Steve Prentice

The Law of Sharp Edges – Maximize Synergy by Framing a Conversation

There are many times when communicating via text or email is insufficient. The dynamics of human creativity are not one-dimensional. Thoughts and ideas must be echoed and bounced off one another so that we may experience and interpret the patterns that reverberate around us. Think, for example, how much more productive it is to “talk it out” with someone, rather than merely texting back and forth. Think also about how damaging it can be to keep feelings bottled up inside, or the complications that can arise from someone misinterpreting the tone of a text message. Creative thought thrives on the positive interference patterns that happen when two creative forces intersect. It falls away when given only a unidirectional track upon which to work.

Live conversation is essential for situations where there is something that needs to be created, agreed upon, resolved, or worked through. There is no real substitute.

When people contemplate getting together, whether face-to-face or over the phone, the thing that often puts them off is the fear of getting trapped in a conversation filled with small talk and irrelevancies. But it need not be that way. I use what I like to call The Law of Sharp Edges, which states that if you give someone a clear delineation – a guideline as to where things start and end rather than just a vague idea, they will be more likely to accommodate your request or behave as you would like them to.

Here’s a bad example: “Can I call you tomorrow?”

Here’s an excellent example: “Can I call you tomorrow at 2:00 for a 10-minute chat about the ABC project?”

The bad example puts people “on the hook for the entire day.” It’s like being on call. You know the event might

happen, but you don’t know when or for how long. This has a profound impact on your entire internal self-preservation system. Your instinct fears the unknown, and it’s not an overstatement to point out that something as simple as a vague phone call commitment is indeed an unknown. As such your body reflexively tenses itself for the interaction to come.

The excellent example removes the unknown and delivers three essential knowns – when it will be, how long it will last and what it will be about. It makes it a far more appealing thing to commit to since there are sharp edges surrounding the event. It is constrained and finite.

Such simple techniques will make a huge difference in productivity and process, by merely allowing the dynamic creativity of live conversation to flourish without fear. The many tools we have to facilitate live discussions, from meeting rooms to phones, video-conferences, online collaborative chat apps, even virtual presence devices like the Double (pictured) or Beam, still need to win someone’s attention through the most basic of concerns: “how will this hurt me and how will I benefit?” Once you can get such instinctive self-preservation needs out of the way, your conversation is free to do what it does best: make progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for a Successful Vacation

Show Notes From CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 15

Note – this podcast was originally aired as a longer, one hour episode (Episode 1). We have been cutting them up and re-releasing seleted parts to make them easier to listen to (i.e. shorter).

To listen to this podcast, visit my Blubrry page here.

To subscribe to the series, click here.

Vacations – we all dream about them, but are they being put to the best use? Half of the therapeutic value of a vacation comes from planning – not just where you want to go, but planning the days leading up to departure date as well as your return to work after it’s done. If you do these right, your vacation will be doubly beneficial.

The Guardian article that I referred to was written by Jana Kasperkevic and can be found here.

Jana Kasperkevic in The Guardian writes:

In the U.S, the number of unused vacation days in the US recently was 169 million days, equivalent to $52.4bn in lost benefits. The reason for this, she writes, is that many employees are afraid to take it, while others just don’t get any at all, in fact she points out that only about 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days. Those who choose not to go fear the face time problem, and they also feel that too much work will pile up while they are gone and they will be so stressed when they return that time off won’t be worth it.”

There are three distinct ways in which vacations work as a productivity and time management tool:

  • The most obvious is the vacation itself. It is supposed to be a time when you let go of all of the stresses and pressures of the working year and do the things you really want to do. Most people find the first three days or so to be a major period of transition as they catch up on all the sleep they have missed, and actually gear down from the pace of business. After those first few days, the restorative effects of the vacation start to take shape, and like so many other areas of life, this does not exist only in the mind. It has profound effects on the body, particularly the immune system, as you start to actually feel relaxed and feel good.
  • There is also the anticipation of a vacation to consider. If you find yourself in a stressful work situation, putting in extra hours and dealing with crisis after crisis, one of the best ways of mitigating the stress of that moment is to look forward to a break or vacation on the horizon – this is the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing there is an end in sight has both a motivating and calming effect on your mind and body.
  • Third, there’s the memory of the vacation. Once you have had some time off, hopefully you have done something great with that time, those pleasant memories of the activities – or just the rest – will stay with you forever. Those are good memories, and feeling good always has long term physiological rewards. As the old expression goes, no one on their deathbed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office. Great memories flood your brain with endorphins. They make you feel good, and this too serves as insulation against the stressors of the workday.

HOW CAN YOU PREPARE FOR A VACATION?

Your vacation should be treated as one of the most important parts of your job, because that’s just what it is. Consequently, vacation days must be defended if year-round productivity and achievement are your goals. This means you must take the time to plan your vacation period carefully to help ensure a smooth, stress-free departure and a smooth, stress-free return.

First, plan ahead to avoid that pre-vacation crunch. The last few days at the office before a vacation can actually be more stressful than usual, because it seems that all the work that you would have done if you were not going on vacation becomes immediate top-priority. Everyone around you feels you absolutely must get it all finished before your departure. Start planning your departure a few weeks or months before the actual date, and you can influence the timelines of your projects, meetings, and other office events.

Draw a protective barrier around the period of your vacation, especially including the ten business days leading up to it and the ten immediately following it. Make sure those days before your vacation are carefully planned, so that you can hand off responsibilities to others and wrap up your projects. The days preceding a vacation should not be just business as usual for you. They should be about winding down and handing off. If you try to keep on working on your normal tasks at your normal pace on these days, you will simply generate more stress and overwork than the holiday could possibly alleviate.

Plan your return before you leave. Though most people don’t want to even think about their return to work as they start their holiday, a smooth return will help to ease the stress of stepping back into the rat race. The day of your return should not include any meetings. It should be a transition day, in which time is given over to catching up on the events that happened during your absence, returning returning calls and emails, updating your agenda, and getting back up to speed.

Why is this so important? Because too many people simply return to the office and hit the ground running, trying to immediately regain the pace they were at when they left. They return straight away to the stress levels and pressures that they left behind, erasing much of the therapeutic benefits that a vacation brings. Remember: your vacation is a tool for relaxation and rebuilding. It is part of your job. You benefit, your family benefits, and your company benefits. Ease your way back into the momentum of work, just like a runner warming up before a marathon, and you will be better prepared to handle it. Start planning your next vacation immediately.

WannaCry, Mixers, And Bitcoin Wallets

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled WannaCry, Mixers, And Bitcoin Wallets is now online. Here is an excerpt:

Amid the furor of the August 1 Bitcoin Fork, another interesting thing happened. The individual(s) behind the WannaCry ransomware attack started to empty their bitcoin wallets. The $140,000 worth of bitcoin they originally collected gained about 20% more in value during the split, and it was around that time that the virtual money started to move.

The activity was detected by Keith Collins of Quartz, who used a bot to watch for movement in the accounts. The bot observed the initial withdrawal of $70,000, which was then followed by additional amounts from other bitcoin wallets until all the money was gone.

To read more visit ValueWalk here.

What Is Ethereum And How To Buy It?

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk and I posted my commentary entitled What Is Ethereum And How To Buy It? there today. Here is an excerpt:

Let’s start by getting the terminology straight. Ethereum is an open source code designed primarily to govern smart contracts on the blockchain. A smart contract is any contract between parties, especially those that lack a level of trust or credit rating. An example may be the sale of fair trade coffee. How would a wholesale purchaser know the coffee is fair trade? They would feel much more confident if the entire coffee production and preparation process was verified and incorporated into a smart contract that itself is sealed immutably inside a block on the blockchain. Ethereum allows developers to build their own apps on its open platform.

Part of the Ethereum code is Ether, described as the fuel that makes the contracts work. It can also be seen as a currency of sorts, and may emerge as a competitor to, or even replacement for Bitcoin, depending on how the lava flows. Ether is presented in coins, and can also be referred to as an Ethereum coin.

To read more, please visit ValueWalk here.

Arguments Against Time Management

Here are the most common objections to establishing a time management plan. See how many fit your mindset, or that of your colleagues.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Guide for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you want to learn more, please check out the Books page on this website.

Common Objections to Time Management

Nobody appreciates being told how to act. Books on time management often force people to adopt techniques that go against their natural preferences, such as using a certain type of agenda, or doing certain things at certain times, in short, taking some of the fun out of life. Such fears and objections are perfectly sound, since people are conservative by nature. Change generates fear of the unknown, a fear of failure or of being seen to fail. This fear goes back all the way to the early days of our evolutionary history. Like the rest of our metabolism, it cannot be changed so much as understood and properly channeled.

The purpose of Cool-Time is to help you take the principles and apply them to your environment, culture and preferences in the most comfortable and proactive way possible – the one with the greatest payoff.

Time Management Doesn’t Allow for Spontaneity

In fact, it’s perfect for spontaneity, since it allows for the existence of “free time.” By keeping the day in order and with a day plan in mind, spontaneous activities can occur without endangering or forgetting the other activities and priorities of the day. Being able to take some time for yourself is essential, but in the real world this can only truly work if the other tasks are understood, prioritized and accounted for.

The best way to be spontaneous in life is to plan to be spontaneous.

It’s Only Good for People in a Routine, and That’s Not Me

Everyone has a routine. Some routines are just more obvious than others. A person who does shift work, or someone who has a fixed list of tasks to accomplish day in and day out, has her routine clearly mapped out. However, we all have a routine by the very nature of the 24-hour clock and our circadian rhythms.

The first stage in effective time management is to step back, observe the constants and standards in your life, and then recognize the routine in which you operate. Then, like a fish suddenly discovering the water in which it lives, the patterns of your existence will emerge for you to manipulate and finesse. If you can’t identify any distinct routine happening daily, step back and observe your activities over a week or a month. Your routine will emerge, and will serve as the foundation for your time management plans.

It May Work for Others, But It Simply Won’t Work Here

Our environment is too different. Everyone says that. Everyone thinks their business has unique pressures and requirements that make any time management regimen unworkable. Whether you work in the public or private sector, or a not-for-profit; whether you are a student, a homemaker, between assignments, a manager or an up-and-coming professional, you are in the business of selling “you” to other people. Also, no matter what activity you are involved in, there is someone, somewhere who does it better, or did it better. There is always opportunity for improvement, advancement, and refinement. It’s up to you to identify how to make that happen.

I Have No Time to Put Together a Plan

Actually, you do have the time, it’s just been assigned to other tasks. Time is neither made nor found, simply rearranged, much like the Law of Conservation of Energy we learned in Physics 101.  Let’s put it this way. If you are a working parent, and your child’s school calls to say that she is sick and needs to see a doctor, there’s not much on this earth that would stop you from going to her side right away. Even if you’re not a parent, a sudden toothache or a broken finger is going to change your schedule for the day pretty quickly. Most of your colleagues will be accommodating, and the work will get done later. The point is, time can be found when it’s important enough. The benefits of Cool-Time are tangible. They translate into money, health, satisfaction, and control. Cool-Time is important enough to make the time.

I Work Better Under Pressure — I’m A Last-Minute Kind Of Person

Nobody really works better under pressure, since pressure immobilizes higher brain functions and replaces them with fight-or fight reflex. In short, pressure instills mental paralysis. What last-minute people do well is to compress their action and energy into a smaller block of time, not letting a project drag on, but keeping it on time.

When I Need To, I Just Work Harder – Hard Work Equals More Work

Hard work without planning is like chopping a tree with a dull axe. Huge amounts of energy go misspent, and sometimes it will not yield any product at all. You cannot make bread twice as fast by putting in twice as much yeast or by setting the oven twice as high.

I’m Already Organized, And I’m Doing Just Fine/I Have a System

I’ve used it for years. If you have a system and that system works for you and your colleagues in a satisfactory way, then that’s great! Congratulations! Still, there is always opportunity for improvement. Take a moment to observe your current work environment and note whether certain tasks or procedures could be tightened up to win you back some more time. To be able to embrace change, it is necessary to confront your objections. Note any feelings or resistance you may feel towards continuous improvement, and assess whether your arguments can be countered, or whether your current way of doing things is adequate.

Check out my book, Cool-Time. Information on ordering is available on the Books page.

Break Down Large Tasks and Backlogs Through Carryover Momentum

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontThe power of planning is an amazing thing. Whatever day of the week it is as you read these lines, think back to what you were doing 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.

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 hour per day to a project, you wouldn’t feel that much headway had been achieved after the first hour on the first day. But if you were able work on the project one hour each workday for a month, that’s 20 hours, or two-and-a-half full business days. For larger scale projects, that one-hour per day, even with weekends and holidays off, becomes 250 hours in a year, or the equivalent of one month’s worth of workdays. That’s a lot of time!

The reason why this technique is called carryover momentum goes back once again 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 and weaknesses 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. Its treatment is tangible, logical knowledge, represented by a simple calendar. By laying out a collection of one-hour blocks across a calendar (larger blocks for larger projects), it becomes possible to map the project across time, and assign tasks accordingly. Where once you had a mountain blocking your view, you now have a mountain with a staircase carved into it.

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

CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 6 (Managing Your Metabolism) Show Notes

In my 6th podcast, released February 27, 2017, I discuss the impact your metabolism has on your day, your sleep and your work. Here’s the blood sugar curve that highlights the roller-coaster energy level of a typical day:

redline

Here is the black light aquarium room at Google. Pretty cool, eh?It’s an extreme example of a creative workspace. You might not be able to get your employer to spring for one of these, but the same benefits of mental decompression, can be obtained by taking the time to go for a walk.

blacklightaquarium

For more information about sleep, check out the excellent website Van Winkles.

I mentioned effective meetings in this podcast. This was dealt with in detail in Episode 4 – The 55-Minute Meeting.

If you are discovering this post before having heard the podcast, search for CoolTimeLife on iTunes, or visit Blubrry.com, which will point you towards iTunes, Android and others.

CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 4 (55-Minute Meeting) Show Notes

In my 4th podcast, released February 13, 2017. I discuss the power of the 55-minute meeting. A couple of the key points that were listed in the podcast:

A meeting is supposed to:

  • coordinate action
  • to exchange information
  • to motivate a team
  • discuss issues, ideas or problems
  • and/or to make a decision.

Some of the many complaints people have about meetings:

  • There are too many of them
  • Many are unnecessary
  • They don’t start on time or are held up due to late arrivals
  • They have unclear agendas
  • They go on for too long
  • The wrong people are invited
  • People introduce irrelevant topics
  • They conclude with vague ideas and unresolved issues
  • They end late

The ideal 55-minute meeting can be set up like this:

55-minute-meeting

If you are discovering this post before having heard the podcast, search for CoolTimeLife on iTunes, or visit Blubrry.com, which will point you towards iTunes, Android and others.

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

2nd-Edition-Cover-Front

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

Conditioning makes gains through positive reward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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