On different types of focus

Let us imagine I’m making a PowerPoint presentation for my boss. I have been sitting on it for a while and have to get moving!
So, I begin – work a bit on the 1st slide. Then, spell check alerts me that there is a typo and I start fixing the typo. Then, I realize that I don’t quite like the slide layout. And before I know it, I’ve spent 1 hour trying to beautify 1 slide.

Stever Robbins suggests breaking down every task into the various types of focus. For example, a better way to have done this task would have been to focus on –

a) Ideas: Here I should have put in all my thoughts on the presentation into a few slides – never mind the look or the formatting. In fact, I should even turn spell check off as the goal is to generate ideas.
b) Editing: This phase would have been checking the various sentences grammatically, improving the English and the flow.
c) Formatting: This would have had to do with the design of the slide.

The reason for this split is that our brain is best at work when focusing on ONE task and one task alone. Despite the ‘Make a PowerPoint presentation’ being just 1 task in our heads, it actually involves 3 kinds of focus!

For this week, let’s remember to ask ourselves if we are breaking tasks down to kinds of focus and watch our productivity zoom. :)

Source: 9 steps to work less and do more by Stever Robbins

Signatures, autographs and The Bournvita Quiz Contest..

I remember watching ‘The Bournvita Quiz Contest‘ a lot as a kid. It was an Indian quiz show hosted by a charismatic quiz master. It was tradition in this show to have celebrity guests come for a round or so in the more important episodes. And this celebrity guest would ALWAYS autograph a huge flip chart with a small message at the end of the show.

This was my favorite part. I used to gaze in awe at the (often) stylish signatures of famous personalities along with short messages like ‘All the best’.

So, of late, along with my morning mojo (more about that here), I have begun writing a commitment to myself that I sign. And every morning, when I sign that commitment (eg: Today, I will be….’), I feel a surge of energy and I’m fondly reminded of the celebrity signing an autograph with a flourish.

Today, for instance, I signed thrice. It solidified my commitment to myself for the day and felt really good. My signature is not any different than it was 10 years ago, but it’s never felt so good!

When was the last time you signed with a flourish and felt good?

(And no, rushed signatures at banks, restaurants etc does NOT count! :D)

What if royal was the new average?

What is world class service?

I’ve been struggling with this over the past few months. Having lived a ‘cheap‘ student life (where the primary criteria for choosing one service over another is typically cost), it’s been a different transition to work life where you have significantly more spending power.

The incident that got me thinking was when I was upgraded to Business class (because I asked) and was treated like I was royalty. And I just asked myself as to what made the experience special – and the answer was simple -> the people were nicer!

So, in short, we pay huge amounts of money to just ensure we are treated nicely by people, to just ensure that we are greeted and treated politely. And that basically means there are 4 service levels –

1) Crap service (20% of the crowd): This is where you are treated like you are interrupting the person you pay and causing them unhappiness. I experienced this when staying at a budget resort in Indonesia.

2) Medium service (60% of the crowd): Where the nice-ities are kept to the requisite levels. The smiles feel brisk and artifical though..

3) Excellent service (15% of the crowd): This is when you feel really good about yourself and the place. Everybody has a smile, everybody wants to make sure you are happy and all in all, there is just a feel good atmosphere about the place.

4) Royal service (5% of the crowd): When you are made to feel like royalty i.e. every conceivable need is thought of and everybody seemingly goes out of the way to make sure you are happy.

Now, the sad thing is that we have gotten used to crap service (Think waiting for hours to get connected to a customer service rep, an employee not allowing you to do the bleeding obvious because it is ‘against policy’). And it amazes me that the average human interaction generally involves making other human beings feel like crap.

It just goes to show that there is HUGE room for us to differentiate ourselves in this world. If we think of ourselves being in the service industry (i.e. You Inc as a company and being of service to others), then it seems like we would already be in the top 20% if we just made sure we did the following –

1) Be nice to others. Say lot’s of ‘please‘, ‘thank you‘ and ‘sorry‘ when applicable.
2) Make others feel good about themselves. And teach through encouragement rather than criticism and embarrassment.
3) Go out of the way to make sure they have a shot at getting what they want. (The service analogy of this is – If you are at a hotel to get work done over a weekend, make sure you’re setting the right environment and being of help.)

It’s THAT easy and what’s more – 80% don’t do it! Let’s give it a shot!

‘Lonely and bored’ – Food for thought..

I’ve completed my 3rd working week here in Oman. And have been fortunate to have been put up at a very nice hotel. The folks at the hotel have been fantastic – of course, there have been the small blips from time to time but they’ve been loving and welcoming and I will have fond memories of the hotel.

However, it was my colleague who narrated a chat she had had with one of the hotel attendants as she was walking out of the fitness centre. Given many of us have been at the hotel for months, many of the employees at the hotel are good friends, and he was having an ‘off’ day. Over his conversation, she learnt that he could only go home for 1 month in a year and hence, was missing his wife and kids. Besides, being in Sohar (which is the middle of nowhere), there was nothing else to do. And he was dead bored at work – it was the SAME thing every single day after all.

This is not uncommon here in Oman. There are many thousands of Indians, Philipinos etc who try to earn enough to save for their kids but never end up meeting the very people they work and save money for. And hence, many of them end up lonely and feeling purposeless.

That was when Anne looked at me and said – ‘Being lonely and bored – that’s probably the worst kind of suffering, isn’t it?’

I nodded.

If you are fortunate enough to be reading this, the chances are that you are not lonely and bored – go out, celebrate, thank your parents and your luck for having been blessed with what you have.

Are we not blessed?

How ‘corporations’ came about..

Big multi national corporations are the order of the day. In fact, job ‘prestige‘ typically comes from working for a globally recognized behemoth – (Think Goldman Sachs, GE, Microsoft, IBM etc) – it’s interesting to think that this concept did not exist a few decades ago.

Of course, why would you need multi nationals if your business typically did not exist beyond your locale?

What’s interesting is that today’s CEO’s and corporate workers owe the Dutch and Britishers for this concept. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese led the race for the trade of spices, for discovery of new lands etc. The biggest issue then is the same as the biggest issue for a new venture now – Funding. The venture capitalists of those days were the royalty.

The Dutch and British changed this by taking advantage of a trend they noticed. They realized that one way of funding expeditions was to take small amounts of money from many instead of the traditional ‘big daddy funding‘ approach. So, it was not uncommon for a small businessman in those days to contribute a small amount to a new voyage in return for a share of the spices etc if the ship came back. The catch here is ‘IF‘ as the success rate was typically not too high (I’d estimate between 10-20%).

But, already, you can see the modern corporation and financial system evolving with the ship’s crew being the employees and the financial contributors being the key stakeholders. While the Dutch started the trend of forming a company (VOC – The Dutch East India Company), it was the Britishers who took this concept of investment to a whole new level.

Asking the ‘why‘ question often brings forth some very interesting insights, doesn’t it? :)