Focus on What You Can Influence

There is one thing that indisputably exists in abundance... problems.

Learn how you can keep your cool - in any situation.

This one helps you to keep on delivering value and not go nuts :-)

Let's talk about the most powerful habit in the workplace - ever.

It is the key to both success and happiness in the workplace. 

So, what's that?

It is, ***drumroll***, proactivity.

Yes, you heard right. It is by far the most useful career booster. 

Studies at the Universities of Georgia and Nuremberg Germany, showed a significant correlation between a proactive mindset and career satisfaction, as well as promotions and salary development.

Why is that?

Our next example shows the fantastic results proactivity can help us achieve.

Meet Amanda. Amanda has just signed a significant deal with a new client. The whole company is excited about the latest business and the growth opportunities that come with it.

To deliver the services Amanda has sold, it takes two minor adjustments in their web interface. 

Therefore Amanda organizes a meeting with the two product managers responsible for the offering, Mike and Emily. 

She explains what are the new features necessary and asks both to present their first ideas to implement them in the team meeting the next day. 

Mike and Amanda handle the situation quite differently.

Here's Mike's point of view.

Mike's team has been under pressure for the last few months. They are suffering from a shortage of software developers, and the team has a hard time meeting their deadlines. 

Now Amanda comes along with her additional inquiry and the tight deadline. The new request is causing a lot of frustration on his side. 

After the meeting, he has the urge to talk to a colleague about his situation. He also complains about the higher management, and that they should have staffed up the development teams months ago. His colleague also suffers greatly from the shortage of IT capacities, and they both complain forth and back until they both return to their desks.

Mike still is highly frustrated, even though talking to his colleague helped a little. But he cannot focus on the tasks, so he drafts together a few quick ideas for tomorrow's meeting and heads home.

In the next meeting, he presents his "plan." But he only has a few points to show for, and they don't seem too insightful. 

Meanwhile, Emily approached the issue differently. 

Emily is in a similar situation to Mike. She also doesn't have any developer resources, and her team is also highly overworked.

But other than Mike, she starts to work on a first draft version of the plan. She focuses on what she and her team could do without support from techies. As a result, she comes up with a solid first plan within an hour.

Then she points out where she needs additional help. She needs two types of support from the development team.

Within the next week, she needs an experienced developer to review the plan.

Then she needs a full development team with front and backend developers for two months, ideally by the third week of September.

So in the next meeting, Emily presents a solid first plan that shows she has delivered as much as possible. Besides, she brings a list of reasonable and well-justified requests. All of her asks are specific and are rooted in her currently understaffed team.

Attention: Overly ridiculous question ahead. Who did better, Mike or Emily?

Let's take a look at the situation from Amanda's perspective.

She has asked both product managers for a plan to help their new client succeed as fast as possible.

Mike doesn't have much to show for, and Amanda asks herself if he wants to support her. She isn't sure if she can rely on Mike in critical situations, and would like to work with somebody else if she had the choice.

Also, everybody in the company is aware of the shortage of developers. With the new customer she signed, the company finally can grow its headcount, and the recruiting team is already interviewing new developers.

But Mike's complains about the situation to her seem like an excuse. And even if Amanda could help him, she doesn't know what skills he needs. Neither does she know how many colleagues and by when. 

Also, Mike seems to be indifferent towards the overall challenge. So Mike's reputation with Amanda gets damaged, and Amanda is unlikely to support him in the future.

Emily, on the other hand, seizes the opportunity. She comes back with a solid first plan. So the meeting and the discussion center around her team's results. Besides, she is more involved in the conversation, as she explains her concepts and answers questions.

The points that Emily couldn't resolve right away make sense and are a logical extension to a reasonable plan. She has particular requests, much like a shopping list. So Amanda can ask her management team for developer support outside to jump in on this critical project.

Overall, Emily's coworkers perceive her as well-prepared and competent.

Not only that, in contrast to Mike, she seems much more relaxed and pleasant, because she doesn't bring resentment to the conversation. 

As a result, her colleagues are more likely to approach her the next time. So Emily extends her influence and her network, while Mike's reputation takes a hit.

What did she do differently than Mike?

She didn't react to the stress and the many problems they have in their projects. Instead, she focused on what she COULD do to reach their goal.

It is the core idea of proactivity, as Steven Covey describes it in his all-time classic "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

Imagine two concentric circles.

The outer circle contains things about which we care. These include everything from politics to our current projects and the weather. Let's call it the circle of concern. 

Within the outer circle, there is an inner circle. It is the circle of influence with things we can control through our actions.

When faced with a challenging or impossible task, we can still start with the aspects that are within our control. It is best to only focus on the things that are within our circle of influence. By choosing this focus, we produce results right away and learn what's needed to proceed - just like Emily did.

Often in corporate environments, you can see endless discussions about things that we cannot or hardly can influence. Usually, they are rooted in insecurity and serves as either a conscious or unconscious excuse to avoid mistakes or dreadful tasks.

Sometimes external factors do matter. When doing sales planning, the economic outlook can be a relevant factor to come up with a realistic forecast. Then we can use that knowledge. But by no means should we start discussing if the economy grows by 1.2 or 1.3%. You cannot control it, and it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the overall results.

Another related thing is gossip. While it serves a social purpose, it also comes with many risks and rarely has any effects. And if it has, they are most likely negative. 

Now you know a better way: Focus on what you can influence. Stay out of discussions that revolve around things you cannot control. Instead, put your head down and produce kick-ass results.

This form of productivity is scientifically proven to improve job satisfaction, increase the odds of getting promoted, and to lead to higher salaries. 

So here comes today's challenge:

Create your own "parking lot." It's your spot where you put all the things you cannot influence. You can use something simple, like a blank piece of paper. Alternatively, you can stick post-its on a dedicated spot at your workplace. Digital versions also work, as long as you regularly take a look at them.

Once you have your parking lot set up, divide it into three columns

First column: Help needed

Second column: Ideas for later, and

Third column: Things to accept

As soon as you find yourself working on something that you cannot directly control, note it down. If you need external support, put it in the "help needed" column. If you talk about later stages beyond the next step, put it in the "later" column. And if you find yourself pondering over things you cannot influence at all, it goes in the "things to accept" column.

You can use this as a not-to-do list. It helps you keep the focus on the things you can control.

So you can be proactive by focusing 100% on the things within your circle of influence. Use this to produce amazing results, collaborate better, and be more satisfied at work.

Good luck