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productivity

9 Concepts to learn more about and to develop your Productivity and your Creativity

Note : This article is the third in a series of articles concluding my reading of ten books in the category Productivity & Effectiveness in my Crazy Personal MDA Challenge, after 10 Things You Can Do Tomorrow To Increase Your Productivity and 10 Exceptionals Books about Productivity and Creativity in a Glance .

Contrary to the first article in the series which focused on simple things that can be implemented, here I deal with concepts that seem to me to be profound and interesting, and that require, for the most part, reflection and time to learn more and then use them. Often, these are the foundational concepts in the books from which I drew them – even though there are some that don’t come directly from the ten books in the category – and I think that they all have the potential to change our view of the world with regard to their subject matter. Here they are without further ado:

1 – We are all more efficient when our mind is free of parasitic thoughts that endlessly invade it. When we reach a state of absolute concentration, where we are completely focused on the task at hand, we are capable of miracles, that is to say, of doing things more quickly and efficiently that we could have imagined. It is a state in which we can choose to dedicate ourselves completely to our tasks, without the slightest interruption, parasitic thought, daydream or other source of distraction, while remaining absorbed and in full possession of our faculties. A dream, is it not? It is what practitioners of martial arts call “mind like water” (Mizu-no-kokoro), and athletes call “being in the zone,” or psychologists the flow. Moments like this have no doubt occurred in your life. Were you performing, more satisfied with yourself and your accomplishments? No doubt you were.

It is possible to cultivate habits that allow you to reach this state frequently, to develop a system. GTD recommends a system completely based on writing in order to free our mind from all the thoughts that endlessly interrupt our concentration. Matthieu Ricard, in The Art of Meditation, tells us this is the best way to develop a more attentive mind, conscious of the present moment, free of all emotions and negative thoughts. There are no doubt many other ways to reach this state of mind, and the fact that it is described in multiple disciplines shows clearly that it is an important universal concept and that we will benefit by learning more about it.

To learn more:

2 – It takes years and years to completely master an art, a discipline, or a subject. To become a true master in a field, if that’s your goal, is a bottomless well that you never truly reach.

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10 Exceptionals Books about Productivity and Creativity in a Glance

So I just finished the Productivity & Effectiveness category of my crazy Personal MBA Challenge. Here is the list of the ten books with a quick resume and what I think about it so you can know in a glance if this book can be helpful for you 😉 .

 

Creativity

The Creative Habit - Learn it and use it for life

One Sentence Summary:

Creativity is learned, nourished and maintained; for inspiration to flow through us and spring forth from the mind, you must prepare, have rituals that invoke it, to know our creative DNA – what we are made for, use our memory and connect disparate things with each other, organize work documents so that we always know where to find them, know how to scratch the surface of things to extract the essential, use the accidents and incidents that that appear in our life, have an idea-base which serves as a backbone for our creation, use our talents wisely, recognize roadblocks and the moments that overtake us, know how to fail, and pace ourselves over the long term – to the very end.

Strong Points:

  • Good book, in which the pleasant format judiciously adds value to the contents.
  • Packed with ideas, tricks and ways to develop and maintain creativity.
  • Full of practical exercises and practially inexhaustible.
  • Twyla Tharp tells us about numerous relevant personal experiences

Weak Points:

  • A bit too much emphasis on purely artistic creativity.
  • Some passages are not believable showing a certain lack of scientific knowledge in the author.
  • Book is a bit too packed and crowded at times.

My score : Rating white RatingwhiteRatingwhiteRatingwhiteimage

Read more reviews about The Creative Habit on Amazon.

Buy this book on Amazon :

 

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10 Things You Can Do Tomorrow To Increase Your Productivity

10 books about Productivity & Effectiveness in 14 weeks, that’s a lot. Too much for me to be able to apply as much as I would like to after reading them. This is the main hurdle of my crazy Personal MBA Challenge, and I knew this from the beginning. Fortunately, one of the things that motivated me to try this adventure anyway was that every book has ideas and tricks that are immediately applicable, without having to wait a while before putting them to work or going more in depth with them.

Here, I am giving you 10 from among those that seemed to me the most relevant, with a link to a summary of the book in which I found them:

1. If something requires less than two minutes to do, do it immediately. This will increase your productivity considerably without much effort because if something takes less than two minutes 1) it takes almost as long put it into a to-do list than to complete it, 2) given that it is small, these things can quickly add up to a number that is hard to manage, 3) bog your mind down uselessly when they are not on a to-do list and 4) not doing them can have consequences that are disproportionate with regard to the time it takes to complete them. Be careful all the same, sometimes you must map out large spans of time to focus on a project, time which cannot afford to suffer interruptions.

2. Try this trick when you can’t sleep at night. Lack of sleep is a terrible way to lose productivity, as well as the reason for being out of sorts, in a mad mood, lack of focus and other maladies which can have even more dramatic consequences on our relationships with others. To fight against occasional insomnia – for chronic insomnia, it is better to seek medical treatment – try this trick to free your mind and stem the continuous flow of thoughts which begin to invade it:

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Making Things Happen – 2

Making Things Happen - Maîtriser le Management de Projet

Note: because this book is both heavy and complex, I am publishing the summary in two parts. Here is the second part, the first part is here.

Summary and Book Review, second part:

 

  • Chapter 9 : Communication and relationships

For a long time during our civilization, the slowness of communications posed several problems. Many disasters and misunderstandings arose from this situation. Today, communication is still important, but two things have changed:

  • Speed is no longer the main problem (what could be faster than an instant message?) Instead, it is quality and efficiency of communication that have assumed primary importance.
  • Communication is not enough for complex work; you also need effective relationships between people who work together.

Even though there are often clearly defined leaders who sometimes give orders, projects depend heavily on the team’s ability to use each other’s knowledge, to share ideas and to work in a synchronized way, as opposed to being based on overly strict lines of authority, rigorous discipline and the need to follow orders without asking questions.

Because project leads spend a lot of time communicating with individuals and groups, they have more responsibilities that require them to communicate effectively with respect to the team. This does not require the extrovert personality of a TV presenter, an extraordinary sense of humor or magical powers (although they may help). Rather, it starts by admitting that communication and interpersonal skills are critical for success, and that there is room for improvement for you and your team.

Additionally:

  • Projects are not accomplished by communication alone. In these modern times, speed is not the Achilles heel of communication. Quality is.
  • Interpersonal relationships improve and accelerate communication.
  • There are several types of communication that people use to communicate with each other. Project managers must be familiar with them in order to be able to diagnose and resolve communication problems.
  • There are numerous common communication problems, like assumptions, lack of clarity, not listening, personal attacks or blame.
  • Role Definition is the easiest way to improve interpersonal relationships.
  • Ask people what they need to do a better job. Ways of doing so include: listening, removing barriers, teaching and reminding them of the objectives.
  • Relationships between people and communication are not low priority efforts. They are essential to all individual activities that take place during a project.

Exercise :

Make two ordered lists, one with the most important people on your team, the other with those on your team with whom you have the best relationship. Find opportunities in the two lists to improve your relationships; if you could improve your relationships by 25%, what would be the biggest impact to your project?

 

  • Chapter 10 : How not to annoy people, process, email and meetings

The bigger your team, the more likely the chances of annoyting someone. Whenever you are following someone else’s work, or making decisions that impact others, you have the potential to annoy them. If you are smart, you will find ways to minimize disagreements. People will be happier, the project will go more smoothly, and you will have fewer black looks when you pass people in the hallways.

The three activities that annoy people the most are email, meetings and team processes (like build or specification procedures).

Additionally:

  • Project managers are inclined to annoy others. Some things could be avoided.
  • People get annoyed for many reasons. Often it when they believe their time has been wasted, when they are treated like idiots, or when they are expected to put up with a prolonged annoyance or poor treatment.
  • Good processes have many positive effects, which include accelerated progress and the prevention of problems. But they are difficult to develop.
  • An email which is not annoyting is concise and actionable (it contains an action), and it quickly allows readers to figure out if they care enough to read more than the email header or the first sentence.
  • Meetings are conducted well when someone runs them.
  • Frustrating meetings result when the objectives are not suited to that type of meeting.

Exercise:

When was the last time you complimented someone for their clear, simple emails? Next week, every day, thank the person who sends you the clearest, most effective email.

 

  • Chapter 11 : What to do when things go wrong

No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, or who you work with, things will sometimes go wrong. The best team in the world, with the best leaders, workers, resources and the best morale, will find itself in difficult situations. The only way to completely avoid difficult situations is not to do anything important or to put yourself permanently into situations or projects in which you are protected from all forms of risk – two things which rarely contribute to success.

Good project managers must therefore be prepared to manage difficult situations. That requires a certain amount of wisdom to understand that when bad things happen, it is what it is. There is nothing you can do after the fact to change it. Instead, how the team reacts to adversity can be a more important factor to success than the team’s ability to prevent problems. Both are important but resilience and recovery are the abilities that give you the ability to manage the possible unknown. Without them, the best team and the best plan can spiral out of control with the slightest push in the wrong direction.

Additionally:

  • If you can remain calm and break the problem into smaller pieces, you can manage many difficult situations.
  • There are some actual situations that you can anticipate, like errors due to not paying attention, being forced to do stupid things, lack of resources, poor quality, a change in direction, personnel problems, and the desire to mutiny.
  • Difficult times are learning opportunities. Make sure that you and your team take the time to analayze what happened and how it could have been avoided.
  • Taking responsibility for situations, without worrying about who caused them, always helps to resolve them more quickly.
  • In extreme situations, put yourself in “damage control mode.” Do whatever is needed to get the project back into a stable state where it is understood.
  • Negotiations are not only useful in crisis situations, but also for managing. Good negotiators work towards people’s interests, not their own positions.
  • Keep a clear perspective on who has what authority at all times. People need to know who has the power to make decisions before a crisis occurs.
  • People react to pressure in different ways. Be observant and open in how you help your team manage different types of pressure.

Exercise:

Go into the office and find five things that could go wrong. For each one, describe how you are going to manage the problem if you are assigned the task to fix it. Who needs to be in the room to manage the problem? What will you do if you are not in a position of power?

Part 3 : Management

 

  • Chapter 12 : Why leadership is based on trust

As far as leading your team is concerned, everything depends on the assumptions that people make about you. When you say “I will make sure that gets done tomorrow” or “I am going to speak to Carol and get her to agree,” others will silently calculate the probability that what you say is true. Over time, if you are serving your team well, the probability will be perceived as very high. They will believe your work and trust you.

Even though in the movies leaders are portrayed as having a dramatic role – such as throwing themselves into burning buildings or bravely fighting alone against a whole host of enemies – true leadership is based on very simple and practical things. Do what you say you will and say what you mean to say. Admit when you are wrong. Incorporate the opinions and ideas of others in decisions which impact them. If you can do these things, more often than not you will earn the trust of those you work with. When the time comes for you to ask them to do something unpleasant or which they don’t agree with, their trust in you will make your leadership possible.

Therefore, to be a great leader, you must learn how to find, build, earn and give trust to others – as well as learn to cultivate trust in yourself.

Additionally:

  • Trust is built on effective commitments.
  • Trust is lost through inconsistent behavior towards important issues.
  • Use authority and trust to allow people to do a good job.
  • Institutional power comes from the company organizational structure. Power of recognition comes solely from people’s response to your actions. Recognition power is the most useful institutional power, although both are necessary.
  • Delegate in order to build trust in your team and to assure yourself that your team is united in the face of adversity.
  • Deal with problems in a way that will keep people’s trust. Be supportive during crises so that they will tell you problems rather than hide them from you.
  • Having confidence in yourself is the foundation for leadership. Self-discovery is the way to learn who you are and to develop a healthy independence.

Exercise:

Make a list of the 5 people that you work with the most. Who do you trust the most and why?

 

  • Chapter 13 : Making things happen

The ability to make things happen is a combination of knowing how to be the catalyst in a variety of different situations, and having the courage to do so.

Additionally:

  • Everything can be represented in an ordered list. Most of the work of project management is assigning the right priority to things and leading the team to get them done.
  • The three basic ordered lists are: the project objectives (vision), the list of functions and the list of work items. They must always be synchronized with each other. Each work task contributes to a function and each function to an objective.
  • There is a bright yellow line between the priority of what I am working on and all the rest.
  • Things happen when you say no. If you don’t say no, you have not effectively prioritized.
  • The project manager must make it so that the teams stays honest and close to reality.
  • Knowing the path of least resistance in engineering and in team processes allows for efficiency.
  • You must be both tough and smart to make things happen.

Exercise :

Who in your organization has the reputation for making things happen? How did they earn it? And who are the people with a reputation for not making things happen? Is there a relationship between their position in the organization and their ability to make things happen?

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  • Chapter 14 : Middle-game strategy

Just as in the middle game when playing chess, the middle of a project is the moment when a lot of things happen at the same time, and it’s difficult to keep a clear perspective about what is going well and what is not going well. To fight this inevitable fog that surrounds the team and makes inexperienced people get easily lost, you must apply these three simple principles:

  1. If things are going well at the end of the first day, the objective for the next day is to make it so that things continue to go well.
  2. If on any day the project is not going well, it’s your job to figure out what the problems are and to act so that the project goes well again. This can take hours, days or weeks.
  3. Repeat until the project is finished.

The problem is that you only have a limited amount of time to understand what the problems are and even less time to solve them. Not to mention the effort needed to protect the healthy parts of the project from the problems. For these reasons, and more, stress and energy levels in the middle of the game are very high. The team is moving at an ever increasing pace, and the acceptable margins of error are going down on a daily basis.

Additionally:

  • Projects are complex non-linear systems and have significant inertia. If you are expecting to wait until problems are serious before acting, you will be late and might make things even worse.
  • When your project is out of control, you are flying behind the plane, which is a bad place to fly. There are both tactical and strategic points to be verified.
  • Think about how to act to correct a situation in the best possible way. The bigger the action, and the further along the project, the more dangerous the action can be.
  • Schedules based on milestones provide opportunities to make corrections for project paths that are more certain.
  • Configuration control is how you manage change acceleration from a low level and an intermediate level on the project.

Exercise:

If you are in the middle of a project now, take five people at random from your team and ask them to describe their confidence in the schedule in the form of a percentage. Do the same thing with five managers. Compare the results and present them at a team meeting. If it’s useful, do it every week. Make it so that the descriptions are anonymous so that people will be honest.

 

  • Chapter 15: End-game strategy

When the end of the project is near, someone must find a good way to apply the brakes in order to slow down the progressive movement so that things end well.

Additionally:

  • A big target is a series of little targets.
  • Every milestone has three smaller targets :
    • Design complete (specifications complete)
    • Functions complete (implementation complete)
    • Milestone complete (quality assurance and refinement complete)
  • Defining the exit criteria at the beginning of the milestone increases the ability of the team to finish on time.
  • Being on schedule is just like landing an airplane: you need a long, wide approach. And you better be ready take off again quickly, without having to make major repairs..
  • You need metrics to track the project. Common metrics include day to day work, bug management and the business charter [?].
  • You need control elements to adjust the levels of a project. Common elements include review meetings, tries, and centralized decision making at the end of the project.
  • The end of the game is a slow and difficult process. The challenge is to reduce the scope of the changes until you have a satisfactory finished product.
  • Now is the time begin the postmortem process. Give yourself, as well as your team, the benefit of learning from what went well and what didn’t go well.
  • If fortune is smiling on you, and your project works out, be happy. Very, very happy. A lot of people, even though it is not necessarily their fault, don’t get that far. Look forward to a great night out. Do something fun and extravagant (like inviting the author of the book to a party). Provide stories that will be told for years to come.

Exercise:

You are two days away from a major news release on your news site, used by millions of people. The champagne is ready and waiting. But an engineer discovers a major problem which is going to take three days to fix. The problem is the 10 million dollars spent on publicity for the launch date and the time already spent. What will you do?

 

  • Chapter 16 : Power and Politics

Every time you try to organize people to do something, whether it is to get ready for a party or start a business, the people concerned have different attitudes, skills, and different desires. This means that it doesn’t matter how talented the leader of a project is, there will always be people who won’t get what they want. Therefore, there is a natural instinct in ambitious and motivated people to try and get what they want by influencing the people with the power to get things done.

The fuel that propels politics is power. Someone who can influence the right person at the right time, and who uses his knowledge to resolve situations to everyone’s satisfaction, can be more powerful in an organization than those who are at the top – sometimes without even knowing it.

For project managers this means two things:

  1. There will be political influences that impact you, whatever your power or your personal ethic.
  2. Power and politics are an inherent part of management.

You must therefore at least be conscious of how political systems work if you want to reduce their negative effects, not to mention if you want to increase their positive effects.

Additionally:

  • Politics is a natural consequence of human nature. When people work together in groups there is a limited amount of authority which can be distributed amount different people with different wishes and different motives.
  • All leaders have political constraints. Every executive, CEO or president has peers or superiors who limit their ability to make decisions. In general, the more power someone has, the more complicated are the constraints upon it.
  • There are many different types of political power, like rewards, coercion, knowledge, references, and influence.
  • Power is misused when it is applied to things that do not further the objectives of the project. A lack of clarity with respect to the objectives, loosely allocated resources, or unclear decision processes can contribute to this misuse of power.
  • To resolve political problems, be clear about what you want. Identify who has it, and then evaluate hoq you can get it.
  • If you are involved in project management, you lay out a political playing field around you. It’s up to you to decide up to what point it is honest or unfair.

Exercise:

Is it possible to work with other people and have nothing to do with politics? Think of a work environment with the healthiest political environment possible. What makes it possible?

Book Review:

This book is heavy. Very heavy. 370 wide pages, full of text, with some diagrams here and there. Fortunately, the author takes his work very seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously, which means that his book is sprinkled with nice, humerous sentences which lighten it all up somewhat.

In the end, I have trouble judging because, other than directing a small business, I have never managed projects of the human and technical complexity levels that the author is talking about. Furthermore, this book is clearly geared more towards people who work in large organizations, just like Results Without Authority, and even more specifically to people who work in the software development field, even though the author visibly does his best to be as general as possible – but there are so many references to the software industry that he does not achieve his objective.

I would say, therefore, that it is obvious from reading this book that Scott Berkun is someone who has a lot of experience in this subject and that he has mastered it exceedingly well. I know that one day I will have to manage more complex development projects than those in my current company, and I won’t hesitate to dive into this book to pull out the tricks and ideas or find answers to specific problems. This book therefore has a place on the bookshelf for all project managers who work in large organizations. Once again, for $39.00, if this book only gives you one good idea, it will largely pay for itself. If you are a project lead in the software industry, dig in. This book is made for you ;

Strong points:

  • Very thorough
  • Sprinkled with humorous phrases which lighten it up
  • The author has obviously mastered his subject down to the tips of his fingernails
  • Geared towards the software industry, but contains advice and methods applicable to the management of any project in a large organization.

Weak Points:

  • Very, very heavy
  • A little too geared towards the software industry
  • A little too geared towards large organizations

Translated by www.DeansResource.com

    My rating: image image imageimageimageimageimageimageimage (if you are called to lead projects in large organizations – add a star if your company is in the software industry)

    image image imageimageimageimageimageimageimage (if you are called to lead projects in another field)

    Have you read the book? How do you rate it?

    Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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    Read more reviews about Making Things Happen on Amazon.

    PMBA Challenge:

    Cost of the Book:

    € 31.24

    Total cost of the project:

    € 217.77

    Number of pages:

    370

    Total number of pages:

    3061

    Time to read it:

    3H

    Time to write this article:

    8H

    Total time for the project:

    114H30

    Buy this book on Amazon:

    Making Things Happen

     

    Making Things Happen - Mastering Project Management

    One Sentence Summary : Project management is a complicated art which requires you to master a number of things such as planning, understanding what needs to be done, writing a good overall vision statement, understanding where ideas come from, understanding what to do with ideas, writing good specifications, understanding how to make good decisions, communication and interpersonal relationships, what to do when things go badly, understanding why leadership is built on trust, making things happen, managing the strategy in the middle and at the end of the project, or understanding questions of power and politics; this book describes in detail each of these components and gives us numerous methods and tricks for mastering them.

    By Scott Berkun, 2008, 370 pages.

    Note : Since this book is both thick and complex, I am publishing the summary in two parts. This is the first.

    Summary and Book Report:

    Scott Berkun is an author and speaker who has worked at Microsoft for 9 years as a project manager going from Internet Explorer (1 through 5), Windows and MSN. In 2005 he published the first version of this book, The Art of Project Management, which was centered more around project management in the area of software development and the phenomenal success of which, for a book of this type, led to this revision, in which the subject is more general and touches on general project management, for any sector.

    Every chapter ends with a list of exercises – extremely relevant – to reflect on the subjects dealt with and put them into practice. I am giving you one at the end of each chapter summary.

    The author begins by telling us that the idea of project management goes back a long way in human history. Everything that humanity has built, from the Egyptian pyramids or the Roman aqueducts up to a Boeing 777 or the Hubble space telescope, have been designed and then implemented. Between these two stages is found the art of leading long and complex projects to fruition.

    The author wonders if there were points in common between all these projects, if he could find common denominators. He did not always find obvious answers, but each time that he returned from his quests into the past to dive into the world of software development, his own tools and processes appeared differently to him. And there were three lessons that he drew from these expeditions:

    1. Project management is not a holy art. All modern engineering work is a new foray into history and things already realized. Technology and skills might change, but the central challenges remain the same. Everything is both unique and derived from something else. In order to be able to re-use past knowledge, you must be open to both.
    2. The simpler your vision of what needs to be done, the greater your power of concentration to accomplish it. If we keep a simple vision for our work, we can find useful comparisons with other ways of doing things all around us. It’s a similar concept to what the Japonese call shoshin, or keeping a beginner’s mind – an open mind – which is an essential element in martial arts. Staying open and curious is what makes growth possible. In order to continue learning, we must resist the temptation to succomb to the safe and narrow visions with regard to what we are doing.
    3. Simple doesn’t mean easy. The best writers, athletes, programmers, and managers tend to be people who see what they do as simple by nature and difficult at the same time. For example, it is simple to run a marathon. You begin running and you don’t stop until you have completed 40 kilometres (26 miles). What could be simpler than that? The fact is that the difficulty of it does not reduce its simplicity. Leadership and management are also difficult, but their nature – making it so that things happen in a specific way towards a specific objective – is simple.

    Additionally:

    • Project management might be a job, a role or an activity.
    • Leadership and management require understanding and intuitive knowledge of numerous common paradoxes, such as:
      • Ego/No-ego: The ego can be a driver for managers, who often derive great personal satisfaction from their work. However, managers must avoid placing their own interests above those of the project, and must delegate important and fun tasks, and share the rewards.
      • Autocrat/Delegator: In certain situations, the most important things are strong and clear authority and a quick response time, and the manager must have the necessary confidence and the will to take control and force certain actions. However, the general objective must be to avoid these situations.
      • Oral/Written: Even though many organizations today are email-centric – notably software development companies – oral communication is still important, there are always meetings, negotiations, hallway discussions, and brainstorming sessions. In general the larger the organization or project, the more writing skills are important. But a good manager must recognize when written or oral communication will be more efficient.
      • Courage/Fear: One of the biggest misconceptions of our culture is that people who are brave don’t experience fear. That’s a lie. A brave person is one who feels fear but chooses to act anyway.
    • If you are a dedicated manager, find ways to capitalize on your unique perspective of the team and the project.
    • In the end, all projects use similar processes; they all allow time to plan, implement and refine.

    Part 1: Plans

    • Chapter 2 : The Truth About Schedules

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    Results Without Authority

    Controlling a project when the team doesn’t report to you

    Results Without Authority - Controlling a project when the team doesn't report to you

    One Sentence Summary: Today in large organizations, it is rare that the project lead has supervisory power over all the people on his project team. He must, however, maintain enthusiasm, motivation and results from people without being able to use the power of his position and powers of coercion; this book teaches us numerous techniques to do so.

    By Tom Kendrick, 245 pages, 2006.

    Summary and Book Review :

    Note: This book is very heavy, in a very classic academic format (translate: irritating) and very focused on large corporations, I read it using the rapid reading techniques of 10 Days to Faster Reading, notably scanning and scraping. I am giving you a quick summary, which I hope will be sufficient for you to get a good idea of the book’s contents.

    Projets are everywhere. Some are successful, others are not. And many projects fail because the project lead cannot control things well enough to bring them to their final conclusion. Projects today often take place in complex environments where the project lead does not have formal authority over the members of his project team. And even those that do, there is always a part of the project that falls to someone who doesn’t have this authority. Fortunately, it is possible to control a project and make it successful by using techniques that don’t depend on your position in the organization or your formal authority. Let’s take a look at them.

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    The Simplicity Survival Handbook – 2

    The Simplicity Survival Handbook - 32 Ways to Do Less an Accomplish More

     Note: Because this is a thick, very detailed book full of “how-tos” and designed not to be read from cover to cover, coming up with a useful summary is long and takes time. I am therefore publishing it in two parts, of which this is the second. The first is here 😉 .

    Summary and Book Report, Part Two:

  • 17 : How to Pile With Managers Who Pile It On : MoreMoreMore, Now !

    • Courage : 6
    • Difficulty: 6.5
    • Yield: 9

    Managers who don’t manage priorities or focus your work abdicate the responsibility that they have towards you. But associating with your manage will reduce your workload. Complaining won’t take care of it.

    For this:

    1. Before going to talk to your Boss or your manager: create your job. Figure out exactly what work is superfluous, starting with how many goals are excessive, and where you think your efforts should be more concentrated.

    2. When you meet with your manager, understand the pressures that he or she might be under. A little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down if it is somewhat bitter.

    3. Ask: “Can we determine what the three most important things are that I should focus my priorities on in the next few [days, weeks, months]?

    Continue to shorten the timelines rather than get into a conflict over the long list of things that your manager needs to do. Say: “Boss, thank for you helping me to see that there are only 347 things to do this month. Now, can we discuss what needs to be done by this Friday?… Only 47 thinks! Cool! Now, what are the three things that I should attend to first?”

  • 18 : How to Deal with Teammates Who (Unknowingly) Pile It On

    • Courage : 4
    • Difficulty: 5.5
    • Yield: 9

    Your best friends and teammates don’t want to give you additional things to do. Really! But right after unfocused managers, your biggest source of additional work comes from well intentioned colleagues.

    To avoid this:

    1. Trust your instinct, not your head.

      1. Clarify the upcoming to-do list for the team. Concentrate on the short term – the do-dos for the next few days or next few weeks. Focus on these two things:

      • Clarify how the team’s to-do list is tied to general success. Use rules 5 and 11 for this.
      • Clarify how this to-do list for the team is going to help you pass the project to someone else. Use rules 3 and 5 for this.
    2. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone that you that are in the middle of reporting or deviating from things. You are about to be applauded for helping everyone get focused.
    3. Enjoy! Celebrate! You have just succeeded in taking an important step in your career.

    (more…)

  • The Simplicity Survival Handbook – 1

    The Simplicity Survival Handbook - 32 Ways To Do Less And Accomplish More

     

    One Sentence Summary: In life there is theory and practice, and there are things that “usually” work a certain way, that in actual practice work differently; discover how things really work in the professional world by exploring these 32 Ways To Do Less and Accomplish More and have a more productive and calmer life.

    By Bill Jensen, 300 pages, 2003.

    Note: Because this is a thick, very detailed book full of “how-tos” and designed not to be read from cover to cover, coming up with a useful summary is long and takes time. I am therefore publishing it in two parts, of which this is the first 😉

    Summary and Book Critique:

    In my recent critique of  Cut to The Chase, I asked myself about the relevance of collections of rules, given that most of the rules in these books are certainly interesting, but are of the “in one ear and out the other” variety and that this type of book has difficulties getting into the subject deeply. I wondered if the best way to use them was rather to put them on your desk, choose one rule a day, and try to apply it that day – you could also do one rule a week.

    Well, apparently Bill Jensen asked himself that question before writing his book because this is designed to be put into practice after spending a minimal amount of time reading it. Firstly, the author begins by strongly recommending 3 rules to use his book in the simplest and most efficient manner possible.

    It’s the first time that I have ever seen a book begin by advising you to absolutely not read all of it! 😉

    What’s more this book has an unusually interesting and original format that uses highlighting for the contents (at the moment only  The Creative Habit and 45 Effective Ways for Hiring Smart can claim as much among the books in my challenge). Actually, every chapter begins with a “Less-O-Meter”, a “Doing Less Counter” which gauges the courage required, the difficulty of the task and the amount that applying this tip/method will yield on a scale of 1 to 10:  Less-O-Meters 

    The author did not guess at the values. He asked 260 people over the course of 6 months to evaluate, test and change everything in the book, then he asked them to rate each rule on the three criteria. The rating provided is the average of the ratings for all 260 people.

    Moreover, the book uses pleasantly different fonts and font sizes, it is also filled with drawings – often funny – and explanatory diagrams of all kinds:

    Inside the problem

    And finally each rule is presented in the same format:

    1. The “Less-O-Meter”
    2. Why you should do less
    3. How to do less 
    4. Optional : To get more out of it, often accounts and real-life situations of people who have lived this in a company setting.   
    5. Optional: Want More ? , additional resources for those who want more. 

    The format is therefore brilliant, absolutely brilliant, there is no other word. Because of it, everyone can make their own “mini-book,” read what interests them and begin to apply it. But what’s inside? Let’s take a look:

    (more…)

    Bit Literacy – 4

    Bit Literacy -  la Productivité à l'Âge de l'Information et du trop-plein d'Emails 

    Note : This week I am testing a new way of publishing: I will post this article in 4 sections, published throughout the week. What do you think? Do you like this better or would you prefer a complete report every time? Let me know through your comments ;). The first part is here, the second there and the third here.

    Summary and Book Report Part 4 :

    • Chapter 10 : Naming Files

    Whatever file format you create, it needs a name. The choice of name is important, because a good name lets you find the file easily, and you will save time later because it will let you know what’s in the file without having to open it up.

    Bit Literacy practitioners should therefore name files using the following convention: initials_date_subject.extension.

    For example, a file by John Smith about plans for a Mars project should be called js-032008-plansproject.doc.

    Dashes (-) should be your default separation character, because it is the only universal one; a file named with dashes separating the words can keep its name on all platforms – Windows, MacOS, Linux, etc – and even on the Internet (spaces on the Internet are changed to %20, so a file named js 032008 plansproject.doc would be changed to js%20032008%20plansproject.doc, not terribly readable…).

    Even though this convention should be used for the vast majority of files, there are some notable exceptions:

      • The most used files. If you have a directory with files that you use regularly, put a space at the beginning of their name. That allows you to find them at first glance when you open the directory because the operating system sorts the files alphabetically and will list them first. If you use Windows or Linux, you can use the underscore (_). Also, it is useless to put a date on these files because they are modified regularly.
      • Templates. These are folders that are used continuously to create new ones based on the same structure, like quotes, for example, form letters, etc. Once again, no point in putting a date on them.

     

    • Chapter 11 : Storing Files

    Appropriately named files are not enough: you must arrange them in well organized folders. Organizing the folders efficiently requires a little discipline, even though only a few are necessary to do the job well. Bit Literacy thus follows the Occam rule [translator’s note: probably better known to English speakers as the “KISS” principle (Keep It Short and Simple)]: you should take things as far as necessary, but no further.

    In fact, most files trees can be kept to a hierarchy of two levels, similar to that used for storing photos. It’s easy to put in place. You need:

      • The Parent Folder

    This is the folder at the highest level in the hierarchy, which contains all the files that are not managed by other tools, like iTunes or your email management program. In Windows, the My Documents directory (or Documents in Vista) is a good choice, and so is the Home directory on the Mac. You can also use another Parent folder for your personal files so that you can separate them from your professional files.

      • The Projet Folder 

    The Parent directory should contain as many Project folders as necessary. Each Project folder should contain the name of a client (Tartempion Company) or of a general project (Bit Literacy Book) and should have files that relate to the project. It can also contain sub-folders. Sub-folders should be avoided in general, but can be used for special tasks. For example, you could create an “archive” folder for storing files that are older and no longer used, or a sub-folder “press cuttings” to place any press articles relating to the project, etc.

      • The Category Folder

    Unlike the Project folder, a Category folder contains a single type of file. This could be an expenses folder, or invoices, or quotes or taxes…

    Also, pay attention to keeping your desktop organized; it’s the first thing you see on the computer and it’s from where you launch most of your applications, so don’t confuse it with the Home or the My Documents folder.

    [ad#ad-bas]

    • Chapter 12 : Other Essentials

    Typing Speed

    It’s easy to get excited about technology, tools, functions, and gadgets and forget the simplest and most basic things. Like how fast you type. In as much as most of our occupations today include typing as a general rule, lots of typing, typing speed is integral to our productivity for many of us.

    It is therefore unacceptable that someone needs to look at their keyboard because they don’t remember where the keys are, or they only use 20% of their fingers, the famous “hunt and peck” method using the two index fingers while the rest of their fingers are completely idle. It’s like a driver who only drives his sports car in first gear because he never bothered to learn how to shift gears correctly.

    You must therefore learn how to type. Sixty words a minute is a good average, but with concentration, and a little practice, it’s not hard to exceed 100 words a minute.

    Note : I think this advice is absolutely excellent. I would add that is it absolutely necessary to follow a typing class with a real teacher or some software – to be truly effective because typing with all ten fingers doesn’t come by itself; it’s been about 15 years since I have been typing on the computer regularly, and I started several years earlier on a typewriter, and I type with 4 fingers (index and middle). According to this test, my speed is about 55 words a minute, after being weighted for typing errors I encourage you to take it for one minute, using text "Zebra – Africa’s striped horse", choose “>PM” as a unit of measure and post your results on the form at the end of the article to compare our results.clip_image001. You can then use free software like Keybr (on line) , Sense-lang (on line), Rapid Typing (for Windows), etc. to improve.

    – The Dvorak Keyboard

    Attention, this is for users who are not prepared to shrink from any sacrifice to increase their productivity 😉 Actually, did you know that the QUERTY keyboard layout (AZERTY for our Gallic friends) is inherited from old typewriters at the end of the 19th century, that needed neither processor nor hard disk or even electricity in order to work? 😉

    Now the placement was designed to slow down typing, for a simple reason. Let’s take a look at a  picture of an old mechanical typewriter:

    Machine à écrire mécanique

    As you can see, there is a black and red ribbon near the paper. The way the machine works is simple: when you hit a key, it raises up one of the metal letters that are located between the keyboard and the paper. If two letters side by side are hit too quickly one after the other, they both get stuck, quite simply because no matter what letter it is, they all strike in the same place, in the center of the ribbon. Thus the QWERTY layout (which in France became the AZERTY keyboard) was designed by Remington to slow down keystrokes in order to avoid them sticking. It is therefore a deliberate sub-optimization which we have sadly inherited on our computers due to force of habit.

    Fortunately, since then other keyboard layouts have been invented that are much more efficient and designed to optimize input speed. The most well known, and most used, is the Dvorak. I invite you to go to this site and read some of the articles and download some pilots. You can also read this article or this one. Apparently you can improve your typing speed about 40% with this keyboard, and learning to type – with all ten fingers – is twice as fast. If one of you embarks on this adventure, let me know, I will write an article on this topic in the future 😉

    – The Lever Effect

    It is possible to use software that acts as a lever to make you more productive with digital information: software that will let you register abbreviations that are then automatically converted into words or actions. You can, for example, assign "co" for the name of your company, "add" for its address: whenever you type these two or three letters, the software picks up on it and replaces it with the word or sentence that you have previously defined.

    Examples of such software:

    Back Ups

    There are two types of users in the world: those who already back up, and those who will do it some day, usually after having lost weeks or months or years of work.

    Note : I can only confirm this: having worked for more than 8 years in the field of information technology services, I can confirm that backing up is one of the most frequently neglected subjects, especially by smaller businesses and individuals. It always amazes me that someone who has spent maybe 20 hours writing a report or a document won’t take one minute to back it up… Back up frequently, back up a lot, back up too much even; it is better to have too many backups than not enough. See Carbonite, an excellent automatic online backup and inexpensive.

    Book Critique:

    This book clearly stands out among the technology books that come out every year. It’s a far cry in every way from the screen captures, detailed tutorials on this or that aspect of software, or weighty assessments of useless functionality. You get the feeling that Mark Hurst wanted to write a timeless book about digital information (understand by that: something that can still be read 3 years after publication) by focusing not on digital information but on managing the information, not on the tools but on the methods, not on the details but on the overarching approach. I think that he pulls it off remarkably well and I take my hat off to him.

    This book is packed with excellent advice, tricks and methods to improve everyone’s productivity with digital information. I have been an information technology professional for more than 8 years and my job leads me often to the analysis of methods and tools for small and medium sized companies, and I can tell you that the under-utilization of tools and bad methods are rampant in companies. There really is an illiteracy about information technology and digital information among a large part of the population, it this fact above all that motivated me to launch my Techno Smart French blog a year ago, which, sadly, I have not promoted enough. This illiteracy is taking its toll on productivity in our country and the rest of the world; obviously a weaker place with respect to where it could have been after several years. People who master these two domains are the scribes of today and have the same advantages that those who mastered reading and writing enjoyed when more than 90% of people didn’t know how to read or write.

    I buy-in completely to the general message delivered by Mark Hurst, a message delivered with ideas, methods, and tips which are absolutely clear and concise most of the time – I have even learned a few tricks myself. But certain passages made me raise my eyebrows, being a technology expert. First of all, Mark Hurst is resolutely anti-Microsoft and resolutely pro-Apple, and even though he justifies it, but in such an unobjective manner that it is nothing more than a cliché. I claim that some Microsoft software is totally efficient, if you know how to use it. In particular, I find that Outlook and OneNote are extremely practical applications, especially the 2007 versions. Most 2007 version software are furthermore exceptionally ergonomic and practical thanks to the new interface that Microsoft developed, incontestably their best invention for years.

    However, I am absolutely not in agreement on certain points; for example, I use an email management system that is entirely different from Mark Hurst’s, a method which he would snub for sure because it’s based on Outlook, automatic filtering rules, use "read" and "non-read" markings on emails, some deletions but also plenty of archiving in the inbox. In fact, I was applying GTD to my emails without realizing it for years, as I explain in my article on Implementing GTD. The author seems to have overlooked the progress that has been made in the subject of file indexing, which almost makes it antiquated to worry about where emails go. It is also astonishing that he doesn’t mention technologies such as voice recognition which seems to me an excellent means for productivity, perhaps that’s an idea for another edition of the book?

    Overall, this book is good and even a must-have for everyone from the unskilled to those who are "good" at Bit Literacy. Sadly, I’m afraid that few people will make the effort to read this book because just look at the number of people who have to get started with digital information, as though it were an insurmountable problem, somewhat optional and somewhat forced on by by circumstances that we don’t like. Perhaps illiterate peasants in the 19th century also said that they had to get started with reading, I don’t know. For those among you who know that it’s necessary to get educated in this area and are not opposed to reading a book about it, jump right in. If, what’s more, you are pro-Mac and anti-Microsoft, you will be in heaven 😉 .

    If you are an information technology professional or other expert user, my faith in reading this book is still justified, but the odds are you that you are already using work methods that are not easily replaced by those suggested by the author. But there are good ideas to be had here and there.

    In any case this book made me more conscious that I have a lot to say on this subject myself. Enough to write a whole book, I think. I will think about it 😉


    Strong Points:

    • Overall approach original and intelligent
    • Contents relatively timeless (by comparison to the average information technology book) 
    • Numerous ideas and interesting methods, even for expert digital information users
    • Revolutionary for everyone who is not an expert in digital information

    Weak Points:

    • Anti-Microsoft and pro-Apple absolutely not in an objective way 
    • Doesn’t talk about certain technologies like file indexing and voice recognition
    • Methods that make a digital information professional like myself raise his eyebrows; there are certain points on which I absolutely disagree with the author; I will write an article about this soon

    This article translated from the French by www.DeansResource.com

    My rating : image image imageimageimageimageimageimageimage (if you are not an experienced digital user)

    image image imageimageimageimageimageimageimage (if you are a seasoned expert with your own methods)

    Add half a star if you have a Mac and another half star if you are anti-Microsoft.

    Have you read the book? How do you rate it?

    Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (No Ratings Yet)
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    Read more reviews about Bit Literacy on Amazon.

    PMBA Challenge:

    Cost of the Book: € 16,34
    Total Cost of the Project:  159,99
    Number of Pages: 180
    Total Number of Pages: 2146
    Reading Time: 3H
    Time to Write this Article: 6H
    Total Project Time: 87H

    Buy this book on Amazon :

    Bit Literacy – 3

    Bit Literacy -  la Productivité à l'Âge de l'Information et du trop-plein d'Emails 

     

    Note : This week I am testing a new way of publishing: I will post this article in 4 sections, published throughout the week. What do you think? Do you like this better or would you prefer a complete report every time? Let me know through your comments 😉 . The first part is here, and the second there.

    • Chapter 7: Managing Photos

    Everyone who was born before 1990 will remember how we handled photos before digital photography: each step in the photo cycle was defined by a single thing – cost. Film was expensive to purchase, and even more expensive to develop. Errors were costly. Often, at the moment of the photo, everyone posed, and you counted to three before taking the photo hoping that everything would turn out all right. It was only in special circumstances, like a wedding, that you took more than one photo of something. Once the photos were developed you kept them forever, even not very good ones.

    Polaroids allowed us to use instant photos at a higher cost,  and poorer quality, and it was impossible to make copies.

    Digital photography has completely changed that by offering photos instantly, of higher quality, and at a lower cost. Currently, taking one or 10 photos of the same subject costs the same price – zero – at least as long as you don’t print them. But ironically, this new era brings with it a new problem, common to all other digital information; you must manage the abundance of it. It’s not unusual for digital photo owners to have several thousand photos on their hard drive.

    How do we recover from this? Information technology companies offer us tools that allow us to add notes to our photos  or to assign "tags" to them – descriptive keywords – so that we can find them easily. These tools are not complete, locking the user into a proprietary system and are not as efficient a real Bit Literacy method that can be applied to photos. Here is one, in three simple steps:

    1 – Maximize the bits

    The "film" for a digital camera is free, so make the most of it. Take several photos of the same subject, or at one, two or several second intervals. Try to vary the angles. Don’t hesitate to take one more photo "just in case."

    2 – Filter

    With several photos of the same subject you can separate the wheat from the chaff. Filtering means deleting all the photos that you don’t want to keep, including good photos that are almost the same as photos that you are going to keep. Certain users have difficulty doing that, especially when Aunt Marge smiles every time she looks at them on the computer screen. Try. It gets easier with practice. The "delete" button will become your best friend.

    3 – Store in two levels 

    Even photos that have been carefully filtered are of no use if users can’t find them. Without an appropriate storage method, they will fall into the same lack of order as the previous photos or get lost somewhere on the computer.

    Here is a simple method for Bit Literacy:

    Sort the photos in folders [year] -> [month-event]

    That way sorting begins with the year. For example, if you started taking digital photos in 2004, then you will have folders named 2004, 2005, 2006, etc. up to the present year.

    Within these folders you would create 12 sub-folders named for the months – using either numbers or letters.  To find things more easily, you could also add a short description to the folder if you had done something special at that time, for example [2006] -> 12-Trip to Sweden].

    This system has several advantages; it’s simple, easy to maintain, and allows you to file all your photos year by year, once and for all, and find the photos you are looking for in no time – and all without using a single software application.

    Note: I have been using a similar system for years – without describing events – to manage my more than 5,000 digital photos and I completely agree with the author on this point; there is no simpler or more efficient system.

    Additionally, you can use a photo management software application which supports two level storage, like Google Picasa, but don’t get dependent on it. 

    Important note: Backup your photos regularly using an external device such as a hard disk or a thumb drive. And backing up means that your data should be stored on at least two different devices – the internal hard drive on your computer and a thumb drive, for example 😉 .

    [ad#ad-bas]

    • Chapter 8 : Creating Bits

    If you have something to say, do it in a concise manner. Every time you send an email, take a photo or create a web page, you are adding a droplet to an ocean that is already deep.

    Digital information today is powerful and in abundance. The resource that is scarce is the time available to people receiving your messages. Becoming Bit Literate implies that you respect this scarce resource.

    That means:

      • When you write an email, be concise and to the point.
      • When you show photos, only show the best ones, never show copies of similar photos or bad photos.
      • When you create a web site, ensure that the goal for your site is clear on your home page at first glance.

    No matter what, the second question to ask yourself is "Is it really necessary?" Apply Occam’s Rule to everything you create.

    Two ideas are useful for this: important things first, and structure.

    – Important Things First 

    Always communicate the objective of the message as quickly as possible. When an email arrives in your inbox, the first thing that the user sees is the header (the subject line or the purpose of the email). Write relevant and concise titles if you want your correspondents to read them.

    The most important idea or the purpose of the message is called the hook. So applying this method requires talking about the hook as quickly as possible, then end the message as quickly as you can afterwards. But what is between the hook and the end of the message? The support, which includes any necessary information to explain or support the hook.

    – Structure

    Therefore a Bit Literacy compatible email should use the following structure:

    1. Subject, which includes the hook
    2. Greetings
    3. Hook (repeated)
    4. Support
    5. End

    Of course, some emails don’t need greetings or support, but this general structure can be applied to most emails.

    But emails are not enough, all digital messages, whatever they are – web sites, Powerpoint presentations, Word documents – should adopt a Bit Literacy compatible structure by following these steps:

    1. Context: document title, author’s name, date, introduction (optional)
    2. Hook
    3. Support
    4. Appendix (optional): a collection of resources for those who wish to go further

    Some additional advice:

    State the obvious. Avoid ambiguities; the reader should be able to understand the message without asking for clarification.

    Avoid relative dates. Tomorrow or today loose all meaning really quickly.

    Remember that bits are everywhere and forever. Never write an email that you wouldn’t want to send to the whole planet.

    Never send emails while you are mad. Rather than write an email while you are feeling angry, let it wait for at least a day before clicking irrevocably on the Send button.

    – Emails are a poor mechanism for conveying emotions and subtle signals. That’s why we invented 🙂 and 😉 . Avoid using this means for sending this type of message and use the phone instead, or even better, do it in person.

    • Chapter 9: File Format

    It’s very easy to forget how important file format is, and truthfully, it’s not necessary to be an expert in the field, but Bit Literacy practitioners should understand the basics.

    Every Windows file uses 3 letters after its name to indicate its file format (but it is hidden by default in Windows). Thus a Word document has the suffix .doc (or .docx for the latest 2007 version), a picture can have different suffixes like .jpg, .bmp, .png, etc., PDF files have the suffix .pdf. In general, most applications have their own file format and can also work with other formats whether they are universal, like JPG and XML or proprietary like .doc.

    The extension tells Windows which program to use to open the file. So if you rename your file rapport.doc to rapport.pdf, then Acrobat Reader will try to open a Word file, and obviously…

    Extensions are meaningless on Macs unless they are networked with PCs. 

    Note: I won’t expand on this subject, others have talked about it sufficiently well on the web, for example, see this excellent Wikipedia article.

    To be continued… 😉