Respect thy Calendar

I live in Microsoft Outlook, not something that I originally had as a boyhood dream between being All-Star Cleveland Indians Catcher and Doctor, but hey such is life and I roll through a ton of email on a daily basis so it works.  With work and kids et al, I use my calendar for everything (primarily because it makes sure that I am where I need to be, when I need to be).  Over the years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend where appointments become stacked on appointments which are already stacked on appointments.  There must be something that can be done…

It’s called an Assistant

I find that people get really excited when setting up a meeting – “YES I WILL UNLEASH MY AMAZING IDEAS ON THE MASSES… at 2:00pm on Tuesday in the big boardroom” – and sometimes they don’t check if people are actually available.  How do you solve the problem?  With the incredible Scheduling Assistant.  Why is this feature incredible?  Because you can tell, at a glance, what the success rate of someone accepting your invitation is (read low).

They chose Purple and Blue for a reason.

The beauty of the scheduling assistant, is that you don’t even need to read a line of text to know someone is available.  It shows you in blue or purple whether A) they are busy or B) whether they are physically in the office.  Another great feature, that if you ask me is up there with Bejewled Blitz, is that I don’t even need to think about what I’m doing, all I need to do is move the slider to a slot that does not have these colours in it to know that people and rooms are available.  I’m not even reading at this point.

Point made?  Perhaps, but here’s the deal – we’re all busy, we all have places to be and we’re all trying to push our cart of wares to the store every day.  Whenever I receive an invite for a time that I’m already booked for, the following goes through my head;

  1. Did you not see the colour coated view of my calendar?
  2. Are you saying your meeting is more important than this here other person who actually looked for a spot where everyone could meet?

Seriously, that’s it.  If someone attaches a quick note – “hey I see you’re busy, if possible to move some things around that would be great” – I will give you some etiquette points and read further, otherwise, I’m going to politely decline… all the time.  Sometimes it might take me 5 minutes to schedule a meeting because I’m trying to find a time where everyone can attend… but I think it’s worth it if everyone can make it and not worry about it where they were previously scheduled to be.

I’ve always thought of writing an app that automatically declines over-stacked appointments and always hoped that I won’t need to…

Overtake them on the Hill

Runner_mainMany years ago (too many in fact), I undertook the task of running a half-marathon (21km) and training for it in 7 short weeks.  At the time I had a friend who had run many marathons, New York and Boston to name a few, and she outlined a complete training regimen for me to get me in shape.  I still remember my time of 1:58:05 (primarily because I wanted to be under 2 hours).

To this day, I always remember the one piece of advice which I applied to that race and now apply to so many other things in life – “Overtake them on the Hill”.  When these words of wisdom were first imparted to me I didn’t understand it – “sure, let me get there first, whatever happens, happens” – but I remember very clearly whilst running starting to notice that as we approached a hill, people changed their stance, shook out their arms, caught their breath – they slowed down.  If you haven’t run before, when you approach a hill, after having already run a great deal, you immediately start to notice new sensations throughout your legs as different parts of your muscles start to be used – sometimes this can be invigorating, sometimes it can be painful – irregardless, it’s a different feeling and some people’s natural tendency is to slow down.  So, while people are slowing down, you overtake them on the hill, then when you get to the top you slip back into your previous pace whilst they now try to play to catch up and have a light break.

So what does it mean?  People will naturally slow down when the going gets tough – “I don’t know what to do, how do I make this work, what should I do, arrrrrgggg process paralysis” – the best thing for you to do at this point is plow through and keep pushing because eventually you will overtake the problem you are facing.  You have to be smart about it – you can’t plow into people to get there, sometimes you have to dodge them and try new things – because who wants to plow through people!  Projects, of any kind, are made up of peaks and valleys – the hard parts and the known parts – the known parts are easy, the hard parts are hill where you can’t let up and I would argue you have to push even harder at.

There is a lot in the media about whether you need to work crazy hours to make your startup a success (i.e., overtake them when everyone else is sleeping) only work what you can in your 8 hour day and pace yourself.  I can’t advocate one over the other because I’ve never been able to do it and would be scared to lock myself into one mode of thinking.  Sometimes to get a project done and really make it a success; evenings, weekends, very late nights are required and sometimes pushing all my meetings out so I can work non-stop during the day and and relax in the evening will have the exact same affect.

Whatever the case, whatever works for you, ask yourself if what you are currently working on is a hill or a valley and overtake them on the hill.

Get out of their way

I have two girls that play ringette – fast game, great game – the older they get, the more intense it gets to the extent that after all these years of not being able to skate I’ve been lacing up my skates once a week to get on the ice with them (although let’s be honest… we are miles apart).  I’m one of those guys that cheers loud for his kids and sometimes I have the odd suggestion for the referees (to be clear: I never boo the other team, scream obscenities and/or when our team has a significant lead I dial it down – but yes I can be quite loud).

This past weekend, the girls were in a tournament, the older one was playing a particularly tough game where we were all cheering pretty hard.  But there was a moment in the game, where she took the ring and I became silent – I knew what was going to happen next.  The same thing happened the day before when the younger one was playing and we walked into the Arena 5 minutes late, she stole the ring from the opposing team in their end and I stood still because I could tell what was going to happen.

In both cases, you could see it in their actions, their weight shifted to one side, they leaned on their edges a little more, the stick came back, they dropped lower, shifted their balance, they ducked and dived and fired a rocket into the net, past the goalie.  I didn’t need to cheer for them to skate harder or to go and get it – they had it, they were taking it all the way to the end and nothing was going to stop them.

If the three of us were in an office together – the best thing, the only thing I should be concerned about is stepping back and letting them get it done.  You know when someone is so invested in a problem that they are blocking everything out – they come in a little earlier, edge into their lunch break, perhaps their shoulders drop a bit for maximum typing capability, maybe their face is smushed against the screen or maybe the headphones go on.  The signs are all there for you to see and in everyone they are different.

The best thing you can do at this point when you see it happening – is to get out of their way.  If you trust them to do what’s right, they will get it done and get it done way better than you could have ever thought possible.  You stopping by every hour to see how it’s going and pinging them with questions is only going to break their momentum.

Step back and watch the magic happen – you’ll be amazed at what can happen.

Making a call a la Leeroy Jenkins

I was having dinner with some friends the other night when they told me about their new cat they named Leeroy – before they could finish I instinctively yelled out – “JEEEEENNNNNNKKKKKKKINNNNNNNNNSSSSSSSS”.  No one knew what I was talking about – they had never heard of the legend.

I tried – valiantly – to educate them because hey who doesn’t know about Leeroy?  I know it’s old, but still it’s so relevant to what we do today.  I even showed them the old grainy video.

Let me break it down for you…

  • A bunch of people are sitting in a room – humming and hawing about what to do – running the numbers for probably the eighteenth time. (sound familiar)
  • One guy stands up to stay – “let’s do this”.
  • And then the epic battle cry.

How many times have you been in a board room and thought – “People c’mon, just pick an option and let’s go with it” – it can be hard – people are afraid of making the wrong choice and failing and having that on them for what they seem is the rest of their professional career.

I’ll always take the person that makes the call, if it’s right – AWESOME, if it’s wrong – I’m glad you made the call and gave it your best shot.  And bonus to the guy/gal that makes the call and let’s their battle cry ring through the boardroom.

BTW – Leeroy dies, but he made a call and gave it a shot.

The Customer Trip

Whether it’s a customer trip or going on-site to your company’s headquarters there is only one state that you should return in – sheer exhaustion.

Why?

Whomever is sending you to that location is paying for the following;

  • Travel
  • Accommodations
  • Food & Drink (not always in that order)

These are the tangible monies that are being spent, which are very easy to quantify, the intangibles of a customer visit is where the real value comes lives;

  • Time invested by all resources on-site to ensure you have everything you need – equipment, projectors, meeting rooms, etc
  • Disruption to people on that site who are clearing their schedule to work with you and get the most out of your short time together.
  • The support network of your team back at the office who are on standby when your demo blows up – if you are in a different timezone – they are rotating around your schedule to make sure you put your best foot forward.

At this point in the game, the customer has already brought your product and/or service, now they want to see what value-add comes along with your wares.

Should you ever get onto a plane/train/automobile after going on a customer visit and feel refreshed and relaxed on your travels home than you haven’t put in enough effort to show that value to your customer.  I come home from trips exhausted, but exhilarated by what was accomplished, last week I literally went from front-door to bed in 2 minutes flat.

The best reward is your customer looking forward to your next visit from the value you created with this first interaction.