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Stronger, Better, Faster – Project Recovery Response

Project Recovery Premise In conversation with an ex-Olympic athlete who was building out a performance recovery range of clothing, I remember him very clearly explaining that at the top level of athletic performance and competition, all things being equal, it's the athlete who can recover faster and better who is able to perform at a higher level. This was a nuance of athletic competition that was new and interesting to me, and so it has stuck. There's research that backs it up too. Research shows "athletes with the biggest drops in resting norepinephrine levels tended to show the best improvements in performance. At the end of their recovery periods, they were simply in less stressed-out states." The article goes on to remind us that "norepinephrine and its sister, epinephrine, are considered to be two of the body's principal 'stress' – or 'flight-or-fight' – hormones." Most people are reasonably familiar with the fight or flight response that's triggered when we feel stress. What I discovered listening to a Brené Brown interview with Doctors Emily and Amelia Nagoski, is that we're not supposed to spend the amount of time that we do in elevated stress or "in fight or flight response". It's designed to work for about 10-15 minutes, but if you've ever spent time in project delivery, you know that the stress build-up is measured in bigger increments than minutes. So, what can we do to manage our own stressed-out states to recover faster and improve performance?  The good news is that you don't have to wait for the whole project to 'be done' to improve your state of stress. Doctors Emily and Amelia Nagoski wrote the book 'Burnout', and they are firm advocates of creating permission to take a break from whatever is causing you stress. They offer some practical advice and tactical strategies that we can all try to improve the 'completion' of the stress in our bodies. The basic premise is that emotions are physical cycles that happen in your body. Emotions that are not 'complete' remain in our bodies and can manifest as illness or physical pain. The anecdotes of people coming to the end of a big project or milestone only to fall in a heap once it's done are many. My own growing up experience was that every time we went on holidays, my dad would spend the first week with a cold. Have you ever had that experience? Getting to the end of something that took a big effort and then getting sick? It's because your body doesn't know you're done with being stressed. It needs a physiological expression of the completeness of the emotion. Recovery Tips to complete the Stress response Below is a summary of 7 concrete, specific, evidence-based strategies (from the experts) to close the stress cycle: Physical activity: moving your body in whatever way makes you feel good; dance, walk, climb. Breathing: the yogis have it and always have. Slow your breath, refocus on it. Positive social interaction: even at a fairly surface level, this can help. Laughter: the big belly laugh – even the recollection of a time where you laughed until you couldn't stop is a positive. Affection: the 20-second hug switches the chemistry in your body to a point where you can feel the release. Cry it out: it won't solve the situation that causes stress, but it can help your body complete the stress cycle. Creative self-expression: cook, create, knit or something that can take some of the emotion. Imagination can complete a stress response cycle, imagine trampling the things. Even reading a book or following a story in a movie. Approach for Project Recovery An approach that we’ve used before is from Nikki Fogden-Moore (the Vitality Coach). She has an exercise she calls the "Energy Bank Review". The things that build your energy and contribute to your positivity go on the left-hand side of the page and the things that deplete you go on the right-hand side of the page. Often towards the end of a project, there's a build-up of the things that are on the right-hand side of the page, and you need to be able to reset that and restore your own energy levels by doing the things on the left-hand side of the page and reducing your exposure to those on the right. This is also a great exercise for creating clarity for yourself on what it is that builds your energy up. I also find for me when I am under pressure, having people around who build me up is one of the best ways to stay sane and found that Julia Baird suggests the same in her latest book Phosphorescence with these wise words: "Avoid people who would control, criticise or diminish you in any way or are jealous of you or make you feel small or are drawn to your strength but then suck it dry. Stay with those who bring you comfort, understand you, and allow you to flower." What do we do as part of our 6R Project Recovery process? The first time I got to the end of a project, I remember the feeling of flatness - of looking around and thinking 'OK, that's done, what now?' and feeling a bit lost. Since then, I've learned that we need to relish this time of reflection and use it as an opportunity to take stock, look around and remind ourselves what worked and what we'd aspire to do better next time. To this end the 6R team usually do the following: We conduct a post-implementation review and look for things that we did well and things that we can improve on for the future. As part of acknowledging the things that we did well, we may summarise this for a broader business audience or make recommendations for next time. We will also thank the project team; in the most personal and considered way, we know how to do. We will do our own internal review and see what we can improve in our processes to better meet the needs of our clients and get better ourselves. We encourage the client to act on the things that they've identified that they want to improve and ensure that there's some check mechanism in place to follow that through. Some of this helps us close out the project stress cycle. Humans are not built to do big things on our own; we are social and cooperative animals. We're designed to do big things together. If there's anything that people are designed to do together, a project is definitely it. Projects require team alignment, clarity of focus and energy to bring the whole team together and bring the project and people to finish in a good place. Recently in conversation, someone posed the question 'How do you measure project success?', and the way we measure success has a lot to do with getting everyone to the end of the project in a mentally good place and achieving the business goals we set out for. If you are in the midst of a project or the brink of burnout, I hope sharing these strategies has been helpful. While we specialise in project delivery, in every project we work on we understand/recognise it is the people that are a businesses greatest asset and something that sets 6R Retail apart.

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Energy Audit: How Do You Manage Under Pressure?

In this article Tony Schwartz shares some alarming numbers he sees when conducting his 'energy audit' with groups of senior managers and leaders: 77% said they had trouble focusing on one thing at a time. 80% said they take too little time to think strategically and creatively, and spend too much of their time reacting to immediate demands rather than focusing on activities with long-term value and higher leverage. 54% said they often feel impatient, frustrated or irritable at work, especially when demand gets high, How effective can people possibly be when our energy is so compromised? Which is to say nothing of the distraction, impatience and irritability that we can end up taking home with us to the ones we love the most! Maintaining energy is not something that only senior mangers need to focus on, it's relevant for all of us. This article reminded me of an energy exercise I did too. "Energy is like a bank account" said Nikki Fogden-Moore, "think of the things that you do and the people that you’re with as either making deposits or withdrawals in that account." I am writing down, in two columns as instructed, the things that renew my energy in column one and the things that deplete it in the other column. As I’m finishing this exercise I can almost feel the light bulb go off over my head. I can choose to manage some of the additional pressures when I’m under work pressure to keep the pressure cooker from exploding and leaving a mess on the walls by just making some small adjustments that will keep my energy levels in a better place. It was a great exercise and I highly recommend that you give it a go, it's really a head space that you need to get into to really think about what renews and what depletes.  Here are some simple guides that I’ve developed over years of project delivery to keep myself nice(ish) when the delivery tunnel hits. Reduce the stress by reducing contact (where possible) with people and situations that are a stretch. This doesn’t mean I get to opt-out of project delivery or stop working with people who I find difficult, dysfunctional or not as diligent and competent as hoped. That must continue to get the project finalised and over the line with everyone in the best possible state. It means that channelling what I have into the project delivery and family is all there is. Almost everything else must pause; therefore reducing pressure in areas of my life I can control. Opting out of some of the more discretionary social engagements, and opting in to things that create good sleep and help me to maintain my health (both mental and physical). I will catch up with those people after the project pressure has passed. Getting each day off to a good start has been a continuous improvement project for years! I’ve varied my morning routines over the years and often get fed up with it and change it about. The fact that the guy who owns the café where I’m sitting just greeted me with ‘it’s like groundhog day’ means that others note there’s a routine. Habits and routines reduce decision making, which means some tasks like exercise and what to eat for breakfast go onto auto-pilot. If I don’t have to decide it makes it easier. We’ve been talking about good habits this quarter (internally) and the 6R team are all committed to morning exercise and getting moving. Some of us are more committed to caffeination than others though, but we all try to... Find ways to create little mental breaks in the day. Building in small sanity breaks also makes the day easier and keeps us as a team, in better mental health (even just a walk to move the car). It gets the body moving and gets us out from behind the screens to just take a little break. I’ve also, this year, adopted a small break approach to holidays. This was not the exact plan, but when I  found that a ten-day break was just not workable, we made the best of five days and found that it was more than enough! Doing something different from the regular routine meant I returned feeling refreshed with new energy. Not to say that there isn't more to go on the development side - no one is ever done on the improvements but these small and practical things have helped me get through energy slumps.

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Small Actions that Reduce ‘Organisational Drag’

I hate waiting. I’m bad at queues, being on hold, traffic that’s not moving, and anything else that feels like a waste of time.  Being ready to go for a meeting with only a few of the meeting participants in the room is frustrating, and something I put effort into avoiding. The average company loses more than 20 per cent of its productive power to organisational drag — all the practices, procedures, and structures that waste time and limit output. 20 per cent, that's one fifth of the working week! Or another way to think about it is that one day a week is dedicated to all sorts of over communication, meetings that are unnecessary and complex bureaucratic processes that stifle peoples capacity to get stuff done. It's something that we often observe ourselves in delivery of projects. The symptoms of the 'drag' are everywhere; calendars that are back to back, meetings that lack purpose and focus (and go for too long), emails that pile up and the complexity of so many people involved in every decision.  This article talks about organisational drag is like it's a chronic disease, it needs constant management, or it completely overtakes your organisation. Anything that takes constant management requires discipline and consistency, and taking back control of the meeting process is one small step we can take to reduce the 'drag.' Meetings are seen often as a necessary evil, something that many people ‘love to hate’ they complain about them running over time or being disjointed, and off topic but then contribute to this problem by running late themselves and introducing items that are not relevant to the discussion. I read a lot of advice that emphasises the importance of forming good habits. Some good habits are considered ‘cornerstone behaviours’ and in life, cornerstones that are advocated for are: exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep. If these are the cornerstone habits of making stuff work in life and health, then when it comes to organisations you can gauge a lot from behaviours like meeting culture and the state of common areas. Consider ‘meeting approach’ one of the cornerstone habits of an organisation. In projects, it’s important to establish good meeting habits early in the engagement with clients. I consider it one of the small things that we do that builds trust and consistency. Being on time and ready for meetings is something that contributes to the time we spend together being productive and useful for everyone. If I start on time and finish on time (or early) and participants come prepared with what they’re supposed to do and make themselves ready for the conversation, we get a lot done. To me, this is about creating a good working relationship. And if I stuff up, I own it and make every effort not to do that again. Small behaviours have a ripple effect. A project participant recently told me “I’ve have been more prompt generally since you’ve been here!” She was talking about more than work. She has taken me seriously on starting meetings on time and meeting deadlines and it has spread to other aspects of her / and life too. Small habits make a difference. Showing up on time and being prepared for the conversation is a good cornerstone habit to put effort into in your projects and business. What other good habits make a difference for you?

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