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How to Work Better

October 3rd, 2009

workbetterI’ve had this image printed out and kept in the back of every notebook I’ve carried around for the last couple of years. It’s very simple advice, but if taken to heart, can literally change the way you go about your day-to-day. I think the image to the right of this post is the original photograph, but below is a much better rendition of the same content:

workbetter2

If you’re reading this on a small screen, here is the text:

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Know the problem
  3. Learn to listen
  4. Learn to ask questions
  5. Distinguish sense from nonsense
  6. Accept change as inevitable
  7. Admit mistakes
  8. Say it simple
  9. Be calm
  10. Smile

Allow me to highlight a few of these that changed the way I think when I’m working. The first one… ‘Do one thing at a time’ is a very important one. I don’t believe that human beings are capable of multi-tasking. There is a huge reduction in returns when you try to do more than one important thing at a time. I’ve tried. When I try to do two things, neither one is even 50% as good as if I had focused on it completely. Prioritize, concentrate on the most important item and either complete it, or leave it at a logical point where you can pick it up again.

(On a side note, I read a sage piece of advice once that works beautifully. If you’re going to leave something to pick up again later, leave it in mid-sentence. When you pick it up again, as you get into the flow of picking up that sentence, you’ll get back into the flow you were in when you left it… which is exactly how I left this article in draft for a couple of weeks.)

The next important one is ‘know the problem.’ I deal with it quite often. The first thing you think about is the problem. Usually, you’re wrong. There is an old saying that you have to ask ‘Why’ 3 or 4 times before you get to the heart of the problem, or the Root Cause. Until you know the problem, it will be difficult to work on the solution.

‘Learn to listen’ and ‘Learn to ask questions’ are related. Learning to listen means more than just keeping your mouth shut. It also means more than just sitting there silently waiting for your turn to speak. I relate it more to Stephen Covey’s line of “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” Your questions should clarify the other point, not subtly drive the person to your view point.

‘Say it simple’ relates directly to an article I posted earlier about being able to explain it to a 6-year-old.

… and again, if you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know that when all hell is breaking loose, I’ll be sitting there with a calm smile (whether I feel it or not). I’m a big fan of the duck analogy. “Calm and serene on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath!”

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