Get that weight off your shoulders: What mornings are really for

3-14-13

Don’t let unpleasant tasking cast a shadow over your day

I think sometimes the most important thing we do all day is the thing that we are dreading doing the most.  I know that for me, there’s always a bunch of things that need to get done.  Some of which you’re “eh” interested in but either you get them done or you don’t, it’s not that big of a deal. Some of them you’re excited to do, you’re interested in it, you’re engaged, and it’s good stuff. Then there’s probably a few things that you really don’t want to do.  You know it’s going to be hard, whether it’s a painful phone call, or slogging through a boring manual, or any number of other tasks that I know I dread on a daily basis.  So one of the things I found is that if I can just knock out the thing that I dread the most, the one I’m really REALLY not looking forward to, the whole day looks better.

It’s a just a bit of the advice that is provided in Getting Things Done. In the book, there are many mentions of that great feeling that comes with getting things off of your shoulders and just shedding that weight. It also talks about how anything you can get done in a couple minutes, you ought to get done right now. I think it’s great advice and that’s one of the things that I’ve taken away and really incorporated into my life.  I’ve noticed that I’ve had less stress and have fewer things on my plate because there are more things that I just knock out right when I think of them because they don’t take that long.

So this is my taking that concept and rolling it up a bit. Now we all know that it is human nature to do things that we enjoy rather than things we don’t, that goes without saying, but I’ve started to take the thing that I least want to do and do it first. By doing this it sort of makes the rest of the day, even if it’s a day full of things that I may be not looking forward to if I can just get the worst one out of the way, feel downhill.  From an approach standpoint, I think it just gets you in a great frame of mind because everything else looks easy from there.  Once you had the conversation over the phone you were dreading having or written that email that you really weren’t looking forward too, the rest of it’s easy from there.  So it’s something that I’ve incorporated into what I do on a daily basis and I think other people get similar results because it’s just sort of a common sense thing.

I’d be curious if anyone else out there has taken an approach similar to this or has a different take on how they tackle their day. I love it when I get to the end of the day and there are a couple of things that are left on my list that I’m really looking forward to doing and I’m able to do them without anything hanging over my head.  Whether its sitting there and doing something creative or some of the other things that I really like getting to do about my job, I really enjoy those a lot more if I don’t have some horrible thing hanging over my head that I know has to get done. It just sucks the fun out of it.  I’d love to get people’s feedback as always.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Online Applications shouldn’t make you pick a favorite child

office space

A few simple questions to avoid this ↑

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that have experienced system design and lived to tell about it. I had a scrape with it this morning and I thought I’d share because I think it highlights some of the type of thinking that absolutely has to occur with more frequency in both the public and private sector space. I think anytime you are contemplating the delivery of a service you really need to be prepared to answer these three questions convincingly:

  • Have I thought about the big picture?
  • Have I thought about what happens if I’m successful?
  • Have I thought about how people will actually use the system?

I will talk about this and use as context Arlington county Virginia’s registration system.  Arlington county is extraordinarily progressive in its provision of activities and facilities for its residents providing a wide array of programs that are, as I can attest to, extraordinarily popular. So popular in fact that I can rarely get all three of my children into any activities, which brings me to today’s blog.

Have I thought about the big picture?

I think a lot of organizations fail to think long enough about the actual use cases they will face when they implement a system. In Arlington county’s case, the system is clearly designed to help individuals sign up for activities. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help families who have more than one child. In my case, with three kids and only two parents, the inability to sign up more than one child at a time combined with the popularity of the classes and the poor workflow means that we have only once been able to actually have all three of our kids in the same class. Essentially, Arlington makes no provision for the needs of parents with more than one child as a use case.

Have I thought about what happens if I’m successful?

Anybody who has ever built a system or application to automate a process hopes to make a big splash and the same applies in the public sector. Arlington has a parks and recreation program that is absolutely exceptional. The depth and breadth of programs is amazing and the few programs we have been able to get our kids enrolled in have been exceptional. Unfortunately, those are few and far between because the combination of poor workflow and slow system performance have meant we almost never get to put all three of our kids into an activity. This means we either choose which kids we love most and send them or opt out of being able to leverage the capability my tax dollars support. Since this is a registration system, I am guessing that most of the traffic occurs just a few times a year, however I can also guess that Arlington currently pays for the resources and infrastructure supporting this system in a pretty level fashion. This type of requirement is perfect for a cloud based system and in fact, as I clicked through the screens this morning hoping my kids would be able to take swimming lessons together all I could think was: Salesforce…

Have I thought about how people will actually use the system?

One of the most frustrating things a user can experience is having to process multiple repetitive workstreams, i.e to order something more than once I need to move through the same workflow multiple times rather than simply ordering in multiples. This would never happen on an e-commerce site because people vote with their feet. In the public sector it’s a bit more challenging because the profit driver isn’t there forcing the issue. Arlington’s website asks you about special needs every time you fill out the form as a separate step rather than remembering or incorporating it into a user profile, etc. It also forces you to take multiple trips through the very slow queue to sign up for classes. This means my kids end up not getting to use these community services, because by the time I have kid number two signed up all of the slots are gone for kid three. If I could simply sign all three up at once, I’d be able to use the services that people with only one child get to use.

Anyway, I hope I stayed out of rant territory and provided a useful example of the type of thinking that needs to occur when you begin looking at process automation and application development. Nothing I said above requires a lot of technical insight. It simply requires the ability to put yourself in the users shoes before you start writing code and building systems. I’d like to point out again that I love Arlington’s services and for the most part you couldn’t interact with a friendlier or more devoted team, I just wish their technology matched the great service they provide so that even those of us with more than one child can enjoy them. I’m sure that most of you have had an experience similar to mine. I’ve been on teams that have made similar mistakes so I’m not guilt free in that regard. It is very hard to anticipate how users will leverage your technology and sometimes something that should have been obvious sneaks through despite the best efforts of all parties. What are the questions you ask yourself when you get ready to change the way your organization does business? How do you approach business requirements, use cases and scenarios?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The overenthusiasm trap: Getting in too deep

 

In too deep

I think a lot of people when they get energized or excited about something, like a project or a new opportunity, the tendency is to throw yourself into it with big ideas and plans to overachieve.  While the sentiment is good, sometimes in order to perform to the best of your abilities it’s important to know where the edge is of extraordinary effort and good sense. By this I mean knowing when you are biting off more than you can chew.  There’s a line there that shouldn’t be crossed because oftentimes in trying to achieve too much you overextend yourself. So instead of making sure that you do an incredible job of the bare minimum assigned to you, you fail in trying to do more than was asked.  While the intentions and the enthusiasm are very admirable it doesn’t change the fact that failure to deliver is failure to deliver.

I’m all for taking chances but I’ve been a part of too many projects where you get to where you wanted to at the very beginning and then you set yourself back because you then try to over-deliver.  I think it’s important to be flexible but you really need to be careful when you begin to think about how much extra you can do. You need to think about the risk that doing those extra things will bring you then look at the incremental value vs. the cost of failure.

To put it in perspective, say you have somebody come in and do some work on your house.  They came in, tore some things out, painted, put it all back together and then made it look really nice.  Problem is that they left all the trash in the middle of your living room because they ran out of time and needed to move on to the next thing. You would be upset due to a job not finished and maybe think that those extra touches might not have been worth it.  So before you set out on a path to over deliver something make sure you have thought it out and have a plan because its better to excel at the job given then to give a half finished product with a bunch of added embellishments.  I know that I have been a victim of being overly enthusiastic about a project and biting off more than I can chew.  I’d be curious to know if anyone else has fallen victim to their own enthusiasm and how they were able to rectify the situation?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Top 6 Reasons to attend the Troux Worldwide Conference

I’ll be attending the Troux Worldwide Conference  will be taking place in Austin, Texas on March 19-20.  Focused on managing the connected enterprise and delivering fast results using Troux EPM Solutions, this is a great conference for those who are using or are contemplating using Troux. Below I’ve given my top 6 reasons why you don’t want to miss out on this event:

6) Jumpstart your organization’s enterprise architecture: Technology plays a crucial role in an organizations success and as time goes on its role will only continue to grow.  As such, it is vital to learn how to leverage technology across your organization to the fullest extent.  At the Troux conference you will learn how to avoid the common pitfalls and make your Enterprise architecture a success.

5) Change the way your organization perceives the value that it gets from enterprise architecture– There has been a shift in information technology and enterprise architecture towards portfolio based thinking.  Troux has put forward a solution that keys in on the extraordinary cost saving and efficiencies gained by this portfolio approach.  Learn these techniques from the company that made these ideas a reality.

5)In order to be the best you need to learn from the best-  At the Troux worldwide conference there will be speakers featured from top companies including Microsoft and AstraZeneca presenting tactical real life ways to make your EA what it should be.

3)Learning to market your IT to the business -In today’s economy it is more important than ever to demonstrate reasonable returns on investment in a timely manner. For IT executives, it’s important to identify talking points to showcase the technology investments impact in business focused measurements.  You need to be able to talk in business terms to show the value added from making the leap. You need to be able to succinctly answer the question of how will this new technology support top line growth without putting additional pressures on the bottom line.

2)Discover how to put knowledge gained in action to create real value for your organization- At the conference, Troux customers from around the world will be able to meet and discuss real world case studies. The sharing of ideas, personal experiences, trends, challenges and solutions regarding the strategy and alignment of IT and business will be covered at length.  Combine that with the best practices forums that give practical advice on everything from speaking the language of business to how to track and market your success.

1) Find out what it’s like to live in a post-Troux world– Troux’s Enterprise Portfolio Mangement approach changes the way that businesses make their decisions.  With the use of their solutions you can deliver value fast, reduce costs, mitigate risks and increase overall efficiency in all parts of the organization. Bottom line is everyone wants to get the most out of their IT investments and I truly believe that Troux is the way to do that.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

When to carpe diem

Carpe diem blog

I spend a lot of time talking about discipline and routine. Having a regular approach to how you do business and how you run your life is beneficial to your personal performance and your job performance.  It’s part of this regular approach to continual improvement that gets you to where you want to be over time.  I can’t advocate enough for it. I do think however, that it is important that you recognize when it is of value to break from that routine. Now the question is: what are the things that are important enough for you to make that break? I really believe that discipline and routine are critical to achieving your goals so knowing when to make this break is crucial.  I think that there are three important points to consider when you think about breaking from your routine:

  1. How valuable is the thing that you’re going to be doing in place of your routine? What are the stakes involved? How large is the reward? How big is the risk if you don’t do it? That’s a critical component.
  2. How far out of your routine is this going to carry you?  Is this something that is going to disrupt you for an hour, a day, a week, or a month?  How big it is and how far away from your routine it’s going to carry you, is going to drive how much value you need to get out of it in order for it to be worth dong.
  3. I think the final piece is how likely is the outcome? You want to measure the size of the reward, the degree of effort that it’s going to take to get there, and then you’re going to want to assess how likely it is the benefit is going to occur after you put forth  that effort.

I think those three things give you the informational inputs to be able to make solid decisions around the question of: is this worth breaking out of my routine for? I really think these are important to use on a regular basis because otherwise, everything becomes more important.  Your routine gets dropped down in priority or you never develop a routine because you’re so busy trying to capitalize on the opportunity of the moment rather than being focused on the long term goals. That’s an enormous issue with a lot of people and it’s because they don’t have a framework for how to assess opportunities and they don’t think about how valuable the things are that they do every day.  They count those as less important because they are part of a routine and happen constantly but I think that’s poor reasoning. There’s enormous value in being able to develop that consistency.  So I think that having that decision making framework in place enables you to choose wisely as you go to deviate from your routine.  Anyway I’m curious to hear people’s feedback on this.  There’s a lot of talk about how important it is to seize the day or seize the moment and not nearly enough talk about how important it is to embrace the everyday grind.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to tackle the job search without the stress

Job search blog

Scouring the marketplace for a new job is stressful under the best of circumstances but you can also turn it into an opportunity. You can take this time to not only improve your job situation but also to improve other aspects of your life, if you can utilize this exciting time without getting overwhelmed by all the pressures that go into this change. I would like to go into some ways I’ve found that really seem to help in the pursuit of new employment. First of all, I think your best approach is to proactively approach organizations you have an interest in working in. Take it serious and research some of the people in the organizations you are looking to join. Make sure you use the successes you have behind you that are quantifiable and unique to give you the competitive edge in your quest. This should be a major selling point.

Even though job searching is a difficult task, it’s one of great importance and should be treated as such.  So resolve not to do this thing in a sprint.  You need to take your time in order to make the best decision. This is your life you’re talking about and not having a great work situation colors everything else in your life. Expect that this is going to take you around six weeks to resolve, so remember to do it at a pace intended to win the war not the opening battle. Start by making an initial plan that carries you through the next 7-10 days. Identify some key milestones.  Here’s a sample timeline:

  • Complete cover letter – Target (Monday by 9PM)
  • Complete resume – Target (Monday by 9PM)
  • Identify 10 target opportunities – (Wednesday by 9PM)
  • Identify 3 people who can help me expand my coverage (Thursday by 9PM)
  • Treat Myself and Relax (Saturday & Sunday, but still get 8 hours sleep)
  • Contact 15 people (The 13 above, plus three based on those conversations (Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
  • Make a New Plan (Thursday & Friday)

Note: Ask each of these people at the end of the conversation if they know someone else who can help or who you should talk to next. Put this down as a note when you are doing the call.  This not only impresses the people you talk to, it is a great way to move the process forward with the best results.

Identify times to rest and relax explicitly. Choose to do something that will take your mind off things but do as part of a schedule and keep it within the schedule. Remember that down time is as important as the time you spend on the go. If you don’t rest you won’t be effective when you are going and you need to be at the top of your game for the next few weeks.

Like I mentioned earlier, making big changes in your career might also be a good time to look into improving the other areas of your life as well. Make sure you get rest you need and eat well. This might be a good time to try the Paleo diet I recommended. Mark’s book is a great start on that and I think if you spend some six weeks on it, you will feel better both mentally and physically. One of the things I have really noticed as I’ve reduced my sugar intake is that I have more stable moods. The combination of job stressors and personal life can grind on you, and eating well and ensuring you get 8 hours of sleep is imperative.  Commit to it for the next six weeks while you are trying to transition to a new job.

I’ll finish with this piece of advice – keep the next few weeks as simple as possible. I know that when I have a bunch of moving parts in my life, I sometimes have to focus on just a few and address them so that I can be functional enough to address other issues. I’m sure this isn’t a good move in the longer term if it causes you to avoid dealing with un-healthy area of your life, but sometimes you have to survive before you thrive. I also think that focusing in on just a few things gives you a chance to get things moving in a positive direction by giving you enough resources to overcome that particular set of obstacles. I hope people find this helpful but I’d be curious to know what other people’s thoughts are on the job search process.  What advice would you give to someone who is beginning the process of looking for another job?

Photo By o5com

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Improve your diet, improve your life

Inside Pike Place Market

Feeling good is a big part of executing well and performing at a high level.  One of the things that I’ve found that’s really helped me over the last year is having a much cleaner diet.  I know that this is fairly outside the realm of topics that I usually cover but I believe it to be very important. As I’ve adjusted my diet I’ve seen several benefits:

  • lost weight
  • accomplished several personal goals that I’ve had
  • felt a lot better overall in mind and body
  • It’s helped me to execute on a day to day basis to perform a little bit better

The diet that I’ve been following is called the “Paleo diet” which if you want to read more about it, Mark Sisson has a book called “The Paleo Blueprint,” and a simple web search will turn up thousands upon thousands of resources that are out there.  Essentially, you can eat meat, vegetables, and fruit, but it keeps you off a lot of the processed foods, baked items, grains, and things like that. Even so, there are some weird rules in there like you can eat macadamia nuts to your heart’s content but no peanuts because peanuts are a legume.

Now I don’t intend to debate with anyone the specifics of the diet and to be quite honest, I’m focused more on the how to parts rather than the why.  I’ve heard people debate the why of this food or that food but all I know is I’ve followed it and had great results.  For a long period of time I had followed a pretty strict exercise regime and I think I’ve covered it here and there in my blog. That is just part of keeping an overall level of fitness up to help you sustain through times of stress and sprints at work where you really have to go hard. Being in good physical condition helps you make it through those times.  I had never really put a lot of focus on the diet aspect of that and consequently, I think I was in pretty good physical shape but I was nowhere near as healthy as I could be. I wasn’t eating very well or at least the diet I was eating wasn’t producing a body that was able to sustain through tough times. I never really knew that because I assumed that I was doing everything I could do.  It’s not that I was eating poorly before and I suddenly went from eating a diet of eclairs and sodas to this strict diet. I felt that I was eating pretty clean before but for whatever reason, this diet just works for me and I’ve actually dropped about 50 pounds.  I’m actually a little lighter than I was the last year that I played college athletics and I feel absolutely fantastic.

I think that has contributed a lot to better performance.  I feel better on a day to day basis, my moods are more stable, and I don’t get hungry as often.  For example, one thing that I do almost every day is a pretty big breakfast and if I end up working through lunch, a lot of times I don’t notice it because I feel full. I’m getting a lot of the energy I need from that breakfast and I really do feel great.  It took me about 6 weeks on the diet before I started feeling that way. For the first 6 weeks I was hungry constantly.  I had some real anxiety around the foods I was eating.  I missed things. I really missed sugars. I struggled a lot with not having cream and sugar in my coffee.  Now, I’ve come to a point where my taste has adjusted a little bit. I can really notice sugar in things. Now, if I’m out at a restaurant or if somebody serves something, even if it’s maple sausage, I really notice the sugar in it. My tastes have slowly turned over to where I like a little bit simpler foods and that’s the goal. That’s what makes this diet sustainable.  Anyway I’m curious what other people think about how their own diet affects their overall ability to perform on the job. For me at least, this has been something that has really improved the quality of my life and I certainly encourage anybody and everybody to give this a shot.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Every once in a while I find myself disregarding advice, even though I know that it’s good advice.  I have to stop myself, take a step back, and remember that there are other people that are worth listening to. I was thinking about that this morning. I was having a conversation yesterday where somebody was talking me through an approach to something and I found myself kind of shaking my head. When the person finished and walked out, I thought about it a little bit more and realized I had fallen into the classic “not invented here” trap.  You should never be so smart that you can’t take somebody else’s advice and I’ve really made an effort to over time, make sure that I listen to other people. I am always trying to focus in on the fact that it’s hard to learn while you’re talking.

I have a tendency to want to be the person that comes up with the solution. I have to work to remember that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and sometimes the best solutions come from outside. I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling among managers and executives. A lot of times you got to the management position you’re in because you were the one with the good ideas and the ability to come up with things quickly. I know at least for me it was a big part of the advancement of my career and so as a manager and executive, I’ve become a little bit less technically focused and have had to grudgingly learn to rely more on the people around me to supply solutions and ideas.  If you don’t embrace that approach, you won’t be nearly as effective at managing people, working together in teams, functioning as a communications coordinator, and all the other things that are important to managing people. You can’t do that and have the monopoly on good ideas too.  It’s definitely a hard transition to make and it’s something that I think most people struggle with for their whole career in management.

Everyone wants to be the person with the good ideas because that’s the person who gets the biggest pat on the back. Probably one of the most exciting parts of being on a team is when you come up with that good idea that everyone on the team gets behind and adopts.  There’s a real sense of pride and accomplishment in that and as a manager, those moments seem to get farther and farther apart. Even if you’re sometimes able to have unique insight into a problem because of your experience in a similar situation, a lot of times you just don’t have enough to supply much beyond the kernel of an idea because technology and capabilities are changing so rapidly. With this fast paced change going on you have to be more reliant of people on staff to supply the real nuts and bolts of how anything will actually work.  It’s been a really big challenge for me and I’m curious to know how other people have dealt with that. Has it come easily or did you struggle in making the transition from a subject matter expert or a technical resource into a management resource?

Photo By _Max-B

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.