How Attractions Help You Avoid Distraction

marquee-main-attractionThere’s a big reason we have so many issues trying to accomplish important work. We aren’t clear about what is the main attraction and what are simply distractions.

When you think about your daily activities, how many of them could be classified as a distraction?

  • Binge-watching House of Cards
  • Scrolling through a dozen screens of Facebook updates (and associated ads)
  • Reading gossip about celebrities
  • Spreading gossip about celebrities
  • Checking email unnecessarily

– Ironically, I got derailed from writing this blog post because checking my email seemed critical (it wasn’t).

But there are even bigger things than this. Your job could be distracting you from the attraction of a fulfilling and impacting career. That fad diet could be distracting you from a more meaningful, healthy lifestyle. Treating those migraine headaches may be distracting you from dealing with the stress you’re under and finding a sense of peace.

What can you do to overcome distraction?

Define Your Main Attractions

If you don’t focus on what is important to you, then distractions will continuously lead you around by the nose.  Take some time (yes, you can carve out an hour this week) to quiet your mind and ask yourself what is truly important to you. Write these down on a sheet of paper. It could things like your family, but try to build toward things that are specific to you and less generic (e.g. having a close-knit relationship with my kids, helping people overcome poverty or being active and fit).

Organize Yourself around Your Main Attractions

Knowing the big picture of what you want is helpful, but you need to understand how to apply it to your daily life. Use your calendar, a task managing app or even simple lists on a sheet of paper to make sure you’re taking care of what is important to you. Start by looking at the inventory of your personal main attractions and write down activities that help you stay focused on your goals and values. Revisit this at the end of the day. Evaluate what you did well and where you can improve. Now you can make a new list for the next day.

(Better yet, create “Success Lists” instead of “To Do Lists”, from Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing. Brian Johnson explains the book succinctly in this video.)

Systemize Good Habits

In her latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin disagrees with trying to make healthy choices each day. She encourages us to make ONE healthy choice and then make it systematic… a habit. Here’s a section from her interview on BigThink.com:

…the advantage of a habit is that once something’s on automatic pilot, then the brain doesn’t have to use any energy or willpower to make a decision. You’ve already made that decision. You’re just moving forward. And so it happens easily without any thought, without any willpower, without any effort. You’re just on cruise control and then you can do what you want to get done.

If you’re having to make deliberate choices to focus on your main attractions, you may reach a point of decision fatigue and then the distractions win again. If I plan to go to the gym, I set out my clothes and get my water bottle ready the night before. It has become a habit. Once I’ve done that, I rarely miss my exercise routine.

The world will always be full of distractions and the little gremlins will try to knock you off course. But, if you identify your main attractions and then organize and systemize your life around them, you have a better shot at accomplishing what is important in your life. What could be greater than that?

My life is my message.

-Gandhi

How Do You Decide When to Quit?

Knowing when to quit and when to press on can be one of life’s toughest decisions. When things get tough, the tough get going… but do they go straight ahead or in a different direction? When I wanted to quit football in high school, my father taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.

high-school-footballIn preparation for the big homecoming game my sophomore year, our rural Oklahoma football team had ordered new uniforms so we would look our best during the halftime ceremony. Just one problem – there weren’t enough new uniforms for everyone. Junior and senior class players got first selections. Then as one of the coaches was giving sophomores their uniforms, he skipped me (and a couple of other “average” athletes) and gave the remaining uniforms to some of the talented freshmen players.

I was humiliated.

I wasn’t being a fashionista. This was a message to me that the coaches didn’t consider me a valuable contributor, and this message would be on public display to everyone else. The uniforms were so distinct the rest of the team would notice, as would everyone in the stands while we stood in the middle of the field during the homecoming ceremony. I couldn’t imagine being one of the few varsity players wearing a marred and tattered, older-style uniform. I walked up to the coach and said, “I quit.” and walked out of the field house.

Shortly after the game had started, my father wondered why I wasn’t on the field and he came and found me. I explained my reasons for quitting the team. He understood my frustration, but reminded me I had made a commitment to the coaches and my team. He encouraged me to finish out the season before deciding whether to quit, but left the decision up to me.

I knew he was right. After the game, I swallowed my pride and asked the coach if I could return to the team. I finished the season, but never played football after that year. Since I didn’t continue pursuing football, it may seem like rejoining the team was meaningless. But I learned some valuable lessons from my father’s advice.

All of us have been in a place like this – where we don’t feel like a valued contributor, where we don’t sense we are in our element or where we don’t feel fulfilled. Maybe that is where you are today. You have no desire to stay where you are, but quitting can be a scary proposition.

So, how do you decide when to quit? Here are a few tips.

  1. Assess your commitments.

    Did you commit to a timeframe or to specific deliverables? Consider how failing to meet those commitments could impact your employer, your client and/or your reputation. If staying committed is best for everyone involved, push to that finish line. I felt I had committed to completing the football season when I joined the team, so I pushed on. In another example, Heather Dorniden pushed herself to the literal finish line after falling during a 600 meter race. Here are the two inspiring videos: the first video and the second (hat tip to Michael Hyatt‘s great post “Don’t Quit Before the Whistle Blows).

    If I miss a goal, which sometimes happens when you set huge ones, I want the reassurance that I did everything I in my power to make it happen. I want the peace in knowing that it wasn’t for lack of hustling that I missed a target for my dream. I want to know that the one thing under my control was under control.
    Jon Acuff, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job

  2. Assess the opportunity to grow.

    That event at homecoming helped me recognize I was only playing football because I thought I was supposed to. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it and likely would never have been more than a mediocre player. The time I would have spent continuing to play football was instead funneled into creative activities I enjoyed and excelled in, as well as a part-time job.

    Consider whether quitting now improves or limits your capacity to grow. What are the opportunity costs for sticking with it compared to trying something else? Do you have other options you know you can pursue and be excellent in doing?

    Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the cul-de-sac. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you’re better off quitting.
    Seth Godin, The Dip

  3. Set a tripwire on your decision.

    There are very few times when you commit to something for life, so most everything we commit to has to end eventually… but when? My father suggested I wait and decide whether to quit after the football season was over. This gave me a specific time to consider my decision. If now isn’t the right time for you to decide, set a tripwire. Do you need to make your decision after fulfilling your commitments, like I did? Maybe you need to prepare yourself for the transition. Practicality may require you to line up another option first. But don’t let these issues cause you to procrastinate. Estimate how long this should take and set a date for your decision. This will give you a specific goal to aim for and will help motivate you to make progress toward that goal.

Quitting isn’t easy, but languishing in mediocrity is no picnic either. By considering your options and making a plan, you can improve your opportunities for success. Finally, don’t feel like quitting makes you a loser. To quote Seth again from The Dip…

Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.
Seth Godin, The Dip

I hope these tips help you do exactly that. Quit the right stuff at the right time.

How to Find Significance in Your Work

bite-sized-elephantCrossing numerous small hills doesn’t make you a mountain climber.

Dousing millions of lit matches one at a time won’t qualify you as a fire fighter.

Running a quarter mile every day for four months won’t make you a marathon runner.

The tedium of small accomplishments can lead you to become apathetic about what you’re doing. If you’re willing to take on the bigger challenge, you may find greater significance in your work. Each step gets you closer to the top of the mountain or closer to an important finish line. The thrill of knowing you can do something significant can inspire you to keep going.

They say the key to eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time. Unfortunately, we often look for bite-sized elephants instead.

That’s fine. Just don’t complain about the portion size once you choose it.

4 Reasons Your Team isn’t Performing

Reasons Your Team Underperforms

Last quarter, your team didn’t reach their goals. You chalked it up to market circumstances or a seasonal anomaly. Halfway through another quarter and things aren’t looking any more optimistic. It’s obvious this is a trend and something has to change.

Before you assume you should restructure bonuses or send folks through training, you should consider different reasons your team isn’t performing. If you assume you know what the problem is, then you’re guessing at the solution. And applying the wrong solution may be worse than doing nothing at all.

So, what could the problem be?

Here are 4 reasons your team isn’t performing:

1.     Lack of knowledge

Either people don’t know what to do, or how to do it (or both). Leadership will often assume this is the problem, because training seems like a simple solution.

Signs you may have a knowledge problem:

  • The same questions are asked by different individuals
  • There is a steep learning curve with every project/undertaking
  • Quality is inconsistent

Knowledge Solutions:

  • Training
  • Quick Reference Guides
  • Mentoring
  • Continuing Education

2.      Lack of structure or process

The steps to get things done in your organization are undocumented and it is unclear who has authority. Consultants will often assume this is the problem, because they have methods to address this.

Signs you may have a structure or process problem:

  • Decisions are often delayed
  • People are doing the same work (redundancy)
  • People step on each others’ toes unintentionally
  • It is difficult to report status of projects/undertakings
  • Quality is inconsistent

Structure and Process Solutions:

  • Organization charts
  • Outlining roles & responsibilities
  • Process maps / flowcharts
  • Decision framework

3.      Lack of Tools and Resources

People are not equipped to do their work. They do not have the hardware, software, people, and/or budgets they need to accomplish their responsibilities. Front line workers and line managers will often assume this is the problem because they see the workload, feel overwhelmed, and don’t feel supported by leadership.

Signs you may have a tools and resources problem:

  • Tools are not evenly distributed and those with proper tools are your highest performers
  • The use of existing hardware or software is a consistent bottleneck (be sure it’s not lack of knowledge)
  • Multiple workers are putting in overtime on a regular basis
  • There is a large area of responsibility within a group for which no individual has the required skills or experience

Tools and Resource Solutions:

  • Assess needs through outlining team goals, roles and responsibilities
  • Research industry best practices on staffing and tools (could be informal questions asked of employees who worked elsewhere)
  • Assess ROI of additional budget for staffing and tools

4.     Lack of Motivation

People have no incentive to perform better. Entrepreneurs will often assume this is the issue, because they believe others share similar motivations to themselves.

Signs you may have a motivation problem:

  • It is unclear what is rewarded and recognized by your organization
  • You have a hard time retaining people who have a healthy sense of competition
  • People complain about expectations and adopt a victim mentality
  • Opportunities are unaddressed

Motivation Solutions:

  • Clearly stating how and why individuals are rewarded (meeting goals, taking good risks, giving extraordinary effort, etc.)
  • Have a system for tracking and reporting performance
  • Give employees honest feedback on their performance (more often than once a year)
  • Be consistent with rewards and recognition

So, when it appears your team is chronically underperforming, take stock in these 4 key areas. By identifying a specific cause, you can define a specific solution and increase your opportunity for successfully reaching (or exceeding) team goals.

What have you done to improve your team’s performance in the past?

I’d love to hear other thoughts and solutions you’ve seen work before. Share your experience by commenting below.

Artificial Preservatives

Climber's Grip

Image Source - Flickr Less=More=Doh

A quick thought today about how we stunt our growth when we try to ‘artificially preserve’ what we have. The thing about life is we can’t shove it into a jar and set it on the shelf. When we try and preserve what we have (really, what we got in the past), we miss out on the freshness of now and forget what is growing for tomorrow. To put it another way, we get stuck.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I moving forward, or am I stuck?
  • Am I spending so much time holding onto what I’ve accomplished, that it is keeping me from worthwhile pursuits?
  • What do I need to let go of so I can reach for something new?