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Posts Tagged ‘Management’

iTunes and Inbox Zero quickies

August 9th, 2010 No comments

Two quick items today, aimed at making you more efficient at using and managing your iTunes library, and maintaining a zero’d out inbox, once you’ve gotten there (check out this post if you want some directions on how to achieve a zero’d out inbox in the first place).

iTunes

A quick little tidbit today, that may make it simpler to manage music collections that span across multiple computers on your network at home.  The setup that Bay and I have is a computer in our living room that operates as our media machine.  All of our TV shows, movies, and music sit on this computer, and it’s connected to our stereo and our TV.  I want this place to hold all of our music, but don’t spend a lot of time sitting in front of this machine because it’s awkward.  Most of the actual acquisition of music occurs when I’m at my laptop.

As you can imagine, this means that I need to go through the tedious process of copying my files across the network to our media machine, logging in to that machine, loading up iTunes, adding the songs into iTunes, and then deleting them from their original location (as I have iTunes setup to manage the files in its own directory structure – once it’s copied them in, it leaves the original files, which then need to be deleted).

However, there is a little-known aspect of iTunes that can greatly simplify this process.  The library of folders that iTunes creates and uses to manage all of your music will contain a folder called “Automatically add to iTunes”.  Any files that you copy into this folder will automatically be added into iTunes (and sorted into their appropriate directory) and then the originals will be cleared out of the folder.

We can leverage this convenient functionality by creating an alias to this folder, then moving that alias on to our local laptop.  Here are the steps, with the caveat that your computers will already need to connected to your home network, and you will need to have file sharing turned on for your media machine:

  1. Using your laptop, connect to your media machine over the network.  On a Mac, you will do this through the Finder, in Windows, through the Windows Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the iTunes folder, and search it for a folder named “automatically” (this is only part of the string, so it should catch the folder called “Automatically add to iTunes”).
  3. Right click on this folder and choose either “Create Alias” (Mac) or “Create Shortcut” (Windows).
  4. Drag this alias to a convenient location on your laptop (I keep the alias in the sidebar of my Finder):

    Automatically add to iTunes

    I keep a shortcut to this folder in my Sidebar

  5. Done!

Now, whenever you’re ready to transfer music from your laptop to your media machine, simply drag and drop the appropriate folders onto this alias.  They’ll be copied across the network into your media machine’s iTunes automatic add folder and loaded into iTunes the next time you open it (or immediately if it’s already opened).

Maintaining inbox zero

The last post I made was related to getting to a state of inbox zero.  Once you’ve gotten to this spot, you still have the challenge of maintaining it.  One of the things that I find frustrating is that I often am not able to be as agile as I would like at all times that I check my e-mail.  Sometimes I’m out and checking e-mails when I’m on my phone, waiting for the bus.  Other times, I’ll get an e-mail at work that I want to input into my system as a task, but can not conveniently do this from my work computer.

This trick will provide you with a little more agility, and enable you to immediately deal with incoming e-mails and clear them back out of the inbox.  (Incidentally, even if you don’t yet have a zero’d out inbox, this tip should still help you stay on top of all of your stuff a little better).

The means by which we make ourselves more agile is to make use of the e-mails that many of the web applications out there provide us when we sign-up.  In this case, I’ll be talking about Evernote and Remember the Milk, but I know that many web applications these days provide e-mail addresses that give you the same functionality.  If you’re like me, you probably saw that the web app mentioned an e-mail address you could use to do something, and then immediately forgot about it and have not touched it since.

What these e-mail addresses provide you is a way to instantly input tasks and items into the appropriate container in situations where you have only e-mail at your disposal.  If I’m waiting for the ferry, checking my e-mail on my phone, and receive an e-mail that I know I need to act on, I can simply do the following:

  1. Forward the e-mail to my Remember the Milk e-mail address.
  2. Update the subject line to something like “Look into information Graham has provided me RE: dance workshop”
  3. If you’re especially adept at RTM, you’d probably add some additional information to the subject line like “^tomorrow” (indicating that the due date is tomorrow) “#@web” (the context you need to complete this task is access to the web), and “=10 mins” (you estimate 10 minutes to complete the task)
  4. Send off the e-mail and archive it, removing it from your inbox.

You’ve cleared the item out of your inbox, you’ve input the appropriate action item into your todo list, and the body of the mail is saved for you as a note attached to the todo list item.

Evernote offers very similar functionality, allowing you to archive any piece of e-mail (and attachments that you include) into your digital filing cabinet.

And that’s all there is to it.  I know that WordPress, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook all offer similar e-mail addresses that can provide you with equivalent functionality.  The key to making use of these addresses is setting up your address book appropriately.  Everytime you receive one of these addresses, add it into your address book under your contact.  Make sure that you sync your address book/contacts with whatever mobile device you use to check your e-mail, and then you’re ready to go.

Too easy?

If these tips seem too easy, don’t kid yourself.  Whenever you’re striving for more efficiency, you want tips that are easy and simple.  You don’t want complicated, convoluted processes to add to your daily life that require additional mental overhead and will take up your creative energy.  The simple tasks that integrate cleanly and effortlessly into your daily life are what we’re after here.

That’s all for today.  The upcoming week is the annually recurring week-long dance workshop called Get Down.  I was fortunate enough last year to take the entire week’s worth of classes, and it changed the way I thought about and approached dancing forever.  I’m looking forward to working again with some of the originators of the styles of dance that I love, and bringing that knowledge back to Victoria for this Fall’s classes.

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Double-whammy (part 2)

August 7th, 2010 3 comments

This post follows the previous, and was written as part of an original 2-in-1 post that I had conceived while taking the ferry from Departure Bay on the mainland over to Nanaimo, on the island.

Although the two posts can be read independently, you may want to see part 1.

This post is a little more specific than the previous, and is a bit of an instructional on achieving the coverted inbox-zero.  A clean inbox is a bit like keeping the entry-way of your home tidy: you feel more relaxed every time you move through it.

Getting (and staying) to inbox zero

Our aims here are: 1.  to get down to an empty inbox, and, 2. to stay there.  The first part is to deal with everything that is currently sitting in our inbox.  The second is to set up some daily habits that can make it easier to maintain the pristine state of our inbox.

Getting to a zero’d out inbox is no small task, but the rewards are worth it.  With an empty inbox, you’ll feel more relaxed every time you check your e-mail.  Maybe this isn’t an issue for your personal e-mail, but any e-mail inbox through which you may receive action items (eg, “Call Bruno Mexidando about that party”, “E-mail back Glarkon Slektor about space beer”, etc.) will serve you better when are able to keep it clean and lean.

The task of actually checking your e-mail will become far more efficient, as you’ll be presented with fewer items demanding your attention.  Even if you tell yourself that you only need to review the items that are marked “unread”, you are still burdening your eyes with that much more text to sift through.

Not so fast…

I tricked you though.  There’s actually a step that needs to occur before you being clearing out your inbox, and that is reaching the conclusion that you actually buy into the philosophy and feel that it’s a worthwhile task to take on.  If you don’t really believe that maintaining a clean inbox is a worthwhile pursuit, you’ll encounter your own mental resistance at every turn.  Each e-mail you bring up and need to make a decision on, you’ll feel compelled to just “set it aside” and make an exception for that one.  Before you know it, your inbox will rapidly begin filling back up.

Don’t blindly follow advice like this because I’m telling you that it’s good practice – consider why you might benefit from a cleaner inbox, and see if you there are reasons that you buy into.  When affecting change in an organization, nothing can happen without buy-in from your employees.  In order for them to accept change, they must first buy-in to what you are putting out there and truly believe in it.  You are no different, and must truly buy into what you are trying to take on if you actually want to achieve it.

Clearing out the cobwebs

If you have never gone through the process of clearing out your inbox, this task will take you a while.  Try and approach it with an attitude that you are going to enjoy it, and if that is simply impossible, try and keep in mind the benefits that you have convinced yourself you will gain when you have finished the process.  Establish a reasonable expectation of how long it will take, based on the contents of your inbox.  If there are hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, it may take quite a while.  If you determine an estimate and later on find yourself blowing through that estimate, don’t be discouraged.  Just take note of that fact for next time, and come up with a new estimate for how much longer it will take to finish up.

The rainbow gang

There are many different mail servers out there, ranging from the more popular ones like Yahoo, Google, and Hotmail (ugh), to company and private e-mail servers.  You may also log in to your mail provider’s webmail in order to get your e-mail, or connect directly to the server using a desktop application, such as Mail.app (on OS X), Thunderbird, or Outlook.  Although the nuances will be different across each of these varieties of e-mail, the broad overview will remain the same.  Almost all mail servers these days will allow you to archive your read e-mail on the server, and will allow you some means to set up folders within which you can file mail.

Make some folders

When first sorting through your mail, you are likely going to find that most of your mail falls into a few main categories.  Using whatever means your mail program allows you, create the folders mentioned below into which you will be able to sort your e-mail.  I will elaborate on when you use each of these folders later, but for now, here are the brief descriptions:

  • TODO

This folder is a temporary folder that will cease to exist after you have zero’d out your inbox.  The aim, in this initial pass, is simply to go through and process everything sitting in your inbox.  You don’t want to actually do anything, you just want to clear out your inbox.  That is the task that you are currently focusing on, and you need a way to allow yourself to keep focus on that goal.  This folder holds any e-mail that requires an action on your behalf.

  • Archive Folders

These folders represent the location that you can store any e-mail that you do not want to delete, and that don’t require any action.  You may have only one archive folder, or you may have a ton of these folders.  If the e-mail account that you are working on is a work e-mail, you will likely want to create folders that relate to each project or client you are managing.  If you only ever work on one thing in particular, then you may only need one folder titled “archive”.  Whatever approach you take, make sure you have at least one folder into which you can file e-mails that do not require any action on your part, and that you simply want to store for future reference.

If you are using an e-mail account like GMail, you may not actually need to create an archive folder.  GMail allows you to archive all of your e-mails, and provides an interface to search them all directly.  With this convenience you may not feel like you need to create a separate folder to archive old e-mails for reference.  Having said that, it can be handy to look through all e-mails the relate to a specific project, without having to search out individual e-mails or subject lines.  If you anticipate being able to do this, you’ll best be served by creating the appropriate folders now and archiving appropriately.

When creating folders, make sure that you are able to think of a use case for which that folder would be of use.  Ideally, you want to create a minimum set of folders that will be of use to you.  The more places you have that an e-mail can be in, the more places you will find you have to search when you need to it.  Usually archiving e-mails between projects and clients is sufficient.  Whatever you choose, make sure that you can think of a situation in which you will want to search that particular folder.

One at a time, without cheating

Now that you’ve created buckets within which you can place your e-mails, it’s time to go through your inbox.  The rules to follow are simple:

  • One at a time

No peeking forward.  Go through each e-mail and deal with it quickly and efficiently.  If it requires some kind of action on your part, move the folder into the TODO folder.  Don’t get bogged down thinking about what you actually need to do to deal with this e-mail – determine whether or not you actually need to do something, and only that.  If the answer is yes, file into the TODO folder.  If the answer is no, file it in the appropriate archive folder.

If you notice that you don’t have an appropriate folder to put this e-mail into, create one.  The best organization can happen on the fly.  Don’t fight it – just create the folder and pop the e-mail into it.  (and don’t forget the rule above that the more folders you have, the more places there are that you need to look when you’re trying to find something).

  • Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out

When in doubt, throw it out.  Don’t hesitate, just get rid of it; the things that you need to keep track of for reference will be obvious to you.  If you can’t let go and find this too difficult to do, create a folder called THROW OUT, and store the e-mail in there for now.

  • No more than two minutes per e-mail

You’re not allowed to spend longer than two minutes deliberating on an e-mail.  If you have been looking at an e-mail for longer than two minutes, make a decision and act on it.  None of what we are trying to determine at this point should require more than two minutes of thought.  If you’re trying to figure out which folder to archive an e-mail in, just put it in the first of the two (three/four/five/etc.).  If you’re trying to figure out whether or not to throw an e-mail out, throw it out.  If you’re unsure of what the next step is for the e-mail, but know that there’s something required of you, put it into the TODO folder for now.

Take this step, and move on.

  • Seriously, one at a time

Don’t cheat this step.  Doing so will lead to procrastination, and you’ll be back where you started – numb to particular tasks in your e-mail and resistant to emptying out your inbox.  Again, it should not be taking you longer than two minutes to deal with the current e-mail, and there’s no such thing as an e-mail that requires attention so immediate that it cannot wait another two/four/six/eight/ten minutes.  Deal with the current e-mail, and move on.

What todo, what todo

If you’ve completed the above steps, you now have an empty inbox.  Look how clean and pristine it is!  It’s beautiful and polished!  Take a minute to appreciate how it feels.  Log out and log back in if you like.  Take a moment to celebrate the small victory.

You’ve now completed the first part and pared away a significant portion of your e-mails to deal with.  The next step will actually require some doing, rather than simply sorting, but that’s okay, you’re moving forward.

Decide upon a place to keep track of todo items.  This can be a text file on your desktop, or a notepad beside your computer.  If you already have a todo list that you manage, then use that, adding items to it as you go.  It can be tempting to use the TODO folder we have created as your todo list, but this is a bad move.  It will get confusing when you want to delete e-mails but they’ll need to stay in this folder to be on your todo list, and it will become difficult to tell at a glance what you have left to process.

Now, applying the same rules as before, go through each e-mail in your TODO list one by one.    No cheating and jumping forward!  For each e-mail decide if:

  1. The action required can be completed in two minutes or less.  If so, complete that action and then either delete the e-mail or archive it if needed.
  2. If the action will take longer than two minutes, put the task on your TODO list.  If you need the e-mail in order to provide you with context for the TODO item, print it out.  If you need to keep the e-mail for future reference, put it in the appropriate folder (and again, create a new folder if you need a new one); if not, delete it.

You may find out as you go through your TODO folder that some of the e-mails you’ve moved here don’t actually have an action associated with them.  If so, no problem – either archive or delete it and move on.  Put your head down and stay vigilant, and again, remember, no more than two minutes.  If a task takes longer to complete than two minutes, you shouldn’t be doing it, you should be putting it on your TODO list.

And..  Dismount!

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve now completed the following:

  1. Emptied out your inbox
  2. Archived a bunch of e-mails for future reference
  3. Completed a bunch of tasks that you needed to get done
  4. Created a list of items you need to accomplish over the course of the next few days/weeks/etc.

Well done!  This is no small accomplishment, and worthy of some celebration.  You can repeat this process whenever you like, but the ideal state is to do this same thing every time a new e-mail comes into your mailbox.  Look at it, and determine if you need to act on it.  If it requires less than two minutes, complete it, and otherwise move it to your todo list.  Then (or if it did not require any action), either archive or delete it.

Once you’ve got an empty inbox, you’ll find this process far easier to accomplish, and your mind will be much freer when you check your mailbox.  If you can achieve this task, you may be interested in checking out some of my other posts on GTD and productivity.  Anyone that can accomplish zero’ing their inbox can practice GTD principles and methodology.  If you’re happy with this step for now, enjoy your nice clean inbox and check back later.

Update, pure and simple

November 15th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and that is a tough thing to feel slipping.  When the crunch periods are on, it’s hard to find the time or mental energy to think about subjects that I want to expand upon; when the crunch periods are off, it’s hard to motivate myself to do even more writing.  As you can see, it can be a challenge trying to find a place to write creatively in there.  When time is a scarce commodity, the best approach for me is usually to go back to the basics, so that’s how this post rolls.  Just an update for you, and an opportunity to do some writing that isn’t schoolwork for me.

School..

has been going really well.

This past week, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve felt like the material has been starting to sink in, and the landscape is a little bit more clear to me.  We also got our first midterm grades back, which was a welcome piece of feedback that I think we were all ready for.  I did better than my expectations, and so that made the pill a lot easier to swallow, but I think that most of us were really just happy for the opportunity to be given a benchmark.  Our professor sagely commented “for those of you who did well..  Don’t fall in love with it”, and so I will be making an effort to remain vigilant as we continue onward.  I don’t know what other option I really have.

After the last couple of weeks, the remembrance day holiday was a welcome reprieve, and even though one I had a make-up class scheduled on Friday, the workload has been a little bit lighter this week.  I think that I’m also starting to gain a better understanding of how I can best absorb the material, which is making me a little more efficient.  That’s the hope, anyway – I won’t be able to tell anything for sure until I have the means to test that: time passing and more data.  So, we’ll see.  If nothing else, I have certainly been trying out a number of different means for approaching this material.  On that note…

Habits and productivity..

are a mandatory topic in any blog post.

This wouldn’t feel like a blog entry if I didn’t include some notes about productivity or habits of mine, as of late.  In the process of training myself better moderation, I’ve had some minor epiphanies, which has been exciting.  The opportunities in life for growth are really a significant aspect of what makes me tick, and so it’s always exciting when I’m lucky enough to reflect on one of those opportunities as it’s occurring.

The first thing I’ve noticed about my own habits, and I suspect, many others, is that training moderation is easier when we give ourselves the opportunity for flexibility.  When it isn’t absolutely necessary (it rarely should be) to abstain from something, a flexible system with clear boundaries will provide you with a habit that has a greater chance of sticking for the longterm.  Abstinence does not provide you with any opportunity to adapt to new circumstances, and is not really a practice in moderation at all.  Some people may tell you that abstinence is a virtue, but my own belief will always be that life and happiness are about balance, and part of that balance is the skill of moderation.

The most significant thing about that has come out of this process has been my growing understanding and ability to articulate the concept that moderation is a skill.  The significance of this discovery is that I can now begin to approach this skill with the wisdom and hindsight that I’ve gained in the past, trying to train other skills.  Never mind that – the fact that moderation is a skill at all means that it’s not just some innate ability that someone is born with, but rather something that you can make better, over time, if you wish.

Some of my own thoughts as I’ve begun to think more about this notion are that:

  • Moderation works best in a framework
A framework provides you with some kind of boundary.  It gives you a benchmark from which to practice moderation.  If you take away these boundaries or benchmarks, then you will fall into the trap of shifting baselines, a concept pioneered (I believe) by the thoughtful Randy Olsen (his movie Flock of Dodos is excellent).  The longer you spend doing something a certain way, the more natural that way feels, and the more difficult it becomes to objectively assess where you sit. (Randy applied this concept to the Great Barrier Reef, I believe, noting that the baseline for what the reef looked like when it was healthy shifted dramatically between his time as a student, and when he took his own students to see it.  The reef had shrunk and withered significantly, but to the class, this was the baseline that they would be acquainted with, and see as natural, dulling the sense of urgency to do something to maintain its health as an entity).

With a clear framework, you have an objective baseline to which you will always be able to look and ascertain if you’re moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

  • Moderation and Willpower hang out together

The more you practice moderation, the greater your willpower becomes.  Moderation, over time, means becoming adept at following through with something when you desire, but doing so in a manner that looks ahead to the future.  It requires exercising a degree of restraint and willpower, but in a manner that leaves you with reserves.

Willpower, then, can be thought of as our energy to moderate.  For your muscles, you have a finite amount of energy that you can expend before you need to back off and give them a rest.  For the practice of moderation, you have willpower.

Make no doubt about it, willpower is a finite commodity.  We all have some measure of willpower that we are able to exercise when we need to.  But once that willpower is expended, it is like any other muscle or mental quality that can be trained; we need to give it time to recharge.  The more that you practice and exercise moderation, the greater your reserves of willpower will become.  When you practice abstinence, you make decisions rarely.  You are not exercising moderation or your willpower, because you are rarely exposing yourself to the situations that would allow for it.

  • Moderation works best with flexibility

By providing yourself with a flexible framework, you give yourself a clear, objective boundary within which to work, but allow yourself some flexibility within that boundary.  Setting yourself up in this manner gives you the opportunity to adapt to circumstances as needed, and allows you to exercise an element of control at multiple points.  Part of the key to moderation is actually providing yourself with the ability to make decisions at multiple tiers of willpower.  When you practice abstinence, you train only one level of willpower – never doing something ever.  However, what about if/when that level of willpower fails you (and let’s be honest here: nothing is truly failsafe; especially our willpower)?  You haven’t trained any other aspect of your willpower.  That one level fails, and you cave with no more defences.

Flexibility gives you the power to exercise your willpower on multiple levels, and on a continual basis.  Doing so allows you to check in with yourself more frequently, and see how you’re doing.  It gives you many small victories, which encourage the growth of your self-esteem, and a few small losses, or failures.  But failure is an essential part of life; it’s better to have a small failure, with small victories surrounding it to ground your perspective, than one big failure, with the last success far enough of back in time to be fading from your memory.

Flexibility lends itself to iterative change and continual feedback, two qualities that lead to greater success in many of the endeavours that we choose to pursue.

  • Moderation can be applied to anything (it is worth practicing)

Some people will think that talking about moderation means that I’m talking about either alcohol abuse or drug abuse.  But moderation is a skill that we practice in everyday of our lives, though much of it is beneath our level of awareness.  It isn’t until you start to think about moderation as an independent skill unto itself that you begin to see its presence constantly.

Injured yourself playing a sport, but want to keep playing?  Want to stay up, but know that you should go to bed?  Know that you should be working on an assignment, but procrastinating instead?  All of these are examples of situations in which we are aware of what the correct decision is, but must exercise our willpower to overcome our short-term impulses.  In most cases, we don’t even contemplate the reserves that we are or are not exercising, make a decision, and get on with our lives.  Wouldn’t you like to have a little more willpower?

  • Moderation itself requires moderation (it is reflexive!)

Moderation really does apply to everything, including itself.  It’s important to find times when you allow yourself a little bit of excess.  Remember, the act of practicing moderation is one that uses up willpower.  The difference to be aware of is that the moments of excess you allow should be ones of which you are cognisant, rather than simple lapses in judgment.  By mentally allow yourselves these breaks, you will ensure that you keep an eye on your baseline and prevent it from becoming a habit.  You keep your goals in sight and stay true to them in the longterm.

Okay, I’ve covered off the productivity update, if that’s all you’re here for, see ya!

Dancing..

is made better by having awesome students.

Our studio has been doing well, and the classes continue to be enjoyable.  My own growth has come in the form of improving my ability to choreograph, and working on technique when I can find the time (not as often as I’d like).  My class’s progression has been rapid and fun, which is great – I’m enjoying the process of learning along with everyone.

I finished off the last term with some more work on popping and a little bit of waving.  In order to do some work on gliding, I decided that we would work on a little bit of gliding at the start of two or three of our classes.  Partially to warm the class up, and partially because gliding can be a very disheartening skill to learn when you first tackle it: the balance required is slow to build, and it can be painful on your calf muscles.  Additionally, it’s just not a way that we’re normally geared to move, so there’s a reasonable amount of muscle memory that needs to be trained.  We also added in some new fundamental techniques, some of which I’d just been shown this summer, like the popcorn.

Two of my friends from school came and checked out my first class of the new term, which was a lot of fun.  Because we hadn’t done it much last term, and because I love it so much, I started the first term off with some locking.  I went through some fundamentals with the class, and then began putting some choreography toward the end.  We went considerably far back, starting with the Watergate, a social dance that Sugarpop taught me this Summer, and that ties in directly with the lock from which the dance gets its name.  The fundamental movements that we went over this class included:

  • The pace
  • Uncle Sam point
  • Giving yourself five
  • The lock
  • The pimp walk
  • The scoobot

I have never taught some of these before, so it was a lot of fun figuring out how best to convey this information to the class, and seeing how people handled learning some of the new movements (some of them much better than I did when I was learning!)

The next class I reviewed the choreography that we had learned so far and we then moved to tutting.  The class all groaned when I announced that this was what we would be doing next class, so I was happy to see that most people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Tutting can be a frustrating art to learn; it requires moves that demand a good deal of flexibility in your fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  Though lots of people work on flexibility in their lower body, it is less-often exercised from the forearms down.

I was disappointed to see that one of the students that had shown considerable promise last term didn’t return, but I saw some other new students in his place, so things balance out, as they usually do.

Squash..

still rules.

But I’m not getting to play it as much as I’d like.  I have been biking to school, and teaching dance classes, so my fitness and flexibility have not suffered to a great extent, but my touch is starting to fade as time goes on and I don’t have the opportunity to hit the ball as often as I’d like.  I have been playing on the squash ladder at school, which is a lot of fun and a good way to meet new friends, but the level of play isn’t equivalent to that which you would find at a club that is dedicated to squash.  Still, it does give me an opportunity to work on my length, and it’s a lot of fun.  I’ll take squash wherever and whenever I can get it!

And that..

is it.

That’s the end of the update for now.  Although my updates will continue to be sparse while I’m in school, I absolutely intend to continue writing.  If I stopped doing this, I think that I would have lost a significant aid to my own growth and potential.  Thanks for continuing to read, and stay tuned!  Please leave me a comment if you have any questions related to the content I post, or the subjects I write about.  I’m always looking for more inspiration to fuel writing, and if it comes from without, it saves me some of the mental energy required to come up with new ideas.

Saiyonara

August 14th, 2009 No comments

Well, I’ve finished my last day at work.  As a result of the fact that I’ve cleaned up all of my loose ends, I’m left with very little to do today – that will no doubt be a completely different story from my life a month from now.  

The timeline for my last day was:

Last day of work:

8:00 Last day arriving at work

8:10 Pour last cup of coffee

8:30 Login and go through morning routine last time

9:30 Fill out timesheets for the last time ever

9:45 Last scrum at Refractions

10:00 Last coffee with Graham at work

1:15 Last JV lunch (while working at Refractions) downtown with Bay

3:30 Sent out goodbye e-mails to co-workers

3:45 Deleted archived e-mails from my computer

4:00 So long Refractions

While cleaning up my desk this week, I came across two of my logbooks that I had maintained when I first started.

 

I originally started maintaining a logbook when, during my first review, Paul Ramsey (the former president of Refractions, and someone for who I have a great deal of respect) mentioned that he noticed I worked better under pressure and when there was a lot on my plate.  He recognized that that he too operated in this manner as well, but that something to work on would be to track what I was working on and to try and maintain a more consistent pace.

 

The logbook was my first attempt to do this, and really, my first attempt to begin any kind of system.  About three years back, I realized that although I was now twenty-seven years old (thirty now!), with both a high-school and a university education, no one had ever taught me any kind of system for managing my tasks (really, for managing my life, both at work and at home).  Before I even made this realization though, I knew that I wanted to pursue Paul’s advice.

 

The logbook was the first attempt to accomplish this.  Looking through the book is a bit nostalgic: projects that I’ve long since forgotten, and that have long since died.  Attempts at organization that I now recognize as convoluted and problematic.  Lists of TODO items that remain unchecked to this day (did these ever actually get done?).  Even with all of these flaws, I still recognize the value that these first attempts brought me.  They provided me with a starting point.  They set me down a path, and gave me a base from which I could start evolving my own system.  You can never go for a run if you don’t take that first step, and that’s exactly what this book was.

 

I scanned in some representative pages from each month, along with an appendix that I had created at the back, so that you can see how I started progressing along the path towards a full-fledged system like GTD, and get a feel for the missteps that it’s okay to make as you attempt to get yourself organized (if you choose to).  Let’s repeat that one more time – it’s okay to make mistakes.  Take that first step!

 

January.png

February.png

The first two images are simply scans from the month of January and February.  Although the domain and context of what I was working on isn’t relevant, you can see from the way I was taking notes that there was still much to be desired.

The first scan shows an action item at the bottom, but with nothing to differentiate it from the rest of my notes.  How would I know at a glance that this is something that I have to act upon, versus something that I can just use as reference for later on?  What about the state of this action item?  Did I ever actually complete this task?  Did I just neglect to complete this?  Did it simply stop being necessary?  There’s no way to tell what happened here.  While I’m sure that I did in fact complete this item, you can see that it is important to create ways in your system that allow you to determine the answer to these questions quickly and at a glance.  Otherwise we’re just taking up valuable mental cycles that could be devote to more valuable tasks.

Unfortunately, I only realized now that I scanned in the wrong pages from my appendix, so I no longer retain the code I used to mark up the pages.  The main colour used were blue and green.  Blue items indicated discussions I had with co-workers, while green items indicated useful information or knowledge to reference back to later.  Orange  indicated important TODO items.  Whenever I had a page where I had created one of these items, I would colour the top or bottom corner (or both if I had multiple items on a page), allowing me to quickly determine if I had something that needed to be referenced on a given page.

This system quickly got out of hand, as it is impractical to flip through pages of a book trying to find the correct coloured corner that corresponds to a piece of information I need.  There is no ability to categorize a given piece of reference information, as it sits forever on a page in the book.  I have no folder that I can put the information in, and no ability to search through the book, other than sequentially flipping through each page.  Obviously this system left a lot to be desired, but it was a starting point.

Once I started PMing projects, I moved away from a static book and to a system that was more focused on the GTD approach to managing tasks, using looseleaf paper, and folders to organize it.

That’s the end of my time spent PMing.  Onwards to new challenges!

The end of one story, the beginning of another

July 18th, 2009 2 comments

On Friday of last week, I handed in my notice to let my employers know that I would be leaving the company in one month’s time.  This action is a milestone indicative of plans that have been underway for over a year.

I try to be a fairly risk-verse person, and as a result, I do my best to avoid counting my chickens before they have hatched.  Going to school to pursue law is not a decision to be taken lightly, and they system helps ensure that by putting into place a number of hoops that the potential candidate needs to jump through.
About 18 months ago, Bay and I took a trip island for brunch in Nanaimo.  Brunch was nice, but the real value was the opportunity to talk to each other about where we both currently felt in our respective jobs.  The end result of this trip was that we came back with a concrete set of next steps to act upon in order to making something that had previously only been fanciful into a reality.  Bay made the decision to return to school to get an MBA, and so, came home, registered to write the GMAT, studied for the GMAT, and began stressing out about the GMAT. 

I began the process of looking into what it would take to start writing the LSAT, what entry requirements existed, and figuring out how to break the news to my parents (further education is no doubt exciting, but it does come with a hefty price-tag, of which we would no doubt be hoping to borrow some money from Mum and Dad to make ends meet).

Writing the LSAT was no peach, and I guess they make it fairly excruciating to weed people out.  Although I’ve got plenty of experience writing tests under a time limit, I was not used to this format.  I found myself writing as fast as I could and scrambling to get every question completed in time (and correctly), only to put my pencil down, take a breath, and be told that our time was up and we needed to move on to the next section.  By the end of that day, I was exhausted and didn’t want to consider what it would mean if I didn’t get a reasonable grade and had to rewrite.

Fortunately my score was pretty good, and my undergraduate GPA was also good.  I wrote the admissions officer at UVic to ask if she felt my chances were reasonable that I would be offered a position.  It was with a big sigh of relief that I checked my e-mail last Summer while we were in Nova Scotia and read that if I had correctly calculated my GPA, I would most likely be receiving an offer.

That is a massive if, so I probably spent the next three months recalculating it over and over to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken.  When you hear things like that, your mind starts to play games with you.  Bay and I were willing to move to Vancouver or out East to pursue school if that was necessary, but it would be nice to stay in Victoria for at least a few more years.  I didn’t have any choice but to wait to hear from UVic, and to begin preparing applications for other universities in the meantime.

In time, I did receive an e-mail from UVic letting me know that they were in fact offering me a position to start Law in the Fall, and that I could stop shaking and sweating.  Huzzah!

After that, it was simply a matter of hurry up and wait.  It is never easy to sit still when you have a new pursuit and direction, and this is especially true for individuals like myself, that thrive on growth and overcoming challenges.  The remaining months of work have been difficult.  Not because the work itself has been challenging or hard to accomplish, but because I know that I have reached the end point for my interest in this path, and that I have a new path to pursue.

That brings us full circle back to the beginning of this post, as I have now provided my notice of departure, and am tying off all remaining loose ends.  Five years is a very long time to be at one company, and I’m not certain whether or not I will find myself in a similar position again.  It is almost impossible to accurately ascertain that until you actually come face-to-face with the same situation.

During my tenure here, I have learned a great number of things.  Many of them related to the various aspects that make a software project come to fruition, but also many related simply to the act of effectively managing both projects and people (and believe me, the majority of project management is about managing people, not the project itself).  I’ve also learned a good deal about HR, both good and bad.

I’ve met some good friends through work, and have learned a large number of skills that I’m confident I will be able to apply in whatever field I eventually end up working in (GTD anyone?).

It is difficult to say whether or not I will return to the role of managing projects in the future.  I know that I have a knack for the role, and possess many of the innate skills that are needed to effectively manage a project, but, my biggest concern would be that I be able to find new aspects of this kind of work that continue to challenge me.  Regardless, I’m not the sort of person to mentally shut doors on anything, and if an opportunity presents itself that I think will be rewarding, I will be willing to go for it.  I don’t really know of any other way to live life.

Revealing the fact that I’m returning to school to pursue Law has been met with an interesting range of reactions.  Many of my closer friends usually say “Ah yeah, that makes sense” (with the implication that I argue too much and am generally a heartless prick – maybe I’m inferring that).  People that are not particularly close with me, or with which I have a strictly working relationship, generally react with “Really?  That’s a big shift!”.  I suppose that in some ways it is, but the ability to discern what rules we are currently constrained by, and how we can operate and find a solution within those rules is really the crux of both the project manager and the lawyer.  The rules just happen to be defined differently (one by competing business and political interests, the other by codified laws and our bill of rights).

For those curious, I am initially drawn to intellectual property law, and for a number of reasons.  First of all, I think that my background will serve me well in this field, as I have a good deal of experience not only with managing and directing efforts in this realm, I also have a very strong understanding of the entire procedure, from start to finish (requirements, all the way up to implementation and delivery).  This field of law is also particularly interesting these days, as our technologies are opening up more and more doors every day, and challenging existing copyright laws that have previously been bound and determined by some fundamental principles (such as “reproducing something like a book is difficult to do, and thus not an offence that will be committed frequently”).

I think that’s a sufficient update into my professional life.  Next up is an update on dancing.  Keep it locked.

Evolution of a system, and some other minor updates

June 1st, 2009 No comments

It’s been around two months since I started leveraging Macintosh’s Stickies
to act as my digital task management system.  As all good processes
should do, my system has evolved over time in order to better
accommodate the things that I find necessary, and to prune out any
unnecessary parts.

Up to this point, my system has evolved as follows:

  • Attempt to implement a paper tickler system, similar to what I use at the office

This attempt failed fairly quickly.  I don’t enjoy amassing
large amounts of paper around the house, I don’t have a convenient
place to put a tickler file that isn’t ugly (I don’t spend a lot of
time in our office, preferring to do most of my work in our dining and
living rooms), and I wasn’t checking it on a very frequent basis.

  • Implement a rough system using Terminal windows

This step represented my change from a paper-based system
to a digital one.  Not a bad start, but a long way to go.  You can read
about this step and the one following here.

  • Change over to using Stickies to manage tasks

This marks the start of my system actually becoming fluid
and working well with my own tasks.  It is within this framework that
the majority of the rest of my tweaking will occur.

The last step looked like this:

StickySystem.png

The latest evolution looks like this:

System_Step_4.png

The changes I have made are not massive ones, but the little things make a difference over time.  A quick summary:

  • Only the TODO window is fully expanded

The old system had four windows expanded by default – TODO, Blog, To Buy, and Projects.  However, this creates four windows that demand my attention by default.  By changing to a paradigm where I start and finish with just the TODO window being expanded, my eyes are immediately drawn to this location whenever I load up my system.

There wasn’t really a need to have the other windows open either – if I want to make sure that I blog soon, I simply put “Blog” as a todo item on my list.  When it comes time to actually write, I just expand my blog window and look over the potential topics that I’ve recorded, choose one that interests me, and get writing.

Likewise, items under projects simply require my review from time to time.  Whenever I feel like I have enough time on my hands that I can begin to tackle one of them, I open up the window and choose one of them.  Items that I need to purchase, can simply act as a list that I reference when Bay and I head out the door on the weekend to run errands and possibly spend some money.

As an aside, I highly recommend maintaining a list of items that you intend to buy.  Having those items written down and made tangible really makes it easier for you to focus on what you will be sacrificing when you spend your money frivolously.  If I check this list before heading out the door on a Saturday, it just makes it that easier to think “Hmm, this thing is cool, but if I get this, I’ll have to wait even longer to get those bike gloves I wanted”.

  • Location Tickler has been expanded

I’m still trying to figure out the best way for this tickler to work.  The location tickler started to accrue a number of items that were related specifically to people, rather than locations.  Tasks that require another person are generally a little easier to act on than a specific location, as I can complete an item marked “Lend book to Davin” when I either go to Davin’s place, or when he comes to my place.  On the other hand, a task marked “Drop clothes off at Salvation Army” requires that I physically be at the Salvation Army.

It is possible that over time these two items will merge back together.  For now, I maintain the two ticklers separately (though physically close to one another on my screen) because I want to be able to check only the People Tickler when I have people over, and both the Location and People Ticklers whenever I’m leaving the house.  The goal here is to make the process of reviewing the ticklers as efficient as possible, in order to encourage myself to actually use them.

Don’t underestimate this last point – I’m still working to develop the habit of actually checking the ticklers whenever Bay or I leave the house.  I have an active item for Vancouver that says Bay and I need to return some items to Ikea.  However, Bay left the house to head over to the mainland this Friday, only to realize that we’d both forgotten this needed to be done.  That’s okay, it’s just another aspect of working to learn a new habit.

  • List section

The list section just holds a number of lists that I maintain.  Ideas for dates, gifts, vacations, and other things that I think up, want to remember, but haven’t had a place to store them up until now.  Whenever I have an idea that falls into one of these categories, I capture it wherever I am, and then add it to one of these lists when I get home.  If I don’t yet have a list for this particular idea, I create one and add it to that.  Easy.

  • Dance Lessons

Writing ongoing lessons means that I need to keep a stock of fresh ideas and techniques to teach my classes.  The process by which I do this usually involves jamming at the studio, Steve’s place, or my kitchen when cooking, and playing around with various techniques.  Whenever I do something that strikes me as worth pursuing, I make a note in the appropriate sticky.  There are a number of different stickies under the dance heading, because there are a number of different techniques that all fall under the Popping umbrella.

When teaching a class, I find that it’s better usually to stick to one or two of these techniques, in order to get people familiar with a couple of different ways of moving throughout the class, rather than jumping all over the place.  Having these stickies makes it easy for me to sit down during the week and say “What do I want to teach the class this week”.  I can review the items that I’ve captured, grab a couple from each list, and then put together a lesson plan based on that.

  • More meaningful use of color

When I initially put together the sticky system, my use of different coloured notes was more whimsical than anything.  I tried to apply colors that helped separate the open windows from one another, and to denote headers for various lists, such as the Location Tickler.

This time, I’ve updated the use of color to follow a more specific pattern.  Headers are generally coloured green to make them stand out a little more.  Beneath these headers sit the actual contents of each category, such as the names of people I need to talk to, specific locations, etc.

Any person or location under a tickler that has active items associated with them/it is colored red so that I can quickly get a feel for where I have tasks with just a glance.  This is in addition to updating the sticky itself to note how many active tasks I have.  So, for example, I have one active task with my friend Rob.  His sticky is coloured Red to indicate this, and there are also the words (1 ACTIVE) beside his name.  At a glance I can quickly determine where tasks are piling up.

That’s the bulk of the changes that I’ve made so far.  As always this is an iterative process, so the more I use the system, the more refined I anticipate it will become.  Eventually I will get things to the point that I no longer really need to make changes in order to have it function in a manner that is most efficient for me on a daily basis.

A final note about the mobile counterpart to this system.  This is the voice-recording application that I’ve been using on my iPhone.  It was one of the first applications that I came across when I searched the app store on iTunes for voice recorder, but fortunately it’s fit the bill perfectly.  Here is a screenshot of the application:

AudioMemo.png

You can see advertisements at the bottom of the application, because I haven’t paid to upgrade to the full version.  I’m not opposed to paying for applications, especially if they’re as valuable to me as this one is.  However, the free version works fine, and having ads there doesn’t bother me in the slightest (I almost never visually interact with the application, so it’s not distracting).

The application is extremely simple to use, which is ideal.  When I have a new idea, I click the big red Record button and a new recording is started.  Speak into the microphone, click Done, and you’re finished.  You can do fancier things like name the recording if you want, but I find this unnecessary.  I capture the idea quickly, get home, and just listen through each recording, transcribing as I go.

Playing the recording is as simple as clicking on the words “New recording”.  You can click the arrow at the right for more options, but again, this is unnecessary.  To delete, you either click the arrow, or swipe your thumb from left to right along the name – this brings up a Delete button which you can click to erase the recording.

As you can see, most of the recordings I make are usually between 3 and 10 seconds in length.  My initial thought was that it would be quite tedious to transcribe each memo, but when I’m only listening for 3 seconds, it takes me no more than five minutes to copy everything across (and that’s if I’ve let them pile up).

The application is called Audio Memos Free, and I highly recommend it if you want to give this approach a try.

If anyone has any questions about the system as it currently stands, please post a comment and let me know.  I always relish the opportunity to consider different perspective and points-of-view on what I’ve got set up, especially if it means I can glean a new way to increase my own efficiency.

Making the most of your time

May 22nd, 2009 No comments

Today’s my thirtieth birthday.  For a lot of people that’s a pretty big milestone.  Some people see it as the start of entering mid-life, some the end of youth.  I try to live my life by staying present in the moment whenever possible, and so I aim to avoid finding myself in a position where my birthday comes around and I think “Holy crap, thirty years have already passed”.  I like to believe (and only time will tell) that one of the best defenses about wasting your youth, your young adulthood, your mid-life, and all of the other incredible phases of your life, is to try and take the time whenever possible to appreciate it.

It seems that right around this age, people typically start to lament a lack of spare time.  I think there’s a number of reasons for this – one of which is certainly that as our life gets busy, we find ourselves with less time to slow down, turn our eyes inwards, and reflect on what is going on.  Probably the most common reason for this problem is that people gradually add more things to their plate over time, and before they know it, they no longer find themselves with spare time.
Filling your spare time with things that you want to do is an efficient use of your time, but often, we lose sight of exactly what we’re spending our time on, how much time we have available, and end up wasting time simply trying to manage everything that we’ve picked up.
There’s a couple of things that we, as individuals, can do to avoid this.  Today, I’m just going to write about some really simple ways to increase the amount of time that you have at your disposal.  None of these ideas will be ground-breaking, but maybe there’s a few that you haven’t considered before.

Be present in each moment

Okay, I cheated and kind of already mentioned this one.  Still, this is a really important part.  I picked this up when I first watched Marc Lesser giving a speech at Google called Accomplish More by Doing Less (you can watch that video here).  Marc is a quirky character that spent some time as a monk studying Zen habits in a monastery, before earning his MBA.  One of the key points he mentioned in his video was one of the fundamental concepts of Zen, which is to be present in each moment.

Being present in each moment isn’t a complicated thing, but it isn’t simple to accomplish.  It’s simply a matter of taking yourself out of your headspace and being aware of how you are feeling.  Take a minute to reflect and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What am I doing? 
  • How does it make me feel? 
  • Why do I feel that way? 
  • How might my actions currently be affecting other people?

The more often you take the time to account for how you are feeling and what you are doing, the more often you will become aware of the day as you are moving through it.  One of the easiest ways to burn through your time is to get caught up in something without coming up for air.  This doesn’t always have to happen when you’re having a stressful day at work – as the well-known maxim goes: Time flies when you’re having fun.

Okay, I confess, this tip isn’t really about creating more time, it’s about appreciating the time that you do spend.

Improve your typing speed

Okay, this tip is specific to me, and people that spend a lot of their time in the same medium that I do (computers).  However, this specific case can be applied to yourself in a more general sense: Figure out ways to make the things you do frequently more efficient.

The aim is to find small things that add up over time.  I spend a lot of time writing e-mails, blog entries (these things aren’t short!), chatting with people on MSN, and browsing the net.  Anything that I can do that will make these activities more efficient is going to gradually lead to more time for me.  Consider the following: The greater the amount of time that you spend doing X, the greater the benefit you will reap from a small improvement in your efficiency performing X.

Growing up, I learned quickly the benefit of memorizing the location of each key on the keyboard.  But I never moved past that.  I could type quickly using two fingers and a thumb from each hand, but I had to keep my gaze fixed squarely on the keyboard, and I made a hell of a racket when I was banging away.

After the first year in Computer Science at UVic, I realized how ridiculous it was for someone majoring in the studies of computers to be unable to type correctly.  I tracked down a copy of Mavis Beacon (a typing tutorial), and got to work.  At first, progress was slow and agonizing.  I would be chatting with friends on MSN, deliberately typing out each word, slowly, but correctly.  On an almost per-second basis, I would feel the urge to just hammer out the words the way that I knew how, but I maintained my discipline and stuck with it.

As a result, I can put together long essays, e-mails, win arguments on the internet, and chat with friends without my typing speed being an obstacle.  The content I create in those mediums has also improved – not directly because I am able to type faster and thus more, but because I can now forget about typing.  It is no longer an obstacle getting in the way of what I’m really setting out to do, which is to articulate thoughts.

Improving typing speed may seem like a small thing, but it’s something from which I’ve reaped big rewards over time, simply due to the sheer quantity of time that I spend sitting in front of a computer (don’t talk to me about carpal tunnel syndrome – I’m hoping it’s just a fad that will blow over).

Write stuff down

Here’s an easy one that leads to big rewards.

  1. Buy a small notebook and pen, and keep them on you at all times
  2. Whenever you have an idea, write it down

That’s all you need to do to get more benefit from your time.  The more often you write ideas down, the more ideas you’ll capture, and the more you will free up your mind from the burden of having to remember things.

The less time you have to spend remembering things in your head, the more time you will be able to spend thinking about how to solve problems you’re currently dealing with, resolving issues that may arise somewhere down the line, planning out how you will spend the rest of your time, and just being present in the moment.

If it sounds too simple, or even trite, I can appreciate that.  If I hadn’t iteratively moved towards this type of approach, I too would doubt its validity.  However, I can attest that simply lightening the load that is normally placed on our minds will do wonders for your ability to appreciate and make the most of your spare time.

The other thing that will come naturally out of writing things down is an enhanced sense of mindfulness.  When you force yourself to write down thoughts and ideas, and to make those ideas more concrete, you will naturally become much more aware of what it is that normally occupies your mind.  Maybe you start to realize that you have spent the last three of your breaks at work annoyed about how messy your office at home is.  Maybe you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how out of shape you are. 

Making the most out of your time doesn’t mean have an abundance of time with which you do nothing.  It means spending your spare time in the way that will best lead to your happiness and sense of fulfillment.  Dealing with the things that are on your mind is how you accomplish this.  I
guarantee that once you’ve cleaned that office up, you will no longer be wasting your time in a funk thinking about it.

Stop procrastinating

Again, this is trite right?  Procrastinating is a problem that many of us suffer through, but try as we might, cannot overcome.  While the subject of procrastination could really be an entire blog post unto itself, I can share quickly a few of the things that I use to avoid this beast.

One of the traps that I notice people run into with procrastination is that they don’t really contemplate what it means to waste time avoiding doing the task that they know they need to accomplish.  Procrastination usually means the following:

  1. You need to accomplish task A
  2. Instead of accomplishing task A, you put it off, and instead do a mildly distracting task
  3. You waste three hours of time, then spend the rest of your time frantically trying to accomplish task A

This approach isn’t rewarding, and you typically end up wasting your spare time without even realizing it.  During step 2, you are focused on the fact that you haven’t yet finished task A.  Because your mind is occupied with this fact, you are unlikely to pick up a task that requires any mental investment, and so most of your time will be wasted doing something frivolous. 

Frivolous activities and pursuits are good.  In fact, they’re essential.  However, you should make a point of consciously making the decision that you want to spend your time this way.  When you procrastinate, you let the task that you are avoiding dictate how you spend your spare time, and that’s an excellent way to minimize what you get out of it.

When you have a task at hand that you don’t want to get done, Focus on the other things that you want to accomplish today.  Focus on what you will not be able to do later if you procrastinate now.  Procrastination is typically so easy for us to do because we focus on the task that we do not want to do, but this is never how procrastinating works.  That undesirable task is typically something that has to be done anyhow, so by procrastinating you are simply delaying the inevitable.  The items that are optional and fun to do but require some mental effort, however, are the tasks that we actually prevent ourselves from ever getting to when we procrastinate.

Another tip I was given was taking a more systematic approach, which some people find preferable.  When you sit down at the start of your day to begin working (or sit down in the morning on a weekend to begin working on chores and projects), write out a timetable detailing how you plan to spend your time. Include breaks you’ll take, time you’ll spend making dinner, doing the dishes, having fun watching TV, etc.  Once you’ve done this, get to work.  Make a note of any time that you veer off your schedule, either because you procrastinated, or a task went longer than expected, or any other reason.  At the end, review your schedule and see how you did.

One of the things I like about this approach is that it forces you to do some reflection.  How realistic are you when determining how you’ll spend your time?  Is it really honest that you put down that you would only watch thirty minutes of television?  The other thing that this approach provides you with is another way of seeing what you sacrifice when you procrastinate.  When you have everything written out on a schedule in front of you, it’s pretty easy to see immediately what you are giving up by delaying on a given task.

Develop a system for tracking your tasks

This last one should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone at all that ever reads this blog.  I’m a big fan of staying on top of your tasks.  If making the most of your time means accomplishing more things that you want to do, I think a good system that enables you to do that is essential.

Although the systems that I’ve described using for myself have grown in complexity over time, a system that works for you does not need to be, and can literally be as simple as the tip I already mentioned (write stuff down!).  By keeping track of the ideas that you have and storing them in a meaningful way, you’ll be able to stay on top of more things that you genuinely want to do.

Before I started to make an effort to capture ideas that I had (note: it’s no longer an effort, it’s simply become a natural part of my daily process), I would spend the majority of my evenings playing video games.  Playing video games are rad, no doubt, but even when I didn’t want to do this, I would still fire up the Xbox and zone out for a couple of hours.

These days, when I want to play video games, I do so purposefully.  All I mean by that is that I make a mental decision that that is how I want to spend my time.  You see, before, I would play video games out of boredom.  My thought process would be “I don’t know what I want to do, so I’ll just play video games”.  They’re easy, they provide interactive entertainment, etc.

In aiming to accomplish more, we should strive to avoid doing things out of boredom.  We certainly want (and deserve!) moments when we take a step back, have a deep breath, and maybe just veg out on the couch.  But that’s different from simply sitting around bored.  Being bored is the worst way to spend your time, because it means you’re simply letting it slip away.

An effective system will allow you to capture ideas and tasks that you have, and give you something to look to as a reminder when you’re not sure what else to do.  Having a system that works for you will let you review the thoughts you’ve had recently and determine if there’s anything else you want to do before you decide that you’d really rather plunk down in front of the TV and relax.

Accomplish

So that’s really it.  Some of these tasks are simple, like improving your typing speed, and some may requiring overcoming some inertia to start putting in motion.  However, whichever angle you decide to start on, think about the next steps, and ignore the nagging voice in the back of your head that tells you all of the reasons that you can’t do something.  Determine what you want, figure out the next step, and then act on it.

Get out there and accomplish!

The art of humble confidence

May 18th, 2009 2 comments

Project management is an interesting discipline to work in.  It’s natural for people, over time, to gravitate upwards and towards roles that involve management.  Gaining a deep knowledge of a given domain, and the ability to perceive how it will be affected over the long-term is naturally an important trait to possess when managing people that work within that domain.  However, this alone is not enough to be an effective manager (although, too often, it’s the only qualification that is considered).

Today I’m writing about one of the more intangible skills that I think are important in an effective project manager.  I call the skill humble confidence.

Yin and Yang

A lot of the people I’ve talked to find the concepts of confidence and humility to be at odds with each other.  Why would someone that is confident bother being humble?

Isn’t humility really just about being someone that admits defeat and accepts that they cannot accomplish a bunch of things?

Humility is an under-rated virtue, and part of the reason for that is this line of thinking above.  Being humble means having the ability to accept that there are things that you are not the best at.  Not only are there things that you’re not the best at, there are things that you plain aren’t good at, and there are things that you downright suck at.  It’s easy to say that out loud without ever having it touch down beneath the surface.  The humble man can reflect, turn his sights within, come to the conclusion that he’s not good at something, and be alright with that.

For those that watch The Office, David Brent and Michael Scott are perfect examples of characters completely lacking humility.  They’ve both got every reason in the world to actually be humble, but neither of them can admit or accept that they are poor at doing a single thing.

True confidence comes from the ability to accept and understand the fact that you are good at some things, and poor at others.  Being aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are will give you the ability to approach situations with full knowledge about how you can affect them positively, as well as how you may end up making mistakes if you tread in areas for which you are ill-suited to assist.

True confidence comes from having a solid dose of humility, which will allow you to look inwards with honesty, and determine the things that you can really do well.  False confidence is that which is possessed by Michael Scott and David Brent.  Some other warning signs of false confidence are an inability to admit when you are wrong, the inability to agree to disagree, loud opinions without substance to back them up (typically being loud is used to drown out anything that might lead to questioning the assumption that the speaker is correct), and never being able to accept blame.

The confidently humble project manager

Project management is a position in which you need to be okay with the fact that your claims and suggestions are going to be questioned frequently.  Why is that where our budget is currently at?  Why can’t this project be completed by that date?  Are you sure that your recommendation will work?  (No, you’re not, since it’s almost impossible to be sure about anything when we’re managing people and moving priorities and deadlines).

Effective project managers need to be able to handle having their advice, assumptions and recommendations questioned.  In fact, they need to be able to do this themselves beforehand, because that way they can be confident in what they’re saying.  Not only is it important to be able to handle questioning, it is important to be able to listen to those questions with humility.

Project managers that don’t possess adequate humility will dismiss legitimate questions to their proposals out of hand, missing the opportunity to refine their approach, attitudes and suggestions, and alienating their clients.  Project managers without adequate confidence will find themselves getting caught on every question that a client has to ask, lending too much weight to the slightest uncertainty, succumbing to the trap of analysis paralysis and exposing their team to constantly changing priorities.

The man who knows nothing

Being able to accept the fact that you are not an expert on everything provides you with a valuable ability: to rely on the experts that compose your team.  A project manager that believes themselves to be an expert on everything automatically raises a couple of questions:

  • Why do we have a technical architect and a business analyst if the project manager is capable of all this?
  • Why are these other people being pulled into meetings with the project manager if they are not needed?
  • Is the fact that the project manager doesn’t let the rest of the members of his team volunteer information an indication that they are incompetent?

None of these implications are attractive or co-operative.  One of the most important things I’ve learned over time managing projects is that it’s okay for me to tell a client that I don’t have the answer to their question.  I can’t answer that question, but my Senior Developer can and I can check in with them and get that answer. Better yet, if they’re there with me, I can turn the question directly over to them.

There’s an important distinction here between a good and a bad project manager.  A good project manager will rely on his team for their opinions and advice. A bad project manager will rely on his team for scapegoating and passing off blame for poor results.  Don’t let yourself fall into the second category.  Those in the know are aware that poor results from a team are generally the result of poor management by the project manager.

The project manager that understands the values of humility and confidence is able to accept that they are not the expert on everything, and listen to a question without taking it personally.  Is this a valid question?  Have I actually accounted for this? Listen, consider what is being asked, discuss with your team as appropriate and respond.

By allowing yourself the benefit of being an imperfect human being, you will find that you are much more open to opportunities to learn and to improve the project that you are working on.

Hiring and working with intelligence

February 27th, 2009 5 comments

As of late, the subject of intelligence has been at the forefront of my mind.  Intelligence has always been something that I have great admiration and respect for, and something that I seek out in anyone that I intend to enter any kind of relationship with.  Friendships, employment, project teams, and most importantly, my spouse – all of these relationships are far more rewarding when they are shared with other intelligent people.  (Did you catch the backdoor brag there?  Of course you did, you’re probably intelligent too.)

However, intelligence has many forms, and the more I work, contemplate, and talk about it with friends, the more apparent it seems to me that we generally focus too much attention to only one of those forms.

What is intelligence?

Intelligence has many forms, but, at least in North America, we are generally raised to consider only one narrow aspect of it – the ability to do well on standardized tests.  It’s unfortunate that it is necessary to determine some way to measure the progress and success of certain students as they move through school, and the main way by which our society has evolved to do this is by giving them material to learn, and then testing their ability to regurgitate this information without applying a lot of thought to it.

I refer to these kinds of tests as narrow in focus because they typically only measure and reward a student’s ability to read, memorize and repeat information that they are presented with.  In more formalized systems of learning, such as math, it is possible to test not only their ability to repeat information, but also their ability to apply that knowledge in different manners, depending on the situation.

The many faces of Intelligence

As I’ve suggested, intelligence can appear in many forms.  Below are just a few of them.

Standard Intelligence

This is intelligence as we typically think about it, and hence the name used.  I’m not implying that intelligence of this nature is common – I believe it’s considered, to some extent, to be distributed along a bell curve. The ability to take in new knowledge, parse it, and comprehend it. The ability to understand how to apply that knowledge to what we already know, as well as new situations and scenarios as they arise.  Some people refer to this form of intelligence as book-smarts, as these people are typically able to do quite well on tests.

This form of intelligence is generally well-measured (or at least as well as we can hope from standardized testing) and valued (though not as highly as I think it should be).  This is also the form of intelligence that is typically decried as being elitist, whatever that is supposed to mean.

Since standard intelligence is already a fairly well-understood quantity, I won’t spend too much time on it.  Hopefully you, as the manager, are able to recognize this type of intelligence when it appears, and utilize it well.

Wisdom

Wisdom is, in my opinion, a more abstract type of intelligence.  It isn’t as easy to define as our standard form of intelligence, but perhaps that is just my own lack of articulation.

Wisdom is the ability to apply our own experience to that which we observe around us, and the future.  It is the ability to act with foresight, based on what we have observed and experienced in the past, and to make decisions that will affect ourselves positively in the long term.

Some of the common terms used to describe some who is wise include: common sense, thoughtful, and able to think long-term.  These terms all typically apply to people that are able to make intelligent decisions that are informed and require thinking more abstractly than simpler decisions. The wiser the individual, the more likely I have found that they are able to conceptualize ideas and concepts over the long-term, and across a broader spectrum of individuals.  In many ways, wisdom represents your capacity to apply knowledge that you hold.  The wiser you are, the better able you are to apply your knowledge to a multitude of people and situations.

Wisdom and standard intelligence are not necessarily mutually inclusive, nor mutually exclusive.  We have all met the tech-guru, able to tell you with annoying accuracy what the first hundred digits of Pi are, but is unable to understand why something he said would offend half of the people you work with.  This individual is capable of acquiring a large amount of knowledge, but can only apply it within his own narrow spectrum of experience.  Contrary to that, I have a friend that is not able to rapidly pick up new and complicated concepts, but he can apply the knowledge that he does acquire to many different situations and concepts outside of his own breadth of experience thus far in life.

Wisdom is a valuable concept in management, allowing you to apply what has happened in the past to what may occur in the future.  A manager with wisdom will be able to apply their own experience to that which their team members are currently dealing with, and aid them in this manner.

Creative Intelligence

Creative intelligence is arguably the least tangible type of intelligence, and may very well just be creativity in the general sense.  Nevertheless, in my experience, the ability to think creatively, and apply it to the problems at hand, is a skill I place a premium on.

Creative thinkers are typically able to think outside of the box and come up with innovative solutions.  Additionally, these kinds of people will see areas where innovation and creativity can be applied to the existing business and production lines.  The drawback to creative thinkers is that they can exist so far outside of the box that their suggestions and feedback may not be realistic.

Creative intelligence, as I choose to describe it, exists within the overlap of intelligence and creativity.  The ability to know and understand your existing boundaries, see solutions that lay beyond that and that are unrestricted by those boundaries, but also to understand how they can integrate and fit within your existing goals, practices and workflows.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence seems to be gaining better recognition as of late, being recognized as an important part to human resource and management resources.  Emotional intelligence is occasionally referred to as empathy, or sensitivity.

An individual that is emotionally intelligent will be able to understand the impacts that given actions may have on members of your organization, and how different people will perceive a given action.  Emotionally intelligent people are capable of taking themselves out of their own headspace, and looking at things from another person’s perspective.

Empathy is a very important skill for a successful manager.  Being able to understand what someone in your group really means when they make a statement, and how a given mandate or request from you is going to be perceived, allows you to proactively make decisions that will facilitate change and lubricate the potentially complex social dynamics that are inherent to any group.  Remember my post about optics?  Well, emotionally intelligent people are the ones that will best be able to understand and explain this factor to you.

Likewise, people working in human resources need to be able to understand how their company’s policies and actions will affect and be perceived by employees.  Effective emotional intelligence will also enable your HR departments to ensure that new employees are hired with personalities that will not just fit in with the existing dynamic, but also synergize and enable further progression and growth.

The need for balance

In order to maintain a successful organization, and a positive, efficient group dynamic, a team, as well as a company on the whole, needs to ensure that a delicate balance of the above types of intelligence is fostered and cultivated.

A company composed of people that only possess book smarts will have a tendency to alienate important stakeholders, both inside and outside of the company.  Employees (arguably the most important stakeholder for any project) will be alienated by company policies and decisions that appear to have been made without any consideration given to how it affects the employees, and clients will be alienated by poor communication and the way that information is radiated outwards from the company.

On the other side of things, a company dominated by emotionally intelligent people, but without enough resources thinking about the bottom-line and efficiently achieving objectives will become inefficient, spending too much time considering how every decision will affect every stakeholder, leading to inefficiency in executing your objectives and plans.

How do I get me some of this?

As I mentioned above, it’s usually fairly easy to determine the level of standard intelligence someone is when hiring them, especially if they are coming straight out of school.   Due to the testable nature of this type of intelligence, their school transcripts will give you at least some kind of an indication of what they are capable of. Unfortunately, the other types of intelligence are a little more elusive, and there are no convenient ways to ascertain just how much of a capacity a given individual has for these ways of thinking.

The easiest approach is if you already have someone within your organization that possesses these characteristics.  Bring them to the interview, and they will likely be able to determine whether or not a given candidate has the chops.  Barring this option, you can try to use some scenario-based questions to determine these qualifies.

As a last result, you can attempt to hire someone (such as myself) to consult for you and seek out these specific skills.  While this approach will not garner you the benefit of having someone able to determine how well someone will fit into the social dynamics of your office, it can help you pinpoint specific skill-sets that you want to bring on board (if you take this route, you should have the consult meet with the candidate at some point, but making sure to interview them with your own team as well).

The importance of honesty

Knowledge is a great thing, but before it’s even possible to put any of the above to use, it’s important to take an honest, reflective look at both yourself, and your company, in order to determine exactly what it is that you are working with.  Many of us have difficulty in turning our view inwards and asking ourselves, which, if any, of the above forms of intelligence we possess, and which we are lacking.  If a company cannot honestly perform this type of reflection, barring good fortune, it will likely end up with an imbalance, and the inevitable inefficiencies that flow from that state.

Turn your sights inwards, and look for the places that are lacking, and treat these as opportunities to improve.  A good company should always be striving for improvement, and places that have a known hole to be filled represent low-hanging fruit; areas that you are lacking in and are cognizant of are much easier to resolve than those that lie outside of your current scope (obviously).  Treat these opportunities for what they are: a chance for continued growth and improvement.

In conclusion, I’m finding it quite enjoyable to write about the things that, up to this point, I’ve just considered intuitive.  However, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas or subject matter to write about.  If you or anyone else have any suggestions for further discussion, please leave me feedback in the form of a comment.

Managing change, migration, and expectations

February 5th, 2009 2 comments

Sakura!  The season changes, as do all things.I was recently asked for advice pertaining to change management:

I am on a committee at work to try and figure out some ideas to make things better/easier/more enjoyable for employees when the company makes some sort of change.  Such as when everyone at the company needs to learn a new procedure or piece of software or company rule.

This is a tricky question, because it’s so general.  Every situation will have its own quirks, details, and difficulties that add to the complexity involved in affecting the change positively.  On a tangent, Davin and I got talking about the process through with Telus and BCTel (the two main phone companies associated with Alberta and British Columbia, respectively) went through the process of merging about a decade back, and what a debacle the entire affair turned out to be.  This kind of change is obviously on a scale large enough that it requires a plan specifically suited towards its success and various intricacies, and is out-of-scope for what I’ll be talking about today.

What I’m going to aim to do is describe some of the things that we are seeking to do whenever we look to affect change in the processes and methodologies that the people we work with use on a daily basis.  I plan to cover:

  • Why attempts to affect change are resisted
  • Aiding the acceptance of change
  • Things we should avoid

Background

As a preface to this, I do not have any formal training or background in change management.  I do however have experience with this subject.  While working for the University of Victoria, I was part of a group of three co-op students and one supervisor that were designing and implementing a completely new system of information management that was to be used by all of the different co-op programs at UVic.  Going through the process of training, migrating old data, designing an interface that made sense to people, and subsequently migrating those people from an old (and arguably rickety) system to the new one, all provided me with a lot of valuable experience.

On top of that, I have managed a large number of projects and application deployments that have required middle-tier and end-users to change over to new ways of accomplishing old tasks, new workflows, etc.  Coming on to a new project and managing it, or even just having a new person join my team that I haven’t worked with before are both situations where I need people to make changes to their habits.  I don’t know anything about how previous employees were managed on other projects, but it’s quite likely that things were done slightly differently than the way I do.

Lastly, I’m just the kind of guy that enjoys doing analysis.  I think about this kind of stuff often, and I like to analyze my own routines and attempt to change myself for the positive, and determine how and why I am succeeding or failing at any given point in time.

Change FAIL

Many attempts to introduce change into existing workflows and processes fail. Before we can determine what to do correctly, we need to understand how it is that we are doing it incorrectly.

A lot of changes occur with the following workflow:

  1. Management discusses a perceived problem
  2. Management determines the way to solve the problem, and the required changes
  3. The required changes are passed down to employees via memo that says something cheerful like “Exciting changes are coming to company X!”
  4. Employees read the memo and notice that the changes are not exciting
  5. Employees feel annoyed at management for introducing inefficient/annoying changes

There are a number of problems here.

Poor transparency

The visibility of this entire process is completely opaque to the employees, right up until the very end.  They have no way of knowing what led to the development of these new procedures, why these new procedures are being instated, and least of all that they were even being considered in the first place.  A memo at the end of a pipeline is a bad way to communicate upcoming changes to your staff.

Optics

(these are different, though similar to, transparency)

What about the optics of this process?  Well, there are none.  As far as the staff can tell, this is a completely arbitrary change that has just been passed down from high up on the mountain.  Some people may be in love with the feeling of power that being able to make unquestionable judgements like this provides them, but these people do not make good supervisors.  There are exceptions to every rule, but people generally like to be included in processes that affect them.  There is zero inclusion in the process I’ve outlined above.

No vested interest in success

Is there anything in the process that I have outlined above that would cause employees to be vested in the success of this new change?  I can’t see anything.  Some of you may argue that, “If they don’t follow this new procedure, they will get fired!”.  While this may be true, the only thing this approach to introducing change will motivate your employees to do is accept it enough to not lose their jobs.  We’re not looking to have people perform “good enough”.  We’re looking to introduce change that will make people better and more efficient.  We don’t want to be “good enough” managers, we want to be awesome.

Successful Change

So, now that we’re armed with the knowledge of what makes introducing change a failure, we can construct some steps that will hopefully ensure our success.

Be transparent

Employing transparency is important to the success of most changes.  No one appreciates the feeling that they are pawns just waiting for the next arbitrary decision to be foisted upon them from some mysterious being high above.

People are creatures of habit.  We don’t like having our daily routines change, and we’ve evolved to resist changes like this so that we can create efficient routines that work for us. The greater the amount of lead-in time that you can provide people with, the better they are going to be able to adapt to that change.

There is obviously a balance here.  Telling someone that in five years, you’re going to change the system they are learning is a bit too far off for anyone to realistically work towards.  However, doing this initially, and then maintaining transparency throughout the development process is an excellent way to keep people abreast of what is going on, and help them adapt their mindset to the changes that are in the hopper.

Transparency allows you to ensure that employees are able to adapt along with the system, and keeps things in the forefront of their minds.  Many people shy away from transparency because they feel that letting people see into the decision-making process will cause them further aggravation.  You can determine how much transparency you want to provide employees, but opacity is never desirable.  If you’re worried that they’re not going to like hearing about the changes that are being planned, think of how much worse they’ll take them if the first time they hear about them is from a memo telling them that they have to change next week.

Consider the optics

Okay, so what do I mean by optics, if not transparency?  Optics are the way that your actions are perceived by those around you.  Whenever any of us undertake an action, we have
complete knowledge (or at least, in theory we do) of why we are taking that action.  When you are on the management team that is planning, designing, implementing, and rolling out a new change in policy, you have full view of the entire process from start to end.  You understand why the policy needed to be created, you are aware of the decisions that went into creating this new policy, and you are aware of why the policy is being rolled out at a specific date.

(Incidentally, I’m using the term policy here, but this applies to anything that will affect changes in other people’s workflow and routines)

Your employees, however, do not have perfect knowledge of your process.  Depending on how transparent you have been, and how much lead-in time you have provided them of the upcoming changes, they may have either a rough idea of why and how this policy has come into being, to no idea whatsoever.

Good optics are one of the main reasons to try to be as transparent in your management as possible.  If people can see that you are willing to make visible everything that you do, the optics associated with that are that you are:

  1. Being up front and honest
  2. Have nothing to hide
  3. See them as equals and worthy of understanding what goes on behind the scenes

This last point bears further elaboration.  Even if your employees aren’t your equals, it is best to make them feel as though they are, for the sake of optics in situations like these.

When rolling out new decisions and changes, always be sure to consider the optics, honestly, from the perspective of those that do not have access to the amount of knowledge that you do.  If this sounds easy, let me assure you, it isn’t.  It requires people with a good deal of empathy (a very important quality in a manager) to be able to understand how other people think and feel in a given situation.

Get people to vest interest in the success of a change

In my opinion, this last point is by far the most important.  When you are asking people to make changes to their workflows and habits, you are asking them to put in effort that they wouldn’t otherwise have to do.  If you aren’t willing to consider this aspect, then you are going to find yourself with a staff that aren’t willing to take on the burden of new changes.

It is my own experience that the best way to get people onboard with new changes, and to invest in a decision, is to include them in it.  Nothing fosters a sense of personal value in the success of something like collaboration does.

When you get people to collaborate with you on something, it is no longer only you that stands to benefit from the success of that finished product.  The success is shared by all of those that have collaborated.

Ask for feedback, even if you don’t intend to do anything with it.  Share the core problem that you are attempting to address with people, and find out if they have any thoughts on it.  Is it even really a problem for them?  Have they considered solutions to that problem before?

There are so many reasons to take this approach, but I will outline just a few (this post is already turning out longer than I intended):

You may learn something you hadn’t considered

Two heads are almost always better than one, and it is this principle that you can look towards as one of the many benefits to soliciting other people for feedback.  Learning the right way to request feedback is a skill in and of itself, and I generally wouldn’t recommend taking an approach like holding a company meeting and asking people to shout out any feedback they have (although this can work in some situations as well).  What’s the worst thing that can happen?  You may get some ideas that you had already thought about or won’t end up using.

People want to be listened to, and to feel important

Simply asking people what they think about something is one of the best ways to make them feel like you care about what they have to say.  We all want to believe that we are intelligent, creative, and have good ideas.  Even if that doesn’t hold true for all of us (and certainly for any of us all of the time), it is still nice to feel this way.

A lot of the time, people just want to feel that they’ve been heard.  In my experience managing projects, I would say that a significant amount of suggestions, ideas, and feedback are more about people wanting to feel like they’ve been listened to, rather than to have their ideas actually implemented.

Make your employees feel important by soliciting them for ideas, and listening to them.  And please, be earnest when you listen to them.  Don’t just nod your head rapidly, counting the seconds until they shut up.  Be genuine in your interest.

It doesn’t require a lot of effort

The above two items should be sufficient enough to follow this advice, but if you’re still hesitant, do it simply because it doesn’t need to require a lot of effort.  You don’t need to go and shake hands with every employee and spend thirty minutes talking to them; sending out an e-mail to everyone explaining what you’re doing and requesting feedback can be enough.

An example

Once again, in order to stay in the realm of the concrete and implementable, let’s take an example.

Let’s say the company you are on the management team, and you have noticed that there is a large amount of garbage being thrown out at the end of each day.  You pay a fee for the volume of garbage that is carted away each day, and hey, you want to be a greener company too (that’s pretty vogue these days right?).

The wrong approach

The management team considers the problem, determines a solution, and then three weeks later, sends out the following memo:

GREETINGS PEONS, 

Because Megacorp pays for the garbage removed from the premises based on the volume disposed, we will be instituting a new policy to allow only smaller (1L) garbage cans in cubicles, starting next Monday


The right approach

The management team considers the problem, and sends out an e-mail:

Hello Staff,

Because Megacorp pays for the garbage removed from the premises based on the volume disposed, and in an effort to continue our company’s drive towards a greener approach, we are considering new policies to cut down on the amount of waste generated on a daily basis.  We are interested in any and all feedback, so if you have any, please send it to lordborak@megacorp.com.

Thanks!

I am obviously hamming it up a little bit here, but we can already see that this approach is much more transparent (the employees are finding out about this new policy change far before anything is actually implemented), has much better optics (the change doesn’t seem to be only for the company’s selfish motive of paying less for garbage disposal), and is encouraging staff participation and collaboration.  (Even better would be having a contest for the best suggestion, but rewarding innovation is a topic for another post).

An update could be provided part way through the process:

Hello Staff,

Thank you to everyone for your excellent suggestions.  After consideration and review, as well as considering the feasibility of each of them, the management team have decided that the best way to proceed is to reduce the size of garbage cans in each cubicle to a 1L container.  If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to send them to lordborak@megacor
p.com

Have an awesomely great day!

Later on, the policy could be introduced with an e-mail like:

Hello Staff,

As e-mailed previously, the new garbage can policy is being rolled out next Monday.  Thank you to everyone for your cooperation, and speaking up about your concerns.  We appreciate everyone making the effort to help Megacorp cut down on waste, and to drive towards our shared goal of “living greener”

And once again, there is an opportunity to turn this policy change into something fun if you want to provide some kind of incentives.  On that note, if I get any comments requesting it, I will post about some of the positives and dangers of providing employee incentives and rewards for things like this.

It doesn’t look like much, but I think that when we hold them side by side, we can really see the differences.  The better approach provides excellent transparency to the employees.  It’s not giving them a view into the entire process, but it’s certainly making clear to them the intent, and the path that is being followed to reach the desired goal.  Not only that, but the optics of the second approach are superior, and definitely encourage a sense of participation and mutual achievement between the employees and the management team.

The end result didn’t require that much additional effort from the management team, but I guarantee you that the changes will be received much better.

The key to all of this really comes down to empathy.  When you are making changes, remove yourself from your own headspace, and consider how these changes will be received by other people.  Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking of your staff as employees, or drones, or any other label that you find convenient.  They are people, just like you and I. Treat them as such.