About eight years ago I moved to a new city. I found a great job, city seemed to be nice so why not stay. I love traveling and exploring new places. In these eight years I regularly travelled outside the city to other countries and continents. When being a tourist I always explore the new place and learn lots of new things about it. Guess what. In all these years I never found the time to explore my new home town. Even though there are many historical sites and beautiful places… I’m being told.
In 2008 when in Australia I met a guy from New Zealand, we talked about his country and he mentioned that 10 miles from his village is a site where the Lord of the Rings was filmed. He was fifty, travelled the world and he never went there! He just never found the time. There was always some excuse that he can do it tomorrow.
Have it ever happened to you that you finished a project and there wasn’t new one in sight. Did you suddenly have more free time to do other things or has it somehow happened that even when having almost nothing to do you still couldn’t manage it?
All these things have one common root cause. When having more time at our hands we tend to fill it with whatever nonsensical work so we still don’t get things done. When I moved to the new city I told to myself “I will live here for couple of years so I have enough time to explore it.” And I never got to it. There is no pressure. The guy from New Zealand had his whole life to go and visit the beautiful place next door and never went. There was no pressure to do it. You have only couple of small tasks and lots of time to do them, well you procrastinate and at the end don’t do any of them. There is no pressure.
Some of you are very disciplined and figured out how to get things done regarding the circumstances and environment around but for the rest of us some pressure (external or internal) might be needed to get us moving. If you have a task that should take 5 hours and you give it to your team saying that they should get it done in 10 hours, it will take 10 hours. People tend to fill the time given. Sometimes by simple procrastination, sometimes they really spend the effort on doing more research, more testing, more of something that is nice but isn’t necessary. In project management we call it gold-platting. Giving something more effort, features, attention than was requested, needed and is paid for.
How to change that? How to create environment where people focus and get things done? It is all about challenging yourself and challenging your team to do a bit more than can be comfortably handled. There needs to be this feeling that you have to do this particular task not only because it needs to be done but also because other stuff is waiting in the row. At the same time beware of creating so much pressure that it leads to stressful working condition when there is so much work and so much stress that people freeze and don’t do anything simply because they worry too much and don’t know where to start.
So how do you create an environment with enough pressure to get things done but not too much stress so people enjoy working there?
- Set clear goals and deadlines that are tough but achievable so people have to give their hundred percent to it
- Say what is coming and don’t wait with talking about the next task until the current one is finished. People need to see what is coming otherwise they will try to prolong the current activity as much as possible to avoid the uncertain future
- Create sense of ownership by the team so there is this internal pressure (that way the team will want to do things on their own and the pressure will not feel like a pressure but rather as an interesting challenge)
- Remove any unwarranted external pressure (from customers or top management) that could stress out the team and freeze them
- Challenge the team members by giving them more responsibility (you must ensure that people don’t fall into complete routine and apathy)
- Listen carefully and observe when people get overloaded, when that happens make sure they understand the priorities
- Walk your talk and challenge yourself the way you are challenging the team; the team needs to feel that you share the pain with them
- Make sure you give people enough work so they feel engaged and useful, the worst thing that can happen is to have people who are overloaded and next to them sitting someone who is bored. They may both eventually leave.
- Share a laugh. Humor is the best way how to get rid of stress and you should use it often. Though be careful to not overuse it and never use it in a way that can hurt someone.
- Reward the results but appreciate the effort. In business results are what counts but understand you work with people and not machines, so always appreciate also those who did their best even if they didn’t achieve the results intended.
Last but not least remember all the things you learned about sharing a vision with your team, letting them know why we do what we do. And if you are like me and never get to explore the place you live in. Remember that if you love travelling you don’t necessarily need to go the edge of the World but you can see interesting stuff just around the corner and feel free to behave like a tourist even at home. I will do the same.
Twitter type summary: “Always give people a bit more work than they can comfortably handle and then help them to handle it comfortably.”
When are you at your best? Do you product maximum and best quality work when having tons of time? Or do you prefer a bit of pressure to keep you focused?