Why, you may ask, am I talking about New Year’s resolutions when it’s only the first week of December? Well, if Walmart can sell Halloween candy in August, I feel I can be the first to get the jump on this topic. After all, resolutions are all about reinvention. Here are the 4 things I’m going tackle in 2024:
- Do 25% less
- Get 50% more connected
- Create 75% fewer PowerPoint slides
- Be 100% present
Do 25% Less
That’s a bold statement for someone blogging on their company’s website. Perhaps, but what I really mean is do less to accomplish more. My strategy has two components.
1. Recognize Perfectionism as Dysfunction
Someone once said that “Perfect is the enemy of good.” And no, it wasn’t Larry Davinci, Leonardo’s slacker brother. It was someone who must have realized the real opportunity cost of perfectionism. Let’s consider for a moment the two basic types of work we engage in.
Some work we do has a binary outcome, where it is clear to see when something is done or not done, and there is no measure of quality (done just means completed). Turn on a light switch and you have light, there is no subjectivity.
But much of the work business executives engage in exists on a continuum of “doneness”, where the finish line can be subjective. Think of a Bob Ross painting, “should he really have added that last seagull?” By and large we do a horrible job of gauging the finish line and push well past the point of diminishing returns with our effort.
Rather than credit this as diligence or conscientiousness, we should recognize this as disfunction and a thief of time that could have been applied to what’s next.
2. Take Back Control of Your Time
Speaking of time thieves, are you really in control of your time or is anyone free to plunk a meeting, or two, or three in the middle of the “get stuff done” part of your day? How many channels of communication are you expected to be immediately reachable on across phones, email, Teams, Slack, etc.? Some say that you can never overcommunicate. They are wrong.
Recapturing greater control of your time is just a variation on the diminishing returns we just discussed. Of course, there is a minimal viable number of meetings, calls and emails that are needed for you and others to stay coordinated and get stuff done.
But busyness isn’t business. At a certain point our work becomes performative, where activity and interactivity appear to be valued more than outcomes. It’s tough to draw this line, we all want to be considered helpful, a team player. If perfect is the enemy of good, the overly interactive workplace is at least a frenemy.
How should you get started? Well, unless you are a transplant surgeon you shouldn’t feel guilty about being unreachable for small blocks of time where you can get stuff done. And if you think that’s a step too far, then set the expectation that for x period of time you will only be monitoring a single comms channel (ideally stone tablets).
And feel free to say no to that meeting invite you were just cc’ed on (I mean c’mon, if they can’t put you on the “To” line, they’re obviously not that into you).
Get 50% More Connected
If you consider yourself a networking superstar, you can skip ahead to the next resolution. While it may feel like most business professionals have mastered the art of staying in touch and are even able to reach out to total strangers with wild abandon, there are many for whom this is an unnatural act. They are often apprehensive about reconnecting with people they’ve lost touch with professionally, worrying that it will be awkward, or worse, that it will come across as commercially motivated. Weeks turn into months and months into years, only increasing that apprehension – Iike avoiding the dentist (I imagine).
As it turns out, this concern is largely unfounded. Research shows that people consistently underestimate how much the recipient actually appreciates it when you make the effort to reconnect with them. And since research also shows that people tend to believe things prefaced with the words “research shows”, that’s good enough for me.
As someone who views their LinkedIn exclusivity as a source of pride, like a low golf score, this won’t be an easy habit to break. My plan starting Jan 1 is to solve this on a go forward basis, by just not letting new contacts lapse in the first place. Maybe around March, I will start to whittle down the list of those I’ve lost touched with…or by April for sure.
Create 75% Less PowerPoint
Do you know the carbon footprint created by corporate America’s use of PowerPoint? Neither do I, but it has to be a lot. What with the endless saves of version after version, forever occupying gig upon gig of memory on cloud servers. You thought crypto mining was bad for the environment, but have you ever thought about the impact of Microsoft Office?
But saving the planet is only the bonus prize, I’m really talking about overcoming the tyranny of decks and reinventing how we communicate ideas and get alignment. Here are my 3 strategies for reducing my PowerPoint footprint.
1. Search & Reapply
I first came across the phrase “search and reapply” at P&G, where it meant, don’t reinvent the wheel. If someone made a great Pantene commercial in Singapore, why can’t it be used everywhere else in the world with a tweak or two?
At this point in my career there is no slide I haven’t created at least once, no frame I’ve left unworked. And yet every deck I create is made from scratch. Starting in January I am going to put all of my effort into the ideas on the page, and leverage more of my inventory of greatest hits slideware.
2. Kick it Old School
For the last few years, I’ve introduced more and more hand-drawn slides into my work-in-process output with no major issues. Why not more?
I’m sadly old enough to remember when this was how all decks were made in consulting. The consultant would draw out what they wanted in pencil on graph paper and then walk down the hall to hand it to the production team who would turn it into beautiful slides. But why produce it at all?
If you can work quickly and legible on paper, why not put it directly into your draft decks? The magic of hand-drawns are that the medium is the message. A finished PowerPoint deck communicates, “DON’T try to improve this, just AGREE with me.” In contrast a hand-drawn deck scanned into a PDF says, “don’t feel threatened, this is just a rough idea that I need your help with.” Much friendlier.
3. Just Don’t
Why not skip decks entirely or save them for the very last mile. If you are remote, collaborate in Miro versus throwing dueling decks over the wall at each other. If you are in person, get on a whiteboard and collaborate, then memorialize your progress with a picture. If you really want to leapfrog your communications, Canva lets you create short videos that “research shows” are less likely to sit unopened in somebody’s inbox than just another deck.
Be 100% Present
This last resolution speaks for itself but is unlikely to make it much past the third week of January. Still, that’s what resolutions are all about, the renewal of hope for our personal reinvention.
Happy Early New Year!