Is Cooking a Secret Key to Productivity?

img_0406

For an hour I was in my kitchen engaged in a frenzy of synchronized motion, focused solely on cooking dinner. Just a man, his knives and a frying pan. Everything else faded into the background. It was a Blue Apron night and I tackled fresh linguine pasta with roasted fennel and garlic breadcrumbs.

First, I prepped the ingredients. Slicing an aromatic fennel bulb into thin slivers, I readied it for roasting. I zested and deseeded a lemon, then minced and mashed fresh garlic. The last step was chopping castelvetrano olives. I am in perfect harmony with my knife and cutting board intoxicated by the sounds and smells.

No fingers were lost in the preparation of this meal.

Then, the cooking began in earnest. The fennel roasted while I browned butter to make garlic breadcrumbs. Once the breadcrumbs were toasted to a nice golden brown I prepared the sauce, combining the lemon juice and zest with olive oil. My fresh linguine finished boiling on the back burner. Coating my al dente pasta with the sauce, it was ready to plate.

While I cook I never fail to disparage the dish until it all comes together. At the last moment I realized how good it would be. When I nestled a hearty dollop of lemon ricotta atop the pasta and garnished it with chopped green olives and homemade breadcrumbs, I knew it was a home run.

Minutes later it was gone. We destroyed it.

I love cooking, but life and kids and work and chores and more kids pretty much get in the way. My go-to approaches for meal preparation are either something frozen from Trader Joe’s in the microwave or something else from a menu delivered to my front door. Sure, I might get fancy and make real food on the weekend, but burritos take just minutes from freezer to plate to my gaping maw, so the stove doesn’t get much action.

Then, my beautiful fiancée scored me three nights of Blue Apron per week. They do the hard work of getting the ingredients to my kitchen along with a recipe. It’s up to me to slice, dice, roast, stir, sauté and beat those fixings into something resembling dinner. In just four months I have rediscovered the sheer delight and serenity of cooking.

The process of creating something delicious while under pressure to pull it all together is an adrenaline rush. Hammering through the prep work while whisking a sauce and caramelizing onions demands perfect timing. One mistake and my hard work could end up in the compost. I love making it happen and seeing the results.

After a few months of stretching my culinary abilities (as well as my gustatory limits) I realize several things I demand as a cook also ring true in how I maximize my productivity in life and at work.

No Distractions. I am at my best when I can concentrate fully and put all my focus into the task at hand. I don’t mind quick conversations or interruptions, but I’m working. Cooking demands full attention or food burns, sauces curdle and dinner suffers. I want to be fully engaged and immersed in preparing the best meal I can.

Clear Space, Clear Head. Some thrive in a cluttered space. Not me. The kitchen island must be empty, the dishes washed and the counters clear. When I can chop all my ingredients, arrange them in bowls while I am preparing everything with ample workspace and plenty of clean dishes, that is a little bit of heaven.

The Right Tools Matter. I want the right tools for the job. Sharp knives, good pans, utensils within reach, all sizes of measuring spoons and a full set of measuring cups. Plus, I want my tools organized and always in the same place. That’s all.

fullsizerender-4

The Best Christmas Gifts Ever

Preparation, Practice & Repetition. Prepping ingredients is key to a successful meal. The sight of several colorful bowls of vegetables, herbs and other ingredients all perfectly chopped is so satisfying. A few months ago I worked slowly and meticulously. The details matter and I wanted to do it right. Through sheer repetition my skills have improved and now I speed through the process. I have a long way to go to master the kitchen, but I’ve begun to deploy my growing proficiency on non-Blue Apron nights.

Prioritize. This is the balancing act, the make or break part of the cooking process. The more I sauté, stir and roast, the more I learn to juggle several tasks simultaneously. The rote functions have become instinctual and I have it down to a science (with occasional laboratory explosions). Some days it all flows and I can push all parts of the dish forward without missing a beat.

Presentation Is Everything. It might taste great, but if it looks terrible I’ve failed. This is why focus on every step to get to this point matters. All my work is wasted unless that dish pops off the plate and says “Eat Me!”

Clean Up Your Mess And Do It All Again Tomorrow.
Sink, soap, sponge, drainer. Leave no trace. Need I say more?

Lessons Learned Running a 100 Mile Relay Race

Version 2

Seven years ago I took part in GE Training at their Crotonville, NY campus. Much of our time was dedicated to navigating corporate politics and developing large-scale, effective teams. According to the curriculum, building a functioning group could take months or even years. There are four levels in a team’s life cycle according to Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development: storming, storming, norming and performing. That is some unwieldy baggage if you need to get something done right now.

On the flipside you’ve got Minimum Viable Product (MVP),  a concept popularized by Eric Ries. The basic idea is to build a product quickly and inexpensively with just enough features to attract early adopters. As you add users you iterate and add to your product based on the feedback from customers. It’s all about immediacy, speed and agility.

In the years since I took that training it’s been fascinating to watch large corporations dump traditional business strategies, adopting MVP and Lean Startup principles. They’ve had to reinvent once-sacred processes in an effort to bring better products to market faster.

Last summer I took part in the 100 On 100 Relay, an epic day-long race. We had to come together as a team, run like hell for fourteen hours and survive a grueling endurance event. This meant embracing concepts from both Tuckman and Ries to get from one end of Vermont to the other.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-11-04-16-pm

We had a clear goal. Our team of six people had to run 100 miles along Vermont Highway 100 from Stowe to Okemo. The race organizers provided us with a map and first aid at transition points. Apart from that we were on our own. It was up to us to organize, delegate, hydrate and operate our minimally staffed running startup for one long day.

We organized. I only knew one teamate well. I had run a few times with another, but hadn’t seen him in eight years. Another I raced with once in 2006. Two members I had never met before that morning. I was going to spend the next fourteen hours packed into a car with them. We had to make it work.

We made decisions. We hadn’t chosen which legs to run prior to the race. Fifteen minutes before the start we picked our assignments consisting of three legs per person. Each runner was responsible for roughly seventeen or eighteen miles. One leg in the morning, one leg in the afternoon, one leg at night. Our first runner was off at 8:15am. The rest of us tumbled into the car. We formed immediately. You get pretty friendly pretty fast while sweating and farting in a crowded SUV packed with runners.

We acted immediately. There was no dithering or hesitation or non-performance. We each got a number. #1 was responsible for legs 1, 7 and 13. #2 was on the spot for 2, 8 and 14. And so on. When your number was up you took the fluorescent snap bracelet and started running. It was your job to get your ass and the snap bracelet five, six or seven miles down the road.

We found our roles. At first there was a bit of politeness and hesitation about who would drive or who would sit where. Pretty soon someone would grab the keys and go. Someone else would carry water to the runner. It was no longer about courtesy. Now, it was about doing our job and iterating as we went. Feedback was constant and fixes were put into place immediately.

We cooperated. We normed quickly. One of us would buy ice while another would check the map for our next transition spot. One would get water ready for the incoming runner while another would make sure our outgoing runner was ready. We acted on instinct and nobody slacked. Our organization was flat and everybody gave it everything they had.

We suffered and endured setbacks. The only storming came from external forces. We ran through soupy lung-sopping humidity. We endured a massive thunderstorm and got soaked. There were hills that crushed souls and hot open spaces that burned skin. We ran in the dark on a lonely highway with only reflective vests and headlamps to protect us from oncoming cars. Our only job was to get further down the road. I ran my first leg like I was racing a 10k and after three miles I crumbled in the heat like a house of cards. My pace dropped by two minutes per mile. I crawled up a final massive insult of a hill with my stomach gurgling, my spirit destroyed and my energy reserves gone. I still had another tow legs and twelve miles to cover. I would never make it. They would find me out.

We brought the best out of one another. While one runner put in mileage the rest would follow by car. The team was there every couple of miles with water, Gatorade, or whatever the runner needed. The cheering and encouragement from the support vehicle made all the difference. We even had cowbell! Plenty of cowbell.

cowbell

Our greatness combined transcended all our individual weaknesses and shortcomings. We were performing. I found the strength to head into my second leg. I had seven miles to race with nothing left. Left foot, right foot. The sandwich hollering in my gut was declaring its independence, yet I was determined to keep going. I gave everything I had to the team. Somehow, leg two was a vast improvement over leg one. By leg three I was done, but the spirit and unity of our group carried me forward. Without them I couldn’t have covered that final five miles in the dark on a meandering dirt road. I couldn’t let these people down. They were my team.

We succeeded. Together we ran 100 miles. One step at a time. One mile after another. Somewhere around 9:58pm our sixth runner climbed the last pummeling hill in the dark and crossed the finish line. We gathered around and hugged like we had known one another for years.

We celebrated. At the end there was beer for the drinkers and food for the eaters. After eighteen miles of running and fourteen hours of riding shotgun just about anything is gourmet fare. We destroyed piles of baked beans, pulled pork, hot dogs and fruit as if they were the greatest delicacies ever prepared.

What we had done in that day takes organizations forever to accomplish. We came together, bonded over a quest, faced countless challenges and made it across the finish line. We will never unite as a group again, but in one day we formed, stormed, normed and performed. We produced, iterated and pivoted like a well-tuned startup. In the end we slayed the goddamn dragon and went home happy.

Help Wanted: People Who Make Stuff

A recent Business Insider article claims 47% of all jobs will go away in the next few decades and be replaced by robots. They claim the safest of the remaining 53% will be careers requiring creative thinking. Looks like the people who come up with amazing and wonderful things will always be in demand.

ouija-970x545.jpg

Over the past few years I’ve realized how much I love a job making stuff as opposed to talking about stuff. For more than a decade my day consisted of being trapped in meetings where we pretended to come up with great ideas only to ouija board our way toward a consensus that would support what the boss wanted. It was rare that any of these meetings resulted in making something new or breathtaking. The culture demanded rote products that made the corner office happy and allowed us to keep our jobs for another day.

Throughout the aughts I saw more and more people position themselves as marketers as opposed to creatives. The thinking seemed to be job protection by couching what you did under the umbrella of innovation and adding to the bottom line. Creatives were often viewed as a cost center where marketers positioned themselves as revenue generators.

New job titles emerged with each successive trend in marketing. Executive Digital Marketing Architects. Social Talent Optimizers. Brand Strategy Evangelists. Data Scientists. Growth Officers. Not to mention all the Rock Stars, Wizards, Ninjas and Gurus roaming the hallways. While I admired their efforts to protect and prolong their careers, I was often stumped as to what many of them did all day. So often the proffered new solutions were tried and true tactics wrapped up in pretty packaging and powerpointed as a brave new strategy. Soon buzzwords like robust, disruption, incentivize, actionable, transformative and countless others were raging alarms that the emperor had no clothes.

I cringe when I think of all the meetings I sat in with a poorly feigned rictus of benign interest while I was dying a little inside. I glad-handed and ass kissed and nodded in over-enthusiastic agreement like a chirping little productivity automaton. It was a massive soul suck and there was no escape. I wasn’t making anything but more work.

Fast foward to me sitting bewildered in an edit room for the first time in over a decade. I wondered why I wasn’t wearing a suit and acting excited in a conference room somewhere. At first I thought I was just doing this until I got a real job. This was merely a layover at a small airport on the way to somewhere much bigger and more important.

But then I got to make stuff.

There is such satisfaction in completing a project. I get to build things, working with music, video, graphics and words. I solve tricky little problems and get paid to do it. Instead of rushing from conference room to conference room, firing off a flurry of emails while rushing blindly down the hall, I stay in one room working with great people on movies and shows I love. Before I would stagger back to my office while others left the building for the evening and settle in to do my actual work. By then the thrill was gone and I would stumble through the important stuff, too tired to give a damn if it was was done or not. I had dozens of projects happening simultaneously and I could only afford to offer them minimal attention. Now I focus my efforts on one or two projects, making sure they are perfect. All my efforts happen during normal work hours so my time in the evening can be directed toward family, writing, exercise and reading.

I wonder if all those strategists can keep the marketing buzzword machine rolling while the robots come for our jobs. I wonder if I can keep a few steps ahead as well. The one thing I have going for me is I make stuff.

To put it in Gaping Void’s words, “Creativity…that economy will never die.”

Fingers crossed.

When Bad Advice is the Best Advice

Sometimes bad advice is the best advice. Wait, what? Yes, terrible advice can be the key to discovering what you really want.

bad-advice

A few months back I approached someone whose thinking I trust. They’ve been very helpful and supportive in the past, offering sharp, critical advice on several occasions. This time I had some questions regarding a possible opportunity. I made my inquiry and the response I got left me nonplussed and a little indignant. I replied with a polite thank you, but then I started to stew.

The answer was not what I was expecting and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I will be fair and say it was honest and directas well as supportive and offered in kindness, but it didn’t sit right. This friction spurred me to dig deep and take a long look at what I really wanted. My anger and visceral response reaffirmed for me what my core strengths and key accomplishments really are. This burst of confidence game me some clarity and focus.

We all turn to friends, family, colleagues and mentors for advice and insight. It is crucial to the decision making process to have a sounding board. This front line is your personal group of beta testers. A broad variety of opinions will often put things into perspective, giving you some much-needed objectivity. However, you must gut check this feedback before acting on it. If it doesn’t feel right, it could be the wrong direction, even if it comes from a trusted source.

The internal mantra that popped into my head after this experience was a classic line from Season 6 of The Walking Dead (S6E1 First Time Again). Rick Grimes questions the soon to be dead Tucker, “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” Rick hasn’t always made the best decisions, but he has fought every step of the way and survived while others doubted and died.

Mentors and friends have a limited perspective on what you’ve done and who you are. Get lots of feedback when making a big decision, but in the end, only you know the right answer for you.

I didn’t get the response I wanted, but I got the answer I needed.

Thank you for the advice, friend. It was terrible and you definitely had no idea who you were talking to. I respect you and regard you as a great supporter and occasional mentor, but for this one I will take it from here. I may not succeed at what I asked you about, but you gave me a big jolt of confidence. It was exactly the backhanded kick in the ass I needed in that moment. It was the best advice I’ve received in months.

Letting Go of the Past

ass-whooping

A few weeks back I accidentally published this post in rough draft form. Mortified, I trashed it immediately. It had a long way to go before I would have been willing to put it out there. However, a friend caught it and asked why I had deleted it. Too personal. Too confessional. However, his comments resonated. He said it was “thoughtful” and he would be “proud to have come up with that.” Writing it did help me sort out a few things and maybe others can find something that works for them. Marsh Gooch, thanks for the push.

What happened to my once impervious exoskeleton of cynicism and sarcasm mixed with a pinch of scorn? Is losing my ironic distance and signature snark a result of age and maturity, greater self-confidence or having life hand my ass to me a few times? The answer is all of the above, but nothing like an ass whooping to effect change. My big takeaway from the last decade is life sucks when you’re going through the worst, but the lessons learned are invaluable.

Moving forward is the only answer. For too long I held onto the past, wading in yesterday’s waters and wallowing in regrets and resentments. That reluctance to let go hindered any advancement. However, letting go of the past is imperative. I’ve got four kids all at different stages of need and development. I’ve got a wonderful fiancée. Plus, I need to figure out how to keep making money for the next 20 years and have that last for 20 more after that. Big challenges require a forward focus, not a dithering and frightened stare at the past.

I had a vision recently of me holding on desperately to a past I couldn’t recapture no matter how hard I tried. Same guy, same suit, same job, hoping to sustain what he had always known and always done, never suspecting that his winning strategy had been failing him for years. I had developed the wrong approach to handling life’s challenges. My only solution was to do the same thing again and again and again, only with more force and more determination. And the results never improved.

For a big chunk of my career I created far too much baggage. I needed an office, a suit, a staff, and a day packed with meetings to do whatever it was that I did. When I was booted from one high level job I didn’t have the self awareness to let go and move on to the next phase of my life. I thought all I needed was a hand on the rungs of the next ladder. Why couldn’t I climb right back up from where I had fallen? Life would pick up and go on as it always had. Wrong!

When I got tossed to the pavement once again I started to hear the lessons life was trying to teach me. Still, I didn’t quite catch everything and attempted to battle my way backwards to what used to be. The next big job never materialized and I found myself still wondering what the hell went wrong.

After years of moving forward in a single direction my road had moved sideways long before I knew I needed to turn. The resulting pain came from offroading through a bumpy, boulder-strewn section of life while expecting the way to be smooth and paved. Funny how decades of a single winning strategy can blind you to the critical lifesaving necessity of a new direction and new tactics.

I need to flail and fail a little longer before I began to get the first simple signs of a new freedom and a way forward. Of course, I was so caught up in the past I nearly missed them. Then one day I bombed a CitiBike down 7th Avenue with my computer, phone and everything I needed in my messenger bag. In that adrenalized moment as I jockeyed between cabs and delivery trucks I knew things had changed. I didn’t need an office. I didn’t need a suit. I didn’t have to waste my time in endless meetings. I could work wherever I found wifi and an outlet. And maybe coffee.

That was the day I realized my old life was dead and gone.

Change and acceptance are hard. It means adjusting to a new way of doing things and reevaluating expectations for my life and my career. Letting go takes practice and perseverance. There is no magic answer. I have worked hard on creating daily habits that expedite the process, looking forward rather than backward. Exercise. Meditation. Gratitude. Reading. Writing. Setting goals. All of these contribute to a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment.

This sometimes painful process has opened up a host of new possibilities and opportunities. Instead of one straight freeway ahead of me I see a lot of different paths with unseen twists and turns. There is no autopilot, but the view is much more scenic and the ride more interesting. I move forward every day a little nicer, a little kinder and full of gratitude for the road ahead.

 

 

 

Today Won’t Be the Day That Changes Everything

Today could be the day that changes everything.

That was how I felt almost every single day while I was unemployed a few years back. The next big opportunity was only one phone call, one email or one text message away. I was on high alert and had my phone and computer ready to respond. Yet I rarely did anything that could effect that change. I sat and waited, expecting someone else to come along and hire me. Shouldn’t the world stumble upon my LinkedIn page or my prodigious social media output and recognize my genius?

The result of this skewed perception was about what you’d expect. Crickets. A big pile of nothing. Nobody called. Nobody emailed. Nobody texted….

…unless I reached out first and made something happen. Yes, the only results I got stemmed from actions I took. All that waiting, all that well-orchestrated high alert status was only busyness masked as movement creating nothing but stress and anxiety. There are no white knights, no heroes, no saviors. I must be the hero in my own movie. Only I can change the ending.

My magical thinking was a distracting narcotic, a balm to ease the pain of uncertainty and unemployment. Today could be the day. But it never was. It was only a diversion from the massive, looming problem that was going to drag me under unless I got off my procrastinating ass and did something.

It took me months to understand the need to keep moving, keep acting, cut the nonsense, focus and make things happen.

Here is the secret it took me so long to learn. Nobody gives a damn about me. Yes, I have many people who love me, but it is up to me to save myself and create the life I want. I get to choose whether I want to be the villain or the hero.

Inaction is an action. Inaction is the fast lane to victimhood and unhappiness. If you want to wait forever for life to happen give inaction a shot.

Action begets action. Action may result in failure. but inaction guarantees it.  I can create my future, but I must act now. And act again tomorrow. And the next day. And so on.

This is the decision I must make every day.  Move forward, get pushed back and begin again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Today won’t be the day that changes everything…unless I make the changes.

How To Become a Victim at Work – 10 Easy Steps

download

You have the power to decide where you want to go and how you want to do it. We’ve all heard it a million times; you make your own success. You also design your own failure. Yep, your attitude and actions can bring you great rewards or a dismal crash and burn.

If you want to stumble into the lowest depths of depression, wallow in failure and blame everyone else for everything that has happened in your life, you too can become a victim. Here are ten easy steps to giving up your independence and losing it all. Try it, it’s fun for the whole family.

Always ask for permission. Wait for permission, even on the smallest things. Rather than taking charge, let everyone else decide which way you should go. Giving up your free will and ability to act is easy. You will never have to think for yourself or take a risk again. Plus, if you always get permission you never get blamed for screwing up.

Blame everyone else. Perfect. It’s not your fault at all. It is everyone else’s fault. You’re getting screwed and it is just not fair. Wahhhh! You’re getting the hang of it. How could it be your fault? You’re perfect and deserve so much more than everyone else because they all screwed you. Get out there and start pointing fingers.

Make excuses. This is a good one. Why be on time or over deliver when there is a perfectly good excuse for why you failed? An excuse is even better than keeping your word. Everyone will understand and give you another chance to come up with another excuse. A great excuse is always better than just delivering on your projects.

4 Act really busy and overwhelmed. This is a great way to become irrelevant. Make sure you are always on email, your phone, stuck at your desk, rushing from meeting to meeting. If you’re busy you will never have to take action or make decisions. Your busyness has already made all the decisions for you. You just have to show up and let it happen to you.

Wait for a savior. One of the best strategies on the job is to wait for someone to pity you and or save you. Of course this will magically happen. Take no action because the world is waiting to lend you a hand. Just look at all the people who didn’t take any action and were magically plucked from their easy chairs and thrust into great things.

Be on your phone in meetings. People love this and totally understand when you aren’t listening to them. It’s cool. You’re soooo busy so you shouldn’t have to listen to other people’s thoughts or ideas. It’s not rude if you have work to do. Seriously, everyone understands.

7 Never fight back. Think of yourself as the red carpet for every asshole in the world. Just lie down and let them walk all over you. People completely respect this. Just be a wimp and avoid conflict. If you give up people will remember that you helped them and let you win next time, just like in sports.

Take no for an answer. Don’t stick to your convictions. If someone objects just roll over and play dead. Better yet, give up your opinions and agree aggressively with others even if you completely disagree. Not only will everyone respect you, you will gain self-respect.

Stop taking care of yourself. Just get soft and lazy. Relax. Nobody is going to try and take your place because it isn’t a competitive world. There really is no reason to take care of yourself and be on the top of your game. Exercise hurts and takes up precious TV and snack time. You’ve earned that extra quarter pounder, so just dig in.

10 Give Up. Yep, you’re almost there. The last step; give up. Stop trying and let life happen to you. Just sit back and the world will pass you by. You can’t fix it so why bother trying. Just be a baby and sniff about how unfair it all is.

You made it. So get going and become a victim. Remember, inaction is an action and passivity has its benefits. The bottom is coming fast so enjoy it. Wallow. Enjoy. It’s a great place to be and nothing is your fault.

Killing Busyness – Doing Less To Accomplish More

information overload

Focus has been a key goal and resolution for me in 2015. For years I danced on the deadly edge of complete digital distraction. It became increasingly clear I needed to take a few steps back. My meme driven life was destroying my concentration and preventing me from getting things done.

A couple of years back i wrote about the absolute joy I took in information overload. I dove into the internet every day and would barely come up for air. Likening the experience to “swallowing the ocean” I extolled the virtues of infinite choice and endless possibility. There was just too much great stuff to ignore. My insatiable curiosity combined with some serious FOMO had me staring at screens from the moment I woke up until just before I closed my eyes at night.

But then something happened.

With 30 tabs open, music playing on my laptop while I watched video on my phone, simultaneously looking through notes on my iPad, I realized maybe I had a problem. No focus. No focus whatsoever. Distraction was king and my waking life was ruled by beeps, buzzes and alerts leading me from one app to another, from website to video, from game to text to Twitter to Instagram to Facebook. My focus was fractured, my productivity likely suffering and my enjoyment of the real things in life had diminished.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with newsletters, blogs, apps, social, games and never ending clickbait. My goal wasn’t to go cold turkey, but to spend more time doing and less time consuming. Multitasking to one task at a time. I simply wanted (and needed) to draw the line somewhere. I needed to go on a information diet. But how?

First of all, I hit unsubscribe on dozens of daily and weekly email newsletters. I expunged as many apps from my phone as I could bear. I cut my RSS feeds in half. I stopped saving countless articles to read later. I’ve limited myself to only five tabs open at a time. Delete. Delete. Delete.

Then, I made a point of putting down my phone, often leaving it in another room at home. I stopped taking it with me to meetings at work. If I have it I will always look at it. It beckons and teases me and I am no stronger than the kids in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Better for me to leave it in my bag or out of reach than tempt fate.

So what happened next?

Suddenly I had time, not oceans of time, but time. That all-consuming busyness I had used as a shield for years began to dissipate. I paid attention. I listened. Where I once filled every second of available time with checking emails, opening Facebook or ripping through my Instagram feed, I began to have wonderful moments of silence and clarity. How nice to think about nothing for a change.

And here is just a short list of other things that started happening.
– Rich, undistracted conversations
– Deeper focus at work and home
– My daily to-do list gets crushed early
– More time to read real books
– Written over 100,000 words in four and a half months
– Exercising four to five days a week

The funny thing is I don’t think I’ve missed much of anything important online. While I thought I would regret letting go of those email newsletters, apps and all the other distractions, I’ve never looked back. I’ve still got plenty of great stuff to sift through every day, plus I have much better focus and the gift of time. By doing less I actually accomplish mush more. And I keep three things in mind whenever I’m online. Unfollow, unsubscribe, delete.

What I Learned From Failure

images

Failure has become mythologized over the last few years. Tech founders and business titans have spun failure into a dramatic twist in their stories of ultimate success. It makes for great copy, but failure generally isn’t glamorous. It is painful, destructive and takes a lot of resilience and perseverance to recover from. However, it is a necessary and unavoidable part of any career.

So I’ve failed pretty hard a few times along the way. Sometimes it was circumstances or overreaching, but most of the time it was tactical or strategic errors on my part. For every great upward step or killer project I’ve delivered there have been plenty of mistakes. Some are easy to set right, others have posed big challenges to overcome.

So what did I learn? Here are ten things that might keep you one step ahead of failure.

1 Show and tell. You need to speak for your work because in any company and particularly a bigger company it often won’t speak for itself. This isn’t about bragging, but about showcasing what you and your team do in smart effective ways. PowerPoints, Keynotes, handouts. Explain it in a clearly so you make sure people see and hear your process and results. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Keep it short and simple, but make sure everyone knows you are doing great things.

2 Make alliances quickly and constantly. You can’t just sit in your office and hope that people are thinking and saying great things about you. Get out there and talk to people. Create relationships. Go to lunch. Go to drinks. Go to events. This is high school all over again and you need to make as many friends and alliances as you can. You don’t have to like everyone, but you need to keep your enemy count low. You will be busy with your job, but you need to spend almost as much time building and nurturing relationships.

3 LIsten and be present. You can’t sit in meetings and look at your phone. This is deadly. People want to be heard and you want to be seen listening to them. Seeming aloof, disinterested and apathetic are poison for your career. Leave your phone in your office. Smile when you enter a meeting. Listen with bright eyes. Nod. Acknowledge great ideas and offer positive feedback. Don’t feel like you always need to chime in. People want to hear themselves, not necessarily hear others. Share when you need to, not when you want to.

4 Avoid busyness. We all have a lot to do and not enough time to do it. However, don’t fall into the trap of being too busy to listen, too busy to work on a project, too rushed. Nobody cares that you are too busy. “I am so busy” sounds like a lame excuse and it is. Get rid of the busy work that makes you busy. Unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid personal emails and the lure of the internet at work. Do your job and do the busy stuff later. At home. Or on a break.

5 Fight back. Go with the flow and respect the politics when you can. However, if someone throws you under the bus, get up and don’t let them do it. Push back and push back hard. This is tough, but if you let someone make you look bad or incompetent long enough others will start to believe it. Find out how to control the message. Use your power. Sometimes you have to be an asshole,

6 Focus. Really focus on your primary goals. Make sure your boss is aligned with your goals and has had input. Then work like hell to get them done. Hire with speed. Fire with speed. Accomplish quickly and effectively. Don’t worry about anything else. Laser-like focus on your key objectives is absolutely critical. In a smaller business or startup this is even more crucial.

7 Get buy in. Make certain you get buy in from all key stakeholders. If you don’t it will hurt you later. You may not want to decide everything by committee, but it is better than getting shot or stabbed in the back later. A little compromise now could save you from getting your biggest projects tanked. Unless you have a lot of political power you need to get everyone on board. It sucks, but it’s politics.

8 Be the master of your time. Be on time for meetings and look like you are in charge of your time because you are. Don’t let the calendar control you. You are in control of your calendar. Don’t act too busy. Don’t act overwhelmed. Don’t act rushed. Make it look easy and make sure people know you are in control. Block off time for you to get work done. Every day. You need it and it will pay off when you are in back to back meetings, knowing that you’ve got time to get everything done.

9 Go to the gym. Find a way to get some exercise every day. The less stress you carry into work means a lot less you will carry out. You need to make time to take care of yourself whether it’s a walk, a run, meditation, yoga or hitting the gym. The time you put in will pay off in increased confidence, better focus and a healthier you. Schedule it. Don’t hope that it will happen or it won’t.

10 Go home. Leave work at work. There will be times you have to work late and times you will bring work home, but let that be the exception, not the rule. That means putting down the phone and staying off work email. Avoid burnout. You’re in this for the long haul and you need to relax, sleep and enjoy your friends and family. If you don’t control your job it will control you. And that can be the first step on the perilous road to failure.

LinkedIn Doubles Down On Apps

linkedin logo image
As the world goes mobile, LinkedIn wants to corner the market on mobile job search and career management. Their strategy ensures that no matter where you are, “opportunity is always within reach.” As a result they’ve doubled down on apps, aggressively launching several new apps and reimagining the existing ones over the last several months. I wrote for AOL Jobs about how your job search just went mobile.