At times we all feel somewhat overwhelmed by all the jobs piling up, whether in our email inbox, or in our own to-do lists. Many are overwhelmed all the time. It's as if our lives are being driven by that pesky list of demands. It feels like they are pushing us, each vying for first place in our attention and our efforts.
Well, it's time to stop being pushed by our work. Instead, try pulling your work through.
This week in our Leading Yourself online Workshop, we are going through a module called, From Push to Pull, where we explore the technique called Personal Kanban. Kanban boards originated in lean manufacturing as a powerful way for teams to improve their internal communication and performance. Then Kanban became a common tool used within Agile development teams, so much so that many now think Kanban originated with Agile.
Many now think Kanban boards originated with Agile.
A few years ago, I read Jim Benson and Torianne DeMaria Barry's Personal Kanban. I was hooked. I introduced it into my Organising Yourself Effectively workshop, and people loved it. It became one of the most popular tools that we covered. Stories came back of how clients had adopted it into their working lives. This was yet another example of people discovering the personal power of tools used more commonly in a project management context.
Personal Kanban became one of the most popular tools in my personal organisation workshop.
Here is one of the videos in the Workshop, using the online platform Trello to illustrate the personal kanban.
This isn't the first time I've written about Personal Kanban or Trello. A few months ago I posted a piece called, Tools that evolve with our work.
To become free, we need to think free, and not like victims.
As the above video shows, though, there is something quite powerful about the idea of choosing to pull work through, and not being pushed by it. To become free, we need to think free, and not like victims. Personal Kanban, simple though it is, can help us with that move to freedom in our daily work.
Do you use kanban for your personal organisation? If so, leave a comment below. If not, what do you used?
This year's first Leading Yourself online programme is going well, and we have just completed a module called, What's in Your Foreground? It's about the importance of priorities and their place in the skill of leading yourself, where you find them, and so on.
In this short video I explain one powerful technique called the MIT. I use it daily, and I find in one of my most powerful personal routines, boosting my focus and my productivity significantly.
It reminds me of this scene from the movie, City Slickers:
"What's the one thing?" "That's for you to figure out... the rest don't mean ...."
Leading Yourself Online is a unique series of workshops where I will coach you through the framework I set out in my book, Leading Yourself. It aims to help you:
For an idea of what impact my workshop called Organising Yourself More Effectively had, watch this video interview with Jemima Alder of ResMed, a global medical business.
I will be bringing the best of my workshop experience to the online program, where you can join me and an exclusive community of fellow Leading Yourself Online owners. You will benefit from their shared experiences, as well as be encouraged by their own stories of breakthrough in their work.
'Leading Yourself Online Workshop is a unique program.
If designed it for the busy manager, who cannot afford the time to attend a physical workshop.
However, this is a time-limited offer. Registration is only open until Noon GMT Tuesday, 17th January ... and then we start the series of workshops.
If you want to get on this workshop series, then you need to act quickly... because we soon will be starting.
If you're ready to gain real traction in you work, to get organised and work unfettered, then your next step is to click the button below and get registered on this unique program.
See you there...
'Deliverable' must be the clunkiest piece of jargon coming out of project management.
One of the joys of being a parent and, in my case, a grandparent is that you can indulge in watching some really good kids' movies. And way up there in my top 10 is Despicable Me. I love the movie, the storyline, and ... I love the title.
So I'm playing around with it to make a point in this article. It's about deliverable Me.
Perhaps the most clunky piece of jargon coming out of the project management profession has to be the word deliverable. There are far better alternatives: 'output,' 'product,' 'enabler,' and so on. As the name implies, a deliverable is what the project delivers, either at the end or along the way. It reminds the project manager that it is not all about the activities, the activity network, the resource planning, and so on. These all contribute to the busyness of the project, and although necessary, these can become an obsession and distract him or her from delivering the end product, and beyond that, the point of it all - the real benefits to the customer.
A few years ago I was working with a global publishing business. I ran a few project management and stakeholder engagement workshops. And then my client asked me if I could help by delivering a workshop for people to improve their personal work organisation. 'Overwhelm' as we now call it, was rampant, and people's working lives too often seemed to border on chaos. Productivity was certainly not what it should have been.
The most powerful productivity techniques were borrowed from project management.
I'd like to think the client invited me to think about this because my style of coaching project managers was refreshingly plain-speaking, without too much jargon, and it helped people see the reason behind what they were asked to do on a project.
So although I did not consider myself at that time to be any kind of productivity ninja, or time management guru, I accepted the invitation. I developed a one-day workshop called Organising Yourself More Effectively. It's not the snappiest of titles, I agree, but it set out what I hoped was the goal of the workshop.
It turned out to be a resounding success. In fact, the responses I had from delegates were somewhat surprising in the way I seemed to have helped them gain traction in their working lives.
Seeing my life as a project, the 'Deliverable Me.'
But when I dug a little deeper into what tools they had found particularly helpful, they were mostly borrowed from my project management bag of tricks. That made me think: some of the tools we use on projects and programmes can also be very powerful for the individual, for treating my life as a project, where I see myself as 'Deliverable Me.'
I've produced a short report of the six top ones. If you would like to know what these were, click the button below.
For a period of time, a friend of mine prevailed on me to take up golf. To begin with, it seemed like I was doing random gardening on a long walk. I became very conscious of my muscle movements in a swing, which club to choose, and experimenting with little rituals, like the number of times I looked up at the target spot I was aiming for. I also became aware of two things that could undermine my performance as the game progressed: my inner emotional state after a ridiculously bad shot, and my physical stamina - or lack of it.
For me, golf was like random gardening on a long walk.
I realised that the inner game of golf was all about self-awareness. What I became acutely focused on was being aware of my muscle movements, grip and so on. If I made a bad shot, I would attempt to adjust and see if I got a better result. I was constantly correcting myself.
In yesterday’s post, we looked at the Apollo 11 mission and how the accuracy of the launch targeting was a delusion; the reality was that they landed within the lunar landing zone by a process of constant correction - a sort of feedback loop.
Then I moved to talking about a more personal kind of feedback loop, the Daily Heads-Up technique that I use for my personal organisation.
At least every week, I review, hone and improve my key workflows.
Feedback loops can operate at different cycles, such as at:
In each case the feedback loop provides the opportunity for us to correct our course, to learn, and to get better results.
In the next post, I’ll look at how neglecting the course corrections, the feedback loop can hinder our effectiveness and growth, and why it is so easy to neglect this.
In my previous post, Advice from the TOP 30 Influencers in Project Management, I defended my choice around self-awareness.
One of my friends emailed me about this post, and how she had observed that her husband constantly stresses the importance of stakeholder management. She wrote:
The Human Factor that is so often the key to success or failure and maybe even sabotage ( for the passive aggressive) in projects and organisations. I have seen academically brilliant people appointed into very senior positions and their own insecurities and lack of emotional intelligence have done untold damage to an organisation .
This prompted me to check this diagram:
Look at the description on the bottom line of this diagram, where a self-awareness impacts the behaviour of Leaning to People. Is it merely an increased ability to identify key relationships? No. I realise it is much more than that.
Quite by chance, I was reading Danny Silk’s brilliant Keep Your Love On yesterday morning. In it he writes:
When you don’t have either the courage or the ability to face the truth of what feel, think, and need, you end up communicating confusing and inaccurate information – sometimes even downright falsehoods.
- If you never really learn to value and understand what’s going on inside you, how can you value and understand what is going on with another person?
- If you don’t know yourself, how can you get to know another person – someone with a completely different experience and perspective – and value the truth of who they are?
page 82, Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication & Boundaries, Danny Silk (2013, lovingonpurpose.com)
In recent years, I’ve majored on the critical nature of Stakeholder Engagement. In 2013 I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. Project management has long marginalised the topic of “stakeholder management,” as they call it. (As if you can truly manage anyone other than yourself.) ‘Leaning to People’ is a central narrative in that book. I’m proud that this book was later adopted as the core reference for an international qualification in stakeholder engagement. I hope it is doing some good to the profession.
This last year I’ve turned to the other three behaviours that distinguish outstanding performance, in my latest book: Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. Outstanding performance all starts, though, with self-awareness.
So, I’m inclined to re-draw the diagram, now, in the light of my friend and Danny Silk’s observations to something like this:
Can you spot the crucial difference?[reminder]What are your thoughts on this?[/reminder]
This week I was sent a report containing Advice from the 30 TOP influencers in project management. If you are not involved in project management professionally, I can quite understand that this will not set your heart racing! However, it is interesting to see the patterns that emerge from these ‘TOP influencers.’
(Full disclosure: I was chosen as one of the 30. The authors asked me and the other 29 contributors to give our take on what was our top tip.)
Much of this so-called ‘top’ advice focuses on planning and re-planning. Important though planning is, it is nowhere near the top thing for me.
Many others get rather nearer the mark, in my opinion, and focus on stakeholder engagement and developing key relationships. See my own work on this.
However, I suggest – with apologies to JRR Tolkien – that there is one thing to rule them all:
developing your self-awareness.
Now, I recognise that to many people my choice might look pretty abstract and dull. Maybe even a little surprising. “Is that it??! Self-awareness. That feels very psychological and not very practical. What about the Time-Cost-Scope Triangle. What about the Critical Path?”
[shareable]Thinking about your thinking – self-awareness – is the key to driving all other habits that bring success.[/shareable]
Let me explain. The research I did a few years ago with my colleague John Edmonds revealed that self-awareness was key to high performance: high performing programme and project managers all exhibited a high degree of self-awareness, of mental clarity about their own thought processes. They all think about their thinking. Self-awareness drives all the other behaviours that give the high-performer real traction in the complex world of project management: behaviours like building and protecting personal margins, leaning to action, and leaning to people. See this diagram:
So how do we all develop self-awareness in our work? I show you how in my new book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. I have since come to believe that this kind of high-performance is not for the exalted few, any of us can develop the right habits to get exceptional results.
[reminder]How do you think about your thinking?[/reminder]
One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is about their office environments, about how noisy or distracting they are. Where they can, I’m finding many people excuse themselves from their office to get serious, thought-intensive work done. In fact, some even argue that the age of the office as we know it is long past its usefulness.
You might have a very well organised personal system. You might be very clear on your goals, priorities and how you apportion your time. But it can all come to nothing on any given day if your colleagues, your team, or your boss interrupt you all the time.
The irony is that people who work in offices are knowledge workers. The knowledge worker’s key tool is not their computer but their brain. And the office environment, many times, is the most hostile environment for clear, concentrated thinking.
[shareable]The knowledge worker’s key tool is between their ears, not at the end of their fingers.[/shareable]
Sooner or later there is a discussion to be had around office etiquette, about where and when it is reasonable to interrupt someone. How someone should signal to everyone else that they are not to be interrupted.
Someone shared with me yesterday an interesting technique: a traffic light system of red, amber, and green.
This sounds good.
[shareable]The office environment is often the most hostile environment for clear, concentrated thinking.[/shareable]
It seems to me that part of the benefit of is this idea is that the whole team becomes more aware in this discussion of different gradations of importance and urgency, as well as the improved consideration they might begin to show to each other. However, it is probably best enforced and sustained by the entire team’s agreement and the teams reviews it regularly; without this, you are unlikely to serious behaviour change throughout the group.
[shareable cite=”Alexander Graham Bell”]Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. [/shareable]
A central problem in this whole issue is that an individual’s focus and concentration is such a subjective and intangible matter. It is very hard to measure. Distraction will express itself indirectly through measures of productivity, but again, the realms of knowledge work, comparing like for like is always going to be a problem.
I like the traffic light system. I like it more because it encourages an overt conversation between all members of the team of this hidden thing called concentration.
[reminder]Do you know of any similar group codes of conduct about permission to interrupt? [/reminder]
Today I’m connecting with my ‘inner geek.’ When it comes to stationery, particular stationery, I become a geek. One of my favourites notebooks is the A5 Leuchtterm 1917 145 x 210mm notebook.
Also, I use a tailored form of the Bullet Journal.
And today these two combine for me into one beautiful whole, because Leuchtterm has published its own bullet journal version. My cup runneth over!
I ordered mine from the good people at Bureau Direct.
Having written a book about personal organisation over this summer, I became acutely aware that my own personal organisation has evolved and continues to do so. This is normal and good. In fact, one client has shared with me that he does the same.
It seems that as we continually work on ourselves using the artefacts of stationery, apps and organisation systems, we are actually improving our self-leadership.
I’m also aware that there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to personal organisation. What works for me will not necessarily work for you. This keeps me humble. It stops me being a legalist. There is no “one right way” of doing this personal organisation thing.
[shareable]Evolving your personal organisation system is normal and good.[/shareable]
For example, some people will get on with the Bullet Journal, others will prefer, say, the GTD system, still others will combine the two.
That’s all very good. The process of refining and improving my personal organisation system doesn’t lead me to the same result as everybody else, but the process helps me to discover my style and to improve my personal organisation in the process.
So despite my geeky tendencies, I have come to the conclusion that techniques and tools – including my beloved stationery – although worthy in themselves, are simply the elements around which we develop the most important and powerful forces in our lives: our personal routines and habits.
[shareable]It’s never about the artefacts. It’s how you use them that counts.[/shareable]
In my book and in my workshop on Organising Yourself More Effectively and my associated online courses, I review the Bullet Journal system with some respect. It is simple, elegant and can easily be tailored. It’s the use of it that I develop daily routines that serve me well.[shareable cite=”Aristotle”]We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.[/shareable]
Overall, it is important that I keep my inner geek in check. After all, it is the system, the routines and the habits that serve me in becoming more effective, not the lovely stationery.
[reminder]What are your personal routines that you find powerful? Do you use the Bullet Journal system? How do you use it?[/reminder]
My son Robin is a remarkable Agile software developer. He runs a company called Degu. Currently, he is developing a pretty cool business model around his film workflow management software. He has invited me in to advise him on strategy.[shareable]We need tools that can evolve with our work.[/shareable]
When the business is effectively YOU, you have to be very critical about your priorities and your choices. So I’m pleased to say Robin is reading through my new ebook on Leading Yourself. He is an avid practitioner of Personal Kanban, a technique I explore in the book. Both he and I use Trello.com for our personal and team kanbans, so he shared with me his current board. I thought it was worth sharing here because it illustrates how he is owning the process and the categories and continually reworking them to suit his circumstances.
For example, he has a very interesting set of labels for his cards.
Also, his Board has developed on from the standard To Do/Doing/Done to what we below.
As well as his “Backlog” column (otherwise known as the “To-Do” column), he has moved to using a “Stuck!” column. This allows him to park otherwise-frustrating work in this column and come back to it later. He is finding that when he does this often he finds that that piece of work becomes un-stuck and he can move on. He also has a couple of other columns I haven’t shown: “Mentor” and one for a key client/partner. This illustrates to me that Robin is working on his workflows and not becoming legalistic about them. They are evolving, as indeed his working life is evolving.
Increasingly I find progressive knowledge workers like Robin need the flexibility of tools like Trello and techniques like Personal Kanban. These tools and techniques help us think about our priorities and work areas dynamically as our work contexts and careers evolve.