By George Pitagorsky | Follow on Twitter!

This is the first of a series of blog articles to optimize project and personal performance. Optimizing project performance goes beyond getting things done on time and within budget. It means doing the right projects and reaping benefits for the organization.

A Zen approach sets a foundation. It enables project managers, those who work for and manage project managers and those who sponsor projects, to go beyond conventional thinking and limitations in order to excel under any conditions.

Unfiltered Clarity

A Zen approach has the power to improve the probability of success by reducing stress levels and optimizing performance.

A Zen view looks at whatever is happening with unfiltered clarity - it cultivates wisdom. Wisdom leads to compassion driven skillful behavior. There is the possibility of applying the right action to suit the situation at hand with a deep understanding of the interconnections between all things. Seeing the big picture as well as the details and where they fit in it.

Seeing clearly is only partially enabled by analysis, having a rational plan, an effective project control process and good tools. In addition, it requires a willingness to accept reality, even when it is unpleasant. It requires balancing analysis and intuition - knowing intellectually and knowing fully with the heart-body-mind. It implies knowing the difference between the things that should be accepted because they cannot be changed and the things that can be changed by applied action. Seeing clearly implies accepting that nothing of any consequence is black-and-white, either-or. Paradox and uncertainty are the rule. Get used to it.

The Zen approach recognizes how things are:

  1. 1. Everything is subject to change
  2. 2. Things will not always go as you would like them to
  3. 3. All things, including yourself, are in process so there is nothing to hold on to and no one to hold onto it
  4. 4. What we think, say and do has ripple effects that impact ourselves, others and our environment

If you forget the way things are and get fixated on making things to be other than the way they can be, you will create unnecessary stress, anxiety and suffering.

We want the things we like to come and stay and the things we don't like to stay away. When we don't get what we want, we can either hold on and suffer or accept. When we accept, we can then choose to act rather than being compelled to react. Remember, you cannot change the past, you cannot change the immediate present and you can influence, but not fully control, the future.

For example, if your project is late and over budget, you can deny it, holding to the idea that next week things will get better. Out of fear or delusional optimism you might make your progress report look overly cheery. Alternatively, you can own up to the current state, report it accurately and work with the other stakeholders to set action plans and expectations. If you take the denial route, you will probably suffer on a number of levels. You are likely to worry and to face even stronger reactions from your clients, sponsors and managers than if you had given the bad news earlier.

Buying into irrational deadlines, obsessively worrying and reacting, and bemoaning the fact that a recent decision or event has caused you grief, are ways we cause ourselves unnecessary stress.

We can eliminate that stress by changing the way we think and behave. Eliminating unnecessary stress leads to a sense of clarity and peace and that becomes the platform from which we can take action.

How to Change the Way You Think and Behave

Project managers and other stakeholders, from the CEO down to the individual performer can learn to step back, remember the way things are and cultivate skill, knowledge, concentration and mindfulness. Doing this will lead to flow, that sense of everything happening in a steady stream, being completely absorbed in an activity so that your sense of self and time drop away and you perform optimally.

Mindfulness, is a key element. Being mindful means purposefully paying attention, non-judgmentally, to whatever is happening in the present moment.

In the Zen tradition, practitioners use meditation, an open minded attitude and Zen Arts as vehicles for their learning process. Project management, or anything you do, can be a Zen Art. All you have to do is start with the intention to cultivate optimal performance, using every experience as fuel for the effort, and then to do your best, be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and everything that is happening around you. When you realize that you are distracted or behaving in a way that is not in keeping with your goals, step back, reflect and move forward skillfully, learning from each experience. Relax and use each experience as a means for getting increasingly peaceful and clear, seeing things as they are and performing optimally.

You can read more about the Zen approach in my book The Zen Approach to Project Management.

Questions or comments? Feel free to share them below!

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Online 2/16/2016
George Pitagorsky
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