Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
If you are really behind, and want to dig yourself out, and get back on top things, then close the flood gate.
Don't take on new things.
Time management tips #22 is close the flood gates. It's all too easy to reopen the door, let things slip in, and keep taking on new things, without first finishing what's already on your overloaded plate. Closing the flood gate simply means stop randomizing and churning on new work that you don't have the time, capacity, bandwidth, attention, or energy to focus on. If you keep taking on more, it's not a service to anybody, especially yourself.
Whenever I find myself buried among a sea of open work, unfinished tasks, and things to do, I close the flood gate. I stand guard at the door of incoming requests, and I put all of my focus on the open work.
It's easy to stretch past capacity. You say yes to things you think will finish a little faster than they actually do. Things come up. You didn't have a buffer for when things go wrong. The key is to recognize when you're past your capacity, and to take decisive action.
No new work. Full focus on the work that is wearing you down, or blocking your ability to flow value.
The problem is work will still come your way. Have a place to put it. A simple list is fine. You can review it and prioritize it when you're read to take on more things. The trap to avoid is dabbling in new work, dabbling in unfinished work, and throwing more balls in the air, than you can possibly juggle.
Don't create your own problem by taking on work past your capacity. If somebody assigns work to you, do them a favor, and let them know you're at capacity, and when you expect to free up. If you see new work as higher value than what's already on your plate, consider trading up for it, and letting your open work go. If you have so much open work that you're spending more time managing it, than finishing it, then consider shelving the lower priority work. Put it on the shelf for another day. Temporary let it go, while you concentrate your focus on a vital few things to complete them.
You'll be surprised what you're capable of with focus and priorities and concentrated effort in small batches of time.
Close the flood gate, narrow your focus, flow your value.
For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
You Might Also Like
Here’s a little fun …
… Are you the next Microsoft employee?
Here is the final episode of Be the Next Microsoft Employee, where the winner gets the grand prize -- a job at Microsoft. It really happens too – the winner started July 30th, 2012. Check out the finale episode of Be the Next Microsoft Employee:
(Note – If the video doesn’t play for you, try watching directly on YouTube at Be the Next Microsoft Employee.)
It’s a great little video. One of the contestants even poses the question – “To Azure? … or Not to Azure?”
If you think just being technically strong is the name of the game, that’s not so.
I liked this comment by judge, Tim DiMarco:
“In addition to technical skills, your ability to communicate your ideas effectively, collaborate across teams, and be able to sell your ideas is critical to long term success at Microsoft.”
I also liked these other comments and pointers by the judges:
Here are some of the folks involved in making this happen:
You can explore the Microsoft Learning team’s Be the Next Microsoft Employee Home Page where all of the episodes are available, as well as more information about the show.
Getting better, faster, simpler, and more meaningful results is the name of today’s game.
What you don’t know can hurt you. Your own and other people’s productivity issues can get in your way. This is especially true if you don’t know what good looks like. This is especially true, if you don’t know what’s possible.
There are many ways to take your game to the next level. Everything from eliminating bottlenecks to focusing on the right things to flowing more value to reducing friction. If you are a one-man band and really need ways to scale yourself more effectively, I have written a deep post on how to scale yourself as a “one-man band” to flow more value, get more things done, and free up more time for yourself:
Note – I wrote it in 40 minutes, so hopefully it only takes you five minutes to read it. Normally, I limit writing a post to 20 minutes or less, but for this one, I figured the value of it, is worth if I had to spill over. I see too many people bogged down, losing sight of value, and not knowing how to get off the treadmill. I figured a pointed post on how to free yourself up and flow more value would be worth it.
Enjoy – and feel free to share your own proven practices for scaling yourself with skill.
As a program manager, it’s tough to shape a process with the team, if the team can’t “see” it. When you have a mental model you can share with the team, things move a lot faster. The problem with life cycles and end-to-end processes, is that people don’t usually know what the end-to-end actually looks like. When you can show people the end-to-end life cycle on a whiteboard, and you can show how the different activities fit together, the light-bulbs go off, and people get down to business. It empowers them.
One of the most important mental models I developed was a visual frame for Agile development. For lack of a better name, I’ll just call it the Agile Life-Cycle Frame. While it looks simple, that’s its power. I was able to use the same frame to illustrate how to bake in security, performance, and customer-focused activities, into Agile development using the same frame over and over again.
Agile Life-Cycle Frame The power of the Agile Life-Cycle Frame is that it helps people that don’t know Agile, very quickly follow the intent. The frame also helps bridge the gap between the project cycle and the product cycle. Here is what the Agile Life-Cycle Frame looks like:
What makes this frame useful and simple to use is the backbone of it: Exploration, Iteration 0, Iteration N, Release Preparation, and Release. Those phases are easy to identify with, and then it’s easy to plug-and-play different activities within each phase, as appropriate.
Agile Security Engineering With the Agile Life Cycle Frame, we can simply “overlay” key security activities to bake security into Agile development. Sometimes I call this the “Security Engineering Overlay.” Here is what Agile Security Engineering looks like:
Agile Performance Engineering With the Agile Life-Cycle Frame, we can also “overlay” key performance activities to bake performance into Agile development. Sometimes I call this the “Performance Engineering Overlay.” Here is what Agile Performance Engineering looks like:
Customer-Connected Engineering With the Agile Life-Cycle Frame, we can also overlay specific customer-focused activities, that bring Customer-Connected Engineering to life. Here is what Customer-Connected Engineering looks like:
How To Use the Agile Life-Cycle Frame You can use the Agile Life-Cycle Frame to show, share, and shape your current Agile development processes. Your frame might vary. The first step is to put your process down on paper. Keep things flexible, but at the same time, keep in mind what should be durable. If you can’t articulate your process with any sort of repeatability, it’s tough to get folks on board, or to change things in any meaningful way.
I kept these frames simple on purpose to help illustrate the power of having a model. But, the model is only useful if the model is simpler than what it is actually modeling. I did use a more complete set of activities in the Customer-Connected Engineering Frame so that you can see an alternative example, that might help prompt ideas for your own Agile Life-Cycle model.
In this post, I’ll share the model we used successfully for years in Microsoft patterns & practices to bake performance into an Agile Life Cycle.
One of the key challenges with building software, is how to bake quality into your process. Some teams try to do it all up front. Some try to do it all at the end. Some try to do it all in the middle. Some only do it when something bad happens.
The real key is to do some up front, more in the middle, and some in the end. Anything you do up front is about reducing high risk. So the up front exploration, testing, and spiking should concentrate on the significant usage scenarios that are high risk, or will be used often.
When it comes to baking performance into the life-cycle, teams tend to struggle with the how -- how do you actually do this in the real world? They especially struggle if they are using Agile methodologies. The reality is it’s easy, *if* you know the model. If you don’t know the model, you can be lost in the woods forever. We struggled early on, but found a groove that served us well, and we tuned and improved the approach over time.
Here is how we did Agile Performance Engineering in patterns & practices:
What's important about the figure is that it shows an example of how you can overlay performance-specific techniques to an existing life cycle. In this case, we simply overlay some performance activities on top of an Agile software cycle.
Rather than make performance a big up front design or doing it all at the end or other performance approaches that don't work, we baked performance into the life cycle. The key here is integrating performance into your iterations.
Key Performance Activities Here is a summary of the key performance activities and how they play in an agile development cycle:
The sum of these performance activities is more than the parts and using a collection of proven, light-weight activities that you can weave into your cycle help you stack the deck in your favor. This is in direct contrast to relying on one big silver bullet.
Integrating Performance into Iterations There are two keys to chunking up performance so that you can effectively focus on it during iterations:
In terms of stories, you should focus on both user and system stories. Stories are a great way to chunk up and deliver incremental value. Each story represents a user or the system performing a useful goal. As such, you can also chunk up your performance work, by focusing on the performance concerns of a story.
A performance frame is a lens for performance. It's simply a set of categories or "hot spots" (e.g. Caching, Communication, Concurrency, Coupling/Cohesion, Data Access, Data Structures / Algorithms, Exception Management, Resource Management, State Management). By grouping your performance practices into these buckets, you can more effectively consolidate and leverage your performance know-how during each iteration. For example, one iteration might have stories that involve caching and resource pooling, while another iteration might have stories that involve data and storage strategies.
Together, stories and performance frames help you chunk up performance and bake it into the life cycle, while learning and responding along the way.
For more information on performance engineering, see patterns & practices Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications.
Are you doing too many things for the sake of more, without enough space for the sake of value? Are you producing more stuff, but not necessarily producing more value or making more impact?
Less is often more, and less often works better in a lot of cases. This is especially true when less means:
When you have less of the stuff that doesn’t matter, you make more room for the stuff that does.
Bigger doesn’t make it better. More volume doesn’t make it more valuable. Small things come in good packages, and sometimes it’s the little things that mean a lot.
One good thing trumps the many things that are just getting in the good thing’s way … perhaps even blocking a great thing.
Before you mass produces something or do more of anything, you need to check if it’s even worth it.
But when you do get it right, streamline and scale the heck out of it … that’s the beauty and the power of systems and platforms. And it’s the true power of any effective productivity system. This is true whether you are scaling you, others, or the value you flow.
This is what the masters of productivity know that others don’t … it’s not volume, it’s value. And value is the short-cut. When you apply the 80/20 rule to the most meaningful value, you amplify your impact and you get exponential results. It’s better, faster, cheaper in action.
This is one of the core tenets in Agile Results, and expressed in the book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
What is the Microsoft story?
Is there more to the story, than a “lost decade”? (BTW – if you were a developer during the time, you probably experienced some of the most intense transformations … *wild ride*, feels more like it.)
I was listening to one of our gifted storytellers at Microsoft a while back. Sometimes, story tellers are about making up a bunch of stuff that never happened. In this case, this storyteller was doing the opposite. He was putting together the bigger picture, and putting things in context, to help us fully appreciate the story of Microsoft.
It’s always different when you know the story. The story changes everything. People remember stories. When people know what you are about, and why you do what you do, you are more predictable, more understandable, more believable.
And in the absence of a story, people make up stories. (And fiction is often more fun than fact.)
I took a lot of notes as the story teller worked his magic, but I had lost them. I found them, and I may have lost some things in the translation, but I figure now is a good time to share my notes.
The storyteller framed the Microsoft story around three key things:
Story Pillar #1. Who Are We Who are the people behind Microsoft? It’s not just who you see in the news. It’s the people you don’t see.
Who don’t you see? The diverse community of several thousand employees spread over 190 countries.
There are computer scientists, engineers, teachers, ethnographers, musicians, designers, and even rocket scientists (Ironically, I had one on my last team.)
The beauty here is the "Breadth of Experience.” It’s different points of view coming together to reflect the communities. On one hand, it’s a global view. On the other, it’s a very localized view. For example, if you want to make something as Norwegian as possible, it helps to have a presence in Norway.
Another beautiful thing at Microsoft is the ecosystem. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself. The power of having a diverse presence makes it possible to build out local software ecosystems, and local partner ecosystems that really know and live the culture.
But what is is that brings everyone to the table?
Compelling missions … and in this case, “power to the people.”
The Mission at Microsoft The mission at Microsoft, simply put is:
Help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.
Values at Microsoft Values bring people together. They are the lightening rod that binds us. Here are the values at Microsoft:
Diversity is a big deal. Check out the “diversity” vision and mission statements:
In my experience, Microsoft is bunch of people with a passion for more from life who want to change the world.
Story Pillar #2. What Drives Us Is it fame? Is it fortune? No. It’s impact.
Actually, it’s three things:
"I'm here because I think I can change the world."
"Even when we were small we dreamed big."
The PC on every desktop was a moonshot.
"Empowerment for everyone." (around the world)
It’s not just people who can afford technology
BUT -- it's no longer a PC on every desktop ...
"It's devices connected to services to do what they want, when they want around the world."
Actually, I think of this as personal computing at your finger tips -- a machine to do your dirty work so you can innovate and create more wonderful things for the world. We now live in a world where a developer can spin up a datacenter at their fingertips and create the next best service the world has ever known.
Story Pillar #3. What is our unique approach? What makes us different
It’s about the ecosystems:
There is power in persistence. After all, if you take on big problems, you have to be persistent. For example, take Xbox. Nobody would connect a game device to the Internet, right? And let’s take scalability. Microsoft doesn’t get scalability the way a few Oracle, Sun, or IBM does, right?
And how ironic. When you succeed, the focus changes.
OK – so now you're an Enterprise company – but you don't understand the consumer.
Ah, it smells like another learning opportunity and a chance for the power of persistence to rise and shine.
Where are We Going? You’ve seen XBox SmartGlass. You’ve seen Microsoft Surface. You’ve seen Windows Azure. You’ve seen Outlook.com. You’ve seen Office 365. You’ve seen Windows 8. You’ve seen Kinect (But have you heard the stories of how doctors are using it?)
Getting the user experience right is a big deal. You don’t want big Windows on a little device -- that’s how Windows CE happened.
You’ve seen where things are going with the user experience and the UI. (How many people like to play with their tiles, when nobody is looking?)
Just think “3 Screens and a Cloud” … connected to services. At the end of the day, you can keep things really simple when you think of three screens and a cloud … little screens, medium screens, and big screens. Screens change things, and that’s where user experience can make or break the day.
Think “The Right Cloud for the Job” -- Public Cloud, Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud -- It’s great to have choices. The power of choice means you can put the processing where it makes the most sense – and that’s a timeless principle. Choice means customers can choose the Cloud approach that works for them, not a “one-size fits all” option.
When you have passionate people and that kind of power of the platform on your side, from the software to the ecosystem, you can’t help but to think in a Dr. Seuss way, and imagine … Oh, the Places You’ll Go.
Now, I can’t help but to ask …
Where do YOU want to go today?
You have a tribe of many thousands of Softies strong on your side, with a passion for more from life, and ready to change the world with you.
I've heard it before, but it's good to put down on paper.
The mission of Microsoft Enterprise Services:
“Our mission is to lead and serve our customers and partners as they realize their full potential through software and services.”
It sounds like servant leadership in action.
I found this blurb that describes Microsoft Enterprise Services:
“Microsoft Enterprise Services is the consulting, support and customer service arm of the world’s leading software company. Microsoft Services focus on top enterprise customers in each of the 82 countries where we operate. The organization includes 17.300 employees in Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) and Microsoft Premier Services (Premier).”
What's your company's mission?
Does it inspire you to give your best where you have your best to give?
You need to take stock.
Stopping to smell the roses, includes reviewing your achievements. You can review your achievements very simply:
Simply write down a list of your achievements for the day. Write down your achievements for the week. Write down your achievements for the month. If they aren’t worth writing down, then they probably weren’t worth doing. If you are doing things that aren’t worth doing, that might be a problem – unless you have infinite time, and your boss or your customers reward you for doing things that don’t matter. Usually, the real problem is you did a bunch of valuable stuff, but you haven’t stepped back to identify it, label it, and put it down on paper in a useful way.
It’s a simple thing to do, but the key is to write them down, and say them out loud. Say them out loud? Yes. When you speak them, you learn to simplify them. When you simplify them, they start to stick. When they stick, now you are learning how to tell and sell your value both to you and others.
On paper, I might write the following:
Yuck. It’s descriptive, but it’s not sticky, and my manager won’t remember that, and I won’t remember that in the hall, if I wanted to give a quick summary of my impact.
Let’s try again, and let’s say it out loud:
It’s simpler. It’s easy to say. It’s sticky. It’s more benefit focused, than on the “how.” I’ve just given my manager an easy way to talk about the work without getting tongue-tied. I’ll drill into the details where he wants to, but now he has a mental “hook” and a label for the work, and can easily express it as a win. When you find a sticky way to say your achievement, write it down the simpler way. You can always elaborate, but don’t let elaboration get in the way of your short and sweet wins.
If you don’t review your achievements, then a few things happen:
Simply having your lists of your achievements and wins is good for you and good for others. It helps you tell and sell your work, and it helps others tell and sell your work.
Most importantly, having your simple list of achievements helps you acknowledge and appreciate your effort, and that’s your edge.
This is a very simple frame I use to help people rate their jobs:
It’s nothing fancy. It’s just a quick way to get a good sense of job they’ve got. Here are three quick checks:
If I were to expand the set, I might include a Competencies check, and a Culture check. Most importantly, I would include a Values check. The best job you can have, is the one where you can find a way to spend more time in your values. Notice how I said “find a way” – it’s rare that your dream job falls into your lap … it’s more of an exercise of shaping and transformation, both of the job, and of yourself.
“Action expresses priorities.” -― Mahatma Gandhi “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” -― Stephen R. Covey “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Your priority list is not your To-Do list. It's not your backlog. (Although, you should prioritize your lists. But, how do you prioritize them? Hint – this is where your priorities list comes in.)
Your priorities list is your little list of what’s most important. It’s your little list of the most important things to achieve.
How important is your little priorities list? Let's put it in proper perspective. A lack of priorities, or the wrong priorities, are one of the leading causes of failure in management, leadership, and otherwise highly capable employees.
Time management tips #20 is priorities list. If you don't have one, make one now. What else could be more important than having a list of priorities list at your finger tips? (If you had your priorities list you would know the answer to that.)
When you have your little list of priorities, you can say "No" to things. When you have your little list of priorities, you can check with your manager, or team, or your customers, or your spouse -- are these really the priorities? Most importantly, you can check with yourself.
Have you identified the little list of the things that are most important to YOU? If you know you are working on the most important things, it's easier to focus. It's easier to give your best. It's easier to stop the distractions. It's easier to say, "No" to all the little things that tug at your attention, or compete for your time.
It's also where peace of mind comes from. It's instant. When you know you are working on the right things at the right time, you are on path.
Conflict of priorities is one of the leading causes of churn, procrastination, and every other productivity killer you can think of. The only thing worse is having nothing that's important. And you know what they say, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
Resolving conflicts in priorities has been known to part the clouds and make the sun shine brighter.
In general, you can think of your priorities as your "Why" or "What", while other lists tend to be the "How." That's a generalization since obviously things will bleed, but what's important is that you have a short, explicit list of your priorities. When they swirl around in your head they get distorted, so get them out in the open. When you are in the thick of things, be able to give them a glance, and know whether to about-face or march on.
As Scott Berkun says, "Priorities are the backbone of progress." It's true. After all, if you are making progress against anything else, does it matter?
Here is an example of a set of my priorities for a month:
Three Key Wins
We can ignore the details, and focus on the structure. I had three wins I identified with my manager for the month, and a list of seven outcomes that were top priority. Did I have a backlog a mile long, and a laundry list of hundreds (if not thousands) of things to do? Yes. Did I also have short lists of rated and ranked items for the month? Yes, that's the list above. Did I also have rated and ranked items for each week? You bet. And did I have short-lists of rated and ranked items each day? Absolutely.
While priorities aren't the silver bullet, they are your way to "push back." They are your "push" when you need it most. They also are your "pull", that you can ignore at your own peril. They are also your "peace of mind."
If you haven't prioritized your priority list, you're missing out.
Too many blogs, not enough ROI? Is your backlog of posts to be read, wearing you down?
I’ll keep this post short or it defeats the purpose, so let’s cut right to the chase …
There is a secret to reading blogs more effectively, and it’s not reading faster. It’s adding a strategic lens on top, so that you get back the most value, from the reading time you put in. The strategic lens helps you trim your blog list down to size, and focus on the blogs that give you the most bang for your buck.
I’ll summarize the steps to do so, but I’ve elaborated here at How To Read Blogs More Effectively
The short answer is:
If you want the details, and to improve your ROI from blogs for life, check out:
How To Read Blogs More Effectively
You’ll even see how I pare down Michael Hyatt’s blog posts and turn insight into action. (Note – and if you really just want to know how to read faster, I’ve included a link to that too.)
Minimally, you’ll learn another approach for ruthless prioritization of the blogs you read. Best case, I help you find more “priceless” blogs on the Web. Happy hunting.
Agile Results is an simple system of proven practices to focus, set goals, find your motivation, improve your productivity, master time management, and achieve work-life balance. It’s a way to get your game on.
This is a simple way to add Agile Results to your calendar. It’s the best way to “easily do”, and “remember to do”, Agile Results:
That’s it. It takes under a minute.
Simply create a recurring appointment for Monday Vision on Mondays, create a recurring Daily Outcomes reminder for each day of the week, and create a recurring Friday Reflection reminder on Friday.
In the Monday Vision reminder, I would add the following question to the body:
“What are your three wins for the week?” (Write them down.)
In the Daily Outcomes reminder, I would add the following question to the body:
“What are your three wins for TODAY?”
In the Friday Reflection reminder, I would add the following questions to the body:
“What are three things going well?”
“What are three things to improve?”
The beauty of this approach is that it helps you build the muscle, until it’s a habit. You can also add notes to each of your appointment that help you remember how to do it well, or you can add your learnings. For example, let’s say on Friday Reflection you realize that you are biting off more than you can chew each week, then in your Monday Vision, add a simple self-check question – “Are you biting off more than you can chew?”
The possibilities are endless, and the power is yours.
I’m testing the user experience again at 30 Days of Getting Results. It’s worth it and I want to get it right, since I have a lot more people asking me about training now for Agile Results.
If you can take the new experience for a test drive, and give me feedback on whether you like the new experience over the original, that helps a ton. (Unfortunately, I don’t have live A/B testing. If you don’t know the original experience, imagine a simple white page with a list of lessons on the side, and I have a screenshot below.)
If you don’t know Agile Results or what 30 Days of Getting Results is all about, here’s the scoop … 30 Days of Getting Results is a serious (and free) self-paced time management training course. It full of time management skills and productivity skills.. You’ll learn how to triple your productivity (actually, you can 10X it, but I’m trying to under-promise and over-deliver.) Teams across Microsoft are using Agile Results to master time management, improve their productivity, and drive more value … better, faster, cheaper … and most importantly, more meaningful.
What’s the secret? … Oh nothing … just more than ten years of testing, experimenting, and refining across many, many people and teams to create a simple and flexible system that could stand up to some of the most rigorous scenarios and requirements. Agile Results is holistic and it rides above the top of things. It’s a synergy of proven practices that help you work on the right things, at the right time, the right way, with the right energy. It’s about flowing value and focusing on the essential things that matter, using the 80/20 rule. It’s about playing to your strengths, teaming up to achieve more, and hitting more windows of opportunity. It’s about lighting a fire so you can blaze a trail through your workload, breakthrough barriers, and jump the hurdles that stand in your way.
It’s about thinking in threes: three wins for the day, three wins for the week, three wins for the month, three wins for the year. It’s about adding Power Hours to your week so you can whip out more achievements in less time, with greater ease. It’s about adding more Creative Hours to your week so you can find and flow more creative solutions, invent your next best thing, and unleash the productive artist in you. It’s about recharging and renewing with skill. It also puts science on your side, including the best learnings from positive psychology and sports psychology to unleash your best performance. It’s also a synthesis of proven practices for motivation, directing your focus with skill, prioritizing with decisive action, and making your moments count. For the softer side, it’s an East meets West productivity system, where you will do less, achieve more, and enjoy more effortless ways of producing outstanding results.
With that in mind, here are the two experiences I am testing …
Experience A: Flashcards Experience A is currently live at 30DaysOfGettingResults.com
With this experience, you see a set of visuals that represent each lesson. When you click a lesson, that lesson expands and shows you the outcome, the insight, and the action for the day. The upside with Experience A is that it’s interactive and it reinforces the idea that you don’t have to go through the lessons sequentially. Each lesson is self-contained. While the overall training is designed with a flow in mind, you can dive into whatever lesson you want.
Experience B: Simple List of Lessons
With this experience, it’s pretty straight-forward – it’s a list of lessons down a side-bar, and each page is a lesson. In fact, that’s why I liked this experience. It’s very simple, very minimal, and no confusion. Just pick a day, click and go. While the upside is simplicity, the potential downside is boring. That said, boring and functional is fine by me, but I need to hear from more users, on what they prefer.
A few people told me last week that they wanted a more visually appealing site and more interactivity. Ironically, I had spent a lot of money on the pictures for each page, but it just wasn’t obvious with the original landing page (Experience B above.)
I do think that Experience A does really showcase the images and it does encourage click-through. I find myself clicking the lessons and exploring a lot more. I know the novelty wears off, but maybe novelty is all I need if it helps you learn the 30 lessons.
Sometimes you need to Just Start. Other times, you need to Just Finish.
One of the best ways never to finish something, is to spread it out over time. Time changes what's important. People lose interest. Changes of heart happen along the way. Spreading things over time or pushing them out is a great way to kill projects.
Open items, open loops, and unfinished tasks compound the problem. The more unfinished work there is, the more task switching, and context switching you do. Now you're spending more time switching between things, trying to pick up where you left off, and losing momentum.
This is how backlogs grow and great ideas die. This is how people that "do" become people that "don't."
Time management tips #19 is just finish. If you have a bunch of open work, start closing it down. Swarm it. Overwhelm your open items with brute force. Set deadlines: - Today, I clear my desk. - Today, I decide on A, B, or C and run with it. - Today, I close the loop. - Today, I solve it. - Today, I clear my backlog.
If you want to finish something, then “own” it and drive it. To finish requires ruthless prioritization. It requires relentless focus. It requires putting your full force on the 20% of the things that deliver 80% of the value. It requires deciding on an outcome and plowing through until you are done.
Stop taking on more, until you finish what's on your plate. If you want to take on more, then finish more. The more you finish, the better you get.
The more you finish, the more you will trust yourself to actually complete things.
The more you finish, the more others will trust you to actually take things on.
The more you finish, the more you build your momentum for great results.
For time management skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
This is a list of 25 of some of the best books that the most effective Microsoft leaders read and do. They don’t just read the books. They actually learn the material. And more importantly, they actually do what’s inside.
I mentor a lot of people, and I have a lot of mentors. The list below is a compilation of the key books that keep coming up time and again, that really make a difference in the success of the most successful leaders at Microsoft.
If you want to lead at a higher level, these are the books that help you take your game to the next level …
25 Books that the Most Successful Leaders at Microsoft Read:
I kept the list above simple and trim so you can scan it fast. Below I provided some brief notes on each book, to help you better understand why these are the books that really make a difference:
Additional Resources If you’ want more extreme lists on the best books that help you improve your success in work and life, check out these book lists:
A little bit now, saves a lot of time later.
One of the worst ways to bury yourself with endless tasks is to keep postponing. Every task you postpone means follow up. That means overhead. It's like constant paper shuffling.
You've heard the saying, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." If tomorrow is for everything you didn't do today, is that what you want tomorrow to really be about?
Time management tips #18 is do it now. It's really a shift in mindset. Rather than automatically push things to later, start trying to get things off your plate now, as fast as possible. Think of it as "getting the ball out of your court" or "clearing your plate."
What makes this work especially well, is when you combine it with effectively prioritizing, identifying what is important, working on things that will be valued, and focusing on the essentials.
What you don't want to do is keep the flood gate open.
Doing a little now, is often better than a lot later, or none later, or being overwhelmed later. Another key is practicing the 80/20 rule. Focus on the 20% that's the most important. Focus on the essentials. If you do the minimum really well, you will learn to improve your quality. You will also learned what is truly valued. You will then create more time for improving things, instead of getting mired in things up front.
This approach of "Do It Now" works well for a few reasons:
Trim tomorrow’s “To-Do” list by doing things today.
For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
One of the best ways to win back time is to use outcomes. An outcome is simply an end-result, or an end-in-mind. You identify outcomes by asking, "What do I want to accomplish?" or "What do I want to achieve?"
Time management tips #17 is identify outcomes. When you know your outcomes, you know your target. Now you can focus on that. You can shave everything else off. By knowing the outcomes, you can focus on the most essential activities or steps to achieve the outcome. Or, as Bruce Lee would say, "Hack away at the unessential."
For example, consider these scenarios:
As a quick test, take any activity that you are about to do, and identity the outcome for it. This becomes your little test case. Now, when you execute, you can check yourself with your test case -- have you satisifed your test case yet?
If you get lost in asking about outcomes, simply start asking, "What's the goal?" By asking, "What's the goal?", you can quickly get back on track. Similarly you can ask, "What are you trying to accomplish?"
In either case, the point is to identify your target so that you can narrow your focus, and optimize
Outcomes help you hack away at the unessential, and they are your piercing lens of value.
For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Getting Results.com.
One of my managers used to ask me each day …
“Have you changed the world yet?”
My reply was always the same …
“Yes, but the world didn’t like the change, so we changed it back.”
Change is a constant. In fact, change is a constant breeding ground at Microsoft. People respond differently to change, and my goal is to give you an arsenal of change quotes to help you deal with any situation in terms of change … whether you are driving it, or on the receiving end, or simply trying to escape it.
I’ve put together a comprehensive set of quotes about change:
Here is a sample of the top 10 change quotes in my change quotes about life change, business change, and more:
Check out more Change Quotes (in fact, 150 more
Do you know what you want to accomplish today? Did you actually make the time for the things that you want to do today? Are you task switching like crazy? The single most common pattern I see when somebody’s day is scrambled, it’s because they didn’t make time for the things that they wish they did. Again. And again. And again.
Let’s stop the insanity.
Time management tips #16 is unscramble your day. The idea here is to take a few moments in the morning, to make your day go better. It’s a quick and simple exercise that immediately pays off. It pays off by immediately by clarifying what you will do, what you won’t do, and what you need to make time for. It helps you quickly structure your day, just enough so that you can focus where it counts.
This is a big deal because your day can change right under our feet. No matter how you planned it the day before, the week before, or the month before, it changes. When we make up in the morning, and our day has arrived, it’s where the rubber meets the road – and it’s amazing just how different reality can be from our initial plan. Things change, and time changes what’s important.
But the good news is -- today can be THE best day to re-plan your day to make the most of it.
Here’s how to re-plan your day with skill:
There is only so much time in the day. You can feel good about your day if you know that you have identified your priorities, you are keeping the most important appointments, and you are making space for the things that count, and taking the time to recharge and renew.
The more you can reduce your task-switching and the more you can give yourself larger chunks of time for focus, the better off you are.
I’m a big believer that values are the lightening rod. Values can repel or attract, and like attracts like (opposites attract, but similarities bind.) Values are the fast way to know whether something is right for you, or if you feel a conflict (and sometimes you can’t put your finger on it.)
I’ve been teaching Agile Results to more teams at Microsoft. With the spread of Agile Results, I have to think more about what the values really are. The values are the life-blood of the system. They give it juice.
Off the top of my head, when I ask, “What are the values of Agile Results?”, the first few that come to mind are:
Fulfillment, flexibility, and focus.
Agile Results was born to help more people find a path of fulfillment in a practical way. It’s designed to help you live your values in work and life. It’s also designed to be flexible. I’m a fan of Bruce Lee’s philosophy of, "Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own". Darwin also taught us that nature favors the flexible. There’s truth in the saying, “adapt or die.” Focus is also at the heart of Agile Results. Focus helps us engage with work and with our life. It brings out our best. You’re the director of your life and you can choose what you point your camera at. Voltaire also comes to mind: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” And again, Bruce Lee reminds us of the power of focus, when he said, ““The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”
When I think a little more on the values that drive Agile Results -- the values that breathe life into the Agile Results system -- I think of the following values:
Adventure is a powerful metaphor for life. It adds the fun factor and it turns problems into challenges. In life, you can choose a lot of things, from your attitudes to your actions. Choose your own adventure.
Balance is a way to blend the best of both worlds, such as the game of business, or the business of life. It’s a way to meld our minds and our bodies and our emotions to bring out our best. Balance your great up time, with great down time.
Congruence is about living our values and staying true to you. It’s building a firm foundation versus a house of cards.
Continuous learning is about finding the lessons and turning insight into action.
Empowerment is about putting the world’s best insight and action at your fingertips to help you unleash what you are capable of … in an exponential way.
Focus is about setting your eye on the prize and going for it. Focus is also about choosing to find the opportunity in any situation. Focus is about directing your attention to things that empower you, whether it’s focusing on strengths over weaknesses, the future over the past, or the positive over the negative.
Flexibility is ready for anything. It’s rising above habits and practices that don’t serve you. It’s about staying open to new ways of looking at things. It’s about adapting to new situations as the world changes under your feet. It’s about being an acrobat for life.
Fulfillment is about writing your story forward in a way, where you give your best where you have your best to give, and play to your strengths in a way that shares your gifts with the world.
Growth is about continuously expanding your capabilities. You grow your ability to take on bigger challenges, and you become something more in the process.
Passion is about being bold, pushing the envelope, and chasing the dreams that make your soul sing. Passion is the value that races through your veins when you wake up in the morning, ready to face the World, and ready to make your mark.
Simplicity is about the essential. It’s elegance in action. It’s economy of motion. It’s reductionism in action. Simplicity is about useful, relevant, and intuitive. Simplicity is about the truths … the timeless principles, patterns, and practices that are enduring over time. It’s the part that sticks with you, when everything else fades away.
Sustainability is about finding a way forward in a way that is durable and evolvable over time. Sustainability is about finding your downtime, and responding to “always on” in a way where you can turn it off. It’s finding your flow. Sustainability is about fresh starts. Sustainability is about doing the things that reward, renew, and revitalize you.
I think that those are the values of Agile Results.
When I peel everything else away, and really look under the hood at what makes it tick, it’s those values that bring it to life. It’s the very fact that the system embraces and lives those values that make it sustainable, durable, and evolvable over time, and with the people that embrace the system.
Agile Results is a simple system for getting meaningful results.
It's a systematic way to achieve both short- and long-term results. It works for all aspects of your life, from work to fun. The key to achieving results in our ever-changing world is learning and responding to change.
Traditional methods of planning and goal setting are heavy and static, and they just aren't working anymore. Agile Results provides just enough planning to get you going, but makes it easy to change your course as needed.
With Agile Results, you are in control. You shape your days and weeks so you can flourish and amplify your impact. It’s a way to make daily progress, follow YOUR path of fulfillment, and spend your time and energy on the most meaningful things.
Bonus – Three wins for your decade, and three wins for your life.
These wins act as your tests for success and they focus your tasks, while making it a game. Focusing on three wins also helps you reframe problems into challenges. At the same time, it helps you identify, acknowledge, and appreciate your personal victories.
It’s all about driving a better experience, each day, and each week. By identifying your wins for the week, you give yourself the ability to zoom out from your day. By identifying your three wins for the day, you get to zoom in to where the action is. By thinking in terms of wins, you jump ahead to the end-in-mind. By focusing on what’s going well each week, you learn your personal success patterns, and what to keep doing, or what to do more of. By focusing on three things to improve, you improve your personal performance. This personal process helps you continuously learn and improve day over day, week over week, and your little wins add up for exponential results.
The Rule of 3. This is a simple guideline that helps you focus and prioritize. Bite off three things. You can use The Rule of 3 at different levels. For example, you can use The Rule of 3 to pick three outcomes for the day, the week, the month, and the year. This helps you see the forest from the trees. For example, your three outcomes for the year are a higher level than your three outcomes for the month, and your three outcomes for the week are a higher-level than your three outcomes for the day.
Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection. This is a simple pattern for weekly results. Each week is a fresh start. On Mondays, you think about three results you would like for the week. Each day you identify three results you would like for the day. On Friday’s, you reflect on lessons learned. On Friday, you ask yourself, what three things are going well and what three things need improvement. This weekly pattern helps you build momentum.
Hot Spots. Hot Spots are your heat map for work and life. They help you map out and prioritize your results. Hot Spots are your lens to help you focus on what’s important in your life. They can represent areas of opportunity or pain. It helps to organize your Hot Spots by work, personal, and life. At a glance, you should be able to quickly see the balls you’re juggling and what’s on your plate. To find your Hot Spots, simply make a list of the key things that need your time and energy. The goal is to easily answer the question, “what do you want to accomplish?” for each of these key areas. Most importantly you should have scannable outcomes for your Hot Spots. Scannable outcomes are simply a tickler list of what you want to accomplish. When you know the results you want in your Hot Spots in your work and personal life, you have a map for your results.
These are some drivers that set the stage for Agile Results:
These are some basic concepts that underlie Agile Results;
At the heart of any system is a set of practices. It’s the practices that make or break a system. Combined with the 10 values and 10 principles, the 12 core practices complete the foundation of Agile Results:
The simplest way to see if Agile Results is right for you, is to take it for a test drive. Here is a simple way to test-drive Agile Results:
Every time you have to remember what’s next to do, you waste your time. You've heard of "paper shuffling." This is like "thought shuffling." You spend a lot of time shuffling your thoughts around, but not actually doing anything.
Enter stage right … the power of lists.
Time management tips #15 is make lists for action. Use lists to organize and take more effective action. Lists are your friend. They help you organize your thoughts and ideas into action. Pilots use checklists. Sure they know what to do, but they also know that having the checklist helps free up their mind (specifically, their prefontal cortex). Teams use inspection lists to drive quality, share processes, and share work. Companies large and small use checklists for quality control and streamlining performance.
You can use lists to streamline yourself, improve your own quality, and simplify your work.
When you make your lists, test them against effectiveness. Keep them as simple as possible, but make sure they help you. Never become a slave to your list. If your list gets too big, start a new one and carry the good forward. Let things slough off.
Here are some of the most useful lists to have, when it comes to organizing your work and guiding your action:
Another useful list is a quick list of the steps for a given task. This can help you stay on track, or remember where you are, or easily find the next step. The trick is not to over do this, or over-engineer your steps, or worse, forget to be flexible in your approach. Focus on the goal, but stay flexible in how you achieve it.
Goals are always your guide.
Use lists to organize your work, organize your actions, and simplify your work and life.
For free, self-paced modules on time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for more time management tips check out Getting Results.com.
When it comes to time management, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do you dump your state?” Meaning, how do you dump what's on your mind to a place you trust, and how do you pick up where you left off?
Time management tips #14 is dump your state. Dumping your state helps you pick back up where you left off, and it frees your mind to focus on the tasks at hand. It also helps you move up the stack. After all, if your mind is filled with little unclosed loops, you are not at your most resourceful and creative best.
When you have baggage of the brain, it's tough to focus. Your mind is busy circling back on the loops it hasn't closed. It's also buzzing endlessly in the background to remind you of the things you should not forget. All the mental chatter gets in the way of you having peace of mind, clarity of thought, and focused attention ... right here, right now.
That's one scenario of why dumping your state matters.
Another scenario where dumping your state matters is when we want to pick up from where we left off. We spend all day working on a problem, building up state, but then we can't finish, so we have to park if for the day. The problem is we want to be able to pick back up the next day, from where we left off. Worse, sometimes we can't pick up back up the next day, and then all the state we built up starts to rot on the shelf of our minds, or decays in some place that we may never find again.
So what can you do?
It's very simple, and I call it brain dumps or "Session Dumps." To do a “Session Dump”, just dump what's on your mind, down onto paper or onto a page, using your favorite system. For me, sometimes this is an email that where I will dump my whiteboard fast, or I use Onenote to dump, or I use EverNote to dump plain text. In most scenarios, I have notepad open on my desktop, and I constantly dump to it ... so instead of little insights or actions floating in my head, they are jotted down to where I can see and organize them.
It might seem like an endless list in your mind, but you’ll be surprised that the more you dump, the less it is. It gets faster too. And thinking on paper is powerful. When you see the list in front of you, you may very quickly realize what you can let go, and what you really need to hold on to.
Here's the real trick though. Since I do this daily, I found that the best approach is to simply "dump state" to a clean sheet each day, and to name it the current date. For example, for today, I would title my Session Dump as follows:
Naming my Session Dump by date means I never need to figure out a good title, and by keeping all of my dumps in one folder, it's easy for me to always find them. I use that simple format because I can easily flip through in sequence.
I have to let a lot of things go, so I can focus on the best opportunities and challenges that lie before me. Time is always changing what’s important. Having a rapid way to dump state or pick up where I left off is a big deal. Now I never have to wonder where I dumped straggling ideas, or things that were percolating on my mind.
At the end of the day, dump your state before you go home and see how much it frees you up.
For free, self-paced modules on time management training, check out 30 Days of Getting Results.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do." -- Lucille Ball”
I was reading Scott Hanselman's post on Productivity vs. Guilt and Self-Loathing. In his post, Scott shares what he does when he feels unproductive. If you know Scott, he's the opposite of unproductive. So the question then is ...
Why do we sometimes feel unproductive?
I played with this question on my way to work, and then a few dots connected.
We See the Work I connected the dots when I was surprised by a few people that said they didn’t really see all the work ahead. They were working on a few things, but there was not an amazing forest of challenges and opportunities ahead of them. Instead, it was just a tree here or there. It baffled me, but then it clicked. Not everybody looks to see the forest.
As a Program Manager, I'm constantly breaking work down. I need to map out paths from A to B. I'm constantly sorting massive lists of work to be done. I'm always looking at the system. I need to find the bottlenecks in our system and ecosystem and unblock them. I need to orchestrate people to bring out their best. I need to foresee and anticipate humps and hurdles and have a game plan to get around them.
It's not that the job of a Program Manager is never done (It isn't BTW.) It's that some people see the task at hand, while others see the bigger map.
Any idea that comes my way, I have to start breaking it down into experiences, scenarios, features, requirements, timelines, milestones, etc. I always see the work.
Some people don't "see the work." I've run into this pattern multiple times, where somebody looks like they have nothing to do. In their mind they don't. Nobody told them to do anything. They aren't a self-starter. If nothing is assigned to them, then there's nothing to do. For others, they are looking for work, but they can't see the work. They haven't done work-breakdown-structures, or iteration planning, or any sort of planning, so they just aren't familiar with how to look for work ... and more importantly, they don’t know how to identify meaningful and game-changing work.
When you see the bigger map, it can feel like people are re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Your job then becomes to educate people on the why, the what, and the goals of the work, so people can put the deck chairs down, and re-focus their efforts.
So when I measure myself against the work to be done, I always fall short. When I get to the top of the mountain, I see more mountains.
The solution? Set milestones, identity tests for success, and stop to smell the roses. Look back on achievements, to balance always looking ahead.
We Have Ideas When you constantly flow ideas, you are brutally aware of missed opportunities, and worse, missed windows of opportunity. The backlog of ideas just keeps growing, and, it's not a shortage of good or even great ideas, there is a shortage of execution.
It's OK for bad ideas or lesser ideas to die a slow death, but it's a real shame when the game changers die due to lack of love.
It's amazing how many ideas can flow when you know how to debottleneck your mind. When I learned that Thomas Edison had an idea quota, I thought that was interesting. You get what you measure, and you get more of what you focus on. When I learned how to clear my head by dumping my state, and to capture ideas with a thought catcher, my speed of ideas outpaced my execution by a long shot. As a Program Manager, I'm skilled in making things happen and going from idea to done ... but my pace of ideas outpaced what was possible within time, resource, and budget constraints.
The solution? Focus on the whitelist of great ideas, versus the blacklist ... Hit more windows of opportunity, ruthlessly prioritize, trade bad, good, or great for oustanding, and really focus on wins ... three wins for the day, three wins for the week, three wins for the month, three wins for the year.
We Feel the Impact This one is tough. When you know what's possible from excellent execution, and when you know the power of productivity, it's actually painful when opportunities slip through your fingers. When you can step into the future and you know how the world could be a better place, and yet at the same time, you know that without the right things happening, it's not going to happen ... it's tough.
When you know that a lack of execution or lack of effective productivity will translate into businesses going under, or people losing their jobs, or evil winning the day, it's tough to rest. On the flip side, when you know that giving a little more, and then a little more, can create powerful transformation, it's tough not to fight the good fight, and march onward and updward.
Again, it can be tough to stop and smell the roses, and it can feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders.
We Don't Always Keep Score We learn in school to focus on what we got wrong, not what we got right. We forget to ask the simple questions like:
- What's on my "Done" list? - What were my wins for the day? - What were my wins for the week? - What were my wins for the month? - What were my wins for the year?
One of the people I mentor asked me if it was important to keep her "Done" list. (A "Done" list is simply a list of things you completed during the day.) I said, "Absolutely. It's a reminder of what you achieved during the day. And you can balance it against your three wins that you identified at the top of your list."
The idea here is that, as simple as it sounds, a little progress can go a long way toward feeling productive, and feeling fulfilled. Little lists help, even as simple as having a "Done" list for your day.
We Have to Trim the Tree Periodically, we have to “Trim the Tree.” We have to put the bags down, and start with a clean slate. We need a fresh look, and a fresh perspective. We need to recharge and renew. We need to let our “mighty mounds of work-to-be-done”, crumble and fall, so we can build better, more meaningful mounds.
The reality is that time changes what’s important, and if we keep carrying the weight forward, it holds up back or holds us down. We have to cut the dead wood.
I like using a “Trim the Tree” metaphor because I think of trimming branches, beyond just leaves. My goal is always to get back to the essential that matters … here and now … and to shape what will matter … so that the way forward is sustainable, inspiring, and lifts us in ways we know are possible.
The goal – at the end of the day – is this …
You need to be who you want to be, and create the experiences you want to create.
Your best strategy for that is to follow your personal strategy for work and life, including your vision, mission, and values, and playing to your strengths, and differentiating through your unique experience, capabilities, and approach. We also know three paths of happiness you can follow:
When you combine strategy with your productivity, you help not only life your meaningful life, but you help lift the life of others, by bringing your unique value to the world. Or, to put it another way, it’s a great way to build skills to pay the bills and lead a better life.
I’ve baked many of these strategies and techniques from hard lessons learned in the most challenging scenarios into a simple system for meaningful results. It’s Agile Results, and it’s introduced in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way. You can read it free online, or get Getting Results the Agile Way on Kindle and take it with you wherever you go.