Day after day, Bill sticks to his work routine like few people can. Co-workers tease him for his same-time arrival and departure each day, but they mean it as a compliment. They’re awed by his ability to do the same job over and over with little comment, no complaints, and consistently high quality. Says a co-worker: “The guy’s a machine.”
This is good, right?
To a point.
It’s easy to love the solid work ethic, predictable performance, and steady productivity. But too much self-enforced routine can move the mind to autopilot and render a person’s creative powers pretty much useless. That positive predictability can become a groove that turns into a rut that keeps Bill from ever seeing new ways of doing things that could produce better results.
Call it too much of a good thing. When a strength is overused and used exclusively, it can become a liability.
Look around and you’ll see plenty of examples.
That skillful analyst who revels in data and spreadsheets? She brings objectivity to the decision-making process, which is great. But she often gets stuck in an endless loop of over-analysis. She seeks data and only data for every decision — even for decisions that call for experience, intuition, and anecdotal information.
That creative type who’s always coming up with new ideas? He’s energy personified, and his presence adds spark to every meeting. That’s fantastic. But with his creativity running full tilt all the time, he zooms past the part where you’re supposed to focus on just one idea, develop it in detail, and get it going. The ideas keep coming, but nothing gains traction.
Responsible Robert? He ends up taking on so much work that he can’t do any of it well. Organized Olivia? She’s so organized that she’s one file folder away from being a control freak. Empathetic Edward? He spends so much time listening to people and their problems that he’s worn out.
What about your greatest strengths? Are you using one of them so constantly and exclusively that you’ve taken it to its counterproductive extreme?
If the answer is yes, here’s great news: As soon as you ease back on that one overused strength, you’ll give all of your other strengths more room to step forward and go to work.
By Tom Terez • Contact
1. Thou shalt honor thyself
Your brain can process 100 trillion instructions per second while using the equivalent of just 12 watts of power. Your heart beats 100,000 times per day, carrying your blood some 12,000 miles. You’re able to imagine, create, communicate, and love. Take time to be in awe of yourself.
2. Thou shalt be true to thyself
Only one person has your portfolio of experience, know-how, skills, and style. You’re in charge of putting it to work without compromise. If you need inspiration, consider Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Edison. These greats (and many others) enriched the world by making the most of their differences.
3. Thou shalt speak up
When you have a good idea, share it. When you have a question, ask it. When your help is needed, offer it. When you envision a better approach, put it in spoken word. Your voice needs to be heard.
4. Thou shalt strive to simplify
Take a fresh look at your schedule, and eliminate activities that seems important but aren’t. An action is either mission-driven or mere motion. Keep the former, ditch the latter.
5. Thou shalt assume the best
Few people wake up and declare: “I’m going to make this a horrible day for myself and my co-workers.” Most people want good days in which they use their know-how, exercise their creativity, and make a positive contribution. Assume and expect the best, and you’ll see more of it all around you.
6. Thou shalt fix processes, not people
It’s tempting to blame that missed deadline or fouled-up project on a nearby colleague. But the fact is, problems almost always occur because of process issues, not people. So cut your co-workers some slack — and enlist their help in analyzing and improving how things get done in your workplace.
7. Thou shalt serve a greater purpose
Henry David Thoreau put it well: “It is not enough to be busy — so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” What is the mission that gives meaning to all of your work-related busyness?
8. Thou shalt be interested
Want to be interesting? Then be interested — in people, processes, clients, customers, competitors, and more. Open your eyes wider. Be more curious. Seek new challenges. Start more conversations. Make a point of asking questions rather than making statements. Turn your work world, and the larger world, into your own lifelong school.
9. Thou shalt honor time away from work
You’re a human being, not a human doing. Treat yourself accordingly by rounding out how you spend your time. Balance your time at work with time at home, outdoors, in the community, and elsewhere. You’ll recharge your battery while gaining new insights and perspectives that inform your work.
10. Thou shalt be thine own best manager
The sooner you take responsibility for your own happiness and fulfillment, the sooner you’ll achieve it.
By Tom Terez • Contact
The next time a situation gets in your face and you feel like reacting right away, don’t.
Press an internal pause button. Take time to reflect, decide what to do, and then take action.
Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. Why not take some extra time so your responses help and don’t hurt?
Of course, if someone yells “fire,” you won’t sit back in deep thought.
But most situations are not that sudden. They allow at least a little time for useful thinking before you take action.
So the next time a co-worker takes a dig at your work, take a deep breath, ask them to explain further, thank them for their input, and tell them you’ll think about it. No need to get defensive or take a crack at their work.
The next time you get tongue-tied in a presentation or meeting, or you get your facts wrong, cut yourself some slack. If you have to circle back and correct things, do so with your head held high. There will be many more presentations and meetings where you can get everything right.
If someone cuts you off on the drive to work, no big deal, give them room and let it go. This is a little thing, but when you make a habit of staying calm with the little things, it’s easier to do so in the bigger situations.
Remember, it’s not how we act that makes us great. It’s how we react.
By Tom Terez • Contact
When is it easy to run uphill? When you can’t see the hill.
I learned this lesson as a runner — but I’ve used it the most in my work life, whenever I take on big projects. Perhaps you can put it to work too.
Several years ago, I started running with a few other early risers. We’d hit the wooded trail before sunup, using flashlights and headlamps to show the way.
We did our running in the aptly named Highbanks Metropark, where the glacier-shaped terrain goes up and down.
I had run these trails many times before, but in daylight. They always wore me out.
Darkness changed all that. The hills seemed flatter. I felt stronger. And I’d finish my runs with more energy and a greater sense of accomplishment.
What was happening? With the flashlight beam reaching just 10 feet ahead, I couldn’t see those upcoming inclines. So I wasn’t experiencing the hill-induced anxiety that can wear on mind and body. Everything seemed easier.
It can happen at work as well – wherever there are big projects or looming deadlines or anything that involves a steep climb.
If you stare too far ahead, fixating on the full challenge in all its enormity, it can seem overwhelming. Intimidating. Exhausting.
So try some self-imposed darkness. Focus solely on the next few steps. Get those done. Look to what’s next. Take more steps. Repeat.
You’ll need a project plan of some sort. Think of the on-paper plan as your trail map, and the steps themselves as your trail.
Then get going and keep going, one step after another.
The actual flashlight is optional.
By Tom Terez • Contact
Ask people in any workplace where there’s big room for improvement, and nearly all of them will point to problematic communication.
- We don’t communicate well.
- Leadership nevers tells us anything.
- If people would communicate, we’d be a better team.
The fact is, communication breakdowns (real or perceived) aren’t problems in themselves — they’re symptoms of problems. It’s an important distinction. If you’re going to effect real improvement, you need to get to the root of what’s really going on.
So the next time you hear that “there’s not enough communication around here,” put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and begin to ask questions. “When you say communication, what exactly do you mean?” “In what way is communication breaking down?” “Why is this happening?”
Just be ready for the answers, because you might hear some heavy stuff.
- When I ask the same question to two managers, I get two conflicting answers.
- Our workplace is divided by status, and I feel like a second-class citizen.
- My job is seen by management as being unimportant.
- People don’t value my opinion.
- Management is trying to hide something.
- There’s a serious lack of trust in our workplace.
It’s not easy being a Sherlock Holmes type who tries to decode what’s being said when people talk on the surface about “communication problems.” But meaningful improvement depends on it.
By Tom Terez • Contact