Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
I wrote a post about how to embrace the effort. Effort is something I knew very well, and it's helped me differentiate in many scenarios.
It's easy to downplay the benefit of effort, especially because you aren’t rewarded for effort, you’re rewarded for results. I never got an A for effort (although I did get an E.)
But here's the catch: YOU have to reward yourself for your own effort. And just because you don't get the results you wanted, you still need to acknowledge and appreciate your own effort. It’s critical to your long-term success.
Effort really is an essential ingredient of your personal greatness. Sure, you can luck into success some of the time, and talent can get you so far, but effort is the difference that makes the difference, and it’s the maker of more consistent success. Effort is also the key to making more meaning in your life, and it's an integral part of the path of fulfillment. Yeah, fulfillment happens more when we give our best, where we have our best to give, on a meaningful mission. Giving your best takes effort, and meaningful missions are always filled with challenges. That’s why in life … it’s the journey AND the destination (and sometimes the journey is all we’ve got.)
It's wise advice that we should focus on what we control, and let the rest go. One of the toughest lessons in life is that we can't control everything … and many times, the results are out of our hands. Sure, we get to influence, but the bigger the challenge, the less we control how the cards will fall.
But what do we always control? The effort that we put in. That’s the difference maker in our lives.
If you're not getting the results you want in work or life, take a look at the effort you are putting in. If you aren't putting in the effort required, try adding some effort to see if that makes the difference. In fact, embrace the effort. Effort is what expands what we're capable of. Feel the effort, and feel your growth.
When effort is not the trick, it's often a matter of strategy. Working harder isn't always the answer (though sometimes it is.) A lot of times it's working smarter. In many cases, the answer is "AND" ... it’s about working smarter AND working harder. (What a powerful combo.)
The beauty is that well-applied effort, often pays off.
And if you acknowledge and reward yourself along the way for the effort you put in, that always pays off.
Check out embrace the effort, and put the power of effort on your side.
I hate quotas. For me, I'm about quality, not quantity. And yet quotas have consistently helped me get the ball rolling, or find out what I'm capable of.
Time management tips # 10 – set limits. When we set a quota, we have a target. It helps turn a goal into something we can count. And when we can count it, we build momentum.
In my early days of Microsoft, my manager set a limit that I needed to write two Knowledge Base articles per month. I did that, and more. Way more. It turned out to be a big deal. Before that limit, I didn't think I could do any or would ever do any.
A few years back, I set a limit that my posts would be no longer than six inches (yeah, that sounds like a weird size limit, but I wanted to fill no more than where the gray box on my blog faded to white.) My blog ended up in the top 50 blogs on MSDN, of more than 5,000 blogs, and my readership grew exponentially that month. The reason I set the size limit is because my original limit was "write no more than 20 minutes." The problem is, when I'm in my execution mode, I write fast, and my posts were getting really long, even if I only wrote for 20 minutes.
Setting limits in time, size, or quantity can help you in so many ways. Especially, if getting started is tough. One great way to start, is simply to ask, "What's one thing I can do today towards XYZ?" Limits also help us avoid from getting overwhelmed or bogged down. If we’re feeling heavy or overburdened, start chopping at limits until your load feels lighter.
Here are some example of some limits you can try:
Once you set a limit, you suddenly get resourceful in findings new ways to optimize, or new ways to make it happen. When there is no limit, it's tough to optimize because you don't know when you are done.
While I'm a fan of quality, the trick is to first "flow some water through the pipe" so you can tune, prune, and improve it.
If you're feeling rusty, try setting little limits to bootstrap what you're capable of.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to be more effective and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
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Do you have something that you've been wanting to learn, but just don't have the time? Do you have an area at work that you struggle with? Do you dabble in too many things at once, and never make real progress?
Enter 30 Day Sprints.
Time management tip # 11 is 30 Day Sprints. 30 Day Sprints let you try something out for 30 days and make progress. 30 Day Sprints also give you a way to cycle through something new each month. It’s a great way to embrace continuous learning. Each month you can add something new to your portfolio of skills, so at the end of the day, you can have 12 big changes under your belt.
I adopted 30 Day Improvement Sprints several years ago to deal with a couple of challenges:
What I learned is that committing to 30 days of improvement in a focused area, is easier to swallow than changing for life. However, improving an area for 30 days, is actually life changing.
With 30 days, persistence and time are on my side. It's a big enough time box that I can try different techniques, while building proficiency. Using 30 days makes working through hurdles easier too. A lot of the hurdles I hit in my first week, are gone by week 2. Little improvements each day, add up quickly. I look back on how many things I tried for a week and stopped thinking I hadn't made progress. The trick was, I didn't get to week 2 or week 3 to see my results.
That last point is a big deal. When you stick with something for more than two weeks, you get over the humps and hurdles that hold you back. It's like chipping away at the stone, and sometimes the breakthroughs don't happen until you're a few weeks in.
This is also a powerful way to add habits or change a habit. Why? Because you can do something small today. And tomorrow you can do another small thing. You can keep little commitments with yourself. You can glide your way into your habit, versus run out of steam. If you’ve ever been gung-ho for a week, and then fizzled out, 30 Day Sprints can be your answer.
As we turn the page to a new month, pick a focus for the month, and make it your 30 Day Sprint.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
Sometimes small is the best way to make progress. In fact, sometimes it's the only way.
If you don't have time to do something big, do something small. Don't make a major production out of it, don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Chunk it down. It's a skill you can practice daily.
What's one small thing you could do … today?
Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. In fact, sometimes the start takes more effort than the work:
"It is always the start that requires the greatest effort." -- James Cash Penney (Yeah, the guy that started J.C. Penney’s)
If you don't know where to start, then start with something small.
Be a fire-starter ... use your little victories for kindling.
How do you get started?
Here are seven practices I’ve experienced that worked well with meetings:
It’s really about momentum … we can spiral up or spiral down. Energy is our best asset to spend on the right things.
On #7 -- Any time I've seen meetings have momentum (and I can think of multiple vignettes), it’s when somebody put their thoughts out on the table first, without being sliced and diced along the way. I also think of examples, where somebody finishes painting the broad strokes of their picture ... and we get the bigger picture, before needling at the fine points, and fracturing great ideas in the making … or at least getting the bird’s-eye view before chasing the rabbit down the hole.
When we practice #7, it builds trust, people are heard and understood, and people will be less long-winded, and defensive, etc.
Bonus --- Have a skilled facilitator, manage the shot clock, set time for things (timebox), take decisive actions, and have a parking lot to put things.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Little things that get in our way, wear us down. By creating a few glide paths in our day, we can jumpstart and maintain our momentum. Daily momentum is a key ingredient to making things happen.
Time management tips #5 is -- reduce the friction in your day. Friction is the resistance we feel, when we go to do something. It might be extra steps in our process. It might be clutter that gets in our way. It might be the inconvenience of where we put things. All these little friction points add up.
The goal is to reduce the bottlenecks in your day, and give yourself a handful of friction-free experiences. For example, paths in your house should not be an obstacle course over laundry or toys. Your computer desktop should have fast access to your most common apps. You shouldn't have to do awkward moves whether it's reaching for shampoo, or getting a glass, or throwing out the garbage (and finding the garbage should not be a game of hide and go seek.)
Your key measure is how you feel, and whether you have to work too hard, to do something simple. The more you have to do something each day, the simpler you should make it.
Here are a few examples that have worked for me.
If you get creative, you can find a lot of ways to simplify your daily moves and experiences. Some of the main ideas are:
The mantra is … the more friction free you can be, the more momentum you can build. Don’t let things break your stride, and don’t let things slow you down.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the exercise and Reduce Friction and Create Glide-Paths for Your Day to get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis.
You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
Have you heard of the big rocks story? If not, the idea is that if you don't first make room for your big rocks, all the fillers of life will fill up your day for you.
Time management tips #6 is -- schedule the big rocks. If you don't have an appointment on your calendar for XYZ, it's not going to happen. If you don't have a recurring appointment called, "Write Your Book," it won't happen. If you don't have a recurring appointment called, "Workout," it won't happen.
Maybe you want to build an app to change the world. Do you have a recurring appointment on your calendar called, "Build an App to Change the World"? I know some people that do. And even if they don't change the world, they are making the time for it, and that's exactly the point.
You don't have time for this. You don't have time for that. You only have time for the things you make time for. Carve out time for what's important. Schedule it, and make it happen.
What are you making time for?
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to Carve Out Time for What's Important and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
How do you rehydrate, revitalize, or renew a brand?
I thought that a post on rebranding would help people get a new lease on life. I see people hold on to dead brands, launch fizzle brands, and kill brands by being all things to all people. I see this happen to individuals and their personal brand too.
I decided to ask the best in the business ... Al Ries. Aside from a best-selling author, Al is one of the best business consultants in the world on branding and positioning. After all, he's written THE book on "positioning."
Al wrote a fantastic guest post for me:
How To Rebrand a Brand
It's a masterpiece.
If you are looking at how to rehydrate your product or yourself, it's a MUST read.
What if you could improve your time management week over week? Well, you can. Imagine the pay off over time.
Time management tips #7 is Friday reflection. Friday reflection is a way to check what's going wrong, and carry forward what's going right.
To do Friday reflection, simply give yourself 10 or 20 minutes on Friday mornings to ask yourself two things:
The goal is to carry the good forward and build better habits.
Before you answer the questions above, really reflect on your week. Did you do what you set out to do? If not, did you trade up for the right things? Did you get randomized? Did you bite off more than you can chew?
See what starts to happen? You start to notice your own patterns. This awareness becomes your advantage, when you use it to change what's not working, and do more of what is working It's a way to improve your personal habits and streamline your results.
One of the most common patterns is to simply lose sight of what we set out to achieve for his week. That's why thinking of three wins for the week is so powerful. It gives us a target. We check ourselves during the week, and adjust our course, but Friday is where we really peer into our personal process improvement.
The key to exponential results is to work on the right things, at the right time, the right way, with the right energy. With Friday Reflection, the overall goal is to improve your little loop of results: identify the value, carve out things you can do, make the time for it, use your best energy to amplify it, and streamline your habits to support you.
Use your Friday as a way to invest in yourself.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to reflect on Fridays and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
Nothing helps you stay the course, or pick up the pace, or deal with setbacks like purpose. One of the best ways to focus, get your groove on, and make things happen is the power of purpose.
Time management tips #8 is power up with purpose. Purpose is they "why" behind what you do. It gives you a meaningful mission to apply your strengths, experience, and talent. In the absence of purpose, you lose your drive. After all, it's hard to bring out your best when there's no motivating mission.
Purpose comes in all shapes and sizes. Some say, "Go big or go home." For many, that's a way to step up to the plate. A way to swing with all their might. A way to dream big dreams. Here's what this might look like:
- I’m the researcher who finds the truth. - I’m the developer who writes the code to change the world. - I’m the coach who helps make others great. - I’m the musician who makes people feel alive. - I’m the poet who makes people think.
Purpose doesn't have to be grandiose to be effective. For others, a simple meaningful purpose is all they need. Heres' what this might look like:
- I’m the technical specialist who helps customers succeed on the platform. - I’m the Program Manager who helps customers share cool experiences. - I’m the glue who connects the UI to the developers.
Roles and goals are a simple way to find purpose. Take your role, line it up with the goal, and make that your mission or your purpose. Here are some that I have used:
- I am the PM who shapes the cloud story for end-to-end engagements in the Enterprise. - I am the PM who shapes the Microsoft application story for customer success. - I am the Pm who shapes the security and performance story for LOB apps.
You can make the purpose for the day, the week, the month, the year, etc. You know you nailed it when it inspires you to action, and it helps you get out of bed in the morning.
Create a one-liner reminder of your purpose that you can use today, to make your mission more meaningful.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to find your purpose and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
WHAM! ...POW! ...WONK! ... SLAM! ...
No, it's not Batman. Those are the sounds of a friendly neighborhood Microsoft foosball player ... "En Fuego."
"En Fuego" is the expression we would say at our humble foosball table, when somebody was "on fire." On fire is like when you are in your element and all of a sudden you are firing on all cylinders and playing at another level.
That is "En Fuego."
I remember the first time I was "En Fuego” on the foosball table. It was unreal. It was as if my shots were not done *by* me ... they were done *through* me. The ball sizzled. My wrists snapped at just the right time. The ball whizzed by the defense and slammed against the metal back ... TWHACK!
Ah, if you've never experienced "En Fuego" ... you haven't lived. Anyway, I think you get the idea of what it's like to "be on fire."
Now let's switch gears and talk about another scenario.
It's "Hair on fire."
That's not a good thing.
There are all sorts of expressions for this, some better than others, but the main idea is that somebody is running around, as if their hair is on fire. It's no better than running around like a chicken with your head cut off.
It has many causes. Some of the top ones include:
Maybe you know a certain someone? …
Anyway, there is a solution. It's "Peaceful Calm." Peaceful Calm is the term we used on our team, when we were relaxed, resourceful, and ready for anything. It’s like James Bond, poised for success. Anticipate more, get surprised less, be ready for anything.
Help a friend go from "hair on fire" to "En Fuego."
The first step is Peaceful Calm.
"What are your three wins for today?"
That's the one very simple test I ask myself and my team, on a daily basis. It instantly helps focus and prioritize our massive backlog, our incoming requests, and competing demands. It's how to cut "Crazy Busy" down to size with one simple question ...
“What are your three wins for today?”
It’s a way to carve out and shine the spot light on the value we will create today. It sets a target to aim for. It flips the haystack. Instead of finding the needles of value lost among the hay stack of stuff, we start with the needles. Clarity of value, trims the To-Do tree down to size.
After all, no matter what's coming your way, and what's on your plate, you can only do so much. The trick is to figure out what's the next best thing to spend your time and energy on. When you answer that question, you give yourself peace of mind, knowing that you are working on the smarter things you can for the day. You also give yourself creative freedom to achieve your goals, rather than get stuck in “the how trap.” (To-Do lists have a nasty habit of making you slaves to administration and getting stuck in tasks instead of focused on goals and value.)
Just by identifying your three wins for the day, you give yourself a way to succeed. You've just identified your personal tests for success. At the end of the day, it's easy to check your progress against your goals. It's also easy to use your wins throughout the day, as a way to stay focused or to re-prioritize.
My three wins for today are:
I keep the wins, simple and punchy. The key is saying them out loud. Actually verbalize your wins. This simplifies them. Then write them down. Say them out loud first, as if saying your wins for the day to your manager, and then write them down. The simpler you can say your wins, the easier they are to remember. The simpler you can say your wins, the easier it is for your manager to follow, and to actually appreciate your contribution. The simpler you can say your wins, the easier it is for other people to follow or help you achieve your goals. The simpler you can say your win, the easier it is to get others on the same page, whether that's your team, your allies, or winning over the forces of evil, by setting a shared goal.
This is an extremely key habit for unstoppable you. Whether you want a better review, or to be a better leader, or to simply be more effective at time management, focus, and setting priorities ... this is a daily habit for success.
In Time Management Tips #3 -- Three Wins for the Week, I shared how you can use your three wins to shape your focus and priorities for the week, as well as give yourself a way to acknowledge your impact. Otherwise, it's easy to have another week fly by, do a bunch of stuff, and yet not even be able to articulate the value you delivered or the way you change your world. even in some small way. The wins accentuate the positive, focus on what counts, and rise above the noise.
By using Three Wins for the Day and Three Wins for the Week, you have a way to zoom in on your day, or zoom out to the week, so you can see the forest for the trees, and take the balcony view. It also gives you an easy way to readjust your priorities if the focus is off. This two-pronged approach also helps you connect your daily work toward weekly impact. It also helps you see what's right in front of you, and lean in, knowing that you are spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy.
Say your three wins for today and write them down, and see if you can nail them.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the exercise and three stories to drive your day to get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis.
Personal growth is one of the best ways to get more from life. How do you achieve personal growth? Well, one way is to take on big, hairy challenges. Personal growth is what happens to you in the process of testing your skills and experience against the real world.
I like to think of personal growth as expanding your capabilities.
You can grow deeper in a particular domain, or you can grow your cross-cutting abilities. Sometimes, the best way to grow deeper in a domain, is to focus on cross-cutting concerns like focus, setting goals, motivation, productivity, time management, etc. For example, when I was working in security, I had to do a lot of stakeholder management across teams. It required a great deal of influence without authority. I had to deal with extreme conflict, and negotiate for win-wins in a number of highly-competitive scenarios. I had to practice emotional intelligence under high-stress scenarios. I had to stay focused, and use goals to help drive the team forward. I had to achieve our security goals, while making sure the team was highly productive. I had to improve my own personal productivity. All of these skills, helped me learn about security in a much broader way, from a much wider set of people, and in a way that was much more profound that if I simply focused on the principles, patterns, and practices of security. It was through personal growth, that I expanded my abilities to be effective at driving security changes in a much wider range of scenarios and situations.
Personal growth is powerful. It’s the backbone of personal empowerment. For example, sometimes when you wonder what’s holding you back … it’s you. Whether it’s limiting beliefs, or having a limited toolset, or simply having a limited perspective or experience. The key is to expand your capabilities, along the journey of work and life.
My 30 Days of Free Training for Getting Results, is a collection of self-paced modules to help you achieve personal growth. When I originally ran the self-paced training, I did it as a daily release for 30 days. It was highly effective for many people because they liked the little daily actions, and the focus for the month. Since that original series, I’ve made the 30 Days of Free Training for Getting Results available here:
It’s a highly-focused set of personal growth exercises at your finger tips. It’s also a very simple system for time management. I’ve tried to keep the layout as simple and as clean as possible. If you’ve seen the earlier version, then this should be a marked improvement. I put each day on the sidebar, so that you can easily hop around. For convenience, I’ve listed the days below, and provided a link to each lesson. This way you can get the bird’s-eye view and quickly explore any lessons that might interest you. (Personally, if this is your first time, I would check out Day #27 – Do Something Great.)
30 Days of Getting Results
Note that just because it says 30 days, that doesn’t mean you can’t flip through at your own pace. Find what works for you. Explore the ideas that you find the most interesting.
If you experience a breakthrough, be sure to share it with others. Even though this is free, it’s pretty intense. Folks have told me about their amazing breakthroughs … somehow dots have connected, and they’ve gotten over hurdles they’ve faced for years.
BTW – If you do start with Day 27 and decide to do something great, I’d love to hear about what it is.