How is your Summer Time Going?


Wow, our summer is going by fast. Mission trips, basketball camps, daughter working as a camp counselor, beach on the horizon and birthday parties with family. How about you? Have you scheduled any time off? Are you working any different hours? What fun event is on the calendar? If you are stammering a bit, then let this article guide you to some fun planning.

Many of my clients are just waking up to the idea of being intentional with their time. Why is this important? Well, we live in a time where it is way too easy to be connected all the time. Our phones can be an awesome tool to stay connected when we need something quick. They can also allow us to be flexible and work in coffee shops, libraries, etc. However, they have also made it too easy to check our email while on vacation, at the swimming pool, at Disney World or during a kid’s ball game. Scott Eblin wrote a great book called “Overworked and Overwhelmed” and I love a concept that he introduced in the book called guardrails and boundaries.

The concept is basically about being intentional with your time and protecting your time from other people’s interruptions. Here are some examples from my clients—no phones at the dinner table; no email or work texts during the weekend; dinner with my family 3 times per week; workout at noon, 3 days a week; no interruptions during 1:1’s; no meetings on Fridays. The reason we need to be intentional and establish some guardrails and boundaries is because it is too tempting to just check our phones, allow someone to interrupt our 1:1 or just get lost doing work.

Do you know that many US leaders do not use all of their vacation days each year? I understand how it happens, but they all say they wished they had done more fun things throughout the year. Okay, now back to summer. What are your guardrails and boundaries? What memories will you create with your family or good friends? Here are some ideas to get you started—

1.     We ask our kids for 2-3 things that they want to do this summer and put it on the refrigerator. We start checking things off during the summer (kayaking, hiking Mill Mountain, playing golf, camping out 1 night, seeing The Incredibles, etc. are some of the items on our list this summer.)

2.     I do not schedule appointment past 4pm in the summer. This means that I get home earlier and we can go do some of the things on the list (ex. We went to Mill Mountain and got ice cream last Tuesday!)

3.     I have marked 2 Fridays off to just be with the family. A family kayaking trip will happen on one of these Fridays.

4.     What will be your plan on vacation days? Be intentional—if you are going to check email, I would recommend doing it early and setting a timer for 15 minutes so you do not get sucked into the computer for a few hours. Who can cover for you while you are out? Be a friend and cover for them when they are out.

My final thought is, who can hold you accountable? I let my kids know my plan and they are great about doing the planning. I hope you can establish some boundaries and guardrails for yourself. Summer is a great time to start this new behavior. Go create some awesome memories and share your ideas with me. Have fun!

Team Time Alignment


The synergy that occurs when a whole team focuses collectively on (1) efficient use of time and (2) attention management empowers the whole group. When everyone is moving in the same direction, trying to be effective and efficient with time, real progress is made in 30 days. And in 90 days teams are transformed!

Work is being executed, and meetings are meaningful. Everyone’s time is well spent. Meetings get shorter and more focused. People come prepared to meetings, because they have more time to plan, prepare and execute work. The Team Time Transformation is underway!

When I begin working with a Team to enhance and expand productivity, we begin with shared purpose and clear, shared Desired Outcomes. Then, the whole team works on calendar alignment.

Calendar Alignment focuses on:
               • efficient use of time and
               • attention management tactics that empower the whole group.

There are 2 Principles of Team Calendar Alignment
               1. Use other’s time wisely
               2. Ensure you have adequate time to act on tasks assigned.

Simple principles, but hard to achieve. We begin with the Team Calendar Gut Check.

Gut Check: Use Other’s Time Wisely

If you convene a meeting you must ask yourself: is this a good use of these people’s time?

Longer meetings (30 – 90 minutes) are meetings that ask people to think.
Thinking Meetings engage people. These meetings leverage the brain power around the table.
Decisions get made. Processes get developed. Feedback is taken. Adjustments are offered.
The organization and leaders move forward after meetings like these. It is time well spent, as long as the right people are around the table. People feel valued and engaged when they are in these meetings.

How do you figure out if you are leading a Thinking Meeting? Ask yourself. Ask your attendees.

• Am I leveraging their collective thinking?
               This means they do most of the thinking and talking. You ask a couple of questions.                   You listen and sift and sort through their insights.
                          If this is what the meeting is, then you have a Thinking Meeting.
                          Plan for 30 -90 minutes, depending on the content you need to cover.

Stand Up Meetings (5-12 minutes) are for Information Transfer.
You have information. You have updates. You need to communicate new expectations.
You need information and updates shared. Then you need 10 minutes tops. It’s a Stand Up.
Stand Ups share:
               • critical information,
               • update status, and
               • get teams aligned.
These are Alignment and Update Stand Ups.

Before you schedule a meeting, and bring everyone together, ask yourself:
What do you need from your meeting? If you want to leverage their thinking, then you need more time. If you need to share your thinking and get updates, then you need less time.
Respect people’s time. It is the most valuable asset you and they have. Use it with care.
I have a colleague who walked out of a meeting with his co-worker.
The co-worker turned to him as they walked to the parking lot: “Well, we can’t get that hour back.”
“Yeah. I know. What was the worst part for you?”
“I think it was the Soul Sucking part.”
“Which Soul Sucking part?”

Yikes! This is a true story, and that must have been a terrible meeting.
The simple act of thinking about how you are spending the collective time of your team will help you learn to respect their time and talent. This, in turn, will ensure that the conversation between those two co-workers is not one that takes place after a meeting you convene.

Got Time?


“If I only had an 8th day or a 25th hour I could get it all done.”

Has that thought ever crossed your mind? It has crossed mine. When it does, I know it is time to revisit my calendar, my commitments and my priorities.

We all get the same number of hours in a day. It is the one equitable resource we share.

24 hours each day. 7 days in a week.

We have 168 hours of life to live every week and if we are getting enough sleep, we have 112 hours to actually accomplish things. No one can manufacture time, so how we spend it really matters.

That is why when the thought, “If I only had an 8th day this week” crosses my mind, I know it’s time to gut-check my calendar. Gut checking my calendar means looking through how I spent all the hours in a day or week and asking myself, was this time well spent?

The exercise doesn’t take long, but it has been invaluable to me over the years. Whether I am looking over the day I just had, or the previous week, I discover ways in which I was wise with my time, and ways in which I was wasteful, and I make adjustments.

When I work with people who are trying to re-calibrate their pace and productivity, I start by asking people to print out their calendar for the previous week, and we go back over it with a fine tooth comb. I call it the Calendar Gut-Checklist. Here it is:

The Calendar Gut-Checklist

Step 1: Gut-Check Accuracy

·        Does the calendar capture what you actually did?

·        If not, try to fill in the blanks and make adjustments to the calendar so that it                          represents what actually happened, not what was planned.


Step 2: Gut-Check Decisions to Not Honor the Calendar

·        Notice the differences between what was planned and what actually happened.

·        Why did those adjustments happen? Were they smart, necessary decisions?


Step 3: Gut Check the Time Spent

·        What did you actually do in each hour?

·        Was it worth it?

·        What impact did your presence have in that meeting? Were you an important                           contributor?   

·        Did you give yourself adequate transition time and travel time?

·        Which hours were most effective, and which were least effective? Why?


Now that you know where the time went, and how effective you were with your time, it’s time to get analytical. What do you need to do differently so that you can be more effective with your time?

Make a list of 5-10 changes you can make to your calendar that will make you more effective. Pick your top 3 and makes those changes to your future calendar. You can save the list so that the next time you find yourself wishing for another hour in the day or another day in the week, you can take it out and make another couple of changes to your calendar.

I wish you many hours of time well-spent!

Creating Life Margins


We recently conducted a Team offsite.  It was what many organizations do in preparation for a new year.  Our leadership director, Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, did a fabulous job in leading us through the thought process for focusing on things that help drive success.

During our discussion, the topic of life margin came up.  For those who were familiar with life margin, this resonated highly.  Those that were not, it needed some further explanation.  In short, it was about the real vs the ideal.  In other words, how do we make the big things happen without getting excessively overwhelmed? We work on creating margin in our lives.

Scott Eblin in his excellent book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative,
reminds us that we need to be mindful of what our best looks and feels like. My experience has been that the resolution to almost all our professional / personal challenges is linked to how mindful we are of the balance between these four areas:

                                         Time, Energy, People and Communication

Tips for creating life margin:

§  Define the ideal vs the real and intentionally sculpt time to move life towards the ideal.

§  Actively manage personal energy in addition to managing time on the calendar.

§  Set tactful boundaries around people and limit exposure to negativity or toxicity.

§  Know our default personality wiring and that of the important people around us.

The goal is to create some margin for error and for the unexpected. For this to happen we really
have two choices. We can either work faster or accept that not everything will get done, (at least
when we think it should). Please understand this is not excusing lack of productivity, quite the opposite, it’s protecting it! If we can intentionally build in margin, we have some wiggle room and will become less stressed, healthier and more productive.

                            Living habitually in an overwhelmed state is a recipe for disaster

I will be presenting in an academic setting on Stephen Covey’s seventh habit, sharpening the saw. To sharpen the saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Stephen Covey points out examples of activities that create life margin and sharpen the saw below.

1)     Physical:                    Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting

2)     Social/Emotional:     Making social and meaningful connections with others

3)     Mental:                      Learning, reading, writing, and teaching

4)     Spiritual:                   Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through                                                           meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

Some of my favorite / memorable quotes from Mr. Covey:

§  Start with the end in mind.

§  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

§  The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

§  The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.

§  Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication.
It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

§  There are three constants in life...change, choice and principles.

§  Live out of your imagination, not your history.

§  Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

§  The way we see the problem is the problem.

§  Effective leadership puts first things first. Effective management is discipline,
carrying it out

            So, let’s go out there and create some life margin then fill in around the edges. Cheers!


I was recently facilitating a strategic offsite for a symphony orchestra in Virginia. It was a fascinating experience as I am a big classical music fan. One of the musicians put forward a musical phrase as a marketing concept that “cut to the chase” for those who want to experience the music, but may not want to spend all night doing so.

That concept was Alla Breve.

Alla Breve is Italian music speak for “cut the playing time” or play faster. I think there is some wisdom here to share as we are often faced with the reality of “doing less”, ie cutting the time or “doing more” ie playing faster.

This likely impacts our professional and personal lives.

1)      Are we habitually “out of time” running from one meeting to another?

2)      Is there an on-going sense of frustration that that the task doesn’t fit the time?

3)      How can we shorten the time needed to do what we need to do?

4)      Do we know our “time signatures” and how to change them?

5)      Are we playing solo even though we are part of a larger group?

6)      When orchestrating plans are we being realistic?

7)      When was the last time we intentionally gave back time to somebody else?

8)      When was the last time we actually had time “given back”?

How to apply Alla Breve to the questions above goes a long way to determining if the sounds we fill the air with are sweet, melodic and harmonious or off pitch and in the wrong key.

Alla Breve starts by being mindful of our default time signatures both at home and at work. At Voltage Leadership, we utilize several assessment tools that help people understand their default personalities, motivational factors and cognitive capabilities. This helps illuminate if somebody is playing staccato (disjointed, disconnected) instead of legato (smooth, flowing.) Knowing when to “go hard” ie Allegro vs “when to play more slowly” ie Adagio can make all the difference in the tonal quality of our lives!

A few ideas:

·     Try cutting a one hour meeting to 45 minutes.

·     If the agenda is too long, then do 2-3 items and agree to emailing each other for the rest.

·     Question if you really need to meet weekly for your next project.

·     Review your priorities and meetings for the next week on Friday. Do you still need to attend all the meetings? Who could go in your place? Now, how will you invest your new found time?

So, the next time we are asked to sit through Handel’s Messiah, when we really only need Chopin’s two-minute Waltz, think “Alla Breve” and use the time redeemed to make beautiful music elsewhere!

For further discussion on this concept of Alla Breve in our work lives, listen to this episode of our VoltCast radio show, Illuminating Leadership.


Do you schedule your exercise time? Dates with a significant other? Meditation? Thinking time? One to one meetings with your direct reports? Lunch?!

If I had it my way, then I would not have a daily schedule. I enjoy spontaneity and letting my energy dictate where I spend my time. However, with an awesome wife, 4 fun kids, fantastic customers and more ideas than time, I find I must schedule to get things accomplished. What about you? What do you schedule and what do you hope you have time for?

I am coaching a physician who leads a group of physicians who is always double and triple booked. I asked when did he find time to take care of himself, learn new information and have fun. He sheepishly answered almost never. I asked what he would say to his patients who weren’t accomplishing what they need to and he quickly said, “start doing this”. Thus, we started to schedule his work-out times, 1:1’s and even dates with his family members. Did this feel weird at first? Absolutely! However, he has lost about 10 pounds, gets to the gym about 4 days per week and has really connected with his family again. I can hear you saying, yeah but what about his performance at work. I can tell you other people in his organization have noticed and are asking what has changed with him. His attitude is fantastic, his ability to focus and make hard decisions has improved and he is cranking our much better work and loves connecting with his patients.

Is this all do to scheduling? NO!!! The most important first step was mindset shift. He had to stop putting everyone else in front of his own needs. Yes, he had to get a bit selfish to make sure he was able to be the best husband, dad, physician and leader. This was hard and there were excuses for the first couple of months. However, as he started to see success by scheduling these activities in, it got easier to do it more often and his ability to say no to lower level tasks improved as well.

Here are some tips to get you started:

·       Identify you key goals-personal and professional. Put these on the calendar first. This is easier if you look out about 2-3 weeks when starting out. Next week is already packed so it may be hard to start everything then. And yes, you should be scheduling time for personal stuff too. If it is not on the calendar, it probably will not get done.

·       Next, what are some things that you could stop doing or shorten. For example, take a 1 hour meeting down to 45 minutes. Do you still need to meet with every direct report each week? What about the project that just keeps going? Can someone else represent you in the meeting?

·       Schedule some thinking time on the calendar—this will improve your ability to prioritize and work on the big stuff. Also, think about your best times of the day and match your energy with the task. For example, I always have a sinking spell after lunch so I try to avoid tough meetings or conversations then. Friday afternoons are great for cleaning up the week and writing blogs.

·       Put some fun on the calendar. This might be recognizing your team, going out for ice cream with someone or a date with your significant other.

I know this sounds structured but see if it works for you and then make adjustments. Try to review your calendar at least weekly and look to eliminate 3-5 activities to give yourself some time for higher level activities. I believe you can survive without scheduling these activities but I think thriving and having an awesome life is hard without some of this structure. Good luck and let me know some of your best practices.


His schedule was booked with appointments from 8-5.  It was printed in black and white on the table between us.

He told me, “I have no time.”

The fact of the matter was that he had lots of time:  the same 168 hours a week all of us have.  It was how the time was being spent that created problems.

“If you schedule appointments all day, when do you get the work done?” I asked. “When do you work on the projects these people are asking for you to accomplish?”

Therein lies the problem for most of us.  We privilege in our calendars the activities we most enjoy.  We undertake the aspect of our work that most enlivens us.

But what happens to the aspects of our work we dislike?

What do we do when we have something to accomplish that we don’t believe others will value?

In other words, does everything get on the calendar?

There is an antidote to over-scheduling.  I call it actual-scheduling.

In actual-scheduling, we calendar not only the people but also the tasks that go with them.

If you are over-scheduled and want to start actual-scheduling, here are three tips for getting ahead instead of falling behind:

1.      Assign your tasks a time.

Once the task arrives in your inbox, or the project has been assigned to you in the meeting, schedule that task or project a time.  Nothing is accomplished without an allotted time.

An amazing thing happens when you plan your tasks:  your mind stops worrying about when something is going to get done because we know.  We scheduled it.

2.      Honor your calendar.

Once you have assigned your tasks a time, treat these appointments the same way you would treat an appointment with a colleague or a client.  Accomplish what needs to be done in the time allotted.

3.      Get ahead of schedule.

If your schedule is booked solid with appointments, like my client’s was when we met, look for the white space in the calendar (it might not be until next month or next quarter, but find the white space!) and block out time to think, plan and catch up.  It took a while for your schedule to get as full as it is and it will take some time to realign your schedule so that your calendar accurately reflects the scope of work you have to accomplish. 


Time is the great equalizer.

We all only get 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week.  Whether you are leading a country, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or leading a global business, like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, we all are allotted the same number of hours in a day:  24.

During those 24 hours a day and 7 days a week comes the highs and lows, successes and failures, experiences and missed opportunities that make up a life:  your life.

How we use our time matters.

Yet, most of my clients struggle with how to make their time count.

              “Where do I need to spend my time to have the greatest impact?”

              “I had a 90 hour week last week.  I can’t keep doing that.  I am exhausted.”

              “There is more work than I can manage.  I can’t get it all done.”

              “I want to spend more 1 on 1 time with my leaders, but I don’t have time.”

Sound familiar?

I know it does. Even though this is something I teach and practice, I still find myself saying out loud, “I could really use an extra three hours today.”  And it is true.  I could.

 The reality is this:

Our time will be spent.

The task before us is to choose how we spend our time.

The challenge we face is to choose wisely.

Here are two simple practices I use when my calendar heats up and I want more hours in a day:

1.      Pause.

2.      Prioritize.

When we get going quickly, we erase the most important asset we have: time to think.

Needing more time is a symptom of the Disease of Unmade Choices.  I am not going to get three more hours in a day, and neither are you.  We have to choose what we do with the time we have.  And the best lives and leadership emerges when we choose wisely.

When you find yourself wishing there was more time in the day, here are five quick steps to choosing wisely:

1.      Stop.

2.      Write down what you need to get done.

3.      Prioritize your list by Role and Goal.

4.      Put your top priorities into your schedule for the day/week.

5.      Acknowledge what cannot get done and take it off your list, either for now or forever.

Choosing how to spend our time is a powerful tool.  By choosing, we learn what we are and are not going to do, which enables us to the move forward, more quickly and accurately, to accomplish what is most important.  This is how we end up living a life in which our time was well spent. 



I am always amazed at the number of people who cannot wait until the weekend, the next month, etc.  They discuss how their job, their boss, their peers drive them crazy.  I think of these folks as serving time.  I once worked at a large organization where people would say they only had 15 more years until they could retire.  I would say, “15 years!  You could have several great careers.”  They replied, “Yes, but I would give up my pension, my vacation, my seniority.”  To me, they were giving up 15 years and just serving time…which is guaranteed to no one.

I propose an alternate approach.  How are you investing your time?  You may not love the situation you are in, but what are you doing to improve yourself?  A recent report by The Jenkins Group said that 42% of college grads never read another book after graduation.  In 1978, Gallup found that 42% of adults had read 11 or more books in the past year (and 13% had read more than 50!).  Today, Pew Research Institute finds that just 28% reach the 11 books mark.  Pew also found that in 2014, 23% of Americans did not read a single book.

Are you still learning?  What was the last great book that you read that got you out of your comfort zone?  (For me, it was Overworked and Overwhelmed by Scott Eblin.)  What podcasts or YouTube videos do you learn from?  Who do you share these lessons with?

I love the quotation, “the only difference for you in five years will be the books you read and the people you meet.” 

·       Who are you networking with?

·       What value do you bring to them?

·       Who are you mentoring or coaching?

·       Where are you volunteering?

These are all investments in time; however I firmly believe that you will wake up in five years from now doing something you are passionate about.  Thus, I hope you will call someone and set up an appointment for lunch and really listen to their ideas.  I think this is a great investment in time.

Here are some of my favorite recent books and podcasts to give you some ideas:


·       TED Radio Hour

·       Harvard Business Review IdeaCast

·       RadioLab

·       Stuff You Missed in History Class


·       Overworked and Overwhelmed by Scott Elbin

·       Anatomy of Peace by Arbinger Institute

·       5 Gears:  How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram

·       Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

What are you interested in?  Go find a book, podcast, or YouTube video on the topic.  Next, discuss the book with a friend and start to apply the practices.  Investing time will provide a jolt of inspiration for your leadership.