The art of being busy

How was your day? Susani, my wife,ย  asked when I came home from work yesterday. I heard myself saying, “it was a busy day.” before I could stop it.

A busy day? that doesn’t mean anything. It reminds me of the old advertising “that man deserves a DB”. Being busy can mean a lot of things. Although, when we have an all hands meeting andย  people report what they do and what their challenges are, there’s always one (at least) who starts with “I’m busy”. And I repeat that doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t tell your audience or the other person what you have been doing.

What are your tasks, your issues, your accomplishments, your set backs, or your break throughs? Give your audience a chance to engage, to provide feedback, assistance, missing information, or clap on the back.


Some people get it, all things they do fit together somehow and as a whole flow in the same direction. I like that. It feels right. It’s like a puzzle where the pieces all fit together nicely. Others start at all four corners of the jigsaw simultaneously. Then someone throws a random part at them and it becomes the center of their attention immediately. That piece doesn’t necessarily belong to the problem at hand at all and simply distract from their task at hand. Create a flow, that can be planned. Set priorities and deadlines that are achievable. See how the items fit together to form a whole. Now you can talk about what keeps you busy, you know what’s coming up and what you have completed.

Saying No

Busy people have a hard time of saying No. They like being busy, they like being asked, they like when they solve a problem, and they totally forget that that issue is not what they had set out to do today. It is hard dealing with distraction. I hate it when you are in a conversation, the phone rings and one party picks it up. Is our conversation not important to you? I admit, I fall at times into that trap too. So let’s face it, distractions are always there. It depends on us how we deal with them. Saying no can simply mean to ignore the phone (most of us have voicemail and caller id) – we can ring back, or being proactive put the phone to voicemail or vibrate.


Isn’t email fantastic (or Twitter and facebook for that matter), we get updates and feedback and requests at our fingertips and can act on it immediately. Hold on, how often do you check your email? What’s your habit of getting notifications? Yes, a constant source of distraction and little or big things that keeps you busy. Stop that. Look at your email at times that you want to and how it fits into your schedule. Don’t let email drive your day. You are in control – behave like that! Your day job may actually include to checking emails constantly because you are a front line support person, or your main communication and documentation medium is email. Still, take control of your schedule and make sure email fits into your flow of objectives.


Many people like check lists or action lists. They feel good ticking things of that they have achieved. Lists have another great advantage, they make you think what you have and need to do in the next day or week to achieve a certain goal. They help you to keep on track. Project Management processes are full of checklists. SOPs (standard operating procedures) are nothing else than glorified check lists. Just imagine your GP (General Practitioner), how many symptoms he needs to know and what they can imply. He will consult a checklist if he’s unsure. A life may depend on it. The same goes for the pilot of a 747, there’s a check list before the plane leaves the airport. So, why not make a check list for yourself? For example, the functional outcomes you are responsible for or more specific tasks you regularly do. You have a better understanding where you are at and what comes next.

Coming back to me, home yesterday. After finishing “I had a busy day”, I added what happened what I achieved and what roadblocks came up. Much better.

Obvious to you – amazing to others

Today I checked a few things that were sitting in the “do when I have time” box. One of these was a recommendation to view this little video clip:

What a revolution!

How often do you have an “ordinary” idea and don’t do anything about it? Or you share it willingly and maybe not get the credit it deserves. Still people are often so grateful and forget to let you know. That’s quite a short coming in today’s society, although I think it is getting better.

Just the other day we had a presentation from IBM about their approach to Disaster Recovery (quite a popular topic these days in Christchurch). Having been directly involved in this for the past few months I didn’t expect much impact. However, I was mistaken, the gentleman (Charles Woods) was well versed and provided a different tag on the topic that combined the strategic aspects with the practical implications. It made sense on different management levels and brought everybody together.

Next time you’ve got an idea, don’t hold back – share it. Also, when somebody else has, say thank you and what it means to you.


iPad and desktop versus laptop

For years I’ve been using a trusted Windows laptop. First XP then Windows 7. I loved it. Got all my applications when ever I needed them and where ever I needed them. No double installation on work desktop and home system. No problems with versions and compatibility problems. However, it was still bulky and with the air travel hassles getting more and more ridiculous I was thinking of something smaller. I checked out the tablet computers but couldn’t really see the point.

Then my son came along and asked for an iPod touch for a combined birthday / Xmas present (easy for him to ask, his birthday is in December). I had at the time not a clue what he was talking about. So, my wife and I ventured to the shops on a Sunday and explored what the fuzz was about. I found it fascinating and elegant, the geek in me wanted a play. However, my wife was a much different admirer. She always hated her laptop when a virus update was required, a windows patch wanted to reboot the system, when she saved a document but couldn’t remember where, and how long it took to boot up. She got an iPod touch a couple of months later. No fear of getting anything wrong, installing apps and updating them not a problem. tap and an app starts, square button and it closes. Every app saves the data and finds it again, no asking about the name or where to put it. She felt much more comfortable.

For me, it was different I used it in meetings, taking notes, reading my emails quickly while not at my desk, had access to my calendar, and so much more. When the iPad arrived I upgraded and later switched to an iPhone, too. Now I have a dozen business applications ranging from free ones like Evernote and Springpad to Thinkbook, SimpleMind, iDo to Keynote and GoodReader. Synchronising these with the respective desktop applications or via DropBox and email is vitaly important to me. Now I don’t have to worry anymore which tool I use to do my work. Some tools I have in my pocket or in a small leather carry case, although essentially the content is now the center of my concern rather than the tool.

For a couple of months now I’m using a desktop – again. There is no need for the extra cost of a laptop. Some minor inconveniences I forgot about, there’s no web cam in Windows desktops and no inbuilt microphone. But else, no the desktop is fine. At home we switched to an iMac (that has inbuilt mic and web cam). That is a beautiful design and fulfills my wife’s needs for a less complex tool.

Funnily enough it challenged a lot of my thinking – having used Microsoft machines for most of the time. Now we are starting to open this thinking at work: bring your own technology is on the cards. That provides opportunities and challenges from asset management, licensing, security, intellectual property, and interoperability. I shall write in some months about that.

Fare well to a friend

Today is a sad day. A long time friend died. She was very close to my wife Susani and they shared some magical moments. Even after we moved to New Zealand they kept in contact and we visited Ilka, Susani’s long time friend twice. As a tribute Susani created a short video

I’m moved by the deep feeling Susani expressed. I’m proud she is my wife. And you can imagine she is a critical reviewer of my musings ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thank you.

Generating Ideas

Breakthroughs are a paradigm shift. They represent a major change to the status quo. Often they are attributed to Thought Leaders like Steve Jobbs, think the first Mac and its graphical interface or the iPad. Or Henry Ford and his Model T production line. How do you this? What generates such ground breaking ideas?

I’ve been discussing this with people who work in R&D, reviewed innovation projects and did some reading. There are 2 different sets of activities that can help.

Set 1: Focus on the problem


Concentrate on just the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t multi task. Dedicate time to it.

Generate lots of ideas

Write everything down that comes to mind in the context of the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t judge yet. Sounds crazy? Doesn’t matter. Sounds impossible? still write it down. At the end of this you have a multitude of possibilities. Some are the usual things, some are outrageous, some are wild, and some may depend on other things. Let them sit aside for while.

Explore the problem’s environment

Take a step back from the problem itself. “Chunk up” would the NLP trained person say. And look at the bigger picture. Remind yourself of the bigger objective where the problem fits in. What do we try to achieve on that level? Check against your ideas: do some stick out? or some may not fit at all because of the inherent or explicit values aligned with the big picture.

Take a cross functional view

When you are immersed in solving a problem you are often stuck in viewing it from your body of knowledge. That could be a mechanical view or IT driven, a physics problem or a biological one. What do you know from other fields that could help you? Or even better you have a colleague from another field. Explain the issue to him, you will be surprised about the questions coming from this discussion. Review your generated ideas together, you could be too close and miss some essential points.

Set 2: Techniques

Disengage Left Brain

Most of us are Left Brain thinkers. We use tools, processes, IT systems, drive cars, follow traffic rules, and have a standard way of doing things. That’s not helping with generating an idea that challenges the status quo, right? You remember, the Eureka moment of Archimedes (yes the triangle) while he was having a bath? Or when we learnt in school how Newton discovered the rules of Gravity by watching a apple falling from a tree? To get in a state of mind where ideas can break through, do something that relaxes your brain’s focus, like having a shower, running along the beach, or meditating.

Keep a dream journal

I have my iPad sitting next to my bed. Sometimes you wake up and have an idea. If I don’t write it down there and then it’s forgotten in the morning. There are lots of stories where people said they dreamed about it and saw the solution that so long eluded them.

Tap into your Right Brain

Use a deck of tarot cards or dream symbols. Spread them on the table face down. Have somebody pick a card and now use brainstorming techniques associating the card symbol with the problem at hand. This forces you or the group to think outside the box.

Idea notebook

By now you should have a dozen pieces of paper with lots of notes, ideas, references, symbols, and diagrams. Keep an ideas notebook and write everything down that comes to mind. Modern tools are so helpful having time stamps, categories, and tags that allow you to sort and review your ideas.

Don’t forget – Have Fun ๐Ÿ™‚