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    Entries in productivity (11)


    The tyranny of connectivity

    I am slightly ashamed to admit to having done a fair bit of 'real' work over the long Labor Day weekend, (including yesterday, Labor Day itself). 

    Of course I didn't really want to work on Labor Day, or perhaps said differently, I did not want involve other people in said work, mainly by sending out email messages to them on a holiday. But, sadly, I indeed did send a few email notes out, interspersed with the other work that I was doing that did not need to involve communicating to others in order to complete.

    And I as wind up the holiday, (I am writing this on Monday night, pretty late), I have three quick observations from my Labor Day spent, (at least partly), working.

    1. LOTS of other people were working too. As I mentioned, I did, against almost everything I hold dear, send a few work-related emails on Labor Day. I received replies from almost everyone I contacted. And three or four people replied to me within 10 minutes of my original message. If Labor Day is meant to be a celebration of the working person, lots of working persons I know were also, actually, working.

    2. NO ONE I corresponded with over email or chat on Labor Day did not mention the fact that it was, in fact, a holiday. No one questioned why I was messaging them. No one replied, 'hey, it is a holiday, I will get back to you tomorrow', and almost no one failed to get back to me by about 8PM ET, (as I am writing this). 

    3. Aside from the aforementioned email exchanges, I spent most of my 'working' time on tasks that did not require outside collaboration, input, or communication. They were just things I needed to do, and were fairly important, but for some reason had not been done. I noticed my ability to get these tasks completed on a holiday, where I was not being peppered every 2 minutes with a new incoming email or chat message was incredibly enhanced. Quite simply, I was probably twice as productive working on these items on a holiday as I would have been on a normal Monday, when I am, like everyone else, almost constantly being barraged by incoming messages and requests. If I changed my working hours to say, 7PM - 3AM I swear I would be two or three times more productive than I am now. The technology and the need to stay 'connected' all the time during the normal workday is killing our ability to get things done.

    I am not about to change my official work schedule to 'off hours', but I can't say that I am not tempted. there is something to be said for working when no one, (or most anyway), are not working, and you can be, despite our state of constant connectivity, be more or less alone with your thoughts.

    There are thousands of productivity advice pieces that advocate that you consciously disconnect from email and work chat and Slack, etc. during the work day in order to get more work done. But realistically, how many people actually take that advice and feel comfortable and empowered enough to actually not be accessible to work colleagues for large stretches of the workday?

    Most organizations, and teams, expect if not demand almost real-time access and response.

    It is not until you spend a day, or even a few hours, working when that expectation simply does not matter until you realize how our constant connectivity damages our ability to get anything done.

    Having said that, maybe I should not have been surprised so many other folks seemed to be working on Labor Day. They too must have realized that a holiday is the best day to get anything done.

    Have a great week!


    You probably can only do one important thing each week

    I caught this piece the other day on Business Insider - When to Schedule Your Job Interview, that quotes some research from Glassdoor from a few years back which indicates that all things being equal, the optimal time for a candidate to schedule a job interview is 10:30AM on Tuesday.

    Even without data to back up that claim, it at least makes intuitive sense to me. Mondays are terrible for everything. Many folks mentally check out by Fridays. That leaves Tuesday - Thursday as options for any kind of important meeting, like a job interview. Let's automatically remove anything after lunch, as you never know how a heavy meal, quick workout, or a couple of shots and a Schlitz are going to have on the interviewer.

    So that leaves Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Let's rule out Thursday since it is close enough to Friday to catch a little of the 'Is it the weekend yet?' shrapnel. Now we are in a tossup between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. And since even by only Wednesday, lots of folks might already be thinking 'How can it only be Wednesday, this week is taking forever?', Tuesday seems like a safer choice. As for a time - use the Goldilocks approach - not too early, not too late (and too close to lunch), which lands you at 10:30AM

    As I said, it makes perfect sense, but it also sounded terribly familiar when I read the advice.

    I feel like i had heard some variations of the 'Tuesday at 10:30AM' advice before. 

    As it turns out, it is pretty common scheduling advice for other kinds of work/business events as well. This piece recommends scheduling important presentations for Tuesdays.  And this article also strongly suggests a combination of 'Tuesday' and 'late morning', (also known as 'Tuesday at 10:30AM), is an optimal time to conduct any type of negotiations.

    If I had more time, and I wasn't staring down the weekend myself, I would do some more searching and I am pretty sure I'd find a bunch more examples of how Tuesday mornings are the best time to do anything important at work. So Tuesdays at 10:30AM it is.

    Which is good to know and sort of sad at the same time. We work ALL OF THE TIME. We are chained to our email 24/7 with our 'smart' phones. We are (mostly), evaluated and assessed by our success in the workplace.

    And yet there is only one 'good' time each week to do anything important. 

    Tuesday at 10:30AM.

    It's only Friday right now, so you have a couple of days to plan your attack for next week's sliver of time where you can actually do something important. 

    Don't blow it. It won't come around again for an entire week if you do.

    Have a great weekend!


    It's probably too late to panic

    Do you follow the financial markets at all? If you do, then you would know that at least in the USA the first week of 2016 set the mark for the worst first week of a New Year for market performance, with most major indices down anywhere from 5 - 10% from the 2015 year-end closing. The Dow Jones, NASDAQ, the S&P 500 - pretty much all showing steep drops in the frst week of the New Year - driven lower by some combination of declining economic conditions in China, a lower and lower crude oil price, and various and sundry manifestations of 'uncertainty', which no one can define exactly, but generally spooks folks who control lots of money.

    But as we all know financial markets rise and they fall - and they rise and fall again, forever and ever as they always have. The reason why I wanted to write about this today was an almost offhand comment I heard from one of the financial commentators on CNBC i think, (I can't remember the specific person, I was in a bit of a Nyquil haze this morning), who said this when asked by the show's host about whether or not investors should 'panic' due to these highly volatile market conditions. His reply:

    "It's probably too late to panic."

    And then he went on to talk about various scenarios and strategies that he felt like would be the most successful given the current conditions. The specifics of his financial/investing advice don't really matter, the key to why what this one gentlemen said and why it stuck out to me through the Nyquil hangover was just how much sense it made in its simplicity, and how applicable it is to just about every 'crisis' at work.

    Almost always when you have enough information in order to make the conscious decision to 'panic', it is probably too late for that 'panic' to do you or anyone else any good. It's kind of like throwing gasoline on the already burning fire, and doesn't help you even start to get to solutions or at least stabilization of the situation. The right time for 'panic' is probably just before things really spiral out of control, not after. Or as is the case of financial markets, perhaps the right time to get really worried and to take defensive actions is after a 5% drop, not after a 15% drop.

    Whether it is investing, dealing with a difficult colleague, or trying to rescue a deteriorating customer (or even personal) relationship, 'panic' is probably almost never a great idea simply because most of us are not at all good at reading the signals well enough to accurately time our panic. Better of taking a few deep breaths, think about what signs we missed on the way, and then set to being as calm and rational as possible to make things better.

    Does panicking sometimes feel good? Feel like the right and only thing to do? Sure.

    Does it ever really help? 

    Probably not. 

    Unless you win the $1.5B Powerball this week, then it is perfectly fine, acceptable, and expected to panic.

    Have a great week!


    On tackling that project you have been avoiding

    Every job, no matter how perfect or ideal has at least some element that is less than exciting. 

    Even my dream job, relief pitcher for the New York Mets, must have some aspect that is not so appealing, (relatively). I can imagine sitting in the bullpen and having to shake sunflower seeds out of your shoes once in a while might get a little tedious.

    But most of us are not professional athletes, and thus, the less exciting elements of our jobs are much more mundane, unglamorous, but still (usually) necessary. So how can we best deal with these aspects, the parts of our jobs we really are not at all excited about, or that project that we have been dreading and avoiding? I have a couple of ideas...

    1.  Break it up into smaller tasks - You know what is awesome? Crossing something off of your 'To Do' list. If you have a project or major task that you have been dreading, it helps to try and break it down into smaller, more manageable elements which you can then complete more easily. That way even a small amount of progress on the project or task feels like victory. Of sorts.

    2. The stale sandwich - This is a strategy I like to use. Basically you 'sandwich' the less than exciting work with tasks you are much more enthused about attacking. Start the day with something that really jazzes you up, then spend an hour or so on the thing you have to do but you have been avoiding, then jump back into something cool to get the bad taste of the lousy project out of your mouth. 

    3. Get up early and knock it out - Once your day gets going, your email inbox starts filling up, and the day gets consumed with meetings, you are almost certainly not going to drop what you have to do, and what you would rather do, to work on that project you have been avoiding. Every second that passes after about 8:30AM reduces the likelihood you will take on what you are dreading by a factor of 100. So you might have to just bite the bullet, get up at 6, and spend 90 minutes or an hour just banging out what you know you have to do, but won't be able to later on. Sure it will stink, but it might not ruin the rest of your day if you can knock it out by 8.

    4. Give yourself a prize - Chances are there are there are not any 'official' rewards heading your way for completing this lousy project. The boss just thinks it's your job, and get it the heck done and shut up about it. So any extra rewards that might help to motivate you have to come from you. So place a prize or incentive for yourself at the end of the slog. It could be a nice dinner out, that expensive bottle of wine you've been eyeing, or maybe just an afternoon off - doesn't matter. Just treat yourself a little. It's ok, I promise.

    5. Find ways to never be in this situation again - Chances are once this terrible project is done, sometime in the future it, or something closely resembling it, will cross your desk again and the vicious cycle of dread will resume. Now is your time, while the stench of this ordeal is still in the air, to think about and implement ways to outsource, eliminate, streamline, or otherwise reduce the pain associated with this task in the future. Even if you can find only a 10 or 20% reduction in the stink, you will be better off the next time. So once the project is done, give yourself an hour or two, (block your calendar), and find at least one way you can make this better for the next time. Do this three or four times and who knows? Maybe this lousy project won't be so lousy in the future.

    Ok, that is it I am out for the weekend! Enjoy the summer sun.


    OFF TOPIC: The Collateral Damage of Gangnam Style

    You might have caught the news last week that the video Gangnam Style has been viewed so frequently, (2 BILLION plus times), that it actually 'broke' YouTube, whose underlying code had been unable to store and display a video views count above 2,147,483,647.

    YouTube subsequently fixed the bug, if it even could be called a bug, and now assures us that it can handle a views count maximum of somewhere north of 9 quintillion.

    Let's hope that Gangnam Style, (or Grumpy Cat or Celebrities Reading Mean Tweets or anything else) doesn't ever get too close to breaking YouTube again.


    Because there is a cost of sorts in all this YouTube watching. An opportunity cost really, for all of us. A few months back, before Gangnam Style broke YouTube, the folks at the Economist did some calculations to estimate what else humanity might have been able to accomplish with all the time spent (140M hours at that point), watching Gangnam Style.

    Here is the chart from the Economist that will proably make you weep a little bit for humanity:


    One Gangnam Style equates to 20 Empire State Buildings, 4 Great Pyramids, and almost 2 new Wikipedias.

    That is potentially the kinds of things we could have accomplished had we spent the time watching Gangnam Style in more productive endeavors.

    Look, I am not sitting here saying I spend every waking minute in deep study, volunteering for the less fortunate, saving abandoned puppies, or helping elderly folks cross the street.

    I waste plenty of time. I do.

    But seeing this kind of data does make me pause a little. I know I can do better, and I only contributed 1 measly view to the 2 Billion count for Gangnam Style. 

    I know I can do better. Probably you can too.

    Have a great weekend!