For 2016, I want you to commit to a competitive advantage you’ve known about longer than you’re willing to admit: learning as much as possible about you and what works for you. Let’s call that continuous learning.
The truth is that today’s most productive, successful people know that continuous learning provides a competitive advantage. In fact, the daily routine of the average Fortune 500 Executive includes an hour and 45 minutes devoted to personal projects and continuous learning.
What do I mean by ‘continuous learning’? Your natural ability to learn and then adapt your behavior.
How and what you want or need to learn is personal and depends on your life, career and the impact you want to create.
As much as this is about learning to appreciate what works for you – this is just as much about being honest with yourself about what doesn’t work.
We cannot change what we are not aware of, so all learning and change efforts must start with awareness which means we need to become more aware of what’s working – and not working.
There are four big things that frequently derail us when we try to learn something new or change a behavior.
1. You’re trying to change too much at once. How often has your New Year’s resolution been something along these lines: “I am going to exercise for 60 minutes everyday.” A full hour every day? Really? This is a significant change, especially if you have not been exercising at all or have only been exercising once or twice a week. The enormity of this change is overwhelming and you become paralyzed unable to take any action. Be mindful of taking on too much in one fell swoop.
2. You don’t make the desired changes real. We all have big, bold, abstract goals; for example “get healthy in 2016” Unfortunately though, we don’t back it up or follow it up with a feasible plan on how we’re going to get there – or even how we’re going to start. When the gap between where we are and where we want to be is too big, we feel overwhelmed, which creates anxiety – so much so, that we often avoid taking any action at all.
3. Your mindset is primed to expect failure. We’ve all been here before – we’ve tried something, and it hasn’t worked out; so, because you failed in the past, you expect to fail again. For example, every time you open your closet you see your dusty, unused running shoes staring back at you reminding you of your failure this year to exercise more regularly.
4. Your environment or social surroundings aren’t setting you up well. Our physical and social environments are powerful influences. If they are not shaped to support the change you desire, you will be undermined at every turn. Staying on the healthy example theme, keeping a jar of M&Ms right in front of me on my desk makes it very difficult for me to choose a healthy snack.
Think about what’s not working for you – it might be one of these four or it might be something that’s a slight deviation from one of these four.
Regardless, it’s personal – there’s something that’s holding you back from learning something new or changing a behavior that is no longer serving you.
Now, let’s go about identifying what does work for you.
“It is hard to see if your windshield is dirty.” This is a lesson I learned from one of my favorite teachers, Sonia Choquette. Her advice: examine what is holding you back and clouding your vision. Acknowledge it and then remove the dirt.
Is there any dirt and grime on your windshield? What is getting in the way of you seeing clearly? Where have you fallen prey to the busyness epidemic? What is driving your busyness? Is it shaped by your need to feel important, worthy, and valuable, and the abiding fear that the “real me” falls short? Is it fueled by the imperative that you stay at the office to be seen even if your most meaningful work is already finished? Is it technically-driven busyness, where your tools, systems, strategies and techniques for understanding, organizing, and managing work have simply failed to keep up with changing demands? Or is your busyness a combination of these?
Olivia, an attorney and book agent, was frantically busy juggling the demands of her career, her two children, her husband, her mother, her sister, her friends, the parent-teacher organization, her blog, and her volunteer commitments. At times, all these demands felt as if they were all in competition with each other. Olivia’s windshield had become almost completely caked over with dust, dirt, and grime. She had tried the usual strategies to stop being busy–an email management course, a new planner, and ideas and tips from friends and colleagues. None of it worked for more than a few days, because Olivia had not addressed what was driving her busyness.
Olivia’s busyness was driven by the belief that if she was not always available to and for her clients, then she was not providing value and was unworthy of her compensation. It was also driven by tools and systems that were not aligned to her Productivity Style and the way she actually worked. Only after examining both the psychological and technical drivers of her busyness did Olivia begin to make lasting changes that would help her create the life she wanted.
Take a look at the dirt and grime that impedes your vision. Acknowledge it, and then take the necessary steps to scrub your windshield clean. Until it is clean, it is going to be difficult for you to find greater personal freedom, creativity, and joy. And isn’t that the real goal?
Embrace Your Productivity Style
T-shirts labeled “One size fits all” never fit properly. The arm holes are too small, the neck opening is too large, or the sleeves are too long.
The same applies to one-size-fits-all approaches to personal productivity. Maybe you have tried to use a calendar tool you received in a time-management workshop or those colored post-it notes that a friend recommended. If the results were disappointing, the fault is not yours—it’s the fault of tools and techniques that do not match your Productivity Style.
So instead of fighting against your natural thinking, learning, and communicating preferences, work with them. Identify your Productivity Style and then embrace it. Use your understanding to guide the choices you make to manage your attention, invest your time, get work done, tame your inbox, and design your work space in ways that are customized for you—not for someone else.
Know Where You Really Want to Go
At the beginning of each new coaching engagement, I give my client a magic wand—an imaginary one, of course. “Ta-da!” I declare. “Today, everything in your life is exactly the way you want it!” This never fails to elicit a smile and a laugh. Who wouldn’t want a magic wand accompanied by a promise like that?
But then the work begins, starting with some serious questions. Now that your life is exactly the way you want it, what has changed? What does your life – professional and personal – look like and feel like? What are you doing? Who are you doing it with?
It is amazing to listen to the shift in my clients’ voice as they describe their magic-wand life. There is a new tone reflecting feelings of excitement, joy, fun, meaning, and purpose.
So now it’s your turn. You have just been handed a magic wand. What do you really want? What are your dreams? Do not get bogged down in shoulds – you should want this because you are the partner in a consulting firm, you should want that because you are a loving husband or wife, son or daughter, you should want fill-in-the-blank because that is what everyone wants. Don’t should all over yourself.
Instead, imagine what you really want—and get ready to go for it.