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.

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:

"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.

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.

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