Have you ever noticed how easy problems are to solve for people who aren’t involved?
Yesterday, NFL owner Dean Spanos walked into his San Diego office and told his staff that after 56 years they were moving the franchise to Los Angeles.
I’ve got pretty good instincts for making decisions. Think about it. We all do. We make hundreds of decisions each day as we navigate our daily life and the vast majority of them turn out just fine.
Every day I get about 250 emails.
It looks something like this:
- 125 of them I can delete straight away. Email marketing, social media notifications, stuff like that.
- 100 of them result in small tasks that I can deal with quickly. Purchases at our online store, questions in our Help Center, blog comments, stuff like that.
- 25 of them are things I have to actually deal with. Work-related stuff, personal stuff, you know… actual emails that take time and thought to respond to.
And that’s just email.
On top of email each day is filled with a myriad of other things to do in both my personal and professional life. Every day household tasks like watering plants, putting the dishes away, running errands, taking the kids to school, on and on. Ordinary work stuff beyond email like bookkeeping, shipping/receiving, and stuff like that.
And then there is the work stuff that actually is “what I do.“ (The stuff that actually feeds my family) For me, this time of year, that’s a lot of strategy and execution on somewhat complex projects. Complex projects with deadlines and expectations both externally and within myself.
Getting Stuff Done in the Age of the Edit Button
It’s that “what I do” stuff that I want to draw attention to right now.
The ordinary stuff with it’s routines and repetition is very important, I would argue that until you can manage that well you’ll never really succeed at the “what I do” stuff because it acts as the foundation for excellence you need to have the “what I do” stuff be really, really good. So let’s assume we’re managing that.
How do I get stuff done– on time and meeting internal/external expectations?
How do I avoid hurry up and hurry up some more?
How do I find contentedness with an ever-stacked todo list rushing me to the next thing?
By letting go of “perfect” to embrace “perfecting”.
By weighing “this is my absolute very best” against “this is the best I can do in the time this is worth, I can come back to it if I need to fix something.”
Sometimes you need to let things go that aren’t quite the way you’d like them.
This is one of the joys of today. Technology makes this possible.
I remember back in high school, in a race against the deadline, madly typing my thoughts into an electric typewriter until I’d hear it chirp. The single line liquid crystal screen would flash “Memory Full“. You’d double tap the return key and your thoughts would quickly type onto the page. CRAP! There’d be a typo and you’d have to use the correction tape or White Out to fix it.
The problem was that this process would break your concentration. You couldn’t ever really get into a writing flow because every couple of sentences you’d have to stop for corrections. I remember furiously writing down my next thoughts on paper I kept next to the typewriter so that I wouldn’t lose it.
Do you even remember Wite Out?
You don’t need it anymore.
Now you can just press “edit” and fix it.
Every day, when I write, I just let my thoughts flow. My Macbook doesn’t have tiny crystal screen that only stores 250 characters at a time. It doesn’t chirp “Memory Full” before forcing me to put my thoughts onto paper. (Heck, my thoughts rarely even end up on paper at all!) Instead, I freely type as fast as my fingers allow and if I make a mistake it either automatically corrects itself or I can go back later, click the “edit” button, and fix it.
Perfecting Instead of Perfect
It’s this letting go ability that I love. This knowledge of being able to edit later which allows me to be productive.
While I have perfectionist tendencies I can relax knowing that almost everything I do doesn’t have to be perfect when I finish it. Instead of being hung up on getting things perfect I can relax knowing that the work I do can be perfected later.
If you think about it that’s how most of the products and services you love work. Software constantly evolves, perfecting as developers learn new things, folding in new features that customers want. Movies and television screen their product to select audiences than perfect it, editing and re-editing, until it’s finally ready for public consumption. On and on, we now live in a world where the “edit” button frees us.
The question facing most of us is simple: Will we allow ourselves to set aside perfect for perfecting? Will we embrace the edit button in what we do? For most of us, in most professions, we don’t have to do our jobs perfectly. Instead, we can get better over time– even going backwards to fix our previous mistakes.
Let’s live in and embrace that freedom.
In the sport of baseball, small ball is an informal term for an offensive strategy in which the batting team emphasizes placing runners on base and then advancing them into scoring position for a run in a deliberate, methodical way. This strategy places a high value on individual runs and attempts to score them without requiring extra base hits, or sometimes without base hits at all, instead using bases on balls, stolen bases, sacrifice bunt or sacrifice fly balls, the hit-and-run play, and aggressive baserunning with such plays as the contact play. A commonly used term for a run produced playing small ball is a “manufactured run”. This style of play is more often found in National League game situations than in the American League due in large part to the absence of the designated hitter in the National League.
I don’t follow major league baseball. Heck, I don’t even follow little league baseball. (Or particularly like watching baseball!)
Winning vs. Entertainment
As a spectator sport, it takes a certain type of baseball fan to appreciate small ball. Americans like fast-moving entertaining baseball. We want to see homers, players running into one another in the outfield, and close plays at home.
But watching batter after batter take balls to get walked? Not so much.
So it’s a balancing act for professional baseball management. On the one hand small ball wins ballgames. On the other, winning doesn’t matter if fans don’t show up.
In professional sports there’s winning and there’s winning.
A Life of Small Ball
In the same way, American culture celebrates big, dramatic, and entertaining lives. We love it when someone does something big. Success looks like a stadium of people waiting to hear you speak or your creating something so big that you become a household name.
That– we suppose— is what success must look like.
Or is it?
- Is a big thing a success?
- Is success big?
- Is success external?
- And what does this success cost in relationship to other things?
Personally, I find going for the big home run to be more exhausting than the elation of the big moment. [Forget that fact that hitting a home run while losing the game isn’t much of a success.]
Let’s take this out of the ether of hypothetical. “What are you really talking about, McLane?”
I’ve turned a corned over the past couple of years. I’ve largely given up on the idea of going for big, ambitious, household-name-styled success and instead embrace a lifestyle of small ball.
I believe success comes as the result of more than a moment– though, at times, a moment exposes your success to a broad audience– instead, success is the result of a thousand good choices and behaviors.
In my personal life, I don’t need to be celebrated as a great dad or husband. Instead, I just want to be a great dad/husband by making a thousand good choices. It’s better to be healthy than to be seen as healthy while actually being unhealthy.
In the Cartel life, [a term we use informally to talk about leading The Youth Cartel] we aren’t interested in being big, with complex structures, large staff, and loads of property & products to manage. That’s someone else’s success, not ours. Instead, we feel like if we do a thousand things well/right/good the next thousand and the thousand after that will come to us. We’re not out to compete with anyone or put anyone down… we just want to do our thing in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for us.
The Impact of a Small Ball Life
When I travel for work people ask me about the impact of that on my family life. I suppose, if you don’t travel that much, that hanging out with someone who travels for work can feel like that must imply success. While I certainly like traveling and meeting new people, I see travel for work as just that… travel for work. It’s my job! I like to say, “My life is either really big– going cool places, meeting cool people, doing cool stuff– or really small. Outside of taking kids to school I work at home and so my life revolves around my family, house, and neighborhood.”
I like my “big life” and I like my “small life.”
But given the choice, I’ll take a thousand small successes over one big win, all day any day.
I’m normally a “get stuff done” kind of person. Early in my career I had an attitude that it didn’t matter what you tossed at me, I was going to get it done on time or early no matter what.
Over the past several months I’ve not been able to keep up that pace. At all. I don’t have all the why answers figured out. But I do have a few things I’ve been thinking about, not as excuses, more like personal understandings that things are permanently changing for the better.
In short, I’ve got to figure out how to live life differently within my capacity.
- I do have a capacity. I do actually get full. I used to try to see how much I could take on. The more I took on the better I felt about myself. This was a thing of pride… and also a thing of coming up from poverty. I knew I could take on a lot, I’d proven time and again that I could… and frankly… that capacity felt limitless because I could always find more. I could always make myself a bit more hungry than someone else. But that tank isn’t infinitely bottomless. There really is a time when you fill up the tank. I can’t get to everything because I’ve just got too much to do.
- Circumstances. Some of what’s been different the past 8-9 months has been a very big transition to our new house. From house hunting to mortgage stuff to moving to making adaptations to make the new house work for our family, this season has meant that I couldn’t push past capacity and steal time/energy from other things to take on more. When my work day is over, it’s over. Off to Home Depot or whatever.
- Self-care. I’m not 25 years old anymore. I don’t want to be 25 years old anymore. That’s not just energy, that’s about self-care. When I would take on more and more and more I started to hear from the shadows of myself… “Is this success? Is this what you need to feel successful?” From those shadows I had to make some changes. At 25 I had a lot to prove to the outside world. Pushing 40 and I’ve got a lot more to prove to myself about what kind of life I want to view as successful for the next 20 years of work/life stuff. Working unlimited, always taking on more, isn’t good self-care and it’s not the success I want for myself.
- Family first means work second, period. Look, I am not going to miss it because I’m too busy with work or anything. My family is the my most important thing to invest in for this phase of life. If I screw it up now I’ll regret it the rest of my life. If that means I put a cap on what I can do, okie doke… that’s what I’m going to do. This isn’t that hard of a choice.
- Slow down to grow. This last thing is the only thing that’s specifically “about” my work. One of the things that I’ve been learning as we (the Cartel) continue to grow is that my desire to take on too much doesn’t help us grow, it actually keeps us small. I think I used to believe “To be the best you have to beat the rest.” But now I think, “To be the best you’ve got to be more focused than the rest.” You grow by building capacity, not by backfilling a lack of actual capacity with faux capacity.
When You’re Past It
All of that is to ask this: When you’re living life past your capacity what do you do? This is uncharted territory for me so I’ve had to learn this.
The answer is that when you’re past capacity you can’t give up, because if you give up you’ll just drown. Instead, just make progress every single day you can.
I believe heavily in the flywheel concept. Big projects are easy to keep moving if you just keep them moving. But if you let them stop? It takes a lot of effort to restart.
Hence, just keep everything moving the best you can.
Just. make. progress.
My bachelors degree is in youth ministry. I did about half a masters degree in youth ministry leadership.
That means I have exactly zero expertise in accounting, bookkeeping, or human resources.
When it comes to my part in leading our small business I’m really good at some aspects of what I do at The Youth Cartel. I’ve got a lot of natural intuition and curiosity and an ability to figure stuff out. But there are other aspects where I need serious help.
When you are starting a small business it’s easy to think all of your time and energy will be about passion, mission, and ideas. But pretty quickly after you get going– especially if you start doing well– you realize that if you don’t know how to do the backend of your business, you’ll never get to spend any time on the front end!
Every small business owner has to deal with this one way or another.
- Yes, you can hire a bookkeeper or an accountant or an HR professional. But it’s expensive. And the real risk is that if you don’t hire the right people they’ll not do it correctly or do it in a way that reflects why you started your small business to begin with.
- Yes, you can do it all yourself with Google Spreadsheets and by Googling stuff you really can figure out how to do it all yourself. But it’s going to take up a ton of your time and you’ll never really know if you’re doing it right until the tax man comes or you get a scary letter from the state.
- Or, for not very much money, you can use some online tools that’ll let you do-it-yourself.
Here are two small business tools that I highly recommend
Gusto for Payroll & Benefits Management
If you’re running a small business you’re probably starting to think about the headache of W-2s and 1099s and all that year-end paperwork. (Cough, Obamacare. Cough. Cough.) We’re completing our second year using Gusto (formerly Zenpayroll) and I am still really digging it.
Basically, they do everything. You login and tell them who gets paid what and how and bam… it’s done. They even send you reminders until you get it done. Last year I processed our payroll while walking through the Phoenix airport between flights. Then, in June, I got a last-minute reminder while in Antigua, Guatemala right away. I popped into a coffee shop and 5 minutes later was done. Fast, easy, secure, mobile.
Gusto handles all the paperwork with state/fed government as well as to your employees. They’ll send me notes telling me stuff that they’ve filed for me and I have no idea what the form is, why I needed to fill it out, or any of that. But it’s done and I don’t have to worry about it. For me, the biggest thing they do is take away the fear that I’m doing something wrong.
What about the other guys? Before going with them I did demos and talked to reps with all the other payroll companies and Gusto is way easier and way cheaper than all of them, plus they are way easier to deal with.
That’s my recommendation for payroll. If you’re a small business, a small non-profit, even a church. Two thumbs up.
Freshbooks for Bookkeeping & Accounting
The Cartel has four lines of business– events, publishing, coaching, and consulting. For the first year or so we tried to track all of our accounting with Google Spreadsheets. It worked relatively well but as we grew it became more and more cumbersome to deal with. (A spreadsheet for 10 programs is fine. But a spreadsheet for 40 different programs?) Plus, we were missing stuff. And when it came to tax time? A bunch of spreadsheets was sketch city.
We’re in our second full year with Freshbooks and it’s made our lives so much easier. We use it to track every inbound/outbound payment whether that payment is a traditional invoice, an event registration, or buying a download from our store. Perhaps the best part is that it’s API connects to a bunch of the other tools we use… like our bank and our online store. So instead of manually creating every entry and coding it we basically just double-check to make sure things are correct. (Which is still time consuming but a major shortcut.)
And yes, I’m using “we” language because it’s a “we” thing. You can give other members of your team access, they can code their own expenses, create their own invoices, etc.
If you’re invoicing, tracking time or expenses, I can’t recommend Freshbooks enough.
Both of those recommendations are field-tested, I’m not a new customer, and are both under $100/month. (Most months they are under $100/month combined!) In both cases you can find even cheaper options but these are Best in Breed quality without being Best in Breed pricing.
Today is the start of a new week.
And a new month.
And for new graduates it’s the dawn of a new journey.
For many in my world, summer is a time of transition and change.
For others, today marks the shifting of gears from school mode to summer mode.
For lots of families it’s the home stretch for school. (2-3 more weeks in the McLane house!)
Leaders Set the Tone
One of the many things about leadership I learned from working with Tic Long [back in my YS days] is the importance of Monday morning. Pretty regularly, usually on a Monday, Tic would grab a cup of coffee and work his way around the building to check in with everyone. It was almost never about work. It was almost always conversational.
“Hey big fella, what did you guys do this weekend?”
I’m pretty Type A so I come into every Monday morning like a bull comes into an arena. I’ve got an agenda, stuff to do, a checklist… and Monday morning always feels like a horse race to me. Go. Go. Go.
Tic interrupted me. He’d pop in and I’d have to stop what I was doing. It bugged me in a way that I looked forward to it over time.
Was it that Tic didn’t have a list of stuff to get done? (When I first started I was really put off by this, he was bothering me, and I thought he was just wasting time.) Nope. There was a habit and (presumably… intentionality) to walking around and checking in with everyone in the building.
Yes, Tic is social so it felt natural. But, doing this, it had a net effect that mattered in three specific ways:
- You were reminded that you were known, you were more than what you produced.
- You were reminded that you were important, what you did at work wasn’t your whole life.
- He got to check-in with each person one-on-one.
The point isn’t to copy what Tic did. What he did worked for him but might not work for you. The point is that if you’re a team leader, you set the tone for your team.
If you come into Monday morning dragging your butt or feeling grumpy or hiding in your office, scheduling meetings, etc.– expect the same from those you lead.
Conversely, if you get out and set the tone for your team– expect others to follow.
Positivity begets positivity.
Care begets caring.
Valuing others begets others feeling valued.
Photo credit: Hot Coffee on a Cold Day by David Joyce via Flickr (Creative Commons)
I spent a lot of time in Freshbooks last week. This revealed three important things to me. First, it’s clear that Marko and I have no training in accounting or bookkeeping. We try really hard and we are learning a ton. But it’s way harder than I’d like to admit. Second, while living in the daily grind of our little business makes it hard to see it… there’s no denying the exponential growth of everything we’re doing. Third, there’s a huge need for the position we’re hiring for to help us administratively so that our growth doesn’t stall. I’m actually starting to think of our next couple hires after that.
So what’s the secret to the Cartel’s growth? I think the biggest secret is that we cultivate a healthy ecosystem where growth is a natural byproduct of the health– instead of worrying about creating a home run product. Since it’s opening day in Major League Baseball… I describe what we do at the Cartel as “small ball.”
We do a lot of little things right and success is the outcome. And when we do things wrong… we fail fast and small.
3 Keys to a Healthy Ecosystem for Growth
We don’t always get these things right. But when we’re at our best, this is what we’re striving for.
It’s easy to overdo it on consistency. Like, worrying about something being done at a specific time as opposed to being done well. But consistency is a sign that things are going well, that we’re on a good pace, and that things are sustainable. People are naturally drawn to consistency in quality of what you’re doing or consistency about timing on an event or even consistency of how long it takes to follow-up on something.
For instance, we don’t change the size of our books or the paper quality or even the thickness of our covers… ever. It’s not that we can’t do that. It’s that by being consistent people know what to expect from our books. And while we’re still perfecting our editorial process, the process of how a book becomes a book is pretty consistent. Why? Consistency leads to health.
Core to who we are, from the onset, is cultivate playfulness. There’s a fine line between playfulness and corniness… and we make sure we stay firmly on the playful side. This isn’t just something we do on the outside in what we do, it’s kind of who we are as an organization. I won’t extrapolate how that actually plays out on a daily basis, I’ll just leave that to the imagination.
I find that as we’re playful it spreads to people we work with and into the stuff that we do. Last year, at The Summit I had a joke with the woman at our host hotel about wanting a really, really big gift basket because we completely sold out the hotel. Well, we we checked in to our rather modest little hotel room there it was… a candy gram with a hand written note.
It wasn’t over the top ridiculous but she was being as playful as her very serious job would allow.
“Nothing good comes out of a research & development department.”
That’s something I’ve learned over the years.
- IBM had all the money in the world and missed on the home computer.
- Apple had all the money in the world and missed on Dropbox.
- Google had all the money in the world and missed on Facebook.
Fat and happy never leads to innovation… only iteration.
Innovation is directly linked to desperation. One of the key things we do at the Cartel is always keep things a little desperate. We make things work because we have to make them work in order to keep going. Take that away and we get really, really safe.
Desperation is to innovation as safety is to iteration.
So what do I do with these 3 things? Start composting.
Literally, you cannot buy health. You can’t hire health. You can only cultivate a healthy environment and patiently mix these things in over time. The bad news is that you can’t do this overnight. The good news is that once you’ve got it going it’s relatively easy to keep it going… just like a good compost in your garden.