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The Joy and Suffering of Being Unplugged

There was a time when I unplugged for a 4 or 5 days every year. When I say unplugged, I mean having absolutely no access to both cell and internet service. It was on my annual fishing trips to northern Ontario. It was a place where the armies of cell and the internet service had not conquered. These were days of pure joy, peace, and freedom. Each year, I couldn’t wait to break away from my technology chain and be free. Of course, I love fishing, being in the wilderness and, most importantly, I love being with close friends and my boys. But looking back now, I realize, I also loved, and needed, to be disconnected from my digital tethers.  It was a technology fast or, better yet, a technology Sabbath, a needed cleansing break.

But, if you haven’t noticed, there is this onward, ambitious, hungry march of the technology army. First, the internet, then cell service conquered and now occupy my little piece of paradise. To be honest, most of the quests of this special place are thankful the modern world has finally arrived. It gives them flexibility, a peace of mind, and a way to juggle responsibilities back at home and office while being away.

But, as for me?

I fought the marching armies as long and as hard as I could.

At first, I pretended, and told others, I couldn’t be reached, stretching the truth a bit about the technologies available. But hiding from reality never lasts for long – the armies always expose you.  This happened to me during a trips over the past couple of years when a friend texted my wife, and then work peers started answering emails and making calls.  My cover was finally and completely blown. I couldn’t hide from this army anymore.

Like any effective invading army, there’s this slow but steady conquering of people’s hearts and minds. During these last few years, I’d become the proverbial frog in the kettle, slowly accepting and believing these armies are a necessary evil, believing it’s the way it’s supposed to be, even taking by faith that these armies are a good thing, that to be connected 24/7/365 is to be human.

Until two of my close friends and one of their sons and I went on a “fly-in” fishing trip.  If you don’t know a what a “fly-in” is, it’s when a float plane takes you to a remote lake where there are no roads or trails, no other access.  You can only get there by float plane.  You stay in a remote cabin (no electricity or running water).  You’re literally dropped off in the middle of no where and you stay until the floatplane picks you up.

And of course, there is no cell or internet service.  Which meant I was totally and completely unplugged for 4 days, 96 hours, for the first time in many years. I had found my temporary paradise once again, but not without a cost.  For it took me a good 24 hours to stop wanting to check my phone for incoming emails and text messages.  Those 24 hours were a bit challenging, creating some anxiety about all the life changing, important events I just knew I was missing out on.  The first night I even had some problems falling asleep.  During those first 24 hours, whenever the anxiety crept in (which was hourly), I spoke words like this to myself – “just enjoy it, nothing you can do” or “what can happen in a few days?”.  But what was most effective was simply praying “God, you’ve got this, I trust you,  all the people and situations at home don’t need me right now.”  The self talk was simply Jedi mind tricks, so it worked for a bit but didn’t solve the problem.  My prayer of admitting  reality – God is God and I am not, was the key of getting through the technology detox.

But once I made it through the first 24 hours,  I began to experience peace, the absence of anxiety that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  I felt as if I was finally free from the tethers of technology and could enjoy the people, the place, and experience we were having together.  In other words to enjoy those days as a rare and incredible gift.  It was so good that I committed to not becoming a slave again to my technology. But, instead,  to be its master when back in the “real” world.

Dallas Willard said in his book Spirit of the Disciplines “Until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us.”  On that weekend, I entered technology silence and was freed from it’s chains.  The glow of those 96 hours has stayed with me, but not without effort.  It’s a glow I want to keep, it’s the freedom from and mastery over this invading army.  But I now know it will require a regular dose of total and complete disconnection. Without it, the counter attack will continue the slow but steady march, and eventually I will be it’s prisoner again.

So, I encourage you, if you’ve been captured by the technology army.  Take a true, extended technology break.  It’ll feel like you’re dropping heavy chains you’ve been carrying so long you no longer notice they were there. But when you shed the chains, you’ll experience a peace and freedom that will be so good, you will never want to be technology’s prisoner again.

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Meetings, Priorities, and Not Enough Time in the Day

At SpringHill we’re in what we call the “Spring Snarl”. This snarl typically starts around the first of March and goes through the first week of summer camp. It’s our busiest, craziest, most stressful time of the year. Too many meetings, too much to do and not enough time for it all.
Below is a note I sent to my Leadership Team addressing this moment, and how we can not only survive the Spring Snarl, but grow through it and ultimately slay it. I share it with you, with hopes you may find something useful to help you and your team’s snarls.

I know that there’s been some discussion about the amount of meetings we’re having and that so many meetings can keep us from working on our priorities. A few thoughts:

1. Make sure our meetings are productive – moving us forward on key priorities. That we take good notes, have clear action plans when the meetings finished, make decisions and don’t kick them down the road, and know what needs to be communicated to who as a result of the meeting.

2. Have the right people participate in the meetings. If someone just needs to be “in the know”, send them the notes. Also, be willing to ask, do I need to be in this meeting? What’s the downside if I’m not? Am I invited out of courtesy or because I’m really needed?

3. Error on the side of scheduling a meeting for less time than you would normally schedule it for – 30 minutes instead of an hour. Try to get work done faster. Create a sense of urgency for the meeting. You’ll be surprised how little time you actually need.

4. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting – is it a status meeting like a daily huddle or scrum huddle? Make it 15 minutes. A working meeting? Be clear of the goals for the meeting and then acheive them. A planning meeting? Have a clear process to map out a plan.

5. Finally, read this article, it has some great ideas about how to get work down when you’re in meetings. Very practical and helpful ideas.

https://hbr.org/2019/03/how-to-get-your-to-do-list-done-when-youre-always-in-meetings?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod_activesubs&utm_content=signinnudge&referral=00203&deliveryName=DM32154

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The Leadership Grand Illusion

I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the best in people, see the possibilities in any situation regardless of how bad, and love stretch goals. These tangible expressions of optimism have defined and benefited my leadership.

Yet, there are downsides to such optimism. One in particular which has inflicted my leadership (thus the organizations I’ve led) is the belief that I can effectively manage a large number of priorities at one time. Yes, it’s the overzealous conviction that I am capable of doing many important things, all really well, and all at the same time.

But here is the reality, to do our best work we must be single minded, we need to focus and do just a few important things at one time. All the research that’s been done over the past few years tells us this much. Sure there appears to be some outliers who can manage lots of priorities, but they are a micro minority (the definition of outlier) or, more likely, just good with smoke and mirrors. Which means most of us (do I dare say – all of us) can’t juggle many priorities at one time.

It’s the Leadership Grand Illusion – believing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we’re a part of the micro group of outliers that effectively management a high number of priorities at one time.

So, I had to come to grips with this reality and quit buying into the Grand Illusion. I’ve worked to bring discipline to my personal priorities as well as SpringHill’s. It’s been a painful process for an optimist like me, but it’s been necessary (and significantly more effective).

How have I (and we) done this? There are three simple rules that I’ve applied personally as well as organizationally:

    Have no more than Three Priorities (of the day, week, month, year, etc.) at one time
    Then be crystal clear about the Top One of the Three.
    Finally focus, talk, look at, work and Obsess over Three.

It’s that simple.

What’s not simple is the discipline, control of that optimism, and ignoring the Grand Illusion that is required to tackle only three priorities at a time, to pick the first priority of the three, then obsess about those three.

Now the issue, especially if you’re an optimist with a long list of priorities, is how do you identify the Three and the One of the Three?

Again, it’s simple but difficult at the same time – you need to ask and answer the following two questions

  • “If I/we can only work on three priorities, which ones should they be?”
  • “Of these three priorities, if I/we could only accomplish one, which one would we choose?”

So that’s it.

Really simple, incredibly effective – Commit to these three rules, then rigorously debate and honestly answer these two questions, and finally obsess over the answers until they’re completed. When you take these three steps you’re on your way to being a focused (and really effective) leader.

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