How managers can put themselves in a position to succeed

Anyone out there recognize my conundrum?

With each passing year I became more aware that I wasn't getting enough exercise. Sure, I walked a lot: to and from work, to the supermarket, pretty much everywhere. But nothing that broke much of a sweat.

I even knew what exercise I wanted to do. While I’ve never been a runner, I enjoy fast-walking. The problem was finding the time to do it.

On many a night, I’d go to bed planning to get up early and start the day by walking several miles. Then come morning, I’d wake up and check my email. Or decide to get to the office a little early to get organized. Or just sleep an extra half hour.

So much for good intentions.

One afternoon I was sharing my frustration over this with my colleague, Kelly McBride.

“As soon as you wake up,” Kelly said, “put on your running shoes.”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “If you put your running shoes on, chances are, you’ll use them. If you don’t, you’ll probably keep finding excuses not to.”

Bingo! In the past 18 months, I’ve done a combination of walking and running about three miles on more than 300 mornings.

I just had to put on my running shoes.

Put another way, I just had to put myself in a position to succeed -- something more of us journalists need to do.

Think about how many mornings you arrive at work determined to tackle something important: a brainstorming meeting about the upcoming campaign; a feedback session with your best reporter; a half-dozen check-ins with new sources; a difficult conversation with a chronically-late staffer.

Now think about how many nights your ride home is spent lamenting the fact you never got around to doing any of those things.

The road to deadline is paved with good intentions.

How can we put ourselves in a better position to succeed, to do more of the “important things” on our agendas?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Use your calendar. If it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to put on your calendar. Think how often you’ve run into someone in the hallway and said, “Hey, we should talk – stop by my office later.” And then what happens? You both get busy and the meeting never happens. But suppose you scheduled a meeting with that same person at your desk at 9:30 a.m. Chances are, you meet. And you drive home tonight knowing you crossed an important item off your list.
  • Make a list. You cannot comprehend how difficult it is for me to even write those three words. I am so not a list person. I made my first To Do list on the day I became a managing editor in Baltimore (figured it was time to be a grownup.) At the end of the day, I looked with frustration at the list and realized that despite being busy all day, I had not crossed off one item. So I wrote down the things I had done -- and immediately crossed them off. I felt better, and I didn’t make another list for months. But today, as the rust collects around my memory lobes, I’m finding that making a list -- at least once in a while -- can help me keep my most important priorities at the front of my brain. And let’s face it, with the variety of tasks you are responsible for in today’s newsroom, age isn’t the only contributor to a leaking memory. There’s just a lot to remember. Why not write it down?
  • But … make entry to your list difficult. Remember, the purpose of this exercise is to turn more of those good intentions into completed tasks. If your list includes every phone call, meeting and routine responsibility you have, the important stuff will continue to get lost. Your list should facilitate quality of work, not quantity. Be selective.
  • Share your good intentions. Tell your assistant. Tell a fellow reporter or photographer. Tell your spouse. Tell someone who will ask you if you had that feedback conversation, that meeting with a source, that planning session. (You can tell your boss, but make sure you’re ready to do the work; your boss almost certainly will ask about your progress.) The purpose of telling someone is to enlist support, even a friendly nudge.
  • Find five minutes of quiet to evaluate your day. Whether it means leaving the music off in the car or taking a more circuitous route to the bus stop, give yourself a chance to be alone and think: What did I accomplish in the past 10 hours that had impact beyond today? How did I get it done? Or, why didn’t I get something important done? How can I make tomorrow different?

These tools help me, and you undoubtedly can come up with others that can help you. After all, we wear different shoe sizes. But we all have the same goal:

We want to succeed. And we need to take some concrete steps toward putting ourselves in a position for that to happen.

What are yours?


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