The Doorbell is Dead

This blog is an excerpt by Ed Muzio,
Author of Make Work Great: Supercharge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence — One Person at a Time

Literally, my doorbell is dead. It’s one of those battery operated wireless ones. I think it got some water in it, and it doesn’t work. Plus, my front door is fifteen feet behind a locked gate, so there’s no way to knock. Conventional wisdom says, if you drop by my house unannounced, you’re not getting in. It’s been this way for over a year and it has yet to be a problem.

I should perhaps be embarrassed by this, but I recently realized why it really doesn’t matter, while giving a friend a ride across town. When my car stopped in front of our destination — a relative’s house — my friend stepped out of the car, thanked me, and immediately initiated a cell phone call. As she was putting her phone away, the front door cracked open and she strolled in, carefree user of the new-age doorbell.

That’s why nobody has yet complained about mine: nobody uses it anyway! Figuratively as well, the doorbell is dead. And its death has bigger implications to our daily lives than many of us care to consider.

There’s a reason we call this the information age, and it’s not because we’re all so much smarter. It’s because we all have access to so much information, at our fingertips, all the time. I can track my package, check the status of my flight, and monitor my stock portfolio or my company’s financial status, all in a second, all with a click. I’m more informed than anyone in my position in history has ever been. And yet, being so informed has not made my life easier. If anything, I think I’m probably busier than a counterpart in my position would have been 20 years ago.

For one thing, I’m constantly doing things like checking the status of my packages and my flights! That didn’t used to be an option, but now that it is, it seems foolish not to avail myself of it. Why in the world would I choose to be uninformed, when it’s so easy to rectify my ignorance by learning exactly which city my all-important box is traversing at the moment?

Worse yet, everyone now has the expectation of immediacy. At times it feels like I’m fielding client questions and queries day and night, all of whom expect an instant answer. I pride myself on customer service, but it can be a challenge! If you supplement “client” with “customer,” “manager,” or “stockholder,” I’ve probably described your job too.

And it’s not just business contacts. Some loved ones have also come to expect an instantaneous reply when they call. I vividly recall a time when I returned calls to friends and family after I got home for the evening, or if it was a particularly long day, the following evening. Now, the calls come into my cell phone at all hours. If I don’t respond within a few hours, I end up on the receiving end of a concerned and vaguely annoyed follow-up call: “didn’t you get my message? I thought you would call me back over lunch.”

The problem is, my capacity for handling information has not expanded commensurately with the information explosion. I still have only two hands, only two ears, only two eyes, and only one brain. I may read a few hundred more emails per day than I used to, but I don’t read them a few hundred times faster. And my decision-making capacities still have limits as to how much information they can incorporate. For better or worse, I’m still just human.

And you, my friend, are in the same boat as I am. Admit it! You haven’t grown four extra hands or two extra brains either.

That’s why it’s crucial for all of us to walk around with a well rehearsed script of what’s we’re trying to do, what I call a Verbalized Summary Objective Statement, or VSO. The VSO is a script that you play to others, and to yourself, as a reminder of what you’re working on.

It’s also a filter that helps you turn on — or turn off — your most important sources of information. And, it’s a statement of your output that you can use at the end of the day to check that you’re making progress. If you are, you can feel satisfaction. If you’re not, you can make an adjustment. Either of those options is preferable to just going home exhausted, vaguely wondering when you started working so hard, and why you can’t seem to stop.

Tomorrow morning, when you first get to your desk and before you start doing anything, see if you can articulate your purpose for the day, or maybe the week, in about 90 seconds. Try writing it down, or better yet, say it to yourself a few times until you’ve memorized it. Then, use your little infomercial as your blueprint for the day. Whenever you’re about to engage with information — either a source of it, or a request for it — first check the contents of your VSO, and see how that source or request aligns with what you really want to be doing. In other words, pay attention to where you invest your mental and physical effort.

Probably, like me, you’ll find that not all of what is clamoring for your attention is in line with your own priorities. Although saying “no” is never easy, it is much easier when you have a burning “yes” to focus upon instead. Now that you know where you’re trying to head, you can begin to make the difficult decisions about what not to do. From here, the rest is up to you.

Actually, I do have one more suggestion. As you go through the day sorting through information, take a moment to check your calendar. If your evening plans include a visit to my house, be sure to take my cell phone number with you.
© 2010 Ed Muzio, author of Make Work Great: Supercharge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence — One Person at a Time

Author Bio
Edward G. Muzio
is president and CEO of Group Harmonics and is the award-winning author of Four Secrets to Liking Your Work: You May Not Need to Quit to Get the Job You Want. An expert in workplace improvement and its relationship to individual enjoyment, Muzio has been featured on Fox Business Network, CBS, and other national media, and he has been cited in many publications including the New York Post, the Austin American Statesman, and Spirit magazine. He lives in Albuquerque, NM.

For more information visit www.makeworkgreat.com and follow the author on Facebook.

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Is Overcommitment the New Badge of Honor?

When was the last time you laid in the grass on a beautiful summer day and looked up at the clouds?

I attended a lecture tonight. The speaker was an American monk – Sumati Marut (aka Brian Smith). It was sponsored by the Asian Classics Institute on Cape Ann.

Guess what the Honorable Marut talked about?  (He’s a very practical guy)  

Problems and solutions.

What’s the problem? We want to be happy, yet our lives are consumed with work, stress, and overcommitment.

Our lives are consumed by ‘busy-ness’ (sounds like business, eh?)

Marut shared statistics with us that you have probably heard before:

  • 80% of workers are stressed on the job
  • 34% of employees rush eating their lunch – if they have lunch at all
  • 460 Million vacation days per year are turned back in and not used

How did American society get to the point where it is prestigious to be so busy?When did it start being okay to expect that workers should work 50, 60, 70 hours per week?

When did it become acceptable to push people to be so “productive” on the job that they suffer from exponential amounts of stress related illnesses – mental and physical?  

Where did we acquire this compulsion of having to do something every minute of the day? Is it socially desirable to be so busy and stressed?

Has our self worth become so attached to our ‘busy-ness’ that we are afraid to stop the insanity?

Do we keep so busy so we don’t have to look at the meaninglessness of what we are doing? Do we even notice how busy we are?

When did we start the habit of coming home from work only to begin turning everyone “on” around us (again)?  We walk in the door only to turn on our computer, our televisions, iPods, iPads, Wii, etc. These are all stimulants.

We’re exhausted, fall into bed later than we should and then begin it all again. Is that happiness?

When does it all stop? When do we make different choices?

How do we find happiness?

Some of these can be tough questions if you want to dig into them. A happier life requires some radical shifts, yet Marut offers us some suggestions that don’t seem so radical at all.

Will we stop to listen or relinquish the joy of our lives to busy-ness?

  • Get enough sleep. There is medical evidence that less than 8 hours sleep impacts our health negatively. How much sleep do you get each night?
  • Don’t wake up to a jarring alarm clock sound. This is not a peaceful way to start your day.
  • Stop the cycle of buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff. Simplify your life, reduce the need to earn more and more money. Stop.
  • Practice this mantra. “I have enough”. Repeat. “I have enough”.
  • Stop thinking about yourself and focus on helping someone else.

If you are unhappy, you cannot blame the job or your boss or the bills or your kids. The responsibility and the power to be happy is yours, and yours alone.

Take one step towards creating a discipline for a simple meditation practice every day. Meditation is actually quite simple and there are many different ways to practice it. The key is the word “practice”.

Are you committed to your own happiness?

MYOB: Mind Your Own Boundaries

I grew up learning this lesson:

If someone is in need, don’t ask if you can help – just do it.

Try this approach in your job search or your career transition. Give back more than you get.

Not that you will keep score, but it’s an attitude that might just make you a happier person. Giving back tends to bring its rewards quietly and when you least expect it. Months later doors might be opened that you never knew existed.

People tend to mirror the way they are treated. If you show an interest in sharing information and helping others to achieve their goals, it is likely that those people will want to support your goals in return.

Do we know this already? Of course we do.

But for some crazy reason, we all need reminders about simple things.

The key to all of this is to be an active participant. Look for opportunities to help others and connect people with each other. Look for the chance to cooperate with colleagues or coworkers. Look for the chance to help colleagues that are seeking employment or mentor a young person. Seek out these opportunities.

The truth of the matter is that if you support others, you will seldom experience a shortage of having that favor returned.

One caution: Understand and honor your own boundaries.

What the heck are boundaries anyway? It’s a tricky concept to define. The online dictionary definition from About.com is

The emotional and physical space that we place between others and ourselves. Setting proper boundaries is important to our mental health. When appropriate boundaries are not set, we run the risk of becoming either too detached from or too dependent upon others.

We must always consider both our own boundaries and the boundaries of others in order to establish positive relationships. This is not an easy task, since each person’s definition of an appropriate boundary may differ.

When researching information for this post, I came across a wild story about boundaries. You may already be familiar with it. It was a surprise to me.

Have you heard of Penelope Trunk?

She runs a social networking site for managing careers called The Brazen Careerist, and writes a terrific blog with half a million visitors a month. Yes – half a million…(I highly recommend her blog)

In late 2009, Penelope updated her Twitter feed about having a miscarriage during a business meeting. It read like this:

I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.

As you can imagine, this tweet caused an uproar. You may have read the article in the the Guardian. It is a fascinating read if you have a few minutes.

In the article, Penelope states that she was shocked that her statement created such an uproar.

Really? Shocked? I was surprised to hear that. Penelope is in no uncertain terms a very sophisticated and intelligent business woman. Why would she be shocked?

It seems to me this is an issue about boundaries. There is no true right or wrong, and I am not making any judgments. But we all need to be accountable for our public statements and consider how others will react to them. Penelope didn’t seem concerned. Would you be?

Some boundary basics:

  1. It is crucial to always respect boundaries – both your own and others’. Honoring boundaries is a major component of trust. And without that, you have nothing.
  2. If you feel fatigued when you are interacting with someone, it’s time to reassess whether boundaries need to be clarified. (It’s very easy to convince yourself to ignore this – don’t do it)
  3. If someone becomes so dependent upon you that it begins to feel uncomfortable, it means that they are overstepping your boundaries. Likewise, be careful not to overstep the boundaries of others. Pay attention to cues that your behavior or your language may be making another uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter why.

An example: A colleague, Jason (not his real name) asked me to introduce him to one of my LinkedIn contacts (Joe).  Jason was trying to expand and build his consulting practice. I offered to connect him with two other business contacts, but I told him it wasn’t a good time for me to approach Joe because he had just done me another favor and I knew this was a chaotic time in his company.

Unfortunately, Jason wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He wrote me at least 3 emails within 1 week, rationalizing why I should introduce him to Joe ASAP.  Jason showed complete disregard for my reasoning.

Needless to say, I was taken aback by Jason’s lack of respect for my clearly stated boundaries. Jason overstepped them. Another surprise was when Jason contacted me again a few months later and repeated the same request.

Can you guess how likely I am to help out Jason next time around?

Has someone you tried to help overstepped his/her boundaries? Have you overstepped yours?