Tag: productivity (page 1 of 3)

Systems change

Over the last 15 years that I’ve been in the workplace, I’ve worked in a variety of organisations. One thing I’ve found is that those that are poor at change management are sub-standard in other ways. That makes sense, of course, because life = change.

There’s a whole host of ways to understand change within organisations. Some people seem to think that applying the same template everywhere leads to good outcomes. They’re often management consultants. Others think that every context is so different that you just have to go with your gut.

I’m of the opinion that there are heuristics we can use to make our lives easier. Yes, every situation and every organisation is different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t apply some rules of thumb. That’s why I like this ‘Managing Complex Change Model’ from Lippitt (1987), which I discovered by going down a rabbithole on a blog post from Tom Critchlow to a blog called ‘Intense Minimalism’.

The diagram, included above is commented upon by

  • Confusion → lack of Vision: note that this can be a proper lack of vision, or the lack of understanding of that vision, often due to poor communication and syncrhonization [sic] of the people involved.
  • Anxiety → lack of Skills: this means that the people involved need to have the ability to do the transformation itself and even more importantly to be skilled enough to thrive once the transformation is completed.
  • Resistance → lack of Incentives: incentives are important as people tend to have a big inertia to change, not just for fear generated by the unknown, but also because changing takes energy and as such there needs to be a way to offset that effort.
  • Frustration → lack of Resources: sometimes change requires very little in terms of practical resources, but a lot in terms of time of the individuals involved (i.e. to learn a new way to do things), lacking resources will make progress very slow and it’s very frustrating to see that everything is aligned and ready, but doesn’t progress.
  • False Starts → lack of Action Plan: action plans don’t have to be too complicated, as small transformative changes can be done with little structure, yet, structure has to be there. For example it’s very useful to have one person to lead the charge, and everyone else agreeing they are the right person to make things happen.

I’d perhaps use different words, as anxiety can be cause by a lot more than not having the skills within your team. But, otherwise, I think it’s a solid overview and good reminder of the fundamental building blocks to system change.

Source: Intense Minimalism (via Tom Critchlow)

Work-life balance is actually a circle, according to Jeff Bezos

Whatever your thoughts about Amazon, it’s hard to disagree that they’ve changed the world. Their CEO, Jeff Bezos, has some thoughts about what’s usually termed ‘work-life balance’:

This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon too. But especially the people coming in. I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy.

Of course, if you work from home (as I do) being happy at home is crucial to being happy at work.

I like his metaphor of a circle, about it not being a trade-off or ‘balance’:

It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance. And I think that is worth everybody paying attention to it. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who’s that person — who as soon as they come into a meeting they drain all the energy out of the room. You can just feel the energy go whoosh! You don’t want to be that guy. You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.

All of the most awesome people I know have nothing like a work-life ‘balance’. Instead, they work hard, play hard, and tie that to a mission bigger than themselves.

Whether that’s true for the staff on targets in Amazon warehouses is a different matter, of course. But for knowledge workers, I think it’s spot-on.

Source: Chicago Tribune

The virtue of rest

This article in The Washington Post is, inevitably, focused on American work culture. However, I think it’s more widely applicable, even if we are a bit more chilled out in Europe.

Many victories of the labor movement were premised on the precise notion that the majority of one’s life shouldn’t be made up of work: It was the socialist Robert Owen who championed the eight-hour workday, coining the slogan “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” For Owen, it was important not only that workers had time to sleep after a hard day’s labor, but also that they had time to pursue their own interests — to enjoy leisure activities, cultivate their own projects, spend time with their families and so forth. After all, a life with nothing but work and sleep is akin to slavery, and not particularly dignified.

Most mornings, I wake up rested and ready for work. Like most people, there are some mornings that I don’t. Unsurprisingly, the mornings when I don’t feel ready for work are those that follow days when I’ve had to do more work-related tasks than usual.

There’s a balance to be struck where it comes to work and rest, but in the United States, values and laws are already slanted drastically in favor of work. I would advise those concerned about Americans’ dignity, freedom and independence to not focus on compelling work for benefits or otherwise trying to marshal people into jobs when what they really need are health care, housing assistance, unemployment benefits and so forth.

I’m reading Utopia for Realists at the moment, which has some excellent suggestions. It presents some startlingly-simple, well-researched ways forward. I think my favourite part is where the author, Rutger Bregman, points out that people who are in need require direct help, rather than complex schemes.

The same goes with our so-called ‘work-life’ balance. What we actually need for a flourishing, healthy society and democracy is more rest. As Alex Pang, author of the book Rest notes, leisure is usually framed these days as a way to get more work done. Instead, we should value it for its own sake.

Source: The Washington Post

How to be super-productive

Not a huge sample size, but this article has studied what makes ‘super-productive’ people tick:

We collected data on over 7,000 people who were rated by their manager on their level of their productivity and 48 specific behaviors. Each person was also rated by an average of 11 other people, including peers, subordinates, and others. We identified the specific behaviors that were correlated with high levels of productivity — the top 10% in our sample — and then performed a factor analysis.

Here’s the list of seven things that came out of the study:

  1. Set stretch goals
  2. Show consistency
  3. Have knowledge and technical expertise
  4. Drive for results
  5. Anticipate and solve problems
  6. Take initiative
  7. Be collaborative

In my experience, you could actually just focus on helping people with three things:

  • Show up
  • Be proactive
  • Collaborate

That’s certainly been my experience of high-performers over my career so far!

Source: Harvard Business Review (via Ian O’Byrne)

Ryan Holiday’s 13 daily life-changing habits

Articles like this are usually clickbait with two or three useful bits of advice that you’ve already read elsewhere, coupled with some other random things to pad it out. That’s not the case with Ryan Holiday’s post, which lists:

  1. Prepare for the hours ahead
  2. Go for a walk
  3. Do the deep work
  4. Do a kindness
  5. Read. Read. Read.
  6. Find true quiet
  7. Make time for strenuous exercise
  8. Think about death
  9. Seize the alive time
  10. Say thanks — to the good and bad
  11. Put the day up for review
  12. Find a way to connect to something big
  13. Get eight hours of sleep

I’m doing pretty well on all of these at the moment, except perhaps number eleven. I used to ‘call myself into the office‘ each month. Perhaps I should start doing that again?

 

Source: Thought Catalog

All killer, no filler

This short posts cites a talk entitled 10 Timeframes given by Paul Ford back in 2012:

Ford asks a deceivingly simple question: when you spend a portion of your life (that is, your time) working on a project, do you take into account how your work will consume, spend, or use portions of other lives? How does the ‘thing’ you are working on right now play out in the future when there are “People using your systems, playing with your toys, [and] fiddling with your abstractions”?

In the talk, Ford mentions that in a 200-seat auditorium, his speaking for an extra minute wastes over three hours of human time, all told. Not to mention those who watch the recording, of course.

When we’re designing things for other people, or indeed working with our colleagues, we need to think not only about our own productivity but how that will impact others. I find it sad when people don’t do the extra work to make it easier for the person they have the power to impact. That could be as simple as sending an email that, you know, includes the link to the think being referenced. Or it could be an entire operating system, a building, or a new project management procedure.

I often think about this when editing video: does this one-minute section respect the time of future viewers? A minute multiplied by the number of times a video might be video suddenly represents a sizeable chunk of collective human resources. In this respect, ‘filler’ is irresponsible: if you know something is not adding value or meaning to future ‘consumers,’ then you are, in a sense, robbing life from them. It seems extreme to say that, yes, but hopefully the contemplating the proposition has not wasted your time.

My son’s at an age where he’s started to watch a lot of YouTube videos. Due to the financial incentives of advertising, YouTubers fill the first minute (at least) with tell you what you’re going to find out, or with meaningless drivel. Unfortunately, my son’s too young to have worked that out for himself yet. And at eleven years old, you can’t just be told.

In my own life and practice, I go out of my way to make life easier for other people. Ultimately, of course, it makes life easier for me. By modelling behaviours that other people can copy, you’re more likely to be the recipient of time-saving practices and courteous behaviour. I’ve still a lot to learn, but it’s nice to be nice.

Source: James Shelley (via Adam Procter)

The ‘1, 2, 3’ approach to organising your working day

I subscribe to the free version of Stowe Boyd’s Work Futures newsletter. He’s jumped around platforms a bit when I think he’d be better off charging a smaller amount for a larger audience on Patreon.

Boyd’s latest post talks about how he approaches his work, a subject I find endlessly fascinating.

I basically employ three styles of work journaling:

  1. On a daily basis, I plan and track my work with the ‘1, 2, 3′ technique.
  2. On a weekly basis, I plan and track using the ‘must, should, might’ technique.
  3. On ‘agenda’ projects, I plan and track using the ‘do, do, do’ technique. I use the term ‘agenda’ to distinguish with the short-range calendar orientation of daily and weekly projects. This will make more sense, later on.

Breaking down that ‘1, 2, 3’ technique, he notes that (like me) he’s realised there’s only a certain amount you can sustainably get done in one day:

Specifically, I have learned that I can do the following:

  1. One major activity, such as working for a few hours on client research, or writing for a few hours. This is the ‘1′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
  2. Two medium sized activities, like a 45 minute phone call, or doing an hour-long webinar. This is the ‘2′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
  3. Three short activities, taking less than 45 minutes. This is the ‘3′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.

I’m not sure how many hours per day Boyd works, but I bet it varies. What I like about this approach is that having a ‘major activity’ that you check off each day makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. A day full of short and medium-sized activities feels somewhat wasted.

Source: Work Futures

The spectrum of work autonomy

Some companies have (and advertise as a huge perk) their ‘unlimited vacation’ policy. That, of course, sounds amazing. Except, of course, that there’s a reason why companies are so benevolent.

I can think of at least two:

  1. Your peers will exert downward pressure on the number of holidays you actually take.
  2. If there’s no set holiday entitlement, when you leave the company doesn’t have to pay for unused holiday days.

This article by Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian uses the unlimited vacation policy as an example of the difference between two ends of the spectrum when it comes to jobs.

And that, increasingly, is the dividing line in modern workplaces: trust versus the lack of it; autonomy versus micro-management; being treated like a human being or programmed like a machine. Human jobs give the people who do them chances to exercise their own judgment, even if it’s only deciding what radio station to have on in the background, or set their own pace. Machine jobs offer at best a petty, box-ticking mentality with no scope for individual discretion, and at worst the ever-present threat of being tracked, timed and stalked by technology – a practice reaching its nadir among gig economy platforms controlling a resentful army of supposedly self-employed workers.

Never mind robots coming to steal our jobs, that’s just a symptom in a wider trend of neoliberal, late-stage capitalism:

There have always been crummy jobs, and badly paid ones. Not everyone gets to follow their dream or discover a vocation – and for some people, work will only ever be a means of paying the rent. But the saving grace of crummy jobs was often that there was at least some leeway for goofing around; for taking a fag break, gossiping with your equally bored workmates, or chatting a bit longer than necessary to lonely customers.

The ‘contract’ with employers these days goes way beyond the piece of paper you sign that states such mundanities as how much you will be paid or how much holiday you get. It’s about trust, as Hinsliff comments:

The mark of human jobs is an increasing understanding that you don’t have to know where your employees are and what they’re doing every second of the day to ensure they do it; that people can be just as productive, say, working from home, or switching their hours around so that they are working in the evening. Machine jobs offer all the insecurity of working for yourself without any of the freedom.

Embedded in this are huge diversity issues. I purposely chose a photo of a young white guy to go with the post, as they’re disproportionately likely to do well from this ‘trust-based’ workplace approach. People of colour, women, and those with disabilities are more likely to suffer from implicit bias and other forms of discrimination.

The debate about whether robots will soon be coming for everyone’s jobs is real. But it shouldn’t blind us to the risk right under our noses: not so much of people being automated out of jobs, as automated while still in them.

I consume a lot of what I post to Thought Shrapnel online, but I originally red this one in the dead-tree version of The Guardian. Interestingly, in the same issue there was a letter from a doctor by the name of Jonathan Shapiro, who wrote that he divides his colleagues into three different types:

  1. Passionate
  2. Dispassionate
  3. Compassionate

The first group suffer burnout, he said. The second group survive but are “lousy”. It’s the third group that cope, as they “care for patients without sacrificing themselves on the altar of professional vocation”.

What we need to be focusing on in education is preparing young people to be compassionate human beings, not cogs in the capitalist machine.

Source: The Guardian

Do the tools you use matter?

An interesting post from Austin Kleon on whether tools matter. It was prompted by the image accompanying this post, which met with some objections when he shared it with others:

On my Instagram, a follower was very upset with the above cartoon, saying it was “mean” and “hurtful” and not smart and ungrateful to my fans, and that I should try to “remember what it was like to be a beginner.”

He defends his position, partly by telling stories, but also by stating:

There are actually very good reasons for not wanting to teach young artists. There are good reasons for not answering a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” or questions about process at all.

If you are just starting off and I tell you exactly how I work, right down to the brand of pen and notebook, I am, in a some small sense, robbing you of the experience of finding your own materials and your own way of working.

It’s been interesting seeing Bryan Mathers’ journey over the last five years. I’ve seen him go from using basic apps which work ‘just fine’ to reaching the limits of those and having to upgrade to more powerful stuff. That’s a voyage of discovery, but along the way it’s absolutely useful to find out what other people use.

Kleon points out that we can do better than tool-related questions:

So, yes, the tools matter, but again, it’s all about what you are trying to achieve. So a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” is not as good as “How do you get that thick line quality?” or “How do you dodge Writer’s Block?”

I’m a fan of a great site called Uses This (formerly ‘The Setup’) which asks a range of people the hardware and software they use to get stuff done. The interviews are always structured around the same four questions, but the best responses are ones that take the idea and run with it a bit.

Note to self: update the version of this I did back in 2011.

Source: Austin Kleon

Your best decisions don’t come when you demand them

As with every episode so far, I greatly enjoyed listening to a recent episode of the Hurry Slowly podcast, this time with interviewee Bill Duggan. He had some great words of wisdom to share, including:

If we’re talking about the creative side, you certainly can’t force it, and a very simple thing is you can’t solve every problem in one day. You can’t solve every problem in one week. You can’t solve every problem in one year. Some problems you just can’t solve, and you don’t know you can’t solve it until you give up trying to solve it.

He makes the point during the episode that if you know what you’re doing, and have done something similar before, then there’s no problem in pushing on until midnight to get stuff done. However, if you’re working overtime to try and solve a problem, a lot of research suggests that you’d be better off doing something else to allow your subconscious to work on it, and spark those ‘aha!’ moments.

Source: Hurry Slowly