The simple productivity formula

Here’s a simple formula to make a bigger impact, enjoy more success, and improve your chances of admission to college:

How much you’re doing < how much you get done.

A day spent running from meeting to meeting and commitment to commitment, all of which is eventually summed up as a “busy day,” is a lot less valuable than a day where you actually accomplished something. A shipped project, a goal met, a person or team or organization helped—big or small, each represents a worthwhile outcome.

Getting more done is almost always more valuable than simply doing more. And in fact, the two states rarely coexist.

The power of small

I needed to ship a number of packages last week, so I made my first visit to a local mailing supply and shipping store in my neighborhood. It took almost 40 minutes to pack and ship all my items, and by the end of my visit, I hadn’t just learned a lot about their business, but I was also reminded of the power of being small.

The woman who works the counter is the co-owner with her husband. She’s also seven months pregnant, which would not normally figure into a business analysis except that nearly every customer who entered the store seemed to know when her baby was due. That’s notable because it turns out she knew them pretty well, too. Their names, their kids’ names, their occupations and health ailments and vacation plans. There’s a history there between the owners and their customers (I seemed to be the only patron who wasn’t yet on a first-name basis with the owner).

One woman arrived to check her P.O. box, at which point the owner mentioned to the new trainee behind the register (who also happens to be the owner’s mother-in-law) that this customer was named Dolores, she’s hard of hearing, and it’s important to look at her when you speak because she reads lips.

This business is a part of the surrounding community. The customers have a bond that goes beyond just convenience or the need to ship a package. The shop might be small, but that kind of connection with their customers will do a lot to insulate them from the bigger, less personal competition.

Many independent counselors and other small businesses go out of their way to hide that they’re small. For example, if you’re a one-person shop, why use the term “we” on your website, outgoing voicemail, and business communication? Most customers would rather deal with a “me” than a “we.”

If you’re a small business or a one-person shop, instead of trying to appear larger than you are, reinvest that effort into taking advantage of being small. Do things you’d never be able to do if you were two or three or ten times your size. In fact, that’s the surest way to spread word of mouth, attract more new customers, and eventually find yourself in the enviable position of being afforded a choice—get bigger, or stay small.

Unleash the greatness

I shared back in January that we were launching a Talent Tour of Duty at Collegewise, a nine-week program to help our Talent Department discover new and better ways to find, recruit, hire, train, and engage the very best employees. 18 Collegewisers completed the program last Friday. But the impact they’ve made will last much longer.

In just nine weeks, this group conceived of, built, and launched 12 projects. They created a diversity, equity, and inclusion board at Collegewise. They’ve scheduled a series of continuing education webinars by their colleagues, for their colleagues. They’ve created a welcoming committee for new employees, improved our student tracking systems, and initiated better ways to review applications. They’ve scheduled a more efficient series of college tours for our counselors, refreshed and improved our mentorship program, and designed a pathway for new counselors to develop an internal expertise. All in just nine weeks.

None of these ideas were handed down to them. Nobody was simply doing what they were told. They showed initiative. They took responsibility. They led and engaged and shipped their work. And Collegewise will be better because of it, and because of them.

Many organizations use authority to control their people. A select group with the authority comes up with the ideas; it’s everyone else’s job to execute them. But that only limits the number of minds thinking about how to fix problems, find better ways to do things, and improve the organization. Those in leadership positions have almost always shown some skills that deserve their title. But that doesn’t mean they have the market cornered on smart, creative, generous thinking. Why not unleash more of it?

How could you unleash more of the greatness in your club, office, or other organization? How could you invite more people to think, contribute, and take responsibility for bringing their ideas to life?

It feels good to make something that matters to you even better. To our 2019 Collegewise Tour of Duty draftees, thank you for making Collegewise even better: Abby van Geldern, Frank Martinez, Jackie Muralla, Jen Turano, Jordan Kanarek, Katie Konrad Moore, Katie Sprague, Kellie Graham, Laura Dicas, Liz Pack, Lindsay O’Sullivan, Megan Carlier, Michael Banks, Nan Yuasa, Nicole Pilar, Nikayla Loy, Olivia Vail, and Tom Barry.

A free webinar for student athletes

Student athletes, are you interested in playing sports in college? Would you like some advice on navigating the recruiting process, assessing your chances, and promoting yourself to coaches? Join Collegewise counselors and athletic recruiting experts Matt Musico and Rahsaan Burroughs at our upcoming free webinar.

Athletic Recruiting: Scoring the Right Offer
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
5 p.m. – 6 p.m. PDT

All the information and the form to reserve your spaces can be found here. We hope you can join us.

Bests and worsts

The arrival of college decisions is a mixture of the best and worst of times. All the work, all the tension, all the drama and waiting and hoping comes to a close with a yes, a no, or in the case of waitlisted students, a non-committal maybe.

Some students will be overcome with joy about their outcomes. They’ll take to social media to share their news and their emotions. Others will shed tears, finding it difficult to imagine themselves at any other place than the one that just told them it wasn’t meant to be.

These reactions are the best and worst of college admissions outcomes. Best and worst are at opposite ends of a very long spectrum. Best and worst are not normal. They are the extremes.

It would be easy for younger students to view all of this as the standard college application experience, to believe that all the angst and eventual victory or defeat are what they’ll need to steel themselves for soon. Please don’t make that assumption.

The truth is that the best and worst of anything gets disproportionate attention. Plenty of students apply to a reasonable number of realistic colleges and subsequently enjoy plenty of good news without all the tension and high stakes.

Plenty of students apply to a list of colleges without a clear first choice.

Plenty of students bounce back nearly immediately from their denials and instead choose to focus on the schools that said yes.

And plenty of students view their acceptances as exactly what they are—exciting and worthy of celebration, but ultimately just the beginning of an experience that will have plenty of future bests and worsts of its own.

Don’t assume that any other senior’s experience will be reflective of your impending experience. You get to decide how to approach your college application process. As you observe the seniors reacting, as you hear their tales of the journey that led them to this point, consider if that’s an experience you’d like to duplicate. Not just the outcome, but the work and stress and emotion that led to it.

Your college admissions experience is an important time in your life. Make a conscious choice about how to spend it and you’ll have a lot more bests than worsts.

Phone breaks?

Kliff Kingsbury, the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, revealed recently that he’s introduced “cell phone breaks” every 20-30 minutes during team meetings. Why? According to Kingsbury, “You start to see kind of hands twitching and legs shaking, and you know they need to get that social media fix, so we’ll let them hop over there and then get back in the meeting and refocus.”

Professor and study skills expert Cal Newport is also the author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. In his recent post responding to this story, Newport questioned the necessity of cell phone breaks, pointing out that the players somehow summon the strength to be without their phones during the entirety of each NFL game. His recommendation:

“Instead of accommodating his player’s twitching hands, therefore, perhaps Kingsbury should see this reaction as a crisis. Elite level sports require phenomenal concentration. Even a small epsilon degradation in this ability can be the difference between a cornerback disrupting a play or being burned on a slant, which itself can be the difference-maker in a game… Most coaches would never tolerate a habit that was clearly harming their players’ physical fitness, regardless of how popular it was in the general public. The same standards should hold for their players’ cognitive fitness.”

It’s easy to dismiss the ubiquity of cell phones as “just the way it is today.” But maybe we should encourage kids–and ourselves–to take fewer breaks to use our cell phones, and more breaks from using them.

Watching and learning

As college admissions decisions roll in and students decide between their available choices, it’s more important than ever for parents to remember one of their most important jobs—to model adult behavior for their children.

Here are a few examples where parents forget the importance of this role:

  • Calling the admissions officer and yelling at a staff member
  • Treating a denial like a tragedy
  • Disparaging a classmate who was admitted
  • Double-depositing at two different schools
  • Acting as if the outcomes of the process are happening to you, not your student

The role might not always be an easy one to play. But your kids are watching…and learning.

If this were on the news…

The recent college admissions bribery scandal was a story fit for every outlet from the headline news to the tabloid press. Big bucks paid under the table. Nefarious practices exposed. Celebrities busted. For independent counselors, it’s easy to shake our heads and assure ourselves and our customers that we’re playing it straight and offering honorable advice. For most of us, that’s true. The swindler at the heart of this scam was an outlier, which is exactly what made the story so press worthy.

But it’s also a great opportunity to look at your own practice and ask, “What if this were on the news?”

The promises you make to families. The help you offer to students with their essays. The messages you send to students about their journey to college. What if a news outlet showed up and wanted to cover all of it? What if they wanted to watch you work, to interview your customers, to review your practices, processes, and outcomes?

Would you welcome the invitation, confident that an accurate, unvarnished representation would only be good for business?

And if not, what changes would you need to make to welcome that invitation to be on the news?

Best apologies, best intentions

What should a major airline do when they mistakenly send their customers an email promoting flights to Columbus along with a beautiful photo of…Cincinnati?

Hope nobody notices?

Blame it on a technological snafu?

Hide behind language like “we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused”?

If you’re Alaska Airlines (or more specifically, if you work in the communications department at Alaska Airlines), you own up to the mistake like a human.

It’s a good reminder for students (and parents). Honest mistakes can happen despite best intentions. But honest apologies happen because of them.

Your contribution track record

“How will you contribute to the campus community?”

Colleges wonder this when considering every applicant. In fact, many colleges outright ask that question as an essay prompt within the application. As you progress through high school, it’s worth considering the examples you’re setting that show your potential to contribute as a college student.

What is “the campus community”? It’s the students, the faculty, even the residents who live near the school.  The football team, the classmates in your French Lit 201 class, your French Lit 201 professor, the members of a club or organization, the residents in your dorm, and your roommate are all part of the campus community.

In the college admissions sense, any effort you make that benefits one or more members of that community besides just yourself counts as a contribution. Volunteering, playing in the marching band, leading campus organizations, helping your roommate pass calculus, playing intramural sports, raising your hand in class—every one of those actions has an effect on those around you. It may or may not be an act of pure service. But your effort still amounts to a contribution.

And the best way to show colleges your potential to contribute to their campus community? Contribute to your current campus community.

Accolades, awards, and recognition are all effective ways to demonstrate your level of achievement. But contributions don’t necessitate formal recognition. Even the slowest runner on the cross country team can still find a way to contribute. In fact, the ability to make an impact even when you’re not the smartest or the fastest or best is an even stronger sign of your potential to contribute. It shows colleges that no matter where you choose to involve yourself, you’ll always find a way to make something happen.

As you consider ways to boost your chances of admission to the colleges that interest you, look for opportunities to get even more involved in whatever it is you choose to do. You’ll show plenty of potential with a strong contribution track record.