Making Improvements: The Path to Mastery

The Path to Mastery

The path to mastery is steady, small, incremental improvements repeated over and over again. There is no shortcut to mastery. There is a mode of operating that allows mastery. This mode is the 1% improvement mode.

Do you focus on the 1% improvements? What small change will you make today?

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think…

Mission: It should fit on a t-shirt

An effective statement of mission should be short, sharp and direct. It should fit on a t-shirt. Not a font 8 squeeze, but a legible font.

Every person who is involved should be able to articulate how their contribution adds to that mission. If not, then you don’t have a mission. You have a hopeful statement written by a board and not lived by an organisation.

A Mission Is Not About What is Possible Today

“Never start with tomorrow to reach eternity. Eternity is not reached by small steps.” John Donne

A mission is not guided by what we can do today, what we do today is guided by the mission. If you start with the believably possible, you won’t create a mission you will draft a plan. Martin Luther did not say “I have a plan”. If he did, he would have had the auditors and accountants with him, but no actual people.

JFK said “a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. That’s not a plan. That’s a mission.

Norman Foster has designed some impossible buildings…. and then the engineers have found new ways to build.

Creating Mission: Start from “what problem do you want to solve”?  Don’t start from “what you know how to do”.  

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Me and my 7 Habits

This is a great summary video of a book that had a great impact on me back when I was 23 years old.  I was working for Accenture (in those days, Andersen Consulting) and the organisation shared this book with all employees.  There’s a photo there of me there on the right with my leather bound edition of the book.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most influential books in self-development.

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw.

About the Creator

You can follow the creator Malkash Geldashvili on twitter.

Engagement – Is it really the employer’s responsibility?

I have sat through many presentations over the last 3 years listening to experts telling company leaders how they can make their company an engaging workplace; how they can increase employee engagement.

Is it really the employer’s responsibility?

Engagement is a Choice

Surely a basic requirement when you accept a job is that you engage and commit to doing it well?

Apathy is a practiced habit.   You don’t start life as a child expert in curiosity-less disengagement.  You practiced.

Your Apathy is Nobody Else’s Fault

Why should the fault be directed to your manager or to company HR?

It is not their fault.

It is not anyone’s fault that you are not engaged.

It is you.

It is you who is apathetic.

It is you who has to commit.

It is you who has to engage.

It is you who has to become responsible for your life as an adult.

Practice Apathy at Work, Become Apathetic in Everything

Show me someone who is apathetic and disengaged at work, and I will show you that he is apathetic and disengaged at home, with friends and a superb cynic of anyone who makes an effort.  When we practice apathy, we get better at it in all areas of our life: work, family, hobbies, friends, studies, spirituality, community.

Here’s a short guide to putting the practice of engagement and responsibility into your life:

Engaged Life 101: How to be actively engaged in life.

  1. Intention: Start every day by stating your intention for the day.  As soon as you wake, write down the sentence “Today, my day is about _________”  (today, I wrote self-compassion…  yesterday I wrote listening better)
  2. Read: Next, read something inspiring.  (ie, not the newspaper, not your email)  Here’s my list of great books: Personal Leadership Library
  3. Think & Write: Decide on your Most Important Action for today.  Write it down.  Do 10 minutes action to move this Most Important Action forward.  At the end of exactly 10 minutes of focussed attention, stop and go have your breakfast.
  4. Now, you can let the day happen…  but you have already taken personal ownership and responsibility for your day…  good practice for the rest of the day.

The Dean of EO Leadership Academy, and highly successful businessman and person, Warren Rustand first taught me this process.  He calls it the 1-10-10-10 start to the day.  1 minute intention, 10 minute read, 10 minute write then 10 minute think.  Ideally followed by 29 minutes of physical exercise and then you’ve given yourself the best possible first 60 minutes of the day.

How Self-Discipline will make you a Better Leader

Self-discipline is the foundational habit that makes all other good habits possible.

Self Discipline

What is self discipline?

It is the ability to do a chosen action even when you don’t feel like it.

Anyone can do the action when they feel like it.  It is the ability to do it when you don’t feel like it that really marks the difference between having a large positive impact in the world or just dribbling away all your days.

A peaceful picture of a bench, a tree and some tranquil water. Seems appropriate.

All habits are developed by repetition. If you repeat something bad for you, it will become a habit. If you repeat something good for you, it will become a habit.

Resolve to stick through the important tasks that you chose to start.  As you repeatedly finish what you start, it will become more and more natural to you.  Blogging was hard for me at the beginning, but now I know I will publish within 20 minutes of starting a post (I am coming up to 500 posts out there on this blog and other online resources such as forbes, lifehack, IESE, Active Garage, slideshare, venturebeat, venture village)

Three Step Guide for Better Productive Days

Here is a morning guide for being intentionally productive:

  1. Write down the top 5 most important tasks
  2. Pick the #1 most important task.
  3. Work on it until it is done. (THE HARD BIT!)

If you aren’t thinking of an important bigger picture, you will be distracted by easy interruptions.  It is hard to stay the course when you don’t feel like it.  Your life gets better when you get better.  Your leadership gets better when your habits get better.  Facebook, email, twitter are so instantly addictive that I will be distracted by them every day that I am not working on something that is of importance to me.

All important success comes from finishing projects.  If you get better at finishing, you get better at life.  Do the projects today that the “you” of tomorrow will be thankful for.

Start and complete a task every morning before anything else.  Dandapani taught me to start by making my bed first thing in the morning.  I start by reminding myself that I finish what I start (and making the bed is not so difficult).

Further Resources

Photo:

Tranquil bench and lake photo credit: Matt Champlin 

“What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?”

This is a request for your experience.  I want your help.

Yesterday, I came across an interview with Ryan Avery, 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking on the blog of Paul Sohn: How to Speak Like a World Champion of Public Speaking.

Ryan Avery. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. He currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon.

The question that really struck me and has left me deep in thought for the last 24 hours is this:

“What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?”

Ryan said that a friend asked him this question and the fact that he could not answer it made him change.  He became World Champion of Public Speaking because of the question.

What is your answer?  Is it clear?

Personally, I don’t have a clear answer.

I have been reflecting on school, university, MBA; on 8 years of work at Accenture; on 1 year travelling with a backpack around Asia and Latin America; on 12 years building companies as a entrepreneur; on teaching; on 8 years of being a parent…  and I am not sure I have a clear answer.

My reflection is that I want to have a clear answer on my 50th birthday.  I want to know that there was something that I was willing to sacrifice for and that I chose to do the work consistently; in the good and in the tough times.

This weekend, I am on a 3 day course with Dr John DeMartini called “Master Planning for Life”.  I aim to have an answer on Sunday night.

My Questions for You, Reader:

I would love your help.  I learn so much from listening to other’s experiences.  I would welcome comments or emails direct to me conor (at) conorneill.com with your experiences, reflections and perspectives:

  • What is the hardest thing you have had to work for?
  • When did you know that you were committed to achieving it?
  • How did you overcome the loss of passion, the doubts as you worked through the project?
  • What is something you are working on now that is big, hard and meaningful (but your choice!  not your boss, company, family… you personally chose this project)

Thank you.

A Good Life: Be Real, Be Whole, Be Innovative

What kind of leadership do we need now?

In his 30 years of asking this question, Dr Stew Friedman has heard one word become increasingly common: Flexible

How to achieve Flexible Leadership?

Have you ever wondered if “work/life balance” exists?  How do some of the world’s most successful professionals find harmony in work and with the rest of “life”?

This post is based on a conversation with Dr. Stew Friedman.  He is the author of Leading the Life You Want.

What is a good life?

His answer: Be real, be whole, be innovative.

What does it mean to be real, be whole and to be innovative?

Be Real, Be Whole, Be Innovative

What does it mean to “Be Real”?

What does it mean to “Be Whole”?

  • You are good at clarifying expectations
  • You help others
  • You build supportive networks (you cannot live a good life on your own: without peers, coaches, mentors)
  • You apply all of your resources effectively
  • You manage boundaries intelligently (sometimes firm, sometimes loose)
  • You weave disparate strands of life together

What does it mean to “Be Innovative”?

  • Your focus is on results
  • You resolve conflicts among domains
  • You continually challenge the status quo
  • You seek new ways of doing things (crowdsourcing solutions, ask for help)
  • You embrace change courageously
  • You support innovation attempts by others

Video: Dr Stew at Google

What do you think?  What areas are clear, unclear for you?  What action will you take?

[Infographic] Habits that Separate Successful People from Unsuccessful People

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Show me your daily habits and I can describe your future.

Discover the habits of successful people as opposed to the habits of unsuccessful people in the infographic created by SuccessStory.com.

Habits of Successful People vs Unsuccessful People

How’s your daily habit checklist?

Your Scarcest Resource

I know plenty of financial advisors who would love to spend a few hours reviewing my investments, cash position, investment goals and helping me make a realistic plan.

I know how much I spent on food, travel, housing, school in the last month, year and if I did the sums I could calculate a rough lifetime spend.

Money.

You can always earn more money.

Organisations spend small fortunes developing capital expenditure budgets and operational budgets and auditing the cash of the business.

My time, in contrast, goes un-managed. Most organisations have no systematic procedure to eliminate time wasters. They place clear objectives for the use of every dollar, but no barriers on the expenditure of another hour.

My first girlfriend used to tell me that time is like money but with one major difference – at the end of every day, everything you have left unspent is taken away from you. Imagine if you started every day with €240 and you knew that at midnight, any left unspent will be taken away.

Imagine Managing Time Like Companies Budget Capital

Imagine if every month, instead of receiving a bank statement, I received a time-statement: a detailed breakdown of where my hours have been put, how many were invested and how many just dripped through the cracks.

Would it change how I spend my time? Would it reduce facebook and increase playing with my daughter? Would it reduce email and increase face-to-face meetings? How would the measurement change me?

For Productivity: Stop Doing These 9 Things

Stop Doing Stuff that Doesn’t Serve

168 hours in a week.  24 hours in a day.  I haven’t done the math to work out how many in a year or a lifetime, but however large the number, it is still finite.  It is limited.  We get so much, and no more.  This leaves you with a choice.  My friend Verne Harnish is fond of saying “we can do anything we want, but not everything”.  He is in great company:

  • “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Warren Buffett
  • “What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Tim Ferriss, author of the best-seller ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’
  • “Prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we do.” Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP

Creating Your Not-To-Do List

My own notebook right now

You already have a to-do list (Come on, you are reading this blog…  you must have a list somewhere in front of you?)  It may not be enough.  In my workshops I ask people to create a do more and do less page.  Big sheet of paper, top of the left side write: “Do More” and top of the right side write: “Do Less”.  What tends to go on “do less”?  TV, facebook, attending meetings with no agenda.  What tends to go on “do more”?  Lots of great stuff.  It is a powerful exercise.

Tim Ferriss argues that there are 9 habits we must eliminate to free up time for more important activities:

  1. Do not answer phone calls from people you don’t know
  2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
  3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
  4. Do not let people ramble: “Small talk takes up big time.”
  5. Do not check email constantly
  6. Do not over-communicate with low profit, high maintenance customers
  7. Do not work more to fix being too busy
  8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
  9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

Check out the original list by Tim here.

What’s on your “Do Less” list?  Any clear “Do More” ideas?

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