Monthly Archives: August 2010

First Identify Your Goals, But Then Make Sure You Give Them the Attention They Deserve

With the recent reading recommendations of the Emerging Leaders Academy experienced public servants panel, I’ve been re-reading Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m listening to it this time, actually, on cd during my drive time and it seems particularly meaningful to hear the guidance in Covey’s own voice.

I’ve just gotten to habit 3, put first things first, where he discusses the value of planning your time so that you’re spending much of your energy in “quadrant 2” (see graphic below), on the things that are important but not necessarily urgent.

They are the things that are most likely to get sidelined when we operate in a more reactive mode, organizing our time around oiling the squeakiest wheels rather than around our principles.

This reminded me of the terrific opening of a post on the Be Awesome Online blog from last week. Catherine Caine writes:

“Do you know, dearest, why to-do lists, vision boards and affirmation notes on your mirror work?

“It’s because of attention. We direct our attention to the things in our field of vision. If we don’t give ourselves conscious reminders then we default to whatever’s around: our inbox, the thousand-fold distractions of social media, the furniture… nothing meaningful, nothing long-term, nothing great.

I’ve deliberately added more reminders to myself as the study has become my work-centre. I have Charlie Gilkey‘s famous line Do Epic Sh** on a sign on the study door. I have artwork I bought because it reminds me of how I want to rock the world. And I’ll be daring the Wrath of the Real Estate Agent to put up some work on the wall behind my monitor. All of these small changes have helped, a lot.”

What Catherine Caine and Stephen Covey both want to remind us of is that we can all be pretty willing to be distracted from the Important Stuff when it can be hard and even scary to dive into it. But by scheduling our time around it, putting reminders in our field of vision, blocking out the “urgent” distractions (that generally aren’t quite so urgent), we can dip our toes into working on the Important Stuff and start to feel some of the satisfaction that comes from doing what matters.

For me, this has meant actually turning off my email for a couple hours at a time over the last week in order to get some writing done on my dissertation. It’s just too easy to attend to the urgent otherwise. And you know what the best part is? It’s working.

What do you do to make sure you’re spending some time on the important-but-not-urgent?

Plate Tectonics and Organizational Change

I remember being puzzled when I learned about plate tectonics in elementary school. The various continental and oceanic plates, I was told, moved incredibly slowly–only a few inches a year. Yet somehow this generated enough pressure and force, as they pushed into one another, that it caused explosive events like volcano eruptions.

I could vaguely grasp the idea of that much pressure–I mean, thinking of something the size of the continent moving, it made sense to me that there’d be some friction and force there.

What I struggled with was the idea that only a few inches of movement a year could result in changes significant enough to yield such explosions. And yet, over time, those inches add up to wildly significant change.

I thought of this today as I read Seth Godin’s blog post “Resilience and the Incredible Power of Slow Change.”

Most people I know seem to be frustrated with the slow pace of change in their organizations. And yet most of us, unfortunately, have plenty of experience with change processes that were implemented badly–often too quickly without enough information about the value of the change–and died on the vine.

His post reminds us about the shocking amount of change that actually does occur when we step back and look at the big picture. He has a point. I mean, whatever one’s politics, it’s amazing to think of the violence that met efforts to integrate lunch counters less than 50 years ago while we now have an African American man in the office of President.

Or, for a more mundane example, how quaint those old-fashioned toy telephones on wheels now look given that most kids will never encounter a rotary dial.

Seth suggests that we “Don’t worry about what happened yesterday (or five minutes ago). Focus on what happened ten years ago and think about what you can do that will make a huge impact in six months.”

What changes do you see if you look back 10 years? What can you do to influence the direction of the tectonic plates’ movement in your organization?

Business Reading Recommendations

Last week the Emerging Leaders Academy participants heard from a panel of experienced public servants who offered some career perspectives.

I want to thank Hannes Zacharias, Johnson County Manager; Norton Bonaparte, Topeka City Manager; Jen Church-Duran, KU Libraries Assistant Dean of User Services; and Julie Loats, Director of IT for KU Enterprise Applications and Services, for taking the time to reflect on their experiences with the group.

At the end of the session, the panelists were asked for their recommendations of good business books–ones that have been useful and made a difference for them. Their picks included several classics:

• Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People
• Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
• Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

And one that’s less well-known:
• Yamashita and Spataro’s Unstuck: A Tool for Yourself, Your Team, and Your World.

Julie Loats also added that in terms of organization, for her nothing beats David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

What would you add to this list? What serves as a “great text” for you as you think about productivity, effectiveness, and relationships in the workplace? What book have you gone back to again and again?

First ASPA Luncheon of the Fall Coming Up on August 25th

The first ASPA luncheon of the 2010-2011 series will feature speaker Tom Coyle, Planning and Development Director for Kansas City, Missouri. He’ll provide an update on current sustainable development activities in Kansas City, Missouri. Topics include the new development code, streamside protection, stormwater management, and other programs focused at promoting sustainable development.

Location: Hereford House Restaurant & Hollywood Room | 100 East 20th Street | KCMO 64108
Date & Time: Wednesday,August 25th, 2010 @ 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Registrations: Please email with your lunch choice to or visit us as

About Tom Coyle:
Mr. Coyle has been the Planning and Development Director for the City of Kansas City, Missouri since 2005. In this capacity, Tom oversees the coordination of all elements of private development within the City.

His background includes planning management in the states of California, Texas, Oregon, and Missouri. He has also served as a contractor for the Army on a base expansion at Fort Irwin, California. He holds degrees in public administration and city planning from San Diego State University. He is a member of the American Planning Association and the Urban Land Institute. He has attained certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Tom lives in the Northland and his daughter, Kelsey, is a sophomore at Park Hill High School. His hobbies include long distance running and coaching his daughter’s softball team.

Finding More Time to Do What You Love

It may be as easy as learning to say no to what you don’t love and don’t have to do. Of course, this requires recognizing which things we don’t actually have to do even though we might feel some twinges of guilt in letting them go.

For those who struggle with this (that is, most of us), blogger and simple living advocate Tammy Stobel offers some excellent guidance on how to decide what you can indeed say “no” to and how to do so gracefully. Click here to check out her advice.

Useful guidance? Any tips you’d offer that she leaves out?

It’s all about the relationships. Really.

I noticed a trend in the course materials I’ve been creating and revising lately. No matter what the main topic, I found that somewhere in the handouts I noted that the skill wasn’t just about improving or mastering a series of tasks or honing a new ability. Rather, it was also about building and maintaining relationships.

So in the business writing handouts, for example, I highlighted that it’s worth taking the time to compose clear emails with a relevant subject line, that stick to a single message and note what, if anything, is needed from the reader in return and by when. The most immediate reason for this is that it wastes less of everyone’s time: the recipient doesn’t have to wade through unnecessary information and/or you don’t have to send a follow up asking for information that you didn’t give a due date for, for example.

But the more important issue is that business communication is about relationships. It’s worth paying attention to who, in your inbox, always starts their messages with a salutation and returning the favor–even if this isn’t your standard practice. Creating documents and writing presentations that acknowledge the humanity of those who will receive them reaffirms that we are more than the sum of what’s on our task lists.

And the business etiquette handouts likewise center the issue of relationships, building on a comment by Emily Post about the profound misunderstanding most of us have about what etiquette is. It’s not about putting on airs: it’s about how our behavior touches one another whenever our paths cross–that is, relationships.

Valuing what’s human in each other certainly has a payoff in productivity. If we’ve built relationships with our co-workers and colleagues we know who to turn to for guidance on particular issues or who to call to make sure an important piece of paperwork makes it to the top of the pile.

But I hope it’s more than that. It’s also about enhancing the time we spend at work and about making sure we get and give the encouragement we all need to have days filled with as many activities as possible that speak to our hearts as well as our minds.

So be efficient, but not to the point of being brusque and negatively impacting a relationship (thanks to Paul for commenting on this in a recent post!).

And be chatty and personable, but not to the point of frustrating your partner in the conversation who may have some important work to do.

Does remembering that it’s about the relationship as much as accomplishing the task at hand cause you to rethink you’re approach to anyone or anything in your work environment?