Old Technology Displaces New Technology

In a recent coaching session, a long-time client expressed frustrations at keeping track of all of his day-to-day tasks, especially the little items of following through with people he had met. He felt that lots of useful new and old contacts were languishing because he had not followed up on items brought up during a discussion or emails. They are falling through the cracks.

So, I asked him, “How do you keep track of your daily work?” “Well, I still have a Palm Pilot in working order. I enter stuff there.” Clearly this was not working. We kicked around different ways of keeping a task list up to date. Then, I recalled how I solved this same problem for over twenty years. I kept notebooks that I carried around with me and entered notes and tasks chronologically page after page.  Knowing that my client was old enough to predate PDAs and other such devices, I asked him whether he had ever used notebooks.Notebook technology for task/priority lists “Of course. I kept everything in notebooks. Each was carefully dated and then filed away when every task in it had been completed.” I shared my memories of using notebooks. Even odd moments when a co-worker would come to me to ask what i recalled of a meeting that had taken place months earlier and I dragged out my notebook form that period and found the pages with my notes of the meeting.

My client agreed to try out a notebook as a way of attacking his current problem. There is something very satisfying about putting an arrow in the left column indicating a task or date to be reserved and then, later,putting big check mark next to it with a date when a task is accomplished.

Shortly after wards, it came to me that I was not doing all that well my task list technology (Google Tasks in the calendar), so I have returned to this device that served me so well for so long.

Podcast – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Be a More Effective Manager – stop answering those questions, seize your time, and it’s your fault


Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Become a More Effective Manager – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps

In the world of planning and strategy, there is a truism that too much planning, too much detail, too much analysis, leads to inaction, to a loss of opportunity. Along the same line of observation, in the world of learning to becoming a more effective manager, there can be too much study, too much thinking, too much integration of the many many skills and aptitudes required to become more effective. In both strategy and management skills action is almost always preferable to another round of study. Action bumps you up against the real world and provides the real basis for improving skills and results.

But, that still leaves us with the nagging question as a manager, especially for rookie managers and supervisors, how do I get started?

Based on many years of personal work as a manager and many years coaching managers, here are three steps you can take that will get you into action and guarantee striking results. These results will come in your personal effectiveness and in of the results of the organization you manage.  Remember,  by results, I am referring to the three meanings Drucker defined: (1) direct business results (usually measured in $s); (2) improved organizational culture (values); and (3) development of people. ((see Chapter 2 – What Can I Contribute? in his book The Effective Executive))

1. Stop Answering Questions

If most managers could listen to themselves, the proverbial fly on the wall, for just a few hours, they would discover that they are chronically enabling dependency all around them and undermining whatever formal delegation systems are in place. How is this happening? Just listen and you will hear a stream of questions coming at them followed by answers in response. You are enabling the following the reflexive pattern: ask the expert and be rewarded with answers. Ask the boss, get an answer, and be safe from responsibility for the answers.

If you want to get people to take responsibility and be involved in the business, you can’t go on answering all these questions. They will just go on asking whether they need to or not. And, you are spending an enormous amount of your time, your most valuable resource, to answering all of these questions.

What should a manager do to break this pattern? Continue reading

Getting Things Done by David Allen – a revisit


I have used David Allen’s  book, Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity (Penguin: NY 2001)  both personally and with clients for a number of years. Recently I volunteered to lead a discussion of the book’s approach to personal productivity with the Greater Boston Business Network. This provoked me to re-read the book in preparation. Here are a few thoughts following my re-read and the discussion with GBBN.

Underlying Principles and Thoughts

Work and personal are now quite blurred. And so, this book is about everything in your life. There is no boundary between work and personal when it comes to being more productive. And, your mind does not treat them as separate, so a productivity system can not either. There is also a need to incorporate the big picture, strategic view, with the tactical day-to-day,  but the emphasis must be on actionable tasks. Thus, the title, Getting Things Done.

Getting into a “Productive State”, what I might call a state of flow,  when required is both a challenge and an objective of a productivity system. ((Here you might compare this with the work on how we work best in a state of “flow” as discussed in  see Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s   Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ( Harper Row, NY: 1990)))

Allen builds his approach to productivity on a few “principles”.

First principle: Deal Effectively with Internal Commitments

Continue reading

Too Much Information – learn to control those interruptors

A continuing hot topic here is the surge of interruptions that consume our work day (and evenings, too).

I have talked about this earlier in these postings, Seize Your Time – gaining control over Too Much Information and Multitasking, Too Much Information, Interruptions, and High Performance

Many people see their emails, instant messaging, Twittering, Blackberries and iPhone (to mention just a few interrupters) as beasts that they must satisfy instantaneously and continuously. Everything is in real time.

The first question to be asked is, “Do all of these interruptions really have equal claim on my time?” If you work in a customer service call center, then truly that ringing phone does have claim on your next free moment. But, in reality customer inquiries can be filtered and sorted for action as appropriate.

A second point to be considered is how inefficient and unreliable all of these little interruptions make us. Despite all of the blather about “multitasking”, human beings really can only do one thing at a time. When we are “multitasking, we are really performing a whole series of tasks sequentially. The brain is expending lots of energy and taking extra time to keep track of which tasks are in queue and what the status is of the last one we worked on and the next one we pick up. Worse, in most ways, is the fact that all of this is making us perform at a lower quality level. All of the back and forthing introduces errors and the interruptions are preventing us from really devoting enough time to energize our creativity and problem solving aptitudes.

Multitasking is a fraudulent idea.

Lets take a line of thought about emails and see if we can develop some actions that you can take that will bring at least this interrupter under your control.

Look over the emails you have received over the last day to week. How many of these really required instant action –  did the sender expect you to be sitting at your computer waiting for the email gong to put you into action? Did the sender really think that they were emailing to the equivalent of a customer service center where they could expect that someone would immediately read their email and respond? What would have been a reasonable response time for these emails? Today? End of Business Tomorrow? Do all of the emails requiring response in less than a day come from a predictable set of people? If so, do they really need this, or is it just a bad habit that you have encouraged? Perhaps, you can set some new expectations for them.

But, lets say there are some people who require responses in less than a day. Set up an email filter (“Smart Folder” in the Apple MAC world) where these emails will automatically be sorted. Now when you go to your email application, you only need to look at that folder. Everything else can wait until one of your regularly scheduled trips to the email box.

And that brings us to the next step. Set up a schedule for checking and responding to email. For most, first thing in the morning and at the end of the day will do it. Then, you have to stick with it. For me the challenge is my iPod Touch. I carry it around in my pocket and there is an enormous temptation to take it out and look at my emails.

Take this one step with emails. Don’t worry about all those other interrupters. Rome was not built in a day and you will not change your multitasking habits over night. Prove that you can gain control over just your emails. See what the results are. Then, you can move on to the others.

Remember, time is the one resource you have that can not be bought or inventoried. To be productive and sucessful you must make the best use of this most valuable asset.