Over the last few years I have participated in various programs such as Enterprise Wise in Cambridge where people have shared their wisdom of what makes them effective and successful. Here’s a selection of those tips:
Procrastinate – Take Breaks
Procrastination boosts divergent thinking (NY). Jihae Shin surveyed employees on how often they procrastinated. She, then, asked their supervisors to rate their creativity. Procrastinators were rated significantly higher in terms of creativity than pre-crastinators. In an experiment, Jihae then asked people to develop new business ideas. Some of the participants were randomly told to start right away. Other participants were given 5 minutes to first play a game. When everyone had submitted their ideas, they were rated in view of their originality. The procrastinators’ ideas were 28% more creative. But when people played games before being told about the task, there was no rise in their creativity. Here’s the crux: it was only when the participants first learned about the task and then put it off, that they thought of more original ideas.
Change Negative into Positive Thinking
Some tasks or projects that land on our desks can be overwhelming. We may think we can’t do them. We may become afraid of failing or we are carried away by worrying that we won’t perform well.
Here are 2 solutions for you:
- Tackle an overwhelming task or project as a challenge.
- Approach a difficult task or project as a learning experience to gain insight and to improve your skills.
The second solution works wonders for me.
Another tip: write down 1 to 3 things that went well with/in your work on a daily basis.
Seek Help and Support
No woman or man is an island. Get advice, emotional support and hands-on help to get a project off the ground or finished. Have you read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In? I have even read her acknowledgement pages and I was truly surprised by the amount of hands-on help she sought in order to write her bestseller.
“It is the calm captain that sails his ship through the rough sea.”
If you get stressed and start a downward spiral of negative thinking try the following method:
- Notice the reality of the stressor and your response. Recognise that you are probably activating your “Out-of-Control – Mode” with your thoughts.
- Take 4 short breaths in and 1 long breath out – repeat 5 times. Visualize how you are moving your energy pendulum back to centre until you feel you have truly calmed down.
- After re-gaining control ask yourself “Ok, now how can we sort this out?” – make a plan and move into a “Doer – Mode”.
Eat Your Frog
Every day, single out the worst task – for example a task that you have avoided doing – on your to-do list and do this task first thing in the morning. Remember, the worst task may be the most difficult one, so you are more likely to put it off. The first thing you do at work can set the tone for the rest of the day. As Mark Twain legendarily said: “If the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you.”
“You’ve got to cut the elephant before you can eat it” – that’s the best advice my PhD supervisor gave me. I took this one-liner by heart when I had to finish my PhD thesis in two months: I noted in the calendar every milestone: when I had to have each chapter finished, reviewed by a friend/editor/supervisor, and re-edited. I also agreed on hand-back deadlines with the people who were so kind to read my chapters. This set-up gave me and my reviewers accountability. I reviewed my calendar plan daily in order to know whether I was on target and adjusted the plan if necessary. Most importantly, I left enough time before the big hand-in day, a time buffer, in case I had to readjust my calendar.
Even now when I am working on a project in a team, we spend a good amount of time on planning a project, clarifying tasks, setting detailed milestones and deadlines. We thereby think through possible situations where things don’t go to plan and how we would deal with it so we can mitigate risks.
According to Richard Mullender, who has worked as a trainer for the National Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Unit at Scotland Yard, most people debrief failure but few people debrief success. It is particularly helpful to debrief success when working in a team in order to understand what makes you and your team perform well.