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A guest post by Romée Jager

Do you also feel overwhelmed and overloaded before the day has even started? Then don’t worry, you are not alone. It is 7:30 AM and I started working half an hour ago. Even though it is only the beginning of my working day, I already feel that I am way behind on my tasks. I am staring at my screen and scrolling through my emails, opening a few, marking them as unread again and giving them a colour code. 

I feel overwhelmed and do not know where to start. My solution? Preparing myself a cup of coffee. While the smell of fresh roasted coffee beans reaches my nostrils, I think about how to structure my tasks for the day ahead. 

I am wondering why we ‘’only’’ have 24 hours in a day and I start wondering whether I will make it in time for my dinner appointment, as I will probably have to work late again. I feel like my mind is going in a downward spiral and suddenly I remember something that Angie Weinberger once told me: ‘’it is not that we need more hours in a day, instead we should prioritize better’’. 

I mean it would be great if somebody could invent a time machine and could double the time we have in a day. But let’s face it, as the time machine is not invented (yet), we need to find ways to boost our productivity to simply get more done in the time we have. 

Manage your Energy

If you enter ‘’Improving Productivity’’ on Google more than 226 million results pop up including many articles providing productivity hacks. We already provided your Angie’s seven productivity hacks.

However, when implementing those tips it is fundamental to consider your biorhythm. Knowing your chronotype is key.

Instead of just scrolling through our emails and randomly doing some of our tasks, we should carefully reconsider when we do certain tasks in order to increase our productivity. According to Daniel Pink, international best selling author of six provocative books about business and human behavior, big chances of performance can be seen depending on time of day. Therefore, instead of just doing our tasks randomly, we should carefully plan and structure our day. Our day is divided into three periods of productivity that Pink calls: Peak, Through, and Recovery. 

As you plan your day ahead, you need to consider your different periods of productivity. Do you recognize any of the mentioned productivity periods? Consider when you are in which productivity period. When do you have the most energy during the day? 

During which part of the day are you the most focused? Try to identify for yourself the different levels of productivity during the day and plan your tasks accordingly. Personally, my peak time is during the morning until lunch, therefore, this is the time for me to do some highly focused work. After lunch, my productivity drops and I see myself scrolling through my emails again. 

As I already had three cups of coffee, it is not the time to get another one. Instead, this is the time for me to start on the administrative tasks and routine activities. During my ‘’Through’’ period I start feeling that the ‘’Recovery’’ is coming and I move to more creative and insightful tasks again. 

Everybody has their own subjective understanding of chronological time. 

How to get started

Maintaining a Have-Done Diary could be a great help to recognize how you use your daily time and to give you an understanding of when you are focused. When you have identified your different productivity periods, the next step is to plan your tasks accordingly. After a while you can see your productivity skyrocketing and your pile of work slinking. 

As a consequence, you can peacefully shut down your work computer and feel satisfied. You can even plan your tasks for tomorrow already. You can now be at ease and can attend the dinner parties with your loved ones. You might even sing along with the radio while driving home, because you got things done! You come home and your mind is where it needs to be, present in the moment. 

If you want to learn more about timing and our hidden patterns then we recommend you to read the book ‘’When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing’’ by Daniel Pink. 

Do you find it challenging to identify your productivity periods? Or do you feel that you need to reset yourself again? Then our RockMeRetreat from 18 to 25 November 2021 is for you! 

During the RockMeRetreat we will work on boosting your productivity. Hopefully, once you come back from this week you will feel refreshed and inspired again and ready to tackle whatever challenges arise. Does this sound interesting to you? Then you can sign up here to be invited or Angie will be happy to set up a meeting with you to discuss your participation. 

About the Author

Romée Jager is the Academic Intern at Global People Transitions. She loves travelling and is passionate about exploring new cultures. As a soon to be graduate in Intercultural Management, she considers herself as an interculturalist. She has been working in a Dutch governmental youth panel for over 7 years where her aim was to give the youth a voice in the Dutch political system. She believes in continuous learning and is passionate about exploring and doing research. She wrote her master thesis about Defensive Nationalism and is interested in furthering her research. She is wishing to pursue a PhD in social sciences. 

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Entsorgung

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas and none of my own ideas are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming me.” – Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1954

When I was a teenager, we had set meal times and would actually sit on a table together at least twice a day. Our family brunch on Sundays would often lead to a conversation about a “problem”. My dad was studying to be a Carl Rogers client-centered therapist at the time and I am not sure if he sometimes tried to use a questioning method or if he was just very skilled in giving me and my sister the space and safety in which we could just “let it out”. 

Having this kind of open environment in which you would be able to talk through anything is a family tradition which we still live with when we are together. Even though my dad and sister have left this earth already a long time ago, my mum, my aunt and I often sit down and just talk through anything, we love to analyze why a person shows a certain behaviour and how we can solve relationship issues. For me, this is so normal that I sometimes need to remind myself that it is not at all “normal” but rather extraordinary, especially in the German context. I would assume other families have a stronger discussion around political topics, money issues (how to save it) or even more mundane topics like sports.

I, on the other hand, have realized in a conversation with friends that sharing problems and openly talking about feelings, insecurities or areas of your life where you might not feel like “Wonder Woman” could be misinterpreted or it could come across as if you don’t really know where you are going. 

Which is funny, because right now I feel completely safe and on the right path of my life. I have a strong sense of alignment between my strengths and my life’s work. Insecurities of artistic types are normal because we expose ourselves to critiques a lot more often than the average business professional but most companies also train people to use other words than “problem” or we are not allowed to use words such as “drama”. 

It took me years to weed out the “corporate speak” in my writing and even a word like “alignment” creeps me out a bit as it feels “corporate”. This year during a meditation I chose the word “Roots” for my word of 2021. Solving problems is one of my roots and hence I wanted to share four beliefs behind problems with you.

Problems remind us of Math in High School

When I think of problems I think of my favorite math teacher (who also died rather young) and his gigantic triangle. He had the outer appearance of a garden dwarf but he was a great math and physics teacher. He even made me like physics at some stage. In math we had to solve problems all the time and sometimes this would cause stress. I can’t remember this from school or university but I know that I personally don’t like those psychometric tests which are sometimes still used in banks and consulting firms to weed out candidates. The classical IQ tests focussing on calculations in your head can be stressful if you grew up using a calculator. “Being bad with numbers” is a common stereotype of women and often used against women. I’m concerned that women might often not be “bad with numbers” but with the pressure of solving a mathematical problem without using EXCEL or without a calculator and under time constraints. If you take this into consideration with a bit of practice and a good teacher every math problem usually is solvable. And this is exactly what I mean with a “problem”. It’s a riddle that is complex and will need time, practice and different angles to be solved. Do you like crossword puzzles? Could you imagine an upcoming “issue” or pickle to be approached like a crossword puzzle? Write down all the pieces, paint a picture and see if a solution shows up.

Problems seem to be too complex to solve

Sometimes solving problems alone is not possible. Problems might seem too complex to solve. You might have a machine in front of you and you always follow the same steps and always end up with the same error messages. For this kind of problem you either need Google or you need to ask someone who understands the machine better than you do. You need to potentially try several times and several different approaches. You can write down what you did to solve the problem, you can ask a bot for help or you can ask around in your network. Maybe someone else has encountered the same problem and has a solution or a workaround. My advice is usually to break the problem into smaller tasks or to paint an image to understand the components and how they are interconnected. Are you confronted with a problem you cannot solve? Which steps have you taken and tried already? Would it be time to ask for help? If you aren’t getting help, should you escalate the issue to the next level now? What is at stake? Can you allow yourself a bit of discomfort?

Problems harm our “Wonder-Woman” self-image

Having problems is often associated with shortcomings and hence harms our self-image of being a perfect “Wonder Woman”. However, this self-image also creates a lot of harm, especially when life isn’t perfect. For example, when I was in my thirties and forties not being able to get pregnant, nor holding my marriage together in two locations with two careers was a real problem. Up until then I was living in this illusion that life was planable and that all you had to do was to take action and be a go-getter. I might have exaggerated this a bit too much since I lost half of my family rather early in life. I probably thought “okay, from now on I will just plan this better.” (I really love plans, spreadsheets and to-do lists.)

Life isn’t like that and during my coach training I learned to accept that. I also learned that you cannot change other people, you can only change yourself. And do you know who is really a “Wonder Woman”? It’s a woman who loves herself anyway, despite the failure of her body at producing offspring, despite her failed marriage and despite the stain on her top. Ask yourself if you could accept a little more each day and what it would take to “be yourself”? What does it mean for you? Maybe start with a small change, like wearing a different outfit or letting your hair down.

Problems could show us a dependency we are not happy about.

Often a problem is a conflict of two or three different interests pulling into different directions. It can also stem from opposing beliefs and constructs of reality. If we cannot seem to solve a problem alone we might feel dependent and many of us don’t like to ask for help. It’s a common stereotype that men don’t like to ask for directions. However, I don’t like to ask for directions either. Mainly because I have a hard time differentiating left and right sometimes and again asking for how something is done best could show a weakness of sorts. Are you afraid to ask for help? Are you unhappy to depend on a colleague, a mentor or a friend? If so, ask yourself why that is? What is so shameful about asking for help?

Problems are here to guide us on our past. Obstacles are learning opportunities and pain is useful. Approach your day with a small problem you wish to solve and add a weekly practice to your RockMeApp around solving problems.

If you feel overwhelmed with a bigger problem and you don’t know how to ask for help or who to turn to, maybe it’s time to talk to me about a coaching program or the RockMeRetreat. Please reply “Magic” to this email and we will make an appointment for a free consultation of 30 minutes.


The Digital Nomad – Part 3 – Improve Your Productivity Kanban-Style

Last week, when you could not fall asleep because you felt overwhelmed by the increasing number of items on your to-do list, you had the brilliant idea to buy post-its and start to plan your next four weeks. Then, you also thought about writing down your 25 priorities. 

You already felt a little relieved and fell asleep. However, the question remains “did you actually do what you planned the day after?”

I bet you didn’t do it even if you thought it was a great idea.

 

The good news is that what happened to you last week happens to most of us too. The bad news is that when you do this in your personal life, you are more inclined to do the same in your professional life as well. We accept a mediocre solution or we try to put a plaster on a process instead of analyzing the root cause of the issue.

According to Schwarzt et al (2014), the great majority of companies see this phenomenon as a challenge to productivity and overall performance, but struggles to handle it. According to Deloitte, over half of the respondents to her survey  say that “their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.” 57 percent believe their organizations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and supporting employees manage information flow.

Have we lost all of our ideals of Total Quality Management (This is a management approach to long-term process through customer satisfaction. In a Total Quality Management effort, all members of an organization participates in improving processes, products, services and the culture in which they work)  from the good old nineties? Do you know about Kanban and visualizing process flows?

We need to learn how to become more productive and we need to learn it now. If, like me, you are always eager to receive tips on how to increase productivity, check this podcast out.

Kanban 

Kanban is a lean method which originated in lean manufacturing, which was inspired by the Toyota Production System. It aims at managing work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks. 

In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process management system which facilitates decision-making about what, when, and how much to produce. 

Among the most important characteristics is that work items are visualized to provide a view of progress and process, from start to finish, usually through a Kanban board. Indeed, in Japanese, kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.”

Kanban Boards 

A colorful, tidy and good-looking kanban board is one of the most effective tools in project management. It can be used to plan and work through any project, both in your personal and professional life. 

Kanban boards visually display a certain process in its various stages using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each phase of the process. Cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to help coordinate teams performing the work. 

Simple boards have vertical columns for the “to-do”, “doing”, and “done” work.  Alternatively, they may be labelled “waiting”, “in progress” and “completed”. Complex Kanban boards can also be divided into horizontal “swim lanes” representing different types of work or different teams performing the work. Additionally, it can subdivide the “in progress” work into multiple columns to visualise the flow of work across a whole value stream map.

Example of a Kanban board:

 

Seven core practices for Kanban

 

Here I suggest six core practices that will make you optimize the efficiency of the tool and become a master of kanban boards.

  1. Visualize the flow of work. You cannot work on a Kanban board, either physical or electronic, if you cannot visualize the process steps needed to deliver your work. Depending on the complexity of your process and your work-mix, your Kanban board can be very simple or very elaborate. Once you visualize your process, then you can visualize the current work that you and your team are doing. 
  2. Use Colors. Use post-its in different colors for different types of projects. Or, if you decide to use this tool for personal life projects, consider using different colors for different kinds of activities (orange for the projects you wish to complete at home, yellow for your children’s requests, and so on).
  3. Limit WIP (Work in Progress). It’s important to reduce WIP to a minimum to encourage yourself and your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. Work currently in progress must be completed and marked done. This creates capacity in the system, so that you can focus on new tasks. Limiting WIP helps you finish what they are doing already before taking up new stuff. This practice is also useful because it communicates to the customer and other stakeholders that there is limited capacity to do work, and they need to plan carefully what work they ask you or your team to do.
  4. Manage Flow.. A Kanban system helps you manage flow by highlighting the various phases of the workflow and the status of work in every single phase. Based on how well you defined the workflow and set the limits to WIP, you will observe either a smooth flow of processes or work piling up as a bottleneck forms and starts to hold up capacity. Kanban helps you analyze the system and adjust their work accordingly to improve flow. In this way, you will manage to reduce the time it takes to complete each task. By improving flow, your delivery of work becomes smoother and more predictable, making it easier to communicate to your customer when you will manage to get any work done. You will also automatically increase your reliability to your customers’ eyes.
  5. Make Process Policies Explicit. Visualize explicitly your policies, process rules or guidelines for how you do your work. In this way, you create common ground for all those involved in the process to understand how to work in the system. The various policies can be at the board level or at a “swim lane” level or for each column. Examples of explicit policies are: what defines a task complete, what describes individual “swim lanes” or columns, who pulls when, etc. 
  6. Implement Feedback Loops. This practice is an essential part of any good system. Kanban encourages and helps you implement different types of feedback loops. If you want to deliver the right work in the shortest possible time, it’s crucial to get feedback early, especially if you ended up on the wrong track.
  7. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method). The Kanban Method helps you implement small changes and improve gradually in a way that is sustainable for you and your team. It encourages you to form a hypothesis, test it and make changes according to the results you obtain. In a few words, it aims at tackling issues through a scientific method. As an individual or team who aims at being agile, it’s fundamental that you evaluate your process continuously and improve as much as needed.

Notable tools

This is a list of tools that implement the Kanban method. You can test some of them for free.

  • Asana, with boards.
  • Azure DevOps Server, an integrated ALM-platform for managing work in and across multiple teams.
  • CA Technologies Rally, provides teams with the option of managing pull-based, lean software development projects.
  • Unicom Focal Point, a portfolio management and product management tool.
  • Jira (software), provides kanban boards.
  • Microsoft Planner, a planning application available on the Microsoft Office 365 platform.
  • Pivotal Tracker provides kanban boards.
  • Projektron BCS, project management tool, provides kanban boards for tickets and tasks.
  • Trello, cards-based project management.
  • Tuleap, an agile open source tool for development teams: customize board columns, set WIP (Work In Progress), connect board with Issue Trackers, Git, Documents.
  • Twproject (formerly Teamwork), project and groupware management tool.
  • Wrike, an Agile Collaborative Work Management Platform.

Reflection

Think of three ways a Kanban board could facilitate your own professional and/or private life. When you come up with ideas, try to be very specific. They have to reflect what you do and how you operate on your daily routine. 

If you haven’t tried Trello yet, try navigating it and setting up your own account.

 

Resources

If you want to learn more about Kanban: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

If you want to learn more about Kanban implementations and Kanban boards:

https://www.digite.com/kanban/what-is-kanban/ 

If you want to know why you should use Kanban in marketing https://business901.com/blog1/why-you-should-use-kanban-in-marketing/

If you think your lack of digital competencies is affecting your productivity: https://globalpeopletransitions.com/lack-of-digital-competence-affecting-your-productivity-heres-how-you-escape-that-rut/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2014/hc-trends-2014-overwhelmed-employee.html#:~:text=The%20overwhelmed%20employee%20Simplify%20the%20work%20environment&text=Too%20much%20access%20to%20information,us%20into%20%E2%80%9Coverwhelmed%E2%80%9D%20employees.&text=Sixty%2Dfive%20percent%20of%20executives,ready%E2%80%9D%20to%20deal%20with%20it

Productivity Makeover with Graham Allcott (Podcast): https://www.sundaebean.com/2019/12/02/152-productivity-makeoverwith-graham-allcott/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press.