Tag Archives: Process

A Jumbled Approach

I said that I would bring a treat in to work this morning.  I said it on Monday, so I had time to plan – sort of.  Other than being at work most of each day in between, sleep, eating, household chores and so on.  And it doesn’t help that I haven’t really been to the store in over a week so some supplies are short.  A few challenges.


On the plus side, I have been baking for a lot of years – since I worked on my Girl Scout cooking badge and realized that I liked to bake.  And I’ve been a parent for more than a few years, so I know how to make do in a pinch.  I do like structure, but I have learned how to take the structure I can find and make new connections to get where I want to be.


Butterscotch chocolate chip bars are the result.  Baking requires more precision than other kinds of cooking, true enough – but experience in combinations and an understanding of the different ingredients means that a recipe isn’t absolutely rigid.  A calculated risk or two can lead to success.


Substitutions need to have similar properties to account for consistency of the batter and the potential for flavor changes has to be considered as well.  After looking around the kitchen and thinking about recipes I actually had a couple of choices.  Since my energy level remains low thanks to the ongoing winter, I opted for a simple recipe even though I’ve never made it before.  (A word to non-bakers and cooks – it is almost never a good idea to try out a recipe for an audience the first time.)


The bars smelled fabulous while baking, but that isn’t necessarily a good indicator.  My son hovered ready to be my first taste tester, but he has inherited my sweet tooth so also not a good indicator of success.


I have had my share of spectacular failures as a baker.  Mainly due to an excess of hutzpah and a glaring lack of experience plus knowledge.  But I learned more from those flops than I would have if I had taken a more conservative route in my baking past.  I think this is true in most aspects of my life.


Now it remains to be seen what my team thinks of my approach.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


Return to Doodling

I used to doodle.  Mindless scribbles in my school notebooks.  Once I hit the working world, I made myself stop because I didn’t want to be seen in a meeting with my doodles – I didn’t think that it would enhance any image of professionalism.  So I’ve taken to twirling my pen (and trying really hard not to click it repeatedly) in meetings instead.


Now seeing this news clip, CBS News Sunday Morning: The Higher Purpose of Doodling I might just go back to my doodling habits.  Perhaps this will keep my mind present in the room when a meeting goes on.  I have found that even when I am interested in the topic, or it is in some way pertinent to me I have a terrible time keeping my thoughts in the room after about 20 minutes or so – which bears out research that I’ve read about adult attention spans.

How will I balance this return to doodling experiment with perceptions of professional behaviors?  Hmm, not sure just at the moment.  Hunching over my paper so that no one can see doesn’t seem like a viable solution.  Why, exactly, any of us feels that we would have to explain our note taking habits in the work world is an entirely different blog post.  Regardless of any of my actions, I cannot direct, control, or shape someone else’s perceptions of me.

Perceptions of doodlers is a main theme in the hyperlinked video clip – and how we should reconsider them.  Why do we perceive doodling to be such a bad thing other than we can all probably recall a moment or two in our school days when a teacher called out someone for doodling instead of paying attention?  Engagement takes on many forms, as does disengagement.

The other main theme is the point that doodling serves a purpose beyond occupying your hand.  I find it very intriguing that researchers found better detail retention in the doodling group when playing a tedious voicemail.

How about you, do you doodle?

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Trail of Dots

Remember those fun sheets that we would get in those early years at school?  Random numbered dots scattered on the page with the occasional squiggle or line or recognizable body part – and we would know what the picture represented after we connected the dots in numerical order.  I’m sitting here right now thinking that those exercises where just about the best training for work, and life, that we got in school.

public domain image

public domain image


This led to that, and sometimes you really had to search for that.  Not to mention if you accidentally got out of sequence it could be a slow and messy clean up to start again.  In the meantime you wouldn’t be able to tell what you had at all.  (If only tracking down things now resulted in a cute little picture that I could happily color.)


The one aspect of dependencies that was represented on the page – maintaining the right sequence – had to stand in for others such as waiting on other people or working within system or program limitations.  I suppose teachers were wise in keeping this one to themselves for a few more years.  We were still busy learning the get along with others and sharing part, no need to muddy that yet.


Now that I am thinking about how these Connect the Dots exercises were so much more important than they seemed at the time – I wonder about how one went about constructing them?  Obviously starting with the full picture, but the art, or science, was to determine the right points to keep so that the recipient couldn’t immediately guess the subject of the picture but would also not get confused.


Sometimes the designer made mistakes and left out parts or skipped a number and the puzzle couldn’t be completed as shown.  This left the child hanging, or gave the child the opportunity to use their own imagination.  Again, making this a great test for work and life – a low risk chance to practice what to do when instructions are wrong or incomplete for the task at hand.


Some days, by the end of the work day, my brain is only capable of the most rudimentary task.  Maybe I should go out and get myself a book of these Connect the Dots and see if that will help my brain unwind from the more complicated trail of dots in life.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Revisiting a Question

We back away, brush our hands off and think, ‘whew, that’s done now on to the next thing’ – problem solved, to-do checked off the list.  File it away.  Next.  But what if it isn’t?  What if in a few weeks, or months, or even years something happens to make us have to go through it all again; possibly even come to a different conclusion?


The medical community has revamped the protocols for cholesterol and statin use and that seems to have knocked people for a loop.  That question was resolved, we all thought anyway.  But life is cyclical, we learn new things on some other topic and the ripple effect can alter the decisions that seemed set in stone just a short while before.


“That is the one thing that I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later.  I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine forever.”

~ Lucy Grealy


It seems a bit like Lucy and I aren’t coming at this issue in quite the same way, but I think that we really are.  Where she mentions retain, it might be about keeping the knowledge fresh in our own memory, but it could also mean keeping it solid in light of new information or experiences.  Almost anything that we think we know is based almost entirely upon the context in which we know it.  If the context changes, our understanding of the thing can be thrown into confusion.


It might seem as though we are moving backward in revisiting a question, but if we are looking at it with fresh eyes and understanding then it is actually a good thing.  When the elements that went into the original answer have changed, then the nature of the question and the basis of the solution might be wholly different.


It isn’t a retread at all then, but a deepening and broadening of understanding.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Change in Planning

At work I plan in a project management and process style.  This should go before that, these tools are necessary to complete that task, assemble this list of things before starting task x.  It makes so much more sense to plan – who wants to keep stopping and starting a project to get it right?

my PM reading

It would make sense then if I applied the same concepts to my personal life.  Yes, it would.  But that isn’t how it usually happens.  I’m behind on making doctor and dentist appointments, there is a list of little things that need to be fixed in the house, and don’t ask me the last time that I went on a vacation beyond visiting relatives.  All of these activities take some planning and so await that step.


I have actually taken a day off of work to do all this planning so that I will be prepared for the day off that I will need to take to complete the tasks themselves.  I know many of you can relate.  It is just too hard to squeeze the calls and so on that are the planning stage for all of this stuff that begs to be done.  Evenings would be a good time, or maybe weekends.  Sure.  One out of fifteen things on my list are successfully planned during these hours.


It seems to me that I am often rewriting a to-do list onto a new sheet and transferring most of the items over just because the old one got too hard to read in the bottom of my purse or on the front of the fridge.  I wish I could say because so many of the points on the list were crossed off.  Ha.  I have taken to dating the lists, just for self-torture purposes.


I’ve decided that I must use up all of the best planning brain cells at work and leave the lazy ones for personal stuff.  I drive home at the end of a day, or wake up on a Saturday with the best intentions and sometimes manage to actually knock two things off the list on the same day.  Only to have two new ones show up the next day.  (Sigh.)


Can you relate?  If you can’t because you are on top of all the aspects of your life, do share your secrets.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Not an Optimal Time to Think

If we were to be asked, we would say that we should always think about what’s going on, what we are doing because it cuts down on mistakes.  And then there is reality, often a far cry from what is best practice.  Well, to err is human.


Ask a person how something went wrong – a car accident, a work mistake, hurt feelings after a callous comment – and the answer most likely boils down to ‘I didn’t think’.  Too much was going on in that person’s mind at that moment and the most immediate task became the casualty of the overtaxed thinking process.


This is why we practice things, why we drill something over and over, so that the activity creates a sort of groove in our brain and that memory kicks in every time we take up that activity.  (Think of the times that you have been tired and pulled into your driveway and realized you don’t remember the trip at all.)  All that practice makes it more possible that we’ll do the right thing even if we might be fighting panic or illness or something else entirely.  But it isn’t foolproof.


I have tacked up bits and scraps of paper near my writing desk (which I rarely use now that I have a laptop…), these scraps hold advice on writing from past well-known writers.  One is apropos for today, because it can be applied to thinking as well as writing.  It is Herman Melville who said it, but it comes to us through Sarah Paretsky; a writer must be in a ‘silent grass growing mood’ in order to write.


Think of all the times that you know a thing but it just won’t crystalize in that moment.  Most likely because that moment isn’t an optimal time to think – there is noise, distraction, pressure coming from somewhere and clouding your thought process.


I equate this to my math difficulties.  My brain shuts down on any math when I am in a group.  This goes back to a horrid game that was suddenly introduced to me on a steel gray February morning in 2nd or 3rd grade.  I had just moved to the school, so my classmates had been practicing this game for months.  To this day my brain simply says no if I have to do math when there is any attention on me.


I needed a silent grass growing mood to get a firm grasp on math concepts and then practice to gain speed before I played that stupid game.  Even understanding the root of my math anxiety, it is rarely an optimal time for me to think in mathematical concepts when I’m in public.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Business and IT Convergence

The differences between the way that business sees an issue, a system and the way that IT (or IS) sees the same issue or system is usually termed a divide.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We are seeing two sides of the same coin, and the coin needs both sides.


I have to admit, I never much thought about this intersect; I am a user of the systems that IT finds, builds and supports.  Sometimes those systems drive me mad because they don’t do what I expect them to do.  IT should fix them, fix them now because I can’t complete my tasks.  But then, as I was waiting for a diagnosis, I started to ask why and how and other questions.  I changed from being irritated to curious.  And then I was the business owner for the order process in an SAP conversion.


photo credit: Wikipedia, Makati intersection

photo credit: Wikipedia, Makati intersection

Like most intersections, we don’t much think about them – they just are and we drive through noting only what we think pertains to us.  Time after time.  We tsk, tsk at the dysfunction that we see exists there, but it isn’t our place to repair it because we don’t own it.  The thing with an intersect is that there is shared ownership, though.


For any user to be successful with a system there is a how and a why within the procedure.  The ‘how’ is the way that the system works and owned by IT.  The ‘why’ is the business need for the system and owned by business.  A successful intersection require collaboration and communication between business and IT from the moment that a system solution is identified.


Looked at a different way, IT owns the system itself and business owns the content, the data.  If the data isn’t clean, the system won’t work as intended.  The system will be termed as broken.


Creating powerful collaboration and communication between IT and business means a smoother intersection.  Defining ownership at the start is the key; it doesn’t prevent the system from acting up, but it sure cuts down on the acrimony.


How do IT and business get along in your office?


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Clutter in my Mind

Do you have those days when you have meeting after meeting – and the ‘action items’ that always seem to come after – and then you get back to your desk to find you have more voicemails than time to get back to the people plus a line of team members who have been lurking in hopes to see you between meetings to get an answer or follow up on previous action items?  And then you go home and don’t have time to make dinner plus eat it before there are other activities to do/attend/lead/prepare for?  And then fall into bed and your brain laughs at you – sleep, I’d love to, but you haven’t given me a moment to myself today so I have a lot to mull over here and this is the first moment that you’ve given me so we are definitely not sleeping yet.

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom


Whew, hope you followed me through that long, run-on paragraph.  Most of us would rather be busy than idle, particularly at work.  Idle time at home is often bliss, but at work it is frustrating.  Crazy busy is a completely different level – the one that leads to stress diseases and burn out if it is sustained.  I’ve been bouncing up into the level between good busy and crazy busy.  (Glad I haven’t been crazy busy since an SAP implementation project a few years ago now.)


I don’t have a name for this level but I find that it leaves a lot of clutter in my mind – the half formed idea to resolve an open question from a meeting two days ago that died because I didn’t get back to it in time, indeed I piled other half formed ideas on top of it from other meetings.  Now the desiccated idea is just taking up space in my mind.  Alongside a hyperactive to-do list that changes every other minute.  And barely formed thoughts on future tasks that are strewn about like Legos waiting for an unsuspecting barefoot walk through the room.  (For those of you who have never lived with a Legomaniac, this is like stubbing your toe only it is the bottom of your foot.)


In Toastmasters contests, there is a minute of silence while the judges think about the just completed speech and write their notes before the next speech is introduced.  Imagine how nice it would be in the office to have fifteen minutes to a half hour to at least start to flesh out thoughts and ideas that come out of meetings before your load in something completely new with the next meeting?  It would be refreshing, yes?


I finally get the point of study hall in high school – I thought it was supposed to be social time (and I never was lucky enough to have any of my friends in the same study hall hour), sometimes doing a bit of work but mostly just pulling out a book and reading.  Now I get that it was time for students to make a bit of sense, organized our thoughts around what we had learned that day.  Make it our own, connect the dots.  Prevent this clutter in our minds.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we got study hall time at work in between meetings?  As for home, we are each on our own to manage that clutter in our minds.  Share if you have a good method.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Lessons Last Week Lined Up to Reinforce

Socrates & Plato are still teaching us.  (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Socrates & Plato are still teaching us. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

We pack our early years with schooling and then often let our learning muscles get a little out of shape.  (And then you have to learn PowerPoint, uh-oh.)  Life has a tendency to provide us with plenty of opportunities that reinforce lessons we have previously learned, if we are paying attention.  I had two chances last week, that I noticed.

I like the idea of mindfulness, but it just isn’t possible to practice 24/7 – if you have found a way, please share.  I probably missed a few things that I saw as mundane at the time and not something with more substance.  And I am usually in the mindset to look for depth, patterns and opportunity.  Do you remember to look beyond, or deeper into the immediate task sometimes?

An important role for a leader is to help people recognize their own abilities to resolve situations and to provide tools and space to practice these skills.  I’m deep in learning mode right now, there are many things that I don’t know in detail.  My team knows the details and it is my responsibility to make sure that they have what they need to complete the tasks and keep things moving.  My responsibility is to offer alternatives to keep things moving, and encourage.

Being prepared means many things – practicing, familiarizing, and centering.  I had a chance to do a speech for Toastmasters in an unfamiliar space.  I had the speech itself cold (although I hadn’t practiced some changes well enough and left them out) but I didn’t take an opportunity to go stand up at the front and familiarize myself with the space.

I know better, we spent plenty of time on blocking (figuring out where to stand and move in a scene) in my theater days.  Blocking will change based on the space that you are working in, so in theater we block in the practice space and re-block once we move to the stage.  If we do a good job, we won’t look awkward when we have an audience.  I probably had some awkward moments in my speech that could have been avoided if I had just gone up to the front of the hall when I got there.

Then there is centering – taking that moment to get right in the head.  Don’t do it at your peril.  Do it half-way and pay the consequences.  This is particularly a lesson that many of us have to relearn, sometimes daily.   I did it half-way.

It was a mistake, that impression that many of us got in school that lessons only had to be repeated if we weren’t smart enough.  Repeat lessons come along to give us an opportunity to refocus, that’s all.  A chance to improve.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What am I Supposed to Do with All this Information?

We are bombarded with information wherever we go, look away for just a moment and another ton or so has been added to the pile.  All of it vying for our attention.  Whew, how to figure out what is important, what is useful, what is filler?

Coping methods abound, but should they really be broadly applied?  And most of them seem to deal with the mechanics of organization as opposed to the how-to of information processing.  Weighting, sifting, categorizing, pattern recognition – information triage.


I remember along about when my boys hit middle school realizing that they didn’t seem to know how to study properly – what to put into notes, how to organize those notes, how to weight importance of the lessons provided.  I looked around for additional assistance, a tutor or program, but all were focused on improvement in the direct skills – math, reading, etc. – that my boys were quite capable of learning on their own.  I could not find anything that would help with the soft skills of study habits or information organization.  The people that I contacted seemed to be confused about my request.

At work, I have encountered people who need assistance deciding how to prioritize the pile of work in front of them.  Sometimes this is because there is simply too much of it, but sometimes it is the same issue as for my boys – how to process information effectively was not part of any curriculum they had encountered.  There seems to be an assumption that people will naturally know what to do with the information provided and therefore the focus of teaching has been on providing the information.

I wish that I could say I remember how I was taught to process information – because I am certain that I had lessons on this skill along the way.  Perhaps it was in such small increments, here and there, that I can’t pinpoint any moments.  My ‘aha’ moment has been that this is something that I can share with others, not how I acquired the knowledge.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t have places in my house where piles of information await my attention.  (Good thing my dining room table has a sturdy pedestal.)  And I wish that it meant I had a magic method of whisking away extraneous information without having to take time to look at it!  Plus there is always the brand new information that takes longer to sort because I don’t know the identifying factors yet.

How have you decided to process all the information that comes your way?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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