Although I am not a devout NFL fan, I admire my home team, the New England Patriots, deeply. The game they played this past Sunday at the Super Bowl only reinforced my admiration. Here are 5 key lessons the Patriots’ Super Bowl win taught me that can be applied to small business:
- Develop Mental Resilience. How many of us would have the mental fortitude to keep pushing hard when we are down 28-3? Resilience can be learned and data says that it’s our resilience more than our intelligence that determines our success. Owning a business is often hard; dig deep.
- Focus on One Play at a Time. As Lady Gaga was entertaining us, some Patriots’ fans had fast-forwarded to the end of the game and saw the Patriots losing. While keeping the end in mind is certainly important, it’s equally important to focus on one move at a time – that’s the only one that counts at any moment. In the last quarter of the Super Bowl, the Patriots diligently moved the ball – one play at a time. The same is true for your business; dedicate your energy and attention on one thing at a time.
- Have Faith in Yourself and Your Team. The respect and admiration the Patriots’ players seem to have for each other and with Bill Belichick is evident every game and in every interview. Brady relied on his team mates and his coach, the coach trusted his team to accomplish the job, and team members looked to Brady for leadership throughout the game. Hire the best team you can for your business, train them well, and trust in each other.
- Know Your Plan (and Have a Plan!). When Brady calls a play, his teammates had better know the details and what is expected from them. It’s not enough to say “we want to win” or “we want to be the best”. The Patriots have individual performance goals as well as team-based specific outcome goals. The same is true with every team member of your business; be sure that they understand the “game” that you are playing, what their role is and what is expected of them.
- Continue to Learn, Continue to Train. Three days before what became a record-breaker for Brady and Belichick, the coach had Brady and the team running hills and doing the heaviest squats ever. After the game, I heard Belichick say that the team needed to get going because other teams had a 5-week lead on training for 2017-2018. No matter where you and your company stand, there is always some area you can be better in. Celebrate your wins, and then get back to training.
No matter your team loyalty, take a play from the Patriots’ playbook. Your fan base will thank you and grow.
As I sat on the short wall outside of the post office, I noticed the stone; this was no New Hampshire granite or concrete blocks. The wall was made of sea shells, coral, perhaps even some driftwood mixed with concrete (yes, I was someplace warm). I wondered, “did they use this because it’s beautiful or because it’s the most abundant and, therefore, the cheapest?” My answer, of course, was all of the above and the similarity to our own personal resources was striking. Let me explain.
Our natural abilities, those attributes we were born with and that come most naturally, are also those abilities that are the easiest for us. For example, the ability to “see” in three-dimension comes easily to graphic artists, surgeons, carpenters, and massage therapists, if they’ve chosen a career in line with their natural abilities. Veterinarians have the natural ability to connect the dots when all the dots aren’t even there (creatures covered in fur who can’t talk, anyone?). Think of those things you can do without thinking about, that others remark on, making those things, well – remarkable. People wonder how you speak easily in front of a crowd, how you create what you create, how you remember so many details, how you assemble a puzzle when there are so many pieces still missing. These are your natural abilities; you can’t help but do them, you didn’t learn them, you’ve just always been able to do them and they come easily. In resource terms, the abilities are “cheap” – they require little energy on your part and they are abundant. Just like the coral and sea shells in the stone wall, your natural abilities are readily available and always accessible.
At first glance, you might not have called the sea shells and coral wall “beautiful” – at least not in a conventional way. What made the wall beautiful was its uniqueness, the combination of materials to make something new and never seen before (at least by me). The similarity to our natural abilities once again struck me; many of us would not consider our unique and natural abilities as beautiful, and they may actually annoy us at times. I used to wish that I could turn off my ideas sometimes, that I didn’t always see problems or how something would fail, until I learned what amazing abilities they are and how to use them. Recognizing the “beauty” in our natural abilities allows us to celebrate and leverage them and when we use them in our life’s work to help others, well – that is a beautiful thing.
What are your personal sea shells and coral? Look within and find those natural abilities that are abundant and beautiful, a never-ending resource to share in your work.
The “One More Thing” Time Vampire
I admit it: every time I cross another to-do off my list I get a little thrill. I feel a sense of accomplishment and the more I rack up the better. Part of my brain thinks that I’m saving myself time for later, and “later” is when I’ll get more meaningful work done. But that sense of accomplishment is not always earned. You see, I’m confusing accomplishing a task with accomplishing meaningful work. Big difference.
The “One More Thing” Vampire encourages us to squeeze just one more thing in before we start on that project we SHOULD be focused on, before we need to leave for an appointment, and sometimes before taking a break. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something, when often times the task doesn’t move our business forward at all. That’s the question I encourage all of my clients to focus on:
“What will most move my business forward today?”
We’re told to do those tasks that must get done first, but those tasks are often thrust upon us by someone else, created due to an error or someone else’s delay, or have become urgent because we’ve postponed them. If a task is truly urgent, though, we WILL get them done, no matter what. We’ll work late, take work home, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get those urgent tasks done and leave the less urgent tasks, the more meaningful tasks, for “later”. Focus our best time on meaningful tasks and our business will grow, become easier, more joyful. If I told you that all of that would happen if you just tackled the meaningful work first, why wouldn’t you do it? Why don’t I always do it?
The first reason is because we all love to feel accomplishment, no matter how big or small. Looking at a to-do list with everything crossed off let’s my ego say “Look at me! Aren’t I something!” Meaningful work is often multi-stepped with the result far into the future; we define success as the end result, when success actually comes with every step we take forward. To combat this, define the steps you need to take to meet your longer-term goal, and celebrate every completed step along the way.
The second reason we succumb to the One More Thing Vampire is fear; it’s easier to tackle the easy tasks, the expected results more secure. I’m confident that invoices will be produced when I choose that task to work on. I’m less confident that when I choose to spend time on my plan to secure new clients in a targeted niche that I’ll be successful. And there’s the fear that I’ll spend that time on those tasks and be unsuccessful, and then what? As long as I still have some possible tasks to do that might help me reach my goal, I can keep that dream alive.
The One More Thing Vampire wants us to squeeze one more task in, and it feels good to do them. But there’s a big difference between meaningful work, work that will move your business forward, and work that has to get done, and will get done, but doesn’t really do much for us. One feeds my ego, the other feeds my business.
The Super Hero Vampire, and Why You Can NOT Do it All
I love my work. So much so, that I have a bad habit of taking on more than I should. I know that I only have about 10 work hours to accomplish what I need to do every day. It never fails, though, that I take on just one more client, volunteer to write another article, or decide to lead a team project.
You don’t have to be a super hero to to be productive!
And then I get angry.
Why? Because although my calendar reflects my varied gifts and obligations (ha!), the reality is that I when I take on too much, I’m not nearly as focused, and mistakes are made. Deadlines are missed, and team or family members may be disappointed. Sure enough, those extra tasks and projects that I swore I couldn’t forego indeed are left by the wayside. So why did I start this mess in the first place?
Wait, is that Helen?! No, it’s just the Super-Hero Vampire.
The Super-Hero Vampire is the belief that you have to take on more than necessary to be productive. It’s the nagging little voice that tells you to do just one more thing, to take on more than you can possibly handle, to stay ahead of the game. Alarms are constantly going off in your head about upcoming deadlines, and suddenly the Super Hero Vampire shakes up your priorities. Suddenly, EVERYTHING is a priority, and has to be done NOW, and only by YOU.
First, remember that to be consistently productive and efficient, you have to prioritize and use your time accordingly. When this is not done, your work doesn’t have a clear purpose or end goal. Instead of focusing on key projects and tasks, you try to do it all, all at once.
Secondly, tackling every project as if it’s an emergency that can only be solved by you robs your team members, assistants, and family members of the experience of handling tasks either with you or on their own. You may be great at what you do, but sometimes building and maintaining a strong team is more important than your individual skills. You can be great and still be a team player. Your team can’t become stronger if they never handle projects or emergencies.
Finally, approaching your work this way is terribly exhausting! There is no end in sight, and living life as a super-hero can be like living on an endless carousel that doesn’t end. You may find yourself jumping from project to project, sometimes without completing them. Or worse, you may complete them, but the projects may not be done to your satisfaction.
If you’ve been bitten by the Super Hero Vampire, there’s still hope for you. Remind yourself that you are one person, and that you can’t take on the world alone. Even Superman has the Justice League! Remember to prioritize what truly is important – not just in general, but daily, so you know where to spend your time, and what to pass on altogether. Being constantly aware of what is important to you, and what is not, is a key way to stay focused. Finally, track your time. You may not feel that you’ve been bitten by the Super Hero Vampire, but if you’re constantly jumping in to extra projects to save the day, you may have been sabotaged. Knowing how you spend your time, and why, will help you identify the cause.
Don’t get me wrong: I love it when entrepreneurs feel confident enough to call themselves “super heroes”. I want every business owner to feel confident and strong in their abilities. Thinking of yourself as a super hero is great for the ego, but it can be dangerous for your work.
Part I: Where DOES your time go?
A Time Vampire is simply a mindset that keeps you from using your time wisely. They may seem harmless enough, and often mask themselves in terms that make you believe you are really doing yourself a favor, like “hyper-productive”, “super-busy”, and “unstoppable”. And while I love the confidence that these self descriptions may inspire, (because don’t we all need to be productive?), the reality is that we 1) can’t be everywhere at once, and 2) we can’t do everything at once. Taking on too many projects, for example, can lead to burnout and fatigue. Time, like our energy and health, is finite.
And that’s why we’re so frustrated. It often feels like “everyone else” is getting so much more done, while we’re spinning our wheels. Intellectually, we know that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but yet we also know that each of us has the same number of hours each day as anyone else.
Repeat after me: I am NOT a hamster, and my life is not a whirl-o-wheel!
Time Vampires, then, cause us to be ineffective and unproductive. It’s not that we don’t have enough time, it’s that we’re not using the time we do have, we ALL have, in a way that is most productive for each of us.
Which brings me to the next point: we all work differently. Have you ever thought about how you really spend your day? Not the timestamps of when you wake up, eat breakfast, and arrive at work, but how you really get work done? Do you work best alone, or with a group? Are you a morning, afternoon, or night person? The answers to these questions are key because you’re trying to define what works best for you.
For example, I know that I work best before 3 PM every day, but I also have a creative brain burst in the evening. What that means for me: I have to get up and get moving in the morning, jump into my projects (especially the ones that are time sensitive), and slow down midday. However, the best time to write, for me, is in the evenings. Not only do I feel like I think clearer, but my family obligations have slowed to a stand-still: my family is fed, dishes are done, and my kids are at their sports’ practices or doing homework. This may not work for everyone, but it’s what works best for me, and that’s OK.
So before we move on, I encourage you to look at your day, know your rhythms, and really think about works best, and how you want to be. Only then can we move on to finding and destroying those time vampires!