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Is it time you did some Reworking?

Rework 2Sit back and prepare to have your thinking challenged. Rework is a book that will ask some insightful questions about you and your business. My guess is that as you canter through the short chapters there’ll be times when you feel fairly uncomfortable – as the authors describe something that makes great sense then you realise you do the opposite. Ouch.

The book is organised into sections which comprise of 5-10 short chapters. Each chapter picks a topic and ‘reworks’ it in a page or two. There’s a good chance you won’t agree with all the big statements that get made. For me that’s fine. What it’s doing is challenging the status quo of how you think about and conduct work. You could read it and think much of this can only apply to a small business. If you find yourself in this position I’d encourage you to work a little harder and think transferable.

Here’s an example. Policy gets described as ‘organisational scar tissue’. Meaning that for many organisations an immediate response to something not going well is to create a policy. The book just asks why you wouldn’t say to the one individual ‘don’t do that please.’  Obvious point until you start to consider your own policies.

So, elements of this book will make you smile, some will make you think but on the whole I hope it encourages you to act differently. Surely any book that promotes different ways of thinking over long hours is worth some of your consideration?

Teeing the day up for success

golf teeWhen working with different individuals it surprises me how few actually put much thought and effort into working out what the key priorities are for the day. Where people adjust their productivity thinking to include this activity they find the results are well worth the time invested.

The level of detail you want to go into will depend on you the individual. There’s a strong argument that says over structuring the day is counter productive for the modern way of working. I think I’m inclined to agree. However, simply hoping that all your key priorities are going to get the right amount of attention is likely to be a high risk strategy for success. More likely you’ll end up with living with chronic stress and undelivered plans.

So what is the goal here? The goal for me is simple but not necessarily  easy. Thinking about it from three perspectives is likely to help:

  1. Schedule all of your key priorities
  2. Build in capacity to cope with unplanned demands
  3. Take account of when you’re at your best

Schedule all of your priorities – this area is one many people overlook. Of course this assumes you know what your priorities are. It’s beneficial to include all of the different components of your life for consideration. It’s not just the work commitments you need to think about. For example, overloading the end of your working day when you’re supposed to meet a friend or pick the kids up from school is going to generate stress and not allow you to concentrate effectively. The end result is you fail to perform at your best in multiple areas not just the obvious one e.g. the kids waiting for you. The power of a weekly plan will dramatically improve your ability to understand your daily priorities. In the 7 habits of highly effective people Stephen Covey encourages people to schedule their priorities and not their time. This one point alone can have a profound effect on your productivity.

Build in capacity to cope with unplanned events -to think that what’s being suggested here is that every minute of your day needs to have a detailed plan associated with it, is wrong. How much structure that’s required will vary from job to job and environment to environment. Having flexibility to cope with the demands of the unpredictability of modern world is essential. As an example if you work in a customer facing role then it’s likely that you’ll need to allow a greater proportion of your time to respond the their adhoc needs. The daily plan is a reference point to help you bring back order and focus if you get knocked off course.

Take account of when you’re at your best – taking a step back to understand when your energy is at its best is a really beneficial exercise. Armed with this knowledge you’ll have the opportunity to schedule your challenging tasks for the point in the day when your at your best. Equally import is to use the times when you’re at a lull in energy to crank through some low ‘brain power’ activity.

With the above activities considered you may also find it useful to setup your day with a daily checklist. I can hear people thinking that this seems like overkill. In my experience, having a list like this will mean you consistently raise the percentage of days when you’re teeing yourself up for a focused day of productivity.

What approach do you currently use for teeing up the day that others could find beneficial?

Live life, love work


Live Life Love WorkLive life, Love work is definitely worth the read. The opening line of the introduction sums the spirit of the book up nicely “this book is for real people with real lives…”. Kate Burton takes you on a journey to explore how you currently think about the different areas in you life and question how much you are enjoying life versus purely getting by.

Using a backdrop of different forms of energy Kate takes the reader through a series of questions to get them thinking and viewing their current and future positions from different angles. The energy forms are: physical, mental, emotional, purposeful. The book gets wrapped up with a push that will generate action for change. The goal is to help individuals “stay sane, healthy and optimistic without chucking in their jobs, leaving friends and family to head to the beach, the mountains or the other side of the world”.

In summary, this book nicely presents how to view and in many ways audit your current life. It then provides a framework on which you can make adjustments. It’s nicely written and in places thought provoking. For those people who are avid personal development readers you’ll probably not find anything revolutionary. What you will find is an alternative way of thinking about things. If taking action from the book I imagine you’ll see improvement over time rather than an immediate quick fix. Which for me makes the book well worth the investment.

The art of possibility

ben and rosamund zander
The art of possibility is a thought provoking book. If you are really able to engage with the content and explore the concepts provided, it has the potential to change the way you think and act for years to come. Benjamin & Rosamund Zander’s enthusiasm and encouragement leaps off of the pages and has the reader quickly engaging with the text at both an intellectual and emotional level.

The book is comprised of 12 practices. Often the idea behind them is relatively simple but that doesn’t mean they are easy. In fact, some will require the reader to suspend the tendency to think “yes but, in my situation that would never work”. The book is filled with examples of challenging times when the concepts have been applied to great effect. The arguments are compelling. Perhaps the key point of the book is that as human beings we have to believe that there are possibilities and that to find them you’ll need to suspend skepticism or worse still cynicism.

So what are the 12 practices?

1)      Its all invented – encouraging us to realise that everything is invented and how much our way of thinking restricts what we end up doing. This equally applies to thoughts as well as things. What assumptions are you currently making that are never really tested and then just box you in?

2)      Stepping into a universe of possibility – this is a challenge to the way of the modern world where measurement drives so much of what we do. Like Covey in the 7 Habits, the Zanders talk about the scarcity mentality which restricts optimism and ideas.

3)      Give yourself an A – this draws on Benjamin Zander’s work with students in Boston who are learning to play musical instruments. He decided to experiment by taking the pressure off the students by ‘giving them an A’ at the start of the academic year. He set one condition and that was that they had to write him a letter dated at the end of the year explaining why they got their A. This practice suggests that if you really believe in people they will take their performance to a totally new level. This practice will be hard for many to accept. It’s worth thinking about how much you invest in teeing up yourself or your teams for success?

4)      Being a contribution – this practice encourages the mind-set that you approach life by what you’re able to contribute. This is a shift away from the greed and selfishness that occupies so many aspects of our modern society.

5)      Leading from any chair – this is about the importance of leading from wherever you are. Too often individuals wait for instruction from on high or worse still bemoan the fact that there is no one taking the lead. Of course not everyone has the same organisational authority however it is a strong belief of mine that everyone has the same potential for moral authority. Taking responsibility for your circumstances is so important. It’s worth thinking about the word and breaking it down slightly differently – it’s your ability to respond. More about this in practice 10.

6)      Rule number six – lighten up. Enough said.

7)      The way things are – my interpretation of this, is that you need to establish the start point and where you want to get to and then the range of possibilities of how you get between the two will increase dramatically. Alternatively this is about acknowledging reality and not simply thinking positive thoughts will get you to where you want to be.

8)      Giving way to passion – seeking out and going with what really excites you.

9)      Lighting the spark – seeing yourself as the enabler to light the spark in others. This feels like it’s in the territory of the message that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

10)   Being the Board – my interpretation of this is about taking responsibility for the where you are. Avoiding blame and criticism – “I am the framework for everything that happens in my life.”

11)   Frameworks of possibility – this feels like the creation of a framework on which to build upon and ignite others by creating an environment of potential and possibility. Martin Luther King is cited in the book as a great example.

12)   Telling the we story – this is all about the need for inclusion and recognition in the power of the team.

All in all I’d recommend the Art of Possibility. There’s plenty to learn and explore in the pages. My personal recommendation is to explore this as an audio book. The Zanders read the book and give it a whole new dimension.

To give you a flavor of Benjamin Zander I’ve included a clip of him talking at the World Economic Forum in 2009. The significance in the year is that it was just after the financial crash. I love this short film and have used it on a number of occasions to get people thinking differently before heading into some difficult challenge or discussion. Zander talks with passion and inspiration. Maybe he needs to come back and talk again to give our economy another kick.  Enjoy.

Youtube logoBenjamin Zander at the World Economic Forum 2009

Getting the most from a 2013 kickoff

Michael HeppellLast week was Michael Heppell’s annual teleconference; which this year due to previous popularity was delivered as a webinar. The 2013 Kickoff webinar is an opportunity for Michael to give listeners a bunch of strategies and ideas to make the coming year their best yet. In Michael’s typical style it was high energy and very practical.

This type of content is great for generating ideas and lifting your thinking to consider opportunity and possibility.  It’s not unusual with these sort of exercises to accumulate a huge amount of potential things you could do. I use the word ‘could’ deliberately. At this stage the items are just ideas and not a commitment to action.

To quote Michael “it’s not about the knowing, it’s the doing”. So if you’re to get the real benefit of Kickoff 2013 you need to review your notes and ideas and make some choices about which you’ll explore in more detail first. For some this can feel uncomfortable as they don’t want to leave something great on the cutting room floor.  This is where your personal productivity system PPS can really support you.

Make a choice about which item you’re initially going to take forward and then make a future entry in your PPS to ensure you get an appropriate reminder.  For example a simple ‘review Kickoff 2013 options’ in 30 days time. As you become to trust your PPS you’ll get the added benefit of freeing up your mind. Of course the mind is a great place to generate the ideas in the first place but a really poor place to hold and manage them. And perhaps even more importantly bring an idea into physical reality.

Managing those ideas effectively can really get an uplift with a decent plan. One of the key points Michael makes is that brilliant things come from brilliant plans. You can be successful without a plan but you increase your chances significantly if you do have one.

So what does a brilliant plan look like? It’s difficult to narrow down exactly what a plan should look like. Different people will want different amounts of detail. A general rule is to give yourself clarity over what you’re trying to achieve and the components that will encourage momentum towards the completion of your goal.

An alternative way of thinking about plans, is that the plan contains enough detail to get the management of a goal out of your head. If you find yourself not sleeping at night because of things you need to do or haven’t done then the chances are your plan could do with a refresh. If you don’t do that then you could end up as a ‘thought hoarder’  And if you want to know what Michael thinks about them, you’d better check out the rest of the great content in the Webinar – which is now available to download

Let’s make 2013 your most terrific year yet.

Open mind to book formats

art of possibilityFor the last week or so Effective Challenge has been reading the Art of Possibility by Benjamin & Rosamund Zander. This particular book was taken in audible format and it prompted the content of this post.

This isn’t a book review – more a case for people to consider books in a variety of formats. There’s often an argument made that ebook readers and audio books are in some way inferior to their hard copy cousins. We promote all the different formats and strongly believe they have a place in everyone’s productivity arsenal.

The audible format is a great way to make use of time. Car journeys or exercise sessions are just two examples where reading a book either hard copy or ebook reader would be difficult or just impossible. The audible format is perfect for both these situations.

In the case of the Art of Possibility the authors do a terrific job of bringing the book to life. The content is excellent (and is certainly worth a more detailed review on the Effective Challenge site).

There’s something very tactile about the physical book which we shouldn’t loose sight of. What is being argued here is that you have an open mind to the potential of different formats. For a specific recommendation it’s worth trying out Audible. They have a great range and typically have free trial offers available for new customers. If you find the format works for you they have good subscription packages.

What’s your experience of different book formats?

The point after a significant milestone

project milestoneAchieving a significant goal has a great sense of satisfaction particularly if you have worked hard for a sustained period and overcome significant hurdles along the way. To maintain and hopefully really benefit from this achievement it’s important to have the right plan in place to take you beyond this point. It’s very easy to breathe out and then lose all of the great motivation that kept you going. Of course what’s not being suggested here is that you don’t celebrate your achievement or the journey you took to get there.

So getting practical – what does this mean? As you approach a period when it’s likely that the milestone is going to be achieved take a step back and review your overall plans. It might mean something that has been a target goal now becomes maintenance and therefore you can elevate another project or goal to become your focus for the coming period. Of course this assumes you have a longer-term plan on which to draw upon. The key point here is to carry out this activity before you actually complete the goal. That way you’ll have something in place to carry you forward. Waiting until after you have achieved the goal runs the risk that you’ll get distracted and lose momentum. In many cases this results in individuals falling back into poor habits – think about people you’ve seen achieve great weight loss only to find themselves back where they started a year or so down the line.

What techniques do you use to maintain your momentum?

Tech talks on Google

david rock (1)

For a number of years I’ve been following with interest the Google Tech Talks on YouTube. This to me is a great way to gain insight from individuals you typically wouldn’t get access to. The production isn’t over polished but that doesn’t detract from the content which in my experience is of a high standard. This week I’ve caught up with a talk from 2009 given by David Rock – entitled  your brain at work.

This is a good example of the type of format you can expect from the tech talk. Approximately 45 mins of content followed by 10 mins of questions. David Rock does a great job of explaining in simple terms components of the brain and how they interact to make us tick (or not as the case may be). I’d see the tech talks as a great place to give you insight that if you are inspired by you can go on and build your knowledge base through other sources.
Why not give them a try there’s plenty to choose from.

Ocado and the goose that laid the golden egg

Golden egg

Readers of the site will know that I’ve learnt a lot from Stephen Covey’s the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book Covey recalls the fable related to the goose that laid golden eggs. For those not familiar with the story it recalls the tale of a man who owns a goose that lays golden eggs. Impatient to get at the gold, the man cuts off the head of the goose to allow him to reach inside and pull out the gold. Alas the action kills the goose and with it the gold supply. I really like this story as I can see many links to the modern business world.

I had an example of a company not killing the goose today. I took a delivery from Ocado the Waitrose linked home delivery service. Two days before Christmas I said to the delivery driver ‘I bet you’ll be up against it today?’ His reply surprised me. He said ‘no, not really. We’ve learnt lessons and one of them is to not overload deliveries around Christmas time’.

It would be really easy for the Ocado management team to overload their system to allow them to cash in on the season of celebration. On reflection their actual approach feels like a really smart customer service decision. You definitely don’t want to let your customers down at what can be a really stressful time of the year. In addition, if you’re a new customer to Ocado you are likely to use the service at other times in the year if you have a great experience at Christmas. And you never know you might just tell others (or even right a blog post).

I’ll leave you with this thought – where could you be increasing the level of customer service in your business even if it’s at the expense of short term profit?