It starts with giving people dignity.

I spent some time today answering forum posts from one of my industry’s leading trade associations. A question was posed about how other retail chains hold their under-performing vendors accountable. I wanted to post my reply to this question here because I think the ideas transfer to other industries and other situations.

Hi [redacted],

About 7 years ago at PRSM, I was attending an education session led by a national HVAC company. Near the end of the session, the speaker asked:

“How many of you in this room have children?”

Most of the people in the room raised their hand.

“How many of you with your hands raised dream of your children growing up to be HVAC technicians?”

Only a few hands were still raised, and I recognized a couple of them who ran HVAC companies.

Our culture and our industry have looked down on skilled trades for a very long time. This is difficult to see in the mirror and painful to admit to ourselves. It is, however, very true.

We do it in the way we value a college education over a technical trade education. We do it in the way we pay vendors and technicians, always looking for the lowest rate. We treat people like a commodity, a throwaway thing, and then get frustrated when these same people whose jobs we do not value and whose careers we do not want our children to pursue, don’t meet our expectations.

So to me, it starts with being more human. It begins with giving people the dignity, trust, and value they deserve. It starts with relationships.

Contracts, agreements, and expectations are all great and necessary parts of the process. But they are meaningless outside of a foundation built on relationships.

This is what I believe.

Treating people well and listening will fix most problems. It starts with giving people dignity.

Don’t complain to others.

Don’t whine, gossip, or spread negativity.

This behavior is selfish because the person doing the complaining is only doing it to take something from others: time, attention, sympathy.

This behavior is unproductive because negative words do not contribute towards a goal or solve a problem.

And, this behavior is toxic because negativity relentlessly spreads through a group of people, takes on many forms, and builds resentment between people.

If you need to complain, complain on paper or to a blank page on your computer. Confront your words. Look at them. Are they true? Are they helpful? Ask yourself, “Instead of continuing to complain about this, how can I contribute to a solution?”

The best way to complain is to do something about it.

Schedule your to do’s.

Today, I am sharing a little life hack that allows me to get more work done in a day. It’s called time blocking.

Every morning, when I journal, I spend a little bit of time listing everything in my head that needs to get done today. Once I post the day’s blog post, I take that list and compare it to my running to do list (I use Basecamp). I add the tasks which aren’t already on the list.

Next, I reorder the list. I put what must get done today at the top and then order the rest of the list from most important to least important.

I look at the list and decide what to delegate to someone else. (One great thing about Basecamp is I can move a task to another project, assign it to one of my team members, add a due date, and set it to notify me when that person completes the task.)

Last, I pull up my calendar and start time blocking. I take the first task from my list and schedule 45 minutes to work on it. If it’s going to take longer than 45 minutes, I schedule it into the next block. For example:

8:00 AM to 8:45 AM: Task 1 Part A

9:00 AM to 9:45 AM: Task 1 Part B

I keep 15 minutes breaks so I can get up and walk around, check email or slack, and respond to whatever has come in. This break keeps me from being distracted since I know I will have time to review a notification soon.

If something comes in during this time that will become a new task, I add it to my to do list and archive the email.

I don’t schedule everything from my list for that day. I will often remove items from my list that have been sitting for multiple days because they are no longer important.

I have the most creative energy early in the morning, so I try to avoid meetings before 11:00 AM unless that meeting is both important and urgent.

Get your to do’s out of your head and onto a blank page where you can see them. Organize your list from most to least important. Delegate what makes sense to delegate. Schedule your to-do’s.

Be clear.

My team and I overhauled our website. Before, if you came to our site and did not know what we do, you would not be able to figure it out. Hopefully, this is no longer the case.

The process of clarifying our company’s message has inspired me to ask a new set of questions when I communicate.

  1. What do I want from what I am communicating?

  2. Am I using the fewest words possible?

  3. Is it clear what I want from what I am communicating?

If you are going to say something, say it with clarity.

You can check out our website redesign here.

Make a list.

Are you feeling stuck? Do you have a problem to solve, but don’t know where to start? Take out a piece of paper and number out the lines one through twenty.

Start writing out ideas, solutions, or whatever comes to mind even if it’s awful. Don’t judge what you write down until you get every line filled.

Now look at the list and pick your top five.

Chances are, your solution is right there in front of you.

Don’t try to solve your problems in your head. Make a list.

Do scary things.

The part of the human brain responsible for avoiding loss and staying safe is considerably larger than the part of the brain responsible for logic. You end up making decisions based on fear and rationalizing those decisions with logic. This attribute is excellent for animistic survival. It’s kept the human race from going extinct.

It also keeps people from doing things they may end up loving.

The first time I had to give a speech was in speech class in my freshman year of college. I froze on the practice run, and never returned to class.

The second time I gave a speech was only for five people and video camera on a mentoring retreat. I froze and could not speak.

The third time I gave a speech was in front of a room of over 100 people at breakout session for my one of my industry’s most prominent conferences. I have never felt more alive in my life.

I wasn’t any less scared the third time I gave a speech than I had been the two previous times. The difference is the third time I chose to do it.

I would have missed the opportunity to discover this passion had I allowed my fear of past failures to keep me from trying again.

Do scary things. You never know what you may learn about yourself.

What do I want?

Before you pick up the phone, walk in the door after work, write an email, or open an app, ask yourself this question?

What do I want to accomplish?

What do I want to feel? Or more importantly, what do I want someone else to feel?

What do I want in life?

Stop and pause for a moment before you do something. Are you acting impulsively, or if there is a reason, what is it?

Consider your behavior. Do your actions match your intentions?

The more you act with a purpose in mind, the more you consider the question, “What do I want?”, the closer you will get to where you are going.

Write every day.

When you organize a closet, you first remove everything and put it on the floor.

You then toss out what you no longer need, maybe the items no longer bring you value, perhaps they are better for someone else, or maybe they are garbage in need of permanent disposal.

Finally, you take the remaining items and return them to your closet only now they are neatly placed and ready when needed. You feel joy, having accomplished this task, and with that joy, you build motivation and positivity for the future.

This is what a daily writing habit can do for you. You take the mess of everything in your brain and dump it onto a blank page.

You get rid of unuseful items–old ideas, negative self-talk, lies, wounds, fears, anger, regret.

You keep what is beneficial–principles, happy memories, lessons learned, dreams, goals, loving and joyful thoughts, gratitude, commitments, true statements of your value as a human being.

You put these wonderful ideas in a safe place, read them, share them with people whom you trust.

You might develop the courage to share them publicly with people who need to hear what you have to say.

Try it. Get a paper journal, a journaling app, blank paper, a blank page. It does not matter. Commit to removing the junk from your brain and organizing the ideas worth keeping.

You might love the way you feel when you write every day.

The next small step.

It’s fun to dream. Taking action is hard.

A dream is precious. It’s perfectly intact, the exact way you see it.

The moment you start working towards a dream, you see the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

You begin to feel the pain of pushing against what seems like an immovable object.

Your feet are moving fast, pushing but nothing is moving, at least not from your perspective.

You lose faith because the effort you are putting in is greater than the results.

Big dreams don’t come in leaps and bounds. They are the result of millions of tiny steps.

When you get stuck, stop looking at the gap between you and your dream. Instead, focus on the next small step.

Two areas of focus.

I can come up with an idea a minute, but I can’t execute on any of them if I try all of them. And since the list of things I want to do, learn, and accomplish continues to grow, I decided I needed to change the way I approach my goals. This year, I decided to run my goals through two areas of focus.

A couple of books inspired this idea I read last year, The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) and Grit. 4DX talks about narrowing the scope of what you are working on because working on more than two projects will lead to completing zero projects. Grit talks about working at one thing over a long time because success comes from sticking it out past the hard parts.

For 2019, I am focusing on

1. Growing my relationships and network

2. Owning vs. running my company

Growing my relationships and network.

Leadership and entrepreneurship are lonely. Leaders can find themselves surrounded only by people who depend on them for something and as a result, they don’t experience true friendships. I have done a poor job developing my friendships and personal network for the last four to five years. When I look forward five years, I see my life filled with meaningful friendships which means. If this is going to be a reality, I have to start now. In the first ten days of this year, I have intentionally met up with more people than I did in all of 2018.

Owning vs. running my company.

The greatest leaders are also the greatest delegators. They cast a vision of the desired outcome, empower others to carry out that vision, and then support them with resources, education, and grace as they work to carry it out. They don’t figure out all the steps and then hand off the process. Historically, I have taken the second approach. This approach works until the business grew to the point where I am a bottleneck to growth. There is a long list of projects I need to complete, most of which are waiting for me to start. I have an all-star team at Envoy. Each is a brilliant problem solver, each is full of empathy, and each is a hard-worker. Every new project that comes up needs to be run through a qualification filter to make sure it is worth doing before I empower a leader in my company to own it. When I look forward five years, I will own several companies, something I cannot do if I am running all them the way I have been running Envoy.

The filter.

I commit to tabling any idea or project that falls outside of these two focus areas for the entirety of 2019. If it doesn’t grow my network, and it it’s something I cannot delegate to a capable leader, I need to save it for later. I hope