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This ONE Thing is Holding You Back

It’s hard to believe that it’s May already. You and I are already one-third through the 2nd quarter. I hope your year is off to as good a start as mine is. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of unpleasant and painful bumps in the road, some of which you may have read about, but all-in-all I’m pleased with the direction things are heading.  
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  There is one thing that has been on my mind quite a bit over the last six months and I’ve been waiting for the right time to engage with you on it. It’s a subject that weighs heavily on me, and I’m pretty sure weighs even more heavily on you.   Do you remember watching Sesame Street when we were growing up? They had this segment with a little ditty that started like this, ”One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”   Unless you’re a solopreneur, or a very rare exception, there’s a good chance that there is someone on your team that doesn’t belong.

One Of These Things

You know exactly who I’m talking about. The bigger problem is that everyone else on your team knows exactly who I’m talking about and they’re waiting for you to do something about it. Every month that passes by without you doing something to remedy the situation serves to erode your team’s trust in your leadership.   You know they need to go. Yet you hesitate.   There are a lot of reasons. Some of them are financial. Some of them are mental or emotional. Maybe you can’t imagine how you’re going to get along without them. Maybe you’re just not sure how you’re going to replace them. Maybe they’re related to you and you’re wondering how Thanksgiving is going to look after that.   Many of the reasons you delay have a measure of validity. On the other hand, I’d like you to consider what it’s costing you to hold back.  

What’s It Really Costing?

Here’s a quick exercise. Add up:
  • the time you spend trying to figure out what to do
  • the time other people are spending talking about the problem or wondering when you’re going to do something about it
  • the time you spend listening to other people complain about the problem
  • the time others spend working around or compensating for the problems with this person
  • the lost hours (productivity) that’s arising from the erosion of your team’s trust in you
  Now take your salary, or an average salary for all involved, add on the all the fringe benefits costs, including payroll taxes, and calculate the hourly rate. Then multiply that hourly rate times the total number of hours that you came up with above.   Next, add the cost of replacing other good employees who have left or will leave because of this person.   What’s the total? The number is astronomical and will only get much larger. And that’s only the financial cost.   In addition to all that, I want you to consider the mental and emotional energy you are expending on this problem. Is it really worth it? Is it really a smart business decision to hold on to this person?  
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Close To Home

I know that family businesses are especially hard hit by this dilemma. In those cases it’s not just the factors I mentioned above, it’s the real damage that can be caused to family relationships. One thing I would ask you to consider is whether the relationship you have with this family member is authentic or is it fabricated because you’re not being honest about your feelings toward them.   Some of my clients have had to deal with these very issues. There’s no sugar coating it. It is unpleasant at the very least and indescribably painful at it’s worst. But leaning into and dealing with it is the best thing for everyone involved. Everyone.   Let me encourage you not to delay any longer. Make the decision, create your plan, and take the first step. It won’t be fun, but you’ll back on this years from now and be glad you did it.   Question: What is the very next action you need to take to get things rolling? Don’t share you answer. Just think about it and then move forward.  
Seize the day!

How to Add Hours To Your Day

Have you ever felt like you needed more time in the day?  
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  I know that’s a ridiculous question. Why? Because I know that’s how you feel most days. I would venture to say that you might even feel this way almost every day. I know because that has all too often been my own experience. It’s the experience of every high performer.   So, like you, I’ve tried to figure out how to become better at time management. I’ve researched a variety of avenues to identify the most effective time management philosophies and systems, and the most helpful productivity hacks and tools. And, I would say that I have achieved a good measure of success.   In my search I found three things that have really helped me a lot. Getting Things Done (GTD) , by David Allen is an incredibly effective system undergirded by an extremely insightful philosophy. Evernote and Nozbe are two software tools that I have combined with GTD to really take my game up a few notches.   But within the last two years I’ve discovered something even more important and it has nothing to do with managing time better. I still remember the first time I heard the title of the book. Actually it was the subtitle that caught my attention. “Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.”   That really came out of left field for me. I’d never thought about managing my energy in order to get more done. But that has all changed. I’m a believer.   I don’t have room in this blog post to lay it all out, but the bottom line is that an increased level of energy has an enormous impact on the gains you can experience in productivity.   Let me very briefly share with you four simple things that have changed the game for me.

Energy Creating Steps

The first three items below have definitely had the most immediate and noticeable impact, but the last one has been scientifically proven to move the needle with regards to energy and productivity.   1. Remaining deeply connected to a strong sense of purpose. This is huge for sure. The more confident I am that what I’m doing is making a difference in the world and that it’s a significant part of the reason why I’m here, the more energized I will be and remain.   This has an impact at both an intellectual and an emotional level. You want to know that what you’re doing is important. Everyone does.   Last year I revised my personal mission statement and the core values, or principles, that drive me. I also created some life goals. To keep these top of mind for me I have created a note in Evernote that has them spelled out clearly and have also created a habit of reviewing them each Monday morning.   This basic review and few moments allows me to connect what I am doing this week with a compelling vision. That sense of being on mission is deeply satisfying and energizing.   2. Taking a nap. This may sound wimpy or difficult, or both. Actually, as busy as I am, I’ve found it rather easy to work this into my schedule three or four times per week. And I’ve been surprised by how big of a difference this has made for me.   I created a playlist on my phone of relaxing music that I play almost every time I take my nap. This habit has increased the effectiveness of my nap, because as soon as my brain hears that music set it knows it’s time to shut down and rest. I only take 15-20 minutes to lie down and rest, but it has transformed my afternoons.   I used to think naps were for babies and young children. Not anymore.   3. Getting into a basic exercise routine. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years. I took positive steps last year, but have really ramped it up in the last six months. I used to think I didn’t have time for this. I knew better, but it was a convenient excuse.   I haven’t gotten fanatical about it. I’m taking measured, intentional steps forward. I work out for about 45-50 minutes three or four days a week. I’m combining interval training on the treadmill or recumbent bike with strength training in the weight room.   My older children and I leave the house about 5:45am and are home by 7:30am. We’ve all worked out, showered and are dressed and ready for the day. It used to be really hard for me to get up early, but doing it together with my family has definitely made it much easier, and now the habit is firmly established and my body expects it.   4. Creating a rhythm of sprints and breaks. There is a significant amount of science behind this, but let me give you the super duper cliff notes version. Our minds and bodies are not really made to stay engaged at peak levels for overly long periods of time. Research has revealed that doing our work in 90-minute sprints, with short (10-15 minute) breaks in between, is the best way to achieve maximum performance.   As an introvert I have an inherent ability to sit and work for hours on end. And, there are going to be times when that is necessary. But that’s not the most productive way to schedule my work. Our bodies can endure these days every now and then, but aren’t designed for it consistently.   Identify simple ways to step away from your work for short periods, like listening to music, taking a short walk, doing stretching exercises or getting a cup of coffee and chatting with a friend. Be intentional about working these breaks into your day and commit to high intensity concentration and output during the 90-minute work sprints.  

Encouraged and Anticipating

I can literally feel the difference in my energy level because of these small adjustments in my day. It’s been very encouraging. And, I continue to look at my calendar and try to find ways to build in more daily naps and a more consistent set of sprints and breaks.   There’s also more to this science that I have yet to study and implement so I am filled with a strong sense of anticipation of the productivity gains that await me as I improve my energy management.   Question: Which one of these do you think would be the easiest for you to implement and what is one step you can take this week to begin? [question]add-hours-tod-day[/question]  
Seize the day!

How to Prevent “Death By Meeting”

Have you ever read “Death By Meeting?” You may not have read it, but you probably feel like you’ve lived it.  
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  I met with a client yesterday who had attended a particular meeting for the first time at his company. I asked him how it went. His response was less than positive and included a distinct eye-roll.   I asked him what the purpose of the meeting was. He couldn’t answer that question. I inquired about what he felt was accomplished during the meeting. Again, no substantive answer.   I’m sure you’re familiar with the sickening feeling that was welling up in my gut as I continued my line of questioning. You’ve been in those meetings, probably more times than you care to remember and certainly more times than you wish to admit. You’ve probably led some of them.   Meetings are certainly not at the top of most people’s wish lists.   However the answer isn’t to eliminate meetings altogether, or even, necessarily, to have less meetings. The important thing is to only have meetings that matter and make a real difference in the life of your organization and in the experience of your customers.   As a leader, the ability to lead productive, effective meetings is an incredibly important skill that you need to learn, and can master.   Here are three quick keys to leading great meetings that people will actually look forward to.

How To Lead Effectively

1. Start and end on time. Do this one thing and you will raise the level of your meetings immediately. Why? Starting late or ending late is simply disrespectful and leads to an enormous waste of time.  
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  While the money wasted is probably astronomical over time, the larger damage to your leadership brand is caused by the disrespect people feel when their time is disregarded. Most people today are extremely busy, overloaded with tremendous demands on their time and talents. Many of those people have carefully planned out their day and have planned around the meeting time you set.   When you fail to start and end on time, you are telling them that their time is not important to you, or that you think your time is more important. Neither message is the message you want to send, if you’re interested in being a person of significant influence.   At your next meeting give your team fair warning that, going forward, your meetings will begin and end on time. I encourage you to apologize for your past missteps and for being disrespectful of their time. Tell them it’s time that you start a new chapter. End the meeting on time and remind them of the new practice.   When you send out the next meeting invite, tell them one more time and follow through on your commitment. Start on time and end on time. Make it a sacred habit in your organization. People will respect you for it, and likely will begin to follow your example.   2. Be clear on the purpose and desired outcome(s) for your meeting. It’s important that we all know why we’re here, where we’re headed, and what success looks like. This eliminates confusion and enables everyone to bring their most valuable contribution.   Too often we get sucked into the minutia and can easily lose our way. By clearly establishing the target, you and others are able to keep the meeting on track, or make necessary course corrections along the way, so you reach the intended destination by the end of the meeting.   This step is especially important for keeping your intuitive, big picture thinkers fully engaged. If the purpose isn’t clear, you’re going to lose them and their energy quickly. It’s also important for recurring meetings. When you meet week after week or month after month, it’s easy for things to become mundane unless you keep a meaningful target clearly in view.   One useful tool to minimize distractions and “rabbit trails” is the Parking Lot. Whenever someone brings up something that is off-topic, put it onto a list called the Parking Lot. This allows you to come back to it in a later meeting without derailing the current one or devaluing the person’s contribution.   3. End the meeting with clarity of action. Start the meeting with clarity of purpose. End the meeting with clarity around clearly defined next actions. I talk about “next actions” more in my e-book, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose.”   Because of a variety of deficiencies, some which I’ve already mentioned, people often lose interest or steam by the end of the meeting. Everyone heads for the exits and very few, if any, have a clear idea about what’s been accomplished or agreed upon.   This will literally kill the productivity of your meetings.   Regardless of how well you’ve led the meeting up to this point, it’s essential to the bottom-line effectiveness of your meeting that you end by clearly identifying Who will do What by When.   Execution of the plans made or solutions identified rarely happens during the meeting. That’s not what meetings are for. So, it’s critical that people leave knowing exactly what each person is responsible for and when it must be completed. Ensure there is full agreement on this.  
Leading productive meetings will strengthen your leadership brand.

Joe Denner


Take Steps Forward

Meetings are an essential part of the life of any successful organization. Implementing these simple steps will transform your results and how people in your organization think and feel about the meetings you schedule.   Question: Which aspect do you think would have the most immediate, positive impact on your meetings? [question]prevent-death-by-meeting[/question]  
Seize the day!

Balancing Work and Family

For a while now I’ve been wanting to write and smash this myth about balance.  
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  I hear and read so much about people trying to find balance in their life. To me that’s like the search for the Holy Grail. Why? Because I don’t think balance, at least in the sense of finding that perfect middle ground, even exists. From my vantage point it’s not about balancing as much as it is about identifying and honoring a set of priorities.   This whole idea of trying to find balance in your life can feel like an uphill battle. You and I have so many demands on our time and energy, many of which seem completely valid. I don’t know about you, but there have been many times when I’ve felt like I’m not giving enough time to any facet of my world. That can be downright discouraging.   On the one hand we have our work that’s constantly tugging at us, whispering to us that it needs more attention. We have the pressures of cash flow, outstanding receivables, dissatisfied customers, problematic employees, tough competitors, and shrinking margins, just to name a few. On the other hand, we have spouses, children, significant life events, or other personal obligations that are feeling neglected and want more of us.   It’s nice to be wanted, but…   So, what to do? How do we escape feeling like we’re the little flag tied to the tug-of-war rope being jostled back and forth? While there’s no magic pill or silver bullet, I do believe that we, as human beings, have a level of agency. It’s a matter of stepping into that privilege and responsibility.   Let’s do that together by looking at five ways we can exercise our agency.

A Way in the Wilderness

1. Identify your true priorities. Do this with your spouse, significant other, or someone else who knows you well and is committed to your welfare. This is hard work, if you do it right, and should be given significant thought and reflection. I’m not talking about whipping off a list of priorities that you will change your mind on next week. These are the “big rocks” of your life that Stephen Covey wrote about. If they don’t go into the bucket first, they won’t fit.   Lean into this exercise. Take it seriously and don’t stop until you reach a deep, personal (inner) agreement about it. If the exercise includes another person, make sure you give each other the space you need to reach that place of assurance.   I would recommend choosing three to seven. Fewer than that doesn’t narrow the path enough. If you try more than that you are getting dangerously close to the “if everything is important then nothing is” precipice.   2. Make sure your calendar reflects those priorities. This is where it gets practical. It’s one thing to do the hard work (which it is) of figuring out your priorities. It’s a whole other thing to actually translate that into purposeful decisions and activities to which you are committed. The bottom line is that if your calendar doesn’t reflect your priorities, then either you’re out of kilter integrity-wise, or you missed on identifying your true priorities. In my experience it’s usually the former unless you didn’t give step 1 the appropriate level of consideration.   Once you’ve identified your priorities, it’s time to pull out the calendar and set aside time for the things you just decided matter most. Maybe that’s the time your going to spend with your spouse, your child, an important project for work, or something to do with your health.   Here are some things that go on my calendar well in advance:
  • My quarterly review with my wife. We just completed one two weeks ago, about which I wrote last week. And, our next one in June is already on the calendar.
  • I have a weekly meeting scheduled with my VP of Sales & Marketing, which is our leadership team meeting.
  • I periodically schedule 1:1 breakfasts with each of my daughters.
  • I set aside most Wednesdays from 8:30-9:15pm to spend 1:1 time with my sons.
  • I work out at our local gym on all my non-travel days.
  The bottom line here is that this moves us from a conceptual commitment to one that is in black and white and, therefore, gets planned around. Next time you see me, just ask to see my calendar.   This communicates clearly to those around us what’s important to us. One additional benefit is that it prevents the awkward moment when you realize that you scheduled a dinner meeting with a client on your wife’s birthday or the night of the big school play in which your child has the lead role.  
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  3. Make the tough decisions. This is where the rubber really meets the road. There’s absolutely no way to avoid it. By simply putting some dates on a calendar you’re not going to magically cause all of the difficult tensions that can arise to evaporate. Those clashes are bound to come. Client needs and their calendars have a way of coming into conflict with our personal lives. Uncanny.   For example, this was stacking up to be one of the busiest weeks of my last 3-4 months and I could see it coming. But, this Monday was the father-daughter banquet and my four daughters were super excited about putting on their beautiful gowns, doing their hair and spending the evening at dinner and dancing with Daddy. So, what did I do?   On Monday at 2pm I put my work down and got into my own fancy duds. And trust me, at 2pm I left behind a massive pile of important work. But at 3:15pm, we rolled out and headed for our special evening. We had a fantastic evening and I never once worried about the pile!! (Check out my Facebook page for some pics). That event was on my calendar weeks in advance and, therefore, I planned my busy life of competing priorities around it. Putting that priority on my calendar made a tough decision much easier.   As another example, I am just about to pause as I type out this blog post because I have a Bible study scheduled with my five sons (ages 15-23) on Tuesday evenings. I really “don’t have time” for this tonight. I need to finish this amazing blog for you (insert rimshot) and then I have to work on finishing up preparation for the 4 talks I am giving at a conference this Friday and Saturday. But, I’m going to stop and I am going to meet with my sons. Why? Because as important as you are, and as important as my audience this weekend is, my sons are more important. I know that hurts, but you’ll get over it.   By the same token, there have been plenty of times that I’ve had to say “no” to my wife or one of my children because of pressing work-related matters. You can’t do it all. Eventually, you’ll have to decide. That’s what real leaders do.   4. Do a quarterly review. I won’t take a lot of space here, but I’ll direct you to my blog post from last week and my e-book, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose.” The quick summary is that my wife and I do an overnight each quarter to reflect on the past 90 days and plan out our priorities for the next 90 days. It has been a hugely positive rhythm for our marriage, our family, our church ministry, and our business.   5. Remember there are seasons. This is simple, but critical. The priorities you set today are not likely to be the same as the ones you had five or six years ago, nor will they be the same five or six years from now. Life is a series of stages and seasons.   Don’t get stuck feeling like your blowing it because you’re not keeping the same priorities you had back then. Nor should you automatically feel a lack of integrity if new priorities are rising to the top of your list. Some things should stay the same, but others may experience radical change. You need to be the judge of that.   So, don’t worry if you can never get the scales to balance. That’s a pipe dream. But, live a life that gives appropriate honor to what matters most.   Question: What is one of the top priorities in your life over the next 90 days, and how will you get that on your calendar? [question]family-work-balance[/question]  
 Seize the day!

How Were Your Personal 1st Quarter Results?

My wife and I completed our first quarterly review of the year last week. It was incredibly refreshing and energizing.  
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  As has become our habit, we enjoyed an overnight getaway in order to look back over the last 90 days and plan for the next 90 days. I have written about this practice in my e-book, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose” and would highly recommend it to you. Whether you’re married or single, an organizational leader or aspiring to a place of meaningful influence, I believe this is a critical exercise for us to commit to so that we don’t lose sight of, or a grip on, the things that matter most to us.   It’s easy to get caught up in the current of life, especially our businesses or vocations, and it will carry you away if you’re not careful. It starts out like the slow drift of the lazy river, but will quickly transform into the torrent of the white water rapids and capsize your boat. Some people have made a complete shipwreck of their marriage and life because of a failure to do this kind of a check-up and tune-up.   Maybe you’re saying you don’t have the time for this. I’m here to tell you that you don’t NOT have the time for this, unless you want to wind up as another government statistic or have your life serve as a warning to others.   Living a life of purpose requires that we live our lives on purpose. It requires that we take a measure of ownership and recognize that experience is not the best teacher, but that evaluated experience is. And that requires intentionality and time.   I remember a saying I heard many years ago. I cannot remember to whom it is to be attributed. But the person said, “You can have what you want, or you can have all the reasons, excuses and complaints about why you don’t.” Which would you rather have?   I’d like to share with you the brief outline that we follow for our own quarterly review. I’m confident you’ll find it helpful.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

1. Review progress on your goals. My wife and I each share with each other how we’re doing with the goals that we set at the beginning of the year (or the end of the previous year). What is there to celebrate? What adjustments or course-corrections need to be made in order to hit the target or cross the finish line? Course corrections are a fact of life. Embrace that reality and keep pressing on toward the mark.   One of the most important aspects of this goal review is to review the key motivations behind each goal that has yet to be completed. What makes this important to me? Why should I care if I succeed or fail? About a year ago I heard a quote from Gail Hyatt, the wife of Michael Hyatt. She was quoted as saying that if you lose your “why,” you’ll lose your way.   It’s so true. It’s easy to get out of the shoot in January with all kinds of good intentions and aspirations. But, if we don’t keep our key motivations in plain sight, there are a million other tasks or projects that will distract you and take you off the path you determined had the biggest payoff for you. Internal motivations outweigh good intentions every time, especially when “life happens.”   2. Review the last 3 months in all areas. For us this includes our marriage, our family, our business, our church ministry, our health and our finances. We ask questions like:
  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better?
  • How did we do at executing on our priorities from our last quarterly review?
  • How has our calendar reflected the priorities that we previously set?
  Some of the most important questions we ask are, “How are we doing at cultivating our marriage? Is it the priority it should be? How is that reflected by our calendar?” Without this kind of honest evaluation and review, it would be all too easy to get way off the track.   3. Lay out plans for the next 3 months. What is most important for us to focus on in each of these areas mentioned above? For example, we talk about each of our children, how we feel they are developing, and where they need some additional education, coaching, or mentoring.   One of the best things we do is review our calendars to make sure we have the same events scheduled, so there are no unnecessary miscommunications about what we are committed to during this period. The whole calendar thing is a big deal to me. One of the shortcomings I recognized over the last few years is that as a husband, business owner, and pastor, I have had a tendency to only focus on my own commitments. That has been a terrible undervaluing of the rest of my family and all of the commitments and responsibilities they have that affect our family.   We also ask the question, “What are the 3-5 top priorities for us over the next 90 days?” This is where we try to gain clarity about what matters most to us for this window of time. There are so many competing demands. We can’t do everything. So, we have to identify and name what needs to rise to the top so we can stay consistently focused on these key areas.   4. Work on some projects/goals that need some focus time. On this getaway, my wife spent time going through her recipes, emails, and computer files to both catch up and get everything in order. You all know how that stuff can pile up and get away from you without that kind of maintenance.   I worked on the project plan for my product launch (more on that later) and took care of a host of work and church-related tasks that I just never seemed to get time for during the hustle and bustle of everyday life.   5. Time for fun. This is totally up to you. Everyone is different. What do you enjoy doing as a couple? Maybe it’s dinner and a movie. Maybe it’s a long, slow drive through the countryside, or a nice long nap. We both love to read. Actually, the funny (and sad) thing is that one of the things we both enjoy most, is getting a ton of stuff done. So, for us we have to work hard to make sure that #4 doesn’t take up all the time we should be setting aside for this aspect of our getaway.   If you’re single, make sure you give yourself time for whatever it is that will refresh and recharge your batteries. An appropriate amount of self-care is critical so that you have the energy you need to attend to all the other priorities in your life.   6. Time for prayer. For us, this is foundational. This has become one of the keystone habits of our marriage, both at home and when we’re away. We both agree that everything else in our lives is affected by how faithfully we engage in this practice together. Our time away is an opportunity to spend some extra, extended time on this.  
Living a life of purpose requires that we live our lives on purpose. Be intentional.

Joe Denner

    Take this outline and modify it to best fit your situation, whether that be your personality or your marital status. But whatever you do, take the time to step back on a quarterly basis and revisit the path you have taken and ensure it is the one you want to be on. Make sure that path is taking you toward the destination you desire.  

It’s Right Around the Corner

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