Stop the Self-Inflicted Pain | Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let others do it to us?

Do two posts make a series? Anyway, this is second post looking at some modern-day frustrations where we look inside things that we do that are daft and dangerous. Some of them you may not realise are doing you damage, others probably already drive you a bit loopy. Part 1 is here: Stop the Self Inflicted Pain | How Much Better Could Your Life Be?

We have three more topics for today:

Devices in Meetings

What is the purpose of a meeting? Do you know? In almost every case, the addition of screens into that meeting is harming that purpose.

Most meetings that I attend, if I attend in person, are based around a large table. The table is littered with laptops, phones and tablets. People join the meeting with every intention of contributing wholeheartedly to it, but within minutes they are distracted. They don’t mean to be, but they are powerless to stay away from the distracting movements that are occurring before them.

“But” I can hear you say…

“But, what if I want to take notes electronically?” If you are far more disciplined than me, then perhaps you can have a powerful, internet connected, multi-skilled device there in-front of you and only use it to take notes. If that is you, then I take my hat off to you, but it’s still not as good for you as writing notes.

“But, what if I need the material off my laptop to inform the meeting?” That may be a perfectly valid point, but it should be limited and clearly understood in the objectives for the meeting, often it’s an excuse.

“But, what happens if someone needs to contact me?” This is the ultimate expression of the problem. If you take a device into a meeting because you think that someone may need to contact you, then you will be spending a significant amount of time in that meeting distracted by the potential that someone is going to contact you. “Has my phone run yet?” “What’s was that email that has just come in?”

Multi-tasking

One of the main reasons that devices in meetings is such a bad idea is that it draws us into multitasking and we are very poor at multitasking.

There are numerous experiments that show our inability to task switch, but perhaps we need the kids to show us how it is (not) done:

There’s also growing evidence that the impact of persistent multitasking is lasting harm. You’re less effective while you are multitasking, but you are also permanently numbing down your brain.

Aside from the impact on our brains there are situations where multitasking is downright dangerous. Those of you who still think you can text and drive are kidding yourself:

It has become normal many of us to multi-screen in front of the TV every night. Even if we are only using our tablet or phone while the adverts are on, we are still expecting our brains to multitask. Those advert may be annoying, but rather than picking up a screen we would be much better standing up and having a stretch.

This isn’t a new subject for me, but we still have a very long way to go before people listen.

Open Plan Offices

Once the darling of every office manager the open plan office is a disaster for productivity.

You don’t need to look any further for evidence of this than this invention from Panasonic:

wearspace_rolling

These are a pair of blinkers for the office, for those times when you need some peace and quiet to get your job done! Seriously!

Again, I hear that “but” word entering into your head. The primary “but” for open plan offices is: “But, doesn’t it improve communication between teams and enable more creative interactions?” Let me put it as simply as I can: “No.”

Open plan offices drive down interactions:

The results were stark: after the shift to an open-plan office space, the participants spent 73 per cent less time in face-to-face interactions, while their use of email and instant messenger shot up by 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

Most people spend their time in an open plan office with headphones plugged in which makes it difficult to know whether they are one a phone call so it’s normal to instant message them, even if they are on the next desk.

How many more things?

That’s eight different areas that we’ve covered in two posts, I wonder how many more there are? Imagine if each one improves your productivity, or wellness, by just 2% we would have improved our lives by at least 16%!

Stop the Self Inflicted Pain | How Much Better Could Your Life Be?

I have a physio friend and people regularly go up to him and say: “It hurts when I do this!”

His response is to say: “Well, don’t do that then.”

Pain is often our body’s way of telling us to do things differently, yet we all do things every day that cause us pain, or am I the only one? Many of the practices we regard as sacrosanct in modern business have no basis in science, yet a global peer pressure enforces them into the life of millions. Some of these practices are just a bit unhelpful, but some are dangerous to health and well-being. Many of the things that we do outside of work are likewise unhelpful and dangerous and yet we continue to do them, and I’m not talking about rock climbing. When questioned we would struggle to articulate why we do them, we just do.

Although I quoted my physio friend, I’m not primarily talking about physical health things, though that can can often play a significant part. My principal focus are those practices that impact upon our productivity and ultimately our well-being.

Perhaps you are living in splendid ignorance, so I’m sorry if this post opens your eyes to things that will now frustrate you when you see them, as all good 12 Step programmes know the first step is to move out of denial.

The first thing to note is that I’ve constrained the length of this post to keep it readable, but the list of self inflicted pain is very long indeed, and I may return to it at some point in the future, it may even become a series, I’ll see.

Are your wasting your productive time?

Many people plan their day around a focus on important work and urgent work with little attention to the timing of the work during the day.

If your diary is anything like mine it is littered with meetings. There is no pattern to the types of meetings and when they happen, they are scheduled at the time when the person arranging it decided it should happen.

We each have different times in the day when we are better, or worse, at different types of work – we have a chronotype. For most, our chronotype is somewhere between extreme morningness or extreme eveniningness, as such for most of us we are more alert in the morning, have a slump in the afternoon and then have another peak in the evening. Yet, how many of us waste our alert productive time in the morning on the trivial tasks that would be better suited to our afternoon slump? We are making our lives significantly harder by expecting our performance to be the same across the day and our schedule of meetings isn’t helping.

This is a particularly difficult challenge for international teams where people are in different time-zones with some in the middle of their most productive time and others in the middle of a slump.

Are you getting outside?

If you are going to recover from a slump one of the best ways of doing it is to get outside into the nature that’s probably around you. Even if you work in a city there is likely to be parkland or some other form of green space available.

Remaining inside and expecting your body to recover from a slump is likely to just extend the slump.

You don’t have to be outside for long, a few minutes is enough to make a huge difference to your focus and ability to get work done.

Are you wearing the right footwear?

Do you work in an environment where you are expected to wear shoes? Perhaps you are expected to wear “smart” (uncomfortable) shoes?

Research in schools has shown that shoeless learning spaces perform better. Is it too much of a stretch to think that work environments, particularly for knowledge workers may also perform better if people ditch their shoes?

I’ve often pondered whether it’s one of the reasons why people prefer home working. Work always feels different at home in my slippers.

How much of a culture change would your organisation need to allow slippers to become the normal footwear in the office? Would the productivity increase be worth it?

Are you wasting time with long meetings?

Back to you diary. How many 1 hour meetings will you be attending today or this week? How many 2 hour meetings? Of the 1 hour and 2 hour meetings how many of them include break times? Not many? None? That’s my experience also.

What is the ideal length of a meeting for maximum concentration? Well, there doesn’t appear to be an absolute definitive answer on that, some say 15 minutes, some say 45 minutes, there’s some evidence for a sweet-spot of 18 minutes, whichever option you choose they are all less than an hour and way less than 2 hours. There are different ways to engineer longer meetings with mini-breaks, perhaps getting everyone to change position, or change subject, another way is to do something interactive but these mini-breaks are only partially successful.

There’s a good reason why the daily stand-up meeting in Scrum is only 15 minutes. Extending the meeting beyond that time can, quite quickly, suck all of the energy out of the meeting.

If you routinely schedule meetings for an hour then you are almost certainly wasting people’s time. Remember the project management adage:

Work expands to the time you schedule for it.

One other thing to be aware of. People are more productive at the beginning and end of a meeting, but only if they know it’s the end. This is where sticking to a timer is really important. People’s productivity will lift as they see the finish line coming into view.

Two 30 minute meetings will be more productive than a single one hour long meeting.

Are you frustrating everyone with a blended remote and face-to-face meeting?

The worst type of meeting is the blended remote and face-to-face meeting. The people who are face-to-face are frustrated by the slowness caused by the people who are remote. This frustration is particularly acute for people who have travelled and are sitting there thinking that they wished they had decided to join remotely. The people who are remote are frustrated by their inability to understand everything that is going on in the meeting room and often get distracted.

  1. All face-to-face meetings = best
  2. All remote meetings = OK
  3. Blended remote and face-to-face = worst

I speak as someone with significant experience of each.

Oh dear, I’ve run out of room…

I think that will do for now, if each of us manged to make these few changes we would all be in a better place, but I suspect that for many of us even these are beyond our grasp, we clearly prefer the pain. There’s definitely more examples to come, so I suspect that there will be another round.

Concept of the Day: The Law of the Instrument – “To the man with a hammer…”

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Abraham Maslow

More commonly expressed as:

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

(I’ve not attributed the common version to anyone because that appears to be up for debate)

The Law of the Instrument is another of those cognitive biases, which appear to be fruitful ideas for these Concept of the Day posts. I think that the reason I find biases so fascinating is that they reveal things about the way we think and provide explanations for why we behave in certain ways and certain situations. The Law of Instrument highlights our tendency to place an over-reliance upon a familiar tool. I suspect that each of us has at least one example of situations we’ve encountered where this has been the case.

I used to have a colleague who would write documents in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets – which his Personal Assistant would then retype into a Microsoft Word document. He knew how to use a spreadsheet, so that’s what he used.

In a similar vein, many organisations send out corporate communications as Microsoft Word documents because that is what the corporate communications team are comfortable creating them in. This annoys everyone, especially the people on mobile devices.

We’ve covered Excel and Word, so I didn’t want to leave PowerPoint out :-). Not sure I need to give an example here though. we have the phrase “Death by PowerPoint” for a reason.

Most of the features of most applications are rarely used, because people don’t go looking for more effective ways of doing things. Once you’ve worked out how to create a table it’s likely that you’ll always create a table that way. I’ve seen several methods employed by applications to nudge us away from our ingrained behaviours, but we keep coming back to the hammer that we already have available to us.

Organisations are dependent upon the data analysis that people do in Microsoft Excel because that’s the tool they are familiar with, when far better tools exist.

The language used by many coding projects is defined by what the chosen developer knows. There’s rarely much discussion about finding the right language, and hence the right developer, for the project.

There’s a current trend to move people to Agile project management methods. In many cases organisations are moving from having one methodology for project management, which was only appropriate to some types of project, to another project management methodology which is only appropriate for a different set of projects. The thought of running two different project management methodologies is regarded as heresy. Agile has become the one-size-fits-all answer to project management.

The Abraham Maslow in the original quote is the same one who produced the Hierarchy of Needs. What better example of The Law of the Instrument could you wish for? The Hierarchy of Needs has, for many, become the universal tool for explaining people’s behaviour. Whilst The Hierarchy of Needs is a useful tool, it’s very unlikely that there is a universal tool for explaining all of human behaviour.

Like all biases, the first step in overcoming it is to recognise that it exists. What we all need in our lives is someone who is regulalrly asking us “why did you do it like that?” Our answer to that question will be a good guide to thye impact of The Law of Instrument in our lives. Another good question to ask is “is there a different way of doing this?” It’s unlikely there isn’t an alternative but if you can’t think of one then you need to challenge your bias.

Cognitive Bias Posts:

Taming My To-Do List Dread (and being productive at the same time)

To-Do lists make me shudder inside – after years of trying and numerous failed attempts I can barely stand to look at a to-do list, and yet, keeping everything in my head is exhausting (see linked post for more information).

So how do I stay productive and tame my to-do list dread?

I’ve discovered that my main issue with a to-do list is that they are useless for creating the framework of priority and importance, they don’t help me to see what is significant and what isn’t. A list of 50 items can be sorted and re-sorted by many different versions of priority and importance.

I have spent many hours sorting lists, when I am at my most determined, the items at the top of the list are those things that are clearly important and urgent, but I can make anything important and urgent and when I let my self control slip I will. There have been many times when the prioritisation of the list didn’t give me the answer I was hoping for so I just re-prioritise everything using a different criteria until it did. My integrity wouldn’t allow me to just pick the things I wanted to do, I needed to have some reason for doing those things, but they were often the flimsiest of reasons.

Remarkably, the things that I progress using this technique often turn out to be the things that were significant all along. There have been many time when the things that appear to be urgent and important just fall by the wayside and weren’t needed after all.

I’m not trying to claim some sixth-sense here, just the fallibility of a prioritised to-do list.

To-Do Lists v Productivity Planners

I don’t work from a to-do list anymore, I work from a productivity planner.

“A what?” I hear some of you say.

“A Productivity Planner.”

“What’s the difference?” you respond (don’t you?)

“I’m glad you asked – the primary difference is that framework of significance I’ve been talking about.”

This is the analogy I have in my head. Imagine that the things on your to-do list are each represented by a book that you need to read, and you have 1,000 books on the list. Sorting the books alphabetically is like sorting them by priority, you still have 1,000 books, they’ve just been sorted. You have to get a long way through the 1,000 books before you start to feel like you are making any progress at all. The problem with your progress is that it is one dimensional, all you are tracking is how far through the thousands of books have you got, it’s not showing you how much progress you have made in learning, or how close you are to be able to use that information productively, you’re just counting books. What makes this worse is that every time you turn around there will be another pile of books that will need sorting into the alphabetic ordering system. There is no chance that you will ever get from A-to-Z, it’s never going to happen, and why do you even need to go from A-to-Z? Why do you need to read every page in every book? What purpose is reading the books fulfilling?

To put it another way:

  • Why do you need to do all of the activities on your list?
  • Why do you need to complete every aspect of these activities?
  • What purpose is completing these activities fulfilling?

Productivity planners tend to take the questions above, but in reverse order:

  1. What’s my purpose? One of.
  2. What do I need my focus to be to fulfill my purpose? One of.
  3. What are my priorities for that focus? A few of, 5.
  4. What other tasks do I need to get done? Several of, but less than 8.

I find that this approach gives me a much more realistic plan of priorities and activities, many of which will get completed and others progressed.

My current productivity planner is the Panda one, but I have used others that follow a similar scheme. The people at Panda provide a PDF of their layouts so that you can try them out for size (I don’t seem to be able to buy an actual Panda planner in the UK, so printing out sheets is my only option). The Panda planner asks a few additional questions aimed at connecting you with the “why?”

  • I’m grateful for?
  • I’m excited about?
  • Exercise?

It also encourages an end of day review challenging me to think about today’s wins and one area to improve.

Of the 11 areas on the Panda Planner 7 of them are focussed on connecting with a framework of significance.

Switching from a pure to-do list to a productivity plan has tamed my dread of those horrendously long lists whilst helping me to maintain my productivity. There are still lots of things that don’t get done, but, hopefully, with the help of the plan, I’m spending my time doing the significant things.

PS: Another aspect of the various Productivity Planners that I’ve used is that they are on paper. I’ve used many apps, I’ve ever written blogs about them, but I keep coming back to paper, I suspect that there is a reason for that.

Co-location – the Super Food of Collaboration

In the western world we have a huge choice of foods that we can eat. We know which ones are good for us, and which ones aren’t, yet many of us are overweight, getting fatter and suffering from the health consequences of poor dietary choices.

The obesity problem is worse in areas of low income – why? One of the  main reasons is that good, healthy food is expensive and for the most part cheap food is unhealthy. This cheap food is normally processed, has travelled a long way from areas of low cost production and is purchased on a whim without the burden of preparation. It makes us feel good because it’s full of sugars and fats that our addicted brains crave but it doesn’t provide a healthy nutritional diet.

Teleconferences are the fast-food of collaboration. We set them up without consideration because they are cheap and immediately accessible. They allow us to use resources from wherever they are in the planet without consideration for those resources and, sometimes, with little consideration for the quality of those resources. They help us to believe that we are collaborating, which we are, but only in the same way as a fast-food burger is food.

Co-located collaboration is different, like organic wholefood it’s more expensive but it’s significantly better for us. The extra expense makes us respect it more so we make sure that we get all of the value out of it that we can. Organic wholefood requires extra preparation to get the right ingredients together but the results are amazing and the same is true for co-located collaboration. Co-located collaboration feeds all of our collaboration dietary needs in a way that the fast-food teleconferences never can, we never really get to know people on teleconferences, they’re just voices. There is marked difference in the level of collaboration that we achieve with people that we have physically met compared to those we haven’t. The most healthy collaboration is achieved when we are co-located with people we know well, this is the super-food of collaboration.

The occasional fast-food teleconference collaboration isn’t going to kills us, but it’s not healthy to live on it.

What do the “Millennials” think about the future? | WEF Global Shapers Survey

Each year the World Economic Forum surveys young people, targeting those aged 18 to 34, for their views on five areas:

  • Economy and global outlook
  • Governance and civic engagement
  • Technology and innovation
  • Values and society
  • Business and the workplace

This year over 31,000 people took part globally.

50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30. While they have a powerful voice, they are not being listened to by decision-makers. Here is what they have to say.

As with previous years, this year’s survey shows some interesting results:

I’m primarily interested in the technology and innovation and the business and the workplace answers, but before I dive into them I need to point out:

For the third year in a row, “climate change/destruction of nature” is ranked as the most serious global issue with 48.8% of votes.

I’ll leave that hanging there, it doesn’t need any more comment.

Moving on to technology and innovation:

An overwhelming number of young people think technology is “creating jobs” (78.6%) as opposed to “destroying jobs” (21.4%). This is consistent with the results of the 2016 survey for the same question.

I hope they are right, time will tell. My personal leaning is also towards that view, but I am concerned that those jobs will primarily benefit the rich and educated leaving behind whole sections of society.

The survey also shows that young people have a sophisticated approach to information sharing and also the quality of information that is being shared:

Although for young people the internet and free media are essential to feeling empowered, they value it to the extent that the content and information they are exposed to is factual and trustworthy. In times when fake news lends itself to being shared on social media, it is reassuring that youths feel responsible for changing such practices and ensuring factual information is circulated.

It’s not surprising that an age group that has grown up with the internet have built up a healthy caution about the content that is being pushed at them.

The rapid changes in technical capability are having a massive impact on business and the workplace:

I personally don’t like the term millennial, even though I used it in the title of this post, it carries too much baggage and stereotyping to be of much use (I’m not sure that I would class someone who is 34 as a young person either, as this report does). One of the stereotypes that the millennial term has propagated is tackled in the survey:

Young people feel that they are perceived as lazy, impatient and entitled and, as they are known as the “job-hopping generation”, are perceived as caring little for work. Our data, however, has so far drawn quite a different picture of who this young generation is.

The report goes on to explain that young people regard work as a key part of life, that they care about corporate responsibility and that they want to work on something that has a purpose amongst other insights. All attributes that are not too different to previous generations.

When I see surveys like this one I have a lot of hope for the future.

The survey report is below:

I could spend hours doing this… 2017 edition.

Over 8 years ago I wrote a piece entitled I could spend hours doing this… which outlined 14 steps to fritter away a few unproductive hours in the day. There’s been a lot of technical change since then, so I figured it was time to provide an updated guide.

The range of options have exploded, so where to start?

  1. Pick up your smartphone and check the notifications on there. Let them take you wherever they want to lead you. Mine first interesting notification for today happens to be an article on Medium so that’s where I go. Feel free to go wherever your’s takes you.
  2. At the bottom of the Medium article there is a range of more stories begging for my attention, but I choose to click on the arrow at the top of the screen which takes me to the list of articles that Medium has decided may be of interest to me.
  3. Ironically the second set of Medium articles are all within the Productivity section – 43 Bluepoints on productivity followed by 12 Productivity Hacks to Get Stuff Done are today’s favourite diversions. Lists are easy to consume and just as easy to forget. Bulletpoint 42 was a highlight: “Fac, si facis. That’s Latin for “Do it, if you’re going to do it.””
  4. From Medium it’s time to switch over to Flipboard, I’m not sure what the trigger was for this switch, but I’m freewheeling so anywhere is acceptable. Flipboard has an endless stream of articles so there’s little chance of running out of things to read. You can even read about the same thing from multiple sources if you want to get the same perspective from different people.
  5. Having spent some time on my smartphone it’s probably about the right time to switch devices particularly as that small screen and poor posture aren’t very good for me. Switching devices is another way of simulating that feeling of getting things done without having to actually do anything. Using multiple devices makes me feel busier, especially if I set up notifications on each of them.
  6. The switch to a different device need not precipitate a change of diversion, but there are plenty to choose from, so why not. Time to make the move to LinkedIn.
  7. LinkedIn is chocked full of distraction, you don’t need to venture very far from the home page, but if you do have some notifications that increases the goodness. Where are all those people I used to work with now? Who’s got a work anniversary? Who’s started a new position? Who’s posting corporately defined marketing material? Who’s liking corporate marketing material? Who’s commenting on an article? Not many of them. Who’s posted something from Medium? I could return to the top of the list at any time but decide, instead to move on.
  8. What’s up next? Twitter? You need to check both LinkedIn and Twitter because they are different constituencies. The stream of updates from Twitter can take me practically anywhere as long as I am following enough people and don’t set up any form of filtering. Following some news accounts and I’ll have fresh content all day, no need to get something done when you can live in the flow. But eventually, I get bored of Twitter and need to move onto another source.
  9. Blog posts are still, for me, the main source of information and for that I use Feedly. Feedly nicely goes around the internet and collects all of the blog posts, from all of the feeds that you’ve asked it to browse. Pick the right set of feeds and I’ve got a fresh crop of material every day and throughout the day. I can even point Feedly at Medium feeds and keep going around that circle as often as I like.
  10. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but I’m avoiding email. No need to worry though, there are still plenty of sources to go to. Slack is your next distraction for me. It’s time to look through the various communities and channels for more sources of distraction. Hopefully there’s a discussion ongoing somewhere that I can read through. If I’m fortunate someone in the organisation has set up a bot to scrape data from somewhere else into Slack, even more information to read through.
  11. In the modern workplace Slack isn’t the only port for collaboration distractions, if you are fortunate you’ve also got Yammer. There’s likely to be a discussion somewhere on Yammer that’s getting everyone heated about something wonderfully trivial.
  12. In the modern workplace Slack and Yammer aren’t the only ports for collaboration distractions, if you are fortunate you’ve also got Workplace by Facebook. Someone will have helpfully cross posted some of the content from each of the alternatives into each of the other alternatives. There are a nice collection of notifications waiting for my attention.
  13. In the modern workplace Slack, Yammer and Workplace by Facebook aren’t the only ports for collaboration distractions, if you are fortunate you’ve also got Microsoft Teams. I need to check all of the sources, because I don’t want to miss out on something important.
  14. To get another view of the work that others are doing there’s also Microsoft Office Delve. Delve will shows me a view of all of the important interactions going on in my network.
  15. I suppose that it’s time to check some email, but perhaps I should start with my personal email. If you are looking for further distraction the best way is to read personal emails on your smartphone. Hopefully you will receive a notification from one of the other apps on your smartphone to take you off exploring somewhere else.
  16. While I’m on my smartphone perhaps I should check one of the news apps that’s on there, I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything important.
  17. Hopefully, by this time, I’ve received a number of messages via the numerous messaging platforms that I’m subscribed to. I need to check each one because I never know what I may have missed.
  18. But then I really should check my work email. If you want to be really distracted don’t use any of the capabilities within your chosen email product and wade through each and every email, including the emails which are notifications from Twitter, Yammer, Workplace, etc.
  19. Randomly return to a step and restart the cycle from there.

Have I missed anything?