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Sam Davidson's blog

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What Do You Protect?

I received an email a few weeks back, from someone I hadn’t met yet, asking to get together and ask a few questions. This happens often and as long as I can fit it in my schedule and you’re paying for coffee/lunch/beer, I’m happy to get together. But this email jumped at me because he wrote this sentence:

“I imagine you’re very protective of your schedule, but I’d like to find 30 minutes on your calendar soon."

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I love the assumption he made. Yes; I do protect my time. I schedule my days ruthlessly while trying hard to leave room for spontaneity and still "get it all done". I stack meetings, batch tasks, and try my best to fit in all that needs fitting in, from being inspired to running a company, from parenting my daughter to being a good friend and fiancé.

But do I protect my time enough? Do you?

I think that the best way to determine what someone believes in or values is to take a look at their credit card statement and their day planner. How any of us spend our time and our money is a clear indicator of what we prioritize. Since these are limited resources for all of us, the choices we make (directly or indirectly) ultimately say what it is that matters most to us. 

Sure; some things we (feel like) we have very little control over. We need to pay the rent/mortgage because shelter is a basic human need. But we also can choose the size of those monthly payments based upon the kind of abode we’d like to occupy. Same goes for food. Filet mignon and black beans both have protein, but the taste and cost are quite a bit different. 

Each of us have tasks we must accomplish each day at work or even at home. We all need sleep. Presumably, we also want to spend time with people we love, be they partners, friends, family, or colleagues. 

But once your needs are met, what time choices are you making? What exactly are you protecting time for? 

The difference between protection and planning

And herein lies the difference between just planning something and actually protecting it.

I can fill a Google Calendar up like a pro. Gimme a few minutes in my email each day and I’ll drape that sucker in multi-colored fashion with meetings, drive times, phone calls, and any number of tasks and obligations. But, the moment a conflict arises, I’ve got to choose. What on this calendar am I willing to protect? What will I not move for something else?

The ultimate indicator of what you value is what choice you make when conflict arises. 

A few things I know I protect; things you can’t touch on my calendar. Very rarely will I miss out on picking up my daughter or spending time with her in the evenings on weeks she’s with me. Exceptions occur, but because my time with her is limited and I’m unwilling to be in her life any less than I already am, I protect that time with her. This choice eventually doesn’t feel like a choice because it’s not a point of decision for me. I’ve made the decision before I actually need to make the decision. 

My Monday mornings are protected. This is when the Batch team gathers as a staff to cover key ideas and strategic work objectives. I won’t take a sales meeting then or answer my phone or email. I won’t be traveling then. This is sacred time. I believe in the power and possibility of that space and hour. 

Dinners and phone calls with my fiancé are protected. When we've made plans or when I have a marinating tenderloin waiting for the grill and she's picked up a bottle of red, then if you want my attention during the dinner hour, good luck. 

How protective are you of your time? What could never get moved? You - and you alone - get to call the shots here. 

How to protect your time

The fear of missing out - exacerbated by social media these days - is an ever present lament, of course. But the more we devote time to those things we protect - and the more we clearly define what it is we want and need to protect - the less we’ll feel like we’re missing out because we’re exactly where we should be. 

But, in order to determine and then protect what matters most, you’ll need a few tools and skills at your disposal.

1) Get a system

The system itself is irrelevant. Grab a giant paper calendar, use the app on your phone - whatever works will work. But, write it down or type it out. Put it in bold or circle it with a red marker. That which matters most must be protected and top of mind. Otherwise, you’ll let it slide when something pops up (that ultimately isn’t as important) or your favorite episode of Friends comes on. Determine what matters, write it down, and then fight for it. 

2) Say no

When those moments arise, whether it’s the temptation for a nap or the allure of the friend who just wants to get one more drink, you need to say no. You’ve got something to protect. The person who emailed me gave me that out - I could have said no if meetings with strangers weren’t something I protected, time-wise. 

For some of us, saying no is hard. But, if you know what you protect and are willing to fight to protect it, you’ve now got a very beautiful out. You can say, “I have to decline this opportunity to meet/drink/skydive. My heart says yes, but my calendar says no.” 

Boom. You didn’t offend the person (you really want to go!), but you’re booked, saving room for more important stuff. The stuff that really matters. Soul stuff. 

This is the point of protection, after all. You’re not protecting something out of fear. You’re protecting it out of love.

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When There Are No Grades

While you may have hated report card day back in grade school, it certainly made it easy to know how you were doing in 5th grade math or US History. 

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But now that you're all grow up, save for a few select jobs, you're not getting semesterly grades or monthly progress reports. There is no head of the class to go to. 

Annual reviews and raises help, but there is no teacher and there is no curve. 

How do you know how you're doing?

Regardless of what metrics and stats may be available in your particular position at your particular company, it's better to have your internal grading system active and ready. Exterior grading stopped when you graduated.

You know how well you're doing. How hard you're working. How much real effort you're bringing to the office each day or leaving there on the conference room table. You know how creative you're being, how fresh your ideas are, how much better you are than the person at the competitor at the other end of the block.

Would you give yourself an A? Four stars? A gold turkey? A sideways clarinet? (The upside to an internal grading system is that you can measure however you like, so as long as you're measuring.)

Ms. Stanley isn't going to walk in this door anytime soon and pat you on the head. It's up to you now. If you're not working for a grade anymore, what are you working for?

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The Three Problems You'll Face

Any problem you need to solve will fall into one of three categories. Get to work accordingly.

Short term
These are urgent problems that must be solved today. If we don't solve these, we won't have a shot at deeper, important work tomorrow. Bills need to be paid, the broken air conditioner must be fixed, and you need to go into work since your sous chef called out. Devote immediate time and energy to these problems and they'll soon go away so real work can be done.

Long term
These are important problems that must be solved soon. If we don't solve these, we won't have a shot to scale and grow. The shipping contract needs to be renegotiated, a decision needs to be made about future product launches, and the operations manual needs to be written. Devote strategic and steady time and energy to these problems so you can keep doing the critical work of the business.

Lifetime
These are worthwhile problems that may not be solved in the next decade. But we want to spend time considering and chipping away at them. Diseases need curing, poverty needs ending, and worlds need building. Solving these problems can define a legacy, and not just a news cycle. Devote deliberate and passionate time and energy to these problems and you may just change humanity.

Knowing what kind of time and energy to throw at each problem that lands on our desk ensures that we get to keep doing our work, contributing to society, and creating meaning. 

(This post inspired by a great chat with Ryan Gaines a while back, and the work of Plywood People.)

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Being Better

Don't try to be better than everyone (everyone's a lot of people to keep up with).

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Just be better than yourself. Than you were yesterday. Than you were five years ago. Than you were when you didn't have all the information. Than you were when you were just starting out. Than you were the first time. 

Continual improvement sets you apart from the crowd. The crowd doesn't try to be better. They just try to be together. They do what they do to stay unnoticed and average. 

By being better than yourself, you'll eventually be better than all the rest because the rest isn't trying very hard to be better after all.

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Progress Looks Like a Pendulum

Progress doesn't happen without movement. But that motion doesn't always have to be forward. The running back jukes his opponent laterally first to clear the field for a sprint downfield. 

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Sometimes, our companies will need to take a step back in order to then get the momentum to carry on. Cut the weakest division, sunset a slow-selling product, or let go of someone who's not quite pulling her weight. 

This happens at work, it happens in politics, it happens in nonprofits and on boards and in schools. Don't fret just because the pendulum of progress is swinging away from you at the moment. Get ready for that buildup for potential energy to come swinging back your way any second.

Then, hang on. It's going to be a hell of a ride. 

A few small steps back for a handful of strides forward is an itinerary you should bank on every time. 

Present vs. Current

We don't stare at our phones because we're bored. We stare at them because we are starving for connection.

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There have been moments - hours or days, even - where you didn't stare at your phone, check Instagram real quick, open your email app, or read Twitter. Time went by and then all of a sudden you realized that you had been disconnected from so much.

Or had you?

Not counting when you're sleeping, if you went for such a span sans cell phone, it was most likely because you were connected or engrossed in something: work, art, a meal, conversation, exercise, love. And while you were at it, neither connection nor attention were lacking.

Our phones haven't become boredom-preventers. They are connection-inhibitors. They're not leading us to deeper relationships; they're preventing them.

If I'm in the middle of a sentence, and someone I'm speaking with looks at their phone, I'll pause until I have their eyes again. I don't place my phone on the dinner table during a meal. And if a call comes in while I'm doing focused work or having a meaningful moment with a friend or my fiancé, I'll ignore the call and deliberately choose what's right in front of me.

It hasn't been easy; neither am I perfect at any of these behaviors. But by choosing in-person connections over instantaneous distraction, I'm finding what it truly means to be connected to someone.

It might be difficult to keep up, but it's easy to start. Here are 10 places you shouldn't look at/bring your phone so you can focus on what's right in front of you:

  • Dinner
  • Art (movie, museum, play)
  • Bed
  • Exercise
  • Walk around the neighborhood
  • Company meetings
  • Picking your kid up from school
  • Church
  • Volunteering
  • Anywhere that being present matters more than being current
I Need a Bigger Closet

No I don't. I need fewer clothes. 

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You're not running five minutes late due to traffic. You failed to plan to leave when you needed. 

Donating is easier than renovating and planning is better than making excuses. More often than not, it's the means - not the ends - where we should focus our attention. 

Poor customer service doesn't happen because a customer complains. It happens because your company culture failed to instill a value that puts customer anticipation as a core job function of each employee. 

You didn't run out of gas because you couldn't find a gas station. There were gas stations; you just passed them all up because you wanted to keep going fast.

If you find yourself putting out fires all day, hide the matches before you go to bed. The work we do today in what shapes tomorrow's returns.

Sam DavidsonComment
Best You Can Be

We're all striving to be the best, and well we should be (mediocrity is not a fun place to live). But while chasing "best" can be a noble and admirable pursuit, we'd be wise to pause a moment and define what "best" is exactly. 

Usually, it's wrapped up in meaning:

  • Fastest
  • Smartest
  • Richest
  • Thinnest
  • Prettiest
  • Handsomest
  • Suavest
  • First

But being our best selves is deeper than this. We've got to escape the race toward what someone else defines as our best and instead live up to an inner standard we set for ourselves. It's time we considered being our best self to mean:

  • Authentic
  • Vulnerable
  • Honest
  • True
  • Candid
  • Genuine

When we possess those qualities - and in increasing measure - then we'll arrive at a place where we truly are our best selves, measuring not by speed or external standard, but by depth and meaning.

Being the best isn't a one-time achievement. It's a lifelong journey.

Sam Davidson Comment
Easy or stronger

Nearly every product wants to make your life easier. The ones that make this case most clearly fly off the shelves.

Some products want to make you stronger. They don't sell as well. 

Fast food is a bigger industry than health food and recliners and TVs outsell fitness equipment, even though we all know what's better for us.

Easy is a promise that's a breeze to make, offering quick results. Strength is a tougher sell, requiring time and hard work. 

But easy doesn't make anyone strong. On the contrary, getting stronger makes things easier.

Easy isn't always an option. Stronger is.

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Taste it or tweet it

Why did you go to that restaurant, order that beer, go on that vacation, or attend that work out class?

Did you do it just so you could tweet it or Instagram it? Or so you could be so wrapped up in something special and unique as to never forget it?

Look, I'm one of the guilty ones. I've postponed digging into a meal so the lighting and angle could be just right while I snapped a pic. I've positioned a craft beer so that my friends would be jealous later when they saw the delicious time I was having. And, I've paused after a workout to take a picture so you could see how early I get up to go sweat.

And while taking home a photographic memory can be special, when it takes away from the experience itself, we're cheapening these very moments we're trying to capture. It's impossible to catch the fullness of the moment when you have to pause that fullness mid-progress to pose and smile. 

We can't suck the marrow out of life when we're waiting for the perfect pose.

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Taste first, tweet later. Dive in deep, worry about the picture later. Better to have lived and wish you'd gotten a picture than snap lots of pictures of mediocre memories.

Sam Davidson Comment
Fear-based or fear-aware

I put my daughter up on this wall. It was her idea.

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As she gets older, her tolerance for risk is growing. She’s no longer afraid to jump into the pool’s deep end and swim underwater. She’s asking how old she has to be to stay home by herself while I run to the grocery store. She straps on a helmet and rides her bike. She's more ambitious when she plays.

Of course, some of these requests and new behaviors - while seeming to do away with the fear she once had - stir up new fear within me. As she gets older, I tense up a bit at the thought of her getting a phone, driving, and making decisions about relationships.

But, I also know - and have known from very early on as a parent - that this is the goal. The point is not for me to protect her; it’s to guide her into a mindset and life whereby she can make these decisions in a way that is smart, wholesome, and true to herself. Preventing her from getting a phone until she’s 38 doesn’t help her; talking to her about proper usage and how the phone is a tool and not an idol does (no matter how old she is when she has one of her own). 

How big is your risk pool?

As we get older, we swim in ever increasing (size and depth) pools of risk. We take out loans to go to school or buy a house. We commit to long term relationships. We start companies. We start families. We move to new cities to chase opportunities, be they in the form of people or jobs. Gone are the days when going down a water slide was the scariest thing we’d do in a given week. 

As we encounter these risks, fear sets in. Evolution has given us this gift so we slow down from time to time. Our hunter and gatherer ancestors couldn’t eat just every berry; they had to weigh the risks of certain ones and consider which ones had made fellow tribe members sick in the past. Others had to weigh whether trying to spear that snarling wolf for dinner would be worth the effort if their aim was off and then the tables turned. 

We do the same today. We weigh whether the status and comfort of that house for that sized mortgage is worth the stress that comes with such a financial commitment. Is the upside of our new venture (financial independence one day) worth the short term cuts to our personal budget?

How fear shapes our actions

And so we can evaluate any given situation by being either fear-based or fear-aware.

Fear-based prevents us from taking action. Basing our decisions on the fear that is present means we’ll do less and less. The risk is too great (even if the statistics are in our favor). The threat of the worst possible outcome is too overwhelming for us to move forward.

I know people who didn’t see a movie in a theater for an entire year after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movieplex years ago. The likelihood of a copycat was extremely rare, but many people made a fear-based decision and only chose to watch movies at home for a good long while. 

The list could go on: people are still afraid to fly post 9/11; some people won’t buy a home because of what happened in 2008; people stay away from traveling to certain countries because they rank high on a kidnapping list; kids aren’t allowed to play outside as much; we still have to take off our shoes when getting on a plane; religions are profiled based upon the extreme actions of a few adherents - you get the picture.

Fear-based decision making locks us in to our way of thinking, assuming that the worst case scenario is the most likely scenario. As such, we live isolationist, paranoid lives. This is no way to be. 

The better (fuller, deeper, richer) tactic is to live fear-aware lives. This mindset acknowledges the risk inherent in any given situation, but lets you move forward. It does not trick you into naive decision making (that would be fear-ignorant), but instead helps you take the smartest course of action while still actually taking action. 

Last year, I went to Alaska. One of the highlights of my week there was a hike up Mount Roberts. My biggest fear that morning wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the steep climb or the rocky terrain. My biggest fear was that I’d encounter a bear and be eaten alive. I hear the bear community is spreading the rumor that entrepreneurs taste delicious. 

The way to make completely sure I wouldn’t be eaten would have been not to hike at all. I could have stayed in town, browsed some gift shops, gotten lunch, and called it a day. But where’s the adventure in that? 

So that I could press on, I first reminded myself that bear attacks are extremely rare. I then took into account that during that time of year, vegetation that attracts bears was not yet fully in season where I was. Taking into account other factors - densely populated area, highly trafficked trail - and my odds of attack kept dropping. Then, by employing recommended behaviors related to noise and speed, the chances of my becoming bear brunch that day were nearly eliminated. (Nearly, not completely.)

And hike on I did. And oh, the views.

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If I made my decision fear-based rather than fear-aware, I'd miss that vista. If I think I can eliminate all risk before moving forward, I’ll always stay where I am. And if I stay where I am, I can’t march forward toward destinies like success, greatness, community, and belonging. 

Ethic of risk

I was part of a church community once that had as once of its core values “an ethic of risk in everything we do.” We wanted to take risks in how we served others. In the topics we discussed in our community. In how and where and when we met. This was a meaningful religious experience for me, I think largely due to the fact that risk was a value and was embraced, and not something to be shunned and avoided. 

In my life, I hope an ethic of risk can be present. Certainly, I feel this risk the second I wake up each day given what I do. No matter the size and longevity of any of my entrepreneurial endeavors, I will always acknowledge the risk present in starting something new. Even now, when things at Batch are growing and our team is thriving, I still live with the notion that this all could disappear overnight.

But the risk I feel doesn’t paralyze me. It propels me. It spurs me on. To do more. To dream bigger. To work harder. To love my team deeper. To think more critically. An ethic of risk is present for the entrepreneur and it should make him or her take smart action. 

But truthfully, an ethic of risk should be present for all of us, no matter our line of work or tolerance for risk-taking. You cannot eliminate risk. The quest to do so is futile. The better balance is to evaluate a situation and determine your stomach for it. Then, to proceed with abandon. 

Staying home and doing nothing is a risk, too. Not because a random gas leak could explode your house while you’re inside, but because you’re risking not meeting people, making a new friend, and enjoying what all can happen outside your four walls.

The difference

Fear-based decision making says don’t sky dive. Fear-aware says double check the parachute and then take the leap. 

Fear-based says never let your kid play outside because they’ll get kidnapped. Fear-aware says teach them what to do if a stranger approaches. 

Fear-based says don’t start a company because you could go bankrupt. Fear-aware says don’t start a company in an industry you know nothing about. 

Fear-based says don’t share your heart with anyone in case they break it. Fear-aware says but maybe they won’t.

Fear-based says stop. Fear-aware says look both ways. Fasten your seatbelt. Make sure the brakes work. Fill the car up with gas. 

Now, floor it.

Sam Davidson Comment
Why You Do It

This is an interesting observation about the fact that when the Wright brothers made their historic first flights, no one noticed. Seriously - no newspaper coverage for weeks.

Just kidding.

No one covered it for years.

You may well toil at your mission and your passion for a while. And while you're working, no one is noticing. Your work may be wonderful, but the notoriety, the fame, the accolades? They're all going to someone else.

So what do you do?

You keep working. There is no other choice.

If you're only chasing the quick fame of a headline, you'll be sacrificing the deeper impact that comes with longevity. And the difference between 15 minutes of fame and meaningful history-making is a little word called "legacy."

Great work that creates meaning builds a legacy; quick work that creates attention builds hyperbole.

It turns out that headlines rarely change the world anyway. Legacy does.

Do the work and people will notice. Eventually. 

And when they do, they'll never forget.

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