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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

The Psychology of Procrastination

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Peter Bregman (whose blog posts I love, by the way), writes about the unspoken psychology of procrastination:

Here’s the thing: More often than not, our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship. I know partnerships that drag along painfully for years because no one is willing to speak about the elephant in the room. Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate. But how?

Practice.

Which you get by taking risks, feeling whatever you end up feeling, recognizing that it didn’t kill you, and then getting on the board and paddling back into the surf.

If I’ve struggled with one major productivity demon, it’s procrastination. Some days I just dive in and muscle through my insane tasklist with reckless abandon; other days I find myself putting off petty, stupid things, tasks others would just simply do. Over the past two years, I’ve been much better about this, but I often wonder about the psychology that lies behind the fog of procrastination. Bregman’s view that we ‘fear the feelings’ that failure and rejection cause as the source of procrastination is a good one.

If this sounds like you, allow me to recommend Julian Smith’s e-book The Flinch and Steven Pressfield’s Do The Work and The War of Art. Those three books right there are life changing, and The Flinch is a free download on Amazon. I cannot recommend them enough.

But first, read Bregman’s whole post over at Harvard Business Review. It’s worth your time.

Casual Friday: Forcing Yourself to Admit You Messed Up

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I was thinking the other day about the idea of fault. Particularly, how quick we are to assign fault to another person or group, because that minimizes our role in whatever problem we’re facing. And I really got to thinking.

There’s a certain liberation in something being your fault. It means three things:

  1. You are aware of the problem, and
  2. You can correct it.
  3. You are the sole variable needing adjustment.

That’s not to say others don’t make mistakes, and sometimes circumstances beyond your control don’t spin in the wrong direction. They do. That’s what we call life, and it happens all the time.

But what wound up as a passing idea turned into a personal thought exercise for me.

Here’s how it went: what if I challenged myself to find my fault in any problem I’m facing? Sure, there are a few in which I have little or no role, but guess what? For the vast majority, I had a one, however small.

Our usual go-to defense is to deflect blame and push it elsewhere, because that’s the traditional playbook on how you defend your turf and reputation. That naturally spirals into a cyclone of finger-pointing, passing around fault (blame) like a hot potato. When it eventually lands somewhere, everyone is relieved – until the next fire drill, when it starts all over again. Fun times.

What if you were challenged to articulate your role – or even possible role – in what went wrong and communicate it to others? What if others did the same? What if everyone did this – officially heralding the Dawn of Bizzaro-World (TM), but bear with me – with any problem? How quickly would the defensive walls break down? How quickly would we get to the root of a matter?

I’m not saying to take a soft, pacifist route and assume blame for others in the name of keeping the peace. Not at all. What I’m suggesting is radical self-reflection as it relates to accountability.

I’ve worked with a guy who, in his own words, would be diagnosed as partially autistic if he were young today. He’s a brilliant guy, incredibly hard working, and slightly socially…rough. Rough in the sense that he doesn’t wear the same social conventions most of us do. The most notable? He’s incapable of playing politics. He has no idea what the blame game is. If he makes a mistake – no matter how minor or insignificant – he calls himself out, seemingly unaware that most folks operate in the opposite fashion. Maybe it’s his creed, maybe it’s the way his mind works, but I can tell you this: it’s disarming.

What does this look like? Pretty interesting, actually. Examples:

  • I sold something on ebay and got scammed. The guy’s a thief. It’s his fault. Actually, maybe it’s your fault for not checking the guy’s feedback carefully. If you had, you’d notice he only bought things for $20 and under, and all were out-of-country. You missed the warning signs.
  • A bad employee in my company pulled a few others into his circle and now our culture has gone negative. That bad employee is the problem. Actually, it’s your job to protect your culture; it won’t protect itself. You know he’s a bad employee; you just called him such. Why didn’t you nip this in the bud before it gathered speed?
  • My girlfriend broke up with me. She ruined everything. I never want to see her again. Actually, you probably had a role in letting the relationship stagnate. Did you? Ask yourself and be honest.
  • Somebody was driving aggressively, and you got aggressive with him back, and it devolved into gesturing and yelling things out the window at each other. The dude was a jerk. Why did you get aggressive back? Could you have taken a moment to think about why he was driving like that? Could he be in an emergency? Could he have a sick daughter in his passenger seat and be trying to get to the hospital as fast as possible?

The freedom you gain in doing this exercise is powerful. Even though everything isn’t 100% my fault, the thought exercise of pretending it is made me evaluate my own role in miscommunications and problems. And it turns out that I always have a role in a problem. No matter how small that may be, I’m still a contributor. I’m a cog in the angst machine.

You are too.

Think about it. Then encourage your team members to do the same exercise.

Author A. J. Jacobs has talked about radical honesty. Let’s call this radical accountability.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

The Insidious Cost of Multitasking

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The ravages multitasking inflicts upon your mental state and productivity are (finally) getting some ink. Multitasking used to be something highly-evolved corporate warriors did well. It used to be a badge of honor, like calluses on athletes. I remember the days when you’d ask an employee to manage another project on top of his already-full docket, and he’d stare at you incredulously. “It’s called multitasking man” was a common rationalization for expecting someone to do more than could reasonably be expected.

(Nevermind doing all these things well. That’s another story.)

Things are changing these days. After watching good workers burn out, work quality decline, and work/life balance issues upset even our most dedicated employees, productivity gurus, psychologists and managers everywhere started questioning the wisdom of the always-connected, always-on, always-expectant lifestyle.

Tony Schwartz over at Harvard Business Review talks about this in his latest column, entitled The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time:

The biggest cost — assuming you don’t crash — is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.

But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.

When I talk to folks, I call this the cost of switching gears.

Let’s say I’m in the middle of writing an article. I’m heads down, my email is off, my browser shut down, and all notifications silenced. I’m in a groove. I’m getting something done.

Then, out of nowhere, a colleague walks into my office and starts telling me about his weekend round of golf. He doesn’t pick up the vibe that I was cranking away at something important.

The mere act of pausing to listen to his stories of 50 foot putts crashed what I was doing. It forced me into another gear, abruptly.

Even if Mr. Golf is in my office for two minutes, when he leaves, I have to find the writing gear again. I have to get back to where I was. That’s not something you do at the flip of a switch, and it takes some time and mental energy. You’ve probably experienced it yourself, and if you are tasked with creative output, the gear-changing cost is even worse.

Now, add two phone calls, a chat request, and three urgent emails to Mr. Golf. Yeah baby, you’re multitasking — and getting nothing done well while burning yourself out at a ferocious rate.

It’s not Mr. Golf’s fault. It’s not Facebook’s fault. Sure, they have roles in the equation, but ultimately it’s up you you to set boundaries and enforce them so you can get quality work done.

Schwartz recommends something I’ve been doing for a good two years now, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s simple:

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

Easy to read, hard to do. You need discipline, and that means letting others in the office know that for 60-90 minutes every morning, you’re off limits unless the building is under attack by giant spiders. This means a closed door, mute notifications, and no Outlook chiming at you. You’ll be amazed at what you get done.

Another effective measure: block out time twice a week so you can just think. This doesn’t mean nap or play games on your iPhone, it means time to think and jot things down. Mindmap. Get a pen and start writing a list down. Take your biggest challenge and put it in the middle of a blank page, and write your fears, thoughts, and potential solutions to it on the same page. Again, it requires discipline, but the rewards are many.

You can keep multitasking and burning out, or you can start putting a few boundaries in place and working with more focus and calm. Your choice. But understand one last important thing: if you start taking the time to focus on one thing at a time, you can’t expect  your employees to be always-connected. Your example will be a good one; let them follow it.

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More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About this blog.

Who is Killing Your Project?

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Prior to jumping into the world of PeopleSoft consulting, I spent many years implementing accounting solutions, as well as conducting instructor-led training for those applications.  In my years, I had some great classes, and I had some that just plain left me scratching my head.  Was it me?  Probably not: nobody except the lead developer knew the software better than me.  Was it my delivery?  I didn’t think so: I resonated with people and their survey forms said so.  Was it the material?  Okay, maybe….sometimes accounting software doesn’t compare with the world news, or the latest celebrity gossip.

It took me a while to recognize characteristics of the adult learner and how the dynamics of the people in class impacted the whole class.  I can’t remember who shared this with me, but my world became crystal clear when I recognized the three types of learners – explorers, vacationers, and prisoners.

Explorers are there because there is a world waiting for them and they want to know about it.  They hang on every word looking for opportunity to be better, do better, or just make things better.

Vacationers are there because they just want to get out of their day job.  It is an interesting break from the mundane.  Needless to say, their heart is not always invested in what you are trying to say or do.

The last group is the prisoners.  These are people who are forced to be there.  Imagine their reaction when their boss said “I need you to attend this training”.   It should come as no surprise when you catch these people doing everything except what you want them to do.

I share this with you because I am often perplexed about the amount of time spent in today’s world in meetings, conference calls, planning sessions, etc.  The next time you have to run a meeting, maybe you should do a quick inventory of who is in the room and what category they fit into.  Chances are pretty good that the prisoners won’t volunteer (or accept responsibility) for anything, much less grab an idea and run with it, and the vacationers will agree to anything as long as it does not create more work for them.

As a consulting company, we work with many organizations implementing new software.  That often means adopting new systems, implementing new business processes, and challenging the client to see things in a new and different way.  Of the three types of people I have described above, who do you think tends to perform well in these scenarios?  And more importantly, how many of these people are on your project right now?  If the answer is “not enough,” you may have just found who is killing your project.

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More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and Facebook.

About this blog.

Are Top Salespeople Born or Made?

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Steven W. Martin, writing for Harvard Business Review Blog Network:

Based upon my research, experience, and observations, I estimate over 70 percent of top salespeople are born with “natural” instincts that play a critical role in determining their sales success. Conversely, less than 30 percent of top salespeople are self-made — meaning, they have had to learn how to become top salespeople without the benefit of these natural abilities. In addition, for every 100 people who enter sales without natural sales traits, 40 percent will fail or quit, 40 percent will perform at near average, and only 20 percent will be above average (These figures vary by industry and the complexity of products sold).

Martin goes on to identify his most critical factors for the self-made salesperson. They are language specialization, “modeling” of experiences, political acumen, and greed.

But what — greed, political acumen? What do these all mean? They make perfect sense, despite their labels. Be sure to check out Martin’s entire article.

In my experience (I began my career in sales), find this dead accurate. What about you?

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More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and Facebook.

About this blog.

Linkology: The Best of the Internet for 4/22/10

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Know This

Steven Soderberg’s media stream: here’s a list of Soderberg’s favorite books, movies, TV shows, plays and short stories he enjoyed over the past year.

The science of why we don’t believe in science.

Does anyone in Silicon Valley care about Windows anymore?  Robert Scoble on the PC-to-Mac ratios he’s seeing in major tech companies, universities, and startups the world over.  Nutshell: there’s a pronounced move to Macs that corresponds to a marginalization of Windows.

Google Video is going dark, and fast.  Here’s the scoop and what you can do to help save it – or at least salvage some of its best content.

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, reviewed by Wired’s Mike Isaac.   Can you believe it doesn’t have a native email, calendar or contacts app?  And that it only supports tethering to BlackBerry phones (for now)?  Why was this released in such an unfinished state?

Read This

Malcolm Gladwell postulated in his book Outliers that it takes someone 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  Well, Dan McLaughlin is putting it to the test: for the next six years, for six days a week and six hours a day, Dan will practice golf to see if he can get a shot on the PGA Tour.  He’s one year in.  You can follow his daily progress here.

Is sugar toxic?  An absolute must-read, especially if you’re keyed into the diabetes and obesity epidemics that are gripping this country.

Watch This

Speed climbing mountains!  In this case, the mountain in question is an ascent of the north face of Eiger, a 13,025 foot tall mountain in the Swiss Alps.  The first ascent took three days in 1938.  Here’s Ueli Steck making the same ascent in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 33 seconds.  About halfway through, he’s literally running up the mountain.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and Facebook.

About this blog.

The Right Way to Respond to Failure

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From Peter Bregman over at Harvard Business Review Blogs comes a story with a lesson everyone – literally, everyone – can use for the first time or, if you’re really lucky, be reminded of:

Nothing we said seemed to have any impact on her. Nothing changed her expressionless stare. Nothing helped.

Then her grandmother Mimi walked over.

We were all standing over Dana, when Mimi moved through us and sat down next to her. She put her arm around Dana and just sat there quietly. Eventually, Dana leaned her head on Mimi’s shoulder. After a few moments of silence Mimi kissed Dana’s head and said, “I know how hard you work at this, honey. It’s sad to get disqualified.”

At that point, Dana began to cry. Mimi continued to sit there, with her arm around Dana, for several minutes, without saying anything.

Eventually Dana looked up at Mimi, wiped her tears, and said, simply, “Thanks Mimi.” And I thought, every leader, every manager, every team member, should see this.

There’s a huge, huge lesson here, and I myself am guilty of ignoring it.

Often, when someone fails, we think the right thing to do is put their failure in context, offer words of encouragement, or try to re-frame their disappointment as a lesson on how the future holds opportunity for improvement.  I do it with my son after he has a bad soccer game, and I bet you’ve done it recently too.  You can probably even remember with whom and what the particular topic was.

Except that it’s right-hearted but wrong-headed, because it removes the implication of trust in the person that failed.  It doesn’t allow us to be with the person who failed in the spirit of the failure.  Instead, it tries to move the failure into another context as soon as possible, probably prematurely and redundantly.

Why redundantly? They know they failed.  They know there will be other chances.  They know they can work on not failing again.

All this they know.

What they don’t necessarily know is that you empathize with them and are smart enough to know they know they will get better.

Sometimes, we like to make things more complex than they need to be.  We love over-pragmatizing things in the spirit of comfort.  In today’s culture, a loose end unsalved is a problem unsolved, and we do our best to solve it.

Even when people don’t want us to.  We do it because, ironically, it makes us more comfortable.

We can all learn a thing or two from Mimi.  I know I can.

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MIPRO Consulting is a nationally-recognized consulting firm specializing inPeopleSoft Enterprise (particularly Enterprise Asset Management) andBusiness Intelligence. You’re reading MIPRO Unfiltered, its blog. If you’d like to contact MIPRO, email is a great place to start, or you can easily jump over to its main website. If you’d like to see what MIPRO offers via Twitteror Facebook, we’d love to have you.

More opinion posts.

How to Announce You’re Lying

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Erin McKean, writing for The Boston Globe:

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there’s a whole range of phrases that aren’t doing the jobs you think they’re doing.

In fact, “I hate to be the one to tell you this” (like its cousin, “I hate to say it”) is one of them. Think back: How many times have you seen barely suppressed glee in someone who — ostensibly — couldn’t be more reluctant to be the bearer of bad news? A lack of respect from someone who starts off “With all due respect”? A stunning dearth of comprehension from someone who prefaces their cluelessness with “I hear what you’re saying”? And has “I’m not a racist, but…” ever introduced an unbiased statement?

After reading this article, you will notice these everywhere.  And you can add these to the already intentionally-muddy lexicon of labyrinthine business speak.

What’s the over/under on some smart company creating a swear jar for this?

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MIPRO Consulting is a nationally-recognized consulting firm specializing in PeopleSoft Enterprise (particularly Enterprise Asset Management) and Business Intelligence. You’re reading MIPRO Unfiltered, its blog. If you’d like to contact MIPRO, email is a great place to start, or you can easily jump over to its main website. If you’d like to see what MIPRO offers via Twitter or Facebook, we’d love to have you.

More nerdery posts.

Opinion Warning Signs

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We’ve all been in the situation before when we’re not exactly being honest with ourselves and embark in a discussion (debate?) in which we take an opinion for reasons other than to profess what we believe to be the truth.  What are some of the signs that your opinion may be a signal of loyalty and ability rather than your desire to estimate truth accurately?  Robin Hanson has a very good list:

  1. You find it hard to be enthusiastic for something until you know that others oppose it.
  2. You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.
  3. Realizing that a topic is important and neglected doesn’t make you much interested.
  4. You have little interest in digging to bigger topics behind commonly argued topics.
  5. You are less interested in a topic when you don’t foresee being able to talk about it.

Read the full list on Hanson’s blog, Overcoming Bias.

(Thanks MR)

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MIPRO Consulting is a nationally-recognized consulting firm specializing in PeopleSoft Enterprise (particularly Enterprise Asset Management), Workday and Business Intelligence. You’re reading MIPRO Unfiltered, its blog. If you’d like to contact MIPRO, email is a great place to start, or you can easily jump over to its main website. If you’d like to see what MIPRO offers via Twitter or Facebook, we’d love to have you.

More nerdery posts.

Altruistic Politeness Enforcement Tactics

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Interesting piece from The Guardian in which Oliver Burkeman suggests society might be better off if we all inflicted some altruistic punishment on rude people:

The study of happiness rightly focuses on such indisputable virtues as gratitude, generosity, and forgiveness. But any honest accounting of the sources of daily pleasure – for me, anyway – must include the exquisite joys of what I’ve come to think of as Politeness Enforcement Tactics: the guerrilla moves we use to avenge boorish behaviour in public places.

What an interesting idea.

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