Positive Outliers

Working Out My Work

In my recent post called, A Portal of Possibilities, I described the time I first got my hands on an Apple Macintosh 128K, and how it dazzled me and drew me into a new world of possibilities. The power of these new tools and the possibilities they gave me, consumed my focus.

However, I had a team. Whilst I focused on this new technology, I was neglecting them. I needed to rebalance my efforts, and quickly.

How Do Others Do It?

So, I began to study what other people did to organise their work lives. It was as if I had added one other project to my project portfolio: me.

I had been on time management courses, but I knew that this challenge was a larger matter than really how I sped through things, and how I allotted time to my different tasks. What helped other people to keep focused on what mattered? What is productivity?

In my story about my recruitment blunder, I wrote about the overuse of the term management and, among other things, it is unhelpful and perhaps even damaging, when we use management to the act of engaging with the people around us. I wrote this about time management:

We are in time, so how can we manage it? That’s like asking a fish to do water management. Fish swim, yes. But they don’t control the water.

I was discovering that there was only one person I should manage. In fact, it was, imperative that I did so. That person was me.

In the literature on emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, the bedrock of EQ is first, self-awareness, and then, self-management.

EQ Main Skill Areas

What should I do first? What should I do next?

Sooner or later, we all come to the realisation that even our boss – if we even have a boss – cannot be expected to tell us the What and the How of everything we should do. We need to work that out for ourselves. It also remains for us to identify next, our priority, what or whom we should attend to next.

Leading Yourself
Succeeding from the Inside Out

As I explained in my book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, self-management follows self-leadership. The enemy of effective working for any of us, particularly portfolio workers, or even portfolio creators, is stress, driven by hurry and distraction.

So I began a quest for the way to manage my time better. I later realised that this was crucial to making sense of my work and to the process of managing it effectively.


I had begun with lists, to-do lists. I think everyone creates lists, as they start to order their work. I tried labelling each item with priorities such as A or B or C, as I had been taught on my time management training, but this seemed clumsy. Also, my lists got longer. Important stuff got lost in the middle somewhere. I found myself writing out longer and longer lists. Moving them to my PC seemed a natural way to go, but I ended up printing out and amending these lists by hand. We didn’t have the list apps available to us today. But still, the handwritten vs digital divide seemed awkward to me.

Covey’s First Things First

Early on, I came across the work of the late great Stephen Covey, in such books as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First. His approach was refreshingly different. I liked the breadth and depth of Covey’s analysis, which encompassed much of EQ. It was practical whilst being principle-based, rather than locking me into one particular methodology. Covey highlighted the Eisenhower Matrix and how something that was urgent was not necessarily important. Making a distinction between what was merely urgent and what was also important became a critical way of thinking for me.


This Danish-based system came in the form of a training course backed up with a proprietary set of stationery. We had a quality A5 Filofax-type ring binder, with extensible add-ons that could be tailored to different uses. I remember that it had a detachable perfect-bound calendar pocket notebook that I found particularly useful. 

After a couple of years, though, I found the system a little too prescriptive. It didn’t allow me to evolve and tailor my approach. There were some software integrations later on, but those were in the early days of hybrid paper-digital solutions and software was not seamless or robust. 


As the world of knowledge workers continued to speed up with multiple streams of inboxes calling for my attention, along came David Allen with his book, Getting Things Done. His GTD approach seemed to offer the benefits of a system whilst keeping it robustly simple. His key was to keep a single inbox and to triage incoming messages to delete, do immediately if less than two-minutes’ effort, store as a project, or archive.

GTD was focused on taming these various ‘inboxes’ of our lives, and it fulfilled that objective well. But I felt GTD lacked something. It did not help me to continually reshape my work as new roles and challenges arose.


As a coach and trainer at the time in project management, we were seeing agile software development grow as a movement. Two aspects, in particular, fascinated me:

  1. The use of the Kanban board to prioritise and move team member tasks through conception to completion; and
  2. The cycle of scheduled retrospective meetings which helped an agile development team become an adaptive, self-improving learning organisation.

At the time, I was using Trello to manage my personal commitments. Later, I came across Personal Kanban, by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. What they set out resonated with what I was doing. I began to incorporate it into a course a client asked me to design and run, called Organising Yourself More Effectively.

The Rise of VUCA

All the while, the world seemed to be accelerating towards VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Like many, I was being challenged with increasing demands, and increasingly complex ones at that. I had to manage my own experience of VUCA and ensure I didn’t become swallowed into the vortex of aimless distraction and chaotic stress.

So, I have evolved how I work out my days. It is a critical skill in surviving these times of noise, hurry and distraction. More than that, I have to find it is possible to do more than survive. We can thrive and overcome. However, I find that I need to keep adapting my own system of self-management.

Three Conclusions

In the course of my own journey out of this chaos, I have concluded that:

  1. Margin is important, whether it be time margin, health margin, financial margin or space margin. Margin protects us from the unexpected, providing us with a buffer against becoming someone who is permanently driven by circumstances. We cannot outrun VUCA. We cannot merely increase the speed and throughput of our work. In fact, it is better to declutter and create space.
  2. There is only ever one priority in any given moment. We need a solution to help discover what that one priority is, helping keep us focused on that, despite all the distractions around us.
  3. We can become too task-focused for our own good, and we need to consider the relationships around us.

Most of the above productivity approaches are one- or two-dimensional. I’m realising now that we need to manage ourselves in at least three dimensions.

I will explain what I mean by these three dimensions in my next blog.

In the meantime, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

A Portal of Possibilities

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

In my post last week, I went down memory lane and confessed to one of my worst recruitment blunders. This week, I’m still stuck in the past or, as I’d like to think, I’m still learning from my early career experiences. This week, I want to share how captivated I became with what was then a piece of newish technology.

The Portal Opens

Sometimes a new technology opens up new creative, sometimes disruptive possibilities of expression. For example, in the 14th Century, Gutenberg’s invention of moveable metal type began to free people to publish at scales and distribute work previously impeded by the establishment: first, the Bible in the native language of the people, and then a spiritual call-to-arms in the form of Luther’s Ninety-Nine Theses. Such literature was read up and down the land in taverns, outside of the controlled environments of church buildings. By 14th century standards, you could say these works went viral.

I had this experience first with access to my first WIMP computer, an Apple II. WIMP is an acronym for Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer. The WIMP user interface is so ubiquitous now, that we have stopped using this acronym. But at that time, most computers had nothing else but a keyboard and you typed all instructions.  Using technology originally pioneered at the Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories, it was Apple that first made this user interface popular. Previously, I had only used this on a $25,000 workstation.

The most popular software application, the ‘killer app’ on the Apple II is a surprise for many milennials: it was called VisiCalc (for “visible calculator”)., which was the first spreadsheet application for personal computers.

By Wikipedia User: Gortu –, Public Domain,

We now use spreadsheets for modelling all kinds of possibilities. For some of us, it is our go-to tool. 

“What PC would you like?”

Then I was recruited by another organisation to set up and grow an IT development team, at a time when my IT Director was about to review with me the market for networked workstations, that is, desktops that were approaching the capabilities of what we know as desktops today. This was 1986, so these technologies were still emergent. So, my director asked me what PC I wanted to rent in the meantime. This may sound quaint and ancient to millennials today, but I asked for an Apple Macintosh 128K.

Launched two years earlier, it was a state of the art PC. For us, it was a thing of wonder and beauty. 

The Orignal Apple MacIntosh launched in 1984

My Macintosh came with two additional programs. First, MacProject allowed me to enter project information and immediately I could see the impact of my data as a Gantt chart. Up until that time, I would print off the chart to see the results of any changes to estimates or time delays. Seeing the results on the screen, this immediately made my life as a project portfolio manager so much easier.

A Screenshot of a MacProject Pert Diagram

But my favourite piece of software emerged as MacDraw, a simple drawing tool. I was able to create visual concepts for my project sponsors that made sense to them. It would be another ten years before I was able to achieve the same thing with a desktop using Microsoft Windows.

It would be another ten years before I could reproduce on a Windows machine what I could do on my Apple MacIntosh.
A Screenshot from MacDraw

So often, it is easier to communicate concepts visually, particularly where there is an emergent capability from a number of projects. These diagrams gave my fellow senior managers such confidence in my projects that I even discovered one senior user kept his pinned diagram on his wall to explain to others.

Art is visionary and vision is often best communicated visually. The clue is in the name: vision.

We draw, not so much to copy images but to show the world as we see it or as it might become.

All of this new technology was wonderful stuff. Those were heady days when the technology couldn’t help but draw attention to itself.

However, there was one major problem. In my pursuit of productivity in one area, I lost it in another. Although I was learning to focus, I was also realising that I had to review the landscape of my life regularly. After all, I was like a farmer. There were other matters on my farm to attend.

But more of that in my next post.

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Leaning to People Personal Margin Self-Awareness

When I Made a Recruitment Blunder

One of my biggest mistakes in recruiting somebody was early when I recruited a young man, straight out of school, as a COBOL programmer. The warning sign at his interview was his reply when I asked him where he saw his work taking him:

I would like your job. I’d like to sit in an office all day and order other people around.

I smiled inwardly but at the end of the interview decided to give him a chance anyway(!). I hoped that life would quickly knock this sense of entitlement out of him as well as showing him the reality of my role as a manager.

How wrong I was.

With hindsight, I should have heeded that comment as a warning sign. After investing significantly in that young man with intensive training in the early weeks with us, he left soon afterwards for a better offer with his new qualifications, with no sense of obligation to those who had built into him.

I took several lessons from this, but what I want to explore here was his understanding of management.

What is Management?

I think management is an over-used word in the world of work.

We talk about financial management. Fair enough. We need to manage our resources. Asset management? Of course. Venue management? That makes sense as well.

But what about time management?

We live and work in time, so how can we manage it? That’s like asking a fish to do water management. Fish swim, yes. But they don’t control the water.

And how about human resource management and stakeholder management?

When we use the language of management, it is a small step to deluding ourselves that we can control others and as a manager that is what we are supposed to do. In doing so, we reduce human beings to resources, cogs in the machine,  or foot soldiers in the war effort. Choose your dehumanising metaphor. 

With stakeholder management, how would you like to be managed by someone who is in another team or even in another organisation? Which is why I prefer the term stakeholder engagement or, better still, people engagement.

If management is the ordering or control of something, then, without resorting to some form of tyranny over others, the only person I can only truly control the behaviour of is … me.

The only person you can and should control is yourself.

I can coach you. I can counsel you. I might try to persuade you. I might even model to you what I would like you to do. I could even rebuke you, argue with you, or withdraw from you; but I can’t truly manage you – unless I am a prison warden, the manager of an orphanage, or a tyrant. I can invite you to do things, but that is not essentially management. That is leadership, not management.

Deprivation of freedom is a kind of punishment. We call it imprisonment. That is what many managers seek to do.

Many subscribe to the economic transaction that if the employer pays them well enough, then the organisation ‘owns’ them for a big part of their life –– or all of it — until they are released.

Research has shown that children who learn to control themselves at an early age position themselves for success later on in life. However, quite a lot of parenting is for the convenience of the parent and enforces control.

When it comes to others around us, our colleagues, our team, line reports, we do well when we empower them and encourage them. See my post on releasing autonomy, for example. One of the leaders in my local church says,

We are not building a big church, but big people.

And there is plenty of evidence that they are succeeding, without controlling or manipulating people. People are becoming powerful in realising who they already are.

However, leading free people can be a bigger challenge than leading slaves. Being the master of a slave ship is so much easier. So many people revert to control.

The Damage of Managing People

So, when we coerce, control and dictate, we deny others their freedom and creative autonomy. When we override the wishes of others, we may get compliance, but we lose something greater and far more valuable.

We risk losing loyalty and a greater creative cohesion to a common cause. We risk losing the synergy that comes from other free individuals adding their creative fresh perspectives. When portfolio creators come together, usually something amazing and generous happens.

What About Self-Management?

I have come to realise that it is the only form of people management that is both defensible and appropriate – desirable even – is self-management. But more on that in another post.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment below.

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work

The Seven Keys eBook

Discover & Practice the Seven Key Areas that All High Performers Share

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Leaning to Action Positive Outliers

The Rise of the Portfolio Creator

In my previous article, Living Like a Farmer, I explored the idea that many of us do not have a single job, but many.

The Portfolio Worker

In the 1980s, the Irish management consultant, Charles Handy, began to explore idea of portfolio workers. In works like The Empty Raincoat, he saw an emergent reality where more and more of us would have a series of jobs, sometimes simultaneously.

I was speaking with a friend earlier this week who works with a charity close to my heart. He is now retired from working in a major business. He had worked there all his life. The company had changed as units were sold off or when it merged with other major firms. But, through it all, he had essentially worked for the same organisation.

And he agreed that his career history is highly unusual today.

It is increasingly rare that someone works their whole life for one organisation. Portfolio working is now the new normal.

At one time, white-collar workers might expect to be with one employer all of their lives. “Work hard, and the company will take care of you,” was the advice of my elders when I left school.

Not now. Now, having one enduring employer throughout one’s working life seems like a strange historical blip.

And it is not as though keep the same role or profession as we flit from company to company. More and more, for most of us, work will not be a single career.

Our work morphs. It jumps. It multiplies.

Creating Your Own Job

In my own journey, there was another dynamic on top of all this. Nothing prepared me for a career where every job I was recruited to do after college was to a role new to my employer as well! Very early on, not only did I have to adapt to moving to a new organisation, but I had to create each role for myself. It was down to me to work out what the job entailed. I had to work out how to do that job in such a way that I had to explore what success really meant for my employer or my client.

There was one exception to this: in my second job after leaving college, I was recruited into a vacancy left by another. However, in that case, the job of IT analyst, soon morphed into something else as technology opened up new opportunities.

And it seems to get even more complex. Not only is retaining the role appearing like a vanishing option for those starting a career but so is continuous full-time employment. Some of us are only now catching onto this reality, this new normal. 

This creates a huge challenge. the employment I imagined was where I would be trained to do one job, do it well, and be promoted; and in due course, I could retire with a healthy pension. In fact, I found this same naïveté amongst all my employers. Each and every organisation was set up with a standard induction plan and training courses. But these fell far short of what I actually needed.

There was nothing else for it; I had to learn on the job, without much in the way of formal training and development. I was a portfolio worker, but nobody told me how to do it. Now, I had to work out my own salvation: what it meant to survive and then thrive as a portfolio worker. This meant I had to become something deeper still: a Portfolio Creator.

The Portfolio Creator

Creating your own portfolio and creating within it

Looking back now, this challenge of learning what my own job meant, shaping it, and developing my own skills, has been a wonderful preparation. It forced me out of routine working to confront some basics of mission, values, different workflows and significant relationships. It taught me to look deeper than content or technology, to the universal principles of professional service. I realised that many of us are more than workers. We are creators.

Maybe social historians of the future will look back at our era and call this the Rise of the Portfolio Creators.

I worked on myself. I became my own training department and I put together a powerful approach to self-leadership. I began to share these with clients. I have put much of it into a book called Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. Coaching others has helped me get further clarity on this.

How about you?

Do you recognise yourself as a Portfolio Creator?

Are you still confused with all this talk of “time management” (as if you could control time)?

Or what about “work-life balance?”When did your work become excluded from your life?

I will share more on this in another article.

Meanwhile, you can order the Leading Yourself paperback here at a discounted price.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Living Like a Farmer

Every now and then someone makes a remark or an observation about me that resonates. In fact, sometimes, there is such weight on the remark that it amplifies over time, down through the years.

Such was the case about thirty years ago. My aunt and uncle were visiting us in Oxford on an extended trip around the UK from Canada. My late aunt asked about my work, and what I actually did. At that time I was in transition, really trying to make sense of my working life, just about to leave full-time paid employment to go freelance as a business consultant.

“It sounds like you are a farmer,” she said.

It sounds like you are a farmer

My aunt went on to explain. She had grown up on the family farm in Lincolnshire. It was a mixed farm of livestock and arable farming. Each evening, my grandfather would decide what he, his family and his farmworkers would do the next day.

Depending on the season and the situation, decisions were sometimes easy. For example, if one of the cows looked like calving, it was obvious that the next few hours would revolve around the vet and his assessment. Likewise with harvest time, what he had to do was time-driven and weather-dependant.

Other times, though, the freedom he had meant that important priorities were less obvious. A fence needed mending. Should they see to it tomorrow, or leave it until later? If there were goats in the field, it was clearly urgent: goats escape or eat their way through any boundary if they can.

And it wasn’t just maintenance. Farm economies went through some radical changes in the mid-twentieth century with the coming and aftermath of the Second World War, where it became strategically vital that the nation was as near self-sufficient in food as possible. I wasn’t aware of it, but rationing was still in force in the UK when I was born.

So, my grandfather needed to scan the horizon to see how the longer-term prospects changed. It might mean a shift to another form of income. And income needed to be budgeted across the year. Farm work was more labour-intensive in that generation, with at least a handful of farmworkers employed and housed on every farm.

Daily Decisions

And here’s part of why this resonated with me: many of us are now shifting to a form of working where we need multiple revenue streams, and daily we are called to make choices about what we work on next.

At one level, my work seems far from farming. I’m a business coach and writer. Yet, my aunt was right: there are more similarities my work to being a farmer, as I lead myself through the myriad of daily choices in my work, than perhaps first meets the eye.

How about you?

We sow our own kind of seeds, we harvest, we buy stock, we take our produce to market, we learn the rhythms of our market seasons, but also we tune in to the times, when all may seem well now, but there are opportunities to be gained from moving into work areas unknown to our ancestors, and risks to staying with the current operations.

Maybe, in this sense, most of us are now more like farmers., what has come to be called portfolio workers.

What is a portfolio worker? Well, I will explore this further in a later article. For now, though, I need to work on something else on my farm…

Photo by Bec Ritchie on Unsplash

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Positive Outliers

Are you giving enough Autonomy?

I wrote recently about my decision fatigue in at a Chicago Deli, in my post called Stunned by Choice.

Sometimes, when we head up teams, departments and entire organisations, we are exhausted by the culture we ourselves create.  We hoard to ourselves too many decisions.

For example, Jordan was promoted to head up a team, succeeding Angela, his predecessor. It’s always difficult stepping into another manager’s shoes, but this team was used to a change of boss every few months.

However, Jordan felt he needed to check everything his team did. At first, this was more about him learning what his new team did, part of his own induction into his new role. He was tempted to continue this beyond where he felt confident he knew enough of what was going on, but he resisted that temptation.


Over time, Jordan learned to brief team members with pre-approval. He learned how competent individual team members were in their individual areas. As trust in the quality of each team member grew, he needed to check less. And there came a time when he felt able to delegate to some with the instruction:

“Whatever you come up with as a solution is already approved by me. I don’t need to check.”


Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, distils human motivation, the kind of motivation that drives performance to exceptional levels as resolving to three key areas:

  1. Autonomy. Where appropriate, we like to be left alone to work out our own solutions to a task, in our own way.
  2. Purpose. We thrive when we can connect what we do with something larger than ourselves or our organisation.
  3. Mastery. We like to feel we are getting better at what we do.

People thrive when they have all three in their work. Great leaders provide all three. Pre-approval plays primarily to the first one: it gives the delegates autonomy.

People thrive in their work when they gain autonomy, connection with a greater purpose and can gain mastery in what they do.

When I led my first team, I didn’t know much about autonomy and pre-approval. There came a time when people were literally queuing outside my office door to see me. (Yes, shame on me, but it was closed.) I had to think again.

Always Appropriate?

Another friend of mine tried pre-approval and it didn’t go so well. There are a number of conditions outside the team that require pre-approval to work. For example, if we are:

In a complex, changing, high-risk environment, each one of us needs the larger picture that the team provides
Introduced to urgent work in areas where we feel incompetent, we become demotivated
In the midst of internal politics, without a commonly-agreed set of values and culture in place, people are likely not to use autonomy for the good of the team, but in a partisan, even self-serving way.

It may be that the opportunities to give our co-workers autonomy are difficult to identify, but the rewards are great if pre-approval is used appropriately.

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work

The Seven Keys eBook

Discover & Practice the Seven Key Areas that All High Performers Share

Download my free eBook

Leaning to Action Leaning to People Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Will you change your story?

I was with my teenage grandson walking along the Thames Southbank and we came upon the Globe Theatre, a wonderful re-creation of the original Elizabethan theatre that premiered many of the plays of Shakespeare, and we decided to take a guided tour.

Towards the end of our tour, the guide explained how in Shakespeare’s day there was a huge appetite — an industry in fact –- for plays, with something like 120 plays being performed in the Globe each year. I remarked that this was like the current phenomenon of major TV and network channels producing more series, in what seems like a veritable arms race between Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, the BBC, HBO etc. And our guide agreed.

We love stories. There is something ingrained in every human that pays attention to a good story. For example, Jesus taught the public solely in stories, much to the frustration of the religious establishment of his day. 

Something in a recent podcast by Jeff Goins resonated with me deeply. It was his episode entitled Instead of Setting Goals, Tell a New Story. In brief, here are a few points Jeff makes:

  • At this time of year, maybe the best way to review things is not goal-setting – although there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Nor is it about setting new year resolutions[Note: I suspect if you have set them on January 1st, it is unlikely you are still keeping them all as you read this. Be honest! You’re not, are you?]
  • Instead, he explains that we are all living our story. 
  • Although it might feel uncomfortable, the turn of the year is a good time to look back on the year just gone, and consider what didn’t work, and what we might learn from that.
  • These lessons from last year’s experience might indicate that I need to change the story I am telling myself or living within.

As I explain in my work on stakeholder engagement – helping change leaders turn disinterest, apathy and sometimes downright hostility into favour, ownership and success – that storytelling is a key tool to getting and maintaining people’s attention.

There is an appetite for a good story deeply encoded in all of us.

Somehow, as we are growing up, we believe the lie from our peers – usually when we are trying to be adult – that we have grown out of stories. “Stories are for children, not for grownups.” 

What nonsense! 

So, what story am I telling myself?

Sometimes a major personal trauma helps us realise that we cannot or should not live the story we have been telling ourselves. A divorce leaves an at-home mum realising her life no longer revolves around the man who cheated on her. The widow realises that her sudden bereavement changes everything, so she gives herself permission to live another story. A loyal manager is told by his company that it has now decided to “let him go;” after his anger and his grief have abated somewhat, he realises that he now has a kind of freedom. He allows himself to live another story.

We do not need to wait for life to change our circumstances. We can change our story. Now.

Maybe we do each live out our own story.  We are the hero of our own story, as Jeff Goins pointed out. But perhaps that story isn’t the best version of us that we could live. Maybe we do need a better story. Maybe the Hero needs a bolder or different quest.

What do you think? Leave your comments. Tell me your story.

Photo by David Anderson on Unsplash


Stunned by Choice

In the early nineties, unfamiliar with American culture, I was in a mall in Chicago one lunchtime, ordering a ham and cheese sandwich at a deli. It was a simple request. Being British, I assumed they would assume, and fill in the blanks.

How wrong I was.

The guy who served me didn’t. What followed next, whilst familiar to North Americans, reduced me to stunned confusion:

Do you want that on a bagel?
White or rye?
Which cheese?
Butter or spread?
Do you want fries with that?

And I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of the options fired at me. I felt quite assaulted with this interrogation. It seemed like I was confronted with a multiple-choice decision tree, all of which was between me and my sandwich. 

Then I became conscious of the other patrons around me chuckling at this poor, stupid Brit blubbering through the available options. I just wanted to get out of there, preferably with that sandwich!

With hindsight I realise two things:

  1. It was lunchtime, one of the busiest times of the day for this man. He wanted to move the queue along and needed to narrow down the options for me. It was tedious for him as most of his patrons had been schooled is being specific.
  2. I was part of a culture where I had been born during a time of post-war rationing, where cleaning your plate was a moral duty, and where you were taught to be grateful for anything.

I was surprised and distressed by choice, a phenomenon that has emerged with the name decision fatigue, where one gets exhausted and angry with making decisions.

But should we not celebrate options? After all, freedom is essentially defined by one’s ability to exercise choice.

So now I choose… and remind myself to delight in the choosing.

I choose who to vote for, what to wear, and what to believe.

… and I choose not to go to that deli again!

Freedom is something we need to learn to exercise and handle.

This is particularly important when handling our own choices, how we plan our day, our week, our month, our project, our quarter, our year, and so on. And if we don’t plan it, someone else will. We surrender our freedom. I have an explanation here of how I use a bullet journal, a paper notebook to do my daily, weekly and monthly planning. Check it out here.

May you live a free and abundant 2020. Happy New Year!

Photo by Cenk Batuhan Özaltun on Unsplash

Resilient Hope Self-Awareness

I Missed Something

Two weeks ago, I posted a piece on Thanksgiving as a Lifestyle. I went on to list some of the benefits of having a daily routine of keeping something like a Gratitude List.

But, I missed something. 

I was reminded of this when I read and an article earlier this week on Kris Vallotton’s blog about a tough Christmas in his home.  What Kris did the following year was tremendous

So, I would add this benefit to my list:

Gratitude is an antidote to the corrosive tendency to feel entitled to something that is really a gift.

For those of us who are comfortable, and in the West that is most of us, a sense of entitlement can creep up on us. Entitlement causes us to envy and to compare ourselves with others. We have all done it.

Nevertheless, it is both stupid and destructive. When I observe and serve those less fortunate, I return my thoughts to that which I otherwise take for granted and instead give thanks, then I wake up and become reasonable again. I see things from a more mature perspective and realise that I am blessed.

A feature of this kind of deep benefit of giving thanks is that it is not always immediately obvious to us. It sometimes takes years, if ever, to come to our awareness.

So may I wish you a fabulous holiday season, however you celebrate it, and may you realise how truly blessed you are this Christmas!

Leaning to Action Self-Awareness Writing

The Creative Heartbeat

The creative heart has a rhythm of expanding and contracting. 

When it expands, it creates possibilities, generating ideas, divergent in its thinking, exploring, and pursuing some even further. When it contracts, it is evaluating, assessing, honing, editing, eliminating, critiquing. 

Divergence and convergence.

In any given moment, we do one or the other. 

The mistake that creatives, innovators, designers and project managers make is that they confuse the two at the same moment. This is the equivalent in creativity to a cardiac arrest.

There is a heartbeat to creativity. Creating and critiquing at the time is equivalent to a cardiac arrest.

For example, consider this piece that you are reading right now. I drafted it, and then I came back and edited it. I used to draft and edit at the same time. I did this because I felt unable to risk producing something truly awful. So I allowed my Inner Critic to be criticising me all the time. Over time, I learned to either draft or edit, but never at the same time. I learned to tell the Inner Critic to go away for now and I will risk producing poor work. I now realise that I needed to develop this self-awareness during the authoring process.

I have seen this pattern of divergences and convergence as well in product development as part of projects and programmes. The more successful projects have had this rhythm or tempo of development and then testing or assurance, never both at the same time. It’s a heartbeat. At the personal or team level this beat of divergence and then convergence can last a few hours or a couple of weeks.

At the overall programme level, it can last several months, where different part of the capability and built then tested, where each operational unit goes through their own testing, then commissioning. At that moment, it can look confusing, but it has an order to it.

It’s up to leaders to make sense of this for everybody. A good leader explains what’s going on and why we can’t do both things at once.

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash