No one really cares about your process..

but you should.

Once you get into the habit and business of delivering results, all those touched by your work care largely about the results. Now, you’re going to go through a lot of pain during your lifetime delivering those results – bad decisions, touch choices, strain on personal relationships, and so on. You might find a few who care about what you are going through (a concerned and caring boss, perhaps), but largely, it’ll be up to you to keep delivering those results.

But, you should care about the process. You should focus on it and spend as much energy as it takes to get your approach right. You need to learn how to approach learning, work and life. No one will take the time to lay out the magic formula. You have books to read and people and people to contact along with the time and bandwidth to think of the right questions. A process or approach that works for you will probably only work for you. The onus is entirely on you to figure out what works and keep improving it over the course of your lifetime.

Here’s why – if you somehow made it to your deadline with a slipshod process, you probably got lucky. You can be sure it will show in your work 8 times out of the next 9. And, life is a long, practically infinite, game. So, you better use each opportunity to get good and refine your approach. Staying stagnant is equivalent to going backward.
Additionally, there will be times when results don’t go your way. And, in the long run, a good process always pays off.

In any given week/month, I’d estimate we spend 95% of our time focused on process and 5% on results. And, yet, we allow ourselves to be judged (even by ourselves) largely by our results. The process is really all there is. And if we don’t care, who will?

The five stages of productivity

Basic assumption – You have a goal or goals you are working towards. Productivity only exists when we work towards a goal.

Stage 1 – Developing a clear understanding of how much time you have available in a day: You only understand this by taking on too much and stretching yourself beyond capacity. This is finite and, yet, it is amazing how often we underestimate how much time we actually have on our hands. Hence, the adage – if you want to get something done, give it a busy person.

Stage 2 – Eliminating waste-age by banishing procrastination and hustling while you wait. Now that you understand how much time you have, it is critical to eliminate waste. With the ability to clear news and blog reading backlog, check email, and listen to audio books available on our phones, we really have no excuses with the “hustling while we wait” part. Banishing procrastination, on the other hand, is tougher (and potentially life long) battle and a worthy one at that. Mastery over procrastination takes you very far very quickly.

Stage 3 – Developing the ability to scope projects and to estimate how much of your capacity they will consume. This is the natural next step and is a skill that doesn’t come easily. While it is possible to move forward without having mastered this, it is essential to check back from time to time and make sure we’re getting this right.

Stage 4 – Focusing on what’s important by learning to say no. As Warren Buffet says, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”

Stage 5 – Developing the physical and mental stamina to work at high intensity for long periods of time. Once you’ve ensured you’re using all the time available to you by working on the right things, the last step is building the necessary physical and mental stamina to work at high intensity. This is the area where the masters blow the rest of their competition away.

While it is possible to achieve step 5 before you master step 3 and work on couple of steps concurrently, it is hard to achieve mastery without getting really good at the previous steps. If you don’t have a grasp of how to make use of your time or to scope projects right, you’re going to be spending most of the time fighting fires. This is a step-by-step process and we’re best served when we focus on achieving mastery at every step.

PS: Notice how technology barely comes into the picture here. Technology doesn’t make us productive. It is just a tool that we can use to improve our productivity. These steps require old fashioned grit, desire and focus.

Only dead fish go with the flow

This quote is one after my heart.

Have you seen Animal Planet documentaries on life under the ocean? If you have, you’ll see that life under the ocean never ever go with the flow of the water. Doing so is a sure sign of death. They all have their own agenda – to hide, to find lunch, to escape being lunch, or to mate.

The flow is a trick conjured up by that wily beast called the resistance. It’s a nice way to prevent us from being our best selves. It is an excuse to say that sleeping, lazing, and procrastination are part of “the flow.”

Have you ever organized a great vacation? Did it just happen or did you have to book the tickets? Did your hotel booking happen as a part of “the flow” or did you have to research it? Did you magically get transported everywhere or did you have to make an effort?

Do you know why the resistance hates intentions? Because declaring your intention needs to be followed by making an effort. And, making an effort means being open to the possibility that your efforts might fail. So, why not just say we’ll go with “the flow” and not make an effort? It’s convenient, easy, cowardly and pathetic.

We need your intentions. We need you to shout them off the rooftops and create a stir. We need your intentions, your effort, your heart and soul invested in building things and making the world better. Show us some of that initiative. Give us some of that energy. Share some of those ideas.

And, oh sure, take a break. But, decide you want a break and enjoy it. The world belongs to those who are intentional.

Chasing momentum

The resistance is a powerful beast. If procrastination is one of your weapons of choice, how can you not be all powerful?

3 months back, I decided it was time I banished procrastination. I was sick and tired of it and didn’t want anything to do with it. So, the task was to make banishing procrastination habitual. After the usual and expected difficulty, I think I am finally beginning to make progress. This is thanks to shifting my focus from banishing procrastination to chasing momentum.

Chasing momentum involves a single minded focus on building momentum. These are the steps I follow –

1. Get to the desk. Clean up the desk, if necessary.
2. Check for a prioritized list and start working on the big rocks.
3. If I’m unable to start on the top priority item, start working on the little rocks – small tasks that need to get done.
4. If I’m unable to get to the small rocks, start with the “sand” i.e. simple tasks like responding to email, catching up on my feeds.

I find myself working my way to step 4 more often than not. That’s where I start building momentum and, over time, I’ve found that momentum grabs hold of me. Suddenly, like it or not, it’s hard to stop. In the very rare instance when I don’t even feel like chipping away on a small task, I realize it’s time to take a break and not look at the list. As long as you’re not working 7 days a week, that shouldn’t happen all that often.

So, that’s all it takes – have a clear prioritized list of tasks at hand. Keep going down the list until you find a task that you just can’t not do. And, just start. Don’t worry about procrastination. Chase momentum instead.

The full decision making LearnoGraphic – The 200 words project

This is a re-post of sorts. I’m hopeful it falls under the category of “so good that I have to post it twice.” However, I understand that this does sound very self-flattering. I am sorry about that. After the sort of effort it took to make it (hat tip to our talented illustrator, EB, who deserved the lion share of the credit), I must admit I feel less guilty about sharing ‘it again again as a part of the 200 words project. :-)

As some of the regular readers might know, we call this a “LearnoGraphic” (you heard it here first!) as it is a summary of one of our favorite books.  This is inspired by “Decisive” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

At the LearnoGraphics project, we believe that our progress as a species occurs when we find, build and share great ideas. Books are a big source of learning and ideas and we’ve embarked on a mission to spread ideas from our favorite books. We are hoping to share one LearnoGraphic every quarter – it is an ambitious goal as these take a lot of work in synthesis and illustration. This quarter’s LearnoGraphic is on “Decision Making” and a few of these ideas will hopefully sound familiar from previous 200 words project notes. We will explore other ideas in depth too in the coming weeks.

<Please click the image to open – for some reason, I’m unable to display it in full size>

Decision Making Learnographic

Kanye West on the point of life

Rapper and entrepreneur Kanya West had a great quote recently – “The point of life is to get shit done and be happy.”

This is as succinct as they come and probably as good as they come as well. As Lifehacker points out, the two feed into each other in a cycle – the more you get done, the happier you are with life, and the more you want to keep doing things.

I had a similar thought the other day. I am technically on a “break” as I transition to student life but this break has been every bit as hectic as any other month of the year (sometimes more hectic!). There is a seemingly never ending task list of things to get done and it’s great. I don’t need more than a few weeks off every year. The rest of the time, it’s just wonderful to get shit done.

If you are one for warrior analogies – as a warrior, you live for the war. Day-to-day living is no 15 day battle but a lifelong war. There are times of respite but the challenges never stop because the war will go on – you’re either escaping it for a short while or preparing for the next surge. The to-be-done list never ends. Enjoy it.

Or, as Kanya might say – Get shit done. Be happy. Win.

What is the goal

If you are working hard (and I hope you are), we assume a large part of that is devoted to productive work.

Productive work is work that enables us to make progress towards a goal. Hence, many hours of watching YouTube video is considered unproductive when you have a report to be finished. A short video break might aid productivity but it still wouldn’t be productivity.

So, if productivity doesn’t exist without a goal, defining a goal becomes all important. What is the goal you normally work towards when you don’t have fires to fight? Is there even a goal?

It is hard to set goals in every aspect of our lives. We struggle with just exercise goals and expecting more than that is wishful thinking. However, we could easily make a case for the importance of productive work in the case of our personal relationships, a.k.a. quality time, and productive work in case of our hobbies. So, how do we go about doing that?

My suggestion would be to consider defining your personal “why.” My personal why, for example, is ‘to build active relationships with family and friends, learn, and have a positive impact on the world.’ Once I have this defined, it becomes very clear as to which activities move me towards this goal and which don’t. This “why” has been a work-in-progress for 2 years now (so get started now!) and I consider this a near-finished article. It makes for an excellent measuring stick.

Take time to define your why and your goals. Productivity doesn’t exist without goals. And, now that you are here and taking up some space, why not be productive? :-)

Hat tip to Messrs Eliyahu Goldratt for the insight

When you share constructive criticism…

…do it not to satisfy your own ego and insecurity, but do it because you care. It shows.

This could apply to everything we bring ourselves to – do it because you care. And that in turn means you have to make it a habit to avoid doing things because you “should.” Should is toxic. Do it because you care.

When you strip out what we did, our intent is all that remains. There are many ways to screw up the “what,” so let’s ensure the “why” is pure. In the long run, it always shows..

Everybody makes it

I met a kindergarten head yesterday who’s been teaching kids for 31 years. Consistent with her sunny disposition, she said “Everybody makes it, Rohan. Nearly every kid I know is successful in one way or another.”

I largely agreed with her. Everybody does make “it.” But, I said so then and will say so again – my only wish for education, and for us when we play the role of teachers, mentors, and friends, is that we will help those we come into contact realize that the “it” is entirely their definition.

Let’s take some time to define our “it.”