Personal effectiveness does not mean you suck...

Now if you are going to disagree with someone to make a point, you need to pick someone who's opinion is worth considering. So I am going to pick on the thoughtful and helpful Merlin Mann.

Now I have been gettingt lots of useful information about how to get yourself moving on things, how to handle forgetfulness and distraction, from 43 folders, but an alarm bell went off when Merlin started saying that we all "suck at something". I just hate the focus on weaknesses. Well of course he is right. I am pretty solid at GTD these days, I love and work hard at facilitation, coaching and clarifying communications but.... I am kind of terrible at short-term, common-sense logistics. The kind of stuff my way smarter wife effortlessly juggles when we need to shop, drop the car off at the garage, get someone a haircut, take a kid to a play-date and truck another one to a swimming lesson in one afternoon.

But it is certainly not just Merlin.

Lots of the personal effectiveness stuff I read is focussed on dealing with common human weaknesses like that. The only trouble is that spending all your time working on your weaknesses is rather depressing. I have been reading about focussing on strengths recently and the basic wisdom there is that you should spend most of your time investing in the things you do well and just do minimal "damage control" on the weaknesses that really hamper you.

For every hour of effort and attention put into handling something you are not good at you can get ten times the results by extending and deepening an existing strength. The time you focus on weaknesses is when they fundamentally prevent you from deploying a strength, given the context you are in, the work you are doing.

They way Getting Things Done fits into this for me is that it is an "enabler". It allows me to get clear of the anxiety that I am not sufficiently in control, missing something important and leaves me room for creativity, for fun. It clears my head, so I do feel more able to use my skills. It is a catalyst. My personal strengths lie in first contact with new people, communication, finetuning, and connectedness. Feeling in control helps me have the confidence to lean into these strengths and apply them.

So I am still still dedicated to self-improvement and any and all methods that let me achieve that. The kicker is that you need to make sure that your self-improvement effort is focussed on your strengths, no your weaknesses


The joy of...

As I have mentioned before I regularly get revelations in the form of a blinding flash of the extremely bloody obvious. I just realized yesterday something that I really, truly get out of GTD and having a grip in all my stuff but never mentioned here. I have...


I have a blast. Everyone has high and low energy days, but I have found that since I have the feeling of relaxed control my normal days are cheerful and inspired and on my high-energy days I have to be careful not to bubble over too much. I actually hop, skip and sprint to meetings, and it is not because I am runnng late. I actually have to temper my enthusiasm or I will irritate people and create resistance. Being so energized comes down to the cool feeling of knowing everything that has a hold on you AND having learnt to work within my own style, from my strengths.

What GTD does for me is take away the fear, the very basic fear, of missing something, being out of control, screwing up. It clears the decks for me to make more use of my talents, skip the worrying and do the contemplation, cogitation and wild, blue-sky, speculation that add value, and spice to life. That is where the strengths come in: they flower in that space you create. There is nothing quite so powerful or enjoyable as working within your strengths, doing things in your own unique style. They are just much more available to you when you have a clear picture of what you are (and are not) doing and are comfortable with that. When you clear your head, inspiration will certainly come, but I also got a lot of help from making a journal of accomplishments.


The Dance, and Book, of Joy


A few years back I had the great, good fortune to work in a team of people who had both great skills and great capacity for joy, one of whom came back from an assignment with a plastic, dancing cow that played the Mexican Hat song. It was immediately named "Hendrik" and promoted to "Vice President of Joy" (our employer had very many VPs). This lead to us developing, to the bemusement of our manager (though he did join in) the "Dance of Joy". The Dance of Joy would happen every time some good thing, some success, new-baby, big new project or a sale, happend. The Vice President of Joy would be put in the middle of the floor, turned on and we would all prance around it, dancing to the music like happy maniacs, waving our arms in the air.

Good times....

What should you take away from this? I wish and hope for you, that you can find room in your life and work the for occasional Dance of Joy. Let your hair down and express your joyous feelings, let your guard down. Moments like these are literally the spice of life, they are more valuable and memorable than any quantity of off-site inspirational meetings. They also create and strengthen bonds and connections between you and those around you: you may find more people dance along than you expected...

But even if you do not have a dancing cow in your cupboard, you can have the Book of Joy. Don't click away... I am not going totally Pollyanna on you and I am not founding a cult. I am merely suggesting you take a few moments, regularly, to compile a journal of successes. I started mine a while ago, when I was trying to work out how to get the most fun possible out of my work and deciding whether my current work was truly right for me.

All you need to do is, write down every occasion you can think of when you were truly happy with what you were doing and highly engaged with it. Turn off the modesty for a little while and describe the situation as well as you can and how you contributed. Carefully note what role you had (problem solver, manager, facilitator, negotiator, quality-watcher etc) and specifically which of your own special skills and attributes came into play: deep analysis, patience, empathy, enthusiasm, painstaking persistance and so on... As you go on, you will find some skills and roles coming back regularly, a picture will emerge. Naturally it is best to record a success as soon as possible, while your impressions are fresh, but there is nothing wrong with roaming through your entire history and childhood. You can record any situation where you had a really good feeling.

When I did this I was astounded by how many things I found and by the fact that I had forgotten a whole bunch of them when I read it six months later. I also became inspired to use my strengths in my work. More about that in another post...


It's all really Peter Drukker

Having read that Peter Drukker was a major influence for aspects of GTD and having come across more Drukker-isms in the work of Steven Covey I decided a while ago to read "The Effective Executive" for myself. It is now forty years old and not in the least bit out of date. His examples refer to, now historical, figures but the situations he describes and the advice he provides is still cutting edge. I regularly see yet another "new insight" pop up in management and effectiveness forums that sends me off to my battered paperback copy to find the half-page he devoted to make precisely that point, forty year ago.

That is not to degrade the thinking of now. Mr Drucker is just a very, very hard act to follow and there is much valuable work to be done in getting those insights actually implemented in current behaviours and with recent technology. The latest case of this phenomenon is working from your strengths. The premise is simple and, for me, convincing: people spend much too much time trying to eliminate weaknesses when they should be leveraging their strengths. The "fully rounded" person who can handle every aspect of the job with ease is a myth. If someone looks like that they are almost certainly under-challenged. I have some strong and some weak suits. I use some behaviours, including GTD, to compensate for the weaknesses and put my coaching, facilitating and analytical skills into play at every opportunity. I cannot do everything well, but I can certainly arrange my situation so that everything is well done.