What I’ve learned about Productivity from Leading software engineering teams

A leader’s perspective on getting more things done in 2018.

“A Field Notes memo book on top of a larger spiral notebook with two sharpies on the right and a phone on the left” by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Hi, I’m Torrey. I’m a leader of engineers, and a father of twins (nearly 2 years old now). I want to share my productivity philosophy that allows me to scale myself and juggle a half-dozen projects. I believe in continuous, life-long learning and constant experimentation. Many of the ideas below are born out of trial and error.

TLDR;

  • Defeat procrastination by taking imperfect action\
  • What you don’t do is even more important that what you do do
  • Deploy Drucker’s 4 D’s: Do, Drop, Delegate, Defer
  • Schedule everything — including time to do nothing
  • Stay proactive by journaling

Defeat procrastination by taking imperfect action\

Whenever you need to accomplish something important, but not urgent, it’s easily to fall into the procrastination trap. It seems like the longer you wait, the harder it is to get started. The simplest thing you can do to break that cycle is to take some small, imperfect action.

Examples: tell a friend what you need to do. Schedule a block of time on your calendar to work on the task. Send an email to yourself summarizing your half-baked thoughts. Write a few sentences in your journal.

Creating a tiny bit of momentum makes it easier to keep the ball rolling, and even accelerate.

What you don’t do is even more important than what you do do.

The world of now is one of endless entertainment and opportunity. If you are not deliberate and you do not filter out things that are low value to you, you will be overwhelmed and pulled in too many directions.

The ‘when’ is also crucial. If you are not thinking about how you spend your time today, question your sense of urgency. If you take on tasks with the wrong urgency, you are spending time ineffectively. Time you give to something due next month is time you could give to something due this afternoon.

Not every request you receive is ASAP. The world’s top high performance coach, Brendon Burchard, shares a strategy for solving this problem. He responds to every request with a very harsh and direct question: what is the absolute, drop-dead, world-will-explode, deadline for this request?

Deploy Drucker’s 4 D’s: Drop, Delegate, Defer, Do

Management guru Peter Drucker created this framework for request management, called the 4D’s. I use this almost every day.

If you’re not going to do something or you don’t care about it, you Drop it. The request takes no more of your attention and fades from mind. In your email app this is the “Archive” button, “Delete” button, or “Junk” button.

If you want someone else to do something, you Delegate it. You ask someone to help, stop thinking about it for now, and you follow up on the results later. In your email app this is the “forward”/“reply-all” and “schedule” buttons.

If you are unable to take action now, and want to come back to a task later, you Defer it. You let it leave your attention so you can stay focused on more urgent tasks. In your email app this is the “schedule” button.

Lastly, just Do it.

Schedule everything — including time to do nothing

The calendar in your smartphone is an amazing tool. Put everything on your calendar, as to outsource your brain’s memory. All your appointments, daily activities like going to the gym, commuting, spending time with family, hanging out with friends, whatever. This works wonders because of three things. 1. You don’t have to rely on your fallible memory to remember to do something. 2. You will be automatically reminded when it’s time to switch activities. 3. Other people usually see that, according to your calendar, you are busy and find another time to meet.

Make space to jump into firefighting mode when needed, but avoid being too opportunistic. Plan work weeks in advance. Ask: What do I want to be working on 3 weeks from now? When you force yourself to think farther out, you may be surprised by how difficult it is. You end up asking another question: what do I want to be doing in 3 weeks? Then, you have created your own agenda rather than someone else creating an agenda for you.

Stay proactive by journaling

As the week wears on, your energy levels dip. It becomes more difficult to stay focused on work that matters. And, it’s easier to slip out of proactivity into reactive mode. The way I solve this problem is by taking time every night to reflect and plan for tomorrow.

My daily journal format evolves constantly. At the moment I focus on these key things.

  • Luck — what great things happened today that were entirely due to luck? What action did I take in the past to create that luck?
  • Innovations — what new things, methods, routines did I try today? Did they work?
  • What didn’t go well — and why?
  • Plan for tomorrow — how can tomorrow be better than today? What are tomorrow’s goals?

*Thanks for reading! Disagree? Let me know what you think.*


This post was also shared on Medium [here]

 

What I learned about leadership from Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella

Bring Clarity and Energy

When Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, was asked how he hires people, he said he looks for people who bring “clarity and energy.”

Why does this matter?

Our world is accelerating in complexity every day. The ability to bring clarity to complex problems is increasingly valuable.

Energy is infectious. Leaders who bring energy to their work inspire their teams. They get more out of their people. They are multipliers, not diminishers.

What I learned from The Three Laws of Performance

Torrey’s Notes


Law #1 : Performance correlates to how the situation occurs to people involved

It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. What matters is how you are heard.

If the situation occurs to you as broken and unfixable, it won’t change. However if the situation occurs to you as unsustainable and needing to be changed, it is likely to change. Compare the ‘default future’ with the ‘ideal future’.

Our ‘default future’ is where we end up if the story is not changed. We can choose not to accept the default future, and embrace transformation. We can imagine a future we want and move towards it. Large groups of people can rally behind a compelling vision of the future.

Ask yourself: What is my default future? What is my vision for the ideal future?

Example

Personal Health Default future: Stress, over-eating, relationship issues will persist and I will die early and lonely.

Ideal future: eating healthy in moderation, drinking lots of water, pushing myself in the gym, will lead to a long and happy life.


Three Laws of Performance Law #2 : How the situation occurs arises in language

Whatever you resist persists. Leaders have to listen to verbal and non-verbal language. There is often tension in the room and controversial things are left unsaid. These issues need to confronted else they persist.What is unsaid? What is unsaid but communicated non-verbally? Leaders must have the courage to say what is unsaid, to confront issues that make people uncomfortable.


Three Laws of Performance Law #3 : Future based language transforms how situations occur to people.

To elevate performance, you have to change the story of the organization and get buy in from the whole community. The story is the vision of where the group is headed.

Ask yourself: Where do you see your team in 5 years? 10 years? What stories will you tell when you get to the old folks home?


Read More

The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting th Future if You Organization and Your Life by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan

(affiliate link)

(non-affiliate link)

What I learned this week about productivity from Tesla, Amazon memos

Last week’s leaked Tesla memo is fascinating, and so is the annual Amazon.com letter to shareholders. The memos were seemingly penned by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, which gives us a rare view of how they lead their world-changing companies. Here I dive into why I love these memos.

#productivity #Tesla #Amazon #memo #meetings

Last week, while announcing plans to add shifts to reach 24 hour production, Elon dropped a few productivity tips. Read a copy of the whole memo here.

Excerpt:

Btw, here are a few productivity recommendations:

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time. (Emphasis mine)

– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.

Why I love this:

  • I think I have too many meetings
  • Sometimes I wish people would get up and leave meeting I have organized, because I mistakenly invited them. They have to stop what they’re doing to come to the meeting. Wasting more of their time adds insult to injury. They won’t leave because they think it’s rude.
  • I think some people go to every meeting they are invited to without questioning the value or the trade offs.
  • Sometimes I wish meetings were a lot smaller. I try to add up the salary of everyone in the room to estimate the cost and ROI of the meeting.
  • “Chain of command” sounds really antiquated. Of course this kind of red tape gets in the way of getting things done. As a manager I try to get out of the way as much as possible, let engineers talk to engineers. Very rarely have I heard anyone complain about chain of command.
  • Acronyms get really confusing. People who don’t know what they mean pretend like they do so they can avoid looking bad. I hate jargon.
  • Common sense is surprisingly not very common. Jeff Bezos, in last year’s letter, talks about process as proxies. Following rules reminds me of that. If you focus on following all the rules and nothing else, you are dead. You lose touch of what is actually important: the end product and customer; getting things done.

This year’s annual Amazon.com letter to shareholders touches on many topics including: deliberate practice, meetings, writing.

Here’s my favorite excerpt:

Perfect Handstands

A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

It’s called work for a reason! Achieving high standards requires putting in the work. You have to delay gratification to achieve big goals.

How Amazon does meetings:

Six-Page Narratives

We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.” Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely. Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion. Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.

In the handstand example, it’s pretty straightforward to recognize high standards. It wouldn’t be difficult to lay out in detail the requirements of a well-executed handstand, and then you’re either doing it or you’re not. The writing example is very different. The difference between a great memo and an average one is much squishier. It would be extremely hard to write down the detailed requirements that make up a great memo. Nevertheless, I find that much of the time, readers react to great memos very similarly. They know it when they see it. The standard is there, and it is real, even if it’s not easily describable.

Here’s what we’ve figured out. Often, when a memo isn’t great, it’s not the writer’s inability to recognize the high standard, but instead a wrong expectation on scope: they mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more! They’re trying to perfect a handstand in just two weeks, and we’re not coaching them right. The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind. They simply can’t be done in a day or two. The key point here is that you can improve results through the simple act of teaching scope – that a great memo probably should take a week or more.

[…]

(As a side note, by tradition at Amazon, authors’ names never appear on the memos – the memo is from the whole team.)

This is why I love this section:

  • I think careful preparation for meetings also reduces the number of meetings.
  • And it eliminates agenda-less meetings. The memo is the agenda.
  • Preparing a written memo for every meeting allows the best ideas to emerge.
  • The way Amazon has implemented this, carefully thought out ideas can prevail over the loudest ideas.
  • A well-written memo can say A LOT with few words. Maybe even more effective than speaking in some cases.

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What I learned from the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

Are you a multiplier or are you a diminisher?

Multipliers is one of my favorite leadership/management books. I discovered it watching the author speak.

The full title of the book is Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown (Affiliate link) (Non-affiliate link)

The main premise of the book is leaders can be divided into two groups: multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers get 110% of someones potential, while diminishers get only around 50%.

The logic of multiplication exemplifies a positive, abundance mindset. Multipliers think this way, and thinking this way enables their people to perform at their absolute best.

Logic of Multiplication

• Most people in the organization are under-utilized

• All capability can be leveraged with the right leadership

• Intelligence and capability can be multiplied without hiring more

• Mindset: “There are smart people everywhere who will figure this out and get even smarter in the process.”

The book also discusses multiplier disciplines. These include things like getting the right people on the right bus, and in the right seats on the bus. I don’t think leaders (myself included) are ever perfect at these things; there is always room for improvement.

5 Disciplines of the Multiplier:

  1. Attract and Optimize Talent

  2. Create intensity that requires best thinking.

  3. Extend challenges

  4. Debate decisions

  5. Install ownership and accountability


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog please consider subscribing. Subscribers mean a lot to me.

What I learned about Trust

Trust is the Currency of Relationships

You have a very small group of friends you could call at 3am to bail you out of jail. You built trust with these people over years if not decades. You know they would rescue you without second thoughts, because you would do the same for them. If trust could be put in a joint bank account, this account would pay dividends.

You trust your spouse 100% (hopefully), and this allows you to accomplish feats otherwise impossible. Telling your partner ‘I trust you’ is more powerful than saying ‘I love you’. Since you feel safe at home, you focus your energy on threats outside.

Relationships make or break your business, inside and out. According to the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Study, having a best friend at work is a key factor for employee engagement. The best friend satisfies the need to build trust in the workplace. Since you feel safe at work, you focus your energy on working together to reach your potential.

Currency is Trust

When customers buy your product they trust you will deliver to them value. This trust starts before they buy; it starts with a relationship. Often, the relationship is formed through public speaking and media.

An inspiring idea comes from Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba: If you have 1 billion dollars, that’s not your money, that’s trust society gives you; they believe you can manage the money better than others. The people of the world are putting their trust in you to use resources to bring good into the world.

Trust Cycle

The Trust Cycle illustrates how trust grows between two parties. First, trust is given. Second, trust is received. Then, mutual trust is born and exchanged.

The Trust Cycle

Think of it this way: trust starts with you. You can go around waiting for your family members to repair the relationship, or you can “be the bigger person” now and give them trust.

Flow of Trust

Where does trust start? It starts where anything else starts, with leaders. Giving trust without expectation of return requires courage, a risk taken, a leap of faith.

Flow Of Trust

The leader serves a group of followers. The leader takes the first step by giving trust. The followers return trust to the leader. Trust starts at the top and flows downhill.

360 Degree Trust

Trust flows in all directions. This model helps you analyze your relationships and focus on those with weaker trust. By carefully listening to your peers you may find unexpected hints of mistrust. The mission and the process are abstract. There is no mutual exchange of trust for mission and process; instead, trust comes from understanding.

360 Degree Trust

Observe these many angles:

  • Trust in leaders
  • Trust in the processes
  • Trust in peers
  • Trust in the teams
  • Trust in the mission
  • Trust in partners
  • Trust in partner teams

Thanks for reading!

Priorities

Managers differ from leaders in that no one wants to be managed and most people want to be led. As a leader I care deeply about enabling my people do their best work.

I know that people cannot do their best work when their health, home and family are not in order. If their own health is not in order they cannot do their best work and cannot do their best to care for loved ones. They are at work, and the family crisis is always in the back of their mind.

The person’s health comes before family comes before work. When those things are in order, when they are at work, they can give their all. They are enabled to do their best work.

Creating a safe environment and enabling this to happen distinguishes a Multiplier Leader from a Diminisher Leader.

  1. Your Own Health
  2. Your Family
  3. Work

Sometimes it’s hard. What if a key team asset has a crisis and needs to take months leave of absence? The team needs to come together and cover the gaps. Each individual person may deal with a future crisis.

How to apply it:

  • Take an honest assessment of your own health of mind and body. Are you taking care of yourself?
  • Take an honest assessment of what baggage you carry to work. Are you thinking about a brewing home crisis instead of being fully present?
  • Practice empathy with your peers. Support them when they need it most.