Procrastination

During the Super Bowl, probably about halftime, I was on my way home after running some errands. I had the radio on and was listening to an interview with Tim Urban about procrastination.  Tim, a blogger whose blog, Wait but Why, explores procrastination.  He described his early theory that procrastinator’s brains were different than non-procrastinators.

He tested this theory by arranging MRIs of his brain and a friend’s, who he believed was not a procrastinator. He described the results in a hilarious TED Talk, illustrated with pictures that looked to have been drawn by a fourth grader.  Both brains have a Rational Decision Maker who is depicted with a steering wheel one would see on a ship; however, the procrastinator’s brain also has an Instant Gratification Monkey.  Every time a procrastinator starts to do something that’s necessary to keep his ship on course, the Instant Gratification Monkey takes over, grabs the steering wheel and replaces it with an activity that’s fun and completely non- productive.

When a deadline approaches, the third character living in the procrastinator’s brain, the Panic Monster, takes over and scares the Instant Gratification Monkey back up into his tree so the Rational Decision Maker can take over long enough for the activity to be completed, typically at an irrational pace.

He went to explain that after the TED talk he received thousands of EMAILs from people saying they had the same problem and how frustrated they were that they couldn’t control the Monkey.    EMAILS came from doctors, engineers, and lots of PhD students, people who’d had great accomplishments that made him realize there are two types of things we procrastinate about; those that have deadline and those that don’t’ but we’re all procrastinating about something. 

We all have a Rational Decision Maker, an Instant Gratification Monkey, and a Panic Monster in one form or another.  The problem is, unfortunately, activities that have no deadline don’t wake up our Panic Monster.  So, any career that involves some effort to get started doesn’t wake up the Panic Monster, because there is no deadline.   Activities such as taking care of your health, exercising, or tending to your relationships can go undone.

In other words, the activities that, when neglected, cause us no end of regrets, grief and unhappiness and can make us feels like spectators in our own lives.

He ended his TED talk with a graphic showing a life calendar comprised of a box for each week of a ninety-year old life.  He observed that we’ve all used up some of our boxes and maybe we each need to take a hard look at what we are procrastinating about.

I know I do.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Learnings from the Management Consultant: FOCUS!

Recently I was in the middle of a conversation and realized while the person was talking I was thinking about something I really needed to get done and watching the clock as the minutes ticked away.  Every few minutes I had to tune back into the conversation.

The person I was talking with had a genuine need to talk with me and had made it a point to schedule and be available for the call.  I was genuinely interested in what he had to say, it was urgent and important to both of us, yet I found it difficult to FOCUS on what he was saying.

In thinking about how I can improve my focus I thought about how I might be able to apply some of the meeting behaviors I’ve talked about with clients and how I can apply them to one on one meetings, whether they’re in person or on the phone.

  1. Establish the logistics of the call. The call came in an hour before I thought it would because I hadn’t confirmed the time zone and who would place the call.  I’d made the assumption about the time zone and that I’d be placing the call.  Because I had both wrong, I was doing something else when the call came in and wasn’t focused.
  2. Start the call agreeing on the topics and duration of the call. The conversation would have been so much more effective if I would have said, “George, I have a meeting I have to leave for in an hour.  I have these three topics to discuss that should take no more than 10 minutes each.  What are your topics and how long do you want to allocate to each?
  3. Get rid of distractions. Both of us had a series of distractions during the call.  I had the phone on speaker to allow me to continue getting ready to leave for my next meeting in case our call went overtime.  Had I just sat still and focused on the call I could have insured we covered all of the topics in the hour available.
  4. Summarize what was accomplished and the next steps. We talked about a series of steps we would each take, yet 24 hours later, the information I was expecting hasn’t arrived. It would have taken me two minutes to summarize our commitments and I could have easily sent a follow-up EMAIL to confirm my understanding.

Fortunately, I’ll have many opportunities to improve my FOCUS.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Recovering from a Professional Error

My first business was launched when I received a coveted shoe shine kit for my tenth birthday. In bed that night I rehearsed my sales pitch until I could say it without fear. The next morning, I lost no time loading my shoe shine kit into my wagon and visiting every home in my neighborhood collecting shoes to be shined until my wagon was full.

Back at home I got to work. With newspaper spread out on my bedroom floor I carefully spread the polish over each pair, then buffed them to a glossy shine. When I’d finished I carefully placed each pair back in my wagon and set off to deliver them and collect 25 cents a pair.

There was just one small hitch … I hadn’t kept track of where I got each pair. When my dad came home that night he walked with me through the neighborhood and waited patiently while I knocked on each door and explained my dilemma. By the time it was dark my wagon was empty and all the shoes had been delivered.

That was enough to put an end to my business. I was embarrassed and humiliated. At ten I hadn’t yet developed enough wisdom to learn from that mistake and label the darn shoes the next time. I just gave up. I hid my shoe shine kit at the back of my closet and didn’t shine a pair of shoes again until I joined the Army.

Over time; however, I learned more from that failure and those that followed than most of the successes I’ve had in my career.

  • Admit My Error: On reflection, my father and none of those people were angry with me. Once I explained my mistake and asked for help resolving the problem every one of them tried to help me. I’ve learned this is true of most of the mistakes I’ve made. Taking accountability is empowering and most people respect an honest apology when coupled with an honest effort to correct the issue.
  • Don’t Give Up: I’d like to say this was the only time I ever gave up, but it wasn’t. It took many years before I learned to honestly assess if there was something I can do or had done differently and then took the necessary action, either to correct the error or prevent it from happening again.
  • Define Success and the Required Steps to Get There: I finally learned from a wise colleague to ask myself and anyone else involved, “What does it looks like when it’s done?”  This ensures I have a clear picture of what success looks like, what it’s going to take to get there, and if it’s a joint effort, everyone is aligned.
  • Strive for Continuous Improvement: At the end of every job or project I take the time to reflect on what and how I can do better. This can sometimes be painful, but taking the time for it helps me reduce the probability I’ll make the same mistake again.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Is 2018 the Year You’ll FINALLY Start Your Own Business?

Now that the new year is firmly on its way the resolutions we made a week ago have started to be tested.  This can be particularly true if those resolutions are those we’ve made year after year and failed to keep.

If one of those resolutions was to start your own business, you’re in good company, as 25% of the U.S. population is interested in becoming entrepreneurs.

The top ten reasons I hear when I ask someone why he or she wants to start a business are:

  • My current profession doesn’t pay enough.
  • My current job prevents me from spending enough time with my family.
  • I plan to work after retirement.
  • I don’t have enough saved to retire.
  • I’ve always wanted to start my own business.
  • I’ve always wanted to (fill in the blank) __________.
  • I want to be in the driver’s seat and in control of my destiny.
  • I hate my job.
  • I’m unemployed.
  • I have children, or parents, or a spouse who need me to care for them.

Whatever YOUR reason, the why needs to be important enough to you to cause you to take action.

Is this the year that you’ll finally take that step?

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Fernandina Beach, FL and Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.

Qualified Candidates Who Lack Executive Presence are Often Overlooked for Executive Positions

A client I recently coached comes to mind as an example of the need for executive presence.  The woman had been with a company since its inception – more than twenty years.  She’d advanced to senior manager level, then about ten years ago stopped being promoted to positions of greater responsibility.  Although she was widely respected for her ability to “get things done” and was often called upon to “do the impossible” when a project was in trouble, she hadn’t been selected for a newly established executive position.

The day she learned she hadn’t been selected she came to see me.   I’ve rarely seen someone so devastated.   She was at a loss to understand why, after all her contributions and hard work, she hadn’t been selected.  I’d been working with the organization for some time, been privy to the selection process, had worked with her on several initiatives, and knew the issue.

The company had a relaxed dress code she embraced and she put little effort into her grooming.  Her desk was cluttered with the soft drinks and snacks that she consumed  incessantly.  Because her computer screen was visible to every passerby, a standing company joke was the amount of time she spent mindlessly surfing the Internet or on personal calls.

Her communications were informal and laden with slang.  During several presentations I attended it was apparent she was unprepared.

She was known to gossip andhad a strong informal network that often worked around established processes and procedures.   While on the surface this was seen as a strength, the company’s growth had plateaued, largely due to the tendency to abandon standard processes and work in crisis mode.

The person who had been selected for the position dressed well and was impeccably groomed.  In her previous position at the company  she’d  transformed her department by establishing measurable goals and enabling her team to meet  their goals.

Her reputation was stellar.  She was warm and friendly, but with executive reserve.  She was always prepared and the tone and level of her communications were always professional.

In short, she had executive presence.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in late 2017.