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.
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.