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With a summer pause on my business and with one part-time on the side, I had a more relaxed pace than ever. One of the best things of doing only one thing is that the mind is emptied out to think in a relax way. There are no distractions, fear, deadlines, and pressures.
The other day I was talking about what you can do that is within your control and what you can't to a group of students worried about their grades and how it will look to their parents, their future plans, etc. Much of their worries are based on fear that everything will go completely wrong. A grade can screw up your life or it may not, actually. The range of your control including how you react to failing to meet your goals or expectations is part of your remit.
Taking control over what goes in to our lives and what we allow versus what we have to rid off to allow for better things to come is our individual exercise. When we refuse to take the drama and politics of others and we ruthlessly carve out our own sense of wellness in our time and activities, we are being on top of our game.
The summer pause is exhilarating and a real time out from the time out. I recommend this to a lot of busy executives who are taking much more than they can possibly digest and enjoy. There are wannabe projects that are failing right before our eyes. It's better to bow out and cut losses because it will not shift in any positive way unless the culture changes.
Turns out, emptying out should be regular.
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I had a great time decluttering these past few weeks. First, I tackled that big box when I moved here in the province in 2015 containing all my files, Knick knacks, and mementos stored from my previous job and life for five years and more.
It was amazing to see that some of those stuff I have brought from the Philippines. Clearly, I'd like to keep a lot of stuff that for "some day" I might find useful. But that 'some day' didn't come. The old toothpaste, bottle of medicines, and broken eye glasses were never useful at all. The old files since 2010 didn't prove to be worth for anything except my files from old clients that I kept to document the work that I have done before. There were old books and magazines in French language that I thought I would be able to revisit when I had the time. That time didn't come even.
Decluttering frees up the space but also the mental space for which most precious real estate resides. If you focus and emphasize on the past, you will end up in a divided and distracted perspective. We can win some but we can also lose some. That's part of the trade-off. We leave behind what's to be left there so we have the energy for today, which is a gift in itself. Tomorrow has its own worries to be bothered by it now.
What's eating up your office space and organizational mental space? old politics and enmities that do not die down, grudges and personality clashes, petty squabbles and vain competition for recognition, one-upmanship, or perfectionism? As a leader, decide now to abandon these silly and toxic culture and just focus on getting things done well and pulling everyone together as a team.
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Beware, comparisons could be dangerous, misleading and disempowering.
It's no longer the case that you compare apples to apples but what grade, variety, source, and other properties that make this exercise completely useful at all.
We come to the point where comparing past result to future result will give us a good indication of progress, or lack thereof. But times are a-changing. Comparisons now are what it seemed to be decades ago. We compare our achievements or lack thereof with our neighbor next door, or circle of friends and see how we rate. With a new car, house, appliances, their kids going to better schools, new hobby gadgets, professional designations, etc.
Now with social media, we get to see the best looking, brightest, smartest, richest, and most loved professional in our field, and we think that's the standard of everything great. If you're a business, to the fastest growing, VC-loved startup raking in millions in less than 5 years. If you're a purpose-driven organization, to the well-respected, well-oiled organization in your sector that's getting all the accolades all the time and getting it right most of the time.
This unbelievable, impossible idea of standard is ubiquitous but seldom rejected. It presents an illusion that could never be satisfied. Yet, the picture of success or nirvana is just that. We have that picture in our minds.
What comparisons do you use to gauge your performance? your organizational health and vitality? your relevance to your community? your competencies as against life's challenges? Do you really know the person and organization you are trying to emulate? What standard or measure do you subscribe to and how they came to be? By acclaim, by rigorous system, by a multilateral consensus? By politics? self-promotion?
Internal comparisons are the best. Internal best practice as against trade/industry practice could be profitable. The people that are in deep trenches know more than what the annual reports say. They get to build and develop the measures, the measurement, the methods, and the theory of what and how change can happen.
As a rule, it's best to construct your own metrics.
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When was the last time you made some spring cleaning in your organization?
Have you tried to look at your Bylaws and Letters of Incorporation lately?
Have you done some reviews of your Policies and Guidance Documents?
Have you considered reviewing your Terms of References, Procurements, and Vendor processes?
Have you made progress in your volunteer growth and advancement recently?
Are staff and Board evaluations and reviews in the pipeline?
Sometimes, the best spring cleaning begins at your desk.
What work are you trying to put off in the last few weeks and months now?
What difficult conversation must take place sooner than later?
Who needs to be informed, consulted, and engaged in your process?
The rigmarole of paper pushing in many offices is seldom questioned.
It's time to figure out what is work and what's non-work.
Spring cleaning is all about tackling the most essential and dropping the non-work.
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Not my business.
A colleague once sent me a question regarding another coalition in Ottawa, not my business to comment on what is that coalition actually trying to do.
Another said that I should be sending my books to key people that helped me get to where I am now, not my business to remind them that I exist and I existed before within their peripheral vision.
Another friend said that I should try to be involved in a service club because they meet regularly. They meet regularly to do nothing. Every club I have spoken to wanted me badly. Not my thing.
A family member said that I should be aware of what's going on in North Korea and the nuclear stand-off with the US, not my business. I knew what's going on in North Korea, including its history, Korean War. I have a Masters Degree in International Relations. I care enough to know but I don't get too emotional about it.
We need to safeguard our focus and attention.
We need to protect ourselves from intrusions and incursions of others into our territorial waters.
We create our own waves.
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So many things to do so little time? No, you have some time, you just have to make a decision to remove some cumbersome, irrelevant, and less-valuable things you're doing to have the mental space and energy for more strategic issues.
1. Be training-wise
Yes, remove training programs for some skills that you will never use immediately is a waste of time. One participant from my previous training programs that I taught told me that she thought it will add value to her life right now, turned out it was just a checklist she had to tick. Oops!
2. Be-Board savvy
Remove yourselves from Boards and Committees that are turtle speed in decision-making and execution and does not improve your despite your inputs.
Who needs Board work that is using your time, talent, energy, and expertise ineffectively? You should be getting some benefits in return of your generous service.
3. Be Zoomaster of your time
Drop attending to Zoom events that no longer serve you or quit registering and not showing up.
I'm guilty of that. Do not even bother to register and receive the recording if you can't even do it.
4. Volunteer with joy
Do not be pressured to volunteer just because they need warm bodies to move a furniture or get a social media campaign going. Do you really love to do those thing, do you have skill set? Can you maintain that consistency and reliability that they need? If not, focus on your wheelhouse instead so your volunteer work is filled with joy and excitement and less work.
5. Ignorance is bliss
I am more happy without having to know the daily news and minute updates from my phone. If I want a topic or a news article, I take time to read it. Turn off the daily news habit. You will know what you want to know, now what they want to feed you with, mostly crap.
Now, that's off your list. It's time to envision your strategic goals for 2023.
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\While majority of the people will whine and complain about the daily woes and struggles they face, some people know how to rationalize their experience for positivity. The famous TEDX talk on happiness by Prof. Dan Gilbert emphasizes that no matter how difficult a person's situation is, it is how they rationalize that creates their own sense of happiness and contentment. If a bankrupt person who lost his family, his finances, his business over a bad deal, noted that it could have been his health that suffered, was grateful for the experience and took the opportunity to spend more time with his family and take on businesses that respect that. Or the recent politician who upon losing in the elections noted that it was time for him to 'spend more time with family, focus on his hobbies, and enjoy the little pleasures of semi-retirement.' That's synthesizing happiness.
The truth of the matter is that happiness is what we make out of any situation. Of course, there are other incidents where we would prefer something better than known tragedies. But even that you might be saying to yourself, 'it could have been worse, compared to something way nastier.' Given that comparative perspective, your brain will simply identify to the lesser evil that you have and feeling like your one lucky person to evade that scenario.
With the freedom to choose, according to Prof. Gilbert is one of the most difficult dilemmas facing humans. He said that, 'if our choices are bounded, we are more conscientious, thoughtful, and calibrated in our actions. I definitely agree.
For some of you, this skill is not well exercised, but for others, it comes naturally, as a sort of way of saying, 'I have decided to be grateful even I had difficulties or am currently having difficulties. It's what you get away with and get from these that could help you move forward more resiliently. It's a choice after all.
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There is a level of productivity that is satisfying and brings joy to everyday work.
Once this is overdone, this perpetuates self-doubt and thoughts of self-insufficiency.
When you overprepare, whether it's a speech, a writing, a major presentation, or whatever that brings out fear, this means that you're not actually addressing it but using overpreparation to cover up that fear. It all boils down to self-esteem issue.
Fear dilutes the satisfaction of productivity and in this case, preparation.
Preparation starts in the mind and emotions. Going to a room full of strangers with a very difficult decision to make, prepare mentally and emotionally. Imagine what could potentially transpire and think of alternative ways to get to the bottom of the issue.
There is such a thing as overpreparation. I have overprepared one time and looking back at the videos, a little bit of spontaneity and spunk could bring more lightness to my presentation.
When you have done your best to prepare, relax and enjoy some thing else. Don't focus on it day and night.
The muscle will surely remember what to do when the time comes. The rest is just being yourself and showing no qualms about it.
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Do you always get a notice in the mail for your next car maintenance works? I do. Engine tune-up, wheel adjustment, tire pressure test, change oil, battery check, air filter, to name just a few. Depending on the vehicle, its age, and the uses, other more comprehensive checks are needed every year.
Ordinary people will not complain about this: they want to ensure that the car usage is extended, safety issues are addressed, and of course, avoiding paying for exorbitant repair costs when these issues are ignored.
This is the same as your organization. You might be cruising along fine. You might be focusing on some areas and delaying or ignoring other issues that beset your staff, your stakeholders, your financial health, and overall effectiveness in delivering your services. Most of the time, changes in policies, rules, and regulations, how the 'game is played' change drastically. Newer forms of public engagement, research, evaluation, policy advocacy, cross-sectoral work are now unfolding. Are you leading these change or are you playing a catch-up?
We are leaving the pandemic era in a much slower phase while considering that stronger infrastructures and systems must be put in place in organizations, communities, and systems to benefit from stress, shocks, and pressures. In reality, the on-purpose sector seems to be lagging behind in #beyondresilience.
For those who are hugely successful during the pandemic, one thing stands out. They never let a good crisis cripple them. It made them stronger and more robust. It kept them on their toes. They continue to improve and push the envelope when it comes to impact without ceasing. Regular tuning up is not an obligation but a necessary exercise to achieve excellence without breaking your wallet.
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Today's news is tomorrow's archive.
If you're waiting for the right opportunity, it might pass you by without you making sense of it.
Fortunately, the world will not stop to pick you up when you're ready and willing.
I believe that opportunities are disguised as conundrum- these are confusing and difficult problems to solve. I saw with my own eyes, how purpose-driven organization turned their world upside down because they saw massive opportunities during the pandemic for their members, the least of these members. I observed how customer-driven organizations refuse to let their excellent track record be affected by the remote work during the crisis. I know personally that some small businesses are not cutting costs but instead, expanding value to their community even more.
These are opportunities. Another kind of opportunity is what you imagine and create for yourself. Waiting sucks! I have been mentoring a newcomer professional for a number of months and I can say that she's not waiting in her room. She is busy getting out there, creating opportunities to network and link up, and building her credentials so that she can land the job she dreams of! She is physically, emotionally, socially, and financially buffing up! What a great attitude can do?
It's not cosmic alignment or a question of luck or maybe a great break, it's the everyday readiness that springs you forward. When the opportunity is at hand, I get ready for the next.
What are you readying for?