Organization and Volume of Activity

As I’ve shared before, a useful way to generate leverage is to invest energy in activities that produce disproportionate return on investment. A reliable way to do that is to find causes and effects with exponential relationships.

One such cause and effect relationship is the effect of your level of organization when you are dealing with a high volume of activity and potential priorities.


The overhead of staying very organized isn’t worth it if you don’t have much to do. But, as your “to prioritize” queue gets longer, the overhead of organization pays itself forward many times over.

The lesson: Invest in developing a system for organization that works for us. The more we have on your plate, the more we’re going to be grateful for it.

PS: For those wanting to understand this further, the Operations theory behind this is fascinating. Waiting time in a queue = mean service time x utilization x variability. So, as your resource utilization/available time decreases, any variability in activity results in big delays in your ability to get to items later in the queue. When you are organized, however, you are able to get more done in less time => your utilization decreases => the queue wait time decreases exponentially.

Backing your car into your driveway

When you back your car into the driveway at the end of the day, you make a small investment to make tomorrow better. By sacrificing the ability to ease in to your driveway this evening, you allow your future self tomorrow to just drive out and keep that morning momentum.

One such investment we can make at work today is to make sure we finish Friday by putting down our top 3 priorities for the next week. As a bonus, we can also look  ahead at our calendar next week and block out time to work on the top priority items.

It is a small investment today that will enable us to hit the ground running on Monday morning.

Our future selves will thank us for it.

People leverage and System leverage

Leverage means using something to maximum advantage outside of the financial world. It is often used to describe human capital. For example, new hires in a company ideally provide leverage to their managers. And, supporting functions provide leverage to their sales teams.

I find two kinds of leverage in organizations – people leverage and system leverage. The underlying concept is similar. Leverage provides for a stronger support system for execution. However, while people leverage focuses on people to provide the support system, system leverage relies on processes and systems.

Imagine you are the one woman customer service center specialist. Your company is growing quickly and you decide to hire someone. The guy you just hired provides you immediate leverage. He takes all the basic stuff off your plate and allows you to focus on more strategic stuff. Soon, you could expand this to a team of three. This is a classic example of people leverage.

However, let’s assume your first hire does a little more than you asked him to do and creates a really good FAQ resource for your customers. All of a sudden, you may not need to hire three people. That resource has helped provide system leverage. It allows you to operate at a higher level without adding people to the organization to solve the problem.

There are a couple of important takeaways once we understand this difference. First, most organizations intuitively understand people leverage. However, there aren’t enough that get system leverage. The best organizations and teams have fantastic processes and systems that enable their people to perform at a high level. This is often what makes large corporations tick. There are many large corporations whose human capital potential are definitely not being utilized. However, thanks to the strength of their systems, they still deliver impressive results. Of course, the truly great corporations have both.

Second, when you and I are hired to a new job, we provide automatic human leverage. We might even provide our manager the leverage created by two hires if we were very good. However, there is no better multiplier than when we build systems. Looking for inefficiencies in how we operate and solving them by putting systems, tools and processes in place is among the highest impact things we will do.

IQ versus DOT

Growing up, we’re often told implicitly that raw intelligence/IQ or intelligence quotient is a big deal. There are, however, two things we aren’t told.

First, after a point, IQ actually doesn’t matter all that much. Some of the greatest scientists of all times didn’t possess high IQs.

Second, in a battle between raw intelligence and a combination of discipline, organization and thoughtfulness (let’s call them DOT), DOT nearly always wins. And, this is in every measure – from building a successful career to, perhaps the most important, having a good life.

And, the best part? IQ is something we are born with. Discipline, organization and thoughtfulness, on the other hand, are traits we build – much like building our biceps.

And, as far as muscles go, they don’t get more powerful than those.

Organization and creativity

I’ve regularly conversed with people who’ve somehow been led to believe that organization stifles creativity. They feel that being planned and organized means you never get to enjoy the moment.

The opposite is true.

When you are planned and organized, you can actually take time off on a whim and let welcome interruptions get in the way because you know you have the situation under control. So, interruptions don’t stress you out because you have time to make it up. And, welcome interruptions (e.g. a close friend drops in to talk to you about something important) actually remain welcome.

That’s not to say you’ll avoid stress. I’d even argue a little bit of stress and pain is good. But, organization helps you avoid panic – the biggest enemy of productivity – and actually manages to free your mind.

And, it should come as no surprise that it takes a free mind to make interesting associations, i.e., to be creative.

The double whammy principle

Let’s imagine 2 situations –
– You have an important interview tomorrow and are trying to get through as much of the preparation as possible
– You are going through an incredibly busy time and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do the things you want to do

In both situations, you could justify an impulse to stop doing one or more of the following “basic” things – sleeping, eating healthy, or taking time to stay organized.

This is where the double whammy principle comes in – The return-on-investment of the “basic” things in our life goes up exponentially in times when doing them feels against the flow. Essentially, not doing them will feel like a double whammy.

So, even if you did pull that all-nighter for your interview and went a bit more prepared, your lack of sleep will ensure you don’t perform to the best of your ability. And, if you did compromise on taking the time to organize yourself before or during a crazy day, there is a very high probability you will lose a lot more time due to the disorganization and lack of planning.

So, what does that mean for you? Very simply, avoid the double whammy. The busier you feel, the more important it is to carve out time for the basic things in your life. In tough times, the time taken to sleep, eat healthy, to reflect and to stay organized will pay themselves forward many times over.

The first step to surgical precision

The first step to surgical precision is a plan. The plan might change depending on what the surgeon sees when he operates. But, he’s going to have a defined plan nevertheless.

It is like a general going to war. As they say, no battle plans survive first contact with the enemy. That doesn’t mean great generals didn’t make them. They just adapted their plans depending on the situation.

I just read a nice quote that said –

‘Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be fat, lazy, broke, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan. ‘| Larry Winger

Having a plan doesn’t guarantee that it’ll all work out. But, not having one really messes your chances.

So, improve your chances. Start with a plan. When things change, adapt your plan. Get everything that is in your control sorted – that’s how we get to surgical precision. So, take a few seconds today and.. plan. There is power in just being intentional.

(And, yes, “plan” was intentionally repeated. :-))

Disorganized and Organized

The first time my wife (then-girlfriend) walked into my room in university, there wasn’t place for her to sit. I had a huge pile of laundered and unfolded clothes on the bed. When it was time to go to bed, I would move the pile onto my desk and go to sleep. I don’t really remember if she said much but the look on her face said it all.

A lot has changed since then. My rooms have become much neater (not neat enough is what she would say though :-)). But, the biggest change has been in the way I manage my work. I have become close to brutally organized over time and I believe that has greatly helped me get more done in a day. Choosing organization over disorganization has been a deliberate, learned, and logical choice.

Here’s why – day-to-day living is tough. It will take every ounce of energy and stamina you give it and still ask for more. And, if you make it a habit to constantly associate yourself with circles where people are better than you, you will soon notice that intelligence or aptitude are hardly ever going to make a difference. There are some folks who can get away based on pure smarts. But, they are few and far between. A larger percentage thinks they can but find it hard to pull it off. No, the successful folk I’ve met are those who marry smarts and aptitude for what they do with thoughtful strategy and tactics to approach life, relentless focus, high self-discipline and a seemingly never-ending reservoir of grit and persistence for things that matter.

And, all of this would be null and void if you didn’t have your proverbial “sh*t” together.

Someday, I hope I’ll be as organized in my personal life as I am in my professional life. I keep misplacing things all the time because I don’t keep things in their designated places – that results in much more wasted time and unnecessary stress than I’d like. But, I’m beginning to get the idea and I’m beginning to understand the sort of systems that will help. It’s a start. Being organized is a way of life, a way of living well.

And, if something is worth doing, I guess it is worth doing well…

A bit of organization.. (featuring a clothes storage hack)

can go a long way. I’ve experienced this twice over the past two weeks.

My secondary school was attempting to reach out to all its alumni for a silver jubilee presentation. Their efforts were not going anywhere and they had an email out to a few of the alumni whose email addresses were on their books. When I met with the Principal, my first thought was to create a Google Form for alumni to enter their data. This way, the school would find all the information it needed in one place. The next problem was to reach out to as many alumni as possible. My thought was to email a whole bunch of them and have these emails forwarded. But, a friend had a smarter idea – start a Facebook group. Within 3 weeks, the Facebook group has gathered 761 alumni – that’s about 70 per cent of the total number – and alumni sign ups on the Google form. The next problem was picture upload and that was solved by sharing a public Google Drive link.

All of a sudden, the fuzzy task of reaching out to as many alumni as possible and gathering alumni information was changed to 3 concrete steps –
1. Get alumni on the Facebook group
2. Ensure alumni of Facebook group fill up the form and upload their photo
3. Stay in touch with the alumni and ensure future participation for various programs (hey, that’s a bonus!)

In the second case, we’ve just moved continents and are in the process of getting settled. I had to stack clothes within a bunch of drawers. I began doing the conventional fold + stack when my wife suggested I do it differently. Her method involved folding them as usual, rolling them (this helps avoid creases as well), and then placing them one after another. This looks like this –

photo 1 photo 2 This has so many advantages – you know exactly what you have available and you can even create a system which ensures you wear all the options before repeating one (of course, Steve Jobs wouldn’t appreciate that as much). In both cases, all it took was a bit of thinking and organization. And, in both cases, it went a long way..