The art of Procrastivity

People talk about how bad procrastination is, but I think that there is a way to procrastinate productively. I dub this effort PROCRASTIVITY and it helps me to do #ALLTHETHINGS!

Yes, that is a made up word…mind you if we look at the way language evolves it might be a real word soon enough. I digress, but really it’s just the synergy of how my avoidance of particular tasks can actually match up with my goals and deliver more outcomes in less time than you might expect.

To be honest I have a lot of things on the go at any one time. Collaborative projects, writing commitments, grad school, work for clients, hobbies, etc. etc. I do a lot of things in my quest to be a polymath and when I procrastinate I have discovered that I often avoid one work effort by doing another.

What? I decide that I don’t want to do my expenses and say…uhm…spend the time instead of doing my expenses writing a blog or doing research for a client. I’m not unproductive, just producing differently. You might be familiar with the feeling of being struck by a powerful need to clean out your closet when you should be doing your homework, or maybe the urgent need to squeeze in that week of meal prep before you can contemplate going to the gym. If you use your desire to avoid a task as fuel to complete another you can be abundantly productive.

While I have to admit that sometimes I do avoid tasks with the help of my couch and Netflix (I’m human people!) when I am avoiding one thing I am primarily working on something else that adds value to one of my goals.

So often we hear about the downfalls of procrastination. We hear stories of how people struggle to accomplish their basic life tasks and rarely hear positive stories. I’m here to tell you about how the act of deferring one task in favour of another can actually help people to deliver more than they thought possible.

Strategic diversity

In order to master procrastivity you need to make some choices about how you want to grow as a person. From making space to develop a creative skill, growing your career, or investing in a dream, your alternate projects need to deliver value to your life plan or personal goals. By doing this you will be assembling items that regardless of what you pick will be doing something good for you.

Think of it like a menu from your favourite restaurant, no matter what you select, it is sure to be tasty and fill your belly. BUT…… you also cannot and should not live exclusively on junk food anymore than you should limit your goals.

Implementing procrastivity

Make the initial list of everything you want to do and prioritise it. Include all the things that you want to do personally, with your loved ones, and professionally. Do not skip concepts like relaxation, fitness, and time with your family as they need to fit in just as much as getting that new certification or promotion might.

Note: The items on your list do not need to add instant value, but MUST add long term value to YOU (nobody else needs to get anything from your goals). Make sure that you are thinking thoughtfully about the things you are adding to your to-do list and how they might contribute to your overall quality of life and personal goals.

An example of this strategic diversity might be goals like learning a language, educating yourself about your professional field, training for your first marathon, doing your day job, and spending time with your family. While this might seem like a big roster of items you can easily slot them all in if you are aware about what items you can be flexible with and what items you need to stick to a schedule with.

Something like education in your professional field could have complete flexibility because you are reading/listening to content about the topic or maybe taking part in a MOOC. These items can be done in the time you wait in a queue for coffee or when you have a few moments free waiting for transit. Comparatively, things like our day jobs can’t be quite as flexible so you have to slot the other items around them.

Most items sit in the middle zone. Training for a marathon for example might require a certain commitment of hours on the road so you need to find a block of time a few days a week before or after work, while family/partner time might be very flexible about the when and not about the how much so you block most of your weeknights to dedicate to your goals and spend your weekend adventuring with your loved ones.

You also have to accept that the priority must correlate to how much time you can invest in each item right now. Maybe that means that something is not going to get as much attention in the short term because of current demands, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t continue to progress as time allows and may become more focused when something else reduces in volume or effort.

Opportunity for connections

So often when we are in the middle of something specific we develop tunnel vision. We forget about other perspectives or options. It’s not our fault, it just happens.

Procrastivity allows us to see new links between seemingly disparate topics through reflection and new knowledge creation. Personal reflection is often powered by walking away from a task and provides us with chances to let our subconscious brain problem solve as it places the new knowledge into slots in our brains. More often than not something that I have been working on for one thing can serve to inform another when I least expect it.

Learn new things

I know this is a bit overly simplified, but doing more than one thing intentionally helps you to learn and grow as a person. We can never know how a passion to learn to play the guitar might result in finding your dream job because of a connection you make or a place you go. Creating a plan to extend your comfort zone will be sure to drive you forward in more ways than the single skill you are acquiring or developing in that moment.

So, now that you have realised that procrastivity is the way forward what are you going to do about it?

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#Procrastivity for the WIN!

There are also some great to-do lists that can help you to master procrastivity. I really like this one from That’s what she said.

A blog by any other name

I’ve been blogging for a long time now. I originally started in 2009 for a charity project I was working on and discovered a passion to share my ideas with the world (even if most of them were only ever read by my mom-Hi Mom!).

On this forum alone my posts go back to 2011, many of which are still relevant today. While I should admit I am highly critical of my evolution as a writer, I have never been afraid of to have confidence in my ideas no matter how flawed the delivery might have been. I credit this confidence in my words to the passion of my early years: journaling, and to the professors who give me good grades on my work.

So today I am wondering what the value my contributions and those of others are making on our culture and the digital space as a whole through the act of blogging.

Creating community and sharing ideas

The internet and all that lives on it from blogs and forums to ratings and reviews are about connection across time and space. Sharing ideas with people without regard for their time zone is something that makes blogging special.

Bloggers like Luis Suarez discuss the idea that this community and collaborative lifestyle is our right as citizens of the world. Kathleen Asselin also speaks of this interactive lifestyle and momentum in growth in her thesis (reference here: sadly not available outside of a library).

My posts started as essays on topics I was faced with in the workplace. They are littered with challenges of offering great customer experiences in eCommerce and digital marketing, topics, which were the reason I started erinburrell.ca. Here and there I would throw in a few accolades for those doing great things, but it quickly morphed into business commentary and hard-won survival tips with a sprinkling of academic content added for good measure.

Creating reach to new content and topics

As a student and scholar, I have access to publications most people only armed with Google and an internet connection will never see. Content under the badge of being scholarly and peer reviewed is often highly researched, validated, and edited for quality but sadly read even less than my personal blog in some cases.

Part of that fault is, of course, the desire for people to be paid for their content. An idea which with just a smidgen of understanding what it takes to publish an article makes sense. I have access to a great deal of paid content because I pay tuition and rich library access is included in my fees. I agree that content creators should be paid for their efforts, but I am sad that many publications and ideas will never reach people who could benefit from them.

Unfortunately, that means that the ideas we are all exposed to at no cost in some cases are….. well…. Let’s just call them poorly researched and not well cited to be generous.

Heidi Estes discusses the idea that blogging makes space for personal commentary and criticism in academic efforts and helps to round out the ideas of a scholar (here’s hoping).  Sadly her blog was not in the first few pages of search so the closest I can offer you for free is the abstract of one of her articles discussing the topic in more detail.-You can purchase instant access to the entire article for about what Netflix costs you each month.

Finding the balance: Freemium content

Freemium is one of my favourite things about the digital age. I could dedicate more than one post just to the value I think this adds to the digital economy, but for the uninitiated, this means that you have access to a product or service with limits. If you want to live life without limits you must pay for the privilege-somewhat like TV in the 90’s.

Great content providers in the entertainment, business, and journalistic space have embraced this idea. Harvard Business Review will let you read a little, as will People.com and the New York Times, but after you reach the limit it’s pay to play. I wish academia would embrace this, but I suppose it will be scholars like me that can change the face of publishing if we want to.

Freemium in my opinion, is the best of both worlds. Creators get paid and if they are producing content people really enjoy, in turn they pay for a subscription or buy what they want in an a la carte pricing menu.

So who am I to direct you?

Today I would call myself a scholar-practitioner. I study a number of topics and currently practice in the space of information technology and business strategy. My content is free and without the burden of extra ads and marketing because I pay service providers for blocking additional noise from my words.

If you like something I share or dislike it for that matter, you are welcome to comment, like and follow me. Or not. Your call.

I will continue to share my thoughts because I might be able to offer connections between the dots of concepts that you wouldn’t hear about without me.

I do ask you to forgive the gaps that may occur between posts. I am currently working toward my second masters degree, work full time and have lots of hobbies that keep me busy.  Plus, we all know that I actually pay for the chance to talk to you through this forum (domain registration, ad suspension, web hosting), not the other way around.

Then again delays could be that I am randomly surfing YouTube watching the cat videos that make the internet great.

Head to the archives and see what else I have to say.

Acting on your research: The business and humanities merger

Most of my career and definitely throughout my academic efforts, I have attempted to make immediate use of the knowledge I acquire. For me, application (or in some cases failed application) is in direct correlation with my ability to understand concepts clearly. What I didn’t realise was that despite being traditionally business-focused, many models of planning and research are pretty much the same, just with fancier pictures and acronyms in some cases.

In business we have models, and in the humanities we have models, while most people are loyal to one side very little keeps them apart. The main difference between the two seems to be a bit of editing and marketing jargon. Business, as we know is overwhelmed with buzz-words and visual tools to support memory and application. The humanities seems to be equally filled with people using big words to tell the story a picture could effectively convey.

One of these is just like the other

While neither approach is right or wrong, the more we understand the similarities, the more the two disciplines can merge for more effective implementation.

Action Research

The goal of action research is to learn from current and past experiences (through data analysis, interviews, literature reviews, etc.) and arrive at new approaches to problem-solving.

Following seven basic steps action research allows the researcher to make informed decisions about what is working or not working and arrive at conclusions that allow them to put their learning into practice to improve the life of the participants.

  1. Select focus: Identify the problem area
  2. Clarify theories: Perform preliminary research around the topic to ensure a clear understanding of challenges currently valid
  3. Identify research question: narrowing the field of purview to a single question
  4. Collect data: Through first person study or literature review
  5. Analyse data: with the research question in mind
  6. Report results: share with those involved
  7. Take informed action: based on what you know

Sounds simple right?

What I didn’t see at the beginning of the exercise was that this model is just the same as one that I have been using for years. I wasn’t calling it action research I was calling it lean management.

Lean Management-PDCA

The goal of lean management and the PDCA model is to focus on continuous improvement and the elimination of muda (waste). Muda is described by Kaizen World with 9 types of waste including wasted time, effort, and motion. This description is broader that the seven types traditionally listed, but is relevant for today’s environment.

Elimination of muda can focus on items like efficiency in production, reducing wait times, inventory maximisation (human or physical), ultimately resulting in process improvement.

Contrary to many opinions, lean management application is not limited to the traditional environment of manufacturing where it was born at Toyota. Lean methodologies are being used to create better human workflows and more effective automation in categories like marketing and health care.

  1. Plan: Identify the challenge and what you want to change
  2. Do: Carry out the test in a small (hopefully low risk) environment or pilot project
  3. Check: Identify what worked and what didn’t
  4. Act/Adjust: Place new knowledge into application

Sure, lean does in four steps what action does in seven, but what is really different? Nothing. The same concepts hold true for both. The more work you do planning and analysing, the more capable you will be of making change that is significant and valuable to participants.

So, what does this teach me? It reminds me that business and humanities are closer than I think. It also tells me that as my knowledge builds the ability to translate concepts from one to the other will be empowering.

Resources

Wikipedia PDCA

What is Action Research?

Kaizen for Dummies

Kaizen World

The importance of teams

Being a part of a high performing team is a pretty rewarding thing. What few people realise is that it rarely happens overnight, and is incredibly special when it does.

Pulling the weight

I’ll admit it, I never used to like working on teams. A team always meant pulling someone else’s weight and dealing with last minute scrambles to do work that someone else committed to delivering and didn’t. I’ve talked about how everyone wins when everyone contributes here, but sadly this is not always the case.

Over years of working in ineffective teams, it became easier to promise only what I could deliver and so I became an advocate for independent projects. Truth be told, even when I started to manage people I was selective about how I continued to work within the team I was leading. This is a bad habit to get into and only serves to create large groups of people doing tasks in a similar space.

Nothing changes without new inputs

In order to create a new output something has to change or be introduced. Yes, as an individual I was able to get things done. I was able to consistently deliver at a reasonable level, but nothing was pushing me forward.

Working independently doesn’t offer as many chances to grow a skill base or challenge ideas. By working with others, you are able to collaborate and create great ideas and output from what would otherwise be good enough, but not spectacular.

Some people would argue that they are pushed by reading and engaging with new content through independent development efforts and while this is partially true, we cannot always see past a single idea or concept limiting the scope of our ability to grow. A second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes, experiences, and ideas offers us that new perspective to help us develop.

Making things great

Great teams challenge one another through dialogue, brainstorming and more. By introducing new variables, (such as alternate skill-sets and backgrounds), we are able to develop hybrids of our approaches that meet the needs in new ways.

Sometimes this leads to creating something that is entirely new. This magic cannot happen without a collaborative approach to delivery.

With good comes bad

Challenging a person’s ideas is a place for potential growth and has the high potential to create conflict. Having lived through some pretty tense team environments, I can say that this is something that should be addressed early on.

Setting expectations for engagement and conflict resolution early in the effort cam serve to avoid or limit the scope of these issues. I understand that one bad experience can create a bit of fear when it comes to team delivery, I have to say that when it all comes down to the end it is all worth the drama.

My discovery: great teams are strange polygamous relationships.

Each person finds their way to contribute and cares for the team dynamic differently. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people I might never have met because of team assignments and I am better for them all.

In order to create high functioning teams, tools like charters, communication plans, and expectation management are critical.

There are lots of resources out there that can help, but Lane Sherman, a former team coach of mine recently wrote a book that really steps you through everything you need. You can buy it here. I was lucky enough to help provide feedback on it, and he has done a great job taking some of the mystery out of developing (or fixing) teams.

 

 

Mutations in the Public Domain

Bond. Steve Bond.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, now does it?

Every day we use methods and models that used to belong to someone else to produce intellectual property of all sorts that we eventually profit from. In software, we often talk about open source versus closed source code bases as though they cannot possibly ever connect. In many cases closed source code involves open source areas and vice versa. This is true in the real world in many cases as well.

As a writer I like to think that my ideas are open source and the words that I have actually written are closed. In my head my words are mine for now and forever. It’s a magical concept that doesn’t really exist.

Sadly the reality is that my words are mine, for now at least, but at some point in the future they will not belong to me or to those who inherit what I leave behind. Eventually whether or not my words are worth remembering, they will progress to the public domain.

So what is the public domain?

The public domain is a place where ideas and words blend together to be created and redesigned in the way a new author or producer sees fit. It’s open source ideas and words to be mixed and matched for the profit of whoever wants to create something with them.

The best example of content in the public domain that I can come up with is the fairy tale. Since most of our favourites are hundreds of years old, people are able to re-write/re-produce them and even subsequently profit however they want and no income is returned to the original author or those who now hold their estate.

As someone who has been raised with these recycled favourites I had come to accept the idea that every fairy tale was mine as much as it was a possession of The Brothers Grimm.

So… why should anyone care?

50 to 70 years after our death our ideas become public domain for mutation in good and bad ways.

The first founding part of modern pop culture has become public domain in Canada (every country has different time guides). James Bond is no longer part of the Ian Flemming estate and someone has already written a new Bond book.

It made me realise that even books and movies that shaped my childhood like Star Wars and Harry Potter are en route to public domain too. After all George Lucas is already over 70 so maybe not in my lifetime, but shortly thereafter someone may create something new with themes that I hold dear.

All of the things that shape us as are eventually subject to reinterpretation by others.

I hope that at some point someone may think it’s a good idea to build on an idea or theory I present helping to further contribute to the wider body of global knowledge, but they may also mutate it beyond measure and that is outside of my control.
 

Head back to Academic and Social Research or check out other posts on Education.

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Developing tomorrows women leaders

Are we creating great leaders or are we holding people back from leading because we see sex as changing the skills a leader needs?

I recently scrolled through the tops posts in two groups I belong to on LinkedIn. In the leadership group, I saw articles on growing your team, dealing with challenging employees, and moderating the needs of clients with your corporate culture. These articles talked about both hard and soft skills a strong leader needs and how to develop them. Pretty standard leadership stuff I thought.

However, from the women in leadership group, I saw very different topics. The most popular subjects included appropriate clothing /jewellery choices and an article posted and written by men asking if women entrepreneurs could make it in a man’s world. Add this to the fact that some of the most popular threads on social media are discussing Hillary Clinton’s favourite designers instead of her policies and I find myself wondering who is to blame for challenges getting women into leadership positions.

So this tells me that women leaders need to know about fashion and failure rates and men need to know about gaining hard and soft skills that help them develop as people managers and executives. Hmm, one of these is not like the other.

When we as managers see someone with work ethic and ambition should we be treating them differently because of their sex?

My answer is no. I see my role as a people manager dedicated to helping grow those that report to me in whatever way they want to develop. If that means grooming them for dealing with challenging situations and teaching them the hard skills that they need I see that as my job.

If I am mentoring either sex I focus on their abilities and opportunities and none of the topics we cover has to do with what necklace or watch they might be wearing.

So how do we develop more women leaders? We start treating all high potential candidates the same way regardless of which washroom they use.

Everyone wins when everyone pulls-Cycling Lessons on Leadership

A few years ago I made a commitment to ride my bike across Canada with the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation as a method to raise funds and awareness for paediatric cancer. I expected emotional and physical challenges as we crossed the vast landscape, but what I never thought was that I would learn lessons on leadership at the same time.
Organised sports have long been cited as being the foundation for adults and youth alike to take on challenges as a team and work to achieve them. However, in the more traditional team environment the role of leader is traditionally filled through a coach or manager who comes with more experience. This often limits the opportunity to have those not comfortable with leadership roles to step up and try them on.

Everyone Pulls

What road cycling taught me was that in a great team EVERYONE holds a leadership position. Certainly there are those that are naturally stronger and are able to carry more of the weight, but a great peloton (cycling formation) is formed with a balanced approach.

When each person takes a turn in the front of the group (referred to as pulling), the rest of the team can take a moment to recover their strength at the back so they are ready for their next turn. This small reprieve from the wind or weather provides each individual a chance to rest and reset.

Short Turns

Now, not everyone is ready to pull for hundreds of kiliometres, but even just a short stint at the front can help to build confidence and skill for those with less experience. It also provides those with knowledge and talent to pull beside the less accomplished rider and help them to improve as individuals.

Is it the journey or the destination?

These short stints as group leader might not be as fast or as smooth a ride as those led by one of the more talented riders in the group, but in the end the whole team can arrive at their destination just the same. Each time I was empowered to pull despite being the least skilled rider, I felt more connected to my team and was able to push my own boundaries further. As a result of pushing outside my comfort zone I improved and became a better contributor to the team as a whole.

In business we often default to doing things with the same people “pulling” because it is what we know. This leaves the bulk of the team hiding from the weather and wind and coasting along behind without a chance to learn and grow. It also often causes a rift between those at the front and those at the back because they never get the time to bond and share skills if they don’t switch positions and see the view from another persons saddle.

Maybe it takes a few more minutes to arrive so everyone can contribute, or maybe it means getting rained on, but each person got to grow through the process. This results in making the whole team more capable of meeting the next challenge.

In the end if the entire team meets its goal, does it make any difference how you got there? 

Why consultants need to say NO

Often a client is hiring a consultant to validate a decision they have already made. While in many cases the client is correct in their assessment of what might be broken in their organisation, they are probably not as well versed on the best way to reach a solution as the consultant likely is.

Consultants get hired because they have been exposed to multiple scenarios that occur in the same industry or vertical. They have met business challenges with different approaches and learned along the way what works, doesn’t work, and where the risks are. That knowledge is why businesses engage with consultants.

As consultants, we need to balance customer service and our desire to have repeat business with doing the right thing for our client. Sometimes that requires us to say NO.

Why no isn’t a bad word

As a client hearing no with the right logic and a contrary approach isn’t a bad thing as long as good judgment and reasoning are there. If an alternate solution is safer, faster, better for long-term growth, employee satisfaction, or fill in the blank, they will hear you and respond accordingly.

Actually client X, I see the correct approach as blah, blah, because of logic blah and blah. At alternate client Y we had success using this approach, because blah, and learned the following blah.

However, this means that we as consultants need to think before we speak. You cannot just blurt out the fact that the client’s approach is wrong; you must craft your response with evidence and examples. Once you have shared your reply, they should be at least considering your irrefutable proof. If they still refuse to follow your route, you have offered them a solid reason for how they should approach their challenges and that is where you are valuable.

When the client ignores your advice

Accept it. Move on, and think carefully if you want them as a client in the future. Logos on your client reel aren’t worth badly implemented programs so make sure that if you are going to do it their way, you can make the execution a success.

No fee or client logo is worth a black mark on your reputation.