Round Tuit Revisited

Cousin Ed was a big man. I mean, a big man. He and my father had barely known each other growing up, but had reconnected years later when Ed began working on a nearby Air Force base. Ed was the kind of man that got things done, and in that respect, he and my father could not have been more different. My father made list after list of things to do, and little ever got crossed off. When Ed came over he’d pull the list off the fridge with a grin, and look at my father, one of his eyelids sagging in a permanent half-wink, and grin like a schoolboy before getting to work.
Whenever Ed asked him if a certain project was done yet, my father would reply that he would get it done when he could “get around to it”. One birthday, after years of this broken record of an exchange, a Hallmark card showed up for my father from none other than Cousin Ed, and the inside was labeled in large letters “Round Tuit”. He said that he was officially sending my father the “round tuit” he had been waiting for all these years in order to get started on his projects.
Now, my father was by no means a lazy man. In fact he worked 60 hours+ a week for years running his own freelance writing business. But what is it about some tasks that makes us procrastinate? Why do we delay something we have taken the time to write down in order to remember to do it?

 

The Science of Procrastination

According to a report from the BBC, our brains have two areas that activate at different times depending on what activities we engage in. One is the attention network and the other is the default network. These networks are neural pathways within the brain. Think of them as a connection of way stations that serve as a railroad track between areas of the brain or your nervous system. For example, when you are playing the board game Operation with your five year old niece and trying with all your might to stop your hand from shaking as you remove the Butterflies in Cavity Sam’s stomach, and your little monster of a relative is barely suppressing an evil cackle, excitedly longing for that annoying buzzer to blow up in your face, your attention network is on high alert.
What people who have trouble with focus find is that their brains tend to drift into default state more easily, taking them away from the task at hand. This means they are not only more likely to stop mid project (not start at all), but are also much more prone to making mistakes while working, particularly if the work is not interesting to them. In one test, researchers occasionally interspersed female faces among a long and steady line of male visages. Testers were told to hit the space bar every time a face appeared except when it was a female face. Those with high mistake rates were the ones who struggled to activate and keep their attention systems engaged. But, if you think this may be you and are already feeling discouraged, simply turn it around and claim that you have a neural default system to rival the strength of The Mountain from Game of Thrones. Now that’s something to be proud of!

 

The Path Through Procrastination: Grit?

On the other side of the procrastination coin, is what Angela Duckworth has simply termed “Grit”. In her book of the same title, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and on her website, Duckworth defines the word as “…the tendency to sustain interest and effort toward very long term goals,” she delves into research that shows how this measure of “stick-to-it-iveness” outperforms IQ, test scores, physical well-being, and a host of other markers across industries to indicate who will and who will not be successful. Personally, I like to call this the “ability to get shit done”, but hey, Angela is the one who wrote the book.

In a book review in the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz breaks down the importance of grit into a simple math equation (don’t close the browser just yet, even my useless brain could grasp this one). If achievement of some sort is your goal, whether that is in a professional career or personal passion, then the formula looks like this:

Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement

If you agree with this formula, which looks reasonable enough, then you will notice that effort (grit, in a sense) counts twice. Shulevitz goes on to argue that this is what makes the high achiever’s in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers capable of practicing for those interminable 10,000 hours. That’s why grit is more indicative of success. It’s simply a tool we need to pull more often from our toolbelts.

 

How to Keep Track of Your “Round Tuit”

I can hear you mumbling under your breath, “Okay, so my brain is different? I wasn’t born with the trait of hard work that some social psychologist re-branded and used to sell books? I just need to work harder? Thanks for the insight. Earth-shattering, no really it is.”

But wait, hold on, please. Just a moment before you go. There are practical solutions. You know that brain wandering referenced above? The tendency of the default system to overrule your attention system? There is a practice that can help with that, and it’s been around for thousands of years. It’s called mindfulness training, and one of its greatest benefits is simply that it teaches its practitioners how to live in the now, and train the wandering mind to wander a little bit less. Ignore Silicon Valley’s obsession and the Instagram posts about meditation and Matcha lattes and instead look at the research. It’s impressive.

And what about grit? Duckworth says simply to find something you already have interest in, practice at it a lot, and (most importantly) make a connection in your brain between this work and how it can improve the world. This higher purpose can help keep you both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. Your practice here will train your ability to set a task and achieve it, which will bleed into the rest of your life.

And if all this fails or sounds too difficult, there is always the blue collar approach. Find a smart-ass, hardworking family member to write the words “Round Tuit” on an over-stylized, five dollar greeting card, or legal pad paper, or any scrap of trash and just keep it in your pocket. When you realize you are procrastinating, simply pull it out, stand it up on your desk in a place of honor, and get to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Battle Commitment Regret

We all know the feeling. It’s the night before an event, or worse, the morning of, and as you scroll through your mental preparations, you have two desires. One is to kick yourself for having said yes. The other is to rewind the clock and not agreed to whatever event is looming on the horizon. Why did you tell your boss you would attend that seminar? Why did you agree to brunch with that friend from high school you haven’t kept up with? Why did you tell your coworker that you would help her with that project?
When a commitment is far enough away, still nebulous and vague, there is no pain or discomfort associated with agreeing to it. In the heat of a moment we often agree to things without thought. We make commitments without regards to the repercussions. The next step in the process? Complain to our loved ones that we wish we’d never said, “Yes.” And one of the more masochistic parts of this phenomenon? We do it over and over again.
Esther Dyson, however, is a Swiss-born American journalist also known as a businesswoman, investor, and philanthropist, who has figured out a way to guard herself against this weakness. In a wonderful piece of advice you can make your own, she advises you to ask one simple question when something comes along that will eventually take your time or effort, but requires a decision today:

“Would I say yes if it were on Tuesday?”

This metaphorical Tuesday could be any day of the week, but what Esther is essentially doing is taking that event and putting it front and center. What changes to your schedule would you have to make if your commitment were coming due this Tuesday? What inconveniences would arise? Is this something you truly want to do or are you going to say yes because it is easier? It is only easier because the pain is so far away! Pull that discomfort into the here and now, and you will save yourself that Monday night regret when your next future Tuesday comes calling.

Wait…Be More Impatient?

We all know that person or have that friend (or if we are being honest, it is ourselves…) that is impatiently waiting for something that is years away. It is often a promotion we want to earn, a skill we want to master, or a job we want to have. We talk about it constantly, dream about it on a nightly basis, and oftentimes pin our very happiness to it. We don’t allow ourselves to be content, because this thing, this change in our life, is the key to the rest of our lives. Or so we think.

But that is not necessarily the point I want to make here. Let’s go in a different direction. What is striking, and often blind to us and our friends and family that, is that this impatience is not wrong, but just grossly misplaced. Patience is a virtue, but only in the right context. While we pine away for mastery of a skill, appointment to a job, or a lifestyle above and beyond our current means, we are extraordinarily patient with the activities that will get us there.

Gary Vaynerchuk makes a great point in a recent video when he says that we need to “Stop being patient with the micro and impatient with the macro. Impatient about milestones you want to hit years from now but wasting time watching TV.” The macro is that lifestyle you want, whether it is a larger house or nicer apartment with a fancy car, or an early retirement cruising the Caribbean. That’s the big picture. That’s the macro. It is likely far away. However, the micro, what you are doing today to get yourself there, the steps you are taking in that direction, is the micro. What work have you put towards learning the language you always wish you knew? What work have you put towards learning the guitar? To saving enough money to go to Europe? To learning that skill that will get you promoted? Or offered a new job somewhere else? Oh you bought a seventh jacket to add to your closet but don’t have enough money to go to Bali? You don’t have the body you want because you go to happy hour every day after work instead of the gym? You didn’t get promoted, but you’re caught up on every season of Survivor? My sympathies.

Too many people need to flip their behaviors. Be patient with the macro. Those are significant life changes. However, to make those things happen, get more impatient, much more impatient, with the micro.

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Tell Your Boss to Go Shove Those “KPIs”

I see it all the time with new leaders. Note, I don’t say here young leaders, but new leaders. They are worried about one metric or the other and are trying to figure out what is wrong it. Or why it is off. They run report after report and pore over all the spreadsheets they can lay their hands on until they figure it out. They finally have it narrowed down to one Key Performance Indicator. One piece of data out of the thousands of minutiae that they have considered. They often then come to me with their triumph in tow, like a freshly stuffed animal back from the taxidermist ready to be hung on their cubicle wall. “Look what I’ve found! If we can just get this one metric moving in the right direction, we’ll be set! It will add X dollars to the topline or X dollars to the bottom line. What do you think?”

In these situations I usually have a couple thoughts or comments. Generally I will let the leader move forward with whatever their plan is and have them report back to me. If the results are good, then we may have found something important that can then be shared within the organization. If the results are poor, then it comes back to one thing: Don’t get so focused on the measurables that you forget to count the things that can’t be counted. The talent of the people on your team, the messaging you used to deliver the new idea, the execution of the new idea, the timing of the new idea, the mindset of your team, etc. Running a business or a team has just as much or more to do with the people you hire and how you influence their state of mind, as it does with the metrics you use to run it. Never, ever forget to count that which can’t be measured.

Before You Start that Pros & Cons List, Read This

It’s the most natural thing in the world. You have a big decision in front of you. Do you quit your job and find a new one? Do you marry the person you are dating? Do you break up with the person you are dating? Do you move cities? Buy a new car? As rational beings our instincts are to break down these decisions to the most basic elements of good and bad, put the pieces into our mental scales, and see which side comes down heavier.

However, Bozoma Saint John, the Chief Brand Officer at Uber, would have you skip these lists altogether, and she has a wonderful point, which she explores in detail towards the end of this podcast interview with Tim Ferriss. To keep it short and sweet, her advice is this: Very often, when you are making pro and con lists, you already know what you should do, and you are simply using these lists in an attempt talk yourself into a bad idea or talk yourself out of a good one. You do this because what you already know to be the right decision is not an easy one. You are trying to use logic, reason, or rationality to make the decision you want rather than the decision you should. Because one is easy. But the other is right. There is a lot of power in that thought.

This is not to say that you should never use analysis, which is obviously an incredible tool in your tool belt. However, there are many times when you know what the right move is, what will make you happy, what will make others happy, and what will be fulfilling. Don’t muddy the waters. Make the decision and move forward. Every decision is not a gut decision, or one that your “spirit” knows to be right as Saint John describes it, but often for the big ones, listing the pros and cons is an exercise in futility.

 

http://www.stealshamelessly.com

The Art of Audacity

In the first half of the 19th Century Carl Von Clausewitz, a famous German General and tactician wrote that “Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do one thousand times more damage in war than audacity.”
While attempting not to sound overly dramatic, I would argue a similar case for both the workplace and life. Audacity, in the long run, will outperform timidity in making your life fulfilling. Without the occasional dose of audacity, you become easy to ignore, and even worse, easy to predict. The advantage does not lie in being temperamental, but in the lingering thought in your boss’ mind that you just might do X.  They won’t make assumptions on what salary you will settle for or timeframe is acceptable for promotion, or that you will simply stay with the company because you are too timid to take a risk.

It took me eight years in the corporate world to learn this lesson. I spent my twenties following along with what my bosses asked me to do, moved where my bosses asked me to move, and generally followed the path of what a successful 21st century business person should do. I bought a new car! And a house! And then another house!
But I’d taken no risks. I had little I could point to that I was proud of. I’d never stopped to write as I’d always wanted to. I’d never had the guts to say “no” to a boss when asked to complete a project or move to a new city. But it wasn’t because I wanted to. It’s because I thought I was supposed to. I was still working along a path that was safe. But I had been timid. I found myself in the same place that AJ Leon found himself in at a Wall Street Bank in his mid twenties. When his boss offered him a promotion, he looked into the future and saw that without the audacity to do what he wanted to, to do what made him want to get out of bed on a daily basis, he would end up exactly where his boss was: Rich, in a business he cared little for, and most importantly miserable. Most people’s audacity will not reach to the level of AJ’s. Yours may be a hard negotiation. A step into a part of the business you’ve been told not to take, but that calls to you. Or an entire career change altogether.
In life, work, sports, sales, etc. with everything else being equal, audacity and aggression will win more often than timidity. Is that fair? Of course not. But what is? Get the thought of “fair” out of your head. Take a good hard look and ask yourself, if you were to do something audacious in your life, or in your work right now, what would it be? Now, don’t go do it just because, but think hard about it. Is it something that you truly want to do? If so, chances are you should.

 

http://www.stealshamelessly.com

 

The Mindless Bureaucrat of Your Own Paperwork

Some may refer to it as procrastination, but being the mindless bureaucrat of your own paperwork is a much more dangerous version of avoiding quality work. What does the phrase mean exactly? Consider this example:
You have a project in mind that you have started or would like to start. But before you can begin, you need to do “X” amount of research. And don’t forget that your outline isn’t finished yet anyway. The market analysis isn’t going to do itself either. You need to get 360 degree feedback. And you can’t very well do this correctly without a SWOT analysis, can you? And let’s be honest, your business plan could use some rounding out. I guess you’ll just have to keep chipping away at the edges before you can really dive in!
Working on these things are all beneficial, and over time are certainly things that you need to do. And yes there are certainly benefits to getting as much of it done as you can before fully committing. But there is also a point at which you are creating a bureaucracy of your own, and are only limiting your efficiency. You are settling for the dopamine hit of crossing an item off your list rather than creating real substance.
We all know what these activities look like in the workplace, particularly in a corporate setting. But often, we create them for ourselves as well. We become focused on working on a process instead of working on a product. And that’s the sticking point. Make sure you are making progress on your product, whether that is an app, a blog, a book, or whatever your day to day gig is asking you to deliver. No matter what you do for a paycheck on Fridays or as a side hustle when you have time, never forget to stop occasionally and evaluate the impact of the work you are doing. The perfect circumstances to “get started” or “go all in” will never arrive. They will never magically align and you will never be able to push or pull them into place either. Make strides everyday.