Archive for September, 2010

You are your calendar.

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Andy Robinson over at Career Success Partners put up a great video by Tom Peters called “You Are Your Calendar.” Peters is legendary (infamous?) for his long and winding Powerpoint presentations, but this is a wonderfully succinct video (2:28), that’s as direct as could be.

Peters says that

“There is only one asset that you have and that asset is your time.

[Imagine you're a boss of a distribution center and] you say that this is the year of extraordinary attention to quality. Then at the end of the first month, I sit down with you and we go through your monthly calendar day-by-day and hour-by-hour. And we discover that with all the meetings that occur and all the surprises that come up in the course of that month you spent 6 hours directly on the quality issue.

Well, guess what: quality is not your top priority.

The calendar never, ever, ever lies.

If you say something is a priority, then it must be quantitatively reflected in the calendar.”

I’ve harped on this point many times before on this blog (here, here, and here, for starters): the calendar is the best tool you have to allocate your scarcest and most valuable resource: your time and attention. From a lean perspective, the calendar also enables you to level the load of work. And finally, diligent use of the calendar makes it possible to engage in PDCA — without the calendar, you can’t “Check,” and therefore you have no way to Adjust.

I’ve been working recently with an administrative group at a major medical center. They complain that there’s not enough time in the day to handle all their incoming work, and yet they have no idea where their day goes. (Which is to say, they have no idea where they spend their time and attention.) They get steamrolled by the tyranny of the urgent, and they neglect to spend time on what (is ostensibly) their real value-creating activities.

“The calendar never, ever, ever, lies.” All you need to do is give it a voice by using your calendar diligently for all your work. You may be surprised at what it tells you.

Godzilla in the corner office.

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Ever see an old Godzilla movie where the monster roams around Tokyo and wipes out buildings, ships, and train lines accidentally, just by waving his tail? I’ve got that image stuck in my head recently.

I’ve been working at an organization that’s grown from five people to 55 in the past 18 months. Kudos to them: they’re doing great work, making a real difference in their market, and continuing to grow. The staff is focused, dedicated to the mission, and very hard working.

They’re also frustrated at the number of urgent, drop-everything-and-get-this-done-now, orders from the president. Or more precisely, they’re frustrated by the number of *perceived* urgent, drop-everything-and-get-this-done-now, orders from the president.

In fact, when you watch the president in her daily work, you realize that most of her requests are actually not urgent orders. She’s asking for some information or some task to get done, but it’s almost never urgent.

The problem is, the staff *thinks* those requests are urgent, get-it-done-now issues because they’re coming from the president.

When the organization was smaller — and in more humble offices — the atmosphere was more casual. A five- or eight-person organization doesn’t really have much (or much need for) hierarchy. But when you’ve got 55 people, nice offices, and the president sits in a glass corner office, you’ve got a different atmosphere and different implicit assumptions. Now, a simple request from the big cheese becomes an urgent order.

There’s an apocryphal story I once heard about the CEO of a Fortune 100 firm who was visiting one of his company’s plants. He asked an idle question about their production statistics compared to one of their competitor’s. When he came back for a visit four months later, the plant manager handed him an enormous 3-ring binder with a full production analysis and comparison with the other firm.

Problem was, the CEO didn’t care about the report at all. He asked an idle question. He didn’t expect or want a full report on the issue. But when the CEO asks a question, it’s easy to take is as an order.

When you’re in the corner office, you’ve got incredible power. People think your requests are orders. At the very least, your staff wants to please you. Like Godzilla, you’ve got enormous power — even your tail swishing behind you can cause enormous damage, without you even realizing it. You’ve got to be very careful about what you ask for.

If it’s not something urgent, let people know. If you have a time frame for a request, tell them what it is. Otherwise, your team will assume that it’s urgent and will drop all their other work to make you happy. Specificity and clarity will keep you from being Godzilla.

Why not just add a video game to your car’s GPS?

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Microsoft just introduced “Outlook Social Connector” for all versions of Outlook. This nifty little bit of software will enable you to integrate  and view updates from your various networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace from the convenience of your Outlook inbox.

As you read an email from a friend or colleague, Outlook Social Connector shows you real-time updates about their activities on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, or Windows Live Messenger. You can also add contacts and expand your social and business networks directly from the Outlook People Pane.

I don’t get it. I mean, I understand the appeal of social media, and I think that in many situations it has real value, but to integrate it into your Outlook? Like you’re not getting enough garbage pumped into your inbox already?

Most people I know already complain that the volume of email they deal with is an impediment to getting their real jobs done. And the highly addictive nature of email is mirrored by that of social media feeds. So adding more tasty distractions to one of your primary work environments (your computer) seems like a really bad idea to me. Kind of like moving your office into a bar, or a playground, or a museum. Or putting a miniature version of Tetris or Asteroids on your car’s GPS. Sure, you could try restricting  your attention to your budget spreadsheet or the road ahead, but you’ll probably fail. Pretty soon you’ll be checking out the blonde at the table next to you, or trying to kill alien invaders during your next drive across Wyoming.

You don’t see games and distractions right next to a table saw. Why would you want to add that to your email?