Labor Day – Work smarter this fall

Quotes About Resolutions

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

Making Resolutions Stick

Two things we know about your resolution: 1) You aren’t doing it and 2) it isn’t easy. If it were easy you’d be doing it already!

The more quickly you turn a new habit into a routine, the less effort and willpower it requires. The goal is to “embed” your new habit so you don’t have to think about it, just like brushing your teeth or reading to your kids when they go to bed, just part of the routine.

“Embed” your new habit using “why” and “when.”

1) Why? Get clear on why you want to make this change and obsess about that outcome regularly. Eating salad rather than a cheeseburger is a drag, so the cheeseburger wins. But if you remember that your ultimate goal is health and a looking good in skinny jeans, you can link the salad to that goal – not to the boring experience of lettuce and tomato.

Likewise planning your day – painful in the morning when you’re not sure which fire drill to deal with first and the siren song of email beckons you. When you remember your ultimate goal is to carve out time for strategic projects, you’ll more likely do the grind of daily planning. To embed your new behavior, make sure you regularly conjure up the benefits of why you’re doing it.

2) When? If you wait until you feel like it, you’ll be waiting until New Year’s, the next time you make resolutions. Specify the exact time you will do your new habit and then stick to it, no matter what. You are far more likely to do it when you have carved the specific time in your day to do it.

Labor Day Resolutions to Work Smarter

Labor Day is the unsung hero of “New Year’s resolutions.” Coming back from vacation you are (hopefully) recharged and (definitely) overwhelmed by the 763 emails that have accumulated in your inbox. You dive right back into the same routine, energized by back-to-school energy, vowing you will make better use of your time…but not really changing up your routine.

Three ideas – 20 minutes or less – for your Labor Day resolution.

Resolution #1: 20 minutes – Plan your day, every day. You have back to back meetings and conference calls with China at 9 p.m. I know. You’re not alone. There is no end to work. That won’t change no matter how much enlightenment you got sitting by the pool sipping your adult beverage.

And still. If you don’t take control of your day you’re lost from the beginning.

Take the first 20 minutes of your day – before email – to plan your day. Take out a clean sheet of paper and list out you key priorities. What are you “must get tos” today? Who are the people you need to see or run into, and how will you do that? What are you putting off?

Taking this focused time allows you to plan before all the distractions of the day hit you. It makes you clarify your top priorities which will then play in the background music of your mind for the whole day. Just this act creates a “momentum-high” which fuels feel-good serotonin in your brain, no doctor’s visit or prescription necessary!

Kim, a finance vice president in a high-tech company, reluctantly (very) experimented with this; now she’s a convert. In our coaching we were working on helping her develop her strategic acumen. We quickly realized that her problem was not so much acumen as time – her steady diet of email and conference calls left her with no energy, no time, no creativity.

Now she has a new morning routine. First she scans her email to check on emergencies or emails from her boss. Then, she gets into “airplane mode:” all devices turned off until she reaches cruising altitude. She creates a T diagram: her day to day tasks on the left side, her strategic projects on the right side.

First she decides how and when to schedule the strategic tasks. Then she fits in the other necessary tasks. Her daily game plan complete, she deals with email, prioritizing the most important. With this system, she gets more high level, high value work done. She also does the day to day, and yes, miraculously, she manages to squeeze her email into the time she allots. Kim’s new mantra to her team is “doing your email is not doing your job.”

Resolution #2: 15 minutes – Break down projects into micro-steps. The executives I work with run major initiatives with a bunch of moving parts. They also do their day job and their night job. Restructuring the division, revamping the incentive program, and creating a new social media strategy all need to get done alongside day to day work. So does that difficult conversation you haven’t gotten to yet. The only sane way to deal with the madness is by breaking your projects down into micro-steps.

Tony, the head of HR, learned how to do this once he got involved in leading a key sales initiative – high stakes, high visibility, and of course he still had to do his day job. He knew he could do it, but since it was so new to him it was incredibly abstract. He kept starting and stopping, getting distracted by other work, so by the end of two weeks he had nothing – except for that feeling in the pit of his stomach of a deadline approaching.

We sat down together, within 12 minutes and 33 seconds he had sketched out the outline of his project plan. Perfect? No. Holes to fill in? Yes. But he had defined the landscape of what he needed to accomplish. That is the first step towards getting it done.

Remember to generate steps which are small and actionable, otherwise the project remains smaller gradations of abstract. “Assess what the field thinks” is not actionable. “Call each field VP and discuss these 3 questions” is.

Resolution #3: 15 minutes – Have more meetings. WHAT? This is not a typo! Have more meetings, especially with your direct team, and make them shorter. You want a high impact 15 minute action? Hold a team huddle by phone and in person, once a week, 15 minutes max.

Each team member can report their top 2 priorities for the week, when they will be out of touch, ask for input. Remember, quick! If anything gets extensive, they should follow up after the meeting (more talking to each other is a good outcome.) One team I work with instituted a “let’s be careful out there” motto, a la Hill Street Blues. Corny, but it works. Use this meeting for alignment and cohesion, and remember: 15 minutes. After 14 minutes and 59 seconds your credibility is on the line.

Pick one idea and try it, or make up your own and try it. Commit to something, refine it and let it lead you to a different future.

What’s your Labor Day resolution? I would love to hear what you’re vowing to do differently this fall!

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