The productivity of procrastination. Yes!

In the good company of entrepreneurs

Are you one of the 14% of UK’s working population who works for yourself.  I am!

And if you are, like me and so many others in UK and everywhere where solopreneurs and the Free Agent Nation are booming, you are probably obsessed with productivity and getting things done.

You also probably beat yourself up for procrastinating. And you feel really bad on days when you just cannot get yourself going?

Is that you? Well, you are in good company. We all feel the same way.

To stay sane, this is what you need to know about procrastination and productivity

1 Keep your to do list simple

2 Accept that some days you need to chill out

3 And for the surprise – procrastination may be a sign of experience

I am not going to write on keeping your to do list simple. Lot’s of people have done that. I also won’t write on chilling out. I’ll do that another day.

Let me stick to the surprise that procrastination is wise

. . . and remind you about Caesar as he sat with his army on the wrong side of the River Rubicon. He knew that once he crossed the Rubicon, he would be declaring war on the city of Rome. And battle would commence.

You are like Caesar waiting to invade Rome

Some times, when we are resisting getting down to work, we are in the same position as Caesar on the edge of the Rubi con. We know that once we cross, there is no going back. We will be causing less strife, but once we get started, we will accomplish this task no matter what.

As Caesar undertook a long march and bloody battles before he triumphed, so will we. We know we face long hours, physical fatigue, frustrations, disappointments, conflict and anger.

We know about the power of goals. Once we get going, we move inexorably toward them. We don’t get care what gets in our path. We trample over it all in our determination to win our prize.

With age comes wisdom

When we are twenty-something, we are very good at crossing the Rubicon because at that fresh age, we don’t really understand the damage we do as we stampede everyone in our way.

When we are older, we resist.  We know that the victory is not always worth the battle.  We know we emerge the other side as a different person. And there is no going back.   At the very least, we want to linger and enjoy the desultory delights of just being with people before battle commences and carnage ensues.

But we do get moving eventually

But we do get moving when battle calls.  We know, rather sadly, that we enjoy the battle even though it has consequences.   We will even make new friends, because undoubtedly once we set forth with a clear mission, the universe does conspire to help us.

Get you things. Dreams mean work.

So we dilly-dally for a while. Half-treasuring the present. Half-summoning up the psychological resources. Is that so unwise?

We will be leaving soon and we must say good-bye properly so we can so hello to a new dawn.

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Get it done, completely

Day 3-15 at Xoozya

Wow! Day 3 became Day 15 in no time as I was buried in a demanding pitch.  The work I did on strategic planning 12 days ago is in the form of scribbled notes in a box.  I wonder if I can read my writing.  It’s such a waste of time to have to pick up tasks that have been suddenly abandoned.

The secrets of successful protovation

Hence the flip-side of protovation and an amplified, connected life.

Only start what you finish and dispatch in one move.

And the corollary of that – break tasks into small pieces.

Finish what you are doing as you go and put it away, file it properly, as you end it.

Who would have predicted that the internet world will make us tidy.

Work-bingeing, flu, procrastination?

Day Two at Xoozya

I strolled into Xoozya on my second day planning to spend the whole morning quietly in my office exploring the communication system and making the list of skills I thought I should maintain and those I thought I should learn in the near to medium future.

Crisis is the patron of procrastination

On my door was a yellow sticky, “Help, we have a proposal due today and we may not get it in on time.  Could you help out?  We need help proofing.  Mary, @maryjane”.  I unlocked my door and dumped my keys and bag in the bottom filing cabinet drawer, powered up my desktop, and searched for @maryjane.   Games designer putting in a proposal to use games as a research tool.  West block.  I picked up the phone and said I would be right over.  Nothing like an emergency to aid a little procrastination.

Flu – how clean is this desk?

I grabbed a pack of tissues and wipes – this is the year of the great flu epidemic and office desks are notoriously unhygenic – locked the door behind me, and headed out to the west block in search of @maryjane and her team.  7 grueling hours later, we’ve converted the files into pdf and sent them off.

Work-bingeing

Where did Day Two go?  Tired and no further forward.  That’s a terrible feeling isn’t it, and the fatigue after a work-binge is awful.  We want to work but can’t think straight.  For that matter, we can barely remember what we were doing before.

7x as productive

We don’t often apply ‘industrial management’ ideas to creativity but “Boise” has done.  He studied the productivity of academics.  People who work little and often are 7x more productive than people who binge-work.  Binge work is disruptive.  We ‘come down’ emotionally and physically, feel terrible and need time to recover.  We also have to spend time picking up the threads of what we are doing.

Little-and-often

Little and often is the golden rule.  Write every day.  Work on your main project every day.  Gather a few resources for the next project.  Spit and polish and go home!

Go home!

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?

HRM: do you show your bottom-line impact?

I am back in the traces teaching HRM at under-graduate level and Strategic HRM at post-graduate level.

The undergraduates have been well prepared and readily match HRM ideas to ideas they have already learned in Management.  I mention “hard & soft”; they counter with McKinsey‘s 7 S’s.  I talk about strategy; they counter with contingency theory and scenario planning.

The HRM book that we are using is not quite up-to-speed, I think.  We are always lamenting that line managers don’t take us seriously.  Yet, we readily regress to operational HR.  No where in this book do we make a direct case for impacting on the bottom-line.

My post-grad class includes an owner of a bus company.  His business provides a ready example of bottom-line impact.

  • If I have 5 buses and 4 drivers, I am losing the opportunity to make money out of the 5th bus.
  • If I have 5 buses and 6 drivers, then I am paying wages for someone to do nothing.
  • If I have 5 buses and 5 drivers, what do I do when someone is ill or on holiday?

This looks like “hard HRM”, and so it is.  But “soft HRM” provides solutions to the same dilemma.  I might have a ‘culture’ in which a bus driver happily takes on other tasks when s/he is not driving; just as I might have a culture in which I readily reschedule work to allow drivers to attend to personal business.  I might have a culture where bus drivers cooperate so buses don’t “all come together”.  They informally resolve scheduling problems that would otherwise be the province of expensive management scientists.

Good HRM delivers economy.  The ratio of HR costs to Sales Dollars should be optimal.  As a rule-of-thumb, in manufacturing 10 cents of every sales dollar is spent on HR.   Without the “soft”, I will never achieve this goal.  Without the “hard”, I may achieve my goal but I would never know!

I wish HRM textbooks would show the “vertical integration” they talk about and show the link to the bottom line!  And on that note, I must ask the bus company owner to ask his accountants what is their ratio of HR costs to Sales. And we can call up a few other companies to compare!

Teaching is perpetually fascinating!

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

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Managing multiple and inter-dependent goals

For years, I’ve been looking for a way to lay out a set of goals that are inter-dependent and possibly conflicting. Yesterday, I stumbled a text to mindmap online program.

It’s great. You type in a list of topics and sub-topics and it generates a simple mind map for you. You can have a springy free-from map. Or, you can “fix” it and move the topics and sub-topics to where you want them. And you can download the map as a jpg file.

How do I use it for defining my goals?

1. I made the title and central concept “A great 2008”.

2. I added in my various projects, including planning 2009, and grouped them – in the text list. When I was done, I had it generate the mindmap (yeah, no fiddly graphics).

3. Then I fixed my map. I thought I would fix the map to show the progress of the projects bringing projects going well closer to the middle. But I decided rather to reflect their importance or priority.

4. And I can come back to the site whenever I want. It’s free. I am going to do this periodically to review how I am doing.

5. As events unfold, I can take note of what has surged ahead unexpectedly and what is lagging and needs more effort. I can also expand sections if that is what I need at the time.

Unfortunately, we can’t edit the goals except on the text list and we can’t save. So we have to retype each time.

What I really love is that there is no messing around with graphics.

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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.

vesuvio.jpg

Employees care!

I would be more productive if I had a different boss?

Response

Percentage

No

15.91 %

Yes

40.91 %

Don’t Know

9.09 %

Sometimes I feel that way

27.27 %

Do not Care

2.27 %

N/A

4.55 %

Interesting data from Zimbabwe. Only 1 out of 50 do not care whether or not they would be more productive with another boss.