Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Smooth Is Fast

November 17, 2022

I knew a man who never hurried, never raised his voice. He accomplished much.

I knew a man who managed by edict. He was a flurry of energy and orders and forcing others. He accomplished little.

The caption in an old cartoon called Pogo once had one character talking to another, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

How To Get Out of a Rut

October 21, 2022

Jim was my boss. He was an engineer and an engineering manager. He ate bland food, was never excitable. He got more done than anyone I ever met. He tackled one thing at a time giving it his full attention.

It took years for me to incorporate that idea into my own workflow. I just finished a 3-month project. It entailed figuring out how to get all the assets distributed communicating with many people constantly. The only way I kept my sanity was tackling the next right thing. One at a time I finished.

Oliver Burkeman, writing in his newsletter The Imperfectionist, “In the end, it isn’t really a question of ‘breaking big projects down into small chunks.’ It’s more a matter of seeing that ‘big projects’ are nothing but psychological constructs, quasi-illusory entities summoned into existence by taking a particular view of what our lives really consist of – which is moments, and the actions that unfold in them.”

I got through the project and through the pandemic the same way—one day at a time. It’s not trying to comprehend a major long-range project. Just live in the moment.

Do The Next Right Thing

October 7, 2022

Sometimes we sit at our desk or stand in the middle of the room having just completed a task. We feel lost. What should we do? Where is our task list?

There is a phrase I’ve heard many times. It helps me focus when I’m either at a loss of what’s next or when there are so many pressures that I’m overwhelmed.

Do the next right thing.

This combines the command to do something with the moral imperative to do the right thing.

Now, our mind can operate to focus our attention.

Labor Day

September 5, 2022

Today is a national holiday in the US originally designed to honor working people in the newly developed factories. Working conditions were dirty and dangerous. Pay was low. Hours long.

There were two transitions happening. Increasing mechanization in agriculture reduced job opportunities on farms. Factories designed to produce more products were rapidly displacing craftsmen. Men took their families to cities where they could find factory work.

I went to graduate school intending to study political philosophy. I was intrigued by an early essay of Karl Marx where he discussed this transition from craftsman to factory worker. The craftsman put a little bit of soul into the things he (sometimes she back in the 1800s) made. A factory worker just performed one little task not being responsible for building the entire product. Marx called this alienation. Humans were alienated from the fruits of their labor.

They closed the department during my first semester at grad school. They let us stay out the year, but my incentive for degrees was shot. I got one of those factory jobs.

We’ve broadened the definition of labor for these labor day celebrations. But much like almost all of our national holidays, the original meaning is almost lost while we just celebrate a day off.

But this alienation from work idea lingers in different guises. Surveys today reveal that people want to work where the output is meaningful, that their contribution is important, that they benefit society in some way. Put a little bit of soul into your work. Or, go out to work on your own.

Work Success

August 30, 2022

What does it take to be better at work? Even for someone like me who works alone?

One of my few go-to news sources is called Axios. They use a technique called smart brevity. What I like. Short and to the point. I wrote to them about too many adjectives, but in reality they minimize those extraneous and emotion-laden words. (Did you notice what I just wrote?) I’ve always tried that here.

They have a daily newsletter called Finish Line that ponders personal issues. They ran a series where they asked readers from different generations to send their thoughts on work. I appreciated how similar the thoughts were. Founder Jim VandeHei summarized all the comments in a column called the 10 Commandments of Work Success.

Click the link to read them all. My picks from the litter include:

  1. Serve others: If it’s only about you, you will do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Life is empty alone. 
  2. Work morally: Honesty, grace, humility, hard work and honor are the core values of a work-life well-lived. 
  3. Work smart: Working hard on the wrong or nonessential things is time wasted. 
  4. Study deeply: Master the tiny details and panoramic context of your profession. 
  5. Study thyself: Be clear-eyed about your gifts and flaws. It’s the only path to betterment.
  6. Fortify thyself: Optimal work performance is impossible without healthy relationships, diet and exercise, and spirituality and mindfulness outside of it. 

The bottom line: When the clock stops,  smile confidently — knowing you did it right and well.

Productivity Misconceptions

July 15, 2022

I still remember the theme of the first personal development speaker at the first management conference I attended–TRY…EASY.

Try to do a good job. Try to get it done. But don’t kill yourself doing it.

This was probably 10 years before Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.” But that’s a different story.

That speaker gave all the attendees a DayTimer planner. I’ve been through so many different systems over the following 40 years, I should have saved them and started a productivity museum. The last thing I used was computer-based called Nozbe, loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. I even have a category on this web site for productivity.

Some people, perhaps many people especially in Silicon Valley of the 90s and aughts, following productivity guru Frederick Taylor thought of productivity as “how much more can I get done in my 70-hour work week”.

Tim Ferriss published The 4-Hour Work Week in 2007. It was sort of an anti-productivity book in the sense above. Cal Newport somewhat later published Deep Work. Both of these talked about getting the important things done while leaving time for hobbies, family, leisure, and the like. That is, until they were co-opted by the “how much more can I get done in my 70-hour work week” crowd.

These days I have a list of things I need to accomplish. I work on these for a set number of hours a day, then set aside other time for other things–reading, guitar, whatever.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Or, as a retired US Navy SEAL taught me, “Slow is easy; easy is fast.”


Getting Back

September 14, 2021

I’m sitting in the media lounge at a trade show. First time in two years. We are not back to normal, but we are getting there. We need healthy habits and patience.

This show is called Fabtech. There are many machines that do metal forming. I’ll be talking to people at robotic companies and 3D printing mostly. It’s good to see people again.

The trouble with us contemplatives that we can be too inward looking. We need to mingle with other people sometimes.

Now, to go talk to people in the flesh.

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.


November 4, 2020

No, not vacation, something we all need right now. Rather, vocation refers to the work you do, your career, how you devote your skills and talents. My introduction to the word was in high school. There was a course of study called Vocational Agriculture. It was for the farm kids who were going to go into the family farming business.

I went to college and studied lots of things. Then I was introduced again to the word when I taught 7th grade at a Catholic school. Not being Catholic, I had to pick up on the specific meaning of the word as they used it back then–namely (I think) showing the kids the opportunities for “vocation” meaning becoming a priest, brother, or sister.

Most of us get a job of some kind and perhaps it becomes a career of some kind. Do we think beyond that? Like those Catholic kids I taught, are we encouraged to consider what God might want us to do with our time, skill, talent?

I saw this thought in today’s readings:

Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world. Look no further than Jesus’s disciples – remarkably mediocre, untalented, lackluster yokels – to see that innate talent or inner yearning has less to do with vocation than God’s thing for redeeming lives by assigning us something to do for God.

Especially American Baby Boomers, but also many people in the world, think about how much money we can make, or how much power we can exert over others, or retiring to a lifestyle of wealthy leisure such as portrayed in countless movies and TV shows.

But no, someday God will call us to account for our use of his gifts. It’s not to late to discover and go.

Get Up And Do What Needs To Be Done

October 9, 2018

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

I just love the language of the Proverbs. “You sluggard…” That is so blunt.

Yesterday I wrote about focus. Then I listened to an Eastside Christian Church podcast talk by Mike Breaux (pronounced bro for you non-Cajuns) on procrastination. Seems like a series brewing.

Sometimes we can’t focus because we just can’t get around to the work. We put things off. Dust the desk. Search on Google. Fix a cup of tea.

Go to the ant, you sluggard–it has no boss, yet it works constantly.

Get over the fear of starting.

Or maybe just plain laziness.

Sometimes you need a signal. Perhaps that cup of tea is the signal to sit down and write, or think, or draw, or make those phone calls.

I think of Garrison Keillor and the “sponsor” of Prairie Home CompanionPowdermilk Biscuits. Heavens they’re tasty, and expeditious. Give shy persons the strength they need to get up and do what needs to be done.

Consider the ways of the ant and be wise. Get up and do what needs to be done.