Jul 242012

Sometimes indelible lessons are found in unexpected places.


Jack Palance played the weathered and wise cowboy Curly Washburn in City Slickers. Few who have seen the movie can forget:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

Life is not hard, goals in life are not hard, accomplishing great things is not hard, being happy is not hard — if you figure out the one thing that matters most to you.

Do you have your one thing figured out? Do you have your one thing written down? Do you read your one thing before you start each day?

I.M. Optimism Man

Jul 082012

We all have too much to do. Most of us have difficulty deciding what “good tasks” to leave undone. Yet I believe that the overwhelming load of “good” tasks is the number one reason few people achieve greatness. Good tasks get in the way of great tasks.

Six months ago in my “BigRock Task Management & Frogs for Breakfast” post, I observed that making meaningful, strategic progress in one’s life has much more to do with picking and completing the one most important thing to do each day than it does with adopting a system that helps you complete the hundreds of smaller “good and worthy” tasks each of us face. People procrastinate on the great tasks because they are usually a bit more difficult to swallow. If you missed the original Big Rock post, I recommend reading it before continuing on here to more fully understand the concept.

These same concepts — this “Big Rock formula” — works exceptionally well if you want to become a Jedi Manager of other people.

Too many think demanding micro-management and Marine-drill-sergeant commands-to-be-followed-without-hesitation are the tickets to management success. They are not. The best managers help their people achieve their best, most productive years while thinking for themselves and growing in confidence. A manager succeeds when he or she successfully teaches the team to prioritize their tasks and avoid procrastination on the tasks that matter most. An employee that always completes at least the one most strategically important task on his list, each and every day, will outpace a hard worker who is constantly busy with the daily minutiae.

Unfortunately, nearly everyone spends too much time on the little busy-busy items that seem important at the time. In truth, most of these tasks would be better left undone, if (and only if) one completes more meaningful and strategic tasks. If a person does their Big Rock strategic task first, the other work will still fill in the gaps, but a first down will be made on the way to making a touchdown and winning the game. The manager is in an extraordinary position to either help his or her team members achieve greatness or drown in the quicksand of good-but-not-great tasks.

As I graduated from the professional sales arena, please allow me use sales management as an example.

A great salesperson knocks her personal sales objective out of the park for a few years in a row and gets promoted to sales manager. In most cases, the new manager “learns” how to manage by observing other sales managers. Unfortunately, invariably, companies are fixated on making the monthly, quarterly, and yearly numbers and the sales force is the hood ornament on that train.

Conversations between sales managers and sales professionals become overly focused on the numbers — sales forecasts, potential deal size, and percentage of success. These conversations do little to absolutely nothing to improve the quality or accelerate the sales attainment of the manager’s salespeople. The relationship often degrades between the manager and her team as she is doing little to help them succeed. She becomes frustrated at her inability to hit her targets, given to her by the numbers-oriented managers above her. Over time, she starts falling out of touch with what is going on in her district/region, spending far too much of her energy on candy-coating the spreadsheets for the higher ups.

Most people are caught up in the nitty gritty details of their job and have a difficult time prioritizing those few strategic tasks that can produce the most meaningful progress. The manager in this example was a good salesperson but she is now a spreadsheet masseuse, and that doesn’t help. Other managers fall into the micro-management trap. This manager tries valiantly to understand every detail and nuance that is happening in every account with every salesperson that reports to her. The result is that she is in the weeds along side the salespeople, unable to see the trees, let alone the forest.

There is a better way to manage. A great manager asks great questions, helping his people identify and envision the tasks that will result in great outcomes. Get into a habit of reviewing projects in a conversational planning atmosphere with each member of your team, asking each person to ID their most important strategic-progress Big Rocks by project. Take great notes — pale ink is magical — and then inquire about timely progress to overcome people’s inclination toward procrastination. When asked without confrontation, people usually do a great job identifying the most important things to do. The trick is getting them to act on the important tasks decisively, without any procrastination.

The results of this simple Big Rock management method will surprise you — remember, quality and direction are more important than quantity and speed.

Ask good questions, take great notes, stay involved, and expect progress on the tasks that your own people have identified as most important. Your people will succeed and so will you.

I.M. Optimism Man