Personal Time Tracking … the easy way – with “Klok”

Considering implementing a more work-friendly client than the web-based one shipping with our installation of Workbook, I found “Klok”.

it’s not the answer to all problems with timetracking, but it beats Workbook which is the WORST software I have ever had the non-pleasure of working with.


Rethinking the Office

Tim Ferriss not only gave us “The 4-hour Workweek”, but he is also giving us a blog where he continues his writings about his life-style experimentations… as always its interesting stuff, however one article caught my interest more than others seeing that Hello is currently looking for new office space and all here hence are thinking about how its gonna be.

One thing that strike me, is that it’s been very hard to convince management about the reasons to experiment with the office layout… it would be so cool to try and work on a distinct project basis, in office islands centered around the project… my computer could be reduced to a laptop and a server somewhere in the basement compiling the code for all…. we should have alternative areas with a very unbiased purpose… something like depicted in the photo below…

Anyways… check out the article…


Workaholics United : Push, Pull & Standardization

Waste is a constraint. Reducing waste in your organization is one the easiest ways of reducing constraints.

And here’s a surprise—waste in offices is usually greater than in factories, especially because it’s easy to hide waste in cumbersome or non-existent processes. Creating unnecessary information inventory is another common waste in offices. Doing too many tasks “in anticipation” of a possible client, for example…

One way to think about waste is in terms of push and pull systems. A push system, like much of traditional manufacturing, produces as much product as the company can and/or wants to produce and then gets it out to the customer. The result is usually large inventories.

A pull system only produces what a customer needs and has asked for. You want to have as much “pull” in your systems as you can. Toyota has very little excess inventory. That’s why when the Prius was so unexpectedly popular, people found themselves on waiting lists for the car. Seems like a problem, but Toyota is much more profitable as a result of being so lean. You might also hear this concept referred to as “just-in-time production” or JIT (remember? — it came from the supermarkets).

I think of it this way — there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. No more. No less.

Here’s a story on how to reduce waste (figuratively and literally), by integrating people and process in a pull system.

Many places all over South East Asia (And many other places for that matter), you don’t have a conventional toilet. However, some places in Japan you don’t only have a hole in the ground, instead there is an incinerator toilet as many Japanese are shy to have their bodily disposables exposed to even sewer rats. You first press a button to start the heating system and then put a special purpose coated paper bowl liner (like a coffee filter, but don’t try using one for this purpose it won’t work) down between two sloping pieces of steel (sort of like a toilet bowl liner). You do “your business” into the paper filter, step onto a lever, and wave goodbye to your waste and any toilet paper. The toilet incinerates the filter and extra donations from you at a very high temperature, somewhere around 6,000 degrees Celcius or the surface temperature of the sun, whichever is hotter. It’s a great way to eliminate waste. However, you can’t use the toilet without these special purpose coated paper bowl liners—they’re needed to keep the steel clean while also aiding in the incineration process. Many have tried and got a good scolding for it.

A friend of mine and his wife have implemented a very simple “pull system” so that we always have just the right number of liners. Not too many, which ties up money and takes up extra space with excess inventory. Not too little which can shut down the incinerator if it’s overburdened by non-regulation uses.

Over time my friend and his wife have determined just how many boxes of this paper to keep on hand, based on the frequency of use. It happens to be four boxes. These boxes are then stacked on a specific shelf (the one closest to the toilet, not down the hall, which would create a different kind of production problem, but right where you need them—and can reach them).

On the bottom box is written—when you open this box tell Daniel or Yuko. You do tell them because it’s built into the culture of the dojo and you are part of the smooth functioning of the system. They then order 4 more boxes—and have determined, through learning by doing, just how long it takes to receive a shipment of 4 new boxes. It’s a very simple pull system that, in this case, only produces the right kind of waste.

As you can tell, there are a number of keys to success in this process.

Everything about this process is clearly visible and apparent to everybody involved in the process. If the box marked when you open this box tell Daniel or Yuko was inside a dark, hard to reach, cabinet, or it was written on the bottom of the box instead of on the flap that you have to open to get at the liners, it might not get noticed. The process relies on this visual indicator. Visual indicators or management charts, or checklists, etc. allow for communication and sharing. You can create standardized work sheets, but if you don’t have a way of seeing them, and the process, as if it were in a glass box, it’s likely that the standard practice won’t be followed and breakdown and waste will occur.

Problems have a way of bubbling up to the surface. The longer you let them simmer the bigger the problem will be when it surfaces. Our goal is to create standardized work processes that bring issues and problems to the surface, using visual indicators so no problems are hidden, at the earliest possible moment. People are stimulated by the visual, tactile and audible. People are part of the process.

Remember, we’re integrating. So it stands to reason that being able to see everything you manage is a balanced and harmonious way of creating flow in your work.


Workaholics United : Consider All Factors (CAF)

In any situation, certain givens define the range of how we perceive it. By expanding the scope of considerations with a conscious effort, we can increase the span of our attention to aspects that might have otherwise been missed.

Consider All Factors (CAF) is an attention directing tool designed to do this. During a defined interval of time, you mentally list every consideration about a topic you can think of, as opposed to just the first few that come to mind.
An example

A shy person is invited to a party. His default reaction is to think, “I’m just not an extrovert.” For this exercise he decides to enrich his perspective by considering other factors in that social situation:

* Body language
* Greetings
* Response to questions
* Questions to ask others
* Dressing for impact
* First impressions
* Smiling
* Who’s there that I already know?
* Purpose of attending
* Anxiety created by unfamiliarity

Some considerations arguably overlap: first impressions, dressing for impact, smiling. It doesn’t matter, and would be counterproductive to censor new angles on what might be thought of as the same theme, since the only way to really know is in hindsight. In this case, the person might not have previously paid any attention to the role of personal appearance in creating good first impression, despite that factor being obvious to others.

By consciously distributing cognition around a topic, he gives himself new things to think about. The consideration “purpose of attending” might contrast with going to the party simply because he was asked, instead of having a deliberate focus to guide to his behavior. The consideration, “anxiety created by unfamiliarity” is interesting. One strategy for overcoming his social apprehension is to familiarize himself with everyone in the room, making as many introductions as possible to avoid being confronted with a crowd of strangers.
Other examples

We can “do a CAF” for a couple of minutes on just about any topic, either for better planning or simply for its own sake as a mental exercise. Doing a CAF on apartment hunting might yield:

* Commute to and from work
* Length of lease
* Rent
* Total move-in cost
* Impression of landlord
* Square footage
* Aesthetics
* Noise level of surrounding area
* Walking distance to amenities (e.g. stores, parks)
* Parking
* Consensus with other decision makers
* Furniture
* Pets
* Terms of rental agreement

Again, some overlap. Pets and lease length would be covered in the rental agreement, but isolating “terms of rental agreement” as a separate item might prompt the apartment hunter to look more carefully for unreasonable clauses instead of taking the contract for granted. Notice that the apartment hunter has also factored in “impression of landlord” as a conscious consideration rather than leaving it as an afterthought or subliminal intuition.

Starting a exercise program:

* Type of exercise
* Clothing
* Equipment
* Schedule
* Home, gym, personal trainer?
* Fitness goals (e.g. weight, running distance)
* Handling eventual decline in discipline or enthusiasm
* Nutrition
* Documenting progress

This person has identified a decline in discipline and enthusiasm as something to deal with before its onset. It’s much easier to plan for setbacks in advance than trying to address them while they’re happening.

And now to the essence of my point… If you apply CAF to a software programming task, and the benefits become much more apparent. Make it a habit to perform a CAF at the inception of a programming assignment, and you will experience that your estimates will be closer to actual outcome and that your solution quality will increase because you become able to handle many issues pro actively, which may in other cases have become problems and forced you to do hacks-tweaks in order to get the code to conform to functional requirements within your estimated time frame.

The more you practice the CAF operation, the easier it gets, and less inclined you are to be satisfied with accepting the first considerations that immediately come to mind. When you think about a new topic, you’ll begin to instinctively ask yourself, “What am I missing?”


Workaholics United : Playing the Percentages

Whenever management lays down some new policies for customers or employees, there will inevitably be some degree of blowback. Any change, from moving to a outsourcing to India to moving furniture from one department to another, disrupts our sphere of comfort.

Since I can’t get away with simply saying, “Well, that’s different from what I’m used to,” I would be inclined to gather some negative results designed to invalidate the new policy. One time I was asked to implement an email autoresponder with text I disagreed with. After a few days, I got a couple of complaints from customers, so I argued to the boss that we should scrap the autoresponder. Referring to the complaints, he asked the question I’d come to expect from him:

“What percentage of the time does this happen?”

I sighed, knowing that not only had I been shot down, but that he was right in principle. I felt foolish telling him that I had received three complaints out of hundreds of email exchanges.

With any new project, some things are bound to go wrong. A zero-defect mentality is a zero-action policy. For practical goal realization, the operative principle should be to contain risk, not eliminate it. A certain amount of risk analysis is healthy. The trick is to identify the point of diminishing returns where further steps to reduce risk are actually attempts to eliminate risk, which is unrealistic.

There’s no formula for determining that point, only an intuition or an arbitrary definition that involves asking an answer certain questions:

* How seriously would the problem impact this?
* What percentage of the time does the problem happen?
* What percentage is acceptable?
* Is the problem irreversible?
* What other problems could happen?
* What steps could be taken to fix the problem?
* What steps could be taken to prevent the problem without abandoning the project?
* What problems would result from abandoning the project?
* Does the positive impact of success outweigh the negative impact of failure?

Psychologically, risk is “contained” when it’s given precisely the amount of attention appropriate to it, not more. The focus is predominantly on the likelihood of a negative outcome rather than the details of it. Problems are converted into projects, defined in terms of successful outcomes and next actions.

Recognize the difference between creating slack and being a slacker. Define your margin for error and embrace the art of strategic failure as a practical price to pay for accomplishing bigger goals.


Workaholics United : Upgrade an Unproductive Day by Mentally Rehearsing a Better One

There’s no going back in time, but there are ways to learn from the past rather than live in it.

Every day we walk through a minefield of potential distractions, sometimes arriving on the other side unscathed, sometimes not. One digression leads to another, the cycle repeats, and hours later we wonder where the time went. It’s tempting to criticize ourselves for getting nothing none that day, and even if the criticism is somewhat accurate (it’s unlikely that nothing got done), the diagnosis itself is idle — which is to say, “So what?”

Figuring out the obvious moves nothing forward. On the other hand, recognizing the problem implies recognizing the solution. When I run into this situation, I ask myself to process questions:

* How did I get nothing done today?
* What will I do differently tomorrow?

Since a day’s accomplishments, or lack thereof, is the sum of many behaviors, neither of these questions can be addressed by a single answer — at least to have the level of precision necessary to make a substantial change.
Mental modeling

It’s not enough to know our worst practices in general. To make tomorrow a more accomplished day than today, we need to rewind the film strip to the precise moment where we got derailed.

For instance, I noticed that whenever I boot a computer and don’t seem to get straight to business, the problem usually starts at boot time. Since I can’t do anything on the laptop for two or three minutes, I start to zone out. What I would be doing if boot time wasn’t a factor is doing a daily review on the IPhone Desktop, looking at each of my action lists.

Asking myself, “What would I do differently?”, it took about 10 seconds to realize that I needed to have my lists — especially my @Computer list — available before the computer was. So I started scanning my todo’s on my cell-phone, so that by the time the hourglass on my computer’s screen disappears, I can hit the ground running.

I have introduced daily standup meetings on my team at 9:30 where we one by one describe the tasks that we have planned for the day and thereby get a chance to both think the day through at its beginning, but also to use the team to share problems or ideas.
The basic idea is to mentally step through the day, looking for the forks in the road that compelled you to do X when you know in hindsight that you should have been doing Y. When was the precise moment what your attention shifted to the path of less resistance? What precisely was the distraction?

I believe the sequence of behaviors is critical, and that the earlier ones have the most leverage. If you can maintain a chain of focused activity in the first few hours, you create the momentum necessary to minimize the effects of distractions later on.

Sometimes the problems aren’t necessarily distractions, but behavioral patterns that yield predictably regrettable results. Having too many sugared foods or beverages in the morning leads to an energy crash in the afternoon. Driving past a great bookstore on the way home from work leads to the unbearable lightness of wallet. A change of environment or route may be in order.

After reviewing the dysfunctional day, mentally step through what a focused tomorrow would look like, moment to moment, from morning to evening. What better practices will you be implementing? Which behaviors will you avoid doing?

Always make tomorrow a better day.


Workaholics United : The Two Minute Rule

According to the Two Minute Rule, if an action takes less than two minutes, you should do it right then, even if it’s a low-priority item. Otherwise it would take more time to write it on a list and review it later. The converse of the rule is that if an action takes longer than two minutes, you should write it down to avoid getting lured into an activity whose priority hasn’t been evaluated against other tasks on your list.

That’s good advice if understood in context. When you’re batch processing an in-basket, the best way to avoid getting derailed is by adhering to the guideline that each item should take no longer than two minutes. So if you have 40 items in your intray, it should theoretically take a maximum of 80 minutes to process it to zero. In practice, it should take far less, since many items will be filed or discarded more or less instantly.

But there are times when the two-minute interval should be lenthened, shortened or dispensed with altogether. When I’m doing a weekly review, even doing two-minute actions can pull my attention away from a more appropriate project-level focus. So I write them down with checkmarks denoting them as action items to do immediately after the review.

If the action takes longer than two minutes, and you’re not in processing mode, then it might be more efficient to handle the item in the moment, especially you’re reasonably sure that it will only take a few minutes. If you’re not sure that something else might take precedence, don’t hesitate to review your calendar and action lists.

But the main point is that if there’s something that you need to get done, challenge yourself to see if there’s anything you can do this very moment to carry it forward. What can you do right now?