Feel well with stuff you do
Going past that quote-y title, this is a live story of evolution on delivering work and feeling well.
If you’re in a hurry, this is the TL;DR version of the current state:
- Trusting parts of Getting Things Done for 4 years in a row, still comforting and still my base of everything 🙂
- Added parts of The One Thing in my daily routine the last two years, great improvement and a strong sense of direction 🎯
- Still struggling with saying No, which is a big bummer 🙁
- When in doubt or feeling stressed, seek comfort in the Stoics 🙂
With these bullets out of the way, let’s dive into the journey that leads to the above state.
A low point is a good trigger of change
It was back in 2018 when some big changes happened in the product department of the company I work for. In a very short period, the product team changed dramatically, shifting a big load of work on fewer hands and brains.
Feeling intimidated came as a hard realization pretty fast. A feeling of overworked, overwhelmed, and over-my-head in general! It was a fast realization that intimidation was related to bad time management. Having too many things to handle, one usually does the best possible to address all of them. In my case, the result was nada completed tasks and a feeling of punching the water, overwhelmed and unhappy — as nothing was complete!
At this low point, I had the clarity to seek advice and guidance already out there, books.
Getting Things Done (or GTD) struck a nerve from the very first chapters! It was clear that there was value in adopting these findings! The book’s gist is to write down all your thoughts and work that you need to do so that you free up your mind to actually do the work needed now. Started out by trying out the whole GTD framework but soon ended up with fewer lists to update.
Marcus Aurelius Meditations is a great companion to ease out anxieties and intimidation feelings. Meditations are the epitome of stoicism. There are bits and pieces of Meditations in many other books, but the messaging that Marcus Aurelius is communicating is very vivid and alive.
With these two books as the core, I started working on my daily schedule and feelings. My feelings started shifting fast again to the more positive side. The sense of control over time and accomplishment that GTD offered was great. Additionally, applying stoicism to anything VUCA that came in made me feel better.
You cannot control the work coming to you, but you can control what to work on first and set expectations. After all, having work to do is what pays the bills. You cannot wish for no or less work to do, because that means your skills are not needed!
Getting comfortable, and getting better
Using more of the Getting Things Done approach it felt more relaxing. With a more relaxed mind, there was a shift of focus on monitoring more areas for improvement.
Completing tasks was a great improvement compared to my previous state of intimidation, but this wasn’t enough. There was a point that I didn’t get a sense of accomplishment and goal, since the tasks were ad-hoc, disjointed.
At that point, two books helped me get better, The One Thing by Gary Kelly and Jay Papasan, and Leadership, Strategy, and Tactics: Field Manual by Jocko Willink. The One Thing addresses exactly that point of accomplishment, goal, and direction. The second book holds some great advice on decision-making and leading by example.
To help in focus and direction, I introduced thematic days and a single goal per day on my tasks. Working as a Product Manager means that your focus spans all departments and functions of the company. With thematic days, one can focus on Product and Engineering in one day, Customer Success and Sales in the next one, Marketing in the third, Experience and Design in the fourth, etc. To make things even easier and focused, each day I set a single goal — the most important task on my list — that should not be missed.
Today and the journey ahead
Nowadays there is a strong sense of ownership and control of my day. With the GTD base and adjustments done in the years, there is a direction and focus in all work done. Moreover, it feels ok to slack or slightly shift a day’s work, the bigger direction reflected on upcoming tasks is self-correcting any daily side-tracking. Also, judging with stoicism all these decisions helps the mind stay in the right place, avoiding feelings of intimidation, overwhelm, and unease.
The current challenge is on Saying more No to people requesting help. When you are delivering work, both you and other people feel like you can accomplish way more! That’s a friction point, as all work requires time and you will tend to underestimate how much of your time you can spare. You usually realize how much time is spent helping other people when you miss that time for your tasks. That’s too late!
To secure some of that time, focus time is introduced on each day. To do that I block big chunks of time in my calendar for focus work. A great inspiration in that direction was Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Still, the biggest struggle is on actually saying No to tasks unrelated to your work 😕. Despite always reading on this matter, practicing the theory is not mastered yet and needs more effort. In the meantime, an item is added to the GTD list to daily measure the No/Yes tasks that I spent time on.
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