Learning to focus

» 23 August 2009 » In management, productivity, rambles »

This post forms part of my larger blog on starting out as a manager. See here for the full post…

I think this is a lot harder than it sounds. My current role requires that I Project Manage, Tech Lead, Line Manage, Develop, Account Manage & help Tech Support; a role where I go from meetings discussing the problems we’re likely to face with resourcing in six months time or where we’d like the products to be a year from now to advising a developer on exactly how that method should behave under those particularly esoteric set of circumstances for this tiny corner of the codebase – all in the space of time it takes me to walk the length of the office (about 15 seconds, we’re a small company!). Keeping an eye on what’s important at each of the different levels within a company is really hard work, and having to switch between them constantly is a huge drain on your time. Here’s my two cents for dealing with focus:

Play nicely

“There isn’t enough room for me and your ego” – Vesper Lynd, Quantum of Solace

Don’t let your ego get in the way of your job and, more importantly, your relationship with your new team. Yes, I know, you’re the new boss. And yes, I know you might be feeling a little insecure about that or at the very least wanting to cut your teeth and settle into your new role. However, I can assure you of two things:

  1. unless your new project is really fucking simple you won’t know everything there is to know about it;
  2. other people on your team will know more about some bits of it than you do.

So don’t let your ego tell you otherwise. If you do, you’ll spend way too much energy focusing on the wrong stuff – trying to prove that you’re superman – and not your job.

Get organised

Seriously. That list of tasks you kept in gedit was fine when you only had to look after yourself. Maybe you had 30 things on there. The last time I checked my tasks I had more than ten times that – far too much to keep in my head at once. How on earth can you keep all that under control? I tried a bunch of things. I’m still trying a bunch of things.The most important one is easy. Delegate. But keep track of what you’ve delegated as you’re ultimately responsible for seeing it through. Secondly, find a system that works for you and stick with it. For me this means, find a system that makes it trivial to record new items (more on this later) and fish stuff out quickly. Read lots if you’ve not looked into productivity tools before. David Allens book “Getting Things Done” is a great place to start (and a lot less self-helpy that the title suggests) as is Merlin Manns blog at http://www.43folders.com.Then find the tools to keep you using that system.

In the last 12 months I’ve tried using a Hipster PDA, ThinkingRock, Netcentrics Outlook plugin, Thunderbird add-ons, Omnifocus and a number of other apps designed specifically for task management. In the end Omnifocus won, not necessarily because it’s the best app (although I think it is), but because it’s super easy to input new stuff. Using OS X’s Services facility Omnifocus can grab text from virtually any application, store it quickly and let you get on with what you’re doing. I haven’t found anything similar on Linux or Windows. (The only problem here is that I don’t have a mac at work, but I do have a personal mac lappy that’s finding its way into the office quite a lot these days. If anyone can prove me wrong using something that works well with Linux please let me know!).

I could write an entire blog post in this in itself (I may well do), but the single most important point here is not context switching. I check my email maybe twice a day. If something comes in that I need to think about before my next bi-weekly with Product Dev, or it contains a point I want to raise at my next personnel meeting it takes me three keystrokes to stick it away in a special place where I can retrieve it when I’m preparing for those meetings sometime next week. I can file the email away immediately, keeping my inbox tidy, and know the issues it contained wont slip through the cracks. Then I can forget about it and get on triaging my inbox. Two minutes later I’m back on the task at hand. When you’ve got lots of information flying at you from all over the place this is really, really, really important.If you think you’re too busy to deal with all this productivity crap go and do it. Now. It probably saved my life.

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