How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?
What needs to be said that isn’t being said?
What’s being said that I’m not hearing?
What am I saying that’s not being heard?
In particular, the first question has been rattling around in my head quite frequently whether I’m thinking about a situation at work or when our two-year-old refuses to eat dinner. It’s helpful in framing the “extreme ownership” philosophy popularized by Jocko Willink.
Each year, I set aside an hour or two to reflect back on the previous year and look forward to everything I want to accomplish over the upcoming year. I’ve been doing this since 2015, and it’s been a helpful exercise to focus my energy heading into the new year.
This year has been pretty crazy. We had our first son; we spent several months off as a family on paternity/maternity leave; and I changed roles at Automattic. It was a fun ride!
A few Saturdays ago, over tacos and a delicious IPA, I took some time to reflect back over 2018 and set up an action plan for 2019.
Time for a scary admission: I can be a bit of a control freak.
For the longest time, if I was asked about my biggest weakness, I would say just that – I have a hard time letting go of control especially if we’re talking about managing a project or a complicated task. I was the kid in school that preferred to work by himself rather than in a group (yeah…that kid). I knew I would do the project correctly. Someone else? They might screw it up.
As a result, I’d pile on tasks even if I was overwhelmed. If I took it on, I knew it would get done. That was all that mattered! If I did hand something off, I’d be sure to provide step-by-step instructions on how to get it to the finish line.
This might be a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve been steadily trying to get over this fear of letting go especially after I read Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I’ve gotten better at handing over tasks and allowing others to run with ideas. Still, it’s an area that I’m constantly trying to work on – how to delegate effectively and allow others to crush projects on their own, without my needless meddling.
This concept of effective delegation popped up again recently as I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits (Put First Things First) spoke to this idea of delegating ideas. It broke down two types of delegation – Gofer and Stewardship – and described how the former steals success from teammates while the latter empowers them.
Over the past few weeks, one idea has surfaced again and again through podcasts, books, and articles I’ve read:
Multi-tasking (or having multiple priorities) is the key to failure. To succeed, you must identify one thing that takes precedence and accept mediocrity at everything else, so the prevailing wisdom goes.
This message has come up several times over the past few weeks from reading The ONE Thing by Gary Keller to a discussion with Angel List founder Naval Ravikant on the Spartan Up! podcast to an interview I listened to with Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism.
I think it’s worth separating out what I see as two different types of multi-tasking:
Trying to do two different tasks at the same moment in time (like trying to watch TV and also listen to your friend tell a story).
The multi-tasking we all do on a daily basis as we juggle the various roles we all play (team member, writer, husband, mother, father, etc).
It’s well documented that the former variation doesn’t work. You’ll get a much better return on investment by single-tasking – devoting all of your energy to one task at a time. Read Deep Work if you’re not convinced.
The second variation – juggling the many roles we all play on a daily basis – is where I tend to disagree with the prevailing wisdom.
Continue reading “Juggling Roles”→
Over the past five months, my wife and I have been adjusting to our roles as new parents. It’s a stressful gig! There are endless amounts of diapers, sleepless nights, and fits of crying for no apparent reason. Of course, there are also moments that make it all worthwhile – the smiles and giggles that now fill my phone.
Parenting comes with an immense amount of responsibility. Not only are you charged with providing for this little human, you’re supposed to raise him into a respectable adult. The pressure!
There are countless online articles listing out values we should instill on the younger generation for a better tomorrow. I know because I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading about them. Even before he was born, my wife and I were pouring over a list of 30 rules we wanted our son to adopt; maxims like: “In a game of HORSE, sometimes a simple free throw will get ’em.” and “If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.”
I recently finished reading Factfulness, an insightful book about why the world is in a better place than it might appear. I have a lot of highlights from the book, but one in particular stood out as I had this idea of raising a respectable little human running through my head.
Most important of all, we should be teaching our children humility and curiosity.
In the 19th century, Francis Cabot Lowell stole an idea. More importantly, he stole an idea from Britain and brought it back to the United States, largely transforming the American economy.
The target of Lowell’s espionage wasn’t exactly sexy, but it was effective nonetheless.
In 1784, Edmund Cartwright, an English inventor, pioneered the mechanical loom. For many years prior to his invention, looms (a tool for weaving fabric) were powered manually. The invention led to a drastic increase in output and productivity.
As a result, Britain’s textile industry boomed, and they fought hard to protect the source of their dominance. It was illegal to sell power looms to manufacturers outside of Britain and textile workers weren’t allowed to emigrate to other countries for fear that they would spill design secrets. British customs officers even searched visitors as they left the country.
Enter Francis Cabot Lowell.
As author Matt Ridley describes in The Rational Optimist, Lowell made a trip to Britain and visited a number of mills around the country. During his stay, he memorized the details of the power loom and brought them back to the United States. When he returned, he had a mechanic and inventor turn his memories into a close replica.
I’m certainly not self-aggrandizing enough to suggest that I can come up with my own “rules for life.” I don’t believe I’ve experienced enough to come up with my own unique maxims. However, I have developed a habit of stealing from smart people.
So, with that in mind, here are 10 maxims I’ve borrowed from other people and adopted as “rules” of sorts for running my life. They’re like guiding principles that I reflect back on often. Hopefully, they help you in some way. If you ignore the rest, follow rule #10.
A week ago, I called 10 different contractors trying to find someone to do a bit of work. Zero answered. I left five voicemails and didn’t receive a single call back.
Recently, my wife and I walked into a restaurant in downtown Denver to get some food. We stood by the host stand for five minutes while waiters walked by and bartenders served drinks. Not a single person said anything so we walked out.
Yesterday, I was on the phone with a utility company trying to set up a new service. They said someone would need to come out to finalize the installation. “Sounds good – how can I set that up?” I asked. They responded that someone would eventually reach out to me. No estimated time frame. No estimated installation date. No contact information I could use to get in touch with the installation team.
In each case, I’m trying to give someone money, but my experience as a customer makes it far less likely that I’m going to do so. I’m definitely not going to recommend them to a friend.
These experiences reinforce a simple idea – the bar for customer experience in business is low.