Dealing with Ideas that Won’t Die

Sometimes, I have an idea that just won’t get out of my head.

I’m trying to prioritize my efforts and focus on what I am doing.

I have scheduled when I am going to address this idea.

I’ve put all the sub-ideas and research in its own little pile to be dealt with later.

And yet, the idea still knocks around – taking up valuable cognitive bandwidth.

It happens.

I find myself asking two questions of this idea when it does.

  1. What is so compelling about this idea? What is the fantasy surrounding it?
  2. Am I using “researching” this idea as an excuse to avoid the challenging part of my current project? Is this just resistance in disguise?

Usually, the idea speaks to a “fantasy self” that I am nowhere near becoming.

The idea also tends to be in the “hobby” area of my life.

The area where I am not necessarily wedded to it becoming part of my professional identity, but “wouldn’t it be nice if…”

The area where if I DID decide to “go pro,” I’d probably be disappointed.

And…I’m procrastinating.

I don’t want to do the hard thing I have to do to get my current project done.

The more fear around the hard thing I need to do around my current project…the more likely I am to start fantasizing over this distractor-project.

I don’t really have a tidy answer other than – see the distractor for what it is, write down what you need to so you can address it later, and get back to work.

As soon as I come up with a way to get rid of the distractors altogether, I’ll let you know.

Making Decisions

Think about the last time you made a major decision.

How long did you agonize over that decision?

Did you create lengthy advantage/disadvantage lists attempting to gain clarity?

Now remember when you asked your wise friend about what he or she would do. 

How quickly did they give you sound advice? Was that advice something you had already considered? Was it creative? Did they point out something you didn’t consider?

Now, remember the last time a good friend asked you for advice.

How quickly were you able to help them?

How creative were you when you helped your friend make a decision?

How confident did you feel about your advice to your friend?

Evan Polman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirmed in his research that we have a much easier time giving advice to others than we do deciding for ourselves.

“When people recommend what others should do, they come up with ideas and choices and solutions that are more optimistic and action-oriented, focus on more positive information and imagine more favorable consequences. Meanwhile, when making their own choices, people tend to envision everything that could go wrong, leading to doubt and second-guesses.”[1]

They didn’t uncover why we tend to be more conservative when we make choices for ourselves, but my experience is that as the decider – we are the ones who ultimately live with the consequences of the decision. The risks feel (and often are) greater.

As the advisor – we are detached from the risks and consequences of the decision. If our friend chooses one way or the other, the impact on us is often minimal compared to the impact on our friend.

Polman recommends viewing yourself in the third-person to gain some detachment from the decision-making process.[2]  This technique helps you view your situation and the decision differently.

Getting advice from friends who you know have your best interest at heart and whom you have respect for helps as well.  Asking friends helps you begin developing your support network around the change and provides information on how the change will impact them.

My experience has been that advice from friends that are directly impacted by your decision tends to be more conservative (and thoughtful) than advice from friends who aren’t impacted at all. They have skin in the game.[3]


[1] https://hbr.org/2018/11/why-its-easier-to-make-decisions-for-someone-else

[2] https://hbr.org/2018/11/why-its-easier-to-make-decisions-for-someone-else and https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167211398362

[3] Polman is not asking whether the impact of the decision on the individual plays a role in whether the response demonstrates a cautious mindset or an adventurous mindset. My suspicion, based on personal experience, is that the less the decision impacts an individual, the more likely they are going to demonstrate an adventurous mindset. I hope to see research asking this question – because it would have significant ramifications for how managers and leaders make decisions (or whether they SHOULD be the decision-makers in given contexts).

The Discipline of Not Doing

NOT doing is one of the disciplines I and my clients seem to struggle with.

I have something that needs to be done! Why can’t I just do it NOW!

I personally feel this impulse when the things on my current to-do list don’t excite me. Often, this lack of excitement is a result of the task being in that dreaded dip. The grinding part where I am too far from the start to stop and too far from the goal to see it. The part where I just have to suck it up and do the work for the sake of the work.

I also encounter this feeling when I find I suddenly have some slack. The temptation to fill that slack with more work is great.  Particularly in our hustle/grind/just do it environment. Being busy allows me to avoid more uncomfortable activities, such as self-reflection. 

“Busy” is a badge of honor.  We can justify busy to others.  Reflecting and integrating looks a lot like “doing nothing” and, therefore, is much harder to explain.

Filling the slack, or starting another “new” thing when I have other things to do, is hazardous.

The “new” thing invariably takes more time, energy, and resources than initially predicted. “This will be quick” is a signal that I am about to lose focus on the important things I need to be doing.

The “new” thing still leaves all the “old” things unfinished; noshing away at my cognitive load and energetic resilience.

The “new” thing adds to the workload. It only takes 1 or 2 “new” things and the unfinished “old” things to find myself suddenly over-worked and stressed.

Occasionally, I get impatient because I have a thing that I know needs to be done in the future. My ego wants to “get ahead.”

Another warning that I am about to go off track is the voice that says, “If I get this done now, I’ll be ahead of the game.”  This voice has caused me more work than any other voice I have in my head.

Certain activities need to happen in a certain order. For example, if I decide to do a rewrite of a chapter while the chapter is out for review and before I have received the feedback, I’ve just doubled my workload. I will still need to do the rewrite.

The discipline of finishing what I have started and staying focused on what I need to do right now is, for me, one of the most challenging disciplines I practice. 

It requires saying “not yet” to great ideas and opportunities – some of which may pass me by.

It requires having faith that the work I am currently doing will result in a positive outcome.

It requires being OK with not “getting ahead” of my tasks.

It requires being OK with giving myself some slack when I am blessed with it.

Accounting for Energy

I’ve been thinking about personal energy and our plans recently.

Often, we tend to make our plans based on our best case scenario.

We’re feeling healthy, energetic, our best selves. We then make our plans and set our timelines accordingly.

Then we beat ourselves up when the average to bad days kick in and we don’t get done what we intended to get done.

Energy management is particularly acute for those of us suffering from chronic conditions or extended illnesses.

We have good days and bad days. Sometimes, it’s tough to predict which days will be good and which ones aren’t. Sometimes, we don’t even know until we get started and realize that we either a) feel better than we thought or b) don’t. Sadly, b happens more frequently (at least in my life) than a.

I’ve been experimenting with leveraging the Scrum project management concept of “story points” as it applies to my personal projects.

First is figuring out the complexity of what I’m trying to do. Both the cognitive load required (high/average/mindlessly repetitive) and the amount of focused time I will likely need (lots/some/”this will just take a few minutes”)

Second is figuring out my energy patterns and what a realistic cadence looks like.

In Scrum – each sprint has a set of available points based on the cadence set by the team. In a personal context, you have a set of available energy points based on your productivity patterns.

You then look at your “backlog” (or the “to-do” list) and assign “story points” (or level of effort points) to each task.

Ideally, you match the tasks you intend to get done that sprint (or week) with the energy points you have available and the priority of the task.

Example: I have a high story point task I need to get done this week (such as “Finish Chapter 3 of the book” – high complexity/cognitive load AND requiring lots of focus time). If I’m going to get that task done, I shouldn’t plan to get much else done beyond previously scheduled client work (which also takes up energy points). I might find a mindless, low focus, need-to-get-done task from my backlog to fill in extra time and get it off my plate – but only if I underestimated either my energy or the amount of effort the main task takes.

I find keeping track of my to-do list (what I planned to do that day) and my done list (what I actually did) over a week or two helpful in determining what I can realistically get done. If I’ve never done this type of tracking before, I would consider doing it over 4 or more weeks – to account for any hormone fluctuations, illnesses, life patterns, etc. This tracking sets up the “energy points.”

Tracking my productivity patterns becomes especially important when I am going through a health flare-up, such as the back injury I was fighting last year or a visit from the Cookie-Monster Bathrobe.

Instead of beating myself up over what I haven’t managed to get done, I use that information to set realistic weekly sprints for myself and resetting expectations.

Any big change in your health or stress levels should trigger a re-evaluation of your energy points.

Right now, I find myself saying “no” a lot more frequently – only because I don’t have my usual number of energy points to work with on top of having high story point tasks on my plate.

I’d rather disappoint someone up front and find them a different resource that will help them with their issue than to promise something I can’t deliver. My ego hates this. I want to be able to do all the things at the pace my ego wants to set (which is instantaneous).

When it gets right down to it, maintaining positive relationships by doing what I say I’m going to do when I say I’m going to do it to the best of my ability is more important to me than serving someone poorly.

What are your current energy levels?

What tasks are on your plate, how complex are they, and when are the deadlines?

How do these match up in your life?

Let me know if you find this framework helpful.

Evolution Happens – How You Can Work With It

How is your life different from last year?

How is your life different from 5 years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Since you left college (or high school)?

How has your life evolved over time?

Is it an orderly progression of steps towards mastery?

Is it a series of plateaus punctuated by periods of change and confusion?

Are you where you thought you would be?

Did everything go according to plan?

Did you find challenges you didn’t expect?

We continue growing and developing as we age.

We’re not stuck with our initial decisions around “what we’re going to be when we grow up.”

We learn new things through experience – especially if we allow ourselves time to reflect on that experience.

If we manage to get some clarity around what we want our life to look like in the future, we’re able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

We don’t have to wait for a wrenching event outside of our control to move towards our desired future.

We may be able to evolve more gently.

How can you ease into your future?

Can you combine what you are doing now and leverage your existing skills and experience with what you want in your future?

Can you set aside some time to make future-building a priority? Are there particular skills you will need that requires more concentration than combination will allow?

As you ease into your future, what will you ultimately need to let go of?

What will you need to prepare to say “no” to?

What obligations and contracts will you need to break?

What relationships need to change? What relationships may need to be abandoned?

In an ideal world, we are all doing this evolution mindfully.

We are taking responsibility for our experience of life and for what our life looks like.

Often, we’re reacting to what life throws at us. That’s OK. We can’t predict all-the-things and we control very little.

The best we can do is take one more step towards our desired future.

Look around and see whether an opportunity has surfaced that helps us along the way.

Occasionally discard things from the pack that weigh us down.

And continually check to make sure we are still going in the direction of our dreams.

[Free Webinar!] More Courses, Less Cost: How to Provide More Content on a Limited Budget

New year, new training budget!  And a new class to help you figure out what to do with it.    Managing a budget has always been weirdly enjoyable for me – sort of like playing a jigsaw puzzle with money.  You add and subtract until you have the right number of resources to accomplish each goal, and where you don’t have cash flow, you hold things together with duct tape and creativity.

Join us on Wednesday, February 13 at 9AM Pacific.  Register with Training Magazine Network for free. The description is below. See you soon!

More Courses, Less Cost: How to Provide More Content on a Limited Budget

How is your 2019 training budget treating you?  It’s early in the year, and many L&D managers and directors are figuring out how to best apply their budget to their annual goals.  Many of us have limited funds, so we start asking ourselves questions like the following:

  1. Should I develop this course or learning program in house, or purchase existing content from a vendor?
  2. What kinds of content are out there, and how do I select content that will best serve my learners?
  3. How can I use course content catalogs to augment our existing curriculum?
  4. How do I develop more custom content without investing more of my budget?
  5. Can I save money by presenting some instructor-led classes in a virtual format?

In this session, Katrina Marie Baker, Senior Learning Evangelist of Adobe, will facilitate a discussion of these questions.  You will have an opportunity to share your ideas and hear what fellow attendees are doing with their training programs.  Katrina will also share real-life examples and practical tips for prioritizing, planning, and budgeting against your organization’s L&D priorities.

The post [Free Webinar!] More Courses, Less Cost: How to Provide More Content on a Limited Budget appeared first on eLearning.

Approaching Major Change

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks back. We started talking about how to handle conflicting major goals.

As I reflected on the conversation, I realized that in my life, I’ve handled major (somewhat planned) change using these three approaches:

  1. Combination.  Can I combine goals or activitie?
    • Example: If one goal is “Live in New Zealand for a few years” and another goal is “Become an herbalist” – maybe I can combine the goals “Study Maori traditional medicine in New Zealand.”
  2. Periodization.  This is the approach cited by those (like myself) who are big fans of focus and prioritization.  I find it works best for goals I can chunk into small steps and can tackle separately. 
    • Example: If a goal is to change careers to be able to spend more time with family: I can focus one period on getting clear on the transition, the next period on any necessary schooling (maybe further breaking that process down into the various skills required), the next period on working with a mentor to practice these new skills, the period after that practicing something specific, etc.
  3. Evolution. This is the process of combining old and new and is often done accidentally. 
    • Example: When I transitioned from History to IT, this was done via evolution (albeit not very planned). I had teaching skills I picked up when I served as a History Graduate Assistant and moved those to a new context (IT and corporate work). I let go of the old History context.  As my career evolved and opportunities arose, I would pick things up (e.g. project management) and let things go (e.g. eLearning development). 

I’m going to talk about each of these approaches and how they might combine over the next few posts.