Do you know what your HABEs are?

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Do you know what your HABEs are?

Doing more impactful work is rarely as simple as setting newer, bigger, better goals. It's much more often about shifting old habits, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations (HABEs). Often, those HABEs can be virtually invisible to us. 

  • You have a habit of keeping conversations short in our meetings, so you never get to the important but complex problems. Or perhaps you have a habit of long, detailed conversations that leave little room for making key decisions.
  • You have an attitude of optimism or pessimism that blinds you to the realities of a situation and keeps you from reacting realistically.
  • You have a belief that your boss is uninterested in your concerns so you don’t speak up when the truth might be that your boss is just unpracticed at asking for input.
  • You have an expectation that things will be fine because they’ve generally been fine in the past, and you neglect to address that new risk or opportunity that you haven’t seen before and miss out on taking meaningful action.

It’s like the old story of the two young fish swimming through the water when an older fish passes by and asks them, “Good morning—how’s the water today?”  The two young fish swim on for a bit until one finally ask the other, “What’s water?”

The HABEs are our water. Until we get clear about the HABEs that we are all swimming in, we’ll never be able to do our most impactful work.
 

I help individuals and teams see the water. 
 

If you're on a team or are a team leader, I'd like to tell you about the Team LeaderView™. It's a really powerful tool that helps teams and team leaders get clearer about the water they swim in by measuring your work across 14 key performance indicators. The Team LeaderView™ gives a clearer understanding of how the HABEs your team possesses are impacting Productivity skills including goal-setting, decision-making, and accountability and Positivity skills including communication, alignment, and camaraderie. 

What counterproductive habits does your team possess that have become invisible to you? What are positive habits you should amplify even more?

If you're interested in getting clearer about the HABEs that are both driving and holding back the performance of your team, contact me about performing a no-cost Team LeaderView™ assessment. It's a small commitment of time that may start a powerful conversation about how you and your team can do your very best work.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
What a Chess-Playing Computer Can Teach Us About Egos & Success

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What a Chess-Playing Computer Can Teach Us About Egos & Success

One way to “teach” a computer to play chess is to simply program it to know all the legal moves and give it a goal (in this case, to take the king). If you have even mildly decent chess skills,  you’ll most likely be able to beat that computer if you play a game with it.

Another way to teach a computer to play is to program it to play itself over and over and instruct it to track the likelihood that each move leads to a win or a loss. A few days and many games later you’ll have a computer that even a chess master would have a hard time beating. 

In the first scenario, the computer follows instructions. In the second, the computer learns.

Our greatest successes often aren’t products of our ability to follow instructions. Our greatest contributions much more often come from what we’ve learned.

And while we humans are incredible learning machines, a computer has two distinct advantages over us:

First, it has a flawless and instantly searchable memory. Our brains can’t do that. Fortunately, we don’t need to—that’s what we have the computer for.

The second disadvantage is one that the computer can’t help us with: we’ve got egos. Unlike most of us, the computer is not concerned about short-term win/loss records. Instead, the computer “cares” about learning.

Just like us, the computer only learns by looking backward. It can’t know if each new move will lead to a win until the end of the game. But at the end of every game, it’s more prepared for the next one. As far as the machine is concerned, a loss is equally valuable to a win. The end result is the same: new learning. The computer doesn’t need wins—it needs more games.

Unlike computers, we’ve got a bias towards winning, and of course—in the long run—we should all want to win. But in the short-run, we’d be much better off looking for more games. 

Too often, both in the short-run and the long, we don’t take the time to look back and mine our experiences for learning. We’re too distracted by the pain of the loss or the self-congratulation of the win.

Even worse, too often we don’t play the game at all—avoiding a loss seems safer than risking a win.

If you’re playing the game using only the rules you know and playing with a mindset of loss-aversion, you’ll still get some wins mixed in with your losses. But you’ll never become a master.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
Cut down your to-do list by adding one word...

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Cut down your to-do list by adding one word...

A while back I stumbled on one of the most powerful productivity hacks ever: using the word “draft” in my to-do lists.

If you’re like me, you’ve got a to-do list a mile long. Some of those things are critically important and command attention by their sheer gravitational force. Others are someday-maybe kinds of items that you hope to get around to, but aren’t mission-critical.

And then there are those items that really are important, but you keep kicking them down the road. Things that you should make progress on today, but get little in the way of actual traction. 

Things like, 

  • Send that tricky email to Julie
  • Build a budget for the new program proposal
  • Write the job description for a new virtual assistant
  • Call Jose to discuss the project I’d like to pitch him
  • Write next week’s blog post

We know they are important, but we avoid them because they’re messy, we’re unsure of what success looks like, and some of them are just plain uncomfortable. The problem is, our avoidance doesn’t help at all. The answers don’t present themselves on their own and often the discomfort only builds. All the while, we’re burning precious creative energy on anxiety every time we scan over that item in our list.

That’s when I insert the word “draft” in my list:

  • DRAFT an email to Julie—but don’t send it
  • DRAFT a budget for the new program proposal
  • DRAFT a job description for a new virtual assistant
  • DRAFT an agenda for the call with Jose to discuss the project I’d like to pitch him
  • DRAFT next week’s blog post

Suddenly, I get productive. Releasing myself of the pressure of nailing it on the first go and free in the knowledge that this DRAFT is for my eyes only, I can finally start making some progress.

And here’s the real benefit: Once I’m drafting, I end up discovering all sorts of insights that help me overcome the anxiety that was holding me back in the first place: 

  • WHILE DRAFTING an email to Julie—I get much clearer on what the essential kernel of the message is that I want her to understand
  • WHILE DRAFTING a budget for the new program I discover where the weak points are in our plan and what to put on the next team agenda so that we can address it
  • WHILE DRAFTING a job description for a new virtual assistant I discover the problem I’m really trying to solve and can interview with even more acuity
  • WHILE DRAFTING an agenda for the call with Jose to discuss the project I’d like to pitch him I rediscover what’s most exciting about the project in the first place and can take that energy into the call
  • WHILE DRAFTING next week’s blog post I discover what really moves me about the power of drafting!

There’s a line in the improv world that goes like this: “You’re either moving forward or you’re not.” Certainly, great work is what we all strive for, but the only way to get there is to keep moving forward. Often that means sifting through more than a few crappy drafts on the way. 

Because after a few deep breaths, moving forward is almost always more productive than standing still.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
Everything changes in November!

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Everything changes in November!

*|MC:SUBJECT|*

We've been busy creating here at Leading Off the Cuff!  Last month's Leading with Creativity session at COCO Uptown was a great success with fantastic leaders from all over town. (You can watch a 2 minute video from the session here during which I unveil the most important question of all time!)

And now, we're excited to announce our next event: Changmaker's Day in November. It's a special partnership between Leading Off the Cuff and This Moved Me. We'll be diving into exactly how we create our best work while driving towards meaningful change in our organizations, our communities, and ourselves. It's going to be a lot of fun and I know you'll get a lot out of it. There are only 25 seats available, so register now. 
 

“Today was incredible. It was the most influential and creative two hours I have ever spent... Andy truly is a master of his craft. Andy utilized games and situations in order to convey messages and lessons. This seminar was eye-opening to say the least.”

 

As always, drop me a line if you're interested in a Creative Crash Course for your team, team coaching to get out-of-the box as you plan your next endeavor or planning retreat, or clarity sessions to help get all those ideas channelled into daily actions and progress!

Andy
RESEARCH, RETREAT, REALIZE, REVEAL!

  RESEARCH:   Thursday, Sep 29, The Brave New Workshop's Creative Outreach team is hosting MNOVATION. It's really a great event where you'll learn all sorts of great stuff about adopting a more innovative mindset. A mixture of great keynotes, interactive workshops, and interesting panelists (including my friends Vikas Narula of Keyhubs and Simone Ahuja of Blood Orange), I think you'll find it to be a day well spent. Use the discount code MOREISBETTER for 20% off groups of 3 or more.


  RETREAT:   As you know, running a business can be draining. So I'm looking forward to the Shannon's Institute's Alumni Retreat later this week. If you're not familiar, The James P. Shannon Leadership Institute is a yearlong leadership program that offers community-serving leaders from all sectors the opportunity for renewal and reflection. I'm a 2009 alum and am still reaping the benefits of the experience. I encourage you to check out the program.


  REALIZE:   I find writing to be a great tool for getting clear on what I actually think and for surfacing new ideas just below my current awareness. About a year ago, I started using a writing application called Scrivener. I've really fallen in love with it, not only for drafting blog posts, talks, book chapters, workshop outlines, and articles--but also as a basic capture tool for simple ideas or resources that I may want to explore or develop at a later time.


  REVEAL:   I had lunch the other day with my friend, Nate Eklund of Eklund Consulting and he shared a brilliant idea that he tested out with a client. Wanting to build more comfort with productive failure, Nate suggested that team members build into their meeting check-ins a practice of sharing their biggest mistake in the previous couple weeks. It caught on and has become a favorite part of their meetings--turning inevitable missteps into point of connection and opportunities for learning. Give it a try!



What are you making theses days? What's getting in your way? What discoveries have you come across? I'd love to hear about them!

 
Copyright ©2016 Leading Off the Cuff, All rights reserved.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
The Definition of Success is Changing Forever

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The Definition of Success is Changing Forever

The formula for success is changing (at least in economic terms), and not in any small way.

At the beginning of humankind there was no economy. We all hunted and gathered and roamed from place to place following the food with our families and other tribe members.

Then—roughly 8000 years ago, something remarkable happened. We started farming, people settled land and raised crops, and some of them had enough of those crops to trade with others for other goods and services. And for the first time in the history of humanity, an economy was born.

It was the Agrarian Economy—and in the most basic of terms it defined success like this: The more land you own, the more successful you are.

That was the first economy and it lasted thousands of years. 

Until the 1700’s. With the dawn of the steam engine, a second economic revolution was birthed—the Industrial Economy. 

Under this new system, large plots of land no longer automatically translated to wealth. (Watch season one of Downtown Abbey to see this drama played out.) Instead, in this second new economy productivity was king. Success was defined by how many widgets you could get out of a single worker or factory in the shortest amount of time.

And so it was. For 300 years.

Now we are on the cusp of the next revolution. Only the 3rd major economic revolution since the beginning of time. And we’re all part of it.

It’s still early, so you hear different names for it. But whether you call it the Knowledge Economy or the Information Economy or something else, the new formula is this: Success goes to those who can collect the most information, learn the fastest, and figure out what’s next faster than the rest.

Decades ago, when Sony launched the Walkman (that personal tape cassette player for those of you under 30), the average product cycle was about 7 years long. When they launched the CD-spinning Diskman, the cycle was about 4.5 years. Today, your tune-churning smartphone is considered old news after 6 short months.

Adaptation and invention is now the name of the game.

In some ways, the nature of success hasn’t changed at all. Food, productivity, and innovating have always been important and will continue to be important. What’s changed is the urgency.

From the beginning of time, the achievements we value most were driven by individuals and cohorts who created something new—shifted the world towards a whole new form from what had existed in the past. 

But now, more than ever, our problems demand that we grow, explore, and discover. 

There’s never been a more important time to develop ourselves and our organizations into black-belt learners, adapters, and innovators. Our survival might depend on it.

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If you’re interested in helping your team adopt more impactful mindsets, skill sets, and toolsets, I’d like to help.

Contact me at andy@leadingoffthecuff.com or 651-253-7515 to talk about training or coaching for you or your team to develop a more creative approach to your work.

Or join us on Aug 24 a rare open session on Creative Leadership. More info at https://leadingwithcreativity.eventbrite.com.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
My guest series on the This Moved Me Podcast

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My guest series on the This Moved Me Podcast

Very happy to have done a mini series on the fantastic This Moved Me podcast. We talked all about how the creative process applies to strategy, personal productivity, and keeping things moving towards the sort of change we want to make out there.

You can connect directly to the This Moved Me iTunes page here. The miniseries is MMM episodes 84, 86, 88, 90, and 92.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
"Abundance" vs. "Scarcity" Only Gets You Halfway There

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"Abundance" vs. "Scarcity" Only Gets You Halfway There

A lot is made of the difference between “a mindset of scarcity” versus “a mindset of abundance”.

And there is a real and meaningful difference to be noted.

Focussing on assets and believing there is always enough is infinitely more powerful and effective than succumbing to the notion that possibility is always limited by our deficits—our lack of time, money, energy, resources, information, skill, etc.

Abundance is an offensive and goal-oriented position; scarcity is defensive and aims to make sure we preserve what is--don’t rock the boat.

But taking on an abundance mindset is only half of the solution when it comes to moving things forward and making the sort of impact we want.

Having enough is not the same as having everything.

I know with absolute certainty that we have what we need to do whatever is most important in any given situation.

And I know with equal certainty that we can not do everything.

In fact, the only way to do what is most important is to identify that which is not as important.

 

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
When Presenting, Act Like You Want to Have Impact

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When Presenting, Act Like You Want to Have Impact

If I’m coming to your presentation, I’m really hoping you’re going to be a rock star. I want to be different when I leave—to feel like I’ve experienced something valuable that has changed me for the better, even in a very small way.

So, please, please, please—don’t do any of these common presenter missteps.

Don't Undersell What I’m About to Experience
Don’t start by explaining why most days this would be better because  you’re fighting off a cold at the moment, or that your flight got delayed, or that the hotel bed was lumpy and you didn’t sleep well. I’m not going to think more of you, just less of my experience with you.

Don't Skip the Microphone
If you’re presenting to a large audience (I mean more that 20 people), use the microphone that was provided for you. Period. Even if no one raised their hand when you asked, “Can everybody hear me?” Even if you think you’re really good at projecting. You’ll still have more impact with the microphone than without. (Besides, the people that couldn’t hear you when you asked if they couldn’t hear you—they couldn’t hear you ask.)

Don't Change Your Promise
If the people you are presenting to received a description of what you are about to say before they arrived, read it yourself before you begin. Stick to it. If you must deviate (and sometimes you should), start by explaining why you’re going to talk about something else instead—and realize that some people in the room might not be as interested in that, even if you are.

Don't Sit Down
Unless standing during your presentation would be really inappropriate, do so. Standing is almost always better. People can see you better. People can hear you better. You’re more likely to use your whole body to get your message across. You just look like more of a leader.

Presenting is performing. You shouldn’t put on an act, but you should make sure you’re creating impact.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.

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Vulnerable, not Victims

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.
The Priority Quantity Trap (...oh, and the most important question of all time)

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The Priority Quantity Trap (...oh, and the most important question of all time)

There’s a story I tell people frequently about the opening lecture from the only college-level philosophy course I ever took. It’s a story I think of even more often as the holidays approach and our schedules fill up with more events, more errands, more commitments, more parties and all the other general craziness of the season.

"What is the greatest philosophical question of all time?" my professor asked on a crisp fall morning 20 years ago.

My fellow students and I called out clichéd guesses: "What’s the meaning of Life? Is there a God? Does objective moral truth exist?"

"NO!” my professor exclaimed, dramatically turning to the blackboard.

"The greatest question of all time, the question great philosophers have been trying to tackle since the beginning of time is… What should I do today?"

And he was right.

When we wake up in the morning, what could be more important than determining that what we will spend the next 16 hours doing has meaning and deserves our precious time.

There is no more democratic currency in our world than time. We all get just 24 hours in each day, 60 minutes every hour. I’m afraid, however, that when spending that time, most of us are living at such a rapid pace of doing that we’ve skipped right past examining the value of what we do. Instead, we engage in an almost blind faith that the things that happen to be on the calendar that day are worth their price in the minutes and hours they’ve been assigned.

But most likely, at least some of those activities are vastly overpriced.

The Ikea Effect

There’s a phenomenon out there that cognitive psychologists refer to as the IKEA effect. In short, it describes how we often value things that take up our time and energy more than it objectively deserves. If you’ve ever built a piece of IKEA furniture (I just spent several hours this last weekend doing this), you’ve probably experienced the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes after the project is complete. The new bookshelf means a little something more to you just because you built it yourself — more than the identical piece of furniture might be worth to you if you bought it preassembled and ready-to-go. It seems worth more simply because you made it.

To illustrate the point, scientists asked participants to build some origami swans according to instructions that they also provided. None of the participants were professional origami artists, so none of their sculptures were all that great, but when they asked the participants how much they thought others might pay for their sculptures, the subjects greatly over-estimated their worth when compared to asking other subjects who had not built any swans how much they might pay.

In fact, you can exacerbate the results by taking away some of the origami instructions from the participants. The task gets harder, the sculptures look even worse since they did not have the benefit of clear instruction — but because they took even more time and energy to complete, participants assume that other non-origami-builders will want to spend even more on their ugly swan sculptures.

The experiment reveals a deceptive and alarming trap. We are often easily fooled into believing that what we are doing is important simply because it happens to be what we’re doing. But what if we were to take a more objective look?

The Quantity Trap

My wife and I are parents of three elementary school-aged children who keep us plenty busy. We live active professional and social lives that call us to all sorts of events and meetings where I get to talk to others in the same boat and I’ve noticed a common refrain in many of the conversations I have:

"Hi, Judy! How’ve you been?"

"Busy! How ’bout you, Andy?"

"Busy! It’s crazy!"

We rarely follow up those introductions with any substantive discussion about what exactly is keeping us so busy, and certainly not any conversation about whether those things really deserve to keep us so busy.

It’s as if unqualified busyness itself has become a statement of self-worth and importance. Value has become a function of quantity, not quality. We assume that the busiest people around us are the most important and we wear our own busyness as a badge of our prestige. The end result is a situation where we feel forced to choose between two realities:

1. Respected and worthy, but harried, exhausted, and sometimes downright miserable.

2. Relaxed and rested, but left with the gnawing sense that we’re being lazy and in danger of becoming insignificant. If we really mattered, we’d be busier.

It’s a familiar tension, but not necessarily an old one.

As Greg McKeown points out in his book Essentialism, the word "priority" first appeared in the English language in the 1400’s. When it does, it’s exclusively singular and means exactly what it sounds like — that which comes before all else, the very first thing. And then, about 100 years ago, some guy in a conference room threw an "s" at the end and made it plural. Now, it’s not uncommon for businesses to draw up strategic plans that outline 10, 20, 50 priorities. They are literally describing 50 first things. In the industrial age, as productivity became paramount, we didn’t just start making more stuff. We started making more priorities.

And we’ve contracted the same malady in our personal lives. Everything feels important. But that can’t possibly be correct. In the end, there must be a few things that matter more.

Asking the Question

 

A number of years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a year as a member of the Shannon Leadership Institute at the Wilder Foundation. One of the core purposes of the institute is to help clarify your own personal core values. After a year of reflection and exploration, I settled on the following three: Family, Physical and Emotional Wellness and Contribution.

Over the years, that clarity has been keenly helpful in sorting through all sorts of difficult decisions, especially when it comes to how I direct my time.

Like so many of the big questions, the answers are often very simple and very hard.

Getting clear on priorities (not 50 – but three or four) requires time. It needs reflection and conversation and exploration. It requires saying "no" to what we could do for the benefit of what we should do.

And just like a great strategic plan fails when you just look at the goals once a year at the annual meeting, managing our own priorities takes constant attention.

It’s something I’ve learned to make a priority in my own life — time for reflection and adjustment. But with all my own busyness recently, I was starting to feel off course. I began to wonder if my core values were clear to the people around me — especially my kids.

So the other night at dinner, I asked them.

Hey kids, what do you think is most important to Mom and Dad?

I was relieved to hear that "your family and your kids" was the first things out of their mouths. Next was "pizza". (They may have been projecting some of their own stuff there.) Work was also on the list, but it seemed to rank where it should, a little further down the list. Apparently I hadn’t drifted as far off course as I had feared, but it’s a question I’ll keep asking them and myself.

What should I do today? What’s really important? What comes first?

How often do we really slow down enough to answer those questions with any presence of mind? How often do we have the courage to ask the people we care about most what they think about how we spend our time?

I try to have conversations with my kids about these things, not just because their feedback and perspective is important to me, but also because I want them to build the same habit — to regard the currency of their time not as something that you spend extravagantly on stuff to impress, but instead invest in things that really matter.

As the holidays approach, the candidates for potential priorities will only increase: attending the various and many holiday parties, finding the right gifts, getting the house decorated just so, sitting down for a glass of wine and a conversation with the relative you haven’t seen in a year, making that special appetizer that takes 10 times longer to prepare than it does to eat, huddling with kids in front of a fireplace, playing in the snow, managing the inevitable spending – not to mention all the other responsibilities you were managing before the holidays came around. The amount of disposable stuff we’ll encounter will certainly increase, but so will the opportunities for real, significant time with the people and endeavors that matter to us most.

There are no better mornings than the ones in the next couple of months to wake up and start each day with the most important question of all time:

What should I do today?

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© Andy Zimney and Leading Off the Cuff, 2015.

This post originally appeared on the Youth Frontiers Blog.

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Andy Zimney is a Senior Advisor and Team Performance Coach at Employee Strategies, Inc., a boutique firm that partners with leaders to develop highly effective cultures that drive outstanding results. Contact ESInc to learn more about how they can assess your current culture and design customized and effective development experiences for your team. Or reach out to Andy directly.