J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Just Enough

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    I happened to look over to my bookshelf and noticed that I have two books that landed together by chance:

    1. Just Enough Project Management
    2. Just Enough Software Architecture

    I’m a fan of “just enough.”  One of my mentors liked to quiz me with the question: 

    “How much process do you need?”

    The answer was always, “just enough.”

    The question, of course, then becomes, how much is “just enough?”  The answer to that is, it depends on what’s the risk? … what’s at stake?  It should be commensurate to risk.

    I always liked the example we gave regarding how much to invest in performance modeling:

    “The time, effort, and money you invest up front in performance modeling should be proportional to project risk. For a project with significant risk, where performance is critical, you may spend more time and energy up front developing your model. For a project where performance is less of a concern, your modeling approach might be as simple as white-boarding your performance scenarios.”

    Just enough not only helps you eliminate waste, in the form of unnecessary overhead, but it frees you up to better balance your other trade-offs and priorities.

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    The Four Gears of Competitive Advantage

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    In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares four gears for differentiation and competitive advantage:

    1. First gear - No unique product and low customer relevance.
    2. Second gear - High customer relevance but no unique product.
    3. Third gear - A unique product but low customer relevance.
    4. Fourth gear - High customer relevance and a unique product.

    Strategies for Each Gear
    Griffioen shares strategies for each of the gears, to make the most of your market position:

    Scenario Solution
    First gear - No unique product and low customer relevance. Ally with others as the quickest way to build competence or product portfolio.
    Second gear - High customer relevance but no unique product Combine several matching products under your brand and become even more relevant for your customers.
    Third gear - A unique product but low customer relevance. Excel in what you do to make sure that you can continue to develop.
    Fourth gear - High customer relevance and a unique product. Consolidate your position by constant renewal and by keeping close watch on your competitors.

    I think it’s useful for evaluating, and is complementary to existing competitive models.

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    The Innovative Team

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    I’m working my way through my massive book backlog, and doing reviews as a I go along.   Yesterday, I wrote my review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

    Today, I read and wrote my review of The Innovative Team:  Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.

    It’s perfect timing.  Just yesterday a friend ask me if there’s some science and proven practices that we could apply to create high-performance teams, especially when there is a lot of innovation involved and we need to be more agile in how we execute our projects.

    At the same time, we need to give enough time to really explore the problem domain and build some solid foundation to base our solutions on.

    The Innovative Team directly addresses this dilemma.  And it does so in a pragmatic way.

    It does do by framing out the 4 stages of innovation and the corresponding cognitive style preferences that people tend to have.  The book then shows you how to leverage these different cognitive styles that can often create conflict during the project cycle.  It includes specific proven practices for elaborating on ideas and then converging on solutions and keeping things moving forward.  At the same time, the framework is all about getting the best out of every one on the team and bringing them along.

    It’s a recipe for creating and leading high-performance teams that deliver high-impact, innovative solutions for big challenges.

    Here is a quick look at some of the things I found especially interesting …

    The Four Stages of Innovation:

    1. Clarify the situation
    2. Generate Ideas
    3. Develop Solutions
    4. Implement Plans

    The 4 ForeSight Cognitive Styles

    Here is a brief summary of each:

    1. Clarifiers – Analyze and clarify the situation
    2. Ideators – Blue sky or big picture thinkers, continuously generate big ideas
    3. Developers – Tirelessly focus on developing and perfecting the solution.
    4. Implementers – Implementing the plan and moving to the next project.

    Common Patterns of the 4 Cognitive Styles in Action (+ The Integrator Style)

    Here are some common scenarios that you might see, or see yourself in, when working on projects and going through the various stages of innovation:

    1. “For example, if you really like to generate ideas and also feel adept at clarifying the challenges, you are probably full of energy out of the starting gate, identifying and solving issues with ease, coming up with targeted ideas that you feel perfectly (and instantly) solve the problem at hand.  But because you do not devote much energy to later stages in the process, you might find that these solutions ultimately fall short of their mark because they are not properly developed or implemented.”
    2. “What if you really like developing an idea and putting it into action but had no energy for clarifying  the challenge or generating a bunch  of potential options for it?  This would mean that you enjoy the final steps of the process – seeing well-thought-out ideas come to fruition, and watching people welcome and readily adapt to the new solutions thanks to how thoroughly they were developed to fit the situation.  When your ideas have failed, it’s often not the fault of how well they were developed but because they were not well targeted.  They may have solved a problem or met a need, just not the right one.”
    3. “Some people may have nearly equal preference for three of the four stages.  For example, they may like clarifying, ideating, and developing but not implementation.  These people would be comfortable analyzing, coming up with ideas, and tinkering with them toward perfection, but they often can overestimate how much they can get done and you may see them step back when it’s time to put the ideas into action.”
    4. “There are of course many other combinations of types, each with their potential plusses and negatives.  In our story, the character Maya represents of the more common combinations of preferences – the integrator.  She was comfortable with all the stages in the process with no clear preference for one stage or another.  Integrators are indeed a special group.  If you are leading a team and are lucky enough to have an integrator in the mix, you may be able to leverage that person’s abilities strategically to move the team on to the next phase of the process or to act as a mediator between team members of different preferences.”

    As you can imagine, this is a powerful books, especially if you do project work.  It’s also powerful even if you just want to improve your own ability to innovate, either as a one-man band, or as part of a larger team, or leading a high-performance team.

    If you want a deep dive on the book and more highlights to get a better sense of what this book is all about, check out my review:

    The Innovative Team:  Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.

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    High-Leverage Strategies for Innovation

    Lessons Learned from the Most Successful Innovators

    Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes

    Nobody Wants to Invest

    Innovation Quotes

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    Life Quotes

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    If you are an avid quote collector, as many continuous learners are, check out my collection of Life Quotes.

    I grouped the life quotes into key categories for easy browsing.  I used the following categories for my life quotes:

    • Challenges
    • Choices and Plans
    • Day to Day
    • Fun
    • Joy and Passion
    • How To Live
    • Learning and Growth
    • Life Is …
    • Mistakes and Regrets
    • Purpose and the Meaning of Life
    • The Good Life
    • The Value of Life

    I selected quotes from a variety of sources including Charles Shulz, Confucius, Emerson, Oprah, Tony Robbins, and more.  I’ll need to make another pass and find some life quotes from folks like Bruce Lee. 

    While there is always the idea of work and life, and the idea of work-life balance, I think that life is pervasive, and it permeates who we are and how we show up at work.  The line is a blur and I find the happiest people are those that can express their values on the job, and drive from their life style.  The opposite is also true.

    I rounded up the life quotes in a way that I think you will find to be very easy to scan and choose your favorites.  I do recommend first reading the the top 10, but then hopping around to find three that light your fire or wrinkle your brain in some way.  The best quotes hit a problem like a nail on the head.  The real beauty of life quotes though is that they take on meaning based on the meaning you give them.  It’s like when three people hear the same song, all have a different take away.  Quotes are like that.

    So please stop by, check out my Life Quotes collection, and share with me your favorite life quotes.  I’m always looking to fill my toolkit for life, and life really is better with the right words.

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    Time Management Tips #14 - Dump Your State

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    Untitled

    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:

    2012-08-02

    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.

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    Time Management Tips # 12 - Do Something Small

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    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?

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    Dive Right In: The Art of Menu Design in Action

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    I’ve updated my menu at Sources of Insight to make it easy to dive into hot topics including Innovation, Leadership, Personal Development, Productivity and more. (here is the full Topics pages.)

    I made them front and center on the top menu bar:

    image

    I’ll be testing the effectiveness of this new menu for the next 30 days.

    Here was my previous design:

    image

    There are pros and cons to both.  

    I’ve struggled with my menu, so I’ll share some of my learnings.

    On My Previous Menu Design …

    With my previous design of the top bar, Home | Archives | Explore | Topics | Resources | Store | About | Contact, it was easy to see the site navigation at a glance, and make sense of it.   Another advantage is that the idea of Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes, was simple and clear, and it was easy to see Special Guests, including Best-Selling authors. The challenge is that it buried some interesting topics, under Topics.

    So it was simple, but relatively generic, and some of the most interesting topics were nested under Topics.

    On My New Menu Design …

    With my new menu, Innovation | Leadership | Productivity | Personal Development | Fun are right in your face.  Better yet, when you click More …, you have additional interesting topics right there, including Emotional Intelligence, Happiness, Intellectual Horsepower, Motivation, Strengths, and Time Management.   This has several advantages.  The main thing is that it puts hot topics at your fingertips.  It also helps you get an instant sense of the scope of the site, and variety of coverage.   It also makes it easy to showcase some interesting topics.  Related, I can easily shuffle some of the popular topics to see which ones readers are hungry for, as well as test new topics.  But a big downside is, my sub-menu looks more complicated now.   I didn’t want to give up the Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes, or the Special Guests, since they are key features of Sources of Insight.

    I’ve studied menus.  Many menus.  Many, many, many, too many menus.   And, I’ve played around with my own menus for many years.   Menus really are a living thing (or they die, and information starts to die.)   That said, they are powerful when they are simple, intuitive, and help users achieve their goals, or explore and find interesting things (I’m a fan of supporting both River AND Goal people.)

    Great Menu Guidance

    I finally stumbled on a really good menu design article that clicked for me:

    How To Design Effective Navigation Menus

    What I liked was the simple flip through of many menu designs at a glance.  This made it really easy to compare and contrast across multiple designs very quickly, as well as explore designs I hadn’t seen before.  

    What caught my attention though, was the following section on how the BBC has enormous information, but slices into a simple set of seven categories:

     

    image

    There’s more to the story than that, but I liked the idea of a “Hot Button Bar” at the top, where, without thinking, you could simply “Dive In.”

    While my site might not qualify yet as an enormous amount of information, it is getting there.   I have more than 1,000 blog posts, and many of them are significant in size. 

    Here’s the most interesting thing to me, though.  As soon as I chose this particular set of categories, I found myself wanting to produce some highly-targeted articles to really create a compelling experience for somebody drilling into these categories.  I also want to create “Getting Started” articles for these Hot Spots as well as some Overview types articles, and definitely more How Tos, and more Checklists.

    I think my driving philosophy behind my design is:

    Think less, explore more, and yet make sense of the site at a glance.

    I’m a fan of simplicity.  On one hand, I feel like a lost some simplicity on the sub-menu.  In fact, specifically, I just don’t like having too many options visible.  I also don’t like that some of my most significant pages feel a little buried on my Resources page.  My Trends page feels really lost and yet it’s my trends posts that change lives and companies.  On the other hand, even though it’s more categories at a glance than I like up front, it does make it easy to dive into some very different parts of the site.

    While I may not have “nailed it”, at least I think I’m trending in the right direction, and most people I think will quickly find information they need or want.

    Site Navigation and Information Navigation at a Glance

    I’m also hoping that I stumble on additional design moves for my menu that I don’t expect.  I actually didn’t expect to put the current set of topics on the main menu.  But, I like it.   It’s effectively:

    1. Information Navigation on the top bar
    2. Site Navigation on the bottom bar

    My open issue to solve is how to consolidate my sub-menu, while keeping the simple story of Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes, and making it easy to dive into key resources that are buried under the Resources page, including Checklists, How Tos, Lists, etc.

    Keep in mind, as much as I’m complaining, all you really need to do is just click on the Resources page and you have bunches of resources at your fingertips.

    But, like I said, I’m a fan of simplicity, and yes, I want my cake and eat it, too.

    If you get a chance, dive in, take a look around, and let me know your thoughts.

    There are articles in there that have helped people do amazing things.

    If you just want some quick inspiration, take a stroll through my inspirational quotes collection.

    Here is a sampling to get you started:

    • “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill
    • “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” — Mary Anne Radmacher
    • “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” — George Bernard Shaw
    • “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson
    • “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” — Napoleon Hill

    Explore for more.

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    Secrets of a Bestselling Self-Published Author

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    I know a lot of people inside and outside of Microsoft working on their books.   In fact, I’m helping a few people birth their books, and ultimately produce what they hope to be bestsellers.   My book, Getting Results the Agile Way has been in the top 100 on Amazon in the Time Management category.  (In fact, it’s been in the top 5, and it’s been #1 in some countries such as Germany.)

    I want to help self-published authors around the world make the most of their effort and get a fighting chance at taking their book to the top on Amazon.

    Here’s the surprise …

    I have the honor and privilege of hosting a guest post by Gary Lindberg, author of THE SHEKINAH LEGACY.    THE SHEKINAH LEGACY is a genuine Amazon bestselling thriller. In fact, for over a week it was the most popular Kindle thriller on Amazon.

    Here is Gary’s story:

    Lessons Learned from a Bestselling Self-Published Author

    I asked Gary if he would share his best lessons learned on how to publish a best-selling book as a self-published author.  I thought it would be great to give self-published authors an edge in taking their book to the top.  I’m a fan of helping people that put in the work, get the results.  And I believe that if you know some of the key success strategies that you amplify your impact.

    Whether you are an author, or aspiring author, or hope to publish a best-selling book, you can leverage and learn from Gary’s experience as a bestselling author.    Gary has some fantastic insight and it’s very actionable.  In fact, if you read his story, I bet it will instantly and forever change how you think about covers and cover design for Amazon.

    Lessons Learned from a Bestselling Self-Published Author

    BTW – Gary is not just a best-selling author, he is also a film producer and director, with over one hundred major national and international awards under his belt.   Gary is also the co-writer and producer of the Paramount Pictures feature film That Was Then, This Is Now starring Emilio Estevez and Morgan Freeman.

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    Simplified Home Page for Getting Results the Agile Way

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    I made significant changes to simplify the home page for Getting Results the Agile Way:

    I focused on making the following scenarios simpler and more discoverable:

    1. Browsing Getting Results the Agile Way in HTML
    2. Getting Started with Agile Results.
    3. Reading testimonials.
    4. Reading stories and case studies.
    5. Browsing the Knowledge Base.

    I also put Checklists, Guidelines, How Tos, and Templates at your finger tips. You can master Focus, Goals, Motivation, Time Management, and more.

    Hopefully the site better exemplifies simplicity, effectiveness, and excellence.  If there are key things you would like to see on the site, use the contact form on this blog and let me know.  Keep in mind I am building out a rich collection of How Tos, Slides, Videos, and more.  

    Note that there is also a companion site of free time management training, 30 Days of Getting Results, at http://30DaysOfGettingResults.com .

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    7 Practices for More Effective Meetings

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    Here are seven practices I’ve experienced that worked well with meetings:

    1. Let a person finish their point
    2. Answer the question asked.
    3. Say what you mean, mean what you say.
    4. No leading questions or asking questions you know the answer to (see #3)
    5. Answer the question simply, and only elaborate if asked (this saves on long answers to the wrong questions or misunderstandings.)
    6. Make it safe to explore an idea and play out a thought -- help each other express/understand/be understood.
    7. Ask questions at the end – this builds momentum.

    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.

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    Time Management Tips # 11 - 30 Day Sprints

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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 Sprints30 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:

    1. I needed a way to really focus.
    2. I needed a way to make significant change.
    3. I needed a consistent way to make space for new things in my life.

    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

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    Friday Links 07-15-2011

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    From the Archives
    Customer-Connected Engineering – Involving customers throughout your software development cycle can help you make sure you make something your customers need and want.  It also helps you better understand the requirements and prioritize more effectively.  It also helps you get more relevant and timely feedback so you can ship stuff that people will use.  We’ve called the approach we’ve used in patterns & practices, Customer-Connected Engineering (CCE), and this is the approach in a nutshell.

    Methodologies at a Glance – At the heart of every software methodology, there are core practices.  When you know the key activities and artifacts that make up a methodology, you can easily compare across methodologies to find the best fit.  You can also fill your toolbox with practices so that you can use the ones that you need, when you need them.  This is a bird’s-eye view of some of the more popular software project and product development methodologies.

    From the Web
    Focus Guidelines – It’s been said that the difference between those that succeed, and those that don’t is focus.  Focus is a skill you can build and use throughout your lifetime, to counter distractions, fully engage in what you do, reduce stress, and improve your results.  This is a comprehensive set of guidelines that give you an edge in today’s world.

    How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them – This is a step-by-step guide for setting compelling goals, and making them happen.  If goals leave a bad taste in your mouth, this can help you turn it around.  It’s all about creating goals that inspire you and that help you achieve whatever you set out to do.

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    Achieve Cost-Effective Business Continuity

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    While putting together business scenarios for the cloud, one of the scenarios that came up is “achieve cost-effective business continuity.”  The business opportunity, solution, and benefits are summarized as follows:

    Opportunity

    Business continuity risk can be transferred to vendors by leveraging cloud solutions. Cloud providers can provide robust and less expensive business continuity solutions than businesses can achieve alone.

    Solution
    • Adopting a cloud service means the provider is responsible for disaster recovery. Cloud providers treat disaster recovery seriously as an outage impacts their bottom line.
    • Cloud services enable easy geo-availability. Applications can take advantage of datacenter geo-distribution without high investment or development overhead.
    • Cloud services provide capacity on demand. Utilizing cloud bursting helps address unpredictable usage spikes as systems resume operations after disaster recovery.
    • Reduce the cost of disaster recovery infrastructure. Replace parts of the dedicated disaster recovery infrastructure with cloud infrastructure.
    Benefits
    • Fast and SLA-based Recovery. Cloud capabilities provide a highly accessible disaster recovery infrastructure which can support near real-time recovery point and recovery time objectives when failing over from on-premises to cloud disaster recovery.
    • Boost Productivity. Any worker who can effectively telecommute can be productive in the cloud based disaster recovery scenario.
    • Lower Costs. Customers can maintain a hot-standby system for very little recurring cost and turn it up instantly in the event of a disaster.
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Clear My Email

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    I have a long history of keeping an empty email inbox.  More than a decade.  Not because I don't get lots of email.  I do.   And, I send lots, too.  That's how I stay connected around the world, and it's part of my daily job.

    By lots, I mean a few hundred directly to me each day (not CC, not part of distributions, etc., directly to me with actions required)

    So clearing my mail is a daily chore, but it's not a daily win.

    At one point it was.

    Let's rewind.

    Long ago, one of my early managers said that I need to stay on top of my email.  I was getting hundreds per day and they all required some sort of action or response.  It was insane.  To me, it was a huge time sink.

    My manager made it clear that I needed to process all my mail, but there's way more to the job than just that.  I said, that if it doesn't count, then I don't want to do it.  He said it was non-optional.

    So, that day, I decided I would spend no longer than 30 minutes a day on email (what I considered administrative overhead.)

    It was a bold goal.   Sure, I was a fast typer, and a fast reader, but the daily onslaught of overwhelming amounts of mail was insane.

    But, like with anything in life, there's always a solution.  If you know where to look.

    So I cast a wide net and basically found the people across the company who were the most amazing for dealing with information overload and for always being on top of their email.  And, I found quiet heroes as well as very visible rock stars in the email management arena.

    And, I studied them.

    I modeled from their email practices and email management ways.
    That's how I formed the early version of my Zen of Zero Email.

    Surprisingly, a lot of the strategies and tactics came down to doing exactly the opposite of what other people did.  In fact, my most surprising lesson was the one I learned the hard way, when I reached the limit on Outlook's number of inbox rules.   I forget what the number was at the time, but it was a lot.   Since I couldn't add any more rules, I had to change my entire approach.  That day, I went from a crazy set of rules, down to exactly one inbox rule.

    Surprisingly, years later, it's still just the one inbox rule.

    And, still, I hit zero email in my inboxes on a daily basis.

    This way, I'm never paper shuffling.   I don't lose actions or reminder among a sea of email.

    Basically, I transformed my approach for email long ago, after a lot of pain, and a lot of trail and error, and by studying the best of the best in action, in the most extreme scenarios.

    Here's why I tell you this ...

    "Clear my email" is something I do daily, but it's “below the line.”  For me, it's not a win anymore.  It used to be.  But now, it's well below the line … it’s just expected, and it’s just something I do.

    It's below the line, and if it takes me more than 15-30 minutes daily, it's actually a flag for me that I'm spending too much time.

    Rather than focus my day on how to react or deal with email, I can just always systematically clear my inbox and be done.  I get back to everybody.  Sometimes, it's as simple as acknowledging I got it, and a note that I'll respond more deeply later.   But staying on top of my email means that I have a very simple stream of potential action and insights.

    But the big deal is that it's a "below the line" activity.

    It's not my high value activity.

    So I spend as little time as possible in it, yet get the most benefit that I can.

    That said, a decade ago, that very much would have been a win for me.

    It probably would have been one of my Three Wins for the Day for a while.

    But that's the point.

    The goal isn't to focus on things to do forever.
    It's to transform them so that you can do them better, faster, cheaper -- or eliminate them entirely.
    And, spend more time where it counts.

    It's how you move up the stack.

    This is a long-winded way of saying, "Clear My Email" is no longer a win for me.
    It's a highly effective habit that helps me spend more time in my higher value activities.

    And for that, I'm actually grateful.

    I don't know that I made all the points that I wanted to, and I wandered a bit, but I thought the little story of transformation might be useful for you, and might help you think about how you pick off your Three Wins for the day (if you're doing Agile Results.)

    It's also a reminder for me how easy it is to take for granted and actually forget how difficult things were at one point, and how a few proven practices can be transformational, and how they can pay back daily.

    And, every now and then, instead of writing a 20 minute post, I like to write a 5 minute one.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Gift of Adversity

    • 2 Comments

    “If the road is easy, you're likely going the wrong way.” ― Terry Goodkind

    If you know struggle, you know adversity.  If you know loss, you know adversity.  If you know setbacks, you know adversity.  If terrible things have happened to you, you know adversity.

    But do you know what to do with adversity?

    You can turn adversity into a gift.  It's not easy though.  In fact, if it was easy, it probably wouldn't be called adversity.

    I wrote a book review on The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections, by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.  Dr. Rosenthal is the same guy who first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and he pioneered the use of light therapy for its treatment.

    It's a hard-core book with some grim stories, and some lighter tales, all about dealing with adversity.  Dr. Rosenthal is a powerful storyteller and he does a great job of sharing his insights and actionable things you can do to embrace adversity. 

    In fact, according to Dr. Rosenthal, embracing adversity is how we can live more authentic and meaningful lives.

    Dr. Rosenthal divides adversity into 3 flavors:  

    1. The bad things that happen to us
    2. The adversity we bring about ourselves
    3. The adversity that we seek out

    This works well because the book is written memoire style and Dr. Rosenthal draws from family, friends, and colleagues, as well as his own experiences, to share memories, personal anecdotes, and vignettes about the multiple categories of adversity.

    Be the Architect of Your Own Destiny

    Here is one of my favorite nuggets from the book ...

    “Many people enter psychotherapy for problems they see as the result of repeated bad luck or the misbehavior of others.  Such chronic failure to take responsibility leaves people like victims of fate rather than architects of their own destiny, which is not an empowering state of mind.  Why do they think this way?  Because it is painful to admit errors and shortcomings.    It is generally far more painful, however, to suffer the consequences as they play out over time.  That’s what happens to people who habitually fail to take responsibility for their actions.”

    The key take away is -- don’t be a victim and don’t play the blame game.  Rise above your circumstances and design a new story forward.

    I share several more nuggets in my book review.

    If you want to turn adversity into an advantage in work and life, check it out.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Spirit Magazine Mentions Getting Results the Agile Way

    • 0 Comments

    Back in December, an editor from Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine reached out to me because they were going to feature a story on goal-setting that mentions my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.   The story is on the first paraplegic ever to walk again.

    They wanted to confirm my book's key message.   They have an audience of more than 3 million so they wanted to get it right.  Here is what they proposed is the key message in Getting Results the Agile Way:

    "Rather than letting the little stuff rule your life, define just three things you’d like to accomplish within a given time frame (a year, week, or day). Then define the individual tasks you need to accomplish during that time. Regularly scheduled reviews at the end of each period keep you from veering off course."

    I thought it was a great synopsis and I was flattered for a mention in such a powerful article.

    The article is called Luck and Desire.  It's by Nathaniel Reade, and it's a seriously good article.  Check it out.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Why Agile?

    • 3 Comments

    I thought I had written about “Why Agile” before, but I don’t see anything crisp enough.

    Anyway, here’s my latest rundown on Why Agile?

    1. Increase customer involvement which can build empathy and avoid rework
    2. Learn faster which means you can adapt to change
    3. Improve quality through focus
    4. Reduce risk through shorter feedback loops and customer interaction
    5. Simplify by getting rid of overhead and waste
    6. Reduce cycle time through timeboxing and parallel development
    7. Improve operational awareness through transparency
    8. Drive process improvement through continuous improvement
    9. Empower people through less mechanics and more interaction, continuous learning, and adaptation
    10. Flow more value through more frequent releases and less “big bang”

    Remember that nature favors the flexible and agility is the key to success.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Inspire a Vision with Skill

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    One of the most important skills of an effective Program Manager is to inspire a vision.  If you can’t paint a story of a better future, then all bets are off.

    Change is tough enough.  People need a good reason.  They need to see a better future in their mind’s-eye.   They need to believe in the challenge and the change.  The cause has to make sense.   And, it needs to inspire.

    Sure you can throw facts and figures at people.   For some, this is cause enough or inspiring enough.  For most people, it’s not.   They need something that they can latch on to with their minds and their hearts.  In fact, if you win the heart, the mind follows.

    I’ve put together my thoughts on How To Inspire a Vision, based on what I’ve learned as a Program Manager at Microsoft.   Metaphors, stories, and pictures are all powerful ways.   That said, you really need to step into the future and walk various aspects to pressure test your vision, and make it real.  Not just for yourself, but for your various stakeholders and for their various concerns, which will range from innovation to market position to financial impact to insider perception, etc.

    If you have a proven practice for articulating your vision in a way that works, I’d love to hear about it.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    What Keeps Leaders Up at Night

    • 0 Comments

    One of the best books I’ve read lately is, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, by Nicole Lipkin.  I wrote my review at:

    What Keeps Leaders Up at Night

    The book is all about how to be at your best, when things are at their worst.

    By learning a core set of leadership skills and psychology tools, you equip yourself to deal with the tough stuff, no matter what’s going on.

    It covers a huge amount of space in terms of psychology theories, terms and related concepts.   Here’s a sampling: 

    Confirmation Bias, Transactional Model of Stress, Social Exchange Theory, Norm of Reciprocity, Extrinsic Motivation, Intrinsic Motivation, Cognitive Dissonance, Group Conformity, Social Identity Theory (SIT), Social Loafing, Collective Effort Model (CEM), Polarization, Groupthink, Shadenfreude.

    Lipkin also covers communication styles, stress coping skills, dealing with envy, how to build better group dynamics, how to resolve conflict, how to build better self-perception, how to build constructive core beliefs, and more.

    Overall, the book is a great guide on how to keep our cool when things get hot, and Lipkin reminds us that others only see our behavior:

    “To paraphrase an old adage, ‘We see ourselves as a combination of our thoughts, fears, and intentions, but others just see our behaviors.’”

    Aside from learning how to be more influential, another bonus of the book is that it will help you recognize and label thinking errors and cognitive distortions, which often lead to bad behaviors.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    10 Tips on Better Design by David Straker

    • 0 Comments

    If you’re into change leadership or persuasion, you might know David Straker from ChangingMinds.org, where he’s put together a massive knowledge base of concepts, techniques, principles, and theories on the art and science of change leadership.  

    David is also the master mind behind CreatingMinds.org, where he has put together an arsenal of content and tools on the art and science of creativity and innovation.

    I’m very honored to have a guest post from David on 10 Tips for Better Design.

    It’s a fast read, and insightful.   David says a lot with so little.  He’s a master of precision.

    Aside from tip #9 – Start at Goats, my favorite is tip #1 – Start with a Brief, Not Requirements.   It reminded me of how many years I suffered through bad requirements gathering exercises, until I learned some proven practices later in my career.   I still can’t believe how many bad requirements documents I’ve seen over the years, and how so many had completely failed to capture any sense of the end in mind.   The analogy I often used was that it’s not even obvious whether we were talking about Frankenstein’s head or his foot or his arm.   In fact, it was so bad, that after a while, I flat out stopped accepting any requirements documents.  Instead, I found other, more effective ways to capture and express the goals, requirements, and constraints.

    I wish I had been exposed to the “Start with a Brief” concept long ago.  It would have served me well.  I actually think as more businesses go through their transformation and re-imagining, that this technique will prove even more useful.   I’m seeing business-first design really reshape how IT gets done. 

    Your ability to capture, assert, and express design intent will serve you well for the years to come.

    Enjoy David’s article and challenge yourself to walk away with at least one new tool you can use in your design toolbox, or one thing you can do differently from how you do your design thinking today.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    David Zinger Interviews Me on Getting Results the Agile Way

    • 0 Comments

    I'm honored to be interviewed by David Zinger on Getting Results the Agile Way.

    David Zinger is author of Zengage: How to Get More Into Your Work to Get More Out of Your Work, founder of the Employee Engagement Network, and creator of the Employee Engagement for Results Model.

    Here is the abstract of the interview:

    “This practical webinar outlines how to get results and foster employee engagement with agility. JD Meier from Microsoft, and author of Getting Results the Agile Way, shares his proven methods to get results for us and others with David Zinger, the founder and host of the Employee Engagement Network.”

    It’s raw.  It’s real.  David has a way of asking great questions, connecting the dots, and teasing out key insights.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Top Blogs for Insight and Action

    • 0 Comments

    This is a serious roundup of top blogs for insight and action:

    Colleagues asked me where do I go to find the best of the Web for insight and action.   This is that list.  It’s a list of the top blogs and sites that I find really go the extra mile.   It’s a mash up of top blogs on the following areas of focus: business skills, continuous learning, entrepreneurism, fun, leadership, personal development, productivity, strategy, technology, thinking skills, and trends.

    Here is a sampling of top blogs from the list:

    1. If you like infographics or visualizing information, you’ll really appreciate the artful presentation and insights of Information is Beautiful, by David McCandless.
    2. If you are curious about the best patterns and practices in the world for living to be 100, you’ll enjoy Blue Zones Blog, by Dan Buettner.
    3. If you want the Web at your finger tips in a scannable way, you’ll enjoy All Top.
    4. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, anticipate the future, and be in the know on which trends will make a difference, check out Jim Carroll – Futurist, Trends, and Innovation.
    5. If you want leadership insights you can use, with a dash of productivity sprinkled in, you’ll enjoy Michael Hyatt – Intentional Leadership.
    6. If you want deep insights into the art of change leadership, you’ll want to explore The Changing Minds Blog, by David Straker.
    7. If you want ground breaking information on peak personal performance and experiments in life style design, you’ll enjoy The Blog of Tim Ferris.

    It’s a living list of top blogs.  I’ll periodically update it.  

    Enjoy and explore the top blogs for insight and action.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How Tos for Personal Effectiveness at a Glance

    • 0 Comments

    "Information is not knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

    We live in a super-competitive world.  It’s also a super-collaborative world.   How ironic.  But, I guess, in that way, it’s kind of like Survivor. 

    We need to learn how to do things better, faster, and cheaper, and what you don’t know can hurt you.

    How Tos are still my favorite way of learning how to get things done, and for sharing and scaling expertise in a simple way.

    In the sprit of helping you get better, faster, and more capable, I’ve revamped my How Tos page on Sources of Insight (my blog on “proven practices for personal effectiveness.”)  Here is my updated How Tos page (Index of How Tos organized by Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, etc.):

    How Tos at  a Glance 

    Here are a few of my favorites that I think you’ll enjoy:

    1. How To Achieve Any Goal
    2. How To Change Any Experience
    3. How To Change Any Habit
    4. How To Find Your Strengths
    5. How To Find Your Why
    6. How To Communicate with Anyone
    7. How To Inspire a Vision
    8. How To Not Break Under Pressure
    9. How To Set Better Goals
    10. How To Think Like Bill Gates

    I think you can use any of these to instantly get quick benefits and apply new skills or approaches.  Or, if you have a better approach, then you can share it with me, and I can improve the How To Winking smile

    If you only have time to read one, read How To Think Like Bill Gates.

    A common reaction people have when they read that one is at first they think it’s all common sense, but then when they read the part at the end that contrasts it with typical default thinking patterns, they realize the enormous gap between every day thinking and thinking like the big “G” man.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results

    • 0 Comments

    I wrote a guest post for Dumb Little Man on Agile Results:

    How You Can Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results for Extreme Productivity

    You can read it in 5 minutes, but you might save yourself 5 hours this work, or even better, you might 10X your impact.

    Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results.

    It’s the productivity and time management system I teach individuals, teams, and leaders to get more done in less time, and amplify their impact.  It’s all about working smarter, not harder, by spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy, the right way.

    It’s effective, and it’s balanced.  In fact, early on I referred to it as “The Zen of Results.”

    For many people, it’s helped them find their work-life balance and get better performance reviews.

    In my guest post on Dumb Little Man, I share how to get started, as well as a few of my favorite practices that really crank up your productivity, while enjoying the journey:

    Worst Things First

    Power Hours

    Play to Your Strengths

    Perhaps the most important tip I share is actually the bonus tip.  It’s how to use 30 Day Improvement Sprints to get a fresh start each month, build better habits, find your breakthroughs, and experiment and explore new ways of doing things.

    If you want a jumpstart for Agile Results so you can get better, faster, more efficient results, this post will do just that.  Please note, my guest post is split into three parts:

    1. Part 1 - How You Can Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results for Extreme Productivity
    2. Part 2 – How You Can Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results for Extreme Productivity
    3. Part 3 – How You Can Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results for Extreme Productivity

     

    Enjoy, and if you like the article, share it with your friends (and whoever else you want to have an extreme advantage in work and life.)

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Crafting Your 3 Wins for the Day Using Agile Results

    • 0 Comments

    By using Agile Results, you give yourself an extreme advantage in terms of mastering motivation, productivity, and time management.

    The simplest way to start using Agile Results is to adopt the practice of 3 Wins.  Simple identify the 3 wins you want to achieve for the day.

    Crafting your 3 wins for the day is part art and part science.

    Here’s a quick tip on how to do the art part a little better …

    One of the things I do is scan my calendar at the start of the day to internalize it.  Rather than react to appointments, I want to design my day as much as possible for maximum impact and spend more time in my strengths.
    It also informs me of my non-negotiables or specific windows of opportunity.

    For example, today I have a few key meetings with influential people.  To make the most of the opportunity, I need to carve out some time to

    So my short-list of "3 Wins", or "stories", for today are:

    1. Complete my short-list of hot items to get them off my plate
    2. Tell and sell a simple story of our team’s unique value
    3. Simplify the storyboard view of driving business transformation for Enterprise customers

    I’ve got a bunch of stuff that's below the line that supports the above, but the above short-list of wins helps me rise above the noise, and claim victory for my day.  If I scoped my "wins" too big, I'll quickly know when I’m in the thick of things, and then I'll re-frame the "win" to better express more incremental progress.

    One-liner stories work perfectly well.  All you need is a quick prompt or reminder of what you're trying to achieve, before getting lost in your tasks.   It's how you put a bow on your results, and it’s how you guide your focus, energy, and action throughout the day.

    They are "stories" because they reflect a "challenge" and a "change."  You are the hero in each one-liner story, where you do something to create the change.  And, most importantly, the "value" is in the change (otherwise, it's just same-old, same-old, and you're stuck on the treadmill of life.)  Tip – A good way to think about value is to first figure out who it’s for, and then think in terms of benefits they care about, and express it in terms of “better, faster, or cheaper.”

    By practicing these one-liner stories, these "3 Wins" for the day, you get better at articulating your value and unique contribution, both to yourself, and to others.

    It's not only the secret of getting results, but also the secret of getting better performance reviews.

    Note Agile Results is fully explained in detail in Getting Results the Agile Way, a best-seller in Time Management on Amazon.

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