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10 ways to create a breakthrough in your working life (and in the rest of it too).

10 ways to create a breakthrough in your working life (and in the rest of it too).

Here—in no particular order (except as I thought of them)—are 10 simple ways to tranform your working life. Try them.

  1. Refuse to accept conventional answers or comforting assumptions. If you want to develop, you need to be skeptical of anything that seems to offer a panacea or an easy way to get somewhere with no effort. It’s like all those “get rich quick” schemes: if something seems too good to be true, it is. Conventions, quick-fixes, past assumptions, and comforting platitudes are barriers in your way. Jump over them or break them down.
  2. Avoid anything that will fence you in. Always suspect the superficial. Deliberately keeping it simple makes people act stupid. The universe is a complex and surprising place. Great ideas can’t be reduced to soundbites and slogans. The deeper you go, the more likely that you will discover something of value.

    Snake-oil salesmen and con-artists have always offered really simple, easy ways to achieve things others know are tough and complicated. Why do people still buy? Laziness and greed, mostly. Wanting something for nothing. In breakthrough, as just about everywhere else, there are no free lunches.

    Conventional ways of seeing the world and all kinds of dogma are there to control people; to stop them from “making trouble” by having fresh, creative ideas. People who think they already know all the answers are oddly threatened by those who are sure they don’t. They often go to considerable trouble to try to force everyone else to think and act as they do. Your job is to jump those fences to find new fields to play in.

  3. Take risks all the time. No one ever made a breakthrough without taking some pretty big risks. What’s the worst that can happen? You fail. That’s not such a big deal. Everyone fails sometime. Failure is a sure sign you’re doing the right things to discover new ways forward. As the song goes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
  4. Forget looking for answers. Questions are so much more useful. Questions lure you on, poking and prodding you to discover more. Questions are like bits of grit in a bed: they stop you from resting comfortably with what you think you already know. Answers are a dead end. If you know the answer, there’s nowhere else to go.
  5. Become a specialist in asking stupid questions. They’re the very best ones. Worry about the answer, not the question. Lots of people never get beyond an initial state of confusion because they’re afraid to ask what seems to be a foolish question. Innocent people with a true desire to learn have the greatest chance of spectacular success. Who learns best and fastest? Little children. Your target must be to go through life learning at the same rate as an infant.
  6. Keep a wide open mind. Real change and growth often happen well away from where you look for them. You never know when an idea will hit you, or you’ll meet someone, completely by chance, who will have a profound and wonderful impact on your life. Don’t create your own artificial boundaries by deciding in advance what you will learn from and what you will ignore. Life doesn’t come in neat packages, clearly labeled “learning opportunity.”
  7. Be who you are, whoever and whatever that is. Your potential is unique. Only fools try to make something of themselves by slavishly copying what others are doing and saying. You won’t stand out by fitting in. Learn from others, sure. But never try to be anyone but the best possible version of yourself.
  8. Make mistakes joyfully. The person who’s afraid to make a mistake is afraid to make anything. You won’t get it right first time. You probably still won’t get it right the third, fifth or tenth time. But if you keep trying—joyfully making those mistakes and learning more each time—you will get it right in the end.
  9. Dare to let go. To grow and develop it’s essential to let go of wherever you are now. Let the future through. Allow the universe to change you. Don’t try to force it into channels you think are safe or acceptable. Breakthrough cannot come until you deliberately walk away from the comfortable and the predictable. If you lack the courage to let go, you’ll never make a breakthrough. We all have a tendency to hang on to success and go on repeating it as long as we can. Resist it. Say “thanks” and move on. Don’t cling to your achievements. Let them go to make way for more failures and new ideas. The achievements we cling to and repeat are the ones that will soon come to be the greatest failures of all; plus we’ll have spoiled the recollection of them for all time.
  10. Shut down the critic inside your head. Ignore it. Tell it to go pester someone else. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore ideas and possibilities that your inner critic tells you are useless. Constant judgment and criticism are deadly enemies of breakthrough. Listening to your inner critic will convince you every idea you have, every opportunity to consider, everything you do and say, are worthless. The truly worthless element is that nagging inner voice. Sometimes the best way to deal with it is just to laugh.

Next week I’ll give you 10 more routes to a personal and work breakthrough.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and working life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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