Persistence indicates professional stamina, and is the final key to getting things done. Persistent people have a variety of positive qualities that are especially useful in the workplace. These individuals have a high tolerance for large workloads, and are not fazed by approaching deadlines or additional work when they understand the end goal. They also have the ability to not just exist through rough times and “make it out alive”, but to endure, to get through without feeling drained. They need very little to recharge, and even after large projects they feel mentally and emotionally ready to tackle the next challenge. Like any other Discipline, for some people Persistence is an inate quality, but for many people, it's a skill that is learned and honed over time.
A high score in the Persistence category indicates that you have a strong goal-achieving focus. These people are likely highly aware of their own needs, which allows them to effectively self-managing through particularly trying projects. They are able to exercise patience, pacing themselves and keeping a positive attitude. They live by the mantra that nothing is impossible if you're willing to put in the work - especially because people with high levels of persistence frequently are. Below are some examples of exercises to improve your Persistence.
- Actively spend your free time recharging. Plan your vacation in advance so you always have something to look forward to. In the meantime, try to look into your schedule in advance. Learn when your longest weeks will be and where you may have some wiggle room. Take advantage of your free time, and allow yourself to do what you need to stay fresh and motivated. This means different things for different people. You might recharge after work by experimenting with cooking a new recipe, or by allowing yourself to get takeout for dinner. Allot yourself time to indulge in hobbies you haven’t done in a while – whether that be reading a book, building something with your hands, spending time with old friends, or anything else you enjoy. Refreshed and reenergized, step back into work ready to make the most out of your day.
- Set more goals. Your progress for the project as a whole should already be scheduled out, but what about your weekly progress? Give yourself attainable but challenging goals for the week on your output, and encourage team members to do the same. Working with others helps keep us accountable, both to ourselves and to our team. Daily goals are also useful, but during time of great change, it can be difficult to anticipate when you’ll have time to meet those goals on any given day. Give yourself realistic time constraints to complete goals you would feel good about achieving.
- Ask yourself if you have taken appropriate steps to hardwire the changes your project is pursuing. Have you put items in place that are specific, written, mandatory, and enforced by a specific role in the organization? If the answer is 'No', then figure out ways you can start doing this today. This exercise helps you ensure your changes stay in place after you move on to the next project. This will help build your legacy not only for successfully driving changes, but also for creating the infrastructure for those changes to be sustainable for as long as is necessary.” - A Sixth Sense for Project Management, Tres Roeder.
For more information about how to improve your persistence, see A Sixth Sense for Project Management, pg 101.
BE MINDFUL: PERSISTENCE IS PACING
Persistence isn’t just about surviving through change. It’s not about being okay with pushing yourself to the brink, or even about increasing your coffee intake for a couple months to get through a project. Persistence is about cultivating a healthy balance for your mind and body. Truly persistent people do what they need in order to stay fully recharged and refreshed. Even when going through difficult times of change, they are able to consistently give it their all without exhausting their physical, emotional, or mental resources. This is our definition because it describes a type of persistence that is sustainable, both on an individual and organization level. One of the most essential steps to cultivating this level of persistence yourself – however hard it may be to hear it – is to get an appropriate amount of sleep every night.
We don’t tend to talk about how our mental agility changes when we cut back on sleep, but the effects are real. Sleeping an average of four hours per night, for just four days, drastically inhibits our abilities. We become so deeply cognitively impaired that it matches a blood alcohol level of .1%¹. This means that after just four days of sleep deficit, we’re acting as if we’re legally drunk. And although some areas of the brain can cope relatively well, the prefrontal cortex (where higher-order decision making occurs) takes the brunt of the blow². This lengthens reaction time, impedes judgment, and interferes with problem solving.
This is drastic. Why don’t we do anything about it? Studies show – and maybe your own experience confirms – that when we’re sleep-deprived, we aren’t capable of comparing our current and previous cognitive abilities³. Similar to drunkenness, we don’t even tend to realize we’re functioning at a lower level. So instead, we accommodate for it. Research shows that we unconsciously accept our lowered functions as the new norm without realizing there’s been a change at all.
Despite the evidence that sleep is of the utmost importance, many organizations still reward sleeplessness, either outwardly or subliminally. Coworkers might say to one another, both grudgingly and with some pride, that they stayed up all night to get an urgent bug fixed in time for a release, or to make a PowerPoint for a suddenly scheduled meeting the next morning. This sends a message to other members of the organization that true dedication means self-sacrifice. When other employees are willing to regularly pull all-nighters to get things done and management rewards it, it’s easy to question your value if you aren’t doing the same. We treat sleep deprivation as though it’s a kind of persistence, even though it’s actually harming our ability to get things done. In the words of Dr. Charles Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “We would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep”.
Despite what we often think, there aren’t effective methods to compromise on sleep. There is a common belief that you can “balance out the week”. People who do this sleep poorly for one night, but give themselves extra time for “recovery” the next night. At first glance, this sounds like the perfect balance between pushing and taking care of yourself. In reality, it only works to deceive the person who does it. “Week-balancers” report feeling refreshed and caught up, but their blood tests tell a different story. These people display levels of hormones that contribute to high stress, a loss of the ability to handle their own emotions, and even a loss of ability to perceive pain³.
How do we fix this? Appropriate amounts of sleep vary by age, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for anyone between the ages of 18-64. But it’s one thing to know how much sleep you should get, and another to commit to making a change in your life. Research about our current sleep behaviors isn’t encouraging. If given an extra hour in the day, only 18% of people reported they would use it to sleep more. And having more knowledge about the importance of sleep does not correlate with people getting a higher quality of sleep¹. For one reason or another, many people do not warm up easily to the idea of sleeping as much as they should.
It’s important to put this information into action. Truly persistent people put in the effort to pace themselves, and do not chronically overextend themselves. Of course, there’s a difference between working harder than you should, and working harder than you’d prefer on a Friday afternoon. (We’re not saying Persistence is about avoiding responsibilities!) Persistence is about thriving at work because you know how to care of yourself. It can be difficult to value true Persistence if your organizational culture prioritizes quantity of hours worked over the quality of the end product, or over the wellbeing of the team. But regardless of what’s going on around you, it’s essential to know how to effectively recharge and not exhaust your mental, emotional, and physical resources. Make sure to check in on yourself to ensure you are working sustainably.
¹ National Sleep Foundation, 2017.
² van Dam, Nick; van der Helm, Els. The organizational cost of insufficient sleep. McKinsey & Company, 2015.
³ National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. US Department of Health & Human Services, 2017.