Stop Doing That!

Everyone knows about to-do lists.  Some of you use them effectively, and others not so much, and some hate them and refuse to use them.  Being a competitive person, and always wanting to feel accomplished, I have even from time to time on days when the list wasn’t getting shorter write down something I already did just so I could check it off.

Recently I was having a conversation with some other leaders about creating margin** in life.  One of the ways I’ve tried to do this (not much success of late…but I’m working on it) is through an idea a friend shared a while back on his blog:  a “stop doing” list.  See here:

What if this evening at home, or tomorrow with your colleagues, you sat down and created a five item stop doing list? A list of five to-dos, whether related to work, people or other commitments or activities, you decide to stop pursuing. A few items on the list may take you time to work through, but you can develop a plan. To keep the habit up, every occasion you’re confronted with a new consequential to-do, reevaluate your stop doing list. Consider what you would throw out to make room for the new. If you wouldn’t cut anything, don’t accept anything. It’s an easy way to maintain balance and avoid feeling perpetually overwhelmed.

Source: The importance of a stop doing list | It’s Worth Noting

When talking about the stop doing list I always talk about urgency vs. importance.  We tend to (because of human nature, I’d guess) focus on the things we perceive as most urgent (need to be done soonest) rather than what’s most important.  Things that are urgent, but not very important, may not need to be done at all, and the time you spend on urgent, but unimportant tasks, steals from spending time on important, but not urgent tasks.

Candidates for the stop doing list?  Two main categories:  1) something that someone else can d0 (often not quite as well as you) that can be delegated and 2) things that if they’re not done at all won’t matter all that much in the long haul.

One of the people in the conversation asked for examples of things I had put on my stop doing list in the past.  It was funny because it caught me kind of flat-footed and I didn’t have an answer for him right off.  I had to rack through my memory for things I’d taken off the list before.  Once I started listing a few I realized something important:  most of the things on your stop doing list are going to be things you like to do.  Things that, given lots of margin, you’d choose to do just because you want to.

Busy people have usually already stopped doing delegatable or unimportant tasks that they don’t like.  There’s incentive to stop doing things you hate, and so when you’re looking around for candidates for the list, there’s usually not much that you can stop doing that you desire to stop.  So the list, when done right, will be full of stuff that you can stop doing but wish you didn’t have to.  There are conferences and events that I love to attend that others go to instead of me now.  Because I have to cut something and those are valid candidates.  Do I miss attending those events?  Oh yes.  But less than I miss having even less margin in my life.

That’s what makes the stop doing list so hard:  you have to cut out things you like.  But if you’re going to focus on the most important things that only you can do, you have to find margin somewhere.  And you can only cut so much sleep.

So find those things in your life that you can stop, and do just that.  Stop doing that.  You’ll be thankful for it later, even while embracing the sadness of the loss.  Do the most important things, and the tasks that only you can do.  You’ll be better rested and your work will be better for it.

** I hope to write a whole post on margin at some point, but won’t get into it much here except to say you need it, and this (the stop doing list) is one way to get some.

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Writer Blocking

When I restarted blogging I thought it would be easy to step back into the habit of blogging regularly and posting 2-3 times per week. Obviously that didn’t happen.

The big part of the problem is that I didn’t go back through and update my 168 hours and plan time for writing and research. And so it was hard to “find time” to do it.

So this past Friday night while I was playing “soccer dad” and dropping children off at separate parties near the old ‘hood I stopped in at some of my old haunts and did some writing. I stopped by Blue and watched our local artist/activist on TV (see story here about her beautiful Mural) and grabbed a sandwich and then I was off to my favorite study haunt from when I was in school: Broken Tree Coffee.

It was nice.

I was able to focus for a while without interuptions.

And now I have some blog posts done. I needed to find a block of time where I would write and work through the topics and reading and whatnot so that my brain could get thoughts down into draft posts.

I was also able to look at the time budget for a little bit and try to figure out when I’ll be writing. I’m still working on that, of course, because my schedule is not as rigid as it had to be when I was in school.

Going back to old haunts where I was used to being creative can be really helpful. And taking time away from the normal routines to give my brain some margin to creat.

And that’s what’s needed to write. Blocking time out so my brain can create. And that’s what I’m going to try to do. And today, I’m optimistic it’ll happen.

November?!

I know it’s the fourth now…and you’d think that it would be old hat by now.

But November totally snuck up on me.  October flew by (I was out of the country for a big chunk of it…so there’s that) so quickly that when I got up Saturday and realized it was November 1st I was overwhelmed.

It’s kind of amazing how quickly a month can fly by…and that happens more and more as I get older.

32 days. Just a month.  That’s how much time until the capstone is due.  Not long after the month ends.  I’ve set as a goal to have it done by Thanksgiving weekend, giving me a week to refine and relax…but I am not sure I’ll make that happen.  Things keep popping up at work and at home that are making it hard for me to concentrate on this project.  I probably need to set a day or half day aside to just look at my data, the required outline, and make a plan for sections needing to be written and figured up so that I have a timeline that I can then ignore.  Or maybe this time the timeline will look so aggressive that the pressure will keep me on it.

Blogging may be sparse over the next month.  Or I may blog about non-school stuff just when I need to reboot my brain.  You’ll know as it happens.  I know I’m tired now and not sure if I’m fighting something off or what, but this is the final push.  One class, one assignment, one focus.  That’s it.  The last 15 months come down to this one.

Time for #conquercapstone.

Productive Conflict

Creative solutions and conflict can make everything better across an organization:

A major vehicle maker’s products were famously hard to repair—for example, the wiring was arranged in a way that the engine had to be removed to replace the headlights. Costs skyrocketed. The remedy: The company forced the engineers to work in the service department where they had to confront angry technicians and angry customers, and understand the consequences of their engineering decisions.

Cooperation matters because it is a necessary condition for effective teamwork and it matters more as the business environment becomes more complex. There are ever-increasing competitive pressures, regulatory requirements, and customers and other stakeholders with increasing numbers of demands. Too often, organizations respond to this complexity by getting complicated rather than by creating the conditions for cooperation. They add management layers, dedicated functions, processes and “best practices”—all in an attempt to control their people but which have the effect of deterring cooperation and making the organization clumsy and slow to respond.

via The surprising secret of happier, more productive organizations: conflict – Quartz.

If you’re in leadership in a firm, consider what you can do to shake people out of their comfort zone and to promote constructive conflict during meetings.  People need to mix it up a little to make better decisions and keep on track.

Make Meetings Matter

At a friend’s recommendation I came across this article with some helpful, practical tips on how meetings can be improved:

if run correctly, meetings are anything but pointless brain-killing, time-sucking gatherings. In fact, they can actually increase productivity and communication despite the time they take.

via 4 Secrets to Super-Productive Meetings | EntreLeadership.

Meetings can be the most exciting part of your day or the most draining.  If you’re really interested in making meetings matter more (sorry about all the Ms) try Patrick Lencioni’s Death By Meeting.

Collect Your Thoughts, First (How to Start Your Day)

I read a really good post, drawing on restaurants, in HBR about thinking about where you begin your day.  Here’s a snippet:

“Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks,” Bourdain wrote in his runaway bestseller Kitchen Confidential. “As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system… The universe is in order when your station is set…”Chefs like Anthony Bourdain have long appreciated that when it comes to exceptional cooking, the single most important ingredient of any dish is planning. It’s the “Meez” that forces Bourdain to think ahead, that saves him from having to distractedly search for items midway through, and that allows him to channel his full attention to the dish before him.Most of us do not work in kitchens. We do not interact with ingredients that need to be collected, prepped, or measured. And yet the value of applying a similar approach and deliberately taking time out to plan before we begin is arguably greater.

via How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day – Ron Friedman – Harvard Business Review.

The article is well worth your time.  Don’t start your day on Facebook and Twitter, or even looking at email.  Glance at your calendar and plan out what you need and line your ducks up so that when you’re in the middle of the day you don’t run out of steam, pens, paper, disk space, or especially mental bandwidth.

Can’t. Turn. Off.

When I was a youngster I read Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I’d seen the movie or part of it, or something. I can’t remember what caused me to pick it up at the library, but I read it. It was probably the longest novel I’d read at the time.

Benchley at a point early in the book actually describes the thinking pattern of the shark. Always moving. Never sleeping. Constantly swimming somewhere.

I thought of that section of the book yesterday when I went away from my office and all of my electronic devices for two hours of nothing for my Critical Thinking class. Here’s a snippet from my “reflection paper” that I’ll be turning in:

During the two hours we were given at the end of class I slept. I had pulled an all-nighter to finish a project for a different class and I knew I would fall asleep if I sat down with nothing to do, so I scheduled my two hours for later.

On Monday I left the office two hours early to spend some time doing nothing. I spent a little time driving, phone off, and then parked at the top of the bluff on Grandview Drive for another hour before doing some more driving.

I realized right off that I’m not very good at doing nothing. I wasn’t sure what the rules were, which didn’t help. I pulled out a notebook and wrote, “I’m supposed to do nothing for 2 hours.”

Nothing.

Really?

No computer. No textbooks. No phone. No work. No music.

Nothing.

It felt like torture at the beginning. I wrote down all the prime numbers between 1 and 113. I drew a picture (or something resembling a picture) of the curves I could see in the river. I turned over thoughts of relationships at home and at work.

I wrote down some phrases I had been thinking and drew doodles while I pondered life, staring at the trees and the river and the big houses and wondering what should be coming to me. And I wished I had my book for the next class or my phone so I could get something productive done.

And that was the first seventeen minutes.

I have trouble relaxing and not doing anything at all. It may be a function of the phase of life I’m in as much as anything, but right now my task list is so long and there’s so much I’m just not doing (some of it on purpose) that trying to do nothing for two consecutive hours felt nearly tortuous.

I think I’m going to try it again sometime. I’ll do it differently, but not sure exactly how. Open to any suggestions in the comments!