decide | Book Review

“Unless we are constantly working toward improving
some area of life, we will be focused on the parts
of life that naturally get worse over time.”
(p. 32)

Subtitled work smarter, reduce your stress, and lead by example, decide presents a practical how-to guide for the manager or leader struggling to get past being busy all the time.

Steve McClatchy’s work correlates very well with several Academy Leadership workshops; in particular Setting Leadership Priorities (or Time Management), Effective Decision-Making and My Leader’s Compass. He repeatedly mentions energy management as a constructive leadership tool, similar to one of the teachable points of view in our Energize2Lead workshops.

This review associates McClatchy’s findings with four leadership workshops. Several chapters additionally detail specific time management techniques for the reader seeking an instructive how-to guide (similar to Work Simply).

Motivation | Energy

McClatchy opens by separating motivation into Gain and Pain categories; that is, we seek Gain and wish to avoid Pain. McClatchy distinguishes Gain in that Gain pushes us to move toward something we want, something that will make our lives better (p. 9). We can think of Gain as similar to  Herzberg’s motivators or Covey’s Quadrant II, or important but not urgent activities.

McClatchy shares that tasks such as putting gas in your car, doing laundry, and going grocery shopping all have to be done over and over again because the things necessary to maintain your life are never finished (p. 10). Just like Herzberg’s hygiene category tasks or, more commonly, chores. 

We may distinguish Gain tasks because they make [us] feel accomplished while the others just makes [us] feel busy (p. 13). Imagine asking yourself, while in the middle of several busy tasks (or even better, before starting them), whether or not the activities are significant, or linked to our High Payoff Activities (HPAs), which we identify in Setting Leadership Priorities workshops.

What really stops us from pursuing the Gain tasks we seek? We probably just run out of energy. Or, as McClatchy reveals: It is too difficult to think about pursing Gain if we wait until all our energy is spent on Preventing Pain (p. 25). How may we break this pattern? The best way to combat burnout and stress is to continuously seek improvement in some area of your life (p. 31).

McClatchy’s focus on energy is terrific. He finds that we draw on different sources of energy for the different combinations of things we do each day (p. 57), and that completing a task of any size or importance gives us that little surge of energy and enthusiasm from accomplishment (p. 60). Energy management becomes an effective tool allowing us to achieve Gain regularly.

Think of Covey’s Quadrant I (urgent and important - try to minimize) and Quadrant II (not urgent and important – preferred) construct. McClatchy describes an equivalent to Quadrant II: When you choose to wait until the last minute, you relinquish your ability to choose the most convenient and quickest amount of time for a task to take (p. 71). Consider the opposite, where we want to be:

But when we attack in a proactive manner, stress and
urgency are low, quality can be as high as you can
possibly make it, and you are in control.
(p. 73)

Setting Leadership Priorities

McClatchy cautions us regarding the I’m busy therefore I matter illusion:

This method of prioritizing gives you the illusion that you’ve been productive, when in reality, you have not really generated any results that matter. It can give you a false sense of accomplishment, a high that adds no value to your life. This is called drama (p. 38). He offers A New Way to Prioritize (p. 41):

A = Gain tasks
B = Recorded Prevent Pain tasks
C = Prevent Pain tasks 

Which produces Goals, leadership, improvement (A); Important maintenance responsibilities (B) and Maintenance (C), respectively. We can think of (A) tasks as our HPAs.

McClatchy discriminates between consumption and creation goals. Consumption goals are fun; most of the time, they’re well deserved and even necessary (p. 52). But they are not everything. In contrast, creation goals are the kinds of goals that lead to life being different and better than it is today (p. 52). Leader goals.

Effective Decision-Making

McClatchy offers a wise thought: Procrastination is not as much of a time management problem as it is a decision-making problem (p. 74). Without clarifying what matters most as a leader risks this situation. To start making better decisions about our time, we need to understand what comprises our time in the first place (p. 81). It should come as no surprise that one of the first activities during a Choinque Energy Management workshop is an audit of daily events and our corresponding energy levels.

McClatchy posits everything we do can fits into three categories:

• Habits: things we spend time on that we don’t have to write down or think about.
• To-do list: includes maintenance tasks that you don’t want to forget
• Calendar: for things that are time-specific: events, appointments, and anything you have to be on time for. 

How often do we have “notional” goals that we never act upon? If it isn’t on the calendar and instead it is merely a dream floating around in your head or a “good idea” on a list, then you have to have discipline to make it happen (p. 87). Our calendar is the place for our commitments. Additionally, having a daily plan enables you to move from one time-flexible task to another without using too much transition time (p. 104). Energy management.

Among the most common items conflicting with our HPAs in Setting Leadership Priorities workshop are the dreaded interruptions. We may think of interruptions as taking place when someone wants our attention while we are trying to focus on something else (p. 111), and they usually fit into one of three categories (p. 114):

1. A task that someone wants you to complete
2. An appointment someone wants you to schedule
3. An exchange of information 

The third category is frequently the worst because the exchange of information could take much longer – and may wind up forcing [us] to rearrange [our] afternoon (p. 114). McClatchy recommends we prioritize ourselves, or we might need to schedule an appointment with [ourself] and make it a time during which [we] are unavailable to be interrupted (p. 118).

Personal Leadership Philosophy

McClatchy separates management from leadership throughout the book, just as we discuss the differences between the two during the course of Your Personal Leader’s Compass workshops. In short, Personal leadership is doing what we don’t have to do to lead ourselves forward and grow each day (p. 20).

He offers a series of questions which may help compose a Personal Leadership Philosophy, questions that only [we] can answer (p. 151):

• What do you value?
• What are the absolutes in your life?
• How do you want your life to be?
• What do you want to accomplish or experience?
• What would make your life better than it is today?
• What are you going to do about it?
• What do you want people to think or feel when they hear your name?
• What do you want people to remember you for? 


An additional benefit when we are authentically pursuing our own leadership goals, or Gain, is that [we] won’t resent or envy other people’s goals or movement (p. 156). That’s where we want to be. It’s all about understanding ourselves:

Knowing who you are means knowing how you are
different from everyone else. In other words,
what do you do that you don’t have to do?
(p. 151)

Note: Steve McClatchy generously provided a copy of his book for review.

JE | December 2018