Productivity and Laziness: Is it time to cultivate laziness as a skill?

There’s a hugely popular mantra in all productivity schemes:

Work smarter not harder

Every time I hear this phrase I want to replace it with a different phrase:

What’s the lazy way of doing this?

Smart working is really, let’s face it, lazy working.

Laziness may not be the first word that springs to mind when you think about productivity, but you should embrace it as your friend.

Think about it, we do all sorts of lazy things to make us more productive.

Whenever you ride a bike rather than walking somewhere you are being lazy. It might not feel like it, but the bike gets you there quicker and takes you further than you could go without it. It’s lazy to ride the bike.

If you are using a phone to talk to someone you are being lazy. It’s easier than travelling to where that person is to talk to them (unless they are sat next to you).

Lazy people are constantly asking “why should I bother?” That’s a great productivity question, remember:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

I’ve seen countless business processes that add no value and were best ignored. Lazy people ignore these processes.

Lazy people experiment with doing things in different ways to see if they take more, or less, effort – they stick with the one that takes less effort.

We are surrounded by an increasing number of automation techniques, particularly in IT, yet I see people endlessly doing the same repetitive tasks. Lazy people let the machines do it for them.

I think that more of us should cultivate laziness as a skill.

"Tech is the new perk" according to Adobe Future of Work Survey 2016

Eighty-one percent of U.S. office workers say state of the art technology is important at work, outranking food and beverages (72%), a beautiful office design (61%) and on-site amenities (56).

Only one in four (26%) of U.S. office workers believes that their company’s technology is “ahead of the curve.” Indians are slightly more bullish (30%) while the U.K. is especially pessimistic (15%).

In the U.S., those who said their company’s technology is “ahead of the curve” love their work about twice as much and feel about twice as creative, motivated and valued compared to those at “behind the times” companies.

These are some of the findings from Adobe’s Future of Work Survey for 2016. The survey results were published in May 2016 under the title: Work in Progress encapsulating contributions from over 2000 workers from U.S., U.K. and India who use a computer daily for work.

One of the significant conclusions of this report, in Adobe’s words, is that “Tech is the new perk”. People would rather have good technology than access to food and beverage, lounge and relaxation areas, personalised workstations, beautiful office design and access to on-site amenities. This isn’t quite true across the three nations surveyed – in the U.K. we regard access to food and beverage as highly as we do technology.

These figures aren’t surprising in a world were we increasingly rely on technology to do our work. Personally I wouldn’t rank tech alongside perks at all, for many jobs that would be like classifying a van as a perk for a delivery person. Having the right level of technology is essential to doing a good job and doing a good job is a significant factor in most people’s job satisfaction. The problem is, we often expect people to do a good job without the right technology which is a bit like expecting a delivery person to carry a 3 tonne load in a 1 tonne truck. It’s not surprising that people in organisations with “ahead of the curve” technology feel more creative, motivated and valued – they probably are.

Personal "temperature bubbles" – Yes please

Like many people who sit in open plan offices one of the most contentious issues is temperature. I’m always hot; that’s who I am. Others are always cold; that’s who they are. It’s difficult to do anything about that in a place where we all share the same air.

Comfort in a working space is greatly influenced by temperature and comfort greatly influences people’s productivity.

I’ve always wondered whether there was a better, more personal, way of dealing with different people’s temperature preferences.

Design firm Carlo Ratti Associati are try a better way at the Agnelli Foundation headquarters in Torino, Italy. By combining sensors and IoT technology with the air-conditioning system they are aiming to create personal “temperature bubbles”:

It will also add an important layer of personalisation through so-called “temperature bubbles” that workers will be able to set with a smartphone app that speaks to fan units in the ceiling. “Your own personal [temperature] setting will follow you through the building,” he said.

Mashable: This high tech office will give everyone their own thermal bubble

Yes, please! That’s all I’d like to say.

Human Behaviour, a Printer and a Ream of Paper

Today I went to the large multi-function-printer in the corner of the office expecting to pick up some printing that I’d just sent to it.

(You might be wondering what I was doing printing, but that’s a question for another day.)

I was expecting to be greeted by a set of pages on the side of the printer, but instead I was greeted by a red-light and a message on the screen.

The message told me in very clear terms that the printer was out of paper. This particular printer has four trays, three of which are dedicated to the type of A4 paper that I wanted to use, all three of these trays were empty.

Being a good office citizen I opened the cupboard next to the printer where the spare paper is stored. Having open the cupboard I was accosted by a sight I’ve seen in every office I’ve ever worked in. Instead of the cupboard containing full reams of paper it was littered with ripped open paper wrappings containing loose collections of paper. Some of these collections had barely 50 sheets in them, some a 100 sheets, but all of them less than half a ream of paper. There were so many bits of reams that I couldn’t see the full reams.

Most home printers only take a few sheets of paper, but for some years now, decades even, designers of office printers have understood something quite basic. These design geniuses have understood that the basic design requirement for a printer tray is that it takes a ream of paper. I don’t think I’ve seen a paper tray that takes part of a ream for a very, very long time. Yet, despite this being obvious to the designers of printer trays it’s clearly not obvious to the users of printer trays. What could be simpler:

  • Open paper tray
  • Remove ream of paper from cupboard
  • Remove wrapping from ream of paper
  • Put full ream of paper in paper tray
  • Close paper tray
  • Dispose of wrapping

Instead people prefer, for some reason, a different process:

  • Open paper tray
  • Remove ream of paper from cupboard
  • Open wrapping covering ream of paper
  • Remove a handful of paper from wrapping
  • Place this portion of paper into paper tray
  • Place partial ream of paper back into cupboard
  • Close paper tray

The only logical conclusions I can think of for this behaviour are as follows:

  • People haven’t understood, even after all this time, that the paper tray can take a full ream of paper.
  • Disposing of the paper wrapping around a ream of paper requires such special skills that this step is to be avoided. Possible, but I’ve not come across it.

I wonder what the designers of paper trays think about this situation. They’ve done the design work, they’ve created an optimised solution, and yet people prefer to work in a way that creates extra work.

This silly little example shows to me the difficulty of adjusting human behaviour. Even when there is an obviously simpler way of doing things we prefer to follow the tried and trusted path. We prefer to put too little paper in the printer because we are afraid that putting too much in it might break it. This is just a tiny example, but there is evidence of this type of behaviour everywhere you look. The challenge that many organisations face is that these tiny examples scale up into huge areas of inefficiency.

How I process information (2015 update)

Back in February I wrote a post called How I process information (normally). This is an update to that post with a few tool changes and a few activity changes. I tinker around with my own personal productivity on a regular basis constantly seeking something that fits the demands being placed on me and my personal style, this is the latest iteration of that tinkering. Updates are in italics.

One part of my job is to stay current with the ever-changing technology and business landscapes. This means that I process hundreds (probably thousands) of items of information every day.

I don’t read all of them, but I try to process all of them on a normal day. It should be noted here that I try to have normal days as often as possible, but there are many days when that’s not possible. On those many days I do what I can to keep the framework working.


The normal way that I process information focusses on mornings. I’m mostly a morning person so that’s the best time for me to be alert because processing lots of information you should do when half asleep.

The morning is also the best time, for me, to establish and work through a routine. My morning routine works in six phases:

  • Quiet Time – when I read something that is meaningful normally using an application on my iPhone. I’ll then journal about this into a moleskine notebook.
  • Walk Time – I try to start each day with at least 40 minutes walking. During this time I’ll listen to a podcast on my iPhone. I’ve moved from using the inbuilt podcast application to using overcast it has a few nice features that I like (specifically an easy skip forward capability), but also the inbuilt podcast application ran into a problem and I couldn’t get it working..
  • Scan Time – I will work my way through the overnight deluge of blogs via Feedly and all the interesting updates from Twitter. My focus on Twitter is a set of people I have in a list called Interesting, I am likely to scan through the first few tweets from the rest of the people who I follow but not always. In Feedly I’ll mark some items as Save for Later; in Twitter I’ll Favourite some tweets. Both the favourited tweets and the saved Feedly posts will get copied into Evernote via IFTTT. During scan time I’ll also add a few things to a Buffer queue to get posted on Twitter (and Facebook) during the day, or the next day. Buffer allows me to space out posts so that they don’t all get blurted out in the first hours of the day.
  • Email and Calendar Time – I try to limit the time I spend on work emails. The part that I do in the morning routine is to get to inbox-zero by moving items into one of two folders – Actioned or To ActionIn 2015 we have moved our email services over to Outlook based on Office 365. After more years than I care to mention on Lotus Notes I’ve found the change over to Outlook relatively painless, but I have used Outlook in other aspects of life and for some customer projects so it wasn’t completely alien.
  • Plan Time – I have a physical folder with pre-printed Productivity Schedules in it. I’ll fill one of these out for each day. This becomes my plan for the day, it isn’t a task list it’s more than that, I’ll write about it some time.

It’s worth noting that there is only one application in these phases that is provided by my employer; the rest are either free, or I pay for them, this is my personal productivity regime.

Having written this post I realise that I’m still a bit delinquent on posts for the My Tools series; time to do some catching up.

A number of colleagues have written something similar:

Icons by Garrett Knoll, Brian Gonzalez, Andrea Verzola and Agustin Amenabar Larrin from The Noun Project used under Creative Commons – Attribution (CC BY 3.0)

Handle it once! Getting back to Inbox Zero.

Like many people I get a significant amount of junk-mail through the letterbox every week. Most of the time the junk-mail goes straight from the floor below the letterbox into a dedicated rubbish box near the door where it rests temporarily before going outside into the recycling bin. There is minimum effort expended on these pieces of brightly coloured paper.

The useful items of post will get filtered out and go onto a desk in a room near to the letterbox. Quite often these pieces of post will get opened and quickly looked at during the filtering process, sometimes they’ll even get taken out of the envelope before they get put onto the desk. At some point someone will sit down with the various items of correspondence and make a decision on the next step they should take.

Nearly all the post that isn’t junk-mail will get handled twice, some of it will get handled multiple times. Sometimes it’s inevitable that things get handled more than once, but the reality is, most of it only needed to be handled once and then dealt with.

Last week I looked at my email inbox and realised that it was a mess, but I couldn’t understand why, so I watched what I was doing. Once I became aware of it I realised what was causing the mess – I was opening emails, skim reading them and then closing them, leaving them in my inbox.  My normal method of processing information (I need to update that post because it’s changed) had lapsed and my inbox-zero routine had fallen by the wayside.

My inbox-zero approach goes as follows:

  • On a periodic basis (avoiding continuous sorting)
  • Start at the top of the inbox
  • Open the first email start to read through it and spend 10 to 15 seconds understanding it.
  • If the email can be responded to in less than a couple of minutes, respond and file under done.
  • If the email is going to take longer file under to-do.
  • Open the next email.
  • Repeat until mailbox is empty.

I have a set of keyboard short-cuts set up to do the filing. In this way most email is only handled once and it’s only the items that need a longer activity that are handled multiple times. The items that need to be worked on are visible and the clutter is reduced.

This week I will be re-instigating my inbox-zero approach to handle things as few times as possible.

"Performance ratings data within companies is all bogus"

Most of my exercise is accompanied by podcasts. Whether I’m out for a walk or in the gym I’m likely to have someone speaking in my ears.

This morning something went “YES!!!” in my head when I heard these words:

“Performance ratings data inside companies is all bogus. It doesn’t actually measure what it says it’s measuring. Which, of course, is hugely problematic because we end up promoting people, and paying people, and training people, and deploying people based on those rating data and they’re invalid.  “

These are the words of Marcus Buckingham speaking on The Future of Work Podcast in which Jacob Morgan.

Sometimes you hear something and you know intuitively that there’s something significant about it, and that’s what happened to me this morning.

I’ve been subject to a number of rating systems in my time, some of them with forced bell curves others not; some of them have had a few points of assessment others with many areas of assessment. These assessments have always been done on an annual basis with the occasional mid-term review. None of them have made a significant difference to what I’ve done day-to-day and they’ve all felt like they were being done to tick-a-box for the corporation. I’ve always been diligent in ticking that box because the numbers in the assessment have made a difference to the money in my pocket but little else.

There have been a number of high profile organisations switching away from these systems:

Marcus’ own article also cited Deloitte – Reinventing Performance Management.

The Performance Review systems that I’ve experienced tend to link together development and reward. Often they are the only conversation about development and reward that an employee has with their manager. Everyone knows that this shouldn’t be the case, but it’s what happens.  I can’t remember a time when a Performance Review has resulted in a change of my Development Priorities. The times that I’ve developed the most have always been whilst working for an effective team leader, hence some other words from the podcast resonated:

“I strongly suggest the future of work should be built around the practices of what the best team leaders do anyway, and they do not do a one every six-week conversation…what they do do is check in with each person each week about the work, it starts with the work.” Marcus Buckingham

We may not be in a position to change the performance rating system, but we can all make a different to people’s development in the places where we lead.

I like Marcus’ principle of 5 minutes to tell me about 5 things for the next 5 days.

Attention Management – 'Being “always on” hurts results'

Early in my career I was sent on a time management course. In it I was shown how to draw up to-do lists and how to priorities them against two criteria – importance and urgency. Further coaching was given on how to review the to-do list at the end of every day in order to set the correct activities for the following day.

At that time the constraint was perceived to be time, you started work at a set time in the morning (8:00am for me) and you finished at a set time (17:00 for me), your job was to get the important (and urgent) things done in that time. Time was the constraint, so it was time that needed managing.

Then along came the internet, email and the blackberry. Time was no longer the constraint, but we failed to recognise it and we still work as if it was.

Attention became the new constraint and we completely missed it. We thought we had been liberated from time and that we could now work in the Martini advert (any-time, any-place, anywhere), but we were kidding ourselves.

As we spread our attention across the 24 hours of each day we failed to notice that we were laying it down in ever thinning layers. The speed increased, but the quality decreased.

The late-night email culture is the primary example of this. In a recent HBR article Maura Thomas highlights the risks of the phenomena – Your Late-Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team.

Around 11 p.m. one night, you realize there’s a key step your team needs to take on a current project. So, you dash off an email to the team members while you’re thinking about it.

No time like the present, right?

Wrong. As a productivity trainer specializing in attention management, I’ve seen over the past decade how after-hours emails speed up corporate cultures — and that, in turn, chips away at creativity, innovation, and true productivity.

If this is a common behavior for you, you’re missing the opportunity to get some distance from work — distance that’s critical to the fresh perspective you need as the leader. And, when the boss is working, the team feels like they should be working.

Now that time is not the primary constraint, and attention is, we need to start developing a new set of working protocols to manage this precious resource.

Do you have any techniques you use to manage your attention?

"the average office chair is 7.2 years old…

On average, employees spend 5.3 hours per day sitting, which means the chair is the foundation of a healthy office environment. Because the average office chair is 7.2 years old, the integrity of the chair’s support and functionality might be jeopardized due to its age.

From Everything You Need to Know About Ergonomics

What's your "productivity style"?

Carson Tate thinks that there are 4 Types of Productivity Style:

The Prioritizer – A Prioritizer is that guy or gal who will always defer to logical, analytical, fact-based, critical, and realistic thinking…

The Planner – The Planner is the team member who thrives on organized, sequential, planned, and detailed thinking…

The Arranger – An Arranger prefers supportive, expressive, and emotional thinking…

The Visualizer – A Visualizer prefers holistic, intuitive, integrating, and synthesizing thinking…

For each of these styles Tate gives a more detail explanation including a definition of their contribution to a team and set of tools that support their productivity style. A Prioritizer might like 42Goals or Wunderlist whereas a Visualizer might like Lifetick or iThoughts HD.

The main focus of Tate’s post, I think, is to highlight that different people are productive in different way, which is something I would wholly agree with. Four styles of productivity feels a bit too restrictive though. Personally, I think I can be all four of the above and sometimes all of them at the same time. I don’t think that I fit any of them as a primary style (perhaps those of you who know me a bit better can let me know which one they think I am?)

The thought that different productivity styles mean that people prefer different tools to support their style is logical, but demonstrates a problem for teams. Teams are best when they are made up of different personality (and productivity) types. Creating the appropriate tooling for a team is, therefore, a challenge. How do you coordinate when one person is using Wunderlist, another 42Goals and yet another Lifetick? I’ve seen many teams where they have tried to mandate a particular tool for collaboration, this has generally resulted in low levels of engagement with the tool. People prefer different things and if you want the best out of them then perhaps you should let them use those tools.

On a different topic, four seems to be a popular number of this kind of assessment and aligns quite closely with many of the personality type assessments. How many of you know your Myers-Briggs personality type, which is also a set of four characteristics? Do we use four because we like quadrants because that’s how we think?

Is my job going to be computerised? Another view: The 'Jobless Future' Is A Myth

I’ve written a few post now on the impact of computerisation and automation on the jobs market:

Both of these posts highlight the jobs that are likely to be replaced by computers and/or robots.

Steve Denning adds another viewpoint: The ‘Jobless Future’ Is A Myth.

This article is primarily a response to the book The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment (May 2015) by Martin Ford.

As you may have guessed Martin Ford’s view is that the robots will take over and that Steve Denning is taking issue with this viewpoint. I’ve not read the book so can’t comment on it, but I was intrigued by Steve’s viewpoint as a counter-point to the other articles the I have read.

Denning outlines what he regards as a number of flaws in Ford’s reasoning (extracts):

One flaw is the underlying assumption that whatever is feasible will occur…

A second flaw in the reasoning is the implicit assumption that computers with miraculous performance capabilities can be developed, built, marketed, sold, operated and replicated at practically zero cost and that they will have zero secondary employment effects…

A third flaw is the failure to consider how the marketplace will react to the computer as a new market entrant…

A fourth flaw in the reasoning is to assume that when machines replace human capabilities, as they have been doing for thousands of years, nothing else changes…

As a technologist myself it’s great to hear a viewpoint from someone who isn’t. Denning’s perspective is that many of the symptoms that are being assigned to computerisation are also effects that would result from other challenges in the employment marketplace.  He list seven different issues including shareholder value theory on which he has written extensively.

Denning concludes like this:

We need to stop agonizing about an apocryphal vision of a “jobless future” and to focus on the pressing real issues that we can actually fix.

There have been many technologists commenting recently:

My gut feeling is that we are going through a significant shift in employment and what it means to be in a job, but I’ve never felt comfortable with a dystopian view that the machines are going to completely take over. History and experience tells me that we humans will muddle our way through and use our incredible adaptability to find something else to do.

Standing Target: Four Hours a Day! How am I doing?

The Guardian:

Office workers should spend a minimum of two hours on their feet at work – building up to an ideal four hours – in order to avoid the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle, according to a study co-commissioned by Public Health England.

The Telegraph:

Office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day during working hours, according to the first official health guidelines.

The guidance, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, warns that UK sedentary behaviour now accounts for 60 per cent of people’s waking hours and for 70 per cent of those at high risk of a long term condition.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine:

The derived guidance is as follows: for those occupations which are predominantly desk based, workers should aim to initially progress towards accumulating 2 h/day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 h/day (prorated to part-time hours). To achieve this, seated-based work should be regularly broken up with standing-based work, the use of sit–stand desks, or the taking of short active standing breaks.

I’ve written before about sitting killing us, so was interested to hear that an official organisation like Public Health England are undertaking research into how long we should be standing to be healthy and starting to form guidelines.

The key points are that we should be starting from a base of 2 hours of standing a day, during the working day, building to 4 hours a day.

It’s worth clarifying that the studies weren’t just about standing, they were looking into “getting workers to stand and/or move more frequently”. It’s not just about going from sitting still to standing still; the point is to become more active generally.

I don’t, personally, have any great metrics on how much I stand, or sit, or move around during the working day. I can make some good approximations though.

My iPhone runs Moves which tracks my activities when I move with the phone. So I know how much time I spend walking, with my iPhone, but that’s not very accurate at work because I tend to leave my iPhone on my desk when I do all of those small movements in the day – get a drink, go to the loo, etc. Assuming that those activities account for less than 30 mins a day I’m still left with about three and a half hours of standing or movement left to do. With that in mind I went back through my activity log in Moves and realised that I have a long way to go – the amount of movement recorded during the working day is tiny. An example of a week’s movement during the working day: Monday – 11 mins; Tuesday – 12 mins; Wednesday – 39 mins (I went for a walk at lunchtime); Thursday – 4 mins; Friday – 10 mins. Oh dear.

I sometimes stand next to my desk while on a call, but it’s not three hours a day!

Most mornings I go for a 40 minute walk before going to work. I could cheat a bit and include that in my target. Then I would be down to needing an extra three hours and a few minutes of standing or moving to get to a total of four hours.

However you look at it, I have a lot of work to do to get close to the two hours, so building to four hours is going to take some effort.

Apart from getting my employer to invest in a stand-sit desk do you have any great activity ideas for me?

One thing I had thought of was taking more calls on my mobile and then walking.