Tag Archives: Leadership

What Would Oliver Do?

In the summer of 1970 I met a man named Oliver Butterworth.  As school was off, I was just sort of hanging around the stores at the center of town.  Butterworth, a quasi famous children’s author was campaigning on the street for Joe Duffey, a very liberal anti-war Democrat who was running against Lowell Weicker for one of Connecticut’s Senate seats. It was during Vietnam and Oliver was handing out Duffey buttons and peace movement leaflets out of a VW Minivan. He had rigged a makeshift awning and had a card table with lemonade.  He was like a character out of  “Alice’s Restaurant.”  Kind of an old Hippie.

As I was just hanging around with nothing to do, (I realized later, he worked as a local teacher and was just hanging out during the summer too) he invited me to hand out buttons and leaflets.  He explained the anti war movement and how much was at stake in the coming election, and how it’s up to the people to change things.  I have a picture somewhere of me standing in front of that van with Duffey for Senate buttons all over my shirt trying to look informed and ready to fight for the people.  I wasn’t informed or ready to fight.  I was eleven, but I had a cause.

Butterworth had written a children’s book named ‘The Enormous Egg.’ It was about a New Hampshire farm kid (Nate) whose chicken predictably lays an enormous egg.  When the egg hatches, not a chicken emerges, but a Triceratops whom Timmy names Uncle Beazley.  As soon as this is discovered, all who had been laughing at the kid with the enormous egg develop their own agendas.  As the dinosaur grows amid media hoopla and opportunists trying to profit on the find, they need to ship Uncle Beazley off to the National Zoo in Washington DC, because he’s basically eating the farm.  Eventually, Congress, appalled at how much the Dinosaur is eating at the Zoo decides to declare it Un-American (Oliver wrote it in 1956 and was trying to turn 8 year olds everywhere against McCarthy.)  Timmy goes on TV and rallies the masses to petition Congress to “do the will of the people” and accept Uncle Beazley as a permanent resident at the Zoo.  They all live happily ever after.

During that summer and fall, Oliver would tell me where he was going to park the van and I would show up there, hand out stuff and get a civics lesson.  Did my Mom know I was out meeting an old guy with a van? Yes, and she didn’t think anything of it.  It was a different time and we didn’t assume everyone was out to molest us.  I’m sure she thought “well, it’s not like he’s a Catholic Priest or anything, so what the hell.”  Oliver only molested me with anti-war rhetoric and a far left liberalism (in retrospect socialism) that I think I still retain today. Actually, he was pretty cool.

Lowell Weicker sticking it to Nixon

At the end of it all, Joe Duffey lost the election by 90,000 votes.  Lowell Weicker went on to become the moderate Republican that swayed everyone against Nixon and forced his resignation.  In the end,  it pretty much worked out the way Oliver wanted it to. Oliver wasn’t a big Nixon fan.

After the election was lost, Oliver called me and told me we had stood for what we believed in and in taking a stand there are no regrets.  Not long after, he mailed me an autographed copy of the Enormous Egg which I still have.

Hollywood offers up many fights, competing agendas and deception so thick, Nixon would be proud.  Honor sometimes can be scarce.  The higher the stakes, the more ruthless people become.  Perhaps it’s just human nature.  I’m not complaining mind you.  By and large I find it fascinating, and those around me find my righteous indignation in the face of it a constant form of entertainment.

What I find myself fighting sometimes is the regret.  If I had only done this, or if only I had done that I would have gotten the result I wanted.  I always try to do the right thing and believe it or not, doing the right thing around here sometimes gets you screwed. I have a nasty habit of obsessing about that stuff long after the fight has ended.  I’m learning to let go.

For 2012 my main resolution is: WWOD (what would Oliver do.)  He had fought the good fight, done what he could, mentored where he could, spoke his truth in public, moved on from each fight with no regrets at the outcome.  He trusted that goodness would prevail, which it eventually does in one way or the other, and that setbacks are temporary.

It’s a funny thought. What WOULD Oliver do in Hollywood?  I guess I’m going to find out.  Stay tuned.

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I’m Back!

Hello again, it’s me. Back from my self-imposed or should I say self involved sabbatical.  I ran out of things to say there for a while (I find we all do that sometimes) and faced with reprinting other people’s material, re-treading my own, or clamming up I chose the latter for three months. I must admit some guilt every time I passed my computer on my way to watching football or playing my guitar, but never enough to actually sit down and write something.  So, here I am again, with a (hopefully) simple message.

Once upon a time I had a girlfriend who told me about how her father got hit by a trolley car when he was a kid.  Obviously, he was OK as he grew up to father children, but the story goes like this:  he and his mother had just come from the shoe store where he had gotten a new pair of shoes.  He was enthralled by how shiny they were and kept looking down at them.  His mother implored him to  pay less attention to his new shoes and more attention to where he was walking. They came to a busy street corner, he stepped off the curb whilst looking at his shoes and …. well you know the rest, he got hit by a trolley car.

Why do I bring this up now? WPA, the company I started with a great group of intrepid and committed people just celebrated its 1 year anniversary.  The enterprise is going gangbusters and dare I say, is more successful in one year of operation than my previous company was in ten years. I could attribute this to any number of factors and there are a lot at work here.  But, when it comes right down to it, it’s about the people involved.  They all have vision, commitment and ambition, both personal and collective. As a group, we’ve flourished.

There have been challenges for sure. There was and still is a learning curve of how to work together for the common good. There have been control issues (mostly mine) and the fits and starts of implementing a new and innovative team system of representation and corporate culture. I’m very proud of everyone involved and what we’ve accomplished together.

What does this have to do with shiny new shoes?  Only everything. It would be so easy to sit back, look at what we’ve done and be delighted.  But, to keep staring at the glow of our shiny shoes would be to invite a trolley car to run us over.  So, instead we are looking ahead.

“Yesterday’s home runs won’t help you win today” – Babe Ruth

Too true. As we start to plot a course for 2012, we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions. What were the successes and why?  Where did we fall down and why? Both sets are tough to answer, but are equally important.  I personally have been taking a lot of time to plot goals and strategy.  Here’s what I have found: I’ve been very bad in the past at plotting goals and strategy. Here’s why:  I haven’t ever spent enough time doing it.  I’ve always just sat down and written it out, then moved on.  This time, I’m writing, considering, coming back to it a few days later, suddenly adding insight when I have an inspiration.  It’s been a process of several weeks now and I can tell I’m not done yet.

Setting goals are one thing. Adding a detailed strategy to achieve them is quite another. I just read “Great By Choice” by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen. I found it to be a fantastic system of goal setting and strategy.  The basic techniques are: set your goal, figure out how you’re going to get there with a SMaC recipe. These are actions to be taken that are Specific, Methodical and Consistent (SMaC) and are then formed into what they call a “twenty mile march.” A march you do day in, day out, week by week, year by year.

It has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about goals.  In short, there’s an accountability mechanism built in. Because, you’re either marching or you’re not. You’re either advancing on your goals or you’re not. You have a specific list of actionable steps or you don’t. I recommend this read.

So then, what’s next for WPA?  You’ll have to keep reading. I can tell you we won’t be caught staring down at our shiny shoes.  This is Hollywood, the trolley cars don’t just pass by, they’re aiming for you.

Typical dress for a hollywood Trolley Car.

Stoked

One winter when I was a kid the power went out for two days.  I grew up in Connecticut and every winter we would have several Ice Storms.  On these days, you would wake up to all the tree branches glistening with a coating of ice around everything.  It was most fantastic because school was always cancelled.  My sisters and I would sit around the kitchen table, ears stuck to the radio waiting to hear our town called out as closed. When there were Ice Storms they always closed school.

You see, as the storm progressed, the roads would develop a half inch or so of solid ice.  I remember this particular time putting on ice skates and skating right down the middle of the road. That is until those beautiful tree branches began to break and fall on the equally coated power lines. Then, what was a lot of fun became something else. Downed lines flailing and sparking and a stupid kid in skates trying to run down the street.  I did manage to make it home.

After several hours of the power being out and phone calls to friends who still had power and reports from the radio, it became apparent that it would be a few days before we had heat again. So, my parents hatched a plan where after waiting for the roads to be sanded, my mother and sisters would head off to my Grandparents house in the next town to wait it out while my father and I stayed behind to drain the radiators (we had those old steam kind) and keep a fire going in the fireplace so that hopefully the whole plumbing system didn’t freeze up.

It was quite an adventure.  We had sleeping bags in the living room, a pile of wood and we took shifts staying up and keeping the fire going. I was only 12, we sat up for a long time talking.  He let me have a beer, I didn’t really like beer that much at the time, especially beer that had been sitting in 10 degree weather on the back porch and was more like a half frozen 7/11 beer slushy.  But we were two men braving the elements and surviving anything a  suburban living room could throw at them.

I remember keeping that fire going strong all night. I mean the house was freezing and I’m not sure the fire warmed the plumbing system that much (though it didn’t freeze) but we made it through the night. The following afternoon as we were preparing for another death defying night on Mt. Rumpus Room, the power unexpectedly came back on.

I think we all have experience sitting around a fire and tending it, keeping it going.  There’s something primal and satisfying about making a “roaring” fire and keeping it really big.

So what about your career’s fire?  Is it roaring? Is it fading?  I’ve seen plenty of careers that at one time were roaring but one day become barely glowing embers. They got that way simply because as they died down, the owner failed to stoke it and put more wood on.  There’s a misnomer that once you “make it” your career will just keep going on it’s own momentum.  But, it won’t.  It’s just like a fire that needs constant tending.

Some say, “that’s why I have an agent” but, as an agent myself I can tell you that isn’t enough.  If you rely solely on your agent’s contacts without making and maintaining contacts on your own, the day will come when you will realize that you don’t actually know many people in the business. You’ve worked with a lot of people, you’ve done a good job, but years after the fact, you don’t really know them well enough to suddenly reach out and start a work dialogue.  When you finally do reach out long after working together, it seems desperate because let’s face it, as a freelancer, if you wait until you need work to work on getting work, it is desperate.

On the other hand, if you maintain your contacts by regular casual ‘hey what’s up emails, birthday and holiday greetings, or even just using the Facebook ‘Like’ button daily, you are ahead of the game. Through constant contact you may even make some close friends and we all want more of that.  You have to see each contact you make as a stick of wood going on to the fire of your career.  The more sticks, the higher the fire may grow.  If you make contact with people infrequently, don’t expect too big of a fire. If not at all, you will find yourself blowing at the embers just trying to get a small flame started up.

It may be that you think that since people really like you when you’ve worked with them, and that’s enough for them to think of you next time.  It’s not.  People forget very quickly and need to be reminded that they really like you. And the best way to do that is to keep being likable. When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable.

It’s never too late to sleep in the living room and get that fire going again.  But once you do, make sure you keep an eye on it every day. And more than that, make sure that every day you keep throwing sticks on the fire.  More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career.

The math isn’t hard, but organizing a plan can be.  Try this: make a list of everyone you can ever remember working with.  Now go on Facebook and if you’re not Facebook friends already, FRIEND THEM.  In almost every person’s Facebook info is their birthday and their email address. Add this info to your contact list. Now the hard part: use the information. Put together a daily list of contacts that can be made and follow through.

This is a simple first step towards building a fire.  The casual contacts are sticks, so put them on the fire.  When you actually work together, those are logs so make them count.  After the job, make sure you keep throwing sticks on the fire until the next job.

And take my advice: don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Want to share this idea with your own Twitter network? Here are handy tweetable bits.

More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

What about your career’s fire?  Is it roaring? Is it fading? http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb

Don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

I’ve Seen London, I’ve Seen France…

Headed to Paris from London today. Rocking the Eurostar through the Chunnel. The English countryside has been flying by for the past half hour, looking vaguely like New England until a random castle pops onto the landscape out of nowhere. The train conductor is making an announcement through a squeaky speaker in an accent so thick and unintelligible that he sounds like inspector Clouseau taking your order at a Jack In The Box drive through. I hope it wasn’t something important like “the Chunnel ahead has sprung a leak, please proceed to the lifeboats.” I think if that’s the case we’re pretty well screwed anyway, but still.

People have been commenting on my American accent over the past few days!! Can you imagine? I keep telling them I’m not the one with the accent, but it hasn’t helped. When I realize that I am indeed the different one, I make a quick apology for the Bush administration and we move right along with the conversation.

Back to the train. Most of the seats on this train face each other and I’m opposite a rather large man. We are alternating our foot position to give us each enough leg room. The guy next to me is asleep with his fist against the side of his head, his propped elbow taking up the whole arm rest between us. Therefore, I am now typing in a contorted sideways position, my body twisted against the window and my feet headed in the opposite direction between the fat man’s feet. I would say something, but my accent would be discovered and I would have to start the Bush apology all over again.  However, It does remind me about the importance of positioning.

The view from my train!

Ah, we’ve come out of the dark tunnel and into France. I just got a text from the French cell provider that my per minute rates are one quarter of what they were in Great Britain. Imagine the joy of the troops coming ashore at Normandy when they realized their cell phone calls just got cheaper. And we wonder how they found the resolve to push on to Berlin…

Back to positioning. How is your career and indeed your life positioned? It’s a tricky question. Are you doing commercials, features, television? Are you at the top of the market, the middle of the market or are you just breaking in? Are you single with very little stuff and no debt or are you married with kids and a mortgage?

None of these scenarios are better or worse than another, but they all point to what your positioning is. You may wish to work at the high end of features but you are working in the middle market of tv commercials and you have a family. Not impossible by any means, but not as easy as the transition of someone without a family, as the financial foundation must be supported and risk is tougher. You have the talent, but the positioning is wrong. You may be single, just out of film school with a few student films under your belt and you are positioning for high end commercials. Your reel is pretty good but your set experience is light and you’ve never worked in the stressful environment of advertising where money changes hands fast.  And errors, well lets just say there isn’t much latitude for errors.

Positioning is a starting point at the beginning of a career.  Positioning is also choosing a NEW starting point at any time during a career.  So, how do you find the right positioning to have the career you want? How do you then move it forward? There is no right way to answer to this, but in my experience I would say slowly. Step by step, day by day get to where you want to go by moving in the direction you desire. If you have financial and family commitments, build up your savings so you can take a low paying feature as an intro to that world. If you are young, join a department at the bottom and work your way up so you are exposed to both the technical and political workings of the business.

If you are pointed one way and where you want to go is in the opposite direction, you first need to turn around. Assess where you really want to go and take the first small steps in getting there. There is a pressure in society to live your whole career in a month.  To be a millionaire before you are 30. That happens of course, but only in a minute percentage of careers.  Mostly, it’s the image we tend to see in the media, so it’s our own fault really.  But, you don’t have to buy into it.

The idea is to be calculating and make choices wisely over a period of time. If you can avoid it, don’t head in directions that are just lucrative and not artistically satisfying, unless of course you have to.  There is a point where money will no longer be enough. I heard a great quote by the speaker John C. Maxwell. “To go up you have to give up.”

It’s true. Many on my trip have been surprised and some even appalled that this is my first trip to Europe. I could have gone earlier of course, but I was working mostly office jobs, supporting a family, working my way up. The positioning and direction I had chosen for my life just hadn’t led to Europe until now.  It’s ironic of course that many of the clients I work with travel to Europe constantly. Some live there. However, I now realize my positioning has been changing slowly over the past several years and I’ve wanted it to. This sea change has culminated in the creation of WPA, The Worldwide Production Agency. With that name, of course there is going to be a bit more travel involved.

So, assess where you’ve positioned yourself and where you want to go. Remember, steering a career is like steering a big ship. To turn it in a new direction you turn the wheel slowly.  To try and spin it around quickly is to risk capsizing.

As Thoreau said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” I’ll add: as you go, be aware of your course and make the small adjustments to keep you on your path.

I’ve always wanted to go to Europe and here I am.  It took a while, but now I am on a train, twisted against the window between a snoring arm rest hog and a fat man. Inspector Clouseau is muttering about his “Minkey” over the intercom and I’m loving every second. It’s funny, I chose this long ago and step by step, with some decent and often hard choices, I slowly got here.

Tonight I see the Eiffel Tower. Tomorrow, who knows?

Culture? I Got Your Culture Right Here

Here’s a question for you; as an artist, entertainer or freelancer, what does corporate culture have to do with you? You’re not a CEO with hundreds of people working under you, so why would you have to think about it? We all have to think about it.  If we don’t, no one will work with us.  Or at the least, if you’re hyper talented, but impossible, people will work with you begrudgingly.

I’ve been involved in a lot of different cultures throughout my working career.  At my first production staff job I was told early on “Our credo is: assume everyone is dumber than you.”  Brilliant!  Grammatically incoherent, promotes arrogance while belittling you all at the same time.  Teamwork wasn’t our thing. It was every idiot for themselves.

My first job at a talent agency was different. I was told by the guy who hired me: “The object of the game here is to devour the top. I won’t be satisfied until you make me obsolete and I’m on the sidewalk looking for a job.”  I don’t think he realized that it would only be three months before he actually was on the sidewalk looking for a job.  I can’t take credit for it.  There was a sudden palace coup that dispatched of him quickly and finally.  Brutal.  It taught me to keep my head down, work hard and never let my bookings or revenue slip.

Looks like the right gear for storming an agent's office.

See, rather quickly it became obvious to me that big talent agency culture was simple: you can have dead bodies piling up in the corner of your office and as long as your bookings are strong, all management will do is send out for air freshener. However, let your bookings slip and they’ll call out for a SWAT team.

So, what is corporate culture?  In essence, it’s the spirit in which groups of people work together.  But, it’s up to each member of the group to individually contribute.  For example:  Good culture would be a movie set where the various departments communicate well towards the common goal.  Great culture would be that the team and individual attitude is ‘serving’ the other departments and the common goal.

Culture tends to be established from the top down, as in the two examples I gave you previously from my own experience.  My favorite movie example of this is in “Tropic Thunder” when Tom Cruise‘s studio head Les Grossman commands the Key Grip to punch the director in the face via Satellite link.  In the real world of movie making there are also examples of establishing culture good and bad.

Jack Nicholson is known for starting up an on set poker game with the cast and crew at the beginning of each movie he does. Invariably, when making movies there’s a lot of waiting around while different departments get ready for a scene. Jack doesn’t hide in his trailer, he spends the time with who’s ever available, building commraderie and passing the time having some fun with those around him.  He’s the boss and he knows it, so he sets a fun relaxed tone with the built in message that waiting is OK.

There’s another actor in Hollywood that arrives for each work day by helicopter. When the crew hears that chopper overhead, they have 20 minutes to be ready to roll camera.  If they’re not, the actor gets back in ther chopper and flies away. Now, there may be good reasons for the actor having to work this way, to each his own. But, the net effect is that the rest of the crew becomes paranoid, anxious and has flashbacks when seeing traffic copters or the opening titles of M*A*S*H.

The individual in the group dynamic is important!  Though it starts from the top down, any team member has the power to make the culture positive or to undermine it.  To make that point, imagine a big lighting setup.  While you are shooting away, someone randomly keeps pulling out plugs. As soon as you get it plugged back in and are rolling again, another one gets pulled on the other side. That is the power of the individual!

So think about it.  What is your individual contribution to the corporate culture of your crew, team or group?  Is it positive or negative? Is it about serving the group or your personal aspirations?

This is a fluid subject. I’m not the poster boy for creating good corporate culture. I think we teach what we most need to learn.  But, I’ve become aware that not only does culture count, if you want to keep your sanity and you want to love going to work everyday it’s essential.

So, how do you change a culture, in an office? On a set? If you’re the boss or department head take a good look at the tone you are setting.  Is it collaborative? Can people ask questions and feel heard in their concerns without feeling their jobs are threatened? Remember, the space shuttle Challenger accident?  The official investigation revealed that the engineers brought up concerns repeatedly. Their concerns were so aggressively rebuffed that they stopped bringing them up out of fear of losing their jobs.

After you’ve done some introspection, write down your personal philosophy of a good working environment and make sure those around you are aware of your feelings.  Then walk your talk and implement your point of view.

If you’re not the boss, it’s all about one thing: ATTITUDE! What attitude are you bringing to the team?  Is it positive? Negative? Self preserving? Secretive? Collaborative? Again introspection is in order. Ask yourself some hard questions. There’s always something to work on.

In the end, attitude always wins out, positive OR negative. But, only you can choose.  The beauty is that you can change the culture around you top down or bottom up. The choice is yours.

Perspective

My horse died last week.  He was a good friend.  Lexington was one thousand pounds of power that protected me on the trail as much as I protected him. He was like me, an Alpha horse that was willing to step out in front to protect the herd when he needed to. But, he was better than me. More honest, better looking and way smarter. He was one of a kind.  I saw him every morning and every night, standing watch from his spot in front of the barn, his flaxen white mane hanging regally off to one side and a shock of hair hanging down his forehead, laying right between his eyes.  I’ll miss our late night chats and sunrise state of the corral updates.  Yes, we conversed regularly in our own way  He was my friend and I miss him terribly.

He died of colic.  Horses can’t vomit, so if too much of the wrong thing gets inside them, it settles and clogs somewhere in the small intestine. It can be a rock, moldy hay, whatever.  If you don’t discover the sick animal quickly enough, sections of the intestine die. If too much intestine is destroyed, the horse dies also. That’s exactly what happened to Lex.

We’re still not sure what he ate, but I know from the experience it takes a perfect storm to kill a horse. I fed them dinner early and then headed to San Diego for the afternoon and evening. I fed them outside in the pasture so the animals that ate in stalls would not be inside too long. Lex always ate in the pasture so there was nothing different for him. But, we returned after dark. On a normal day I would go out to the barn and turn the stalled horses out into the pasture, but they were already out.  If I had, I might have caught it. We’ll never know.

More good news, I’m on a plane headed east to attend the funeral of a client who’s wife died of cancer at 47. A tragedy, another inexpressible loss. Far greater I’m afraid than the loss of my friend. Mine, while painful is but a trifle.  Losing a wife, a mother, no comparison.

However tragic and unbelievable, and while never forgetting these losses, the human spirit finds ways to heal from them. Lex’s memory won’t fade, but I know the last frantic and frightening hours of trying to save him will.  My wife wants to head to Kentucky in a few weeks to look for a horse to replace him. I told her I’m not ready to date other horses yet. But, I’ll go with her anyway, ride some great horses and likely come back disappointed that they don’t match up to my friend Lex. But, it will mark my first step in moving on.

Believe it or not there is good news in all this heartache. It’s called perspective. I’ve been doing this for 15 years now, so I’m not afraid to say that I’ve lost clients to other agents,  lost deals, lost the fair edge in negotiations, been sued by former employers, flirted with not being able to make payroll, thought my career was over more than once and you know what? As stomach turning as business can be, nobody died. Each time, I showed up for work the next day, learned to not make the same mistakes twice.  Each time, I ended up keeping my wits about me and riding out the storm.

As I got on the plane today, the non-stop coverage of the tragedy in Japan continued. I read in the NY Times about the rescue of a 60 year old man from the roof of his house. He had been riding the house in the water for two days, and oh yeah, before they found him, he had drifted ten miles out to sea. Now, that’s a problem. That’s what I call riding out the storm.

So, next time you lose a job to someone else, get fired, come up a little short on cash, come upon a director or producer who is taking themselves a bit too seriously, cursing and throwing things because the setup took too long, please remember you read this. Remember to take a deep breath and whisper silently to yourself “perspective.” say to yourself “well at least I’m not riding the roof of my house ten miles out at sea. Now THAT would suck.” Remember, in the end, we’re making movies and money.  We work in a profession where we don’t have to perform life or death brain surgery.   So, when the going gets tough, just breathe.

I’m not by any means saying what we do isn’t important and the stress isn’t real. It is. Well,  I certainly know mine is.  I’m saying, show toughness and tenacity when called for. Don’t take things personally and save your angst for when you really need it. Because, if you haven’t needed it yet, I can assure you the day will come when you find yourself dealing with personal tragedy or riding the roof of your house ten miles out at sea.  By using some perspective now, at the very least you’ll recognize some real trouble when you see it.

Angry Birds, I Can’t Quit You

Angry Birds, I can’t quit you.  Ever since my evil assistant Trevor introduced us a week and a half ago, you have confounded me, enticed me and made me addicted to your charms.  Angry Birds, I can’t quit you.

Yes, Angry Birds, the pointless and insipid iPhone app game.  Thanks to Angry Birds, I’ve become the Charlie Sheen of my own couch.  Playing the game no matter what else is going on around me.  In a week and a half, my family has left me, my bank accounts are empty and I wander around my house, robe open  in my underwear, staring at my iPhone screen, drooling and muttering insults at the stupid little red bird who can’t blow anything up and bounces off everything without inflicting any damage!  On the plus side, I received an encouraging email from Lindsay Lohan in which she offered to be my sponsor, provided I show the tiniest bit of evidence that I want to recover. I have hit bottom and started to dig.

Ah, Angry Birds, my current diversion. I’ve had millions of them.  They’ve ranged from incessant practicing of musical instruments to sitting for too long in front of the tube, watching CSI Boise and following the ever fascinating online  updates of Charlie and Lindsey as they circle the drain.

I’m talking about the things that keep us from doing the work we need to be doing. Of course, doing the things we like are easy.  We gravitate towards these things and tend to do them first.  When we’re done with them, we look for any reason we can to keep from doing the things that provide foundation to the dreams we are trying to build. Sound familiar?

I can’t remember where, but I heard something recently about productivity.  When asked about his long successful career, an older entrepreneur said “whenever I find myself in a lull at work, I ask myself this question: is this the most productive thing I could be doing right now.  I ask this question constantly throughout my day.”

Not as easy for a freelancer of course.  When you’re not working and trying to GET work, you also have the rhythm of home to deal with.  When you’re sitting in the car waiting to pick up the kids from school, no, it’s probably not the most productive work thing you could be doing.  But, if you’re waiting with an iPhone in your hand playing FREAKIN ANGRY BIRDS, stop and send an email to a business contact.  If you’re sitting at your computer, resist the urge to do the online NY Times crossword puzzle and do some technical research your craft or find some useful ways to network.

It’s great that we live in a time when there is so much right at our fingertips. Information is everywhere and it’s all fighting for our attention.  Leisure is everywhere and it’s all fighting for our attention.  I’m not saying never relax.  You have to let your mind have some downtime.  But, be disciplined and reserve time to work  on your career.  During that work time keep asking yourself: is this the most productive thing I could be doing right now?

That said, it’s been an hour since I wrote that last line.  I had to go to the bathroom, then my neighbor down the road called and said my dogs were loose. I retrieved them, fixed the gate that they compromised, (those damn dogs have more escapes than the cast of Hogan’s Heros) considered taking a shower and finally decided to finish writing instead. So, yes I get it.  Being at home trying to work is distracting.  At least I haven’t picked up my iPhone and succumbed to the calling of ANGRY BIRDS.

I suggest you might try this:  Tape to your computer the question: ‘is this the most productive thing I could be doing right now?’  I mean, what could it hurt?  At the very least you might develop a new working habit. As for me, if I can finish this blog post before either Charlie or Lindsey get in trouble again it will be a miracle.  Bill Maher said it best the other night, and I have to paraphrase because I couldn’t find it on You Tube yet, though I did look at 20 other things: “Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, you know you’re a mess when a train wreck stops to look at you!  ba dum dum.

Go try to be productive. As for me, I’ve got level 2 to get past and I better not see that friggin little red bird again.