Action Guidelines

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-- J.D. Meier


Overview

Taking action is essential. It’s how you make things happen. By taking action, you can test what works and what doesn’t. When you take action, you produce results. If you’re not getting the results you want, then you can change your approach. When a ship is sailing, it can correct its course. The same is true when you are taking action. Know the sum is more than the parts. Consistent action over time produces real results. Think about how much you've accomplished over the long run, just by showing up at work every day and doing your job.


Action Guidelines

Consider the following guidelines for improving your ability to take action:


  1. Ask Yourself, “What actions have I taken?” Hold yourself accountable to taking action. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking instead of doing. If you’re not getting the results you expect, enumerate the actions you’ve actually taken. You might find that you’ve thought more than you’ve done. Or, you might find that you did take a lot of action, even though you didn’t get the results you wanted. Now at least you have feedback. You can review the actions you’ve taken and decide whether it’s time to change your approach or to keep plowing ahead.
  2. Balance "good enough for now" with "perfection." Balance against the bigger picture. For example, get something done “good enough for now” in one area, so you can spend more quality time in another. Also, ask yourself, "Who's it for?", "What are you optimizing for?", , and “What problem are you solving?" Knowing who it’s for is important because it's easy to think that what we value, is valued by others, or we can overdo it. Choosing what to optimize for can help make more effective trade-offs. Solving a problem is a great way to stay focused on "good enough." I tend to find that higher quality wins in the long run, so I try to do it multiple times, and improve each time, versus trying to get it all right up front, based on too many false assumptions, and lack of actual feedback. Usage is a powerful way to make something great, if we use the feedback to improve parameters that matter.
  3. Balance your buckets. Balance your results across your meaningful buckets. For me, I use a life frame (mind, body, emotion, career, financial, relationships) Within my career bucket, I make time for results, thinking, administration, improvement and relationships.
  4. Build a library of reference examples. Collect working examples to draw from.
  5. Build feedback loops. I think feedback loops help us improve and keep us going. For me, I use a sounding board of people I trust.
  6. Build a system of profound knowledge. Dr. Deming teaches us to focus on creating systems of profound knowledge. This is about thinking of the system as a whole, knowing the impact of changes in the system, focusing on knowledge management, and taking into consideration the people-side of things. Remember that just because you might not be in a learning organization, doesn't mean that you can't set an example.
  7. Carve out time for what's important. You don't have time, you make time. Parkinson’s law says, "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Goethe teaches us that, "Things which matter most, should never be at the mercy of things which matter least."
  8. Check your ladder. Is it up against the right wall? Nothing's worse than climbing a ladder to find your destination was wrong.
  9. Chunk It Down. Break bigger results down into smaller actions. Breaking things down helps you right-size the action for however much time or energy you have. If something is too big, just keep breaking it down until you have something you can actually make progress against.
  10. Decide and Go. Don’t second guess yourself every step of the way. Decide what you’re going to do, do it, and then review your results, after taking action. This is how you can fully engage in the activity. It’s also how you avoid spending all your energy task switching between analyzing and doing. Swim to shore, then figure out why you were drowning. You can combine a “Fail Quick” method with a “Decide and Go.” Simply do a small trial first to test the decision, if possible.
  11. Deliver incremental value. Chunk it down. Focus on value-delivered over backlog burndown. It can be easy to be productive, but ineffective. Focusing on delivering value, keeps you asking the right questions and making the right calls on priorities. Remember that backlogs tend to suffer from rot over time. If you focus on value-delivered, you'll miss less windows of opportunity, or at least you're considering those windows when you prioritize. The other secret here is that focusing on value can be more energizing than tackling an overwhelming backlog, even if all you really changed is perspective.
  12. Do a Dry Run. This is a technique that’s especially effective for a task or activity that you haven’t done before. Pave a path. Simply walk the steps end-to-end, preferably with someone who’s done it before. Doing a dry run helps you identify things that you didn’t expect. Your dry run also helps you when you want to execute because you will have some previous experience and some clarity on the path you should follow. Knowing what not to do the second time around is as important as knowing what to do. Discovering the hidden gotchas lessens the anxiety for the second time around.
  13. Do It, Review It, and Improve It. This is a simple loop to remind yourself to take action, review your results, and then improve your results. This helps you avoid analysis paralysis by reminding you to take action. It also helps you avoid perfectionism by reminding you to complete your results before evaluating how to improve. It’s usually more effective to iterate on your results multiple times and improve on each iteration, than try to do it once perfectly. This loo of do it, review it, and improve it—helps reinforce the habit of continuous improvement.
  14. Do more, think less. I'm not advocating thoughtless actions. I'm countering action-less thoughts. Thoughtful actions produce results. If you're already acting on your ideas great, otherwise, action is the best oil for rusty results.
  15. Don't spend $20 on a $5 problem. In other words, if the problem is only worth 10 minutes of your time, don’t spend more than that.
  16. Establish a rhythm of results. Don't let the tail wag the dog. Factor your creation cycles from your release cycles. Your release rate should match absorption rate and demand. Your production rate doesn't need to be tightly bound to your release. For instance, you could write your eight blogs posts on Sunday, then trickle out over the week.
  17. Expand your toolset. When you only have a hammer, everything's a nail. Adding new tools to your tool belt can exponentially improve your results.
  18. Get the Ball Out of Your Court. Make it a habit of getting the ball out of your court as soon as possible. Little items can add up quickly, and procrastination adds weight to your day. Know when the ball should be returned. Not every ball is worth returning, and some balls are more important than others. One way to help stay clear is make sure you are responding, not simply reacting. Simply being mindful can go a long way.
  19. Have a compelling "what." Your "what" should be a great manifestation of your "why." Use it to guide your course. This is your vision.
  20. Have a compelling "why." A compelling "why" is what will give you the energy and get you back on your horse, when you get knocked down.
  21. Improve your network. Who you spend time with probably has the largest impact on getting results, personal growth, your quality of life ... etc. Tip - build a mind map of your personal and professional networks and see where you need to tune, prune or plant.
  22. Just Start. Rather than looking for the perfect way to start or waiting for the perfect situation, just start. The sooner you start, the sooner you learn. The sooner you learn, the sooner you can change direction as needed. You’ll also find that starting helps build momentum, one small action at a time. The baby steps add up. One way to just start is to schedule a meeting with yourself and allocate time to start some action you’ve been avoiding.
  23. Know the sum is better than the parts. Consistent action over time produces real results. Think about how much you've accomplished over the long run, just by showing up at work every day and doing your job.
  24. Know what you're optimizing for. Knowing what you’re optimizing for helps you make the right trade-offs along the way and avoid getting stuck. It also helps you prioritize. For example, you might be optimizing for speed, in which case, you’ll focus more on making it work, before making it right. If you’re optimizing for quality, then you might make more passes through, or you might spend more time on particular tasks that impact the quality.
  25. Make it work, then make it right. This is an effective strategy for getting fast results. The trick is to first get a working result, something that you can actually use. Next, you gradually improve it based on feedback and usage.
  26. Manage energy for results. Manage energy, not time for results. When you're "in the zone," you get results. How well do you get things done when you're emotionally or mentally drained?
  27. Model the best. Success leaves clues. Using reference examples can help you shave off tons of wasted time. Who can you learn from that will take your game to the next level?
  28. Play to your strengths. Improving your strengths can help you achieve more than improving your weaknesses. The exception is liabilities. Reduce the liabilities that hold you back.
  29. Put in Your Hours. I heard that Hemingway wrote for two hours a day. The first hour, he edited his work from the day before. The next hour, he wrote new stuff. My friend, a marathon runner, says the key for her is putting in her hours. Putting in your hours is an investment in results. If you’re not getting the results you expect, one of the first things you can do is ask whether you’re putting in the right amount of time and in the right areas.
  30. Reduce friction. Create streamlined execution paths. create a fast path for stuff you need to do frequently. There's probably a few scenarios where you have more friction in your process than you'd like. I use 30 Day Improvement Sprints for my perpetual friction points.
  31. Reduce your context switching. Context switching is one of the worst productivity killers. If you're spending more time switching than doing, it's a problem.
  32. Schedule It. If you schedule it, it happens. As the saying goes, "One of these days is none of these days.”
  33. Scrimmage Against Results. Test your results. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Test your results to get real feedback. By thinking of your challenge as a scrimmage, you make a game of it, and you can play at your results. It also helps you find your strengths and weaknesses quickly. The scrimmage becomes a forcing function. The act of trying to produce real results early means you have to figure out the work to be done. It also means you start asking better questions. Whiteboards and slides are one thing. Producing a real outcome is another. The anti-pattern is doing a bunch of up-front analysis and design without testing your assumptions. Trying to produce real results early means you’ll find not just technical issues, but people and process concerns as well. Finding these earlier rather than later is a good thing. If you know what these issues are, you can prioritize them and budget your time and effort accordingly.
  34. Set a Quantity Limit. One way to produce results is to set a simple limit in terms of quantity. For example, you might identify three results for the day. You might decide that you want to perform twenty push ups. You might decide you want to write one chapter or maybe ten pages. You can use quantities to inspire and guide your results. By setting a limit, you set a simple tangible goal that you can shoot for. Whenever you’re stuck on something, just break it down and turn it into a number you can deal with.
  35. Set a Time Limit. Sometimes setting a time limit (a timebox) for something is a helpful way to both motivate yourself and manage your energy. It’s also a method to control distractions and procrastination tendencies. The key to effective timeboxing or setting time limits is figuring out up front, how much time it is worth spending or how much time should you spend before moving to something else. This is also one of the simplest ways to stay balanced. You can intentionally structure your time to spend enough time in activity A, B, and C.
  36. Start with Something Simple. This is how you build momentum. Start with the simplest thing you can so you can get going. Once you start with something simple, you ignite your confidence and energy. Move from the simpler things to the more complex. Think of it in terms of jumping incremental hurdles.
  37. Stay flexible in your approach. Be flexible in the "how." If you have a compelling "what" and "why," you'll find the strategies. If something's not working, change your approach. Sanity check by asking yourself "is it effective?"
  38. Think in terms of a portfolio of results. This means both producing results in different categories as well as having some results you count on and some that are risks. Diversify your results over having all your eggs in one basket.
  39. Use checklists. I'm a fan of using checklists. If the air force can use them to avoid task saturation and improve effectiveness, so can I.
  40. Use focus as your weapon for results. Focus is your friend. A batched and focused effort can produce amazing results. Few problems withstand sustained thinking or effort.
  41. Work backwards from the end in mind. Working backwards from where you want to be can help make you more resourceful. Look to working examples and reverse-engineer.


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