J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Rituals for Results

Rituals for Results

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Routines help build efficiency and effectiveness.  Consistent action over time is the key to real results.  If you add continuous improvement or Kaizen to the picture, you have an unbeatable recipe for success.  The following are some of my rituals for results: 

  • Put in your hours.  I heard that Hemingway wrote for two hours a day.  The first hour he edited the day before.  The next hour, he wrote new.  My marathon runner friend says the key for her is putting in her hours.   
  • Schedule It.  If you schedule it, it happens. ("One of these days is none of these days.”)
  • Carve out time for what's important.  You don't have time, you make time.  "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." - Parkinson's law.  "Things which matter most, should never be at the mercy of things which matter least." - Goethe.
  • Model the best.  Success leaves clues.  Using reference examples can help you shave off tons of wasted time.  Who can you learn from that will take your game to the next level?
  • Expand your toolset.  When you only have a hammer, everything's a nail.  Adding new tools to your toolbelt can exponentially improve your results.
  • Build a library of reference examples.   Collect working examples to draw from.
  • Build feedback loops.  I think feedback loops help us improve and keep us going.  For me, I use a sounding board of people I trust. 
  • Have a compelling "why."  A compelling "why" is what will give you the energy and get you back on your horse, when you get knocked down.
  • Have a compelling "what."  Your "what" should be a great manifestation of your "why."  Use it to guide your course.  This is your vision.
  • Check your ladder.  Is it up against the right wall?  Nothing's worse than climbing a ladder to find your destination was wrong.
  • Work backwards from the end in mind.   Working backwards from where you want to be can help make you more resourceful.  Look to working examples and reverse-engineer.
  • Stay flexible in your approach.  Be flexible in the "how."  If you have a compelling "what" and "why," you'll find the strategies.  If something's not working, change your approach.  Sanity check by asking yourself "is it effective?"  See The Better Adapted You Are, the Less Adaptable You Tend to Be
  • Think in terms of a portfolio of results.   This means both producing results in different categories as well as having some results you count on and some that are risks.  Diversify your results over having all your eggs in one basket.
  • Balance your buckets.  Balance your results across your meaningful buckets.  For me, I use a life frame (mind, body, emotion, career, financial, relationships)  Within my career bucket, I make time for results, thinking, administration, improvement and relationships.
  • Establish a rhythm of results.  Don't let the tail wag the dog.  Factor your creation cycles from your release cycles.  Your release rate should match absorption rate and demand.  Your production rate doesn't need to be tightly bound to your release.  For instance, you could write your eight blogs posts on Sunday, then trickle out over the week. See Drum-Buffer-Rope.
  • Deliver incremental value.  Chunk it down.  Focus on value-delivered over backlog burndown.  It can be easy to be productive, but ineffective.  Focusing on delivering value, keeps you asking the right questions and making the right calls on priorities.  Remember that backlogs tend to suffer from rot over time.  If you focus on value-delivered, you'll miss less windows of opportunity, or at least you're considering those windows when you prioritize.  The other secret here is that focusing on value can be more energizing than tackling an overwhelming backlog, even if all you really changed is perspective ;)
  • Know the sum is better than the parts.  Consistent action over time produces real results.  Think about how much you've accomplished over the long run, just by showing up at work every day and doing your job.  See How To Overcome Resistance.
  • Improve your network.  Who you spend time with probably has the largest impact on getting results, personal growth, your quality of life ... etc.  Tip - build a mind map of your personal and professional networks and see where you need to tune, prune or plant.
  • Play to your strengths.  Improving your strengths can help you achieve more than improving your weaknesses.  The exception is liabilities.  Reduce the liabilities that hold you back.
  • Reduce your context switching.  Context switching is one of the worst productivity killers. If you're spending more time switching than doing, it's a problem.  Consider how you apply the following software patterns and practices: batching, remote facade, implicit lock, lazy load, coarse-grained lock, proxy, RI and FI, buffers, and Drum-Buffer-Rope.
  • Manage energy for results.  Manage energy, not time for results.  When you're "in the zone," you get results.  How well do you get things done when you're emotionally or mentally drained?  See Manage Energy, Not Time and The Secret of Time Management.
  • Use focus as your weapon for results.  Focus is your friend.  A batched and focused effort can produce amazing results.  Few problems withstand sustained thinking or effort. 30 Day Improvement Sprints, Why 30 Day Improvement Sprints, Making 30 Day Improvement Sprints.
  • Reduce friction.  Create streamlined execution paths.  create a fast path for stuff you need to do frequently.  There's probably a few scenarios where you have more friction in your process than you'd like.  I use 30 Day Improvement Sprints for my perpetual friction points.
  • Use checklists.  I'm a fan of using checklists.  If the air force can use them to avoid task saturation and improve effectiveness, so can I.  See Execution Checklists and How To Avoid Task Saturation.
  • Build a system of profound knowledge.   See The Deming System of Profound Knowledge and Deming's System of Profound Knowledge  This is about thinking of the system as a whole, knowing the impact of changes in the system, focusing on knowledge management, and taking into consideration the people-side of things.  Remember that just because you might not be in a learning organization, doesn't mean that you can't set an example.
  • Do more, think less.  I'm not advocating thoughtless actions.  I'm countering actionless thoughts.   Thoughtful actions produce results.  If you're already acting on your ideas great, otherwise, action is the best oil for rusty results.

Try the ones you like.  Experiment with the ones you don't.  You might get surprised.  As Tony would put it, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten". Adopt a growth mind-set over a fixed mind-set.   I'd be interested in hearing success stories or your favorite rituals for results -- what techniques have personally served you well?

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