This week we come to the final part of our trilogy on productivity (it’s exciting, isn’t it?) with a look at how to Manage Yourself when you hit a speed bump. I know that productivity is not the most glamorous topic. Unless you are hoping to be certified as mentally ill, you’re unlikely to burst out of the shower shouting: ‘Eureka! I’ve discovered the source of Personal Productivity’ But, when it comes to career success, being productive is right at the top of the food chain. Don’t knock it until you’ve cracked the code.
Bumpy Ride: In 20+ years coaching a range of executives, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion. While negative issues differ between clients (childhood, low self-esteem, bullying, marital infidelity, stymied career, substance abuse), ‘every garden has weeds’. Everyone has to deal with troubling personal dilemmas. But, here’s the rub. While some people are crushed under this weight, others use negative events as stepping-stones, building strength and resilience. From a productivity perspective, the central question is: ‘How do you stay focused at work during times when you are overwrought?” And the answer is…it depends. Individuals find different ways to stop themselves from being torn apart with worry. Here are a couple of techniques…
Keep Playing: Because of its situation on the Bull Island, St. Anne’s golf course is normally windy and can be quite difficult. The day in question was no exception, with weather more suited to Hang Gliding than golfing. My partner was off target. By his standards, he’d performed badly and was on a rant about “jacking it up” and taking up sailing – where the wind might be advantageous. Then he stood on the 17th tee and hit a miraculous shot. We watched as the ball landed on the green and rolled closer and closer until it hit the flag and dropped in. BANG! A hole-in-one is every golfers ambition. I’ve never had one. My best bet is to get cremated and have someone pour the ashes directly into the cup. So, it transpired that at the end of a very mediocre game, this guy had a spectacular success, achieving perhaps a once in a lifetime event. The Message: No matter how bad things are today, we don’t know what’s around the corner. The Jewish saying “This too will pass” captures the point. For most of life’s events, that’s pretty accurate. Sometimes, you just need to keep playing the shots.
Keep Focused: On the music front, we were playing in Fairview Park (see photo: I’m in the black jacket; I tried my very best to talk to Seán O’Neill into changing those shorts, but he wouldn’t listen). Normally, when we play in pubs, the Usual Suspects ‘show up’. We know the regular songs – but there is what might be termed a ‘tolerance for mistakes’ when we play new or oddball stuff. The standard line is: “There’s nothing like a tight band” with the refrain: “And this is nothing like a tight band”. But the Fairview Park gig was different. Playing during the middle of the day in a public place is a different proposition to banging out Satisfaction at midnight to fat-ankled Granny’s in the Beachcomber. Driven by the number one principle in psychology (“No-one wants to look like a gobshite”), we chose some good numbers and figured out the arrangements. Then we practiced until we had those songs down pat. The sole focus was on delivering. In similar vein, regardless of what’s happening in your broader life, you need to keep delivering at work. Don’t join the posse who offer 78 excuses for why things didn’t happen, regardless of what demons you are wrestling with. Why? Because staying focused helps you through those tough times. And, by-the-way, the excuses queue is too long already!
Keep Reminding: Sometimes, reminding yourself of the good things that are happening in your life can help you stay on track. The real trick when you have a 5% problem, is to spend 5% of the time thinking about it. Not 92%. Reminding yourself of why you are doing something often offers a mental ‘tonic’ – a sort of Rubex for the Soul that keeps you trucking. The German philosopher Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. One client recently described this as “finding your personal opium” (I’m almost certain that he was speaking metaphorically). People who are happiest and who seem best able to ‘ride the speed bumps’ constantly remind themselves of the good stuff going on in their lives, rather than continually focus on what’s missing or broken. I know it’s corny, but I’ve always liked the US saying that you should ‘focus on the donut, not the hole’.
Keep Positive: We can all be a bit moany. The gray Irish winter can sap your will to live and elements in all our jobs are boring. At some point we give up on perfection, making a mental note that our partners didn’t morph into Johnny Depp or Natalie Portman (delete as appropriate). We also realize that our kids have a will of their own (mine have taken a 10 year Sabbatical from all forms of authority). But, somehow, we keep going. Without a doubt, some people are confronted by enormous life changing events, major medical or family traumas which cannot be cured by positivity. But, in normal day-to-day living, you actually have superpower when it comes to dictating your mental health. It’s just a matter of learning a few simply ‘tricks’ about being content. Learning how to manage yourself during troubled times, is not just a recipe for productivity; it’s the cornerstone of being happy. In an imperfect life, there are always candidates for the ‘not working 100%’ trophy. When you choose to ignore minnow issues and find a way to keep moving forward, you’ve won a personal lottery that keeps paying out.
Now, to hell with the fashion police! Where can I buy a pair of those shorts and look like Seán’s twin for our next outdoor gig? He was definitely getting a lot of female attention. Must be those legs!
PS Lighter Notes: Was out very late playing at a gig. It was the pub owner’s birthday and we were ‘locked in’ after hours. At 2am, I received the following text from my son Cillian: “What sort of hour do you call this? You have to be up for work in the morning. Get home right now and learn some responsibility!” He probably did a ‘cut and paste’ from one of my old texts. Touché. There’s hope for that lad yet.
PPS: Paddy Died: When Paddy died, his Will provided €40,000 for an elaborate funeral. As the last guests departed, his wife Colleen turned to her oldest friend.
“Paddy would be well pleased,” she said. “He would indeed” replied Mary, who lowered her voice and leaned in close. “So go on then, how much did this really cost?” “All of it,” said Colleen. “Forty thousand.” “Aw No!” Mary exclaimed. “I mean, it was a great send off, but €40,000? Are you having a laugh?” Colleen answered, “Look, the funeral itself was €6,500. I donated €500 to the church. The whiskey, wine and snacks added up to another €500. The rest went for the Memorial Stone.” Mary computed quickly. “For the love of Jesus Colleen. €32,500 for a Memorial Stone? How big is it?”
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