Tight planning or joyful priotizing for 2010?

Do you plan your time carefully?

When I was a young psychologist, I advised people to schedule their time. My boss, an organized goal-oriented man, disagreed. He said that as long as you are doing something important, then it doesn’t matter what you do.

Before we went to meetings with clients, he would go through the our goal and sub-goals, which he would put in a meeting planner. Clients were well aware that he had a check list because they could see him looking at it and ticking things off.

He also ran the office with tight deadlines. He would phone in that he was coming to pick up his overnight work and he expected someone to be at street level to hand it to him through the car window.

His work was returned in the morning and with a ‘rinse and repeat’ the next night, all our work was turned around in three days.

But he didn’t do schedules.

What is the alternative to schedules?

I read a long post today from someone who scheduled his time for a whole year – very precisely.

I think working out how much time we have available is helpful so that we can work backwards to sensible work practices.

  • We can find a daily, weekly, and monthly rhythm that is enjoyable and effective.
  • We can discover what is important

Yes, we have a year, a month, a week, a day or an hour to spend. What will we do with it? We have a year, a month, a week, a day or an hour to spend. What would be the most enjoyable and satisfying thing to have accomplished in the next hour?

We need a system to make to find our priorities

Long “todo” lists and massive schedules are oppressive. I find people who have “calendars” simply fill them up and then claim they are very busy.

I don’t want to be busy. It only makes me impatient with others.

My 2010 priorities

I simply ask whether what I am going to do in the next hour enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful?

I simply ask how my day will be enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful.

Right now, I am asking why this week (or weekend) will be enjoyable, satisfying and meaningful

How will the remainder of this month be cherished and celebrated?

As I take my blank calendar for 2010, where are the moments in 2010 that will be enjoyable, satisfying and deeply meaningful!

And I will leave time, plenty of time, for events to surprise me and make the year better than I could ever dream.

In the words of poet, David Whyte:

“What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep?”

Anything, but please, not the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list

It’s October. In January, I found myself with far too much to do.

I tried all the tricks of the trade. I decluttered. I prioritized. I still had too much to do.

At last, I quietened my panic by drawing each goal as a spoke, coming in to a central hub. I marked off months and quarters. And wrote down some milestones.

Bicycle spokes for planning

Inevitably (and it is inevitable), I made heaps of progress. I am sure that resolving my panic was important, if only because I could do something useful with the time that I would otherwise spend panicking!

I am still busy. Horribly busy. Work is cutting in to my sleep as well. So, I am motivated to give my planning system a thorough overhaul.

Umbrella goal

Fortunately, I am much clearer now about what I want to do. I’ve managed to phrase a super-ordinate goal and the many goals that gave me such grief in January, all contribute in their own way. When I make a decision on one project, I’m able to check in my mind how work on that project fits in with the overall goal and all the other projects.

There is a lesson in this, I think.  Don’t discard your competing goals.  Live with the strain until you can see why you are attracted to apparently conflicting projects.

Eventually the bicycle wheel takes shape as an umbrella!

From wish to intent to action

Now I am more focused, my attention has shifted from goals – to critical mass & priorities.

I could list everything I have to do.  I could even put everything on a spreadsheet.  But I think I would throw up.  There is too much to do and seeing it in one place won’t help.

That kind of planning is better when there are lots of steps that are critical, and when they must be done in a specific, and known, order. That will come later.

Impact vs ease

I had a brain storm last night. I remembered a technique which I learned from Zivai Mushayandebvu in Botswana.

Sort tasks into four piles (2×2):

  • What will make a huge impact and is relatively easy to do.
  • What will make a huge impact but is hard to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is easy to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is hard to do.

The first, we do.

The second, we see if we can buy in.

The third, we might get do as filler tasks.

The fourth, we discard.

Keeping it simple, cheap, disposable (and green)

This whole project can be done on the back of old envelopes and a set of shoe boxes. My guess is that the priorities to develop critical mass are going to emerge quite fast.

I am going to try it. Anything rather than the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list.

UPDATE: In another phase of overload, I think I shall rate my tasks like this again!

3 models to re-design jobs to add-value during the recession

Tell your MP you support the Flexible Working Hours Bill

 

Image by Finsec via Flickr

How is your business coping with the recession?

  • Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
  • Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?

Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?

To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.

1. Hackman and Oldham (1976)

Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.

a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?

b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?

c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?

d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?

e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?

We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.

[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]

2. Job design and Gen Y

I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!

Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.

Social media, like Facebook, allow

1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.

2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.

3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.

3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes

1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?

2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?

3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.

Devil’s Advocate

If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask:  does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~  some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.

More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.

People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.

Benefits

What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:

  • The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
  • Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
  • The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
  • Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)

Practical steps

Would you like a working heuristic?

One side of paper only

1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.

Communication is in the mind of the receiver

2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.

Concentrate on coordination rather than control

3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.

Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job

4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!

Count & celebrate!

5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!

And then to fine-tune the system:

  • Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
  • Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
  • Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.

Relatedness

Organizing the workplace.

  • Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
  • Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.

ROI

The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.

Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.

Collaboration

If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

Is your jar full?

Good stories sometimes arrive serendipitously

I have absolutely no idea how this came on my screen. I was googling SABC news and this popped up. Well it did, and if you are interested in positive psychology, setting goals, having a meaningful life, then this story is for you.

I am going to paste it in verbatim. It is from a site called OceanCityFools. I don’t know anything about them.  You might want to check them out yourself.   Here is the story.  Sorry about the formatting – no idea how to change font size in WordPress.  Story is still good.

Is Your Jar Full?

When things in your life seem almost to much to handle, when 24 hours in a
day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar……and the beer.

A Professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front
of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and
empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then
asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the Professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the
jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas
between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was
full. They agreed it was.

The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of
course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar
was full. The students responded with an unanimous “Yes.”

The Professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and
poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty
space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the Professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to
recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your
health, your friends, your favorite passions – things that if everything
else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house,
your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first”, he continued, “there is no room
for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all
your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the
things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are
critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get
medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There
will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal. Take care of
the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities.
The rest is just sand.”

When he had finished, there was a profound silence. Then one of the
students raised her hand and with a puzzled expression, inquired what the
beer represented.

The Professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no
matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of
beers.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff . . . but enjoy it anyway!

Priorities and goals

Middle management sucks

I’ve always thought that one of the best kept secrets of management theory is that middle management sucks.  Have you every noticed that there are very few movies about middle management? And whenever there is a story about middle management, it is about a submarine or boat where the “business unit manager” is far enough away from the “strategic leaders” to do some leadership? Or we see the middle manager bailing out and rediscovering life as in Jerry Maguire.

Middle management sucks because it is all urgent and important

Middle management sucks because it is all management.  It is all about “to do” lists.  Being a housewife is similar.  “To do lists” take up too much of our attention.  It is a percentage thing.  While everything on the the list is important, we should never allow our lives to be overtaken by what is urgent and important.  Urgent and important should be allowed, how much do you think?  1%?  If you have a day of urgent and important tasks, don’t you think you really have another 99 days of tasks that you are not doing?

Can you live without a day of urgent and important tasks?

If we could live without urgent and important tasks, I wonder whether we would?

Isn’t it true, as David Whyte says, that we make another “to do list” because we are scared that we are nothing and nobody without one.

It becomes very interesting when our “to do” lists vanish.  If we are suddenly ill,  or when we change jobs and nobody knows who we are.  When we don’t get email and our phone doesn’t ring.  It is quite disconcerting.  We much prefer to be dominated by urgent and important tasks even if they are dreary. Don’t we prefer to have “to do” lists that are larger than ourselves and our dreams?

To do lists make us miserable

For the last 10 years, as a displaced person/migrant, I’ve oscillated between frenetic completion of lists of commercial tasks like residence permits, bank accounts, etc. etc. – things I hate to do at the best of times – and silence.  I think this is why migration is so miserable.  Not dealing with bankers and government officials – they are people too.  Not taking boring jobs.  The jobs are important in their own right.  Migration is miserable because we make the mistake of allowing the “to do list” and the silences that surround them be all that it is.

We have to allow the “to do” work and accompanying silences fit into space around our dreams, not be our only space.

We really have to resolve to re-engineer our lives around a dream, to live around what we love to do and to relax into doing what others love us to do because we do it so well.  We have to allow the “to do” work and silences fit in to that space, not be our only space. We are letting priorities become goals and constrict our spaces until we cannot breathe anymore – rather literally for some.

A hack to start the dreaming

Take a a piece of paper (or junk mail envelope).  Draw a little circle for our little life as a migrant, or as a housewife, or as a middle manager (those scare me more than being a migrant).  Around that little circle, draw a giant circle representing our horizons and dreams.  And stare at the empty space between the two.  Pretty scary.

I feel my chest constrict.  I want to walk away.  I mustn’t.   I must start defining the points on the horizon.  The points I love and I am drawn to.  And then start filling in any points between me and there, any point at all, useful or not.   I need to take the first step and to put down the first point.

Can we leave the tight center of tedium?

It is hard when immediate pressures are upon us.  We won’t start dreaming instantly.  We keep looking nervously at that tight center of tedium. How can we take our eye off all these pressures?

Crisscross over.  Promise yourself you will be back to watch that tight center like you watch a pot on the stove or a sick child.  But branch out in each direction to see how far you can see.  It is only a piece of paper after all. Just add a point.  See if you can.

See if you dare to live a full life even on the back of an envelope

See if you dare lie a life when priorities take up 1% of your existence and are priorities, not limits and constraints.