In the first installment of this two-part series on driving growth, we considered the concept of “purposeful intentionality.” At the heart of the intersection between purpose and intentions are choices. Specifically, the choices we make in what to pursue, what not to pursue, and how to ensure we remain on course with the most energy and impact. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. May we be entirely unreasonable in our pursuits of growth.
1. Purposeful: Crystal clear goal. Without it, there is no clear purpose. Without a clear purpose, it’s just going through the motions. We are, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “merely picking up sticks from one pile and moving those to another, only to repeat the process.” Seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet … .
2. Intentionality: Being radically brutal in assessing what needs to be done and what doesn’t in accordance with the purpose. Post a “No Picking Up Sticks” sign.
We concluded by saying that purposeful intentionality by itself is not enough. Action must be added to intentions. In this installment, we move from planning and strategy into tactics: how to “create traction,” “generate momentum,” and ultimately shift into “high gear.” In other words, the easy part is over. Time to roll up our sleeves and get this jalopy unstuck, up to speed and finally cruising along the highway of growth.
This stage is really about clearing away the debris — decluttering the mental landscape. If it’s growth that we are after, some of the initiatives and activities that neither support nor advance growth are going to have to be moved out of the way. Recently I listened to a fellow explain how he gave 100 percent to everything he did. That’s a nice thought. It might make us feel good to say it, but it’s not possible. The sum total of all that we do cannot exceed 100 percent of our time, resources, energy, thoughts, etc. Contrary to all of the well-meaning sound bites, sayings and memes, no one can give 110 percent to a single thing, let alone 100 percent to a bunch of things.
Creating traction is one of the most challenging parts of the process, and it’s also the most critical. There will be things that have to be removed from the project and activities lists. It will feel a bit like arguing against mom and apple pie — almost sacrilegious — but some of it has to be moved aside for now. For example, let’s take a look at that Monday staff meeting; the one where everybody gathers for 60 minutes to get caught up and prepared for the week. Could it be pared down to 20 minutes with the first 15 minutes reserved only for growth-related tracking? Or the 90-minute workout at lunch; maybe that needs to be moved to 5 a.m. or 8 p.m.
Follow your own calendar and activities over the next week or two and you should have a very clear picture of where you are really spending the three most important resources you have: time, energy (mental and physical) and relationships. Decisions have to be made. Everything only adds up to 100 percent.
I was challenged by this recently when my coach looked at my calendar, activities and outcomes. He suggested that if this was how I was spending my time, one of my “high priority” initiatives was not really a high priority. Ouch!
Warning: Don’t rush to the generating momentum stage until you have established a period of traction. You can’t rush traction. I remember the first few times I tried to drive in snow. I’d get stuck, so I would immediately give the accelerator all I had! After all, I needed some momentum. The problem was that without traction, all I did was spin my tires. I wasted energy and dug a deeper hole. If you think you are ready for momentum but don’t see any forward movement, you’re still in the traction stage. Refine your goals, narrow your projects and initiatives and focus on growth.
Momentum is what some people refer to as “the grind.” It’s the stage where you have been making low-gear (what we used to call “granny gear”), slow forward progress. Now it’s time to apply a bit more pressure to the accelerator; gently, slowly, but steadily.
I say to go slowly because this is the stage where burnout occurs. Let’s say your growth goal required a tactic of reaching out to 25 new prospects each day. Of course, that means research, phone messages, emails to be sent, follow-up reminders to be set, records to be kept AND there is a lot of other work to keep your existing base happy. It’s easy to jump in and do all of this … for a while. Then it becomes a struggle. But if you keep it up, it becomes a routine, and routines are what high gear is all about. Ryan Hanley (“Willpower is Overvalued,” via Medium,) says, “… disciplined people build habits, practices, routines into their lives, which reduce the mental energy necessary to achieve their goals.”
This is the stage where comfort and apathy can set in if we are not careful. I have heard this stage described as “boring” or “monotonous.” And in a way, it is … for a while. You made it through traction (lots of cool planning and digging in), then through momentum (the grind), and now things are paying off! But it feels kind of like flying on autopilot because you have focused all your activities on a purpose, a destination (growth). And sure, there will be turbulence along the way, but in general, it is pretty smooth flying.
The numbers are increasing. Month over month, quarter over quarter growth. It’s easy to take your hands off the wheel and become distracted, but DON’T! You’re not flying a 747 from LAX to LGA. You are flying a fighter jet. And the enemy is after you! Start the process over and practice continuous improvement. “Winners and losers have the same goals. It is only when you implement a system of continuous improvement that a different outcome is achieved,” says James Clear (Atomic Habits). What is no longer giving you the results you wanted (traction)? What is working really well (momentum)? Where can you direct new levels of growth (high gear)?
Practical tip: Develop a routine. What are your routines or rituals? The more you simply do activities without even thinking about them, the more powerful and effective they become. As an example, I have a strong morning and evening routine. I do exactly the same things every time.
First thing in the morning, I give thanks for three things. Gratitude helps set the tone for the day. Another part of my morning routine is a review of the upcoming meetings and the projects for the day. This is a quick flyover of the day in which I prepare and reassess my schedule based on my goals. Priorities are assigned. I increased my personal overall productivity by over 300 percent.
At midday, I check in on my schedule: What’s on track? What isn’t? How is my energy level? What is taking me off track and how can I better prepare for those “interruptions”?
Interruptions aren’t even the real problem; the problem is that we don’t prepare ourselves for how best to address each type of interruption in advance. How often have you said to yourself, “If I could just shut my door and work uninterrupted for the next (10 minutes? Two hours?)” Well, the likelihood is you can’t! So quit pretending that’s the answer. We need a better plan. I must confess, as I was writing this my phone lit up to let me know of an incoming text message. Immediately, my attention turned to it and my body chemistry took a hit of dopamine from the inbound message and I lost my train of thought. Why did this happen? Because I didn’t plan ahead about how to deal with interruptions! I know better. My phone should have been facing down so I couldn’t see it being lit up. Instead, I let it light me up.
At the end of the day I find it is a wonderful time to take a quick look back and a slightly longer one forward. How was the day? What were three lessons learned? Who or what did I neglect? Why? What does my calendar look like for tomorrow? Is my plan for tomorrow intentional or will I just “let things happen?” Who do I need to thank? What are three things from today that I am thankful for?
Develop a routine that works for you, but make sure you do develop a routine.
There will be times where you get off track, but it’s part of the process. Some of these will be because of distractions, and some may be opportunities to rethink and reimagine. Mizuta Masahide, a 17th-century poet and samurai, wrote: “Barn’s burnt down, now I see the moon.” What may at first appear to be derailment (burning barn, lost account, etc.) may in all reality be just what you need to gain the view of an even greater reality.
Let’s have a quick review:
• Does this activity move me closer to my unreasonable goal of growth?
• Is it purposeful and crystal clear?
• Is it radically brutal in its intentionality?
• Do I have traction without distraction?
• Am I starting to see signs of growth momentum?
• Am I applying the right amount of fuel and course correction such that high gear feels almost automatic?
No two growth journeys are going to look the same. The roadmap will be different. However, let’s not kid ourselves, if we really want something that we don’t already have, we are going to have to try different things. Find a process, create some new habits, experiment with new rhythms and see just how unreasonable your results can actually be.