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(4). 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
(4) High-functioning/mild depression if you want to get specific, but that might be TMI for some

Book Review: Thriving in a 27-7 World

Thriving in a 24-7 World: An Energizing Tale about Growing through PressureThriving in a 24-7 World: An Energizing Tale about Growing through Pressure by Peter Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book, I really did. But the voice / narrative device was just awkward. I agree with other reviewers that you should skip everything but the last two chapters, where Dr. Jensen speaks with his authentic voice – it’s much more engaging, readable, and memorable.

I did learn and have made part of my daily routine some of the strategies/tactics described, and they work, so worth working through regardless.

View all my reviews

Increase Your Productivity: Go For a Smoke Break

If you think that being productive is about working harder that might be your problem. Getting proper sleep, exercise, and diet. You might even consider taking smoke breaks (without the smoke) – get outside, walk around, reset your brain for the next task…

Fast Company: You’re Taking Breaks the Wrong Way, Here’s How to Fix That

The Globe and Mail: Why sports psychologist Dr. Peter Jensen works like he’s a smoker

On Being Productive

[this is  a summer re-post series re-post]

Being productive means different things for different people. For example who’s to say that spending time with your children isn’t an effective use of your time? What it comes down to is being in control of how you spend your time, which means learning to simplify, or even say “no”, to anything else that draws your attention and effort away from what makes you productive, whatever that means to you.

My favourite tip from this productivity info-graphic is: “Start before you feel ready – avoid chicken and egging.”



Coming in Early is Not a Measure of Worth

Tired ChildSome of my clients praise the staff that come to work early and stay late. I think they’re focused on the wrong thing. I’d rather work with somebody that comes in late, leaves early, and still gets all their work done. That’s the key – are they delivering on their work? What is the quantity, quality, and timeliness of their work?

That’s where you get your value. If you don’t know if you’re getting value from an employee or direct report, maybe you haven’t defined your expectations very well. That’s your problem.

But they’re loyal! Maybe. Or they’re scared, or incompetent, or both. Get clear on what you’re expecting, then re-evaluate. You might have to communicate those expectations clearly. You might have some work to do here yourself.

Maybe they’re escaping from something in the outside world. Not very emotionally healthy, but okay. Someone who spends too much time in the office (for whatever value of “too much” you want to define) probably isn’t’ as productive as you think, at least not sustainable. Getting away, unplugging, refreshing, and having a healthy life (again, for whatever value of “healthy” that means for them or you) lets people come to work focused, alert, creative, and at their best.

And what happens if you hit a spike (or dip) in your business? Will you and your staff have enough gas left in the tank, enough capacity, to handle the extra demand?

Even entrepreneurs who are building a business need a break. Should have a break. Will do better and be able to think more strategically when they’re *not* spending every minute of their time on the business.


Smarter Better Faster

Never been a big fan of “SMART” lists, having watched people wrap themselves around the axle trying to fit whatever goal or task they’re trying to fit into the SMART paradigm. Which is why I was delighted to find this, the best explanation of how to use SMART goals properly that I’ve found so far.


People Don’ t Listen to What You Say

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 3

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” Andrew Carnegie

In the course of my work I often get to ask people what their “priorities” are. There are two problems with this. The word “priority”, much like “integrity” or “quality” has so many meanings to so many different people that it’s meaningless.

Photo Credit: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería
Photo Credit:
Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería

Second, as “Think Like A Freak” points out, simply asking people what’s important to them doesn’t necessarily work. Not that people are being deliberately deceptive. They’ll just often give you the answer they think you want, and then go do what they really want to.

So I’ve started asking my clients to start tracking how they spend their time. There are a couple of ways to do this: Set a time for a regular interval and write down what you’re doing when it goes off. Set an alarm a given number of times at random intervals during the day and write down what you’re doing when it goes off. Or just be really disciplined about writing down how you spend every moment.

It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s a very interesting exercise in self-awareness if you’ve never done it before. You can do it for yourself is you like. At the end of a week look for the patterns and figure out what they tell you, if anything. FYI the random interval timer gives the best data sampling.

What’s the point? Show me documented evidence of how you spend your time, and I’ll tell you what your priorities really are.

Our Blind Spots

This exercise is not about judging and shaming. If you want to spend ten hours a day cruising the internet for cat videos then fill your proverbial puss-in-boots. But if you tell others (or more importantly yourself) that “family”, “career”, etc. are the most important things in your life, and you spend 10 hours a day cruising the internet for cat videos, then you might have some decisions to make.

We all have blind spots when it comes to ourselves. Most of us think we’re the only ones that don’t, because, well, it’s our blind spot. We watch what others do, not just what they say, but we all don’t watch ourselves.

So what?

People are watching you. Not just listening to the words that come out of your mouth. How you say things, your facial expressions, your eye contact, your body language. They watch your work – the quantity, quality, and timeliness of your work. Who you spend time with, what you spend time on, and the decisions you make when deadlines loom and budgets escape their cages. How you treat customers, which suppliers you use, and who you hire and fire.

Especially who you hire or fire – how fast you do it, for what reasons (stated and implied), who gets promoted, who gets training, who gets chosen for special projects, who gets assigned to what work, and so on.

You say more with these actions than you ever will with a poster of company values in the lunchroom. And if your actions and the poster are inconsistent with each other, guess which one they’ll believe?

The Hard Work

Deciding what not to do. It’s really really hard. So hard that many people go look at cat videos instead. But it’s liberating.

Take a look at your to-do list now. What’s been hanging around the longest without being done? If it’s still really important then do it. Actually spend time moving it forward. If not, cross it off your list and don’t look back. You’re free now – you have more time to do what’ really important.

Then do that again tomorrow…

Leadership Truths Nobody Wants to Talk About Part 2: Your Authority is Meaningless

With a nod to James Clear, “6 Truths About Exercise Nobody Wants to Believe” for the inspiration

What are you going to stop doing?

Secret Service Suggestions for Sabotaging Companies and Organizations

You may have already seen this on Business Insider, but it’s been on Reddit as long as five years ago: a 1944 manual on sabotaging organizations from the inside, including a chapter on “General Interference with Organizations and Production.”

If you read that chapter, it’s amazing (to me) how many of these behaviours still show up every day in many organizations…

Here’s the full PDF version on CIA website:

Simple Sabotage Field Manual




Google Does the Research on Team Dynamics

The new Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam - RTS6X3W

…and here are the results

Don’t Piss Off the Quartermaster


“There are two people in the unit you never want to piss off: the quartermaster and the pay-clerk. No beans, no bullets, and no cash for the bar.” — Sergeant B. L.

This can also be told as: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, isn’t nice.” I’ve heard told as dating advice in that context, but it also has a leadership application.

The so-called “little people” have power. Yes, I’ve heard them called that, and it made me wonder what kind of person they are. The bottom line is that you depend on everybody on your team to get the the job done. If people who work with or for you perceive a sense of entitlement, privilege, or power over will do two things for you:

  • You’ll have people working with or for you that don’t have anywhere else to go, so they have to put up with your shit. If you treat people poorly, you’ll have poor staff.
  • You’ll get your coffee spit in, if you can get a coffee. Or your project will get sabotaged, you’ll only get what you can force out of people. If that’s your jam then go ahead. Personally I don’ t have the energy to lead that way.

If your boss / client / supplier / peer has an executive administrator, then I strongly invite you to nurture an authentic relationship with them. He or she is your boss’s gatekeeper. He can make your job much harder if you give him reason to. Like, for example, mocking him for being a guy secretary.

Things you might want to consider when interacting with any administrator:

  • Respect their desk and supplies. Don’t borrow their stapler without asking. It’s their desk, treat it with the respect you would for anybody else’s. Their office supplies are not public property. Do you go through your boss’s desk looking for a three-hole punch? No? Don’t do it to her admin either.
  • Respect their personal space. Don’t lean on their desk and tower over them. At best it’s an obnoxious power play. That’s how they’ll perceive it, even if that wasn’t your intention. Remember that communication is what the listener does: if somebody thinks you’re being creepy, it’s because you’re doing something creepy.
  • Look them in the eye, not at their cleavage. This one is so obvious, but there are still men who do this. Yes, they can tell. Even when you think they’re not looking. If you’re lucky they’re just laughing at you behind your back because you think they can’t tell.
  • Be nice to them all the time, not only when you need something from them. You know when people are sucking up to you just because they need something from you. That means other people can tell when you’re doing it to them.
  • The best and fastest way to build a relationship with somebody is to learn their name. If it’s your first day, learn the boss’s secretary’s name, and as many of the other administrators as you can.
  • Be nice to all of them. They talk to each other. I’m not condoning gossip here but they do compare notes. Who’s good to work for, who isn’t, who’s an asshole. If you’re polite to one and not the other, you’re not polite.

Your boss’s administrator has tremendous influence. A good receptionist/administrator is worth their weight in gold. Treat them with respect and that’s what you’ll get in return.