Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The 90% Rule

A long time ago, I was attending our local community college (I won’t tell how long ago…), and I got a scholarship for a couple of semesters so that I could play in the pep/jazz band. It was just getting started, and the band director had been authorized to offer a number of these waivers.

As I was auditioning for the part (more of an interview, really) of bass/guitar player, the new band director revealed something to me that has been one of my “words to live by” ever since. I now call it “The 90% Rule”

Here it is: “90% of life is showing up.”

That’s the short version. The long version is: “Most of the success in your life will come from being where you need to be, ready to do what you need to do.”

When he and I were talking about it, he said, “I’d rather have a band filled with 20 mediocre musicians that I could count on, than 20 amazing players that were flakes.” And the reason became clear to me more and more as I saw both reliable and flaky players interact in that band. Those that were there, consistently, rehearsing and working, got better. It was obviously a slow process, but it happened. Those that weren’t regular didn’t stay with the band. It was the ones that “showed up” that formed the core of the group and that made the band sound good.

That rule has manifested itself in my non-musical life over and over again.

No matter how good I might have been at a job, how long do you think I’d keep that job if I was constantly late or even didn’t show up? What if, as a mentor, I kept missing my sessions? Do you think people would be willing to keep paying me if I’m not there to help them?

A long time ago, in the workaholic ‘80s, there were a lot of people saying that it was OK if you don’t spend much time with your kids, if the time you spend is “quality time”. But if you don’t ever spend any time, if you never “show up” for your kids, what kind of quality can that time be?

How can I expect to build any personal spirituality, any “connection with the divine”, if I never go to church, read my scriptures, or even set myself to meditate or pray?

How many people want to create a business, perhaps online, and might even sink a lot of money into a startup situation, but then never actually create the website. Life is hectic, and it gets in the way, that’s true. But if you want a website to be built, you have to “show up” in front of your computer and be ready to do the work. If you want that website promoted, you have to “show up” on the web and make the connections. You have to submit to the search engines, set up the links, be visible on the forums.

Here are some ways to set yourself up to succeed by simply “showing up” ready to work:

1. Set a time to work

Knowing what time during the day you’re going to do your work can help you “show up” regularly. It doesn’t even have to be the same time every day, though that can help. I find it’s more effective to spend a little time each day, rather than waiting for a large chunk of available time to appear.

2. Set a plan for what to work on

Know what needs your attention most. Be aware of the tasks that are important and the ones that are the most urgent. Balance the two. Don’t ignore the important because the urgent is screaming louder in your ear.

3. Sit down and refocus

Knowing when to work and what needs to be done is pointless if you never sit down to do it. Remember, “90% is showing up”.

Sometimes, when I “show up” to work on my website, I have to take a minute to remember where it stands and where I left off. Sometimes I have to take a look at things, like my site, or my notes, to refresh myself and know where to jump to next.

4. Get past the distractions.

There are always distractions. My kids are wired directly into our home computer network. I think they’ve got wireless cards in their brains. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what they’re involved in or what room they’re in, as soon as I sit down at my computer and boot up, they come climbing into my lap and want to launch the pinball game!

The phone rings, an IM window pops up. A million things can tear you away from what you need to be doing. They want you to “show up” to their issues, not the one at hand. It’s important to know how to get past these distractions and stay with your business.

But sometimes, when I’m working long, a distraction can be good. If I handle it right, it can clear my mind and allow me to come back to my work refreshed. Occasionally, it’s good to play pinball with your sons on your lap. You have to “show up” in their lives, too. But let them know you also have work to do, and you need to get back to it.

And some days, when you’re feeling overwhelmed with so much to do in your life, and you just want to stay in bed and cover your head up with the blanket, remember: “90% of life is just SHOWING UP!”

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