Personal Margin Positive Outliers

When Work Speeds Up

Often, at its best, comedy is incisive, describing aspects about ourselves that we might be too afraid, or busy, to think about. Such is the case with this classic comedy moment, from the I Love Lucy, TV series of the 1950s and ’60s:

Why is this comedy moment from over 60 years ago still so funny? 

For me, it describes a dynamic in my life. I get productive. I develop skill at it. And then life speeds up, making a fool of me.

Unless we are living as victims, most of us who attempt to self-manage our lives respond immediately by getting busier, sometimes by learning to be more productive. If there’s more work to be done, we learn how to speed up.

Productivity is the lure, but it is a dangerous one. 

When we are too busy, productivity is the lure, but it is a dangerous one.

There is a road less travelled.


How about doing the opposite of taking on more, but build in margins into our lives? Rather than becoming more productive by speeding up, how about taking away a few commitments? 

I was taught by a great coach that if I say Yes to something, what are the other things I am saying No to that this Yes will displace?

Saying No to one’s own appetite to embrace multiple roles is crucial for the Portfolio Creator. I used a farming metaphor to illustrate our lives as portfolio creators. The farmer is frequently letting some fields lie fallow, clearing some ground for fresh crops or for allowing for storage. They manage their farm’s capacity that way. This is thinking with margin in mind. All the land does not need to be productive at once. It can’t be.

The same holds true in our lives.

Three Margins

In my book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, I cover three areas of my life where I must build in a margin:

  • Time
  • Space
  • Energy

There are others, of course, such as financial margin. It’s not wise to live without savings. We need something for when the unexpected arises,  a rainy day, as we say. 

The best kind of project manager always allows a time margin. So should we. When I was a project management consultant, it was easy for me to see how the optimism bias worked in teams, where people always estimated the best-case scenario. So, when some unexpected problem arose, there was no time available to deal with it. The project slipped.

Also, I’m feeling very virtuous as I was in the gym this morning. Time in the gym is building my energy margin, as does healthy sleeping and eating patterns. I do better work when I have energy margins to draw upon. And it’s not just a trade-off between time spent in the gym for energy; I find I am hugely more productive and alert when I exercise.

As for spatial margins, I work best when there is not a lot of clutter in my way. There is a need for physical space that is clear to work, as is the electronic space. I was assembling an IKEA coat rack last week, and I needed adequate floor space to do this. This kind of spatial need presents itself all the time our work, but we do not always recognise it.

So try this…

Over the next week: 

  • block out time, not to do more, but to provide for the volatile and uncertain and complicated life we all lead. Leave your calendar or diary with space in reserve.
  • Instead of adding in tasks, begin to prune existing ones; take them away.
  • Go deeper, ask yourself: Which projects, roles or areas should I step down from, at least for now?

Then write to me in the comments below and tell me what happened. (You’re welcome.)

Make your margin call. 

Did I hear someone cry, “Speed it up!” 

Photo by Andy Beales on Unsplash

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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.

Personal Margin Self-Awareness

Stop Pushing Me!!

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 think that Kanban originated with Agile. It did not.

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 use?

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Personal Margin Self-Awareness

PinkCast & the 2-minute Rule

I really appreciate Daniel Pink’s work, particularly Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, an awesome book. He delivers a periodic, high-energy, short video to his subscribers called Pinkcast.

This week’s Pinkcast made me smile (as it usually does). It featured another notable author and speaker, David Allen, most well-known for his book Getting Things Done.

David Allen explains the power of the 2-minute rule to Daniel Pink.

On this episode, Daniel interviewed David in Amsterdam about his 2-minute rule. Watch it.

And how long was Daniel’s Pinkcast this week? One minute 51 seconds. 🙂

Do you use the 2-minute rule? If so, let me know how in the comments below.