5/260 Rigour and relaxation

Discovering the right things at the right time

Two terms that rarely go together are rigour and relaxation. And yet the etymology makes the gap between them seem smaller; or, at least, able to be bridged.

I’ll show you:

rigour. /n/ strictly, severity or harshness. From the Old French (14th Century) rigor, meaning ‘strength, hardness’… and originally from the Proto-Indo-European root, meaning ‘stretch; be stretched’.

relaxation. /n/ abatement or relief of bodily or mental effort or application. From the Old French relaxacion (14th Century), meaning ‘remission of a burden or penalty’.

In a sense, the rigour of this week - the strength, from being stretched - has relieved a burden.

The rigour of which I speak is project management. The relaxation comes from being relieved of having to think about work all the time.

Project Management is something that I love, but as a technical person, I tend to get bogged down in way too much detail. I tend to make it more complicated than it needs to be. And then, when I have a flow in place, I change my mind about it all and feel like there must be a simpler way to handle it and yet achieve the same visibility (prime distraction fodder). Knowing this about myself, I have had a related tendency to avoid going down that rabbit hole too far.

As I work on project management stuff, the monkey mind pipes up, getting louder with every comment. It says unhelpful things like, this is administration for administration’s sake, and what if you miss things, and you will be sick of this in a week.

You will remember from last week that I was working out some knots in the process. This week I lined up all the ducks, moving all the client projects into the new framework - and away from Jira.

It meant taking an entire day out of client work to just get it done. Deciding to do that wasn’t easy. I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep the pipeline moving. But I did it because not doing it would have been worse. Taking a full working day to finish the process that I started last weekend meant giving myself time to design visibility, ease, and confidence in production.

The framework is not ideal because it does still double-handle the process in some elements. For now, the double-handling is necessary as a QA step: It forces things to be double-checked.

All the documentation is in Confluence; the roadmap is in gantt charts in Smartsheet (which has a handy calendar view); the work schedules are in GCal, which is native to our daily work; the workflow in Trello plus a git pipeline.

It was while I was adjusting the projects’ status reports on Friday afternoon that I had a monkey mind moment: Man, this is wasted time.

So I asked myself, ‘Is it? Is it wasted? What am I gaining by doing this?’

The answer was: ‘Reflection time’.

Reflection time is what gives us the ability to prevent problems. When you’re juggling a whole lot of projects at once, that reflection is what allows you to see cracks in your customers’ experiences; problems in your timing; places where something fell out and hadn’t been noticed. It is the time when you put on your Risk Thinking hat and mitigate or eliminate potential problems… before they become problems.

The entire process also made me realise how much I think I can cram into a week, and how much I can actually cram into a week. The net result is that I worked all day Saturday; and I have some serious double-shifts coming up over the next 6-day week, before the rhythm evens out again.

Being rigorous causes you to stretch and do things you previously thought were impossible. But rigour in project management creates relaxation. The burden of which I am relieved is what I am going to call ‘subconscious plate-spinning’.

Social media and changing descriptions

The other week when I was at Co-HAB on a pro-bono project, an acquaintance asked me if I’d moved out of content work. The reason was because I changed my description on LinkedIn from content + strategy for law to B2B content for impactful marketing. It turned out that he and I had the same understanding of content strategy, which is why he was confused.

The reason why I changed it is because the market doesn’t understand content strategy the way that I do. The online world is overrun with marketers talking about planning ahead, completely deluded that this is strategic work. So every time I talk about content strategy, I’m butting heads with people who just don’t get it.

The truth is that 90% of Brutal Pixie’s work is content writing, and most of the time it’s for businesses who are using it for marketing purposes. The last time I was lucky enough to work on a content governance project is now more than three years ago. And we currently only have one law client. It seemed dishonest to stick with the tagline when I couldn’t point to any significant recent projects. So I changed it.

If I was a millenial bullshit artist, I would have changed it to make it sound like I was working with everyone of significance, and then posted photos of me at events alongside those people. But, really, what a lot of fucking around and misleading impressions that creates. It doesn’t sit well with our values, one of which is Be accountable (and brutally honest).

Opportunity needs to find you working

One of the lessons that I keep learning is just to be here, right now. Just do the work. Do what you need to do, in order to get your house in order, and what you need will find you.

The right people are connected to you just when you need them.

The right talent emerges just when you are ready for them.

The right projects come to you just when you are ready for the next step.

As a founder, you can work yourself to the freaking bone by trying to push things beyond their ‘natural’ timing. But you’ll just stop sleeping, burn yourself out, lose your friends and your health, and end up depressed.

Or you can just do your work, do what you have to do, and strive to keep yourself well. It takes longer to get to the goals, sure. But even though I’m an old bird, comparatively - I’m in my late 30s - I still have at least another 60 years of life left. Like, double my existing age of life left. So what’s the bloody rush?

The key thing in all of this is that if you aren’t doing the work - if you aren’t doing what you have to do to get to the next level - the opportunities won’t emerge for you. Most of the time, it means doing things that are uncomfortable.

Project management has always been uncomfortable for me. But I needed it, so I did it. As soon as I had nailed it, two amazing opportunities hit my desk completely out of the blue.

The two might not be connected. But I prefer to think that they are. As they say, your business doesn’t grow, you grow. You can’t keep doing the same things and expecting better results, because that, my friends, is insanity.

In conclusion

This week has been a long, whirlwind week. I still took my Wednesday creative leave (which was amazing; go see my Patreon for details), even though it meant I had to work Saturday, and will work nights this coming week too. But this little bit of discomfort means that nowwe have everything in the right place. All the schedules are on track; all the deliverables went to clients before deadline; and I even got back to inbox zero.

Stopping to work on the infrastructre is counterintuitive when everything seems like it is go go go. But without the infrastructure, you put yourself at risk of failure; and if not now, when?