mixed up in a wonderful goulash(4), or maybe a Chili Verde(5). You decide.

Music is unique in the human experience, but it costs money to make it. Surprisingly people want to be able to make music and eat at the same time. Go figure. So music is also commerce, and not surprisingly music also overlaps business and leadership. This became clear to me while listening to the panelists and hearing themes that leadership and business people have been talking about for decades now: values, vision, and people.

Image result for nobody speak
“Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow, currently on heavy rotation at my house


Here are some of the things I heard:

Your Values

Be really clear about what you’re offering, what you expect in return. You can trade your talent and identity for fame and money if you want to, and that’s okay, but don’t expect it to last, don’t expect it to have an impact, and don’t expect anyone to have your best interests at heart.

You can do better than that. There were some powerful stories told on the stage, but they’re not mine to tell. Let’s just say that music not only influences and changes lives, it also literally saves lives(6).

…or as Joe Belliotti put it, “You don’t have to be an asshole to be successful.”

Your Vision

Overused, oversold, and yet so important. What’s the thing that you would be doing even if you had to pay to do it?

Of all the panelists who shared their “vision statement” (and they all had one, it’s de rigueur don’t you know), authenticity was believable, even if it wasn’t messianic: “Feed my family.”, “Take care of the people important to me.”, “Protect my fans, because they got us here.”


“Touch your people every day, because you’ll be sad when they walk out the door.”  – Jason White

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but I will add this from my own experience: if you think you’re doing this well enough, you’re not. Very few people actually do, many fewer than think they do.

It’s more than likely that you’re just fooling yourself. No shame in that, it’s easy to do. It even has a name: confirmation bias. Take a long hard look at how well you treat your people, and what you tolerate in terms of how others treat them, and do better.


(1) See also publishing, newspapers, manufacturing (robotics), transport (self-driving cars), entertainment (pirated movies), etc. Next up professional services such as lawyers and doctors (artificial intelligence). Time to buy an acreage and some goats and move to the country?

(2) In its fifth year, it brings together brands and marketers. Three years ago they added music, integral to telling any story, which is what good marketing does. Plus I love any excuse to head to Banff despite the tourists – they’ve done a really good job of extending tourism past the summer holiday & winter skiing crowd, and I admire that.

(3) If you haven’t watched “Straight Outta Compton” you should, even if rap isn’t your thing. Good movie.

(4) My mother’s signature dish. That and rouladen. Mmmmm.

(5) What’s in the slow cooker right now, and it’s making me drool. Pardon me if I’m distracted by food.

(6) For one example, check out Paul Brandt’s #notinmycity campaign, imagined and executed by marketing students from Mount Royal University. As an added bonus the campaign has ruffled establishment feathers, which delights me because that’s what’s necessary to drive change.

How to Discover the Right Actions

One of my biggest challenges as a business coach is to get people to change their behaviours, that drives change inside their own business. Ironic, eh? Often the barrier is actually taking the time to critically think deeply about what behaviours would drive the most change.

This article from Kristy Hull on “Getting to the Critical Few Behaviors That Can Drive Cultural Change” reminded me of the “5 Whys” exercise. I think I’ll use it today.

“Why?”, you ask. Well, let me tell you…

Using Influence You Don’t Have

Can’t get traction on the changes that need to happen? Consider finding and using the informal leaders in your company.

Start With a Cappuccino

I believe that big changes starts with small behaviours. Actual work, however seemingly insignificant, makes a huge difference over time. I also recognize (mostly from my behaviour) that getting started and keeping started is often the hardest part.

Terry Crews, a former NFL linebacker and now television personality. He talks about  how he used to “just go to the gym, even if it’s just to hang out and have a cappuccino.” He knew you can’t work out if you’re not there, and you won’t go there if you don’t enjoy yourself. So he went, every day, even if it was just to open his locker.

I think the lesson here is to deliberate choose a goal (play guitar, go to the gym, better dental hygiene, be a better leader, increase sales, grow a business), figure out the one minimal thing you need to do to get better at it, and do that one thing every day.

Pick One String

Flossing just one tooth (getting started, doing it regularly) isn’t the only thing we need to do to change a habit, but it comes first. Make no mistake, leadership and coaching is a skill and a habit that can be learned. 

To learn a new skill or habit, we need deliberately practice. For example, I like the song “Jamaica Farewell” (the Belafonte version, my mother used to have the LP and a lazy smile every time she played it.) When I wanted to learn to play guitar that’s the song I chose.

If “Jamaica Farewell” was the only song I every practised on my guitar I would only every learn three chords, and it would get boring really fast. I would be able to play a kick-ass version of that song, but it has its limits. To get better, have fun, and master the guitar I should and do challenge myself with progressively more difficult material over time.

Consistency and intentional practice – that’s how you get better. Even as a leader.

What are you going to practise today?

Floss One Tooth

I was listening to Tim Ferris one day talking about productivity and setting small goals. He was talking about how writing a book is a grind for him, and he set the small goal of writing “two crappy pages” a day. Some days he would only write the two pages, but very often, after getting started, he would blow past that least acceptable very low bar and write many (presumably good) pages.

He mentioned in passing it was like just flossing one tooth a day.


This caught my attention because despise flossing. I know I should. And I know of some weirdos who actually enjoy brushing and flossing their teeth. For me, there are other things I’d rather be doing for two minutes twice a day.

But as an adult I am more than mature and capable of managing my own dental hygiene. I am, honest! But it’s a struggle. It got to the point where my dental hygienist had left a note in my file about how I was sensitive to the issue. I learned this when a new hygienist asked me about the note.

“Good morning, Mr. May. I`ll be cleaning your teeth today. I see here you don’t like flossing your teeth and you don’t want to talk about it.”

[Internal Dialog: “I’m fine, thanks for asking. Or at least I was until you shared that with me. Please don’t show my how to floss my teeth for the 1000th time. I’m a god-dammed grow-up. I know how to floss my teeth. No, I don’t need one of those little plastic helpers. I’m a grown-up, really!”]

I thought I’d test Mr. Ferris’ “floss one tooth” rule, and that’s what I started doing.  Every morning, after I brushed my teeth and before I got in the shower. I would floss at least one tooth. If nothing else, it was enough time to let the shower warm up. And honestly, most mornings, I did only floss one tooth. The bottom front one, specifically.

Lo and behold, the next time I visited my hygienist, she complemented me on how well I was flossing my teeth. This surprised me. I had passive-aggressively done as bad a job as I could get away with, rarely flossing my whole mouth and mostly just sticking to that one tooth at the bottom front. Apparently attempting a minimal effort every day is better than not making any effort at all. This pleased me, and have now expanded my tooth flossing program to two teeth a day. I’m hoping for even better results on my next visit!

If we’re trying to get better at something, like being a better leader, it seems that getting started and doing even the smallest thing consistently, is better better than not.