Sunday, June 24, 2007

How to Deal With Frustration

I just wrapped up a contract with a large corporate client. As is the case with almost all large organizations (even those attempting to transition to agile practices), there was no shortage of wasteful corporate policies and procedures.

Nothing frustrates lean-thinking people quite the way inefficient or wasteful processes do. We all want our expertise and abilities to be leveraged to create and deliver as much value as possible. When wasteful processes prevent this, we get mad. Not because we're inherently negative people, but because striving for greatness starts with refusing to be mediocre. We try to fix the broken process. If we don't immediately succeed, we bitch.

When you get three or four passionate lean-thinkers together, their frustration can feed off each other and become a real problem. But until recently, I didn't realize that. I might occasionally point out we were wasting time and should get back to work. That was about it.

Then I read My Start-Up Life by Ben Cosnocha. In a side bar about time management, Ben says:
"I believe time management is important to make each day rewarding and productive. But instead of focusing on how I can save a minute here, a minute there, I think about a different metric: energy."

He goes on to quote The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz:

"Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance. Capacity is a function of one's ability to expend and recover energy. Every thought, feeling, and action has an energy consequence. Energy is the most important individual and organizational resource."

That distinction between time and energy rings true with me. When I'm energetic, I'm able to work smarter and think faster, and I can get a lot more done. Time is not the limiting factor of my productivity; energy is.

When we focus on our frustration with problems that are not immediately or easily solvable, there is a bigger issue at stake than wasted time: wasted energy. Energy is the leverage that allows us to make effective use of time. When we allow ourselves to become frustrated at our inability to prevent waste, we deplete our energy. Our frustration with waste is often more wasteful than the waste we're frustrated with in the first place.

I'm not saying you should just put up with all the wasteful policies you're asked to comply with. But avoid the bitch sessions. Be aware of how focusing on your frustration affects your energy level, and act accordingly.


J. B. Rainsberger said...

Ryan, if you haven't read "The Power of Full Engagement", I recommend it. I listened to the audiobook version and found it interesting and helpful. I haven't quite mastered the appropriate use of energy, but at least I'm aware of the nature of the problem.

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