How should it look when it’s done?

Have you ever been disappointed when you don’t get the final OK from a client, boss, colleague, or spouse? For many of our jobs and personal commitments, someone else typically decides if the final product is good to go, or if it still needs adjustments or improvements. In other words, you’re not the final green stamp of approval. This can create frustration because you thought you were done . . . only to discover you have to go back and redo work that you thought was perfect. What if I told you that a simple question could change everything?

How should it look when it’s done?

The question “How should it look when it’s done?” is a way of asking someone to “paint done for me.” In other words, you’re asking them to clarify the criteria that will give you their blessing or green light. (If you can get it in writing, even better.) It’s a way of asking what is their version of finished and successful? But we don’t always ask this question.

Too often, we operate with an assumption of what it will look like when it’s done for ourselves. And this is simultaneously happening in the mind of your client, spouse, boss, or colleague, too. We don’t take the time to clarify, define, and get specific on the final outcome. This happens in a split second without much thought or effort — and that’s the problem.

Figuring out what “done” looks like takes a little effort and courage.

Taking time to figure out what done looks like takes a little effort, and a little courage. Productivity writer David Allen often says you have to think harder than you think, but not as hard as you might think. In other words, this thinking process DOES take effort but not as much effort as your brain thinks. Your brain is exaggerating how much time, energy, and thought must be required to clarify.

It’s easier in the short term to leave things unclarified and ambiguous. It’s easy to not ask the question because you don’t want to know the answer. It’s easy not to have to tell your boss that you can’t or aren’t energized to do that thing. It’s easy to commit to a deadline without checking your calendar or other commitments. It’s easy to say yes. It’s easy not to cause a ruckus.
It’s hard to ask a simple question because certainly you have ‘work’ to do. It’s hard to clarify expectations because what if you’re not sure you can pull it off by the proposed deadline and you look incompetent or worse . . . a failure? It’s hard to stop and think for a second because most of us are moving so fast, this behavior is uncommon.

From your own experience you also know that when you leave things a little grey and unclear, that it never ends well on the other end. You know from your own experience that you have so much more freedom to figure things out and make adjustments BEFORE it’s the final hour.

Ask the simple question and negotiate.

Consider asking the simple question “what should this look like when it’s done?”—then step back and what what happens. You may find that clear expectations are communicated. More often than not, you may find that their expectations are too much or not possible. In this position (on the front end of a project before the final hour), you have the opportunity to negotiate. You have the opportunity to disagree. You have the chance to agree on what is realistic for the time needed to complete the project based on the resources you have.

This last part is the key. In these discussions, you are setting yourself up for success, even if you can’t do what is being asked. This is your opportunity to say “while I can’t do that, I can do this.” You must be clear and up front with what you can realistically commit to based on the other circumstances and commitments in your life. Think about your family, your free time, your personal goals. Think about the other “work things” already on your plate that you’ve agreed to. Then talk with your client about what you can agree to accomplish with full energy.

Variations on the question…

  • What does done look like?
  • Paint done for me” (Brenee Brown)
  • What does success look like?
  • What does wild success look like?

There will always be opposition

Have you ever encountered someone who doesn’t agree with your point of view or see things the same way you do? I’m sure you’ve experienced the tension that lies when you have an idea but know someone is going to challenge you. This is what makes the world a beautiful place, but it can annoy us and stress us out. We can probably agree with this statement: there will always be someone who does not approve our work.

So, if it’s true there will always be opposition, how then might we adjust our behavior?

If it’s true there will always be at least one person who doesn’t like what we’re up to, what might we need to consider in our mindset and thinking?

If it’s true all people will not see things the same way we do, what’s next?

Adjusting our behavior

One of the ways we can deal with opposition is to adjust our behavior. As humans, we have the ability to change the narrative, change our thinking, and see the world differently. Some of this happens in our thinking patterns or in the invisible world. Some of this happens in the external or physical world. How we behave exists in both of these worlds.

Since there will always be opposition, make an agreement with yourself that you will not sulk or get discouraged when you hear someone who doesn’t like what you said. There will always be people who don’t get you, and you knew that beforehand! If you didn’t know that, it’s true, right? We can’t live every moment of our lives in terms of those who oppose us.

Since there will always be opposition, change your surroundings. Switch things up. You don’t have to have your desk in that dark corner. Your room does not have to be painted that color. Make a simple tweak to your surroundings to help you remember you have the ability to change your surroundings. Charles Duhigg illustrates this in his book Smarter Faster Better where he describes how members of the military were given the ability to rearrange the furniture in their living quarters. This gave each person a sense of autonomy and a deeper sense of control. You can do the same.

Since there will always be someone who doesn’t like your work, decide now that you won’t let that freeze you up. The last thing you should do is freeze up and stop making stuff. That’s what the opposition wants. Decide on the front end that you will create art. If there are people who don’t get it, as Seth Godin would say, it wasn’t for them.

Mindset and thinking questions... (Invisible world)

As you think about your internal dialogue or your invisible world, you can structure how you want to think about your work.

How much attention are you going to give the opposition? Decide before it destroys your day.

How much attention will you give your support team? Know who they are so you can run to them in emergencies.

What voices ultimately matter most in your life? Brené Brown suggests having a 1 inch by 1 inch piece of paper with the voices that are most encouraging in your life. It’s small on purpose. Let them know they are on your square and keep them close, especially when you feel discouraged.

What’s next? (Physical world)

If it’s true there WILL be opposition, Get to work. What are you waiting for?

Stop complaining. You knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Butt in chair. Thanks, Anne Lamott

Find out what inspires you — and come back to it when you’re discouraged. Keep a rainy day file.

Asking “how might we” questions

A powerful tool to help your leadership is to ask great questions. Yes, there is such a thing as a bad question. In school, teachers sometimes say there’s no such thing as a bad question. Good advice for young students. Bad advice for adults. There are many WRONG questions that we can ask that we don’t need to be asking. There are WRONG questions we can ask about our spouse or about how things are in the world. Here’s another example of a bad question:

Zoom example of a BAD question.jpg
No. You suck. Bad question.

Change your question, change your focus. 

HOW MIGHT WE...”  questions

How might we...” questions allows the brain to engage in the higher-level thinking of the brain instead of operating out of the lower-level “fear” mindset.

In your personal life ...

  • How might I find ways to get 7–8 hours of sleep each night?
  • How might I find more energy each day?
  • How might I go deeper in my relationships?
  • How might we find more ways to spend time together?
  • How might we create a less stressful environment in our home?
  • How might we spend less time on screens?

In your role as a leader... 

  • How might we better serve our customers and clients?
  • How might we motivate and employees and staff?
  • How might we create a fantastic experience for everyone?
  • How might we best communicate this idea?

Start asking these questions today!

The best thing is you don’t have to buy anything or learn anything else to start using “how might we” questions. 

A powerful extension is to make sure your whole group or team is asking the same question together. Change the questions, change the focus. 

This post was inspired by Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint 

Who are you learning from?

Here’s a question for you to consider: Who are you learning from?

For our roles in our lives, each of us should be able to point to a person or group we are learning from. It is exciting and humbling to think that we are probably not the first people to encounter the issues we are facing—so why not see how others have dealt with the same stuff?

We live in an incredible time where there are more free articles (if you like reading), podcasts (if you like listening), and videos (if you like watching) to help us grow. Sometimes, you have to take what you learn with a grain of salt, but if it helps you think, then it may be worth it. 

  • Are you seeking out new ways how to do stuff? 
  • Are you seeing what current trends are working for other leaders?
  • Do you have a desire to want to learn new stuff?