Category Archives: Work Smarter

Forget About Fix It and Forget It

I wonder if the copywriter who came up with ‘fix it and forget about it’ thinks about how that phrase has permeated our modern over-booked lives.  I don’t even remember the product that prompted the creation of the phrase, do you?  (I Googled it and got a series of cook books, didn’t keep searching.  So join in and make this a conversation if you know.)

 

Well, the phrase is apt for cooking, but not a good fit for most other parts of life and certainly not a good career strategy.  I have seen it applied too many times as a career strategy though.  Yikes.  It often goes something like this:

  • Get some schooling – degree, certificate, what have you
  • Get a job somewhere
  • Get regular promotions
  • Retire

By the way, this isn’t a plan – it resides somewhere closer to the wishes, hopes and dreams department but sometimes people have trouble telling the difference.

 

No, fix it and forget it jobs are those ones that leave you in a series of tiny cubicles until you aren’t in the workforce anymore.  (And just a note for you foodies out there, I know that you don’t think this is apt for cooking either, that it only applies to one pot meals for busy families, not carefully planned experiences.)  It means doing the bare minimum, marking time until the end of each work day, never raising your hand for special projects, not taking the initiative to learn new things.

 

Abraham Lincoln, known to be a strategic thinker, public domain-Matthew Brady, 1862

Abraham Lincoln, known to be a strategic thinker, public domain-Matthew Brady, 1862

Since this blog is all about thinking, I’m not sure why a fix it and forget it type might even be reading this, but you never know.  Plus the phrase got stuck in a groove of my head and this is a way to exercise it out.  (I have no idea why it popped in and stuck around, perhaps I heard it on the radio like those songs that loop in your head sometimes after you get out of the car.)

 

Maybe I have been thinking about copywriters since I read a review of a new book coming out that is based on the ‘a diamond is forever’ DeBeers campaign from 1947 (written by a woman, Yes!) that lives on.  Anyway, the United Negro College Fund had a point; a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  So don’t fix it and forget about it, use it.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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How Your Bosses (and Their Bosses) Process Ideas

You have another great idea, you are certain that this one ‘has legs’ as one or another senior boss has a habit of saying around the office.  You try not to think about the discarded ideas that you have put forward in the past because this is really the one that will get you noticed, make your year.

 

Once upon a time your boss got excited about all kinds of ideas, before he or she was business-itized, out of necessity you understand; at least in respect on how to assess a new idea for viability.

 

I’ve written previously on the topic of bringing forth your ideas as Filling Gaps.  But not from the angle of the higher up.  Even if you have not ever seen the business world from this angle, it behooves you to familiarize yourself with the concepts if you want to improve and move up.  Going higher up the hierarchy in your company means paying greater and greater attention to the ability of your team to provide value that is tangible (i.e. bankable) regularly, as in every quarter.

Boss_hierarchy

“I broke multiyear projects into pieces that delivered important capabilities every quarter. The tempo of business is measured in three-month cycles, and quarterly operating and sales results are the basis for many (maybe even most) business decisions. When you show the CEO and other executives that you are getting things done in 30-, 60-, and 90-day cycles, you build credibility, and the executives approve your projects and budgets.”

~ Mike Hugos, What I Learned My First Day as a CIO

 

So look at your idea from this perspective.  You may have to tweak it so that you can play up the aspects which will help your boss to achieve this goal of tangible improvement.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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My CANDLE Concept and the Candle Problem

There is a psychology test developed by Karl Duncker in the 1940s called the Candle Problem where a test subject is at a table with a box of tacks, a candle and a book of matches and told to fix the candle to the wall so that wax won’t drip on the table.  The solution is to take the tacks out of the box and affix the candle to the box and the box to the wall using the tacks.  This solution requires creative thinking because literal thinking will not allow for an alternative use for the box holding the tacks.

 

When the test is conducted with all the same items, but the box and tacks are laid out separately, the correct solution is deduced more quickly by most test subjects because the preconceived use for the box is not established.

 

candlesYes, you say but what does this have to do with my work day?  Plenty if you work with any level of complexity because problem solving in a complex environment requires the worker to engage in conceptualization.  The best solution is not always readily apparent with the information at hand.

 

Ok, that provides an overview of the second half of today’s title, so let’s backtrack to the first half: CANDLE, which is an acronym that I developed, standing for:

  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Decision Making
  • Lead the way
  • Education

 

The business model where I spent my corporate time was a complex one and newer people were at a bit of a disadvantage because the learning curve was pretty steep and the consequences for making a bad decision could be harsh.  So I developed my acronym to help the people on my team to focus.  These were their main skills, or tools in their mental tool box.  If you can name the tool that you need, then you have started to put some familiar context to a potentially unfamiliar situation.

 

Context and identification of familiar parts get your brain headed in the right direction for a solution.  Who knew candles were still so useful?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Defining Done

Has it ever happened to you that you happily turned in a completed project only to have the other party sort through it and respond with, ‘oh, but’?  The one or two of you out there who said no don’t have to keep reading, unless you want to that is.

 

If you verified the exact expectations of the completed project before starting, then good for you and shame on the other party for changing their mind after you thought your work was done.  The current word for the expectations, or results that should come out of a project is deliverables, buzz word if you like.  It is actually descriptive and clear enough that I agree with its usage in this context.

 

If you did not get clarity on expectations from the other party and proceeded with the project based on assumptions, well – live and learn.  And then adopt project management best practices, without having to pursue a PMP (Project Management Professional certification from Project Management Institute).  Defining the exact meaning of done, in agreement with the stakeholder is part of the PM’s early activities.

How do you know when a chain is complete?

How do you know when a chain is complete?

 

Think how much easier your life around the office would be if you picked up and used this little nugget.  Back a few years ago, after I had started to think about studying up on being a Project Manager, but before I had started to actually do so, I had a meeting with my team where we white boarded our definition of a project and here is some of what we decided:

 

We put the definition of a Project up on the white board as follows –

  • Anything outside your normal routine
  • Requires a deadline
  • Requires focus or analysis
  • May require outside sources to complete (internal NSC, member, customer, etc)
  • Can be initiated by various constituents such as: customer, sales, or internal staff
  • May require measurement
  • Often requires specialized communication (can set up templates for frequently used requests like price audits)
  • Should develop a process for repetition and sharing best practice
  • May need to be tracked

 

Preparing to complete a project request –

  • Are all necessary questions answered by the requester – who, what, where, when & why?
  • Have reasonable expectations been set?
  • Do you understand the final outcome that is expected?

 

ALWAYS document the date received and determine completion date based on complexity and other activities on your desk + customer/requester needs.  If you cannot complete in the time requested, you should come to me ASAP to discuss solutions.

 

When responding to requester to set parameters use the phrase, “In order to provide complete and accurate information, (and then set a reasonable deadline).  You then MUST meet this deadline.

 

The PMI definition component that we missed above is that a project is temporary, but we sort of covered that in the first bullet point.  And that is defining done.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Assiduously Applied

I’ve mentioned before that I love words, and would love to see a broader use of words.  So today I bring up this sinuously sounding offering:

as·sid·u·ous

[uhsij-oo-uhs]

adjective

1. constant; unremitting: assiduous reading.

2.constant in application or effort; working diligently at a task;persevering; industrious; attentive:

an assiduous student.

assiduous 

Repetitive tasks become assiduous application of diligence – I bet you never before felt so smart sorting through your emails and answering the same question from different customers!

 

But seriously, every career could use a little assiduous application of mental elbow grease to keep our value up.  No one wants to get a reputation for being inconstant or lazy, unless you have an endless alternative source of income.

 

Used in a sentence:

  • Assiduous blogging gains a writer a larger following.
  • Monitoring trade journals assiduously for appropriate articles, and sharing them with the team leader, got the intern a permanent full time position.
  • Jane worked assiduously to upgrade her excel skills, and was able to help her team improve their quarterly reports as a result.

 

Perhaps you already have a list of tasks where you have persevered, possibly now is the time to bring these to the attention of your supervisor, using this unsung word.  Diligence is a good strong word, but it has had its day and needs a rest to become less trite and stale.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Do You Make Checklists?

I used to work with someone who had a great habit of keeping daily checklists in a specific notebook, including starting each new entry with a box to check off once completed.  If I asked her to do something, out would come the notebook and she would start with a box on a new line.  She would repeat back to me exactly what she understood the request to entail.  She would end by asking me if I had a specific time frame or if she could fit it into her active task list and let me know the completion date.

checklist

She and I liked to bounce ideas off of each other so not only was her process great, it helped that she would promptly write the request down since we often would start to brainstorm on one thing or another while I was there.

 

My dad was a premier list maker – fall yard work, spring yard work, things he could tell us that he wanted, and so on.  And when I say things that he wanted, he would include the store or stores, the sale cycle, the color, the catalog number – everything we could possibly need to get that item.

 

I have found that I have to date my lists and put a list header – projects for the house, blog post ideas, books to read, etc.  I have a bit too much of my mom in me, maybe; or combo of mom’s somewhat haphazard methods and dad’s more precise ones.  Mom was good at jotting down info on whatever was handy at the time and then forgetting where she had put the data when she needed it.  I do manage much better than she at getting the info moved to the correct list.  But I still come across undated random lists that I’ve made upon occasion.

 

Early on, I wrote about this topic from a different tack, Chaos is a Style.  There are so many details that I am stunned when I meet someone who doesn’t keep lists, doesn’t have someone else to get the details done, and manages to get things done on time.  How about you?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Uninterruptible Tasks

This one comes from discussions that I have had with direct reports on many occasions.  The phone rings, the emails keep coming, people nearby talk to each other or to you and much of this is part and parcel of your actual job.  But while all of this activity can fill your work day, day after day it can also keep you from getting to the meat of your job.

 

Being a knowledge worker implies by the very label that you think, sometimes think deeply to accomplish projects and tasks.  How can we think with all of this activity, however?  These tasks that take up so very much of our day are quick and endless and interruptible.  But they don’t necessarily require much thought – a far cry from acting thoughtlessly, though.  Responses can be chosen like multiple choice test answers, or cafeteria style – a little of this, a pinch of that and a dollop of the thing over here and you move on.

 

Some tasks must be put together from scratch, carefully gathering the proper bits and pieces from experiences, from historical data, from others in your company or outside of the company.  They require careful consideration and perhaps a delicate touch to complete effectively.  Interruptions force you to spend precious minutes carefully picking up where you left off and then getting your forward momentum slowly going again.  Read this article to see evidence that we knowledge workers already knew – that a Brain Interrupted is not the most effective or efficient brain.

think

What is a worker to do?  Talk to your supervisor when you have one or more of these tasks and develop an acceptable plan to unhook from the distractions and successful navigate these uninterruptible tasks.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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