One of the things I dislike most about moving to a new city is getting to know a new grocery store.
I like to move through the store quickly and methodically. My list is written in the order I’ll encounter those items as I walk through the store (veggies first, bakery second, etc.). And you can bet that if pasta isn’t on my list, you won’t find me browsing that aisle. At checkout, I organize my purchases by size and weight. The heavy stuff that the bagger will want to put on the bottom goes first, and soft things like tomatoes and peaches go last.
I don’t feel a compulsive need to shop this way. But as more constraints are put on my time, I find myself naturally seeking out efficiency all over the place—even in the grocery store. It feels good to get in and out of there in half the time it used to take me.
The same way of thinking can be applied to work. What can I do to get the most out of my day? How can I make the experience of work go more smoothly? How can I make sure I complete my most important tasks of the day?
I call this concept “logic-based thinking.” It simply means thinking about what you want to accomplish each day and mapping out a logical way to get them done.
It’s a lot like walking through the grocery store, where you could easily get caught up in all the distractions around you, like tasting samples or rethinking your entire meal plan after coming across a particularly beautiful display of brussels sprouts. You could wander through the seasonal aisle and get a jump start buying Halloween candy, or go around helping everyone who can’t reach the top shelves. But if you did all that, you might never leave.
Things like this come up at work all the time. Emails claiming to need attention come through, and you respond. Someone pops in to ask a quick question and leaves 45 minutes later. A new idea is brought up, and you find yourself deep in a research rabbit hole in order to decide if something is worth pursuing.
Start With a Plan
One day, Jairek Robbins, an accomplished performance coach, spoke to the employees of one of my companies. He said, “What we tend to do is shoot an arrow and then go draw a target around it. Then we look at it and call ourselves a good shot.”
That’s exactly what we do when we approach work without a logical plan. We look at all the things we got done, all the fires we put out, and we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Meanwhile, all the things we said we would do remain untouched.
Growing a business requires a higher level of thought than that. It requires us to identify the most impactful things we can do each day, to find a way to do them, no matter what, and to delegate everything else.
It is hard not to underestimate the role that family can play in successfully running a small business.
That point has been brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led entrepreneurs and their families to share the same physical space. A new study has revealed that that increase in quality time may have many unforeseen benefits.
Research from the University of Georgia, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, has found that positive interactions with your child during your off hours can make you a better leader. This especially hit home with me as I have a young boy.
Specifically, the study examined two samples of 46 and 113 managers, measuring whether participants had experienced positive interactions with their families, such as working together on a project or laughing together, each day after work. Among the other factors examined was whether participants felt connected to their family and satisfied with their family life in general.
The researchers also analyzed leadership practices, asking participants how often they engaged in behaviors such as making sure employees know expectations and helping subordinates strengthen their skillsets. In both studies, the managers completed one survey in the morning and one in the afternoon for 10 days. The results showed links between positive family interactions after hours as well as more effective leadership during the workday.
Szu Han “Joanna” Lin, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, had some interesting thoughts on this.
“We focus so much on the negative things about work-family balance or the demands of a family—people need to meet these family demands, so that’s why sometimes they couldn’t perform well at work,” she said. “But one thing that is important to know is that leaders could be more effective because of their family life.”
Plenty of scholarly research on leadership focuses on how family life can negatively impact a person’s career. Studies that do examine positive effects of family life typically focus exclusively on task performance. Lin wanted to examine how positive interactions with family could specifically influence leadership behaviors like showing consideration, marked by things like helping and showing concern for employees, and more change-oriented behaviors such as helping employees develop their strengths and showing enthusiasm about what needs to be accomplished on a specific workday.
Transformational leadership, which focuses on creating a vision and how teams can work together to achieve it, is considered one of the most effective styles of leadership, Lin said. Through her research, Lin found a connection between showing more of those transformational tendencies and having had a positive family interaction as a parent the day before.
And the positive interactions do not have to be something big. Little moments can lead to big changes in attitude the following workday.
“You take your kids out for a walk. You chat about how your day was. These are positive family events that help you feel you connected with your kids,” Lin said. “Your needs are satisfied at home. And on the next day, you’ll be more motivated to help your employees.”
Among technology startups, non-compete agreements are a staple.
Without them, sales professionals might more easily take their book of business to a rival for a better salary. The same goes for technologists, who are privy to a company’s intellectual property.
These are “grip and rip” scenarios, which point to the value of such agreements. Someone is trying to do harm to your business. You need protections.
This is different from someone who is simply trying to get paid what they are worth. Companies should never be able to imprison an employee so that they must stay with them.
Given my philosophy on this, recent research out of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at The University of Maryland recently caught my attention. There, four research papers are set to be published in top journals, co-authored by management professor Evan Starr, who addressed the debate over whether non-compete agreements help or hurt employees. Professor Star’s conclusion: Non-competes stifle workers.
In “Non-Compete Agreements in the U.S. Labor Force” in the Journal of Law and Economics, Starr presents the most sweeping work in what represents the first systematic investigation of non-competes in the United States. In it, he studies a nationally representative sample, looking at all sorts of workers.
One of the key findings: Non-competes are found even among low-wage workers.
“There have been anecdotes of that fact, but this is the first systematic evidence,” Starr says. “This is shocking, because when you think about non-competes, you think about tech workers and executives—you’re not thinking about doggie-daycare sitters or hairstylists or yoga instructors, but that’s the modal worker that’s bound by a non-compete. Our paper launches from that fact, and the key question for policymakers is whether this a good or a bad thing.”
Starr concludes they are bad, which I agree with, except in specific circumstances.
“The argument for why they are bad is pretty clear,” Starr says. “Take the case of the low-wage worker, earning $12 an hour, who gets a better offer at a competitor to make $15 an hour. A non-compete could prevent them from making those sorts of moves that are going to enhance their social and economic mobility.”
Collectively, Starr’s papers show that workers do better without non-compete agreements. The same can be said for companies.
Firms may be less profitable if they have to pay workers more, according to Starr. But there is definitely a benefit for them, too. Without so many non-competes, firms have better access to the labor pool and can hire the workers they want to hire, including those from a competitor.
Small businesses are built on trust. While in some cases, for some positions, non-competes may be necessary, we need to move away from the idea that they are standard practice.
“It’s not really a firm versus worker issue,” Starr says. “It could be a win for both workers and firms.”