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Plateauing

by David Brock on December 29th, 2017

As we often do, at this time of year, we take stock of where we are in our business and personal lives.  We look at what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and our goals for the coming year.  Some of us develop “resolutions.”  (I don’t.)

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my personal performance and growth. While, from pure business outlook, things couldn’t be better.  We are involved in truly exciting projects with our clients, making an impact on their businesses and lives.

Part of me feels as though we, or at least I have plateaued.

Plateauing, I think happens to all of us, in some form.  We all plateau at varying levels–both in performance, and in personal growth.  We can be very high performers, we can be meeting our goals, but at the same time may have plateaued somewhat in our own growth.

Personally, I feel I’m at one of those points.  I’ve been thinking a lot about “what’s the next big thing,” “what’s the next big idea.”  In the past, I’ve focused a lot on those, both for my personal and business development, in helping our clients, and in what I write about.

These big things haven’t necessarily been new or tremendously insightful, but recognizing them and applying them have enabled us to make huge improvements in what we do and how we perform.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on myself and my own personal growth, trying to find that new “big thing,”  the thing that will help me raise my level of play, my contribution, and my happiness.

I think I’ve stumbled on it, ironically, I think my big thing is actually little things, very little things, or micro improvements.

Recently, I wrote about the concept in, The Importance Of Small Changes In Improving Performance.  I explored the math behind micro improvement.  For example, if we improve our own performance by just 0.% every day, over the course of a year the improvement is close to 10%!

I’ve been experimenting with this concept, particularly over the past 30 days.  The first thing I struggled with was, “what thing do I want to focus on for driving micro improvements.”  The analytic side of me also started looking at, “how do I measure those micro improvements?”

I realized I was over-complicating the process (As I’m sometimes prone to do.)

Coincidentally, I was rereading Marshall Goldsmith’s Triggers.  I was struck by his use of active questions in assessing our own performance, mindset, and so forth.  For example, we tend to phrase goals in ways that are difficult to assess, particularly if you are doing a daily assessment.

For example, one of my goals has always been: How did I contribute to the success and growth of my clients?  It’s something important to me and to our company.  It’s something that sets us apart both in the way we work and the value we create.

But it’s really tough to assess.  After a period of time, we can look, saying, “We helped Company X improve sales performance by 42%, we helped company Y double their win rates,” and so forth.  But those are after long periods of time.  I was looking for that daily improvement, I knew my clients wouldn’t appreciate my calling up every day asking, “How much did performance improve over yesterday.”

Marshall reminded me that, I’m really putting a burden on others, my clients in this case, for the improvement.  I’m not looking at my personal responsibility in supporting my clients in these things.

A simple rephrasing of that goal, changes everything.  He suggests starting with “Did I do my best to….”  In this case, it would be “Did I do my best to contribute to the success and growth of my clients today?”  This changes the context completely.  First, the responsibility is mine, not someone else’s.  Second, while it focuses on what I can control.  I can’t control what my clients do, but I can control my own behavior and actions in how I work with my clients.

Marshall suggests developing a daily scorecard, tracking yourself on the responses to your “Did I do my best to….” questions.  I’ve taken his his approach and re-engineered it a little.

For the past month, I’ve been tracking myself on 19 items.  They are all big, but at the same time, little goals.  I’m not tracking, “Did I do my best to solve world hunger?”  Marshall provided a starter kit of six questions:

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals for the day?
  2. Did I to my best to make progress toward those goals?
  3. Did I do my best to do the things that make my happy in the day?
  4. Did I do my best to find meaning in the day?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully alive (Marshall suggested “fully engaged,” I rephrased it because being fully alive has a much broader context for me.)

I added a number of others, simple things like “Did I do my best to exercise in the day?”  When I’m really busy, as I often am, I tend to neglect this.  “Did I do my best to stay hydrated?”  Again, that’s a problem for me.  “Did I do my best to express my love and appreciation to Kookie?”  Sometimes, we tend to take our relationships with the people most important for granted.

In total, right now I’m tracking 19 items.  I don’t know whether they are the right things, but I’m going to keep them for another 30 days, then look at revising some of them  (A few seem to overlap a lot and I’m wondering why I identified them in the first place.)

I’m scoring them on a 1-10 scale, as Marshall suggests, but I’ve modified it.  I don’t allow myself a “7.”  7 is an equivocating, MEH number.  If I want to give myself a 7, I force myself to commit to a 6 or 10.  (I did this midway in the month, so you will see some 7’s in the earlier days.

The other adaptation I’ve made to this approach is that I write a single sentence about how I felt in the day.  It’s not what I accomplished, it’s how I felt.  It’s much more meaningful, for example if I accomplished a lot, I probably feel much better.  But, the “how I felt” sentence seems more encompassing to me.

Every morning, I spend my first few minutes scoring myself for the previous day.  I used to do it in the evening, but switched to the next morning.  It allows me a little more reflection, plus it allows me to review what’s important at the beginning of the day–enabling me to focus more mindfully on them.

I’m only 30 days into it.  Have I seen differences?  Absolutely!  There have been ups and downs.  For example, when I’m traveling, I tend to have both the exercise and hydration challenges–but I’m paying more attention.

Can I measure the improvement?  No–but again, I’m looking at micro improvements that will accumulate over time.  I suspect in 3, 6, 12 months, when I look back I will see major improvements in what I accomplish and how I’ve grown, but for today, I’m looking only at if I’ve done my best……

I think the biggest things I can see right now is it’s causing me to be more present, more conscious, more aware/alive.

I had plateaued, even though my performance is at a very high level, I was struggling with my own growth.  For me, changing my approach, focusing on micro-improvements has made all the difference.

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