Lessons from 2010

I spend some time at the end of each year planning for the next, and the kickoff is a year in review. In the process, I look at what went well, what didn’t go well, what’s changed for me and within me.  I picked up on 5 key discoveries for 2010.

  1. Turn off the email notifications.  All of them. I haven’t had a desktop email notification in years, but I never removed it from my BlackBerry.  Given the volume of email I receive, that means my phone was blinking read (“Urgent! Urgent!”) more often than not.  In the Fall, I attended a conference and wanted to concentrate, so I turned off the email notification blink.  I felt less harried right away, which I hadn’t expected.If I’m expecting a critical email, I switch back until it’s arrived, and I do get notified on text messages, which tend to be more pressing.Leaving the notification off under ordinary circumstances has made a huge difference in my day-to-day Pavlovian wear and tear.  Try it.  You won’t be sorry.  (Or if you are, you can switch back.  Seriously, it’s worth a try.
  2. It’s important to step outside your comfort zone. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference as a sponsor, which meant that I had to step outside my ordinary introvert comfort zone and be “on”, engaging people and chatting seemingly through the whole conference instead of taking a few minutes to regroup.  It was exhausting… And exhilarating. (And a big “HELLO!” to everyone who’s reading this after meeting me at the conference!)I’m still an introvert, but I learned that there’s a real benefit to trying out another way of experiencing the world. Business benefit, yes, but personal as well.  What would be a step out of your comfort zone?  Try it on for size. Again, you can always switch back.
  3. Most email isn’t as important as you might believe. As some of you remember, I took a sabbatical over the summer to handle some personal business.  Even my BlackBerry didn’t work in some of the areas where I was spending time, and I worried about being out of touch for (gasp!) 4-6 hours during the business day.  The world didn’t end.  I continued to work with my clients, book new speaking gigs, and meet and begin work with new clients.I noticed that when I’d return to the computer, about 80% of my email would be unnecessary. (This matches the Pareto Principle, of course.)  I’d delete that 80% quickly and move on to the meat, and life continued to run just as smoothly as ever.  I started trimming the 80%, but even though I now receive less email, I notice that the 80/20 rule still applies.  Knowing that makes clearing my inbox easier than ever.  What can you trim?
  4. Sometimes, you just goof up.  Admit it and deal. This one is embarrassing.  I had a 90-minute speaking engagement in September.  I was sharing information that I knew would help the audience, and it was a good group, with lots of participation even though we were meeting at 8 AM on a cold, rainy morning.  I’d prepared and rehearsed, and I had my presentation down cold.  It wasn’t until people started leaving that I realized that I’d goofed up — in a big way — and planned to finish after 2 hours instead of 90 minutes.  Oh, did I mention that this was a time management presentation?  (I told you it was embarrassing.)I’d love to pretend that I never make a mistake, but too many people could call me out on that. I always take my mistakes seriously — what can I learn, how can I adjust to avoid this happening again, and what can I do to correct the problem? — but there’s a difference between taking them seriously and taking myself so seriously that the only option is self-castigation.  During the presentation, I admitted my mistake (not much of a chance of hiding this one, y’know?) and wrapped up quickly… And then I went to another speaking engagement and gave one of the best presentations I ever have, using a timer that counted down to zero rather than up to the time I was allotted.Many professionals I’ve met hold themselves to a high standard that doesn’t allow for mistakes. But mistakes happen anyway.  Find the middle ground that allows you to respond appropriately to mistakes, get to the heart of what happened and change it, and then move on.
  5. Less input may generate more creative output. Earlier this year, I discovered an article that reported that in 2008:  households in the United States consumed a mind-boggling total of 3.6 zettabytes of information and 10,845 trillion words in 2008.  That’s a daily average of 33.8 gigabytes of information and 100,564 words per person.  Put another way, it’s the equivalent of covering the continental United States and Alaska in a 7-foot high stack of Dan Brown novels.Does anybody think we’re consuming less now?I’m an incorrigible reader, and people fascinate me, so I love Twitter and Facebook and surfing in general, not to mention my hard copy reading and even TV and radio. And I’ve noticed that it’s tough for me to come up with creative ideas for my clients or myself when I’m taking in so much information.  There’s no time for ideas to germinate.Have you ever been so nervous while speaking that you keep breathing in but you don’t exhale?  That’s what a lot of us are unintentionally doing with information.  We take in more and more, but we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of letting ideas roll around and transform and spark.  Try taking in less information, at least for a time, and see what happens. Perhaps (like me) you’ll find yourself generative creative ideas that would have been crowded out.

What have you learned this year? I’d love to know.

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