Making 2017 Your Best Career Year Ever!

I invite you to join me on Tuesday evening, 10th January, at 8pm GMT to go through some of the feedback I’ve received. I’m calling the webinar

Make 2017 Your Best Career Year Ever

This will be a chance to talk through some of your challenges together and perhaps turn that around towards making your working year ahead really very positive. Although I have some material to give you I will keep it short so that we can have a live Q&A. I aim to make the hour as high-energy and valuable to you as possible.

Rather than focusing on the usual, but important, goal-setting stuff, I’ll be getting everyone to consider the obstacles in our way; what’s stopping us?

I will be joined by Paul Wallin, who is a Chartered Electronic Engineer and an Associate Lecturer at the Open University who will also act as my moderator during our hour together.

Your will need to register for the webinar please click here. Please make sure you confirm your registration in the email that will be sent to you afterwards.

Finally, if you aren’t able to join us but would like to see the presentation and the discussion following, we will be recording the webinar. But make sure you register anyway.

Remember to save your place on the webinar.

[button href=”https://app.webinarjam.net/register/35490/f92981224e” primary=”true” centered=”true” newwindow=”true”]Reserve Your Place Now[/button]

Deliverable Me

'Deliverable' must be the clunkiest piece of jargon coming out of project management.

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One of the joys of being a parent and, in my case, a grandparent is that you can indulge in watching some really good kids' movies. And way up there in my top 10 is Despicable Me. I love the movie, the storyline, and ... I love the title.

So I'm playing around with it to make a point in this article. It's about deliverable Me.​

Perhaps the most clunky piece of jargon coming out of the project management profession has to be the word deliverable. There are far better alternatives: 'output,' 'product,' 'enabler,' and so on. As the name implies, a deliverable is what the project delivers, either at the end or along the way. It reminds the project manager that it is not all about the activities, the activity network, the resource planning, and so on. These all contribute to the busyness of the project, and although necessary, these can become an obsession and distract him or her from delivering the end product, and beyond that, the point of it all - the real benefits to the customer.

A few years ago I was working with a global publishing business. I ran a few project management and stakeholder engagement workshops. And then my client asked me if I could help by delivering a workshop for people to improve their personal work organisation. 'Overwhelm' as we now call it, was rampant, and people's working lives too often seemed to border on chaos. Productivity was certainly not what it should have been.

The most powerful productivity techniques were borrowed from project management.

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​I'd like to think the client invited me to think about this because my style of coaching project managers was refreshingly plain-speaking, without too much jargon, and it helped people see the reason behind what they were asked to do on a project.

So although I did not consider myself at that time to be any kind of productivity ninja, or time management guru, I accepted the invitation. I developed a one-day workshop called Organising Yourself More Effectively. It's not the snappiest of titles, I agree, but it set out what I hoped was the goal of the workshop.

It turned out to be a resounding success. In fact, the responses I had from delegates were somewhat surprising in the way I seemed to have helped them gain traction in their working lives.

Seeing my life as a project, the 'Deliverable Me.'

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​But when I dug a little deeper into what tools they had found particularly helpful, they were mostly borrowed from my project management bag of tricks. That made me think: some of the tools we use on projects and programmes can also be very powerful for the individual, for treating my life as a project, where I see myself as 'Deliverable Me.'

​I've produced a short report of the six top ones. If you would like to know what these were, click the button below.

Ever-Increasing Circles

In the last two posts, I’ve explored course corrections, that is, how we use feedback loops in our lives, so that we keep on course, and improve our results.

One of the fundamental problems the western rationalist mind is that it finds it hard to think in non-linear terms. Our thought processes habitually follow the linear, “If I do this, then I will get this, and then I will achieve this” kind of mental narrative. We can find this works, but only in limited contexts.

In the world of engineering, marketing and projects, to name but three fields, we are learning to think more iteratively: to revisit and rework the results. This is more like thinking and moving in circles.

W.E. Deming, the American quality guru who was credited with revolutionising post-war Japanese manufacturing advocated his classic PDCA cycle:

Practising this led to continuous improvement. Manufacturing results improved because of attention to the feedback and improved as a result. In marketing, deliberate A/B testing yields similar results. In projects, we are learning to iterate, improve our estimates and customer satisfaction.

I remember a situation comedy on UK TV a few years ago called “Ever Decreasing Circles.” It had a hapless hero who always found himself in a spiral of frustration.

Circular thinking has had a bad rap. I’d like to reframe circular thinking as “ever increasing circles.” That is to say, that some circular workflows become more and more powerful.

Shall I go over that again?

[reminder]In what ways to you iterate positively in your life? I’d like to hear from you. [/reminder]

2

Course Corrections – Part 2

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.

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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.

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Feedback loops can operate at different cycles, such as at:

  • the weekly cycle. I ask myself the questions: What could I do differently this week to get better results than last week? What must I complete this week? What results to I want? I have noticed that these questions at the weekly level help me to work on my workflows. I’m continually reassessing and honing, for example, how I compose and publish articles like this one.
  • the monthly cycle. At this level, there is some overlap with the project cycle. It deals with somewhat more seasonal challenges. We are in the run-up to Christmas now, so my questions are centred a lot around being ready for the family visits, gifts, etc.
  • the annual cycle. I’ve just been through this, reviewing where I want to be by the end of 2017. This has really been an adjustment from positively saying ‘no’ to certain kinds of work, and positively saying ‘yes’ to replenishing events such as vacations, and positively moving towards the kind of work more aligned with my passions and chosen destiny. This is a less obvious, but profound level of course correction.
  • the project cycle. I’m coming to the end of a book publishing project. It’s not quite complete: you can’t find my book on Amazon yet (but you can find it here!!) And I’m about to start an online Leading Yourself programme very soon. Of course, there should be course corrections within the project cycle. Agile is very good at this, Waterfall less so.

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.

1

Course Corrections

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.

It wasn’t.

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:

  • Review how I have done  over the last day; and
  • Plan the most important work for the next.

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]

Grow in Self-Awareness

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:

Self-Awareness: One Thing to Rule Them All

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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:

one-thing-to-rule-them-all

Can you spot the crucial difference?

[reminder]What are your thoughts on this?[/reminder]
3

Advice from the TOP 30 Influencers in Project Management

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.)

Click here to download the report.

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:

Self-Awareness: One Thing to Rule Them All

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 OutI 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]

Interruptions at Work

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is about their office environments, about how noisy or distracting they are. Where they can, I’m finding many people excuse themselves from their office to get serious, thought-intensive work done. In fact, some even argue that the age of the office as we know it is long past its usefulness.

You might have a very well organised personal system. You might be very clear on your goals, priorities and how you apportion your time. But it can all come to nothing on any given day if your colleagues, your team, or your boss interrupt you all the time.

The irony is that people who work in offices are knowledge workers. The knowledge worker’s key tool is not their computer but their brain. And the office environment, many times, is the most hostile environment for clear, concentrated thinking.

[shareable]The knowledge worker’s key tool is between their ears, not at the end of their fingers.[/shareable]

Sooner or later there is a discussion to be had around office etiquette, about where and when it is reasonable to interrupt someone. How someone should signal to everyone else that they are not to be interrupted.

Someone shared with me yesterday an interesting technique: a traffic light system of red, amber, and green.

  • Green means there is no constraint on interrupting that person.
  • Amber means that this colleague is engaged in something that has time urgency, but they might be interruptible with something that is both important and urgent.
  • Red means that the person doesn’t want any interruption … unless the building is burning down.

This sounds good.

[shareable]The office environment is often the most hostile environment for clear, concentrated thinking.[/shareable]

It seems to me that part of the benefit of is this idea is that the whole team becomes more aware in this discussion of different gradations of importance and urgency, as well as the improved consideration they might begin to show to each other. However, it is probably best enforced and sustained by the entire team’s agreement and the teams reviews it regularly; without this, you are unlikely to serious behaviour change throughout the group.

[shareable cite=”Alexander Graham Bell”]Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. [/shareable]

A central problem in this whole issue is that an individual’s focus and concentration is such a subjective and intangible matter. It is very hard to measure. Distraction will express itself indirectly through measures of productivity, but again, the realms of knowledge work, comparing like for like is always going to be a problem.

I like the traffic light system. I like it more because it encourages an overt conversation between all members of the team of this hidden thing called concentration.

[reminder]Do you know of any similar group codes of conduct about permission to interrupt? [/reminder]

An Unexpected Response to Feedback

My wife bought me a FitBit Blaze for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I love it. I find myself consulting it or the app on my smartphone rather too frequently. If I’m not careful, I will walk into walls reading it!

As with most devices like this, I’m not using its full potential. For example, I’m not yet taking advantage of the power of accountability by sharing my results with others, despite some encouragement from my daughter.

My main focus at the moment is exercise and the number of steps I take each day, particular since injuring my calf muscle recently.

However, what has really taken me by surprise is how the device is tracking my sleep. And now it is tracking my sleep patterns, I find myself sleeping more soundly.

[shareable]I’m getting better quality sleep![/shareable]

I’m not aware of making any changes. I’m just observing myself, tracking the empirical feedback from the device. Yet I am getting better sleep each night.

Why is this? Could it be that self-awareness is key in this matter? I would have thought that if I obsessed too much about my sleep then I would keep myself awake. But tracking myself this way is really reassuring.

[reminder]Has anyone got any ideas?[/reminder]

Repeat until Excellent

Today I’m connecting with my ‘inner geek.’  When it comes to stationery, particular stationery, I become a geek. One of my favourites notebooks is the A5 Leuchtterm 1917 145 x 210mm notebook.

Also, I use a tailored form of the Bullet Journal.

And today these two combine for me into one beautiful whole, because Leuchtterm has published its own bullet journal version. My cup runneth over!

Leuchtterm Bullet Journal

My beloved Leuchtterm 1917 Bullet Journal

I ordered mine from the good people at Bureau Direct.

Having written a book about personal organisation over this summer, I became acutely aware that my own personal organisation has evolved and continues to do so. This is normal and good. In fact, one client has shared with me that he does the same.

It seems that as we continually work on ourselves using the artefacts of stationery, apps and organisation systems, we are actually improving our self-leadership.

I’m also aware that there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to personal organisation. What works for me will not necessarily work for you. This keeps me humble. It stops me being a legalist. There is no “one right way” of doing this personal organisation thing.

[shareable]Evolving your personal organisation system is normal and good.[/shareable]

For example, some people will get on with the Bullet Journal, others will prefer, say, the GTD system, still others will combine the two.

That’s all very good. The process of refining and improving my personal organisation system doesn’t lead me to the same result as everybody else, but the process helps me to discover my style and to improve my personal organisation in the process.

So despite my geeky tendencies, I have come to the conclusion that techniques and tools – including my beloved stationery – although worthy in themselves, are simply the elements around which we develop the most important and powerful forces in our lives: our personal routines and habits.

[shareable]It’s never about the artefacts. It’s how you use them that counts.[/shareable]

In my book and in my workshop on Organising Yourself More Effectively and my associated online courses, I review the Bullet Journal system with some respect. It is simple, elegant and can easily be tailored. It’s the use of it that I develop daily routines that serve me well.

[shareable cite=”Aristotle”]We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.[/shareable]

Overall, it is important that I keep my inner geek in check. After all, it is the system, the routines and the habits that serve me in becoming more effective, not the lovely stationery.

[reminder]What are your personal routines that you find powerful? Do you use the Bullet Journal system? How do you use it?[/reminder]