Keep It Simple … Yeah, Right …

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“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials”

~ Lin Yutang (and the first words in the first chapter of Greg McKeown’s new book “Essentialism”)


Someone designed the simple, but highly effective and rather attractive table on the left … I am willing to bet they were not trying to juggle a bunch of other projects when they did so.  They included only what was essential for the object to work, with the minimal style to make it pleasing to the eye.

The first week of August is always Simplify Your Life week, so you can expect many posts, articles, and focus on how to make your life more simple.

Most of this content concentrates on just the “simplify” part, or as I call it, “Toss and Trash Until It Hurts” method of organizing.  You will see lots of advice on how to get rid of stuff, categorize stuff, and save a few seconds or minutes in your day.   Valuable, if you follow the advice, but not the heart of the issue.

In one of my corporate positions, I was responsible for helping employees learn, initiate, and maintain a standardized work flow and personal organization system.  I spent a lot of time trying to convince folks that they could reduce the paper and electronic clutter to a more reasonable and useful level, while also creating a more empowered workday for themselves.

When you add the word “standardized” to any organizational policy or process, you have introduced the opportunity to fully understand the meaning of the word “resistance” . ..

When you tell employees to protect their time from other employees, even their boss, you get a fair amount of cynical looks and responses … 

When you try to sell the idea that standardizing and streamlining processes will benefit everyone and not simply punish those who already “have my own system”, your tires get slashed in the parking lot …

Well, here’s why I like Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown:   He concentrates not on stopping destructive or counter-productive habits, but on really making a significant impact by focusing on the one most important thing.    If I had read this book before I started working with others to organize their lives, I might not have assumed that they “got” why doing this was important.

I would also have spent a lot more time helping them decide how concentrating on the most important thing they could be doing would help them.   I once asked a senior executive which of the 32 open projects they had in their files were the most important (not even trying to get to the ONE most important).  The response:  “All of them”.

The value of being able to name the ONE most important work to do may seem obvious and the doing appear easy, but only on an intellectual level. 

When a person is actually struggling to do so, this theoretically simple and useful task becomes much more difficult.

Since we have a whole week and Greg’s book is chock full of powerful ideas, I’ll be posting something every day to help you understand why this might be one of the most important books you read this year … if you pay attention and use it.

… only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

~ Greg McKeown in Essentialism, pg. 4

More later, especially about that “stop saying yes to everyone” part.

Practicing what I am preaching in the Heartland ….


Painful Scenes …

This little video has been making the rounds over the past few days, but I just managed to squeeze in a look-see on Sunday afternoon … and it left me wishing a few things …

I wish I had passed it by … watching this was one uncomfortable and even painful experience.  I was almost immediately overwhelmed

I wish I could say that this is just humor … but like most truly humorous things, it has the absolute ring of truth about it.  I found myself putting real names to the characters as the story unfolded.

I wish that this was not the way meetings, planning, and collaboration between groups goes, but I know that it all too often is exactly how things go.  I can almost taste the discouragement that we are not further down the road in listening to each other, understanding and analyzing problems, and in leadership.

The man in the middle is the one for whom I reserve special enmity … he is the epitome of a poor leader and the worst aspect is his total obliviousness to his own inability to effectively lead.  Never gets the reality of what is being discussed, is clueless regarding how to manage discussions effectively, and does not respect those whom he leads.

Sorry, I had been expecting a cute little video about silly things that happen when workers get together.  Instead I got a strong dose of reality … and a refreshed resolve to get busy doing something about this.

I just don’t want them to need to make more videos like this about real workplace life in the Heartland ….



A Little Perspective Setting …

Okay, let’s do a quick inventory of what is happening here …

Precision marching in step with dozens of other people … Thumbs up

A large group creating massive and recognizable MOVING pictures … Thumbs up

 In front of thousands of people … Thumbs up

 Oh yeah, while playing musical instruments … Thumbs up

 … and they are not even the main event.

Now, let me get back telling you how hard I have to work to juggle MY priorities … on second thought, never mind.

This is one excellent example of the payoff from organization and mindfulness.   Everyone knows what to do, when to do it, and does so flawlessly.   These folks are paying attention to both planning and execution.

 Can your organization do this as well as these college students? 

 What gets in the way of performance like this?

 How can you create this ability in your organization?

 Wondering just how the heck they do that in the Heartland ….


“Insightful” … Or Not

Reflection“When we are able to see ourselves as we really are, we should take time to be thankful for a sense of humor.”

Via Anonymous, who just gets smarter every time I stumble across one of their sayings …

The Business Insider recently posted about “The One Interview Question That Reveals How Candidates See Themselves.” 

No, it was NOT “Where do you see yourself in five years?” …

The challenge they posed is to describe yourself in one word …

One word that sums up “You”, in all your complexity … 

One word that describes the most important attribute of how you view yourself …

One word, upon which the success of your interview and indeed your very life, might well hang …

… Or not. Continue reading

Housekeeper“it is important to recognize that our achievements not only speak well of us, they speak well of those persons and forces – seen, unseen, and unnoticed – that have been active in our lives.”

Author Unknown, but brilliant

The Big Dog in the room usually is one of two types of folks:

1)  The Big Dog who thinks they are the most important thing in the room.

2)  The Big Dog who knows that the others in the room help create whatever is possible.

Our family, our friends, our colleagues past and present, and our mentors, heroes, and inspirations all contribute to who we are today.

Our experiences and culture shape our beliefs, our values, and our attitudes.

One of the most useful truths of life that we learn is the value of everyone’s contributions.   Often, one person – the most visible person, the most powerful person, the richest person – receives the accolades and recognition.   Hopefully, they deserve some praise for doing what they do well.

However, the star actor would be nothing without all the members of the production team.  The President would be overwhelmed without his advisers, assistants, and under-whatevers.   The CEO would have nobody working to make her vision real.

Shoot, we would not even have clean floors, working microphones, data to crunch, or people to listen … someone has to clean, set up, research, and invite, right?

In a more personal vein, imagine the trash not being picked up every week like magic or the food in the grocery store not being sorted and displayed.  Someone is providing utilities to me as I type these words, thank goodness.

Even those people and experiences which are “less than ideal” contribute to the shaping of our own contributions.  Be grateful for experience, which teaches us … sometimes gently, sometimes excitingly, but also sometimes painfully.

A real leader knows that they themselves are not the all … and recognizes others accordingly.  

Lauding someone else’s efforts does not diminish your own abilities.  It might just enhance them and insure that what you count on for your performance continues to appear.

Remembering who contributes what to the modest success I have in the Heartland ….