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Screen-free days are the way forward

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Eddie Obeng issues a warning that his ideas might terrify you and send you in search of a safe room.

Yesterday I had an SFD. I write an acronym to make it less scary. Bold readers will find the definition in the box below. SFDs (or screen-free days) are what I have to do these days to shut out the incessant chatter. It seems to be the only way to do independent, probing, quality thinking.

Over the past fortnight I’ve accepted half a dozen interviews, from TED Red Circle to a young podcast entrepreneur. I have articles to write, courses to teach and clients to persuade to move from change to transformation. All these share the same underlying questions. What next in this post-Covid world? If we can’t go back to ‘Before Covid’, where do we go? What shall we choose to do or not to do? I needed to think.

Follow Einstein’s advice 

I reflect that the world probably has at least three to five years to go to be free of the primary (illness, lockdown), secondary (innovation in treatment and vaccines, digital tracking/impact on freedom) and tertiary (long-term PTSD, unemployment, business failures) effects of the spiky, little red monster. 

As I brush my teeth, I ask myself, “How could the future look?” “Well,” I reply out loud, “it looks the way it has always looked. This could lead to paradise, dystopia or a dynamically stable in-between. What will happen is what is most probable. What it always takes is for us to consciously manipulate probability to make the future we want. No change there!”

The day before, I’d overheard a news item about a prominent climate campaigner who was refusing to ‘attend’ a conference until the whole world had been jabbed. SFDs give you space to reconsider incongruous statements that you normally gloss over and ignore. Now, as I consider the inconsistent thinking and virtue signalling, I think, “Really?” Fifteen months of learning how to make digital conferences as emotionally engaging as face-to-face ones, then at the first opportunity, there is a push to go back to flying atoms about instead of letting the electrons do the walking? Won’t that just recreate the problems we had Before Covid?

Einstein did warn us not to use the mindset that created the problems to try to fix them. But what should you learn?

Don’t just take orders

I realise that us project leaders need to lead the world to success. We deliver change or transformation. And that gives the competent ones among us a responsibility like never before. Our responsibility is to pay attention to the impact of projects we might lead. We must not just ‘take orders’. We must influence which orders are to be given and choose the best from among them. We must check they are sound both in the short and long term. We must avoid projects that deliver irreversible damage. We must prioritise projects that enhance, empower, enable and excite individuals over those that replace or de-humanise them.

We must run perfect projects, avoiding waste and not disengaging stakeholders. We can choose properly because we have resilience, not recklessness or risk aversion. We competent project leaders manipulate the future because we deliver it. Outside of work, we should share our skills with people who have a deep understanding of problems they are trying to tackle in the community.

Find your ‘reflection chair’

In the afternoon, I share my views as I walk with my wife through a nearby larch wood. Over the years, I have met and spoken with thousands of project leaders, and if I had to choose a group of people I’d trust to step up to steer the world properly, it would be them.

I have a ‘reflection chair’ in our conservatory. It faces south-east and down the garden. I sit to write and capture the fruits of my SFD. I have enough ideas, examples and suggestions for my interviews, articles and teaching now. I write: “Project leaders will get it. They will step up, learn and lead properly. Because of you THE BEST IS YET TO COME!” I challenge you to try an SFD this weekend. (I’m planning an SFW shortly – join me.)

SFD = screen-free day: No phones, laptops, desktops, TV, tablets or touch-screen controls. No looking at anything that is a screen, even if it’s on your oven.

Withdrawal symptoms include: hearing birdsong and responding with genuine interest to your spouse or kid.

This article appears in the summer 2021 edition of Project journal, free for APM members


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