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?

Are You Hoping or Expecting?

Seth Godin’s Hope and Expectation inspired me to write this post.

I hope for a great many things. I hope that the nice researchers find a cure for vertigo. I hope to be able to bike on the road (on some sort of tandem) with Mark. I hope that people will buy my books and write 5-star reviews :-) Hope keeps me going, to better myself.

I don’t have too many expectations, especially of other people. I do not expect that people will help me although I am often delighted when they do. I do not expect a cure for vertigo, although I keep data about what triggers my attacks. I do not expect that people will understand that grabbing my elbow throws me off balance instead of helping me. (Sigh.)

When I hope, I act. When I expect, I don’t. There is a difference.

Because I still hope for a vertigo cure, I am taking care of myself and keeping data. Who knows? It might help. The taking care of myself does help. But, so far, no one wants my data. We’ll see :-)

Because I hope to tandem with Mark (even if my part of the bike has to look like a tricycle), I am trying to increase my bicycle cadence. Mark has always been a stronger bicyclist than I am. I need to match my cadence to his, I suspect. Even if I don’t get on a tandem with him, I will be stronger for my workouts.

Because I hope that people buy my books and get enjoyment and use out of them, I work hard to write well. I practice my writing, all kinds of writing. I enjoy the writing, and I love hearing about people who use my books and have great outcomes.

Hope drives me to act. I consider new alternatives, especially the Rule of Three.

Too often, I’m disappointed in my expectations of people or situations. That’s because I’m passive when I expect.

I used to expect that Mark knew what I was thinking. However, he is not clairvoyant. I now ask for what I want, especially for gifts.

I used to expect that people would understand what it means to use a cane or a rollator. Nope, the able-bodied people have little to no idea. I need to explain to them what I need. (I now hope I can change people’s minds about what it means to have a handicap.)

I used to expect that if people liked one of my books, they would write a review. I now know to ask for reviews, because most people are too something: busy, reluctant to write, not sure they know what to write.

I believe that most people are terrific, thoughtful human beings. It’s that human thing that’s an issue. I have it too, in spades. As humans, we are fallible and don’t always do what others desire us to do.

That’s why it’s worth it to hope and act. Not expect and be disappointed.

My dear adaptable problem solver friends, that is the question of the week: Are you hoping or expecting?

Just Because You Can, Does It Mean You Should?

I tried to make sugar-free coconut macaroons last weekend. I found a recipe that called for sweetened condensed coconut milk, where you simmer coconut milk with erythritol, my sugar-free sweetener of choice. I did.

I never did turn my coconut milk into something that looked like sweetened condensed milk. It never got thick. I did simmer it down, but it never got thick.

Oh well, I thought. Maybe I can still make macaroons.

I took out my coconut. For some reason, I had bought lower-fat unsweetened coconut flakes. I was worried. The fat is what keeps the macaroons together.

I followed the recipe, combining the coconut with the reduced coconut milk. It never came together. The coconut did not clump. It was clear to me I needed more liquid in the recipe. What to do?

I added unsweetened chocolate and liquid Stevia. I could make chocolate macaroons. I still needed more liquid. I added coconut oil.

My macaroons did not stick together at all.

I decided to throw everything out. I was not going to get caught  by the sunk cost fallacy. No sir, not me.

I threw everything into the sink and turned on the disposal. I continued washing dishes until everything was clean.

By then, I had a big problem. The sink had about two inches of water in it. As I was washing dishes, something backed up the sink.

It didn’t matter how much I ran the disposal. That sink didn’t empty. I was in trouble.

Mark returned from his bike ride. I explained what I had done. We realized the coconut oil and coconut probably packed the pipe. We had a blockage somewhere.

Mark plunged. And plunged and plunged. We ran the disposal and he plunged. We still had a blocked pipe.

Mark plunged for hours. He even got a blister! He opened up the pipe at the trap. No, the blockage was further down, not at the trap.

Several hours later, we called a plumber, who snaked and snaked and snaked and unblocked our pipe.

I made an expensive mistake when I threw all the coconut into the sink.

I could throw all of that glop into the disposal. Clearly, I should not have done so! (Mark is still talking to me, so we’re okay :-)

That incident got me thinking about other things we do because we can, not because we should:

  • I see and hear people talking on their cell phones in the bathroom.
  • People who aren’t handicapped using a handicapped bathroom because they like the spaciousness
  • All sorts of driving behavior: eating, putting on makeup, talking on the cell phone

We do many things because we can, not because we should. And, I’m not talking about the guilt-shoulds. I’m talking about things that make our lives easier and enhance our lives. Are our choices helping us or hurting us?

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: Just because you can, does it mean you should?

What Do You Do When You’re Stuck?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I had a number of writing projects to complete and everything I wrote stunk. I have had bad writing days before, but this one was a doozy. Everything I wrote stank. (I was bored reading it!) What could I do?

I tried different approaches. I’m writing a blog post on why managers like estimates. I rewrote that blog post 3 times, all 700-800 words of it. But I did try different approaches.

I tried writing different things. I worked on that blog post, some workshops, and an article for techwell.com. I managed to finish the article for techwell.com. But, in order to write that article, I had to stop the article I started.  I wrote a different article. I was able to send that one off to the editor.

I almost asked for help from some of my colleagues, but I was tired. I took a nap. That was the most useful thing I did all day.

If I had been around other people, I would have asked for pairing help.

When I’m stuck, I do these things:

  1. Notice I’m stuck. I have a 15-minute rule. If I’m stuck for 15 minutes, stop doing what I’m doing and find another way. Why should I waste time?
  2. Take a different slant on the topic. Maybe I’m writing (or coding or testing or managing) from the wrong perspective. Another perspective often changes the situation and allows me to unstick myself.
  3. Work on something else. I have a number of projects in progress. I don’t have a lot of work in progress, but I do have projects in progress. I can work on one of them, clear my head, and return to my original work.
  4. Talk over the problem with a colleague.
  5. Talk to the duck.
  6. Pair with people and develop something together.
  7. Take a nap.

I realized today what the problem was. I am getting over a bad head cold and I was exhausted. After my nap, I was better. I was able to think more clearly and see what to do. I might not have the blog post written yet, but I know where I’m going. I’m still making progress.

Yes, it took an entire day for me to realize what was wrong with me. On the other hand, it didn’t take more than a day.

Do you notice when you’re stuck? You might be having a bad developer day, a bad tester day, a bad manager day. In my case, I had a bad writing day. Oh well. The first thing to do is notice, so you don’t create more bad work. You’ll have to undo it at some point.

Dear adaptable problem-solvers: What do you do when you’re stuck? If you have other advice, I would love to hear it.

Can You Make Your Own Luck?

I feel lucky much of the time. I’m not like Mark, who can find the best parking spot anywhere, anytime. I’m convinced he has the parking gods on his side, and they wait for him to drive somewhere and park. I don’t have the parking gods on my side. I have a handicapped placard :-)

On the other hand, I do believe I can make my own luck. That’s because I believe in serendipity. Serendipity occurs when you are prepared for risks, have practiced your job, and “good things happen.” Can you help good things happen to you?

Last week, I was at the Booster Conference in Norway. I had prepared all my workshops in advance. I was still working on the keynote. I had already restarted the keynote 3 times. I was up to revision 5 with this third file.  That keynote was going nowhere. It’s a good thing I was the closing keynote–I still had time.

I went to the first keynote, thinking, “Maybe I’ll get some ideas about how to start my keynote.” I was still stuck on how to start.

I did get ideas. I had the transforming idea about how to relate to the people at the conference and which stories to tell. They keynote wrote itself then.

Was I lucky? Sure. Was I ready for the serendipity of the moment? Yes.

We have many opportunities for serendipity. Sometimes we recognize them. When we recognize them, we think we are “lucky.” We are. And, we are lucky because we are ready.

What do you do to be ready for serendipity?

Be prepared. Serendipity comes when we are open to it. I can’t be open if I’m frantic that I haven’t prepared enough. This is why I teach experientially. I’ve done all the work I need to do to prepare for the workshop. I can’t tell what will occur in the workshop, but I am prepared. The good news is that great things almost always happen, things I could never predict.

Be ready to iterate. If I’m serious about staying in the moment, I have to be ready to readjust my thinking. That occurred with the keynote last week. It happens when I teach. I see this as a fun opportunity. I’m not worried about having to replan in the middle of a workshop or consulting. That’s because I’m prepared. I like iterating on my preparation or in the moment.

Be ready for possibilities. I might have a result in mind. And, that doesn’t mean that the result I consider is the One Right Outcome. If I’m ready for other possibilities, I might discover an even better result if I am open to serendipity.

So, are you lucky? You might have a great case of being open to serendipity. Are you ready for it?

Dear adaptable problem-solvers, this is the question of the week: Can you make your own luck?

Are You Looking for Success or Perfection?

True confession: I am a perfectionist. I want to be the best at everything I attempt. And, I know I can’t be perfect at everything, all the time. Certainly not when I’m trying it for the first time. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to be perfect.

I have transformed this need to be perfect in several ways.

  1. I tell myself (and others) that I am a work in progress.
  2. I have permission to not be perfect when I am trying something, especially early in my practice of that new thing.
  3. I realize that sometimes, it’s better to release, to ship, to try, rather than be perfect at this thing. I still have a difficult time releasing books before they are much closer to done, but I am getting there.

That third point, the idea about showing your work, is about success, not perfection.

I know that I need feedback to get to perfection. If I keep my work to myself, I can’t achieve perfection. I certainly can’t achieve success.

Sometimes, success is all you need. You don’t even need perfection.

Here’s the problem. When you show your work, you need to have enough self-esteem to manage the feedback. That can be tricky.

I’m (still) working on the program management book feedback from my alpha reviewers. I had some client work that prevented me from finishing it earlier. When I do finish incorporating that feedback, I will be able to release the book. The book will be beta quality. I can release it because success is releasing it. It won’t be perfect—it may never be perfect. But it can’t be perfect if it only sits in preview mode, not release mode.

The same thing happens with you and your work.

If you hang onto your work (code, tests, plans, whatever) and never show them to people, you can’t get the feedback. Without feedback, you can’t improve to be great. You’ll be wherever you are. And, other people won’t have the benefit of your thoughts (code, tests, plans, whatever).

Showing your work is not about perfection. It’s about success. Letting your work go into the world is a form of success. The more often you practice it, the better you can be.

I manage the risks of showing my work. I have a developmental editor for my books, reviewers, and a copyeditor. I spend significant effort to make sure I have the best product I can have, wherever it is in its development. But I show my work.

You can, too. What do you need to do to show your work more often? How can you adapt to the feedback? The more you practice taking feedback, the more you can learn how to take it.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: Are You Looking for Success or Perfection? Maybe success is its own perfection.

Are You Choosing What Makes You Happy?

Are you happy in your life and work? You don’t need to be ecstatic all the time. But, if something about your life or work doesn’t make you happy, maybe it’s time to change.

For me, this is a question about:

  • Seeing my current reality in my job and my life
  • Developing options for where I want to go
  • Making decisions about what will make me happiest

Sometimes, that happy is about going to more movies. Sometimes, that happy is about the right shoes. Sometimes, that happy is about the work I do.

Are you optimizing your life to give you the most happiness?

If you have not considered this question yet, ask yourself, “Am I choosing what makes me happy?” For me, it’s contextual.

For work, I need to learn and have control over my daily work. I like having the flexibility to learn and provide value to my clients. That’s part of my personal mission: to learn and do reasonable things that work. Sure, sometimes I have what I might consider grunt work. But not often.

If you take a look at what you do, at home and work, are you doing things that make you happy, or at least, have the potential to make you happy? If not, what can you do about it?

In the past, when I’ve looked at what I did, I followed this approach:

  • Gather all the work (or tasks) I do. Write all of it down.
  • Look at how I feel about it. Label things as positive if I like them, negative if I don’t like them, and zero if I don’t care one way or the other.
  • Look at the things that I don’t like. Should I be doing that work? Should I delegate it or outsource it? What should I do with it.
  • Is there something on that list that gives me great joy, that I look forward to doing? If so, can I spend more time on it? Or, do more like it?
  • How much is zero? I tend to either like or not like what I do. I don’t tend to be neutral about anything. If I am neutral, can I transform this work so I will like it more, or delegate it or outsource it?

If you’ve read Manage Your Project Portfolio, you will recognize this approach. You are looking at your project portfolio—whether that portfolio is what you do at home or work.

Back when I was the primary carpool driver, I knew I didn’t like it. I also knew the driving wasn’t forever. That made it easier to do.

When my daughter was a senior in high school, we bought her an old and cheap car.  I had been the carpool driver for 15 years, and I was ready to stop. We had paid for someone to drive her to and from gymnastics for the previous couple of years. But, that wasn’t enough. I needed to get out of the driving business.

We knew she was a safe driver and able to drive herself everywhere. One chore—one I disliked—evaporated from my life. We traded a little money for more of my happiness.

Sometimes, you trade money for the chance for happiness. Sometimes, you decide what work makes more sense to you. Sometimes, you reassess if the people you spend time with make you happy.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: Are you choosing what makes you happy?