Do the Next Best Thing

Six years ago I had a breakthrough in learning how to stop getting stuck in overwhelm by doing the next best thing.

I was working on HUGE client project which involved interviewing seventy plus people over the course of a month and a half, evaluating the data and drafting a report which was due to the client the beginning of October. Not a problem. I’m a planner and I love laying out a project step by step. I don’t even mind deadlines. I’m one of those weirdos who always had her undergrad term papers done a week early. And I majored in English AND history, so there were a lot of papers.

My best friend, Brandie Kajino, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the previous spring, was just beginning to feel like herself again thanks to an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. So we decided to make a day of it and drive to Hood River to drive the Fruit Loop and enjoy the fall colors. We picked a Friday in early October, and Cory agreed took a vacation day to chauffeur us and participate in the merriment.

I had a meeting with my client the Thursday before our grand day out, but I wasn’t worried because the report was 99.9% complete. I figured I’d attend the meeting, make a few minor edits and deliver the report by the end of the day aiming to surprise and delight the client, since the report wasn’t due until the following Tuesday.

Thursday I attended the meeting and soon realized that the client wanted a complete rewrite of a large section of the report, to include information which he had yet to send me. There were numerous other revision requests as well. And they’d like the final draft first thing Monday morning.

Alrighty then.

My mind begins to calculate how much time it would take me to redraft the document once I received the additional materials. It would easily take three full days, maybe longer.

I thought about rescheduling with my friend. Cory had already requested and received the day off work. They’d both be disappointed. Hell, I was disappointed. I’d been working my ass off. I was exhausted. The project’s schedule had shifted several times. What if it were to shift again and I’d have to reschedule again?

So fuck it, I decided to take the day off with Cory and Brandie as planned. And I was going to enjoy every last moment of it. Because life was short, Brandy’s cancer was terminal, and none of us really know how much time we have left. This was what was important.

So we did it. We laughed and we bought chestnuts and pears and pies. And we laughed some more. It was a wonderful day. A perfect day.

Stopping for bagels before driving to Hood River

And the next day I reviewed at the emails that had arrived in my absence. I organized my thoughts, all of the sections of the report, all of my notes and all of my client’s requests. I prioritized them and then I got to work on one thing at a time.

Whenever I felt like I couldn’t do it or that I didn’t know what to tackle next I’d ask myself, “What’s the next best thing?” And that’s what I’d do. Until it was done. Then the next thing.

Sunday evening around 9:00 p.m. was when I first began to feel like I was going to actually finish in time, and when I sent over the final document at 1:30 a.m. Monday I was elated. And so very proud of myself.

Brandie left us on this day five years ago. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about the glorious fall day Brandie, Cory and I spent in Hood River together. And I’m so very proud of myself.

(Not-so) common courtesies

I never cease to be amazed that my ordinary, everyday way of conducting business impresses my clients and team mates. It turns out not everyone operates like I do. What I take for granted–my normal–isn’t normal for everyone.

What do these things look like, you may ask? Here’s a short list.

  • Be prepared: When you show up at a client meeting or even an internal meeting, it’s so important to do you homework ahead of time. Who’s attended meetings where a fraction of the participants haven’t done their homework? {raises hand} What about a meeting where the organizer hasn’t done her homework and asks everyone to take 15 minutes to “review the material”? {raises hand} And so what are the people who actually did their homework supposed to do for those 15 minutes?! What a waste of time.
  • Show up on time: I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t shown up to a meeting on time. Time is a gift we’re all given, and it’s more precious than most of us remember. We often take it for granted. But, as they say, time is money. Next time you’re in a meeting, multiply the time spent in the meeting by each person’s hourly rate (estimate if you need to) and calculate the value in dollars of the time spent in that meeting.
  • Take notes: If you’re like me and you’re juggling multiple priorities and projects there’s no way you can remember everything. I take copious notes because the act of taking the notes actually helps me remember the material better. I also like to be able to look back and recall how and why we came to certain decisions in the meeting, so I take notes. My summary always includes my WWWs.
  • Do what I say I’ll do: One of the reasons I make notes on WWWs is so that I can remember what I said I’d do. First thing I do after a meeting is add my WWWs to my task list. I use Toodledo. First thing I do when I start working on a new project is break the project down into actionable tasks and add them to my list along with dates. It’s project management 101. But it’s more than that. When you do what you say you’re going to do, you build trust.
  • Give people a heads up: If, for any reason, I’m unable to accomplish something on time, I give my client and/or team members notice as soon as I understand there’s going to be a delay. One, it builds trust. Two, the thing I’m working on may affect their priorities, which means they may wish to reprioritize their task lists accordingly. Three, sometimes it turns out that another member of the team can either help me out or even eliminate the step altogether. Communication is always the way to go.

Keeping an open mind

One of the most important lessons I learned from working for Dr. P. Michael Conn for nearly two decades was the value of pursuing a goal while being open to opportunities outside of that goal.

Dr. Conn was a scientist who performed basic (vs. clinical research) which means he looked at science on a cellular level. He studied the literature, developed hypotheses and his lab performed experiments to test these hypotheses. Every morning he met with his primary collaborator, the woman who ran his lab, to discuss the lab’s previous day’s work and what the day’s focus would be. Every day he reviewed and analyzed information.

He told me once that many of his most significant findings were discovered after such reviews when, instead of pursuing the initial premise, he’d follow the findings as they unveiled themselves during the research process.

I always think of this when I approach client work. Often the client tells me that they need a certain service, but once I talk to the team and do a little research I discover that what they need is actually something a little different. Often the solution is much easier than they would expect. Sometimes it requires more work. But if you don’t go in with an open mind and a willingness to see everything, you can easily miss the obvious.

What does it mean to be a connector?

EndocrineWhile I didn’t realize it at the time, I began my career as a connector when I started working as the managing editor for international peer-review medical journal, Endocrine. In order for scientific discovery to move forward, scientists perform experiments, write up the results which they submit to a peer-review journal so that other people in the same field of study can review their work.

Before the dawn of the electronic age, the manuscripts were sent to three reviewers; once email and Word docs became the norm, the manuscript was often sent to five or even six reviewers. The importance of delivering timely results to the authors was one of our main goals. The reviewers review on a variety of criteria: thoroughness of the study, accuracy. and they make recommendations.

The goals were these: Deliver quick feedback (2 weeks) to the authors from a panel of experts in the field.

It was my job to identify appropriate reviewers for each of the manuscripts that was submitted to the publication. If a clinical thyroid study was submitted, who should see that? Who would be a good fit? The peer reviewer needed to not only be knowledgable about the topic, but he probably wrote articles that were referenced in the manuscript. That being said, the two should never have collaborated on a project or even worked in the same lab.

So you had to know the basics, areas of expertise, as well as peripheral knowledge about the individuals. Who would make a good fit?

Fast forward to today. Whenever I meet anyone I always think, whom should this person meet? Who would benefit from knowing this person? Who do I know that this person could help?

You Have a Social Media Program

social mediaYou have a social media program whether you know it or not: People are talking about you. And they’re probably doing it online whether you’re there or not.

They’re talking about your products. They’re talking about your services. They’re talking about your customer service.

Your competition is most definitely talking. They may even be listening.

So what are you so afraid of?

Doing It Right: Faryl Robin

Faryl RobinThe most gorgeous pair of shoes in my closet are this pair by Faryl Robin. Equally amazing is the story of how I got them. It was my first experience with excellent customer service on Twitter.

The year was 2008. My daughter found the shoes on the Anthropologie website. They were marked down, priced to sell, so I immediately ordered a pair. Sadly, the site was out of her size, 11.

On a whim I did a search and discovered that Faryl Morse herself, CEO and creative director at Faryl Robin was on Twitter. So I took a chance and sent her a tweet. To my great surprise she responded that I should message her assistant so that they could track down the shoes for my daughter. To make a long story short, they found a pair of 11s, and they’re now in my daughter’s closet.

I never wear my Faryl Robins but that I recall this story and the kindness and attentiveness of Faryl and her staff. The fondness I feel spills over to the entire brand. This is what is known as #DoingItRight

I resolve to…

Close up , colorful pushpins on calendar

Close up , colorful pushpins on calendar

Several years ago I was looking back, and I had an overall tinge of regret, sensing that I spent too much time reclining in the sidelines and not enough time balls-to-the wall embracing my life.

Sidelined by kids’ schedules, work schedules, the limits of one car for a household of three drivers and the limits of my own mind.

This made me uncomfortable. I resolved to do something else. Or eat something else. Or shop for something else.

It seems I was always waiting for the perfect timing…for school to start so I could regain my infamous fall focus; for summer to arrive to spend time with family; for the Christmas holiday so I could regroup and refocus.

So when do I actually jump up, jump in and take action? The time is now. Everything I will do in my life I do now. I have no more excuses. Now is the time to read more exceptional books. To spend time with people who kick my ass and make me better. To watch less mind-numbing TV. To move more. To love more. To be more.

Now is the time to step off the sidelines and into the action.


To throw myself into relationships, projects and work with reckless abandon.

To embrace my choices because, let’s face it, how I live my life is my choice. I choose each moment of every day what my life will look like. I acknowledge it and either embrace it or change course. No excuses.

What’s the most important thing I need to do today?

Your clients don’t care

happyYour clients don’t care if…

…you’re having a bad day.

…you don’t feel well.

…your car breaks down.

…your computer is acting up.

…you don’t feel like working.

Your clients hired you to do a job. They only care about the outcome. Do the job you said you would do in the timeframe you said you’d do it. 

Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses. You signed up for this.

Shake off everything else and hunker down and get it done.

No excuses.

When is the best time to take a break?

ChineseWhen should you take a break from work? Most people assume weekends and evenings are the best time to take time off, but I’m not convinced. I’d like to suggest that everyone is different, and that’s O.K. Actually, it’s more than O.K.

My son’s schedule is such that he has Sundays and Thursdays off which means that if I want to spend time with him, I take half a day on Thursday, and we hang out. A couple of weeks ago we spent several hours exploring the tranquility of the Chinese Garden, eating ramen and visiting kitties at LexiDog before stopping for ice cream. During our leisurely wanderings we happened upon a tribute to Robin Williams which inspired us both.

My point is you have to take the time when it presents itself. The “off” times are also often the least busy. It’s like grocery shopping on a Wednesday morning instead of a Saturday. Right?

There’s also something to be said for a person’s own preferences. Some of us are night owls; others thrive when we accomplish the bulk of our work before 10:00 a.m. Don’t fight it. Work with your natural proclivities instead of against them. It’s called flow.

I’m much more productive when I’m working in a state of flow. Ideas come easily. I process and make connections quickly. I get much more accomplished when I work steadily on a project every day, a bit at a time, than if I slam it out when faced with a short deadline. Bonus: the outcome is a superior project.

What works best for you?

How do you know if your clients are happy?

imagesThe answer is pretty easy, really. Ask them.

A lot of business owners, freelancers, executives and consultants make the mistake of assuming that if they don’t hear anything to the contrary, that people they are working with are happy with the status quo. That’s not necessarily true.

People don’t speak up for many reasons:

  • Fear. What if they don’t like the answer they hear? What if {fill in the blank}.
  • Time. They are so overworked that they don’t have the time to pause and consider how they’re doing, how they feel about their work or even how effective they are or what they could do to improve.
  • Unrealistic expectations. They expect that the other person will make the first move.

Here’s what I say: Be proactive. Take the time. Ask the difficult questions. What’s the worst thing that can happen here? You get fired? O.K. so that could happen, but chances are it won’t.

Most of the time when I step up and ask, “How’s it going?” the gesture itself builds goodwill and trust, no matter the outcome.