I just completed a mountain of work, dug through about 85 emails in my inbox (still 70 to go), wrote 3/4 of a revised pitch, sent someone what I hope was compelling information, and made a few more travel plans for January (18th and 24-25th in NYC, 31st in DC). I came back from CES with several dozen more action items than I’d left with, and then even THOSE were added upon.
It reminded me just how important it is to be ready.
Ready Means Resetting
One very simple way I try to be ready to handle things is by resetting as often as I can. What’s that mean? Well, at home, you re-set by picking things up and putting them back in place before company comes. At a restaurant, the breakfast setup is different than lunch, and so a reset happens, including vacuuming, and changing out the ingredients in the kitchen. How do *I* reset?
- Keep things in their place. (Yes, this is OCD, but very useful).
- Close out to-do’s as often as I can on the first pass, so I have less to remember.
- Keep a pen and blank index cards in my pocket.
- Have cash on hand, as best as I can.
- Use calendars for my schedule, and scan my commitments often.
Ready Means Closing Out To-Do Items
One thing we do often in life is create virtual drag. We say yes to a lot of things (Ready means learning to say “no” more often, too). We open up a lot of projects, but never reach closure. The more things we add to the plate, the more opportunities we have to do many things poorly instead of a few things really well.
And here’s the confession/strategy point: If you said NO better up front, you wouldn’t have to focus so hard on this as a point in your readiness requirements.
Do your best to close out things as soon as you can, but here’s a secondary factor to this: it’s often really easy to close out small items, and sometimes, we get in the habit of doing these like they’re popcorn. But if we focus TOO long on all the small items, we never devote ourselves to the things that take more time to get done. (By the way, the very best way of dealing with THAT issue, is learning how to craft things into what David Allen calls “next actions.” Next Actions are breaking down goals into single-serving tasks that move the ball forward on all our projects).
Ready Requires Killing Distractions
There are lots of competitors for your mental cycles. You have email. You have blogs. You have internet video. You have your friends. Family. Bills. Movies. Recreation. Fitness. The list can go on and on and on.
To be ready means that you have the same 24 hours in a day as the rest of us, and that you have to choose how you will allocate your time. Only you can decide which parts of your day’s activities are worth something, but those decisions will shape how you find your time with which to be ready.
Distractions can be something simple, like leaving your IM on when you really should be buckled down. They can be complex, like determining that your weekly two hour lunch with old high school buddies is not only not-very-rewarding, but is actually kind of an energy drain to everything else you’re doing. They can be actual work-related or focus-related things that just aren’t the best use of your time. I used to stop attending certain business meetings at my old job, if they were notoriously too long.
Ready Means Being Decisive
Lots of our “wait” time in life comes from being uncertain. It could be as simple as not knowing what to have for lunch. It might be as complex as not really knowing what we want to do for a career for the next two years. But there are a lot of brain cycles used up by decision making.
Now, you don’t always have to be a snap decision maker, but why not for lots of the time? Did you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink? Great book. Here’s the premise: more often than not, your first impression is probably right, or at least close enough.
Try it. Try making decisions on simpler things faster. Try upping the ante. See what happens. You will likely surprise yourself the most on this part alone.
Oh, and second-guessing goes into this category. Second guessing is just silly. You can’t go back.
Ready Means Knowing What You Control
This is tricky, because there’s lots in life that requires teamwork. If you are a unit of one, you can’t scale, and that’s not especially useful to anyone. And yet, whenever there are things you’re responsible for, but not in CONTROL of, that’s when there’s a ready issue. If I commit to something to my boss, I try my damnedest to own the edges. Why? Because the other people in the food chain of such situations rarely have the same sense of urgency as I do. Whenever I forget this one, it bites my ass.
And yet, you have to be a team. Right? So, how do you solve this.
Try hard to own your commitments. If that means owning the team who delivers on your commitments, then try to do that as well. But if you say yes by proxy for someone who’s not you, be very tight to that decision, and stay in as much control as you can of the whole situation.
How Ready Are You?
Do you feel particularly ready? Do you have bandwidth to take on the next big challenge? How might you apply this to your life?