Your 2013 To-Do List

images 2I’m a big fan of to-do lists. There is no better tool to use when you’re looking to fool yourself into thinking that you’ve been productive.

I still like to-do lists but I simply can’t afford the time to use them anymore, I have to be productive. You see, I used to put all kinds of stuff on my to-do list: wash the car, pay the bills, make a tee time, call back an unhappy customer, you know, all the stuff that takes up our day.

Each morning I’d look over my list and get “busy.” What do you suppose I did first? Yep, I got that tee time set up and I felt plenty good about it. I’d get the car washed and almost felt like celebrating cause half my to-do list was already complete.

However there was a little something else on my to-do list. It was apparently important because I wrote it down but it wasn’t any more important than my tee time, it was just another task on my list. That’s the best thing about a to-do list, it allows us to avoid doing the things we don’t like to do (calling back an unhappy customer, for instance) in favor of doing the things we do like. The bonus is that at the end of the day we can look at our list and “see” how busy we have really been. It can be very fulfilling. It can also be very misleading.

The most successful people understand the vast difference between being merely busy and being truly productive.

Productive people rarely use to-do lists, instead they use a tool called a Prioritized Daily Task List. A Prioritized Daily Task List is simple to develop but a serious challenge to use. It will take discipline and more discipline to use it well. If you have the willpower to make it work for you then you’ll accomplish more in a day than you ever thought possible.

Here’s how it works; write down all the tasks that you must accomplish for any given day. Next, prioritize them in order of importance. You can use number one through whatever or use letters instead, the important thing is to be honest and realistic. Understand the difference between what must be done and what would be nice to get done.

Now, here’s the hard part: don’t allow yourself to move to letter “b” until letter “a” is complete. Don’t even think about “b” until “a” is complete. Nothing relating to “b” should be in site until “a” is complete. No matter how much you don’t want to do “a” and how much you do want to do “b” finish “a” before starting “b.”

Some tasks will take multiple days to complete and in those cases simply break the larger tasks into smaller pieces and do parts of it each day and do it first if it’s the most important task to accomplish that day.

A Prioritized Daily Task List will make a difference for you in 2013, I’m certain of it. I’m also pretty certain what should be “1” or “A” on your very first Prioritized Task List of 2013.

Develop a Prioritized DO NOT DO Task List for 2013. Your success in 2013 will be influenced by two factors, one of course is what you do. They other, and equally important factor is what you don’t do.

We all have “time wasters” in our lives; stuff, and maybe people, that just suck our time away. They usually add nothing or very little to our lives, all they do is decrease our productivity and maybe our enjoyment of life.

Invest some time determining what the “time wasters” are in your life and make a Prioritized List (the biggest time waster should be your top priority) and eliminate them in order of importance.

Keep your Prioritized DO NOT DO List close by throughout 2013, some of those “time wasters” may try to creep their way back into our day and you might need to remind yourself from time to time how they made your list in the first place.

One more thought… these are YOUR lists, they should help you reach YOUR goals. What someone else sees as unimportant you may decide for YOUR reasons is very important. In cases like that always remember this: YOU win! It’s your list, they are your goals and it’s your life.

Live it the way you want! To heck with the naysayers!

How to be a Great Leader

imagesIt’s amazing to me how many people describe themselves as a leader without ever giving a thought as to what actually makes a person a leader.

It seems to me that more than anything else, what differentiates a leader in title or position only from an authentic leader is this: Authentic leaders care!

Many leadership experts describe leadership as influence and I agree. We must be able to influence a person if we hope to lead them. Influence however has two sides, positive and negative. History has many examples of people who used their ability to influence others to achieve bad and even historically horrible goals.

Those people probably are not leaders as we like to think of our leaders today but by the purest definition of leadership they are indeed leaders. The have many of the characteristics we would say are necessary for a leader to have. They have brains, passion, plans and are committed to their cause.

However, they are missing one characteristic and in my opinion it’s the most vital one of all. They don’t care!

People may comply with a leader who doesn’t care about them but they will not commit to them. If you have people working for you that are not committed, that most likely means that they are not fully engaged either. There is not a greater expense in business today than that of a disengaged employee.

Committed employees are engaged. They do more, they work harder, they find solutions to problems and this one is huge, they take much better care of a business’s customers.

That’s why authentic leaders take no chances in demonstrating to their people how much they care. Notice I said demonstrating. They don’t only say that they care, they show it. They show it intentionally and the consistently. The best leaders will literally block time on their calendar to ensure that the “demonstrating” does not fall through the cracks.

Authentic leaders know that their success is completely dependent upon the success of their people and their actions reflect that. They know this one indisputable fact of leadership: You can care for someone without leading them but you cannot lead them without caring for them.

So, if you want to know how to lead, first learn how to care. See everyone you meet as the unique and special person that they are. Just because they are not like you doesn’t mean they are any less valuable than you. Their values may be different, they might not look like the people you hang out with but none of that matters, they ARE people. People want to know you care.

It’s nearly impossible to care for people we don’t value, so as you begin your leadership journey in 2013 seek first to learn enough about your followers to see them as people. Special people who matter, the kind of people who when given a chance can truly excel.

Then and only then will you have the opportunity to truly lead.

The One Person you MUST Listen To

th 2Are you a good listener? Listening is a skill and by definition we can improve a skill through practice. Most people who struggle with their listening skills listen to respond to the speaker rather than listening to understand the speaker.

Some excellent listeners hold themselves back but listening to the wrong things and the wrong people. You see, WHAT you listen to is just as important as WHO you listen to.

We all have people in our lives that see the dark side of everything. They would even complain about their ice cream being too cold. It would be easy to say that their negative attitudes are their problem but the truth is, if we’re listening to them, it’s our problem too.

Their negative attitude can be contagious. They can infect us to the point that we start to agree with them.

Always keep this in mind, we may, because of work situations or family situations, have to be around negative people but we DO NOT have to listen to them. Successful people do not let negative people hold them back.

The one person you should always listen to is yourself. One you’ve made the decision to maintain a positive attitude, your own “self-talk” can help block out the negative talk coming from some of those around you.

Never let other people tell you that you can’t succeed and for heavens sake, never say it to yourself. Keep your inner voice a positive voice and when things don’t seem to be going well, listen to yourself.

Successful people tell themselves that they will succeed and they believe it.

So be a good listener but remember, it’s important to listen up but it’s even more important to listen in!  

Plans or Resolutions?

thDo you make New Years Resolutions? Most people do, and most people are very good at sticking to their New Years Resolutions, some for as long as 3 or 4 days.

The diet industry loves the New Year… every New Year. It’s by far the most popular time of the year to start a diet. For a good many people losing weight and eating healthier is their top resolution.

There is not much research to be found on the subject but I suspect the second week of the New Year is the most popular time of the year to end a diet.

Fitness clubs love the New Year even more than the diet industry because their memberships soar in early January. People sign up for a year, commit to monthly withdrawals from their bank accounts, get their tour of the facility and fitness assessment and then never see the inside of the place again. I had an executive of one of the big fitness chains tell me once that if even half of the “members” actually used the club they would have to triple the size of the facility to fit everyone in.

Regardless of the resolution they almost all have one thing in common, they are made out of good intentions. When we make a New Years resolution it’s because we really want to make a change; we know we need to and we are willing to make a commitment to do it.

Or are we?

So many people make resolutions because they are easy to. We make them in casual conversations with friends, sometimes we make them after a few beers, sometimes we might make them after a few too many beers. The beauty of making resolutions is that the less we think about them the easier they are to make.

The funny thing is, successful people rarely make resolutions. Successful people make plans. Real plans. Well thought out plans. Plans with steps, goals and time-lines.

They make plans with accountability built into them. They determine the investment they are willing to make in their plan. They know that success will likely require both a financial AND time investment. They know that a plan, at least a good one, can’t be made casually and shouldn’t be made after a few beers.

They know that the time they use to make their plan is an investment and not an expense. Most importantly, they know that a good plan will beat the best resolution 99.9% of the time.

Resolutions don’t create commitment, plans do!

As we end 2012 and begin a New Year, don’t SPEND time making resolutions, instead INVEST time making plans that will lead you to a more prosperous 2013!


The Horror of Newtown

IMG_0689I arrived at my hotel around 3:15pm on Tuesday, December 11th. I had just made it to my room when I heard the sirens. I looked out my 10th floor window and saw a line of police cars going past, it was a long line. Lots of police cars and then, then came the ambulances. I was in Portland, Oregon and a nearby mall, full of Christmas shoppers had just been shot up.

The local news in Portland last week was centered around the mall shooting as you can imagine it would be. Many stories on the victims and the shooter. It was a strange feeling being so close to that.

At 5:30am PST on Friday we drove past the Macy’s that I has seen on the news so often that week. I couldn’t help but wonder where and when the next horrific shooting would take place.

I didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

As I boarded my flight to Minneapolis news reports began to pop up on my phone about a shooting at a school somewhere in Connecticut. I stayed up to date on the events in Newtown through the WiFi on the plane and as we were landing in Minneapolis the absolute horror of what had happened was just coming into focus.

27 dead at an elementary school, most of them kids. I can only imagine how terrible it must have been in that school. We are still learning the details but this much is clear, there is a sizable portion of the U.S. and world populations who will use this crime for their own political purposes.

I tweeted on Friday evening that this shooting was worse than others because the victims were so young, so innocent, with so much before them. Almost immediately some ignorant person from Brisbane responded that the U.S. deserves it because the U.S. slaughters 1000’s of kids a day. Another from the middle east thought is was funny that Americans only care about American kids. Yet another was “disappointed” that more “future murderers” weren’t killed.

I blocked them all immediately but my disgust couldn’t be blocked. I was furious with those responses and saddened that some in the world could actually have that kind of view of my country.

I heard that Governor Mike Huckabee, a host on Fox News, said that we shouldn’t be surprised by “these types of things” since we (the U.S.) have been working to systematically remove God from schools.

I know exactly what Governor Huckabee meant by that and I’m sure there was great emotion behind what he said. But the quote as I heard it made it sound as if God had turned his back on the kids and teachers at the school. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We will never “legislate” God from our schools or anywhere else. God goes where He wants and God does what He wants. Now, having said that I’m sure what happened in Newtown was not God’s doing. He didn’t want it but the free will He gives us allowed evil into Newtown. He grieves with the parents of the children killed and the families of the adults who died trying to protect them.

I can’t imagine how this horrible crime fits into God’s plan but I know it does. I have no idea why He would allow it to happen but trust that He will make it clear to us one day.

But make no mistake about this; God did not abandon those kids, He was there and He is there.

I know all too well the horror of losing a close family member to gun violence. I will never ever forget the moment I heard that my big brother was dead, killed by four shotgun blasts from close range. It’s a feeling that’s simply impossible to explain and it’s a feeling that never totally leaves you.

As the families struggle to find answers, they don’t need is the rest of us fighting over the whys and hows of how this happened. What they need is our support and prayers. What they need is for us to listen, they need for us to be there, just be there.

We can’t fix it for them, we can’t ever make it better and it’s very likely we will never be able to explain it to them either. Just because we can’t make it better doesn’t mean we should make it worse.

So no fighting, no politics, no blaming.

We can be there in spirit and in prayer. Be there!

What Leadership is Not

photoI am still surprised by the number of people who believe that Leadership and Management are essentially the same. They most certainly are not.

This is pretty general but I believe that if you are doing something for your business, new computers, new software, new copiers, etc. that is managing. It’s about stuff, processes and things.

I also believe that if you are doing it for your people, better training, better conditions, better coaching or developing better relationships, that’s leading. It’s about people. Leading is always about people.

It’s been said a million times in books, blogs and articles around the word that you manage things and you lead people. It’s been said millions of times because it is true.

I’ve never met a person who wanted to be managed. People do not commit to a manager, they comply with a manager. People make commitments to a leader and committed people do more things, they do them faster, they do them better and they do them more consistently.

Great organizations know they need great managers AND great leaders. Sometimes you’ll find a person who can excel at both but that seems to be getting rarer all the time.

But here’s the point, if you’re managing your people then don’t expect them to excel at anything. If you apply sound management principles to people they will perform up to their job description and not much more. They will do what needs to be done, they will comply. But know this, managing must be a constant for the compliance to remain. Once the manager is no longer present much of the compliance is no longer present either.

If you choose to really lead your people then they won’t be limited by a job description. People who are led are the ones who accomplish the impossible, people who are led are the ones that truly make an organization great. People who feel led do not need the physical presence of the leader to remain committed. Their unparalleled work ethic continues even in the absence of their leader.

So manage your business as you must; measure your progress, set your requirements and develop your plan. Managing your business will keep it stable and steady.

But if you’re looking for growth, innovation, market share and increased profitability then don’t manage your people, lead them. That’s the not so secret secret to success in today’s business environment.

Your Personal Brand

Backyard-Branding-lgIn the American west cattle ranchers “brand” each head of cattle to mark it as their own. The “brand” is literally burned into the hide of each animal and once branded it is permanent.

We, you and me and everyone we know, have a brand too. It’s our personal brand. It’s not burned into us but it does tend to get burned into the minds of those we deal with. Now here’s something that ought to make you think a bit, it might even scare you a little: Everything you say and everything you do either adds to or subtracts from your brand image.


When you’re really good at something, say speaking for instance, you are recognized (branded) as a good speaker. Many things, how you speak, what you say, what you do and how you do it not only affect your personal brand but can actually become your personal brand.

Not all parts of a personal brand however are created equal. There is one part that stands out above all others. It’s called integrity.

When you do what you say you will do your brand becomes stronger. When you commit to doing something and then don’t do it your brand is weakened. You can excel in any other area but if you lack integrity your personal brand will never be as strong as it could be.

Now, if you’re like me you don’t spend much time each time thinking about how your actions (or lack of actions) are going to affect your brand. But perhaps you should.

I know it’s not possible to spend every minute of every day building your brand, but if you’ll commit even a few minutes a day to consider strategies to better develop your personal brand it will make a positive difference in almost everything you do.

Whether you know it or not you have a personal brand, it precedes you everywhere you go and it hangs around after you’ve left the scene. As long as you have to have a brand, why not do what you can to make it a strong one?