A talk at Microsoft’s TechED

Tension between departments and roles in tech companies is normal. Different fields of practice have been taught to optimise for different outcomes. When they come together in business it ceases to be about the ideals of each and brings together all areas to strive for one leading goal. This convergence and need to execute brings tension. Good tension makes for efficiency, innovation and collaborative problem solving. Bad tension makes for delays, inability to execute and a rubbish working environment. This session will involve discussion about how to optimise for good tension.

I had the start of a very annoying conversation the other day. I was talking with my CTO and the direction of the conversation was making me incredibly frustrated. I suddenly said wait hold on, what is the actual topic of conversation we’re having here - what lens are we looking through? And we realised that he was looking through a ‘long-term tech vision for Wiki New Zealand’ lens, and I was looking through a ‘trying to nail down the next dev milestone to tell external parties’ lens. As soon as we realised and articulated that, we agreed both conversations were important, and that we’d start with the the long-term vision conversation first, which went awesomely and then moved to the specific delivery discussion. This was a really clear example to me of how tension between different fields of practice and their priorities can arise and can be extremely frustrating for everyone involved, but it also demonstrates how it can be managed and reduced pretty simply, just by asking the right question at the right time.

Tension is ‘the state or degree of being stretched’, and whilst connotations of the word ‘tension’ are often negative, it can be a good thing or a bad thing. Over the past decade I’ve worked in a few different tech companies and by having points of comparison, I’ve started to recognise how tension makes a huge difference to working environments and outcomes. There can be a lot of tension between departments, such as the dev and sales teams, and it can be really productive and useful, or it can be very frustrating and make for a rubbish working environment. And I’ve seen both. Being stretched and having to work together to solve problems and debate trade-offs is good, but completely breaking the ability to communicate and understand each other isn’t. When it’s not managed well, tension can often manifest through really explicit disrespect amongst a team and an inability to get everyone working together and executing well, but when tension is humming, you see products go out the door efficiently and in record time, and that they’re what customers want, and you see people throughout the team are able to discuss and negotiate trade-offs openly and really test and push the limits of how we think, and of what can be done together

Two things that lead to tension being really damaging, are discipline ideals and communication styles.

So a story to illustrate what I mean by discipline ideals.

Think of 6 countries, each with a different language, different culture, and different social understanding of what success means. Take 4 people from each of those countries, and put all 24 people into a building together. Everyone is sitting together in groups based on their country, the name of their group is after their country, and they have each been given different materials, different tools and different technology and communication processes - the ones that they used as they were growing up, and that are all really different from each others’.

Now nominate one extra person to go along and join them, it doesn’t matter which country they came from, and have them tell the groups what their definition of success is, and tell them, that they must all work together to achieve that, whilst also ensuring they achieve success as is defined by their own cultures, and that if any group fails, they all fail. Give them the deadline and ask them to get going.

Imagine how that would work, how much of a disaster it would be for the different groups to work together without any translation service, or ability to discuss what they think success is and how it relates to the others. Imagine how powerful it would be if you were able to take the really valuable experiences and points of difference from each group and combine them in a really cohesive and clear direction.

This is how I see the situation we deal with in our companies.

We generally spend years training in our area of expertise. Whether it’s formal training, informal training, the books we read, the friends we have, the communities we’re involved in. It shapes our language, the way we communicate, our expectations, and how we define success and what our discipline ideals are, and our beliefs about the optimal way to work and execute.

All of these things shape the lens that we usually look through. By lens I mean something that facilitates and influences perception, like if I said I want you to think about an issue such as technology in schools through the lens of a student versus through the lens of a parent. You’d be thinking about very different concerns and benefits, and priorities.

It’s fascinating to think that we spend most of our time before we hit the workforce honing a specific lens in one discipline, and then we get a job where we are hired to think using that lens and given KPIs based on that lens, and put together in an environment with a group of teams all armed with different lenses. And yet we are never really taught how to value, communicate or translate with the others.

It can be ridiculously annoying. Sometimes we have what are called T people, those that have some deep expertise but that span across departments, like a T, and they try to work between departments and translate, but in my experience that doesn’t often really help the core problem which is that many people just simply don’t value other roles, and don’t understand why they are important or crucial to success, and that’s huge right! And a fundamental problem with huge effects.

The other thing that I think makes tension really negative, is the different communication styles we use. It’s taken me years to really realise this and to understand how differently we think and communicate, and the impact of that. For me, the most stark contrast is between people that think to talk, and those that talk to think.

Oh my stars this has driven me nuts over the years. I definitely think to talk. I would much prefer to stay quiet as I’m thinking, and then say something when I’ve got clarity. But I’ve mistakenly always assumed that’s how everyone operates.

Because I don’t tend to say something until I’ve thought through the implications of it, I assume that when others talk they are giving me processed and thoughtful information, so I’ve always been a very active and engaged listener, and intensely listen to every word people say. So it totally bamboozles me when I am talking to someone who starts talking and just keeps going and going and ends up in a totally contradictory place from where they started. I find it really exhausting and confusing, and I feel super frustrated that they’re wasting my time and taking 7 minutes to explain something that could take 30 seconds, if they had spent 6 minutes thinking.

It was literally only a couple of years ago that I realised those people are talking so that they can think, and that it is how they get their best thinking done, and that realisation has removed a lot of the frustration I’ve always felt around that. I don’t understand it, and I still find it a bit strange, but I can accept it. I also know that others have found my silence a bit odd at times.

I see others experience similar frustration, a lot. And especially as people in our own departments often communicate similarly to us, the situation seems most apparent and dramatic between departments and when we’re engaging with others who have different styles it creates a lot of annoyance and negative tension. For those of us who don’t like to fill silences unless we have something specific to say, that can seem rude or disconcerting to others, and for those who need to verbally speak through their thinking process, that can seem rude or disconcerting to others. And there is no ‘right’ or ‘better’ way, and it makes things a whole lot easier when we know that, and can recognise which style others around us are using.

Getting good tension is really important for individuals and at a whole-company level, both for enjoying our time, doing satisfying work and having good relationships, and also for producing good results for the company. There are tools that can be used, but I think it’s really hard to solve. In the conversations I’ve had as I was exploring my thinking around this topic I’ve found lots of people who experience the negative effects of tension and don’t have any way of addressing and fixing it.

When I looked around at the commentary on the topic, I didn’t find anything that I liked. A lot of ideas for what could be done seemed to be work-around attempts or handling people with gloves, rather than actually understanding and addressing the core issue.

I think the core issue is that we typically don’t understand and value others’ roles as much as our own, that we think people are a bit dumb for not understanding and valuing ours, and that we aren’t really taught how to share our perspectives in a way that helps bridge that understanding. #### What I have learnt:

I’ve worked in a variety of different roles, and there are things I’ve learnt about others’ roles, that I was really surprised to learn, and they’ve reshaped my thinking and reactions:

1. Software is never finished, and that’s a GREAT thing: I’ve been around software development for the past decade, and I’ve always known it is never finished and that there are multiple ways to solve things, but it’s only really been in about the past six months that I’ve understood how valuable and great that is, and I find it really interesting it took me THAT long to understand that. The conversations I’ve had since that realisation have been really quite different and far more productive, and I’ve been able to really embrace the process and feed into it and off it, and stop freaking people out quite so much with things I say and assume.

2. Salespeople have some of the best product insights: In New Zealand, sales people often don’t have a very respected position - I say in New Zealand specifically because I have discovered that’s very different in the US and the art of sales seems far more valued, compared to here where often sales is seen as an undesirable and annoying role. But because they are dealing directly with the customer and actually SEE them working and hear their questions and understand the use case context more, they should often be in the rooms on product discussions because their insights are valuable and unique, not just lobbed something coming out the end of the pipeline. I know many NZ founders who really suffer from not engaging with sales people earlier in the process, who think it’s just a piece they can tack on after they’ve built their product, and then get a huge shock when they start engaging in the selling end.

3. Expensive executive dinners are often really important: This is a funny one. I remember when I was really new to working in a business and would see executives going out schmoozing people over from the US etc., spending hundreds of dollars on meals and trips to Waiheke, and I thought it was the biggest trickery ever and entirely not work! But over the years I have learnt how incredibly valuable those times are. Big deals aren’t done between strangers, they’re done between people who have spent enough time together to know, trust and respect each other. Now that I see the end-value of those times, I think the expensive dinners are cheap for what value they bring with new partnerships etc., and that they are most certainly high stake and require a set of skills and traits that are not easily taught.

4. Telling stories and good communication is really crucial: I have seen companies with a truly great product solving real problems for people, but totally unable to tell the story in a way that means people quickly grasp it and want to be part of the journey. And language is really important - when someone says ‘do you support X’, there’s a big difference in saying ‘No, but we will in three weeks’, and ‘Yes, it will be available in three weeks. The effect of the different styles is HUGE on a customer, as all they hear is the No or the Yes, and there’s a whole set of skills around that, that marketing and sales teams understand, and that other departments often this is just polished smooth talking trickery.

So these are some examples of things I have learnt, that now make me value others’ roles better. But they have taken YEARS to learn, and there’s been a lot of frustration and misunderstandings under the bridge during that time. #### Some final thoughts:

I think there are things we can do more proactively to try and get the tension humming well, but I really don’t think there are any magical answers, and I certainly don’t think handling others with gloves is the right answer - I think whatever is done has to be genuine and thoughtful, so I’ll share what some of my thoughts on that are

1. Identify the lens: This is what I demonstrated in my initial story of the conversation between my CTO and I - what I mean by this is starting conversations by framing them around what the conversation is really about. I don’t just mean the topic, because that’s usually pretty clear, I mean the type of conversation - is the conversation a thought-experiment fun thinking kind of brainstorm conversation, or is it one where one party needs to leave with a really concrete decision on something. They are very different types of conversations to have, both important.

2. Share the real problem, the one you’re aligned with: If we go and talk to each other describing exactly what we want someone to do, we are assuming we know better than them how to solve the problem. That may be right a bunch of the time, but that’s shutting off the option for when we aren’t right or when there is a better solution than we know of, or trade-offs we don’t realise. Don’t go to someone telling them what you want them to do, rather share the real problem and give the opportunity for people to find other solutions. For example, if you go and say ‘I need this feature implemented asap’ to someone in dev, it’s highly likely that’s not going to get as good a response as if you went and said ‘There’s a potential really large customer who I’m talking to, they really want to start using our product but they’re worried because they can’t do X yet - can we discuss any options for how we can make things work for them?’. When you actually share the real problem it can be really simple to solve, or, to figure out why it can’t be solved. When I was the Chief Strategy Officer for a software company there were some features I knew were important to potential customer that I wanted to have implemented ASAP, so I talked to the Chief Product Officer and he sent me the roadmap with dev priorities for the next few weeks to look at and said yip let’s talk. I looked at the list and as I went down it I realised there was absolutely nothing that could be bumped from it for the things I was talking about, so I could accept that and understand it without feeling the frustration of just not being able to get something done and feeling like I wasn’t being listened to other others just didn’t understand.

3. Understand what drives you and your discipline, but remember that no one actually cares as much about your stuff as you do: I realise this sounds a bit mean, but it’s pretty true. We might all think the parts we play are the most fascinating and fun, but that doesn’t mean they are. We need to accept that and learn how to communicate the important and the relevant pieces, and do it without thinking that those who are outside of the bubble are morons.

4. There’s a thought experiment I did the other day, so: imagine if the KPIs for a marketing team were based on the number of support requests filed each month and the time it took to solve each, imagine if KPIs for the dev team were based on the staff satisfaction ratings throughout the company, and imagine if the HR department was judged on the number of customers a company had. Whilst it’s not something I think would be very useful to implement, when I was considering the environment that that would create, it did spark some thoughts and realisation of how the structure of our organisations tends to keep reinforcing our belief that the roles we play are most valuable, because they’re what we get assessed on and focus on, and don’t tend to be formally connected to the priorities and success of other parts.

5. Remembering the wider purpose of what we’re doing can be helpful: Hopefully, you’re being valued for your expertise wherever you work. But remember that you operating perfectly in isolation is not going to make a business successful, there will be a overarching purpose that is pulling all the different strands of expertise together to deliver on something, and it’s likely impossible for there to be an overall win just by you winning. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, because we’re so head-down and focused on our own projects and targets. But being able to tap the wider purpose that everyone is aligned with and driving for should be a way of getting on the same page somewhere, and being able to work backwards from there for specific discussions and trade-offs and understand why sometimes what you want, isn’t best.

6. Have a mechanism for sharing tension: Kind of seems obvious, but it’s really hard when you’re in the middle of an extremely frustrating conversation or situation to really step back and think, wait, what’s happening here? Perhaps it’s just a case of being conscious about when it happens and being brave to stop a conversation and reframe it or ask the question about what lens is being used, what the purpose is etc. Or perhaps if it’s a company-wide initiative there could be trigger words that can be used to suddenly make everyone acknowledge that there’s a frustrating disconnect happening and the convo should be stopped and clarified.

7. To help ease tension at a company level, it can be useful to get representatives from each department in the same room, especially when there needs to be a change in direction and strategy, and have each representative feeding into the process and discussing and agreeing trade-offs. Really talking to each other, using language that really simply describes concerns and ideals, rather than simply asserting solutions or having a strong hierarchical approach. Some companies do this pretty well, but there can be huge issues when one of the people is a bit of a dick, and is misrepresenting the team they are supposed to be feeding in from. Having even one of those can be really dangerous and make for a really dumb working environment, so it’s really important to have a mechanism that allows anyone to lob things directly into the discussion circle.

8. So one of the biggest things I think we can do, with lasting results, is to work towards knowing others’ roles and perspectives are valuable and necessary, even if we don’t really understand them and what they do and why on earth they choose to do it. I had a good convo with Vaughan Rowsell from Vend about this the other night, and we came up with the BEST IDEA, which is to make a trader card game based on this. The idea being to have cards for each type of role you have within a company, and the rules to have certain requirements before you can do certain actions etc. - for example if you don’t have a lawyer card in your hand people can steal your cards, you need enough schmooze points before you can do deals, and you have to hold your developer cards for a set period of time before being able to act on having a product. We thought it could be a really powerful way of getting people to simply see the value of each others’ roles and why they’re a necessary part of a business, and really critical to enabling what it is we want to do ourselves - feel free to borrow the idea!

Perfectly you

A speech to IPANZ Young Professionals

I did not expect my life path to be curvy. I grew up truly believing my path would be straight and really really normal. So it was initially quite surprising and challenging for me when it started to curve, and when it seemingly went backward and upside down I had to learn to deal with the motion sickness that comes from that.

I used to think that knowing and planning my path in advance was important, but now I value not knowing. I plan my next steps, but not all my steps. I really value being able to seize opportunities and not feel constrained or penned into a direction just because I once thought that’s where I would go.

I started my career as a high school physical education teacher as that was the best job I knew existed when I grew up. During my first year teaching I was asked by the CEO of a software start-up company to come and work for her.

Every day when I was teaching I tried to encourage my students to reach for the stars and take opportunities and I thought, well I kind of have to do that myself so I jumped and took the job at Massive Software. Many people thought I was crazy as they thought I was wasting the years of my university education; but I refused to be stuck to that because of a decision I made when I was 17.

I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about business. I started as the CEOs Executive Assistant and just jumped in with both feet - failing about, learning and doing as much as possible, and a few years later I was helping her run the whole company.

When I was at Massive I learnt how to move and think fast, how to hone and listen to my instincts and how to make things happen and just DO stuff. It was an incredible six years, I did lots of travel especially to California where most of our customers were, and the visual effects industry was really sparkly to be part of. I was continuously pushed to run and jump and do and make things happen.

When the company went offshore I took a job at think tank The New Zealand Institute. It was pretty much the opposite kind of work. I sat at a desk, quietly, and had to dive really deep into one piece of thinking and research at a time. It was exhausting to start with. I had to learn to think differently, and I learnt a whole lot of new content to think about.

When I got both of those jobs - at Massive and The New Zealand Institute - I looked really rubbish on paper. But both times I just refused to let my past restrict what my next steps would be, and I was fortunate that both times the people hiring me could see that and my willingness to learn, and they took the risk hiring me.

I then went on to start Figure.NZ which I’m now the CEO of. For the first two years I did it half-time whilst I was strategy consulting on the side, and then the Chief Strategy Officer for another software company. I’m now full-time Figure.NZ and am having the absolute time of my life.

I have never felt more ME as I do right now. I am spending my days bringing something to existence from my mind and bringing people on the journey with me. It feels magical to create an organisation from nothing, and to realise we are doing something that nobody in the world has done before.

When I reflect on what caused each bend in my path, I can pinpoint some really important moments that I am very thankful for, and at each curve there was a challenge and a really conscious decision to make - I had to choose to change direction and accept the risks associated with that.

I have given myself full permission to curve and bend my path as I see fit, forever. It allows me to make sure that I love what I’m doing, and to make sure that I can continue to learn and grow. It’s interesting to muse on the pressure we feel to continue doing something we decided to do years ago, as that implies a model where we aren’t allowed to learn and adapt.

I don’t think we should be afraid to test what we’re doing and if it’s still the best thing or not. If we question it and come back with the answer that yes, it is the right thing, then we surface with more motivation and commitment. If we test it and realise that it’s not the right thing - then in my opinion that’s something I never want to hide from.

As I have altered my direction and moved to different roles and across industries, I have had to consciously put myself into a position of being a junior multiple times. That could be hard if you wrap your self-worth around that. But for me, it has been absolutely worth it every single time.

When I reflect on the most important things I’ve learnt in the last 15 years, they’re of a very different type than I would have guessed when I was younger.

The things that I value most are the thoughts I have that shape how I feel and act. There are 6 in particular that I frequently and consciously think, and it fascinates me that most of them sound quite negative, and exactly the opposite of what you would expect to be motivational…

1. No one cares about my life as much as I do. I used to really care about what other people would think about my decisions. This included family and close friends, right through to acquaintances and people I barely know. I have come to really grasp that ‘we’ are the most affected by our life decisions, and whilst others may have an opinion and voice it, and they may care deeply about us - all that anyone that loves us really cares about is if we’re happy. This realisation deeply affects my life now, it means I feel a great deal of freedom about what I choose to do with my life, and I know that it is actually up to me to do what ‘I’ believe is the best thing, not something I can expect to come from or be the responsibility of others.

2. I am wrong, and I don’t know it. If we operate under the assumption that we don’t know everything, and that we are not right about everything we do know, it stands to reason that there are things we currently think, that we are wrong about. What that means for me is that I feel less concerned about ‘being found out’ to be wrong about things, instead I assume it to be a very normal part of life. It makes me feel more comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas, and it makes me really consider what others are saying and testing to see if they know better or more than I, rather than feeling I need to assert my own rightness.

3. I am responsible for how I think. Sometimes it feels like we can’t help our thoughts, that things surface in our mind and we can’t help it. And whilst that is partly true, I have come to see it’s not completely true. We can actually choose to push things out of our mind. It can be hard and it can take practice, but we can absolutely do it. We can also choose how we respond to things. A real example of this is with one of the first Board meetings for Figure.NZ we were all supposed to be meeting in person. A few hours before it, one of my board members text me to say they weren’t going to be able to make it. I felt instantly really ragey and frustrated because it was ruining how I’d planned things. But then I thought - wait, I don’t want to be a CEO who can’t deal with things that arise, I want to be calm and unflappable and able to take anything in my stride. Realising and articulating that to myself actually changed how I felt, instantly. It was the first time I’d really consciously done that before and it felt very powerful.

4. I am going to die. This sounds negative, yet similar to the first point, this one really makes me feel a huge amount of freedom - freedom to try and fly, freedom to do what I really believe is the most important thing that I can be doing with my time. My time is all I really truly have, so reminding myself that it is finite really motivates me to make sure I’m spending all my minutes consciously. That doesn’t mean I can’t relax for fear of wasting time, but it does mean I consciously choose to relax and enjoy the heck out of it.

5. Most of the lines are imaginary. This is one that took me quite a few years to really grasp, and I think two things have helped me realise it. One is that because I have entered new industries a bit mid-way rather than starting off in them from a young age, and because I have taken roles that I haven’t been very qualified for officially, I tend to just apply first principles to things and work my way through to what makes sense. That is limiting in some situations, but in others it means that I do things before I realise that I ‘shouldn’t’. I have always gone up and talked to people, and asked people for things, and then a few years later I sometimes look back and blush and think ‘I can’t believe I did that, I’m glad I did, but if I’d been more trained, I would have realised that was odd’. The other was through my experience at Massive and the way our CEO operated. She refused to see lines that everyone else saw and it was absolutely magical to witness what happened because of it.

6. I can’t do better than my best. I absolutely accept myself, and that involves accepting that I cannot do better than my best, and knowing what my best is. Sometimes my best is world class, and sometimes, about twice a year, my best is staying under the covers for a day watching terrible tv shows. As long as I have a really honest line of communication with myself around what my best is, I never feel guilty. I refuse to feel guilty for who I need to be and what I need to do.

I am here to be perfectly me, and you are here to be perfectly you. We are here to be brave, we are here to sit in the driver’s seat of our own lives, to really, properly, drive and be responsible for the direction we take.

Finding out who you are, what you care about, what you believe in, what you will stand for, what you will fight for, what you love, what you hate, what you’re amazing at, and importantly, what you can learn, is more valuable than I can properly express.

Knowing those things is what brings everything else together so you can operate as your best possible self. It is entirely relevant to your work, both the way you operate day to day, and your long-term path.

Knowing what you need to function well is critically important, and it’s your responsibility to know that and ensure you have what you need. When we have our settings right the rest is so much easier and fun.

If I had a magic wand and could pick one thing to do it would be remove fear. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? It’s a question I ask myself frequently, whether it’s when I’m facing large things in life or small things like - should I send this email and risk looking dumb? and when I realise fear is the only thing stopping me, I have to do it.

In large teams and organisations I understand there is a fear around people stealing ideas and claiming them as their own, of you not getting credit for what you’ve done. You are not as good as your last idea. You are way better than that. Your mind is an engine that can produce many great ideas, and the value that you will get from continuously sharing and collaborating with others, rather than protecting your turf, is huge and something I only properly believed after trying it and experiencing the outcomes.

I think that many people are held back by fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of being found out, fear of others being better, fear of being rejected.

And those things are all very likely to happen! Truly operating without fear does not mean believing they won’t, it means accepting they will and not letting them define you when they do.

Better by design. That’s a pretty commonly used phrase, and I think it applies to life as well as business and products. There are things that I consciously do to make my life better, by design, that I will share with you.

1. Find out what you care about and align your work to that: When you marry your passion and your profession your life will change. Waking up and being able to pour your energy towards something you truly care about is extremely powerful. I’ve had jobs that weren’t aligned before, when I was younger. And it’s fine, and sometimes it’s necessary. But when you can, it changes not only the enjoyment you can get from your days, but your effectiveness and ability to innovate. And finding out what you care about isn’t something that you do once! Rather, it’s something you continuously tap into as you learn and evolve and give yourself the freedom to build on your experiences.

2. Know what you need and know what you want: What you need and what you want are two very different things, and they’re both valid and important to know. What you need is relative, I don’t just mean food and water. For example, one of the things I need to function well at work is an environment where I feel accepted exactly as I am. Knowing what you want is important, which leads to the next one…

3. Set goals and celebrate things as you achieve them: If I asked you to list 8 things you achieved last year I suspect most of you would struggle to remember. A few years ago my friend and I were both in pretty rubbish situations, so we decided to put it in our calendars to meet a year later to celebrate how far we’d gone since then. We’ve done it every year since and have learnt some interesting things from the process. Each set of goals so far has been REALLY different, and it’s really neat to see that as an indication of how much changes, and it also gives a sense of freedom over current goals, knowing that whilst they are important now, they do not define us. We’ve also learnt how easy it is to forget what we’ve achieved, and we found that when it came to looking at the list to see what we’d done that we’d completely forgotten some of the goals we’d achieved earlier in the year. It’s important to celebrate the wins before resetting.

4. If you are going to fail at anything, make sure that you do it being you: It’s pretty likely that we’ll all fail at things from time to time, but I think that deep regret only really comes from going against your better judgement. Especially when you believe you can’t do better than your best, doing something different from what you think is best, because you’re afraid, is not doing your best.

5. Ask questions and admit it when you don’t know something: I think this has been one of the most powerful things for me. I grew up really naively. Happy, but naive. And so as I became exposed to more experiences I quickly learnt that there are fast ways and there are slow ways to learn. If someone uses a word in a meeting that you don’t understand, or an acronym, and you don’t speak up and ask what it means, you can easily fall behind in your overall comprehension of the conversation and your ability to contribute. I have also found that by being bold at asking people to teach me things, and following it up with really listening, results in really deep teachings from a whole heap of experts that teach me faster and deeper than anything I could do by going home and looking up things online at the end of the day.

6. Get good sleep, drink enough water, exercise regularly: It’s pretty mind-boggling that we hear this advice pretty much our whole lives and yet rarely follow it. There are lots of good habits we get told about, but these 3, are right up there with life-changing. Even after one week of sleeping say 10:30 PM – 6:30 AM, starting the day with 15 min cardio and 15 min strength or toning, and drinking 2L of water throughout can absolutely transform how you feel and operate. Do you realise, that being tired is not something we have to put up with? I got to the point where I thought that being tired was just what happened as you got a bit older and worked a bit more. That is not true. It happens because we don’t care for ourselves properly, and when we do, the energy that follows is astounding and results in far more productivity than just working longer hours.

7. Take time for yourself: This is the most important one, because without it - you’ll never really hear the answers to the rest, you’ll never know what you really care about and how to align it with what you do, and you’ll never know what you’re afraid of and what’s holding you back. I need alone time. Without it I feel really uncentered. I know I need it, and I know it’s my responsibility to make sure I get it. Even just 15 min lying in the sun on the carpet can do wonders.

All the things I’ve talked about are really about making sure you get what you need, and that you know how to work to get what you want.

Putting yourself first and making that all happen can sound selfish on the surface, and my previous CEO and I had an issue that took over a year to resolve because of it. In the start-up years we all lived together and worked ALL hours of the week. I was the only one who got 8 hours sleep, who walked every day, and who made sure I saw friends once a week. The CEO thought it was really selfish of me, and we continued to discuss it philosophically, not dramatically. Over the year everyone else experienced burnout of sorts and dropped the ball and had to be rescued, including her. When that happened, it really sunk in that it never happened to me, and that it was because I made sure I got what I needed.

Putting yourself first in a raw and reasonable way is what enables you to do, give and serve at a high level, and sustainably.