How To Improve Your Odds for Change Success

Organizational change management is hard – so hard that you’re likely to fail 70% of the time.

However, by focusing on performance, i.e., “what an enterprise does to deliver improved results for its stakeholders” and health, i.e., “how effectively an organization works together in pursuit of a common goal,” the clients they’ve worked with have more than doubled their odds for successful change (Keller & Schaninger, 2019).

The authors assert that their approach is unequivocally superior to others because of the extensive research and scientific rigor behind their recommendations, the comprehensiveness and pragmatism of the tools, and the approach’s ability to be customized for each client. They close their introductory chapter with a passionate plea for better change management.

I agree that change is hard – but what’s the deal with the high failure rate? It’s hard to contest the need for better change management practices, but a 30% success rate doesn’t offer much hope.

Point 1: Change management has never been more critical.

There are multiple types of change – e.g., organizational, political, social – all of which we desperately need. For example, consider that Americans generally do not have an optimistic view of the future. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center (2019), respondents overwhelmingly believed that America would lose its standing globally, implode under the cost of health care, and have a weakened economy by 2050. In addition, about half surveyed have lost confidence in our representative democracy and don’t believe our political leaders are qualified for their jobs. And 40% are worried about the country’s moral values, the climate crisis, and the quality of public schools for our children.  

But it’s not because we haven’t tried. Change has been on the agenda for political leaders, globally, for decades. The authors remind us of the political zeal of leaders like France’s Hollande and Macron, America’s attempt to “make itself great again,” and our Canadian neighbors’ belief of “real change” under the dreamy Trudeau. But the odds are stacked against them (Keller & Schaninger, 2019). There’s only a 30% chance of impacting economic inequality, climate change, and an overcrowding planet. If we don’t have better tools for designing and implementing change, we’re going to be in a pickle.

In addition to social changes, there are also changes to how we work – and not just because of COVID. One of these changes is an increasing shift towards projects and away from operations. In fact, we may need to shift our thinking to look at projects as operations.

As Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, former chairman of the Project Management Institute, writes for the Harvard Business Review, “…projects (which involve the changing of organizations) are increasingly driving both short-term performance and long-term value creation—through more-frequent organizational transformations, faster development of new products, quicker adoption of new technologies…” (Nieto-Rodriguez, 2021). Said differently, soon, we’ll all be project managers. And managing that much change can have severe consequences if we don’t know how to do it right.

Point 2: Our odds of success may be higher than we realize.

The authors tout the infamous 70% failure statistic, but I take issue with that. It’s not that change isn’t hard, but the negativity bias implied with this kind of percentage makes it feel like you are bound to fail. Here’s a personal example.

When I was preparing for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, my teacher said that only 30% of test-takers passed it on the first try. Even worse, while I was preparing, the test changed, which allegedly cut that success rate in half. How the heck do you stay motivated when there’s an 85% chance you’ll use most of your free time to study and still fail? Naturally, I was nervous, but I stuck with my study approach, and ultimately, I scored above the target in every area.

Perhaps, there’s some cache around passing what some would consider a difficult test – and maybe to elevate the profession, this sort of reputation is good. But in everyday life, if I told you that you had a 70% chance of failing – even with your most excellent intentions and hard work, how often would you try something new? Probably not all that often.

In a seminal work, “Reengineering the Corporation,” two renowned business authorities shared an eye-popping statistic that caught readers’ attention. “Our unscientific estimate is that as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort do not achieve the dramatic results they intended (Champy & Hamper, 1993).” Note the term “unscientific estimate.” Well, after people latched on to that quote, it’s been reverberating in the change atmosphere ever since. A few years after their book was published, the authors even corrected the public, but it was too late. The looming thought of change failure would haunt business professionals for decades.

If we think we’ll fail, we’ll look for signs that we’re failing and use those as proof that we’re doomed. Unfortunately, research done at the University of Chicago shows “we assume that failure is a more likely outcome than success, and, as a result, we wrongly treat successful outcomes as flukes and bad results as irrefutable proof that change is difficult.” Thankfully, research shows that the opposite is true; if we actively look for signs of success, we’ll build momentum that helps us achieve our goals.

So, what’s the upshot here?

Change is hard – for many reasons I’ll unpack in future posts – but we aren’t doomed to fail. Doesn’t it feel bleak to think that there’s a 70% chance in 2050 you’ll be poorer, our kids will be less bright, your health with be worse, and our country will implode? Thankfully, we have change management principles that can help us significantly improve our odds for success. Moreover, we can use these principles to affect professional and social change. Kelly and Schaninger give us the McKinsey approach; you don’t have to use theirs, but I suggest that you use something.

You should not expect any change to be easy. However, “Every time we feel the impulse to say, “change is hard,” we could make a different claim that is every bit as accurate: Adaptation is the rule of human existence, not the exception. (Tasler, 2017).” 

Furthermore, we don’t approach each new change effort like a newbie. Instead, we’ve learned how to manage over time, throughout the multitude of changes thrust upon us. It is, quite literally, how we’ve learned to survive. So, start to see your challenges (and yourself) as a change success story. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and your perspective determines which future comes to pass.


Champy, J.A. & Hamper, M. (1993). Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. Harper Business.

Keller, S. & Schaninger, B. (2019). Beyond Performance 2.0: A Proven Approach to Leading Large-Scale Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Nieto-Rodriguez, A. (2021, November/December). The Project Economy Has Arrived: Use these skills and tools to make the most of it. Harvard Business Review, 38-45. 

Pew Research Center. (2019). Looking to the Future, Public Sees an America in Decline on Many Fronts.

Tasler, N. (2017). Stop Using the Excuse “Organizational Change Is Hard”. Harvard Business Review.

Meet My Alter Ego: Change Management Evangelist

When’s the last time you reflected on why you liked what you like?

I heard that you could increase your job satisfaction by finding a job that meets some deep, personal need. As I’ve described on the blog, I have an incessant need to solve problems. I tend to see things as puzzles, but I’ve often become frustrated that I couldn’t solve them.

Change management (CM) and project management (PM) have given me tools to improve my skills in this area, providing some order to this otherwise chaotic, hyperactive brain. This post will provide some background on how I came to appreciate CM/PM and what you can expect from my CM/PM-focused posts.

I spent some time thinking about how I became such an evangelist for change management, and I had to go back through my career. Corporate training was the first job I really liked, and I was good at it. I’d become successful by using my public speaking skills and intuition as a facilitator. But not having an organized, repeatable, and reliable approach to developing courses put me at a disadvantage.

One day, I learned about an instructional design framework called ADDIE (Naji, 2016)  – Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation – and it’s hard to describe how much this helped me as a trainer. ADDIE offered a systematic way to solve my training problems, and the best part was that I didn’t lose my creativity. In fact, it allowed my imagination to blossom even more. As a result, I became a much better trainer.

After I moved out of training & development and into organizational effectiveness, I again had the issue of not having proven approaches to make improvements. I could see where my team was and where I wanted it to go, but I didn’t have a good plan to get there. In fact, I didn’t even know what the plan was. I’d look at my inputs – me and all my skill sets, the team and their skillsets, the culture, our morale, what I was learning in school, what other managers were doing, etc. – but I couldn’t get to the other side of making meaningful results. I managed to get on well enough, but it was hard, and I felt like a fraud next to my colleagues.

So, imagine my excitement when I learned about organizational change management (OCM)!. There are dozens of frameworks that all consist of helping to change human behavior with the hope of moving as many people as possible from point A to point B. And after I learned about project management (PM) – the practical tools to move from point A to point B – I felt even more equipped. 

OCM helped me with the “what”; PM helped me with the “how.”  

I have not solved the world’s biggest problems with my instructional design, change management, or project management skills, but these concepts have given me the tools to approach life with greater confidence. I’ve applied these principles with great success, whether at work or at home. I’ve wanted to share what I’ve learned with the community out of gratitude. In addition, I wanted to share how one could integrate CM and PM into one strategy. I haven’t seen a lot of people tackle these issues together. Probably because it’s damn hard, though, not impossible.

That’s the primary reason I was excited about Beyond Performance 2.0 (Keller & Schaninger, 2019). The authors don’t use the terms the same way I do, but it’s the best and most recent work I’ve read that tries to integrate the concepts of “what” and “how.” I started reading the book some time ago – and with a lot of enthusiasm – but gradually, I took longer breaks in between sessions and ended up losing momentum and forgetting most of what I read. So, I plan to share the highlights of the text on this blog to rekindle the change management flame and crystallize my learnings from the book.   

The terms “change management” and “project management” can feel cold and dry. They can feel so corporate. That said, the guidance and tools they offer have contributed to significant positive changes for me, personally and professionally. My goal is to find a way to share CM/PM info that doesn’t put you (or me) to sleep, which helps me test my hypothesis. I believe that change/project management principles are practical at work and can also be applied to improve the quality of your life.


Naji, C. (2021, November 16). Addie Training Model: Steps, examples, and outdated myths. RSS. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from 

Keller, S. & Schaninger, B. (2019) Beyond Performance 2.0: A Proven Approach to Leading Large-Scale Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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.

Why I Need to Change Course

As I write, I get more clarity on what I don’t want to write about. My vision for starting all of my blogs and podcasts was to share insights about things I learned in hopes that they would inform and inspire other people in the same way that I’ve been informed and inspired by other people. Many of my insights and interests are in personal and professional development.

That said, I like Scrum principles, but I’ve not worked on a Scrum team. This makes a lot of the topics theoretical. On the other hand, all of my project management experience has been in traditional project management, so it makes more sense to talk about concepts I use every day. It might also make it easier to integrate Agile topics because I have a solid understanding of traditional project management.

To that end, I’ll link the Scrum guide here.

If you’ve enjoyed learning about it, then you can read it. But I want to shift toward a new direction.

In addition to sharing what I’ve learned, blogs and podcasts give me a way to crystalize and memorialize my learnings. Sometimes there are so many insights in books that I need to spend a couple of days just on a few words. I want to spend time with these thoughts, nurture and cultivate them, and have them become a part of who I am. I can’t do that if I don’t slow down and unpack all the lessons.

I’ve thought about doing this for books and for articles. And I have almost 100 articles saved in my inbox that I want to read and write about, but I haven’t. So this might be an opportunity for me to get some of that done.

One of the challenges I have is that I like to read, re-read, and then re-read the articles again. I spend more time reading and thinking than I do writing. When I finally sit down to write, I’m overwhelmed by all the ideas, and it takes too long to write. I get hung up on sounding smart and making everything perfect. If I allow myself to move slowly, I can meet my goal. But I worry that it will take too long to get through all the articles and books. What happens if it takes me a whole year to unpack a book. Paradoxically, that’s the entire reason I want to take my time. Think about how well you know something if you stick with it for a whole year. I understand this intellectually, but emotionally it’s hard for me to make that trade-off. I can do tons of shallow reviews or much fewer thorough reviews. But I can’t have both.

Interestingly, the more I think and talk about it but don’t do it, I’m not making any progress at all. So let’s start doing.

I want to explore the first article, “How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You,” by Michael Gervais. It was published in Harvard Business Review on May 2, 2019. It was timely that this article showed up in my feed because I struggle with this concept. In fact, I’ve struggled with it a lot. One interesting manifestation of this is my sensitivity to whether my meeting invites are declined and about declining other people’s invites. When people decline my invite, it feels like they are declining me as a person. It feels like they are rejecting me. Intellectually, I know that’s silly. And even if they were declining me as a person, doing it via email invites is a poor way to do it. I also don’t want to decline a meeting because I don’t know if the other person will think I did it because I don’t like them as a person.

Geesh. The more I write this out, the sillier it sounds. But I cannot deny that it is a thought pattern that causes me grief from time to time. So I hope this article gives me some tips.

Terrible Tuesday

Today was challenging. 

It was a long day, and I ran out of energy a couple hours before I was done with my work. I’m not sure what’s the cause, but my colleagues sound burned out. I think we need better skills in collaborating with a dispersed workforce. I can’t speak for them, but it seems as if information is already outdated by the time I get it. It can be hard to keep up.

Organizations, i.e., people, have to adapt – sometimes abruptly. And I also know that change is the only constant. But at what point does the amount of change feel dysfunctional? I guess at the point where one’s capacity for managing change has been exceeded. But, of course, we all have different levels of change capacity, and even that capacity is dependent on the context of the situation.

It does feel like we try to do too much at once. But, again, I’m not sure if I should be more agile or if my point is objectively viable. Doing the back-to-back to meetings on different topics gives my brain whiplash. By the end of the day, if I’m not careful, I would have spent a lot of time doing “stuff” but never making progress on what’s most important.

I’d define the Scrum framework as one where the goal is to create an environment where change can be effectively managed while making progress towards a specific goal. But one of the guideposts is that the entire team agrees to what they plan to accomplish. We control for known distractions and practice discipline with just the right touch of flexibility. We set ourselves up for success in the sprint planning session. There are three guiding questions: (1) Why is this sprint valuable? (2) What can be done in this sprint? (3) How will the chosen work get done?

Note: I got these questions from The Scrum Guide: The definitive guide to Scrum: The rules of the game, by Ken Schwaber & Jeff Sutherland.

At work, when there’s a sense of urgency with almost every task, it gets challenging to prioritize. The Scrum framework accounts for this in the Daily Scrum meeting. This is not your typical meeting – usually, it’s held with everyone standing up and limited to 15 minutes. The only goal is to get aligned on the most critical work that has to be done that day and resolve impediments to getting said work done. At the end of the sprint, there’s a sprint review to inspect the work that was done, and at the very end of the sprint, there’s a retrospective to evaluate how we did it.

I like this process because you determine what you’re going to do upfront. Then, every day, you talk about your progress towards that specific goal and nothing else. Then, you evaluate what you did and how well you did it at a predetermined time. And then you do it all over again. It breaks complicated projects down into more manageable pieces. What I miss in my current role is the connection back to what we agreed upon.

On the one hand, I get to make my own metrics and plan my own day. I really like the autonomy of my job. But on the other, it feels a bit every-man-for-himself.

Piano Project Management

One concept that stuck with me from learning about agile project management (PM) is the sprint. Agile PM is based on principles, and it can be implemented in different ways. It’s a flexible methodology. One agile approach is Scrum, and one of the five Scrum events is a sprint. Think of a sprint as a period, usually a couple of weeks, where a team focuses on a particular task or set of tasks. It’s like a mini-, time-crunched, singularly-focused project in the middle of a project.

This idea stuck with me because one of my challenges is staying focused on a task. I can’t always rely on my brain to think linearly. In fact, I often jump around on a project. Sometimes that’s fine, but other times it’s not because it makes it hard to measure my progress. Sprints require focus, forcing you to say “no” to some things and a strong “yes” to something else.

In my mind, there are so many possibilities of approaching work. And my natural over-achiever tendencies cause me to immediately up the ante. Instead of thinking, how do I get this done in the fastest, most efficient way possible, I like to dream up big, elaborate visions, and I can get lost in my head. While I’m doing this, I’m missing out on time actually spent “doing” and learning and making mistakes. When I do finally settle down, my brain still likes to jump around and think about how to make something sexier. But I have to bring myself back to the task at hand. I’ve experienced this issue in almost every role I’ve had as an adult.

So when I heard about the sprint, which is based on this idea that we agree to do THIS and only THIS for this period, which by default means we’re not doing THAT, it gave me hope. It gave me structure, and it gave me the vocabulary to use.

One of the principles in Agile is that you focus on creating value as soon as possible. For example, if you are building an app, it typically takes 6 months. First, you have to take the idea, draw up a prototype, design the app, and actually develop it. Then, you have to test it, deploy it, and service it. In this scenario, you don’t create value – i.e., the benefit of having the working app – until all of these steps are completed. Using an agile approach like Scrum, instead of waiting 6 months for the app, we can release the app in one month and make improvements over time.

Let’s say we have a 4-week sprint. At the beginning of the sprint, the team decides what can be accomplished in 4 weeks given the constraints around the team’s time and abilities. They can’t release 6 months of functionality in one month, so they decide to release the bare-bones functionality of the app. It might not be sexy, but it’s usable and starts to add value for the intended audience. So in a sprint, the team would look at how to design, develop, test, and deploy one feature in one month. And then, in the next month, they’d do the same.

Applying this to life, we can’t do everything we want at once. As I shared in a previous post, humans are notoriously bad at planning far out in the future. It’s good to have an eye on the horizon, but what we have the most control over now is what’s right in front of us. In a way, focusing on the present is the best way to plan for the future. A real-life example for me is that I want to be an accomplished, amateur pianist who gives small classical music concerts in people’s homes. I want to educate them on the piece, the composer, the period, its connection to today – ultimately, to add some context to otherwise esoteric music and make classical music more accessible. I have a lot of music to learn and haven’t given much thought to making this a reality. But if I want to start now, I can have small recitals for my friends – which I’ve done in the past. These have been on a smaller scale and have helped me improve and fine-tune my approach for next time. In a way, this is what happens on a sprint. And this is why I thought PM, specifically Agile PM, would be an excellent way to track my progress towards this goal.

Day 6 of 30

I am trying not to obsess over finding the perfect project management (PM) tool, but I’m not doing great at it. I used “ATracker” for a few entries, but I didn’t like the user interface (UI). On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed using Toggl for work, so I created a new board specifically for non-work tasks. Ideally, I’d be able to track time directly in the project – and I think that’s possible with Asana – but I can’t learn everything at once.

As I started planning my solo recital and adding other things to the list, something interesting (but not unfamiliar) happened. Getting it out of my head and writing out the steps that I need to achieve makes it real. It doesn’t matter how grand the plan is in my head. What matters is what I can actually complete. When I write some things down, I realize it won’t take as many steps as planned, or vice versa.

PM tools can’t help me plan. I still have to do the sequencing and think through the steps and timeline. I don’t need a PM tool for that; I really only need pen and paper. And most of what I need help with is task management instead of extensive project management.

That said, I’ve listed the tasks (songs) that I need to complete (learn) by February, and I’ve also scheduled the dress rehearsals. I assessed what I’ve already learned and determined which pieces I needed to master to finish the half-hour concert. One of my piano teachers encouraged me to pick a recital date and stick with it. If the date is flexible, I can constantly tweak the program. I’m not bound by anything. Setting a date forces me to focus my time on what’s possible. In a way, setting a deadline actually helps me get more done. I make better use of the time because I want to be accountable for my schedule. I stop dreaming and start doing.

It’s Sunday, and I’m in one of those moods where I want to be a lazy bum, but I feel guilty for being a lazy bum. Usually, I struggle with this all day, but I want to do it differently this time. I’m going to pick some things to do – maybe 3 – then allow myself to relax or be spontaneous the rest of the time.

  1. Workout – It doesn’t have to be a long one, but I want to break a sweat and feel like I did something.
  2. Work – I want to spend one hour preparing for the work week ahead.
  3. Piano – I want to practice and track my practice time using Toggl.

Using PM Tools w/ Piano

I don’t want to find the “perfect” project management (PM) tool; instead, I want to find the best tool for my specific needs. Sometimes finding the solution first and looking for the problem second is fun, but I want to be more linear for a change.

I have been practicing piano consistently for about a year. The piano and I have an on-again, off-again relationship, but I’ve played at least some each year for the past 10 years. What seems to happen is that I prepare for a recital or performance, and then I drop it. So, what ends up happening is that I get a piece performance-ready (i.e., memorized, fully polished, and ready for Carnegie) and then drop it after the performance. Some pieces take a long time to get there – and that’s just for my amateur level of performance-ready. As one’s musical intuition and technical prowess advance, even more exposition can be done to an even greater level with the music. But I never achieve this level. In part because I have had the tendency of always wanting to move on to the bigger, badder piece.

There’s a constant pursuit for more challenges, but the challenges start to be too much at some point. Because the pieces get more demanding, I make progress slower. And the slower progress makes me less motivated, and I want to play less. And then there’s a downward spiral to the point where I just don’t play at all. Then when I’m not playing, I lament over how I don’t have any repertoire that I’ve consistently expanded over the years because I learn a piece and then drop it. Sometimes I get bored and want to move on. Sometimes I think I need a break. Getting a piece performance-ready is hard work and requires a lot of dedicated focus. I think it’s fair to take a break, but I have to return from the break.

With my most recent return to piano performance, I’m focusing on music that inspired me to stick with the piano. I’m not trying to be competitive, and I don’t want to be showy or virtuosic. I just want to sit down at the piano after a hard day at work or on a peaceful Saturday afternoon and just play a half-hour of beautiful, relaxing, heart-warming piano music. I’m talking Bach, Grieg, Debussy, Yiruma, etc.

The goal was to play for an hour, but I’m cutting all my goals in half so that I don’t get burned out. The little boy in me who needs validation wants to over-achieve so that he feels accepted, but that shit is exhausting. I want to play piano for me, first. At least at this stage, it’ll be a bonus for other people. So, how do I monitor my progress towards this goal? It’s been swimming around in my head, but I’ve not really put it down into a plan.

Enter project management!

The first thing I want to do is determine why I have this goal, which I shared above. The next thing is to be more specific about the plan. I need a start and end date. And some criteria to determine whether the goal is met. So, let’s say today is the start date, and I want to do my concert on Friday, February 11, 2021. 

What are the steps?

  • Fill up 30 minutes with music I enjoy, allowing for breaks in between pieces. 
  • This is for me, but my partner is welcome to listen
  • No talking, just playing.
  • I can choose music from any genre and any period.
  • The music must be memorized

The criteria:

  • How many pieces can I play now, and how much time do they take?
  • What other pieces do I want to focus on to finish the 30 minutes?
  • How do I prepare those pieces?
  • When do I schedule a dress rehearsal?
  • How many dress rehearsals do I want?

One of the things I want to track is how much time I spend practicing pieces. I’ve been doing this on paper, but I want to see it in a chart. I want to learn, on average, how long does it take me to remember certain pieces. It often feels like it takes forever to learn a piece, but I think that’s because I only play a little of each piece every day. I want to see how long it takes to learn a piece, not in days, but in actual minutes.

The first piece of PM software I want to use will help me track my time practicing. I use Toggl for work, and I like it. Really easy to use. But I want to try a different one for piano to see how other tools work. After skimming some articles and watching some YouTube videos, I ultimately decided to go with a tool I learned about in the AppStore – ATracker Time Tracker. I’ve already practiced today, so I will track the rest of the time I spend blogging to get started.

But life can’t be managed.

So, scratch that. I deleted Jira. But also signed up for and Asana. I think I’ll stick with Asana. From what I’ve seen, they do the best job of explaining how to align their product with agile terminology. I want to explain some of the topics here, but first, let me tell you about my idea.

As I mentioned before, I believe life is a project, but I don’t think you can “manage” life. I have tried very hard to “manage” it, and I have been horribly unsuccessful. So finally, I’m warming up to the idea that I should live life. Sounds basic – I know – but it really was a big aha moment. And I wondered if you could apply project management (PM) principles to your own life. Use the same approaches for decision-making, the same formulas to evaluate progress, the tools to manage time. Every time I pick up some steam with this idea, I think – “oh, this is stupid. It’s too much work to test it, and ultimately, no one cares.”

I’ve been afraid to be curious about it, scared that people would judge me. And when I look at my life over time, I’ve always been terrified of judgment. And it makes me show up small sometimes. Too often. I learned that fear of judgment, rejection, and being unlovable are core human fears.

Who the fuck says, “your idea is stupid, and no one cares”? That’s mean. We’d never say that to a friend. Yes, we’d tell them the truth, but with kindness. So why would I say it to myself? Why would you say it yourself?

I feel like I have to make other people’s ideas a reality, that I have to make their dreams come true. But I’ve been so occupied with their idea of me that I abandoned the goals I had or never discovered new pictures of my own. I have a problem with procrastination and (waning amounts of) perfectionism. I used to always stop everything I started. But then I realized the momentum you gain from sticking with and finishing. It only feels fitting to finish now, and when I don’t finish – it’s intentional.

So I’m going to finish my 30 in 30! Tomorrow, we learn about project management!

Jira Juices Are Flowing!

So, what does planning for the next couple of weeks look like? Well, 22 days are remaining in December to decide how I want to use my time for the rest of the year. One thing I’ve been curious about exploring is learning how to use project management software for more than projects. I think it has the potential to help me outside of the office. The challenge is that many PM tools are designed for software or product development. I haven’t seen any options on “life management.” I downloaded Jira earlier today to help me get started. Jira is a popular PM tool, and I have no experience with it. We don’t use it at my job, but many other companies do, so it’s probably not a bad skill to learn.