The little things are the big things.
Whether personal habits or for businesses, it is always the little things done consistently that make the most difference.
Scaling the unscalable. Thoughtful comments on posts in a given online community. Picking up a dropped time in the supermarket for an elderly lady. Sending a bespoke email rather than an impersonal shotgun blast. Keeping in contact with an old colleague. Saying thank you.
These are the things that people looking in from the outside miss and then attribute results down to luck.
Serendipity cannot happen if you never interact on a personal level with anyone. At some stage, you have to put yourself out there and then keep doing so.
The biggest little thing you can do is to keep adding value to others and keep working on yourself daily.
"Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices." ~ Benjamin Franklin
If only 2 or 3 people are meeting, it is not a meeting. You are just scheduling time for a chat. No need to go overboard with prep, but it might help if the person knows why you want to talk to them first - unless you just want to build a relationship. 1-on-1 should be used for building relationships, for feedback, for any difficult conversations or actions that you parked from a bigger meeting. If it were up to me, all meetings would be this kind. This is where the real work happens. This or a workshop, but the most successful workshops start with a few 2-3 people meetings anyhow.
If 4 or more people are meeting, you have yourself a proper meeting and you should sign-post it as such with an agenda. How strict you need to be on the agenda depends on which of the four types of meetings you are running:
“Doing the doing” when this happens to need a diverse group of people to make it happen. Make sure everyone there is needed and knows what they are talking about. “Hangers-on” can severely disrupt the flow and creativity of the rest. Cut people ruthlessly and manage with a smaller number than required. You can always take your findings to people outside the core group afterwards if needed. This kind of work usually benefits from large amounts of unstructured time, like a half or full day. You may want to break it down into a couple of chunks to make sure you are making progress, but don’t go overboard on the timings. Go with the flow.
Cancel this meeting if the person needing a decision has not shared why the decision is needed, the options and estimated consequences of each option, and their recommendation. If you are the person needing the decision, make sure you have spoken to the key people beforehand. Like House of Cards, never call a vote unless you are sure you are going to win. You need to know who is on-side or not so you can prep everyone else. This kind of meeting, when done well is just acting out what everyone already knows. Time it ruthlessly. Allow some time to go through each option (as anyone you have not spoken to will never have read a pre-read), some time for discussion, and then push for a decision when the time is up. If you can’t get the meeting to a decision, then you either have a bunch of people that use “more info” as an excuse or you have not done enough prep to show that a decision is really required and that it is needed now.
Relationship building / development on scale:
For example, team meetings or anything where the main aim is to get people working together. This is fine. Introduce some structure and timing to keep things on track, but be upfront that the point of this is to work together better or give people the safe space for development e.g. running a team meeting or presenting.
People not being aware of which type of meeting they are in. It can be okay to break a bigger meeting into parts that may cross the four types but avoid it where possible. The biggest source of frustration for attendees is confusion over what sort of meeting they were in. For example, you don’t want lots of discussion at a deliverables update; You don’t want people pushing to record actions in the middle of a workshop; You don’t want people trying to solve the world in a cascade; And you don’t want people telling their life story in a decision meeting.
Similarly, no one likes a time-Nazi if the group is just about to get the result they are after and someone cuts them off for the sake of a couple of minutes. Let it run over and then readjust. The key is to be able to do this quickly and have structured your meeting so you can run over. E.g. don’t ask for a decision right at the end when everyone needs to leave for another meeting. The decision should be made 10mins before the end. Buffer it with AOB if needed.
You can do all this with a clock, but seeing the time tick down and communicating this will increase the effectiveness of your meetings massively. Having the ability to proportion delays across the rest of your agenda instantly, so you always have a plan to finish on time is something your co-workers will be eternally grateful for. Okay maybe not, but they might buy you a coffee. MeeTime does all these things and for less than the price of a clock. Google Ventures uses a time timer at $25-£50 dollars. For a tenth of the price, you can have something more sophisticated always available in your pocket. Shameless plug over. Get MeeTime.
Excerpt from Tools Of Titans, Tim Ferriss:
Noah Kagan on what would you put on a billboard?
"'It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen.' I'd put it on every college campus in the world. In our youth, we are wonderfully creative and idealistic... Truth is, young creative minds don't need more ideas, they need to take more responsibility with the ideas they've already got."
Similarly, think of all the meetings you are in where everyone gets a say. Everyone has a new idea, yet not many of them are executing any results or taking ownership of the ideas they throw out. Just like a pact between friends to always do sober what you said you would do whilst drunk, if someone has an idea then give them an action to execute that idea.
There are some things that I now need to do daily just to get back to normal:
Drink apple cider vinegar
Take vitamins (B12 and D-3)
Avoid refined sugar
Eat slow carb
Avoid gluten and grains
Wake up at the same time every day
Write a blog post
Write morning pages
Go for a walk
Have a cold shower
Reach out to my network
Of course, these things make everything else possible…if done consistently.
Ordinary things done consistently produce extraordinary results.
Why do meetings start on the hour? And last an hour? Because someone at Microsoft made the calendar default that way when Office was ubiquitous and no one has ever changed it.
The problem is that other people's meetings finish on the hour. You cannot be in the meeting room at the exact time that someone else finishes. So, there is a very high chance that you are going to start late. Others have back-to-back meetings all day even if you are conscientious enough to avoid them.
Why not start at 2mins past, 5mins past or 10mins past? People might actually turn up early thinking it starts on the hour. You might actually be set up to start on time.
Similarly, why finish on the hour. Knowing that your colleagues do not have the time management skills that you do, help them out by finishing at 5mins or 10mins to the hour so they can get to their next meeting. Anything you need an hour for can be done in 30-45mins anyway.
Give someone the gift of time. Make your meetings that ones that start and finish on time. Schedule.
You plan your workouts. You plan what you are going to watch on Netflix. You plan where you want to go on holiday for 10 days of the year.
You don’t plan your daily “why is someone making me sit through this” meetings. You don’t plan your “if only I had more time I would start” side hustle. You don’t plan your “if only…x I could have y” life that you want.
You are planning. Just the wrong things. Do the opposite for a week and see where you get to.
Three’s a crowd,
Four, or more, is either a shit-storm or a successful meeting. And you get to decide which.
Less than four people do not need much structure. It is more of a chat. Once you get to four or more, that's when time stretches.
Cut. Prepare. Run. Repeat.
Cut the number of attendees. Everyone does not need a say. Be bold. Someone will be upset whatever decision is made.
Prepare the agenda and make sure everyone else has prepared.
Run the meeting to time. Be mindful that this is not the work. The meeting is organising the work. Get back to work as soon as possible.
Repeat. As infrequently as possible.
Checking someone’s work is both short-term and not scalable. If you are in the middle of a “crisis” then it may be necessary.
But first, is it really a crisis? Do you really not have the time for someone to fail and find their own mistakes? Because that is how they are going to get better the fastest.
Better to increase capability. If you are spending time being a bottleneck then you are not spending enough time improving things or getting to the root cause of the error.
Checking is the worst resolution. But this is not the same as not being in the detail.
You should know the detail well enough that you know how long things should take, you know the right questions to ask, you know who should be accountable for which metrics.
You should be in a position to help people fix the bureaucratic processes that drain them; fix the outdated systems that cause extra work; fix the expectations of the people they serve to cut out the noise and provide air cover.
Know. Fix. Don’t check.
I have just finished Antifragile and realised the reason why document versus create works.
Usually, the people on TV are blowhards with no skin in the game. Instagram and YouTube vlogs have allowed the doers to document what actually happens rather than an author interpreting what happened after the fact (although there are obviously a lot of people that can teach you how to make money by teaching people how to make money... ad infinitum).
This is the first time this has happened in history. Before, the doers did and the theoreticians pontificated and changed history through retrospective writing.
Just like the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote though, be the one documenting (or creating). Not the one consuming the content.
People want more. More money, more people, more time.
Corporate life consists of people who throw more people at a problem. Mostly without realising this can make things worse. Or alternatively, this mindset can be complicit in promoting activities that do not need doing in the first place.
More money. Buying TV ads that no one watches because we did it last year and we need to do something otherwise what are we getting paid for?
More time. Consistently insisting on ever increasing meeting lengths rather than looking to cut out the unnecessary peacocking of Dave the over confident and uninformed account manager or the dithering of Deborah the delayer of decisions.
More time needed leads to more people needed. More people needed leads to more fixed cost. More fixed cost leads to more reliance on hitting forecast.
Things are not always good - you can do more than you think with less. But when you try to do less with more, that’s when the "restructuring" and the layoffs begin.
Unfortunately, like a government bailout or the collapse of a public service, it is those that made the organisation fragile in the first place the ones that usually escape unharmed.
You are not employed to only get results in perfect circumstances. Cut the unnecessary and do more with what you already have.