In a world where fast hacks, quick wins, and ruthless efficiency have become the norm, talking about the fact that we may be struggling has become taboo. When things go wrong and we experience struggle, we see it as an obstacle or another problem to figure out. But what if we’ve got it all wrong about getting things wrong? What if struggle isn’t the opposite of being productive? What if it’s actually the birthplace of some of our best work?
Working smarter, braver, and stronger
When we struggle, it can feel like we’re a world away from being “productive”. We feel stuck, derailed and see it as a sign that it’s all gone wrong. We worry that it might mean that something’s wrong with us, that we’re not focused, driven, committed – or even good enough.
But I don’t think this shows the full picture. What if that thing you’re struggling with right now is your doorway to working smarter, to do your best or most important work? This comes down to a shift in mindset – which will give you a completely different way of looking at struggle.
See the opportunity
Let’s start with failure or mistakes. Many of life’s successes and accomplishments have come from times when things have gone wrong. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. And many entrepreneurs have similar stories of overcoming struggle on their way to success. We can often see these stories as a lesson in persistence; that we may have to take many wrong turns before we find the right route.
But what if that wrong turn is precisely where the magic is? You see, our brains are lazy. They favour the familiar. Given the choice, we often stick to what we know. It’s often not until things go wrong or stop working that we are willing to try something new. Perhaps failure isn’t an option, but a necessity.
Trust the process
Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Innovation rarely comes from doing the same thing better. An inventor knows that creating something new requires deviation from the norm. The innovator knows that breakthrough lies in disrupting the status quo. But for most of us, in everyday work, we’re not waiting for something to go wrong or break through.
More often than not, the wrong turn comes when we’re not looking for it. It’s the crisis that gets in the way of the work we have planned. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book Big Magic, “Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process.”
What’s getting in your way right now? That detour you’re having to take, that thing that’s limiting, interrupting or irritating you? What magic might be waiting to be unlocked?
Embrace the growth
When we’re used to being good at what we do, there’s a certain ease and confidence that comes with being productive. Whenever we step up – into a new phase of our business, a new role or expand into new territory – we can find ourselves facing new challenges and feeling out of our depth.
The temptation is to stick to what we know. That’s why first time managers often struggle to find time to lead because they’re still too busy “doing”. And some founders struggle to give up control when they’ve been used to doing it all themselves. When we’re stretching outside our comfort zone, what’s truly productive isn’t what feels easy or efficient. It’s the risky, mistake-making wrestling. Because struggle is how we grow.
Embrace struggle for greater productivity
In the business world where we’re always looking for ways to grow and innovate, productivity isn’t just about working faster and harder. It’s about finding the leaps of innovation that take us much further than incremental efficiency improvements. To do that, it’s time to pay attention to the struggle – the deviation that leads to innovation, the disruption that reveals an opportunity and the sign that we’re growing, stretching and in absolutely the right place.