Making more productive changes.

Portrait Of Girl PoutingDo you have great ideas for self-made changes that seem like they should work but don’t when you try them?  Are you puzzled by resistance you have to your own choices?

The most difficult part of change management is resistance to change.  It applies to your own personal choices of performance and productivity tools as well.

Many years ago, I developed a system for myself I called “pagers,” which were one page writing forms.  The idea was to write a simple one-page article, essay, letter or other document.

A pager document could stand on its own or be combined with other pagers to make a larger document.  Thus, I’d be able to write a page per day on any project and make daily progress toward a larger goal.  Or I would have something new each day to publish.  Maybe, both.

Essentially, I designed a series of format templates to allow me to “fill in the blanks.”  So, I could get a clearer focus, a sort of outline without having to outline.  I expected it to help me get my work done faster.

I tried using it for a while and then abandoned it.

Why abandon a well-worked out system?

Instead of freeing me to create quickly, giving me a delimited structure for my ideas, it annoyed me.  I found it quite like wearing a pair of boots that were too small.  I started finding more ways to avoid writing.

I thought I created a bad system.  Or that my new productivity tool was flawed.

I was foolish.

There was nothing wrong with the system.  It was a good system that provided me with some of the best writing tools available: templates. But it also hooked the resistance of my “inner child” the same way other rules and limitations do.  Not to mention the sense of having been given an “order” to write a certain amount daily.

Do you resist your own systems as if you have the terrible twos?

There is a time in children’s lives called “the terrible twos.”  As you can guess, it happens at around two years of age. It’s a time of tantrums, disobedience and resistance to structure.

Sometimes, a kid seems to have learned only one word — “No!” — and uses it for almost everything, including things he wants and likes. Fortunately for most parents, most kids with the twos are less intense than the ones we end up calling “brats” for the rest of their childhood.

Yet, the “terrible twos” make sense.  We’re just getting big enough and in enough control of our bodies that we can actually do something.  We’re full of energy.  We want to learn new things.  Have new experiences.  Satisfy our curiosities.

It’s bad enough that we’re frustrated by the things we still don’t have the ability to do. But all the grown-ups keep telling us is that we can’t do this, that or the other thing.  They seem to just want us to sit somewhere and be quiet.  Every other word out of their mouths seems to be “No!”  We are not allowed to do anything.

There are rules for everything.  Rules that leave us frustrated and angry. Especially since we don’t yet have the language skills to explain what we want or understand explanations of why we can’t have our way.  So we rebel.

And most of us rebel against restrictions for the rest of our lives.  Even if we don’t have sitting-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming tantrums. (Although if you watch the way our politicians relate to one another, you might conclude we do still have tantrums.)

We rebel against our own rules and restrictions.  Including the good, helpful ones.

Choose systems and methods that work naturally with you.

No matter how well a system, tool or technique works, it doesn’t work if it hooks your resistance. If you need to make a change or do something new, you must choose a method of change that you won’t resist using.

What kind of change do you resist?  What do you adopt readily?  Ask yourself those questions before trying to make a choice of method.

How you make changes is as important as what you change.

On the subject of don’t sweat the small stuff.

One of the biggest contributing factors to poor performance and productivity is stress.  And one of the biggest contributors to stress is office and inter-office rivalries.  Rather than write a long post on the subject, I thought that today I’d just offer the poster below as a reminder of a better attitude.

Please feel free to print copies for personal use and to pin it or share the poster on Facebook.  I got the photo from, a great source I use frequently.  I modified it in Photoshop, including a bit of embellishment with the new IntensifyPro from MacPhun.  To get the 8.5 x 11 poster, just right-click (control-click on Mac) on the poster and choose “save link as” to download it to your computer.  (Remember, the original photo is in the public domain but the poster is not.)


Changes and Resolutions

ResolutionsThere is an inspiring and sentimental story I’ve heard and read.  It’s commonly used by speakers and preachers, and I’m not sure it’s completely true.  But I’m going to tell it anyway.

The Story of Annie

In the late 1870’s, a young girl, known to most as “Annie” was living in an almshouse, which also served as a mental hospital.  Annie was half-blind, subject to fits of anger and was being kept in a cage to keep her from harming herself and others.  She could also take notions of ignoring the presence of others and refusing to communicate or follow any instructions.  She lived in dark and filth.

An old nurse had a fondness for Annie.  She saw some spark in her.  And she knew how hard life had been for her.  So she took to visiting Annie each day at lunch.  She’d talk to Annie about mundane things, just the usual makings of conversation.  Annie would apparently ignore her.  Undeterred, she came back day after day.

One day, the old nurse left a brownie outside the girl’s cage.  The girl ignored it, but when the nurse came back the next day, the brownie was gone.  So, each day after that, the nurse would leave a brownie.

After a while, the staff started noticing changes in Annie.  Within a few months, Annie was released from the cage a changed person.  More communicative, cooperative, in control.

What is particularly poignant about the story is that the girl in question was Anne Sullivan, who went on to become a teacher of the blind and to mentor Helen Keller.

The Point of the Story: Small Actions Lead to Big Changes

This story has been used to make a variety of points.  The point I want to use it for is what it says about change.

I’m writing this article just after the turn of the new year.  This is a time when many have made great promises about the great changes they have resolved to make during the coming year.  (Most of the resolutions are about weight loss, but that’s a different story.)

Change doesn’t happen in huge chunks.  Annie wouldn’t have been better changed by a plate of a dozen brownies once a week.  Big change happens with consistent repetitions of small changes.  And the right changes.  At the right time.

By “small changes,” I mean “small actions.”  Change is an active process.

Also remember that the brownies were not the only small changes.  Everything started with the nurse consistently, patiently using her lunch time to visit Annie.  Giving the girl evidence of being cared for every single day.

Make Small, Action-Oriented Resolutions and You’ll Be Successful

If you want to make changes in yourself, start with some small activity that, combined with other activities, will eventually lead to the larger change.

If you want, for example, to lose weight, you might start by finding out how many calories you eat each day and limit yourself to 200 calories less.  So, if you eat 2500 calories a day now, you could just limit yourself to 2300 until you are comfortable with that.

As another example, if you want to be a good time manager, but you live pretty chaotically now, you could start by learning to write down one — just one — item you want to remember to do each day.  You wouldn’t start by trying to keep a full-fledged to do list.

Change is hard.  You don’t start from being like a caged animal and jump right to going to graduate school.

You’re probably eager to get on with your New Year’s resolutions.  Just remember to start from where you are now.