J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Sources of Insight is New and Improved

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    imageSources of Insight is ready for action.  It's my blog focused on proven practices for personal effectiveness for work and life.  I started it a while back to help you sharpen your skills and to grow your personal capabilities.

    The big idea is to help people "stand on the shoulders of giants", drawing from great books, great people, and great quotes.

    The big change is the user experience.  I upgraded the theme to a modern and responsive design, so now you should be able to read it more easily, even from your phone.  The other big change is that it's easier to explore the knowledge base more easily.  With the new menu, I got the chance to better surface key topics for you, such as Emotional Intelligence, Personal Effectiveness, Leadership, Personal Development, and Productivity.  It's also easier to dive right into the articles or browse by key topics.  It's also easier to explore key resources like Checklists or How Tos.

    A Garden of Greatness for YOU …

    Great Books, Great People, and Great Quotes are also front and center.  With Great Books, you can easily browse the best business books, the best leadership books, or the best time management books.  With Great People, you can browse lessons learned from Tony Robbins, John Wooden, Stephen Covey, and more.  With Great Quotes, you can browse timeless wisdom from folks like Confucius, Buddha, Gandhi, and more. 

    It’s life wisdom at your fingertips.

    Sources of Insight is meant to be a "Garden of Greatness" where you can find specific tools and techniques to help you get the edge in work and life.   It also features guest posts from best-selling authors and experts from around the world, who share what they do best.

    It’s a work in progress.  Your feedback is always welcome to help shape it to something more useful, relevant, insightful, and actionable.  I’ll be focusing on sharing a lot more principles, patterns, and practices for key topics in the near future.

    Subscribe to Sources of Insight

    The simplest way to get the updates from Sources of Insight is to subscribe -- either subscribe by RSS or subscribe by email.  

    I’ll add more social features in the future, meanwhile, I’m still exploring the best ways to create an effective platform that’s simple and scales.  It’s up to 210,000 monthly readers now, so I’m trying to focus on slow growth, with a strong platform.

    While the overall site is focused on personal effectiveness, and especially topics like emotional intelligence, personal development, leadership, and productivity, be sure to let me know if there are scenarios or topics, you’d like me to address.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Countdown Deal for Getting Results the Agile Way on Kindle

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    image“In life you need either inspiration or desperation.” – Tony Robbins

    Is 2014 going to be YOUR year?

    Let’s make it so.

    My best-selling book on time management and productivity is on sale for a limited time offer, through a Countdown Deal:

    Getting Results the Agile Way on Kindle

    What is Getting Results the Agile Way all about?  It’s a simple system for meaningful results in work and life.   It’s the best synthesis of what I know for mastering time management, motivation, and personal productivity. (And, it’s designed to be “better together” – use it with your favorite existing tools of choice, whether that’s Franklin-Covey, the Pomodoro Technique, Getting Things Done, etc.)

    The way this Countdown Deal works is that the price goes from lower to higher during the course of 7 days.

    As I currently understand it, here’s the price breakdown:

    • Dec 26, 27th – .99 Cents
    • Dec 28, 29th – $2.99
    • Dec 30, 31st, and Jan 1st – $4.99

    In other words, the sooner you get it, the cheaper it is.

    Here are the key benefits of the book:

    • Triple your productivity.  (When you combine a strengths based approach + Power Hours, you’ll ignite your productivity.)
    • Set yourself up for success on a daily basis
    • Embrace change and get better results in any situation
    • Focus and direct your attention with skill
    • Use your strengths to create a powerful edge for getting results
    • How to change a habit and make it stick
    • Achieve better work-life balance with a system that works
    • Spend more time doing the things you love

    Here’s what others are saying about the book:

    "Agile Results delivers know-what, know-why and know-how for anyone who understands the value of momentum in making your moments count."– Dr. Rick Kirschner, bestselling author

    "JD’s ability to understand and cut to the real issues and then apply techniques that have proven to be successful in other situations is legendary at Microsoft. Over the years I have learnt that he will not recommend something or someone unless he believe it the entire value chain, making the advice you get even more potent. It’s a little like a whirlwind and you have to be prepared for a ride but if you want results and you want them fast, you talk to JD."– Mark Curphey, CEO & Founder, SourceClear

    JD is the go-to-guy for getting results, and Agile Results demonstrates his distinct purpose – he shows how anyone can do anything, better. This book has simple, effective, powerful tools and ideas that are easy enough for everyone to apply in their work and lives, so that they get the results they’d like, even the impossible and the unexpected.”– Janine de Nysschen, Changemaker and Purpose Strategist, Whytelligence

    Getting results and being YOUR best is a personal thing, which is why I designed it as a personal results system.

    If you already are using Agile Results, tell me a story.   Tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly.   I always want to know what’s working or not working for you.  Each week, I receive emails from people around the world with their stories of personal victories.  For some, it’s fast, as if it was the missing link they needed to help them connect the dots.  For others, it’s more like a slow crescendo.  And, for others, it’s more like a game of slow and steady that wins the race.

    But what everybody seems to have in common is that they feel like they got back on path and are instantly getting better at spending the right time, on the right things, the right way, with the right energy.  

    This is where breakthroughs happen.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Carve Out Time for What’s Important

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    This is one of the rules that has served me well, as a Program Manager at Microsoft:  Carve out time for what’s important.

    You don’t have time, you make time. If you don’t make time for what’s important, it doesn’t happen. This is where The Rule of Three helps. Are you spending the right amount of time today on those three results you want to accomplish? The default pattern is to try and fit them in with all your existing routines. A more powerful approach is to make time for your three results today and optimize around that. This might mean disrupting other habits and routines you have, but this is a good thing. The more you get in the habit of making time for what’s important, the more you’ll get great results. If you’re not getting the results you want, you can start asking better questions. For example, are you investing enough time? Are you investing the right energy? Are you using the right approach? Or, maybe a different thing happens. Maybe you start accomplishing your results but don’t like what you get. You can step back and ask whether you’re choosing the right outcomes for The Rule of Three.

    Here are some things to think about when you’re carving out your time:

    • How much time minimum should you spend today for each of your three outcomes?
    • How much time maximum should you spend today for each of your three outcomes?
    • Are you spending too much energy in below the line activities? (This is where you’re just treading water and making it through each day, but not actually getting ahead.)
    • Are you spending enough time in above the line activities? (This is where you feel you’re on top of your day and investing your time where you get the most impact.)
    • Are you investing time in the most important Hot Spots in your life: mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, fun?

    This is a tip from my book, Getting Results the Agile Way (now on a Kindle), a time management system for achievers.  You can test drive the system by taking the 30 Day Boot Camp for Getting Results, a free time management training course.

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    You Against Your Lists

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    As a PM (Program Manager) at Microsoft, one of the things I end up doing a lot is making lists.  Lists of priorities, lists of features, lists of scenarios, lists of open issues, lists of ideas, etc.

    I know a lot of people makes lists.  But what's the difference that makes the difference?

    I think it's three things:

    1. priorities
    2. precision
    3. action

    As the joke goes, a plan is a lists of things you'll never do.  That's what happens when you fall into analysis-paralysis or don't take action. (BTW - action and timeboxing are the cure for analysis-paralysis)

    A "laundry list" is not an actionable list because it's just a random dump of things.  The laundry list becomes actionable when you rank and prioritize the items, turning it into an "ordered list."

    Precision is an important attribute.  Precision simply means filtering out everything that's not directly relevant.  I find the most valuable lists are precise.  I’d rather have two precise lists, than one mixed up list.  A precise list of actions, or a precise list of ideas, or a precise list of issues is a thing of beauty.  It’s the elegance before the action.

    There are list makers and there are list doers.  Having a list is a start, but action is what really makes any list valuable.  An effective list is a springboard for the right actions.

    If you're an avid list maker, challenge yourself to be a skilled list doer.  It's a key to making things happen, and action is the difference that makes the difference.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Leadership Quotes

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    I’ve put together a comprehensive collection of leadership quotes.  It took me a bit longer than I expected, but I wanted a lot of things to be right.  I wanted to choose the best quotes.   I wanted to organize them in useful and meaningful categories.   I wanted this particular collection to really say something on the art of leadership from a variety of perspective and people, drawing from the wisdom of the ages and modern sages.

    There’s always room for improvement, but I think you enjoy the richness, breadth, and depth of the collection.   To bring you the best insights, I draw from a number of folks that have something to say about leadership, including Gandhi, John Maxwell, George Patton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Sun Tzu.   It puts a lot of wisdom right at your fingertips with a wealth of perspective and depth on the art of leadership.

    To make the collection fast and easy to skim or to read in depth, I've organized the leadership quotes collection across a variety of categories, including boldness, challenges, communication, connection, conviction, credibility, encouragement, fear, heart, influence, inspiration, learning, self-leadership, servant-leadership, teamwork, and vision.

    To give you a taste of the collection, here are the top ten leadership quotes from the leadership quotes collection …

    Top 10 Leadership Quotes

    1. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” –  John C. Maxwell
    2. “A real leader faces the music, even when he doesn’t like the tune.” – Anonymous
    3. “All Leadership is influence.” — John C. Maxwell
    4. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
    5. “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” — General George Patton
    6. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren Bennis
    7. “Managers help people see themselves as they are; Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.” — Jim Rohn
    8. “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes.  It is very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair
    9. “The price of greatness is responsibility.” — Winston Churchill
    10. “When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally.” — Lao Tzu

    For more words of wisdom on the art of leadership, check out the full collection of leadership quotes.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Presenting Numbers with Skill

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    At Microsoft, we get a lot of chances to present numbers.   Whether it’s making a project pitch, or writing our reviews and quantifying our impact, numbers are everywhere.   And when we aren’t the one presenting, we are often reviewing the numbers that other people are presenting.

    It’s one thing to know the numbers.  It’s another to share the numbers in a meaningful way.

    As a Program Manager for several years, I’ve had to manage, show, and report on budgets.  I’ve had to quantify impact.  I’ve had to report status on key metrics.    I’ve had to figure out velocity and burn down.   I’ve had to show schedules and variance.   I’ve had to present estimates and calculate risk.   It comes with the turf.   Part of making impact, is knowing how to show it.

    The problem is, we don’t always get the best mentors or the best examples.   We don’t really learn how to present numbers in school, at least not with the same focus we get on learning how to read, write, and speak.   The more I see complicated charts and confusing figures that obfuscate key points, the more I appreciate the value of simplicity and elegance in presenting numbers.

    I found the perfect compliment to Edward Tufte’s, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  It’s Painting with Numbers, by Randall Bolten.    It’s the best book I’ve seen on how to present numbers with skill.   Randall was a CFO for twenty years in Silicon Valley, so he’s got the benefit of seeing all the various ways, shapes, and sizes that people throw numbers around.  He’s exactly the right person to learn from when it comes to seeing through the numbers, knowing what they mean, and knowing how to present them more effectively to speak the truth, and to make better decisions … in work and in life.

    I wrote a post to elaborate on the book and get specific on the problems it addresses.   You can read more at Quantation: How to Present Numbers with Skill.  

    It’s a book I’m going to recommend to the people I mentor to help them advance their careers and take their game to the next level.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Weekly Reminders for Changing Your Habits and Adopting New Practices

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    “Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.”  -- Jim Ryun

    One of the best moves I use to change habits and adopt new practices is very simple, but very effective:

    I schedule a recurring Friday appointment on my calendar.  On that appointment, I list reminders, habits, and practices that I want to work on.   It’s the art of applied reflection.

    I tend to use bulleted questions, because they make a great checklist and I find that questions work better than statements for reflection.  Here are a couple of examples to show what I mean:

    • Am I leading by example and setting a personal example of what to expect?
    • Am I describing a compelling image of the future?
    • Am I bringing out the best in everybody and leveraging their strengths?

    You get the idea.

    This works extremely well for baking in new practices, especially after taking a new course or training.  It helps turn the training into action, because it forces you to turn the insights you learned into simple test cases (For example, the questions above.)   It also works well, simply because it’s making you mindful of your choices, and it’s reminding you to check your thinking, feeling, or doing against your goals.

    I’ve been using this practice for several years, and it’s worked like a champ.  It’s part of the Friday Reflection pattern in Getting Results the Agile Way.

    If there is a new pattern or practice you want to adopt, simply add a Friday reminder and see how easily you can adopt a new habit.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Dual-Speed IT Drives Digital Business Transformation and Improves IT-Business Relationships

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    Don’t try to turn all of your traditional IT into a digital unit.  

    You’ll break both, or do neither well.

    Instead,  add a Digital Unit.   Meanwhile, continue to simplify and optimize your traditional IT, but, at the same time, add a Digital Unit that’s optimized to operate in a Cloud-First, Mobile-First world.

    This is the Dual-Speed IT approach, and, with this way, you can choose the right approach for the job and get the best of both worlds.

    Some projects involve more extensive planning because they are higher-risk and have more dependencies.

    Other projects benefit from a loose learning-by-doing method, with rapid feedback loops, customer impact, and testing new business waters.

    And, over time, you can shift the mix.

    In the book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation, George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee, share some of their lessons learned from companies that are Digital Masters that created their digital visions and are driving business change.

    Build Digital Skills Into One of Your Existing Business Units

    You can grow one of your existing business units into a Digital Unit.  For example, marketing is a pretty good bet, given the customer focus and the business impact.

    Via Leading Digital:

     

    “Changing the IT-business relationship is well worth the effort, but doing so takes time.  Your company may not have the time to wait before starting your digital transformation.  Rather than improving the IT unit, some companies try to build digital skills into another unit, such as marketing.  They try to work around IT rather than with it.”

    Don’t Mix Your Digital Unit with Your Traditional IT

    Don’t throw away your existing IT or break it by turning it into something it’s not, too quickly.   Instead, leverage it for the projects where it makes sense, while also leveraging your new Digital IT unit.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “Although building digital skills is useful, trying to work around IT can be fraught with challenges, especially if people do not understand the reasons for IT's systematic, if sometimes ponderous, processes.  This kind of flanking action can waste money, make the digital platform more complex, and even worse, open the company to security and regulatory risks.”

    Create a Dual-Speed IT to Support Both Traditional IT and Faster-Speed Digital Transformation

    You can have the best of both worlds, while both evolving your traditional IT and growing your Digital Unit to thrive at Cloud speed.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “A better approach is to create a dual-speed IT structure, where one part of the IT unit continues to support traditional IT needs, while another takes on the challenge of operating at digital speed with the business.  Digital activities--especially in customer engagement--move faster than many traditional IT ones.  They look at design processes differently.  Where IT projects have traditionally depended on clear designs and well-structured project plans, digital activities often engage in test-and-learn strategies, trying features in real-life experiments and quickly adding or dropping them based on what they find.”

    Optimize the Digital Unit for Digital World

    Your Digital Unit needs to be very different from traditional IT in terms of the mindset and the approaches around the people, processes, and technology.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “In a dual-speed approach, the digital unit can develop processes and methods at clock-speeds more closely aligned with the digital world, without losing sight of the reasons that the old IT processes existed.  IT leaders can draw on informal relationships within the IT department to get access to legacy systems or make other changes happen.  Business leaders can use their networks to get input and resources.  Business and IT leaders can even start to work together in the kind of two-in-a-box leadership method that LBG and other companies have adopted.”

    Choose the Right Leadership Both in the Business and in IT

    To make it work and to make it work well, it takes partnerships on both sides.   The business and IT both need skin in the game.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “Building dual-speed IT units requires choosing the right leadership on both sides of the relationship.  Business executives need to be comfortable with technology and with being challenged by their IT counterparts.  IT leaders need to have a mind-set that extends beyond technology to encompass the processes and drivers of business performance.  Leaders from both sides need to be strong communicators who can slide easily between conversations with their business- or IT-focused people.”

    Great IT Leaders Know When to Choose Traditional IT vs. the Digital Unit

    With both options at your disposal, Great IT Leaders know how to choose the right approach for the job.   Some programs and projects will take a more traditional life-cycle or require heavier planning or more extensive governance and risk management, while other projects can be driven in a more lightweight and agile way.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “Dual-speed IT also requires perspective about the value of speed.  Not all digital efforts need the kind of fast-moving, constantly changing processes that digital customer-engagement processes can need.  In fact, the underlying technology elements that powered LBG's new platform, Asian Paints' operational excellence, and Nike's digital supply chain enhancements required the careful, systematic thinking that underpins traditional IT practices.  Doing these big implementations in a loose learning-by-doing method could be dangerous.  It could increase rework, waste money, and introduce security risks.  But once the strong digital platform is there, building new digital capabilities can be fast, agile, and innovative.  The key is to understand what you need in each type of project and how much room any project has to be flexible and agile.  Great IT leaders know how to do this.  If teamed with the right business leaders, they can make progress quickly and safely.”

    Dual-Speed IT Requires New Processes within IT

    It takes a shift in processes to do Dual-Speed IT.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “Dual-speed IT also takes new processes inside IT.  Few digital businesses have the luxury to wait for monthly software release cycles for all of their applications.  Digital-image hosting business Flickr, for example, aims for up to ten deployments per day, while some businesses require even more.  This continuous-deployment approach requires very tight discipline and collaboration between development, test, and operations people.  A bug in software, missed step in testing, or configuration problem in deployment can bring down a web site or affect thousands of customers.”

    DevOps Makes Dual Speed IT Possible

    DevOps blends development and operations into a more integrated approach that simplifies and streamlines processes to shorten cycle times and speed up fixes and feedback loops.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “A relatively new software-development method called DevOps aims to make this kind of disciplined speed possible.  It breaks down silos between development, operations, and quality assurance groups, allowing them to collaborate more closely and be more agile.  When done properly, DevOps improves the speed and reliability of application development and deployment by standardizing development environments.  It uses strong methods and standards, including synchronizing the tools used by each group.”

    DevOps Can Help IT Release Software Better, Faster, Cheaper, and More Reliably

    DevOps is the name of the game when it comes to shipping better, faster, cheaper and more reliably in a Cloud-First, Mobile-First world.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “DevOps relies heavily on automated tools to do tasks in testing, configuration control, and deployment—tasks that are both slow and error-prone when done manually.  Companies that use DevOps need to foster a culture where different IT groups can work together and where workers accept the rules and methods that make the process effective.  The discipline, tools, and strong processes of DevOps can help IT release software more rapidly and with fewer errors, as well as monitor performance and resolve process issues more effectively, than before.”

    Driving Digital Transformation Takes a Strong Link Between Business and IT Executives

    In order for your Digital Transformation to thrive, it takes building better bridges between the business leaders and the IT leaders.

    Via Leading Digital:

    “Whether your CIO takes it upon himself or herself to improve the IT-business relationship, or you decide to help make it happen, forging a strong link between business and IT executives is an essential part of driving digital transformation.  Strong IT-business relationships can transform the way IT works and the way the business works with it.  Through trust and shared understanding, your technology and business experts can collaborate closely, like at LBG, to innovate your business at digital speeds.  Without this kind of relationship, your company may become mired in endless requirements discussion, filing projects, and lackluster systems, while your competitors accelerate past you in the digital fast lane.”

    If you want to thrive in the new digital economy while driving digital business transformation without breaking your existing business, consider adding Dual-Speed IT to your strategies and shift the mix from traditional IT to your Digital Unit over time.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Program Management Tip - Save Time by Working on What Actually Counts

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    One of the most valuable lessons I learned early on in Program Management at Microsoft, is that value is in the eye of the beholder.

    One common pitfall is throwing a lot of time and effort at things, only to find that when you’re done, nobody cares. If you keep feeling a lack of appreciation, then ask yourself, “Who was I doing it for?” If it was for yourself, was it what you most cared about, or could you have invested the same time in something else and felt like you made a more important impact. If you were doing it for somebody else, ask them whether what you’re working on is really the most important thing to them. If you’re working on a lot of low-priority items, don’t expect to get the rewards. In fact, a pattern is that the more you work on low-priority items, the more you become a dumping ground. The more you become a dumping ground, the busier you get; the busier you get, the more overloaded you will feel. Now the worst happens—you’re overworked, underappreciated, and no fun to be around. By failing to work on what’s valuable and by failing to understand and reset expectations, you’ve worked yourself into an unrewarding, high-stress scenario.

    On the flip side, working on the things that you value, inspires your passion, keeps you engaged, and builds momentum.  Balance that with things that are valued by others, and be deliberate.  Sometimes you have to choose you.  Sometimes you have to flex and bend.  Sometimes it’s “meet me in the middle.”  Sometimes it’s simply reframing what you’re doing in a way that speaks to others, or vice-versa.  Simply making mindful choices can help you dial up your passion where it counts.  It’s a force multiplier.

    To be a more effective Program Manager, start asking the question, “Who’s it for?” or “Who’s asking for that?” or “How important is that?” (and everything is always a trade-off.)

    Note -- This tip is from my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, a simple time management system,  and you can find more free time management tips in the Getting Results Knowledge Base.

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    .NET Rocks Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way

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    I don’t do a lot of interviews, but I like what Carl and Richard do for the .NET developer community at large, so I agreed to shoot the breeze … Check out the .NET Rocks Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way.

    Carl and Richard were curious to learn more about the system and what it’s all about.  I warned them up front that it’s not about agile development, and that it’s actually a system that anybody can use to get better, faster, simpler results. 

    That said, if you are a developer, you can appreciate the full extent of the system and how it’s based on Evergreen principles, patterns, and practices for  time management, productivity, energy management, and meaningful results.  (Note – it’s the same approach I used to be on time, on budget for more than ten years, leading distributed teams around the world, so it’s industrial strengths, but I designed it to be simple enough that my Mom can use it.)

    Some users of the system like to think of it as “Agile for Life” or “Scrum for Life.”

    My ultimate goal was to give as many people possible, an extreme advantage in achieving results, but bringing together proven practices from positive psychology, sports psychology, project management, software development, and other disciplines into an integrated, simple system.  To bottom line it, it’s a simple system for meaningful results. 

    It’s the playbook I wish somebody gave me when I started out in life, and I’m hoping that it saves many people a lot of painful lessons and helps them leapfrog and make the most of what they’ve got.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Why So Many Ideas Die or Don't Get Adopted

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    I didn’t know whether to call this why adoption fails, or why ideas die, but regardless, they are deeply related. After all, one of the main reasons ideas die is that they don’t get adopted, so they fizzle out. It’s usage that gives an idea enough legs to blossom and bloom.

    I see the same recurring patterns again and again around why ideas don’t get adopted, so I thought I’d share some.

    You Didn’t Share It

    One of the most common patterns is somebody thinks up an idea. That’s as far as they get.

    You Didn’t Test It

    This is related to the first pattern. You thought up a potentially neat idea, but you didn’t try it out or test it to find out where, or if, the rubber actually meets the road. This is where some Agile approaches have had an advantage in bridging the reality gap. I’m a fan of “spiking” and exploration. Why “spiking”? Because, you can focus on the high-risk, and test it end-to-end with a thin slice (and thin slices reveal a lot.)

    You Threw it Over the Wall

    The pattern I see here is somebody or some team comes up with a great idea. Then somebody decides that it’s another person or team’s job to implement it. So the idea gets “thrown over the wall.” Sure, people might write up a bunch of specs or a bunch of docs about how somebody is supposed to adopt it, but that just about never works in the early stages of an idea. It’s the startup stage. That only works when you’ve matured an idea to the point where it’s a “transaction.” In the early stages, the idea usually requires a “relationship” play, because you have to transfer a lot of tribal knowledge. You have to get the kinks out. You have to learn what you didn’t know, and you have to build some empathy around the adoption pains. This is how ideas flourish.

    Not Invented Here

    There is a surprise here. Usually what I see is somebody or some team comes up with the best thing since sliced bread. Then they want others to adopt it. Others don’t adopt it. So the person or team with the idea, concludes, oh, they won’t use it because, it’s “not invented here.” What I see behind the scenes though is that other people or teams would love to adopt the idea, but they don’t know how. The person or team with the idea threw it over the wall. They expect the other people or teams to figure it out, because it’s such a good idea, that it speaks for itself. The devil is in the details, and the friction or barriers to adoption wear most people out. People don’t have all the time in the world to keep playing with other people’s ideas until they figure them out.

    It’s sad, but that’s how so many ideas idea.

    The lesson I learned long ago is that if you want somebody to adopt your ideas is that you have to do it for them or with them. It’s a small price to pay for getting over the humps of adoption. It’s not an ongoing thing either. Once people “get it” they run with it, but only if you’ve helped them get that far to begin with.

    And that’s how ideas flourish and bloom.

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    How To Have Your Best Year Ever

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    There’s a little trick I learned about how to have your best year ever:

    Commit to Your Best Year Ever

    That’s it.

    And, it actually works.

    When you decide to have your best year ever, and you make it a mission, you find a way to make it happen.

    You embrace the challenges and the changes that come you way. 

    You make better choices throughout the year, in a way that moves you towards your best year ever.

    A while back, our team, did exactly that.   We decided we wanted to make the coming year our best year ever.  We wanted a year we could look back on, and know that we gave it our best shot.  We wanted a year that mattered.  And we were willing to work for it.

    And, it worked like a champ.

    In fast, most of us go our best reviews at Microsoft.  Ever.

    It’s not like it’s magic.  It works because it sets the stage.  It sets the stage for great expectations.  And, when you expect more, from yourself, or from the world, you start to look for and leverage more opportunities to make that come true.

    It also helps you role with the punches.   You find ways to turnaround negative situations into more positive ones.  You find ways to take setbacks as learning opportunities to experience your greatest growth.  You look for ways to turn ordinary events into extraordinary adventures.

    And when you get knocked down.  You try again.  Because you’re on a mission.

    When you make it a mission to have your best year ever, you stretch yourself a little more.  You try new things.  You take old things to new heights.

    But there’s a very important distinction here.   You have to own the decision. 

    It has to be your choice.   YOU have to choose it so that you internalize it, and actually believe it, so that you actually act on it.

    Otherwise, it’s just a neat idea, but you won’t live it.

    And if you don’t live it, it won’t happen.

    But, as soon as you decide that no matter what, this will be YOUR best year ever, you unleash your most resourceful self.

    If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to go for the epic win, then watch this TED talk and my notes:

    Go For the Epic Win

    Best wishes for your best year.

    Ever.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Meaningful Work

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    Meaningful outcomes are the backbone of meaningful work. Meaningful outcomes help guide and shape your meaningful work.

    If you have a vision for the end in mind, then you have something to work towards. To figure out meaningful outcomes, you ask yourself what you want to accomplish.   Another simple way to do this is to ask yourself, “What will the wins be?”

    One of the challenges is when it feels like your work has no meaning. Keep in mind that you are the ultimate filter for everything that happens in your life. You assign the meaning to your work. Make the work meaningful. One way to create meaning is to master your craft. Do so by focusing on continuous learning and improvement. Teaching your craft and being a mentor for others is another way to both amplify your learning and your impact.

    Work on stuff that’s valued, and remember that value is in the eye of the beholder. This makes work more meaningful. You should be aware whether it’s valued by you, by your employer, or by your customer. It’s fine if it’s valuable to you but nobody else, but be aware of it, and make it a mindful choice. You may be in the wrong line of work or working on the wrong thing.


    This is a tip from my book, Getting Results the Agile Way (now on a Kindle), a time management system for achievers.  You can test drive the system by taking the 30 Day Boot Camp for Getting Results, a free time management training course.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #5 - Reduce the Friction in Your Day

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    Untitled

    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.

    1. I stuck my sneakers next to my bed, so I could waked up, throw my sneakers on, and hit my elliptical machine.
    2. I keep the path to my desk clear, so I can throw my bag down, slap my laptop into position, and hop on, in seconds.
    3. I keep a zero inbox, so when I check my mail, it's only new stuff.
    4. I keep my desktop empty, so I always have a clutter-free experience.
    5. I made space on my shelves, so I can easily add books, without having to squish them in.
    6. I keep my vitamins lined up in a simple way, so I can grab and go.
    7. I keep notepad open, so I always have a fast dumping ground for ideas, tasks, or notes.
    8. I use sticky notes in my books, so that I can put them back on the shelf and quickly find my placeholders.
    9. I keep the space in front of my whiteboards clear, so it's easy to huddle the team around the board on the fly.
    10. I double up on things if it helps to have them handy, such as a water bottle at work and home, a sticky pad at my desk, and in the car, etc.

    If you get creative, you can find a lot of ways to simplify your daily moves and experiences. Some of the main ideas are:

    1. Allow for fast and simple moves.
    2. Have a place for things, so you can put things in their place.
    3. If something bugs you, see if you can deal with it.  Don't just let it bug you every day.
    4. Keep space available on your desk, on your shelves, on your bookcases, in your laptop bag, etc.
    5. Make your worst chores, the easiest things to do.

    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

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Action Guidelines

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    "Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often." -- Mark Twain

    I created a consolidated set of Action Guidelines on Getting Results.com.   Taking action is one of the most important skills you can master in this lifetime.  It’s the secret sauce of making things happen at work.   It’s also the secret sauce of making things happen in all areas your life, whether it’s a personal project or personal development.  It’s also how you go from idea to done.

    If there’s one attribute that has served me well at Microsoft, it’s having a bias for action.

    Smart people with great ideas and great intentions get passed by with people that take action.  When you take action, you put your ideas to the test, you find what works, you scrap what doesn’t, and you carry the good forward.  When you take action, you produce results.  If you don’t like the results, you change the approach, and the fastest thing you can always change is you.

    Action Guidelines explains each guideline, and here is the list of guidelines at a glance:

    1. Ask Yourself, “What actions have I taken?
    2. Balance "good enough for now" with "perfection."
    3. Balance your buckets.
    4. Build a library of reference examples.
    5. Build feedback loops.
    6. Build a system of profound knowledge.
    7. Carve out time for what's important.
    8. Check your ladder.
    9. Chunk It Down.
    10. Decide and Go.
    11. Deliver incremental value.
    12. Do a Dry Run.
    13. Do It, Review It, and Improve It.
    14. Do more, think less.
    15. Don't spend $20 on a $5 problem
    16. Establish a rhythm of results.
    17. Expand your toolset.
    18. Get the Ball Out of Your Court.
    19. Have a compelling "what."
    20. Have a compelling "why."
    21. Improve your network.
    22. Just Start.
    23. Know the sum is better than the parts.
    24. Know what you're optimizing for.
    25. Make it work, then make it right.
    26. Manage energy for results.
    27. Model the best.
    28. Play to your strengths.
    29. Put in Your Hours.
    30. Reduce friction.
    31. Reduce your context switching.
    32. Schedule It.
    33. Scrimmage Against Results.
    34. Set a Quantity Limit.
    35. Set a Time Limit.
    36. Start with Something Simple.
    37. Stay flexible in your approach.
    38. Think in terms of a portfolio of results.
    39. Use checklists.
    40. Use focus as your weapon for results.
    41. Work backwards from the end in mind.
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Creating Career Opportunities

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    How do you create career opportunities?   You reinvent yourself.

    While you can always hope for things to land in your lap, there are specific patterns I see successful people do.  Among those that continuously create the best career opportunities, here are the key success patterns:

    1. They invest in themselves.  They’re always learning, and taking some sort of training, beyond their day job.
    2. They reinvent themselves.  As a result of investing in themselves, they grow new capabilities.   With their new capabilities, they expand the opportunities they can easily plug themselves into.  For example, a few of my friends started to focus on data science in anticipation of big data, as one of the key trends for 2013 and beyond.  As part of re-inventing themselves, they re-brand themselves to better showcase what they’re bringing to the table.
    3. They build connections before they need them.  It’s always been a game of who you know and what you know, but now more than ever, your network can be the difference that makes the difference when it comes to finding out about relevant opportunities.
    4. They know who’s job they want.   They have a role-model or two that already does the job they want.  The role-model exemplifies how they want to show up, how they want to spend their time, and through that role-model they learn the types of challenges they want to take on, and they get better perspective on what the life-style is actually like.  This not only helps them get clarity on the type of job they want, but it helps when they tell other people the kind of job they want, and can point to specific examples.
    5. They know the market.   They pay attention to where the action is.   They don’t just follow their passion.  They follow the money, too, to know where the growth is, and where there’s value to be captured.  As the saying goes, every market has niches, but not every niche has a market.
    6. They have a mentor, and a “board of directors.”   They use a circle of trusted advisors that can help clue them into where to grow their strengths, and how to find better opportunities, based on what they’re capable of.   It might be their “wolf pack”, but more often than not, it’s a seasoned mentor or two that has great introspection, and can see what they can’t, and they can help them to see things from a balcony view.  Most importantly, the sharp mentors, the wise and able ones, help them to know their Achilles heal, and get past glass ceilings, and avoid career limiting moves.
    7. They have a sponsor.  Like a game of Chutes and Ladders, skilled sponsors help them find the short-cuts, avoid the dead ends, and avoid sliding backwards.

    If you’re wondering where the best career opportunities are, sometimes it’s the job you’ve already got, sometimes you have to go find them, and sometimes, you have to make them.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Advice is for Winners

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    One of the best books I've read recently is Advice is for Winners, by Raul Valdes-Perez.   It's all about how to get advice for better decisions in work and life.  I’ve written a deep review on it:

    Book Review: Advice is for Winners

    It's a great book whether you are an advice seeker, or serve in a trusted advisor role.   It helps you with either role, because the author shares an in-depth look at what holds back people from taking advice, as well as the qualities that make an advisor more effective.

    On a personal note, I've had to learn how to seek advice with skill, back when I first joined Microsoft.  I started out in Developer Support and it really was a team sport.  It was rare for any individual to have all the knowledge to address the complex issues that came our way.  Instead, the key was to be very good at finding the answers and expertise around the world.   It’s true that two-heads are better than one, and there is a lot of power in the collective perspective – if you know how to use it.

    When I joined the Microsoft patterns & practices team, I had to learn how to be good at both seeking out experts as well as giving deep advice about how to put our platform together and make the most of it.   One of the biggest challenges I faced on a daily basis was conflicting advice from qualified experts.

    At the end of the day, I learned how to use test cases to find and validate the answers and solutions.   To do this well, I need to use scenarios and context both to weed out generic or irrelevant advice, and to be able to test advice.  Interestingly, the key to finding a solution often involved being able to "repro" (reproduce) the problem or challenge.

    Once you could "repro" the problem, you could share it with others and get their heads in the game.  Also, often while trying to create a repro, you would find out what the real problem was, or at least, get clarity in the decisions and assumptions.

    Sometimes, trying to reproduce the problem wasn't practical, so instead, the goal would be to understand the context or scenario as best you could, and construct a skeletal solution in incremental steps.   This way, when somebody tries to duplicate the solution, if something doesn't work along the way, you can usually backtrack to the basic steps.  Effectively, you can gradually build up from a working foundation, and when a part of it, doesn't work, you can isolate it, and troubleshoot what's different about the particular context (such as security context, or configuration, etc.)

    Back to the book … in Advice is for Winners, Raul provides a great distillation and synthesis on the art of getting advice with skill.  What I especially like about the book is that it very much matches what I’ve learned the hard way about giving and getting advice.   Raul does a fantastic job of helping you get over any limiting beliefs or mindset that might hold you back from seeking advice.   He also does a great job of articulating what holds us back from getting the advice we need.  

    The backbone of the book is an actionable framework for getting advice that’s principle-based and easy to personalize.  If you aren’t sure how to approach people to ask for help, this framework will help you get over that.  If you aren’t sure how to deal with conflicting advice, the guidance will help you get over that, too.  If you aren’t sure what scenarios to even seek out advice, Raul provides very specific examples and stories.  To bottom line it, what you don’t know, can hurt you, and building your advice seeking skills can be a powerful investment that pays you back for the rest of your life in exponential ways that you can’t yet predict.

    For a "movie-trailer” style book review of Advice is for Winners, see Book Review: Advice is for Winners.

    Becoming a skilled advice seeker might be one of the best capabilities you can build to improve your personal effectiveness.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Be the Next Microsoft Employee Finale

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    Here’s a little fun …

    … Are you the next Microsoft employee?

    Here is the final episode of Be the Next Microsoft Employee, where the winner gets the grand prize -- a job at Microsoft.   It really happens too – the winner started July 30th, 2012.  Check out the finale episode of Be the Next Microsoft Employee:

    (Note – If the video doesn’t play for you, try watching directly on YouTube at Be the Next Microsoft Employee.)

    It’s a great little video.   One of the contestants even poses the question – “To Azure? … or Not to Azure?”

    If you think just being technically strong is the name of the game, that’s not so.

    I couldn’t help but think of shtick by comedian Mitch Hedberg where he complains that to be a comedian, you have to be more than a comedian to be successful. “So you're a comedian, but can you act? … It's like asking a cook, OK, so you're a chef, but can you farm?”

    I liked this comment by judge, Tim DiMarco:

    “In addition to technical skills, your ability to communicate your ideas effectively, collaborate across teams, and be able to sell your ideas is critical to long term success at Microsoft.”

    I also liked these other comments and pointers by the judges:

    • Have an explicit tie-in between WHY you do something, so people can follow WHAT you want to do.
    • Don't make big bold claims or guarantees in a technical conversation.   And watch for technical accuracies.
    • Start with the positive.  If you lead with the negative of the technology, you lose people.
    • Review and summarize what you're doing and why up front to set the stage, and keep it simple.
    • Actually show the priority in how you want to address the requirements.
    • Connect what you are doing back to what the customer wants or needs.   Make it relevant, and don’t’ make them have to make the connection.   Make the connection between your solution, and their problem, for them.

    Here are some of the folks involved in making this happen:

    • Creator/Executive Producer - Mark Protus
    • Host/Director - Fred Northup, Jr.
    • Judges:  Buck Woody, Tim DiMarco
    • Guest Judges: Karen Lopez, Pete Harris

    You can explore the Microsoft Learning team’s Be the Next Microsoft Employee Home Page where all of the episodes are available, as well as more information about the show.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Emotional Intelligence is a Key Leadership Skill

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    You probably already know that emotional intelligence, or “EQ”, is a key to success in work and life.

    Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of yourself, others, and groups.

    It’s the key to helping you respond vs. react.  When we react, it’s our lizard brain in action.  When we respond, we are aware of our emotions, but they are input, and they don’t rule our actions.  Instead, emotions inform our actions.

    Emotional intelligence is how you avoid letting other people push your buttons.  And, at the same time, you can push your own buttons, because of your self-awareness.  

    Emotional intelligence takes empathy.  Empathy, simply put, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. 

    When somebody is intelligent, and has a high IQ, you would think that they would be successful.

    But, if there is a lack of EQ (emotional intelligence), then their relationships suffer.

    As a result, their effectiveness, their influence, and their impact are marginalized.

    That’s what makes emotional intelligence such an important and powerful leadership skill.

    And, it’s emotional intelligence that often sets leaders apart.

    Truly exceptional leaders, not only demonstrate emotional intelligence, but within emotional intelligence, they stand out.

    Outstanding leaders shine in the following 7 emotional intelligence competencies: Self-reliance, Assertiveness, Optimism, Self-Actualization, Self-Confidence, Relationship Skills, and Empathy.

    I’ve summarized 10 Big Ideas from Emotional Capitalists: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders.  It’s an insightful book by Martyn Newman, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read on the art and science of emotional intelligence.   What sets this book apart is that Newman focused on turning emotional intelligence into a skill you can practice, with measurable results (he has a scoring system.)

    If there’s one take away, it’s really this.  The leaders that get the best results know how to get employees and customers emotionally invested in the business.  

    Without emotional investment, people don’t bring out their best and you end up with a brand that’s blah.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    30 Day Sprints for Personal Development: Change Yourself with Skill

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    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I've written about 30 Day Sprints before, but it's time to talk about them again:

    30 Day Sprints help you change yourself with skill.

    Once upon a time, I found that when I was learning a new skill, or changing a habit, or trying something new, I wasn't getting over that first humps, or making enough progress to stick with it.

    At the same time, I would get distracted by shiny new objects.  Because I like to learn and try new things, I would start something else, and ditch whatever else I was trying to work on, to pursuit my new interest.  So I was hopping from thing to thing, without much to show for it, or getting much better.

    I decided to stick with something for 30 days to see if it would make a difference.  It was my personal 30 day challenge.  And it worked.   What I found was that sticking with something past two weeks, got me past those initial hurdles.  Those dips that sit just in front of where breakthroughs happen.

    All I did was spend a little effort each day for 30 days.  I would try to learn a new insight or try something small each day.  Each day, it wasn't much.  But over 30 days, it accumulated.  And over 30 days, the little effort added up to a big victory.

    Why 30 Day Sprints Work So Well

    Eventually, I realized why 30 Day Sprints work so well.  You effectively stack things in your favor.  By investing in something for a month, you can change how you approach things.  It's a very different mindset when you are looking at your overall gain over 30 days versus worrying about whether today or tomorrow gave you immediate return on your time.  By taking a longer term view, you give yourself more room to experiment and learn in the process.

    1. 30 Day Sprints let you chip away at the stone.  Rather than go big bang or whole hog up front, you can chip away at it.  This takes the pressure off of you.  You don't have to make a breakthrough right away.  You just try to make a little progress and focus on the learning.  When you don't feel like you made progress, you at least can learn something about your approach.
    2. 30 Day Sprints get you over the initial learning curve.  When you are taking in new ideas and learning new concepts, it helps to let things sink in.  If you're only trying something for a week or even two weeks, you'd be amazed at how many insights and breakthroughs are waiting just over that horizon.  Those troughs hold the keys to our triumphs.
    3. 30 Day Sprints help you stay focused.  For 30 days, you stick with it.  Sure you want to try new things, but for 30 days, you keep investing in this one thing that you decided was worth it.  Because you do a little every day, it actually gets easier to remember to do it. But the best part is, when something comes up that you want to learn or try, you can add it to your queue for your next 30 Day Sprint.
    4. 30 Day Sprints help you do things better, faster, easier, and deeper.  For 30 days, you can try different ways.  You can add a little twist.  You can find what works and what doesn't.  You can keep testing your abilities and learning your boundaries.  You push the limits of what you're capable of.  Over the course of 30 days, as you kick the tires on things, you'll find short-cuts and new ways to improve. Effectively, you unleash your learning abilities through practice and performance.
    5. 30 Day Sprints help you forge new habits.  Because you focus for a little bit each day, you actually create new habits.  A habit is much easier to put in place when you do it each day.  Eventually, you don't even have to think about it, because it becomes automatic.  Doing something every other day, or every third day, means you have to even remember when to do it.  We're creatures of habit.  Just replace how you already spend a little time each day, on your behalf.

    And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    The real power of 30 Day Sprints is that they help you take action.  They help you get rid of all the excuses and all the distractions so you can start to achieve what you’re fully capable of.

    Ways to Make 30 Day Sprints Work Better

    When I first started using 30 Day Sprints for personal development, the novelty of doing something more than a day or a week or even two weeks, was enough to get tremendous value.  But eventually, as I started to do more 30 Day Sprints, I wanted to get more out of them.

    Here is what I learned:

    1. Start 30 Day Sprints at the beginning of each month.  Sure, you can start 30 Day Sprints whenever you want, but I have found it much easier, if the 17th of the month, is day 17 of my 30 Day Sprint.  Also, it's a way to get a fresh start each month.  It's like turning the page.  You get a clean slate.  But what about February?  Well, that's when I do a 28 Day Sprint (and one day more when Leap Year comes.)
    2. Same Time, Same Place.  I've found it much easier and more consistent, when I have a consistent time and place to work on my 30 Day Sprint.  Sure, sometimes my schedule won't allow it.  Sure, some things I'm learning require that I do it from different places.  But when I know, for example, that I will work out 6:30 - 7:00 A.M. each day in my living room, that makes things a whole lot easier.  Then I can focus on what I'm trying to learn or improve, and not spend a lot of time just hoping I can find the time each day.  The other benefit is that I start to find efficiencies because I have a stable time and place, already in place.  Now I can just optimize things.
    3. Focus on the learning.  When it's the final inning and the score is tied, and you have runners on base, and you're up at bat, focus is everything.  Don't focus on the score.  Don't focus on what's at stake.  Focus on the pitch.  And swing your best.  And, hit or miss, when it's all over, focus on what you learned.  Don't dwell on what went wrong.  Focus on how to improve.  Don't focus on what went right.  Focus on how to improve.  Don't get entangled by your mini-defeats, and don't get seduced by your mini-successes.  Focus on the little lessons that you sometimes have to dig deeper for.

    Obviously, you have to find what works for you, but I've found these ideas to be especially helpful in getting more out of each 30 Day Sprint.  Especially the part about focusing on the learning.  I can't tell you how many times I got too focused on the results, and ended up missing the learning and the insights. 

    If you slow down, you speed up, because you connect the dots at a deeper level, and you take the time to really understand nuances that make the difference.

    Getting Started

    Keep things simple when you start.  Just start.  Pick something, and make it your 30 Day Sprint. 

    In fact, if you want to line your 30 Day Sprint up with the start of the month, then just start your 30 Day Sprint now and use it as a warm-up.  Try stuff.  Learn stuff.  Get surprised.  And then, at the start of next month, just start your 30 Day Sprint again.

    If you really don't know how to get started, or want to follow a guided 30 Day Sprint, then try 30 Days of Getting Results.  It's where I share my best lessons learned for personal productivity, time management, and work-life balance.  It's a good baseline, because by mastering your productivity, time management, and work-life balance, you will make all of your future 30 Day Sprints more effective.

    Boldly Go Where You Have Not Gone Before

    But it's really up to you.  Pick something you've been either frustrated by, inspired by, or scared of, and dive in.

    Whether you think of it as a 30 Day Challenge, a 30 Day Improvement Sprint, a Monthly Improvement Sprint, or just a 30 Day Sprint, the big idea is to do something small for 30 days.

    If you want to go beyond the basics and learn everything you can about mastering personal productivity, then check out Agile Results, introduced in Getting Results the Agile Way.

    Who knows what breakthroughs lie within?

    May you surprise yourself profoundly.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Task Management for Teams

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    I’m a fan of monthly plans for meaningful work.

    Whether you call it a task list or a To-Do list or a product backlog, it helps to have a good view of the things that you’ll invest your time in.

    I’m not a fan of everybody trying to make sense of laundry lists of cells in a spreadsheet.

    Time changes what’s important and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, among rows of tasks that all start to look the same.

    One of the most important things I’ve learned to do is to map out work for the month in a more meaningful way.

    It works for individuals.  It works for teams.  It works for leaders.

    It’s what I’ve used for Agile Results for years on projects small and large, and with distributed teams around the world.  (Agile Results is my productivity method introduced in Getting Results the Agile Way.)

    A picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s just look at a sample output and then I’ll walk through it:

    clip_image002

    What I’ve found to be the most effective is to focus on a plan for the month – actually take an hour or two the week before the new month.  (In reality, I’ve done this with teams of 10 or more people in 30 minutes or less.  It doesn’t take long if you just dump things fast on the board, and just keep asking people “What else is on our minds.”)

    Dive-in at a whiteboard with the right people in the room and just list out all the top of mind, important things – be exhaustive, then prioritize and prune.

    You then step back and identify the 3 most important outcomes (3 Wins for the Month.)

    I make sure each work item has a decent name – focused on the noun – so people can refer to it by name (like mini-initiatives that matter.)

    I list it in alphabetical by the name of the work so it’s easy to manage a large list of very different things.

    That’s the key.

    Most people try to prioritize the list, but the reality is, you can use each week to pick off the high-value items.   (This is really important.  Most people spend a lot of time prioritizing lists, and re-prioritizing lists, and yet, people tend to be pretty good prioritizing when they have a quick list to evaluate.   Especially, if they know the priorities for the month, and they know any pressing events or dead-lines.   This is where clarity pays off.)

    The real key is listing the work in alphabetical order so that it’s easy to scan, easy to add new items, and easy to spot duplicates.

    Plus, it forces you to actually name the work and treat it more like a thing, and less like some fuzzy idea that’s out there.

    I could go on and on about the benefits, but here are a few of the things that really matter:

    1. It’s super simple.   By keeping it simple, you can actually do it.   It’s the doing, not just the knowing that matters in the end.
    2. It chops big work down to size.   At the same time, it’s easy to quickly right-size.  Rather than bog down in micro-management, this simple list makes it easy to simply list out the work that matters.
    3. It gets everybody in the game.   Everybody gets to look at a whiteboard and plan what a great month will look like.  They get to co-create the journey and dream up what success will look like.   A surprising thing happens when you just identify Three Wins for the Month.

    I find a plan for the month is the most useful.   If you plan a month well, the weeks have a better chance of taking care of themselves.   But if you only plan for the week or every two weeks, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and the next thing you know, the months go by.  You’re busy, things happen, but the work doesn’t always accrue to something that matters.

    This is a simple way to have more meaningful months.

    I also can’t say it enough, that it’s less about having a prioritized list, and more about having an easy to glance at map of the work that’s in-flight.   I’m glad the map of the US is not a prioritized list by states.  And I’m glad that the states are well named.  It makes it easy to see the map.  I can then prioritize and make choices on any trip, because I actually have a map to work from, and I can see the big picture all at once, and only zoom in as I need to.

    The big idea behind planning tasks and To-Do lists this way is to empower people to make better decisions.

    The counter-intuitive part is first exposing a simple view of the map of the work, so it’s easy to see, and this is what enables simpler prioritization when you need it, regardless of which prioritization you use, or which workflow management tool you plug in to.

    And, nothing stops you from putting the stuff into spreadsheets or task management tools afterwards, but the high-value part is the forming and storming and conforming around the initial map of the work for the month, so more people can spend their time performing.

    May the power of a simple information model help you organize, prioritize, and optimize your outcomes in a more meaningful way.

    If you need a deeper dive on this approach, and a basic introduction to Agile Results, here is a good getting started guide for Agile Results in action.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To–Design Your Week with Skill

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    I wrote a how to on How To Design Your Week.  It’s all about mastering time management.

    Let me first say that mastering your time is one of the most challenging things you can do in life.  It’s a topic that folks like Peter Drucker have filled books with.  Let me also say that, while it is tough, it’s also one of the best things you can do to lead a better life.  And the beauty is, the moment you start spending your time in more meaningful ways, you get immediate payback. 

    What if right now, you were working on your next best thing to do?  (It’s a simple question, but it cuts to the chase.)

    This How To is based on helping many folks inside and outside of Microsoft design a schedule that helps them simplify their work, free up more time, get more done in the same amount of time, spend more time where it counts, and use their best energy for their best results.  The trick in today’s world is that you don’t get more hours in a day – but you can amplify your results by improving your energy.

    I prioritized creating this how to because I need to scale.  Lately I’ve been helping a lot more fellow Microsoft colleagues design a schedule that brings out their best results and helping them get a handle on their work-life balance.  The bottom line is, they wanted to spend less time, but get better, faster, simpler results.  Most importantly, they wanted to stop thrashing and start thriving.

    Just about everybody I know is feeling the pain of an increasingly competitive, increasingly connected, “always on” world.  There’s always more to do, than you can possibly get done, but throwing more time at the problem isn’t the answer. 

    … So what is?

    Design your time with skill.

    If you let your week just happen, it’s very easy for your weekly schedule to erode to a point where it works against you in every possible way:  your best energy gets wasted on the least impactful things, it takes ten times longer to get things done, the faster you go, the more behind you get, you wear yourself down emotionally, mentally, physically.  Perhaps the worst thing though is, without carving out time for what’s important, you never have the time for the things that mean the most to you.

    If you can design a week, you can create repeatable patterns that serve you throughout the year.  The key is spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy, the right way.  This is the magic formula for getting exponential results from time you already spend.  This is how you unleash your best, time and again, get more done in the same amount of time, feel strong all week long, and free up more time for the things you really want to spend your time on.

    If you’re ready to exponentially make the most of what you’ve got and unleash yourself, take How To – Design Your Week for a test drive.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Success Articles for Work and Life

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    "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." -- Winston Churchill

    I now have more than 300 articles on the topic of Success to help you get your game on in work and life:

    Success Articles

    That’s a whole lot of success strategies and insights right at your fingertips. (And it includes the genius from a wide variety of sources including  Scott Adams, Tony Robbins, Bruce Lee, Zig Ziglar, and more.)

    Success is a hot topic. 

    Success has always been a hot topic, but it seems to be growing in popularity.  I suspect it’s because so many people are being tested in so many new ways and competition is fierce.

    But What is Success? (I tried to answer that using Zig Ziglar’s frame for success.)

    For another perspective, see Success Defined (It includes definitions of success from Stephen Covey and John Maxwell.)

    At the end of the day, the most important definition of success, is the one that you apply to you and your life.

    People can make or break themselves based on how they define success for their life.

    Some people define success as another day above ground, but for others they have a very high, and very strict bar that only a few mere mortals can ever achieve.

    That said, everybody is looking for an edge.   And, I think our best edge is always our inner edge.

    As my one mentor put it, “the fastest thing you can change in any situation is yourself.”  And as we all know, nature favors the flexible.  Our ability to adapt and respond to our changing environment is the backbone of success.   Otherwise, success is fleeting, and it has a funny way of eluding or evading us.

    I picked a few of my favorite articles on success.  These ones are a little different by design.  Here they are:

    Scott Adam’s (Dilbert) Success Formula

    It’s the Pebble in Your Shoe

    The Wolves Within

    Personal Leadership Helps Renew You

    The Power of Personal Leadership

    Tony Robbins on the 7 Traits of Success

    The Way of Success

    The future is definitely uncertain.  I’m certain of that.   But I’m also certain that life’s better with skill and that the right success strategies under your belt can make or break you in work and life.

    And the good news for us is that success leaves clues.

    So make like a student and study.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Value is in the Eye of the Beholder

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    One common pitfall is throwing a lot of time and effort at things, only to find that when you’re done, nobody cares. If you keep feeling a lack of appreciation, then ask yourself, “Who was I doing it for?” If it was for yourself, was it what you most cared about, or could you have invested the same time in something else and felt like you made a more important impact. If you were doing it for somebody else, ask them whether what you’re working on is really the most important thing to them. If you’re working on a lot of low-priority items, don’t expect to get the rewards. In fact, a pattern is that the more you work on low-priority items, the more you become a dumping ground. The more you become a dumping ground, the busier you get; the busier you get, the more overloaded you will feel. Now the worst happens—you’re overworked, underappreciated, and no fun to be around. By failing to work on what’s valuable and by failing to understand and reset expectations, you’ve worked yourself into an unrewarding, high-stress scenario.

    Browse more tips on getting results at http://GettingResults.com

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    30 Day Improvement Sprints Revisited

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    “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”  -- Voltaire

    With New Years, coming, I think it's a good time to remind you of a technique you can use to increase your success exponentially.

    It's 30 Day Improvement Sprints.  If you have a goal in mind that you seriously want to nail, then 30 Day Improvement Sprints might be exactly what you need to help you knock it out of the park.  I've talked about 30 Day Improvements Sprints here on this blog, but I've also shared them in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.

    What You Need to Know About 30 Day Improvement Sprints
    Here's what you need to know about 30 Day Improvement Sprints

    1. Chip away at any stone.  30 days is a great way to chip away at any stone.
    2. Use them as a force multiplier.  By doing a little something each day toward your goal, it adds up.  It's a force multiplier.
    3. It’s easier to sustain, because it’s not forever.  It's a sprint, meaning you can apply extra force and focus, since you don't have to sustain it forever.   This is especially helpful for experiments and changing behaviors or habits.
    4. Get a fresh start each month.  You get to choose a focus each month.  Each month is a new page.  A fresh start.  A do-over.
    5. Meaningful months.  Rise above the noise.  When you have a theme for the month, you have something bigger you are working towards.

    Born Out of Necessity
    I originally created 30 Day Improvement Sprints as a way to deal with the fact that I had competing priorities.  I had a lot of things I wanted to focus on, but then I was constantly hopping back and forth, and not making enough progress on any one thing.  Then I stepped back and look at my year as a portfolio of possibility.   I have 12 months to invest and play around with.  I then asked the question, what if I used each month as a way to focus on something I really wanted to learn or improve?  Then each month, I could either pick the same thing again, or choose something new.  Finally, rather than do everything at once, I could focus on one key theme for the month, knowing that next month, I could then focus on my next big thing.  The side benefit of this is peace of mind.   When you have a time or a place for things, you can put them to rest.  Otherwise, they keep competing for your attention, until you finally say, next month is when I’ll focus on XYZ.

    Benefits of 30 Day Improvement Sprints
    30 Day Improvement Sprints turned out to be one of my biggest game changers.  Here are some of the benefits I experienced:

    1. Monthly Themes.  I had a specific focus or theme for the month.  This alone was worth it's weight in gold.
    2. Breakthroughs.  I was suddenly having breakthroughs because I was spending enough time on a problem.
    3. Exponential learning.   Because it was a longer stretch of time, I started taking on new challenges, and learning new things.
    4. Changing habits.  Changing habits became easier because I could easily set a theme and focus for the month, and just do a little each day.
    5. Domain deep dives.  The distinctions and insights that I learned from focusing on a goal for the month, lead to some deep discoveries and self-awareness.

    Examples of 30 Day Improvement Sprints
    I used 30 Day Improvement Sprints for everything from learning Windows Azure to improving roller blading to experimenting with eating living foods and getting 10 years younger.   One of my most memorable 30 Day Improvement Sprints was a focus on 30 Days of Getting Results.   Each day, for 30 days, I took 20 minutes to write about one thing that really helped me achieve better, faster, and simpler results.   The results was a large body of insight and action with mini-lessons for getting your groove on and changing your game.   (I ended up creating a free 30 Days of Getting Results eBook to put it all at your finger tips.  If there’s enough interest, I’ll figure out how to put it on the Kindle too.   It’s the perfect thing to help you start the New Year with some of the best patterns and practices for getting results on your side.)

    Results at Work
    I’ve also used 30 Day Improvement Sprints to focus and energize teams at Microsoft.   For example, when I first joined the Enterprise Strategy team at Microsoft, I made one of the themes a focus on “simplicity.”   This theme caught on, and soon our General Manager was driving action and focus on simplicity.    This helped us take a fresh look at one of our products and find ways to dramatically simplify the experience.   As the simplicity focus gained momentum, more and more breakthroughs started to show up, all in the name of a simplified experience.

    Use 30 Day Improvement Sprints as Your Unfair Advantage in the New Year
    I’m a fan of Voltaire’s original quote, but I would twist it a little … “Few challenges withstand the assault of sustained action.”   Using 30 Day Improvement Sprints really does put the advantage of time on your side, as well as the power of focus and motivation.   It also creates an incredible learning loop.   Your little actions and feedback loops each day teach you distinctions you can use each new day to keep improving and getting over the humps.

    Here are a couple ways you can use 30 Day Improvement Sprints to get exponential results in the New Year:

    1. Use January to go through 30 Days of Getting Results.
    2. Turn your New Years Resolution into a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.
    3. Choose one of your most self-defeating habits and go up against it in a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.

    Think about it … A New Year.  A fresh start.  Twelve months in which you can choose a new theme or focus each month.   Maybe you learn a new language?   Maybe you learn the Tango?   Who knows.    There are a lot of opportunities and potential when you have a system on your side.

    If you’ve used 30 Day Improvement Sprints, I’d love to hear how you’ve used them.  I’ve had various folks send me their stories on their breakthroughs and changes.   I always enjoy reading the stories, so keep sending my way.

    My Related Posts

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