Lessons in Prioritising and Persistence

Seemingly obvious prioritising choices can take a backseat as our quest for something to ‘show’ takes the priority. Read on.

You have been asked to train a monkey to sing and dance on stage. We know, it is highly unlikely someone is ever going to ask you to do this, but let’s just pretend for a few minutes. Hypothetically.

What is the first thing that you will prioritise? Obviously, the monkey, right?

While this is an obvious answer, it could happen that you also want to make the stage look nice and spectacular. So, you spend some time building and decorating the stage. In fact, you spend a lot of time building and decorating the stage.

While building and decorating the stage seems like a silly thing to prioritise and you are pretty sure that the major chunk of energy and priority will go to the monkey to be trained, human nature suggests otherwise. Teaching a monkey how to sing and dance on a stage can teach us a lesson or two.

A common peculiarity seen in most of us is that we like to have something concrete. A tangible result is what we aim for. As this article which acted as an inspiration for our write-up points out, we like to have something to ‘show’. Building and decorating the stage is a much easier task than training a monkey to sing. It is also a result that will be visible more quickly; it will be more noticeable. It’s a faster to achieve job.

We often end up engaging in a similar error in prioritising our tasks. We also end up doing something similar to our larger goals and dreams. We want to have something concrete to show. Having something concrete to show is a practical strategy, of course. But we also want to have that concrete thing now. That is where we tend to lose focus from the bigger picture, and we end up over-prioritising things that can are easier to do and will take less time. When the audience comes, we want the monkey to be able to sing. A well-built and well-decorated stage makes no sense if there’s no performer there. A false sense of working hard might set in. Harder work is to wait for the results to show.

We will go back to training our monkey now. Training the monkey to sing and dance will be difficult. It will cost one patience. More time, more energy, more skills to be developed, more training required on our part. (I mean, most of us aren’t equipped with the skills to train animals, forget teaching them to sing and dance, right?)

Again, something difficult often requires more time and effort, but just because a concrete result isn’t there yet, doesn’t mean that there is no result in progress. Learning something difficult, prioritising something difficult could mean that we may not have much or anything to show for some time. Skills take time to develop. Behind one single achievement, there could be months and years of work. A performance might be fun and enjoyable to everyone else, but the one who has trained and the one who has been trained have put in immense work, invisible to everyone else.

So, the next time you want to think about your priorities, think if you need to focus on training the monkey or decorating the stage. The next time you feel frustrated in a project, think if you are frustrated because you haven’t found something concrete, or frustrated about the time it is taking to ‘show’ something. It takes both, prioritising and persistence.

A Little Stress can make you More Productive

Most of the times we are told about stress and its downfalls. By now we know the kind of risks and diseases that a chronically stressed lifestyle can lead to, thanks to the tons of coverage about how stress is bad. But what if stress could be used in a good way? What if we told you that there’s a good kind of stress too. Read on.

Psychology calls it the ‘eustress’. Eustress is the kind of a positive stress one feels and something that can propel us to do a job well. How does the good kind of stress help us?

Gives the Push:

The good kind of stress can push us out of procrastination. Often, we do really good work around deadlines because the push of the stress makes us come up with really good workable ideas. We may wonder why we do our best work when there’s an outside pressure and the reason is that the outside pressure works as the ‘good stress’ that makes us get up and do the work needed. Say for example, a little nervousness, just a little, can lead to a good meeting as the nervousness will ensure we try our best, instead of taking it lightly and not giving our best. 

Being stress-free all the time can lead to stagnation:

While we are encouraged to live in a stress-free state and chronic stress should definitely be avoided, living on the other spectrum of absolutely no stress is not only unrealistic but also not very feasible. Some ‘tension’ is a good thing. Feeling a sense of lack, or feeling a sense that there is more to be achieved is a good thing. It ensures we don’t remain stagnant and continue to find ways to move forward. Or think of it this way: things that are just lying around, not looked after, not stressed after gather up dust. That little stress is needed to brush up the dust.

The little inkling of stress that we are not living up to certain expectations, whether our own or someone else’s ensures we assess our situation and options. If the little stress compels us to invest in a side business, or that little tension that we may fall behind lets us undertake upskilling tasks, then that little stress, the little tension is a good thing, isn’t it?

Being stressed means that we care:

And caring about something is a great quality to have. Again, only if we care about something, whether it is our finances, our career, our family or our personal growth, will we be stressed out about it, and we will take steps to make things better. Or else, it leads to, as we mentioned before, stagnation. The opposite of care is apathy, and apathy not only leads to insensitivity towards our fellow human beings but also a sense of pessimism. ‘Why bother about things, they have always been like this’ isn’t an attitude that can lead to progress, industriousness and the urge to make things better in our own way.

Being stressed is a sign that we care, and instead of running away from the stress, or sweeping it under the carpet all the time, it might lead to something good. Whether it’s a push to come up with great ideas, or the push to change one’s life for the better, one step at a time.

Don’t give up just yet!

If you grew up in a world that didn’t have computers and much modern technology all the time, you probably found many different ways to pass time. One of those would be solving a Rubik’s cube. Solving a Rubik’s Cube can be frustrating, before it gets rewarding. It can test your patience before it can give you a reason to rejoice.

A similar thing can happen beyond a simple game of Rubik’s cube. Things can get worse before they get better. We are often very close to giving up on something and then suddenly, just as we loosen the grip, it all falls into place. Before giving up on anything, it might do us good to keep this in mind: we might be very close to a breakthrough without realising it, even though nothing seems to be working in our favour in that moment.

In addition to the situations when we have been persistently trying hard at something for some time, things can also feel like they are going worse before they get better in scenarios such as changes in operations, management, strategies, and anything new that is implemented. We might feel like the change is not working so far, and hence it must be time to give up on the change and call it a failure.

What can we do to ensure we don’t give up too early?

Be okay with the discomfort of the process: Many of us give up on projects and things when we encounter the discomfort or perception of failure. We might see no results as we pitch in to that client day after day, or we see no results as we continue on a new project, and that absence of an external cue of success can be uncomfortable. The lesson here is to remember that process takes time. We might not realise it, but that client might get impressed by our persistence, and finally agree to our request. Or it takes one tiny breakthrough, built upon the foundations of our earlier hard work on a project, to turn things around. The key is to embrace the discomfort that comes with the process of doing something and not seeing immediate results.

Embrace the journey: It is often an overwhelming focus on the end result that makes us impatient and oversensitive to setbacks. Solving a Rubik’s cube might not be as frustrating if we actually focus on solving it, instead of thinking what a great achievement it would be if we solved it. Embracing the chaos that comes with starting anything new will make us more prepared to deal with the chaos, instead of focusing on negative thinking patterns such as ‘I should never have started this/we should never have decided to introduce this xyz strategy’. Taking it one step at a time, learning from each step, and being curious where our next step takes us and teaches us would be a better mindset to have than being in a rush to get to the end of the task.

Whether ongoing or new tasks or ideas, things might get worse before they get better, because it is after all a process. Processes are rarely smooth, and processes are often rollercoasters with their thrills, drops and highs, disappointments, lessons and tiny achievements before we can end up on the finish line, and look back at the wonderful journey we have had. Don’t give up just yet!

What is Job Crafting?

Job crafting helps one find little ways to make their job more interesting.

Job crafting is the latest buzzword doing the rounds all over our social media and LinkedIn feeds.

The thing with buzzwords and jargon is that often what they ask of us is unrealistic. At best, they are at times irrelevant and just add to the noise around us.

What exactly is job crafting and is it something that is realistic, doable and achievable without sounding outrageous and demanding by a normal employee?

Let us quickly look into it. Job crafting involves seeing the job description as a work in progress, and finding ways to make it more aligned with one’s goals, strengths and values. It is a bottom-up approach.

However, that does not mean employees should be reshaping the jobs such that they don’t have to do what they don’t like. It is not about throwing responsibilities away or Quiet Quitting. As suggested in our earlier article about Quiet Thriving, job crafting is a lot about shifting perspectives. Job crafting is about finding ways to do more of what makes your job more enjoyable.

In our earlier article about Quiet Thriving, we mentioned how a shift in perspective can help us see our jobs in a new light. That too is a kind of job crafting, at the cognitive level. Finding a new sense of purpose in our jobs is also a kind of job crafting. Let us take a look at a few aspects about job crafting in a little more detail.

Task crafting:

There are some tasks which we genuinely find interesting and motivating. Finding the tasks you enjoy and crafting your role to do more of those is what task crafting is all about. This could involve talking to your manager, and asking them to assign you more responsibilities that you enjoy. It can also be about finding new challenges and avenues to learn, and hence can also involve asking your manager to assign you a different than usual role in group projects.

This little tweaking can go a long way in helping one see their work in a new light, helping to break the monotony and finding healthy ways to channelise the need to be challenged and combat the boredom that may have set in over time. For example, you may come to realise that you love interacting with new people. Communicating that with your manager might mean that you get more responsibilities that involve interacting with new people, such as mentoring new recruits, meeting delegates from other companies and so on. This is all about gaining a fresh sense of enthusiasm about your job.

Speaking of a fresh sense of enthusiasm, social support at workplace can go a long way in enabling us to keep our motivation levels in check. Read on.

Relationship crafting:

People, aka, colleagues are an important part of most jobs. Relationship crafting is about consciously trying to better your relations with your colleagues. While many of us do enjoy simply coming to work and doing our job, without needing to interact with people much, some basic cordial rapport building is important.

Relationship crafting, that is, trying to build some rapport with the colleagues enables one to find some social support when the work itself might get challenging. A good rapport with colleagues ensures some community and network building at work. It also can get us going through good and bad times. While your job description may or may not really mention the need to work interdepartmentally, establishing a good rapport with people from the other departments would add an ease of functioning, access to more perspectives and even more learning opportunities

Amidst the ever-evolving job market, and the demands it brings, job crafting enables employees to ensure their job remains relevant, purposeful, and up to date, with never-ending learning. What’s more, it enables employers to have motivated employees.

Key to Collaborating Effectively

Collaboration at work in various degrees is always present. A company or organisation works because we have multiple people contributing their varying set of skills and competencies, experience levels and ideas, and thus collaborating in a subtle, unnoticed way. Within and between the organisations too, there are opportunities to consciously collaborate on projects, meetings and objectives.

Collaboration is everywhere, team-work is everywhere, and yet sometimes we end up feeling overwhelmed or unnecessarily called out. Departments might feel the workload is lopsided, that some departments have it easy. At the group level too, individuals might feel some of them are doing more work than the others. On the other hand, some might not even understand the need to collaborate in the first place.

The question then arises- how to collaborate effectively? Let us have a look around the question, and what pointers can be kept in mind.

Collaborate to Build Capacity:

Collaboration is about complementing the limitations of one side and using the strengths of the other to balance things out. Hence, it involves some form of helping, uplifting, which can be a huge motivation for people. Moreover, some people just go the extra mile because that is just how they function- they like to take on responsibilities head on.

 On its downside, this motivation can also lead one to overwork and micromanage actions of others, leading to feeling like ‘I am doing all the work here’.  At some point, a few people carrying the lopsided wagon are going to undergo some form of burnout.

To avoid such a situation, it’s a good idea to remember that collaboration is about building capacity of everyone. As an article by Harvard Business Review points out:

‘Helping is the quintessential constructive act, and it gives us a sense of purpose, fulfils a deep need to be useful, and bolsters our identity. But if you jump in too quickly or too often or in ways that solve others’ problems without building capability, you inevitably become the path of least resistance for too many requests.

….. Don’t solve peoples’ problems directly when you do jump in. Instead, connect them to the right people, point them to the information or resources they need, or coach them on how best to solve the problem. ‘

It is about showing the direction, perhaps delegating but ultimately walking together.

But then there is the opposite end of this spectrum.

Not Everyone Might be Very Enthusiastic to Collaborate:

There are individuals who are willing to take on collaborative projects, ready to interact with people across the world, literally and figuratively. And then there are the ones who might see the collaboration as an attack on their skills and competencies. The underlying feeling might be ‘Do they think we are not capable enough to do this on our own?’

This might especially be the problem with people who are experts or super-specialists. Seniors might feel attacked and juniors might feel underconfident about their abilities. Some others might just feel like the collaboration is ‘an imposition on their time’ and ‘extra workload’ as an article by Mindtools puts it. This is especially true for people who like to work more independently.

To avoid, this, it is important to first, to be clear about the purpose of collaboration and second, to let the collaborators know what’s in it for them.

As the articles goes on to point out, a strong, shared purpose can work wonders in this attitude. And letting people know how this collaboration would help them, for example, something as simple and straightforward as a bonus, more recognition, a chance to develop and learn new skill(s), career progression, can work as a great motivation for a good attitude towards the idea of collaboration.

The More the Merrier? Not Always:

A very basic and obvious sounding pointer to keep in mind: the key to collaborating effectively is not simply to involve a greater number of people but to involve the right people.  An analogy of a team-sport like football can work here: when the team is not playing well, more players are not added. Instead, some players are substituted for new players who might be feeling less tired, or who might have the specific set of skills needed to win the particular game.

Moreover, the ‘substitution’ is not seen as a lack of skill of the player who is replaced- their skills might be used better in a different game. The ‘substitution’ is not simply a replacement per se– it is rather letting the one who has the relevant skills for that context take the lead. The substituted player still has a place in the team.

Similarly, when a task or a project doesn’t seem to be working out too well, the key might be to recheck the kind of skills and competencies that are needed for the task, and ‘substitute’ the team members accordingly.

At an organisational level, this ‘substitution’ can simply be seen as letting one department take the lead on the particular project, rather than replacing anyone or anything entirely. It’s a win-win situation. Again, taking on the lead doesn’t mean that there is no delegation or no walking together towards the common goal- the team remains intact.

It is widely being accepted that in the contemporary world of work, it is collaboration and not competition that is key to thriving, as we have talked about in one of our earlier articles. And to collaborate effectively, a shared sense of purpose, and a willingness ‘to learn and let others learn’ are some pointers to keep in mind.