It was late August, one week before the official start of my freshman year at Washington and Lee University. My parents had just dropped me off at the loading dock outside the gym where I was about to begin the pre-season training camp for the university’s cross-country running team.
As I climbed into the waiting van and met my veteran cross-country teammates—many of them All-Americans—for the first time, I was suddenly overcome by fear. What had I done? There was no way I could keep up with these women! How could I even hope to compete at a collegiate level? I was convinced I’d made a huge mistake.
But later that morning, as I tied my running shoes and prepared for our first run of the day, I noticed something about my veteran teammates. Each of them had her own pre-run routine. Some stretched, others sat on the floor listening to music, and still others did calisthenics – jumps, squats, and butt kicks. Still later, at my first college race, I would see how these routines intensified and shifted when they were preparing for a race.
My teammates had learned the power of preparation. Their pre-race routines prepared them for the hard work that was to come and helped them get into a mindset that enabled them to focus completely on the present moment. During my freshman year, I learned these lessons from my wise teammates, and I continue to apply them today. That’s why I believe it is important for you to get ready before we start personalizing your productivity.
To get ready for your journey, it’s important to identify the two major roadblocks that may be standing in your way. This analysis will help you to develop strategies to confront these obstacles head-on when they threaten to derail you or undermine your success.
Roadblock #1: Locus of Control
If you are going to get personal about productivity, it means that the solution to the disorganization and chaos threatening your daily productivity starts and ends with you.
Locus of control is a concept developed by psychologist Julian Rotter. It refers to the extent that individuals believe that they can control the events that affect them. A person with an internal locus of control believes that success or failure is due to their own efforts, while a person with an external locus of control believes that success or failure is controlled by other people, environmental factors, chance, or fate.
Where is your locus of control? It’s a question most people have never asked themselves—but one that can change your life, as my client Samantha recently discovered.
Samantha is a smart, articulate, seasoned corporate executive who has spent her entire career working with and in Fortune 500 firms as an Information Technology consultant. She has worked for her current company for three years managing its information technology support center and training team. Samantha has a great sense of humor, is an avid New England Patriots fan, and is a working mom to a cool 12-year-old son, Christopher, who stars on the local Little League baseball team.
Samantha had always been successful and delivered exceptional work. Lately, however, things had started to change. She had begun to receive feedback that she was not meeting expectations, she was missing deadlines, and her planning and follow-up on the training programs she ran was becoming inconsistent. Little by little, her clients were beginning to question her ability to effectively support them.
Lack of effort was certainly not the problem. Samantha was working non-stop–texting and emailing with her boss on weekends and late into the evening—even while she sat in the stands at Patriots games. She was busy, but not producing the results that she and her organization wanted. As a result, she had been recently passed over for a promotion—something that had never happened to her before.
When we met for our first coaching session, Samantha spent the first part of our day together telling me how everyone else was the problem. The VP of service delivery never responded to her emails; her manager just did not understand her big-picture thinking and her strategic ideas; her team was not supportive.
For Samantha, her locus of control was external. Everyone else was impacting her ability to be successful. At the end of day one, I told Samantha, “If you want to achieve results and reclaim your life, you are going to have to choose to do something differently. And that begins with owning that you are in control.”
It was like watching glass break. The tough, strategic consultant exterior shattered, and the fragile, sad woman beneath the surfaced emerged. Samantha burst into tears. “You’re right—I know you’re right! I was devastated when I didn’t get that promotion. I felt like all my long hours and personal sacrifices were for nothing. What a waste—what a waste!” And for several minutes she simply cried.
It was obvious that the two of us had a lot of work to do together. But it was equally obvious that Samantha’s commitment to her career was genuine, and that deep down she knew that she was ultimately in control.
You and only you can change your life. You have the knowledge, skills, and ability to create the life you want. But first you must accept this reality and stop expending time and energy blaming the culture, technology, your boss, your organization, your significant other, your children, or your pets for your busyness.
This doesn’t mean that you can expect to change the world to suit your personal preferences. As I have learned only too well on my parenting journey, we really and truly have absolutely no control over others. You might know what I am talking about if you have ever tried to get a three-year-old to eat vegetables. Those vegetables are not going to be eaten if that three-year-old does not want to eat them–end of story!
I can’t control the behavior of a forty-pound toddler. But I can control myself and the way I choose to respond. When my daughter chooses not to eat her vegetables, I simply tell her that is her choice—and as a result of her choice, there will be no dessert.
Deep down, Samantha knew that she was responsible for her own success–she just had to be reminded. In the same way, you probably realize that you are responsible for creating the life that you want. Taking conscious ownership of that reality—internalizing your locus of control—is the first step toward personalizing your approach to productivity and thereby conquering the busyness epidemic.
What’s the second road block that’s holding you back? Keep reading here on my blog.