Life / Can Do

Helpful tips to living a better life

Posts Tagged ‘Work

Avoiding Hard Work Takes Too Much Effort

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Laziness takes more energy at work than it does to commit to doing a good job and giving it your all. I have to admit there were days when I would go to work with the intention of just putting in my time for they day and extending as little effort as possible. When work was slow there would be few that would blame me. Why not take it easy when you have the opportunity?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. After a day of accomplishing nothing I would go home feeling like I accomplished nothing. It’s against human nature to do nothing. There’s nothing wrong with taking a nap, or meditating or just relaxing at home – when you do that you are actively pursuing a goal of relaxation. But, just sitting around, waiting for 5 PM, is a degrading experience that can lower your self-esteem.

What I’ve learned is that it is during those slow periods that the most important work gets done. This is time you can finally work on that idea that had been brewing in the back of your mind. Or you may spend some time, addressing low priority issues that you never had time for before.  Pitch that idea to your boss, rearrange your work space, clean up your inbox, research aspects of your company’s business that you know little about. Whatever you do during this time will feel more rewarding because it was something you chose to do and not something pushed on you when you are already maxed out.

Idleness is a bad habit to pick up. If you do it long enough, you will find it very difficult to get back into hard work. Always keep a few “Someday/Maybe” items on the back burner that you can work on when there is a lull in activity. I find that I am happiest when I’m constantly working towards a goal. Even when waiting at the dentist office I’ll review my active task on my smart phone. You may think that would lead to stress but by always being on top of things I actually maintain a relaxed state. It’s when I let things slip or don’t follow through on something, that my stress level increases.

The key is to maintain a state of relaxed productivity and avoid getting into crisis mode.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

February 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Life, People, Productivity

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Perfect is the Enemy of The Good

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lifecandopic-218

We all want to achieve great things. This passion for excellence is what drives us forward but this same passion, when taken to extremes, can also hold us back. In attempting to achieve perfection, we risk never getting started.

To do great work, we must first do work that is just plain good. To do good work, we must first do work that is just plain bad – and lots of it. Even if 90% of what you do is mediocre, more often than not, you will be judged on that 10% that is excellent. While others are singing our praises about the excellence we’ve achieved, we need to accept it and not let our average be how we measure ourselves.

Consider the great inventors of the past. The Wright Brother’s first flight at Kitty Hawk was an amazing achievement but, by today’s standard of flight, the Wright Glider doesn’t even compare. They knew that to achieve the goal of powered flight as a means of transportation, they would first need to accept good enough as a first step.

First Flight

Then consider great Thomas Edison who gave us the light bulb. That was arguably his greatest invention but it is also a product with a 100% failure rate – all light bulbs blow out eventually. Now we find that we are replacing the wonderful light bulb with a more efficient alternative. If Edison had waited for perfection, someone else would have come along and invented it and we would be praising their ingenuity.

The world does not want to wait for you to perfect what you have to offer. We want the best you have to offer right now. You can continue refining it but let us see what you have now. Finish that novel, display your art, perform that speech – whatever it is that you are afraid to complete or even start, put it out there.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

February 10, 2012 at 7:18 am

Posted in Business, Life, Thoughts

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Responsibility

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The group I work with had a bad quarter financially and it was my fault. We had lost an important client and failed to bring in enough new business to cover that loss. I am not a director or a manager and it is not in my job description to make the decisions that would directly affect the bottom line, but I still accept a share of the responsibility for the loss. It would be easy to believe that the results were out of my control or to blame it on the current economic conditions. I could even argue that my projects were extremely successful and the work that I did reduced costs while increasing business value. However, the truth is that I am part of a team and when that team does not do well, I do not do well.

As individuals, we have to own our part in the success or failure of the teams we work with. I am proud that the work I did may have helped mitigate the negative numbers but I regret that I could not have done more to help others achieve the results we needed.

I asked my manager about what we did or did not do to cause us to lose that client. He didn’t know. How could he not know? How could something that was so significant not be communicated clearly and to everyone?

So I am taking responsibility for something executives at the company did not care to share with me. There was no lack of communication when we were all told that bonuses and raises were going to be reduced due to this unknown failing of ours.

I will not accept this lack of communication. I will not grumble, complain and blame the higher-ups for the lack of fairness. I will keep asking until I get an answer. When I do get that answer, I will ask another question: “What could I have done differently that would have helped prevent the loss of the client?”.

I believe we were not told because the executives believed it was their own fault and not that of the employees. I believe it is shame and not malice that makes them reluctant to share the information. They have a responsibility to make the right decisions but they should not take all the blame any more than they should take all the credit for the results we produce.

I decide how much I will contribute to the success of the business. I decide if I’m going to do just what is assigned to me and I decide if I’m going to go beyond what is expected. If I am treated unfairly and my pay does not reflect my contribution, it is my decision to accept it or to look elsewhere for work. The only thing my employer really has control over is whether or not to keep me on the payroll during a layoff. I do whatever I can to make keeping me on the right choice.

I blame not just myself but everyone in my group. I blame those who do only what they are told and don’t ask questions. I blame the employee who follows a process just because it has always been done that way. I blame the project manager who is only concerned with meeting his project’s deadlines. I blame the person who leaves early because their work is done while their peers are overwhelmed with work. I also forgive them because I have done the same in the past.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will come back from this setback. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. A successful business is not one set of quarterly results or the loss of one client. A successful business is the cumulative success of the individuals working in it.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Dealing With Pressure : A Real Life Case Study

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pressure

Currently I’m under a lot of pressure to complete a project by a certain date. I have 2 weeks to do about 4 weeks of computer programming. How I got into this situation is another story but for now we’ll focus on techniques I’m using to handle it.

Stop taking on new work

The first step I took was to communicate to the rest of the team that I needed to focus all my attention on the current project. I made it clear that I would be unavailable to take on any new tasks until it is complete. That alone decreased my potential workload by about 30%. I let everyone know when I expected to be done and available.

Breakdown the work into manageable tasks

I then did an analysis of the work that needed to be done and broke it down into manageable tasks. This is something I would do under normal circumstances but it would be especially important when time is limited. I then estimated how long it would take to do each task in hours to get an idea of how many hours I would actually need. I compared that with how many hours I could reasonably work in the remaining days to see if it was even feasible.

Prioritize the tasks and determine the exit criteria

With the list of tasks in hand I then assigned a priority to each. I used a 1 to 4 prioritization but A,B,C,D could work just as well. In addition I labelled those tasks that absolutely must be done as “Exit Criteria”. Anything that was not labelled as an exit criteria would be done only if time allowed. You’d be surprised at how much work we take on that doesn’t really need to get done so determining the exit criteria is a way to separate the “must have”s from the “nice to have”s.

Trim as needed

Trimming work is an important part of any project. I looked at what needed to get done and looked for ways to reduce the amount of work needed to complete each task. I’d look at a task and try to see if there were a quicker way to accomplish what was needed than what I have originally intended. Often, I would find a task that needed 8 hours could be reduced to 2 or less by taking a different approach. I may even find ways to use work that I had done before rather than starting from scratch.

Delegate everything you can

There were a number of analysis tasks that I would have normally have taken on myself but with the time crunch I just let someone else on the team handle it. This may involve given another employee a chance to take on more responsibility than usual, which is a great way to contribute to their growth. I had a business analyst do tasks such as tracking down some crucial details that I needed for the project, meeting with users, updating documentation, hosting technical meetings. That was stretching his abilities a bit but he’s handling it better than I had hoped.

The business analyst said something I found quite wise and amusing related to working with people from another group.  He said, “Tim, let me talk to them. They should be more willing to help me because they will know I am in over my head.” Here a case where someone used their own limitations to our team’s advantage. It really is an awesome feeling when you work with good people.

Know your limitations

You would think being in a time crunch would mean working non-stop until the project got done. Actually it doesn’t work that way. There have been studies that has shown team that work excessive amounts of overtime take longer than teams that work a reasonable amount of hours. This may not apply to tedious, mindless work but it does for anything that requires focus, creativity and intelligence. When time is limited it is important to be focused when working.

Yesterday I had planned on putting in a long day, but after working for 9 hours I could tell my productivity was starting to slip so I stopped. It takes a lot of energy to think so once you start to get tired even relatively simple tasks can take much longer to do.

Even during those 9 hours I had to take little breaks. I would stop every hour to stretch, breathe and clear my head. At lunch time, I ran on my treadmill for 30 minutes before having a light lunch (big lunches are productivity killers).

Focus on one thing at a time

With all I have to do, it is tempting to try to do multiple things at once. I resist that temptation because, it is next to impossible to multitask. The brain is just not built that way. When people talk about the ability to multitask what they are really talking about it the ability to switch between tasks quickly, otherwise known as context switching. While building this skill is important it is important to recognize that context switching comes with a cost.

Try reading a newspaper article and when you get to the middle stop and switch to another article. When you get to the middle of the second article switch back to reading the first. You will notice that you need some time before you get your bearings on the first article, you may even have to re-read a sentence or two before you can continue. The time spent doing that is one cost of context switching but it is only one cost. As you continue reading the first article, you may notice your mind thinking about the content of the second. Lost focus is the other cost.

It is important to focus on one task as long as you can or until you finish that task. That is also why it is important to break work down into manageable tasks that can be completed in one sitting or less. You leave a task half done and it may stick in your mind until you get a chance to get back to it.

Keep your head clear

If you have anything on you mind, unrelated to the task, that is bugging you, you should schedule a time to address that issue later. If you start thinking about a birthday party that you need to plan, while working on an urgent task, stop for a moment and jot down an entry in the scheduler of your choice to work on that later. Once scheduled you know longer have to worry about forgetting it. It may not be completely off your mind but it won’t be as intrusive.

I have a few unrelated tasks that I need to work on later. They are important to me so I picked a day and time on my calendar and scheduled a meeting with someone else who is involved. Now I can put it out of my mind and just focus on what I need to get done for the urgent project. Even as I write this I had to think back to what it actually was because it is no longer something I’m worried about. I know I have a time set with a reminder that will let know when I have to focus on it. It is so far out of my mind I honestly don’t remember what date I picked. I just know it is going to be handled in the future.

Assess your progress

This morning when I got back to work I took a few minutes to assess the work I had completed the night before. I was pleasantly surprised to find I had done the same amount of work in one day that it would have usually taken me three days to complete, maybe more. With at least a 3 to 1 ratio I am confident I will complete the project on time.

If I was so productive, why not work that way all the time. I wish it were that easy. The problem with maintaining that level of productivity is that it isn’t sustainable, at least not by me and not at this point in my life. I had to block out my schedule and reduce time spent on other commitments. Life has a bit of flexibility when dealing with extreme situations but if you don’t let it bounce back, stuff can start to break.

Remember what’s important

If you work with good people and have a supportive family they will understand that when you need to commit to something for a period of time. However, if you do that too often or for too long you risk damage to relationships. Coworkers will start to resent your lack of teamwork and family will feel neglected.

The goal should be to complete the urgent project as soon as you can so that you can get back to meeting all your commitments. Even when working on the urgent project you still need to find some time for family and friends.

Today my daughter stopped me in the kitchen and wanted to sing a song that she learned at daycare. I had been going to my computer to finish something, but instead, I pushed that aside and put all my focus on hearing my little girl sing. The song was simply all the months in the year done to a tune ending in a few lines of verse. I was delighted that she could now recite all the months. It the grand scheme of things, I’ll remember Emma singing this song much longer than the project I’m working on. It is just more important to me than one work project out of the hundreds I’ll probably do in my career.

If I hadn’t taken the time with my daughter I would have had a nagging feeling in my heart when I got back to work. That feeling would have weighed me down and hurt my focus. Even if I were to still finish the project on time, how good would I feel knowing what it cost me. I’m not saying that I am always there for my family – I still need to make a living – but I will be there if they need me.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

Busy, Busy, Busy

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One of the downsides to increasing your productivity is that you tend to take on more work. You become one of those “Go To” people who can be counted on to get things done. There is an urge to take it all on and show others you have what it takes. Resist that urge and only take on the amount of work you can reasonable manage.

Just recently I’ve managed to get a number of projects off the ground at the same time. These were sitting in limbo over the holidays due to lack of funding and available people. Now they have all been given the green light and are under way. The problem is that I’m involved in all of them so now I find my time stretched thin. I hadn’t planned on having them all going at the same time, but I’m now a victim of my own success.

In past years, what I would do is push a few ideas forward knowing that it would be unlikely all of them would pan out. There is so much stalling and red tape in a big corporation, so you need to get things promoted early and keep pushing until they get the right amount of approvals. I’ve since had some projects that went extremely well, so now when I propose a solution it moves forward.

It’s a given that I have more work than I can reasonably handle. The only solution is to delegate and hand off what I can to others – something I have been historically uncomfortable doing. You know the old saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. I don’t believe that but I do believe if you want something to go according to your vision, you have to do it yourself.

Once you hand off work to someone else, their vision of what it should be starts to alter the end result. That is as it should be and woe to the person who tries to force his exact vision on other people. Others may follow the basic idea but they are bound to put their own take on it. If you don’t allow for others to add their own ideas, you will end up with a disengaged worker bee, not a collaborative creator.

So I have to accept that I need to share the vision of the project with others and work with them to produce excellent results. Still, there is something in me that mourns the loss of control.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 17, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Aspects of a Successful Life

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How to improve the quality of your life?

We all desire a happier and more rewarding life. In that we often strive to improve specific details of our lives – get a better job, own a bigger home, spend more time with our friends and family, get in better shape, and so on. While it is important to work on these focused goals, it is important to take a step back and look at our lives as a whole and determine if our individual goals contribute to our long-term happiness. It is easy to assume that a goal such as striving to get a better paying job is something we want, but we may find that we are just following a pre-programmed path set by the expectations and influence of others or even the media. It would be a tragedy to struggle for years to achieve a goal only to find that is detracts from you happiness instead of contributing to it.

Big goals and small tasks

Once you take a step back and consider what you want to achieve in life, the complexity of the problem can be daunting. When faced with a large goal the best thing to do is attempt to break it down into smaller more manageable goals. You may need to establish another levels of goals below these as well if they are still too daunting. Once you have a list of goals, you will need to determine that actionable tasks you need to achieve those goals. Even then if there are tasks that appear too big to tackle, you can break those tasks down into smaller sub-tasks. There is no limitation on how small the tasks should be. They need to be small enough so that you feel that you can easily accomplish them. This is just a high level overview on the process of goal setting and tasks. We will expand upon the topic of goal setting in a future article.

Mind, Body and Spirit

The first step that I take when editing my life goals, is to consider the three main aspects of my being that I want to improve which are mind, body and spirit. While the more pragmatic may feel that this is little too “new-agey”, I want to assure you that I will strive for practical advice based on both quantitative and qualitative research as well as my own personal experience. The word “spirit” has religious connotations, but in this context this word encompasses the topics of passion, drive, motivation and purpose. The concepts of mind, body and spirit are very useful when setting goals. In practice, however,  most goals will address more than one of those. Though exercise is often considered a way to improve the body, it also improves the mind and spirit as well.

Maintain skepticism

Most of the advice I will provide on this site will be based on work done by others. For years, I have researched the fields of self-improvement, productivity, business and anything else that would help provide the answers I had been looking for. I will continue to research in my endless mission to improve my life and the lives of others. In those years my life has had many challenges and I attempted to apply what I’ve learned to those challenges. I’ve achieved great things as a result. I’ve also found that some of what I’ve learned was faulty or incomplete. I don’t begrudge those who shared that faulty information as I believe most offer the best that they know and it was up to me to find my own answers.

I will do my best to share what I’ve learned but it is important that you remain skeptical to my advice or the advice of anyone else. You have to find what works best for you, but to do that you need to consider what others have to share. If you figure out a better way of doing things, I ask that you share that with others.

Nobody has all the answers. We often see experts publish a book one year only to produce an expanded edition some time later. Were they holding out on us? I don’t think so. The publish a new edition because they’ve gained more knowledge, more insights and have had more time to apply their ideas in the real world. I’m sure they also get feedback from others about how their advice didn’t work as they expected and that they needed to make changes to meet their personal circumstances.

It’s up to you

Not only do I not have all the answers, I still have many more questions of my own to figure out. Still, I am absolutely certain that if you try some of the ideas I will share with you, you will learn ways to improve your life. When you do experience success, it won’t be because of anything I’ve shared, but rather due to your own efforts to apply what you’ve learned.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 8, 2012 at 11:23 am

Productive Disagreements: Revisted

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In a recent article I discussed the value of a good argument that received an interesting response from another blogger who writes the excellent management blog, Manage Better Now. Here’s what that person wrote:

The best ideas that I have ever seen implemented were born out of conflict. Be polite and professional, but a passionate heated discussion gets the blood flowing and stimulates new ideas. I welcome conflict, but you have to make sure everyone leaves the meeting as friends (or at least as close to it as they were before the meeting).

I have to admit when I wrote the article it was intended to be somewhat of a lighthearted piece – a quick read intended to provide new insights. However, the comment above made me think and inspired me to add more to the topic.

The statement about making sure “everyone leaves the meeting as friends” is an important point that should have been part of the post. At the time I wrote the article, I felt that the value of maintaining mutual respect was implied, but upon reading it again I can see how it could appear to promote conflict for conflict’s sake, which is not what I intended. Conflict that does not produce value for one or both parties is just sadism.

An argument does not always involve direct conflict at least not in a personal sense. The word “argument” has a number of different connotations. I fear that most people normally associate the word with the ranting produced by dysfunctional relationships.

As a person who has worked for years as a software developer, I have many fond memories of arguments that produced great results. Some I “won” and some I “lost”, but in both scenarios, to the benefit of our clients.

An unproductive argument can occur when a participant is not given the opportunity to state their case. People with strong personalities have a unconscious tendency to overlook those who are more reserved and less outspoken. They may feel that if a person had something important to add, they would speak up load and clear. That would be a valid point, but there should be consideration toward encouraging others to share their ideas.

I had a boss, let’s call him Frank, who yelled at me during a meeting after what must have been my 5th attempt to jump into the conversation. “Tim! If you have something to say, speak up! Don’t wait for permission because you ain’t gonna get it.”

Years later, Frank and I were in another meeting where he was arguing against rewriting a piece of software that I believed was at the end of its life cycle. I had to make my arguments against his line of reasoning. He was saying the development costs would be too high and I argued that maintenance costs over time were much higher. I stood my ground and even had to talk over him to present the facts. In the end, I had the math to back me up so I won the argument.

After the meeting, I was having mixed emotions about standing up to a person who was my mentor for so many years. As I was sitting in my cubicle mulling this over, Frank came up to me and patted me on the back. He was proud of what I did.

A corporate environment is not, in and of itself, a cold, heartless place. It is the people in the organization that can make it cold. We must remember that a corporation is an intangible concept that requires people to make it tangible. When those who lead an organization, lead from a sense of purpose, with dignity and respect for others, they create an environment that builds employees who create value for the love of creating value.  I was not fearful of arguing with a person who had authority over me because I was arguing for the benefit of our company and our clients and not for my own selfish reasons. In the group that I work with, the person with the best ideas implicitly has the authority to promote those ideas, even if they conflict with others higher up in the organization.

This blows the minds of new recruits. They come in expecting the same old command and control mentality they’ve witnessed at other companies (or even in other departments within our company). But when they see themselves being asked for their opinions, and experience their ideas being taken seriously, it can be a little daunting. When you are person working in the trenches, you are not accustomed to being held accountable for your ideas or decisions. They may be thinking about what might happen if their idea fails or if they are called on to take on a bigger role than they were ready for. They should consider the consequences of their ideas because that is what leaders must do, but a leader must also have the courage to take risks for something they believe in. You build leadership skills by leading when you are not ready for the responsibility.

When an employee’s idea doesn’t pan out, the consequences are usually minor and mostly self inflicted. At most, they may need to face questions about why they didn’t consider all the possibilities before spending resources on something that wasn’t feasible. In general, most good companies will reward failure especially when it was an attempt to be innovative with a reasonable level of risk.

I have a motto that I’m sure I borrowed somewhere : “Fail early and fail often”. For every 5 great ideas, only 1 will live up to its potential, but that 1 great idea that does succeed, will more than compensate for the other 4. For this to be true, the person or team has to know when to call it quits on something that isn’t working. Even those that fail to pan out, may eventually turn into something if given time on the back-burner. But don’t waste effort on a lost cause hoping for that spark of insight sheds new light; it will only come when you have put the idea aside.

Some of my proudest moments are when I convinced management to cancel a project early on, before costs got to high to quit. Trust me when I say that arguing against your own idea, is one of the hardest arguments to win.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm