Apr 032012

They say, especially politicians, we should never change horses midstream. I completely disagree. For one, we are always midstream. When in life do we have an opportunity to stop, sit down and consider making sweeping change? It just doesn’t happen. Life continues on around us; we have to keep moving.

Change, however, must be made, and rarely is it convenient. One key, I believe, is to avoid unnecessary change. For many years, I have taught classes on Task Management and Personal Productivity. I espouse using a task management system to keep track of all the things we must do. I have have helped dozens set up a systems, ranging from paper to electronic. I have used too many systems and devices to count. Many hours and countless dollars came out of the family budget in search of the perfect system, for which I thank my patient wife. Along the way, I have learned a few things about making change.

  1. Don’t make a change just because something new comes along. Shiny doesn’t equate to good. “New” is not a reason to make a change. Resist the temptation. Often “new” has a lot of marketing hype and needs time to mature before it is ready to be part of a trusted system. Yes, there are exceptions, but not often.
  2. Only make a change when there is a specific reason. I have changed systems so many times, I can’t count. The more successful attempts have always had an underlying reason attached, such as when I finally made the shift from paper to electronic. Instead of finding a cool, sexy device, I looked for something that would help me not have to rewrite my daily task list every day when I didn’t get it completed. Once I shifted my focus to a particular goal, the correct tool appeared and the shift was easy and lasting.
  3. Make the change quickly and completely. Kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off, just get it over with. Spend a few hours making the conversion and then don’t look back. If it drags out over several days, your subconscious will go nuts trying to remember which system contains the information necessary. Copy the data over as quickly as possible. Yes, the organization won’t be perfect and some time will be necessary for adjustment, but adapt in one tool, not two.
  4. Get advice from those who use the target tool before making the jump. People love to share their experiences. Try to find a mix of people who currently use the target as well as those who no longer use it. This second group can often be some of the most helpful, since there was a reason they left. Ask to see how things are set up and working (or not). Learning from others will reduce the number of bad choices and increase the speed of conversion to good ones.
  5. Give it time, but don’t hesitate too long to jump back if it was a bad move. Not every change is a good one. While we have to give ourselves time to adjust to the differences, don’t live with a bad choice very long. In task management systems, it will become apparent rapidly, often within just a few days. If it isn’t providing the desired results, go back. It won’t take very long to reactivate the old system if it is just a few days stale. If it is a few months, well, it may be best to start over.

Change is not easy, but with a little planning and foresight, it can be well worth the trauma. After all, it is how we improve. Following these four points can help ensure any change will result in greater speed and reduced turmoil

Jan 272012

Six Sigma Memory Jogger II: A Pocket Guide by Ginn, Finn, Ritter and Brassard 

I haven’t been formally trained in the ways of Six Sigma, but I have been around it enough to know some of the basics. We used it at SuperValu/Albertsons. I saw it accomplish some amazing savings through several projects.  Simple, small process changes that were shown to save millions of dollars because of the scale of the operation. I worked closely with a few black belts on projects and their grasp of analysis was admirable. I always wanted to be one, but never got the chance.

One project I knew began with an idle comment from a vendor that the company purchased more small item shipping bins than anyone they knew. This was a huge expense each year. Why were the bins disappearing? That was the answer the Six Sigma team was tasked to find. Using several analysis tools, they quickly discovered the root cause was no process or procedure for returning the bins from the stores to the distribution centers. The bins were stacking up at the stores until the manager got tired of having them in the way and tossing them in the trash. A simple process change later and the bins were flowing back to the distribution centers on the empty trucks to be reused hundreds of times.

The Six Sigma Memory Jogger was recommended to me by my manager. It contains an alphabetical listing of all the tools and tricks the Six Sigma black belts use to do their work. Each tool and method is laid out in a concise discussion of what it is, why it is useful and how to employ it. It even includes a few examples of each. It is short, just 266 pages, but it has one of the most complete listings of analysis tools I have seen. Now that I have read through it, I can draw upon the multitude of tools, except for a few intense statistical functions that were beyond my brain. The rest, however, are useful in all sorts of settings. Having this handy reference close at hand means I don’t have to remember everything, but can do a quick review and get the results I need quickly. I have used several over the years in different situations and have found them invaluable. I

If you have to do any kind of analysis of business process in your job, this book is a great one to have in your toolbox. Recommended.

Oct 012011

Evernote: The unofficial guide to capturing everything and getting things done. by Daniel Gold 

First off, what is it with everyone giving their books longer and longer subtitles? Just saying…

I first heard of David Gold on the Getting Things Done Virtual Study Group. He spent one our sessions giving his insight into the many uses of Evernote for implementing David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. His enthusiasm for the topic was contagious and I bought his ebook on the spot.

The basis, of course, is Evernote, a collection application that stores all kinds of information and provides powerful ways to retrieve it across any platform instantly. I am a new-comer to Evernote, just really starting to investigate it a month or two ago. The concept intrigued me, so when I heard Gold’s descriptions of how he pushes it to do everything in his task management system, I was hooked. I have used many tools over the past thirty years. Could this finally be “the tool?” I hoped this book would be the key to understanding how to use it better.

However, I was to be disappointed. Gold’s book did not provide what I was hoping to see – detailed explanation of how to do some of the basics of task management in this rich and well featured tool. In fact, I think I got more specific ideas on how to set things up from the podcast than I did the book.

It is a short ebook, barely 40 pages. The writing is energetic, bright and in need of an editor. Gold knows his stuff, but needs to spend a little more time on explaining how things are set up. The explanations that are there could use a little spicing up, a little more organization and step-by-step instructions. Unless one is already familiar with how to do some of the tasks referred to, it is easy to get lost and confused.

I don’t doubt that Gold is going to clean the book up over time and make it into what he intends. He states the book is going to continue to evolve – something that ebooks hold as an advantage over their print cousins. I hope the feedback he receives is incorporated. He has a great start. More “how to” descriptions would help me have the courage to make the leap to Evernote. The ideas that are presented there are helpful. However, the ideas he discussed in the podcast resonated more with me. I am going to go back and listen to the recording again very soon. For me, it was better than the ebook.