Long time followers will know that I’m obsessed with the concept of micro-improvements. The concept of getting 1% better each day, leads to huge gains over the year.
I’ve reviewed my process on micro improvements in past posts. I sit down at the end of each day and assess myself against roughly 20 questions, for example, “Did I express gratitude to people, Did I do something to create value for my clients.”
The process has been very helpful, both in getting me to be more reflective of what I do/accomplish and in making me more purposeful. But I lapse every once in a while, I continue to look at returning what I do and how I get better each day.
Sometimes I learn from some of the strangest places. Some time ago, I was spending a few hours with a close friend, “Lou.” Lou had worked for me as a Regional Vice President. Lou was, physically, a very big guy, and big in every other way. He had a huge presence–both in leading his team, in pushing back on me and the company, and in the way he engaged our customers. I remember one day in Silicon Valley, Lou was taking the EVP of Fab Operations for a large semiconductor company, and me to lunch. I was sitting in the back seat of his chopped and lowered ’55 Chevy. We couldn’t hear each other in the car because it was so loud, but the three of us were having enormous fun.
Later, Lou was diagnosed with cancer. He worked as long as he could, but at some point, physically, he couldn’t go on. I was in Silicon Valley for a few days, so I asked if we could spend the morning together. It turned out it was about two weeks before he passed away.
Lou wasn’t a person to shy away from tough topics. I sat down with him asking, “How are you doing Lou?” I couldn’t imagine how he was coping both with the physical devastation and the mental challenges.
In his normal blunt manner, he replied, “I have good days and bad days…”
He went on to explain how he had dealt with his cancer. He had gone through the normal stages of grief, but then he confronted himself with the idea of how he wanted to live his life.
He said, “Dave, I’m designing how I spend my days. Today, I’ve designed a good day, I get to spend a few hours with you…. I want to walk around the block and hope you will do that with me…….” (We did, it took us about an hour to go half a mile, but we had a great time.)
Lou realized there was much going on that he couldn’t control, as a result he would have some very bad days. But he also decided to do what he could to control his days and to make them “good.” Every morning, he would develop a plan for what a good day would look like. It might have been visiting with people like me, going to sit in the park, doing stained glass in his garage. But every morning he sat down to design a good day. Every evening he looked at his plan, what he had done, and used that to think about how he would design a good day for the next day.
And he tried to do that every day. Lou was as obsessed with data as I am (how else could he work with me). He reported, “in the past 30 days, I’ve had 23 good days and 7 bad days.”
As I’ve refined my micro improvement process, I’m migrating away from the 20 questions. They don’t have as much meaning as they had. I start Every Sunday, I spend some time thinking about “What’s a good week look like?” I note those goals in my calendar and journal.
Every morning, I think, “What would make today a good day?” I make sure I note those things and time block them in my calendar/to-do list. Whether it’s accomplishing a certain number of prospecting conversations, doing a deep dive into a specific project, walking around the block, going to the gym.
In the evenings, I spend a few minutes looking at my design for a good day, assessing what I achieved and whether it was a “good day.”
And I cycle through this process every week/day—what’s the design for a good week? What’s the design for a good day? Was it a good day? What can I do to make tomorrow a better day?
While Lou was designing his good days for a much more important and profound reason, I learned a lot from him in making my days/weeks more impactful.
Afterword: For those that have been around me, you know I always wear “braces/suspenders” with my suits. Lou was the only other person I knew who did that, but his were much more elegant than mine. At his memorial service, his wife came to me with a big bag, “Lou wanted you to have these…..” Every day I wear a suit, part of my good day is knowing the suspenders came from Lou and I reflect on what I learned from him.