I spend the majority of every day with demanding, moody, impulsive task masters. My assignment is to meet their often illogical demands while also helping them become thoughtful and independent leaders. This is a complicated dance that puts my management and communication skills to task daily. While deescalating the violence between two of my clients in a hostage situation, it occurred to me, as I peacefully reunited the stuffed giraffe with it’s rightful owner, if you can please toddlers -without resorting to Nick Jr., abuse or candy- you can deal with anyone!
My kids have taught me that there are ways to be more efficient with time so I can have the time and energy for what matters most. It’s definitely humbling taking management lessons from short crazy people, but I challenge you to find more efficacious instructors! If you don’t have a knee-high mentor of your own, let me share some wisdom they (and a few others) have taught me about efficiency and effectiveness.
Effectiveness vs. Efficiency Primer
Cleaning up sticky hands and faces of people on a hobbit meal schedule each day can get old. Efficiency would be putting a shower drain in the kitchen and just hosing everyone down post meal. Or laminating everyone and popping them in the dishwasher. Effectiveness is getting a good stool and teaching kids to use soap at the sink. Management guru, Peter Drucker taught, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” (The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done).
When choosing between efficiency and effectiveness we must first determine the goal. Is the ultimate goal to get food from point a to point b? Well then by all means, strip them down and feed ‘em in the tub. (Done it.) Or is the goal to teach table manners, nutrition, good hygiene, responsibility, family togetherness and conversation? If effectiveness is “doing the right things”, then where humans are concerned we want to be effective, not just efficient.
But effectiveness takes time. And, I don’t know anyone who feels they have an excess of time. So the challenge becomes being more efficient with our time so we can have time to be effective with people. The good news is you may have hidden pockets of time you didn’t know you have and there are ways to be effective and efficient at the same time!
Hidden Time Discovered
If I let them, my children would live off fruit snacks and Cheetos until they died from malnutrition or food dye overdose. Likewise with video games and netflix. It takes courage to pull the plug. Letting kids watch TV all day is an efficient way to keep the house clean but not an effective way to raise thinkers. Don’t waste time with garbage media or food. Nourish your mind and body with the intellectually and nutritionally dense.
In his bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss gives some great methods for freeing up time, including “putting yourself on a low-information diet”. Ferriss teaches “Just as modern man consumes both too many calories and calories of no nutritional value, information workers eat data both in excess and from the wrong sources… Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals and outside of your influence. I challenge you to look at whatever you read or watched today and tell me that it wasn’t at least two of the four.” It is liberating to discover how very little media one needs to be an informed citizen. As I browsed my Facebook newsfeed I was reminded of this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.”
Delegation and Follow-Up
There is only one you. If you feel like you are doing everything for everyone, you are doing it wrong. Are there things that you are doing that could be automated, delegated or cut-out all together? With a little coaching you can prepare others to accomplish tasks you used to carry out. Parcel out the work and reap the benefits of “many hands make light work”.
When first delegating tasks be sure to give clear and concise instructions, an example to follow, be available for questions, and expect a follow-up report of how the project went. If the assignment allows, be prepared for personal differences in the way it is accomplished. Trust those you delegate to use their own strengths and methods. They may find an even better way of doing things than you. My five year old now cleans the toilet better than me and enjoys the shared responsibility.
As Mr. Miagi from the Karate Kid instructed, “Always look eye!” Repeatedly hollering indirect commands to the ether does not accomplish nearly as much as getting off the chair, getting to their level, looking the person in the eye and making the request. If you need something done make a direct, and if possible, in person request. From that perspective you can assess if the direction is understood, if there are any obvious reasons why your demands can’t be fulfilled and eye contact builds the relationship of trust between you. Take the extra effort and get out of the chair, it’ll pay off.
Empowering vs. Enabling
Dutiful or sympathetic individuals can often find themselves doing things for people they could be doing themselves. When building a team of leaders you should never do something for someone that they can do themselves. To do so disempowers them and creates a dependency on you that you don’t have time for. If you have trouble detaching from people who need you to excess take a lesson from, Melody Beattie. In her relationship hit, Codependent No More, she teaches how to be helpful while maintaining sanity. “Detaching does not mean we don’t care. It mesn we learn to love, care and be involved without going crazy. We become free to care and love in ways that help others and don’t hurt ourselves.”
Divided We Fall
I would have been more impressed watching the young lady driving a stick shift, talking on the phone, vaping, and turning left if she hadn’t nearly run me over. Multi-tasking is often necessary in a busy world, but according to neurological studies this should be avoided whenever possible. Neurologists have discovered that when we really focus on something our brains treat the signals differently than when we are passively listening. ”When you actually pay attention to something you’re listening to, whether it is your favorite song or the cat meowing at dinnertime, a separate “top-down” pathway comes into play. Here, the signals are conveyed through a dorsal pathway in your cortex, part of the brain that does more computation, which lets you actively focus on what you’re hearing and tune out sights and sounds that aren’t as immediately important. In this case, your brain works like a set of noise-suppressing headphones, with the bottom-up pathways acting as a switch to interrupt if something more urgent — say, an airplane engine dropping through your bathroom ceiling — grabs your attention.” Giving people your undivided attention for just five minutes will help solve problems more quickly and improve relationships.
Speaking of Listening…
Becoming more effective with people requires a dose of heart. Stephen Covey upended the cold-hearted business world with the following: “When another person speaks, we're usually "listening" at one of four levels. We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all. We may practice pretending. "Yeah. Uh-huh. Right." We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. We often do this when we're listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child. Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said. But very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening.
Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival--to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.
When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It's an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.”
A wise businesswoman once said, “No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.” Mary Kay Ash built her incredibly successful business model on this effective philosophy. In my day to day interactions with children and adults being kind always pays in dividends.
Whether you are building a happy family, or a billion dollar corporation, remember that in the long run, effectiveness is the most efficient path to real success.