1. Cut to the Chase
The only rule I have repeated from my previous book, The Six Fundamentals of Success, is Cut to the Chase. Why the need to say more here? And why an entire book on the subject? Because I realized that my prior advice only scratched the surface of what cutting to the chase is all about.
We give our time away all day long, to emotions that gain us no advantages, to people who do not value our time, to inefficient habits. If you want to take back this time, you need to cut to the chase. The following are the underlying principles behind cutting to the chase, and, in fact, every one of the other ninety-nine rules in the book.
1. Define your purpose. Whether you’re planning a major project at work or thinking about where you want to be in ten years, a clear purpose is your true north by which to navigate as conditions change.
2. Know your world. Continuously seek to understand what’s happening in the world, the economy, your industry, and your organization. Recognize what motivates people. And most important, know yourself—and the world around you.
3. Concentrate. Shut out distractions. Set personal boundaries. Focus. Don’t let people steal your time and don’t give it away easily.
Cutting to the chase means approaching everything from your next phone call to the next five years of your career with clarity and focus. It’s about knowing what’s important and what’s not. It’s about spending time wisely—yours and others’. It’s about getting more done with less effort. And, yes, it’s also about work/life balance—about taking back the weekends and leaving work earlier so you can spend more time doing things you enjoy with the ones you love.
Cutting to the chase involves a commitment to thinking differently. It’s easy to blame change, intrusive technologies, or increasing expectations at work for our own lack of discipline. But wasting time is a personal choice. You can continue complaining that you never have enough time. Or you can put down your BlackBerry, switch off your e-mail alarm, close your office door, take a deep breath, turn the page … and just start.
2. Just start.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it! — Goethe
The longer you delay starting something, the more shadows you see. To paraphrase a famous Nike campaign, just start.
One CEO I know wanted to initiate a recognition program called “I Caught You Doing Something Good.” He created a committee to put the program together. But the people on it were busy with their regular jobs and had trouble finding the time to meet. The CEO was anxious to spend more time recognizing his people for their hard work. Realizing that the committee was too swamped to put the program together in a timely fashion, he just started. He sent an e–mail to the entire management team asking for nominations. When the results were in, he sent his high performers a personal thank-you note and a $100 gift certificate. The program is working beautifully. The energy it created has added momentum to the company.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life took a cue from horse racing and a gun went off when it was time for us to get moving? Life rarely sends us a signal as clear as a starter’s pistol. It’s up to us to recognize when it’s time to just start.
3. Get in early and go home on time.
Too many people get to work fifteen minutes late, thinking they’ll stay late to make up the lost time. They spend the first half hour getting coffee and catching up with colleagues on the hot new reality TV show. Once they sit down, they make a couple of personal phone calls, and if they’re lucky, they’ll get in an hour or so of “real work” before lunch. Of course, lunch itself is split between planning an upcoming meeting at their desks and catching up on office gossip. With the rest of the day spent returning emails, they might get in two or three hours of real work. So they stay late, inevitably chatting with the other night owls for another half an hour. But it’s okay—after all, they’re “off the clock.”
These people leave the office hours later than they should. They feel burned out because they’ve been there for almost ten hours, crammed in lunch at their desks, and still have so much left to do. Such people often feel ill–used by the organization and see themselves as martyrs. But the truth is, they have wasted hours of valuable work time and have accomplished far less than they could have.
The most effective executives and aspiring executives and managers get in early and stay focused all day. To regain control of your day, first get to work on time. Or, better yet, early. Work smart and hard the entire time you’re there. Visualize a stopwatch ticking away in your head, if necessary. At lunch, leave the office—if only for five or ten minutes—to clear your head so you can be productive in the afternoon. If you want to catch up with friends at the office, schedule lunch with them. When colleagues drop by your office, tell them, “I’m working on something right now, but I’d love to catch up. Why don’t we schedule lunch?”
Don’t confuse time spent at the office with time spent working productively. Working hard and smart will liberate you to spend more time outside the office with the people you care about most.
4. I got it.
As soon as you understand exactly what someone is explaining, tell them in one way or another, “I got it.” Doing so frees them to move on and cover more ground. Similarly, if someone else says “I got it” to you when you’re explaining a point, stop. Ignoring such feedback is a mistake, one that detail-oriented people are particularly vulnerable to. Because they value the details, they feel that others will, too. Of course, not everyone does.
I witnessed how costly this mistake can be in a recent planning session. The project manager continued answering a question long after the man who had asked it said, “I got it.” Even when he repeated, “I got it,” she calmly and insistently continued. As I watched him get angrier and angrier, I realized she had lost him.
If you’re not sure if someone got your point, listen care-fully to the person’s responses. If it’s clear there’s still a misunderstanding, suggest “I’m not sure we’re on the same page. Let’s make sure we understand each other.” If the other person gets it, continue with your next point. Be cognizant of the nonverbal cues that the other person offers. Is he or she growing impatient—nodding, looking away, shifting from side to side? These signals tell you whether or not you still have the listener’s attention. If you don’t, summarize your point quickly—and move on.
5. The first twenty minutes.
You would never see an NBA all-star casually toss a ball into the air and hope it hits the net. Before each jump shot, players pause, find their footing, set their sights on the net, and visualize a swoosh before the ball has even left their fingertips. You can take the same approach at work by visualizing a successful day before it officially begins. It all comes down to the first twenty minutes.
As soon as you get to work, before you turn on your e-mail or check your voice mail, take twenty minutes to plan the day ahead:
• Define your top priority for the day—the one that you would sacrifice all others to achieve—to help focus your energy.
• Update your “To Do” list. Allot time for everything you need to accomplish, including time to prepare for meetings and other conversations.
• Review your calendar. Determine the purpose of each meeting and appointment. If you don’t have one yet, think of one. If you can’t determine one, cancel.
• Consider whom you will see in meetings or other events throughout the day. Jot down any issues you need to address with them.
• Glance at your schedule for the remainder of the week and month to make sure you’re still focused on the right things.
Then check your e-mail and voice mail and start your day.
6. You’re killing me.
What do you do if you’ve said “I got it” to the person addressing you and they keep right on talking? You feel trapped. You know the clock is ticking. This is the third time you’ve heard the story. Everyone in the room is already in what I call “violent agreement.” Instead of getting angry or giving up, look at the other person, laugh, and say, “You’re killing me. I’ve got the point. Let’s move on.”
By being both direct and funny about it, you do two things: (1) you break the tension that everyone probably feels; and (2) by keeping things light, you move the conversation forward without offending. Odds are that the speaker is so wrapped up in the point being made that he or she has stopped observing what was going on around them. You’re offering him or her a graceful way out and helping to keep things moving.
If you’re not comfortable saying “You’re killing me,” try “Time out.” Ask a leading question to direct the conversation in a new direction. Or even suggest a brief break. The point is, find a phrase or method that works for you. If you simply put up with needless repetition, everyone in the room suffers.
7. Get over it.
When someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you may feel a surge of anger. Such anger can turn into road rage, fast. The first bump of adrenaline is a healthy response to a threat. It gives you the energy you need to respond promptly and protect yourself–in this case, by slamming on the brakes. But road rage is anything but a healthy reaction. When someone “cuts you off” at work, acknowledge it to yourself, then let it go. Holding on to anger costs time, energy, and focus. If you feel yourself slipping into “office rage”:
• Don’t take any precipitous action until you’ve calmed down.
• Take a walk, or talk behind closed doors with someone you trust so that you can let off a little steam. Don’t let your anger cause you to take action in a way that you will regret later.
• Make sure you do not take out your anger in other ways. If you’re upset that a colleague was promoted over you, don’t allow it to affect your relationship with everyone around you.
• Let your anger go. You cannot change the past. Learn what you can from it and move on.
In some cases, it’s important to confront a situation that makes you angry. Did your colleague really do something wrong? Respectfully challenging a new proposal that you presented is his or her right. If, however, he or she ridiculed your ideas rather than constructively responded to them, meet with this person one-on-one. Tell him or her how their action affected you, and ask that it not happen again. Then put it behind you.
Anger steals time and energy. Reacting inappropriately when you are angry makes it even worse and can undermine your career. Just move on.
8. It’s not always about you.
When my colleague recently arrived for a sales call with the CEO of one of the world’s largest ad agencies, the CEO met him at the elevator, looking rushed and preoccupied. He said, “I only have fifteen minutes.” Many people would have instantly deflated, thinking, “He doesn’t really want to talk to me—I might as well give up right now.” Instead, my colleague said, “No problem. We’re prepared—we’ll move fast.” The CEO’s mood instantly brightened. They had a great meeting that did, in fact, end in less than fifteen minutes. My colleague was smart enough to realize that the CEO’s mood had nothing to do with him. Because of that he was able to stay focused and on point.
Whether you’re dealing with a boss, colleague, client, customer, or spouse, the other person’s mood often has nothing to do with you. As human beings we tend to think the other person’s mood reflects something we did or didn’t do—that it’s all about us. Or, as a friend of mine puts it, “We’re all the stars of our own movies.” But putting ourselves in the center of every situation can distract us unnecessarily. We waste time wondering what we did wrong or how we can fix someone else’s issue, when it’s not necessarily our fault or concern. Don’t.
If you’re genuinely concerned that you’ve offended someone without realizing it, ask them. If the person tells you it has nothing to do with you, offer your support. Give your friend or colleague the space needed to deal with whatever is bothering him or her.
Everyone has a bad-hair day every now and then. It’s not always about you, so don’t assume it is.