flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘productivity

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.

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!

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?

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?

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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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.

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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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.

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!

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?


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