At What Point Does Digital Technology Harm Employee Development?

A recent article in Vertical Distinct describes how Amazon.com uses digital technology to regulate its workplaces. The company has come under scrutiny a number of times because of its hyper-focus on improving productivity. It is understandable that productivity would be a focus in an environment filled with repetitive and monotonous tasks. At what point, however, does this focus become counterproductive? More globally, what impact do these practices have on the development of decision making and critical thinking skills among those who work for the company?

Amazon currently employs 850,000 people in the US and throughout the world. The vast majority of these individuals will move on to work at other firms over time. So, what happens if Amazon’s hyper-focus on productivity on prevents these employees from honing the skills essential to thinking independently in future work environments?

Imagine hiring a twenty-something who has spent the first five years of his working life in an Amazon distribution center where his every step and action is programmed and regulated. If you ask him to think for himself, he may not know what that looks like. Will he have developed the workplace problem solving skills one might assume of someone in their twenties? Multiply this challenge several million-fold over time and you begin to see the significance of the dilemma.

Firms hiring Amazon alumni would be wise to consider this fact during selection. No firm wants to spend extra resources teaching basic thinking skills and workplace resourcefulness. Amazon is not solely responsible for this phenomenon, of course. But as goes one of a nation’s business leaders, others are sure to follow.

Sadly, this phenomenon contributes to the learned helplessness we are already complaining about in society. Learned helplessness is fostered by three factors that have combined to create a sense of personal dependence rather than personal resourcefulness. First, there is menu-driven thinking or the over-dependence on digital menus and technology. Regardless of age and experience, we are all manipulated by these systems. This is especially true for digital natives.

Second there is the belief that everyone is entitled to success as they define it. An example of this are “trophy kids, along with educators and others who believe we shouldn’t keep score during games because the loser may have their feelings hurt. Third are the enabling managers who answer endless questions, rather than compelling their people to develop the critical thinking skills to “figure it out” independently. Effective decision skills evolve over time as life’s obstacles are confronted and overcome. Much of this takes place on the job.

Some managers reading this might argue, “My job is not to teach critical thinking skills. My job is to get the most out the people I supervise.” While this feeling is understandable, one must wonder where the threshold lies between productivity and workforce development as a responsibility to both workers and the marketplace in general.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? No. Rather than a solution, there is more likely to be an on-going tension between the desire for productivity and profit and responsibility to the greater good. There are, of course, consequences if there becomes an imbalance in this tension. If too much focus is placed on productivity and the bottom line, employers will experience high turnover and heightened tension between management and those it employs. (We have recently witnessed a bit of this at Amazon.) If the focus is placed too much on employee development, then productivity and profits may be impacted.

What are your thoughts on this conundrum? I would like to know and so would others. Post your comments below or send me an email to bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

On any given day, each person you supervise makes more than a hundred decisions to resolve problems and complete projects. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition evolves into the mastery necessary to navigate the daily workload. But then there are those unexpected challenges that can disrupt momentum in a heartbeat. We have all experienced the fear of making the wrong decision, even though we pretty much knew what to say or do. Most of us possess the confidence move past this initial apprehension and navigate to a successful solution.

Some, however, struggle to adapt. Much of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence in their ability to solve problems and make decisions, especially in the stress of the moment. So, how can you help these individuals develop more confidence in their daily decisions? The effort comes down to a simple word – empower. 

Top performers in any work environment exude confidence. They believe they are fully capable of dealing with whatever issue confronts them. In order other words. They feel empowered. So, what does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. In the workplace, this means being able to examine the elements of a situation, evaluate what needs to be accomplished and determine the steps for doing so. You can share all the universal truths you want about how to solve problems, but the ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces stress. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, those who feel empowered possess the skills to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out, even if you’ve made a thoughtful choice. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the best decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with a fix.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. Top performers take initiative without asking for permission. They scan the environment for what needs to be done. They are always thinking three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of control over situations others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More and more of society is focusing on blame when something goes wrong. As a result, many people hesitate before making decisions, not wanting to suffer embarrassment, or even humiliation if a decision goes wrong. For this reason, many seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.

How can you help people feel empowered? Try these three strategies:

Provide clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain back to you what they heard. Chances are, you’ll find gaps in their understanding. People don’t generally get an entire concept the first time. Go back and re-explain what they missed. Then reinforce the concept through a bit of practical application. This will also encourage them to ask questions about other concerns they have. By the way, asking, “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” communicates that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Many times, we delegate responsibility and assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so on. Then we become frustrated when they ask endless questions. To be effective, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain to the person that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions initially. Say something like, “You may feel uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of decisions where they may hesitate. Then show them the process for resolving them. If you have performed this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. You might even create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re on their own. Recognize, however, that those individuals who are overly reliant on “rules” may require more coaching than those possessing confidence in their ability to think things through.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is human nature to jump in when you see someone making a mistake. Resist the temptation. If they begin to believe that you will “save their butt” every time something is about to go wrong, they will become afraid to act or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsal and reinforcement are critical. Some will embrace these principles right away. Others will remain uncomfortable embracing their new authority. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty and fear of failure or blame is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Explain that you understand their apprehension. We’ve all been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work together on each of the processes they will need to master. This means posing situations and case studies, based on their and your past experiences.
  • Stay close as they begin to implement. Check in regularly, but be careful not to make the decisions for them. It’s a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have developed the confidence to act on their own.

When those around you feel empowered, they make better decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.

The Inextricable Link Between Pride and Outcome

Back in the 1970s, the leadership of railway equipment manufacturer, Budd Company, invited a select group of their assemblers to take an overnight ride on a train composed of the cars they had built. The leadership simply wanted to provide a bit of fun and recognition for those toiling in the factory. But then an interesting thing happened. Those aboard the train began to examine the “product” they had produced. They discovered missing rivets, windows that didn’t seal properly and other details that left them irritated that the work had not been done to their standards. All of it was within the company’s tolerances, but that wasn’t good enough for them.

Upon returning to the factory, they established new processes to ensure the railway cars they were producing were something they could be proud of every single time. I suspect Budd’s leadership had no idea this was going to happen. They just wanted to provide a reward for some hardworking souls. But there’s a universal truth illustrated here – there is an inextricable link between pride and quality of outcome.

Now, you may be thinking, “Of course there is. There’s nothing new here.” But how do people feel about it on your front line? How much pride do your people feel in the work they do? Chances are, the answer is all over the map. Some are totally invested. Others may be simply there for the paycheck. Then there are a bunch in the middle. If you directly supervise them, you probably know where along the continuum each person falls.

So, how do you build pride in those who don’t display a lot of interest or investment? Make it real. How? Here are a couple of examples:

Recognize little extra efforts – Many times, people toil away without being recognized for how well they’re performing. The key is to let them know that you know. Several years, I became acquainted with the general manager of a resort in the southwest. With 2500 people on his team it was impossible to know how everyone was contributing. Knowing this, he put the word out to his supervisors that when they saw someone doing something right, they should let him know via e-mail or a note to his office. Then once a week, he sat down to write complementary notes to the individuals identified. But he went a step further by mailing these notes to each person’s home. After all, a housekeeper who receives one of these notes while on the job will probably just stick it in her uniform and forget it. A handwritten note from the general manager that arrives at home gets posted on the refrigerator so the entire family can see it.

Share more customer feedback – Too often, customers wanting to share positive comments end up filling out a form on the company website these days. These kudos are then posted on behalf of the entire company. That’s fine, but what about the person the customer actually had contact with? If someone mentions a name, why not track that person down and share the feedback personally? Chances are, they weren’t even aware it was submitted.

You can also do this personally. When someone provides me with good service, I make a point of complimenting them, even if we’re on live chat. I’m not trying to make a big difference, just making the effort to brighten someone’s day. But while it might a little thing to me, it might be the best thing they’ve heard all week. Pride and outcome go hand-in-hand. What can you and your colleagues do to foster more of this connection?

How Does This Place Make Money? Part Two

In the last post, I illustrated the value of asking the question, “How does this place make money?” But exactly how can you do that without breaking the bank or disrupting normal business function? The strategies I’m going to recommend are remarkably simple and can be accomplished with a smart-phone and a bit of money spent on editing and design. In fact, you probably have employees who would welcome the opportunity to work on projects like these and will bring their creativity and hidden skills to the effort. In no particular order:

Produce a video (or videos) that illustrates how the firm functions – Accounting firms have used this strategy for years to aid in the recruiting of young auditors. A “day in the life of” video helps viewers understand the nuances of the job, the effort involved, the typical decisions made, even the employee’s daily routine. Here’s an example. How can you adapt this idea? It doesn’t require anything more than a smart phone and a bit of creativity.

Commission infographics – These one-page illustrations can summarize company functions and processes in a colorful and entertaining way. An on-line graphic artist would be happy create one for a  hundred bucks. Then give it to everyone. Better still, make a list of the 15 or 20 things every employee should know about the firm. Then commission an infographic for each one.

Host a series of podcasts – On any given day, most people have no idea what the firm’s leadership does and the decisions they make. Why not create a series of thirty-minute podcasts allowing those in senior leadership to explain their roles, how they make decisions, and a bit about how they got to where they are? Employees can listen to them during their commute or even on the job as they work.  As with infographics, the cost for implementation is minimal.

Explain the process and economics of typical projects and functions – Ask functional managers to take a few minutes during staff meetings to breakout the costs and steps involved of the work typically performed by the organization or division. I have been surprised countless times by what people do not know about the functions they depend upon daily. When they know more, they will make suggestions for improvement. Those suggestions can be invaluable.

Promote inter-team collaboration – Give those in functions that interact with each other periodic opportunities to interact with each other socially. Throw periodic pizza parties and the like during lunch time. You don’t need to provide a formal structure. It’s been my experience that the people who have questions and concerns will find each other and discuss what needs to be discussed. The relationships and trust this engenders can be invaluable.

Have people trade jobs for a day – Years ago, there was a British tradition in which the bosses switched positions with the front-liners for the day after Christmas every year. While now a little recognized effort, implementing a modified version of this idea would provide those involved with insights into the challenges and decisions of those with whom they work, not to mention a bit of humor as everyone gains more empathy for other roles.

These are just a few of the ways you can answer the question, “How does this place make money?” If you know of others, pass them along. I’ll include them in a future post. From the person who started last Monday to the twenty-year veteran, everyone benefits from being better informed about the firm for which they work. And so will the firm itself.

How Does This Place Make Money? Part One

That’s the question I have challenged employers to ask their people for years. Sadly, most people can’t provide an answer that demonstrates they really understand the business model of the firm for which they work. Generally, they’ll say something like, “We sell software,” or “We deliver stuff to restaurants.” If you ask them to drill down on that and provide more detail, most will give you a blank stare. Why? Because of silos. In other words, they can only explain how the processes work within their particular part of the company. Ask someone in accounts payable how checks are cut and they can explain the 17 steps. Ask someone in the warehouse how trucks are loaded, and they’ll give you a short dissertation on all the details. But ask them about the overall business model and they’ll shrug their shoulders. In some cases, the person will say, “That’s not really my job.” But it is! Here are three reasons why:

  • It engenders pride. A while ago, I spoke to an all hands meeting for Rasmussen Group, a large heavy construction company. These are the people who build roads, bridges and the other components of infrastructure upon which we all rely. Talk about silos! With the exception of the engineers and project superintendents, most employees spend their days moving earth, operating cranes and other mostly isolated tasks. So, every couple of years, the firm’s leadership brings everyone together for an expenses-paid weekend to provide information about the company, offer a bit of training and allow them to socialize. This past year, everyone was shown a twenty-minute video illustrating how all the components for a large project came together. It featured those in the room doing their jobs on these enormous pieces of equipment. What fun it was! Everybody in the room was laughing and pointing and teasing each other when they appeared on the screen. Ask most heavy equipment operators what they do and they’ll say something like, “I drive a tractor.” Ask a Rasmussen operator and he’s more likely to say, I help build bridges.”
  • It engenders better daily decisions. When you are proud of what you do, you take more ownership in the outcome. That means you think about the bigger picture – how your decisions affect others and how theirs affect yours and how all decisions impact the final product. You can’t help but make better decisions when you’re invested in the outcome. Does this sometimes engender disagreements about the best way to proceed? Yes, but that’s a good thing because it demonstrates that people care. So as long as they are productive, let’s have more disagreements. They will produce better decisions.
  • This results in loyalty and retention. It’s been said that employee loyalty is a thing of the past – that most employees see their jobs as contracts. Not when they believe in what they do and believe that what they do is making a contribution. When they’re making good decisions and seeing the direct results of their efforts, employees, regardless of age, will remain on the job and continue to hone their skills. The costs of turnover can devastate a company’s bottom line.

Simply answering the question, “How does this place make money?” begins the effort of building pride, compelling better decisions, and boosting retention. How? I’ll share some strategies for that in the next post.

Getting to Neutral

“Often, I lie in wait in meetings, like a hunter looking for his prey, ready to spring out at the first moment of silence. My gun is loaded with preestablished thoughts. I take aim and fire, the context irrelevant, my bullet and its release are all that matter to me.” William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together – MIT Professor

This quote reminds me of how often I want to leap into response mode when having a conversation with someone. I know I’m supposed to wait for them to complete their thought. But it’s just so tempting to finish their thought for them or offer an opposing point because I think I know what they’re going to say. I hate it when someone does this to me. So, I try not to do it to someone else.

The same thing is true of making decisions. Our lives are full of perceptions and biases. We leap to conclusions without having the entire picture. We think we know the answer. Perhaps someone is pushing us to act. Maybe we want to be the leader because the leaders are the ones who make the decisions. In essence, our impatience and desire for control get the better of us. Then we feel regret when the outcome is not what we expected. The reason for this is that we’re missing a step in our rush to make the decision. We need to get to neutral, first.

Getting to neutral means taking time to make sure we clearly understand the decision to be made before rushing to act. It means asking two questions: 1) What’s the real decision that needs to be made and; 2) What biases do I have about the situation and people involved that may misguide my thinking?  Too often, we think we know what decision needs to be made in a particular situation because we’ve been in that situation before. But is it really? Taking to clarify this can make the difference between a good decision and a bad one. We also need to consider how past experiences and perception may color our thinking. This doesn’t mean making a big list necessarily. It could mean simply taking a step back to consider the feelings and thoughts that could be distorting your logic.

You might ask, “Where does this intersect with intuition? After all, intuition is based on past experiences and our biases and perceptions are a product of experience and what we’ve heard from others.” Yes, intuition is something the best decision makers rely on all the time. But they also take time to approach decisions with clarity and awareness about any personal influences they may be bringing to the process. No one can eliminate these influences. Acknowledging them is generally enough. (If you can’t do that, maybe you should recuse yourself from making the decision.)

Getting to neutral doesn’t take a lot of time. But having the presence of mind to do it before making decisions will save you and others the heartburn of misguided decisions.

The Final Word on Multitasking

The debate about whether multitasking improves performance has been going on for more than a decade. Those on one side, maintain that their ability to do two, three, or even four things at once gives them an edge on the day. Those on the other side, argue that focusing on one task at a time produces a better outcome for each endeavor.

Based on interviews with hundreds of decision makers and my own experience, I’ve come down on the one-task-at-a-time side. In reviewing some brain science research, I have become even more convinced that those who claim to successfully multi-task are really deceiving themselves.

Neuroscientist, Daniel J. Levitan, author of The Organized Mind, explains it this way: “Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”

Levitan goes on to say that, “Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel we need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented even after a short time.”

Relatedly, Torkel Klingberg, M.D., Phd., author of The Overflowing Brain, observes, “How well we manage to multi-task can be related to the information load on working memory. Often, we can do the tasks if one of them is automatic, such as walking. For an activity to be designated “automatic,” it no longer demands any activation of the frontal lobes. However, a working memory task can never be automatic, as the information it contains always has to be encoded through the continual activation of the frontal and parietal lobes. This is why it can be so difficult to do two working memory tasks at once.” In other words, you can’t attend to more than one task at the same time.

There are those who will argue that regardless of the research, they have no choice but to multi-task. “It’s the only way I can keep up,” they’ll say. Or, “My boss claims she does it and expects everyone else to do the same.” Those people have my sympathy. Well established beliefs die hard. But as Levitan puts it, “You’d think people would realize that they’re bad at multitasking and would quit. But a cognitive illusion sets in, fueled in part by at dopamine-adrenaline feedback loop, in which multitaskers think they are doing great.”

So, if you can’t multi-task, how do you keep up? By focusing on one task at a time to completion or until you can’t progress due to a missing element, resource or decision. Yes, that requires concentration and the discipline to resist the temptations to do more. How do the best decision makers do this? I’ll cover that in the next post.

Fill Out Your Own Forms First!

Have you ever become frustrated while completing a form? You might have thought, “What on earth do they mean?” or “I can’t imagine why they need that information,” or “Didn’t they ask that before?” Sadly, too many people fail to place themselves in the position of those who will complete the forms they design. As a result, they alienate customers, clients, students or constituents.

Here’s an example. My daughter has been applying to medical schools. As I have helped proof and edit her submissions, I have been fascinated and amused by the forms she’s been asked to complete. After medical school applicants complete the “common application” administered by the American Association of Medical Colleges, individual schools ask applicants to answer more detailed questions on so-called “secondary applications.”

While many of these questions seek the student’s perspective or beliefs about the health professions, several have asked things like, “If you had to give yourself a nickname, what would it be?” That’s kind of like the old training exercise that asked, “If you were a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you be?”

Then there are the requests for information such as the exact number of days and hours worked in an internship. In the big picture, WHO CARES? In some cases, this information is impossible to calculate. Even if it was, why take the time?

Finally, there was the request to “spell your name phonetically.” Without an intimate knowledge of the special keys and functions in Microsoft Word, this can be darned difficult. On top of this, every time, you think you’ve got it, Microsoft Word tries to correct it. If I want to know how a person’s name is pronounced these days, I find a pronunciation app online. Why can’t the medical schools do that?

Bottom line? The next time you create a form, any form, pass it around to several people who might have to complete it. Ask them to critique the layout, the organization, the appropriateness of the information requested, and size of the fields allowed for names, addresses, phone numbers and the like. Design forms for others the way you would like them to be designed for you.

Overcoming the Tyranny of Choice

We’ve all become spoiled by the number of choices we have. Supermarkets offer more than 60,000 consumer goods in all sizes and shapes. Searching on-line generates thousands of links for even the most obscure topic or item. Artificial intelligence anticipates the words we want to use in a text, the products we want to buy and provides instant directions if we search for a particular store or business.

Yet there is building evidence that many people are feeling overwhelmed by the number of decisions forced upon them daily. Constant pop-ups conspire to deflect out attention. We find ourselves declining endless offers in exchange for personal information. We resort to placing phones on silent and refusing to answer any call for which we do not recognize the number. Some people have begun to call this the “tyranny of choice.”

“OKAY!” you might say. “Tell me something I don’t know. Better still, teach me how to battle this tyranny of choice. So, consider these four strategies when attempting to reduce the decision fatigue in your life.

Review the apps on your phone and remove the ones you’re not using.Do you really need a tip calculation app? Twenty percent of $24.03 is $2.40 times two or $4.80, for instance. You get the idea. How about that app you downloaded to navigate last year’s industry convention? When was the last time you opened that? How about the app that allows you to age your face? Chances are, the novelty wore off after 48 hours. Remember, by the way, that even if they’re not open many of these apps are tracking your location, personal information and even your purchasing history. After all, you probably gave them permission when you clicked on “Accept Terms and Conditions” without reading them.

Install an ad blocker.Simply search on ad blocker for each browser you use. Then follow the instructions. I know. You’ve been meaning to do it. But there are so many other decisions you need to deal with first. Just do it. Total time invested? About 15 minutes.

Add a note about Reply All to your signature file.It might read something like – Thanks for NOT copying me on e-mails for which I do not need to respond. This will not end this nuisance completely. But even it drops by 20%, you will have reduced your decision fatigue.

Schedule internet and YouTube searches for just before another commitment. It’s so easy to open a browser for “just a minute” and lose 20 minutes for your life. Need to research a new appliance? Do so 10 minutes before that meeting on Zoom. Trying to figure out how to install linoleum in you your basement bathroom? Search for instructions on YouTube just before that lunch you have coming up.

Decision fatigue is hampering all of us at this point. Implement these simple ideas to reduce your daily stress. I’d offer you more strategies for doing so. But then I’d just be contributing to your tyranny of choice.

What Achievers Do to Improve Their Listening

Franklin Roosevelt became convinced that people were so excited to meet him in person that they didn’t pay attention to what he actually said. So, he tried an experiment. As he greeted people during a White House reception, he smiled and told each of them quietly, “I murdered my grandmother yesterday afternoon.” As he suspected, everyone in line responded with something like, “That’s great, Mr. President,” or “I’m glad to hear it, Mr. President.” This happened, until the last person in line, the ambassador from Bolivia. The ambassador hesitated and then whispered back, “Well sir, she must have deserved it.”

How often do we greet people with “How are you?” and have no expectation of a response other than “fine?” In fact, we’re surprised when the other person actually gives an honest answer. While this may be seem harmless, behavior like this begins to infect more meaningful conversations as well. Have you ever gotten so used to listening to the boss, for instance, that you no longer pay attention?

Have you ever made a mistake because you didn’t listen for all the details of the assignment? With the hundreds of distractions bombarding us every day, we become overwhelmed. Real concentration on anything now seems to come at a premium. We try to attend to important issues. But this attention is being constantly reset because of electronic distractions, constant music and news and the impatience we’ve all developed. Then there’s FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out, that compels us to check our smart phones 40 and 80 times a day, depending upon age.

The result is our inability to focus very long on the problems that really count. Yes, you have to make a decision on filling that vacant position or resolving that customer service issue. But all the little tasks need to be completed as well. It’s just easier to do those. So, what do you do? Here are three strategies that I’ve seen high achievers use:

Train your brain – The best thinkers know there’s no such thing as multi-tasking. Rather, they’ve learned to focus intently on the task at hand. They read deeply outside of the everyday business documents to improve their critical thinking. They debate with others to sharpen listening and persuasion skills. They take up hobbies that require concentration and creativity.

De-clutter – Look at the screen of a high achiever and you’ll notice a lack of clutter. They develop systems for organizing files and essential documents. They take a bit of time every day to “clear the chaos.” They’re huge fans of concise reports and proposals. If an idea comes to mind while focused on another task, they jot it down without breaking concentration. They focus on the essentials, rather than be distracted by irrelevant chat and nonsense.

Compartmentalize – High achievers organize their days and then remain on task. Don’t expect them to respond immediately. They usually clear e-mails two or three specific times a day. Ask if they’ve got a couple of minutes and they’ll diplomatically set a time that works into their schedule. That doesn’t mean they’re inflexible. They’ve just developed systems that permit them to focus on one task at a time, thereby improving listening and concentration.

Of course, these strategies don’t succeed without the self-discipline to develop good habits of mind. What can you do in the next week to adopt these tactics?