Busy != Productive

The people I really respect are those who can get mountains of work done and deliver amazing results … and still have a life.

It’s really easy to mistake “busyness” for productivity. The folks always rushing around, having meetings and complaining about how busy they are certainly LOOK like they’re doing a lot. But the reality is that effort and output are not always related. Productivity is about getting loads done — how you spend your time should be up to you.

Some busy people are also productive; some productive people are also busy. There are times when you’ll see me running around like a maniac, juggling half a dozen projects and priorities. But if you measure (and therefore reward) “busyness” as opposed to results, then you won’t get what you want. You’ll get an army of employees who are too busy to talk to each other and potentially on the verge of nervous breakdowns, who actually don’t achieve very much.

Measure results. Measure the outcomes, not the actions. Don’t reward someone for working night-and-day on a task, reward them for producing the deliverable at the end. Reward the person who gets the same work done in less time MORE than the person who is missioning for days and days. That way, you’ll encourage your team to be more productive, rather than just busier. They’ll find their own ways to improve the way they work and the entire team will benefit as a result.

Invest in Yourself

A recent article about refactoring your career made me think back to when I first read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. For those who haven’t read it, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is a personal finance book — some of the advice is a bit variable (e.g. he recommends against diversifying your investments, which I 100% disagree with), but there are some good concepts in there.

One that struck me at the time as making a lot of sense was the thought that you should always pay yourself first. In the financial world, this means contributing to your savings and investments and pensions and so on BEFORE you pay your bills or buy any “extras”. This disciplines you into saving/investing regularly.

The same is true in terms of your career. You NEED to invest in your own training and development first, in order to have a dynamic and rewarding career. Concepts like Google’s 70-20-10 rule are similar to this — you need to not only focus on what is making you money now, but also what will make you money tomorrow and next year.

In terms of your career, this means that you should be setting aside time for training and development — some of which is focused on making you better at your current job and some of which is focused on getting you towards the next step in your career … and some of which should move you towards your long term goals.

How do you include training & personal development into your life? Do you find it hard to find time to invest in yourself? Share in the comments.

Management By Optimism

Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands to fill the time available”. If you don’t have much to do, it doesn’t inspire productivity. If you have loads to do, it often inspires procrastination, but I digress.

Today, however, I want to address the corollary to this. Some people seem to believe that since work expands to fill available time, work will also CONTRACT to fit the available time. It usually plays out like this:

Project Team Member: Getting the environment set up took two weeks longer than anticipated, so now we don’t have enough time to test. I think we need to move the go-live date.
Project Manager: No, no, I’m sure you’ll manage it.
Project Team Member: As I said, I think compressing the testing down to just 2 days is a serious mistake. We’d be risking the whole project!
Project Manager: Listen, I’m sure you understand this is a really important project. We MUST make that date. You’ll just have to make it work.

This, my friends, is Management By Optimism. It is probably the most dangerous management trend in evidence today. When you see it, start to worry, because it is probably the biggest threat to your projects and to your careers.

Management BY Optimism is very different to being optimistic. Being optimistic is seeing the cup as half-full — trying to think the best rather than the worst in a given situation. Management By Optimism, on the other hand, is about IGNORING potential failure. Just because the impact of a particular risk is severe, the risk is regarded as extremely unlikely. Rather than facing the problem and dealing with it, it is ignored until a catastrophic point is reached — or until the relevant manager can jump ship and blame the sinking on the crew.

So what can you do if you worry that Management By Optimism will scupper your project? Well, firstly, look out for the signs. Failing to consider real risks, reacting adversely to the suggestion that the plan or schedule is unrealistic are both big warning signs. Secondly, try to address the problem in a constructive way. Sometimes we all delude ourselves into thinking things are better than they are. Holding a team risk-assessment meeting can help — just get everyone to rate how severe and how likely they think a risk is. It will quickly become apparent if the team cannot envision a successful outcome when the leader is dead-set upon it (and vice versa).

Or, if there is no other option, bring in the big guns — take it as an issue to the Project Board and make clear that there are real concerns about the chances of success. Much as “it’s going to be late/over budget/under quality” is unlikely to be POPULAR news, any senior manager worth their paycheck should realise that early warning is significantly better than unanticipated failure.

Do you have some examples of Management By Optimism and perhaps other ways to combat it? Share in the comments!

Solving Problems Isn’t Hard

Solving problems isn’t hard. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, then for most problems you can see a few ways to get there, so it just comes down to choosing the best course of action and following through.

Problem definition, on the other hand, can be damn hard.

When you’re facing some problem and it’s driving you crazy, sometimes you’re best to stop and wonder whether you’ve really defined the problem accurately. What are you trying to solve? What is the original problem? Why is it such a problem? How else could you frame it? What description would make it more tractable?

If you can get the problem definition right, your chances of finding an optimal solution are greatly improved. Don’t keep soldiering on down the wrong path, refusing to acknowledge that failure is also an option.

Quick Tip: Text Yourself

Ever get a great idea and then forget it because you didn’t have a pad and paper to hand? Ever wake up in the middle of the night with the solution to your biggest problem and then in the morning have nothing left other than that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something?

This used to happen to me all the time. First, I tried carrying a hipster PDA, but remembering to take it EVERYWHERE was difficult. Then I realised that I already had something that I always carried with me — my mobile phone!

Now, I have a very simple process: any time I get a good idea, whether it be for a blog post, a solution for a wicked problem or an idea for a great new site, I send myself a text. Try it — it works great!