The distracted age…

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

Alexander Graham Bell

The digital age could also be called the distracted age.  There are so many competing demands for our attention. When was the last time you were in a meeting, at a restaurant, or simply having a conversation with someone when you didn’t see some type of digital device in their hands?  I know I am guilty of being distracted on a daily basis.  The pull of the digital device is a black hole for creative energy and focus.

How much great work is sacrificed because 100% of our effort isn’t focused on the work at hand?  I know that when I make the decision to attend a meeting with only my paper notebook in hand that my focus and participation is so much better.  Yet it is so hard to do with regularity.  Study after study shows that multi-tasking is a myth, yet we all do it and think  that we are are the exception to the rule, that we are able to multi-task with great effect.

It isn’t possible to spend 100% of our time focused and distraction free, but what if we just started by deciding to do it only once per day on whatever the most important thing is for that day?

Today try to attend a meeting, have a conversation, or spend some focused work/thinking time without a digital distraction.  See how how it impacts your productivity.   Give it a try, how can it hurt?

Act like there is no other choice…

“The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.”

Henry Kissinger

How do you create this environment artificially?  When there are truly no alternatives it is magical how intense and focused one can be on the task at hand. The challenge is that to live in this environment all the time isn’t reasonable.  There are always going to be times when there is a plethora of alternatives.  The leadership challenge is to pick the right one and then ACT like there aren’t any other choices…

What is the worst that can happen?

“Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater.”

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair 

What decision are you delaying while waiting for more information?  How much data or insight do you need in order to make it?  Will you ever have enough information to be 100% sure it is the right decision?  

Perfect information and insight doesn’t exist.  If we only made decisions when we had enough information to insure that our course of action was 100% infallible then nothing would ever get done.  However, what is the impact to those around you when decisions aren’t made and action isn’t taken?  Slowness and inaction because the accepted norm and indecision becomes a disease.  It creeps through an organization or group and paralyzes all potential for progress. 

Ask yourself this question the next time you are faced with a key action decision.  “What is the worst possible thing that can happen based on this decision to take action?”  Once you understand the risks, and can mitigate for them, no decision seems quite as daunting.  

Why are you running?

“Every morning in Africa, an antelope wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest antelope, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or an antelope – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” ―

African Proverb

What really gets your attention?  What brings everything into focus and ignites within you the ability to hit the ground hard in the morning and run your very best game?  

When I think of this message I think of how awesome it is when there is a burning focus to life that brings clarity to everything else around me.  Without this focus, during the seasons where it is unclear, life just isn’t quite as rich. 

Do you know why you are running today? 

Indifference sends a message…

“If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.”

Jack Kerouac

What is it that are you indifferent about?  Is it because you have to do something and don’t really want to?  Does that indifference convey to others?  Sometimes the real risk isn’t the quality of the work that you do, it is the message it sends to everyone else….

99.999% isn’t 100% done…

“The last thing you want to do is finish playing or doing anything and wish you would have worked harder.”

Derek Jeter

A strong finish to anything is rewarding because you know you are giving it your best effort, that the hard work and effort are paying off and you’re ending something on a very high note.  As outlined in the quote above though it can be hard to revel in a strong finish if you think you left something out on the field or didn’t give an initiative your very best effort.  But just sometimes that experience can be an incredible life lesson.  I’ll give you a personal example. (Thanks for humoring me by reading a longer post with a personal story.)

A few years ago I competed in Ironman Maryland.  It was a tough training year and I wasn’t at my optimum fitness for an Ironman race.  But my race goals were pretty simple.

  1. Enjoy the day.  The race is the reward for lots of long training hours and I wanted to simply smile and enjoy every moment of the day.
  2. Given my sub-optimum training I wanted to simply break 13 hours.  No where close to a PR but something I knew I was capable of doing.
  3. Finish the race…  Always my 3rd goal in an Ironman race.  You never know what is going to happen out on the race course.  12+ hours of endurance racing is a long day.  (as an aside, when doing a  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, & 26.2 run the real goal is always, “don’t drown, don’t crash, don’t fall down.”)

To keep from completely boring you with the details I’ll simply share that I had an amazing day and completely crushed goal #1.  I don’t think I stopped smiling at any point, even when the effort was really really hard.  It was a very personal and emotionally fulfilling event.  But that’s not why I am sharing this story…

My finish time was 13:00:45.  Yes, I missed my goal of breaking 13 hours by 46 seconds…  During the last two miles of the run I knew it was going to be close and I picked up the pace.  I was running as hard as I could during the last mile (aways easier with the crowd cheering for you) and was sprinting down the finish line chute.  46 seconds…

To put this in perspective I achieved 99.99903% of my goal.  46 seconds represented a .0009% point shortfall.  Does it matter in the grand scheme of things?  Absolutely not.  Is it even remotely important in life?  Not in any way.  Does it take away from the experience?  No way, no how.  However, I will never think of this race without a rue smile and know that I could have worked just a little harder and easily achieved the goal I had set out to accomplish.

Am I disappointed?  Not in any way.  But it was, and is, such a great lesson to me on the importance of giving your best effort no matter what, because if you fall slightly short, you’ll look back and know that you could have done better…  Finishing strong means bringing your best every single day.  99.999% isn’t 100% done.

 

 

Over. Under. Around. Through.

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”

Michael Jordan

What is the point of growth if everything is easy?  If we had an “easy button” in our back pocket we would never grow or improve at anything in life.  Challenges are what force us to become better.  Without them we would be stuck in a rut of incrementalism and fall far short of our true potential.  Obstacles are gifts because they create opportunities for us to rise above the challenge and flex our creativity.  I’ve been most impressed by those that, when faced by an incredible test, rally together and figure out a solution.  

Find a way to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal.  Skill and talent will only take you so far; grit and determination are what carries you over the hurdles that will happen in life.  

Demand more, in the right direction…

“Being relentless means demanding more of yourself than anyone else could ever demand of you, knowing that every time you stop, you can still do more. You must do more.”

Tim S. Grover

I completely agree with the sentiment expressed in this quote.  I have long believed that no one could push me harder than I could push myself.  As I have gotten older, and perhaps wiser, I have learned that while no one can push me harder, perhaps others can push me in ways I didn’t even know that I needed to go.  

Demanding more of yourself sometimes means getting perspective and help from outside so you know exactly where to push so hard…  Who helps you see where you channel your relentless energy?  

 

How do you tend your wish garden?

“Wishing is a form of inspiration for the lazy mind but taking action, persisting and finding alternative routes to your destination against all odds is the definition of a SUCCESSFUL venture.”

Oscar Bimpong

A wish is simply a seed that is sown that can grow into a great tree or a beautiful flower.  But for the seed to survive and become what is is capable of it must overcome all sorts of challenges and obstacles.  In the same manner for a wish to grow it must be nurtured, it won’t happen by accident or through simple desire.  

This quote reminds me of the parable of the sower from Matthew 13: 1-23.  For our wish to become reality it must fall on good soil and be tended and protected.  That is our responsibility and obligation as leaders.  To achieve great things we can’t be content with wishing, we must instead ensure that our dreams, and the dreams of those whom we serve, are nurtured, encouraged, and sustained against all odds.  If wishes are seeds then we are gardeners charged with ensuring they grow to their full potential.

What seeds are worth taking from dream to reality?  What seeds are worth planting and protecting no matter what happens?  

Direction vs. Time

“Live your life by a compass, not a clock.”

Stephen R. Covey

What sets our day, our clock or our compass?  It’s funny when you think about it, the world was discovered not with a clock, but a compass. But nowadays time is everything that we care about.  We wear a watch, we schedule our days to the down to the last minute.  How often do we check to make sure that we are going in the right direction?

What if instead of a watch we wore a compass on our wrist to check and see if we were moving in the right direction?  I don’t know about you but staying on time seems to take priority in life over direction at times.  We focus on the importance of time instead of focusing on where we are going.

The bottom line is this.  You need both a compass and a watch.  But it needs to be in that order.  If you put a clock ahead of of the compass you’ll make great time, but you won’t know where you are going….

Accountability starts with self…

“Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.”

Courtney Lynch

On of my long-time favorite mantras is “fix the problem, not the blame.” Instead of investing your effort into finding out who who is at fault, and why they are accountable, focus on what happened and what is needed to fix it.  I love the way this quote frames out that accountability is a result of leading by example.  You can’t have accountability if the leader doesn’t walk the talk by accepting responsibility.  This seems so obvious, yet rare in practice.  
It is far easier to try and “hold others accountable” instead of first focusing on our responsibility as leaders for the outcomes and engendering an ownership mentality.   If you want to create a culture of accountability, take responsibility for the results.  
Accountability starts with self…

The power of taking action…

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.”

Leonardo da Vinci

leonardo-vitruvian-man-bI have just finished a fascinating book titled “The Leading Brain” which delves into how our brain works and the reason why we make the decisions we do.  Understanding the neuroscience behind our behavior as humans and particularly as leaders is really really interesting and has given me much greater insight to my own behaviors and how to change them for the better.  

One of the things I learned was how precisely how powerful small habits can be and the science behind why breaking the big things down into reasonable and attainable actions creates long term and sustainable success.  I thought I used to do this fairly well but now  knowing the importance of “doing” as this quote from Leonardo points out, I recognize how critical these actions are to rewire your brain.  By breaking things down, starting with small actions, creating wins that give you brain the dopamine boost it craves you literally rewire your neural paths and reinforce the way you want your brain to work.  Incredible!  (yes, I recognize that I am a geek for this stuff…)

Find your big thing, break it down, start with an action that matters.  Today…

A gift for yourself…

“Solitude is where I place my chaos to rest and awaken my inner peace.”

Nikki Rowe

I find that it is harder and harder to find a place of quiet and peace in today’s world.  We are digitally connected almost 100% of the time.  To achieve real quiet outside of the chaos requires making a conscious decision to give yourself the gift of solitude and peace. For me it means quiet time with a good book or perhaps a long bike ride or a run.  

I am reminded of the verse in Matthew that frames what I look for when taking some time of solitude: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

How often do you actively seek to give yourself this gift?

The sun always rises…

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

Aristotle Onassis

IMG_4363

Sunrise at Kill Devil Hills, NC

It is so easy to focus on the current situation, our current pains and challenges.  During our times of greatest challenge and strife it always seems like there is no end in sight.  That we are doomed to stay in the darkness, that the sun will never rise.  

 

Sometimes it feels easier to stay there in the dark. To climb out towards the light is just too much work and effort.  But that isn’t why we were created.  That isn’t how we grow and learn and become better selves.  We are surrendering our ability to become who we were born to be when we lose focus on the light. The darkest moments form us, they create in us the will, the desire, the ability to rise above and become a new and better person.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 ESV

No matter how dark the night the sun always rises.  Where do you turn your focus during the dark moments?  How do you refresh and refocus yourself?

Failure to plan…

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Colin Powell

This quote reminds me of the old axiom “if you fail to plan you plan to fail.” Preparation is such an important aspect of success that sometimes gets overlooked.  It’s so easy to wait until the last minute to get the work done but far too often that increases the chance of failure, or at least of sub-optimal results.  Good preparation is part of the hard work required to create success.  Being intentional in what we WANT to do allows us to execute against our plan with focused hard work AND creates the environment that allows us to learn when things don’t go as planned.  If you don’t have a plan, how will you know if you don’t achieve it?

 

Less is more…

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Herbert Simon

This is our society today isn’t it?  There is so much information available that we can only consume it in 140 character soundbites.  Or so much information available that we never want to make a decision because we can always find “just a bit more information” to ensure our decision is the right one.  What if we had less information, but more focus?  Is the old adage that “less is more” more appropriate now than ever before?  

I have been spending a ton of time lately reading everything I can get my hands on regarding focus and intentionality. I am actively seeking out secret tips and special tactics to be more productive with my time. I found myself reflecting back to the “good old days” when there wasn’t a constant barrage of information coming at us 24/7.  But then I picked up my copy of “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker (a gift from a very wise friend) and challenges back then were the same challenges we face today.  (By the way, that book was written 50 years ago)  How do you make the best and biggest impact with the time that you have?  As much as we’d (me especially) like to make it a modern problem, it isn’t.  I’d say it’s a human problem.  Why do you think that is?

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