Mindfulness as a Tool for Efficiency

Move your projects forward by stopping to give them your full attention.

Did you happen to catch Scott’s last blog? He made a great point about how stopping to take a breath and focus himself improved his results. In essence when he slowed down to think and become in tune with what needed to be done he made fewer mistakes and went faster.

This actually mirrors something that I often see in projects, and life in general. The wheels get moving andmindfulness as a tool the train starts rolling out of the station and then it just goes. Fast. Then, really fast. Sometimes, it seems, that momentum takes hold a bit too soon. Project Managers and Team Leads find themselves midway into the project before realizing some important early steps were overlooked or done inadequately. I used to wonder, and now I actually ask them, “How did you get this far along without doing X?”

Typically the answer is “We just started working and one thing lead to another.” Another common response, “We had a unique opportunity so we just jumped on it.” Or one of my personal favorites, “I have no idea but before I knew it we were about to hit a milestone and it still hadn’t been done.”

Ahh, the age old problem of too much doing with too little thinking.

I am all for getting things done. I like rolling up my sleeves and checking boxes and marking items “100% Complete” on the project plan. Because action feels like progress. It means I am in control and I am making things happen. For a long time I didn’t realize that stopping to truly think things through and strategize is just as important as completing ten tasks on the To Do list. By starting without really understanding what to accomplish I created false starts or overlooked big variables, which in the end slowed me down or halted my progress. Sort of the equivalent of leaping to get on the train as it was leaving the station only to discover – I am on the wrong train. Counterproductive.

I used to believe that if I could not react and produce immediately others would view me as less of a leader. I think this is the case with many projects as well. “Hey they seem to be interested in doing this thing so let’s get moving on it before they change their mind.” Before you know it you have teams in place and people working on tasks but no one really knows how it all fits together. Can everyone explain what it is that the project is about or how it’s going to make a difference or achieve specific goals? Does it align with the company’s strategy??

Today I know that getting the insight correct is much more important than blurting something out. I actively manage the expectation of peers and clients by asking for time that I use to reflect on the discussion or the request before proposing any next steps. It helps me to have time to concentrate on the key points and relate them to the bigger picture.

To get a sense of just how powerful a tool mindfulness can be, check out For Great Leadership, Clear Your Head by Joshua Ehrlich on HBR.org.

Here is a shocker, no one has ever said “NO, you can’t” or “Wow you must be really dumb to need time to think.” In fact, most people welcome the request and readily see why giving a particular subject its own time for consideration is a worthwhile activity. Next revelation: organizational leaders like it when you stop and think through a project’s strategies too!

Let’s be clear, I’m not saying all planning and no doing. I am saying the planning process has to include time to concentrate all of your attention on the project. Break the cycle of constant doing, create a stress free environment to look at the project from all the angles and get true clarity on what has to be done and why. You’ll be able to move ahead with pace and purpose, only with fewer missteps, once you have that focus.

Which of the challenges you are facing wouldn’t benefit by receiving your full attention?

Maple was built for being mindful and creating space to think deeply on whatever is going on in your life.  Check it out at www.MeetMaple.com.

Originally published on October 5, 2011

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