5 for 5 – Embrace the bandwidth, guard against idleness

22 Feb


For a good portion of my career, I worked in a project-based role. Meaning: you get engaged at the idea conception, work like crazy during product development, forego sleep in the launch period, and then grab a deep breath before your turn in the project line.

Unfortunately, it seems that saying that you have bandwidth to work on an initiative or to take some training is frowned upon…sometimes by the manager, and even by your peers. But worse yet is the opposite, defaulting to unproductive idleness. While I believe that we all need downtime to recharge, coasting between projects may not only be wasteful, it may be detrimental to our careers.

So my encouragement to you is to embrace the bandwidth, and leave the idleness to the others. Use some downtime to recharge yes, but to work on building knowledge

  • Catch up on your development
    • Your development is your responsibility. Downtime can be exactly what you need to catch up on topics related to your personal development plans, or it can be wasted. Don’t wait for your manager to follow up with ideas, have a working list of topics and popular blogs, videos, and podcasts. Let your counterparts worry about fantasy baseball, put the time and learn something that will help you in your next project or next career step.
  • Follow up on frustrations
    • One of the mistakes I have made in my own career is not following up on frustrations I have encountered on projects. Often we run into processes that may only occur once during a launch or on other occasions. Typically, we lack the time and energy to address those during a project, but the time between can be the perfect opportunity to run a lean initiative or to really challenge what the process or step is intended for. If after action reviews are part of your culture, then great. But take the lead in addressing it, not just having it documented in the after action log. Be a solution provider, not just a problem finder.
  • Listen and ask how you can help?
    • Sometimes, the source of frustrations will be your manager. If we assume for a second it is not pure complaining, if you have a chance to debrief on the project with your boss, it could be a good opportunity to listen for whether they are seeing the same challenges in other programs or perhaps there is a topic that really needs to be addressed. A good way to take on an initiative in your downtime without seeming idle is simply to be attentive to the feedback and ask how you can help. Ideally, good leaders should keep an active list of “rainy day projects” that they would love to be fixed, but can’t ever find the resources to work on them. If nothing else, help take on a challenge for your boss.

As mentioned earlier, we all need time away to recharge. But if there is an extended time between key projects, you have a choice: to idle or embrace the time to grow. Somewhere along they way when I was playing sports I heard a coach say:

“Somewhere out there, someone is working harder than you. And when you meet on the field of battle, you’re gonna lose.”

If that sounds to gladiator-ish, then I apologize. But my challenge to you, is be the “someone” mentioned above. May be the “field” is getting to lead the next big project, a promotion, or a rotation in your career; embrace your bandwidth and keep hustling.

Here are this week’s 5 for 5 articles:

How to Really Customize Leadership Development – by Gianpiero Petriglieri – via Harvard Business Review

Creative Confidence – by Julie Zhuo – via Medium

The Secret to Moonshots? Killing Our Projects – by Astro Teller – via Backchannel

A manifesto for small teams doing important work – by Seth Godin – via@thisissethsblog

Leadership Lessons from Saturdays as a Soccer Referee – by Diego Rodriguez – via Linked In

all the best, kevin