When you bite off more than you can chew

kobayashi-hotdogs[1]Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual attraction on the 4th of July that attracts both competitors and audiences from around the world.  Mountains of hot dogs are stacked in front of the competitors as the anxious crowds wait to cheer their favorite competitor.

Takeru Kobayashi, a small framed native of Japan, holds six Guinness Records for eating hot dogs, meatballs and other junk food items. In 2001, he set his first record eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. The secret to Takeru’s success is his unique strategy to tackle monumental eating challenges by taking one bite at a time. Where many cringe and crack under the pressure, Takeru continues to set world records with ease.

Takeru realized early in his competitive eating career that the biggest challenge is not the number of hot dogs but the tendency for people to have mental barriers. He simply sets a goal and works toward it in a methodical manner.

When he was asked about his ability to think without limits, Takeru said, “I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is”. Unlike Takeru, you may find that members of your team have preconceived limits that hold them back.

So as a manager, how do you help your team manage through times when they feel they have bitten off more than they can chew?

There’s an old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Helping your team recognize that every project has bite-size pieces can be a good first step. Managing these smaller sized portions is an easy way to be able to avoid being overwhelmed.

As stress mounts, we tend to focus on the enormity of the problem rather than the more manageable solutions. Team members who appear to be overwhelmed need you to coach them on how to find the most practical strategy to complete their work. The real barrier may be all in their perception and an objective viewpoint could be the perfect diagnosis to this common problem.

Leaders should use Takeru as an inspiration for their teams and teach them that often the biggest barrier to success is a mental one that can be overcome with the right perspective. Helping your team learn how to accomplish their goals without cracking under pressure will not only enhance organizational productivity but also show your team that you committed to making them successful.

“To Do” or Not “To Do”- That is the Question

So, if you’re like any other regular, task-focused professional, you live and die by the great, all powerful “To Do” list.  Every morning or every night before you leave, you work feverishly to get your list going so that you can relax.  Unfortunately, it is also how you determine success on any given day.  How many did I mark off  today?  Eventually, you become so owned by the list, you forget what all of the tasks are there to accomplish.  Am I right?

Unfortunately, I suffered under the same curse.  I was forever making a to do list and then would make a to do item to add to the to do list.  Too bad few of the to do’s got moved to DONE.  Fortunately, I ran across a pretty interesting blog which opened my eyes to a new concept, but still let me keep my to do list.

Charlie Gilkey’s Blog, http://www.productiveflourishing.com, has been a great source of ideas for me.  One of the great “Ah Ha’s” I had while reading through his blog was the concept of managing your to do list according to the project they are associated with.  Simply put, lead with the project you will focus on each day and put your to do list in line with that project.  Although it is a fairly simple concept and makes common sense, I couldn’t think to let go of my precious to do list.

For one week, I decided to give it a whirl.  I began by using some of the templates Charlie provides on his website.  (check out http://www.productiveflourishing.com/free-planners/) It took some getting used to, but I found myself beginning to think first about the projects I wanted to accomplish and then the to do’s were secondary.  Could it be I was actually being rehabilitated?

On section in Charlie’s newsletter that always helps me stop to think during the month is his self-assessing questions:

While this list of questions is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good place to start. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to work through them – it may help to print out this message:

  • What have you accomplished?
  • What goals or projects need to be adjusted or dropped?
  • What are your priorities for the rest of the month?
  • What bills need to be paid, and do you have funds in place to cover them?
  • What projects/tasks have fallen off the radar?
  • When was the last time you rewarded yourself, and when will be the next?

Can you say that your to do lists are actually effective?  Wouldn’t you like to find yourself looking up rather than constantly looking down.  Isn’t it somewhat tempting to know there is a way to get your tasks accomplished without being slave to them?

So, to the original question: To Do or Not To Do…. what’s your answer?

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

The New KISS: Keep in Simple Strategy

Yes, I was one of those kids.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve graduated from the sarcastic approach to live in the least.  I was one of those that would do something similar to the picture on the left.  Why do they make things so complicated?  I remember getting in trouble in my pre-algebra class for asking what I thought was a pretty obvious question at the time, “And when did we start using the alphabet instead of numbers?”  I went on to Calculus III and did fine, but still never got over why in the world everything had to be so complicated. Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting or a “strategic planning session” asking yourself the same question?

One of the primary reasons Apple dominates the IT world is for its simplicity.  Recently, my wife needed to upgrade her phone and after having a Droid, she wanted to go back to the Iphone.  Why?  For its simplicity.  Far too many businesses try to make things all so difficult when in reality, the common consumer (and employee for that matter) wants things simple.  No complex thinking, no 50 point flow chart, no two hour meeting that only accomplishes raising the blood pressure in the room.  Enter, KISS.

So, simplistic strategy… what does it mean you might ask.  Well, of course you would ask that because, already, you are trying to make it more complicated than it is.  In this equation, X stands for the destination.  What are you trying to accomplish and create a line to that point, remembering that a line is defined as the shortest distance between two points.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Keep Meeting Attendance Limited:  I know transparency is important, but unfortunately, when you add more people to a meeting, you add more opinions.  More opinions usually find themselves tied to more egos which in turn, adds the number of minutes you find yourself in a strategic-less strategy session.  Think of who absolutely needs to be in the room and on the call.  Who will bring the most “bang” or ideas to the strategic planning?  Invite those people, keep the others out.
  • Time your meeting: Have a designated time limit and stick to it.  Sometimes the best ideas come out of deadlines, use this to your advantage.  Additionally, a time limit helps keep people on task.
  • Have strategic session OUTSIDE the office: Have you ever needed a break and walked around the building or run an errand?  How did you feel when you got back?  Exactly!  Do the same for your team.  Do it away from the office, even if you have it at a Starbucks in a very informal format.  Having the freedom to relax and plan provides ideas and approaches to problematic situations exponentially quicker.
  • Send an agenda out ahead of time:  One caveat to this one, don’t make it a four page agenda.  Have on one page the items needing to be discussed.  Sending out the agenda ahead of time allows everyone to have the evening or the day to think about ideas, even allow them to begin collaborating with their colleagues on solutions or ideas.  Furthermore, it will help you keep to the time limit suggestion above.
  • Don’t be afraid to call it off and reschedule: The worst thing you can do sometimes is keep on strategically planning when there is not a strategy to be had.  If you find yourself hitting a wall or the group cannot agree or come up with a solution, break the meeting, reschedule it.  Sitting there arguing for forty more minutes to say that you had a meeting is an utter waste of time and energy.

I am not sure why strategic sessions have become so planned and lacking productivity.  Actually, I think that the business world has determined “having meetings” is a form of productivity, but that is not always the case.  Break the mold.  Keep inline with a simple strategy.  Who knows, you might actually enjoy it!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Big Decisions: When All Else Fails, Play Solitaire

You know, I admit I am the world’s guiltiest at checking out or shutting down when a big decision has to be made. I have a tendency to overwhelm myself with all of the nuisances of the decision and eventually, I just shut down. I have a feeling I am not the only one. The rational mind has the ability to process a large amount of information simultaneously; however, the cognitive portion of our brain can only sort our thoughts out at a certain speed. Sometimes, the overwhelming amount of information we feel we need can actually work to our detriment.

So what do you do when you feel yourself shutting down?

Find One Point of Clarity

Decide on one point you feel very strongly about. In my experience, once I have made the decision and commitment to one thought or action, I can move on to processing other items fairly easy. The best example of this looking at a knot of yarn. Trying to figure out which string to pull can completely overwhelm you. What I tend to do is pull a couple of strings, I usually find one that moves more than the others. At that point, I pick that as my focus point and before long, the knot is not so intimidating. I know it’s a crazy analogy, but if you think about it, big decisions can often appear to be similar to a giant knot. You just need to find that one string you are committed to and begin unraveling.

Got Music?

Being a musician, I often find music can take my mind off of whatever I am facing and help me relax enough to find some clarity. If you find yourself melting down, step back from the decision, put on Pandora or your favorite playlist and commit yourself to listening to at least five songs before tackling the decision or problem again. There are numerous studies showing the powerful effects music has on our brain. Also, when solving a problem or making a big decision, we often use the more rational, logical side of our brains. Embracing music allows the other side of the brain to kick in, thus giving our logic some time to rest and oftentimes, process the decision in the background.

Take a Break

This sounds crazy, but sometimes, when looking at a problem/decision for too long, you tend to lose focus.

Taking a break could include something like taking a walk, calling a friend, or,if you are in the United States Senate, you can play solitaire, check your Facebook or the most recent sports scores. I agree with a decision like whether to shut down the government or make some major cuts in the budget is at hand, the more lighthearted thing would be to listen to all of the sides and come to some type of resolution, but let’s face it, all of us need to take a break every once in a while.

So, when in doubt, play solitaire. Who knows, if you do it well enough, you might find yourself in the Senate, after all, distraction seems to be one of the major job descriptions for our elected officials!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.

Calling in a Threat During a Meeting

Go ahead and admit it, you’ve thought about it.  There you are, sitting in another one of those marathon meaningless meetings, wishing you were on an episode of SAW rather than sitting in that cramped room listening to the same speech over and over again.  Then, one happy thought skips across your mind as a tease to get you out of there… call in a fake bomb threat.  (Disclaimer: I would highly recommend you NOT do this since the FBI has a tendency to not find these measures so appealing.)

Why do meetings have to be so boring and unproductive?  Why do you feel the air sucked out of your lungs when you receive one of those invites to the meeting of the week?  Furthermore, why do most businesses have meetings about meetings?  Not sure, but it can change.

One of my children asked me one day what I did at work.  My response?  I listen to conference calls.  Yeah, that’s exactly what I said I wanted to do when I grew up during my 2nd grade speech to the class.  “When I grow up, I want to endure pointless meetings that take up hours of my life I will never get back.  I want to become addicted to the wonderful and exciting hold music that plays before those fabulous conference calls.”  Um yeah, never came out of my mouth, but it seems, the higher in an organization you go, the more talking and less doing occurs. 

There are times I miss being on the front lines.  I miss working in a bank branch.  I loved it.  There was always closure at the end of the day.  Did I balance?  How many people did I serve today?  Did I hit my numbers to get the bonus?  Those where the only questions I wanted answers to as I walked out the door at the end of the business day.  Those were the good old days. 

Most American workers want and long for satisfaction.  Yes, interacting with the team is paramount to success, but not necessarily via meetings discussing the same topics every time.  People get excited when they see progress being made.  In the book, “Good to Great”, the authors discuss the pendulum effect.  Essentially, with a little push, the pendulum begins gaining momentum and with the right balance of force, begins to pick up speed.  This speed is associated with an action.  You cannot talk to a pendulum and share minutes about the talk in order to get it to shift.  You have to put something into it. 

Meetings, they’re necessary, but need to be held to success factors.  Rather than discussing the same old tiresome facts, think of a way to defibrillate them and make them active.  We have discussed some ways to “involve the pit crew” which is always a help.  As a leader, think of what you can bring to the meeting in terms of growth and development.  This could be recent articles about your industry, fun crazy facts to open the meeting, change up the standard mojo of the meeting, or simply, find a creative way to illustrate a  sales, customer service, or other type of tactic.  Meetings can be fun.  You just have to think outside of the box.

Another great idea used in the past is to alternate leaders.  Empower some of the members of your team to run the agenda.  This will allow them to become more involved while at the same time, let them see running a meeting is not as easy as it looks.  Challenge them to be creative in their approach and applaud them for stepping up to the plate.  If you are not comfortable with this, try sectioning off certain topics to various team members and give them carte de blanche on how to get the point across.  You might just be surprised on what comes out of the meeting.  In the process, you transform yourself from just a manager to a leader. 

So in essence, I’m telling you to keep this guy out of your meeting room.  Granted, I am devestatingly afraid of clowns so it would be all the motivation I need to keep meetings productive and lively versus allowing some evil creature the rest of the world refers to as a clown creep up in my board room.  And if you need information or would like to research the painful effects of a marathon meeting, watch one of the series of SAW and remember, the people being tortured are the ones in your meeting.  Save them!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.