Influence

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool.

When people think about managing time and becoming more efficient, they almost always look at their calendar and ToDo lists to try to figure out how to work faster and how to prioritize. These are good thoughts, certainly, but they miss out on half of their workload problem. It’s not just the work you have to think about – it’s people.

At the end of every request, problem or opportunity, there’s a person waiting for something. Whether it’s a project you have to complete, or a text message you just received, somebody is waiting for something, and this can cause you stress. No one likes to feel rushed or pressured.

Time management is really about people management. It’s about managing expectations, keeping people satisfied by addressing their fear of the unknown, building a personal credit rating, and learning how to exert influence. Let’s look at all four of these.

1. Managing Expectations

A recurring theme in the Cool-Time approach to time management is proactivity. Proactivity means taking charge of an activity or an event before it happens, and consequently affecting the outcome in your favor. Now think about every time someone sends you an email. What are they doing? They have sent something to you and are waiting for a response, for satisfaction. Until they get that response from you, they won’t know what’s going on, and they won’t know when you will reply. This is why many of these people might send a follow-up email that asks, “did you get my last email?”

But what if they have been taught – by you – that you only reply to emails after 1:00 in the afternoon? If they know this about you, then they now have a frame of reference. Even if they send you an email at 9 in the morning, they will know not to expect a reply until after 1:00. They will be – to some degree at least – at peace.

By proactively managing peoples’ expectations, you will be able to carve out more time for yourself and lose some of that stress along the way. Managing expectations means being proactive – making sure people know what to expect from you. How can you do this?

  • By telling them. When you talk or communicate with someone, make sure to remind them about your policies.
  • By using your out of office assistant in email and embedding it in your voicemail greeting.

Anywhere and anytime you have the opportunity, take a moment to proactively inform the people in your life when where and how they can expect a reply from you.

Don’t expect that they will get it the first time. People need repeated notifications for the message to get through – that’s why you see the same ads so often on TV.

If people wonder why you suddenly are replying to emails almost by appointment, you can always blame the changing times. Things are getting faster, times are not what they used to be, and you and your company or department are trying new best practices to do more with time.

The bottom line here is this: you can manage your own time and tasks better by first managing the expectations of the people who are waiting for you.

2. Addressing the Fear of the Unknown

People have an innate fear of the unknown. Imagine you are back in high-school, in first-period gym class, out there on the soccer field on a frosty morning. The gym teacher comes over. You hear one of the two following commands:

“Go out there and give me 12 laps around the field,” or, “Go out there and start running until I blow this whistle.”

Which would you rather hear?

Most people say they would prefer the 12 laps, because it is finite. They know when it will be over and can pull together the resources to get through the effort in front of them.

This shouldn’t be taken lightly. It addresses a fundamental instinctive need that all humans have, to know whether a situation will be a danger. Gym class might not sound so dangerous, but in this scenario, it’s all about knowing how much energy you can spare. Knowing it’s just 12 laps gives you a finite measure – a challenge you can get through.

When you proactively take the time to manage peoples’ expectations, tell them when they can expect a return call, when they can feel “safe” again, you are doing much more than being organized on your end. You are influencing people by speaking directly to their instincts.

3. Bad News Is Better than No News

This is a subset of the Fear of the Unknown principle. Imagine you are running late for a meeting and your phone battery has died. You’re walking – almost jogging – along the sidewalk as fast as you can. You spot a payphone (a rarity these days, I know). Should you stop and call the person you’re meeting, and therefore make yourself even later? Or simply keep your head down and keep on walking?

The answer is to make that call. Even though you’re running late, bad news is always better than no news. That’s because people can start to make other plans or at the very least stand down from their state of anxiety once they know what’s going on.

4. Cialdini’s Six Faces of Influence

Robert Cialdini is one of the foremost experts in influence and he wrote a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He describes the six faces of influence that each get people to do what you want them to do, by approaching their psyche in different ways. Those six faces are:

People can either fear you, or they can like you. In almost all cases, liking lasts longer. Robert Cialdini, in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, identifies six ways that you can exert influence over someone. These are:

  • Reciprocity: you give something to me, I feel obliged to give back. This is typical if someone has done you a favor, or if you receive a free sample of something, you feel obliged to buy it.
  • Commitment and consistency: developing and sticking to habits or people that we know and have become comfortable with. People are attracted to consistency because it gives them a sense of comfort. The way you dress, the way you speak, the way you conduct yourself – if you were to change these things radically from day to day, people would not know how to relate to you.
  • Social proof: we decide upon the correct action or opinions based on what others are doing. If I ask you to recommend a good restaurant or a good accountant, if I act on your recommendation, you have influenced my actions through social proof – in other words, another person’s opinions are sufficient to sway my choice.
  • Authority: we believe in and react to the authority of another. I’m the boss. Do this work or you’re fired. You can’t get much more influential than absolute power. But this does not always lead to the type of progress you might be looking for. People don’t tend to put their heart and soul into working for tyrants, which can lead to errors, absenteeism or people simple leaving.
  • Scarcity: we act now out of the fear that the opportunity might not exist in the future. This is used a lot in advertising. “Buy now! Supplies are limited! Weekend blow-out sale! These types of messages try to influence you into buying by making you believe you will b missing out if you don’t at now.
  • Liking: we like to work with people we like. This is by far the most effective. People like to work with those who have shown them respect and who make them feel good.

The bottom line here is that influence is about getting people to do the things you want them to do. It’s more than that, actually. It’s about getting people to want to do the things you want them to do.

Think of the times you have been waiting for someone else to get their work done or show up to a meeting, or on the flip side of this, getting them to leave you alone whether you’re at work, or on personal time. This is all more likely to happen if you can use the tools of influence, most specifically Liking and Reciprocity, to allow them to want to do this.

How to Deploy an Influence Strategy

It has been said by many experts in this field that the secret of success is to spend most of your time in your business, but a certain amount of it working on your business. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of your time doing effective, profitable work, but spend some of the remaining 20% doing things like networking – managing relationships, marketing yourself, listening to others. All of this might sound pie-in-the-sky that add to your existing workloads, but in actual fact, its about building a personal credit rating that helps cut back on work requests, especially those unplanned crises, or simply the pressure of having people bothering you for answers or delaying you because they have forgotten about your deadlines.

People who like you are the people who will find opportunities for you and who will support and guide you.

Influence is about getting people to do what you want them to do. Sure you can command them if you have sufficient authority, but the better approach is to leverage peoples’ natural human desire to collaborate. People are tribal by nature. They want to be part of something, like a group or a team, and most people like to be led by a leader they can believe in.

Influence seems more like an art than a science. It is based on human relationships and interaction. To become more influential:

  • Understand the power of body language. People will tell you more through their body language than they will with their words. You can tell when someone is really engaged, nervous, even lying, by reading their hands, eyes, voice and posture during conversations. But you, too, can use body language as a tool of influence by consciously being aware of what your hands, eyes, voice and posture are telegraphing about you, AND avoiding sending mixed messages through unconscious body language.
  • Practice and demonstrate active listening. Active listening means using your knowledge of body language to demonstrate engagement and interest when you are talking to someone. This is not just about hearing their words; it’s about giving them respect and dignity during the discussion. This in turn translates into greater loyalty and drive from the people you are talking to. Once again, people like to work with – and for – people they like. And his comes largely from a sense of being respected.
  • Network internally. Networking is about getting to know people by taking the time to meet them. At first glance this might seem like a waste of time, especially with all those emails and other tasks you have on your plate. But by budgeting a small amount of time per day to network, to manage by walking around, to talk and to actively listen, you will develop a personal credit rating that pays off. How?

People will read and reply to your emails and work requests more promptly, prioritizing you above other people. They will be more motivated to get their assigned work done more quickly and efficiently. They will be more motivated to show up to your meetings on time.

In short, they will be more willing to do they things you want them to do, through the power of influence.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Dynamic Email and Calendar Management

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Dynamic Email and Calendar Management. Dynamic Email and Calendar Management

Email is a necessary tool of day-to-day business. But its candid and immediate nature swallows up a lot of time. In this podcast I want to share with you a method for pairing your email and calendar together in a way that will make your day healthier and more productive and will not leave you having to sacrifice your evening to returning all those messages.

So, let’s start with your calendar. Most people see a calendar as something that tells them what to do. But it shouldn’t be that way. That’s backwards. Your calendar should be a menu of choices that you use to decide how to apply your time based on the priorities of the day. It is also a tool of defense against other peoples’ work requests. It’s a dynamic method of proactively managing your time.

Most of us have way too many things to do, yet we believe we can get them all done in a day. That’s a fallacy based on not being fully aware of the total inventory of your day. What do I mean by that? Well, most people only use the calendar for unique and specific events like meetings, dental appointments or a specific task. They never put in the day-to-day regular stuff like email. That never gets accounted for, because it’s a given. BUT even though it still exists, it doesn’t get put in the budget.

The budget? Yes. This is exactly the same as budgeting your take-home pay. Imagine it’s payday – you either get your direct deposit into your bank account from your employer, or you get handed a cheque or an electronic payment from your client. Whatever. Hooray! You’ve been paid. Now, is all that money yours to do what you want with? Maybe buy a guitar or pay for a vacation? No. Not immediately. You know you have payments to make. A mortgage or rent, maybe a car payment, utility bills, food. All these things. They are standard. You have to budget for these things. A whole lot of that money is already spoken for.

So let’s translate that same concept into your calendar. If you flip ahead in your day planner or online calendar to a workday that has no events planned on it, let’s say exactly one year from today, it’s probably an empty page. But you already know, if that’s a regular workday, part of that day is already spoken for, for the day-to-day activities that we take for granted, such as email. Email is something that comes into your inbox randomly and immediately demands your attention. Each one of those emails demands some of your time. So how many do you think you handle on any given day, and how long does it take you to deal with each one? I know that’s an unfair question, but that’s the point. Because it’s such a candid and varying thing, few of us stop to calculate just how much time email takes. That’s why so many of us resort to doing them in the evening because the day got full of other stuff.

So, let’s say you stop and quantify. Just like a professional project manager has to do when planning a road, a building, or a wedding – yes, wedding planners are project managers, too. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is counted, planned and added to the budget.

So, you give it some thought, and yes, ok, you basically deal with 30 emails a day. And by “deal” I mean receiving emails, reading them, replying to them and creating your own. OK? So, 30 a day. Now let’s say you average out the time each one takes based on your past experience. Don’t count the ones that ask you to do something that takes more than a few minutes, like “Please review the attached document, make changes and send back to me.” This particular type of email is actually a task and should be immediately promoted as such as an appointment on your calendar face. OK, so all of your quick emails average about 3 minutes each to handle. So, 30 emails at three minutes each is 90 minutes. 90 minutes! That represents almost 20% of an 8-hour day.

If you want to use your calendar as a proactive tool of time management rather than as a passive list of impossible obligations, my suggestion is to do the following. Schedule three recurring 30-minute blocks for email management and assign them to every day that you work. That’s easier to do on a calendar app, than a day planner, of course. Three per day, perhaps at 10:30, 1:30 and 4:00.

Here are the three reasons why doing mail in blocks like this is way more practical and efficient than just doing them candidly and reactively.

First, they serve as placeholders. Collectively they prove to you that 90 minutes of this day and every day into the future are already spoken for. This is tangible proof of your busyness and will be extremely helpful as a negotiation tool when people ask you for some of your time. You only have so much left to make available, and any time someone pressures you into saying “yes” to a meeting request, the invisible obligations tend to get forgotten. By making them visible in this way, it gives you and the requestor proof of your current obligations while allowing space to negotiate a suitable time.

The point is we are bombarded by work requests and distractions throughout the day. It’s so easy to forget the standing, recurring obligations that you have. But you know what it’s like when you forget to pay a bill, or you forget to put money aside for a scheduled payment. There’s hell to pay, and it’s the same thing here.

Your calendar is a proactive tool of prioritization and defense against attack. Three email returning periods still allow for flexibility. If your first email returning period is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and someone, a client or your boss really needs you for a meeting at that time, well, OK, it’s not that difficult to slide that 10:30 email returning timeslot down by half an hour like a game of Tetris or Candy Crush. Things can move fluidly across your calendar face. The important thing is that they are there, on the face of the calendar. They are not invisible. Dynamic calendar management is part and parcel of effective time management. So, slide things around slightly. Just do not delete these email returning times. That’s as dangerous as deciding not to pay the phone bill this month.

Flexible, slide-able appointments also make life easier for people who may be trying to schedule meetings with you online. But I will always maintain the conviction that, a.) you should never delete these email returning appointments, and b.) you should always make sure you leave some empty spaces on your calendar for your people to choose from instead.

A big pushback I get when describing this concept is the idea of planning to return emails at these set times rather than dealing with them right away. So, I ask, “Why do you want to respond to them right away?” “Because someone’s waiting for a reply,” they say. “And why is it important that you get back to them right away?” I ask. “Because they’re waiting for a reply. They might be offended.”

So, I ask “what’s really going on here?” Do you know they’re going to be offended? And what can you do to prevent that? The answer is easy. Manage their expectations. Let your people know when and how they can expect a response from you. This is as easy as setting up an out-of-office assistant in your email, or putting it in the footer of your messages or even at the bottom of your email signature – something to the effect of:

“I return emails three times a day, mid-morning, early afternoon and late afternoon. You will receive a reply from me in a couple of hours.” You can phrase this how you like, but this is another example of the power of proactivity. By proactively informing your people of your email response schedule, you are letting them know what to expect, rather than leaving them to flap around in the breeze and form their own assumptions.

Very often, emails that are responded to too quickly simply sit in the recipient’s inbox anyway, or worse beget even more emails that themselves are unnecessary and redundant. And if you think making people wait is bad customer service, I would suggest you redefine this as giving them certainty. You are giving them something tangible to hold on to, and that is a very good thing.

Be aware also that when I schedule email returning times that doesn’t mean “not checking my email.” There’s a big difference between looking to see who just mailed you and actually working on handling those messages. If your job or personality is one that absolutely must know who emailed you the moment they arrive, then do yourself the stress-releasing favor of checking, but unless it is earth-shakingly urgent, leave the reply until your email-returning time.

Here’s another reason why email blocks are worthwhile. It has to do with how your brain works. An email is a surprise attack. Even though we know we are going to receive them, each time an email arrives, your brain and body go into a minor version of fight-or-flight reactive mode. Concentration is broken and you enter a tunnel vision state. If you then go ahead and respond to that email right away, not only will a few minutes of your time be taken up and away from the work you were actually doing, it takes another five minutes or more for you to regain the level of concentration you had prior to the interruption. Your brain and instinct basically must recover from the interruption and until it does, you will be working at a sub-level capacity. If that happens 30 times a day, you can add to those 90 minutes of distraction that those emails take, another 150 minutes – that’s two and a half hours at which you are guaranteed to be working at sub-level capacity. No wonder the day goes by so quickly and you don’t get it all done.

BY contrast, when you consciously choose to enter into an email-returning time block, you do so of your own volition, which removes the “surprise factor and does not set your body back, so there is no recovery required. This removes that 2 and a half hours per day of sub-par performance right there.

Finally, there’s the principle of Parkinson’s Law, which states, “Work expands to fill the time available.” With email, this tends to point to them taking longer than needed, because until the next fixed appointment arrives, such as maybe a meeting at 11:00, emails will simply pour themselves across your calendar like liquid until they bump into the next solid appointment.

But Parkinson’s Law can also work in your favour. If you give yourself only 30 minutes to respond to 10 emails, you will find you can do that by maybe writing shorter emails and getting to the point more quickly and using the momentum of this time period to really get on a roll. You might even find you can shorten your email returning times to 20 minutes each or less.

Email is a technology whose designers never really considered the human aspect of reacting to false urgencies. It can be a useful tool, but only when kept under control, and I think this pairing of email and dynamic calendar management is a highly proactive way of getting more done in a day.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Dynamic Email and Calendar Management. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Box of Time

This blog comprises show notes and script for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Box of Time. It describes how to maximize productivity and influence people by taking advantage of a simple technique of delineation – something that speaks very clearly to human instinct – which means people will take notice of it.

Steve Prentice - Bonsai Tree

A bonsai tree is an example of an organic entity constrained by hard edges.

The box of time. It’s not a science fiction reference. It’s an incredibly powerful way to manage time by managing other people. But to do this, we must first talk about bonsai trees. This is what a bonsai tree looks like. A bonsai is a perfectly normal tree, genetically speaking, that has been placed in a pot to restrain its growth. The pots are usually a few inches wide and because a tree will only grow as far as the roots can extend. The hard edge of the pots stops the roots from going any further and therefore stops the tree from growing any taller.

So, the art of a bonsai tree is to maintain a perfectly healthy, genetically pure tree in small scale. There are two different styles, generally speaking, being Japanese and Chinese. Japanese style generally favors shaping trees in a dramatic, windswept look whereas the Chinese style focuses more on symmetry. But regardless, it’s a perfect tree. A perfectly natural being, just held in check by the solidity of its surroundings.

So, what does this have to do with people and time management? There is a substantial parallel here. People and trees are both living creatures, and human beings also need and respond to delineations. Delineations help define limits, which helps us stay alive.

Which is the Least Evil of these Two Statements?

Let’s go back to high-school gym class for a moment. Imagine yourself standing out on the soccer field on a frosty November morning for first period gym class. You hear the gym coach telling you one of the following two commands; either:

“Go out there and give me 12 laps around the field,” or “Go out there and start running until I tell you to stop.”

Which is the least evil? The least threatening? Most people say the first one is less evil, because it is finite. you can gauge the amount of energy required to get through this exercise. And that’s a very important point. It’s a “known.” People need to know the delineations of things in order to progress through them safely. People need to know, for example, when things will be over.

Applying the Box of Time as a Tool of Influence

If you want to motivate and influence people to work with you, to show up to meetings on time, to leave you alone, to supply their pieces of the project you’re working on, to log in early and be ready for your on-time video or telephone conference – any time people need motivation the primary lever to get them to do what you want them to do is a delineation. This is a fixed line in the sand – a fixed “box,”

Let’s apply this to a phone conversation. One of the greatest wastes of time in the working world is the game of email ping pong. I send one to you, you send one back to me, I’m in a meeting o I send one back to you later, I don’t quite understand what you said, so I send one back… The conversation just keeps on spinning its wheels because email is not an intuitive communication technique. There’s no subtlety, no context, it’s a very sterile medium.

So many situations could be much better handled if only we had the time to speak live, one-to-one, face-to-face, or voice to voice, over the phone. Whether this is to solve a problem, or being creative – working on something together, the synergy of conversation, of two or more minds meeting, gets things done far more effectively than emails ever could.

But what’s the problem? It’s the Fear of the Unknown

People are afraid of having that conversation. They’re afraid of taking that call. One of the main reasons for this fear is this: you don’t know how long it’s going to last. So instead we use excuses. “I’m busy, I don’t have the time to take you call, so let it go to voice mail, or send me an email.”

The fact is, though, that a five-minute or even ten-minute phone conversation will yield more creative, problem-solving output than any number of emails you could possibly send. So, to motivate and inspire, and to generate interest in having a call or a face-to-face meeting, it’s not the agenda that’s most important, it’s “when it’s going to be over.”

I can deliver far more credibility by saying to you, “let’s have a call tomorrow at 2:00 for ten minutes. I will call you.” That’s all they need to hear. This becomes the box of time. It’s a message that says, “ten minutes – you can handle that. It will be over in ten minutes.” This is a specific message that replaces the unknown with a “known.”

It’s not something vague like “I’ll call you tomorrow.” That never works because that puts people on the hook of uncertainty – not knowing how long it will last, not knowing when the call will happen, not even knowing what it will be about.

If you want to motivate people to get things done, give them something tangible and something closed. This is the box of time, replacing the fear of the unknown with the manageability of the known. It’s a major component of successful time management, but as you can see, it’s about managing people and their expectations.

Replying to Messages on Personal Time – Conditioning to Your Own Detriment

Have you ever felt compelled to respond to a work-related email message at 11:00 p.m.? Do you know what that does to the person who sent the message? It conditions them to expect the same level of response and behavior from you consistently, regularly and forever. What might seem to you to be simply clearing an email from your inbox quickly, or perhaps providing excellent customer service condemns you to a lifetime and a lifestyle of constantly being available, 24/7. You are conditioning people through your actions to expect this same kind of behavior.

Some people like to live and work this way. If you like it, then great. But remember what you’re doing here. You are leaving yourself and your time open to ownership by others.

Once again, the box of time comes to the rescue

You can set up a schedule and message response that says something like:

“I am available between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you send me a message outside of these hours, I will get back to you between 9:00 and 10:00 tomorrow.”

By setting up a boundary, and managing the expectations of the message sender, including a box of time in which they can expect response, everyone will be happy. The specifics of this message are up to each of us individually but setting up a box of time gives people a known field of expectation – something they can work with.

This is like water flowing around a rock in a stream. The water will move around the rock to find a path of lesser resistance. Your availability and non-availability are the rocks in your stream. People can move their actions and expectations around these blockages providing there is something else they can hold on to.

What a Dental Appointment Can Teach About Influence

People get conditioned to expect based on what they see. If you return an email at 11:00 p.m. you set a precedent that is very difficult to live up to. But these same assumptions can be overruled. For example:

Photo credit: Frank May / NTB scanpix

Someone asks you, “Can we meet tomorrow at 10:00?” and you say, “Sorry, I have a dental appointment.” It’s very unlikely that anyone will say, “No problem! I’ll come with you and will sit int the chair next to you while you’re having your treatment, and we can chat there.” No. They’ll wait until you come back, because a dental appointment is a suitable and acceptable rock in their stream. They can move around it. They can live with it. Life goes on.

The same principle can apply to other things. If you have some work you need to get done, you need some focused time – you really want to focus without being disturbed. Or you want to go home at a reasonable hour. Set up these boundaries and condition people by first publicizing and communicating these boundaries, and secondly, respecting them yourself. This means not falling prey to the temptation of responding to messages outside of those boundaries.

Everything you do conditions other people. Whether it’s action or inaction, it’s still conditioning.

Remember also, humans generally like to be led, they like to be guided. This is your chance to guide and influence other people through a box of time.

Bad News is Better than No News

No one likes to give bad news. No one likes to receive bad news. But there’s a good thing about bad news: human beings are extremely good at taking bad news, turning it around, and working with it.

Huge amounts of procrastination happen because people avoid what they fear. Fear is the most powerful emotion of all, and people are ruled by emotion, not logic. So, we tend to spend a lot of time hiding from or even running away from those things that scare us.  But the fact is we are very good at taking bad news and and saying, “OK, what’s next? Where do we go from here? What’s my next step?”

So once again, the box of time concept reappears. If you suffer from procrastination, if you are putting something of because you fear it, that’s perfectly natural and understandable. But the truth is, the delivery or acceptance of bad news is the launch point for the next step. It is like the box of time because it is tangible and real. Its real-ness helps overcome the instinctive fear of the unknown.

When you bring facts up to meet the fear, it allows you to move forward with the next steps. The box of time concept is about giving people something tangible to overrule their fears and move on.

Assumptions

People will always assume things if you do not give them the facts. People, if unassisted, will come to their own conclusions simply to fill the void. This means you actually have an obligation to deliver hard facts to people, if only to stave off their own incorrect assumptions.

For example, if you are spending time focusing on your work, and you don’t say “Hi” to people as they walk by your desk, the assumption is, “she’s having a bad day,” or “he doesn’t like us,” or “not a team player.”

People will make their own assumptions if they are not addressed. They need to be introduced to your concepts, they need to be led and guided. So, if you are looking to schedule some focused time in your day, or you’re looking to have some time away from carte blanche meeting availability, or you need to leave at a certain time, you must deliver the hard facts, the ideas. This might be in the form of a meeting or a memo, an infographic – whatever works for your team, to remove the instantaneous assumptions that will otherwise fall in to fill the void.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line with all the concepts above is that the known is always better than the unknown, but that the human mind will seek an answer wherever it can find it. If you are looking to guide people, give them a box. Give them a fixed, finite duration. When you are calling a meeting, the agenda is not the most important item – that should already have been dealt with as the justification for the meeting’s existence. The most important thing that will make people show up on time, ready and engaged, is in answering the question, “when will this be over?” That’s what will give them the energy and stamina to get through this event, just like the 12 laps around the field.

That is the primary motivator of human action.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Box of Time. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Slow Movement and You

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Slow Movement and You. If you want to listen to it while you drive somewhere in a hurry, you can access it here.

Have you ever heard of the Slow movement? Probably not.

In an age of 24/7 business, of overloaded schedules, of wireless access and a ceaseless need to stay in the loop, there isn’t much tolerance among working people for a Huckleberry Finn approach to managing the day—lazy afternoons, long lunches, and watching the sun drift across the sky. We all may wish we could take this approach, but few of us have a realistic expectation of getting there any time soon. There’s just too much to do, and it all needs to get done now.

Everywhere you turn you hear people talking about their ever-increasing task load; that the workday has extended to 18 hours or more; that email and wireless devices are addictive and that people are using them, or are feeling pressured into using them, well into the hours that used to be reserved for personal life. This, it seems, is the new norm.

In spite of this, there are others who still profess the value of going more slowly, even if their voices more often than not get drowned out. They say they’re part of a Slow movement. They represent a collection of organizations and individuals that together advocates working slower, speaking slower, eating slower, and basically living slower.

There are cities in Japan, Italy, and elsewhere that have tried to make this Slow movement an official lifestyle, mandating traffic patterns, store-opening hours, and even business practices – like meeting-free-Fridays- to fit with this philosophy. And, thanks to the Internet, these advocates have all joined together to become a new global presence.

So, is this for real? Is the slow approach tenable here in North America? Can it work for you, in your business, with your customers and your boss, in a way that will make things better?

Sure, the Italian countryside certainly seems a good place to encourage the Slow movement. Workers have come and gone across its fields and streets for thousands of years. There’s probably a greater readiness there to accept a shifting of gears, since, after all, Old World Europeans have “been there and done that” in so many different ways that their collective sense of time, life, and related values is by now mature and pragmatic.

But how realistic is it to expect the Slow movement to catch on in those areas of the world where a high-speed work ethic still reigns supreme? It goes against instinct—against the very forces that have propelled human beings to adapt and advance. The desire to further yourself, to protect yourself and your family from harm, and to identify opportunities to improve living conditions are strong basic urges, and although, ultimately, most people work really hard so that one day they no longer have to work so much, the idea of slowing down to get there just doesn’t make sense.

Julie Burchill, a writer for the London Times put it this way: “There is something rather sad about those people always banging on about the joys of Slow Shopping, and of its kissing cousin Slow Food; it points to dull and dreary nostalgia-hounds with too much time on their hands and a morbid fear of modernity …”1

I disagree. I have been able to achieve more by adopting Slow principles than I was ever able to do. I’m a Type-A personality, and Alpha. I crave constant input and simulation, and I can’t stand wasting even a minute of time that could otherwise be put to good use. So I according to the experts, I am totally the wrong type of person to adopt the principles of the Slow movement. Yet it still works for me.

My belief is that slow is not only wise, it is essential. For as the pace of life speeds up, the skills that we need to attract and build business and to maintain a superior level of productivity are getting buried under a false momentum that plays on some very deep-seated fears inside the human mind. Furthermore, there are laws of physics that demonstrate that working faster doesn’t get you there faster. But in large part, the digital age has forced us to work faster and live faster, and in so doing we have started to lose sight of the maxim “more haste, less speed.”

It’s important to make the point here that not everything that is quick is bad. Responding quickly to a client’s call might win new business. Solving a client’s problem quickly might generate greater loyalty. Getting out of the way of a falling piano is a healthier option than just standing still.

Quickness is vital to competitiveness and to survival. But quickness and quality cannot be fully achieved if everything else about your work and your mental state is hurried to the point of confusion or exhaustion. The cheetah, for example, is the fastest animal on earth. The cheetah knows so much about being fast primarily because she also knows about going slow. She knows she cannot run 70 miles an hour all day and still expect to make a catch. She knows her own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of her quarry and is thus better empowered to strike at the right time, in the right measure.

So, ultimately, this is what I’m getting at: You can get further, faster, by incorporating slow into your life’s strategy.

Putting Speed into Perspective: Why Are We Racing?

A colleague of mine is the CEO of a media and design firm, and he has also been racing Porsches professionally since the age of 18. Nevertheless, he gives advice that seems contrary to the racer’s image. He says, “If you want to win, you have to know how to slow down as much as how to speed up. How you enter and exit a corner will have enormous impact on your performance on the straightaway.” He continues, “You have to be thinking two cars ahead. Not what the guy in front of you is doing, but the guy in front of him. The same goes for anyone driving on any highway. And you can’t do that if your mind is not together and cool.”

We’re all driving Porsches, mentally at least, from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning until we get back into bed, 13, 16, maybe 20 hours later. But unlike professional racers, it seems a lot of us succumb to the pressure to drive in the fast lane all the time. Urged on by the persistent prodding of our wireless technologies, we feel a palpable need to extend our accessibility and responsibility well beyond reasonable limits. Many people today check their messages from their bedside the moment the clock radio announces the new morning, before their eyes have even properly focused. Many also check in as they retire to their beds at night. If they could swing it, I’m sure they would even arrange to have their email forwarded to their dreams.

As the world becomes more and more connected, we all feel a renewed pressure to outperform, to differentiate ourselves from the competition, to do more and do it faster and usually with fewer resources than ever before. Like a giant poker game, the fear of not achieving these goals drives us forward, fueled by the constant, lurking threat that there is someone out there—a manager, a shareholder, a client, an auditor, or a competitor—who holds the final card, the ace of spades, the card of death—a person who can pull your job, your business, your identity, and your connection to the human race across the table and out of the game.

But the main point is this: No-one can hope to secure a place in either the present or the future simply by staying on the hamster wheel, working as hard and as fast as you can, 18 hours a day. Such behavior sits on the path of personal extinction.

All living species, including humans, have had to continually adapt to their changing environments. Major changes used to take thousands of years over many generations. Now substantial change happens in mere months, whether we’re capable of handling it or not.

I believe the next major evolutionary step for people who live and work in developed economies is to learn to counter some of the ancient instincts that have made speed so influential in their actions. We need to cool down and use slow as the next tool of strategic advantage. A cool mind and body provides fertile ground for creativity, providing the opportunity to deliver better solutions and circumstances, no matter what line of work we happen to be in.

As newer, hungrier economies outpace us with cheaper, faster hard goods and cheaper, immediately accessible outsourced services, the act of cooling down will help us thrive, by making sure we are ready to listen actively, think clearly, work effectively and exist proactively, keeping health and balance side-by-side with competitiveness and innovation. This is the recipe for our future. For as the pace of life continues to increase, and as jobs change and markets shift, will still be able to react—quickly—by being mentally prepared. Quite simply, more can be done in the cool shade of clear thinking than under the hot sun of exertion and reactionism.

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Why “Manager of First Impressions” Is Not a Vanity Title

There are two principles of human memory called the Law of Primacy and the Law of Recency. They are similar in concept. They support the notion that when someone encounters a series of related items such as a bunch of different messages written inside one email, or a group of people in a receiving line, it is either the first or the final item or person in the sequence that is remembered much more vividly than the rest. This one item or person will color an entire relationship going forward.

That’s why I pay particular attention to the way in which companies employ the individual who works at the front desk, in the lobby or reception area. Perhaps I should replace the word “employ” with “deploy,” for I am not referring to employment as in providing a job, but instead how that person and that position are used to further the positive image of a company.

Reception work is not always seen as the most rewarding position in an office. It can sometimes be tedious, and sometimes overly busy, and it is seldom well-paid. I have often heard people make the condescending statement, sometimes unintentionally, when giving a speech or presentation about how a particular topic, product, or trend will affect everyone from the CEO down to the receptionist, as if this latter position is the lowest on the corporate ladder.

What people tend to overlook with such a statement is that the person at reception holds an unrivaled power of first and last impressions, a force that can impact the entire company and everyone in it. I once visited the head office of a large pharmaceuticals company whose gleaming and airy atrium served as the meeting point for hundreds of vendors and buyers every week. Each of these people encountered a polite and efficient person at reception. This individual carried the title of “Manager of First Impressions.”

To me this is not an overly cute vanity title. It is instead the manifestation of the company’s mission statement. First impressions will influence a visitor’s actions and attitudes forever (that’s the Law of Primacy). It shapes an individual’s behavior upon entering the place of business and will influence how they interact.

Back at the pharmaceuticals company’s main lobby, as visitors return their badges and sign out of the building, this Manager of First Impressions takes care to not only actively and sincerely wish the visitors a good day, but also thanks them for visiting. Such simple but well-placed actions demonstrate a degree of care that is becoming less and less common. These actions, demonstrating an above average level of care to each of the hundreds of weekly visitors extends into the brand, generating an image of above average-quality that every company seeks to attain. The reception person operates as a primary catalyst in the success of any business.

On an individual level, the first and last seconds of your interactions with anyone will color their actions and attitudes from that point on. Everyone knows the importance of making good eye contact when shaking hands for the first time, but what about using their name in your parting remarks? Are you able to remember the name(s) of the person or people you have just met? This is a vital skill for managing reputations and relationships. Including a person’s name to your “goodbye” makes things warmer and more personal. It shows indisputably that you care.

In this age where so much communication is done by text, it is still human emotion that guides actions and ultimately influences decisions. Investing some time to implement and practice proactive impression management is essential, for individuals and businesses alike.

Change Management: Is It All In the Delivery?

Regardless of political affiliation, it is incumbent upon anyone involved in change management, stakeholder management or leadership to sit up and pay attention to the techniques currently being used by Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford. This is only common sense. Even if you dislike their style, to paraphrase the words of Don Vito Corleone it is better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Both men maintain positions of almost absolute power. For them, this makes the initiation of change much more manageable. Mr. Ford has learned from Mr. Trump that there is no longer any need to run an idea through a gauntlet of advisors. It is far more expedient to announce it directly to the public through social media or carefully selected journalists.

If one were to compare this against Robert Cialdini’s six faces of influence, this is indisputably the face of authority in action.

However, as Mr. Trump has discovered, and as perhaps Mr. Ford will soon too, not every change deployed by a single tweet or hasty press conference will live to see its day. Numerous lower court rulings that have overturned many of Mr. Trump‘s initiatives show that at least to this moment in history, absolute power in either country is not yet absolute.

But it is still worth observing in both cases the degree to which they understand their stakeholders. Each leader recognizes a solid core base of devoted followers that approaches cult status. The influence and power that each has over their respective bases are not one based on fact, statistics, or explanation. It is one solely based on the power of personality.

Is this something that other people involved in change management should emulate? Is the power of charisma stronger than that of careful planning and communication in the stakeholder management process?

By comparison, how much of this type of charismatic influence did Steve Jobs have in the successful marketing of Apple products? Was it the cult of Apple that spurred sales, or was it a carefully executed plan? Compare this to BlackBerry, once the darling of the corporate crowd. Was a belief in charisma and brand instrumental in the company’s failure to pull the market in its direction? Blackberry did not really have a “face” the same way Apple did, or Virgin still does.

How much of your change management strategy will rely on personal relationships and charisma? Is it even fair to expect successful deployment to be based on the personality of the change leader? In the world of stand-up comedy, a joke or even an entire act can succeed or fail depending on the style of the person delivering it. There’s something to be observed there. Credibility on the part of the messenger or change agent and acceptance on the part of those accepting change rely a great deal on subjective emotional interpretation.

Not every corporate leader charged with initiating a change either within their department or outside in the world of the public is blessed with a fiery personality or unyielding self-confidence. However, it is essential to point out just how crucial it is for people upon whom change is being foisted, to believe in the person initiating that change. Intelligent project management is vital to the successful deployment of change initiatives, but without a personal connection, the plan will fall upon deaf ears.

Humans need to feel comfortable, they need to feel looked after, and they need to feel optimistic. This has been the backbone of organized religion for millennia and is undoubtedly the backbone of populist politics. The question becomes whether an emotionally charged base of disciples is sufficient to carry the day for any of us involved in organizational change. Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford face challenges in the courts, and corporate change managers face the same type of scrutiny and diligence from boards of directors, shareholders, other levels of management and the rank-and-file.

In the end charisma without substance, speeches without research, and personality without plans may be doomed to stumble or fail. But this statement can also be read in reverse: substance without charisma, research without speeches, and plans without personality may also be doomed to the same level of failure.

But those of us busy focusing on a successful change management initiative must take note of the fact that people love to connect with strong leaders who actively listen to their concerns. It is always best when such attention is genuine, and that it results in tangible, people-focused actions, but the point remains; the majority of stakeholders continues to be ruled primarily by emotion, especially fear. Facts are important, of course, but your investment in the emotional side of change should be sufficient to balance out the logic of your project plan.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: How To Make More Things Go Your Way

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled How To Make More Things Go Your Way. We’ll talk about Michelangelo, Dilbert, jiu-jitsu and Steve Jobs, and your personal credit rating. All of these are  , influence, Steve Jobs. All of these will help describe how you can set the stage for a far more satisfying turn of events in your life. There’s no magic involved. Not even any force. But it is surprisingly easy and consistent.

How can you make more things go your way? We would all like that, but why does it seem so hard? The answer is twofold. First, you have to know how to set the stage. Second, the other people involved – and there are always other people involved – have to want to play along. In other words, they have to want to do what you want them to do. I’m not playing word games here, the issue is simply one of vision paired with influence. Influence is the art of getting people to change their actions through something far more subtle than brute force. Anyone can do it, but it does require a cool mind. To illustrate this, I have two brief stories for you. The first happens back in Renaissance Italy:

Florence, Italy, 1502. An enormous block of marble stood in the yard of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. It had once been a magnificent piece of raw stone, but an unskilled sculptor had mistakenly bored a hole through it where there should have been a figure’s legs, mutilating it. Piero Soderini, Florence’s mayor, had contemplated trying to save the block by commissioning Leonardo da Vinci to work on it, or some other master, but had given up, since everyone agreed that the stone had been ruined. So, despite the money that had been wasted on it, it gathered dust in the dark halls of the church.

This was where things stood until some Florentine friends of the great Michelangelo decided to write to the artist, then living in Rome. He alone, they said, could do something with the marble, which was still magnificent material.

The great Michelangelo

Michelangelo traveled to Florence, examined the stone, and came to the conclusion that he could in fact carve a fine figure from it, by adapting the pose to the way the rock had been mutilated. Soderini argued this was a waste of time – nobody could salvage such a disaster – but finally he agreed to let the artist work on it. Michelangelo decided he would depict a young David, sling in hand.

Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue, Soderini entered the studio. Fancying himself a bit of a connoisseur, he studied the huge work, and told Michelangelo that while he thought it was magnificent, the nose was too big.

Michelangelo realized Soderini was standing in a place right under the giant figure and did not have the proper perspective. Without a word, he gestured for Soderini to follow him up the scaffold. Reaching the face area, he picked up his chisel, as well as a bit of marble dust that lay on the planks. With Soderini just a few feet below him on the scaffold, Michelangelo started to tap gently with the chisel, letting the bits of dust he had gathered in his hand to fall little by little. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade he called aside: “Look at it now.”

“I like it better,” replied Soderini, “you’ve made it come alive.”

In this story, Michelangelo sought to change the mind of his client not through confrontation, but by using his understanding of the Mayor’s ego to arrive at a satisfactory meeting of priorities. That’s influence.

This story, by the way is from my favourite book of all time, From The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene, p. 97-98, one of the best books ever written on the subject of human relationships.

It is so much easier to make things happen by pulling people along in the direction they want to go. It’s kind of like the martial art of Jiu Jitsu – in which defence and ultimate victory are attained not by trying to his someone with brute force, but by moving with the direction of the opponents blow, and actually using his own energy to destabilize him. It’s very elegant, to go with the momentum of the flow rather than place yourself as a solid target.

Dilbert’s Murphy Chair

So here’s a second story, and this is one that often gets a laugh during my speeches.  And for this one, I owe thanks to Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert, as well as the office furnishings company IDEO. A few years back, IDEO, and Adams teamed up to design the “ultimate cubicle – the perfect workspace.

Of the many features available in this design, one of the most intriguing was the “Murphy chair.” Its premise was simple. Rather than having a second chair in the work area of the cubicle, the Murphy chair was actually a panel that would fold down from the cubicle wall to create a seating space, in much the same way a Murphy bed folds out of a wall to create a bedroom. From an influence perspective, the most fascinating feature of the Murphy chair was that it was wired to the telephone in the cubicle, so that a few minutes after the seat was “deployed,” it made the phone ring, thereby prompting the visitor to understand: it’s time to go.

The seat-phone connection is a tool of influence – making or reminding a visitor of the need to leave due to a socially acceptable and higher-priority situation: “Oh your phone’s ringing. I should get going.”

Technology appeals to an inner set of instinctive priorities, and influences people to behave immediately. Although there’s a good deal of humor built into the design, it highlights a classic opportunity. Influence happens best when motivation comes from inside the other person, rather than being placed upon them.

There are many ways these lofty concepts can be integrated into daily life to ensure people behave and cooperate with you to help you achieve your goals. Here are just a few very doable actions.

Make things tangible. Just like Scott Adam’s chair, tangibility goes a long way in giving people a common vision.  Start with your calendar. If you want time to be left alone to get work done without interruption, make sure your colleagues or clients can see your calendar. It should have some times blocked off, and some times intentionally left open. It is much easier to get someone to come back if you give them visible proof of your availability and steer them towards those spaces.

Give them the comfort of the known. If you want to talk to someone, or have a phone call, give them an exact time and duration of the call. Let them understand this will not be a vague, never-ending conversation, but will instead be a fixed amount of time. A very low risk undertaking.

Don’t Overload People

If you want people to respond to your requests, do not overload them. Many people try to send too much information at one time, especially in emails. The simple rule should be a 1-2-3-4 approach like this: follows:

  1. Include only one message. If you tell someone more than one idea in an email, they will most likely forget all but one of the items, or even delay acting on any of them. It’s just too much. Even though it appears on the surface to be more efficient to cram a bunch of ideas into one message, the opposite is true. If you have three different messages to send to people, send them in three separate emails. So again, step 1 – one message.
  2. Use bullets. Those little black dots are excellent in guiding the eye around a page. The human eye is an amazing device, but it likes to conserve energy. It is drawn to graphic objects much more quickly than it is to text. This means your bullet symbols will result in less distraction by your reader.
  3. Tell your reader three times. Yes, three. Just like your high-school teacher might have taught you when preparing a report or an essay. You tell your readers what you are about to say, then you tell them then you tell them what you just told them. In the context of an email, this means your subject line should completely summarize, in 12 words or less, what your message is. Ideally, your reader should not have to read the email at all, if the subject line does its job properly. In fact, it’s a good idea to go on that assumption. The shorter and the clearer, the better.

Next you tell your story, in no more than three paragraphs, with the opening paragraph covering your key message, and the second paragraph providing support material or evidence. Again, assume your reader is not going to read the entire paragraph, but will just read the first line. Write accordingly.

At the end of your email, ideally as a PS., a post-script following your signature, tell them again. Give your reader a kick in the pants on the way out. This sounds severe, but it has always been a principle of human nature that attention spans are short, and memory is unreliable. This is doubly true in the age in which social media, texting, and other technologies threaten to take your reader’s attention away before you are finished with them.

  1. Make sure your email is entirely visible on one screen – the 4 items – the opening – Dear Steve, the bulleted paragraphs, the signature, and the Post Script should all be visible without scrolling. Why is this important? Because once again, is removes a fear from your reader. A fear of the unknown – how long is this email going to be? A fear of commitment. A fear of losing too much time.

Even though an email is a written message, it should be thought of more as a graphic advertisement, something whose visual appearance shouts, Hey, this is not that hard! You can do this.

Remember we are talking her about how to make things go your way. Getting people to read your emails and act upon them quickly goes a long way towards achieving your goals in this area.

Your Personal Credit Rating

But there’s something else. Something more human than email, and that has to do with your credit rating. Not the financial one that you use to borrow money, but your personal rating.

If you want things to go your way, you have to think about how people relate to you and how you want them to relate to you.

People can either fear you, or they can like you. In almost all cases, liking lasts longer. Robert Cialdini is a world-renowned expert in influence. In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he identifies six different ways that you can exert influence over someone. These are:

  • Reciprocity: you give something to me, I feel obliged to give back. I put out my hand to and you feel obliged to shake it.
  • Commitment and consistency: developing and sticking to habits or people that we know and have become comfortable with. Politicians very seldom change their hairstyle or clothing style once in office. They know people put faith in a consistent and reliable image that must not change, even a little bit, from day to day.
  • Social proof: we decide upon the correct action or opinions based on what others are doing. We see people wearing a certain fashion, most of us want to wear that. We ask for a recommendation for a good restaurant and we believe that you know what you’re talking about when you name a place.
  • Authority: we believe in and react to the authority of another. We know he or she is the boss or the leader and we respond accordingly.
  • Scarcity: we act now out of the fear that the opportunity might not exist in the future. Advertising is full of this: “order now, supplies are limited,” or these sale prices will not last.

And finally, there is Liking: we like to work with people we like. This is my favorite one and I think it is the most successful. People like to work with people they like. This doesn’t mean “love” nor does it mean an excessive devotion. But it refers to comfort and respect. If I acknowledge your hard work, if I talk to you face to face and genuinely listen to what you have to say, if I make you feel comfortable and respected, you are likely to respond with greater comfort and trust towards me.

This again is not something I wish to use as a tool of manipulation, but the truth is, if I need you to show up on time, or provide me with your part of the project, complete and on time, or if I need you to fill in for me, or if I simply want you to read and respond to my messages promptly – and possibly prioritize them higher than the others, the odds are better you will do this if you like me to some degree, rather than fear me.

I mentioned in a previous podcast that I believe the concept of leadership really comes down to one word: acknowledgement. People like to be acknowledged, and they will indeed reciprocate.

Now it could be said that many highly successful people such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett made their billions by not necessarily being the nicest person in the room. I have never met them, so I don’t know how nice they may be. They became influential through social proof and authority. If you are in the same camp as these guys, that’s great. Use what you’ve got. But most people will not become the mega-giants of industry that Steve, Bill and Warren are. Most will instead carve out a career as part of a machine, not as the owner of the machine. Most people will judge their own success on a combination of elements, including financial security, job satisfaction, family and health.

If you can invest some of your time into the nurturing of relationships – invest part of that 80/20 rule I’m always talking about, you will build a collection of people that not only know you, but who also have positive feelings about you, feelings that you can capitalize on in an ethical and mutually beneficial way. People who like you are the people who will find opportunities for you and who will support and guide you.

I hope you will see that these topics extend well beyond the world of email and meetings. They can be applied to all aspects of life. They just need that cool clear head that keeps you aware of your surroundings and your great capacity to influence the world around you, and in turn, your future.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled How to Make More Things Go Your Way. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Are You Conscious?

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Are You Conscious. It describes how moving from reactive to proactive is a positive brain-body exercise that will help you do things right, do things better, and foster more constructive relationships.

Are you conscious? I don’t mean, are you awake? I mean are you really conscious? Are you in the moment? Are you able to know what is going on around you and pro-act accordingly?

This is an essential part of getting things done the way you want them to be done, but it is something that so often gets terribly overlooked. We have become overrun by external stimuli like emails and texts, as well as the simple momentum of life, to the point that, in many cases, we simply react. But being a slave to reaction is very expensive. In this podcast, I want to share with you why that is so dangerous and counterproductive, and what you can do to turn this around. But first, let’s go to the airport.

Imagine yourself for a moment in the departure lounge of an airport. You are rushing to catch a connecting flight, half-jogging to the gate and pulling your wheeled carry-on bag behind you. A sign on the wall catches your eye. It says “Beware! There are pickpockets in this area.”

Now what is the thing you are most likely to do at this moment? If you are like 95% of the traveling public you will instinctively reach for your wallet, your purse or the breast pocket of your blazer – wherever you remember your money to be.

Bad move. That is precisely what a good pickpocket wants you to do. This is the reaction they are looking for. In fact, the first priority for any ambitious pickpocket is to locate the nearest warning sign or maybe even bring one with them, and stand near it, since this is where success happens.

Human beings are hard-wired to react, especially to dangerous or threatening stimuli. The threat of a pickpocket in the area immediately forces the unsuspecting passer-by to touch the location where the money is stored, as an attempt to neutralize the threat by ensuring the money is still there. But by doing so, the passer-by is basically saying to the pickpocket, “Hey, thief, my money is here, OK?” and pointing at it.

The reaction gives away precisely what the pickpocket wants: the correct location of the goods.

In this situation, the unsuspecting traveler reacts as all living creatures do. Alerted to danger, instinct takes over. The pickpocket on the other hand, pro-acts, anticipating the turn of events and setting a trap. The thief is writing the history of the next few minutes even before they happen. The thief anticipates the reaction of all but the coolest of airport travelers and communicates an influential message by way of the warning sign itself. A perfect trap.

In the working world, the challenges we experience with managing time come from this same reality – the one that says we must react. When emails come in, we feel compelled to read them. It’s a reaction based on an instinct that addresses our fear of the unknown. When someone interrupts, we feel obliged to respond. When a meeting planner books a meeting, we feel obliged to go, even if it messes up the entire afternoon. Reaction makes us follow the calendar’s commands. This is neither healthy nor productive.

Think about Phishing emails.

Phishing emails are a modern day equivalent of pickpocketing and are the conduit for a wide variety of common business crises, like hacking, data breaches and ransomware. You check your email and see a message that looks very legitimate – it has the logo and everything – and says, “your bank account has been frozen,” or even “Job application, please click here to download my résumé.” Without thinking, you click on the link and the malware pours into your system because rather than stopping and thinking about this, you react, click, and invite the bad guys in.

Pro-action, by contrast, can put you back in the driver’s seat, and back in control. This is such a crucial part of life, work, productivity and online security.

The Physiology of Being in – or not in – Control

There is a physiological response that happens when you and your body sense that you are at a particular level of control – that danger has been put aside. When this happens, it feels good. Nutrient, oxygen, blood – they all move where they need to go and they do so more efficiently. This means to the brain, certainly, but also to the digestive system, and many other vital areas. When you feel good, your body feel good. When your body feels good, it works best.

So let’s look at things from the opposite side. When an email, an interruption or any sort of distraction happens to you, your instinct response with a fight-or-flight reflex that we have known and felt for hundreds of thousands of years. During this response, you stop thinking clearly. All of the nutrients and all of the elements that are distributed reasonably equally around your body are quickly removed to other places. The blood, nutrients and oxygen in your brain are shift over to the amygdala – the anger center of the brain, to immediately handle this unexpected urgency.

  • Digestion tends to stop or low to a crawl
  • Vision goes into “tunnel vision”
  • Your ability to prioritize tasks or actions freezes up

All these things happen as soon as you start to feel not in control. It’s a significant physiological response.

The Art of Saying “No.”

“No” is one of the hardest words in the English language, because so often, saying it leads to conflict or problems. It can be an insult, a challenge to another person’s dignity, made even worse if this person is your boss, your customer or your partner. It might even lead to confrontation and bad feeling.

But you can look at the word “No” as being a shortened version of the word Negotiate. Everything in life can be negotiated. There are alternatives, there are deadline extensions there are other alternatives to taking care of a task. Everything that has been loaded onto your plate can be negotiated.

It’s a matter of managing peoples’ expectations in a way that makes them feel they are still being looked after, even if the conditions of the request have been changed to something more manageable.

But if you are not in that conscious state, if you are still in the fight-or-flight-response mode, then there will be no creative space for coming up with alternatives. It’s about keeping a cool head. Being able to think clearly requires a capacity for, and a genuine sense of being in control.

Once you have that, you are able to influence peoples’ decisions, negotiate alternative outcomes, and steer things to a more comfortable and productive conclusion than that which happens when reaction is the only choice.

Fight-or-flight represents pickpocketing in real life. Your time and your mental capacity are being stole from you because of reaction and fear.

Remembering Peoples’ Names

One of the most significant and treasures words in the English language – or any language for that matter – is a person’s name, interjected at the right place and time. Inserting a person’s name into a conversation demonstrates to them that you have genuine care and interest in them. All human beings have two sides: an emotional side and a rational side. The emotional side always dominates. The most powerful emotion of all is fear. This is why we get caught up and get disoriented in moments of uncertainly and confusion. Fear rules everything.

But no matter what line of business you are in, no matter how rational and logical you feel yourself to be, the people you react with and the people with whom you work, the people that you serve – customers, clients, managers, colleagues, everyone – they are all emotionally driven. When you can contact that emotional base, you make a far more profound connection with them.

This turns into an increased willingness for people to cooperate with you, to participate in projects or meetings, all the positive reactions that come from this positive feeling. So keeping a cool head generally means that whenever you can address people by name, as emotional beings, they will want to work with you. They will in essence love you for acknowledging ther dignity and moving with them in a way that motivates them.

So one of the easiest ways to do that is to remember someone’s name and use it in your conversation.

But there’s a catch. Often, when you meet someone and they introduce themselves by name, you will have forgotten it 30 seconds later. Tat happens because the act of meeting someone involves a physical protocol. It varies among countries, but for many of us it involves a short handshake, a small amount of eye contact and a light smile. This is a trained action that you have committed to physical muscle memory. It does not require any conscious processing. So when you hear a person’s name, there is no conscious processing that confirms “I must memorize this.”

When you can insert that person’s name – not overly frequently but just toward the conclusion of the conversation, the message is, “I care about you enough to remember your name – to remember you as a specific person. That word – a person’s name – carries a huge weight.

The trick to remembering peoples’ names is – as you shake hands, and as you hear the person’s name, you do a word association trick. You connect a person’s name to something about them – their hairstyle their clothing, their glasses or jewelry, maybe a physical resemblance to someone you know, or knew in high school, or a TV or movie character. It’s a silent word association game that will allow you to connect to this person’s name, at least for the duration of the conversation.

It’s a fantastic trick that you can do with dozens of people at a time, at a networking meeting, for example. But only after you have practiced this skill.

The point is, you must remember to remember to do it! That’s the trick. If you go into a conversation and shake hands with a stranger while you’re still in in reactive mode, you won’t remember to do this. That’s where the word association and memory component will come in – when you remember to stay in pro-active mode.

When you do this successfully, you will move up on this person’s emotional checklist of “liked” people. You will come across as someone who cares, someone who is interesting, and someone  who they wish to work with.

The Bottom Line

You have much to gain from stepping away from reaction and replacing it with pro-action and cool thought. Your entire body will thank you for it and will support you.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Are You Conscious? If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

Applying the Right Conditioning, Not On Your Hair, On Your Colleagues

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One of the best ways to become more productive is to proactively manage the expectations of others, rather than simply react to them the moment they appear. This sounds tricky at first glance, but it really comes down to conditioning.

Conditioning makes gains through positive reward.

Many types of creatures can be conditioned by way of a food reward, after they perform a desired action. That’s what the whole “Pavlov’s dog” thing was about. With our human colleagues the same approach can be applied, but instead of food, you can use another basic need, and that is comfort. Whether they are your co-workers, clients, colleagues or managers – they all crave the comfort of knowing their current need will be handled. When you address that craving, you deliver comfort to them.

But comfort can come in two forms: you can do what they ask, or you can manage their expectations. The first response conditions people to know they can always get what they want from you right away. For example, a colleague sends you a work-related email at 11:30 p.m. If you respond to it, you are conditioning the sender to always expect the same type of 24/7 service. That’s great for them, but not great for you.

The second – managing their expectations – gives them the comfort of knowing they have been heard and will be attended to, within a reasonable amount of time. This second choice, I believe, is much better.

To protect your valuable working time, and to use it correctly, we have to identify every opportunity to influence and soothe the wills and egos of those around us. Simply blocking off time or disappearing into an unused office to get work done, for example, runs the risk of causing the people around you great worry – not for your safety, necessarily, but for the satisfaction of their own needs. They will continue to try to find you.

If you don’t feel like performing this type of expectation-reward conditioning, remember that choosing not to condition is still conditioning. Whichever response you give to a request or interruption, it becomes the precedent for future expectations.

Let’s put it this way: a colleague comes to you with a task that he perceives as urgent. He wants you to do it. If there is no one else who can do this task but you, there are three possible answers:

  • I’ll do it now.
  • I’ll do it later.
  • I can’t do it now, but I can do it at 2:00. How’s 2:00 for you?

The first answer, “I’ll do it now,” informs the requester that you are willing to drop everything to accommodate the request. That’s not good. Once precedent has been set, the expectation is that you will do so again and again, and you will lose control of that relationship.

The second answer, “I’ll do it later,” is unacceptable to your colleague’s need for comfort. They demand satisfaction, and a vague answer isn’t enough. Any time we use avoidance without an acceptable alternative, the requester remains motivated to pursue a better answer.

The third answer presents a suitable alternative to “now.” In this case, 2:00 is sufficiently close as to soothe the requester’s need for satisfaction, without requiring that you drop everything immediately. Providing that you actually pay this confidence back by dealing with the request at 2:00, you will have conditioned your colleague to recognize that you are accessible, albeit, more on your own terms.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

How a Warehouse Teach Us Control Over Our Schedule

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One of the most important principles that I teach to my audiences is to use the first 10-15 minutes of your day to plan the rest of the day. Book it as a recurring appointment that happens before any other business. Even after you have physically arrived at your workplace, even if you work from home, the day should not begin until you have reviewed and updated your project plan.

There is an all-too-human tendency for people to expect you to be available the moment they see you, even if you haven’t sat down yet. Not only should you be able to find time to take off your coat and get a coffee, but those first ten to fifteen minutes must also be defended as “not-yet-open-for-business” time. Think, once again, of the chef at a restaurant, or the owner of a store. There is much to be done before opening the doors to paying customers.

Reserving time in this way might seem tricky when you first start doing it, because people are used to talking with you the moment they see you, and you are likely used to getting started on the first of your many tasks. It is essential to condition your people as well as yourself to understand your new ways and to learn what’s in it for them to play along. Just because you haven’t been doing it a certain way in the past doesn’t mean you can’t start a new practice now. It’s all in how you communicate it.

  1. Identify your fixed appointments and be brutally realistic about their durations and other items like travel time. Although meetings and discussions should always be kept as short and effective as possible, some things will always take longer than we would like, and time must be reserved for this.
  2. Next, convert your To Do’s into appointments. Some To Do’s occupy a list on the edge of your calendar; others come disguised as emails, which request your action and attention. Any email that needs more than a couple of minutes of your time to respond to, either because it needs a lot of writing, or because it is requesting action on your part – is no longer an email. It deserves to be promoted into an appointment and assigned to your calendar. Because these tasks lack a specific start or end time, it is too easy to acknowledge their existence yet still overlook their duration – a fatal mistake, because, even the smallest of them will eat more of your time than you’d expect. Move them off the To-do list and directly onto your calendar as appointments,
  3. Next, schedule time for lunch. Nutrition and refreshment are essential but too often overlooks elements for productivity and success. Reserve a block of time for lunch. An hour is idea, but anything down to 15 minutes would do, providing it gives you enough time to eat – away from your work. Defend this small block of time. It is sacrosanct.
  4. Finally, ensure that some space on your daily calendar is left open for those unplanned events, whether they present themselves as crises or opportunities. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. A calendar should never be booked one hundred percent full, since this creates more problems than it solves.

Do you think it is impossible to insist on leaving some time in the day unassigned? That’s because as human beings we see most things in black and white concepts. The vagueness of the unknown is uncomfortable and we feel it should be replaced with an absolute. So to help justify the existence of spaces in your calendar, think about warehouses. A warehouse is a space whose success is based on having a certain portion of its volume as nothing but empty space. In order for fork-lift trucks or people to place items on shelves and retrieve them again, there has to be space – aisles and between shelving units and even vertical space above each shelf. If this 20 percent of the internal warehouse space was reassigned to the storage of more items, the total capacity of the warehouse would increase, but its functionality and practicality would be substantially reduced, since nothing could move.

Taking the time to structure your day in this way sets it on a positive, realistic course. It liberates your mind from having to make logistical decisions on the spot, and also gives you a great working stance to handle crises and the even unexpected events. Yes, it takes 15 minutes of your day to do this, but it means that the rest of your working day remains under your control.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.