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Focusing on What Matters (and Ignoring What Does Not)

Focusing on What Matters (and Ignoring What Does Not)

As I look back at this week’s postings on Slow Leadership, I notice that most of them were concerned with helping people stop wasting their time and energy on fruitless endeavors.

Take the first post, entitled: To Succeed, First Forget About Leadership Technique. In it, I argued that belief that success—in just about any business or leadership —comes from one simple source (applying the correct “leadership technique), is both self-serving and erroneous. It is self-serving because it is mostly spread by those who sell training in such techniques, or write about them; and erroneous because it is usually based on a false understanding of causality. Besides, because it does not work. Technique is a very minor part of leadership, as this posting seeks to show.

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Of course, most of what people believe, whether about work or anything else, is simply what they were encouraged to believe at an early age—augmented by what people around them believe (or say they do). The fear of being seen as “different,” of not “fitting in,” encourages a great many mistakes and considerable heartache. Now I am retired, it is far easier for me to maintain an independent position. When I was employed in various large organizations, I was almost as willing as everyone else to suppress my own thinking in favor of appearing suitably orthodox. I say “almost as willing,” because I always had a reputation for being awkward and not quite fitting in, which doubtless held my career back at some points. That is why I warmed to the idea that The Wonder of Letting Go might help people lessen much of the stress and turmoil in their lives. As I wrote:

The first step in making life and work fun again is the —and the —for may people. It is to let go of whatever you have today and move into the future. And what you will most likely find is that many of the things you were clinging to so desperately turn out to be no loss; and some of the best of them bob along with you anyway. You don’t need to cling to them. They are part of who you are.

Encouraging employees to use their intelligence is still an unusual idea, but it too can help people focus on what matters and ignore what does not. In Why Not Let People Use Their Intelligence?, I suggested that companies who recruit smart people, then deny them the chance to use their intelligence, for whatever reason, are purposely throwing away large amounts of shareholders’ money and should be treated appropriately. Not a very radical idea, it seems to me, but certainly an unfamiliar one.

One or two people had difficulties in grasping the difference I suggested between business problems and business predicaments in my article: Problems, Predicaments and Sleight of Hand. I can best sum it up like this.

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  • Problems have solutions, even if you don’t presently know what they are. For example, asking how to get a certain level of shipments to a customer in a given time period at the lowest possible price is a problem.
  • Predicaments have no solutions, and never will have. An example of a predicament (with no solution that is either possible or that will remain useful for very long) would be how to maintain a consistent level of market share at or above 12%. It’s a predicament because whatever action you take to make it happen will prompt counter action from others to thwart you; and the market circumstances are constantly changing anyway.

I suggested, therefore, that all the most important issues in business are actually predicaments. To treat them as problems and apply supposed solutions is to be doomed to consistent failure and frustration.

Many of our difficulties in the workplace are self-inflicted, and arise primarily because we do not devote either the time or the energy required to think about them clearly enough. Hamburger Management, with its emphasis on quick action, simple answers, and continual cost-cutting merely magnifies that human tendency. Only by slowing down and using our minds can we finally sort out what matters from everything else. And once we do that, we will, I believe, be surprised at how much time we previously devoted to nonsensical activities.

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Focusing only on what matters is the first, most essential step in creating enough space in your working day to allow you to create a civilized way of working. And it goes far beyond removing minor distractions. To focus on what matters, you must first decide what that is. That is why maintaining an open, independent mind is so important. Don’t be taken in by what most people do, unless you have first verified for yourself that it is sensible and necessary. After all, most people follow the crowd— and that is often a poor choice for having a life that is better than most.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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