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GTP21: The value of the 'To Don’t' list

Helga Henry Ltd

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2021 this involves 8 free online workshops taking place throughout March, and a virtual Growth Through People conference on 30th March. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, BMet College and the University of Birmingham’s Work Inclusivity Research Centre - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

I want to talk about the lessons of last year and how reflecting on those lessons has unlocked new work areas, new interests and new income streams for my clients.  And it has. 

I need also to acknowledge, though, that another lesson from 2020 is that we must start from where we find ourselves today, emotionally and physically.  That not everyone will be in a mental headspace to gather themselves up, face forward and “learn lessons”.   Since last March people (including the leadership) at my client organisations have variously  been furloughed or been retained and seen longstanding colleagues and friends leave.  They have juggled domestic issues, not least child-care, home schooling and financial uncertainty.  They may have been ill themselves or cared for family members.  Heart-breakingly, some have experienced bereavement, possibly more than once.

Your people may be dealing with any number of emotional issues including anxiety, concern for the future, isolation and loneliness, fear and disconnection or simple exhaustion.

As testing as that is, I think that it is in people’s very response to the several challenges they have overcome that is key to unlocking the potential of the future.

In training  time management skills, I link how we spend our time to values and priorities.  How you spend your time reveals your priorities (much more meaningfully than what you say they are).  If you spend your time in a way which is congruent with your values, you derive more satisfaction from your work.

Flash forward a few years: Our way of life under COVID 19 has become one of restriction.  Where our main concerns changed for a number of reasons but mostly because we are operating under a larger, collective responsibility to keep ourselves, our loved ones and those around us as safe as possible for as long as possible.

And so – we let some things slide…

In the face of potential overwhelm, we picked out what was a priority – for today, for this week, until the next school holiday – for whenever.  And then other matters, projects and initiatives have had to wait.

And this is one of the key lessons to unlocking potential in 2020.  The recognition that we cannot do it all.  We never could, if truth be known, but I think the pandemic has proved that. 

So what’s the response to the lesson?  In the words of Oliver Burkeman, in his Guardian column - “There will always be too much to do”: 

The upside is that you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible. The only viable solution is to make a shift: from a life spent trying not to neglect anything, to one spent proactively and consciously choosing what to neglect, in favour of what matters most. (My emphasis)

I think we unlock potential best when we consciously choose both what to neglect, but also what to focus on.  Focus on personal strengths, authentic relationships, self awareness, kindness and contribution.  When we make a “To Don’t” list as well as a “To Do”.

That might not sound very business-like, but it is very human.  And that is what Growth Through People is all about.

Helga Henry

Helga Henry is a consultant and coach working in the creative and cultural industries.  Visit here website here.