Arguments for Minimalist Planning

Everyone understands the importance of having a plan … to know the route when we drive to our holiday destination; to know the steps when we want to develop a value adding product. “Planning to fail is failing to plan”, they say. Every project manager will approve this quote.

After seeing many projects (small and big) succeed and fail I came to a conclusion when it comes to the question of how detailed or accurate a plan has to be.

The simpler a plan is constructed the more likely its successful implementation is.

Having a detailed plan at hand can give you (and your project team) a feeling of security. It can be used to demonstrate to your stakeholders that the project is in save hands.

On the other hand there are some disadvantages of spending time to develop and adapt such plans.

  •  It is time consuming. The development of such a plan will take a lot of time which you could use in more productive way. Additionally, the more details your plan entails the more you have to constantly adapt it during subsequent phases.
  • We lose flexibility. Thinking through all possible steps and scenarios beforehand can make you (and your team) less receptive to important feedbacks which may have far reaching consequences of the successful outcome of the project. No customer will buy a product that does not create a gain or relieves a pain for them.
  • It slows down your project. The frequent adaptions and realignments with your team and stakeholders will consume time. We might lose our focus on the really important tasks. The tasks which significantly moves the project forward to the final solution.

So why do we over plan things? Here are the possible reasons:

  • Fear of making decision in a complex environment where we might not always be able to anticipate every scenario. With the fear of making decision comes the fear of taking the responsibility of the consequences of the decision making.
  • Lack of experience on the specific topic. If we gain in experience on a certain topic we also gain in tactical intelligence. We develop a feeling or intuition of what is required to move things forward and which risks are acceptable to take.
  • We procrastinate to tackle the next logical tasks in the project … especially when it means we have to eat our personal frog (be it a conflictual discussion in your team, writing that status report or to bite through that return on investment calculation). Instead we tend to over jump this task in our mind and engage ourselves with planning in detail our over next tasks which are pretty irrelevant at the moment.

Here three actions which can be immediately implemented:

  • Reduce the frequency of your project plan updates. Update your project plan only at certain events. For instance it makes sense to update your plan after passing an important milestone.
  • Stay simple. Don’t break down your project into thousands of small task junks. By keeping the project plan simple we also increase the likelihood of focusing on the most important tasks.
  • Near term tasks has to be specified more in detail than tasks which are still remote in time. The probability that you have to adapt those tasks are high anyhow.
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A Little Meditation Routine

I want to show you that meditation can be one of most natural and simplest things in the world. It doesn´t require much time and to be honest with you I even hesitated to call it meditation.

I want to tell you about my meditation practice which I enjoy at least once per day. The practice which I am going to explain to you is incredibly simple yet so essential in all of our lifes.

I´m convinced that the positive outcome of this practice defines how focused I can pursue my projects, how relaxed I interact with other human beings and eventually how confident I feel during the day.

The practice I am referring to is conscious breathing … It is the most natural thing in the word. Conscious breathing means to deeply inhale fresh air, to feel it filling the lungs and to finally and slowly exhale it. You can practice conscious breathing no matter where you are or how little time you have available.

Let me tell you two examples how I practice conscious breathing at least once per day.

  • Right after I wake up: I do my morning routine (wash my face, brush my teeth, etc.). Thereafter I open my balcony doors and just comfortably stand there… Maybe I notice some birds singing or I can taste the earthly smell of the air while it´s raining. Next I close my eyes … and I consciously take five deep breaths … I open my eyes again, smile and continue with my day.
  • While I commute: I enter the train and find a place to sit. I make myself comfortable and take an upright position. I close my eyes and fade out the surrounding noise by genuinely accepting that noise. I enjoy as much conscious breaths as my time allows and as I feel comfortable with. I open my eyes again, smile (if I want) and continue my day.

Every other activity that I will face during the day are of minor importance. Catching up on the latest news, last minute preparations for a business meeting or keeping the deadline to hand in your project report – all this is second priority compared to the simple, yet essential, activity of breathing.

The process of conscious breathing makes something very clear to me. Each moment of it illustrates that all the challenges, problems and stressful deadlines are just of second importance in my life. As long as I breath I know that I´m fine … I know that my world will not go down. Even if I fail in everything else. Therefore, it helps me to detach myself from the wrong believe that solely my performances define how valuable I am as a human being.

Ironically detaching myself from my performances, increases my ability to focus on my projects, to feel more relaxed during the day and eventually to feel much more confident in who I am and what I want in life.

Mental Training

Did you ever asked yourself how to be more focused during the day and be more relaxed at the same time? How prevent to come home exhausted and mentally drained? And eventually how to stay ahead of “the game”?

Introduction:

In the daily working life one encounters these guys who always appear to be cool, two steps ahead and never loose temper no matter how chaotic or lost a situation might seem. Some of them where just born and raised the way which allowed them to train their mental toughness (be it conscious or not). Some of them have tough jobs some don’t. Therefore, their mental state or perceived amount of stress cannot be explained by the workload and level of responsibility the have to carry. So, what is it exactly what they have what other don’t and how can we achieve it?

If we look at the classical Olympic disciplines, say pole vault or long jump, it is always a matter of cm that separates the winners from the losers (of course there are exemptions life Usain Bolt) . Therefore, the sole physical ability or superiority is often not the deciding factor. But it is the ability to mobilize our absolute maximal performance exactly in the moment when it is needed. The deciding factor that enables us develop and to focus our capabilities is something which has been used in pro sport for years and is called mental training.

What is Mental Training?

Mental training is the art how one can increase his mental abilities. This includes improvements of:

  • cognitive skills
  • resilience capabilities
  • self esteem
  • perceived well being

Initially developed in professional sports to optimize the learning of complex body movements, it has been developed further to regulate attention and relaxation. Mastering the techniques of mental training often decides between winning or losing in highly competitive athletic situations. Due to the similar mental requirements in sports as well as in business the art of mental training has been lately deployed for highly demanding business roles, too.

Benefits of Mental Training:

An average human being generates 50’000 thoughts per day. Most of us will probably agree with me if I say that a big part of these thoughts are either uncoordinated or circle around a specific problem without leading to a solution. Mental training enables us to control our brain activities. We will be able to instantly switch on our activities to maximum performance and ramp down to recharging our energies. We will be able to channelize our entire brain power like a laser beam to one topic at a time over a long time period. By clearly visualizing our goals and using your full brain power mental training will help us to overcome resistances which are standing between us and our goals.

But be aware, only those who constantly hit the gym no matter what will get the six pack abs 😉 Same applies to mental training.

3  pillars of Mental Training:

Now I want to introduce you 3 pillars of mental training on which, I believe, your mental training should be based on.

  • Controlled breathing
  • Laser-like focus abilities
  • Crystal clear visualization of your goals

Imagine you are taking a deep breath. Inhale the fresh air through your nose. Feel the oxygen moving from your nose tip to throat. From there is flows gently into your lungs. Pause shortly and observe the moment where you levitate at the point between inhaling and exhaling. Now gently breath out through your mouth. Feel the air, and with it your inner tension and stress passing by your teeth and tongue finally leaving your body. Your heart beat immediately slows down and you anticipate clearness and relaxation ascending into your mind.

Some of you are maybe asking to what should I be mindful during the controlled berating? The answer is absolutely nothing expect of the way you’re breathing. Other thoughts will pop up in your mind during the controlled breathing. Just be shortly aware of them and let them pass by.

Simple controlled breathing is the best method to quickly reach a relaxed state where our mind recharges and collects new energy. There is hardly a method which enables us to recharge in a shorter amount of time! And we can do it whenever we want and wherever we want (e.g. during commuting, staying in a queue or even during a short speaking pause during management presentation).

Concentration is the skill to focus our entire brain power to exactly one dot on the wall in front of us or any topic at hand for as long as possible. Ideally the state of laser like concentration is perceived as stimulating or even joyful and not at all exhausting.

As we discovered previously our mind does create around 50’000 thoughts per day. Since thoughts are the results of electrochemical processes in our cerebral system they consume energy. Our brain required around 20% of our total daily energy intake. And as we all know our brain and thoughts like to take on a life of its own. Therefore, we are practically “wasting” up to 20% of our total energy on thoughts which are in the best case just unnecessary or in the worst case depressing us.

Even if we would improve our concentration abilities just marginally, this would already lead to a huge amount of focused thoughts leading us eventually faster to our goals.

Speaking of reaching our goals; this leads me to the third pillar; the ability of crystal clear visualization of our goals.

Our brain is constantly visualizing our brightest vision as well as our deepest fears. Visualization can thus be understood as an inner movie which our brain is playing to our inner self or subconscious. And our subconscious is constantly striving to fulfil what has been shown to her. Or as Earl Nightingale used to say that human beings have the tendency to become what they think of the most. Similar to generating thoughts the process of visualization occurs automatically. Unfortunately, many of us have the tendency to mostly think about worries and problems. Therefore, thinking mostly negative things will not encourage our subconscious to work in our favour to reach a better self. However, if we take over control of what and how our visualization looks like, we will be able to transform our entire way of thinking and eventually our whole personality in the way we desire.

Take for example the three-time World Cup winner Pele. Before a big match he always used to go through the same ritual. Well before each game he would retreat to a quit place, say a locker room, covering his eyes with his towel and get himself to a relaxing state of mind through controlled breathing. After some minutes when he felt relaxed he would imagine himself as a child again. Back then, when football was his biggest passion and he could play it all day long with his friends and enjoying life. He would then go through all his major successes. He would visualize every detail, the extreme relive and adrenaline rush when he realized that the ball would hit the goal, the applauding crowd while he performed his victory lap. And he would eventually put all this emotions and pictures and would apply it to the coming game. The moment he steps in the field he may look the same as all other players on the field. Except that every cell in his body and brain is focusing on realizing what he had vividly and crystal clearly visualized in the locker room.

In this article I tried to explain the importance of mental training in our professional as well as private life. How it helps you to relax, collect your energies, increase your abilities to utilize your complete brain power to the tasks at hand, and put your long term goals into effect!

However, there is a catch. To reach the muscle mass of a bodybuilder or endurance of a pro marathon runner one needs to train for it, go for progression in weight or speed, train regularly and over a period without surrender. Mental training required the same persistence of you. Only then you will see progress and results.

In the next articles I will give some simple and most effective exercises which you can apply during our daily life. They will help you to:

  • relax through controlled breathing
  • reach laser-like focus abilities
  • enable crystal clear visualization of your goals

… and they will only take a few minutes of your day.

Please let me know if this article was of use to you. Please let me know your thoughts on this topic.

 

Learning to Fail

Why is it important that we sometimes fail in our professional as well as private life? And more important how should we deal with failures in order to transform them into a solid foundation of experience which enables a steady personal growth and sustainable successes?

In this first article I will show you some famous examples of failures and come up with a handful of simple conclusions about the right mindset of dealing with failures.

When it comes to extraordinary intelligence Albert Einstein needs to be mentioned. However, the famous explorer of the theory of general relativity, struggled to speak fluently when he was a child. Furthermore he was expelled from school and did not manage to get the admittance to the prestigious Zurich Polytechnic School. Despite (or due to) all the obstacles he won the Nobel Price in Physics in the early twenties. After all he was a strong believer of:

 “success is failure in progress”. – Albert Einstein

Another school leaver was Walt Disney. After dropping out of school he also failed to join the army. Since he wasn’t equipped with a rucksack of valuable business experience he later failed in on of his early ventures, Laugh-O-Gram Studios, which eventually went bankrupt. After all these failures he was unbelievably successful with creating Disney Studios and therefore to father Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Frozen. His mantra was:

“We don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

The third famous person was fired from his own company, which he founded in his parent’s garage. Later he also failed with several other companies. Thereafter he returned to his first company and lead it to unprecedented success in the modern consumer electronics market. Of course we are talking of Steve Jobs and his Apple.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” -Steve Jobs

Final Conclusion:

After all it turns out that failing can be a great teacher to improve yourself if you derive the right conclusions and take action. Therefore I’ve collected, in my option, the most import points as a take away message:

  • To initially fail a few times makes you succeed faster and more sustainable later on.

  • Fail early! Better jump in the cold water early than making failures with big consequences later on.
  • Fail smart! Anticipate the risks before acting, share your lessons learned with your colleagues.
  • Fail more often! Especially when the consequences are low or even not existing. This will tremendously steepen your learning curve.
  • Never make a failure twice!

This is my first post 🙂 If you found it useful please leave a comment and give me your feedback.