Monday, September 16, 2013

Underschedule

Work should be a mix of car and train, I wrote recently. But how do you make sure your work has the ‘car’ element, when you don’t travel by car?

I recently read this interesting article in which the big boss of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, explains how he makes time to listen and think. He basically underschedules. He deliberately has fixed time slots in which he has no meetings. These time slots are for walking around, talking to people and listening to them, sitting back and thinking everything through.

This is interesting. I’ve written about the concept of ‘slack’ before and how important it is for work in general and collaboration and networking (platforms) specifically. It’s important to me personally as well. I find I really need time throughout the week to restructure things in my head, generate some creative ideas for my clients, write things down for a blogpost or just to document things.

But I also know that in the society we live in ‘time is money’. ‘Billable hours’ are important. Going out for a walk to think, reading a book at work or just sitting back for a considerable amount of time is not done. It’s not productive or it doesn’t look that way, so we maintain our active selves. All this underschedule stuff is important but we leave that to our own time in the weekends and evenings.

At least that’s my personal experience. I’m curious if you relate to this. It’s weird to me, because there’s lots of research showing that knowledge workers are only productive for about 4 hours of every 8-hour work-day. And that working more that 40 hours doesn’t make us more productive.

So, how do we solve this? Start by underscheduling like Weiner? Could be. I can relate to Weiner’s approach. I don’t explicitly plan time, but I do make sure I have time to think and process my work. Of course the thinking is not limited to work hours. But I do consider thinking and processing as work time. These are billable hours, if you like.

So, what do you think of this topic? How do you make sure you have time to think? Do you underschedule? Or is your agenda so overloaded you just go from meeting to meeting, from task to task?



Friday, September 13, 2013

Work as a mix of car and train

Recently I had to travel to Brussels several times. That’s a 2-3 hour drive by car or train from the city I live in. I usually travel by train. But with our little baby popping up any day I thought it would be best to take the car.

The great thing about commuting by car is that it takes me from the front-door of my house to the front-door of my client. But that’s about it. I have to sit in the car for a long time and do practically nothing. It gets even worse when the commute is prolonged by 1+ hour because of traffic jams.

This got me wondering about commuting and productivity. The great thing about traveling by train is I can do things. I can read, work on documents and presentations, make some calls, etc. It costs me some extra travel time, but the work I can get done makes up for it. (Of course, there are environmental reasons to mention here as well, but I’ll leave them out of the post for now.) On the other had, what I hardly do in the train is sit back and think. Or listen to a podcast.

Thinking and listening is something I do in the car. I usually make sure my phone has enough podcasts on them (e.g. the wonderful Shift podcast by Megan Murray and Euan Semple). I never listen to podcasts in the train or when I’m walking around. I always do this in the car. While this is great, it’s hard to jot down things that pop up in my head and I want to keep for later. Don’t you have that? That you’re listening to a podcast and think: Oh, wow, I want to blog about that statement! But after you get home it’s too much hassle to go through the podcast and find the statement, so you just don’t.

The car has another downside though. I know when I’m driving the work is piling up in my inbox. So when you get home from a car trip I basically have extra work to do. I usually don’t have this problem when traveling by train, because our trains have wifi(!) or I just use 3G. 

So, for me the train is best. But on another level, it struck me that the pro’s and con’s of both travel modes is what work should be. A mix of both. A mix of car and train. The train to do the writing, the car to listen and think. The train to get things done, the car to have space to think and organize things in my head. But I’d rather not do that in a traffic jam if I have a choice…

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Not everything is a task

To me ‘Productivity’ is an interesting topic. There was a time that I was desperately looking for ways to be (more) productive. How do I manage my work as a knowledge worker? At the beginning of my working life I found I had a hard time structuring my work, showing progress, etc. I also found I was given little tools during university to help me be productive in my work life. I knew how to make sure I passed exams, but working on an open project with vague goals…?

What really helped me was David Allen’s book ‘Getting things done’. I love this book. His methodology gave me all the tools I need to get things done.

I still am a sucker for productivity tips and tools. And I’ll share things I find on productivity regularly.

As you know Allen’s advice is to make a task out of everything you need to get done. When you’ve captured your tasks, there’s room for flow. And this is true, it works for me.

But I have been wondering for years now: what’s the true productivity gain? Capturing and doing tasks or the space that capturing and doing tasks frees up? Or, in a different way: is everything a task?

I also ask this because there is a methodology to improve websites that is called top-task management. It focuses solely on making websites more task-oriented, to improve our website visitor’s productivity.

And, again, I agree, websites need to be improved. Focusing on task is one way to do this. But sometimes it seems to be preached as the only way. ‘Everything is a task.’ But is it? I’ve written a shallow critique on this here.

Then I recently bumped into this post on the wonderful Inc.com platform. This post cites the Flickr founder Catherine Fake:

There's too much emphasis on productivity in the factory, Ford-assembly-line sense of cranking something out and not enough emphasis on having ideas.
Or, in other words in a different article, Linda Stone says:
It's time to rethink productivity. More output, produced faster may be great metrics for machines, but for homo sapiens, the most powerful metric is engagement. Engagement is about process, outcomes, and quality. Engagement values the methods and the results versus focusing completely on the output.
So, not only tasks, but also ideas. An idea is not a task. And not only tasks but also engagement. Tasks do get in the way of ideas and engagement though. So, should we do our tasks first to make room for ideas and engagement?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!