Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

Effective Delegation and Task Tracking – Starting with a To-Do List

“Effective delegation and task tracking” is an essential skill to ensure Happiness At Work

In addition to client projects, most of the strategic initiatives are also really projects and need to be managed as such. Task identification, assignment, and tracking are fundamental to the success of a project/strategic initiative.

However, many managers struggle with the idea of delegating projects/tasks and thereby remaining in control of the progress. This is a must-learn hard skill for all managers, which seems to be woefully missing – at least in the SMB segment. Lack of systems is a major reason, but lack of awareness seems to be the real cause. I have seen this cause a lot of heart-burn, ill-feeling and “supposed” communication issues, affecting the “Happiness at Work” for the managers in-charge of such projects, their team members and the clients/executives who are sponsors of these projects.

This article explains how a simple To-Do list can get you started in the right direction.

Many managers just talk about what needs to be done.

Whenever there is a project or a special initiative, the Manager in charge of the project explains the tasks to the team. Sometimes there is a periodic (daily/weekly etc.) team meeting where the Manager describes the tasks for each team member. Some team members take notes; others just listen. And then they perform the tasks as best as they can remember and understand them.

Many a time, things fall through the crack because who is supposed to own them has not been clearly specified. “Everybody thought Somebody will do it, but Nobody did it!

At other times, there are quality issues because of poor understanding of exactly what was to be done. The knowledge about work performed in the project is lost when people leave the organization.

A manager may be able to manage one or two simple projects using such informal and verbal instruction only approach. But managing more projects using this approach is certainly challenging, even for the most capable. And certainly not recommended for your most important strategic initiatives!

So the logical next step is to create a written list of tasks for the team.

You can implement a To-Do list in many ways.

I have seen managers routinely using whiteboards or asking their subordinates to use diaries / notebooks for keeping track of tasks. There are many other media such a To-Do list can use. For example,

  • Daily printout for each team member
  • Email to each team member
  • A shared excel sheet with list of tasks for all team members

At a minimum, a To-Do list should capture, for each task, the following:

  • Task Description – Detailed information
  • Assigned To – Person responsible for carrying out the task
  • Task Status – Not Started, Work in Progress, On Hold (Due to some reason explained as a comment), Completed.
  • Target/Due date (optional) – Date by which the task has to be completed.
  • Priority (optional) – Assigning priority to Tasks helps team members schedule their own work in accordance with the project requirements.

Comparative analysis of various approaches:

Notepads and printed lists, though convenient, are not easy to share, and status updates require additional effort from team members. In fact, the dreaded Status Meetings are a result of such methods used for Task Tracking. In addition, copying, carrying forward tasks or reassignment requires additional effort.

A shared Excel sheet frequently serves well for small projects and teams. Each person has a complete visibility, and status updates can occur offline. However, with shared files, there are issues with simultaneous updates, overwriting each other’s changes, etc. Keeping track of history of the updates is also challenging and requires special effort for version control.

Shared Task Tracking System for the team simplifies communication.

Work assignment and progress reporting becomes much simpler with a centralized task tracking system. Such a system can be used to define, assign, and track tasks and helps segregate the functions of Planning (Task Identification), Scheduling (Resource Identification and Task Assignment) and Tracking (Monitoring progress against plan).

And of course, the same techniques/systems are useful for day-to-day task assignments and action items generated from various meetings.

A web based Task Tracking system is ideal when the team members may not be co-located.

It is simple, easy, and increases team effectiveness.

According to Peter Drucker, one of the secrets of being effective is taking responsibility for communication.

“Whenever I, … start to work with an organization, the first thing I hear about are all the personality conflicts. Most of these arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing …, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect.” – (Classic Drucker – HBR 2006 – “Managing Oneself”)

A shared To-Do list goes a long way in developing this understanding and increasing the overall effectiveness of the team.

Success begets success.

The list of completed tasks creates a sense of achievement for individuals and the team. And as Zig Ziggler says, action creates motivation, which is not bad for the success of the project and happiness of the team!


Managing Self Talk

A friend sent in this comment: “Despite knowing what you say, we are unable to stop feeling unhappy.”  So true.  There is no easy or quick way for us to change our mind.  It requires years of diligent practice. Failures are common.  But one needs to stay the course.  Experts feel that to become really good at anything we need to have 10,000 hours of practice.  It’s no different for the practice of happiness.

Which means that you must really really want to overcome unhappiness.  Indeed my experience and that of many others is that, it was a crisis in our lives that impelled us to take action. Here is a motivational podcast from Steve Pavlina.  He talks about this lucky moment when he was caught for shoplifting at the age of 19.  It completely changed his life. He is an entrepreneur and motivational speaker who is passionate about personal development.  A must hear.

The good news is that we can benefit from as much we practice.  It is not as if, we will get the rewards after reaching some difficult milestone. Every step on the path pays back.

Now to the main subject of today’s post: Self Talk

In the last post we talked about how we feed and nourish unhappiness in the mind. Driving this cycle of negativity is the self talk we engage with in our minds.  The nature of this self talk determines how we feel and how we perceive the world around us and in turn our behaviour.

Try this simple exercise.  Sit down in a quiet place. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Do this for about 15 minutes.  Try to stay with the breath. It becomes clear and apparent that we are unable to stay focused on our breath as the mind interrupts every few seconds.  There is a LOT of talk happening inside.  And this is happening continuously.

Constant self talk tends to reinforce our beliefs. In his classic “What do say when you talk to yourself” Shad Helmstetter says that 70% of this self talk is negative –  “I can’t”, “I wish”, “I ought to but can’t”, “I am no good” and so on.

Here is a structure for what is happening.

  1. Core beliefs drive irrational operating beliefs
  2. Beliefs drive our evaluation of the situation
  3. Evaluation creates feelings
  4. Feelings determine action (this is behaviour: the part that is visible to others)
  5. Action create results

It is through this self talk that our mind processes situations. So when the mind tells us to do something, it rapidly runs through LAYERS of processing.  Feelings and beliefs are a key part of the decisions we arrive at.  We may think that we have logically thought through a situation.  The truth is that feelings are involved and we selectively look at data that support our predisposition towards a certain decision.

Here is an example from my own experience.

The Situation

My colleague shouted at me in a meeting where several of my juniors were present.  I felt hurt, angry and walked out.  I wanted to resign. But a reality check held me back and I swallowed the insult.  I came back with coffee to make it look like I had just taken a break.

Now, here is a more detailed look at what happened in my mind
My Mind Under The Microscope

Self Talk Feeling Action Operating Belief Core Belief
I don’t need to take this shit. Let me walk out.
I should leave this organisation. All I have got is insult.
Angry, hurt I walked out Bad things must never be said about me. I have an undeniable right to feel nice.
I need the money.  Let me just hang in. Fear Had second thoughts. Irrational fear1:
It is better to flee than fight.
Irrational fear2:
I am responsible for the well being of my juniors. I will scare them by showing the enemity between partners of the company.
I can’t fight!
I am not good. I keep up appearances.
I don’t want to be seen as weak by my juniors. Anxiety Planned to come back to the meeting gracefully I must be seen to be competent by others at all times I am not good. I keep up appearances.
I will return to the meeting. I will take revenge later. Grudge Came back with some coffee to show that I had just taken a break. Rational belief: I will reconcile
Irrational: I must not show my weakness to others
I am not good. I keep up appearances.
Planning ways of taking revenge More anger My hurt will be compensated by giving him hurt. I can’t fight!
And I hate myself for it.

Here is the point: Most of the beliefs mentioned are irrational, can be refuted and have no factual bases.  Yet the mind habitually plays them out as if they were undeniable fact.   My unhappiness was the resultant feeling.  If I had acted on my feeling of revenge I would further hurtled towards even more unhappiness.

So What Do We Do

The first step is to become aware of this process.  Second is to practice being mindful of what is happening at the level of body and mind.  The third is to then change the self talk in ways that will lead us to happiness.

We will look at these steps in more detail in the next post.

The Anatomy Of Unhappiness

We seek to be happy. Happiness may the objective of all human endeavors. But often happiness eludes us.

Unhappiness is a feeling. Simple as this may seem, it is important to understand that this feeling is an internal mental condition. It is not a situation in the real world; it is something that happens inside our mind.

Unhappiness starts as reaction to a disagreeable situation. Somebody shouted at me, I lost my job, my home is about to be repossessed, my spouse is angry with me. The first natural reaction of the mind is one of feeling unhappiness. Thus far things are ok. What follows is not.

We then feed this feeling till it becomes a demon in our mind.

How do we feed it? After we have experienced this emotion or feeling, the mind then plays out “logic” to justify our emotion. We look for reasons to justify our negative thought. We play out the “fight” in our minds again and again and deepen the emotion. We are convinced about how unjust the world has been to us. The unhappiness grows.

This emotion lasts far beyond the initial transaction that caused it. From an irritation, the feeling that can then grow to hurt, anger, hatred, fear. This feeling takes a life of its own and then lasts well after the initial planting of the seed. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime.

Such strong emotions can cloud our judgment, take hold of our lives and that of others around us, towards even more grief. Our sense of anger and hurt then clouds our future interactions with the perceived source of conflict; further feeding itself.

We then express our emotions towards others, who then pick them up. Like a cyclone feeding on the air around it, what started as a small seed of unhappiness takes a life of its own, spreading destruction in its wake.

It may seem like that our anger, hurt, fear may be justified given the situation. However, the reality is that it is merely a habituated response to the external world.

The whole process of sensing an input, evaluating, reacting and amplifying and reacting again, happens at such a rapid pace, it seems that there is no other way to be.

A deeper understanding will reveal that our reaction is a choice that we make. We can choose to respond wisely.

Meditation can help us become more aware of this process. We then start to change our habit of reacting and amplifying.

The central teaching of the Buddha was to examine the anatomy of unhappiness (suffering) and understand how to change this deep-seated habit.

Some of the implications of this understanding are:

1. Happiness is not the pursuit of conducive situations

2. Happiness is an internal endeavor

3. We chose our mental states

4. We can practice the art of being happy

In the posts that continue, we will look at unhappiness in other ways.

Specifically we will examine what can be done at the workplace to be happier and create happier organisations.

Romancing the wilderness : Article From Hindu Magazine

Here is an article by  SANJAY SONDHI a good friend.  His story about how about he made his unique path.  Even if you have read several such stories, it would be good to read it. If you haven’t, consider this inspirational story that tell us that people have been able to successfully deviate from the trodden path to find their unique place under the sun, find meaning in their lives, find happiness.  You could too.

Change begins in us, in the choices we make for the things we believe in, says Sanjay Sondhi who took to full-time conservation at the age of 45…

My love affair with nature began as a young child. During summer vacations in the serene hill station of Dalhousie, where my grandparents lived, long walks livened up the holidays. Loads of early memories linger… the sight of a Himalayan yellow weasel climbing up a pine tree in order to get to a bee hive, and scurrying back comically, after being stung by the bees. Plucking wild strawberries to make home-made jam, or just feasting on raspberries directly off the bush. Holidays apart, my father had an interest in duck shooting and, well before I was old enough to make choices, I would jump at the idea of accompanying him. Getting up at 4.00 a.m. on cold winter mornings was no deterrent; in fact, I would be up all night, excitedly waiting for the Nature outing. Even as a student, I recall dragging my parents to Simlipal National Park in Orissa and being absolutely thrilled when the car broke down at the forest rest house leaving us stranded there for days!

Abiding interest

I graduated as an engineer, but my romance with the wilds continued. An interest in birds grew to embrace butterflies, moths, snakes, amphibians; if it moved, I would love to watch them! Along the way, my affair with Nature included a courtship which resulted in marriage to my wife, Anchal, whose passion for Nature and environment matched mine. A son followed, as did birding sessions with him in Bhimashankar when he was three months old. Child in a halter, binoculars around the neck, and birds up in the trees! Don’t tell my parents, I whispered to my wife! Despite a successful corporate career, I ensured that my passion for Nature stayed alive. Numerous visits every year to the forests, some with the family, others alone, ensured that I got many hours of unending pleasure in the wilds. I travelled to every part of India and, despite enjoying my work in the office, the time I really felt alive was in the forests. This was home to me.

A reasonably successful corporate career culminated as the managing director of a mid-sized business for a U.S. multinational in India, but throughout my working life, a thought nagged me; for all the pleasure that I had received, when was I going to give something back to nature? Family discussions ensued, financial planning followed, and very early in my career, with complete support from my wife, we decided that at the age of 45, I was going to quit my job, and devote the rest of my life to Nature conservation; an attempt to make a difference, and help make the planet a better place to live in. There were plenty of questions. Would I be able to earn enough? What contribution could I make in Nature conservation? Would this contribution be meaningful? What if my efforts made no difference? Would the family adjust to a new life? What about education for my son?

Though we had no answers to many of these questions, in 2008, we took the plunge. I quit my job, relocated to the greener environs of Dehra Dun (from the maddening city of Pune), and devoted myself to Nature conservation. Three years down the line, I don’t have answers to all the questions that I had to begin with. But some answers are clear. Do I miss the corporate world? Not a chance! Am I enjoying myself? Tune in, folks, I am doing what I am passionate about; this is what I always wanted! Are we managing financially? Sure, but remember, if you are doing something you really like, then money pales into insignificance!

Three years on, we have our own Nature conservation non-profit organisation, Titli Trust ( I spend my time working on numerous exciting conservation initiatives: supporting butterfly eco-tourism with the local communities in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, studying the problem of crop damage by monkeys in Uttarakhand, discovering a new frog species, conducting conservation education sessions with children, loads of writing and photography….the list goes on.

No going back

Three years on; am I really making a difference? It’s too early to tell, but I sure am trying, and having a whale of a time while I do this. I spend at least three months in a year exploring the wilds and every moment in the forests makes me feel alive!

I get periodic calls from executive search firms: Do you want to come back? Are you kidding; never! Friends and colleagues often ask me enviously: How have you made this move? The answer is simple: A passion for nature, some financial planning, family support, and the courage to walk down a different path, in an attempt to make your contribution to make this a better planet. Often a thought lingers: What if other people in my generation make a choice, quit their jobs (and most of them are financially well off by now), and devote themselves to an issue of their calling: conservation, education, poverty eradication… the problems faced by this country are many. What if we were to unleash the power of the motivated individuals in each of these fields, they could make a world of difference! I sign off with a message for all the corporate head honchos out there: make a choice, give something back, and you will relish every moment of the rest of your life!

Feedback is welcome at

Extreme Delegation – Get Out Of The Way

In the last post I made the audacious claim: “Even when we fully know that our junior is going to make a serious mistake, it may still make sense to delegate. “

Let me explain this.

We start with Manisha Gutman’s point about looking at delegation as a process of personal growth for both self and your report.

This point is so significant that it could become the fulcrum of your personal strategy for motivation at the work place. Especially so when your juniors are themselves managers.

What do managers do? They creatively solve organisational problems.  They make mistakes and learn from them.  They make do with insufficient resources and manage outcomes.  Well at least that is what managers are supposed to do.

I am now suggesting that you actually delegate to the point where it seems that he has to fend for himself.  He knows you are there but only for really special circumstances.

When he takes his decisions, follows through, manages the problem that stem thereon, he gets a feeling of complete ownership.  This can bring out the best in him. Way beyond what he may have had the chance to demonstrate earlier, or, what you thought he was capable of.  He truly learns to manage.   It could and does lead to personal transformation.

I have seen this happen several times. The biggest hurdle was to control my own instinct to meddle and solve problems, or, to warn my junior of the issues that I could see coming up.  Me telling him would not have helped.  He had to experience it for himself.

More importantly, I grew too.  Ajay Kapoor pointed out the “Log kya sochenge” syndrome.  I was able to do grow out of that.

It is said that sometimes the best thing you can do is to get out of the way. Think about it.

You will be able to look back with satisfaction and say “It happened on my watch.”

D B Raju pointed out rather sagely that this is a trial and error process.  You keep trying till you get it right.  The experts in delegation have learnt to use it as a tool to transform their people.

And don’t worry.  Performance does not suffer.  Well, not counting a few glitches.

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Delegation: Allow Mistakes – What Readers Say

The post “Delegation: Allow People To Make Mistakes” has drawn some interesting comments.  We thought it would useful to put these together and see what emerges.

Two comments, from Ramesh Krishnan and Dr Madhu Oswal, tell us that delegation should not be at the cost of quality of the work.  Delegation does not mean giving up.

Ramesh Krishnan

Agree on the ‘art’ of delegation and the important pieces to keep in mind while getting your team to get to do the tasks that you want them to start doing. I dont agree with your view point that it would help bring down your quality parameters just because your team could not reach there or are not looking equipped to do that. You have mixed up 2 messages here, I think. One is why and how should one delegate and the other is to reconcile and be happy.

Dr Madhu Oswal

I prefer to differ.

Delegation is not simply “giving up” a task to others because you have got tired or bored. More so if you believe its an important task. It is an active process of handing over a “defined ” work to a rightly selected person in a phase manner that involves active training, briefing, checking understanding, supporting when asked for and lastly still controlling in a sensitive way. I would like to know if you have delegated in this way and then allowed that person to make mistakes”?

On the other hand, here is what Manisha Gutman has to say….

The problem with ‘perfectionism’ is that it focuses so much on the task that the person doing the task is forgotten. If the growth of the individual is as much part of the task at hand then one need not compromise on quality. One needs to inspire the individual to work towards getting better, and experience the joy of doing things well. I agree with Bhushan that this may not be first priority but it also cannot be knocked off the list of expectations entirely. Successful delegation recognises the strengths of each individual but also helps them understand and overcome their weaknesses. In this way, the work gets better and the individual grows too. Everyone may not want to ‘grow’ however….

Her points focus more on the aspect of personal growth.  It can be seen as a process for growth of the individuals concerned, while being mindful of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.  It also acknowledges that growth cannot be forced against a person’s wish.

A very interesting point made here by Ajay Kapoor: the biggest hurdle is from within ourselves. Our fear of impact on others’ perception  (“Log kya sochenge”) may make us risk averse.  A careful cost benefit analysis may reveal where it is ok to take such risks.

Ajay Kapoor

The concept of delegation is brilliantly described by Bhushan. However, in my view, letting certain mistakes go past is one side of the story. We , most of the times, get bogged down by the sense of how will others look at this and what will they think about me and my organisation. So, precisely, it is a cost benefit abalysis that we need to do before we comploetely delegate and not bother too much about perfection. Perfection at what cost? Who is perfect any way?

Post Script

I am going to go out on a limb here and say “Even when we fully know that our junior is going to make a serious mistake, it may still make sense to delegate. “  I have tried it.

What do you think?

Delegation: Let People Make Mistakes

We continue our discussion on delegation with understanding the first hurdle to delegation.

One of the first steps to delegation is to let people try to do the tasks you were doing.  It does not help to look over their shoulders every time.  Most of you have already been through this phase.

The next step is to allow for the fact that people will make mistakes and correct it every time.  Sometimes, your juniors just don’t seem to “get it”.  I have seen this cause anxiety, anger and therefore a lot of misery.  This is especially the case for perfectionists.

Here are some points to consider in such situations:

  1. Are they delivering on the outcomes. Then it may be ok to allow some mistakes
  2. Are they making mistakes that really hurt the work? Prioritize the tasks involved in terms of impact.  Consider whether you can tolerate those mistakes
  3. Understand that every person is different.  Your junior may be better than you at different things.  Examine whether you are only looking at those aspects where you are good.

Here is an example from my experience at the NGO where I volunteer.  I was particularly keen that every proposal, letter or document that goes out must be perfect.  Correct English, well formatted and presented.  My argument was that it does matter.  “These are the things that create an impression about us with others.  And impressions do matter.”

I ended up more or less writing everything.  I would completely edit others’ work, much to their chagrin.

After a while, I got tired of this and was therefore forced to think of a solution.

I asked myself this question “Why is it not ok that there are few mistakes our outputs.  Does it matter always?  Why this obsession with correct English? Am I not presenting a face to the external world that is not really true?  As an organisation, we may not be great at English language.  But our folks can write extremely in Marathi and Hindi.  At my business, whenever we received English documents from say Japanese people, we are quite tolerant of their mistakes.  So why not with our own?”

So, here is how I reframed my thinking about it:

  1. Our work in HIV was our core.  We need to be the best there.  Communication in English need not be our strength.  Unless we are writing to funding agencies 🙂
  2. We can tolerate those mistakes in most cases.
  3. Our folks are better at other things than I.  Let me not get in the way. Let me not stifle their creativity.

This line of thinking helped me deal with my irritation and anxiety.  Everybody was happier!

Most perfectionists do not understand that they have a problem.   Find out if you are one.  Examine yourself closely.  Ask others for feedback.  Take corrective action by reframing your assumptions.