Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Jugaad Thinking – Do More With Less

 23rd October 2018 by gihan

From the time Scottish professor William Cullen designed a small refrigerating machine in 1755, artificial refrigeration has transformed the way we store, transport, and preserve food. It has enabled settlement of areas that aren’t served by natural transport lanes, facilitated the dramatic shift from rural areas to cities, and changed the daily lifestyle of millions of families.

The modern refrigerator has one function – moving heat from one place to another – but requires different interconnecting parts: a condenser, compressor, evaporator, and expansion valve. There is no secret to how it works, but not everybody has access to all these parts.

This was the problem facing Manshuk Lal Prajapati, a middle-aged Gujarati from a small town in India. Prajapati was earning a living selling tea from a roadside stall, but always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and yearned to build a business building and selling household appliances.

His big problem was a lack of resources. When he set out to build a refrigerator, he didn’t have the sophisticated components used in Western appliances, and anyway he knew he couldn’t include them and still build something affordable to ordinary Indian families.

But he turned that limitation into an asset, forcing himself to find a way to create a feasible commercial product using limited resources. He turned to his own experience in pottery (an interest passed down over generations), and that gave him the spark of an idea that eventually led to his first – and now most successful – product: a clay refrigerator.

Although it doesn’t use the same components as more sophisticated appliances, it performs the same basic function, and keeps vegetables fresh for four days and milk for two days. It’s only about the size of a large microwave oven, so it doesn’t take up much space in a crowded kitchen.

Most importantly, it’s affordable, and Prajapati’s company MittiCool has sold 9,000 units across India.

Here’s the Point

The Mitticool refrigerator is an example of what Indians call “Jugaad innovation”, from a Hindi word that loosely means doing something innovative with limited resources. We might call it a “hack”.

This kind of innovation is often seen as a temporary workaround or cobbled-together solution that isn’t perfect, but is “good enough” until we can fix it properly. Unfortunately, that often means it’s only seen in a negative way.

Sometimes less is more! A lack of resources forces you to focus on what really matters.

There’s a management movement called “lean” (popularised by the book “The Lean Startup”, by Eric Ries), and that’s a good way to think about resourcing your project. Skinny runners don’t have enough energy, and fast runners carry too much weight. The best runners are lean: They have the right balance between too little and too much.

It’s tempting to throw as many resources as possible into a new project, because that seems like the best way to gain momentum and ensure success. But that isn’t always the best approach.

Don’t under-resource the project to the extent that it’s impractical or demotivating. But don’t go too far in the other direction and pile on so many resources that people get complacent and lazy.

Even if you have the luxury of these additional resources, consider holding them back and working within tighter constraints. Find the right middle ground, where people have enough resources to get the job done, but not so many resources that they waste them in non-productive activities.

For example, in 2015, Stephan Aarstol, the founder and CEO of one of America’s fastest-growing companies, Tower Paddle Boards, challenged his entire company to switch to a five-hour workday. He didn’t reduce their pay; he simply asked them to achieve the same results in just over half the time. The results were outstanding, and what started as a temporary initiative (introduced over summer, so staff could enjoy the long summer days with their family) became standard in their workplace.

It might seem counterintuitive to impose restrictions and remove resources, but it works because people tend to use the resources available to them. When you have a big budget, you can spend it on feasibility studies, reports, consultants, and expensive tools. When you don’t, you’re forced to find more “jugaad” solutions.

Thinking Ahead

  • What projects are currently “top heavy” and could be trimmed to encourage jugaad innovation?
  • What project could you launch right now with a lean set of resources?
  • Which start-up companies in your industry are operating “lean and mean” – and what can you learn from them?

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Ask The World

 16th October 2018 by gihan

In our social, mobile, and highly-connected world, the best people to solve your problems could turn up in the most unexpected places. Don’t just turn to the people you already know. There’s a whole world that’s willing to help. Reach out to them, and you tap into endless talent, skills, and expertise.


Here are five key differences between established and disruptive organisations when it comes to finding resources:

Let’s look at these from the bottom up:

  • Own vs Share: The old model was to own as many resources as possible (in fact, these are the things that appear on your balance sheet as “assets”). In the new model, you share things rather than owning them, because that keeps you nimble and flexible.
  • Suppliers vs Freelancers: Instead of dealing only with a few “preferred” suppliers, disruptive organisations often use freelancers (also known as the gig economy or sharing economy) for specific skills in narrow areas of expertise.
  • Specialists vs Crowd: Established organisations value specialists who have earned their stripes in traditional ways (such as education and reputation). Disruptive organisations know they can find the right expertise everywhere, and reach out far and wide for it.
  • Partners vs Community: When creating even stronger relationships, established organisations find partners they can work closely with. Disruptive organisations do value partnerships, but are also willing to sacrifice the closeness of the relationship to get the diversity of a wider community.
  • Local vs Global: When established businesses want to create new relationships, their go-to approach is to reach out to their inner circles. Disruptive organisations recognise that the best new relationships might be at the edges of their existing networks.

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Making You Fit for the Future

 25th January 2018 by gihan

Virtual reality, social media, and global markets have changed the face of real estate, and real estate agents have to change to keep up. Be willing to look at what’s working for you and what’s not, and ruthlessly abandon what’s not working in place of something better.

Read the full article here

This is an extract from an article I published in Real Estate Hot Topics, the magazine from Real Estate Academy.

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The #1 Daily Habit That Makes You More Productive

 31st October 2017 by gihan

There’s a story (possibly apocryphal) about Charles Schwab, the head of Bethlehem Steel in the 1930s, seeking help to become more effective. Management consultant I. V. Lee gave him a simple piece of advice, with a request that Schwab try it and then pay him whatever he thought it was worth. Schwab was so impressed with his results that he sent Lee a cheque for $25,000 – a fortune in those days (and not too shabby even now).

Lee’s advice to Schwab was simple: Start each day by making a list of his top priorities, then work on #1 until it was complete, then work on #2, and so on.

Even if the story isn’t true, the principle is powerful. American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault does something similar, each night listing his top three priorities for the next day.

Productivity expert Neen James suggests you spend 15 minutes on this at the start of each day, writing your top three priorities on a Post-It note, which you carry around with you during the day . Whenever something else arises, look at your list and compare that with your priorities. With a few exceptions, most things aren’t as important, and you can say No gracefully.

This means you might spend less time on social media, decline invitations to less important meetings, write shorter reports or eliminate them altogether, stop “dropping in” unannounced on colleagues or team members, and so on.

Even if you need to be diverted from your top three priorities, you still keep them at the back of your mind, so you’ll be more efficient when doing everything else. There’s no time for fiddling with fonts and margins when more important things are waiting!

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Your Surprise Secret Weapon for Success: Work Your Week

 25th April 2017 by gihan

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking there’s never enough time to get things done – especially the most important things in your life. But the most successful people and teams do find the time. They do something that most other people don’t: They know how to work their week.

Block your time

Set aside blocks of time in your calendar to work on your goal. This could be a set time every day, fixed times during each week, or times that vary each week.

This applies to your team goals and individual goals as well, so encourage team members to block time in their calendars as well. Work together to choose times that suit everybody, and respect those times.

This means you no longer have permission to wander over and interrupt people whenever you feel like it. You wouldn’t interrupt them in a meeting, so give them the same respect when they are working on their goals. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If something is urgent, very important, or really needs their input, of course you might need to interrupt them. But make that the exception, not the rule.

Know your energy platform

Some people are early birds; others are night owls. Know what works best for you, and dedicate your best working time to your goals.

Be careful not to schedule important work when your energy is low – especially at the end of your day. Despite your best intentions, you probably won’t be as effective. Research has shown, for example, that hospital workers became more careless about hand hygiene near the end of their shift , and we might even be more inclined to make unethical decisions later in the day!

Another reason for doing the work early is to ensure it gets done. For example, when I was a member of the public speaking group Toastmasters, our club was full of busy professionals. Our meetings were early in the morning, which meant more people attended because they fit it into their day before everything else.

Work in sprints

If you set aside large blocks of uninterrupted time, it’s difficult to be completely productive during that time. In our world of constant interruptions and distractions, we find it hard to sit still – let alone work productively – for any decent amount of time.

Instead of fighting this, allow for it by working in “sprints”. You work intensively for a burst of time and then take a break. Then you work again for a burst and take another break. And so on.

This is the principle behind the Pomodoro Technique, which suggests bursts of 25 minutes followed by 5-minute breaks. It means you only get 50 productive minutes out of every hour, but those 5-minute breaks refresh you for the next burst.

This 25-5 split isn’t necessarily the best option for everybody. Other research suggests it’s better to work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break . You might find something else that works better for you (I find that 40-minute sprints with 8-minute breaks work best for me).

Encourage your team members to use this technique as well, and create a culture that promotes it (don’t let them interrupt others who are working, and don’t get stressed when you see them “goofing off” during their breaks). This not only helps their focus and attention; some research says employees feel more valued when their managers encourage them to take breaks .

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Channelling Chaos

 19th January 2017 by gihan

The old rules of goal setting, productivity and time management don’t work. Our goals become meaningless when the environment changes, it’s difficult to stay productive when we’re constantly interrupted, globally dispersed teams make in-person meetings impractical, and the 9-to-5 workday just doesn’t make sense anymore. Instead of trying to fight against this chaos, harness it to work for you.

You can watch the recording here:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“Reflecting on eliminating some of the info I am taking in was very helpful”

“Thinking differently about problems”

“Different approach to goal setting”

“Plan less, launch more!”

“Who to build up, who to let go; reminder of big, flexible goals; just participating is a valuable experience.”

“I need to take more action and ‘test’ things rather than perfect what I think people want and then take it to market. Also, I need to delegate and outsouce which means I need to trust and not control. Great systems and processes will enable that.”

“The flow concept and particularly the intersecting Venn diagram showing the brittle, vague and bland concepts”

“Ideas to think about when doing my annual planning”

“The 5 ways to get into flow to achieve goals and the sub-questions for distilling these are really useful and something I will not only use myself, but can share with my team.”

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Next Level Productivity – Five New Moves For Our Fast-Changing World

 12th January 2017 by gihan

When the Institute for the Future looked to identify the key skills for the future workplace, they knew those skills would not be technical, task-oriented skills – because those skills will become obsolete through automation and artificial intelligence. Instead, the most future-proof skills will be higher-order thinking skills.

One of their ten key skills is “cognitive load management”, which is a fancy name for time management (sort of!).

Cognitive load management is related to productivity, goal setting, stress management, work/life balance, and information overload. In our fast-changing world, it’s about managing large amounts of information, interruptions, and demands on our time and attention.

With so much information and so much change, how can we possibly expect to cope? Well, some people don’t! They get swamped, feel stressed, and struggle to just keep their head above water – let alone get ahead.

But others cope quite well – and not just survive, but thrive.

What makes the difference?

The key difference is that these people have mastered the skill of cognitive load management.

Our world has become more chaotic. In the past, you could manage the chaos by getting back control. But now you have to operate in the chaos, and channel it to your advantage.

This is not just a case of working faster, being more efficient, and blocking out all distractions. Those strategies used to work, but they don’t anymore. For most people, it’s no longer humanly possible to process all information, work fast enough, and tune out every distraction.

Instead of trying to do things faster, we need to do different things.

If you want to be better at cognitive load management, here are five things to change.

1. Energy, not Time

On a day-to-day basis, instead of trying to manage your time, think about how to manage your energy.

What are the things that give you energy? Do more of them.

What are the things that drain your energy? Find ways to reduce, eliminate, delegate or change them.

2. Filter, not Block

When we become overwhelmed with information overload, it’s tempting to call for a time-out and block everything. So you might have a technology-free day or work from home to try to catch up. The trouble with this is that information just piles up, so when you return there’s even more to process.

Instead of trying to block out this information, be more careful about what you let in. Do you really need to check Facebook regularly, read five news sources, subscribe to all those newsletters, or get cc’ed on every e-mail?

Filter carefully, choosing the things that move you towards your goal, and ruthlessly eliminating everything else.

3. Launch, not Plan

Planning is still important, but it’s much more important to test your plans in “the real world” as soon as possible. As boxer Mike Tyson said,

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Instead of creating a detailed plan for a project, plan just enough to launch the project, and then launch it.

4. Test, not Bounce

There’s a push towards building greater resilience and “bounce-backability”. I’m not against that entirely, but it puts the focus on setbacks, problems and obstacles.

That’s the wrong mindset.

Think like a scientist: Start with a hypothesis (a guess, if you like), and then do an experiment to test it. If the results don’t match the hypothesis, change the hypothesis and try again. It wasn’t a failure; it was just an experiment.

Yes, you should be persistent, determined, and gritty. But that’s not the same as constantly having to bounce back from a string of failures and setbacks.

5. Trust, not Control

Finally, when working with other people, build trust rather than trying to control them.

In the past, with clear hierarchies and responsibilities, you could use processes, procedures, checklists and other systems to control people. But that doesn’t work anymore. If you try, you will create so much extra work that the real work won’t get done. And worse, in our fast-changing world, these systems become obsolete fast anyway.

The solution is not more control but more trust. Work on your key relationships so you can operate them from trust rather than control. Build good judgement in your team members, set clear standards and expectations when dealing with suppliers, and involve customers and clients more in your business.

When you do this, you won’t need all the processes, checklists and other systems. The trust will set you free!

How can you use this in your professional life?

As we start a new year, commit to making these five changes in your work life. That’s how you channel chaos to get the most important things done!

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Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World

 4th January 2017 by gihan

My dietitian friend and client Julie Meek helps busy executives and leaders maintain their health, fitness and energy. This is an important issue for these leaders, because they often have chaotic, unpredictable lifestyles, so it’s difficult for them to get into a routine of regular meals, regular exercise, or regular down time.

So Julie doesn’t give them routines. Instead, she gives them rules – like this: “No drinking alcohol alone on a business trip” (for example, in flight, in the airline lounge, from the hotel mini-bar).

The beauty of this rule is that it’s not open to interpretation and doesn’t rely on the person making a judgement call. It’s simple to understand, simple to apply (I said simple, not easy!), and simple to measure.

It’s exactly the kind of rule authors Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt describe in their book Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World.

Simple rules are shortcuts to simplify the way we process information.

At first glance, they might sound hopelessly inadequate in our complex world. But the right rules applied correctly can cut through the complex clutter.

For example, Julie’s rule for her clients won’t magically fix everything in their diet. And it’s easy to circumvent the rule so it isn’t effective (for example, by increasing your alcohol intake at other times). But that’s not the point. The rule isn’t intended to solve every problem; it’s intended to address one common problem.

The authors say simple rules work for three reasons:

  1. They allow for flexibility, particularly in non-routine situations.
  2. They can match or even outperform more sophisticated decision models, especially in uncertain environments.
  3. They are easy to remember, so it’s more likely people will use them – and, as a result, they promote collective behaviour.

In the book, the authors not only explain why simple rules are effective, but also break them down into different types, help you create your own simple rules, and advise on how to make them work in a team.

Throughout the book, they tell many stories and case studies from a wide range of fields, including: How Tina Fey produced the hit comedy 30 Rock, how judges decide whether to grant bail, how the United States Federal Reserve Board fixes interest rates, and more.

It’s an easy read, and full of practical strategies that will help any leader who needs help dealing regularly with challenging decisions in a complex world.

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Think Project, Not Goal

 16th August 2016 by gihan

Think Project Not Goal

When the Institute of the Future identified ten key skills for the future workforce, one of the most important in the list is what they call “Cognitive Load Management”.

This is what we used to call time management, and has expanded over time to include concepts such as productivity, goal setting, stress management, work/life balance, and information overload.

Cognitive load management is the same basic concept, but emphasises the skills of managing large amounts of information, interruptions, and demands on our time and attention. It reflects the reality of our world now, where many traditional productivity techniques simply don’t work anymore. For example:

  • We used to set 12-month goals, but the world is changing so fast that they become obsolete.
  • You could shut yourself off for hours at a time to do uninterrupted work, but now we’re too easily distracted and interrupted (and need to be available).
  • You had all your team available during fixed office hours, but they now want more flexible working hours.
  • They were happy to put the organisation’s goals first (in exchange for fair pay), but now expect to achieve their own goals as well.

As a result, you need new strategies for productivity and performance.

Think projects, not goals.

One of the most important productivity skills for the future is to think in terms of projects rather than goals.

As I said, setting a “long-term” goal (and even 12 months is long now!) no longer works because the world changes so fast that the goal becomes obsolete.

So create projects instead.

A project is a small, clearly-defined job. Like a goal, it has an outcome, but it also has a plan attached to it. And it has a shorter timeframe.

Sending a man to the Moon was a goal. Each individual rocket on that journey was a project.

I like 90-day projects.

When working on your business, launch a project every 90 days.

The nice thing about a 90-day project is that you can plan it with a reasonable amount of confidence. It’s long enough to do something significant, but short enough that the world won’t change too much around you. There might be the occasional change that means you have to adjust your plan, but you probably won’t have to throw it out altogether.

An additional benefit of 90-day projects is that they make performance reviews more useful. The typical annual performance review has limited value, and everybody does it reluctantly. But if you do it every 90 days instead, it becomes practical, useful, and motivating.

Every 90 days, choose one project for yourself and one for your team as a whole (with their input). Then ask each team member to choose a project as well. It helps if that project is related to the team project, but that is not essential.

These individual projects are as important as the team project because they acknowledge what every individual (including you) brings to your workplace. As important as it is to work together as a team, it’s also important for individuals to thrive and flourish.

If you’re already an experienced project manager, you could now take the 90-day project and treat it like any other project – with milestones, tasks, resources, dependencies, and so on. However, this is probably too much detail for such a small project. A simpler approach is to break this down week by week. That gives you about a dozen small, manageable chunks.

You have about 12 weeks to complete the project, so break it down week by week. Plan out the 12 weeks, with a milestone at the end of each week. If you know the path you need to take, you might be able to do this easily. If not, make a rough plan anyway, knowing you can adjust it as things become clearer.

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The End of Busy

 10th May 2016 by gihan

productivity and time management now

Stop using “busy” as a badge of honour! You might think you’re Superman, Supermum, The World’s Greatest Consultant, or whatever else – but nobody else cares. You might be proudly displaying your Busyness Badge, but other people pity you for it.

Sure, there was a time when the more hours you worked, the more value you produced, but that was in the day of the assembly line.

And yes, there was a time when multi-tasking was considered a valuable skill, but the science clearly shows now that it’s a huge drain on productivity.

In the Ideas Age, the value you create is not in any way related to the number of hours you work.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard!

In fact, in our chaotic, attention-deficit, distraction-filled world, the skills of application, discipline, focus and commitment are more important now than ever before. But where does it say you have to be busy to do any of those things?

I’m also not saying you have to cruise through life all the time. Of course, there will be times when you choose bursts of high activity, but you do it because you’re focussed on achieving something important in the short term. That’s normal, and we can all go through these bursts – but it becomes unhealthy when “I’m busy” becomes your default reply to “How are you?”

Make your own rules.

The secret to the End of Busy is to create your own rules about priorities, activity, and interruptions. The world has become more distracting, and many people don’t realise it. So they are just reactive. Their in-box is full, Facebook is blinking on their phone every few minutes, and they send back-and-forth texts every hour. So they say they’re busy.

And they are! But it’s not a good thing. They just haven’t figured out their rules to get important things done.

I talked about this recently with journalist Andrea Burns in an article in The West Australian: Escaping the busyness trap.

In that article, Andrea also talks about outsourcing services that help reduce our busyness. They can be a big help, but make sure you fill up the time you save with important things – not just more busyness!

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