Doing Your Best Work (1 of 4)
A New Year always feels like a fresh start, doesn’t it?
Why is it, then, that despite New Year Resolutions – if you still make them – and our best intentions always seem to get overtaken by … well, just life?
In our research into high-performing change leaders and project managers, we discovered something quite striking: these people did not see themselves as victims of circumstance, but carried themselves with a powerful identity that seemed to imprint itself on their circumstances and their projects.
Yes, but can we become like that?
I have come to realise that we can.
Have you ever been looking for something and it was right there all the time?
You know, looking for your sunglasses and they are on your head?
(No? Maybe that’s just me, then…)
Well, when did our study on high performers we just didn’t expect what we found. In fact, not only were we somewhat surprised, we were also a little embarrassed.
I think with hindsight I expected some high-order mystical skill that only a few initiates would understand. Something very sophisticated and complex.
But, it wasn’t anything like that at all.
In fact, what we did find was something so basic I was, frankly, embarrassed.
It was something I covered on one of the first training courses I was sent on… Or at least it looked a lot like it.
It was on … err… time management.
Yes, I know. Pretty basic stuff, right?
Yet one of the comments from the trainer on that course stuck with me down through the years. It was this: When it comes to time management, we are all recidivists.
What he meant by that was that, by the end of the course we would be all much improved, but after a while, we all slip back into bad habits of personal organisation. This rang true, and it still does. I find I need to revisit my own management of my calendar and my priorities regularly. We all do.
We need to manage our diaries or calendars and not let the world dictate what should fill it.
So back to our research.
What we found was that it was more about the respect and attention these people used in ordering their own private world. From this they began to do their best work. When they showed up at meetings they brought their best selves. When surprises hit them, they had something in reserve.
Yes, I was little embarrassed. I was a little embarrassed when we presented these results to project management conferences. It seemed too basic. Too primitive. Time management? Really?!
There was part of me that was reassured. I had always valued insights into prioritisation that I had gained from people like Stephen Covey, David Allen and others. And as I practised them I saw their effect on me, my work, my organisation, and on others around me. I used techniques like Mind Mapping to pull some of these ideas together. So I discovered that this research had validated a lot of my own experience in focusing my time and efforts.
I hadn’t made the connection between my routines of self-management and with, say, good project management.
In fact, now I have come to believe that this whole area of personal organisation is crucial in high performance. It is the neglected key to doing our best work, whether we are project managers, editors, small business owners, or anything where we need to choose and make judgements.
This realisation led me on a journey of rediscovering some personal disciplines in my work. I was delighted when I saw positive results, and quickly.
A client noticed this about me and asked me to put together a workshop for her organisation called Organising Yourself More Effectively.
I could have said, “No thanks, I’m a project management consultant! I don’t do that sort of basic time management stuff!”
But by then I already knew there was power in this material, and I was excited.
When I finally led the workshop was a tremendous success. The client asked me to deliver it again.
And re-run it, several times.
No matter what the profession and the seniority of the delegates, everyone seemed to take value away from the workshop. I loved it.
But more importantly, the delegates were appreciative. Stories of what changed for them afterwards began to come in. One participant said,
“This has really given me a way to flip my work. I don’t let it push me now, but I pull it to me.”
Another manager said,
“It’s given me my family back!”
“I’m treating my thinking time with more respect, I protect it, and it’s paying off in terms of what and when people can expect things from me.”
As I looked around at my clients and their organisations, the wrong kind of busyness swamps the world of work, a distracted busyness, a disoriented busyness, a busyness that so often seemed to overwhelm them. It was clear to me. They were not doing their best work. So many of the people I talked with were driven by their work. You could say it was a kind of slavery. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it when I was driven, and I didn’t like it when I saw it in those I cared about. They needed to be free from it.
So I made my second mistake:
I wrote a book about how to find the freedom to do your best work for these people. I titled it Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. My mistake was not writing the book, you understand, but it was in expecting busy people to read it. And sure enough, when I gave some of these overwhelmed colleagues and clients my book, many did not have time to read it! I’d written something to help them, but it just seemed to add to their burden, rather than relieve them of it.
Now, many others have come to value and benefit from the book. But I knew I had to come up with a better solution.
And I have.
But more on that in my next email! (This email is already long enough, and I don’t want to add to your sense of overwhelm!)