I heard a great story last fall at the Talent Connect conference. Joan goes to visit her friend Marcus to catch up on life. While sitting on the back patio, Joan notices that Marcus’ dog whimpers quietly every couple of minutes. After the third whimper, Joan asks Marcus what’s the matter with the dog. Marcus explains that he’s lying on a rusty nail and has been for months. It’s the dog’s favorite spot on the porch. Baffled, Joan asks why the dog wouldn’t just move off the nail. It’s a fairly big porch, after all. Marcus responds, “Well, I guess it just doesn’t hurt enough.” Bear with me, fellow dog lovers, this is just an analogy.
How many of us are the pup in this scenario, stuck in a pattern that’s “comfortable” regarding familiarity, but isn’t all that comfortable after all? To help answer that question, I suggest looking back to your work week and identifying some of those pain points, even the dullest ones. Where are you struggling? Be 100% honest with yourself, because no one else has to be. How are things going with stakeholders, side projects, SLAs, compliance, or reporting? What about having time to develop yourself with training opportunities?
Is your process in these areas working, or is it broken? There are times when the answer seems obvious one way or the other. Maybe you’re the top producer for six consecutive months, getting a response rate of 80%+ on LinkedIn, and viewed as a thought leader on your team. Or maybe, you haven’t hit your submittal goals for the month, your LinkedIn templates are blocked because of a response rate of 10%, and your thoughts resemble scrambled eggs. But most of the time, we all fall somewhere in more of a gray area. We’re crushing our goals month to month, but have a suspended LinkedIn account from spamming. Or, we’re missing our hiring goals those first few months on the new job, even though we were following the team’s processes to a tee. You just keep hearing “work the system ‘cause the system works” but no one can explain why. The reality is, success in any role is a collection of success at individual tasks. You may not have to start from scratch to build something amazing, but pick one or two tasks in your process that probably can be done better.
Choose a colleague or trusted advisor to try an exercise with you. Each chooses a small task within your process that you identified as needing some improvement, brainstorm ways to make the improvement and hold each other accountable. Aim for something easily measured. Don’t quite know where to start? Search for something foundational to your job.
For example: In my previous career, I was in sales for a staffing firm, and pretty good at what I did. No one could understand how because honestly, I was always disorganized. I called it organized chaos and said my ability to multitask was my biggest strength. Being able to keep 50 balls in the air at once meant eventually something would come through.
The reality is, I missed a ton of good opportunities and never noticed because of being distracted by all the “noise.” In that time, a lot of bad habits were created, and I knew it. The desire to fix them was there, but because I saw success, it was never a priority. It didn’t hurt enough. I moved into a new role and initially the bad habits carried over. The I received some advice to try monotasking because studies supposedly show multitasking damages your brain. I didn’t look at the studies and just decided that may be enough pain to make a change. Putting up “do not disturb” on my email or Skype, blocking out time slots for designated tasks in my calendar, and giving myself enough time to complete tasks changed my whole world.
Starting and completing tasks before moving to the next, my production of submittals, and quality of candidates went up, my stress level went down, and my available time to take on new projects led to more opportunity for growth. It became apparent how much time was wasted by starting and stopping the same tasks over and over again. I still find myself falling back into old habits periodically, so I have a calendar remind to check myself each month. A long-standing bad habit is hard to break when it doesn’t hurt, but this shift was the best change I ever made.
My challenge to you is to step back for a second, look at your calendar, process, expectations, and results and see where is there pain that just hasn’t hurt enough to make a change. Don’t wait for it to get worse, do something about it and get off the rusty nail.