Having given a quick overview of what mojovation is, I wanted to give you some insight into what it means to me, in a brief post which will pre-empt at least a dozen more specific posts that I’ve already got planned!

I’m somebody who likes to feel that they are in control of their own schedule, workload and accomplishments. I like making to-do lists. I love ticking things off them. But everyday life often enjoys the last laugh.

  • Think you’re on top of the three most important things at work? Surprise! Something else has just landed, and it’s even more important!
  • You’ve managed to delegate that big piece of work to somebody else on the team? Surprise! That person’s off sick, and there’s nobody else who can do it but you!
  • Started your day by planning exactly what you’re going to get done? Surprise! There’s an all-hands company meeting / your internet provider is having an outage / your child just got sent home sick from school!

Ironically, the greater your diligence in planning, the more that you’re impacted by such bumps in the road. And equally, my motivation suffers when I look at all of the things that I’d planned to get done, only to see them all still sitting in my “To Do” column - possibly with new items added to the bottom of the list. (This extends into my personal life too, where I have multiple personal kanban boards, all full of activities which are just waiting to be scooped up.)

Using slack to create more time

I’m certainly not going to advocate for “don’t plan”, but there’s certainly something to be said for building slack into your day. In Rebecca Seal’s book Solo, she interviews Bridget Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab, who literally schedules downtime into her calendar, to make room for the inevitable unknowns which will occur during the week:

“I give myself two hours where I can catch up on the things I feel behind on, or where I can think big about something, or finish a project I thought I would have finished by now. […] On a Friday from 2-4pm, I’ll put it on my calendar, block it out and call it slack.”

This is something that I’ve tried to practice myself: If I know that I have a large task to complete - for instance, writing a key strategy document - I’ll add a block in my calendar, which gives two main benefits. Firstly, it keeps me honest about when I’m going to work on the task (it’s harder to procrastinate if you have to lie to yourself about what your calendar says that you should be doing). Secondly - and perhaps most importantly, in a meeting-heavy workplace - it prevents people from booking an appointment with you in that timeslot. Maybe you actually complete the task before the designated slot comes around? Great, you can delete the block out of your calendar, and you’ve magically recouped some extra hours in your week. (There’s definitely a balancing act with this though, especially if you’re managing people, as you don’t want to give the impression that you’re difficult to get hold of, or that they’re not important enough to be worthy of your time).

If you’re a manager, you can do what a great manager did for me recently. If someone has many conflicting priorities, listen to what they are, and then help them to stack-rank their priorities by what’s important to you (or, more specifically, the business). They might be sweating over creating Document X when Project Y is already running behind, but maybe you’ve got extra information that can help with their prioritisation: for instance, maybe you’ve heard that Project Y has been extended by a number of months, or maybe you know somebody else who’s already drafted a lot of the content for Document X. (See also Gary Keller’s book The One Thing, which espouses the benefits of focusing on a sole key activity at a time; and Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky’s masterful Make Time, which similarly promotes picking a single “highlight” of your day. There’ll be plenty more about both books in future posts.)

Fix it, before it breaks you

Having too much to do - at both work and home - is a surefire path to burnout, especially if the end is never in sight. And as Oliver Burkeman writes in Four Thousand Weeks, there’s never an end. Parkinson’s law states that work will always expand to fill the amount of time available for it; and even if you complete your work, it just unlocks your ability to start work on the next most important thing. We need to become more comfortable with taking on less, saying no, or deferring less critical activities.

As it happens, my first use of the word “mojovation” was as the title of a Trello board that I created after I left my last permanent role, at a time when I was both physically and mentally strained by the demands of the world. The Trello board was a dumping ground of ideas for potential future work, as well as a list of self-care activities that I planned to tick off before plunging back into employment: this was a doubly beneficial to-do list, because not only did I get my usual endorphin rush from ticking-off items, but the items that I was ticking off were enjoyable activities that I actually wanted to be doing. With this, I was able to give my brain more of what it wanted, whilst also giving my body the rest and relaxation that allowed me to recentre itself.

And, hey presto, here I am today - with the power of mojovation now extending into the name of my consulting practice.

Key takeaways 📝

  • Being organised is great, until the real world tears your plans to shreds.
  • There’s no point trying to do everything at once - because “everything” is constantly in flux.
  • Focusing on one key thing per day is a great way to ensure that you complete something important.