Tag Archives: Productivity

Has your routine become a rut?

Carousel by Dominic Alves

Today I went out to lunch.

With my 2 year old.

For no reason.

It wasn’t a special occasion.  I wasn’t meeting a friend to “catch up”.  I just decided to stop at a restaurant before finishing our errands.  This may not sound that outlandish to some, but for me, it was something of a first.  See, I’m a person of routines.  I like my schedules.  I like having a plan.  And with a kid, this has served me well.  He and I know what to expect of each other.

And it works from a professional perspective, too.  I believe consistent work habits are crucial to accomplishing large tasks.  And a set routine frees one’s mind for important decisions and complex problem solving.

But being efficient only matters if you’re accomplishing something worthwhile.  Something meaningful.  Routines and habits are only half the battle.  You also need inspiration.

You need to mix it up.

Try something new.

Do things that remind you that life isn’t just a series of tasks to be checked off a list.

 

(Photo by Dominic Alves via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

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Deliberate Practice for Managers.

deliberate practice for managers
Today I am revisiting my very first post here on The Management Maven: Deliberate Practice for Managers.  I circle back to this topic often because I feel it is so important: 

Management, like any skill, needs to be practiced in order to achieve mastery

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Ever wonder what separates Tiger Woods from the average golfer?  Or Jimi Hendrix from the guy in your neighbor’s garage band?  Behold, the power of deliberate practice.  The basic idea is that star performers in music, sports or other fields are not born great; they rarely have some innate mental or physical advantage that average performers do not.  Their achievements are actually the result of hours upon hours of very targeted effort.  Skills are broken down into discrete blocks and those blocks are practiced regularly and with increasing intensity.  The performer seeks feedback and results are diligently recorded, tracked and analyzed for improvement.

How do we use this idea to improve our performance as managers?

Identify a single competency and focus on improving in that area until we achieve mastery.  Unlike perfecting a golf swing or a guitar riff, management may seem too complex to lend itself to task repetition.  But there are core skills, such as presenting information or facilitating a meeting, that can be honed until they become second nature.

Be careful observers of ourselves and others.  As we encounter management challenges, we can reflect on them in an analytical way.  “How did that interaction go?  What did I do well?  What could I have handled differently?”  We can record these observations and use them to gauge our progress over time.

Similarly, is there a peer or superior who is strong in a key management area?  Watch and record what makes them successful.  Reflect on it, analyze it, and try to bring those skills to your own work.  Perhaps that person can be enlisted as a personal mentor or coach.

Utilize “what-if” scenarios to analyze how we would handle challenging management situations.  Business schools often use case studies to help students solve real-world problems.  Using this approach in our management practice allows us to hone best-practices and refine our management philosophy.

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How about you?  How would you apply deliberate practice to management?

 

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Notes To Self: Tracking Your Deliberate Practice

 

How to fight job burn-out.

up in smoke

I have two friends who are struggling in their professional lives.  One loves his job.  One hates her job.  But both are feeling much the same: overwhelmed and burned-out.  They can’t seem to get on top of everything they need to do and they’re starting to feel that work is controlling their lives.  Perhaps you’re familiar with this feeling?

Here’s the advice I pulled together for both of my friends:

Keep work in its place.  Are you on your laptop right up until the time you go to bed?  Do you use your iPhone to check email before you get out of bed in the morning?  Stop that. Now.  I know, you need to do some work at home.  Most people do.  But give yourself some time to wind-down and turn off your work brain before climbing into bed.  It will help you sleep better and be more relaxed.  And yes, I know that occasionally you catch an issue before it escalates by checking email first thing in the morning.  But I’m willing to bet that most days everything can, and will, wait until you get to the office.  Buy an alarm clock so you can leave your phone outside your bedroom.  And buy a watch so you won’t be tempted to check-in every time you check the time.

Make lists.  Having a targeted task list is key to feeling in control of your work load.  Most productivity advice recommends keeping your list short- say 5 or 6 of the most important things you need to accomplish.  Adam Wik from Road to Epic lays out a brilliant strategy for beating apprehension and indecision (the twin demons of procrastination).  Read his post, then start taking time at the end of the day to prep your to-do list for the following day.  Then spend another 5 minutes listing the things you are grateful for.  Okay, I just heard you groan.  I know, I know.  But trust me, whether you love or hate your job, noting the many good things in your life will make work problems seem smaller and more manageable.  And, although it doesn’t always seem like it, time passes swiftly, my friends.  Keeping a gratitude journal will help you mark that passing and remember who you were at this point in time.

Practice mindfulness.  Being overwhelmed at work can make you feel out of control in all the other areas of your life as well.  Take time to center yourself and reclaim your sense of calm.  If a daily guided meditation isn’t your thing, maybe it’s a walk through the woods or listening to Coltrane in the dark.  But as Britt Reints beautifully points out, “the world spins no matter what we do”.  All we can truly control is how we respond to it.  And everything works better when we respond from a place of calm.

How about you?  What advice would you give to a friend struggling with job burn-out?

(Photo by Robert Bieber via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

5 big ideas I’m working into my 2014 project plan.

post it note joybot

There’s a lot of information out there in the blogosphere.  Some good.  Some almost good.  A lot… well, just… not good.  And even amongst the good, some ideas stick and some don’t.  But sometimes you find the information you need, just when you need it.  And those are the magic moments.

Here are a few ideas that are resonating with me as I draft my 2014 Project Plan:

1Why You Should Build a Habit of Writing Every Day from David Spinks:

“In a tech world where everything is constantly changing there’s one thing that has remained consistent for as long as we’ve had business and that’s writing.”

2How to be The Luckiest Guy on the Planet in 4 Easy Steps from James Altucher:

“The “idea muscle” atrophies within days if you don’t use it. Just like walking. If you don’t use your legs for a week, they atrophy. You need to exercise the idea muscle.”

3How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, as shared by Shane Parrish:

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.”

4Screw New Year’s Resolutions – Try Designing Your Career from Jennifer Dziura:

“Staring at a blank calendar page and then writing “exercise” or “creative writing class” or “study for the GRE” or “make a weeks’ worth of healthy meals” on it twelve times is an excellent way to gauge your real feelings about these things (and thus help to define your values).”

5The secret for keeping a New Year’s resolution: KPIs from Penelope Trunk:

“KPIs are humbling. They are not grand, change-the-world goals. They are small reminders of where you really are in this life.”


How about you?  What’s resonating with you as we approach the New Year?

(Photo by Sarah Joy via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Drafting My 2014 Project Plan

project plan

I have a mental process that tends to drive my husband crazy.  Some might call it back-asswards.  I call it detail-oriented.  Let me give you an example.  When we started remodeling our bathroom, I was focused on what, in my husband’s mind, were minor details (shower tile), before we had settled on the big items (picking a contractor).  But in my mind, I had a vision of the finished bathroom which included a shower accented with a very specific penny tile.  Which would look best with a specific porcelain floor tile.  Which meant we needed a tile guy.  And our first-choice contractor was great at tile, so we wouldn’t need a subcontractor, which would save time and money.  But we would need to pre-order the penny tile to make sure it was available when we needed it.  And the penny tile was a bit expensive so we should choose a basic subway tile for the rest of the shower to offset the cost.  And, and, and…okay, so you see what I’m getting at.  I was attacking the project from the end, when my husband was starting at the beginning.  But picturing the details of the final product allowed me to work backwards to create a more complete project plan.

As annoying as it is for my husband, this technique was super valuable to me when I worked as a project manager.  I would start with the completed project, a new office layout, for example, and do a mental walk-thru, envisioning how each work area was used, where traffic was congested, where garbage was stored.  Working backwards, I then built those details and contingencies into the project plan.

So this year, I’m applying the same technique to my personal and professional goals.  I’m starting with what I want my life to look like at the end of the 2014.  Laura Vanderkam frames this in the form of the Christmas letter, writing down what you want to tell the world about what you accomplished or experienced in the previous year.  I think of it as creating a mental image of myself living my best life.  By documenting my 2014 accomplishments now, I can work backward into creating an action plan that will actually help me achieve them.

As I’m building my project plan, these are some of the questions I ask:

  • What strengths can I build on and what weaknesses will I have to address?
  • Am I including a goal that I have failed at in the past?  If so, what skills do I need to build to overcome that obstacle?
  • Do I need external resources – financial, technical, emotional?
  • What’s going to keep me motivated?  And conversely, what could potentially derail me psychologically?
  • Where will I find feedback and encouragement?
  • What are my key milestones and how will I celebrate them?

I’m not a big fan of resolutions – the “I’m going to do X, Y or Z when I turn 30. Or 40. Or in the New Year” variety.  If you’re not committed to doing it right now (smoking less, exercising more, reading the classics) then you probably won’t be motivated to do it at some arbitrary date in the future.  But I do believe in the power of a good project plan.

 

How about you?  How do you approach your goals for the New Year?

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

Be a better manager in 40 minutes a day.

Today

Last week, Sarah Von Bargen’s Every. Damn. Day list got me thinking about my daily benchmarks for productivity.  As a work-from-home mom, my personal list includes things like showering (a surprising luxury) and feeding the kid (yes, he wants to eat EVERY day).  But since you’re here to read about management and not my sporadic personal hygiene, here are four daily tasks to keep you on track, even on days when the rest of your to-do list has gone up in flames.

1.  Tidy up.  I think of organizing my desk as the business equivalent of making my bed every day.  It signals that I’m awake, upright and ready to tackle the day.  Whether you’re a neat freak or someone who thrives in organized chaos, spend 10 minutes every day on administrative tasks – filing, opening mail, approving receipts – to keep them from becoming messy and demoralizing eyesores on your desk.  Doing a little each day keeps recurring tasks from becoming huge projects that you need to fit into your schedule.

2.  Walk around.  Whether you call it “management by walking around” or just stretching your legs, you need to get out from behind your desk and see what the rest of your team and organization is doing.  You can learn a lot from seeing your team function in real-time, so take 10 minutes each day to engage with your team without a set agenda.

3.  Think long-term.  It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of daily tasks and forget to allow time for working on your long-term goals.  Networking, professional development, deliberate practice – you don’t need to schedule large blocks of time for these things.  Once you’ve mapped out tasks required to reach your long-term goal, you can work your plan in 10 minute increments. You’ll be surprised by how much you will accomplish over the course of a month.

4.  Do nothing.  Spend 10 minutes each day reading, writing or thinking about something non-work related.  And, no, I don’t mean browsing E! Online or Facebook, although sometimes those little brain-breaks are healthy.  Instead, pick a topic you want to learn more about – creativity, happiness, design – and allow yourself a daily 10 minutes to explore it.  Getting your brain out of its normal routine will give you fresh perspective and inspiration when you return to work.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

~ Anthony Trollope

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

Keep calm and make a list.

to do list

In less than a week, I will be braving a cross-country, red-eye flight with a two year old.

Holyfreakingcow.

This is our first plane trip as a family and our longest extended stay away from home.  To say I’m anxious would be an understatement.  My mind has been racing with what seems like a million things to plan:  Figuring out what to bring on the flight.  Getting the house and dog ready for the sitter.  Anticipating what gear we’ll need once we’re in New York.  My blood pressure rises with every new thought.  But today I finally sat down and made a list.  And, amazingly, I feel much better.

Why do I always forget how calming a list can be?  Until it’s on paper, it’s an infinite string of things.  But once it’s in a list, it’s a plan.  And plans I can handle.

Here are some of my favorite thoughts on to-do lists:

 

freak out

Even my hair was freaking out about this trip.

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On optimism.