In my first productivity post, Tools To Make You More Productive In Windows, I described how I felt overloaded with work. Being overloaded can light a fire under us, providing the motivation to develop faster and in more ways than we had before. Periods of high pressure, as long as they aren’t sustained, can be very beneficial to us in our personal development.
On the other side, when you come out of that period of pressure and start getting back into business as usual, it’s difficult to sustain the level of interest in improving that you had before, and that is what I am going to be writing about in this post today.
I do not feel overloaded at work right now. There are many things I would like to work on and develop, areas I would like to improve, analyses I would like to perform, but I don’t have to.
Because there is no external pressure to deliver, it is easy to start neglecting these things. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take time to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become complacent and allow ourselves to be blind-sided in the future. Whenever we become overloaded or overworked in some way, I think we all have that little voice in our head telling us we could have been more prepared, there were things we could have done and didn’t.
It’s okay to be unprepared and surprised by the twists and turns of life, as long as you can tell that little voice that you did try and you did what you could. Maybe you didn’t do the right things to deal with your current situation, but as long as you were making a genuine effort to prepare for the future somehow, then it’s much easier to honestly tell that voice to pipe down.
When there is no external pressure to perform, it’s time to start building up a little internal pressure instead. Start reading about developing the mindset that you need to succeed, find out how to set goals for yourself that you can stick to, discover what organisation and planning methods appeal to the type of person you are and try them out. This quiet period in your work life is the best time to start experimenting and playing around with different tools, different systems, different ideas, because it doesn’t matter how they end up, as long as trying them is in line with your goals.
Goals Kinda Suck
I’m still not comfortable with the goal-setting ideals, it’s not something that was encouraged for me in childhood and nobody around me talked about it. I don’t like other people putting pressure on me to perform, My best performance comes from setting a deadline with my manager or the stakeholder and then being left alone to get it done.
I guess that one way to hack myself to start setting and meeting goals, would be if I set myself deadlines and held myself as accountable to those as I do to the goals that were given to me by others. I might even give it a go in a few different ways and start looking at the literature again to see if I’m going the right way or not. Maybe there is no wrong way to set goals, especially when you are setting them for yourself. There are many wrong ways to treat your goals once they’ve been set, like thinking about them and doing nothing about them. Or setting goals that are far too big to tackle.
I just got a new textbook to learn how to use Tableau 10. I am setting myself the goal, here and now, to finish reading chapter 6 by the end of the weekend. I am currently on chapter 2 and started last night, so I am fairly confident, but not certain, that I can make it. One of the tricks to mastery is to stretch yourself a little bit every time you practice, and I think that setting a goal of getting through chapter 6 will be a bit of a stretch.
Edit: I didn’t get further than Chapter 3, as it turned out that Chapter 2 had a lot more content than I had anticipated. My new goal is to have finished the book by next weekend.
So my first wondering at this point of my goal setting is, do I set myself another advanced goal for if I achieve the chapter 6 one, or do I stop and celebrate my achievement? I suppose that over time, I will figure out what works for me.
Practice Like a Pro
Another way to make sure you aren’t letting down your future self is by what psychologists call ‘deliberate practice’. This is where you practice something that you want to get better at, making sure that you are actually stretching your abilities a bit. It’s looking at what you could be doing better and practising that specific part until you are better.
This can be getting faster, more precise, more options. Maybe learning different methods or processes to get to the same output, or stepping through a process and seeing what you can adjust or eliminate.
In my case, it’s going to be learning how to prepare data to enter into Tableau and then reproducing as many of my reports as I can with it. I don’t have a goal for that yet, as I think it’s a bit too early in the book to start manipulating my own data, but that is definitely where I want to be heading.
Yet another approach to developing yourself is by borrowing an idea from the Scrum methodology; the retrospective review.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I have heard about and seen first-hand companies trying to shoe-horn elements of scrum into managing teams of people, and I have seen it fail. There are many reasons, a big one being that when you try to cut and paste a tiny part of something that you haven’t taken the time to understand or explain, even with the best of intentions, you can do more harm than good. If people don’t know why they should do something, it is very hard to engage them in doing it properly.
Although I don’t have a lot of experience with scrum and haven’t yet been in an environment where it was used successfully, I am a strong supporter of the agile manifesto and the methodologies and frameworks available around it, so I’m not just ripping out an idea that I like to fit into my idea of how I want things done.
The retrospective review is when we take some time to look at what we’ve achieved in a week or fortnight. The aim is to identify what we could have done better, what obstacles there were, what challenges we faced and what solutions we deployed. What worked well and what didn’t basically.
By reviewing things ourselves, we can be even more brutally honest than we might when surrounded by peers and managers. It’s hard to admit that you really screwed up, or you were lazy, or that you could have used a better approach; doing it alone makes the pain a little less.
So that’s my post on what to do when you don’t have to do anything. I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll be back soon writing about more tools, experiences or things I’ve learned while trying to develop better ways of working!