What is your target?

It is amazing how little clarity people have in defining the outcome of a particular activity.  This is true in our personal lives as well as professional.  We just keep plugging away at tasks, instead of taking a step back to look at where we are at and where we are going.  Why is this the case?  I would argue that we need to rewire our thinking about what success looks like and how we get there.

Success <> Busy

Life is just so busy.  We have inputs from every place imaginable, and the trend is only getting worse. We allow phone calls, emails, and social media to distract us from the things that will really add value.  We convince ourselves that we don’t have time to take a break from doing the seemingly important things in front of us.  It is the classic Stephen Covey quadrant of urgent, but not important.

We have such a hard time giving up our addiction to this quadrant because we fall into the trap of wanting to look busy.  If we don’t look busy, than it looks like we aren’t working hard.  So, we cram our day with all sorts of activities.  If our schedule if full, our task list long, and our desk a mess, than it looks like we worked hard.  And if we work hard, then we will be successful.  Many times a 1 hour task can get crammed into four hours.  This isn’t always a conscious choice, it is all in the name of looking busy to ourselves or for those around us.

The problem is that for plenty of us, including myself, I’ve had plenty of times where hard work did not equal success.  In fact, I’ve had times in my life where the harder I worked, the worse things got.  I was going in the wrong direction, beating my head against the wall and didn’t have the intelligence to step back and assess the situation to figure out the best way to solve the problem.  Or better, evaluating if I’ve even correctly identified the problem.  Programmers are the worst at this.  We equate more lines of code to more productivity.  I’ve heard horror stories of larger technology companies actually documenting the lines of code per employee, as if this measure had some sort of connection with the success of the project.

Getting out of the rut of believing success equals busyness is harder than it seems.  40, 50, 60 hour work weeks become the norm, and we get so tired that the cycle of urgency becomes worse and worse.  In my 20s, I had the privilege of running a manufacturing plant.  In our busy season, our employee count would many times go over one hundred people, and things would get hectic.  Product that was defective or needed repair would get lost on the production line.  Our warehouse would get so crowded, we couldn’t even find the items that where supposed to be picked for shipping.  I would be working 80 hour weeks and still felt like I could work more.  If you asked me what I spent my time on, I really couldn’t tell you, but if you watched me, it looked like I was very busy.  It felt good because I was the man of the hour and everyone came to me for answers.  I had a sense of importance.  When I was gone, I knew things would fall apart, so I felt valuable.  Soon however, I began to loose energy.  I was getting burned out, and my family was suffering.

Overcoming Fear

Breaking the cycle of chaos at the plant was a scary proposition.  It meant making a lot of changes, and these changes were not guaranteed to work.  It meant possibly making people angry because I had to create systems, make clear objectives and then hold people accountable to those goals.  Luckily the owner of the company was on board and helped me think through system and backed me as we implemented changes.  The biggest obstacle in getting started was overcoming fear.

Fear is an emotion and hence does not originate from the logical part of our brain.  We don’t consciously know this, so we submit to it on an emotional level.  We fear what people will think.  Maybe they won’t like us because we have to hold them accountable, or maybe they will think less of me if I’m working less hours.  We also fear the unknown.  Staying on the same course seems to be the best option because it is familiar.

Overcoming fear does not mean acting rashly or without the feedback of others.  It allows us to take an honest look at the current situation and to not lie to ourselves about what the potential outcomes might be.  This honest assessment alone will cause us to step back an reevaluate, because we will realize the current track might not lead to the outcomes we desire.

As we move forward, the important thing to remember is that most of the time fear is not based in reality and it usually isn’t based on truth.  This revelation alone can give the courage to step back and evaluate the current situation.  Then define the goal and the steps to get there.  And finally to act boldly and without the fear of failure or fear of what people will think.

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