Posts Tagged 'Accountability'

Planning for Success: Project Management and Simchat Torah

Doing what you said you would do, as you said you would do it, when you said you would do it. Period. That is accountability. Many of us expect it in others, but are more understanding when we ourselves fall short. We judge others by their actions while we deem our intentions to be admissible. Though we strive to live up to higher standards, on the path to accountability we are often disappointed. So what can we do to make sure that accountability is attainable and not just aspirational?

Why is it so hard for people to “just” do what they said they would do? Make the call, turn in the work on time, pay back the money they owe, do their part of the project, RSVP, write back, and the list goes on. Why do we fall short? We fail because we do not have effective systems in place. People do not fail, systems fail.

One major area of accountability that lacks effective systems is project management. The first rule of project management is to recognize when we are working on a project and not a task. A task is a single activity done by an individual that can be accomplished in one sitting. A project is a series of tasks that might involve other people. When we treat a project as if it were a task, we either decide we don’t have time to work on it, we skip it, or we work on it every day without having any sense of progress. 

Often our to-do lists are so full that they feel inoperable, and wind up being a list of aspirations that we will never actually accomplish. This can be exhausting and often leads to procrastination, cramming, and missed deadlines. When we recognize we have a project and break it down into constituent elements to be spread out over time, we create opportunities to accomplish a part of the project (a task or tasks) and that completion, however small, creates the energy we need to get us closer to our goal. 

Most of what we want to get done is a project: creating the budget, submitting the grant proposal, writing the program, planning the fundraiser, hosting the dinner party, updating the website, searching for a new job, submitting your expense report, sending the birthday card or gift, planning the simcha, packing for vacation, applying to college, reading the book, writing this article, and the list goes on. Some projects are big, some are small, however, an accomplished life is filled with completed projects. When we misdiagnose the work in front of us as a task rather than a project, we overlook the preexisting condition. It is true that time is scarce and we have too much to do, and still, taking the time to plan things out is not a luxury. Our failing to plan is actually our planning to fail. 

As we move through this season of high holidays surrounded by themes of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness, let us remember that people do not fail, systems fail. When someone around us falls short, let’s ask ourselves, “What system was missing that would help that person succeed?” 

And here is the thing. It is not in Heaven or across the sea. A system of achievement is well within our reach. Jewish wisdom can offer us the path to accountability regardless of whether we believe this wisdom is Divine in origin. Judaism is actually constructed as a system of accountability that can guide us to greater efficiency and productivity. Ultimately these practises can help us bridge the gap between our intentions and actions. We can be trustworthy and accountable to our loved ones, our colleagues, and the larger community. We can accomplish great things.

As we approach Simchat Torah, we would like to offer that the system in place for the annual completion of  the Torah reading cycle is a model of successful project management (from inception, to as promised, on-time completion) that Judaism can offer the world. The yearly Torah reading cycle is a project that has a clear deadline – Simchat Torah. First, agreeing on a clear deadline is one of the crucial steps of successful project management. Each year we have to accomplish the Torah reading cycle,  and we have to figure out how to get it done.

Being accountable to the yearly Torah reading cycle means that procrastination won’t work. We can’t cram a year’s worth of work in, right before the deadline (see Mitzvah of Hakhel – Deuteronomy 31:10-13 here). Starting the cycle after Simchat Torah and hoping it all turns out doesn’t work either. The system for getting through all 54 Torah portions, when we don’t have 54 weeks to read them, means that we need to reverse-engineer the project. This is exactly the way we need to approach any project. We need to start at the end, and work our way back from the deadline so that we are sure we have our timing right. When we approach our projects this way, we can predict some of the obstacles. Where do we miss a Shabbat because there is a holiday? Where do we get an extra month because of a leap year? Where should we double up and work a bit more on the project? The tradition teaches us that in order to begin with enough time and without feeling overwhelmed, we need to know where and when we want to end up, before we start. 

The skill of project management is one that can benefit us in every area of life. It is a system that helps us succeed. From the Jewish project of reading the Torah yearly we learn and can take away these lessons:

  • Projects are just a series of tasks. We don’t do a project, we do tasks, and we only finish that project when we complete its last constituent task.
  • Projects need clear deadlines and a clear vision.   
  • The first step of a project is to make a list of all the tasks necessary to complete the project.
  • Organize all of our steps in chronological order, then work backwards to determine when the final step needs to be done, then the penultimate step, the ante-penultimate step, and so on until we reach our first step, and when we need to start.
  • Review our list searching for potential obstacles and think about possible solutions.  
  • Take the time to celebrate accomplishments.

Right when we finish Deuteronomy for last year we start the project for next year with reading Genesis, “In the beginning.” There we read about the world coming into existence. The creation narrative is the largest project one could imagine – and it starts off by sharing God’s detailed project plan. God could have done it all in one moment. Instead God took six days to do the myriad tasks of making the world in time for Shabbat. It seems that God took the time to make a plan. We are in good company in needing a project plan to accomplish great things. 

From strength to strength, may our 5781 be filled with many meaningful accomplishments.

-from eJewish Philanthropy. Written with Diana Bloom is a consultant, and trainer who is passionate about supporting individuals and organizations to bridge the gap between their intentions and actions. Her humorous, engaging, and straightforward style, along with realistic, actionable tools help others achieve greater accountability in their professional and personal lives. 

-see first article with Diana @ The Curtain of Accountability

The Curtain of Accountability

Yom Kippur is an opportunity for us to reflect on our past and to prepare to do better this coming year. It is an opportunity many of us are yearning for, to restart with design and purpose on our life’s journey. Confronting the myriad issues facing us in 2020, it feels that this is going to be an important Yom Kippur.

In preparation for this day, we recall an important story about four figures who embarked on their own journey into a strange land, trying to ameliorate their perceived inadequacies. It turns out each of them already had everything they were seeking before entering this enchanted world, yet they needed to go on an important journey together, in order to remember. Most would immediately recognize this plot line from the Wizard of Oz. The tin man was always the most empathetic, the lion was full of courage, the scarecrow was brimming with wisdom, and all Dorothy had to do to return to Kansas was click her heels together. (This is also the story of the four who entered Pardes, but that is another article)

As we look out on the current state of affairs, we see a world that desperately needs accountability at every level: personally, professionally, locally, nationally, and globally. Not an accountability as punishment or consequence, as we might see in the prayers or the media. Rather, we seek accountability as a construct and means for personal improvement. Accountability is an intentional process to do what we said we would do, as we said we would do it, when we said we would do it. Now is a chance to look inwards to explore our own personal and individual avenues towards accountability.

When the Temple stood, the apex of the Yom Kippur service was when the High Priest pulled back the curtain in front of the Ark of the Covenant to enter alone into the Holy of Holies to offer a communal atonement sacrifice. Today, we too can pull back the curtain of our most vulnerable internal lives, and remember, or discover, that our tradition is all about accountability and an invitation to do teshuva – return home. As Dorothy said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”

The path has been there for us the entire time in the practices and techniques of the wisdom of our tradition. Yom Kippur is not about punishment, but about a chance to reconnect and achieve self-actualization. As we prepare for Yom Kippur, we are inspired by the idea that we can all find our brains, hearts, courage, or even our way home.

And as we set out on this path, we think about who joins us on this journey. Together with our accountability partners we can support each other along the way. Together we can help each other find our strengths, and confront what we are avoiding. None of us needs to settle for thinking about our deficiencies or what we wish we could or would do differently, alone. Along with our fellow travelers we can commit and follow through on moving beyond intentions to actions. How do we show up for our family members, friends, and colleagues as true companions on life’s journey?

The yellow brick road is long and it leads in the right direction. But a well-planned path is not enough. To get to where we want to go, we might think about setting aside time each day to plan for tomorrow, creating time in our calendar to do the things that are due. The step-by-step consistency of doing the work will help us get closer to the Emerald City. Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

In 5781 let’s do what we said we would do, as we said we would do it, when we said we would do it. The road to greater accountability is not always easy. Along the way we will all fall short. The question is not if we fail but how we get back on track. On Yom Kippur, we are invited to be proactive and seek accountability for ourselves, our communities, and the world. When we pull the curtain back we are not disappointed to find that the wizard is a mere mortal, rather, we are inspired when we discover accountability is no further than our own backyard.

-from eJewish Philanthropy. Written with Diana Bloom a consultant, and trainer who is passionate about supporting individuals and organizations to bridge the gap between their intentions and actions. Her humorous, engaging, and straightforward style, along with realistic, actionable tools help others achieve greater accountability in their professional and personal lives. 

 


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