Week 14- Describing the Results VS Describing the Activities

Subscribe to Melanie's Agile Change newsletter?

Towards the end of last week, I had one of those days where if things could go wrong, they did. Everything I touched seemed to take longer, get stuck because other decisions hadn’t been taken or other work hadn’t been finished.

My day was populated with starting many pieces of work but finishing very few of them. I felt confused by the variety of different things I was trying to do all at the same time, and as I drove home, I replayed all the things I had done. I could feel myself getting stressed as I re-lived every blocker I experienced, every half-finished task. I felt very demotivated, knowing that I had a whole list of things I needed to complete the next day.

My partner and I were going to dinner with friends, and so I knew I needed to get myself in a better mood or risk being the miserable one at the table. As my partner works in a completely different industry, he knows very little about what I do, so I decided to try and experiment.

As we chatted about our day, I challenged myself to describe the results of my day. This is a difficult exercise because we are programmed to describe our activities and all the things we did, not our outcomes and achievements.

This is because to describe the results of our actions; we must step back and think through the impact of what we did and draw a conclusion. If we list what we did, our brains just replay everything that happened to us. To describe what we achieved, we must join together tasks, analyse the results and draw a conclusion – it is a much more brain-intensive activity.

It might be more difficult, but describing what I had achieved was a success. I had to correct myself a few times because I started to describe my actions, but I pulled myself back using phrases including “as a result”; “I achieved X”; “I have finished Y” etc.

I could feel myself getting happier and less stressed with every little achievement I described, and my partner says he could follow my day more easily because it was at the summary level, and not just what I did, who I talked to, what I emailed, what documents I wrote etc.

If you are going to try this, find the phrases that ensure you are describing an outcome and not just an activity. I hope it leaves you feeling as positive as it did for me.