Highly effective colleagues are invaluable for keeping oneself sharp. But what if it works the other way around and makes you lose heart?
This is another article about pacers – people whom we use as an example to adjust our behaviour, mostly unconsciously.
Surrounded by faster pacers
In this part, we will talk about problems that may occur when you feel that a lot of people in your team are much more productive than you.
In many cases, it doesn't lead to any problems – people happily work together and achieve great results. But sometimes their mutual influence can be destructive, and people would feel demotivated and discouraged.
Several symptoms are indicating that you're affected by faster pacers:
- You feel guilty seeing that colleagues have achieved more than you
- You are afraid of taking challenging tasks which can make you stuck for a while
- You feel like you have to work longer hours to keep up with others
Daily standups or any other form of sync with colleagues is the perfect time to diagnose this problem:
- Are you nervous about sharing your progress?
- Do those meetings make you feel like you have not done enough?
- Do you find it challenging to describe your results and plans?
If any of these describes you, a closer look is needed.
Five actions to solve the problem
The most popular advice I heard in this situation is to take it easy. It is normal to have somebody more productive than you, left alone the fact that nobody can be a top performer in all situations.
Even though I fully understand the reasoning behind this suggestion, I do not think it is helpful. If somebody is nervous about attending standups, you cannot fix it by suggesting not to worry.
Instead, you can face this problem, find out the reasons and prepare an improvement plan, even if the problem exists only in your imagination. Then, it's going to be up to you whether to follow this plan or not, but at least you will take matters into your own hands – that alone can be sufficient to address most of the symptoms.
Let's talk about the five things which you can do to get out of this unpleasant situation.
Action one: demystify top performers
no two writers are the same, like snowflakes and fingerprints. No one will ever write in just the way that you do, or in just the way that anyone else does. Because of this fact, there is no real competition between writers. <...> Writing is a matter strictly of developing oneself. You compete only with yourself. You develop yourself by writing.
– John McPhee
In time, everyone develops their areas of expertise. No matter how broad or narrow they are, one is the same — people are much more productive when their job overlaps with those areas.
Before bringing up your own expertise, I would recommend you you to think about your more productive colleagues. Every time they do something great, ask yourself what helped them to achieve those results.
Something that could sound self-deprecating at first:
Mark finished this giant feature for a week. That one would take more than a month for me!
Can be rephrased and cleansed of magic:
Mark finished this giant feature in a week because he's been building similar ones for the past three years.
He did more than ten last year – now he's extremely good at it.
Now you can see that Mark's fast pace didn't appear overnight – it required years of deliberate practice. Moreover, you know that doing more things in this area can help you to close this gap.
That is not the only way of reframing achievements. It could be something like this:
Mark finished it in a week because he wrote the whole system since the beginning and he knows every line of code by heart.
or even this:
... because he did not have the internet at home and spent all his free time working in the office.
No matter the situation, your goal should be to stop seeing people as just productive and start noticed the reasons behind their results. Most of the time, those reasons are ordinary and achievable by anybody.
Action two: find your comfort zone
Simply put, there are three types of activities:
- Something you enjoy the most
- Something you are good at
- Most important things for the company at the moment
The intersection of all three circles is your niche in the team, but finding and expanding your niche deserves a separate article. For this topic, I will focus only on the comfort zone (highlighted in green).
Everybody has ups and downs, and you will have many periods of not being at your best.
One of the smartest things you can do is to prepare something that can give you a little boost when needed — a type of work you like to be doing or an area where you can be very productive.
If you do not have a comfort zone right now — build one:
- Familiarize yourself with plans of your team.
- Pick an area which will require work in the future.
- Start building expertise there to capitalize on it when the time comes.
Action three: define expectations and track achievements
The easiest way to not meet expectations is is to have no expectations at all. No matter what you achieve, you can always find a room for improvement.
The simplest way of coping with that is to formulate your goals before you start working towards them. I find daily plans most precise and helpful for this purpose; here is one of my recent ones:
The expectations were clear and realistic, but I ended up not finishing half of what I planned to do.
Was it a problem? No, because I knew that I had done more important things instead, and there was absolutely no reason to feel sad about my initial plan.
Action four: keep expectations reasonable
Sometimes results are noticeably small in comparison to goals:
While this is a call to think about what can be improved, I would recommend checking your expectations for feasibility first.
There is a simple exercise to figure out if you are unrealistic in your estimations:
- Take some tasks your team plans to work on and imagine how much time each of them would take for you. Can you complete a particular task one day? In a week? Or maybe you can do five of those in an hour?
- Write it somewhere.
- When other people complete those tasks, check how their results match your estimations.
Were they working within their niches or tried something new? How did it impact them?
This exercise is also helpful when your plans are unambitious and require correction:
Action five: analyse and improve
Detailed plans can be beneficial even when everything looks good:
Even though the result matched your expectation, a picky perfectionist can find some food for reflection:
I rarely use this method – maybe once every two or three months, but it always helps to take control and find something I can change.
Prove it works
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the best way of noticing this problem is to pay attention to your behaviour when you need to share your progress and describe the plans.
Feeling that you have not done enough can contribute to the demotivation, which will prevent you from working at your best, which will cause dissatisfaction of not achieving enough, which will incur even more demotivation, which will further decrease your productivity, which will make it even harder to get out of this loop.
The good news is that the actions above can help you to
- Understand if your expectations are realistic and how to adjust them if they are not
- Find the quick way to get back on track after a period of dissatisfaction
- Figure out what is the exact reason for dissatisfaction and how to improve it
If anything, it doesn't leave too many reasons to worry.