When things get tough, adjust your pace…

Business is hard right now.

I’m having so many discussions with people who say things like:

We are missing our revenue plan. There is a lot of pressure on cost. We are re-evaluating our strategy. I am not sure what my budget is. We may have another layoff. I can’t commit to my plans. Things might change again. We are expecting another re-org. My key initiative has been put on hold.  It’s really hard right now…

the value of coping

What if it doesn’t clear up soon? What if you don’t feel more in-control soon?

One of the things we don’t talk about often in business is the necessity and the value of coping. 

I was very lucky to have a mentor share this with me very early in my career. I was in a tough spot, with a lot of pressure, and he told me,

“Patty, don’t underestimate the value of coping. What they need from you right now is to cope… to come back again tomorrow. Think about what a mess it would be for them if you walked away. For now, just cope. You’ll add more value later.”

Sometimes what makes executives successful is simply their ability to come back to work again tomorrow! 

If you are frustrated because things are in flux, and you are not making the progress you want:

  1. Give yourself some credit for coping
  2. Don’t expect it to get easier soon
  3. Pick a pace that you can operate at for a long (or even indefinite) period of time

Pick your pace

Pace is critical.

I am a cyclist. I learned a lot about pace on my bicycle, and I have used the same learnings to deal with the stresses of over work, worry, and life in general.

Here’s an example:

There are some hills that take you to the point of total system failure — you can’t breath, your heart races, your legs are on fire. The only problem is that this can happen after minutes, and it may take an hour to ride up the thing!

There is one hill in particular I am thinking of. The first time I rode up it (not knowing how long or steep it was going to be) I thought,

OK, this is getting hard, and it’s still going up, you could blow up on this one, you need to manage your heart rate, keep your breathing under control, oops…it’s getting out of control, get to your lowest gear fast, pedal slower, keep you heart rate in check.

I finally stabilized, lowest gear, slowest cadence…but then… the hill got steeper! Damn!! I was out of moves.

At that point I really had to focus on preserving my energy because I had a long, long, way to climb, and it was not getting less steep.

So once again I focused on my heart rate and realized that I actually could pedal slightly slower without falling over.

Here is the take away:

When it feels like the energy demand is impossible, I force myself to pick a pace, a pace where…

Even though it is still really hard, I can say to myself, “I can do this all day”.

When I get my thinking, my legs, and my heart rate and lungs calibrated to “all day,” instead of “this hill,” then when I finally reach the top I have accomplished the task, and I am still not at the absolute end of my energy. 

If you know the how long the hill is, you can push yourself to get to the top faster. But if you don’t know how long the hill is, you need a strategy so you don’t burn out on the way.

What is your pace that you “can do all day”? 

If there is no end in sight to the turmoil, how much physical and mental energy can you invest over an indefinite amount of time so that you can make it to the top no matter how long the hill is, and still have energy to go forward after you get there?

Get ahead

When the situation gets easier, and there are more opportunities, you want to have the energy and the resources to jump — to go fast again — while the competition has maybe burned out, given up, or failed along the way. 

Remember, it’s part of your job to cope, and to keep going. 

It is your job to manage the turmoil and keep making forward progress, even in uncertain and challenging times. 

But if you pick your pace, it does not need to be so painful.

I have had miserable jobs, and it is always interesting to note how much of the misery I put on myself vs. that which was strictly imposed or required by the job. 

I found that I could actually make a pretty big change in how I felt by deciding how I would manage my energy.

Some ideas to get up the hill:

  • List all the things you are worried about.  Are they all equally worthy of worry?  Budget your worry.  Don’t burn yourself out worrying about things that are not worth it.
  • Identify at least one thing you will negotiate away and/or stop doing.
  • Pick a single area to ensure success – A Ruthless Priority — one thing that you won’t fail at no matter what — and don’t let the uncertainty throw you off course.  Complete that, then do the next one.
  • Talk to your team — let them tell you what they think is hard about the current state.  Don’t underestimate the value of letting them talk about this.  Acknowledge the difficulty openly, then focus everyone on something they feel they can control and do well.
  • Build your Personal Brand.  How you act in difficult times does a lot to show the world your brand.  Are you positive and in control, or are you changing your mind all the time, uncertain, all over the place? When you are stressed, are you treating people with respect or are you nasty?
  • Don’t give up on your aggressive brilliant plans.  I do some of my best problem solving on a long hill.  Keep learning, keep thinking, keep building so that you are ready to jump when the obstacles clear.
  • No matter how over-scheduled you may be, schedule some time to think every day.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook Page.

Patty Azzarello

Patty is available to speak (for now, virtually!) at your company, annual meeting, or customer event. She can also deliver a custom workshop on Leadership or Strategy Execution for your leadership team. Contact Patty.

Or if you would like some personal help on your own professional development, check out her Executive Mentoring Group. It’s a self-paced, online professional development program filled with insights, resources and support to build your executive confidence, advance your career, and includes direct mentoring from Patty.

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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