Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Effectively Focused: 7 - Flex

Previous Post - 6: Focus - hyper focus on one thing at a time, limit your work in progress and blockers

Ah, the realities of a solo artist/creative - big opportunities arise (a large wholesale order!), family crisis arise, a day job might still be a reality, balancing family needs, keeping yourself healthy - all of these will vie for your time. Another scenario that calls for flexibility is when you start developing on Idea that morphs into a better more effective Idea. Being flexible is a key, even if you have to change your ideas mid-stream. How do you adjust without losing the momentum caused by a change? 

Principle #7: Flex

Okay, now you've made your plans, and have started working them. But, as any experienced project manager knows, no plan survives first contact with implementation

One of of the surprising things about this type of project/task management is your ability to flex and change as needed. Most creatives resist organizing and planning because it feels so rigid and inflexible. Not Agile! In fact, one of the core tenets of the Agile Manifesto is "Responding to change over following a plan." Agile is designed to flex with reality, not box you into a corner.

While the overall goal is to complete work and not circle between multiple tasks (see last week's post on Focus,) Agile embraces your natural creative instincts to adjust with changes. The key to success is balancing the tension between your intuition and desire to do something new and intention complete work and put it out into the world. You get better with the tension the more you practice.

I use sticky notes even with writing this post and use them as bullet points for the keys I want to discuss. Being able to move these around and get a clearer sense of how to structure this post is very helpful.

Being able to change your Categories, Focus, Priorities is one of the beautiful things about this process. It's also why I prefer sticky notes over any other tool. Lists are too rigid. With the number of tasks I need to do, a list is outdated as soon as it's written. Digital is as flexible as sticky notes, but it doesn't have the power of being an always-visible reminder of what you need to do. 

Try and Modify 

Once you start something, don't feel too boxed in by what you've started. For example, when I broke my Energy Drain list (below) down into categories, I had four categories. As I started working my "plan" I realized I needed to break one of the categories down into two smaller categories. I plan my week out and my priorities change as the week progresses due to things that come up. Don't worry or overthink it. Just go with the flow.

Don't Overdo the Organization

One of the keys I want to emphasize in this context is don't overdo the organization. Yes, a Type A project manager just said that out loud. Because everything changes. It's really more important (and sometimes harder) to keep everything as simple as possible and no more complex than it needs to be. Complexity kills progress. Keep it as simple as possible but don't feel hemmed in either. Again, balance the tension between the paradoxical states. 

Maintain Momentum

Flexibility as a creative is an advantage and a flaw. It can be a flaw when you are subject to the Shiny New Object Syndrome. Playing with the next ideas leads to loss of focus on becoming really good at one or two things. Context switching and pursuing each new shiny idea really makes for multi-focus. If you multi-focus, pretty soon you end up with a lot of projects started and none finished. 

One of the key points is making sure you have everything written down. If you have to check out from your work for a bit to focus on a family emergency, a health crisis, or an element of your business that takes you away from new business development, having a point of reference is critical. If you maintain your project book or project queue with your Hyper Focus as tightly focused as possible (only one or two sticky notes), when you come back to it you have focus.

When you shift priorities and change up the Hyper Focus, it's good to do a review of your entire queue to make sure you are still focused on the right priority and you haven't forgotten anything. Reviewing and rearranging your sticky notes keeps everything percolating in your brain, without having to worry about forgetting it. This little bit of preparation saves you a lot of time in the long run and keeps you from spinning your wheels on all the ideas you have. Also, because it's written, you don't have to spend precious time remembering your ideas or worse, forget the fabulous idea and start working on the wrong priority.

Next Post - 8: Review - survey the time box of activities, what can you do differently next time?

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