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Resilience in action

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Introduction

On Friday I delivered the 2nd edition of Agile Change Management to my publishers. This book is the course text for the Agile Change Agent course which is in high demand, and I have been able to bring it right up to date using the input from hundreds of people on my courses.

I am proud to have finished this book, because being alone in lockdown is not the easiest time to take on big, scary project. I doubted my ability to get it finished, to get it right and to make it interesting. Exhausting negative thoughts for nearly a year. Now it is over, I wanted to reflect on what it has taught me about how I work and how I can build on this for future projects. These are my lessons learned, I hope they help you when you are doubting yourself and your abilities.

Doing something is better than doing nothing

The ritual of turning up to my desk, and getting something done has been more important than waiting for inspiration. Every weekend I have faced the challenge of feeling tired after a long week, with the excuse that I am too tired to write. Instead of using that as an excuse, I got into the routine of coming into my office on a Saturday and starting with tasks that were:

  • Easy – sometimes just answering a few emails or tidying my desk
  • Appealing – doing something not connected with the book but has value to me and that interests me
  • Important – not exciting but will help to get other things done later or has a deadline that is putting pressure on me

Once I got started with something, I found I was back in the habit of working, and that made it easier to get on with the book.

Agility is calming

As you would expect from the title of the book, I took an agile approach, which reduced the stress (see this article on the mental health benefits of agile). Each day my aim was to get something written, it didn’t have to be perfect, so my thinking was:

“A hand drawn diagram will do for now, my graphic designer will make it look really good later on.”

“A badly written sentence conveys the message, the order of the words and the grammatical errors can be corrected later.”

Motivation is power

I realised the value of motivation over rest. When I was tired I didn’t take a few days off. It might sound counter-intuitive but  instead of resting I concentrated on my motivation for getting this book done. Thinking of how it would help me develop new courses for my clients and how it allowing me to learn new things gave me energy. Have a read of this idea about change fatigue and see if it works for you https://agilechangemanagement.co.uk/2020/11/27/change-fatigue-is-a-myth/

Silence my inner critic

In the psychology lectures I attend, there is a lot of emphasis on the benefits of optimism and positivity for reducing stress, increasing resilience and creative thought. We all have a very negative inner voice that criticises us for the things that we haven’t done or that we could have better. To overcome this we have to work on our self-praise, as a positive inner voice is more productive. To help me get there I spent 10 minutes every morning listing what I had achieved the previous day or earlier in the week. I appreciated how I could use each thing as the input to the next thing I needed to do, and how this body of work was growing. Sometimes this made me smile, and sometimes it created a feeling of relief and a reduction in tension, but it definitely works.

Honest estimating

Finally, the most important thing I continue to learn is how to be honest about the how much work is involved, so that my estimates of what I could reasonably achieve each week were not so ambitious that I would fail every time. As with anything creative, we don’t just create one version, we repeat our work multiple times, hopefully improving it each time. For every chapter, I wrote on average 20 versions. To factor this in when I was planning what to do next, I kept in mind three waves of work:

  • Initial drafts
  • Amended versions
  • Final polishing

This didn’t always stop me underestimating what I had to do, and putting myself under too much pressure, but it reduced the number of times this happened!

Conclusion

We should all remember when we come to the end of a big piece of work, that we did it! We have achieved something, and next time we doubt our ability to take on a big project and see it through to the end, we can remind ourselves that we have evidence that demonstrates our ability. That should keep us motivated to carry on!