balance

Two Ways to be a Better Supervisor

20160227_152827.png

If you want to be a better supervisor, you need to know what employees are looking for when they consider working for you.

In the best interviews, the questions and evaluations take place on both sides of the table. They’re interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them.

There’s usually a lot of pressure to fill an empty position. You’re focused on your needs: what you need to accomplish, how this person will perform, and how they’ll work in your culture and with your team.

Meanwhile, your staff is probably anxious to fill a gap and get some of the extra work they’re doing back where it belongs and off their overloaded plates.

That’s a lot of pressure to find someone and plug the hole.

But a good fit is critical, especially if you don’t want to be recruiting again in a few months.

If you ask candidates what makes a good supervisor, two key responses come up consistently, regardless of the particular position or the level of responsibility: 1. Keep your door open and 2. Give me guidance, then turn me loose.

It’s how we all want to be treated.

1. Keep your door open.

We want to know that someone’s there who is vested in our success. Supervisors communicate that by being available, answering questions, helping us see the pitfalls and hurdles before we stumble, and being our advocates and mentors. You can’t do this from behind a closed door.

2. Give me guidance, then turn me loose.

We crave autonomy, but we hate to find out we’ve been wasting our time heading down the wrong path. Don’t micromanage me, but don’t let me get so far off track that we’re in crisis mode cleaning up something that could have been prevented with decent communication. Hence the open door.

Simple, right?

Easy to do? Yes, when we’re relaxed, open, and not rushed. But the reality of our work world today is that we have to deliberately carve out the time (and intention) to meet these two basic needs.

If we’re overloaded, rushing from meeting to meeting, or locked in our office trying to manage an overload of deadlines and responsibilities, it’s hard to open the door. It can also feel hard not to micro-manage (or ignore) our colleagues when the stress is getting to us.

With January just around the corner, maybe this is a good time to set some new year’s goals for your supervisors and yourself.

Just these two actions can go a long way to keeping solid relationships with the people in your work life.

What else do you think employees want?
And what do you plan to focus on next year?

Advertisements

Do you work on a Maker’s Schedule? Or a Manager’s Schedule? Should you switch?

wpid-20150816_153645.pngI was going to only write about Genius Hour today, but in poking around, I came across a link to this article from July, 2009 by Paul Graham about the Maker’s Schedule vs. the Manager’s Schedule and my first thought was: Genius! These two are related.

First, Genius Hour. It’s is a pretty simple idea. Torn from the Google playbook, and seemingly adopted in education (I’m hoping my kids will come home with Genius reports this year), it’s all about designating a piece of time for the pursuit of your passions.

Classroom or office, the idea is If you give people time to pursue what they’re interested in, they’ll develop their best ideas, the ones they care enough about to implement. We all need time for creative refreshment (vacation, anyone?) and focus. Voila: Genius Hour. Daniel Pink shares a great story about how a Credit Union manager made time for her front line staff to have an hour a week for Genius Hour. Pink also emphasizes the importance of not just being creative but having the power to implement the results when you’re given a genius idea.

And that is what brought me to the Maker’s Schedule vs. the Manager’s Schedule.

In a nutshell, Makers (in Graham’s case, coders) need time to produce. We all know this feeling. You’re writing something, running numbers, preparing a budget, doing anything that requires more than a 30 second attention span and your reminder bings: time for a meeting! That’s when the Manager’s schedule (1 hour increments for meetings) is colliding with what your Maker needs (uninterrupted time to think-and-do).

For most of us, our jobs are not clearly divided. We’re both Managers and Makers. We’re in meetings, our time is chunked up, but we’re still expected to produce. We don’t give ourselves time to produce well, which leads to rushed work, stressed employees, and missed opportunities. Meanwhile, we’re in meetings, we’re wondering how we’ll ever get around to doing X.

Can the calendar bring some control to this conundrum?

I’ve experienced a designated a block of time each week for staff meetings agency-wide. That means nobody is scheduling “can’t miss” meetings over standing team meetings, which reduces scheduling stress. It’s predictable, simple, and everyone does it, so it has an impact.

Bringing these thoughts together, what practical action can we take?

  • If you manage your own schedule, you might designate a regular Genius Hour and a Maker time (half a day? A few hours?) on your calendar.
  • If you manage others’ schedules, can you help them do the same?
  • Respect the scheduled time – yours and others’.

Has this given you any genius ideas? Or have you seen these efforts in action? If so, please leave your story here.

Increase your power this week with the 80/20 rule

wpid-2015-03-29-12.36.02.jpg.jpeg

Are you busy?

Silly question.

As the typical work week continues to expand, you probably have more things to do than you can possibly keep track of. Stressed. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. We’ve got it covered.

Last week I heard someone say they wanted to take a time-management class but they didn’t have time because they were so overwhelmed. Not funny.

Short of overhauling our national policies and changing the culture of your workplace or home tomorrow, what can you do to bring some sanity to your week?

Consider this. Your power goes where you send it and for most of us, it goes someplace like this:

Arugh, how did I get another 200 new emails? Voicemail light flashing. Yikes, I almost forgot to set up that meeting and I have a report due tomorrow. Performance reviews? Again? Didn’t we just do those. And that problem from last week is back again, why don’t those people know how to get it right. Maybe I’ll get started on that memo, oops! Time for a staff meeting already?

That’s the “I’m so busy” trap. For most of us, we don’t even realize we’re falling into it, after all, aren’t the busy, overwhelmed and frazzled the important ones? But this trap saps your power. Here’s a way to jump-start your thinking about your power, where it goes, and how to use it for maximum effect this week.

Most of the things buzzing around our mental to-do list can be broken into 80% low-impact and 20% high-impact.

Low impact: answering a simple email, reviewing a web-page for accuracy, filing your inbox, running an errand, responding to a meeting invitation, setting up a meeting.

High impact: taking that time-management course, thinking through a long-term project by breaking out the pieces and identifying resources for each of them, writing a critical report in time for others to review it well.

Usually, the attention we give to the 80% is a buzz of distraction, gnawing at our focus and leaving us feeilng like we don’t have enough time.

The 20% is what we squeeze in, or where we take shortcuts because we haven’t left ourselves enough room to complete them well. Who hasn’t dashed off something important at the last minute, promising themselves I’ll do better next time?

It’s time to power up and make the 80/20 shift – clear your calendar for next week, leaving only the most essential things.

Part one. Get a paper and pencil (or whatever note-taking tools suit you) and set your timer for 5 minutes.

  • List your 20% high-impact items
  • Put them on your calendar (use chunks – blocks of time – and ditch things that you really don’t have to do)
  • Devote 80% of your attention to these items

That’s right. 80%.

Part two. Set that timer for 5 more minutes

  • List your 80% items
  • Put a time on your calendar for them (again, chunks of time)
  • Devote 20% of your attention to them this week.

It could look like this:

wpid-2015-03-29-12.43.11.jpg.jpeg

Try applying the 80/20 power rule for just one week and see if power changes.

And don’t forget to take lunch.

(Hint: you might want to do your worst task first or delegate something to someone else)

Overwhelmed by Something Big? Try this.

wpid-2015-03-22-14.08.26.jpg.jpeg

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  – Lao Tzu

We’ve all heard that one before, right? And we know it’s true but, when your journey consists of a thousand tasks, each of which require at least a thousand steps all to be taken immediately, it feels a little too vague.

Some people are natural step-by-step takers. The rest of us could use a little help.

Lately, as the trees begin to bud out and this endless winter seems like it might actually yield to warmth, I’ve found myself reading a lot about time management, habits, and mindfulness. I don’t think it’s a random association of interests, but an attempt to understand how we make sense of this busy, hectic, ever-faster world around us. After this preparation for a sort of spring-cleaning, I’ve decided to tackle the big projects first.

Why the big ones? Because those are the ones that weigh heavily on my mind. I can churn through a check-list but if I know there are long-term tasks out there on the horizon, my sense of unease is not quieted.

Some are big projects at work, some are big projects at home (kitchen cupboards – shudder!) and some are years and years past due (old home movies on Hi8 tapes).

Amid all the good advice, I’ve honed in on two steps that help, and they’re rather simple.

1. Make one list

I’m a compulsive list-maker and have been ever since I got my first day-planner in high school. Unfortunately, this habit has managed to spread itself around my life. Until recently, I tried to keep a work list, a home list, a grocery list, a weekend list, a random list – you name it. The Post-it folks and I were getting a little too cozy. I now have a single list – in one notebook – that has everything in it. There are apps for this, but for me, the act of writing it down is a lot faster than pulling out my phone in the middle of a meeting, creating the list, and then remembering to look at it later.

For you, electronic may be the way to go. For me, paper creates a sense that I’ve got it.

Now that the list is in one place (and yes, I do stick post-it notes in my list-notebook but hey, nobody’s perfect), I am learning to expand the list.

Instead of writing “clean the house” on it, I write “sort all the books” then I write “donate the books in the car” (because that’s where they’ll end up).

This works at the office too. I had a project that required several conversations, multiple written products, and communication by a certain deadline. I wrote each of those steps down on my list, which forced me to do two things:

  • acknowledge all the pieces of work that would be required
  • get a better sense of how long these pieces would take

As an incurable optimist, I tend to think I can probably accomplish things in “two minutes” or “twenty minutes” when they’re more likely to take an hour or two. Focusing on the real demands of a project helps me see the steps in a more realistic way which leads nicely to the next step:

2. Put everything from the list on the calendar

That’s right, everything. With an accurate amount of time.

That doctor’s appointment that I’ve been meaning to schedule for three weeks? Still not done. Why? Because I called once, spent twenty minutes trying to figure out if i was in the new medical records system or not, then I wasn’t and needed to get a referral. Referral? Scheduled and done. But then I just carried around my list that said “make appointment”. Of course, I always had something better/more important/more pressing to do.

Now, I have a time set next week for 20 minutes, when I will make that call. And the number for the office is in the appointment.

This has been working well for projects, broken down into realistic chunks of work, and other tasks at home.

I’ve known people to block “work time” on their calendars, but without committing to what they will spend that time on, they tend to either schedule over that time with meetings or flail about, trying to decide what to do and ultimately feeling like they didn’t use that time well after all.

By getting specific about what I need to do and committing the time to it, I find I am more likely to keep my appointments with my work and to make progress.

What about those little things that really do only take a minute or two?

Schedule a 15 minute slot of your day for “quick tasks” – or whatever you want to call it – and spend that time plugging through your list. (Beware the internet!). This is the same method I’m using to tackle my gargantuan inbox. 15 minutes a day.

The key to making this work is finding the way that fits your personality best.

If you’re a morning person, you may make your list first thing and tackle a few items before leaving the house. You probably won’t make progress if you’re trying to set aside time after everyone’s gone to bed to work on something important.

If you’re an evening person, you may carve out some time later in the day to work without interruption on a long-term project. Getting up at 5a.m. to try something new might not be best for you.

Regardless of your personality, knowing what needs to be done and when you will do it is key.

I’d love to hear from you if you have techniques you’ve used to get out from under big projects – or if you’ve tried these approaches and they didn’t work.

Tired of all those must-do’s? Try asking this question

wpid-2015-03-06-19.51.35.jpg.jpeg

Do you recognize this day?

Wake up (snooze button, anyone?), stumble into the shower, throw some breakfast together (if there’s time), hustle everyone else out the door, dash off to work, forget something halfway down the steps, run through your list of things you must-not-forget-today while you drive to work, dash from meeting to meeting, realize you forgot your lunch on the kitchen counter (probably next to a kid’s homework or a library book you’ve been meaning to return for at least a week now), accumulate three new post-it-notes next to the ones left from yesterday, leave feeling like you’re even further behind than you were when you started.

Dinner? After-school activities? Family? Laundry? Dishes? Bills? Answer your sister’s phone call? Bed? Repeat?

That clutter of must-do’s quickly translates into a heaping serving of resentment topped with fatigue sauce and a sleepless cherry on top, doesn’t it?

But you can’t get out of it. Because you must eat, you must work, you must make sure the kids are okay (and they are, really).

Must. Must. Must.

Or must you?

When we feel put-upon by a lot of external obligations, we feel powerless. Our time is not our own. Our decisions are not our own. That perception of our situation is very strong and very difficult to manage at busy times or moments of transition.

That’s when you can ask this question: Must I? Or can I choose?

There are external forces at work in our lives. Yet we usually have more choices than we realize. The problem is that by the time you arrive at this over-stressed point, you don’t feel like you have the chance to stop and ask. You feel like you don’t have a choice.

There are a lot of choices though. Start with some small ones and build up you choosing muscles. Through practice, you can change your perspective from put-upon to making-decisions.

How?

Start small.

A colleague told me he sits in his car for one minute when he leaves the office. He just sits there. He breathes. It’s a minute of reset.

I tend to stay until the last moment, dash out the door, turn the key, pull out, and drive all in a matter of moments.

His way is better. He’s choosing to regain control over that moment and says it makes a clean break between work and home.

That’s a small step with big payoffs.

Pay attention.

How often do you scarf down your lunch giving it hardly a thought? When your child or partner asks what you ate for lunch and you can’t really remember, that’s a sign that you’re not choosing to eat lunch, you’re just letting it happen. (hopefully!)

Take a moment. Eat lunch. Choose to pay attention.

Focus.

Your mind is scrambling along at a million miles, generating anxious to-do’s while you’re supposedly watching your kid’s sports team. You’re surfing the phone, trying to do something that would take you a fraction of the time on a computer, but you’ve got to multi-task and get that last email out.  Really? Or are you choosing to be absorbed in something that might get a few kudos from people who (you hope) notice how dedicated you are?

Your choice.

Manage your time.

Time management isn’t something you’re born with. Some people have a gift, yes. The rest of us learn it.

Too busy to learn?

Your choice.

The bottom line is, when you start seeing your time as something you choose to use, and seeing yourself as an active participant in your life, your ability to choose well goes way up. Your perspective changes.

That’s a great choice.

Want some more information on time management? Check out these resources:

Why you should do your worst task first today

Psychology Today articles on time management

Make your working hours work for you – Entrepreneur article

Manage your energy, not your time – HBR article

Are you ready to take it to the next level?

Should you love your job?

wpid-2015-02-18-08.05.11.jpg.jpeg

The words “love” and “job” right there, side by side. An unlikely couple. A job is, well, a job. And love? That’s what we reserve for soul-mates and family members. Except we salt our everyday language with it.  We love our new shoes, we love our car, our pets, our vacation, and our friends’ photos on Facebook (even when we’re really just tired of their endless selfies).

Love it!

But are we supposed to love our jobs?

The answer shouted from the electronic hilltops seems to be love it or quit!

And if you don’t? Well, you’re obviously missing out because it’s easy, there are five steps to get you there, two things you need to know, one program that will show you how. etc. etc. These messages, in total, potentially undermine our happiness at work because they ignore one basic truth: nobody loves their job all-the-way-all-the-time.

We’ve gotten used to the idea that when we love something, it’s easy. Even the profiles and stories about people who have sunk their heart and soul into creating a company from scratch or pursuing a lifelong dream tend to have a gloss of “meant to be” applied over the intense work of getting there.

When we read the story, we already know the ending. We know they’ve made millions and are living the dream in their beachside house full of windows that someone else wipes clean each morning. It seems inevitable.

But it wasn’t. They probably didn’t love every moment of the stress, the risk, the uncertainty along the way. But they kept going. It wasn’t love, it was something else.

No matter what you’re devoting your time to, there’s a level of uncertainty. We don’t know what our choices will yield. We don’t know how our story will turn out.

To look at someone else’s polished-for-print story and wonder why we don’t have the same trajectory is to overlook the life we’re living.

What does it mean to love your job? 

Sometimes, a day goes like this:

Get to work, find six angry emails in your inbox, meeting 1 falls apart, someone quits, there’s a personnel issue that pops up, two key players on your project are fighting, and the contract you thought had been approved and finalized is sitting on someone else’s desk and you can’t start that project which sinks your entire schedule, and you still have all the work you’d been planning to do this week piling up.

Can you have a day like that and still love your job?

Sure.

If you’re lucky, you have a job where the satisfaction of  doing, learning and growing outweighs the annoyances and friction that are part of any job. Any life, really.

Does the overall satisfaction I get from my job outweigh the minor annoyances?

Are you spending your time on something that matters to you? This is a question that only you can answer. It’s your time and once it’s spent, it’s gone. Are you doing something that makes you feel good about that time? Maybe you love the challenge of the job itself. Maybe the job is the stable way you support your family and maintain some freedom for your personal pursuits when you’re off. Either way, you’re the only one who can judge your satisfaction.

Using someone else’s measure won’t help. So put down that smart phone for a moment and think it over.

What if I really do hate my job?

If you have a job you hate, should you stay? Probably not. When the grinding weight of showing up day after day is wearing you down and sapping your ability to function as a decent human being, you should find something different to do. Your unhappiness is probably having a negative impact on the people around you, not to mention the horrible things it’s doing to you.

But if you’re on the fence, and some days are okay and others aren’t, I think you have a more difficult but potentially more rewarding option: work it out.

Work it out

When your partner is tired of hearing you grumble (or when you’re tired of hearing yourself grumble) it’s time to work it out.

What would boost your satisfaction level at work?

Are there things you can do for yourself, instead of looking to others to fix them?

Are there things you need someone else to open up for you?

  • Ask for a new assignment?
  • Offer to show you’re ready for a new responsibility?

There is a great deal of satisfaction in doing something instead of suffering though it. By taking thoughtful action, you may be able to turn the job your’e currently in into one that satisfies you.

Making it better for yourself? That’s something to love.

Seven things that actually mattered

wpid-2015-01-30-07.20.05.jpg.jpeg

Pick a Puddle.

At my freshman orientation for college (year omitted!) the university’s president said “Don’t be like ducks, with opportunity rolling off your backs like raindrops. Take advantage.” I thought I got it. I wasn’t going to be that duck. I chased a lot of rain, which was great. For a while.

Looking back, I realized he forgot a key point: Don’t forget to pick a puddle.

If you find your puddle and fill it with the things you care about most, you get the good out of it. Puddles don’t have to be small and limiting. They should have room for the things you’re focused on – family, key career ambitions, personal growth – and they should’t overflow with things that distract you from your integral purpose.

Picking a puddle brings focus. It also means saying “no” to the distractions. The nice-to-have resume builder that you don’t really care about? No, thank you. The I-really-should obligation? Maybe there’s someone out there who actually wants to do that one.

This idea really hit home for me when my kids were little. There were other moms in their preschools who volunteered in the mornings and put together events. I worked. I scrabbled time off to go to the early-afternoon cupcake party or the holiday parade, but every time I passed on the sign-up list I felt like I was letting my kids down or somehow being a second-rate mom. I realized that I had to make peace with this situation or drive myself batty.

So I focused on what I could do. I took good care of my kids. I provided supplies. I attended the events the other parents organized. And I let got of feeling like I wasn’t doing enough to pitch in. Much  of my work has been community-focused, taking time and energy during evenings and weekends. That’s my puddle. My kids’ well-being is my puddle. They didn’t care whether I was being a super-mom in everyone else’s eyes. They just wanted to know that I came to their event and that I cared about them. That was enough.

Be purposeful in your career.

Purposeful is not the same as ambitious. Ambition is great. Positive ambition moves us forward, gives us direction, and helps make the world a better place. Ambition alone can be directionless. It can propel us through choices, through jobs, through decisions yet still leave us hunting for the next gold star or seal of approval.

Purpose depends on understanding what’s important to you and making your decisions with both your short-term satisfaction and your long-term interests in mind.

Purpose helps you shape decisions, see opportunities, and follow a path that may not always be direct or clear, but brings you meaning along the way.

I’ve had friends who went for the higher salary and better title with each promotion only to find themselves making a lot of money, living in a nice house, and wondering how they’d ended up there. They could tell their story – they’d been ambitious and collected all the prizes – but they ended up saying things like “I never thought I’d work in a company that doesn’t really do anything.” or “I just make lots of money for other people and they let me keep some.”

Other people I’ve known have been deliberate about taking only opportunities that delighted them at the moment and are left wondering where all the time and money went.

I’ve done both. Taken jobs because they were safe or necessary. Taken risks because I felt cornered. It wasn’t until I started to develop a better sense of my puddle and my purpose that I could begin to make decisions with some long-term meaning.

For some people, this appears to be easy. They seem to know their purpose and pursue it with great intention. When I listen to my friends, co-workers and family though, I believe that most of us don’t have this kind of singular drive. In a world of endless opportunities and choices, this part of career management is a learned art.

Learning yourself is a good place to start.

Don’t stay in bad relationships.

We’ve all gossiped about someone in a bad relationship. Why doesn’t she leave him? Can’t he see what’s wrong with this situation? Most of us know that it’s really hard to see from the inside what we clearly see (or think we see) from the outside.

We stay for many reasons. We fear failure and loss. We rationalize, we make excuses, we don’t question our story about how we arrived here and why we stay. But our story is just that. It’s a story we tell ourselves about the path we’ve followed, the choices we’ve made, and how they all hang together. The thing to remember is that we are writing that story all the time. When you find yourself stuck, wondering where the love went, it’s time to put on your best-friend-perspective and try to see your situation from the outside.

If a co-worker is consistently egging you into situations you’re not comfortable with, maybe it’s time for a new relationship.

If you’re not feeling fulfilled by the choices you’re making about your time, maybe it’s time to choose differently.

Sometimes we stay because we “owe it to them.” Loyalty is good. But be sure you’re being honest. Loyalty that’s a cover for fear, insecurity, or failure to reflect is not good. It’s fine – admirable – to be loyal, and, like with any good relationship, you will change, you will grow, and you can participate in the relationship to make sure you’re getting what you need out of it. That’s when everybody comes out stronger.

Focus on your strengths and fill in your gaps

There are a lot of people out there who are willing to tell you what your weaknesses are and how to fix them. It’s easy to get sidetracked into a self-bending case of triple-i: Insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority. Don’t go there.

You’re not perfect.

But you already knew that.

I remember a favorite teacher telling our class that her job was to help us learn to think. “You need to know how to think and how to find information. You don’t need to memorize the dictionary.”

Find out what you’re really good at and focus on that first. Great with numbers? Master everything you can about budgets, financing, and software. Good at people? Get some experience mediating, leading discussions, and public speaking. Shine.

When you realize you’re not good at something, don’t obsess, just fill in the gaps

You’re the numbers guru but not great at public speaking? Offer to make a budget presentation to your group. Take your strength and use it to support your attempts to fill in your gaps.

Great at leading teams but terrible at meeting deadlines? Get your best performing team together and poll them for suggestions. Then put them in play.

Any change requires discipline, doubling up something that’s easy for you to do with something you need to improve gives you more energy to pull through the tough parts.

Fix. Don’t obsess.

Learn to have difficult conversations

Here’s the exception to “don’t obsess.” If there’s one thing I think we should all obsess over, it’s learning how to have difficult conversations.

Figure out what you fear (confrontation, anger, being wrong, being vulnerable) and find out how to get better at it. There are resources out there. Read them. Learn them. Practice.

This is one skill that you can, and should, master.

It will make you better at everything.

Stuff happens. To everyone.

It’ll happen to you. The thing you didn’t expect that knocks you off your track. It may be temporary, it may be life-altering. It will happen. Probably more than once.

It’s never over.

Keep going.

Ask for help.

It’s probably happening to someone you work with right now.

Give help.

We’re all in this together.

Have a heart

Take a moment to say hello. Notice something. Ask a question. Those people you work with? The ones who annoy you, don’t meet your deadlines, and can’t see what’s completely obvious to anyone who would stop to think for two seconds? There’s probably something good about each and every one of them.

Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with people I didn’t particularly like at the time. But if you’re willing to set that aside and listen, you may find that they’re only human. They have lives, problems, and people who drive them crazy.

You may be one of them.

You never know when somebody is trying to manage a sick parent in another state, dealing with a rocky marriage, or worried about a kid in trouble.

All you can do is respect them as fellow human beings and try to do your best.

I’ve had the good fortune to know what it’s like to work with people of integrity, to work with a sense of purpose, and to feel compassion and care for the people around me.

I’ve also known what it’s like to be a nameless cog, to be looked down upon, and to feel under-appreciated and unfulfilled. In those circumstances, it’s difficult to bring our best to the table. When I found myself babysitting the monster of all copiers for days on end, shuffling different colored papers in and out of trays and tugging torn bits of confetti from the guts of that toner-laden beast, I was not bringing what I had to offer to the picture.

When I left that job, not knowing what was next, one woman took me aside and said “I’m glad you’re leaving. You’re going to do so much more and when you need a reference, just ask.”

Her confidence gave me hope at a time when I really needed it.

Those are the people we remember.

Maybe if someone had handed me this list years ago, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but eventually enough experiences run together and there you have it – your puddle.

Lost is a good place to start

wpid-2014-11-10-20.27.22.jpg.jpeg

If you don’t know where you are, or you’re not sure where you’re going, your navigation software isn’t going to get you there.

Most of us have something we’re supposed to be figuring out. Maybe it’s a career path or a difficult family situation. The searching can be frustrating and sometimes lead to shoving the whole project into our mental closet for sometime later when I have more time to deal with this.

It feels safe to know exactly where we’re going next, but when the path isn’t clear, the not-knowing can stop us from even taking the first step.

The Adjacent Possible

The adjacent possible is an idea borrowed from the work of theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman and it is, basically, the concept that evolution happens at the edges of what is already happening. We can’t see ten or twelve steps down the evolutionary path, but we often can see around the edges of what we already know.

The idea is similar to what we do when we want to achieve a reach goal. If you’ve never been a runner but you decide to run a marathon, you probably won’t start by heading out for a 20-mile run. The first step is probably a jog around the block. With that first outing, you’ve stepped into the adjacent possible. With each step outward, you’re expanding your possibilities. 5K? 10K? Half-marathon? Marathon? Triathlon?

A lot of our work is more complicated than laying out a marathon training program because the variables are unpredictable. The Economy. Our co-workers. Changing work-place environments. Changing family situations. In many cases, we leap to a possibility’s fully-formed future and it seems unattainable (I could never do that) or we get overwhelmed by the things that could happen along the way (There’s no way to figure this out) and we stop.

Using the adjacent possible as a guide, and a mind-map as your guidebook, we can break a stretch into attainable possibilities. Notice I didn’t say “break it into steps.” More on that in a moment.

The Unattainable Goal

A single-celled organism didn’t become a Zebra overnight so if you want to be a Zebra, it helps to think backward. What’s in the world around your zebra?

Maybe you want a top-ranking position but you feel like your qualifications aren’t there yet and your experience isn’t sufficient. What would be close to your goal?

This is where a mind-map can come in handy. Jotting down all the experiences and skills that might be hovering around your goal gives you a world from which to map back to where you are now. Take a few of those next-to-your-goal ideas and map them out. You’re essentially after a treasure map, in reverse, leading to where you are today. When your backward mapping begins to contain experiences and skills you already have, you’ve have a map of pathways from today to your future goal.

Once done, it could look something like this:

wpid-2014-11-10-20.18.33.jpg.jpeg

The interesting thing about this map is that it will not show you a single path but a web of ways in which you might get to your goal. And the interesting thing about working towards our long-range goals is that both the path and the goal tend to change with time. So hanging onto that map and revisiting it to add new ideas and possibilities is a good idea. After all, each time you change your world, the adjacent possible changes with it.

The Unpredictable Goal

All goals are unpredictable but some are more wild and hairy than others. Our culture tends to reinforce the idea that success and progress are linear, measurable, and easy to map out. We want to list a series of steps, take them one-by-one and- voila! -results achieved. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded by info graphics, predictive models, and performance measures. They can be very helpful but they can also create a sense of risk-aversion if you want to work towards something less numeric and harder to see. Something out there in the soup of future possibilities.

Let’s imagine a hurricane. When meteorologist are predicting where a hurricane will land, they use the cone of uncertainty.

As the storm moves closer, their prediction is more accurate until we have landfall in real time. When you’re working toward an unpredictable goal, you’re pretty far off shore, and your cone is wide. The same exercise above, mapping out the adjacent possibilities, can help. In this case, however, you may be after a particular result – better customer service – and the path you establish could bring in new information that causes your target (your landfall) to shift. If you’ve mapped out a wide range of possibilities for your program, you can keep your eye on the main goal (landfall: improved customer feedback) and be flexible along the way (implementing new ideas that come from your feedback loop).

Your new cone/map of uncertainty might look like this:

wpid-2014-11-10-20.17.23.jpg.jpeg

The Missing Ingredient

All these exercises require the one thing that seems to be in shortest supply for everyone I talk with. Time.

We all rush around, checking email and feeling hounded by deadlines and the list of things you didn’t get don yesterday or the day before. Shoving our ideas into the corner is easier than setting aside the time to actually deal with them.

In order to do this, you have to find a way that works for you. (check out Gretchen Rubin’s video on forming habits by being true to your nature – it’s liberating)

Maybe this mind-mapping exercise doesn’t sound like fun in which case it might be your “frog” and you could try doing it first today.

Or maybe you relish the opportunity to daydream and doodle a little and you wouldn’t mind getting up early or spending your lunch hour alone someplace, undisturbed.

If you’re feeling like you don’t have the time at all, think for a moment about all the minutes you’ve already spent thinking about the fact that you’re not dealing with this nagging thing, and maybe the ultimate cost-savings will help you find the motivation to pull out your pen and get busy mapping.

You might find a treasure somewhere along the way.

Why you might want to do that really embarrassing, terrifying, or otherwise crazy thing you’ve been avoiding.

wpid-2014-10-14-22.15.08.jpg.jpeg

This evening, I did something terrifying and embarrassing. It was something I swore I would never do. Especially in public, where people would know. Wasn’t gonna do it. Nope. Not ever.

Then I did.

I sang. Out loud.

I know some of you are thinking “whaaaaa?? What’s the big whooping deal?”

Rewind the tape 30 years (ahem, maybe go back a few more) and you’d see me singing my little heart out about two rows back in the choir. Then, I got some coaching: “Why don’t you just mouth the words, honey?”

I was a pretty obedient kid, so I did. I got the message loud and clear. Until tonight.

If you’re still reading, and Hollywood and the internet have primed you for a late-in-life-rises-to-sing-on-stage ending, I’ll let you know right now that it’s not coming.

But here’s what I did figure out tonight, standing on the cool, grey stones outside, feeling the orange heat of an outdoor fire at my back and the early fall breeze stirring the paper in my hands.

Sometimes, you just have to let that old stuff go. The can’t, not good enough, don’t know how, never should’s. Really, who cares?

Do you even care anymore?

If you want to know how to do something, ask a teacher. We had an excellent instructor talk to us about the mechanics of singing. He reminded us that we all have the machinery, it’s a matter of learning to use it.

That’s a very powerful thought. We can probably each list a number of things we know we’re not good at. But if you’ve never learned how to do something, how can you be expected to do it well? Nobody every took the time to try to teach me to sing. They just told me I couldn’t. And the shame of it is I believed them. For a very long time.

We get second opinions on all kinds of things, we research our endless options on the internet, choosing just the right pair of shoes.

Then an offhand opinion pops up, and we take it as gospel. That makes no sense.

How much time did that tired choir director spend on her comment to me? Probably less than a second. But I’ve considered it truth since then.

Take that list of things you’re not good at and examine it closely. There are probably some things you really can’t do. I’m pretty short – there’s a reason I never made the basketball team. Several, actually, but that’s okay because I don’t really care.

Knowing what you care about is key. It lets you choose.

Once you figure out what you want to do, do it. A lot. We tend to live in the have-it-all-now-you-deserve-it world, but that doesn’t really work well. You have to find your passion then put your heart and soul into it, like this:

(TED talk) BLACK: My journey to yo-yo mastery

Maybe it’s no yo-yo mastery for you, yet once you have an area of focus, you can begin to say no to the distractions. We can’t do it all, or at least we can’t do it all well, in spite of what messages are out there.

One of my least favorite questions is “how do you balance it all?” because of the underlying assumption that we can or even should strive to balance it all. That’s not very humane, nor is it possible, in my opinion. So we have to make choices and when we choose the things we care about, when we build on a foundation of our strengths, we bring our best self forward.

Once you’ve made a choice, make the time.

I’ll be honest, I love to sing and I’ll keep doing it, perhaps to my family’s chagrin, but I’m not going to join a choir or take voice lessons, it’s not at the top of my list. Getting good at the top of the things on my list – some personal, some professional – is where I’ll be spending my time.

People say they can’t find the time to do something.

It’s not a matter of finding it, it’s a matter of making it. Making it yours, for a specific purpose, then respecting that choice enough to keep it.

That’s the hardest part of all, even harder than finding the right note.

A change takes courage.

I am still stunned that I opened my mouth and let the sounds come out. In public. But what shocks me even more is this: Nothing changed.

The world did not stop.

People did not clamp their hands over their ears and run screaming from the patio.

They just sang.

Suddenly, anything is possible.

Some really good singing and further discussion: Claron McFadden: Singing the primal mystery (TED Video)

 

 

 

Who moved my lunch?

wpid-2014-09-26-07.00.51.jpg.jpeg

Lunch-meetings!

Lunch-and-Learn!

We’ll provide pizza!

Brown-bag-seminars!

Oh, you think you’re busy and dedicated? We’ll I’ll see you a full calendar and raise you a lunch: “Well, I’m free at noon….”

Is lunch under attack? For a long time, I’ve made it a habit not to schedule lunch meetings, or expect them of others, four days a week. If I stay at my desk, I will work, I will answer questions, I will dribble food on my keyboard, and I will go home to my family and be crabby and exhausted. So I take lunch at the gym. I do reserve one lunch a week to spend as I choose. While there are  a few people who trump my no-lunch-meetings rule, that list is short.

Gym-lunch started out of necessity for me. With kids and a busy job, it was the only time of the day I could consistently exercise. But here’s the really neat part: I’m not the only one. I see a lot of familiar faces and co-workers there, and they’re all pretty awesome workers. I keep my workouts short, eat a quick bite when I get back, and we’re off to the afternoon!

I have a theory about this – the midday workout gets you refocused, gets you through the afternoon slump (often without coffee!) and even if nothing else goes well that day, you’ve done something good. Kind of like making your bed first thing in the morning.

Over time, it’s become easier to just stick with this habit instead of constantly looking for time to exercise in a schedule that doesn’t easily make room for anything “extra”. In theory, it’s pretty easy to establish this kind of habit.

1. put it on your calendar

2. respect the time

It’s the second one that’s hard. Having a workout partner helps a lot – someone who’ll be expecting you, on time, who will be late for something else if you let “just one more task” creep into your designated time.

Finding a research partner, a reports partner or someone who’s trying to make time for something compatible with your goal could help make anything routine – the key is that the other person’s habits will affect yours, so choose your partner wisely.

As for lunch, I believe our workplace sets the tone for a lot of our activities – after all, most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else – so what habits are you cultivating at work and are they contributing to an effective workplace or a stressed-out workplace?