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As the new year and the new decade dawns most of us are thinking about how we can maximise our effectiveness this year. It’s a popular time to think about new things, new ways, new beginnings. Often to just end up applying the same thinking from last year, the processes from last year and the approaches from last year.
"Until you change your thinking, you will always recycle your experiences" — Buddah
To help you think about things differently and to really focus on making substantive and/or transformational change here is the approach that I take to focus on making each year, each event an amazing outcome!
First of all, I focus on the strategy. I need to understand “why” I’m doing something, not “what” to do. One of the first things that I make sure that I do is: I say "don’t tell me the what, tell me the why, and tell me what’s in it." What’s in it for me?; What’s in it for my family/team? (You may not do this from a family perspective you may actually want to just do it from a work perspective or even an individual perspective); What’s in it for us collectively?; and what’s in it for the wider community?
“Start with the end in mind” has to be the best mantra to follow when strategising. Understanding clearly what your outcome is and why you are trying to achieve it is vital to ensuring that you are doing meaningful work along the way.
Once I’ve understood the overarching strategy or the “whys”, then I can start to break it down, and I start to think about what the elements are that are going to allow me to achieve the “whys”. This phase is what I call my “approach phase”, and this is where I have my “what” statements, what am I going to do? Not in terms of tasks, but in terms of what the outcomes are that I’m trying to achieve that will allow me to achieve my strategy. To do this I focus on a couple of key techniques:
Nouns and verbs: The first thing I use is understanding my nouns and verbs, so I talk about the “whats” in terms of the names of things, then I identify the actions I am going to do to them. Anyone who’s worked with me knows that I go directly to CRUD (create, read, update, delete) as my “go-to” thinking about my verbs, I want to know whether or not I’m creating something new or whether I’m using something that I’ve used before, or whether I’m actually getting rid of something. I generally use a more expressive list of verbs than CRUD but this is a good starting point.
Atomic items: Once I’ve got an understanding of the “whats”, then I can actually start to break it down into the “hows”, which are the atomic items, actions, or the tasks that I actually must do to achieve my outcomes. I find that this tends to be quite an iterative process so I may leave the actions or the approach statements as they are and not look at the “hows” yet, or I may only look at the highest priority approaches that I want to achieve first. When I break it down into the “hows” I’m looking to establish a meaningful rhythm, I’m looking to establish my “takt time”, and get an understanding of the sizing of the pieces of work. I am a great believer in doing “the very next thing”. One of the things that I want to do is make sure that I break the work down into the smallest possible unit that I call “atomic items”. This allows me to see what needs to be done and it may be a bit overwhelming when you first create the list but what you can actually do is break them down into doable elements.
I then create visual planning boards or walls; I add elevator statements, my strategy, metrics and outcomes on a wall so that I can see all the things that I want to do, and I make sure that it’s in a prominent position so that I’m constantly reminded of it. I don’t want to have to go and search it out. I want it to be top of mind for everything that I’m trying to do.
Then I add the “whats” and then the “hows” so that I can see the alignment between action and outcome.
Once I can see all the work and the relationships between actions and outcomes I can organise and coordinate my actions so that I can make sure I am focusing on doing the next thing that will add value.
Once I’ve established enough of the atomic items then I prioritise. I look very very carefully at what is an absolute must-have. These are the things that are going to enable me or empower me or impede me from doing something and they become my must-haves. They become my highest priority and my focus of effort until all my must-haves are done! Then I look at what is nice to have, and then what is not necessary at all. I want to do the absolute minimum that I can to achieve success so I’m always looking for things to add to my “Not to do” list!
After I’ve strategised I visualise. Making the work, and the relationships visible allows me to ruthlessly and holistically prioritise. I use tools such as an Eisenhower Matrix so that I can make smart, sustainable decisions. I also follow the kanban approach of making my prioritisation criteria explicit so that I can replicate my thinking iteratively.
Once I’ve done the prioritisation and the visualisation. I then set a timebox and I say “by when am I going to get these things done?”. The timebox is based on the fact that if there is no deadline you’ll always find something else to do. What I’m going to do is make sure that I always have a timebox, a deadline, and I understand the reason for that deadline. I’m not going to give myself an arbitrary deadline. What I am going to do is understand the reason for that deadline. And I’m also going to decompose my work back from that deadline to make sure that I know what the critical milestones that I have to achieve are. As I do that, the deadline and those milestones, give me the iterations that I’m going to be working in. The iterations are super important, they’re not only giving me timeboxes that allow me to stay focused and allow me to measure progress but they give me the “full stop” at the end of my work cycles, where I can actually just stop, reflect, and adjust.
Stop, reflect, adjust.
They give me the opportunity and the reminder that I do have to pause and I have to think about how I would do things differently. This is what I call the “evolve” stage. I’m trying to make sure that I’m always doing the right thing at the right time.
I like to have my pieces of work being no more than 25 minutes. I chunk work, if I can. Now, this comes from the Pomodoro technique which I just love if I’m looking at getting anything done. And I know that if I sit down to do a 25-minute task. I’m going to get it done. I’ve actually got the permanent timer set up in my office space to allow me to just quickly get into a “Pomodoro”.
I can look at the current situation and the current pace of work that I’m focusing on right now. I can zoom back out to the wider context because I’ve got a visual guide of what I need to get done. I can zoom back into what I’m doing right now to see that it is actually delivering the value. I ask myself the question “is this work giving me the outcome that I’m looking for?” As I run my own company I really want to stay away from just creating a bunch of outputs that don’t give me value, I need to understand the outcome, and I need to understand how each outcome that I produce in my timeboxes, adds up to the overarching value that I’m trying to create. So working iteratively allows me to have these mandatory periods of stop and reflect.
This means that for 2020 I am working very hard on developing and planning the delivery of my strategy for how we’re going to achieve incredible awesomeness this year. In 2020, I’m focusing on how I’m going to move forward and how I’m going to relish the opportunity that I’ve given myself by starting my own company, by working with people that I choose to and having amazing clients!
The approach that I’m taking is to strategise, which is focused on the why not the what. Then I’m going to visualise when I break the work down and I look at the elements that I need to deliver the big picture as well as the small picture. Then I’m going to prioritise always making sure that I’m doing the right work at the right time. And then I’m going to evolve. I’m going to use iterative delivery approaches that allow me to understand, am I heading in the right direction.
I am sure that if you apply this approach you will make great headway in your goals for 2020 too! If you need any help or advice on how to apply these approaches, I’d love to hear from you!
Posted by Sharon Robson.