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Rice Bowl Macro January 29, 2011

Take the Drama Out of Getting Stuff Done

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: stevendepolo
When it comes to “keeping the rice bowl full,” a GSD or two helps…

An MBA doesn’t impress me. A GSD does. GSD = Gets Stuff Done. Someone who has results, results, results all over their past has a pedigree every bit as powerful as an Ivy league degree.

— Christine Comaford-Lynch

I used to work with a product manager who would come to me in a panic, declaring “This is never going to get finished. It’s all wrong. I’m going to miss my deadline!”  And, the first time I heard those words I was filled with concern – for her, the project, and our track record of successes.  But after a while I figured out that this project manager knew how to GSD – get stuff done – and, it turned out, her panic was the first sign that she’d almost hit the finish line. After that, I was happy to hear her panicked words because it meant she was once again on the road to success.

I too have such a signal.  Much like the project manager, when I start going ballistic about the status of some project of mine, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and relax – I’m almost, but not quite, at the finish line. There is an art to knowing where you are in the process of GSD.

The Drama of the Middle

The middle of every successful project looks like a disaster.

— Rosabeth Moss Cantor

Beware of getting caught up in the drama of the middle. You risk entrapment and may find yourself unnecessarily floundering much like the poor kitten that foolishly crawled into a Hamster Ball and got stuck mid-turn – silly kitten.  We people-type-beings might be doing something similar with our complex projects but I hope were smarter than that silly kitty – she crawled back in for another round of frustration! Heres a reminder for those of us who occasionally do get all tangled up in the drama of the middle:

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.

— Michael McGriffy, M.D.

There’s a Better Way!

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

— Mark Twain

In his blog,, David Allen, author of [amazon-product text=”Getting Things Done” type=”text”]1477490086[/amazon-product], recommends two ingredients for making it all work:

  • Control
  • Perspective
  • If you can maintain a sufficient level of each of these factors in yourself or in your organization, your world will be in order and you’ll be focused exactly as you should be.

Sounds lovely but surely there’s more to it than that? Yes indeedy – Allen is best known for his brain-dump Master List process which is nicely explained in this delightful Ninja Cartoon vid.  So, the secret to sailing right on past the drama of the middle is to keep crossing off tasks while keeping track of where you are in the project and where you’re going. Still seems simple, right?

But here’s the snag – the master list and the process of working from that master list must become habitual if it is to be truly useful. In his book, [amazon-product text=”The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” type=”text”]1400069289[/amazon-product], Charles Duhigg explains how to make a new habit last:

If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a single cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a job).

But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last.  Only when your brain starts expecting the reward – craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment – will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning.  The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

Now we’ve come full circle – we’re back to the signals I talked about at the beginning of this post.  And, it would seem, the experts are telling us that if we don’t already have project-status signals, we can create them for ourselves by establishing good habits.

Create your cue, figure out the reward and expect to get the reward – crave it!

Out of the strain of the doing, into the peace of the done.

— Julia Louis Woodruff

When it comes to “keeping the rice bowl full,” put on your GSD, a few good habits and go for it!

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