Is Your Time Management More American or African? [From How to Fail as a Leader]

Over 80% of my new book is an exciting adventure story (it’s much more fun to learn that way). But at the end of each chapter, I explore some of the lessons embedded in the story. This post is a selection from the end of Chapter Two.


Book Cover - front

People have strong feelings about time and task management. In the United States many people consider how a person handles these to be a character issue. They evaluate others’ integrity and maturity by how soon they show up before an appointment, for example. Failing to get a task done when you said you would means you didn’t keep your word—you lied. However, I have friends who are successful leaders in places like South Africa and India who find these standards absurd. They believe good leaders are gracious enough to allow others to show up whenever it works best for them.

So what’s the right answer? How should leaders manage time and to do’s? African style? American style? Another style?

For individuals, I think the right approach is different for each person. We all have our own unique wiring and there’s not one right answer. However, this isn’t a book about identifying your preferred style. This is a book for leaders. When you are a leader, your choices have a bigger impact on others. Good leaders do what best serves their people, not what best pleases themselves. Tweet This

And, of course, I made some big mistakes in this area, too. I’m naturally more “African” in my approach to time and tasks. But I was born in America and often work with leaders who are strictly “American” in their view of time. (I used to joke that I was born on the wrong continent.) Early on, I was challenged about my casual approach toward time and tasks. My flexible schedule caused real trouble for those I led, sometimes disrupting the rest of their day. I struggled with this for a while, but eventually realized that if I wanted to be a good leader, this was one of the (many) things I needed change. I needed to serve those I led by working in a way that was best for them.

I engaged a leadership coach, read books, and bit by bit established a simple, but powerful system to make sure I showed up on time and didn’t forget tasks. I learned to sort and respond to emails much faster, even if all I could say was, “I’ll get back to you on this next week.” I became more organized and disciplined than I thought possible—because that’s what my people needed from me.

I also have friends who moved from America to India who had to make the opposite shift. They had to learn to schedule their day loosely, to stay calm when the plan changed, and then changed again. When you’re a leader, it’s not just about you. It’s about those you lead.

Adduce [one of the heroes of the story] didn’t intend to create trouble for those he led. But his casual approach to time and tasks conflicted with how the fort operated. And without realizing it, Addoc was losing Eldin’s trust [the other hero of the book], one missed commitment at a time.


Again, this was pulled from my book, How to Fail as a Leader, which hits the stores next Monday, April 25th! If you are interested in ordering a book, just send me a message and I’ll get one sent to you. Or check it on out Amazon HERE.] read more

Scott WozniakIs Your Time Management More American or African? [From How to Fail as a Leader]

Which of the 3 Sleep Patterns Is Your Natural One?

People talk about managing time, but we can’t get more time. The real question is, Are you making best use of the time you have? One of the keys to that is having enough energy to engage fully. And one of the most significant—and overlooked—ways to increase your energy is improve your sleep. Tweet This

sleeping traveling family

I’ve spent years reading studies on sleep and experimenting with my own sleep. (It started when our daughter was born and wouldn’t sleep—or let us sleep when she was awake. It’s amazing how interesting something becomes when you can’t have it.) There’s a lot we could discuss about getting great sleep.But in this post I’m going to focus on an aspect of sleep many people have never heard of.

It turns out that there are three natural sleep patterns and we’re all wired to follow one instinctively. We can make ourselves follow another pattern (and many of us do) but when external pressures are removed (like when we’re on vacation) we will slide back into our natural pattern. It’s like a personality type—an introvert can learn to speak loudly and act aggressively, but that’s not their instinct.

And even more important for today’s topic, we have more energy when we work with our sleep natural pattern rather than fight it. Tweet This While an introvert can become skilled at shouting, it exhausts them.

The three generic patterns are…

Early Morning (studies say about 10% of people are wired for this)

  • Preferred wake up time: 5-6am
  • Preferred go to bed time: 8-9pm
  • Peak energy window: immediately upon waking until 11am-12pm

Mid-Morning (studies say about 70% of people are wired for this)

  • Preferred wake up time: 7-8am
  • Preferred go to bed time: 10-11pm
  • Peak energy window: starts an hour after waking and lasts until 12-1pm

Late Night (studies say about 20% of people are wired for this)

  • Preferred wake up time: 10-11am
  • Preferred go to bed time: 2-3am
  • Peak energy window: 9pm-1pm

Which most describes you? Again, we can all live at any pattern. I’m a night owl but I’m writing this post at 6am. I don’t want to miss mornings with my kids so I currently live outside my natural pattern. But when I’m on vacation, I slide to later and later nights—and later and later mornings. And my brain is on fire late at night when I’m rested.

Leadership is about investing energy—in other people, in other projects, in making tough decisions. Relationships require energy. If you want to increase your influence, consider increasing the quality and quantity of your energy. Tweet This

One way to do that is to find your natural sleep pattern and work with it. So plan for your most demanding work to be at your peak energy time. Oh, and 95% of us—no matter what our pattern—need an afternoon nap around 3:00-3:30pm. So don’t plan any big conversations, creative sessions, etc for that window, if you can help it!

photo credit: Tired Travellers – Koh Hong – Travelling with the Fujifilm X100T via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakWhich of the 3 Sleep Patterns Is Your Natural One?

Thinking Too Big Could Be Your Problem

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today. -Chinese Proverb


Have you ever had a dream? Something you think would be awesome to do, that you would be so proud to have done? I have. And I still do.

Grand goals like ours can feel so far away, too big and too hard to get done. Many times, I’ve felt both inspired and overwhelmed. And the dream stays on the horizon, unfulfilled. It’s very size and awesomeness keeps it from fitting into my little life.

But I’ve learned as a leadership coach that this is a common mistake. Thinking too big can actually get in the way of doing big things. In fact, all you have to ask is: What would get you one step closer to living your dream? Tweet This

Just one step. You can do that. You can do that today.

Leaders, great organizations aren’t built overnight. My years at Chick-fil-A taught me what one man can do if he invests day after day, year after year. When Truett Cathy was in his sixties, when his peers were retiring, he wasn’t a world-changing, famous businessman. But day after day, he planted seeds. And by the end of his days, he had grown a great forest of trees that is still changing the world today.

I wish I could grow a towering tree today. But that’s too big and too hard. However, I can plant a seed today. What’s your next step? When will you take that step?

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Scott WozniakThinking Too Big Could Be Your Problem

What Is Life Giving To You And What Is Merely Numbing?

A huge question was asked this past weekend at a dinner party. One of my good friends is exhausted from wrestling with multiple, lingering health issues in his family. Another friend asked him how he copes with the stress and frustration. He said that some of what he did was fun in the moment, but really wasn’t life giving. He specifically said was that what he was doing was merely numbing him from the difficulty of his life.

Happy Baby smaller

This all reminded me of another good friend, who just two days before this dinner, co-taught a workshop with me. He warned those leaders of the danger of the quick fix: the easy solution that didn’t actually solve the problem, but shifted the burden of the problem to someone else—creating another problem in the process.

Back at the dinner party, another friend asked the question: “So, instead of that numbing stuff, what could you do that would be life giving to you?”

Everyone at the table went silent for a moment. It was a big question and it invited a response from all of us. And we didn’t all have easy answers.

This might sound overly simplistic, but my goal is to figure out how to do more of what is life giving and do less of the other things. What’s hard knowing what is truly life giving—and what is merely numbing.

What are those people, places, and/or activities that fill your soul with deep gladness and sweet satisfaction? Don’t settle for merely fun. And don’t give the generic answers, like family or vacation. The more specific the better. My friend, in our discussion, realized that it wasn’t just time with friends that was his most life giving. He loved introducing great friends to each other—that group dinners with friends were even better. What is life giving can be very different from person to person, when you get specific enough.

Leaders, how full are the hearts of your people? Is their day-to-day work on their list of what’s life giving to them? If not, you’re probably not going to get remarkable results. And beware of trying to give life to your people through the methods that fill you. One of the keys to great leadership is learning the unique wiring of each of your people. We lead individuals, each wildly different, none of them “normal”.

Whatever it is, how could you do more life giving things in the next month? Next week?

And maybe the biggest question of all: What “numbing” activities are keeping you from doing more of the really life giving stuff? Tweet This How could you do less of those?

I don’t expect that I can solve this in a week or a month—or even a year. But year after year, I want to be able to say that I’m doing more life giving things and less of anything else.

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Scott WozniakWhat Is Life Giving To You And What Is Merely Numbing?

It’s Harder to Change the World When Your Kitchen Sink Is Busted

You may have noticed a recent post or two about car troubles. It’s been a crazy season for breakdowns in my house. In the last five weeks, both our cars have broken down (multiple times), the freezer quit, then the fridge started freezing our food. We even had to fix the kitchen sink, and not just in the proverbial sense.


These crisis repair sessions drove home in my own life what I’ve been talking about with my leadership development clients: Your strategy doesn’t matter if you can’t execute the fundamentals with excellence. Tweet This

In my family, the fundamentals are food, transportation, and a working kitchen sink. When they break down, everything else stops. In soccer, it’s the ability to kick the ball accurately, the fitness to run for a long time, etc. If those fundamental skills aren’t strong, it doesn’t matter what formation you use. For Chick-fil-A, it’s things like friendliness and speed. For manufacturing companies, it’s things like quality and downtime. And for leaders, it’s things like interpersonal communication and delegation.

For years I dismissed the importance of punctuality. I was a big picture guy, not a details guy, right? But I found that for some of my followers, my vision didn’t matter if I couldn’t be on time.

The fundamentals are not exciting, alluring skills. But nothing else is possible unless you get them right. And many of the best got to the top just by doing the basic things better than anyone else. Everyone in his day knew Vince Lombardi’s sweep play. It wasn’t a secret strategy. But he coached his teams to execute it so well they won multiple NFL championships, often running that play eight or nine times in a row, marching down the field to score.

What are the fundamentals in your personal life? In your organization? Many of my clients, recently, have listed out each of their fundamentals, then rated themselves 1-5 on how well their organization delivers on those (5 being awesome). If it’s not all 4’s and 5’s, then maybe you should slide that area to the top of your development plan.

Because your strategy doesn’t matter if you can’t execute the fundamentals with excellence.

photo credit: the plumber via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakIt’s Harder to Change the World When Your Kitchen Sink Is Busted

Don’t Drive Without A Spare (It Happened Again)

I got a flat tire a couple of weeks ago. No, you are not having deja vu. This is my second flat tire post in a two months because I this is a second flat tire I’ve had in a two months. Seriously. 🙁

flat tire

In that post, I discovered that while I had a full spare in the trunk, I had left the jack in the garage. And then three weeks later, my brand new, full tire that had replaced the other tire completely blew out. This time I had a jack ready to go. But I didn’t have a spare tire.

See, that first flat went down right before the Christmas holidays. And I figured I could afford to go without replacing my spare for a few weeks. It was a brand new, full tire. And the holiday season is a busy one. I had plenty of time to get another spare.

Sitting on the side of the road, yet again, taught me another hard lesson: Don’t drive without a spare, don’t spend all you have, and don’t schedule every minute. Tweet This Leave some room for unexpected flat tires in your plans.

When I push myself to the limit and something goes wrong—as it eventually will—it costs a lot of time and money to recover from that problem. It costs more than creating a backup plan would have. I didn’t want to take the time to get another spare. But that would have been far faster and cheaper than waiting for the tow truck, towing to a shop, then replacing the tire actually did cost me.

Truett Cathy (found of Chick-fil-A) taught us that one key to success was being prepared to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. He always had a cash reserve for the company. He didn’t ask those of us who worked for him to put in crazy long hours—we had a physical reserve of energy. And he taught us to experiment in small settings before betting the farm on a national rollout.

Don’t make my mistake. Don’t press all the way to the edge. Leave some margins on the pages of your life. It might seem that you’re getting more done by living at 100% capacity. But in the long run, operating at 80-85% allows you to be less stressed AND get more done.

photo credit: Broken via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakDon’t Drive Without A Spare (It Happened Again)

Cautiously Aggressive: Learning From John D Rockefeller

I recently read the biography of John D Rockefeller, who grew up dirt floor poor just before the American Civil War (born 1839), founded Standard Oil Company, created one of the first major monopolies, and ended up one of the wealthiest men in the world.

It was well written, full of quirky characters and surprising strategies. I recommend it: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Rockefeller was a complicated man. On more than one occasion, when a small town general store wouldn’t agree to sell only Standard Oil kerosene, he authorized the opening of another general store across the street that sold everything at cost, making no profit until the other store went out of business. Then he raised rates back to normal and this new store only sold his brand of kerosene. It was not illegal, but it wasn’t very nice either. This, and many more clever, nasty things he did to grow his business.

Book Cover Titan John D Rockefeller

But before you write him off as a total jerk, you should know he was a tender, faithful family man and was also one of the greatest philanthropists of his time. But he hid his personal life including his giving, keeping the press away with walls and guards. So all the stories in his time were lopsided, written by his enemies. One example among literally hundreds of epic gifts: he gave the money enabling the founding of many of the traditionally black colleges and universities in America but asked them to name them after other people.

Some of what I saw showed me what not to do. But some of what he did inspired me, too. One example among many: Rockefeller’s life revealed that I held to a false competition between being aggressive and being cautious. I thought that being cautious meant moving slowly (among other things) and being aggressive meant moving quickly. But he showed that by paying attention to all the details and having plans to handle problems, he could move very quickly and do so with great caution. You can be aggressive and cautious at the same time. It just requires more effort. Tweet This

It’s easier to be cautious when you move slowly. And it’s easier to move quickly if you don’t check all the details. But if you’re willing to do the hard work, you can do both. You don’t have to choose between aggressive and cautious. It turns out the real choice is between working hard and taking it easy. And that’s a choice I made a long time ago.

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Scott WozniakCautiously Aggressive: Learning From John D Rockefeller

Single-Round Brainstorming Is Weak

I love a good brainstorming session. But a handful of years ago I learned I’d been doing it all wrong. My approach had been to get a small group together, preferably with a big white board, and then take turns shouting out as many ideas as we could think of. After writing down lots of “blue sky” ideas, our reservoir of ideas would dry up. Then we’d pat ourselves on the back and capture all the ideas we generated.

User Journey Map Brainistorming

What I know now is that we stopped at exactly the wrong time. That first round of brainstorming produces the weakest ideas. While fun, very few of the ideas in this stage are different than what you could have gotten by simply asking each person to email in their best ideas.

But if we press on we have the chance to generate truly creative, potentially breakthrough ideas. Only after collecting all the surface ideas can we see deeper into the pool of creativity. Tweet This

Here’s what it looks like practically when I lead brainstorming these days. First, we unload as many ideas as we can—just like before. It’s still fun. On average, this phase takes 45 min. (The more people you involve, the longer this phase takes.) Then, we use some brainstorming exercises to push us to combine some of the surface ideas or push an idea even further or reverse an idea. On average this phase takes 45 more minutes.

[You can google search to find examples of these exercises. Or feel free to email me and I can send you some of my favorites.]

This does take more time and more discipline. But all the best ideas are beneath the surface. As fun as the first phase is, the second phase is at least twice as satisfying to me. You can do this improve your work (crafting 2016 project plans) or even with your kids (making a science fair project).

Next time you need a good idea, don’t quit right on the edge of creativity. Your best idea yet could be just a little further out, if you’ll only reach for it.

photo credit: User Journey Map / Mental Model via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakSingle-Round Brainstorming Is Weak

The More Goals You Set The Less You Achieve

I recently had the chance to participate in an event where one of the other speakers was Jim Huling, co-author of the #1 best selling book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. (It’s a great read. I highly recommend it.)

4 Disciplines of Execution book cover

In his presentation, he said, “The more goals you set the less you achieve.” He showed results from the study his organization conducted that challenged me.

  • If an organization set 2-3 goals, they typically achieved 2-3.
  • If an organization set 4-10 goals, they typically achieved 1-2.
  • If an organization set 11-20 goals, they typically achieved 0.

The fewer goals you focus on, the greater the chance you will actually accomplish them. Tweet This

This is especially important to me as I sort through all the ideas generated from my life planning retreat. I’m a dreamer. So I came home with 11 different areas, each with a goal and key actions to get there.

Jim’s challenge is a serious warning to me. What’s most important? Sure, they’re all important. But what’s most important?

I honestly don’t know yet. That’s the last and maybe most critical phase of this process.

Do you know what’s most important for you next year? Have you been able to narrow your focus to 2-3 goals at most? If not, then I’d invite you to think deeply and pray hard. It’s what I’m going to be doing for the next several days.

Because the fewer goals I set, the better my life will be.

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Scott WozniakThe More Goals You Set The Less You Achieve

What I Do on A Life Planning Retreat

I’m in the middle of my life purpose/planning retreat. If I went home now it would have been worth it. And I have one more day left. When I posted about why to get away and work on a life plan, I promised to share more on what I do when I’m on a retreat. So let’s get practical and tactical.

It all starts with why. If you don’t know your “why” then spend all your time on that. Years ago, I worked with a life coach to create a life purpose statement and some core values. I read those statements all the time. It fires me up—I really care about those ideas. And it helps me say no—if an opportunity I have isn’t aligned with them then I won’t pursue it, no matter how cool it is.

I don’t just read the statement. I ask myself:

  • How well did I live these out last year?
  • What could I do next year that would make me at least one step closer to living them out fully?

After grounding myself in my why, I look at who. Before anything else gets planned, I evaluate my relationship with God and the state of my heart. And then I think about my marriage, then my kids, then family and friends. I ask questions like:

  • What character quality does God want me to work on (there is almost always just one trait He’s calling me to work on)?
  • What kind of man have I been when I’m all alone?
  • How is my relationship with my wife? How can I love and serve her better?
  • How is my relationship with each of my kids?  How can I love and serve each better?
  • What kind of friend have I been?

Finally, I work on what. I look at the professional options I have. I ask:

  • What projects could I pursue?
  • What would success look like?
  • What do I want to do less of next year?
  • What do I want to do more of next year?

When I’m done with all of this, I have a long list of ideas—way too long. There’s no way I can do everything there. (I’ve tried that a few times, never worked.) That’s okay. Phase one is listing out options, not making final decisions. Now it’s time to whittle down the list to the handful of things—sometimes only one for each area of my life—that I will actually do next year. Questions I use to help with that:

  • If I could only get one thing done, what would it be? What’s most important?
  • How much time and effort would each project take?
  • What does God want me to focus on? (I ask Him and listen.)
  • Who can I collaborate with on these ideas?
  • What has time limits on it? (Example: choosing to delay showing up as a father could cause me to miss their childhood.)
  • What most aligns with my life purpose and values?

thinker by rodin

Let me offer one last encouragement. Don’t wait until you have all this perfect to sit down and work on your life plan. What I’m describing is a process I’ve worked on every year since 2002. It didn’t always look like this. And your retreat doesn’t have to be this intense to be worth doing.

In fact, I think finding life purpose is like sculpture carving. Bit by bit, you go from raw rock to clear image. Tweet This I started off with a raw chunk of material, no idea what I wanted to do or why. One hammer strike at a time, I’ve knocked off a piece that doesn’t belong. Bit by bit, I get more clear on what I’m making. In the early days I just knocked off big pieces, trying to get to the general shape of a man. Finding arms and legs in the rough stone was a big challenge for a long time. These days I’m able to work on making the fingers clear. But that’s only possible because I started with the basics years ago.

You don’t have to be in the same spot on the journey as I am to have a productive retreat. It won’t be perfect the first time, or even the tenth time. But each time you work at it, your life will become more clear. Each time you’ll become a better version of yourself.

photo credit: He never stops thinking via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakWhat I Do on A Life Planning Retreat