Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - using time recording to help you refine your personal goals

While I am still partially off posting, I thought that I should give you a report on the personal tests that I have been running since it bears upon the discussion on personal goal setting and may actually be helpful to some.

While I write a lot on problems associated with goal setting and the current obsession with measurement, this doesn't mean that I am opposed to either in a general sense. You do need numbers, metrics, to identify issues and analyse performance. My gripe lies in the way in which it is presently done and the adverse results that can follow. You need to be clear on the reasons why and what you hope to gain.

Some years ago I was in a very high pressure Commonwealth job. I became dissatisfied with my apparent failure to deliver, frustrated with the pressure. I decided to keep a detailed time log, just recording the start time, activity, end time. I wasn't sure that this was sensible, it was another thing I had to do, but I persevered for three weeks until I had some decent results.

The results were actually quite reassuring. The results showed clearly both the range of issues that I was dealing with and the high output levels I was achieving. They also showed that the average time between interruptions was just five minutes. Uncomfortably, they also suggested that my pattern of follow up on delegated work was impulsive and hence variable. I actually wasn't putting enough time into managing my people. At the time, I had thirty seven staff, five direct reports plus a very high level of Departmental and Ministerial visibility. I found that that was driving me into things that I didn't need to do, that I was becoming reactive.

With the evidence in front of me, I was able to make a number of simple changes that reduced load and improved performance. While I maintained my open door policy, I also introduced a rule that if my door was shut I could not be interrupted. When work came in, I asked myself should I be doing this, or should I give it to someone else? I started grouping items for later discussion, disciplining myself so that I did not simply rush out to follow up as the impulse hit me. This proved remarkably hard, for I am by nature a reactive and impulsive person.

As an aside before going on, I feel just so sorry for current managers in my previous position. I had a fairly rigid rule that I would stop work at six if not before. In these days of email, blackberries or equivalent and on-line access, the working day has extended and extended. Has real output gone up? I think that the answer has to be a firm no. Still, that's another story.

Recently, I became very dissatisfied once again. This time my focus was on my writing performance and what this was meant to achieve.

Step one was to define a rolling publishing program linked to my personal objectives. I had done this before, but not linked to time recording and results measurement.  The results were not encouraging. I more or less kept to the publishing pattern, but I found that my output was below my expectations, that I only had so much time. I am not saying that my output was bad in objective terms, although it was lower than I had achieved before. Still, I averaged over a thousand words a day, over seven thousand word a week,but I wasn't completing my major writing targets.

The next stage was to withdraw from blogging as much as I could, focusing on my main writing targets. This stage was helped by hard writing deadlines, including a book chapter that I must finish.  Now I found a new issue, I was missing the interactivity that came from my public writing. This proved to be absolutely critical, for it lay at the heart of the reason why I write. That's the greatest fun!!

So in the last stage of my current test. I have set up a spreadsheet to simply record the interactivity. I want to see the pattern in a general sense and in the context of particular media since I write across a number of platforms.

I will report on this at a later point. For the moment, I simply note to my fellow bloggers who wish to write in a professional patten, and indeed all those who are dissatisfied with their personal performance, that measuring your time input is not a bad way to go in at least scooping the problem.       


Evan said...

Manfredd Max-Neef lists idleness as a human need.

I think this is right and something of a check on the 'run your life on the basis of goals' commandment that often seems to be the (unconscious?) position adopted by some of the goal setting gurus.

Jim Belshaw said...

I agree with you, Evan. One of my many personal weaknesses, and it came later in my life, is my inability to to build idle time in, to overcome the feeling that I should be doing something "productive".

My Observations said...

I ponder over what "productive" means. Some people just keep busy to feel that they are fulfilling their obligations or contribute in a sufficient way. But are they actually productive? And do they enjoy their life, do they have fun, do they get new creative ideas, are they on purpose? I suppose this is my hobby horse, to make sure I am clear on what I am all about, what's my purpose and if I live by my values. In spite of all that I also feel uncomfortable when I classify my day as "unproductive". So I get busy.

Jim Belshaw said...

In a lot of case, AC, I suspect that they are not in fact productive, just busy! But I see from your last comment that you suffer the busyness syndrome, too!