Always set two goals

Setting a single goal, for example, running under the 4 hours for your upcoming marathon or having an excellent outcome for a meeting, make your life difficult. What happens if the conversation goes in a completely different direction or if there is a lot of wind during your run? You failed. You are still on step one and can start over again.

Minimal and Maximal goals

If you set two similar goals, you just doubled your chances on failure. Therefore you should not consider equal objectives. You should consider a minimal goal (simple, achievable, but still a step forward) and a maximum goal (can be utopian, a big bet or just your ideal solution).

How it makes life easy

Having a minimal and maximum goal creates bandwidth in between, which you can navigate. Your minimal goal should be entirely in your control, or you should at least be able to influence it. For example:

Minimal goal: I want to maintain our relationship and learn more about the other person

Maximum goal: I close this deal and open the door for after-sales.

Minimal goal: I want to maintain a good running technique, especially in the last 10k.

Maximum goal: I will run this marathon below 4 hours.

Set yourself up for success

If your minimal goal is a stepping stone for your maximum goal, you help yourself move in the direction you want to go. You could set your minimal goal as a smaller version of your maximum goal (e.g. I run the half-marathon in 2 hours). However, do not make your minimal goal a stretch already since it might only create frustration that you did not reach either of your goals.

You do not have to achieve the minimal AND the maximum goal. Achieving one of them is good progress. And as long you are progressing, you are growing.

What kind of feedback are you looking for?

Getting feedback is excellent. Getting the feedback you are looking for is a blessing. Feedback is a broad spectrum; assuming that everybody understands what you need without telling them is a highly optimistic way of treating such a necessary process.

To take a great example I noticed online:

You take your car to the mechanic and one of them says: “we noticed all your doors have rusted out, you should fix those”. Another one says: “LOVE THE RUSTED DOORS, have you considered adding a flamethrower”. The third one says: “it is not a horse”

Is this helpful feedback? It depends on what you were looking for. You got some feedback if you just wanted to ensure it was not a horse. If you wanted to know if the yellow and red colour scheme was a good idea, you still do not understand (even though the flamethrower could add some vibrant red to it).

Make it explicit

Be explicit about what you want to have feedback on. It doesn’t mean you will assume you are 100% right on the elements you do not ask for feedback on. If you do not narrow your scope of input needed, people will give you their best efforts to help you without knowing what you need help with. And that could result in getting feedback on exactly the things you did not need.

Therefore, narrowing it down when asking for feedback and explaining why you do this will help create relevance for you to move on. If you want to, and you feel people want to give more feedback, you can always open some more doors, but be clear that this is not your focus and that you might not address this feedback immediately.

And keep in mind, be careful to open pandora’s box. Only ask for feedback if you are willing to handle it.

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Categorized as decision

Your Out of Office can be creative

For the last ten years, I have made a big deal about my Out of office message. It would be best if you did too. Why? People are emailing you, and if all they get back is:

Sorry I am out, till date X, but if it is urgent call me

First, you are out; don’t invite people to call you. Second, this is the message people will get while they are not on holiday and this how you entertain them? Give them something they can enjoy while they have to miss you (they are missing you because you are fantastic!).

I included my OoO of this year. Keep in mind: OoO messages are just for colleagues. This is not about being “professional”, though you expose yourself and your company to security risks by letting the world know you are somewhere around the globe and not at home/work.

Enjoy reading mine, and I hope it inspires you to also spark a bit of joy with your Out of Office message.


Hi, you’ve reached Rick’s out-of-office responder.

I’m sorry I’m not here. I’m in the forest taking some rest (did you know there are seven types of rest that every person needs)? I’m even more sorry that you’re stuck in the (home) office while I’m off enjoying nature. Is it raining outside?

📨Why I will reply to your email on the Xth of [Month] (or later)

While most out-of-office responders say I’ll have limited access to email, that’s not true. I cannot do without a proper internet connection though I am not spending my holidays on work emails. I will work on trying to nail some basics, and this is simple but not easy, though it will be good for me (and you) to get some more basics in place.

🙋🏼‍♂️What if you need to have an answer or help right now?

Since I’m not disappearing into the rainforest, I will have my phone firmly by my side, but I’d somewhat not be disturbed unless my house is on fire or you have a great vegan recipe to share.

Are you sure your email cannot wait in my absence instead of emailing me another three times? It really won’t make me respond any faster 😉. If it indeed is an emergency in either [Topic 1] or [Topic 2], feel free to panic, or reach out to anybody in the [Specific Group]. And also, when it is not an emergency, reach out to [List of great people]. Each one of them is fantastic and will be able to answer any of your questions. If your hyper-urgent request is about [Topic 3], consider reaching out to one of the other [More great people].

⛱What am I up to in my holidays?

As I’m off relaxing somewhere lovely, I plan to enjoy some of the Dutch nature we got and read some books. Also, I will keep publishing my weekly newsletter on LinkedIn, are you subscribed? Since some of you already shared with me that you were waiting for the book tips this summer. I share two sets of recommendations: books read, and I know they are great and books I plan to read, and I hope they will be good.

🌟 The five books that were the best reads for me in the past 12 months:

📚 The books I will read during my holidays

Suppose you’ve made it this far. Congratulations! Mostly though, you’ve made it. This is the end. If you’re wondering how you can get back the last few minutes of your life, console yourself with the knowledge that my vacation will be short-lived, and I, too, will be back in the office soon ([Insert date]!), then, it’ll be your turn to go on holiday and perhaps write a nice out of office message.

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Categorized as creativity

Problems need a certain size

If you want to start with a big problem, chop it into smaller parts, making it easier to start. Sometimes working on only minor issues is counterproductive and will hold your progress and impact back.

Everybody says yes to small items

“Can you help me with this small problem”? Everybody will say yes since it is small, so you will likely receive a kind answer even if they do not have time. Will this help you? You get help on the small problem, and solving all minor issues should solve the big problem. Wouldn’t it be better to gain commitment from others to the big problem instead of focusing on the little pests?

People need to think about and commit to big topics

“Can you help me with this huge problem”? Not everybody will say yes. They will only say yes when they can make the time and commit. Your selection of people that can help you is smaller but with a higher commitment. You can still work on the small items, though now you have somebody with you along the whole way who is in it.

Make it more significant for a reality check

You can stay modest and keep your projects small, though what happens if you increase the size 5-fold? Of course, you can be fearful you do not get approval or commitment, though if that is the case, the 1-fold project was terrible as well. It was just small enough to ignore.

Therefore do not be shy in making your project a little bit bigger. Not bigger than needed. Though more significant in the way, you would also make more impact. It might be scary since not everybody will like it, but you want to get the right people interested and create skin in the game.

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Categorized as creativity

How to approach some problems

If you face a problem in a domain you do not know about or have never encountered before. You can solve it. Many issues follow a similar path toward solutions, whether with systems, processes or people.

Before you touch anything, you should ensure that the problem is not something supposed to be like its current state. Also, who is telling you that there is a problem? Is somebody part of the problem, or do they have nothing to do with it?

The easiest way to ‘solve’ a problem is when you can qualify it as not a problem. The second most straightforward approach is finding an expert who can help you. If you are slightly less lucky, there are still some standard approaches you can follow.

Turning it off and on again?

Can you (and should you) turn it off and on again? In some cases, this is literal, as a system or bringing a process back to a neutral state. Or, when it comes to people, is there a way you can start with a clean slate?

Is the problem unique?

Is this a one-of-a-kind problem? Or can you reproduce the problem, and when you reproduce it, can it be replicated elsewhere in a different environment? If the problem is not unique, you can likely do a proper analysis and comparison. If it is more erratic, solutions might be more challenging to find. However, you might look at a one-off occurrence that should make the problem smaller (hopefully).

Step by Step

Can you break the problem into smaller pieces where you can review each step’s input and output? With people, it can be validating decisions and statements. With processes, you can check what data is coming in and going out.

Use this whenever there is a manual or process description that you could guide through this process. There is no need to rely on your memory or assumptions. Just follow that guide and see if it delivers the results it promises.

It still does not work?

No worries, you did not know the solution in the first place, so do not feel wrong about this. At least you learned something about it while you were working on it. Maybe if you start again, you see the problem in a different context.

Though perhaps it was not your problem to solve. That happens. Of course, you can stick with it for longer to make it work, though sometimes the best thing you can do is share your findings and share it with somebody else who wants to look at it.

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Categorized as creativity

How to keep it simple

The easiest thing to do is to make things complex. There is no skill required to make something difficult to understand and handle. Many illustrious people of the past have said they would have created a better or shorter letter, sermon or paper if they had more time since simplifying cost time.

If you don’t have that time, how can you keep things as simple as possible? Besides accepting that ideas do not have to be great, they should not suck.

Think and keep it concrete

Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts. Abstraction is the luxury of the expert. If you’ve got to teach an idea to a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language.

Chip Heath

Always spend more time understanding the problem than working on it when your time is limited. If you don’t know what you are working on and why you are working on it, the chances of keeping it simple (and valuable) are slim.

Ockham’s razor

The explanation that requires the fewest assumptions is usually correct. When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Keep it obvious and simple, do not overthink or over-engineer and do not make unnecessary assumptions.

Create constraints

One value [from Amazon], frugality, is defined as Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing head count, budget size, or fixed expenses.

Ben Horowitz

If you have less time, money, and resources, you cannot afford to make things complex since you cannot maintain them. Not giving yourself the tools to complicate things and constraining yourself might be the most effortless protection from complexity.

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Enough is a beautiful thing

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

Epicurus

Did you do enough? Are you enough? Do you have enough? What is enough? Knowing what is enough for you is a beautiful thing. It gives you peace of mind, and in some cases, it helps you to focus.

How to define enough

It can be simple. Enough could be a number. If only you had 4 million euros, that would be enough for you to retire, or wouldn’t it? The issue with numbers is that, in this case, if 4 million is enough, is 3,999 million also enough? It is known as the Sorites Paradox:

This ancient Greek parable talks about the effect one small action can have when repeated repeatedly. One formulation of the paradox goes as follows: Can one coin make a person rich? If you give a person a pile of ten coins, you wouldn’t claim that they are rich. But what if you add another? And another? And another? You must admit that no one can be rich unless one coin can make them so.

What is enough?

Instead of focusing on a number, focus on what you can do (or have done) or how the world looks differently—the more specific, the better. If enough money means you can retire and go on holiday twice a year to your favourite destinations, the number becomes less important. Of course, it is still there, but it is not the focal point.

Were you productive enough today? What does it mean for you? Does it mean you cleaned your to-do list (doing and replanning)? Does it mean you picked your number 1 thing and moved it further? Or did you help a colleague with one of their challenges? Pick something, though do not make it a number (I need to do X tasks).

Define your enough level as something meaningful for yourself and appreciate what you have.

You can’t do it

Nobody should tell anybody they cannot pursue their dreams or that their dreams are a bad idea. How many dreams have those nay-sayers killed that way? A perfect excuse for not changing anything in anybody’s life is being “realistic”.

“Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it”

Chinese Proverb

Withhold judgement

Whenever somebody shares a certain level of ambition or goal with you, do not criticise them for it. Being realistic is not the best start to achieving original outcomes, so why would you?

Why wouldn’t you be more of a cheerleader and a supporter? To start with, they thought it was important to share it with you. And being a cheerleader doesn’t cost you anything.

Of course, you can add some criticism and ask some questions. However, judging and telling anybody to stop following their dreams is not up to you; it is not your dream.

Be the cheerleader

Always support people with ambition, you might be the only one supporting them, and you might be the person they need to get them where they want to be. And if even if they do not make 100%, they had a great ride and achieved progress. That is something they learn from and use in the future.

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Categorized as leadership

The Goldilocks level of email attention

Everybody has a different way of handling email. There are the inbox-zero people who strive for an empty inbox every day. There is also the opposite of the spectrum, individuals with hundreds or thousands of unread emails.

Independent on which end of the spectrum you are, you are very likely not to be effective with the time you spend on your email. You spend either too much time or not enough time handling emails.

The Goldilocks principle is named by analogy to the children’s story “The Three Bears”, in which a young girl named Goldilocks tastes three different bowls of porridge and finds she prefers porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold, but has just the right temperature. The concept of “just the right amount” is easily understood and applied to a wide range of disciplines […]

Wikipedia

What is the Goldilocks level of email attention?

If you did not commit to a deadline to respond to your emails, then take some time. There is no reason to hurry since if it were urgent, the sender would have used a more urgent channel (such as the phone, for example). Email is asynchronous. Therefore people should not expect an instant response, nor should you create that expectation.

A lot of problems solve themselves

“Napoleon directed Bourrienne (his secretary) to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself and no longer required an answer.”

I would not recommend leaving your email unopened for three weeks. But we have all seen it happen during a more extended break: urgent emails arrive in your inbox while you are out of the office, and once you are back, you see in a follow-up message that all is fine. Reason more to let email rest for a while. Before you know it, you are doing other people’s work.

The proper response time to your email should not be too fast or too slow. The faster you respond to emails, the more you will receive. The slower you are, the less likely anybody will rely on you getting back to them right away.

Do not worry if you take 24 or 48 hours to reply to emails (or take more time if that fits your style). What is most important is to be reliable and to be consistent.

And, of course, you can still respond sometimes within five seconds, but you don’t have to.

Vacations are not for recharging

“What are you going to do on holiday?”

“Well, the first few days, I will use it to recharge my battery.”

or this one:

“You earned a vacation.”

Unfortunately, these types of conversations are standard. Maybe because they happen in an office environment and we try to be polite. Or, worse, we think that holidays are for recharging and that we must work hard to deserve it.

Holidays are there to have fun, relax, do the things you want to do more of, and go places you cannot do every day. Holidays are there for you to enjoy yourself.

Stress + Rest = Growth

If you only spend time recharging, you are not resting. You are recovering. And if you are not resting, you will not progress. Whether this is about sports or work, rest is crucial to making progress.

Balance your efforts. You can excel at work, health, friends and family. However, you can pick only three at a time. Your holiday break is not your backup plan to compensate for fitness, friends or family. Your holiday is an opportunity to spend time on health, friends, and family without compromising your work efforts.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets … it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

Cal Newport

Be kind to yourself. You need your idleness, your downtime, not because you earned it, but because you need it. The only way to grow is to include rest and take your rest. Not doing work and not having to recover from work is the best way to become better at work and stay healthy.