productivity

Practice makes perfect
Practice makes perfect 150 150 Freyr

One of my life’s greatest luck was to get to know my former swimming and sports teacher Halldór Kristjánsson. Halldór was an energetic teacher and everyone’s favorite. He guided me in my first swimming lessons at Skógar, in South Iceland, as a kid. Dóri, as he was called, showed genuine interest in us, the young farmers sons and daughters. The most important lesson learnt was though from his frequently repeated statement: “Remember kids, practice makes perfect!”.  Even if we were like brick in the water, he carefully chose the moments to point out the importance of practice rather than cheering the gene controlled talent. Dóri knew that talent was a good base but not what is needed for mastery. For mastery he saw practice as the only path!

Many good people have studied this in more detail. In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell states what amount there is to reach mastery, become top of the trade. Ten thousand hours he says, be it at playing the violin, programming, playing football or polo. His finding being based up on the studies of Eric Andersson (this among others). Eric later reiterated (in his book Peak) that counting hours is nowhere enough. Deliberate practice it must be! To be sufficient the practice must be focused, challenging enough and guided by a tutor who pushes you.

It is comforting news for us mediocre. Even better for you, with all your talent and potential and all your life ahead! By adding an hour here and there, using every minute to the fullest, focusing on the most important exercises, guided by a tutor, you gradually improve. At first you only exceed the time put in by your competitors by hours, then tens, hundreds, with full dedication even thousands of hours. At last Dóri’s statement is no longer an empty statement but a good description of you and your travel on the path to mastery!

Your focused moments and purpose
Your focused moments and purpose 150 150 Freyr

In Icelandic we use the word “ráðgjöf” for consulting. The direct translation is, to give an advice. And that is very much what I want to do. There are jokes up on us consultants on how we at times seem to specialize in charging for our advice, rather than giving it away for free. This time I will do my best to stick to the Icelandic meaning of the word. There are countless approaches, but I want to describe to you in few articles some tools and tricks I use to take control and lead, at the very least, my self. I call the series: “The optimized version of your self.”

Focused moments and purpose

Our journey starts with a small question. Have you sincerely taken the time to identify your core values and purpose? Have you thought about what you truly want to achieve? Until you have I am in the shoes of the consultant of Alice in Wonderland, the cat, before Alice had a clue where she wanted to head. Before you have identified your destination it doesn’t make the biggest difference in what direction you go.

The silence and calmness you need to think about your purpose doesn’t force it self up on you. You can find those moments wherever suites you, early morning in silence, on a bike, top of a mountain or sitting on a bench during rush hour is not the biggest issue. But be sure, this doesn’t happen without serious effort. It is so much easier to go with the flow, accept the interruption and follow others. It takes energy to take control and lead your self and others.

My recipe is to set up an appointment with my self. I do so once a month. Early morning, while others sleep I do review my purpose and main goals.

To begin with I had my moments in silence without any text. Later on I wrote down few lines. Now I have my paper filled out. We can call it my personal vision and purpose statement. Each month I review the document, iterate and try to improve, reset goals as needed. I go through exercises such as trying to see my self from the view of a high flying bird. I wonder what if I could do anything, if there were no limits to my capability? What if I can remove my self from the equation, step out and not participate hands on my self in the challenges. What then?

The methods and approaches are many, what tools or methods you choose is secondary. But realize that you must fight for this time, take control and accept that it is your responsibility to lead your self. Having used this mental exercise at regular interval I now feel I am better prepared than before if I happen to run into the cat one day.

Appetite for food and creative work
Appetite for food and creative work 150 150 Freyr

My better half knows a trick or two on how to deal with our kids. One of them she uses just before dinner. When the kids energy levels are low they at times get to watch TV. She then puts a bowl in front of them with a selection of vegetables. Vegetables they would otherwise not be too happy to eat disappear in a flash. The vegetables act as a good appetizer but still the children have good appetite at the dinner table. If on the other hand the kids dive into a bowl of candy just before dinner the situation is quite different. Kids won’t complain at all, well not until they are dragged to the dinner table. As you may have experienced their appetite is then slim to none.

I sometimes think about this and can well relate to my appetite for creative challenges.

If I want to maximize my output when writing, like this article, I do so early morning “fasting”. I write before I let anything else spoil my appetite for creative challenges. I ensure all alerts are switched off my mobile and PC. I write using a simple editor where nothing else is visible but the text I am working on. I don’t want to have a tempting “bowl of candy” in front of me. If I do “grab a quick bite” from news or social media mid demanding challenge I know I will lose my focus and my “appetite” and capability for creative work will be reduced. Some studies say more than 20 minutes after the interruption.

Let me not even get started on what happens if I try to multitask, that is the worst. Studies say it does not only limit your mental capability in the now, but can reduce your capabilities long term (see here).

I do hope you protect as well your appetite for creative work and studies as you would for your kid’s appetite for healthy food!

Why would anybody want to work for you?
Why would anybody want to work for you? 150 150 Freyr

You are well informed, you have university degrees left right and center. Top grades. All boxes checked. You are the outstanding expert in your field. You must be any hiring committee’s favorite. But does really anybody want to work for you? Work with you? Does your people manage to perform well, excel and improve?

Reality is you are not the only leader looking for good people. When the job market offers similar rates and people can pick any place in the world to work, then people look for opportunities which help them progress and improve. People look for leaders who help them to take the next positive step in their career.

My view is that the key for you as a leader, at least if you want somebody to work with you long term, is not necessarily found in your university degrees and expertise. Your grandmother might even be a better source for best practices. Few keywords I link more to my grandmothers than university studies are: Caring and understanding, sincere interest and appropriate distance and autonomy.

1. Caring and understanding
To be able to properly lead others your own well being is important. It is important that you honor and understand your self to be able to honor, understand and feel for your people, to see what are their drives and motives.
Humans are self centered by nature. Even the toughest of the toughest have to admit that they do feel better when their superior understands them, they are supported cared for and understood, like their grandmother would. It is fundamental that the leader knows what is the main driving factor for his people.

2. Sincere interest
If first step is caring and understanding then step two would be sincere and honest interest. As those who have read about The Hawthorne studies know then attention and interest is not only a key to the well-being of staff but also their productivity. This is even more important now when we are getting close to 100 years since the studies started and the ratio of knowledge worker has never been higher.

Do you know why your people chose to work with you? What are his or hers conditions today? Where she or he is heading? Will it possible strengthen your relationship to discuss this openly, as these 7 tips say? If you do show your people the same sincere interest as your grandmother did, then it will increase the odds they will be happier and more productive and your relationship will prosper.

3. Appropriate distance and autonomy
I do hope you experienced warmth, support and positive attitude from your grandmothers like I did, but at the same time the appropriate distance and autonomy in your adventures. Grandmothers sure are wise old women. Studies confirm what they practice in their guidance, autonomy is one of the most powerful trades in managing knowledge workers. Autonomy is more rewarding than financial bonuses when the tasks and roles depend on creativity and problem solving. I do not know if Daniel H. Pink if learned about the importance of Autonomy from his grandmother but I must higly recommend his great book Drive (on Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose) summarized here, in a 10 minute video.

Dear leader, formal education is great. University studies are an excellent basis and hopefully you will never quit your search for knowledge, but do expect your grandmother to continue to have the best answers for you!