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    • Welcome!

      I greatly appreciate the thumbs up 👍 and “heck yeahs” of interest from @Chris @yaypie @bstrong @Vilen @Factotum @lgorrie @lidja @lextenebris @Glenn_Smith

      If you’re new to the discussion, here’s the original proposal for this topic:

      Okay, here’s what I want to know:

      How do you decide on the problems not to solve?

    • Glenn Smith

      To work out which problems need to or should be solved. I usually ask a few questions, is it something that will repeat again, i.e. cause the same issue?

      How serious is the issue? Is it life threatening? Will it cause an injury? Is there a cost impact? Or is it just a nice to have on someone’s wish list.

      Next up what’s the state of the issue, if left alone will it get worse, stay the same or go away?

      Based on these type of questions you work out of a problem is worth resolving and if you allocate points to each of the questions you can come up with a priority schedule to resolve the problems. (I come from an mechanical engineering background) image below gives an idea, change the wording to suit but you’ll get the idea. Score 1-10 for each column and add them up for final score, I’ve a spreadsheet that does that and then sorts so in theory a to-do list.

      So that’s the approach I’ve used to review if problems need to be resolved, what does everyone else use?

    • Wow. That’s a humdinger of a kick-off question!

      Coming from academia, the answer is always related in some way to the extent of one’s “turf.” Stepping into someone else’s fiefdom to right a wrong can be hazardous to one’s health, if you catch my drift...

    • I have a much simpler methodology and it starts with a very simple question:

      Do I actually care enough to act?

      This is something that often goes without question but shouldn't. There are many things that we have a preference for, many things that we want, and even many things that we need. But a vanishingly few do we actually truly care enough about to engage effort to accomplish or acquire. Many fall into the class of "things I want to have done" rather than things we want to do."

      So step #1, with a bullet and double-underlined for me is to figure out if its a question I really want to answer or a question I want to have answered.

    • So that’s the approach I’ve used to review if problems need to be resolved, what does everyone else use?

      I genuinely struggle with this question, of which problems to ignore, often.

      What I like about your matrix is that it allows you to quickly assess where your urgencies are. Especially when things are in crisis mode, it helps to have a triage system already in place. (Btw, what does “ECN” mean? “Everything is completely normal?”)

      I think frameworks and effective questions can be incredibly helpful to focus and align your actions with your priorities. Is it a problem that I’m passionate about solving? Or has someone else dragged me into solving—or have I volunteered to solve—one of their problems that is at best a nuisance for them and at worst a major time suck of my limited life.

    • I often think about Eisenhower's famous matrix. He said what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. I think about it often as urgent things threaten to hijack my days and keep me distracted from important problems to solve. I think this is why productivity studies often show that procrastinators (that's me) have surprisingly high productivity.

    • I think this is why productivity studies often show that procrastinators (that's me) have surprisingly high productivity.

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I am exactly the opposite. In fact, I’ve always prided myself on getting stuff done way in advance of the deadline. I also get stuff done right away because I’m worried that I’ll forget otherwise.

      But here’s the thing: I am super organized with to do lists, checklists and schedules that the odds are infinitesimal that something important would go undone.

      Where do I sign up for the class on Procrastination? And how late should I be to the class?

    • And while we're amplifying…

      Personally, I'm very fond of the military concept of OODA. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. In the early Naughts, it made its way into corporate management as the buzzword of the week and subsequently into the rah-rah speech that you probably have heard at least one TED talk. Not surprisingly, when it was no longer the fad term of the moment it became something that was no longer trendy and thus must be denigrated.

      But the original idea, that the OODA loop is a descriptive tool for looking at systems remains useful. The decision-making architecture of human consciousness is a system. So let's look at what the "act" is in the context of deciding what problems not to solve.

      Obviously the act itself is the decision. But the decision is the last part of the loop. What comes before that?

      First we observe that a decision will have to be made. In particular, making the decision of what problem you don't tackle comes up all the time. It's a constant loop. At any given moment, you are deciding what issues have priority in your observational field.

      Next, you orient. You gather information. You look at what resources you have at your disposal. If you aren't doing this before you decide what problems not to tackle, you're probably wasting a lot of your energy taking on problems you don't know how to solve, you don't have the resources to solve, or don't need to be solved. Orientation is the part of the loop that puts us in a position to act.

      Then comes the decision, though in this case it's more of a meta-decision. You have decided on what your decision should be. A lot of people get hung up at just this part of the loop. They recognize the decision will have to be made. They look at their resources and look at their priorities. And then they simply can't decide to make a decision. Sometimes they're afraid of what will come about as a result of their action. Sometimes they have been taught to constantly question themselves to the point where they have analysis paralysis. Sometimes they've simply been conditioned against making decisions, contaminated with the idea that judgment is somehow inherently wrong. This is the moment at which events often move faster than they are willing to decide on.

      And then comes action. The action of decision, the execution of priorities, and the finalization of choice. This is the moment it which having decided that a problem is not yours to solve for whatever reasons, you consciously set it aside and move on to something else.

      Taken as a whole, the OODA loop shows you with a recursive level of detail what the last step in the next step is at every point. If you find yourself not able to figure out what problems not to solve, think about the steps in the loop and think about which of them is giving you a problem.

      Then you can refine that part down to a fine gloss and move on to the next decision.

    • Sorry @apmShould have explained ECN, it stands for Engineering Change notice, which is a request coming in to the Engineering department requesting a change to an Engineering document be it a drawing, procedure or specification. This system works well to prioritise problems and works particularly well when it’s all laid out in front of people and they can see the logic, ie if the boss asks for something to be done then you see where it fits in the matrix and often he's request comes out fairly low, if presented well and you have a reasonable boss they can see the logic and leave you to get on with your job. Of cause if you have an unreasonable boss then maybe it’s time to look for other opportunities. This also is useful when you have several problems as you give each a score and then the one with the highest score gets worked on first. With Maximum score of 30. A few years back I worked in a Multinational company with facility around the world and this is the system they implemented on a global level along with many other "Lean" initiatives. In answer to your question using this Matrix you could come up with a rule like any score equal to or below 8 does not get a look in.

    • Chris that Matrix is also one I use particularly when things get a bit hectic at work I drag that one out as part of a weekly schedule I'll do, But only when things start to get a little out of control. As part of that schedule you actually start to plan for interruptions and schedule some time each day for time you will be interrupted (It happens to everyone so why not allocate time to it) By doing this you then start to have a realistic idea of how many productive hours you actually have available instead of the theoretic hours the clock says you have, when you start to schedule in this way you will be getting closer to a realistic time frame for tasks, The tasks can be prioritise in the four quadrants you've shown. You list your available hours, then list all your pre-booked hours certain meetings interruptions etc. which then leaves the actual hours you have left in the week to do tasks, surprisingly depending on your schedule you may find you have very little hours to actually do work. You then list your tasks allocate time and a priority to them based on the matrix then assign tasks to half hour blocks in a weekly schedule and you will start to regain control of your week. I usually only bring this out when things start to go pair shaped, but so far it’s always works, and really should be carried out every week, but like everyone one else once the crisis is over you revert back to type.  Again I have this one in a spreadsheet and its pretty much automated so doesn’t take that much time once your use to it. 

    • @lextenebris This is the first I've heard of the OODA loop, but sounds very much like the Deming Cycle PDCA which was also out of the Military and became a business push a while ago, there may be a common theme there.   The Deming Cycle is very much one of the underpinning themes running through "Lean manufacturing, Lean Design" Philosophy. But sounds very much like the OODA you have shown here.

    • Yes PDCA came out of the same sort of process thinking that OODA did.

      The big difference is the intended linchpin of OODA is the action. Everything is intended to drive the action. PDCA is intended to drive the adjustment. Which is not bad, let me state up front, but it definitely puts the focus on a different type of getting things done.

      OODA is what you do if you're looking at a system and trying to figure out how to beat an opponent's system. PDCA is what you do when you're trying to beat your own system. Knowing the difference and went to teach and why you might want to use either one is a little bit of management theory that doesn't get taught nearly as much as it needs to.

      Lots of "hot right now" fads, a few "long-term effective" strategies, and not so much in the way of understanding the ebb and flow of the environment and adjusting outside of a fairly strict process.

    • Where do I sign up for the class on Procrastination? And how late should I be to the class?

      When I was in college, a speaker I admired told the possibly true story of Andrew Carnegie, lists and priorities. It had a huge impact on me and I've tried to live it ever since.

      The way I remember it is he had too much to do as Carnegie Steel got big. He obsessively kept lists but the consultant Ivy Lee told him to circle the #1, 2 & 3 thing on his list, forget the other 97 and do #1 to completion, then #2, then #3. The idea was you can't do everything anyway, so at least you can do the most important things. And if the others are really important, someone will do them or they will bubble up.

      My wife has a love/hate relationship with this because she often ends up doing many of the other 90-something. But that's what she loves because she likes to check easier things off in greater numbers.

    • About six months ago, I created a to do list system that embodies Andrew Carnegie’s consultant’s philosophy.

      But with mixed results.

      Those paper calendar systems with their A,B,C rankings? Useless to me. Plus, by the end of the week my to do list was a scratched out mess that I had zero interest in recopying by hand.

      I now keep a to do list in Word that I organize into three sections:

      - Stuff I do every day

      - Stuff I can work on this week.

      - Stuff I can’t start work on this week

      I don’t waste time trying to list items in order of importance or priority—it’s just a parking lot so that I don’t lose visibility to what needs doing.

      At the end of the day, I take a few minutes to plan out tomorrow morning by writing on a post it the 3 or 4 items on the list that I need to focus on first.

      It’s been a surprisingly simple but effective approach. Whenever I complete an item, I remove it from the Word document and print an updated to do list at the end of the day.

      Interruptions kill consistency. My use of a problem ranking system suffers from issues similar to @Glenn_Smith’s use of his matrix. Unexpected emergencies occur that prevent preparing tomorrow’s task priorities, or several days go by without updating the list because too many things have gone urgent and there’s not the bandwidth to focus on orderly planning.

      Ultimately the deadlines still get met, but I think the core problem isn’t about budgeting for interruptions. Instead it’s about how to prevent urgencies from hijacking the regular planning process.

    • I found one way around the interruptions wrecking a schedule is to actually schedule for interruptions, some can’t be helped but if you put out say two hours one in the morning and one in the afternoon and actually publish that to the interuptees that this is the time you are willing to be interrupted, block out that time so no meetings are called during that time and stick to the same time each day after a month or so you will start to get some control of the interruptions, I use to put up a weekly schedule out side my office which showed half hour blocks of time, including one block for returning phone calls etc, if the interruptions or calls done need to be returned you have some free time in your schedule to catch up on other work, but if you actually start to schedule for interruptions you start to get an idea how much real time you have to do your daily tasks. It doesn’t always work but if you start to train people went your willing to be interrupted then you start to regain control of your day. That’s half the battle.

    You've been invited!