September is always a reality check time for me. Time to park my liminal “summer brain” and get back at things.

If you’re part of my community, I can only assume you love doing meaningful work that benefits others. You’ve been working hard, so it’s check-in time to see if you need to make adjustments down the home stretch.

Remember back in January? We started out with a brand-new year. It was a clean slate with some fresh goals and aspirations. You may have even joined me in the three-word challenge.

Well, now we’re at the nine-month mark and it’s time to hard evaluate.

What are you going to do with your next 4 months?

Do you have a clear plan in place?

Last year at this time I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with some of the personal and professional goals I had set for the end of the year. I worked with a coach to create a plan of attack to achieve what I had in mind. 

We focused on having a simple plan and taking consistent daily action. It was amazing how empowering and exciting it was to see the plan on paper. Once I had someone guide me through what to do, it demystified the process and made it extremely doable. 

Oh, and besides just FEELING good about my goal. I actually hit it.

It’s crazy what a simple plan can do.

If this sounds like a plug for coaching, it absolutely is! (I can’t help it. It’s what I do)

But plans of action aren’t just for personal goals like finances, fitness, personal development, etc.

They are extremely effective in business too.

Some Relevant Questions

So, how have things gone so far this year? Did you execute your game plan well?

What does your scorecard say? More specifically, are you getting the results you wanted to achieve? If so, how do you know? 

How you choose to keep score is up to you. Look, this is your game. You set the rules. But you must have some way to track the results of your efforts. Otherwise, how will you know what’s working and what’s not?

So, let’s break it down. 

What do your results to date tell you?

What’s working well?

What’s not working? 

What’s confusing? 

What’s missing?

Your Four Options

The way I see it, you’ve got four basic work options for the rest of the year.

Stick to the Plan

Adjust the Plan

Get Back to the Plan

Make a new Plan

Yeah, I get it. Every situation is different,

The “make a new plan” option is only for extreme circumstances at this stage. A big rock has dropped into your pond and changed everything. Some compelling data has come to light and you’ve got to change course or go back to the drawing board.

The other three options are far more probable. We get distracted and veer off, we need to make adjustments, and sometimes we just need to keep working the plan.

It’s also true that we experience setbacks, negative change or crisis points in our personal and professional lives.

Whatever your circumstance, lean in with your strengths. Don’t waste energy, trying to compensate for your weaknesses. Don’t beat yourself up for not getting everything done on your lengthy to-do list. 

Maybe some of those things didn’t belong on the plan in the first place. That’s not excusing -making. You instinctively know when something doesn’t quite fit and when you’re making rationalizing noises. 

We can’t direct the wind, but we can always adjust our sails.

So, take a wee break. Look at everything you’ve done so far.

 Choose your approach. 

And then get back out there and let’s bring this thing home. 

Until next time,

Lorne 

p.s. If you’d like a personalized strategy chat about where you’re currently at your business or professional career and where you’d like to go, let’s find a time and schedule a friendly, no obligation call. https://lorneepp.com 

 

Is This You?

Your day has barely begun and already you are off track. Suddenly it’s nearly noon and the things you intended to do are totally sidelined. This wasn’t how the day was supposed to go. An urgent email came in, a client called and left you a cryptic voicemail, a panicked co-worker with a deadline is asking for your immediate assistance.

These are real life scenarios that people face every day. It can be stressful and overwhelming.

Whatever you’re doing right now there’s a good chance you’d rather be somewhere else or doing something else, even if it’s your dream job.

Maybe you work from home and are getting sidetracked by picking up around the house. There’s something that needs to get finished, but procrastination set in and you haven’t even started. You’ve got homework for a course you’re taking, a critical presentation to prepare for, or a difficult conversation with your significant other. 

This is the stuff life is made of. It’s really tempting to blow these things off. But you can’t.

Your approach to anything is your clue to how you do everything. 

My recent read through Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work:Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted Worldinspired some of my own thinking about my approach to work. I love it when someone writes about what I’ve been thing about and absolutely nails it.

His premise is that we’ve entered an era of unprecedented distractions. We’ve lost our ability to focus deeply and immerse ourselves in complex tasks.

He makes the point that this is a highly valuable lost skill and presents three concepts that help us focus more than ever before.

We’ll save those for later, o.k.?

I found it helpful to Identify, quantify, and put some healthy boundaries around these three types of work in my years as a CEO.

It creates mental accountability and peace of mind knowing I’m spending appropriate amounts of time doing the right things.

Now Onward to the Three Types of Work 

First off, it’s all work, and there’s inherent value and nobility in work that is well done.

Sometimes on the road to where we want to be, we wind up doing things not because we want to, but because circumstances dictate that we have to. Often starting out in our first jobs, we’re introduced to the shovel, the broom or other mundane chores.

“There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel- and learn.”- Andrew Carnegie 

1. The first is what I call “Sustaining Work”.  

It’s that tedious, soul-sucking, mind-numbing, eye-blear-ing, part of your job that comes with the territory. Every job description I’ve ever seen has a “not-fun” factor. In earlier times this was referred to as “toil”. The stuff that simply has to get done or there will be consequences – usually negative.

Whether you’re a parent, an entrepreneur, or a CEO, diapers need to be changed, reports need to be filed, data needs to be entered and someone else’s messes need to be cleaned up. It’s one of those self-existing facts of life that just “is”. Much like coping with weather, gravity or taxes, you don’t particularly have to like it, but having a healthy attitude with the bigger picture in mind certainly makes necessary, non-productive work more acceptable

2. Next up, there’s “Good Work”. 

This is where we should be spending the bulk of our time. Ideally, Good Work should marry your purpose with your job description. It aligns your soul with your goal. After all, this is what you signed up for, right?

“Good Work should marry your purpose with your job description, and your soul with your goal.”

It’s surprising how many people, glance at a Job Description, sign an Employment Agreement and promptly forget about it.

Lack of role clarity on the JD leads to squishy, unrealistic expectations and a lot of angst.

Fuzzy Job Descriptions are the third leading cause of employee burnout according to Gallup research. See http://bit.ly/2Y8fowY

Having a well-crafted Job Description brings focus, clarity and direction on a day-to day basis. This is where you’ll be spending the majority of your work time. This is your Good Work.

3. Thirdly, there’s “Great Work”. 

If you’re progress-oriented and visionary, like me, this is the type of work that really floats the boat. It’s where the magic happens. It’s the leading edge of moving things forward.

Great work is hard.

It requires periods of concentrated focus and extra effort with no immediate dollars attached. Just ask anyone who has ever stayed up late banging out a thesis, promoted a new idea, or helped an organization move through a crisis.

As a coach and consultant to visionaries, I spend a great amount of time assisting them in executing their aspirations. Visionaries are big thinkers, risk takers, and trailblazers who exhibit great amounts of faith. They seem to live and think in the future. These qualities make them admirable. Often they are the driving force behind societal changes. I personally draw inspiration from these leaders because of their courage and resilience.

The shadow side of visionary leaders, particularly those with a driven, pace-setting, or autocratic leadership style, is that they tend to burn out or blow up the people around them. The job gets done, but there’s a good chance that there’s a trail of bodies left in the wake.

How It Breaks Down Time-wise 

Being somewhat (ahem) analytical, I tracked these three categories in my own work life over a period of years.

In my setting, with some fluctuation, it usually balanced out to abou20% Sustaining Work, 70% Good Work and 10% Great Work.

Great visionary work is critical to any meaningful enterprise. A small dollop of big a vision, rolled out in a consistent way, goes a really long way to keeping your team and the organization motivated and inspired. As exhilarating as it may be to spend time with shiny new ideas and our head in the future, it can be very tempting to overdo it in this zone. It can be mentally exhausting

Often in the past, I’d catch myself getting away out ahead of my team or my board as I focused too much on the future. Not good.

Enter Mr. Newport and his “deep work” concepts.

“In almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits.”
–Cal Newport  

He wisely recommends allowing 5 hours a week for this type of work.

Here’s the How-To-Get Started Part

  1. Train your brain to be better at focusing (example: put your phone away after dinner)
  2. Set aside time for deep work (example: dedicate five hours a week for deep work)
  3. Adopt a tiny habit that signals to yourself that you take the ability to focus seriously (example: quitting a social media service)

Once you get some traction on getting started, it gets easier and you can keep it going.

A related article you may find interesting: http://bit.ly/2YqveU5
(Dealing With My Monkey Brain)

Got ideas or a different experience around this?
Shoot me a note. I read all my emails.
I’d love to hear from you.

Lorne 

Smatterings From My Liminal Summer Brain.
 
Ahh… summer.
I just got back from some serious cabin time. It’s my high country wilderness “analog retreat”.  Here I can read, think, pray and do some blue sky dreaming about how to lead creatively in a world that can get chaotic at times. How to make life richer, more fulfilling, and meaningful for those I love. 
 
I have a confession to make.
It’s an addiction that crops up every now and then. Especially in summer, I definitely fall off the wagon. My addiction fills my deep-down need to create order out of chaos and build things.
 
No, it’s not messing up my life or anything. I don’t think it’s time for an intervention. But still, it’s ever-present, lurking, tempting. 

It’s my struggle with Tetris. There. I said it!

It’s that amazingly simple yet addictive puzzle game where a colorful procession of seven different pieces falls endlessly into a geometric hodgepodge. I have to strategically rotate, move, arrange and drop the tiles at ever-increasing speeds. If I clear as many lines as possible by completing horizontal rows of blocks without empty space, I’m rewarded by achieving a new level. If I fall behind in the process and the unarranged shapes surpass the skyline then –BAM! Game over. 

Tetris Life Lessons (With Some Bruce Lee Thrown In For Kicks)

Let’s face it. Games and sports are hugely analogous to life. The term “Tetris Effect” became a way to describe how players were inspired by the game in everyday situations.
Because Tetris, like the real world, challenges you to establish order out of chaos using an organizational system. There are transferable concepts everywhere in real life. Everything from packing the car trunk, loading a dishwasher, or building a team or an organization. How’s that next thing going to fit for optimum efficiency? That’s the Tetris Effect!
 
Focus, Focus, Focus 
It’s called it being ‘in the zone”. This near-meditative state can happen in all aspects of life, from playing chess to driving in rush hour. Being in the zone is nothing more than achieving a heightened state of focus. A good example is 16-year-old gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez set to do a balance beam routine at the 2016 Rio Olympics. There’s intensity in her eyes and she can be seen to mouth the words “I got this“ just ahead of her near-flawless performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfsf2gbR4K8  


Whether you’re playing Tetris or writing a funding proposal, this level of mental intensity is not easy to achieve. Figure out how to get there, then stay as long as you can. When it slips away, take a break. Take 20 or 30 minutes to grab a snack or go for a walk. Let your mind rest, then come back and start again.

You can’t always get what you want (Rolling Sones) 
You build and build and wait for a “straight” piece to clear off a whole bunch. Guess what? The stick is just one of the 7 pieces that fall, so chances are 7 to 1 you won’t get what you want. Not right away, at least. You’ll get something you think might work, but then you’ll get something that doesn’t fit at all, and you’ll get three or four clunkers in a row. In real life, this translates to settling for something that’s not quite right or ending up in a job that pays the bills but shrivels the soul. Know what? It’s not the end of the world. Patience my friend, Eventually the right piece shows.

But if you try sometimes you might find, You get what you need (More Stones)
I used to think “Tetris or nothing” stacking and stacking, holding out way too long. Sometimes I would get a stick at the right time, and get my Tetris. Most of the time, however, I would just stack everything up to the top and that would be the end of my game. Sometimes it’s ok to knock off two or three lines at a time and keeping everything manageable and mediocre while waiting for the big move. The key is to sustain and survive until you see your opportunity for that big move. Keep your end goals in mind, but don’t feel bad about making some mediocre moves along the way.

You gotta have faith.
You know what you want. Just a bunch of shapes that come together then the stick piece at just the right time. right? Well, take heart and know that there is always a stick piece coming. Good things are out there, but you must be patient. Keep at it, have faith, and eventually, the right pieces fall into place.

You can’t rely on faith alone.
Strategy helps. The Tetris powers that be seem to favor those who indulge in a bit of planning. Faith is important because there is definitely a stick piece coming.  Having a strategy and plan is equally important. Sure, the left side of the screen tracks each piece, but it doesn’t give you the bigger picture or help you predict the immediate future. A little forethought can go a long way. Keep your game manageable as you practice patience. Get a line here and there, keep yourself in the game. Before you know it bingo, you’re on a roll. 

Bias for action beats doing nothing.
The number one killer in the game of Tetris is overthinking and hesitation. “Should I put it here, or flip it over there?” This might translate into, “Should I take this course or apply for this position or that one?” Speed in dealing with circumstances and opportunities matters in business and in life. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study.
 Spend too much time mulling as the pieces fall, and you miss out. Think about what you do, but DO SOMETHING!

The more you do it, the better you get.
The more time you spend playing, the higher your average score. The same goes for life. A great photographer takes a lot of pictures to come up with several that are exceptional. If you’re a writer, write a lot of stories. Little by little, more and more of them will be good. Same with anything. Keep at it, you’ll get better.

It doesn’t get easier
Your reward for doing well? You get to it all again, only tougher!
 
In Bruce Lee’s final film, the hero yips, yowls, and Eee…yahs! his way to the top of a multi-level pagoda, crushing bad guys of different fighting styles on each floor. His quest is to retrieve something sacred, though it’s never named.
 
On each floor, the opponents are more badass-y than the last. On the top floor, he faces the towering 7’2” Kareem Abdul Jabbar, whose martial arts style and prowess match his own. 
5ed85440-d472-421e-b1de-6f2f865b0586.png
 
You can watch this epic battle here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ic2k2P_FG0 
When he discovers the big man’s vulnerability to light, that’s the tactical advantage our feisty little hero needs to prevail.
Remember. No one is asking you start on the 19th level. But if you’ve already gotten past the first 18, then why not try?

Turn off the music.
When I’m driving and looking intently for a street address, I instinctively turn off the music to help me look.
Don’t know exactly how that works but it does.
When you stack your pieces too high, the music in Tetris speeds up. This creates the illusion that the pieces are moving faster. They aren’t. Don’t cave or freak out.  Music distraction only diverts your focus. Know your deadlines, but don’t worry about them. Keep your objective in mind, and finish strong.

I love it when a plan comes together
The whole reason I and millions of others play Tetris is that every now and then you get that perfect coming together. Piece-piece-piece-TETRIS! Piece-piece-TETRIS! Sometimes it just flows, and it all fits together perfectly.

I love that feeling. It’s the best. No one expects life to work like that all the time, but sometimes it does.

Love it, appreciate it, and know that it’s ok to look forward to it.
 
 What’s your favorite summertime game obsession? And why?

Visit me at https:// LorneEpp.com and drop me a line. I’d love to hear what’s going on for you this summer.

Until next time. 

Lorne