Change Your ‘Chief of Staff’

Well it’s almost the beginning of another year; this one being 2020. And with it comes a resurgence of optimism (maybe not politically, but at least personally) taking form in our annual resolutions. We all want to believe that this year will be the one when the promises we make to ourselves; to lose weight, save money, stop smoking, or whatever – will last longer than just the end of January. Who knows, maybe you will be one of the few where they do. Or maybe you’re one of those cynically realistic ones who believes the whole resolution exercise is pointless. In the past I kind of fell somewhere in the middle; but I still can’t let go of this optimism thing.

Being 2020 – we’re heading full force into the insanity of the presidential election here in the United States. We’re inundated with toddler-like bickering, both intra-party and cross partisan lines from the plethora of candidates jockeying for position. It’s all about the horse race (i.e. the election) … and very little about the governing that will follow (hopefully). Personally, the logistics of governance is far more interesting to me than the media-fueled popularity contest of the election. Most specifically, I’m intrigued by the role of the ‘gatekeeper’ otherwise known as the Chief of Staff.

According to Wikipedia, a Chief of Staff provides a buffer between a chief executive and that executive’s direct-reporting team (among others). The Chief of Staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive. Often a Chief of Staff acts as a confidante and advisor to the chief executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas.

Don’t we all have an internal Chief of Staff; the part of us that determines what we’re going think about, what we’re going do and how we prioritize those things?

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Gulliver 3

Reigning in the Lilliputians

Metaphorically speaking, our minds are kind of like Gulliver of the famous English work of satire by Jonathan Swift. Every minute of every day we are pushed, pulled and tied down by our own Lilliputians. These mental intruders can be our family, our friends, our co-workers, social media, cable news or even random cerebral ruminations. They are making us afraid of things we shouldn’t be afraid of. They make us preoccupied with our To Do lists – too often lists that are prioritized with tasks that are more habits than not; anything to take our minds off what we should really be doing. “We have to check our Facebook and Twitter feeds first everyday rather than write a letter, play with the kids or just relax and clear our minds.”

These Lilliputians who dictate our thoughts and actions are really no different from what a president (or prime minister) deals with daily (except Trump). They are bombarded by their staff, members of Congress or Parliament, and lobbyists … all with their own personal agendas and priorities. These priorities often have little to do with those of the president. If they had their way, they’d probably spend their time thinking (again except Trump) … pondering the big picture (do I have to say it again).

It’s the job of the Chief of Staff to determine who and what occupies the president’s attention, which in turn dictates their agenda and priorities. Imagine if there was no Chief of Staff though. It would be endless barrage of “squeaky wheels” … with no WD40.

But how does your personal ‘chief’ interact with these intrusions? Is your Chief of the “in your face” mode of Rahm Emanuel, from the first Obama term; or more of the “in the background” demeanor of Obama’s second term Chief of Staff (who was so much in the background, I don’t even remember who he was). You probably don’t want to be hostile to your kids for wanting a ride to the mall (that’s so ’80s); but conversely, you don’t want to be so passive to let every mundane intrusion run your life. I’m not even going to bring up Trump’s carousel of temporary and acting psuedo-Chiefs and charlatans.

Moving into the new year, maybe it’s time move beyond just resolutions. Maybe it’s time for wholesale change and install a new Chief of Staff. And with your new Chief of Staff should come new organizational processes, in addition to the normal New Year’s priorities and the tasks you’ve determined to accompany them. To properly transition, make sure your ‘chief’ knows the things that excite and energize you … the things that allow you to be who you want to be – not just tasks on a To Do list. These should be what articulates what you stand for. They provide the road map for your journey going forward.

Don’t let others’ representations of the world and what they think should be important dictate yours – including all the media-driven scare-mongering terrorism hysteria. It’s hard to concentrate on ‘good things’ and contributing to the world when you’re scared of anyone not like you because underneath you think they’re nothing but a terrorist or some other “trumped-up” threat promulgated by the media (most often for their own financial benefit) and worse yet, the current administration.

Make sure your new Chief of Staff isn’t just a holdover from past administrations of your parents or grandparents? Societal expectations such as the white picket fence and a debt-swallowing college degree is a guarantee of your kids’ financial and social success must be challenged. These are little more than distorted priorities seen through rose-colored glasses of those generations past. Society is changing at breakneck speed and that requires a realist view of the world today and your potential role in it.

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Creating Your Personal Platform and Algorithm

It’s the responsibility of your Chief of Staff to build your organizational and time management platform as well as the tools you’ll need to accomplish the new goals you’ve set.

Don’t just use what you’ve always used just because it’s easier. That said, don’t let your Chief of Staff fall prey to the habit of organization system porn. Organizational porn is the addiction of never being satisfied with the system you’re using – always looking for the newest, greatest one that will magically transport you into the world of organizational prowess and super-human productivity. I can say I’m guilty as anyone. And I have nearly three decades of this habit to prove it. But maybe with 2020, I’ve gotten my addiction under control. 🙂

Back in September I decided to follow the advice on my Twitter bio: “Sometimes you just gotta create what you want to be part of”. My new time management system is actually the long overdue implementation of a system I created in the ’90s. What I call BLOCKS! is a confluence of Apple’s Reminders (which wasn’t available twenty years ago) and a conventional LEGOS set. Yes, you heard me right; LEGOS. You can read more about BLOCKS! here.

While the system is important, what you do with it is even more important. The success of your Chief of Staff is largely dependent on their ability to execute what I call the “Art of Allocating”. Allocating is the assignment of tasks that correlate with the goals and responsibilities you’ve established in your ‘road map’. How these task are allocated is determined by their priority in relationship to each other at any given time – following “a life is always in beta” philosophy. The organizational system your Chief of Staff chooses has to provide the methods and tools required adeptly perform the “Art of Allocating”.

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Suggestions for Your Road Ahead

Your Chief of Staff gives you the resources. Now it’s up to you to do something with it (well actually the rest of you). Most all people, myself included until recently, view their To Do list as just a bunch of one off tasks. You power through each one and when you’re done – you check it off. But why shouldn’t a task have multiple purposes. So next time you lay out your agenda, step back and think; “What else can I accomplish by doing this?” This is called stacking tasks.

A To Do list traditionally is looked at as a group of things that have to be dealt with to accomplish some predetermined goal. The goal is the end – the prize at the end of the proverbial rainbow. But what if it wasn’t just part of a closed system. Instead, what each each task you put your mind to represented a launching pad for a completely new opportunity. Rather than just waiting to get it done, you looked forward at each task; a start to something bigger – an off ramp to something new and exciting on your journey.

These are just a couple of suggestions you can relay to your new Chief of Staff. Who you select for your own internal Chief of Staff, and how they act, is up to you though. Remember you are the President of Yourself (and let’s hope you’re not using Trump to emulate) … and your mind is your White House. And maybe it’s time to shake things up – and get some new curtains.

After all, it’s a new year … and a new decade!

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Melvin cartoon

In case you were wondering (which you probably weren’t), my Chief of Staff’s name is Melvin. With him, he brings the BLOCKS! time management system and a hand-me-down Apple Watch he got from my daughter Alexandria. 🙂

With what’s currently facing me on my journey as both a caregiver and healthwise (finally getting the post-chemo side-effects under control); I felt I needed a ‘chief’ who would help me stay centered and work with me on my mental well-being as well as just getting things done. And in honor of his assignment, I feature him on my Twitter profile.

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