In a previous post I wrote about constraints and I promised in the comment area I would return to the concept. When looking to write about it I realized there were both internal and external constraints in business that I would need to address.
In this article I will talk about the constraints that begin with us, often the biggest constraints of all.
The Buck Stops With You
It’s easy to blame external factors when we are our own biggest enemy most of the time. We need to fix ourselves before trying to improve our systems.
If you don’t fix your own constraints first then you will find a way to sabotage your system, guaranteed.
I have seen this over and over, in big companies and single operator businesses.
Basic Personal Constraints
What do you need to be personally productive and successful?
- Clarity of purpose
- A plan
- Project/Time management
- Measurement against goals
Most of these things are obvious, you can learn and incorporate behaviors, and sources of information on the topics and coaches are easily obtainable.
Your Recipe for Success
I actually think success can be summed up in part by the great philosopher Wayne Gretzky:
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”
Know where your market/niche is going. Have a clear vision, then execute well. Everything else contributes or feeds into that success recipe.
Problem is, even people who hold all the ingredients find ways to sour their plans like dropping rotting cabbage of constraint into your success tiramisu.
Check over the list again. Is it complete? Probably not, but a couple of items were excluded intentionally.
Did I miss off “money”? No, because you will find that if you have the above 10 items ticked off then there is usually someone with a higher net worth willing to fund you for a percentage. Of course a source of funding makes things easier, and it is much harder to start with zero, but I would still not put “net worth” as an internal constraint.
What about luck? There is not much point mentioning luck. Regardless of your beliefs, you are better off analyzing things you can practically influence.
29 Personal Constraint Demons
I’m not a life coach and I don’t play one on TV. I have worked with and observed a lot of business folks over the years though and I am a people-watcher. See if any of these personal constraints resonate with you:
- Analysis Paralysis – One I suffer with a great deal so I put it first just so you know we all have constraints to clear. I over-think. A lot.
- Waiting for the right time – It will never be the perfect time, just do something!
- Fear of commitment – It’s not just relationships people fear to commit to, it could be a deadline or even your own goals.
- (In)Decision Anxiety – Decisions make people afraid, and then having made the decision there are another set of emotional waves to contend with. Take small decisions, get practice and work up to the bigger ones.
- Low confidence – This can result in not breaking out of comfort zone, keeping you locked into your current situation, not risking opportunities or failing to open up to new people. You will find the more you do the more confidence you will have. Confidence is like a muscle, it grows stronger with exercise.
- Perfectionism – Nobody is perfect, but many people try to be. Be prepared to get things as good as you can get within the time and resources you are allowed.
- Sense of entitlement – The world doesn’t owe you a single thing. If you want something, deserve it.
- Jealousy – Related to the previous item, rather than looking at what everyone else has with greedy, coveting eyes, build your own success. You know you are a jealous type if you look at other people’s stats and feel bad.
- Over competitive – It surprises people sometimes how much success depends on cooperating with others, and it shocks me sometimes how some people do not believe in Win-Win situations. You can be a success without coming first or beating your enemies. Don’t make enemies – Forge alliances
- Imagination – If you don’t have imagination you have a big disadvantage. Either develop your own creativity or team with someone who has. Creativity is vital now more than ever.
- Laziness – This can be a boon or a bane. Laziness is an excellent quality in a programmer, because lazy programmers automate and find easy solutions, but a lazy person is unlikely to put in the effort when you most depend on them.
- Procrastination – A very common problem and overcoming it often comes down to taking small, decisive actions early and often.
- Defeat – Have you ever met someone who packs in at the first sign of problems? Or even gives up before they start because of all the problems they predict? Part of being a success is using defeat as a learning process, trying to route about potential failure, but most of all, not being afraid of it. If you do one thing for your kids, teach them self-esteem and to embrace problems as a chance to learn.
- Paranoia – Regardless of what you think, the world is probably not conspiring against you. And even if it is, it wouldn’t help to believe it.
- Cash control – I have worked with people who spend money like crazy without a moments thought, even when their companies were laying off staff at a scary rate. Someone needs to be a grown-up where money is concerned, if that can’t be you, partner with someone who can.
- Personality – Have you noticed the people with the most obnoxious personalities are often the people who are least willing to accept criticism? Yes, people should take you as you are and not try to change you, but at the same time it is worth moderating the more extreme or irritating habits, opinions or behaviors in order to just get along. Work on your communication skills, negotiation skills, and practice in speaking or social situations.
- Organization – If your desk and diary looks like the local landfill then you need to get organized or find someone to organize you.
- Blurred focus – Having a million opportunities or projects to juggle can be exciting but you need to focus on one thing at a time to give each task your best. Prioritize, and trim ruthlessly.
- Drowning in Information – In the information age it is easy to be lulled into thinking your problems stem from not enough information. One thing I think this century will tell us is information is wonderful, but too much is as bad as not enough. Balance learning with action.
- Burdens – Don’t let your responsibilities, important as they are, carry so much weight you have little time or energy for anything else.
- Distractions – Related to #20, if you are constantly distracted your tasks will take twice as long to complete. Turn off the phone and email, lock your door, if necessary.
- Isolation – Although in #21 I said lock your door, no person is an island, we need other people, at appropriate times!
- Vanity – If you care too much about what people think then you will get nowhere because you will be afraid of taking steps that impact your “image”. Be willing to make a public mess. Most of the successful people throughout history have goofed big and often!
- Ignorance – Unfortunately a lot of people who are ignorant are too ignorant to recognize it.
- Status quo – “Because it has always been done this way” is the very worst justification. Challenge the status quo and only keep that which demonstrably works.
- Power rush – Be very suspicious of anyone who pursues power, they are often dangerous. If you are looking to increase your control or power, look very deep to understand why. Partner with collaborators rather than control freaks.
- Management by spreadsheet – People are not numbers to move around on a spreadsheet. Look beyond digits and understand that you get the best out of people by treating them with humanity.
- Management by to-do list – Systems, unlike this list, rarely work in a 1, 2, 3 fashion. Work in parallel, see the dependencies and mitigate the risks.
- Focus on the negative – I left this last just to show that while my entire list is negative, it is best to turn negatives into positives! Look through this list, see if any might apply to you, then work on dissolving this constraint from your own life.
There will no doubt be more than 29 but to be honest, getting to 29 was depressing!
Dissolve Your Constraints
The process for removing personal constraints, or at least mitigating them, is as follows:
- Check your results – Are your results improving, meeting expectations, or under-performing?
- Look at your behavior – Observe what you do, why and how
- Discover constraint – Where are the bottlenecks, why to bust-ups occur, when do you let people down? where are the crises?
- Work on improving behavior or routing around constraint – Find coping strategies, or re-learning to take the problem away
- Go back to #1 and repeat
So you know how you might deal with constraints, here are a couple of mine.
As mentioned above, one of my constraints is over-thinking things. I am a day-dreamer, a deep thinker and a naturally cautious type. It’s only bad when it crosses a line, as with many of the things in the list, there are positive aspects along with the bad.
This constraint manifests as having a thousand books, bookmarks, mind maps, plans, and discussions, but not actually achieving much.
The way I overcame this was to balance my nature with:
- Project Management – I learned about project management, and put that learning into practice over and over
- Team work – I find others who are more action oriented
- Deadlines – Client work keeps me moving forward
- Self binding contracts – Tell other people what you are going to do and get them to hold you to it.
- Vigilance – Just being aware of a trait and looking out for it can help solve bad behavior
That is a biggie, and one I still battle with. My biggest ever constraint though is thanfully mostly contained, and started in my teens.
You might have heard or read me mention this before, but at around the time I was leaving school I was so shy I literally couldn’t order a Big Mac without blushing and falling over my words. I was extremely introverted. I knew I had to do something about it, especially if I was going to have any kind of career, even in relatively solitary pursuits of computing or illustration.
My solution was to learn about communication, body language, and so on. That solved the knowledge/theory side, but I had to find a way to put that into practice to move it from an intellectual to reality solution.
When people have a fear of spiders they can go to the zoo and hold a tarantula. Fear of flying is often overcome by special airline flights. I took a teaching course and started teaching classes at my local college. Thankfully it worked, and I can now stand in front of auditoriums and not need to wear sturdy brown trousers and bicycle clips!
This stuff is hard work and requires an honest look at your own situation. Rather than taking it as yet another way to bring yourself down and give yourself a hard time, look at it as a golden opportunity to achieve more of what you want to in your life.
First step is to look in the mirror rather than blame external factors. Before you can deal with “out there”, fix the “in here”.
Over to You
Have you got tips or stories to share? Let me know in the comments …