Four Steps to Take When Making a REALLY Important Decision

DecisionsFlying is extremely safe.  It’s the rare occasion we have an air disaster.  What’s more common, particularly if you’re a frequent business traveler like I am, is a computer SNAFU that completely paralyzes an airline.  This was the case on a recent trip I was taking on Southwest Airlines from Albany, NY back home to Nashville.  Please understand this post is not a dig at Southwest.  I am and always will be their biggest fan.  I actually took this flight for business up in Montreal.  Yes, I fly to Canada on Southwest.  Albany is the closest airport.  Then I drive.  They handled this like absolute pros!

I read about the big glitch the evening before but figured it was all sorted out.  When I got to Albany for my 5:25 flight to BWI with connection down to BNA, I saw it, along with another early flight to Midway in Chicago was cancelled.  The gate area was already packed with mostly vacationing families so I pulled out my phone and called Southwest.  The rep told me they normally couldn’t switch me on the phone but this was a big deal and she would do what she could.  She kept apologizing profusely (unlike United would in a situation like this – they usually make me feel like the cancellation is MY fault!) and managed to get me on a 10:30 AM flight to BWI with a connection at 4:20 PM to BNA via a quick stop in Cleveland.  I would arrive at BNA at 6:40 PM.  She set it up and my boarding pass showed up on my Southwest app.  I thanked her and then headed off to look for a comfortable place to sit for 5 hours.

But something didn’t feel quite right.  Passengers (again, mostly travelling novices) were getting frustrated. I heard a loud scream and shriek from a young mom with a toddler who was having a meltdown of Biblical proportions.  The mom, not the toddler.  Then I saw a group of Southwest flight attendants all talking.  I held my phone up to my ear pretending to be on a call and walked close to eavesdrop.  They were having trouble connecting to their dispatcher (from what I could tell) and none of them knew what was going on.  SNAFU was turning into TARFU (Things Are REALLY F’d UP).  I had a decision to make.  Things were probably going into FUBAR (F’d Up Beyond All Recognition) and I didn’t want any part of it.

I needed to get home that night.  If things didn’t get on track and my flight from Albany to BWI cancelled again, I may not get a later one out and miss my connection in BWI.  Also, I had watched the weather reports the night before and there were some afternoon storms in the Midwest.  This is normal in the hot afternoons.  That could delay or cancel the flight going through Cleveland.  I didn’t want to spend the night in the airport (I’m usually too cheap to get hotels and spent more than a few nights on an airport floor) so I opted to re-rent my rental car from National and drive home.  Travel time was 14 hours and 20 minutes.  I headed to the rental car terminal, plugged in my phone for the GPS and headed home.

As it happened I made it to the Nashville airport at 8:15 PM.  My flight arrived well before that at 6:40 PM.  My decision to drive turned out to be the wrong one.  I thought back on my process.  Maybe this will help you.  I had 14 hours to think about it.  It’s now called OSGO™.

O – Objective Data

When I knew there was a problem in Albany, I looked at what I knew:

  • The flight was cancelled.
  • Cancellations have a ripple effect.
  • Summer flights are booked to capacity so it’s hard to rebook if you get cancelled.
  • There would be storms in Cleveland.
  • At the time, Southwest employees appeared to still be in the dark.

S – Subjective Data

I then reflected on what I assumed:

  • I fly about 3 weeks a month on Southwest about 99% of the time.  They are reliable but usually booked to capacity.
  • I had already experienced computer glitches twice before, once on United and once on Southwest.  It’s a mess.
  • I saw the meltdowns at the smaller Albany airport.  I didn’t want to see the probable mob at the much larger BWI where people would be getting cancelled out of flights to Aruba or Puerto Rico.  There would probably be no place to sit and no open outlets to charge my phone or laptop.

G – Gut Feeling

  • Something didn’t feel right.
  • Based on previous experience, I just didn’t trust that my new, complicated itinerary would work.

So I decided to drive. And it was the wrong decision.  So I then agreed to…

O – Own It

I followed the progress of the flight on the Southwest app at every stop on my drive.  I felt good when I saw the Albany flight was delayed by 45 minutes.   I was just a little bummed when I saw the flight left Cleveland on time.  I was angry when I saw it landed at BNA and I was still driving through Louisville.

But I owned my decision.  I used data and my gut reaction.  Given what I had, it was the best decision.

Not to mention I came up with a new decision model to teach in my workshops, a new blog post, 3 new ideas for management curriculum, and caught up with 3 old friends on the phone.  Overall, I’m ok with it.

So what about you?  When it’s a big decision how do you decide?  Next time, think about how to OSGO™ your decision in order to prevent FUBAR.

One Size Fits Nobody

National Car Rental LogoRecently, I flew from Houston, TX to Detroit, MI via Charlotte, NC. I took the bus from the airport to the Enterprise Rental Car facility, dreading the experience.

I travel about 40 weeks a year and normally rent with National. I can get to the lot, grab any car, and hit the road. Like most business travelers, it’s all about getting to my hotel room or to my home as quickly as possible.

Enterprise is a different animal. Their customer service is stellar. They greet you at the door, walk you to the counter where they take your information. Then you wait to be personally escorted to your car where the clerk walks around with you to look at any potential damage and help you get into the car.  They have you sign your paperwork and point you to the gate to leave the facility.  It’s a warm, welcoming experience.

Unfortunately, it’s not an experience I have the time for. I don’t need an escort. I don’t want you to walk me around.  I want my car and I want to get to the hotel.  In my opinion, the only person who might need this service is one who’s never rented a car before.  For anyone else, either a road warrior like myself or a family ready to head to Disney, the quicker we get out, the better.

When you look at how your company defines customer service, are you looking at what you THINK the customer wants or what they actually NEED? Do you see it from your perspective (Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you”) or from theirs (Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have done unto them”). It makes a huge difference.

Personally, this Enterprise experience has happened to me each time I’ve HAD to use them (I never choose to, but my client made the arrangement) and I for one wish they’d dump the formalities and just rent cars. I’ll rent with National ANY day!

This week, take a look at what you’re calling “customer service” and see if it’s warranted and works. You might be surprised what you find.

Why a Cruise IS and IS NOT the Best Vacation Ever

cruise

Sunrise on the Carnival Sensation. This WAS the best part of the cruise! Notice the absence of people…

I am not a big fan of vacations.  I love what I do and since I travel so much, my idea of a great vacation is one spent at home.

Last week, my wife and teen daughter and I went on a Carnival Cruise on the Sensation from Miami and back via Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Grand Cayman.  Now that it’s over, I need a vacation.

Cruises are a PERFECT vacation for you if you:

  • Love to eat
  • Love to lay in the sun
  • Love being around people
  • Love doing touristy things
  • Care little about how much weight you carry or gain.

Cruises are a TERRIBLE vacation if you:

  • Love to eat QUALITY food
  • Get sunburned easily
  • Get annoyed having to stand in lines
  • Don’t care to be jammed into a closed environment with 3,000 other humans.
  • Like your alcohol with actual alcohol in it.

I did enjoy spending time with my family but we were in a closed cabin that was about the size of our master bathroom at home.  So there’s me having to get out of the room when my wife and daughter were having to get ready each morning and evening.

Since I travel, the things I want to avoid when I’m not traveling are crowds, flights, airports, lines, and eating out.  A cruise brings all of that and more.

I did enjoy getting up early and filling my Yeti® cup with coffee and watching the sun rise.  That was beautiful and quiet…until the families started arriving en mass disrupting my moment.

I was impressed that Internet access was very reasonable.  $40.00 for the week with unlimited access.  That was nice.

So here’s my advice if you want to cruise:

  • Spend some money and get a larger cabin with a balcony.  Also, choose a line without a reputation as a party ship if you want peace and quiet.  I won’t sail Carnival again.
  • Eat in the formal dining area.  You’ll be less tempted to overeat since you get served.  The food in the general area was about the same quality and quantity as what you’d find at Ryans or Golden Corral.
  • Don’t attempt to eat or drink your money’s worth.  It’s not possible to do either and if you try, you might actually hurt yourself.   I met a woman who told me her and her husband bought the $54.00 per day drink package since their bar bill on a previous cruise was over $1,000.00.  He husband said he wanted to get his money’s worth.  That meant 15 drinks before noon…
  • Spend a little extra and buy the equivalent of “Faster to the Fun.”  This allowed us early boarding, early access to the transfer boats at Grand Cayman, and most importantly, early access off the ship.  Arriving at port brings about the perfect recipe for disaster:  Grumpy passengers who have JUST received their bar bill (always bigger than you thought it would be) and who are 10 lbs heavier, and who now just want to get off the crowded ship.  We were off the ship in 20 minutes, safely on the bus to the airport.
  • Book your excursions ahead of time and be sure to read the reviews.  The review for Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios and also the Reggae Hill experience after had great reviews, and both were great experiences.  On the other hand, the All-Inclusive day on 7-Mile Beach had mixed reviews.  I should have paid attention.  Crowded beaches, chickens, roosters, and iguanas all over the place, and did I mention CROWDED BEACHES?  Plus long lines to get on and off the bus.

Finally, if you have a preference for Introversion like I do, cruises are exhausting.  I suggest something other.  When I figure it out, I’ll write about it.

Why You Should Be Proactive

We live in a reactive society. It means that most people go about their normal routines until something interrupts them.   Then they work feverishly to try and adapt and when they fail, blame everyone and everything around them.

That’s what we call the REACTIVE approach.

There is a better way. It involves anticipating what COULD change and developing a contingency plan for it.

That’s what we call the PROACTIVE approach.

Here’s an example. Since I fly nearly 40 weeks out of the year, I am rarely thrown for a loop when it comes to travel problems such as weather delays, flight cancellations, or overbooked flights. I’ve done it enough to know what to avoid and then of course how to deal with issues. Here are my proactive steps:

  • Fly non-stop when possible.
  • Avoid connections through troublesome airports such as Newark, LaGuardia, JFK, DFW, Atlanta, Chicago, or Charlotte. Too many weather delays here.
  • Take morning flights. In the Spring and Summer, weather tends to cause flights to stack up increasing chances of delays.
  • Carry on luggage only. This way if you have to make a flight change, you’re not held hostage by your checked luggage.

These are my PROACTIVE steps. If I do them, I’ve decreased my chances for travel problems.

However nothing is ever fully predictable or certain so here are my REACTIVE steps:

  • Use a travel app like FlightTrack to notify me if a flight has changed or cancelled.
  • Keep the airline’s phone number programmed into my phone.
  • If a flight cancels, immediately get in line for customer service and dial up the airline. You often can get hold of someone faster but you hedge your bets by already being in line.
  • Know your final destination well enough to gauge whether you should fly to a different airport and drive some.

These PROACTIVE and REACTIVE steps work well for me and I know they will for you.

But how can you apply this to the rest of your life?

Just spend some time each day anticipating.

If you have an important business presentation to make, do the proactive steps:

  • Make sure you have it on your laptop, on a thumb drive, and in the Cloud.
  • Embed any video inside your slides with a copy on your desktop.  Don’t depend on Internet connectivity.
  • Be sure you have every possible set of adapters you will need.
  • Keep a hard copy with notes.
  • Be prepared to give your presentation even if the A/V stuff craps out on you. Nothing makes you look more incompetent than if you can’t proceed without your precious PowerPoint®

Your reactive steps of course would be how you would deal with technology glitches.  Keep in mind that NOBODY will say “oh, he didn’t have his slides working.  How disappointing!”

The same rules apply to anything else that’s important.   Plan and anticipate.

Nothing is absolutely certain so rather than leave things to chance, learn to be proactive. Your ability to adapt will set you apart from your competitors and detractors.

How to Be More Productive

newtons cradle silver balls conceptI often get asked what my secrets are for staying productive. Between traveling, teaching, blogging, marketing, speaking, writing, and oh yes, family too, my schedule is pretty packed. In spite of this, I’ve managed to keep all the balls up in the air. This week I thought I’d share my philosophy on time management and also let you know what tools I find most valuable for staying productive.

Philosophy first.

Life is made up of multiple pockets of time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How much you use and how much you waste is up to you. Here are my rules:

  1. Eliminate junk that fills those pockets.
  2. Equip yourself to take advantage of time pockets.
  3. Be more efficient to create more pockets.

Eliminate junk that fills those time pockets.

As my good friend Bruce Johnson says, “You can’t add anything in unless you take something away.” Think about what you do when you have downtime. If you’re like most people, you’ll probably waste more time than you’ll use. Take note of what you do when you’re standing in line, waiting for an appointment, or sitting in traffic. Most people reach for their smartphone and check in on Facebook (yes, even the ones sitting in traffic!). Ask yourself what intrinsic value you’ll get from the activity you do. If it’s junk, begin a systematic approach to eliminate it. Try shutting off the data signal to your phone. You’ll still get calls and texts, just not your social media apps. Keep a book handy with you. Keep a small notebook where you can write down your thoughts or ideas. Use your commute time to either reflect in silence or listen to some audio books.

Equip yourself to take advantage of time pockets.

Since I spend an inordinate amount of time on airplanes or sitting in airports, I’ve learned to always come prepared. Here are some things I recommend.

A light laptop. I have the Macbook Air which has that SSD drive that boots up in 8 seconds. It’s worth the price. Think about how long it takes for your PC to boot up. New tablets and PCs have that SSD. You can work, save, and then quickly shut down or fire up with this.

A mobile hotspot. I have the one from Verizon and it’s great if I’m someplace with no or slow WiFi. It’s also a whole lot more secure. If you have some time to get work done, use it wisely. Don’t let Internet access (or lack thereof) be an excuse.

A good cloud account. I use Dropbox and Google Drive which enables me to access and keep files safe. One I forgot my Macbook on a road trip to Connecticut. I had to buy a cheap PC laptop but with Dropbox, I was able to access the files I needed to teach my workshop.

Good productivity Apps. My favorite is Evernote. It syncs up to the cloud and lets me type out or do audio notes. I often come up with good ideas when I can’t easily write them down. Having Evernote allows me to speak them and access them later. Otherwise I know I’ll forget what I was thinking.

Books or a device that lets you store digital books. I have a Kindle and an iPad Mini with the Kindle App. When I have downtime, I’ll read. It also helps to have my library with me at all times especially if I’m doing a workshop and need to cite a particular concept. What you read is important too. For a list of books I recommend, click HERE.

Be more efficient to create more time pockets.

Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. Take some simple steps to maximize the productive times. Start with shutting off email. Check it only a couple times a day. Turn off your phone if you need to focus. Find the best place to work. You’ll get more done, more efficiently with the right environment. If you’re an introvert, find a quiet spot or go to a library. If you’re an extravert, go to a busy Panera or Starbucks. Work in your zone when you’re in the zone and you’ll get more done. Make good use of your time. If I’m waiting for a flight at the airport, I can find a table, boot up my Macbook and bang out a blog post. Use downtime to check in with your network…by phone! My good friend Fred Allan makes it a point to call me to check in at least every couple of months. “Malcolm,” he says. “I know you’re busy but I just wanted to call and check in and see how you’re doing.” He’s a great example for all of us!

I don’t profess to be an expert but this is what’s worked well for me. Remember, we all have the same amount of hours in a day. How much you use and how much you waste is all up to you. Take some time this week to evaluate your workday and start making some changes.

Beware of the Easy Score

Nice Try conceptOne of the most comedic, frustratingly annoying experiences I have nearly every week is watching the boarding process on Southwest Airlines. If you’re not familiar with how it works, you’re going to be very confused.

Southwest doesn’t assign seats. It will assign a boarding number when you check into your flight. The boarding numbers come in three groups, A, B, and C. If you’re a frequent traveler like I am, pay for automatic check in, or buy a Business Select fare, you get in the A group, usually in numbers 16 to 60. Once the A group goes, then B and C follow. They key of course is getting a number as close to A-1 as possible. That allows you to have a greater choice of seats. God help you if you’re in the C group. You won’t find a space for your gigantic carry-on steamer trunk in the overhead bins and you’ll be stuck in the dreaded middle seat, probably between a huge fat guy and a mom with a lap child.

One area of seats that always seems to LOOK open is the very first row, the bulkhead seats. It’s open for a reason. You can’t store any bags in front of you or under the seat. Everything has to go in the overhead bins. Since it’s usually old people who sit there because they do the pre-board, the bins are already full with purses, canes, and medical devices. For the unsuspecting novice traveler, they walk on the plane with their “C” boarding group and jump in, thinking they got the easy score. Then they’re told they can’t sit there, as there is no space for their luggage. Dejected, they slink back to the steerage section of the plane doomed to a middle seat. This happens at least three times per flight I’m on. The easy score is usually too good to be true.

Not to be a pessimist, but if things look too good to be true, they probably are. That empty parking spot at the front of the row at the mall on Black Friday will be a handicapped spot. The empty seat on the bus will have a homeless whino with bad B.O. sitting next to it. I once saw a guy at the bathroom in the BWI airport cut in front of the line to head into the ONLY empty stall. A second later he rushed out when he discovered there was diarrhea all over the walls and floor. Not sure how that happened.

Rather than wait for something to miraculously happen to you, why not go out of your way to create awesome opportunities? Rather than check in two hours before your Southwest flight and HOPE you get a good seat, check in right at the 24-hour mark? Instead of hoping for that great seat, open parking spot, or clean bathroom stall, plan better and get an earlier start? The same goes for opportunities at work. Rather than hope for a promotion, do the hard work to prepare for it. Instead of hoping you’ll be noticed, go out of your way to get noticed.

Nothing good in life will routinely fall into your lap. The easy score is often deceptive. There is a quote, attributed to everyone from Plato to Henry Ford that says “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to find.” If that’s true, there is no easy score. It’s all the result of preparation and hard, diligent work.

What are you prepared to do?

How to Fly Like a Pro

flyWe’re about ready to hit another busy flight period. As a frequent business traveler, I honestly dread flying in the summer, during the holidays, and during spring break. I don’t mean to be selfish, but planes are like my car. When there’s traffic, car commuters get frustrated. When planes, airports, and TSA check points are crowded, I get frustrated.

Some of the delays are due to weather and mechanical issues, but when they come from inexperienced travelers, that’s preventable. Rather than continually complain about it, I’d like to offer novice travelers some helpful hints on how to navigate the process of flying quickly and efficiently as well as some absolute “do-nots” that will make us regular flyers a little more patient with you.

TSA:

TSA is a necessary evil. Here are some things to do to navigate it like a pro:

  • Check your boarding pass. If it says TSA PRE, then go to the TSA Pre-check Lane. You don’t need to take your belt or shoes off or remove your liquids or gels. Be sure to take metal out of your pockets or you’ll set off the alarm and get a pat-down.
  • Get organized before you even get in line. Put all of your metal stuff in one pocket or a purse. I use a SCOTTeVEST travel vest and put my keys, phone, wallet, and pocket contents in and then lay it on the belt.
  • If you’re not in TSA PRE, then get your belt off, stuff out of pockets, laptop and liquids and gels out BEFORE you get to the scanner. Move quick. Put stuff in the bin and pay attention.
  • When you get out of the scanner, move quickly to the belt and remove your stuff. Walk away from the TSA area and reassemble yourself away from the crowd right there.

Boarding the plane:

  • Depending on the airline, be sure to pay attention to your boarding number and position. Don’t move forward or crowd the gate if you’re in Zone 5 and they’re only calling Zone 1. Pay attention but don’t push your way in.
  • Hang up your phone. You can’t walk on the plane, find your seat, hold your luggage, and put it in the bin if your phone’s glued to your ear.
  • Find your seat and put your big bag in the overhead bin. Put it in wheels first and don’t hog the whole bin. Put your backpack or purse in the space below the seat in front of you. You’re not entitled to free foot space if you have two carry-on bags. Keep your big jackets on your lap until the bins are full, then have a flight attendant put it in the bin when everyone’s luggage is stowed.

During the flight:

  • Don’t recline your seat. Yes I know you are able to and you have the right to, but there’s just not enough room to do it. The person behind you will feel like a sardine. It’s just the humane thing to do.
  • Don’t pull your big butt out of your seat to use the bathroom by pulling on the seat in front of you. It jerks the head of the person in front of you back and then snaps it forward.
  • Don’t fumble with the tray table. It pushes and bumps the passenger sitting in front of you.
  • If you HAVE to bring food on the plane, do us all a favor and get a bag of trail mix or chips. That stinky McDonalds meal may taste good to you but the rest of us around don’t want to smell it.
  • If you have kids, be sure to bring them snacks and toys. Don’t let them kick the seat in front of you. Bored kids will become trouble on a long flight and remember…nobody thinks your kids are as cute or funny as you do.

When the plane pulls up to the gate:

  • Stand up and if your luggage is right above your head and you’re on the aisle, get your bag down.
  • Wait your turn getting off the plane. Don’t push ahead of the people in front of you.
  • Move quickly. Some of us have tight connections. This isn’t the time to lollygag or chat up the Captain on your way off the plane.
  • Don’t stop in the jetway to adjust your luggage. You’re liable to get run over.

Final thoughts:

There was a time when flying was fun. Crowded flights and security have pretty much changed that. If you’re heading out this spring for a vacation, have a great time but remember that people like me fly almost every week and are trying to make a living. Adopt some of these tips and not only will us business travelers be much friendlier, you’ll also have a much better flying experience.