You Know that Next Action You are Supposed to Take? – So, Do It Already! (a little insight from David Allen, and the Navy SEALs)
Stuff: anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven‘t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step. As long as it is still “stuff,” it’s not controllable. It is “an amorphous blob of undoability!”
When a culture adopts “What’s the next action?” as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus.
Forget everything (clear your mind of everything), so that you can remember everything you have to do!
Do everything you have to do – one next action at a time.
Next Step (Next Action): the very next physical action required to move a situation forward!
Discipline yourself to make front-end decisions about all the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment.
Keep reminders of your next step where you will see them!
David Allen basically said this: when you don’t know the thing/task you are supposed to do next, then you have a failure of planning. So, stop what you are doing (make that “not doing”), and plan your next next actions. Always know the “next action(s)” you need to take.
I think this is really right, and smart, and so very simple. But… maybe it is not that simple. If you are like me, you don’t always know your next action. You/We fail to plan to that level of detail, that level of specificity.
That level of clarity.
And, as a result, we fall behind, or let the important stuff slip through the cracks.
You’ve got a job. By being there, you’ve accepted that job. You have specific things to do. And if you fail at those things, a lot of other people are going to have to pay the price… You may be smart, but if you don’t take ownership of the work at hand, everyone else is going to have to pay for what you didn’t do.
So getting and being clear on your next actions, and then doing them, makes all the difference.
Now, sometimes, we might want to think “big picture,” “dream a little,” and so we feel paralyzed because we are not quite sure just where to go next.
But after saying all of this, most of the time our failure to execute is just that – a failure to execute. We know the next action, we just don’t actually do the next action.
From the Navy SEALs book again:
“the vast majority of the time, you know what you should do.”
Yes, you/we do.
So, here is your assignment. Plan your next action(s). Then, do your next next action(s).
So, let’s do it already.
“Representing The Institution and Bringing A Vision” – Christine Lagarde Describes her Role at the IMF
Before she was selected as the new Managing Director, Ms. Christine Lagarde, a candidate for the position of the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), made the following statement to the IMF Executive Board on June 23, 2011. You can read her entire letter here. Here are some key highlights.
As a candidate, I have listened carefully over the last few weeks to the messages conveyed to me by a large part of the membership and I would like to lay out some thoughts of mine and address some of the issues:
1. Management: the three duties of MD
If elected, I am committed to fulfil, with your support and active engagement, the three key duties of a MD: to chair the Board; to manage the staff; and to represent the institution.
Duty 1: Chairing the Board
To lay the proper foundations of such a relationship, if elected, I would call for a Board retreat before the recess.
Duty 2: Managing the staff
I am well aware that recent events have left open wounds. I know that John’s departure, coming as it does at the very worst of times, will leave a big hole. The incoming MD must take pains to show the outside world that this great institution is not only leading in terms of expertise, but also in terms of integrity and work ethics. We must consolidate and, if needed, restore staff pride in working at the IMF, to get us through the healing process.
…only strong leadership will help us overcome silo-mentality, achieve diversity, and gain in cohesion and coherence.
We collectively must focus on serving both our membership and the higher goal of the Fund, and be less inward-looking.
Duty 3: Representing the institution and bringing a vision
The MD has to lead by example, consistent with the values of integrity, independence, and discretion. The MD shall also be the loyal and strong voice of the whole membership when representing the Fund, especially in delivering messages, speaking the truth to members, be them small or large.
To conclude, should you entrust me with the challenging task of MD, I would strive, over the next five years, to build a Fund that would be adapted to a changing world; responsive, ready and able to meet all challenges, both foreseeable and unforeseeable; cooperative, listening and coordinating effectively with all stakeholders, and continuously striving to build consensus; legitimate and even-handed, to reflect a changing world.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Executive Board, thank you for your attention
Note the clear intentions:
To “lead in terms of expertise, and work ethics;” to lead with integrity; to gain in cohesion and coherence.”
I suspect that this is one of the more challenging new positions on the planet, especially after the very public scandal of the man she replaces. But she provides a pretty good reminder to all leaders with this letter: leaders are to manage the staff, represent the organization well and honorably, and bring a vision to the entire enterprise.
For the sake of many, let’s hope that Ms. Lagarde can live up to and fulfill these intentions, and set an example for other leaders in the process.
I have spent 13 years reading business books and presenting synopses of these books to folks ready and willing to learn. It took a while (I’m not all that sharp!), but I think I am beginning to learn some things myself. In fact, I think I am ready to state, for certain, that there are 2 ways to guarantee mediocrity (if not outright failure):
1) Have a poor work ethic
2) Don’t have regular (team/executive team) meetings.
#1: Have a poor work ethic.
The sources are too many, but let’s start with the 10,000 hour rule (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers). I summarize it this way in my presentation:
…centerpiece to this book is the 10,000 hour rule… — with much intentional practice!
“Practicing: that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better” (Outliers).
Or, to put it another way, putting in 10,000 hours does not guarantee that you will reach the pinnacle of success; but, not putting in the time practically guarantees that you won’t reach that pinnacle.
In other words, to remind us all of the obvious, it takes work, hard work, to be successful.
#2: Don’t have regular (team, management, executive team) meetings.
This is the one that has most captivated me. I am looking for this everywhere I speak, in every book I read, and everywhere else I can.
The insight hit home after reading the Verne Harnish book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, but it took a while to see it in action. Now I am looking for it, and finding it, everywhere I look.
The Rockefeller “habits” are Priorities, Data, and Rhythm: an effective rhythm of daily; weekly; monthly; quarterly; annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability (“until your people are mocking you, you’ve not repeated your message enough”).
In the book, Harnish points to this:
Mastering the Daily and Weekly Executive Meeting
(Structure meetings to enhance executive team performance).
• meetings overview:
• daily & weekly – execution
• monthly – learning
• quarterly and annual – setting strategy}.
This is the discipline, the habit, that I am looking for, paying attention to, and have become convinced is a (maybe the) critical key to genuine success. Assuming that a company or organization has hired competent, passionate people (admittedly, this is a big assumption), then it is imperative that these people get together in regular meetings to tackle those key goals/priorities for the organization. I wrote about this as practiced at Mighty Fine Burgers (see this post), and here is a clue from Zappos, from this article:
For instance, Zappos.com, the shoes and clothing e-retailer now owned by Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has agents meet about once a week for hour-long, one-on-one coaching sessions in which a supervisor and agent each take a call. The two then discuss what the agent did well and what could be improved the next time around.
Of course, you need to pay attention to what occurs in such meetings, but don’t miss what comes first: weekly meetings! The rhythm of weekly, regular meetings!
As I said, I am asking around about this a lot. I find absolute consistency – excellent teams, excellent organizations, spend intentional, regular times in meetings. They do not skip those meetings. It is part of their routine, their ritual, their “rhythm.”
Yes, yes , I know… a lot of people sit through a lot of bad meetings. And that is a problem. So, yes, learn to run your meetings well. If you are a leader, learning to run a good meeting may be the next important skill for you to master. And, always, don’t forget to have an agenda, with something important to discuss/work on/accomplish. The most successful organizations meet about the same thing over and over and over again. It takes that kind of “long haul” attention to get really good at anything.
But if you want a sure fire path to mediocrity (or outright failure) just try getting by with no meetings. That is a guaranteed path to failure.
You accomplish what you meet about! Yes, you do!
So, what is the most important personal trait that leads to success? Is it…the ability to network? The ability to innovate? The ability to be a good team player? This list could go on…
The more I read, the more convinced I am that there is no one answer to this question – the question of “which is the most important trait?” But, I am ready to weigh in on one trait – regardless of which of these other areas one gets really good at.
The one trait that rules them all, the trait that comes first, that precedes all other success, is “work ethic.” Those who work hardest have the better chance at success.
And we find such concrete examples of this in sports. I think because it is so tangible. And the list of athletes that simply did not work hard enough, and thus blew their chance to develop their skills, is a long one. While the quotes about those who have a great work ethic seem to stick with us.
I do not follow basketball closely, but there is, apparently, a number one draft pick this year in the NBA who is, at the moment, putting up better numbers that LeBron James did in his rookie year. That little fact got may attention.
His name is Blake Griffin, from the University of Oklahoma, now the outstanding rookie center for the Los Angeles Clippers. You can read a good article about him in this morning’s Dallas Morning News: Jason Kidd isn’t afraid to put Blake Griffin, Mailman in same sentence by Eddie Sefko. And here’s your work ethic quote for the day, by Jason Kidd:
He comes to play every night, and as a rookie, you don’t find that very often in this league.
Troy Aikman, whose own work ethic was (and is, now, as an announcer) legendary, uses this phrase about people that have a great work ethic: “he shows up to work every day.”
Apparently, great work ethic is rare enough that when a player has one, it stands out. Apparently, more than a few players “come to work,” but don’t “show up to work.”
The same is true in any work arena.
So – ask yourself – do you “come to play” play every day – do you show up to work, every day? This is the absolute pre-requisite. Do this first, and all the time, and then include as part of your work schedule time to develop all those other traits that can make you more successful.
From Seth Godin’s blog:
The first rule of doing work that matters
Go to work on a regular basis.
In short: show up.
It always, always comes back to work ethic. It takes time — lots of time — over the long haul — to be successful.
Discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
The list of posts on this blog referring to the 10,000 hour rule, the need for deliberate practice, the books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, is long. We have chronicled the ascendancy of, the centrality of — call it what you will – “work ethic,” “it take s10,000 hours to master anything…” thinking.
The quote that indicts me personally, in a way that I cannot escape, is the one from Gawande: “We can’t even keep from snacking between meals.”
With the exception of our military, we are a flabby lot, and I’m not just talking about girth. We are merely disgusting in that department. I’m talking about our self-discipline, our individual will, our self-respect, our voluntary order.
Note the operative words: self, individual and voluntary.
We don’t need bureaucrats and politicians to dictate how to behave; how to spend (or save); what and how to eat. We need to be the people we were meant to be: strong, resilient, disciplined, entrepreneurial, focused, wise, playful, humorous, humble, thoughtful and, please, self-deprecating. We have all the tools and opportunities a planet can confer.
We are a flabby lot. And it shows – not in a good way. We’ve read all about 10,000 hours, but how many of us actually put in the work?
As always, we are back to the “knowing-doing gap.” We know, we just don’t do…
Take inventory. Be honest with yourself. Are you flabby, undisciplined, unfocused? If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you (as do I). Let’s get to it.
My oldest son is just finishing a degree at the University of Texas. He invested six years in the Air Force, forecasted weather for pilots from his base in Alaska, worked on education initiatives in Nepal while his wife worked in a war crime project, and he is currently spending his Saturdays shadowing a surgeon (in hopes of becoming a surgeon himself).
He is very smart, and has already built quite a diverse resumé.
So, this weekend, I was telling him about the monthly best-seller list of Hardcover Business Best Sellers in the New York Times. I ran down the list, and got to the title: The 4-Hour Work Week – written in 2007, still number 5 on the list.
My son gave me one of these “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks. You know, the look that says, “what world does this guy live in?” He was speechless, incredulous, borderline angry. He launched into something close to a rant – kind of stream of consciousness, with phrases like:
There is no surgeon alive that could function with that philosophy. and… You can’t forecast weather for military pilots in four hours a week, where a sloppy forecast could have genuinely dire consequences.
And then his wife (nearly finished at The University of Texas School of Law) joined in, describing how no attorney could possibly write the required briefs and do the preparation work needed for a normal work load in four hours a week. They basically said that this is an absolute fantasy scenario for the people with serious jobs out there in the real world.
I did not defend the book to them. But I had presented the synopsis of that book at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and decided to revisit my handout. Here are a few “highlights” (they don’t seem so high after this conversation) from the book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris.
You can make more money – a lot more money – by doing half of what you are doing now.
Each path begins with the same first step: replacing assumptions.
Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
Thoughts like these permeate the book:
You do your best work in short bursts of time – so plan your short bursts of time, and take the rest of the day (week/month/quarter) off!
You really can get your work done in 20% of the time, or less (thus: the 4-hour workweek).
Well, I’ve thought about my son’s rant. And I have concluded that maybe he is more than just a little right about this. Maybe Timothy Ferris, in trying to be “cute,” and writing one of those “just go for it, use your time the way you want to” books, has done us quite a disservice.
Yes, Timothy Ferris is wildly successful. But I bet this: I bet if Timothy Ferris ever has to have open-heart surgery, he will choose a surgeon who works more than fours a week. What do you think?
And let me add: Bob Morris, my blogging colleague, and the most well-read person I know, regularly (subtly and not-so-subtly) reminds me that best-sellers and most-popular books, may not be the best, most important, most serious books. I think my son just agreed with Bob.
I have a love-love-hate relationship with the concept of work ethic. First, the obvious – without it, success is impossible. Let me say that again – success, mastery, breakthroughs – they all require a great, dedicated, dead-serious work ethic. (That’s the love-love part of the relationship).
Here’s the hate part. Work ethic alone does not guarantee success. Many people work very hard only to see their plant closed, their company go bankrupt… So – work ethic does not guarantee genuine success. But a poor work ethic practically comes close to guaranteeing failure.
Anyway, here are a few lines from Daniel Pink’s Drive to reinforce the “have a good work ethic” rule.
“Grit” – “perseverance and passion and long-term goals.” (the #1 predictor of success at West Point). In every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment.
“Effort means you care about something, and you are willing to work for it.” (Carol Dweck).
“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” (Julius Erving).
Business Lessons from Guy Kawasaki (excerpted from the Corner Office Interview, NY Times)
Guy Kawasaki is a one-man business idea factory. We link to his blog on our blog roll, and I follow him on Twitter, and I have presented synopses of two of his books, The Art of the Start and Reality Check (which Bob Morris called the best book he read in 2008). Here are some excerpts from his terrific interview in the NY Times Corner Office (Note: Bob usually posts about the pieces from the NY Times Corner Office, and will probably do so again with this one. But I liked it so much that I decided it would be more than ok to give our readers a double dose of Kawasaki).
On the centrality and primacy of sales:
You truly have to understand how to take care of your customers.
I learned a very valuable lesson: how to sell. Sales is everything. As long as you’re making sales, you’re still in the game. That lesson has stuck with me throughout my career.
On Steve Jobs and his brilliance:
I learned from Steve that some things need to be believed to be seen. These are powerful lessons — very different from saying we just want to eke out an existence and keep our heads down.
The most important thing is that you hire people who complement you and are better than you in specific areas.
…make yourself dispensable — what greater accomplishment is there than the organization running well without you? It means you picked great people, prepared them and inspired them. And if executives did this, the world would be a better place.
On clear and simple, easy to understand, to the point communication:
business schools should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off.
On work ethic:
…success in business comes from the willingness to grind it out. It’s not because of the brilliant idea. It’s because you are willing to work hard. That’s the key to success.
The issue with consulting is that if you go straight to work for a consultant (after college graduation), you develop this perspective that the hard part is the analysis and the decision. In reality, that’s not the hard part. The hard part is implementing the decision, not making it.
You can purchase my synopses of both The Art of the Start, with handout + audio, on our companion web site 15minutebusinessbooks.com. The synopsis for Reality Check should be available soon.
• The new “zippies” — “a young city or suburban resident, with a zip in his stride. Generation Z. Oozes attitude, ambition, and aspiration. Cool, confident, and creative. Seeks challenges, loves risks, and shuns fear.”
(Describing younger adults in India — Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat)
Last night, I spent a really wonderful evening with a group of very sharp women. We discussed the book Womenomics by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. There were many parts of the book that were met with approval and agreement. But they weren’t so sure about this: in the book, the authors state that “The millennials are influencing expectations for the entire workforce…the next generation has no interest at all in the sixty-hour work week.”
I remember reading David Halberstam’s great book The Reckoning. In the book, he described some bad years for Ford and the ascendancy of Nissan. The book is in storage, so I can’t give you an exact quote, but I clearly remember this: younger Americans had become complacent, not driven, not hungry – and a little lazy and apathetic. At the same time, the younger adults in Japan were working really, really hard because they were so hungry. He clearly implied that hunger trumps apathy.
I thought of that when I read Thomas Friedman’s column this morning: The New Untouchables. Here are some excerpts:
A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.
A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.
Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.
I agree that we need to retool our education, or we will be in genuine trouble. We are definitely growing an alarming education deficit.
But I would suggest that Friedman is hinting at another bottom line. I would word it this way: we’re not going back to the good old days unless we get a little more hungry, and develop a new generation of zippies right here in our country.
I don’t think that Kay and Shipman are calling for a lesser work ethic. They are, in fact, arguing for hard work – when you are at work. But, this desire of a younger generation to “work less” may translate into a lesser work ethic at the very time that we are in competition with people all over the world who may be ready to work harder than we do. And if there is anything I have learned in business books lately, work ethic really matters. From the 10,000 hour rule popularized by Gladwell’s Outliers, to the call for deliberate practice in Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, it takes hard work over a long period to get really good at anything. And that hard work has to start with working hard to learn what is available to learn in school — and then adding skill after skill after skill after school.
In Freidman’s article, he describes that a person can be a very competent lawyer with just the skills learned in school. But then, the lawyers that survive and thrive in tough times have to develop other skills – skills not taught in school, like client cultivation, networking, the skill to imagine new ways to work…the list grows and grows. As for the people who learned what they learned in school, and expect that that will be “enough” – well, it isn’t enough. Not anymore.
So – here is your simple question for the day. Do you “ooze attitude, ambition, and aspiration?” When a person watches you walk down the sidewalk, would they describe you as a “zippie?” If not, you’d better look over your shoulder, because someone is about to pass you.
You can purchase my synopsis of The World is Flat, with audio + handout, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com. The Womenomics synopsis is coming soon.