Throw in some slack and focus better

Me, working from home, well I just got a huge boost in doing that. Like so many people worldwide, I was obliged to do so. This homeworking is really pulling me out of my comfort zone, because I liked going to the office and connect with people in real life. But what I experience now is that it’s becoming easier to focus on getting things done, since there are less distractions, besides the toddler comic duo here at home. And what I’ve gained extra, is time to reflect a bit on the essence of Agile in these times.

Inspect and adapt

These times are calling for agility, although we’re looking for ways to control the situation as much as possible. It’s very much about sensing and adapting. Besides the fact the digital workplace is fast maturing now, companies are forced to embrace a more empirical way of thinking in order to overcome uncertainties. Only Yesterday I had such a interesting talk with one of my colleagues at Nike. In the current situation, there is new news everyday, there are new measures everyday, whilst the immediate future is very uncertain. We don’t quite know what will bring the day after tomorrow. And this uncertainty is pushing us to look into how we should make decisions and focus on what is important and what is not. Hello Cynefin I would say. 

But also on a personal scale, I have to adjust and adapt. I have to focus on things that are important. And the company has to trust the fact that I am able to make that kind of decisions. So how do you do that when your constantly working from home right now?

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary”

– Pablo Picasso

Relearn and retrain myself about the value of focus 

So let’s define focus from a scientific point of view: In physics they state that focus is the point where waves of light or sound, that are moving towards each other, meet: the focal point.You can easily think about the focus of a lens on a camera. You are either  “in focus” when a photograph is clear, or you’re out of focus when the photograph is unclear. A more generic definition is : the main or central point of something, especially of attention or interest. It’s the main object of interest, or the attention given something. 

We know that working on many items in parallel is counterproductive. Multi-tasking is a myth, it’s simply just switching from one task to another very rapidly and that comes at a high cognitive cost. Yet the danger to try to do so, especially when it’s harder to catch people and briefly clear out things because we’re all working from home now, lures around the corner. And so, being ‘busy busy busy’ with all kind of different things should be a small reminder that we should better prioritize our work and start working on them in a value order. In my search for a good image to articulate that idea, I was triggered by a drawing I came across in a David Hawks presentation I’ve found online. It made so much sense:

It’s clear the right side will be more predictable. At least, when they are asked about their performance, they are able to state: “we have 4 items finished and are about to be done with a 5th one soon.”  The left side is much more uncertain. The big question here is: “when will there actually be anything finished?” 

Being in a lot of calls and video conferences nowadays, it made me remind that I needed to prioritize the important things again. Well to be honest, I should bring in focus again. This focus thing… here’s what it means for me actually. It made me think again about a quote the Kanban guru’s are using a lot: ‘Stop starting, start finishing’. So, I need to re-own the time I spend on things, I need to take charge of my calendar again. When I started my professional life, I was forced by my manager to organize my agenda and bring in ‘blocking moments’. These moments were used to focus on getting things done without distraction from anything or anyone. In one of his keynote speeches, Henrik Kniberg takes this approach to another level and he introduces ‘slack’ into his agenda.  Bring in slack will definitely be beneficial for myself and I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do more things that actually matter and make a bigger impact.  

Build up Focus

The recipe for Kniberg, from a highlevel point of view, is based on ‘creating slack’, ‘saying no’ and ‘stop thinking that I don’t have time’. I’d like to throw in some extra ingredients since I have thousands of ideas flowing in my brain. This means that I might have to be more mindful of the task I’m working on. So next time when an urge enters my mind to take on another task, I’ll ignore that one and redirect my attention back to my priority. And further, I’ll make sure I’ll prioritize my work on a weekly basis and create a list of daily priorities when the day starts. I need to rebuild my routine in doing that. In the process of that all, I don’t want to filter out what drives me.

Howard Inlet: “Oh. What is your "why"?
Why did you even get out of the bed this morning?
Why did you eat what you ate?
Why did you wear what you wore?
Why did you come here?
Other than the fact that I would fire you and hire someone else
if you didn't show up for work, but...
- (Audiance LAUGHING)
Not that.
The big "why."
We're certainly not here to just sell shit.
We are here to connect.
Life is about people.
Advertising is about illuminating how our products
and services will improve people's lives.
Now, how do we do that?
Love.
Time.
Death.
Now these three abstractions connect every single human being on Earth.
Everything that we covet,
everything that we fear not having,
everything that we ultimately end up buying,
is because at the end of the day...
we long for love, 
we wish we had more time, 
and we fear death.

Love. Time. Death.”

from the motion picture: Collateral Beauty

I’m going to reboot and better handle time on things I want to spend my time on.  And in my case, say no more often on some things. 
Steve Jobs said once:”It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”