Box of Crayons Blog

Great Work Provocation

What has this inspired for you today?

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My One Best Question, Episode 5

A great question reveals new paths, creates new connections and opens up new worlds. So what are the great questions? In this series, I asked writers, thinkers, coaches and executives what their favourite question was.

This episode features Chris Taylor of Actionable Books, coach Tina Dias, and Brian Ash of UBS.

Posted in self-management | Tagged

Twofer Tuesday: On Performance Reviews & Questions

Have you joined our Tools for the Time-Crunch Manager LinkedIn group? We share insights, ideas and links,  all designed to inspire and help you conquer the day-to-day realities of your workday. 

Are you in the mid-year performance appraisal cycle?

If you are – and if you’re just gearing up for the one at the year’s end – this article might provoke some new thoughts. It highlights how and why Adobe have abolished this process, citing it as creaky, ineffective and a vast drain of time and effort and resources.

My question would be this: what would the new and better performance appraisal process look like?

Read: Why Adobe Abolished The Annual Performance Review And You Should, Too 

What’s your one best question?

I like answers as much as the next person. But I *really* enjoy a good question…

In this 2 minute video, here’s Sofia Theodorou (SVP HR of LoyaltyOne), Todd Henry author of the excellent books Accidental Creative & Die Empty, and executive coach Michele Lisenbury Christensen sharing their one best question.

(And we’re taking video submissions … details at the end of the video!)

Watch: My One Best Question, Ep. 4.

Posted in self-management | Tagged

Michael’s Sign Language

What do you need to stand back from?

One of my sign photos. What does it spark for you?

Get provoked daily. Sign up our Great Work Provocations.

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Posted in Sign Language

Kyle Richey,

kyle-richey_400x400Lately we’ve been looking into how to build good habits so people can live better, happier and more productive lives. There are a bunch of apps out there to help build habits, and I use a couple of them, one of which is the Strides app.

So I thought we could jump into a conversation with Kyle Richey, who founded and who has been doing some hardcore thinking on the subject of habits.

In this interview, Kyle and I discuss:

  • The benefits of amalgamating progress on all habits, in one easy-to-monitor place
  • How fundamentals and flexibility factor into designing an effective habit-forming tool
  • Our capacity for building new habits
  • The importance of limiting the number of target habits
  • How to avoid the “motivational dip” when forming new habits
  • The three most popular, and pivotal, habits to change

(Scroll down for more in-depth podcast notes.)

Listen to my interview with Kyle Richey.

0:00:00: Kyle explains how his background in engineering and early entrepreneurialism prompted him to create He touches on the importance of being able to quickly and easily monitor progress toward forming new habits.

0:05:00: Michael and Kyle discuss “habit heroes.” Kyle elaborates on the background and early development of Strides, explaining that he wanted to incorporate the fundamentals of habit forming, while keeping the app flexible.

0:10:01: The pair delves further into the benefits of amalgamating information in one place and the importance of balancing flexibility with ease of use. Michael asks how much capacity people have for building new habits, and Kyle explains why he believes less is more.

0:15:02: Michael brings up the notion of the motivational dip – when people tend to lose interest in pursuing their new habits. Kyle says that usually happens between seven to 10 days after beginning the new habit. He encourages people to push through that time because only after that will they realize that their new habit is sustainable as well as beneficial. Michael then asks whether any habits stand out as foundational among Strides app users. Kyle names two: exercising consistently and getting up as early as possible.

0:20:09: Kyle adds a third foundational habit to his list: practicing good nutrition. He and Michael discuss the concept of the “magic hour” for waking up – not too early, not too late. Kyle then directs listeners to and @iMakeStrides on Twitter for more on him and his work.

Posted in Great Work Interviews | Tagged ,

Where is the Love? Two ways to reignite the spark…

You want to love your job. Of course you do.

But there are days. Actually, weeks. Actually, come to think of it, months and months (and months) where, let’s face it, the passion’s gone.

The flame is out.

The wheel is spinning, but the hamster is dead.

Want to reignite the spark? Let’s look to a marriage expert to help us out.

John Gottman, love scientist

John Gottman, author of the excellent The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, has spent his life figuring out what really makes couples tick. Rather than run with accepted wisdom (“communicate more”; “share the chores”; “put the toilet seat down”), he brought couples into his relationship lab in Seattle and carefully watched them interact.

It turns out there are some sure-fire indicators to which couples stay together and which ones break up. And it turns out we can use some of that insight to upgrade our relationship with our jobs.

Strategy One: Find your Love Map

In an early chapter of the book, Gottman talks about the importance of knowing your partner’s Love Maps. What he means by that is having a deep knowledge of the past and the imagined future of your partner. He offers a twenty-part questionnaire about how well you know your partner, from their favourite music to defining childhood events, from what they’d do if they won the lottery to their hopes for the future.

The equivalent in our organizational life is spending time defining our Great Work. First, know that you can divide all you do into Bad Work (the spirit-crushing, heart-numbing, life-sucking work), Good Work (the busy, get-it-done, tick-the-job-description-boxes work), and Great Work (the light-you-up, it creates both meaning and impact, this-is-what-I-signed-up-for-in-the-first-place work.)

You can do a quick inventory of how you spend your time at work right now. Draw a big circle on a sheet of paper, then just divide it into three sections that represent how much Bad Work, Good Work and Great Work is currently on your plate. It’s even more useful if you list out a couple of examples of each type of work for you.


Then the question is this: do you have enough Great Work right now? I’m betting dollars to donuts that the answer is No. Nearly all of us have too much Bad Work (it keeps showing up, no matter what you do), an overwhelm of Good Work, and a too-thin sliver of Great Work.

Shifting things so you can do more Great Work requires focus, courage and resilience.

Focus, to get clear on what actually lights you up and gets you excited. And focus again to look for the opportunities to do Great Work in your current role.

Courage, to take the first steps in doing Great Work, even though that also means a degree of uncertainty as you step out into new territory.

And resilience, to keep going when you hit those moments when you want to give up and quit.

Strategy Two: Get the ratio right

The second strategy stems from Gottman’s insight that the secret to successful communication in relationships is not how much or how little there is, but rather what’s the ratio of positive to negative. Gottman found that if the ratio dropped below five positive interactions to one negative one, the couple was in trouble.

And not all negative interactions are equal. Gottman in particular warns about The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism; Contempt; Defensiveness; and Stonewalling. These are the truly corrosive forms of engagement, with Contempt being the most powerful of all.

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

With a hat tip to Johnny Mercer, let’s look to the power of Appreciative Inquiry to help you reconnect to what matters in your work.

The shift from focusing on what’s not working to finding what is working is a powerful one. It’s easy enough to be seduced into the “I hate Mondays/Here’s Hump Day/Thank goodness it’s Friday” spiel. In part, that’s biology. Your brain is designed to default to the negative rather than the positive, particularly when things get stressful. That’s an evolutionary quirk, and while it’s helped humankind to survive, it’s not always useful.

While you can’t always change the interactions with your colleagues, you can shift the ratio of positive to negative in your internal dialogue. Managing a situation by asking, “What’s going well right now?” before diving into the “what’s broken?” conversation is powerful and can reduce the sense of anxiety. Reflecting at the end of the day what you want to remember and appreciate is shown to have a real impact on happiness. And taking the stance of API – Assume Positive Intent – in the conversations you have can help you see the best of what’s around you.

Piña Colada

If you’re old like me, you might remember the Rupert Holmes song Escape (the Pina Colada song) that saw out the 1970s – it was the last #1 song on the US Billboard charts in 1979.

For those of you who are hip, unlike me, the song tells of a man bored in his marriage whose eye is caught by this personal ad:

If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.

If you’re not into yoga, if you have half-a-brain.

If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape.

I’m the love you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape.

The problem was, as he put it, “me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine” and so he set up an illicit rendezvous. Of course, when the mysterious woman walked into O’Malley’s bar he knew exactly who she was:

I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face.

It was my own lovely lady, and she said, “Oh, it’s you.”

And we laughed for a moment, and I said, “I never knew”…

You too could find yourself rekindling the romance. Find your Great Work. Accentuate the positive. Bust out your 1970s vinyl, and anything’s possible.

This article was previously published in Your Workplace.

Posted in self-management | Tagged ,

Twofer Tuesday: On Trust & Feedback

Have you joined our Tools for the Time-Crunch Manager LinkedIn group? We share insights, ideas and links,  all designed to inspire and help you conquer the day-to-day realities of your workday. 

Don’t get this wrong…

My friend Eileen McDargh of the Resiliency Group has written a useful article about the importance of trust. Sure, we all know that trust matters. No-one’s going to make a case for increasing the level of distrust. (Are they?)

But what are the actions it takes to build and reinforce trust? Eileen lays down her nine tips. What would you now add?

Read: Screw Trust and You Skewer Your Future

Getting Critical Feedback

Everyone wants to know how they’re doing, and where they can improve. Feedback is essential for career development and job performance.

In Fast Company’s Ask The Experts, a new employee asks Lolly Daskal how to get more critical feedback from a boss who fixes mistakes rather than explain the correct way to do things.

Check out these few simple, but very effective, steps to create your own career development plan and address it with your manager.

Read: Ask the Experts: How Can I Get My Boss to Give Me More Critical Feedback?

Posted in self-management | Tagged ,

Great Work Provocation

What has this inspired for you today?

Get provoked daily. Sign up our Great Work Provocations.

Like a shot of espresso in the morning without the caffeine.
Feel free to share – Blog it, Facebook it, Pin it…anyway you like.

Posted in Provocations

The Four Counterintuitive Truths of Effective Coaching

Business coaching has the potential to take organizations to new levels of success and efficiency. Yet countless surveys show that most managers aren’t getting the traction and results they hoped to get from coaching programs. In my upcoming webinar, The Four Counterintuitive Truths About Coaching,  I’ll tell you what’s keeping coaching from having the impact it might.

Coaching doesn’t have to be complex. Join me as I explore why coaching is critical to your organization, and how you can avoid the factors that often make it less effective.

I’ll send you away with practical insights on how you can coach effectively to increase the impact and engagement of your team. After attending this one-hour webinar, you’ll be able to:

  • Discover the single biggest barrier to leaders and managers coaching more
  • Understand “the habit loop” and how that will shift your focus on what really matters
  • Pick up the best coaching question in the world (and it’s just three words)

Learn more about my webinar, The Four Counterintuitive Truths About Coaching and please join me on July 17th.  See you there!

Posted in organizational culture