Read like your career depends on it (review of Lead to Read)

You were spared and I was saved by a former business editor at the Hamilton Spectator.

I went into the newsroom back in the fall of 1999 to pitch the editor on an advice column about public relations.

The editor said what you’re thinking. No one would want to read that week after week.

What went unsaid was my complete lack of qualification to write that column.  I was just six years into my career. I’d only held two junior PR jobs. Along with embarrassing myself, writing about PR hits and misses by local leaders and employers would’ve been a definite career-limiting move.

While the PR column was DOA, the editor pointed to an overflowing bookcase and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing business books. I left with the first of what would be nearly 600 books and counting.

The authors of Read to Lead would agree that my saying yes to reading and reviews business books was a smarter career move.

“One of the best, most affordable and flexible ways you can improve yourself professionally is by reading books,” says Jeff Brown and Jesse Wisnewski. “Reading books may not appear on your resume or LinkedIn profile. But the benefits you reap from what you read will.

“Reading books will help you learn new skills, improve your decision-making abilities, and even provide you with more professional opportunities. Reading books can also help you avoid costly mistakes and reduce your learning curve.”

While the benefits are many, lots of us aren’t reading nearly enough. And some of us don’t read any books at all.  

A lack of time is a common excuse even though we average close to six hours a day starring at screens. “Don’t blame TV, social media, or the internet for your being a non-reader,” say the authors. “Instead, fight to give your attention to reading more by doing less of whatever else you’re giving your leisurely attention to. Your future self will thank you.”

So what books should you be reading? It shouldn’t be an exclusive diet of business books. Brown and Wisnewski recommend reading for personal change and personal enrichment, spiritual enrichment, professional development and wisdom. Also read books recommended by people you trust. “If a book has changed someone else’s life and they recommend it, get it. Reading a book recommended by someone you know or respect from a distance can be a game-changer.”

The authors are big fans of joining or starting a book club at work. “Encouraging your colleagues, team, or employees to join a book club is arguably one of the most cost-effective ways you can build a healthy culture, train your team and develop future leaders.”

To start a book club, get permission and financial support from your boss. Pick a moderator to lead the group discussion. Choose a book and set a date, ideally giving everyone a month to read the book. As a group, talk about the book’s big ideas and then implement what you’ve learned. The authors’ Leadbook.com website has free resources for setting up and running a book club at work, including questions to jumpstart conversations and a recommended reading list.

Whether on your own or in a club, Brown and Wisnewski say you should read like your career depends on it.

“There’s no secret to reading other than making it a priority, picking up a book, cracking it open and getting to work. If you want to read more books, then you will have to prioritize reading. There’s no way around making this decision, and you’re the only one who can make it.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

In defense of common sense at work (review of Martin Lindstrom’s The Ministry of Common Sense)

A parent emailed in a panic.

Her son, who used a wheelchair, was graduating from college. His convocation ceremony was just days away. His dream was to walk across the stage to accept his diploma. To do that, he’d need help from his mom.

But mother and son were told that couldn’t happen. There was a hard-and-fast rule against family and friends being on stage during convocation. No exceptions even in exceptional circumstances.

The mom’s plea found an empathetic ear. Her email was forwarded to the president. Common sense prevailed.

When the student got up from his wheelchair, everyone in the packed theatre got out of their seats. With help from his mom, he walked across the stage to a standing ovation, lots of cheers and more than a few tears.

So how about your organization? What hard-and-fast rules, regulations, policies, procedures and practices are driving out common sense?

Count on the number of common-sense issues to be off the charts, says Martin Lindstrom, author of The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses and Corporate Bullshit. “This pervasive lack of common sense hampers the real business of companies – that is, serving their customers better than the competition and becoming more responsive, attentive and attuned to their needs. Companies have abandoned whatever common sense they once had in favour of systems and processes that a two-week-old golden retriever would find dumb. Either businesses never had much common sense to begin with or they’re not aware it’s gone missing.”

If common sense is MIA in your organization, Lindstrom blames eroding empathy, an insular inside-out rather than outside-in perspective, corporate politics and technology that more often complicates, rather than streamlines, our lives.

So how do you help common sense make a comeback? Start with small, modest changes that’ll yield quick, easy and momentum-building wins, says Lindstrom. The people you serve will be more than happy to tell you how you frustrate them to no end. Your employees will do the same if they believe candor won’t cost them their jobs. Having senior leaders experience your organization as a customer, client or frontline employee is also highly instructive.

Once you’ve identified red tape and roadblocks, stage a three-month intervention. “This strategy involves doing things quickly, accurately and efficiently – within a 90-day time limit. A ticking clock injects a sense of urgency to the proceedings, which typically dissolves company politics. The busier and more focused that employees are on hitting a target, the more that internal politics disappears.”

Optimism will wane so celebrate your wins no matter how small. “Only rarely do organizations commemorate truly special occasions. If they do, these usually revolve around boring economic metrics, soaring stock prices or a cursory email that shows up in your inbox telling you that Barb in accounting is turning 50 next week, and asking whether you will be chipping in for cake and a hot stone massage. Designed mostly to please HR or throw a bone to employees, these sorts of celebrations are often the extent of a company’s recognition of the culture.”

To pull off these changes and make sure they stick, Lindstrom recommends establishing a CEO-endorsed Ministry of Common Sense, “devoted to overturning the frustrations, hurdles and roadblocks within corporations that most leaders and managers don’t even know are there. And by the way, the Ministry isn’t some cloying, whimsical, feel-good jurisdiction either. It’s not a Band-Aid. It’s real, and it serves as the first line of defense against the thoughtlessness, at-times-incoherent systems, processes, rules and regulations that squander resources, morale and productivity.”

As Lindstrom shows, reviving common sense in your organization will save you money, improve your culture and strengthen the customer experience.  As the pandemic forces us to rethink and reinvent how we run our organizations and do our jobs, we should also revisit all the hard-and-fast rules that are crushing common sense. Let empathy reign.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Our best hope is to give up hope of doing & having it all (review of Oliver Burkeman’s 4,000 Weeks)

Your bucket list is bottomless.

Your vacations are all about pushing yourself to physical and mental extremes, curating the highlights on Instagram and recharging your batteries for work.

You don’t have the time or patience to read a book but you listen exclusively to work and life hack podcasts while training for your next marathon.

You have side hustles instead of hobbies.

Inbox Zero is your religion.

And you genuinely believe that you’re destined to leave a permanent dent in the universe.

Oliver Burkeman would like a word. He’d warn that you’re squandering your most scarce and precious resource. It’s not just that there are only 24 hours in a day. If you’re lucky enough to make it to your 80th birthday, you’ll have clocked a little over 4,000 weeks.

So what’s the best way to use your finite amount of time in the face of infinite opportunities and demands?  Lead a limit-embracing life and acknowledge that it’s impossible to do and have it all,  says the author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short,” says Burkeman. “But that isn’t a reason for unremitting despair, or for living in an anxiety-fueled panic about making the most of your limited time. It’s a cause for relief.

“You get to give up on something that was always impossible – the quest to become the optimized, infinitely capable, emotionally invincible, fully independent person you’re officially supposed to be. Then you get to roll up your sleeves and start work on what’s gloriously possible instead.”

To find your glorious possibility, Burkeman has five existential questions for you to wrestle with.

Where in your life or your work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort? “Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment whenever you can,” says Burkeman.

Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet? “Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today.”

In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?

In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing? That day isn’t coming anytime soon. “There is no institution, no walk of life, in which everyone isn’t just winging it, all the time. If that feeling of total authority is never going to arrive, you might as well not wait any longer to give such activities your all.”

How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition? “We’re all in the position of medieval stonemasons, adding a few more bricks to a cathedral whose completion we know we’ll never see. The cathedral’s still worth building, all the same.”

Burkeman calls his book an extended argument for the empowering potential of giving up hope.  “Embracing your limits means giving up hope that with the right techniques, and a bit more effort, you’d be able to meet other people’s limitless demands, realize your every ambition, excel in every role or give every good cause or humanitarian crisis the attention it seems like it deserves. It means giving up hope of ever feeling totally in control, or certain that acutely painful experiences aren’t coming your way. And it means giving up, as far as possible, the master hope that lurks beneath all of this, the hope that somehow this isn’t really it – that this is just a dress rehearsal and that one day you’ll feel truly confident that you have what it takes.”

It’s not enough to stop spending your limited time on low to no-value distractions. You’ll also have to make tough calls on very important things. No matter how productive and efficient you become, there won’t be enough time to do everything that matters. And if you try, you won’t enjoy the moments you spend with everything and everyone who matter most.

Our world is bursting with wonder, says Burkeman “yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.”

Fortunately for us, Burkeman is one of those gurus who can help us do justice to “the outstanding brevity and shimmering possibilities of our four thousand weeks”.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books since 1999.

Going under the hood of the world’s most voracious data-mining machine (review of An Ugly Truth)

What’s the price to be paid when you put company before country and profits over privacy?

For Facebook, it adds up to record results.

The company’s second quarter ad revenue jumped 56 per cent to $29.1 billion compared to the same quarter last year, with profits more than doubling to $10.4 billion. Facebook also reported 2.9 billion monthly active users.

But beyond the balance sheet, it’s been a brutal stretch for Facebook and all the rest of us who have to live in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s world. Some of the company’s lowest hits include the Cambridge Analytica data breach and Russian disinformation campaigns against Western democracies to the genocide in Myanmar and Zuckerberg giving Holocaust deniers a pass by saying “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

“Throughout Facebook’s 17-year history, the social network’s massive gains have repeatedly come at the expense of consumer privacy and the integrity of democratic systems,” write New York Times journalists Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel in their book An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination. “And yet, that’s never gotten in the way of its success.”

Kang and Frenkel spent more than 1,000 hours interviewing over 400 people, including former and current employees, executives, investors and advisors. They also drew from a trove of never-reported internal emails, memos and white papers. Zuckerberg refused repeated requests for interviews, while Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg walked back her promise of off-the-record conversations.

“The people who spoke to us, often putting their careers at risk, were crucial to our ability to write this book. Without their voices, the story of the most consequential social experiment of our times could not have been told in full. These people provide a rare look inside a company whose stated mission is to create a connected world of open expression, but whose corporate culture demands secrecy and unqualified loyalty.”

Kang and Frenkel look at the origins and consequences of Facebook’s growth-at-any-cost business strategy, which includes buying or burying competitors that stifles innovation and leaves us with fewer choices. “Many people regard Facebook as a company that lost its way: the classic Frankenstein story of a monster that broke free of its creator. We take a different point of view. From the moment Zuckerberg and Sandberg met at a Christmas party in December 2007, they sensed the potential to transform the company into the global power it is today. Through their partnership, they methodically built a business model that is unstoppable in its growth and entirely deliberate in its design.”

It’s a business model that makes Facebook’s 2.9 billion users the product that’s packaged and sold to advertisers for billions in ad revenue. The authors call Facebook the world’s most voracious data-mining machine. The more time users spend on the platform, the more money Facebook makes from advertisers. And nothing hooks users and keeps them coming back day after day quite like tribal fear and hatred fueled by a constant feed of misinformation and disinformation on everything from election results to COVID-19 vaccinations.

While Facebook and its legion of lawyers and lobbyists will tell us that big tech regulation is unnecessary and breaking up the company would be disastrous, Kang and Frenkel say it’s likely the only way to force Facebook to change for the common good. Last December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and nearly every state sued Facebook for harming its users and competitors.

“The algorithm that serves Facebook’s beating heart is too powerful and too lucrative. And the platform is built upon a fundamental, possibly irreconcilable dichotomy: its purported mission to advance society by connecting people while also profiting off them. It is Facebook’s dilemma and its ugly truth.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, gets none of his news from Facebook and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Self-care won’t cure burnout at work (review of The Burnout Epidemic by Jennifer Moss)

Your team’s exhausted and burning out.

Because you’re a leader who cares, you’re ready to pick up the tab for lunch hour yoga classes, a mindfulness and resilience workshop and a meditation app. You’re also planning to invite everyone to skip work next Friday and spend the day at your place for a catered barbecue, pool party and an epic game of ultimate frisbee.

Hold that thought, and not just because forced fun is a slow death for introverts and co-workers should never see each other in swimwear.

Your self-care intentions are good but it won’t fix what ails your team.

“Burnout can’t be stretched out of people in yoga classes or sweated out of them at the gym,” says Jennifer Moss, journalist and author of The Burnout Epidemic.

“Burnout doesn’t care if they breathe better or deeper. And it most certainly isn’t prevented by suggesting that maybe if they just listened to the sound of rainfall for 30 seconds instead of 15. This is the psychology of leaders in denial.”

Burnout is a sign that something’s seriously wrong with your organization’s culture. Look for one or more of these six roots causes of burnout: imposed or self-inflicted chronic overwork, micromanaging with little to no autonomy, no meaningful rewards or recognition for a job well done, strained relationships with coworkers and supervisors, a real or perceived lack of fairness and a values mismatch between employees and employer.

“Burnout is a complex constellation of poor workplace practices and policies, antiquated institutional legacies, roles and personalities at higher risk, and systemic, societal issues that have been left unchanged, plaguing us for far too long,” says Moss. A focus on self-care solutions makes burnout a “me” rather than “we” problem and absolves leaders from taking responsibility to clean up poor organizational hygiene.

The real cure for burnout comes from tackling those six root causes. And how do you figure out which of these problems haunt your team? Ask them. Let them answer anonymously. Act on what you’re told  and then report back on what you’re doing to clean up your organizational hygiene.  

“Yes, we need to help our people develop the skills that support their mental health and happiness,” says Moss. “But, to battle burnout, we’re talking a different game. Though employees are ultimately responsible for their own happiness, it is our responsibility to provide the conditions that support, and not detract, from their happiness. Burnout occurs when those conditions fail.”

Pay particular attention to younger employees who are at the highest risk of burnout, says Moss. They tend to have less autonomy at work, lower seniority, greater financial pressures and deeper feelings of loneliness.

Address the root causes of burnout and you’ll earn your team’s trust and respect. They’ll know that you genuinely care. Your concern for their well-being won’t come across as lip service or a public relations exercise meant to impress the outside world and score best places to work awards and accolades.

And once you’ve cleaned up your organizational hygiene, that’s when you can revisit your well-intentioned self-care classes, workshops and apps.  Just continue holding off on that stress-inducing backyard pool party.  A Randstad USA survey found that 90 per cent of workers would rather get a bonus or extra vacation day than attend a company holiday party. A party where everyone’s wearing beachwear likely gets you to 100 per cent.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and calls Hamilton home.

How to save your reputation from the digital mob (review of Molly McPherson’s Indestructible)

You said or did something stupid.

And now you’re being called out on social media by the digital mob. Reporters, your employees and customers are watching from the sidelines.

What you do next will seal your fate. Do it wrong and you’ll get yourself cancelled. You may very well lose your job, your business and your reputation.

Now is not the time to throw yourself a pity party, run and hide or hope the mob gets bored and moves on to its next target.

“The online shunning is not random nor is it unfair,” says Molly McPherson, author of Indestructible and an expert in public relations and crisis response in the digital age.

“The people who are targeted for cancellation or the brands that find themselves in the public’s crosshairs are in that position for a reason.

“The outrage is typically not from the questionable act that took the notice of the public, but from an inadequate response to the questionable act. The blowback is caused by a collective repudiation of the response itself or the hubris behind it.”

Brace yourself for extinction-level blowback if you’re defiant, snarky, tone deaf or slow off the mark.

McPherson has a far better three-step response that can save your reputation.

Own it. Acknowledge and accept responsibility for what you’ve said or done. Be sincere, humble and show genuine remorse. “An apology is critical to rebuilding a reputation and shows respect to people impacted or victimized by an incident. Accepting responsibility may seem risky, but it’s far riskier from a reputational point of view to try and avoid it.”

Clarify it. Give background that puts what you said or did in context. Explain, but don’t try to excuse, yourself. Use your weekend words when explaining yourself. “Speak to your stakeholders in a language they understand. Speak clearly and as jargon-free as possible.”

Promise it. Put yourself on the path to redemption. Announce your plans, priorities and the changes to come. Take real steps to make amends. “It goes without saying that this is not the time for token efforts – you’ll need to show how serious you are about mending the situation if you expect your reputation to emerge intact without being cancelled.”

And if you do these three steps, you have a shot at winning it and not getting yourself cancelled.

McPherson sees the same mistake being repeated by leaders facing a digital revolt. “The most dangerous thing a leader can do the moment they hear of pushback from the public is dismissal. They dismiss the complaint. They dismiss the complainer. They dismiss the power of social media. I have never, ever worked on or have been aware of a situation in which such dismissal hasn’t hurt a business in the short or long term.”

So why are leaders so quick to dismiss and make things worse for themselves? The number one reason is fear, says McPherson. “Fear of consumers rising up against their leadership. Fear of social media. Fear of information taken out of context.”

There are also leaders who still believe everything is private unless and until they chose to release it. The game has changed, says McPherson. Not only do we want information, we expect it on demand. “Being told ‘no’ is an invitation to ask again and to ask even harder because the reluctance to share arouses suspicion.”

In a world where everything you say and do can and likely will be used against you on social media, McPherson says leaders now more than ever need to practice honesty, humility, genuineness, transparency, responsiveness, relevance and accountability “Leading with these core values will help you navigate the environment and digital landscape in ways that older, outdated paradigms will not.”

So if you find yourself being called out online, silence, denial, defiance and non-apologies are not winning strategies. McPherson will show you a far better way to avoid getting cancelled and come out of a crisis with your reputation intact.

This review ran in the July 17th edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The five-year plan for becoming an overnight success (review of Dorie Clark’s The Long Game)

Itching to ditch your day job for your dream job?

You’re not alone. Record numbers of workers are quitting in what’s being called The Great Resignation. The pandemic’s served up a wake-up call that’s reordered our priorities and left many of us wanting a different, better and more meaningful way to earn a living. Maybe you’re dreaming of writing a book, launching a business or going out on your own as a consultant or coach.

But what if you’re a little hazy on the details of your dream job, like what it is, how to get there and how long it’ll take to reinvent yourself.

Again, you’re not alone.

It’s easy to sail through life on autopilot, frenetically filling our days and years with busy work that keeps us distracted, makes us feel important but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

“So many of us today feel rushed, overwhelmed and perennially behind,” says Dorie Clark, author of The Long Game: How to be a Long-term Thinker in a Short-term World.

“We keep our heads down, always focused on the next thing. We’re stuck in permanent ‘execution mode’ without a moment to take stock or ask questions about what we really want from life.”

Here’s how to break out of execution mode and find your way to more meaningful work and a happier life.

Start by making tough choices. Decide what you won’t be good at. Learn to say no. Yes, people will be disappointed when you turn down their requests and pass on their offers and opportunities. But to be a strategic, long-term thinker, you need lots of what Clark calls white space.

“Being so busy may seem like the path to success – but without time to reflect, an ominous possibility looms: what if we’re optimizing for the wrong things? We need to give ourselves the opportunity to explore what a successful life means to us.”

Clark also recommends “optimizing for interesting” to find what’s most meaningful to you. What piques your curiosity? What are you already doing that you enjoy? Where are you volunteering your time and talent?

You’ll also need to get better at three types of networking so you have the right people connecting, coaching, advising and mentoring you along the way. There’s short-term networking when you need something fast like a job or a new client. “Do it sparingly and only with people you already have close relationships with,” says Clark.

Use long-term networking to connect with interesting people who you admire, respect and enjoy. “These people may be potentially helpful to you in the future, but in indeterminate ways.”

You should also build relationships with fascinating people in diverse fields through what Clark calls infinite horizon networking. “You’re building the connection out of pure interest in them as a person.”

And finally, keep the faith. It’ll take years to become an overnight success – Clark says five years is a realistic timeline. There’s no quick and easy pivot from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. “Here’s the thing about playing the long game,” says Clark. “At times, it can be lonely, maddening, and unfulfilling. It’s worth it in the end. But in the moment, it often feels like a complete, humiliating waste of time.”

Strategic patience will get you through the inevitable false and slow starts, setbacks, rejections, failures, self-doubt and the second guessing from family and friends who can’t believe you quit your day job.

“In the short term, what gets you accolades – from family, from peers, from social media – is what’s visible: the stable job, the beach vacation, the nice new car. It’s easy to get swept along. No one ever gives you credit for doing what’s slow and hard and invisible.

“But we can’t just optimize for the short term and assume that will translate into long-term success. We have to be willing to do hard, laborious, ungratifying things today – the kind of things that make little sense in the short term – so we can enjoy exponential results in the future. With small, methodical steps, almost anything is attainable.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. This review first ran in the July 3 Hamilton Spectator.

Reclaiming your time and living a happier life (review of Time Smart)

Dreading the return of your daily commute? I’m not.

Before the pandemic, I walked to work through a residential neighborhood and sometimes a forest. It took 20 minutes.

That walk holds the record for longest commute of my career. Short and stress-free commutes is one of the best perks of working and living in a mid-size city.

Could I have made more money working out-of-town? Probably. Would longer commutes have been worth the bigger paycheques? No.

“Commutes suck,” says Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard University, behavioural scientist and author of Time Smart. “Mega-commuters burn weeks of their lives in high-stress, unhappy gridlock. Bad commutes are, generally speaking, the by-product of a disconnect between one’s desire for a certain type of work and one’s desire for a certain type of home.”

It’s also a reflection of how we value money more than time. While we can always make more money, we can’t make more time. Everyone’s days are numbered and many of us don’t fully appreciate how few we get.

“No matter our age, education or income, we share the same reality: none of us knows how much time we have left,” says Whillans.

“One day, time runs out and tomorrow never comes. This is one of the core discoveries I’ve made researching time and money: we don’t understand well that time is our most valuable resource and it is finite. People tend to focus too much on working and making money and not enough on having more and better time.

“Given how precious time is, we should put it first. But many of us focus on our careers, constantly giving up more of our time in exchange for more money or productivity.”

Whillans is on a mission to help us put time ahead of money. It starts by avoiding six common traps that leave us time poor.

There’s our constant connection to technology that interrupts and fragments our free time. We’re scrolling and swiping our way through life.

We’re obsessed with work and making money. “We are taught and (incorrectly) believe that money, not time, will bring greater happiness,” says Whillans. “Chasing professional success at all costs is a cause of, and not a solution to, our feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.”

We’ve turned busyness into a status symbol that shapes our identity and defines our self-worth.

We’re quick to give up lots of time to save a little money.

We’re averse to idleness. Doing nothing makes us feel guilty and leaves us bored, restless and reaching for our phones.

And we’re overly optimistic about how much time we’ll have in the future. We say yes to any and all requests that fill our work and social calendars. “The cost of saying yes in the present is low (and it feels good to say yes to people) and the future seems like a place filled with open time – that is, until the future becomes the present and we often wish we could take back the things we said yes to.”

To avoid these traps, start by figuring out where your hours are going.

Think about what you enjoy doing and what gives you a sense of purpose. It’s probably not a two-hour daily commute.

Find small pockets of time each day to do more of what you enjoy.

Now think about what you don’t enjoy.

Spend less time doing what makes you miserable. Quit doing it altogether (drop out of meetings where you have no value to add) or pay someone to do it for you (housekeeping, mowing the lawn).

Block out the free hours you’ve found and funded and then enjoy it without guilt or interruption.

 “If something makes us happy or gives us purpose, we need to hold on to it,” says Whillans. “We need to do whatever we can to prioritize it, to care for it, and to not let distractions disconnect us from it. All of us are living lives that are slowly slipping away. In an era of constant distraction, without careful planning our seconds will pass easily and unhappily.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The art of being indispensable at work with a post-pandemic caution (review)

There’s a right way and wrong ways to build relationships at work.

Playing politics and making it personal would be the wrong ways. These are your colleagues who try to win you over by tearing others down or who are forever lobbying for bigger budgets and more people with promises of returning favours. And then there are the coworkers who either make the rounds each day to say a superficial hello and shoot the breeze or who really want to be your best friend and genuinely believe we should be one big happy family at work.

The problem with these relationships is that they don’t hold up when times get tough and hard decisions must be made.

“Workplace politicking and personal rapport are not good business reasons for making decisions or taking actions in the workplace,” says Bruce Tulgan, author of The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. “They are complications at best and, at worst, can lead you to make the wrong decisions or take the wrong actions. In the real world, the best politics in the workplace – and the best way to protect personal relationships with coworkers – is to stay focused on the work.”

To build strong relationships, make yourself indispensable. Build a reputation for making smart decisions, doing important work very well and very fast and finishing what you start.

Tulgan’s studied “go-to” people for decades and has cracked their code. So what’s their secret? Serve others.

“Stop focusing on what other people can do for you and focus instead on what you can do for other people. Make yourself super valuable to others. The more value you add, the more truly invested others will become in your success.”

Go-to people are also big on maintaining what Tulgan calls vertical alignment. Stay perfectly in step with the priorities, ground rules and marching orders set by your boss. Respect the chain of command. “How you align yourself in terms of decision making and support – and with whom – is the first core mechanism of becoming indispensable at work. Get in the habit of going over your own head at every step and align with your boss through regular structured dialogue.”

A word of caution as we dig ourselves out from the pandemic and make the long slog back to business as usual. Learn when to say no, not yet and yes to all the urgent requests that’ll come your way.

“In the postpandemic era, the would-be go-to person is at greater risk than ever before of succumbing to overcommitment syndrome,” says Tulgan. “Fight it. If you try to do everything for everybody, you’ll end up doing nothing for anybody. Now more than ever, it will take extra savvy and skill to manage yourself, your many work relationships and all the competing demands on your time and talent.”

While avoiding overcommitment will be a constant challenge, the alternative – being notably dispensable – will be a far bigger and career-limiting problem.

This review first ran in the June 5 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The case for building sparks & changing lives (review of Cumulative Impact by Mark Schaefer)

You’ve built a successful career, a thriving business and a good life for your family.

What’s left to build?

Sparks. Lots and lots of sparks for kids and grown-ups who are starting out, staring over and in need of a helping hand.

“A spark can be an open door, an open heart or guidance at the right moment in life,” says Mark Schaefer, social media marketing consultant and author of Cumulative Advantage.

Here’s what happened when kids at Banneker High School just south of Atlanta were showered with sparks.

It was a school where six out of 10 students didn’t graduate and 97 per cent lived in poverty. 

The school piloted a partnership with volunteers from Junior Achievement. Students tackled real-life business case challenges. Volunteers from the companies that sponsored the challenges mentored the kids. Teachers wove the challenges into their curriculum, linking what was taught at school with what was happening out in the world. Students then showed off their teamwork, leadership, creativity and problem-solving skills by pitching their solutions to their mentors.

By their senior year, students had completed 16 case challenges. They then took on capstone projects, including consulting assignments, field research and paid internships.

High school graduation and postsecondary participation rates soared. Absenteeism and disciplinary problems plummeted. And most important of all, 98 per cent of students said they were excited by their future prospects.

What caused the dramatic turnaround? “It wasn’t due to any windfall of money, buildings or new staff members,” says Schaefer. “This troubled school turned around because it had an enormous infusion of sparks created by everyday people that led to a redistribution of hope and esteem.” 

Building sparks ties into one of the five factors in Schaefer’s formula for setting success momentum in motion and gaining cumulative advantage. That advantage is how we improve our odds of getting heard, standing out and succeeding in a world where the big are getting bigger and the rich are getting richer at an accelerated clip. Just as there is cumulative advantage, there’s also cumulative disadvantage. Schaefer’s formula can close that gap.

His momentum-building formula starts with identifying an initial advantage, discovering a seam of timely opportunity, creating significant awareness through a “sonic boom” of promotion, reaching out and up and building sustained momentum through constancy of purpose and executing on a plan.

As others reach up and out, Schaefer says it’s important that we reach down and offer experiences, opportunities and connections as mentors. These are the sparks that can change lives.

Schaefer writes from personal experience. Years ago, he became a mentor to a seven-year-old boy. That child, one of seven siblings who was raised by a single grandmother, is now an elite athlete who’s off to university on a full scholarship.

“Don’t just lend a hand; be the hand and help those in this world who are being left behind,” say Schaefer. “Everything good and great starts with something small. What can you do to create sparks of momentum in your part of the world.

“We know that the momentum of cumulative advantage begins with a spark – that initial seed of potential. Maybe the world needs you and I to be in the business of providing sparks.”

This review first ran in the May 21st edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.