The Boring Bits, While You’re Making Other Plans

Line graphs display data changing continuously over time, but they do so by tracking static snapshots at regular intervals. We represent the progression of change by connecting the dots.

Within our organizations, we like to plan for the next dot, to make it land along the path toward our goal. This is a good way to ensure progress and track success, but it’s a poor way to lead people.

Your people don’t live at those dots. They live in the lines – the pieces we estimate because the fall between our snapshots of the businesses success.

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. – Allen Saunders

As a leader, planning and tracking are likely a very real part of your job, and there’s a good chance that some of your people do the same. It’s easy to get caught up in those two pieces and then overuse popular management tactics for guiding your people to success. This is risky, because it makes it too easy to ignore the realities of what your people struggle with, hour by hour, to reach the goals you’ve set for them.

After all, drama is life with the dull bits cut out. – Alfred Hitchcock

Objectives and performance indicators are useful tools, but they can become a crutch. You have a lot on your plate, and your time is at a premium. Focusing solely on each incremental destination makes life easier, and it’s far less dull than tracking the pieces which are more difficult to quantify.

But those boring bits. The pieces which are difficult to quantify. The grind which gets your group to the next point on the graph. That’s where your people live.

If you aren’t making an effort to understand that part of the work, now is a good time to begin. Doing so will enable you to lead with compassion, foster loyalty, respond to roadblocks with more agility, and grow your people.

Fact and Fiction

Not every truth is fact.
Not every story we hear is fiction.

Stories are woven into everything. They teach us, console us, elevate us, and bring us down.

I was raised by avid readers, in a home with bookshelves of novels and regular trips to the library.

These days it takes me months to finish a novel, but that old love of storytelling persists. It is the undercurrent in my consumption of blogs, articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, audio books, and online courses just as much as TV, movies, and games.

I see stories everywhere.

Given how black-and-white my parents’ beliefs are, I feel privileged to see the world in shades of grey. While our relationship has its problems, my beliefs weren’t forged through a period of rebellion. I was a rule-follower, and I can see my upbringing at the core of many of the beliefs I still hold dear.

But I think there was an influential moment at a young age which stuck with me. Unsurprisingly – it came from a work of fiction. Specifically, Return of the Jedi.

“You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

Experience has only reinforced this over the years.

Truth isn’t simple. It is formed by an understanding of facts and an intent to authentic and trustworthy.

But it isn’t immune to bias. Facts can be incomplete, or poorly qualified. And sometimes the desire to be authentic and trustworthy results in conformity to expectations which may not themselves be as honorable as the intentions of the conformist.

We’re always telling a story. It’s always from one point of view. And while the truth we believe, the truths we espouse, may be grounded in fact – they are not themselves fact.

Tell your stories, but accept that your story may need to evolve over time as your world view expands and your knowledge deepens. Appreciate the challenge of those whose understanding and experience deviates from your own.

Unending Weeks

Amid the Covid crafting, unending unemployment, and child care nightmares your friends and family are plastering on social media, some of us haven’t taken advantage of a quarantine break. And not because we’ve had a mental breakdown because of the stress we’re all under.

Some of us simply haven’t had a break. We’re working the week that never ends – it just goes on and on my friends. We haven’t forgotten what day it is because we haven’t needed to keep a schedule. We’ve forgotten because our schedule hasn’t let up.

We’re not talking about working 7 days each week for a few months, but increased work demands which have created similar non-work demands in a world where all of your interactions look the same. You have a Google Meet with your team at work on Friday, and a Zoom meeting with your friends on Saturday. You worked 10 hour days Monday – Friday because you’re in one of those industries which got busier in the face of the pandemic – but on the weekend you’re still glued to your computer, upskilling and job hunting on the weekend because that same industry is clearly in a bubble which is sure to burst once your clients’ lack of revenue turns into your company’s lack of revenue.

And unlike your friend Kevin, you may not be relying on unemployment checks to cover your bills, but you also don’t have an extra 40 hours out of your week to invest in preparing to pivot your career.

You know it could be worse. You are grateful you’re one of the lucky ones to have had nothing worse than a freeze placed on your merit increase.

But that gratitude doesn’t make your week any less exhausting. You struggle with guilt when you decide to park your seat in your living room to watch some baseball on TV when you know you should be customizing a cover letter or working through a Udemy course or prepping for PMP certification.

You want someone to tell you it gets better, or that the sacrifices and the hustle are worth it.

The truth is – no one can tell you that, because even the experts have proven they don’t know.

What you need to hear, is that you can do this. You deserve to watch that MLB, to have beer out on the deck, to go for a hike on a local trail. But you’re not going to spend all day doing that – no matter how much you want to. You are going to eat some vegetables, get some exercise (15 minutes will do – you know you’re busy), put down your phone and get some real sleep – and you are going to keep hustling.

The key is to make time to bounce back. You’re not sprinting. This is a marathon. And it’s a marathon you didn’t train for and which doesn’t have enough water stations. Don’t try to come in first – it’s not worth the effort. Let some other over achiever risk hospitalization over that nonsense. But finish. Walk. Crawl. Take a break on a park bench along the way. But don’t give up. For better or worse you’ll get through this. Just don’t give up.

Life Inside the Cubicle