“Thinking slow, Moving Fast” suggests that we should slow down enough to be able to think ahead; to find the time to evaluate and then do proper foundation building. Do that, and the ROI on that “slow time” will be enormous.

A key premise of the Work the System Method is to fix the mechanical problems first. Once we accomplish that, and almost as a byproduct, the emotional/happiness component improves. It doesn’t work the other way around: It’s difficult to feashleigh brilliant changeel blissful when the workweek is eighty hours long and there’s zero bottom line.  

Within the ten-part “Obsess” series, this is the third part of the three-part mini-series that’s focused on specific mechanical tweaks you can make to smooth out your day; to get more done and make fewer mistakes. #4 is about Total Inbox. #5, Emailed Voice Mail. This 6th post ties them together as it adds some extras. If you’re new to the Obsess series, I recommend you go back to the Introduction and work forward from there. The sequential posts build upon each other. 

Communications as a Separate Entity: How I Personally Operate

  • Texting:  I can’t focus on anything substantial if incoming texts are continually distracting me, can you? In my life, being in control does not include random interruptions. I’m militant about my business texting, taking and giving them only in time-sensitive situations (“Sorry. Will be 20 min late for meeting”), or for family, at any time: (“Dad, caught up in the big project. Can you pick up Lexi at school and get her to guitar lesson?”)  How do you train your friends and associates not to text you; to use email instead? Tell them you’re taking steps to calm things down and that from now on they should only text you for urgent matters. Maybe give them this essay.
  • Phone calls? My phone doesn’t often ring because I’m not in the middle of the business machinery. I set myself up as an outside-and-slightly-elevated observer, not as an internal player. The screening process for every potential task is “AUTOMATE-DELEGATE-DELETE.”
  • How do I get most of my routine messages? Email and EVM.
  • In your inbox, keep messages under some maximum number. You decide what that number is. For me, with six companies, an-outside-of-work life, and with all my personal and delegated tasks included, it’s forty. Keeping the total under forty is a fun and challenging game to play through the day. Of course, the wonderful consequence of continually hammering on your inbox is that the wheels keep rolling out there fast. It’s the perfect consequence of the game. What if everyone in your office played it? (Regarding the topic of keeping the wheels rolling, see post #1 of this “Obsess” series, Point of Sale.)
  • Don’t monitor the arrival of inbound emails (Outlook notifications, for instance, show up in the lower right corner of the monitor). It’s distracting, just like incoming texts. You want to be able to concentrate without being interrupted! Simply turn off the notification and instead go to your inbox every couple of hours and take a few minutes to play the game of minimizing the number of messages. Then go back to focus on what you were focusing on before, waiting another couple of hours before attacking the inbox again.
  • Whenever possible, look at an email message just once: take care of it in this moment. David Allen’s strategy in Getting Things Done is, “If it can be done in 3 minutes, do it now and get it over with!” Make this a game, too.
  • Total Inbox and EVM: Yes, they go together. Take the time to set them up. Just do it.
  • Meetings: The fewer the better. If there is constant communication among staff (using the tools I describe in these last few posts), why would there be the need for everyone to sit down in one place and at a particular time? For that matter, there is also less reason for real-time, one-on-one meetings. With fewer meetings and better information going back and forth, your people are more efficient and get more time to do their work…and you get a life!
  • Group “outings.” Josh and I have worked with companies that require attendance at group-hug retreats that are intended to bolster enthusiasm and team-spirit. What a waste of time if these outings are merely counteracting ongoing dysfunction at work! Create a workplace that is efficient, rewarding and with clear-cut directions/expectations and the enthusiasm and team-spirit will be present right there where it belongs, at work.
  • Prime Time. Read chapter 19 in Work the System. If you don’t pay attention to BPT and MPT, you’re shackling yourself.
  • Drug testing. Don’t just do it as part of the the interviewing process. Do it ongoing, randomly and to your whole staff at once. Face it: Drug abuse in the workplace is a huge problem. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Washington State, Colorado, Alaska and here in Oregon, and is decriminalized to one degree or another in twenty three other states. What is a leader to do when it is no longer legal to dismiss someone for being stoned? Here’s our tact. It may surprise you. Regarding employees, you might find the essay “Ockham’s Razor and the TSR” interesting. It’s Appendix G in the 3rd edition of my book.
  • My position on drug use? Hey. Do your thing. I tend toward the libertarian so I don’t have a problem with anyone doing what they want to their own selves. But using the same logic, I  choose not to have those people work for me.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking makes your brain smaller(!) and engenders a flakey personality. You want to be moving in a straight line and to remain calm while doing it. Multitasking is for machines. (See “Rewire Your Brain.” Also, “Clustering.”)
  • In my communications strategy, do I take a Point of Sale approach to everything? No, there is this exception: I get a steady stream of emails from friends and strangers and I want to personally respond. (I read all incoming info@workthesystem.com emails.) I batch these messages and requests together (putting “SAM” as the first word in the subject window, per the Total Inbox strategy) and answer them later. My return message will typically be sent the following weekend. It will be short and concise, but the response will be thoughtful. So don’t be overly dogmatic about the Point of Sale approach. Give yourself a bit of latitude in certain areas.
  • Do the Primary Documentation (Chapters 10 and 11 in “Work“)! “Let’s set aside the complexity and find a way to manage the mechanics of the systems that are right in front of us. The first steps you’ll take include setting direction and deciding on strategy.” (See my essay: “Let’s Set Aside the Complexity.”)
  • Goal setting with deadlines. I don’t do it very often.  Better to clearly establish goals (in the Strategic Objective, for example) and then relentlessly head in those directions (See Chapter 10 in my book).
  • OK, this is not a concrete mechanical thing you can do, but it’s something to imbed in your thinking: “People who are not in control of their lives spend their days trying to fix the unintended bad results of unmanaged systems. People who are in control of their lives spend their days enjoying the intentional good results of the systems they actively manage” (See “The Crux Statement”.)  
  • Here’s another point to keep in mind, and it’s a good Operating Principle: “At __(your company)__we unceasingly refine and improve internal and external communications. We think about the methodologies of communications all the time: It is an independent primary system that we relentlessly analyze and refine.“

Ten Concepts That Obsess Me Now
Introduction
Part 1, Point of Sale
Part 2, Critical Thinking Search and Rescue
Part 3, A Business is a Dispassionate Machine
Part 4, Hyper-Efficiency Via Total Inbox
Part 5, Emailed Voice Mail (EVM)
Part 6, Thinking Slow, Moving Fast (This Post)
Part 7, Deal Killers and the Main Machine
Part 8, The Simple Key to Double Sales and Create Raving Fans
Part 9, The Tail Wagging the Dog Syndrome

Part 10, Do You Have Quiet Courage?

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