No one likes hitting up against limitations. It’s incredibly frustrating. But it turns out constraints can be really good for us.
Without constraints we’d have to be incredibly disciplined. We’re talking superhero levels of restraint and willpower to stay on project and on task.
Otherwise, we’d constantly be chasing new projects. Those bright shiny ones that seem fresh and exciting. The ones that haven’t challenged us yet. But we’d be making no real progress on anything.
Without constraints we would be faced with more choices than we know what to do with. We’d be able to choose from all the things! Except we can’t do all the things. (At least not all at once.)
Natural limits and constraints help eliminate options so we don’t get caught up in endless consideration of choices leading to decision fatigue.
Counter to what we might think, constraints save our time, energy, and attention — we can focus on working towards a goal within the confines we’re given.
Think about it: Being able to take a trip only to a place within three hours of your home can help you narrow your search for places within that radius.
Being able to use only certain tools, techniques, or materials can help us channel our creativity.
Having only three weeks to finish a project or doing it from the road can make sure that a project stays manageably small, whereas having ample time to spend on the project usually means that we’ll overreach on it or put off working on it until the last minute.
Not having a lot of (or any) cash eliminates the paralysis that can occur when too many options are available. We may not like it, but we at least either know what we can do or have to come up with alternative but doable ways to move forward on our projects.
Working last minute is another way we attempt to give ourselves constraints, which are easier to work against. (But last minute work often pushes other projects off track. We call that a sliding project cascade where one project causes other important projects to slide!)
Constraints In Disguise
Typically constraints show up in project work and our lives in five ways:
- Competing Priorities. Often the result of us not acknowledging our priorities and not seeing how our goals and plans end up at odds. It’s difficult to make progress on any one goal when your attention is diverted to other things.
- Head Trash. The beliefs holding us back from making progress on our goals. It’s the adult version of the monster under the bed; its power over us relies upon it remaining in the darkness.
- No Realistic Plan. Some folks have a plan, but it’s not realistic. Others don’t have a plan at all. Others confuse an aspiration or idea for a plan and aren’t getting anywhere.
- Too Few Resources. We let what we don’t have keep us from creating what we can have, instead of considering how we can either use what we do have or obtain the resources we need.
- Poor Team Alignment. Many of us have poor team alignment not because the people on our team are in conflict but because we’re not communicating to our team what we want, need, and dream to be.
In an ideal world, each of the obstacles we face would have one and only one key that solved it. In that same ideal world, we’d only have one obstacle at a time in front of us.
In this world, though, we often have multiple dominant obstacles applied to different projects, and we need multiple ways to work through them.
The Five Keys and Momentum to the Rescue
Here are five keys to overcoming those constraints and doing your best work:
- Intention. Have a clear, ummixed, and as-specific-as-useful goal or destination.
Momentum Tip By confirming your projects at each time horizon you’ll be able to keep those commitments front and center on the Planner side of your app.
- Awareness. Be aware of where you’ll fall down, where you’ll shine, and where you’re likely to bail on the project.
Momentum Tip Over time, you’ll be able to see what you’re checking off as done and what you continue to defer. Pay attention to both as frequent deferrals may indicate a constraint you're not addressing.
- Boundaries. Establish expectations, structures, and space that support your goals. Turn someday, someone into a specific day, person, and time.
Momentum Tip Set deadlines and schedule tasks with start and end times so you know exactly what needs to be done and when.
- Courage. Be courageous enough to commit more fully to fewer projects. We often don’t focus our resources on fewer goals and projects if we’re not sure that we’ll be successful with those projects and want to hedge our bets. The result is we invest too little into projects to make them successful and we’re constantly scattered.
Momentum Tip Keep a close eye on the number of projects (shown in parenthesis at each time horizon) that you put in Momentum. Remember, the Five Project Rule doesn’t mean you have to have five. Try challenging yourself to the constraint of four!
- Discipline. Stick with the plan when random and seemingly unlimited distractions inevitably appear.
Momentum Tip Unfortunately, Momentum can’t keep the distractions and interruptions of life at bay but it can keep you focused on what matters most so when those diversions appear your decision of where to spend your time is simple.
We tend to think we’re too constrained to be able to start or finish the stuff that matters.
It’s more likely the opposite: we’re not constrained enough when it comes to starting or finishing the stuff that matters.
A version of this post was originally published on www.productiveflourishing.com