The Chaotic Symphony.
Throughout the course of a typical week in the office I attract action items and tasks like mosquitos on a summer night. They appear from every direction and often without notice as part of what I call organizational entropy. Most professional workers today have this dilemma because there are so many sources tasks can originate:
- Meeting minutes (usually in a word file or email)
- Meeting minutes (verbally given because no one wrote the minutes)
- Ticketing system / Service desk
- Project plans (Excel, MS Project, Software Development System)
- Personal notebooks
- Hallway conversations
- Customer requests for information
It’s easy to get to a state where the loudest voices get my attention during the week and I lose all sense of priority. Having tasks in multiple places makes it easy to lose them and really difficult to see what is most important. Help!
Make a Corral.
I’ve tried different systems over the years to corral tasks into a reduced number of areas. I try to group personal tasks outside of ticketing systems and email together into one tool. Getting down to one tool is part of a simplification plan that makes managing action items achievable. A single location allows me to group, sort, and prioritize the list.
I’ve tried a number of electronic solutions over the years and at times I just use pen and paper. There is a no perfect tool or system. What we choose to use is a personal preference based on how we think, how we mentally organize data, and what we can make part of our routine.
Personally, I prefer a tool that puts a task into the context of the larger body of work. I like a task list that is easily searchable. I like a tool that allows me to add notes and related documents to the task.
Some action items, like service tickets, are assigned in group workflow tools. These tasks require interaction with the customer/requestor or project manager. Using group workflow tools provides communication back to the requestor and keeps a record of the interaction.
Two important attributes for tasks.
To create an effective system for tracking my tasks and action items I try to focus on two key attributes. If you are evaluating methods or tools then consider these:
- Communication – Keeping the requestor current with clear communication is the best way to reduce the number of status report inquiries.
- Visibility – It hurts when I forget about a task. That’s like letting someone down because I forgot about something that is important to them. I need to pick a tool that I will both use and will see through the course of a day.
Making it routine.
Since I have tasks in both a personal to-do list and group workflow systems, I created an entry in my leader standard work definition so they receive recurring attention. Without some definition of routine our day is ruled by the loudest voices. That’s not productive.
Let’s do this.
Onward and upward!
I’ve been using Windows 10 for about seven months for both home and office computing. Here’s a quick list of some useful productivity tricks I like to use:
- Print to PDF
The ability to transform any document to PDF format is built in to Windows 10. Just select the print function from your application and choose the built-in printer called “Microsoft Print to PDF”. This will prompt you for the location to the save the PDF. From there you can share or print to paper as needed.
- Change applications / Task view
For the longest time I’ve switched to another open application by scrolling through open applications with the atl+tab keys. I still use that quite a bit because it is habit. Windows 10 shows open applications in a condensed view (called task view) in several ways:
- Windows Key + tab
- Three finger swipe up on the touch pad
- Pressing the task view button on the taskbar
- Using virtual desktops
Windows 10 supports virtual desktops. It’s a way to assign open applications to different desktops. In our office environment most employees use multiple physical monitors while docked to get this effect. They can drag windows across monitors. But if you don’t have multiple monitors you can get the effect using a virtual desktop. Here’s how:
- Windows key + tab to open task view
- Three finger swipe up to open task view
At the bottom of the screen you’ll see desktops in the center and a button to create a new desktop in the right corner. You can drag open windows from the task view into a desktop at the bottom.
This could be useful if you have some applications that need to remain open but you don’t want them to clutter the space in your primary working view.
- Minimize all open windows / Show desktop
I frequently want to get something on the desktop view and I start minimizing open windows. After four or five clicks I still haven’t found the desktop because I didn’t realize how many open windows I had! Here’s a simple way to get back to the desktop:
- Windows key + D
- Three finger swipe down on the touch pad
- Scroll up/down
There are many ways to scroll up and down on a screen. A nice feature for laptop users with a touchpad is to use two fingers on the touchpad to scroll up and down.
- Wi-Fi on/off Toggle
I move between wired and wireless connections each day. I don’t like to have Wi-Fi enabled while I’m on a wired connection. Technically Windows will support this configuration but I don’t like the idea of having two default gateways and Windows choosing how paths are prioritized. For some reason by default Windows prioritizes the wireless connection over a wired connection even though throughput for the wired connection should be higher. Here’s how to toggle the Wi-Fi on/off:
- There is a physical toggle switch on many laptops. My Dell model has a slide switch on the right-side next to the USB connections.
- Press this icon in the task bar or select Windows key + A. This will bring up a series of toggle switches for commonly used features. One of them is Wi-Fi . Simply press the toggle switch to turn on/off.
Let me know what productivity tips and tricks you have for Windows 10.
Onward and upward!
Open spaces in the office?
I’ve started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Part 1 of the book, titled “Extrovert Ideal”, suggests that American society is dominated by those who project, present, and socialize well with large groups. Cain gives examples and shows that extroverts are the people most likely to influence and lead our society. As Cain relates to the business world she touches on the trend over the past decade to tear down cubicle walls and build open spaces. The rationale of business and organizational planners is that open spaces are cheaper to maintain and promote greater team unity and collaboration. Cain argues that these open spaces are not having the desired effect on collaboration and in-fact may hinder it. (She uses the results of numerous studies that I won’t restate here.) One of her main points is that inventors, artists, writers, and engineers need private spaces to create their best work. This is counter to the New Groupthink ideology that teaches creativity comes from open and collaborative places.
What’s that noise?
I searched for other viewpoints on this topic because I have a direct interest in how to lead and motivate groups of people that code (create something) for a living. Lindsey Kaufman writes that open offices are detrimental to productivity. I like Kaufman’s viewpoint because she gives first-hand experience of moving to an open office format. One of her main assertions is that productivity suffers as a result of noise distractions. What’s lost is the ability to concentrate on a single task and think uninterrupted for an extended period of time.
Should we dump open office spaces?
As with most things in life, I feel like office seating arrangements needs to find a balance. There is a case for open seating and group collaboration. There are times when groups do need to come together and share their ideas and work through problems. But there are also times when those who create things for a living need a private space to work their trade.
I don’t have the answers, as I’ve just begun to wrestle with this question and the viewpoints of others such as Cain and Kaufman. Knoll Work Place Research put together a nice study comparing and contrasting open work spaces to private offices. For most companies it is not financially possible to have every employee assigned to a private office. But there are options that can be explored to find a balance for employees:
- Work from home for private office space
- Have a set of offices designated as private spaces around the office. Employees can reserve the spaces as they would a conference room or operate first come-first serve. I expect there would be other logistical items to work-through with this arrangement such as how long the space can be reserved.
- The study by Knoll shows that the height of walls between stations in an open space has an impact on the productivity of workers. Lower walls open-up collaboration but can also make employees concerned about privacy and added noises.
I don’t think completely dumping open office spaces is the best answer. Companies need to develop cultures and that is difficult to do if everyone is always working privately.
If you have an opinion on this topic, I’d love to hear from you. I’m particularly interested in first-hand experiences.
Onward and upward!