Why We All Need Summer Break and Back To School

I find that back to school season is a great time to reflect. Mostly because I can’t think until my kids are back in school. Heading into this particular summer break I felt particularly fried. I was busy all summer, but didn’t feel productive. Maybe you can relate.

When the kids headed back to school I reflected on the summer. I tried to make sense of my lack of measurable output. I barely wrote at all. I kept the balls in the air at work, but didn’t really score many goals.

I truly came to terms with the fact that my progress stalled. I bet you have felt this way a time or two.

I realized I never really took a summer break this year. We took some long weekends that were sandwiched between work travel, the daily grind, and youth sports, but I never really took the time I needed to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus.

That was a big mistake!

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“I need a break”

I came to realize that the sprint I made in the spring left me empty in many ways. I was submitting manuscripts, recording a podcast, trying serve my team, teaching a new course, and delivering a TEDx talk. In many ways last spring culminated in a mountain top moment for me. But we all know the problem with being on a mountain top…

My metaphorical finals week left me drained despite earning good grades.

For those of us who are parents, teachers, coaches, etc we can all see this in the children and young adults around us. They lose focus, their tempers get shorter, they make more mistakes…just like all of us when we run out of juice. If you can’t relate, congratulations, you are super human.

I needed a summer vacation to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus.

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Sometimes you just need to eat ice cream with your friends.

At the beginning of any good summer vacation – whether it is a week, a month, or the whole summer – you just need to relax. Kids need to swim, run through sprinklers, play games, watch movies, and eat ice cream with their friends.

I personally need some serious kayak time, preferably with fishing involved. I need a few good camp fires with my wife and friends…and of course a few beverages help the cause.

What do you need to relax?

Unless you give yourself some time to decompress you won’t release the pressure that has built up. This will eventually lead to an explosion!

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We all need nutrition

However, summer break cannot just be about decompressing if we are going to use it as a time of growth and refreshment. We can’t live on ice cream alone…some of you might debate me on this point.

As we begin to release pressure we need to take time to strengthen ourselves through nutrition and exercise in order to thrive in our next. Many of us, myself included, can get into some bad eating habits when we are stretched too thin. Don’t even get me started on my exercise routine when I am in the worst phases of the grind.

Kids eat and exercise naturally as long as we provide a conducive environment. The key for them and us is the conducive environment.

Breaks allow us the opportunity to focus on what we need to strengthen our bodies and to reclaim healthy habits.

What habit do you need to reclaim/start to strengthen your body? What needs to change in your environment to keep your body strong?

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Feed your mind

Physical nourishment isn’t all we need refresh, recharge, and refocus.

At the end of my last sprint my mind was a pile of goo suited for little more than Candy Crush and running errands…

Fortunately breaks allow us time to feed our minds what they need to grow. Our brains are especially receptive when not cluttered with the day to day.

What do you need to learn? Do you need inspiration? Do you need to dream?

Books, documentaries, the theatre, lectures, podcasts, and conversations with thought partners can all provide what we need. We must use our breaks to learn and grow as thinkers and dreamers.

I find that campfires are catalysts for great conversations.

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Connect to refresh your soul

As a Jesus follower I also need breaks to help me get back in touch with my creator and God’s creation. I need time to reconnect with Jesus and to reflect on what he wants for my life.

I often neglect prayer, study, and reflection when I get busy. Although busyness is not an excuse, once I am out of the habit I need time to get refocused. Without reconnecting, refreshing, and refocusing spiritually I don’t feel well directed to move forward.

What do you need to do to reconnect and refresh your soul?

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Refreshed, recharged, refocused…time to go back to school.

We all need breaks to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus, but then we need to return.

Refueling is a waste if you aren’t going to burn that fuel. By the end of summer I can always tell that it is time for my kids to go back to school. They are stir crazy, bouncing off the walls, focusing their energy poorly…it is time for them to get back to work.

The same is true for us. I believe we are all called to work while on this earth. We should refresh, recharge, and refocus with the aim of returning to serve our people.

I believe we will be at our best if we return purposefully. Accordingly, the end of our breaks might be a great time to review and revise our purpose and to set goals to achieve that purpose.

What is your plan for your “Back To School”? What do you want to accomplish? Who do you want to serve?

I pray that you find a time to take a break to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus. That said, I also pray that you return so that you can make a difference for the people you love and serve.

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Killing Motivation Vampires: Micro-Management

Motivation Vampire

Micro-management is a motivation vampire…please forgive the hyperbole.

A quick working definition of micro-management is to manage with excessive control.

Autonomy is life giving…being controlled will suck the life right out of you.

Signs You Are A Micro-Manager

We Need To Talk About Your Flair
Office Space must be referenced in this post.

Obviously, what is excessive varies from situation to situation and some situations require more oversight than others. For example, when a task is new to a person they may require significant oversight and instruction, but if they still need a high level of oversight and instruction after some training then either they do not have the attributes required, the tools required, the proper context in which to practice, or you are a poor teacher/coach/manager.

Minimalist Management

Minimalist Management is based in the belief that meaningful and clear work allows people to flourish. The people you care about…team at work, children, friends, etc…will thrive when they are working toward something they believe is meaningful and they understand how to be successful.

This pertains to teaching your children to mow the lawn, enlisting your friends in your service activity of choice, or influencing your team to support the new organizational strategy. Meaning and clarity matter!

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Meaning and clarity are abundant in farming and I don’t know many unmotivated farmers

This isn’t just an opinion. Research published in the top academic journals supports this claim. Meaning and clarity are a part of what is often called empowerment. For example, Seibert, Wang, and Courtright (2011) provide evidence from numerous studies that empowerment is positively related to satisfaction, commitment, performance, voluntary pro-social behaviors, and innovation. Further, it is negatively related to strain and a desire to leave an organization. If you want more nerdery, I will put a little more at the end of the article.

If you started to glaze over during the academic speak…that is all really good stuff for the people you care about.

Warding Off Micro-Management Using Minimalist Management

The Minimalist Manager version of garlic, mirrors and sunlight, or a crucifix and holy water is the The Minimalist Management Bill of Rights. It provides some good starting points for warding off this motivation vampire as well as many other motivation vampires.

If you fear you will need to struggle against a real vampire read Six Ways To Stop A Vampire.
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This entrepreneur is the picture of meaning meets clarity

Right 1. Everyone deserves the opportunity to strive toward something personally meaningful.

Do your people understand how their work will improve things for themselves, their family, their team, their organization? If not, it’s time for a conversation. Don’t assume they do. You know what they say about assuming…Don’t do it…this is a family blog.

Right 2. Everyone deserves to have clarity of task and purpose.

Do your people understand what is being asked of them and why they are being asked to perform that task? If not, it’s time for a conversation.

Right 3. Everyone deserves to believe that they can successfully complete their work.

Do your people have the abilities and tools to complete their work as well as an environment conducive to the completion of their work? If not, you need to train them up or move them to another task. You need to get them the tools they need. And/or you need to create a conducive environment. Failure to do these things will lead to demotivation as it will be unclear to your people how they can be successful.

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Task: Put the ball in the net. How: Using the tactics and skills we have practiced.

Be Diligent

By using these rights as pillars of your culture you should ward off micro-management before drastic measures are required.

However, if you are not diligent then your people will likely fall short of your expectations and you might convince yourself that your people need excessive control. You will then exercise that control and you will create a negative habit that will drain your people until they avoid you, quit, end the friendship, or end up in years of therapy to overcome your parenting.

You have the choice to drain life or give life to your people. Don’t be a vampire.

As always, if you found this helpful please share.

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Bonus Nerdery

Just to be clear. I could go on and on talking data on this…

One more example study, Liden, Wayne, and Sparrowe (2000) showed that meaning and competence (two key dimensions of empowerment) held important relationships with outcome variables. Meaning held the key relationship with satisfaction and commitment while competence was key to performance. We need all three to create a healthy performance environment. This study also provides empirical evidence for the importance of high quality inter-personal relationships even when controlling for beliefs about the work itself.

A note about the study referenced in the main part of the post. That study was a meta-analysis. Meta-analysis combines across many studies to estimate the relationship between variables of interest. That study suggests that individual level empowerment is most strongly related to job satisfaction (r = .64), then organizational commitment (r = .63), then strain (r = -.37), then intention to leave (r = -.36), then organizational citizenship behavior (r = .34; pro-social helping behavior), then innovation (r = .28), then task performance (r = .27; r = .54 when people rated their own performance). Empowerment is also likely related to other variable you might find interesting, but those variables likely had not yet been studied enough to be included in this caliber of meta-analysis. Unfortunately, this meta-analysis didn’t break down empowerment into its underlying parts, but it is otherwise a great piece of work and I am not just saying that because two or the three authors are friends of mine. It was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology which is the top applied psychology journal in the world (as was Liden et al.).

 

 

A Bill of Rights For Work and Beyond

I believe it is high time that we managers have something we can point to when we are feeling violated and that those we manage can throw in our face when we are not living up to our duty to help our people flourish.

I believe that these “Rights” are applicable in most any context whether it be work, home, play, or service. While I suspect I will not be an originalist when it comes to this Bill of Rights…meaning it will likely change some over time, RIP Justice Scalia…, I certainly believe that these Rights are important because substantial evidence suggests that when respected these Rights lead to motivation and satisfaction. If these rights are respected I believe fantastic things will happen for Minimalist Managers and their people.

  1. Everyone deserves the opportunity to strive toward something personally meaningful.
  2. Everyone deserves to have clarity of task and purpose.
  3. Everyone deserves to believe that they can successfully complete their work.
  4. Everyone deserves to have their efforts recognized.
  5. Everyone deserves to receive both positive and constructive task focused feedback.
  6. Everyone deserves to have the resources they need to complete their work.
  7. Everyone deserves to work with people of integrity.
  8. Everyone deserves to work with people who stimulate them.
  9. Everyone deserves to work with people who support their personal and/or professional growth.
  10. Everyone deserves to have the actions and attitudes that affect them guided by evidence verses bias and tradition.

I will do my best to help those who strive to be Minimalist Managers live up to this Bill of Rights by providing support for these Rights. In particular, I aim to help people with Right 10 by providing research evidence that will help people live and manage in line with the The Minimalist Management Manifesto and this Bill of Rights.

What did I miss? I would love to engage in conversation around this Bill of Rights!

In order to better manage ourselves and others information is often helpful.

If you found this helpful please share.

 

Three Minimalist Manager Tactics For Thriving In Times of Change

I spend a lot of time talking to organizational leaders about how to lead/manage organizational level change, but rarely have I been asked to talk about how individuals can flourish in times of change. One organization recently asked me to speak to this topic at a large gathering of employees.

So I wondered…How would a Minimalist Manager thrive during times of change? How can we best respond to change in order to flourish? How can a leader/manager help their people to behave in such a way that they might thrive vs. suffer?

I turned to A Bill of Rights For Work and Beyond for inspiration. I believe there are three key things that we must do to thrive in times of change. We should self-lead using these tactics and leaders/managers should make sure their people are utilizing these tactics as well.

The overarching theme for these three tactics is that change MUST be experienced through a lens of positivity if we are going to remain motivated. This can certainly be difficult sometimes, but it is crucial that we find the positive in the change.

First and foremost, in order for us to experience change POSITIVELY we need to find meaning behind change. Change must never feel like change for change sake. There is enough randomness in our lives; in order to be motivated we must understand WHY. We need to reflect until we can find a clear why that is motivating to us and to those around us. To do this we often need to think about how what we do influences the bigger picture. We often forget how faithful execution of our tasks improves our children’s return to school, our team’s performance, or our favorite not-for-profit’s big event. We need to remind ourselves, and those around us, frequently. We need to make sure we can articulate the why behind each task that we undertake for ourselves and others.

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Young Eagles Event

Second, we need to build a PERFORMANCE CONTEXT that facilitates success in the new activity or setting. To do this we need clarity of task and purpose. This requires that we create clearly defined tasks that lead to progress toward the new goal(s). We must step back and evaluate which behaviors truly lead to meaningful outcomes. To create a performance context it is also important that we make sure everyone has what they need to be successful. This does not mean we spend money on whatever we think might be nice to have; it means we determine what is necessary and then make sure we are equipped and trained/coached to execute. We often become quickly frustrated when we don’t clearly see how we can succeed. So whether it is helping our kids succeed in a new activity or helping ourselves master the new software package. We need to design our context for success.

ZD Guest Reader

Third, we need to PARTY LIKE IT’S 2039 (insert your own arbitrary futuristic and fun year here). As we transition to the new we need tangible reminders that what we are doing is valuable and that we are succeeding. In the context of self-leadership we need to remember to do this for ourselves. Complete a new task successfully for a week…splurge on a nice bottle of wine or scotch and say a toast to your success. Cheers! Child delivers a face melting guitar solo…Pop Rocks all around.

 

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If we can ensure that we are moving through times of change utilizing these tactics I believe we will experience change as positive and motivating vs. painful and fatiguing. Change is unavoidable! How do you plan to experience it?

Email is Evil…And It’s Your Fault

We’ve heard it ad nauseam: technology is supposed to make our lives easier, save us time. And every time a new gadget or an upgrade of an existing one hits the market, this mantra is repeated…despite the unmentioned time and money required to upgrade said gadget.

Email was hailed as the great time saver. Shoot your colleague a quick email instead of schlepping to her cubicle for a face-to-face. Technology researcher Alexandra Samuel was fed up with the ever-escalating number of emails she received. They were taking her attention away from more important tasks. So she devised a plan to “tame the beast” and shared this plan in an article in the “Workplace Technology” section of a March issue of the Wall Street Journal.

According to her article, a startling 40% of white-collar workers spend an even more startling three hours a day on email. That’s almost half an average workday. Even more depressing is only a mere 6% expect their email to decline in the next two years. Ugh, where is my Prozac???

There are at least two major problems with email (actually way more but I will save those for another day). First, there are all sorts of irresponsible emailers. In some work places and in our personal circles there are folks who think the latest Youtube video of a cat dancing is a worthy addition to your bulging inbox.

But the more insidious disease for most of us is non-productive, but work related emailing. This problem cuts two ways. First, there are the people who SPAM our inbox with email that doesn’t add any real value. Ignore emails that don’t REQUIRE your attention if at all possible. If you are purpose driven it will be fairly easy to tell what requires your attention.

Here is the bigger issue. You, and I, self-sabotage. We send emails that are unnecessary or prioritize email over more important work. Here is why…. at least in part.

  1. It is easy. Face it, most of the time we prefer to cross easy tasks off of our list despite their relative unimportance. Crossing things off of our list feels good. We delude ourselves into thinking we are being productive.
  2. It is low risk. It is hard to fail at email…at least as long as you avoid “Reply All”. No body ever got fired for keeping their inbox neat and tidy. We often fear – at least subconsciously – that our efforts won’t pay off, but email allows us to succeed repeatedly.
  3. It’s conspicuous. There is no way to question whether someone is “working” when you get emails from them. We all know that if we send emails throughout the day that people will notice our effort. However, conspicuous behavior doesn’t necessarily create value over the long-run.

We all deserve to believe we can be successful at work! (#6) Don’t hurt your employees’ and peers’ ability to believe in their potential for success by SPAMMING them for your own gratification. Furthermore, don’t hinder your own ability to strive toward something meaningful (#1) by getting sucked into the email wasteland.

Back to Samuel’s email overload. She broke free from email by using other modes of communication to collaborate with colleagues and keep in touch with family. Tweets and texts are short but sweet and don’t absorb large chunks of your time. Drafts make the rounds on Dropbox or Google Drive. Slack, the group-messaging tool, comes in handy for quick questions. And let’s not forget about getting off of our butts and talking to people in person.

The result? Her inbox no longer gives her angina. Perhaps not the loftiest of professional goals but nonetheless a good thing.

Goals Are Good! For most people…

Exhausted all the time? “GOOD” management might be crushing you!

It is old hat to say that managers should lead toward goals in order to drive efficiency and effectiveness…although many managers still fall short here. It also true that conscientious people are more likely to strive to achieve goals and that more emotionally stable people are less likely to experience stress and exhaustion. However, goal directed management is no silver bullet. For some people goal pursuit might have unintended consequences like stress and exhaustion. Exhausted people aren’t flourishing!

Perry and colleagues* studied 252 customer service providers and 47 of their managers, as well as 392 manual laborers and 41 of their managers. They found that people who are high in conscientiousness and emotional stability and have goal focused managers are less likely to suffer from exhaustion. This is not surprising and reinforces prior research!

However, they found two interesting and important things. First, people who are lower in conscientiousness and emotional stability are more likely to be exhausted in highly goal focused situations. Second, a lack of conscientiousness can be offset by emotional stability and vice versa. Accordingly, if you want to avoid burning out those around you it is imperative that you hire people who are either highly conscientious or emotionally stable…if you cannot find people who are both.

The Minimalist Manager Take Aways:

  • Hire for conscientiousness and emotional stability.
  • Tailor goals and communication around goals to each person’s needs.

*Perry, S. J., Witt, L. A., Penney, L. M., & Atwater, L. (2010). The downside of goal-focused leadership: The role of personality in subordinate exhaustion. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1145-1153.

 

The Minimalist Management Manifesto

Over the last few years my life has become increasingly complex. I bet you can relate. I now play many roles, husband, father, professor, manager, entrepreneur, investor, board member, coach…to name a few. None of these roles is bad and I enjoy each of them. That said, my stress level has increased and my own perception of the value I am creating is plummeting despite expending a lot more energy. I am starting The Minimalist Manager to help me — and anyone else who is interested — become a better manager.

A manager is anyone who provides oversight to something. It might be an organization, a team, a family, or one’s own life. Minimalist Management is an approach to the practice of management that aims to create meaning and clarity for the manager her/himself and the people around the manager. Minimalist Management is based in the belief that meaningful and clear work allows people to flourish. Minimalist Management is also based in the belief that enabling people to flourish should be the highest aspiration of a manager. It cannot go without saying that managers will only be effective when people trust the manager and the manager trusts him/herself.

I believe that if people strive to become Minimalist Managers that we can collectively improve both our work and home lives. I believe that most people lack sufficient meaning and clarity in their work and, in many cases, their lives broadly defined. That must change if we are to flourish! I invite everyone who wants to flourish, and to help those around them flourish, to join me in practicing Minimalist Management.

Follow this blog, or connect with me on social media to partner with me on this journey. Read more about me and this blog.

Featured image courtesy of David Muir. Thank you for sharing your art so freely.

Minimalist Managers need to learn about themselves, those those they value, and evidence based management techniques…some resources.