Thursday, January 1, 2015

Three inspirations for the new year

“Three” is a magic number because our brain seems to have some natural affinity to this number. It is easier to remember three things than five or six things. So why not start the new year with “three inspirations”? Here I pick three tools & concepts that helped me in my personal productivity over the years.

1. “Circle of Concern” vs “Circle of Influence”

Stephen Covey
’s "7 habits of highly effective people" is one of the first personality development books I read back in my college days. I consider it the most useful and inspiring book I ever read. It helped me to overcome some of my "public speaking" fears in those days. That book teaches many "principles", but the one principle that I found most practical (I use it at least 2-3 times every month) is - "Circle of Concern" vs "Circle of Influence"

"Circle of concern" is everything you are concerned about - your life, your career, your family & friends, politics of the country, movies you like, ideas/actions that you disagree with etc. "Circle of influence" is everything that you can influence i.e do something about it. Covey's observation is while most people spend too much time on "circle on concern", effective people focus on "circle of influence". "Circle of influence" is often a small subset of "circle of concern" and when you focus on it, you will find that your "circle of influence" grows.

This idea is not new and is expressed by others in many different ways. But I find this "circle" framework very visual and useful. Whenever I find myself bothered about something, I ask - "Ok! This is my circle of concern, what is my circle of influence?" and immediately there is a lot of clarity and calmness.

2. Starve problems, feed opportunities

Peter Drucker
is the father of modern management. It was through him that I first learnt the concept of focusing on one’s strengths for achieving things rather than on rectifying weaknesses. Great achievers had their share of imperfections and follies but they made their impact felt on the world primarily because of utilizing their strengths. Your strength is an “opportunity” and your weakness is a “problem”. Would you work on “achieving things” or “fixing problems?

This is a powerful concept that can be applied in many areas. For example, we can apply his statement “Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” to "families". A great family or a great relation happens not when an ideal set of people get together but when real people with all their lapses bond in such a manner that their "weaknesses" become "irrelevant".

Does this mean, problems have to be ignored? No! Drucker summarizes this concept best when he said - 
“The first – and usually the best – opportunity for successful change is to exploit one’s own successes and build on them. Problems cannot be ignored. And serious problems have to be taken care of. But to be change leaders, enterprises have to focus on opportunities. They have to starve problems and feed opportunities.”

I recommend reading Drucker’s long article titled "managing oneself" which talks about the “strengths” concept. It is a great tool to introspect and look back at your life and career. It is also a great introduction to Drucker who offers simple, often obvious, but always fresh and clear insights on many aspects.

3. Mind like water

“Mind like water” is a Zen/Yogic analogy. It can be interpreted in different ways but the one analogy I found most practical is what David Allen gave in his classic book “Getting Things Done” (GTD) -
In karate, there is an image that's used to define the position of perfect readiness: "mind like water." Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn't overreact or underreact.
Allen’s simple observation is that “stuffing your mind” prevents your mind from being like water. He says -
Your mind is a great place to have ideas, but a terrible place to manage them. If you are still walking around with a head full of "stuff" that you have your attention on, don't be surprised if you're not reaping the fruits of your labors with GTD. I never said getting your head clear was easy—it requires work to keep it on your mind as well—but the rewards of having a clear head on a regular basis will pay you back many times over in ways you may never have thought possible for feeling in control and getting perspective.
GTD is essentially a framework that helps in achieving this “mind like water” state in dealing with our day to day tasks. I tried implementing GTD but found that it does not suit me that well. So I left it, but I still use this “mind like water” concept. I found the advice “to not use your mind to store ideas” very useful. It helps me to clear my “inbox” and is my daily de-stressor!

1 comment:

Me Inc said...

Fantastic! Thanks for inspiring :)