Explored your roots lately?

Imagine yourself as a tree in the midst of a storm. The strongest of trees have an unseen network of roots that anchor them firmly in place no matter the weather. But, importantly, those trees also bend in the wind, to avoid breaking. Those roots have grown slowly, invisibly over time from the seeds that fell on the ground.

I like working with people to put order on chaos. By helping them to know what they want, where they belong and where to plant their seeds. Then to stand strong and reach for the skies. As the branches seek the sun so the roots take a stronger hold in the soil.

But it’s important for us to understand that we cannot avoid storms. There is chaos we cannot put order on. That’s life comes at us, carving our character. It’s OK not to reach for the sky – to hunker down for safety. As long as we come out again when the storm abates. Our roots will be stronger for it. We cannot put order on all of life, only the parts we control. For the rest, learn to bend in the wind, to be flexible and hope for the best. Embrace the chaos and serendipity. Accept that it happens – that bad days are OK as long as they don’t become a habit.

A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm. But the tree cannot grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon. – Dalai Lama

I woke this morning myself not feeling too motivated. I did my usual journal and positive thinking but still didn’t feel much energy or order. But underneath, the roots are reinforced with resolve and with gratitude nurtured over time. So I’ve still a gritty determination to be proactive today – and this article is the start of it.

Have a good day!

What do you do on the tough days when you’re not motivated or chaos surrounds you?

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The Three E’s of Business Evolution

Fish in formationI recently attended Futurescope, my first start-up conference in Ireland. Some words from one of the speakers really struck me. “I don’t view the current innovation environment as a battle between incumbents and disruptors but a battle between those doing Customer experience properly and those not.”

This really aligns with my view. Consider companies as animals within an ecosystem, continuously evolving to survive. Who will succeed? The biggest? Remember the dinosaurs. The fastest? The strongest?

It will be the most adaptable – the most agile.

Liken large slow enterprises to whales. Whales gobble up the smaller fish. Read fintechs and start-ups. The whale survives and buys time. But does the enterprise become more agile, more nimble? Can it change direction any quicker?

Now take a shoal of fish. Highly aligned but autonomous. All in tune. Highly agile and adaptable – capable of changing direction quickly.

How do you define and measure innovation? It is not only the number and quality of ideas that solve real customer problems but also near-perfect execution with an agile (adaptable) and truly customer-centric focus. That is, soliciting, actually listening and then acting on customer feedback.

Innovation has 3 enablers.

Essentialism – the discipline to default to no before over saying yes to everything – against our human nature. Organisations word-smith a grand vision that encompasses everything for fear of missing out. The result may be debilitating – everything needs to be done. This demonstrates a lack of real vision and leadership. Essentialism is hard. It means saying no – a lot. But essentialism makes it clear what we do and what we don’t. This empowers staff to make decisions. This devolves decision-making and increases speed.

Effectiveness – the holistic cross-organisation prioritisation within what is essential. By focussing only on efficiency, it’s possible to build bad products really fast. Effectiveness is truly listening to customer feedback and acting on it in balance with business strategy. Economic Prioritisation of ideas at the intersection of customer desirable, business viable and feasible maximises your bang-for-buck. The result is a product to truly meet customer needs and solve their pain points.

“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” – Seth Godin

Organisations claim to be customer-centric but behaviour may demonstrate otherwise. Business cases laden with assumptions that may not be validated with customers. Customer research ignored because we don’t like what it tells us. Does your organisation spend as much time talking with customers as it does talking with internal stakeholders?

Embrace truly listening to customers, measure in frequent cycles and value learning as well as revenue benefits by using validated learning metrics as well as revenue indicators.

Effectiveness done properly may look like increased efficiency or speed because you invest in the right things. Focus only on efficiency and risk building the wrong thing quickly.

Efficiency is flow, minimising the cycle time for feature or product from concept to market. Pushing through a lot of features simultaneously – to maximise resource utilisation – does not always provide higher customer value. Flow is aided by minimising work-in-progress. Essentialism contributes to efficiency. Avoiding the real cost of multi-tasking enables speed and sustainability. We know this and yet we often exhibit the opposite behaviour. Work piled upon people through the back door – with two major repercussions.

The team doing the work is overloaded, multi-tasks and performance drops, reducing efficiency.

Work skips front-door prioritisation and trade-off reducing effectiveness as higher value work could be displaced.

Back to evolution – what is the best measure of the agility required to survive?

Organisations who shorten the Build-Measure-Learn cycle will thrive – assuming that learning is incorporated into future build cycles. Organisations tend to focus on the ideas only. This is important. Customers won’t always tell you what they need. But only those ideas that resolve a validated customer problem matter.

Have an idea? Take a scientific approach to validate it. State your hypothesis, build a minimum viable product, measure and learn.

Invest not only in ideas that enhance a customer’s value chain. Examine the enterprise delivery value chain and invest to optimise it. Reduce your own build-measure-learn cycle. This is hard. It means investing in, for example, DevOps, test automation and truly supporting delivery teams to deliver – investments with benefits that are more difficult to measure.

Can you simplify the build process to be faster at delivery? What are your bottlenecks in that area? Legacy systems, complex architecture? Can you improve your ability to measure customer behaviour? Do you even do this? Can you improve the turnaround time from learning to implementing the necessary ‘pivots’? Do you listen to feedback and act on it?

Essentialism is visionary and is about making hard decisions and saying no sometimes.

Effectiveness is about truly listening, prioritising economically based on customer needs and business vision.

Efficiency is about flow, productivity – simplification, automation of delivery processes, supporting teams.

These are three elements critical to evolution of a business which embraces an innovation culture and relentless change.

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A MAP to Navigate

inner-peace-yoga-meditation-truthinsideofyouDo you know your purpose? Are you living it daily? Are you healthy and content? Do you feel like everything is in flow?

Every good navigator needs a map. So I created my own map to guide me. MAP comprises meaning, attention and principles and is a framework that anyone can use to enjoy life’s adventure.

Meaning

Most people seek meaning in their livesa mission or purpose. To matter to someone. To make a difference in the world. For who you are to be valued or for what you create to be relevant.

What does happiness means for you? Do you find happiness in what you do and who you are?

We should value what we create but not let our happiness or worth be defined by it. Be happy regardless of how others perceive it. This is difficult when you try to create something that has meaning for ourselves and others. But it is worth striving for.

Meaning can be found at any level – from family, friends and colleagues to community and the world. I seek meaning at the intersection of what I love, what I am good at and what the world needs and values.

Ask not “What do I want to do?” but “What kind of life do I want”?

Attention Areas

Without attention, meaning is lost. Your meaning is reflected by the areas in your life to which you give attention. Areas can include health, learning, relationships, connection, contribution or a special venture.

Give attention with your head, affection with your heart and action with daily habits and you will find meaning daily.

Principles and Priorities

Principles are rules we live by and do not compromise on to support our meaning and attention areas. Without being guided by principles we struggle to attend to what is important to us.

Most of us, if asked, have aspirational values and priorities. Our actual values, principles and priorities are how we behave every day. If your behaviour doesn’t match your aspirational, then change something.

Show me your calendar and I will show you your priorities.

That’s MAP in a nutshell. Easy to learn, difficult to master, always evolving. I keep it close to guide me. It allows me to wander freely knowing I will not get lost.

GPS

Of course, every good navigator needs a compass to find their way. I also created a GPS – Goals, Prioritisation and Systems to build and maintain focus and momentum.

How do you link what you do every day to your mission? What are your biggest challenges and how do you deal with them?

If you want to learn more, I provide workshops using the MAP framework for individuals or teams. See this flyer for more details or contact me here.

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Ten things to Stop Now (that unhappy people do)

stop-being-unhappyIf you find yourself constantly reading about what successful people do to achieve their goals, then you must be exhausted! Most advice means making our long list of To-Dos even longer, and procrastinating and stressing even more.

I have two problems with this. First, not all successful people are happy. Maybe we should only take advice from people you would swap places with. Second, I’d rather shorten my To-Do list and focus on the things that really matter.

Better to have a short Will Do list than a long To Do list.

So let’s turn it upside down and inside-out by asking “What do unhappy people do that I can stop right now to be happier?”

Unhappy people…

1. …try to impress others

There is a difference between belonging and fitting in. You only form genuine connection when you stop seeking approval.

It’s better to be me where I am wanted and stop being someone else where I am not.

Let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are – Brene Brown

2. …are perfectionists

There is a difference between striving for excellence and wanting to be perceived as perfect. Perfect is unattainable. And we cannot control external perception.

It’s better to release imperfect (sometimes excellent) work and stop waiting for perfect.

3. …let fear prevent them taking risks

I’m only learning this one. But sometimes you need to have something to lose – even if it’s just face – to make something worthwhile.

It’s better to meet struggle and its friend opportunity head and stop running away from challenge.

4. …focus on what they don’t have

This is well known but seldom practised. This is not to say setting goals is bad. It is different to having your meaning defined by achievement.

It’s better to enjoy and be grateful for what I have and stop stressing about what I don’t need.

5. …procrastinate

Sometimes logic tells you not to try something. But your heart tells you something different. If your heart nags a few times, do what they do in the movies. Go with your gut.

It’s better to try something and fail learn and stop regretting not having tried at all.

Trust your inner wisdom and intuition – Arianna Huffington

6. …talk negatively or hold grudges

How much mental energy is wasted talking about others or holding onto past wrongs? You only damage yourself. It’s better to spend precious energy connecting and stop nurturing disconnection.

7. …are hard on themselves

You are not the thoughts in your head. If I “did a stupid thing” that doesn’t mean “I am stupid”. It’s better to practise self-compassion and stop being so hard on myself.

I am enough – Brene Brown

8. …compare themselves to others

No one likes you for your clothes, car, possessions, title or accomplishments. If they do it’s not a real connection. So why envy others who have more things? It’s better to focus on your own happiness and stop striving for imaginary lives.

Comparison is the death of joy – Mark Twain

9. …hang out with negative people

There is a difference between unhappy and negative. Don’t abandon friends who are unhappy – they need your positive energy and friendship. Nor those close to you who might be negative.

It’s better to build your own community of inspiring people and stop partaking in negativity.

10. …errr…

I can’t think of one right now but I’m trying to let go of being a perfectionist!

Maybe number 10 is …don’t ask? So what things are you stopping this year to be happier?

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New Year’s Revelations (a Letter from 2016)

2016Hi there,

Yes you. You know who you are. If you’re reading this, it’s definitely you. Here I am. 2016. I’m finally here, a blank canvas ready for you to make your mark.

So you’ve drawn your line in the sand (again). Set your goals and decided you will make big changes this year. If my arrival prompted this then, you’re welcome! If not, I’m glad you don’t need my arrival to make the changes you want.

Either way, sounds like you’re ready to rock.

Before you dive in though, you need to know something. I will resist. I will throw things that will hurt you. One thing I guarantee is that there will be struggle. Some you can predict, some you can’t. Forget death and taxes. Death and struggle are the only things you can be sure of. Because struggle means life. Struggle comes with living, loving and meaning something. When it stops, you’re dead.

Embrace the Struggle

The mark you make will depend only on your response. When struggle comes you have two options. Let it beat you or embrace it. Struggle is life coming to you, sculpting and refining you to reveal the beautiful person you are. Meet each challenge with open arms. Learn to laugh and love every one. Your willingness to anticipate and embrace struggle will allow you to rise.

‘We are not put on this Earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.’ – Arianna Huffington

What if you fail? Love that too. In fact, put yourself in situations that may result in failure. Take a chance. Be vulnerable. This means you are living, loving and making a difference. It’s not about success. It’s about happiness. Don’t let your happiness be defined by success. Define it by how you live, how you react to failure and interact with others.

‘I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ Thomas Edison.

Train Your Brain

Your biggest weapon is your brain. You know you can trick it right?

Consider any goal you have set. Identify the biggest roadblock that will stop you reaching it. This is your moment of truth. Overcome it. Decide now what your response will be. Right now, tell your brain how it will respond. Pre-program your brain before the struggle comes. That is the key. This is not a hack. It is hard but it is so worth it.

‘I completely believe in my ability to figure things out.’ (me)

Want to cut out afternoon coffee? Your biggest challenge is craving. Trick you brain to crave something else by consistently replacing it with your preferred afternoon snack. Soon you will crave that instead. Want to write every day? Your biggest challenge is remembering to do so (a lot of people just forget their goals). Visualise it somewhere you see every day. Set-up reminders or mental triggers. Tattoo ‘W’ on your foot if you need to!

I’ve got to go now. I move fast.

Goals are not the goal

Concept image of a Future Past & Present signpost against a blue cloudy sky

One last thing before I go. Remember, a goal is just a sign-post on the road – a guide to help you navigate – a means to an end but not the end itself. There is only the road and your interactions on it. Everyday life and living it fully is the destination. And you are already there. Promise yourself to live, love and matter every day. How you live is the most important thing.

Being over Doing.

Now I can see your fingers are twitchy – so get drawing! We’ll see each other again before you know it.

All the best!

2016.

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Setting Up a Great Day

This is a continuation of Having a Great Day: The first 5 Steps

Before I start

I bring my Weekly Canvas, which contains my goals for the week. I want to ensure that my daily activities align with longer term goals.

Step 1: My Biggest Win

Firstly, I write down the single biggest win that – if everything went pear-shaped and I achieved only that – I would be happy. This is not necessarily the most urgent thing. It’s the most important to me. It might be something I have procrastinated about or I just need to start but not necessarily finish.

A big win builds momentum and motivation, making me more productive. 

Don’t confuse urgency with importance

Step 2: Think Now to Execute Later

Using my Weekly Card (or monthly canvas), I write down my next 3 important objectives so I have four daily goals in all. For each goal, I do the following:

  • Think: What three steps must I take to progress? It is so important to think now to allow focus on execution later. This reduces mental effort and avoids procrastination when my brain is less fresh  later.
  • Timebox: I give each a deadline by which I must complete. This focusses my mind to ensure the day doesn’t get away.
  • Recover: I decide how I will celebrate or rest after each win, e.g. a walk, meditation, coffee, sunshine etc.

I make it easy for myself. Each activity is either thinking or non-thinking. Non-thinking I do at my desk preferably after lunch and I denote with PC. Thinking tasks I denote with T and generally do in a quiet space outside. I always seek the opportunity to take work outside. This keeps me fresh. Days where I spend time outside are much more satisfying.

Four By Forfour goals, by a certain time, for a simple reward or rest activity.

Why Four?

Four goals each day might seem small compared with a typical long to do list. There are good reasons for this. I can generally kick 2-3 big goals each morning and 1-2 in the afternoon, accounting for overhead such as emails, calls and meetings. This might be different for you. I will write shortly about the science behind why four bursts a day is an optimal way to work – TBD.

Step 3: Turbo-charge!

Next, I think about how I can make my day easier. This is divided into three areas:Daily Card (3)

  • Help: I note down anyone I need to contact today to get help, make decisions or move my goals forward. This can be face-to-face, calls or – as a last resort – email. I generally do this walking between tasks or after lunch.
  • Learn: I consider any lessons from yesterday’s Daily Card and write down how I will gain time today. Today I will keep email closed until 12pm.
  • Cheat? I try to identify where I might get a quick win or gain something with minimal effort. I call these freebees.

Step 4: Stuff I cannot Ignore

Now I think about administrative tasks or what I call overhead. This is stuff not aligned to my goals that I still need to do. I write down…

  • Meetings: Some meetings contribute to my goals or help others achieve theirs. Some are overhead I try to minimise. I try to keep meetings to the post-lunch fade because morning is my most creative time.
  • Admin: This is any emails, housekeeping, quick tasks or any requests I need to send. I bundle and do them standing up at my desk after lunch.
  • Tonight: Anything I need to leave until I am home.  I try to avoid this as I like to switch off in the evening.

Step 5: Schedule it!

Finally, I schedule all activities from the card into each hourly timeslot as shown below.

Daily Card (2)Scheduling helps me to:

  • Translate intention into actions.
  • Prevent my day being derailed.
  • Be realistic.

As I schedule, I see what is possible ahead of time and adjust. This avoids disappointment at the day’s end.

Executing a good Day

My typical day after planning goes like this. I do not open email until lunchtime. I spend the first two hours achieving 1 or 2 big wins. I take a break. I then get another win before meditation and lunch. After I Lunch my way to Wellbeing, I go to stand-up mode. I open email for the first time and do all of my admin, sending any requests I need to. I then close email immediately. I move onto my next one or two big wins. Finally I review the day to complete any last-minute items I absolutely must get done. I quickly preview tomorrow and process email for the last time before I leave. I avoid checking emails, instead processing them to get to an empty inbox. This includes extracting anything so I can avoid email tomorrow morning.

Celebrate!

If you’ve read My Top 10 Commitments for Stress-free Productivity, I’m sure you have that red notebook on your bed for gratitude! I am now adding today’s achievements, what worked and why. This helps me to celebrate and to gradually improve how I plan as my brain brings these into the next day’s planning.

Little Tips for Motivation

I’ve added a few things to my Daily Card that work for me.

  • I call it “A Good Day” rather than “Daily Plan”. This helps me start positively because I picture the satisfaction I will feel at the end of this day.
  • It has a “Will do” list rather than a “To Do” list. It just feels like I am setting the priorities and have control rather than having something forced upon me.
  • I use check boxes so I can tick things off. This builds momentum, creates flow and really encourages me by celebrating the little wins during the day. I get my dopamine rush and a reward – which I am about to take now after publishing this!

Have a great week and if you have any comments please feel free to contact me.

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Having a Great Day: The first five steps

have_a_great_day

Have you ever been asked how your day or week is going and automatically answered “good” or “busy!” but without really knowing if you’re having a relatively good day?

Here is what I do so I actually know the answer to that question. The principles here work for planning at any frequency. For me, weekly planning is critical because it guides what I do daily to take me towards my longer term goals.

My planning is a hybrid approach of many methods that happens to work for me. It constantly evolves and I added ‘continuous learning’ to what I call my Daily Card (more on that next time). You could take the parts that work for you.

It’s not how you spend your time, it’s how you spend your energy

Step 1: Respect Planning Time

I made a commitment to myself to plan for 15 minutes daily. This saves me time and energy long term. I plan before my available workday begins. The time is scheduled my calendar and I strongly protect that time.

My available workday starts when planning ends. I let people know when I start my day. The time prior is mine and adds to my productivity. Being invisible helps.

Being busy is not the same as being productive. In fact, being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. – Tim Ferris

Step 2: Prepare

Given how precious planning time is, the evening before is crucial for me to have a great day. I even have an Evening Checklist I can share.

  • To protect planning time, I ensure tomorrow’s slot is clear and not overbooked, except in rare circumstances where I make an explicit priority call or re-arrange my time.
  • I ensure everything I need is ready for the morning so I won’t need to go to my desk, computer or any other distractions.

Step 3: Simplify

I use a pencil and a cue card. That’s it – no more no less. Which means I could do it on a beer mat if I needed. I trialled software and A4 paper but I’ve landed on one cue card for several reasons.

  • The physical card is harder to ignore – it keeps me honest.
  • The card feels like a call to action.
  • The limited size provides focus.
  • It signals the end of a lengthy “to-do” list weighing me down.
  • I can easily post it to any surface to keep my goals to the forefront.
  • Finally, the card is robust so I can wrap up a great day by bringing it home literally and figuratively!

I also sometimes bring my Weekly Card and my Life Canvas to remind me what is important (more on that later also).

Step 4: Focus a.k.a. De-vice

I leave behind all distractions – my phone, any electronic device, other paperwork and all other devices. I avoid my email (until 12pm earliest daily).

Step 5: Enjoy!

As I suggested in The Mathematics of Embedding Habits, I linked daily planning with morning coffee. So I physically crave planning (a minor issue I’ll resolve later!). It happens to be just after meditation, which is a bonus. This means I am relaxed, have a clear mind and positive attitude for the day ahead. During meditation I may have subconsciously visualised what a good day looks like. I am in a beautiful space outside. In fact I always look for opportunities to work flexibly and outdoors within my environment.

What’s Next?

Once I have completed the five steps above, planning itself takes only 15 minutes. It guarantees a great day ahead. I’ll describe the Daily Planning Process itself next time. If you think this will work for you then decide your time and place, lock it in your calendar and defend it. Get your pencil and cards ready to plan a great day from next week onwards!

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The Mathematics of Embedding Habits

 

Habits over Goals

Success depends on ‘M.E.’

I love a good old equation! I literally just devised one to predict the chances of successfully adopting a new habit (or ditching a bad one!). I’m not sure it would pass any rigorous academic review but if it works for me then Eureka!

Probability of Success = Motivation * Ease of Adoption

Say you want to lose weight. On a scale of 1 to 10, your motivation is 9. But you have no systematic habit in place to support your goal. So your ease of adoption is 1. Your probability of success is 9 out of 100.

Most of us focus on the motivation part of the equation. But assuming we are motivated, then the key lever we control is the system we put in place to adopt the habit. There are two key things we can do to give ourselves the best chance of success. Translate goals into systems and reduce barriers to adoption.

In the example above, if you increased your ease of adoption to 9 and your overall probability of success becomes 81%.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

Eleven Steps to Embed a Habit

Continue reading →

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A Human Being not a Human Doing

Be over DO Headline

Maybe I was looking out for it, but three things happened recently to get me thinking (rare, I know!).

“One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.” Francis Jourdain.

First, we’ve had to ruthlessly clean our house to sell it. Having accumulated a ridiculous amount of possessions over the years, it was a pleasant surprise to realise how mentally liberating it is to let go of stuff. To not only need less but to want less. We also had the pleasure of giving things to others they valued. And it’s easier to clean now. Continue reading →

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My Top 10 Commitments for Stress-free Productivity

Recently I met a colleague on the way for coffee and she looked flustered. We got talking. She asked me did I have any tips to help her manage her time. I’ve read a few articles about how it’s more important to manage your energy rather than your time. So without over-thinking it I jotted a few tips and sent them to her. It was so easy to offer the advice. But, re-reading it, I asked myself “How well do I really practise it?” The answer was not one I wanted to hear.

So, in an attempt to better heed my own advice, I’ve re-stated it as a set of Personal Commitments that I intend to make visible and stick to.

1. I will know what is most important to me

These can span work, career, health, family, community, experiences and learning. I am going to refresh my life-ring (example to come) that I came up with as part of the Creativity Innovation and Change MOOC from Coursera. Continue reading →

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