Productivity and the need to finish things

Done is better than perfect- Sheryl Sandberg

“If you want to be productive, stop starting things and start finishing things.”

Hmmm, I’m not so sure. I’m not sure that productivity really comes from finishing things. Ok, perhaps by the technical definition of producing things something is only valuable if its finished. And who wants a half finished cup or a pen they didn’t bother to fill with ink? So, whatever you’re creating, it needs to do the job its designed for, but it rarely needs to be perfectly finished. Finished can mean good enough.

The other problem I find with the idea that things have to be finished and the ‘sit still and be a good little school boy, don’t fidget, don’t get distracted’ mentality on productivity is that it isn’t natural for me. It actually creates procrastination because if you’re thoughts about the thing you’re working on get blocked you are supposed to continue to focus on that piece of work until you become unblocked.

When I’m writing or doing any kind of linear flow work, if my thoghts stop mid sentence I stop writing. I don’t try to force the thoughts and finish the sentence, I just just move onto the next thought. I acn come back later and edit but right now I want to get as many thoughts out as quickly as possible.

And when I go back to edit, am I aiming for perfection? No, of course not. I’m aiming for what I wrote to communicate an idea in some vaguely sensicle way. I’m not aiming for a perfect piece of writing. If I can convey the idea well enough in a short amount of time then that’s good enough for me. Time to move on.

The majority of the work I do is probably like this. I aim for the 80% of value from 20% of the effort, and when it’s good enough to its job I move on. I don’t have time to go back and polish it to get that last 20% of value out of the work. I could. I could validate my thinking more, double the words are familiar with the target audience, make sure the diagrams all line up, et., etc. I could spend ages making it perfect, but really, who has the time.

Done is good enough.

Weeknotes #255

This week I did:

Programmes, products, projects

I spent a some thinking thinking through how we translate what our programme teams are developing for future courses into what we need to build into our products to enable the courses. It really does feel like a translation as there’s lots of different language and understanding that is important to get right.

One of our teams have adopted goal-based Now/Next/Later roadmaps for their projects. I was so impressed I messaged the project manager to tell them how happy I was to see it Ok, I’m a roadmap geek and I can admit it. Something I’ve realised about roadmaps is that the approaches, models and tools only work for a small number of elements. I wonder if the idea that roadmaps shouldn’t have too many things on them comes from the tools and models not being able to effectively represent lots of elements, or if it’s the idea drives the existence of the models. Maybe the limitations of the models is what keeps people using Gantt charts.


I had a few hours of inspiration about some of the things I want to include in my product management in charities email series so I made some notes will spend some of my time off work next week on writing the emails, setting-up the automation and sign-up form. It’s on my delivery plan to just get the emails written in June so if I can get the whole thing set up then I’ll be well ahead of schedule.

Escape form Bigbury

I went to beach last weekend a d found a nice spot to read a couple of innovation books for a few hours. During that time the tide came in and cut me off from the walking out the way I came in. I put my clothes and books into my bag, held it above my head and swam across a river, climbed up a small cliff, broke my sandals, and walked eight miles back to my car barefoot. I love these little adventures. It’s like being a kid again, getting myself into trouble and relying on myself to get out.

Blockchain in entrepreneurship

This week’s lecture was about the use of Blockchain in entrepreneurial business models, including the use of ICO‘s, which is an interesting way for start-ups to raise investment. ICO’s follow a standard approach of demonstrating that the start-up has four things that will lead to it’s success; human capital, quality of business model, social media activity, and a project elaboration whitepaper. The whitepaper is an organisational strategy document that aims to attract investors by expressing the business model. Tech start-ups often fail because they are more focused on building their solution than on validating the market needs and strategy for meeting it, so it’s interesting to see whitepapers as a mechanism for pulling them towards a more holistic approach.

And thought about:

What are we trying to achieve?

I’ve had various conversations this week, in various contexts, where trying to decide what action to take was hampered by a lack of clarity about what was trying to be achieved. Knowing the end goal becomes a guide for decision making, along with principle stacks in more complicated situations. So many of our tools and mental models are at the task level (see defining our unit of analysis below) which make it easier for us to get on with doing something, and make it harder for us to decide and remain focused on the goal.

Projects within projects

How do projects relate to each other? A project can be:

  • Building block – not dependent on other projects but with others dependent on it.
  • Chain – dependent on another with others dependent on it.
  • Standalone – no projects are dependent on it and it isn’t dependent on any.
  • Destination – dependent on other projects but with nothing dependent on it.

But that’s a pretty two-dimensional cause-and-effect view of how projects relate to each other. What about a ‘Russian doll’ relational model of project within project within project? Do we assume that projects are standalone entities when really they aren’t? What issues does this cause within organisations?

Define your unit of analysis

One of the difficult things about talking about innovation, or maybe anything that lacks an agreed definition, is being clear about what level you’re referring to. Are you talking about innovation as an activity within a company or an industry or a nation? In each of those cases the ‘unit of analysis’ is different and so the conversation is different, and confusing if different people are referring to different units of analysis without realising it.

Harmonic wave

I love a completely spurious and unconnected analogy. So, on that note, here’s why harmonic waves pendulums explain why keeping people aligned at work is so hard. The pendulums are made of a line of weights each hanging on a string of a different length. This means that even when they all start swinging together they swing at different speeds. In a harmonic wave pendulum it produces interesting patterns but at work people working at different speeds, because they have different tasks, different priorities, etc., produces dependencies, blockers, repetition and all the other things that make work inefficient. So, what’s the answer? Artificial constraints to keep everyone moving at the same speed? Redistributing work so those who are faster do more? Slice work into smaller pieces to make it easier? Yes. No. Depends.

And read:

The Power of Creative Destruction

Since reading about Schumpeter and the ideas he had about how innovation relies on creative destruction, that is one innovation destroying and replacing another, I thought he was wrong. It seems more likely that innovation builds on what went before. The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations by Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel reconsiders Schumpeter and what effect his ideas have had on how we approach innovation.

Work from Home & Productivity

This research showed that during a period of pandemic-enforced working from home (context is important but not really recognised enough) IT professionals spent more time doing less work. Productivity fell by 20% because although the study’s participants were working longer hours, more of that time was in meetings. What can we take from this, other than meetings are bad? Two things, I think. More meetings happen because organisations don’t have effective ways to coordinate work asynchronously (arguably they don’t have synchronous means to coordinate effectively either, but hey…) and so default to more meetings in an attempt to achieve coordination. And then, secondly, the visibility of workers in meetings serves as replacement for trust in workers.

A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work

Written in 2015, A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work describes the old versus new, which I like as a way of helping to make clear the unknown unknowns of the new way of work and draw lines of distinction. I’ve been thinking a bit about ‘operating systems’ for work, how we define the basic rules that create the behaviours we want to see at higher levels. Boyd’s manifesto helps with a far-off vision of what work could be like, rather than a realistic current model, but it’s interesting nonetheless from a ‘it’s a systems problem not a people problem‘ point of view.

Plodding and Bursting

Plodding and bursting are two different strategies for getting things done. Understanding these two modes will help you in two ways. First, you’ll be able to identify your own default mode, so you can better take advantage of it. And second, you’ll be able to understand others who prefer your non-dominant mode, so you can relate to them more effectively.

Methods for working together

A few years almost every meeting I went to was face-to-face with only a few phones as rare exceptions. This year it feels like at least half my meetings are group Skype calls. Although the technology isn’t always perfect being able to work with someone who isn’t in the same place has meant we’ve been able to get more things done more quickly.

So whereas before we only had one method for working together, now we have two. I think we need more. We need more clearly defined methods of working together that make it easier to people to know what is expected of them


Workshops follow a step by step approach to achieve a clear output. They need to stick to the structure, e.g. Design Sprint, and not vere off track. They are all about action and production, if by the end of the workshop the group hasn’t actually produced something useable (not just useful) then the workshop was a waste of time. They might involve blank sheets of paper, wipeboards and post it notes.


Discussions are more informal and less structured. They are about collective information gathering. Everyone talks freely about the topic, sharing their experiences, knowledge and opinions. They require strong leadership and good listening skills from everyone, but they are great for uncovering stuff and getting it all in the same space. The output of a discussion should be shared understanding.


Interviews are likely to be one to one or two to one. They are about getting answers. They require that the person holding the interview comes prepared with questions that they want answers to. The person being interviewed brings their knowledge and tries to frame it as answers not discussion points. The output of an interview should be documented specific answers to questions.

So far, all of these are synchronous methods, that is they require everyone to be working at the same time but I think we need some asynchronous methods too that enable people to still work together when they can’t be together at the same time. We all work asynchronously most of the time, but this is about trying to formalise some methods for asynchronous collaboration.


Reviews require a number of people to read a document, consider it in light of their knowledge, assumptions and experience, and then feedback comments, questions and any concerns. Reviews are best conducted by people on their own at a time they can concentrate and not be distracted. The output from a review should be the collated feedback from however many people were involved into a single source.

The To/CC rule for sending email

When sending an email:

‘To’ is for action

If you want someone to do something, then you send the email to them.

‘CC’ is for information

If there is something in the email you are sending that you think someone should know, but they don’t have to do anything with that information, CC them.

If the reply is likely to contain some information that you think someone should know, then CC them and hope the person replying clicks ‘Reply-all’.

Delaying gratification to increase productivity

You’ve got a list of projects to work on or tasks to complete. How do decide which to do first? You could use an important/urgent matrix to help you prioritise the tasks but there is a flaw with this kind of approach; it assumes that all tasks are equal. But they aren’t. Some of these tasks you are looking forward to, some you are dreading. Some you’ll enjoy, others will be a chore. Some will be exciting, others boring.

You can get more tasks complete if you understand your tendencies to procrastinate, to avoid the difficult tasks, and to convince yourself that you really should do the things that you’ll enjoy most first. Delaying the gratification you get from doing the fun things first by completing some of the tasks are aren’t looking forward to, and then using the fun/interesting/exciting tasks as rewards means that not only do you get more tasks done but you also get the things you don’t want to do done.

What I want from Evernote

I love Evernote. I’ve used it for years. I’ve also used lots of other online platforms including: Trello, Google Docs, Sharepoint & Word, Todoist, Dropbox and Dropbox Paper. They all do different things, and all have their strengths and weaknesses, but Evernote beats them all for everyday writing and recording things, sharing, collaborating and easy task management. Some of the things I love about Evernote are that it works offline, is seamless between devices, and is really simple to use, but it isn’t perfect. Here are a four things I want from Evernote.

1. More formatting options

Simplicity is good, but a few more formatting options such as headings, and auto-generating a contents/menu using the headings, would make the notes more presentable.


Adding comments to highlighted text in an note would make working collaboratively in a note far easier.

3. Show a calendar view of tasks.

Notes can be made into Tasks by adding a deadline/to-do date, but the views of tasks is limited to a chronological list. Having a calendar view (especially if you could add a length or end time to tasks) would make task planning much more effect.

4. Embeddable notes

Being able to embed the contents of notes in other notes, webpages, etc. would be a great way of pulling multiple ever-changing content into a single location.

Evernote superhero

I know, I know, maybe these things would take Evernote away from the simple, robust, really-usable platform that it is, and I’m sticking with Evernote regardless, but having these things would take Evernote from super to superhero.