12 things every knowledge worker should know how to do

As a knowledge worker you are a site of production. You are ‘plant and machinery’. You are a knowledge ‘engine’. Your capability and capacity for knowledge work is a function of the condition of YOU and the conditions you create for yourself. What should you know how to do to be the best functioning knowledge engine?

Here’s a list of twelve things.

Manage self

1. Know your own learning style/preferences (try Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles); your personal knowledge management style (try Six Cs of Personal Knowledge Management by Straits Knowledge).
2. Know your strengths and what to do to play to these (try Clifton Strengths Finder).
3. Use personal resources like Time, Attention, Energy and Relationships effectively (try Activity Time Budget, Honest Digital Calendar, Attention Filter).

Manage information

4. Title documents meaningfully – follow a naming convention that makes good sense. Use Properties and meta-data whenever you can to enrich the information, and enable quick easy discovery.
5. Setup, maintain and use an information organisation system; both for a collection of items, and with the structure within a single item. (i.e. Headings/Sections, Table of Contents, Cross Referencing, etc.).
6. Curate information; manage a collection of useful resources for self and/or others.

Develop knowledge

7. Use reflective practice including after-action reviews, to Think about what you’ve done and what could be done and what you are going to do.
8. Set an intention and test hypothesis; experiment to gain insights. Sometimes you need to Act to discover useful Thoughts.
9. Summarise and distil a set of knowledge (try Notebooking or Mindmapping).
10. Recognise knowledge creation and distribution opportunities and leverage them.

Produce knowledge

11. Create produced knowledge to address different learning styles, with communication medium appropriate for the audience.
12. Package knowledge creatively for production/publication (e.g. document, presentation, slides, session outline).

Learn more about Develop knowledge and Produce knowledge phases in knowledge creation.

If you can do all these, you have the foundations for being knowledge-savvy.

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

 

Two knowledge creation phases: Develop knowledge & Produce knowledge (Part 2)

In Part 1 of a two-part blog, I explained two separate but related phases in Knowledge Creation: Develop, where raw ideas are created as malleable knowledge elements; and Produce, where the knowledge is refined into polished deliverables to be valued and used by others.  In this blog, I go deeper into what my personal knowledge creation practice looks like in these two phases.

Develop Phase – what happens!

I observe and note things that capture my attention. I read or listen to inspired or intelligent people and think about what they are sharing. I talk with others in stimulating conversation. I sit with pen and paper and write what comes to me – a stream of consciousness. I reflect, and mix and merge form new thoughts and ideas. In this phase, much of my knowledge creation work is internal within me.  And while some of the thought is encoded in my notes, the bulk of the knowledge is not yet available or accessible by others. It is knowledge in tacit and implicit forms. Only when I start to encode my thoughts into symbols, or form them into concepts or models, can they can be tentatively explored in interaction with others.

Time spent in the Develop phase can be long – and that’s okay. It’s about quality, not speed. I like for my ideas to marinate and be iteratively explored. Albert Einstein had a analogous view about proportions of time in problem-solving: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Practices I follow in the Develop phase :

  • Be as free-form and raw as possible when documenting the emerging knowledge. Use rough forms to capture ideas: sticky notes; phrases (not sentences); and bullet points (not prose).
  • Outline ideas to frame emerging thoughts. If a template artefact is involved, I extract the outline decoupling it from its format and prescribed order. (Once knowledge is structured in a working outline, it can be more readily considered for various production formats.)
  • Use modular or elemental form. Having ‘parts’ allows reorganising and trying different connections and couplings. (It’s like what my aunt does when she’s quilting. She prepares her fabrics and squares so she can play with them to explore possible quilts products, all without having to stitch it together.) Such flexibility means I can test combinations for different situations or formats.  And with the non-diminishing characteristic of knowledge, from one batch of developed content, multiple products are possible!
  • Keep the content as raw as possible. The more finished the content is, the more difficult it is to cull or reorganised. It’s an emotional barrier rather than a functional barrier because of the perceived loss of effort invested in word smithing, polishing and refining. This refinement also tends to ‘fix’ the content making it harder to be repurposed or re-used. I remind myself I have permission in the Develop phase to stay loose, and be messy!
  • Seek old products (my own or others) to harvest for knowledge I can repurpose or reuse. I have to resist the temptation to Save As on finished products that I am re-purposing – I might unintentionally lock myself into a Production format too early or that is wrong fit.
  • Use non-production tools like MS OneNote, sticky notes and scrap recycled paper (it’s not clean and fresh on purpose) and pens/pencils. Learn more about how I use MS OneNote.  (I’ve got a colleague who’s working on a new tool for collaborative knowledge creation: TribalMind – it’s in beta so why not play with it and share your thoughts with the creator.)
  • Give myself permission to keep the knowledge close and not release it widely, if that’s what I feel comfortable with. Sometimes I have been accused of not sharing, of playing power games or being a perfectionist. I’m believe that knowledge in the Develop phase sometimes simply isn’t ready to be shared, and may not be sharable because it’s not yet in forms or symbols that others can access or read.
  • Set good expectations with collaborators about the kinds of input or ‘feedback’ that are acceptable in Develop phase (compared to Produce phase). Censorship or editorial judgement is not appropriate for Develop phase content. Appropriate treatment is critical thinking: Is this a good idea? Is there a better idea than what I’ve got? What knowledge is missing?

A challenge of the Develop phase is making some of the knowledge Mobile (across space and time) so others can collaborate. Mobile forms of knowledge start to take on the forms of particular genre, e.g. a blog, a report, a document. Then the knowledge starts to look like a Product or the thing that would come from the Produce phase. And things that look Product-like, attract Produce-like behaviour, e.g. a critique or proof reading.

Produce Phase – what happens!

In the Produce phase, I firm up the Developed thoughts for the purpose of making it of value to others. I turn words and images into finished product with an audience in mind and a defined purpose or context. These constraints filter which parts of raw and half-baked material will make it into a product that can exist apart from me. It becomes knowledge in an explicit form that can be readily accessed and used by others.

The time required to move through the Produce phase depends on the type and quantity of products – more than one product is possible for different audiences and purposes. Arguably, if the Develop phase was thorough, then Production can be quick. The Produce phase is about packaging the knowledge, and the quality of the package depends on the quality of its original content.

Practices I follow in Produce phase:

  • Use models about communication and learning styles to shape the nature and format of the finished product.
  • Get creative about the way I might package the knowledge. Check out some example’s to stimulate your thinking.
  • Use templates to quickly shift raw material to publication ready in the desired format. (For a workshop, I’d use a session plan.)
  • Test the draft product with the intended audience and their intended use/context. Use their critique to refine to a polished product.
  • Use production-specific tools and leverage their production-specific features. For example, word processer like MS Word and Styles, Table of Contents and Cross-referencing features; and Adobe Acrobat PDF creator which preserves hyperlinks and Table of Content/Outline features.
  • Engage a collaborator who writes in Plain English to rewrite raw content with a fresh perspective and a talent for simplification.

There are many examples of my Produced knowledge you can access and share, that were created to be of value for knowledge workers:

1. A tool to use in your day-to-day work: Making and applying an Activity-Time budget

This blog post is one Product that has come from creating this particular knowledge. There is also a Module in a Learning Programme and a stand-alone Workshop. And that knowledge creation is nested in a broader knowledge creation activity on the concept of ‘Practices for Effective and Productive Knowledge Workers’.

2. A concept to reset your mental paradigm about your and work: Self unLimited – A vocational adventure for the 21st century

This is a Product that has come from creating the ‘Self unLimited’ body of knowledge. [As at 2017  a Learning Program and a book have emerged. The journey over past five years has involved contexts that triggered thoughts about gaps or opportunities to redress with new developing content.]

Rubber Hits the Road

This blog you are reading now was written in two phases. The Develop phase started two years ago! I intentionally wrote some rough notes to start to capture and organise my thoughts. Then I shared the concept in conversation with different people. And as new insights or refined concepts occurred to me, I added to those notes. From time to time, I would re-read the notes. Then months passed as I waited to see if the tentative knowledge felt right, or a fresh realisation had emerged.

The Produce phase for this blog started two months ago and involved me and one other. In moving to Produce phase, I created headings and initially organised the content into a logical flow, dumping some parts altogether, and putting some parts aside for another blog (and its own Develop phase). Then I sent it to my friend who turned rough blocks of text into meaningful prose – simplifying meandering sentences and refining bullet points and phrases into polished succinct text as fit a ‘blog’ format. This friend was a ‘Synthesiser’ helping me with the Develop-phase-to-Produce-phase transition.  With a really excellent draft, I then played my final part as the author of the concept, to fine-tuning nuance and flow to arrive at a blog ready to publish.  And this is what you are now reading.

Phew! Knowledge creation work is hard work.

 

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams get best value from their people and knowledge.

Two knowledge creation phases: Develop knowledge & Produce knowledge (Part 1)

In Knowledge Management, there are various lifecycles naming different stages in managing knowledge, like:
create > represent > share > utilise;
create > clarify > classify > communicate;
conceptualize > create > apply; and
create > share > retain.

See the common word? Create!

I’ve observed two different yet related phases within Knowledge Creation: I call them Develop and Produce. Appreciating the difference can help you collaborate more effectively with others; set more appropriate expectations with your clients or collaborators; and choose the best context and tools for doing knowledge creation work.

Part 1 of this two-part blog explains the idea of Develop and Produce knowledge phases. Part 2 shares practical examples of what I do and use in each of the two phases.

Characteristics of Two Knowledge Creation Phases

In Develop phase, the intent is to discover emergent ideas; formulate questions; and explore possibilities. In this phase, the knowledge creator is often internalising multiple sources of knowledge, then ‘gestating’ new knowledge. It can be difficult and may be unreasonable to have emotional distance and objectivity as the creator of knowledge during this phase.

In Produce phase, the intent is to refine and polish the knowledge to produce an output that can be used or experienced by others. In this phase, the knowledge creator externalises what they know (or are knowing), and applies contextual criteria to shape the knowledge into a product that fits a purpose and intended audience.

Here’s a table to compare and contrast the characteristics of the two phases.

Develop Phase Produce Phase
Partial form/unformed
Hunches
Half baked’
Questions
Unknown containers
Divergent
Creates value only for yourself or the internal team
Context agnostic
Discovery for serendipity
Emergent form and function
Undefined focus
Exploring
Rough
Ideation
Codified
Conclusions
Condensed, Crystallised
Answers
Constrained to container
Convergent
Creates value for others (external)
Contextual
Expression for accessibility
Defined form and function
Focused for an audience and purpose
Executing
Polished
Prototyping > Publishing

Develop Phase: Content without the pressure of form or style

In the Develop phase, it’s essential not to constrain knowledge creation activity by producing a draft of a final product. It’s best to decouple the emerging content from any potential style or form. Let the idea surface. Formatting comes later when making choices for the audience and the value you want them to gain.

In Steve Johnson’s video “Where good ideas come from“, he proposes that ideas are developed from slow hunches that take time to evolve and incubate, possibly even remaining dormant for several years. A great description of the Develop phase! Smaller hunches collide with other ideas and they potentially become breakthroughs. When this connectivity occurs, it offers new ways to involve other people who may have a ‘missing piece’ that will build or improve the original idea.

In the Develop phase, you might switch back and forth from a macro to micro perspective of the content. This allows for new ideas to emerge. You revisit where and how things connect together. You may find new ways to frame or connect things — without the pressure to sacrifice anything.  It’s an incubation, experimental period.  Anything goes!

Develop-phase content looks like scribbles, rough notes, good notes, drawings, collection of facts, bookmarked references or books, half-written paragraphs, outlines, disparate bullet points or lists. In Develop phase you are most likely to start with a blank page.

Produce Phase: Focus on generating value

In the Produce phase, the goal, as Seth Godin would put it, is “to ship”. Knowledge leaving the Develop phase can go out into the world to be used. This is the point where the knowledge acquires value. Value such as revenue; building or enhancing reputation; or enabling others to apply it in their context.

Produce-phase content looks like a blog, a book, a video, a workshop or course, a session plan for the workshop or course, a report, a video, a podcast, a presentation, a slide deck for a presentation.

If you start with a template or form, then you are already moving into the Produce phase; the context will be shaping the content. If you give something a name or title by which it is to be known, you are on the boundary or over the line into Produce phase. That’s analogous to giving a baby a name once it’s born or about to be born. (During the gestation of a baby, i.e. develop-phase, humans don’t tend to assign a name!)

The Produce phase transforms fuzzy knowledge into something is relevant to a person, purpose, place, or context. The context shapes the developed content.  As a produced piece of content, its now possible for the knowledge to be Mobile and Immutable (as John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid describe in their book “The Social Life of Information“, pp. 197-205).  Mobile because it’s now in a form that can stand apart from the knower, and circulate across people, time and space. Immutable because it’s been fixed into a form that can be relied upon to be consistent and re-usable.

Valuing the Develop Phase

Knowledge creation starts with the Develop phase. Often this is internal and invisible to others. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t get sufficient attention, or isn’t treated as having value in its own right. Content in the Develop phase may appear unordered, incomplete, nonsensical and tentative; and thus socially risky to show or involve others who may expect something more.

Once knowledge moves into the Produce phase, it’s much more difficult (and unlikely) to return to the Develop phase. Knowledge that becomes a Product tends to be resistant to being abandoned or destroyed, in favour of coming up with something fresh and better.

What does knowledge creation with the two phases look like?

The two phases of the knowledge creation activity are illustrated in the blog post, “Let others know – generating goodwill for your contacts“.

Iteration through phases

Knowledge creation may iterate through a series of Develop and Produce phases.

Image-D+P Phases Iterations

I wrote the blog post “Let others know – generating goodwill for your contacts” to test (and make visible) the theory. It was a Minimal Viable Product (MVP); a first release of the creation of ‘Develop-Produce Knowledge Phases’ knowledge during one of the iterations. And I expect more iterations as I find new Product opportunities (potential users with a need), or think of new or modified ideas to influence the raw in-development content.
Well, that’s the concept! Read Part 2 to see how I apply this.

 

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams get best value from their people and knowledge.

Exposing the design behind a new-style resume

Late in 2013, guest author to this blog Christoph Hewlett shared his thoughts on using a knowledge product I created: a new style resume.

In response to requests for insights about the WHAT and WHY of the resume design, I provide the following details.

The basic design

Resume is four pages; no more, no less.
Each page has specific content:
Page 1 – Contact details, Description, List of Key Skills or capabilities
Page 2 – Portfolio: List of selected items of work experience
Page 3 – Testimonials: Excerpts of recommendations that relate to the Portfolio items
Page 4 – Qualifications: list of selected items; Work history: Job Title, Organisation, Dates for all your working life

The order of the content

There is a logic in why the content is laid out in a particular order.

Page 1 is the page likely to get the most attention from your reader. Therefore it needs the most important information: how to get in contact with you; what to remember about you (you description should be memorable!); and the set of capabilities that make you useful and desirable.

Page 2 is a tailored list of things you have done, that show what you are capable of and which show you in your best light. This content differs than normal work history in a number of ways:
* You can include small items, e.g. An interesting blog post you wrote; a powerful introduction you facilitated; as well as large items, e.g. A project you managed.
* You can include old items, i.e. something you did 20 years ago, as well as recent items. Traditional resumes tend to drop off content that is not recent, i.e. last 5 years. This hides the fact that you have more experience that could be relevant or transferable than what you’ve done in the past 5 years.
* You can include extracurricular items that doesn’t have any place to go in the traditional resume because they aren’t related to a job, e.g. Social media activity; leadership in a professional association; or volunteer role.
* You can be specific and concrete, and mix activity with achievement or purpose – thus give more interesting and relevant information:
Compare “Managed large projects” with “Managed the ABC Project with $500K budget and team of 20 people, delivering on time and within budget.”
Compare “Made a blog” with “Designed, built and maintained professional blog with insights and inspiration for people  leading knowledge workers or doing knowledge work (https://rhxthinking.wordpress.com)”

Page 3 is content that provides ‘social proof’ about your experience and talents.
Some of the good things  said about you in the past, are still useful to your story even when you’ve lost contact with the person or they are not available to be a verbal referee.

Don’t leave your reader waiting to talk to referees to learn what others think about you! Provide this knowledge as soon as you can for the most positive effect.

Page 4 is the facts that need to be evident and can be checked out if necessary. This is typically not the content that is going to sway somebody towards favourably considering you – however, it’s due diligence that this information is available. The work history is downgraded content – this means presenting information in an order, where what you are capable of, is more important than the job titles you have held in organisations.

Content for the pages

A. Reuse content you have
For this new style of resume, you can reuse content from your traditional resume for Pages 1 and 4.

For Page 1 content, make sure you include ways to contact you in writing and in voice. If you have quality online profiles (e.g. LinkedIn), you could include a hyperlink.

Consider including a quality photograph.

Have a description that is more akin to a bio (though write it in first-person) and includes a sense of where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going.  For good advice, see article ‘Does your resume tell your story?’

Be memorable; be interesting.

For Page 4 content, include Qualifications or Certifications rather than listing courses you have been on. If you wish to promote the fact that you are continuing to learn – then add that content under the Skills section or a relevant item or two in the Portfolio section.

Keep the list relevant to the audience, so be prepared to adjust this content each time you use the resume. For example, your First Aid Certification is probably not so relevant if you are applying for a Leadership role.

B. Gather and Create content you need
For this new style of resume, you probably don’t have content ready to include on Page 2 and Page 3.

For Page 2 content look back over your work life; use your old resume as a prompter and compose a list (a looong list!) of work experience items. For examples of items, see a copy of one of my resumes (MS Word DOC).

Organise the items under headings that relate directly to the audience of your resume. Where your audience is a recruitment panel or HR personnel filtering applications in response to a job advert, use the headings from the Position Description.

Include hyperlinks to online examples, or reference material relating to the items.

I keep my lists of content on pages within a MS One Note notebook, in the right typeface and font size for me to simply cut-n-paste the items into the resume when it is being constructed. Here’s a screenshot of a page in the context of a notebook.

Screenshot of Portfolio List in OneNote

For Page 3 content you’ve got old content to reuse, and new content to get:
a) Look through old letters of Reference and review Recommendations that have been posted online; extract short excerpts that are relevant to reuse.  Don’t be afraid to cull words – though be sure to use conventions that show if you have edited someone else’s quote.

b) Ask people for Recommendations. Ask people from your past to provide relevant content. When you are finishing up a job or project, ask people to compose you a Recommendation.

To get better quality recommendations, read this blog post.

Whether it’s old or new content, all recommendations should support what you have chosen to include in the Portfolio section on page 2.

Supplementing the resume

Your resume is a marketing document for a target audience. It isn’t a record of all the details of your work history – keep that worthy information somewhere else. I use a MS OneNote notebook to store items for the Portfolio page and Testimonial page, as well as results from assessments I’ve done, bios I’ve written for myself, and reflections about work I’ve done. The image above gives you a taste of my collection.

Just one resume?

Above is the advice for a single resume. It is entirely possible that you have a suite of resumes, tailored to a different theme or focus.  I have 6 basic resumes: 5 follow the format above for the themes of Change Management, Enterprise Business Analysis, Learning & Development, Leadership, Information Management. The sixth resume is an Academic resume and conforms to expectations of the structure and content for Academia.

For each resume theme, I change the following:
The Description on Page 1
The order of the Skills on Page 1 (put the most relevant first)
The Portfolio headings and items on Page 2
The Testimonials on Page 3

My resumes get used as an Appendix in a Tender, as an Introduction to an Agent, and as an Application for a Vacant Position. For each of these situations I change the content to best address the anticipated needs of the audience.

 

If you are inspired to use this new design, let me know how it goes. Please share with me any ideas you have to extend and enhance the design.

 

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.  With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people and knowledge.

 

Organising your time honestly and flexibly (with a digital diary)

Our work time is regulated by hours, weeks, and months. Organising our work activity temporally (that is, by time) is a challenge that can be conquered with a diary (of the datebook kind, not the daily record of experiences). With a digital diary, it becomes easier to manage an emerging or changing schedule, such is the nature of modern work practice that attempts to include inherently changing acts of creativity and innovation.

When I was an employee in a large organisation, our digital calendars were visible (with some concessions for privacy) to other staff members. As a dedicated user of the calendar, I often found others commenting that according to my calendar, ‘You are so busy’. I was bemused and wondered: Were people with empty calendars considered to be ‘not-busy’?

Tom Peters (in his “Mother of all Presentations”) says: ‘You ARE your calendar. You ARE how you spend your time. Calendars NEVER LIE.’

The technique explained in this blog is about making visible how-you-spend-your-time, and enabling flexibility to better manage what, where and when factors of your activity.

Managing your temporal space

From Shutterstock

My diary is my temporal space made visible. It enables me to map my intentions about time. I create and shuffle around blocks of time to firm up what my schedule will look like, while also experimenting with what it could look like. With a digital diary it’s particularly easy to drag and drop entries; and to append extra information to capture the meaning I have given certain entries, for example: Tentative, (In) CBD. Then my diary appears clean, and (re)organised – no whiteout or erased pencil lines in sight!

Putting entries in my diary gives me a schedule to follow for the day. While my days might not have a regular routine, I am assured a degree of order as important things needing my attention are factored in.

Many of my entries are not appointments with others, but simply an entry for me to work on a specific activity. Rather than work from a general To-do list during the day, I work from my calendar schedule of activity. Many of these activities have an associated and specific To-do or next-action list which is my exclusive focus during the allotted time.

Entries in my diary are an agreement with myself about what I am going to focus on, and help me to focus on one thing at a time. I’m not a fan of multi-tasking, but on occasion my thoughts are scattered and I free them from the leash, within a boundary of ‘Planning’ time or ‘Admin’ time – simultaneous chaos and order!

Making diary entries also enables me to more accurately forecast how much time activities will need, particularly those that are spread over multiple days, and to ensure sufficient time is reserved. In addition, I can better evaluate when to sequence individual activities in context of other things, e.g. other activities, my location, and my anticipated energy level or attention capacity.

While not an Activity per se, I’ll often add entries to my calendar for deadlines or time-sensitive milestones. Because I am following my schedule for the day, it’s handy to have time-sensitive things co-located with my actions, in case I need to re-evaluate action priorities.

If you are following an Activity-Time Budget, you could assign colours to each Budget category and apply these colours to the items you have in your diary. With a quick glance you’ll be able to see how well your projected budget matches your actual budget. (See Calendar 2 below.)

Being honest about your time

Every day we have activities that use time (and attention and energy) but are not typically accounted for in our calendars. Some examples of ‘invisible’ use of time: travel (on foot, by train, parking the car); general administration (filing, processing correspondence/incoming email, paying bills, etc); reading (correspondence, articles); preparation for meetings; processing note; preparing task-lists; lunch breaks; etc. (Hopefully you’ve created your own Activity-Time Budget that allows for such time.)

Start to put this time in your calendar. Particularly when entering linked activities. For example, after creating a Meeting entry, add Travel time to either side of the Meeting entry. Or, when creating a Meeting entry, add entries for Prep/Reading time and Note Processing time in close proximity to the meeting entry. See examples in Calendar 2 below.

There are two screenshots of my sample Calendar here. Calendar 1 is the typical calendar of most people, and reflects the events or appointments I have that involve other people – often because the appointment is linked to their calendar, or because it’s important to be ‘on-time’ for these. Calendar 2 extends Calendar 1 showing the activity of ‘invisible’ time, as well as colour coding to align with an Activity-Time budget (and no, I haven’t explained my colour coding – it’s meaningful only to me.)

Calendar 1 (Partial)

Calendar 2 (Complete)

Scheduling serendipity (or Planning for the unplanned)

While I am advocating filling a digital diary with entries, I am not advocating filling every waking moment with scheduled activity. Leave space for the unexpected that might better deserve your attention, or for spill-over when you’ve underestimated the amount of time needed or things have emerged with unanticipated complexity.

You might need to schedule ‘contingency’ or ‘open’ space in your calendar, simply so you (or others if you are sharing a calendar) don’t mistake it for Free-to-schedule-any-Activity time.

Dov Frohman (with Robert Howard) in the book, “Leadership The Hard Way: Why Leadership Can’t Be Taught—And How You Can Learn It Anyway“, advocates scheduling ‘day-dreaming time’ where you engage in “loose, unstructured thinking with no particular goal in mind”. An approach they recommend for dealing with complexity and ‘fuzzy’ problems.

One of my students shared this technique: she schedules a calendar entry called ‘Lucky Dip’ – the time is reserved but the activity is unknown. She has a bag in which various activities, both delightful and necessary, are written on strips of paper. When the appointed time arrives, she dips into the bag without looking, selects what she will do, and does it.

Another type of time you might consider scheduling is disconnected time, i.e. time when you don’t access the internet, read your email, look at Twitter or other social media sites. A practical way to support day-dreaming time!

Organising your temporal affairs effectively means you can utilise your time wisely and for greatest benefit. Effective use of time requires knowing what you spend your time doing, as well what you don’t spend your time doing. Hopefully the suggestions in this blog can help you better align your reality with your intentions.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Managing your Attention capacity with 4Cs Attention Filter

An important personal resource for knowledge workers is Attention. It can be difficult to decide what gets attention and what doesn’t. In an information-rich world, there is more and more competing for your attention.

The merchandise of the information economy is not information; it is attention.
~ James Gleick

Quick and confident decisions about your Attention can be particularly difficult when you want to be open to what is emerging around you. Common advice to minimise overload is “Just say No”. However, a simple “Yes” or “No” doesn’t work when things aren’t black or white but rather shades of grey.

Attention is a precious resource not to be squandered on trivial things that don’t matter to you – things that are distractions, or noise that unwittingly caught your attention. By setting meaningful boundaries, you can create criteria to aid purposeful decision-making about what is worthy of your attention.

What kind of attention to give

The 4Cs Attention Filter can be helpful for organising your attention by defining the type of attention to be given. The Filter categories are Committed, Contributing, Curious and Cease. Three of the Cs are shades of grey for when you want to say “Yes – with limits” and the fourth C is the classic “No”.

COMMITTED – Things that get ongoing deep attention; things to which you have a strong and pervasive commitment; things where the buck stops with you; things where you are actively scanning for new information.
CONTRIBUTING – Things that get momentary deep attention; things to which you have some strong attachment, however, you can care about with little or no responsibility.
CURIOUS – Things that get light and occasional attention, mostly when something crosses your path, not things you are actively pursuing.
CEASE – Things not worthy of any attention at all.

Think of the Filter as organising ‘Things I am interested in’ rather than ‘Things I am doing’, that is, ‘Topics’ rather than ‘Activity’.

Here’s an example of how my Filter is currently set (as at March 2012) for vocational or professional interests.

This is a reflection of where my interests currently lie; it isn’t a reflection of the depth of my competencies. With this filter, I can quickly make decisions about which meetings and conferences I attend, which groups I belong to, which blogs and books I subscribe or read, which conversations I contribute to, and to which people/conversations I’ll give priority.

With the Filter set, things that attract my attention pass through the Filter and stick to the category to which they match and therefore get the type of Attention associated with that category.

The 4Cs Attention Filter is not intended for planning or organising an action list, though it may contribute to setting some scope for a list of activities. For a technique to organise and prioritise your activities, read Mastering your workload.

Determining your Attention Capacity

Your capacity for purposeful Attention is a factor of breadth and depth. To use a scuba diving analogy: the oxygen you have available in your tank is a factor of how deep you dive as well as how long you dive. Deeper dives require more oxygen than shallower dives, even if the duration of the dive is the same. With a finite underwater oxygen capacity, a diver makes life-dependent decisions about how many dives can be made and to what depth.

So it is with your attention capacity. You need to factor how many things you will give deep attention (i.e. Committed) in relation to the breadth of things to which you will give attention.

Set limits for each ‘Yes’ category about the number of things to which you can purposefully attend. Typically there will be less items in categories characterised by deeper attention, i.e. Committed, and Contributing. To get started, a useful rule of thumb might be 3 things in Committed, 4 in Contributing, 10 in Curious.

The Limit is designed to help you maintain a sustainable Attention load. Be sure not to add items to a category without first considering what must be subtracted from that category.

What kind of attention you have been giving

Check where your attention is, and has been going, with a quick audit. Of the things that currently have your attention, in which Attention category do they fit?

Look at your list. If you have been feeling overwhelmed, you may have too many things in the Committed category which need a depth of attention you can’t give. Or maybe you have too many things across all categories which need a breadth of attention you haven’t got.

To reduce your attention load, downgrade items to another Attention category, either permanently or for a defined period of time.

To control attention means to control experience, and therefore the quality of life.
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Attention is a precious personal resource. So manage it in a sustainable manner, and be sure to spend it on what matters to you.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Processing and organising information is real work

David’s Allen’s latest Productive Living newsletter [1] arrived in my email box with a pertinent reminder: (paraphrasing) processing and organisation information is real and valuable work, so make time to do it, and reduce your stress in not doing it. As David says “most people behave as if this stuff is relatively unimportant, and frankly a pain to have to deal with. I argue that it’s where much of their primary value lies. Knowledge workers are paid to bring their intelligence to bear on input, and improve things by doing that. The decision about what to do with an email and its contents, what it means in terms of the work and standards at hand, is knowledge work.”

And for the challenge of having too many flows and topics of information to manage, I remember the sage advice of John Naisbitt in his book, “Mindset – Reset your thinking and see the future“: Don’t add unless you subtract. As John says “Focus on what really meets your needs and interests … [the] goal should not be to create cemeteries of information but cradles of knowledge and inspiration.”

[1] “What do you consider your work”, Productivity Living, 2 June 2011, David Allen

Sign up for David’s newsletter at http://www.davidco.com/productive_living.php

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and ways to ensure  knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact.   With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.