Yeah, you heard right. Don’t wiggle out of the squiggle. According to Leith Sharp (director of Harvard’s Sustainability Leadership), squiggle is all of the variation that happens in the “in-between” phases of any project. Apparently, it’s the new jargon for the “messy middle.” New ideas and new projects all have their own set of “issues” – stakeholders, risks, opportunities, budget, history, context, etc. With these issues onboard, the journey is rarely if ever linear. The journey is most often up, down, and all around and sideways. Yet, the final story we share is the linear story. Leith Sharp and others want you to embrace the squiggle and share all parts of your story. Let’s be real, and don’t hide the messy middle.
Just last year while teaching a project management bootcamp, I encouraged team members to be aware of what’s known as the implementation dip. As soon as you get going, there will be a dip in productivity. Beware! Don’t let that dip take you by surprise.
But I failed to tell them that, in all honesty, this process looks more like a roller coaster ride than a single dip. They needed to beware of 250 dips and squiggles that are somewhere in the middle! Did I warn them of that? Heck, no! I just showed one dip on the implementation journey and then moved on to how to sustain momentum. Shame on me.
If you know it’s coming, you won’t wiggle out of the squiggle. Keep going. Keep learning. Keep making adjustments. It’s part of the real-life project life cycle. Embrace the ride. And one more piece of advice. Let’s talk to our newest team members (Gen Z) and let them know to expect this. There are going to be a lot of mistakes, concerns, and questions along the way. Those can make your newest team members really uncomfortable. Build trust on your team and welcome this! We do not wiggle out of the squiggle. We are going to embrace it and move forward. Let’s all be more comfortable and willing to share our real – squiggly – journey so others can learn along the way.
Holly Hayes, President & Founder
My husband and I are planning to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles) in Nashville in April. We’ve been training consistently for the past month and a half to get ready for the race. We run three short runs (3-5 miles) during the week (every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday) and do our long runs (6 miles or more) every Saturday. Wednesdays and Fridays are generally busy days at work. The schedule is perfect, because although we do have short runs back-to-back, we never have two days in a row with long runs. I would never think to run two long runs back-to-back. First of all, my feet would be killing me! My pace, and therefore, my times, would be really, really bad, and that would be depressing. But most important – my body needs time to recover – and it wouldn’t be getting that.
Thank goodness for Sunday – our rest day. The day when my body gets to recover…to restock nutrients, rebuild muscles, and reset itself. Without it, I’d likely see far less improvement in my running than I have now. I might even face burnout or injury. And while you may not be training for a half-marathon, you can treat your work in much the same way. You need both work and recovery time built into your schedule. Don’t just run from one project to the next without stopping.
I know there’s a temptation to run wide open all the time. You likely have more work to do than you can say grace over. Everyone needs you and your input. There’s always one more project to tackle. But putting on the brakes can be good for you. Without that pause, your quality will suffer. If it hasn’t already…
As a manager, leader, project coordinator, (insert any job title here), you need time to recover from your “work sprints.” Did you just hit “send”, submitting a 30-page report to a funder? You need a rest day. Did you finally push through to the end of a 28-day legal trial? You need a rest. Have you closed out an amazing in-person conference for the first time in two years? Rest, my child, rest.
While the temptation to move right into the next project is strong, resist it. Give your brain and body time to reset. All projects require flow, focus, and renewed energy if you’re going to do a good job on them. Before taking on anything new, take a real break – not just a coffee break.
I’m a better runner by building recovery time into my schedule. You will be a better team leader, team member, or team contributor if you build this in, as well. Recovery time won’t be the same for everyone. For some of us, it may just need to be a day – but for others we may need to apply the brakes and not take on any complex task or NEW projects for at least 48-72 hours. It depends on YOU and your rhythms and your recovery. Maybe on recovery days, you are de-cluttering your office, reading that book you ordered three months ago and never skimmed, or perhaps you are just being still without any meetings on your calendar? Whatever it is…make sure you do it. Quality matters and we can’t produce high quality work if we are always pushing forward without taking time for recovery.
Holly Hayes, President & Founder