While you cannot change your situation in an instant, you can change your direction… and a small change of direction leads to a big change in destination.
I’ve been working to build the Vistage organization in Spain for the last 3 years. Vistage’s mission since 1957 is to improve the effectiveness and enhance the lives of CEOs. I’ve been applying these tools into my own life.
I’ve learnt to be wary of “lessons for success”. I’d have to know you completely, your hopes, your dreams, your pains and your specific circumstances in order to give practical advice that would serve you… I will share from personal experience. You will know what to take from what is written here for your own situation.
Happy and Productive?
I’ve come a long way since the 30 year old version of myself. The 30 year old version of Conor did not believe you could be both happy and productive. Happiness would come when I made it to “success”. If I was too happy along the way I would forget about the journey and just stop working. Having worked with hundreds of CEOs I have learnt that you don’t need pain to keep you moving and lead a productive life and a productive organization.
My 7 Resolutions for 2019
1. Be intentional about each day
Back in 2008 I had the privilege to have lunch with Ken Blanchard, the author of “the one minute manager”. He had just shared a talk with a group of entrepreneurs on three things that leaders must do in challenging times. Over lunch, I asked him “29 days every month I wake up and find the energy to lead, but one day every month I wake up empty. Where do you find the energy on those days?” His answer “Start the day slowly”.
I’ve tried various methods to “Start the day slowly” in the intervening decade. The simplest is to write in my notebook “Today is about… “ and finish the sentence.
2. Email reduction
I’ve headed out of home today to a local coffee shop and I have switched the Wi-Fi off and hidden my phone in my bag so that I can get through the writing of this article.
A friend calls this “The No Power Hour”. 60 minutes shutting down incoming notifications and working for a solid 60 minutes on something that is important to you in the long term.
It is dangerously easy to be busy on the urgent and forget about being productive on what is really important. Jim Rohn said “we each have a choice of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret”.
3. Start a stop doing list
I reached out to my friend Rob Glazer, founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners when I was asked to write this post. I asked him what had made a big difference for him in 2018. His answer “start a stop doing list”
When you are young, you have the freedom to keep adding ideas, dreams, tasks and adventures to your bucket list. The moment that middle age begins is the moment when you realize that there is finite time left in our life. Acceptance of this fact leads to a clearing out of all the plans, tasks, adventures of life and a reduction down to the most important. You cannot do everything but you can do anything.
Each afternoon I create a table in my notebook: love/hate. Everything and every person that has added to my life in the last 24 hours goes on the left. Everything and every person in my life that has sucked energy from my life goes on the right. I work harder to remove the stuff on the right than to add stuff on the left. If you are flying a hot air balloon, it is better dropping the weight that holds you down than putting more heat into the balloon.
4. Network by Serving Others
Recently, Michael Thompson told me “There isn’t a productivity hack more effective than building strong relationships.”
Dan Sullivan (I love his podcast) says that when he meets anyone he reflects that he is, at highest, number 21 on the list of most important people to the person in front of him. If he speaks about himself, he drops down the list. Only if he learns about the other person, their hopes, their dreams, their challenges and where they are stuck can he move up the list.
I have been practicing a new approach to managing my nerves before big speeches and when teaching classes. I take a moment to look at each person out there in the audience and imagine their whole life’s journey up to this point where we are in this room together today. Once I put myself in their shoes, I forget about my nerves. When I get out of my own head and into the hopes, dreams and challenges of others, I remember why I am speaking and teaching.
A mentor of mine, Warren Rustand told me this year “if you are feeling depressed, go and help someone else”. This habit comes more from a search for happiness than productivity, but in the long term leads to productivity.
5. Ask More Questions
I’ve been on a search for great questions these last couple of years. Verne Harnish, the founder of Entrepreneurs Organization, told me years ago to “Increase your question to answer ratio”. Vistage has taught me that if you are the smartest in the room, you need to get into a different room. Being the smartest in the room is about my ego. Being around the best people for the decision at hand is effective leadership.
What are your best questions? One of the most powerful that I have learnt this year is “Tell me more…”
6. Have Yes, No, and “Too difficult” boxes.
Warren Buffett’s definition of integrity is “you say No to most things.”
If you don’t keep some of your energy, your time and your resources for what is important to you, you cannot live integrity with your values.
It’s hard to say No, when the decision is binary between yes or a categorical no. Warren suggests a “too difficult” category. When a request comes in, he doesn’t just evaluate between yes and no… sometimes it is not a full yes and it is not a complete no… it is too difficult.
Some other handy categories of grey are:
- Make X progress then come back see me
- Get X on board first
- Come back in X weeks when I have finished my current priority
- And then there’s always the straight “No”
7. Save some money (and have it work for you)
Over the last two years I realized that I am too optimistic about the future to be disciplined about saving money. I have gathered together a group of friends and we have agreed to meet monthly and hold each other accountable for taking our personal financial situation seriously. For the first time in my life, this year I have not bought things that I wanted (the new drone, a longer trip to New York) in order to save money and invest it.
According to Fidelity Investments, a good rule of thumb is to have 10 times your final salary in savings if you want to retire by age 67. Fidelity also suggests a timeline to use in order to get to that magic number:
- By 30: Have the equivalent of your salary saved
- By 40: Have three times your salary saved
- By 50: Have six times your salary saved
- By 60: Have eight times your salary saved
- By 67: Have 10 times your salary saved
2019 Bonus Resolution: Take cybersecurity seriously
Finally, here is a bonus resolution, to help you not only be happier and more productive – but safer in 2019 as well.
I asked the Joe Galvin, Vistage Chief Research Officer, what he thought business leaders should be focused on in 2019. His answer was blunt and deadly serious: cybersecurity.
Many businesses have been hacked in 2018. Some have lost data, many lost the ability to operate for some hours or even days. For business, Vistage have a short guide to cyberthreats and solutions for small and midsize businesses.
Personal cybersecurity: At a personal level, here’s two things I have taken immediate action on to increase my online security.
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