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How to Apply the Principles of Marie Kondo in Your Work and Life

Think of clutter.
 
Have you ever felt bogged down by your possessions? Your endless to-do lists? Your job or relationships?
 
We all have. That’s because clutter is everywhere in our lives: in our minds, in our digital distractions, in our businesses, and, of course, in our homes.
 
The clutter in our homes is where Marie Kondo makes her impact. If you’re not familiar with Kondo, she’s a Japanese organizer and author of the worldwide bestseller,The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizingwhich has nearly 14,000 mostly positive reviews on Amazon.
 
Kondo also has a new Netflix series which together with her book has prompted a decluttering of homes in the United States. Perhaps even your home. 
 
She has been credited with a huge increase in donations of discarded goods to Goodwill, Volunteers of America, and other sites, dubbed "The Marie Kondo Effect." The deluge has also caused some organizations in U.S. cities, including San Francisco, to limit when and how many goods they will accept. 
 
The popularity of Kondo stems from her unique approach, which I believe can be applied to any aspect of our lives and businesses. These are a few of her key concepts:
 
Clearing clutter changes everything in your life. As Kondo writes, “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order… It allows you to confront the issues that are really important.”
 
This is true in business as well. When we clear away the clutter, we have the opportunity to focus on the few priorities that matter. 
 
Focus on a specific area all at once. Don’t go room-by-room. In other words, take all of your clothing from anywhere in the house into one location. 
 
Make it a sprint. Don’t make “tidying” a life-long project. Get it done quickly and then maintain.
 
And here is Kondo’s differentiating concept:
 
Shift your mindset. Don’t focus on what to get rid of. Instead, think about what gives you positive feelings.
 
Specifically, Kondo says to hold an object and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is “no,” let it go.
 
If you’re a natural skeptic, as I can be, “sparking joy” might put you off. So, let me share that I asked for and received Kondo’s book as a Christmas gift a few years ago. I used her method to clean out the clothes in my closet. It worked very well!
 
All of the clothes went onto the bed and, instead of thinking, “I might wear this someday,” I asked, “Do I love this?” That Hawaiian shirt? Gone. Old suits? Gone. Ill-fitting pants? Gone. And on down the line. I was left with clothes that I love and wear all the time. 
 
It’s a great mind shift, and a concept that can apply to anything. I view it as an easy, practical way to apply the Prieto Principle, commonly called the 80/20 rule. Focus on the 20 percent that has the most impact.
 
I’ve gone on to apply Kondo’s principles in my business. This is my sixteenth year as a consultant, and I had accumulated a lot of paper files, electronic files, equipment, and other items that were bogging me down. The question is not, “will I use this someday?” but, “do I really value this? Will I use it regularly?”
 
I’ve also done this with my business relationships. I’ve stopped a couple of partnerships that I didn’t love and “fired” two toxic clients.

Do they bring you joy? 
Regardless of whether you buy Marie Kondo’s book or watch her Netflix series, I urge you to consider her principles in your life and business.
 
Ask yourself about your possessions and relationships, “Do these bring me joy?”
 
Hopefully they do, but the larger question is what can we do when relationships don’t bring us joy? 
 
The reality is that difficult relationships in business and in life can’t all be avoided.  Whether pleasant and straightforward, or complex and uncomfortable, we typically can’t or won’t easily discard them.  
 
This is where the Kondo “shift your mindset” principle can be applied.  Can you minimize your interactions with difficult people, keeping them cordial and focused?
 
In the same way, why not spend more time with those who are positive and energize you? This will improve your outlook and offset those who drain you. Or maybe clearing the air between you and someone else will move your relationship to the positive end of the spectrum.
 
I hope you’ll consider the applying Kondo’s principles to clarifying your possessions and your relationships.

After all, life’s too short to be lost in clutter.
 
John


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Photo Credit: Netflix

Sharing Love at Work

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. 

–– Maya Angelou


Speaking at a convention of insurance agents in Las Vegas last year, I got a lot of nervous laughter from the crowd when I conveyed an offbeat idea: they should be sharing love with their agency staff members.

To be more specific, I said they should be speaking the love languages of their employees, except for physical touch, of course, which I crossed off on my slide.

This comes to mind because on February 14 here in the U.S. we will celebrate love in the annual, commercial tradition of Valentine’s Day.

As with all communication, in the language of love our actions often speak much louder than our words. We must understand our lover’s (or employee's) language in order to successfully express our love. 

So, as you read the following about expressing love in your romantic relationship, I would urge you to think about how you might apply these principles to your business relationships as well.

One example: A female leader told me she had one night quickly hand-written a card of thanks to an employee. She said today, three years later, that card is still pinned on the person's cubicle wall. 
 

Gary Chapman, marriage counselor for more than 30 years, is author of The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.  First published in 1992, the book has been a New York Times Bestseller and published in 49 languages.

Chapman believes each of us has a primary love language, a way in which we are most emotionally satisfied to receive love from another person. Our lovers may find satisfaction from an entirely different love language.

The secret to communicating love, then, is to understand our partner’s language and act on that sincerely and consistently. “The one who chooses to love will find appropriate ways to express that decision every day,” Chapman says.

These are the five love languages identified by Chapman along with my thoughts:

1) Words of Affirmation 
Kind, loving, supportive words that express appreciation. The tone and the intent of the words, of course, carry as much weight as the words themselves.

2) Acts of Service 
The saying is “Actions speak louder than words” and for people who favor this language of love nothing could be more true. Simple acts of service will speak deeply to your love.

3) Receiving Gifts 
Throughout all cultures and civilizations, the act of giving gifts has been seen as an expression of love and appreciation. Certainly the engagement ring is one powerful symbolic example. But speaking this language is not about expense. A small gift or thoughtful note sincerely given can mean far more than an expensive gift without thought.

4) Quality Time 
In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, nothing is more valuable than our time. Giving someone undivided attention, being fully present in the moment, is one of the best ways of showing love. Sharing quality time has an impact on everyone but is enormously powerful to those who speak this love language.

5) Physical Touch
Human beings thrive on physical contact, from holding an infant, to consoling loss, to expressing appreciation. Research finds deep emotional and physical benefits of touch. If this is your partner’s primary love language, nothing will communicate more deeply than your touch.

Note: while I crossed out physical touch in the workplace, a warm handshake with sincere eye contact might be a solid substitute. ;-)

Questions for you:

What is your primary love language? Does your loved one know that?

More importantly, what is your lover’s primary love language? Are you speaking that language consistently and sincerely? 

If you don't know, there's an easy way to find out: ask, and listen carefully.


John


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Leadership Lessons of Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher

Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.
 

–– Herb Kelleher

 
When Herb Kelleher passed away in Texas last week at age eighty-seven, he left a legacy of a big personality, a creative business model, and an airline industry revolution.
 
The cofounder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines was a colorful personality whose unique approach resulted in Southwest growing to be the largest domestic airline in the United States, with annual revenue of nearly $25 billion.
 
As the Washington Post wrote this week:
 
Herb Kelleher, the charismatic and colorful cofounder of Southwest Airlines, was hardly a cookie-cutter chief executive. He showed up at company parties dressed as Elvis Presley, invited employees to a weekly cookout, handled baggage during the Thanksgiving rush, and brought doughnuts to a hangar at 4 a.m. to schmooze with his airline’s mechanics.
 
He once arm-wrestled an executive from another company to settle a legal dispute and never hid his fondness for cigarettes and bourbon. Yet he was considered a visionary business leader whose record of sustained success at Southwest led Fortune magazine to ask on its cover, “Is Herb Kelleher America’s Best CEO?”

This is why Kelleher’s legacy offers many great lessons in leadership such as:
 
Follow a successful model
There is a mythical story that Kelleher and his business partners devised Southwest on a cocktail napkin. He corrected the record, noting that they modeled Southwest after Pacific Southwest Airlines, a successful short-haul carrier I grew up with on the West Coast.
 
They wanted the same opportunity for customers in Texas as a short-haul airline with cheap flights connecting Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
 
Keep it simple 
Since its inception, Southwest had a single goal: to offer low fares and on-time service to customers. With that in mind, it devised a strategy of boarding passengers in simple groups; cleaning and turning aircraft quickly; having a single aircraft type (the Boeing 737) that could be flown by all crews; flying point-to-point instead of through hubs; and focusing initially on smaller, underserved airports.
 
Don’t give up
Kelleher was an attorney by trade and never intended to run a business. But when the airline made its initial filings to fly from its home in Texas, Southwest faced an onslaught of lawsuits from competitors who wanted to keep it grounded.
 
This week I listened to a recording of a radio interview in which Kelleher described how he worked for free for four years fighting for Southwest in court, while maintaining his private law practice. Kelleher said he believed he was fighting not only for Southwest and its potential customers, but for the free enterprise system.
 
Be a servant leader
When Kelleher was twelve, his father passed away and his brother was killed in World War II. As a result, he and his mother "became very close. We'd sit up until 4 a.m. talking about business, politics, everything.
 
“She talked a lot about how you should treat people with respect. She said that positions and titles signify absolutely nothing. They’re just adornments,” Kelleher said.
 
Build a strong culture 
Kelleher believed that a leader’s most important role is to build a strong culture by hiring the right people. At Southwest he created a “culture of commitment” devoted to the happiness of employees. He said that happy associates would lead to happy customers, a differentiator in the airline industry.
 
Create a positive customer experience
“What’s important is that a customer should get off the airplane feeling, ‘I didn’t just get from A to B. I had one of the most pleasant experiences I ever had, and I’ll be back for that reason,’” he said. With this in mind, Kelleher put a premium on personality. “What we are looking for first and foremost is a sense of humor,” he said.
 
“If you don’t have a good attitude, we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are,” Kelleher said. “We can change skill levels through training. We can’t change attitude.”
 
For full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of Southwest Airlines, on which I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles. It’s my go-to domestic airline, unless I’m flying on a corporate jet or being booked by a client’s agency.
 
While the fair prices and on-time service are great, it’s Southwest’s culture that keeps me happy. Employees seem genuinely engaged, which is unique in any company, and they get creative to make it an enjoyable experience.
 
Where else would you have the captain of the plane sing and play the harmonica? (That was before we took off, of course.) I’ve had hundreds of small, positive gestures on Southwest.
 
This is the legacy of Southwest Airlines’ cofounder and CEO: business success with satisfied employees, customers, and shareholders.
 
Rest in peace, Herb Kelleher.
 

John


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Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines

How to Change Your Habits for Success in 2019

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.  

–– Aristotle


As we begin the New Year, most of us get the urge to change our lives and make a fresh start.

This year’s NPR/Marist Poll finds the usual suspects as our top 2019 resolutions: losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, and being a better person.

Many of us make bold resolutions and ambitious plans to achieve these and other aspirations.

And we fail. We fail miserably: Research reveals that as few as 8 percent of us are successful with our New Year’s resolutions.

Of course, this is why fitness centers may sign up 5,000 new members in January for a facility that will hold only 500 people at a time.
 
As we enter 2019, how about considering a different approach?
 
Try making just two small changes this year. One now, and one in six months. I’ve put this into practice over the past few years with great success. This approach means that every year you will have changed two of your habits by the end of the year.
 
Small Changes are Powerful
Changing two habits a year might seem too small, too easy. But science proves that the lasting changes in our lives come from making small changes that are easier to implement.
 
Consider this small, but powerful example: “Replace a soft drink with water at just one meal — say, lunch. With this small change, you will drink approximately forty more gallons of water per year, while not drinking forty gallons of carbonated sugar. You also save up to fifty thousand calories and as much as five hundred dollars.” From Small Change, Little Things Make a Big Difference by Susan and Larry Terkel.
 
In his new book, Atomic Habits: An easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, * author James Clear notes the compounding effect of small changes in habits: getting one percent better every day will produce results that are 37 times better at the end of the year.

"Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement," Clear writes. "The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous."

The Power of Habits
I’ve always worked on continuous self-improvement, but never understood how to change habits until a few years ago when I read this great book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg explores the neuroscience of habits, using vivid examples from sports, business and life, including the NFL, Michael Phelps, Target, P&G and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, among many others.
 
Conserving Brain Energy
Habits are critical to our brain function. To conserve energy, our brains run routines by habit that we don’t have to think about. Duhigg says up to 40 percent of our daily activities are done by unconscious habit. This becomes clear when we drive to the same location so often that we sometimes arrive and don’t remember how we got there.
 
But the key to this book for me was understanding the simple process of how habits function and how they can be hacked to make a positive change.
 
The 'Habit Loop'
Duhigg calls this the "Habit Loop.” He explains: "This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward.”
 
Here’s how it worked for me: I like to work out a lot, so I’ve never had a weight problem, but a few years ago I found myself with a severe nighttime sweet tooth. I didn’t need the extra sugar and calories and started getting some extra winter “insulation” on the tummy.
 
CUE: At a certain point in the evening, whether I was watching TV, reading a book or doing work, I’d get the feeling it was time for a snack. You know, The Craving.  ;-)
 
ROUTINE: I would wander into the kitchen for a snack. It would usually be a nice helping of ice cream or a few cookies.
 
REWARD: I got the sweet taste of the dessert and the rush of blood sugar.
 
I wasn’t consciously being a Cookie Monster; I realize now that I was just caught in the loop.
 
I'm simplifying Duhigg's advice here, but his research found that the secret to changing your habit is to identify and tweak your routine.  I successfully used these steps to change my nightly dessert habit.
 
CUE: For me, the tweak was this: when the cue occurred, my evening dessert craving, I would still wander into the kitchen.
 
ROUTINE: In initially changing the routine, I told myself I could still have ice cream or cookies, but first I would have a piece of fruit and a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes. I did that and went back to whatever I was doing.

REWARD: This is the interesting part. I was shocked that from the very first time I ate an apple, drank the water and refocused on what I was doing, I was satisfied and not craving more sweets. My substitute reward gave me a sweet taste, the act of chewing and the water quenched my thirst. (Nutritionists say that often what feels like hunger is dehydration.)

Mistaken Rewards
Sometimes we are seeking a reward that is not necessarily what we might assume. Duhigg details getting up from his desk every day at 3 p.m. to get a cookie from the cafeteria at the New York Times building, where he is a reporter.

Then he would walk around and socialize with his colleagues. The reporter tweaked his routine to skip the cookie and go to the social break, which was really his reward.

The other interesting thing that happens is that when you change one habit, positive changes seem to build on one another. If you exercise regularly, you might find yourself wanting to eat healthier foods.

How about You?
What habit do you most want to change?

Think about this habit: What are cue, routine and reward of this habit and how can you tweak them to rewire your habit?

Would you consider skipping the New Year’s resolutions and instead change just two small habits this year?

Give it a try. I believe that if you change your habits, you change your life.

Thank you for sharing this year with me.

Wishing you great success and happiness in 2019,

John

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How to Get Better Sleep and Be a Better Leader

Sleep is the best meditation.

–– The Dalai Lama

With the holidays and New Year approaching, it's a good time to ask, are you getting enough sleep?
 
If you’re like most people, particularly our high-achieving readers, the answer is likely to be “no.” And that’s not good -- for you, your team, your family or the economy.
 
You see there’s been this cultural myth, lived out by success-oriented people, that working harder and sleeping less are signs of our mental and physical toughness.
 
This myth is contradicted by the stark scientific evidence of the harmful effects of lack of sleep.

Harmful effects
As the Harvard Medical School Bulletin notes, in the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. 
 
In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
 
I’m not pointing fingers here since I’m as guilty as the next over-achiever. I’m working hard to improve my own sleep deficits.
 
Better sleep, better workplace
Other research confirms the negative effects of sleep loss on leaders and their teams in the workplace. A McKinsey study found a direct link between effective leadership and getting enough sleep:
 
In a study of 81 organizations and 189,000 people around the world, we found that four types of leadership behavior are most commonly associated with high-quality executive teams: operating with a strong orientation to results, solving problems effectively, seeking out different perspectives, and supporting others.
 
What’s striking in all four cases is the proven link between sleep and effective leadership, McKinsey reported. This applies to CEOs and leaders at every level.

‘Abusive’ Leader Behavior 
Even more striking, a recent Harvard Business Review article summarized the harmful effects on employees by leaders who don’t get proper sleep:
 
…Recent research indicates that individual behavior can vary dramatically from day to day and week to week—and much of this variance can be explained by the quality of a manager’s sleep. Indeed, studies have found that when leaders show up for work unrested, they are more likely to lose patience with employees, act in abusive ways, and be seen as less charismatic. There is also a greater likelihood that their subordinates will themselves suffer from sleep deprivation—and even behave unethically(My emphasis added)
 
This is why there is a growing recognition amongst leaders that they must get more sleep themselves and promote policies in their organizations to encourage their employees to get more sleep.  
 
Progressive policies adopted by organizations include companies with sleep pods for napping; limiting emails from leaders overnight and on weekends, and on-site education on sleep and stress management.
 
Successful leaders and athletes agree
This change of attitude is being seen publicly as successful leaders and icons in every field out themselves as people who prioritize getting enough sleep and attribute the practice as important to their success. These include Jeff Bezos, LeBron James and Tom Brady, among many others.

Two recent books help to bust the macho sleep deprivation myth: The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time* by Arianna Huffington goes deep with science and stories of the worldwide crisis of sleep deprivation. The description notes Arianna shows how our cultural dismissal of sleep as time wasted compromises our health and our decision-making and undermines our work lives, our personal lives –– and even our sex lives.
 
Tim Ferriss published Tools of Titans: The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers*. This book is rife with odes to sleep from very successful household names.
 
So, it’s clear that we need more sleep. How do we make this happen?
 
Here are a few tips from research and my own experience:

Make a commitment. It all starts with self-awareness and the public commitment with those around you that you value sleep and are working to get enough rest. Remember that as a leader you are a role model in every aspect of your behavior. Your people note what you do, not what you say.

Decompress. Give yourself enough time to stop thinking about all of the unresolved issues and challenges you face. Write down the items on a list to get them off of your mind. An hour before bedtime, start to take your mind in a different direction and begin to settle your system.

Kill the blue light. We live in a 24/7 digital world that involves bringing blue-lit devices before our eyes. This light has been demonstrated to stimulate the brain and contribute to insomnia. 
 
When you begin your hour-long wind down, kill the blue light and consider removing digital devices from your sleep area. TV is not any better. How many of us have fallen asleep in front of the set only to wake up and not be able to go back to sleep in our beds? Kill the blue light.

Stick to a schedule. Most sleep experts advocate going to bed and waking at the same time, which teaches our bodies and minds a rhythm.

Track your sleep. As we say in business, what gets measured can be improved. Fitbits, iWatchs, and most smartphones will let you track the amount and quality of your sleep. I previously used Fitbit* and currently use the iWatch* and the AutoSleep app, which provides metrics, including how much I was in deep sleep. (See products at the end of this article.)
 
Create a ritual. As you wind down, experts say it’s best to have a bedtime ritual by doing things such as taking a bath or a shower, sipping herbal tea, dimming the lights and reading a paper book. For better sleep, I take 10 mg of melatonin* and drink orange-flavored Calm, * which contains magnesium. (Of course, check with your physician before you consider this.)

Watch what you eat and drink. Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to insomnia, or waking in the middle of the night. It’s also recommended you not go to bed hungry or stuffed, both of which might disrupt solid sleep.

Exercise. Finding the time to prioritize exercise, experts say, can contribute enormously to stress management and solid sleep. 

These are a few tips that I’ve practiced myself and find valuable. There are plenty of resources available to you when you make the commitment to prioritize sleep.
 
It’s clear that improving our sleep has tremendous benefits and little downside. If you won’t do it for yourself, consider sleeping more for those who depend on you at work and at home. 
 
As you make your way through the holiday frenzy, consider giving yourself the gift that keeps on giving: a good night’s sleep. ZZZZZ ;-)
 

John


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How to Tap the Power of Your Smile

Use your smile to change the world. Don’t let the world change your smile.

          — Anonymous


Working with a CEO on her conference speech recently, I urged her to smile more during her opening, despite her nervousness. She protested that her smile would look “phony” to her audience because she felt some anxiety.

But after some deep breathing and a couple of run-throughs, she was comfortable and radiated a warm, confident smile. It made a huge difference in connecting with her audience.

Smiles are that important. Substantial research shows that simply initiating a smile in a meeting, presentation, chance encounter, or other social interaction can have a dramatic impact on the outcome for us and others.

Research also finds that smiling has positive effects on our brains, our lives, and our success.

Charles Darwin initiated our modern “science of smiling” in the 1800’s. He noticed that unlike learned cultural behavior like gestures or touch, smiling and its effects are universal.

Ron Gutman gave this interesting 2011 TED Talk on the benefits of smiling. He notes that smiling is also one of the most frequent forms of communication, particularly for children.

“More than 30 percent of us smile more than 20 times a day,” Gutman said. “In fact, those with the greatest superpowers are actually children, who smile as many as 400 times per day!”

As human beings, we are hardwired for smiling from the start. Babies begin smiling fully at five weeks old and babies born blind smile like sighted infants. It’s said that babies learn that crying gets the attention of adults but smiling keeps it.

This holds true throughout life. We’ve all felt the effect of someone speaking with a broad smile. Their face lights up, energy enters the room, and we feel our mood brighten.

There’s little downside to smiling, and a whole lot of upside, so let me give you four reasons to smile more often, especially when you’re involved in an important presentation or conversation.

Smiling makes you more likable
We naturally find people with sincere smiles to be more likable, which is critical to your success in business and life.

Smiling is positively contagious
Like a yawn, a smile can be contagious. When we see someone smile, it lightens the mood and makes others more likely to smile. At the very least, research finds that a smile reduces the likelihood that someone will frown at you.

Smiling increases your confidence
Just as our body language increases our confidence, our smiles improve how we feel. Research has shown that simply holding a smile, real or manufactured, reduces stress and produces positive emotions in our brains. Of course, a smile will also make others perceive you as being more confident.

Smiling can change the way you see the world
Some research suggests that your smile may actually change the way your brain interprets other people’s emotional responses to you. You’ll view other people’s expressions toward you more positively. 

Take action:

  • How often do you smile every day?

  • Are you among the top 30 percent who smile 20 times a day? 

  • This week, notice people who have great smiles and how they affect you and others.

  • Add an intentional smile to a critical situation and see what happens.

That’s how you tap into the power of your smile.
 
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