It’s probably best starting with the indirect or direct reason that the last two experiments have been a bit different to those I’d planned back in December 2012. In September, Chaz was faced with some very stressful pregnancy complications and our baby being diagnosed with a chromosonal disorder. It was a really challenging few weeks and I decided to confront the issue head-on by changing my experiment for that month to “the lemon”: it was all about productivity when times are tough and whether when life throws you a lemon, you can make lemonade.
In October, I focussed again on the truth of what I needed in that moment: “ruthless kindness”. I was experimenting with being kinder to myself and kinder to those around me. I looked for the opportunities to bring kindness and thought about whether kindness truly could be a productivity weapon – playing with kindness as a route to stress-reduction. More of which in a moment.
Well, in the end, Roscoe John Allcott arrived in the world safely. He still has a couple of “issues” for us to deal with, but thankfully the docs were wrong about him needing major surgery at birth, so after a week in hospital he’s home and doing well. If he can keep up this level of defying the odds and NInja unorthodoxy for the rest of his life, he’ll be amazing and regardless of everything, it’ll be a fun ride. Thanks to all of you who offered me support, wisdom, prayers and good vibes through those few months. Every one of those things was a gift and meant a really difficult time felt – at times, anyway – strangely abundant.
In the end, life is much richer if we can appreciate journey over destination. It’s ALL a gift, after all. All of it. And the point of ruthless kindness for me in October was to crank up my radar for spotting the opportunities to reciprocate gifts or to pay them forward.
I was slightly too kind to myself if you’re a regular reader of this blog. Yes, I’m writing the conclusion to October’s experiment in December, having given myself basically a month from Roscoe’s birth as extended hospital and paternity leave. And then from early December, I decided it was fine to put this on continued hold whilst I got back to some level of normality. So be kind to me, eh.
What did I do?
I put life above work in work/life balance
I’d planned to do the regulation two week paternity leave, but with everything going on, it was closer to four. It felt strangely liberating to be so fully focussed on tasks as seemingly simple as giving Chaz plenty of attention and doing little shopping trips to buy snacks to supplement the hospital food. Nothing too complicated, only one outcome to aim towards (anything that led to a happy mummy and a healthy baby). And did the world notice that I’d gone for a bit longer than planned? Not really. I mean, obviously this blog post is a bit later than planned, but really? I spent a good few weeks afterwards playing catch up, but the reality was nowhere near as bad as the fear.
I fought my own instincts and tried to choose kindness for myself
Once back to work, I practised ruthless kindness too: so instead of struggling along when my energy flagged at the end of a day, I’d clock off. Ruthless kindness – tick. Instead of hopping straight to it, I’d go for a run or make sure I had a good breakfast. And most importantly, I started to factor in my own welfare when I got excited making plans for new ventures. Taking it slow, being kind, swapping a little ambition for a little more happiness.
I thought about kindness for the TPHQ team
I took a few opportunities to practice some ruthless kindness for the team. My favourite was having a local health spa place call up and say “right, when would you each like a massage”. And during our morning ‘Huddle’ meeting, just simply asking when the team seemed a bit stressed “what would help you today? No limits, what would really help?”. Strangely, the answers were some fairly simple and innocuous things, but I think encouraging a culture that asks this question of each other is a great start.
What did I learn?
I think as individuals and as organisations, we could do so much more to think about kindness as antidote to the expectations that we create for ourselves and others. There is a time for wearing ourselves a little too thin and certainly there’s a place for high ambition. But it comes at a price, and we should recognise the need for space, recovery and realism too.
We’re taught that to win the ‘career race’ we need to be fearless and bullet-proof. Stress is seen as a weakness. Vulnerability of our emotions and vulnerability of our ideas are, we’re told, to be avoided at all costs. But this is deeply flawed and actually quite unproductive.
Think about what this means for any collaborative planning process. It means we can’t talk objectively about whether this fits in with the rest of our workload, because of course we’re superhuman so we’ll make the time. It means we can’t talk about whether we’re scared of the implications of what we’re proposing, because fear is a sign of weakness. And naturally we can’t possibly have an objective conversation about whether the people we’re working with actually have the skills for the job. Yes, when you see workplace stress through the lens of how unnceccessary so much of it really is – just how much of it is created by our flowed collective mindset rather than by the work itself – it presents some opportunities to restore what’s been lost.
So ruthless kindness to me can be so much more than just a few token massages and duvet days (we have those at TPHQ too!). It can be a mindset for helping us treat each other and ourselves less like productive automatons and more like complex and flawed human beings with a limited supply of energy. We might use it to remind ourselves that as well as top gear we also need a brake, as well as a yin we need a yang.
Hyper awareness of this in ourselves and in others – as well as the ability and autonomy to communicate and act on these instincts to flit from one to the other – would unlock so much stifled productivity. It’s easier said than done of course, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go.
Graham is getting ready to launch the new version of his book, “How to be a Productivity Ninja”, which hits the shops in early January.