Desk with laptop and hands

"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great." ~ Zig Ziglar, 1926 - 2012

What if we made LinkedIn even more positive?

First published - November 2017

I saw a LinkedIn post this morning (here) that criticised the language used in a cold email. I agree with the poster (and most of the comments), nobody talks... more

I saw a LinkedIn post this morning (here) that criticised the language used in a cold email. I agree with the poster (and most of the comments), nobody talks that way face to face, so why use that language in an email, but it got me thinking.

The original email sender probably has a service or product they need to sell – that should be familiar to most LinkedIn members.

They also seem to want to work with new clients – again, most LinkedIn members would see the sense in that.

They undoubtedly have skills and capabilities individually and as a business that some of their email recipients would benefit from – every LinkedIn member I know believes that of themselves and their business.

Writing content is clearly not one of their strengths, but then for most LinkedIn members (copy writers aside) writing copy is not what we leap out of bed looking forward to each morning and, statistically, most of us will be averagely good at it at best, but the ability to write good copy is not what determines whether we’re good at our job or whether our company supplies desirable and useful services and products.

The comments to the opening post were, almost without exception, hostile to the kind of language used in the cited email, but had no constructive suggestion as to what the emailer might have done different. In fact, some of the comments were so hostile and recommended such hostile responses to cold emailers, that it makes me wonder what the commenters are like to work with as people and businesses.

How different might our worlds be if, instead of simply pointing out where the emailer went wrong, the poster and the commenters had used their expertise (and there did seem to be lots of copy writers, digital communicators and the like) to demonstrate how prospecting communication could work better? What if, instead of deriding a clearly limited copy writing ability, they had taken a little time and thought to show the value in their community of practice and the services they can offer?

I am not suggesting that any of us should devote our valuable time to handing out free advice via LinkedIn, but all of the commenters found some time to read the post, understand its content and compose a response. Imagine the good they could have done for themselves and their businesses if they had used that time to compose a response that was positive and constructive and that highlighted their own talents rather than deriding some other person’s lack of copy writing talent. Collapse this blog post

The importance of a personal mission statement

First published - October 2017

Imagine the scene… you’re 1,000 feet up flying solo in a light aircraft across miles and miles of featureless desert. Ahead, about 20 miles away, is the city... more

Imagine the scene… you’re 1,000 feet up flying solo in a light aircraft across miles and miles of featureless desert. Ahead, about 20 miles away, is the city you’re heading for. Suddenly, the engine stops and you begin to descend rapidly toward the desert below. Within a moment or two, it becomes obvious that you’re going to crash and you start to prepare for the inevitable impact. You work hard using all your skill and experience to keep the aircraft straight and level, shedding as much speed as you can. You choose not to lower the landing gear knowing it’s likely to dig in and flip the plane. Miraculously, the plane lands flat, straight and intact and you scramble out of the cockpit entirely unscathed.

Taking stock of the situation, you realise that while you’re still in good shape, you have no food and no water. Survival depends on reaching the city you were heading for. Because the city was dead ahead and you landed still flying straight, you know exactly which direction you must travel and have a reasonable idea of how far you have to walk. Because your survival now depends on you reaching your destination, you are highly motivated, very focused and prepared to give it everything you’ve got to make it out of the desert alive.

What are your chances of making it?

Remarkably, whatever you think your personal chances might be in that situation, they are severely jeopardised by your inability to walk in a straight line. What appears to be one of the simpler tasks we can undertake, is actually rather more complex than you might expect. The urban myth is that body asymmetry, such as one leg longer than the other, makes it impossible to keep walking continuously in a straight line without external references, but research by the Max Planck institute found that it’s more complex than that – the absence of external reference points actually alters our perception of what ‘straight ahead’ means, making it impossible to keep a straight course. Unfortunately, regardless of how focused and motivated you are, without external reference points, you will inevitably veer off course and become hopelessly lost in the desert.

But all is not lost – as you flew toward the city you noticed that there are several tall buildings at its centre and, when you scan the horizon, you can still make out the tops of the tallest of those skyscrapers. These are the external reference points that will keep you walking straight and, as long as you keep focused on them, you have significantly increased your chance of making it out of the desert. You’ll still need all of that motivation, focus and gruelling hard work, but your goal will always be in sight.

Personal mission statements serve the same purpose. Why do I exist? What’s my objective? Why do I do the things I do? What is that enables me to set goals and prioritise them? Without a personal mission statement, without a purpose, those questions are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. The external references captured in a personal mission statement keep us travelling in our chosen direction and give us the confidence to keep on expending every effort to make progress toward our goals.

My own personal mission statement is very simple, it contains three clauses, one that captures what my wife and I want to achieve for our family, a second clause that states the good impact my business will have on any life it touches, and a third clause that describes how I will play my part in my community.

Identifying goals and prioritising them is straight-forward. When I’m asked to take on more tasks, deciding whether to accept them is a great deal simpler, as is saying ‘no’ sometimes. The time I took and the effort I spent creating my personal mission statement has been more than repaid with greater clarity, greater motivation and greater achievement.

If you struggle to crystallise your personal mission statement, I highly recommend LMI’s Personal Leadership professional development programme. Find out more here. Collapse this blog post

Whatever happened to sharp edges?

First published - April 2017

Stop for a second, think carefully… when was the last time you focused exclusively on a single task for longer than a few minutes? When was the last time... more

Stop for a second, think carefully… when was the last time you focused exclusively on a single task for longer than a few minutes? When was the last time you worked uninterrupted and free from distractions?

For many of us, the answer is… sorry, what was that…?, yes, OK, give me two minutes… where was I… oh, yes, for many of us, working uninterrupted is just a distant memory. We live in an age where multitasking is considered a virtue and distractions are everywhere.

Turn the question on its head… when did you last do your best work in a hectic environment with multiple distractions and never more than a couple of minutes of real concentration? For most of us, the honest answer is never – our best work is done when we have time to focus, concentrate and give ourselves time to reach a productive state of mind. Each time we’re interrupted we either never reach that focused, productive state or we drop out of it and then have to spend many more minutes re-focusing. If you doubt the impact on productivity caused by multitasking (and you can bear the added distraction), search on the word ‘monotasking’.

Some of the distraction is self-inflicted – how many apps do you have on your smartphone and your laptop that demand your attention on their schedule rather than yours? Email, text messages, to-do lists, news alerts, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – the list of potential alerts is huge.

We can blame evolution for much of the problem – those of our ancestors who most quickly noticed and responded to changes in their environment were most likely to survive and pass on their genes. The brain chemistry we inherited from those life-savingly alert ancestors still rewards us for noticing and responding to changes. Every time we receive an alert and respond to it we get a pleasure generating burst of chemical reward. It’s addictive and like any junkie, after a while we imagine we can’t live without it.

Worse than that, we invent reasons why our addiction is actually good for us – we refer to ‘client expectation’ around response times, or our desire to ‘always be available’ to the team. We pride ourselves on the time it takes us to respond to email and feel the need to apologise if we’re more than an hour or two in sending a response. But the reality is that very few of us have ever lost out letting an email wait an hour or two for a response.

I have a challenge for you… turn off all your notifications (smartphone, laptop, watch, everything) and only turn on again those alerts you really can’t do your job or live without. Keep in mind that this is not the same as never doing those things again – the occasional escape into social media or some other distraction is good for us – but the best time to deal with whatever might otherwise be just a distraction is when you decide, not when some app decides the time is right.

Accept the challenge and you will be amazed at the clearer focus, fewer distractions and increased productivity.

If you could benefit from working smarter with clearer goals, fewer distractions, a good plan, and increased productivity join one of our Foundations of Success workshops and get a taster of LMI’s professional development programmes.

Visit our events page and get a free workshop place using code VIP_Invite. Collapse this blog post

Is my hair really on fire?

First published - March 2017

How's your workload? No one I know has had their workload decrease in the last twenty years and I’m guessing yours is the same. Pretty much without exception... more

How's your workload? No one I know has had their workload decrease in the last twenty years and I’m guessing yours is the same. Pretty much without exception, we are all trying to do more things in less time.

For many of us, this sustained increase in workload has pushed us permanently into ‘crisis mode’, that feeling that we’re running around with our hair on fire trying to do too many things in too little time. I suspect that some of us, perhaps even most of us, have become used to, and possibly even addicted to, that high-energy, adrenaline driven, deadline busting lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves whether that furious pace of life is really the best way for us to achieve maximum productivity or even the best way to be successful.

If I can get your attention for just a few precious minutes… there are two questions worth considering. Firstly, how can we identify when we’re working in crisis mode and, secondly, how can we work out where our effort is best placed to avoid crisis mode?

Identifying crisis mode

If you recognise one or more of these indicators, there’s a very good chance you’re working in crisis mode:

  • Every task you work on is urgent.
  • You move from one urgent task to the next with no time to stop.
  • It’s always quicker to carry out the task yourself than train someone else to do it.
  • You have so many urgent things to do you don't know where to start.
  • Major strategic projects never get started or they never progress.
  • Communication is scant or completely missing.
  • You have no time for reflection and planning.

Spend a little time reflecting on your pattern of work and it’s likely you’ll identify other crisis mode indicators. If you recognise the symptoms, right now is the best time to do something about it. A great deal of the advice about dealing with crisis mode suggests you develop coping strategies – awareness, acceptance, mindfulness, and the like – all of which will help, but I have a slightly more radical suggestion: do fewer things!

Working smarter

The time-proven truth is that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities (search the phrase ‘Pareto Principle’ if you doubt that), in which case avoiding crisis mode requires us to focus on the 20% and eliminate as much as possible of the unproductive 80% of all the things we do, which is easy to say, but often difficult to carry through in practice.

The key to working out what not to do is having a very clear view of the critical goals in our life. What are the really important things we're working toward? Not just in our business life, but in all areas of life. The clearer our goals and the more detailed and structured our plan to achieve those goals, the easier it will be to identify our high payoff activities – the things that most effectively move us closer to our goals – and focus on them.

With well thought through goals and a detailed plan not just in mind, but carefully documented, it becomes much easier to avoid working in crisis mode. Giving your day some structure and deciding what to work on first when you get to the office becomes much easier. Saying ‘no’ when you’re asked to commit to things that don’t help move you toward your goals is a great deal simpler. Choosing to commit to tasks that will be effective in achieving your goals is straightforward. Reflecting on progress and comparing with our documented targets becomes a self-reinforcing motivation to continue working effectively.

‘Working smarter, not harder’ is a well-known phrase, but its real meaning is in identifying goals and working out the high pay off activities that move us most effectively toward them.

If you could benefit from working smarter with clearer goals, a good plan, and increased productivity join one of our Foundations of Success workshops and get a taster of LMI’s professional development programmes.

Visit our events page and get a free workshop place using code VIP_Invite. Collapse this blog post

Make all that effort count for something.

First published - March 2017

Success is not an accident. Neither are hard work and effort any guarantee of success by themselves. Imagine if you set out in the car this morning to attend... more

Success is not an accident. Neither are hard work and effort any guarantee of success by themselves.

Imagine if you set out in the car this morning to attend a client meeting without knowing the destination. You drove as fast as you could, changing direction whenever some other road seemed less congested, or quicker, all the while making certain that you were driving quickly and smoothly and covering lots of miles. There's every chance that you would look focused, purposeful, flexible, and full of energy, but what are the chances that you would arrive at the client's office in good time for the meeting?

Realistically, none at all! You might, by chance, find yourself at the right place with a couple of minutes to spare and raring to go, but inevitably all that effort, despite how efficient it may have looked at the time, is going to be wasted and you are going to be miles off target and missing the meeting.

But most of us are smarter than that! When we set out for an appointment, we make sure we know where we’re going and why we need to be there. We think about obstacles that might delay us on the way and we make sure that we have a few options to ensure we arrive in good time for our appointment. We make a plan and we stick to it, modifying it as necessary to deal with the unexpected.

Setting the destination and making a plan to get there is what makes our journey effective as well as efficient – getting where we want to be as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Making certain that we are not just efficient, but also properly effective in all areas of our life relies on the same approach. If we want to be successful – and why are we putting all the effort in if we don’t – we must have crystal clear goals, understand why they are important to us and identify the benefits we’ll get from achieving them. We also need a plan that breaks each goal into achievable steps, each of which moves us closer toward our goal. We must also have thought through the possible obstacles and made sure we have some options that will keep us on track.

Learning a well-structured goal setting technique and developing the behaviour necessary to apply it habitually in all areas of our lives is a skill well worth taking a little time to develop. The process detailed in the Effective Personal Productivity programme from LMI is one of the best goal setting systems around.

If you could benefit from working smarter with clearer goals, a good plan, and increased productivity join one of our Foundations of Success workshops and get a taster of LMI’s professional development programmes.

Visit our events page and get a free workshop place using code VIP_Invite. Collapse this blog post