Are you doing less by doing too much?

My schedule does not tell me when to begin but when to stop

I woke up this morning from a half-nightmare.  I was part of a confused discussion, or meeting, evidently out of doors.  Someone thrust a “may pole” into the lawn and asserted: ” It is simple. We all focus.”

I awoke in a fluster thinking, “No, I don’t want to be facing inward looking only at a pole.”

Then, still groggy, I had another thought.  The reason why we have schedules and appointments is not to focus our attention.

We have schedules to tell us when to stop.  Schedules tell us when when it is time to stop work and pay attention to the world.

Some complementary evidence from academia

A man by the name of Boice, has extensively researched the productivity of academics.  Do you know that there is a differential of 7:1 between the best and ordinary academics?

Highly productive academics

  • work early in the morning (before the household gets up) for 1 to 1.5 hours (maximum)
  • work on one project at a time and work at it a little every day
  • work in snatches of about 15 minutes and take mini breaks
  • start before they ready
  • stop.

Of course, then they go into the office and attend to the busy-work of universities and the complementary work of teaching.

In working regularly every day and STOPPING, they achieve 7 times more than people who “binge” work.

Complementary ideas from the theory of happiness

Marcial Losada analysed recordings of business teams making decisions.  The best third regularly

  • had positive to negative ratios in excess of 3:1 (around 5:1)
  • asked questions as much as they advocated solutions
  • and importantly, talked about the outside world as much as they talked about matters inside the company.

Two questions to make sure I am not doing less by doing too much

Time for me review my working day and say how much of my attention each task can have!  When am I going to STOP?

When will I step back from a task and go about other business, attentive to the concerns of the world as they unfold around me?

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Frazzled? Get a one line job description

I don’t know about you, but the last two weeks have been pretty busy for me.  People are coming-and-going, new projects begin, tax returns are due (January 31 deadline for individual online returns in the UK) and I have all those New Year resolutions swirling around my heads, too.

Poet, David Whyte, talks about being so busy that every one around you appears to be too slow.  The person walking in front of you on the street is in the way; your partner left dirty dishes in the sink, again; you colleague, superior or subordinate has dropped the ball, again.

I hate it when I feel like that. I feel like that now, and I know my ‘job description’ is to blame.   It’s just too busy!

Prune

In December, I ruthlessly cut out anything that is rushed or disorganized.  I learned this trick from commercial bankers.  If you are in a hurry, the answer is No.  You are obviously disorganized and your project will fail.

And lest I forget, I staple evidence of disorganization to the front cover of the file!

But I have pruned and pruned, and still, I have too much that I want to do.

Prioritize

I spent much of my life working in universities.  It surprises most outsiders (and students) that the main job of university lecturers is not to teach.  They are required to teach adequately – I was even told by my Dean once – CHEAT don’t TEACH.

Research is their main task.  It is the only thing they can be promoted for and to protect this priority, people get up to work early in the morning and it is a big no-no to disturb any one ‘working at their papers’ or ‘in the lab’.

Admin or community service comes a poor last and tasks are shared and rotated.  Even being Head of Department is rotated.   You do your share, perfunctorily.  That’s it. And it is done in the afternoon.

I’ve tried priotiising, but I don’t have three goals.  I don’t even have five.  I got down to nine and the list has lengthened since the New Year.

My difficulty is that when I am doing one task, I am worrying about the others.  Once we get beyond entry level jobs, it is not the tasks themselves that is important, it is the interrelationships between tasks that are critical.  To shift sectors, triage is more important than task.  University lecturers add value by showing students where a field is going rather than by reciting the lecture they gave last year and the year before.

Picture

As yet I have never found a system that allows us to track the inter-related progress of several projects and whether we will achieve our grand plan.  What I do, when I need to work at this level, is draw my goals in a circle and imagine bringing all the goals in successfully at the same time.

Pictures are great for seeing interconnections.  Systems theorists are pretty good at drawing pictures of how the world fits together.

What I did this morning was to write my job description in one line.  A job description should only have ONE goal, shouldn’t it?  Basic Fayol.  This how it begins

My job is to achieve, simultaneously, .  .  .  .   .   .

I took a blank piece of paper and put 2009 in a circle in the middle and started putting my sub-goals in circles around the page.  Hey, presto, they fell neatly into five groups.  I thought some might fall away but they grouped quite naturally.

My next test was whether I could I set quarterly and monthly goals for each of the five groups.  I took another page, put 2009 in the middle and drew FIVE spokes, marked off quarters and months for the first quarter, and jotted down some notes.  Yep, this works.  And I got better names for the spokes, making it clearer what I do, why I do it and how each spoke makes the others possible.

And best still, the pull on my attention seems to have resolved a little.  The tasks that have been getting short shrift, somehow feel like they should be done first thing in the morning, though some can be prepared the night before, and the tasks that I enjoy doing but have more elastic timescales can be done in the late afternoon.

Mmmm, definitely worth trying.

Come with me

a) I’ve already said ‘no’ to one or two people this year (amazing), though in each case I’ve been able to follow through with a good introduction or significant friendly help.

b) My prioritization has sucked, but at least I’ve been aware of it. I’m feeling a bit better.

c) I’m testing out my one line job description: my task is to achieve simultaneously .   .   .

A picture would be better still.

Can you state your job description in one line?

Making molehills out of mountains

Oh! I do like this expression. How do we solve large problems or answer large questions? Break the question into as many small questions as we can.

And if we are group or a family, do the same thing. Brainstorm the question and ask everyone to contribute, “two or three (neither more or less) specific things” about how they will be affected by the big question.

Bang on time – this will be useful this weekend!

UPDATE:  Bang on time again.  This is an important hack to add to a manager’s quiver.  2 or 3 specific things (neither more or less) about how they will be affected by the big question!!

The best goal setting system in the world

Goal setting & wine

Seen at the Vesuvious Cafe 1t 139 3Colt Street in Canary Wharf in London. What brilliance! 13×4 = 52 weeks and 52 bottles of wine. Plan ahead and enjoy! A bottle of wine each weekend.

Goal setting in a bottle

I’ve been trying to distill (ferment?) the principles of this system.

1. It is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time based).

2. It is also generative. You would set all this up a year in advance, buying the best wine. And placing in the right weeks depending on the season. And then you get to go down to the market on a Thursday evening or Saturday morning and buy fresh food to match the wine. It pulls you through to a better place.

3. It is expectant. Every week you have the pleasure of knowing that evening of cooking and eating is coming.

4. It is doable – not achievable. It is doable in a pleasurable way. Too many of these GTD systems are sweaty!

Is there something I am missing? And if you are in Canary Wharf, take a look. Have a coffee. They do English and Continental breakfasts. They have Italian wine for sale.

And they are nice.

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