Ponderances of Steve

August 5, 2012

12 Most Must-Have Free Utilities for Wrangling Text Files

Filed under: gtd,Reviews,Writing — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:14 pm

I love text files. Unlike an MS Word document, text files contain no formatting, which makes them smaller, easier to search and faster to open. They commonly have a file extension of .txt or .log. (Click here to show file extensions on your system.) I use text files all the time. For writing, for lists, links and reminders, for activity logs, and on rare occasions, for programming. I create them, search for them, manipulate them and play with them. While Windows does allow for text files, it sort of treats them like neglected step children, used mostly for batch files (small programs), log files and ReadMe files. Windows prefers to think about proprietary files, like Word and Excel documents. File search in Windows 7 will only look in approved directories. Well, I enter all my articles in a text editor (not a Word Processor). I save files in funny places and I search for them often. I needed better tools than Windows offered and I found them. Most are small, brilliant and portable, (no-install, just unzip and use, with no menu items or registry changes). Any one of these could lighten your workload. So jump right in and give one a try. You’ll find help pages on most of them. At the very least, install Win32pad and Everything file finder, both suitable for newbies. The following are listed in order of increasing geekiness.

1. Win32pad http://www.gena01.com/win32pad/download.shtml

Win32pad is a must-have replacement for the crippled Windows text editor, Notepad. Killer features include: a) full compatibility with Notepad; b) Exit on Esc; c) Auto-indent; d) highlighted, clickable links on well-formed URLs, like http:// and file:// ; and e) File Change alert (when another program modifies an open file, aka Dirty File notification).

2. Everything http://www.voidtools.com/

Everything is a file finder. Search Google for “everything” and you will find the coolest file finder in the world. Everything, by VoidTools, offers AJAX-like find capacity. (Search results populate down as you type.) But unlike the Find box in the Windows Start menu, Everything can find every single occurrence of files on your computer. There are options to include or exclude certain files, file types or whole folders. Search Results include: Name, Path, Size, Date Modified. No one who uses it can ever go back to plain old Windows Search.

3.  BareGrep http://www.baremetalsoft.com/

Baregrep lets you search inside all your files for a word or phrase found inside any of them. It then returns not only the filenames, but also shows you the word in context of each line in which it was found. Thus you see how many times that word showed up in each document. While this works best for text files, it works adequately for Word documents if you just disregard the formatting characters found at the beginning of each search result line. This makes it easy to find stuff when you don’t remember what a file is called. You can think of BareGrep as the Everything tool for looking inside of files for words and phrases.

While Windows offers something similar in its Search box, you have to open every file it offers to see how the phrase shows up in the context of the file. With BareGrep, it’s right there in the Results panel. But what makes it amazing is that it allows you to search on powerful text patterns called Regular Expressions (RegEx). With them, you can search for all lines in all files that contain, for example, a date in any format (12/02/99, 99.12.02, 2 December 1999, or 2 Dec 1999). From the Search results, you can double click on any line to open the source file. While visiting their site, be sure to click on Regex Reference, or learn about Regular Expressions online. Unbelievably useful! (For geeks, this is a GUI version of the grep command.)

BareGrep TIP: While the configuration settings are not sticky (remembered in next session), you can set some command line options in a Windows shortcut to the program, things like default directory. For you geeks, here’s the Target field of my BareGrep shortcut: “D:\Program Files\Util\baregrep.exe” -i -d D:\ ” a ” *.txt This says to launch BareGrep with Ignore Case, Default Folder of D:\, Files type of *.txt and default Text search of ” a “. As I type in new text, it automatically begins to search.

4.  xPlorer2 http://zabkat.com/x2lite.htm

xPlorer2 is a dual-pane, multi-tab file manager to replace the more confusing Windows Explorer. It’s a joy to use and feature-rich. I normally keep two panes open, with 3-5 tabs each. While the Lite version uses the Windows Search command by default, you can change that in Advanced Options or use the better Find utility that comes in the Pro version. There is extensive Help, including great screencasts. A file manager is used to view and play with your files. You can run program installers that you have downloaded or copy files from one folder to another. Or you can rename and move the file attachments from an email that were stored in your Download folder.

xPlorer2 TIP: Check the option in Help / How do I? to see tutorials, but be sure to uncheck it when done. When you click on Help / Contents, you get prompted to download the PDF Help file, xplorer² PDF manual. Unzip it and place it in the program directory of xPlorer2. Unfortunately, the download page for the xplorer2 Help file is confusing. Be sure to click on the top right Download link. Configuration TIP: Be sure to check the following: Tools / Options / Window / Tree / Keep Synchronized with folder in active view pane. For a simpler file manager, more like Windows Explorer in XP, you might prefer CubicExplorer, a nice single-pane file manager with tabs. I found some of the configurations to be confusing. But it’s real easy to use. And the tabs are great.

5.  PNotes http://pnotes.sourceforge.net/index.php

Ever need to write down a quick note while working on other things? PNotes is a sticky note utility, allowing you to create lots of notes on your screen, which can later be dismissed or saved at TXT or RTF files. You can even launch timed reminder notes. I use this program to pop up at regular intervals (15 min) to ask me, “What are you working on? Is there a higher priority?”. My answer goes into my ActivityLog.txt file. I open the file directly from the note by double clicking on the space that follows this line file://D:\dat\ActivityLog.txt. You can set this file to anything you want, as long as there are no spaces in the filepath. Clickable http:// and file:// links (like those in Win32pad) are great in timed reminder notes. Alternatively you could use Stickies which is much like Pnotes.

6.  TyperTask http://www.vtaskstudio.com/support.php

TyperTask is a portable*, tiny (53k) “text expander” utility, to replace repetitive cut and pastes. It works like AutoCorrect or AutoText in MS Word. But it works in every browser, text editor and text box in Windows. The replacement text is triggered by assignment to either configurable keywords or hotkeys. So, you would set a keyword to autoexpand into some block of plain text, such as a signature line in an email. It comes with an adequate Help file. Configuring it is a snap. Alternatively, you might like HotkeyP  HotkeyP is a tiny, portable hotkey manager. Assign a keyboard shortcut or mouse shortcut to any executable file, block of text, document, folder or web page. Harder to configure with poor help file, but worth it. I set my Right-Left mouse clicks (rocker action) to go Back in any browser. And Left-Right to go Forward.

TyperTask TIP: make sure you choose unique keywords, ones you don’t normally use while typing. TyperTask compares to much larger progams, like PhraseExpress (4 mb) and ActiveWords (22 mb) which have the added feature of saving formatting. *TyperTask TIP: As a “portable application,” you will need to unzip this file folder into some trusted place, like a newly created folder called Utils. Create Utils under the Programs folder and unzip this file into there, resulting in this: C:\program files\Utils\TyperTask

Note: A regular (non-portable) program comes with its own installer, which when run, puts the files in the correct folder and places entries into the Start menu and registry. A portable program can be installed onto a USB or external drive, which can then be used on any machine. Or it can be put into any folder of your computer. It makes no changes to the system registry.

7.  Keynote NF http://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/

Keynote NF is the evolution of Tranglos Keynote (by Marek Jedlinski), with New Features. It’s a hierarchical note taking utility with RTF formatting, much like an editor. It’s amazing for those who think in hierarchies. Killer features include: a) Tie any note to an external txt file. b) Clipboard Capture feature that, when enabled, auto appends to the active note every single time you copy something to the clipboard with Ctrl-C, without ever having to change apps and hit Paste. It’s great for copying lots of text clips or quotes from web pages. For a bit simpler interface, try TreePad Lite  Or you might prefer a webapp for this, like EverNote.com  but it’s slower.

8.  Notepad2 http://code.google.com/p/notepad2-mod/

Notepad2 is another Notepad replacement, available in several different flavors, but geared more towards programmers. This version includes these options: Exit on Esc, File Change Notification and Bookmarks (for jumping back and forth to different locations in the file). For programmers it includes: Syntax Highlighting (color coded keywords in program files), Code-Folding, Highlight Current Line, View Line numbers and Regular Expression search. Plus it will highlight all occurrences of any selected phrase. I love that. Unfortunately, it does not support clickable URLs. That would be a deal breaker, unless I happen to need the bookmarks, which are fun. Choose the first download (.exe) for a regular Windows installer, or use the .zip file for a portable, hand install. (Drop it in your Utils directory and create a shortcut to it.) Then spend some time configuring the Settings and View menus.

9.  Notepad++ http://notepad-plus-plus.org/

Notepad++ is a great programmers editor, but you don’t need to be a programmer to benefit from it. While it does make writing computer code a joy (compared to Notepad), writers will appreciate its many features: a) MDI tabbed editor for multiple documents and session management; b) Regular Expression (RegEx) Search & Replace; c) Select any word and all occurrences of that word are highlighted; and d) Column Mode Select allows for Block Cut & Paste. Say you want to cut all the http:// off the front of each line in the file. Or paste a preface to each line, all at once. Hard to explain without seeing it. There are countless text manipulation commands, like Convert Case and Join Lines, and lots of Plugins. And the program is in constant development. Alternatively you might like PSPad, another great programmers editor.

10.  Programmer’s Notepad http://www.pnotepad.org/

Programmer’s Notepad is an adequate editor for programming. But it is great for those who want to write notes and articles in a text editor, rather than a word processor like MS Word. Features: a) MDI tabbed editor; b) grep-like feature of showing all the lines in the active file that contain a text string; and c) remembers all files that were loaded in last session.

11.  TextView http://www.flos-freeware.ch/archive.html

TextView is a great text file viewer. Nice when you just need to quickly peek inside lots of text files. You can page through a number of files with a single click at a time, one after the other. With another click, you can launch the default editor for the active file (in my case, Win32pad). It is a two-pane viewer. In the left pane is a list of files in the current directory. In the right pane, is the contents of the file you clicked on, looking much like it would in an editor. The benefit is you don’t have to open and close all those files when you are just looking for something. And there is no risk of making any changes to the file. It also allows for Exit on Esc key, one of my favorite features. Plus it’s small and portable.

12.  WinMerge 2.12.4 http://winmerge.org/

WinMerge is “Text Diff engine.” When you need to know if two files are identical, you could use the COMP command-line utility that comes with Windows. But when you actually need to see what has changed, say between two versions, you need a strong file compare utility for Text Differences. WinMerge is a two-pane file viewer, with one file in each pane. This utility allows you to compare two versions of a document, in order to see the differences. It will show line by line comparisons, with different color fonts showing the differences. Includes option Browse the file directory for each file, or Drag & Drop the filename and path from Windows Explorer. And allows for Esc to Exit the program. Alternatively you might like the Text Diff feature in PSPad, another excellent programmer’s editor.

Bonus Section: Not exactly text utilities but very useful.

*   Greenshot screen capture http://sourceforge.net/projects/greenshot/

Greenshot is a fabulous screen capture utility, allowing you to select the area of the screen you want, and add text, arrows, highlighter, obfuscater, all before you even save the file. Even the Help file is excellent. Give it a quick read. Or hit PrntScreen and Drag to select and play. The download also comes as an Installer or a portable zip version. I suspect that even the zip file install modifies the registry some, as it adds a hook to PrntScreen. Small at 1mb and well designed. All my favorite things. If I were to create a screen capture program from scratch, this is how I’d do it. Perfect for those who write tutorials. But for faster auto-save of lots of screenshots, you might prefer MWSnap.exe

*   KeePass http://keepass.info/download.html

Some folks keep their passwords in text files, some on scraps of paper, neither of which is very secure. KeePass is a popular password database that sits on your PC. Save all your passwords in a single password protected, encrypted database file. Also allows for some automated logins and auto insert of key text, like Username and Password on web forms. Easy to use (except for the automation) and allows you to “Export to text file.” Or you might prefer the webapp LastPass.com for saving your passwords “in the cloud,” meaning online.

Text files, they aren’t just for geeks anymore. Or maybe you’re geekier than you think. Every one of these makes far more sense when you see a screenshot of the utility. So feel free to visit each site. Best of all, every one is FREE. What are some of your favorite text utilities?

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December 2, 2009

25 Best Practices for Nonprofits

Filed under: Coaching,gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 4:41 pm

A best practice is a process thought to be more productive, efficient and sustainable than other methods, as tested over time. Generally there are different best practices in different industries, but there may be similar ones used in certain disciplines, such as accounting or customer service. This paper is neither exhaustive nor a simple outline of quick tips. It falls somewhere in between, offering enough detail to learn something, while offering enough points to make it a useful reference document. It is something to be reviewed and studied. You might even use it as a worksheet and review a point or section each week, asking others in your group to evaluate how your organization is doing in that area. As always, you will want to ask regularly, “What can we do to improve?”

The Why

The purpose of using industry best practices is to avoid the need to reinvent the wheel. Without best practices, you are destined to bumble through all the usual mistakes and acquire numerous procedures based upon nothing more than, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” In fact, once any system is set up, we begin to defend that system, even to the point of rewriting the history of why we do it that way. When looking to improve a system, remember that most procedures developed over time, through a series of random events and choices. The following story illustrates how policies typically get made.

The Story

For three generations, the Anderson women have cut off the end of the Christmas ham before putting it in the pot to cook. Until recently, no one thought to ask why. But this year Mary’s husband, Jim, did ask. Mary answered, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve just always done it that way. Let me call my mother.”

Mary’s mother also said, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve just always done it that way. Why don’t you call your grandmother.”

Grandma was tickled by the question and just laughed. She said, “When I married your grandfather, we couldn’t afford a pot big enough to fit a holiday ham. So we had to cut it off in order for it to fit. We used to save the part we cut off, but your mother couldn’t be bothered with such a small piece and just tossed it out.” In her effort to honor and maintain important family traditions, Mary had kept up a practice which had long since outlived its purpose and usefulness.

While these best practices may be useful for any company, they are even more important in a nonprofit organization, where pay scales are lower and volunteers are utilized. When you can’t afford to throw money at a problem, you have to start using social currency. The better you treat your people, the better they will perform. And by better, I don’t just mean nice. I mean with respect and competence.

Use Social Currency

  • Demonstrate value. Use Social Currency. To demonstrate value for something, you need to pay for it. If you don’t pay for good ideas, they dry up. You don’t necessarily have to pay with money. But it does mean that some exchange much occur. Some ways to pay for a good idea include the following: celebrate it, tell a third party who will tell the originator, implement it, ask for clarification, report back on the progress of the project, offer the opportunity to speak on or develop the topic with a group or have them post an article.
  • Pay well. Common courtesy is fine and useful in its place. But it is only a minimal form of social currency. It is not adequate payment for a good idea. You don’t go to a classy restaurant and tip like you’re at a pizza place. That would be the right form, but the wrong amount. If you don’t pay enough, your people will assume they have little to offer the organization.

Get Feedback

  • Get feedback regularly. Some define organizational success by an absence of complaints. However, if no one has complained lately then maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. It is unlikely that you are doing everything right. More likely is the prospect that you have silenced your audience. They may not know you allow, much less want, continuous feedback. The way you receive feedback is how you are known and sets the tone for the organization. The worse you do at receiving feedback, the harder it is for your people to contribute to and feel a part of your organization. Graciously court all feedback, taking only what you can use and leaving the rest. People mostly want to know that you heard them and have considered their idea.
  • Embrace feedback. The sharper and more educated your users are, the less likely they are to give feedback where it is not warmly embraced. It is not only inefficient, but self destructive to try to give feedback to an organization who doesn’t make good use of it. Sharp people know this and give up the battle early, usually without resentment or fanfare. They are sharp because they know how to make effective use of their time and attention. After they get quiet, all you will hear are those who feel the compulsion to share and they don’t even notice when their ideas are not warmly welcome.
  • Request Inspection. Ask someone to track your compliance on some task or policy. At first, this may seem overly critical, if you are not used to continuous quality improvements. But over time, it will become matter-of-fact and make your improvements easy. Requesting inspections will ramp up the volume and quality of the feedback you get, making it easier for all concerned. You may however, have to first earn their trust to demonstrate that you won’t kill the messenger.
  • Measure selectively. What you measure is what you get. What you measure tends to improve. A friend of mine was tired of yelling at his teenage son over his school grades. He decided to stop nagging and simply post the grades on the wall each week. The boy understood the goal and without any nagging, began to improve. Measuring performance is one way to establish a goal. But be careful what you measure, or you could distract your people from what is really important in their jobs. For example, if the only thing being measured in your service department is how many calls you take per hour, you will be rushing though the calls that actually require more attention.

Make Policy Count

  • Serve your subordinates. It is reasonable to think that employees serve the manager, given how much power managers have over employees. But in companies where managers serve the employees, productivity, morale and customer service all abound. It is common for managers to be in charge and boss people around. However, it is exceptional, and a best practice, for managers to keep asking their people, “What can I do to make your job easier?”
  • Minimize the number of policies. Don’t make corporate policy when what is really needed is a discussion with the one person abusing a tradition. For example, Casual Friday could mean business casual, not torn jeans. Don’t define the policy to include, “No torn jeans”. It offends those who already understood it. And it shirks the discussion you need to have with the offending employee. The more rules you have, the less you trust your people, and they know it. Trusted employees perform better. Trained employees are easier to trust.

Train Well

  • Micro-manage when needed. In recent years many people have come to believe that micromanaging is just wrong. There is nothing wrong with micromanaging, in the proper context. You need to give more direction, support and inspection when someone is just learning the job. But you want to train them so well, they need progressively less of it. But if you have never bothered to train the long-timers, then while your micromanaging may still be necessary, it reflects your failure to manage. Give direction when needed and train them not to need it.
  • Give new employees time and support. Managing by “throwing them to the dogs” means dumping someone into a position without adequate training. While it looks seductively efficient, it almost always costs you more in the long run, if only for the customers you have offended in the process. It also increases turnover of both employees and customers. Take the time to actually train, monitor and support your people.
  • Make learning easy. The more trivial things you require your people to remember, the less attention they can give to what you really hired them to do. Remembering the protocol comes from experience. But understanding it comes only from training and modeling. Make cheat sheets for the information that needs to be accessed repeatedly. Make FAQ’s, How To’s and Glossaries. Document your processes. Undocumented processes put your organization at risk.
  • Train for inheritance. The longer it takes to train your people to deliver competent performance, the worse your training. You should evolve your training program to the point where new people can come up to speed in a hurry. They should always know where to find the documented processes of the organization. Train your people as if you were preparing to leave the company. A friend of mine prided himself in training his 30 people so well that he could return from a two week vacation and get fully caught up on his work in only a few hours. In making himself the most replaceable person in the office, he became the most valuable.
  • Mentor both up and down. Reverse mentoring is when the newer people in the company, particularly the young ones, mentor the older ones, as in Social Media, Internet searches and blogging. Using your new people to mentor others not only empowers your more senior people to perform better, but also gives the new ones a great sense of contribution to the group.

Be Powerful

  • Never apologize when you can thank someone instead. People would rather feel like they helped you and made the organization better than to think they caused you distress. They would rather contribute than criticize, regardless of how clumsy they were about it. It may be your job to translate their criticism into a usable contribution. Then after you thank them, you might suggest ways that would make it easier to hear next time. Tell them the form in which you would like to receive such great contributions. On the other hand, if you really messed someone up, then apologize fully.
  • Never answer an important question with, “I don’t know.” Always add, “I’ll find out and get back to you.” If you don’t know if it’s an important question, just ask, “Is this an important question to you?” Don’t ask why it’s important. Answering such questions is tedious and demeaning. The more people say they don’t know, the more it looks like they just don’t care. Care enough to find out.
  • Rush to take blame. In most organizations, the hot potato of blame gets pushed around endlessly, causing work to stop. The better leaders always rush to take on the blame for what goes wrong. Why? Once the blame game stops, everyone can get back to work. When in doubt, take the fall. That said, it is not healthy or helpful to take on all the blame, all the time. Sometimes, you need to allow for others to take some blame, or even assign it to them.
  • Empower your people. It’s either money or power. The less money there is to go around, the more your people will hoard power and information and create fiefdoms. The more that people protect their turf, the more dangerous and difficult it becomes to communicate across the organization. The more you empower all your people to change the organization, the less they will be grabbing for power. This line establishes both freedom and boundaries. “Do whatever it takes to handle customer complaints, up to $20. Above that, come get me.”
  • Change gracefully. Resistance to change usually has survival value to the organization, but it comes at a price of healthy growth. At some point, developments in the workforce and marketplace will require change or threaten extinction. The very actions which allowed you to survive early on could later choke the organization. Embrace good ideas and allow your people to experiment, which includes the possibility of failure.
  • Spread the Power. The more important one personality is to the health of the organization, the more at risk you are, should that one person change their involvement. When Steve Jobs left Apple Computer, it almost sunk the company. Years later his return saved them. His capacity for vision and leadership is legendary and a cautionary tale. In most organizations, the presence of such a personality simply reflects poor planning and inadequate training more than it does super human powers.

Communicate Well

  • Avoid spam. Never put more than one name in the TO: field or CC: field, unless you have already cleared it with every single person on the list. Why? Because if just one person forwards the email full of addresses to a forum or spammer, then all the names can be collected for spam. Google the quoted phrase, “bcc for privacy” for more on this.
  • Use a Descriptive Subject. What if 8 people all emailed you about a meeting, but each one put only, “Hey” in the subject line? It makes it more difficult to manage the emails in your inbox. Better to put the real subject or question in the Subject line.
  • Pick up the phone. After 3 bounces of an email, pick up the phone. You save time. The more important the issue, the more it should be discussed live. The exception is when an audit trail of the conversation is needed. Sometimes a summary email of a live discussion will serve this purpose, assuring that everyone is on the same page.
  • Never use CAPS in an email, unless you mean to scream. And never scream in an email. Conversely, never use all lower case in email. It makes you look like a kid who does not respect his audience. Email is bad at expressing the emotional nuances of live discussions. Express emotions in person.
  • Set ultra-clear appointments. Rather than sending email that says, “We will connect Fri at 4,” say, “I’ll call you on Friday, 11/09/2009 at 4 PM EST. We should have at least an hour to discuss the Jones project.” Included: Date, day of week, time, am/pm, time zone, duration and agenda. Most of the time you won’t actually need all that detail. But the times you do, the redundancy will be your saving grace. One benefit of all that detail is that you can easily copy and paste it onto your electronic calendar.
  • Be polite. Ask before sending attachments. Or just send a link to the document online. Don’t use texting abbreviations. Proof read, spell check, make it easier to read. Outline complex emails. Ask, “What can I do to make this email as clear and easy to respond to as possible?” Go the extra mile so your audience doesn’t have to.

RESOURCES

  1. http://www.emailreplies.com/ Email etiquette
  2. http://email.about.com/od/emailnetiquette/tp/core_netiquette.htm Top 26 Rules of Email Etiquette
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Micromanagement shows the conflicting ideas on the subject of Micromanagement
  4. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Kenneth+Blanchard:+the+One-Minute+Manager-a0151189054 Kenneth Blanchard: the One-Minute Manager overview
  5. http://www.hci.com.au/hcisite2/articles/deming.htm Deming’s 14 points of Total Quality Management (TQM). Note points 5, 8 and 9.

November 28, 2009

Time Management Economics

Filed under: gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:40 pm

Sometimes a coach is wrong.  I recently coached a managing law partner on time management.  He was losing 1-2 hours a day to interruptions from staff, each of whom sought his particular expertise.  The trouble was the time it took him to get back on track with what he was doing before the interruption.  (Few people are as good at getting back on task as they think.)  His open-door policy was burying him in problem solving which he admitted could only be answered by him.

When I asked how many of those requests were time critical to cases, he said, “All of them.”  On closer inspection, we sorted the types of requests that required answers into response times of 10 minutes, two hours and 8 hours.  I asked him to have a talk with his staff and partners, explaining the problem and asking them to begin to sort their own requests into those time groups.

As reasonable as that all sounded to him, it later turned out that he could not do it.  It was too confrontational for him.  Instead he chose a simpler route, a solution so elegant I had to smile.

He continued to allow them to come into his office.  He would even invite them in to sit down.  All that changed was his timing of engagement.  Rather than stop what he was doing, he would take as long as he needed to get to a good stopping point.  Sometimes this would take ten minutes or more, leaving his guest nothing to do but wait.  Often the person would get up and leave, saying, “I’ll get back to you.”  When my client got caught up, he’d go find the staff member and ask how he could help.

Eventually people completely stopped walking into his office.  Waiting in there was not an effective use of their own time.  Instead, they’d stand at the door and wait.  My client would then offer one of three comments (or gestures, if he was on the phone).  He’d wave them in if he was almost caught up.  He’d hold up fingers showing how long he’d be.  Or he’d just shake his head, suggesting, “Not now.  Don’t know how long I’ll be.”  He did tell his staff to always interrupt on real emergencies.

As a result of this simple change, he had recovered an average of one hour a day.  That made his job far easier and less stressful, which resulted in a happier secretary and more peaceful office.  No critical tasks were dropped as a result of the new system.  More importantly to my client, no ugly confrontation was required.  No meeting, no discussion, nothing.  The change occurred organically from within, as each person adapted to what would best serve them in the new system.

Levitt and Dubner, authors of Freakonomics, might suggest that he had changed the economics of the office, making it less profitable to interrupt.  Change the economics and the behaviors will change organically (naturally, from the inside, without force).   I am reminded of a remarkable story in Harvard Business Review (HBR vol 84, Num 11), How to Manage Urban School Districts.  In a major change of tradition, Long Beach superintendent, Carl Cohn, began to rotate principals every year.  “The knowledge that the middle-school principal’s problems might become yours is a powerful motivator to lend a helping hand — for instance, by sharing approaches that have worked for you.  As a result of their rotating assignments, principals in Long Beach now see the problems in one school as everyone’s to solve.  Informal sharing of ideas across schools is common.”   Until he changed the economics, Cohn could not motivate the principals to support each other.

My client did not need to confront his staff.  He just needed to change the economics of the office.  On the other hand, he still credits me for the change.  I had helped him to more highly value his own time and to be more discerning of gravity of the requests.  Years ago I realized that a coach did not always have to be right.  He just has to be able to guide his client in the direction of right.

January 28, 2007

Professional Organizer

Filed under: gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:13 am

I just had the good fortune to have a professional organizer come over to my house and rearrange things. She goes by the name, Pix. I rarely have people in my house, but she said that is quite common. I really had wanted her to come. She used Feng Shui and guidance to comment on arrangements. We swapped a table in the living room for a desk in the kitchen. Seems obvious in retrospect. Worked better than expected. I am so glad she came, even though I am still recovering from the disruption.

Now comes the real work. I got my computers set up, but I need to go through boxes of stuff to lighten my load. What next?

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