Monday, February 27, 2012

Productivity rediscovered

In parallel with rediscovering how to think, I'm rethinking what it means to be productive.  (This unemployment thing seems to be starting a series...)  It's very much the same theme - let's be less busy, and do stuff better.

I'm thanking the chaos of the Freshly Hacked weekend for this one.  It's amazing on an intensive weekend (like a startup weekend or the design jam that kicked this whole thing off) how chaos and productivity are combined - or at least amazing for someone who aligns productivity and busyness.

Beautiful post on chaos not quite so lovely

The melee

It's not just that chaos promotes creativity, because realistically most of what is achieved, in my experience, is not 'creative'.  Most of the good work is refining, turning the indefinite into definite, synthesising diverse sources into coherent solutions, and diverse voices into a simple message.  A lot of the creation has happened before the weekend, with the backgrounds people bring, and is just teased out.

With a dedicated focus and pressure-cooker time restrictions, prioritisation is ruthless.  Deciding what not to do or include, or when to stop, seems tougher and more important than working out what to do in the first place.  Testing, refining and iteration are more effective ways to chart a course through the chaotic uncertainty than a busily refining linear approach.

Working better

The main message I took is that being productive requires not to work harder, longer, or to do what I'm doing more efficiently - but to work better by doing better things, and doing them properly.

Personally, I need to learn to not just do things that are 'better' themselves, but understanding when to do things, by having a better sense of my mood and motivations.  I also need better focus on what I'm doing, which will hopefully flow on from the first point, so that I can dedicate myself properly the first time.  'Smarter, not harder' - it's not new.

I'm good at planning, and much of the time it's very useful, but it does break down sometimes.  I need to stop finding myself doing things because they're on the todo list, and making the todo list instead match what I should be doing.  When my time was more constrained it seemed to make sense trying to manage my motivation, but in the meantime I've lost some of my ability to listen to it, and with more unstructured time it seems increasingly important to get that back.

I think in part this is because motivation, energy and inspiration are far more important resources than time. Time is handy, but only when these can be applied to it.

Productive chaos

A lot of time is spent chasing false solutions, working unproductively, realising you've just gone way too far, or too far off the mark.  It seems over the course of the weekend that a lot of your time was 'wasted' - but you know that what could have been avoided in hindsight nevertheless needed to happen.  I got home at after midnight on Saturday and spent around three hours doing a presentation that got scrapped, and redone from scratch on Sunday - in about half an hour.  But the final version was so beautiful it hurt, and would never have happened without the first one. (And I'm now a prezi pro, to boot.)

Despite so much time going anywhere but forward, you look back over a weekend and it seems amazing how far you've come.  As it turns out, being really productive is composed mostly of activity that is 'unproductive' itself.

And then, I get back into the real world, and need to make these realisations work for me on an ongoing basis.  It's easy to work differently for a weekend, but hard to effect lasting change.  You'll have to wait and see how that turns out.

John Baxter

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rediscovering thinking

One of the great things about hitting the road again has been rediscovering thinking.

The expectations of working and being productive tend to lump on us the need to be think-doing certain sorts of 'productive' (aka 'busy') things.  For someone who want to get lots of things done this means I'm typically think-doing well beyond 9-5. When you have so little time outside work and life's necessities, you really need to squeeze those last couple of hours a day.  I suspect I'm not the only one who pulls out their phone whenever they have a five minute wait for the tram, so they can cram it with something useful, like checking emails, or twitter, or just mindlessly flicking through notes.

I'm still pretty busy for the time being.  I got back from Adelaide last thing Thursday, barely in time for a full weekend at Freshly Hacked, and there are lots of bits and pieces to get on to. I'm way behind regular things like the news, events, blogging and my emails.  But things are different - I feel more relaxed regardless, I feel like I have time to do things like think.

Having a lot of unstructured time gives everything a different flavour.  Especially when you can't use it for busydoing.  Being on the bike in particular is great for that.  It's always been meditative, but at the moment it is also very productively contemplative - I noted down a couple of thoughts when I stopped every hour or two, not for the sake of doing something, but because the thoughts were worth following up on.  And mostly the sorts of generative, creative or insightful thoughts that busywork prevents you from having.

What I'm getting at is the value of different ways of thinking.  We know we have different personality types, but I haven't really appreciated different ways I myself think in different contexts - probably because of an overvaluation of busythinking.

Even today, on a day of 'doing things' I've taken a much less orchestrated approach.  I'm not doing it very well yet, but I'm learning.  It's never too late!

John Baxter

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A systemic approach to unionism

Many will be familiar with the love/hate opinion I have of unions.

I love unions because fundamentally supporting employees is important.  We live in a world where the agency of the individual is limited compared to the risks and importance of the workplace to our lives.
But unions are unconvincing in their approach to addressing this - and in my experience as a member unpleasantly unprofessional to deal with to boot (I can only imagine what it's like being involved professionally).

The complex, networked world we live in does not fit well into an oppositional approach to industrial relations - an 'us' vs 'them' perspective.  This is truer in some workplaces than others, and some unions get it better than others.
Yes sometimes a hard line is and will always be necessary.  But when?  How do different approaches contribute to a better workplace and better lives?  What role do unions have in education and improving transparency?  Finding employment?  Supporting networking and bringing people together?  Supporting individuals to improve their value, through training or otherwise?  Career planning?

All of these things contribute to good workplaces, but how they contribute is not easy to understand - the world of work is complex.  To understand what to do to best deliver a better employment situation for employees requires a sophisticated understanding of this world.

Do unions have this?  Do they take an informed approach?
Unions do some valuable work, but I'm yet to find evidence that they're doing it well.
(Written on thinking about John Quiggin's recent post on unions.)

John Baxter