Have three things to do. No more. It’s hard.

Three goals, only

At any one time in my life I have three goals. Only.  For example, when I ran a large entry level course in New Zealand, my goals were

  • the course
  • settling in New Zealand
  • my family in Zimbabwe

Whatever I did had to fit into one of those three boxes.

Settling on three goals is hard

Since I have moved to the UK, I have struggled to settle down to three goals.  I need three catch-phrases that I can remember and that will persist for a few years at least.

As an academic, the three goals are easy: research/writing, teaching, community service.

Jim Collins has three goals: creativity & writing (50% plus), teaching (30%), other (20% or less).  He has three stop watches in his pocket and he switches them on and off all day long.  I could never be that compulsive but I like three goals and I like the way he commits half his time to one of them.

Then he has the “big jump” or mission.  To leave a lasting body of work.  Just in case you don’t know, Collins is know working on narratives of companies as “anti-heroes” – the story of failure.

What are your three goals?

Can you settle on three goals and state your “big jump” in a phrase?

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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?”

3 time management systems for grown ups!

Slowness breeds to do lists!

I hate it when I have a slow day.  Sitting around in dull meetings, getting dehydrated and eating at the wrong times, I fill the the time by making to do lists.

When I get back to my office, I see, laid out in front of me, all the things I could and should be doing.  And can’t settle to any.

When I was a youngster, I loved a to-do list labelled with A’s B’s and C’s.  I liked making calls and crossing things off.  I hate it now.  I like dealing with larger chunks of work and  I like working towards a goal that has some meaning.  “Getting things done” no longer does it for me.

My rationale now is to figure out one or two things that are very important and just do those.  As long as something important is being done, and getting finished and getting shipped, a list adds no further value.

But in times when I have a long list, these are the methods that I have found useful.

#1 Yellow stickies

I use an ordinary A5 diary.  For every little task that I have to do, I add a yellow stickie, upside down. The stickies go down the page in columns, overlapping each other. That’s why it is important they are upside down.  The top line gives the title of the task and the details are covered by the next sticky though visible by lifting up the sticky below.

As I complete a task, I rip off  the sticky with glee, and put it on the corner of my desk.  At the end of the day, I have a pile of completed stickies and hopefully a clear diary. If not, I can move the stickies to another page.

And when I need to record my actions, I record what I have done on the page itself.

#2 Access data base

Access databases are pretty handy for projects which have many detailed steps, each of which must be completed precisely and in a particular order.  Anything which needs a PERT analysis is suitable for a database.

Each sub project is put in a table with tasks, expected dates, actual dates and costs.  The report function can be used to list all the tasks that need to be done in the next day, week or month and of course to check that everything has been done.

#3 Google Wiki

I’ve recently discovered Google’s Project Wiki, on Google Sites.  It is not really a wiki – linkages from page-to-page are limited.  It’s more like an electronic filoax!  It is  a full project template where you can add to do lists, time sheets, blogs, documents and pretty much anything else except perhaps a GANTT shart and a PERT analysis.

That’s what I am using now.  I’ll store away every zany idea in my Google Wiki and add a column for priorities.  My personal kanban will become the top items that I’ve resolved to start and finish. The choice is start and finish, or start and dump.  What’s not allowed is more than two or three open tasks.

What’s more, I can add dates that I completed work so I can review my progress at the end of each month.

The front page in the wiki is also useful because it prompts you to put in a strategic plan, which after all you can do for the next quarter!

My only reservation is all the information that I am giving to Google.

Here are you then – three time management systems for grown-ups!

1.  Yellow stickies for bitty projects and a physical reward for knocking off tasks

2. Data bases for precise projects where tasks must be done in order and on time.

3.  Google Project Wiki for messy jobs where it’s not really possible to tell priorities ahead of time but it important to work on on chunk at a time, finish and ship!

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!

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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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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4 hour work week?

Time management & goal setting from the masters

On Sunday night, Barack Obama put some numbers to Harold Macmillan‘s pithy saying: Events, dear boy, events. Obama’s numbers are 10% agenda and 90% circumstances.

What if we combine Obama’s numbers with Thomas Edison’s: genius is 1% inspiration and 90% perspiration?

90%
Circumstances
0,9% 89,1%
10% Agenda 0,1% 9,9%

 

 

1%
Inspiration
99%
Perspiration

Obama x Edison


4 hour work week

I’m a great believer in Kurt Lewin‘s adage: that there is nothing as practical as a good theory.  Principles, values and strategies established prior to action help me, at any rate,  keep perspective, and rapidly re-evaluate my tactics as events unfold.  In the army, they say, a plan never survives meeting the enemyThe value of the plan is in the planning, when we front-load the facts, issues and principles that will help us react quickly.

So at 9.9% of a 7 hour day, maybe 40 minutes will be spent on thoughtful and assiduous planning at the beginning of the day, and doing work that we actually planned! A 4 hour work week?

In the past, we’ve always been advised to plan only for only 60% of time.  That is about 4.5 hours per day!  The remaind 40% of the day, or 3.5 hours is used for unfolding events!

How much has your working life changed in the last few years towards a 4 hour work week – 4 hours of planned work?

What is true for politicians is true for professors, writers and musicians too!

Interestingly, work on high performing academics and violin players produce similar figures.  Violin players spend the whole day on music but about 1 hour on thoughtful and deliberate practice.

High performing academics, who typically produce 7x what their peers produce, write daily, but in approximately 15 minute snatches, and rarely for more than 1.5 hours.  Typically, they write early in the morning, before their households or departements get noisy.  They spend the rest of the day reacting to emails, student enquiries, going to the gym, and taking walks and sometimes even naps!

You have 45 minutes a day that you can spend on programmed work?   How should you spend this time?

As I write this, I am considering what to spend my 40 minutes on.  Having launched Rooi a few months back, I am moving into a project management phase.  So, I suppose, my 40 minutes should be spent on a review of projects and their priorities.   That feels right!

Out comes the calendar: time to do a ‘don’t break the chain exercise’.  What time of day will I spend reviewing projects and priorities?  Where will I do this work?   How will I get in the habit?  Can I put a small card in my purse and cross off each day and ‘never break the chain’?

How do you distribute your time?

What is the essential task that you do before all else, everyday?

Check out Ned’s comment below.  Do what has to be done first thing in the morning. Then if the rest of day turns to anarchy, who cares!

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5 tips from the recession guru!

Self-appointed recession guru

Do I dare call myself a recession guru?  Why not?  I spent most of life working in a regional centre given to trouble and strife!  If we weren’t rapidly readjusting to major political turmoil, we were adjusting to the effects of drought on agriculture which was our primary economy.  In a good year, the economy expanded 3%.  When the rains didn’t come, we went back 3%.

  • We got very good at scenario planning and not over-reacting.  We were brought up on the phrase: anyone can make money when the markets are going up.  A business person plans for the up and the down.
  • We stopped blaming people.  If weather is the problem, then plan for it!
  • We learned about the economy.  As an HR consultant, my business wasn’t hit in the year the economy went down.  It would feel the pain 2-3 cycles later.  Simply, psychologists don’t work with farmers very  much.  We work with people who supply the farmers and people who supply the suppliers.  It takes a little time for the effects to work through the levels.
  • We learned what the numbers meant.  For the record, a downturn of 7% will have accountants hyperventilating.  Quite often their firms are technically bankrupt and they should cease trading – but if every one is in the same boat, you breath fast and trade through!  Equally I can tell you with confidence that you can survive 100% inflation quite well. At 300% expect people to get seriously ill.  Relax.  We aren’t there yet!
  • And above all we learned to focus.  We learned to sack customers who didn’t pay on time!  It is disconcerting to shrink your revenue, grow your profit and play more golf.  But that is how it works!

Time management

BNET published a good article today on time management.  The centre piece of the article is the busy, busy person who is racing around being busy being busy.

Since I have come to live in the UK, I have been stunned by poor time management.  I am amazed by someone who delegates his time management to a subordinate (usually blokes delegating to gals?).   Beyond a junior levels of management, our tasks aren’t serial, they are interrelated.

Let me give you an example:  I email you asking to discuss something.  You email back to say yes and speak to your secretary.  I write to her (usually).  She consults you (or doesn’t).  She writes back with some questions about time.  I write back.  She confirms.

7 emails to do something you had the power to do in your first reply.  When I confirmed, that would be 3 emails.

The pre-email rule is that any piece of paper should come across your desk once and once only.  You should have been sufficiently clear about your priorities to make a decision whether or not the meeting with me was important to you and how our meeting would move your major project forward.

All else is dross.

HR and the recession

As HR practitioners, we have a major role in a recession:

  • Make sure we are calm ourselves.  Get the HR team taking exercise, working reasonable hours and secure about their own prospects.
  • Back up the people like accountants who are on the front line.  Spend time with them to make sure they are taking exercise, working reasonable hours and calm about their own prospects!
  • Get the conversations about the economy and the company humming.  Make sure managers understand the economy and talk to staff (I’ve heard of Royal Bank of Scotland managers unable to discuss credit derivatives with their staff – don’t be like that please!).  Resource the conversation and support it with social media.
  • Make sure people understand what factors the business must focus on to succeed and keep them focused!

Above all of course, we should be focused.

“Know your Number 1 priority. If you achieved nothing else in the next 12 months, what single achievement would most contribute to the success of your organisation?”

Can we answer this question ourselves?  How many people in the organization could state the No 1 priority for

  • the organization
  • their unit
  • their boss
  • themselves
  • each of their colleagues
  • their subordinates

Remember, any one can do business in good times.  It is the bad times that test our credentials.