Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Catching Incoming Items: quote

A quote for the day:

Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas which one had no time to write down. — Hector Berlioz, composer (1803 – 1869)

Catching Incoming Items: Jott.com

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Remember the Star Trek series? How perfect to have a thought and be able to simply speak the command, “Computer, relay this message to the engine room.”

Meet Jott. Jott is a free (see below) voice-to-text service that converts your spoken messages to emails and text messages to deliver to your business partner, your spouse or your own task list. Dialing a toll-free number, the user gives voice commands to Jott, which then converts them to text and relays them to someone on the user’s list of contacts.

Josh Zerkel, professional organizer and owner of Custom Living Solutions, is one of many fans of Jott.

When caught without a pencil and paper, or without a hand free for writing, Jott is an ideal tool for capturing information. The voice-recognition capabilities of Jott are miles ahead of the tools available just a few years ago.

Good, but not perfect. My colleague in the St. Louis area, Janine Adams, tells of sending a message to her husband at his computer when she knew he’d be on the phone — great convenience. But faced with unfamiliar St. Louis street names spoken hastily in her message, Jott began to play cupid. Her amusing post may serve as all the caution one needs before signing up for Jott.

Update January 13, 2009: effective February 2, Jott will no longer offer a free service. Jott is a great productivity tool that helps me collect tasks that occur to me on the road and funnel them into my one task management system. Yet it does not add enough value for me to justify the (admittedly modest) $3.95 per month cost. My Moleskine card file does as well, or a voice mail to my business phone, if I can’t write but can phone. Those who used Jott to communicate with others, rather than just with themselves as I did, may find the cost worth the benefit. Will you still be jotting after 2/1/09?

Catching Incoming Items: Moleskine Memo File

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

I’ll begin today with one product perfectly designed for drive-bys: the Moleskine memo file. This product is a compact and elegant design to hold cards, documents and notes. The file size is easy to carry in a jacket, briefcase or handbag. Made of six cardboard and cloth pockets, it holds business cards, notes, and (my favorite) 3×5 inch cards. A built-in elastic band keeps it neatly closed. When someone in the hall asks you to send them the report you mentioned, just remove a blank 3×5 card you keep stashed in the wallet and hand it to them, asking them to please write down what it is that they’d like.

Elegant, professional, effective. What more?

Catching Incoming Items: “Drive-bys” and “Shower Thoughts”

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Recently I was teaching a productivity and organizing workshop to a group of executives and consultants. I listed some of the ways in which our tasks come to us: “… email, voice mail, text messages, snail mail, the ideas that come to us in the shower, and those requests made by colleagues as we pass in the corridor.

One of the participants, a director at a pharmaceutical company, offered, “Drive-bys. Those requests as you pass in the hall? I call those ‘drive-bys’.” Perfect description, I thought.

Email, voice mail, text and snail mail rarely get lost. We know where they are, lurking in their inboxes (though actually dealing with them can be a real challenge for many.) But the drive-bys and the shower thoughts that come our way? They can present an additional problem: how to capture them?

In the coming days I’ll be turning my attention to the products and processes that may help us deal with drive-bys and shower thoughts, the requests and ideas that come without built-in digital or paper format.

What are your favorite ways to catch errant thoughts? Share them here.

Speaking May 28: Mastering Follow-Through

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Later this month I’ll be speaking to Women In Consulting – San Francisco. Our topic for the evening? “Mastering Follow-Through — how to trick, coax, persuade and support yourself to reach the goals you set.”

For more information, or to register, use this link.

If you’ll be in the San Francisco area, I hope you’ll join me to meet a wonderful group of savvy consultants and pick up some good ideas on following through to move your best plans to reality.

Improvement: The Butterfly Effect

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Can small changes really make a difference? If I rely on tiny changes to get me to my productivity goal, won’t I have to wait forever to see progress?

Consider the story of the work of MIT mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, told so compellingly in James Gleick’s book Chaos – Making a New Science. In the early 1960’s Lorenz was running mathematical experiments on a primitive computer. The experiments aimed to simulate and ultimately to forecast weather patterns. He sought a model that might make weather predictions as accurate as forecasting high and low tides, or the return of comets.

At one point Lorenz wanted to re-examine a portion of his model, so rather than starting the entire cumbersome process from the beginning, he started in the middle. When he returned to his printouts a short time later, he found that the model had not repeated its results. To his shock (because even a primitive computer was still causal!) he found that the pattern run the second time quickly wobbled, diverged and soon bore no resemblance to the original hypothetical weather pattern.

It dawned on Lorenz that his computer stored six decimal places, .506127, while his printouts showed data to the third decimal place, .506. Though the difference represented less than one part per thousand, considered highly accurate in meteorological work, it was enough to send the two versions of the model onto completely different tracks.

Tiny changes multiply in their effects. The image used in Lorenz’ early paper on his unexpected discovery is that the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can yield a tornado in Texas, now referred to as “the Butterfly Effect.”

There may be times when the grand gesture is called for, when nothing less than a massive change will achieve the result. But there are many occasions when the kaizen approach will help us to avoid the defenses erected by our fearful animal brains and achieve dramatic difference with tiny inputs.

Name your goal, then name your first small step. What would you like to achieve, if you knew it could be accomplished by tiny steps? Record your plans by leaving a comment here.

(For an homage to Edward Lorenz, see Chris Crouch’s blog, here.)

Improvement: Kaizen quote

A quote for the day:

Do not fear going slowly; only fear standing still. ~~ Chinese proverb

Improvement: Tiptoeing past “Amy”

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Like weight loss, getting organized is one of the top five resolutions on New Year’s lists. Every year. So why are we not all specimens of peak productivity and perfect health by now?

While it’s undeniable that sometimes change happens in an eye-blink, more often getting good results requires consistent application of a new practice until that new practice becomes a habit.

We humans are uniquely able to work at cross-purposes to our own desires and commitments. I may decide to write a book or do 30 minutes of cardio every day, no matter what, but in the crush of competing values and interests the work required to produce five good pages or get on the rebounder loses out. There is some stress involved in making even the most beneficial changes.

One factor that contributes to our reluctance to change is seated in the part of our brain responsible for our emotional learning, the amygdala. I’ll call it “Amy”. When something is emotionally powerful, it is Amy’s job to record that memory. In the average person Amy is moderately risk-averse, avoiding the repetition of painful or stressful experience. To make positive change, we must charm her.

One way to avoid activating all of Amy’s powers against stressful change is to tiptoe past, by making small incremental changes. Focus on one improvement at a time, and implement it gradually. Make a list of all the positive changes you’d like to make, then choose just one to work on daily for a week or a month before adding another.

(Thanks to Jennifer McDaniel-Wolfe, CPO, CPO-CD, of Organize for Life LLC in Milwaukee, and her April 12 session at the National Association of Professional Organizers conference for some of the ideas in this post. A CD of her session is available from VW Tapes.)

Will incremental change be sufficient to get you to your goal? I’ll address that question later in the week.

Improvement: Kaizen or the Big Win?

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

When making changes in habits or processes to improve productivity, which is better: to make a dramatic change or to move ahead with small incremental steps?

Some people tend to opt for the sweeping gesture. Comparing habit change to removing a band-aid, they want to yank it off in one fell swoop rather than remove it by stages. Or comparing habit change to a business deal, they go for the “big win”, aiming for the one life-changing event.

Others adopt the kaizen approach. Kaizen is a method (some call it a philosophy) brought to public attention in recent years by the success of the Japanese auto-makers. (See the article by James Surowiecki in the May 12, 2008 issue of The New Yorker entitled “The Open Secret of Success”.) Usually translated as “continuous improvement”, it refers to a process of looking to get the greatest impact by consistent adjustments in all phases of the manufacturing process.

This week I plan to explore the question of which method is most useful, not to an auto manufacturer, but to the busy professional, who may be a knowledge worker, service provider, or worker in a creative field.

What have you tried, kaizen or the big win? What worked for you? Please post your responses here, and stay tuned for more on this subject in the coming days.

Only Computers Multitask

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

A recent job posting on Craig’s List sought a customer relations specialist for Vertical Response, “one of the best places to work in the Bay Area”. Among the job requirements: “Candidates must be able to multi-task…”

Perhaps they should hire a computer.

Decades ago, the latest technique in time management was “multitasking.” It seemed like a great idea. Think how much more efficient we could be if we would do two things at once!

The reality, though, is that the human brain cannot literally do two things at once. Like an air traffic controller that cannot land two planes on the same runway simultaneously, but must give clearance to land sequentially or risk disaster, the human brain can accommodate just one task at a time. When faced with two tasks, our brains must switch between them. That switching takes time. It turns out that because of the added switching time, attempting to “do two things at once” takes longer than focusing on one task until completion, then the other.

The American Psychological Association noted the mounting research that makes this point when they wrote in a 2001 press release, “… for all types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another, and time costs increased with the complexity of the tasks, so it took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs also were greater when subjects switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar. They got “up to speed” faster when they switched to tasks they knew better, an observation that may lead to interfaces designed to help overcome people’s innate cognitive limitations.”

Companies may value employees who are versatile, easily turning from one task to the next, and who can tolerate frequent interruptions, and this is almost certainly what the job posting intended to convey.

If employers really wants better productivity from their work team, they would do well to reduce interruptions to the greatest extent possible, then give workers the tools to minimize the time needed for switching. Unless they’re employing only computers.

Do you multitask, or try to, at home or at work? How does it work for you? Join the conversation here.

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