Lean Gardening

The photo above was from my first roll of home-processed color film last year, and I’m looking forward to the summer this year.  Even though this was a mild winter, I am realizing as the first good weekends of spring roll around that once again i struggled with some version of Seasonal Affective Disorder – the Winter Blues.   I have got to find a way to combat the feelings of “Blah!” during the winter.

As i wrote about last June, this happens to me every year.   Common themes:  I take less photos, I’m less active, I drink too much and watch soccer, movies, and listen to music instead of being active.   But after a couple weekends of being outside and working in the yard and playing golf, I’m feeling refreshed and motivated.   Ironic that it happened right around Easter, the season of renewal and rebirth.

One of the things that has me outside this spring is another attempt at gardening.  The first couple years we lived in this house, we planted tomatoes and peppers, but the chipmunks and deer enjoyed them more than we did.  The deer also devoured most of our ornamental flowers as well, including deer-resistant plants like rhododendron.

Last year, I was finally able to deter the deer in the yard, and I made progress on the chipmunks and will continue that battle, so I decided to give gardening another attempt.  A deciding factor was the price of certain greens last year.  For example, I really like rapini, or broccoli rabe.  It was selling for $7 a bunch last year, and the quality of the flavor was disappointing.  So why not try to grow my own?

I didn’t want to put in a garden plot, I don’t have a roto-tiller, and I don’t like pulling weeds.  So I started applying my Lean process-improvement mindset to having a vegetable garden.  I remembered having a book years ago called Square Foot Gardening, so I tracked down a new copy.  After reading through the book, I believe that Square Foot Gardening, or SFG, could accurately be described as Lean Gardening.

SFG uses 80% less space, has little to no weeds, and allows you to grow a lot more types of plants in that smaller space.    As Mrs. Outspoken and I started discussing what plants we’d want to grow, I had a very long list of candidates.  So we ranked them from 1 to 5 in priority, and planted all of the top priority plants, either hers or mine (otherwise, beets and radishes wouldn’t have made the cut), and then planted the top scoring remaining plants.

When all was said and done, there were 31 seed packets on the dining room table.   “You’re never going to have room for all those” was the Mrs.’ response.  But that’s the amazing thing about SFG – not only do we have the space, I already had it planned out, and we probably have 2-3 years worth of seeds.

IMG_1228
My dining room – in garden planting mode

We installed one  3’x6’x14″ and two 2’x12’x7″ raised beds.  Those beds provide us the opportunity to plant 66 squares, with each square possible of providing three harvests per year.  So after laying out our plants, I had room for eight additional plants, which will be comprised of tomatoes and herbs.   Here’s what our garden layout looks like on paper:

IMG_1229

 

I planted 14 squares in a little over an hour last Sunday morning, and five more on Monday night.  Of those 14, I think 11 have a second square to be planted, but I want to stagger those so the crops ripen in a staggered fashion.  For example, there are 16 carrots in a square, and I plan to plant 3 varieties of carrots, 2 squares each.   If I planted all of them this weekend, they would likely all be ready around the same time.   I wouldn’t need 96 carrots at one time!

IMG_1234
Our Raised beds for Square Foot Gardening

This is also very Lean in it’s concept: produce only what is needed when it is needed.  So I planted three squares to start with, but then will plant one square per week of carrots for the next three weeks.  Even that may be too much, but I’m just in my first “do” phase of this round of gardening.  I’ll check the results and make adjustments as needed.

Likewise, I’ll be staggering the beets.  I’m the only one who eats them, so having 4 squares of beets, each producing 9 beets, becoming ready for harvest simultaneously makes no sense.  But this is how we’ve traditionally planted gardens.   Part of that is probably because way back in the old days, people canned all the excess.   So having waves of crops ripen actually smoothed out the canning process, because you needed some volume of veggies to can, and also, everything was getting canned, so it probably made sense to just keep the harvest flowing to maximize the canning process.

An interesting part of this was that it seems like the hardest and most time consuming aspect so far – other than perhaps deciding what to plant and where to buy my seeds (the whole “Plan” part of Lean and PDCA), was the actual process of preparing the soil.   I also find this interesting, because in real life we often don’t spend enough time preparing the soil – preparing for change and growth.  In Lean, this is often referred to as “nemawashi” – which literally translates to “going around the roots”, as in placing new soil around the roots of a plant to prepare it for transplanting.  Mixing up 42 cubic feet of peat moss, vermiculite, and 5 different compost blends took me all of three hours, and a lot of sweat.  That’s after probably 5-6 hours of rounding up all the ingredients.

The soil mixture I was using – which is defined in the SFG book as “Mel’s Mix” – is apparently so uncommon in my area, that I had to special order the vermiculite.  Anywhere I asked for it, when the asked me what i was doing, tried to steer me to “something that will work great” – but they didn’t stock what i wanted.  Lack of demand or too large of a minimum buy (which translates back to lack of demand) was the primary reason.

So I’ve spent weeks planning and thinking about how to do this project.  Probably a couple days  actually building the foundations of the garden – the raised beds and the soil.  I’ll spend what appears to be hours planting seeds.  Then I’ll spend probably an equal amount of hours building trellises to support the plants once they’re growing.  All to reap a semi-continuous harvest of organic vegetables well into fall – if all goes well.

Five days later: We had our first sprouts!  Radishes, Rapini, Mizuna, and Arugula all started pushing through!  It may sound silly, but I was really excited to see my first “crops” start growing!

IMG_1235

And the great thing is – most of the hard work done to lay the foundation this year makes next spring’s garden even easier.  I see applying Lean in my workplace, and in my life, in much the same light.  Do the hard work up front, do it right, and there’s a steady stream of rewards.  Prepare the soil, then as the work progresses, build a support system to continue the growth.  After all the hard work, you just need to keep up with the harvest and sustain, at least until it’s time to make another improvement.

So do the right thing early in the process; do the hard work, and prepare the soil.  Have the tough discussions, and don’t settle for the easier, more readily available alternatives.  Be different, and dare to be great.

In work, life, and love, getting your hands dirty and preparing the soil will usually yield a bountiful harvest.

 

 

March Vinyl Acquisitions

I actually made it a month without buying any records!  Of course, I was recovering from illness and working through the 2,000 records I bought in January, plus it was the shortest month of the year, and I had a couple business trips (photos from one coming soon!), but the fact remains I didn’t buy any vinyl in February.  I had worked down the January acquisitions to less than 100 records to process, which included clearing one of my two shelves of about 150 records that were “in queue” to be listened to as well.  So overall, a good month for working through my acquisitions, and I felt like I had reclaimed much of my available space in the man cave.

I made up for it in the last 8 days, buying about 825 records, of which about 75 are “junk”. Of the 750 I like, about 475 are mostly Motown and soul, and the other 275 are classic rock.  They’re currently sitting in 9 crates and boxes, so all of that available space I created in February is about gone.

IMG_1195
9 boxes of vinyl remaining after sorting out the “junk”…

The group of classic rock is fairly spectacular in my opinion.    It came after the Motown collection, and Mrs. Outspoken’s response after I received the call about the collection was “Really?   You have all these albums yet to clean and listen to, and you’re buying more?!?!”

Yep.  I gotta buy when the opportunity arises.  I went 7 weeks or so with nothing, so buying 2 collections in a little over a week might seem a little over the top, but both were great deals at under $1 per album.

So what makes the collection of rock so great?  How about 4 Zeppelin, 4 Pink Floyd, 4 David Bowie, 4 Allman Brothers, 3 Beatles, and 20 Bob Dylan for starters?    Other artists with multiple albums include Van Morrison, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Steeley Dan, Springsteen, Foreigner, Rush, Yes, Kansas, CCR, ELP, Grand Funk, Heart, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, the Cars, and Aerosmith.  It’s basically a compendium of 70’s and 80’s radio rock music, including some of the softer folk-ish tunes, with none of the pop-disco stuff.

Then there’s some oddball stuff too – stuff I just don’t see. The Butterfield Blues Band, Steve Hackett, Kate Bush, Patti Smith,  Nektar, and some Christian praise stuff by 2nd Book of Acts and Phil Keaggy.  Honestly, I could probably enjoy listening to about 80% of this collection, and if it comprised my entire collection, it would represent probably 60% of what I’d want to have.  Basically, the guy who assembled this collection and I had similar tastes.  🙂

One of my favorite finds so far has been an album from The Monroes.  It’s an EP, only 5 songs, and it was their only album.  I really enjoy it.  Definitely and 80’s sound, but 80’s guitar, not the electronic stuff.

IMG_1205

It was missing a lot of Beatles (but hey, it has Abbey Road), Hendrix, and some of the psychedelic stuff I like, but overall, it’s a great collection in my opinion.   I’m sure I’ll find enough titles to cover my costs, but I think I’ll be keeping a much higher percentage of this collection than normal.

Both of these collections came through my previous contacts; the albums are finding me at times!  It’s also part of why i got the deal I did on them.  I’ve treated the sellers fairly, and they’re active collectors, so I was in a way helping each of them move a large quantity of records quickly.    I also agree to buy them all, and don’t get into cherry picking the collection  or nit-picking on the condition of certain albums.

The way you treat people is important in life and business.  Over the course of my career, I’ve always been focused on process improvement; how to find ways to do “it” better.  It hasn’t really mattered what “it” is, as the basic problem solving methodology of Lean works anywhere (at least I’ve yet to find an application where it doesn’t).  While some people call me an efficiency expert, I look at it more as improving the overall performance of the teams and systems of an organization.    We change the system to change the result, and coach the people through the systemic changes.  But it’s about more than results; for the changes to stick, it’s also about behaviors.

As we change the behaviors and systems to produce different results, we start changing beliefs within the organization.  What happens when the shared beliefs of an organization change?  One, we change the future of that organization.  Two, we have created a culture change.

How’s all this tie into me buying arguably too much vinyl?  Honestly, I wasn’t sure at first.  But for one, I buy with no fear of spending too much, because I have a several year track record of all my hobbies actually producing money.  I have the tax returns to prove it.  🙂 Plus, I’m spending cash that has come from the hobbies.

Therefore, I believe, as does Mrs. Outspoken – even if not as completely as me – that I’m not being irresponsible or delaying our objectives, because in the end I actually contribute towards those shared  objectives from my hobbies.   And I believe I’ve done so buy dealing appropriately with others, and the evidence of that is the number of opportunities that tend to find me.

Second, since there was so much David Bowie in the one collection, would be this album:

IMG_1202

A line from the song Changes is perhaps the foundation of the best inspiration I can think to provide today:

“These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

No matter what it is you’re trying to do or achieve, there are often people who will try to hold you back, make you feel like it’s too hard, not worth it, or even impossible.  Don’t listen to them.  Act responsibly and with intention, treat people with dignity and respect,  but be courageous at the same time.   You can’t do what everyone else thinks you should do and still achieve the greatness that is within you.

Great things aren’t done by being average.

 

 

Small changes

I wrapped up 2016 on vacation from work, but unfortunately I’ve also been battling a cold almost the entire time.  Since December 27th, cold-induced bronchitis has limited my activity.  My wife jokes that every time I take a winter vacation I get sick, and it’s hard for me to remember one when I didn’t.  Last year. I worked through Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks, and I didn’t get sick.  This year, I’ve been sick twice: After Thanksgiving, and after Christmas.

So while that may seem convincing to some, I think there’s another factor:  consumption of alcohol. Both of these rounds of colds were preceded by drinking a little too much the night before.   There seems to be some research to suggest heavy drinking can affect our immune system’s ability to fight off infections for at least 24 hours.   Maybe it’s common sense that I just had never considered…

After I factor in the expense of drinking, I have decided I’m going to curtail my drinking for both health and financial reasons.  There’s probably at least $1,500 annually (and maybe upwards of $2,500 when I consider all spending) I can cut from my spending on alcohol, which when I think about it is a lot of alcohol.  I have slightly expensive tastes, though, so it’s not like I’m pounding cases of Milwaukee’s Best every weekend.  Of the things I buy, bourbon is $30-$50+ a bottle, craft beer is $30-$60 a case, and wine is about $10-$12 a bottle.  And drinking at a restaurant or bar is just crazy expensive, even the few times a month I do that.

So since I’ve spent a majority of the Winter Holidays not drinking,  I might as well continue the trend.  I think it will have a very positive impact on my overall life.  Having a drink after work or with dinner often relaxes me and leads to an evening of not getting stuff done.  If I’m going to ramp up the side hustles this year, I’ll need to be more productive in the evenings.

I think the benefits from reducing alcohol consumption may also carry over into my real job as well.  I’ll be more active, which should improve my overall health.  More activity in the evenings should lead to better sleep, which will make me better rested for the next day.  It might even lead to more “real” exercise.   So overall, it seems like a good idea, and deep down I’ve been feeling like I drink a little too much some nights, so it’s time for a change.

It’s less a New Year’s resolution and more of a product of having  11 days to think about ways to improve my life and the ability to realize our financial goals.   Regarding the finances, it’s not about the money directly, but more about what the money represents: freedom.  If reducing my alcohol consumption affects that realization of freedom on so many levels, it would be foolish not to change my ways.

In December, I added a Habit Tracker to my notebook.  It looks like this:

img_1007
December Habit Tracker

I found it useful and enlightening, and I plan to continue it’s use over the coming months.  If you’re working on creating some new habits in 2017, perhaps a similar tool will be helpful to you.  Whether it’s in a notebook, on a piece of paper posted on your wall, or maybe even on a chalkboard in your kitchen, visually tracking your adherence to your targeted habits can be very beneficial in cementing the change.

Whatever you choose to use, find a visual way to track your goals and progress towards them.  If you do, I bet you’ll find you hit more of your targets in 2017.

 

 

You Need More Smoke Detectors: Countering Firefighting with Leader Standard Work

This is primarily what I do for a living:  find better, safer ways to do any particular job.  I’ve been in a few industries, and honestly so far I enjoy healthcare more than any of them. It probably has more to do with the team and the organization, but making an impact directly on people’s lives is part of the equation as well.  Here’s my latest article on LEI’s Lean Post:

Excessive firefighting is a major threat to lean transformations – it may seem easier to time-strapped managers, but it does nothing to foster a culture of problem-solving thinkers. Aaron Hunt of Washington Health System knows this all too well, and now shares his organization’s favorite firefighting deterrent.

Source: You Need More Smoke Detectors: Countering Firefighting with Leader Standard Work

Creating a Future State Value Stream Map

 

Lean.org VSM example
Lean.org VSM example

Last week I was talking to a colleague of mine preparing her for another first in her lean facilitation journey:  creating a future state Value Stream Map to start a second wave of improvements.  The team had done a VSM event in March and already made improvements, and now wanted to create a new future state VSM to drive new kaizens.

The process was a systems engineering process and covered roughly 70,000 engineering hours if I remember correctly, so it wasn’t a clean and simple map like the example above.  It has approximately 75 steps and many parallel paths and rework loops, even after the initial improvements.

Since we were on different continents at the time, I couldn’t there to support her in her event, so I created a basic outline that she found very helpful.  I do this for most tasks I undertake that require some thought and a specific outcome.  Even if you’re not familiar with VSM techniques, I encourage you to start outlining the work you do – you might find it makes it easier to break into smaller chunks, easier to get started, and then easier to see progress.  All of which should help you get more done with less effort as well as having less things partially completed.

Here’s the outline I shared, with some modifications to make it a little more generic.  She found it very helpful, and their future state map was a big step forward in eliminating parallel activities and moving closer to creating true flow in their engineering organization.

Future State VSM key points

  • Lay out the team expectations at the beginning.
  • Start with a quick review of current state.
  • Work with the team to create a clear problem statement.  Make sure everyone agrees on the objective and what problem you’re trying to solve.  This might be very easy, but sometimes it’s not.
  • Because you have such a large process, Select an area of the process to focus on to start with the Future State.  Ideally the area where the most rework is generated and/or the most effort is spent on a project.
    • Ask the following types of questions:
      • In places where we have parallel processes, what could we do to eliminate the parallel paths
        • IF not possible, how can we increase the frequency of verification between paths?
      • For process steps that are long duration, how could we break it into smaller steps to have people doing smaller chunks of work (smaller batches of hours) and incorporate verification earlier in the process?
        • How could we document a standard approach for each chunk of work?
      • How could we test and verify work in smaller increments?  Instead of waiting until everything is done (batch processing), could we test after every 80 hours of development?  Every month? (flow)
    • These types of leading questions should lead you to many more discussions, but the goal is to deliver designs faster and more accurately. And often the first response is “we can’t do that because….”
    • Whenever you hear “We can’t do that because…”, dig deeper.  Ask how it could be done; deepen the understanding of the collective team.  Focus on “We could do that if….”; these are the sources of significant improvements. 
  • As you start getting a future state, or “to-be” process drafted, start asking “What improvements or changes do we need to make to get from where we are today to this future state?”  Those become kaizen bursts on your future state map, and form the basis of your action plan.
    • Be careful here.  Make sure you use  something that resembles the “5 why” approach.
      • For example –   SRS/Requirements Management should be an improvement that comes up during the discussion.
        • But saying “we have the new process so we do not need to worry about it anymore; we will apply the new process” is not the answer for this event.
          • You must define the specific steps that need to happen
          • Often asking “What would prevent this from succeeding or being applied properly?” helps you identify the actions.
          • So for RM – when they say – “we are applying the new RM process”, you ask, “What could prevent us from implementing RM?” or “What problems do we anticipate as we apply the new process?”
            • Then you develop actions to solve those problems or mitigate the risk
            • If they say there is no risk, no problems, expect it to be done in 30 days or less.
              • Then if there are problems, they will explain why it can’t be done in 30 days.
            • Don’t hesitate to use a fishbone/Ishikawa diagram if you identify challenging problems, but don’t spend hours on one topic; there’s enough other easy ideas or “low-hanging fruit” to deal with right now.
            • Once you have the improvement ideas, identify the amount of improvement it will give you.
              • Work in percentages of cycle time and rework hours.
              • It is easier to get it during the event, and someone is going to want to know the answer anyway.
    • Have Fun.  These second, third, and later visits to the same process are when the organization starts to transform.

Are you Solving the Wrong Problems?

There are many ways to solve a problem - photo from Tokyo, Japan, 2011
There are many ways to solve a problem – Tokyo, Japan, 2011

I took the above photo after arriving by boat to this location in Tokyo.  Without counting the car or subway, I can see four modes of transportation to choose from in addition to the one was I was already using.  A rickshaw (which I now wish I would have taken), the bus, a bicycle, or good old walking.  Most likely, I could catch a cab  or find a subway station nearby, too.  So I have 6 fairly obvious options, most of which are likely to work, maybe at different speeds and different costs, but all will get the job done.

Sometimes this is where companies struggle to take the next step.  They have the way they currently do something, and they have 4 or 6 ideas on how they might make a change and move forward.  But they get stuck on trying to find the perfect solution and don’t do anything as a result.   In our above example, maybe they worry walking will make them too tired; that the rickshaw is too expensive; the bus is too dirty.  Maybe they wonder if they can find a subway station or cab in this part of town.

All might be valid concerns, but one thing is clear – we can’t stay on the boat that brought us to here if we want to get where we’re going!  Why?  Because it travels on the river and the temple we want to go to is almost a mile inland.   We need to do something – we need to make a decision – if we’re going to leave our current position.

Other companies struggle because of what they can’t do as an improvement.  Staying with our Tokyo transportation issue, maybe they wanted to take one of those Segway machines; maybe they hoped for a sightseeing bus.  Perhaps air travel by helicopter or hot air balloon was the dream so they could really see the landscape of the city.  But none of those are options.  Some companies will again do nothing because what they hoped could be done isn’t possible.

These are the scenarios that cause me great frustration and pain in business.  An organization has an idea for a change, does most of the work, and then doesn’t implement it, or even try it!  Often, as I’m asked to help find ways to improve, the old idea is brought up.  After 20 years, I am always surprised when it happens.  Often, I’m at a loss for words and I always need to vent to a confidant afterwards.

Perhaps it’s fear of failure.  Maybe it’s fear of missing out on a better idea.  It could be just pure lack of confidence or leadership that doesn’t want to do their job by addressing change management.  Whatever it is, it can kill a company.  Doing all the work for no payoff costs the company real money but it also erodes employee morale, and it’s this loss of equity in Human Capital that causes me the pain.

When it comes down to it, do I really care if the solution works or not?  Once it’s fully developed and ready for implementation?  Well, yeah, I do; but it’s more important for the team to try their solution.  If it doesn’t work, we get back on our old boat and go back where we came from and try again.  But almost always, it will be better.   Maybe not perfect, but better than before.

Which reminds me of an old proverb:

Don’t let perfect stand in the way of good.

I understand that originally Voltaire wrote that “perfect is the enemy of good”.  In the effort to make improvements, perfect can be the enemy for a couple reasons.  The first is the scenario above of creating inaction.  But that is compounded when the inaction is in a critical area of the business.  Best case, it leads to spending finite resources solving a problem that has already been solved. When that becomes clear, it’s frustrating to all involved – but hopefully easier to move forward quickly.

Worst case, it leads to market erosion, loss of profits, and eventual loss of the business – all things which will try to be solved (usually from a financial perspective with unfavorable consequences) when they are really just the effects of inaction.   So once again the company is solving the wrong problem.

Don’t solve the wrong problems in your business or your life.  If you have an idea for improvement try it!     Even better, empower your employees to try their ideas!  Crazy, I know.  Don’t make it too complex.  Use PDCA, understand the effects of the change, and add to your  and the organization’s knowledge.  Make continual, incremental improvements.  Be happy with small, quick wins, and eventually you will start seeing the big wins that lead to true transformational change.

Time Management – by the hour or by the job?

IMG_3069[1]

We wanted to get our house cleaning done before leaving on vacation.  It’s actually really nice to come home to a clean house – it just feels so much more relaxing, especially after a long trip home.  To get this done, I used the time I normally set aside for writing each morning, so I knew how much time I had each day to do housework.

First, let me say this: cleaning house can be hard work.  At the end of each period of house cleaning I was sweating almost as much as I was earlier in the week when I was moving gravel and top soil in the yard!  Anybody who stays at home and keeps the house clean and the kids in line truly works hard.  But as I was wrapping up day one, I started thinking about how I managed the task of getting the house clean and the timeframe I had to complete it.  When I compared my housecleaning style to my wife’s, I  realized there are two distinctly different time and task management styles we use, and I see the same types in business.  I’m sure there are many other ways too, but I’ll compare the two styles we use, which I’ll call managing “by the hour” and “by the job.”

So first is how I manage tasks, both at home and at work.  When I have a task to do, I try to break it down into components.  Some people call this “eating the elephant.”  Why?  The old question or joke about big tasks is “How do you eat an elephant?”  And the answer:  “One bite at a time.”  For the task of cleaning the house, I break it down by rooms.  Next, I sequence the tasks, so for house cleaning I think about which order to do them in.  Then I look for commonalities.  For example, when running the vacuum, I do all the rooms of a group at once, making sure I pick a central location for the electrical outlet to allow this.  I do the same with cleaning toilets and windows.

Now I have a strategy, of sorts.  I wouldn’t treat a business problem any differently than this.  But next comes the time management part.  I knew I had three blocks of time at 90 minutes each.  I estimated what I thought I could get done at each block. Drawing from my sequence of activities, I wanted to get through to the point of having the Master Bedroom cleaned on day 1, The Dining Room on Day 2, and the Den on Day 3.

So what does this have to do with time management?  Well, now that I have tasks, a sequence, and expected completion deadlines, I can effectively manage my time.  On day one, I start cleaning and I push hard, working at a steady pace with no interruptions.  I work up a sweat – especially in bathrooms and vacuuming steps.  For me, music helps.  Since my mind wanders, when an idea pops into my head, I jot it down and keep working.  This blog post was one of those periods of mental spacewalking.  Grabbing a roll of black & white film to shoot some old buildings in my hometown was another.  But I try to stay focused on the tasks at hand.

The key difference is this: I don’t stop when I get to the end of the task I wanted to complete.  I stop at the end of the time allotted.  I actually completed my housework in two 90 minute sessions.  I then used the third session to go to the grocery store and the bank prior to leaving on vacation – both tasks my wife had planned on doing.  This is “managing by the hour.”

The other way I see is managing time “by the task”.  Often, when managing by the task, the planning steps are the same, and they probably should be.  But the difference is in the time management.  My wife will keep working util she gets the expected task complete.  She doesn’t seem to feel the pressure of time.  She also has no problem working longer, and she’ll delay following tasks if necessary to get the current tasks complete.  I see this in business too.  Development teams will keep working on one task and let others slide, with seemingly no concern over the time it is taking.

I think in some ways it comes down to the mental payback of the work.  Just like some people get paid by the hour and others get paid by the job for their wages, I think some people gain satisfaction for completing a specific, expected group of tasks.  Only when it’s all done can they get paid mentally for their work.  Only at completion do they get the reward of feeling like a job was well done.  They need to get paid by the job.

Others are fine getting paid by the hour.  For my housecleaning, it was “hey, I got two extra rooms done today.”  When moving gravel, even though the pile wasn’t gone, I could say “I moved about 3/4 ton of gravel tonight”.  For my wife it was “when are you going to finish moving that gravel?”  It’s almost like she felt bad for me – working that hard and not getting it finished.  But for me, my 2 hours was up, and it was time to move onto the next task.

Having this self-imposed time constraint also helps me in a couple few ways from a productivity standpoint.  First, I don’t let the task expand to the allotted time – a.k.a. Parkinson’s Law.  In manufacturing I call this “pacing your work.”  My Pap would call it “lolly-gagging”.  He’d say “Quit’cher lolly-gagging and get that work done!”  or “Don’t be lolly-gagging on your way home.”  If I give myself a day to get housework done, it can take me all day – and it still isn’t finished.  Just like if I give a team a week to get something done, I don’t usually see it until the end of that time period.

The second way it helps is that having the time constraint often helps me be more efficient and effective.  I get focused on the one task, and can pull my attention back to that task for the remaining time allotment once I get distracted.  Plus, I get the bonus mental break when I complete a task early.  I rarely jump onto the next task.  If I’ve got 5 or 15 minutes left, I do something I enjoy.  It’s the only way I know to effectively multi-task: Single-task in several different chunks each day.

I guess there’s a third benefit too.  Every day, I can reflect and see what I got done; what I created.  Even if nothing was fully completed, I can get satisfaction out of the tasks that I worked on for each segment of the day.  Which leads to a fourth benefit – “backburner creativity”.  Which is probably an entire blog post in itself, but basically it’s why some people get good ideas a weird times, like solving a problem in a dream or in the shower.

Because of the possible psychology of the mental payback stuff, I don’t know if people can change the way they derive satisfaction from task completion.  But I think it’s worth a try.  Every day, I get little internal boosts of motivation by looking at work completed.  For those that think “by the job”, they can go days or weeks without feeling like they “got anything done”.  I think by changing their mindset to focus on “eating the elephant” and then remembering to look at the empty plate from each meal, they might get a little more satisfaction from their efforts.

Give it a try some day – even on something as routine as your chores around the house.  You might find it works for you and actually find extra time in your day, and eventually have less things you didn’t have time to do.