Writing and reading – getting down to it

Over recent years I’ve noticed a significant shift in my attention span. I’d like it to be getting longer but unfortunately it’s getting shorter. Island Hoping

There may be a reason for this; we recently discovered that the central heating boiler in our house had been incorrectly fitted and was doing its best to poison us all.

But I’m not sure it’s that simple.

I wonder whether it’s also a problem with the number of distractions that I now have available to me.

This week I decided to do something about the distractions.

One of the main distractions is my phone, it always seems to ring at the most inopportune times. This week I made a decision (please don’t tell anyone), I put my phone onto silent and waited to see what would happen.

I’ve written and read more in the last few days that I have for weeks.

I haven’t missed a single really important phone call – and there have been some.

Make screens a priority

How long do you think that you spend looking at some form of screen every day?Wisley in the Autumn

Television? Laptop? Mobile phone?

According to the New York Times it’s likely to be longer than you think:

In fact, adults are exposed to screens — TVs, cellphones, even G.P.S. devices — for about 8.5 hours on any given day, according to a study released by the Council for Research Excellence on Thursday. TV remains the dominant medium for media consumption and advertising, the study found. The data suggests that computer usage has supplanted radio as the second most common media activity.(Print ranks fourth.)

That’s right 8.5 hours a day.

Even excluding TVs that’s a lot of time, spent on screens at work. So why do we spend so little on the actual screen itself? It’s the primary tool that we use.

I’m constantly amazed when I go around offices to see the way that people are using and abusing the screen that they use all day, every day.

I’ve already written about multiple monitors. If I could communicate one thing to people that I know would radically change their productivity it would be that. But there is more to it than that.

In most organisations that I know screen purchases are tightly controlled. You have to be really special to have anything more than the standard screen. In many ways this control is completely disproportionate to the value that a good screen gives and the relative cost.

The number of people who have cracked or severely scratched mobile phone screens never  ceases to amaze.

There are times when I feel like going around with a cleaning cloth and revealing to people the wonders that lurk beneath. Go on, I dare you, clean a screen today.

Lotus Notes Tabs – My Usability Problem

Grandma in GrizedaleI have a bit of a usability problem with Lotus Notes tabs.

It’s a simple thing but it catches me out every day and has become an annoyance that I feel like I need to write about.

When I start Notes the first thing I do is to take a quick look in my inbox and then open my calendar. The two tabs that I have open look like this:

As I open items to read the tab bar starts to fill up and the size of the tabs starts to reduce.

The number of tabs that I need to open depends on the size of the screen that I am using. On my laptops it’s only four items before I get to this:

I’m now stuck, which is my calendar, which is my inbox. Opening more items just makes the situation worse. If I had a shorter name it would be less of an annoyance, but I don’t have a short name.

I’m not sure why Lotus couldn’t do something with the icons to show me which view of my mail file I am looking at, perhaps it’s configuration issue I can work my way around, or even the way that Notes has been deployed to me, but I haven’t done anything to create this situation.

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An Approach to To-Do Lists that would even appeal to Unstructured Workers

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43 Folders has this great little approach to dealing with a to-do list.

As I’ve said before, items can sometimes linger on your TODO list a lot longer than you’d like, and it can be tricky to understand exactly why that is in each case. I’m convinced cringing is often a factor.

Being that it’s Monday, and a lot of us are planning this week’s activities, why not join me in a modest exercise.

  1. Print out your TODO list (alphabetically, if possible)
  2. Read it over—beginning to end
  3. Go back and circle each item that makes you cringe, or that causes you some kind of existential angst
  4. Per cringe item, think honestly about why you’re freaked out about it. Seriously. What’s the hang-up? (Fear of failure? Dreading bad news? Angry you’re already way overdue?)
  5. Now, again, per cringe item, add a new TODO that will a) make the loathsome task less cringe-worthy, or b) just get the damned thing done
  6. Cross the original cringe items off your list
  7. Work immediately on the new, cringe-busting TODO

If you could do this for just one item on your TODO list today, wouldn’t you be a little better off? Is there a quick call you could make, a draft you could edit, an email you could return, or some other piddling 2-minute task that would plane some cringe off of your hated tasks?

Imagine if you did this today for five items on your list. Now imagine you began each Monday with a Cringe Bust. Might be a handy way to pick off old items and let some unnecessary anxiety out of your working week.

(For extra credit, find the item on your list that’s been making you cringe for the longest. Anybody else turning up items that have been inducing cringes for over a month? Ouch. I suck.)

I like this approach because it appeals to the semi-structured/unstructured Graham Chastney. I’m definitely not one of these people who can look as a to-do list and prioritise it and then work through in priority order. It just doesn’t appeal and it’s in that word that the true me is revealed. There are loads of other tasks that may be more important but that just isn’t enough, they have to appeal in some way or another. And I’m OK with a philosophy that defines one of the factors as the cringe factor. Of course I also assess my to-do lists from other appeal factors.

  • Is this task interesting?
  • Does this task have value (as defined by me of course)?
  • Is this task for someone I like working with (because I don’t suffer fools)?
  • What is the reward for this task (that is rewards to me of course)?
  • Do I know that in completing this task that I will just get another one given to me (so actually there isn’t any point in completing this one)?
  • Do I think that if I don’t do this task the reason t do it will just disappear (as so many do)?
  • What is the pain involved in not doing this task (because life isn’t without pain anyway)?
  • Is this task overdue yet (because I don’t need to worry about it if it isn’t)?

Yes I know this list should be something more like:

  • Is this task of value to the company?
  • Has this task been requested by my superior?

Tough, it doesn’t. Those two narrow factors just don’t appeal. And yes I really do believe that my employee should give me tasks that appeal (if they want the best out of me).

Office Efficiency

One of my ‘other’ jobs is to help a volunteer organisation in their use of IT. This organisation is only small and consists of six members of staff. My daytime job is to help large corporate to get the most out of their IT investments.

Both of these jobs give me an interesting insight into the ways that people interact with IT. One of them is all about detail, the other is all about high level big picture. On a personal level I tend to use one as a counter-balance to the other.

Large corporation try to increase office efficiency by investing huge amounts of money in large projects. These projects tend to focus on a radical change across a whole corporate base; new email system, desktop refresh, application upgrade, new application. In most instances the training for these changes focuses on the way that the change works; this is the way that you send email in this new system; this is the way that you schedule meetings; etc.

In my work with the volunteer organisation I have realised how diverse the use of IT is in the day to day things. There are now many different routes to achieve the same thing. In Windows (for instance) think of the different ways that you could open an existing Word document; you can use the folder views via something like ‘My Documents’; you can open up Word and do a File-Open command. Previously people would try to assess the efficiency of these types of operations by looking at the number of steps that needed to be undertaken; the one with the least steps being the most efficient. While in theory this is correct, I have come to the realisation that actually the one which is the most efficient is the one which works best for the individual. The biggest efficiency problem these days is not the time it takes for the computer to undertake an operation, it’s the time it take the individual to map out in their head the operations. And the pictures and maps that people use to do this are not linear ABC type maps, they are more like mind maps.

The only truly inefficient thing is the task map that someone has in their head which takes them on a route around the task, rather than getting straight to the task. So the challenge for corporate training is to find these inefficient tasks and routes and assist people in finding a new route. This type of education and learning is radically different to the way that we educate people today. Firstly, we need to make people realise that their productivity is their responsibility and not the responsibility of IT. But that is a difficult one to sell to some people. We then, also, need ways of understanding the ways that people are using their IT. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say “I notice from our logs of the system that you keep going to your “My Documents area by first opening My Computer” did you know that you can get there quicker by doing this.”

That type of logging is clearly not available today, all we get are ‘event logs’ which tells us about problems and issues, but tell us nothing of the way that people are working.