Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Busy-ness Whirlpool

How much time do you waste during the day? Yes, I know we are all busy…crazy busy. We brag to each other how busy we are. We even brag about what we don’t have time for. “I’m so busy I haven’t been to the gym in months.” Really? But what are we doing? We are getting sucked into our own busy-ness.

I admit that I also fall into the busy-ness trap. There is always so much to do and there never seems to be enough time. I seem to work at the office, at night sometimes when I get home and in the morning. But what am I really doing?

Very recently two things occurred that kept me very busy and I realized how much of my time was stolen on this busy-ness. First, Microsoft unveiled their new operating system Windows 10. I don’t tend to be much of an early adopter when it comes to technology, but I needed to upgrade the VAIO  in my home office and thought that this new system would do it. Well, the upgrade worked, but I lost two days integrating the system, bringing files over and of course, personalizing the desktop. I rationalized my busy-ness by thinking that I was making myself more efficient.

The second occurrence was the purchase and installation of a new computer for our business office. We were disgusted with our old computers and purchased an “all-in-one” Dell desktop. Again, hours were spent on setting up the system and getting it up to speed. It’s not done yet, I’ve still got more work to do. But I finally realized that a lot of the “set up” was the personalization of the computer and not important for our work.

I offer these two as examples of the “work” that can fill up our day. It is now estimated that most of us spend up to 30% of our work day just scrolling through email and because we are connected at home we continue to work in the evenings and on weekends creating what is approximately a 72 hour work week for ourselves. No wonder we don’t have time for anything. And of course it all seems important.

There is no easy answer. I’m not going to advocate turning everything off, because as a business owner I can’t. But I’m finding that it is important to understand and monitor what keeps me busy. Is it just my own busy work? Am I feeling busy because I’m doing something, anything, even just scrolling through email or Facebook, or am I moving toward accomplishing the things in life that mean so much to me, like writing, speaking and helping others? And of course, I want to spend time with the people in my life I care about. When I put those things in perspective I realize that scrolling through emails, checking news, reading Facebook, posting on Instagram, are jobs I create for myself that keep me busy. I can choose to maximize my time with the work I enjoy and the people I love. Whatever time is left over, I’ll give to my “busy-ness.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Unintentional Misogyny

I didn’t intend to be a misogynist, I didn’t even know I was one until I opened my eyes and looked at what was happening to someone I cared for, then I realized my ignorance and my complicity. Aside from intentional misogynists most of this country runs on an unconscious bias toward white, straight, rich men. There is no real “reverse discrimination” as some would claim. And if you’ve never been on the other side of prejudice you don’t have any idea what it really feels like. And that’s where we need some education in this country.

Twenty years ago I landed a job at Merrill Lynch and met a strong, independent, powerful woman, Jan Sparrow. We became friends and in 2000 we left Merrill Lynch to start our own consulting business. It was when Jan and I began to travel and work together that I saw the bias.

Though Jan had 16 more years in corporate America than I did and vast amounts of experience, she was often ignored when we pitched business and I was focused on. In hotels and airlines (when they still controlled upgrades) I was given upgrades and she wasn’t even though we had identical status in both. In meetings Jan was talked over and interrupted while I was allowed to speak unhindered. It was amazing and appalling. That’s what opened my eyes.

I always believed that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country, but the new research is pointing to a darker reality, our unconscious biases. We don’t know that we score women lower than men when we rate teachers, politicians and professionals. We complement girls and women on their looks and boys and men on their success. When meeting with married couples we defer to men in decision-making, sometimes not even looking at the women in meetings. When a man is strong and aggressive we call him “a go-getter” but if a women is strong and aggressive we call her a "bitch."

Sadly I use to defend myself by saying to women that I wasn’t the enemy; I believed in equality. Now I know that is not enough. I have to believe in inequality, in the subconscious bias that our society, our world teaches us. Jan and every women deserves that from me.

So, now I’m conscious of how women are treated in the boardroom, in lines, at dinners because I’m starting to see the reality that they are not treated equally. To all the men I suggest you find a professional female colleague and follow her around for a day with open eyes and ears. You will be amazed. To all the women, I encourage you to stand up to the misogyny and help us to open our eyes.

  **the reference below is the link to Nicholas Kristoff’s NYT article that inspired this blog. He has the research on bias in his article.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Snowflake Strategy

Snow is gently falling outside my window. For those of us in the Northeast United States this is a common occurrence this winter especially in the past month. Yet as I gaze out on the winter wonderland that blanketed the area overnight I realize something about accomplishment that snow can teach us… a little bit at a time can cover the world.
Think about the size of a snowflake. Seriously! When we imagine just a small snowflake we might think “what could this possibly amount to?” Yet when we look at drifts, blizzards and snowbound areas we see the power of massing small incidental things to create enormous effects.
Many of us have dreams, some of them big and some of them small. Yet they remain as dreams because we can’t fathom reaching the end, finishing them. They seem too insurmountable. Whether you have a project at work or at home; for your life goal or a career necessity, at times it seems impossible to start.
That’s where the beauty of a snowflake comes in. Just a small, incremental step in the direction of your goal adds up. Just a little each day (and I mean a little) can add up to amazing amounts. Whether you are writing a book and only adding a paragraph at a time, or managing a project at work and just sent the first email, the gradual culmination of small things creates big effects.
What small thing can you do today to make one tiny dent in your “to do” list? What step could you take that would get a little closer to the goal? What tiny fragment could you place in your own world, or the world at large that eventually could blanket everything?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why Birthdays are Bad for Your Health

Today is my birthday. Yep, I’m writing this at 32,000 feet heading to San Francisco and I celebrated with a glass of tonic water and a tapas box. But driving to the airport this morning I was startled when my husband called, sang happy birthday and then asked, “so, how does it feel to be 58?” Really? Am I that old? Well, technically the answer is yes. My carbon form has traversed this planet for 58 years along with millions of others; eating, sleeping, playing, working. If we count the days, I’ve probably been here longer than most people. But why count the days? Seriously, paying too close attention to your age is bad for your health.

Okay this is a little tongue-in-cheek but the studies of Ellen Langer on aging and mindset are amazing. She believes that some of our physical limitations of age are as much or more a part of the mind as they are of the body. Her studies place participants in situations that replicate what life was like 20-30 years prior. For a week they talk and live as though it was 1984. The results are lower blood pressure, better circulation and flexibility and even improved vision. All because the participants stopped living their age.

We all have concepts of age. That is why so many of us hate approaching milestone birthdays because all we can think about is aging. When we are continuously reminded of our age, we begin to act and feel that way, becoming more cautious because we fear getting hurt. Eventually our beliefs become our reality.

Aging is for the young, let’s face it. When you want to drive you can’t wait to be 17. Others can’t wait to vote at 18 or drink at 21 (okay, legally). Then all the rush to get older stops or at least it should, unless you really want an AARP card or Medicare.

Let’s face it, our bodies will remind us that we are aging, they don’t need any help. So what if we only celebrated birthdays but didn’t count them? How old would you be? How old would you feel? Counting birthdays doesn’t mean anything. Meaning is not found in the amount of days in your life, but the amount of life in your days.

So for me, today is a reason to have fun. I’m glad I’m here. But I’m not going to spoil it by counting the years. Nope I’m just going to enjoy today.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Live Life on the Peaks

Happiness is not a subject near and dear to my heart. It's not that I'm against happiness, I tend to be a very happy guy. But happiness is not something I pursue. Anyone who consistently reads my writing know that I believe happiness  is a positive effect of pursuing individual greatness, but not the goal in itself.

However, though I don’t focus on happiness many people think I’m the ultimately happy guy who never looks at the dark side of life. Last week I was talking with a friend and she was opining that “on the journey of life you have to experience both the peaks and the valleys.” I agreed, but countered that “just because I experience the valleys on the journey of life doesn’t mean I have to stop and build my house there.”

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a positive psychology summit at the University of Pennsylvania. It was attended by some of the smartest and most accomplished people I know. Dr. Ed Deiner spoke about happiness and revealed some studies that if you are super happy, you might not achieve as much as someone else who might be moderately happy. (Of course if you are depressed you might not accomplish much either.) Afterword I tried to pursue the point, but he deftly dodged it. However, his point was made. Some of the most prominent people in history struggled with their dark side and used it as a spring-board to creativity and success. It’s important to note that most of them didn’t wallow in their dark side, but acknowledged it and used it.

In the journey of life all of us experience peaks and valleys. However by living in the valleys we close ourselves off from the good side of life. Yes, it is important to experience the highs and lows, but since we all have a choice, why not build our homes on the highs? We can do that by enjoying the peak moments more, exploring them and learning how we can repeat them and treasuring them each time they occur. Then, with confidence we can experience and even explore the valleys, but in time move out and back up to the peaks. So the question remains, where do you want to build your house?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Don't Fight Busyness, Elevate It.


Recently whenever I ask someone how they are doing I hear variations of “crazy busy,” “so busy I can’t think,” or “I’m slammed.” Frankly I’m tired of hearing it. I just read an HBR blog on this busyness syndrome and how to fight it. Honestly, I don’t want to fight busyness because that’s a losing battle, but I want to change the focus.

Think about it. All of us are busy; busy creating a life, loving others, doing our job, or we are busy living. So what? The first definition of busy I found is “actively or fully engaged or occupied.” Hey wait? That’s the way I want to live my life! I hope I can describe every day that way. But most of us mean the 2nd and 4th definitions “overcrowded or cluttered with detail,” “crowded with or characterized by much activity.” But honestly even those don’t sound too bad.

The real challenge is that saying “I’m crazy busy” has become a badge of honor. We brag about how much work we have to do and how there is no time for our lives. Perhaps it makes us feel important. Really? We want to live like this? I don’t.

And more to the point, this busyness syndrome can get in the way of achieving anything. Many people point to their calendars and inboxes to justify how they can’t get another thing done. But I wonder what they are doing. I meet plenty of busy people. A few of them actually accomplish something.

Recently I worked with a multinational corporation that wanted to change the dialogue around performance reviews for their employees. They realized that most employees arrived for their year-end reviews armed with all of the projects they worked on during the year and how hard they worked. This company decided to look at “business impact” instead of activity. Instead of only talking about how many projects, tasks, or meeting occurred, the question became “what was the impact of this work on the business?”  It radically changed the conversation and it changed the mindset.

Think about how we would reset our lives if we looked at impact. If you schedule time with your kids, ask yourself what impact it had on them, or you? It might make you put your smart phone down to have a greater impact. Or that writing project you are working on? Did you spend a couple of hours at your desk, or did you accomplish something, actually get some pages written? What was the impact of the time spent working? We can even use this gauge in a more dramatic fashion and ask the question, what impact has my life made?

We are all busy. It’s called living. But being busy can be a smoke screen full of sound and fury and signifying nothing (with apologies to the Bard). By changing the litmus test of our lives we can move from crowded calendars to meaningful calendars. If we concern ourselves with impact our meetings, dates, even playtimes take on more significance. And finally if we live our lives focused on our impact on others and the impact we leave, we will dramatically change our world. Isn’t that better than just being busy? 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Room of Genius

Have you ever been in a place where you are overwhelmed by how smart and dedicated all the other people in the room seem? Have you had the joy of being so much in awe of what others are doing for the world that you can’t help asking more and more questions? Have you ever thought at the end of a day that you can’t believe how lucky you are to be among such amazing people? If you have had this experience, you have been in a room of genius.

This summer I attended the Canadian Positive Psychology Association Conference in Ottawa, Canada. Approximately 400 people arrived from across the globe to learn about positive psychology and consider the difference it could make in the world. From education to politics to workplace we learned and debated how happiness, well-being, and even greatness could transform lives. And there was no shortage of amazing people.

To a person the participants engaged in critical dialogue to understand how this science could make the world better for everyone. They were nurses, psychologists, life coaches, consultants and interested individuals. Each of them spoke about how they were trying to bring new messages of positive psychology into their domains. It was powerful and it was intimidating.

A little while after the conference an op ed piece in the NY Times opined about the necessity of having two of more individuals to create genius. Historically, “genius” was believed to be in each of us; it is the god within us as we are born. But the op ed proposed that we need others to challenge our thinking and bring our best to light. After this summer’s conference, I agree. My mind is still whirling with the ideas and suggestions from those few days.

Alone we have our thoughts, but together we have ideas, action and change. We lean on each other and learn from each other. We challenge, cajole, debate, edit, and refine ideas and then we dream, plan and achieve our dreams together.
I was astounded how my thinking was lifted and my ideas were challenges… and it felt good. Who is in your room of genius?