Archive for the ‘Staying Focused’ Category

The Project Initiation Brief

Monday, December 21st, 2015

When confronted with a big, complex project, a lot of people just dive right in. Hey, the sooner we start, the sooner we finish, right?

Not always. This approach often results in people working ahead of their understanding. They don’t have a full picture of the steps and obstacles ahead. That’s where a lot of rework ends up happening.

Companies that are plagued with rework usually have people who don’t take the time to stop and say, “Okay, what’s the specific outcome that we are trying to accomplish here, and what’s the best way to get there? What will be the key points? And hat do we want to be sure happens? What do we want to be sure doesn’t happen? Who does this go to? What are the steps and who owns each step and how and when does the baton pass?”

The salient points need to be thought through BEFORE work is begun. So as you are about to begin a major project, say, “Hey, let’s start by doing a project initiation brief to see where we’re going with this thing before we create the need for all kinds of unnecessary work.”

Try it once, and you’ll be sold forever on the value of going in with your eyes wide open.

Show Up Fully, And Share Your Limits

Monday, November 9th, 2015

One of the tragedies of modern life is the way it fragments our attention. We are almost never completely present in anything we do. There are a dozen things on our minds and a bevy of blinking and beeping devices to make sure we stay frazzled and fractured. We bring work home with us, and we bring the concerns of home to work. As a result, everything suffers. Nothing gets our full attention.

Make a pledge to turn that around.

First and foremost, make a pledge to fully show up wherever you are. When you’re at work, be at work—100 percent. When you’re at home, be at home. Both work and home will benefit from your full attention. Schedule “free days” where you do not think about work. You need that restorative time so that you “focus days” at work can create powerful results with limited time.

At work—turn off the cell phone and don’t turn it back on again until after work. Studies show that people who have their cell phones on are 40 percent less productive than those who turn them off.

And when at work—work. Complaining to your teammates that you’re overwhelmed is not work. Stopping to chat with your neighbor is not work. Often people who are overwhelmed are just not focused. Put in a solid day’s work and then go home relaxed knowing you were powerfully productive.

And set definite limits on work done at home. Sometimes bringing work home is unavoidable. But when it becomes a norm to work through the evening, you are sapping your energy and reducing your productivity.

Finally, share your planned limits with those around you. If you’ve decided not to work after 7 pm, tell your spouse and the kids. They’ll hold you to it! It will force you to be more productive prior to that time.

Reactive Thinking

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Critical thinking is the systematic attempt to avoid errors in reasoning. A critical thinker is someone who learns and uses skills that make for organized, disciplined thinking. It’s not about what you KNOW—it’s about how you THINK.

There’s another kind of thinking that’s the exact opposite of critical thinking. It’s called reactive thinking— the kind of automatic, unexamined thinking we all do at times.

This kind of thinking isn’t always bad. You don’t want to stop and ponder when a train is headed your way. You want to react.

Author Malcolm Gladwell calls this “rapid cognition.” It’s not completely separate from a critical process, but it’s much less conscious. And sometimes that’s what we need, especially when there’s too little time for a full critical process.

BUT…when it comes to deciding how to approach a large project, or whether to make a big investment, or how reason out the obstacles that would keep a key initiative of the company from getting stuck—that’s when you need a systematic process that helps you avoid errors in reasoning. It is how you take the most relevant facts and process through them to make the best recommendation—understanding the best case, worst case and likely scenario of moving ahead. And a workplace filled with people who develop that skillset is going to be more engaged and more productive as a result.

Build structures for time optimization

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Your brain is a wonderful thing, but it isn’t perfect. Sometimes it needs a little help. And one of the best ways to help your brain to be its best is by building structures to optimize your time.

If you are not using a checklist for your job, you ARE going to miss things. There’s simply no way your brain can keep track of everything efficiently without that simple external structure. Whether it’s an app on your phone or a pad of paper on your desk, it’s an absolute business essential.

Break down each item on the list into steps, and force yourself to report in to the steps along the way. While you’re breaking it down into smaller bits, be sure to spend time on the big picture as well. Build times into your calendar to work toward key results, or they won’t happen.

Whether it’s the small picture or the big picture, don’t cross your fingers and hope. Build the structures that optimize your time and ensure that things happen.

Agreements of Meetings

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

There’s nothing worse than a poorly run meeting—one that takes an hour to accomplish five minutes of work, or wanders in overlapping circles until everything is tabled for the next meeting.

Meetings are essential, but they don’t have to be pointless or painful. The key is to establish effective agreements for every meeting. For example:

Every meeting will have a written agenda distributed in advance.

Agenda items will be actionable—another one that too many meetings fail to follow. That means your agenda won’t include an item that says, “Holiday party.” Otherwise you’re in for a wandering half-hour brainstorm about the holiday party. Instead, you might say, “Choose location and set budget for holiday party – 10 minutes.” Boom! That’s actionable. Things will actually get done, and people will feel good about it.

Every meeting will have a designated timekeeper who will work to keep everyone on track and the agenda on schedule.

Those three agreements alone can transform meetings overnight from exercises in pointless collective misery to a driving force for your organization’s success.