Why it is important to disconnect on the weekend

You’re probably also under pressure to work longer hours, more days and somehow bend space-time to get more stuff done. Often this imperative translates into longer days, later nights and weekends partially consumed by work. This isn’t particularly productive and you’ll probably find you’ll be more productive if you disconnect on the weekend instead of powering through.

For some reason, many of us have this notion that work should take priority over family time and even personal downtime. Perhaps it is because we are concerned about keeping our jobs, progressing in the company and earning more. For many of my contemporaries, there is the added pressure of competing with younger colleagues who don’t have families and are willing to work for less pay.

I made the mistake of focusing more on my work, often at the expense of my family, when I was trying to build my business a few years ago. I’d frequently work weekends just to get that much more work done. What I realized (eventually) is that taking less downtime hurt my relationship with my family and didn’t lead to any real productivity boosts. If anything, I was less productive and more stressed.

Sure, there are times when you need to work extra hours. It happens. At the same time, it is really important to disconnect. Weekends give your mind an opportunity to disengage and process what you did the week before.

I find that I am more creative and focused after a weekend free of work. This isn’t about slacking off, it is about being more productive by not overdoing it.

It’s with this in mind that I thought I’d share this infographic I found in a Hubspot post titled “14 Scientific Reasons to Disconnect This Weekend”:

Why you should disconnect on the weekend

Featured image credit: Pexels

The tools I use to be productive with ADHD

I just read an article about how many people with ADHD rely on services like Evernote to keep their tendencies to go off chasing squirrels in check long enough to be productive.

The systems the article described seem pretty simple and I thought I’d share some of my processes that I have developed to help me deal with my conflicting tendencies.

I was diagnosed a couple years ago with ADHD. It gave me a way to explain why I struggled to be productive for much of my time at school and working life until then.

I initially resisted the idea and the suggestion that I start medicating myself. Medication like Ritalin always carried a stigma as a child. It was only when I embraced my condition and started taking medication to help me leverage it better (Concerta for me) that my life changed, literally.

I also strongly suspect that I am a bit OCD too although this remains a working theory.

My fascination with productivity systems

I am fascinated by productivity systems primarily because I had been so unproductive for so long. My fascination has often triggered my hyperfocus (ADHD adventurers generally don’t lack the capacity for focus, we just aren’t that good at invoking it at will).

One of my most ironic experiences was losing about 2 days of work researching productivity systems. My next favourite personal irony was taking about four years to finally read David Allen’s terrific book Getting Things Done and start implementing it more effectively.

What works for me (and really doesn’t)

My ongoing productivity challenge is that too much complexity in my system tends to leave me stalled because I can’t decide which tool to use for a particular task or step in my process.

In fact, I strive for a balance between absolute simplicity and the minimum degree of complexity required to create a functional system.

I also find that too many choices is totally counter-productive. This is one of the reasons I started writing in plain text. I have multiple options for rich text editors to use to write. The problem I encountered was that I found myself obsessing about which one to use for each writing project. The result was that I frequently struggled to just begin.

It sounds really silly, I know. Welcome to my world.

My solution was to remove most of my options and impose a series of constraints on myself relating to formats and outcomes. The simplest solution was to write in plain text with MultiMarkdown syntax. I like using other options like Apple Pages, Scrivener and LibreOffice now and then but plain text remains my default (I’m using it to write this post).

Another consideration is the extent to which my productivity tools are cross-platform. I put a lot of time and effort into developing a productivity system that works for me. I don’t mind spending time refining it but I really don’t want to recreate it.

This means that I need to be able to work with my system on as many devices and platforms as I can. Unfortunately there are limits with my current system. OmniFocus is macOS/iOS only and there isn’t a Linux Evernote app yet. This bothers me but the benefits of using these apps outweighs the risk of my losing access to devices to support them.

With that said, here is my system:

A system to encompass just about everything

You can’t really adopt a productivity system unless you are pretty clear about what you want to achieve. My system has to enable me to work the way that I find most effective:

  • I have a strong preference for digital even though I do a lot of note taking on paper.
  • I love the GTD methodology (it just makes so much sense to me) so I want a task manager that supports my efforts to manage my projects this way without cluttering my workflows unnecessarily.
  • Ideally I want to store all my reference documents and information in one, searchable location so I don’t have to think about where everything is.
  • Given that I do most of my writing in plain text, I want one app that I can use and one place to store my text files.

My productivity system

Keep my projects running with OmniFocus

When it comes to picking a solution to manage my tasks, I went with OmniFocus. It was practically designed for GTD and I can use it on all my devices. It isn’t cheap and it only works on macOS/iOS (the platform limitation bothers me but I can live with it). At the same time, it is excellent software and nothing really comes close to it.

I also like having little features like a notes section attached to each task. I often add links to Evernote notes (more about Evernote below) or even email threads to my tasks so I can quickly find the relevant materials I need for that task.

Next actions

One of the reasons GTD is so powerful for me is that it breaks projects down into component “next actions”. A next action is the very next tangible step you can take towards completing your project. Being able to focus on the very next step I can take is crucial.

When faced with a step that contains multiple next actions without actually identifying those next actions triggers my tendency to go off track completely. If I don’t have a very clear next action, I procrastinate pretty easily and I find it more difficult to return to the project.

This is particularly a problem when there are so many other bright and shiny things to look at and which I can lose myself in for hours. Next actions are the closest I have come to train tracks for my productivity train. OmniFocus helps me focus on my next action beautifully.

Sorting projects

As you can imagine, I have a number of projects and keeping them organised is pretty important too. OmniFocus has the option to create folders than you can use to contain groups of projects.

I recently listened to David Sparks and Katie Floyd’s interview with Mike Williams, President and CEO of the David Allen Company in Mac Power Users, episode 340, about his approach to GTD. He also uses OmniFocus and mentioned a role-based approach to organising his tasks.

OmniFocus projects

I borrowed from his model and reorganised my projects based on what I see as my various roles:

  • Family guy (home and family stuff);
  • Work projects for my day job;
  • Independent writer (this includes personal writing projects);
  • Individual (personal health stuff and other projects that just involve me);
  • Lawyer (I have a couple projects relating to my previous career); and
  • Photographer (pretty self-explanatory).

It’s an interesting way to group your projects and makes a lot of sense given GTD’s emphasis of context as a powerful way to decide which projects and tasks to focus on at a given time. It certainly makes more sense than the more haphazard categorisations I used before.

Evernote is my place for everything

My choice for my “everything” solution is Evernote. I have been an Evernote user for more than 8 years and a Premium user for most of that time.

How I use Evernote

One of the key features of GTD is a reference system. I don’t like having piles of paper documents so I scan as much as I can and store almost all of it in Evernote. Even though I become frustrated with Evernote from time to time, it remains the best solution I have come across that lets me do the following:

  • I can store a variety of documents, images, rich text notes and clippings from the Web (the Web Clipper is terrific and I use it daily).
  • I mentioned earlier that I take a lot of handwritten notes. I capture those notes into my Evernote notes when they are complete. I often have other bits of information or documents in those notes which become handy references for when I am working on an article.
  • When I scan documents, I usually send them to Evernote too. This includes utility bills, letters and other documents I want to retain and reference at a later stage. This makes a lot of documentation totally portable and accessible from multiple devices.

Here is an example of how I use Evernote on an almost daily basis:

  1. I work as an inbound marketing specialist.
  2. I work closely with an account manager in a marketing agency.
  3. He briefs me on an article he needs from me and I capture the brief into a note in a notebook designated for my work projects.
  4. I create rough outlines or take handwritten notes while I do research for my article and add those to the note. The easiest way to capture my handwritten notes is by taking photographs of the pages with the Evernote app on my iPhone. The app will recognise that the pages are part of a document and automatically crop the pages and optimise the page rendering for legibility later.
  5. Much of my research is online and I use the Web Clipper to capture relevant articles and PDFs into a separate Social Marketing notebook (which is my general social marketing reference).
  6. Once my research is done, I create an article outline and send it to my manager to review. Once that is done, I update the version in my Evernote note. I have started adding checkboxes to each line in the outline so it’s easy to track my progress through the outline as I write.
  7. Another benefit of the checkboxes in the outline is that each one is a sort of “next action” which is the atomic unit of a GTD productivity system.
  8. When I write, I often have my project note open on a separate screen or my iPad while I type on my laptop. That way I have my brief, my notes and my research materials on hand and can just write.

I don’t just use Evernote for work. I have notebooks for various interests and for home and family stuff. I capture my kids’ drawings, class schedules and contact details for kids and parents for play dates. Evernote is my general reference for most of my daily activities.

The search capability is pretty powerful too although it can use some improvement when it comes to ranking and relevance signals (I suspect these are coming, though).

Notebooks vs tags

There is a debate about how to use Evernote effectively. Some people prefer using fewer notebooks and tagging everything based on a structured taxonomy. They rely more on tags and Evernote’s search capability to find notes than browsing notebooks and notebook stacks. The benefit of this approach is a much simpler notebook structure and being able to apply multiple, relevant tags to notes based on their relationships to other notes.

Another approach involves a more complex notebook and notebook stack structure where notes are filed under specific notebooks based on some or other criteria. Tags remain useful but are no longer critical categorisation tools.

My Evernote notebooks

This becomes somewhat murky territory for me. I have developed a notebook/notebook stack structure as my primary categorisation method. I also tag my notes although I long ago gave up on trying to structure my tags into an organised taxonomy. I just have way too many tags. I’ve thought about reigning them in and creating a hierarchy of tags but it just hasn’t seemed worth it spending the time to do that.

My notebook/notebook stack structure feels a bit too complex and I’m toying with the idea of creating a structure in Evernote that corresponds with the role-based project structure in OmniFocus. I’m not sure that it will be as effective, though.

Evernote is primarily a reference system for me. Sure, it is also a production system too (just consider my example of how I approach and manage work projects) but the majority of my 25,441 (and counting) notes are stored and unstructured data that I reference now and then.

I’m very hesitant to embark on any substantial restructuring exercise when it comes to this stuff because it almost invariably becomes a completely waste of productive time and rarely yields a real enhancement to my overall system.

In fact, one of my most valuable lessons is that the urge to mess with my system without a clear and substantial benefit is to avoided at all costs. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

It’s probably worthwhile simplifying my notebooks to a degree but the current structure is the product of previous refinements and consolidations so I’ll just let that idea simmer for a while.

I use Byword to write

When it comes to my writing, Byword is my weapon of choice. It is on my MacBook and my iPhone/iPad and it supports MultiMarkdown. After losing a lot of time trying to fix Microsoft Word styles in documents, I gave up on that odious app and switched to plain text.

Why plain text?

It probably sounds a bit weird that I am so fixated on plain text as my primary writing format. After all, MS Word has been good enough for most people (including many great writers) for so long, right? Well, to begin with, I have a difficult history with Word. I avoid it as much as I possibly can.

Secondly, I have a philosophical preference for plain text. My professional life is based on my writing and I have thought deep thoughts about whether my work will be accessible in the years and decades to come? Not everything I write is particularly good but I believe strongly in developing archives that will endure.

We certainly generate a lot of data and most of it may turn out to be cat gifs. At the same time, everything we create forms part of a collective cultural tapestry that will give our descendants detailed insights into who we are and what was important to us. It also forms part of a growing historical archive that will be all that remains of our generation in the more distant future. I believe that archive has intrinsic value.

In the much shorter term, I want to work in a file format that I’ll be able to access in the next 10, 20 or even 50 years time. Plain text is a fundamental file format. Everything should be able to read it. My text files are my source code and I want them to be accessible going forward.

On the other hand, when was the last time you were able to open your old WordStar files or even early Microsoft Word formats? Fortunately app suites like LibreOffice have impressive backward compatibility but this may not be possible with current MS Word and other proprietary formats like Apple’s .pages format.

I use MultiMarkdown formatting in my text files because it translates into rich formatting when I publish my files and because it is intelligible even in it’s raw format. As Markdown’s creator, John Gruber, pointed out:

The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions. While Markdown’s syntax has been influenced by several existing text-to-HTML filters, the single biggest source of inspiration for Markdown’s syntax is the format of plain text email.

I have a single folder in Dropbox for my text notes and that folder syncs with Byword on my iPhone and iPad to keep all my devices up to date. This also means I can work on my mobile devices too and I can even use another plain text editor. Plain text is truly cross-platform.

Keeping my writing as simple as possible to avoid distractions

A big reason I like MultiMarkdown-formatted text files is that I can just write. Styling is a function of whichever stylesheets are applied to my text in the publication process and the syntax I add as I write. I don’t have to spend hours messing with stylesheet formatting options in Word or some other word processor just to get my text down.

Plain text is perfectly simple and flexible as a production file format. It enables me to really streamline my writing process and that means fewer distractions to derail my productivity.


The one challenge I face at the moment is that the process of moving that text into a file format like .docx for other people to work with takes more time than I’d like.

The converters I have available to me (Byword’s native Word export; Marked 2 and one or two others) are fiddly in their own ways. I inevitably wind up spending time reformatting exported text to prepare it for review.

At the moment, the most efficient process seems to be to write in Byword with MultiMarkdown syntax and then take the exported RTF text into Apple Pages because formatting the text in Pages is easier than other options. If Pages isn’t available, Google Docs also works well enough.

At least the writing part is uncomplicated.

Integration with my other services

One of the reasons I really like Byword is that I can “publish” my documents to Evernote. Evernote notes use rich text formatting and will accept my MultiMarkdown formatted plain text and give me fair representations of that text as formatted rich text in my Evernote notes.

This is really handy for creating things like outlines or short notes that I want to bring into Evernote to form part of a project note or just to capture into my reference system.

Know your daily rhythm

Completely aside from the tools I use, I am increasingly aware of when I am most productive in a given day.

I am definitely more of a morning person and I am more able to focus productively then. A lot of that is due to the fact that I take my daily Concerta pill with breakfast.

Early afternoons are usually dead time for me, creatively. It may be the aftermath of lunch or just a midday lull but the time between lunch and about 15:00 are terrible times for anything that requires sustained focus and creative output.

That time is probably best for admin tasks or even a short nap (where possible). I nap for 15–20 minutes on average and one of those can leave me feeling so much better.

Then, for some reason, I find it easier to slip into my flow from about 15:00 until 16:30 to 17:30 so that is also a good time for me to work.

Late nights are usually particularly unproductive. I don’t think I have ever felt particularly effective working late at night so I usually just park whatever needs to be done for the next morning.

I usually need a minimum of 6 to 7 hours of sleep to be functional in the morning. The nights when I manage 8 hours of sleep often leave me feeling amazing in the morning. It is amazing what a difference the extra hour or two of sleep can have, for me at least.

Many people recommend taking breaks every hour or so but that doesn’t always work for me. There are times when I slip into that hyper focus mode and can work for 3 to 4 hours solidly without looking up. When that happens, I don’t even attempt to break that focus.

On the other hand, on days when I am struggling to focus and staring at my notes doesn’t do any good, I’ll often take a 10 to 15 minute break to let my brain rest. That is just me.

I don’t achieve much when I force myself to do something I find myself resisting. Usually that is a sign that I need to rethink the task or unpack it and identify the real next actions.

Easy to use and fewer distractions

The key for me is to have a productivity system that is easy to use and minimises the opportunity for distractions. I prefer working in quieter spaces (even though I listen to music while I work – it is my onramp to my Flow).

I also want to remove as much friction from my system as I possibly can. Friction exacerbates my ADHD tendencies and kills my productivity.

My system should just be available so I can get on with the work. As soon as I find myself working on the system beyond tweaks and optimisations, the system has failed.

I can open Byword and start typing.

I can open OmniFocus and see what I have to do next.

I open Evernote and I can (usually) find what I need to keep working.

I don’t want to have to work the system just so I can eventually start working. Even though I generally find my work interesting, it doesn’t always trigger that hyperfocus that makes work so much easier so any friction just increases the likelihood I won’t be productive.

For the time being, my productivity system seems to be working. I am more productive than I was for a long time. It isn’t a perfect system and I tweak it now and then. I think my OCD tendencies are really helpful there (mostly).

I’ve also learned that having ADHD is as much an adventure as it can be immensely frustrating at times. It is a part of me and certainly makes my life interesting.

Featured image credit: Pexels

Overcoming procrastination, when you get to it

Procrastination can be a productivity scourge. I’ve certainly had my share of it and I am probably doing it right now. I just watched a fun video suggesting how we can overcome procrastination and the surprise, for me at least, is that one solution is mindfulness meditation.

I wasn’t expecting that at all but it makes sense, in a way.

Image credit: Pixabay

“If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it”

I’ve been thinking about these themes lately:

If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it.

If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on.

If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

They remind me of some advice I received from Bernard Hotz, a South African lawyer I worked for many years ago. He said you should never compromise yourself, certainly not for a client. That advice has particular significance in legal practice but it’s good advice in general.

With everything being so interconnected, your work speaks for you “out there” and if you consistently deliver work you are not proud of, you are compromising yourself. It could be for a client, for money or for some other short term reward.

The question to ask yourself is whether those compromises are worth it, really?

Source: Seth Godin’s post titled “On saying “no”

Cross-platform or best platform?

What is better? A cross-platform productivity system or the best productivity system, even if it is only available on one platform? I was thinking about this some more after I published my previous post this morning.

A productivity system for autonomous adults

The answer mostly hinges on whether you can be reasonably assured that you will be able to use the device/operating system of your choice going forward or whether you need to cater for an environment where you could find yourself working on whatever your employer gives you?

My employer, like many companies, issues Windows-based laptops to its staff. I have been a Mac user for about a decade and I use a number of apps that are only available on the Mac. That said, much of how I work on my Mac is also possible on other operating systems. I write in plain text using MultiMarkdown and I can do that on just about any device and OS. We use Google Drive for internal document sharing and that is available from any modern desktop browser and most smart devices.

One of the reasons I really love MultiMarkdown is because it is truly cross-platform and it doesn’t matter what you are using to write, it will work because it uses the most basic format: plain text. I’m going through a phase right now where I wish I could just do everything in plain text files and easy to migrate and sync files. I want to explore some sort of alternative to Evernote. Evernote is my primary reference repository for my stuff. I have a lot of data in there and I am a bit concerned that Evernote might go away one day and I won’t have an independent and similar system I could switch to.

So the question which has guided many of my productivity system choices has been whether to focus on a cross-platform system or on the best system available to me?

  1. A cross-platform productivity system would be something like Asana, Trello or even a plain text file with some customised syntax to reflect tasks and actions on tasks (I had a pretty interesting system running in Atom for a while).
  2. The best productivity system available to me at the moment is OmniFocus but its value is entirely dependent on me being able to use a Mac and iOS devices day to day. I’m using my MacBook Air for work at the moment but that is primarily because I returned my underpowered, office issued laptop and it hasn’t been replaced yet. This works well enough but if my MacBook Air were to decide to take a vacation on me, I’d have to switch to something else and my efforts to set up an effective productivity system using OmniFocus would be rendered useless.

At the moment I am leaning more towards using the best system available over cross-platform, primarily because nothing else is as good, intuitive and effective as OmniFocus on my Mac and iOS devices. I’ve discovered that “good enough” isn’t always good enough and carries a fair amount of aggravation with it.

The underlying question still remains, though.

Image credit: Pexels

A productivity system for autonomous adults

I once lost about a day and a half exploring a new productivity system to help me be more productive. That lost time is one of my favourite life experience ironies. Part of the reason I wound up spending so much time obsessing about a new productivity system is that I am more than a little OCD about that sort of thing.

I don’t remember emerging from that “process” with a coherent system but it remains a personal reminder not to let myself become distracted by the search for something new for the sake of finding something new. Instead, I focus on simplifying my processes and my toolkit with a preference for the stuff that I know works for me. When it comes to tasks, I prefer OmniFocus because I have it on all my devices and because I paid far too much money to just ditch it.

The catch, though, is that it doesn’t tie into anything I could use to collaborate with my team at work. Over time my work tasks have split from my personal tasks because different managers have wanted us to manage projects using different tools which became additional layers on top of my OmniFocus system and another layer of complexity to manage.

When I diverted off the productivity cliff

In my quest for something I could use to tie in with my colleagues, I stopped using OmniFocus as my “everything” productivity app and OmniFocus became my poorly maintained personal task manager and a procession of other tools became my work options. In retrospect, that was probably when things started falling apart.

I used OmniFocus exclusively before I started my current job because I worked for myself and I could focus on being productive, not finding ways to adapt to whichever project management system my managers wanted at that point in time. I’ve tried a few services:

  • Asana, which I really dislike for reasons I can’t quite identify (and some I can);
  • Spreadsheets, which are terrible for managing ongoing tasks and, when I think about using them for this purpose, can make me physically ill;
  • Basecamp, which is a terrific project management service and the only reason it became problematic is because there was no meaningful integration for me with OmniFocus so it required a work/other split to minimise duplication;
  • Pen and paper, which isn’t dynamic and too easy to forget about and ignore because my brain knows it isn’t reliable for me; and
  • Trello, which is my current choice at work and works fairly well except, as I write this, I just think it is another layer of distraction I should ditch and return to OmniFocus.

As I see it, the thing about productivity systems and work projects involving teams is that you really have two choices if you want to remain productive[1]:

Option 1 – the team system

Use a system that everyone uses and that works well, generally, for everyone. When I had a small team back in the day, I was looking at Basecamp or Podio (I think). I gave my candidate attorney the two options to look at and she picked Basecamp because it made sense to her. We went with that and it worked well for us. I only stopped using it when my team moved on and maintaining it for one person didn’t make sense.

The key thing with a team-based system is that the directive to use it must come from management even though the choice of what to use should only be made with the team’s input (after all, they need to use it and stick to it and no-one will stick with a system that doesn’t work for them).

Option 2 – The “autonomous adults” system

I was chatting to Don Packett a while ago and I asked him what Missing Link uses to keep projects going effectively. I was expecting him to give me the name of some slightly fringe productivity app (if you know Missing Link, you’ll understand why I wasn’t expecting them to be using Ye Olde Corporate Standard Fare). He surprised me with a really smart and appropriate answer (I wasn’t surprised that it was smart, just because it wasn’t what I was expecting). He told me that they –

aggressively push for ‘autonomous adults’ who can set their own timelines and deadlines and get their shit done in the right fashion.

I love that. As soon as I read that, I realised that a system imposed on a team can, more often than not, reflect an attitude by management that the team does not comprise “autonomous adults” who can be trusted to get their stuff done “in the right fashion”. Instead, people are treated as if they lack the capacity to do what they need to do and be productive.

Update (2016-03-09): Don messaged me and clarified that Missing Link uses dapulse to co-ordinate their autonomous adults, which makes a lot of sense.

This attitude comes through in how they are told which steps to take to complete tasks and when to do them. A better approach is giving them a set of priorities (or, even better, involved in the decision-making process about the upcoming priorities) and left to figure out how to meet them effectively and on time. That doesn’t mean people don’t make mistakes or miss deadlines. Being an “autonomous adult” means being able to make those mistakes, taking responsibility for them and then fixing them without being told that making mistakes somehow deprives you of your right to be a grown-up at work.

My point is …

What prompted to start this little verbal foray into productivity systems was a post by Shawn Blanc titled “A System That Works (for You)” which begins with this truism:

Everyone wants a time management system that works. One they can stick with. One that’s not a pain in the butt.

He goes on to explain what such a system looks like:

  1. It empowers you to do the things you want and need to do.
  2. It aligns with your personality.

What I have learned is that a system that doesn’t have these two qualities very much becomes an obstruction to just getting stuff done. I am also constantly reminded that the key thing is to find a system that just make sense to you and works for you. A system that requires constant tweaking and reconfiguration is, literally, counterproductive. I have reached a point where I can feel just how wrong the system is when I started using it.

A good productivity system should have something that makes it easier to use, enjoyable even. As Blanc noted:

The reason I use a pen and paper is because I enjoy it. The analog aspect adds a bit of joy, which, in and of itself, is enough grease for the skids to keep me on track with using my system.

I definitely find that a productivity system that isn’t aesthetically pleasing to me is problematic because appealing design is a great introduction to a system for me. It is “grease for the skids” to help ease the transition to a new thing and how I can use it.

Most of all, a good productivity system should support you and, as Blanc puts it, empower you “to do the things you want and need to do”. Adding more friction to your workflows is an effective way to dissuade you from using a system and becoming less productive overall[2].

Postscript: I have written a follow-up about a related issue so consider reading “Cross-platform or best platform?” too.

Cross-platform or best platform?

Image credit: Pexels

  1. Being “productive”, to me, means getting stuff done and not spending more than the absolutely minimum time required to maintain your system. If you spend too much time just keeping your system afloat, so much so that it cuts into the time you need to actually get your stuff done, change your system. It isn’t working.  ↩
  2. Of course, now that I am thinking about it more, I am tempted to move all my tasks back to OmniFocus. The challenge with these sorts of moves is that each time you reconfigure your productivity workflow, you take more time away from the time you have to get stuff done so it has to count.  ↩

If you want capable teams, don’t boss them around

If you want a capable team, don’t boss them around. This may come as a shock to some “managers” who believe that their function as “managers” is to tell their subjects precisely what to do and how to do it. That isn’t managing a team, that is bossing people around. There is a big difference.

Every time I think about this bossy “management” style, I think about that Princess Leia quote in Star Wars:

I wrote before about the benefits of not treating your team like they are children and this theme is a gift that keeps on giving. What bosses seem to be ignorant of are the effects of being bossy and overly prescriptive when directing their teams. It is stressful being on the receiving end of that and the more layers of bossiness you add to the mix, the waves of stress become utterly counter-productive; almost enough to stop fusion in a star.

HubSpot has yet another great post, titled “The Psychology of Teams: 9 Lessons on How Happy, Efficient Teams Really Work” which is a must-read for managers and their teams, alike. One of the key factors of an effective team, for me at any rate, is a healthy degree of freedom and responsibility. HubSpot quoted Dennis Bakke’s book, The Decision Maker, on what this freedom and responsibility means in the context of a functional team:

You’ve got the responsibility, but you’ve also got the freedom. Think through these questions. Figure out what you think will work best. Do whatever you need to. If you want to connect with other people who are thinking about this, get advice from other businesses, you let me know. Whatever research you need to do, we’ll make it happen. And then come to me with your decisions about how to handle human resources going forward.”

“So you can sign off on them?” Angela challenged.

Tom shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “So I understand what’s happening in the business.”

This is a subtle but important shift from a bossy approach where the boss wants to review and sign off on every activity because he feels the overwhelming need to control every aspect of the team’s work. It is tempting to be so controlling. After all, it’s your business and you want it to succeed. It is so much like raising children and I’m beginning to think that, even there, it is easy to make similar disempowering mistakes. Take a look at this short video of the late H. Stephen Glenn speaking about developing capable young people:

After watching this I want to try a very different approach with my children (as nerve-wracking as that is). The thing with children and pets seems to be balancing their need for structure (I’m still making this up as I go, like most parents) with granting them freedom to grow.

When it comes to adult employees, bossing them around is just stupid. It doesn’t work. It dumbs down teams; discourages innovation and assassinates productivity. Often this form of “management” is really stressful and that creates an unhealthy work environment for now reason other than to satisfy the boss’ need to control what he can’t meaningfully control anyway.

Manage your team, lead them, if you want a capable team. Don’t boss them around. Don’t be that boss.

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