How Do You Persist?

I’ve been in a couple of Fitbit challenges to see who can walk “most” in a work-week. I’ve enjoyed them and have pushed myself a little each week, to see if I can do just a little bit more every day.

One of the problems I have is that by Friday, I’m tired. I’ve been about 1000 steps over my daily goal for each day. I wouldn’t have thought that would be such a big deal—but it is. Given my vertigo, going over my daily goal stretches my capabilities. I’m happy about it, and it prompted me to think about persistence.

My ability to persist, even when things get a little crazy, is what keeps me going. I do these things to persist:

  • Walk in small chunks of time. I almost never walk for  more than 15 minutes at a time. I increased a couple of my walks to 16 minutes this past week, and that’s enough.
  • Focus on this small goal. I don’t try to do anything else when I walk. I walk. (I suspect I might walk  more if I could listen to podcasts, etc while I walk, but I want to be able to hear the traffic.)
  • Monitor my progress during the day. I check my Fitbit before I take my pre-lunch walk, before my before-dinner walk, and just before my after-dinner walk.
  • Create opportunities for walking. I always have something to drink in my office. It’s green tea in the morning, seltzer in the afternoon. That means I have the opportunity (need!) to get up several times a day, which can help me create an opportunity to walk.

I walk differently now than I used to work out. I used to do my workout in the morning, all at once. I could spend 60-90 minutes and be done for the day. I can’t tell if I am healthier, but this new way of walking works better for my vertigo, so I can continue to walk.

When I reflected on this list, I realized I do the same thing with my writing, my consulting, my coaching, all my work. I might have a large goal (write a specific book), and I break that into small goals I can accomplish during a given day. When I create workshops, I create drafts of the simulation(s) separately from the handout. I can then iterate on both.

My approach to my fitness and my work helps me finish things. I rarely start something I don’t finish that I think is important. I can almost always make 15 minutes at a time to walk or write or design or whatever.

I suspect that one of your concerns might be, “How do I find 15 minutes in my schedule to persist doing the thing I want to do?” You don’t need to make 15 minutes the timebox. Maybe you want to start with 5 minutes. Or 10. Or 8. Choose a number greater than 4, so you can see your progress.

I don’t work in a company that shares my calendar for me. That means I can decide what to do. You can, also, by blocking time in your calendar. You don’t have to call it “writing” or “walking.” You can call it something like “Strategic thinking,” or something else you think will protect that calendar time.

If you want to persist at a new habit or something you think is valuable to you, carve out time to persist at it.

That, dear adaptable readers, is the question this week: How do you persist? Please leave your suggestions of what works for you.

When Do You Stop Working for the Day?

I made a big mistake the other night. I was doing maintenance on my mailing lists. I was quite excited about deleting people who were no longer valid subscribers. I deleted too many people and screwed up the Create Adaptable Life mailing list. I fixed it, and that got me thinking about several things:

  • I am behind on my mails to this list. Not the weekly posts, the quarterly emails.
  • I am behind on getting all the newsletters up on the newsletter page.
  • Why was I doing this important work at 9pm???

Bad Johanna. (For all three.)

I know myself. I can read at night. I can sometimes write drafts of articles, as long as I review them another day. I am not good at thinking well that late at night. I wake up at 6am. By 9pm, I should be long done. What was I thinking?

I’m not the only one working long hours, even though we know  better. Some of my clients explain that they regularly work 14-16 hours a day. I ask, “When do you stop working for the day?” and they say, “When I go to bed.”

That’s nuts. The longer we work in a given day, the more tired we are. The more tired we are, the more likely we are to make mistakes. Our companies don’t hire us to make mistakes. They hire us to deliver valuable work.

I understand where this comes from. I was trying to get just a little bit more done that day. I succeeded in making more work for myself. (Not too bright, eh?) I did that because I’m behind.

Here’s the problem:

You can’t make up time. 

You can’t. It doesn’t matter if you what work you’re doing, you can never make up time. Time marches on, regardless of what you do. You can choose what not to do. You can choose how long to spend on something. But, there is no way to make up time.

I teach this in all my workshops. And, it’s so insidious, that every so often, I fall prey to the same problem. “If I just spend another 10 minutes, I can get caught up.” Nope, that will never happen.

So, I work until 6:30 pm. Sometimes, if I have homework for a writing class I’m taking, I write after dinner. But, that’s a rare event.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: When do you stop working for the day?

P.S. If you subscribe to this site’s newsletter, I expect to release one this coming weekend.

When Are You Serious?

A colleague sent me an email this morning. She had read Agile and Lean Program Management, and especially liked the section called “Potentially Useful Practices.” She told me she thought of them as “pup”s and was going to use that idea for a talk she was developing. She talked about cute puppies—which one was a beagle, which was a bulldog or a German shepherd. Oh, I laughed out loud. I can’t wait to see her presentation.

That got me thinking about when we are serious and when we let our sense of humor out to play.

I’m serious about outcomes. I’m serious when I practice a new skill. I’m not as serious when I deliver training or presentations. That’s because I did the hard work in advance. I’m serious about my preparation, including thinking about funny stories so people identify with the idea. People need and appreciate some humor to go with their learning.

Back in my developer days, I was much more serious about how I worked. I hadn’t found my rhythm or a way to deliver on a regular basis. That led to cycles of delivery/black-hole-ness/delivery/black-hole-ness, etc. If I couldn’t depend on my delivery, how could anyone else? Work was quite serious for me, then.

As I learned how to work in smaller chunks, I was able to see my progress and become a little less serious. I still cared “too much.

When I became a project manager, I learned an important lesson: as a leader, people took their cues from me. If I was serious about the outcome, they would be, too. If I was serious about the work, they would be, too. And, if I used my sense of humor in my work, they would, also.

I took a different approach than many other project managers (or managers). I asked for rumors. I asked for bad news. I would say, “Okay everyone, we’re going to sigh. Ready? 1, 2, 3, Big Sigh.” I waited for everyone to sigh with me. We often laughed after we sighed. Then, I could ask, “Okay, now what can we do about this problem?”

I treated the problem seriously, but not how we dealt with the problem.

When I see risks I don’t understand, I tend to be more serious. When I am pretty sure I can see the risks, I can let my (wacko) sense of humor fly.

I also learned that if I asked for risks, I would learn about more of them than I might be able to handle. And, if I didn’t ask about them, something would bite the project, at the worst possible time. That’s Murphy’s Law.

Yes, the world is a serious place.  And, how we have choices about how we treat the problems and risks in our lives. We can see “pups” instead of “Potentially Useful Practices.” Our sense of humor is part of our emotional resilience. (See also the Book Review of Surviving Survival.)

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: When are you serious?

Are You Doing Your Part?

I want to improve at many things: my exercise, my writing, my teaching, just to name three. When I reflect back on my progress—or lack thereof—I ask myself if I’m doing my part.

Wanting is not enough. I have to do my part. Sometimes, my part is to show up and do the work. (See Elizabeth Gilbert’s Elusive Creative Genius Ted Talk.) More often, my part is deciding what to practice, and then practicing it.

My lack of progress often stems from these causes:

  • I didn’t select what to improve or change.
  • I didn’t schedule time for improvement.
  • I didn’t practice.

(Note: Your list may well be different from mine. That’s because you and I are not the same, something we can all be happy about…)

 What made me think I was going to improve? Thinking about it?

Actually, that’s what I see in many organizations. I talk to managers and team members who want to “go agile.” Here are some parts they could do:

  • Learn about the difference between iteration-based agile and flow -based agile.
  • Experiment with taking small steps and getting feedback.
  • Retrospect on what they did to see what they can improve.

These are three examples. You and your team might want something else.

Here’s how it works for me. I’ll give you an example of when I started to learn to write. I started writing for my work in 1997. In 1999, I started writing the first hiring book. In 2003, I started my blogs. 

Initially, writing was hard. It was hard to find the time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I was sure that the way I said it was horrible. (Some of it was!)

Then, I got serious with my writing. I had monthly columns and plans for more books. I took a writing workshop and decided to start measuring. I measured so I could decide what to improve first.

I measured my writing time and realized I was like every other writer out there. I complained about writing, and I didn’t do it. So, I stopped complaining and started to measure my time writing. (I still write in timeboxes, because that works for me.)

Then, I decided some of my writing was too complex. We didn’t have apps then, so I needed to measure in Word. I did. Next, I measured the time I wrote plus the readability.

I’m pretty good with readability now, so now I measure time spent writing, readability, and number of words written. I’m finding this very helpful for my fiction attempts. My fiction does not flow the way my non-fiction does. I spend too much time thinking and not enough time writing.

Showing up is the first part for almost any endeavor. And, showing up is not sufficient. Wanting is not sufficient.

I have to do my part, and measure, practice, reflect, adjust, and practice more.

When I do my part, great things happen.

That is the question of the week: Are you doing your part?

How Are You Better or Worse?

I’ve been working on several things these weeks, slowly  moving them to done. I have workshops for Agile 2016, books in progress, monthly columns, and my non-fiction writing.

As I reviewed previous workshop designs, I realized I’m a lot better at designing workshops than I was, say, ten years ago. Since I’m in a huge room, I’m not sure how to use some of that knowledge for this conference, but I know what I would do in a smaller room. I might divide the room and run the workshop that way. We’ll see. I still have time to refine the design.

I write non-fiction much faster than I used to. Oh, if you’re one of those people who believe you need to struggle over the words to be a great writer, you should sign up for my next writing workshop. For me, and many other people, the faster you write, the better you write. My monthly columns show that to me, if to no one else.

Satir Change ModelMy fiction writing? Well, let’s just say I am a work in progress. I am following the Satir change model. Oh my goodness, yes.

I have been experimenting with how to write so I can draw people into my fiction. I’m pretty good with non-fiction because I’ve been practicing for almost 20 years. (I was just astonished when I wrote that! 20 years of at minimum monthly columns. Wow. High-five me.)

On the other hand, I took one creative writing class in school many many years ago. I didn’t like it. I felt as if I never quite got the feedback I wanted. I tried another online class about 10 years ago and hated it. It was a peer-review class where the other wanna-be writers criticized our work. I do mean criticize.

I have learned about writing from my editor, beta, and reader feedback. I welcome that feedback. I have yet to learn from critiques. For me, that’s because critiques are different from feedback.

When I receive feedback, people tell me how they were confused or what didn’t work for them. George Dinwiddie, in his early review of Agile and Lean Program Management, told me he was tired of me telling him, “You want to…” That was excellent feedback for me.

His feedback tossed me into chaos momentarily. I thought, “What do you really want to say, Johanna? Say that.” I realized I could say something like, “Consider,” rewrite a little, and created a much better reading experience for my readers. Aside from saying what I wanted to say.

I am firmly in Chaos with my fiction writing. I can see some of the stories in my head. I am not so good at getting them on paper. I have a sticky on my monitor, reminding me of some of the points that will help me write better. I practice.  I take steps forward and steps backward as I practice. My practice is uneven. Sometimes my output is better, sometime’s it’s worse. I have not yet seen improvement overall. I do realize that learning to write fiction won’t be fast, and I can live with that. As long as I practice, I should be able to get better and at some point, better faster.

We are all better or worse in some ways than the way were before. For me, the question is how? In what ways have I improved? In what ways have I regressed or not improved? What do I care about? I won’t bother trying to improve things I don’t care about. I do want to improve what I do care about.

That, dear adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: How are you better or worse?

Are You Missing Clues or Degrading Gracefully?

I just picked up my brand new glasses. I’ve had the old glasses for several years and it was time for new glasses. I missed the early clues that it was time. Let me rewind the circumstances a bit.

I’m nearsighted. Since I am of a certain age, I also have presbyopia, a typical condition where people have more trouble focusing on close objects. That means I have been wearing bifocals for about 15 years. (I wear the progressive kind of glasses, where there is a sweet spot for near, middle, and far distances. I  move my head to see through the correct part of my glasses. We almost all have presbyopia as we age. If you are young, just wait. If you are over 40, you’ll be here soon enough.)

About a year ago, I changed the font on my computer. The regular font was too small for me to see. I was leaning into my computer to see, not sitting properly at all.

About six months ago, I started to take off my glasses to see my phone. It didn’t matter where I put the phone—near, not-so-near, far—I could not see the screen with my glasses on.

About a month later, I started to take my glasses off to read with my iPad, Kindle, or a print book.

A few weeks ago, I started walking around the house with my glasses off. I was more comfortable with them off than I was with them on. Since I am quite near-sighted, this surprised me. What was I doing, walking around the house with no glasses??

Note the time elapsing here. It took me at least three months to realize I needed new glasses. I might call this “degrading gracefully.” You might call this “missing clues.” You would be correct!

The clue-missing happens to all of us at some point. That’s because we are wonderfully human beings.

I bet I’m not the only one to miss clues. I bet you do, too. The question is where? What prevents you from seeing clues that something is changing?

In our projects, if we don’t measure on a trend line, we miss clues. Single data points are interesting, but not sufficient for understanding what’s going on. Notice that I had single-point data points all along.

Trend line measurement means you need to measure the same thing over time to see if the line goes up or down. You need to know what to measure. It can be a challenge.

I did not measure my eyesight in quantitative ways. I did “measure” it in qualitative ways. When my eyesight got bad enough, I finally said, “Oh, time for new glasses!”

When we “degrade gracefully,” we miss the idea that something could be wrong in our system. It doesn’t matter if the system is us as humans, in our project, in our organizations. Whatever it is, when we accept graceful degradation, we miss clues.

Our mental models can prevent us from seeing clues. The more we know something “can’t be true” the longer we are likely to miss clues.

I’m happy now. I have my new glasses and I can see everything: my computer, my devices, my books. I am wearing my glasses again all the time, which I am sure is much safer than me wandering around the house without them.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: Are you missing clues or degrading gracefully?

Who’s Working?


The gas company has been replacing gas mains in my neighborhood for the last few weeks. They’re not done.

At 7am this morning, the gas main replacement guys dumped a big pile of dirt in front of our house, right outside my office window. The walk you see on the left is the walk from our front door to the street.

I have to say, between the noise and my fascination with the dirt, I’ve barely been working. I was fine when they were farther away. But now, right in front of my office? No. I have barely been working.

The truck drivers, the gas main guys—they’re all working. Me? Not so much. In fact, I was having so much trouble writing this week’s post, I decided I would go meta and write about why I wasn’t writing.

Does this ever happen to you? You know you have work to do. You want to do the work. And, something in your environment is saying just as mine was, “Johanna, go look over there.” (Insert your name where mine is.)

It doesn’t happen to me very often. When it does, it’s a doozy.

Here’s what I did today:

  • Talked to the duck. The problem? I couldn’t hear myself. It was too loud.
  • Asked myself what other alternatives I could work on, aside from writing. I didn’t want to do any of them.
  • Took a walk. That allowed me to go meta on the problem and ask what was preventing me from working.

The last solution—taking a walk—was the most helpful. I might have realized that the loudness was preventing me from any work, not just the writing I wanted to finish. But, I didn’t. I didn’t realize until I took the walk that the outside noise disturbed me that much.

You might not have noise as an interruption. You might not have the gas people tearing up your neighborhood. (I have many more pix showing how they work incrementally.) I bet you have something else.

Here are some possibilities I’ve seen in organizations:

  • You have meetings that start on the hour and last an hour. You have back-to-back meetings all day. If you have 10 minutes somewhere, you might use it to rest or take a bio break. But, you can’t even think about tackling something from your not-meeting list.
  • You’re trying to multitask on several projects. You’re not making any progress.
  • You have a cold, or you didn’t sleep well or enough last night. You just can’t get going.

You can try what I did: go meta. What can you do to solve the problem of you not being able to work?

  • Can you stop going to all those meetings? Can you change the frequency of the meetings or the duration?
  • Can you make your tasks smaller and finish something before you try another project? Can you pair or swarm with other people to finish work?
  • Can you take a nap? Drink some tea, something to help you feel better? Maybe even go home to get better?

Until I had the transforming idea that it wasn’t just me, I could see the problem. That’s the first step in solving it—seeing your reality.

That is the question this week: Who’s working? (I’m happy to say that I am, now.)


What Holds Us Back?

I was at a conference last week. There was a panel about women in technology. Of course, I went.

I heard several concerning stories. One woman said something like this:

My previous husband was concerned when I went out for dinner with professional colleagues. He was concerned I was “seeing” other men.

Note that she said her previous husband. She got rid of him and has a different husband now.

Another woman said something like this:

“My company expects I will work 24/7, that I am available for email and phone calls all day and night. I am not willing to live like that.”

Both women recognized something in their situation did not make sense and decided to do something about it.

What about the rest of us? I learned the hard way about 25 years ago. I was lying in bed, waiting for Mark to finish brushing his teeth. I checked my voicemail on my work phone. (I dialed in and listened.)

Mark opened the door to the bedroom and asked, “What are you doing?”

I replied, “I’m checking voice mail. Why?”

He said, “What are you doing?”

“You heard me, right?” I was surprised he asked me again.

“It’s 11:30 at night, and you’re checking voicemail? What are you thinking? You’re tired. Will you make good decisions now?” He persisted.

Well, when he put it like that, it was clear the answer was NO. No way I could make good decisions. I decided then and there to stop playing the “who-left-voicemail-last” game.

By trying to “do it all,” I was holding myself back.

I’d thought I was a good manager, a good corporate citizen by making sure I got through my voicemail all the time. It was as hopeless then as getting through all your email is now.

I learned—from Mark calling my attention to it—that no company needs me 24/7. Oh, they might think they do, but what they pay for is a thinking human. If all I do is react, I’m not thinking. And, if I react all the time, I’m not so human. Well, not enough. I tend to be irritable when I haven’t slept enough. Yes, I become even more snarky than I already am.

We might decide to “blame” our companies for their requests. I certainly have explained to managers that even as a manager, I need sustainable pace. Some of my managers didn’t want to hear that. One of them accused me of not being a team player.

I responded this way, “If by team player you mean I only take your directly stated needs into account, I can be a yes-woman. I will say yes to anything you say and do what I like. But, if by team player you mean I am fully present to be a leader and decide or help other people decide what they need, then I can do that without saying yes to you. I will provide you reasonable responses in reasonable timeframes.”

When we swallow and accede to unreasonable requests, we placate other people. We don’t stand up for ourselves or our beliefs. That makes work untenable. We hold ourselves back from our potential.

We might think the company holds us back, and maybe that’s correct. And, when we allow our circumstances to take advantage of us, we also hold ourselves back.

You might decide that for now, you will accommodate your organization while you look for another job. You might decide to change things, for yourself or the organization. Those are just three choices. You might see more.

I need to think about what’s holding me back. Sometimes, I have created barriers where there might be none. I follow rules I didn’t create. I don’t see other choices. I have to take my marriage and family into account for my choices. My choices might not be clear and my context matters.

That is the question of the week: What holds us back?

What Are You Waiting For?

Given that I’ve published so much, I meet people who say, “I want to write. But, I need to wait for a good time to write.” Or, they say they need an outline or permission from someone—a boss or a spouse.

I can be pretty sure about one thing: these people will never write anything. The moons will not align, providing them time or inspiration or permission. 

I meet people who say, “I want to go agile. I want to help my company go agile. But I need to wait until the time is right.”

What would cause it to be the right time? I ask, and these people are often not sure.

I often meet managers who say that they want to provide an opportunity for some specific person to take responsibility. But, they say, they need to wait. They need to wait until that person proves him or herself, or for the exact right opportunity to arise. Or, until they can provide that person a raise to go along with the new responsibilities.

People can’t prove themselves without opportunity. Managers don’t often provide raises until you’ve proven you can do the work. How can people prove themselves or take the responsibility if the manager is waiting for something?

All of these people are waiting for the right time. Here’s the problem: the right time will never come. The right time doesn’t exist.

These people are waiting for something that cannot happen. 

If you want to do something, try something small as an experiment.

Don’t ask for permission. That’s another form of waiting.

What is the smallest change you can make? What is the smallest time investment you can make to see what will happen? If you wait for the right time, you’re waiting for a recipe.

Start small and manage the risks.

Consider these options:

  • Start writing with a small timebox of 10 or 15 minutes each day. See where you go.
  • Start with yourself, working in timeboxes and managing your work in progress.
  • Ask the person who wants more responsibility what they think they can do from all the work you have. Define the work, ask when to check in, and let them fly.

Measure your results and decide what to do next.

What are you waiting for?

What Do You Care What Other People Think?

Richard Feynman, a physicist, wrote a terrific book, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. If you have not read it, I recommend it. Let me pull apart the title a little.

There are several questions here:

  • What do other people think, especially about you?
  • What implications do their thoughts have on you?
  • Why do you care?

I can’t know or change what other people think. I can choose my reaction to their reactions to me.

I have had some strange-to-me encounters in a variety of places. I use my rollator whenever I leave the house. At one restaurant, the hostess offered to store my rollator at the hostess desk. I said, “No, thank you.” She persisted. I said, “Would you store your legs at the hostess desk?” Her mouth dropped open. Her eyebrows met her hair. She was all set to say something and a different hostess said, “Let me take you to your table.” I thanked her and Mark and I went to the table. Mark laughed the entire way.

I wasn’t sweet. I was blunt and direct. (I know, what a surprise.) On the other hand, she might have a different perspective on people with assistive devices. I don’t care what she thinks about my bluntness. I do care that she considers the consequences of her offers. I am sure she thought she was being helpful. I suspect she was surprised by my answer.

Now, here’s the difficult part. I can’t mind-read. I have no idea what she thought. Even though I’ll try to answer these questions, I might not be correct. I’m okay with that.

What did she think about me?

At first, I suspect she thought she was asking me something reasonable. She wanted the rollator out of the way, so no one would trip on it. I understand that. I bet she thought she was asking for something reasonable.

When I was snarky, I bet she was first offended. After all, she asked me for something reasonable, from her perspective. I don’t know if she reflected more on our interaction.

What implications do their thoughts have on me?

I am thinking about how to clarify my need for my rollator without being snarky. Not that I have trouble being snarky. And, I prefer to offend people as little as possible. Why look for trouble?

Why do I care?

I ask people for favors more often than able-bodied people do. It’s the nature of being handicapped.

On the other hand, I am happy to help her see a different perspective on the world. (Yes, that was more snark.)

Our interaction provided me fodder for writing. I’m happy about that. Could I have been more gentle with her? Maybe. I doubt she would have seen my perspective as quickly and as concisely.

Overall, I don’t care what she thinks about me. I was happy to provide her a nudge (okay, it might have been more than a nudge) to a new and transforming idea about the world and how it works.

In retrospect, I am satisfied with our interaction. One key for me: her reaction to me did not change my self-esteem. When I think about the question about caring what other people think, I consider self-esteem to be a big piece of it.

I do not allow other people’s reactions to me to change my self-esteem. They might provide me data or feedback. Only I can change my self-esteem.

That is the question this week: What do you care what other people think?