Embrace Constraints

think-outside-the-box

Our lives are full of constraints of all shapes and sizes. From taking conference calls while dropping off kids, to making dinner with what’s in the fridge, to juggling multiple work projects, we are all constantly balancing our limited time, resources, and scope. We often talk about these three interconnected constraints in project management — changing one impacts the other two. But what if instead of talking about these factors as constraints we think about them as accelerators? In his post How Constraints Fuel Innovation Instead of Restricting It, Vishal Kataria tells the story of how Toyota broke into the luxury car market. Their chief engineer challenged the team to build a car with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, an efficiency of 22.5 miles per gallon, a cabin noise level of 58 decibels at 60 mph, an aerodynamic drag of 0.29 or less, weighing less than 3800 pounds. None of their competitors had cracked one, let alone all five, of these goals. At first this seemed to be an impossible goal. But when the team designed to meet all these collective (and sometimes conflicting) constraints, they created the Lexus LS400, which outrated the BMW 735i and Mercedes 420SEL in every category rated by Car and Driver Magazine. And for $30,000 less.  Constraints can help you accelerate your productivity if you think outside the time, resources, and scope “box.”

Time: Think of less as more. Deadlines are stressful. And companies are infamous for short changing time to meet an executive’s schedule or demand. So embrace it.  According to a recent article cited in the New York Times, the average employee admits to spending 2 hours a day on non-work related tasks. So whatever timeline you thought you had, you really had 25% less anyway.  Help focus your team with more frequent, shorter meetings. You will have a different level of energy if you hold four 30-minute meetings rather than one two-hour meeting. Tell the team when the meeting ends, that phase of the process is done. Tell them in the first 30 minutes we need to complete X so that next time we can start with Y. Creating focus and urgency can up productivity– remember cramming for your college exams? Test it out and see what new results you see.

Resources: Look for the double down. There are never enough people or money for any given project. I am currently a department of one designing the learning and talent strategy for a production driven company. I am short on time and money and so are our leaders and team members. We have limited processes or practices to build off of. Isn’t that great? Now I get to focus on bite-sized learning, as I discussed in my Refresh Your Talent Menu blog, and to ensure that each piece we decide is intentionally interconnected. I am currently partnering with one of my peers to repackage some of our customer service training as coaching training. After all, asking questions, listening, and staying calm under pressure are key skills for working with customers and employees. And by using the same concepts in both scenarios we hope to ingrain them in our leaders.

Scope: Look through a new lens. Who decides what is in scope or out of scope for a project? Very rarely is it the end user. Lets say, for example, that your company is working on an acquisition. Your hands are more than full working on onboarding and talent assessment for the new employees. You don’t have the time or resources to address what is happening in payroll. You are in HR. But ask the average employee what HR does and they are likely things like payroll and benefits – because those are transactions that impact them in a tangible way, on a regular basis, and they don’t care what function that department sits in. So before deciding what is in scope, take a step back and think about what your employees are looking for. Design your project plans around that.

Think about Apollo 13. The constraints faced by that team were unimaginable – NASA had precious few hours to figure out how to return a severely damaged aircraft to earth using only the supplies the astronauts had on board. But everyone came together and came up with an ingenious, lifesaving solution. So how can you accelerate your productivity by embracing your constraints? Take a fresh look at the time, resources, and scope elements of your current project.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Constraints drive innovation. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”

The 3 Rs: Reading, Running, and Relaxing

Setting-Goals

It’s that time of year again. Red leaves. Orange pumpkin spice latte. Yellow school buses. All signs of fall and the return to school. Every year I feel both jealous of and motivated by these students. While most of us can’t lobby our workplaces for the summer off, we too can take this opportunity to focus on learning, committing to goals, and trying new routines.  I firmly believe that to be your best self at work you have to take time for yourself, and that setting up personal routines can help your professional productivity. I encourage you to explore the 3Rs this season: reading, running, and relaxing.

Reading. How do you stay current on your industry? On your competitors? On leadership? These “important but not urgent” questions often get buried under our emails and meetings. So here’s your chance to push reset and find some time for yourself. Drive time is a great time to listen to an audio book. Pop in some earbuds and listen to one while walking, cleaning, or at lunch. Here’s another idea- spend 20 minutes less on email and instead devote that time to learning. In an earlier post Refresh Your Training Menu, I cited LinkedIn and Flipboard as great sources for blogs and Get Abstracts as a site that synthesizes business and leadership books in to 3-5 page summaries. That 20 minute investment can pay big dividends in your career and is a great habit to try on this season.

Running. Or Walking, biking, dancing– any kind of heart pumping moving. As this Harvard Business Review article states, regular exercise is a part of your job, if in your job you are expected to concentrate, remember information, and be creative. There is a direct link between exercise and work performance – and we all want to be great at our job, right? Start with 30 minutes three times a week. Determine if morning, lunch, or evenings works best for your schedule and your body.  Set a goal. Then post that goal so your friends and family will ask about your progress. The alternative is to commit to processing information slowly, forgetting details, and staying stagnant. So don’t look at exercise as taking away from your job – see it as part of your job.

Relaxing. This is a habit I am still working on. I am the yoga student who starts planning her grocery list mid downward dog, and whose mind constantly wanders during meditation. But I know the importance of stillness and aspire to move from mind full to mindful. The app Buddhify really appeals to me- it has a collection of short meditation and many of them are designed to do while you are doing something else- brilliant! I also like the Do Yoga With Me website that offers free yoga lessons at all levels and multiple lengths. Another recent challenge in our house? Shutting off our phone after 8:00– and instead linking in with the faces in the room vs. on the web. Find that space where you can reconnect with yourself and what really matters to you. It will lower your blood pressure and help you center.

As CS Lewis said, we are never to old to set another goal or dream another dream.  We are all busy, but just one less TV show, meeting, or Words with Friends fest will pay huge results. This fall, lets all be students of the 3Rs and commit to reading, running and relaxing.