Jul 24, 2013
In the modern workplace we’re expected to perform a huge number and variety of tasks. We’ve already looked at prioritising and multitasking as strategies for coping with increased work demands, and now we’re going to investigate another useful strategy which: queuing.
In Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions, Joseph Ruff defined queuing as “performing initial steps to tasks that will be completed at a later time.”
This is a different definition of queuing from the one we are used to, where individuals wait in line to be attended to. However there are many parallels that we can draw between the two, and lessons that can be learned about how to manage a queue.
Picture courtesy of http://www.growhill.com/
Imagine for a minute a poorly managed physical queue. While you’re desperately dealing with one customer, you have a hoard of others demanding your attention, asking questions, shouting out, and trying to get to the front. This will affect your ability to deal with the customer in front of you, increasing waiting times, and aggravating the customers waiting in line even more.
On the other hand, think of a calm, well-organised queue with patient customers that allow you to focus on what you are doing. A good queuing strategy results in a smooth flow of customers, shorter waiting times, and a less stressful situation. The same can be said for a work queue. A well-arranged queue of tasks can provide a smooth flow of information, a quicker and more efficient way of working, and a far less stressful working environment.
So how do you create a well organised work queue?
Jul 17, 2013
We’re pressing on with our exploration of the various strategies for coping with information overload, and we’ve reached one that is particularly close to our hearts: limiting.
While we feel honoured to live in a world where we have instant access to all the information we could ever need, we also feel that from time to time the amount of information we receive is just too much, and that to really benefit from it we need to impose some limits.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” — Herbert A. Simon
We deal particularly with proactive data feeds, which include e-mail newsletters, RSS feeds, or social media feeds, and our concern is that many of these target too broad an audience with information that is too diverse. This means that users need to work harder to find the pieces of information that are relevant to them.
At SpecificFeeds our vision is to counter these broad data feeds with precise, relevant, clean information streams that are … well … specific. This is our way of helping you limit the volume of information you are bombarded with each day and get out the golden nuggets of information into a feed that you will actually benefit from.
Photo Courtesy of http://www.ehow.com/how_6304594_tell-discovered-gold-nuggets.html and Roger at fotalia
Tips for Limiting Information
Of course there are other ways of limiting the volumes of data that you receive daily, and the following tips should also point you in the right direction.
- Decide what is really relevant to you. Many of us spend a huge amount of time reading, checking, or otherwise processing information that will actually have very little impact on our lives. A simple example is checking the weather report every day, which is a pretty common activity. If you happen to be planning a barbecue or other outdoor event, this could be valuable information, but if you’re going to be sitting in an office for the next five days, is the weather forecast something you really need to check every day? Decide what sources of information are really relevant to you and discard those that aren’t.
- Let others handle their own information. How often do you waste half an hour reading the attached documents of an e-mail somebody copied you into? If you’re copied on a message, it makes sense to scan it and be aware of the content, but the message needs to be actioned by the person that it is actually addressed to. Let them deal with the content of the e-mail and involve you if it’s necessary. Similarly, if you manage a team, you need to empower your team members to deal with their own information and only pass items on to you that they feel you really need to be aware of.
- Create a selection criteria. There’s so much information out there that it can be hard to know which pieces or sources to pay attention to and which ones to discard. One solution is to create your own selection criteria. Sample criteria could include:
Jul 10, 2013
If you’ve grappled with prioritising and multi-tasking, your productivity levels must already be on the rise. Now it’s time for a radical change in the way you approach tasks and decisions by learning about the third strategy for coping with information overload: satisficing.
Simply put, satisficing is recognising when something is good enough as it is to be considered complete, instead of wasting valuable resources to unnecessarily improve it. Whether you relate satisficing to a relevant task or to making a decision, the time and effort that it can save you will increase your productivity significantly.
Satisficing: a process “through which an individual decides when an alternative approach or solution is sufficient to meet the individuals’ desired goals rather than pursue the perfect approach,” — Herbert Simon 1971
Satisficing combines the words ‘satisfying’ and ‘suffice’ and is a term originally coined by Nobel laureate economist Herbert Simon, when describing his theory of bounded rationality. He applied the theory to decision making and suggested that people did not possess the brain power to evaluate all the possible options and choose the best one when they were deciding on a course of action, and that instead they would settle for a sub-optimal option as long as it met their requirements.
Increasing Productivity Through Satisficing
While the original use of the term "satisficing" related to decision theory, you can easily apply it to every aspect of life to make you more productive.
If your boss gives you four tasks to complete in one day, you can be sure she prefers to find each task satisfactorily completed at the end of the day than to discover that a single task you have worked on is finally nearing perfection.
The opposite of satisficing is maximising or optimising, which means achieving the best possible outcome. However, if getting to that point is costly in terms of time or other resources, then the outcome may not be any better than settling for an adequate outcome.
The ideas of satisficing and maximising can be applied to many aspects of life. Take house-hunting as an example: Most people have a set of specific criteria for their ideal house.
Perhaps it needs to be within a certain price bracket, with a minimum number of bedrooms, with car parking or a garden, and possibly within a certain radius of the office. Others might need space for a full recording studio, a paddock for the pony, and a newsagent within walking distance for the Sunday morning papers – to each their own.
- A true satisficer will keep looking at houses until one comes along that meets all those criteria, and will then put in an offer right away without waiting to see if there are any better houses out there.
- A true maximiser will insist on viewing each and every one of the available houses that meet their criteria before making an offer, and will worry forever more that an even better house might have come on the market the following week.
Three Steps to Effective Satisficing
Step 1 – Decide whether to satisfice or maximise
Whether you are naturally a satisficer or a maximiser, there will be occasions when both strategies are appropriate. This often depends on the impact of the relevant task. For example, if you are performing a necessary, but routine, work task that won’t have profound repercussions, then satisficing may well be appropriate. On the other hand, tasks such as writing a CV or filling in a job application could have a significant impact on your future career, and may require maximising instead. Of course, even with these tasks there will come a point when you have to stop and say “good enough.” Of course, you’ll want to carry on improving them well beyond the point where they simply tick all the boxes.
Step 2 – Establish your minimum requirements
Effective satisficing involves being crystal clear about your objectives so that, when they are complete, you can decide the task is complete. If your boss or colleague gives you a task, ask them to be specific about their requirements so you know what is expected and can define your endpoint. Remember that quality is important. When you’re establishing the minimum requirements for your task, set the bar reasonably high. It’s a mistake to think that satisficing means settling for something that is substandard. If in the first place your objectives are qualitatively high and well defined, the results will be excellent, even if you feel there is still room for improvement.
Step 3 – Be strict on completing your task
Keep track of how your task is progressing against your minimum requirements. Be strict with yourself. However tempted you are to keep making little improvements or additions, end the task once all your objectives have been met. Worrying about whether or not the outcome really is good enough or whether you should have carried on working may take up more time and energy than maximising the task in the first place.
Suffice Not Sacrifice
Many people wrongly assume that the word satisficing is a combination of satisfying and sacrificing. In fact there is no sacrifice with satisficing, since it ensures that all requirements, goals, or aspirations are adequately met. Generally when people satisfice, they don’t know whether they have missed out on a better opportunity, or whether they could have significantly improved the outcome of the task which they were undertaking, because they stop when they have completed their targets. As long as you think carefully about the minimum requirements for the task or decision and set the bar fairly high, satisficing can still provide excellent results with a fraction of the time and effort you would put into maximising.
Jul 2, 2013
Remember we promised you we’d go into more depth about those 11 strategies for coping with information overload? Well, we’re not known for breaking promises so here’s an insightful article about strategy number two: multi-tasking.
It’s controversial. Many believe that multi-tasking actually makes you less productive, but given that the majority of employees are now expected to juggle multiple tasks during a workday, multi-tasking is something we really need to stop arguing about and just get on with.
Multi-taskers are in high demand in the workforce, and organisations will often look for employees with multi-tasking skills. In a recent interview with the Radio Times Alan Sugar suggested that the civil service could be made significantly more productive by encouraging multi-tasking.
“When I compare it to my commercial organisation, we have people who multi-task, and if you applied that multi-tasking philosophy within the civil service you would cut the labour force by half.” – Lord Sugar, Radio Times
Multi-tasking allows you to work on a variety of tasks concurrently, switching between them when necessary to ensure that they are all completed. It allows you to combine high priority tasks with low priority tasks so that the most pressing jobs get done quickly, while you make progress with the rest of your work, meaning those small tasks don’t take up permanent residence on your to-do list.
Multi-tasking allows you to deal with quick, simple tasks immediately and get them out of the way, freeing up your brain to get back to the task you were originally working on. It also enables you to use a variety of skill sets during the day, preventing you from becoming bored. When you hit a wall with one task, you have the ability to switch to something else and rejuvenate before you tackle the original task once more.
For businesses, having employees that are able to multitask brings a huge number of benefits. It means that employees are more flexible and can cover for one another at short notice as they are able to perform a wide range of tasks. It also means that knowledge and information can be shared quickly and easily. Even if an employee is focused on one task, he or she can take time to share data with co-workers if that allows them to continue with their own tasks.
The higher up in an organisation you are, the more beneficial it will be to multi-task. If you’re managing people, you need to be able to respond immediately to issues as they arise rather than putting them off until you have completed the task you are working on.
by Rachel Adnyana
Jul 1, 2013
Image courtesy of Greg at http://www.gdpalmer.com/blog/
Study the habits of the world’s most successful people – prolific novelists, political leaders, CEOs of multi-million dollar companies – and you will find one thing in common: Those people who have achieved great success in business and in life tend to be early risers.
It seems that the phrase “the early bird gets the worm” may well be true once you start to study the early morning habits of these successful people. So, is simply getting up a couple of hours early the key to optimal productivity? Do early risers just get more done?
Famous early risers
Tim Cook, CEO of technology company, Apple, begins every day at 4.30am. He starts his day by sending out business emails and then heads to the gym for 5, before being one of the first to arrive at Apple headquarters in the morning.
John Grisham, lawyer and best-selling author began his career by rising every morning at 5am to start writing. He would get up, shower, head straight out to his office and be at his desk with a cup of coffee, ready write for up to two hours before starting his work as a lawyer.
Disney CEO, Robert Iger, gets up every morning at 4.30am and uses the early morning hours for reading the newspaper, exercising, sending emails and listening to music, before getting to the office at 6am.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is in the office every morning by 6am but still manages time to fit in an early morning workout with his wife before going to work. Perhaps helped along by a cup of his company’s coffee?
Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright did most of his real work between the hours of 4 and 7am. He would start sketching immediately upon waking for several hours and then go back to bed for a morning nap.
Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States, is commonly credited with the quote, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Every morning he would get up and start his day by thinking, “What good shall I do today?”
The benefits of early rising
The correlation between getting up early and overall achievement seems to be pretty clear so what is it exactly about the early morning hours that allows you to get more done?
- More time. Rising before the rest of the household or a few hours before you have to be at your day job is a common strategy for people with busy lives. Many famous authors held down 9-5 jobs while writing their debut novels, rising before the sun to get a few hours of work in before they have to leave for the office.
- Fewer distractions. When the rest of the world is sleeping and the house is calm and quiet, productivity is bound to increase. Many early risers find that they can squeeze a lot more work into the morning hours than they can at any other time of the day.
- Increased creativity. Nobody does their best work when they’re tired and starting work soon after waking takes advantage of your brain being at its most alert.
- Faster commute. If you have a daily commute to get to work, getting up earlier means you will beat the traffic and eliminate wasted time sitting in traffic.
- Improved mental attitude. Getting the majority of your day’s work done before most people have even got out of bed feels incredibly satisfying and will give you a huge mental boost for the rest of the day.
- Less stress. Waking early will allow you more time to get ready in the mornings meaning you are not rushing round at the last minute and getting a stressful start to the day.