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Two, Writing August 28, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management, Writing.
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Abstract communication grows from your resourcefulness.

 

First, there was Vonnegut’s Rules of Writing.  Then, I found these “economic” stories.  But, I write about project management.  How could Vonnegut apply to me?  Condensing that much – is it possible?  Conveying abstract concepts takes some effort.  Like six-word stories, two ‘writers’ contribute.  Sentences clipped, your brain fills in.  Not haiku, but certainly an equivalent.

 

I don’t think I could write that way for long.  It’s no six-word story, but a string of six-word sentences is a bit hard to read.  It doesn’t flow well, but once you know what to look for, it becomes easier.  But of course that’s not the point.

 

If you had to convey a complex thought in only six words, could you do it?  We often become lazy with our words, stringing them together without much concern for the linguistic violence we visit on our readers or listeners.  Economizing to six words forces you to think carefully and choose wisely.  It’s a good exercise when struggling with how to communicate.  Less is quite often much more.

 

Even if you only read and write non-fiction, there are some great tips in many fictional works and from great authors who never heard of project management.

Pressure to Act August 25, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I just finished the book Skyward by Admiral Richard Byrd.  Byrd was the first person to fly over the North Pole and the South Pole, in 1926 and 1929, respectively.

The book has several themes around aviation, exploration, and the future of commercial travel.  But it also has a theme that the author couldn’t have envisioned: it maps the pace of life at that time, which is all the more significant given our modern technology for communication and planning.

In Byrd’s day, radio communication and telegrams were common, but long distance telephone calls were a special event.  By far, letters and newspapers were the primary means of communicating to the masses and between individuals.  How did major undertakings like polar expeditions get off the ground?

Byrd admits directly that the plans were laid years before in his own mind, mapped, studied, and validated with others familiar with the risks.  It was his own careful planning and even invention of special navigation instruments that allowed the trips to occur at the time they did.

Contrast this with the expectation of speed that comes with instant messages, texts, emails, and video chats.  Have we lost our awareness of the need for “deep thinking” and contemplation that builds memories and connections?  Have we forgotten that weighty decisions and risky undertakings should at least be contemplated over a good night’s sleep?

The pressure to act is strong.  We are often quick to take on a challenge or a task without contemplation of risks or workloads.  But it is this contemplation that allows for both creative solutions and daring explorations.

Don’t forget to sleep on it.

Prioritized Procrastination August 8, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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It takes a strong will to resist the pull of procrastination.  We fall into the trap for various reasons, some conscious, many not.  It happens at work, at home, and most of all, at school.  Fear, anxiety, social and economic pressures, stress – all conspiring to put up mental blocks and false leads against our perceived potential failures – and successes.

If you are awake, you are probably procrastinating.  And this article by Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting shows you just how insidious it can be.

We all have to-do lists.  Some are simple, some complex.  A typical project plan is a to-do list of sorts as well.  Everyone has their respective tasks and priorities.  But most projects and businesses also have their share of firefighting and reactionary management, silently wreaking havoc on the successful achievement of your goals.

Managers in particular face this battle nearly every day.  Especially at 24/7 operations that are so common in heavy industries like mining and materials processing, the first question on many managers’ minds is, “what happened last night?”  This sets every day up for potential failure.  Rather than addressing the pre-existing priorities, managers get sucked into the vortex of day-to-day reaction, moving farther and farther from their strategic goals.

Vaden’s tips come down to a few key questions when a new “priority” arises:

  • Was this activity on my primary to-do list when I arrived at work today?
  • Is this activity one of the key drivers of achieving success in my position?
  • Does this activity require my unique thought process?
  • Will this issue likely resolve itself without my intervention if I allow some time?
  • Is there another person on our team who is mostly capable of handling this?
  • Can the resolution of this issue wait until some point in the future without substantial repercussion?

As simple and straightforward as this list seems, these aren’t always easy questions to answer.  Also, like so many other choices, our inside voice can often ignore otherwise obvious signs to the right decision.  Hence, one of the best phrases in this article: objective accountability.

If you are having trouble focusing on those most critical tasks – the ones that provide direct, measurable value to your business – it may be wise to seek an objective opinion.  The key is not to necessarily look outside the organization, but at least outside your normal chain of authority.  Find someone that can not only provide a ruthless culling of your to-do list, but someone who will hold you accountable to stick to it once it’s done.