Inspired Project Teams

Enduring Wisdom & Guided Challenges to Help Project Teams Achieve Their Best

  • May 26

    Image: Modern Gulliver weighed down by home ownership

    Recently we sold a summer home that we had owned for more than 20 years. Located in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, where we grew up, it provided us with a yearly change of scenery and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and family. The place was great for holding cook-outs and bonfires or  just hanging out and watching birds, rabbits and deer cross the yard on their way to the hardwood forest out back.

    After a few years this double-home lifestyle began to take an increasingly larger toll on our peace of mind. In the winter, while we were safe and warm in California, we worried about pipes bursting in the empty Pennsylvania house as temperatures plunged below zero and stayed there for days at a time. And spring thunderstorms (often accompanied by hail or even tornadoes) posed their own threats to the place. To make sure everything was okay during these weather outbreaks we would have to ask relatives or a neighbor to brave the elements and check on the place.

    And then there was that large, green lawn. Unless we returned very early in Spring, we’d have to make arrangements for it to be mowed and tended by those same volunteers. Eventually, of course, we’d arrive and whip that big yard into shape. But this typically took the better part of a full day every week we were there.

    Over the years, our time in PA was increasingly spent on additional maintenance chores. The water from the well was brought into the house by a submersible pump that had to be repaired and eventually replaced. And the iron-saturated water, a legacy of ground-water contamination by local coal strip mining during the 1950s, had to be treated with strong chemicals in order to be usable. These chemicals, in turn, would become saturated themselves with iron, requiring monitoring. If you waited too long to replace them, you might find that your laundry, instead of becoming clean, had acquired a deep red-brown permanent stain.

    Eventually an ancient natural gas well that supplied the house with gas for heating and cooking simply ran out of gas. So we had to arrange for the local gas company to install a brand new gas line to the place. (It had never had a “gas company” gas line!) What’s more, those torrential rains that kept those beautiful hills green finally resulted in leaks in the roof and foundation that had to be repaired by specialists.  And there were many other chores large and small that our ownership of the place had earned us.

    After a few years of this split-home-base lifestyle, we started to realize that we were living in constant home maintenance mode, no matter where we were. Since each house stood exposed to the elements all year long, each gradually developed issues that had to be urgently attended to during our part-time stays there. (We typically spent about 6 months in each place, while the other, empty place simply stood there baking in the sun or hunkered down in the wet or frozen precipitation.)

    Everything You Own Owns You Back!

    One day, as I was shopping for the supplies for still another home maintenance chore, I began to feel particularly weary of this maintenance-intense lifestyle. In fact, I felt downright claustrophobic!  Trapped by all the stuff I owned!  It was at that moment that I heard these words bubble up through my consciousness: “Everything you own, owns you back!”

    WOW!! What an epiphany!  I shook my head in disgust and mumbled, “You can say that again, brother!” Every thing I owned was revealing its own maintenance demands. Everything — all those plumbing fixtures and walls and ceilings and heating units and roof shingles and rain gutters and electronics and appliances and gas lines and electric lines and landscaping elements — even the tools to do the fixing– all this stuff was consuming me with maintenance demands!  Everything I owned absolutely owned me back!

    I felt like Gulliver on the beach in Lilliput. But instead of Lilliputians staking me to the sand, I was crushed by all these things, each with its little rope attached to me, nailing down my psyche and my time and my effort.

    It was then that I experienced a huge shift in my consciousness. I could no longer count these things among my blessings. Instead, they had all become burdens. Discussing this with my wife, I discovered that she was feeling the same way. And before long we sold that second home in the country and experienced our first California winter in more than two decades absolutely free from the worry of freezing pipes back East. And this was followed by a CA spring and summer that were free of the fear of Eastern thunderstorms and tornadoes and undone maintenance chores. We were free!

    The Lesson Learned: Acquire with Care!

    Two decades of split-home living taught me a lesson I now know deep in my bones: I absolutely must be conscious of everything I acquire, as I acquire it, since everything has the potential to extend its tentacles deep into my peace of mind and suck the life out of my life!

    Think about it: If you’re a responsible adult, you honor your commitments whether they are to simply maintain the stuff you own or follow through with a new process you’ve just set up and agreed to use. Some examples: You have a car, you take it in for maintenance, check the oil regularly, make sure you have enough gas to get where you need to go. You have a lawn, you mow it, edge it, maybe even weed it once in a while. You have a dog, you walk it and pick up its waste. You tell your team you’ll do weekly project status reports, you do your best to prepare and distribute them, even when you don’t feel like it. You commit to a Project Post Mortem, you take the time to organize it and execute it and prepare that Lessons Learned report, even though everyone is thoroughly sick of the project and just wants to move on!

    The point is that responsible adults feel the pull of commitment from everything they own, everyone they agree to serve and every process or tool they agree to use. All these things acquire “mind share” and a certain amount of effort in maintenance. In short, the relationship with any acquisition is reciprocal!  It may give you something, but you will be giving something in return, even if it’s just a little of your peace of mind.

    So the next time you are about to buy something or commit to use a new process or develop a new business relationship with someone, step back and ask these four questions:

    1. What is the purpose of this?
    2. How much effort will it take to maintain?
    3. Is this worthwhile? (Will there be a large enough return?)
    4. How much energy will this pull from my creativity, my peace of mind, my family and the quality of my other efforts?

    Then think carefully about your answers to these questions. And commit to your acquisition cautiously. After all, ultimately everything you own owns you back!

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  • Mar 28

    Learn more about The Project Management Minimalist Collection

     

     

     

    [This book excerpt is from “Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy” in The Project Management Minimalist]

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    Everybody knows you need to do these things, right? But here are some reminders why they’re so important.

    “All nighters” generally don’t work. How many times have you heard about someone studying all night for an important test, only to show up at school, “go blank,” and then blow the test? The two pictures below show why that happens.

    neurons-firing

    The image on the left represents a properly firing neuron in the brain, complete with an efficient electro-chemical exchange that permits good thinking. The picture on the right represents a neuron that’s clogged by accumulated waste products. This neuron is unable to work properly. It’s owner may think of himself as a hero-workaholic, sitting for hours and hours on end at his computer. But his brain is full of waste products and there’s no way he’s really thinking clearly. So he’s not doing anyone any favors by working too long without rest.

    These waste products can only be cleared by two things: 1) Rest… allowing blood flow to take away all the crud and bring in fresh chemicals for proper firing, and 2) nutrients that provide those fresh chemicals. The moral of the story: You gotta get enough rest and allow your brain to clear/replenish its chemicals if you want to be effective.

    But don’t take my word for it. Here are some quotes by a couple of guys who’ve spent their careers researching the topic of peak performance among athletes, business people, and others:

     “… our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage.”

     “[Periodization is] maximizing performance by alternating periods of activity with periods of rest… ‘work-rest’ ratios lie at the heart of periodization, a training method used by elite athletes throughout the world.”

    —  Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, in The Power of Full Engagement

      Then there’s this from Evan Robinson’s review of research on working in “crunch mode:”

    “Productivity starts to go down each day after 4 – 6 hours of continuous work. After enough hours, productivity goes to zero or may even become negative due to extra errors & mistakes.”

    Evan Robinson, Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work: 6 Lessons http://archives.igda.org/articles/erobinson_crunch.php

    And finally, Loehr and Schwartz remind us of the value of drinking enough water:

    “… research suggests that drinking at least sixty-four ounces of water at intervals throughout the day serves performance in a range of important ways.. Inadequate hydration …. compromises concentration and coordination.”

    —  Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement

     So c’mon. You know better!  Make sure you get enough sleep, rest, and water.

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    Learn more about The Project Management Minimalist Collection

     

     

     

    [This book excerpt was from “Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy” in The Project Management Minimalist]

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    Go deeper! Check Out These Articles:

  • Jan 29

    [Link image: This is a sample from PM Minimalist]

    [This book excerpt is from “Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy” in The Project Management Minimalist]

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    “… the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.”

    Dr. Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness

    Seligman, former head of the American Psychological Association and founder of the positive psychology movement and science of happiness, has conducted substantial research on the topic of signature strengths and how they relate to happiness and success. His findings: When you identify and use your signature strengths as often as you can, particularly in your work, you will be more likely to be happy and successful.

    Here are four things you can do to leverage your signature strengths:

    • Go to Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website
      ( http://www.authentichappiness.org ), sign up for free membership, and complete the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire.
    • Think about your Signature Strengths and think about the kinds of things people do in your organization.
    • Volunteer to do small chores that use your Signature Strengths.
    • Volunteer for entire projects that use your Signature Strengths.

    And remember: If you can’t always use your Signature Strengths at your workplace, you might want to volunteer at a local non-profit or charity that could use your talents. Not only will you be making the world a better place, but there’s clinical evidence to show that you’ll probably be happier!

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    [Link image: This is a sample from PM Minimalist]

    [This book excerpt was from “Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy” in The Project Management Minimalist]

  • Dec 27

    Images from "Forgive Them..." & "Meditation Fact Sheet" posts

    In case you missed them, here the five blog posts I wrote for this website in 2013 that meant the most to me. And even if you’ve already seen them, they may be worth a second look. Happy New Year!

    Bonus… A Freebie!

  • Oct 25

    Last month Shim Marom, who publishes the quantmleap blog (which he calls a “Collection of thoughts about project management and other important things”) challenged bloggers from all over the planet to step up on their podiums and share their “sermon” with the world in answer to this question:  “What Does Project Management Mean to Me.”  What’s more, in a fun twist on the assignment, Shim asked these bloggers to synchronize their blog posts so they would all be blasted out at the exact same moment on September 25!  In short, Shim organized a #pmFlashBlog!  

    The result? 70 (yep, seventy!!) blogs simultaneously issued forth words of wisdom from their creators as each alternately struggled to find and then joyfully share their “meaning of project management.”  Below are a few samples from the #pmFlashBlog world-wide event.  Read the rest of this entry »

  • Aug 22

    Images from Netflix listings: Phoebe in Wonderland, Camilla, What Dreams May Come, My Own Love Song, & Bottle Shock

    Does your typical evening of video “entertainment” leave you feeling drained by a bunch of nerve-wracking, negative energy, violence-filled garbage? Or, worse, do your evenings include “reality shows” that place you squarely in the middle of a bunch of angry narcissists battling each other to “win” some probably-not-worth-winning prize?

    Maybe it’s time for your recreational evening videos to help you “re-create” your reserve of positive energy by helping your feel better about the human condition or by showing you how you can improve your quality of life!  Below are a few of my favorite movies/videos that will leave you feeling better, rather than worse, for having watched them.  (Note: We’ve watched all of these through Netflix. But if you aren’t a Netflix subscriber then check your local library or other sources… they are all worth tracking down.)

    • Elizabethtown — “Fired after causing his shoe company to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is on the verge of ending it all. But he gets a new lease on life when he returns to his family’sNetflix-Image-Elizabethtown small Kentucky hometown for his father’s funeral. Along the way, he meets a quirky flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) with whom he falls in love, easing the pain of his recent break-up with his girlfriend (Jessica Biel).” – Netflix listing
    • Bottle Shock — “France’s position as the world’s top wine producer went unchallenged until 1976, when the Montelena Winery put California wines on the map — a story delightfully told in this full-bodied tale about the heady early days of Napa Valley’s success.” – Netflix listing 

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Jul 31

    Image: Meditating w/headphonesAre you hoping that your summer vacation will bring you true rest and relaxation? … or, better yet, leave you with a little residual peace of mind to carry back to your daily routine? After all, shouldn’t your “recreation” help you “re-create” your sense of well being? These five podcasts can help you step back, get a little perspective and make some specific adjustments in the way you engage the world. Enjoy!

    • 10 Specific Actions That Can Help You Become Happier
      When individual team members are happy, the entire team will likely be happy! But how can you become happier? In this podcast I share 10 specific actions that I’ve taken to create more happiness in my life.
    • Consciously Choose Your Attitude
      A project team’s attitude can make or break the project. In this post learn how you can consciously choose your attitude instead of simply allowing it to overtake you as a collection of random feelings.
    • Practice Mindfulness
      Focus:  the power of mindfulness — the practice of bringing your full awareness into the present moment – and how you can expand upon your inherent ability to practice mindfulness
    • Accept What Is
      You must first accept a difficult situation for what it is before you can handle it effectively. Accept it, see it clearly without denial and hand-wringing, and then you can take appropriate action.
    • Learn to Be Optimistic… Learn to Succeed
      “Cognitive therapy works [by changing] explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic [providing]… skills for talking to yourself when you fail.” – M. Seligman – This podcast elaborates.

  • Jun 28

    This is a visual parable about self-imposed constraints to creativity. It was inspired by what happened recently on my local walking path where I exercise each day.

    The video’s designed to get you and your project teams thinking and talking about these questions:

    • What boundaries, limitations do you impose on yourself?
    • Should you try removing some of these in order to see what blossoms?

    Enjoy!

  • May 31

    Image: angry chihuahuaThe other morning I stepped out of my quiet meditation space and into the kitchen for breakfast. I knew that storms had been ravaging some parts of the country where I have relatives, so I decided that instead of the usual quick weather check on the net, I’d turn on the TV to get a national perspective and maybe see some regional video.

    As the TV screen popped on, I was immediately jolted by a couple of those angry talking heads. These guys were debating the merits of a recent supreme court decision. I had my hands busy with food prep, so instead of clicking away, I endured the rants and raves and posturing and dire predictions of social implosion that these two “opponents” predicted would surely flow from either adopting or failing to adopt this decision as the law of the land. Clearly their intent was to inflame the passions of their respective constituencies, one ultra conservative & the other strongly liberal (progressive).

    Now what struck me about all this was the purely speculative nature of all the arguments. Image: angry old dudesEach drew upon the fears of his particular group of regular fans. And each hyperbolically predicted extreme, even outrageous, consequences that were designed to stimulate a strong visceral response to some imagined (but by no means certain) future.

  • Feb 26
    Below is a photo of one of my favorite places — the neighborhood walking path/bike trail I use for morning exercise and evening strolls. Stately palm, decorative pear, and fragrant eucalyptus trees border the path, along with several types of flowering shrubs and drought-tolerant ground cover.
    Image: Walking path
    Not long ago this beautiful urban retreat was an ugly, abandoned railroad right-of-way. A narrow, dusty strip of coastal desert, it collected broken-down couches & mattresses, wind-blown plastic bags and other trash.  Its transformation into a several-miles-long strip of park is something we’re all grateful for.  Not only has it improved the visual landscape of our neighborhood, it’s also encouraged lots of people to walk, bike, jog, or simply get out of the house for an hour or two every day and enjoy the balmy California weather.
    As I noted in an earlier podcast, I’ve become a bit protective of this area. And while it’s not exactly an untouched wilderness, it still manages to provide enough of Nature’s Green to rejuvenate us city folks. So when I come across candy wrappers or potato chip bags thoughtlessly abandoned, I pick them up and take them to a trash can. This only adds a few seconds to my walk, yet it returns the path to an uncluttered state that helps conceal the fact that hundreds of people use it daily.

    But What About the Dog Pooh?

    Read the rest of this entry »

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