Letting Go

When was the last time you tried something new? How did it make you feel? If you’re adventurous, you probably felt thrilled. If you’re fearful, you are probably still wondering if the experience was worth the risk. So it is with organizations. Adventurous (or proactive) organizations thrive; the fearful (or reactive) survive—just barely.

Organizations (and individuals) that cannot let go of “dead ideas” are doomed to failure. Think about how many processes your organization manages every day. How many of these processes are preventing you and your staff from being maximally productive? Why aren’t the processes updated? Is it because everyone is so overworked that there is no time to address the issue?

If there is no time now to address the issue, then when? Constantly relegating issues to the backburner is like clinging to the old ways in the hope that the old ways will somehow magically reinvent themselves. These old ways are nothing more than dead ideas. And there is no place for dead ideas in productive organizations.

The sad news is that this way of thinking is not confined to individuals or the executive boardroom. Governments also think this way. This inability to let go of tired thinking is decaying everyone and everything.

Much has been written about change management because change is difficult to accomplish (think about changing just one of your habits—it takes at least three months of solid effort to build a new habit). But what seems to be coming through in organizations is that for change to occur, all employees need to be onboard. This requires changing old ways of thinking.

So how do we let go of old ways of thinking, of dead ideas? According to Matt Miller, there are three steps.

  1. Identify the ideas that matter. Since we can’t boil the ocean, pick the projects or ideas that will really make a profoundly positive impact on your organization or your life. These ideas will typically be strategic—those “sacred cow” ideas that no one has dared question until now.
  2. Understand each dead idea’s “story.” This comes down to identifying the root cause. How did this process become so entrenched with sub-processes? Why did this process seem to make sense in the first place? By understanding the root of the idea, it’s much easier to discern an action for change.
  3. Reach for new ways of thinking. Don’t dismiss ideas because they seem counterintuitive. If they seem counterintuitive, this may be a sign of how skewed our thinking has become; entrenched with only one way of doing things. Brainstorm. Look at possibilities. By reaching for new ways of thinking, we expand our minds.

In the end, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations to continuously improve and grow. By shedding old ways of doing things and inventing and implementing new concepts, we all thrive. Don’t get stuck in an outdated paradigm just because it’s been there all along.

Worry, Worry, Go Away, Don’t Come Back Another Day

Have you ever thought about how much more productive you become when you don’t think? You’re probably re-reading this question and asking, “Huh?” Let me clarify. When we avoid thinking about what it is that we should be thinking about, we tend to worry because we aren’t getting done the thing that we’re avoiding. So if you stop thinking about the things that you’re not doing, there is a greater likelihood that you are thinking only about the task at hand, making you more productive.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the eight sins that impact our efficiency – defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transport, inventory, motion, and extra processing (“DOWNTIME”). Add to this list Sin #9 – worry. Worry is a waste that can affect your productivity dramatically.

When you worry about things, you are not in the present. When you’re not in the present, you’re not at your productive best. In addition, worrying can cause anxiety which can turn into stress. Now think about how worry is impacting not only your productivity, but your health, as well.

Worry is a negative way of thinking. It drains you of your energy, time, and capability. To be more productive and to help you stop worrying about the things you aren’t doing, prioritize, use lists, and schedule your work. Do this daily, weekly, and monthly. The more you organize your thoughts in writing, the less chance of worry seeping into your thinking.

To help you stop worrying, here are five things you may wish to try:

  1. If you’re a self-proclaimed worrier, schedule your “worry time” for the same time every day. For instance, mid-day for 30 minutes. During this time, write down all the things that you’re worried about. The power of this exercise is that it allows you to “dump” your worries to where you can see them rather than having them clog your thinking time. When you’ve reviewed and updated your list, you can stop worrying because you’ll have a chance to review the list again tomorrow. This allows some predictability for the worrier.
  2. Evaluate your worry list every day and ask: What on the list is solvable? What on the list is an imaginary problem? By imaginary, I mean the problem is not based in fact; it is based on an unknown prediction of some future event. If the problem is solvable, move it to your list of priority items and schedule time to work on the problem. If the problem is imaginary, strike it off your list. If you can’t strike it, keep returning to it until you convince yourself that the problem is imaginary and not solvable. Therefore, it needs to go!
  3. Accept uncertainty. This is probably very difficult for someone who worries, but it is a reality of life. Worrying about an unpredictable future is counterproductive, but planning for it is worth your time and effort. Plan for your future by creating a monthly or annual plan. Include all the uncertainties that you’re worried about and address how you will solve each one. Then work your plan.
  4. Use mindfulness to focus on the present. Be aware of your thoughts. When worry seeps in, turn to your list of priorities to gain perspective. Once there, you are able to turn off worry and focus on the task that you should be doing. This will make you more productive.
  5. Use your old worry lists as reminders of accomplishment. The worries that you’re able to strike off your list (that you created in point 1 above) are indications of progress. If they’re off your list, that means you are managing to turn destructive thoughts (worries) into constructive problem solving.

In addition to the above tips, try talking out your worry with a friend or colleague. Sometimes just talking about a problem provides much needed clarity that can lead to resolution.

Whatever you do, the trick is to funnel your worry to a solution and go from destructive worrying to constructive problem solving.