September 17, 2014
Quicker Decision Making
Everyone has to make decisions. Some of those decisions are big, life-altering types of choices. Some decisions are mini half-second opinions. Most of us make those micro decisions quickly and without much thought. But when it comes to the large decisions we hesitate. If we’re honest with ourselves sometimes we wait too long. It doesn’t really matter whether we know the right choice already, we still wait. Sometimes this comes from a fear of failure, but sometimes it comes simply because we don’t like the idea of change.
Wait! I’m not going down that rabbit trail. I am talking today about a different aspect of decision making. Making the hard business decisions. Doing what you know should be done but have waited to do. Procrastinating on decisions already determined. Got it? I’m not talking about rushing into decisions which should be discussed, reviewed, and debated with team members. These are the decisions you’ve already made but don’t implement.
Delaying the inevitable
I’d like to look at only those decisions where you already know the answer or the choice you need to make. To be clear – I’m not debating the question, doubt, or uncertainty of whether or not a decision should be made or a change should be undertaken. I’ve written about that in other posts. Today is looking specifically at those times when you know the right decision but you hesitate in making it. You are only delaying the inevitable. Here’s three ways to help make quicker decisions.
1. Listen to Others
I’m writing this post directly from personal experience. Recently I had to implement a new software solution in the office. We needed just the right system. There were several available options we found on GitHub (because we love open source). I was evaluating them and almost immediately there were some questions raised in regards to one solution. It was written in a different language and required a unique server setup. But I liked it. It looked “pretty” and it seemed like it would do what I wanted. Almost 16 work hours later..I gave up on it. This particular solution just wasn’t ready and if I had listened more to others I might not have tried to make it work as long as I did.
2. Watch the Clock
I touched briefly on this point in the previous paragraph. As you are working through your choices and following your first-choice decision keep an eye on the time you’ve spent. Don’t forget that if you have multiple people working with you on your project then you have to account for all those hours. Yesterday it was two of us working through my first choice and therefore the time spent was doubled. Keeping a close eye on the amount of time spent as you pursue your choice will help you as you determine whether or not you should continue. Quicker decision making means being ready to pull the plug on something and move on if your time involved becomes too great. Be decisive. Be ultra-controlling of your time.
3. Learn from Past
This is a quote by Albert Einstein which I absolutely love. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We laugh and believe we would never be that way but the reality is too often in every day decision making we do this very thing. It’s insane. We believe we have the answers and we forget the lessons we’ve learned in the past. We can help make our decision making better and faster if we learn from our past.
I believe I am making quicker decisions than I used to make. Of course remember I am referring to those decisions where I already know I need to make the decision but procrastinate in actually doing so. It’s a learning process. It’s probably a never-ending learning process. More (and better) experiences help to re-enforce a constant observance of how to improve decision making processes.
By the way, we did scrap my first choice and move to a better solution. The results have been fantastic. The new tool ends up being far far better. I only wish I had been even quicker in my decision making and done what I new would be better earlier; but oh well, live and learn.
Keep this in mind. You only have so much time. Your life is limited and your time is the most valuable asset you have. Don’t squander it. Especially when you already know the decision which needs to be made.
September 8, 2014
Movement or Action
We all know people who are so busy they meet themselves coming as they are going. The frantic, fast-paced lifestyle tends to be a badge of honor amongst United States workers especially. If we’re ragged, worn, and constantly moving then we must be successful or at the very least critically important. But this great quote by Ernest Hemingway comes to mind frequently in those situations.
“Never mistake movement for action.”
– Ernest Hemingway
As a society (and again because of my geographic location I will focus heavily on the United States) Americans seem to have lost the concept of action and replaced it with movement. I see people who are consumed with staying busy rather than productive. Being busy is not the same as productive. Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you are active. Or rather, just because you are moving does not mean you have taken action.
I am important
I realize staying busy gives a sense of importance, of self-worth, and of the vital role we must play within our jobs if we are so busy we cannot stop to eat. But if we are not measuring our outcomes and pointing to our performance as proof of our movement’s value then we are merely moving for the sake of moving. We’re merely being busy. Here are 3 quick ways you can check to see if you have movement or action.
Work for a purpose
The first thing I check when I am feeling extremely busy is what I am working towards. What is the purpose or goal of what i’m doing? Is there a reason why I am so busy and not just why I am busy but more importantly – what am I hoping to accomplish. And I force myself to be specific. I can’t use excuses such as, “I’ve got to keep my job” or “Someone has to do these things.” Those generic reasons are not a purpose for movement. Those generic answers are excuses.
A better purpose for movement would be something like – “I am working this much or I am this busy because I have a deadline with an investor scheduled for Monday at 9am and I must get X, Y, and Z done beforehand.” A reason like this not only proves you are moving with purpose but also helps you to refine your tasks to better accomplish the goal.
When I find myself incredibly busy I will most days evaluate my progress at the end of each day. This helps me ensure I’m actually doing something profitable. I want to work for a purpose and I want to be sure I’m not simply moving. If I am making progress on my goals then I know I am doing it right. When those times come where I get to the end of a day and feel mentally and physically exhausted but cannot point to clear progress made throughout the day I realize I’ve been moving too much.
There’s something important in that last sentence. When I get to the end of a day and cannot point to clear progress…to be able to point to progress means I must have a set of goals or a purpose to my work. Not just “make it through the day” (though sometimes I admit that sounds like a hard enough job in and of itself). But rather I must set out to accomplish clearly defined goals which will help me to arrive at my final completed work. I cannot evaluate my progress without them.
I’ll never forget the impact the father in the book Cheaper by the Dozen had on me. Frank Gilbreth was a time and motion study expert. I learned so many little ideas from that book. In fact I don’t want to go into too much detail about that now because I plan to write an entire post on him. The bottom line is simple. Always be looking for ways to improve your efficiency. I want to make sure I’m acting with a purpose and making progress, and doing all of it in the most efficient way possible. The more efficient I can become the more I can accomplish.
The goal is to be less busy and yet more productive. I want to increase my efficiency by scheduling tasks in the right order, by prioritizing my workflow and my meetings so each builds on the previous and the end result is progress and goal completion.
We all end up being busy at one point or another. We all end up moving at a ridiculously fast pace. I am certainly not speaking out against that. I’d be the worst offender of all if that were the case. Rather, I’m speaking out against movement without action. As Mr. Hemingway so aptly put we should never mistake the two. When we find ourselves the busiest this is when we should pause for a moment and evaluate ourselves. Use these three quick points to check and see if you are moving or active.
July 3, 2014
The Ultimate Productivity Tool
If you’re anything like me you have a list of tasks a mile long you need to complete. This list might exist in your email, your calendar, or possibly even just a piece of paper you’ve scribbled things down on. Bottom line, you have tasks. I have a secret to share with you. The ultimate productivity tool.
Did I get your attention? Here it is. You. That’s right. The ultimate resource at your disposal for getting things done is quite simply yourself. Why is it then so difficult to get things done and to be productive? Why do we spend so much time searching for the perfect app or the perfect tool to do the job? We seem to hope as if by some miracle we’ll find the project management tool that organizes things perfectly! (and even do the work for us)
Procrastinating Is Easy
I have found myself doing the same thing. Procrastinating but pretending I’m actually doing something useful. Productivity means not procrastinating. Sounds simple but as humans we’re extremely good at fooling ourselves. (Sometimes it seems we only fool ourselves). We procrastinate by claiming we’re looking for a better tool. Again, the tool is not going to get the job done for you. The tool merely organizes information.
Of course you need to use tools and you need to be organized and yes, there are different tools with different focuses, but if you spend all your time looking for a different tool which will help you more you’ll never get anything done.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Don’t spend more than 30 minutes looking for a new tool. If you can’t uncover something better than what you’re currently using in 30 minutes stop looking and get back to working. You can always look again later.
Busy Does Not Mean Productive
We tend to trick ourselves into thinking if we’re doing something…doing anything…then we’re busy and we’re productive. In reality being busy is not productive. I often think the more I’m doing the less productive I actually am. Shouldn’t the most productive person be the one who does the least because when they do work they work efficiently and quickly? A productive person will be busy in short bursts rather than live in a continual state of busyness.
If you’re busy look at what is making you busy. Are you busy doing tasks or are you busy looking busy? If you’re busy doing tasks are you working smart? It takes thought to make sure you’re doing the right tasks and working effectively.
Practical application: Break your work time into distinct blocks of time and take breaks. Force yourself to stop and step away and come back. The goal is to get your mind disengaged and then re-engaged when you return. You want to make your time productive and work in short bursts of high efficiency instead of a continually busy frame of mind.
Don’t Chase Rabbits
There’s a number of other reasons why working in shorter time periods is smart. We’ve touched on one already. A second reason is the infamous rabbit trail. For me all it takes is a look up from my computer screen and I find myself hundreds of miles away and thinking about some completely random and totally unrelated topic. If you sit at your desk all day and never take a break you’re encouraging yourself to let your mind wander. Your brain needs breaks. If you don’t plan for breaks in activity then your brain will take its own break whenever it pleases.
There are numerous studies which outline the attention span for humans. And no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise – you need breaks. The key is not to try and fight the mental rabbit trails but to control when and where they occur. Enjoy the daydreaming. Great things can happen when you let your mind wander.
Practical application: Don’t attempt to keep your mind from wandering, instead try to keep your day dreaming to those times you have set aside as breaks. Stay focused on your tasks while you’re in your work block of time. If something drifts across your mind, write it down so you’ll remember it for later. Then get back to work. When your breaks do come, change your scenery (get up), change your posture (move around), and change your mind (chase those rabbits).
The last productivity tip we’ll talk about is doing versus talking. Of course planning is important and you must be thoughtful about what you do. But this does not mean you should spend your entire time discussing your options or reviewing every possible outcome. If you spend all your time analyzing and debating your course of action, you’ll never have a course of action. It’s a balancing act between discussing and doing. (I wrote about these two roles in a separate blog here.)
When you find your time being spent discussing and debating every task and the way each task should be completed; it’s time for a change. (Keep in mind the talking can be just with yourself!) Stop talking and start doing. Even if you find out later there’s a better way you could have done the task. The goal is progress (forward progress).
Practical application: Keep a close eye on the time you spend between discussing the task and doing the task. If you start to elaborate too much or plan for every possible unknown then force yourself to pick a path and start work. Don’t lose time worrying over each and every decision. You can always make changes later.
Here’s the bottom line.
Most of us already know what it takes to be productive. We understand the steps necessary to get things done and we absolutely know the importance of using our time wisely. What we often fail at is implementing and following what we know. Hopefully these productivity tips will help affirm what you already know and encourage you to re-examine your workflow. It’s not the tool or the app which will make you successful and productive. It’s you.
Remember we’re all in this together.
July 2, 2014
5 Meetings You Should Always Cancel
Nothing has the potential to slow progress more than the perpetual organizing of meetings. Meetings kill momentum in a variety of ways and I’d like to look at a 5 meetings you should always cancel if you find yourself being asked to attend.
Meetings Kill Momentum
First let me say right away – meetings don’t have to be bad. Meetings serve a very important roles and can be used for making a great cohesive team. But careless meetings and unplanned meetings can absolutely ruin a team. Nothing has greater opportunity for disrupting progress then a poorly constructed meeting. Here’s a few of the major warning signs to avoid when implementing meetings. Avoid these common meeting pitfalls and you’ll have successful meetings with purpose and productivity.
The Eternal Meeting
Problem: This meeting type is the dreaded meeting without a definite length. Usually the eternal meeting is begun with good intentions, there may be some good points needing to be discussed and the various people involved simply want to give adequate time to each topic. In an effort to make sure no one feels rushed the meeting is given either an unbearably long duration or worse no ending time at all. The eternal meeting may also slip quickly into several of the other meeting types listed below.
Solution: I’ve read several different articles on the best length for a meeting. Some recommend setting a meeting length of 45 minutes. This gives enough time to share information but also encourages the meeting to stay on task and to the point in order to cover everything. I’d encourage you to look at taking that a bit further and plan your meetings to be 15 to 20 minutes max.
The Leaderless Meeting
Problem: The leaderless meeting is the meeting type where there is no clear moderator (or facilitator) and no clear note taker. The result is the conversation meanders aimlessly along without any direction or focus. The leaderless meeting is a complete time drain without a facilitator pushing the conversation towards a meaningful goal.
Solution: Every meeting should have a clearly defined facilitator and note taker. These two roles should be agreed upon and the people filling the positions should be capable of performing their duties. The moderator must be capable of keeping people on point while not stifling creativity or lively discussion.
The Impromptu Meeting
Problem: The impromptu meeting sounds like a good idea but never is. These meetings usually are last minute thoughts which very rarely give people enough time to prepare. Without adequate prep time the meeting participants lack clear direction and the ability to share their ideas or work effectively. Usually an impromptu meeting is also leaderless as well as eternal.
Solution: Plan your meeting times with enough lead time for the participants to prepare. In addition, be thoughtful about creating a meeting time and selecting a facilitator to run the meeting. Impromptu meetings don’t have to be bad but care must be taken to limit their length and have a clear focus and leader.
The Pointless Meeting
Problem: The pointless meeting is the meeting where nothing is decided upon; no outcome is defined and no definitive purpose has been created. These meetings typically start with good intentions. (e.g. We should meet every Friday at 4:00 PM to discuss the items accomplished this week) These meetings quickly become nothing more than a ritual and in the example above a rite of passage to get to the weekend. The pointless meeting is the worst waste of time as attendees are typically frowned upon for not attending and yet attendance does not mean progress will be made.
Solution: Never hold a meeting simply to maintain a schedule. If your meeting does not have a purpose or a goal then the meeting is unnecessary. Don’t waste time sitting in a meeting where the only purpose is to regurgitate information about the previous week. Send an email to share accomplishments instead. The pointless meeting hurts productivity tremendously if the participants must drop what they are doing to attend a meeting without a purpose. Organize meetings with purpose and timeframes.
The Missing Meeting
Problem: The missing meeting is the meeting where attendees fail to show. This meeting type is more difficult one to cancel early on as you may not know if everyone shows up until the meeting is about to begin. Remember a few things though.
First, since you no longer have the “pointless meetings” then there is no “standing” meeting time. Each meeting is for a specific and defined purpose. Second each meeting should have a clearly defined length and a moderator or facilitator ready to lead.
Solution: Plan meetings in advance so participants have the opportunity to respond with an RSVP. This way attendees can schedule the meeting on their agenda and prepare to attend. Never schedule recurring meetings. Never start impromptu meetings without an opportunity for people to plan to attend in advance.
If attendance for a particular meeting is going to be too low to accomplish anything productive – cancel the meeting.
If you find yourself in a situation where these types of meetings are occurring – do something about it. These types of meetings should never occur and should always be cancelled. They disrespect the time (and ultimately life) of the people expected to attend and they fail to accomplish anything productive.
There is nothing worse to the momentum of a project then to be bogged down in pointless and mind-numbing meetings. Don’t forget that meetings rarely contain the power to make a motion and carry a decision. If your meeting is not capable of reaching a definitive decision then seriously question the purpose of the meeting. Talking things out can be helpful for some but rarely serve any real purpose. Ultimately anything covered will be rehashed in the follow-up email and resulting email thread discussion.