Less panic, more spa days

Most of us have probably been in the situation where we have to pull off something big; some big amorphous blob of bigness and strategery.  No playbook and no rule book. Just get it done, kid. And make it awesome. My funky little job sits in that space. My job is "figuring stuff out"; I'm responsible for figuring out how we x, where x is some big thing that we need to be doing but aren't sure why or how. So investing too much in it now wouldn't make sense. And it's hard to figure out how we assess the value of doing it without doing it and then how do you do it without the resources? Measuring it? We will figure that out later.

I like the figuring.  There's definitely some relationship between the complexity of x, the number of stakeholders that have an opinion and my state of mind. I love the variety and learning, but the newness also brings a sense of urgency because I am never entirely sure I have enough time to get done everything I need to get done within this random piece of time called a "fiscal year." A lot of that urgent time feels like I am totally in the zone; making things happen. And some of that time feels like I am getting stuff done to feel like I am making progress. Urgently making progress.  If we were required to assign a title to each week or month, I would have "Urgently Making Progress" and it's sequels ad nauseum. Because here I am, urgently making progress. I am also building plans and frameworks, but did you notice that I am also urgently making progress?

I have had some success with coming up with ideas on the fly, when I am not expecting them. The drive to work, while I make dinner. During my down time, which really takes away from my time urgently making progress. But these epiphanies can completely change my work. Yet, I feel more driven to urgently make progress. I have always seen the epiphanies or moments of creativity and insight as kind of random things that just happen. But other than that have not given them much thought. Just figured that my monkey mind was the culprit.

Turns out that the overall objectives of the work are better served when you make time to screw around and stuff comes to you than when you feel like you need to move forward with delivering something. Yet, nobody ever thinks of those times as work or productive. I think entrepreneurs have a bit of a benefit because it's always work time and there are no accountabilities to anyone else but yourself. If you feel like you want to play video games so you can generate more ideas, you can do it. I'm just not sure it would go over really well at a larger company. You still need to come up with the ideas, but you also need to "be productive" which we often equate to being busy (which is not necessarily the same thing as "looking busy"). Because idea generation so frequently does not look like work at all, and the stuff that does look like work is lower level frenzied stuff.

Here's a FastCompany article about this concept. If it hasn't made me decide to spend more time daydreaming, it has at least made me realize that this feeling of needing to be in the office churning stuff out constantly is not really the most productive for the type of work I am doing. I need to stop feeling that gnawing sense of "holy crap how will I get this all done?" which really distracts from higher level thinking. Obviously there needs to be time for both because progress needs to be visible. But I can stop feeling uneasy for time spent away from the office and I can stop being surprised that I do my best work when I am not working at all.

(And a big thumbs up to FastCompany for the great content recently)

Comments (2)

  1. Kevin Eshbach says:

    I completely agree with the article but how do you explain this to bean-counter bosses who think unless you are physically in the office and sitting in your cube then you are not being productive.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Well, Kevin, if by bean-counter you mean someone in finance, my guess is that they don’t want you to be creative which is totally understandable.

    If you mean bosses who just don’t get it, then I think that part of it is just that they haven’t seen it happen. They would need to see someone bringing innovative ideas to the table, and it wouldn’t hurt if that person mentioned that they were thinking about it when they were washing the car or whatever. I think there is also a trust issue. If the manager trusts the person to get their work done regardless of whether they can see the person doing it, then they would be more open to this kind of thing.

    Also, company culture comes into play. If you have a creative culture with a work hard/play hard thing going on, this can totally work.

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