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Passion, People and Principles

Spa Wisdom

post # 61 — April 27, 2006 — a Careers, Strategy post

My wife, Kathy, has always wanted us to go together to a spa. The thought has never been appealing; I’ve always thought of them as sybaritic luxuries. (They are!)

Still, I owed her — big time — for all her support, and I eventually agreed. We went to The Golden Door in southern California. (Yes, I always do things to extremes.)

For me, the highlight was not the spa experience itself, but the opportunity to listen to Deborah Szekely, the 80-something founder of the Golden Door, who gave a really fascinating talk one evening.

Among her pearls of wisdom was the advice that, every week, we should take an hour or two to examine what we have done with our time in the previous week, marking everything in one of five colors.

  • Green would be used for anything that was a challenging growth experience
  • Black would be used for things that were a waste of time
  • Blue should be used for things that could have been delegated (even if the other person could only do it 85% as well as you could.)
  • Red would represent something you did that was a deposit for your health
  • and your own favorite color would be used for time spent on family, friends and fun

This is more than just “cute.” It truly is wise.

In a previous post we have discussed the issues of measuring and judging in running a business. The key insight that ties these topics together is that, as individuals and as organizations, we can only improve if we use our direct experince, taking the time to reflect on what has happened to us, and making small mid-course corrections.

There’s no point having experinces, if you don’t have a process for learning from them and building on them.

I’m not sure I want to go back to spas for the massages. But if there are people like Deborah Szekely there to listen to, sign me up again!


Carl Singer said:

Good thoughts.

Retrospection is an important tool.

Now twist this taxonomy a bit and look forward—both immediate (what do I do now / next) and longer term (planning.)

posted on April 27, 2006

Mike said:


What about the rest of the time? For example, what about time spent reviewing a junior colleague’s work? It’s not a challenging growth experience. It’s not something I can delegate, but it’s important. Did Deborah comment on that kind of time?

posted on April 27, 2006

David (Maister) said:

What you both comment on, Carl and Mike, is that there ARE other categories of time we could all invent.

What I liked about the principle of what Ms. Szekely had to say is not that you must review everything, but that you should invent a simple scheme that (a) helps you check that you are taking care of the key issues, and (b) forces you to examine what CAN be modified or changed.

As I argued on a post on Dennid Howlett’s blog (http://www.accmanpro.com/?p=726), the best any measurement (or judgment) mechanism can hope to do is to give us ‘signals for further investigation’.

From that point of view, a simple review scheme will never cover everything, but it will help us ensure that, if things are seriously unbalanced, we need to dig deeper.

That’s better than an unwieldy system that forces us to review everything (and hence will be less likely to be slotted into our already busy lives.)

posted on April 27, 2006

Rob Nance said:

This is a remarkable idea. If everyone applied this practice to their lives the world would be a much better place!

posted on April 27, 2006

Kok van der Weijden said:

David, Here you draw attention to something broader, and generally underestimated: people are so busy with coping with things that come their way (to react, to read, to reply etc.), that they do not take the time to reflect: is this what I want?, is this worthwhile? For me, the turning point came when reading Stephen Coveys famous book and learning to draw my own agenda. This tool seems a useful one and I will try and figure out how it can work for me!

Don’t forget the opening scene of Winnie the Poo: Poo bear assumes that there must be an other way of coming down the stairs than bouncing his head, if only he had the time to think about one.

Judgement, and gut feeling is what it is all about, like you mention at several other places as well.

posted on May 26, 2006