5 ways to cultivate gratitude during complex projects

5 ways to cultivate gratitude during complex projects

It’s the time of year to take a break from the external hustle and look inward. We gather around during the holiday season to reflect on what we’re thankful for. Our family, friends, health, or home.

And our work?

Here are five simple ways to cultivate gratitude, even in the middle of a complex project.


1. Take inventory of the resources you already have

It can be easy to focus on the gap between where you are and want to be. But carve out some time to consider what you already have. Not just the cash in your bank account or the company’s value in the stock market. Think about the people on staff, their skills, experience, and personality. The tools you already have. The physical spaces you have access to (whether you own them or not). Your combined network. The products and services you already offer. All of the documents, processes, knowledge that you’ve created or collected. Your existing customers and partners. Raving fans who will share your work and refer others. Most organizations are much richer than they realize.


2. Keep track of the work you’re doing

Projects always take longer than we’d like, and external metrics move slower than we’d prefer. Recording the work you’re completing each day can help set realistic expectations. We’re entitled to do the work but have less control over how people react to it. In complex projects that involve a lot of people, sometimes focusing on what you can control is the best way to stay positive. Making “doing the work” a key part of how you define success is also a good way to find flow faster and appreciate the journey itself.


3. Review regularly and reflect back on how far you’ve come

After writing down what you did, you can look back over the week or month and evaluate if you did (or did not) put in the work that could lead to the bigger changes you were hoping for. If you did the work but didn’t hit the target, you can then evaluate if you need to track something different or try a new tactic. If you didn’t put in the work, then you need to examine why not. Either way, you now have a record of both what you did and what you learned from it. This helps connect our reaction to something concrete to be thankful for vs. vague disappointment.

Looking at what to improve is important, but so is reflecting on the progress you’ve made so far. Look at different layers, like the broader societal change you’ve influenced, customers you’ve helped, employees you’ve impacted, and your internal growth. Sometimes we overlook progress made in the inner circles and feel bad about not moving farther in the outer ones. Make time to celebrate all of it.


4. Thank every individual in the way they like to be recognized

Awards, speeches, and parties tend to be the default for expressing gratitude in business. Those can be effective for people who are motivated by prestige, words of appreciation, or spending time with large groups of people. That might not be rewarding for everyone. Try out one-on-one vs. group recognition. Small gifts, tools, invitations to events, introductions, lunches, books, time off, challenging projects, personalized letters, office improvements, and so on. You could even ask everyone what type of expression of gratitude they prefer.


5. Give people the resources they need to do their job effectively

Sometimes quietly expressing gratitude can resonate more. For example, it can be more meaningful to invest in a tool to lower defects than to thank people verbally for working during the weekend to fix bugs. You’re showing respect for their time and craft. Give your team the resources they need to get the job done well while protecting their free time for family, friends, and passion projects.


Focusing so much on the future, it can be easy to lose sight of what we already have. How will you express gratitude this year?

Share your thoughts