Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Archive for the category “Action Orientation”

Things Get Done When You Do Less

As a member of the human species, you are hard wired to achieve. You may not feel like that if you’re sat there: brain diffused from multitasking, web-thread-chasing and information channel hopping. The empty plate of cookies or pizza you can’t remember eating as you read about the latest thing you can’t remember reading on the screen five minutes ago: these things may feel a million years from hunting and gathering to achieve another day alive as your relatives did.

A counter-intuitive observation is that things get done when you consciously try to do less and have the will to stick to your commitment to do less. The more you even plan to do in an allotted period of time, the less you actually get done. Why is this? I often think of a computer to help me on this.

A computer has a hard drive to remember things – a bit like memories and knowledge in the human brain. A hard drive becomes fragmented when files and folders get broken down and spread out over the hard drive over time. This slows the computer down because it cannot process information as easily which is not held together. It has to read multiple places on the disk to piece together the information it needs. Defragmenting, or ‘defragging‘,  ‘reorganizes the hard drive by putting pieces of related data back together so that files are organized in a contiguous fashion’. Contiguous means any two or more objects that are very close or connected in space or time.

When you undertake multiple tasks – or even create a long ‘to-do’ list for the day, you similarly spread your mental processing power. Thoughts on other tasks get in the way of you having continuous thoughts on a subject, and thereby slow your ability to achieve your objectives of getting things done. Even if things do get done, often the quality isn’t there because you haven’t been able to hold your attention on one thing for a sufficient period of time to get to the really good or break-through thinking. Don’t confuse this with the use of the conscious to take in multiple inputs for the unconscious to percolate on. In this concept, you absolutely focus on related subject matter for a period of time to gather inputs or ‘ingredients’ for your thinking, and then deliberately turn your conscious attention away to something else to enable your unconscious to work away in the background.

The problem with spreading your mental processing power as a human is that you haven’t got a power cable. Read more…

The Change Planning Toolbox: 10 Initial Steps

This is intended as a checklist to start any personal or corporate change project. Just take a blank sheet/ screen and start answering the following:

Initial planning questions:
1. What are you trying to change?

2. Who is involved in the change?
2.1. Do they want to change?
2.2. What do they need to change?

3. What does the changed future look like?

4. What are the top 3 blockers to change that require specific strategies to overcome them?

Detailed Planning Steps:
5. Clearly articulate objective: what does the changed vision/ goal/ future look like?:
5.1. Write down in technicolour detail.
5.2. Use this as an initial engagement step with those involved in the change (i.e. facilitated brainstorm/ meeting away day)
5.3. Create a clear list of benefits that will be enjoyed when change is achieved

6. Go public with the change vision: be clear on how those affected by the change will be kept engaged and informed

7. Create a clear and detailed timebound plan with detailed sub-projects, tasks and next actions needed to achieve the vision in 5. above, whilst ensuring the blockers in 4. above are addressed:
7.1. The actions all need to be concrete and measurable.
7.2. They must include clear accountabilities and ‘sprint’ milestones that effectively breakdown the overall change project into manageable chunks capable of completion and celebration (see 8.)
7.3. You must also create specific sub-projects for overcoming blockers and resistance to change as well as communication and engagement steps included in this list

8. Communicate and celebrate successful achievement of change chunks.
8.1. Ensure these are timed to maximise the positive internal (and any relevant external) PR impact: you’re aiming to create change momentum here.
8.2. Ensure that real small rewards are earned/ enjoyed – even if it’s just a round of drinks with the people involved in achieving the sub-goal or giving yourself a small treat

9. Keep on reminding all involved (those identified in 2, 5.2 and 7.2 above) about the clear list of benefits that will be enjoyed when change is achieved (you created this list in 5.3. above). You need to treat this step as a communication sub-project in its own right

Starting:
10. Take a planned action
10.1. Repeat 10.

Why Do We Really Have a Brain?

A human’s answer to this question will, I think, always naturally bias towards more ‘intelligent’ or sophisticated interpretations. Like an onion with many layers, I’m sure that most things we come up with as explanations have a place and play a part in the overall picture.

Arguments about how early human’s brains developed further within a social/ community context to help them interact, plan and understand the mental worlds of others (and thereby understand intentions) feel like a solid layer toward the centre of the onion.

So too is our ability to plan for future needs, fantasising about future scenarios and creating an ‘inner world (which) develops into a ‘mirror of the future’ in which we can simulate the consequences of alternative paths of action instead of proceeding by trial-and-error, which is far less effective.’ [Eva Krutmeijer text in an article about philosopher Peter Gärdenfors on the Carl Linnaeus website]

I have sometimes marvelled personally at the gap between my own personal plans and intentions and the actual physical action to make them real. The role of energy and physical movement or action to catalyse a planned process is obvious, but I think telling; I can remember times in the past when I’ve sat in a comfy chair or lain in bed, with the act of standing up and doing all the things I need to do to leave the house and enact the day’s plans seeming like an insurmountable mountain of activity. There is an interesting correlation between mental health, the symptoms of depression and tell-tale signs in prolonged periods doing nothing/ staying in bed, as well as reduced social interaction.

I had stalled in reading Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell’s book, Human Givens. Reviewing my notes before restarting the other night, I came upon my early highlighting of ‘movement is fundamental to the very existence of brains, which developed primarily to control movement, to predict the outcome of movement and remember the result of past movements’. They use the example of the tiny marine sea creature, the sea quirt, which early in its life swims like a tadpole with a brain and nerve cord to control its movements. When mature it attaches to a rock, stays in one place, and digests its own brain and nerve cord because it no longer has a use for them.

Over the last 3-4 years the amount of physical activity I do has increased significantly. So too have my levels of happiness and contentment. I find myself structuring my days to front load physical exercise and activity as a real kick-start to the day. Even without physical sport, I now find that what feels like an internal binary switch of satisfied/ not satisfied with my day is directly connected with being out and about and active.

Energy, and the food intake to fuel it, obviously plays an important supporting role in this whole discussion, but I wanted to leave this piece with the following couple of areas of thought:

  • ‘The mental faculty for controlling movement is crucial to daily life. It is involved in conceiving and idea of what to do, planning a response, and then carrying it out. (Literally, when we think about getting a book down from the shelf, our brains stimulate the movement’ [Griffin/Tyrell, Human Givens]. This highlights two things: first, when we mentally plan and visualise something that we create as a goal, we prime the same areas of the brain to engage in the activity to deliver into reality: ‘the primary motor cortex and the premotor cortex are both located in the frontal lobe…..which…determines where we direct our attention. It also appears to direct our consciousness itself’ [Griffin/Tyrell, Human Givens]. The second is that, arguably, we have the ability to kickstart our journey towards our plans and goals by just starting. The very act of movement and action should very quickly overcome any mental resistance to the enormity of any task
  • The above isn’t rocket science. And that’s kind of the point that ties me back to my opening line. We are endowed with a higher level of consciousness that bestows many benefits, but I would argue a tendency to overassess the complexity of what’s really going on in our brains, and under-estimate how easy it is to ‘hot-wire’ or hack ourselves to achieve our desired results. Movement is increasingly feeling like a universal ‘backdoor’ or master override key or code to ourselves.

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