When Do You Say Yes?

I was at a client event this past week with several other consultants. Over a dinner, we discussed some of our choices—when did we say yes and when did we say no.

I said something like this: “I have been saying yes more often to new and different experiences, as long as they meet certain criteria. I need to be able to stay safe, and if it’s work, to make enough money. I have found that by trying new things, I expand my options and learn new things. Saying yes has helped me.”

I wasn’t the only one. One person at our table has taken several fascinating scuba diving trips and changed jobs about a year ago to something she is great at and loves. Another person has said “No” to longer runs, such as marathons, and “Yes” to many shorter runs, which provide her great satisfaction and the right kind of exercise. Another person said yes to a client opportunity and built a whole new side of her business.

Yes doesn’t always mean greatness in your life. Sometimes, No is better. And, saying Yes, especially when something is new and different, can create new opportunities you didn’t expect.

Think about the past weeks and months. What did you say Yes to? What did you say No to? How did you choose?

I have a talk about how individuals can manage their project portfolio. It’s called “Say Yes or Say No: What to Do When Faced With the Impossible.” I have a little activity in it: I ask people to stand up and say Yes to others. I then ask them to say No. Then, I ask them to choose which. When we debrief, people say things such as:

  • Saying Yes felt great. (I want to please other people.)
  • Saying No felt great. (I want to take time for my work and not feel pressure.)
  • Choosing was difficult. (I don’t want to feel under pressure and I don’t want to let people down.)
  • Choosing was easy. (I said what I wanted to say.)

That context is about work. When I ask people to do the same activity in a change workshop, I ask them to apply this question/activity for their lives and work. Then, the debrief is a little different:

  • Saying Yes was scary.
  • Saying No was safe.
  • I’m not sure how to choose.

Not everyone says this. But, enough people say it that my conclusion is: We are better at knowing how or what to choose for work than we are for our personal lives.

That doesn’t surprise me. I don’t have a strategic plan for my life. I have values by which I live. For work, I have a strategy. It’s clearer to me what to select for my transforming projects, growing projects, and keep the lights on work. For my personal life, those choices are more difficult.

It’s worth it for me to understand when I say Yes. Maybe it will be worth it to you, to consider and examine your choices.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: When do you say Yes?


What Do You Expect of Yourself?

I announced that my estimation book was done and ready for sale today. (See Predicting the Unpredictable is Available.)

When I started to manage my book projects myself (as opposed to working with a publisher), I was not sure what to expect. I didn’t know how long anything would take. I didn’t know if I could do it all myself.

I now have a group of people who help me: cover designer, print layout person, developmental editor, copyeditor, and reviewers, who help me. Just as writing code is not a single-person project, neither is writing a book.

I wasn’t sure how I would do the work of publishing a book. I was sure I could succeed. I have learned more than I thought I needed to know when I started. I’ve had a blast doing it, too.

My expectations were that I could do this. I would find a way around obstacles. I would learn. I would do what I needed to, in order to release the books. I have succeeded. Now, I need to market better. Another work in progress.

We live up—or d0wn—to our expectations of ourselves. If we don’t believe we can accomplish something, we often can’t. When we believe we can, we often do.

For me, I can accomplish these things because I believe in myself. Sure, I have doubts, the same way anyone else has. I use the idea of “anything in my way is an obstacle I can remove.” That’s the optimistic mindset and the growth mindset.

When you start something new, do you embrace it? Do you expect you will succeed? Or, do you dread it, “knowing” you will not succeed? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle between excitement and dread. I sometimes am.

When you have the pit-in-the-stomach feeling, that place between excitement and dread, or actual dread, what do you do? I envision myself succeeding. Once I see the success, I make a list of what I need to do to achieve that success. Maybe a list isn’t for you. I love my lists. Use whatever mechanism you need to discover the risks and manage them. Or, maybe you need to not do this thing that fills you with dread.

There are plenty of things I will not do: ziplines, for example. I didn’t like them before I had vertigo. Now, they scare me, never mind the dread part. Nope, not even going to try.

We fulfill our expectations of ourselves. What are your expectations, for now and for the future?

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: What do you expect of yourself?


How Do You Build Your Resilience?

We all have some resilience. How much?

I am a creature of habit for many parts of my life. I like my routines. I like having the same breakfast every day. I like eating one of the same three lunches each week. I can change what I eat. I choose not to.

I bet when you drive and encounter a detour, you may be surprised or even flustered for a few seconds. Then you go with the detour.

We think of resilience as “bouncing back.” What if we considered it adapting to change?

Bouncing “back” is more difficult when you have a big change. If you decide to change a job, you may bounce differently than if you get laid off. When you initiate the change, you may find it easier to bounce. When the change happens to you? It’s more difficult. You might never return to where you were. (As an example, I am never going to live without vertigo. I can adapt to my new life, but I can never return to the old life.)

Satir Change ModelWhen we initiate change, we are in control. We may have even thought about the change in advance. If you look at the Satir Change Model, by the time we initiate the change, we may already have the Transforming Idea.

I find it easier to be resilient when I have the transforming idea already. I’ve been mulling around what I need to do to change, already in Chaos. Making the change is similar to a “Simple Matter of Programming” once you know the algorithm. I know what I have to do. I may not know how to do it, but I have the Transforming Idea. That gets me to Practice and Integration.

Contrast that reaction to a self-initiated change to one where you are not in charge of the change. When you have a health crisis, you get laid off, even if someone doesn’t choose you for a job you interviewed for, you are at the mercy of someone or something else. You didn’t choose this change. It chose you.

You need your self-esteem to manage your reaction to change that happens to you. You need to build your resilience skills. And, if it’s one of a series of changes that happen to you, you need the courage to manage one more challenge.

How much change can you handle? How much is too much change, so you cannot accommodate the changes in your life or at work?

Everyone has their own level. I bet that level changes throughout your life. As you learn how to be more resilient, you can handle more change. If you are high on self-esteem, you can manage more change.

There is no right or wrong answer. However you answer—and I am sure this is context dependent—that is the right answer for you.

All of the people who have commented on my Inside a Vertigo Attack page have managed their resilience in the face of vertigo attacks. They have found a way to continue to live, and in most cases, to thrive.

You build your resilience by recognizing you are in change and by being as resilient as you can be. Yes, practice counts.

This is why we should not make things too easy for our kids. We should not give medals for just showing up. We can help them learn to use the growth mindset, so they can coach themselves and learn from their mistakes.

We need to learn to coach ourselves into a hopeful mindset. As we use hope and the growth mindset, we can become more resilient. We can adapt better.

Practicing change helps me build my resilience.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, this is the question of the week: How do you build your resilience?


Who Do You Compete With?

I’m not happy with my endurance. I decided to work on my leg strength.  I decided to take walks in the evening after supper. 

The first two nights, it rained. Not good for building a habit. I finally started the third night.

I was tired that night—I had worked out hard that morning. I walked a total of 7 minutes. I had plenty of excuses: it was cold and I hadn’t worn enough clothes; I was tired from my morning workout; my knee hurt. Like I said, plenty of excuses.

The second night, I felt better. I asked Mark to time me because I wanted to improve my time. I easily did what I had done the night before, in about 6 minutes. I added to my walk and clocked 10 minutes. 

That’s not much improvement. On the other hand, I felt better and had improved my time. (It was still cold the second night.)

I compete with myself. How can I do this thing better or faster? How can I improve in my consulting, training, writing, anything I do?

When I started writing, I took days to complete one article. Days! As I became a more facile writer, I reduced that time to hours. Now, I often take just one hour to finish an article. That’s 1000 words or so in one hour.

I decided to learn to write faster because I wanted to finish more. (It’s all about the flow.)

When I compete with myself, I have the opportunity to understand myself better. I can apply the growth mindset. When I compete with other people, I am more likely to see what I don’t do, rather than what I already do or my possibilities for improvement.

I’m not perfect. I make writing mistakes. I don’t make my workouts a habit when I travel. On the other hand, I improve over time.

I find that competing with myself works for me. I get feedback. I can see my reality and not fool myself. 

Do you compete with anyone? If so, who is it? What would it take for you to compete with yourself, so you can improve over time, just compared to you?

(Yes, if I was using perfect grammar, I would say, “With whom do you compete?” And, that’s not how many of us speak.)

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: “Who do you compete with?”


What Don’t You Say?

I went to the grocery store earlier this week. There were no available handicapped spaces. (I know, what a surprise!) I parked in a regular space. I had just enough room to take the rollator out of my car.

When I returned to my car, there was a different car next to me. The car was running, the driver inside. I had less space to put the rollator in the car. I thought, “What the heck. I’ll try anyway without asking the person to move.”

Of course, as I put the rollator in the car, I lost my balance and fell against the car next to me. The passenger side window opened, and the driver said, “That was loud! What did you do to my car? Is my car okay?”

I said, “Yes, it’s fine. I fell against your car. I have nothing sharp in that side of my jacket. Your car is just fine.”

She said in a very patronizing voice, “We all need to be more careful.”

I said, “I agree.” I didn’t think there was any point in explaining what had happened, and that her car was never in danger from me.

I don’t blame her. I bet she was surprised when I fell into the car. I don’t have black and blue marks. I didn’t hit my head. I just fell into the car. No one expects that. Certainly not if you’re just sitting in your car.

In this case, my best bet was not to say too much. Sometimes, when I explain, people get all excited and want to call for medical help. If I’m awake, speaking, and moving, I probably don’t need medical help. In this case, because I didn’t quite have enough room to move, as I put the rollator in the car, I got dizzy and didn’t quite maintain my stance. It happens. It’s one of the “benefits” of living with vertigo.

I have discovered something important, at least for me. I agree with people much more than I used to. (Maybe I am maturing? Probably not!)

The more I agree and don’t argue, the more I consider other peoples’ positions, the fewer arguments I have. This doesn’t work for everything and everyone. It works more often than I would have imagined.

I’ve been practicing what I don’t say.

I didn’t argue with this woman. I agreed when she said we all need to be careful. I agree with that. The fact that I was as careful as I know how to be? Well, that’s irrelevant to this conversation. I didn’t say it.

If you, like me, tend to discuss and argue, you might try not saying those things. You still can say anything you want. I have found it an interesting experiment. Since I am continuing to experiment, I am still considering what not to say. I continue to be a work in progress.

Dear adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question this week: What don’t you say? You might have more choices than you realize.


How Are You Growing?

We get caught up in our daily routines. I certainly do. Every so often, I have to ask myself, “Where have I stretched, where have I tried to grow?”

One of the reasons I like to go to conferences is that I get a chance to try out ideas on people. What will they think? Am I helping them understand? When I help other people, I always help me, too. I learn from their growth.

I’ve already explained that learning new things increases your neuroplasticity. I like challenging myself to see what I can do that’s new and different. Not quite every day, but close to that.

One way I like to learn is by teaching, consulting or coaching other people. I’m teaching a workshop this week, and some of the participants are a little stuck. It’s a workshop on how to use agile and lean. These folks are stuck in their thinking about “how you do software projects.” They often talk about big non-functional requirements or planning the infrastructure first. In agile and lean, the smaller the requirement, the better. We don’t plan too much of the infrastructure first (I don’t plan much at all), but do the simplest thing possible and then refactor if we have to come back to this area of the code.

In agile and lean, we don’t do bad work. We don’t do unnecessary work. Because we can’t tell in advance what is unnecessary, we do the simplest thing possible.

That requires a change in mindset. That requires growth in a way that these folks have not tried until now.

I am using the words “until now” many times in this workshop. “Until now, you haven’t tried small features. Do you think you can today?” “Until now, you haven’t tried evolving the architecture from the features. Do you think you can today?” “Until now, you haven’t tried relative estimation. What happened today when you tried?”

I’m not expecting perfection. I’m expecting that they will try. (These people are.)

That’s what happens when you grow. You change your mindset to the growth mindset. You experiment. You challenge your assumptions and see where that leads you. It’s sometimes fun, sometimes challenging, and often, hard work.

That’s how I know I grow. I try something, look at the results and decide what to do next. I work hard. I get tired from the challenges. I keep going, because for me, learning and growing are key to my happiness and success. They may not be for you.

Each of us has to grow and change at some point in our lives. Something external might happen that prompts a change. Or, you might just wake up one day and say, “I want to do something different!” That’s an internal prompt.

When you think about growing or changing, think about how you learn. Up until now, you couldn’t do something. After you learn and grow, you can. You might still be in the practice and integration phase. You might not master something new immediately, but you are growing.

That my dear adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: How are you growing?


What Do You Look Forward To?

I set an appointment with a potential client to discuss their situation. I said in my email, “I’m looking forward to our discussion.”

I look forward to discussing people’s challenges. I look forward to my workouts. I look forward to my talks, workshops, and writing. 

The real question is why do I look forward to all these things? What do they have in common?

I enjoy discussing client issues. The act of problem description, generating possible solutions for their concerns, all of that energizes me.

My workouts—even if they are difficult—energize me.

I love to speak because I understand more what I am thinking. I love to teach because I learn every time I do. 

With all of these, I find more energy and feel satisfied.

With writing and speaking, I don’t always know where an article is going. Same thing with my speaking–it doesn’t matter what I practice, I say something different in the moment. Writing and speaking help me explore, helps me see possibilities.

When I describe what I look forward to, it’s about energy, satisfaction, exploration. I have autonomy and develop mastery.

I work to master problem-solving with my clients. I work to master my writing and speaking and workouts. Note that I don’t say I *have* mastered these things. I learn every day. I am on my way to mastery. 

Are there things I don’t look forward to? Absolutely. They are things that reduce my energy and don’t add to my mastery. One example is cleaning my office. I need to do so every so often, but I don’t learn from it, I don’t gain energy. Even after I finish, my satisfaction is limited. , and I don’t have much satisfaction, even after I finish. 

Thinking about what you look forward to might help you understand what energizes you, what you want to do with your life, what you want to master.

We have choices about what to do with our time. When we make choices that we enjoy, that we look forward to, we create a positive feedback loop that feels like an upward spiral: we do something we like, we get energy from it, so we can do more things we like.

When we make choices we don’t look forward to, it’s still called a positive feedback loop, but it’s a downward spiral: we do something we don’t like, it’s hard to find the energy to do something different, we do fewer things we like.

Are you doing things you can look forward to? Are you doing things that create an upward spiral in your life? If not, what would you have to change to create that upward spiral?

That’s the question of the week this week: What do you look forward to?


Are You Working on What Matters?

You have many ways to spend your time. You might work, have fun at sports or hobbies, spend time with family. How do you choose?

I choose to spend my time on different kinds of “work” depending on who I am focusing on at the moment:

  • I write and publish books to help many people solve problems.
  • I develop and deliver workshops and keynotes/talks for some people to solve problems.
  • I develop coaching services for clients so they can solve problems.
  • I read for work.
  • I read for pleasure.
  • I spend time with family and friends because it supports my soul.

I also maintain my website, write newsletters, and perform myriad other tasks to manage my business and life.

I often ask these questions:

  • Does this work matter?
  • Do I want to do this work?
  • Am I the right person to do this work?
  • Is this the most important work right now?

These questions go to your purpose. Since I know my purpose in life, I can make decisions pretty easily. If I don’t know about this work, chances are good it’s not the right work, or I’m not the right person for it. (There’s a reason I don’t have a separate newsletter page for this site. I’m not going to do it, and I haven’t yet hired someone to do it for me. It’s not the most important work right now for me.)

I often meet people who are stuck in a spiral: they have too much work to do. They start a bunch of things and don’t finish enough. Because they don’t finish enough, they have more work to do. They don’t feel energized by their work, so they don’t want to do it. That causes them to not finish enough work. Eventually, they either leave that job, have a nervous breakdown, sell the house (if it’s too much work around the house), or give up.

You can stop this spiral by selecting work you can do, should do, and want to do. We all make choices about how we live and work. Are you making conscious choices?

The last couple of months, I’ve been writing books, developing and delivering new workshops, developing and delivering new keynotes, and learning how to write fiction. I’ve been busy.

And, every single day, I make choices about what I need to do. This way, I am always working on what matters most.

It’s not easy to do this, day in and day out. And, making these choices helps me achieve the goals I have.

Consider your decisions. Are you working on the most important work for you, right now?

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: Are you working on what matters?


What Do You Give Yourself Credit For?

When I write books, I write some words I don’t need in this book. (Sometimes, not any book…) Sometimes, I try to write a Pragmatic Manager, and I edit it so much that there are plenty of words I don’t use. I keep files on my hard drive with names such as “StufftoUseSomeday.” I get credit for all the words I write.

When I give myself credit, I acknowledge my work. I have learned something, so I can succeed better the next time. I might use this work in the future. Even if I don’t, that’s fine. I acknowledge the work I finished.

The acknowledgement is critical. If you do acknowledge yourself, you see how much you have grown/changed. If you don’t, you can’t know. I would rather know.

If you don’t give yourself credit, you don’t see your reality.

It’s easy to say, “I haven’t finished <the book> or <the code> or <the tests> or whatever. That doesn’t help you finish. When you give yourself credit, you make it possible for you to finish what remains. That’s because you take an optimistic perspective.

What do you give yourself credit for? Maybe, just as importantly, what do you not give yourself credit for?

Here are things you might not give yourself credit for:

  • Experiments, where you learned something, even if wasn’t what you wanted to learn.
  • Attempts, where you tried something, just to see if you could.
  • Any creative attempt—and yes, I count development and testing as creative work, not just the arts—where you were unsure of yourself.
  • Something physical, where you might not succeed.

All of those areas and more are where you might consider your reaction to success or not-success-yet.

The more you consider each attempt a learning, and not a failure, the more you can learn. The more you say, “I get credit for this,” whatever this is, you know you can learn from your actions.

Every so often I return to the words in my “Someday” files. I almost never use them as is. I often use the ideas they encapsulate.

Even when I “fail,” I can learn. This is the growth mindset.

BTW, you don’t want to know how many words I killed in this post.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, this is your question this week: What do you give yourself credit for?


Who Do You Call?

I have several reviewers for my email newsletters (this one and the Pragmatic Manager). I have a variety of book reviewers so I don’t release something stupid. I have people I can call when my vertigo goes haywire. They are part of my professional and personal support network.

Who do you call: when you need a hand, when you want to celebrate, and when you need to whine?

You may need several people to call. It’s pretty rare that we can find one person to meet all of our support needs.

I have found that creating my support system is critical to my professional, personal, and health success. (You might not need a health support system. Chances are good that you are not a dizzy broad!)

You build a support system when you want feedback (what should you keep or change), coaching (exploring options), other kinds of help, and venting.

How do you decide who to call, who to have in your support system? Consider these questions:

  • Where do you need feedback?
  • How often do you need feedback?
  • Are you willing to offer feedback, also?

I have asked my workshop participants to tell me when I need to drink water. I am on new meds, but with my previous meds, my voice would get slurry. I didn’t always notice it before my participants did.

I always ask for book feedback. For the program management book, I have alpha and beta reviewers. For Predicting the Unpredictable, I only asked for my editors’ feedback. I sometimes ask for article feedback. I have regular reviewers for my newsletters.

When I ask for feedback, I set my reviewers’ expectations. Do I need feedback in a few days, tomorrow, a week, next month? Different sizes and pieces of writing require different feedback.

When I do physical therapy or work out in a gym, I get feedback each week. I like this kind of feedback. Given the “wrong” way to exercise and the “right” way, I almost always choose the “wrong” way. It’s not incorrect; it’s less effective than I need.

I offer feedback, so I can build my support system that way, too. You don’t have to offer feedback. I find it helpful to offer, sometimes before I ask, sometimes after.

Here are several ways to build your support system, your network of trusted people:

  • Use professional meetings to make acquaintances who might turn into colleagues and friends. For years, I volunteered at Boston SPIN. I found many reviewers there. Now, I have colleagues I have met through conferences, in online groups, and in workshops. The more you leave your office, the more people you can find to coach and mentor you. (You can do this online. I have a reviewer from 1994, whom I met back in the software-engineering newsgroup days. Sometimes, it’s more difficult to build rapport online.)
  • Ask your friends if they would help or know someone who could help. When you ask for help, you give that person a gift. Asking for help is a sign of strength. It also relieves your friends from having to support you.
  • Tell people you want feedback, when it makes sense to do so.

You’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned family, personal friends, or your faith. You need all three, and they are not sufficient. When you grow your support network, you open other opportunities. I have found that only depending on my family and personal friends puts pressure on them, and sometimes on me. When I have more people in my support system, I have better results.

You don’t have to call Ghostbusters. Well, unless you need them. I have yet to need Ghostbusters. I need professional and personal feedback.

That my dear adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: Who do you call?