The Harvard Business Review website included an article on 3/19/15 by Roger Schwarz, “How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting”. This management note makes many good points. It can be improved by adding a much clearer task orientation to the outcomes.
Recently I was talking with two clients (partners in an engineering firm) about meetings. In particular were the meetings that one of their customers was calling on short notice with no formal purpose with a cast of thousands. We were puzzling through the various ways they could handle customers who think that it is alright to have meetings that take up lots of time and only really involve my clients occasionally for their input and expertise.
Feeling lonely today? Let’s call a meeting. Continue reading
Why Should You Develop a Business Plan?
For every startup the development of a business plan is a required first step. It is so obvious – business schools have course on writing the business plan and it is impossible to get funding without one. Teams coalesce around the labor. So, every startup has a business plan.
For the going concern, the ones that are now three or so more years old, the business plan (also called strategic plan -really the same thing) is forgotten, only stumbled on when a move forces someone to pick it up and wonder, “Should I just relegate this to the dumpster?”
This is not a good situation. A business without a plan is like a boat sitting in a pond just waiting to sink to the bottom for nature to compost it. Or, if it has the fate to be afloat in a stream, it will be carried along willy-nilly until it bumps into a stone or dead branch or reaches the ocean where nature will also send it to the big composter.
Every business exists in a world that is changing and filled with opportunities and threats. Your business plan is your set of oars to provide the means to pull in the direction you want to go in, to avoid the rocks. You might even row to shore and portage around the falls, to move to an entirely new river.
But, many people, even accepting the wisdom of having a plan, find it a painful exercise, all too easily avoided. This may be driven by the idea that a business plan involves dozens of pages of writing, lots of spreadsheets with numbers they really don’t believe (sometimes don’t understand). Business plans, strategic plans, these are just the exercises one does in business schools. Or it may be the folk wisdom that business plans are not a useful part of managing and they always end up on the shelf or hidden in a file cabinet only dusted off for display when in search of a bank loan.
However, shift your thinking to view the process of building a plan as a value in and of itself, and adopt a simpler more flexible business plan model you will find that building that set of oars for your little boat is fun and productive. Continue reading
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. “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.
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
Time management is an extremely popular topic. Is this productive?
A Google search for the phrase “time management” returns the droll news that there are more than 14,900,000 responses. Amazon lists 448 books with ‘time management” in the title or subject line. A similar search on Youtube.com returns over 2,000 videos about time management.
But, what can this really be about? Time is a concept we use to delimit the past from the present, and whatever future there might be. Einstein is reported to have said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” ((I could not find a reference citation for this quote. It is ubiquitous on the web. Perhaps it is apocryphal? In a recent re-read of David Allen’s Getting Things Done Penguin, 2001), he has a side note (p. 5): “Time is the quality of nature that keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn’t seem to be working”. – Anonymous )) Perhaps because we, as human beings, are a fleeting moment, we have a special focus on time. We are very aware that our time is limited, unknowable. Continue reading