Can You Be Free Having a Job?

Jim Altucher is one of my favorite writers. In a recent blogpost, he did his usual spiel about ditching your job so you can free yourself. Challenge is most executives I know have a job and aren’t ready to leave it.

Can you be free having a job? is the question he challenges us with.

I wouldn’t know. I have had a boss for only four years out of a forty-year career. But I know this: I’ve seen executives “free” in their work and it’s a beautiful sight!

Here’s what Altucher’s says about the Zones we can find ourselves in:

  • “There’s the COUCH ZONE (“I like to eat popcorn all day and sleep”)
  • There’s the SAFETY ZONE (“I’m going to work my steady job, hope I don’t get fired, and retire and try to enjoy the remaining years of my life”).
  • There’s the COMFORT ZONE (“I have to make a paycheck and own a house but I’m not going to go off on my own. Too much risk.”)
  • There’s the DISCOMFORT ZONE (“I’m going to make a new friend every day.”)
  • There’s the DANGER ZONE (“I’m quitting my job and exploring my dreams! I have no idea what I will do tomorrow but I can’t take another day of this”)
  • Then there’s the “FREE ZONE”, (“I’m going to keep experimenting and ultimately scale the things that work.”)

All the zones are fine.

Sometimes I’m in the couch zone. I don’t mind. It’s ok to sleep on the couch. But I try to spend as much time as I can in the free zone.

The civilians are stuck in the comfort zone. This is ok also. But they might not see all the things that are happening around them that makethe Free Zone so beautiful.

The Secret Agents in our society use creativity to track down where the Free Zone is. This is where I want to be.”

So, what he’s saying is this: if we can use creativity in our work we can be free. The mistake I see employees making is thinking it’s an either-or proposition. I can be free on my own or have the security of a job.

It doesn’t have to be thought of in those terms. Here’s how it should be viewed.

We can decide to bring creativity to our ourselves first. Altucher gives good examples of how to do that. An hour playing with your own creativity is far more interesting than anything you can watch on your TV or mobile device.

Until my late 30’s, I didn’t feel very creative. I had a litigation practice and hadto play within a strict set of rules. When I left litigation, I purposely sought out programs on Creativity. De Bono’s Six Hats, Whack Upside the Head, I read books for artists and musicians on their creativity. And then I began experimenting. First with clients and then with online programs. And I eventually got results. And so will you.

Orville Wright didn’t need a pilot’s license to fly the first plane and you don’t need a creativity license to begin.

As Covey said, begin with your circle of influence. You first, then engage your team, then the dept. and so on. One solid step at a time. With enthusiasm.

Altucher is talking about freeing your mind. And your soul. Everyone has the ability to that in their job. It’s a choice. Creativity is fun, and it stretches you. Keeps you alive and anti-fragile. And, it’s the ultimate form of job security too.

Here’s a link to a Creativity Checklist I put together.

Here’s to working in the Free Zone, Don

How Would You Define Your Company in a Few Words to Job Seekers?

I believe in the importance of branding the employment opportunity. That’s why I found the directory of tech employers on TechMeme to be interesting. Some of them make sense to me; a few don’t at all.

I wonder how they come up with and test these branding themes.

If you ignore the company names, which ones attract your interest? Why?

What would you put for your company’s theme?

While it is important to frame what work your company does, I would also put something about the employee experience… especially on a hiring page!

Do you think any of these are cool enough to put on a T-shirt?



Some of my ideas:
DriveAI- The thrill of advancing self-driving technology.
Expedia- Come join the travel revolution!
Snap- Great work you want to SnapChat about!
Tell me some of your ideas and what you would say about your company?

Visualization Techniques for Success

Here are some tried and true techniques for visualizing your future!

15 Ideas for Better Time Management

He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.
― Victor Hugo

I’ve done deeps dives into time management. Here are 15 ideas to help you better manage your time:

  1. Automate It

If a function can be automated then do it. Everything from appointment setting to staying in touch with customers.

  1. Chunk It Down

Many executives feel overwhelmed and stressed. This is because they keep thinking about how much there is to get done. Know this: busy people never get it all done. It’s the nature of the beast. To avoid this sense of overwhelm chunk things down into manageable sizes and focus your efforts. As the saying goes you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

  1. Check Messages Only Two or Three Times Per Day

Do not become continually distracted by the newest email or text that comes your way. If it’s truly an emergency they can pick up the phone. Have reasonable rules around texting too. Some companies have “quiet hours” where no communication goes on so people can get some work done without distraction.

  1. Control Your Calendar

If you don’t everyone else will. Calendar what and when you do things every day. I find it more effective than just using a to-do list. Keep some open space for yourself to think, strategize or get away all together.

  1. Delegate Down and Invite Up

What is the least valuable work you do? What is the least empowering work you do? Whatever that is – delegate it! Ken Blanchard once taught me “a strategic objective done 80% well by your subordinate is better than one not done by you” and I got it. I became an effective executive when I learned how to properly delegate. I also encourage you to “invite up”. I realize that most employees are afraid to approach you and say they can take task away from you. They fear the judgment that may follow such a suggestion. Therefore, to eliminate the fear, invite these employees to take lower value work away from you that will in turn help grow their career. Just make sure they stop doing something too.

  1. Know Where Your Time Goes

As a litigation attorney I knew where my time went in tenths of an hour for 17 straight years. When I quit I was glad to be out from under that time tracking yolk. Then I lost track of my time. I read The Effective Executive where Peter Drucker suggested we track our time so we know where it goes. So I began tracking my time a few weeks of the year. Doing so is a real eye opener. If you want to see some forms that I’ve used to help me track time over the years email to

  1. Manage the Gotta Minutes

As I’ll mention below I like to stay highly focused. When people approach me with their gotta minutes they take me out of that focus often waste my time and cause frustration. So I came up with a reasonable set of rules around these interruptions. First, per Stephen Covey’s quadrant, employees are only allowed to interrupt me with urgent and important matters. I explained those things are nine or ten only. All other matters will wait until 4pm.  Before that I’ll expect them to strive to resolve that problem and they often do just that. They realize I am not there as a short cut. As the saying goes I would rather have them learn to fish than have me throw them one. Also be aware not to gotta minute the people around you simply because you manage them.

  1. Outsource

As Peter Drucker reminded us in The Effective Executive, we do three things: activities that add value, administrative activities and wasteful ones. Our goal is to eliminate waste and spend only 20% of our time on administrative tasks. This will allow you to focus on value added activities 80% of the time. How many of us ever come close to that ideal benchmark? Think of things that are administrative or of low value that if you can’t delegate you can outsource because there is greater expertise outside of the company.

  1. Plan Your Day

I am amazed how many people don’t plan their day. Or their career, or their life for that matter. As Mary Kaye so accurately stated “most people plan their vacations better than their career”. I have the practice of planning my next day before I go to sleep. I wake up fully confident in my day’s activities. I’m not fumbling around figuring out what I need to do next. Once again, if you don’t plan your day everyone else would do it for you.

  1. Quiet Time

We need times to stop the noise in our head. To control our monkey brains. Whether it’s a 20-minute meditation or walk around the block give yourself brief interludes during the day.

  1. Recharge

Recharging is about taking care of you. Your health. Your emotions. Your nutrition. Again, calendar time for you to recharge or you’ll have the excuse you don’t have time. I found a nearby Float Tank which is a great stress recharging experience!

  1. Say No

I love James Altucher’s book The Power of No. Heroes have a hard time saying no. They don’t want to be viewed as somebody who isn’t fully committed. This is nothing short of self-sacrifice with little benefit. I knew very well about overwhelm. Seventy plus hours a week as a litigation attorney, sitting on non-profit boards and not seeing my family enough. It wasn’t until I learned to say no that I regained any sense of balance in my life.

Along the line of saying no (primarily to new things) we must say no to existing activities. Again, what is the least valuable work you do? If you get paid $100,000 a year would I find you doing $25 an hour work simply because it was easy for you to do and you avoid any potential judgment doing it? That is nothing short of career suicide. You must stop doing low value tasks so you can make room for the new ones that will help grow your career. What five hours of low value work are you going to stop doing this month?

  1. Simple and Beautiful

I remember reading a biography on Einstein. He said that the theory of relativity came to him intuitively. When asked how he knew it would be accurate (the math wasn’t proved up until years afterwards) he said because it was simple and beautiful. Those words stopped me in my tracks. I circled them over and over again because up to that point I had been living my life… complicated and ugly. Then I read books on simplicity. (They exist). Over the past 15 years I’ve been trying to make my life simple and beautiful because without that mantra you know what happens otherwise.

  1. Stay Focused

Both scientists and prophets tell us we are from the light. When you focus light it turns into a laser beam and is so strong it can cut through steel. Your energy, your light, your work is far more powerful when it’s focused than dispersed. That’s why I focus on doing one thing well at a time. Multitasking is a trap to avoid.

  1. Touch It Once

This concept is found in every book on time management. Either do something with information now, delete it, or calendar its future use. If I don’t get on top of a project within a month’s time I file it away, knowing exactly where it is, should I ever wish to pursue it again.

These are just some thoughts. If you would like a copy of the time books I wrote Time Management that Works or The Bathroom Book of Time send an email to

It’s All About Work

Today’s Political Turmoil- It’s All About Work

When I step back from this current election and crazy world events, it strikes me that there are a lot of angry, fearful people. In a recent quiet moment I had an epiphany- I believe all has to do with work and the most basic of human needs.

The first two rungs of Maslow’s needs ladder are survival and security.  Very simply in order to survive, humans have to do work. If you can’t work what use are you? Why do we even want you in this tribe? When I look around the globe I see few people with jobs shooting, rioting or blowing things up. With rare exception it’s usually the people without jobs doing these things. Without work we lose a part of our soul and can lose the capacity for caring. Useless people are dangerous people.

When I speak to my friends who don’t have jobs…or can only get menial work, their fears are very immediate. About getting enough money today to stop going backwards. To take some pressure off, at least for a short time. To keep the wolf away from the door. They are fearful, angry and see little hope on the horizon.

Knowing how employment numbers relate directly to political turmoil I think the current administration has been disingenuous with how it tallies unemployed. 5% unemployment? Does that seem like reality to you? How’s about more like 10%. When you kick in the eventual impact of advanced robotics and AI, that number may never get any lower. Ever.

To address the need for security humans attempt to keep the benefits of their labor. You survive longer that way. I think we are seeing an equally fearful and angry group of people who do work…but don’t think they get to keep enough of it. Russian serfs rioted because they worked…but kept no fruits of their labor. Middle class workers came out in droves to vote because they felt the administration wouldn’t let them keep a fair share of their fruits. It created a security crisis in them as well.

When we can’t do work or secure the benefits of labor then “the system” feels unfair. No matter where you live in the world. Makes no difference whether you’re a millionaire or working minimum wage or you are out of work. I have met few people who get an opportunity to work and keep the fruits of their labor that are discontented.

Too many young men and women across the world don’t have work to do. When they can’t fulfill that basic human need, all they have left to do is rebel against the system that puts them in that spot. If we want to end inner city shootings and global terrorism then we have to provide young people with work to do.

When it comes to those of us who are working, we want to make sure government isn’t designed to see how much of our hard earned money it can inefficiently spend. The bell has rung that we will take no more of that.

It’s all about work…and keeping the fruits of our labor.

Here’s hoping you get to meet your survival and security needs, Don

Who’s Happy at Work?

To work we love, with delight we go. William Shakespeare

There has been much discussion about happiness, engagement, inspiration and those other “soft” attributes of work. We are constantly reminded of the Gallup survey indicating 72% of employees are disengaged. According to a Money Magazine poll roughly 54% of those surveyed said their job is “okay”, 26% said “they can’t stand it” and 20% felt it was their “dream gig”. Other surveys talk about what jobs have the happiest workers, what cities have the happiest workers, and how much you have to earn to be happy.

Is anybody happy yet?

What can we make of all of this? A few thoughts:

  1. As Abraham Lincoln once said “People are about as happy as they choose to be”. How is it so many people allow themselves to work at jobs they can’t stand, where they are disengaged, or even worse? How many of these people try to educate themselves so they can move to a job where they can be engaged and happy? Many people like being victims because it gives them something to complain about. They would rather be unhappy. I say let them work someplace else. (I can see the ad now: “Are you unhappy at work? We hate the work we do …but we are good at it. None of that happy slappy nonsense here. Would like to be around a bunch of other unhappy people… who just so happen to be good at the work they do? If you are competently unhappy then we are the place for you!”)
  2. Who is hiring these people? And why? Apparently Zappos is not. After initial orientation and training they offer their employees something like $3000 to get up and leave. The math is clear: if you have a less than engaged $30,000 yr. employee they will be at least one 10th less productive, so there is the $3,000 right there. Plus employees are there to bring an ROI so it’s really more than a $3000 offset… and who wants that cancer in the workplace anyway? Bottom line: don’t hire disengaged unhappy people and if you accidentally do, provide them a severance and get rid of them.
  3. Don’t ignore the reality of the bell curve. Most employees a more intent on being comfortable then they are anything else. They want to make enough money so they can live comfortable by cultural standards, watch TV, eat junk and hang out with friends. Less than 10% of employees have any desire to be great at what they do. As they say, there’s plenty of room at the top.
  4. Perhaps the best idea is to hire people already happy, knowing it’s an internal choice. Then put them in an environment where they can be happy growing and contributing on it ever improving basis. For these people mediocrity is death. If they’re not doing something exciting or meaningful there’s no opportunity for them to be happy. But if they are in that sweet spot they will be the most valuable of all employees.
  5. Pay a “fair day’s wage”. This means you pay at market rate or better. Remember: “when you pay peanuts you get monkeys” …and disengaged unhappy employees.
  6. Last, look at what makes you happy…or not happy… in the work you do. Others probably are similarly affected.

Here’s to you happiness, Don

Is the 40 Hour Work Week Dying?

Last month I was presenting to Vistage CEO’s in Houston and one of them asked me about the idea proposed by one of her employees they should reconsider the 40-hour work week. She said she was given an article from Inc. magazine discussing it.  So on my flight back to San Diego from that meeting I read the article “Blowing Up The Work Week” in the December 2016 issue of INC Magazine. Forbes wrote an article on it too. Oh yeah, and so did Money /CNN , and WSJ, and every other major news and business outlet.

Here’s my two cents on it. Let’s start at the beginning.

In the early days of manufacturing it wasn’t uncommon for employees (including children) to work over 100 hours per week. Beginning in the mid 1869 President Ulysses S. Grant proclaimed an 8-hour work day for government workers. In 1914 the Ford Motor Company adopted a 5-day 40-hour work week. In 1916 Congress passed the Adamson Act establishing an 8-hour work day for interstate railroad workers. In 1938 Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act limiting the work week to 44 hours, which was then amended in 1940 to reduce it to 40 hours. Those employees require to work over 40 hours would be paid time and a half to do so. You can learn more about the history of the eight hour work day at

And that’s how we rolled through the manufacturing era.

Then technology came along and we could herald nerds without a life working nights on end and getting rich in the process. It became de rigueur to become the hero by being the last one out the door. “Man that guy works hard.” And the divorce rate skyrocketed.

Over the last 10 years I’ve seen numerous articles and numerous companies experimenting with flexible work schedules, results only work environments, 32-hour work weeks, and more. Unfortunately many of those experiments have not worked out. I remember doing a webinar with the two women who help start ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) at BestBuy. While the program seemingly worked for few years it too was eventually canned.

Many articles wish the 40 hr. work week could come back since it seems we work more than that, not less than it. According to the WSJ article “Fifty-eight percent of managers in the U.S. report working more than 40 hours a week”.

So now let’s see what INC Magazine had to say about this:

  1. Debunk the 40-hour myth – there’s nothing “magical” about 40-hours. It’s simply a standard we have grown up with and become accustomed to. Unfortunately many managers work 50-60 hours regularly. I can remember putting in 70+ weeks as a trial lawyer. 40 plus hours is a cultural construct and a badge of honor for many.
  2. Adapt to peak-performance styles – this is about time management and flexibility. It’s how I work. Some people work best with four 10-hour days, others with five 8-hour days, and others simply part time. The point is to work at peak performance, as often as you can.
  3. Synchronize schedules – since work is often project based and a team effort, managers must be trained in coordinating schedules. One reason many managers are resistant to flexible work weeks.

What is driving much of this is the fact that many people don’t have enough time to nurture themselves or their families. We’re sleep deprived, exercise deprived and resort to fast food as a result of working too many hours. We don’t take vacations, don’t have time for real conversations, burn out and become resentful. And we taught millennials not to buy into that. So they don’t!

I for one enjoy working from 8-6 every day and I keep a very balanced lifestyle. Part of that is because I plan and manage my time well. I also have a short commute. I know of many people who work the same hours I do who feel stressed and burnt out… simply because they don’t have their time management act together.

When I managed my own employees it was always about producing results. I also realize that people (including me) tend to get work done in the time allotted for it (Parkinson’s rule). Employees could get a raise when they’re able to produce more value, not because they simply worked more hours and cost me more money as a result.

In manufacturing we went to a lean and just in time production environment. This is now coming to white collar work.


  • Flexibility
  • No ACA under 30 hrs./wk
  • Very project based
  • More time off
  • Less commute time
  • Less stress


  • Scheduling
  • Dependability
  • Child care arrangements
  • “Compressed” schedule can create additional stress
  • Difficulty to ascertain productivity or financial improvement
  • Reduced salaries

What is your concern with keeping or ditching the 40 hr. workweek? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

My Workplaces of the Future Checklist

Over the past few years I’ve done a deep dive into where the future will be taking the workplace. I’ve even had the opportunity to do a number of presentations on it. I let people change it’s happening faster than they realize it. The changes that impacted the rust belt caused by offshoring were felt slowly. The changes coming now will be felt fast, driven by technology. As I remind folks “you either eat technology or you get eaten by technology.

Consider my checklist and how these forces will change your workplace.

Workplaces of the Future Checklist              

Are you preparing for the rapid changes coming your way?

  • 3D Printing
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Augmented reality
  • Cloud computing
  • Collaborative learning
  • Culture
  • Display technology
  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Experiential learning
  • Gamification
  • Internet of everything (IOT)
  • Medical breakthroughs
  • Online learning/MOOCS
  • Personalized learning
  • Political
  • Robotics
  • Scientific
  • Social media
  • STEM
  • Working environments
  • Others ______________


 Questions to ask:

What changes are coming your way in each of these categories?

How will it disrupt the work you do?

What will be different in 3-5 years from now?

How will you help lead the change efforts?

How will it affect the workplace?

Where will your future leaders come from?

How do you drive innovation?

How do you make it fun?

A few of my favorite futurist resources:

Designing Your Ideal Career Plan

The beautiful Mary Kay had it right when she said “Most people plan their vacations better than their careers.” I find this an accurate statement. On the occasions when I’ve asked a group of employees how many have a career plan it is rare to have more than one out of ten respond they do.

Everyone else spends more time planning their escapes than their career.

This business about career planning is true no matter your level at the company. Business plan, department plan, marketing plan…of course. Personal career plan…probably not.

Q: Why bother making a career plan?

A:  You get what you ask for.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Here is an excellent opportunity to work on your career plan…think about the all of it…and encourage others at your company to do the same.

What goes into a good career plan? Consideration of all the wants and needs that must be addressed in the diagram.

Give yourself the time and space to venture into your amazing future. Meditate on it. Journal on it. Talk to experts about it. And get super clear about it.

The schematic above shows how interrelated your career plan is. Let’s break down each one of these subjects… none of which are “in order”.

Personal situation – Your career plan will be different if you are 20 or 60. If you are single or married. If you love your job or hate your job. I can tell you that your career aspirations can cause damage to your personal life if they are not in alignment. I litigated cases for over 70 hours a week and sat on non-profit boards at the same time. The people who paid the price for those heroics were the people who mattered most, my wife and children. Hence the divorce. And a lot of pain.

Never forget the impacts your career choices have on the people you love most in your life…including you.

Career Goals- it seems as if career planning is much easier once we are clear on our goals. You may have the goal of running a successful law firm or get that V.P. role…only to find yourself exhausted and divorced and bankrupt…just like I was. Because I didn’t think about the all of it and have a career plan in alignment with it.

To do it right you begin with the end in mind. Both short term and long term. Think of how you would like to see your career in a year or two from now. Then think about your ideal long term career aspirations. A plan may be to land a steady job at a law firm right out of school, be on a partner track in five years and eventually be a top partner at one of the top law firms in the city. Or a plan could be to be a great barista within three months, manage the place within a year and own a franchise within three years. Just make sure if you get it…it’s want you really want and not somebody else’s idea for your life.

See the document I did Visualization Techniques for Success to help with this process.

Market demand – Your value in the market place depends on numerous factors including the industry you are in, your location, availability of skilled labor, competition, economy, etc. It is always helpful to know how you can increase your value in the market place and if you can’t then what market place will be best for your career? If your goal is to be in hospitality but you intend to stay in South Dakota I guarantee you’ll have limited career opportunities.

One way to get past assumptions and find out your value in the marketplace is to pay a recruiter for an assessment of that value…even if you are not looking.

Job description – This document defines who you are… whether you like it or not. And if you don’t like it then change it. Seriously. A lot of job descriptions are out of date and non-sense. Bottom line is to create a job description in alignment with the work you are doing. PS a good place to see job descriptions, career paths and more is

Company plans – Is it company on a growth path? How does it expect to continue to grow the bottom line? Can you see them doing well for another five years? What have they told you about the company finances or direction? If you work at a public company this information is readily available. At a private company you owe to yourself to find out what you can.

Career ladder – Assuming there is one, does the career ladder do a good job of defining the opportunities at your company and how does it align with your career planning? If the company has no formal career ladder process then understand what the informal process is. Don’t assume anything. Ask until you are clear.

Succession planning – Excellent companies do this and the poor ones don’t. There’s a natural flow of employees through any organization and managing it is either random and chaotic, or organized and well managed. Either way, find out where you fit in the scheme.

Performance management – Our career is greatly influenced by how we are managed. Are you 100% clear about expectations, tasks, goals, etc.? Do your performance management conversations come frequently enough? Are they focused on helping you to improve performance? Are you asking for the resources and support you need to perform at your best?

Your skill sets – Nobody’s going to hire me to manage their Excel spreadsheets. I can hardly drag myself to manage my own. Therefore it would not make sense for me to engage in a career path as a CPA. It’s important for you to understand what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing best. A simple exercise: write down the five things you think you do best from a skills standpoint and then circle those two things you enjoy doing most. Those two items are your sweet spot and you should try doing it more than half the day.

Compensation structures – How does the money line up with your career plan? One way to get compensated more is to stop doing low value work. For example if you are paid $100,000 per year you are paid roughly $50 per hour. You disservice yourself every time you do $25 per hour work. Even if you’re good at it. And can do it in your sleep. And won’t mess it up. And you won’t really have the time to train or show somebody else how to do it. And on and on and on.

You can’t become more valuable more until you stop doing low value work. Figure out how to automate it, outsource it, delegate it or eliminate it all together.

So there you have it. A diagram and a checklist to consider. I’m sure I missed something on the list but this is a good place to start.

Here’s to you great career, Don