This article from FastCompany addresses: How to keep your work from creeping into your personal life. Why do so many people feel like they’re never really able to turn work off completely?

By Elizabeth Grace Saunders

With some jobs, you truly do have to be available to work 24/7: think doctor on an on-call day. But most jobs don’t require giving your work this level of access to your personal time. So why is it that many people—likely you if you’re reading this article—feel like they’re never really able to turn work off completely?

In my work as a time management coach, I see that this “work creep” falls into two big buckets: work you need to complete, and interruptions from others who want something from you. With both buckets, you can proactively reduce the amount of time work intrudes in your personal life with some simple, yet powerful, time management strategies.

Work you need to complete

If work outside of when you want to be working happens primarily due to your own uncompleted tasks, you’ll need to push back more during the workday to protect your time after hours.

1. Know what you need to do

The first step to avoiding working outside of work is to know exactly what needs to be accomplished for the week. Increasing your awareness of what might keep you up at night or working on the weekend allows you to not have it surprise you at the end of the day or the end of the week. Then if possible, look for open blocks of time in your calendar when you can complete the work—for example, an hour gap between meetings or an open morning. If you don’t have any open time, then you’ll need to begin blocking time out in your calendar if you want to have any hope of getting work done at work.

2. Hide from people

Once you have time blocked, you’ll need to work to protect it, including potentially declining meetings that people try to set during that time. In many work environments, it can be hard to get work done at your desk because of the number of interruptions. You may need to take it a bit further and find a place to hide. That could look like simply closing your door (if you have one), finding a conference room, a quiet area of the building with empty desks, or even working from home or at a coffee shop. Remember: If you don’t hide from people at work, you’ll end up hiding from your family and friends outside of work because you still have stuff to get done.

3. Get out of your inbox

During your work time when you are trying to get tasks done, limit the amount of time you spend being responsive. Offices have different standards so some people may truly need to be instantly responsive. Generally, however, giving yourself 30 (or even 60) minutes away from answering email or other forms of communication is acceptable. That way you’re keeping space open at work to complete tasks and slowing the churn on items that may not be that important.

With the above three strategies, you may not eliminate tasks you need to complete outside of work but you can greatly reduce them.

People who want something

Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. If work creeps into your personal life because of others’ uncompleted work, then you’ll need to put a greater emphasis on pushing back during the hours when you want to be off.

1. Ask what people need

Instead of assuming that people will come to you with enough time to get help, go to them first. If you’re a manager, ask your direct reports what kind of feedback they will need from you. Also, let them know when you will need to receive things in order to review them. Getting something at 10 p.m. that needs to go out to a client the next morning is a recipe for grumpiness. If you’re on a project team, get clear on where your colleagues may need something from you, and prioritize that work during your day. It’s ideal for people to come to you, but if they’re not traditionally proactive, you can take the initiative to find out what’s needed from you.

2. Do what you said you will do

You teach people what to expect from you. If you said that you will get feedback to them by a certain time, keep that commitment. If you said that you wouldn’t check email after 6 p.m., stay off of it.

If you consistently demonstrate through your actions that you do what you say you will do, people learn that you’re serious. On the other hand, if you don’t do what you say you will do, people will expect that it’s okay for them to turn things in late because you do the same. Or they will learn that you will check for their work on the weekends even though you said you wouldn’t.

3. Unplug from work

Ideally, you can have a separate phone and computer for work. That way you can leave one or both tools at the office—or at least keep them in your laptop bag. If for some reason that isn’t possible, you can at least do things like shut off work email notifications when you’re done for the day or the week.

In some cases, you do need to know what’s going on. But in many cases, situations can wait. If you don’t know about them, they either figure themselves out, or you can attend to them when you return to the office.

Using these strategies, you may not prevent all work creep due to other people’s emergencies, but you can at least prevent a great deal of it. It’s time to work hard on the job and then give yourself permission to be off the clock.

About the author

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the author of Divine Time Management and How to Invest Your Time Like Money and a time management coach.

Courtney Rosenfeld, author, creator of Gig Spark shares some tips on using outsourcing. Especially relevant in this tight labor market, it might make sense for some of your work to be done by a non-employee.

A Cost-Effective Investment: Finding Good Freelancers

Hiring a full-time employee is a big investment when you factor in salary, benefits, training, and overhead costs. However, it doesn’t always make good financial sense, especially if you can find a talented freelancer to do the same work at a fraction of the cost. According to Forbes, it’s a lot easier to find qualified, affordable freelancers these days than it used to be — after all, they’re expected to comprise a majority of the US workforce by 2027.

Freelancers are less expensive in the long term because they’re generally paid a one-time contract fee to perform a specific job for a set period of time, which (usually) ends when the work is delivered. The trick is finding good ones. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Assess Your Need

Think through the work at hand and assess the qualities and background of the individual you’d want for that particular role. Make a list of the personal attributes and experience you’d expect, and then conduct your search based on those parameters. Spend some time on social media (LinkedIn and Facebook) and freelancer websites studying the profiles of people who’ve built solid reputations doing great work.

Outsource Your Needs

There are plenty of tasks that take up your time. Imagine how much more efficient and profitable you could be by plugging in the right freelancer to handle that work. For example, data entry is a specialization that’s ideal for an experienced, organized, and detail-oriented professional. Look for specialists such as an Upwork data entry contractor who can help you with everything from documents to databases and spreadsheets. Farming out this important and time-intensive responsibility will help you focus on other responsibilities, such as promoting and growing your business.

Check out the Reviews

Many freelance platforms allow former employers to leave comments about the quality of the work for which they contracted. These are good places to seek out qualified people because you can choose from a list of professionals with established track records. Employer reviews will tell you a lot about a freelancer’s skill and suitability (much like Angie’s List can help you find a good housing contractor or landscaper).

Ask Around

Chances are your colleagues, clients, and former co-workers can help you find quality freelancers, either from firsthand experience or through word of mouth. Do some networking at professional conferences, and put out the word via social media that you’re looking for a qualified person for a specific role. Also, include details like the assignment’s expected length and whether they’ll be working from home or in your office. 

Ask Prospects to be Specific

If you’re looking for a freelancer, chances are you don’t have a lot of time to waste going back and forth with prospects. Be direct — ask candidates to include a cover letter with their rates so you can weed out overpriced candidates right away. Always set an application deadline to see who’s reliable (and who’s paying attention).

Don’t Jump the Gun

Take your time finding the right person, even if you’re on a tight deadline. It’s better to be thorough, ask plenty of questions, and hire a reliable individual than trying to cope with the foibles and shortcomings of someone you hired in a hurry. You shouldn’t settle or compromise when choosing a freelancer anymore than you would if hiring a full-time employee.

Remember, the work your freelancer does represents your company, so take the time to find the right person for the job; if things go badly, explaining to a customer that you hired the wrong person won’t salvage the situation. Use your personal contacts and professional network, and pay careful attention to online feedback and reviews. It might require some hard work and dedication, but your diligence will pay off in the long term.

Written by Courtney Rosenfeld, author, creator of  Gig Spark

Its tough everywhere, and some companies are bending to get the employees they need. Are there policies you could bend in order to attract more candidates? Question becomes, what are you sacrificing, and where should you stand firm?

Drug tests and background checks are becoming less important to employers. Here’s why… By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business

It’s brutal out there for employers looking to hire.”America has a talent crunch,” said Steven Lindner, CEO of The WorkPlace Group. “This one, unlike past ones, is across all age groups. We also see it across all industries.”

So some companies are reducing hiring requirements — like drug testing, background checks and the amount of experience and education wanted. When Bob Camire started working at New England Document Systems in 2010 he had no problem finding workers for the document management company — even for the entry-level production positions that paid $8 an hour.

“We had people beating down our door to get in at the low rate we were offering at the time,” said Camire, who is the director of human resources and operations. “We had one person coming in for an $8-an-hour job who was earning $60,000. Today, the total opposite is true.” To help expand its applicant pool, the company is more lenient on what it will let pass in a background check, according to Camire. Previous blue-collar crimes, like drug or alcohol-related offenses and motor vehicle issues, aren’t automatic disqualifiers unless the position is for a driver or safety-related position. However, because of the sensitive nature of many of the documents it handles from clients, the company is still strict on white collar crimes, like fraud and identity theft.

Paying more and asking for less to attract talent

Close to 40% of employers say they have loosened job requirements in order to recruit workers, according to a recent report from recruitment and staffing firm Adecco USA. “It’s an indicator of where we are and how hard it is to find talent,”said Bill Ravenscroft, senior vice president at Adecco, adding that it’s taking 10-15 candidates to find one who is qualified and wants the job.

“A lot of these companies are also in a situation where they can’t compete on wages … they are finding more creative ways to still get access to talent.” Document Systems increased its starting salaries for production jobs to $10.50 an hour, but it’s still having a hard time attracting candidates. “If we bumped up the starting rate to $12, that would open the pool up for us, but the problem is we have long-tenured employees we would also have to bump up and it would cost the company an awful lot of money,” said Camire.

Companies are also shedding their education requirements. The number of jobs listed on ZipRecruiter requiring an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or an MBA has dropped in the last two years, according to the company. Certain sectors have seen big reductions.For instance, 13% of food service sector jobs posted required a high school diploma or equivalent compared to 21% in 2017, ZipRecruiter found.Hanover Co-op Food Stores, the second largest food co-op in the country, currently has around 30 open positions. To help get more applicants, the company has relaxed its education and experience requirements and increased wages for new employees. While all hires still go through a background check, the food cooperative has also relaxed its stance on past convictions, according to Lori Hildbrand, director of administrative operations. “Before I got here, there was a rule we would never hire someone who had a felony conviction,” she said. “We now look at the length of time since things have happened and their history since then.”If an applicant has had a clean history for about seven to 10 years since the conviction, then they would still be in the running. However, if someone applied for a cashier job with a larceny conviction, the applicant would instead be considered for a position in another department, such as food prep or grocery. The company said it will not hire anyone with a history of child molestation.

The co-op has also sped up its hiring process. The HR department used to pre-screen candidates before a hiring manager reached out. Now, those pre-screening questions are incorporated into the application process and candidates are passed straight to the hiring manager. “The delay was up to two weeks and we would lose people,” said Hildbrand. The co-op also works to get offers made within 24 hours.

Opening up the pool

Some companies have also stopped drug testing candidates or have relaxed which results are flagged. “Clients are saying that is no longer the most important criteria and are eliminating drug screening for certain positions,” said Ravenscroft.And for companies who still drug test, they aren’t as strict with what they’re looking for. “A lot of clients are saying even if we drug test, we’ve dropped marijuana from the panel,” saidattorney Jim Reidy, with the lawfirm Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green.Some companies are targeting older workers, who might not be ready for full retirement. The average number of job postings with language aimed at candidates who are retirement age more than doubled from 2017 to 2019 on ZipRecruiter. “They are including language in job postings saying ‘retirees welcome’ or ‘perfect jobs for retirees’ and saying how they will work with them to provide things like flexible schedules,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

When Life Gets Busy, Focus on a Few Key Habits

HBR article helps us keep it simple to maintain sanity…
by Jackie Coleman and John Coleman

Eight months ago, we welcomed our third child. In the past, we’ve written about how to navigate careers, stress, and even “annual planning.” You’d think we’d be prepared for wonderful but disruptive life events like these, but as Mike Tyson famously quipped, “Everyone has plan until they get punched in the mouth.”The past year has been a time of radical prioritization for us. We’re constantly optimizing — identifying our most essential priorities and activities while reluctantly and painfully cutting things that are important but not urgent.

Maybe you’re facing a life event that forces this type of radical prioritization. Whether it’s changing jobs, taking care of a sick parent, relocating, or facing a diagnosis, disruptions in life can make it hard to maintain moment-by-moment focus and well-being, much less think months or years in the future. Long-term goals remain important. But in the fog of life’s most intense moments, long-term focus can be hard.

Daily or weekly habits aligned with your long-term goals can keep you on track even when it’s hard to think ahead, and they can add stability in an otherwise unsteady time. Each of us have regular practices we try to maintain to give our lives structure, to remain mentally and physically healthy, and to assure we’re approaching life consciously. These habits, important at any time, are essential in our busiest and most chaotic periods. So what do these habits look like?

The first step in maintaining regular habits is to articulate and track them. We find the key is to keep this simple. What are the 5-10 things you need to do daily or weekly to keep life on track? Once you’ve written them down, track them. The Momentum app, for example, is an easy way to set daily and weekly habits and be reminded of them. There are many others. If you’re more old-fashioned, you can use a simple Excel sheet or paper planner. The important thing is to reflect on the right habits, write them down, and stay accountable.When setting habits, we’ve found the most critical are clustered in four key areas.

The first is personal reflection. This can look radically different depending on the person. For us, as people of faith, this involves prayer and scriptural study. It also includes religiously agnostic habits, like keeping diaries, documenting the funny things our children say, and crafting gratitude journals in which we can record what’s happening in our lives and what we are grateful for multiple times per week. Studies have shown that these kind of practices can help us better process life events and remain joyful about the good we experience.

Relatedly, we need time for professional reflection. For years, John has maintained the same professional routine. He sits down on Sunday night with a weekly Moleskine planner and maps out his most important meetings and priorities for the week. This helps him assure he’s focused on not simply what’s most visible or immediate, but what’s actually important. And it offers structure so that when new demands arise he can more easily prioritize them. Then, each morning, he inserts a note card into the planner where he prioritizes what needs to be done that day. Simple, daily reflection on priorities and to-dos can make a meaningful difference in productivity and focus.

A third category of activities is building and maintaining relationships. Social science is crystal clear on the centrality of relationships to personal well-being. It’s important to prioritize and manage relationships. For us, right now, the primary relationships we’re focused on are with our kids and with each other. Each day, we structure a bedtime ritual with the kids where we all get together and spend time together, reading and talking about our highs and lows. As a couple, we try to make time to speak every day, and we try to get out of the house together, without the kids, once per week. We also each try to make at least some time to spend with a friend or two once a week. These sound like small things, but they can be critical to maintaining positive relationships and emotional well-being.

Finally, we all need to maintain habits that encourage physical and mental health. Studies show that people who get at least two days of exercise per week are happier (with each additional day boosting happiness further) and as little as 20 minutes of exercise can boost mood and 11 minutes of lifting weights can boost metabolic rate. For mental health, daily meditation can be a lifesaver restoring some order and balance in disordered and imbalanced times. Apps like Headspace and Calm have made practices like this more accessible than ever and easier to track and maintain. For both of us, the simple act of reserving 30 minutes each day for reading or writing can also promote mental health, a task that seems to be backed by science.

Everyone’s life looks different. But we all have periods of life which are busy, disordered, and stressful. In those times, short-term habits —weekly or daily practices — can trump long-term goals as a way to focus, survive, and thrive.

Jackie Coleman is a former marriage counselor and most recently worked on education programs for the state of Georgia.John Coleman is a coauthor of the book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders.

Being a humble leader shows strength as this article from HBR shares… How Humble Leadership Really Works

When you’re a leader — no matter how long you’ve been in your role or how hard the journey was to get there — you are merely overhead unless you’re bringing out the best in your employees. Unfortunately, many leaders lose sight of this.

Power, as my colleague Ena Inesi has studied, can cause leaders to become overly obsessed with outcomes and control, and, therefore, treat their employees as means to an end. As I’ve discovered in my own research, this ramps up people’s fear — fear of not hitting targets, fear of losing bonuses, fear of failing — and as a consequence people stop feeling positive emotions and their drive to experiment and learn is stifled.

Take for example a UK food delivery service that I’ve studied. The engagement of its drivers, who deliver milk and bread to millions of customers each day, was dipping while management was becoming increasingly metric-driven in an effort to reduce costs and improve delivery times. Each week, managers held weekly performance debriefs with drivers and went through a list of problems, complaints, and errors with a clipboard and pen. This was not inspiring on any level, to either party. And, eventually, the drivers, many of whom had worked for the company for decades, became resentful.

This type of top-down leadership is outdated, and, more importantly, counterproductive. By focusing too much on control and end goals, and not enough on their people, leaders are making it more difficult to achieve their own desired outcomes. The key, then, is to help people feel purposeful, motivated, and energized so they can bring their best selves to work.

There are a number of ways to do this, as I outline in my new book Alive at Work. But one of the best ways is to adopt the humble mind-set of a servant leader. Servant leaders view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support as they do so.

To put it bluntly, servant-leaders have the humility, courage, and insight to admit that they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them. They actively seek the ideas and unique contributions of the employees that they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning, and an atmosphere that encourages followers to become the very best they can.

Humility and servant leadership do not imply that leaders have low self-esteem, or take on an attitude of servility. Instead, servant leadership emphasizes that the responsibility of a leader is to increase the ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of followers — to encourage them to think for themselves and try out their own ideas.

Here’s how to do it.

Ask how you can help employees do their own jobs better — then listen

It sounds deceivingly simple: Rather than telling employees how to do their jobs better, start by asking them how you can help them do their jobs better. But the effects of this approach can be powerful.

Consider the food-delivery business I previously mentioned. Once its traditional model was disrupted by newer delivery companies, the management team decided that things needed to change. The company needed to compete on great customer service, but, in order to do so, they needed the support of their employees who provided the service. And, they needed ideas that could make the company more competitive.

After meeting with consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers and some training, the management team tried a new format for its weekly performance meetings with the drivers.

The new approach? Instead of nit-picking problems, each manager was trained to simply ask their drivers, “How can I help you deliver excellent service?” As shown in the research of Bradley Owens and David Heckman, leaders need to model these types of servant-minded behaviors to employees so that employees will better serve customers.

There was huge scepticism at the beginning, as you can imagine. Drivers’ dislike of managers was high, and trust was low. But as depot managers kept asking “How can I help you deliver excellent service?” some drivers started to offer suggestions. For example, one driver suggested new products like Gogurts and fun string cheese that parents could get delivered early and pop into their kids’ lunches before school. Another driver thought of a way to report stock shortages more quickly so that customers were not left without the groceries they ordered.

Small changes created a virtuous cycle. As the drivers got credit for their ideas and saw them put into place, they grew more willing to offer more ideas, which made the depot managers more impressed and more respectful, which increased the delivery people’s willingness to give ideas, and so on. And, depot managers learned that some of the so-called “mistakes” that drivers were making were actually innovations they had created to streamline processes and still deliver everything on time. These innovations helped the company deliver better customer service.

What it comes down to is this: employees who do the actual work of your organization often know better than you how to do a great job. Respecting their ideas, and encouraging them to try new approaches to improve work, encourages employees to bring more of themselves to work.

As one area manager summarized: “We really thought that we knew our delivery people inside out, but we’ve realized that there was a lot we were missing. Our weekly customer conversation meetings are now more interactive and the conversations are more honest and adult in their approach. It’s hard to put into words the changes we are seeing.”

Create low-risk spaces for employees to think of new ideas

Sometimes the best way for leaders to serve employees — and their organization — is to create a low-risk space for employees to experiment with their ideas. By doing so, leaders encourage employees to push on the boundaries of what they already know.

For example, when Jungkiu Choi moved from Singapore to China to start his gig as head of Consumer Banking at Standard Chartered, he learned that one of the cultural expectations of his new job was to visit the branches and put pressure on branch managers to cut costs. Branch staff would spend weeks anxiously preparing for the visit.

Jungkiu changed the nature of these visits. Instead of emphasizing his formal power, he started showing up at branches unannounced, starting his visit by serving breakfast to the branch employees. Then, Jungkiu would hold “huddles” and ask how he could help employees improve their branches. Many branch employees were very surprised and initially did not know how to react. But Jungkiu’s approach tamped down employees’ anxiety and encouraged ideation and innovative ideas.

Over the course of one year, Jungkiu visited over eighty branches in twenty-five cities. His consistency and willingness to help convinced employees who were sceptical at first. The huddles exposed many simple “pain points” that he could easily help solve (for example, training for the new bank systems, or making upgrades to computer memory so that the old computers could handle the new software).

Other employee innovation ideas were larger. For example, one of the Shanghai branches was inside of a shopping mall. In the huddle, employees asked Jungkiu if they could open and close the same times as the mall’s operating hours (rather than the typical branch operating hours). The team wanted to experiment with working on the weekends. Within a few months, this branch’s weekend income generation surpassed its entire weekday income. This was not an idea that Jungkiu had even imagined.

These experiments paid off in terms of company performance. Customer satisfaction increased by 54 percent during the two-year period of Jungkiu’s humble leadership. Complaints from customers were reduced by 29 percent during the same period. The employee attrition ratio, which had been the highest among all of the foreign banks in China, was reduced to the lowest among all foreign banks in China.

Be humble

Leaders often do not see the true value of their charges, especially “lower-level” workers. But when leaders are humble, show respect, and ask how they can serve employees as they improve the organization, the outcomes can be outstanding. And perhaps even more important than better company results, servant leaders get to act like better human beings.

Article by Dan Cable professor of organizational behavior at London Business School.

Less can be more, as evidenced in this Smithsonian article about a grocery store distributor…

The Bizarre Story of Piggly Wiggly, the First Self-Service Grocery Store

What’s in a name?

Self-serve grocery stores saved shoppers money and made financial sense. The one question is why their innovator named the first one Piggly Wiggly.

On this day in 1916, the first Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, the chain has more than 530 stores across 17 states, according to its website. Its founding is one of the stranger stories in the history of retail. But its founder Clarence Saunders was clearly onto something—today, self-service grocery stores are the norm.

Saunders was a bit of an iconoclast. For the store’s opening ceremonies, writes Mike Freeman for the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Saunders promised to hold a “beauty contest” that he advertised in local newspapers. “At the door Saunders shook their hands and gave to their children flowers and balloons,” Freeman writes. “Newspaper reporters posing as contest judges awarded five and ten dollar gold coins to every woman, while the supply lasted. A brass band serenaded the visitors in the lobby.”

This enthusiastic greeting was necessary because Saunders was trying something completely new. Before Piggly Wiggly, groceries were sold at stores where a clerk would assemble your order for you, weighing out dry goods from large barrels. Even chain stores used clerks. 

Although the chain store model helped keep costs down, the University of Michigan Library writes, the “small army of clerks” necessary to fill orders were expensive, the university writes, and at least part of that cost was passed on to the consumer.

Saunders’s model cut costs by cutting out the clerks. Shoppers on that first day did see some employees stocking shelves, Freeman writes, “but they politely refused to select merchandise for visitors.” Just like today, a shopper picked up a basket (though Piggly Wiggly’s were made of wood, not plastic) and went through the store to purchase everything. By the end of that first year there were nine Piggly Wiggly locations around Memphis.

“One day Memphis shall be proud of Piggly Wiggly… And it shall be said by all men… That the Piggly Wigglies shall multiply and replenish the earth with more and cleaner things to eat,” Saunders said a few months after the store’s opening, according to Freeman.

As for the name, nobody knows. “He was curiously reluctant to explain its origin,” Piggly Wiggly’s corporate history reports. “One story says that, while riding a train, he looked out his window and saw several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, which prompted him to think of the rhyme.” Another option is branding, Piggly Wiggly writes: “Someone once asked him why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organization, to which he replied, ‘So people will ask that very question.’”

The year after the first store opened, Saunders secured his concept with a series of patents belonging to his Piggly Wiggly Corporation. Though his model quickly took off, he wasn’t at the helm for very long. According to Piggly Wiggly, not long after he franchised the Piggly Wiggly idea Saunders started issuing public stock in the company. As a result, he lost control of it early in the 1920s. But he wasn’t done redesigning the grocery business. He later tried to introduce concepts like Keedoozle and Foodelectric, fully automated grocery stores, didn’t take off. Must have been the names.

Article by Kat EschnerSMITHSONIAN.COM

I have not tried this, but it has been recommended by a Vistage Colleague of mine.

I have not tried this, but it has been recommended by a Vistage Colleague of mine. 

Blinkist is an app that will give you a 15 minute summary of those leadership and personal and professional development books you have wanted to read but have not found the time for. 

There is a free 7 day trial if you are interested.  I dont know how much it is, but if it saves you 8 hours a book, it could be priceless.  

If you have experience with this, please share!

6 Reasons We Make Bad Decisions, and What to Do About Them

HBR article by Mike Erwin

Research has shown that that the typical person makes about 2,000 decisions every waking hour. Most decisions are minor and we make them instinctively or automatically — what to wear to work in the morning, whether to eat lunch now or in ten minutes, etc. But many of the decisions we make throughout the day take real thought, and have serious consequences. Consistently making good decisions is arguably the most important habit we can develop, especially at work. Our choices affect
our health, our safety, our relationships, how we spend our time, and our overall well-being. Based on my experiences from three deployments as an Army officer and from researching Lead Yourself First, I’ve found the following mindsets to be detrimental to good decision-making. When you have to make an important decision, be on the lookout for:

Decision fatigue. Even the most energetic people don’t have endless mental energy. Our ability to perform mental tasks and make decisions wears thin when it’s repeatedly exerted. One of the most famous studies on this topic showed that prisoners are more likely to have parole approved in the
morning than when their cases are heard in the afternoon. With so many decisions to make, especially ones that have a big impact on other people, it’s inevitable to experience decision fatigue. To counter it, identify the most important decisions you need to make, and, as often as possible, prioritize your time so that you make them when your energy levels are highest.

A steady state of distraction. The technology tsunami of the past decade has ushered in an era of unprecedented convenience. But it’s also created an environment where information and communication never cease. Researchers estimate that our brains process five times as much
information today as in 1986. Consequently, many of us live in a continuous state of distraction and struggle to focus. To counter this, find time each day to unplug and step back from email, social media, news, and the onslaught of the Information Age. It’s easier said than done, but doable if you
make it a priority.

Lack of input. The Kellogg School recently found that in a typical meeting, an average of three people do 70% of the talking. As author Susan Cain articulates so well in her book Quiet, many introverts are reluctant to speak up in a meeting until they know precisely what they want to say. Yet, these
members of our teams often have some of the best ideas to contribute, since they spend so much of their time thinking. To counter this inclination, send out a meeting agenda 24 hours in advance to give everyone time to think about their contributions, and work to set a meeting culture that allows
people to contribute their ideas after the meeting is over.

Multi-tasking. There aren’t many jobs left in the world today that don’t require at least some multitasking. While that’s the reality, research clearly shows that performance, including decision-making effectiveness, suffers by up to 40% when we focus on two cognitive tasks at the same time. When
you need to make important decisions, carve out and commit to several blocks of time during the day to focus deeply on the task at hand.

Emotions. Experiencing frustration, excitement, anger, joy, etc., is a fundamental part of the daily human experience. And while these emotions have a meaningful role in our lives, you probably don’t need to see the research to know that our emotions, especially during moments of peak anger and happiness, can hinder our ability to make good decisions. Deciding to speak or send an email while angry often compounds a tough situation, because the words don’t come out right. To counter this, pay attention to your emotional state and focus on the character strength of self-control. Resist the temptation to respond to people or make decisions while you’re emotionally keyed up. Practice walking away from the computer or putting the phone down, and return to the task at hand when
you’re able to think more clearly and calmly.

Analysis Paralysis. While the Information Age has gifted us with an abundance of information, big data, and metrics, there’s also no end to the amount of information we can access. And we know that the more information we have to consider, the longer we typically take to make a decision. While the decision-making process should be thorough, the best way to make good decisions is usually not to take more time or to look at more information. Instead, review the pertinent information you need,
set a deadline to make a decision, and then stick to it.

The decisions we make determine our reality. They directly impact how we spend our time and what information we process (or ignore). Our decisions shape our relationships — and increasingly in today’s hyper-connected world, decisions contribute to our energy level and how efficient we are in
the various aspects of our lives. Inevitably, we all make some poor decisions every single day. But if we are aware of these six enemies of good decision-making, and take steps to outmaneuver them, we can make better decisions that have a positive impact on the people we work with and lead.

Mike Erwin is the co-author of Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude and CEO of the Character & Leadership Center. He is also the president of The Positivity Project and a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserve, assigned to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as an Assistant Professor in Leadership & Psychology.

“5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO” with Elizabeth Gerbel of EAG Services

Written by Phil La Duke – As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I reached out to women CEO’s and had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth currently serves as the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of EAG Services, a leading oil and gas IT consulting firm, and EAG 1Source, a full-service IT and business process outsourcing firm. She is responsible not only for both companies’ strategic leadership and vision, but also for providing guidance, direction and expertise to clients and team members.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Elizabeth! What is it about the position of CEO that most attracted you to it?

It was during my first jobs, right after college, working for Andersen Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I implemented accounting, financial, and cost-accounting systems for clients of those firms, that led me to my current career path. I’m grateful for that experience because it laid the foundation for what we’re doing today at EAG Services.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does, but in just a few words can you explain what a CEO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?

As the leader at the helm, it’s my job to develop and support successful teams. That means building the right team. From there, create an environment where your team feels safe but push their boundaries. My goal is not for everyone at EAG to stay forever, but when they leave, they should be significantly more knowledgeable and accomplished than when they arrived.

What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?

Learning to identify individuals within the organization who were not a cultural fit or healthy for morale proved difficult for me. I always tried to see the best in everyone and thought that it was part of my role to encourage employees to become their best selves, but many times, retaining those individuals was detrimental to the organization, as a whole. I had to learn that not everyone is a cultural fit or happy within EAG and that’s ok. As a result, we have spent significant time defining what is the EAG Culture and encouraged those who were not a fit to find new opportunities. This turned out to be best for everyone but mostly for the EAG team. Now, everyone knows that they can rely on everyone else and feel that they are working towards a consistent vision for the company. Since I changed my paradigm on what my role is, our culture has blossomed, and our team seems much happier and engaged.

What are the biggest challenges faced by women CEOs that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Especially being in an oil & gas industry where men are mostly holding the jobs and in our work environment, a big challenge is creating a warm, comfortable environment. It’s crucial to develop a peer-based organization or environment where your team can feel it’s safe to make those mistakes and learn. Mistakes are a great learning tool and more companies embrace employees — women — in order to develop them and help them grow. Men can face this too, but in our particular industry, it’s more often than not, a male-dominated environment.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?

When our entire team is in the office together, typically on Friday’s, I get to hear them laugh and collaborate with one another. It’s amazing to watch, and then, to later hear from clients the ideas and problems that they have been able to solve makes me so very proud of their accomplishments. I consider myself a collector of brilliant and team-driven people, and when I see them come together, it takes my breath away.

What are the downsides of being a CEO?

Work/life balance.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As any entrepreneur can relate, my entire path was a learning process, but I’d say the most interesting story relates back to my early days of finances in my business. When we went through our first venture, a few years after founding EAG Services, we reached a point where the funds weren’t adding up. It was at this point that we realized our controller wasn’t paying our bills, and we had to figure out how to not only correct the mistake but also learn how to manage with low cash flow. It took about a year to come out of this mistake.

All in all, I wouldn’t change our path because it was something we had to go through and experience. It’s essential to learn about cash flow and how critical it is to manage cash flow when building capital. The next time we had a downturn in cash flow, I was prepared, and we had learned from that first time what we had to do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As an entrepreneur always on-the-go, with a very determined mindset, something amusing happened to me when I did everything in my power to attend a meeting in a different city.

I was already traveling from a meeting when I realized I had to re-route my travel itinerary if I wanted to make the upcoming meeting in a different city. The only way for me to get there in the appropriate time frame was to fly straight to that city, Denver. I re-routed my flights, changed my schedule, but my luggage, however, was a different story. My luggage somehow found its way to Mexico City instead of Denver.

I learned that sometimes it’s ok to slow down and reschedule a meeting because it’s probably not best for you to push yourself. In the end, I had to push the meeting by a few hours because I had to purchase a whole new wardrobe.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO?

Successful leaders develop and support successful teams. First of all, build the right team. Hiring a great resume may get you skills, but is that person going to fit into your team? Eliminate those individuals who erode rather than enhance team spirit. My daily goal is to help my team thrive. Create an environment where your team feels safe but push their boundaries. If you have a talented team, push them to do things that are new with the caveat that they will make mistakes. The right team members will HATE making mistakes, but the outcome should be a constructive learning experience. That’s not to say that you won’t get angry periodically, but that is what the gym is for… to work off your emotions which are usually irrelevant. Your team will never grow if they cannot make those mistakes and learn. Remind them that it’s ok to make mistakes, but to be successful, they have to get back up again the next day and strive to learn. And, of course to make new mistakes in the future. That’s part of growth. It’s essential for members of your team to feel as if they’re a part of an experience, not just an employee. My goal is not for everyone at EAG to stay forever, but when they leave, they should be significantly more knowledgeable and accomplished than when they arrived. Lastly, really listen to people when they’re bringing ideas to the table and let people do the job they were designed to do. Explore people’s ‘zones of genius’ and leverage that in the decisions you make. You can’t know everything or do everything better than everyone else, nor should you. You are their fearless leader (or pretend to be). Give them the strength and encouragement to become the best in their field.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My top advice for other female leaders to help their team thrive is first to create an environment where your team feels safe. In other words, we all make mistakes, but it’s crucial to develop a peer-based organization or environment where your team can feel it’s safe to make those mistakes and learn. Tell them it’s ok to make mistakes but you must get back up again the next day and strive to learn and do better.

Who inspired/inspires you and why?

My dad was is my biggest inspiration because he’s been through my journey — every step of the way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Throughout my journey of success, the person that was always there for me was my dad. He’s always been incredibly supportive, especially in teaching me never give up when things got down. He’d always tell me to buck up and get back on the saddle.

When push came to shove, he would pitch in money or help me with personal expenses or provide me a short-term loan to keep going. It was through this trial and error that I learned how to be better at predicting and how to handle the ups and downs of the energy cycle.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As a Houstonian, it was important for me and only natural to come back and start my company there. It meant a lot for me to add more jobs to my hometown. My impact, as well as EAG Services, is evident by Houstonians, particularly startup oil & gas companies turning to us for advice in streamlining processes & providing support to their businesses. The work myself and the EAG Services team provide to our Houston clients is everything, and it shows at every level in the organization. People are empowered at EAG, not only to mold their career path and accelerate it as such but also in their ability to do right by the client.

It’s also important for us to give back to our community when we can. We have a community service committee that comes up with activities for the company to participate in throughout the year where most of our employees are coming out and giving back.

What are the “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. For any new business cash on-hand is critical, and I wish someone had told me to always understand the cash impact of every decision that you make before taking action. I know from talking to other friends in start-up situations that this is a hard lesson to learn on your own. In my case, during our 2nd year of operations, I decided to switch the team from contractor status to employee status. I made offers to everyone who I thought would be a good fit long term and expected a few of those folks to accept. It didn’t occur to me that they would ALL accept. And, I did not think through how much it would cost to pay out the remaining amounts owed for their prior month’s work as contractors as well as their first month of salary and benefits. That overlap unexpectedly tapped me out. From that experience, I learned to always calculate the cost up front, plan accordingly and try to avoid an unnecessary cash crunch.
  2. Work with a bank where you actually have access to a banker who can answer questions and provide advice. When I first started, I used a large bank simply because I had maintained my personal accounts there. However, you need someone to talk to about getting a line of credit established, the difference between the types of accounts available, how to maintain your credit worthiness, etc. With the big bank, I had a basic business account. By moving to Amegy Bank and getting to know my local banker, I was able to get a line of credit in place, different accounts to generate interest off cash reserves, positive pay to protect us if someone tried to deposit a fraudulent check, etc. Those are really important services to have in place.
  3. For every upturn there is a downturn, and you have to take advantage of economic ups and market changes that give you an edge because a downturn is eventually coming your way. I work in the Energy Industry which is very cyclical. I knew that from the day we started, but it was so easy to focus on growth without planning for a rainy day. Because of that, we were low on cash and too dependent on specific customers when we were faced with our first big downturn in 2009. There were days when we only had $4,000 of cash on-hand. The line of credit kept us alive, but we had to cut everything and everywhere to make it through that year. The next big downturn hit in 2014. We were better prepared, and while it was still a struggle, we weren’t wondering if we would have to shut down the business. We learned new lessons on how to survive and feel much more prepared for the next downturn.
  4. Everybody has advice on how to run your business. You will be offered a lot of really terrible advice and a few great nuggets. It’s important to sift through the talk and utilize the advice that is really relevant. When I first started the company, I tried to talk to everyone and listen to everyone which was exhausting and confusing. During the third year, I joined Vistage, a CEO networking group, and that was a game changer. I had folks who were going through the same types of issues to talk to. Others were past my issues and could speak to what they learned and the mistakes they made. I was able to run ideas by a team of folks who actually cared about my success. We also had a facilitator for the group who brought in speakers to discuss different topics such as managing your Key Performance Indicators, Sales, Marketing, HR. It was all extremely helpful.
  5. Pick your advisors carefully and use them consistently. Your lawyers, CPA’s, Payroll Service Providers and Accountants are there to help you and keep you out of trouble. Always research their advice and get 2nd opinions if you are uncertain, but do not strike out on your own creating contracts, figuring out payroll and filing taxes if you don’t know what you are doing. This is something that I figured out on my own very quickly, and it paid off. We have great contracts in place. We started off with the right legal entity setup which saved me significantly in taxes (talk to your tax advisor, not your lawyer about legal entity options). Working with a payroll service ensured that we were in compliance with rules that I never new existed. Where I failed was with accounting. I thought that a CPA would make a great Controller, but there is a big difference between audit and small business accounting. You, the owner, need to understand how accounting works and review your books carefully every single month. When the downturn of 2009 hit, not only was I in a cash crisis, but I couldn’t figure out what I really owed because the books were a complete mess. A friend of mine who owned a bookkeeping firm came into the office with me on a Saturday, and we pulled invoices out of drawers and files all weekend. It took us over a week to figure out what was due and what was paid. We had to call vendors and try to discern the status of our accounts. In the end, she took over the accounting so that I could focus on getting us cash flow positive again. Then, she helped me train a very trusted employee to take over the accounting. Now, we walk through the books every month and discuss where we can improve and how to manage cash.

How to be ruthless with your time and support your team at the same time.

Unless you’re a one-person operation, time management requires you to consider how your practices impact everyone else.

Your time is a precious commodity. It’s your one nonrenewable resource, and it’s something that you can’t get back. As linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have noted, the metaphors we use around time reflect sacred scarcity. We say time is money. We invest, save, protect, spend, audit, give, squander, waste, and budget our time.

It’s unsurprising that time management ranks as one of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace. To maximize efficiency at work, you need to be hard-nosed with your time. And there are a host of productivity tools designed to help you do just that: the Pomodoro Technique, Kanban Board, Eisenhower Matrix, time audits, and so on. However, unless you’re a one-person operation, you can’t rely on these tools alone. You also need to communicate your time-management approaches to your colleagues.

The key is to be ruthless with your time without being ruthless with your team. At LifeLabs Learning, we study what makes unusually productive teams and leaders different. Below are eight tools we’ve collected from our research to help reach that mutually happy quadrant where you can manage your time and support your team at the same time.

1. Do a precheck

If you’re trying out a new time habit, check in with people who might feel the impact ahead of time. Make sure that you explain the reasoning for the change, and do so with empathy.

“I’m trying out X to be more efficient with my time. However, I understand this may impact you and would love to set up a time for us to problem-solve together.”

2. Have a trade-off conversation

If someone asks you to do something that interferes with your current workflow, let them know what that entails and make them part of the solution.

“I can do X, but it means I can’t do Y. I think I should stick to X because it’s imperative to the company at the moment. What are your thoughts?”

3. Show the pie

Create a quick visual of what’s on your plate. For example, one team we studied had a “key lime pie of productivity,” and each project represented a slice. When someone asked for help, they showed their pie as a way to decide which slices they could exchange.

“I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but here is what my to-do list looks like at the moment. Do you see this request as more critical than one of these items? If not, I would still love to help in the future. My earliest available date is . . .”

4. Create if-then rules

This is a set of rules that automate actions. If X, then Y. For example, if you’re the manager who continually gets bombarded with questions, then ask your team to come up with at least one solution before asking for help. This if-then will not only save you time but will also help your employees become more independent.

On the flip side, if your manager regularly “surprises” you with requests, instead of reactively reprioritizing your whole day, then politely ask about urgency and/or share trade-offs.

5. Create “dark time”

This is a term that we use at LifeLabs Learning to describe the times that employees aren’t available to work (usually after 6 p.m. or on weekends). Having such norms also prevents burnout. For leaders, it’s essential to model this behavior and hold others accountable as well.

“I’ve noticed that a few people on the team communicate during off hours. I was wondering if we could establish an explicit norm around when we should/shouldn’t expect people to reply. What are your thoughts on this?”

6. Hold “office hours”

Creating new time habits at work can induce anxiety. People may feel like they’re losing access to a valuable resource. That’s why you must schedule a recurring meeting, or “checkpoint,” when people know they can come to you. This gesture is likely to reduce anxiety and unscheduled shoulder-tapping.

“Some of you may have noticed that I’ve made efforts to be more deliberate with my time. That said, in addition to our regular 1-1s, I want you to know that I’m available to meet and discuss anything you need during these hours [list them].”

7. Model time integrity

“Quick question.” “I’ve got a minute.” “EOD.” “ASAP.” These are all examples of being blurry and unspecific about time. The most effective teams we study do something different. They model time integrity and are specific with their communication when it comes to time. Here are a few examples.

“To make sure I can respond on time, can you please specify by when you need this?”

“I have ten minutes to talk now. Is that enough time? If not, let’s schedule a time that works.”

“To make sure I’m focused on this conversation, how long do you think we need?”

The magic of time integrity lies not only in being specific about your own time but also in respecting the other person’s request and time.

8. Do a calendar cleanse

In many organizations we work with, it’s hard to say “no” or “not now” to meetings. Often, you feel like you’re violating a cultural norm. But at the same time, most people feel like they’re spending way too much time in pointless meetings. If you’re not sure if a meeting is a good use of your time, get in the habit of asking.

“Thanks for inviting me. So that I can contribute well, can you share the agenda or goal of the meeting?”

If, after receiving a response, you feel that the meeting isn’t a top priority, then politely decline.

“Thanks again for inviting me. To stay efficient, I would prefer to collect a summary of what was decided/discussed. Does that work?”

By using these methods, it’s possible to manage your time and maintain a positive relationship with your coworkers. The key is learning to communicate preemptively, set expectations, make people part of the process, and find structured and creative ways to solve problems together.

This article was written by Roi Ben-Yehuda he is a leadership trainer at LifeLabs Learning, where he helps people at innovative companies (like Squarespace, Tumblr, Venmo, WeWork, and Warby Parker) master life’s most useful skills.