Category > productivity

Learning to focus

» 23 August 2009 » In management, productivity, rambles » No Comments

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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crouch, touch, pause… engage!

» 23 August 2009 » In management, productivity » No Comments

BAM!

There I was, stuck in the middle of the scrum. Heafty, sweaty men all around me. Helpless. Hopeless. Struggling to breath amid the stench of stale sweat and testosterone. My feet start to slip in the wet mud and suddenly the scrum collapses on top of me, 15 0.1 tonne men cram onto every inch of me and their weight starts to squeeze the consciousness from my body…

I wake up, sweating. Breathing hard. Tired. So tired. Just a dream. Phew! That one would’ve hurt! The irony doens’t escape me, even at 3am. A metaphore. My life – a constant struggle against forces bigger than I. Forces over which I have seeminly little control. Yes world, that’s right. I’ve recently become… <insert overly dramatic music> a Project Manager.

OK, OK. So that never actually happened. Not for real. But most mornings those first few months, it felt like it had. Long nights, stressful days, endless meetings. I was not ready for this.

What just happened? I went from a role where I thought I was getting a pretty good apprenticeship for work as a PM. I had dev responsibilities, client facing responsibilities, operational responsibilities and control over my day to day and week to week management.  These all sound like important skills to learn before taking on a position as a Project Manager. In reality, things were a little different. Why?

Update: This post got way, way too long, so I split up the main bits into four mini-posts. Hit the ‘More’ links at the end of each taster paragraph to read the rest of the post.

Learning to focus:
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…. More

Learning to control without control:
This was a hard one for me. Just after I started this gig, our biggest client decided they wanted to use one of the apps I look after in a big way. Like two orders of magnitude larger than our current biggest client used it. There was lots of uncertainty. There were lots of meetings – internally figuring out how we were going to do this and externally convincing the client we could do this. I had to be at most of these meetings but, worse, I had to keep track of what my team were up to, how they were getting on, how likely it was that we were going to meet our commitments…. More

Learning to communicate & empathise:
The facts are this. You can no longer sit in a nice, dark corner of the office, hacking away at a bunch of bug fixes and new features, ignoring the Marketing department. You are in charge of a team of people. People who need your guidance – not because they are less intelligent than you but because they are paid to sit in a nice, dark corner of the office, hacking away at a bunch of bug fixes and new features, ignoring the Marketing department – and you are paid to ensure they can stay there, without interruption. To do this somebody must talk to the Marketing department. And Product Dev. And the Senior Management, Account Management & Sales teams. That somebody is you… More

Learning to read:
Reading is good. New skills require practice and learning. New jobs require new skills. Maybe you were lucky and had a super-manager from the day you graduated and you can just emulate them. For the rest of us we have to aim to better our personal experience. Here’s a list of stuff I’ve read that I found really useful to help managing people… More

Still with me? Good work! Quick pat on the back.

So it’s been 12 months since I started working as a PM. I’ve got loads more to say about it but I don’t want to take up any more of your valuable time. Not just yet. Needless to say it’s been a rocky road and many a time things have felt out of control. As a company we’re growing up – fast. This has lead to some very ‘interesting’ times and I’m happy to say I’ve really enjoyed (most) of the them. There are bound to be more problems around the corner but each day I feel a little more capable of handling them.

Bring it on!

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