Reflections on my 30-in-30 Challenge

Tomorrow ends my 30-in-30 challenge. I just scanned my posts, and – boy, were they all over the place! Doesn’t matter, though, as my focus was on production. I wanted to create a writing habit, and I didn’t want fear or perfectionism to stop me. I’ve had about a 1% improvement in writing. I recently signed up for some courses that will help me improve my page and writing abilities. If I had to summarize the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this process, it would be the power of setting achievable goals. For this stage of my life, I need to define achievable as “easy.” That doesn’t mean that I didn’t push myself or that I didn’t care about the results. But I did it in a fun way. This is a hobby, after all. Thank you all for reading, but I’d mostly like to thank myself for FINISHING (tomorrow).

New Month, Same Struggle Pt. 2

I guess what I’m getting at is that PM won’t solve all of your problems. Earlier today I was reflecting on why I felt so “blah.” At least part of it is that I look at life as a puzzle. Or a project. And I think, “if I just follow these rules and figure out the game, it’ll all come together.” But that doesn’t happen. It’s never happened. I can’t approach life as a problem to be solved. That begs the question, then, how does one live life? If it’s not a project or a problem, how do I drop my tendency to approach it like one? How can I “roll with the punches” without feeling like I am relinquishing control?

“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem.” About a week ago, I reported that my highest theme – perhaps one of my greatest strengths – was my inclination to see situations as problems to be solved. Even without the assessment, I can attest that I view the world as having a set of issues that need to be resolved, though I think everyone feels that way to some extent. The problems I’m facing now, both personally and professionally, are beyond my current set of problem-solving skills. I still don’t know the answer to the question I posed, but I’d guess that part of the solution requires a total shift in judgment. 

You could argue that I don’t really have control anyway, that it is an illusion. But seriously, though, how can I move through life without the nagging feeling that I’m screwing up or that I’m missing some big important piece of information? How do I let go?

I think I posed this question a few days ago, and I still don’t know the answer. 

There is a part of me that is an organizer and a planner. I like for everything to be in its place and there to be no surprises. I want to be in control. That part of me is so exhausted from trying to be three steps ahead of life. I know that I do it to try to protect myself. It’s well-intentioned, but ultimately it just makes things more difficult. 

Just reading this sentence gets me annoyed all over again. Maybe there’ll be a breakthrough if I just give up. 

Maybe the blog’s goal can still be about project management, focusing on your life as the project. But maybe there’s a need to be less focused on “managing” and more focused on “living.” I legitimately do not know how to do this. But maybe I can use this blog to stumble on it. 

This blog doesn’t have a specific goal yet or a target audience. I’m writing my ideas as they come. I know you need to “know your audience,” but trying to accommodate a specific group of people – at my current skill level – stunts my creativity, and it adds more pressure. Also, this is a hobby, and I don’t want it to add more stress to my life. 

New Month, Same Struggle

I started writing the blog post below Wednesday, June 30, 2021, and posted it 11 days later. I was struggling at the time.

The past few days have been difficult for me. I felt a sense of depression coming on. I started back at work from a pretty long vacation, and coming back to work after vacation often helps me see things in a different light. This time, however, I came back and I felt de-motivated. I have these processes and reports I’m responsible for at work, and for almost the past year, I’ve constantly tweaked and tried to improve the report. I’ve tried to be more efficient. Faster. More effective. I keep thinking, “if I just get this right” or “if I just figure out this one thing”. But even when I do, something else pops up and then I start this whole painful and seemingly unrewarding process all over again. 

Whew! Not much has changed here. I don’t want to use the term “depressed,” but I still feel “deflated.” I’m still tweaking this report (and others), and it is a real uphill battle. Since June, I have met individually with the report’s stakeholders and got some helpful feedback. It turns out that what I was doing when I first started was what they found most beneficial. Over time, I made enhancements that forced me to work more but didn’t add value for them. I don’t want to say I wasted my time, but…

I started this blog because I like project management and I was aware of my naïveté around using PM to solve all of my problems, but I thought I’d try anyway. But sometimes my focus on optimization – and really, perfectionism – gets to be a lot to handle. I get in a funk and I don’t feel like doing anything. I’m afraid to try new things. I just want to start over. 

I feel compassion for the guy who wrote this. Unfortunately, his drive for optimization caused him to second-guess everything he did. That amount of mental turmoil can drain the life out of you.

I did this today. I was working on a report and thought starting over would be easier. So I deleted the whole thing. This is “classic Bruce”. I’m afraid of changing course so I drop the course and start a new one. Sometimes I can’t see where the course is leading and when I can’t control the path I get nervous. Funny thing is, I had no idea that paths I was on would lead me here. Even with all of my might, trying to control outcomes, I still got to where I am today without knowing this is where I would end up. 

Reading your writing after some time has passed is interesting. I remember how I felt. I remember being so frustrated with this project. Again, I feel compassion, but I am proud that I came to an interesting realization. There have been times in my life when I accomplished concrete goals. Other times, I’ve had unexpected accomplishments that weren’t on my radar. If you do have a specific plan, though, how hard should you try to finish it? How do you know when you should give up? Isn’t there a chance that after 33 more attempts, you’ll have a breakthrough? When do you bend your will to that of the universe (or, for some, God)? And how do you live in such a way that allows you to work towards a goal and be adept enough to recognize when it’s time to move on?

I’ve got no answers, but we’ll explore the rest of this post tomorrow.

Reflecting On My Sunday Scaries

I’m nearing the end of my 30-in-30 blog challenge, and I thought it would be good to close the gap between the final posts on my last blog and the rebirth of my current one. Here’s the fourth and final post from my former blog. It was first published Sunday, July 18, 2021.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re starting to realize you didn’t get much done this weekend. You’d planned to be productive and you were regularly refining the list of the tasks/errands you wanted to tackle. But, as you reflect, it feels like your to-do list is growing faster than you can manage. For every one thing that you check off, it feels like three more get added. This is the OPPOSITE of progress, you think, and just the thought of adding more to your list stresses you TF out. 

I don’t quite feel this way re: tasks. However, I do feel like I have a lot of ideas I want to develop and that I won’t have time to do them. 

Week after week, stuff just piles up. You get stuck in this place of perpetually feeling like an overwhelmed under-performer. You’re ready to give up, but that’s not really an option. If you give up, the work just piles up even faster. Between the ever-growing list and your tendency to procrastinate (because sometimes you don’t even know where to start), you just feel exhausted. 

I feel differently now, I think, because I’m intentionally trying to do less. 

You, too? Bruh, this is me every week. And I decided to put my theory to the test and find a way to use project management principles to help me manage my life. I’m still testing out the solution, but so far, it’s been helpful. In the next series of posts, I’ll explain how I’m using agile project management to help me manage my stress, increase my focus, and ultimately get more done. 

I like the idea of using project management principles on appropriate life tasks, but that doesn’t solve the problem. The challenge is learning how to do less. 

This is not a “recipe for success”, but rather my attempts at designing a solution that works for me. I hope it gives you some ideas on tools you can tailor for your own usage. Until then, good luck with your to-do lists. Don’t be too hard on yourself and realize that you can’t – and won’t – get everything done…and that’s okay. 

I still agree with this. 🙂

Unpacking My Themes for 2022

The 34 CliftonStrengths themes are divided into four categories

  1. Executing – Making things happen
  2. Influencing – Taking charge, speaking up, and making sure others are heard
  3. Relationship Building – Building strong relationships that hold a team together and make it greater than the sum of its parts
  4. Strategic Thinking – Absorbing and analyzing information that informs better decisions

Of my top 10 themes:

  • 2 are in Executing (1-Restorative, 3-Deliberative)
  • 4 are in Relationship Building (4-Connectedness, 7-Relator, 9-Individualization, 10-Empathy)
  • 4 are in Strategic Thinking (2-Futuristic, 5-Intellection, 6-Input, 8-Learner)
  • 0 are in Influencing

At first glance, these seem accurate. I don’t rely on influence or execution for success, though I could stand to get better at them. I consider myself a strategic thinker, but I think I have a different approach to relationship building. My relationships are based on my curiosity about other people and their uniqueness. I don’t think I build relationships to widen my circle of friends. Instead, I value close, deep relationships that create safe spaces for all of us.

Me – an over thinker? Noooooo.

According to Gallup, Intellection – the propensity, proclivity, and preference to think – rounds out my top 5 themes. One action they suggest: “Take time to write. Writing might be the best way to crystallize and integrate your thoughts”. And look at me now! I’ve often thought writing helped me organize my ideas, but here’s an objective assessment that says the same thing.

To recap, my strongest themes are:
(1) Restorative
(2) Futuristic
(3) Deliberative
(4) Connectedness and
(5) Intellection.

I like to problem-solve.
I like to think about the future.
I am rigorous in my thought processes.
I believe everything is connected.
And I am addicted to thinking.

If I am to maximize these strengths, it seems like I should l should deconstruct my problem-solving approach and re-build it with intelligent problem-solving and decision-making paradigms. It also appears that I should create a vision of the future that inspires me but that I need to break it down into smaller milestones. I can continue to look for connections among things, and I can embrace my thinking mind and try to harness its power effectively.

Who else likes to connect the dots?

My fourth-strongest theme is “Connectedness.” I think Gallup sums it up nicely with this synopsis: “People exceptionally talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links among all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has meaning.”

I do tend to look for connections. That’s part of the purpose for which I [re]-started this blog. I wanted to find connections between the different books I was reading. Intellectually, making connections helps you remember things better. But I think it also makes you smarter. Instead of zooming in, I like to zoom out and look for stuff in common.

I believe that this can be a practical approach to resolving political division. For example, I suspect that there are things most of us can agree on – we want to be healthy, we want to be safe, and we want to be part of a community that accepts us. This looks different for everyone, but I think focusing on the broad similarities can help us overcome political obstacles.

I also like to look for connections in books. I consume a lot of self-help media, and I see some of the same things running through – acting with integrity, balancing discipline and compassion for yourself, and managing your emotions are some of them. Some authors say it better than others, but it’s still the same.

When I consider my other themes of Restorative, Futuristic, and Deliberative, I think my new statement is something like: I am motivated by a vision of the future that I create. My ultimate problem to solve? What does it all mean? (Obviously a work in progress, but I like where this is headed).

Do you have a hard time making decisions?

On a scale from 1-10, how hard is it for you to make a decision?

  • Do you find that you can be too careful or vigilant?
  • Do you believe there’s always more to the story?
  • Does that belief send you down the rabbit hole for more information?
  • Do you have a habit of identifying, assessing, and managing risk?
  • Do you think it’s more important to make the right choice – even if it takes a long time?

Well, you might be strong in the Deliberative theme, like me!

People who are strong in this theme are somewhere on the spectrum between thorough analysis and full-blown skepticism. Gallup places this theme in a positive light, but I think it’s important to identify when it can get out of hand. Generally, deliberation is a good thing. You don’t make impulsive decisions, and you like to set off on a path only after you’ve weighed the pros and cons.

Building on yesterday’s post:

“And if I pair this with my strongest theme – Restorative – it would seem that problem-solving would be significantly influenced by my vision of the future. That is to say that the way I can solve problems is by looking ahead to where I want to go and then deciding how to get there. Then, I break the path down into smaller steps and whittle away at the list. It’s also important to reflect on how my vision for the future changes. Then, I can refine it over time.”

Suppose I add “Deliberative” into the mix with my “Restorative” and “Futuristic” themes. I think it suggests that I construct a vision of the future with painstaking effort, all to solve some complicated, complex problem.

This actually sounds like me. As I unpack the final two strongest themes, I hope to develop a personal philosophy or mission statement that aptly describes who I am. I’ve had some resume writers get close, but I think I can bring it home.

Apparently I’m Futuristic, though I don’t feel like a visionary.

I wrote about my top CliftonStrengths theme a few posts ago – Restorative. In brief, it indicates that I enjoy problem-solving and that I like making things whole. My second-highest theme is Futuristic, which means that I get energized by my vision of the future and inspire others to accomplish that vision.

As I reflect on this, though, I don’t feel I’ve been inspirational. That said, I am highly future-oriented, and I’m motivated by big goals. Gallup says that people who rate high in this theme are visionaries. Still, I think my creative ability has been neutralized. My assumption is that most people have big dreams and that, with the right motivation, they can make them come true. So in that way, I don’t feel unique.

One experience comes to mind when I went to a former boss and said that I realized I’m very different from the other managers. The other managers were operations-focused (which was good because we were in operations). Still, I was more focused on why we did what we did and how we did it. Getting “in the weeds” is mostly a miserable experience for me if it’s not on the shortlist of things I’m passionate about. He said, “Bruce, you’re an idea guy. You have lots of ideas, and we need new ideas on the team”. In some ways, I wonder if he was saying, “you’re not a strong manager, but you are great at coming up with new things for us to do.” Maybe he meant it. Either way, it showed me that not everyone thought the same way I did and that I needed to find a role in which I could be a big thinker.

My “biggest” thinking occurred during training design and implementation. One of my favorite projects was designing leadership development around trending topics in organization development. I liked to build exercises and focus on ways the managers could immediately apply their skills in their jobs. While training, I’d still be nervous, but I believed in what I was saying. The conviction came across. I know it did because there was always at least one person who said – “were you a motivational speaker? You seem like you’d be good at it. “

The idea of being a motivational speaker always seemed corny to me, but I did fit the profile in some ways. Now that I’m not designing leadership training, I don’t feel like I can motivate people to do anything. I’m out of the habit of thinking big because it feels like I get shut down when I try. I know that sometimes you have to get down in the details and that you can’t have your head in the clouds. But that’s been my sweet spot.

Maybe part of the solution is to practice motivating people again. I don’t want to regurgitate things I heard other people say; instead, I want to come up with my own insights and share them. I am afraid of the moniker of “motivational speaker,” but that’s a fear of judgment that I can acknowledge and let go of. I’m also not sure of the medium through which I can motivate or what I can motivate people to do. But maybe I’m already inspiring people…

A while ago, I read this book called “Executive Warfare.” One of the author’s main points was to exploit your strengths. Find a way to minimize the weakness but don’t spend too much time there. Instead, focus on your strengths because that will make you successful. Of course, this isn’t advice for every situation, but sometimes I think it’s right.

My challenge with being Futuristic is that I don’t focus on where I am and what I have right now. Chasing after a vision of the future gets draining when you don’t like where you are right now and don’t know how to get to where you’re going. This is where I can use some work. How can I keep my vision of the future while not rejecting where I am now? One tweak I can make is to be more active. Instead of envisioning the future, the magic happens when I create it through deliberate actions.

I’m doing some of this now. If I want to be a thought leader or visionary, I have to articulate my thoughts and share them with an audience. I get to accomplish this through blogging. And if I pair this with my strongest theme – Restorative – it would seem that problem-solving would be significantly influenced by my vision of the future. That is to say that the way I can solve problems is by looking ahead to where I want to go and then deciding how to get there. I break the path down into smaller steps and whittle away at the list. It’s also important to reflect on how my vision for the future changes. Then, I can refine it over time.

This is where I have an opportunity. I dive head-first into achieving m,y goals. Still, I would benefit from a more systematic approach to breaking down the big problems into small parts. This means I need to clarify my goals and the path to get there. Part of the problem is that I’ve tried to keep all of this in my head, but this is where project management principles/software comes in – especially Agile principles.

Agile starts with a big picture – sometimes called an epic. It’s not a detailed requirement but rather an inspiring statement about some product, service, or benefit that you’d like to see in the future. This epic is broken down into features or user stories. A user story is an example of what you’d like the program, service, or person to do. Maybe the epic is – “I want my restaurant to have a Michelin star.” One user story might be, “all diners should have a seamless experience between entering the restaurant, enjoying their meal, and leaving the restaurant.” You then break the story down even more into sprints. Let’s take the first component of the user story – entering the restaurant. The next step is to break down “entering the restaurant” into small building blocks. You focus on one or two blocks ONLY for a predetermined amount of time. That’s a sprint.

It’s not terribly difficult to come up with an example epic, user story, and sprint, but it gets tricky when I try to apply it to life. But this is where I think there is some goodness to work with. Though I have not proven this yet, I believe that you can use project management principles to manage the goals you have around your life. It’s hard, though. Many agile principles are best suited for software development, and I don’t think software is a good parallel for life. But then again, maybe it is. I suppose I need to look at the process for software development and see for myself.

I still have a fear that I won’t find an answer. And that it’ll be a waste of my time. What happens if I do all of this mental gymnastics and it turns out I haven’t made any helpful breakthroughs? I only have so much free time to devote to this, and I want to make good use of it. That said, time and again, I return to this idea of using project management – and change management – principles to not only run a business but to live a successful life. I’ve seen that what you start working on is almost definitely not going to be the finished product. But you still have to put in the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In the end, the time isn’t wasted. You learn from it, making you better at handling similar problems in the future.

This exposition has not made anything more precise, but I suppose it was good to get my thoughts on paper.