Grow Up! And Live Your Own Life

Heroes. Most of us have in our live some heroes or people we look up to. Most of us get inspired by our idols. We try to do a lot of things to be like that person. But why do we do that? Why not to be ourselves and aspire to be the best “us” we can? Over the years in various management roles I have often adopted behavior of more experienced managers because I admired the way they dealt with certain situation only to discover that their approach simply didn’t work for me. Over the years I have seen people who focused so much on competing with others that they forgot to focus on themselves.

Focus on yourself, not others

Your boss has decided to quit. There is you and several of your peers who used to report to this person and it is obvious that one of you gets promoted to that job. So what would you do? Sadly, many people would focus more on others than on themselves. They would start seeing that Richard is friend with the former boss so he is probably closest to the promotion, they would see that Maria just got this new responsibility a month ago and without a good reason Peter is being often approach by senior managers when they need help. If you follow this train of thought you find yourself blaming others for your own shortcomings an feeling that life is unfair since others are getting all the breaks. Is this healthy? How exactly will thoughts like these help you to get to the next level? That is how five years old kid would behave and let’s face it, who would promote that kid to a leadership role?

The best thing you can do is to forget about the others and rather focus on what you can do and how you can improve. You should still strive to do your job to the best of your abilities and volunteer to take on some of the responsibilities of your boss. The trick here is where to focus. Do you rather focus on things that are highly visible to the management or on things that are more important for the daily survival of the organization? This decision really depends on company culture, on the way how the organization is set up, and on your priorities and goals in this life.

Focus on what you can influence

We all have so many things to do, so where do we spend our energy? There are two quotes that always guided my professional life and that I tried to impart on my team. “Pick your battles carefully,” and “focus on things you can influence.”

Yes, there are many things in this world and your job that would deserve your attention and that you could improve. There are many things that you can fight for. But is it worth it? If you decide to push for an idea or project that doesn’t have a wide support within the organization always consider whether it is worth the effort, what are the chances of success and what you will be giving up when you put your attention there.

If you are someone who is always complaining, always unhappy and always trying to fight everything, chances are you will stop being taken seriously. Don’t complain, if there is something that needs to be fixed, just jump in and fix it. And if it is something that is not under your control and there is no way you can fix it then just learn to live with it and focus your attention on things you can fix. If your standard mode of operation is being very cooperative, positive, and able to compromise then when there is something that really matters to you others will see your passion and your resolve and will get out of your way or even better will help you to achieve it.

Combine the best of both worlds

It is good to have in your life someone who guides you and acts as an inspirational idol. Just make sure you don’t mimic this person too much. Remember who you are and if you want to adopt something from his or her behavior make sure it is aligned with your own personality so you will still be you. Some of the key leadership traits are authenticity and consistency. If others believe that you are trying to be someone you are not, they will not follow. So when you decide to integrate a new skill or new way how to deal with situations you need to do it in a way that is natural to your own personality. For example, I may consider people like Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce) great leaders and admire their public performance and ability to rally forces to get things done. However, if I would decide to mimic their heavily extroverted behavior I would fail as my team would most likely say “What’s wrong with Tomas, this is not him. What is he trying to pull here?” So instead of trying to be like these two guys I will try hard to be myself and over the time, step by step, incorporate some of the traits I admire on them. That way I will give myself enough time to develop the new skill and be still myself.

Twitter type summary: “Stop trying to be someone else. Be who you are, pick your fights, focus on what you can influence and you will have a fulfilling life.”

What about you? Do you have someone in your life you admire and learn from?

Lack of time is just an illusion!

Time management. One of the basic skills you are required to master when moving up the ladder to management positions and in fact in any professional role at all. There are hundreds of books written on the topic (only on Amazon when searching time management you get more than 100.000 references), and there are countless leadership programs and seminars focused on time management you can attend. And yet, you cannot manage time. Time flows and there is nothing you can do about it.

What you can manage are your priorities and your attention. Each of us gets allocated 24 hours of time a day and it is just up to you to figure out how to use it in a way that helps you achieve your goals. And by that I don’t mean just spending 20 hours a day in the office getting 100 tasks done. What I’m talking about is to spend time doing things that help you reach your life goals based on the value system you have. It might be getting the project done on time, getting a promotion, building a house, raising your children or traveling the world.

So if you are a person who is constantly overloaded and never have time to do all the things you want to, there are couple of things to consider.

Don’t manage time, manage priorities

Stop blaming lack of time for not being able to deal with everything on your plate. Learn to prioritize and learn to live with the fact that there are some things you will simply not do. There are tons of tips and tricks on how to set priorities. My favorite one is the concept of 4D as shown on the picture below. You can use this as a guideline for prioritizing your own work. The idea is to focus on things that are important to you and your goals. It may sound a bit selfish but that is the way to ensure that you are the one managing your priorities and you don’t let others to do it for you.

Concept of 4D

Concept of 4D

See the things in quadrant four? Ignore them! Learn to live with the fact that something will not be done and that it is completely fine not to do it. One trick that I used on numerous occasions with my team was to ask team members who felt overloaded to write down all the things they do ordered by priority and draw a line to indicate what they are able to manage. Everything below the line won’t be done. I would go through the list with them, agree on priorities and acknowledge that there are things that get postponed or canceled at all. That way I helped the team member to understand priorities and removed the stress that they will not manage all the things on the list.

Manage your attention

Priorities are nice, but most of us understand the priorities and still not get things done. Why? You need to learn to manage your attention. In today’s world with abundance of information, interactions, and tons of distractions it is increasingly difficult to stay focused. Find a system that will help you focus on what is important. Each of us is different so there is no such thing as best practice, but consider these questions

  • Do you really need to be on email/skype/phone 24 hours a day? What is the worst thing that would happen if you switched it off for a while?
  • Do you really need to know about every single thing that is happening in the world? What would happen if you switched of the internet for couple of hours and didn’t constantly look for news or tweets?
  • Do you really need to say “yes” to any request you get? What is the worst thing that could happen if you said “no”?
  • Do you really need to multitask and do ten things at the same time? What would happen if you started doing them in series rather than in parallel?

My favorite question to ask myself, and often get depressed by the answer is: “What did I achieve today / this week / this month?” Not what did I do, but what did I achieve. If you find yourself being constantly busy but not achieving anything that matters you need to stop right now and reevaluate your tasks, priorities and indeed your life.

Lack of time is just a mindset

Edward T. Hall came up with concept of monochronic versus polychronic societies. The monochronic time concept is derived from “one thing at a time” paradigm and the polychronic from idea of “multiple tasks at the same time”. The implications he raises lead to different views of time. In the polychronic culture interpersonal relationships are much more important than time. Things will still get done, but in their own time. In the Western world time is a rare commodity that is continuously running out. “Time is money” and “Time is wasted.” However, there are cultures where time is abundant and people don’t concern themselves with “not having the time” to do stuff.

Think about it! There are people and in fact whole cultures who live similar lives to your, do similar work, still have just 24 hours a day available and yet, they feel like having plenty of time. The implication is that in a culture where time is limited being late for a meeting is a big no-no. In other cultures it is a way of life, people are fine waiting or coming another day. There is nothing right or wrong with each of the ways, they are just different. Though I had to admit for someone who grew up in central Europe where time is limited it drives me sometimes crazy to adapt to living in the Philippines where apparently time is abundant.

What does it all mean? It is only up to you if you want to create a mindset that will allow you to have all the time in the world, spend your attention on things that have priority for you, and feel good about not doing bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be done anyway.

Twitter type summary: “It is your choice to get a mindset that allows you to have all the time in the world and spend your attention on things important to you.”

What about you? Do you manage time or time manages you? How do you ensure you focus your attention on the right things?