You know, we can often be incredibly inconsiderate towards ourselves. I’m certainly guilty of working too-long days, refusing to take breaks, working in a mess until I can’t stand it anymore, feeding myself garbage, and not acknowledging any of my hard work and accomplishments. In fact, if I treated anyone else like this, I would consider myself a horrible person!
The reason we don’t treat other people like this isn’t merely moral. It’s also ineffective. It’s very clear in the productivity literature that having focused bursts of effort interspersed with generous breaks is the recipe for accomplishing a lot. There are tons of studies highlighting how light, airy offices, nice things to look at, and getting out into nature boosts our mood and our productivity.
And it’s equally clear that punishment, guilt, and reproach also hamper productivity (and creativity).
So it makes sense that if you want to be more effective in your work, you have to take on your very own “corporate culture.”
Guess What? You’re Going To Start Treating Yourself How You’d Want Your Kid To Be Treated
Welcome to our third mini-lesson in effective business planning and execution. First we talked about letting yourself “get things done” however comes most easily to you. Then we took it one step further to empower you to adapt your tools so they work better for the way you want to use them.
And today, we’re going to talk about the very serious issue of making sure that your workplace is one that actually enables good, creative work to happen.
So let’s look at the topic of discipline.
This is a hot-button topic. On any given day you can probably prompt someone to be guilt-stricken over their so-called ‘lack of discipline’ without too much effort. People think that discipline is hard; like iron, you either do what you say you will or die trying.
That’s certainly one kind of discipline.
What about the kind of discipline you’d raise your kids with? (or your hypothetical kids; just go with the metaphor, okay?)
Most people don’t pride themselves on being rigid disciplinarians. They know they have to instill some kind of discipline, but they don’t want to be a martinet. So they lay down clear rules, explain consequences, and try to create an environment where doing the right thing feels natural and easy. After all, you can’t expect your kids to do their chores without asking if they can’t find the broom or the kitchen table is covered with bills when they try to set the table. That would unreasonable. And if they weren’t on the ball with things, you couldn’t rightly say that it was a discipline problem.
The problem is less obvious. Hypothetically, it could be overcome with sheer willpower, but that would be like digging a ditch by hand when you have a perfectly good backhoe. For goodness sake, why would you make it so hard on yourself?
Well, mostly, it’s a combination of frazzledness, reactivity, and guilt.
Let’s take that statement apart:
Most people are a little frayed. Their attention is split every which way, they’re stressed about money and deadlines (and how about that strategic plan they haven’t implemented yet?) When we’re frazzled, we do some fundamentally dumb things, essentially throwing firepower at a problem because we didn’t think it through. We plough into the issue in a very mindless way.
Reactivity isn’t just being frazzled. It’s when your buttons get pushed. A switch flips in your head and suddenly you’re furious, terrified, indecisive or apathetic. When that switch gets flipped, you’re not just mindless– you’re a crazy person. There’s no reasoning with yourself– you start reacting to internal scripts (you might be familiar with the concept of self-sabotage. That concept falls under the reactivity umbrella.) Reactivity isn’t just useless– it’s damaging.
Finally, we have guilt. Guilt is a very special type of reactivity, because it’s directly tied to a kind of Puritanical, Calvinist way of thinking. There is only work, and the more awful the work is, the more it counts. And, if you avoid awful work, it’s because you’re morally weak. How dare you falter in the face of almighty Discipline? How dare you take time off? How dare you do proactive things that increase your productivity, or, god forbid, quality of life, like exercise or leisure?
It is frankly insane how difficult it is to overcome this programming.
So, as with many things, you need to treat yourself far more kindly than you would otherwise be inclined to do. You will need to treat yourself as you would treat other human beings who you care deeply about. Hence, the children metaphor.
Even when your children screw up, you don’t endlessly browbeat them. You brainstorm ways to fix the problem– sometimes on their end, sometimes on yours. Maybe you can try getting up earlier– but maybe you should also make sure the coffeepot is preprogrammed and the dishes are already done so you don’t roll out of bed feeling like there’s an army of little chores demanding your attention.
It’s a balance between trying harder and finding ways to help yourself succeed. And, if you treated yourself the way you treat your kids, you’d know that helping them succeed doesn’t just help them try harder– it helps them believe in a world where success is always within reach. And that confidence is what helps them to bloom.
Each day is a new day to succeed, and if you pay attention to your conditions, over time you’ll create an environment where success feels doable. Not assured, but pretty damn attainable. And it’s not that it isn’t work. It’s just that you went out of your way to iron out all those stupid Puritanical notions that if work isn’t miserable it doesn’t count. And because work feels so rewarding, you do more of it. It’s a virtuous cycle, see?
In Practical Planning, we’re going to spend a lot of time helping you work out conditions for success. We don’t focus on the try harder part very much at all— I take it as a given that you are trying your hardest. What we want is to make it so that working hard feels easy, feels right.
The Hardship Clause
Most people are willing to do this sort of benevolent management when things are going well. But when things are going sideways, they skid right back into being horrible bosses. Sometimes, the 12 hour workdays may indeed be necessary. But what would you tell a kid in a similar situation?
Probably something like, “Sometimes things aren’t going to be pleasant. They’re going to be difficult, thankless, and tedious. They may even be stupid, a result of bad management and poor planning, or something you had no control over. And when that happens, you have to put your head down and do the work anyway. But, never stop looking for chances to get off the hamster wheel and get the situation back to a healthy norm.”
And that’s what you’re going to do with today’s worksheet. Improve the ‘company culture,’ establish or strengthen the right kind of discipline, and make sure things stay a ‘healthy normal’ as much as possible.