My “Out Of Office” Reply

I am heading out for the Summit at Sea this afternoon and will be facilitating a workshop next week, so I spent a few minutes this morning pondering the dreaded “Out Of Office” message.

Usually I put a very quick two lines that cover:

  • I am currently doing x. (I like to enroll people in what I’m doing and provide a link to the workshop, leadership program, event, etc. so they can learn more about it.)
  • I won’t be looking at email again until x. (Simple.)

Today, inspired by my friend Neal Bicker, I decided I’m adding a new section at the end of my “Out Of Office” message from now on:

Email Fast Facts

  • Workers on average make it only 11 minutes into a project before being distracted by email, and it takes workers 16-25 minutes to refocus on their work after dealing with email. (UC Irvine)
  • Your IQ falls 10 points when you’re fielding constant emails, the same loss you’d experience if you missed an entire night’s sleep and more than double the loss of someone smoking marijuana. (University of London)
  • Workers spend 28% of their work week on email, meaning that’s 13 fewer hours we can spend being productive. (McKinsey)

Living in a state of continuous partial attention robs you of your true potential. Maximize the power of your brain by being more intentional about your use of email.

Teach people how to work with you.

If you use email in a horrible way, people will use email in a horrible way with you.

All my project work is now managed through Trello, Slack, or similar tools, so I know that’s where the important stuff is. More and more, now email is something I can further ignore as I take control of my schedule vs. let it be the other way around.

What do you do?


Action. Action. Action. We all need to take more of it. What’s the biggest thing that stops us from doing it? Fear? Maybe. Excuses? Maybe. But I’d say it all boils down to Accountability.

When all we have is ourselves to hold us accountable for something, we’re pretty lousy at it. We can be good at holding other people accountable, but holding ourselves accountable? When no one’s going to email you to ask where that next deliverable is? When there’s no meeting on your calendar that you have to get ready for? When you don’t feel the pressure of a looming deadline? Those freedoms are great, but if they make it so that you don’t hold yourself accountable to take action, then shame on you.

I recently learned that November is National Novel Writing Month. What’s that? It’s the month for you to finally write your novel. A good friend of mine has had an idea for a novel forever, but he’s finally taking action on it and doing it. Why? Because this little bit of structure and accountability makes all the excuses vanish. There is a community of over 9,000 people who have all committed to writing a novel this November, and that little bit of shared accountability goes a long way.

They also have a BRILLIANT document that everyone signs, called The Month-Long Novelist Agreement and Statement of Understanding. It’s beautifully written and includes passages such as:

By invoking an absurd, month-long deadline on such an enormous undertaking, I understand that notions of “craft,” “brilliance,” and “competency” are to be chucked right out the window, where they will remain, ignored, until they are retrieved for the editing process. I understand that I am a talented person, capable of heroic acts of creativity, and I will give myself enough time over the course of the next month to allow my innate gifts to come to the surface, unmolested by self-doubt, self-criticism, and other acts of self-bullying.


I acknowledge that the month-long, 50,000-word deadline I set for myself is absolute and unchangeable, and that any failure to meet the deadline, or any effort on my part to move the deadline once the adventure has begun, will invite well-deserved mockery from friends and family.

The whole thing is worth checking out.

No matter what your art is: novel-writing, badly-drawn celebrities, health insurance optimization, or anything else that you pour yourself into, set some absurd deadlines for yourselfhold yourself accountable, and commit some heroic acts of creativity. November can be that time for you.

The world is waiting. Don’t rob us of your art.

P.S. Need an Accountability Buddy to help hold you accountable? Post a comment and I’ll be your Buddy.

Guest of the Day

I’m currently in Orlando at Elliott Masie’s Learning 2015, an interesting collection of people passionate about learning and passionate about helping others learn.

During Elliott’s keynote last night, he told a story about how he once arrived to check-in at a Hilton, and was told he was “Guest of the Day.” Assuming this was something that they probably got away with telling a number of people, he shrugged it off, smiled, and went on his way. But after returning to the lobby a couple times over the course of the day, he realized everyone on the staff was taking it very seriously and even some other guests congratulated him on being “Guest of the Day” — an honor that entitled him to a few small benefits (e.g. free breakfast, a free movie), but arguably the biggest benefit of all was just him being delighted by this unique experience and it meant adding a fair number of smiles to his day. (Imagine someone stopping you every few minutes with a big smile, “Oh! Mr. Masie! Guest of the Day! Congratulations!”)

He asked a member of the staff why they were so keen and clearly so passionate about this “Guest of the Day” program, and the staff member said:

When we can delight others, it makes our day a lot more exciting and delightful.

I’ve not worked in a hotel, but I could imagine that working at the front desk of a hotel is a job that could get monotonous if you allowed it to. But adding that extra little “spark” into the day just makes every day worth living.

Now apparently this is a practice that has been going on for over a decade, and if you Google enough you can find plenty of people who will complain about their experiences at Hilton as “Guest of the Day,” but the point isn’t to say what a great program this is. The point is that we can all be way more intentional about delighting others over the course of our day.

We can all empathize with a bored hotel worker. We all have to do tasks over the course of our day that we don’t particularly enjoy: filling out a form, getting gas, waiting in a line…

Do we just annoyedly participate in these moments, or do we delight others in the process? Simply making eye contact when checking out at the grocery store can sometimes make a big difference. When someone asks, “how are you?” replying “Outstanding!” instead of “fine” can make a big difference. Any number of little things can make a big difference.

Can you take the opportunity to intentionally delight someone every day? I bet you’ll find you’re the one who actually gets the delight from it.

Well-intentioned bad advice

Most of life is spent filtering well-intentioned bad advice.

Your parents? Your spouse? Your friends? Maybe even your boss? These people legitimately care about you. They want to see you succeed. And so they give you advice. A lot of it. But we know that all advice is autobiographical and so just because advice is well-intentioned doesn’t mean it’s worth taking.

Everyone who gives you advice grew up in a different context, lives in a different context, has lived with different results because of different decisions, etc, etc.

These people who are close to you may also give you some of the best advice you’ll ever receive and in some contexts may be the perfect people to take advice from, but in other contexts perhaps it’s worth looking at other opinions.

Bias towards action

After a two year hiatus from blogging (because I’ve been making so much action happen your head would spin), I’ve spent the past couple days thinking about how to get my blog going again. Ten seconds ago, it finally hit me that I just need to do it.


Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Congratulations, Steve, your blog has officially started again.

…. So why did it take me so long? Why does it take any of us so long to do things?

“Well, other people might not like it if I do that.”

Do you want to be like other people?


OK, then. Problem solved. Next problem?

But we never let things be this easy. We over-complicate them. We fret about it. We fear.

Mostly we have a bias towards inertia. Inertia seems safe. But inertia sucks. So many things around us suck. So why don’t we always just have a bias towards action to do something about it? Because maybe even more than inertia, we prefer to have a bias towards complaining. We let complaining stand in for action.

“I don’t like my job.”

“I don’t like my chair.”

“I don’t like my thermostat lid.”

What are you going to do about it?


WTF, people!

No more complaining. Just action. Bias towards action means that every time you see a problem, you take an action towards resolving it. You prototype a solution. You gather more data. You channel the energy you might have spent complaining into some type of progress.

People who get stuff done don’t have time to complain.

In the past three days that I complained to myself about not having blog posts, my friend Eric crushed it and released two stellar blog posts. Now he has two in the time I had none.

Take five seconds and think about the biggest challenge you’re facing right now.


OK. No more thinking required. Now just go take action towards resolving it.

In any given situation when there are multiple things you could do: wallow, complain, think, overthink, talk, etc, etc, instead have a bias towards action and just do.

**This post took less than two minutes to write. Do.

I was such an idiot

I often find myself thinking this.

“Wow, I sounded really dumb in that meeting yesterday.”

“That event we did was terrible compared to this one.”

“Damn. Why was I arguing that point over dinner?”

“I actually used to believe this?”

I wrote that blog post?”

“I sent that text message?”

If I think about it too much, I’ll actually cringe when I think about all the dumb things I’ve said and done — the vast majority of which I thought I were really good or really smart while saying and doing them.

But the trap is to let that fear make you stop saying and doing.

I had a great conversation with my friend Ross last week (in which I said a lot of dumb things in retrospect), and we talked about this subject specifically. Ross is in his 60’s and said he feels the same way. I asked, “So it never stops?” and he said, “I certainly hope not.”

What an awesome response.

The minute we stop questioning ourselves and the minute we start feeling like everything we say is the smartest thing in the world is the minute we stop learning. And the minute you stop learning, why are you here?

Being the exception

Society seems to function well thanks to a variety of rules and norms that govern how we interact with others:

  • You don’t chew with your mouth open.
  • You make eye contact when you clink your beers.
  • You wear the same colored socks on both feet.
  • You wait your turn in queues.
  • You don’t ask artists to work for free.

There have been plenty of pieces written about the last point. (Here is one of the more humorous anecdotes.) It’s become pretty well accepted that this is the way we should live our lives.

Unless you’re the exception.

Mark Cuban is the exception, for example. He made a request on his blog asking for community contributions to design a new logo for the Dallas Mavericks. He even unabashedly made clear the terms:

Who will own your design ? The minute you post it, the Mavs will.  If you think its horrible that the Mavs own your design. Do not post.

The average Joe can’t do this. I can’t do this. No one would respond.

But Mark Cuban is the exception.

He could easily pay a designer or 100 designers if he wanted to. But he’s breaking the rule. Maybe you’re offended or you don’t have interest, but maybe you see an opportunity that thousands of other eyeballs could see your design or yours might just be selected to become an iconic brand for a professional sports team.

Maybe it’s unlikely that he’ll select one of these designs to be the next Mavericks logo. Perhaps he never intended to. But who cares? It could lead to an entirely new career for a designer. Or it could lead nowhere. Just because it’s against conventional “rules” doesn’t mean you can’t be excited about it.

Let’s get over the “rules” and start evaluating individual scenarios as they really are. And let’s all think about places where we can become the exception and use that to our advantage.


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