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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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