October 23, 2017

If you’re really stuck…

Exhausted and frustrated woman at a computerStart really, really small.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to get moving. For whatever reason, we’ve become stationary. Perhaps we’ve been away and everything has ground to a halt in the interim. The scale of what we need to accomplish—what we need to get moving again—can seem overwhelming.

In these circumstances…

Sometimes it’s best to forget planning and to forget figuring out priorities and to forget making lists. Instead, just do something—anything—that will give us a sense of movement and completion and achievement, however minor. Then, once that’s done, we can pick something else, and then something else again and gradually overcome our inertia—one little step at a time.

We’re in good company taking this approach: Nature normally starts very, very small, beginning with the tiniest little thing, like the germination of a seed.

How do you get going again when you’ve come to a standstill?

Changing the future

Calendar dates from monday to sundayWhat really is a priority?

It so often seems urgent things are the priority and sometimes they undoubtedly are. The trouble is if we keep doing the urgent at the expense of what will make a long-term difference, we gradually become more and more sub-optimised and less and less adapted for the future (and eventually the future becomes the present).

How do you decide what truly is a priority? What must be done today?

Are you prioritising something because it’s “urgent” or because it will change the future?

Some of this seems so obvious and yet it’s often hard to do. I think it helps to decide to do one thing every day that will make a difference in a year’s time; to spend an hour on that, say. If that sounds like a challenge, maybe that’s telling us something: The future is going to be something that happens to us rather than something we influence.

How do you make sure you make time to change the future?

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Welcoming feedback?

Four business people in a discussionWe know we need feedback: We need other people to let us know how we are doing; to challenge our ideas; and to shake our assumptions (especially if they are out of date). That doesn’t mean we necessarily enjoy the process, of course. Often it’s distinctly uncomfortable, or has the potential to be so.

How do you receive feedback?

Calmly and attentively?

It helps to realise that we react badly to feedback when we let it land in our ego; when we let it question our sense of identity.

It probably isn’t intended to do that—not usually.

With strength and presence, we can take a more objective view and be a kind of observer on the exchange. We can separate the learning from our sense of self—not always easy in the moment, of course, especially when feedback arrives unannounced, unexpected, and uninvited.

How do you handle feedback—welcome it, even—making sure you get the input you need without hurting too much in the process?

How thorough do we need to be?

Group discussionOk, we probably need to stop before getting on to the gold plating, but how thorough do we really need to be, in practice?

Perfectionism probably isn’t the ideal trait, in most situations. We need cost-effectiveness too.

There’s a difference between perfect and thorough though, I think – how elaborate the specification versus how well it’s implemented.

Perhaps it’s my experiences in engineering and software development and publishing books, but I expect a certain thoroughness and rigour and am disappointed if I don’t see it. I can tell if not that much effort has gone into eliminating errors. I suppose I’m conditioned by how hard it is to get a piece of software or an electronic system to function correctly, for example.

What about you…

How much thoroughness do you expect from yourself, and from other people?

How’s your own “brand” doing?

Two business peopleWe perhaps tend to think of “brand” from the purely business point of view of supporting a premium price for a product or attracting customers.

But the concept is also very relevant to relationships at the individual level.

If we have a favourable personal “brand” reputation, we can achieve the same result with less effort or a better result with the same effort.

I’m surprised sometimes how big a factor this can be, resulting in orders of magnitude difference in effectiveness, or determining success and failure. We tend not to be that aware of how critical brand is to our achievements and so others may not get the same results with the same actions, for example.

To clarify, logos and suchlike are not brands as such, in my view. They seek to represent a brand or even evolve a brand, but they are not themselves a brand. A brand reputation is something a market or a community determines based on its experience, not something we can control directly—influence, yes, but not control. (So a “rebranding” is really a “re-logo-ing”.)

Anyway, the thing is…

How’s your own brand doing?

A more distracting environment than there’s ever been?

Woman with BlackberryIs this true?

Watching my early teenage years children struggle at times to focus on their homework in the face of diverse and increasing electronic distractions, I wonder whether their generation is growing up in the most distracting environment there has ever been.

Of course, living in a war zone might be rather worse. That’s true.

But assuming we’re not in physical danger, is our ability to focus more challenged than it’s ever been?

If so, that reality isn’t going to go away, and no doubt it’s going to intensify.

So it seems to me, we need to develop more skilful ways of coping; of sustaining our concentration. In fact, we need to get better at that just to stand still. We need more “one-pointedness” – the ability to focus on just one thing at a time.

Paradoxically, the modern world may drive us to be stiller in order to cope with its character; to be able to ignore its apparent insistence when we choose. Actually, the freneticism might force us to be calmer.

What do you think?

Are there more distractions that ever?

If so, how should we respond?

When you’ve got going, should you keep going?

Balancing a baseball batOne thing writing teaches you is, when you get going, keep going. When you’ve overcome your own inertia, keep that boulder moving. Lots of other things are like that too.

But what about planning and prioritising? Don’t we need to stop and assess our direction or switch to another, now more pressing task? Well, maybe. On the whole, I think we’re better to stay productive until we’ve covered some ground and really have run out of steam on that particular task.

Yes, we need to guard against applying lots of effort to the wrong objective.

But the thing is…

Provided we made a reasonably sensible selection of our tasks in the first place, we do need to do them all in the end anyway.

We’re inclined to think that a low urgency, low importance task can always be put to the bottom of the list, over and over again. Not so. It’ll have to be done in the end.

So prioritising might be over-rated.

Having effective flow might be more important. Prioritising isn’t that helpful if you have to get everything done anyway.

The talent that comes from clarity

Professional man and womanSometimes it seems that other people have special talents—talents we can’t match.

There may be some truth in that in some cases.

More often…

The difference is just that they’ve developed tremendous clarity in what they are about. And because they’re very clear…

They can be very focused. And because they’re very focused…

They can achieve highly. And because they achieve highly…

They seem very talented.

It might be that to get the same results, we need the same talent.

Or more likely, we just need the same clarity.

Too much to do?

Exhausted computer userThen you might find this helpful…

This isn’t my idea at all and, in fact, I’m a student of it. The philosophy is Jim Benson’s and Tonianne DeMaria Barry’s and it’s written up in their book “Personal Kanban.” See http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/#sthash.kx80gfYu.dpbs

To explain…

Kanban is an approach used in manufacturing in which stock to be consumed is only moved to the production line when it is needed. The result is, therefore, a demand-led, pull system. For a simple example, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board

The alternative, and in the West, traditional approach to manufacturing involves moving stock to the line to be processed i.e. it is a push system.

Most of us manage our tasks and to-do lists with a push approach. Basically, we pile it all in.

And the result is stress and reduced achievement.

Moving from a push approach to a pull approach to managing tasks makes a world of a difference.

The two key principles of Personal Kanban are: Visualize your work and limit your work in progress.

In other words…

Don’t move anything else into your “Doing” until you’ve moved something out.

As a former colleague said, more prosaically…

“When it comes to swatting flies, the important thing to do is swat one fly properly”—not very Buddhist, but there we go!

You might like to investigate. I’ve found this philosophy very helpful.

Buyer’s prejudice

Networking groupAre we discriminatory when we buy?

We’d all like to think we’re not prejudiced, in general terms, and no doubt we work hard to avoid that.

Unfortunately…

The reality is, however hard we try, we are likely to be more cautious with people who seem different. The more different we perceive a person to be, the more cautious we will tend to become.

When it comes to making buying choices, we are likely to act on these biases, whether consciously or not.

In some cases, procurement processes will minimise this effect, but on the whole, it’s the norm.

We are prejudiced buyers. We buy from people who seem like us.

We might prefer to buy from fellow citizens of our country, for example.

In so doing, we might lose out, of course.

When we’re the seller…

The reality is we need to seem familiar to the buyer. If we don’t, the barriers will be hard to overcome.