Do It Once

“I don’t do more, but less, than other people. They do all their work three times over: once in anticipation, once in actuality, once in rumination. I do mine in actuality alone, doing it once instead of three times.”
— Henry Ward Beecher
When you begin a task, start it in actuality. Focus your energy into getting it done. Concentrate on your end and you will surely attain it. I do not suggest that you skip the planning phase. I do suggest that you skip the anticipation phase, that phase often included in planning where you live out in your mind the entire development process. You do not know in advance what problems you will encounter, so skip the anticipation and get started. The human mind can make decisions very well on the fly if it has a clear goal to focus on. Spend your planning time defining that clear goal and outlining a path that you believe in to get you there, then get started. Remember to work persistently so that you can successfully attain your goal.

I don’t do more, but less, than other people. They do all their work three times over: once in anticipation, once in actuality, once in rumination. I do mine in actuality alone, doing it once instead of three times. – Henry Ward Beecher

After planning your next project, start it in actuality. Focus your energy into getting it done. Skip the anticipation phase—that phase that often happens right after planning where you live out in your mind the entire development process. You do not know in advance what problems you will encounter, so skip the anticipation, the mulling over all the potential problems and what you will do in the event any of them happen. Just get started. The human mind can make decisions very well on the fly if it has a clear goal to focus on. Do not waste time beforehand anticipating things that do not end up happening. Spend your planning time defining that clear goal and outlining a path that you believe in to get you there, then get started. Work persistently so that you can successfully attain your goal.  Concentrate on your end and you will surely attain it.

After you finish the project, stand back for a moment and admire the end result. Discuss the lessons learned. Then move on to the next project. If you must publish a report of on your work, do not spend endless hours going over all the details of the project. Do not create a massive report that takes weeks to complete. Summarize your results and the lessons learned and publish a short report on it. Most likely nobody will read your report anyway, and for sure nobody will read a long report. Use your valuable time to start the next great project.

Do more by doing less. Do more productive work by doing each piece of work one time.

Persistence

Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To succeed at most things in life, you must have persistence.  Persistence requires focus, action, and discipline. Without these three components you will flounder on your way. Focus keeps your mind on what you want to accomplish. Action moves you in the direction you want to go. Discipline keeps your focus and your actions thus minimizing effort you will use to get there.

Set goals to focus your mind. If work related, make sure that goal points you towards the company goals and objectives. Write these goals down and review them every day and any time you find yourself feeling discouraged. Since you will read them when you get discouraged, make sure to write these goals in a way that motivates and encourages you.

Take action towards these goals.  Without action, you have no movement. Plan your day with actions that move you towards your goals. You may want to schedule every minute of your day in the beginning. Just make sure you schedule time for action.

Discipline yourself to do the right actions throughout your day. You may get distracted, but your discipline will take you back to your focus and get you back on track with the right actions.

To succeed, discipline yourself to take action in a focused direction.

ACK E-mail

When two devices communicate with one another, the receiver of a message responds with an ACK message, acknowledging that it received and understood the sender’s message. If the receiver does not understand the message, it sends a NACK acknowledging receipt and signaling that the message came in corrupted. In either instance, the sender knows that the message arrived when it receives a response.

You should do something like this when you communicate through e-mail. I suggest that any time you receive e-mail from somebody, you immediately respond to the person to let them know you have received the message. If the person asked you some questions and you cannot answer them right away, still let them know that you received the message and tell them when you plan to respond to the questions. Acknowledge that you may forget to respond later and let them know you do not mind getting a reminder if you have not responded in a timely fashion. If you do not know the reason or purpose of a message you received, send a note stating what you do not understand. Do not simply ignore these messages or put them off until later when you have more time to think about them. For example:

Mark,
I have attached to this message a description of a new business idea I want to pursue. When you have a few minutes, please look it over and let me know what you think about it.
– Frank

Dear Frank,
I took a quick glance at the idea you sent me. I will not have time to really examine it until Wednesday. Feel free to send me a reminder note if you do not hear from me by Thursday.
Regards,
Mark

Thanks.
– Frank

ACK or NACK e-mail messages and you will improve communications with everybody who writes you. Without the acknowledgements, the sender does not know if you simply ignored the message, you received it and do not know what to write back, or their message ended up in your spam folder. If you acknowledge that you received a message, you will not unintentionally create the allusion that you want to avoid the other person and the other person will know that their message got delivered to you. This simple step builds trust and encourages continued communication between you and the other person.

Productivity

How do you define productivity? The word comes from the same root as produce. What do you produce? What does your company produce? Do your work activities lead to your company products? If not, you do lots of non-productive stuff for your company. Sometimes we call some of the things we do busy work. Busy work waists the company’s financial resources. Busy work waists our time. It keeps us from doing productive work for our company.

When somebody asks you what you do, make sure you can answer in terms of the products your company sells. Does your company sell hearing aids? How does your work make life better for the hearing impaired? Does your company make LCD televisions? How does your work make life better for the television user? Does your company make brake calipers for cars? How does your work make life better for the driver? Ask the question and make sure you can answer it in terms of the customer.

When you ask the question, ask it about yourself, not the entire company. Make sure your work contributes to a happier customer. After you form an answer, go through all your activities in your work day. Eliminate the things in your work day that do not lead to your company products. Check your habits and inclinations during your work day and avoid doing those things that do no benefit the users of your products. Strive for productivity instead of doing lots of stuff.

Core Objective

A few years ago I took a UCLA Extension class called Strategic Project Thinking taught by Terry Schmidt. He taught the idea of logical frameworks for project organization and problem solving. Check out Terry’s site and the web for some great articles that go into this process in detail. If you can, take a workshop or course from him or buy his book Strategic Project Management Made Simple. A lot goes into logical frameworks. Here, I will write about one of the key elements of strategic project management.

As with any good problem solving method, you first want to identify the objective you really want to accomplish. This will take some effort—in the past you may have given in to the temptation to use the assignment given to you by your manager as your objective. The real objective will usually include something about your customer. In the hearing aid world, you want to improve the lives of hearing aid wearers. Your manager may have assigned you to reduce the background noise in the hearing aid. The assignment will help you improve the lives of hearing aid wearers, but it may limit your thoughts when you seek a solution to the noise problem if you focus only on reducing background noise. When you have determined this desired objective, you write it in the form of a verb and object phrase, preferably with a subject, too. Choose your words carefully because those words will bias your thinking. For example, Sonic Innovations has the mission: “Improving life through enhanced hearing.” Keeping that in mind helps every person in the company understands their role and responsibility in the company and on his or her project.

After you have identified your core objective, you will want to break it down to the purpose of your project, the outcomes you want to have, and the key action steps required to accomplish those outcomes. For each of these you will also determine how you will measure your success, how you will verify that you did succeed, and what assumptions you will need to make sure get cleared up to ensure success. In all this planning, always keep in mind your high level objective, otherwise you may ignore some very important ideas you could bring to the world.

Why Study Algebra

Many of the students in my algebra class wonder why they should study algebra since, for the most part, they will never use the algebra concepts after taking the class. I will tell you why you should take it and why you should try to do really well at it.

You will not find a better environment than algebra for learning and developing problem solving skills. The rules of algebra do not change and therefore algebra gives you a solid framework to practice in. You do not need to worry about uncertainties in the problem environment. When you work on an algebra problem, you examine what you do and do not know about the problem and you note similarites between the problem at hand and others you have done or have seen done in the book or in class. You make a guess at how to solve it, you try it, and you have ways to check your answer when you come to your solution. Nothing magical or unpredictable happens. You take a path, you get a solution, you verify your solution, and you try again if you get an incorrect solution.

We can define algebra as the study of the relationship between sets of numbers. The relationship produced by a given function remains the same no matter what we do. If we try to develop problem solving skills in the relm of human relationships, then we have the added complexity of uncertainty between individuals. We cannot always know if we really solved the problem and therefore our practice may allow us to develop poor problem solving skills. In algebra we know that we can get the right answer if we use the right solution method. We learn to not trust an answer until we have verified the results. We may have made incorrect assumptions about the data or the solution method, or we may have made an arithmetic error somewhere along the way. Practicing problem solving in algebra helps us work more carefully when we examine problems in sociology, psychology, biology, chemistry, or physics*.

To conclude: have no fear of that algebra class. Take it knowing you will struggle, but that you will also learn very valuable lessons in problem solving that you can take with you to other disciplines. Sure, you will probably forget the formula for compounding interest right after the final exam, but you will work more carefully in the rest of the classes. You will also know that such a formula exists for computing interest when you get that credit card bill — you will not think your banker does magic tricks with numbers to steal money from you.

Have a Methodology

I think of problems as obstacles that get in the way of accomplishing something you want to do. Most creatures deal with problems by instinct and trial and error. Successful trials get stored away and get used when the same problem comes up again. Rational creatures, have the added ability to incorporate things learned from others. You may disagree with me on this point when you see children insist on learning from their own experience when parents try to convince them not to engage in some activities. We can also extrapolate from one problem to another through analogy to help us deal with problems that seem similar.
Polya developed a useful method that formalizes the process of human problem solving. Although he worked on mathematical problems, one can apply this method to any type of problem. You can find many sources that describe his method in detail, including his book , How to Solve It. I will summarize his method here in the following way:

  1. Understand the problem, including what you do and do not know about the problem.
  2. Create a plan of how you will try to solve the problem. Here you will make “educated guesses” about how to go after the problem.
  3. Execute your plan. If it does not work, go back to step 2.
  4. Review your progress, what did and did not work, and develop a strategy for solving similar problems in the future.

As you think through our strategy before actually doing it, you can sometimes very accurately predict your outcome. For example, when picturing how to get from your house to a city you’ve never gone to before, you can picture the path you will have to take, all the left and right turns, the distances, and the types of roads. With tools, such as Google maps, you can even get a satellite and street views to give you more accurate predictions of what you will see on the route. Although you can think about and make complicated plans and strategies to solve a problem, you still must do what all creatures do and try out your strategy. You have not solved the problem until after you have gone through your plan.

Having a structured methodology, such has the one presented by Polya, maximizes your ability to find a solution to your problem. Solving your problem will let you get on your way to accomplishing what you want to do.