I’ve become unhinged today. The short story is that it involves Microsoft tech support, two separate calls (so far) and four hours on the phone and remote access to my computer. I saw the better side of me slip down the side of the cliff. The truth is that I saw me acting like one of “those people.” I watched as an observer in slow motion as they pressed the reconfigure Microsoft office button. This set in motion an action that not only did I not understand. But I didn’t think had anything to do with the solution I was seeking. In addition I thought it was as close to “erasing the hard drive as I wanted to get in my lifetime. Oh and I was late for a breakfast meeting.
The undeniable truth was I was annoyed before that. It might have been yesterday when I “accidently” said yes to delete certain set of files that included years of historical emails regarding clients. Let’s just say I’d be in a world of hurt if those files actually disappeared. That’s the nice version. I get that it was totally my fault in the action of pressing yes to delete. I get it. Intellectually I don’t really have any connection to the person who was on the phone. Yes, now I am acting like it wasn’t me.
Here’s what I wished I had done:
- Ensure I had plenty of time to make the call. (who knew it would require 4 hours)
- Check to ensure that my end goal was clearly in my mind.
- Find that Zen spot where I could say, “I know I backed up my hard drive a week ago and how much data could be lost?”
- Be nice. Adhere to the adage; if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.
- Allow for the controlling monster that is Microsoft to set up a Live.com account as a part of the process of getting to that end goal that is clearly in my mind.
- Stop fighting the redundancy of getting through the voice activated phone center.
- Activate my sense of humor.
- Accidently hang up after I realized that I didn’t have enough time, and the woman tech support was unsure on what to do. It’s not like they don’t know who I am or will get back to where we were.
- Get a local (or virtual) technician who would take my call and appreciate the ongoing work.
As someone who clearly has a temper and teaches others to manage that “kind” of behavior there is a lot of shame in what I am writing. But after the better part of my day spent in anger/fight mode I ask myself “how do I calm down?” I thought, spitefully, I am going public on Facebook. But really what was I looking for? I was as much a part of the problem as I was in the way of the solution.
What do you suggest I do when I answer the phone tomorrow for the schedule “level 2 tech support” call?
“Coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development, with you as the product.”
People don’t automatically trust their employer. Uh, yeah, duh. Most of you are thinking – no kidding. The rest of you aren’t reading this. I am amazed the stories I hear when I tell people what I do. They try to understand how it fits into their world by asking me if, for example, those ropes courses, or I do the blind spider web game with team members. Ugh, no. I do assessments and work with people to improve their productivity through their communication skills and behavior…. Oh my god does that sound like being sent to the principal’s office?
Naturally when I started to realize the repulsion factor I decided to rebrand my services along with myself. In that process I asked clients, “what is my super power?” We all have a super power which we may or may not recognize or honor. We’ll go into that in a different post. But for now a response I got is “you’re particularly good at telling me what not to say.” I said, all coach like, you mean strategize what words to use and how to get to the subject in a way that is social acceptable and potentially terrifically impactful? She said no, I mean when I should stop talking and when I should NOT say what’s going through my mind. Oh, you mean trusting the process and the person you’re talking to gets to explain themselves. No, she said rather insistently, that you helped me understand that not everything that’s in my mind has to come out of my mouth.
That’s when silence does a world of good. Silence and allowing the other person to talk builds trust.
So back to the new awareness of my super power how do I translate or make that scalable? I would say that in leadership communication, the power of silence is far greater than most chatter boxes know. Here’s how conversations go terribly wrong when saying too much:
- Pent up feeling of need to express
- Low comfort level with the uncertainty in silence
- Power imbalance between the speaker and the audience
- No clear idea of what the other party wants or needs
- Previous history of conversations going differently than expected or needed
Do you feel the mistrust that is already in the conversation before you even open your mouth? Remember that communication is only 7% words. Maybe you remember that tone is 27% and the rest is how you show up. So, when you’re verbally dumping and the “listener” is trying to keep up with your rambling and the tone of panicky, frenetic delivery of what might be too much information. What will they do?
- Tune out
- Go through the process of buying and rejecting your request
- Create escape plans
- Plan your departure
- Plan a new layer between you and them to insulate them from this type of situation
Did you think tune out was the worst thing they could be doing while having to “listen” to your “reasonable explanation?” How do you recognize you’ve said enough?
- Organize your thoughts
- Know when you’ve completed the intended topical points
- Stay on track
- Listen to yourself
My clients get promoted by building trust in themselves and those around them by doing these simple actions more often. There is little difference between an audience that you want to persuade to give you budget, headcount, a promotion, a week off when there is no time. Be clear and be prepared but most importantly listen to yourself.
My clients want a change and they want it now. They don’t often know exactly what would make them super deliriously happy. They don’t really even know what makes them unhappy. Except they do know they just can’t go on the way it is. The truth is the deep dive takes time and it takes courage. Cuz what if you do the deep dive into your purpose or your “proper” career path and there is nothing there? What if you go inside and it’s like going to the wedding on the wrong day. Not a peep, not a soul, not a clue as to what really moves you. Then what? Well, funny enough, I guarantee you that WON’T happen. However you, who have stayed in that corporate closet so long you don’t trust me or anyone else for that matter. So anyway back to finding happiness while on the way to true purpose and super delirious happiness.
- Buy a journal. If you’re like any other person that’s tried to change your life or want to be more creative, you probably have one that’s in your closet with about three pages written on and when it got dull or awkward well it went into the closet. Go get that one. Rip out the crappy pages you wrote on and pretend it’s new. If you bought a good journal then carefully cut out those stinky pages reminding you of past failures. This is what we call a beginning.
- Start carrying the journal with you. You’ll write in it when you see, touch, smell, taste something that makes you smile. Or if you accidently (in air quotes) destroy something that needed to go away. Write it down. I expect, not that I will see your journal, that you’ll have no less than one occurrence and up to maybe ten occurrences daily.
- Next do what Marcus Buckingham calls the “love it, loathe it” exercise. He has a wonderful Australian accent so when he says “loathe it” it makes sense. On one of your pages in the journal make two columns with a line across the top for the headings; LOVE IT and LOATHE IT. As you streak through your day notate when you realize an activity or task that you love doing on the left column. In addition to that notice when you loathe some activity, task, meeting or interchange with colleagues that you loathe.
- Move off the “I’m just trying to survive” mode to energize your numb approach to your current job. This is critical to feel the joy you have to feel all aspects of the job. If you’re numb the above exercise becomes even more difficult. Yes, I fully understand that a survival tactic is in fact to numb out regularly.
- Smile. Indiscriminately and without explanation. First of all it will be fun to watch how people respond to you. They will no doubt believe you know more than you do or you’ve just destroyed something that made you horribly unhappy. Either way they’ll want to know more. The added bonus of torturing your coworkers is the physiological response to the muscle movement of smiling actually makes you feel more optimistic and happier. Yep it’s like a prescription that you’re not supposed to fill. And it’s free.
- Do some research on your own personal history. What the? Yes, I mean think back. Think way back. As a kid, what got you in trouble? What did you get written up and notes sent home about that horrible behavior the teacher couldn’t control? Come on, you know we all have that. Unless you were the super good boy or the super good girl. But really come one you know you wanted to be bad…. So….fess up. How did you get in trouble? Or if need be, how did you get others in trouble?
- Now walk the nice aisle. What did you do, as a kid, for fun? What did you always play? Teacher? Build stuff with legos? Blow stuff up with chemistry set? Make gourmet brownies with your easy bake oven? Were you always in the kitchen cooking? Were you outside playing…. What? Were you the leader who got all the kids together to play? Were you the one who was looking at the science projects called nature? What was it?
- Now on to your transcripts. Yes, there is archival data points that we want to pull forward into the next chapter of your career. What did you do well in? Okay if you’re that A student. What did you do really well in? If not (like me) what did you have exceptional grades in? What professors did you connect with or enjoy the most? What category or classes on the list of potential topics you would enjoy studying again?
- Bring in donuts. It cuts the tension and makes you undeniably popular. Not bagels, donuts.
- What else do you notice that has started (or stopped) happening since you started carrying your journal?
Now using the dwell research method sit with an open mind and read what you’ve found out in the past few weeks. Read it slowly. Sit back. It will come to you. But you have to give it space to come to you. There are pearls of wisdom in this journal. Put it down. And go about your way. Then peak back into it. Add to it. It will track some secrets and reveal them when you’re ready. If it doesn’t jump out at you, give it time. Or gather more data. It’s there.
But of course you can show me your journal and I’ll tell you what I see there…. No really, you can trust me.
As a person in transition I feel it on two levels…. One as the messy person who is regrouping after a contract went away. The other is as a researcher in the theory of behavioral change. Unfortunately, and not surprising to anyone but me, the messy part often overshadows the researcher in me. I am a process girl. I found that out in grad school when there was a question on group function that we were supposed to describe. The others in my class talked about the situation and stuff going on and I could not relate and I only see it as step by step. It’s all I see when I see a situation. Anyway I digress since this is a messy topic and it includes the issue of personal, reflective change. Yeah, you know the kind you avoid like the plague if you even recognize the severity. If you watch Downton Abbey you avoid it like Cholera.
Good god this is squashy… so William Bridges (no coincidence I am sure) describes his own journey through transition of moving from the city to the county, and I think there was a divorce in there somewhere. He found himself lost in the extra time he had and didn’t enjoy the awkward feelings he had as well. So, he created a transitions group. As you see it’s a lot easier to talk about other people’s journey than my own. But by writing this I find solace in the fact the power lays in the center of the transition.
William Bridges’ process is simple:
An ending. Something ends, dies, or changes and the structure of part of your world has changed.
The neutral zone: this is what I call the “icky, awkward, in-between time. This is where the transition formulates. This is THE most creative time. If you rush this, oh so awkward, phase you’ll miss formulating or waiting for the next best plan.
The new beginning: this is where you find new love, you figure out where you’re going in a new town and have replaced all the old service providers, or found a new job. Right… by then you’re over it.
So in my case I have been diligently traveling 76 miles each way to work on site as a coach for Northrop Grumman. At the end of last year with all the talk of budget cuts to government work and other prevailing cost savings the program that funded a coach at every location was cut. Of course there is a myriad of pluses and minuses. The obvious one is funding cutting the program cut the funding in my household. The upside is wide open space for creativity and finding the right niche to develop more consulting or coaching business or find the right position that might be satisfying. What I didn’t really anticipate is the quiet. Now I work from my home in downtown Los Angeles. The outside is noisy but here in my office it’s pretty quiet. I realized that I have to intentionally make social plans and form my own version of a transition group. That will help with the urge to solve it now.
So think back to changes in your life… when things really got turned upside down. What do you notice now? Can you see this process in that period of time? Was it awkward? Did you rush through it to solve it? Did you give it the time needed to really get a solution that was sustainable? Can you see the possibility of creativity in that time period? What would you tell someone during this time period?
Tell me your experience!
You can’t do any behavioral change in a vacuum. Okay maybe this is a little too global and not really on point. However I am reading about the sales process and how to create a system of sales activities to grow my business. Now that I have capacity I need to generate activity or some would call it income or business. That includes blogging and it includes making outbound calls to people who might bring me business or hire me directly. So having years of sales experience in what I call “digger” sales I should be really good at this, right?
Well, it appears that I am both the client and the coach here because I can see clearly that my problem starts with time management. Actually it might be my focus during what looks like workflow. That means when I should be writing or generating a new email blast, I am chatting with colleagues about work. Not really doing the work but talking about doing the work. It feels like work. Does it get me closer to bringing in new business? So… uh, no and well, hmmm. Tough reality when I know I’ve heard it come out of my mouth as a coach. The book says the difference between success and failure, not sure it was that dichotomous, is pig-headed discipline. Pig-headed discipline requires absolute diligence on creating the system and working the system. He says it takes six months to really make it the fabric of the company. I believe that it helps to have others check your work to see that it’s done. I remember when I used to be so focused and disciplined in the sales process. I was really successful and made a lot of money. So I know I have it in me. But that was a long time ago.
How can I make this fun? Fun? Really, it seemed like a great question when I asked my client. But now looking down my nose at it sure feels different.
How can I make the sales process fun? I know from the past it’s a numbers game. Talk to so many people and set so many appointments and teach people how to use my product and the rest just follows. Okay back to the fun part, how do I make this fun? Rewards? Yes, maybe. What about finding interesting people work with? I have worked with really fun clients whom I haven’t talked to in while. I’ll start there and see how they are progressing. That is fun for me
Here is what I’ve read and committed to do each day:
- At the end of each select the six most important things that need to be done tomorrow.
- Schedule email time and stick to that time.
- Spend 2.5 hours on building business.
- Pig-headed discipline to the process.
- Do the harder / more emotional / detailed work earlier in the morning when I am fresh.
All right this has already changed my attitude. The part about the vacuum is where friends and colleagues who are also avoiding doing things they don’t want to do will find me less available if I have that pig-headed discipline. But that’s for me to manage. Right? Since I’ve told you I’ve already started to manage it. You’ll keep me on task, right?
Someone, who is close to me, asked me what I actually do? Yikes, I might need to actually explain what I do to keep my position of what… dominance? I don’t really think that’s it. But I think that if I can’t explain it to the people close to me most likely people who might like to hire me don’t really get what I do either. So I thought I would tell you the story about how I got to the spot. Don’t worry it’s not the long detailed version. No really you can do a word count and you’ll know I left out many parts.
So I went to work for one of my clients. It was really fun to see how things worked inside this ginormous organization. I did project management for many fun projects. I went to a meeting where my boss wasn’t going to make the meeting. She told me, “don’t make any decisions or give them any final word on anything. Got it?” I laughed and nodded knowing she wasn’t kidding. She thought I was too agreeable coming from years in sales.
The meeting was also attended by ten people from our internal client. The discussion came around to part of the design which was normal for us and distasteful to them. Naturally sister organizations would disagree on something. But, remember I didn’t have power to agree on anything? So, I told them I would certainly take their concerns back and get them a decision. The director made her point two additional times and then was getting set to leave the meeting leaving us to finalize the details. She reiterated they wouldn’t tolerate the design aspect we had on paper. I nodded. So you agree to not include that aspect? I restated the extent of my power which included taking the information back to my camp to get final approval. She stood to leave leaned in, looking me in the eye and pointing her finger and then said one more time, “you will not include that in the project. Right?” Clearly I was out ranked out-numbered and over powered. I was reluctant to go back to my boss and tell her I caved I said, “you know I don’t have the power to agree?” She leaned further across the table toward me and repeated her demand to which I said nothing and she walked away.
Surprisingly she acted like that knowing I had no power. The other surprise was that not one of the people who worked for her said anything when she left. In fact they weren’t even looking at me. The meeting moved on as if it didn’t happen.
Back in my camp we conceded the issue without much fuss. But that situation really stuck with me and I was so curious about the occurrence of leveraging physical power that went to grad school to get a degree in organizational management development. What I learned about that type of leader is they are leading from the place of the lack of power or really big fear of failing or being shown up or something else. That behavior served her but at what cost to the team, the strategic partners or the project profitability. That behavior really requires recovery time. Certainly isn’t a positive influence or very motivating to the people their team. And I would guess that people don’t flock into her office to work for her.
So getting back to what I do as a Leadership Development Consultant is to work with organizations to create systems of development where leaders at all levels learn skills that allow them to authentically lead from their own personal power. They are naturally more influential, more motivating, sought after as a hiring manager and their teams get so much more done.
Strategies include communication skills of all type; presenting, writing, conflict, coaching, interviewing, tough conversations like disciplinary, cross cultural, motivation, legacy, branding, managing emotion, mentoring, career management and more depending on the individual needs.
Systemic development strategies; mentoring programs, cohorts and mastermind groups on a specific skill or talent, time limited programs of development, leadership development programs for all stages of leaders, developing and leveraging stakeholders, coaching skills and programs, utilizing stock or off the shelf development tools like Myers Briggs or 360s and other ideas. More importantly solutions come from the conversation around direct need and the goals.
Ideally that answers all questions but usually it starts a dialogue…..bring it on!
What can we learn from robotics in packaging? I was boasting to a colleague who retired from the same company that cut the program I was on that I could write on any topic. The truth is that I am not really able to write on any topic. Or am I? Just kidding – I am not writing on the topic above.
The topic we talked about and I find myself inclined to write about is massive structural change in our day. This is the first day that I would have been back to work. This is the first day of the business year. This is her first day of not going into the office and she feels the impact of retiring. That really is weird. She retired and I my contract was cut which is different and yet weirdly similar. In fact I couldn’t believe how, in the conversation with her, I was missing thoughts and words. I remembered it’s been happening the last couple weeks. I thought I had early onset of Alzheimers but it could really be just stress. Stress does amazing things to your mind. And you can’t feel the damage. But you can see (feel or hear) the damage in loss of words and loss of finishing sentences or loss of focus or motivation. Remarkable. I am supposed to be so tough and bold. But when it comes down to it …I am just as weak and fallible as every other human being. While my intention is to create or find new sources of revenue I am going through some of the same reaction to the massive change. Really? Me, I am supposed to help other people through these times. Right….except that in order to help them I have to be available to help myself through the same awkward steps. Oh, and I have to be real about the process they are experiencing with me and them.
The toughest part of the change is losing the social aspect of work. I realized this several times when in the past six years in and out of corporate contracts. The people you miss are the ones you wouldn’t see if they didn’t walk past your office and drop in or you run into them at the cafeteria getting a cup of coffee. You also miss the ones you’ll pick up the phone to call or set a meetup with them. But now they’re busy and you’re, well, not. There is no explaining how the emotions flow:
- Fear – lack of clear vision of how this will turn out okay…
- Elation – waking up in the morning realizing that you don’t have to be anywhere in particular.
- Terror – waking up in the morning realizing that you don’t have to be anywhere in particular.
- Curiosity – I see other people appear to enjoy the freedom of retirement or working from home, how do they do it?
- Anger – I wasn’t ready, I was talked into it, I should have thought this through, they shouldn’t have let me go, what was I thinking?
- Relief – the process of leaving is over and I don’t have to hold my blackberry 24/7.
- Confusion – really I looked at my blackberry that many times a day? What am I going to do instead?
- Shame – I wish I had a blackberry to look at now, what was I thinking, I am nothing without the brand of a large corporation, what value does someone who isn’t productive or contributing to the larger world, what’s wrong with me if I just want to garden or don’t want to garden?
- Inadequacy – the preparation to retire doesn’t really prepare you for the emotions of retirement or layoff and the awkward feeling of retooling a lifestyle.
- Greif – remember the stages from Kubler-ross? Yes, they apply; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance with no chronological order or consistency.
- Memory loss – emotional stress causes the loss of words, or thoughts
- Isolation – in your bathrobe until noon … or later?
Seriously now what on earth do you do with all that? The truth is that with massive change it takes longer than you want. Jumping from corporate to “freedom from corporate” isn’t for the faint of heart. You are probably getting so much “great” advice in the unsolicited category. But what advice would you give someone whose entire lifestyle is suddenly different? Would you bring down the hammer and say, get productive! I certainly hope not. I hope there is a bit about being gentle. You may even want to allow yourself a certain amount of days where you “ease” into a new lifestyle. Creative space isn’t forged but it does flow to fill a vacuum. So be very gentle and what the heck, maybe your first outing is to buy a better bathrobe and new coffee pot. Peace out, be gentle and enjoy!
From Harvard Business Review management tip of the day, adapted from “Leveling the Playing Field on Cross-Cultural Teams” by Andy Molinsky.
Managers of global teams need to make special considerations to ensure everyone is able to contribute, regardless of their culture or location. Here’s how:
- Make the team norms explicit. People can bring different and potentially conflicting communication approaches to the table. It’s critical to discuss how those will influence the standards and expectations of your team.
- Create an inclusive team environment. Some individuals can feel intense social pressure around people from other cultures, especially when other non-natives seem to be doing “just fine.” Work hard to create a “safe” atmosphere so members are able to express their concerns.
- Give everyone the right skills. If your team’s culture is essentially Western and you speak English, dedicate time and resources to making sure everyone has the skills in these areas necessary to contribute to their fullest.
PW adds: These are great ideas for global teams. And adding this sensitivity to all teams would make the work place world a better and more productive place…
From an email dated JULY 27, 2012 from Harvard Business Review….
Why You Should Sit with More People in the Lunchroom
Workers who regularly sit with large groups of colleagues at tables for 10 or 12 in their lunchrooms have substantially higher performance than those who sit at tables for 4, according to a CNN report on findings by researcher Ben Waber. Workers who sit with larger groups at lunch tend to be clued in to the work of greater numbers of colleagues and can tap more people for advice, Waber says.
Source: Workplace happiness: What’s the secret?
Dear Crucial Skills,
I tend to procrastinate overwhelming work projects until the last minute and know this bad habit is keeping me from advancing in my career. I feel like I’ve tried everything, but nothing has helped. I don’t know how to change. Can you help me?
Dear Procrastinator, (written by Joseph Grenny)
Funny you should ask. I’ve managed to put off writing my response to you for three weeks now! But I’m flying home from Chicago and our editor, Angela, is firmly but politely requesting I get off my rear—so here goes.
We recently found that procrastination is a pretty pervasive problem. In fact, it is one of the top three Career-Limiting Habits we identified in a recent study. For some, these habits have cost them pay or promotions. But even those who can’t count an absolute cost of the habit acknowledge they could have achieved significantly more in their career if it hadn’t been for this chronic weakness.
I fall into the category of people who can point to specific losses caused by procrastination. At age seventeen, a partner and I wrote one of the first accounting applications for the newly emerging microcomputer industry. It was an instant success with our immediate clients, and I knew that if I would invest time standardizing the software and creating high-quality documentation for it, we could make millions. I didn’t. And within a year, a competitor went to market in that uncontested space and cashed in. Live and learn, eh?
But the good news is I’ve discovered a few simple sources of influence that have a remarkable effect on my energy, focus, and productivity in these crucial moments. I also got an enormous number of responses on our Crucial Skills blog and on Facebookfrom clever readers who have found their own ways to kick this habit.
Without further delay, here are some ideas:
Make It Motivating
- Make it a game. Even noxious tasks become engaging when we give them the characteristics of a game: focus, time limit, and a scoreboard. When I sit down to work, I make my scoreboard. I write down the number of things I want to get done before I relax. I limit my list to the number of things I can reasonably accomplish. It’s remarkable how motivating it is to check things off my list. Several readers actually use a timer. I think that’s a great idea to increase the “game” sense of focus, and to link the experience to a promise of reward.
- Repeat motivating statements. A couple of readers keep motivating statements at hand that help them reframe the decision they’re making in their crucial moment. Suzy said, “My favorite procrastination advice is, ‘If you have to eat a frog today, do it first. If you have to eat three frogs today, eat the biggest one first.’” Donald added, “I put this note on my PC: ‘Production Before Perfection’ to remind myself to create something even if it is imperfect and then focus on perfection.”
- Read a book. Lots of people have found useful tools in books that help them increase and focus their mental energy more effectively. Some favorites were The NOW Habitby Neil Fiore, The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel, and Getting Things Doneby David Allen.
- Treat productivity like a skill. Pick a small amount of time to focus your attention, then stop. Brett said, “Here’s a mantra I’ve found very effective at battling my own tendency to procrastinate. It’s four simple words: Make progress every day. Once I get started on something, even if it’s with the mental goal of saying ‘I’m only going to do this one thing for fifteen minutes’, it often leads to more. When it doesn’t, at least I have the satisfaction that I did indeed make some progress that day.”
- Find a friend. Barb shared an experience where she learned from a friend: “You can learn to overcome [procrastination] by pairing with someone who has a different style. My boss, the ultimate procrastinator, and I worked together for many years. We made a great team. Instead of being a thorn in one another’s side, we used one another as a means of support and a sense of balance in how we approached our work. He knew he could count on me to develop a quick plan and start executing. I learned there are advantages to letting some things percolate so you don’t have to retrace old ground as projects often get redirected midstream.”
- Set boundaries with others. One reader recommended setting aside time to deal with problems: “A large part of managing yourself is managing who is allowed to interrupt you and when. One of the techniques I now employ is a ‘problem hour.’ As e-mails, phone calls, or other issues interrupt me, I push them to my problem hour. If the issues arise after my problem hour, it’s assigned to the next day’s problem hour.”
- Plan fun. Cecelia uses rewards to motivate herself: “My two favorite ways to deal with procrastination balance short- and long-term rewards. Sometimes going to my home office to work feels like being sent to my room. To change that mindset, I focus on how much better life is going to be once the task I’d rather avoid is over.”
- Pick a treat. Erin rewards herself by taking a break: “Dedicate an hour to a difficult task and then reward yourself by going to get a Starbucks coffee, or by having a chat with a coworker as a break.”
Structure for Success
Lots of readers used structural tricks to help make productivity easier. In fact, you’ll recognize lots of structural ideas even in the other sources of influence I listed above. Here are some favorites:
- Break it down. Divide big things into manageable amounts, then decide what manageable part you will accomplish next. Jim shares this story: “My mother died eight years ago and I received forty boxes of stuff to sort through. Three months ago, I started filing or discarding one box a week.” Thinking about one box is motivating. Forty is overwhelming.
- Leave some fun for next time. One trick I use with writing tasks is to never stop until I am on a roll. I make sure that, when I pause my writing, I know what I want to write next—so getting restarted will be easier. If, on the other hand, I finish a complete idea, I’ll have to start next time with the painful experience of figuring out what is next. Pause your work at a place that makes restarting feel motivating.
- Make an appointment with yourself. Erin also recommends you “Schedule slots of time into your schedule similar to a meeting time. Then make sure that time is dedicated only to the task. Schedule the most unwanted tasks first thing. By the afternoon, you are out of energy and more likely to procrastinate.”
- Build fences. Create an environment where you won’t be distracted. For example, turn off e-mail notifications, put your phone where you can’t see or hear it, close your door, and put in earphones. Some people even use software that shuts down internet access to help reduce wandering impulses.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything on this list at once—just pick an idea or two, experiment with it, and act like a scientist examining your own behavior as you see what makes you feel more motivated and productive. It’s worked miracles for me. I never made millions on microcomputer software—but I finished this column!