[In the Interruption]

I had an ambitious agenda planned for myself today, and here’s how things played out:

First hour of the workday

  • Plan: To grade a stack of quizzes and plan a class.
  • Reality: On my way into school, a panicked teacher asked me if I could stop by his class to provide “real world” feedback for a group presentation. His expected guest didn’t work out, so he needed a quick replacement.  I graded and planned for 25% of the time I had set aside for the task and then went to the class to provide feedback.  [In the class, I met some amazing 9th graders; I also had a chance to briefly discuss queuing theory with the teacher — not a conversation I have every day — since it might be useful to the students’ project.]

Second hour of the workday

  • Plan: To meet with a colleague.
  • Reality: We started the meeting a few minutes late (thanks to the fact that I was observing the class above), and we were interrupted by a fire drill. [During the fire drill, I bumped into a colleague who is beginning her leadership path.  We walked back into the building together and had a chance to have a quick, reflective discussion about a recent experience that she had.  I felt like I was able to provide some support to her at a time when she might have needed it.]

Third hour of the workday

  • Plan: To meet with a student to discuss sketch-noting.
  • Reality: We had this meeting, and in the middle of it, I pulled in another administrator who I thought could help this student develop a role as our school’s Sketchnoter-in-Residence.  I literally asked the student to “pitch” her idea to the administrator, and the administrator not only listened to, but also strengthened the proposition.  [This was a completely improvised outcome — not what I expected at the start of the meeting.  After the student left, I continued talking with my colleague for a long time.  We discussed media platforms, writing, and how she might be able to use her interests to connect with educators outside of our school.  We had vaguely planned to have this discussion, and it fit in perfectly after our conversation with the previously mentioned student, so we went with it.]

At 5:15, I looked at my schedule and was about to put my head down to try to finish off a few more planned tasks.  But then I hesitated and thought about my day.  The pattern above continued off and on from 11 – 5.  In the moment, getting knocked off task had been frustrating, but in retrospect, I realized that I did my best work in the interruptions, in the unplanned territory.   I immediately got up, packed up, went home, fired up the barbecue grill, and invited my family to a completely different kind of weekday dinner.  Why?

Because the unplanned part of my day had been so rich, so filled with surprises and good connections, that I decided to let that part win.  Not surprisingly, I did my best work — this time, as a husband and a father — there, in the interruption. [       ]

Automated Humanity

This year, I’ve been using youcanbook.me. One of the things I like best about the service, which I pay for, is the ways in which you can customize and personalize it.  It automates part of your life — the back and forth involved in scheduling meetings — but the automation can increase the humanity of the tail end of the exchange if it is used properly.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.10.51 PM

Q6 above is one that I wrote and added myself.  It appears after a person has nearly completed booking a meeting with me.  I like the fact that it forces the person to focus on a clear outcome for the meeting.  I also like the fact that it helps me to prepare, in advance of the meeting, to best serve the person with whom I will meet.  A thoughtful answer to the question helps the person calling the meeting and the person called to the meeting; it provides a little nudge to help us both make the most of our face-to-face time together.

Here’s an answer I received in advance of a meeting I’m having tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.16.49 PMThe assignment was completely unexpected, but its specificity has inspired me to pull a few books off my shelf and look up a few resources.  When the meeting starts, we’ll be five steps ahead — ready to dive into things that truly matter to this particular person.


There’s IQ, EQ, and now GQ.

GQ is something I made up*, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind when you give presentations or work with students (or anyone you are trying to teach).  It means Google Quotient (like IQ means Intelligence Quotient and EQ means Emotional Quotient).

If you succeed in a presentation, you will not only transfer information or enthusiasm to your audience; you will also implant questions or bits of half-remembered concepts that people will be able to look up (i.e., “Google”) when they are back at work.

So, for example, if you’re presenting to a group and you show them how to assign comments in a Google Doc, they don’t have to remember every single step.  As long as they remember that such a move — assigning comments — is possible, they will be able to follow the Google breadcrumb trail and figure out how to achieve their goal.

When you make presentations, remind people that they don’t have to remember everything you tell them or show them.  All they have to do is remember what to look up, what to Google, and they will have derived some benefit from spending time with you.

*I made up GQ today in that I coined the phrase.  I observed it in the wild the last time I watched Reshan Richards present.  I don’t remember everything he showed me, but I remember something about everything he showed me.  I can use that something to access more detail, via Google, whenever I need to.

To Lead, Step Back and . . . Notice

My colleague and friend Jordan Raper sent me a link about leadership this morning.  I’ve read a ton about leadership, so these days, I generally scan for newness.

Jordan is an accomplished soccer coach, so I wasn’t surprised when he sent me something about Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the best soccer coaches ever.  What surprised and delighted me was the section wherein Ferguson credits his success at least in part to one of my favorite tools — the simple act of noticing.

As he matured as a coach, Ferguson delegated to his assistant coaches more of the actual training of his players.  This freed him up to make an important shift in his practice.  Switching “from coaching to observing . . . allowed him to better evaluate the players and their performances.”  Moving out of the scrum of hands-on training, where one’s focus is necessarily tight, helped him to “spot changes in training patterns, energy levels, and work rates.”

Ferguson’s own words are pure gold for people attempting to help individuals or teams excel (or even to improve their own performance):

[What] you can pick up by watching is incredibly valuable. Once I stepped out of the bubble, I became more aware of a range of details, and my performance level jumped. Seeing a change in a player’s habits or a sudden dip in his enthusiasm allowed me to go further with him: Is it family problems? Is he struggling financially? Is he tired? What kind of mood is he in? Sometimes I could even tell that a player was injured when he thought he was fine.

I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.

That last twist — on the unexpected — is worth savoring.  Here’s the article in full.

For more leadership tidbits, subscribe to my slow and steady newsletter here.