Productivity

Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model

The coronavirus pandemic is now shining a light on the work from home concept. Organizations large and small are sending their people home, either as a preventative measure, or while they disinfect their buildings. Working from home, once seen as a concession or as a luxury, is now coming to the fore as a leap forward. Why? For the very same reason it has been largely ignored over the past decade: trust.

For much of the past decade, the work from home model has relied on a laptop computer and and email connection. This meant that knowledge workers could do much of their work from their own kitchen table or home office, checking in on occasion, but working largely in isolation. This has not been its most greatly appealing feature. And one of the reasons for this is trust. Managers will ask, how can I trust that my employees are actually working and not watching TV? But this attitude is perfectly human, but perfectly wrong.

It’s a human thing to do because people still bank a great deal on face-time. It is assumed that if people are at work, they are actually working. Although most of us know that is not entirely true. Entire TV series, like The Office, reflect the realities of office life. A great deal of time is spent not working, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes du to the need to socialize, and sometimes due to the hard fact that the human brain and body cannot work at full production for hours on end. We zone in and out based on energy levels, sleep, hunger and the natural rhythms of the human body.

Eve the most diligent and dedicated professional, pounding out material hour after hour on the keyboard will end up with substandard work sooner or later if they don’t take a break.

Smoke breaks, coffee runs, even meetings and training days are great opportunities for people to take a vacation from work while at work, and the addictive call of social media is always just a flick away, whether hidden temporarily on a browser tab, or on an employee’s phone. No one can truly prove they have put in 8 full hours of work in an 8 hour day. It just isn’t possible.

But still, the idea of someone working from home in their jammies, just doesn’t seem like real work. So  here are five reasons why managers should relax and let at least some of their people work from home as part of ongoing management and future proofing your company.

  1. Not trusting your employees is not healthy. Leaders and managers take all types of courses and consume all kinds of books dealing with leadership and team management. To then turn around and dismiss the work from home model as being untrustworthy because people might not actually be working reveals a mistrust that will permeate an entire team. If our manager doesn’t trust people to work from home responsibly, what else might this manager have problems with? Leadership and trust go hand in hand. People need to trust their leaders and leaders need to trust their people. When this doesn’t happen, and things revert to command-and-control, the good people leave. The old expression has never been more true. People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers. In this age of increased career mobility, where having three or more employers on your résumé per decade is no longer a bad thing – but actually a good one – it is no longer a issue or daring an employee to quit. It’s about daring them to stay.
  1. Trusting your employees is very heathy. Whether it’s a work from home thing or something else, like delegating work, or giving people free reign to run their projects their way, a clear demonstration of trust is a powerful way to build loyalty and productivity. Most people take pride in their work. They look to their managers for opportunities to grow and develop. They want to show what they can do. Most people, when given the chance to fly free, will return to the corporate perch because that’s where the freedom comes from. Demonstrating trust in an employee is like the adrenaline for a project. Establishing a culture of trust again reverberates through the entire organization. It’s not just for the work from home people.
  2. So what if a work-from-home employee does watch some TV? Or goes and takes the dog for a midday walk? Or stops by the store to go pick something up? That’s part of life, and it’s the same type of break that employees do at their workplace already. Knowledge workers are paid for the application of their knowledge to tasks and projects. They research, they write, they plan, and they do. And unless the project at hand is a crisis event that must be resolved in an hour, a responsibly measured break within the workday actually supports high productivity by focusing it into the hours when a person’s mind and body are best attuned to it. When it comes to knowledge worker, metrics of work is not the hours spent sitting at a desk, the way sweatshop workers are assessed to this day. The metrics must revolve around quality, accuracy, promptness and relevance and these are better handled on a responsibly managed flexible schedule.
  3. Access. So, what about the meetings? The spontaneous interactions in the hallway? The office chats and feedback? These things are fundamental to team management and office life. But now they are just as available, even remotely, through applications like Slack, Zoom, Skype Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex. Video conferencing is no longer just for formally scheduled boardroom meetings. They are available whenever and however – the perfect visual version of the intercom.
  4. Finally, the people who are able to work from home effectively are definitely the ones you want to keep on your team. They are motivated. They know how to get things done. They know how to manage their time and their technology. And in many cases, thanks to the fact there is no commute, they are able to deliver more than a day’s worth of work per day even with a lunchtime walk with the dog included. When this is rewarded with trust, you stand to retain the best of your disciplined and motivated employees simply by letting them work where and how it fits their life better.

Of course, not all employees are suite for work from home. Many like to interact with their colleagues and may find work from home to be too isolated and quiet. OK, so those people are best staying at the office. During crisis times such as the current pandemic, they will need some training on how to do it effectively.

Many managers fear that one bad apple who will sleep through the day and abuse the trust and privilege that work from home offers. Yes, those people exist, but the reality is they exist in the office as well. But they know how to hide it. It becomes a strategic management choice as to whether to forfeit the entire remote work operation and its benefits on account of such individuals.

Finally, there is the comfort level among managers and team leaders. Many people grew up professionally during a time when remote work did not exist as a viable option. So it does not seem right, or feasible that people can get work done from home. It is difficult to shake off those preconceptions. Yet when one looks at what knowledge workers actually do, their time is often spent between keyboard work, meetings and email, all of which can now be done – including the communications part from anywhere. Private, focused time is easier to get when you are in the privacy of your own home, yet direct, fluid conversation is also available in video and chat form whenever its needed.

It’s not about replicating the office experience – it’s about redefining what work is. What productivity is. Frankly professional work is about quality and output, not time served. Even if you bill hourly, your capacity for maximizing productivity and profitability comes from a balanced approach to work and life. Even those professionals who are able to bill out at hundreds of dollars an hour know that if the quality isn’t there, sooner or later the customer is going to question that bill.

Here are a couple more things to think about. According to a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder nearly 80 percent of American workers say they’re living paycheck to paycheck. Many people in the workforce have little backing them up. Not all of these workers are knowledge workers, of course. Many belong to the service industry or manufacturing, or places where interaction with customers in a central place is essential. But for those we call knowledge workers, who can do their work equally well from anywhere, the opportunity to work from home even some of the time provides an economic benefit in the best of times, and may be a life saver on days where absence would be the only alternative. Snow days or teachers strikes for parents, or days when you are sick, even with normal colds or flu.

But in addition, it must be noted that people of all ages are becoming aware that work, as essential as it might be to life, is a different beast than it was 20 or more years ago. Professionals are growing used to life online – many have grown up with it, others have grown used to it. But the ability for work to be done anywhere at any time is far more attainable than at any other time in history, and it’s an attractive part of the entire employment decision.

As such, the decision to not only encourage working from home, but to develop it as a skill can be seen as a highly proactive and timely investment in the future of any organization. An idea whose time has truly come.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. or search for it on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, etc. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Know

How do you know what you don’t know? What does that even mean, and why is it important to your business?

For centuries, people have been trying to get other people to hire them or buy their services. That’s what commerce is. In any form of commerce, knowledge is power, and this is doubly or quadruply true today. Whether you work for a department of a large company, a small start-up, or maybe you work for yourself, what you know about your industry, your competitors and your customers is vital. But so, too is the information you don’t currently know, information that you don’t know you need to know, or maybe you don’t want to know.

Let me give you an example to make this clear.

A few years back I was giving a speech at a convention of physicians. We all need doctors of course, but it is a common understanding that part of a physician’s so-called bedside manner, that air of confidence that allows them to communicate with their patients, is based on the fact that they are supposed to know all they need to in order to make an accurate assessment and a successful prescription for recovery. No one wants to see a nervous physician.

At this particular event,  I was about to give a speech on the impact of social media on the physician-patient relationship, when one of my two hosts for the event stopped me and asked if I was planning to mention a certain website, and if so, to please refrain from doing so. The site was a FaceBook page dedicated to healthcare system horror stories in the geographic area I was speaking in.  The page – which no longer exists – clearly stated that it was not in any way a hate page against hard-working physicians, nurses or other healthcare workers, but simply a place to commiserate and share stories about wait times, hallway medicine and other discomforts of the healthcare industry.

The host who asked me to refrain from mentioning this page was keenly interested in not tainting the event with negative stories about the healthcare industry. But the other host disagreed and said we should discuss this story. How else can our audience, comprised of physicians know what they don’t know?

Knowing what you don’t know seems like such an esoteric term. But in this age of data it is both more more important than ever before and also easier. Research no longer requires physical actions like visiting a library or holding focus groups. The data – all of it – is out there, and technologies like AI and machine learning – even simple Google News Alerts help bring it right to your doorstep.

Another healthcare related story helps drive this home. I was once consulting to an association that focuses on the management of hospitals and other health care institutions. They wanted to rebuild their social media presence and asked for me to help with the RFP process for website design. During the course of the needs analysis and market research, we decided to try to find out what the general public wanted to know about their hospital system. In other words, what did the association not know about their customer base? It turned out the most common question people had about the hospitals in their region was not about specialities or even wait times. It was “how much parking cost.” That’s what people really wanted to know, and that really came out of left field for the association. They had no idea.

So how do you find out what you don’t know? And how do you find out what you don’t know you don’t know? A good example might be going to a meeting at a client or customer location. If you don’t know how to get there, you know you don’t know that, so you consult a map or you program their address into your driving GPS app. But what if this customer was also comfortable meeting by video, saving you the trip both there and back? If this is not made clear, then you don’t know the option exists, and you don’t know to ask.

You don’t know to ask. Now that’s a Vital Soft Skill

When people talk about the future of work, one of the predominant must haves is soft skills. As artificial intelligence and other technologies eat into the hard skill sets that have supported any of us over the past few decades, it’s soft skills that will turn out to be vital for a career. For example, a cybersecurity specialist in IT must learn the skills of negotiation and influence in order to be heard at the C-suite table. Employees need to understand critical thinking and prioritization to manage workloads and distinguish real messages from phishing scams. Managers must develop emotional intelligence and active listening skills to better understand a highly mobile workforce that is already attuned to the audience-of-one mindset.

Add to this list, the ability to know what you don’t know. It’s a soft skill. It’s information literacy. It’s almost a sixth sense. But it’s very easy to do. You just have to know what questions to ask.

To understand what I mean by this, think about how people try to find out stuff they don’t know. If you run a business or a store or a department, you might conduct a survey or an interview. But in many cases this type of investigation is framed by the questions you ask. And even if you keep things as open as possible, for example offering people a text box to type in their thoughts or an open, flow of conscsiousness statement, they still know that the source of the question is you, and that is going to frame and skew the outcome.

A new and better source of unknown knowledge, then, is unstructured data that comes from an external source and that is not affiliated with you. The health system horror stories example I shared earlier/above is a case in point. Ostensibly created by someone as a community discussion not aimed at any one healthcare facility in particular and certainly not initiated by one.

Twitter is a great source for this, in my opinion. Once you get past the vitriol, hatred and junk out there, there are still many worthwhile people actively talking about things going on in your industry. This is unstructured data. It’s free-flow commentary that is not guided or influenced by leading questions.

So how do you find it? Keyword searches and Google news alerts seem like the most obvious route, and indeed an ongoing practice of farming the internet for keywords is vital. But this, too, is prone to the subjectivity of the words you choose, which is why a policy of diligent social media surfing is also valuable.

If you follow a specific subject matter expert on Twitter, it’s likely this individual will provide valuable information. But look around. Read the comments made by others. Pay attention to the recommendations of others to follow. Watch the hashtags being used. These all expand your awareness  to other organizations or industries that may seem totally unrelated, but from whom valuable insight can be gained.

Here’s a third healthcare related story that illustrates this. I was once teaching a group of paramedic supervisors about team dynamics. The conversation moved to the topic of the speed of response and safe driving techniques for emergency vehicles. The flow of the conversation led me to remember a tweet I had seen about a pilot project that delivered defibrillators by drone, complete with two-way audio and  video to help someone save another person’s life even before the paramedics arrive. This discovery was something I had stumbled across while doing separate research and then mentally filed away. It was by chance, yes, but I still had the presence of mind to note that this item of news would be important to my ongoing knowledge and value as an expert.

The point is, information is available all around us, but  knowing where and how to find it requires stepping away from the traditional index or table of contents and moving towards intelligent gathering of information.

Here’s a non-healthcare related analogy: some people call it reticular activation, and others simply call it the purple Jeep syndrome.

Imagine you decide to buy a new car and the model you decide upon is a Jeep. But not just any Jeep a purple one. As you entertain that decision, you will start to notice that quite a few people are driving purple Jeeps out there. Where did they come from? Did central casting just send a bunch of people into your personal movie to throw you off your game? No. The answer is those people and those Jeeps have always been there, but now your mind has been turned on to them, you will suddenly start to notice them. That’s reticular activation.

The same goes for information gathering in the great data ocean. You can’t always know what you’re looking for exactly, but a tuned in mind is better able to identify patterns, keywords, relevant ideas and potential jewels than can a stressed and distracted one. This, again is information literacy.

The Johari Window

If you’re looking for a physical tool to help you figure out what you don’t know about your business, your customers or yourself, try using a Johari Window. This is simply a construct of four squares, laid out two by two, with each one focusing on information known or not known to yourself and known or not known to others. The top left square is easiest to fill out: things you know about yourself, and things others know about you. Then close by, you will have squares for things you know about yourself but that others do not know about you, and also things others know about you but you do not know about yourself. Then, in the lower right corner, the ultimate black hole: things you don’t know about yourself AND things that people do not know about you.

If this is confusing, check out this Johari Window that zoologist Barbara G. Evers has created using a story line we are all familiar with.

Image courtesy Barbara G Evers – from her Eclectic Muse blog series. (Click to visit)

The point is knowledge comes from reticular activation pared with passive social media discovery. It stems from a desire to know what we don’t know, and an awareness that such knowledge is out there to be found in unstructured data – paragraphs of text and tweeted commentary

A customer returns desk, the traditional dark corner of a retail store is no longer a place of shame – it becomes a goldmine for the store to learn what they don’t know about the customers who still shop with them. Similarly, scanning a person’s LinkedIn profile before meeting them in person or online, may reveal previously unknown connection points – a person, a university or a job, that gives you something in common – something to connect with.

So, in an age of information, it remains more vital than ever to know that there is more to know, but that finding it truly is more of an art than a science.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Know. 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

The Calendar Crisis

What is a crisis to you? Usually when people think of the term crisis, they think of a bad event – a point where something is going to break. People can have an emotional crisis or a financial one. A city or company can have a leadership crisis. A country can have a civil crisis like a revolution or an environmental or industrial one.

In all cases, they represent points of urgency in which the boundaries that help keep normalcy normal are becoming stretched to the breaking point.

In day-to-day life, we can also face workload scheduling crises. These may not sound as significant or tragic, and of course they usually are not. But they still represent a breaking point and an urgent need of repair.

In its simplest form, a scheduling crisis takes its meaning from the world of project management. We are looking at a new, unexpected task that comes out of nowhere, must be taken care of right now, and as such imposes itself upon your already crowded calendar, forcing you to put other tasks aside until you take care of it.

This type of crisis might appear as one of the following:

  • a meeting that suddenly gets called
  • a new request from your boss or a customer
  • someone calls in sick and cannot do their part of a project that needs to be done today

None of these things sound terribly bad. This is not an issue of workplace violence or a cyberattack, but they are related. Because when an unexpected thing hits your calendar, a few things happen.

  • First, yes, you have to react. And reaction triggers a mild fight-or-flight response that tends to move people towards doing things without clearly thinking them through, just to get them out of the way
  • Second the new, urgent task forces other work to be pushed to the side, yet that work still has to get done, which causes a ripple effect across the rest of your calendar and generally spills out into personal time
  • Third, it sets a precedent of normality – an ergonomic inflation that forces you to accept that this is how things are. Just more and mor stuff to deal with, without pushback or delineations in place. This only leads to an inadvertent complacency and a willing to continue to do the same – to accept workload crises without question, and just deal with them.

That’s not ideal. It’s the reason why we accept so many emails and so many tasks. We accept the unexpected because, as humans we are hard-wired to react, and proactive planning does not come naturally to us.

But every time one of these unplanned events comes at you, it upsets everything, not just your work, but your diet, and even your sleep cycle. It’s a disruption that comes at great cost.

Let’s Take Stock

One of the things project managers do a lot of is quantify. Count. They count everything. Every task that goes into a project. How much time and how many resources they will need and for how long. It’s part of project planning. So, let’s quantify the calendar-related crises that have happened to you.

How often does a crisis happen to you? How often does an unplanned activity force its way in to your nice, organized day? Once per day? Once every couple of days? Once per week? And how, long, on average, does it take for you to handle this crisis? Remember a crisis could be anything from a network crash to an email requiring you to drop everything and do something.

Now, Let’s Plan For Them

If, for example, you recognize that every day, an unplanned event – a calendar crisis happens – something that forces you to shove everything else aside to handle it – then you what you actually have there is an expectable activity. If you can expect an unplanned activity to happen every day, then yes, you can expect it. And that gives you proactive, conscious power. Instead of dreading it, hoping against hope that it won’t happen, you can plan for it. You can even enter it on your calendar as a recurring activity: 12:00-1:00 every day: crisis of the day.

Now let’s be clear, of course no-one expects the crisis to happen exactly at 12:00 each day, but the point is, you set the time aside for it now, you budget time for it, and when the crisis actually happens, you can drag that block up or down the calendar face to where it’s needed. By creating this appointment as a real appointment, even before it happens, this helps defend your calendar from becoming overloaded, and hitting that critical path where work spills over into your evenings and weekends.

Think about how restaurants work. They can expect a lunchtime rush, so a smart restaurant manager is going to make sure there are enough staff on hand to handle the peak volume. Similarly, the kitchen staff will have enough food ingredients to satisfy the customers’ requests, and they will have pre-cooked a great deal of the foods – pastas and potatoes etc. anticipation. This is called being prepared. Even when no-one can guarantee how many people will enter the restaurant that day.

When you think of it, it’s also how private parking spaces work. Imagine who much more effective it is when you know you have your own parking space, at work, or maybe in your condo building, or better yet, at the mall. The space is put aside and everyone else must steer around it.

By planning for your crisis of the day, you reserve time in your calendar for it. You create a parking space for it. A tangible block of time. A block of time that says – to you and everyone else, “one hour of today is reserved for the unplanned event that know is coming.” This gives you enormous leverage to defer or negotiate the other activities of the day – meetings, travel, research and so on. If you do not reserve the time for this unplanned event, that time will automatically fill with other stuff, and there will be no space for the unplanned event to fall into. By blocking that time on your calendar now, you are reserving an hour of your day, which can be applied to whenever it is needed, with other tasks moving around it like a game of Tetris, even to be negotiated and deferred to tomorrow. Or later. Or never.

Having this pre-planned space means, when the crisis occurs, you will also have the mental acuity to handle it efficiently. Thinks always unfold better when you come at them with a cool, unflustered, fully fueled mind. There is an expression that says, a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. Well, a calendar crisis is simple an appointment you haven’t met yet. An appointment that does not yet have a name, but for which time and space has been reserved for it to pull into, as part of the expected – NOT unexpected – part of each day.

The Postmortem

The other thing about unexpected events, though, is why they are there at all. If you have to put aside something in order to handle an unexpected other thing, why does this unexpected other thing exist? What brought us to the point of having to address something unexpected.

Despite what I have described above about putting aside time for the crisis of the day, there will still be times when yes, despite the best of intentions, something comes along when you have to just drop everything and take care of it. It happens. But as the Dos Equis most interesting man in the world might say, “I don’t always say yes to unplanned requests, but when I do, I always ask for a postmortem.”

A postmortem. An after-action review. In project management, this is known as the closure phase. In short, I will say, yes, I will help you with this emergency, but once it’s over, we must discuss it. Why did it happen? How did we let it happen? What can we do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

We can learn from our mistakes. If we forgot to proof-read a document before it went to the printer to be bound in a book, why was that? What can we do to make sure we don’t forget the proof-reading task next time? If my boss drops a report on my desk that he or she forgot to give me last week and now it’s last minute, what can I do in the future to head these types of snafu’s off at the pass. Maybe a Monday morning huddle with the boss to discuss what’s going on this week? This, by the way – this act of proactive management with the boss should never be perceived as a critique. It’s called managing up and is a crucial skill, one I will be giving time to in another episode.

Firefighters, athletes, performers – all kinds of people take the time to review their work after the fact. It’s the best way to ensure continuous improvement and to stop these types of mistakes from happening again.

Crises happen. It’s part of life. But unfortunately, we humans have been designed to be more willing to react than to pro-act. Effective management of crises is a pro-action. Schedule time for them if they are a regular part of your day and insist on follow-up and improvement if they are rare or infrequent.

As I mention many times, time management is made up of two words, the second if which is management. Management is not about coping with what IS, it’s about scripting what should be. And the more you can do that – the more you can proactively write the history of your future, the less you will get caught up in unexpected events – the calendar crises.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Calendar Crisis. 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

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: Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill.

Whenever I give a presentation or a speech, I always start out by giving the Twitter hashtag for the event. This is not merely an act of housekeeping – it’s also a teaching moment that starts with crickets.

Yes – the sound of silence – a room full of blank faces when I ask the assembled audience how many of them use Twitter as a daily tool of professional development. Out of a room of a few hundred, I might get a dozen hands that go up. So, I ask why, and the answer is usually, “I have nothing to say,” or “There’s already someone on our department who does the tweeting for us, or even Twitter is passé. It’s Instagram now.”

Those are good answers – in fact there should only be one person in charge of tweeting on behalf of a company or department. And social media outlets like Instagram have their place. But that overlooks two of the three main benefits of using Twitter. People assume it’s just for outbound activity, sending notes and opinions out to the world. But that’s only useful if you have an established audience. That’s why celebrities and politicians use it.

But there’s a far more valuable use of Twitter that often goes overlooked, and that has to do with inbound information. When properly tuned, Twitter is an excellent tool for keeping up to speed on what’s going on in your business – the facts and development you need to know.

Yes, Twitter is awash with garbage and hate. That’s very sad and says a lot about people in general. But inbound Twitter is an ideal tool for lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is just what it sounds like. You keep learning every day of your life. That’s not a new concept, but for many of us, such an idea paints pictures of having to go back to school, take formalized courses and write formalized exams and paper to get formalized degrees. These are all still good, of course, but in between those events, other things are still happening: Industry news. Innovations. Events. Opportunities.  Being aware of these developments in real time is what gives people an edge or even a lifeline.

How else can you know what you need to know? It doesn’t matter if you never send an outbound tweet ever. Maybe you don’t need to. But by following a handful of carefully chosen experts, and checking your twitter feed once per day, you will receive vital, career enhancing knowledge without having to wade through all the garbage.

The Knowledge Base

The other reason I promote the Twitter hashtag at my session is that it allows me to talk about its service as a shared knowledge base – something that can and should also later be translated into an internal, intranet-based tool.  When I have a group of people in front of me, there is bound to be someone with something valuable to contribute – maybe a thought, an idea or a resource, like a link to a website or online article or video. But they are unwilling to speak up. Often times, the quietest ones are the ones with the most profound observations.

By tweeting a comment or a link, using the event’s hashtag, every participant, even those who were not there, are able to read ideas and suggestions from people they don’t yet follow, by simply searching for the common hashtag online. This use of Twitter hashtags is a public activity using a public, non-confidential forum – but it represents a powerful way of sharing information and building on synergies that more and more people find more appealing than out-loud dialog. It is the Wiki approach – a shared knowledge base, built out of the contributions of many.

Internal Wikis

As powerful as shared knowledge through hashtags is for public events, it also highlights the power of internal Wikis, that every company should embrace. I come from an age – not that long ago – where policies and procedures were stored in vinyl binders, updated every quarter or so by a new raft of 3-hole punched papers intended to replace the older ones. It’s all we had at the time, and their quality and relevance were dependent on the person or consultant who wrote them.

But when an organization takes on the Wiki knowledge base mindset, capitalizing on the interaction and ubiquitous access that Twitter and Wikipedia offer, the collective wisdom and experience of a wider swath of employees is tapped – and that’s a significant development. People may not always be willing to speak up. But they are often more willing to both contribute and learn, when given the chance.

Centralized knowledge bases give people a renewed opportunity to learn new skills, reaffirm procedures and best practices by enabling employees to look it up online – to read a short article or watch a quick video. Having a Wiki means updates to knowledge bases can happen quickly, helping ensure no-one is referring to an outdated copy of a policy or procedure that has been sitting in a binder for years.

This again, is digital literacy – centralizing knowledge – taking full advantage of the accessibility of online material and ensuring the right message gets through.

The Scuba Diver Factor

An additional benefit of digital literacy comes from social media in general, which is why many employers and HR departments will routinely scan the social media sites of employees and candidates, like Facebook and Instagram, not to snoop, but to better understand the passion that drives employees.

For example, imagine that you discovered through Instagram, that one of your employees was a passionate weekend scuba diver, and in addition, is certified to teach scuba diving? What relevance would that have to the job he/she currently has? Some might note that someone with these passions might be a natural leader with the brains to learn complex procedures and the abilities to teach and lead others. But that might not be obvious as a line item on a C.V. or even on a LinkedIn page.

The potential within every employee needs new avenues to reveal itself. People who make hiring decisions take a huge risk. The cost of attracting, onboarding and training an employee is huge. Knowing more about who they are and what makes them tick – or more precisely how they can best fit into a company culture, is of enormous value. And the information is right there.

In many cases, 90 percent of an employee’s potential goes unseen, untapped and unappreciated. This is serious, especially given the career mobility that professionals of all ages now recognize. People know that there’s something else, something more fulfilling out there. It’s up to HR and hiring managers to know fully and completely who they have at their disposal and where their passions truly lie.

Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking

Finally, there is the vital component of corporate survival: critical thinking. The experts who research and discuss the future of work regularly describe the skills that employers will be looking for, the skills that people will need more and more in the months and years to come. This is especially prescient as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over many parts of many types of jobs and professions.

These skills are very human in nature, not surprisingly. They include – but are not limited to – critical thinking and empathy. People in general are becoming increasingly emotionally disconnected the more their technologies connect them. Think for example, how many of us would prefer to send an email or a text than pick up the phone and talk live, out of the fear of what? Time being wasted? The fear of confrontation? Social awkwardness? Disinterest? Well, these aforementioned skills are coming into high demand very quickly. Here are just two examples:

First, critical thinking as it applies to phishing. Phishing and spearfishing emails are getting much more sophisticated. Cybercriminals have figured out ways to mimic the web pages and two-factor authentication techniques that we have started to rely on as a defense. The truth is that any and every communication that an employee at any level might have, whether with an outside agent like a supplier, customer or job applicant, or even with an internal colleague, must be suspect. That colleague’s email might not actually be from that colleague after all. This is why data breaches are so scary. Impersonation of people is easy once the bad guys have access to the types of personal data that accounts use for verification.

So that’s one reason why critical thinking is so important. The need to not trust anyone. The need to second guess each email when it arrives, and the need to not click out of reflex – these all confirm critical thinking as an essential skill, if only to help keep the company safe.

Then there’s empathy. As one of a collection of social interaction skills, these will come into greater focus as more and more people choose to use video conferencing and telepresence as their ideal method of communication. Video conferencing means body language, facial gestures and eye contact reestablish their prominence in the art of human interaction. Being self-aware is equally as important as being aware of the body language in others, when you can see them through high definition video. Some people shy away from this technology for those very reasons, but as videoconferencing technology becomes more ubiquitous, it will become the norm, in the same way that email replaced physical mail all those years ago.

Conclusion

Digital literacy is not just about known how to install and use an app. It’s about understanding how to parse information and non-information from an infinitely growing ocean of data. It’s about finding meaning and delivering meaning through an understanding of just how these technologies work and how they affect and influence people.  It’s fitting, in a way, to see humanity become the primary skill in a world dominated by technology.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill. 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: Telepresence Robots and You

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Telepresence Robots and You.

A still from the Big Bang Theory episode: The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS
©2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If you are familiar with the comedy series called the Big Bang Theory, you might have seen an episode in which Sheldon, seeking ways to lengthen his lifespan by avoiding danger sends his robot to do his work for him at the university. The robot he sends looks a lot like either a Beam or a Double, two of the most popular brands of personal robot. (It’s actually a Textai robot, manufactured by Willow Garage, which was later acquired by Beam). For millions of viewers of the show it was likely the first time they had actually seen one in action.

Of course, the show is a comedy and the use of the robot included some comedic situations, but nonetheless, it was there. If you are not a viewer of The Big Bang Theory, or you missed that episode, no matter.

The point is that these personal telepresence robots are increasingly becoming a viable alternative to physically being in the office in your human form. But I want to look at this seriously as a credible business tool, because that’s what this podcast is all about.

So What is a Telepresence Robot?

If you have never seen a telepresence robot, go to doublerobotics.com or suitabletech.com and have a look at the photos and videos. In essence, a telepresence robot looks like a screen or an iPad mounted on top of a Segway – a pole with two wheels at the base that is self-propelled and self-balancing.

If you want to see one in action, there is a great YouTube video that shows them wandering the offices of LinkedIn. It’s just 3 and a half minutes long.

A telepresence robot is you, or at least the top half of you, on a screen, which allows you to wander the halls drop in on meetings, talk to people, listen to them, and basically interact as you would if you were actually there.

They are a thing now because supporting technology like WiFi make it possible for you to be able to drive one and use one from wherever you are in the world, and mobility and battery power make it possible for them to operates.

“So, do we need them?” People ask, as they do with any new technology that enters their lives, like cars, microwave ovens, personal computers and mobile phones? Why do we need personal robots when you can just teleconference or Skype instead? The answer is something that its users call the Transformational factor.

The Transformational Factor

Yes, instead of using a telepresence robot, you could call into a conference room. Or better yet, get in your car and drive to the office. Or if your office is hundreds or thousands of miles away, jump on a plane and make your way to the office that way.

OK I’m being a little facetious, but people always assess at every new technological development with their eyes firmly fixed on the past. As the LinkedIn video will show, those staff members who chose to start using a robot often used a key word: transformational. This means it changing the way people meet and communicate, even remotely.

Whereas teleconferences and video conferences are good at bringing people together fro wherever they happen to be in the world, this still means scheduling formalized meetings at set times. Such meetings have their usage, of course, at least, when run correctly, but the robot users pointed out that they were no able to capitalize on those ad-hoc meetings and one-on-one discussions simply by rolling their robot up to someone and saying “hi.”

Such reliable two-way communication was not possible up until now, so now is a different time – a transformational time.

The Presence Factor

The other key concept to be aware of here is presence. Presence refers to more than just seeing a face on a screen as you might with a Skype video conference. It’s about being aware of people in three dimensions. Early telepresence experiments involved attending a meeting using VR or AV, to look to your left or to your right and see people who weren’t actually in the room, but who were there in 3D space, virtually. When you add full stereo sound to this scenario, you start to get a sense of presence, known as telepresence.

VR and AR glasses in their current form are bulky and alien, but that does not mean they are out of contention. Sometimes a technology arrives in a shape that is almost embryonic, and does not reveal what the final form will be. It simply hints at what’s to come. If you wanted, you could call this the Segway Factor.

The Segway Factor

When the Segway was being designed and tested (anyone remember “project Ginger?) it was hyped or overhyped as the single greatest invention in human history, a new form of transportation that would change the world. Well It didn’t.  But what it did do, like so many world-changing inventions before it, is pave the way for innovation by providing a useful tool for the next set of inventive hands.

So the gyroscopic technology that allows a Segway to stand and move may not have revolutionized or replaced the act of walking fast, but it has allows this upcoming generation of robots to move more reliably. Misplaced or mistimed innovations often have to wait a little before revealing their benefit. Think, for example, about the 3M Post-it Note, made from a glue recipe that would not stick the way glue is supposed to. Think also about Gorilla glass – the durable glass coating that forms the face and the interface of most smartphones. Gorilla glass was a failed recipe for see through cookware for Corning. The recipe sat on a shelf for decades until the day smartphones replaced flip phones and changed the world.

The WalMart factor

The other thing about robots is that they are already here. There are thousands of YouTube videos that show robots in warehouses, factories, even in prototype restaurant kitchens. Robots are only robots until you get used to them. Then they become appliances, like your dishwasher, your Roomba or your smart home system. “OK Google, show me videos of robots in houses.”

Premium robots are expensive. Some might find the $3000 price tag of a Double to be expensive, even though it will pay for itself by removing one business trip from the budget.

But there was a time, too when an external hard drive for an IBM PC costs thousands of dollars. Now laptops are just a couple of hundred, thanks to worldwide acceptance and the economies of scale. I call this the WalMart factor. A couple of years from now, you or your kids will be picking out their telepresence robot from the robots department at WalMart.

Maybe the robots in the current form will be out of date in a few years, looking as quaint and clumsy as VR goggles currently do, or a 1985 loaf of bread-sized cellphone now does. But they won’t disappear. They will evolve. The question is, will you?

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Telepresence Robots and You. 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 Value of Your Time

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Value of Your Time. It describes how to place a value on your time so that you don’t give it away. It describes the enormous productive power of the 80/20 rule, how to handle email more effectively, how to break large tasks up over many days using carryover momentum, and the productive power of downtime. Whew! That’s a lot. Are you ready?

The Furnace Repair Story

This is the story of a person whose furnace goes cold. The house is cold, and a couple of presses of the thermostat confirm that the furnace is not working. The homeowner calls the furnace company who sends a technician out. The technician arrives and heads down to the basement. The homeowner listens as the boots clomp down the stairs, and then a single “clang!” The furnace comes back on and warm air starts flowing through the registers once again. The boots clomp back up the stairs.

“All done,” the technician declares, “may I present you with the bill?”

“Sure,” says the homeowner, who scrutinizes the bill and then looks at the technician doubtfully. “Five hundred dollars?” the homeowner asks. “Five hundred dollars? But you were only down there for thirty seconds! How could that cost five hundred dollars.”

The technician smiles and asks, “Would you like me to itemize the bill for you?”

“Yes please,” replies the homeowner, who watches as the technician writes a couple of lines on the invoice.

“Here,” says the technician, “this might help.” The homeowner reads the revised invoice. It now says:

“Furnace repair:

– Hitting the furnace with a hammer: $5.00

– Knowing where to hit: $495.00”

I love this story because, nice and clearly, it conveys the value of a person’s expertise, which is not always visible. Time is valuable. Your time is valuable, and the art of staying fully aware of that is a life skill that needs to be practiced and maintained.

People who are self-employed, for example, or who work in small businesses can very easily fall into the trap of undervaluing their services, maybe doing some of it for free. “I”can’t charge for just a 5-minute phone-call,” they say. Or, “invoicing is part of overhead. I can’t charge for that.”

The same applies for people who work for companies, on salary. They might not feel they have direct impact on how they price their services, certainly, but they still give away too much. Whatever work you do, the value you bring to the table has a long tail that stretched far back into past.

The years you invested in your education – all those years of study, plus the years you have spent doing this work, or even the work of your previous job, have shaped you into a professional person with skills and experience that have value. But that long tail of value is so easily forgotten – or overruled.

When a customer asks for 10 minutes of your time – and by customer I not only mean the direct small business customer, but also internal office colleagues, even your boss – they are still customers. They are still buying your experience and your service. When they buy ten minutes of your time, they are also buying all those years that went into making those minutes valuable.

When you’re sitting in a meeting that starts late because Bob hasn’t arrived yet, you and everyone else around that meeting are giving away time that took years, individually and collectively, to craft. When your significant other asks you to stop off and pick up some milk on the way home, you think nothing of it. But that’s at least 20 minutes of your life that you are giving away. Yes, you might be pleasing your partner by doing a favor – there is value in that, but my argument is that there’s a better way to deliver this service. The spontaneous giving away of your time in any circumstance is not only a tragic waste, it also sets a precedent. The expectation to do the same again will always be there.

The 80/20 Rule

I spend a lot of my speaking time showing people how to do better with their own time. One of the points that I mention and will always stand behind is the 80/20 rule. Specifically, you can get more done in 80 percent of your time than you can in 100 percent of your time. The point is, that 20 percent is invested – not spent, but invested – in proactively managing the events to come.

This means planning. It also means networking, building relationships, and yes, even relaxing. But let me just focus on planning for the moment. Part of this 20 percent of this day, and tomorrow, and the next day should be used to prepare a calendar that realistically questions how long each activity should be and then helps identify the number of activities that you can realistically – not optimistically – fit into your day. It asks these questions before you actually get started on any of them.  Most importantly setting up a road map of operation for the day. Without a map, you will drift. It’s as easy as that.

And this is where I get pushback – or at least questioning. People will ask, Steve, do you spend all of your time every day just updating your calendar and your to do lists? That usually gets a laugh.

But I answer YES! Yes, I do. And that also gets a laugh.

But here’s my point on this. People think this activity – updating your calendar – that is to say your personal project plan – so regularly and so often is extra work – more on your plate. But in actual fact, you’ll be spending this time anyway – more of it in fact if you just try to get these things done in real time in an unplanned fashion.

Take My Email, Please.

As I mentioned in a previous podcast – Are You Conscious – email steals a great deal of time from you. Not just the time spent responding to them, but also the time required to recuperate from the distraction. It really is a literal drain on your system. So, if you handle 10, 20, 50 or more emails per day, you deal with the sum total of time required to write or respond plus many, many minutes of recuperation time. This amounts to hours of time lost per day working in sub-par mental capacity.

But if you plan your email handling time, let’s say, 3 blocks of 20 minutes, not only do you eliminate the recuperation time – because you choose to answer these emails consciously rather than getting taken by surprise by them – but you are also able to frame them – let’s say by aiming to respond to 10 emails inside of 20 minutes, you can change your actual approach to work to fit inside a defined box of time. NO more drifting. You stay on track.

So, you can do the emails in a casual, unplanned way, which might literally take three hours out of your busy workday, or you can plan how and when to do them and cut that amount by at least half. That’s the power of planning. It isn’t extra work. It’s less work in total. The planning plus the planned work ends up taking far less time than unstructured work by itself.

The Power of Twitter as a Tool for Ongoing Education.

The other thing that gets people a little nervous or incredulous is when I talk about the power of Twitter. Seldom do I get more than a couple of hands up when I ask my audiences how many people use Twitter as a tool of professional development. Most people think that Twitter is useless when they themselves have nothing to say, and that the rest is pure junk. Well, maybe most of it is junk, but I remind them that there are a few people out there worth listening to. Thought leaders. Subject matter experts. Your customers. Your competitors.

But the reaction is the same: “I do not have the time to browse social media.” But my argument is, you invest time in formalized ongoing education. You might even wait months to get a training course from your employer. That’s a lot of time drifting by, and with is a great deal of time lost to inadequate knowledge. Imagine trying to catch up on a breaking development that affects your company. The minutes or hours needed to get caught up retroactively will always exceed those you could spend just reading – a few minutes here and there on a daily basis.

Catch-up costs. But pro-activity yields dividends.

Proactivity beats reactivity every time. Whenever you think a proactive action – part of that 20 percent – is too much extra work. Remember it will end up being less work and costing less time than if you let things happen the casual, unplanned way. This not only includes planning your email and investing in Twitter education in the ways I have just discussed, it also points to things like managing by walking around (MBWA).

That is to say investing some time in talking ton your colleagues, suppliers, or customers, to learn more about them and to demonstrate acknowledgement of their hard work and dignity. For although this too, seems like extra effort with no reward, the reward actually comes when these people reciprocate, by showing up to your meeting on time and prepared, or paying your invoice on time, or getting their share of a project done on time, simply because they like working with you and they enjoy the respect you show them. That’s the payoff. That’s the dividend.

The Value of Work

I remember sending a change of address notification to my company’s law firm. No big deal, right? We send those out to everybody. Two weeks later I received an invoice from them for $150. Professional services for updating the address in their files. That seems like a lot, right? But lawyers are taught early on: time is money. As soon as you start giving the results of your expensive education away, as soon as you give your expertise away, people start expecting that regularly.

Think also what it says about you.  You are willing to give away your hard-won expertise. Not everyone is going to respect that. They might even start to question just how good you actually are. See? That’s the problem. It seems like the right thing to do, to be nice, but by giving away the very thing people respect about you, you might also be diluting your brand and your credibility. That’s not a great thing to hear, but it is human nature. Humans tend to judge. And best intentions might turn out to do less for you than you would like. This is the same whether you give away a half hour of your services or when you delay the start of a meeting because someone is late. It happens when you take on extra requests or drop-in visitors just because it seems too hard to say no.

But remember, the word NO can also function and the first two letters of the phrase “Not at this moment, which opens you up to another word that contains the letters N O – that word is negotiate. Everything can be negotiated. Rather than give away your time, negotiate suitable alternatives that maintain your image of flexibility without sacrificing your value – in your eyes or in theirs.

The Value of Carryover Momentum

Very often I get asked by people how to take care of giant tasks that will take hours to do, let’s say, for example, a bunch of backlogged work, or a big project. The temptation is to say, I will book off an entire day to take care of this in one go. Now, if you can do that, and it works, then good for you. I will never argue against something that works.

But most people will never successfully do this. There’s just too much else to do. But there is a better option, and I call it “Carryover Momentum.”

As I have already mentioned, the power of planning is an amazing thing. Whatever day of the week it is as you read to this, think back to what you were doing exactly one week ago. Doesn’t seem like seven days, does it? It’s not fair, how quickly time seems to fly, but that’s life, and that’s how memory works.

If you are faced with a task that is too big to get done all at once, the chances are that another week will slip by, then another, then another. Though this might be considered procrastination, it’s not always the case that you’re actually consciously putting it off, so much as never quite getting around to it – there’s a difference.

To that end, there is the principle of carryover momentum, in which it becomes possible to break up a large task, and then schedule and deal with it regularly and consistently over a period of days.

If you were to assign one half-hour per day to a project, you wouldn’t feel that much headway had been achieved after the first half-hour of the first day. But if you were able work on the project one half-hour each workday for a month, that’s 10 hours. For larger-scale projects, that one half hour per day, even with weekends and holidays off, becomes 125 hours over a year, or the equivalent of three forty-hour weeks! That’s a lot of time!

Physiology crash course: The reason why I call this technique carryover momentum goes to the workings of the brain. By returning to an ongoing task on a daily basis – preferably, but not necessarily at the same time each day – the mind continues to retain and access the creative momentum of the previous day. It significantly reduces the amount of “let’s see now, where was I?” that happens when a project is picked up after a week or two of inactivity.

This is yet another example of how to capitalize on the strengths of the brain to get the right work done in the right way within the constraints of a busy day.

So, if you are facing a large project at work, and you feel overwhelmed by the size of it all, do not despair. That sense of overload is normal. It’s mental paralysis, the manifestation of the fight-or-flight reflex, draining nutrients from the thinking area of the brain. It can be easily treated by using a calendar to lay out a collection of half-hour blocks across days and weeks as a recurring activity and taking the giant task on one bit at a time, regularly, day-by-day.

Of course, such a thing must be coordinated and pro-rated according to the project’s deadline but instead or putting it off and putting it off, only to be faced with a high stress situation later, just like my email discussion of earlier, you can consciously plan – invest in some planning time – in breaking down this task into manageable amounts. Where once you had a mountain blocking your view, you now have a mountain with a staircase carved into it.

The Value of Downtime

The final point I want to make is the value of downtime – thing includes breaks during your working day, and most importantly focuses on stepping over the big red line that actually can be the divider between work life and home life. In the podcast episode dedicated to metabolism, I talked about sleep and melatonin, and I don’t plan to repeat myself, other than to say that sleep is the single greatest investment in productivity of the entire 24-hour day. The value of downtime is in part due to its chemical capacity to help your brain and body repair the damage of the day, boosting the immune system, both through the pleasure of sleep as well as the pleasure of enjoying life – with your family, your friends, your pets, and your hobbies.

Your phone needs recharging, your car needs refueling and you know what? So do you. Downtime has value in balancing out your day and preparing your energy and your excellence for the day to come. Burning the midnight oil, working late into the night simply diminishes tomorrow’s potential. You are drawing from a well. Either use the water tonight or tomorrow. You can’t do both.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Value of Time. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here.

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.

##