Last week my father had a birthday, and it’s got me thinking about celebrations. We celebrate things that represent progress, like the calendar reaching another milestone; though in my father’s case he says he would prefer not to be reminded of the number of milestones he has reached.
Celebrating is not important only because it measures progress though. It’s also fun. We look forward to celebrating things. Given that, you’d think we would welcome any excuse for a little celebration.
So how about having a bit more of that celebratory feeling at work? I don’t mean you should throw a party every day, but you might want to change how you think about celebration, and about the things that are worth celebrating.
It’s helpful to begin with the question: how can you tell if you’re making progress in your work?
Before the development of “knowledge-work”, which is what most people do these days, it was easier. If I’m a fence painter, I can clearly see how much I’ve done, and how much is yet to do. Once I’ve finished daubing that last panel, I can put the brush down and look with satisfaction on a completed job.
Most people’s knowledge-work jobs these days don’t provide the same clear feedback on progress. Lots of folks tell me that they seem constantly to “have a lot on”, but that they rarely have a sense of achievement. They walk out the door at the end of the day and say, “I was constantly busy today, but what did I really get done?”
If we do acknowledge progress, it’s mostly doing we’re acknowledging. Those of us who keep to-do lists will know the satisfaction that comes from ticking things off as done. Acknowledging the fact that we’ve completed something feels good, which explains why many people will from time to time write something on a to-do list that they’ve already completed, simply so that they can then retroactively tick it off as done (sound familiar?).
In our coaching and seminars, we recommend that people identify and record clear next actions: phone calls they need to make, things they need to talk to their boss about, emails that need sending. This helps with productivity, as it ensures that we always have good action options to choose from if we want to do something productive.
It also means that we can regularly acknowledge success as we make our way through the day. Email sent – tick! Call made – tick! Holiday dates agreed with the boss – tick! If I work this way, then I have the experience of consistent and frequent achievement. I’ve done a lot of things, and I’ve acknowledged their completion. And that feels good.
But I’d like to suggest that if all we do is acknowledge the doing, we’re missing a trick.
It’s not only doing that moves us forward. Before we can do something, we’re engaged in deciding what needs doing. What needs to be done about this email from my client? What’s the next action on this creative idea I had in the shower this morning? This Facebook post about the party next week – anything to do about that? This flyer in the post from the new Indian restaurant around the corner – what’s next with that?
The result of the deciding isn’t as tangible as the result of doing. Deciding doesn’t change the state of the real world. But it does represent forward motion, and so it gives us the opportunity to acknowledge success.
So the next time you make a decision, give yourself a virtual pat on the back. You’ve decided that that email is trash and you can delete it? Well done. You’ve decided the next action on your holiday is to browse the web for car rental deals in Zurich? Congrats.
And now it’s my turn. Blog completed – tick!