I found more evidence of just how much we lost when Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch died. Today, while revising my executive coaching materials on goal setting and time management, a colleague mentioned that Randy Pausch was most proud of his talk on time management.
We are in the midst of a famine,
a prolonged, widespread deficit of a resource
essential to life: productive time.
Pausch’s talk is a thorough and entertaining presentation of the essentials and I highly recommend it for my executive coaching clients (though I can not agree with every suggestion). You may have heard much of it before, but Professor Pausch’s celebrity, good humor, and excellent example give it tremendous impact. You will do something different and better as a result of watching.
• Record and priority rank your tasks to reduce stress
• Batch your tasks, questions, and communications by person
• Schedule blocks of time adequate for the task
• Avoid interruptions and distractions
The video and the PowerPoint slides, along with lots of other Pausch material, are available here.
Watching this talk may leave you with a big question, especially if the advice is familiar. “Why am I not doing these things despite the knowing that they work?” That gap, the mystery between what we know and what we practice, is my domain: executive coaching.
Some of the most concise and useful personal productivity advice I have seen comes not from David Bowie, but from Peter Drucker. I have often rejected time management with the observation that time seems immune to my influence, incentives, or encouragement much less any attempts at controlling or directing it. Time just is.We pass. On the other hand, personal management is work, but it works.
Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start out with planning. They start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to cut back unproductive demands on their time. Finally they consolidate their “discretionary” time into the largest possible continuing units.
In the first year or so it wasn’t just about proving how tough I was, I had to be tough. I was pretty sharp with people. But I’d learned in the classroom, the last thing you want to do is put somebody down because then they freeze, and not only do they freeze, but the whole class freezes. I had to relearn that lesson as a manager. … Early on I didn’t know how to delegate things. I was always trying to do other people’s jobs. I learned that first of all, you’ll drive yourself crazy doing that, and secondly you won’t have very good people working for you very long.
I found it useful to remember that most institutions don’t want to change. They’re institutions because they’ve developed a certain set of traditions and norms and expertise, and change is hard. A lot of the work I’d done as an academic affirmed that usually institutions change when they’re failing. It’s very hard to make them change when they’re succeeding. They take the cues too late from the environment.
I found three things helpful.
One is that you have to paint a picture of other times that that institution has responded to change and difficulty successfully.
Secondly, [it helps] if you can find in the institution a counter-narrative that supports the direction of change.
And finally, you have to look to see whether there are impediments to people doing the right thing. Mostly in good organizations, and the Department of State was certainly one, and I found this at Stanford too, people want to do the right thing — they don’t want to be obstructionist — but sometimes there are things that make it hard for them to do the right thing.
The most valuable time management skill is recognizing the important tasks and ignoring the rest. I first observed it early in my consulting career, at Arthur Andersen & Co in New York, after a meeting with my manager and our client, the Vice President of a large energy company. After the client left, my manager and I reviewed the meeting and planned our tasks. I mentioned one of the client’s requests from my notes and asked, “How are we going to do this?” I was shocked by his reply, “Don’t worry about that.”
“What do you mean?” I replied, “He specifically asked us to do that.”
“I know, but trust me, It’ll go away.” He was right. That task was never mentioned again and the client was entirely pleased with our work.
Not taking on everything you could do or want to do is the only way to reserve resources for the key activities.
For a social discipline, such as management, the assumptions are actually a good deal more important than are the paradigms for a natural science. The paradigm—that is, the prevailing general theory—has no impact on the natural universe. Whether the paradigm states that the sun rotates around the earth, or that, on the contrary, the earth rotates around the sun, has no effect on sun and earth. But a social discipline, such as management, deals with the behavior of people and human institutions. The social universe has no “natural laws” as the physical sciences do. It is thus subject to continuous change. This means that assumptions that were valid yesterday can become invalid and, indeed, totally misleading in no time at all.
Because the generally held assumptions about management no longer apply, it is important that we first make them explicit, and then replace them with assumptions that better fit today’s reality.
That’s where we are today with the discipline of management.
The New York Times recently ran a nice article about how Google–in its usual highly-analytic, data-driven way–measured the results of different management behaviors amongst its own workforce. The recommendations that emerged from this research will be familiar to readers of this blog.
I wish these were practiced as often as I preach them!
Google’s Project Oxygen
Eight Good Behaviors
Be a good coach
Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
Have regular (more…)
I just read a talk by the head of the US government’s Office of Personnel Management, John Berry. He provides a concise and cogent summary of the new management thinking that I hope will become a major influence in organizations around the world. This shift in management is, I believe, the result of two major trends. First, the crash of 2008 made it very clear that we had been placing too much emphasis and confidence in our top leaders while day-to-day quality of life for the rank-and-file stagnated or declined. Second, a huge wave of research in behavioral economics and positive psychology is shifting management practice toward methods that are tested and proven rather than anecdotal and heuristic.
Below are excerpts from the speech that illustrate some of my favorite points, the practices I emphasize with my own CEO executive coaching clients.
But don’t read my excerpts.
I recommend that leaders of organizations, particularly chief executives, read his entire speech by clicking here. Try to forget that he is speaking about government employees. Ignore references to the President and Congress. Imagine, instead, that you made this speech to your managers and employees. What would the impact be of making these changes in your own leadership style, in your company’s performance review process, in your day-to-day life?
Selected remarks of OPM Director John Berry
Interagency Resource Management Conference
Kellogg Conference Center
What if, when setting performance standards, we engaged our employees and got clear about expectations? What if we made sure performance standards were detailed, objective, aligned to agency mission and goals, and had employee buy-in – that they weren’t just dictated from on high?
Consider the four essential pieces of how we currently manage performance: (more…)
“With such an abundance of information available simultaneously at all levels, micromanagement can creep unnoticed into the chain of command and pull it apart. For example, if a general is able to follow an ongoing firefight through email and IM, and he is inclined to believe he knows what’s best for the units in contact, then he very well might start directing those small units from afar, consequently eliminating the need for his colonels, captains, and sergeants to do any thinking of their own.
“a commander may be dismayed to find his soldiers have become too heavily reliant on headquarters for critical decisions. That’s dangerous, because sooner or later headquarters won’t be available. Equipment will break; signals will be lost; communications will go down, and almost certainly at the worst times. That’s when the commander will wish most that he had cultivated his men’s initiative rather than tamped it out through incessant electronic directives or rebukes for mistaken decisions.”
My wife gave me this book when it first came out in hardcover. At the time I worked in a cubicle for a large international corporation and had a boss we all called “Meathead.” I told my wife, “Thanks, but I don’t want to read this book. It looks too cynical and depressing. Please, return it.”
I now run my own company from an office with a view of trees and deer. A few weeks ago a vendor trying to get my business gave me a free copy of this book, so I read it.
Suddenly, I recognized that The Dilbert Principle is hilarious and insightful.
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