Here are articles on organization

6 steps for mastering meeting organization

6 steps for mastering meeting organization

This blog post was sponsored by Adobe Document Cloud.

Meetings can be the bane of our existence! A great many of them are poorly run and useless… but even the useful ones have problems.

Note taking! I take copious notes in meetings. After all, in good meetings, there’s a lot of good stuff that needs to be captured: decisions, their rationale, vendor information, and action items.

Electronics don’t do it. They’re distracting and take you away from the people dynamics—which are often the part that ultimately make or break you. You want your attention on people during a meeting; you need to spot those telltale flinches that signal potential blackmail material. It’s hard to watch the people when you’re trying to discreetly play Civilization 5 at the same time.

Paper lets you keep your attention mainly on people. And I like paper, but it can get disorganized and is hard to find stuff. My solution? A hybrid system that uses both: electronics for reference, paper notes for recording.

Create folders for each project

Give each project its own folder on a cloud service, like Adobe Document Cloud. All documents and resources related to that project goes in that folder. Make that a habit, and you just don’t have to think about it. Everything related to Project X goes in folder X.

When you need to find the secret plans related to Project X, you instantly know your go-to folder: folder X. It’s simple, and very effective if you use it rigorously.

Put background material into the folder

When there are background documents needed for a project or decision, they go in the project folder. While I may take large hardcopy documents to the meeting itself, for anything that’s only a few pages, I quickly scan it using my smartphone with a scanning app like Adobe Scan, then the PDF file goes into the project folder as background material.

Since Adobe Scan has optical character recognition of the scanned documents, it makes the PDF text searchable. When you need to find reference information quickly, rather than flipping through a stack of papers, you can simply do a quick search within the PDF.

I generally put background materials in a subfolder called REFERENCE so they don’t clutter up the main project folder.

Take notes on paper

Remember how you’re going to take notes on paper, so you can be on the lookout for the subtle interpersonal dynamics that reveal the true nature of the power hierarchy? Do it. Take the notes on paper.

When the group makes a decision, note it, and write a big exclamation point next to it. When there are action items, write them in the lower right part of the paper, with a little checkbox next to each one. Now, with a glance, you’ll be able to review your notes and find both the decisions and the action items. Consider using blank, unlined paper if you can write neatly.

Summarize and Scan, Scan, Scan

At the end of the meeting, if you have several pages of notes, you may want to copy all the decisions and action items onto a single page at the end, for quick reference.

Then … scan your notes and save as a PDF using your scanning app. You’ll end up with a single PDF that has an easy-to-use summary page, with all the details saved for the future. You can also use Adobe Acrobat to combine your PDF’s, update notes, and easily share with others on your team.

Name your files for easy retrieval.

Upload the PDF to the project folder, with a filename that starts with the word MEETING and the date in yymmdd format. For example, MEETING 180316 Marketing department.

When you sort the project folder by filename, all meeting notes will be together since they all start with MEETING. They will then be grouped in order by date.

Using a combination of electronic and paper workflow lets you keep your attention where it needs to be at any given time. You use paper when your attention needs to be on the people, and use scanning, project folders, and more to make it neat, easy, and fast to access information when you need it.

Why I Like Paper

A reader wrote in:

I read your suggestion about the 3×5 pad and it sucks! That’s because I hate paper and pen note-taking. I want something that I can carry with me anywhere on my handheld and which will also prompt me, just like a personal assistant, not something which will load me with the extra work of transcribing to a master list! As if I am not burdened enough already! Look, I need something to help me gain lost time each day. Something to boost my productivity and tidily organise my intended activities in a manner that enables me to take action on them!

My reply:

The reason I like paper is that the transcribing *forces me* to confront whether or not a particular task is important enough to copy by hand. If it isn’t, that’s a sign that it probably isn’t important enough to keep on my list. The key to freeing up time, ultimately, is saying “No” to commitments and then vigorously protecting the time you’ve freed up.

If time is getting lost, you need to stop doing the things that you define as “losing” it. Smartphones are often big time losers. Yes, the phone is a fun toy, and yes it can do cool stuff, but measured *in terms of my getting my important work done* (as opposed to my unimportant, imagined work), it’s probably doesn’t make me that much more productive.

The problem is that it speeds up some things, but it slows down others. For example, I type about 1/3 the speed on my smartphone as I do on my desktop. I may find it convenient to respond to email on my smartphone, but it’s actually making me *less* productive. And even if I could answer email at the same rate, the moment I click on a link and spend 5 minutes web browsing or playing a game, any email productivity gains get lost as I waste time goofing off.

If you’re brave enough, try keeping a log for a couple of days. Note what you get done on your smartphone and what you get done at your desk, and how much time each takes. You may find your smartphone boosts your productivity. Or you may find it doesn’t. For looking up phone numbers and addresses, my smartphone is awesome. But does it really save time? I used to clip someone’s business card into my rolodex and I’d memorize it after 2-3 calls. Now I have to retype or scan-plus-double-check each card to get it into my address book (or pay someone to do it, which means earning the money to pay them). And then I *always* have to look them up, because I no longer memorize.

Assuming I make 5-6 calls a day, am I really more productive with an electronic address book when you take all that into account? I suspect yes, but I probably save a few minutes a month, *not* hours.

In short, I like paper because it forces me to think. I like technology because it’s fun and sometimes convenient. But I never assume that paper is automatically bad, nor do I assume technology is good. Like any tool, test it out and be careful that adopting a new, faster tool in one area doesn’t slow you down in another.

Use An Editor!

If you want to produce extremely high-quality work, it may be wise to find someone to help. It’s hard to be objective about our own work. Almost by definition, we believe if we did it, it must be good. But yet, sometimes an objective eye can help us take our good work to the realm of greatness. The objective eyes I’m talking about belong to editors.

Editors ROCK! When I’m writing a Get-it-Done Guy episode, my natural sense of humor comes out. My natural sense of humor was developed doing comedy improvisation with college audiences. “Decorum” is not high on the list of words you would use to describe my first draft material.

Fortunately, there’s a very dedicated editor at Macmillan publishing who reads my drafts. She sends them back with paragraphs circled in red pen. In the margin, she writes notes like, “If you say that, the FBI will open a file on you, start wire-tapping your phones, and put you under 24-hour surveillance. Again.” While most people would enjoy free protection services, I find it cramps my style when I go out clubbing. So I rewrite the paragraphs she highlights, this time using Goldilocks and the Three Bears as the central metaphor of my piece. My editors approve, and another Get-it-Done Guy episode is born.

Editors come in many varieties. Some editors can make sure your humor is appropriate. They can make sure your text flows, that you don’t repeat yourself, and that your points build on one another. Copy-editors handle editing the details. They double-check your spelling, your grammar, and your punctuation. I was a copyeditor for the school newspaper when I was a student at Harvard Business School; I need to give my marketing staff a special therapy budget, so they can deal with me.

If you have to write reports, pamphlets, or anything where quality matters, get yourself an editor. It doesn’t have to be a professional, a colleague who writes well may be all that’s required. If you’re worried about letting your coworkers see your work before it’s polished, find a friend who has the write skill set, but works at another company. You can be an outside helper for each other, without worrying about work-in-progress-quality work getting out to the people in your company.

If you’ve never worked with an editor, give it a shot. You’ll discover that having an extra pair of eyes double-check your work can often produce something better than either of you could have written on your own.

“Strategic Thinking” – The Meaning Behind the Buzzword

It sounds easy: my client wanted to think more strategically. isn’t that the hot buzzword? “Strategic thinking.” Oooh! Sexy. There’s only one problem: what, exactly, does it mean?

You’d think we would know. But I’ve seen executive teams discuss in all seriousness what the lever does on a piece of machinery. That’s about as non-strategic as it gets. In fact, a general rule is that if you read it in a manual, it’s quite likely not strategic.

What is strategic is when you’re doing something that changes the structure of the business in some basic way. Paint a machine lever red? Not strategic. Decide to outsource manufacturing to China? Strategic, because it changes who you hire, how you manage them, and what they’re capable of achieving. You punt your machines and take on eager young managers who speak Mandarin.

This is the first kind of strategic impact: changing organization structure. This includes outsourcing, selecting vendors (since what you can do now becomes expanded and limited by what they can do), mergers and acquisitions, changing the org chart, going public, and hiring and firing people who will in turn make strategic decisions.

Or consider an entrepreneurial client who insists on answering the phones himself. He’s done it since founding the business 20 years ago and prides himself on knowing everything that’s going on. But now that the company gets a hundred phone calls a day, he decides to install an automated attendant, freeing himself to do other things. This is an example of “business process reengineering,” which is a fancy way of saying “doing things differently.” Changing how a business does something is strategic because different hows give the business different capabilities. If your product is produced on a machine that turns out 100 widgets a day, then you simply can’t bid on a job that wants 500 units by tomorrow. If you can rearrange your factory processes and produce 5,000 units a day, whole new markets open up.

Speaking of markets, choosing the markets to compete in, what to sell, and how to price are all strategic decisions. After all, those decisions determine who you’ll hire, how you set up your org structure, and how you’ll deliver your product or service.

The American Express web site lists 20+ cards. I called a friend in Amex’s strategy group to help me understand the difference between the “Platinum Business” and the “Business Platinum” cards. He said, “I work in strategy. I don’t really know our product lines.” A strategy group that doesn’t know the products? I don’t know what they do, but it seems awfully dangerous to be making organization structure and process decisions without even knowing what your customers are buying.

Everything we’ve discussed so far is cross-functional; they can involve changes that affect many parts of a business. Though it’s possible to make strategic decisions in one area of a company without involving other areas, that’s a dangerous game. If our marketing department starts competing in a new market that cares about delivery time, but doesn’t tell our shipping folks, they can set the company up for failure.

Don’t make the same mistake. Learn when your decisions are strategic.
That means decisions about org structure, process–the HOW–, cross-functional decisions, and the marketing decisions of what to sell and who to sell them to.

If you want to learn more about strategy, my very favorite book is Co-opetition by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff. I also liked Geoff Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm.” Both books are circa mid-90s. There are 83,416 other business books that will teach you some kind of strategic thinking. I’m not sure the specific strategic approach is very important (though consulting firms will make big bucks telling you otherwise); to me, the value comes from learning to think at a strategic level consistently and integrate strategic thinking into your daily running of the business.

1 Step To Start Regaining Control Of Your Inbox

I spent a couple of hours today methodically unsubscribing from several years’ worth of newsletters, subscriptions, etc. It’s amazing how freeing it feels to see browser window after browser window saying, “Thank you, you will no longer receive these emails.”

I didn’t do this randomly, however!

Before beginning, I set out the objective criteria I would use: if I haven’t read an email from that list in over a year, I would unsubscribe. Period. I subscribe to many friends’ email lists. When considered one-by-one, I would never unsubscribe because it would feel like somehow weakening the bond between me and my friend. But make no mistake: there is no bond between me and my friend if I’m never reading their email. (And besides, if their email is mainly business, and we’re personal friends, a marketing email doesn’t keep me feeling a personal connection.) Using objective, pre-determined criteria let me make the decision quickly and cleanly.

And by the way–I kept the list of names of people whose unsubscribes felt personal. I’m going to call them, instead. On the phone. And establish a real connection, not the electronic fantasy of one.

Do we create our institutions to stifle creativity?

My friend Michael posted on Facebook: I’m feeling sad today, because I’m already one of those people who works his butt off and doesn’t do much of anything to be creative, innovative or out-reaching. How did I stray from the ideals so quickly?

My response: I think most of our institutions are designed (or have evolved) precisely into places where creativity and innovation are squashed. It isn’t deliberate in the sense of some evil dictator trying to keep us down, but it *is* deliberate in the sense that we create institutions to be stable. That means, to do the same thing day in and day out. We scope the jobs, workload, and responsibilities around just enough to get things done the way they’re currently done. When was the last time a job description included, “Four hours a week to be spent day-dreaming, engaging in creative flights of fancy, and redesigning how things work?” (Well ok, Google has a similar policy, but who else?)

What do you think?

One woman’s story divorcing her technology

In my book, I discuss the need to “divorce your technology” to eliminate distractions in your life. One woman wrote in telling her story of divorcing her technology.

Dear Stever-

I hadn’t even finished the introduction of your new book before benefitting from it. The preview of the nine steps begins with “… a lot of what you call work has very little to do with getting anything important done in life. Like when I compulsively check my social media sites every hour. That kind of thing must go.”

I’ve noticed how much time I waste reading blogs with Google Reader. I’d planned to use some upcoming travel as a natural disruption for that habit. I don’t want to waste my travel time staying caught up on blogs.

I’ve already tried organizing them into folders like “Sometimes” and “Rarely”. It didn’t work. It bugs me when I see the number of unread posts build up, and I waste time marking things read. They had to go.

“But, but, but –“, I thought, ” I really LIKE some of them. I might want to read them again, and I’ll never find them if I unsubscribe.”   I made a parking lot file and started copying and pasting links. This was a full-on illustration of why they must go.  After  an hour and a half had elapsed, I’d wandered through many interesting posts on language, holistic learning, travel tips,  how to write a thesis, learning styles, and found three new interesting blogs.  Total unsubscribes: 25.

Then I found the Manage Subscriptions link.  How appalling — I discovered I was still subscribed to 135 blogs.  That’s almost Intervention levels.  No wonder there was always something fresh to read when I visit the Google Reader site.

I booted all the blogs I new were no longer interesting or active.  Then I exported the list as my snapshot of Someday I May Need This.

After the first cut I got it down to 74. Still appalling, but a sort of progress.

The remaining blogs fall into four categories:

1) Stuff I’m Supposed To Read But Don’t Actually Like.  This includes tech industry news, and cool kid blogs like Io 9.  After sleeping on it for a night, I’m ok letting them go. After all, I have a parking lot list.

2) Reading About An Exciting Life Instead Of Having One.  When I pick up a hobby I subscribe to blogs. Sometimes  I spend more time reading about things than doing them. Sometimes these blogs intimidate me so much it’s safer to read than to do.

3) Legitimate but Indiscriminate.  Can I tell you how many travel blogs I subscribed to?  Once I see a few more posts, a couple will wind up being keepers. This time I’ll ditch the rest.

4) The Good Stuff.  These are the few, the proud where I read every post. For some, I know the author and want to keep up on their life. A couple are genuine industry experts.  ( Thankfully, none are prodigious posters.)  There are a couple newspaper feeds that I skim and liberally mark all read.

After all that I’m down to “only” 44. That’s still dangerous.  I’ve set up Leechblock to give me a maximum of 20 minutes per day.  Between that and spotty Internet access, I think I’ll break the habit.

I had already realized “I should spend less time reading blogs”.  Your book connected the dots for me,  to become “… because it’s in lieu of anything important to me, and not in support of it.”  Thank you for a timely insight. I look forward to reading the rest of the book.