Tag Archives: Philosophy

Productivity, Progress & Purpose

Besides all starting with the letter p and thereby providing me with a lovely alliterative title, these words all have work in common.  We should all keep these words in mind as we toil away because they will help us to stay away from busy work – the kind that looks good from a distance, but really has little substance.

 

These words do have much in common, but are not entirely synonyms of each other.  A task can be purposeful, but not always directly productive.  Productivity and purpose may not always lead to progress.

 

I believe that I have previously mentioned my sticky note on my desk that reminds me to act with purpose.  Which doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally do something just because – sometimes down time is just the right thing to be more productive.  Too, purposeful acts can be small and give a person a nice energy boost needed to tackle larger activities which will improve progress.

 

public domain, 1895 Mountain Climb

public domain, 1895 Mountain Climb

Progress is only possible when there is an identified larger goal.  Something to work towards like a degree or a promotion.  Then acting with purpose, in a productive manner will move a person or a company closer to the goal progressively.  Progress isn’t always as linear as we would like it to be so then it is beneficial to have productive and purposeful activities to help us to feel effective.

 

Progress in certain situations, like job search, is particularly sticky.  In job search so much activity can seem to be fragmented and give the job seeker a feeling quite the opposite of progress, purpose or productivity.   Learning new things, even disparate things is progress in this situation.  Just not necessarily linear progress rather being one facet of the purpose to gain new employment.

 

Similarly, there are days at work when progress might not be achievable, but purposeful acts can still be completed.  Phone calls returned, plans started for later and so on.

 

What phrases help you to prevent busy work?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Be an Emulsifying Agent

I was just baking cookies, can you tell?  In cooking, or chemistry (which is the same basic idea, but you do not want to eat what you produce) an emulsifier is an ingredient that helps other ingredients become a cohesive new entity.  Like cookies from eggs, flour, sugar and other ingredients – like chocolate (the best one).  Without the emulsifying ingredient you wind up with a bowlful of wasted stuff that refuses to combine properties and become something new.

DSC03383

I wrote a bit differently about this early on, The Right Ingredients.  Also prompted by baking cookies.  Inspiration can come from any direction at any time and be applied in unusual ways.  But I digress.

 

This same principle can be applied to teams, groups, or pairings in the office.  Sometimes a team doesn’t seem to coalesce because no one is acting like the emulsifying agent, each person is too determined to retain their own distinct properties.  Yes, yes we all must make sure that we are known – personally branded in today’s parlance – but what if being known as stand-alone also means getting a rep for standing in the way of team success?

 

It is quite possible to be known as a highly capable individual and also as a collaborator, or team player (bzz-bzz goes the buzz word bee).  These are not mutually exclusive traits.  Your skills and experience combined with the skills and experience of others on the team could lead to awesomeness.  But you can’t act like oil to their water.

 

Reach out, share, exchange ideas.  Offer a little something of your skill or experience and let the mixing begin.  I’m going to go have a cookie or two.

 

How about sharing a little something here?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Promises, Promises – The Follow Up Trap

More than once I have called someone back to complete a request and had the person on the other end of the line express astonishment that I called back.  Gratifying for me, but disturbing too.  If the opportunity to gain kudos is just this easy, why aren’t more people doing this simple thing, follow up?  Oh my, in the interest of complete disclosure I must also admit that I have been the person who hasn’t followed through on something too.  Though I constantly work on myself to keep this to a bare minimum.

 

The excuses (er, reasons) we don’t follow up:

  • Forgetfulness, plain and simple – completely gone from the memory banks, or just a wisp of a thought that ‘I told X that I would do something, I think…’
  • Fear – So-and-so didn’t really mean that I could call to make an appointment to (learn / discuss / ask…) about Y
  • Didn’t really ever mean to – be honest, the offer to do something, be somewhere or whatever was made in the moment with no intention of completion

And so very many more that you would stop reading if I tried to list them, and really there isn’t any point.  But if I’ve gotten you to consider some of your own reasons why you get trapped, then I’m glad.

public domain crab trap

public domain crab trap

 

The maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions came about and has lasting power for good reason.  (Except for the last point above.)  We become so disappointed with others when they let us down, but can we look in the mirror and hold our own gaze steadily on this topic?  Probably not, for we know (thanks to another maxim) that to err is human.

 

But we can also decide to do better each time we have a ‘next time’.  We can understand our triggers for forgetfulness – if you ever ask me about something that requires follow up in a space where I cannot or do not write it down, then beware that this is one of my follow up downfalls.  I have learned to ask you to help me to remember with an email or some other prompt.  (Particularly if you have a smartphone because I do not – archaic, I know.)

 

We can disable the fear with the thought – another maxim, our ancestors know us so well – that nothing ventured is nothing gained therefore we shouldn’t decide for the other person whether they meant it or not and go ahead and make the request.  Politely follow up once or twice, and then forward this post on follow up to them…

 

Sometimes all it takes to be successful is just this little thing called follow up.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Separating Out Thought Strands for Clarity

It would be such a relief to come to a resolution or to gain some understanding in one or perhaps several nagging corners of our lives, wouldn’t it?  Clarity on the issue and ‘what would happen if I do x versus y’.  But this relief will only come with the unsnarling of the various complications that are revealed when we track the particular strand of thought.

 

Imagine if we could actually isolate a thought strand and follow it through it’s whole length, teasing it straight and clear of the spots where it intersects with other strands so that we could really examine it without having to consider anything else.  ‘But if’, ‘what about’, and all other contingencies could be swept aside, to be slowly added back in later; after your head is clear on the main issue.

 

thinkingHow many times have you thought that you had a solution to something, went to tell someone and been stopped cold by, ‘did you consider…’?  I came at this issue in a different way earlier this year; We Want Linear, We get Billy from the Family Circus.  We crave simplicity, but we are complex and we have created a complex world.  There is nothing for it, but to roll up our sleeves, find a relatively quiet spot and carefully think through one problem at a time.  One step at a time.

 

Messy, inconvenient, tedious – I know.  It would be so much easier if someone would just come up with a formula for each of our more common difficulties (like a vlookup for getting along with coworkers) where we just plug in our particulars in the right part of the formula and voila – instant solution.  But wait, remember that we like to be treated as individuals and not just a number?  Snap, now we have to decide – formula or individuality?

 

Individuality usually wins out because the thing about those formulas is that they have snarls of their own.  Daggone it.  Maybe someone is working on a real pensieve, the thing Dumbledore used in the Harry Potter books…

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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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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Praise in Public, Chastise in Private

public domain, Wikipedia

public domain, Wikipedia

A good little bee is buzzing happily all about, spreading the word that employee engagement is a fine thing for a company, any company, all companies.  Go little bee, go – spread your engagement pollen and make them believe it, stay real and not all buzz speak on us.

 

A friend sent me a link which prompted this post.  Oh dear, the little bee isn’t happy at all about this – Public Firing.  It isn’t entirely clear from this snippet, but this is taken from a meeting where changes are being discussed and it is meant to help employees understand both culture and expectations in this company going forward.  I can only imagine what the intent was regarding senior management when they planned this meeting, but the unintended consequences of this are going to be huge.

 

We’ll just leave this sound snippet and its repercussions behind.

 

Both of my parents spent time in offices at various stages of their working lives and I learned this from them.  It is an ethic that was clearly important to them, and is not something that I ever questioned, even during my questioning teen years.

 

A workplace is a community of people.  People with varying levels and types of experience, differing types of knowledge and personalities.  There is a constant flow of intended and unintended activity – things go right and things can go wrong.  (Frankly, with so many variables it is interesting to me that things go right much more often than they go wrong.)

 

How a company, and any leader within that company handles the things that go really right and anything that goes wrong speaks volumes.  I think my parents got it right when they followed the praise in public and chastise in private principle.  The little employee engagement bee agrees.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Confidence and Surety are not Necessarily a Package Deal

Being sure, having certainty – we seek this state.  Knowing where we are, what is expected, where we are going is comfort.  We are confident when all these conditions are met.  But it is hard for these conditions to be met because the world is confusing and complex, so we rarely feel confident.

 

What if we thought about it all differently?  Years ago I participated in a seminar at work that helped me to frame the thinking that I am sharing today.  I don’t recall the title, or the objective, but the most important part was an acronym – SOS – standing for System, Others and Self.  We have little or no control or influence over the systems in our world (more with closer and smaller systems, less with broader or farther systems).  We have some influence, but no control over the other people in our lives.  That leaves us with control over ourselves and decisions to make about what will have influence in our lives.

Taking a confident pose, like Superman, can bring on the feeling.

Taking a confident pose, like Superman, can bring on the feeling.

 

We feel uncertainty with so little control, rightly so.  But that doesn’t have to mean a lack of confidence because we have control over the most important part – ourselves.  (I will say that experience really helps with this lesson as well.)  If we focus our energy where we have the control, we will gain in confidence.

 

We have skills, and can build on them toward some wanted or needed thing.  What we cannot do for ourselves, we can seek out someone who can and create a team; sharing abilities for greater strength.  This will build confidence.  Which can then lead us to grow in our skills.  Which can increase our confidence.

 

The uncertainty from our surroundings, system and others, hasn’t changed but our view of it has done so.  It takes some practice, I’ll admit.  And there are days when the uncertainty will have more power than any confidence that you can muster.  But you can be confident that you can find a way to build it up again.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Puttering: Anti-Stress Random Acts of Little Consequence?

When you have unstructured time, do you find yourself thinking about your long to-do list but just doing something mindless instead?  Your mind has taken over because it needs unstructured time and since we are always behind we don’t ever give it this luxury.

5.29.13 front circle from N

I disagree just a bit with the dictionary on the definition of puttering, or maybe it is a matter of semantics on the use of ineffective and unproductive in the description.  Puttering can be aimless and random, leisurely and casual – but can be highly consequential.  We don’t do enough of it in my opinion and seem to swing from overly-booked to entirely mindless as a result.

 

My dad had sets of old once-white t-shirts and worn jeans (or shorts in the summer) that came out on the weekends when the suits were set aside.  These clothes signaled a day spent puttering; he would be found in the backyard, his workshop, the garage, or the shed if not taking a trip to the hardware store.  Now some of the work, like mowing the lawn was planned and therefore not puttering, but most of what he did falls in the puttering category.

 

Meanwhile mom could be found doing her own version of puttering in the house, stationed in the corner of the sofa with a stack of reading material, a cup of coffee and a notebook and pen.  Mom’s puttering was about culling information and repurposing it for her needs; exploring ideas that might come back out years later as part of a project.

 

I started to think of all of this while doing the dishes (yes, I do them by hand – mindless puttering gives me time to ruminate) and wishing that someone who likes to fix little things around the house would adopt my house as a cause and come putter here once a month or so.  Puttering about the house sorting, straightening, culling keeps me from having to plan a big chunk of time to keep things in order.  Puttering in the garden idly plucking weeds out of the mulch (love mulch, gardening is enjoyable with mulch) keeps me from having to spend hours weeding.

 

So puttering is ineffective?  I don’t think so.  When my brain is tired, I can still sit with a pad and pen and jot down the stuff I will do later when I have energy, as it wanders into my head – aimless, but effective.  What do you think?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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What is My Intent?

It must be about a decade now since I gave myself the mantra, maybe tenet is better, in the title.  It has been highly useful and I have shared both the tenet and my thoughts behind it with many along the way.  The question, posed to myself, helps to formulate my communication methods in a way that should diffuse any P.C. traps.

 

Most of us live and work in communities that are no longer composed largely of like-background and like-thinking individuals, hence the birth of political correctness.  Because when there are too many sensitivities, and they are often in conflict with each other and potential objectives, they can easily get trampled on the way to something else.  And the idea of political correctness is honorable, meaning to offer equal respect for the make-up of all the individuals in any particular group at any particular time.  But, whew, P.C. can act as a wall which prevents that group or community from ever actually resolving the real issue.  (Talks between countries that never happen because the preliminary how-the-meeting-will-go-down discussions break down over the shape and size of the table and the placement of the attendees.)

public domain drawing

public domain drawing

 

Back to my question.  If we each look into ourselves and determine the answer to our intent – resolve an issue, say how best to configure new office space – then we can better craft our method of resolution, down to approach, consideration of any objections or risks and how we will address them before we even gather.  Deciding that our intent is to work together to create a pleasant and productive office space, thinking about what we know about potential pit falls and how we can handle them reasonably would go a long way toward mutual benefit – a place that doesn’t need P.C. to be effective.

 

Now this question works best when all involved are asking the same question of themselves, but it is still effective when used by one individual, me.  Because I also turn the question and ask myself what the intent of the other individuals might be, how it might differ from mine, how it might affect the encounter or project.  Then I can be prepared with persuasions to keep things on track toward plan, and away from anything that could lead to non-P.C. territory.

 

I won’t claim that this is easy, or that I am always successful; but I have gotten a lot of mileage from this one simple question.  I invite you to try it out.  Let me know how it works.

 

(This post is written in response to Daily Prompt: P.C.)

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Mistake – Not an End, but a Start

I am giving myself an unintended and untimely lesson in something that I used to frequently tell my team.  We tend to think of a mistake as and end step in a process, and a failed one at that.  But we are human and therefore flawed.  We are not machines so we must take into consideration mental state and other factors like how much is going on and whether standard routine is being followed or broken.  Hence, my philosophy – born of my ongoing effort to be a reformed perfectionist – that a mistake isn’t something to harp on, but a starting point for a new chance, more learning, etc.

Right now, I am busy correcting the mistake which was born from my absentmindedness and assisted by activities outside my normal routine.  And I am refocusing recriminating thoughts on my philosophy for the team.  If I believed it to be true for them, and I absolutely did regardless of the size or nature of the mistake, then it must be true for me as well.  I will not beat myself up (I continually remind myself), but I have talked about this in conversations to see what sort of response that I get.

It is very interesting to see how people respond to the mistakes of others, and telling.  The tendency to look down on the mistakes of others is common, and strong.  We feel a need to constantly distinguish ourselves and this is one standard method – ‘I would never do that’.  Women are much more likely to focus on diffusing the self-flagellation, whether the mistake maker is male or female – but particularly if the mistake maker is a friend.

If we are going to be teased or made an example, no wonder the urge to hide a mistake is so strong.  Even though we know, logically that the mistake could grow if not attended.  That repercussions can grow if the mistake is discovered by someone else.  Somehow the draw of avoidance is more powerful than any other and taking ownership along with steps to correct is really, really hard.

lined up to start the race, Vanderbilt, public domain

lined up to start the race, Vanderbilt, public domain

But if we see the mistake as a start, then it is easier to think how to fix it and then consider what we can learn from it for next time.

 

 

 

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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