This scene will be familiar to you.
I was invited to facilitate a strategic workshop. I was told fairly early on, “We have 32 strategic objectives we need to meet.”
“OK,” I replied. “Which one is the most important?”
You can probably guess my client’s reply…
“They all are.”
Now, what’s wrong with this picture?
If you are inclined to say, “Nothing, that’s just the way business has to be in these complicated days,” then I would ask you to stop and think for a moment. Too many of our organisations are like the proverbial donkey who is stalled into inaction because of two competing piles of hay.
The more we learn about the human brain, the more we learn how awesome is its capacity, but also how limited its ability is to consciously focus on things in the foreground of our awareness. Neuroscientists put the number of items we can concurrently focus upon to be as low as four.
Neuroscientists say we can only focus on four things concurrently consciously.
So we have a dilemma. There are all these targets our organisations set us to meet, but we can only focus on a few.
Recently, as part of the current release of our Leading Yourself Workshop, I released a book review of Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. And one of the passages in the book is where Keller explained that the word Priority entered into the English language in the 14th Century. It came from the Latin word prior meaning first. What surprised me was that it was only made plural in the 20th Century: priorities. Think about that. To previous generations, to talk about priorities would have been madness.
In the English language the word "priority" was always singular until the 20th Century.
I suspect the human brain, and a team, and a project, and even an organisation works better with a priority than it does with priorities. Priorities (plural) begin to generate confusion, internal competition for attention and erode focus.
What if we were to budget to one priority in any given moment?
OK, complex organisations do have a number of matters to achieve, but budgeting to one priority begins to make us dig deeper. We begin to see the dependencies between different objectives, where some enable others. For example, here is an Outcome Relationship Model of an Olympics Legacy development.
We begin to see the real drivers of organisational success. Maybe some of these objectives or targets can be met, or more easily met if we were to focus on the one thing.
As an individual, if I invest time now in making this blog post a priority, in focusing upon it exclusively to everything else that clamours for my attention, it may help me meet some of my other objectives later.
Focus is inseparable from this kind of singular attention.
Focus is inseparable from singular attention.
Now, this is not to say that my priority may not change during the day; it does. Nor will my priority today be the same as tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Priority is the matter I should focus on now.
In my coaching about this, I recommend clients identify their MIT, their Most Important Task. This is the daily priority, the one thing they commit to achieving that day. The real value, though, is in the process of deciding that MIT. This is where we gain clarity and leverage over our day.
At times we all feel somewhat overwhelmed by all the jobs piling up, whether in our email inbox, or in our own to-do lists. Many are overwhelmed all the time. It's as if our lives are being driven by that pesky list of demands. It feels like they are pushing us, each vying for first place in our attention and our efforts.
Well, it's time to stop being pushed by our work. Instead, try pulling your work through.
This week in our Leading Yourself online Workshop, we are going through a module called, From Push to Pull, where we explore the technique called Personal Kanban. Kanban boards originated in lean manufacturing as a powerful way for teams to improve their internal communication and performance. Then Kanban became a common tool used within Agile development teams, so much so that many now think Kanban originated with Agile.
Many now think Kanban boards originated with Agile.
A few years ago, I read Jim Benson and Torianne DeMaria Barry's Personal Kanban. I was hooked. I introduced it into my Organising Yourself Effectively workshop, and people loved it. It became one of the most popular tools that we covered. Stories came back of how clients had adopted it into their working lives. This was yet another example of people discovering the personal power of tools used more commonly in a project management context.
Personal Kanban became one of the most popular tools in my personal organisation workshop.
Here is one of the videos in the Workshop, using the online platform Trello to illustrate the personal kanban.
This isn't the first time I've written about Personal Kanban or Trello. A few months ago I posted a piece called, Tools that evolve with our work.
To become free, we need to think free, and not like victims.
As the above video shows, though, there is something quite powerful about the idea of choosing to pull work through, and not being pushed by it. To become free, we need to think free, and not like victims. Personal Kanban, simple though it is, can help us with that move to freedom in our daily work.
Do you use kanban for your personal organisation? If so, leave a comment below. If not, what do you used?
If you were told that unless you made a lifestyle change you would die, would you change?
Would you, though?
Research shows that you're probably wrong.
In this video, I report on some fascinating research first made known by Alan Deutschmann. The results are surprising but hopeful.
What emerges is an unlikely but compelling story of how we are influenced much more effectively through our hearts than our heads.
One of my favourite quotes comes out of this research:
"Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear." Dr Dean Ornish
This year's first Leading Yourself online programme is going well, and we have just completed a module called, What's in Your Foreground? It's about the importance of priorities and their place in the skill of leading yourself, where you find them, and so on.
In this short video I explain one powerful technique called the MIT. I use it daily, and I find in one of my most powerful personal routines, boosting my focus and my productivity significantly.
It reminds me of this scene from the movie, City Slickers:
"What's the one thing?" "That's for you to figure out... the rest don't mean ...."
For most of my career I have sought the changeless, timeless principles - in project management (in my contribution to PRINCE2), in programme management (in my contribution to Managing Successful Programmes) and in my work on Stakeholder Engagement (see Practical People Engagement). You will find principles in all these, many written by me.
Yet I have to admit that, setting aside superficial lifestyle changes and different technology, the world or work now has some very different forces at play to those I was aware of in the 20th Century. This video explains why.
Leading Yourself Online is a unique series of workshops where I will coach you through the framework I set out in my book, Leading Yourself. It aims to help you:
For an idea of what impact my workshop called Organising Yourself More Effectively had, watch this video interview with Jemima Alder of ResMed, a global medical business.
I will be bringing the best of my workshop experience to the online program, where you can join me and an exclusive community of fellow Leading Yourself Online owners. You will benefit from their shared experiences, as well as be encouraged by their own stories of breakthrough in their work.
'Leading Yourself Online Workshop is a unique program.
If designed it for the busy manager, who cannot afford the time to attend a physical workshop.
However, this is a time-limited offer. Registration is only open until Noon GMT Tuesday, 17th January ... and then we start the series of workshops.
If you want to get on this workshop series, then you need to act quickly... because we soon will be starting.
If you're ready to gain real traction in you work, to get organised and work unfettered, then your next step is to click the button below and get registered on this unique program.
See you there...
For a period of time, a friend of mine prevailed on me to take up golf. To begin with, it seemed like I was doing random gardening on a long walk. I became very conscious of my muscle movements in a swing, which club to choose, and experimenting with little rituals, like the number of times I looked up at the target spot I was aiming for. I also became aware of two things that could undermine my performance as the game progressed: my inner emotional state after a ridiculously bad shot, and my physical stamina - or lack of it.
For me, golf was like random gardening on a long walk.
I realised that the inner game of golf was all about self-awareness. What I became acutely focused on was being aware of my muscle movements, grip and so on. If I made a bad shot, I would attempt to adjust and see if I got a better result. I was constantly correcting myself.
In yesterday’s post, we looked at the Apollo 11 mission and how the accuracy of the launch targeting was a delusion; the reality was that they landed within the lunar landing zone by a process of constant correction - a sort of feedback loop.
Then I moved to talking about a more personal kind of feedback loop, the Daily Heads-Up technique that I use for my personal organisation.
At least every week, I review, hone and improve my key workflows.
Feedback loops can operate at different cycles, such as at:
In each case the feedback loop provides the opportunity for us to correct our course, to learn, and to get better results.
In the next post, I’ll look at how neglecting the course corrections, the feedback loop can hinder our effectiveness and growth, and why it is so easy to neglect this.
I’m old enough to remember the first moon landing.
Everyone seemed to be in awe of this tremendous achievement. It was one of those moments when there was this feeling that the world had changed.
The distance between the Earth and the Moon is about half a million miles. The landing module landed within 10 feet of the edge of the landing zone. We were astonished that technology could be that accurate.
What we didn’t know was that throughout the flight, there was a course correction every five minutes. It appears that the trajectory of Apollo 11 was more like the tracking of a sailboat tacking against the wind than a dead-eye straight line to the moon. It seems that the Apollo mission was thrown up there, roughly towards the moon. If it hadn’t been these course corrections, the mission and the three men on board would have been lost in deep space.
There was a routine feedback loop. It was essential to the success of the mission.
We all have feedback loops we can use. I have discovered that one of the most powerful for me is what I call the Daily Heads Up a daily routine I write about in my new book, Leading Yourself. In the Daily Heads Up I do two things:
This is a circadian (daily) loop. There are other loops I use over different cycles. For example, I’ve just been reviewing 2016 and considering a 2017 plan.
I’ll talk about some of these over the next few days.
[reminder]What feedback loops are you aware of using? What feedback loops are you aware of not using?[/reminder]
In my previous post, Advice from the TOP 30 Influencers in Project Management, I defended my choice around self-awareness.
One of my friends emailed me about this post, and how she had observed that her husband constantly stresses the importance of stakeholder management. She wrote:
The Human Factor that is so often the key to success or failure and maybe even sabotage ( for the passive aggressive) in projects and organisations. I have seen academically brilliant people appointed into very senior positions and their own insecurities and lack of emotional intelligence have done untold damage to an organisation .
This prompted me to check this diagram:
Look at the description on the bottom line of this diagram, where a self-awareness impacts the behaviour of Leaning to People. Is it merely an increased ability to identify key relationships? No. I realise it is much more than that.
Quite by chance, I was reading Danny Silk’s brilliant Keep Your Love On yesterday morning. In it he writes:
When you don’t have either the courage or the ability to face the truth of what feel, think, and need, you end up communicating confusing and inaccurate information – sometimes even downright falsehoods.
- If you never really learn to value and understand what’s going on inside you, how can you value and understand what is going on with another person?
- If you don’t know yourself, how can you get to know another person – someone with a completely different experience and perspective – and value the truth of who they are?
page 82, Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication & Boundaries, Danny Silk (2013, lovingonpurpose.com)
In recent years, I’ve majored on the critical nature of Stakeholder Engagement. In 2013 I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. Project management has long marginalised the topic of “stakeholder management,” as they call it. (As if you can truly manage anyone other than yourself.) ‘Leaning to People’ is a central narrative in that book. I’m proud that this book was later adopted as the core reference for an international qualification in stakeholder engagement. I hope it is doing some good to the profession.
This last year I’ve turned to the other three behaviours that distinguish outstanding performance, in my latest book: Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. Outstanding performance all starts, though, with self-awareness.
So, I’m inclined to re-draw the diagram, now, in the light of my friend and Danny Silk’s observations to something like this:
Can you spot the crucial difference?[reminder]What are your thoughts on this?[/reminder]
This week I was sent a report containing Advice from the 30 TOP influencers in project management. If you are not involved in project management professionally, I can quite understand that this will not set your heart racing! However, it is interesting to see the patterns that emerge from these ‘TOP influencers.’
(Full disclosure: I was chosen as one of the 30. The authors asked me and the other 29 contributors to give our take on what was our top tip.)
Much of this so-called ‘top’ advice focuses on planning and re-planning. Important though planning is, it is nowhere near the top thing for me.
Many others get rather nearer the mark, in my opinion, and focus on stakeholder engagement and developing key relationships. See my own work on this.
However, I suggest – with apologies to JRR Tolkien – that there is one thing to rule them all:
developing your self-awareness.
Now, I recognise that to many people my choice might look pretty abstract and dull. Maybe even a little surprising. “Is that it??! Self-awareness. That feels very psychological and not very practical. What about the Time-Cost-Scope Triangle. What about the Critical Path?”
[shareable]Thinking about your thinking – self-awareness – is the key to driving all other habits that bring success.[/shareable]
Let me explain. The research I did a few years ago with my colleague John Edmonds revealed that self-awareness was key to high performance: high performing programme and project managers all exhibited a high degree of self-awareness, of mental clarity about their own thought processes. They all think about their thinking. Self-awareness drives all the other behaviours that give the high-performer real traction in the complex world of project management: behaviours like building and protecting personal margins, leaning to action, and leaning to people. See this diagram:
So how do we all develop self-awareness in our work? I show you how in my new book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. I have since come to believe that this kind of high-performance is not for the exalted few, any of us can develop the right habits to get exceptional results.
[reminder]How do you think about your thinking?[/reminder]