One of my mentors asked me what is the biggest factor preventing me from spending more time forgetting the past (unlearning) and innovating for the future.
My instant response was, "Innovation? I hadn't thought about it." As an Extrovert with a capital "E", I next blurted out something about hyper-awareness of today’s gaps in operations. I mostly work with design and construction project teams in ongoing operations. Sometimes, I work directly with clients and supply chain partners to improve operational excellence, increase daily performance, or introduce Lean Construction principles and methods.
Emails, phone calls, and meetings can quickly overtake a decent person's schedule with even modest responsibilities. If you are engaged in helping teams meet short-term profit and revenue goals plus a handful of other key performance indicators, your calendar is likely controlled by others more than by you.
And if you are like most people, you are trying to squeeze in more and more in your 24-hour day. That often results in a race through work without ever taking a break to restore and reflect. Unfortunately, this feeling of overwhelm infects our private life as well. No matter how hard we work, there’s never enough time to get everything done. Frustration, anxiety, and burnout impact our well-being.
What about shifting your perspective and managing your energy instead of your time?
Filling up our energy tanks is the key to be more efficient and get more done in the time we have available, as the authors of The Power of Full Engagement explain. It may sound counter-productive but working less while being intentional about what you do and taking regular breaks means managing your energy more efficiently and getting much more done. Breaks give your body and mind the chance to recharge your energy levels and, as a result, stay productive for longer.
There are four energy levels that require our attention:
- Physical energy
To reach our full potential, we need to develop and maintain good physical energy. It is our most important fuel. Our physical energy is dependent on the food we eat, how hydrated our body is, how much sleep we get, and how often we take the time to recover. High physical energy levels also fill our mental energy tank. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain physical health to perform at our best.
What daily exercise are you engaged in?
- Emotional energy
When was the last time you did something because you really enjoyed it and not because you felt obligated to do it? We tend to choose useful activities over enjoyable ones, which can have negative consequences in the long run.
We derive positive emotional energy from doing things we love. Emotions derived from these activities, such as feeling challenged, experiencing adventure or learning something new, and seeing opportunities, increase our performance. And high levels of physical energy help avoid negative emotional energy. Therefore, it's important to prioritize enjoyable activities over productive ones.
What is it that brings joy to your life?
Image: Paige Cody via Unsplash
- Mental energy
Training our mental energy helps us stay focused and creative at the same time. Firstly, we need to find ways to get our work done most efficiently by adopting an attitude of 'realistic optimism', which means seeing the world as it is while working positively towards our desired outcome.
Secondly, our best ideas often come to mind when we least expect it: in the shower, while immersing ourselves in a creative activity, such as writing, drawing, painting, dancing, singing, or before we fall asleep. This happens because when we relax or do something enjoyable, the right side of the brain starts to work. A lot of people use mainly their left side of the brain at work. To unlock our full potential, it is best to activate both sides of the brain hemispheres on a regular basis.
What ways do you play creatively?
- Spiritual energy
Spiritual energy is our source for motivation. It doesn't mean adhering to a particular religion but describes a commitment to a set of personal values that give us purpose and compel us to act. This energy requires being motivated by the needs and wants of others, in other words, to find a purpose in our life. This sense of deeper purpose should be rooted in something beyond self-interest. The challenge is to find a way to express our values in every-day life.
A great exercise is to write down your values and creatively summarize them in a vision statement to remind you daily of what you want to achieve. This vision statement will also help you tap into your spiritual energy.
What are your personal values, and how can you invest your energy to serve your values?
Who is responsible for innovation?
While talking with my mentor, I shared that closing performance gaps are one of my primary responsibilities. By intentional design, I dedicate time daily to learn new concepts, have conversations with people across many different roles in the design and construction industry, and connect people to others working to improve project delivery. My mentor's curiosity was engaged and she asked:
"Who is responsible for innovation in the teams you work with?"
I didn't have a quick answer. I am aware of the unspoken idea held by many that business today will be like business yesterday, will be like business tomorrow. I am old enough to remember how fax machines and email disrupted the construction industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and how text messaging and more recently video calls are disrupting project management today. In the moment, we all lack the perspective to see or predict the disruption.
Finally, I replied:
"As a leader, I'm responsible for innovation, and I am confident of this because of my daily journaling practice.”
The benefits of daily journaling
Daily writing and journaling have changed my trajectory forward. I know that change is the only guarantee. Intuitively, chopping wood, doing the work, requires occasional sharpening of the saw. That is my approach to work and continuous improvement, which is more than a job for me.
Skills improvement and reflection are commonly understood as positive and good to spend our time on. Looking back at how we spend our time any given day illustrates how lacking it is in practice. There are more incentives to work on the immediate problems/tasks at hand than to strive towards achieving our strategic plans.
This year I had the good fortune to get mentoring by a leader who values reflection. I began journaling daily. I mentally practiced reflecting daily for many years, but this felt different.
I established a new daily habit of writing and reflecting on these three areas:
- Intention and action(s)
- Reflection (check/adjust)
As a result, I confidently know that this practice is what made my answer about innovation crystal clear and earned me more than a smile from my mentor. Responsibility for providing direction towards the future is mine.
I am positively impressed by the continuing benefits of daily journaling, which means taking a break to reflect. I noticed:
- Greater clarity of what to do with my limited 24 hours each day
- Increased personal accountability
- Significantly improved performance
- Increased creativity
- More fun!
In summary, I am working on fewer tasks but delivering far greater value. For example, we had a breakthrough in Last Planner™ System (LPS) onboarding. LPS is the collaborative, commitment-based, planning system that integrates should-can-will-did-learn conversations to make more reliable promises and project delivery. I creatively shortened the time to teach people what successful LPS is and how they will plan and schedule with the project team from hours to about five minutes. Typical LPS onboarding ranges from half-day sessions to two-day sessions and often includes other Lean methods, such as Conditions of Satisfaction, visual controls, and constraint removal.
The results speak for themselves. Engagement is up for both experienced and novice teams with everyone typically gaining numerous days on their project schedule every month. The greater clarity from journaling and personal energy management have enabled me to bring forward new ways to build better and to innovate. As a result, I feel happier because I am serving more people in our industry.
Watch the video with the core message from the book.
More on performance improvement