“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
I’ve heard a lot of talk about the value of specialization. The theory goes that, if you want to become successful, you should pick one thing and do it really really well. You only have so much time to invest in yourself, and you have to have a pretty specific pitch if you’re going to capture people’s attention. You want to be sharp and you want to be purpose-built. When it comes time to chop down that tree, you will have the finest edge that anyone has ever seen.
Life (and work) isn’t made up of isolated, perfectly defined cookie-cutter moments. Life is messy. Life is complex. That tree you want to chop down might fall on someone. People might not understand the benefit of it being chopped down in the first place. Have you considered whether now was the right time to chop it down? Is chopping down the tree the best use of your resources considering your other priorities? Who will be documenting the process, writing articles and snapping photos so that you can promote your tree chopping services? Should you live stream it? And why not get yourself a chainsaw since this is the 21st century?
If all you cared about was that axe edge, I’m sure you would do a bang up job cutting down that tree. But you would fail miserably as mayor of the village.
It’s easy to think of communications as purely a supportive role. We’re not usually the ones charting the course for our organizations. We’re not driving the business. So it’s easy to understand how we can become quite reactive to the work that is requested of us. However, it is incumbent on us to constantly question the “why” of our work, however responsive we are to the “what” and the “how”, in order to be able to provide strategic guidance, and maximum value, to those we are supporting.
Do you use a to-do list? Good. Does it ever get shorter? If you’re like me – not really. My to-do list is long and it seems to get longer all the time. But I’ll come clean and tell you right now that, as important as productivity is, I’m never going to finish it. I’m not even going to try. Why? Because the effort just isn’t worth it. I look at my to-dos all the time, and every time I look at my list, I consider what my goals are, what the context is around me, and I start to assign priorities to my tasks. Many tasks never get done. They were born as a fleeting thought. Potentially good ideas that came about in relation to something else. The tasks took a little breath, survived long enough to make it onto my list, but things changed, projects moved on, now they’re tagged as “low priority”, and in a few months they’ll probably be deleted. To-dos can only survive in low-priority mode for so long before their sheer existence causes me more annoyance than their eventual potential is worth.
Have you ever heard someone say: “This isn’t the hill I’m going to die on”? It was something an old manager of mine used to say fairly frequently. When she said it, it meant that she disagreed about something our CEO was asking us to do, but she didn’t feel strongly enough about the argument to fight about it until the bitter end. In other words, it wasn’t a disagreement she was going to lose her job over.
“How did you sleep last night?” That’s a question I’ve been asking my wife a lot lately. She’s pregnant, you see, with a little over a month left to go, and her body is less and less her own. She wakes up and can’t go back to sleep, sometimes for hours at a time, and she doesn’t know why. Some literature says it’s simply nature’s way of getting us ready for recurring, ongoing, sleep deficiency with a newborn baby.
Recurring, ongoing, sleep deficiency… lovely.
So you can understand if the topic of sleep has been on my mind a lot lately. I know how important the quality of sleep is to your health, mental acuity, productivity, and general happiness (for a great read on the theory that supports this, see John Medina’s Brain Rules). I’ve battled insomnia over the years, and I’ve spent many nights counting the hours of sleep I would get – if I got to sleep now – until my alarm would go off. “How can you fall asleep so soon?” I would silently ask my wife as she lay there in blissful dreamland, in her pre-pregnancy days. I want to know the secret!
Unfortunately, there is no secret (at least, none that has yet been discovered). Some of us are simply tuned differently. However, there are some things you can do to make sleep as conducive as possible. Read on for nine tips that have been proven to help.
In Netflix’s House of Cards, Frank Underwood is a conniving, calculating and ruthless politician who has sights fixed firmly on power. He understands that favours lead to personal indebtedness, and those under his thumb often find themselves doing things that they would never otherwise do. How does this happen? How can the burden of personal debt cause otherwise intelligent people to go against their own better judgement? It has to do with the power of reciprocity. This is how it works.
I have a friend who told me he regularly has to sit through two-hour long weekly team meetings. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with him. Such a massive investment in time and money. Put your typical team of 10 into a boardroom for two hours, and that meeting has just cost the company about $1,000 in wages. Keep it up for a year, and the company is down about $50K. And that’s just one team. It is unlikely that this company generates sufficient return from these team pow-wows to merit such frivolousness with employee time. Conducting good meetings is an important skill. Here are some tips for keeping them as short and as productive as possible.
I’m sitting here, in the middle of the room along with the rest of this disappointed audience, and I can’t read a single thing on the presenter’s PowerPoint slides. Someone next to me whispers: “How big is that font, anyways? Size 6?” “It doesn’t matter,” I reply. “He’s just reading his slides word for word.”
Bill told me that the thought of presenting put razor blades in his stomach and rubber bands around his chest. It was getting harder and harder to breath. I said, “Bill, your anxiety is normal, but you can actually desensitize yourself to it by just doing more and more presentations.” “How can I desensitize myself to public speaking,” he said, “when I’m too nervous to even get started?”
One of the most critical success factors when presenting to an audience is good eye contact. That’s why handheld clickers are so important – you can advance your slides without ever breaking that all-important audience connection. So what do you do if you lost your little remote?
David Folkerson is Program Manager, Communications at the Standards Council of Canada, where he oversees digital engagement. He uses this blog to write about communication, productivity, and leadership strategies.