In Flow

Some days the work just flows. Tasks feels easy, decisions are made, words transfer from the brain to the keyboard with nary a pause; and engaging with people makes you realise the world is full of interesting characters.

These days of flow are generally few and far between. We structure our days such that we have no breathing room. Alternatively, we don’t structure anything and drift through without a clear and achievable goal in mind. If we can happen to find the Goldilocks Zone between those two extremes, and establish a mindset that is engaged yet relaxed, well, I think that’s where the magic happens.

Most days, of course, the work doesn’t flow. Things are a grind and stuff fails to work out as intended.

So the days where flow occurs; embrace it, because there’s no guarantee it will be back tomorrow. Get the most out of this rare and elusive asset!

Take Time to Breathe

Life can get overwhelming. Work to do, dinners to cook, kids to care for, relationships to tend. Trying to do it all can be fatiguing. I have found this to be particularly true over this current long school holiday break, where the presence of children and their needs are incessant, but the other parts of life still need to be managed.

Trying to balance it all is not easy, and I don’t believe there is any magic bullet that will solve it all. There are only ever going to be 24 hours in a day. So I think the best response to the pressure comes down to 3 main things1:

  1. Scheduling: maximising the efficient use of time.
  2. Accepting: there’s no such thing as perfection.
  3. Breathing: maintaining mental health through awareness of the bigger picture.

Scheduling

Planning and scheduling can ease the mental burden. By making an agreement with yourself to do certain things at specified times there is clear evidence that time is being utilised to effect and things are getting done. At these times there is no need to worry about all the other things that aren’t getting done in the moment because at least you are doing something.

Personally this year I am trying to improve the structure of my scheduling. I am establishing days as either internal or external. Internal days are dedicated to working on the tasks I have recorded in OmniFocus, following the general Getting Things Done approach to task management. I will also use this time for internal meetings, planning and the like. External days will be available for me to get out on the road, visiting clients, following up business development opportunities, and networking.

I have taken my management of External days one step further by setting up a Calendly account. This service allows me to permit clients to book meetings with me directly, subject to my availability. Calendly knows the days I have set as External, and it knows when the slots I have made available are taken up, preventing them from being double-booked. Much time and effort was wasted last year mucking about with the to and fro of trying to coordinate meeting dates, so I hope this more automated approach will ease the burden.

Accepting

I am the type of person that wants everything to go just as according to plan. Of course, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. I have to accept the foibles of humanity and roll with the punches when things don’t go the way I wanted.

This is why planning methodology has moved away from ‘waterfall’ to ‘agile’ — because nothing works as intended, so change the plan rather than pretending that perfection is about to occur.

Breathing

In the chase for productivity at the micro-level, it is easy to lose context. Really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s highly likely that none of what we are doing actually matters that much. Now, this is not me promoting nihilism, because what we do does matter to those in our circles. What I am saying is that there are going to be few times where there is not sufficient slack in the timeline to pause; to take a time-out. In this moment, breathe.

Go outside, take a walk, talk to a friend, pray, meditate — just do something different and unrelated to the task. Taking a break will freshen the mind and offer an opportunity to perceive that larger context. The thing that was causing stress may suddenly not seem quite so significant afterwards.

Ultimately, having a sound and stable mind will allow a focus on scheduling and facilitate acceptance of what can and cannot be achieved. It’s a virtuous circle.


  1. Because any good list worth it’s salt has 3 things. Not 2, not 4. Three. 

A Place for Everything

Over the past five years I’ve spent a lot of time learning the fundamental philosophies of a production system known as lean. I’ve read books and articles, I’ve taken a study tour to see lean in action in Japan. I’ve developed lean guides for business, and coached companies in the theory and implementation. Yet despite all of this, I still consider myself a beginner1.

Most of my lean work has been in relation to the manufacturing sector but the principles can also be applied to healthcare, food preparation, administration, and software development, to name a few. IT has even created further derivations such as kanban and agile.

Lean origins

Toyota is the company that can be credited for originally demonstrating the value of lean through their own Toyota Production System. Implemented with the help of Edward Deming after World War II, the company has embraced the lean philosophy of continuous improvement ever since. The company is now the gold standard with respect to lean implementation.

The theory of lean is much like an onion: there are many layers to it (and implementing it might sometimes make you cry!) Trying to emulate the Toyota Production System at the outset is an effort not worth taking, but any company can do implement some simple elements without too much trouble if they commit.

The best way to start

To get started I recommend following the exact same advice my Grandma used to give:

“a place for everything and everything in its place”

Yes, it’s as easy as that.

This concept represents one of the basic tenets of 5S. 5S is all about keeping things neat and orderly within the context of a lean workplace. Make sure if you take something, use something, or move something, that it gets put back once it has served its purpose. This approach will make it easier for your future self or somebody else to find a thing in the future. It will prevent the need to buy another thing because you couldn’t find the original thing. It will reduce stress and anger when you can’t find the thing you need at the time you need it.

Simply make sure everything has a home and that it always lives at home when not in use. Good tip, Grandma.


  1. In lean of course, maintaining a ‘beginner’s mind’ is a good thing as it keeps you open to new ideas and opportunities for improvement. 

Mindfulness Meditation

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions but at the beginning of this year I decided to try incorporating mindfulness meditation into my life. This was an idea brought about by a feeling that I was living life in a semi-permanent state of anxiety; feeling the pressure of the now and the next thing to be done that was sneaking up behind that. I figured that some mindful meditation might offer a way in which I could carve out some time to intentionally slow myself down and try to alleviate some of that perceived stress.

To facilitate the practice of meditation, I found Headspace. After enjoying the free trial I subscribed to an annual plan. Since my purchase, I’ve also discovered (but haven’t tried) a free, Australian equivalent, Smiling Mind.

As somebody who had never traversed the path of mindfulness and meditation, I had no idea what to do, how to do it, nor what to expect from it. The great thing about Headspace is that it assumes this is the case for its new users. The app provides a helpful introductory course that helps guide one into the technique and its potential benefits.

For the first few months, I was intentional about carving out 10-15 minutes each day for the exercise. Within a couple of weeks I found it had a positive impact on my state of mind, and each day I looked forward to the time where I could intentionally sit and do nothing. However, life being what it is, after about five months I found I was going days without meditating, and the habit that had been forming once again dissipated.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made another conscious effort to undertake a session of meditation each day and once again I am enjoying the benefits it confers. Now, heading towards the end of August, my total meditation time recorded in the Headspace app is at about 1,000 minutes1 which equates to a bit less than 17 hours.

In these days of hyper-connectivity and a constant barrage of (often self-inflicted) interruptions, we are lacking quality time for ourselves. It’s hard to ‘unplug’ from the world. In response, taking a few minutes out of each day to dedicate to my own peace of mind seems a sensible investment. The greater sense of calm I feel after a mindfulness meditation session helps with focus thereafter and so the time ‘lost’ to the meditation activity is quickly made up through increased productivity. Plus, nobody is so important that they can’t be incommunicado for 15 minutes, especially me!


  1. although some of those minutes belong to my kid who enjoyed listening to a session as he fell asleep at night. 

Entropy in Business

Entropy is the loss of energy in a system to the point that it is no longer available for doing mechanical work. It is the reversion to mean; nature’s effort to return everything to stasis.

Entropy is occurring everywhere, all around us. It is a fact of our life. Companies are fighting entropy as well. Without concerted effort and capital being invested, and ensuring there is talent deployed throughout all levels of the business, the expectation is they will wither and die. People working within companies are also fighting their own entropic decline. Over time, people get bored, burnt out or generally lose interest in their job, which can lead to a decline in performance.

To fight entropy in business you need new inputs of energy. This can come from bringing new employees into the firm, who have new ideas and ways of thinking that can jolt the business and offer new opportunities. The business can find new products and markets and establish challenging goals to feed motivation and drive performance. Another option is investing in business improvement and better systems to automate work, thereby transferring the risk of entropy to machines and information technology, and away from individuals.

The laws of nature define that entropy cannot be defeated, but we as humans have become very adept at fighting it. Within companies, the fight against entropy also rages, and its the job of the board and management to set a direction and focus effort towards initiatives that will motivate the organisation to continue to battle to keep it at bay. The problem is that entropy is incessant. Companies need to continually guard against its debilitating effects, or suffer the inevitable consequence of decline.