Maniacal prioritization

I’ve been mulling the the idea of “maniacal prioritization” recently.

When you’re the type who tends to have more you’d like to get done than the amount of time required to get all of it done, the only way I know to get through the experience with a semblance of sanity and satisfaction is maniacal prioritization.

Maniacal prioritization = Always push to have 1-3 clear priorities. Write them down when possible. Execute against them – ideally in order.

In the absence of clear priorities, I find myself flailing about in a flurry of activity with that niggling feeling that I’m going to be disappointed at myself for doing the wrong thing.

As an example, maniacal prioritization (for me) often involves clarifying that – as important as getting something done on a weekend might sound – rest and time with the family are more important. Doing this consciously guides the trade-offs that help with daily decision making.

“Engaging with engagement” was a new year theme for 2017 and the early part of 2018. My lesson from observing my ability to be present was that any failure in this regard came to a lack of clarity about what I was optimizing for. If I wasn’t clear that I was doing what was most important, it was impossible to be present. When I wasn’t present, I was less effective and I definitely wasn’t seeking to understand.

The solution?

You guessed it.

Maniacal prioritization.

That root cause

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve analyzed people/relationship problems only to realize that the root cause is misaligned or unstated expectations.

It is amazing how many potential problems – in relationships at home, at work, and even that all important one with ourselves – can be nipped in the bud by the act of proactively understanding and then setting expectations.

The new year is a great time for revisiting, resetting, and realigning many of these expectations. Here’s to that.

Breaking up with the first draft

I spent some time over the summer re-learning how to write better documents at work. As I look back at the lessons I learnt by observing what I actually changed in how I approached writing, the biggest one was willingly breaking up with the first draft.

Barbara Minto in “The Pyramid Principle” made a strong impression when she said the biggest writing problem most people have is learning to separate the thinking from the writing. She poked fun at how the first draft takes on an “incredible beauty” in the author’s eyes that we don’t like to disturb.

I found her observation to be spot on. We write the first draft for ourselves – to clarify our own thinking. And, if we embrace the process of rewriting, we write subsequent drafts for our intended audience.

There’s a meta learning in this too – we have a tendency to get comfortable after an initial learning period in any new skill. It takes a lot of effort to fight inertia and break out of version 1.0 into the next. And, then again to the next. To get better, we need to embrace “what got you here won’t get you there,” push for feedback and learning, and embrace reinvention.

It is how getting better works – in life as in writing.

A principle for deciding on social engagements

The single most useful principle I’ve found for deciding on social engagements is the Derek Sivers decision making principle of “If it isn’t a HELL YEAH, it is a no.”

The principle isn’t universal as there are many decisions that need to be made with less than 100% certainty. But, I’ve found it to be spot on with social engagements – especially if you are introverted.

As introverts, we face a lot more downside from a crappy social engagement. So, it pays to be selective. :-) This principle helps us do just that.

But, perhaps the meta principle here is to find and use a principle that works for you to make decisions in areas like social engagements. Decision making is work. And, principles help make the process much easier while delivering consistently better outcomes.

Self-awareness is not what we think

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and executive coach, assembled a team to understand self-awareness and shared her findings earlier this year. My top 5 takeaways –

1. We often refer to self-awareness as one “catch all” word. However, there are two distinct kinds of self-awareness – internal and external. Internal self-awareness represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions, and impact on others. External self-awareness means understanding how others view us.

2. Internal self-awareness is related to higher job and relationship satisfaction and happiness. External self awareness is related to a better ability to show empathy and take others’ perspectives. And, here’s the kicker – there is virtually no relationship between the two.

3. Many of life’s great truths fit into a 2×2. :-) And, this is no exception – the interplay between the two is illuminating.

4. Experience and power hinder self-awareness. In the study, most people assumed they were self aware – only 10%-15% were so.

5. To become more aware, stop asking “why” you feel a certain way and replace that with “what.” “Why do I feel irritated?” involves a lot of rationalizing. “What situations trigger irritation and what can I do about them?” focuses us on patterns that increases awareness and push us to productive action.

I am one of those who used to put all self-awareness in one bucket. In retrospect, this approach to segmenting self-awareness is spot on. Eye opening. Thank you, Dr. Eurich and thanks, Pankaj, for recommending the article.

Logic, principle, and interests

One of the best indicators of our ability to be logical and principled is our willingness to fight for stuff that isn’t aligned with our interests.

As a friend put it nicely, it is very easy to be principled when it aligns with our interests.

Productive communication

We often think of productivity in terms of work we get done. But, our ability to communicate has a big impact on our own productivity as well as that of others around us.

And, as a friend pointed out the other day, we can get a lot more done if we can manage to communicate consistently in a way that manages to challenge people’s thinking without making them feel defensive.

PS: I’m not sure yet as to what the key to challenging without creating defensiveness is – since I’m not good at it myself. Would love your ideas. I’ll aim to share a synthesis after giving this more thought.