flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘productivity

Sleeping, resting or procrastinating before a big task

Have you ever noticed that minute you have to sit down to do a big task, such as write a paper, or get up to do a big task, like hoover the house, you want to go to sleep?  You dither, you fuss, you try to talk yourself out of it.  And you waste hours getting cross with yourself but doing nothing?

Procrastination is sane

Well you are in good company.  Sane company.  Your body is resisting being enveloped in one distracting task.  It knows better.  It knows everything else goes to wrack and ruin while you attend to this one big thing.  At best, it wants a good rest before your start.

Work little-and-often

So how do you get round your dilly-dallying?  Fussing and cursing certainly doesn’t help.  It just wastes time.

The secret is in little-and-often.  Yup, little-and-often.

Folks, 15 minutes is a long time for our alert, sociable, curious human brains.  Go much beyond 15 minutes, and you body will protest (in advance).  You might need an enveloping time slot of an hour to do that 15 minutes of work.  In reality, you are only going to do 5 or 10 minutes, but you will need a buffer zone to remember what you were doing, get out your tools, do the work, and put it away.

What work can be done little-and-often?

How can you do this, you cry?

Successful people work little-and-often.  That is why they are successful.

Successful professors, by which I mean professors who publish 7x as much as the run-of-the-mill professor publishing at 1x, get up earlyish each day and put aside 1 to 1.5 hours to write something, anything.

They get up. They go to their desk.  They look at what they were doing yesterday.  And they do a bit more.  And the next day rinse-and-repeat.

And they don’t break the chain.  They work little-and-often daily.  Because when they take a break, they’ve added the additional task of trying to remember what they were doing.   And then the task gets too big.

They write daily.  Adding something.  If they have two productive slots of 15 minutes in 1.5 hours.  Great!  But they just get something done.

When they have a real break, like a long vacation, they start again.  They get up. They go to their desk.  And they start work.  The first few days might be spent in remembering.  But they don’t get stressed.  That is the beginning point.  Because they have good work habits, they know the work will get done.

But what should I work on little-and-often first thing in the morning?

The trick though, is knowing our priorities.  What is the big task that we will attend to regularly and get finished as a landmark of achievement?

Professors have a simple (though remarkably bruising) work life.  They publish. They teach.  They do community/university service.  But they are only promoted for what is written and published.

So their priorities are clear.  The first and essential task everyday is to write – with a conference in journal in mind.  Then they go to campus and teach and “do” research for the next paper – tasks that are so much easier because they are sociable.   Their “day-job” is relaxed ,setting up a feed for the real job, that cocooned writing time first thing every morning.

Can we copy the little-and-often work routine of successful professors?

When we are procrastinating, we can be sure that we’ve left a task get too big for a series of 15 minute slots.  Or, we have left it too late and we have to do it in one fell swoop.  If nothing else, this is what university life teaches you.  Work little and often.  And begin.  Begin before you are ready.

To get into a comfortable working rhythm, we need to

  • Establish priorities (ONE, and two, three – no more)
  • Do what we are judged on first, before the house gets noisy.
  • Then do the feeder tasks during the day.

The solution is not reducing procrastination.  The solution is knowing our career priorities.  What are we judged on?  If we are judged on published papers, then we need to go one step back – where do they come from – we write them.  So writing is the main task.

How do we write?  Well, while we are writing one article, we are preparing for the next.  But without interfering with the main task.  Which is done in small time slots, little and often, beginning immediately.  The writing is the main task that must be protected.

The trick is understanding our priorities.  But that is hard.  A good mentor might spell out what we need to do.  Until w have those 3 priorities clear in our mind, then we will  be stressed and uncomfortable.

If we are in a readjustment phase,  and not clear about our priorities, we might have to weather the discomfort for while, but we shouldn’t let that stop us moving towards that clarity.  That is the hallmark of success and a comfortable, achieving life.  Clear priorities.

What will I work on daily, little-and-often?

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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The wandering university teacher

Displaced from my own country, I have been “on the road” now for 7 years.  In that time, I have taught at five different universities and colleges with quite different characters.  They have varied from the old to the new.  Students have come from all over the world.  And the staff ‘gave a damn’, or ‘didn’t’.

What my experiences have taught me is that there is a steep learning curve adjusting to the culture of a school.  ‘Old’ universities allowed for this by having long settling in periods.  People did not have a full teaching load at the outset and their responsibilities in other areas were reduced too.  There was often elaborate support outside the college with subsidized housing, sports facilities, etc.

17 ways to get a new lecturer up-to-speed quickly

In these days when colleges churn their staff and try to make every penny out of them that they can, it makes sense to manage the learning curve of their lecturers and professors.  This is what I have learned from my moves.

  1. Allocate some time to learn the culture of your school.   Arrange for people to observe various classes and pick up what works and what doesn’t.  I had the opportunity to do that at one school and something as simple as walking away from the podium into the audience, where the light was better, seemed to make students with happier.  I suspect students are sensitive to lecturer’s facial expressions and they need to see our faces.
  2. Have communication channels and time available for lecturers to hear and react to students reactions to classes.   Whatever method you choose, don’t divert student reactions to junior tutors or managers, neither of whom can pass feedback  on effectively.  When they receive feedback, positive or negative, their job should be to facilitate a meeting and direct communication.  In the days of the intranet, chatter channels where the lecturer is also a member, work quite well.
  3. Have people in the building who speak the students’ first language and are sufficiently comfortable with other cultures to explain differences in expectations without provoking defensiveness.
  4. Be honest about the level of your school.  As a general rule of thumb, over-ambition kills a teaching initiative. We cannot do more than the skills of students allow.  We cannot do more than the equipment and libraries support.  The dumbing-down happens not when we get students to take the next step in their learning curve.  The dumbing-down happens when we define a highfaluting curriculum and have to pretend students are doing tasks that are way-over-their-heads.  This seems to be a fault of weaker schools who are trying to pretend they are something they are not.
  5. Identify the teaching unit.  I taught a 2 hour class in one school and contended with 20 emails a day on its administration.  On the whole it is better to let one person start and finish something.  If one person cannot manage course from beginning to end, break it up into two courses!  What you spend on lecturer costs, you will surely save on admin and managing misunderstandings.
  6. Keep the degree structure simple.   The more students are swirling around registering and deregistering, the more admin you have to do and the harder it is to relate to them as people.  When you have complicated systems, the school begins to be run by the admin staff and lecturers increasingly stop being teachers.

And also consider the absolute basics

When I arrive to take up a new appointment, these are the minimum and not very demanding facilities that I need to be effective.

  1. A clean desk and 10 hour rated chair, a bookshelf, a new internet-enabled computer, and a lockable filing cabinet in an office that I can work in quietly, tutor students and leave my personal possessions and half-written exam papers quite safely.
  2. A file with the regulations that pertain to the course.
  3. A clear map of the computer servers and any information that I might need.
  4. A visit from IT to set up any passwords that I might need.
  5. Students enrolled and present no later than 10% into the course.
  6. A list of any other resources I have (budget, printing press, photocopiers, etc.)
  7. Library access and an opportunity to tour the library.
  8. Any previously prescribed textbooks and material.
  9. A written brief on the culture of the school.  If it is not written down, then do not be surprised when we trip over it!
  10. If there is a course manual, have the material presented in one place.  What I don’t want to see an idiosyncratic syllabus with a “goals” for students, then a “text”, then questions and model answers, then another set of goals for the lecturer, then another set of suggestions for class.  This is nonsense.  The text is the model answer and the questions answered by the text are the questions.  One manual should do the trick.
  11. Examinations should have the same assessment process as the in-term assessment.  If the students will write essays in the exam, then the continuous assessment should be essays, etc.  The examination should reflect the skill we are assessing and that is what students should be practicing during the term and that is what the classes and textbook should model.  If students cannot make the step-up to the assessment within a month of the course beginning, then perhaps the course should be redesigned.  The following two months should be for a repeat cycle with fresh content but the same skill.  The last month should be for revision.

Paradoxically, in the olden days when people moved in and hung about for decades, these facilities might have been in place.  Now that ‘managers’ have speeded-up the churn, they can’t always keep up with the business model that they have put in place.

My list of 17 as a gift to you.

    HRM in the long recovery

    People are starting to look for ideas on how to manage HRM during the (long) recovery.  Here is my best hunch.   Once we have gone past keeping the firm positive, which I’ve written about quite extensively, then we have to go back to some basic strategic HRM.  You know, the ‘hard’ stuff.  What we make around here.  Who buys it.  Who makes it.  The numbers.

    Here are 4 questions to set you on the road to asking about HRM strategy.

    Productivity 2.0 vs Productivity 1.0

    Does the company work assembly-line style? Is its central idea that the world will deliver a steady stream of repetitive work that you will do exactly as you did yesterday?

    OR does the company work with a variety of demands, working with the customers to streamline what they want?

    Does the company rely on a few people to think up work processes which are designed and then handed over to staff to execute, no matter what feedback is received from the market?

    OR does the company center the work around feedback from the market?

    Of course, once you have answered these questions, you do need to figure out what to do next.  But if you are clear about these questions, you are well on the way to cutting out 80% of the muddle that we see in HR.

    As Once the Winged Energy of Delight

    As once the winged energy of delight
    carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
    now beyond your own life build the great
    arch of unimagined bridges.

    Wonders happen if we can succeed
    in passing through the harshest danger;
    but only in a bright and purely granted
    achievement can we realize the wonder.

    To work with Things in the indescribable
    relationship is not too hard for us;
    the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
    and being swept along is not enough.

    Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
    until they span the chasm between two
    contradictions…For the god
    wants to know himself in you.

    Rainer Maria Rilke

    For the god wants to know himself in you

    As we approach the end of the year, many of us will be trying desperately to clear our desks so that we can take a few days off to be with our families.

    Many of our tasks will be tedious.   And our “to do” lists will be long.

    This is the time to take each task “as it is”, one at a time, to do it with pleasure, not thinking about the other tasks, disregarding our fatigue for a moment, and to see the link between our task and our deepest dreams, not in a tortured way, but with the delight of a child.

    We need to do the task with a caress and a verve “For the god wants to know himself in you.”

    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?”

    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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