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Category Archives: Effective Practices

Have you ever had one of those days – you know, when you are soooo busy that you’ve been running from meeting to meeting, squeezing in reading, analysis and writing to meet a deadline (or two). You’ve barely taken a break and end up eating lunch at your desk while plugging away. Of course  the day also included a few “quick” questions via e-mail, phones calls and people stopping by your desk. By quitting time you feel you’ve had it – but you take  few “minutes” more to finish up that last thing you were working on. You are fatigued!

As you finish off that last item and get ready to go you notice a few pieces of paper around your desk that you didn’t have time to  file away, as you quickly jumped from one appointment to the next all day. Maybe there are also a couple of binders open on your desk –  you had found some information you’d been looking for, but hadn’t got pulled away before actually reading it. You tell yourself that you may as well leave those binders right where they are, so in the morning (“first thing in the morning”) you can  pick up where you left off and read that information. Maybe you also notice 30 e-mails you had received during the day that you don’t really need and should delete from you inbox or at least move to an archive folder. Oh yah, there are also half a dozen mental notes you mad during the day that you intend to add to your task list. But you are wiped out, exhausted –  do you hang around for another 10 or 15 minutes to clean up all this debris, knowing that the 15 minutes will likely turn into 30 minutes given your fatigue-reduced efficiencies (not to mention potential distractions and sidetracks). Or,  do you just call it a day, crawl out the door and count on tomorrow being less manic.

Okay, and tomorrow is not less crazy – it’s another day just the same and you end the day in exhaustion with another pile of  papers and e-mails to file away and that binder still sitting open on the corner of your desk. You again walk away exhausted at the end of the day with the best intentions of cleaning up tomorrow.  And so it goes, day after day – you realize these aren’t “busier”  days, theses are the norm. Unfortunately your normal response  has been not to take the 15 minutes at the end of the day to put your workspace in order and not surprisingly that clutter ends up reducing you’re efficiency and compounding the problem!

Maybe you rationalize that things will eventually slow down, some condition which has been causing the craziness fill be alleviated. At worst you tell yourself that come the summer, things will slow down and then you will get caught up and organized again (and then you will never let it happen again). So let s do the math – how much will things have to slowdown, how much free time will you need in order to clear up the back log from the daily 15 minutes that you did not put in?

Just 15 minutes per day adds up, never mind the compounding effect of the cost of being disorganized. If you decided to clean up at the the end of the week, say by coming into the office on Saturday, you are looking at an hour and a quarter – okay, that’s manageable but add in commuting time to and from the office and you’ve probably wiped out half of your Saturday – so maybe that’s not so attractive to you and you don’t take that option. If you played catch-up once a month you are looking at 5 solid hours (at least) of reviewing papers, re-reading old e-mails and making a decision on each of those items.

If you adopt the approach of waiting for that quiet time “in summer” to get caught up for the year – well your 15 minutes per day has now accumulated to 60 hours! If you did absolutely nothing but deal with your “end-of-the-day” filing backlog you would need a week and a half. Realistically you are probably talking about 2 solid weeks, IF you could turn off the tap of your normal daily work flow – sure it might slow down but go completely away for two weeks – it is not going to happen!

At this point you are probably expecting me to deliver the big solution – but I don’t have one – not an easy, universal one. The starting point is to recognize the hole that you will be digging for yourself  by deferring a necessary daily activity. Depending on the cause you may need assistance, better processes, to become better at saying no, different office hours etc. Look for your root causes but don’t overlook the reality that a simple 10 or 15 minute activity deferred can add up to a big demoralizing efficiency-robbing, hard-to-get-out-of situation.

Have you been in this situation? Do you have any solutions to share, that worked for you?

This week I’ve been listening to an audiobook Accidental Genius, Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, by Mark Levy. The title and description caught my eye and by the time I’d listened to the introduction I was saying to myself “this is going to be good; this is what I need!” I have long wanted to be a better writer and to write more and by following the suggestions and exercises in this book I am confident I will achieve those goals.

The basic premise of the book is built around the activity of “free writing” (what the author had called private writing in the first edition of the book). Free writing is an unstructured, uncensored, unedited flow of your thoughts to paper or keyboard. The idea may be nothing new – it sounds similar to the  practice of daily jounalling or the “morning pages” that I heard about in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist Way. Levy contends (and I believe) that we have enormous creativity  and answers to problems with in us. The trick is to draw them out of us so we can discover and use them. This book breaks down some simple techniques for doing just that. The insights gained through these practices will be of value whether one wants to solve business problems or actually produce “writing” – anywwhere on the continuum from a blog to a novel.

I have just listened to this book once but  I recommend it. I will soon start a second listen as I begin my own daily free writing practice. I am also giving thought to picking up a hard copy of the book for easier reference.

For more info, visit this link for the Fast Company blog/Interview with Mark Levy about the book.

Hear and see the author, Mark Levy, himself describe his book in this 3 minute YouTube video.

If this topic interests you I also recommend that you visit Mark Levy’s website/blog, Levy Innovation, which (as I write this)  includes a link to download Levy’s free e-book “List Making as a Tool of Thought Leadership”

 

Are you a regular writer? Have you read/listened to this book – what do you think about it?

I’ve been listening to an audiobook this weekend and it has struck a chord with what I think about job satisfaction, so I want to share it with you.
The book is not new, in fact it came out in 2007. The book is The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. As with five other books by Lencioni, this one is presented in the form of a fable, a fictional tale. This makes the content immensely listenable and therefore the message is easy to absorb  . Lencioni follows up the fable with a summary of the key points.

The three factors which make a job miserable are:

  1. anonymity – the employee  feels unknown by their manager and not personally recognized by the organization.
  2. irrelevance – the employee does not know who their work impacts or how.
  3. immeasurability – the employee does not know how to assess their own progress or success in the job

While I agree with what this book says there is one aspect which I feel worth emphasizing. When it comes to making a job measurable it is very important to have meaningful metrics. The measures must pertain to the service the job offers to those who are served. I believe that the counting of  meaningless things just because they can be easily counted could indeed be counterproductive and indeed contribute to an employee’s feeling of irrelevance.

Lencioni makes the point that  all these factors seem to be just common sense, but nonetheless they are largely ignored even thought dealing with them is relatively straight forward.

This book is directed mainly at managers and it applies equally to all managers of people, from frontline supervisors to CEOs. The content is however also of interest and valuable to anyone who works in a job. If all else fails, if your managers aren’t looking out for you, you can and have to take your job satisfaction onto your own hands as best you can – and if that means finding another job, this book will give you ideas of what to look for so you don’t end up in another miserable job.

You can learn more about Lencioni’s theory by:

As I opened off saying, I liked this book and fully expect I will be giving it a repeat listen in the not too distant future.

I use a simple 3-tier filing system for efficiently handling paper files at my desk and to help minimize desk top clutter.

1. On my desktop I have a file holder to keep close at hand the files that I am working on that day. These are the documents that I should be able to find in a hurry. I should have no more than half a dozen files here at any one time. The real trick is to prevent an accumulation of files in this desktop holder. If the file is not expected to be accessed that day it should be relocated to a drawer for active files (my second tier). I empty this holder at the end of the day, then re-stock it the next morning with what I will be working on that day.

2. The second tier of my file handling system is a small under-desk file drawer. Here I keep all of my currently active files. I may not be working on that file today but there is still work to be done before it is concluded. I also ensure that if a file does not pertain to an activity or project with a definitive end point, then it does not belong here. Everyday I will pull from this drawer the few files that I expect to need for the day and put them in my desktop holder.

3. The third tier of my file system is my Archives. For this I keep a large four drawer filing cabinet to store all inactive files. This will include files from completed projects and activities as well as collected resource info that might be useful for some future project.

This system of mine has developed over time and it may still be refined but I think it is a good enough system that I don’t hesitate in recommending that you give it a try.