What is an MBA

In the early days of Google, the company got rid of all their managers. They assumed that as they hired the brightest and most driven engineers, they did not need layers of bureaucracy stopping people from doing their job. The Google founders believed if you get intelligent people, you could give them pretty much any problem to solve, and they would work out how to do it. Within a short period, Google brought management roles back and started the ‘re:Work‘ programme to find the best scientific management methods. 

Fredrick Taylor introduced scientific management in the 1880s, and the theory’s ideas of economic efficiency and labour productivity formed the basis of the first Master’s of Business Administration at Harvard in 1908. Taylorism was one of the first attempts to apply scientific ideas like analysis, empiricism, and standardisation of best practices to process management and the move from craft, to production, to mass production made famous by Ford and the Model T. 

Thankfully, management science quickly evolved to include social ideas like behavioural science and care for employees as people. Still, the basic idea of applying the scientific method to increase productivity forms the basis of management in most fields. The MBA is where people go to learn this science.

It is possible to learn everything you find on an MBA curriculum in books and on the job, particularly if you join a graduate scheme and the places you work have strong internal development programmes. Most companies do not provide a rounded leadership and management training and support offer, so bright-minded individuals either end up not meeting their potential or seeking degree courses.

Peter principle…people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.

Wikipidia

There are two strong reasons to do an MBA; the first is that if you want to progress to senior positions with a major corporation, it is a requirement, the second is that you want to learn a scientific approach to managing effectively.

An MBA curriculum should teach the fundamentals of management. It will cover the core functional areas, including accounting and finance, human resources, marketing, operations. A good programme will also cover leadership ideas such as strategy, law, and ethics. Most MBA courses will provide optional modules that cover entrepreneurship, digital transformation and global trade.

Many tech entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, have talked down the need for an MBA favouring people gaining technical skills. But good managers are essential, and the skill set is different from just being good at the technical parts of a job. The best MBA courses are highly selective and expect people to have gained technical proficiency in their specialist area and have ample experience in their field before joining. 

First, get good at the technical parts of your field, and then, if you choose to move up in an organisation and manage people, get an MBA.  

When to stop

I love productivity; I read books about it, watch Youtube videos about it, and follow the feeds of productivity ‘gurus’ on Twitter. It is important to get things done and use your time wisely, but when we are tired, should we rest and push through?

I am tired this evening writing this. I have got a reasonable amount done today; I trained, completed a full day at work, and had an Aubergine Katsu curry prepared for my wife shortly after returning home. But I still have to take the garden waste bin out, and I have to put away some clean washing. I have to sort out my messy gym gear draw, and tidy the kitchen and clear my desk. I had a big post planned for this evening on some teaching theory, and I have to send some links to my cousin and have a few missed calls during my run to return.

As an adult, I know I need to do these things, but where is the line that you stop and start again tomorrow? The bin must be done as they come early in the morning, a messy kitchen will irritate me, and I am committed to writing posts each day. The rest will have to wait.

I can’t help but think that I would feel better if I get my head down and do all of it, I might start doing the first few items and then get a second wind, but equally, I could fall asleep on the sofa where I sit and start again tomorrow. We shall see.

How many hours do you actually work?

The typical working day in most of the west is 8 hours or 40 hours per week. Working 8 hours per day can be traced back to sixteenth century Spain where the day was split into two four hour blocks with a break in the middle for when the day was at its hottest. The UK currently has a 48-hour working week limit, with a voluntary opt-out, set out in the Working Time Regulations of 1998 and later the EC Working Time Directive of 2003. But is the factory model of hours the most effective for knowledge workers?

“Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”

Robert Owen

In academia in the UK, contracted hours are more like 7.4 or 37 hours per week. Studies suggest that 7.6 hours per day or 38 hours per week is the optimum working hours for a knowledge worker and that productivity falls sharply over 50 hours per week. Taking a full day off each week and six weeks of holiday per year also positively impacts your productivity. 

A study of UK office workers found that people were only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes each day on average. Workers spend the rest of the day on distractions, including checking social media (44 minutes), reading news websites (65 minutes), and discussing out of work activities with colleagues (40 minutes). Over half of those surveyed said that these distractions made the working day more bearable and aided in their productivity.  

Track your work for a week or two and find out how many hours your ‘at work’ and how many of those are on the things you think are essential. Once you have that information, decide how you want to spend your time; if you are only doing three hours per day of productive work, can you increase that to four and spend the rest of the day being more deliberate with your time? What could you do with those 44 minutes if you delete Instagram from your phone?

How to maximise your productivity at work

  • Average around 38 hours of work per week
  • Do not work over 50 hours a week regularly
  • Take at least one day per week entirely off
  • Take six weeks of holiday per year
  • Spend a week or two logging your work to identify the wasted time and eliminate that to free up your time for whatever you want to do with it. 

A 30 day time block scheduling challenge

Working from home has been good for my productivity. I am fitter and healthier than ever before, my work output has increased significantly, and I have been able to publish a daily blog. Work has moved on from the project-based approach used to manage to move a whole university online, and so the way I work needs to evolve too.

Removing the commute has given me an hour and a half of extra time each day, and working from home has given me more freedom around my working hours to focus on output rather than time in the office. I have used this time to train twice per day for the last year consistently; some cardio at 7 am each morning, some strength training or recovery work in the afternoon for 45 minutes to an hour between 16:00 and 18:00, and four-minute movement breaks where they fit throughout the day. The output so far has been a 1:35 half marathon, a 308w FTP on the bike, a 120kg Squat, a 100kg bench press, and a 142.5kg Deadlift, while weighing around 82kg and at 6ft tall.

I have written over 100 daily blog posts so far by finding around an hour each evening after dinner, between 19:00 and 20:00, to do some research, write, and publish it. I loosely aim to write somewhere in the region of 500 words to keep within the time and force myself to be concise. We consume so much content these days between articles on our phones, youtube videos, and reading for work, that I write about whatever I think about or consuming that day. I have found many of the posts useful for work; I have reused some of the content for work when the topic has been raised, sometimes weeks later.

My morning and evening routines outside of work are highly structured, but my working hours have to be more reactive. Universities have moved all, or most, of their teaching online, and so those of us in online learning has never been busier. This week I stopped my teams daily stand-ups. Our work is moving from project-based to a new normal, the daily meetings had become more social events than supporting productivity, so it is time to reassess how I use my working hours to have more of an impact. I want to be more deliberate with my time during work in a similar way to my strength and conditioning training and writing practice.

Time blocking

The first step of any productivity system is to spend five minutes writing a task list at the start of the day. Most people stop at this stage and then start with the first item or might prioritise the list and start with the most important. This approach presents two issues; the first is that tasks tend to expand to fill the time available, known as Parkinson’s law. The second is that we are not good at estimating the time something will take to block out space in our calendar. To solve these issues, we need to track how long tasks take consistently, and then we need to use this knowledge to block out that a suitable amount of time to complete the task efficiently.

Schedule every minute of your working day

For the next thirty days, I will follow a time blocking routine to be more deliberate in the use of my time and focus on the work that is going to impact students’ experience in the new academic year.

The practice:

  1. Write down what you want to do at the start of the day.
  2. Estimate how long each of these items will take.
  3. Schedule these blocks of time in 30-minute chunks around your existing commitments.
  4. Follow your schedule; at any point you deviate from it, update the plan for the rest of the day by moving the unfinished blocks as required.
  5. Make a note of how long each task took next to your estimate and assess why you were wrong – use this knowledge to help you schedule similar tasks in the future.

Let me know on Twitter if you want to try time blocking your workday too. A remember, the aim is to take control of your day and learn to plan your time better, not to be fixed to a schedule.

Leardership and management 101

I believe there are three keys to strong leadership and management:

  1. Vision
  2. Wellbeing
  3. Productivity

First, you have to have a clear and ambitious vision for the future your team is creating and communicate it so that they believe it. Next, you need to look after the individual team members and promote psychological safety. Finally, you need to break your vision down into clear goals and let each team member know what they are responsible for, then let them get on with it.  

Vision: the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

Oxford Languages

Wellbeing: the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.

Oxford Languages

Productivity: the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.

Oxford Languages

A new manager can start with simple steps for each of the three elements and then gradually built upon them to spiral out their capabilities as a manager and leader. For example, once you have written a vision, you are holding regular open and honest 1:1 meetings with each team member, and everyone is clear on what they should be working on, you could turn your vision into a strategy, You could add a daily stand each morning to build community in the team, and you can start to have more control over the flow of work by identifying and removing constraints.

If you want some ideas on how to spiral out your vision and productivity, Jim Collins’s Level 5 leadership and the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) are an excellent place to start. For wellbeing, begin by learning about creating a psychologically safe workplace and then take the lessons of Self-determination theory to encourage your team to develop autonomy, competence, and relatedness in their work.

Focus and flow with the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a simple way to increase your productivity and is particularly useful when working from home. You work in intervals of focused work with breaks of rest away from your desk. The breaks help your brain focus, gives space to assimilation new information or incubate new ideas, builds in time for you to make a coffee or use the toilet, and provides an opportunity for movement breaks.

The basic idea 

  1. Select a task or set of tasks
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Get your head down and work uninterrupted until the timer goes off 
  4. Take a 5-minute break away from your desk before starting step one again. 
  5. After a set of 4 Pomodoros, you give your self a 15-30 minute break.

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson’s law

The six objectives

Once you are in the habit of separating your working day into Pomodoros, the 25-minute work intervals and breaks, work through the six objectives in sequence, only moving one once you have mastered the current objective.

  1. Time tracking – Become great at estimating how long tasks will take by tracking how many Pomodoros you need to complete all your focused work.
  2. Lazer Focus – Protect your work interval from all interruptions, extend the breaks to call people back or deal with emerging issues, but when you work you work.
  3. Estimate time needs for all tasks – Use your estimation skills gained from objective one to estimate how many Pomodoros you need for all activities in your todo list.
  4. Make your work interval more effective – Start your work interval with a few minutes to recap what you have done and end it with a review.
  5. Create a schedule – Plan out each day according to your todos and time available, scheduling in Pomodoro sessions in the slots available between commitments.
  6. Create your a personal objective – Come up with an objective that will make you more focused or better find time to complete your work.

Learn more in the Pomodoro Technique Handbook by its creator Francesco Cirillo.

Zero-inbox with Outlook

Zero-inbox at a tactical level is a set of techniques for managing large amounts of email in a reduced amount of time. At a strategic level, it is a way of taking more control of your working day, reducing the urge to spend your day reacting to every new message, and freeing up your mind to focus on tasks that have long term value. The Outlook web app has several integrated tools that can speed up the processing of your emails and reduce the time you spend in your inbox.

Your email inbox is someone else’s To Do list

Tiago Forte

There are four applications you need to manage your email, a calendar, a todo list, a read-later app, and a reference app. The Calendar and To Do app in Outlook will do for the first two; I use Instapaper to store things to read later and Roam Research for my reference app (OneNote is an office365 app and is a better option for you want it all integrated).

You can access both the Calendar and Todo apps in your Outlook online inbox by clicking on the ‘My Day’ icon in the top right-hand menu of the Outlook web app. The ‘My Day’ icon will open a panel down the right-hand side of the browser window. The exciting part is that you can drag an email into this panel and generate a calendar event or a todo item with the email attached for access to it later.

Some basic rules

  • Only read an email once in your inbox, process it as soon as you have read it.
  • Do not move onto a new email until the one you are reading is processed.
  • If ‘completing’ an email will take less than 2 minutes, do it there and then.
  • Block out a time each day when you process all your email in your inbox; I like to do this at the end of the day.
  • Block out a time once per week and then once per day where you read through your todo list and schedule which tasks you will do that week and each day; I like to plan my week on Sunday afternoon and then my day for 5 minutes each morning. 
  • Check-in with your inbox once or twice a day to read the subject lines or new emails to pick up anything urgent. 

How to process your email

  1. The setup
    1. Sort your email in date order with the oldest first, 
    2. Turn off focus inbox and any other tools that put email in additional boxes, so all your unprocessed email is in one inbox.
    3. Unsubscribe from all non-essential newsletters and email lists.
  2. Skim read the first email.
  3. If it takes less than two minutes to complete, do it straight away. 
  4. If it would take longer than two minutes, ask “what do I need to do about this?”
    1. If it requires a conversation, drag the email into the calendar and set a time to meet the sender and cc’d people.
    2. If it requires action, drag the email into the todo list.
    3. If it is a long read, save it to Instapaper to read later by forwarding the email to your personal Instapaper email address found in your Instapaper settings or opening linked webpages and using the chrome extension to save it.
    4. If you want to reference the email later copy and paste the text to your reference app (I will find a smarter way to do this and update this post).
  5. Drag the processed email into a reference folder; it is now accessible via the calendar event and todo item so you should not need to find it again. 
  6. Move to the next email and repeat until all your messages are out of your inbox.
  7. Close your email and go and do something productive.

Email is addictive; many of us will open our inbox as a holding task at any stage of the day when we are bored or have a few minutes to spare. Now you have this ‘holding task’ time back, fill it with a more productive habit such as opening Instapaper and reading something that will make you smarter.

Contact me on Twitter if you try this and want to share how it went. If you are interested in this and want to know more, I suggest you read the One-Touch to Inbox Zero post by Tiago Forte, and if you’re going to get into the details read Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Taking control of my daily schedule

I have been working from home for seven months. Working in online learning in Higher Education, the period has been the busiest of my working life. Still, it has also allowed me to take control of my day in a way that the daily commute and traditional working day never allowed. I read more, I am healthier than ever, and my team and I have helped more the organisation we work in forwarding many years to deliver good quality blended learning under government social distancing guidelines. 

The Goals

At the start of the year, I wanted to achieve three big goals:

  • I want to be strong, healthy, and full of energy.
  • I want to master my specialism around learning, design, technology, and digital strategy
  • I want to build something the lasts and makes the world better. 

A modest home gym in the garage and some Dan John books have helped me to develop a strength routine. A commitment to run almost every day and reach a total of 2000 miles this year, with the help of Jon Albon, has forced me to leave the house for my state-approved daily exercise to get into the countryside and get some fresh air. A copy of the book Be fit or be damned has filled in the day with other times to stay engaged and healthy.

To master my area of Learning, Design, Technology, and digital strategy, I read a lot; online courses, books, articles, and newsletters. I have begun to read books on Kindle and almost everything else on the read later app Instapaper. These apps allow me to highlight key points and export these to Readwise. Readwise is a more recent addition to my tech stack; collating all my highlights and sending me spaced reminders in a daily email. My highlights sync to Roam research, where I collate and organise them into themes. I have started to write directly into Grammarly and will begin to publish on this daily blog. 

In May 2018, I started my current role leading the online and flexible learning at a large University. I was given a blank sheet of paper and asked to create a plan to move the organisation towards hyper flexibility. The groundwork before March 2020 and a growing team has allowed the University to change and adapt to the lockdowns and social distancing to deliver a significant proportion of all courses online. 

The schedule

A rough working day with timings is listed below. Most days I wake up at five when my wife gets up and go back to sleep, and might wake up at six or sometimes seven. Some days when I am tired or sore from the previous days training, I open my phone and cyberloafing, reducing my learning time or meaning I start work a little later. Sometimes my scheduled meetings or a hard deadline mean I do not follow this at all and work into the evening. Each day is different, but I am slowly finding ways to become less reactive and take control of my time. 

  • 6:00 -wake up
    • 10-100 sit-ups
    • 5-minute activity to wake up and get the heart rate going
    • weigh myself
  • 6:20 – Get a coffee and start learning
  • 8:20 – Shower etc. 
  • 9:30 – Team stand up
  • 12:00 – Running or a walk
  • 13:00 – Back to work
  • 17:00 weights or some tonic work (stretching or mobility)
  • 18:00 – Cook, eat, and spend time with my wife
  • 21:30 – Bedtime 
    • Clean the kitchen
    • 10-100 Sit-ups
    • Read in bed on the Kindle – running or mountaineering biographies
  • 22:00 – Sleep