Root out 4 time wasters. Modularize your job properly

Productivity is all the rage

We hear of drilling our inbox down to zero.  We hear about agile sprints and personal kan bans.

All these productivity systems have one thing in common.  Finish what you start and don’t start what you cannot finish.

Work cycles

Now some poor unfortunates have job cycles of 20 seconds.  These jobs are mindless.

Others have job cycles of between 30 seconds to 10 minutes.  They are called managers. (You didn’t know that?  Now, you do.  Professor Mintzberg of McGill University brought that to our attention a long time ago.  When you work with managers, break things into small pieces for them!)

Others have long job cycles.  University lecturers have “seasons” of 7 years – from sabbatical to sabbatical.  That is the time it takes to write a proposal, get funding, do the work, write it up and publish it.  They give lectures that are 50 minutes long.

If they are wise though, they remember that they are human and few of us can concentrate for longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Hence, a university lecture is broken into five parts.

  • What this lecture is about.
  • First chunk of theory
  • Change-up – change pace, delivery style and activity of students
  • Second chunk of theory
  • Memorable conclusion

Design what goes in to your job cycle

The secret of any job, I think, is breaking it into parts that fit our ability to start-and-stop and link it to other parts.

3 components of jobs design

Job design is about modularization and all 3 things matter

  • Our attention span and the features of our “box” – the human body.
  • The size and shape of the piece that we are working on
  • The way we link one piece to another to make a coherent whole.

The 4 time wasters in badly designed jobs

When we get any of the 3 features of job design wrong, then we create 4 inefficiencies.

  • We spend the 15 minute chunk working out what we are supposed to be doing rather than doing it
  • We do the wrong task because the linking mechanisms are sending us the wrong messages
  • Our attention is split or frayed with fatigue and our work is poor and has to be re-done
  • Or the task we are doing isn’t bundled properly and we cannot start, finish and put it back in the pool in one pass.

The job of managers and job designers

Inefficient managers tend to think that problems with productivity are to do with the way the task itself is done.  Sometimes that is the case.  To play tennis well, I practice the same shot over and over again.  Training time is important.

Most times, we are wasting time because we cannot start and finish something completely.  And on big tasks, we haven’t broken the task into modules that can be started, finished and handed over.

There is a genius to managing work.  And there is an explanation about why some teams get done more than others.

They aren’t having to redo work.  Everything is handled once, by the first person who touches it. And never again.

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Don’t achieve your goals! Enjoy them. They’ll be gone far too soon!

I Want Rhythm Not A To Do List

When I was young, I loved To Do lists. What a buzz! I would list everything I had to do, set a priority and set about ticking it off!

I loathe To Do Lists now. I threw away my diary years ago when I worked on an MBA programme and the lecture times changed so frequently that my diary looked like a dog’s breakfast!

Now I like a rhythm. I like to sense the time during the week, the month, the day, the year that I should be doing whatever I should be doing!

Rhythmless Britain Where Seasons  Take Us By Surprise

It is difficult to dance through life in Britain. Bills arrive at odd times and are paid at odder times. The tax year begins on the 6 April – why? Who knows. There is no rhythm to anything. People even seem surprised when winter approaches. “It’s cold”, people say. It’s December. What did they expect? I know what I expect.  “Good!  It is cold.  Now I can  .  .  .!”

My Seasons By The Bottle

I want my life to be a dance with my goals. Like these bottles at the Vesuvius Cafe on Canary Wharf in London. 52 bottles laid out in 12 sets, I want to mark the passing of the seasons with the right wine and the right food. I want to celebrate the seasons of life by going to the market to buy food in season and cook it with a sense of adventure.

I want my head around learning to dance with life. I don’t want to spend my time chasing the clock and ticking lists. Lists and clocks lower quality of life as surely as squalid air travel and grubby packaging around supermarket food!

It is not only Luddites who like to savor life

Now believe me, I am no Luddite. Never have been. I like progress. I like thinking up better ways of doing things.

But I want to savor life. I want to have time to listen to people. I want to notice the seasons and enjoy them, not complain about them.

To represent the season of my life, I have a handful of goals

I’m not sure I have the system right, but at any time in our lives, I think it is good to have 3 to 5 ‘goals’. When I was in New Zealand, I had 3.  I had my rather large university course.  I had settling in a new country.  And I had departing from an old country. That’s enough! What didn’t fit into those three folders had to be put aside.

Now I have five ‘goals’ ~ I wish I had three but I have 5!

  • I have settling in a new country
  • I have my writing ~ this blog mainly
  • I have my community and town of Olney
  • I have my next website supporting career decisions
  • And I have the website I want make – a gratitude site.

My goals change with the season of my life

In due course, the season of settling in (another) new country will pass and my goals will change.

For now, I can ask whether what I am doing helps me learn how to achieve these goals. What do I learn about my own thinking? What do I learn about my overall story from each of these goals and the way they come together?

It is the way I explore these 5 goals that will give me the rich life that I take into the next season as surely as my summer harvest must be full to provide a good autumn and a good Christmas supports an energetic spring.

I’ll achieve my goals better if I slow down and explore them well

My goals are a framework to coddle my efforts and softly support the tentative explorations of the land in which I live.

The way I explore my goals determines how well I meet them.  To explore them well, I must make plenty of space for them and stop rushing around being in a hurry.

Put that to do list aside!  What are your goals?  What are you learning about how to achieve them.  Enjoy!  In a few years, these goals will be gone from your life and replaced by others.

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Shift gears before Christmas with Inpowr

New beginnings and getting going

I’m shifting gear a little with projects. Some tasks are moving to the perfunctory box ~ get them done and get them done fast.  And I have new tasks that aren’t hard but they aren’t habits yet.  I could easily founder simply because I haven’t done them often enough to slide into them without thinking.

Getting over dithering

As I dithered, just a little, in the normal way we do when we settle to something big, I came across a post that I wrote about Inpowr, the Montreal based web2.0 platform where you rate areas of  your life and set goals.

A digital reminder

Inpowr has some good looking interfaces.  Moreover, it pings you every day at your chosen (Montreal) time and reminds you to review your goals.  That makes it great.  To develop some good habits, it helps to have someone to nudge you!

Choose between your positive and negative versions of events

A tip though: Inpowr will ask you to rate your achievement of each goal on a 1-5 scale.  Don’t just rate and move along.  Expand the task a little. Describe how the day went.  Rate 1 and answer the question.  Change your rating to 3 and answer your question.  And then change your rating to 5 and answer the question again.

Answering all three questions helps you to see your negative and positive thinking and choose between them.  Which is most useful to you?  The negative or the positive version?

Privacy

Oh, and do watch the privacy settings.  It is possible to make your goal setting open to the world.  Maybe you would prefer your exercise to be private.  Check your settings!

21 days on Inpower

Inpowr runs on 21 day cycles.  What can you accomplish by Christmas?

 

Get a big job done twice as fast using the psychology of goal setting

We love goals that simplify what we have to do

We are a hopeless species! Give us a goal and we cannot help ourselves. We chase it.  But if the end is not in sight, we feel tired and we stop.

Hence the three rules of goal-setting.

  • Make the goal definite and visible.
  • Show our progress to the goal in real-time
  • Make sure it is doable before we get tired.

Blog migration

My predicament

I have been writing this blog in WordPress.com for two years. Now that is is established, I want to move it to a self-hosted site using software from WordPress.org.

I am going to move to a magazine layout which means that the last post from each category will be visible on the front page. And the reader is able to click to a category’s index to see everything I’ve written in chronological order.

The big task

My difficulty is that I have dozens of categories. I eventually settled on a format that uses 5 categories and I have chosen the categories.

Now I need to reclassify 500 or so posts into the 5 categories.   At a handful a day, this could take me a year to do!

Clever goal setting is motivating & doable

I’ve finally found a way to do the transfer that is motivating.

  • I look down my categories list, pick one with few entries, and resort the posts. Eventually the number becomes 0.
  • Then I delete the category from the list and the categories list grows shorter!

It will still take me months but eventually

  • I will have a blog with all the posts categorized under 5 topics
  • I will have reread everything I have written in two years and done some light editing
  • I’m bound to have write some more summary posts
  • It will be easier for me review my own posts and find the questions that I have answered well and should answer soon!

The trick has been to arrange the work so

  • I can see where I am going
  • I have a constant sense of progress
  • I can organize the work into chunks that I can finish before I get tired.

Great goal setting!

Found on a British train! The lost art of slick administration

I learned from the masters of administration!

I went to a university where we moved through a degree programme in lock-step.  In year one, we took 2.5 subjects, 2 compulsory papers from each of the first 2, and one paper from the third.  In year two, we took 4 papers from one of the first two subjects and 1 from the second.  And the same in year three, but a different set.

The sum of variation allowed was changing the order around 5:0 and 3:2, or if you were really smart, taking a 6th paper.

The university waited for no one

Not even babies!  The university took a simple view that examinations were taken once and once only and deferred only for matters totally outside our control.  Sporting matches, babies that after all arrive on quite a predictable schedule, family celebrations – were all deemed matters under our control.

Even being detained without trial by various rogue governments wasn’t deemed a reason to vary the schedule!  The university made a slight concession and brought you exam to your in jail!

Good administration leads to assured output & a productive life

The net effect of this policy is that the university opened and shut on time. People began degrees and finished them. The simplicity of the administration in that university was just stunning.

All requests had to be made before the event. Nothing was considered retrospectively. All decisions were made on facts marshalled on one piece of paper.  Decisions were made against clear criteria that were public and you knew what you could request from whom and on what grounds. All decisions were reviewed at the next level up where they were considered against new criteria.

A lecturer (professor) graded your paper and the lecturer’s colleagues approved the mark. Those marks were put together and an inter-Department committee approved your GPA/class of degree. An inter-Faculty committee checked that the Faculty committees weren’t being too lenient or too hard.  An eminently logical, rational, fair and transparent environment.

Lock-step systems can be inefficient when misunderstood

Lock-step systems don’t always produce efficiency or fairness, though.   I came out of that system quite well, and I am not unhappy that I studied psychology, sociology and anthropology. But I had actually wanted to study psychology, economics and mathematics – which I was very good at.

Novices need guidance not on the system but how the system will serve their goals

To achieve that combination, someone with knowledge of the system needed to sit my 17 year old self down and ask me what I wanted to do.

The answer would have been for me to enrol in the Arts Faculty for a B.A , to read psychology (2 papers) & economics (2 papers) in the Faculty of Social Studies, and Mathematics (2 papers) in the Faculty of Science!

Apart from being too complicated for a noobe to find, that solution would have made me a little insecure because a BA (General) has a lot less status than a B.Sc. (Hons) and I wouldn’t have read Sociology (upsetting my father).  I would have studied though what I wanted to study and created the choice of transferring in second year to a straight Honours in any of the three subjects, or continuing with a more general mix including picking up Sociology in second year.

Would I have been better off if I had taken this road? Who knows!  What I do know is that the system was more concerned with its lock-step, which was very efficient, than making sure I developed to my full potential.

Lock-step systems require highly qualified front-line staff who understand the values and goals as well as the plan

I quite like lock-step systems because they give people a clear model of what to do.  We need to ‘see ahead’ when we are a ‘noobe’.

But we can waste resources and time too easily when we don’t distinguish values from goals from plans.

  • We had three values in our case– broad first year, Honours (meaning specialize) in 2nd and 3rd year, and finish neatly in three years.
  • The plan is the lock-step system I described at the top of the post.
  • The goal was my goal – to study psychology, economics and mathematics.  That got lost.

To make sure that the (usually) naive client pursues their goal, we need good frontline staff who can find out what my goal is – or what the client’s goal is.  That is paramount.

  • We only use the model to communicate the values concretely. It shouldn’t be a strait-jacket.
  • Then we make a plan that fits our streamlined system, adheres to our values, and allows the client to pursue their goal directly in the comfort of our well run service.

Most systems in Britain are plan-led.  Lock-step supersedes common sense.

I see so much in Britain where the plan seems to override the goal.

We’ve borrowed 175 billion this year to keep going. That is 3000 pounds per man, woman and child. Not that much, hey?

I bet we could simplifiy our services to cost less and achieve heaps more by having

  • much simpler models (a lock-step model to convey the idea)

  • spending more time finding out the goals of individuals

  • and lastly creating an individual plan to navigate the system.

This wouldn’t put people out-of-work, it would just allow a lot more to be done at a fraction of the cost, allowing the country to make more money to pay the bills!

We the unhappy punters would feel better and get more done. We would spend less time on the phone talking to call centres and officials whose main job it does seem is to fill in meaningless bits of paper for meaningless procedures whose ultimate destination is a a database left on a train.

P.S. The people who thought up the systems at the well-run uni were Scots.  We have the expertise.  We just don’t seem to be using it.

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!

Do you live restlessly in the shadow of adrenaline-inducing goals?

This is what I did not know in my 20’s. That I would come to dislike the adrenaline-rush that made me feel so good.

In our twenties, we feel competent

We have smashing time. Suddenly we have a little money. We set ourselves up independently.  We take on responsibility at work.  We feel omnipotent.

We are in, a way. We have more energy than our jobs demand. And we throw ourselves into everything with gusto.

Until one day,

.   .  .  the story changes. We burn out.  We wake up in the morning so tired that the only thing to do is to sit quietly in the sun, if we can find it. We are too tired to read.   We are too wearied to put up with the banality on the TV.

From that day forward, we are wiser, if sadder

We resist the adrenaline-rush.  We put off being totally involved in anything because we know the withdrawal is not worth the excitement and the buzz.

We also become skeptical about what is accomplished while we are ‘high’.  We come to agree with poet, David Whyte. We are not nice people when when we are moving so fast that we trample over people who are moving slowly.

But we are also restless

When we are undecided, when we are still on the plains of ‘wish‘ and are still to cross the famed Rubicon river to the land of ‘intent‘, we feel restless and doubt we are achieving anything at all.

But does our restlessness have good cause?

I am not sure if anything gets done or nothing gets done when we resist the urge to become charged-up and driven. To my knowledge, no one has every compared our output in the two states.

Goal setting research has shown a more limited result. When our attention is focused solely on one goal, the goal is achieved.  Hardly surprising, is it?

We should be worried about more

The bigger question is what happens to other goals when we are focused on only one of the many things that are important to us.  What happens to everything else – including our health and the health of people around us?

In our thirties, we begin to get an inkling .   .  .

.  .  .  that we should pick our adrenaline-rush carefully.

How old do we have to be before we learn to balance our lives?

Do we ever learn the art of achieving balance?

Is it true that we achieve less when are lives are balanced?  Or is just that we feel cold in the shadow of a helter-skelter adrenaline-fueled chase of a goal?

Who is able to resist starting towards an overarching goal that destroys all else?  Who is able to go further and to dismiss such goals altogether and stop them casting a shadow over a life where all our different parts have equal call?

CMT? Compulsive mind tidying!

Mind tidying

When you were a kid, did you clamor for the responsibility of untangling a ball of string, or a skein of wool?  I did. I always sort out computer cables too.  Do you?

It is not surprising, then, that I like coding. I like sorting out the logical flow behind a computer program.

The trouble, I find though, is that I can’t multi-task when I am writing a program   Trivial tasks can fit into breaks.  But “the balls of muddled kitchen string” begin to pile up.  I don’t have time to follow through and sort out the good ideas that are sparked by feeds and conversations.  Good ideas clutter my mind jostling for attention, and my brain becomes as jumbled as a kitchen drawer.  I begin to feel quite antsy.  I may have a whiz-bang computer program but the rest of my head is in a mess.

I need several hours a day to think and write.  I can’t live without it.  Even writing this has cleared my head.  Another good idea on the scrap pad beside me!  It may used. It may not.  I will only know when I’ve played with it a bit more.

How much time do you devote to writing each day? How much time do you need to keep your head clear?

5 rules of motivation for the lazy psychologist

Cheese on a market in Basel, Switzerland
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not moving until I can see the cheese

And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.

1  Motivation is distance to your goal

The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!

Motivation is not constant.  We aren’t motivated by cheese.  We are motivated by distance to the cheese.

Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.

2  Motivation blinds us

When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.

That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle.  So easy to trap.

3  Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese

So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . .  Will it keep going, no matter what?

Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer.  Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather.   It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.

We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!

4  Motivation makes us stupid

Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.

Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.

5  Motivation needs to be simple

And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.

Come on cats, now is your chance.

Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.

We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go.  Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily.  Two cheeses – we can have one or the other.  Shall we go together or not?  If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?

Action is hard . . .

We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.

.  .  . and action it is also dangerous

We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.

Someone has to manage the cheese

We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions.  While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.

So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese

This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.

We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.

We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all?  Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it.  So, the question is which cheese will we chase?  And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?

We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese.  That will be their job, their only job.  Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too.  We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.

We must have these people.  Or the cats will have us

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10 questions I ask about a venture’s readiness to win

Fast Break

There is nothing I relish more than a “fast break”. I love the way that we can turn a rebound into a few deft passes and race the opposition to a slam dunk.

Carpe diem ! Sieze the day!

Can you take the Fast Break when it comes?

The conditions are right. The rewards are there.

Are we organized to dispatch our fast break specialist, take that rebound and pass it down the court, with ball and fast break specialist arriving together – right foot down, left down, into the air, done! 2 points?

Are we organized?

Well, there are the permanent spectators in life.  There are some who have a go, but don’t really get it.

And there are some who understand the game.  They get ready in advance.  They practice with others.  And when the opportunity breaks, they are running immediately, moving at speed in coordination with their prepared team, and they score. Sweet!

What are you ready for?

1.  What is the equivalent of the ball and the equivalent of the basket in your business?  2. What do you win by putting the ball in the basket?

And when you can tell me that, tell me this.

  • 3.  Who is working with you? 4.  And who must you outpace to pull this off?
  • 5.  What is the signal that sends the fast-break specialist off?  6.  Who is taking the ball off the back-board?  7.  Who is the play-maker (mid-fielder) in the middle?
  • 8.  When do you train together?  9.  When do you celebrate your wins?   10.  How long will you play together?

10 questions . . . oh, but do remember this is a game.   When we are straining too hard, to get this done, it is time for a coffee break to think again.