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ROTATION – As a Way of Life

March 12, 2011

Rotation- as a way of life

I am still processing things I learned at The Drucker Institute CEO Forum – so many smart executives saying so many wise and useful things. How to take it all in? I expect you too have been to stimulating conferences where you take pages and pages of notes only to set them aside the first time your cell phone rings with some matter that demands a right-now-micro-decision. So much for those big global ideas that you jotted down.

One of the CEO’s had a great way of dealing with the overflow dilemma. He challenged the rest of us to write down, before the day was ended, no more than from one to five words or phrases that we were likely to take action on. I am trying it out personally. I have a blank calendar that I carry with me now. I intend to fill in a word or phrase that captures something actionable I have learned each day. Today’s word is ROTATE.

This idea came from the CEO of a huge retail chain, who was of the opinion that it was more effective to act on one idea that to “learn” pages of sprawling notes that were interesting but unlikely to get put into play. When asked what was useful to him that came from the prior 24 hours, he told us that one word had kept recurring in his mind. The word was ROTATE. He said that many of the jobs in a retail store were doing simple things repetitiously – over and over – day after day. That was just the nature of the business. His big idea was to rotate people from one job to another so that there was always something new to learn and execute. The illustration he used to drive the point home was, “You can only make a hot dog so many times until it gets boring.”

In his 1974 classic big book, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, Peter Drucker asserted that “while work is … best laid out as uniform, working is best organized with a considerable degree of diversity. Working requires latitude to change speed, rhythm and attention span fairly often. It requires fairly frequent changes in operating routines as well.” A one word way to recall this essential advice is ROTATE.

This one word capture of a big idea got me to thinking of how important the concept of rotating from one sort of task and rhythm has been in my own life. A good deal of the advice you see in self-management books says, “Focus! Focus! Focus!” We have all see unfortunate cases where this leads to “Burn out! Burn out! Burn out!” – a life of unrelenting stress that leads to all kinds of mischief. Charlie Sheen comes to mind. He did 177 episodes of the same show!

Several years ago, I took a useful course called The Strategic Coach. Dan Sullivan, the master teacher, has made a handsome living converting complex self-management ideas to simple tools. The idea I remember most and have used everyday since is FREE DAYS.

Sullivan taught us to organize our time using six words: Free Days, Focus Days and Buffer Days. A Focus Day is primetime for work. For an NFL Quarterback, it is time to suit up and get your game face on – time to concentrate. Buffer Days are for practice, preparation, fulfilling promises and cleaning up all those loose ends (dental appointments and email responses). A Free Day is a 24-hour period dedicated to rest, recharging and recreation. On my 62nd birthday, I gave myself a gift of one more Free Day a week. As my antidote to burn out and full time retirement, I chose to chill out, go to the Farm one day early  and return refreshed on Monday morning.

The Rotation idea is going to be a big factor in the lives of our next demographic tidal wave: soon-to-retire baby boomers. In a Harvard Business Review web post, Tammy Erickson begins:

“I love meeting people who are planning to retire soon.”What are you planning to do?” I always ask. Inevitably, I get an answer along the lines of “my wife and I are planning to take a cruise.” Hmmm. With a healthy life expectancy ahead of 20-30 more years, that would be a very long cruise. Rarely do I encounter someone who gives me a big answer — goals that could fill 30 years. But that’s the type of answer each of us should have, well before we come close to retirement.”

We find this almost universal in our Halftime Institutes, a 24-hour program I lead a dozen or so times a year for Halftimers who are exploring their desire to make a reallocation of their time and talent from success to significance and their treasure from accumulation to investment in good causes.

Tammy Erickson continues:

“We should be thinking of new skills we’d like to learn, education yet to be pursued. We should identify ways to stay connected socially and active physically, whether through volunteer work, community outreach, or simply greater involvement with friends and family. Perhaps most important, we should be figuring out ways to remain economically productive — whether through part-time or project-based work or even a new entrepreneurial venture.”

How do you know what your next venture might be? I often suggest that people try two approaches alongside their First Half careers: Low Cost Probes and/or Parallel Careers in volunteer (or paid) projects.

A Low Cost Probe is a temporary engagement in something you have always wanted to do. You keep your day job but allocate some free days to a learning adventure to see if you are drawn to it. If you are captivated, you can make it a part time career.

My author friend, Jim Collins, is an avid rock climber. His wife, Joanne, won an Iron Man Triathlon competition several years ago. More recently she has been coaching a school sports team.

I have always wanted to study literature and history. Some people are fascinated with computers. I now spend about half of my time in my significance career and half of my time reading and learning — and writing. I ROTATE from fairly intense meetings with those we serve through Leadership Network and Halftime. It is very satisfying people intensive work.

Literature is part of my Free Day rotation. For example this past weekend, I spent one of my Free Days at Still Point Farm making ten pages of handwritten notes on Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, in preparation for a two-hour discussion with my “personal trainer in literature.” Using my newly discovered habit of memory aids, if I were to summarize that play in a word it would beAMBITION. Overblown ambition caused Macbeth to kill the king and to blow a fuse mentally.



A very personal P.S.:

After hearing this morning’s alarming news about the earthquake and tsunami, please join me in prayer for our many friends in Hawaii and Japan. Especially God’s special Christian servants, the Iijima family and the Cordeiro family. Keep them safe, Lord.


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