Decide to be Better


Have you ever read a book more than once? Did you learn something new each time you did so? One of these books for me is Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example by Steve McClatchy. Not only have I read it multiple times, but I have led 3 book clubs on this book. Leading the book clubs gave me different perspectives from others and forced me to look at what I was doing well and what I needed to change.

There it is. That word haunts me. Change. Did you know if you want to be better you have to change? Ugh. Really? I want to be better, but I also like things to remain the same. I had to get over this resistance to change. 2020 forced me to do so. Change is Hard

Consider this the Cliff’s Notes version of the book. I will present my top 5 takeaways with access via links to more information. (I highly recommend reading the book, though. I have read it at least 5 times now.)

Gain/Prevent Pain

This isn’t an either/or. It is an and. Prevent pain tasks are those you must do or you feel the consequences. If you want to have clean clothes, you must do the laundry. If you like electricity, you must pay your bill. Prevent pain tasks are those recurring tasks that never end (like laundry) but have to be done consistently to prevent pain. Do you know what your prevent pain tasks are? Make a list.

Gain tasks are those that move you forward in life. These can be as big as raising children that will be amazing adults to creating a blog post, like this one. Gain tasks will fill your tank. Working on these tasks gives you energy. This energy can then be applied to prevent pain tasks. Those tasks won’t feel like drudgery when you have the energy from the gain tasks. Do you have gain tasks? If not, make a list.

Set Priorities

Reading this blog is THE most important thing to you right now. How do I know? This is what you are choosing to do. Nothing else. Just this. Once I realized the activity I was doing at any given moment was THE most important to me, it shifted my thinking. 

To help me with this shift, I use Eisenhower’s matrix with Quadrant 1 and 2 activities. The book discusses A, B, and C-level tasks. When I created the linked video, I had already read the book 3 times, so there is some blending of the concepts. I had my team list our daily tasks and place them in the Eisenhower Matrix. Then, we took that matrix and put them in the A, B, and C categories.

When I find emails holding me hostage, I remind myself emails are important and essential, but they are not Priority 1. What other activities do I need to work on to move us forward? Email will be there waiting. Therefore, I set specific times in the day to read my emails. If I don’t I find the only task I accomplish is answering emails. They just keep coming.

How do I do accomplish this? When I get to the office in the morning, I go through the USPS mail, then I look at my email. I respond to emails with a quick reply. I thank the sender and give them a time frame for my complete response. This email is then filed into a folder specific to its task. (Quote, Confirmation, etc…) If I am lucky, I can get through the first round of emails in 15-20 minutes. Then I move to another task. This next task is the most important thing I will be working on. Therefore, I do not receive email alerts or pop-ups. Those are distractions that I do not need. Did you know it can take up to 23 minutes (study by the University of California, Irvine) to get back on task after an interruption? I don’t know about you, but I do not have 23 minutes to give a distraction.

Manage Interruptions

There is a difference between interruptions and distractions. Distractions are usually my fault. I have let my focus stray. One of my biggest distractions is email. Like I said before, if you stay in email long enough, they will just keep coming. If I don’t set my limits, I will get nothing else accomplished.

Interruptions on the other hand come from others. They may be work-related, or they may be personal. Text from my mom? That’s personal. I am good at ignoring texts, almost to a fault. (Sorry, Mom.) When I do answer, this interruption has become a distraction. Did a co-worker stop by to ask a question? That’s work-related. How long this interruption takes is up to me. “What?!” you say. Yes, there are fences you can put up around the time an interruption takes.

  1. Set Expectations and Stick to the Work Involved
    • “I need to complete this project. I have 5 minutes. Can I help you in this timeframe or do we need to schedule a meeting?” Or “Can you give me the 30-second sound bite?”
  2. Once the timeline is set, if it requires a meeting, follow through and have said meeting. Set and meet the expectations.
  3. Interrupt yourself
    • “I completely agree, that Packer game was amazing. Oh, speaking of amazing, I have a great opportunity for the company I need to get back to. I will catch up with you later. “
    • “I agree, that Packer game was amazing. But, hey, I was headed to the bathroom before I saw you and I need to complete that journey. Go Pack Go!”

Whatever you do, do not get caught up in the Midwest Goodbye. (Charlie Berens 3:49) (Yes, this is a distraction, but it’s SO true!)

Stay Organized

The hardest part of being organized is deciding on a system and sticking to it. Consistent persistence is key. Technology makes it easier. I use Google Calendar and Tasks. My tasks are on my calendar, right along with my events. (And, yes, they are color-coded. Tasks are brown. Work events are green. Home events sync to my work calendar and are yellow.) I have access to these tools on my computer and my phone. Links are created and added to the events/tasks so I have everything I need in one convenient location. Events need to be protected (like that ever-important hair appointment). Tasks can be moved, but should not be marked complete until they are done. Going back to section 1, gain tasks should be events on your calendar. Tasks are from my prevent pain list.

Once you have your system in place, be consistent and persistent in its use. Make it a habit. From Ness Labs, the average amount of time to create a habit is 2 months. Be kind to yourself through this process. It is a 20-mile March, not a sprint. The rewards are efficiency and less lost time.

Lead by Example

Rewards of more efficiency and less lost time? Yes. You also get to start leading your life, not being led by it. These skills are great for work but are equally important at home. There is a lot of discussion about work-life balance. I even wrote my feelings on the subject, Work/Life Balance Is Not 50/50. I was thrilled when the author agreed with me!

We have ONE life. There are many aspects to our life. But, it is one life, not 2. It is up to me to lead my life in the direction I want it to go. It is up to me to work on the gain tasks as I cross off the prevent pain ones. It is up to me to change my focus to results, not deadlines. It is up to me to decide to be better. To change. Are you up for the challenge? Decide.

Kim Grzywacz

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