Jan 02 2013

Three Words for 2013: Publish, Legacy, and Now

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Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

How many people would miss my work if I stopped contributing it?*

That’s the question that’s been nagging at me as I enter 2013 — but I’m approaching it in a positive way.  It was a challenging year; I ran into a lot of roadblocks as I tried to create content that customers would find helpful or answer their questions, as I tried to create processes that would enable us to anticipate and mitigate risk, and as I tried to help my blog and Twitter followers.

It’s time for the annual 3 Words exercise that Chris Brogan created a few years ago.  Here’s his three words for this year and you can easily find what others have chosen like Chris Penn, Mitch Joel, and C.C. Chapman.

Chris describes it as the “three words that sum up what you want to work actionably on changing/improving in the coming year. It works best when the words are positive in spirit and not negative. ..the idea is to look deeper than a single goal and try to give you an entire mindset to contemplate. The Heath Brothers in their book, Switch, talked about needing three elements to bring about change: a rider (your plans and intents), the elephant (what your mood will do no matter what your plans say), and the path (the environment within which you intend to implement those changes). The concept of the three words is like the path. Think of a word that gives you the HUGE picture, not the small picture.”

So here are my three words for 2013.  There’s a bit of an echo from my 2012 Words, but I think that’s OK unless you’ve decided to make a huge change in direction:

  • Publish.  This is a holdover from last year but reflects a greater understanding of what it takes to do that.  Publishing is not just about the writing process; it’s about getting approval/endorsement.  That may be client or boss approval.  It may be business-partner approval.  Or it may be approval from the Legal/Compliance/Risk people.  I truly believe that the lawyers generally want to say yes and support the business.  But there are people out there who don’t want to be pushed, who aren’t as comfortable in the execution phase as they are in the “talking about it with lots of people” phase.  Publishing in 2013 for me will be about getting past the inertia and convincing people that the potential impact of what I’m working on is bigger than other things they might be working on.  And in those cases where it’s not, moving on rather than pushing back.
  • Legacy:   Full disclosure on that question in the first paragraph: I’ve been thinking about this conceptually for the past month or so, but Seth Godin — as he often does — put my angst into very simple terms.  I turned 53 a few months ago and am starting to think about how people will remember me.  Did something I created make a difference to others?  Am I rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or am I working on things that truly matter?  For me, legacy will be about prioritization, about taking more time on important projects and less time on the stuff that doesn’t matter as much.  More and more lately, I’ve been asking people, Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze, on different projects.  I think that’s a question that helps determine your Legacy.  For me, Legacy is also a word I’m going to use to help me determine whether I’m in the right role for my skills and passion (i.e., do I leap out of bed in the AM) and how I’m dealing with my wife and kids (i.e., trying to be a better parent and husband).
  • Now.  I can be impatient, particularly if patience may result in a lost opportunity.  But this is more about seizing opportunities — or perhaps recognizing opportunities when they rear their heads.  It’s about letting go of the stuff where the juice isn’t worth the squeeze and just publishing and moving on.  But it’s also about embracing the sales process rather than screaming into the wind.  It’s also about “being present” with my family and about reading all those books I’ve downloaded for my Nook and actually leveraging the great advice.

After I hit Publish on this post — many weeks earlier than I did last year — I’m going to think about Metrics that will go with my three words.  I want to be able to assess my progress, in part to keep me focused on the path.  I sort of “forgot” about my three words at some point in the middle of the year.  My challenge is to keep them front of mind so I can stay on track throughout 2013.

What about you?  What three words are going to drive your 2013 success?

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Dec 09 2012

Why did it take two years to bring CALM to our televisions?

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Why does everything Congress does take so long?

I’ve been having difficulty sleeping lately, so I was particularly irritated about being awakened the other night by a loud noise.  I had fallen asleep in the couch…and the loud noise was a commercial that was more than a few decibels louder than the basketball game I was watching.  I’m not sure whether it was the loudness that woke me up, or the fact that the noise startled the sleeping dog laying next to me and caused him to start barking at the TV.

Beginning this Thursday, I won’t have to worry about ads for products I don’t want waking me up from a winter’s nap.  It will be CALMer in my home, thanks to the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which Congress passed to ban ads from being louder than the TV program they’re interrupting.

The only remaining irritant is that they passed the CALM Act on December 3, 2010.  Why did we lose two years worth of calm, you might ask?  Because first we needed to give the Federal Communications Commission time to regulate volume levels in a manner that has already been embraced by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, an industry group. After the FCC took their year, the affected television providers were given another year to comply, even though they appear to have been OK with the new law — at least as far as I could see in reading articles from back in December 2010.

Most TV networks declined comment at the time, but an ABC spokesman actually gave it a thums-up:   ”Shouting usually doesn’t get your point across in discussions, in speakers at the drive-through, or in TV commercials. The key is raising the level of creativity, not the volume,”  said Kevin Brockman.

I might suggest another reason the networks didn’t protest too much:  Many of the shows I watch are on my DVR, and I have no problem skipping the commercials altogether — making my remote the electronic version of a set of earplugs.

I just find it sad that it takes us two years to implement a law that EVERYONE seemed to embrace.  Is it any surprise how difficult it is to get action of the issues that we don’t agree on?

Does this happen at your place of work?  Everyone agrees on a course of action but it still takes weeks or months to implement?  What ways do you have of accelerating the process?


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Nov 19 2012

Why MJ the Dog now calls my house her home

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MJ getting comfortable

We just brought home a pound puppy named MJ (Mary Jane).  We’ve been looking for more than a month — and looking at website photos for much, much longer — with little success until I brought a couple of business principles to the decision.

  • Understand everyone’s needs.  Early on, we gave each family member veto power over the decision.  This did not work out well.  What did work out was asking each person what was most important to them (e.g., playfulness, size, willingness to snuggle).  The big decision was pound puppy (or, as my daughter called it, “saving one from imminent death”) vs rescue dog (where we’d know more about the dog).  We then asked the “adoption counselor” which of the shelter’s dogs fit the overall profile.  That helped us get to the best blend of dog rather than giving veto power to irrational children.  Believe it or not, this happens a lot in business too, particularly in the communications world.
  • Limit the options.  It irritated me while we were there but the SPCA limited the number of dogs that we could get to know in one visit.  As a credit-card marketer, we constantly reminded ourselves that “choice suppresses.”  I really wanted to look at “one more dog” but all it was going to do was delay the decision and mean that we’d have to go home and debate the decision for another night, with no surety that MJ would be there in the AM.  So that led to…
  • Pull the trigger.  My wife is very analytical; I’m more inclined to say yes when most of my objectives are met if I’ve helped the other people meet theirs.  I’m not particularly patient, which is a weakness, but I’ve been watching my wife and the two children who aren’t in college agonize over pictures, debate profiles, and create computer backgrounds for their favorites for long enough that some of those favorites were adopted before we ever got in.  Lisa was wavering tonight…until I just said, “we’re taking her.”  I wasn’t emotionally attached to the last dog; everyone loved MJ.  They’re all REALLY happy, and that’s what’s important to me.  Although MJ has marked her territory twice since getting home, Lisa is genuinely glad I just made the call so we can move on to the next phase of new-dog ownership: Protecting Thanksgiving Dinner from a dog that can reach the counter on his hind legs.
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Aug 11 2012

Collaboration Without Accountability is a Train Wreck

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I keep running into people who are frustrated by what I call the Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen phenomenon.

It happens when you’re working on a project where you start with a reasonable number of team members, but then the meeting invites start getting forwarded, multiple people from the same group start joining, and everyone thinks they have veto power over the final product, no matter how minor their role (or the role of their LOB).

The challenge comes when you start getting edits to Version 3 when the team is on Version 6; when issues that have been put to bed get resurrected by people who didn’t show up at the meeting where they were originally resolved; and when you get changes that don’t make the document better and it’s clear that it’s just a case where the suggestion is only because “it’s just not the way I’d have said it.”

With that in mind, here are four suggestions for driving accountability around collaboration and avoiding the inevitable train wreck that happens when you find yourself herding cats rather than making change happen.

  • Stay Focused on Your Objective.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Are you keeping your lens focused firmly on customer needs?  Lots of great ideas may come up during your large-group meetings (particularly in the five minutes it takes everyone to arrive in person or by phone at the appointed time — but that’s something for a different post), but if they aren’t firmly on task, put them in a “parking lot” and let someone else run that meeting.
  • Use the “Just Say No” Approach.  When you send out a draft, let people know that failure to respond constitutes approval.  Put that in bold.  Put a Reply By flag on the document and set up Read receipts. You need to be careful about trying to impose that on the decision-makers but you can certainly use it with those who don’t really have skin in the game.
  • Prioritize Feedback.  As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.  Respecting everyone’s feedback doesn’t mean you have to incorporate all of it.  With a large group you’re just as likely to get bad feedback as good.  Consider it all.  Confirm with others if someone’s edits feel like they’re coming out of left field — or if they improve the product.  And reject the stuff that’s going to derail the train.
  • Keep the Pen.  Bad things can happen when you give up control of the presentation or document to someone else.  Do what you can to keep control.
How about you?  What do you do to avoid large-group collaboration derailing timely execution of the assignment?


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Jul 17 2012

Charlotte Omni Hotel drops the ball

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Charlotte Omni Hotel

I’m staying tonight on the 14th floor of the Omni Hotel in Charlotte.  About an hour ago I was awakened by the fire alarm and a muffled loudspeaker telling me there was an emergency and to walk down the stairs to the lobby.

Only seven of us on the 14-16th floors where the alarm went off paid attention — that in and of itself is surprising enough — but when we reached the basement and came out on the street — nobody was there to greet us or point us anywhere.  When we made our way to the lobby, the front-desk guy didn’t do or say much.   Eventually he offered us a bottle of water but it felt like a weak gesture.

We were all together but nobody came over to update us.  For 20 minutes. Perhaps more important nobody asked us our room numbers or expressed any appreciation that we actually followed directions or regret that we were put out at all.  When the all-clear sign came and the elevators were turned back on, the front-desk guy half-heartedly shouted in our general direction, “Sorry guys.”

Sorry, guys.

I’m not sure what I wanted but that wasn’t it.  I know that right now I don’t feel valued or respected as a guest at the Charlotte Omni.  I have choices when I travel and when I come to Charlotte on business (and this is where my company’s corporate headquarters is), I always pick the Omni.

Until the next time.

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Mar 18 2012

Get off the gerbil wheel of project management

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Project management doesn't have to be boring

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on large project-management conference calls where I’m the communication cog in a much bigger objective.  These calls run for a full hour, at which point you start hearing the bridgeline beeps as people jump off to log on to another project call.  The same people seems to be on each call — it’s not unlike one of those gerbil wheels that were really popular back in the 70s.   More often than not, I’m left feeling like I’ve just lost an hour of my life I’ll never get back and that I’m not quite sure what I need to do next.

I was moaning about this to a “project sponsor” and he asked me what I’d do differently — given that I spent a lot of my career on the other side of the table?  Before I could answer, he made it clear what he did in a previous life (i.e., consulting) by starting to ramble on about Gantt Charts, Risk Impact/Probability Tables, Influence Maps, or Critical Path Analysis.  As my eyes glazed over, I explained that my approach to project management has always been far simpler:  Who Does What By When.

Let me give credit where credit is due here.  I had long had difficulty explaining my approach until listened to the Manager Tools podcast and heard the hosts describe (Mark) Hortsman’s Law of Project Management.  It described my strategy perfectly, in simple terms that a Bulldog like me could embrace.

I had managed dozens of projects over the year and never really knew how to explain how I succeeded in driving them to successful completion more often than not.  When everyone focuses on the simple principle of Who Does What By When, reporting is easier and each person understands his or her role. Layer on the constant reminder that People Are the Engine of Project Success and you’re pretty much there.  My job as a project manager is to see the threats to project completion when things are going well and make the appropriate adjustments, and to eliminate any barriers to the job getting done the rest of the time. 

I run into a lot of good project managers who recognize team members and try to quickly distribute meeting notes.  And that’s great.  But the huge decks with 8- or 10-point type undermine their best efforts.  I think you can be very successful if you make sure everyone does their job and leaves enough time for the next person to do theirs.   Recognize people throughout, especially when they make it easier for someone else to succeed.

What strategies do you use to manage projects to completion, in time and on budget?  Have I oversimplified the process?

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Feb 12 2012

Three words for 2012: Publish, Catalyst, Purpose

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Sometimes you just have to hit the Send button and publish

For the past few years, high-profile bloggers led by Chris Brogan have urged readers entering the New Year to identify three words that will act as rails to keep them headed in the right direction for the coming year instead of creating a list of resolutions that are either vague or directed toward a single goal.

Recognizing that I’m six weeks late to the party – which will make my first word somewhat ironic – I set down to identifying my words.  Part of the reason for the delay is that I had a somewhat different set of words on Dec. 30, when I sat down to write this.  My entire professional life is about Story or Narrative – creating a simple way to help people to relate to your message.  Facts are nice, but you have to make them resonate with your audience.  After a lot of thought, I decided that Story/Narrative was something I needed to think about every day to be more effective, and my three words needed to point me toward that end goal.

I suppose that last paragraph is another way to say I have four words, but I’ll stick with what I wrote.  So here are my three words for 2012:

Publish.  A phrase coined by Seth Godin, publishing is all about execution.  Items on my To-Do List stayed there too long in 2011, and I often felt in retrospect upon completion of projects that I could have “done better” or missed something big I shouldn’t have missed.  In fact, my To Do list was probably too long and acted as a distraction, so I added a “Big Rocks” section to help me prioritize my time. A lot of this word is about Simplifying and Focusing.  I was pretty successful in January and early February blocking out time on my schedule to concentrate on my Big Rocks and have been somewhat successful eliminating less important things so that I can focus on projects that matter, posting more frequently, clearing out my In-Box more often, and reducing the number of meetings I attend where I can’t provide value in favor of asking the organizer to let me know if he or she needs my help on something after the fact.

Catalyst.  I recently helped beta Sally Hogshead’s new professional assessment based on research tied to her terrific book, Fascinate.  I scored as a Catalyst (Where Passion Meets Rebellion), a personality type defined as “enthusiasm and creativity brings people and ideas together for the purpose of innovation.”  My initial thought upon reading the report was that it was a perfect description; my second thought was that I got away from this strength in 2011 and need to figure out how to get back to it in 2012.  For more on Sally’s research, go hereAnother way to think about Catalyst is to focus on the attributes of a Linchpin as described by the aforementioned Mr. Godin — Linchpins “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.  They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book.”   I focused on this a lot in 2010; not so much in 2011. In the swirl that’s many of our days, we avoid being a linchpin in favor of the safety of being a team member or individual contributor.  I’m trying to be more of a linchpin this year (e.g., I’m introducing LinkedIn connections to each other).

Purpose.  This was going to be a different word until New Year’s Day, when the family went to see the movie “Hugo,” which among other things contemplates the notion of purpose in one’s life.  Over the past few years, I’ve spent far less time in church – OK, just about none – and far less time focusing on things that might make a difference in other people’s lives.  This is a problem if you’re 52 as I am.  What will people say about me when I’m gone? Did I leave the world a better place?  Did I make a difference in someone’s life who will go on to make a difference in many others (I’m hoping I’ve done that with my kids, but I’m thinking more broadly here).  Tony Schwartz wrote on this subject on the Harvard Business Review blog recently and he asks the question even more simply, “Why am I here?”  I’ve taken baby steps on this word recently – signing up to review United Way allocation requests next month and trying to drive some changes in some of our communications strategies at work – but this one will clearly be my most difficult challenge this year.

So what about you?  What are your three words?  Son Tyler’s are Positive Mental Attitude, and I’ve seen a difference in the past six weeks as a result of his following that mantra.  Even if you don’t capture your three words in a blog post or comment, think the concept through.  Write them on a file card and carry them around with you and take a look at them periodically, particularly if your New Year’s Resolutions have already fallen by the wayside.


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Feb 05 2012

Six things businesses better learn from the Komen fiasco

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Beyond the political aspect of the whole Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle — which is why most of Komen’s partners likely stayed quiet — there are some lessons that companies can take from the last few days when they’re thinking about business decisions that could blow up on social media.

Control the news cycle.  Put out a press release before someone else does (Planned Parenthood beat Komen to the punch).  Tell your own people first, so they don’t read it on the Internet first.  Recognize who the media might call for comment (think of them as influencers) and make sure they understand what you’re doing and why.  When you’re rehearsing interviews (TV or print) with your executives, don’t throw them softballs.  But also think about talking to reporters who have been friendly in the past because a lot of reporters will use those early stories when writing theirs.

Assume the worst going in.  It’s difficult to believe that someone didn’t raise the question of the potential reaction.  You need a place to clearly make your case.  You need to have some idea of how you’ll respond to venom in 120 characters or less (not 140-you need to leave room for retweeting your message).  You need to adequately prepare your senior leaders that you can’t hide, that it won’t die down, and that one comment will become 20,000 in the blink of an eye.  Will you comment?  When will you comment?  Who will comment if you need to?

And take a look at your mission statement and see if your decision or action is consistent.  Those things tend to end up gathering dust on the shelf, but this is the time to make sure you can defend your actions against a mission statement that you most likely created at a time when cooler heads were prevailing and everyone was being consulted.  Are you ready to be accountable for your decisions — because social media is about to make you so.

How do you track the impact?  The big question is whether the venom is coming from Komen’s core constituency (e.g., walkers and recurring donors).  Do you have any way of telling whether the “haters” are also customers?  Followers or Likes are not necessarily the best indicator.  Part of this assessment for charities includes whether there’s competition for the dollars (both for cancer research and for charitable donations in general) and the likelihood that when push comes to shove, will people look elsewhere when it comes time to write the check or commit to the walk.  You need to figure out what the right metrics are (let’s say recurring donations) and a way (and timeframe) to track them and then set expectations.

There are a number of questions in this area.  There’s the point of view that you can’t afford to lose a single donation (or customer).  But is that really true?  If you’re losing “customers,” are they the “right” customers to lose?  Every business has customers who are less profitable than others (or even ones who are unprofitable).  In some cases, one of the impacts of a business strategy is that your better customers spend more or aren’t impacted by your decision and other high-maintenance, low-profit customers will go elsewhere.  There’s also the question of whether donors or customers will watch the process and decide that you’ve either (1) learned from your mistake or (2) never personally had a bad experience with you and thus will decide to let this one slide because the cause or product/service is a good one.

Are we exposed in other areas?  Reaction to the decision was one thing, but the comments quickly shifted to other things (e.g., executive salaries, percentage of donations spent on cancer research, amount of donations spent on Ari Fleischer).   What other corporate strategies will be tied to this one?  What long-buried news stories will be revived and replayed?  Google your senior executives and see how they’ve branded themselves online (did Komen really think Karen Handel’s published views on Planned Parenthood wouldn’t become a big part of the story?).  You have to ask the hard question — what else? — before moving forward.  Like sharks to chum, people will look for your weak spot and remember — they’ll all attack from different perspectives.

Don’t make a controversial decision that will end up being your first REAL foray into social media.  If you haven’t had conversations (as opposed to just listening or posting) with your customers and the blogsphere as a whole, this is not the time for on-the-job training.  Now is not the time to create an infrastructure,  to create approval processes that will help you respond within minutes or hours instead of days.  Engage experts to create these processes because your senior leaders are not ready to deal with the ferocity of a negative social-media reaction.

What’s the impact of reversing your decision?  Which hurt Komen more — the original funding decision or the reversal?  There’s a trust question here.  A reversal will raise questions both internally and externally about your will to implement tough decisions under pressure in the future.  And businesses in general need to start being concerned about the way the recent string of reversals by different companies is empowering the blogosphere to feel that they can make a difference.  Include an exit strategy in your original deliberations and assess the financial impact of flip-flopping.

Things look dark for Komen right now.  But the real test will come not during this news cycle but 3-6 months from now.  Will things have calmed down?  And will Komen have taken actions that restore their constituents’ trust?  Only time will tell.


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Feb 01 2012

It’s a long way from strategy to execution

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I recently heard a podcast with Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne (the Manager Tools and Career Tools guys) that quoted a passage from John Brown’s Body in a way that really resonated with me.  It really gets to the heart of the challenges of turning strategy and planning into execution.  Or, as Mike Tyson once said (and I can’t swear someone didn’t say it earlier), “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

With that in mind, I share the following passage with you.  I printed it out and put it on the bulletin board at work.

“If you take a flat map and move wooden blocks upon it strategically,

The thing looks well, the blocks behave as they should.
The science of war is moving live men like blocks.
And getting the blocks into place at a fixed moment.
But it takes time to mold your men into blocks
And flat maps turn into country where, creeks and gullies
Hamper your wooden squares. They stick in the brush,
They are tired and rest, they straggle after ripe blackberries
And you cannot lift them up in your hand and move them….
It is all so clear in the maps, so clear in the mind,
But the orders are slow, the men in the blocks are slow
To move, when they start they take too long on the way
The General loses his stars and the block–men die
In unstrategic defiance of martial law
Because still used to just being men, not block parts.”

What are you doing to make sure you’re not looking at your people as “block parts?”

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Dec 28 2011

Six things I’m doing this week to hit the ground running in 2012

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I'm working on ways to simplify my day-to-day approach to work and be more effective.

It’s a slow week at work, the rest of the family is either doing other things or sleeping late, and I’ve been feeling lately like I’m not in control of things to the degree I have been in the past.  So I’m focusing on six things to get myself ready for next year — so I can be even better at executing on my goals…

  • Cleaning out my e-mail.  Yes, I’m one of those people who have 1,000+ items in my work e-mail and a somewhat smaller number in my home e-mail.  Our work system doesn’t let us keep more than three months in our Inbox so that tells you how bad things have gotten there.  But I’ve been saving important attachments to my laptop and printing out key messages and putting them in project folders.  I’m down to 680 and plan to be under 100 by the end of the week.
  • Eliminating piles.  Continuing the “I’m a packrat” theme, I finally confronted the three ugly piles (representing nearly three feet of paper) of completed projects, PowerPoint decks, and other “stuff” from the past year that needed attention (and a similar pile at home that includes ideas for blog posts and other things).  I got rid of two feet yesterday — most of that going into the shredder — and added a few important things to current project folders that will eliminate a frenzied search early in the New Year.
  • Blocking out time to get things done.  I listened to one of those “painfully obvious” podcasts (kudos to the guys at Career Tools) on the way home yesterday and immediately went into my laptop to block “me time” during the work day to ensure I could focus without distractions on MY key deliverables.  I recognize that there will be some unavoidable meetings that will be booked into that time, but now I’ll be able to consciously think about whether I really need to attend that meeting and/or will consider moving that Me Time into another open slot.
  • Taking a hard look at my project list.  One page that includes the project, key deliverables, and key partners.  There are too many items on the current list (which is arguably a good thing in the current environment), but I’m finding I need to reprioritize.  I’ve attached my project list template as one approach.  I include barriers in the Short-Term Deliverables column as needed, and put deadlines there.  Separate columns just got clunky.  I really think the Big Rocks section at the top helps me focus on the really important stuff.  My version is in Word, but I previously built it in Excel to help with sorting.  I know there are applications and other online tools for this.  For me, this works because I can store it on my desktop and easily update for 1-on-1s with my manager.
  • Identifying my Three Words for 2012.   Chris Brogan may not be the first to do this, but he’s certainly raised the visibility of this annual exercise.  These are words that will guide my (and your) efforts for the coming year.  It requires you to think through your biggest goals, your biggest rocks, and then think about how you’re going to achieve them in a simple, structured manner.  I’m still working on mine — and that will be the subject of a post later this week — by at least one will be Story focusing on the importance of narrative in what I do.
  • Better organize my Evernote files and start using a small notebook.  I downloaded Evernote about eight months ago but only recently started thinking through how to best use it — particularly since my company blocks it at work.  It’s a great way to capture ideas in one place from your phone, your desktop, or your web browser.  I need to spend some time this week searching out best practices and get into the habit of using it more than I have been.  I’ve also been carrying around a notebook for blog ideas and other thoughts that increasingly go through my mind without sticking long-term.  I think these two small things are a missed opportunity in 2011 that I need to focus on in 2012.

Are you cruising into the New Year by recharging your batteries and finishing a few projects or are you preparing to hit the ground running and execute on your key deliverables in 2012?  What are you doing to get ready?

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