This time of year is generally reserved for reflection of time passed, experiences had, people who have come into our lives and those whom have passed through. It is also a great time to celebrate what the future holds. But the future, however exciting, can be filled with angst. That said, many times in life we don't make decisions because of doubt - it simply paralyzes us. The reality is that if you have a willingness to move forward in spite of doubt, you often should – and it is likely to reap great rewards for you.
Oftentimes I find myself struggling with the "what to change" so I can "be better" dilemma; essentially, the dreaded resolutions or reflection reality check. Over the last month, most of my thought has been focused on minimizing – basically getting rid of waste in my time and life and/or creating more with less. The result, I hope, would be more clarity and time.
Given this topic has been heavy on my mind, I have been reading a lot on the subject. One article I read in Harvard Business Review, "Five Things you Should Stop Doing in 2012" by Dorie Clark, provided some tremendous advice, and therefore I decided to share it and add my own thoughts as well.
1. Email Hell
If you are experiencing this, you know exactly what I mean. I have literally received 278 emails as of 2:30pm today (work related only). It's become a skill in itself to manage the deluge of email. In Dorie's article, she calls it "Responding like a Trained Monkey," and I do feel that way some days. Dorie mentions that email management studies prove email has become addictive and, in many ways, like a slot machine for the brain, further explaining that checking email only periodically (every 90 minutes or only once a day) is not only beneficial for our well-being, but further allows you to actually accomplish something substantial.
In this day and age, I know we all feel we need to respond to every email as soon as it arrives, but the truth is we don't and we shouldn't. I recently spent time at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards with Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing Co., and he certainly has a focus on managing email. In fact, his auto-reply states the following: "Thank you for your email. In order to better respond to business demands, I will be responding to emails twice daily. If your email is Urgent in nature and cannot wait up to 6-8 hours for a response, please contact…thanks for your understanding." Moral of the story: Manage email – don't let it manage you.
2. Small Distractions
All day long, one distraction leads to another, which eventually adds up. We inevitably become stressed, frustrated and finally overwhelmed. I'd estimate this happens to me at least 2 – 3 times a week. Dorie's concept is called "Mindless Traditions." The example given is essentially passing on one opportunity because of feeling the need to fulfill another traditional "obligation" – such as sending holiday cards – because if you don't, you may feel guilty. Meanwhile, your card gets buried in the many others people receive around the holidays.
The opportunity here is to reach out and touch someone in a different time, perhaps a time they wouldn't expect it. How about sending a card in July – Happy Summer Card? Or better yet – just call them. Handwritten notes throughout the year are nice when not expected. In fact, I keep a stack of thank you cards and envelopes on my desk, and every time I get back from a conference or a meeting, the first thing I do is write a quick note to those I met and thank them for their time. Recently, I received a nice wallet in return just because I had sent a handwritten note. Focus on what is important through prioritization, and delegate the rest.
3. Information Paralysis
It is really easy to get caught up in feeling as though we have to know everything going on in the world. Heaven forbid we are the last to find out the latest business merger, political policy or worse yet, Kardashian breakup. In Dorie's article, she mentions that she has nearly a dozen newspaper and magazine subscriptions all driving her compulsion to be included on crucial information. I'd say that is about par for the course. I bet we all have – at minimum – two-dozen physical subscriptions, email newsletters and online accounts we feel we must read. Dorie took a month off from all the physical sources to detox and afterward, realized she was able to reflect on those that matter. For her, that was The New Yorker; the rest were out the door.
I'd like to broaden this to all compulsive sources of information overload. Which of them don't truly provide value or save you time? For me, it means no more magazines, DVR for every show, cutting my newsletter subscriptions in half (I don't need that special Groupon deal) and an aggregate RSS news feed that organizes my news. Streamline your information sources to essentials, and gain more control over your life. You'll probably get smarter as a result.
4. All Work is Not Created Equal
Dorie calls this "Work That's Not Worth It", and for this section, I'll skip her examples. I am very passionate about this topic. In fact, at advertising and marketing industry events, I often talk about it. Businesses (especially ad agencies) have gotten so caught up in the herd, they feel compelled to do something cheap or free to keep a client happy or compete with everyone else – why? "Because everyone else is doing it." Let me ask you, how's that process worked out for you thus far? If you do something cheaper than you should or for free because everyone else is, you do three major things:
1. You devalue your work
2. You become frustrated because you made a bad decision, and it is painful to work on that project every day
3. You actually harm the client long-term because the quality suffers
That's right: if you can't do it at a fair price for both the client and your business, you should not do it. Say no. Free often leads to low quality, and you will end up in an unhappy place. Respect your business and your clients; the results will not only improve, you will be happier and your client will be too.
5. Idea Complications
We all have a lot of ideas. However, may times we overcomplicate them. We either don't have a great approach or vision, lack execution or haven't tested the waters to know whether people even want or desire what we think is great. I once heard that Google has an internal pitch process for ideas. If you can't get the point or value across in as few as three slides, your idea is toast. I like that. Ideas should be simple and easy to communicate. The moving parts can be figured out after the value proposition. Dorie's example was in regard to a friend's idea of a professional development series, but the friend wanted to do bi-weekly calls over a two-month period to filter through the idea. When Dorie asked a series of questions that resulted in silence, she quickly knew she had saved herself a lot of time and effort on moving forward with a bad idea. Create a value proposition and decide what to test (even a little) before putting too much time and effort into it.
I suggest reading Dorie Clark's full article on HBR and appreciate her inspiring words that led to this post.
Steve Parker, Jr. is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Levelwing, a digital advertising agency that provides data-driven marketing solutions. Steve can be reached at email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter at @sparkerjr.
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