Archive for the ‘productivity’ Category

Next Best Thing

April 28, 2022

Jon asks, “What do we have time for? For what do we have time?”

Oliver Burkeman leads us through time and the use of time in his latest book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

Perhaps you went into the rabbit warren of time management and productivity gains like I did. Some ideas were admirable. Choose your goals, and that sort of thing.

Burkeman warns “productivity is a trap.”

David Allen of Getting Things Done fame has us make a list and do the next task.

As Burkeman summarizes his research, he lifts a thought from psychologist Carl Jung, “Do the next best thing.”

What is the best thing you could be doing in the next half-hour?

Smooth is Fast

October 7, 2021

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

Navy SEAL Saying

I heard a story of a guy who got into fitness, bought a bicycle, and began riding a route as fast as he could. One day he was somewhat more tired and rode at a little slower, yet more comfortable pace. His time for that route went from 43 minutes to 45 minutes.

I’ve noticed over the time of my life that I’ve stopped trying to do everything in a great rush. When driving I consciously stop and pause at stop signs (unlike the guy I saw this morning who blew through a stop sign making a right turn in front of oncoming traffic not far away–guess he trusted the other guy to slow down). Yes, I still commonly drive at speed limit + 5, but I no longer tempt more speeding tickets like 30 years ago.

Take a moment several times a day to pause, breathe, relax, refocus, then return to work. And accomplish more.

This season of the year finds me with the pressure of finding referees for soccer matches. This year has been especially hard. Before the season even began, I lost 20% of the officials on my list due to health, retirement, jobs, or moving away. I gained one person. Not a good long-term trend.

I could sit there and stare at my screen that said 90+ games lacking a referee and panic. Or, I could just breathe and tackle them one at a time. Solve this one and move to the next.

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

More gets accomplished; my attitude remains calm.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Slow Down, Accomplish More

May 10, 2021

Slow down 

You move too fast 

You gotta make 

The morning last, just 

Kickin’ down 

The cobble stones 

Looking for fun 

And feeling groovy.

Paul Simon, 59th Street Bridge Song

Henry Ford imagined a new way to build cars. Productivity per person in manufacturing increased tremendously in the 20th Century and prosperity followed.

By the 1980s continuing until today, much work is done by “knowledge workers” sitting in front of computer screens. No one (or very few) are imagining new ways to do this work. Productivity lags, people are frustrated, work never ends thanks to the always-on mobile phone.

Well, one person is thinking about it. Cal Newport. I am in the midst of his latest book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload. His previous best seller changed the way many of us thought about work–Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

You can sort of summarize the latest book with a quote from a 50s-60s comic strip by Walt Kelly, Pogo. One time, Pogo, the title character–an opossum in the Okefenokee Swamp, said, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”

In this latest book, I’ve gotten to a section where, after discussing Henry Ford and increasing productivity making Model Ts, brought up the story of a German entrepreneur Lasse Rheingans. He looked at the way people worked in his small company. He then told the employees–you will work 5-hour days. Come in about 8 and leave about 1. When you leave, you’re done. No more work. No more checking emails. No more on-call. You should be able to get all the important work for the company done with 5 5-hour days per week.


No social media during those five hours. Severely restricted meetings. Severely restricted email checking. Two years down the pike, the concept is still working.

He did hire some outside coaches to help the employees through withdrawal. They showed that it was in their best interest to not check all those distracting apps. They also encouraged stress reduction through mindfulness and meditation. And physical health through exercise such as Yoga.

Rheingans’s goal was for everyone to slow down; to approach their work more deliberately and with less frantic action; to realize that they were’ running all the time without getting anywhere.’

Cal Newport

I bet that no matter what we’re up to, this is sound advice.

Pause. Breathe. Ahhhhhh.


March 24, 2021

Jim was my boss for perhaps almost two years. He was the engineer’s engineer. Pleasant, but dull; methodical; never rushed, but accomplished more than any two people I’ve known; could think more about work that other people should be doing than anyone I’ve met.

Made me think about this thought from Dallas Willard, who once said one of the defining characteristics of Jesus’ life was that he was unhurried.

Similarly, John Wesley said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry; because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.”

I have tried to inculcate that lack of hurry into my life. When much younger even as a child, I rushed through everything. Things would not get done to completion. Accidents would happen. I’d wind up spending more time because I’d skipped a crucial step and had to go back.

These days, it’s more like “don’t rush me, I’ll get to it when I get to it, but I will have thought it through before I start and (often) do it correctly.”

You can’t rush wisdom. You have to live through experiences and then learn to slow down in order to accomplish more.

Becoming Effective Rather Than Merely Efficient

February 19, 2019

Peter Drucker, the famed management consultant, once noted that effectiveness should be cultivated rather than efficiency.

I am a productivity geek. I follow (mostly) David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology using an app called Nozbe.

But what good is it to check off many items on your todo list if they are not the most important things?

Try Make Time: How To Focus On What Matters Every Day by Knapp and Zeratsky. The authors worked at Google Ventures. One previously worked on gmail development and the other on YouTube development.

They introduce the concept of the daily Highlight. Either the night before or first thing in the morning determine your highlight of the day–the most important task/project of the day. The thing that, upon reflection at the end of the day, will have brought the most joy or satisfaction.

Achieving Laser focus on the highlight becomes the next most important thing. Perhaps you block a period of time on your calendar for working on the highlight. That is one of many tips on achieving Laser.

How we pay attention to our Energy is the third part of the process. Followed by Reflection which completes the feedback loop.

Jake and JZ (as they are called throughout the book) pack tons of tips in the various sections. Some of these you will find useful, others sound strange.

You will find this book a useful resource as you move from merely efficient to becoming effective.

Sleep and Waking

May 29, 2018

Those who find themselves living the modern life, something that is pretty much global now, most likely are not getting enough sleep.

Sleep is a time when the body and brain repairs and rejuvenates. Depriving yourself of sufficient sleep deprives your body and mind of the nourishment it needs to function well and with health.

When I turn to the ancient spiritual mentors the problem they ascribe to sleep is not getting enough–it is oversleeping. And then upon waking not being in a proper frame of mind and spirit for the day’s first tasks.

John Climacus says that sleep is a natural state, but that sleeping too late or during prayers (he was writing to a monastic audience–readers seeking spiritual enlightenment) is a habit. A bad habit. One to be overcome.

Ancient peoples ascribed things we call emotions or urges to demons–spiritual beings whose task it is to drive us away from the spiritual path.

John talks of the demon that tempts us to stay in bed when the alarm has sounded to get us up. Other demons (in his language) prevent us from focusing on our morning prayers and meditation.

You would find it difficult to find someone who leads a successful life who goes to bed early and rises late. You may be a “morning” person or a “night owl”, but in reality rising early is merely a habit that can be cultivated. What did Benjamin Franklin tell us, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Your work rhythm may be best earlier or later, but the daily habit of rising early to read, pray, and meditate lays the foundation for success.

Think Of It As a Way of Living

September 19, 2017

Listening to a couple of guys chatting on a podcast about productivity sent me into my library to scan a good book I’ve read a couple of times–Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

The book is sort of an evangelistic message for helping us become more productive, more effective, and less stressed while doing it.

He talks about some classic things like learning to say no, focusing on what’s important, eliminating extraneous tasks and effort, watching your health, and the like.

But McKeown dropped this little gem on me:

Think of it as something you are. It is a different way–a simpler way–of doing everything. It becomes a lifestyle. It becomes an all-encompassing approach to living and leading. It becomes the essence of who we are.

I thought about this for a while.

Isn’t being a follower of Jesus like that?

It is not politics.

It is not singing a few songs with people we know and listening to a preacher once a week–most weeks.

It is not proving I’m better than someone else.

It is not about separating the sheep from the goats before the final judgement.

On the other hand…

It is following Matthew 25–feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner.

It is like the “Good Samaritan.”

It is living out our spiritual gifts every day.

It is treating everyone we meet with respect and the love of God.

It is going the second mile.

It is becoming one with God just like our teacher was.

It is a way of life.

Secrets of Being Productive

October 7, 2016

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, is back with another book Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. This is another well researched book full of scientific research but told in compelling stories.

Duhigg is a talented writer, but I’m not 100% sure that he always hits his point. However, we can learn about motivation, decision-making, power of teams, focus, goal setting (something I’ve learned to shun, but that’s another topic for another day), and more.

I’m only half-way through the book, but I’ve gleaned some insights for personal development.

He leads with motivation. We think of motivation as either something people are born with or something an authority figure forces people into.

Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed. Scientists have found that people can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control.

Duhigg tells stories as examples such as residents in a “nursing home” who thrive by rebelling against the immense set of rules and restrictions. They rearranged their rooms out of the standard configuration. And when cabinets were fastened to the wall, they found crowbars and tore them loose.

One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions.

Duhigg describes how the Marine Corp. changed its training to force recruits to make decisions. As they made decisions, they gained confidence.

I read this and thought about how in just about my entire life I’ve been just slightly rebellious. I could talk about one of my brothers being more rebellious, but he reads this blog, so I can’t tell stories 😉

But I almost never went over a line into open rebellion. And you could play Freudian psychologist and probe my relationships with my father or mother. Good luck with that. But I have always been determined to go my own way.

I lost motivation at university when I discovered that I’d never be actually designing and building electronic circuits. That is what I did on my own as a high school kid (instead of studying Latin like I should have been). So, I just said I’ll go elsewhere. Eventually I got deeply involved with computers and a whole career opened.

That was mild. I basically formed my own curriculum at the university–philosophy, literature, politics, math, languages, accounting (huh?), writing. And it was all to my later benefit. But my professor who approved all this kept asking my what my major was. “Getting out of school with a degree,” I’d reply

We should applaud a child who shows defiant, self-righteous stubbornness and reward a student who finds a way to get things done by working around the rules.

It served me well. And I was introverted in my rebelliousness. Even today. But something to think about even as an adult. Motivation is a learned skill that we hone by making our own decisions.

Getting Things Done Takes Focus

August 26, 2016

I woke up Wednesday morning with many things on my mind. There was a 7 am international conference call followed by a 10 am international conference call. Then a 1 pm conference. Finally a 2:30 pm very important client call for which I needed to prepare.

There was enough focus enough for my daily marketing Facebook post for the local coffee shop. And then it was gone. No morning reading and meditation. How was I going to fit in the morning run? How was I going to continue working on a research project? Not to mention time for soccer referee assigning and straightening out the revised assigning Website that has so thoroughly cost me and my athletic director clients a ton of time this summer.

So, no Faith Venture post. And a day that began frazzled and uncertain.

There was my Getting Things Done app, Nozbe. The art of getting things done (by the way, the title of a book and a methodology of David Allen) begins with putting all the things you may have to do and relevant information or links into a trusted location. I use Nozbe linked to Evernote.

The method is to take a deep breath–or more. Clear the head. Then review the list and look at my calendar.

No way I could stay on the first call two hours. So, I listened for a while, got the gist of the conversation. There was nothing for me to contribute, so I dropped off and headed for the park. The next steps are just to review what needs to be done and focus on one at a time. By the evening reflection on the day, it had been pretty productive.

Part of the reason for the personal story is that all around me are things not getting done. There is the room where we have Yoga. We were moved a little over a year ago. They were converting a racquetball court into a Yoga studio. They began painting in January. Did a quick and temporary sound deadening, with the promise of more. And nothing has happened since. Getting Things Done.

There are other places around where there are things to get done, but the person just cannot focus. There is no weekly review and controlling the calendar (hour by hour) to assure that important things get done and that to the best of ability the person is controlling the calendar.

The very first personal development seminar I attended began with the challenge to avoid the dreaded “Tyranny of the Urgent” and work on the Essential things. Forty years later, we still need to work on that.

Measure Then Act For Productivity

June 10, 2016

What you can measure, you can control. –Process control axiom

What if you have a health problem. Serious risk is involved. You are given something to check daily. The number reports your status. You now know if you are on track or deviating.

Let’s take another example–from process control. Say you want to control a boiler in a chemical plant. That’s pretty complex. Maybe we’ll consider your air conditioning system in your house (it’s projected to be in the 90s F in Ohio the next few days, air conditioning is on our minds). It’s the same basic principle, just the mathematics are different.

You have a Setpoint–the temperature that you want inside your house. There is a Process Variable–the actual temperature. Your thermostat holds the set point and compares it frequently to the actual temperature. When the temperature (PV) is greater than the setpoint (SP), then the control in the thermostat turns on the air conditioning unit.

So, what do we have here? We know our ideal. We measure what is real. And here is the crucial part–we act to get the real back to the ideal.

We have a target number. We measure the real number. We act to make the changes in the system to get the real back to the ideal number.

The key is that we have to pick an action that we can also measure that will get us back to the ideal. Let’s say we have a blood sugar problem. We measure daily. We say, oops, high again. But maybe we decide to act on something we can measure. Say carbs. We know carbs affect blood sugar, so therefore we need to control our intake of carbs.

So, we decide to count carbs. We have a small note pad and write every time we eat a carb-laden food. We review daily. We have a scoreboard (like at a basketball game). We want to win, so we make it a “game” to reduce that daily number. This is something we can act on. That’s better than just the sugar number that tells us we did something bad yesterday.

Apply to personal life; apply to business and volunteer work.

A man was appointed CEO of a huge manufacturing company. The financial results were dismal. He laid out his plan of improvement to the board. We are going to become the safest place to work, he said. They said (in effect), Huh? Where is the financial target? What about financial acts like cutting jobs?

So  Paul O’Neil set about transforming the culture at Alcoa.

  • Goals and training were sent out
  • Managers were empowered to report all serious incidents without recrimination immediately
  • People in manufacturing or elsewhere were empowered to not only take measures to be safe but also make suggestions and report potential problems.

Those of us in production and manufacturing know a safe plant becomes a productive plant. Not to mention the ethics of providing jobs where it is likely the worker will return home to the family every night in one piece.

He found something he could easily define and measure and act on. The company culture changed and financial results showed improvement.

It’s easy to sit, do nothing, and complain. Real improvement in our lives and our work come from observing, measuring, and acting.