Leaning to People Personal Margin Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

The Access Paradox

Open-plan offices seem to be very popular. Part of the rationale for open-plan offices is that they aid teamwork and communications.

It’s surprising, then, how many people who work in them, dislike them.

Recently I was reviewing the work of an audit into a department where all its members work in a single open-plan office. One of the main emergent concerns in the feedback is how little they know about what is going on in the rest of the organisation.

The Atlantic Software Guild conducted some research into the productivity of software writers, and they discovered huge variations between the productivity between different organisations. These variations came to light in their Code Wars experiment, as reported in de Marco and Lister’s book, Peopleware. They concluded that the most critical factors to productivity were not the experience of the programmers, nor the particular software tools they used, but rather their working environment. The worst-performing organisations were those with high-distraction, open-plan environments. And it reduced comparative productivity with other organisations by as much as a factor of 10.

Such is the potential for uncontrolled distractions to each worker in such a workplace that they develop task-oriented behaviours to keep themselves focused on their own work. They develop little rituals to protect themselves from distraction. They compensate for the high-interruption environment. This might be, for example, by putting on headphones. This, in turn, leads to less spoken communication, because the conversation that occurs in that office is likely to be indiscriminate; it could be for anybody when a visitor walks in.

Here’s the kicker: Code Wars was conducted in the 1980s!

We don’t seem to have learned much over the last few decades, do we?

What are your experiences? Leave your comments below.

Positive Outliers

Deep Work

The turn of the calendar year is traditionally a time where we review the past year and look forward to a fresh year, a fresh start.

As you look back over your year, what do you feel? Disappointed at so little achieved? Surprised, because you achieved more than you perhaps realised? A mixture of both?

For most of us, there is that feeling that we are not making as much progress as we would like. Often in the midst of busyness, we feel like we are spinning wheels: accelerating hard but getting nowhere.

Could the reason for this be partly the way we work? 

I read Deep Work recently, a book that raises key issues for us all in the way we work. 

I found the book to be a worthy and helpful exploration of how blocks of concentrated, uninterrupted work can make a massive difference to our contribution. It is written by Cal Newport, a young professor in computer science at Georgetown University, Washington DC. I recommend it.

Ultimately it comes down to this:

We can continue to live our lives as victims of distraction or we can take deliberate steps to do something about it.

We can continue to live our lives as victims of distraction or take deliberate steps to do something about it. #deepwork


Deep Work’s subtitle is Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

I have to say that I was a little wary of the word rules in Newport’s sub-title. I find that rules are often much-loved and defended by enthusiastic but legalistic beginners, who know a little but extrapolate it to anything and everybody.

But I need not have been too concerned. Newport takes a careful exploration of ways people have established deep work and concludes that one size does not fit all in the lifestyles of intense focused activity.

The Paradox of Work

I found Cal Newport’s analysis of the world of work fascinating. He explores a paradox: trends exist which show that in most fields of knowledge work – from academia to marketing, journalism, software engineering, to business consulting – deep work offer huge advantages to those that practice it consistently.  Yet, most organisations permit – and somethings consciously promote – environments that are hostile to periods of concentrated, uninterrupted work.

As a coach, I’m particularly aware of this in the lives of several of my clients.

Some quotes from Deep Work:

Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”

“Deep work should be a priority in today’s business climate. But it’s not.”

Cal Newport portrait

Cal Newport

Taking Ownership of My Productivity

It all starts by refusing to be a victim. #doingyourbestwork

Nevertheless, I am finding ways to protect my deep working. In my own book, Leading Yourself, I look at proper focus competing with distraction. Distraction is always crying out for our attention. Our route to success is largely determined by our owning this problem of distraction and dealing with it.

And there are others like me. These people begin to gain performance improvements in their work by separating themselves from the patterns of the overwhelmed and harrassed majority and produce excellence.

It all starts by refusing to be a victim, and by beginning to see oneself as powerful. It starts with adopting a new mindset towards oneself and one’s work. Then one finds techniques to defend and enhance one’s best work.

Free Email Series

Doing Your Best Work email series

I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. But I do think at the turn of the year, often with an absence from being driven by workloads over the holidays, this is an excellent time to take stock.

I’m beginning a short email series on 2nd January, called Doing Your Best Work. Click here if you would like to receive these four emails. Pardon the pun, but…

I go deeper. 🙂

I wish you a better, more hopeful and effective New Year.