Thursday, November 19, 2020

How I improved the quality of my phone calls.

About three years ago I started a practice which has resulted in an extraordinary improvement in the effectiveness of my phone calls.

I create a written "agenda" for almost every call.

How does this help? 

We know that meetings generally go better if there is an agenda. If we think of a phone call as just a one on one meeting, it stands to reason that an agenda should help as well.

For example:
  • With an agenda, you are more likely to cover what you need to, and in the optimal order.
  • For a potentially difficult conversation, you can plan in advance how you might respond to anticipated objections and so forth.
  • You may discover issues that need prep work in advance of the call.

However, my phone call agenda has one major difference from a meeting agenda.
It is intended just for me.

In fact, it's more like the combination of a plan and a script that allows me to conduct a more efficient and effective call. (I may also, in some cases, send a more agenda to the other person if it would be helpful for them to prepare as well.)

Some questions you might have:

Is this just for work calls?

No! All the same benefits listed earlier apply to personal calls.

When's the best time to make the agenda

No contest here. At the time you decide you need to make the call.

Where should the agenda be stored?

Wherever you'll have access to it at the time of the call if the call is on your calendar put the agenda in the notes section, or in your planner

And finally, should you make an agenda when you plan to make the call immediately?


This is an easy technique that really does save time and add value.  I hope you give it a try!

Monday, November 2, 2020


It's time to revisit the daily MIT list strategy.

How is it going?

If you think you could do better, let's talk about some common problems and possible solutions.

The first: reality.

Have you noticed that some days don't go exactly as planned? (Actually, have you ever had such a day?)

Almost every day unexpected new demands show up, often eating up much of our available time.

No wonder our planned MIT's don't get done.

But if we are honest, some of that unexpected new work is more important or urgent than what we planned. Does that mean that planning was a waste of time?

Absolutely not!

Cal Newport explains it this way: (Study Hacks blog, August 14, 2015"):

“The reality of daily scale productivity is that plans are not meant to be preserved. They’re instead meant as a device for ensuring that you tackle your day with deliberation.”
In other words, your plan is your best judgment at the time about what is important, but those decisions may need to be revisited based on the events of the day.

However, it IS a problem if we automatically accept new work and put our planned MIT's on hold.

Instead, you need to decide if the new work takes priority over your planned MITs.

If it comes from your boss, you may have your answer!.

But often you do have a choice. If the new task is both more important and more urgent than the one you planned, make the switch.

The degree of difficulty increases when the request is from someone else, on behalf of a project they own.

Repeat after me: It's OK to put your own priorities first.

It's not only OK, but it's also necessary if you are going to achieve your own goals. This does not mean you will always say "no," but rather that sometimes you will. And often, "no" only means you can't do it as quickly as the other person would like.

Second, sometimes the "reality" is that you can't get yourself to do your MITs... 

I have a tremendous amount of personal experience with this phenomenon, which is ordinarily called procrastination

Here are some techniques that work for me.

Get in the right mindset. 

You must believe, and act as if,  your planned MITs are a priority.

Again, Cal Newport, from his 2016 book Deep Work. 

“… if you want to successfully integrate more ...(important work) ... into your professional life, you cannot just wait until you find yourself with lots of free time and in the mood to concentrate. You have to actively fight to incorporate this into your schedule."

These two "time management" tips:


Frontloading simply means that you aim to do your MIT's as early in the day as possible.

Use small bits of time. 

This seems counterintuitive: shouldn't something that is "most" important need the "most" time. 
Actually, no. 

Your MIT may only need a few minutes to complete. Or, you may be able to start a task in a minute or two and finish it later. 

My tendency is to reflexively think a task will take longer I have available. When I finally decided to just try to do it anyway, I learned that most of the time I was wrong. 

Re-evaluate how you are describing your MIT's to see if you could make them more "doable." 

Here's an example. Imagine you have created this MIT: "contact Mary."  Day after day you find yourself ignoring it. 

What if instead you had written: "email Mary with the cost estimate and ask if this works with the budget." Are you more attracted to take action now? 

The explanation? Partly, the "cognitive load" differs between the two tasks. The first requires you to remember why you need to contact Mary, and to decide exactly how you will do it. For the second, you can simply proceed to act. 

The need to do that extra thinking and decision making can be enough to put off the "fast thinking" part of your brain. This happens without your awareness. All you know is that you are putting off the task.
Instead, decide what you will do and how you will do it upfront. Then, you simply execute when the time comes. 

Finally, make your task smaller.

"Write the grant." "Get promoted." "Buy a house."

Obvious? Sadly, this kind of "task" is all too common. 

Once again, cognitive load comes into play. Your brain can see that a lot of thinking and deciding will be needed to get started, and "decides" to skip it.
The solution is obvious: define a smaller bit of work that could fit into a daily schedule.

I hope these suggestions help you make your MIT planning and execution more effective.

And remember, any day you complete at least one MIT is a success!